March 31, 2006

Action Alert: Contact Georgia Governor

I just received the following alert from DefCon:

It's outrageous. The religious right just nabbed two shocking victories in Georgia: they're on their way to putting Bibles in classrooms and the Ten Commandments in public buildings.

That's right, the Georgia legislature passed a bill earlier this week that will create state-funded Bible classes in Georgia public schools. And just a few days later, they passed legislation that will put the Ten Commandments in county buildings. Both bills are now headed to Governor Sonny Perdue for final approval.

Georgia needs to know that we're watching and will do whatever it takes to stop these blatant assaults on the separation of church and state. Don't waste a minute -- click here to tell Gov. Perdue to veto these bills.

For years we've known that the religious right will stop at nothing to push their theology in the public square. These aggressive efforts in Georgia show that the religious right is only getting bolder.

The Bibles in schools bill is particularly shocking. The bill includes a requirement that the Bible act as the core textbook for these new courses, which is clearly unconstitutional. You might remember that a federal judge last year ordered Georgia's Cobb County school district to remove stickers from science books that questioned evolution. The court ruling was an important victory for science. However, the passage of these bills once again puts Georgia in the crosshairs of the religious right's assault on our Constitution.

Take action now and demand that Gov. Perdue defend the Constitution and Georgia's citizens from this attack on our freedoms.

March 28, 2006

A Christian Perspective on Daily Life

This article in The Christian Science Monitor is worth a glance because it offers some insight into the mind of a Christian. I'll be the first to admit that I find the Christian mind a baffling place. Yes, I can still recall my earlier brush with Christianity. I can remember what it was like to be lost under the spell of faith. At the same time, it puzzles me greatly how any adult of reasonable intelligence could maintain belief in imaginary, supernatural beings.

The first insight we get from this particular author is that religious belief "provides direction and healing answers." Never mind that the belief is false. If it brings comfort, maybe it is worthwhile. But do we encourage other false beliefs simply because they provide comfort?

Quoting Mary Baker Eddy, the author observes that she wrote, "Believe...and thou shalt be saved!" In other words, believe because there is something in it for you. You will be rewarded for your belief. Perhaps the reward is faith in itself. If it brings comfort, isn't that reward enough?

The author claims that he/she "needed" faith. Why? Because of "physical healings." Well, here we get into the whole Christian Science crap. Remember, these are the people who will lovingly let their children die rather than obtain medical care. Yeah, I guess if I was going to murder my children I'd need some sort of excuse too.

But again we see that this all boils down to the notion that one should believe because belief makes one feel better. We see that asking questions about one's faith is not a good thing because part of us recognizes the absurdity of believing in ghosts, spirits, gods, etc. We also see the power of suggestion and self-delusion. As the author spends more time and energy in prayer, he/she is able to convince him/herself that faith is justified.

What do I believe in? I believe that the value of any belief must be determined at least in part by the veracity of the belief. A false belief, no matter how comforting, can never be as valuable as a true belief. I'm not saying that the consequences of the belief do not matter. I'm saying that they are secondary to the truthfulness of the belief. And you know what? Accepting reality as it is and not as I want it to be does bring me some measure of satisfaction.

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March 26, 2006

Taking Offense

TheStar.com - The atheist and the moderate Muslim

I've been meaning to post this forever, but each time I start to do so, I end up re-reading the article instead. It was written in response to the cartoon violence absurdity, but it is still quite relevant.

Each time I hear someone discuss their religious beliefs, I feel like asking, "How can you possibly believe something so absurd?" I hold my tongue (usually) because I don't want to offend the speaker by questioning his/her beliefs. And yet, I'd have no problem criticizing other sorts of false beliefs. Maybe I am part of the problem. Maybe my reluctance to offend is helping to maintain the belief system. Then again, maybe such criticism would do nothing except create conflict.

Song Lyrics: God's Love (Bad Religion)

God's Love
by Bad Religion


Striking at mental apparitions
Like a drunk on a vacant street
Silently beset by the hands of time
Indelicate in its fury
An aberrant crack as skeletons yield
To unrelenting gravity
While viruses prowl for helpless victims
Who succumb rapidly

(Tell me!) Tell me; where is the love?
In a careless creation
When there’s no “above”
ThereÂ’s no justice
Just a cause and a cure
And a bounty of suffering
It seems we all endure
And what IÂ’m frightened of
Is that they call it “God’s love”

Twisted torment, make-believe
ThereÂ’s a truth and we all submit
“Believe my eyes,” my brain complies
To all that they interpret

[Chorus]

I know thereÂ’s no reason for alarm
But who needs perspective when it comes to pain and harm
We can change our minds; thereÂ’s a better prize

But first youÂ’ve got toÂ…
[Chorus]

They call it GodÂ’s love
My pain is GodÂ’s love

March 24, 2006

Academics Fight Rise of Creationism at UK Universities

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Academics fight rise of creationism at universities

It is bad enough that the whole ID thing keeps coming up in American public K-12 schools. Now it appears that even universities are feeling the sting of idiocy in the form of ID/creationism. I must say that this comes as a surprise to me, not only that it is happening at the university level but that it is happening in the UK.

March 22, 2006

Religion or the Believers: Which is the Problem? (An Answer to the Flamingo)

A recent comment by The Flamingo asked a question which I'd like to take the time to answer. Although the original comment contained other content worth a response, I'll focus on the core question: "You mentioned in an earlier post that you felt religion was harmful, but I was wondering if it is religion that you dislike, the people who practice it, or both."

The simple, fast answer would be to say both. However, I think this would be misleading, so I'll try to give a more complete answer. One of a number of core problems with religion is that it requires believers to suspend rational judgment by believing a series of statements about the natural world that are clearly false (e.g., creation myths, Jesus came back from the dead, performed miracles, etc.). The second religion makes claims about the natural world, it comes into opposition with science. Because science can muster empirical evidence to support its claims and religion cannot, the choice is clear when religion forces such a choice.

Moreover, religion generally seeks faith and unquestioning devotion, opposing freethought. Even though some religions such as Judaism appear to encourage freethought, it is only of a constrained sort. That is, it is good to question as long as one doesn't stray too far from doctrine. Other religions, such as Christianity, are outright hostile to freethought. The most extreme example of this is the sort of Christian fundamentalism on which this blog tends to focus.

What I truly dislike is the influence of religious belief on human attitudes (e.g., intolerance of persons with different belief systems) and human behavior (e.g., violence, unwelcome proselytizing, etc.). This brings me to an important part of my response because there would be no problem with religion if there were no believers. Even a toxic doctrine that insisted that nonbelievers were less than human (i.e., Christianity) would have no power without the presence of believers. Thus, it is problematic to separate the belief system from those who are influenced by it and carry it out in their daily lives.

Now let me respond to some other important elements of your comment. You indicate that you "certainly do not agree with the people who preach intolerance in the name of religion." While this is clearly commendable, you must be aware that the Christian bible preaches exactly this sort of intolerance (see here for just a few examples). Is the wrathful, angry, punitive, and downright bloodthirsty god described in both testaments of the Christian bible deserving of worship? I think not.

As for Jesus having a message of tolerance, I was taught this view in church too. I believed it for years. The problem is that a close read of the Christian bible and many of the historical materials surrounding how, when, and by whom these documents were written cast serious doubt on this claim (see The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus). For some specific examples of what Jesus taught in the New Testament, see here. I will agree with you that some of what Jesus supposedly taught appears to be positive, however, the cruelty, violence, and intolerance cannot be dismissed when one sees so many examples throughout the bible.

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March 21, 2006

Ex-Minister Walks Atheist Path

Northoftampa: Ex-minister walks atheist path

This is an excellent story that instantly puts me in a good mood each time I read it. Seeing someone so immersed in religion find their way out and accept reality gives me hope in humanity. I trust that you will enjoy it as well.

I suspect you've already heard of Dan Barker (see Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist), but it is important to realize that he is not the only former pastor to reject superstition and embrace reality. As described here, former Baptist pastor James Young is now spreading the word of atheism at the University of South Florida.

Naturally, I applaud both Barker and Young. They can serve as models for Christians still under the influence of religious delusion. However, as pleased as I am with these guys, I am equally happy that they are receiving at least some press coverage. That we occasionally see the media do stories on atheists that are neutral or even somewhat positive is certainly cause for optimism. Each story like this has the potential to reassure those just starting to reject religion and may even stimulate critical thinking among a small minority of Christians.

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March 19, 2006

Professor Calls for Tolerance

Professor preaches tolerance

Joining Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins as prominent atheist critics of religion, Daniel Dennett is getting some attention in the press for his new book, Breaking the Spell : Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. It is always nice to see an article featuring an atheist that doesn't end up slanted against him or her.

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March 18, 2006

Hypocritical Chef Quits South Park

Isaac Hayes, who does the voice of Chef on South Park, has quit the show because they made fun of his particular flavor of superstitious nonsense - scientology. As Beware of the Dogma (BOTD) notes, this is extraordinarily hypocritical of Hayes because South Park was always been about making fun of religion (and virtually every other sort of dogma). Now he suddenly has a problem because they are making fun of scientology?

Hayes has the right to work or not work on whatever show he wants. However, I am getting rather tired of this thin-skinned attitude where criticizing religion is fine until someone criticizes MY religion. Belief in imaginary gods, supernatural forces, aliens living in volcanoes, etc. is absurd and deserves the same sort of ridicule we routinely apply to other false beliefs. In fact, religious beliefs are more deserving of criticism than other false beliefs because they are more dangerous, inviting intolerance, cognitive rigidity, and conflict.

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"intelligent Design" Gets Expensive

NCSE Resource

The city of Dover is paying back $1 million to cover legal fees for the ID nonsense there. If this trend continues, perhaps communities will think twice about trying to teach Christianity in their public schools.

March 16, 2006

Student Sells Soul To Highest Bidder

NBC5.com - Education - Student Sells Soul To Highest Bidder

Need some extra cash? It looks like selling your soul is one way to get some. Naturally, this author of this story has to put a religious spin on it by claiming that the individual who sold his soul is now warming up to church.

March 12, 2006

The Truth About Atheists: Correcting Misconceptions, Part 5

Time to continue this series of posts on correcting misconceptions. If you are just joining me now, this series is about responding to misconceptions about atheists that were observed across several Christian forums. If you missed the last part, it can be found here.

Misconception 9: Atheists are gay.

No, I'm not making this one up. Remember, each of these misconceptions was observed by Lya across several Christian forums. When I first saw this one, I thought that I'd just skip it since it really doesn't deserve a response. However, that seemed dishonest, so here we go.

If we assume that these Christians were using "gay" to mean "homosexual," then this one is easy to dismiss because the evidence simply does not support it. The majority of atheists (like the majority of Christians) are heterosexual. There are GLBT atheists just as there are GLBT Christians. I guess it might seem silly to assume that Christians are going to argue from evidence, seeing as how there is none for the bulk of their belief system. Suffice it to say that anyone who takes the time to look at the numbers will see that any variation on the claim that most atheists are homosexual is simply untrue.

As I have been doing in this series, I will try to give Christians the benefit of the doubt by addressing what I think they might have meant in addition to what they actually said. In other words, I try to address both the literal meaning of their statements and the inferred intent behind them. In this case, I suspect their statement is intended not as a claim about the incidence of homosexuality among atheists but as an insult. You see, for these bigoted Christians, "gay" is generally the worst insult they can imagine. This is the same brand of intolerance that led their parents and grandparents to hold sexist and racist views. There is nothing more I can say in response to this generic sort of insult that I have not already addressed in previous posts in this series.

Misconception 10: Atheists want to destroy/limit religion.

If we add the word "some" in front of this statement, it is no longer a misconception (at least for some atheists). Based on my experience interacting with many different kinds of atheists and at the risk of great oversimplification, I think most atheists can be categorized into 3 groups (for the purpose of this issue).

Group A is composed of atheists who would like to see greater separation between politics/government and religion. They have no desire to abolish or even limit religion; they simply want the government to honor the principles on which America was founded. They believe that Bush's faith-based initiatives clearly violate the establishment clause and would like to see this recognized. They are not interested in any new limitations on religion and simply want those with existing precedent to be enforced. This group is generally quite friendly to religion, and many celebrate religious holidays and even attend church periodically; it is the blending of religion and government/politics of which they disapprove and not religion per se. Although they are atheists, they generally do not see anything wrong with moderate religion.

Group B agrees with Group A but would prefer to see a reduction of religious presence in the public sphere. Members of this group are annoyed by public displays of religion and would prefer that they remain in church or in the home. While they do not generally favor increased government intervention to limit religion, some may question the tax exemption provided to churches. They typically believe that religion should be kept out of politics altogether and are easily soured by candidates who flaunt their religiosity. They are quite hostile to religious extremism and typically at least somewhat suspicious of religious moderates. They seek a reduction of the religious influence in America that may go beyond simply enforcing existing precedent, however, they are likely to be ambivalent toward the value of moderate religion.

Group C contains at least some members for whom the original statement is not a misconception. This group of atheists sees religion as a cancer on the human mind and believes that religion should be abolished. The important catch, however, is that they do not support government intervention to dismantle religion. They have no interest in banning the bible or interfering with religious freedom. Rather, their hope is that humanity will outgrow religion, eventually seeing it for the destructive charade that it is. They are willing to speak out in opposition to religion and are quick to highlight the downside of faith. They believe that moderate religion is problematic because it embraces falsehood and opens the door to religious extremism.

As you can see, these groups differ in their desire to "destroy/limit religion." Group A wants nothing more than to see existing limits enforced. Group B may favor some additional limits but is not interested in destroying religion. Group C doesn't exactly favor the destruction of religion but certainly hopes that religion will fade into the background, having less and less influence until it disappears. It is in this latter group which I place myself. I believe religion is harmful and that we would be better off without it.

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March 10, 2006

Introducing My New Blog: Consequences of Republicanism

After growing frustration over the state of American politics, I have finally decided to start a new blog to compliment Atheist Revolution. This new blog, Consequences of Republicanism, will not detract from my activity here. In fact, I believe that it may strengthen my work at Atheist Revolution by allowing me to focus on fulfilling the mission of this blog without deviating so frequently into what may be perceived as peripheral topics.

Consequences of Republicanism will serve as a forum for me to distribute action alerts from a variety of sources that deal with broader political topics. In addition, I will use it as a forum to address the effects of Republican policies on the welfare of America's citizens. Of course, Atheist Revolution remains my primary focus, and I expect this to be reflected in my posting frequency across the two blogs.

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The "Truth" of the Bible

The State News - www.statenews.com

This is a great article by John Bice in Michigan State's independent paper, The State News. It is always nice to see that the reality-based community can still be found in academia. The main point of the article is that one cannot know the history of how the Christian bible was written and still claim that it is the inerrant word of anyone. I'm sure its publication created a bit of a stir on campus, and I applaud the author for making such an important case so well.

My favorite quote has to be: "Christians...who are blind to any dissimilarity between reality and their faith, will likely remain unconcerned with problems of Biblical reliability. Rational people, however, will recognize that the Bible is a demonstrably imperfect, purposely altered and error-ridden collection of texts created by humans, not a mythical supreme being."

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March 9, 2006

Tell the Religious Right What You Think

Campaign to Defend the Constitution - The Religious Right Has A Serious Gambling Problem

DefCon has an online petition we can use to tell Ralph Reed, Rev. Louis Sheldon, and James Dobson what we think of their involvement with Jack Abramoff.

March 8, 2006

Update on Antievolution Efforts in Mississippi

NCSE Resource

According to the NCSE, one of the two antievolution bills before the legislators in MS was defeated. Unfortunately, one is still alive and seeks to pollute science education (already appallingly bad in this state) with creationism. I knew we weren't going to be content to trail other states in stupidity for long.

March 5, 2006

Fixing America's Dependence on Oil

In the State of the Union Address, President Bush finally voiced what everyone has known for decades - America's dependence on oil is unhealthy. He even made mention of using science (gasp) to advance alternative energy. Even if we can somehow forget his subsequent enegry budget cuts (demonstrating that he didn't mean a word of what he said), I agree with his statement that our oil dependence represents a national security concern.

After much thought, I have a solution to the oil problem. Yep, you heard it here first. Best of all, my solution requires no investment in alternative energy research, no increases to the current energy budget, no consumer sacrifices through conservation, and none of that evil science we keep hearing so much about. Intrigued?

I'd like you to imagine for a second that I manage to get myself invited to a meeting of Energy Department and automaker big wigs to unveil my bold new solution. The suspense is palpable - everyone has heard that I have a solution, but no details have yet been revealed. Everyone who is anyone is present - maybe even President Bush and VP Cheney (in case anyone needs to be shot in the face).

I step onto the stage, and a hush falls over the crowd. My solution involves vehicles powered not by gasoline, not by ethanol, but by...prayer. That's right - cars that run on "god's love."

Regardless of my audience, we all know that the outcome is that I get laughed out of the room. The more serious question I have for you is why. Could it be that everyone in attendance knows that god doesn't actually exist or that if he does that he's indifferent to human concerns? Could it be that the "But God doesn't work that way" objection running through your Christian mind right now is a feeble excuse that even you recognize to be false? Could it be that this whole religion thing is just a well-organized charade designed to maintain the social status quo?

Based on the supposedly inerrant biblical description of god, we know he is able to power our cars. Omnipotence doesn't somehow stop with motor vehicles, does it? I mean, if he can punish New Orleans for "sin" with a hurricane, you can't expect me to believe that he's unable to power my car! Since this is the god who created everything in the world, it is clear that he knows how to power our cars. The human brain is vastly more complex than the engine in a car, and I hear constantly that god designed our brains. This brings us to the last question: would such a god want to power our cars? Christians will offer their trite quotes about god helping those who help themselves, working in mysterious ways, etc., but most rational individuals can see through this. Why would a god who is interested in and cares about the plight of humanity not be willing to lend a hand. He's quick to punish homosexuality, immorality, etc., so you'd think that at least devout Christians could get some automotive help.

I believe that my car won't run on "god's love" because god does not exist. Christians are forced to argue that god can power our cars perfectly well but chooses not to. Why? "God helps those who help themselves." "God doesn't involve himself in such matters." "No man can know the mind of God." Yeah, but none of these absurdities really answer the question, do they? Any Christian who laughs at the image of my car being powered by "god's love" is really laughing at his or her own superstitious beliefs. So go ahead and laugh. Now you know how we feel.

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March 4, 2006

Some Good News: Anti-Darwin Bill Fails in Utah

Anti-Darwin Bill Fails in Utah - New York Times

Given Utah's conservative reputation, it is somewhat surprising that this bill was defeated. It is nice to know that proposals like this continue to meet opposition wherever they surface.

Know Them By Their Deeds, Part 2

CNN.com - Mistrial for woman�accused of cutting off infant's arms - Feb 25, 2006

"One doctor said Schlosser told him she felt commanded by God to cut off Maggie's arms, followed by her own limbs and head." Mental health experts debate the sanity of this woman, but they are just wasting their time. She isn't mentally ill; she is possessed by demons.

March 2, 2006

"What's Wrong With Religion?"

Regular readers of this blog have seen me give countless reasons for my claim that religion is a destructive force. However, the most common question I get from those who are new here is why I say religion is destructive. "What's wrong with religion? Look at all the good that has come from religion."

Maybe they are right. Maybe the good from religion far outweighs the bad. What exactly is the bad? Off the top of my head and in no particular order, religion has brought us:

1. Christians slaughtering pagans (315 - 6th century)
2. Christians slaughtering Muslims (Crusades)
3. Muslims slaughtering Christians (Crusades)
4. Christians torturing and killing "heretics" (Inquisition, witch trials)
5. Christians burning books, heavy metal records, etc.
6. Muslims calling for the death of an author they didn't like (Rushdie)
7. Christians supporting slavery on biblical grounds (~ American Civil War)
8. Christians opposing suffrage on biblical grounds
9. Muslims calling for death to all Christians and Jews (cartoon rage)
10. Jews and Muslims killing each other (from the origin of Israel to present)
11. Christians bombing abortion clinics
12. Muslim terrorism in America (WTC, 9/11)
13. Christians slaughtering Jews (throughout history)
14. Christians slaughtering Native Americans

For more information about the consequences of religion, see Victims of the Christian Faith and The Root Causes of Religious Atrocities. Looking for other examples? Check out this page.

Even if religion has brought (false) hope, (false) comfort, (false) optimism about the future, a willingness to accept one's fate (and not rock the boat of the ruling class), and has been used to explain why some people do good things (people who would be good people with or without superstition), this pales in comparison to the long and distinguished history of religious atrocities. For the sake of humanity, it is time to let go of this destructive superstition.

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