March 31, 2007
According to this story from The Beacon News, pastor Robby Dawkins lost 200 pounds. He once weighed 425 pounds, and "the faithful man of God who firmly believes he has witnessed numerous miracles could not understand why his own prayers for weight loss went unanswered." Indeed, how could his god fail to answer his prayers? Never mind the millions of prayers from starving children which go unanswered every day - this "man of God" takes priority!
But the good pastor seems to have come to his senses, at least partially. "I realized that God wasn't going to do it," Dawkins said. "This was a discipline issue that I needed to learn myself." Really? You mean he's just like everyone else? After spending his career claiming that prayer could heal and making absurd claims about how "Cancer and other diseases have disappeared because of faith in God," the pastor oriented himself to reality. He lost weight through the same combination of diet and exercise that physicians have been recommending to everyone else.
Just how does the article's author address the pastor's success through behavior change? "In a sense, Dawkins has experienced his own miracle." What? Weight loss through diet and exercise is miraculous? In what way? Just because something is difficult does not make doing it any sort of miracle. I see no evidence of supernatural intervention here.
Tags: atheism, atheist, religion, prayer, weight loss, miracle
March 30, 2007
Whatever else conversion means, it means that the convert now believes the religious doctrine in question. This is considered the path to salvation in that the convert now has a chance at salvation due to his/her beliefs. I expect most Christians would agree that the point of conversion is salvation. Salvation is likely to be a prominent theme in Christian proselytizing because it is the benefit of conversion.
The Christian who seeks to convert others believes that he/she is doing them a favor. By informing potential converts about Christianity, its doctrine, and the prize of salvation, the Christian believes that he/she is facilitating others' salvation. Thus, the Christian who strives to convert others may really believe that he/she is doing them a service and that conversion is a compassionate act.
It might be helpful for a nonbeliever who is approached by Christians with conversion in mind to remember that the motive is likely to be at least partially one of genuine benevolence. In fact, I suspect that this is the primary motive most of the time. Remembering this would certainly serve me well, as I do not tend to handle such approaches particularly well.
From an atheist perspective, it is nonsensical to talk about someone converting to atheism. Atheists have no doctrine. There is no set of atheist beliefs to which one could be expected to convert. It would be more accurate to view atheism as a product of religious deconversion.
Some atheists do, however, talk about spreading an atheist message. Of course, this message is generally little more than a critique of religion, but this does not change the fact that many atheists seek to persuade others that a secular worldview is superior to religious belief.
Much like Christians hoping to win converts for their own good, some atheists believe that deconversion would have favorable effects for the deconverted. I count myself among them in the sense that I believe that humanity would be better off without religion. I do not actively seek to deconvert believers, but I certainly believe that deconversion is healthy and would do what I could to facilitate it in someone who expressed an interest.
To sum up, it appears that Christians who work to convert people and atheists who work to deconvert people have something in common. In both cases, I think our motives are primarily benevolent. Christians believe they are doing potential converts a favor; atheists believe they are doing potential deconverts a favor. Perhaps atheists could strive to be more understanding when approached by Christians promoting their beliefs. Similarly, it seems that Christians could work on their reactions when their beliefs are criticized by atheists.
Tags: religion, atheism, atheist, Christian, Christianity, conversion, proselytizing
March 28, 2007
The obstacle can be illustrated best with the following quote from Daniel C. Dennett (italics added):
"..can we public atheists have productive conversations with believers? Certainly. We can discuss every issue under the sun...respecting each other as citizens with honest disagreements about fundamental matters that can be subjected to reasonable, open inquiry and mutual persuasion... As long as those who are believers will acknowledge that their allegiance gives them no privilege, no direct line to the absolute truth, no advantage in moral insight, we should be able to get along just fine."I told you it was a big obstacle! I think that Dennett is absolutely correct here. As long as believers insist that their faith counts as some sort of special knowledge, that they are the only ones capable of being moral, and that they alone have "the truth," it is difficult to imagine meaningful dialogue. Sadly, I am doubtful that believers will do this.
Tags: religion, atheism, atheist
March 27, 2007
Please recognize that bloggers use their blogrolls in different ways. Some use them almost exclusively for reciprocal links (i.e., I'll add you if you add me) and will add anyone who reciprocates. Others are highly selective, adding only a handful of blogs which they regularly read. Still others attempt to catalog every single atheist-oriented blog, regardless of merit or reciprocation.
So how do I use my blogroll? I use it to list those blogs which I read myself (at least periodically), find useful, and believe that others interested in atheism would find useful. That is, these are blogs which I recommend to my readers. I make no attempt to include every atheist blog in existence. I want inclusion on my blogroll to reflect quality and not simply quantity or reciprocal link agreements. Thus, my criteria for including a blog on my blogroll are as follows:
- The blog must be primarily focused on atheism, freethought, or similar topics. A limited number of exceptions may be made for truly outstanding blogs in peripheral areas.
- In order for my recommendation to mean anything, the blog must be one that I read fairly regularly and recommend to others interested in atheist-oriented material.
- The blog must have at least 10 posts.
- Blogs must be active, posting at least twice a month.
- A reciprocal link to Atheist Revolution is appreciated but not required.
Tags: blog, blogging, blogroll, atheist, atheism
March 25, 2007
I am used to receiving everything from bible quotes to personal attacks from a handful of Christian extremists, even though most Christians who comment here or e-mail me directly have been civil, polite, and downright thoughtful. What I am not used to is what I believe is unfair criticism from within the atheist community. That is not to say that I expect to always agree with other atheist bloggers or for them to agree with me. Disagreements are to be expected and are often helpful in expanding the perspective of both sides, or at least stimulating critical thought. Still, this caught me off guard.
The post which was referenced on Goosing was this one. Naturally, I went back and read it again, worried that I must have inadvertently said something I'd forgotten about. My use of quotes did imply that I am skeptical about any sort of new atheism. As I've said previously, all this phrase means to me is that the media has suddenly decided that we are worthy of attention. I reject the notion that this new atheism is meaningfully different from the atheism most of us have affiliated with for decades. Does this mean that I don't want others to have fun or embrace atheism? Of course not.
I then asked a question which seems relevant, "If we become too aggressive, don't we run the risk of becoming the very fundamentalists we oppose?" Notice the question mark on the end. I asked this as a thought-provoking question. That is, this was not my claim. In fact, this was an intentional device to set the reader up for what would come next - my argument that there is no such thing as fundamentalist atheism or militant atheism. This was my claim.
In the final section of the post, I explored the possibility of atheist extremism. I suggested that this concept at least appears meaningful in the sense that it is possible to imagine an atheist extremist. I then specifically excluded those most commonly associated with the new atheism from consideration as extremists, noting that they did not come close to the characterization of atheist extremists I offered.
I asked the author of the Goosing post, Francois Tremblay, about this apparent misunderstanding. He indicated that he had not actually read my post before labeling me this way but that someone named Alison had and that she assured him that I was "one of those people." I had no idea who Alison might be, but I think I may have figured it out. I am guessing that Alison was one of those who commented on my original post.
There was an Alison who commented, however, I cannot for the life of me figure out the relationship between the content of her comment and the content of my post. I can only guess that she was responding to another comment rather than to what I had written and somehow presented this to Tremblay as if I had said it. She said, "I disagree strongly that we should monitor others' behavior because they share that little thing in common with us." I'm not sure what my post said that could have prompted this comment. She goes on to say, "Trying to censor others' behavior in order to 'make atheists look good' doesn't make any sense to me." I agree, but again, I'm not sure where I said anything that would suggest otherwise. The rest of her comment suggests that she has little interest in contemporary psychological theories of thought and emotion. That is certainly her right. How people think about their world may be irrelevant with regard to truth, but it is certainly relevant to belief. Personally, this is an unending source of fascination to me - understanding how the mind works to permit the irrational beliefs which are so common among our fellow citizens.
I believe that Tremblay's criticism of me, based on a post he admits to not having read, is unwarranted. I can easily identify posts I have written arguing against each of the fallacies of which I am supposedly guilty of committing. I trust that you will let me know if I am wrong and if I am truly coming across as someone who "would try to stop everyone else from having a good time" and someone who wants to "temper everyone into falling into step for an 'atheist movement' which does not exist."
Tags: atheism, atheist, blog, blogging
According to ReligionNewsBlog, a Vermont man wanted to obtain a vanity license plate referencing a passage from the Christian bible, John 3:16. His first two requests (JOHN316 and JN316) were denied by the Department of Motor Vehicles on the grounds that they violated the law mandating that there could only be two numbers on any plate. However, his third request (JN36TN) was denied on the grounds that "it conflicts with agency rules forbidding motorists to express religious viewpoints on license plates."
This is wrong. Just as the state can make no law promoting religion, it should not be able to prohibit religious expression. This case is now before a federal judge as a free speech issue. I hope this Christian prevails. He should be able to have his bible quote.
Tags: Vermont, religion, Christian, Christianity, free speech, church and state
March 23, 2007
|Atheist Badge: The design of the A-letter originates from the outcampaign.org - "Scarlet A" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
I am going to start with the premise that is is at least possible for atheists to become too assertive/aggressive/militant/extreme in their views and/or behavior. If you disagree with this, try to suspend judgment until the end of the post. What might this look like, and what are we to call such an atheist?
Fundamentalist or Militant Atheism
The first term with which we can easily dispense is that of "fundamentalist atheist." It is quite clear to me that there can be no such thing as atheist fundamentalism, and I will refer you to my previous post on this issue. In a nutshell, religious fundamentalism is about adherence to a particular doctrine. Atheism has no doctrine, as it reflects nothing more than the lack of god belief. Thus, there can be no fundamentalist atheism. For more on fundamentalist atheism, I encourage you to read this post at The Uncredible Hallq.
"Militant atheism" is probably the second most popular term used to describe over-the-top atheists. Is it any more viable than "fundamentalist atheism?" It initially appears so, but there are at least two problems with this label. First, militancy is virtually always used to describe a pattern of behavior rather than a viewpoint. Thus, "militant Christian" or "militant Muslim" conjures the image of someone who engages in militant acts and not just someone with strong beliefs. Second, "militant" implies violence. When The Uncredible Hallq searched Google for these terms, he found that they were used primarily to depict persons or groups engaged in violence. This hardly fits any group of American atheists I've encountered.
I suggest that "atheist extremism" is the term we have been seeking. It carries no requirement of adherence to a particular doctrine, and it does not imply violence. But what does it mean, and what would an atheist extremist look like?
The atheist extremist would hold views which would be considered extreme by most members of the atheist community. Like any other type of extremist, an atheist extremist would be irrational. This irrationality would be manifest through cognitive errors such as (and not limited to) the following:
- Overgeneralization - Drawing grand conclusions based on isolated examples (e.g., "Because one Christian does something bad, all Christians are bad.").
- Dichotomous Thinking - Framing the world in terms of absolutes without acknowledging meaningful gradations (e.g., "Atheists are smart; believers are stupid.").
- Disqualifying the Positive - Rejecting positive experiences as somehow not counting in order to preserve one's negative view of some group (e.g., "Christians may give a lot to charity but only to promote their agenda of brainwashing.").
I have not encountered many atheists like this, but I have come across a few. I don't believe they are common, but I do believe they exist. Like extremists of other brands, they have largely stopped thinking and exist simply to argue a viewpoint they may no longer be able to articulate.
Note that what I have described here bears little resemblance to Harris, Dawkins, or other prominent atheists accused of being too extreme. These prominent authors to express controversial opinions, but they are opinions with which the vast majority of atheist agree and opinions which are supported with the exercise of reason.
Tags: atheist, atheism, religion, extremism, religious extremism, atheist extremism
March 21, 2007
How much arrogance is required to elevate one's personal beliefs into absolute truth? Never mind that there is a consensus in the scientific community supporting Darwin's theory of evolution. "Who are these scientists to tell me that I'm wrong?" I wonder if the driver could even articulate the basics of the theory he mocks here.
One does not have to be a fundamentalist to put a Jesus fish on one's car. Some of those who do so are certainly fundamentalists, but many more would better be described as moderate Christians. And yet, they share at least something with the fundamentalists - some degree of pride in their faith (i.e., their belief of something without evidence). It is not enough for these individuals to believe; they want others to know about it.
Tags: Darwin, religion, Christian, Christianity, evolution Jesus, faith
March 19, 2007
|swamp1.jpg (Photo credit: vjack)|
Reality is Both Natural and Objective
I previously stated that "reality" refers to to the natural world and only to the natural world. Gods and other supernatural entities are not part of the natural world by definition, and this excludes them from reality itself.
Beyond this, I believe that there is such a thing as objective reality. I mean this in the sense that there is an independent reality which exists outside of human consciousness. Just because I cannot see the tree with my eyes closed does not mean that the tree ceases to exist. This is not to say that our subjective experience of reality is not important. However, I believe that using phrases such as "subjective reality" or discussing "multiple realities" introduces unnecessary confusion. Our subjective experience of reality is vital, but it is no suitable replacement for reality itself.
I can agree with the postmodern view that people construct their own realities only up to a point. That point is where subjective experience of reality is equated with reality itself or where objective reality is actually denied. This is a form of mental masturbation with which I will not go along.
Connection to Reality is Healthy
Psychosis is recognized in virtually all circles as involving a break with reality. That is, a psychotic person can no longer distinguish between reality and fantasy. Psychotic individuals are viewed as ill and deserving of treatment in all cultures (although treatments certainly vary). Thus, an important sign of mental health involves one's connection to reality.
Part of what distinguishes psychosis from other forms of indulgence in fantasy is the degree of voluntary control the individual retains. A truly psychotic person cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy and is thus unable to control his/her behavior with reference to reality. This is quite different from daydreams where one knows what is real and what is fantasy and can intentionally alternate between them.
But Fantasy Feels Good
Much like drugs, fantasy does feel good. However, just like drugs, too much indulgence is unhealthy. The daydreamer, superstitious person, or religious believer knows (or can know with a little effort) the falsehood of his/her beliefs. This does not stop the beliefs from feeling good or even from having some short-term benefits. However, there is a clear long-term danger.
Much like drugs, prolonged indulgence in fantasy leads to suffering in reality. For example, the individual may ignore real-world problems by focusing on an afterlife. Also like drugs, the worse one's real life becomes, the more tempting it is to retreat to fantasy.
While temporary use of fantasy can be beneficial, learning to live in our natural, objective reality is far more healthy in the long run. By living in reality, we are better able to adapt to and change our environments. By confronting real sources of unhappiness, we are better able to cope.
But What Does it Mean to Live in Reality?
Simply put, learning to live in reality involves the exercise of reason and critical thinking to examine and modify one's beliefs. Beliefs are based on the application of reason, implying some degree of fluidity. New information with relevance to one's beliefs is actively sought, evaluated, and used to change one's beliefs. For example, my belief about the possible deterrent effect of capital punishment is based on scientific data which I have sought out and evaluated. Should new information emerge, my belief may change.
Tags: atheist, atheism, belief, religion, reality, supernatural, health
March 18, 2007
I sit here this morning with a large cup of coffee and optimism to face the day. I watched a beautiful sunrise this morning, and my RSS aggregator is collecting posts from the atheist blogosphere for my perusal. I plan to digest the contents of the latest Carnival of the Godless while I drink my coffee and my dog sleeps at my feet. If these clouds clear, I will eventually make my way outside with my camera to see what inspiration I might discover. Sitting perfectly still so as not to spook the birds that make their homes in the trees around my house, I might get lucky and snap a picture of one of the more elusive ones I've been after. But even if I miss the perfect shot, the birdsong, warm sun, and alert relaxation will bring peace, just as they always do.
Atheists may be many things, and we are accused of being many more. Still, I've never quite understood the accusation that we are nihilists. At least, this is something with which I have never been able to relate. I don't need a lot of money, power, or superstition to be happy or to find meaning. All the joy and meaning I could ever desire is to be found in the small pleasures.
Tags: atheist, atheism, happiness, meaning, Carnival of the Godless
March 17, 2007
Maybe religion really does foster sexual predation.
Florida church aide accused of sexual assault in Vermont
March 11, 2007
The Associated Press
BURLINGTON — An aide with a Florida church group is accused in a lawsuit of molesting "multiple" teenage girls while they were on a field trip in Stowe.
A 15-year-old girl and her parents have sued Anthony B. Ricco, 19, an assistant youth minister with the New Life youth group at the St. Louis Catholic Church in Pinecrest, Fla., according to court papers filed with the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County.
"My information is that three girls were involved up in Vermont, one of whom is my client," said Jeffrey Herman, the Miami lawyer for the alleged victim.
Cindy Maguire, a Vermont deputy attorney general, said Friday she did not know about the Florida case. Lamoille County State's Attorney Joel Page was not available for comment.
Ricco was arrested in Florida in May, a month after the Vermont trip, and pleaded no contest to nine charges of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, according to Miami court records. The allegations included sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl. The charges were related to incidents that occurred only in Florida.
The alleged victim in the lawsuit told a school counselor about the sexual assault claims after the Stowe trip, said Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami.
"We applaud her courage for doing that," Agosta said.
The lawsuit said that "as a youth minister and in his role with New Life, Ricco groomed 'Jane Doe' and manipulated her into a sexual relationship with him. He sexually assaulted 'Jane' on numerous occasions in March and April 2006."
Richard Hersch of Miami, Ricco's attorney, said the victim in the lawsuit has admitted she engaged in consensual sexual relations with Ricco.
"This stuff happens five million times a day in the United States," Hersch said. The allegations of sexual contact with the 13-year-old girl were a "different case with different circumstances. It occurred outside the church setting," he said.
Mitt Romney certainly agrees. Belief in the poorly defined Christian god is a necessary prerequisite for holding the highest political office. Atheists simply do not have what it takes.
I find it particularly interesting that flag-waving, gay-hating, conservatives say they would elect a homosexual president before a nonbeliever. I wonder how they feel about atheist marriage? Perhaps the marriage of two atheists also represents a violation of the "sanctity of marriage."
This is bigotry - plain and simple. We can try to water it down by emphasizing that American believers simply want someone in office who shares their values, but this does not disguise the bigotry. In fact, we could make this same sharing values excuse to exclude women, African Americans, homosexual, or any other group from office.
We want our presidents to share our delusion, and this seems to override most other considerations. According to Reuters,
Apparently we’d even rather have an egocentric nincoompoop who actually believes he’s on orders from God than a completely rational atheist as the POTUS. After all, at least the former believes in God, which I guess means that he can’t be all that bad.I don't know about you, but I want a president who is a hell of a lot smarter than I am. I will take this over "folksiness" any day. And I want someone who can act decisively but who bases his/her actions on sound, rational thought. Faith is a liability because it entails unwavering belief in the absence of evidence. This is not a trait to encourage in someone with this much power.
Tags: politics, Christianity, Mitt Romney, church and state, faith, atheist, atheism, bigotry, intolerance, discrimination, religion
March 16, 2007
A group of Christian seniors, the Christian Seniors Association (CSA), are using the occasion of Stark's announcement to attack atheism. They are calling on members of Congress to proclaim their theistic beliefs on the floor of the House.
"It is time for religious members of Congress to push back. A simple declaration of a belief in God by members of Congress on the House floor will be greatly informative for the American people. Members who wish to expand could use the ‘special orders’ portion of the House calendar to elaborate but a simple "I believe in God" will suffice."I guess the whole separation of church and state thing is irrelevant when we are talking about Christianity.
In a press release issued by the Secular Coalition for America, the values of Stark's announcement is reaffirmed. The Secular Coalition statement goes on to express disappointment in the CSA release.
"Congressman Stark’s statement is a very sad benchmark for America. It could be the moment which defines the decline of our country or it could be the spark which marks an important day. That would be the day that religious Americans stood-up to the liberal bullies who are so determined to use the power of government to silence prayer and every other religious expression of free speech."
"How ironic that, while claiming to stand for religious freedom, identical with freedom of conscience, CSA feels it must admonish a congressman for speaking candidly about his true beliefs."Finally, the Secular Coalition statement challenges some of the misinformation found in the CSA release.
"Moreover, CSA uses the occasion to suggest that Stark's honest disclosure must be part of a plot to 'throttle any child who wants to bow his or her head in prayer' or to 'bash Christians.' These fear-based accusations can only be seen as attempting to incite hostility toward nontheists, who wish nothing more than to be treated as citizens deserving of a place at the table in the American public dialogue."I applaud the Secular Coalition for facilitating Rep. Stark's disclosure in the first place and for defending the right of nontheistic Americans to express themselves. They are correct that the CSA and others appear to be interested in promoting intolerance toward atheists. Continued vigilance is needed.
Tags: Secular Coalition for America, Pete Stark, atheist, atheism, religion, Christian, Christianity, politics, church and state
March 15, 2007
On the off chance that you somehow missed this story, this is what General Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an interview with the Chicago Tribune on March 12:
"My upbringing is such that I believe there are certain things, certain types of conduct, that are immoral. ... I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts."As important as his words was the context in which they were spoken. Pace expressed his intolerance after he was asked about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Pace indicated that he supports this policy and the above quote was his rationale for doing so. The policy is a good idea because homosexual acts are immoral, and the military should not condone immoral behavior.
Forget for a second that Pace, a high-ranking government official in a democratic nation supposedly concerned with protecting minority rights, actually said that sexual behavior between two consenting adults was immoral. Forget that this blatant homophobia has been met with condemnation from progressives and applause from Christian and Jewish leaders (also see here) and ultra-conservative politicians hoping to land the GOP presidential nomination.
If you strip away the bigotry, you are left a powerful government official defending an important policy with nothing more than his own personal opinion, one undoubtedly influenced by religion. Pace himself has since issued a statement in which he stops short of apologizing but says that he should have focused "less on my personal moral views" when discussing the policy. You think?
I am so sick of our elected and appointed officials relying on nothing more than personal opinions and prejudices as the basis for important decisions with wide-ranging effects. We deserve better! Important decisions should be based on reason and science rather than superstition and bigotry. Gen. Pace has the right to his beliefs, however wrong they may be. He should not have the right to impose them on others when they are based on nothing but uninformed opinion.
Tags: General Pace, homophobia, politics, bigotry, intolerance, Christian, superstition, religion, military, Republican, Brownback
March 14, 2007
"Religion has created a rule in our culture that says religious beliefs are the sole beliefs that cannot be critically examined — one is allowed to state the most outlandish conclusions under the banner of religion, and it is considered rude to question those conclusions in the way one would question any others."Flemming had lots of encouraging things to say about the current state of atheism in America and what the future holds. I certainly hope he is right and renew my commitment to promoting atheism.
Tags: Brian Flemming, atheism, atheist, interview
A new book, Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion, is due for release in April.According to the editor, Dale McGowan, the book has a similar tone to some of my posts here (e.g., this one). Mr. McGowan provided the following excerpt from the book flap:
"Parenting Beyond Belief is a book for loving and thoughtful parents who wish to raise their children without religion. There are scores of books available for religious parents. Now there's one for the rest of us. Includes essays by Richard Dawkins, Julia Sweeney, Penn Jillette, Mark Twain, Dr. Jean Mercer, Dr. Donald B. Ardell, Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbons, and over twenty-five other doctors, educators, psychologists, and secular parents."To learn more about the book and participate in a discussion forum, visit the website at www.ParentingBeyondBelief.com.
Tags: parenting, atheist, atheism, religion, Christian, Christianity, book
March 13, 2007
The Secular Coalition for America, the organization behind Rep. Stark's historic announcement, issued a press release explaining why we should take note of this event. Secular Coalition president Herb Silverman says, "The only way to counter the prejudice against nontheists is for more people to publicly identify as nontheists. Rep. Stark shows remarkable courage in being the first member of Congress to do so."
I expect that Rep. Stark is going to take some major heat from the Christian extremist community for this. His office is likely to be flooded with nasty correspondence, death threats, and the like. Thus, I fully endorse the Secular Coalition's call for all atheists to e-mail Rep. Stark and thank him for his willingness to come forward. We need to do our part to make sure that he receives some positive responses too. I sent him a brief note of thanks a few minutes ago.
The atheist blogosphere is really lighting up over this one. For more reactions, check out the following:
- Friendly Atheist
- Deep Thoughts
- Daylight Atheism
- Stupid Evil Bastard
- The Secular Outpost
- Unorthodox Atheism
March 12, 2007
Anyone who was surprised by Coulter's statement has not been following her very closely. Her hatred of gays is well known, and she has made similar statements before. Thus, I think it is safe to say that any organization which invites Coulter to speak is explicitly condoning this sort of bigotry.
Case in point, after her comments at the Conservative Political Action Conference, she was an invited speaker at the Center for Reclaiming America, an organization affiliated with Christian extremist D. James Kennedy and his Coral Ridge Ministries. Coulter was there for the Center's "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference. During this presentation, she repeated what she had previously said about John Edwards. Not only that, but she appeared to condone the murder of personnel at clinics where abortions are provided.
"Those few abortionists were shot, or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure with a rifle performed on them. I'm not justifying it, but I do understand how it happened....The number of deaths attributed to Roe v. Wade — about 40 million aborted babies and seven abortion clinic workers; 40 million to seven is also a pretty good measure of how the political debate is going."Clearly, the woman knows her audience.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is calling on the Center for Reclaiming America to disavow Coulter's statements.
"Ann Coulter's statements can only be described as loathsome," said Lynn. "It is astounding to me that this type of vitriol was unleashed before a religious organization that claims to be 'reclaiming' America for Christ. This rhetoric must be repudiated immediately."There seems to be at least some public disapproval of Coulter since her original comments about Edwards. A handful of politicians on both sides of the aisle have expressed outrage. She has experienced the loss of some advertisers and a few newspapers have dropped her column. Perhaps she will finally be banished to the extremist fringe where she belongs.
I worry that the more outrage Coulter generates, the more popular she becomes with the Christian extremists to which she appeals in the first place. And yet, if we ignore her, are we not guilty of implicitly condoning what she says?
Tags: Ann Coulter, Christian extremism, politics, intolerance, bigotry, homophobia
March 11, 2007
"Former church members and contractors also complain that despite the money flowing in, the church also is slow to pay its bills."So much for being a responsible member of the community.
March 10, 2007
The right has long complained of a "liberal media bias." In fact, exposing oneself to any form of conservative media will quickly reveal that "liberal media bias" remains one of their chief talking points. Is there any evidence of a liberal media bias? Absolutely, but not in the way the right envisions.
When conservatives refer to a liberal bias in the media, they are claiming that all mainstream news media (i.e., everything but Fox) is biased in a liberal direction. Al Franken and others have examined the available data on this possibility and have concluded that this claim is without merit (see Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right). Franken's data are difficult to dispute and suggest that if the mainstream news media (again, I'm excluding Fox here) is biased, it is in the direction of supporting the status quo. All one has to do in order to see this bias is to examine the media's coverage of 9/11 through entering Iraq.
While there is no evidence of a systematic liberal bias in the mainstream news media, one can certainly find examples of liberally biased programs on mainstream networks which masquerade as news. Countdown With Keith Olbermann is as biased in a liberal direction as anything you can find on Fox News is in a conservative direction. A progressive who views Olbermann as presenting the unbiased truth is every bit as guilty as the conservative who thinks that Fox News is truly "fair and balanced."
In examining many common national news programs, it is clear that there are two main ways in which news can be biased. First, a subtle bias can enter through decisions about what it newsworthy (i.e., what topics are presented). We should all be suspicious of this, given the identity of the umbrella corporations which now own virtually all media outlets. I think the massive pro-war campaign we saw as Bush invaded Iraq illustrates this danger well. This is why it is so important to maintain an independent media and oppose further corporate consolidation.
The second clear form of bias, and one which has become disturbingly prevalent, is the mixture of punditry and news we see on Countdown, The O'Reilly Factor, and the vast array of similar shows. Olbermann and O'Reilly do report some news, but most of what they give us is their opinion on what we should think or how we should feel about various topics. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this sort of punditry, it becomes problematic when these men and their parent stations attempt to pass them off as news anchors rather than pundits.
A quick visit to the Fox News website reveals the tagline "We report. You decide." Great, except that O'Reilly, Hannity, and others want to decide for us, or at least tell us how to decide. Still, we find the very same tagline on O'Reilly's page. Does the average American know the difference anymore? As the opinion shows attempt to mimic news programs, and the news programs become increasingly opinionated, will any of us be able to tell which is which should these trends continue?
The likely effect of continued merging of opinion and news is that the cultural divide will deepen past a point of no return. When I watch Countdown and O'Reilly on the same day, I experience two very different "realities." In all likelihood, both represent perversions of reality. I worry about those who take either at face value. Programs like this cement the viewer's worldview by reinforcing what the viewer thinks about the world. We have seen the devastating effects of religious indoctrination; is there any reason to think that this sort of indoctrination won't be harmful as well?
Tags: news, news media, Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, Countdown With Keith Olbermann, bias, liberal media bias, politics, culture, journalism
March 8, 2007
As you have almost certainly heard by now, the big news involved claims by filmmaker James Cameron that his upcoming documentary on the Discovery Channel reveals the tomb of Jesus and his family. This claim, if it can be shown to be true, would challenge the Christian dogma surrounding the physical resurrection of Jesus.
So why are many atheists dismissing this news as being relatively unimportant? I believe the answer lies in our rationalist nature. I'm not here to claim that atheists are necessarily rationalists, but I readily identify myself as such. A rationalist is someone who looks to reason as the route to knowledge and who requires evidence rather than faith to sustain belief.
As a rationalist, I look at Cameron's claim with skepticism. First, I'm not convinced that anyone has conclusively proven that the Jesus figure described in the Christian bible ever lived. Second, I'm cautious about accepting the veracity of an archaeological claim made by a non-archaeologist. Cameron is unlikely to be qualified to identify the remains of Jesus, so I'd prefer to hear from the experts. Third, I note that making outrageous claims is a highly effective marketing strategy. It seems that Cameron is likely to be more interested in attracting viewers than he is in uncovering the truth.
Of course, it is entirely possible that my mind may change. That is the thing about we rationalists - we are quite willing to change our minds if convincing evidence emerges. I will await further developments in this story with interest. I'm content to follow the evidence on this one.
I should also point out that I am skeptical of something else related to this story. I am skeptical that any amount of evidence would actually alter the faith of many Christians. Known for distorting reality to preserve their beliefs, I see no reason to expect that Christians would suddenly embrace reality here if the remains could be authenticated. How would they explain it away? They have already shown us one approach:
James Tabor, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said that while literal interpreters of the Bible say Jesus' physical body rose from the dead, ``one might affirm resurrection in a more spiritual way in which the husk of the body is left behind.''In any case, this is one more example of Christians taking a great risk when it comes to their superstition. As they make claims about the natural world (e.g., a man lived, died, and was resurrected), they open themselves to the possibility that these claims will be conclusively shown to be false.
Tags: James Cameron, tomb, Jesus, science, religion, Christianity, Christian, atheism, atheist
March 7, 2007
The title of this article, "Considering Homeschooling: Christians Can Help Stop Abortion," leaves little to the imagination about what is going on here. Just in case it still strikes you as ambiguous, the tagline should clear things up even more: "Home education is a deterrent to abortion and a way to boost pro-life activism."
How silly I was to think that homeschooling was about education, even among Christian parents. It is not. It is about indoctrination of one's children to the Christian worldview. According to Charles Lowers, Director of Considering Homeschooling, Christian parents are urged "to see home education as a powerful tool to deter abortions in their own families, and as an excellent means to raise up leaders with a strong life ethic."
Deciding to homeschool one's own children is one thing, but why would someone care so much about whether other parents did the same that they would form a "nationwide homeschool recruitment group?" Evidently, homeschooling is viewed as a means of eliminating female reproductive freedom. You see, without homeschooling, our nation's children are "immersed in the public school culture of death."
Most Christians still enroll their children in government schools despite evolution in the textbooks, Planned Parenthood as guest speakers, school based sex clinics giving out birth control and promiscuous peers. Believers are risking the lives of the next generation by sending their children to such a place.Interesting. This statement clearly implies that most Christians do not accept evolution and oppose a woman's right to make health care decisions. What is a poor, persecuted believer to do? Fortunately, it is actually quite simple.
Believers who can create a safe, loving home should have or adopt as many children as possible and homeschool them.As many children as possible. Man, you'd think they were trying to build an army or something!
Tags: religion, Christianity, Christian, education, homeschooling, indoctrination, abortion
March 4, 2007
Watching the images of Katrina was much harder than I expected. It brought back the vivid memories of seeing the devastation outside my window. I'll never forget the roar of that wind or the cracking of trees snapping in half. Still, the storm itself paled it comparison to the aftermath, an aftermath which continues to this day for many.
Without electricity or running water, those days in the Mississippi heat were agonizing. My friends and neighbors struggled to find even basic shelter, food, and water. Nobody took charge, and FEMA was nowhere to be found. Roughly 60 miles to the south, entire communities had been obliterated. Government officials were absent. Television, radio, phones were down, making any kind of coordinated communication impossible. One could catch the tail end of a rumor, but nobody seemed to know what was going on with any certainty.
As power and water were gradually restored, I first learned what had happened in New Orleans. Like viewers around the country, I would see desperate people crying out for help from a government who was not listening. I wanted so badly to help but felt powerless to do anything. Most gas stations were down, and the few that were open were rationing gas in small quantities. The roads were filled with debris more than a week after the storm hit. I felt guilty that I had survived what many of of them had not.
I was convinced that the local, state, and federal governments would spring into action. After all, New Orleans was an American city. We take care of our own. It was inconceivable that our government would prefer to occupy and rebuild Iraq than assist our own citizens at home. Aid did eventually arrive, but it was too late for those who were already dead. The question of why it did not come faster remains unanswered.
I thought this would be a watershed moment in American history - surely Americans would rise up and demand accountability. The American government stood by and did nothing while people were pleading for help on national TV. I also hoped that Katrina would serve to highlight the third-world conditions in which many poor residents of New Orleans found themselves long before the storm.
Here we are 18 months later, and Bush is in New Orleans again making more empty promises. Evidently, he believes that the Saints' wining season is evidence of the progress in New Orleans. Progress in Louisiana and Mississippi has been undeniably slow, and many people are still living in FEMA trailers. I am not convinced that any lessons have been learned. I'm incredibly sad for America today.
Tags: Hurricane Katrina, FEMA, Bush, New Orleans, Mississippi, Louisiana, hurricane, Spike Lee, America
March 2, 2007
|English: Persecution of the Christians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
This letter was written in response to a previous letter complaining about how Christians "allowed one woman ... to remove prayer from our schools ... Christians sat back and let it happen without a fight." I did not attempt to find the previous letter, but I suspect it was referring to Madelyn Murray O'Hair. Regardless, the author of the response, Mr. Hartley, points out that this is untrue, noting that Christians fought hard to retain prayer in school. Defending their desire to infuse superstition into public education all the way to the Supreme Court is hardly standing by and doing nothing.
They lost because it is a violation of religious freedom to use taxpayer-funded schools to indoctrinate children into one particular faith. Public schools belong to everyone, not just Christians.Mr. Hartley also notes that (and this is important) no child has been deprived of his/her right to pray in school. In fact, America's children are free to wallow in any form of superstition they choose at school, as long as said wallowing does not disrupt other children or interfere with the learning process.
True, public school teachers do not have the freedom to lead their students in prayer. However, this is not what the Christian extremists are labeling persecution. As the author suggests, "So, when Christians complain about the lack of prayer in public schools, what they really mean is they would like NON-Christians to pray to Jesus." Yep, that seems to be exactly what they are after.
Are American Christians persecuted? As the author of this article recommends, it is helpful to look at the evidence:
- American public school children are free to pray silently to whatever imaginary being they wish.
- The American government is filled with avowed Christians at all levels.
- American political candidates are united in their efforts to flaunt their Christianity to potential voters.
- It is difficult to imagine that an openly atheist candidate for virtually any public office would even be taken seriously, much less elected. In some states, it wouldn't even be allowed!
Christians aren't being persecuted. They've been privileged. They've been privileged for so long that they must feel picked-on whenever they are subjected to a level playing field.I couldn't have said it better myself. I am thrilled to see such an important message being distributed through letters to the editor. Perhaps the day will come when I will be able to occasionally share my thoughts in this manner without fearing retribution.
Tags: religion, Christianity, Christian, education, school, prayer, persecution