May 31, 2007

Know Them By Their Deeds: Catholic Teacher Fired for Sex With Minor

According to TimesRecordNews.com, Kelly B. Bayer, a 30 year-old religion teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Muenster, TX, was fired for sexual misconduct with a minor. The inappropriate sexual behavior involved a 14 year-old and occurred approximately 6 years ago (Ms. Bayer would have been 24) while Ms. Bayer was serving as a youth minister at a Catholic church in Denton. A criminal investigation is now underway.

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New Blog: The Blue Linchpin

I'd like to introduce you to The Blue Linchpin, a new blog written by a startlingly bright 16 year-old atheist. She writes about politics, morality, Christian intolerance, and other relevant subjects. Sadly, the real tragedy is that her time with us may be cut short. In her first post, she writes,
I'm slowly dying of cancer (I'm estimated to have a year at the least), and because of that, I'm going to post my political ramblings because, hey, I've been interested in the world ever since I was a kid, and I've always enjoyed writing to no one.
Since reading about her on A Load of Bright, I've been visiting her regularly. She's open-minded, inquisitive, articulate, and a joy to read. I was such a tool at 16 that it is refreshing to learn what one can be capable of at that age. Check her out, and contribute some comments. I think she'd appreciate hearing from you.

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May 30, 2007

Community-Building for Atheists

Organizing atheists has value not only through political advantages but also through increased social support. Living as an atheist in America can be lonely, especially for those living in small towns and/or in more conservative regions. Since atheists are not known for being "joiners," it can be difficult for atheists to find communities which will accept them. While I suspect that this has done much for the growth and sustained interest in the atheist blogosphere, blogs are only one way to build community. The good news is that as more atheist bloggers are starting to address community-building, some useful resources are turning up.

If you live in a larger city, odds are that there is already an atheist group near you. To find out check this list at Infidels.org or Meetup.com.

Those of us in smaller towns will generally have a harder time finding other atheists, so Everyday Atheism just started a new Google group for atheists in small towns. This is also where blogs can help. In fact, Mojoey over at Deep Thoughts reminds us about Planet Atheism, a blog-of-blogs that serves as something of a one-stop reader for folks wanting to monitor some of the top atheist blogs. There is also a new Really Selective Sources page on atheism that lists recent posts for several atheist blogs on one page for easy viewing.

But if blogs do not allow interaction with a wide enough audience to meet your needs, you can find many good atheist-oriented forums. Examples include Atheist Coalition, Atheist Network, Internet Infidels, and Secular Earth.

Have you found anything else that has been particularly beneficial? If so, I'd love to hear about it.

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May 29, 2007

Oklahoma Atheists Threatened By Christians

Living as an atheist in America is often a lonely experience. However, in many of the more socially conservative areas, we may face far more serious obstacles than loneliness. Identifying ourselves as atheists may bring disdain, even discrimination. Efforts to express our views on religion are frequently met with accusations of intolerance. And then there are the threats of harm to ourselves and our loved ones.

We atheists are everywhere. Even in conservative Oklahoma where 95% of the people profess theistic belief, one will find atheists. Sadly, Oklahoma's KFOR NewsChannel 4 indicates that some have been threatened by Christians because of their lack of belief. Is it any wonder that many atheists still do not feel safe to openly admit their atheism?

The story profiles Oklahoma atheist, Kim Cole, described as one of a small number of openly atheistic people in the area. Others would agree to be interviewed only if their identity was concealed. Why?
"People do have their livelihoods threatened, their pets threatened, children bullied," says one atheist.
If you have not personally experienced any of this, consider yourself lucky. But do not make the mistake of assuming that because it hasn't happened to you that it is not happening to others. It happens with alarming regularity in many parts of America. I think we should all remember this as we are encouraging atheists to "come out." What may be safe for us is not necessarily safe for everyone.

These Oklahoma atheists connect with other freethinkers on the internet and express themselves through blogging and by participating in various online forums. However, the report does an effective job of conveying the fear they regularly experience.
"There continues to be this prejudice that we must be blood thirsty barbarians beating down the gates of civilization," says one atheist.
I suspect that many of us can relate. I imagine that I would have less incentive to blog and to participate in online forums if I was surrounded by a group of freethinkers in my community.

When you hear about how atheists aren't joiners, remember that this may be true of some of us but that it is certainly not true of all atheists. Many do not enjoy the isolation and lack of connection they may feel. Developing strong atheist-oriented communities is an important step toward providing a meaningful alternative to religious delusion.

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May 28, 2007

My E-Mail to American Atheists

I know they are incredibly busy, and their website cautions that they do not have time to respond to every e-mail they receive (especially those sent by non-members). Still, I hope the folks at American Atheists will respond to the e-mail I sent this morning. I have posted about this previously and left comments at NoGodBlog (which is supported by American Atheists), but I still have not received a clear response.

Here is the full text of my e-mail to American Atheists:
I would like to better understand why American Atheists seems to be the only national freethought organization who has not joined the Secular Coalition for America. As one of a growing number of atheist bloggers, I am very interested in helping to foster an atheist movement. The Secular Coalition seems like a great way to increase our political power and insure that our growing numbers are represented. I have held off on joining American Atheists or recommending your organization to my readers because of your conspicuous absence on the list of Secular Coalition members. However, I would like to be able to support you. Please help me understand your reasons for not becoming a coalition member so that I may share them with my readers.

Thank you.

Vjack
Atheist Revolution http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/
There is strength in numbers, and I think this is the real benefit of umbrella organizations such as the Secular Coalition for America. The more freethought organizations that support the coalition, the more constituents they can boast. As our numbers increase, it will be increasingly difficult for politicians to ignore them.

I have not ruled out the possibility that American Atheists may have legitimate reasons for not joining the Coalition. I would simply like to know their reasons for not wanting their organization listed alongside the other Coalition supporters. I will share any response I receive with you.

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New Blog Carnival: The Carnival for Radical Action

Check out the inaugural edition of the Carnival for Radical Action at The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum. I think we might be able to learn something about organizing and promoting atheist activism from folks with experience in grassroots activism. It would also be nice to get some discussion going about organizing atheists in future editions of this blog carnival. You can find more information about the carnival here.

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May 27, 2007

Creation Museum to Open Amidst Protests From Reality-Based Community

The $27 million Answers in Genesis Creation Museum is scheduled to open on May 28 in Petersburg, KY, amidst protests by the reality-based community. This museum is not only a colossal embarrassment to those of us who value reason, science, and reality itself, but it undermines science education at a time when the United States cannot afford to fall behind in science and technology.

According to Reuters,
Here exhibits show the Grand Canyon took just days to form during Noah's flood, dinosaurs coexisted with humans and had a place on Noah's Ark, and Cain married his sister to people the earth, among other Biblical wonders.
What bothers me is not that the information being presented at this museum is false; what bothers me is that this false information is being presented as the truth. They are not advertising this as some strange form of entertainment but as an educational experience. That is, the museum is attempting to pass of demonstrably false information off as true.

International observers are probably shaking their heads in disbelief and wondering how such a monument to idiocy could be built today. What they must remember is that a recent Gallup poll showed that almost half of the American people actually reject evolution, preferring to believe that the Christian god created everything in the last 10,000 years.

Scientists, various secular groups, and even some moderate Christians plan to protest the museum (see the Rally for Reason), and at least a couple of my fellow atheist bloggers will be covering the protests from Kentucky. According to the National Center for Science Education, "...there is a great deal of concern among the scientific and educational communities in the adjacent states about its impact on the public understanding of evolution."

It is important not only to protest but also to counter the toxic effects of this museum with facts about evolution. For those of us who cannot make it to Kentucky, we can console ourselves with the massive Creation Museum Carnival at Pharyngula.

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"Militant" Atheists, Why So Angry?

Increased media coverage of atheism is valuable in that it reminds the public that we are out there, perhaps living in the same community as the Christians who despise us. And yet, the media continues to perpetuate stereotypes about atheists by constantly characterizing us as "angry" or "militant." This is getting so tiring that I am considering composing a standard form letter which I can sent to every newspaper who prints another "militant atheist" story explaining to them why this is an inaccurate description.

I have previously explained why there is no such thing as a "fundamentalist atheist" or a "militant atheist," and I will not repeat myself here. Instead, I'd like to offer a potentially useful analogy to provoke some thought about why we should all care about these inaccurate phrases.

I did not live through the 1960s, but I've seen the same documentaries and heard the same stories as you have about the Civil Rights movement in America. Remember the various black militant groups? Some did carry weapons at times, but most were labeled by the media as "militant" for their rhetoric. At the time, newspapers and television focused on the guns carried by the Black Panthers and not the reasons some of these folks felt it necessary to arm themselves. They focused on how angry, extreme, and militant these groups were in their views without bothering to consider the source of the anger and whether it might be justified.

This type of coverage may have been little more than sensationalism for profit. Conflict sells, and the papers were quick to capitalize. But the real impact of such coverage was to obscure the concerns driving much of the anger experienced by marginalized groups. By casting members of these groups as dangerous radicals, it was easier to dismiss them without ever inquiring about whether some of their complaints might have merit.

I see something similar happening today. The stories on Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and our other atheist authors typically quote their most inflammatory statements. Headlines constantly refer to "angry," "extremist," or "militant" atheists. Why are atheists angry? That question rarely comes up, and when it does, it is often cast in the same sort of dangerous radical garb as was used for the black activist groups. The typical article about atheism today includes a few inflammatory statements and wraps up with the reaction of some random Christian. We see conflict but are given little insight into the realities which underlie the frustration some atheists feel. Could it be that we atheists have many valid reasons for feeling angry? Perhaps, but you would never know it from this sort of journalism.

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COG #67 at Letters From a Broad...

The 67th Carnival of the Godless is now up at Letters From a Broad... I'm off to check it out.

May 26, 2007

Democratic Party Should Be Ashamed

I have voted for Democratic candidates for most of my adult life. I agree with much of the progressive platform (to which some Democrats still pay lip service), and whether I like it or not, the Democratic Party has been the only viable alternative to the Republican Party since my 18th birthday. That said, I am extremely disappointed and angry with the current crop of Democrats in Congress. By caving into Bush's war funding with no strings attached, this is now their war too.

I do not buy the rhetoric that this funding bill was merely a "temporary setback in their efforts to bring home American troops." This is spin to conceal a failure by many within the Democratic Party. Those who voted for this bill are not worthy of our support for they have betrayed the voters who elected them.

As I understand it, the Democrats caved on Bush's war funding because they thought that voting to end the war by cutting off funding would be a political liability in the 2008 elections. In other words, they chose their own political futures over the will of the American people who put them in office partially if not primarily to end this unjust war.

They may argue that they can do far more good within the system and that preserving the political power of their party will better serve America in the long run. They might even be right. However, I am convinced that ending this war is worth taking a difficult stand. If the Democrats are not willing to stand on principle, to represent the will of the people who elected them, and to hold a corrupt administration accountable, I am not sure why the average voter should continue to support them.

It is time to get out of Iraq. Americans continue to die for a war into which the American people were deliberately misled by an administration which has still not been held accountable. A majority of Iraqis want us out of their country. Public support for the war is at an all-time low and continues to erode. And yet the party elected to stop this war refuses to do so.



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May 25, 2007

Protests Work: Military Backs Off Georgia Evangelical Event

According to The Washington Post (via The Boston Globe), the U.S. military has taken steps to distance itself from the Georgia evangelical rally following complaints by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Since the AU press release was just issued recently, it is nice to see such swift action.

According to the article,
A Washington-based advocacy group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sent letters yesterday to Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Acting Secretary of the Army Pete Geren contending that the military's extensive cooperation in the event would be unconstitutional.
The Air Force responded by claiming it was unaware of the religious focus of the event and indicating that it would seek to avoid endorsing the religious components of the celebration. While I am disappointed that the Air Force was unwilling to pull out completely, this concession would not have happened with action by Americans United. In addition, it appears that the Army may have pulled out completely if they were ever involved.
"To fail to understand this problem until it was pointed out to them is a little odd, but nevertheless I'm glad they're making these changes," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United.
I agree, and I applaud Americans United.

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Iraq: The Triumph of Ideology Over Reality

Second to atheism, I believe the topic on which I have read the most this year would be that of Iraq - specifically path to and initial management of the war by the Bush administration. I'm currently just over halfway through Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, almost certainly a book I will be able to recommend after I finish it. After reading this and several other lengthy tomes on Bush and Iraq, one conclusion is inescapable: the central theme (and perhaps even the legacy of his administration) is one of ideology winning over reality and the devastating consequences this has wrought.

For someone who has been doing so much reading on the subject, I have written surprisingly little about Iraq here. In part, this has been a deliberate choice because I think there are a number of excellent political blogs doing a better job with this complicated subject than I probably could. And yet, I must also acknowledge that part of my reluctance has come about from feeling like Iraq has turned into a no-win situation. Staying the course is clearly not a viable option, but an overly abrupt withdrawal could lead to widespread ethnic cleansing.

The single most disturbing aspect of what I have read is the pervasive overreliance on ideology at the expense of reality throughout the Bush administration. This not only led us to war, but it continues to maintain our strategy (or lack thereof). Again and again, the troubling facts indicate that many people within the administration prior to the invasion which contradicted most of what the public was told as Bush made his case for war. The intelligence community had already discredited reports of Iraq buying uranium in Niger, the use of aluminum tubes in nuclear centrifuges, the existence of mobile biological weapons labs, and almost every other justification we were asked to swallow. Blinded by ideology, the decision-makers ignored this information, handing us a case they knew to be false. This is inexcusable by itself, but the fact that so many Americans and Iraqis have died and will continue to do so is beyond despicable.

Despite reports of ongoing investigations into prewar intelligence by Congress, I will be surprised is Bush is ever held accountable. Low poll numbers is not enough. Too many are dying for his ideology.

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May 24, 2007

Participation of U.S. Military in Evangelical Rally Unconstitutional

According to a press release issued today by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the participation of the U.S. military in an upcoming evangelical rally violates the Constitution. It seems like the military would have more important things to do besides endorse evangelical Christianity.

The event at Stone Mountain, GA, is being promoted as a Memorial Day celebration, but Americans United notes that the program describes a Christian worship service and emphasizes evangelical outreach. The celebration is hosted by Lifeway Christian Stores and Task Force Patriot USA.
According to Task Force Patriot USA’s Web site, the organization exists “for the purpose of sharing the fullness of life in Jesus Christ with all U.S. military, military veterans and families,” and “Christ is our Commander-in-Chief.” The group’s logo is a shield centered with a Christian cross with its sides bracketed by an American flag and Christian flag.
It does not sound like there is any doubt about what this organization stands for or any point in arguing that they are not an explicitly Christian organization.
“There are legitimate ways to celebrate the Air Force’s 60th anniversary and to pay tribute to military personnel who bravely serve the nation, but this three-day religious extravaganza is certainly not one of them,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Instead, this event is a stunning display of the federal government using vast resources to trumpet a religious celebration.

“It is,” Lynn continued, “an over-the-top mixing of government and religion. Shouldn’t the military spend its resources on defending the country, not promoting evangelical Christianity?”
So much for separation of church and state, huh? I am glad that we have organizations such as Americans United to monitor gross violations of our Constitution. As far as I am concerned, they deserve my membership dues.

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Is Church Becoming Less Relevant in America?

An overwhelming majority of Americans profess belief in a god, but recent data suggest that church attendance is declining. What are the reasons for the decline, and what are we to make of this encouraging trend?

According to The News Journal (Delaware), attendance at mainstream Christian churches in Delaware declined 2-3% between 1990 and 2000. A small drop, but evidently one which has area clergy concerned. It seems that the phenomenon not limited to Delaware, as the article also cites a study by the Barna Research Group which found that 1 in 3 American adults has not attended church in 6 months.
It's a statistic that makes those who value religion worry that the habit of worship is declining, even more so than in the early '90s when one out of five adults did not attend services.
Why the decline? According to the article, the likely culprits include changes in the composition of mainstream church congregations (e.g., fewer fundamentalists), congregants tiring of the constant focus on divisive topics (e.g., abortion and homosexuality), and secular demands on time that compete with church.

In order to survive, churches are exploring how to make themselves more attractive. Some of the ideas are quite interesting. One popular idea was that mainstream church needs to be less structured and have fewer rules. Another strategy is to try to compete with the mega-churches by emulating them as much as possible. Still another idea appears to be increasingly targeting immigrant groups.

To my mind, the article contains many subtle clues about the real problem is for mainstream religion - church has lost quite a bit of its relevance. There have always been competing demands on one's time, but I think church has declined on the list of how people prioritize their involvement in all the various demands on their time. Could it be that religion itself is gradually becoming less relevant to members of mainstream denominations?

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May 23, 2007

A Secular TV Channel?

Do you feel that you are bombarded with religious messages on television? Does a lack of openly atheist characters on TV trouble you? Do you ever find yourself wishing that there was a channel on which you could count on finding secular viewpoints expressed? The Atheist Jew asks, "Is it time for a secular TV channel?" What might such a channel look like, and is it feasible?

As for the programming one might find on such a channel, The Atheist Jew offers plenty of intriguing examples. He sees the channel as focusing on "science, reality and facts." It might have a 2-3 hours/day devoted to atheism where viewers would be treated to The Infidel Guy, Penn and Teller, or similarly appropriate programs. He also envisions a nightly show from the Rational Response Squad. Other programming would include secular news, movies, and other content yet to be determined.

This is an interesting idea to consider. It drives me crazy to see news shows report on religion as if it is somehow factual, going out of their way not to offend the vast numbers of people who intentionally maintain belief in ancient superstitions no less absurd than the mythology of any primitive society one can name. Time and time again, such shows propagate myths about atheism, fostering ignorance and bigotry.

Unfortunately, I do not think that such a channel would be either particularly feasible or even appealing. The problems with feasibility are obvious and include the lack of original programming, the difficulty securing advertising dollars for such a venture, and the tiny audience which would be served by such a channel. Who is going to watch such a channel, and what can they find here that they cannot find elsewhere?

Honestly, I have a hard time imagining myself wanting to watch such a channel. I love the History Channel and Discovery. When they air religious nonsense, I watch something else. I would much rather encourage a secular perspective on existing channels rather than create an artificial bubble in which freethought could flourish. The challenge is how we can gain a voice in existing media. Love them or hate them, I think this is one of the things Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens are now doing for us.

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May 22, 2007

Gas Prices Bother You?

Does the fact that we are now seeing record high gas prices while the oil companies continue to show record profits bother you? If so, there is a quick and easy way for you to do something about it.

MoveOn.org has a petition you can sign which will be delivered to your representative in Congress, asking him or her to stand up to the Big Oil lobby by opposing summer gas price gouging.

Free Speech and Religion: Difficult Questions

We Americans value our freedom of speech, but many of us feel uneasy about allowing harassment, hate speech, or intimidation. Thus, most of us support some sort of limits on free speech. Even those who do not must recognize that the law already limits free speech in many ways. For example, verbal threats of bodily harm count as simple assault in the criminal code of many states. Legislatures and courts continue to struggle over finding an appropriate balance, often managing to please almost no one. Fitting religion in this mix is especially problematic and raises a number of disturbing questions.

I have little trouble with most anti-discrimination laws, including those that list religion alongside variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, etc. An atheist employer should not legally be able to fire a Christian employee solely on the basis of that person's religion. To do so would be discrimination, and I agree that this is wrong. Of course, I also expect that this applies to Christian employers firing atheists, Muslims, etc.

But something like employment discrimination tends to be simpler than more pure speech issues. Should it be against the law to criticize someone on the basis of their ethnicity, national origin, or gender? What about their religion? And what about criticizing a religion in general without making reference to specific persons? Should The God Delusion be banned on the grounds that it is critical of Christianity and Islam?

Before you dismiss such questions as absurd, consider this post from Austin Cline which describes how the Tufts University student newspaper was told by the Tufts University Committee on Student Life that they could not run materials critical of Islam because such materials violated the university prohibition of "harassment or discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, religion, gender identity/expression, ethnic or national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, or genetics."

Tufts appears to equate criticism of a religion with "harassment or discrimination." They claim that their policy is based on "community standards." But how can it be either when the criticism does not focus on any particularly individuals? Are we now giving people a new right - the right not to be exposed to criticism of a religion in which they might believe? To what else might this right extend? If I say that I do not like Italian food, am I guilty of harassing or discriminating against Italians?

I understand that nobody likes to have something they like criticized, but aren't we going too far by prohibiting such criticism? It seems like we should be able to distinguish between depriving someone of various opportunities or rights on the basis of religion (i.e., discrimination) and criticism. If we cannot manage to do this, I fear that free speech may become a causality of political correctness.

Then what do we do about hate speech and the like? I think we have to allow it. When someone engages in this sort of speech outside any official capacity (and not in my damn blog comments), I'm not sure we have any good choices besides allowing it. Virtually anything someone says is going to offend someone. One of the worst mistakes the PC crowd has made is propagating the idea that people have the right not to be offended. I do not like hearing racist, homophobic, sexist or anti-atheist speech, but I think I have to accept that I will continue to hear it. After all, I have the right to oppose it.

For more on this topic, see Stardust Musings and Thoughts for the Freethinker.

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May 21, 2007

DefCon Petition: Oppose the Creation Museum

If you have not already signed DefCon's petition expressing disapproval of the Creation Museum, you have one week left to do so. Note that there are two petitions: one for educators and one for everyone else. The number of signatures is growing, but we can do better.

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Correction: Not Christian Terrorism After All

It seems that I may have been too hasty in suggesting that a recent attempted bombing of the Austin Women's Health Center was another case of Christian terrorism. The inference seemed warranted because rabid, anti-choice Christians have been involved in each of the previous clinic attacks. However, a reader has informed me that this case is far more complex and that the typical motives do not appear to apply.

Salazar sent me this story from The Austin-American Statesman via e-mail. It now appears that the alleged bomber, 27 year-old Paul Ross Evans, may not have had the usual anti-abortion motive at all. In fact, it turns out that this case may be far more interesting than a routine act of Christian terrorism. In the article, Evans is described as having an inoperable cyst in his brain, leading to serious mental health problems, including impaired impulse control. He is expected to use a mental state defense in his pending criminal case. This looks like it will be an interesting case to follow.

For more, see the Neuroethics & Law Blog.

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Humanist Symposium #2

The second Humanist Symposium is now up at Confessions of an Anonymous Coward. Check it out.

May 20, 2007

Targeted by a Christian Army

An article appeared on the front page of my local paper, The Hattiesburg American, back in April that really got my attention. Maybe it was because it was accompanied by a large picture of a man carrying a cross and being followed by a group of people through the streets of the town in which I live. The article was titled, "Journey leads to new beginning," and I've been meaning to post about it for some time.

The article described a pastor, Rev. Dean Register, at one of our few mega-churches who abruptly resigned after 14 years without explanation. The press doesn't seem to know (or care) why, and this was not the subject of the article. Rather, the article described this pastor and 25 other men carrying a cross through town to the site of his new church.
"This is all about Jesus and it's not about anything else but his love for us," Register said, after placing the cross at the corner of the convention center's entrance.

"This is a humble feeling and it's exciting to know what God's going to do with his new army."
Army? I suppose you can see why this got my attention. But this really wasn't the part that hit me between the eyes. That comes next.
"There are 70-75,000 people in the Pine Belt that do not attend church on Sunday," he said. "We want to target the wounded, weak, broken, and bruised."
What about those of us who are neither wounded, weak, broken, or bruised and are simply free from superstition? Finally, the article quotes one of the congregants who will leave Register's old church and follow him to the new church.
"I am not following a man but I'm following my heart because I feel the presence of Jesus Christ," she said.
Putting the pieces together, it appears that those of us in South Mississippi who do not attend church can expect to be "targeted" by members of a Christian "army," composed of folks who think that they "feel the presence" of an apparition.

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May 19, 2007

Congress Prods Army to Address Anti-Atheist Bigotry in Tillman Case

According to the Associated Press via AZCentral.com, some in Congress are finally starting to inquire about the Army's investigation of the officer, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, who made offensive comments made about Pat Tillman's family. As a relatively high-profile case of anti-atheist bigotry, the Pat Tillman story has generated considerable interest across the atheist blogosphere.

I suspect you remember what Kauzlarich said, but here is a refresher from the report:
During an interview last year with ESPN.com, Kauzlarich argued that the Tillman family, which pressured the Pentagon for a thorough investigation after initially being misled about how he was killed, would not accept previous Army findings "because of the absence of Christian faith in their lives."

"When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt," Kauzlarich said in the interview.
It sounds like there may be an ongoing Army investigation of Kauzlarich's comments, but details are extremely sketchy and it appears that there has been no disciplinary action. I applaud Congress for finally getting involved, but I need to be clear about one thing.
Kauzlarich should be disciplined only because he was speaking as a representative of the Army (which is supposed to be secular like the rest of America). If he had made these statements outside his official role, no punishment is warranted.

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May 18, 2007

Pornstar Jenna Jameson Endorses Hillary Clinton

I've been so on-topic lately that I've earned a brief diversion. According to PR.com, pornstar Jenna Jameson has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in 2008.
I love Hillary. I think that in some ways she's pretty conservative for a democrat, but I would love to have a woman in office. I think that it would be a step in the right direction for our country, and there would be less focus on war and more focus on bettering society.
When asked whether who is in office makes a difference for her industry, Jenna replied,

Absolutely. The Clinton administration was the best years for the adult industry and I wish that Clinton would run again. I would love to have him back in office. I would love to have Al Gore in office. When Republicans are in office, the problem is, a lot of times they try to put their crosshairs on the adult industry, to make a point. It's sad, when there are so many different things that are going on in the world: war, and people are dying of genocide. It's sad that they feel that they have to target the sex industry, and not target the problems with insurance and the homeless and the AIDS epidemic. There are so many things that need to be cleared up before fucking pornography. I look forward to another democrat being in office. It just makes the climate so much better for us, and I know that once all our troops come home, things are going to be better and I think that getting Bush out of office is the most important thing right now.

I couldn't agree more.

H/T to LAist.com.

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Christians Demand Right to Hate

During the whole Don Imus fiasco, many questions were raised about how best to balance freedom of speech with the language of intolerance. I'm still waiting for the meaningful dialogue the mainstream media assured us was coming. Now we have another example of why these questions are so important as Austin Cline provides us with one of the best examples I've seen in awhile of what Christianity is all about.

Christians in Sacramento, CA, are protesting the decision of San Juan High School principal, Dave Terwilliger, to prohibit Christian students from wearing t-shirts in school telling their classmates that they are going to hell. It seems that these Christians have decided to frame this as a threat to their religious freedom. Does this mean that intolerance is a core part of the Christian religion? You'll get no argument from me.

As Austin points out so effectively, we should consider this story in a particular context - the context of American atheists being regularly condemned as "intolerant" or "disrespectful" for speaking out against religion. Austin goes on to ask many compelling questions (e.g., "Would Christians be allowed to wear shirts expressing opposition to racial integration?") before stating what should be obvious:
Christians don't have a religious "right" to intimidate others whenever they have religious objections to the behavior and/or beliefs of others in society. They may sincerely believe that they have a god-given right and god-mandated duty to hate certain segments of society, but none of this translates into a legal right to use that hatred as a means to intimidate others in public school.
Christians, you can't have it both ways. If you don't want students wearing "F@$& the skull of Jesus" shirts at the public high school, you must also oppose shirts telling gay students that they are going to burn in hell. If it is more important to you that you be allowed to spread your intolerance and hatred, then you forfeit your right to complain when your ridiculous superstition becomes the target.

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May 17, 2007

Bush on Falwell

According to Christian Newswire, President Bush had the following to say about the death of Jerry Falwell:
Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Jerry Falwell, a man who cherished faith, family, and freedom. As the founder of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, Jerry lived a life of faith and called upon men and women of all backgrounds to believe in God and serve their communities. One of his lasting contributions was the establishment of Liberty University, where he taught young people to remain true to their convictions and rely upon God’s word throughout each stage of their lives.
Falwell "cherished faith, family, and freedom," did he? I'm not so sure about family or freedom. He certainly didn't seem to think too highly of women or homosexuals. I clearly valued his own freedom to spread hatred, but I'm not sure if that is particularly praiseworthy. It sounds like we are supposed to applaud him, regardless of what he did or said, because he cloaked himself in the garb of faith. I'm with Christopher Hitchens on this one.

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Understanding Evangelicals: Now What?

I received many thought-provoking comments in response to my recent summary of what I learned about evangelical Christians. In this post, I'd like to follow a particular concern raised in these comments - the idea that learning more about evangelical Christians and what they believe may be of little real-world value in figuring out how to relate to such people.

I should say out the outset that I agree with this criticism up to a point. Understanding what evangelicals believe, why they think they believe it, or even how they acquired or maintain such beliefs, offers little in helping me figure out how to live alongside them. Does this mean that such efforts are wasted? I don't think so.
 

I find learning about the evangelical mind to be quite fascinating even if it does not translate directly into action. Maybe this is just one of my particular quirks and I should not expect others to share it. I've always delighted in trying to understand the human mind and the many things that can interfere with its optimal functioning. We all make mistakes and commit a number of cognitive errors that can lead to emotional problems or derail our reasoning ability. In the case of evangelical Christians, one can find many such errors. In fact, some appear to be evident in this population that are not usually encountered outside of mental illness. Exploring such minds both satisfies and fuels my intellectual curiosity.

But is this merely a hobby, or might it have some utility? After taking the time to summarize the many comments contributed by evangelical Christians, I had two unexpected reactions. First, I found that I could empathize with them to a degree. By realizing that many of them are motivated by compassion and that some genuinely believe that their proselytizing benefits the recipients, I felt less angry. Don't get me wrong - I despise Christian proselytizing. It is just that it bothers me less if I associate it with benevolent intent than simply extrinsic motives (e.g., earning magic Jesus points). Second, I felt far more sad than I did angry. I found myself feeling sorry for the evangelicals. They really do believe some of the nonsense they spout, and this is terribly unfortunate.

Will this experience teach me how better to live alongside evangelical Christians? Maybe not, but I think that it does help me realize that some of the ways in which I am naturally inclined to behave around them may be counterproductive. Understanding may not take us all the way to where we'd like to be, but it may be a necessary first step.

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May 16, 2007

Letter to a New Atheist

You who have been cursed with a religious upbringing which you are now questioning, this letter is for you. You who are starting to doubt whether an ancient text really offers you much worthwhile guidance about how to live your life today, this letter is for you. You who are now managing to break free from superstition and trying to come to terms with what it means to be an atheist, this letter is for you.

Dear Atheist,

Yes, that's right - I said "atheist." I know you were raised to believe that this is the worst insult imaginable, but it is not. An atheist is someone who does not answer "yes" when asked whether he or she believes in any sort of god or gods. It has nothing to do with Communism, Satanism, evil, immorality, or any of what you have probably been taught about it. There is also no need for you to be confused about agnosticism, for it is superfluous here. Self-described agnostics are merely atheists who do not like the negative connotations some religious folk have with atheism. If you no longer answer a confident "yes" to the question of god or gods, you are an atheist.

I wish I could tell you that life as an atheist was going to be easy. It won't. Of course, you probably already know that most that is worthwhile does not come easily. Your life will be harder if you happen to live in any of the more conservative parts of America. As an atheist, you belong to the most hated minority group in America. Not a pleasant thought, is it? It is fairly likely that you will experience slights, discrimination, and even hatred, all because you do not believe what they believe.

And yet, this is a price worth paying for your new found freedom. Remember that movie, The Matrix, that was so popular? Well, you are sort of like Neo once he was freed from the matrix of religion. Reality might not have been quite as appealing as the matrix (or your pastor) made it our to be, but it is real. You are just starting to get a taste of true freedom, freed from the confines of religious delusion, and this will grow as you learn to be comfortable with living in contact with reality. You will learn that religion has little to do with happiness or morality and discover a compelling alternative in the form of secular humanism. You will find that freedom from religion permits you to find your own meaning, whether it is in nature, from exploring your interests and passions, etc. You will experience the joy of acting in accordance with timeless moral precepts in which ethical behavior is not tied to threats of eternal damnation or false promises of immortality.

The task before you now is one of learning how to become your kind of atheist. You need not conform to anyone's stereotype about how atheists are supposed to act. Do not feel guilty if you decide to keep your lack of belief to yourself, sharing it only with a close circle of trusted others. But similarly, do not feel guilty if you decide to be open about your atheism, move toward activism, and/or decide to work toward changing public attitudes toward atheists. The point is, you need to learn to become comfortable in your own skin. We atheists are a diverse group, and there is plenty of room for you to be your kind of atheist, whatever that may be.

Atheists are a wonderful bunch, but there is nothing that you could call a recognizable atheist community in the sense that might be familiar to ex-Christians. However, many of us are doing what we can to facilitate the growth of various communities, online or in the real world. Atheists are among the most intelligent, witty, hilarious, thoughtful, and compassionate people you could hope to find. We may not always agree, but this is part of the beauty of not having a dogma - it frees us to interact on a much more meaningful level.

Welcome!

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May 15, 2007

Falwell is Dead

According to CNN, Jerry Falwell died today at the age of 73. A successor to his legacy of intolerance and hatred has not yet been announced.

Know Them By Their Deeds: Pastor Accused of Rape

According to The Dallas Morning News, a woman's lawsuit against a Fort Worth pastor has led 8 other women to come forward with disturbing allegations. Rev. Allen of the Shiloh Institutional Church of God in Christ has been accused of "paddling and raping women under the guise of scriptural teaching." Worse, it sounds like his church received multiple complaints and ignored them until attorneys got involved.

According to the lawsuit, the 34 year-old plaintiff sought "spiritual counseling" from Rev. Allen, during which he assigned her various biblical passages about spanking. If she did not read them, she was punished...with a wooden paddle. Paddling would eventually progress to sexual assault. It also appears that these recent accusations are not the first faced by Rev. Allen. He faced sexual assault charges in the 1980s, which were later dismissed.

The obvious question is why these women would have went along with this depravity, and yet, the plaintiff's answer should not be particularly surprising:
"I looked at him as a man of God, my pastor," she said. "I just revered him. I always thought he was hearing from God."
Another example of the high costs of religion. Sexual assault is going to happen with or without religion, but it is hard to argue that religion warrants some blame in this particular case. I've addressed this before, and something tells me that I will continue to have occasion to do so.

Fortunately, the national body of the Church of God in Christ has suspended Allen, even if this action took three months after the recent accusations of rape surfaced. Still, it is nice to see that the national body is taking the accusations seriously.
"The Church of God in Christ does not condone inappropriate behavior from any of its representatives and does not comment on pending litigation," it said. "Until then, Pastor Sherman Allen has been suspended from all national and local pastoral roles and activities."
Good for them. Unfortunately, the attorney representing the women says that their allegations "span a 25-year period" and that 3-4 of the women previously complained to the church. So it sounds like we have yet another case of a church looking the other way to protect a deranged pastor.

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May 14, 2007

Something From Nothing: Reason or Faith?

Since moving to the new comment policy, I've been getting more e-mails from readers. Even though I am constantly behind in my e-mail correspondence and something is seriously wrong with my Outlook, this is probably a positive sign that the comment policy is having an impact. I received an e-mail recently from a Christian reader, and my initial hasty response was not satisfactory to the reader. I thought I'd elaborate here and invite your input as well.

At the end of a longer and impressively polite e-mail, a Christian reader sent the following question:
When it comes to creation, how is the belief that something came from nothing more logical than the idea that something came from something (or someone)?
For some reason, I misinterpreted this as the common challenge we atheists frequently hear from Christians. I responded as follows:
It appears that you are hinting at one form of the Cosmological Argument (i.e., the idea that there must be a first cause to explain how everything came into existence). There are many atheist responses to this ancient line of argument which can be found in any decent philosophy text. The brief version is that anyone making this argument gets stuck once they posit a god. If there must be a god because all entities require a first cause, then what caused god? I have never met an atheist who believed that something came from nothing. The common view tends to be that there has always been something (e.g., matter, energy, etc.). See also here.
The reader then politely pointed out that I had not really answered his question. He's right. I was so used to the standard question that I reflexively responded as if that had been his query. He clarified, and now I think I understand the question.
I suppose my question stems more from the reliance upon logic which I interpret from your writing. If it is illogical to believe in a god who has always existed, I suppose I’m confused why it’s more logical to believe in energy and matter that has always existed. In my mind, it seems that both are radical statements of faith, not science or logic.
If I am reading this correctly, the question is: How is it more logical/rational/scientific to believe that something (e.g., matter and energy) has always existed than it is to believe in a god that has always existed? I encourage my readers to take a stab at this one in the comments.

For me, the obvious starting point is to highlight the difference between natural and supernatural. Logic/reason/science deal with the natural world only. In fact, the very definition of supernatural is such that it precludes the application of logic/reason/science. Thus, the short answer to your question is that it is more logical/rational/scientific to believe that matter and energy have always existed than it is to believe in a god that has always existed because most conceptions of gods (including the Christian god) necessarily exclude logic/reason/science.

Although we could stop here and consider the matter resolved, I'll also encourage you to look at the world as it presently exists. It is more logical/rational/scientific to believe that matter and energy currently exist as compared with any sort of gods because their existence is empirically verifiable. That is, we have evidence that matter and energy currently exist. We have no evidence of any sort of supernatural entities, and this is precisely why religion is wedded to faith. As we go back in time just a few centuries, the situation does not change at all. We have ample evidence of the natural world and no evidence of the supernatural world. As we continue to go back in time, I see no reason to expect this situation to somehow reverse.

Lest I be accused of talking around what is most likely to central issue for you, let me be more direct. The origins of our universe remain mysterious. While science has made considerable progress in explaining how universes may come into being, it is unlikely that we will ever know with certainty exactly how our universe came into being. We weren't around to watch it happen. But to attempt to insert some sort of god into this equation has absolutely nothing to do with logic, reason, or science. It is the stuff of myth, an anthropomorphization of natural processes designed to fulfill our desires whatever the cost. And unfortunately, the cost has been tremendous.

For more on this topic, see:
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May 13, 2007

Educating the Public About Atheism

We atheists can learn a great deal from other social movements that have helped to reduce bigotry and encourage equitable treatment. Civil rights, women's suffrage, and gay rights all contain valuable lessons, but it seems to me that the plight of the GLBT community may have the most to teach us. We share many things, but one of the most important may be the issue of our visibility.

Just as many Americans used to (and some still might) claim to have never known a homosexual person, many now claim to have never encountered an atheist. They may acknowledge the existence of atheists in some distant blue state but not in their heartland community. And yet, we are there. Like many in the GLBT community, many of us try to conceal our lack of belief because we fear the consequences of revealing it.

What we can learn from the gay rights movement is that one of the key steps to improving our situation is to increase our visibility. Increasing numbers of us are "coming out," but one area where we have made little progress is the domain of media coverage. I remember a time when one rarely heard anything about the GLBT community in the media and the little coverage there was was nearly always negative. This seems to characterize our current situation. How many stories on "the new atheism" have you encountered that don't make a point of criticizing us as overly aggressive?

It was a recent post from Austin Cline that started me thinking about this. He pointed out that Christian extremists' worst nightmare is that we start to be "perceived as normal, acceptable, unobjectionable, or even positive."
As was the case with gays, consistently negative media messages are necessary for them to maintain the illusion that religion is necessary for morality, order, and democracy. If atheists come to be perceived as normal, then atheism itself will be difficult to paint as immoral.
When stories such as this one in The University Daily Kansan appear in the mainstream media, Christian extremists cringe because atheists are not depicted in negative ways. Not only do such stories normalize us in the eyes of the average American, but they allow us to interact with others non-defensively, challenging the stereotype of the angry atheist.

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COG #66 at The Atheist Experience

If a little godless reading on Mother's Day sounds as good to you as it does to me, head over the The Atheist Experience to check out the 66th Carnival of the Godless.


May 12, 2007

Cameron and Comfort: Asshats on TV

When I first heard about the evangelicals vs. atheists debate scheduled to be televised on ABC, I had little interest. Kirk Cameron is a joke, and learning that he would be part of it really told me all I needed to know. I saw no reason to blog about it because everyone else was. And yet, I somehow found myself watching it anyway. Maybe I was simply a victim of the hype. After watching the episode of Nightline which aired the debate, I am not sure who I am most embarrassed for: Cameron and Comfort, the atheists, or the show that aired this.

As absurd an unoriginal as everything Comfort said was, I have to give him some credit for at least trying. He presented the tired argument from design in the same way you have heard it presented countless times. It was not any more compelling this time than any other time I've encountered it. But until he started showing artists renderings of "transitional animals" to attack evolution, he at least managed to keep it together for the most part.

The same cannot be said for Cameron. I couldn't help feeling embarrassed for him. He did not even seem to have the intelligence or interpersonal awareness to realize that he was doing little more than spouting gibberish. It was hard to watch because I couldn't help feeling sorry for him. He's devoted his life to argue something false, and he lacks the skill to mount an even mildly respectable argument.

The atheists, part of the Rational Response Squad, delivered effective arguments and obviously won from a technical standpoint in that they quite easily dismantled the arguments Cameron and Comfort threw at them. However, they lost points for their manner of presentation. With reason and science on their side, the atheists did not need mockery or the overly aggressive attitude. Remember, broadcasts like this are all most of the American public sees of atheists. This creates an additional burden on atheists utilizing such forums to break public stereotypes rather than reinforce them. Had the atheists remained calm and concealed their personal distaste for the evangelicals, they would have dealt anti-atheist stereotypes a major blow.

But the real losers here have to be the people at ABC for terrible moderation and the worst editing job I have ever encountered on this type of show. The end result was that something which could have been entertaining was turned into something barely watchable and which gave a distorted perspective of the actual debate. The best stuff from the debate never aired - see for yourself.

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May 11, 2007

Organizing Atheists: Difficult But Necessary

Organizing atheists is often likened to herding cats. Because "atheism" refers to nothing more than a lack of acceptance of the theistic belief claim (i.e., that some sort of god or gods exist), atheists appear to have little in common besides what they do not believe. And yet, there do appear to be a few issues on which most atheists, secular humanists, and freethinkers agree and can be united (e.g., opposition to theocracy, a preference not to be bombarded with pro-religion messages, disgust over anti-atheist bigotry, etc.). However difficult organizing atheists may be, this does not mean that it is impossible or that it would not be advantageous.

Imagine that you are a local politician, perhaps a member of your city council, school board, or similar body. Someone brings a complaint to you about a local ordinance, expenditure, or policy. While listening to the complainant, you realize that you agree with them. They have made a strong case for the position, and you think that they are correct to request the change they are requesting. You attempt to make the change through your vote, an order, a public statement, or whatever means would be appropriate in your situation. At this point, you are approached by 30-40 citizens opposing your decision and wanting you to reverse it. You listen to their arguments carefully but disagree, finding their case irrational and counterproductive.

Now consider your dilemma. A change was suggested to you, and you agreed that it was an important one to make. However, you are now receiving considerable public pressure to ignore what you think is right and do something with which you do not agree. Odds are, you end up setting aside what you think is right, bowing to public pressure, and opting for that the majority position with which you disagree. After all, you are a politician who wants to retain your office.

Without improved organization, we atheists, secular humanists, and/or freethinkers are never going to have much of a voice. Unless we can find common ground, even if it consists of temporary alliances focused on particular issues, we are doomed to be barely audible voices of reason in a sea of superstition and irrationality. A noble position? Perhaps, but I tend to be more concerned with results than appearances.

What we need is a grassroots freethought organization along the lines of MoveOn.org. Regardless of what you think of their politics, you have to admire the influence they have come to have. Picture an internet-based alliance of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and freethinkers where the members would have a voice in setting the goals of the organization and where the organization would use websites, e-mail, text messages, etc. to mobilize members to make our voices heard.

Yes, I am fully aware that there are already a handful of organizations attempting to do something like this for the freethought community. I am even a member of a couple of them. They are certainly a step in the right direction, but none come close to what we need. These organizations are weakened by their division, do a lousy job of recruiting new members or providing a sense of community to current members, and some do not really seem to do much of anything other than collect money. We can do better. I know we can do better. There are atheists all over America who are ready to come forward and be a part of a movement. It saddens me to see this resource wasted.

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May 10, 2007

The God-Given Right to Hate

The latest target of Christian extremists appears to be pending hate crimes legislation (HR 1592), and this is a huge issue for them. If you have any doubt as to how important this bill is to Christian extremists, Google "hate crimes Christian," and you'll see what I mean. Could it be that these Christians are actually upset because they want the right to hatefully oppose and discriminate against certain groups? I can't help being reminded of Cheney's insistence that he retain the right to torture at will. What is really going on here, and what is at stake?

From what I heard on NPR, the goal of the proposed hate crimes legislation is to extend federal protection to gender and sexual orientation. According to DefCon, this is troubling to Christian extremists because they do not think homosexual Americans should have this sort of protection under the law. DefCon makes the case for Christian extremists' opposition coming from their opposition to homosexuality, but it is more than that. The opposition also stems from their fear that the law would make even minor expressions of sexism or homophobia illegal. Of course, this is not at all what hate crimes legislation is about. Expansion of this law would mean that crimes in which the perpetrator was clearly motivated by sexism or homophobia would qualify for consideration of a hate crimes enhancement in the penalty phase of the trial. In other words, a case of unambiguous gay bashing could be considered for a stiffer penalty compared to a similar crime where hatred was not clearly the motive. Not quite the same thing as Orwellian thought police, is it?

So what is really going on here? In all likelihood, Christian extremists are opposing this bill out of a misguided attempt to scare and then rally their base. If they can convince their mindless flock that this bill is another example of America's secular government attacking their previous superstitions, then they remain relevant and gain publicity.

For more information, check out Pam's House Blend.

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May 9, 2007

Why Atheist Bloggers Discuss God

Posting at God is for Suckers!, Stardust had a bit of fun with a comment from a Christian troll (see here). The comment was as follows:
If there is no God and you really don’t care, why do you insist on maintaining a blog site that states over and over that there is no God and you really don’t care. Who are you trying to convince?
It turns out that this is a very common question from Christian visitors to atheist blogs. It is one that I have been asked and have previously answered here. However, I think that Stardust's brief response is worth highlighting.

To answer this question, Stardust posted an interesting video clip. However, she first said,
We are trying to convince YOU that you need to give up the sky daddy beliefs or keep your religion to yourself and out of our secular government, our public schools and institutions, and our bedrooms….honestly. (And also stop trespassing on our private property with your bible-thumping — our homes are our ” PRIVATE sanctuaries” away from the world.)
Knowing Stardust, this was intended as a flippant off-the-cuff sort of remark, but I think it conveys considerable wisdom. Many atheists, myself included, do feel this way. If we were not convinced that religion was harmful and that humanity would be better off without it, we would probably have little to say on the subject.

Proud irrationality troubles us because we've seen the damage it does and continues to do. We see widespread religiosity, with its glorification of faith over reason, as a detriment to everything from medicine to effective environmental policy. We want the toxic influence of religion out of government and government-funded institutions. We want to be able to raise our children free from religious indoctrination. While we support the right of Americans to freely practice their religion, we do not believe that this includes the proselytizing. Rather, such practice should take place in churches and private homes. You see, we believe that religious people should have the right to be religious, but they should not have the right to impose their religion on others.

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May 8, 2007

Church and State Blurring in Missouri

According to the Associated Press via the News Tribune, a bill designed to increase cooperation between the state of Missouri and faith-based organizations passed the Missouri House with a wide margin. This bill requires the Department of Social Services "to coordinate with faith-based organizations" in providing services to the needy. The Missouri Senate already passed the bill, so it is now headed for the governor.

Since faith-based programs have not demonstrated their efficacy (and are actually judged by different standards, at least at the federal level), this sounds like a problem for Missouri taxpayers. Being asked to fund faith-based programs without evidence that such programs work as well as their secular alternatives should be a concern. Then again, I suppose if there was evidence that such programs worked, they wouldn't need to be called faith-based, would they?

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May 7, 2007

New Blog: Religion *is* a Problem

The atheist blogosphere continues to grow, but we always have room for another quality atheist-oriented blog. I'd like to introduce you to a great new one: Religion *is* a Problem. This blog deals with "specific instances of harm and suffering caused by religion and religious faith around the world." What a great idea! Something tells me that there will be no shortage of material.
I hope that every post I make to this blog will help someone - religious or not - to see that religions are not benign organizations that only do good. Rather, that they cause and allow real harm and suffering, grotesque crimes against humanity, and wholly unnecessary conflict.
Religion *is* a Problem joins my blogroll, and I look forward to reading more great posts on the harm caused by religion and religious belief.

May 6, 2007

What Have I Learned About Evangelical Christians?

MInistry in Contemporary Culture - Does Evange...
MInistry in Contemporary Culture - Does Evangelicalism have a Future? (Photo credit: George Fox Evangelical Seminary)
Awhile back, I posed a series of questions to current or former evangelical Christians. Thanks to all those who responded. Before reading this post where I will do my best to summarize what I learned, I recommend you review the previous post so you understand the rationale for my questions. Okay, now we'll continue and see if we can't all learn something about evangelical Christians.

I'm organizing this post in a question and answer format, starting with each of my questions followed by a summary of the coherent responses received. For the sake of brevity, the summary of responses will be just that - a summary.

What are evangelical Christians taught about the value of proselytizing?

Many of those who responded made reference to the Christian bible and how it is regularly interpreted as commanding believers to preach to others. They evangelize because their god commands them to do so or as a way of honoring their god. Others indicated that they are driven by the strength of their belief (i.e., they attempt to communicate their beliefs to others because their beliefs are so strong that they must come out). It almost sounds as if sharing one's religious beliefs with others is viewed as an indication of the strength of one's faith.

Proselytizing appears to be more of an important social norm rather than a rule. That is, believers learned that it was beneficial, that heavenly rewards were associated with it, and that they would be devalued or even viewed with suspicion for failing to proselytize. Some also learned that others would burn in hell if they were not saved, so conversion attempts can easily be framed as a form of compassion.

Is it fair to say that converting others to one's religion is an important goal for evangelical Christians?

There was unanimous agreement that conversion is an important goal for evangelical Christians, although some were not crazy about the word "conversion" in this context. It was pointed out that evangelism is about attempting to lead nonbelievers to their god. The idea seems to be that the Christian god does the conversion supernaturally, and the evangelical's task is to facilitate that. 


There is no question that helping others find their god is an important (if not central) activity for evangelical Christians. As many believers are absolutely convinced that they have the truth, it makes sense that they would want to share it with others, especially if they also believe that this sort of sharing with be beneficial to their god, themselves, and the listener.

If so, what is the motivation for converting others to your religion? Are certain rewards promised, does it simply relate to believing that others would be better off as Christians, or is there some other motive?

Many motives were described, including spiritual benefits, love of one's fellow humans and/or of one's god, the sense that one was following god's commands or performing a valuable duty, increased attendance at one's church, validation of one's own beliefs, strengthening one's own faith, social comparison with one's peers, and the conviction that leading others to one's god really was in their best interest (i.e., salvation). An important intrinsic motive appears to be simply wanting others to share in a highly valued experience. Just like other forms of sharing meaningful experiences, the idea seems to be that this can be a way to connect with others.

Do/did you ever feel any external pressure to convert others, or was this purely an intrinsic desire?

Many believers acknowledged external pressure, and some even recounted being given assignments to share their faith with others. Some perceived the pressure as supernatural, referring to their god. Some indicated that there was also pressure to behave as if they were having spiritual experiences (e.g., speaking in tongues, etc.). 


Others disagreed with the idea of external pressure and referred instead to pressure in the form of spiritually-derived compassion for others. One particularly interesting theme that came up was the feelings of righteous and "warrior mentality" that sometimes accompanied one's efforts to share one's faith.

Were you ever provided with any instruction or guidance about how to convert others?

Evidently, this is so common as to be close to universal. Evangelicals described being given all sorts of tools to assist their proselytizing (e.g., training manuals, bible passages to quote, tracts to distribute, DVDs on how to evangelize, pat answers to common questions, classes on how to reach specific groups, etc.).

Concluding Thoughts

In the original post in which I posed these questions, I promised Christians who took the time to respond that this was not an effort to trap or bait them. I remain true to my word here. This was an informative exercise, and I think that I understand the mind of the evangelical Christian better now as a result, even though I acknowledge that there is much which I will probably never truly grasp.

I think that what surprised me most about the comments I received in response to my initial query was their degree of agreement. Don't get me wrong - there was diversity of opinion and of experience - but I don't think I realized that the similarities would outweigh the differences to the degree that they did. What this tells me is that the term "evangelical Christian" is meaningful and can convey important information. I realize that this summary post captures only a tiny portion of what could be described as the evangelical Christian worldview, but it is a starting point and one which certainly represents an expansion of my knowledge in this area.

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