November 30, 2007

Eight Examples of The Christian Mind

What does the public think about atheists and what we believe? Negative attitudes toward atheists have been well-documented, but if they are to change, we must reveal the ignorance beneath them. Case in point is this article by Rev. Steve Cornell in The Morning Call. In his attempt to provide 8 reasons he is not an atheist, he instead serves up priceless examples of the Christian mind you are sure to enjoy.

Let's go through these one-by-one.
1. An atheist assigns himself to life without ultimate purpose.
While Cornell acknowledges that we "enjoy smaller meanings of life," he insists that we "cannot allow for ultimate meaning." Evidently, he would dismiss a desire to leave the world a better place than one found it as "ultimate" enough. But he also thinks atheists have a void where "ultimate meaning" should be. "If the atheist is honest, he will admit to feeling that there is something more to existence, something bigger." Really? And how exactly does he know this? I'm not sure I've ever met an atheist who felt any sort of void in regards to meaning. Many of us recognize ultimate meaning as a trap without real value. We perceive reality for what it is and not through the lens of wish fulfillment. Talk about ultimate meaning!
2. The atheist must suppress the demands of logic.
Yeah, I figured you'd like that one - the person who believes all sorts of things on faith alone criticizing us as insufficiently logical! What Cornell is actually saying here is even funnier - he's claiming that we are illogical in our rejection of intelligent design. Apparently he thinks that basing one's beliefs on reason and the best available evidence requires a suppression of logic. According to Cornell, our "bias against God" does not allow us to accept the "truth" of intelligent design. I guess we are supposed to ignore the evidence for evolution and the lack of evidence for creationism.
3. The atheist has to believe in miracles without believing in God.
Cornell refers to a "law that nature seems to obey" as being that "whatever begins to exist is caused to exist." This is simply the tired old first cause argument. He doesn't seem to understand that this only produces endless question-begging, for what caused his god? More entertaining, he claims that "the atheist knows that the universe began to exist..." Actually, several atheists believe that the universe may have always existed.
4. An atheist must suppress all notions of morality.
You knew this one was coming, as it is a Christian favorite. Atheists cannot be moral because god is required for morality. This claim has been so thoroughly debunked that it needs no further discussion except to note that Cornell goes far beyond what even most Christian extremists would claim. He denies atheists any moral sense whatsoever, saying that we are "not able to declare any quality to be morally superior to another." Does he not realize that the Golden Rule predates his bible or the alleged existence of his Jesus by a considerable margin? He should read this carefully before writing any more on this subject.
5. The atheist must conclude that evil is an illusion.
This is simply a variant of #4. Since Cornell has apparently never heard of secular humanism, he clings to the erroneous notion that we have no standard of right and wrong. Again, this pervasive misconception has been so thoroughly destroyed that it is difficult to imagine any educated person continuing to spout such nonsense.
6. The atheist must also live with the arrogance of his position.
This is the common misconception that atheism requires absolute certainty that no god(s) exist. Because atheism is nothing more than the lack of acceptance of the theistic belief claim, this point is exposed as yet another misunderstanding. Once again, atheism does not mean the conviction that god(s) does not exist.
7. The atheist must also deny the validity of historical proof.
Believe it or not, Cornell actually wants to talk about "the standard rules for testing the truth claims." Of course, he wants to do so only on very limited terms. His claim that there is evidence of Jesus' resurrection shows just how far off base his understanding of logic and reason are, not to mention accepted methods of validating various forms of evidence. There is no reliable evidence for the resurrection of anyone, and there are compelling reasons to question whether Jesus ever lived in the first place.
8. Finally, the atheist must admit that human beings are not importantly different from other animals.
This one sticks in my craw for a couple reasons. First, humans are animals. Of course, we are different in many important ways, but we are fundamentally animals. Second, this is the section where Cornell makes the classic Christian mistake of completely misunderstanding evolution. He claims that we think "we are simply the result of blind chance operating on the primordial ooze," but this is not even close to what evolutionary theory asserts. Evidently Cornell needs to learn what evolution says before attacking it.

Cornell saves the best for last in that his conclusion contains one of the most glaring errors I think I have seen a Christian commit in a long time:
The atheist's problem with belief in God is not the absence of evidence but the suppression of it.
Actually, the problem with theism most atheists have is twofold: (1) it is irrational because it posits a logically incoherent entity and because there is no evidence whatsoever for its veracity, and (2) it is harmful to modern civilization. It isn't about suppressing anything; it is about recognizing that faith is not an acceptable way to verify truth claims or acquire knowledge.

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November 29, 2007

Sectarian Prayer In Indiana Senate

According to The Indianapolis Star, the Indiana Senate plans to open its session on Tuesday with a prayer to Jesus Christ. Never mind that a U.S. District Court ruled in 2005 that sectarian prayers violated the separation of church and state because this ruling was overturned last month by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a technicality. Fortunately, the ACLU again rises to the challenge of enforcing the U.S. Constitution when few others seem interested in doing so.

Knowing that it was once declared illegal and that it is sure to bring controversy, why would the Indiana Senate feel the need to go down this road again? According to
Senate President Pro Tempore David Long,
We had made it clear in the Senate that we totally and strongly disagreed with Judge Hamilton's original decision. That suit has been tossed out, it's no longer valid and we can -- in my opinion, without question -- say our prayers as we choose.
In other words, they intend to violate the Constitution for as long as they can get away with it. As the article notes, the 7th Circuit's decision may have overturned the lower court's ruling, but it did not state that sectarian prayers were permissible. And so the dance continues.

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November 28, 2007

A Church Of Atheism?

Have you heard of the First Church of Atheism? The author of Secular Planet is the latest in a series of atheist bloggers who have decided to get ordained as ministers by this new church. Is having such a church a good idea, or does it simply reinforce common misconceptions about atheism?

A Church of Atheism?

Given that atheism is nothing more than the lack of theistic belief, atheism is not a belief system or worldview and has no doctrine whatsoever. Thus, it is clear that atheism is not a religion.

But is it not possible to imagine a church without religion? Although I could imagine a church as an association of like-minded individuals who congregate for secular purposes, I would have little reason to call such a group a church.

Benefits of an Atheist Church

But perhaps there is a good reason to want atheist churches. According to the First Church of Atheism's website:
The First Church of Atheism was born out of necessity. Created by Paul and Jacki McMaster, the FCA is the first society of its kind. Dedicated solely to ordaining atheists so that they too may perform ceremonies previously performed by religious men.
Quite simply, this church exists for nothing more than to provide atheists with a secular alternative for conducting weddings. Someone ordained in this church can legally perform weddings and other ceremonies. No longer do atheist couples have to tolerate Christian clergy.

If one forgets for a minute that atheist couples have always had a secular alternative to church weddings (i.e., the courthouse), this begins to sound fairly appealing. Of course, the courthouse wedding is not going to be filled with pro-atheist messages while a ceremony performed by an atheist minister could be. So maybe this is enough of a reason to support this alternative.

A Potential Downside: Reinforcing Misconceptions

By supporting a church of atheism, even one with as limited goals as this one, do we run a risk of lending credence to common misconceptions about atheism? Christians are fond of claiming that atheism is "just another religion." If one can get past the humor in Christians criticizing something for being a religion, one discovers that this claim is about discrediting atheists. If Christians can convince themselves that we are as dogmatic as any religion, we become less of a threat. They cannot defend their faith-based belief system, so they attempt to reduce us to their level.

Having an institution called a church of atheism and atheist ministers might make it more difficult for atheists to show the public that atheism is not a religion. I see atheism as the inevitable outcome of healthy skepticism, the application of reason, and the requirement of evidence commensurate with the claims for which such evidence is to be applied. In other words, it is important to me that my worldview (of which atheism is one part) is based on reason and evidence, and this is what distinguishes it from a faith-based worldview.

I should also point out that when the First Church of Atheism labels the following as their "doctrine:"
Nothing exists besides natural phenomena. Thought is merely a function of that natural phenomena. Death is complete, and irreversible. We have faith solely in humankind, nature, and the facts of science.
I agree with this wholeheartedly, but I must remind the reader that this is not synonymous with atheism. This may seem like a minor point to some, but there are many advantages to using precise definitions of atheism.

Concluding Thoughts

My opinions on this subject can best be described as tentative. If atheist couples did not already have a readily available means of having secular weddings, the benefit of atheist clergy to perform such ceremonies would seem to outweigh the potential negatives. Since this is not the case, I am leaning toward the position that we probably have more to lose by applying the trappings of organized religion to atheism than we are likely to gain. What do you think?

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November 27, 2007

Jerry Springer: The Opera

No, I'm not making this one up. In this story out of London, it appears that there really is a musical titled, "Jerry Springer - The Opera" being screened by the BBC. What makes this story relevant here, besides the sheer entertainment value, is that Christians are up in arms over how the production mocks their cherished mythical figures.

According to Reuters, a Christian activist is attempting to have a BBC executive prosecuted on "blasphemy laws" because it is offensive to Christians. Among the many offenses, "Jerry Springer - The Opera" is described as referring to Jesus as "the perv" and "a little bit gay." The horror!
Civil liberties group Liberty, allowed to make a written submission in the case, called Britain's blasphemy law "outdated" and "ripe for repeal," and argued that the offence of blasphemy violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
Blasphemy laws are outdated? Surely you jest! Nobody can be permitted to make fun of someone's religion. Criticism is a form of dissent that must not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form. Heck, even those Americans who disagree with the neo-cons in charge should be beaten to a pulp.

Seriously, I must admit the Christian faithful have one valid point here: nobody would dare to mock Islam in this way. This is a problem. After all, Islam deserves to be mocked just as much as Christianity does. Moreover, if criticism of Islam remains off limits for fear of reprisal, we can only expect Christian extremists to more fully embrace terrorism to protect their delusion.

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November 26, 2007

Know Them By Their Deeds: Campus Evangelicals Go Too Far

You are a 22-year-old conservatively-dressed female college student, strolling across campus on your way to class. Suddenly, a street preacher who has harassed you previously charges you, cocking his fist, and swinging it to stop inches from your face. He then calls you a whore.

Such is the case described by Amy Mariani in The Oracle, the University of South Florida's school paper. The student described in this incident has filed assault charges against preacher, John M. Kranert, a regular fixture on campus.

As vile as this incident sounds, it appears to be nothing new for Kranert.
She [the student] said Kranert demeaned her on prior occasions by saying, "I can tell you've been with every man on campus by the way you stand," and asking if she got her name from Black Entertainment Television because of her caramel complexion. He didn't know her name, nor did he ask, suggesting the question was purely racist at its roots, according to the Oracle.
Is Kranert merely exercising his right to free speech or to practice his religion, or has he gone too far? Mariani, herself a Christian, notes that Kranert and other campus evangelists have the right to spread their message (i.e., spout their Christian nonsense) in public like anyone else. And yet, approaching someone in a physically threatening manner and hurling derogatory insults is something else entirely.
Yet when a street preacher - or anyone else - crosses the line and charges at someone, calling them unfounded and derogatory names, he has entered insidious speech territory. Insidious speech is intended to harm and is not protected by the First Amendment.
I suppose another relevant question is whether the University owes their students the right to learn in an environment free from harassment. It would seem to me that they probably do. And yet, Mariani has personally observed this behavior from Kranert on multiple occasions.
I've seen him tell a Hindi student that she is going to hell because she worships a fake god. I've seen him tell a woman to cover her cleavage before she tries to talk to him. I've seen him tell a black student that she isn't going to heaven because of the color of her skin. And he's told me, as I was defending the Hindi student, that he won't respect anyone who doesn't believe in his God.
Instead of implying that Kranert is not a real Christian, I wish Mariani could have simply recognized this for what it was - another Christian extremists run amok.

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November 25, 2007

Atheist To Debate Creationist in Alabama

Atheists living in the American South do not have many opportunities to attend rallies, engage in atheist activism, or show support for their fellow southern atheists. A religion vs. atheism debate will be held in Dothan, Alabama in the Dothan Opera House on Tuesday, November 27, 2007, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free, and Alabama atheists are hoping to get the word out to encourage area atheists to attend.

Here is the full announcement I received yesterday via e-mail:
Atheists - We Need Your Help

Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Pensacola and everywhere in between...

A religion vs. atheism debate will be held in the Dothan Opera House on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, in Dothan, Alabama. A special questions and answers session with audience members will take place during the final 30 minutes of the debate. Admission is free.

The debate will be between Dr. Robert Carter, a lecturer with Creation Ministries, and Rick Pierson, a local atheist activist.

Dr. Carter will challenge the Theory of Evolution and assert that Biblical Creationism is the only scientifically sound theory for human origins. Dr. Carter earned a B.S. Applied Biology from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1992 and a Ph.D. Marine Biology and Fisheries from the University of Miami in 2003. He serves as a scientist and lecturer with Creation Ministries International and the Institute for Creation Research.

Mr. Pierson earned a B.S. in Computer Information Systems and a B.S. in Biology at Troy State University Dothan in 1999. In addition to his job as a computer programmer, he tutors college students in biology, chemistry, and physical science.

The debate has been widely advertised on christian websites, in christian magazine and newspaper articles, and on christian radio. Sadly atheists are not privy to such an organized structure, so the debate is virtually unknown throughout the atheist community. This is why we need your help.

As you might suspect, Dothan lies in the heart of the Bible Belt. The Dothan area is overwhelmingly filled with Christians and christian fundamentalists. It is no doubt the audience will be largely christian, by some estimates as much as 95%. This is why it is so imperative that we have as many atheists attend as possible. To show support for OUR side.

The Dothan Opera House is located at 115 North St. Andrews St in downtown Dothan, Alabama. For more information call the Dothan Opera House directly at (334) 793-0126.

Not many opportunities present themselves that allow fellow atheists to show solidarity. This is certainly one. Please make an effort to attend if you possibly can.
Regretfully, the late notice and schedule makes it impossible for me to attend. I'm over 5 hours from Dothan, and by the time I could leave work on Tuesday, the debate would be long over. If you are closer to Dothan, it sounds like they could really use your support.

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Mayor Brainwashed By Satanists

Okay, so this story from Florida's wftv.com is not as entertaining as it sounds. Still, you have to love the title, "Mayor Claims He Was Abducted By Satanists." I think the people of Centerton, Arkansas, should probably be relieved that this guy resigned.

Anybody else fondly remember the hysteria over Satanic cults that swept America in the 1980s? As if fundamentalist Christians needed anything else to make them appear crazy!

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November 24, 2007

Atheist Sunday School

Good news atheist parents - now you don't have to be Christian to have your children tortured on Sunday mornings! Okay, maybe I was the only one who despised Sunday school. But are atheist parents really clamoring for a secular version of Sunday school for their children? Evidently, some are.

This article in Time describes an atheist Sunday school program held at the Humanist Community Center in Palo Alto, CA. Okay, first things first - I want a humanist community center! Shrill whining out of the way, just what goes on at atheist Sunday school?

The children learn about secular values and how to deal with the god-delusional majority, receive support for their disbelief, have their secular values reinforced, and gain a sense of community from spending time with like-minded people. Intellectual curiosity and critical thinking are fostered.

It sounds like this could be the beginning of a trend which might spread to other communities.
The pioneering Palo Alto program began three years ago, and like-minded communities in Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., and Portland, Ore., plan to start similar classes next spring. The growing movement of institutions for kids in atheist families also includes Camp Quest, a group of sleep-away summer camps in five states plus Ontario, and the Carl Sagan Academy in Tampa, Fla., the country's first Humanism-influenced public charter school, which opened with 55 kids in the fall of 2005.
As positive as all of this sounds, I have one minor concern. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, so I'll be interested to see what you think. Read the following carefully:
The lives of these young people would be much easier, adult nonbelievers say, if they learned at an early age how to respond to the God-fearing majority in the U.S. "It's important for kids not to look weird," says Peter Bishop, who leads the preteen class at the Humanist center in Palo Alto.
While I don't disagree with this, I worry about whether it conveys the message that these kids need to learn how to fit in by concealing their beliefs. Why should the atheist kids be the ones worried about looking weird? After all, they aren't the ones who believe all sorts of rubbish about supernatural entities. Granted, there is merit to learning how to fit in when one is still a kid, but this seems like something to approach carefully.

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California Atheists Rally To Protect Church-State Separation

The California chapter of American Atheists, along with other atheist and humanist groups in the area are calling for the removal of religious references in both the pledge of allegiance and on American currency. It baffles me that such battles need to continue because such references were not removed long ago. I am glad to see that defenders of our secular Constitution continue their efforts to remedy the situation.

American Atheists California

RALLY FOR REMOVAL OF RELIGIOUS REFERENCES IN THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE AND ON NATIONAL CURRENCY
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
San Francisco Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Building

American Atheists California, in conjunction with Bay Area Atheist and Humanist groups, will rally in front of the San Francisco Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals building on Tuesday, December 4, to support the idea of removing religious references and slogans in the Pledge of Allegiance and on national currency.

In 2004, when Michael Newdow argued before the Supreme Court for removal of “under god” in the Pledge of Allegiance, California Atheists showed their support by rallying at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court dismissed that suit due to lack of standing and never addressed the real issues. Undaunted, Newdow found parents with solid standing and is now representing them in a new suit.

In addition, the prolific Dr. Newdow has another suit that challenges placement of the religious slogan “In God We Trust” on our nation’s currency. Both suits are now before the Ninth Circuit. Oral arguments have been set for December 4 in San Francisco.

The rally is a celebration of unity among god-free Californians intended to not only support Dr. Newdow, but also encourage the Ninth Circuit to adhere to its landmark 2002 decision.

The rally will begin at 7:30 a.m. and include a program of speakers. Signs will be provided. Both cases are scheduled for the morning session, and participants are welcome to attend court proceedings after the rally (seating on a first-come, first-served basis).

The Richard Dawkins website (richarddawkins.net) is planning to tape the event for broadcast. Help us make a good showing in support of First Amendment rights.

WHAT: Rally at the San Francisco Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals building (Seventh and Mission) for removing religious references and slogans in the Pledge of Allegiance and on national currency

WHEN: Tuesday, December 4, 7:30 to 8:30 a.m.

MORE INFO: www.sanfranciscoatheists.com, (415) 771-9872, dksf@atheists.org.

CONTACT: Dave Kong, California State Director for American Atheists
dkong@atheists.org, http://www.atheists.org/ca

(AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists, Freethinkers and other nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

H/T to NoGodBlog.com

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November 23, 2007

Words of Wisdom: Aristotle

A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider God-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, wrongly believing that he has the Gods on his side.
–Aristotle, Politica bk v (ca. 340 BCE)

H/T to Harper's

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Christian Reactions To My Bible Commentary

Just because I have received precisely the reaction I expected on my first and second bible commentary posts from Christian readers does not mean that I'm not still disappointed. Maybe it was merely a case of expecting the worst while hoping I'd be pleasantly surprised. What I am talking about is the accusation, no matter how subtle it may be phrased, that I'm attacking a straw man.

Many Christians are fond of criticizing atheists for rejecting their religion because we do not fully understand it. When faced with an atheist who is actually reading their bible and still rejects it, the argument becomes one of interpreting things too literally. "You're missing the point. Christians don't read their bibles literally like you are doing." In other words, I am attacking a straw man by unfairly criticizing Christians for believing things they don't actually believe.

As I have many times before, I will remind anyone tempted by this line of criticism that the majority of Americans do in fact interpret many parts of their bibles literally, and a full third believe their bibles to be the inerrant word of a supernatural being. In fact, this is part of the definition of fundamentalism. I care about this because I am convinced that when people in power assume the Christian bible to be literal truth and act in a manner consistent with this assumption, we are all endangered.

I'll also point out that those Christians who pride themselves in their assorted non-literal interpretations have a serious problem to overcome. When a reader of the Christian bible interprets the text in a non-literal manner, the resulting interpretation reveals much about the reader but nothing about reality. That is, selective interpretation cannot possible lead us to a shared truth because it is nothing more than using the text to support what one already believes.

A literal interpretation of the Christian bible cannot be reconciled with reality. Fundamentalists embrace their bibles and reject reality. Instead of attempting to navigate the intellectual morass of claiming their non-literal bibles are simultaneously more meaningful than any other book yet too flawed to be inerrant, it is time for progressive Christians to give up their magical thinking and embrace reality. They will gain so much more after escaping the bonds of superstition.

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November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner Table Conversation

Many people are desperate to convince us that Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday, and some members of the neo-con fringe are going so far as to whine about a war on Thanksgiving. I suppose we should not be surprised. After all, where ignorance lives, intolerance will thrive. Perhaps we'd all be better off if we learned the historical truth about Thanksgiving to replace the drivel many of us were fed in elementary school. Now this ought to make for some stimulating conversation around the dinner table!

H/T to The Rogues Gallery

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November 21, 2007

Special Edition of Carnival of the Liberals

Carnival of the Liberals #52 is now up at Yikes! This one is extra special, and not just because it is the first CotL in which I have had a contribution. No, this one is special because it honors the 60th anniversary of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. So check out CotL #52 and join me in wishing a happy anniversary to AU. I hope that they will not be necessary for another 60 years (we Americans have to come to our senses eventually, right?), but I also hope that they will be there if they do remain necessary.

Finally, if you don't already have it, pick up a copy of Piety & Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom by AU's Rev. Barry Lynn. Not only is it a great read, but it demonstrates that one need not be an atheist to value church-state separation.

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DefCon Blog Closing

I'm still really hoping that this is some sort of cruel prank, but it looks like DefCon Blog is shutting down, at least temporarily, due to lack of funds. This is a massive loss to the online atheist community. DefCon Blog was one of the first atheist blogs I started reading regularly and has remained in the list of RSS feeds I still check at least weekly. They excelled at the sort of brief but highly informative posts that conveyed vital information in few words. They were also the first place I would learn of many important action alerts. Of course, I probably don't have to tell you how important they were - looking at the hundreds of comments they receive on most posts, it is likely that you are already familiar with them. I hope they will return. Until then, I expect this loss to reverberate throughout the atheist blogosphere.

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Content But Not Thankful

Thanksgiving Day Greetings
Thanksgiving Day Greetings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I just re-read my Thanksgiving post from last year, and I must say that little has changed about my attitude toward the holiday. Well, that isn't completely true. Over the past year, I have become increasingly adamant about the need to defend reason from the constant assaults from the religiously inclined. This has undoubtedly led to a shift in my attitudes about many topics. In this post, I will again examine Thanksgiving, focusing more on my present attitudes than last year's post which emphasized Thanksgivings past.

I am generally content this year, and I take ownership for my role in this outcome. That is, my present contentment has far more to do with my hard work and my general state of mind than it does with any supernatural entity or even any other person. Granted, there are many people to whom I could extend a word of thanks simply because my contact with them has enriched my life. And yet, these are generally folks with whom I have some sort of reciprocal relationship. We have expressed our mutual appreciation throughout the year in our behavior toward one another, so no further expressions of gratitude tied to any particular holiday seem necessary.

Looking over last year's post, I made the claim that Thanksgiving is regarded as something of a religious holiday by many believers. I offered no real support for this claim aside from personal experience, so I'd like to do so now by calling your attention to some excellent material on the subject:

I see Thanksgiving as one more bit of evidence for Christian privilege in America. It is a golden opportunity for believers to talk about their debt of gratitude toward their god, to strengthen their faith, and to feel solidarity in the knowledge that so many others are joining them in similar rituals of celebration.

I'm not saying atheists cannot or should not enjoy Thanksgiving. In fact, I hope you do. I certainly value the time off work (especially given how busy things have been this year). Perhaps there is also nothing wrong with indulging in the holiday gluttony which characterizes so many American households, as long as one can make an effort not to think about those starving around the world. Spending time with one's friends and family can be nice as well, although I'm dubious that "thankful" is the best description.

Regardless of what it means to you, have a happy Thanksgiving. Be content.

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November 20, 2007

Richard Dawkins And The Mainstreaming Of Atheism

Simon Owens at Bloggasm has written a thorough and insightful post, "The Dawkins Effect: How The God Delusion Mainstreamed Atheism." I was happy to be interviewed for this article and to see myself mentioned along with PZ Myers (Pharyngula), John W. Loftus (Debunking Christianity), and Kelly (Rational Response Squad). Talk about some impressive company in which to find oneself!

Owens does a fantastic job of exploring the current state of the atheist movement - covering without disparaging - something corporate media cannot seem to do. It is a must read.

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November 19, 2007

Film Review: Independent America - The Two-Lane Search For Mom & Pop

I caught a 2006 documentary titled Independent America: The Two-Lane Search for Mom & Pop recently on Sundance and thought I'd share a brief synopsis and review here on the chance that others might find it as interesting as I did. Briefly, the film explores the impact of big-box retailers, focusing on Wal-Mart, Borders, and Starbucks, on the character of American communities, documenting a growing discontent Americans are experiencing with the impact of such corporations.

Two journalists, Hanson Hosein and Heather Hughes, load up their Nissan Xterra with film equipment and their dog to travel across America. Beginning in Port Townsend, WA, they traverse America with two rules in mind. First, they will attempt to support only independent motels, restaurants, and stores. Second, they will try to stay on back roads, avoiding the newer freeways.

Many of the communities they visit will be familiar, even if you have never visited those portions of America. They show how many towns invited in chain restaurants and big-box retailers to support their sales tax revenue, only do have their downtowns decimated. Once vibrant downtowns now resemble ghost towns, while the strip malls turn the edge of town into Anytown, USA, void of anything unique. Towns become nearly indistinguishable.

They also showcase many communities who have managed to prevent (or at least limit) infiltration by the generic chains and retailers. They make a compelling case for how mom and pop businesses benefit their communities by keeping a larger portion of the money they collect in the town. Although they do also cover the perceived benefits of the large retailers and chains (e.g., price, efficiency, familiarity, standardization, etc.), the tone of the film does not attempt to conceal its agenda.

A particularly interesting point is that promoting mom and pop business over multinational corporations is not a partisan political issue but one of preserving some unique identity. They interviewed several self-described pro-business Republicans who said that being pro-business did not have to mean supporting these corporations at the expense of local business. These Republicans recognized the added value that family-owned businesses brought to their communities and how they contributed to the town's character.

Many documentaries leave the viewer feeling like they are more aware of a problem but clueless as to how to contribute to its resolution. This film escapes this trap by encouraging viewers to shop and dine mindfully. By thinking about where we spend our money, we can view every transaction we make as a vote. If we want to preserve something unique about a community, we need to support local businesses. Instead of obsessing over price, we should realize that more of the money we invest in local businesses will remain in our communities and that the lower price tags of the corporate chains often carry a steep hidden cost, gradually transforming community after community into the generic Anytown, USA.

You can learn more about the film here.

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November 18, 2007

God's Customer Care Center

A reader sent me a link to God's Customer Care Center, and it was simply too good not to share. Enjoy!

November 17, 2007

Time For Accountability: Help Impeach Cheney

Time and time again, we have seen high-ranking officials in the Bush administration break the law without being held accountable for their actions. Beyond partisan bickering, it is imperative that we Americans find a way to repair our reputation abroad and begin to restore confidence in our government at home. It is my sincere hope that the 2008 presidential election will help with these goals, but I also believe that we must act now to hold high-ranking criminals accountable for their behavior. Fortunately, there are many simple yet effective steps we can now take to facilitate such accountability. I urge you to join me in taking action.

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November 16, 2007

Dehumanization, Torture, and Christianity


What is dehumanization, and how does it facilitate a host of atrocities? How is it now influencing the debate over waterboarding? What is the relationship of Christianity to dehumanization, and should this ancient religion be a source of concern in our dialogue on torture? These are difficult questions for which I do not pretend to have all the answers, however, this post will attempt to find a starting point in a long overdue discussion.

Dehumanization

Dehumanization is a psychological process in which a defined enemy is perceived as less human and thus less deserving of the moral consideration one typically applies to one's fellow human. Classic examples include African slaves in the eyes of White Americans and Jews in the eyes of Nazis. Contemporary examples include illegal immigrants in the eyes of socially conservative Republicans and "Islamofascists" in the eyes of fundamentalist Christians.

In most cases, dehumanization unfolds gradually, often requiring considerable time. Hitler did not wake up one morning and decide, "Hey, let's blame everything on the Jews." Antisemitism had a long history in Germany before Hitler, as it was a lingering relic of medieval Christianity. However, it is also possible to accelerate this process when a mass tragedy can be blamed on a particular group. Persons of Arabic descent living in America experienced this in the aftermath of 9/11.

The impact of dehumanization is that the normal barriers to mistreatment begin to fall until few remain. Atrocities which would be unimaginable if they were committed against one's own group slowly become acceptable when used against the dehumanized outgroup. Even acts which have widely been considered criminal when perpetrated against one's own people may become permissible against the outgroup. After all, they are monsters, bent on our destruction. Extreme measures are now justified to deal with them. As the psychological distance between us and them grows, our restraints fall.

Dehumanization and Torture

Most humans agree that torture ranks up there with genocide at the top of the list of the worst things of which we are capable. We afford humans at least some basic rights and recognize that torture violates these rights. We examine the Golden Rule and conclude that we should not torture, as we would not want to be tortured or to see our loved ones tortured.

And yet, it is fairly easy to overcome this moral sense through dehumanization. This is not a typical enemy. They are determined to do us harm, and our very lives are at stake in this conflict. They are motivated by things we cannot comprehend. In short, they are evil. As evil beings, they engage in behaviors which no moral human could justify. We must do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves and our way of life. Eventually, we may come to view longstanding prohibitions on torture as quaint or inapplicable. The worst atrocities we can imagine become not just permissible but even morally required to win the great conflict.

By dehumanizing the enemy, we legitimize violence and remove barrier after barrier to extreme methods. We can justify torture or even genocide. Most important, we can eventually reach the point where no justification seems necessary. The world becomes divided between good and evil. That which is evil must be opposed by any means necessary.

Christianity and Dehumanization

Progressive Christians want to emphasize the "love your neighbor" and "turn the other cheek" aspects of their religion, while fundamentalists stress "an eye for an eye" and images of Jesus bringing the sword. But both groups are share the belief that Christian morality is superior to all other forms. The fundamentalists may be more up front with this belief, but it can be found among the progressives too (see this post for more information).

When those who embrace Jesus are perceived as being better people than those who do not, we have an entryway to dehumanization. The Christian bible teaches that god has a chosen people who are favored above all others. This jealous god routinely kills those who disobey his commands and leads his followers in the destruction of multiple outgroups. When god is on one's side, one can do now wrong and one is has a certain moral superiority over all others. The bible teaches Christians that non-Christians are evil, admonishing them to kill nonbelievers and persons who worship other gods.

In contemporary America, the military is infused with fundamentalist Christianity. This is no accident. Soldiers who are convinced that they are defending Christian values against the threat of Islam will have fewer restraints on the battlefield. After all, the enemy refuses to acknowledge the "truth" of Christianity, so how moral can they be?

The propaganda aimed at the American people consistently blends "Islam" with "terrorism," "extremism," or "fascism." We are told repeatedly that our values and entire way of life are under attack. When observers complain that the American Christians hurling these insults are themselves extremists and fascists, we should be reminded that psychologists have long known that dehumanization typically involves some projection (i.e., one's own faults are projected onto the enemy).

Summary

Dehumanization is a necessary prerequisite of atrocities such as torture and genocide. To engage in such crimes against humanity, one must come to regard one's victims as somewhat less human. Christianity, despite the many good things some Christians do, facilitates dehumanization through the doctrine that Christians are morally superior to non-Christians. By viewing nonbelievers or persons of other religious traditions and lost, immoral, or even hell bound, Christianity opens the door to the dehumanization of non-Christians. The current American leadership, neo-cons bent on American imperialism, is well aware of this and has forged alliances with Christian extremists with this in mind.

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November 15, 2007

War on Christmas 2007: Battlefront Lake Placid

With the 2007 War on Christmas well underway, we are likely to see more and more stories like this one out of Lake Placid, NY. I present this one not so much because the outcome is positive (which it is), but to highlight how clueless many people remain about why "Merry Christmas" signs are inappropriate in public buildings.

According to the Lake Placid News, the issue of separation of church and state came up at a recent school board meeting.
At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Jordanna Mallach brought the issue of holiday decorations before the board and asked that it respect the Supreme Court’s ruling on the separation of church and state. Her request stemmed from an incident last year when a sign with “Merry Christmas” on it was displayed in front of the elementary school.
Okay, so a concerned citizen came forward to ask the board to comply with the Supreme Court this year. That it was necessary for a private citizen to make such a request - because the school was either ignorant of the law or unwilling to comply with it - is more absurd than I can stand right now. Still, she had the courage to come forward and ask that the school board make sure the school complied with the law this year.

The board claimed that the district they represent is usually compliant with the law (um...usually?) but that they must have put the sign up out of habit (sigh). Of course, not everyone agreed. Some, like board member Bob Miller, thought the request to comply with the law was too much to ask.
“As a person of faith, I find it insulting when we deny (a person’s) faith,” Miller said. “We have to be inclusive.”
Hey Bob, guess what? You are perfectly free to feel insulted. That is a right I wouldn't dream of taking away from you. Seriously though, nobody is trying to deny that your silly little faith exists or that you have it. Hell, we'd find it hilarious if it wasn't so harmful! What we are trying to do is make sure that the kids who don't live in a fantasy world aren't ridiculed for it by those who are as deluded as you claim to be. You see, we think you and your children should have the right to practice your religion in the privacy of your own home. We don't think you have any right to expect the schools to do it for you or to expose other children to it. See the difference?

Superintendent Ernie Stretton said that there will be no "Merry Christmas" sign this year.

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November 14, 2007

God Wants Animal Blood

I'm continuing on with my cover-to-cover reading of the Christian bible, and it is time for another bit of commentary. At the time of my last post on the subject, I had finished Genesis and Exodus and was midway through Leviticus. My pace has slowed, as I haven't had as much reading time as I'd like. I've finished Leviticus and Numbers and am now into Deuteronomy (although I will refrain from commenting on Deuteronomy just yet).

I was really fascinated by Leviticus. It shows that the Ten Commandments about which one hears so much from contemporary Christians were merely the tip of a massive iceberg. What I mean to say is that the law supposedly given to humankind by the god of the bible is far more extensive than the commandments. Christians who want to claim a biblical source for modern American law should certainly refer to Leviticus, for it would provide far more support for their claim than the Ten Commandments. What Leviticus and Numbers make abundantly clear is that we are supposed to obey all of god's rules for us and not merely the ten with which most of us are more familiar.

So what exactly are these other rules we are supposed to obey? Well, most deal with slaughtering animals on sacrificial altars and procedures for making the unclean clean again. There are many others, but these are the themes which pervade these books. The price for disobedience is also quite clear.

From Leviticus 24:15-16, we learn that blasphemy is to be punished by death. Specifically, the blasphemer is to be stoned to death by his or her community. From Numbers 15:32-36, we learn that gathering wood on the Sabbath will also get one stoned to death. There are many more similar examples, but these impressed themselves in my memory the most.

Of course, this is probably a good time to stop and address some criticism my commentaries are likely to encounter. When confronted with scriptural evidence that there are many laws, clearly stated as such, for which the penalties are often banishment or death, which virtually no modern Christian even attempts to follow, one should expect a predictable Christian response. The wording will vary, but the response will be along the lines of how the Old Testament no longer applies because god's covenant with Moses and his predecessors was replaced by Jesus and the New Testament.

Fair enough. I'll ask two things of the Christian making this claim, and I'll ask them not in a challenging manner but as a plea for assistance. First, please help me locate the part of the New Testament that will make it clear to me that Leviticus, Numbers, and whatever other books to which this claim applies were invalidated by Jesus. I'm not saying you are wrong - I'm nowhere close to even starting the New Testament yet - I'd just like to know where I'll find this part so I can be more careful about how I'm reading the Old Testament now.

Second, is the god depicted in the Old Testament books I have read so far (Genesis through Numbers) the same god that I will encounter in the New Testament, or are these two different gods? If it is the same god, then it would seem that reading the Old Testament is worthwhile because it will teach me quite a bit about the character of this god, even if the covenants change. On the other hand, if we have two different gods here, then I should probably stop reading the Old Testament, as it is really telling me nothing useful.

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November 13, 2007

Art vs. Christianity

It is often said that great art is supposed to be provocative, eliciting strong (and not necessarily) pleasant emotions in those who experience it. Mediocre art may simply produce mildly pleasant feelings, but the great art that ends up being remembered involves confrontation. It forces the audience to confront powerful ideas, and even when it produces unpleasant emotions, the audience is actually changed for having experienced it. It has taken me most of my life to fully comprehend this simple truth, and I cannot help but think that religion was one of the factors which stunted my growth.

I think I must have been born without the part of the brain that gives one artistic ability. I've always loved art (especially music, literature, photography, and abstract painting) and had great admiration for this sort of talent. But outside of some limited writing ability, I've never seen any of this ability in myself.

My early Christian indoctrination was about behaving oneself, defending against uncomfortable thoughts, sheltering oneself from negative influences, and pursuing what was right. It was stale, bland, and boring, stifling creative thought by teaching that criticism of certain domains (e.g., religion) was not only off limits but could result in eternal punishments.

Then as now, I ended up with absolutely no appreciate for Christian art. Aside from the impressive architecture, I remain bored by Christian music, writing, and imagery. It seems overly constrained, like being forced to color in the lines, and void of the raw creative passion I so admire in other forms of art.

As I've left religious delusion behind and moved to atheism and secular humanism, I've discovered real art. Music, writing, film, photography, etc. that challenges me in profound and sometimes deeply upsetting ways. I've had the experience of being haunted by a film, a painting, or a photograph for days, even weeks, unable to get it out of my head.

I'm not sure I could really appreciate art until I reached the point in my life where I was truly willing to face this sort of provocation. Getting there required considerable growth, including throwing off the yoke of religion.

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November 12, 2007

More Restroom Hysteria

When Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig made headlines after being caught in a gay sex sting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, I was bombarded with media messages about anonymous gay sex in public restrooms. There appears to be a tiny minority within the GLBT community engaging in this sort of thing across America, but it can hardly be considered a part of gay culture. Even though I realized how little I knew about gay culture, I made the mistake of buying into some of this ridiculous coverage. Fortunately, several readers left comments helping me identify my mistakes. Now we have another case of gay restroom sex in the news again, this time at a Florida shopping mall. Let the hysteria begin!

When I posted my initial reaction to the unfolding Larry Craig story, several readers jumped in to correct some of my misconceptions. From them I learned that the media was greatly exaggerating the prevalence of gay restroom sex in their Craig coverage. They are allowed to do this because homophobia is still very much a part of mainstream American culture and because our media has deteriorated to little more than 24-7 sensationalism.

Social conservatives need gay sex to be terrifying. When it stops being scary, we can expect efforts to stimulate public hysteria in order to make it into more of a threat. Gay men are cast as sex-craved perverts incapable of exercising self-control, and the rest of us are expected to believe that entering any public restroom may bring us (or our children) face-to-face with gay sex.

This story out of Florida is a perfect example because they underlying message appears to be that it is unsafe to take your kids to the mall because the Sears restroom just might be full of perverts. We are expected to assume that gay men pose the threat, when it appears far more likely that straight men and sex offenders are the ones engaging in this sort of behavior. I'm just glad that I'm now able to see this sort of story for what it is, and I thank my readers for that.

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November 11, 2007

Carnival of the Godless #79 at Aardvarchaeology

Yep, that's right. Your regular dose of Sunday godlessness is now available at Aardvarchaeology. Check it out, but remember not to gather any sticks today or you'll be put to death (Numbers 15:32, 36).

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Utah Voters Reject Private School Voucher Scheme

According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Utah voters rejected the latest private school voucher plan with a 60-40 margin. The Parents for Choice in Education Act would have provided money for each student attending private school. As Americans United Executive Director, Rev. Barry Lynn noted, "States don't come any redder than Utah, yet voters were quick to shoot down this misguided plan. Lawmakers in other states need to sit up and take notice."

From the press release:
Continued Lynn, "This vote proves that vouchers aren't popular with liberals, moderates or conservatives. The American people want to support public schools, not private religious education that teaches dogma, subjects staff to religious qualifications and discriminates in admissions."
I agree with Lynn completely when he says that vouchers will not solve our many educational woes. What is needed is adequate funding of the public school system. I applaud efforts by Americans United and other groups to educate Utah residents about the adverse effects of vouchers on public education.

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November 10, 2007

More Snake-Handling Idiocy

Head on over to Outchurched to check out Rev. Dan's great post on the good ole Kentucky snake-handling. It appears that the family of a fundamentalist woman who died after being bitten by a rattlesnake she was playing with in church has decided to sue the hospital because they ridiculed her stupidity. This one is too good to miss.

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Secular Holiday Cards

For those of you who want to send holiday cards this time of year but aren't interested in those which promote assorted Christian nonsense, check out these cards from the Order of St. Nick. It isn't every day we see products which can be branded "by atheists, for atheists," but I've been assured that this is indeed the case with these cards.

If I had the urge to send cards to anybody this time of year, I'm sure I could find some here that I could use.

November 9, 2007

America DOES Torture

Cartoon depicting the application of the "...
Cartoon depicting the application of the "water cure" by United States Army soldiers on a Filipino. Cover of Life magazine, Vol. 39, #1021 first published on May 22, 1902 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Republican proclamations to the contrary aside, it is well known around the world that the United States does in fact torture. Waterboarding is torture. The method has long been recognized as such by both U.S. and international law. This post explores the history of waterboarding and considers how Christianity facilitated the practice by Americans.

The history of American waterboarding is as fascinating as it is disturbing. According to William Katz, author of over 40 U.S. history books, waterboarding was one of the many methods of torture used during the Spanish Inquisition in the late 1400s. It was exported from Spain to the Americas in the early 1500s and became a preferred method for detecting "witches."

Waterboarding would first be embraced by the American military in 1899 while invading the Philippines in 1899.
An extensive record of its use by the United States land forces exists in the records of the invasion and occupation of the Philippines that began in 1898. As the U.S. encountered armed resistance by the liberation army of Filipino General Emilio Aguinaldo, and sank into a 12-year quagmire on the archipelago, U.S. officers routinely resorted to what they called “the water cure.” Professor Miller's study of the Philippine war reveals this sordid story through Congressional testimony, letters from soldiers, court martial hearings, words of critics and defenders, and newspaper accounts. The pro-imperialist media of the day justified the “water cure” as necessary to gain information; the anti-imperialist media denounced its use by the U.S or any other civilized nation.
It is noteworthy that the practice of waterboarding and other military atrocities was supported by the tendency of Christians to see non-Christians as inhuman savages.
From the White House and the U.S. high command to field officers and lowly enlistees the message became “these people are not civilized” and the United States had embarked on a glorious overseas adventure against “savages.” Officers and enlisted men - and the media -- were encouraged to see the conflict through a “white superiority” lens, much as they viewed their victories over Native Americans and African Americans. The Philippine occupation unfolded at the high tide of American segregation, lynching, and a triumphant white supremacy ideology.
News that the United States military had been using waterboarding as an interrogation method did not sit well with some Americans. After all, we generally don't like seeing ourselves as torturers.
The water cure became front-page news when William Howard Taft, appointed U.S. Governor of the Philippines, testified under oath before Congress and let the cat out of the bag. The “so called water cure,” he admitted, was used “on some occasions to extract information.” The Arena, an opposition paper, called his words “a most humiliating admission that should strike horror in the mind of every American.”
Fortunately for the politicians, Christianity, often blended with a sense of white racial superiority, made it easier for the American people to swallow what was being done in their name. After all, the victims of waterboarding were not Christian and thus merely immoral beasts. It did not surprise me to learn that one of the early defenders of waterboarding was a Christian minister.
In an article, “The 'Water Cure' from a Missionary Point of View,” Reverend Homer Stunz justified the technique. It was not torture, he said, since the victim could stop it any time by revealing what his interrogators wanted to know. Besides, he insisted, it was only applied to “spies.” The missionary also justified instances of torture by pointing out that U.S. soldiers “in lonely and remote bamboo jungles” faced stressful conditions.
It appears that fierce patriotism, combined with a Christian doctrine holding that non-Christians were morally inferior beings, facilitated the use of torture and the willingness of the American people to look the other way. Sadly, it appears that we are again experiencing these facilitative conditions.

A recent CNN poll indicates that while most Americans (69%) realize that waterboading is torture, 40% still support its use in interrogating terror suspects. Moreover, we've now confirmed an Attorney General who refuses to call waterboarding illegal.

To learn more about waterboarding see NPR's Waterboarding: A Tortured History.

Prominent Pastor Harasses Atheist

According to Reed Branden, author of the Unorthodox Atheism blog, he received a fairly insulting e-mail from a prominent local pastor in his community. Evidently, this pastor does not see anything wrong with harassing local teenage atheists, especially if they also happen to be gay.

From Reed's post:
Tonight, a local pastor sent me an email saying, among other things, "I read enough of your blog to figure out that you are a queer athiest[sic] who lives with his CHristian[sic] parents. You should listen to your parents and go to church and maybe they wouldn't be so disappointed in you."
Reed noted how the author of this e-mail, the head pastor of a large church in his community, appears to think that his parents must be disappointed in him for being a gay atheist and that more church will somehow fix him. He also mentions that the e-mail goes on to say that his parents are "probably disappointed in themselves for raising a kid like [me]." The pastor also advised Reed to move away from his family "cause[sic] they might be hurt when GOD[sic] sends his Judgement on [me]." How nice!

Fortunately for Reed, his parents do not sound nearly as intolerant as this jackass. In fact, Reed describes them as fairly supporting even though they do not agree with his atheism or homosexuality. How refreshing! As Reed says,
My parents, although they are Christians, are not bigots. They don't judge me on my sexual preference and my beliefs any more than they would judge me on what colour shirt I wear or that I spell the word colour with a u. On the contrary, they often find pride in their son.
Looks like this pastor could learn plenty from Reed's parents. Perhaps the best part of Reed's post is his speculation about how (and why) this pastor tracked him down in the first place.
I did a quick search to link the IP address of the email to the page that linked the minister to my site, and it turns out he discovered me through a Google search for "southwest Virginia atheist gay teenager." He is either desperate to save a poor sinner or he just wants a booty call. What a sad, strange little man.
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November 8, 2007

Godless For A Day

The first Great American God-Out will be held on November 15, 2007, with a VIP party in New York City featuring Dr. Michael Shermer and Margaret Downey. Tickets are on sale now for those who will be in the New York area. Those of us outside the New York area can celebrate in a variety of ways, from hosting our own god-out parties in our communities, to spreading the word about freethought throughout America, to lobbying for church-state separation.

For more, see this article at the Institute For Humanist Studies.

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November 7, 2007

Fear of an Idea

Job: A Comedy of Justice
Job: A Comedy of Justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The following is an invited guest post by Billy (A Liberal Disabled Vet), a regular commenter on Atheist Revolution. Enjoy!

I have been trying for most of my life (some of the early years are a little iffy) to understand people and the world. I think I may have come up with a small insight into the Christian (as well as authoritarian, fundamentalist, and christianist) mode of thought. What one idea links these groups?

I met my first girlfriend in high school at all county chorus. She was nice, quiet, sweet, and was raised Catholic and then (to the surprise of her parents) ‘born again.’ She and I had long philosophical and literary discussions, but if the subject became religion, my ideas (at the time agnostic deism (though I did not know the term at that time)) disturbed her at a very deep level. The idea of the universe as ‘god’ actually frightened her. She was not stupid. She carried a 4.0 at a public high school (including AP physics and biology) and planned to go to college to become a pharmacist. I remember trying to discuss a Heinlein book, Job: A Comedy of Justice, (hey, at 18 I thought it was a good book) which focuses on alternate universes and portrays ‘god’ as a petty tyrant who managed to wrangle a ‘universe’ for his own pleasure to (if I remember it right) prove that he could get people to worship him. Just the discussion of alternate universes (some with and some without a recognizable Christianity) scared the living hell out of her. She later broke up with me. I did not know why at the time. I later learned it was because I was not born again.


November 6, 2007

Gift Ideas For The Atheist: Atheism Quotes Calendar

Looking for a gift for that special atheist in your life who probably thinks that celebrating an ancient pagan holiday corrupted by Christians to honor the birth of someone who may or may not have actually lived is just a bit silly? How about a gift that can be used all year round to bring some sanity to a world filled with religious delusion? How about an atheism quotes calendar? A reader, who happens to be a designer, put this together and thought you might be interested. Looks pretty cool if you ask me.

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November 5, 2007

God Hates Yeast

So I've decided to read the Christian bible from cover to cover. Why? The last time I did so was quite awhile ago, well before I had read much about atheism. When I've referred to biblical passages here, Christians sometimes complain that I'm taking the passages out of context. So I picked up a parallel bible with the NIV version presented column-by-column with the King James version. I'm about mid-way through Leviticus now and ready to share some initial impressions.

This is the first time I've read the NIV translation, and it certainly makes for an easier read than the King James. Still, I like to go back and forth to compare both versions and note some of the seemingly important differences. As but one example, NIV replaces "thou shalt not kill" with "you will not murder." At least to my mind, there is a world of difference between the meaning of "kill" and that of "murder."

Genesis makes for an interesting read, and I genuinely enjoyed it. A certain beauty is evident in some of the language and imagery. Of course, one must set aside the realities of modern science to some degree or else one will experience it as little more than a list of false claims about nature.

The god described in these first three books is difficult to recommend. This god is presumably almighty and yet needs to rest while creating the universe. This god is presumably wise beyond measure but places two forbidden trees (that of knowledge and that of life) in the Garden of Eden where early humans can access them. Moreover, this god evidently botched the first attempt at creating humanity to the point where it was necessary to slaughter all except Noah and his clan. Thus, with regard to power and knowledge, this god seems to be quite flawed.

What about morality? Well, there is little question about this. This god repeatedly refers to itself as jealous and demonstrates wrath, impatience, cruelty, intolerance, and more. The god described in Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus is certainly willing to provide humanity with a number of laws, the majority of which are completely ignored by virtually all modern Christians. This god makes it clear that it is to be honored with animal blood and burnt offerings (i.e., animals sacrificed and burned on altars). However, most modern Christians would never dream of doing this, going so far as to equate such acts with Satanism when they were in fact mandated by the very god they claim to worship.

The infamous passage in Leviticus does indeed state that male homosexuality is wrong (and that men who engage in homosexual must be killed), and yet, this is embedded among so many other laws given to humanity that it hardly stands out. It is fascinating that Christians obsess about the couple brief mentions this receives while completely ignoring the call for blood sacrifices, the clear requirement of stoning for minor crimes, and the multitude of references to the evils of yeast.

Don't get me wrong - I'm glad that today's Christians ignore nearly all of the laws their biblical god hands down in these three books. And yet, I remain puzzled that anyone claiming to be a Christian can ignore all of this, selectively choosing the couple parts that make them feel good while neglecting the bulk of what is actually there. This is the sort of god who is unlikely to react favorably to such neglect. If I believed in such a god, I don't think I'd go near anything containing yeast!

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