December 31, 2007

2007 Ends With Possible Christian Terrorism

Even if it wasn't necessarily "the year of the atheist," 2007 was a good year for American atheism. Of course, this does not mean that we can afford to rest anytime soon. Many American Christians are determined to return us to the Dark Ages by undoing the Enlightenment values that weaken their religion. A small but politically influential group of them even seek to promote the extinction of our species to fulfill their end-times theology! As if to remind us that now is not the time for complacency, we have news of what may be more acts of Christian terrorism on American soil.

Planned Parenthood clinics are under attack in Albuquerque, NM. The motives for the attacks is still not clear. While Christian terrorism cannot yet be ruled out, KRQE News (NM) reports that the motive for at least one of the attacks may have something to do with one of the perpetrator's girlfriend planning to have an abortion at the clinic.

H/T to Dispatches From the Culture Wars

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Lessons Learned in Florida

I'm back now (obviously), and although I can't say my trip was restful, that was never really the goal. I explored areas of Florida which I had not previously visited, mostly around Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island, and Naples, and found it to be a birding paradise. I won't bore you with the details except to say that I was able to see many species I had never seen before. Instead, I'll focus on some observations related to religion and a few lessons learned that I want to share.

Here in Mississippi, one thing which can be counted on every year is that the entire state seems to shut down on Christmas day. That we are supposed to have more churches per capita than any other state suggests that part of the reason for this is to be found in an unusually high level of religious belief. In any case, I typically take advantage of it by going birding because I tend to be more successful the fewer people are around.

Florida presented an unexpected contrast, for little shut down other than the stores, and there were droves of people in the birding areas. I kept thinking to myself, "Why are there so many people out here on Christmas?" Of course, Florida is far more populous, more religiously diverse, and draws many tourists to these areas (including those from outside America). Still, I was surprised to find Christmas as busy as any other day. Nobody Merry Christmased me or asked why I wasn't in church. I saw no Jesus t-shirts in the birding areas. Instead, it seemed that the other people were there for the same reason I was - to enjoy the beauty of nature.

I had to balance these impressions against the Jesus fish, anti-choice billboards and bumper stickers, and fundamentalist churches I encountered along Interstates 10 and 75. Florida is far from secular. Could it be that the sorts of people who visit birding and wildlife areas tend to be somewhat less religious? Or perhaps a better way of phrasing it, could it be that more secular individuals are likely to be found in such areas? I really don't know, but that would seem consistent with what I experienced.

In exploring the Everglades, I came away saddened that we are rapidly losing this area through commercial development and a chronic short-sightedness when it comes to protecting our environment. That Christianity has contributed to this is undeniable, and while I am encouraged to see some moderate Christian organizations and even a few evangelical groups beginning to recognize the value of the environment, I fear that it may be too late. The biblical notion of human dominion over nature which has infused American culture from the beginning comes at a high cost.

I learned a few things on this trip, not the least of which is that I really need to make the time to get out in nature more often. Not only does it appear that I may encounter more like-minded people in natural history museums, wildlife preserves, birding locations, and the like, but there is something so centering about immersing oneself in nature. I can see how some people would regard this as a spiritual experience even though I prefer to frame such experiences through the lens of naturalism. I've never been one to obsess over New Year's resolutions, but I think I'd like to make more of an effort to turn off the computer, get out of the house and off the main drag, and spend more time where I can appreciate the natural world around me which my Christian consumerist culture so eschews.

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December 30, 2007

Ron Paul Does Not Accept Evolution

As we head toward the 2008 election, Ron Paul is probably the most popular Republican candidate if one focuses on grassroots support on the Internet. This is quite an accomplishment, even if the mainstream media continues to ignore him (and Dennis Kucinich). Unfortunately, it appears that Ron Paul does not accept evolution, raising serious questions about the effects a Paul presidency would have on America's scientific prowess. This is a serious problem of which Paul supporters should be aware.



H/Ts to Deep Thoughts and The Information Paradox

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Carnival of the Godless #81

The 81st Carnival of the Godless is up at Unscrewing the Inscrutable. Man, I'm away from the computer for a few days and I feel like I've missed out on so much great godless blogging that it will take me a week to catch up! This looks like an ideal place to start.


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December 29, 2007

Huckabee's Biblical Worldview

The atheist blogosphere really lit up over Romney's anti-atheist bigotry, but I think most of us would agree that Huckabee poses a far more serious threat. The AIDS story is getting attention in the mainstream media, but the blogosphere is already moving well beyond that to examine other evidence of Huckabee's theocratic striving. Before we leave the AIDS story behind, however, I want to highlight one point that has not been made often enough.

As a quick refresher, here is what Huckabee said in 1992:
If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague.

It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.
The outrage has focused on the suggestion that AIDS patients be isolated, although some have also highlighted the homophobic implications. These implications become even clearer when one considers that Huckabee also said the following in 1992:
I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk.
This is well placed outrage, and I'm not going to disagree that it is warranted (especially when he refuses to take any of it back). I just want to highlight something else that I do not think is receiving enough attention. Specifically, I want to focus is on Huckabee's repeated use of the word "plague." I do not see this as accidental but rather as evidence of the degree to which his thinking is dominated by a biblical worldview.

My initial reaction is that we have spent the last several years with a fundamentalist Christian in the White House and have witnessed the damage this has caused. Why we would even consider repeating this catastrophe is beyond me. But I also think that Huckabee, unlike Bush, is the real thing - the sort of dangerous theocrat that would bring us much closer to the very regimes we are now opposing in the Middle East. I think he means it when he claims to be influenced by his faith (video), and I am growing increasingly concerned by his popularity.

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December 22, 2007

Vacation Time

I'm going out of town for the next few days, and I'm doubtful that I'll have Internet access and an opportunity to post. I'm taking a road trip into Florida where I hope to take in some scenery, do some birding, and explore a wildlife area or two. I expect to be back around December 27. For those of you celebrating anything and those not celebrating a damn thing, I wish you the best.

To get your fix of godless blogging while I'm away, visit the sites listed in my blogroll or explore some of the newest members of the Atheist Blogroll.

Know Them By Their Deeds: Pittsburgh Diaper Fest

A reader sent me this bizarre story out of Pittsburgh that fits perfectly with my ongoing "know them by their deeds series" when one considers how eager many Christians are to play morality police. It seems that a local Christian youth group has been putting on skits in which teenage boys exchange their clothes for adult diapers, bibs, and bonnets. Have we learned nothing from the Catholic Church?

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, such a skit occurred during the Nov. 29 meeting of the Mt. Lebanon Young Life club, directed by youth minister O.J. Wandrisco. The mother of one 14-year-old boy contacted the Mt. Lebanon Police Department and the principal of the local school with her concerns, after which she and her son filed a formal complaint.
Ms. Metz said at the Nov. 29 Young Life meeting, after her son and two other boys were selected to take part in the skit, they were taken to a rest room by an older teen and given adult diapers, bibs and bonnets and directed to take their clothes off and put the diapers, bibs and bonnets on. Her son took off his pants, but kept on boxer undershorts, his shirt, shoes and socks.

The boys returned to the group, where they were asked to sit in the laps of three girls. The girls spoon-fed baby food to the boys and then gave them baby bottles filled with soda pop. The first boy to finish was the winner.
Strangely, it appears that the police are not going to pursue criminal charges. According to Lt. Truver, nothing criminal occurred.
"Her 14-year-old son told us he participated in an activity completely voluntary in nature and that he had fun with it and that there was no coercion and our position is that while the activities may be somewhat unorthodox depending on your perception, there's nothing to indicate that any crime occurred," he said.
Um...they were 14 and an adult was leading the activity. However, it sounds like the district attorney plans to review the case, and the school district appears to be trying to distance itself from the youth group, no longer allowing them to use school space. At least parents will now know what has been happening.
Mr. Wandrisco and a national spokesman for Young Life say the skits are all in fun and meant to be used as "icebreakers" at the youth group meetings.
Another skit commonly used by the group, and acknowledged by Mr. Wandrisco, involves young girls eating chocolate pudding out of adult diapers. What exactly is that supposed to represent? As the outraged reader who me this story put it, "And having girls lick pudding from diapers? Well, that makes sense because, you know, women are 'supposed' to eat shit."

The national vice president of communications for Young Life, said that such skits are commonly used in their organization and that they fully support Mr. Wandrisco.

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Foxhole Atheists Stand Up For Religious Freedom

There is some evidence that religious believers are somewhat underrepresented in America's armed forces relative to their numbers in the general population, but it appears that Christian extremist groups are seeking to infiltrate the military to spread their mind virus. Now the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Spc. Jeremy Hall and are suing Maj. Freddy Welborn and SECDEF Gates for violating religious freedom.

According to the Associated Press, the atheists are "alleging widespread violations of religious freedom" and indicating that they plan to offer "evidence showing soldiers are under pressure to adopt fundamentalist Christian beliefs."

We are not talking about a general pressure to believe in any sort of higher power or a general "god and country" sort of philosophy, but fundamentalist Christianity and all it entails. The military police battalion where Hall is stationed bears the following Ann Coulter quote: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Materials from Military Ministry teach soldiers that the U.S. military is an instrument to spread the word of the Christian god.

You'll recall that Spc. Hall is the soldier who was threatened after attempting to hold a meeting for atheists in Iraq.
The lawsuit also alleges Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to put pressure on soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs and allows a culture that sanctions activities by Christian organizations.

It also says the military permits proselytizing by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism and the placing of religious symbols on military equipment and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious rhetoric.
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December 21, 2007

I Value Truth

When I say that I value the truth, I don't use the capital "T" that many Christians would prefer. Instead, what I'm talking about is the value I place upon natural reality as opposed to fantasy or to the supernatural entities of myth. I've already stated that I believe in an awe-inspiring natural world, but this post is about something different. Simply put, I value the use of reason, evidence, and science to evaluate the veracity of claims.

An extremely popular myth which pervades right-wing political and Christian extremist groups involves a once great American nation which has fallen into moral decline. Reasons for this decline vary. Sometimes homosexuality or government regulations are emphasized. Other times, increased incivility and media crassness are the culprits. But the underlying cause is nearly always the same: the creeping threat of secularism. This is a useful myth for energizing the conservative base, but it is nevertheless a myth.

As Steven Conn, a professor of history at Ohio State University, writes for the History News Service,

The details of this declension are always vague -- notice the unnamed "they" of Romney's speech -- but the cause is always some hazy conspiracy of people who have stripped religion out of public life. And the antidote is the same: more religion, preferably more of that "old time" religion. In our private lives and in our politics.
In tracing the history of church-state separation in America, Conn draws upon actual (as opposed to manufactured) history. He describes how Penn founded Philadelphia without an official religion, even though he was a deeply religious Quaker, because he recognized the dangers of merging religion and government.

Conn notes that America's founders would later be inspired by Penn's model and by Enlightenment philosophy which emphasized reason and liberty. Contrary to Romney's assertions that religion is required for freedom, our founders established an America without a state religion. When Connecticut Baptists called for an infusion of their religion into our nation, Jefferson responded with his "wall of separation."

But my point here is not to summarize Conn's excellent article as much as it is to hold Conn up as an example of what I mean when I refer to using reason and evidence to evaluate the truth of various claims. The right-wing myth of a morally degraded America can be evaluated and is found lacking. It is a myth to be discarded and replaced by the truth - what actually happened rather than political spin.

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The Social and Emotional Benefits of Religious Belief

There was a thought-provoking opinion piece written by an atheist in a recent New York Times dealing with religion and politics. I found the part about the social and emotional benefits of religious belief to be one of those intriguing topics to which I have devoted insufficient attention here. I need to think about this more, but I did want to share some initial thoughts while it is fresh in my mind.

From the article:
Belief certainly provides benefits regardless of whether God exists — not least social acceptance among other believers and the comfort of a promised heaven. It must be awkward to be an atheist in Mecca or Jerusalem — or Iowa.
I see little to disagree with here. Although the author does go on to shoot down Pascal's Wager and say that he feels the cost of belief outweighs any potential gain, this statement about social acceptance and comfort stood out for me.

Even though we atheists have a reputation for being more comfortable with the isolation many of us experience as a result of our refusal to go along with the belief of the majority, I suspect that few atheists would turn down greater social acceptance if the price were not so high. At this point in my life, I am fairly comfortable with the realization that I am not going to be liked or accepted by everyone. But this was not always the case. There was a time when this sort of acceptance was an important goal worth pursuing. Still, acceptance is not something I actively avoid.

The combination of social acceptance and comfort (even if it is a false sense of comfort) are understandably attractive to many. Even if the comfort that comes from a belief in afterlife is false, no one truly knows until it is too late. We atheists have to find our comfort elsewhere, but this is not always an easy sell to believers.

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Does Hoping For An End To Religion Make Me Intolerant?

I value religious believers and nonbelievers alike. I recognize that religious belief (or non-belief) does not make someone a good or bad person by itself. I support religious freedom, and I believe that one should have the right to practice one's religion in the privacy of one's home or place of worship as long as one does so in accordance with the law and does not inflict harm on others. I also recognize that true freedom of religion is not possible unless it is accompanied by freedom from religion. At the same time, I would welcome a gradual erosion of religion's political influence to the point where it was considered a private matter that did not intrude into the public sphere. Does this make me intolerant?

As long as nobody is harmed and no valid laws are broken, people should be free to practice their religion (or lack thereof). Religious belief is supposed to be between the believer and his or her god(s). There should be no state interference in such matters, be they positive or negative. The believer deserves this freedom every bit as much as the non-believer does.

In fact, I'd like not to have to care what a believer believes. I'd like to leave that completely up to them and not concern myself with it. If religion could somehow be divorced from politics and if I could escape the constant bombardment by Jesus music when I'm shopping or door-to-door evangelizing when I'm at home, I could probably remain content to remain oblivious to what religious folk believe. Maybe I'd examine it as a curiosity, but it wouldn't have great relevance.

But many believers insist that part of their religion involves frequent attempts to poison others with it. It is not enough to believe; one must actively try to spread one's belief. They do not appear willing to give this up. Moreover, believers are not content to forgo their forays into politics. Evidently, their religion is less meaningful if they cannot impose it on others and restrict their freedoms.

Given the massive influence religion has on politics and the degree to which it repeatedly leads politicians to make horribly destructive decisions (e.g., denying global warming, preventing stem cell research, launching preemptive wars to fulfill end-times prophecy, etc.), I simply do not have the luxury of ignoring it. Given the frequent intrusions by believers into my personal domain, I have little opportunity to ignore it. Instead, I must work to defend reason and oppose religious extremism.

Does it make me intolerant to wish that religion was a private matter or to long for an end to proselytizing? Does it make me intolerant to dream of a reality-based politics where decisions were made on the basis of sound reason, evidence, and science? Does it make me intolerant to wish I could get through two consecutive days without hearing about Jesus?

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December 20, 2007

Civil Rights Group Recognizes Atheists' Struggle

Big news for all secular Americans came out yesterday. The Secular Coalition for America has joined the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the oldest and most respected civil rights organization in America. This marks the first time atheists will be represented in the civil rights movement. According to Secular Coalition Director, Lori Lipman Brown, it also says a great deal about the LCCR that they are willing to include us.

You can find the full press release issued by the Secular Coalition for America here. This is a historic moment and one which I hope will someday mark the beginning of the end of anti-atheist bigotry in America.
Recognition that the nontheistic minority must be included in the struggle for civil rights marks a milestone. There are several religious groups within LCCR’s coalition, but the Secular Coalition for America is the first nontheist (atheists, humanists, and other Americans without a god belief) advocacy group to be included. Both organizations agree that religious freedom as protected by the Bill of Rights must also include the freedom to practice no religion.
The civil rights movement has made tremendous progress, and although there is still a long way to go toward ending intolerance and discrimination, positive accomplishments are undeniable. Freethinkers have made significant contributions to civil rights, and I am happy that millions of American atheists may now benefit from this new relationship.

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Atheists, Put HR. 847 In Perspective

When I first heard about Congress passing H. Res. 847 for the purpose of "Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith," I nearly crapped myself. Yes, I admit it. My initial impulse was to fly off the handle and begin ranting about this as being one more step toward theocracy. Instead, I took the time to learn something about the context in which this resolution occurred and discovered that it does not actually change anything. I am still upset, but I'm not going to the mattresses over this one.

You can read the full text of H. Res. 847 here, and I will be the first to admit that it sounds pretty awful. It refers to Christianity as "great," lends credence to the idea that America was somehow rooted in Christianity, and fosters the myth of widespread persecution of Christians (in the United States of all places).

But, it is important to realize that this is merely one of hundreds of similar resolutions the House approves every year, largely for ceremonial purposes. Examples include Haitian Flag Day, Grandparents Day, and countless others. In fact, this same Congress has already passed similar resolutions about Ramadan (H. Res. 635) and Diwali (H. Res. 747). Thus, interpretations of H. Res. 847 as the dawn of American theocracy or evidence of Nazism are unfounded and run the risk of making us look ill-informed.

I do agree with much of the statement issued by the Council for Secular Humanism which I previously posted. The resolution was unnecessary, and it does sound bigoted in its focus on Christianity while ignoring the contributions of persons of other religious backgrounds and atheists. Its intent was to throw a bone to Christians and not to be inclusive, just as previous resolutions focused on other groups and did not try to be inclusive. I agree with the Council that Congress should be educated about this, and I commend them for issuing their statement.

It is tempting to call upon Congress to do something similar for atheism, but I'd prefer they stopped wasting their time on ceremonial statements and spent their time crafting solutions to the many problems facing America.

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December 19, 2007

What Happened To The Miracles?

The Christian bible is filled with miracles, direct communication between god and man, and tales of god regularly intervening in human affairs. So what happened, Christians? Did this god die, lose interest, go away on a long vacation, what? I encourage you to check out this great post at de-conversion on the subject of miracles and typical Christian responses to questions such as these. It is well-written and thought-provoking.

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Misunderstanding Atheism

I strongly believe that one of the most important things we atheists must do is to educate others about what atheism is and what it is not. In this post, I'll show you yet another example of how atheism is misunderstood in the mainstream media and provide my response.

This particular example comes from an article written by Jake TenPas for the Corvallis Gazette-Times (OR). Here is an excerpt from the article:
I’m not an atheist. I don’t believe that “there is no God.” I personally think there are just too many mysteries in the universe, and I personally enjoy leaving them unexplained. Asking for proof of the divine is a bit like asking for proof that a slice of American Dream pizza tastes good. If you need proof, then all your receptors aren’t functioning at optimum levels.
See the problem? Atheism in no way insists that there are no gods. Atheism is a response to theism. The theist claims that some sort of god or gods exist; the atheist does not accept this claim as accurate. Theism is the belief that a god or gods exist. Atheism is the absence of, or lack of, agreement with this belief. To say that an atheist does not believe in gods is an accurate statement, however, to insist that an atheist believes that there are no gods is erroneous. Atheism does not entail the conviction that there are no gods. Moreover, atheism says nothing whatsoever about the presence or absence of various unknown or unexplained phenomena. And finally, while lack of "proof" is a justification some atheists will offer for their unwillingness to accept theism, it is certainly not the only one. Other atheists would argue that they cannot accept the theistic belief claim because the concept of god is logically incoherent or undefined.

Another excerpt:
Again, I’m not an atheist. To me, atheism, like fundamentalist religions, rules out too many possibilities, assumes it knows more about the world than I believe any human mind to be capable of knowing.
Once again, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of atheism. Atheism does not rule out any possibilities other than the theistic belief claim (i.e., a god or gods exist), and even then, no absolute certainty need be present. If the theist says, "I believe X to be the case," the atheist is merely saying, "I do not believe X to be the case." This is not synonymous with insisting, "I am 100% convinced that X is false." Atheism makes no assumptions about the world. In fact, it makes exactly one less assumption than theism!

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December 18, 2007

Onfray's Atheist Manifesto

There is an informative review of Michel Onfray's Atheist Manifesto at the Midwest Populist Party website. This sounds like another one I'll have to pick up. So many books and so little time!

Time for a Science Debate

ScienceDebate2008, a broad coalition of scientists and supporters of science, is calling for a Presidential Debate on science. I think this is an excellent idea and have posted the full press release below.

Top Scientists join in call for Presidential Debate
"We don't want to concede science to other nations," a group of Nobel Laureates says; broad coalition seeks a science and technology-themed Presidential debate in 2008

NEW YORK - Eleven Nobel laureates, two dozen other eminent scientists, and the leaders of many of America's pre-eminent scientific organizations and universities have joined a coalition of business leaders, writers, and elected officials of both major political parties in a call for a science-based presidential debate in 2008.

The group, which calls itself ScienceDebate2008, says such a debate is critical. "Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth, we view this as a critical part of our presidential selection process," the group said in a prepared announcement.

It just may be an idea whose time has come, says Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science magazine. "Climate change, the space station, and stem cells are just a few of the many scientific issues that have become central in national policy. It's about time we hear from the candidates on science issues."

"When you think about it, nearly every major challenge the next President will face has a science or technological component," said Lawrence M. Krauss, an astrophysicist at Case Western Reserve University and a member of the ScienceDebate2008 steering committee. "We owe it to the next generation to address these challenges responsibly."

The group's impressive signatory list is at http://www.sciencedebate2008.com.

The debate location and venue have not yet been chosen. The group is in talks with several major organizations, said Matthew Chapman, a writer and spokesman for the group's steering committee, and he says at least one major presidential campaign has already indicated support for the idea. "The strangest thing about this debate is that it hasn't already happened. It is so clearly essential."

John Rennie, Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American, is also a member of the steering committee. "Matters of science and technology underpin every important issue affecting the future of the United States," said Rennie. "It's crucial for the nation's welfare that our next president be someone with an understanding of vital science, a willingness to listen to scientific counsel, and a capacity for solid, critical thinking. A debate would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities on these issues."

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December 17, 2007

Christian Privilege in Day-Care

What if you were a restaurant owner and you learned that Christian-owned restaurants are exempt from health inspections? While you have to maintain rigorous health and safety standards in order to pass surprise governmental inspections, restaurants owned and operated by Christians had no such requirements. Sounds far-fetched, doesn't it? What if I told you that something much like this scenario was true - not for restaurants but for day-care centers?

When a parent sends his or her child to day-care, this is typically not a decision taken lightly. The parent has probably investigated countless day-care centers and asked trusted friends for recommendations. Cost is often a consideration, but safety is even more important. After all, we're talking about entrusting strangers with the care of one's child.

At least parents can take some consolation in the knowledge that state governments license day-care centers, providing some quality assurance. Government inspectors may utilize surprise visits to examine the criminal records of center employees, potential health and safety violations, and other items which most parents would find distressing. At least, that is the case for secular day-care centers.

You see, in Florida only secular day-care centers can be inspected by licensing officials. Faith-based day-care centers are off limits and actually exempt from state licensing requirements.
Florida is one of a dozen states that has such exemptions, which are meant to lessen the red tape faith-based groups have to go through but, according to critics, can also open a loophole that shields some day-care facilities from badly needed oversight.
Unfortunately, efforts to close this inappropriate loophole required the death of an innocent 2-year-old from being left in a center van in Daytona Beach in 2001. Five years later, and the loophole remains due to political squabbling.

Not surprisingly, some of the faithful Christians who operate these exempt centers oppose any sort of regulation. Others actually converted their centers to faith-based operations to avoid having to deal with state inspectors. If granting licensing exemptions for faith-based day-cares isn't an example of Christian privilege, I don't know what is!

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December 16, 2007

A Special Humanist Symposium at Evanescent

Humanist Symposium #12 is up now at evanescent, bringing you quality humanist reading from around the blogosphere. This edition is dedicated to Blue Linchpin who some long-time readers may remember as one of the blogs I used to feature here. I think this is a very nice gesture and a fitting tribute.


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O'Reilly Compares Secular Progressives To Taliban

Yes, you read the title correctly. Right-wing nutjob Bill O'Reilly actually compared secular progressives to the Taliban (video)! This is the same Taliban which educated persons know to be intent on bringing about an Islamic theocracy. That is, they seek to replace secular law and politics with religious forms. They were known for the "strictest interpretation of Sharia law ever seen in the Muslim world." Either O'Reilly does not know that "secular" means not religious, does not know that Islam is a religion, or is far more disturbed than I realized.

Comparing non-Muslims to the Taliban is nothing new. I've done it myself repeatedly. But I've done it in a very specific and limited context to point out similarities between Christian theocrats and Muslim theocrats. Both want to replace secular government with religious government. Both want to replace secular law with scripture. That is, these comparisons actually make sense.

Maybe O'Reilly is actually starting to believe the absurd right-wing talking points which push the notion that secularism is a religion. Of course, this would mean that he must have forgotten that the United States deliberately fueled Islamic extremism in Afghanistan under Regan to create an obstacle for the Soviet Union. We certainly recognized the religious nature of what we were creating then. Besides, the meaning of secularism makes it logically impossible for it to be a religion in any way. Just as atheism cannot logically be a religion, secularism cannot either.

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Who Is Your Favorite Atheist?

Now you can vote for your favorite atheist. Thanks to reader, sungazer, for e-mailing this tip. I'm having a hard time deciding. Bertrand Russell had the greatest impact on my own atheism, but Lemmy is...well...Lemmy!

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December 15, 2007

Kucinich "Money Bomb" Today

From Consequences of Republicanism:

A Kucinich "money bomb" is planned for December 15, 2007. The full press release can be found here. Even if he does not end up wining the Democratic nomination, there is little doubt that Kucinich has had a positive influence on the other campaigns and that his voice should be heard.

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Council For Secular Humanism Chides Congress For Disrespecting Religions

The following is a press release from The Council For Secular Humanism received via e-mail from a reader:

The Council for Secular Humanism Chides Congress for Disrespecting Religions

(December 14, 2007) -- Experts from the Council for Secular Humanism noted with alarm the passage of H. Res. 847 in the House of Representatives. This unnecessary, unwarranted, and bigoted law, under the misleading title "Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith" passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support It effectively undermines the sort of religious tolerance necessary in these changing times.

Just days ago in the midst of the Jewish Festival of Lights, four Jewish men in New York City were attacked on the subway for replying to a group of ten people who wished them a "Merry Christmas" with a similar greeting: "Happy Hanukkah. For this, these men were first insulted, then beaten. It was a Muslim man who came to their physical defense. The actions of the Congress, by passing the resolution and thus expressing preference to the Christian faith over all the others represented by the diverse population of these United States, encourages this sort of behavior.

The First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty, and of the nonestablishment of religion, was devised to create a secular state in which all religions would be equally tolerated and none given preference. The language of the House resolution effectively undermines the design of the Founders, and creates an atmosphere where non-Christians will continue to be targeted, treated like second-class citizens, and even become victims of violence like those four Jewish subway riders in New York.

Paul Kurtz, CSH chair, stated, "It is deplorable that in this day and age and in light of violence against religious minorities here in the United States that the Congress would stoke those flames with preferential language in support of a single religion." David Koepsell, CSH's executive director, noted, "Te First Amendment Guarantee was designed to prevent the sort of religious intolerance that resulted in violence in Europe, and our Congress should respect the intent of the Founders."

We call on the Congress to reject this resolution, to stand up for religious freedom, secularism, and pluralism, and to foster a climate in which all believers and nonbelievers alike are treated equally.
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What Do You Think Of The Rational Response Squad?

The Rational Response Squad (RSS) first came to my attention during the blasphemy challenge. I thought this was an interesting idea to raise awareness that active rejection of religious superstition was an option. Like many of you, I also watched the RSS debate Mike Seaver from Growing Pains and some tool calling himself Ray Comfort. I even did a post about it. Now I've noticed that the RSS folks are ramping up their self-promotion, joining countless blog directories, heavily utilizing social networking tools, releasing video ads, and the like. This means that more and more people will become aware of them and visit their website. I do have an opinion on the RSS, but I'd like to know what you think before I throw in my $.02. So, what do you think of the Rational Response Squad?


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December 14, 2007

No More Crosses For Spokane Police Chaplains

According to The Christian Post (yes, I do get all my news from this source), police chaplains in Spokane, WA, are going to have to remove the crosses from their badges to settle a lawsuit filed by Ray Ideus, a Christian pastor for 30 years who is now an atheist. Lest the right-wing lunatic fringe do more sniveling about "whiny atheists," I think it is important to be clear about why it is necessary to remove the crosses.

It should be noted at the outset that no court is ordering the removal. The city is agreeing to do so as part of an out-of-court settlement. Thus, ranting about "activist judges" would be misplaced here.

So why would an atheist file suit over the crosses?
Ray Ideus, a former Lutheran pastor of 30 years, claimed in his suit that the Christian-Latin cross included on the badges worn by chaplains in the Spokane Police Department is an "impermissible incorporation of a particular religious symbol in a government insignia."
By including crosses on the badges of police chaplains, the department is endorsing one particular religion, giving it preferential treatment over all others. As Ideus puts it, "It's not a Christian police department." Right, it is a public police department, supported by tax dollars, and expected to protect and serve all citizens, several of whom will not be Christians.

I fail to see why so many Christians cannot grasp this rationale. Because many Christians are intelligent people, I must conclude that they understand it perfectly well and simply chose to ignore it as long as their particular religion is favored. Many do not think about it because they have never really needed to. Indeed, this is why Christian privilege is rarely apparent to Christians.

What both saddens me and makes me proud at the same time is that this is another example of it falling on atheists to defend our Constitution. It saddens me because I would very much like to see more examples of other religious minorities coming forward to contribute to the erosion of Christian privilege. I'm not saying this never happens, but it does not happen enough. And yet, I do feel proud to belong to a group (i.e., atheists) who is willing to stand up for the rule of law.

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God Orders Persons Of Other Faiths To Be Killed

Progress on my reading of the Christian bible stalled for awhile, mostly due to changes in my work schedule resulting in a significant reduction of free time, but I have not abandoned the task. This post will continue where I left off by discussing Deuteronomy and Joshua.

On the surface, Deuteronomy continues the story Moses and of how the Christian god provided a rather thorough set of laws to humankind. A cursory read is likely to convey the impression that much of Deuteronomy is simply rehashing the law set down in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. To be sure there is some repetition, however, Deuteronomy deserves a closer look, as it reveals considerable insight into the character of the Christian god. Moreover, Deuteronomy offers some of the most relevant bits of god's law for atheists we have encountered yet.

Like Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers before it, Deuteronomy reminds the believer that the ten commandments are but one part of what this god expects. We have already seen that this god despises yeast and desires animal sacrifices. Now we learn that believers must kill persons who worship other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-11). Once again, this god makes it clear that those who follow all these laws will be rewarded, not in some distant afterlife but now (Deuteronomy 5:32-33).

Obedience is clearly valued, and the support this god provides is completely conditional. Earthy fortunate is bestowed on those who obey (Deuteronomy 6:10-12), but this is also a jealous and wrathful god who will not hesitate to destroy those who do not demonstrate their obedience (Deuteronomy 6:15). This is a god who has little sympathy for conquered peoples. They are to be completely eliminated, down to the last child, so the remnants of their cultures will not tempt our conquerors (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).

A particularly fascinating insight had been brewing in previous books but finally solidified in Deuteronomy: this god can be argued with, bargained with, and even persuaded by humans. Moses repeatedly talks god out of inflicting certain types of punishment, utilizing all sorts of tactics. As one prominent example, it is Moses who talks this god out of slaughtering everyone over a golden calf. What are we to conclude about this supposedly divine being whose will is so frequently swayed by human persuasion? If we were given freewill as some sort of test, how does it make since that we are influencing this god's behavior through our actions? Who really has the power here?

And yet, the god of Deuteronomy does show some understanding of humanity. When instructing the people how to explain their religion to future generations, this god refers to the miracles and signs provided (Deuteronomy 6:20-25). Nobody is expected to believe on the basis of faith but because of what they have witnessed through their senses. I wonder what happened?

I found Joshua far less remarkable than Deuteronomy, but I do have a comment regarding this part of the story which begins right after the death of Moses. Together with Deuteronomy, Joshua provides a justification for ideas such as manifest destiny, scorched earth, shock and awe, and the like. A nation with this god on its side can conquer all before them, especially when those before them worship other gods. In fact, it almost reads as if there would be an obligation to do so. Indeed, Joshua tells the story of the Israelite army moving through the land and slaughtering all in the way. Few are spared, and virtually none receive mercy. There seems to be no motive for this aggression other than the desire to expand their territory. It is no wonder that the Pat Robertsons of America read their bibles as justifying war!

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December 13, 2007

Colorado Church Shooter In His Own Words

Thanks to an e-mail tip I received from a reader, MB, you can learn more about the Colorado church shooter, Matthew Murray, by reading his own words. I've included some of the highlights below which MB identified in his e-mail.

Highlights:
I remember getting thrown around the room and hit while getting interrogated about whether or not I had video games and DVDs. Then there were the constant interrogations by the church pastors. @#%$ hypocrites.
It sounds like someone else objected to the whole "morality police" thing at which fundamentalist Christians excel.
I remember having to listen to everything in secret, at very low volume levels or with headphones, whether it was video games, TV, DVDs, or music/radio. Every day was like Mission Impossible, as even ONE mis-step and it could be all over.
In other words, there was a general environment of fear. This certainly does not sound conducive to positive growth and development. In fact, it sounds more akin to the conditions which facilitate brainwashing.
My mother would search EVERYWHERE on a regular basis. You’d have thought I was hiding methamphetamines (which her favorite pastor, Ted Haggard was found guilty of) or something serious….but it was all over DVDs, Cds, and video games, the issue of drug abuse or the like never came up. And when she confiscated something, she’d almost never tell me. She’d always pretend like she had no idea what I was talking about, until I had her cornered with evidence….so much for “Liars go to the lake of fire.”
The idea that the "secular media" is somehow to blame for this is not only absurd, it is little more than thinly veiled atheist-bashing.

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Hitchens Releases Portable Atheist

A new book by Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, is getting some good press and looks like it might be a good one for that holiday wish list. I think I'll pick this one up the next time I put in an Amazon.com order.

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December 12, 2007

Christian Extremist Exploits Tragedy to Bash Atheists

The church shootings in Colorado were a tragedy no atheist I've known would wish on anyone. And yet, Christian extremist Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council believes that "the secular media" is at least partially responsible. Not to exaggerate my own importance or anything, but I figure I'm part of the closest thing there is to any sort of secular media in America, an atheist blogger. Thus, I hope you'll grant me my right to feel more than a little aggravated over this.

First things first, what exactly did Perkins say?
It is hard not to draw a line between the hostility that is being fomented in our culture from some in the secular media toward Christians and evangelicals in particular and the acts of violence that took place in Colorado yesterday. But I will say no more for now other than that our friends at New Life Church and YWAM are in our thoughts and prayers.
Forget that the shooter was a Christian, aggressing against his own church. Forget that he was known to be unstable and that he was evidently motivated by the rejection he experienced from his church. Most of all, forget that the god in which Mr. Perkins claims to believe is supposed to have unlimited power and compassion for human life. No, this tragedy is our fault.

And why is it our fault? Because we dare to criticize Christianity and other religions as both irrational and destructive. Because they have no effective response to this criticism, Christian extremists like Perkins instead accuse us of being hostile to Christians. But criticizing religious beliefs is not synonymous with hostility toward persons.

As the rest of the world grows more comfortable acknowledging the undeniable link between religion and violence, Tony Perkins and his fellow Christian extremists remain in manipulative denial. Do not make the mistake of confusing this sort of denial with the psychological defense mechanism that Freud offered to explain how we protect ourselves from anxiety. This is an intentional, strategic, and utterly manipulative means of atheist-bashing.

H/T to Crooks and Liars

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Freethought Radio Interviews Foxhole Atheist SPC Jeremy Hall

You may recall the disturbing story of SPC Jeremy Hall, an atheist soldier serving in Iraq who is now suing the Pentagon due to the anti-atheist discrimination he faced there. He was actually threatened with "fragging" (a "friendly fire" murder) after word of his suit became public. If you have not heard Hall's story in his own words, you should do so. Freethought Radio interviewed Hall in November, and the interview can be heard here.

H/T to Atheist Media Blog

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December 11, 2007

An Atheist Xmas in Connecticut

Seems like I just posted about the secular "Tree of Knowledge" in Philadelphia, doesn't it? It appears that a similar holiday display has been set up in Connecticut. A sign sponsored by Connecticut Valley Atheists asking passersby to "Imagine No Religion" is causing controversy and drawing attention to the high cost of religion. I applaud the group for their willingness to express an unpopular opinion and put the good of humanity over their own safety.

The sign went up on December 1st alongside a Christmas tree which stands across from the town hall. The townspeople responded by putting up an even bigger Christmas tree even closer to the atheists' sign. While they denied any intent to conceal the sign, I find this rather difficult to believe.

According to Dennis P. Himes, coordinator for Connecticut Valley Atheists, it would have been preferable to have no religious displays on public property whatsoever. However, since this was not an option, the sign provided by his group seems to be an excellent alternative.

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December 10, 2007

Why Focus On Christianity?

There are some things I do reasonably well but quickly responding to e-mail from readers is not one of them. I enjoy hearing from readers, and I do generally respond, but it often takes me awhile to do so. In this post, I want to address a thought-provoking e-mail I received recently because the question, why I choose to focus on Christianity here, has come up before and will probably continue to do so.

The e-mail posed a couple excellent questions:

  1. Why do I focus this blog on Christianity? Is it simply because this is the most common religion in the United States where I live, or do I have other reasons?
  2. Wouldn't the blog be more effective if it were framed as a broad defense of reason which responded to religion in general instead of focusing so much on one specific instance of religion (i.e., Christianity)? After all, there are many religions across the world, all equally deserving of being labeled as mythology.

December 9, 2007

The Constitutional Right To Juggle Snakes

When attempting to respond to extreme forms of religious idiocy, I often feel as if I am attempting to empty the oceans with a spoon. Well, it is time to again visit Kentucky for some more snake-handling fun!

It seems that a Kentucky couple is suing a foster-care agency after the agency revoked their foster-care license for refusing to steer clear of snake-handling religious services. The couple claims that they have never taken their foster children to the services but refuse to say whether they have handled snakes themselves. Now they are alleging that the foster-care agency has violated their Constitutional freedom to practice their religion after taking back their foster children and revoking their license. I certainly hope a foster-care agency has the right to screen potential foster parents for serious mental illness and to respond accordingly when a mentally ill couple demonstrate the dangerous nature of their delusion.

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December 8, 2007

Romney Reveals Bigotry Toward Non-Theistic Americans

It is high time I weigh in on the recent speech from Willard "Mitt" Romney in which he demonstrated his willingness to pander to Christian extremists, his ignorance of the Constitution, and what sounds at least a little bit like a theocratic vision for America. I've held off for this long because I was so disgusted to see how far we have fallen since JFK's famous "its okay to vote for a Catholic" speech.

Romney's speech can be viewed here or read here (be sure to add your comments as well). I should probably start by saying that I understand why he felt the speech was necessary, and I do not begrudge him that. He had an opportunity to assuage the reluctance of many Americans to vote for a Mormon by explaining his Mormon beliefs and stating clearly for the record that they will not influence how he would govern America. If you've heard anything about his speech, you'll already know that he did not do any of this. Instead, Romney chose to reassure Christian extremists that he agrees with their theocratic striving and willingness to rewrite history to justify their plans for America.
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator.
Religion is a matter to be taken very seriously because it is one of the primary threats facing the world today. Our nation's founders recognized the problems associated with merging religion and politics, and their answer was to write a secular Constitution. In asserting otherwise, Romney is either an imbecile or a shameless panderer.
Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.
How does freedom require religion? That statement is absurd on its face, so it comes as no surprise that Romney offers no justification for it (even if it appears to be based on his Mormon beliefs). It certainly sounds like he is saying that America is great because of mass religious delusion and not in spite of it. On this point, I couldn't disagree more vehemently. A brief examination of the widespread problems plaguing more religious countries while more secular nations tend to experience fewer such problems comes to mind.
No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'
What Willard does not seem to understand here is that we seek to remove religion from the public square because it is inherently divisive. We seek to remove acknowledgment of any gods because many of us do not believe in any of them and do not wish to be made into second class citizens for our willingness to exercise reason and utilize the scientific method to understand our environment. There is no religion of secularism any more than there is a square circle!

Spouting rhetoric about being a nation under some god does not make it so. Just because some foolish politicians sought to gain public support for the Communist scare they were perpetuating by changing our national motto and expressing religious delusion on our currency does not make us a more religious nation.

When Romney says he will "separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty,'" he is saying that atheists do not merit consideration. Many Americans do not believe in any sort of gods, and speeches like this suggest that politicians like Romney refuse to recognize our value as Americans. That, dear Willard, is called bigotry, and it is a characteristic that is not desirable in a president.

H/T to DemocratDad

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An Atheist Xmas In Pennsylvania

Faced with religious Christmas displays in public, the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia asking to have the displays removed. Their efforts failed, so they decided to do the next best thing - insist that they be allowed to add their own holiday display. Could this be a strategy for secular groups across America to emulate?

I think this is a great idea. If their request is granted, the courthouse in West Chester, PA, will show their "tree of knowledge" along with a Christmas tree, Nativity scene, and Menorah. According to this editorial by Tony Phyrillas,
The group's display is entitled "The Tree of Knowledge" and it will feature a 15-foot evergreen with color copies of book covers as "ornaments." Some of the book covers will include the Bible, the Quran, "Ethics Without God," "Why I Am Not a Christian," and "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism."
Something tells me we haven't heard the end of this one.

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December 7, 2007

Atheist Sunday School? A Baptist Responds

Christians do not like it when atheism receives attention in the mainstream media. After all, this might lead people to learn what atheism is and to discover that religious delusion is not a necessary condition. So when news of atheist Sunday schools broke, it would just be a matter of time until Christians felt it necessary to respond.

Writing for Baptist Press, R. Albert Mohler Jr. summarized the Time article before providing his undeniably Christian perspective on the matter. Mohler's brief reaction offers two points. First, atheist Sunday schools are doomed to fail because children are too gullible not to believe in his god.
My guess is that these atheist Sunday Schools will not be as successful as these parents hope. "I'm Unique and Unrepeatable" just can't really compete with "Jesus Loves Me." Children have not yet developed cynicism and, in general, are quite eager to believe in God. Children taught from the Bible in Sunday School learn that they were made by a loving God who cares for them -- and then move on to learn much more about what the Bible teaches. No "secular parable" can compete with that.
I think I'm being perfectly fair when I point out that Mohler is saying that wish fulfillment and a lack of critical thinking skills will make his religion seductive to our sons and daughters. I guess we can thank him for reminding us why atheist programs like this (not to mention secular public education) are needed.

Mohler's second point takes him into what I suspect will be territory familiar to any fundamentalist Christian, spreading misinformation about atheists.
In a strange way, the rise of atheist Sunday Schools illustrates the central dilemma of atheism itself. Try as they may, atheists cannot avoid talking about God -- even if only to insist that they do not believe in Him. Now, atheist parents are organizing Sunday Schools as a parallel to the Christian practice. In effect, atheists are organizing themselves in a way similar to a local church. At least some of them must sense the awkward irony in that.
Oh Mr. Mohler (it is probably Rev. Mohler, isn't it?), the strange thing is that you seem unable to imagine that the most despised minority in America would find it beneficial to their survival to consider those who control our society and lead many to live in fear of Christian intolerance, hatred, and cruelty! It is not your god with which we are preoccupied; it is you and your fellow believers. Not a day passes where we are not confronted with the realization that we live as strangers in a strange land, a land where religious delusion runs rampant and the rational few are condemned for our rejection of faith. We organize because we need a voice in response to the oppression we experience, but we also organize to celebrate our emergence into the light of reason.

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December 6, 2007

Responding To Anti-Atheist Bigotry: Offense or Defense?

When I encounter bigotry, I feel obliged to speak out. I feel this way not just in the case of anti-atheist bigotry but also in cases of racism, gay bashing, sexism, and the like. I suppose it is the realization that by remaining silent, I am implicitly condoning the behavior that motivates me to speak out. Still, I'm not always sure how best to respond in these situations. This recently started me thinking about the way the secular community should respond to bigotry directed at us.

When confronted with anti-atheist bigotry, what is the atheist to do? Since I have rejected silence as an option, this leaves me with the need to respond, but what sort of response is optimal?

I realize that what I am about to say is a gross oversimplification and that the choice of how to respond will depend greatly on the specifics of the situation, but I believe this may provide a tentative starting point. It seems to me that responses can be primarily offensive or defensive in nature. An offensive response might involve moving right past the insult to criticize religion. On the other hand, a defensive response would involve an attempt to correct the misconceptions inherent in the insult, educating the bigot about atheism, etc. As an illustrative example, consider the following conversation between two Christians (after all, Christians are not exactly known for their tolerance):
Christian #1: "There go those stupid atheists again, whining about Christmas. Can't they understand that America is a Christian nation? If they don't like it, they should just leave."

Christian #2: "Yeah, I think they are just depressed this time of year. Think about it - without god's love, they must be miserable. I'm surprised they aren't all suicidal this time of year!"
An offensive response would make no attempt to clear up the many misconceptions evident here but would focus on the idiocy of the speakers' belief system.
"Stupid atheists, huh? It sounds like you are the ones ignorant of American history here. This country was founded as a secular democracy. In fact, the founders explicitly rejected the whole Christian nation garbage! And if you really want to talk about being miserable, let's look at this god you actually worship for a minute..."
The tone of the response is not what I'm trying to highlight as much as the focus. This responder is making no attempt to defend a position but directly attacking that of the speakers. A defensive response might look something like this:
"This just shows how little you know about atheists. We don't believe in any sort of gods, so why would we be depressed over them? You probably don't spend much time being sad that unicorns might not like you, right? Many of us are just as happy as you are this time of year. We get some time off work and get to spend it with our families."
This response is more concerned with setting the record straight with regard to atheism than with criticizing what the speakers believe.

In my opinion, believers have come to expect the defensive response from us because it is usually the one they receive. Many of us feel more comfortable with this sort of response. It may strike us as being more polite, more socially acceptable, or even more rational. We might even justify it by telling ourselves that we are refraining from sinking to their level. But defensive responding, especially when it becomes our usual method of responding, comes at a cost. By falling into the cycle of theist attacks - atheist defends, are we not complicit with the theist in assuring that atheism rather than theism is the subject of criticism?

Perhaps we should strive for a more balanced approach by increasing the proportion of offensive to defensive responses. The last thing we want to do is foster the already prevalent view that religious belief is somehow exempt from criticism. Atheism, one one understands what it is and what it is not, needs no defense. On the other hand, faith-based belief is simply indefensible.

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