May 31, 2008

New 24" Intel iMac: Initial Impressions

You may recall my recent post about my plans to buy a new computer soon. Well, soon became now, and I took delivery of a 24" iMac on Thursday. I set it up late Thursday afternoon and spent way too much time yesterday learning how to use it. Intuitive my ass! But I'm sure I'll get the hang of it soon. Anyway, I figured it was time to write my first post from the new computer, and what better topic than to share some initial (very initial) impressions of the new iMac.

I don't know what I was expecting, but this thing is huge! Huge enough that I'm going to need a new desk. I feel like I'm sitting in the front row of a movie theater. Fortunately, I needed a new desk anyway, as this one threatens to collapse regularly and is literally held together with a bit too much duct tape.

Hooking up the iMac could not have been any easier, and I was up and running in less than 5 minutes. I have read mixed reviews of the new aluminium keyboard, but I really like it. The mouse, however, is another story. I've used many different types over the years, and this has to be one of the worst. The scroll button on top is the only redeeming quality, and I admit that it works extremely well. However, I am going to need a replacement that fits my large hands fairly soon.

The screen, as has been widely reported, is highly reflective. Still, it is not nearly as bad in this regard as I thought it might be. Since I will be using this iMac mostly as a digital darkroom for Photoshop work, I have it setup in an area where I have very good control over the lighting. I could not recommend this machine for use in an environment where the user did not have such control. Also, it is apparent to me that this screen is consumer grade in quality. When viewed with a solid gray desktop, the left third is clearly brighter than the right third. Since I so rarely print photos, I think I can live with this. We'll see. will not make a final decision until I do some calibration.

It is too early for me to comment on an OS with which I am unfamiliar (i.e., Mac OS X). Everything is working fairly well so far, but I have a great deal to learn. I do have one question that you Mac users might be able to answer for me. The instructions I've seen for Exposé tell me to use the F10-F12 keys, but all these seem to do is impact iTunes. Is there any way to get Exposé to work while iTunes is running?

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May 30, 2008

IRS Should Investigate Christian Businessmen's Connection

According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the IRS should investigate a religious group's fund-raising activity for Washington State Republican gubernatorial candidate, Dino Rossi. The alleged violation of federal tax law occurred when the Tacoma, WA, branch of the Christian Businessmen's Connection reportedly engaged in political fundraising during a May 21 dinner they hosted for Rossi.

Federal tax law clearly prohibits organizations with tax-exempt status from intervening in political campaigns. Doing so jeopardizes - or is at least supposed to jeopardize - their tax-exempt status.

According to Americans United, the Christian Businessmen's Connection violated the law when president of the Tacoma branch, Dwight Mason, indicated that fund-raising envelopes for Rossi had been left on the tables during a dinner they were hosting.
The Tacoma News Tribune reported that Mason prayed for Rossi and then said, "OK, at your table, this is not a fundraiser, though Dino did leave with us a couple envelopes there, and I'm sure he'd appreciate that."
According to Americans United, a spokesperson for Rossi has confirmed that the envelopes were left on the tables and that they were indeed used to collect donations for Rossi.

My favorite part of the story is that Mason initially denied any improper fund-raising and then stopped talking to the media when a tape of the event emerged.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, "Non-profit religious organizations are supposed to meet people's spiritual needs, not shill for candidates."
Once again, it appears that watchdog groups such as Americans United are needed to make sure that these laws are enforced.

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May 29, 2008

Atheist Liberation

Drawing on the Civil Rights movement for inspiration and tactics, the Gay Rights and Women's Liberation movements accomplished a great deal. While their work is by no means finished, each of these movements has made massive strides once difficult to imagine. Along with others, I have previously suggested that we atheists can learn a great deal from those that have been successful before us. Atheist liberation is possible in the form of an organized atheist movement, and while it will not be easy, nothing worthwhile ever is.

Comparisons with Civil Rights, Gay Rights, and the Women's Movement make many Christians uncomfortable. Given that some Christians still oppose one or more of these movements, this is not surprising. But even those progressive to moderate Christians who supported these causes are often reluctant to think of atheists along similar lines. To do so would require an admission that we are indeed subject to anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination. This naturally puts many Christians on the defensive, conflicting with their desired self-perception.

Even more important to my mind are the negative reactions many atheists have to the suggestion that atheist liberation is needed. I am not claiming that we have it as bad as any of the other groups before their liberation movements. The point is simply that we deserve better than our current circumstances.

Believe it or not, some atheists adamantly deny that anti-atheist discrimination, bigotry, and intolerance occur. Some reason (and I use the term loosely) that because they have not personally experienced these things, they are not real problems. I have little patience for these folks and will not waste any more time on them.

Others simply do not care. They are willing to live with "In God We Trust" on their currency and may even dismiss blatant examples of anti-atheist bigotry as excusable. Sometimes this is done out of self-preservation, as it may be easier to go along. But I am firmly convinced that apathy, and even ignorance, are also involved.

I am tired of the bigotry, the intolerance, the condemnation. I have no more patience for politicians pandering to every religious and cultural group but ours. I am sick of the myths about atheists spread by religious leaders to inoculate their congregations against reason. I am rapidly approaching the point where I can no longer bite my tongue to protect myself from consequences ranging from social rejection to physical assault.

Atheists are a vital and contributing part of American society. Anti-atheist bigotry is a Civil Rights issue. It is time to demand our equality. It is time for atheist liberation.

May 28, 2008

Gas Prices Force Americans to Reevaluate Church

Complaining about the price of gas may soon replace baseball as America's national pastime. Although it troubles me to see the oil companies posting record profits while many Americans are struggling to make ends meet, I cannot help being somewhat amused to see Americans whining over prices that the rest of the world has been paying for some time. Perhaps higher prices are not all bad. It appears that they are prompting some Americans to reexamine their priorities.

According to E. Richard Walton's article in The Greenville News (SC), higher gas prices are keeping some people away from church. Oh, the horror!

Seriously though, the Baptist Ministers' Fellowship of Greenville and Vicinity are absolutely right to call attention to increasing gas prices hitting those who can least afford it the hardest. This is a serious problem, and as I mentioned previously, it is inexcusable in a time of record profits by the oil companies and their political cronies.

When the Rev. Robert E. Dennis notes that gas prices are necessitating some difficult choices by American seniors (e.g., gas, food, medication, etc.), he is on the right track. However, I have to fault this group for suggesting that church should even be among such considerations. That their "offerings" are down 20% looks rather trivial against increases in home foreclosures and seniors having to chose between medication and food!

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May 27, 2008

Future of American Atheism: The Atheist Blogosphere

What does the future hold for atheism in the United States? Will momentum build until even our harshest critics will acknowledge the reality of the atheist movement, or might our growing influence wane and further delay the goal of atheist equality? I'm no fortune teller, but I'll gladly speculate on what we might see over the next few years. This post focuses on the future of American atheism with regard to the atheist blogosphere.

I expect that the atheist presence on the Internet will continue to grow over the next few years but that the rate of growth will be slower than what we have witnessed over the past couple of years. We are well past the point where even the most dedicated consumer of atheist blogs has the time to keep up with all of them. While the explosive growth in the atheist blogosphere has been good for us, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sift the truly outstanding blogs from the rest. This has important implications for what the next few years may hold.

Some other predictions:
  • The broad pool of readers of atheist blogs will continue to increase but at a slower rate than many bloggers would hope.
  • Atheist bloggers will find increasing specialization necessary, focusing on narrower sectors of the atheist domain in order to attract readers.
  • Consolidation will be an important trend in that many individual atheist blogs will be replaced by team blogs as bloggers find that they must pool resources to maintain a competitive edge.
  • Someone with the technical know-how will finally create what we desperately need - a comprehensive but useful online directory of all atheist blogs, making it easier for readers to find those that best fit their interests.
For more, see my recent post, Free Market Atheism.

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May 26, 2008

Christian Flag Observed in Mississippi Courthouse

I recently reported on Mississippi Atheists that a Christian flag was observed in the Rankin County Justice Court in Brandon, MS. I contacted a handful of atheists in the area to let them know about it and see if we could get some sort of documentation (e.g., photographic evidence). The ACLU of Mississippi and Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) have been contacted. It sounds like the FFRF agrees that a photo of the flag would be helpful. I am also guessing that we will need someone who resides in the area to complain. I will continue to track the story on Mississippi Atheists. Oh, and happy Memorial Day.

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Carnival of the Godless #92 at Jyunri Kankei

I missed it yesterday, but that just means I get to do some good godless reading on Memorial Day. Not too shabby. Check out this outstanding atheist blog carnival at Jyunri Kankei.


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May 25, 2008

Insincere Public Apologies Getting Old

I am tired of public figures apologizing when it is often clear that they do not mean it. A sincere apology is one thing, especially when it is accompanied by behavior change. However, this is exceedingly rare. Most of the apologies to which we are treated on a daily basis lack sincerity and are paired with the infuriating expectation that even a weak apology leads to immediate forgiveness.

In my humble opinion, Bill Clinton's apology for getting a blowjob and then lying about it was a low point from which we have still not recovered. It set a modern precedent that Americans were suckers for apologies and would forgive anything in exchange for sufficient groveling. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Bill's apology was insufficient - I don't believe it was necessary in the first place. I'm just saying that he set the bar for the public apology, one with which we remain stuck.

Remember Don Imus, Mel Gibson, and Michael Richards? What did they really apologize for? It wasn't for being racists or anti-Semites. It was for the poor judgment they exercised in expressing their views in the way they did. At least in Gibson's case, these views were no secret and this was no momentary loss of control.

The worst part of our apology culture is the expectation that we must forgive anyone who has apologized, regardless of their offense and of the nature of their apology. I cannot tell you how many times I've said something disparaging about one of these people, only to be scolded with, "Yeah, but at least he apologized." Does that mean the act is erased, even when the apology was half-assed?

Take my favorite example of the past year, Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago). Her bigoted tirade puts the others to shame because it came from the floor of the state legislature during a formal exercise of her political power. News of Rep. Davis' words was slow to emerge, but calls for her apology and/or resignation came swiftly and spread throughout the freethought community. When Rep. Davis, who still has her job by the way, did apologize, it was only to the atheist activist at whom her tirade was immediately directed. This was a good start, but it was not enough. Evidently, she decided that the millions of other American atheists were not worth her time. I am still waiting for a sincere public apology and/or Rep. Davis' resignation.

And now we have Hillary Clinton, the failed Democratic candidate who may have ended her own political career with a highly inappropriate statement suggesting that one of the reasons she has outstayed her welcome in the Democratic primary is that her opponent, Barack Obama, might still be assassinated. Yes, I've watched hours of analysis and read quite a few diverse reactions. Her statement blew me away, and no amount of spin has yet convinced me that she meant something other than the clear implication. Worse yet was her apology. She basically said that she's sorry if anyone was offended by her comments but seemed to have little understanding about why her statement was so offensive. For the record, let me state that I do not think Clinton was advocating assassination and that Olbermann went way over the top on this one. Nevertheless, the outrage many people are feeling is on target.

To the public figures out there, do not apologize unless you are truly sorry. If you are not planning to change your ways, don't apologize. Instead, use this as an opportunity to stand up to public pressure and make your case for why you are right to do or say what you did or said. We might not agree with you, but at least we'll admire your willingness to stand up for what you believe. And to those I've offended with this post, all apologies.

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Time to Join the Pledge Project

Alonzo Frye at Atheist Ethicist has been championing something called the Pledge Project in a series of posts. I'd like to tell you about it here and announce my support for this important call to action. This is simply too important to ignore.

In his initial post on the topic, Alonzo described the Pledge Project as follows:
I consider 'under God' in the pledge, and the national motto of "In God We Trust" to be the most significant cause of the deteriorating political situation that atheists in specific and secularists in general are facing in the United States, and I want to see these practices ended.
With the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to soon release its decision about whether the "under God" and "In God We Trust" phrases in the pledge and on our currency are Constitutional, we should brace for a political firestorm. If the god references are accepted (the most likely outcome), we have another brick in the wall which keeps American atheists alienated from the rest of society. As Alonzo points out, this would maintain the limited electability of atheist candidates for office. Clearly, it would also be a slap in the face to the millions of Americans who base their beliefs on reason and evidence rather than superstition and wish fulfillment.

In a follow-up post, Alonzo calls on each of us to make a statement like the following on our blogs, in online forums, in letters to the editor, and/or in public:
‘Under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance has never been about allowing God in the public square. It has always been about excluding non-religious people from public office and all aspects of civic life. And I can prove it.
You can learn about why this is so important and about the proof to which Alonzo refers in his post.

He's right. He's right about the importance of taking action on this issue, and he's right about the need to educate the public. This has nothing whatsoever to do with banishing gods from the public forum; it is about inclusion. It is about recognizing the value of all Americans, regardless of whether they buy into popular delusion.
The moral issue is that ‘under God’ in the Pledge and ‘In God We Trust’ as the national motto posted on the money, in government buildings, and (particularly) in school classrooms are part of an attempt to promote hostility against peaceful people based on their religious beliefs and to put nearly insurmountable barriers between them and elected public offices and positions of public trust.
And before you insist that this should not be one of our priorities because there are too many other important things on which we should be focusing our time and energy, please read this.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

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May 24, 2008

New Domain For Atheist Revolution

Atheist Revolution has a new domain on the web, so please be sure to update your links. While I am still hosting with Blogger for now, this new domain is likely the first step toward eventually moving to a new host and blogging platform.

New URL: http://www.atheistrev.com

Blogging Tip #3: Using Technorati Tags

One of the first things you should do when creating a new blog is to register with Technorati. However, creating a Technorati account is only the first step in making this service work for you. If you have a blog and have not been fully utilizing Technorati tags in each post, you are missing out on lots of potential traffic. In this tip, I'll tell you what you need to know to reap the benefits of Technorati tags.

Once you have created your Technorati account and claimed your blog, you need to learn how to add Technorati tags to your blog posts. For a quick example of how these tags work in the Technorati directory, click here and you will be taken to the current listing for the "atheism" tag. Think of Technorati as sort of like a huge encyclopedia of blogs and blog posts. If you tag a post with "atheism," it shows up here too. So what? It brings visitors, some of whom will turn into readers.

There are many ways to tag posts. On my desktop PC, I use Technorati Tagger 3, a small and extremely simply stand-alone program. On my laptop, I prefer the Technorati Tagger Greasemonkey Plugin. Greasemonkey is a Firefox add-on, and this plugin provides integration within Firefox. These options make it easy to tag each post with relevant tags. You type in your desired tags, and the software generates the necessary HTML code.

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May 23, 2008

The Best Atheist Forums

Freethought blogs are a great way to interact with other atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists on the Internet. Forums provide another opportunity. They are more egalitarian in that anyone can begin a thread. This means that participants do not have to wait for the blogger to do a post on a particular subject. They are also an ideal place for some theist-atheist debate. I have assembled a short list of some of the best atheist and freethought forums for you below.

The following, in no particular order, are some of the atheist and freethought forums worth promoting:
What about Internet Infidels? After widespread reports of inappropriate behavior by their Board of Directors, I no longer recommend them. Fortunately, there are many excellent alternatives.

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Resources For Christian Living

I had to go to the mall recently - one of my least favorite tasks - to pick up a couple new pairs of slacks for work. Even if I can't always act professional, I should at least look the part. As I am leaving the parking lot, I noticed a Christian store. I cannot recall the name of the store, but right under the name in the same lit lettering was the phrase "Resources for Christian Living." The whole way home, I found myself wondering what this meant and what sort of resources would be required for "Christian living."

I assume this was a Christian bookstore. My town is filled with them. While the subtitle struck me as a bit odd, I suppose their intended audience would know what they meant.

I've been inside a couple of Christian bookstores before, and I know that they sell more than just books. The last one I was in was a lot like one of the larger Hallmark stores with a decidedly Christian theme. Perhaps "Resources for Christian Living" is actually more descriptive than calling themselves a bookstore would have been.

Judging by the sort of merchandise one finds in these stores, it seems that the sort of resources they are referring to are those designed to remind one that one is a Christian. More than that, these stores help Christians immerse themselves in the trappings of their religion. They are like combination bookstores and gift shops where everything is about Christianity. Anything one might need to be reminded of one's Christianity or to share it with others can be found in such stores.

If you haven't ever visited one, you might consider doing so just for the cultural experience. If nothing else, it will remind you that Christianity, regardless of whatever else it is, is a big business.

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May 22, 2008

Creationism Lingers in U.S. High School Biology Classrooms

Quality secular education is essential for a society to function well. It serves as an effective antidote to ignorance, irrationality, superstition, and many other social ills. Thus, you can understand my disappointment over a recent survey by Penn State University researchers which found that one out of eight high school biology teachers in the United States teaches creationism as a viable alternative to evolution (see Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait).

My heroes have always been teachers (not cowboys). They play an indispensable role, and I have so many excellent teachers to thank for my love of learning, passion for critical thinking, and ability to apply the scientific method to a variety of problems. This is a big part of why I support increased funding for public education even though I do not have children of my own. Teachers deserve better pay and expanded benefits. But even more, they should be recognized as heroes, for theirs is one of the most important and poorly rewarded vocations.

When I examine the results of the Penn State survey, I am dismayed. Of the 939 biology teachers surveyed, 25% indicated that they spent time in class covering creationism. About half of these agreed that creationism was a "valid scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species" and that "many reputable scientists view these as valid alternatives to Darwinian theory." This means that approximately 12% of U.S. high school teachers hold these erroneous views.

If there is one thing I have learned from the excellent teachers throughout my life that has had the biggest impact, it is this simple fact: Just because someone believes something does not make it true. Such a simple truth and yet so powerful when used to dissect irrationality and superstition.

As Brandon Keim of Wired Science correctly points out,
...teaching creationism or intelligent design alongside evolution, as if religious explanations had even a fraction of the scientific validity of evolution, is unacceptable -- it promotes fatally flawed, uncritical thinking.
That the 12% of high school teachers in this survey have not learned that their beliefs do not turn falsehood into truth is unfortunate. However, their willingness to teach this falsehood as if it were true is criminal. This is no longer education but indoctrination. It has no place in our nation's schools.

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May 21, 2008

Sowing the Seeds of Doubt

Kieran Bennett's informative analysis of deconversion stories is a must-read for any atheist wanting to know what we can do to help Christians overcome faith and embrace reality. The results suggest that there are many things we atheists can do. At the same time, Bennett's post raises many more important questions than it answers. Perhaps a change of strategy is in order.

Bennett makes some important points in his conclusion that should prompt considerable discussion among atheists:
  1. The sort of doubt necessary for deconversion comes from within the individual.
  2. Informing people of alternatives to Christianity may be helpful for those already questioning the role of religion in their lives.
  3. Defending science and rationalism, especially in the educational domain, is important.
Bennett's analysis certainly got me thinking. Does the sort of doubt we are talking about really come from within the individual believer, or is it merely perceived that way? Perhaps our attacks on religion are gradually internalized, fueling this doubt in such a way that our criticism is not perceived as causal. If this is the case, we should do even more of what we've been doing. On the other hand, what if our criticism of religion is not only ineffective but makes things worse? Perhaps these efforts do little but strengthen religious faith, shielding believers from doubt. Obviously, this would suggest that a major shift in tactics would be needed.

The post renews my conviction that anyone serious about limiting the influence of Christian extremists and improving the status of atheists in American society must be a defender of science, reason, and secular education. I have been beating this drum for some time now, but I will reluctantly admit that I have not made this enough of a focus at Atheist Revolution. If we are to have a viable atheist movement, I have no question that a core part of our platform must be about promoting a reality-based worldview in which science, reason, and education are valued. We atheists are often criticized for focusing too much on what we disbelieve rather than what we believe. Defending science, reason, and education from fundamentalist attacks must be part of what we do believe.

Lastly, I encourage each and every one of us to view our role in society as being one of sowing the seeds of doubt. It often seems that our efforts are not producing results, but that may well be because the seeds we have planted take time to sprout. It is not about converting believers, winning arguments, or changing minds. Rather, it is about planting what will likely be one of many seeds of doubt.

H/T to The Atheist Blogger

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May 20, 2008

What is Ecotheology?

At the interface of science and religion stands ecotheology. So what exactly is ecotheology? According to Dennis O'Hara, director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology at the University of Toronto, ecotheology is a branch of theology that deals with the link between god(s) and creation. The discipline seems most concerned with climate science but is not necessarily limited to that focus. Ecotheology is now studied at some 25 Canadian colleges and universities since the University of Toronto launched the first doctoral program in ecotheology in 1991.

According to Vivian Song's article in The Toronto Sun,
At a time when church attendance is on the decline, especially among younger generations, the environment has been described as the new religion: a devotion to the safeguarding of the planet's resources which belongs to everyone, regardless of faith. It isn't an organized religion, but it fills a human need for the metaphysical, experts say.
Could this be the beginning of a green revolution within Christianity? In any case, this seems to be an example of what could become a shared goal for some Christians and some atheists. I don't know about you, but I'd certainly be open to working with Christians on protecting our shared environment.

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May 19, 2008

Free Market Atheism

In the couple years since I've been blogging, there has been unprecedented growth in material related to atheism on the Internet. Atheist websites, blogs, and forums are springing up every day as technological innovations in social networking, blogging software, tagging, and RSS have made it easier to find and distribute content related to atheism. As the unexpected success of many books critical of religion demonstrates, there is a vast demand for the increasing supply of atheist material. How long will this expansion continue, and what impact will it have on those wanting to learn about atheism or connect with other atheists online?

When there were only a handful of quality atheist websites and blogs, one could make do with what was available or strike out on one's own. Many of us who started blogs or websites prior to the "new atheism" buzz were surprised to find the sort of demand we encountered. There was plenty of room for other sites, and the growing diversity was welcomed by nearly everyone.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, Internet-based resources are perfect for atheists because they provide one of the few forums over which we can interact safely without having to worry about the anti-atheist bigotry which many of us encounter in our daily lives. But like many others, I greatly underestimated our numbers. I'd repeatedly fall into the "I'm the only one" trap and then be shocked each time I learned how wrong I was.

Economic theory teaches us that, free from constraints, there will be certain predictable relationships between supply and demand. While one can easily imagine reaching a sort of saturation point regarding the demand for Internet atheism, nobody knows when - or even if - we will see it. If demand were to peak while the supply of such material continued to increase, we would expect to reach a point where continued expansion would no longer be profitable (in the sense that there wouldn't be enough users to go around). This would mark an end to the rapid expansion we have witnessed and perhaps even the beginning of a decline.

Of course, this scenario seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. First, Mojoey's Atheist Blogroll is approaching 700 and still growing. New atheist-oriented websites, blogs, and forums are continuing to pop up with little sign of slowing down. Second and more important, I see little reason to think that the demand for atheist-oriented material will stabilize in the near future. The mainstream media has gradually been devoting more coverage to atheism and related topics (e.g., the cost of religious extremism, separation of church and state, role of faith in political discourse, etc.). More and more people are recognizing the many costs of religion, and new atheists are born every day.

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May 18, 2008

Pope Calls Converting Others Inalienable Right of Catholics

During a speech yesterday at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Roman Catholic Church has both the right and the duty to convert any person to Christianity - and not just Christianity but Catholicism. Let that sink in for a minute...

According to the Pope, the primary mission of his church is evangelism.
The appeal for the conversion of "all nations," attributed to Jesus Christ in the Gospels, remains "an obligatory mandate for the entire Church and for every believer in Christ," the pontiff said.
Okay, so he wants to convert you, but wait a second. What about this notion that his church has the right to do so? Doesn't that conjure up images of the Inquisition?
"This apostolic commitment is both a duty and an inalienable right, the very expression of religious freedom with its moral, social and political dimensions," he said.
So much for religious pluralism. According to the Pope, all Catholics have the responsibility of converting non-Catholics to Catholicism, and this includes non-Catholic Christians. I don't think John Hagee is going to like this one bit.

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Atheist Condemns Military Quran Target Practice

You may be surprised that it would bother me to learn that a U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq was using the Quran for target practice. Knowing that I am an atheist, you may expect me to think that shooting up a Quran or any other "holy" book is a step in the right direction. However, I believe that this incident does far more harm than good. Of course I deny that the Quran is any more "holy" than any other book, and I'd say the same of the Christian bible. But that is not the issue here.

Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond issued a formal apology after it was discovered that an American soldier had been using the Quran for target practice.
"I come before you here seeking your forgiveness," Hammond said to tribal leaders and others at the apology ceremony. "In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers."
The reality of the situation in Iraq is bad enough without the American occupation forces going out of their way to offend the locals. I'm all for highlighting the idiocy of religious belief, including Islam, but this is neither the time nor the place. This sort of thing simply riles up the religious extremists on both sides already insisting that America is engaged in a holy war. As Hammond correctly stated, "I've come to this land to protect you, to support you -- not to harm you -- and the behavior of this soldier was nothing short of wrong and unacceptable."

For more on this topic, see Alexander the Atheist, Friendly Atheist, and CNN.

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May 17, 2008

Blogging Tip #2: Add Your Blog to Technorati

One of the first things you should do when creating a new blog is to register with Technorati. You can think of Technorati as a massive blog directory, but it is actually much more than that. If you have not already created a Technorati account and claimed your blog, you will want to do so now. It is well worth the effort.

If you do not already have a Technorati account, visit Technorati and click on "Join." This will allow you to create a free account. You will also want to claim your blog as part of this process. To make sure you have done this, sign into your account, click the "Edit" text next to your account name, and then click on the "Blogs" tab in the "My Account" section. You should see your blog displayed under "My Claimed Blogs." If it is not there, you can claim it by scrolling down to the "Claim a Blog" section. As you go through the claim process, make sure to assign accurate tags (i.e., keywords) to your blog.

Once you have claimed your blog, I recommend adding one of the Technorati buttons to your blog to make it easy for readers to make your blog one of their favorites. There are all kinds of other widgets you can add if you like, but these are optional and more than we need to mess with here. A later tip will cover effective use of Technorati tags with your blog.

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May 15, 2008

America the Intolerant: Attitudes Toward Atheists Revealing

We Americans often pride ourselves in being a fairly tolerant bunch. However, the often cited University of Minnesota study of Americans' attitudes toward various religious groups casts serious doubt on the accuracy of our common self-perception. Even in 2008, being an atheist in America is no picnic. This should give every American cause to examine his or her own tolerance.

Equality gaps certainly remain, but most would agree that women and persons of color have made significant progress over the last few decades. Even the GLBT community has made great strides, much to the dismay of the Christian extremists among us. And yet, the picture is far less positive for American atheists.

Writing in The Tahoe Daily Tribune, Damian Sowers reports on the American Mosaic Project, which used telephone surveys of over 2,000 Americans to study attitudes toward religion. According to the authors, their study showed that "Americans draw symbolic boundaries that clearly and sharply exclude atheists in both private and public life." Moreover, "From a list of groups that also includes Muslims, recent immigrants, and homosexuals, Americans name atheists as those least likely to share their vision of American society."

If, as the authors suggest, public attitudes toward atheists can be used as an indicator of socio-political tolerance, the results of the study are unfortunate. While tolerance for various religions appears to have increased over the past 40 years, no such trend was observed for atheists. According to researcher Penny Edgell, "it is possible that the increasing tolerance for religious diversity may have heightened awareness of religion itself as a basis for solidarity in American life and sharpened the boundary between believers and nonbelievers in our collective imagination."

Damian Sowers, himself an atheist, writes:
The very fact that atheists are distrusted by the masses is not very surprising, but I never fully recognized how feared and hated we truly are. For instance, the authors found that rejection of atheists is even higher than anti-Muslim sentiment in the post-9/11 era, and "Americans construct the atheist as the symbolic representation of one who rejects the basis for moral solidarity and cultural membership in American society altogether."
Sowers argues that continued prejudice against atheists in America is most likely attributable to the presumed link between religion and morality. I agree completely. To the degree that atheism is construed as synonymous with immorality (or even evil), atheists will be feared and despised. Sowers is also correct to point out that the erroneous but popular efforts to link science and secularism with the Holocaust simply strengthen anti-atheist bigotry. This is why it is important to discuss Expelled.
So what does this study tell us about the underlying nature of American culture? Equality is supposed to be a staple of the modern era, but it seems that American prejudices don't ever diminish; instead, they merely drift from one marginalized clique to another, following the capricious tides of mob-sanctioned intolerance. As of now, slandering atheists has not yet been labeled politically incorrect, and many people, including priests and rabbis, have taken full advantage of this impunity.
We atheists have a clear stake in helping to define anti-atheist bigotry as an unacceptable form of intolerance. To date, our organization and our outrage have been insufficient to make much progress toward this goal. It is up to us now. Are we serious about pursuing equality?

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May 14, 2008

Feelings About Evangelism

Jesus Army evangelism
Jesus Army evangelism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A recent post at Friendly Atheist asked readers about their worst experiences with Christian evangelism and whether there were any forms of evangelism to which readers might listen. Christian evangelism provokes an immediate and intensely unpleasant emotional response for me. Regardless of whether it is door-to-door proselytizing or unwelcome encounters in public, I have the same visceral reaction almost every time I am confronted by someone wanting to share their "good news." It is hard to put into words, but it feels like a mixture of anger, disgust, and pity.

The intensity of my emotional reaction is clearly disproportionate to the actual circumstances. After all, the Christian who feels the need to tell me about Jesus does not mean any harm. She might even think she's doing me a favor. There is no reason for me to feel threatened, and mild annoyance or even compassion would seem to be more appropriate reactions on my part.

The thoughts that race through my head in these situations, some of which are not particularly rational, fuel the nature and intensity of my emotional response. You see, I tend to interpret acts of evangelism as unwanted invasions upon my privacy.

"I don't want to hear about your delusion!"
"How dare you shove that mind rot in my face!"
"What makes you think I am stupid enough to be impressed with this?"
"How would you like it if I came to your home in the middle of dinner?"
You get the idea. There is no question that my tendency to interpret evangelism in this manner drives my reaction to it.

Since I do not generally enjoy these emotional responses, I have at least two options to consider:

  1. I can work on reframing these situations so that I will have more realistic thoughts and respond less intensely, or
  2. I can attempt to reduce the frequency with which I encounter evangelists.
So far, I've focused on #2. I have added a combination of "no soliciting" and anti proselytizing signs around my front door to deter these visitors. This has been very successful. The frequency of their visits has declined from 3-4/week to something like one every 4-5 months. However, I need to do more with #1 because I continue to encounter these Christian evangelists in public fairly often (and yes, sometimes even at home).

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May 13, 2008

Blogging Tip #1: Collecting Traffic Data

Remember hit counters? Back when the web was in its infancy, virtually every site had a numerical hit counter proudly displayed to track incoming hits. They did little else. Fast forward to the present, and webmasters and bloggers now talk of "traffic" or "metrics" instead of simple hits. Now we monitor things like what browser our readers are using, what countries they come from, what times of day our traffic peaks, and more. Whether you just started your blog or have been at it for awhile, it is never too late to adopt more sophisticated methods of collecting traffic data.

When I started this blog, I used StatCounter. It worked well but did not provide all the data I wanted. I soon moved to the basic (and free) version of Sitemeter. In fact, I still use Sitemeter because it is necessary for the TTLB Ecosystem (a topic for another post). Sitemeter provides a great deal of useful information, and is certainly worth a look, even though it is no longer my primary source of data.

What I use now and what I recommend you look into is Google Analytics. This free service provides an astounding amount of information, allowing bloggers to do far more than simply track hits. You can learn quite a bit about your visitors and how they interact with your blog using Google Analytics. I am confident that I have not even come close to utilizing the full potential of this service, but that it what is so nice about it - it gives you all the basics plus room to grow in how you use it.

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May 12, 2008

Two Atheist Blog Carnivals

In case you haven't already found them, Carnival of the Godless #91 is up at State of Protest, and the Humanist Symposium #19 is up at Letters From a Broad. Time to get reading.

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May 11, 2008

Christian Extremist Parents Charged For Death of Daughter

While we celebrate Mother's Day today, I ask you to remember what can happen when a mother becomes lost to the grip of Christian extremism. Back in March, we learned of the sad story of a Wisconsin couple who allowed their 11-year-old diabetic daughter to die because they preferred prayer to medical treatment. It now appears that the state has decided to prosecute the parents on charges of second-degree reckless homicide.

I am happy to see criminal prosecution in this case, and I hope it helps to remind other religious fanatics that allowing their children to die because of their delusion is not acceptable.
Family and friends had urged Dale and Leilani Neumann to get help for their daughter, but the father considered the illness "a test of faith" and the mother never considered taking the girl to the doctor because she thought her daughter was under a "spiritual attack," the criminal complaint said.
A conviction carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. While I seriously doubt that a sentence anywhere close to that will be imposed, it does signal that the state is taking this seriously.

At the risk of beating the proverbial dead horse on this one, I feel the need to say that these parents represent the danger of acting on the basis of faith, the failure of the American educational system, and a culture which desperately needs to be rid of Christian extremism. No one factor, not even religion, is responsible for this, but we as a society need to do a better job of preventing this sort of tragedy.

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New Blogging Tips Series

In an effort to give something back to the growing community of atheist bloggers who continue to inspire me, I am starting a series of blogging tips. Each brief post in the series will include a single tip, and I may periodically post compilations around particular themes to make them easier to pull together. I will label each post in the series with the "Blogging" label so that you'll always be able to find them here.

Fine, you say, but what does this have to do with atheism? Obviously, most of the tips I'll be providing are not somehow specific to atheists. The way I look at it is that anything I can do to help you be more effective, reach a wider audience, or tell you about some tools you might not be utilizing, helps to strengthen the atheist movement. Remember, helping one of us is generally good for the rest of us.

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May 10, 2008

Faith Section In Your Local Paper?

Do you have any sort of section devoted to religion in your local paper? My local paper has one called "Faith and Values" that appears every Saturday. As might be expected from my location (Mississippi), this is exclusively Christian. Moreover, it clearly promotes Christianity in the community. Many newspapers do something like this, and some occasionally print op-ed articles written by atheists in this section. Not surprisingly, this infuriates some Christians.

My local paper does not include material written by atheists in this section but has printed some op-ed articles written by a local atheist in the Opinion section. These have, of course, generated some lively discussion on the paper's Internet forums. Most of the discussion is civil, but there is sometimes a sense that local Christians would prefer not to be exposed to what atheists think. It is almost as if simply being reminded that atheists exist is interpreted as a lack of respect for their religion.

This may surprise you, but I really don't have a problem with having a religion section in my local paper. I wish they would call it something other than "Faith and Values" because these terms, when used together, have an unpleasant political connotation. I'd also like to see broader content rather than having it so Christian-focused. Then again, I realize that the overwhelming majority of subscribers are Christian and would oppose anything else.

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May 9, 2008

Almost Time to Buy a New Computer

My ancient Dell Dimension is simply no longer cutting it for Photoshop work even though it continues to meet most of my other limited computing needs. I've held off for long enough, and it is time to settle on a replacement. When faced with such decisions, it is sometimes helpful to walk through a series of decision points. I figured I might as well share my thought process in case anyone else would find it useful.

These have been my decision points so far:

Build or Buy?

Initially, I thought I might use this as an opportunity to build my first computer. This way, I could get exactly what I need without throwing money away on things I do not need. I am not into computer gaming at all, and the video cards in most systems seems to be overkill. At the same time, drive space and speed are rarely adequate, expandability tends to be limited, and there are never enough or the right kind of ports. However, I soon decided against building because I simply don't have the time (or interest, if I'm being honest) in researching components, etc. I may build eventually but not this time. Decision made.

Windows Vista or...What

I used to use Macs but switched to Windows several years ago because I needed to use Windows-only software regularly for work. I've been generally content with the stability of Windows XP SP3 on my home computer even though I've had a bit of ongoing trouble at work. After reading the reviews of Vista, including SP1, and talking to various friends using Vista, I decided that there was simply no way I was willing to go Vista. No apparent upside and many downsides. Some have suggested Linux, but that is not for me, at least not yet.

Sticking with Windows XP is certainly viable but seems the OS is clearly showing its age. Besides, the ongoing sort of problems I've had with it at work make me less eager to put it on another machine. Still, if I replace this PC with another PC, I've pretty much decided that it will run XP. But should I consider returning to Mac?

Mac or PC?

The thought of getting a Mac for Photoshop work and still having my old Dell to use as a music server and for the times when I do need to run PC-only software at home (so I won't even need Windows on the Mac) is certainly appealing. I can get an Apple educational discount and get the Mac version of MS Office free through work. I need to upgrade Photoshop anyway, so switching platforms shouldn't be too difficult. The current Mac OS sounds wonderful, and it would be great to have a more stable system that required less constant tinkering and updating.

Where the Mac decision gets hard is when the question of which Mac comes up. I've ruled out the Mini for a variety of reasons, I don't need a laptop, and the Mac Pro is overkill in many ways. This leaves me with only the iMac as an option. Fine except I hate the idea of all-in-one systems where I'm stuck with the monitor that houses the computer. Widespread reports of uneven screen brightness also make me a bit nervous.

In the end, it looks like critical question will be whether moving to Mac OS X is so desirable that I'm willing to live with the limitations of the iMac. I think it probably is, and I am leaning toward picking up a new 24" iMac in the next month. We'll see.

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May 8, 2008

The Nobility of Atheism

As a philosophical stance on the question of god(s), atheism is more than just the default position. There is a certain nobility in bucking tradition, appeals to authority, and the pressures of social conformity to permit reason and evidence to influence one's worldview. Even while recognizing that there are multiple paths to atheism, there is a certain shared joy that comes from living in accordance with reality.

In a recent rant by at ExChristian.net, Bob Patterson wrote:
For reasons not easily understood, humans seem to have a basic need to want to believe that an invisible, omnipotent and omniscient deity -- one that is entirely responsible for everything and that demands our unquestioning devotion, obedience and respect for everything good that happens -- is watching over us.
We can talk about the irrationality and sheer absurdity of such a belief system until we are blue in the face, but it does reveal a simple truth about humanity. Religious belief seems to have always been part of the human psyche. Some argue that we are hard-wired for it, but regardless of whether this is accurate, it is difficult to deny that religious belief is part of the human condition.

And yet, an equally simple truth prevents us from falling into some sort of fatalistic acceptance of religion - there are atheists. We have managed to transcend religion and learned to interact directly with reality. In spite of the pressure we experience to conform to a magical worldview, we do not. We find appeals to authority or tradition lacking and see little reason to grant religious beliefs some special status whereby they are immune from reason, logic, or science. We may pay a price for our defiance, but we do so with open eyes.

When it comes to religious belief, Bob asks, "Can there possibly be a more noble or honest position than atheism?" I don't think so.

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May 7, 2008

Time For Atheist Churches?

With increasing numbers of freethinkers "coming out" and openly identifying themselves as atheists, agnostics, and/or secular humanists, some are suggesting that secular churches may be useful. Of course, atheism is not a religion, and the concept of atheist churches strikes some as a bit silly. Still, I do not think we should hastily dismiss the idea without carefully considering the advantages they might bring. Besides, calling an institution a church does not necessarily mean that it must resemble religious churches.

Imagine having an atheist church in your community. What would be the potential benefits? I suggest that they would include at least the following:
  • Increased sense of community, belonging, and social support
  • Increased public presence (i.e., atheists would be more visible to both believers and nonbelievers)
  • Improved organization, facilitating activism and lobbying
  • Education and mentoring for members
For more on atheist churches, see this op-ed from Digital Journal.

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May 6, 2008

Announcing the Christian Asshat Awards

Have you encountered any Christians on your Internet travels who set a new standard for asshattery? Don't worry, you'll soon have the chance to do some nominating. But first, your help is needed in shaping the Christian Asshat Awards into something we'll all have fun doing. Heck, you might even get to contribute a design logo or be a judge. Imagine the power!

First he brought us the Atheist Blogroll, and now Mojoey is organizing the Christian Asshat Awards. This guy is unstoppable. Remind me to stay on his good side.

This is still tentative, pending your input, but this is the general idea:
The Christian Asshat Awards are designed to highlight the worst of the worst when it comes to anti-Atheist rhetoric...We should focus on Christians who choose to attack Atheists directly or indirectly through their use of the spoken or written word.

Nominees can include blog posts, youtube videos, editorials, podcasts, or even sermons. I am even inclined to admit photographs.
For details or to volunteer your efforts as a judge, visit Deep Thoughts.

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May 5, 2008

Atlanta Atheist Wants to Make a Difference

I received an e-mail from a reader in the Atlanta, GA, area who is considering quitting her job to do something that involves helping atheists. My initial response to her was that there were a multitude of ways one could help atheists or become an atheist activist that would not necessarily require a job change (e.g., strengthening secular public education, advocating for reason and science, becoming politically active, etc.). But suppose that someone really does want to make a major life change and really throw themselves into the atheist movement. I know some of you have worked for various atheist organizations. Any ideas or suggestions?

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May 4, 2008

Atheist Blogroll Boasts Almost 700 Members

It was only late March when the Atheist Blogroll hit 600 blogs, and it is now approaching 700. Think about that for a minute. There are nearly 700 atheist-oriented blogs. Could it be that growing numbers of atheists are no longer content to sit on the sidelines but have something to say about the oppressively religious cultures in which many find ourselves?

If we can even begin to organize our our numbers, harnessing our energy, creativity, and other talents, we could give voice to atheism in a way we have not yet witnessed. If the authors of the blogs appearing on the Atheist Blogroll can be thought of as a sort of grassroots, this would be an excellent place to start. What can we do to bring this collection of bloggers together and maximize our influence?

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May 3, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto: A Role For Atheists?

There may be growing discontent among some evangelical Christians over the politicization of their faith, but the Christian extremist base remains determined to fuse religious delusion and political power. Do atheists have a role in supporting those evangelicals who wish to withdraw from the culture wars and reclaim the religious roots of evangelism from the politicians? This is a controversial question, almost certain to split atheists. And yet, it just might be something of an opportunity too.

The pending "Evangelical Manifesto" is something with which many atheists may have some interest. After all, it has been described as "starkly self-critical."
"That way faith loses its independence, Christians become 'useful idiots' for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology," according to the draft.
The gist of the document appears to be that evangelical Christians have lost their humanity in getting sucked into the culture wars and need to learn how to be compassionate instead of simply judgmental. Why? Because they risk losing converts if they continue on their present course. By continuing to be hate-mongers, they turn into little more than bad stereotypes and make themselves less attractive.

I suspect most readers will agree that some cleaning of the evangelical Christian house is long overdue. But my question is whether we atheists have any part to play here. Should we support them in their efforts to the extent that we can agree with their goals, or is this an opportunity for us to facilitate increasing fragmentation within the evangelical ranks? What do you think?

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