August 31, 2008

Who is Sarah Palin?

You have undoubtedly heard about John McCain's pick for Vice President, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. When Obama decided to go with the vast experience of Joe Biden, it appears that McCain was more interested in a "sexy librarian." Sure, Palin is not even remotely close to being qualified for the VP job and has an unnatural hatred of polar bears, but you have more important things to worry about. In fact, if you are an American atheist, there are a handful of things you really need to know about Palin. I'll provide a brief list of what you need to know here. If I missed anything important, let me know so I can add it.

Who is Sarah Palin?
I am as disgusted as you are to see the Democratic Party pandering to religious voters, but we simply cannot put McCain/Palin in office. McCain is already too old to be President, and the chance that Palin could end up as President is too great a risk. As bad as McCain is, it appears that Palin could be worse.

H/Ts to The Secular Outpost and Pharyngula

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Carnival of the Godless #99 at Oz Atheist's Weblog

Ready for the best of godless blogging from around the atheist blogosphere? Head on over to Oz Atheist's Weblog for the 99th Carnival of the Godless. And while you are there, take some time to explore Oz's blog. You'll be glad you did.


August 30, 2008

Mixed Feelings About the DNC

My initial reaction to seeing that the Democratic Party had gone though with plans to hold a religious service at their convention was more than just disgust. I thought, "For the first time in more than 15 years, I can no longer consider myself a Democrat." I resolved that I would vote for Obama because I cannot bear the thought of the third Bush term McCain promises and not because I necessarily support what he claims to stand for. I figured it was time to change my voter registration to "Independent." I've been having second thoughts though, wondering if this is really the best way to get our message across to the party.

Whatever else one can say about the Democratic Party, they have been far more hospitable to atheists than has the Republican Party for the last decade. Of course, that really isn't saying much, is it? So great is the hold of Christian privilege in the United States that it seems perfectly natural for many to regard atheists as un-American.

The interfaith service was supposed to be about promoting party unity. And yet, this is the same service from which nonbelievers were excluded in spite of requests for inclusion. This was never about unity.

It is abundantly clear that the motive for this service was pandering to the so-called evangelical left. I disagree with this strategy, but I have to recognize that it was a strategy and that this was the goal. It may seem like the Democrats were trying to send a message that the Democratic Party wants nothing to do with atheists, but this was not what led to the service.

I'm not sure my initial, gut reaction to simply quit the party was wise. There really is strength in numbers, and if we atheists cannot learn to get along with one another and with progressive believers, I'm not sure we have much of a future. Perhaps a better approach involves trying to develop a large, visible presence within the party as a group that will not be ignored. I had hoped that the Secular Coalition for America could serve this function, but they seem to have relatively support even within the atheist community.

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Distracted

The weekend is usually my prime time for blogging. I typically write at least 5-6 posts during the weekend and then roll them out during the week. This weekend is different for a couple of reasons. First, I have a nasty head cold and am so doped up on cold medicine that I can barely function. Second, I am gripped with a sense of dread over approaching Hurricane Gustav. Some forecasts are saying that this could be another Katrina. I'm really not interested in going through that again, and since I'm expecting to be without electricity for much of next week unless we have an abrupt change of direction soon, I won't be able to post anything anyway.

Since it is likely to be far more relevant to the locals, I'll try to restrict my Gustav-related thoughts to Mississippi Atheists. That way, I can try to use this space to write something to help distract me. At least, I could if I wasn't so...distracted.

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August 29, 2008

Atheist Dating: The Issue of Respect

In my prior post about atheist dating, I framed the obstacles encountered by atheists mostly as originating with the potential partners (e.g., "Eek, an atheist!"). But like many of those who commented, I've had some positive relationships with open-minded Christians. Religious believers can indeed make excellent romantic partners. Now I'd like to look at an obstacle which originates with us. Sometimes we atheists have a difficult time respecting someone who believes false things.

When I have been in relationships with Christian women who I liked in just about every way, I will admit that it has sometimes been difficult for me to get past their religious beliefs. I find myself thinking (and in some unfortunate cases, actually saying), "You seem so smart - how can you really believe that?" But this really isn't their problem; it is mine. If I can't overcome it, I am the one who may lose out.

Can you respect someone who holds religious beliefs to the point where you are willing to let go of any efforts to change the person's mind? I realize that we can respect people without respecting their beliefs, but I have sometimes found this rather challenging in the context of an intimate relationship.

For you atheists who are in long-term intimate relationships with believers, how have you dealt with this? Is religion off limits to discussion, or have you worked out some sort of agreement to disagree?

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August 28, 2008

The Myth of Equal Ability in Academia

One of my many responsibilities at work involves providing academic advising to undergraduate students. For many, it is as simple as recommending electives or providing information about how to strengthen one's application to graduate school. For others, it is an emotionally charged experience of explaining bad news about academic probation, the odds of graduating when the student had hoped, and the like. It has become increasingly due to the widely accepted myth of equal ability.

In the United States, we pay a great deal of lip service to the notion of equality. We repeat the mantra, "All men are created equal," seemingly without realizing that we are born rather than created, that we have never been very good at treated supposedly equal people in an equal manner, and that the idea that we are equal in any way at birth is a destructive myth. Much like religious belief, it makes us feel good while concealing the truth.

At the genetic level, we do not come into the world equally equipped to face the demands of life. And it is obvious to any reasonable person that the environments in which we are raised are far to variable to be equivalent in any way. We differ from birth, are raised in a wide range of environments, and unequal on virtually every attribute which can be measured.

When we say that all people are created equal, we are trying to say something about what should be - about how people should be treated - rather than about what is. This ideal is a fundamental part of our democracy. Noble as it may be, it can create problems when we pretend that the ideal is the actual.

During the course of working with a variety of college students, I have repeatedly been faced with the undeniable truth that not every student in college has the requisite ability, interest, and/or motivation to succeed. I suspect that this statement may strike most of you as fairly obvious. It is not always so obvious for the affected student. I have heard the following from students about to flunk out of the university on more occasions than I care to count:
  • But I need a diploma to get a job.
  • But my professors don't like me.
  • But my parents say I have to finish college.
  • But my tuition pays your salary.
Again and again, I face the student who never should have graduated from high school, the student with a D average who insists that they are planning to go to medical school, the student who believes that they are owed a diploma for effort. But we aren't supposed to assign grades based on effort of award diplomas for fear of inconveniencing someone.

The common thread connecting these students is often one of entitlement. They believe they are owed something. Why? Because they have been convinced that all people have the ability to succeed in college. This simply is not the case. There are plenty of students on our nations campuses who lack the requisite ability to succeed regardless of interest or motivation. It is a sad truth which makes us uncomfortable to acknowledge, but it remains true nevertheless.

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August 27, 2008

Book Review: Infidel

I read almost exclusively nonfiction (Christian bible being an exception), and my two favorite topics are atheism and progressive politics. I've read most of the books on atheism that you've heard of and some more obscure ones. I picked up Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel expecting another interesting tome on atheism along the lines of Harris, Dawkins, Dennet, or Hitchens. I could not have been more wrong! Infidel is not a book about atheism at all. And yet, I cannot remember the last time I read a book as hard to put down as this one. If you haven't picked this one up yet, you owe it to yourself to do so. It is not to be missed.

I do most of my fun reading right before I go to bed. I typically curl up with whatever I'm reading for 20-30 minutes before turning off the lights and falling asleep. With Infidel, I found myself reading for an hour or two and wanting to ditch work to read more the next day. I found myself thinking about what I had read all day. There was something utterly captivating about the book.

Hirsi Ali's book is about her experience growing up in Islam, making a daring escape to the Western world, and finally embracing her true self. It is about feminism, the oppression of women in Islam, the experience of encountering freedom for the first time, and so many other things. Yes, she eventually discarded religion altogether, but that really is not the focus of the book.

What you will find is a story of incredible bravery, courage, and commitment to human rights. Hirsi Ali is a hero. There is simply no other way to say it. She is not simply an inspiration for Muslim women but for all of us reluctant to speak out or concerned that we cannot make a difference.

There are many lessons to be taken from Hirsi Ali's excellent writing, but I'll try to summarize one of the big ones as follows: Islam, not simply Islamic extremism but the religion itself, is a danger to humanity. Those of us in the West obsessed with multiculturalism and attempting to be equally tolerant to all religions are making a serious mistake by denying the realities of Islam. As Hirsi Ali says,
The message of this book, if it must have a message, is that we in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life.
The transition she's referring to is that leading to the modern world. She makes a compelling case that the values inherent in Islam are inferior in so many ways to those of Western democracies. We in the West are often taught to regard such claims as unacceptably intolerant. This book is a needed eye-opener.

In closing, I should offer a word of warning to you who are now considering reading Infidel. If you are not fairly open about your atheism, reading this book may make you feel like a douchebag, especially if you have whined about the obstacles you face.

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August 26, 2008

Blogging Tip #10: Using StumbleUpon to Boost Blog Traffic

For the tenth tip in this series, I'd like to do something special and let you in on a little secret. Learning how to use StumbleUpon effectively has been the single most effective means of increasing traffic to my blog. That's right, nothing else has even come close. The catch is, you have to do it right or you'll not see the sort of benefit I'll describe. Don't worry, I'll tell you what you need to know here.

Stumble It!

What StumbleUpon Has Done For Me

Looking at my Google Analytics data for 7/22-8/21, I see that StumbleUpon has resulted in 49,048 visits to Atheist Revolution. Not too shabby if I say so myself. In fact, StumbleUpon is responsible for roughly 59% of my traffic.

But what good is this sort of traffic if it doesn't convert to regular readers, you ask? Well, that is the thing about StumbleUpon - if used correctly, it is going to bring you highly targeted and relevant traffic. You will likely gain more readers and subscribers to your feed via StumbleUpon than any other social networking service.

Getting Started With StumbleUpon

Getting started with the service is extremely easy. By itself, StumbleUpon will not do much for you, and the advanced techniques I'll present in a minute are where you are going to get your real benefit. But first, we have to get StumbleUpon installed and properly configured.

To use StumbleUpon, you'll need a browser toolbar. Open your favorite browser and head to StumbleUpon.com. Click the Join button, and you will be walked through the free registration and installation procedure.

Once you have the toolbar in your browser, you'll see several buttons. Many of these will be important, but we'll save the advanced techniques for the next section and address the basics here. Starting on the left hand side of the toolbar:
  • The "Stumble!" button will take you to a random page submitted by the user base to StumbleUpon. Since you haven't configured anything yet, it will feel extremely random.
  • The "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" buttons are for rating the random pages you land on. Thumbs up means you like the content, subject matter, etc. and would like to see more of it. Thumbs down means the opposite. The pages you rate up are going to get more traffic.
Before you do much with these or any other buttons, I encourage you to set up your profile. From the StumbleUpon home page, click the Home tab and then click on your StumbleUpon user name. This is your profile, and you should complete it right away. You can see my StumbleUpon profile here. From your profile page, make sure to click Preferences in the upper right corner of the page and complete all this information.

Your next step is to go to StumbleUpon's Atheist-Agnostic Websites page and click the "I like..." button in the upper right corner. Now you are ready to roll.

Look at your StumbleUpon toolbar again. Find the button just to the right of center labeled "All," and click on the down arrow. One of the options listed in the pull-down menu should be "Atheist/Agnostic." Select it. You are taken to a random page in this category. Now when you hit the "Stumble!" button, your random pages are not so random - they are those tagged by users as belonging to the Atheism/Agnosticism category.

I strongly recommend that you spend considerable time stumbling and rating pages in this category before doing much of anything else. For now, do not "thumbs up" any of your own blog pages. We'll get to that, but doing it now can actually hurt the reputation you will soon work to cultivate. For now, you want to stumble hundreds of pages in the atheist/agnostic category. This will help establish you as a top stumbler.

Advanced Techniques: StumbleUpon for Blog Promotion

Now that you are building a valuable reputation in the StumbleUpon community, it is time to start reaping the true benefits.

Go to your blog's home page and click the "thumbs up" button. If someone else has already submitted your blog to the system, nothing much will happen and this is fine. If your blog has not already been submitted, a window will pop up asking you for information. Make sure the title is accurate and write a clear but concise description of your blog in the Review field. Be descriptive and don't think of this as an actual review. Under topic, use the pull down "other" menu to find the Atheist/Agnostic topic. Finally, use the tag field as appropriate. Accuracy is far more important here than listing everything you can think of. Don't use more than 3-4 tag words and be very selective.

Now that you have made sure your blog is in the system, it is time to add some friends. From your StumbleUpon profile page, explore the "Friends," "Network," and "Matches" sections. When you consider adding someone as a friend, you should ask yourself whether the person is actively stumbling material you would find interesting. If not, find another candidate. If so, friend them. Shoot for friending 25-50 users for now. Be selective, and make sure that what they are doing is really going to be of interest to you.

Now whenever you are surfing and come across a page you like, regardless of whether you are stumbling, give it the "thumbs up." Many of the pages you do this with will not be in the StumbleUpon system yet. This is especially true of new blog posts. This is your chance to really make your reputation. Follow the same entry procedure described above when we were talking about your own blog. Bloggers notice when you submit their posts; they are more likely to return the favor, friend you, etc.

Now you are ready for the cardinal rule of StumbleUpon: avoid submitting your own blog posts. Why? You will receive far more traffic from a post someone else submits for you than one you submit. Feel free to vote up your own posts, but only after someone else has submitted them. If you submit your own posts excessively, StumbleUpon will penalize you through reduced traffic, and your reputation will suffer. The advantage of stumbling others' posts regularly is that StumbleUpon will be more forgiving on those occasions where you simply cannot resist submitting your own post. It is almost like they'll tolerate you submitting one of your own for every 10-20 of others you submit or vote on.

Now go forth and stumble!

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August 25, 2008

Faith as a Virtue, Part II

After examining some of the cultural factors which establish a context within which faith is considered a virtue in Part I, we are ready to tackle the tough questions head on. We have seen that respect and admiration are often bestowed on the individual who endures great hardships and overcomes the odds to eventually triumph. But is faith really so difficult to maintain in our modern world that it can stimulate our unlikely hero archetype? If so, how does this necessarily make faith virtuous today? Even if it proves to be difficult, we must still determine whether it offers something of value in our modern world.

On the Difficulty of Faith

In one important way, maintaining religious faith in today's world is extremely difficult. At least, it should be extremely difficult. After all, there is not one shred of evidence which suggests that anything like the various gods exists. Science has proven valuable again and again, while religion occupies an intellectual wasteland of willful denial of reality in exchange for superstition and myth. Surely, the believer must expend considerably energy to keep reality at bay! One who does so well is doing something that certainly appears difficult (if not delusional).

But before we conclude that maintaining faith is difficult enough to warrant some level of respect, we must consider two additional factors. First, believers have done a skillful job of setting up the objects of their faith to make faith easier. Second, believers hold the majority position, at least in the U.S., removing much of the social pressure that would otherwise challenge their faith.

Faith requires a lack of evidence, and the purveyors of faith have been remarkably effective at defining and redefining their gods so as to make it unlikely that any supportive evidence will ever emerge. While we in the reality-based community may be correct in our assertion that this renders the god concept logically incoherent, unlikely, or simply absurd, we cannot deny that the believers have done an excellent job of setting up an environment where faith can thrive. When science advances or reality encroaches, believers redefine their dogma. The gaps are maintained, and believers are helped to remain faithful.

Moreover, the widespread Christian privilege in the U.S. has made it far less likely that Christian believers will encounter many obstacles to their faith. In a nutshell, Christian privilege means that the influence and elevated status of Christianity in the U.S. are so pervasive as to be nearly invisible. Christianity, to a large degree, is the unquestioned norm.

In sum, we can say that maintaining Christian faith is not particularly difficult in the U.S., at least nowhere near as difficult as it should be.

The Desirability of Faith in the Modern World

Difficulty of maintaining it aside, it is exceeding difficult to argue that faith is desirable in the modern world. In no other sphere of life do we encourage people to believe things in the absence of evidence. To make a case that religion is different and deserving of this practice is not an easy task. In fact, it soon becomes rather obvious that the religious faith of today centers on believing what one wants to believe no matter what the data suggest. It is a form of prideful ignorance in which human desire is elevated above reason, often with disastrous consequences.

Faith gives people a "get out of thinking free card" which they often use to end conversations much like a child throwing a tantrum. Because it is considered inappropriate in U.S. culture to criticize or even question someone's faith, the faithful can attribute any belief, statement, or action to their faith and often get away with it. In the unlikely event that someone does question them, screaming persecution often works. Faith gives people an excuse for claiming real or manufactured change and soliciting forgiveness for past wrongs. It matters little whether the change is genuine - if the individual claims faith, all is forgiven by many believers.

Summary

I see little about faith that can rightly be called virtuous. It is not particularly difficult to maintain in a culture that encourages is and when it is focused on the sort of belief system constantly revised to facilitate it. Nor is it beneficial in the modern world. In fact, the high costs outweigh any benefits by a wide margin. Solutions to the problem of faith are not easy, but this does not make them any less necessary. As Richard Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion:
Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don't have to make the case for what you believe. If somebody announces that it is part of his faith, the rest of society, whether of the same faith, or another, or of none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to "respect" it without question; respect it until the day it manifests itself in a horrible massacre like the destruction of the World Trade Center, or the London or Madrid bombings. Then there is a great chorus of disownings, as clerics and "community leaders" (who elected them, by the way?) line up to explain that this extremism is a perversion of the "true" faith. But how can there be a perversion of faith, if faith, lacking objective justification, doesn't have any demonstrable standard to pervert?
For more on this and closely related topics, see:
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August 24, 2008

Education as a Model for Atheist Activism

All griping aside, the first day of classes in college is fun. Maybe my perspective is skewed now that I am the one teaching and not the student whose summer vacation just ended. Still, many of the students seem eager as they listen intently and evaluate what we will be like as teachers, whether they will enjoy the content of our course, and make initial judgments about how difficult the material might be. I remember the mixture of excitement and trepidation well from my years as a student. Seeing it now in my class is a vivid reminder that learning can be fun for everyone involved in the process.

The students seem so open and receptive on the first day of class. I can challenge preconceived notions, dismiss widely held beliefs as myths that will be debunked during the semester, and even pose questions to initiate debate and discussion. I see several smiles and nods. The students are engaged and optimistic.

And yet, I realize even now that I will lose some students over the course of the semester. Some will decide the class is too difficult and drop. Others will earn poor enough grades that they give up. And others will simply tire of the routine, becoming too busy with their other obligations to maintain focus and enthusiasm.

My goal, and it is not always an easy one to reach, is to teach to the students who remain interested, engaged with the material, and hope to acquire knowledge or skills. In some classes, they will be the minority. But it is them with who I must connect. Their enthusiasm connects with mine and provides me the energy I need to remain passionate about what I am doing.

I do not simply give up on the students whose interest wanes, but I recognize that I will not be able to stimulate everyone equally. By providing the interested students with the best experience I can, my enthusiasm will infect some of the others.

Perhaps there is a lesson in here somewhere with regard to atheist activism. Might stimulating thought be accomplished more effectively through means other than firing barrages of criticism at believers? I recognize that such criticism is important to dispel the erroneous notion that religious belief is off limits to critique. At the same time, it is probably not particularly conducive to genuine learning on the part of believers. Even a cursory review of some of the stories in the news lately indicate that learning is vital:
An atheist activism which focuses only on criticizing religious belief is doomed to fail. While necessary at least to some degree, it is not sufficient. Effective education requires us to bridge the gap between nonbeliever and believer.

H/Ts to Unscrewing the Inscrutable and Oz Atheist's Weblog

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August 23, 2008

Democratic Party Fires Shot Across Atheists' Bow

I have made no secret of opposing the DNC's decision to include the first ever interfaith religious service at the convention in Denver tomorrow or to place it in the hands of a Pentecostal. I find it appalling that the progressive party would set aside the framer's clearly secular intent and embrace superstition and religious delusion. I am not at all swayed by the argument that the Democrats are simply trying to wrestle Christianity away from the Republican Party. This strikes me as the worst kind of pandering because it involves elevating the status of those who are more deserving of mockery than admiration.

At a time when the majority of Americans believe that religion should be kept out of politics, this is a desperate move by a confused party. I have heard the arguments that they are simply trying to reclaim the symbols of Christianity from the Republican party. This is a bad mistake because it betrays the progressive values the party espouses.

Sure, it has been frustrating to see how the Republicans have claimed to be the party of Jesus while increasing the gap between rich and poor, preaching hatred of gays, attempting to restrict the reproductive rights of women, and pushing theocracy. I do not blame Democrats for wanting to change this. But up until the 2008 campaign, I have generally admired the Democrats refusal to pander in this way. It has been a big part of what gave the party their appeal. With the DNC convention, however, they are in danger of losing that appeal.

Efforts by atheists to request inclusion at the service have failed, as have requests to halt the service altogether. Disappointing but hardly surprising. But it gets worse. We now have an unequivocal statement that we atheists have no place in the Democratic Party of 2008.

The Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, has said on multiple occasions that "secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square." This should have put the secular community on alert. After all, we cannot afford another president who seeks to abolish the separation of church and state. What Obama needs to understand is that we are simply asking for the Constitution to be upheld.

But even Obama's confusion could not have prepared us for the shot just fired across our bow. Rev. Daughtry, the Pentecostal minister in charge of the interfaith service, made it clear from the beginning that she did not know what do to with nontheists. Never mind that the interfaith service has been promoted as a unity event. Daughtry now says,
Democrats have been, are and will continue to be people of faith - and this interfaith gathering is proof of that.
Clearly, the millions of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and other freethinkers who reject the notion of religious faith are not valued by the Democratic Party of 2008. So much for unifying the party.

As Atheist Ethicist points out,
In following this path, the Democratic Party is simply trying to show that it is faithful to American values. One of those values, as expressed in the National Motto, is, "If you do not trust in God, then we do not want to think of you as being one of us." There is no better way for the Democratic Party to show its support for this principle than to say as loudly and as publicly as possible to atheists, "If you do not trust in God, then you are not invited to be one of us."
Given estimates that up to 40% of likely Democratic voters in this election do not believe in the personal god of the three big monotheisms, it would seem that the party risks everything by alienating us. However, I suspect that this risk is illusory at best. They know that no political party is going to welcome us, and they may even be hoping that we will protest so they can say, "See we piss off those evil atheists too."

I agree completely with PZ Myers (Pharyngula) when he says,
People of faith are welcome to contribute to politics. In order to do so, however, they will have to get off their knees, unclasp their hands, and do something productive. Enshrining the prating rubbish of the religion racket as an important element of secular administration, as Obama seems to want to do, is a catastrophic betrayal of good government.
H/Ts to Stupid Evil Bastard and Bligbi

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About Atheist Revolution

You are reading an older version of Atheist Revolution's About page. The most current version can be found here.

Welcome to Atheist Revolution - a blog dedicated to breaking free from irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism in America.

I use the handle vjack, and I write this blog as a hobby. It reflects my interest in atheism and my commitment to improving the position of atheists in a world dominated by religious belief. If you would like to learn more about my personal journey to atheism, you can read my Journey of an Atheist series.

Origins

I started Atheist Revolution in early 2005 in response to what I perceived as a rising tide of anti-intellectualism and Christian extremism in America. I knew next to nothing about blogging but hoped that writing in such a forum might help me to organize my thoughts and eventually reach out to others. I decided to focus primarily on the intersection of religion and politics (e.g., separation of church and state, political manipulation via religion, etc.).

I soon realized that I was contributing to something I didn't even know existed. Again and again, I heard from a growing base of readers that they found Atheist Revolution to be a valuable source of information relevant to atheists. They directed me toward the handful of other bloggers active in the niche at the time. I began reading every atheist blog I could find. Suddenly I was not alone. The reality-based community had a dynamic presence on the Internet.

By 2006, I realized that I was part of something important - a growing atheist community tired of remaining silent. Perhaps I could even help to make a difference.

Atheism and Progressive Politics

After some initial struggle over goals and priorities, I settled on a mission for Atheist Revolution. The blog would be devoted to overcoming irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism. Atheism would be the primary focus, and atheist activism would be a big part of this. I recognized that I had two primary reasons for being an atheist and that they were often reflected in my writing. The precursors of atheism (e.g., reason, secular education, critical thinking, etc.) deserved promotion every bit as much as religious belief warranted criticism.

However, I also recognized that I would not be satisfied writing about atheism all of the time. My political convictions were too deep to be ignored. I couldn't be honest with the readers unless I gave voice to my progressive values in some way. After all, they derived from the same sources as my atheism. I would focus on atheism but would not avoid political topics which interested me.

Why "Atheist Revolution?"

America is currently caught in the grasp of widespread religious delusion and Christian privilege. Secular education, and science education in particular, suffer from the promotion of superstition and myth. Social norms discourage even mild criticism of religious belief, and nonbelievers are demonized. Anti-atheist bigotry is common and rarely brings rebuke.

We need a revolution of the mind, a new era of Enlightenment when the shackles of faith are thrown off and reason is once again valued. For me, it is not about eradicating religious belief but about showing people that it is unnecessary, irrational, and destructive.

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August 22, 2008

New Atheist Bloggers Network on Ning

Ning first entered my consciousness in a PCWorld article I was reading, but it was not until seeing the Atheist Nexus implementation that I had any idea how it functioned. Love it or hate it, I think you can agree that Atheist Nexus has been a popular application among atheists looking for online social networking. Now there is another, and this one is much smaller and more focused. Atheist Bloggers is a Ning-based network for, you guessed it, atheist bloggers. Given that the bloggers group on Atheist Nexus is larger and more active than Atheist Bloggers, you'll have to decide whether you think it is worth joining.


Visit Atheist Bloggers

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Question for Atheist Bloggers

A Division by Zer0 has a question for atheist bloggers who are not self-hosting and using Wordpress. If this is you, consider voting in his poll. For me, I suppose the main reasons are time, technical know-how, and cost. I certainly have thought about it, but there always seem to be so many other things I need to do or want to do instead. Perhaps one of these days I will finally make the transition. Until then, I'm reasonably content with hosting on Blogger and using a custom domain.

August 21, 2008

Blogging Tip #9: Twitter

Regular readers may remember that I started using Twitter toward the end of July. In part, I was just curious about what the service was and whether it could be useful. In addition, I was interested in Twitter's potential for blog promotion. It seemed like it could be an interesting way to build community among atheists. I said I would use it for at least one month and then post my thoughts here. It has not been quite a month yet, but I believe I am now sufficiently familiar with the service to share my impressions, especially since I have already decided that I will continue using Twitter beyond the month I initially gave myself.

If you need a reminder about what Twitter is, what it does, and how to set it up, please refer to my previous post on the subject.

I had initially hoped that Twitter might be useful for blog promotion. Although it has indeed been good for this purpose, it turns out that this is not the primary reason I have found the service useful. I'll get to that in a minute since I suspect that most readers are wondering what Twitter can do for their blog traffic.

With regard to blog promotion, the first thing I found with Twitter was that I was discovering new blogs and visiting those using Twitter more regularly than unusual. This should be of great interest to newer bloggers looking to build traffic. Many Twitter users who have blogs use the Twitterfeed service to automatically inform their followers of new posts. This helps Twitter be an effective means of blog promotion. I suppose a truly lazy user might even derive some benefit from this without doing anything else with Twitter.

Of course, doing so would lead one to miss out on what I regard as the main benefit of Twitter. Once I discovered other atheist bloggers on Twitter, I found that the service could be a great way of interacting with others, sharing ideas, and getting excellent information. Rather than simply promoting my own work, I have been finding and promoting others' work which I would have otherwise missed. Twitter is an excellent source of ideas for post topics, resources for sharing with others, and even cross-blog collaboration. In short, my use of Twitter has led me to have far more interaction with other atheist bloggers than I did before starting to use the service. This benefits everyone involved.

I plan to keep Twitter. Even as I am now discovering Friendfeed, a newer service that can incorporate Twitter but do far more, Twitter continues to be a valuable service. It probably will not bring you tons of added traffic, but it may just help you be a better citizen of the atheist community.

If you decide to try Twitter, you can find me at http://twitter.com/vjack

I'm also on Friendfeed at http://friendfeed.com/vjack

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August 20, 2008

You Might be a Militant Atheist if...

The slur du jour aimed at atheists appears to be that of "militant atheism." While we in the atheist community know full well that there is no such thing as a militant atheist, the Christians who use this phrase remain willfully ignorant or are simply so used to distorting reality that it no longer bothers them. Make no mistake - this is a form of anti-atheist bigotry and should be treated as such. Atheists need to have a plan for responding to the charge of militancy. To do so, we must understand the accusation, why we are seeing it, and what it reveals about those making it.

Applications of the "Militant" Label

Richard Dawkins was greeted with accusations of "militant atheism" when he published The God Delusion. Based on the book's title, even many Christians who never read the book could assume that it was an attack on their god-belief. That was all it took. Dawkins dared to criticize their religious beliefs; this made him "militant." For those who did actually read the book, it was clear that Dawkins had committed an even worse offense than criticizing religion - he encouraged others to do so. Yep, he was militant alright. Militant for writing a book.

And now we have PZ Myers, widely accused of "militant atheism" for mocking Catholicism in the Crackergate incident. What exactly was Myers' offense? He criticized religion on his blog, encouraged others to do the same, spoke out against religion in various interviews, and destroyed a wafer obtained from a Communion ritual. This makes him militant? Really?

These may have been two of the most prominent examples, but there have been countless others accused of "militant atheism." The pattern which emerges is quite clear: a militant atheist is an atheist who does not keep his or her feelings about religion hidden. That is, you might be a militant atheist if you express yourself on the subject of religion. Exercising your freedom of speech makes you militant.

The Myth of Militant Atheism

In a previous post on the subject of militant atheism, I wrote,
Since atheism refers to the lack of theistic belief, militant atheism must be something like an aggressive or impassioned lack of theism. Confused yet? Yeah, me too. Once we understand what atheism is, it becomes evident that "militant atheism" is meaningless, at least in this context.
In all other contexts in which the word "militant" is applied, it refers to behavior rather than one's viewpoint. Moreover, the "militant" descriptor is typically reserved for violent behavior. According to State of Protest, "Real militant atheism is literally taking up a weapon and fighting those who support religion, and in some cases those who merely don’t support real militant atheism." For example, when The Uncredible Hallq searched Google for "militant Christian" and "militant Muslim," he found that they were used to depict persons or groups committing acts of violence. Catholics issuing death threats to PZ Myers seems to fit the bill; criticizing religion does not.

So what is really going on when a Christian uses the "militant atheism" accusation? According to Russell Cole of the Midwest Populist Party,
Consequentially, the terminology, militant atheists, should be understood not as an expression that refers to the elements in society who possess the intellectual tenacity to hold to scrutiny the mythology that continues to dominant the worldviews possessed by the religious; the flocks of mindless followers. To the contrary, the unfortunate phrase is best understood as the projection upon the reasoned and rational, by those who lack such lucid deliberations, of the very shortcomings that impede the intellectual maturation of the faithful.
Rather than acknowledging that those trying to improve society might have legitimate reasons to seeking change, it is easier for those in power to demonize them. We saw this with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and we are seeing it now as atheists seek equality.

Future posts will explain how accusations of "militant atheism" are a form of anti-atheist bigotry and will explore how atheists should respond to such accusations. For now, I highly recommend this video. If you have written on these subjects, please feel free to leave links to your content in the comments.

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August 19, 2008

Taking Credit for Unintended Consequences

Tom is out in the back yard with his 12-year-old son, Evan. He pitches the baseball to Evan, who whacks it hard with the bat, sending it soaring over the side fence. Tom hears the sound of his neighbor's window shattering. Oh crap! Tom and Evan head inside so that Tom can comb his hair and put on something more presentable than the faded concert t-shirt he's wearing. But just as they are about to head over to their neighbor's house, they hear an approaching siren.

Tom's thoughts race as he imagines all sorts of awful possibilities. "What if the ball hit old Ms. Jones in the head?" "What if Mr. Jones had another heart attack?" Evan is terrified as well. "Dad, are they going to be alright? I didn't mean to hit the ball over there."

Not sure he wants to get in the way of the approaching ambulance, Tom decides to walk out into his front yard. He can always pretend to do yard work if it looks like he'd be in the way. But they have to know the ball came from his yard, and he doesn't want to appear like he's hiding.

Tom's heart sinks as he opens the front door. It was not an ambulance siren he'd been hearing but a police siren. Two sheriff's deputies are entering the Jones house. "They couldn't have called the cops, could they? It was just a baseball. I'll pay for the window. Why involve the police?"

Tom reluctantly tells Evan to stay put and slowly heads toward his neighbors' home. As he nears the property line, the two officers emerge from the house with a young man in handcuffs. What is this?

Ms. Jones calls over to Tom, "There's my hero! Do you realize that ball interrupted a robbery? You knocked the robber out cold!" Evidently, the man in cuffs had broken into the Jones house and was about to rob them when the ball came through the window, struck the robber in the side of the head, and knocked him out.

While talking to Ms. Jones and one of the sheriff's deputies, Tom does something strange. He takes credit for the entire affair.
Yeah, I was in the side yard and saw that guy confronting you threw the window. I figured it might be too late by the time I got over there or the cops got here, so I threw the ball threw the window hoping I'd scare him away.
Tom's story does not make a lot of sense, but Ms. Jones buys it. The officers are satisfied, and the local newspaper even runs a story in which Tom is called a hero. Only Tom and Evan know for sure that it isn't true, and Evan is too scared of Tom's temper to reveal what he knows. Tom is taking credit for the unintended consequences of his action by claiming after the fact that it was intended all along.

Why am I telling you this story? Because I think John McCain is doing the same thing with regard to Bush's escalation in Iraq. Like Tom in our story, McCain knows full well that the intent of Bush's so-called surge involved accomplishing goals which have largely been abandoned. The political reconciliation Bush claimed to be pursuing has not been achieved, and yet McCain insists that the surge was a success and that his support of it had been the right move all along. He's trying to take credit for unintended consequences and thinks that the American people are stupid enough to buy it.

Even worse, this seems to be McCain's approach to the war itself. We don't get to go into Iraq because of WMDs and then retroactively change the reason to something that might make us look better when no WMDs are found. Bush screwed up, and McCain was wrong to adopt his war. The escalation did not help accomplish the goal of the invasion, nor did it accomplish the goals Bush offered as justification at the time.

The political spin McCain is now attempting to make it look like his support for Bush's surge was right all along must be exposed for what it is. We need to let his poor judgment and repeated attempts to lie about it be the anchor around his leg that sinks his campaign. Unlike Evan, we must not remain silent.

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August 18, 2008

Faith as a Virtue

Blind faith
The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not 'cowards,' as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith - perfect faith, as it turns out - and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.
- Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason  

Faith, in the religious sense of the word, refers to maintaining belief in something for which there is insufficient evidence to justify holding the belief. Were we to have sufficient evidence to support the belief, there would be no need for faith. In fact, there would not be room for faith to be relevant in such a scenario. But when we want to believe something for reasons other than because the evidence warrants our doing so, faith enters the equation. And yet, none of this explains why faith is commonly regarded as a virtue, a form of strength, and something for which individuals are praised. In this series, I'd like to explore the "virtuous" nature of faith and see how we nonbelievers can better understand it.

August 17, 2008

Atheist Dating

You are out on a first date, and the person mentions that they attend church every Sunday. Is this a deal-breaker? How do you respond in such a situation? I usually try to stick to topics I feel like I know something about, but when a reader e-mailed me with the suggestion that I address some of the dating-related challenges atheists face, I couldn't resist. Don't get me wrong - it is not that I have no dating experience as an atheist. It is just that this has not been part of my life for awhile. But in this post, I'd like to consider some of the the dating-related obstacles faced by atheists. After all, I'd be lying if I said that they play no role in my current social life (or lack thereof).

Based on when I first started dating and when I first embraced atheism, I had perhaps a year or two of dating as a Christian. For everything since, roughly 20 years, I've been an atheist. This period involved some very different dating contexts (e.g., high school, college, and beyond), and it seemed like there were different challenges in each.

I recall relatively few obstacles to dating in high school. Then again, this was in the Pacific Northwest and not Mississippi. There were a handful of women I would have liked to have gone out with who rejected me upon learning that I was not a Christian. In all but one case I can remember, this did not bother me much. Most of my girlfriends were either mildly Christian or agnostic, and my atheism was not often an issue. With them, the obstacle I faced again and again was their Christian parents. I recall some uncomfortable interrogations and parents forbidding their daughters to go out with me. In retrospect, this was probably wise on their part. Fortunately, it often seemed to make me more attractive in their daughters' eyes.

What about the one exception I mentioned above? Oh boy! I'm not really sure I want to share this, but here goes...there was one time in my life, during high school, where I actually pretended to be Christian just to get the girl. I know, that sounds terrible. All I can say in my defense is that she was worth it. Oh, and I was promptly dumped as soon as I tired of my charade.

College was easier in some ways and much harder in others. I was completely open about my atheism at this point and probably couldn't have hid it if I tried. The fundamentalists were often easy to spot in class, and attractive or not, I generally kept my distance. The few times I did approach them, I was promptly shot down in flames. They knew I was an atheist and therefore evil. Because dating tended to be a group affair often involving alcohol and other substances, the women in attendance were almost never of the fundamentalist sort. I finally met some atheist women and continued to date Christian women too.

Where things were considerably more difficult in college was that some of these relationships were longer-term, more serious, and harder to walk away from. Because I was far more of an activist then than I had been in high school, religion was more often n issue and certainly ended some relationships sooner than I would have liked.

Soon after college, I did something stupid that would set my life on a very different course and take me out of the dating scene for quite awhile. I got married. There would be many problems that would lead to our eventual divorce, but my atheism and her on-again-off-again Christianity was a an important one. Bad memories.

As luck would have it, I've been in Mississippi since that time. This is not exactly what I would call a conducive place for atheist dating. Fortunately, being on my own has given me an opportunity to learn that I can be perfectly happy outside the context of an intimate relationship.

How about you? What obstacles have you faced dating as an atheist? Is it more a matter of meeting people or of their reaction when they learn of your lack of religious belief?

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Carnival of the Godless #98 at Letters From A Broad...

The 98th Carnival of the Godless has been posted at Letters from a broad... in plenty of time for your Sunday church replacement. My post about the DNC's interfaith service was included. I suppose this may seem silly since we are clearly running out of time, and plans are in place to go through with the religious service. Still, I wanted to make sure that everyone knew this was happening and had the opportunity to express the displeasure.

August 16, 2008

Should "In God We Trust" Be Removed From U.S. Currency?

If you have an opinion on this (and I suspect you do), head over to MSNBC to cast your vote in this unscientific poll. I realize this will not change government policy, but it cannot hurt to show people that there is a difference of opinion on the practice of promoting theism on our currency.

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Interviewed By Atheist Spot

The Atheist Spot Blog is doing a series of interviews with assorted atheist bloggers. This gives us the opportunity to learn more about the authors we read. Craig A. James of The Religion Virus was first, and they just posted the interview they did with me. I thought they asked some good questions, and it will be neat to follow the series and see how others respond to similar questions.

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August 15, 2008

America's Deepening Cultural Divide: Implications for Atheists

The 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore thrust a new phrase into the consciousness of the American public: culture war. The media ran with this story, using maps filled with red and blue to promote the idea that our country was increasingly divided along cultural lines. Some argued that the differences were mostly urban vs. rural, and others cited differences such as education or income. But everybody seemed to agree that religion was at least relevant in the divide, and the issue was largely framed as one of values. We are now close to eight years later, and the divide seems to have deepened considerably. Americans are becoming increasingly sequestered behind walls of our own making, inhabiting very different worldviews.

To begin to understand the scope of our current divide, imagine two individuals. Tom reads The National Review and watches Fox "News." He votes Republican and attends church at least once a week. His favorite websites are Michelle Malkin's blog and WorldNetDaily. Kate reads The Nation and loves Countdown With Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. She votes Democratic and considers herself agnostic when it comes to religion. Her favorite websites are Daily Kos and Common Dreams.

Tom and Kate could live next door to each other, but their worldviews have little overlap. They each have their own circle of friends, get their news from entirely different sources, read the sort of books the other would mock, and may even perceive each other as the enemy.

It is difficult to see how this state of affairs is healthy for modern America. Psychologically, we know that humans have the tendency to seek out information which confirms their preexisting opinions. But the preference for media which confirms our biases is not the same as total immersion. What happens when we tune out all dissenting views and, in essence, live in a bubble? Can our lack of exposure cause us to miss things we should be picking up on?

It is too easy to focus on those glued to Fox "News," Rush Limbaugh, and the like, for we know that they broadcast mostly propaganda and have seen how the hate they spew can affect some of their audience. Instead, we should take up the challenge of looking at ourselves.

I do fairly well when it comes to news because I made a conscious decision to resist this tendency in setting up my RSS reader with feeds. I separate opinion sources from those that deal in facts, and I make sure to include opinion sources from both ends of the political spectrum. You see, what upsets me about Fox "News" is not that it is conservatively biased but that it pretends to be unbiased. These safeguards help to make sure I am exposed to the diverse perspectives but cannot really guarantee that I will divide my time equally among them. I do not.

With the rest of the Internet though, I don't do particularly well at making sure that I am exposed to diverse worldviews. I don't belong to Facebook; I do belong to Atheist Nexus. I do spend time reading Christian blogs and websites, but I spend less than 5% of the time doing so as I spend on those written by atheists. It is rare that I visit sites addressing religion that are neither Christian nor atheist/humanist.

My reading habits are considerably better. Despite my love of books on atheism, I would estimate that at least 60% of the books I read are authored by Christians. And then, of course, there are the people with whom I associate. Every friend and co-worker is either Christian or Jew.

How about you? Do you think that we may pay a price for submitting to our cultural divide? If so, what do we do about it?

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August 14, 2008

Atheism in the Media: A Google News Analysis

Surveys designed to detect the number of people identifying themselves as atheists can be useful. However, there are metrics which may be as important. A recent post by 40 Year Old Atheist deals with the attention atheism is receiving in the media and presents some thought-provoking data collected via Google News.


Among the key findings:
  • There was a 75% increase in the number of news articles containing "atheism" or "atheist" between 2006 and 2008.
  • A large portion of articles on atheism were authored by religious believers, many of which represent attacks on atheism.
  • There is nothing quite like controversy to put atheism in the news (e.g., release of The Golden Compass).
You'll find more in the original post, along with some insightful discussion of the findings and their implications.

It seems to me that an important challenge facing the atheist movement involves exerting a greater influence on the manner in which atheism is covered in the media. This undoubtedly involves organizing to oppose anti-atheist bigotry, but it also means taking more ownership of atheism. Because there are far more theists than atheists, it is likely that they will always have an advantage in how we are covered. But this tells me that we must be prepared to work much harder in this area.

It may not be enough simply to try to increase our visibility in the news. We may also want greater say in how we are covered. We may want more of a voice in media depictions of atheism.

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August 13, 2008

Carnival of the Liberals at Submitted to a Candid World

If you are looking for some good progressive blogging, you'll be happy to know that it is time for another edition of Carnival of the Liberals. This one is hosted by Submitted to a Candid World and includes the post I wrote after news of John Edwards' affair broke: Edwards' Affair Makes News, Why Not McCain's?

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