October 31, 2008

Dole Still Wallowing in Anti-Atheist Bigotry

NC State Fair: Elizabeth DoleImage by Digital Papercuts via FlickrI've already said everything I plan to say about the despicable nature North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole's campaign of bigotry. Now that Dole has sunken even lower, I think I'm just too mad to write more on the subject for awhile. I simply want to give some credit to those who are continuing to follow her campaign and report on her bigotry:
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Happy Zombie Jesus Day

Halloween iconImage via WikipediaAh yes, Halloween is here again. Time for all good Southern Baptists in my neck of the woods to take their children to church, remind them that Halloween is evil, and prevent them from having any sort of fun. And yet, every day is Halloween for many of these Christians. They are convinced that they are in the midst of a struggle between demons and angels, with their zombie Jesus presiding. Hell is real for them, at least as a way to condemn those who disagree with them. Some American Christians would even like to elect their favorite member of the walking dead to the office of the President.

Bring on the bad zombie flicks. For this one day a year, even those of us in the reality-based community can willingly suspend our disbelief to have some spooky fun. And what could be more fitting on Halloween than to remind ourselves that we are literally surrounded by people who believe that they are drinking human blood and eating human flesh at church? What could be more appropriate on this day than to realize that our neighbors are positively ecstatic at the idea that we will spend eternity in their hell? It is time for zombie Jesus!

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October 30, 2008

Why Conservatives Attack the Media

The current logo of Fox TelevisionImage via WikipediaGiven that all the major media outlets have been owned by massive corporations for some time now, I've always found it odd that the media has been one of conservatives' favorite targets. It isn't like the mainstream media is actually liberal in any meaningful way. Why would the right-wing be so invested in attacking them? I suspect the answer lies in the nature of their religious base more than anything. With evangelicals complaining that their views are not represented in the media, conservatives may attack the media simply in order to rally their base.

In constructions of a "liberal elitist media," we see what is little more than a political tactic. By creating this all-purpose bogeyman, the right-wing gains a valuable tool in manipulating their base. Of course, they also gain greater control over their own message, using Fox "News" to disseminate manufactured "reality" to the masses in much the same way the politicians of old relied on the church.

The lesson worth learning here is that the pretend right-wing outrage at the media is a tool for achieving political purposes. Reality becomes secondary to the quest to gain and maintain power.

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October 29, 2008

Psychologist Scolds Atheists, Shows Misunderstanding of Atheism

Stone dedicated to Carl Sagan at Brooklyn Bota...Image via WikipediaBy presenting case after case of the most vile examples of Christian extremism, atheists are ignoring the greater good religion brings to most people. This is the claim of psychology professor David G. Myers. According to Dr. Myers, focusing on anecdotes while neglecting large scale data from the social sciences obscures the picture and deepens America's cultural divide. I think he may have a point, but I also think that his analysis is missing something of critical importance.

Here is the crux of Dr. Myers' argument in his own words:
But mocking religious "nut cases" is cheap and easy. By heaping scorn on the worst examples of anything, including medicine, law, politics, or even atheism, one can make it look evil. But the culture war of competing anecdotes becomes a standoff. One person counters religion-inspired 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta with religion-inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. Another counters the genocidal crusades with the genocidal atheists, Stalin and Mao. But as we social scientists like to say, the plural of anecdote is not data.
Perhaps we should call Dr. Myers out on his misunderstanding of what motivated Stalin, Mao, and others (hint: it wasn't atheism). After all, the difference between the anecdotes of religious extremists and atheists is that the former is fairly clear-cut and rarely disputed while the latter is based on ignorance and misinterpretation of facts. Fair enough, but let's set this aside for now.

What Dr. Myers is claiming is that while religious belief can be destructive in individual cases, it is a positive social force if we focus on group data. Perhaps we should take him to task for apparently forgetting that correlation does not equal causation. Nothing in his data can be interpreted as suggesting that religious belief causes charitable behavior. That someone who has authored reputable introductory psychology texts would forget this is suspicious to say the least. But let's also set this aside for now.

Instead, I want us to take Dr. Myers at his word that religious belief is positively correlated with "human happiness, health, and altruism." How does this cast any doubt on the claims of the so-called "new atheists" Myers seeks to scold? The atheistic objection to religion centers on two claims:
  1. Religious belief is irrational.
  2. The harm caused by religious belief outweighs the good that comes from religious belief.
The first claim is rarely disputed today, even by theists. I have addressed this extensively in countless posts and will thus present only a brief summary here. As Carl Sagan reminded us, the sort of evidence needed to verify a claim is proportional to the nature of the claim. Religious claims have nothing approaching the sort of evidence needed for verification. Theists know this and resort to faith instead. In fact, they make faith into a virtue and praise each other for their willingness to take the leap of faith necessary to believe religious claims. But believing things without evidence and on the basis of faith is the very definition of irrationality.

Unlike the first claim (i.e., religious belief is irrational), which enjoys wide acceptance among theists and atheists alike, the second is a source of great controversy. Unfortunately, this claim is precisely what Dr. Myers seems to have misunderstood, intentionally or otherwise. No atheist author I have encountered claims that no good whatsoever can come from religious belief. No atheist author Myers cites has claimed that in any of their books, and I have read them all. What they claim is that the bad outweighs the good. At no point is the good denied. Most atheists are fully aware of the data Dr. Myers presents. We just don't find it sufficiently compelling that we're willing to ignore the other side.

I've read enough of Dr. Myers' work to be familiar with his data on religion and happiness. There are many positive correlates of religious belief and religious practices. I've yet to meet an informed atheist who would deny this. The straw man Myers has constructed for this article is hollow indeed. By making precisely the sort of error of which he accuses the "new atheists," Myers reveals that he is motivated by something other than scientific understanding or healing the cultural divide.

Nevertheless, Myers must be commended for this admission:
These indications of the personal and social benefits of faith don't speak to its truth claims. And truth ultimately is what matters. (If religious claims were shown to be untrue, though comforting and adaptive, what honest person would choose to believe? And if religious claims were shown to be true, though discomfiting, what honest person would choose to disbelieve?)
If only he had stopped there. But he continues the preceding paragraph in such a way that his motives and misunderstanding of atheism are once again revealed:
But they do challenge the anecdote-based new atheist argument that religion is generally a force for evil. Moreover, they help point us toward a humble spirituality that worships God with open minds as well as open hearts, toward an alternative to purposeless scientism and dogmatic fundamentalism, toward a faith that helps make sense of the universe, gives meaning to life, opens us to the transcendent, connects us in supportive communities, provides a mandate for morality and selflessness, and offers hope in the face of adversity and death.
Again, the claim is not that "religion is generally a force for evil" but that the harm caused by religion outweighs the benefits. Science is anything but purposeless, and if Dr. Myers really feels this way, one can only wonder why he chose a scientific career. I had sincerely hoped that he would dig himself out of the hole of his own making, but I was disappointed in this regard.

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October 28, 2008

Combatting the "Liberal Feminist Agenda"

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 25:  Republican vice-pres...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeWhen Sen. John McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, many observers on both sides of America's cultural divide were surprised. The Palin pick smelled of pandering to the Christian extremist contingent and seemed to fly in the face of McCain's maverick credentials. Conservatives recognized Palin as one of their own but were dismayed that McCain did not select a more competent conservative. Numerous theories emerged about exactly what had happened in the McCain campaign. At least now we have our answer. In this brief video, Sen. McCain explains why he selected Sarah Palin.

H/T to Bligbi

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October 27, 2008

A Brief Review of IntenseDebate

Like most bloggers using the Blogger platform, it did not take me long to realize that the default Blogger commenting system was inadequate. I initially went with Haloscan to handle comments on this blog. While it was an improvement over the Blogger commenting system, it had many drawbacks that eventually became so frustrating that I knew I had to find an alternative. I settled on IntenseDebate and have been very happy with the switch. This is not to say that I have not encountered some problems with IntenseDebate, but on balance, I am convinced that the switch was a good move.

I'll get the problems out of the way first. Here are the issues I have encountered with IntenseDebate that need to be fixed before I could recommend the service without hesitation:
  • IntenseDebate is supposed to be able to import comments stored in the default Blogger commenting system. I have tried this multiple times on both Atheist Revolution and Mississippi Atheists and have been unable to get it to work. After a considerable delay, I receive an error about how the server is taking too long to respond. This is a big problem that must be resolved before those using Blogger comments jump to IntenseDebate.
  • One of the few things I liked better about Haloscan was that it made it very easy to view comments across all posts in the order in which they appeared. When I wanted to examine new comments across all posts, I could do so easily from one page. IntenseDebate seems limited to displaying only the 5 most recent comments. To see more, you have to go thread-by-thread. They need to have a page from which one can view all comments across all threads.
  • After hearing about how it was coming for months, IntenseDebate has still not added trackback. This is a real puzzle, and I expect many Haloscan users will be reluctant to give this up. I know I was.
  • A strength of IntenseDebate is that it allows for banning trolls based on IP or e-mail addresses. Unfortunately, they have also made this system fairly counterintuitive to use. It was only by accident that I stumbled on the solution. If you have a troll giving you trouble, use the "report" button next to the comment on your blog. This will send you an e-mail that contains the offender's IP address.
Although they do need to fix these issues, there are many positives about IntenseDebate as well. Here are some of my favorites:
  • The primary benefit of IntenseDebate over either Blogger comments or Haloscan is threaded comments. This was my initial attraction and what I consider to best reason to use IntenseDebate. It is so much easier for me to interact with commenters using this system, and it should facilitate discussions among commenters.
  • I like the inclusion of the "report" button because it lets any reader notify me when they come across a troll. While I have been far more involved in interacting with my readers since moving to IntenseDebate, readers are likely to encounter a troll before I do. With this handy button, they can alert me of abusive comments, etc.
  • Although I am still confused about how the comment voting and reputation systems work, I do like the idea of readers being able to vote up comments they find useful. I've been using this as well, regularly voting up comments that add to the discussion.
I do recommend IntenseDebate, especially to those who are still using Blogger's default commenting system. Still, I think it is important to realize that there are some issues that still need to be worked out. The service is good but not yet perfect.

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October 26, 2008

Anchorage Daily News Endorses Obama

Barack Obama speaking in Houston, Texas on the...Image via WikipediaAlaska's largest newspaper, The Anchorage Daily News, has endorsed Barack Obama. According to the paper, McCain is "the wrong choice for president at this critical time," and "few who have worked closely with the governor would argue she is truly ready to assume command of the most important, powerful nation on earth." More bad news for McCain/Palin.

H/T to Pam's House Blend

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Anybody Familiar With Agnostees?

Do you proudly wear your atheist colors to identify yourself as a freethinker when out in public? While working to clean out my e-mail folders, I came across a press release from Agnostees.com. Since they appear to still be going strong, I'm posting it below. It is basically an introduction to their business, so I figure better late than never. They seem like a business worth supporting. If you have ever ordered anything from them, let us know what your experience was like in the comments.

Press Release

Contact

info@agnostees.com

We are inundated with religious messages on a daily basis. Books proclaim “the power of prayer,” magazines insist that miracles are the norm, politicians extol “faith-based” initiatives, and zealots make it their pious mission to convert those who don’t agree with them. It is easy for dissenting voices to become lost within a tide of religious platitudes.

The recently launched website Agnostees.com wants to change that. With t-shirts that are sometimes confrontational, sometimes fun, and often both, wearers can express a difference of opinion in a way that is both memorable and succinct. Message range from the obvious (“Atheists are Nice”) to the thought-provoking (“Science too Hard? Try Religion!”). Or for those who prefer a softer touch there is the fun nod to evolution, “I’m a Smart Monkey.”

Besides t-shirts, gifts such as coffee mugs and teddy bears are also available. Each product has been carefully designed to reinforce the message in the text.

Message tees are a time-honored outlet of self-expression, and Agnostees.com continues this tradition in a way that encourages skepticism, critical thinking, and humor. Primarily the t-shirts offer a simple way for agnostics, atheists, and humanists to show their refusal to be disenfranchised and silenced.

Agnostees.com strives to maintain quality products and deliver quality messages to the world. For more information visit agnostees.com or email us at info@agnostees.com.

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October 25, 2008

Alaskan Ashamed of Sarah Palin

Municipality of AnchorageImage via WikipediaI was born in Alaska, but my family left the state before my first birthday. I haven't returned yet, but I really hope to do so one of these days. In fact, it is one of the few remaining areas of the U.S. that I would really like to explore. Almost everything I know of Alaska makes me think I would like it very much. And then there is the Alaska of Sarah Palin. I've been wondering how much resemblance Palin's Alaska has to the real thing. Thus, I am grateful to a reader for sending me a fascinating reaction to Palin from an Alaskan: That Sarah Palin is One Unreal Alaskan. It is a good read, and suggests that Palin's Alaska gives us a misleading picture of the real thing.

The part I found most interesting was the idea that many people in Alaska find themselves in positions for which they are not qualified. Evidently, Palin is far from unique in this regard. Still, the author insists that it would be a mistake to allow her to get anywhere near the presidency.

On the surface, this may seem to be little more than someone else making the widely accepted claim that Palin is not qualified for national politics. However, the author of this article brings a unique perspective and one that deserves a wider audience.

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October 24, 2008

The Myth of Fundamentalist Atheism is Alive and Well

Symbol of Humanism, white and golden version.Image via WikipediaThere is no such thing as "fundamentalist atheism." Those who use the label misunderstand the meaning of fundamentalism. It is not a synonym for close-mindedness, but a construct with meaning that renders it inapplicable to atheism. Unfortunately, the Institute for Humanist Studies does not appear to realize this. In a recent article by Doug Thomas, we see the myth of "fundamentalist atheism" being propagated yet again. As tiresome as this mistake is when it comes from the religious, it is far more discouraging to see it coming from within the secular community.

Once we understand what fundamentalism is, it becomes quite obvious that there can be no such thing as fundamentalist atheism. Simply put, there is no doctrine involved in atheism. We can certainly acknowledge that there can be close-minded atheists, atheist activists, and perhaps even atheist extremists. The meaning of fundamentalism, however, precludes application to atheists.

There are far too many misconceptions about atheism out there, and it takes quite a bit of effort to correct them. I would sincerely hope that the Institute for Humanist Studies would avoid spreading erroneous information about atheism.

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October 23, 2008

Helping New Atheist Bloggers: Tips To Get Started

I really enjoy helping new atheist bloggers strengthen their blogs and attract readers. I suppose I see it as a way for me to give back to the community that continues to inspire me. I don't claim to be an expert in blogging, but I have made plenty of mistakes that I have learned from and can help others avoid. In this post, I'll assemble some of my previous tips in one place to help newbies discover some of the more important initial strategies.

In organizing the following tips, I am going to assume that you have a relatively new atheist blog and that you are interested in building your readership. Away we go!

Now you are well on your way to establishing yourself as a force in the atheist blogosphere. I like writing posts on blogging tips and do so fairly often. To make sure you don't miss any, subscribe to my feed below.

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October 22, 2008

If You Could Believe Again, Would You?

Christian Bible, rosary, and crucifix.Image via WikipediaI have a question is for my atheist readers who were raised in the Christian religion and who once believed in it. In a recent comment in response to my post on miracles, a reader (Melissa) said that she would gladly return to Christianity if she thought she could do so. Since I disagreed, I thought I'd ask whether this was a common desire among ex-Christian atheists. That is, if you could go back to believing in Christianity again, would you do so? Why or why not?

My answer is that I would not choose to return to Christianity. As for why, I suppose the easiest way to explain it is that I have find my post-Christian life to be so much more intellectually rewarding than my Christian life. There are so many other reasons about which I could go on and on, but that one seems as important as any. There is something so much more genuine about facing the world as it truly is, free from the trappings of superstition.

I would not deny that some things were easier about being a Christian. As Melissa put it,
Honestly, if I could successfully lie to myself start believing in God, I would in a heartbeat. It makes life so much easier to believe that someone is watching over us and helping us along the way, but its just not the case. Life runs its own course and you make your own decisions in life. Its called responsibility.
In many ways, accepting the delusion of supernatural oversight is reassuring. Moreover, I must admit that the idea of being accepted (even falsely) rather than demonized sounds good at times. Still, if I thought I could convince myself to believe again, would not do so. How about you?

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October 21, 2008

Memed: Becoming An Atheist

NYC - Greenwich Village: The Bitter EndImage by wallyg via FlickrThe Atheist Jew tagged me with a recent blog meme going around: Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist? At first glance, I thought it seemed interesting and decided to play. You can find my responses to the various questions below. Having answered them, I am now of the opinion that this meme probably needs to be put to bed, so I not going to tag anybody else with it. The questions just don't make sense and convey a lack of understanding about what atheism is and how it is experienced.

Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?

Well, like all other humans throughout the course of history, I was born an atheist. However, like many unfortunates, I was indoctrinated into Christianity and became...(gasp)...deluded. So when did I actually begin to identify as an atheist? I have to assume that this is the question since there is nothing "official" about becoming an atheist.

I cannot recall anything close to the exact date. I believe I would have been approximately 16-17 at the time. I'd been agnostic for a couple years before this point, but reading the Christian bible and Bertrand Russell's Why I am Not a Christian helped me realize that religion was worse than implausible and provided me with a name for what I would slowly begin to embrace.

Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?

I did have a period of agnosticism (as the word is often used) in between Christianity and atheism. Obviously, nothing about it was official in any way, shape, or form. It emerged very gradually, starting at about age 14 and turning into atheism a couple years later.

For reasons I have previously articulated, I think that agnosticism is nothing more than a socially acceptable name for atheism based on a misunderstanding of what atheism means. That is, an agnostic is an atheist who does not like the connotations "atheist" has come to carry.

How about the last time you spoke or prayed to God with actual thought that someone was listening?

This is truly a guess, but I'd say no later than age 12-13.

Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?

Ah, it looks like a Christian must have started this meme! How can anger toward something that doesn't exist cause one to believe that it doesn't exist? Talk about reductio ad absurdum! Anger toward religion or various fictional entities had nothing to do with it. Not even anger toward believers was initially a factor. This wouldn't be on my radar for at least a few years.

Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?

No, I continued to believe in ghosts for roughly a year after I begin to identify as an atheist. Currently, my lack of belief in ghosts has nothing whatsoever to do with atheism. It is about science and about my understanding of the human brain.

Do you want to be wrong?

Wrong about what exactly? Do I wish that something like the god described in the Christian bible existed? Absolutely not! What a vile creature these early Christians conjured up to scare their children!

I'd like to be wrong about ghosts. I wish that ghosts existed. How cool would it be to be able to haunt people in some sort of afterlife? But no, I do not seriously entertain thoughts of wanting to be wrong about any of this supernatural nonsense.

Since I don't find this particular meme worth propagating, I'm not going to tag anybody. If you want to answer these questions for yourself, feel free to do so.

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October 20, 2008

Blogging Tip #12: Keeping Track of New Blogs

tracks (DSC08025)Image by indieink via FlickrNew blogs can be a great source of inspiration for any blogger. As the Atheist Blogroll continues to grow, it is becoming harder and harder to keep up with all the new blogs. What a nice problem to have! I suspect that we all have our preferred means of doing so, but I'm going to share mine just in case anyone finds it useful. I should also mention that I found myself thinking about this thanks to running across a new blog called Separate Spectrum.

In a nutshell, my method for tracking new blogs is as follows:
  • When a new blog comes to my attention that sounds interesting, I pay it a visit right away if I have time. If I'm running short on time, I often bookmark it via delicious so I will know to check it out when I have time.
  • When I visit the new blog for the first time, I read a couple recent posts and skim the titles of previous posts to see the sort of material the blogger addresses. I look for an "about" link or an introductory post - something that explains the blogger's vision for their blog. If something catches my attention (e.g., excellent writing, interesting topics I'm not seeing on dozens of other blogs, or anything else to make this blog stand out among the countless others I read), I subscribe to the blog's RSS feed by including it in a "Atheist Blogs (New)" folder I keep in my aggregator.
  • I generally keep blog feeds in my "Atheist Blogs (New)" folder for up to one month. If I've been reading them regularly, I promote them to my primary "Atheist Blogs" folder. If not, I hit the delete key or move them to one of my many second tier organization folders.
  • I make sure that all blogs I am reading regularly appear on my main blogroll since those on the sidebar of my main page are intended only to provide readers with an example of what I've been reading lately (i.e., I change what is included here frequently in order to feature whatever I want to feature at the moment).
Separate Spectrum caught my attention right away because it is a team blog focusing on everyday sorts of beliefs and experiences through a "non-religious, humanistic, grass roots, all accepting" lens. I thought that sounded like something worth checking out. Oh, and they linked to me too (funny how that seems to make blogs more attractive, isn't it?). I just added them to my RSS aggregator.

How do you discover and track new blogs? I'm always eager to learn new methods.

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October 19, 2008

Stakes Too High Not To Vote

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night LiveImage by feastoffools via FlickrI know some of my non-American readers are tiring of all the political coverage lately. I am trying to be sensitive to that, and I'm also starting to tire of writing so much of it. Believe me, if I didn't think the stakes were so high, I'd not be doing it so often. And speaking of high stakes, a reader sent me a link written by a friend to see if I might be willing to post it. I think it has a good message for those of us in the reality-based community, and you can't argue with a title like "Gramps/MILF '08."

Gov. Sarah Palin was a good sport to appear on SNL, but that does not begin to change my feelings about what a McCain/Palin administration would mean for the U.S. Obama may be far too right-leaning for my taste, but at least he strikes me as competent and relatively level-headed. These days, that sounds pretty damn good!

Atheists cannot afford to sit this one out. We need to vote our secular values. The alternative is...well...completely unacceptable.

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Americans United Asks IRS To Investigate Arkansas Church For Political Endorsement

IRS building on Constitution Avenue in Washing...Image via WikipediaA handful of American churches have made it clear that they have no interest in adhering to federal tax laws that prohibit them from endorsing political candidates. Now it looks like we have another case of a church, this time in Arkansas, violating the law to endorse McCain-Palin. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is asking the IRS to look into the matter, and I applaud their efforts as a church-state watchdog. The Americans United press release is included below.

Americans United Asks IRS To Investigate Arkansas Church For Political Endorsement

Church-State Watchdog Group Says Pastor Violated Federal Tax Law With Call To Vote For McCain

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate an Arkansas church whose pastor endorsed John McCain from the pulpit Oct. 12.

According to a report in the Associated Press, Bishop Robert Smith of Word of Outreach Christian Center in Little Rock told congregants, “I will be voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin.”

Smith later admitted that he took this action fully aware that federal tax law prohibits houses of worship from opposing or endorsing candidates. He told the Associated Press, “It’s about principle. I wouldn’t care if it’s my mother. If she isn’t for life or for heterosexual relationships, I wouldn’t vote for my momma.”

Smith’s violation of the law was part of a larger effort coordinated by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Religious Right legal group. The ADF sponsored a so-called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” Sept. 28 during which pastors were urged to violate federal tax law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. Smith had planned to take part in that event but was out of town at the time.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, urged the IRS to act swiftly in this case.

“Bishop Smith knowingly and flagrantly violated the law and has even dared the IRS to investigate him for it,” Lynn said. “I hope the federal tax agency promptly takes him up on that.”

Lynn noted that recent public-opinion polls have shown widespread opposition to pulpit politicking. He criticized Religious Right groups for pushing this crusade.

“The ADF and groups like it are trying to divert America’s churches away from spiritual matters and turn them into faith-based political action committees,” Lynn said. “It’s a mistake, and the effort deserves to fail.”

* * * *

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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October 18, 2008

"Class Warfare" and Republican Morality

McCain's horror handImage by sloomis08 via FlickrWhen Sen. John McCain raised the spectre of "class warfare" during the third and final presidential debate, I was more than a little surprised. This seemed more like a throwback to the Republican campaigns of long ago rather than the reformer persona McCain seems determined to sell to the American people. Accusing Sen. Barack Obama of "class warfare," based on a tax plan that benefits the overwhelming majority of the American people, may seem bizarre on the surface but is actually rooted in one of the central tenets of Republican morality.

As atheists, we understand political calculations all too well. We see politician after politician ignore our voice because of our numbers and/or lack of effective organization. We tell ourselves that the 16% of religiously unaffiliated Americans are of sufficient size that no sane politician could ignore us if we could just manage to come together.

Why then, would a presidential candidate intentionally campaign on an economic policy that benefits only 5% of the American population? If 16% is too great a segment to be ignored, how can McCain possibly attack Obama for trying to benefit 95% of the people? The answer may not be simple, but it is important to understand.

First, there is the moral issue. Specifically, many Republicans believe that it is immoral to provide anyone with goods or services they have not earned (i.e., "handouts"). How can this be, especially when it seems to fly in the face of much of the material attributed to Jesus in the Christian bible? From the Republican mindset, the provision of such aid is harmful - not merely to those who must pay for it but also to those who receive it. You see, many Republicans believe that government assistance rewards sloth and undermines the sort of self-discipline we should be encouraging.

I am sure that there are at least some Republicans who operate primarily out of a selfish refusal to share, but I am convinced that the majority really believes that cutting government assistance programs is good for people. Such Republicans view the Democrats as immoral not simply for wasting funds but also for fostering dependency.

Second, there is the issue of a politician's self-interest. Like all politicians, Sen. McCain knows who is financing his campaign. He understands that the large corporations who contribute expect that he will help their business by continuing to push deregulation (even as we are paying a massive price) and tax breaks. Because his policies, at least the economic ones, are massively unpopular with the voters, he cannot count on the sort of private contributions Obama is receiving. He needs the corporations and does what he has to do to line up their support.

To be clear, both the major American political parties play this game. Both need to be weaned from the lobbyist teat, but we all know that this is an uphill battle. Both parties bitterly resist meaningful campaign finance reform, and neither is willing to eject the corporate lobbyists.

The third and final factor I'd like to address is that of deception. The Republican party realized long ago that campaigning to benefit only the wealthiest Americans would not go over well with the voters. This led them to religion and a variety of religiously-driven wedge issues (e.g., abortion, gay marriage, etc.). By appealing to the basest human prejudices, they have been able to convince large numbers of Americans to vote against their own economic self-interest.

This is precisely where screams of "class warfare," "redistribution of wealth," and the like fit in. Republicans know that Obama's tax plan would be good for 95% of Americans. Thus, they must deceive the voters by using emotionally-charged phrases to distract, confuse, and enrage the very people who would be better off under Obama's plan.

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Atheist Blogroll Hits 800

If you had asked me only 3 years ago whether I thought that there would be 800+ atheist blogs within 3 years time, I would have laughed it off as very unlikely. I would have been wrong. Mojoey of Deep Thoughts and Atheist Blogroll fame just announced that the venerable blogroll added member #800. Congratulations to Mojoey for all his hard work with this important project and to all of you atheist bloggers who have been helping to promote atheism and the Atheist Blogroll.

October 17, 2008

What Would You Do For $10,000?

A contract is an exchange of promises between ...Image via WikipediaImagine that you are contacted by a nice Christian couple who extends an interesting offer - live with their family for the summer at no cost to you, and they will pay you $10,000. Of course, they want to expose you to "true Christianity," but if you stick it out for the summer, $10,000 is yours. It can be fun to ponder over hypothetical situations like this, but what if it wasn't so hypothetical? Would you believe that Friendly Atheist has received just such an offer? Would you do it?

Assume for a minute that the family was willing to sign a legally binding contract to make sure that you knew you would actually receive the money at the end of three months. This should relieve any concern about fraud. Also assume that you could write a book about your experience afterward. I expect it would sell well too, because that would be an interesting set-up.

The scenario reminds me of 30 Days, except that three months is quite a bit longer than 30 days. Viewed through that lens, it sounds like it might be a neat experience. Then again, I assume that most readers will have grown up in Christian households and had the opportunity to know many Christian families over the course of their lives. Why would this one necessarily be more interesting, more authentically Christian, etc.?

Still, what do you think? Would you go for it or turn down the $10,000?

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October 16, 2008

Palin Spends Taxpayer Money to Promote Religion

Alaska Governor Sarah PalinImage via WikipediaThe American media sure does love them some Sarah Palin! Since she emerged on the scene, she has been receiving more coverage than all other candidates combined. Amidst all the buzz over the recent "Troopergate" findings showing that she did in fact abuse the power of her office, there is another story receiving far less attention but which my atheist readers are likely to find particularly interesting. The Associated Press is reporting that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been spending taxpayer money to promote religion. So much for separation of church and state in Alaska! I suppose we can add this to the growing list of reasons for Americans who value the Constitution to vote against the Palin ticket (in case abusing her power as governor is not sufficient).

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