January 31, 2009

Super Bowl 43: Faith on Display in NFL

Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am not a sports nut by any means, but I do watch quite a bit of American football and consider myself a fan of the sport. I have always been fascinated by the common practice of football teams praying for victory, mostly because it means that they are asking their god for the defeat of another team who is simultaneously asking the same god for victory. Thus, I was happy that a reader sent me a timely story from The Kansas City Star addressing the role of Christian faith in the NFL. I have previously commented on the absurdity of sports teams praying for victory over their opponents, and it is good to have an excuse to revisit the subject.

In the article, Arizona Cardinals quarterback, Curt Warner, is described as "the NFL's most outspoken Christian." I haven't followed Warner's career or even the NFL in general enough to be able to evaluate such a statement. However, Warner comes across sounding like enough of a moron in the article that I'll go along with the claim.

Unfortunately, Warner is hardly alone in needing to share his religious delusion with others.

As players increasingly use the field and priceless TV time as platforms to extol their faith, fans either roll their eyes or feel inspired to jump behind teams they’d otherwise ignore.
You can count me among the eye rollers. I tend to watch more college football than professional, and the announcers constant fawning over Tim Tebow's Christian faith was a frequent source of annoyance, sufficient to get me to turn off the BCS championship before it was over.

What's even worse is that one cannot simply hope the Steelers beat the Cardinals because Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sounds like another Jesus freak. Whichever team wins the game, zombie Jesus wins.

Both teams will grovel before zombie Jesus, begging for a win (and the loss of the other team). The wining team will give thanks to zombie Jesus for assisting them. The loser will blame themselves and bitterly resent any suggestion that zombie Jesus let them down. After all, "god works in mysterious ways" and "it is all part of god's plan."

Meanwhile, millions of Americans will not find anything troubling about this whatsoever. And that really is the kicker, isn't it?

So what is anyone who is disgusted with all the public displays of faith to do? I suppose we can always turn off the TV. Of course, then we would miss the inevitable Super Bowl miracle.

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What Do You Make of Blagojevich?

Official congressional portrait of former cong...Image via Wikipedia
It is often said that there is a fine line between genius and madness. Since tapes of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich surfaced in which he was clearly heard trying to line his pockets with the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama, I've been wondering which side of this line he occupies. He ignored the protests of the Senate and went ahead with his appointment of Burris, and he has continued to deny what we have all heard quite clearly on the tapes. He says that the entire context is necessary before we will be able to appreciate what he was doing. This reminds me of Bush saying that he will be judged positively by history. But Blagojevich also stuck it to the Senate in an impressive way, getting Senate leaders on record saying that there was no way they would approve Burris and then getting them to do so anyway.

Now that the Illinois Senate voted unanimously to impeach Gov. Blagojevich, the story might slowly fade away. At least, it might if Blagojevich was willing to allow it to do so. He has a story to tell, and he wants everyone to hear it.

After watching a few of the interviews he gave during his recent media blitz, I'm still not sure. Is he a gifted a highly skilled politician at the top of his game, or a deluded nutjob? Perhaps he's both. In any case, his is a fascinating story, and I don't think I'll ever tire of admiring that hair helmet.

H/Ts to Library Grape and Think Progress

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January 30, 2009

Insights for New Atheists at Exsisto Sane

Criticism of atheismImage via Wikipedia

Exsisto Sane has started a great series, "Insights for new Atheists," in which tips will be shared for those just beginning to identify themselves as atheists. I think this is a great idea. By normalizing some of the common experiences of those new to atheism and sharing strategies for handling various situations, we can be a valuable resource. I just wish I had thought of it first!

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January 29, 2009

Overcoming Obstacles to Atheist-Theist Dialogue

keep religion out of schools & governmentImage by clemente via FlickrI think that it would be as much of a mistake for atheists to refuse to interact with religious believers as it would for believers to do the same with regard to atheists. Walling ourselves off from those who believe differently tends to be counterproductive, fostering ignorance and hostility. There is much to be gained from atheist-theist dialogue. One useful approach for encouraging such dialogue involves helping both sides approach each other more effectively, avoiding mistakes which are likely to be especially aversive to one another.

Proud Atheists has a great post on this topic in which he provides Christians with a list of what they should know when interacting with atheists. I believe that this is a productive exercise because many of the items on the list are precisely those things that will lead many atheists to end a conversation and decide that it is pointless.

I will leave it to Christians to compose a similar list of things that we atheists should know when interacting with them, but I will take the liberty to offer a few suggestions for their list:
  • Not all Christians are fundamentalists, evangelicals, Republicans, biblical literalists, creationists, or extremists.
  • Many Christians value science, reason, and critical thinking.
  • Not all Christians despise atheists. Some are genuinely curious, and others consider others' religion none of their business.
  • Some Christians are fierce advocates of church-state separation, reality-based science education, and the like.
  • Many Christians are perfectly content to live their own lives as they see fit and not attempt to legislate their beliefs or push their particular view of morality on others.
I'm sure there are others. The point is that there is misunderstanding and obstacles to be overcome on both sides. I suspect that atheists would find useful allies among some religious believers if we tried.

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January 28, 2009

Christian Morality: Belief Over Behavior

Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Christianity is quite diverse, with many different sects holding what are sometimes very different beliefs. In this post on Christian morality, I'd like to focus on the group of Christians who describe themselves as "born again" or "saved." We might refer to them as evangelical fundamentalist Christians. I'd like to examine the core of their view of morality and consider some interesting implications of holding such a view.

I believe that the essence of morality for this group of Christians can be effectively summarized as follows: How one behaves is less important than what one believes.

First, the group of Christians to which I am referring here frequently preaches that the path to salvation lies in belief rather than in deeds. Good deeds are encouraged too. I am not denying this. However, the key to salvation is assumed to lie through accepting Jesus into one's life (i.e., belief).

Second, we see these Christians willing to forgive even the most despicable acts as long as one ceases the bad behavior and embraces the belief system. Stopping the bad behavior alone is insufficient; the belief is necessary in order to receive forgiveness.

Third, these Christians insist that even the best behaved atheist imaginable is bound for hell. Without the belief, the number of positive acts matters little to the god of such Christians. Unlike Santa Claus, who is depicted as keeping track of good deeds and bad deeds, the god of the "born again" Christians cares less about deeds than about beliefs.

Finally, and this may be the most difficult to grasp, these Christians have elevated thought to the level of behavior. That is, impure thoughts are not distinguished from impure acts. Cursing one's god in one's mind is equally bad as doing so aloud. Again, this helps to elevate belief to the highest level.

Some of the implications of this sort of morality:

  • The incentive to behave well is weakened by the "get out of sin free" card such Christians believe they can obtain from belief. Regardless of one's bad acts, all will be forgiven if one ceases to engage in the bad acts and accepts Jesus as one's savior.
  • Because there is no valid way to determine the sincerity of one's professed beliefs, these Christians are highly vulnerable to exploitation. Perhaps this has something to do with the number and type of crimes committed by their clergy.
  • The system is structured to maintain belief, even at the expense of good behavior. Is it any wonder why the belief system is so resistant to change?
It is not my intention in this post to argue that any particular form of secular morality is superior to the morality of "born again" Christians I describe here. However, I think it should be apparent that this version of morality, one where belief has primacy over behavior, is seriously flawed.

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January 27, 2009

Believe As I Do Or Burn

Zombies as portrayed in the movie Night of the...Image via WikipediaThis is a fun follow-up to my recent post about motives for door-to-door proselytizing and an excuse to fire up my new scanner. I've told you many times about how much I despise it and the measures I have taken to prevent it, including a large "no soliciting" sign in my front yard and a no proselytizing decal near my door. These methods have been very effective at reducing the unwelcome knocks on my door, but that does not mean that visitors manage to refrain from leaving debris behind.

Imagine my surprise when I found this business card n my flower bed, approximately 8 inches from the base of the "no soliciting" sign!


Pretty damn cool, isn't it? Someone thought that this threat might help convert me to his or her belief system. Fascinating!

The back of the card was blank. No phone number, no church name, no way of contacting the poor sod who left it behind to ask him or her how best to begin groveling at the feet of an imaginary deity.

Heck, I don't even know how I am supposed to accept Jesus as anything. Even if he was not merely a mythical figure as I suspect, he would be quite fully decomposed by now unless...no, that would make him a zombie. I may be crazy, but I'm certainly not zombie-worshiping crazy!

I guess I'll have to face him later if that is my only other choice. I have no idea how to make myself believe something I know to be false. If that means I have to wrestle a zombie, I guess I'll have to take my chances.

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January 26, 2009

Help Test an Age Guessing Game

A typical front-end web developer's workstatio...Image via WikipediaHave you ever been told that you look younger or older than your chronological age? A web developer e-mailed me to see if I'd be willing to send some traffic his way to help him test a picture age guessing game he's working on. The program displays a photograph and asks users to guess the age of the person pictured. Once you guess, you get to see both how far off you were and the average of all guesses. I've always been terrible at guessing ages, and this just confirms it. You can check it out here.

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January 25, 2009

Obama's Acknowledgment of Nonbelievers is a Start

the 44th President of the United States...Bara...Image by jmtimages via FlickrPresident Obama's mention of nonbelievers in his inaugural address did not go without notice by the media. Bloc Raisonneur did a great job of cataloging the initial reactions for us. Not surprisingly, the atheist blogosphere has had quite a bit to say about Obama's address. The consensus, at least from what I have read, appears to be fairly positive. At the very least, I think we can agree that it was nice to hear President Obama acknowledge nonbelievers in his address. Where opinions diverge a bit is on whether this was merely a nice gesture or a sign of a meaningful change in the manner in which the U.S. president regards atheists.

I tend to agree with Austin Cline when he says, "Frankly, I'm not at all impressed by this for several reasons and I don't think that other atheists should make a big deal out of it either." It was nice to hear him acknowledge nonbelievers, but I do not believe that it represents a significant change in attitude.

As Austin suggested, Obama's acknowledgment says more about the pitiful status of atheists in America than it does about Obama.
The refusal of so many to even acknowledge that atheists exist, never mind acknowledge that atheists are equal citizens whose views should be taken into consideration, demonstrates just how deep and strong the animus towards atheists is in American society.
Mentioning nonbelievers was certainly a step forward, but it was a first step at the beginning of a marathon. There is another critical step that must be taken, a much larger step that would really signal a change of attitude. In order to facilitate this next step, I hope you will join me in sending a version of Atheist Ethicist's letter to President Obama.

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Carnival of the Godless at Reduce to Common Sense

Carnival in Saint Petersburg, RussiaImage via WikipediaIt is once again time for our favorite blog carnival, so head over to Reduce to Common Sense to check out the 109th edition of Carnival of the Godless. As our host says, blog carnivals are a great way for the little guys to get some traffic. Whether you are contributing or hosting, participating in these carnivals is good for your blog.

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January 24, 2009

Addressing Anti-Atheist Bigotry: Emptying the Ocean With a Bucket

Highlands, North CarolinaImage via WikipediaI started to write this post in the Atheist Defense Network group at Atheist Nexus but decided to post it here instead. Do you ever feel thoroughly overwhelmed with how much work we atheists have before us with regard to anti-atheist bigotry? That's how I am feeling at the moment. I'm sure it will pass, but I cannot help feeling a bit discouraged as I think back over 2008 and even what I've seen so far in 2009.

While finishing a recent post about Tyson, the Indiana library patron who is being retaliated against simply for questioning the appropriateness of a nativity scene in his local public library, I started to think about the broader experience of atheists in America. Many images flashed before my eyes. In 2008 alone,
  • Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) launched a bigoted tirade against atheist activist Rob Sherman, telling him that it was dangerous for children to even know of the existence of atheism. Despite the public nature of her outburst (during the General Assembly), some media attention, and calls for her resignation, Rep. Davis faced no consequences. She merely delivered the sort of non-apologetic apology to Sherman that we have become used to seeing from bigots and resumed business as usual. Calls for a pubic apology were ignored.
  • Christian schools were given free reign to discriminate against students suspected of being lesbians. In fact, it was deemed acceptable for such schools to remove students at will for "immoral or scandalous behavior that contradicts Christian values."
  • Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-North Carolina) utilized blatant anti-atheist bigotry during her campaign against opponent Kay Hagan. Although Dole was ultimately defeated, the mainstream media largely ignored the bigoted nature of her strategy of painting Hagan as an atheist. In short, the whole debacle provided other politicians with little reason not to make anti-atheist bigotry a campaign strategy.
  • California passed Proposition 8, rolling back previously granted civil rights to GLBT residents. They were able to do this because of a highly organized and well-funded effort by Christian extremist communities. Once again, media coverage largely ignored the religiously-motivated bigotry.
Many things did go well this year, but I am also realizing just how far we still have to go to realize atheist equality. I long for the day when bigotry directed at atheists is considered no more acceptable than that directed at women or minorities. Until that day, I will keep trying to make a difference. I will have periods of frustration and doubt, but I will persevere. I owe future generations of atheists than much.

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January 23, 2009

Friendly Atheist's Blankets of Christ Dilemma

msskyImage by vjack via FlickrFriendly Atheist is one of the many atheist blogs I read regularly. I have tons of respect for Hemant, even though I don't agree with everything he says. Hell, I probably enjoy reading his blog so much because I don't agree with everything he says! In a recent post, he asks an excellent and thought-provoking question for readers to ponder. I immediately realized that my response would be too long for a comment, so I'm responding in this post.

Framed as an ethical dilemma, Friendly Atheist presents us with the following:
Let’s say atheists begin a similar kind of store… called “Blankets of Christ” (or whatever). The blankets are blessed by ordained ministers (Humanist ones, of course, though we wouldn’t mention that) and sold for profit. Anyone who buys the blankets, thinking they are getting closer to God, are thrilled. They have no idea there’s nothing holy about them. Money begins to roll in.

But.

All profits are donated to a good charity.

Would you support the Blankets for Christ store?
Anything which qualifies as an ethical dilemma cannot have an easy answer, and I believe that there are indeed two valid but opposing responses to this question. On one hand, we might say "absolutely not" on the grounds that this would be untruthful, manipulative, or that it would perpetuate religious belief by reinforcing it (i.e., spreading the myth that objects which have been blessed are in any way different from those which have not). On the other hand, we might say "sure" on the grounds that money would be raised for a worthy charity, that Christians buy this sort of crap all the time anyway, etc.

Those who say "no" might regard those who say "yes" at dishonest. Those who say "yes" might consider those who say "no" naive. Both would have valid points, and I believe that this does indeed qualify as a dilemma.

In considering how I would respond, I'd try to boil the issue down to the core issue: how would I balance the benefit of supporting a worthy charity with the cost of feeding religious delusion. For me at least, this would be the critical test. I am not swayed by the arguments pertaining to honesty and manipulation because this is how all advertising works. That is, advertising is based on the goal of convincing people that they need something which they do not really need. On the other side, I am not particularly swayed by the argument that Christians already fall prey to this sort of thing. This seems like an argument that could be used to justify all manner of idiocy.

In order to resolve the dilemma, I would weigh the benefit to the charity with the cost of contributing to the religious delusion. Because I believe that the costs associated with contributing to religious delusion are quite high, I would lean in the direction of answering "no." However, I would recognize that such a response would become less likely as the benefit to the charity increased. I can imagine a threshold where the benefit to the charity could be so great that it would be worth answering "yes." And this is precisely what makes this such an intriguing question.

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January 22, 2009

In Defense of Congressman Diaz-Balart

{{w|Lincoln Diaz-Balart}}, member of the Unite...Image via WikipediaI have a feeling I'll be in a very small minority with this post, but here goes. This is probably not what you were expecting from me, particularly with my known distaste for anti-atheist bigotry and past efforts opposing it. No need to worry. I have not lost my mind (although if I did, I might not realize it), and I remain steadfast in my opposition to bigotry, including anti-atheist bigotry. It is just that in the case of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida's 2nd District, I'm not so sure that we are witnessing bigotry.

Rep. Diaz-Balart, the former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party, sparked outrage in the atheist blogosphere and has been labeled "an anti-atheist bigot" by more than one blogger. If Rep. Diaz-Balart is indeed a bigot, such outrage is well placed.

The precipitant of the outrage was the following statement from Diaz-Balart made in reference to the Divine Performing Arts show:
I was very moved by the song that talked about the damage that atheism has caused and is causing. It was very moving, but all of the performances were moving, uplifting; they teach us about the eternal nature of mankind and of how we have to be humble.

The songs carry the sense that evil will not prevail, and so the message is that the truth ultimately prevails. It is extraordinarily uplifting and I am so happy to be here.
This statement has been widely interpreted as suggesting that Rep. Diaz-Balart views atheism as "damaging" and "evil." I do not disagree with this interpretation. This appears to be precisely what he thinks. I'm still not sure he's a bigot.

Suppose I were to say the following:
Christianity has resulted in considerable damage to society and continues to cause great damage to our world.

Christianity is evil, and I hope that the truth ultimately prevails.
I have deliberately made both statements a bit more direct than what Rep. Diaz-Balart said to remove any ambiguity. The first reflects something I not only believe but have said here repeatedly. The second is not something I have said or would say without first replacing the word "evil" with something like "harmful" or "destructive." Does this make me a bigot?

Even if I loudly proclaimed both of the above statements about Christianity as reflecting my beliefs, this would not make me a bigot. Why? Because bigotry involves people and not simply their beliefs about the world.

Here are some examples of bigotry:
Bigotry requires both a falsehood and an unwarranted generalization about people. Rep. Diaz-Balart is not even referring to people but to an -ism. To be guilty of bigotry, he'd have to say that atheists are evil for being atheists. I suppose one could infer that this was his intent, but I'd rather deal with what he said rather than what I think he might have meant by it.

Believe me when I say that defending Rep. Diaz-Balart is not something I particularly enjoy. Still, I think that we need to be very careful about what we label bigotry if we want to have any impact.

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January 21, 2009

Motives for Door-to-Door Proselytizing

Trap-door.
Trap-door. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Long-time readers will know that door-to-door proselytizing is one of my pet peeves. It is a subject I have addressed here many times, including descriptions of means of deterrence I'm using. As much as I detest it, I admit finding the phenomenon quite fascinating. I think this is because it is difficult for me to comprehend how an adult could become convinced that anyone has not already heard their Jesus drivel repeatedly. A Christian, Daniel, recently left an intriguing comment on a post I wrote on Christians witnessing to atheists back in June of 2008. I am now wondering if proselytizing may be associated some sort of impulse control problem.

Here is Daniel's entire unedited comment:

Nobody likes it when you show up at their door. I get mormons and JWs just like everyone. I dont need points so thats not why I do it. My religion does tell me to, but thats not my primary motivation either. I respect your beliefs and recognize the strength one must have to get through this life unassisted. However, I just cant keep it to myself though you wish I would. Since people like me absolutely have to anyway, I will keep your don't do list in mind( except for the "dont do it" part) He can do many things for you Shawn. I am living proof. I have a question for you: Do you really find fulfillment in any of these things on Earth? I have done every drug and almost every other self-satisfying thing you can imagine. All it left me with was emptyness. If you really are truly satisfied and fulfilled, and have reached the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, then I can't do anything for you. I would still be your friend, but wouldn't waste my time on telling you stuff you don't want to hear. It takes a stronger person than me to be an atheist, and I respect that. I used to think of atheist as like free-agents in pro sports, but your post makes sense in that you have thought it over and chosen atheist, instead of just being atheists by default. Do you guys vote for Obama mostly? Is that a dumb question?
I'd like to set aside the last bit about about Obama and focus on the portions relevant to proselytizing. Daniel acknowledges that it is annoying when someone shows up at his door to proselytize. He does not enjoy hearing from Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses either. And yet, Daniel himself engages in door-to-door proselytizing.

How does he justify doing something that he knows others dislike? He denies that it is about the magic Jesus points or even because his religion tells him to do so (although he acknowledges that it does). Rather Daniel says, "...I just cant keep it to myself..." (sic). When it comes to proselytizing, Daniel just can't help it.

Of course, I am not seriously suggesting that Christian evangelicals have any sort of impulse control disorder. Proselytizing is a voluntary behavior which these individuals, including Daniel are perfectly capable of controlling. I do not for a minute think that Daniel intends to claim that he cannot regulate his own behavior in this regard.

From his comment, it sounds to me like Daniel searched for fulfillment in many unproductive places before finding the solace of religion. Now that he has done so, he feels tremendously better and wants to share his experience with others in the hope that it might help them. I do understand this urge and can think of secular versions that I have experienced personally. In this way, I can relate to Daniel's experience.

Sadly, Daniel does not regard himself as strong enough to face life free from delusion. Not knowing him, I'm in no position to say that he's wrong about this. Perhaps he will be so someday. I suspect there are many Christians out there who feel the same way.

The thing is, whether we focus on Daniel's proselytizing or an analogous secular scenario, it is exceedingly difficult to help someone who does not want to be helped. By showing up on their doorstep to preach at them, all one really accomplishes is making them less likely to seriously consider one's message.

I appreciate that Daniel says he respects my beliefs, but I would rather he mock my beliefs and instead respect my person, my property, my privacy, and my stated desire not to be bothered by evangelists at my door.

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January 20, 2009

Welcome, President Obama!

Joe Biden presidential campaign, 2008Image via WikipediaThe Christian god may hate President Obama, but at least Obama will benefit from the magic oil rubbed on his door by extraordinarily delusional Christians. As for me, I happily welcome Obama's arrival to the office of the presidency. True, my support for him has wavered around the poor judgment he exhibited over the Rick Warren selection, but I sincerely hope that he can undo much of the damage Bush did to the U.S. I am not going to agree with everything Obama does or says, and I will continue to be as sharp in my criticism as I believe is warranted. However, I am convinced that Obama will be a massive improvement over Bush. Only time will tell if he is truly up to the challenge.

I think what I most like about Obama is that he appears to be a genuinely intelligent guy who seems comfortable with who he is and the position he now holds. It is debatable whether Bush was in fact a moron, but it is undeniable that he played one exceptionally well. He never seemed comfortable in office, probably because he accepted an ideology stressing the evils of government. It never ceases to baffle me why those who truly believe that government is the problem would want any part of it.

With Obama, we have someone who has shown both intellect and idealism. He appears comfortable thinking, and this will be a refreshing change from his predecessor. Now we will see whether he can effectively translate his idealism into policy and action. Whatever idealism Bush may have had was so bogged down with ideology that it seemed to hogtie him rather thoroughly. Combined with his distaste for self-reflection, unwillingness to hear criticism, and other character flaws, he was doomed from the start.

My hope for Obama is that he will be an effective problem solver. This means that he must be willing to correct his approach on the fly when the data indicate it is not working. Some of the challenges he faces are almost beyond comprehension, and there is no way that he will get everything right the first time. What matters is his willingness to adapt, modifying his approach as necessary. If he can do that, he just might be able to navigate out of the many messes in which we presently find ourselves.

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January 19, 2009

King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail Still Relevant to Atheists

One year ago, I wrote a brief post called "MLK's Relevance To Anti-Atheist Bigotry" in which I drew readers' attention to a great post at Nanovirus in which King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail was used to make a great point about anti-atheist bigotry. Here we are one year later, and it is still quite relevant. In fact, I'm not sure I feel that we are much closer to atheist equality than we were a year ago. How about you?

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No Room for Atheists at Obama's Inauguration

Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Diocese ...Image via WikipediaI do not think that Obama's transition team was prepared for the outrage sparked by their selection of Rick Warren, the bigoted Christian, to deliver the invocation at Obama's swearing-in ceremony. It now appears that they have decided to do some damage control by adding openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson to the list of speakers. Will this appease members of the LGBT community who were upset over by the fact that Obama chose an anti-gay bigot to symbolically open his administration? I doubt it, but I suppose it may still be viewed as a positive gesture. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, we atheists are once again ignored. However, after seeing Bishop Robinson interviewed on The Rachel Maddow Show last week (video here), I wonder if we are looking at something worse than simply being ignored.

At the outset, I want to make a few things clear. First, I think that Obama's decision to add Robinson was a step in the right direction. The LGBT community was upset, and rightly so, over Warren. By adding Robinson, Obama is communicating that he has heard their outrage and is willing to at least make a token gesture. Is it as good as removing Warren? No, but it is at least something. Second, Bishop Robinson came across as a reasonably nice guy during his interview on Maddow. I suspect that many of us would agree with him on a number of important social issues, and aside from giving no thought to what the inauguration says to American atheists, he did not seem like a particularly bad guy. Third, I am not going to use this post to rant about the inappropriateness of having any sort of magical invocations at ceremonies like this. I agree with Newdow and his co-plaintiffs that this is inappropriate and illegal in a nation where separation of church and state are valued, but I will leave that for other posts.

In watching Bishop Robinson's interview on The Rachel Maddow Show, it was clear that he had given no thought whatsoever to how American atheists are feeling about Obama's inauguration. He prefaced many of his statements with "As a religious person...," making me suspect that he must have some awareness that non-religious persons exist. However, he made reference to how inclusive Obama's inauguration was and how all points of view were represented.

The subtext was clear - this administration, and indeed this nation, are inclusive of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Beyond that, not so much. If Robinson is Obama's gesture to the LGBT community, we atheists are again neglected.

Robinson claimed that Obama is "including all voices in this inauguration." Really? I do not see any non-religious voices. Instead, I see Christian voices. Are these the only voices that matter to Obama? I hope not, but I am not sure what else we are to conclude.

Robinson said that "gay and lesbian people should feel very welcomed by this administration." I suspect many in the GLBT community would disagree, but at least he has made a gesture. Could we say the same for atheists?

When Robinson made reference to "big tent" politics, I hoped that he would be truly inclusive. He came close but chose to begin his response with, "As a religious person, no one had a bigger tent than Jesus..." As much as I like the idea of the political "big tent," I think there has to be room under the tent for everyone, including atheists.

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Humanist Symposium #31 at An Apostate's Chapel


An Apostate's Chapel is hosting Humanist Symposium #31: Presidential Inauguration Edition. What a great idea on a theme! Be sure to check it out.

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January 17, 2009

Happy Impose My Religion on You and Erase Reproductive Freedom Day

2009 Five Presidents, President George W. Bush...Image by BL1961 via FlickrIn case you haven't heard, one of Bush's final acts in office was to declare today, January 18, "National Sanctity of Human Life Day." As Free Thinking reminds us, "George W. Bush, who entered office pledging to be a 'uniter, not a divider,' is leaving office by issuing an official Proclamation on the most divisive issue in American politics: abortion." After watching this man's final press conference, I am not sure he could do or say anything that would surprise me at this point. The man is either seriously mentally ill (and I mean no offense to others with serious mental illness) or a liar without a conscience. Maybe we will find out if he tries the insanity defense during his war crimes trial (yes, I am still hoping that our elected officials will do the right thing here).

Here is Bush's proclamation, with comment (ok, rant):
All human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us.
Human life, like all life is the product of a lengthy natural process called evolution. No gifts, creators, or magic needed. And to suggest that non-human life is unworthy of protection is simply arrogant.

You may think you have the right to speak for all Americans, but you sure as hell don't speak for me. No person, born or otherwise, has any "special place and purpose in this world," including you. We make our own purpose by how we live our lives.

As for "speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us," how do you reconcile this with your tax cuts to the wealthy, your unjust war in Iraq, or the debacle that was Hurricane Katrina. You godiots sure do talk a good game about how compassionate you are when it comes to fetuses, but the moment someone is born, you abandon them.
The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent. My Administration has been committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws, opposing Federal funding for abortions overseas, encouraging teen abstinence, and funding crisis pregnancy programs. In 2002, I was honored to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which extends legal protection to children who survive an abortion attempt. I signed legislation in 2003 to ban the cruel practice of partial-birth abortion, and that law represents our commitment to building a culture of life in America. Also, I was proud to sign the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, which allows authorities to charge a person who causes death or injury to a child in the womb with a separate offense in addition to any charges relating to the mother.
Protecting the innocent is the most basic duty of government, huh? I thought government's most basic duty involved discrediting one's enemies, lining one's pockets, and imposing one's will on others. Perhaps I've been led astray over the past 8 years. I agree that your administration has been committed to many things (e.g., cronyism, wiretapping, propaganda, manipulation, torture, incompetence, etc.), but these have precious little to do with human life.

You could have pushed to outlaw abortion, but you didn't. Don't get me wrong - I'm actually glad you didn't. But if you really believed all this nonsense about unborn children being persons which are somehow more deserving of protection than those of us who have been born, I would have thought you might have put more effort into completely abolishing reproductive freedom instead of just blustering about it so much.
America is a caring Nation, and our values should guide us as we harness the gifts of science. In our zeal for new treatments and cures, we must never abandon our fundamental morals. We can achieve the great breakthroughs we all seek with reverence for the gift of life.
Yes, America is a caring nation. No more or less caring than any other nation, but caring nonetheless. You see, your patriotic nationalism not only flies in the face of reality but has actually been quite harmful to America's place in the world. You may prefer to be guided by your values, such as they are, but many of us would much rather pay attention to the data once in awhile. What about a little pragmatism? What about doing what works when it comes to health care, education, or public policy? Instead of wallowing in your superstition, real or feigned, how about recognizing that deliberately ignoring data to pursue fantasies suggests that your precious values could use some work?
The sanctity of life is written in the hearts of all men and women. On this day and throughout the year, we aspire to build a society in which every child is welcome in life and protected in law. We also encourage more of our fellow Americans to join our just and noble cause. History tells us that with a cause rooted in our deepest principles and appealing to the best instincts of our citizens, we will prevail.
Does this include children of...(gasp)...welfare mothers? How about children adopted by gay parents? And just what is this "noble cause" to which you refer? I realize this is more code your your fellow Christian extremists, but how about remembering that you were supposed to represent ALL OF US!

I suppose that is too much to ask. After all, you seem to have no recognition whatsoever that really wanting something to be the case does not mean that it will in fact be so. Enough of this magical thinking already! What happened to effort, hard work, and going where the data lead?
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 18, 2009, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.

GEORGE W. BUSH
Good riddance and here's hoping the door does in fact hit you on the way out! But seriously, W, I do hope to see you again. I hope to see you on the news every night as you are investigated for war crimes and a host of other criminal abuses of power committed by your administration. I hope you face the full extent of the law you have tried so hard to subvert. I hope the American people rip their heads from the sand and hold you accountable. In doing so, we will show the world that you have not been acting on our behalf and that no one is above the law.

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We Must Hold Bush Accountable

Paul Krugman has a truly excellent op-ed in the New York Times which should be read by anyone still doubting the need to hold the Bush administration accountable for war crimes and other widespread abuses of power committed during the past 8 years. In his concise yet effective article, Krugman acknowledges the desire held by many, including Obama it appears, to move forward and forget about the last 8 years as quickly as possible. However, Krugman makes a compelling case for rejecting such a lack of response.
I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.
Krugman notes that an investigation is necessary not only for torture and wiretapping but also for the widespread cronyism and unprecedented politicization of many government agencies. While I agree with this assessment, I would hope that war crimes would be both the starting point and the centerpiece of any investigation. This is desperately needed in order to repair our reputation on the world stage.

To those who argue that any official inquiry into the multitude of abuses occurring during the last 8 years would be unnecessarily divisive or partisan, Krugman notes the following:
  • If partisanship is so terrible, doesn't that support the case for punishing the Bush administration. After all, just look at what they did the the Justice Department!
  • Nobody in the upper levels of the Bush administration has expressed any remorse whatsoever. How will they know that what they did was wrong if their are no consequences?
To these points, I would add a few of my own:
  • The international reputation and standing of the U.S. is in tatters. Much like the golden opportunity Bush squandered after 9/11 to take the moral high ground, this is an opportunity for Obama to show the world that America values the rule of law and places no one above it.
  • If Obama's platform is going to have any success at all, he must convince the American people that government can be a force for good in the world. By holding the Bush administration accountable for their crimes, he would send a powerful message to all Americans that this was indeed a different kind of politics. This could help restore confidence in government.
  • Many Americans, and I count myself among them, have been demanding accountability since it was confirmed that Bush lied us into war. Lives were lost over this, and it is not over yet. Bush must be held responsible.
I sincerely believe that President-elect Obama's top priority upon taking office should involve appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration for war crimes and other criminal abuses of power. With the investigation under way, Obama can work on cleaning up the mess Bush made. As Krugman says,
Now, it’s true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again.
Clearly, nothing will happen unless the American people demand it. Let's start demanding.

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Crash This Poll: "In God We Trust" on Our Money

What do you think about U.S. currency including the "in god we trust" slogan? Vote here. We are losing badly, but I just know we can turn things around with a little effort.

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Good Names for Atheist Blogs?

Blasphemy Made Flesh album coverImage via WikipediaThere is no reason to limit our efforts to help other atheist bloggers to those who already have blogs. We can also help out those who are planning to start new atheist blogs. In the increasingly crowded field of atheist blogs, it has to be tough to think of an original name for one's new blog. I remember agonizing over this decision when there were no more than a handful of atheist blogs. I can't imagine being in that position now. If you were going to start a new atheist blog, what would be some names you'd consider?

After reading a recent post about blasphemy at Proud Atheists (great name by the way), I think that an ideal array of possible blog names includes those disparaging the "holy" ghost. If you remember the blasphemy challenge, you'll realize that this is hardly an original idea. Still, I would think that this could be a fruitful domain of atheist blog names.

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January 16, 2009

Newdow's Invocation Suit Fails

No big surprise here, but it looks like Michael Newdow's suit to stop the "so help me god" garbage from being added by Justice Roberts to Obama's inauguration has come to an end on the grounds that Newdow and the other plaintiffs lack standing to bring the suit. I think we all knew the suit would ultimately be unsuccessful. Unfortunately, the presiding judge felt that a bit of anti-atheist bigotry was necessary.

I'm tired after a long and depressing day at work, so head over to Tangled Up in Blue Guy to learn what you need to know about the ruling.

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Anti-Gay Terrorism

Official flag of the city of Seattle, Washingt...Image via WikipediaHomsecular Gaytheist links to a disturbing story in The Stanger about 11 gay bars in Seattle being threatened with ricin attacks. This is some pretty scary stuff. I hope it turns out to be a hoax, but in the meantime, I am glad to see that law enforcement appears to be taking it seriously. After all, this is domestic terrorism. I don't want to speculate about the motives of whoever wrote the threatening letters. Hopefully, the police will make an arrest soon and we can learn what sort of mind was capable of this for ourselves.

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January 15, 2009

What America Needs to Know About Rick Warren

LAKE FOREST, CA - DECEMBER 1:  Sen. Barack Oba...Image by Getty Images via DaylifePresident-elect Barack Obama made a serious mistake in asking Christian extremist pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration ceremony. Worse still, he has refused to heed the cries of protest from many core segments of his base asking him to uninvite Warren. In this brief post, I'd like to remind you one last time why we should make sure Obama hears from us on this subject.

By inviting Rick Warren to deliver the invocation, Obama elevates his status in the eyes of many Americans who have not been adequately informed about Warren. Here is what America needs to know about Rick Warren:
  1. Warren's much praised work on AIDS in Africa has been revealed as undermining scientifically-sound efforts to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in favor of thoroughly discredited religiously-based methods. He opposes contraception, even when it comes to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. This takes anti-intellectualism and religious delusion to astounding levels.
  2. Warren opposes reproductive rights for women and stem cell research. He has criticized Obama's position on these issues and vowed to pressure him into changing his mind. This should be worrisome for anyone who values separation of church and state.
  3. He was a strong supporter of Proposition 8, the measure which rolled back civil rights for many Californians by denying marriage to GLBT couples. This is bigotry.
  4. Warren has equated gay marriage to incest and pedophilia. This is bigotry.
  5. Warren has publicly stated that he would not vote for an atheist, regardless of qualifications. He thinks that no atheist could possibly be worthy of holding office. This is bigotry.
  6. He is a creationist. Lest we dismiss this as mere stupidity, please remember that many of us are still having to fight to keep this nonsense out of our schools.
For those who continue to insist that allowing Warren to give the invocation is no big deal, I simply remind you that Obama selected Rick Warren out of a near infinite number of clergy to represent him. This sure as hell concerns me.

H/Ts to Open Left, Right Wing Watch, and Daylight Atheism

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