March 31, 2009

Arizona Rejects School Vouchers

ICT's in EducationImage by pmorgan via Flickr

I know that there are many opinions on the subject of school vouchers and that some see them as a perfectly acceptable way of improving the educational experience of their children. I tend to see vouchers, frequently pushed by Christian extremists in the U.S., as a systematic strategy for destroying public education, largely perceived as a secular threat. I have no problem whatsoever with families opting for private schools. I do however have a problem with my government funding religious and other private schools.

I was happy to see the Arizona Supreme Court strike down two school voucher programs in that state in Cain v. Horne. According to Rev. Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State,
This important decision reflects our best traditions. It upholds the right of taxpayers to support only the religious institutions of their choice. Public funds should be spent at public schools.
According to AU's press release, residents of Arizona are fortunate in that they are one of 37 states with fairly strong provisions in their state constitution prohibiting them from funding religious schools. It seems that vouchers may face an uphill battle in such states, and that is a good thing.

I know that some people object to funding public education on the grounds that they do not have children and do not like the idea of paying for other people's children to go to school. I invite such people to visit Mississippi for awhile to experience the results of substandard education firsthand. Education not only is a powerful tool for improving the economy and improving our ability to compete globally; it reduces a variety of social ills associated with widespread idiocy.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

March 30, 2009

Atheism on Family Guy

Family GuyImage via Wikipedia

I suspect you have already heard about this by now, but a special episode of Family Guy aired last night (Season 7, Episode 11) in which atheism played a fairly prominent role. The dog, Brian, came out as an atheist to the family and faced the typical set of reactions one might expect from a Christian family. He was assaulted by enraged townspeople after Meg publicly outed him, and there was even an appearance by Christian hero Kirk Cameron.

I have heard that Seth McFarlane, creator of Family Guy and American Dad, is an atheist. After watching this episode, I applaud his courage and conclude that he truly seems to get it. Being a comedy, there was of course some great mockery of Christianity as Meg became "born again" after watching Kirk Cameron. But more to the point, I thought that the episode did a good job of showing the degree to which atheists are still demonized in the U.S.

Aside from villains or objects of conversion, it is still rare to see atheists on TV. I see this episode as a step in the right direction.

If you missed the episode, you can watch it at Hulu.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

Listening to Christians

Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church, Houston, TexasImage via Wikipedia

A minority group ignores a much larger and more powerful majority at its own peril. We atheists simply cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand. We must continue to listen to Christians as a matter of survival. This is why I remain grateful for those who scan the Christian scene and report the essential news of which we atheists need to be aware. Here are a few examples:
There are many other excellent sources. Most atheist bloggers help to spread the word on issues of likely relevance to the atheist community as well. The point is that we need to listen when Christian leaders (e.g., Joel Osteen, James Dobson, Rick Warren, etc.) speak.

Anything resembling an atheist movement in the U.S. is still in the early stages. Raising awareness must remain one of our important goals for the foreseeable future, even if we have passed the point where it could be our only goal.

I fear that reports of waning evangelical influence are being drastically overstated. The Christian right is not simply going to evaporate, and they certainly are not finished meddling in U.S. politics. This is no time for complacency.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution


March 29, 2009

To What Degree Is Atheism Voluntary?

Green, Green GrassImage by G a r r y via Flickr

Looking out my window, I see grass. It is mostly green and will become greener as spring deepens. Suppose someone were to try to convince me that this grass was not green at all but a bright royal blue. I am not sure any amount of argument, pleading, threats, favors, etc. could persuade me that the grass I see was blue. Under torture, I would certainly profess that I believed it to be blue, but it is difficult to imagine that I could actually convince myself that it was so. With sufficient rewards, I would certainly agree publicly that the grass was blue, but I would not really believe it. By learning about the science of vision, I could be convinced that the grass was not inherently green but reflected light in such a manner that I perceived it as green. Still, I would not be able to stop believing that I was perceiving it as green. In many respects, this is how the atheist experiences god belief.

I could no more convince myself that the Christian god was real than I could convince myself that my front yard was full of blue grass. It is observations like this which lead me to question the degree to which atheism is voluntary. Don't get me wrong, I am not claiming that atheism is an involuntary response or somehow predetermined. I am merely suggesting that atheism seems less voluntary than many other beliefs.

Sitting here today, knowing what I know, experiencing what I have experienced, living the life I have led, I am not sure that I could now convince myself to believe in the Christian god or associated dogma even if I desperately wanted to do so. It is as if I have passed a point of no return.

For years, I managed to convince myself that the Christian god about which I had heard so much was real. But I have never been one to take things on faith. I ask too many questions, and I seek genuine answers. Atheism, the gradual erosion of my willingness to accept the truth of the claim that gods exist, was the eventual result of such inquiry. My eyes are now open, and I seriously doubt that I could close them no matter how much I wanted to.

Perhaps uttering a magic incantation would instantly transport me to blissful mindlessness, but I doubt it. Besides, I'd much rather my eyes remain open.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution


March 28, 2009

Christian Book Expo "A Major Disappointment"

City of DallasImage via Wikipedia

According to Publishers Weekly, the Christian Book Expo, held earlier this month in Dallas, attracted only 1,500 of the 15,000-20,000 attendees organizers had expected.
Stacks of unsold books and glum publishers stood for three days inside the cavernous Dallas Convention Center this past weekend at the Christian Book Expo, a first-of-its-kind event designed to connect publishers and authors directly with readers in the evangelical Christian market. Only problem was there were few readers to connect with, despite the show’s location in Dallas, the buckle of the Bible Belt and a top market for Christian publishers.
After two years in the planning, the event, designed to promote awareness of Christian authors, bombed badly. Of course, the economy may have something to do with this, but it is tempting to speculate that Dallas religious leaders expected to promote the event may not have the same influence they once enjoyed.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

Twitter vs. FriendFeed

I have been using both Twitter and FriendFeed for awhile. My use of both initially focused on blog promotion but has expanded considerably beyond that as I have recognized that the real power of both services involves their utility for immediate communication. In this post, I'd like to do something of a head-to-head comparison between the services and see if I can't offer some recommendations about whether you should use one or both of the services.

Twitter

We start with Twitter because it is the more basic of the services, offering less functionality but making up for that with far greater popularity. As you probably already know, Twitter is a micro-blogging service which allows users to send "tweets," posts limited to 140 characters, to anyone who "follows" them. If you use text messaging on your cell phone, you already have some idea of what tweets are like. In addition to sending brief text messages, you can send clickable URLs and even photos (actually, URLs to photos).

But sending texts from a cell phone is actually a poor analogy for Twitter. Instead, I'd suggest thinking of it as a sort of group instant messaging system. I have roughly 400 followers on Twitter, which means that every time I tweet, they all receive it simultaneously. In turn, I follow approximately 100 other Twitter users, receiving their tweets in real-time. Because of the immediacy, Twitter permits back-and-forth conversations involving several users.

Twitter can be accessed from the Twitter website, but most users utilize one of the many available Twitter clients. For example, I use TweetDeck on my desktop and laptop and TwitterBerry on my Blackberry.

What about blog promotion? Using a service called TwitterFeed, I set up the RSS feed from Atheist Revolution to automatically send notifications of my new blog posts to my Twitter followers. In addition, I can interact with readers on Twitter, share ideas with other atheist bloggers, etc. I have found the service to be an excellent way to get post ideas, learn what other atheist bloggers are up to, and learn about my readers.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical of Twitter initially and fairly slow to begin using the service. It grew on me. I wouldn't quite call myself addicted at this point, but I really enjoy it and am convinced that it has merit. Bloggers who learn to use Twitter effectively will likely see a many positive benefits, not the least of which is increased blog traffic.

FriendFeed

At first glance, FriendFeed blows Twitter out of the water. It seems to do everything that Twitter does but so much more. FriendFeed allows users to plug all sorts of commonly used services into it, including Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and even Twitter itself. Once set up, it it like a Twitter feed on steroids. Not only can one send messages to one's followers without the 140 character limit of Twitter, but one can configure the service so that followers are automatically informed about whatever one does in any of the other services.

Let me give you a concrete example. I have my FriendFeed account set up so that Twitter, Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Intense Debate, Atheist Revolution, Mississippi Atheists, and more are connected. Whenever I do anything in any of these services, those connected to me through FriendFeed are informed - if they want to be. See, unlike Twitter where followers are going to receive whatever messages are sent, FriendFeed allows users to disable certain kinds of alerts. I have little interest in web videos, so I have disabled the YouTube part of the service so I will not be bombarded with updates by those obsessed with it.

As if that wasn't enough, FriendFeed offers two things that most Twitter users would love: a built-in commenting system permitting users to comment on any material sent and a mechanism for voting up posts. In this way, FriendFeed feels far more interactive than Twitter.

In fact, there is so much more that can be done with FriendFeed that I am painfully aware that I am not using the service to its full potential yet. Each time I play with a new feature, I kick myself for not discovering it earlier.

Twitter or FriendFeed?

Given the many added capabilities of FriendFeed over Twitter, why isn't everyone using it? Two reasons. First, FriendFeed is nowhere near as popular as Twitter in terms of the user base. Twitter has the name recognition and buzz that FriendFeed lacks, and this gives an edge to Twitter. I said I had roughly 400 followers on Twitter, right? Guess how many I have on FriendFeed? 28. Big difference, isn't it?

The second reason that many prefer Twitter to FriendFeed is that FriendFeed does not yet have a killer client. If you are using Twitter, you have TweetDeck, which is head and shoulders above any of the other Twitter clients I have used. While there are similar clients being developed for FriendFeed, they lack the polish of TweetDeck. In time, I expect that this advantage will be neutralized, but for now, this gives Twitter another boost.

I have been spending far more time in Twitter, primarily because of the two advantages I just mentioned. With FriendFeed, there is vast but largely unrecognized potential. If you are already a Twitter user, I recommend checking out FriendFeed. It will seem overwhelming initially because it can do so much more, but with some initial configuration and time to get used to it, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you are not currently using either service, you will probably find Twitter easier to start with.
Subscribe to Atheist Revolution


March 27, 2009

Lancet Scolds Pope's Idiocy

Pope Benedict XVI during visit to São Paulo, B...Image via Wikipedia

In this era of American culture wars, a commonly heard refrain is that one is entitled to one's own opinion but not to one's own facts. This is often directed a politicians and media pundits, but it applies as well or better to the purveyors of religious delusion. The Pope has received considerable criticism for making erroneous statements about the transmission of HIV/AIDS. He is every bit as entitled as any of us to spout nonsense, but when he makes demonstrably false claims about the natural world, he better expect to be called out. Fortunately, this is exactly what the British medical journal, the Lancet, has done.

When the Pope recently announced that condoms "increase the problem" of HIV transmission in Africa, he found himself in direct opposition to considerable evidence from medical science. According to the Lancet, the Pope "publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue." They also were ready to head off the sort of objections commonly expressed by believers in the supernatural.
When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record.
The time for politeness and respect for religion must come to an abrupt and unapologetic end when religious pronouncements create a clear and present danger to human welfare. This is precisely such a case, and it was reassuring to see the Lancet address the issue directly.

H/T to Pharyngula

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution


Narrow Victory for Science in Texas

Evolution education in TexasImage by Colin Purrington via Flickr

The Texas State Board of Education has rejected efforts by Christian extremists to require that "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution be taught in science classes. The scary thing is just how close this ended up being. The board tied at 7-7 on the motion, resulting in the upholding of a prior decision to remove the strengths-and-weaknesses rule in the new curriculum standards. Texas is one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the U.S., meaning that what happens there influences what is available to other states.

H/T to Pharyngula

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

March 26, 2009

The Prayer Amplifier: A Question of Ethics

Does morality come from God?Image by Pickersgill Reef via Flickr
You have a great idea for an invention that is practically guaranteed to be a big money maker. Even if it does not live up to the various advertising claims you would make about it, it will sell well and earn you a fortune. In fact, no amount of scientific proof that your invention does not do what you will claim it does is going to hurt your sales. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? There is, however, one small problem. You see, you know that your invention does not work. So you couldn't ethically market it as doing something that you knew it couldn't do, right? Not so fast. Things are not quite as simple as I've made them sound. Your customers are absolutely convinced that the device works, and no amount of evidence to the contrary is going to dissuade them.

There was a great discussion in the comment thread for a recent post on prayer, and it is this thread that inspired the current post. I want you to imagine that the invention I described above is a prayer amplifier as we consider the ethical implications of selling such a product.

At first glance, it would be morally wrong for me to sell a prayer amplifier. It does not work, and I know it does not work. Selling it anyway would be dishonest and exploitative. But what is it about my selling such a product that bothers us the most - that the device does not work or that I know that the device does not work?

If we are mostly bothered by the fact that the device does not work, regardless of what I think about the device, then we are dealing with a "truth in advertising" issue. We are saying that it is morally wrong to sell a product which objectively does not perform the claimed function regardless of what those selling it believe about the product. By this line of argument, we would have to conclude that the entire nutritional supplement and vitamin industry is morally wrong. Are we prepared to make such a concession? What other industries would we eliminate?

Suppose instead that what bothers us about this scenario centers on my knowledge that the device does not perform as advertised. Would it make sense to grant me a reprieve if I actually believed in the defective product? If I was convinced that it worked even if the objective evidence said that it did not, would this absolve me of my responsibility for selling the product? That seems like an odd argument to make, doesn't it?

Here's the thing, whether the prayer amplifier works or whether I think it works are both irrelevant. What really matters is whether prayer works. I think that the moral queasiness most of you are feeling at this point has nothing to do with the prayer amplifier and everything to do with me trying to make a buck off prayer, something we all know does not work.

Suppose I build a prayer amplifier which I claim "helps god hear your prayers." Further suppose that I run infomercials in which I explain that the love of some sort of god cannot be scientifically measured and that those trying to discredit my device are merely jealous Satanists. The reality is that we all know that I'm full of shit, and I think that this is what bothers us far more than what my device does or whether I am deluding myself. Would this mean that we would regard the entire industry of Christian merchandise to be morally wrong?

Do the millions of devoted Christians who will buy my device not bear some responsibility here? After all, who can say for sure that none may be helped by using it? The placebo effect is a powerful thing, and if it makes them feel better...

Here is my question: If you believe that it is morally wrong for someone to sell a prayer amplifier, what exactly makes it wrong?

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

March 25, 2009

Keep Your Ridiculous Christianspeak to Yourself!

Since the start of 1994,  Ford made airbags st...Image via Wikipedia

A friend of mine was in a bad automobile accident a couple days ago. I do not have all the details yet, but I was relieved to hear that everyone involved was okay. She had her children with her, and I am sure they were frightened, but it is good to hear that all were unharmed. It sounds like her car was pretty badly damaged and had to be towed away. Sadly, this unfortunate accident provided an opportunity for a misguided Christian to spew Christianspeak to an audience not particularly interested in hearing it. At least this offered me some intriguing insight about another friend.

I learned about the accident when a friend spread the word via social media. She provided a brief account of what had happened and that everyone was okay. In response, one of her other friends with whom I am not acquainted posted a reply crediting the Christian god with the lack of injuries and basically gushing Christianspeak.

I submit that thanking gods for allowing one to come through an accident unscathed is ridiculous for many reasons, not the least of which is why one was in the accident in the first place. If we are to assume that a particular god intervened to facilitate survival, then why wouldn't the god have acted a fraction of a second earlier to prevent the accident in the first place?

Perhaps even more important, if we credit gods with allowing some to live through accidents, what are we to make of the countless people who are not similarly rescued every day? What if one child had been killed or seriously injured? Would we praise gods for this while not bothering to ask why the one was not saved?

I'm sure you have gathered by now that this sort of thing pisses me off just a bit. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. You see, the friend who initially shared the news seemed even more annoyed than I was with the Christianspeak. She's no atheist, but she replied something along the lines of "Or we could recognize that modern safety features like airbags and reinforced steel kept them safe." Right on.

If Christians really think that their god is going to protect them, why bother with safety features at all? And you know what else? I am sick and tired of the anti-science types reaping any benefits from science and technology!

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

March 24, 2009

Degrading Higher Education in Oklahoma

Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin.Image via Wikipedia

One of the things I have always liked about academia, first as a student and now as a faculty member, has been the role of the university in promoting critical thinking. We teach that all dogmas are to be questioned, and we strive to provide students with the tools for doing so (e.g., philosophy, science, etc.). Traditionally, the idea of the university has also emphasized the role of free discourse. We try to expose students to controversial ideas with the goal of shaking up their worldviews a bit. We do this not to convince them to believe as we do (for we are a diverse bunch too) but to help them realize that reliance on authority will only take them so far. In the ideal case, the student is able to set aside the values of his or her parents and church long enough to develop his or her own values.

As you might guess, it pains me to see the Oklahoma legislature pressuring the University of Oklahoma to cancel a scheduled visit by eminent scholar Richard Dawkins. In fact, Oklahoma Rep. Todd Thomsen has introduced a resolution asking the university to uninvite Dawkins because his views "are not shared [by] a majority of the citizens of Oklahoma."

I see that as part of the point of bringing him to campus in the first place. Education is not about keeping people where they are comfortable and reinforcing what they already believe. It is about exposing people to new ideas, hopefully some of which will be uncomfortable.

At this point, Christians are likely objecting that universities should be bringing Ken Ham and Ann Coulter to campus too. Surely they are controversial figures that would spark dialogue too. Perhaps, but one must first make the case that these individuals are qualified to address whatever they are addressing. You see, the whole "teach the controversy" approach is fine as long as there actually is a controversy and as long as the various points of view are credible. After all, we do want students to learn something.

Of course, there is also the matter of politicians interfering with what happens at the university. It certainly does not seem consistent with academic freedom, free speech, or the sort of education to which most universities aspire.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

March 23, 2009

Rwandan Atheist is Stealing My Content

Rendition of :Image:Red_copyright.Image via Wikipedia

I was hoping to avoid this unpleasantness, but my cease and desist messages have been ignored. I thought I would try this post as a final warning before I take the next step. The situation is this: Rwandan Atheist, a member of the Atheist Blogroll, has been stealing my entire RSS feed and reposting it on his site. This is a blatant violation of my copyright, as he is doing this without my permission and has so far ignored my requests to remove my content from his blog. I am providing the cease and desist message I sent below in case you someday find yourself in a similar situation (and you likely will). I also plan to keep you informed about whether this dispute is settled appropriately or whether additional steps are needed.

Dear Rwandan Atheist,

It has come to my attention that the content I wrote for Atheist Revolution is currently on your site. I'd appreciate it if you'd please remove this content. It's copyrighted material.

Your copy: http://rwandanatheist.blogspot.com/2009/03/atheist-revolution_18.html [Warning: this page contains malware]

My original article/photo: http://www.atheistrev.com/2009/03/taking-chance-pays-off.html

I appreciate your prompt attention.

Thank you,


vjack
www.atheistrev.com

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

March 22, 2009

AIG Outrage Obscures News of Bush Torture Regime

American International Group, Inc.Image via Wikipedia

As upset as everyone is over the AIG bonuses, I think there are two things that we absolutely must remember before we continue to allow our news media to emphasize this story to the exclusion of most everything else. First, the bonuses, deserved or not, are tiny in comparison to the amount of bailout money approved by both major political parties. Second, and far more critical in my humble opinion, the media obsession with covering the AIG story is causing a vastly more important story to be neglected: The administration of George W. Bush tortured in our name. No matter how upset we might be over what happened with AIG, we simply cannot allow top Bush administration officials and spineless members of both major parties in Congress to escape punishment. The torturers and their allies in silence must be held accountable.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

A Blog Carnival for Skeptical Parents

If you are both a parent and a member of the reality-based community, I encourage you to check out Skeptical Parent Crossing #6, the latest edition of a monthly blog carnival for rational/skeptical parents. This edition is hosted by Rational Moms. While still relatively new, in blog carnival terms, atheist parent bloggers may find a perfect home at Skeptical Parent Crossing for posts on the challenges of raising children among a deluded populace. Posts can be submitted through Blog Carnival.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

The 34th Humanist Symposium

Welcome to the 34th edition of The Humanist Symposium! It is time to replenish your sense of awe, restore your confidence in humanity, and above all else, promote humanism as a viable alternative to superstition and delusion. That's right, the reality-based community has much to offer and this is a great forum for sharing some of it.

Beyond Atheism

Let me say at the outset that I love the idea of promoting atheism. It is something I try to to regularly here at Atheist Revolution. The trouble is, those of us who understand the meaning of atheism (i.e., the lack of theistic belief) recognize that it is not anything that really can be promoted. Promoting atheism is promoting the absence (or at least reduced influence) of something. To promote atheism means little more than to advance the idea that religious belief is irrational and has tremendous destructive potential.

This is a viable starting point, but we need to have something besides just less religion to offer. We need to go beyond atheism. It is not enough to demonstrate the myriad problems associated with religious belief; we must help people find meaningful secular alternatives for meeting many of the needs currently met via religion. Just because we have managed to do this for ourselves does not mean that we will be effective promoters. Greater effort is needed.

This is why I am finding my excitement for The Humanist Symposium renewed. This blog carnival is not about critiquing religion or mocking the superstitious, although my regular readers will know that I occasionally indulge in both. No, this carnival is about promoting humanism. With humanism, we have something that can be celebrated and promoted. Think of it as the yin to atheism's yang. We need both.

To the atheists who oppose humanism (and I've encountered more than a few who are mildly hostile to the humanist philosophy), you may replace it with whatever you like. The point is that you have something real to promote.

The Posts

I am happy to present, in no particular order, the posts from this edition of the carnival:

Restoring a Sense of Awe and Wonder
Celebrating Us
Meaning and Humanism
On Religion
Postscript

What these excellent posts demonstrate, at least to me, is that many atheists are already comfortable with the idea of going beyond atheism. They recognize that no gods are necessary and have stripped such superstitions away to find an amazing world. They are well on their way to crafting a meaningful secular identity. To be sure, atheism is a valuable part but it is not the whole.

###

If your submission was not included in this carnival, either I did not receive it or I determined that it was not a good fit with the guidelines provided by Daylight Atheism. I did not write these guidelines, but it is my job to enforce them as carnival host.

The next edition of The Humanist Symposium will be held on April 12, 2009, at Psychodiva's Mutterings FCD. To submit a post for consideration, please use the Blog Carnival submission form.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution


March 21, 2009

The Problem with Examiner.com

I like the Atheism Examiner section of Examiner.com. Trina has some good things to say and often provokes thought in her posts. Unfortunately, the comment system used by the site does not permit commenters to include a URL, only their e-mail address. This removes one of the most important incentives to commenting on someone's blog - the hope that the author or other readers will check out one's site. This is too bad because I think many of Trina's posts are worth commenting on.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

Maybe I'm Just a Hostile Douchebag

I have a handful of Christian blogs in my RSS aggregator. I do not visit them as often as I'd like simply because I always seem to have so much else to do. I think they provide me with some valuable insights about what "real Christians" (as opposed to Christian leaders) think about. I particularly like checking out some of the better progressive Christian blogs, as it is neat to find out that I have quite a bit in common with many of them. Anyway, I was just commenting on one when it suddenly hit me that I just might be a hostile douchebag.

In this particular case, my comments were polite and actually expressed nothing more than my agreement with what the blogger was saying. I made no mention of religion whatsoever because it happened not to be relevant to the particular subject of the post on which I was commenting. With me so far?

After hitting "submit," I realized that my avatar was...well...inflammatory to say the least. As many of you may realize, I have been using the image above as my avatar for some time now. I have received many compliments on it from other atheists, and it does make it fairly clear what I'm generally about when I comment on other atheist blogs and the like. I used to tell myself that it would also help spark recognition that not everyone was on board with religion when I used it while commenting in forums not exclusively inhabited by atheists. Now it just seems douchey.

Suppose someone commented here regularly using a similar design but one where the word "religion" was replaced with the word "atheism." What would I think? How would I respond? How would my readers respond to the commenter using such an avatar?

Right, so now I'm thinking I should probably do something else. I'm perfectly happy to offend others with my words, but I'd rather not put them off before my words even register. Perhaps it is time for this hostile atheist douchebag to grow up just a bit.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

March 20, 2009

Baptist Pastor Caught Lying, Impersonating Atheists

How to Know when Someone's LyingImage by ATENCION: via Flickr

If I have anything to say about it, the story of a Baptist pastor impersonating atheists on various blogs in a desperate attempt to confirm bigoted stereotypes will sweep the atheist blogosphere and perhaps extend beyond our little niche. This is an intriguing tale that deserves to be widely read. I only wish I could take credit for writing it, but credit goes to Daniel Florien of Unreasonable Faith for breaking this one wide open.

Daniel's post, "Pastor Gets Caught Lying for Jesus," contains a number of important lessons for Christians and atheists alike. I simply cannot resist highlighting one here. Contrary to popular stereotypes, it appears that atheists are such decent people that someone trying to demonize them has to resort to lies and deceit to do so.

Pastor Chris Fox of Kendalls Baptist Church in New London, NC, was caught impersonating atheists in comments he left on Unreasonable Faith. Here is an example of one of his comments, and you can see for yourself what he was hoping to accomplish:
What’s wrong with killing babies? I see no problem with it. I have enough mouths to feed. I don’t get the argument and I am an atheist. Since I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in anything characterized as good, bad / right, wrong. So, what’s the big deal?
My guess is that Pastor Fox was hoping for one of two things here. Either someone would agree with him, confirming his stereotypes and allowing him to run back to his superstitious flock and loudly proclaim they were all true, or nobody would take the bait in which case he could still return to his flock in victory by claiming that someone other than himself had left the comments he wrote.

So Daniel and some of his readers became suspicious, and Daniel did a bit of detective work. He soon discovered that Pastor Fox had been doing this under a variety of handles, giving the impression that multiple atheists held these views.

What Pastor Fox probably did not count on was that Daniel was able to learn his identity and reveal it to all. Best of all, Pastor Fox apologized for Daniel's reaction but not for his own behavior. Well, at least he's had many excellent role models in the non-apology apology!

It seems fairly clear that Pastor Fox is confused. After he was caught lying, he insisted,
I am in no way a fundie or extremist. Like you I believe in thinking, searching, asking questions, and hearing others from outside my box. I thank you for your allowing various opinions and sides to share.
Well, Pastor, you may call yourself whatever you like, but this does not change what you tried to pull. That you do not seem to find anything particularly wrong with your behavior speaks volumes about your character. I'm not even going to say that you reflect badly on Christianity because most Christians I've had the pleasure of knowing would never dream of stooping so low. You should be ashamed.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution


March 19, 2009

My Grandma: A Christian I Admire

"Tractored out"; Power farming displ...Image via Wikipedia

I am writing this post for myself because...well, I really need to. I don't know if it will accomplish anything or be worth reading, but I need it. I know I am an atheist and so I am supposed to be a heartless, uncaring, generally evil, baby-eating son-of-a-bitch. So I am sorry for breaking protocol a bit here. You see, my Grandma is dying and dammit, I do feel something.

She has lived a long and happy life, is now in her 90s, and has been in unbelievably good health until very recently. Quite simply, her heart is wearing out. She's been in and out of the hospital quite a bit lately, recovering fairly quickly but then having to return days later. There is little question but that the end is approaching quickly.

In the sense of how many Christians describe themselves, my Grandma is the most devout Christian I have known. She's no evangelical or fundamentalist. In fact, I consider her a good example of what I think of as a moderate Christian.

She has lived most of her life in a small town in the South. She was always very involved in both her church and her community and is one of those rare sorts who seemed to know everyone in town but gossip about no one. She has always been both thrifty and generous. A child of the first Great Depression, she has never felt comfortable spending money on herself. She would rather give it to others who needed it more. Without her help, I never would have been able to attend the college I did.

Try as I might, I cannot think of anyone I have ever known who so clearly embodied the character of Jesus in the Christian bible. If I thought for a second that there was any sort of Christian heaven, I would have little doubt that she would end up there. Of course, I know better than to delude myself.

I am certainly not trying to hold my Grandma up as perfect. I remember how annoying I found her in my youth. She always seemed happy even when the circumstances did not warrant it. She would say things I regarded as incredibly stupid (e.g., telling my Mom that she should smile more even when she didn't feel like it). She could not stand conflict of any kind and would pick the worst possible moments during my rebellious adolescence to suggest that I read the Christian bible. She used to vote for presidential candidates based on who she thought was more attractive. I could go on and on. The thing is, I now recognize how trivial much of this sounds.

There are many lessons I could take from my Grandma's life. As I write this, the one that stands out for me is that she has always seemed comfortable in her own skin. I do not recall her ever seeming interested in impressing others, trying to outdo the neighbors, or concealing her real self. She wanted to be liked, and this was always more important to her than it ever will be for me, but it did not seem to get in her way or lead her to change her presentation. Sure, she's a bit anxious and has always been something of a worrier, but her concerns were always for others rather than herself. Her anxiety was always focused on the welfare of others, and if she experienced sadness, it was generally because she could not do enough to help. I am sure other lessons will occur to me in time, but this is the one that strikes me now.

You know, I think one of the main reasons I found my Grandma to be so annoying at times was that being around her made me feel deficient. She always seemed so accepting of others, so patient, so everything that I wasn't and never will be - that I remember feeling that it amplified my own faults. As uncomfortable as this is to acknowledge, I wish more of her had rubbed off on me.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

Christian Emergency Numbers

One of the mildly upsetting things about Facebook involves learning which of my classmates all those years ago ended up becoming fundamentalist Christians. In checking my page this morning, I found a note from a woman who I remember as quiet, funny, and extremely smart. I recall that she was in the honor society and everyone expected her to do great things. Below, I have reproduced the note she left on Facebook. I am sure this canned bit of drivel has been doing around, so you've probably already seen it. However, this was my first time. So sad.

Emergency Telephone Numbers
These are more effective than 911
When -
You are sad, phone John 14
You have sinned, phone Psalm 51
You are facing danger, phone Psalm 91
People have failed you, phone Psalm 27
It feels as though God is far from you, phone Psalm 139
Your faith needs stimulation, phone Hebrews 11
You are alone and scared, phone Psalm 23
You are worried, phone Matthew 8:19-34
You are hurt and critical, phone 1 Corinthians 13
You wonder about Christianity, phone 2 Corinthians 5:15-18
You feel like an outcast, phone Romans 8:31-39
You are seeking peace, phone Matthew 11:25-30
It feels as if the world is bigger than God, phone Psalm 90
You need Christ like insurance, phone Romans 8:1-30
You are leaving home for a trip , phone Psalm 121
You are praying for yourself, phone Psalm 87
You require courage for a task, phone Joshua 1
Inflation's and investments are hogging your thoughts, phone Mark 10:17-31
You are depressive, phone Psalm 27
Your bank account is empty, phone Psalm 37
You lose faith in mankind, phone 1 Corinthians 13
It looks like people are unfriendly, phone John 15
You are losing hope, phone Psalm 126
You feel the world is small compared to you, phone Psalm 19
You want to carry fruit, phone John 15
Paul's secret for happiness, phone Colossians 3:12-17
With big opportunity/ discovery, phone Isaiah 55
To get along with other people, phone Romans 12
ALTERNATE NUMBERS
For dealing with fear, call Psalm 47
For security, call Psalm 121:3
For assurance, call Mark 8:35
For reassurance, call Psalm 145:18
ALL THESE NUMBERS MAY BE PHONED DIRECTLY.
NO OPERATOR ASSISTANCE IS NECESSARY.
ALL LINES TO HEAVEN ARE AVAILABLE 24 HOURS A DAY.
FEED YOUR FAITH, AND DOUBT WILL STARVE TO DEATH

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution



March 18, 2009

Taking a Chance Pays Off

Carnival float in the Blacks and Whites Carniv...Image via Wikipedia

I like participating in blog carnivals even though I do not always remember to submit material in time. As much as I like Carnival of the Godless and the Humanist Symposium, there is an aspect of "preaching to the choir." Sure, many of those who read those carnivals do not subscribe to Atheist Revolution, and so my participation is a good way to reach them. But it isn't like there are lots of believers reading those carnivals, and sometimes it is nice to reach them too. Unfortunately, most of the Christian blog carnivals are very explicitly Christian only. This had led me to contribute to other carnivals once in awhile, usually with positive results.

After Lijit indicated that my readers were interested in the subject of homeschooling, I wrote a post on atheist homeschooling. While recently perusing Blog Carnival, I noticed that there was a Carnival of Homeschooling. Yeah, but they would never take a post about atheist homeschooling, right? I decided to take a chance and submit my post anyway, fully expecting it to be rejected.

Here is the reply I received from the host of the upcoming edition:
Yowza. Thanks for such a though-provoking post. I haven't hosted a CoH in a while specifically because I was tired to sifting through the religious rhetoric by the same posters time after time. THIS one will certainly make things interesting.

Again, thank you.
Looks like taking a chance may have just paid off. Not only was the host receptive, but it sounds like my contribution may be a welcome change in a sea of religious posts. And you know what? Even if the carnival's host is the only one who appreciates my post, I may still expose others to a viewpoint with which they are unfamiliar. Here is the 168th edition of the carnival where my post appears.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution


Accurate Identification of Science is Crucial

Probability densities for the electron at diff...Image via Wikipedia

Writing in New Scientist, book reviews editor Amanda Gefter concluded her piece on how to identify religion masquerading as science with the following:
It is crucial to the public's intellectual health to know when science really is science. Those with a religious agenda will continue to disguise their true views in their effort to win supporters, so please read between the lines.
How fitting that New Scientist would remove this article from their website in response to creationist complaints! The article, available at Sott.net, should be read by anyone who values science, education, or the importance of obtaining accurate information about the world in which we live.

Gefter explains that she has learned to spot scientific-sounding books as having a hidden religious agenda by looking for a number of clues. Examples include:
  • references to "scientific materialism"
  • mind-brain dualism
  • gross misinterpretations of quantum physics
  • use of terms such as "Darwinism"
  • frequent appeals to common sense
  • efforts to link the cultural implications of a theory to the veracity of the theory
I really appreciate Gefter's article, but even more than that, I appreciate that there are people like her working to help the public distinguish real science from religion dressed as science. As the creationists become more devious in trying to pass off what they do as science, the watchdogs must remain vigilant. Thus, it is truly disappointing to see New Scientist bow to creationist pressure and remove the article.

H/T to The Good Atheist

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution


March 17, 2009

Promoting Atheism on Facebook

Facebook, Inc.Image via Wikipedia

I am posting the following announcement at the request of a reader, Neil. He is organizing a Facebook event this Friday (March 20, 2009), "I am an Atheist." It seems like it might be an effective way to do some consciousness raising for those who are open abut their atheism on Facebook. I'll just let him tell you about it:

This virtual event is titled "I am an Atheist", and it's goal is to function as a sort of online "Pride Day" for nonbelievers. All day on March 20th, participants will set their profile picture to the Scarlet "A", and change their status message to read "I am an atheist" or some other similar proclamation of (dis)belief.

I and Danny Piccirillo, the creator of this event, have worked to ensure a positive attitude would surround this day; we're not looking at it as an opportunity to start fights or awkwardly alienate our colleagues--nothing like that. Instead, we hold the hope that some of the Facebook users out there with ill-informed impressions of the atheist community will see their friends list colored scarlet for one day, and maybe begin to realize that atheists are more diverse than our stereotype, and that we are often in fact productive, caring, ethical people that believers already interact with every day.
The event's page, which does require you to have a Facebook account, can be found at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=88239290014&ref=mf

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

The Skeptical Attitude in Atheism

This is the second post in a multi-part series. The first part was "The Skeptical Attitude in Science." If I was pushed to give only one reason why I am an atheist, the reason I would give would indeed reflect the skeptical attitude: There is insufficient evidence to support the theistic claim that god(s) exist. Believing such an extraordinary claim without sufficient evidence would be undeniably irrational. Thus, reasoned skepticism leads - at least in my case - to atheism.

As we saw in the first post, not all scientists are atheists. Some utilize compartmentalization so as not to apply skepticism to matters of religion. Others are willing to set aside their scientific training completely by doing something scientists are taught never to do. They begin by accepting the conclusion that god(s) must exist and then work backward to piece their case together. Of course, it would be erroneous to consider such a process scientific at all. Such an individual is no longer engaged in science but apologetics.

For the scientist and non-scientist alike, I believe that one who applies the skeptical attitude to matters of religion will likely end up arriving at the atheist position (i.e., no longer accepting the theistic belief claim). For atheists, there is no reason not to apply the skeptical attitude to matters of religion too. After all, it has proven so useful in every other application that it makes sense to evaluate religious claims in the same manner. The Christian bible claims that the earth is 6,000 years old. Science has conclusively proven otherwise. The biblical claim is rejected.

Please do not misunderstand what I referred to above as "the atheist position." Atheism is not a rejection of gods, a worldview of any sort, or a worship of science or humanity. It is nothing more than the realization that one does not accept the theistic claim that god(s) exist. That is all I mean here by "atheist position."

While atheism may be a logical result of applying the skeptical attitude to matters of religion, this does not mean that all atheists became atheists because of skepticism or that all atheists are willing or able to apply skepticism in other spheres of life. Atheists may be rational and skeptical on the question of gods, but this is certainly no assurance that we might not fall into irrationality in all sorts of other domains.

I have known more than a couple atheists who believed in ghosts at the same time they regarded theists as silly for believing in gods. I know atheists who buy all sorts of vitamin supplements making fantastic claims without a shred of support. I know atheists who routinely fail to critically evaluate claims made by their favorite Fox "News" personality. Skepticism may bring many to atheism, but atheism is certainly no guarantee of effective skepticism.

Next up, I will address some domains where the skeptical attitude is desperately needed but often overlooked.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Copyright © vjack and Atheist Revolution, 2005-2014. All rights reserved.