July 31, 2009

We're the Immoral Ones?

"RELIGION IS STUPID, MURDEROUS, BIGOTED A...Image by ruSSeLL hiGGs via Flickr

Christians are fond of reminding atheists that we are immoral because their god provides the basis for all morality. I wonder how many atheist parents hit their children in the head with concrete for refusing to attend church? How many atheists decapitate their 3-year-olds because a "devil" made them do it? How common is it for atheists to kill their diabetic daughters by praying instead of seeking medical attention?

And yet, we are the immoral ones. Why? Because we dare to criticize this absurd religion?

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July 30, 2009

Five Twitter Tools You Should Try

tools of the tradeImage by oneblackbird via Flickr

I have found that Twitter is an excellent way to interact with readers of Atheist Revolution and learn about what is happening outside the U.S. But I am always on the lookout for new ways to add capabilities or simplify Twitter-related tasks. In this post, I'll introduce you to five Twitter tools you should be using.

In no particular order, here are five Twitter tools I use regularly and recommend to others:

1. TweetLater

TweetLater provides many functions, everything from automatically sending tweets on a predetermined schedule to automatically following users who follow you. I do not use all of the many functions, and in fact, there is one that I will caution you to avoid like the plague, but I do regularly use TweetLater's auto-follow and follower vetting functions.

First things first, I strongly caution you against using TweetLater (or any other service) to send automatic welcome direct messages to those who follow you. I made the mistake of doing this before I knew any better, but it is considered bad Twitter etiquette and will lead people to unfollow you.

I use TweetLater to automatically follow anyone who follows me, however, I always use the "vet new followers" function. Whenever someone follows me, TweetLater gives me 72 hours to visit the TweetLater page and decide whether to approve (i.e., follow) the new follower, ignore them, block them, etc. This prevents me from following spammers, Christians who want to convert me, or people who have not been on Twitter long enough for me to be able to evaluate whether they are worth following. I also use TweetLater to automatically unfollow anyone who unfollows me.

2. Tweepular

Yes, Tweepular has one of the most unattractive interfaces imaginable (unless you are a 13 year-old girl), but it is another tool I use regularly. Remember how I said that I vet new followers in TweetLater and that one of the groups I tend not to automatically follow are those who are too new to Twitter for me to evaluate? With Tweepular, it is easy to give them another chance and to make sure I haven't missed any good folks.

With Tweepular, I can see all followers with whom I have a reciprocal relationship, those who I'm following who aren't following me (I do keep a small number of news sources in this category), and those who are following me but who I'm not following. This last category is the one I pay the most attention to. By merely holding the cursor over their name, I can see their Twitter bio, last tweet, location, etc. Tweepular allows me to follow them individually or all at once. Very handy.

3. Mr. Tweet

Simply put, Mr. Tweet is about helping you find relevant people to follow. Mr. Tweet provides you with daily updates listing Twitter users you might be interested in following. It lets you recommend others that you find worth following and get recommended by others. I caution you against spamming requests for people to recommend you and simply trust that it will happen if you continue to use Twitter effectively.

One of the coolest things about Mr. Tweet is how much information it gives you about the people it recommends you to consider following. For each recommendation, it shows you which of your friends are following them and how often your friends interact with them. This is extremely useful in helping you figure out whether to follow someone by showing you what sort of user they are.

4. Twibes

Twibes is one tool every Twitter user should use, especially you atheists. It is a way of forming Twitter groups on various topics so that those interested in the topic can come together for more focused interaction.

Twibes has an "atheists" group, and this can be useful in a couple of ways. First, browsing those who belong is a great way to find relevant people to follow. Second, one can interact with members of this group by sending tweets through the Twibes page. That is, if you want to tweet something only to members of this group, you can do so.

5. Monitter

Monitter is a very different sort of tool in that it is about content rather than follower management. If you want to use Twitter as a source of information, Monitter is for you. You enter up to three search terms and can see three simultaneous live Twitter streams in which the term is relevant. I used Monitter to keep track of developments in Iran after the election by entering #iranelection in one window, but because I didn't want to miss out on atheist-related info, I had #atheist in another window. I can't remember what was in the third window, but knowing me, it was probably something like #horror or #mac - you get the idea. Just be forewarned, Monitter can be terribly addictive.

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July 29, 2009

Indiana Atheists Prevail: Bus Ads Coming to Bloomington

Remember the atheist bus ads that were scheduled to go up in Bloomington, Indiana? The Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation rejected the ad on the grounds that it was "controversial," prompting the ACLU and the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign to sue the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation in federal court. The fight is now over, and the atheists won. The ads will now go up in Bloomington. Way to go Indiana atheists!

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July 28, 2009

Is Cheese Ever Morally Justified?

Vacherin du haut Doubs.Image via Wikipedia

What an absurd question! Cheese has nothing whatsoever to do with morality, so the question doesn't even make sense. And yet, it is no more absurd than the title of a recent article at the Christian Post blog, "Is atheism ever morally justified?" I'll briefly explain why and then point out something even more nonsensical about the post.

Atheism refers to a lack of belief in god(s). It is morally irrelevant in the same way your lack of belief in unicorns is morally irrelevant. If you want to ask whether certain things are morally justified, focus on actions and not beliefs.

What about the even more nonsensical part?
I think here of a well known academic who avowed disbelief in the Christian God because he was told -- with a notable absence of pastoral sensitivity -- that a childhood Jewish friend who died in a car accident was burning in hell. As a result this academic came to believe that the Christian God is arbitrary, capricious, and unjust. So when he says that he disbelieves in God, he is saying he disbelieves in a god who is arbitrary, capricious and unjust. But I don't believe in such a god either.
Perhaps the "well known academic" was in error. Then again, if you are an atheist, you've heard some variation of this claim thousands of times. The author is essentially accusing the atheist of the straw man fallacy. But here is what Christians who are so fond of this do not seem to realize, a straw man built from the Christian bible is no straw man at all.

When confronted with the words in their own bible, the Christian has two choices: acceptance or mental gymnastics. Obviously, the first option is rarely utilized. But the second choice contains a trap for those Christians who insist that their bible is the inerrant word of their particular god: if it is really inerrant, then the words matter. One does not get to reinterpret them.

But what about the Christians who are not committed to the claim that their bible is the word of their god? Usually, they argue that we are misinterpreting their bible. Evidently their god is so deceptive that the true meaning of their bible is only revealed to those who already believe in it. Yep, the Christian bible is magic! And best of all, the "real meaning" of any passage selected at random just so happens to coincide with the Christian's own beliefs and values.

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July 27, 2009

Did Your Parents Give a Damn What You Wanted?

I often find some of the most thought-provoking and emotionally-charged posts at EXchristian.net. A recent one, "Angry and disillusioned with the Christian cancer," caught my attention by the title and did not disappoint.
Evidently, it didn't occur to my parents that my mind wasn't fully mature and I had no idea what the hell they were getting me into. It didn't occur to them to ask what I wanted -- they just presumed upon me that I naturally wanted to be a Christian too.
Yep. That describes my experience too. My parents, now Christian-in-name-only as far as I can tell, say that they dragged me to church, required me to attend Sunday school and bible school in the summers because they thought it would be good for me (in the sense of it being good for my "soul"). I'm no longer mad at them for doing this - I'm old enough now that I came to terms with this year ago and harbor no real resentment on this issue. But one thing is undeniably clear: they did not care what I wanted.

Sunday school at the Baptist church which is n...
Sunday school at the Baptist church which is not on company property and was built by the miners. Lejunior, Harlan... - NARA - 541341 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Like the author of the post at EXchristian.net, my parents had good intentions. We have talked about their intentions over the years, and I do understand that they meant no harm. Part of it involved them wanting me to have the sort of connection to the church that they fondly remembered from their own childhoods. Part of it did involve the superstitious fears over my "soul" roasting in "hell" if I was not indoctrinated. And still another part involved a desire to protect me from the social consequences they knew I would experience without religion.

What made the difference - and eventually allowed me to rediscover myself - was that my parents did an excellent job of promoting education, including science. I was permitted to read whatever I wanted, and knowledge was generally celebrated. Sure, there were times when I was told not to ask so any questions or to take something on faith. But it always seemed half-assed to me and was no real deterrent.

As childhood gave way into adolescence, I rebelled in many ways. This included rejecting religion as the nonsense I knew it to be. This did create quite a bit of conflict initially, but my parents eventually came to terms with it. There were a few years where they attended church without me, and then they also stopped going.

Over the years, we've had many discussions and some heated arguments about the nature of religion. The end point is always the same - they recognize that there really is no compelling evidence but insist that the belief, regardless of its truth, works for them somehow. This isn't something I bother to bring up anymore. There is little point. If they need superstition to feel whole, there is little I can do about it. I have no such need, and I am very fortunate for that.

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July 26, 2009

Feeling Powerless in the Face of Catholic Crimes

I watched Doubt last night. Excellent film that is easy to recommend. If you have seen it, you'll understand why I mention that I just watched it even though that isn't what this post is going to be about. I mention it only to shed some light on my state of mind. You see, I got up this morning, made coffee like usual, and sat down in front of my computer to begin my Sunday morning ritual of reading atheist blogs. Not more than 2 minutes into it, and I am so mad I feel like punching someone. What happened? I read this post at Deep Thoughts and the disturbing article to which it linked


It seems that Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Raymond E. Goedert, a former top official in the Catholic church in Chicago, has admitted that he was fully aware of sexual abuse committed by 25 different priests on his watch between 1970 and 1986. He knew that these priests were molesting children and chose to do nothing, not even report them.
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Raymond E. Goedert's statements show "the lengths they went to to protect their reputation and the priest at the peril of the child," said attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents men who have sued the archdiocese over alleged childhood molestation.
As far as I'm concerned, the money paid out by the Catholic church to survivors of priest abuse is not nearly enough for us to consider the issue closed. As the systematic efforts to conceal these crimes, enabling the perpetrators to continue, becomes evident, it is time to stop this sick religion. As evidence mounts, not even Bill Donahue will be able to defend these guys much longer. Enough is enough!

There is an organization devoted to helping those abused by priests, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. That's how widespread this shit has been - they need their own advocacy group! Here's what their outreach director had to say on the subject:
Only a fool would believe that decades-old, deeply rooted patterns of ingrained secrecy, deceit and recklessness have magically been transformed.
What do we do? I desperately want to help people escape from this sick religion, but I feel powerless to do so. I know I can't convince current Catholics to drop their silly faith and get away from their perverted church. I hate this!

And to those who will read this and claim that I am being unfair to criticize ordinary Catholics for the crimes committed by a relatively small number of their group, I have two quick questions. First, why would you knowingly chose to associate with such a group? Second, do you not realize that the money you pay into your church goes, at least in part, to pay these guys?

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A Good Day for Blog Carnivals

You can find the Carnival of the Godless at Cyberlizard's Collection and the Humanist Symposium is up at Evolving Mind. If we want these atheist blog carnivals to stick around, we need to help out by contributing, hosting, and helping to publicize them. It is up to us.


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July 25, 2009

Idiot of the Week: "Birthers"

'Birther' Pickup Truck Bumper StickersImage by brownpau via Flickr

It is Saturday, so you know it is time to crown a new idiot of the week. The field of idiots has been culled, and a winner identified. Let's get to the award ceremony.

If there is one thing we know about idiocy, it is that it is contagious. This week, I'm going to depart a bit from the usual practice of naming a single idiot and give a shout out to the entire "birther" movement. "Birthers" are a special form of idiots who refuse to believe that President Obama was born in the U.S. no matter what evidence they are shown. They represent a small but quite rabid segment of the far right, but they seem to be finding support from some of the big-name wingnuts (e.g., CNN xenophobe Lou Dobbs).

To appreciate the idiocy of the "birthers," one really has to watch this video from Delaware Republican Mike Castle's recent town hall meeting.



H/T to Dispatches From the Culture Wars

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July 24, 2009

How to Save Blog Carnivals

Carnival fascination - IImage by carf via Flickr

A recent post at Tangled Up In Blue Guy got me thinking. The post was reproduced from Leo Lincourt of Neural Gourmet fame. Leo is the one behind Carnival of the Liberals, and his post asked readers to consider whether it was time to end the long-running carnival. I've made no secret of being a fan of blog carnivals. Not surprisingly, my initial reaction was, "Hell no! We need a blog carnival celebrating progressive political blogging." But it isn't quite that simple. The influence of blog carnivals has been declining steadily, and there is no denying that they just aren't what they used to be. In this post, I'll share some thoughts on how we might save the blog carnival. However, you'll have to decide for yourself whether we should work to save them.

There are many reasons for the declining influence of blog carnivals. Leo describes a decline in the number of worthwhile submissions, and I have heard from those involved in other blog carnivals that this reflects a wider trend. Leo also notes that it has becoming increasingly difficult to find hosts for upcoming carnivals. Again, the same problem has been described repeatedly by those in charge of other blog carnivals such as Carnival of the Godless and the Humanist Symposium. Leo also questions whether blog carnivals are simply becoming obsolete in this age of Twitter, FriendFeed, Tumblr, etc.

Nobody wants to be in charge of a carnival in decline, so Leo's query about whether it is time to pull the plug is perfectly understandable. Managing a carnival is a lot of work, and it has to be frustrating to feel like one is losing an uphill battle against forces beyond one's control.

Ideas for Saving Blog Carnivals

As contributors, hosts, and readers of blog carnivals, we need to decide whether we want to save the medium. I can't decide this for anyone but myself, and the reality is that the effects of any efforts on my part to persuade you one way of the other would be short-lived at best. Instead, I offer the following thoughts about how we might save blog carnivals:
  1. Educate the authors of newer, smaller blogs about the benefits of hosting and contributing to blog carnivals.
  2. Reduce overlap in existing blog carnivals.
  3. Encourage contributors who have posts accepted to do a better job of promoting the carnival post via social media (e.g., StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, etc.).
  4. Encourage those who manage blog carnivals to reconsider editorial policies.
I know some of these suggestions might not be sufficiently clear, so I'll elaborate on them one-by-one.

For more established blogs, hosting a blog carnival involves considerable effort in exchange for little added traffic. Those running newer or smaller blogs are those most likely to benefit from hosting a blog carnival, and yet, these bloggers are the least likely to be familiar with blog carnivals. The same can be said for submitting posts to a blog carnival. This can have a big impact for less established blogs because a good post will bring the author considerable attention.

The overlap issue isn't really a problem for Carnival of the Liberals, but it certainly is for Carnival of the Godless and the Humanist Symposium. On weeks when these two carnivals overlap, it is difficult to know where to send contributions that might be appropriate for both.

For authors who have posts accepted by various blog carnivals, it goes without saying that you should do a post on your own blog directing readers to the carnival. Beyond that, make sure you submit or vote up the carnival on every social media network possible. This brings the host additional traffic and brings you more visitors as well.

Carnival of the Liberals generally only accepts the 10 posts which the host likes the best. Given the current state of blog carnivals, I think this is a mistake. Over the years, this practice has earned Carnival of the Liberals a reputation as a rather picky carnival. The problem is that this discourages many bloggers from tailoring posts to the carnival. As someone who has had multiple posts rejected by this carnival, I know I do not submit as much as I might otherwise. Admittedly, there is a trade off - poor quality posts should be screened out, but some modification of editorial policies seems warranted.

Other ideas?

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July 23, 2009

Why Atheists Object to Engraving "In God We Trust" on the Capitol Visitor Center

US Capitol Visitors Center Silver DollarImage by Orbital Joe via Flickr

As you know, both houses of Congress have approved a bill requiring "In God We Trust" to be engraved in the Capitol Visitor Center. You may also know that the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed suit to stop the addition on the grounds that it reflects an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. Not surprisingly, I applaud their efforts. This is a great opportunity for advocates of church-state separation and accurate U.S. history to educate those now being misled by Christian extremists and revisionists.

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, the sponsor of the bill to require the engraving, has claimed that the FFRF's suit is an effort to silence those who want to talk about their religion. This is not at all what is going on, but it does reveal why it is important for us to explain the real issues.

Rep. King also claims that the FFRF is trying to strip the U.S. of our religious heritage.
I think in the end it makes it more clear what they are trying to do and that strengthens my case and the case of people who want to have an accurate depiction of history.
Again, that is not what is happening here. The FFRF and those of us who support their efforts are opposed to the engraving for the following reasons:
  1. Placing "In God We Trust" on a government building amounts to blatantly unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government (i.e., a violation of the Establishment Clause).
  2. The U.S. government is tasked with representing the people - not just those who believe in gods - but all the people.
  3. "In God We Trust" is not an accurate statement. Many Americans do indeed trust in god(s); many others do not believe in any god(s).
  4. "In God We Trust" is inherently exclusionary. It defines the in-group as those who believe in a particular god and excludes everyone else.
  5. The fact that "In God We Trust" became the national motto of the U.S. in 1956 no more implies that it is part of our national heritage than the fact that many of our "founding fathers" owned slaves implies that slavery is part of our national heritage.
Rep. King says that he welcomes public debate about religion. Fair enough. Let's give it to him.

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Look Who's Defending Separation of Church and State Now

City of HartfordImage via Wikipedia

If there is one thing far right Christian groups are not exactly known for, it is their defense of church-state separation. And yet, the state of Connecticut appears to have found a way to make them do so.

After the Connecticut state government included links to gay-friendly churches on their Department of Children and Families web site, the Family Institute of Connecticut complained, prompting the state to remove the links. The state recognized that linking to churches on a government website raised questions of church-state separation, and they were right to remove the links.

As for the Family Institute of Connecticut, it appears that they are primarily concerned with anyone suggesting that some churches were more tolerant than the anti-gay ones they prefer. What a perfect way to help Christian groups finally understand that separation of church and state benefits everyone.

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July 22, 2009

Christian Extremism in America: The Family

I had heard of the secretive Christian extremist organization known as "the Family" before the latest high-profile Republican sex scandals hit the news. However, I did not know much about the group. In fact, all I had really heard was that they were a well-connected Christian dominionist organization in the Washington D.C. area. I still do not know very much about them, but I have to say that what I've been learning in the aftermath of the Ensign, Sanford, and Pickering scandals has been more than a little concerning. I hope that more information about the group emerges, so much information that they are essentially neutered. After all, it strikes me as nearly impossible to view this group as anything less than a serious threat to democracy.

Bruce Wilson has an informative post on the Family over at Huffington Post, and as much as I hate the thought of relying on them as a source of information on any subject, it seems like a reasonable place to start because he assembles information from a variety of reputable sources. Religion Dispatches also has some good information on the Family. Here are some details about the group worth knowing:
  • The Family is the oldest conservative Christian organization in Washington D.C.
  • The Family runs (but does not own) the notorious "C Street House" as a church to provide assorted politicians with inexpensive living space, Christian bible study, and "spiritual counseling."
  • "C Street House" is owned by an organization, Youth With a Mission D.C., headed by Loren Cunningham, a man with a vision for worldwide Christian dominion. Cunningham links to Campus Crusade for Christ and Christian Embassy, a D.C.-based ministry that tries to convert Pentagon officials.
  • The Family is responsible for the annual National Prayer Breakfasts and runs assorted prayer groups in which both Republican and Democratic members of Congress participate.
  • According to Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (added to my to-read list), the Family is "committed to a political theology that views democracy as a form of secular humanism, to which they're deeply opposed."
It does not sound to me like members of the Family, including the politicians who continue to associate with them, have much interest in democracy. If this group was not on your radar before, I suggest they should be now.
The kingdom of God that’s to be built here on earth, Family organizers are fond of saying, is not a democracy.
- Jeff Sharlet

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July 21, 2009

Catholics Still Determined to Conceal Clergy Abuse

Mosaic cross ~Lobby of New West Catholic gym
Mosaic cross ~Lobby of New West Catholic gym (Photo credit: laudu)
I have never considered myself to be anti-Catholic, at least not any more so than I am anti-religion in general. Most of my friends are Catholics, and we usually manage not to get bogged down in religious or political debates. In fact, here in Mississippi, they are often allies against the sea of Southern Baptists which surrounds us. But the Catholic Church is another matter entirely, and I find myself having an increasingly difficult time imagining why anyone would want to associate themselves with it today.

In the last year alone, it seems like there has been one Catholic abuse scandal after another. As bad as they are, I keep coming back to the common thread which ties them all together: systematic efforts by the Church to prevent disclosure, conceal the harsh realities, and protect known pedophiles. Essentially, everyone but them is responsible.

In the latest bit of news on this front, we have a report from the Associated Press that a Roman Catholic diocese in Connecticut is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent public disclosure of more evidence of sexual abuse. If anyone is still denying that the Church seeks to conceal bad acts and protect pedophiles, this should set them straight.

The records could reveal details on how retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan handled the allegations when he was Bridgeport bishop from 1988 to 2000. Egan's deposition should be in the file, according to an attorney for the newspapers seeking the documents.
Jonathan Albano, an attorney representing various American newspapers and seeking disclosure of the records was quoted as saying,
It's somewhat disappointing that the diocese continues to approach the litigation in a way that delays the public's right to see these documents.
Disappointing is an understatement. This is appalling and should get the attention of anyone opposed to the sexual abuse of children. I agree completely with David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests when he says,
We're disappointed that the complicity of top Catholic officials continues to remain hidden. This is not what Connecticut Catholics or citizens deserve. It's one more painful reminder that bishops will do everything possible to protect themselves and their colleagues instead of children.
H/T to Deep Thoughts

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July 20, 2009

Christian Investors Swindled In "Blessed" Ponzi Scheme

Peachtree City, GeorgiaImage via Wikipedia

A reader e-mailed me a heads-up about this story, and it was way too good not to share.

According to an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from July 17, 2009, the Peachtree City Gresham Co. has been accused of defrauding Christian investors with a Ponzi scheme designed specifically for Christians. According to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Eldon A. Gresham targeted Christian investors by claiming that the "Lord had blessed him" and that he was offering his program to "a limited number of Christians for a limited time."

Wow! Not only did these Christian investors have the opportunity to invest with someone who had been blessed by their god, but it was an exclusive Christians-only deal. What could possibly go wrong?

It seems to me that credulity in one sphere (e.g., believing in supernatural entities without evidence) often generalizes into other spheres. What better marks could an unscrupulous con artist hope to find than those who have already demonstrated a propensity to ignore evidence in favor of wish-fulfillment?

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July 19, 2009

Throwing Out Separation of Church and State 410 to 8

In God We TrustImage by kevindooley via Flickr

According to the Associated Press as posted by the First Amendment Center, the national motto of the United States, "In God We Trust," will be engraved in the Capitol Visitor Center following a 410-8 vote in the House to approve H.Con. Res. 131. The 410 likely represent a mixture of Constitutional ignorance, blind acceptance of Christian extremist propaganda about American history, desire to push one's religious beliefs on others, willingness to violate one's oath to uphold the Constitution to pander to ignorant voters, and simple apathy. One thing is clear: the 410 are sorely mistaken.

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Where are the Atheist Women?

Atheist Bus Campaign LaunchImage by Girl with a one-track mind via Flickr

Many atheist blogs periodically address the subject of atheist dating. Not surprisingly, atheists are interested in dating too. I have noticed that there seems to be a perception in the atheist community that there is a shortage of atheist women. Is the atheist movement really something of a "sausage fest," and if so, why? Perhaps the shortage of atheist women is only imagined. Another possibility is that it is highly context-dependent.

One thing we should understand about the atheist community is that only a tiny fraction those who belong to it approach their atheism with a sense of activism. Among this minority within a minority of atheist activists, I suspect that women are underrepresented. Could this be why so many male atheists lament the lack of atheist women? They are basing their calculations on the activist segment while ignoring the bigger picture.

If I am correct that women are underrepresented among atheist activists, then we might do well to ask why. Is there something about atheist activism, as it tends to be conceived, that is unappealing to many women? If so, is this something that could change? Independent of the dating topic, I think that atheist activism would benefit from the involvement of more women.

In the larger atheist community, I'm not so sure that women are underrepresented. If I'm right, then the challenge for male atheists seeking women would be to find them in a much wider range of settings than activist-oriented meetings.

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July 18, 2009

What Atheists Can Learn From Right-Wing Enablers

Religious sentiment often become a contributor...Image via Wikipedia
The second most controversial statement Richard Dawkins made in The God Delusion dealt with the shared responsibility of religious moderates for what extremists do in the name of their religion (you can find the most controversial here). This generated quite a bit of discussion, but I think that most atheists would agree that religious moderates who refuse to condemn the violence committed by religious extremists bear at least some responsibility for continued religious violence. We are now seeing a fascinating discussion of the same phenomenon as it pertains to right-wing extremism in the U.S. Confronted with acts of domestic terrorism committed by right-wing extremists, many Americans are starting to wonder whether those on the right who refuse to condemn these acts or otherwise contribute to the cultural milieu in which they occur might share at least some of the responsibility. While reading a recent post at Quit Your Apathy, it occurred to me that this same discussion might apply to atheists in a slightly different way.

As difficult as it might be to imagine acts of domestic terrorism committed in the name of atheism, some have warned that it is just a matter of time until this happens. When it does, I expect clear and forceful condemnation to ripple through the online atheist community. Since we have no doctrine to defend, we do not have to worry about how criticizing a terrorist might somehow undermine anything about atheism.

But what about those of us who could someday be accused of enabling such acts? If this seems far fetched, I remind you that some Christians are convinced that we eat their babies!

As we look at the relationship between religious moderates and religious extremists or between right-wing moderates and political extremists, should we be examining our own ranks as well? Just because we do not now see atheists advocating violence does not mean that we might not someday see it.

And what about a different sort of enabling that actually is fairly common today? Consider for a moment how many atheists communicate the message that nobody should rock the boat. Couldn't this be construed as a form of enabling those who wish to keep us silent and invisible?

Some boats need to be rocked, and some pots must be stirred. There are many ways individual atheists can speak out and stand up for their rights. As we remain vigilant to the possibility of those among us who might someday advocate violence, we must not allow this to stifle raw passion.

What can we learn from right-wing enablers? I'd like to see us take at least two lessons away from the discussion. First, should we ever see elements in our midst moving toward violence, we need to raise the alarm and have the courage to denounce it. Second, by urging others to keep silent, know their place, or tone down non-violent rhetoric, we risk enabling those who would oppress us.

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Idiot of the Week: Pat Buchanan

WASHINGTON - JUNE 15:  Pat Buchanan speaks abo...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Here we are with another installment of the Idiot of the Week series. Each Saturday, one shining example of idiocy from the previous week is selected for special recognition.

You know it has been a good week for idiocy when Christian extremist Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) does not win for his Human Physical-Mental Enhancement Prohibition Act! What could possibly trump Brownback's idiocy? It was a tough call, but I've been watching the Sotomayor confirmation hearings with fascination and have observed almost too much idiocy to handle. To be clear, I have seen it from both political parties. As much fun as some of the Republican questions have been, the Democrats have absolutely squandered a perfect opportunity to explain many of the problems with the Roberts court. Both sides should be embarrassed.

But even worse than watching the hearings themselves, I saw Pat Buchanan on Maddow. After that, it was clear that he deserved Idiot of the Week even though I had already written (but not published) a post declaring a different winner. If you have not watched the clip of him arguing with Maddow, you really should see it in its entirety. It is a watershed moment in the history of race in America that we will be talking about for years to come (I hope).

I'd like to be clear that I'm not bestowing this honor on Buchanan simply because he opposes affirmative action. Based on my experience with graduate admissions, I have serious questions about the merits of affirmative action. That said, this is pure idiocy:
White men were 100% of the people that wrote the Constitution, 100% of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks, who were 90% of the nation in 1960 when I was growing up and the other 10% were African-Americans who had been discriminated against. That's why.
If we want to have a real discussion about the pros and cons of affirmative action, we need to start by acknowledging that there are pros and cons. Stating that the purpose of affirmative action is "to increase diversity by discriminating against white males," as Buchanan does contributes nothing.



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July 17, 2009

Risk Aversion as an Obstacle to Atheist Equality

As atheists, most of us have considerable experience with self-control. We have learned (sometimes the hard way) to prioritize our personal safety over any noble desire to speak out in defense of our rights or in opposition to the irrational and destructive nature of religious belief. Most of us have bitten our tongues so often as to have developed callouses!

Unholy Trinity (Source: atheistcartoons.com)

This is understandable, particularly for those of us who reside in pockets of widespread religious extremism. Nobody is interested in being a martyr for a cause, especially when some atheists continue to believe that there is no need for atheist activism of any kind.

And yet, it does raise a bit of a predicament for those of us who are interested in reducing the influence of religious extremism in society, strengthening church-state separation, advancing atheist equality, and the like. By remaining silent on the subject of religion, we become as complicit in maintaining religious extremism as the religious moderates who refuse to denounce the extremists. By refusing to speak out in defense of our fellow atheists, we make sure that atheist equality will remain a pipe dream.

Look at the title of this article from MSNBC: "Never Talk About Religion in a Bar" and there is little question that it conveys a message. The brief article reports on an incident in San Diego where a Muslim shot a Christian multiple times in a bar after the two had been arguing over religion. The implication is chilling: discussing religion is not safe.

At some level, it appears that our aversion to risk may limit what we can accomplish. The hard part is that this is - and must be - an individual decision which each of us makes for ourselves after careful consideration of our life circumstances. As we identify obstacles to speaking out, perhaps we can collectively find ways to reduce the risks.

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July 16, 2009

Blog Tips: Using a Feed Reader Effectively

FeedDemonImage via Wikipedia
For those of us who blog primarily in one niche or another, it is vital that we remain aware of what others in our niche are doing. We also want to be able to efficiently track relevant news without getting bogged down in irrelevant information. This blogging tip focuses on the RSS side of things and assumes that you are using a full featured RSS reader.

First things first, there are a number of ways to read RSS feeds, ranging from web-based clients (e.g., Google Reader, Bloglines, etc.) to stand-alone applications. As noted above, this tip assumes that you are using a stand-alone application, as these generally offer more advanced features like the one I am going to explain here.

If you use OS X and want an excellent free RSS reader, look no further than NetNewsWire. It is what I currently use, and it does everything I could want and more. For those in the Windows world, I recommend FeedDemon. It is also free and full-featured.

I have my feeds grouped into many different folders. For example, I have one folder in my reader called "AR Blogroll" that contains the feeds from every blog included in the Atheist Revolution blogroll. This makes it easier to keep up with the blogs I read regularly and recommend to others. I have another folder called "New Atheist Blogs" that contains feeds for blogs I have recently discovered and am evaluating for possible inclusion in my blogroll. I have an "Atheist News" folder, and...I'm sure you get the idea by now. If not, see tip #12.

On to the tip. Suppose that I have a very large collection of feeds in a folder such that whenever I open my application, several hundred unread posts will show up for that folder. Quite a lot of information to wade through, isn't it? It would be helpful if I could narrow it down to save myself some time, at least on the days when I am rushed.

I'll give you a specific example of how this works. I have a "Mac" folder containing so many active Mac-related RSS feeds that I can count on at least 300 new posts each time I open my feed reader. The thing is, I have no interest in all the iPhone material that clutters these feeds. I am looking for Mac-related news and products and have no interest in owning an iPhone until Apple develops an e-mail system as robust as the one on my Blackberry.

The solution was to create what NetNewsWire calls a "smart list." By setting up a simple smart list, I was able to filter the entire Mac folder to eliminate any post with "iPhone" in the title. This cut the amount of material to wade through nearly in half.

Picture 1

How can I apply this to my atheist-related feeds? Essentially, I can construct this sort of filter to capture and exclude virtually anything that I find annoying or that I'm simply not interested in. The beauty of this system is that I have have the choice of reviewing the original folder with everything included or the condensed smart list.

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July 15, 2009

But For Religion...

BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 15:  The ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

In the legal arena, discussions of criminal responsibility often include statements such as, "But for the effects of alcohol, Mr. Jones never would have shot Ms. Smith" or "But for the the mental illness which impaired Ms. Smith's judgment, she never would have assaulted Mr. Jones." Such considerations help us to unravel often complicated situations and parse responsibility. We can apply the same process to religion, and in so doing, we may gain insight into the degree to which it is or is not responsible for various acts.

Take the disturbing case of 12 year-old Khyra Ishaq in Birmingham, England. Khyra was allegedly starved to death by her mother, described as a recent convert to Islam. According to The Telegraph,
When the circumstances surrounding Khyra's death emerged this week, the initial debate focused on alleged neglect and child poverty. But there is now speculation that Khyra's condition may be linked to some form of "religious" process.
But for the recent conversion to Islam by Khyra's mother, would Khyra still be alive? Testimony during the trial suggests that Khyra's mother thought her daughter was possessed and may have tortured her as well.

As The Good Atheist suggested in a recent post,
It’s rather difficult to get the real story as to what happened. One thing is for sure, however; religion played a role in the neglect and torture of these children. To what extend (sic), it’s difficult to ascertain, but it’s not uncommon for extremely religious individuals to completely isolate themselves from the outside world, especially if they feel it has a corrupting influence.
It does appear that religion was relevant, but can we really say that this wouldn't have happened but for religion? We need to know more about the mental state of Khyra's mother before we can answer that. Still, it is a question worth asking in this and many other cases.

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July 14, 2009

Obama's Quest for New Church

Poster of Barack Obama's official portrait as ...Image by Li Song via Flickr

I want to draw your attention to an interesting post at Blogcritics in which the author, a self-identified god-believer, argues that it is a mistake for President Obama to continue searching for a home church. No, it is not some sort of deluded anti-Obama rant. It is well-written and brings up some interesting points that probably won't strike you as unfamiliar.

Here is a brief excerpt:
So why the fuss about Obama’s religious affiliation? To me, the answer is simple. Christianity’s most basic tenet is that an all-knowing divine God sent his only Son, Jesus, down to earth where he allowed himself to be murdered by humans as reparation for human sins. How can an intelligent person accept such a heinous crime? How could rational beings build a church on that horrendous premise or become affiliated with such an organization?
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