December 31, 2011

Idiot of the Year 2011

2011Whew! That year went by quickly, didn't it? With the annual war on Christmas behind us, it must be time to pick 2011's Idiot of the Year. Based on tradition, last year's winner (Sen. John McCain) is excluded from consideration. Fortunately, we have quite a distinguished pool even without him.

A Year in Review

2011 was another year crowded with idiots. There were many politicians, including governors, members of Congress, and corporate sponsored presidential candidates. They continue to be noteworthy because they often have the power to put some of their crazy into practice.

Many of the 2011 honorees had made the list in previous years. We were already familiar with them and not at all surprised by their return. But others emerged on the scene in 2011 and managed to garner far more recognition than anyone deserves, appearing multiple times in 2011 alone.

The media was not left out, as some "winners" managed to ruin perfectly good TV shows while others ruined perfectly horrible TV shows.

Not surprisingly, religious organizations were popular, including churches, self-proclaimed defenders of certain Christian denominations, and popular television evangelists. And for the first time ever, an atheist made the list.

December 30, 2011

Redditgate and How it Has Been Handled

68xb2I had somehow missed the latest controversy to hit the atheist blogosphere until yesterday: Redditgate. What happened? A 15 year-old girl posted a picture of herself holding Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark in the r/atheism section with a brief message about how her religious mother bought it for her as a Christmas present (see the Reddit thread). This was very cool of her mom, and most of the people who commented on her post said so or shared accounts of how Sagan's wonderful book inspired them. Unfortunately, a few decided to make inappropriate comments about the sexual acts they'd like to perform on the girl. She initially joked back with them, and some seemed to take that as an invitation to become increasingly graphic in their descriptions. And then Rebecca Watson of Elevatorgate fame (Skepchick) blogged about it. Rebecca has since been subjected to all manner of attacks on Reddit (including threats of rape and death).

December 29, 2011

People Really Enjoy Shopping?

ShoppingI went shopping at a few different stores today. I hate shopping. I do as much of it online as I can because doing it in person is nearly always an unpleasant experience. The constant Jesus drivel gets old, but the general lack of awareness with which some people operate is even worse. There's the moron who chats with the cashier after completing his purchase, oblivious to the fact that he's holding up the line. There's the cashier so stupid she's unable to return an item for another customer. There's the salesperson I ask for help who is incredibly rude and disinterested in assisting me even though no other customers are in his area. However, there are some things that are difficult to buy online or that I need right away, and so the frustration must be endured.

Too Weak To Be An Atheist?

Atheist CatYou've heard the saying "ignorance is bliss." For many people, it rings true. Perhaps not everyone is cut out to strike out on one's own and pursue truth no matter how unpopular it might be. For many people, moment-to-moment comfort, even false comfort, is far preferable. It is indeed easier to adopt the position of the majority and not question it. If we want to "go along to get along," it is easy enough to turn on the TV, shut down our minds, and refuse to ask the difficult questions.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard something like this, I'd be one of those filthy rich "job creators" the Republican Tea Party loves so much:
I could never be an atheist. I need something to believe in.

December 28, 2011

A Monument to Christopher Hitchens

HitchensA reader asked me to pass this along, and I'm happy to do so.

Efforts are underway to have a statue of Christopher Hitchens erected in London. The organizers are in the process of collecting signatures on a petition at www.atheist-reference.org, and they could use your electronic signatures. It seems like a great way to honor such an influential figure.

If you missed it, you can find my thoughts on Hitchens' passing and how some Christians reacted to it here.

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December 27, 2011

Apathy is Problem for Religion Too

The Winnipeg Free Press ran a story titled "Does religion still have a prayer?" in which the author, Cathy Lynn Grossman, suggests that decreasing numbers of people have any interest in spirituality. In spite of one big error in the article, which I'll get to in a moment, Grossman provides an interesting look at what may be the biggest obstacle faced by religion: apathy.

Let's get the error out of the way first. It will not surprise you; it is precisely the sort of thing we've seen again and again when reporters write about atheism without understanding it. After opening with a couple of anecdotes about people who are apathetic about religion, Grossman writes:
Helton, 28, and Dohm, 54, aren't atheists, either. They simply shrug off God, religion, heaven or the ever-trendy search-for-meaning and/or purpose.

December 26, 2011

An Easier Way to Advertise on Atheist Revolution

AdvertiseI hear from many potential advertisers hoping to reach my amazing audience here, and I've been searching for an easier way to sell ad space on Atheist Revolution. The problem is I've got my hands full with writing posts, so any solution was going to have to be easy for me.

I'm happy to report that I think I may have found it. You'll see a new ad box to the right of this post. This is from Komoona, and it provides a way for advertisers to create or upload a 125x125 ad box directly without leaving the blog or having to navigate any complicated auction sites. That means I really don't have to do anything, so I think we have a winner.

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I Get Email Telling Me I Belong to a Religion

'Tis the season for great email, so here's one (unedited). You know I'm a sucker for references to "you people."
You should be made aware that anyone who desires to spread his or her belief structure is an evangelist. Believe it or not, YOU belong to a religion. I'm not sure if it's just that you are more like "Christians" than you care to realize(like that's the only religious belief structure out there or something) or if you're just bigoted, but you're blinded by that so badly by it that you completely fail to see where you stand. You are the thing that you want to resist so much. And don't bother with the "We believe in science" thing. Science neither proves nor denies the existence of any deity of any kind seeing as how science relies IMPLICITLY on collected data to validate its findings. To tack a belief structure on to science is nothing short of religion. I put you peopl! e in the same category as the religious nuts that knock on my door and tell me I'm going to burn if I don't believe what they do. Think about it you religious nuts.
Using this author's apparent definition of evangelism, all teachers are evangelists because they seek to spread a belief system. Granted, it happens to be a factually-based belief system, but this author does not appear to be interested in such distinctions.

December 25, 2011

'War on Christmas' Generates Money for Conservative Organizations

war on ChristmasYou and I both know that there is no war on Christmas. Encouraging people to be respectful of one another (e.g., saying "happy holidays" rather than presuming to know which holidays someone celebrates) is not a war. Reminding government that it is not legal for them to promote one religion via sectarian holiday displays without allowing displays from other belief systems is also not a war. Nobody is trying to ban Christmas, not even we members of the evil atheist horde.

But if that's the case and there really is no war on Christmas, why must we hear about it every year? The answer is money. Scaring people about an imagined war on Christmas has proven to be an effective way for conservative organizations with Christian extremist leanings to raise money. In the United States, conservative politics comes wrapped not only in an American flag but in a Christian flag. Cleverly designed propaganda that exploits one's fear of change, sense of patriotism, and love of the Jesus concept translates into donations.

December 24, 2011

Social Pressure Does Not Constitute a Ban

Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What does it mean when an Islamic cleric bans women from handling "penis-shaped" foods for fear that it might arouse them? Assuming the particular cleric is an outlier without real power, it means he's going to be mocked. But what if the cleric was powerful enough that his word was considered law? Under such circumstances, women who ignored his directive would be punished for doing so. This is what we typically mean by a ban. That is, someone with the authority to do so bans something so that ignoring the ban brings punishment.

In the United States, a ban is inseparable from the law. Prohibition was a ban on alcohol; current law bans marijuana and a variety of other drugs. Simply put, something that has been banned is illegal. Bans are enforced through the state's police power in that you can be arrested, charged, and (if convicted) punished for violating a ban.

December 23, 2011

The New American Christianity

jesus compassionFor those of you who were forced by well-meaning parents to attend church as children, what do you remember about the alleged teachings of Jesus? I remember hearing in Sunday School that Jesus wanted us to care for the poor and that compassion towards our fellow human was virtuous. I was taught that Jesus was about love, forgiveness, and caring for the less fortunate. I vaguely recall something about him speaking with people that everyone else avoided and even washing the feet of people others considered beneath them. At the time, I thought this Jesus guy sounded pretty fantastic. And you know what? In a lot of ways, I still do.

December 22, 2011

Why I Focus on Christianity

Christianity
With all the world religions, why do I focus on Christianity instead of devoting equal time to them all? I have addressed this question more extensively in previous posts, but it continues to be the single most common question I receive. I thought it was time for an updated response that I could include in the FAQ I'm working on.

My reasons for focusing on Christianity in general and Christian extremism in particular are as follows:
  • I started this blog to address Christian extremism in the U.S. because I grew tired of hearing my Christian neighbors and the national media obsess about Islamic extremism abroad while ignoring or embracing Christian extremism here at home. Today, this hypocrisy is as great as it ever was.
  • Christian extremism influences U.S. politics in a way no other form of religious extremism can claim.
  • I was raised in the Christian religion, and I am surrounded by it. I know more than enough about it to be effective in addressing it. This simply isn't the case for every other religion. I have seen what Christianity does to others about whom I care. I might encounter a Muslim once a year; I encounter Christian proselytizing and condemnation at least a few times a week.
  • In the U.S., Christians are the primary culprits of bigotry and discrimination against atheists.
  • In general, I believe that we need to resolve some of the fundamental problems we have at home (i.e., Christian extremism) before we are on solid ground trying to influence problems with other religions in other nations. It seems hypocritical for one of the most religious countries in the world to push the idea of secular democracy in Muslim nations when we seem so uncomfortable with doing it right here.
I hope that helps.

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December 21, 2011

Atheists Do Not Need to Be Defensive About Christmas

Axial tiltSome atheists really enjoy Christmas. I think it is great that they enjoy the holiday, but I am somewhat puzzled by the defensiveness that often seems to surrounds it. If celebrating Christmas is something you enjoy, I hope you have a blast celebrating it. There is no need to be so defensive about doing so.

Some of us choose not celebrate Christmas - not because we think other atheists should do the same - but because we do not enjoy the holiday or do not find it worth celebrating. I have seen very little effort on the part of those of us who do not celebrate the holiday to convince the celebrating atheists that they are wrong. This leads me to speculate that the defensiveness with which some atheists approach their personal decision to celebrate Christmas might be more about their own discomfort and less about the reactions they receive from others.

December 20, 2011

Hitchens and the Christian Reactions to His Death

HitchensI had not planned on writing the seemingly obligatory post about Hitchens that nearly every other atheist blogger has written. I never met Christopher Hitchens, and I won't pretend that he influenced me in some meaningful way simply because he's dead. What could I possibly say about him that hadn't already been said many times over. That being the case, I'm writing this post in response to a couple questions I've received. I hope to accomplish two things by writing it. First, I'm sharing the main lesson I take away from Hitchens. Second, I am explaining why I have not been surprised by many of the venomous reactions to his death by some Christians.

December 19, 2011

Atheist Tactics: Dave Silverman and Hemant Mehta

Dave Silverman (American Atheists) recently wrote the following in a Facebook post:
Never give up a right without a fight. I will defame Islam if I want to. It doesn't mean I hate Muslims. It means Islam is a shitty religion that worships a pedophile as morally perfect.
He was then criticized by Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist), not for the accuracy of his statement but the tone and likely impact. After explaining that he was not suggesting Dave keep his opinions to himself, Hemant wrote:
But I have a hard time understanding what good comes from posts like this. If I hadn’t heard of American Atheists, then this post doesn’t make me want to become a member. If the post makes people want to join, then I need to rethink my own membership. (I’m sure some atheists just said “Good riddance.”)

December 18, 2011

My Take on Lowe's Pulling Their Ads

Lowes logoI've been asked what I think about the recent decision by Lowe's to pull their ads from the All-American Muslim show in response to pressure by a Christian extremist group in Florida. I believe there are two issues here that can be addressed separately. First, there is the question of whether Lowe's was right or wrong to pull their ads. This is the easiest of the two questions, and the one on which nearly everything I've seen has focused. The second question concerns the degree to which atheists should get involved in this fight and how best to do so. This one is a bit more complicated and has not been adequately addressed.

December 17, 2011

Idiot of the Week: Southern Baptist Convention

Southern Baptist ConventionLots of idiots to choose from this week. I was sort of hoping they might take a break in honor of their holidays, but no such luck. Initially, I was going to go with Rep. Allen West (R-FL) for comparing Democrats to Nazis and suggesting that left-wing propaganda is a serious problem. Evidently, Rep. West has never heard of Fox "News." But that seemed too easy.

This week's "honors" go to the Southern Baptist Convention for finally admitting that they oppose religious equality in the military. In an article titled "Air Force Academy dogged by anti-Christian pressure," which appeared in the Convention's news outlet, the Baptist Press, Erin Roach condemns the Air Force for accommodating persons with non-Christian beliefs. For Southern Baptists, no other religions should be respected or even tolerated.

December 16, 2011

New Report Documents Widespread Abuse in Dutch Catholic Institutions

The atheist blogosphere is understandably buzzing with news of Christopher Hitchens' death. Take whatever time you might need to deal with this loss, but please don't overlook the other big news of the day: a new report detailing widespread child abuse by Catholic clergy and others associated with the church has been released by an independent commission in the Netherlands.
The report by the an independent commission said Catholic officials failed to tackle the widespread abuse "to prevent scandals." The suspected number of abuse victims who spent some of their youth in church institutions likely lies somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, according to a summary of the report.
The commission received roughly 1,800 complaints and identified 800 perpetrators, including clergy and lay people working with them.

Once again, I call on Catholics to stop supporting this institution.

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December 15, 2011

Atheist Holidays?

Eric Steinhart (Camels With Hammers) recently wrote a post in which he claimed:
If atheism is ever to become a successful way of life, appealing to a large number of people, then atheism needs to provide holidays.
atheistHis argument appears to be that early Christians Christianized pagan holidays, that this was advantageous to them, and so we'd better be prepared to do the same. I don't find this relevant to the question of atheist holidays. Atheists are not Christians; why should we co-opt their methods? In fact, I can think of no compelling reason why the spread of atheism should be contingent upon the creation of atheist holidays.

I don't have any problem with atheists who want to create and celebrate holidays. My problem is with those who suggest that doing so is somehow essential to the atheist movement. All this accomplishes is driving a wedge between those who want atheist holidays and those of us who find folly in such things.

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December 14, 2011

Improving the Accuracy of Identifying Atheists in Survey Research

survey researchAustin Cline (About.com Agnosticism/Atheism) recently compared Gallup survey data over several decades to show that increasing numbers of Americans are walking away from religion. Good news indeed, but that isn't what I want to address here. In his post, Austin brought up the reluctance of many Americans to identify themselves as atheists, even though they are undoubtedly atheists. This is a problem plaguing this sort of research, one I've recently been considering in my own work.

December 12, 2011

Jerry Coyne on Science and Religion

science and religion

You've probably seen this image floating around the series of tubes we call the Internet. I think it is well worth sharing and plan to check out Dr. Coyne's book, Why Evolution is True.

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December 11, 2011

Maybe Christmas Should be Time to Reconsider Consumer Culture

ConsumerismSome people want to tie the annual Black Friday tragedies and other bad behavior committed by holiday shoppers to the dismal economy. They have a point in suggesting that dire economic circumstances can make people more desperate, increasing the chances of bad behavior. When the act of shopping begins to feel like a competitive high-stakes venture, we should expect higher levels of aggression. But most of the articles I've read on the subject seem to be missing something important.

We are not automatons without the ability to examine how we got in this mess and how it might be time to consider some radical changes. Frankly, I'm not sure we have been well served by our consumer culture. Perhaps the holiday season is an appropriate time to ask ourselves whether we might be better off by making some changes.

December 10, 2011

Idiot of the Week: Rick Perry (Yet Again)

Rick Perry is a moronWhen you are a moron with a solid record of idiocy and Christian extremist pandering who somehow finds yourself losing the contest for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, what do you do? More of the same, of course. After holding a Christian extremist prayerfest organized by hate-mongers, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) flaunted his own science education to a child at a New Hampshire rally. And now that his numbers have plunged following some of the worst debate performances we've seen, almost anyone else might try something new. Not Perry.

December 9, 2011

Only 38% of Americans Think Some God is Behind Natural Disasters

I was reading a post from Austin Cline this morning about a 2011 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Religion News Service showing that 38% of Americans believe that natural disasters are signs from some sort of god. While I was encourage to see that a majority (still only 51%) disagreed with the suggestion that a god uses disasters to communicate with humanity, I found myself focusing on the 38% who agreed.

In survey after survey, approximately 30% of Americans believe the most absurd things! And then an image flashed through my mind that looked much like this one:

IQ test graph

December 8, 2011

Action Alert: Ask Obama to Recommit to Ending Federally Funded Discrimination

ActionalertAmericans United for Separation of Church and State has issued an action alert asking Americans to contact President Obama about ending federal funded discrimination using a handy form they have set up.

From the alert:
In a campaign speech in Zanesville Ohio, President Obama stated that: “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion.” Unfortunately, President Obama has not changed the policies of the previous administration that allow such discrimination and federal funds are still being expended every day under the same inadequate constitutional protections.

We encourage you to ask President Obama to clarify his comments and to urge him to stick to his promise. If he has reversed his policy position on the issue of government-funded religious discrimination, we need to know that. If not, he should take concrete steps to fulfill his pledge and end the practice of federally funded discrimination.
You can take action here.

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December 7, 2011

Leave the Nativity Scenes Alone: Objections From Atheists

Nativity SceneMost atheists understand why it is inappropriate for public school officials to lead children in prayer during school hours. Most atheists understand why it is inappropriate for local or state government officials to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of a courthouse. And so, I have to admit being somewhat surprised by the number of atheists I've heard from who do not seem to understand why it is problematic for local or state government officials to allow religious Christmas decorations in public buildings this time of year.

December 6, 2011

Socrates Was Right About the Unexamined Life

SocratesIn Apology, Plato quotes Socrates as saying, "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being." I couldn't agree more. That is not to say that one cannot be happy living an unexamined life; many people manage to do it every day. But for the thinkers among us, it is unimaginable to trade reasoned inquiry for happiness. It is not simply that we enjoy thinking, although some of us certainly do. Rather, it is that we cannot imagine living our lives in any other way. It is in our nature to question things which others seem to take for granted.

December 4, 2011

Why It Makes People Uncomfortable When You Talk About Your Religious Beliefs

keep your religion to yourselfI have heard many religious believers, mostly Christians, ask why it makes other people uncomfortable when they talk about their religious beliefs. It is a fair question, and as you might expect, different people are going to have many different answers. I'll highlight a few of the reasons it makes me uncomfortable. Please recognize that my reasons may be a bit different from those of other atheists based on differences in our experiences.

Let me acknowledge at the outset that it does indeed make me a bit uncomfortable when someone begins to talk about their religious beliefs, especially when I do not know the person very well. The primary reasons for this are as follows:
  1. I was raised in an environment where religion was a private matter, and it was considered rude to talk about it with people one didn't know fairly well. This left me reacting in a visceral way with something like "I don't know you that well" or "we don't have that kind of relationship" when a casual acquaintance or stranger approaches me to talk about their religious beliefs or ask about mine. For me, a complete stranger asking where I attend church is comparable to how you might feel if a complete stranger were to ask you when you last had sex. It is an intrusive violation of privacy.
  2. I worry that I might laugh in your face. I don't say this to be mean, but I find religious beliefs so absurd that my immediate reaction tends to be very similar to how I would react if you told me that you can fly like Superman. Because I generally try to be polite in social situations, the amount of self-censorship required of me when you bring up your religious beliefs can be taxing.
  3. I have little use for one-way conversations. I have found that most of the time people bring up their religious beliefs, they are interested in having them confirmed by others and not critically evaluated. I am not only not going to do this, but I might criticize your beliefs. Since this is typically met with hostility, these one-way conversations quickly become uncomfortable. If you've ever been in a conversation where you felt like the other party didn't want to hear what you thought, you know what I mean.
I cannot speak for other atheists, but these are the main reasons it makes me uncomfortable when you approach me to talk about your religious beliefs.

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December 1, 2011

How to Get Rid of Nativity Scenes on Government Property

Crush a crecheThis may be an unfair generalization, but I'll assume that most atheists would prefer not to see religious displays (e.g., nativity scenes) in government buildings. There are many ways to pursue the goal of eliminating them. One can contact officials and educate them about separation of church and state, threaten lawsuits, or one can adopt what has become one of the most effective strategies yet and join them by adding an atheist display. That's right, simply adding an atheist display is an excellent way to accomplish the goal of getting rid of future religious displays.

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