July 31, 2014

It's Okay When We Do It

Photos from a protest against waterboarding, o...
Photos from a protest against waterboarding, on the occasion of Condoleezza Rice's visit to Iceland, by Campaign Against Military Bases. Condoleezza Rice was invited to the protest and to try waterboarding for herself but as she didn't show some volunteers tried it out for themselves. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As it started to come to light that the U.S. was using torture against detainees during the Bush presidency, President Bush and his aids took to the airwaves to reassure the American people. We were told repeatedly, "We do not torture." Many of us knew this was not true. We were aware that the U.S. has used torture and committed all sorts of other atrocities during our brief history. It would soon become painfully clear that the Bush administration tortured detainees after 9/11.

At the time, it seemed that the administration was just lying to us by insisting that they were not using torture when they were doing so. But simple lying and propaganda might provide an incomplete picture of what was happening. It seems possible that at least some people in our government convinced themselves that these public denials were not technically lies at all. They constructed an elaborate (and quite twisted) legal rationale and invented new terms (e.g., "enhanced interrogation") to justify their actions. If, for example, they legalized water-boarding by classifying it as something other than torture, they might be able to convince themselves that it was not torture.

Bush could appear on one channel insisting, "America doesn't torture" while Cheney could appear on another extolling the virtues of "enhanced interrogation methods" like water-boarding. They had legalized "enhanced interrogation" so that it was no longer torture.

July 30, 2014

The Greatest Cop-Out Ever

English: St Annes Nursing Home
English: St Annes Nursing Home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Suppose I wanted to do something bad, something with which I know a great many people will disagree. This thing I want to do will lead many people to conclude that I am a truly despicable person. Some will go so far as to call me evil. And to be honest, I'd probably reach the same conclusion about someone else if they were to do what I want to do. But this isn't about someone else wanting to do it; it is about me wanting to do it, and that makes it okay.

I want to go into nursing homes and bring people to Jesus. I want to prey upon the sick, the lonely, and the desperate. I'll be sure to keep a tally of how many I manage to convert, and this will provide an incredible boost to my self-image and my status within my evangelical fundamentalist church. I've been looking for a way to wrack up several of those magic Jesus points, and this will do the trick nicely.

July 29, 2014

Civil Rights Era Lessons for Secular Activism

Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during...
Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during the 1963 March on Washington. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I don't write many posts on subjects about which I feel so confused, but this will be one of them. Some version of this has been floating around in my head for some time now, and it isn't getting any clearer. Maybe trying to write about it will help.

There is always a danger when watching old news footage assembled from a period of time before one was born. One never knows how much of it is an accurate reflection of the times or how well it fit the experience of those involved in the events being depicted. And this is particularly true when the people telling the story may have incentives for providing something other than a purely factual account.

I recently found myself watching something on the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s in the United States. I cannot recall the source of the content - it was something that had been on my DVR for ages, and I made the mistake of erasing it after I'd watched it without noting the source. If I had to guess, I think it might have been from CNN.

Anyway, one of the parts that stood out to me was how reluctant both presidents Kennedy and Johnson were to take action on civil rights. Understandably, both were focused elsewhere (i.e., Vietnam). Somewhat harder to understand, it sound like Kennedy in particular really hoped the issue would just go away so he wouldn't have to risk White votes. Fortunately, the civil rights activists did not let him ignore the subject. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others made it impossible for either president to ignore the issue for long.

July 28, 2014

Joint Statement from Benson and Dawkins

© Copyright Dave Spicer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
A few days ago, Ophelia Benson and Richard Dawkins released a joint statement suggesting that while disagreement is inevitable in the atheist/humanist/skeptic/secular communities, we need to be able to disagree without being horrible to one another in the process.
Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.
Yes, and it isn't only about wanting atheism and secularism to gain respect; it is also about how we can be more effective secular activists. We will not always agree, but we are going to be far better able to accomplish the few goals most of us share when we can overcome our differences and work together. This is what a great many of us have been advocating for some time, and I sincerely hope that it sticks this time.
It should go without saying, but this means no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.

July 27, 2014

Gender and How We Evaluate YouTube Videos

Jaclyn Glenn
When a man makes a YouTube video, it seems like the audience tends to focus more on his content and how he expresses himself than they do on his appearance. Yes, I recognize that this is a generalization and that there are certainly exceptions. If the man were to do something as unforgivable as wearing a fedora in his video, we'd almost certainly hear about it. But barring something so horrible, it would be unlikely that we'd hear much about his appearance. We'd hear more about what he said and how he said it. The focus would be on the ideas he expressed in his video.

When a woman makes a YouTube video, it seems that we often hear as much about her appearance as we hear about her content. Yes, we may hear some opinions of what she said and how she said it as well, but it seems like there is often some commentary about her appearance. Was she attractive or not? What was she wearing, and what do we think of it? We rarely hear this about videos from men.

Feminists have long pointed out differences like this where we seem to use somewhat different criteria for evaluating men and women in many contexts. I think this is an important observation that should raise questions about why we do this and how this affects women in a broader sense. When feminists offer this as evidence that we are objectifying women and taking their intellectual contributions somewhat less seriously, I tend to agree.

July 24, 2014

But That's What I Believe!

Science is true whether or not you believe in it.
It is fairly common for atheists to feel frustrated with the religious believer who maintains belief in gods despite the lack of evidence. We are fond of pointing out that this is irrational and that beliefs should be based on evidence. We are right, of course, that this is irrational; however, there is another form of irrationality that strikes me as being even worse than basic theism.

What could be more irrational than theism? How about creationism? Young earth creationism is the classic example of the sort of irrationality I have in mind. The theist who continues to believe in gods despite the lack of evidence for their existence is one thing; the creationist who ignores the scientific consensus in order to pretend that the Earth is 6,000 years old is quite another. What makes it worse, to my mind, is that the creationist is not merely believing things without evidence but believing things that have been thoroughly discredited while ignoring the available evidence.

The creationist is easy to ridicule because he or she has already made an absurd decision (i.e., my preferred god did it) and is now merely distorting information in a desperate attempt to make it look less bad. Unfortunately, there are many other examples of this that do not involve creationism or even religion.

July 23, 2014

Supporting Atheists

Atheism (Photo credit: thinboyfatter)
Following the Four Things We Can Do To Make More Atheists post, I elaborated on the ideas of criticizing religious belief and promoting atheism. In this post, I'll expand on the idea of supporting other atheists. I think this may be the most obvious of the four things. At least, I hope it is. If we are going to ask people living in religiously oppressive environments to walk away from the religious beliefs their culture pushes and embrace atheism, we must be ready to provide support to those who do.

Tangible and Informational Support

I noted previously that we need to figure out how to provide tangible support (e.g., housing, financial assistance). I was thinking here primarily about teens who are kicked out of their family homes for disclosing their atheism. But this could also include adults who lose their jobs due to atheism or even those who lose a partner on whom they were financially dependent. Atheism remains a risky proposition for many, and it makes sense to give some thought to how we might provide this sort of support effectively.

July 22, 2014

I Have Seen Angles Too

A right angle is equal to 90 degrees.
A right angle is equal to 90 degrees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I imagine there would be fewer atheists if only we'd get our heads out of our asses and accept everything Christians tell us uncritically. I mean, many of them have had experiences they cannot explain so...god! Why do we have to be so stubborn as to doubt them and not simply take their word for it? Why must we always go on and on about evidence?

The evidence is all around us, at least that's what Christians insist. We refuse to see it because...I'm not sure why. Perhaps their god is "hardening our hearts" like it used to do in biblical times.

I received another email from a Christian worth sharing that makes this point. At least, that is the point I am going to draw from it. As always, here is the message in its unedited glory (I know that's how you prefer it):
You don't know how much God loves you. You probably just laughed at the last sentence because well you don't believe in God. Well I respect your believes. I won't judge you. I don't think your a horrible person or should burn in hell. God is in your daily life every day. One thing that atheist over look is there has been a lot of people who have seen angles or been to heaven. I have seen signals from God and hopefully you will to.God bless you :)

July 21, 2014

Familiar Images of Hate

Attempting to block integration at the Univers...
Attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama, Governor stands defiantly at the door while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I can't say I've never hated anyone, but the few people I have hated all had something in common: they were people who were close to me and then betrayed my trust in a major way. The feelings of hate I experienced always came from this betrayal of trust. I've never been able to relate to hating someone I don't know fairly well, and the hatred of strangers has always baffled me. Why would I expend the energy required by hate on a stranger?

Immigration has been back in the news, featuring many vivid scenes of White people yelling at buses filled with immigrants in California. This is what hate looks like when it rises to the surface. And it never seems to be very far from the surface. Whether it is directed at immigrants, racial/ethnic minorities, LGBT persons, atheists, or those with a different political orientation matters little. It tends to look the same.

When I see these scenes on television or the Internet, I feel ashamed to be part of the same species as the protestors. I find myself thinking that this is a testimony to some of the worst of what the United States has to offer. Of course, I recognize that the hatred of immigrants and many other groups is not specific to the U.S. and that it is certainly nothing new. But none of this makes me feel any better about it.

July 20, 2014

Why Does a Perfect God Have Human Flaws?

cuadro que representa a la Trinidad (santuario...
cuadro que representa a la Trinidad (santuario della Santissima Trinità - Vallepietra RM) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If the Christian god exists and is a perfect being, as Christians tell us, why is it that this god would have attributes that are widely considered undesirable among humans (e.g., jealousy, wrath)? Wouldn't the possession of such attributes by a god undermine any claim to perfection?

The concept of a perfect god that just so happens to share many human flaws borders on the nonsensical. It seems far more likely that we humans created this notion of a flawed god, one that reflects our many failings, including the stubborn pride many display about their flaws.

Who else but humans could create such a twisted being and then insist it was perfect? Who else but humans could have made taking pride in ignorance into an art form?

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July 18, 2014

Seeking Input on Media Streaming Devices

Apple TV
Apple TV (Photo credit: bfishadow)
I suspect that many of my readers are far more tech-savy than I am. A recent post by Sean over at My Secret Atheist Blog reminded me of something off-topic I've been meaning to ask you for some time. I'm in need of some tech help from those of you who are up on media streaming devices.

The Problem

My situation is simple. My primary TV is connected to a cable box for which I have all but resigned myself for paying way too much. I have no interest in media streaming for this TV. In part, this is because the TV is old enough that it will almost certainly need replacement in the next year or two. If I were to replace it with a "smart" TV, a separate streaming box might be unnecessary. But most of my reluctance comes from trying Netflix's streaming service and being disappointed by the poor picture and audio quality. It was markedly inferior to the picture and audio quality of my old cable box, and that's already poor.

What I want to be able to do is stream content to a second small TV I have in another room. Picture and audio quality won't matter that much here, and my primary interest is streaming YouTube videos. With what I'm paying for cable, I'm really not interested in paying any more for streaming content.

July 17, 2014

Skeptic Ink Blog Network Releases 13 Reasons to Doubt

Congratulations to the members of the Skeptic Ink blog network on the release of their new book, 13 Reasons To Doubt: Essays from the writers of Skeptic Ink, now available for Kindle. Pulling a volume like this together to feature the work of bloggers on their network is a great idea, and I hope the book does well. It will be awhile before I have the opportunity to read it, but it is on my to-read list.

I know this may be hard to believe, but I have long suspecting that most people do not read blogs on a regular basis. And yes, this includes most atheists and skeptics. Perhaps books like this will be a great way to reach far beyond the limited audience of atheists and skeptics who do read blogs.

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July 16, 2014

Atheism, Race, and Social Justice

Color Your life
Color Your life (Photo credit: Capture Queen ™)
I read Sikivu Hutchinson's article, Atheism has a big race problem that no one's talking about, in The Washington Post when it first appeared. I then took some time to do what I have been taught to do: I shut up and listened (or read, in this case) and checked my privilege. I decided that I probably shouldn't write about the subject because I've been hit over the head repeatedly by those insisting that people like me have nothing of value to contribute to such conversations. Were I to agree with some or all of Ms. Hutchinson's article, I'd likely be accused of some sort of liberal White guilt. And if I were to disagree with some or all of her article, I'd probably be accused of racism, misogyny, and who knows what else. Best to keep my thoughts to myself.

After some personal reflection about how holding back when it comes to controversial subjects makes it all but impossible for me to use this blog the way I want to, I re-read the article. It struck me this time around that Ms. Hutchinson seemed to be calling for a response. She's says that we have a problem and that part of it is that nobody is talking about this issue. She also suggests that she'd like to see White atheists get involved in some areas in which she does not perceive us as typically involved. If people like me refuse to address her points, aren't we contributing to the very problem about which she is seeking to raise awareness? Isn't an important part of what she's saying here that our tendency to ignore the issue is part of the problem? Maybe it is okay to respond.

July 14, 2014

Renting a Serial Killer's House

Drawing of a serial killer John Wayne Gacy
Drawing of a serial killer John Wayne Gacy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Imagine that you are searching for a place to live and you find a house for rent that seems too good to be true. It is in a nice area, seems well maintained, and the rent is surprisingly affordable. In fact, you could rent this house for a fraction of what nearby apartments would cost you and have much more space. What's the catch? It turns out that a former resident of this house was a serial killer who tortured and murdered victims inside. What do you do?

As described in a recent post by Sharon Hill (Doubtful News), something similar to this happened in St. Louis. The critical difference was that a woman rented this house without being informed about the previous resident. She found out when she saw her house on an A&E documentary about serial killers. That seems like a problem because the woman was not given all the facts before making her decision to sign the lease.

My question involves a different scenario - one where you are informed about the house's history before signing anything. Knowing about the history, would you consider renting such a location if the price was right?

July 13, 2014

Room For More Atheist Blogs

Thinking (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)
I heard from a reader recently via email who is thinking of starting an atheist blog. She noted that the atheist blog niche has expanded considerably over the last several years, and she's certainly right about that. I thought her perspective sounded like an interesting one that I don't often see reflected in the atheist blogosphere. I encouraged her to go ahead with starting her blog.

Maybe this was somewhat selfish on my part. After all, I found myself thinking "that sounds like something I'd enjoy reading" when she described her plans. But while the atheist blog niche has indeed become more crowded, I really do think there is room for more voices. Of course, I also realize that there are many good blogs out there that do not have anywhere near the readership they deserve (and at least a few truly vile ones that have far more readers than most of the rest of us will ever see).

July 11, 2014

It Looks Like Christian Extremism

The picture of Holly Fisher below and one showing it side-by-side with a Muslim terrorist in an eerily similar pose have been making the rounds. In the last few days, I've seen them both on Twitter more times than I can count. Although the two images side-by-side, usually accompanied with a challenge to the conservative Christians championing this image to "explain the difference" seems to be more popular among those I follow on Twitter, I like this one better. It seems to stand on its own, presenting what might be considered an idealized version of Christian extremism in the United States.

Holly Fisher

Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) recently took up the challenge of explaining what the image above means to him.
The fact is, when I look at Holly, I don’t feel safe. I don’t know her. I don’t know how she interprets certain passages in her holy book. I don’t know how safely she handles guns. I don’t know how easily provoked she gets. I don’t know how she acts around atheists. The only thing she has going for her is that she resembles all those other right-wingers who, at worst, believe and say idiotic things but don’t necessarily resort to violence. But if I didn’t live in this country, then how the hell would I know that? Not to mention that if the best thing conservatives can say is, “At least Holly won’t kill you,” that’s hardly a compliment.
He goes on to explain why the difference between this image and the one of the Muslim terrorist strikes him as rather small. But I want to set that aside and focus on what he said about the single image of Holy.

July 10, 2014

Internet Name Calling as Social Justice Work

Sexual equality symbol Català: Símbol de la ig...
Sexual equality symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There are many different issues that can be placed under the broad heading of social justice. For the purposes of this post, we just need to pick one that can be used as an example to inform the question I plan to pose. Since it is probably the one we in the online atheist community have heard the most about, I will select sexism as the example to use. You have heard a great deal about sexism, misogyny, and feminism on the Internet lately, so you have likely given some thought to these subjects already. That will help.

From a broad social justice perspective, sexism is a problem. It is an undesirable state of affairs which we are interested in correcting. While one does not have to label oneself a feminist to agree that sexism is problematic, feminism has been influential in how many of us understand sexism. For example, our understanding of sexism is often informed by our understanding of patriarchy, male privilege, and the oppression of women.

My question here is one of tactics. It is a question about how we accomplish what many of us would like to accomplish (i.e., gender equality, the elimination of sexism, an end to oppression). My question centers on one particular tactic that I see being used with great frequency on the Internet today by women and men who identify themselves as feminists interested in social justice: name calling.

Here is a concise statement of my question:
How does calling people names on the Internet result in progress toward social justice goals such as gender equality, the elimination of sexism, and an and to the oppression of women?

July 9, 2014

No Ex-Christian Was Ever Really a Christian

MC Donalds in Wodzisław
MC Donalds in Wodzisław (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is no secret that Christianity, in some form or another, is quite popular in the United States. Thus, it makes sense that most of the atheists I've encountered who have grown up here are ex-Christians like me. But our presence is troublesome for those who are still Christians because it suggests that they might be wrong.

With that in mind, here's another one for your "Christians say the darnedest things" file. This was not an email but a comment left on this post that ended up in moderation. I kicked this comment to moderation manually after I noticed that the commenter seemed to be trying to leave at least one similarly irrelevant comment on practically every post (a common sign of trolling). I did not end up approving this comment since it had no relevance to the post and violates the comment policy, but I thought I'd share it because it expresses a claim I hear with some regularity.
You say , you were a "Christian".......You never knew the word, what it means to proclaim your faith in Messiah. You grew up with "Christian or Reglious" parents, that doesn't make you any more Christian than going to Mc Donalds make you a hamburger. So no you never were a Christian, because those who were have been sealed forever....the very fact that you turned away from HIM tells us all that you never really knew HIM in the first place. Nevertheless, HE is still waiting for you to return in completeness. Its not HIS will that any perish....but for all to come to repentance and live.

July 8, 2014

Holding Back When Blogging

Skulptur "Refrain" von Juraj Gravula...
Skulptur "Refrain" von Juraj Gravula im Fennpfuhlpark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The first part of the tagline of this blog includes the phrase "breaking free from irrational belief," and this is something I've always understood as applying to me as well as others. I don't get a free pass. The value I place on skepticism, reason, and critical thinking means that I need to hold myself accountable for my own irrationality. And because rationality is one of those aspirational goals we can never quite check off our to-do lists, this requires ongoing effort.
This post addresses an example where I have fallen short (and continue to fall short) of being rational in a particularly disappointing way. It has to do with atheism, at least in a broad sense, and it also has to do with blogging.

I've recently been asking myself a couple of questions to which I do not yet have satisfactory answers. The first is this:
How often in writing this blog do I hold back and refrain from writing something because I worry how others may react to it?
It is an odd question, especially coming from an atheist blogger. After all, many people are going to have strong negative reactions to practically everything I write merely because this is an atheist blog. I'm used to such reactions coming from religious believers, at least to some degree. But somehow, I'm still not used to the intense reactions I sometimes encounter from atheists.

As much as I'd like to say I never hold back when I write, I can't. There are times when I hold back. I have certainly written posts and then decided not to publish them. It doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen. In some cases, this is just because I decided I didn't like what I had written. But there have been times when I've opted against publishing a post because I worried about how it would be received. There have also been times when I've deleted some of what I wrote before hitting publish for the same reason. This is surprisingly difficult for me to admit, and this leads me to suspect that I may do it more than I'm aware of doing it.

July 6, 2014

Not All Charities Are Equally Trustworthy

The chains securing a Mazda MPV minivan being ...
The chains securing a Mazda MPV minivan being donated to a charitable organization to the flatbed of a tow tuck by its rear axle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There are a near infinite number of ways to spend money to assist others. But because none of us have unlimited funds and not all charities are equal, it makes good sense that we might exercise some skepticism by critically evaluating charitable organizations when it comes to deciding where to donate our limited funds.

The big-name charitable organizations like the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the Humane Society are about as safe as it gets. We can easily figure out how they spend their money. Next, we have the thousands smaller (but still large) charities listed with Charity Navigator. It is fairly easy to find out what these charities are about, determine what percentage of one's contribution is used to cover administrative costs, see how effective they are at meeting their stated goals, etc. With organizations of this size, one can contribute to highly ranked charities with a reasonably high degree of confidence that they are trustworthy and will use the contributions they receive appropriately.

July 4, 2014

Healthy Patriotism vs. Blind Loyalty

Little patriot
Little patriot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I suppose it would be fair to say that the subject of patriotism has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I value the form of patriotism that involves giving a damn about one's country and wanting to improve it. I believe that this is the most positive form of patriotism in that it leads us to own up both to what should make us proud and to what should lead to embarrassment. This sort of patriotism means that we care too much to be apathetic. We celebrate our achievements and work to improve our failings.

This form of patriotism strikes me as healthy because it is connected with reality (i.e., we are acknowledging the good things about our country and the bad things). I also think it is healthy because it drives corrective action. We aren't denying our shortcomings here; we are working to improve. If we were talking about a person, we might describe such a person as self-aware. And this healthy sort of patriotism is involves self-awareness in the sense of an accurate assessment of what we are doing well and where we need to improve.

July 3, 2014

I Turned Myself Into An Empty Carcass

English: Jeff Walker of Carcass, live at Hole ...
English: Jeff Walker of Carcass, live at Hole In The Sky, Bergen Metal Fest 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Like most atheist bloggers, I receive my share of unsolicited email from Christians. Although I'm often ambivalent about doing so, I try to share the messages I find particularly entertaining or illustrative of some point or another. If I find one worth sharing, I figure others might find it worth reading too.

Here's a recent one I really like:
Hello sir. I take it you are a very busy man and will probably not even read my text even less reply, but I need to ask. You said you are an ex-Christian, what happened that made you leave Christianity and turning yourself from a living soul to an empty carcass? Only a shell of your former self. Please, I am not being disrespectful or trying to pick a fight, but I just have to know.

July 2, 2014

Jesus and Freddy Krueger

Englund as Freddy Krueger
Englund as Freddy Krueger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the horror genre, there is a recurrent theme one finds in many stories in which a supernatural villain derives its power from victims' fear. As long as potential victims believe in the monster, it remains powerful. Should that belief wane, the monster loses strength. The Nightmare on Elm Street film franchise might be the most profitable example of a story involving such a monster, but it is certainly not the only one. There are many tales of supernatural monsters that depend on belief for their very survival.

We can speculate about the reasons this particular theme is so popular, and I imagine we could identify at least a few. The point I'd like to make here is that this theme is part of a broader context in which our culture promotes the power of belief.

When we encounter this theme in a horror context, we learn that belief can be destructive. Our belief fuels the supernatural monster, who is then able to harm us. Belief can endanger us, allowing our fears to assault us. And yet, our survival also lies in belief. If we forget about the monster, lose our fear of it, and stop believing, it will lose power and be unable to harm us. In some versions of the story, we may even learn to replace belief in the monster with belief in our ourselves. We deprive the monster of power and empower ourselves. But the bottom line is always the same: belief is an extremely powerful force.

July 1, 2014

What To Do With Your Outrage Over the Hobby Lobby Ruling

Hobby Lobby in Mansfield, Ohio
Hobby Lobby in Mansfield, Ohio (Photo credit: Nicholas Eckhart)
Everyone has heard about the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby by now. And if your experience is anything like mine, most of what you have heard has been heavy on the outrage and light on the facts. Although few of us were surprised by the decision, we're still disappointed by it. Aside from the examples I've seen of some people taking this too far, I don't see anything wrong with venting one's frustrations over another poor decision from this conservative court. And yet, it would be a real shame if we cannot figure out how to translate this outrage into meaningful change.

I was late in hearing about the ruling yesterday, and I'm still playing catch-up. My work day began with my discovery of an inch of standing water on the floor in a lab area where something like this has the potential to cause significant damage. Things went downhill from there, so I'm not exaggerating when I say that I did not even have the opportunity to check Twitter. When I eventually made it home, I didn't even remembered that the decision was expected until I took a look at Twitter.

Feelings of outrage are perfectly understandable but not always informative. Some legal experts point out that this ruling was narrowly constructed; others complain that it is overly broad. I have not read the opinions yet, but I am aware that it may take years for us to know who was right about its scope. What matters is how lower courts are going to read it, and we won't know that for awhile.

Sacrifice and Prayer

Category:Ancient Greek buildings and structure...
Category:Ancient Greek buildings and structures in Athens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many ancient civilizations made sacrifices to their gods. Far more common than the few notorious examples of human sacrifice were those involving the sacrifice of animals, various items of wealth, and symbolic items used in elaborate rituals. Such sacrifices were evident in ancient Greece, Rome, and the Middle East, including the times and places described in the Christian bible. If you have read the Old Testament, you may recall that it includes page after page describing all sorts of ways to honor gods through "burnt offerings" and other sacrifices.

What interests me here is no so much the nature of what was sacrificed or that what we see in the Christian bible is little more than a continuation of customs which had been practiced for centuries prior to this time period. No, what interests me most is the rationale for making such sacrifices. Whether we are talking about the ancient Greeks or the Jews described in what would later become the Christian bible, we see that sacrifice was a way to influence the gods.


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