June 24, 2018

Political Intolerance Seems to be Getting Worse

heckling will not be tolerated signAs I watch my neighbors driving to church this morning, I can't help reflecting on how there is only so much any of us can do to influence the world around us. What American atheist hasn't felt frustrated by the incredibly slow rate at which religious belief has been fading around us? No matter what we do to expose the many problems associated with religious belief, it often seems like we are making little difference. Of course, I recognize that part of the reason things feel that way to me is that I'm impatient by nature. Another important part of the reason has to do with my location. When it comes to the influence of religious belief, Mississippi is going to be one of the last places to change.

Fortunately, there is at least one very optimistic thing I can say about the state of religious belief in the U.S. that would apply even here in Mississippi: no matter how bad it is, I have little reason to think that it is getting worse. Yes, the overwhelming majority of our neighbors still believe in ancient gods. And yes, these bizarre beliefs sometimes influence their behavior in ways they shouldn't. But at least it doesn't seem to be getting worse. Not only that, but survey after survey shows a slow trend toward secularization. Not only is it not getting worse, but it appears to be improving. I think this is a reason for optimism, especially when one contrasts it with other types of beliefs that do seem to be getting worse.

The Popularity of Jesus Does Not Make Him Real

Superman figureHave you heard of Superman? Maybe you've read a comic book or two featuring him. Maybe you've seen at least one of the films in which he was depicted. And if not, you've probably encountered hundreds if not thousands of cultural references to him during your life. So yeah, it is probably safe to assume that you've heard of him.

It wouldn't make much sense if I were to claim that the fact that you've heard of him means that he's real, would it? One hardly follows from the other. And if I were to insist that the fact that most people have probably heard of Superman was evidence that he must be a real person, that wouldn't be any more convincing, would it? That a fictional character is popular does not make him or her any less fictional.

This all seems fairly obvious, doesn't it? I'd like to say that most people can easily grasp this and move on. I cannot do so, however, because I have heard this "argument" from Christians more times than I can count as they attempt to convince others that the Jesus character depicted in their bible was a real historical person or worse - that he is still around in some way that makes even less sense. The number of people who have heard of Jesus is no more relevant to his reality as was the number of people who have heard of Superman. The popularity of Jesus does not make him real.

June 23, 2018

Hard to Imagine Living in Mississippi Without Air Conditioning

Mississippi river landscape
June brings the start of a long summer here in Mississippi, with plenty of the oppressive heat and humidity I dread. It isn't quite as bad as July and August, but it is plenty bad. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled when my air conditioner suddenly stopped working in the middle of a recent Saturday. I know, I know. I probably should not have air conditioning at all since it is apparently sexist and probably bad for the environment. I can't imagine living here without it even though I am aware that some people do.

Neither the temperature nor the humidity changes much at night this time of year, so opening all the windows brought little relief. Still, I felt like I had to try. Sticking the one electric fan I could find in front of an open window had to be better than nothing. As I lay in bed sweating and drifting in and out of consciousness, I heard a strange noise. I figured it had to be the insects outside, but it wasn't. It turns out it was me.

June 22, 2018

Separating Atheism from Politics

Conservative Skeptic recently wrote a post that reminded me of a question I've been wanting to pose for some time: Can atheism be separated from politics? I think it can, at least up to a point. Given the eagerness with which the Republican Party has embraced evangelical fundamentalist Christianity since Reagan, it makes sense that more atheists would be found to the left of the political spectrum. Much of the right has been extremely hostile to atheists, while much of the left has merely been indifferent. If faced with a choice between someone who doesn't particularly value you and someone who hates you, most of us would gravitate toward those who are indifferent. And yet, we do find atheists across the political spectrum. There is nothing inherently political about atheism.

While I don't disagree with Conservative Skeptic when he says that "politics should not influence anyone's atheism," I suspect it is not always that simple. Politics does not influence what I think about gods, but I do find politics relevant to how I view the world, others in it, and how I choose to implement my atheism. For example, I don't think I can separate my political views from my commitment to secular activism. One could certainly argue that secular activism is distinct from atheism, and I'd agree with that. Some theists participate in secular activism, and many atheists do not. But for me, the two are related.

June 21, 2018

What Do You Make of the Christ Followers?

Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves MET DP-1360-001I don't know about you, but I've never been entirely sure what to make of the evangelical fundamentalist Christians who adamantly deny that they are Christians and instead claim to be "Christ followers." At one point, I thought I had them figured out. I thought they were expressing their dissatisfaction with much of what organized religion (and Christianity in particular) has become and indicating that they sought to return to the words attributed to Jesus in their bible. In essence, I thought that they were aiming to strip away all the trappings of religion and try to emulate Jesus to the best of their ability.

I think I must have been wrong. For starters, many "Christ followers" seem to be quite selective in which trappings of organized Christianity they discard. For example, many still attend church and participate in pastor-led bible study. But more importantly, surprisingly few seem to be making a genuine effort to emulate Jesus. I have not encountered many "Christ followers" who spend much of their time serving the poor or who do not hoard wealth. Most seem to be more conservative than liberal in their political views, and many are downright authoritarian. It sure doesn't look like they are serious about applying the teachings attributed to Jesus in their own lives.

On this latter point, I don't mean to pick on the "Christ followers" by suggesting that they are somehow unique in this respect. After all, most Christians pick and choose which parts of their "holy" book to follow based on which parts coincide with their personal preferences. What I find puzzling is that some of the "Christ followers" are quick to call this out and claim that this is an important part of why they do not consider themselves Christians. When they then do the same thing they've repeatedly criticized mainstream Christians for doing, it looks hypocritical.

June 20, 2018

Bernie Sanders in 2020?

Bernie SandersI voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary election. I did so because I found him preferable to the other Democratic candidates on the ballot. Although I was not surprised that he lost the primary to Clinton, it was nice to see him tap into something and perform better than I expected. Following the general election, I was not among the "Bernie would have won" crowd. I didn't think he would have fared any better than Clinton did.

During the last month or two, I have seen some people suggesting that Sanders might run again in 2020 and others calling on him to do so. Given that I previously voted for him, it may seem strange that I now find myself hoping he will not run again in 2020. Frankly, the fact that some on the left are even talking about Sanders running again tells me just how much trouble the Democratic Party is in. I suppose Sanders might almost begin to make sense if the party can't find a viable candidate, but I sure hope it doesn't come to that.