1.20.2022

Laughing When Someone Makes Stupid Statements in Public

laughter

When someone with a large public platform uses his or her platform to say something thoroughly stupid, I think that laughing is a perfectly acceptable response. I'm not using "stupid" here to mean something about which reasonable people can and do disagree; I'm using it more of an absolute sense.

Want a specific example? How about David Barton's claim that the god he believes in uses bad weather to punish humanity for doing things it does not like? Perhaps such a belief would not have seemed so stupid a couple hundred (or a couple thousand) years ago, but it seems awfully stupid now. And if that's not stupid enough for you, consider Jim Bakker's claim that Pat Robertson can control hurricanes through prayer, a claim Robertson has made himself. We do not expect to find people who believe they can control the weather outside of psychiatric hospitals and prisons (which have largely replaced psychiatric hospitals in the U.S.) these days. I don't know about you, but I'm not about to ignore such statements merely because they are religious in nature.

1.18.2022

Social Costs of Opting Out of Religious Traditions and Atheism

hiking alone

I found much I could relate to in Bill's recent post at Dispassionate Doubt: Five Reasons Why I Identify as Atheist. But it was his first reason that really got me thinking: "I had nothing to lose." You see, Bill came to atheism late enough in life that he really didn't have much to lose by identifying himself as an atheist. As he said,

Most of my family and friends were either dead or saw things somewhat as I did. Any estrangements had already happened for other reasons. I no longer worked, so I had time to learn.

Clearly, those of us who recognized that we did not believe in gods early in life and made the decision to identify ourselves as atheists when we were young may have had a different experience. Depending on where we lived and the details of our lives, we may have had more to lose by doing so. This got me thinking about the costs of identifying oneself as an atheist and which ones we might have incurred.

1.15.2022

Prevention is Key to Improving Resistance to Harmful Big Lies

Trump pop art

The mainstream news media in the United States have been calling it the "big lie." That seems like an apt description for the blatantly false claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election; he didn't. The election wasn't stolen. He lost. In some ways, simply characterizing this as a lie doesn't seem to go far enough. It isn't just false; it is harmful. It has already inspired violence. Thus, this isn't a question of assessing potential harm since we have seen actual harm. In that way, I suppose the "big lie" has something in common with religion. Maybe it has more in common with religion than some would like to admit.

1.12.2022

Secular Activists Cannot Allow Religious Parents to Steer Public Schools

children learning in school

Parents ought to have a voice in the education of their children. After all, parents are (or at least ought to be) sufficiently invested in their children as to care about what they are learning in school. And yet, having a voice does not mean being the sole or even a primary decision-maker, especially if we are talking about public education. In the context of public education, I believe the that educators (i.e., the teachers hired by the school) should be the primary decision-makers. They should listen to the parents and take the parents' wishes into consideration, but the decision of what to teach and how to teach it should ultimately be theirs. After all, public education is not about catering to parents, some of whom are dangerously misinformed, but about preparing all children to function as contributing members of our society.

I think this is a controversial position for at least two reasons. First, many people do not seem to understand that the mission of public education is to serve the public good and not anyone's individual interests. Many parents do understand this, but those who do not tend to cause significant problems. Second, far too many religious parents view education as a threat to their desire to indoctrinate their children into their preferred religion or to maintain control over whatever religious beliefs might afflict their children. Because of this second reason, it seems to me that public education is one of the primary domains where secularism and secular activism are needed. It is not just the future of these children we need to worry about; it is how they will impact the rest of us.