November 29, 2005

The South Gets "Churched Up"

Those of us living in the southern United States take great pride in our accomplihments. We lead the nation in illiteracy, obesity, poverty, infant mortality, and fundamentalist Christianity. I'll admit that life is not quite perfect here, but we're working on it. That is why I am so happy to hear that my neighbors in Alabama are considering the bold step of adding the phrase "God Bless America" to all license plates in the state.

This plan, proposed by a Democrat, will serve as a model for all states in the South. It sickens me that Kansas has taken away the status of most ridiculed state away from my home of Mississippi. Alabama is making an impressive move to steal this coveted title. At least the title will be restored to the South. Since Mississippi leads Alabama on most of the indicators I mentioned above, it is just a matter of time before we can grab the title for ourselves.

November 28, 2005

Coming to a Conversation Soon: "Merry Christmas"

war on christmas catNoGodBlog (update: link no longer active) recently raised the question of whether hearing "merry Christmas" this time of year was annoying to atheists. The author noted that this statement is almost always said with good intentions but still reflects the assumption that the both parties share Christianity in common. I'm not sure that's the case. At least, when I hear someone say "merry Christmas," I do not necessarily think that he or she believes I am a Christian.

If one construes Christmas as primarily a religious holiday, then I suppose it might make sense that one would be annoyed by the phrase. But what about those who believe that any religious meaning Christmas might have once had was lost a long time ago and that Christmas now represents little more than a retail event? Would someone who believed this have any reason to react negatively to hearing "merry Christmas?" I'm not so sure they would.

Personally, I do not interpret "merry Christmas" as assuming that I am Christian; I interpret it as reflecting the assumption that I celebrate Christmas. I don't. While I do usually give a few simple gifts to a couple people and sometimes send a few holiday cards that do not mention Christmas, this really is the extent of my acknowledgment. And now that I think about it, I don't think I've sent any cards in several years. In that very limited sense, I suppose "merry Christmas" can sometimes annoy me in that it assumes I celebrate a holiday which I do not.

November 26, 2005

'Narnia' Seen as Chance to Fill Churches

'Narnia' seen as chance to fill churches - Yahoo! News

Churches are celebrating the new Disney movie based on C.S. Lewis' book. And why not? The book was little more than Christian propaganda (yes, I have read it), and the movie has been described as being "true to the book." Remembering how they contributed to the success of Gibson's Passion, believers have decided to promote this film as a way of gathering new recruits.

I am still clinging to the hope that the popularity of the movie will somehow encourage children to read. Maybe I'm being naive here, but I can't help thinking that reading Christian propaganda is still better than reading nothing at all. I read these books as a kid, and they certainly didn't Christianize me.

As for the publicity generated by the film and the churches that support it, we are provided with yet another opportunity to speak out. Instead of opposing the film or book, we should focus on the Christian myth that underlies both. They are not flawed because they promote Christianity; they are flawed because Christianity itself is terribly flawed.

November 25, 2005

Reorganizing Book Recommendations

I've been reading quite a bit lately, and my list of recommended books has been growing. To make things a bit clearer, I have divided my previous "recommended books" section into two categories: (1) The Atheist's Bookshelf, and (2) Recommended Books on Politics.

The Atheist's Bookshelf will serve as a highly selective collection of what I consider to be truly essential works on atheism, skepticism, critiques on religion, and closely related topics. These books are recommended to the full spectrum of atheists, from those just beginning to explore atheism to seasoned veterans. They are a combination of books which have shaped my worldview and those to which I continue to find inspiration.

Since I devote about half of my reading time to material on politics, I include the Recommended Books on Politics section. This may not be a political blog in the strictest sense, but I would argue that living as an atheist in a predominately Christian country compels political awareness. I found the books in this section to be quite helpful in developing an awareness of the workings of American politics and important social issues that are peripheral to atheism.

As always, I am very selective about what I add to either recommended section. It isn't enough for me to like the book; I must be convinced that its impact on my thinking really justifies suggesting that others might benefit from reading it. For readers to trust my recommendations, I must take the act of recommending a book seriously. Thus, only the best of what I read will end up on these lists.

Finally, any money that is generated by readers clicking on these links and/or buying books from through Atheist Revolution will be used solely to buy additional books in these areas.

November 24, 2005

Nonbelievers Find a Voice

Nonbelievers find a voice | �

This article in the Arizona Daily Star is encouraging because it suggests that increasing numbers of atheists are willing to announce their presence. On a day when millions of Americans are gathering around the table to give thanks to an imaginary being for everything good in their lives, it helps to remember that the reality-based community is not going away. I am thankful that I am joined by growing numbers of atheists who seek to inject a little sanity into the world.

November 23, 2005

Inside the Mind of a Christian

I suspect that I am not alone among atheists in occasionally being guilty of stereotyping Christians. It is easy to portray them as close-minded ignoramuses who are quick to condemn others for the same actions they routinely take. And while this may be briefly satisfying, applying this description to most Christians is neither intellectually honest nor beneficial to our cause.

Let me give you a particular example of a more subtle stereotype. This stereotype has to do with the idea that Christians seek to convert others to their particular brand of superstition. However, we then take this notion another step so that we end up with an image of Christians as being preoccupied with spreading their "good news," so much so that they are constantly scanning their environment for potential converts and are eternally ready to prosetlyze . Another unfair stereotype, right?

With this in mind, you can imagine my horror in discovering that there appears to be a large kernel of truth in this particular stereotype. In accidentally clicking on the wrong link through Technorati, I ended up on a blog which allowed me to journey into the mind of a typical Christian. This does not appear to be a preachy pro-Christian blog at all. Rather, this appears to be a fairly ordinary person who just happens to share the same beliefs that around 85% of Americans report. Now, I invite you to take this journey for yourselves and enter the mind of a Christian. Read this post carefully, reflect on it a bit, and then return here.

This guy has a very difficult time grasping that there are persons in the world who do not share his beliefs. After considering and then dismissing the possibility of violently crashing into the evil atheist, our Christian decides prayer is a better solution. He attributes all the good things in his life to an imaginary sky daddy. He appears to feel sorry for the evil atheist and longs to bring him around to glorious superstition.

Obviously, it would be a mistake to assume that this particular Christian is representative of most Christians. But it would also be a mistake to automatically assume that most Christians do not view their world this way. Rather, investigate to find the truth. Look at the Christians you know and ask questions of those would be willing to respond. I suspect that this sort of thought process is more common than we realize and may explain much of what we encounter.

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November 22, 2005

Book Review: Exception to the Rulers

I just finished reading The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media that Love Them, and while it does not deal with atheism, I think it is worth reviewing. Let's start with a brief description from Publishers Weekly:
Journalist and radio host Goodman brings her hard-hitting, no-holds-barred brand of reporting to an array of human rights, government accountability and media responsibility issues, and the result is bracing and timely.
Goodman takes on politicians (both Republican and Democrat), points out the cost of their ties to multinational corporations, and makes a strong case for why America desperately needs an alternative media. Fellow bloggers, we are part of this alternative media. I believe that the primary contribution of this book is the evidence Goodman provides to suggest that the American corporate-political apparatus uses the mainstream media as a propaganda machine to control the American people. You've heard about the military engaging in psychological warfare to "win the hearts and minds" of people in other countries, but you might not have realized that the same tactics are employed here. In her call for a strong independent media that is not controlled by corporate interests, I found Goodman to be a source of inspiration.

No book is perfect, but I have only two complaints about Exception to the Rulers. First, Goodman's description of her antics sounds an awful lot like Michael Moore and is often similarly inappropriate. For example, she recounts attending an awards ceremony where the main speaker was scheduled to give interviews to the media immediately after the ceremony. Unable to wait, Goodman interrupted the ceremony to question the speaker. She didn't seem to understand (or care) that most readers were not going to be sympathetic to this. If the speaker already agreed to answer questions at a scheduled time, making an unnecessary scene does not help your case. My second criticism is that Goodman takes every opportunity to pat herself on the back by promoting her show, Democracy Now! While I agree that the show is worth promoting as an example of independent media, the promotion was excessive.

Criticism aside, I recommend the book. It is both entertaining and informative. As a call for a strong independent media, it is likely to inspire those of you who provide this function.

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November 21, 2005

The Christianization of Thanksgiving

Flying Spaghetti Monster sketch
Flying Spaghetti Monster sketch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Like Halloween, I fondly remember many Thanksgivings past for what they were not - religious holidays. Growing up, Thanksgiving was almost never made into any sort of religious celebration. I have to add the "almost" because this was not necessarily true when my family would go to friends' homes for dinner. On these occasions, prayers would often be imposed on the guests, and the day would sometimes be treated as if it was a religious (i.e., Christian) holiday.

I have heard many Christians claim that the entire notion of giving thanks has Christian roots and that this necessarily makes Thanksgiving a Christian holiday. As many times as I have heard this claim, I have real difficulty imagining that nobody every thanked anyone else prior to the time when a historical Jesus is supposed to have lived.

November 19, 2005

Research Dispels Bush Claims That Tax Cuts Create Jobs

Research Dispels Bush Claims That Tax Cuts Create Jobs

While this isn't exactly news - Democrats have been arguing forever that tax cuts do not automatically create jobs, it is nice to have some data on the issue. Don't these Republicans realize that we are in the midst of a war (that isn't going particularly well)? Is a tax cut really wise right now?

November 18, 2005

Pentagon Admits Use of White Phosphorous in Fallujah

One more piece of evidence has emerged suggesting that George W. Bush and his cronies should be tried as war criminals. If another country (that we didn't like) did this, our government would be demanding condemnation by the international community. And yet, it is somehow okay for the U.S. and our allies to ignore international law, refer to the U.N. Security Council as "irrelevant" when it condemns our actions, etc. It is starting to look like we are no better than those we condemn.

From Democracy Now!:

* Pentagon Reverses Position and Admits U.S. Troops Used White Phosphorous Against Iraqis in Fallujah *

The U.S. government has now admitted its troops used white phosphorous as an incendiary weapon against Iraqis during the assault on Fallujah a year ago.
Chemical weapons experts say such attacks are in violation of international law banning the use of chemical weapons. We speak with columnist George Monbiot and the news director of RAI TV, the Italian TV network that produced the film "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre."


November 17, 2005

"Narnia" Reading Contest Forces Christian Message

Complaint: 'Narnia' reading contest forces Christian message on students - - Top News

This is an interesting story that is sure to be met with diverse reactions. My initial reaction was that this was a mistake by Americans United. Attacking a book because one doesn't like the message reminded me too much of what the Christian right has done with Harry Potter. If reading such a book will encourage children to read, shouldn't we promote it?

After continued reflection, I'm not so sure that this case really parallels the Harry Potter situation. It is well known that the Narnia books have a powerfully Christian message and intent by the author. While Harry Potter is sometimes interpreted as demonic in nature, I found no trace of this when I read the first book in the series. In addition, interviews with the author certainly don't support the idea that this is her intent.

Of course, the real issue here is religion in public schools. In this contest, students are given the option of one book. It happens to be a book designed to promote Christianity. See the problem now? This is exactly what isn't supposed to happen in public schools, even in Florida.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

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November 16, 2005

Democracy Now!: Interview With U.S. Torturer

From Democracy Now!...

Former U.S. Army Interrogator Describes the Harsh Techniques He Used in Iraq, Detainee Abuse by Marines and Navy Seals and Why "Torture is the Worst Possible Thing We Could Do"

With deep remorse, former U.S. Army interrogator Specialist Tony Lagouranis talks about his own involvement with abusing detainees in Iraq and torture carried out by the Navy Seals. He apologizes to the Iraqi people and urges U.S. soldiers to follow their conscience.
Lagouranis returned from Iraq in January and until now had given no live interviews. But Lagouranis says he now feels it his duty to speak out about what he witnessed in Iraq:

- His use of harsh interrogation techniques on prisoners in Iraq including dogs, sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation and dietary manipulation.
- How Navy SEALS induced hypothermia by using ice water to lower the body temperature of prisoners.
- Serving in Fallujah and going through the clothes and pockets of some 500 dead bodies to try and identify them.
- The corpses on men, women and children in Fallujah, which had been lying in the streets for days and had been "eaten by dogs and birds and maggots," were then stacked up in a warehouse where U.S. soldiers ate and slept.

And much more...


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November 13, 2005

AU: Workplace Religious Freedom Act In Need of Revision

November 9, 2005

Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Contact: Joseph Conn, Rob Boston, or Jeremy Leaming
202-466-3234 telephone
202-466-2587 fax


Watchdog Group Urges Congress To Rewrite Bill To Avoid Constitutional Pitfalls

A proposed federal law intended to protect workers' religious rights needs to be revised so that it does not end up infringing on the rights of others, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2005 requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" for employees' religious needs unless they cause a "significant difficulty or expense" to the employers. While intended primarily to cover things like requests for time off for religious observances, the act's language, Americans United says, is dangerous and could lead to anti-civil and personal rights abuses.

As an example, Americans United pointed to a spate of recent news stories involving pharmacists who refuse to fill certain prescriptions because doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

AU also fears the measure could be used by employees to trump state and local civil rights laws that protect people from discrimination on the basis of marital status or sexual orientation, as well as employers' voluntary civil rights and anti-harassment policies.

"Religious freedom in the workplace should not be interpreted to mean stepping on the rights of others," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Congress should not pass a law so broad that it becomes a weapon that can be used against others."

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is scheduled to hold a hearing Nov. 10 on the bill, H.R. 1445.

In a letter sent to House members today, Lynn wrote, "Americans United strongly believes that no employee should gain a right under Title VII, of all laws, to discriminate against or harass other employees or third parties at American jobsites, even if the employee wanting the accommodation is motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs. Further, it compromised by a religiously motivated employee requesting an accommodation that could pose such threats at a worksite."

Lynn noted that Religious Right groups have been unsuccessfully litigating under Title VII's existing provisions to gain legal rights to proselytize and to undermine compliance with civil rights laws and policies.

These groups will do the same with a powerful new tool if the Workplace Religious Freedom Act becomes law, AU says.

Americans United says the spirit motivating the bill is commendable and recommended that its sponsors revise it to resolve its defects.

"Religious freedom in the workplace can be protected in a way that does not threaten anyone else's rights," Lynn said. "I urge Congress to make that clear in this legislation."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

November 11, 2005

Solutions to the Problem of Faith: Progress so Far

Since I suggested that atheist bloggers start working together to identify possible solutions to the problem of faith, some great ideas have been put forward. In my original post, I envisioned a collaborate endeavor where solutions would emerge from cross-blog collaboration. It seems that this is exactly what has happened. In this post, I will summarize what has been suggested so far and offer some thoughts about what should happen next.

1. Educate people about the world's major religions (Evangelical Atheist). Conflict may be reduced through understanding, and fanaticism may diminish in the face of increased knowledge about other religious worldviews.

2. Develop an alliance with progressive Christians (Atheist Revolution, It Ain't Necessarily So..., Freethought Weekly). We share many common goals, and there is strength in numbers. Assuming that each side can be respectful of the other, this could be a powerful force of opposition to Christian extremism.

3. Attack belief in biblical inerrancy (The Uncredible Hallq). An important target that is clearly maladaptive and opposed by most Christians too, biblical inerrancy could be a good choice for our initial efforts.

4. Organize (Be Reasonable). The Christian right is one of the best organized political forces America has ever known. In order to mount effective opposition, we must learn to organize ourselves. Fortunately, there are a handful of viable pro-atheist organizations one can join.

5. Model the application of reason (Be Reasonable). Like any other problem we face, we should look to reason to generate solutions. To combat destructive faith, we apply the tools of science, philosophy, and history. In essence, we construct a meme of atheism to provide a viable alternative to religion.

6. Continue the critique of faith and encourage critical thinking (Meet An Atheist). We need to continue our critique and also look for opportunities to engage a wider audience. By planting a seed of doubt in people for whom doubt is unacceptable, we may spark critical inquiry. Of course, we also need to promote critical thinking in all our endeavors.

If I left anyone out, it was not intentional, and I'd be happy to add your contribution to the next post in this series. I am impressed with the ideas that have been generated so far, and I believe they provide us with an excellent starting point. Keep them coming!

In the early stages of a movement such as this, I believe that our initial focus should be on organization, including the development of strategic alliances with like-minded Christians, and increasing our political activity. It is time to get our critiques of faith a wider audience. Let your elected officials know how you feel and look for opportunities to write letters to the editor of your local paper or other publications with wider readership than our blogs. An ideal unifying theme would be separation of church and state, as this is one where we should find considerable support outside our community.

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November 10, 2005

Kansas School Board Caves to ID Nuts

Kan. School Board OKs Evolution Approach - Yahoo! News

I must admit that I was very surprised to hear this news. I know I shouldn't have been, but I guess I often make the mistake of assuming that reason will prevail. It will take some time to understand the implications of these attacks on science, but it is clear that the consequences will not be positive.

Fortunately, there is some good news to report on this topic as well. Pennsylvania voters have removed some of the supporters of similar measures in their state from the school board.

November 9, 2005

Religion in College Football

For coaches and players, religion is part of the off-field game plan

Interesting article. I had no idea that Christianity was routinely being imposed on college football players by their coaches. I agree with Barry Lynn that this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. I guess this is just one more example of how coaches can get away with almost anything as long as they keep winning.

November 7, 2005

"You must be Christian."

This brief article in the Charleston Gazette speaks volumes about how both atheists and Christians are viewed in our culture. As you will see, it also highlights a common myth about both atheists and Christians.

While returning from a trip to China to adopt a child, a couple is treated to the following from a passenger on the plane, "That's so nice. You must be Christian." Since the couple did not consider themselves Christians, I expect they were somewhat surprised and maybe even offended to hear such a comment.

Of course, the likely source of the comment is the belief that only Christians do good things. A non-Christian couldn't possibly do something positive. In fairness, I have certainly caught myself jumping to negative assumptions about Christians. Sometimes, I am even proven wrong. I guess that believing in things without evidence can be problematic.

November 6, 2005

AlterNet: Welcome to Faith-Based America

AlterNet: Welcome to Faith-Based America

Excellent post from AlterNet. This is some scary stuff. Since I've been thinking more about how to ally with progressive Christians, it seems like church-state separation is an ideal issue on which to build an alliance. It seems to be one important issue on which most non-fundamentalists agree. All this "faith-based" stuff that is funded by our tax dollars might be a good place to start.

November 4, 2005

Kudos to Venezuela's Chavez - Bush, Chavez tension heats up summit� - Nov 4, 2005

This story is getting lots of attention today and rightly so. It is time for Americans to wake up and realize that "free trade" is simply a nice way of describing policies of American imperialism under which we seek to exploit defenseless nations under the banner of U.S. economic interests. The U.S. government is the largest supporter and perpetrator of international terrorism. Just look at the truth behind our actions in Iraq, Panama, Nicaragua, etc. Our selfish greed is making us many enemies. I guess "live and let live" gets discarded when money is involved.

Religious Beliefs Interfere With Hurricane Relief

Religion is often celebrated as a factor which motivates people to do good (as if simple compassion for one's fellow human requires belief in an imaginary sky daddy). However, this story from Florida's NBC2 News shows another side. Southern Baptist relief workers are refusing to distribute water to hurricane victims because the water was donated to the Red Cross by Anheuser-Busch. Why? The report doesn't make that clear. In fact, it sounds like the church representatives were not interested in discussing their reasons.

According to one Southern Baptist volunteer, "The pastor didn't want to hand out the Budweiser cans to people and that's his prerogative and I back him 100-percent." Again, it is important to note that these "Budweiser cans" contained water. When asked about their reasons, the same volunteer quoted above said, "Why do you want to make that the issue? That's not the issue. The issue is that we're here trying to help people." Interesting except that I'm not sure how refusing to provide water because of what is probably a faith-based objection is helpful.

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November 2, 2005

An Alliance With Progressive Christians

In a recent post over at It Ain't Necessarily So..., Sportin' Life got me thinking about the issue of atheists working with progressive Christians. This post seemed to echo my previous thoughts on the topic, but reflected concerns I didn't properly address.

In order to come together in a productive working relationship with Christians, we atheists would need to keep our criticism of religious belief to ourselves. Obviously, attacking the beliefs of those with whom we are trying to cultivate a relationship is not going to be helpful. If that makes you uneasy, try looking at it this way:

Our eventual goal of helping society move beyond the need for religious belief is a long-term goal. On the path to this goal, there are many steps, some of which are likely to require the support of progressive Christians (e.g., combating Christian extremism, limiting the political power of evangelicals, etc.). These goals steps are important enough that we can certainly afford to be courteous in our interactions with progressive Christians.

If you are having a negative reaction to this, I think I know why. Let me present three points which may ease your concerns. First, for this to work, we would expect such courtesy in return. If we are to keep our criticism of religion to ourselves in the interest of cohesion, the progressive Christians must similarly keep their criticism of atheism or proselytizing to themselves. Fortunately, I don't expect that this would be a problem for most moderate Christians. Second, limiting our criticism of religion in this particular context in no way requires us to change our beliefs or suggests that our criticism must be limited in other contexts. When you co-worker tells you that her father died yesterday and her only consolation is knowing that he is "in a better place," you don't choose that moment to criticize her faith, do you? And the fact that you don't choose that particular moment doesn't mean that you have suddenly become a Christian, a sell-out, or have otherwise compromised your beliefs, does it? In fact, your willingness to keep your mouth shut out of respect for your co-worker's feelings probably has nothing at all to do with your feelings about religion. See the parallel? Third, I seriously doubt Sam Harris goes around challenging religious faith in every interaction he has. Isn't it far more likely that he is a fairly normal person in his personal life and reserves his critique for his professional life?

We often criticize the moderates for not speaking out against the fundamentalists. Maybe by developing an alliance with them, we can model such opposition and arouse their desire to speak out.

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November 1, 2005

Belief in Afterlife Celebrates Death

The State News -

This is a great letter from Michigan State's State News. This is one of many good arguments in support of the claim that religious faith is problematic.