January 31, 2006

Redeemed by Faith

While finally getting around to reading an article in Newsweek on Bush's tendency to surround himself with like-minded individuals and avoid dissenting opinions, a particular sentence caught my attention. "His character was forged by hard-won struggles with drink and more shadowy demons, and he has been redeemed by faith." The phrase "redeemed by faith" stuck in my head.

What does it mean to say that Bush - or anyone else - was redeemed by faith? First, we need to make sure that we agree on the meaning of these terms. "Faith" has many meanings, but I think we can agree that when the term is used in this context, it refers to a strong belief in supernatural beings for which one has no evidence. In reference to Bush, it seems likely that this use of "faith" describes his belief in the Christian god. The idea of redemption seems easier to grasp, given the context of the sentence. The most suitable definition of "redeemed" here appears to be something like "rescued" or "saved (from sin)."

Now that we have clarified the most likely meanings of these terms, we can consider the meaning of the phrase. Does Bush's belief in the supernatural somehow save or protect him? In his own mind, maybe. Believing in nonexistent entities may provide him some measure of psychological comfort. In reality, his communication of his belief may lead people with similar beliefs to experience a sense of connectedness with him. This can be useful even if the belief itself confers no benefit.

Thus, I think the statement can best be interpreted as follows: Bush's willingness to loudly proclaim his "salvation" through a mythical figure in whom many Americans still believe rescued his image in the eyes of the public. Otherwise, he might have been perceived as a moron with a drinking problem instead of a Christian moron. In this meaning, his actual belief is irrelevant; it is only his communication of it which matters. Love him or hate him, he (or his advisors) is skilled when it comes to manipulating the American people. And we are so damn eager to be manipulated.

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January 30, 2006

Meet An Atheist: The God Given Right To Persecute

Meet An Atheist has a great post on the Christian persecution complex. Given that the Christian god was created by humans, it is not surprising that it was designed to reinforce their wishes. In this case, Meet An Atheist addresses the wish to persecute others. Certainly worth a read.

January 29, 2006

Feeling Optimistic

I find it difficult to remain optimistic in these days of rampant Republicanism, the rebirth of manifest destiny under Bush, and the rise of Christian extremism. Thus, spurts of hope and the events which inspire them are not to be lightly dismissed. While watching a speech by Howard Zinn at the University of California – Santa Barbara on UCTV, I had such a moment of optimism that I’d like to share.

Toward the end of the speech, he seemed to realize that much of the content was a major downer. He had discussed religious fanaticism, the many failings of the Bush administration, etc., and acknowledged how hopeless things often seem. He pointed out that history shows us not to give up because all worthwhile social movements have seemed equally unlikely in their early stages. He offered examples such as the civil rights movement, suffrage, the Vietnam war, and others.

When we see the apparent rise of religious extremism in America and abroad, we often feel hopeless. It certainly seems unlikely that humanity will overcome superstition. But I am confident that many of the rights which African Americans now take for granted seemed equally unlikely at the beginning of the civil rights movement. They encountered racist rhetoric, restrictive social policies, and dire consequences of many types. When I realize what they went through in order to prevail, I feel guilty for even complaining about the hardships we face as atheists.

Those of us who have managed to overcome superstition in our own lives have accomplished something. However, we continue to live in a world where lives are lost every day in the name of religion. Because I am convinced that a naturalistic worldview is both more accurate and more adaptive than one based on superstition, I will continue to speak out.

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Quote: Robert Dornan

Here is another disturbing quote from a prominent Christian. This time, the speaker also happens to be an elected congressman from California.

"Don't use the word 'gay' unless it's an acronym for 'Got Aids Yet.'"

- Robert Dornan (Rep. R-CA)

January 27, 2006

Stickers for Your Bible

If you owned a gun, you'd keep it locked up to prevent young children from getting their hands on it. If you have hazardous chemicals around your house, you'd put them away so your pets wouldn't get into them. So why haven't you put a warning label on your bible?

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January 25, 2006

Abortion: What You Aren't Hearing About

Thirty-three years after Roe v. Wade, and the debate over abortion continues to be a core part of the national divide in America. With Alito's confirmation pretty much a done deal and Christian extremists heralding him as a new sort of savior, there is no doubt that his addition will result in a more conservative court. Whether he will help bring about the fall of Roe is anybody's guess.

Suppose Roe falls. The common misconception is that abortion would instantly become illegal throughout America. However, overturning Roe would only have this effect in the red states. Of course, Congress could move to enact a federal ban, but I'd be surprised if the Republicans still have the political clout necessary to pull this off.

"When I, or people like me, are running the country, you'd better flee, because we will find you, we will try you, and we'll execute you. I mean every word of it. I will make it part of my mission to see to it that they are tried and executed." Randall Terry, Operation Rescue

If we imagine a scenario where abortion is outlawed in red states and permitted to continue in blue states, America becomes increasingly divided. Red-staters who can afford to do so will travel to blue states for abortions. Those who cannot afford to do so will either have more unwanted children or will resort to dangerous procedures on their own. In other words, we end up with more children in poverty or more medical expenses caused by back alley procedures. In either case, the red-state taxpayers pay the price. Of course, they won't let anyone raise taxes, so they have to continue to cut services and sink further into oblivion (If you think "oblivion" is too strong a word, come visit Mississippi).

Is this the future we want for America? What if every dollar currently spent on efforts to overturn Roe was instead used to end poverty in America, strengthen our educational system, reduce dependence on foreign oil, etc.? Wouldn't it be great if we cared as much about the children who have already been born as we did the unborn?

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January 24, 2006

Quote: Bailey Smith

"With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."

- Bailey Smith

If we truly want to understand what Christians are all about, we should listen to what they have to say. Of course, what a single Christian says may not represent how all Christians feel. But it is reasonable to examine what influential Christians in positions of leadership have to say, at least as a starting point.

January 22, 2006

The Truth About Atheists: Correcting Misconceptions, Part 2

Holy Bible
Holy Bible (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the second part of this series, I correct two similar misconceptions about atheists raised by Christians. If you missed the first part, it can be found here.

Misconception 3: Atheists have never experienced religion.

This is a rather strange misconception for two reasons. First, the overwhelming majority of atheists I've encountered were theists (usually Christians) at some prior point in their lives. Many were raised in Christian households, attended church, etc. Virtually all Christian denominations are represented in their backgrounds, ranging from liberal forms to fundamentalist versions. In most cases, their previous experience with religion was anything but fleeting, as they often identified as theists for several years or more. In fact, many were the strong, unquestioning sort of believers today's fundamentalists seek.

The second reason I say that this is an odd misconception is that Christianity is such a central component of U.S. culture that everyone residing in this country has experienced its influence throughout their lives. This influence is inescapable, as believers make up the vast majority. Thus, even the rare individual who was never a theist was still exposed to religion throughout his/her development.

Misconception 4: Atheists have never read/don't understand the bible.

Where do I start with this one? It is well known that many Christians have never read their entire bible and that many more have little to no understanding of it. It appears that many base their understanding of the bible on what their clergy tell them. Moreover, even for those who regularly read and study their bibles, most live in ignorance of how and when their bible was written. In fact, I suspect that very few are aware of the historical evidence which contradicts the claims which are at the core of their religion (see The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus).

Without exception, every atheist I have known says that direct encounters with religion (i.e., exposure to believers, church, and religious doctrine) was instrumental in the path to atheism. Most have read the Christian bible many times and tend to be much better informed about the historical evidence which contradicts much of it. As one example of a commonly used resource for atheists studying the bible, check out the Skeptic's Annotated Bible.

In this discussion, it must be acknowledged that Christians and atheists read the bible in very different ways. Christians approach the bible with the assumption that it was divinely inspired (at least). Atheists tend to approach the bible with a genuine intellectual curiosity. We want to know what it says in order to understand the power so many ascribe to it. We often approach it with the awe and respect it deserves as one of the most important mythic texts of all time. We seek to learn from it, and by reading it, we hope to learn more about our fellow citizens. However, many of us soon become disgusted with what we find. The god depicted in the Christian bible is not worthy of worship or admiration. This is a petty, vindictive, and cruel entity, perhaps the greatest literary villain ever created.
On to Part III.

January 21, 2006

Why They Believe

10 Reasons to Believe in the Christian Faith

We can learn a great deal about why Christians believe by asking them. Here are some interesting reasons they offer for believing. I think this is a legit site that is intended to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, I suspect you will find some of it quite entertaining.

January 19, 2006

Christian Extremists Oppose Cancer Treatment

Want to get mad? I mean really mad. Okay, check this out this story in the San Francisco Bay Guardian but don't say I didn't warn you.

In a move reminding us that Pat Robertson may be crazy but is certainly not alone, effective vaccines for the STD responsible for most cases of cervical cancer are being opposed by conservative Christians. Why? Vaccinating teens against STDs will encourage pre-martial sex. Evidently, pre-martial sex is an evil only exceeded by homosexuality.

It appears we have yet another example of how religious belief is standing in the way of medical advances (anyone remember the stem cell controversy?). When we picture our mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends, wives, etc. dying from a form of cancer that could have been prevented with this vaccine, we should be energized to oppose religious insanity.

"Conservative groups, including the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, have already suggested that vaccinating young girls would send them a message that premarital sex is acceptable." People, there is a difference between you thinking that something is unacceptable and it actually being unacceptable. Let those of us who are willing to embrace reality protect the women in our lives by calling attention to the true impact of religion.

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January 18, 2006

Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian

I couldn't resist sharing this list from Evil Bible.com. There seems to be a lot of truth here. I wonder if such Christians would acknowledge it or whether these are actually our stereotypes of them.

January 17, 2006

The Truth About Atheists: Correcting Misconceptions

Abstract art work
Abstract art work (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Lya (Escapee From the Meme Machine) visited a number of Christian message boards in an attempt to determine whether increased dialogue between atheists and Christians might have some value. Her post inspired me to take a look at the most common misconceptions Christians have about atheists. This is the first post in a 5-part series in which I will address the 10 most common misconceptions about atheists she uncovered and attempt to correct two per post.

Misconception 1: Atheists hate god/are jealous of theists.

The first part of this claim is easy to address, at least on the surface, because it is not possible to hate something in which one does not believe. To say that I hate dragons assumes that I believe dragons exist. If I don't believe dragons exist, saying that I love or hate them is nonsensical. As an atheist, I do not believe in any gods. When a Christian singles out his or her preferred god and accuses me of hating it, I find the claim to be nonsensical. I'm not sure how to have positive or negative feelings toward something in which I do not believe.

If we recast this claim as "Atheists hate the Christian concept of god," we move in the right direction. Personally, I would not use the word "hate" in this context. However, I do disagree with the Christian concept of god. Moreover, I find it maladaptive and believe that it has been a destructive force, resulting in great conflict and suffering. The Christian bible describes their god as jealous, hateful, intolerant, insecure, and dangerous. This is not a concept to be valued. Still, I'm not sure it would be accurate to say that I hated it.

Are atheists jealous of theists? They are the majority in many nations, and that certainly brings some perks. At the same time, most atheists believe that theists are a misguided majority. Are we jealous of their ignorance? Their need to seek consolation in an imaginary friend? Their ability to suspend rational thought in favor of blind devotion? If we were truly jealous, wouldn't we simply join their ranks? To oppose such a vast majority requires considerable courage. It is hard to imagine that jealously could explain such opposition, especially when we risk so much by not going along with the popular belief.

Misconception 2: Atheists are arrogant and don't want anything "superior" to them.

Some atheists certainly are arrogant just like some Christians. As for arrogance being a reason for disbelief, I would argue that the kind of arrogance this statement probably references follows disbelief and therefore cannot be a cause of it. That is, an atheist who believes that he/she is more rational than most theists generally does so because of his/her disbelief and not the other way around. Atheists should take some degree of pride in throwing off the mantle of blind conformity and embracing the world as it is and not as we might want it to be. Is this arrogance or taking pride in a specific accomplishment? Even if we decide to call it arrogance, I think we'd have to be clear that it follows and does not precede disbelief.

There is at least one other way this claim could be interpreted. Maybe the Christians making this statement meant that only self-centered, elitist types become atheists. If we infer this intent in the above statement, we have to go no further than to show examples of the diversity within the atheist community. On average, we are better educated than the average Christian (level of education is inversely correlated with religiosity), but both groups are quite diverse. Many atheists have little formal education and would be described as far less elitist than many Christians. Besides, many atheists (probably most of us) became atheists only after being theists for a number of years.

On to Part II.

January 16, 2006

Alito Headed for Confirmation

Politics - Alito appears headed for confirmation - sacbee.com

I don't think there is any question that Alito will be confirmed. While I may not be surprised, I can't help but feel disappointed. I guess this is just another example of why voting (against Republican candidates) is so important. Don't get me wrong - I'm not anti-Democrat or anything. I just wish there were other viable choices besides two parties which are both owned by corporate America.

What will be the result of Alito joining the court? I don't expect any major changes, and I'll be somewhat surprised if Roe v. Wade is overturned in the near future. What I do expect is a continued erosion of civil liberties and greater intrusion of religion in public life.

Our reality-based community may face greater challenges ahead, but we're here to stay.

January 15, 2006

Opening a Dialogue With Christians: Lya's Report

Fellow atheist, Lya, has a great post at Escapee From the Meme Machine in which she describes the results of an informal experiment in which she visited Christian forums for a few months. Why would she put herself through that? She wanted to see whether a discussion between atheists and Christians would produce anything of value.

The results of this experiment were fascinating. She reports on several common misconceptions about atheists, reasons Christians provide for why it is okay to believe things that have no supportive evidence, frequently encountered fallacies, etc. I strongly encourage you to read her excellent post.

Note: Lya's post also appears at God is For Suckers!

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January 14, 2006

The Power of Religion

Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I continue to think about the issues raised by Richard Dawkins on The Root of All Evil and the critique by Madeline Bunting published in The Guardian. I have no doubt that the influence of religion will eventually decline; however, I suspect that this future decline will be temporary and that it will rise again (at least in the U.S.). In other words, we will continue to experience a cyclic rising and falling of religious influence just as we have throughout history. Unless a secular system of meaning can be developed which meets all the human desires as well as religion, humanity will not outgrow religion anytime soon.

Religion derives power from numerous sources, too many to discuss in one post. In this limited space, I'd like to highlight four that have been on my mind lately. First, people do not tolerate ambiguity well. They want definitive answers, and many will take false certainty over accurate uncertainty without hesitation. Second, tradition is very important to many people. It isn't that they believe something solely because their parents did, but they will often have a preference toward familiar beliefs. Thus, belief systems are slow to change, and change will often be resisted. Third, people fear death and crave immortality. This is so obvious that it needs no justification, and yet it serves as the primary selling point for all mainstream religions. People believe because belief consoles their fears, the grief of losing loved ones, and promises everlasting life. Fourth, people believe because almost everyone else does. Never underestimate the power of conformity or the sense of belonging one feels as a member of a religious group.

January 12, 2006

Gary Hart on Church-State Hypocrisy

The Des Moines Register recently published a review of former Senator Gary Hart's new book on church-state issues. It sounds like Hart's God And Caesar in America: An Essay on Religion and Politics might be worth a read.

January 11, 2006

Dawkins' Attack on Faith Escalates, Reprisal Follows

Richard Dawkins has been making headlines for years as one of the most visible critics of religious belief. Now he presents his views to the masses in the form of a UK television series. Since many viewers will be unfamiliar with his books in which he presents considerable evidence to support his views on religion, I wonder how they will react to his message in this forum.

Exactly what is his message about religion? Dawkins refers to religion as a "virus," faith-based education as "child abuse," and makes statements such as, "The God of the Old Testament has got to be the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous, and proud of it, petty, vindictive, unjust, unforgiving, racist."

The reprisal has been swift and not entirely undeserved. The Catholic church notes that Dawkins is going beyond his expertise by attacking religion. As a scientist, he should stick with natural phenomena and leave faith to theologians and philosophers. And then there is that scathing review in The Guardian.

What do you think? By participating in this TV series, is Dawkins helping or hurting the case for secular humanism?

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ABC News: Ancient Village Discovery Raises Questions

According to ABC News International, the recent discovery of an ancient village outside Jerusalem raises new questions about the biblical story of the Jews fleeing the destruction of their temple at the hands of Roman authorities. Experts are still trying to determine whether the village was Jewish. If so, this may be interpreted as more archaeological evidence which contradicts a literal reading of scripture. Of course, the excavation is far from complete and speculation about possible findings or their outcomes is premature.

January 9, 2006

AU Issues Alito Action Alert

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has issued an action alert calling on those of us who aren't thrilled by the idea of an American theocracy to let our senators know that we oppose Alito's nomination. The full text of this important alert follows...

Alito Alert: Take Action Now!



President Bush's nominee, Samuel Alito, is unsuited for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court and the Senate should refuse to confirm him.
WITH THE CONFIRMATION HEARINGS STARTING THIS WEEK, it is imperative that Senators hear from constituents concerned about what potential impact Judge Alito would have on Supreme Court. Alito's record indicates that he views the First Amendment as placing few limitations on the ability of the far religious right to use the government to advance its narrow religious views, even at the expense of the religious freedom of minorities. Replacing Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with Judge Alito would fundamentally alter First Amendment law and immediately put at risk many of the crucial protections for religious minorities that the Supreme Court has recognized and consistently enforced during the past sixty years. As Americans United's supporters, WE URGENTLY NEED YOUR HELP in working to ensure that Samuel Alito is not confirmed to the U.S.
Supreme Court.

Alito's judicial record makes clear that he would work to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state and to open the door to majority rule on religious matters. During his fifteen-year tenure on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Judge Alito has shown himself to have a judicial philosophy and a view of the First Amendment that differ dramatically not only from Justice O'Connor's, but also from the settled understanding of fundamental Establishment Clause principles that has guided the Supreme Court's decisions for at least six decades. Please contact your senators and urge them to oppose Alito.

Judge Alito's brand of Establishment Clause jurisprudence would bring about remarkable- indeed, radical- results, with potentially devastating consequences for the separation of church and state as we know it.

Please urge your senators to oppose Samuel Alito.

For more information, please see Americans United's report (PDF).


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January 8, 2006

Concern Over Discrimination Against the Non-Religious

Concern expressed over discrimination against the non-religious - news from ekklesia

The British Humanist Association and a recent report they filed are the subjects of this article. Their report addresses discrimination against non-religious persons and the role of religion in other forms of discrimination (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, etc.). Interesting read.

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Carnival of the Godless #31

Looking for some good reading? Carnival of the Godless #31 is up at Buridan's Ass, and it is a good one. I just finished reading all the posts and was very impressed. Yours truly actually managed to remember to submit something this time.

January 7, 2006

Good Creationism Cartoon

I know it is a bit small, but it will enlarge if you click on it.

January 6, 2006

Book Review: The Jesus Puzzle

I recently finished The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus by Earl Doherty and decided to provide a brief review.

Doherty's book makes the controversial claim that a historical Jesus of Nazareth probably never existed. Christians should not be so quick to dismiss this claim, however, because Doherty's evidence is drawn directly from their bible and a wealth of biblical scholarship. For example, he notes that biblical material written before the Gospels made no mention of Jesus, that the Gospels relied heavily on Old Testament prophecy to create a mythical Jesus figure, and that numerous revisions to biblical text were completed hundreds of years after the supposed crucifixion. In fact, if you really want to get a taste of Doherty's core argument, you can find it here.

Doherty's writing style is scholarly but still approachable. He quotes the Christian bible at length but also references material that was written before their bible, as well as the source material (referred to as the Q document) for the Gospel authors. He shows how the early Christian traditions that emerged in Galilee and Jerusalem were quite different and how these differences account for some of the apparent inconsistencies in the bible.

I found Doherty's case to be extremely convincing, and I am not sure that it can be effectively refuted. I must confess that this was all completely new to me. I had always assumed that Jesus lived, was simply a wise fellow, and was later perverted into what would become Christianity. I feel that I learned quite a bit about the way the Christian bible was written from Doherty's book, and I now find it quite likely that Jesus never lived.

Not only is The Jesus Puzzle highly recommended, but it has acquired a coveted space in my Atheist's Bookshelf.

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January 5, 2006

More on the "Religious Tolerance" Issue

Native Americans flee from the allegorical rep...
Native Americans flee from the allegorical representation of Manifest Destiny, Columbia, painted in 1872 by John Gast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
That religious belief is maladaptive is hardly in dispute among my atheist readers. However, for those of you just now finding Atheist Revolution, let me share two of the many reasons for making such a statement. First, each of the major religions makes demonstrably false claims about the natural world (e.g., we know that the earth was not created in the time frame outlined in Genesis). Religion requires the believer to accept falsehoods as absolute truths. This is in sharp conflict with science and reason. Second, religion invites conflict because every major religious tradition clearly states that it is the only truth and all others are wrong. Thus, a core feature of all major religions is intolerance of those who reject the preferred doctrine.

Now for the question of this post: what is the appropriate response for nonbelievers when confronted with religious belief? There are at least two options here. Option 1 is to do nothing. We disagree with the theist, but we are willing to ignore the many ways in which religious belief is harmful. This option is consistent with what political correctness demands and could easily be referred to as religious tolerance. "I believe you are mistaken, but I respect your right to believe as you will."

January 4, 2006

Time to Take Stand Against Alito

The folks over at DefCon remind us that the Alito confirmation hearings are fast approaching. This is a Bush nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court who does not appear to value the separation of church and state. For this reason, I oppose his nomination. I have contacted my senators by completing the handy form at DefCon. I recommend you consider doing the same.

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Court Rejects Suit Against GM For Not Allowing Christian Group

MENAFN - Middle East North Africa . Financial Network News: Court rejects suit against GM for not allowing Christian group

I found this story of interest because it appears to imply that religion is not on the same level as other forms of cultural diversity (e.g., race, sex, sexual orientation, etc.). While religion is clearly a part of culture, I agree with this decision because religion is merely a belief system (and a mistaken one at that). All the other forms of diversity referenced in this article are more than belief systems.

January 3, 2006

Sam Harris: Science Must Destroy Religion

The Blog | Sam Harris: Science Must Destroy Religion | The Huffington Post

Sam Harris has a new post up on The Huffington Post, and it is a good one. I think the issue of religious tolerance is a very important and yet extremely complicated one. Harris is right to point out that we nonbelievers often shy away from criticizing religion in the name of tolerance. He is also correct that this simply allows religious lunacy to continue its maladaptive reign. I guess the problem is that it is hard to imagine that the alternative would be successful and easy to imagine it resulting in bodily harm. I plan to discuss this more very soon, but for now, go read his post.

January 2, 2006

Say it Ain't So, John

Guardian Unlimited | World Latest | Kerry Positioned for '08 White House Bid

I sincerely hope that this story is in error. The Democratic Party can't seriously be thinking of running John Kerry again, can they?