February 28, 2006

One Side of the Story

CullmanTimes.com, Cullman, Alabama--Author examines evidence for Jesus ChristÂ’s resurrection

This article in the Cullman Times discusses the same Lee Strobel who Earl Doherty so eloquently demolished in "The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus." I can't help but notice that the article makes no mention of Doherty's book. Instead, "It leaves little doubt that Jesus died an agonizing and complete death on the cross."

The author of this article praises Strobel's book, stating, "It provided me another opportunity to learn about portions of ancient history, which is the real strength of StrobelÂ’s book." Sounds good, but if he is interested in learning about real history (as opposed to that which is deliberately distorted to create "evidence" of Jesus), he might want to add Doherty's book to your list.

What troubles me the most is how little the author of this article seems to know about the origins of the Christian myth. One would think that it would make sense to study something so important. Oh wait...that's the point of faith isn't it? What better way to demonstrate one's faith than to maintain belief and ignorance at the same time!

Politics as a Question of Religion

Archives: Story

I thought this article provides an interesting perspective on religion and politics. I often hear that religion is a peripheral issue and that political issues (e.g., size of government, property rights, abortion, etc.) are primary for most people. This article seems to go the other direction, arguing that political leanings may be driven by religious beliefs or the lack thereof.

February 26, 2006

Another Church?

Here in the deep South, often considered the heart of the American bible belt, we have more churches per capita than anywhere else in America. How fitting that our levels of illiteracy, child mortality, poverty, and all sorts of social ills are also among the highest in the nation. The solution is clear - we need more churches.

The front page of my local paper recently ran a story on a $25 million expansion to an area church. I found myself thinking of several more productive uses for $25 million. In a town still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina (e.g., some are still homeless following the storm), it is hard to imagine that there aren't better uses for these funds. In a state whose public education system is in shambles, seems like the money could be better spent. In a town where the police department still occupies a building which has been condemned by the health department for mold, it would seem that...I think you get the point.

Instead of selecting any of a near infinite number of beneficial uses of $25 million, we will modify a monument to superstition and ignorance, making it larger so that more believers can be accommodated. Such are the consequences of faith.

February 25, 2006

Are Atheists Oppressed? A Clue From the Abortion Debate

The Cincinnati Post - Bills could spur abortion challenges

Atheists are a misunderstood and frequently despised group in America. But are we really oppressed? I am not claiming that what we face is comparable to oppression based on gender, age, or race. After all, we can chose to hide our lack of religion. Some choice, I know, but this does put us in a different category.

Maybe the abortion debate can shed some light on this question. It is difficult to uncover reasons for banning abortion that do not have an explicitly religious foundation. Those who seek to ban abortion are clearly attempting to impose their will (the will of the religious majority) on those of us who embrace reality over superstition. The impact of this claim is in no way weakened by the fact that many Christians would also oppose such a ban for two reasons. First, valid reasons for banning abortion that do not rely on religion are never offered. Second, it often seems that atheists are not even permitted to enter this debate. We are assumed to be immoral beings, and our viewpoints are quickly dismissed. Because we are often equated with devils and demons, our views don't need to be counted.

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February 24, 2006

Action Strategies for Opposing Christian Extremists

religious right watch: Taking action: the first suggestions

This post from Religious Right Watch provides some initial actions we can take to oppose the religious right. For those whose frustration has led to inaction, this post offers some useful ideas on how to get started.

To those of you who commented on my last post by saying that you don't think atheists' rights are being violated, I have to assume that you meant that we have it better than other oppressed groups. On this point, I must agree. We can conceal our identities as atheists (unlike persons of color). We can even pretend to be Christian and pass as such if we so desire. However, I suspect that the fear and mistrust the average American feels toward atheists exceeds even that directed towards the GLBT community. We have openly gay politicians (although not as many as we probably should), but how many openly atheist politicians are there?

My point in all of this, and my reason for drawing your attention to this post from Religious Right Watch, is that our freedom from religion is something we must protect. Increasing our political activity, forming local organizations, and serving as role models so that people can put a face on atheism are all important strategies toward this goal. As a few of you suggested, the bottom line is that we must not be so shy about expressing our stance on religion.

February 22, 2006

A Growing Atheist Movement

Kudos to God is for Suckers! for bringing this story from the San Francisco Chronicle to my attention. This is an important one that you don't want to miss.

The article describes some publicly open atheists in San Francisco and their quest to reframe civil rights as including the freedom to reject absurd superstitions. Atheists remain a persecuted class in America, and many of us feel great pressure to conceal our beliefs out of self-preservation. In this way, I believe that there are many parallels between atheists and the GLBT community. Hiding one's identity is not desirable, but it is often necessary due to Christian intolerance.

Important points made in this article:
1. Openly atheistic politicians have no chance of being elected.

2. The newly hired political lobbyist who faces the task of representing atheists is in a difficult situation because many of her atheist constituents are not willing to publicly proclaim their atheism, making our numbers look far smaller than they are.

3. The political tactics of the GLBT community can be adapted for the atheist community.

Now is the time to get involved.

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February 21, 2006

The Truth About Bush and Abortion

The truth about Bush and abortion

Interesting op-ed piece in the San Francisco Gate. What upsets me almost as much as efforts to limit a woman's right to have a medical procedure is the intentional deception described here. That the courts responded to this religiously-motivated ban is reason for at least some hope. It appears that the trick is going to be keeping the door open for rational discussion, actual scientific evidence, and a willingness to discuss the real (as opposed to imaginary) issues involved. With the current make-up of the Supreme Court, this debate isn't going away soon.

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February 20, 2006

Celebrating 1 Year of the Revolution

Atheist Revolution began exactly 1 year ago today. You can see my first post here. It is hard to believe that I've already been at this for a year. It is also surprising that I have remained true to the plan for this blog that I outlined in that first post.

There have been several times in the past year when I have considered abandoning this blog. Work is often hectic, and blogging takes considerable effort (as my fellow atheist bloggers know quite well). So, I've often wondered if this was really a decent use of my time. There have been other times in the past year when I have seriously considered taking this blog in a new direction (e.g., increasingly political) or even spinning-off a new blog. Such considerations peaked during Hurricane Katrina, as I started to wonder whether there were more important issues to address. My regular readers made all the difference here because they gave me the leeway I needed to temporarily broaden the scope of this blog.

Through it all, I keep this blog alive because I recognize the importance of the topics addressed here and on other atheist blogs. My readers keep me thinking, keep me questioning, keep me returning to this blog. In lamenting the lack of an atheist community, we have become one. Through our respective blogs, we stimulate each other and countless readers. The meme of atheism is alive and well, and we have helped to provide it with a home on the internet.

I can't say what the next year will bring, but I remain committed to speaking out against the destructive impact of religion. I will continue to use this blog to encourage others to break free from irrational belief and oppose religious extremism. Thank you for being a part of the Atheist Revolution!

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February 19, 2006

Know Them By Their Deeds

Chronicling Priest's Pattern of Abuse - Los Angeles Times

In the book of Matthew, we find the famous quote, "By their works ye shall know them." With this quote as a frame of reference, read this disturbing article from the LA Times. "...and for years no church officials seemed to express concern or intervene."

February 17, 2006

The Truth About Atheists: Correcting Misconceptions, Part 4

English: Fasces Español: Fascio littorio Itali...
Fasces (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It has been awhile since I posted Part 3, but I haven't forgotten. In the fourth part of the series, I consider the next two misconceptions about atheists raised by Christians.

Misconception 7: Atheists just don't want to admit they sin.

Like many of the misconceptions I've reviewed so far in this series, this one reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of atheism. Since "sin" is a theistic concept, it has very different meanings for atheists and theists. Our notion of sin is that sinful behavior involves doing something that violates our moral code (e.g., secular humanism). Harming someone without provocation would be an example. However, calling such an act "sinful" does not carry any different meaning to us than referring to it as "bad behavior." You see, atheists base our sense of right and wrong on reality-based notions and have no need to posit supernatural rewards and punishments. I refrain from harming others because I have a deep respect for my fellow humans and seek to treat them in ways I wish they would treat me. No invisible judge is necessary.

If we assume for a second that the word "sin" in this misconception simply refers to "bad behavior" and does not carry the extra theistic baggage, the original statement would sound something like this, "Atheists just don't want to admit they do bad/immoral/unethical things." This revised statement needs only two responses to put it to rest. First, anyone with a decent grasp of history and capable of rational thought will readily agree that far more bad behavior has been committed (and continues to be committed) in the name of religion than in the name of atheism. Second, when it comes to the question of not wanting to admit such behavior, theists have the market cornered. Ever hear the expression "holier than thou?" Theists in general, and Christians in particular are masters of concealing their bad deeds, excusing them through false rationalizations, or absolving themselves of blame through meaningless "confession" rituals.

Regardless of which definition of "sin" we use, this misconception is easily revealed as just that. In fact, I suspect that atheists are generally more likely than Christians to acknowledge bad behavior. Why? Because we don't get to pretend it didn't happen. We have to live with it and address the consequences in the real world.

Misconception 8: All atheists support abortion/evolution/liberal politics/communism/fascism/etc.

Use of the word "all" quickly reveals this statement as an absurd overgeneralization on its face. However, in fairness to the feeble-minded folks who came up with this one, I'd like to replace "all" with "most" or "many" so that I have something more to discuss here.

To begin, one must acknowledge the presence of conservative atheists who tend to vote Republican, favor free-market capitalism, and oppose abortion and social welfare programs. Their politics are far from liberal, and it is common to find that their only difference from conservative Republicans is their atheism. Their presence is not widely known, but there are out there. In fact, I have come in contact with several through their blogs (see here for an example).

Turning to the charge of communism and/or fascism, there is much we could say. Some argue that communism itself became a sort of religion, but even if you don't buy that, it is impossible to argue that freethought (a hallmark of modern atheism) was encouraged under Soviet communism. Others point out that atheism had virtually nothing to do with the acts committed under communism. It is likely that this misconception is rooted in the fear that atheism will somehow lead to communism.

The question of fascism always reverts to Hitler. Christians seem to be convinced that if one fascist (Hitler) was an atheist, then all of atheism is somehow discredited. Was Hitler an atheist or a Christian? I'm not sure the answer is even relevant to this misconception. What is relevant is whether the majority of atheists today are in fact fascists. I am not aware of any evidence that would support such a claim. Again, freethought is clearly not going to be encouraged under fascism. Again, the list of religiously-motivated atrocities is long enough that even Hitler's despicable acts are eclipsed.

To conclude, I'll make a much simpler point. The overwhelming majority of atheists living in America today are neither communists nor fascists. Since one cannot prove the negative, the burden is on Christians to either demonstrate that most American atheists are communists or fascists or to concede that this is simply another misconception.

On to Part V.

Religious Extremism Great Advertisement for Atheism

BBSNews - Religious Extremism Great Advertisement for Atheism

According to this story from BBSNews, religious extremism is doing a better job at promoting atheism than any efforts on our part. "How can anyone assess the number of religion-made problems, and look over these religion-bred fanatics in action, and not wonder about the value of religion and blind faith in it?" Excellent question!

February 15, 2006

GA. Bill Would Allow Bible Study in School

United Press International - NewsTrack - Ga. bill would allow Bible study in school

Continuing on with the "bible as literature" in public schools theme, it looks like Georgia is the next state to try such a move. It is hard to argue that this can be Constitutional when they are selecting only one religion for inclusion. How does this not violate the First Amendment?

It seems like when American politicians look at what is going on in the Middle East over the cartoon protests that their solution is more religion in the U.S. Following this example, we should combat terrorism by making explosives easier to obtain and getting rid of border security. We should fight the "war on drugs" by flooding the streets with drugs.

When religion is the problem, more religion is hardly a solution.

February 14, 2006

Bible as Literature?

Grave concerns, The Rev. BARRY W. LYNN, Washington, D.C. - Letter - Concord Monitor Online - Concord, NH 03301

Sounds like The Monitor wanted readers to believe that Americans United for the Separation of Church and State thought it was okay to teach the Christian bible as literature in public schools. I'm happy to see they printed a correction to such an absurd statement.

According to Barry Lynn, "While Americans United does not oppose teaching about religion objectively in the public schools, we have never endorsed The Bible as Literature. In fact, we have grave concerns about the book and its promoters."

Christian extremists certainly do seem determined to either dismantle public education or inject their particular brand of religion into the school system. Isn't it interesting how threatened they feel by secular education? I can't help but wonder whether modeling the notion that knowledge is bad unless it includes supernatural entities is healthy for our children.

February 13, 2006

American Vertigo

A Modern-Day Tocqueville Finds an Uncertain America - New York Times

I saw an interview with this author and thought the book sounded interesting. According to this review, he happens to be an atheist. I don't know about you, but I am very interested in hearing from atheists outside America and learning about their perspective on America and the many conflicts in which we seem to find ourselves. I always find it humbling to realize how little we Americans know about the rest of the world.

February 12, 2006

Muslim Rage as Scare Tactic?

A post over at Freethought Weekly ("The Church of Patriotism") really got me thinking. Is it possible that the Bush administration and other Christian extremists in America are using the latest explosion of Muslim rage as a way to rally Americans in support of our war efforts? I'm not saying that the story is fabricated in any way, but I can't help wondering if this story is going to be used to keep Americans fearful enough to persuade them to continue voting for Republicans.

Images of violent Muslims attacking foreign embassies, calling for death to infidels, etc. are a perfect way to awaken American patriotism and kick the us-against-them mentality into high gear. If the administration wants to bolster support for an invasion of Iran or similar action in the Middle East, this certainly appears to be an effective strategy for arousing American ire. Given that our own extremists insist that we are a Christian nation, it is easy to spin this as an epic struggle of Christian vs. Muslim. By showcasing the hatred Muslim extremists feel toward America, it becomes okay for us to return the sentiment. And if they are attacking our precious Christianity, retaliation is almost mandatory.

It is clear that fundamentalist Islam is a destructive force which must be opposed. Nothing in what I have said detracts from this truth. However, we in the reality-based community are the key to making sure that the spotlight remains focused on all forms of religious extremism, including the Christian variety.

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February 10, 2006

SPIEGEL Interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

SPIEGEL Interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali: 'Everyone Is Afraid to Criticize Islam' - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

Here is an interesting interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali in which she addressed the cartoon incident. I love the idea that European countries (and I'd add America too) should stop apologizing for circulating the cartoons and make sure they are displayed everywhere. If you haven't had the chance to see them yet, here they are.

"The doctrine stating that the faith is inalterable because the Koran was dictated by God must be replaced. Muslims must realize that it was human beings who wrote the holy scriptures."

I'd take this a step further and add that just because someone criticizes your superstitious beliefs does not make it okay for you to harm them. As I've said repeatedly on this blog, believing something does not make it true. Elevating one's preferences to the level of demands is the definition of irrationality. If these demands are then imposed on others through violence, we go from irrationality to the most vile form of brutality, that which occurs in the name of religion. Time for all countries which are not Islamic theocracies to offer a unified front of opposition.

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We Are All Danes Now - The Boston Globe

We are all Danes now - The Boston Globe

I thought this editorial in The Boston Globe was worth reading - not because I agree with it, but because it contains one of the misconceptions this blog seeks to correct. After pointing out that Hindus do not resort to violence when their beliefs are challenged, the author makes the following statement:

"The same is true of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Mormons: They don't lash out in violence when their religious sensibilities are offended. They certainly don't expect their beliefs to be immune from criticism, mockery, or dissent."

Really? Christians don't get violent when they are offended? They don't think their beliefs should be immune from mockery? Ever hear of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, or modern-day bombing of abortion clinics? Hell, ever hear of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell?

I agree that radical Muslims are a problem, but so are radical Christians. The point isn't the cartoons; the point is that fanatical believers of any variety cannot deal with criticism or mockery. The problem is that Islam and Christianity preach intolerance and hatred - this cannot be disputed by anyone who has read the "holy" texts from these religions.

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February 9, 2006

Quote: Ann Coulter

In continuing with the theme of religiously motivated violence, I offer the following glimpse into the mind of Christian extremists in America:

"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war." - Ann Coulter

February 8, 2006

Pat Robertson and Religious Violence

Pat Robertson and religious violence - JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM

Before we rush to condemn Islam for being violent, intolerant, etc. (and it is these things), we must remember that Christianity deserves no less attention.

February 7, 2006

Religious Violence Over Cartoons: A New Low

I tend to focus on Christian extremists on this blog, but it appears that the Muslim community is feeling jealous of being ignored and requires some attention. Religiously-motivated violence is certainly nothing new. However, the source of this particular provocation is particularly absurd. Now Muslims are resorting to violence because they are offended by cartoons making fun of their "prophet."

Since I'm sure you are already familiar with the basic story, I'll only recommend one source of coverage at a deeper level. Interesting stuff.

Something like this couldn't possibly happen in America, right? Wrong! For an example of what it might look like, visit Secularleft.

If Muslims don't want their beliefs to be mocked, they might want to critically examine their beliefs and see if they can figure out what might make them such tempting targets for ridicule. To get mad because someone is making fun of your superstitious beliefs is fine; to engage in violence because you are mad is not. Before we hear any more about modern holy wars and religious persecution, we should stop and realize that people are being harmed over something this silly.

February 5, 2006

Sam Harris Answers His Critics

Truthdig has a great post by Sam Harris in which he responds to criticism from theists of his Atheist Manifesto. I consider this a must-read because Harris addresses three of the most often heard reactions of theists to atheism.

Since I'm commenting on Sam Harris, I'd like to take this opportunity to again plug his book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. No freethinker should be without it, and it is the rare book which you will want everyone you know to read. I know it is on your to-read list and you've been meaning to get it for awhile. But since it is now available in paperback, you've run out of excuses.

Carnival of the Godless #33

COG 33 is up now at Superlicious. Check it out for some quality godless reading.

February 3, 2006

The Truth About Atheists: Correcting Misconceptions, Part 3

Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Susterma...
Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans painted in 1636. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the third part of this series, I correct two additional misconceptions about atheists raised by Christians. If you missed the last part, it can be found here.

Misconception 5: Atheists just don't want to receive the truth.

Of all the misconceptions Lya uncovered, I find this the most interesting. It appears that both Christians and atheists are concerned with "the truth." The problem is that atheists tend to define truth as involving a high degree of correspondence with external reality, whereas Christians tend to define it as what they've been told or what they wish was the case. If we view truth as reflecting reality, the atheist has a huge advantage because theistic claims about the natural world are often demonstrably false.

A rational person discards religious doctrine which conflicts with external reality, but a believer must attempt to reconcile belief and reality even when the two are at odds. Attempts to reconcile what cannot be reconciled lead to a complete breakdown in logic and make for some bizarre claims (e.g., god creates pain and suffering so that we will have free will, to test our faith, etc.). It is because atheists are concerned with truth that we reject religious doctrine. Belief is based on faith and not on reality. Atheists recognize that faith, by definition, is not about truth.

To understand the meaning of this misconception, we should focus on the word "receive," for this an important clue as to the meaning of the statement. The Christian version of truth has to derive from the supernatural realm. It is not something we are supposed to seek. Rather, we are encouraged to open ourselves to it with the expectation that it will somehow just appear to us.

To the atheist, truth is not something which can be received. It is something that must be uncovered through the application of reason, logic, and the scientific method. Remember, science is not truth; it is a method for discovering the truth. Fortunately for atheists, the scientific method has proven itself to be the most powerful means of ascertaining the truth that humans have discovered.

Thus, I'd like to turn this misconception on its head as follows: Many Christians refuse to accept the verifiable truth provided by application of the scientific method, instead preferring to cling to ancient superstition.

Misconception 6: Atheists are bitter/angry.

Ah, the old angry atheist stereotype. Since I've already addressed the misconception that atheists hate theists/Christians/Christianity (see Part 1), I'll try not to repeat myself here. Are atheists bitter and angry people? This is an empirical question which can be confirmed or disconfirmed through...(gasp)...science. Without these data in front of me, I am going to speculate that there might be some truth to this statement.

An American atheist lives in a country where over 95% of the population believes in some form of god and something like 70% believe that angels and demons regularly visit the earth. What does this feel like? I compare it to the experience of a physician who visits a primitive village where the residents do not believe in germs, antiseptic, etc. and instead believe that all illnesses are caused by evil spirits. How frustrating that must be for the physician! That is how an atheist feels every day. Don't you think it is understandable for us to become a bit frustrated? Yes, I think that many (though certainly not all) atheists feel bitter or angry when they think about the destructive impact of the superstition with which we are surrounded.

If I've acknowledged some truth to this statement, how can I still call it a misconception? The statement implies that all atheists are bitter/angry people, and this is not the case. Many atheists find great meaning in our naturalistic worldview, believe that humans are capable of great things (even overcoming silly superstition), and strive to make the world a better place. Just because some of us are a tad misanthropic does not mean that this describes the majority. Many atheists are the most caring, compassionate, friendly, and open people you could hope to find. In fact, one could argue that this compassion for our fellow human is why it pains us to see them fall to superstitious nonsense!

On to Part IV.