June 29, 2006

A Christian Political Agenda

According to this article from the New York Times and picked up by the International Herald Tribune, the Christian right has informed the White House that more needs to be done to further their agenda. As Christians, their agenda deals with ending poverty, promoting sound environmental stewardship, ending human rights abuses, etc., right? Well, not exactly.

Instead, the Christian right has decided to focus on banning gay marriage, obscenity (i.e., whatever they don't like), and abortion. So we read that the Council for National Policy feels alienated by the White House because not enough progress has been made on these fronts. It must really hurt when the government decides not to persecute your enemies.

According to this analysis, we are likely to see a period of increasing influence of Christian extremists such as Dobson, Falwell, and Robertson, as the midterm elections draw closer. I hope so. I think it is going to backfire this time. I just can't believe that the American people can really be distracted from Iraq, FEMA, climate change, etc. by a call to bigotry and intolerance. Then again, I've been wrong before.

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June 27, 2006

Are We "Secular Fundamentalists?"

I just started reading God's Politics : Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. Admittedly, this is a bit of a change of pace from the books I usually read. It was written by a Christian who wants more faith in politics but opposes the co-opting of religion by either political party. While I find all the pro-faith stuff rather sickening, I am determined to give it a chance.

In the first few pages, I encountered the term "secular fundamentalists" in the context of right wing Christian conservatives. The author used this phrase to describe people who want to keep religion out of politics and public life. The author feels strongly that faith has a central place in both politics and public life and that both extremes (i.e., Christian fundamentalists and "secular fundamentalists") are problematic.

I argue here that the term "secular fundamentalist" is a meaningless distortion. Fortunately, we have a widely accepted definition of religious fundamentalism from which to start our comparison. As researched for a previous post, religious fundamentalism includes the following components:

1. Biblical Inerrancy
2. Evangelism
3. Premillenialism (expectation of second coming, rapture, etc.)
4. Separatism/Sense of Persecution
5. Biblical Literalism (at least with regard to creation)

Note: The research through which I arrived at these 5 components included mostly Christian sources.

Are there analogues for any of these components in the secular community (so far as there even is a secular community)? There is no core secular doctrine, so #1 and #5 have no bearing. I also see no analogue for #3. We are focused on this life because we recognize that it is the only life we have. The closest thing we might have to #2 are efforts by some atheists to combat the negative image of atheists held by much of the public. Certainly there are those among us who seek to foster the spread of atheism, but we are not really trying to spread a doctrine as much as we are encouraging people to embrace reality and give up superstition. I do see an analogue to #4, but our sense of separation/persecution is based in modern reality. We are a hated minority; this is not a point of controversy. Some of us also foster this sense of separation by continuing to criticize religion and distance ourselves from it.

The closest label I can identify to what might be called "secular fundamentalist" would be something like "atheist activist." By this I mean an atheist who takes an activist stance about his/her atheism. Yes, I would put myself in this category. However, I don't see the necessary components of fundamentalism in this label. This leaves me to conclude that there is no such thing as a "secular fundamentalist."

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June 24, 2006

Coverage of Darby's Election Loss Sheds Light on Alabama Conservatives

An article in The Greenville Advocate offers a terrifying perspective on Larry Darby's recent election loss. The first sentence sets the tone, "An atheist who said the Holocaust never happened came out of left field to nearly win the Democratic Party's nomination for Attorney General during the primary election held on June 6." Which is more surprising - that an atheist got 44% of the vote or that a Holocaust denier got 44% of the vote?

The article seems to balance both, making an equally big deal of Darby's atheism as his denial of the Holocaust. Sen. Wendell Mitchell (D - Luverne) was quoted as saying that he does not believe that Darby is a suitable candidate for public office. No disagreement here. However, Sen. Mitchell was quoted as saying, "“Larry Darby possesses none of the qualities with which I can identify," said Mitchell. "“I deny him on Christian principles. He's an atheist. I reject his candidacy."

What? Sen. Mitchell rejects Darby as a suitable candidate because he's an atheist? Besides violating the Constitutional requirement that "no religious test shall ever be required" as a qualification to public office, Sen. Mitchell doesn't even mention Darby's Holocaust denial! Does this mean he's okay with that part? The article notes that "Darby has promoted white supremacy." Would that be okay too if only Darby was a Christian?

Perhaps the final sentences of the article, another quote from Sen. Mitchell, can shed some light on this puzzling situation. "“The state of Alabama is a conservative state. We believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman."” Ah yes, so perhaps Holocaust denial and self-proclaimed anti-Semitism can be overlooked as long as one is not an atheist.

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June 22, 2006

Could There Be A Strategy Behind It?

Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson. They are the trio atheists love to hate. Mainstream Christians are quick to deny agreement with them but rarely issue public condemnations. What function do they serve (besides setting America's policy on stem cell research)?

Do they and their supporters really believe the vile hatred they spew, or do they have a strategic role? As far as I can tell, it is only through their outrageously offensive public statements that they maintain their own relevance. They have created celebrity out of loud idiocy. Not a week passes where one of them isn't saying something absurd which hops around the media circus for a day or two. But do they serve some larger role?

Could it be that they function primarily to maintain the relevance of Christianity? This ancient set of superstitions has little relevance in our modern world of science and technology. Without their voices (or equally detestable alternatives to fill their shoes), I'm not sure Christianity could continue to be relevant - at least in the realm of politics.

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Atheists for Peace

This thought-provoking article at OpEdNews.com is worth a read. The point is the link between atheism and progressive politics. However, my favorite sentence is this: "Most atheists, like myself, encourage atheism because we're embarrassed to see our fellow humans engaging in wishful and magical thinking."

Embarrassed. Absolutely! Embarrassed, ashamed, horrified, and more. Many atheist bloggers, myself included, have posted about the pros and cons of "evangelizing" atheism (personally, I hate that word). Could the sentiment expressed in this sentence effectively summarize an important part of our motivation for wanting others to question their theistic belief. You bet. Naturally, there is a lot more to it. The article goes on to address the usual political issues, but I just had to highlight this thought.

Read the article and see what you think about the author's disagreement with Sam Harris over the nature of moderate religion. Some good points are raised that will give me some things to consider and fuel future posts.

June 20, 2006

In Defense of Atheism: From the University

Seeing this article in the student paper at the University of California at Irvine was encouraging because it suggests that at least some college students are still asking questions and still thinking critically. I know this is supposed to be what college is all about, but this is tough to remember sometimes from my vantage point here in the bible belt. I suppose being here makes me value reminders that rational thought it taking place elsewhere.

June 19, 2006

On the Promotion of Atheism: A Reply to the Atheist Ethicist

Alonzo has a thought-provoking post on promoting atheism at the Atheist Ethicist. In this post, I'd like to share my reactions.

Calls for increased organization among atheists reflect two primary concerns, both of which are warranted in my opinion. First, such calls reflect recognition that increased political power requires organization. Nonbelievers are clearly marginalized in contemporary American politics, and many of us would like our voices to be heard. Second, many atheists long for a greater sense of community among nonbelievers. Being an atheist can be lonely, especially when one finds oneself in a sea of believers. As social beings, we seek increased connection with others with whom we may share common perspectives.

The evangelizing of atheism makes sense only if one buys the argument of Sam Harris and others which says that religious belief is both irrational and dangerous. If one rejects this claim and is convinced that there is nothing wrong with theistic belief per se, then there is little reason to support such efforts. Personally, I do accept this claim, as I am convinced that the world would be a better place without theistic belief. For those of us who accept the claim that theism is irrational, the promotion of atheism follows naturally.

Of course, what is typically promoted here is not atheism but secular humanism. Theism is a belief about the nature of the universe; atheism is the absence of (or rejection of) theistic belief. The claim I described above (i.e., that theistic belief is harmful) is primarily a belief about human affairs rooted in secular humanism. It is certainly not synonymous with atheism. This is where we find ourselves in agreement because secular humanism deals with ethics.

Alonzo says that he does not care whether a person believes that "God exists." I do. I care because this belief is irrational. Stripped from any associated ethical baggage, the statement is irrational on its face because the Christian cannot provide a logically consistent definition of god. However, I agree that the primary issue of concern to most of us are the ethical implications of action based on theistic belief.

Can we work effectively with theists without always feeling the need to challenge theism? Yes. Should we attempt to do so? Absolutely. However, discussion and debate over the existence of supernatural entities must also occur, although not necessarily in the same context or at the same time.

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June 18, 2006

Praying for Cures: Faith as Treatment

I've always been more than a little bothered by the idea of parents denying medical care to their children because they'd prefer to rely on faith. Naturally, Christians are quick to claim that they would never do this and that faith healing is not something mainstream Christians endorse. This article in the Miami Herald suggests that seeking relief through prayer may be more common that some would like to admit.

The article describes a "faith-healing ministry" in Florida. Far from being a side-show attraction, "They come seeking help for blindness, breast cancer, depression and back pain." Think this is just a bible belt thing? According to the article, this ministry belongs to the International Association of Healing Rooms, an organization based in Seattle which claims over 10,000 volunteers and 417 branches around the world.

My favorite quote from this article reflects a telling tone that we've seen before: "Studies examining the effect of prayer on healing have been inconclusive, and some have shown no effect at all." Some have shown no effect at all? Amazing! It seems like the author is puzzled how this can be the case even though the science is fairly clear that well designed studies of the healing effects of prayer show no effects.

When I read things like this article, I am reminded of two things. First, there are a lot of stupid people out there. Second, even smart people may believe stupid things when they failed to learn critical thinking skills.

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June 17, 2006

A New Look for Atheist Revolution

After sticking with Blogger's Rounder's template for the first year of Atheist Revolution, I decided it was time for a change. Hopefully, you'll agree that this layout is an improvement. There will probably be some glitches, but I'll keep on it until everything is working.

June 16, 2006

The Republican War on Science: A Compelling Case Against Bush

I just finished reading The Republican War on Science, and I highly recommend it. Most political administrations (Republican and Democrat) have made some mistakes when it comes to misusing science. However, this book makes a compelling case that the Bush II administration has reached new lows in science abuse. "Intelligent" design, pollution and global climate change, stem cell research, sex education, abortion, and the protection of endangered species are among the examples.

How has the administration abused science? In a nutshell, they have followed the lead of big tobacco by deliberately misleading the public through manufacturing scientific uncertainty where none exists. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that human pollution is leading to climate change. The administration hypes a handful of fringe scientists who disagree with this consensus and then claims that more data are needed. Why? Because the corporations which own the current administration don't want any regulations. If this seems far fetched, just look at how they've manufactured a controversy over evolution where no real debate exists among scientists.

I can't recall any book which made me more angry than this one did. Governments are supposed to use science to inform policy decisions. If they choose to ignore evidence of climate change because they think environmental regulations are bad for the economy, come out and say so. I can accept this even if I don't agree with it. But to intentionally distort science to fit preconceived policy decisions is unforgivable.

If you share my concern with the political misuse of science, visit the Union of Concerned Scientists for more information about what we can do.

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June 15, 2006

DefCon's New Stem Cell Ad Campaign

Check out DefCon's newest ad campaign. I love it! It makes me sick that Christian extremists have enough influence that they can shape our nation's science agenda. Even if effective treatments based on stem cell research a years away (and this appears to be the case), we should be interested in speeding up the process rather than blocking it. Denying people medical treatment because of one's willful ignorance and religious delusion is despicable.

To see what you can do, visit DefCon's action alert.

June 12, 2006

The Right to Discriminate?

Some Christians believe that they have (or should have) the right to discriminate against others on the basis of religion, even while loudly whining about their own imagined persecution at the hands of nonbelievers. Hey, nobody ever accused them of being rational!

Last month, this story appeared in which a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Christian fraternity challenging the nondiscrimination policy at the University of North Carolina. Yes, you read that right - they oppose a nondiscrimination policy.

It seems that the policy did not permit them to exclude members on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. They did not like this, and so they filed the suit. As unusual a case as this seems, I haven't gotten to the interesting part yet. You see, the reason the judge dismissed the suit was that it was no longer relevant after the university revised the policy so that student groups could now exclude members on the basis of their beliefs!

June 10, 2006

Gay Marriage is a Church-State Issue

If you stop strangers on the street and ask them whether they support a ban on gay marriage, you will find many who do. If you ask them why, you will hear a range of replies, many having something to do with "the sanctity of marriage." But where does this notion come from? Beneath the surface, you will soon uncover religious motivation.

The debate over gay marriage is rarely described in the mainstream media as a church-state issue, but it is exactly that. I have yet to hear a relevant argument against gay marriage that didn't have religious roots. The Christian bible is ambiguous and inconsistent on many issues, but homosexuality doesn't appear to be one of them. Banning gay marriage is an obvious example of Christian extremists attempting to legislate their particular brand of religious "morality."

According to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Senate's debate over the federal marriage amendment never should have happened. I agree with their analysis that this was simply a case of political posturing by the GOP, always determined to appease their Christian extremist base. As AU notes, the vote provides the GOP with material for attack ads (e.g., Candidate X is anti-family, etc.).

I believe that the best chance of success in opposing this legislation (something tells me we haven't seen the last of it) is to remind Americans that preventing homosexuals from marrying is discriminatory. Just like Jim Crow laws or opposing women's' suffrage, it is discriminatory. If we have learned anything from history, it is that discriminatory practices are wrong and will be viewed as an embarrassment by our children.

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June 9, 2006

More on the Pledge Protection Issue

Americans United: 'Pledge Protection Act' Threatens Rights Of Religious Minorities, Says Americans United: 'Pledge Protection Act' Threatens Rights Of Religious Minorities, Says Americans United

Here is AU's response to the pledge protection issue. I agree that it is absurd for our elected officials to devote time to this instead of the myriad of more important concerns with which they should be occupied.

June 8, 2006

Secular Coalition Action Alert: Protect Courts' Power to Rule on Pledge

From the Secular Coalition for America:

The House Judiciary Committee this week took up HR 2389, a bill which would strip all federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, of the power to decide the Constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance or its recitation. This legislation would set a dangerous precedent for chipping away at the checks and balances that our three independent branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) have given our nation over the past two hundred plus years. Moreover, it attacks the Constitutional rights of the Secular Coalition constituency.

Please take a stand against court-stripping by the religious right. For more information about this issue and a sample letter to send members of the House Judiciary Committee, visit this page on our Web site: http://www.secular.org/activism/courtstripping06.html

Marriage Amendment Defeated in Senate

The Senate voted 49 to 48 to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment. I am happy with this outcome but appalled at how close the vote was. This is plan to add discrimination to the Constitution that is being advocated by Christian extremists, and like "intelligent" design, I'm sure they'll continue to bring it up. To learn more about what you can do to oppose Christian extremism, visit DefCon blog and sign up for their action alerts.

June 6, 2006

Celebrating the National Day of Slayer

June 6, 2006 is not a day to be feared. Nor is it a day to waste on what simply has to be an awful remake of a horror classic. It is a day of celebration. It is the National Day of Slayer.

Naturally, I've been celebrating most of the day by listening to Slayer. While it doesn't appear that their tour will bring them to my area, I am eagerly awaiting their new album in late July.

To honor Slayer on this special day, I provide the inspiring lyrics to "Jesus Saves" from their classic Reign in Blood album:

You go to the church, you kiss the cross
You will be saved at any cost
You have your own reality
You spend your life just kissing ass
A trait that's grown as time has passed
You think the world will end today
You praise the Lord, it's all you say

Jesus saves, listen to you pray
You think you'll see the pearly gates
When death takes you away

For all respect you cannot lust
In an invisible man you place your trust
Indirect dependency
Eternal attempt at amnesty
He will decide who lives and dies
Depopulate Satanas rise
You will be an accessory
Irreverence and blasphemy

Jesus saves, no need to pray
The gates of pearl have turned to gold
It seems you've lost your way

Jesus saves, no words of praise
No promised land to take you to
There is no other way

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Too Little, Too Late: Progressive Christians Oppose Marriage Amendment

Christian leaders tout tolerance

This article describes a coalition of progressive Christians who are organizing to oppose the marriage amendment being pushed by their extremist colleagues (and embarrassingly supported by our President). I applaud their efforts, but their refusal to directly confront the Christian right is inexcusable. It isn't good enough to say, "Not all Christians feel that way." If your beliefs are really so different from theirs, how can you both claim to be Christians?

Progressive Christians, keep preaching tolerance. But recognize that Christianity, as it appears in your bible is not about tolerance. In fact, the only way Christianity is about "tolerance and human rights for all" is if one selectively omits large portions of the Christian bible (e.g., everything about hell, calls to kill non-believers, etc.) and ignores the theme of intolerance which runs through it.

Perhaps the most important difference between progressive Christians and fundamentalist Christians is that the progressives allow their message to evolve with the times and the fundamentalists do not. The thing is, when the core teachings you propose have evolved so far beyond your bible that few remaining links are still evident, the rest of us aren't sure what to make of it.

In any case, I'm not sure that progressives have much influence remaining. By refusing to vocally oppose the Christian extremists on multiple fronts, they have become less relevant. Progressive Christians, your puzzling inaction makes you equally culpable as the right-wing nutjobs whose policies you are finally starting to question. Your opposition to the marriage amendment is admirable, but I fear that it may be too little, too late.

Read my letter to my state senators and send your own here.

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June 4, 2006

Ready or Not, Hurricane Season is Here

Hurricane season is here, and serious questions have been raised about our readiness at the federal and state levels. Many of us in the reality-based community are surprised that the improvements in preparedness were not more extensive. Of course, I tend to be chronically surprised that science is not more frequently used to inform policy, so maybe this is just another example.

Reports out of New Orleans are not encouraging. I support the rebuilding of New Orleans for many reasons, however, my support is based on the assumption that the levee system would be improved to sustain even stronger storms than Katrina. This has not been the case, and now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are acknowledging that there are no plans to make the levees any better than they were prior to Katrina.

Here in Mississippi, we still have a surprisingly high number of people living in FEMA trailers. This means that the shelters will start to fill well in advance of an approaching storm. Locally, we are hearing that improvements have been made to the availability of supplies, utility companies, and communications. I remain somewhat skeptical of the scope of these improvements, and I hope they are not tested this year.

Perhaps this situation is yet another issue that highlights the unfortunate consequences of relying on mythical supernatural entities for guidance and protection. Lack of funds and political partisanship may be the primary obstacles to improved readiness, but I'm not convinced they are the only ones. After all, if we are cheering the approach of "end times," why worry much about disaster preparedness? If we could just pass a gay marriage ban in time, maybe we'd be safe from another hurricane.

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June 2, 2006

Court Says Sharing Religion Not Employee's Right

Metro & Regional News - Court says sharing religion not an employee's right - sacbee.com

Yep, that's right - a federal court ruled that an employer is not required to permit employees to share their religious beliefs with others on the job. This means that someone (an evangelical Christian in this case) actually filed a suit alleging discrimination because their employer didn't want them attempting to convert their clients and co-workers. These poor Christians are clearly victims of persecution! How dare an employer infringe on the god-given right of Christians to push their irrational and destructive beliefs on others!

Actually, I must admit that I'm a little surprised that the ruling went this way in our current political climate, but it is clearly good news. The bad news, as you will read, is that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) authorized the plaintiff to file the suit. "The federal agency said Berry should be allowed to discuss religion with 'receptive' clients and display a Spanish-language Bible and 'Happy Birthday Jesus' sign in the cubicle where he counsels them." Shame on the EEOC for such idiocy!

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