June 30, 2007

What Politics Needs is a Healthy Dose of Reason

assault on reason Of all the comments I receive on this blog, the ones that distress me the most are those in which the person commenting reveals that he/she considers politics unimportant, chooses not to follow politics, or simply does not participate in the political process. As both an American and an atheist, I believe that I have a moral duty to be an active and informed participant in politics. As Al Gore argues in The Assault on Reason, the success of the American democracy depends on an informed electorate with an investment in the political process. I agree, and I have attempted to be an informed participant since my 18th birthday.

As someone interested in improving the plight of atheists in the U.S., I believe that I have a responsibility to work toward preserving the separation of church and state that characterizes America's secular democracy. Since atheists happen to be a despised minority, I also think that it is critical to increase our voice throughout society and our visibility in the political arena. To conclude that politics is somehow unimportant or irrelevant represents an abrogation of these duties.

Naturally, the central question often revolves around what we can do to contribute to the political system besides the obvious but still often neglected act of casting our votes for candidates who support reality-based policies. One of the things that I have been doing with increasing frequency is communicating (letters, calls, e-mails) with my elected officials. I thank them when they support worthwhile causes, urge them to take action on important issues, and express disapproval when they put religion or some other nonsense above human welfare.

I have heard some complain that it is difficult to follow how their elected officials are actually voting, but this need not be the case. Fortunately, information about how your elected officials vote is readily available on the Internet and even organized for you by the Secular Coalition for America. Couldn't be much easier, could it?

Al Gore envisions a form of rational politics where the citizenry are invested and learn to hold politicians and the media accountable for their attempts to mislead us. I want this vision to become a reality. I want to be part of the solution.

June 29, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy July 1-4

Blog Against Theocracy is coming soon - July 1-4 to be exact. If you have a blog, this is a great excuse to do a post or two against theocracy. I participated in April, and it did generate quite a bit of traffic from what I recall. For more information about what they are looking for and how to submit your post(s), visit the Blog Against Theocracy blog.

H/Ts to Friendly Atheist and Blue Gal.

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Promoting Atheism in Oregon

There is an outstanding letter about atheism in the Oregon Daily Emerald. Here are some highlights:
Recently the Democratic presidential front-runners participated in a "Faith and Politics" forum on CNN to prove their religiosity to the voters. Why is this attack on the separation of church and state so easily accepted? Why is this blatant bigotry not only tolerated, but also encouraged? Don't we deserve to be judged by the content of our character, not by our willingness to embrace superstition? Do we really want to continue to keep some of the brightest and most educated people out of public office?
We ask our judges, our journalists and our educators to stick to the facts. It gives us the best odds for positive results. This is what we strive to do in our educational institutions and in our justice system because we know that a critical look at all the evidence will most likely lead to the most desirable outcome. So why is this method of reasoning marginalized when it comes to the nature of reality and to the choosing of our politicians?
This is the kind of article I always love to see in the papers because it says exactly what needs to be said to a much wider and more diverse audience than we bloggers reach.

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Action Alert: Stop Wasting Funds on Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently voted to cut funding for abstinence-only sex education by over 25%. Given clear evidence that abstinence-only programs neither reduce teen pregnancy nor reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, this is an important (if limited) step toward reality-based policy. However, the measure still has to get through the House and is now scheduled to do so the week of July 9. To e-mail your Representative, visit the Secular Coalition for America's action page.

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June 28, 2007

Empowering Nonbelievers: The Atheist Revival

I have been somewhat critical of the phrase "new atheism," noting that I find little new about it. I suppose I dislike the term primarily because I feel that it diminishes the contributions of those speaking out against the absurdities of religious belief long before Dawkins and Harris emerged on the scene to become lighting rods for the media. But regardless of what you or I choose to call it, it is clear that we are witnessing a reinvigorated atheist movement. One of the best things about this movement is the manner in which it serves to empower nonbelievers.

Let me be clear that I happily count myself among the admirers of both Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, as well as countless others speaking out and writing about the problems with religion and the benefits of a reality-based worldview. I have no quarrel with anyone who chooses to use the "new atheism" label even though I find it unsatisfactory. What Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, and others are doing is providing a much needed boost to the contemporary atheist movement, and I am grateful for their contributions. They have helped to bring about an level of media attention which has been unprecedented during my adult life.

We may never know with any precision exactly how many nonbelievers currently live in America. And yet, we can be fairly confident that they occupy every city, every rural community, and indeed every walk of life. Many are used to feeling like outsiders, almost as if they are immigrants to an unfamiliar country. We know that many keep quiet about their lack of religious belief for a variety of reasons including concerns about personal safety, potential loss of support, and an understandable desire to fit in.

I submit that the single greatest benefit of our current atheist revival is the empowerment it offers to such nonbelievers. The teenager who doesn't understand why she cannot seem to find religious pronouncements credible suddenly has something with which to identify. She can relate to what these atheists are saying. The middle-aged adult who has always felt alienated in his community suddenly encounters others expressing similar views in books, blogs, and meetup groups. His alienation fades as he begins to cautiously embrace atheism. Students may be able to participate in secular groups; parents may find a growing number of resources to offer guidance in reality-based parenting.

Having an identity is an important source of empowerment. By knowing what to call myself, I have taken the first step toward molding an identity which can bring me strength. I am an atheist. I have something in common with millions of other people in that I do not believe in the gods to which the majority of my neighbors submit. I can read a book about atheism and learn how to better articulate my views. I can meet with other nonbelievers and finally experience the joy of being myself. I can visit atheist blogs, Internet forums, and websites to interact with a global community of nonbelievers, learn more about atheism and secular humanism, obtain support, and translate my passions into activism.

As feelings of empowerment grow in individual members of a group, more and more will begin to speak out. Groups of like-minded individuals will form, organized around a combination of common goals and a desire for camaraderie. Increases in the numbers of individuals openly discussing their views and the availability of groups will encourage more individuals to come forward. Spokespeople will emerge, organizations will form, political power will increase.

Of course, none of this is prophetic because it is already happening. Today I am not just an atheist; I am an empowered atheist. The questions before us now are how to empower more nonbelievers and where to go next. Where does this atheist revival lead us, and how to we keep it on track?

Digg my article

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June 27, 2007

AU Action Alert: DC Vouchers

From Americans United for Separation of Church and State:
Call Your Representative Now to Oppose More Funding for DC Vouchers

Sources on the Hill have just informed us that Rep. Tom Davis may offer an amendment on the House floor to the Financial Services Appropriations bill that would increase funding for the Washington, DC private school voucher program. Congress implemented this federally-funded voucher program in 2004, despite overwhelming opposition from DC residents. Just a year later, a Department of Education Study found that 43% of vouchers in the program went to students who were already attending private schools.

Private schools should be funded with private funds. DC does not need more money for a private school voucher program.

Please call your Representative right away and urge him/her to vote against the Davis Amendment to the Financial Services Appropriations bill.

Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121

Suggested Message:

"I urge Representative _______ to VOTE NO on the Davis Amendment to the Financial Services Appropriations bill. Tax dollars should be used to support public education, not private school vouchers."

Thank you for your activism!

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Weekend Blogging: Effective Tactic or Wasted Effort?

I've been reading a number of blog posts and websites offering tips for boosting blog traffic lately. These blog promotion gurus tend to offer similar advice, suggesting that the many overlapping techniques probably have a reasonable chance of success. Still, there is one common suggestion that I just can't figure out - increasing one's post frequency on the weekends.

The rationale for this suggestion is quite clear. There tend to be fewer blog posts made on the weekends. Those of us looking to increase our traffic should take advantage of this by increasing our posting frequency on the weekends. Since there are fewer posts made overall on weekends, our weekend posts have a better chance of being noticed and thus bringing us traffic.

My problem with this suggestion is that I am still not convinced that it works. I typically post 2-3 more often on weekends than I do during weekdays simply because I have more free time, but my traffic statistics reveal a consistent drop on the weekends. Here is an example from 6/11 to 6/18, a fairly typical week:

Regardless of whether we look at returning visitors (orange), unique visitors (blue), or page loads (green), we see that Saturday and Sunday are the low points. Do those of you with your own blogs see similar trends in your data?

Assuming that this sort of pattern is confirmed by other bloggers, I can't help but wonder whether this means that people are simply less likely to peruse blogs on the weekends. If this is the case, what does it mean for those of us wishing to increase our traffic? I wonder if one implication might be that we should avoid posting our better work on the weekends when it is less likely to be read.

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June 26, 2007

Romney Troubled By Criticism of His Faith

According to the Associated Press via The Salt Lake Tribune, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is troubled by campaign attacks on his Mormon faith. He says that such criticism by his rival candidates is happening too frequently. Don't you feel sorry for the guy? I mean, just because he believes all sorts of absurd things doesn't mean we should criticize them, does it?

Whether we like it or not, the American people have decided that religion is relevant in the 2008 elections. The consequence of this is that each candidate will face at least some questions about the nature of his or her superstitions. The problem is, they won't face the right sort of questions.

I'd like to ask Mitt Romney how he can possibly believe a number of things (e.g., the three migrations) shown to be false by converging lines of scientific evidence. I'd like to know why he thinks that someone who holds demonstrably false beliefs should be allowed to hold any public office, much less the highest office in the land. How could such an individual be trusted to function effectively in the real world?

I agree that the criticism of his Mormon faith is troubling. It is troubling because it is wholly insufficient in scope and intensity. Of course, the same must be said for the more mainstream Christian beliefs held by his fellow candidates. It is a sad day when psychosis is insufficient to disqualify one from the presidency.

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June 25, 2007

Hein v. FFRF Decided: Executive Branch Free to Fund Religious Organizations

We have a major court verdict today. In Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against a challenge to the Bush administration's use of tax dollars to fund their faith-based initiatives. The impact of this decision is that American citizens do not have standing to challenge discretionary spending by the executive branch to support religiously-oriented programs in court.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State issued a statement saying that today's decision, while disappointing, is unlikely to affect most church-state litigation.
“This is a disappointing decision that blocks the courthouse door for Americans with legitimate church-state grievances,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Taxpayers should be allowed to challenge public funding of religion, whether the money is allocated by Congress or the White House.”

"However," Lynn continued, "it is important to note that this ruling applies to only a few situations. Most church-state lawsuits, including those that challenge congressional appropriations for faith-based programs, will not be affected."
From what I just heard on NPR, this may be an overly optimistic analysis. I think this ruling may open the door for future presidents to use discretionary funds to support religious pet projects, fueling the growing trend of pandering to religious groups (i.e., Brownbacking).

The statement issued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation was consistent with my somewhat more pessimistic take on this ruling.
"This means we have a constitutional separation between church and state, but no way to enforce it if the executive branch chooses to violate it with 'discretionary' actions," added Dan Barker, a plaintiff and Foundation co-president. The Foundation is the largest association of atheists and agnostics in the U.S., whose 10,000 members work to keep church and state separate.
Needless to say, I am disappointed with this ruling and will be interested in the legal analysis sure to follow.

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Understanding Secular Humanists

Happy human Humanist logo, white and ...
Happy human Humanist logo, white and golden version (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is a mistake to think that people who are not religious lack a functioning moral system. As A.C. Grayling recently noted, secular humanism provides nonbelievers with just such an ethical system, "...all the richer indeed for being the result of reflection as opposed to conditioning..." Simply put, a secular humanist is someone whose ethical system is not rooted in a particular religious tradition.

An excellent example of secular morality is the so-called Golden Rule. This moral precept, that one should treat others as one would like to be treated, predates the Abrahamic religions, effectively shredding the claim made by many Christians that their bible is somehow the source of all morality. When considering whether a particular act would be immoral, one can consider its likely impact on others without needing to attempt to cherry pick from one's "holy" text.

June 24, 2007

Election 2008: Lesser of Many Evils?

At this point, I am starting to have trouble imagining myself feeling particularly excited about any of the 2008 presidential candidates. The Republicans are fairly easy to rule out because I'm neither wealthy nor a Christian extremist. Their three front runners are embarrassingly inept, and it makes me wince to hear Internet sensation Ron Paul talk about getting rid of virtually every federal department or agency. Since I align myself much more with progressive politics, the Democrats seem to be the natural choice. Unfortunately, I'm not sure their leading candidates are much more appealing.

Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are now falling over themselves in a mad scramble to win the Christian vote. It is hard to blame them for seeking the support of such a large majority of voters. The sad truth about modern America is that a presidential candidate can not remain competitive without pandering to religious groups. Our elections are determined by people who would never vote for someone they did not perceive as being Christian enough.

Clinton certainly has experience, political connections, and know-how. I suspect she would do a good job of picking advisers and would probably have the easiest learning curve. Still, she strikes me as being more the product of ambition, focus groups, and political advisers than as a person who stands for much of anything. I'm not saying that this is an accurate appraisal - in fact, I hope it is not, but I do think it is a common perception that she's going to have to find a way to overcome. However, Clinton seems to have the hardest time wanting to broadcast her absurd Christian faith than Edwards or Obama. I suppose that is a plus.

Edwards has so far been the Democratic front runner who I think I'd have the easiest time supporting. I appreciate his willingness to talk about poverty. I know it is hard to take his commitment seriously when he lives in a mansion and blows $400 on his haircuts. Still, he was one of the first of this group to make poverty an issue, and it seems like he has done some good work in that area. I detest listening to him discuss his ridiculous Christian faith. Christianspeak plus a Southern accent always makes my skin crawl (and I hear it constantly here in Mississippi).

Obama can be an inspiring speaker, but I think that the common criticism that he's inexperienced is valid. I was least impressed with his performance in the first Democratic debate, but I certainly favor his opposition to Bush's crusade in Iraq. I feel like I know less about him and what he stands for than the others, but I'm certainly not crazy about his recent proclamations about religion and politics. He's wrong, and the implications of his views are worrisome to say the least. I think many Americans are thinking of him as something not unlike a modern Martin Luther King Jr., and yet, his expressions of his ludicrous Christian faith strike me as dangerous in our modern world.

I'm still a ways from deciding which (if any) of these three candidates I can support. I'd like to here more about the candidates' views on reality. Of the Democrats, Kucinich probably best reflects my political inclinations, but I harbor no illusions about his chances. I'll probably end up doing what I usually end up doing - voting for the lesser of two evils.

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Great Letter to the Editor in the Georgetown News-Graphic

A great letter to the editor was published in the Georgetown News-Graphic this morning by Daniel Kelley. I really admire Kelley for this and have to admit that I envy those who has moved beyond my need for anonymity to share themselves in this way. Can you imagine what would happen if every atheist in America starting writing this sort of letter to their local newspapers even if only a couple times a year?

Although I urge you to read Kelley's letter in its entirety, I thought I'd provide a couple of my favorite excerpts below:
I don't even want to believe in a God that will send me to hell because, despite the good that I do, I simply did not see enough evidence to convince me that he (or she, or it) was actually there. You want me to believe in you? Give me a reason. I understand that flies in the face of "faith," but I fail to understand why we should take some unseen being's word on that one simple fact when we as a species require proof and explanation for nearly everything else in life (or death).
Excellent point. There is no reason to treat the existence of gods any differently than the existence of unicorns, fairies, or even a flying spaghetti monster. We base all other assessment of reality on evidence; the willingness of some to make an exception here reveals the truth about gods - they represent nothing more than infantile wish fulfillment.
I don't understand prayer. The Lord works in mysterious ways, sure, I've heard that. But I don't get why prayer needs to come into play there. Let's say I don't pray at all, and I end up in the hospital with some mysterious malady. I'm dying, and the doctors can't figure it out. Suddenly, I decide that the one thing I haven't done is pray for help, or salvation, or whatever I'm supposed to pray for. Is God supposed to hear my prayer and think, "Oh, Daniel doesn't want this thing to kill him. I never would have known if he hadn't prayed"? I mean, if he's going to save me, he's going to save me, prayer or not. If I get to go to heaven, I should get to go to heaven, prayer or not. If it takes a quick "amen" to change that, then God's a bit too wishy-washy for my tastes, anyway. If he's there, he knows his plan.

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Carnival of the Godless #69

COG #69 is up at The Uncredible Hallq. Check it out.

June 23, 2007

Atheist Revolution Adds Feedblitz

While I absolutely love RSS feeds and cannot imagine how I'd keep up with the growing atheist blogosphere without my trusty RSS aggregator, I recognize that some readers would prefer to read their favorite blogs via e-mail. Now readers wishing to stay informed about what is happening at Atheist Revolution can now do so via e-mail using FeedBlitz. All you have to do is enter your e-mail address in the FeedBlitz box on the right sidebar, and you will receive posts directly to your e-mail account. And for those who prefer RSS, the RSS feed is not going anywhere.

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What About the Hope Religion Offers?

Another hope
Another hope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many Christians understand at least some of the criticisms their religion faces. After all, fundamentalist rhetoric, efforts by Christian extremists to retard medical research on the basis of their religious beliefs, and religiously-motivated violence are not easy to ignore. Rather than engage in serious consideration of these very real problems, many Christians attempt to steer the subject away from the obvious harm done by religion and put the critics on the defensive. "What about the hope religion provides to millions of people?" "Even if you think there are problems with religion, you cannot deny the joy, consolation, or hope it brings to so many."

The essence of this claim seems to be that the good of religion outweighs the bad. I suspect that most theists use this claim strategically in order to force the atheist into a defensive posture rather than because they genuinely believe it.

That people desire joy, consolation, or hope is a point which we can concede. Of course we desire it! But how is it supposed to follow that this makes religion a good thing?
  • P1: Humans desire consolation.
  • P2: Religion can be a source of consolation.
  • C: Religion is a good thing.
Conceding P1 does little to bolster the theist's case. I'll even concede P2 as long as we note that religion can be a source of consolation for some people but that it is only one of many sources. How many modern Christians would choose their ancient superstitions over their families, friends, careers, financial stability, health, and all other potential sources of consolation far too numerous to list? If the theist attempts to revise P2 so that it states, "Religion is the only thing that offers hope," I can no longer concede this point. Even if we can somehow dream of implausible scenarios where this might be true, it will remain false in the overwhelming majority of cases.

Regardless, the desired conclusion (C) does not follow from the premises. But even if the logic was not flawed, all you have to do is substitute "religion" with "drugs" or anything else that can provide consolation to some. Just because something can bring happiness to some does not make it a good thing. Sexual sadists receive pleasure from the infliction of pain and suffering on others. Surely there are few who would argue that this necessarily makes their torturous acts morally acceptable.

Even if we grant that religion can sometimes provide comfort to those in need, this does not change the fact that it is false comfort. Lying to a child may make him or her feel better temporarily, but this does not make the lie either true or morally justifiable.

But isn't the suffering caused by religion what we atheists should oppose rather than the beliefs themselves? We do oppose what religion leads people to do, but we also oppose it because it is irrational. Religion requires the believer to suspend rational judgment and to accept things as true without evidence that they are true. On this basis, I would oppose religion even if I could be convinced that it did far less harm in the world than it does.

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June 22, 2007

One Nasty Atheist

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

With Pharyngula getting a G rating and Neural Gourmet a PG, I had to see how Atheist Revolution would be rated. I can't say I'm surprised. Long live the evil atheist conspiracy!

To check your blog's rating, visit Mingle 2.

Action Alert: Ask Your Senators to Support Matthew Shepard Act

Religious Right Watch is encouraging all rational Americans to contact their Senators and ask them to support the Matthew Shepard Act. The Act is designed to extend federal hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Not surprisingly, it faces intense opposition from Christian extremists who probably do not think "gay bashing" should be illegal in the first place.

I hope you will join me in promoting the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act.

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Will America Ever See an Ex-Muslim Group?

Daily Atheist posted an interesting story from Reuters about how some folks are launching a London-based ex-Muslim group. Similar groups already exist in Germany and Scandinavia, and it sounds like one will soon start in Holland. Obviously, these countries have more prominent Muslim populations than the United States, but the post started me thinking about whether we'd ever see anything like that here.

It seems that Americans are split between being terrified of Muslims and being insufficiently critical of Islam. Some would say that such a group would never make it here because Americans would fear the wrath of Muslims too much to permit it. Others would say that such a group would not be welcome because Islam, as all religions, deserves our respect under the banner of multiculturalism.

Personally, I'd like to see ex-Muslim, ex-Christian, and ex-Jewish groups pop up all over. To worry about offending the international Muslim community through such groups is absurd, especially while we occupy Iraq as part of Bush's crusade. Similarly, extending respect to religions simply because they are religions is impossible to justify. Respect must be earned and deserved. In the case of religion, it is neither.

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June 21, 2007

Spreading the Atheist Meme Via Web 2.0: Focus on Squidoo

One of my many passions involves doing what I can to educate the public about atheism. While this was not the main reason I started Atheist Revolution, it has become one of the reasons I persist. While the need to preserve my anonymity limits the nature of my efforts to spread the atheist meme, I am continuing to discover new forums faster than I can fully utilize them. In this post, I will introduce you to Squidoo and show you what I've recently started there.

What is Squidoo?

According to their homepage,
"Squidoo is the world's most popular site for people who want to build a page about their passions. Highlight books, blogs, vids, online shops, or just spread the word about stuff you love."
Sounds perfect for spreading the atheist meme or just about anything else one cares about, doesn't it? Note that they also advertise it as a tool for blog promotion. If you are a blogger, that was probably the part that got your attention. Admittedly, this was what first led me to check out Squidoo.

What Can Squidoo Do For You?

If you blog, it can be a fine tool for promoting your blog. You can easily embed your blog's RSS feed on your Squidoo page, highlight your favorite blog posts, and reach potential readers who frequent the rapidly growing community of Squidoo users.

Beyond blog promotion, you can use Squidoo to provide a one-stop source of information about a particular topic (or topics) of interest. For each topic, you set up what Squidoo calls a lens. This lens contains virtually anything you want - links, Amazon lists, text, videos, photo collections, etc. The number of applications for this service are only limited by one's imagination.

Sounds Good, But I Want An Example

You didn't think I was going to do a post about Squidoo without including a link to my new lens on atheism, did you? This is by no means finished, and it is likely to transform into something entirely different than what you now see, but it should at least give you an idea of some of the possibilities.

My current vision is that this lens will serve as a one-stop information center for persons wanting to learn more about atheism. Clearly, I'm using this to promote Atheist Revolution by selectively highlighting some of my favorite posts, organized into areas likely to be of interest to those wanting to learn about atheism. Of course, I will add many of my favorite posts from other blogs as I continue to develop the lens.

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June 20, 2007

Dawkins Says Threats to Reality-Based Community Not Limited to Right

I think Richard Dawkins is right to point out that attacks on the reality-based community do not come solely from the Christian right. In fact, I sometimes wonder if our focus on the usual right-wing tactics leads us to miss some of what has been happening on the left. Dawkins points to the political left and their cultural relativism (i.e., political correctness) as an equally important threat of anything we're seeing on the right.

We have grown accustomed to Christian extremists ranting about wanting to turn America into a Christian theocracy, pushing young earth creationism, and a host of other destructive plans for Christianizing the masses. We are aware that they believe their religious delusion should be favored above all others and want this to be reflected in our laws.

But what about the left? According to Dawkins (update: link no longer active),
I think we face an equal but much more sinister challenge from the left, in the shape of cultural relativism - the view that scientific truth is only one kind of truth and it is not to be especially privileged.

June 19, 2007

Christianity in Four Acts

cuadro que representa a la Trinidad (santuario...
cuadro que representa a la Trinidad (santuario della Santissima Trinità - Vallepietra RM) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Religions often seem rather complicated. There are the "sacred" texts, but other writings are often relevant too. Clergy study in schools devoted to religious study so they can learn far more about the intricacies their religion than most believers will ever have the opportunity to do. Some universities even have departments of theology or religious studies to provide advanced education in these complex systems of inquiry. And yet, it seems that the bulk of these examples are necessary to formulate answers to the common objection that the core doctrine of the religion simply falls apart under scrutiny.

How hard would it be to boil a complicated religion down to the core message, the very heart of the faith? Take Christianity for example and ask yourself whether we cannot easily strip away the apologetics and arrive at the crucial essence to which legions of believers are attracted. I submit that it might look a lot like the following:

Act I

There is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and loving god who exists on a supernatural plane outside of natural time and space. This god created everything around us and remains deeply concerned with human affairs. We know of him because he inspired several humans to write a book about him and what he wants of us.

Act II

All humans are sinners. If you have ever done anything you shouldn't have (according to rules contained in the Christian bible), you are a sinner. Since we have all broken at least a couple of these rules, we're all sinners. Sinners deserve punishment of the worst kind, and the Christian god is eager to inflict them. What this god has in mind is torturing your soul in the worst possible ways for eternity once you die in this world.


Fortunately, there is a way you can earn the forgiveness of this god and escape eternal punishment. In fact, this god sacrificed his own son to show you how to do this. You see, he sent his son to our world a couple thousand years ago so that he could be brutally killed and then revived as a spirit to appear to a few people before returning to the supernatural world. All of this was done so that the son could show us the way to escape punishment and earn the reward of spiritual immortality.

Act IV

The son's "good news" was that the Christian god will forgive your sins and grant your spirit eternal life on a supernatural plane after death in exchange for believing in him and his son. Of course, it is also a good idea to demonstrate the sincerity of your belief by loudly proclaiming it whenever you can and by attempting to get others to believe it too. If they resist, simply recognize that you are trying to do them a favor.

Know Them By Their Deeds: Christian Assaults Gay Marriage Supporter

Diane Steele, a 52 year-old woman participating in a Christian extremist rally in Boston to support a same-sex marriage ban, was arraigned on assault charges for attacking a gay marriage supporter at an opposing rally. It seems that Ms. Steele went out of her way to express her Christian love, crossing the street to slap her surprised victim.
Boston Police spokesperson James Kenneally said Steele apparently decided to "escalate" the debate into a physical confrontation.
Unfortunate and hardly the first time this sort of thing has happened. It is bad enough that Christian extremists want to take away the freedom of two consenting American adults to marry without their having to resort to violence to express themselves.

H/T to Pam's House Blend

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June 18, 2007

Prayer Circles on the Playground

Laying on of handsThis post was updated in April of 2013. Specifically, I removed the original introductory paragraph because it contained several links to a blog that no longer exists.

What is a Prayer Circle?

Imagine yourself back in the third grade. It is recess, and you are with your classmates on the playground. There is a teacher in the vicinity, but the level of adult supervision is fairly minimal. Suddenly, a group of 6 or more children approach you and say something along the lines of, "Have you been saved?" You are not sure what to make of the question, so other questions about your religious beliefs and experiences follow. Without understanding the consequences, you tell them that you and your family are atheists, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, or non-fundamentalist Protestants, etc.

June 17, 2007

The Atheist's Bible

The Philadelphia Inquirer just published a review of The Atheist's Bible: An Illustrious Collection of Irreverent Thoughts. It sounds like one I might have to pick up. So much to read and so little time!

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Ideology Over Competence Revisited: Bush's Nominee for Surgeon General

In case there was any doubt about the lengths to which the Bush administration will go to promote their Christian extremist ideology over competence, we have a reminder in the form of Dr. James Holsinger, Bush's nominee for Surgeon General. Not only did Dr. Holsinger help found a church that views homosexuality as a choice that can be "cured," but his writings reflect his beliefs that homosexuality is unhealthy.

If you are like me, you are asking yourself what a physician is doing founding conservative churches in the first place, but let's set that aside for now. It is of greater concern that we could end up with a Surgeon General who sounds like he received his medical training at Regents University.

From the Associate Press as reported on LEX18 News:
"He has a pretty clear bias against gays and lesbians," said Christina Gilgor, director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, a gay rights group. "This ideology flies in the face of current scientific medical studies. That makes me uneasy that he rejects and promotes ideology."
I'd like to suggest that Mr. Bush stop Brownbacking and find a nominee who is medically qualified without carrying the baggage of blatant, religiously-motivated homophobia. I wouldn't imagine that this would be particularly difficult. It seems like all Americans would benefit from having a rational Surgeon General.

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June 16, 2007

Reader Seeking Publisher for Atheist Fiction

I suspect that many of you know much more about the world of book publishing than I do, so I thought I'd see if you have any ideas. A reader of this blog contacted me via e-mail and asked if I could recommend a publisher that might consider fiction with an atheist theme. He noted that many publishers are unwilling to do much of anything with atheism. Clearly, not all of the major publishers feel this way because non-fiction publishing in this area is starting to take off. But I'm just not sure about getting fiction published. Any ideas?

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Bill O'Reilly Blames "Secular Progressives" for TB Scare

This bizarre story in which Fox windbag Bill O'Reilly blamed "secular progressives" for the recent TB scare came to my attention via The Carpetbagger Report and Media Matters for America. Essentially, O'Reilly is claiming that "secular progressives" are more selfish and immoral than far Right Christians.

According to O’Reilly,
“Traditional values people put others on a par with themselves. That’s the Judeo-Christian tenet. Love your neighbor as yourself. Secular Progressives put themselves above all others. That philosophy says “Me first, then I’ll worry about you.”
He then claims that Andrew Speaker "put his own welfare above everything and everybody else." And he goes on and on, spewing more lies about "secular progressives."

Since I am an atheist who embraces much of the progressive platform, I suppose that must make me a "secular progressive." And yet, I don't think I'm particularly selfish. For example, I don't generally go around telling people that they are going to hell because they don't agree with me. I don't want to prohibit women from obtaining medical care or convince them that they must stay home and have as many children as possible. It would never occur to me to "...tell children to use drugs, to have indiscriminate sex, do what you want when you're 14 years old..." like O'Reilly alleges. I'm also not a supporter of "out-of-wedlock births," although I do recognize that they are going to happen whether I approve of them or not. I could go on, but I trust that you get the idea.

If O'Reilly wants to discuss progressive freethinkers, he might want to at least make some effort to understand us first. Of course, that assumes that he is capable of not yelling long enough to hear what someone else is saying. Alternatively, if he wants to serve as a bile-spewing monster of hatred, ignorance, and bigotry, well I guess he can just keep doing what he's doing.

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June 15, 2007

Muslim Raped for Reading Bible

Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), you might have had an interest in learning about different religions at one time or another. With their enormous historical influence on world culture and modern influence on world conflict, wanting to learn about other religions is understandable. Unless of course you happen to be a Muslim, and then it would seem that all bets are off. In fact, showing an interest in other religions just might get you raped.

I received this strange story out of Australia from regular commenter on this blog, MB. Abdul Reda Al-Shawany received a 5-year sentence from a Sydney court after raping a Muslim woman had been reading the Christian bible and who had been in contact with Christians.

Al-Shawany, a devotee of Islam, frequently described as a "religion of peace," lured his victim with the promise of news about her family in Iraq, hit her on the head, and raped her twice. According to the judge in the case, Al-Shawany believed that the rape was justified because his victim had read Christian literature and associated with Christians.
Afterwards Al-Shawany told her: "Let your Christ benefit you now".
Of course, the victim's troubles are just beginning. Now she must fear for her life, as she may be killed by the perpetrator's family or simply as an "honor killing."
"In Iraq, if some woman has got a problem like this, her husband can kill her, or her brother or her uncle can kill her, without question," the victim wrote.

"They can kill me here too in Australia. Before I'm not afraid of anyone. Even when Saddam Hussein put me in jail, I was still strong.

"Now I'm afraid all the time."
Her husband has been unwilling to speak to her for months because his religion tells him that she "brought shame on the family" by being raped. Even worse, she seems to have internalized so much of this dysfunctional religion that she views herself as "a piece of dirt."

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Great Letter to the Editor from Michigan Paper

Check out this great letter to the editor, printed in Michigan's The Daily Telegram. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
I don’t know about you but I would rather elect someone who holds truth and evidence in high regard than a person unaccountably taking orders from the supernatural.
The misconception is that religion is required for morality. It isn’t. Humans evolved a sense of morality, apes exhibit some forms of it. In all human cultures murder, rape, and incest are generally regarded as bad. “You scratch my back I scratch yours” is more personally beneficial than being a jerk who terrorizes people. All people, including atheists, can agree on this.
This is the sort of thing those of us who can get away with it should be writing.

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June 14, 2007

Christian Extremists Heart Huckabee

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is a Christian extremist's wet dream. Not only is he a social conservative who rejects evolution, but he is actually a Baptist pastor. It is hard to imagine that American fundamentalists could find a better candidate. And yet, there appears to be trouble in the Huckabee camp.

According to The New York Times, Huckabee is worried about being defined by his anti-science worldview. At the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, he attempted to shift the subject from his fundamentalist beliefs to various domestic issues.
“Tonight, all over America, there are families sitting down to have dinner, and I doubt that any of them said, ‘I wonder what the next president will think about evolution?’” said Huckabee...
I'm not so sure about that, Mr. Huckabee. Personally, I find it quite relevant that someone who wants to lead America rejects the core tenet of modern biology. I have a hard time imagining that such a leader could make informed and reasonable decisions about funding the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies which exist to the benefit of all Americans. Instead, it seems far more likely that such a leader would make decisions on the basis of his or her faith, essentially imposing his or her religious beliefs on all Americans.

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Ask the Atheists

I'd like to tell you about an interesting new website called AsktheAtheists.com. The idea is that anyone can contribute questions which are then distributed to various atheist authors, bloggers, etc. who answer them. While responses often converge to a degree, they also show that there is diversity among atheists. I recommend this site for theists with questions, others curious about atheism, and atheists who are curious to see how others might answer questions they have received. And yes, I will be one of the those attempting to answer some of the questions.

From the website:
The point is to provide a place where people who are interested can find out about atheism and atheists.

Even so, there is undeniably a hope amongst the people contributing to the site that it will in some way help to spread the type of world-view that includes atheism. And as such it might seem like a useless example of ‘Preaching to the Choir’. But that metaphor isn't completely accurate.

Every publicly available article, website, and discussion has a small but real influence on our discourse. People do change their minds. I believe that simply by being available this site advances the cause for reason in a modest way.
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June 13, 2007

Atheism is Cool

Could it be that members of the American public are starting to realize something we atheists have long known? According to an article in The Mountain Press (TN) by none other than Fox "News" bully Bill O'Reilly, "Atheism is chic, it's cool, it's the latest craze." I hoped that 2007 would be the year of the atheist (and the first of many to come). Could it be that this hope is finally being realized?

To support his tongue-in-cheek claim about atheism being the next big thing, O-Reilly cites the explosive sales of atheist-oriented books and the number of celebrities identifying themselves as nonbelievers (e.g., George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Carrie Fisher, etc.). So far so good. But considering the source, one knows things are about to turn ugly.

With little subtlety, O'Reilly quickly steers his article to the familiar ground travelled by virtually every other anti-atheist piece we have seen. Even without knowing he is the author, the smug tone is obvious. He makes sure the reader knows that 90% of Americans profess belief in some unidentified god. Gee, I wonder which one? Simply capitalizing "god" may be annoying, but it really doesn't tell us much.

Then O'Reilly abruptly changes gears and asserts, "Believing in God is not very stylish in mainstream media circles these days." I suspect that this must be a typo, but the word "not" does appear in the article. The next sentence suggest that O'Reilly meant to say that atheism is stylish in the media and that this is okay for the following reason:
That's because people of faith should be challenged and think about their beliefs. Critical thinking in all areas makes the mind sharper, and your philosophy stronger.
I have heard this claim about faith becoming stronger through challenge again and again, but it still makes little sense. The application of critical thinking to faith is like the application of bleach to a stain. To argue otherwise seems to be little more than taking pride in the delusional intensity of one's beliefs.

O'Reilly then makes a few claims about how he whipped Richard Dawkins in a debate. Of course he did. He must not have realized that some of us would watch it.
But the atheists will never get it. The universe and the earth is so complex, so incredibly detailed, that to believe an accidental evolutionary occurrence could have exclusively led to the nature/mankind situation we have now, is some stretch of the imagination. I mean, call me crazy, but the sun always comes up, while man oversleeps all the time.
(Sigh). And it is we atheists who don't get it? Still, the best part has to be O'Reilly's conclusion:
So bless you, Richard Dawkins, and all the other non-believers. As long as they don't attack people of faith, I have no problem with them. As my eighth-grade teacher Sister Martin once said: "Faith is a gift."

But not everybody gets to open the box.
Of course, for O'Reilly and other Christian extremists, criticism, disagreement, and a desire to maintain separation of church and state are all attacks on "people of faith." So we will continue to stand up for our rights and ask our government to enforce certain laws which religious organizations are fond of violating, and O'Reilly will continue to yell about how he and his fellow extremists are persecuted.

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June 12, 2007

Some Politically-Oriented Blog Carnivals

A couple of blog carnivals with which you might not be familiar are up now and worth checking out (and not just because I contributed to both). Both are good outlets for a variety of posts related to politics. The Carnival of Political Punditry is up at I'm a Pundit Too, and the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy is up at Random Thoughts, Notes, & Incidents. Enjoy.

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Good USA Today Op-Ed

There is a good op-ed in today's USAToday by DeWayne Wickham. Here is an excerpt:
At one point in the New Hampshire debate, Huckabee bristled at being asked about his position on the origins of life. "I'm not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I'm asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States," he said.

But with that job comes significant influence over public education, as we have seen with the Bush administration's imposition of teaching standards. The Oval Office job also plays a role in defining the nation's response to harmful atmospheric changes that many scientists say are man-made, and in determining government's response to calls for expanded stem cell research, which could alter lives afflicted with disease.

Putting a religious absolutist in the White House might sharply reduce the role of science in our national life - and distance the next president from the thinking of a lot of Americans.
Not only that, but putting a Christian extremist such as Huckabee or Brownback in the White House would distance the next president from virtually all thinking Americans!

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McCain Reluctant to Engage in More "Brownbacking"

Kudos to 2008 presidential hopeful John McCain for his reluctance to do more "Brownbacking" in order to appease Right-Wing Christian voters. I'm not saying he hasn't already done plenty or that he won't do more, but it appears that he is being criticized for not doing even more.
McCain "seems to have a difficulty in discussing it [his faith] in terms that people relate to," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a leading conservative evangelical organization. "I think people want a sense of where someone stands in their relationship with the Lord. I think George Bush was able to do that in the way he communicated, using terms that evangelicals are familiar with."
Is that really what the American people want in their elected officials? How about some competence for a change?

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June 11, 2007

Calling Out American Atheists: Why Not Join the Secular Coalition?

As you may recall, I e-mailed American Atheists using the address provided on their website on May 28th. My question for them was simple. I wanted to know why they have still not joined the Secular Coalition of America when virtually every other national freethought organization has done so. I have still not received a response of any kind. Because I still believe this is an important question, I now ask for your help.

According to their website, American Atheists gives the requests of their members higher priority over those from non-members. If you are a member of American Atheists, please e-mail them with your version of the following:
American Atheists seems to be the only national freethought organization which has not joined the Secular Coalition for America. I am interested in helping to foster an atheist movement, and the Secular Coalition seems like a great way to increase our political power and make sure that our growing numbers are represented. Please help me understand your reasons for not becoming a Secular Coalition member.
In fact, even if you are not a member, I think your e-mail would help. I realize that there is no guarantee that they will respond to any of us. However, they might be more likely to do so if they realized that this was important to current and potential members. Personally, a continued lack of response would tell me that this would be an organization to avoid.

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June 10, 2007

Freethought Community Still United

Writing in Newsweek's BeliefWatch column, Lisa Miller describes conflict within the freethought community, noting "the cracks are beginning to show." I commend Miller for covering issues of relevance to atheists, humanists, and other freethinkers, especially since her magazine so regularly panders to Christian readers. However, it seems that she is seeing conflict where little exists.

Miller suggests that the freethought movement (i.e., atheists, secular humanists, and other nonbelievers) is currently experiencing what most political or ideological groups go through as they develop - "the hard-liners knock heads with the folks who just get along." This is an intriguing possibility and has certainly been a point of discussion among freethinkers. But do our discussions about tactics for accomplishing our goals really resemble head knocking?

The "controversy" regarding Greg Epstein, Harvard's humanist chaplain, appears to be the primary piece of evidence used to support Miller's thesis. This is this old news and can hardly be considered a source of continued conflict in the freethought community. Certainly, many atheists thought it was inappropriate for Epstein to mistake passionate atheism for fundamentalism. I count myself among them. But I am not sure why disagreeing with Epstein must be equated with conflict or interpreted as reflecting deep divides among freethinkers. Miller's description of freethinkers taking sides against each other over this issue is way off base. Our community benefits from diversity, and we come together despite some occasional differences of opinion.

While Miller referred to the vibrant atheist blogosphere, I'm not sure she spent enough time there or visited enough blogs to obtain the big picture. Disagreements are inevitable, as are the occasional bad seeds, but I see little evidence of real conflict dividing our community. What I do see is a group of people with a variety of distinct yet complementary approaches for supporting the rights of American nonbelievers, opposing Christian extremism, and promoting secular humanism as a nondestructive alternative to religion.

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My Sunday Morning Ritual

I have found myself in a bit of a rut on Sunday mornings lately. However, this is the rare sort of rut that I really enjoy. It sure beats going to church and wasting my time wallowing in some ancient superstition!

After getting up early and doing my grocery shopping for the week (okay, I don't like that part much), I make a pot of coffee, fire up my RSS aggregator (I use FeedDemon), and sit down at my computer to catch up with the atheist blogosphere. As you know from the tremendous growth in atheist-oriented blogging, this is no easy task.

This Sunday, there is a special treat. There are two blog carnivals going on, representing the best of atheistic blogging from around the web:
Now that is what I call a great start to the day! Time for some reading.

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June 9, 2007

Is Bush Drinking Again?

It certainly looks that way, doesn't it? You can find more photos over at Towleroad. Something tells me that the American media will probably ignore this story in favor of additional Paris Hilton coverage. Just when it seemed like Mr. Born-Again couldn't fall any lower, he may now be off the wagon as well.

There is speculation that this could be non-alcoholic beer, and I certainly hope that is the case. Stupid is bad enough; drunk and stupid is just too scary.

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Media Negligence: Paris Hilton is Not Newsworthy

The United States is at war, and the American death toll shows no signs of abating any time soon. Where is the media? They have bowed to executive branch, and by agreeing not to cover the human cost of the war, they are now complicit. It is widely known that America entered the war on false pretenses and that the American public was skillfully manipulated by an administration determined to have their war. And yet, nobody responsible for these despicable acts has been held accountable. Where is the media? Top military leaders acknowledge that this war has been mismanaged by civilian leadership from the start, but again, there has been no accountability, only medals. Again, the media stands by without asking the questions that must be asked. Corruption pervades the highest levels of American government, as political loyalty and a degree from Regents University are valued over competence and experience. Calls for accountability are growing among the public and a some politicians but have little impact because those with any real authority refuse to act. Where is the media? They are covering Paris Hilton.

I flipped on MSNBC yesterday and was treated to a scene reminiscent of the infamous OJ Bronco chase. Filmed from at least one helicopter, I followed the police car driving Paris to court after she had been prematurely let out of jail by the sheriff in charge. Now the judge was upset and had asked her to come back to court.

I marveled at the resources which were clearly being devoted to cover Paris Hilton. I wondered what many other stories had been scrapped in order to broadcast several hours of continuous Paris coverage.

The news anchor was acting as if this was the most important story of the decade. Numerous comparisons with OJ were made, and grand speculation about how the Paris situation could lead to the collapse of the American legal system were offered up. No mention was made of the efforts by some in Congress to restore habeas corpus, the legal doctrine which is actually at the center of our legal system and which was recently dismantled by our ideologically-driven president.

Against this context of so much critical news, about which the American public must be informed, the media instead focuses on Paris Hilton. Why is she newsworthy? Is it just because she is famous, and if so, why exactly is she famous? She is white, wealthy, has appeared in a couple bad movies and an unwatchable television show, and some people find her attractive. Is this really enough these days? None of this makes her newsworthy.

Perhaps the coverage has another purpose. Since those who control big media have evidently made a series of decisions not to cover the actual news which has the potential to affect the lives of Americans, I wonder if they are desperate to serve up a distraction. Could the Paris Hilton story be like dangling car keys in front of an infant?

The American media is guilty of negligence. We count on them to keep our citizenry informed, and they are in clear violation of this duty by willfully ignoring relevant news in favor of manufactured fluff. This harms us through maintained ignorance of critical news, leaves us unprepared to function in a global society, and reinforces a dumbing down of our populace.

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Democratic Candidates Trade Rationality for Votes

In a disturbing but not exactly surprising move, Democratic candidates for president in 2008 are stumbling over one another to proclaim their faith. Even if our Constitution prohibits religious tests for office, the American voters have made it abundantly clear that they will not elect freethinkers to the highest office. Candidates, regardless of their actual beliefs, must feel that they have little choice but to resort to this ludicrous public show of faith.

According to Reuters, the unwillingness of American voters to elect a nonbeliever as president distinguishes us from most other developed countries. What a distinction! Instead of being known for our secular democracy, we are starting to be known for our Christian extremism and all it entails (e.g., anti-evolution stance, opposition to stem cell research, imperialistic foreign policy, etc.)
"This is basically a very religious nation, people have very intense feelings here about religion," said Carroll Doherty, associate director at the Pew Research Center.
Of course this is precisely why the Democrats find it necessary to promote their willingness to believe things that are completely lacking in evidence. Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, the three front runners, are very interested in attracting the "Religious Left." The rapidly growing secular community is not on their radar at all, probably because they are confident that they will receive our votes without effort.

I want to tune out of the election coverage for awhile because all the faith-related crap is starting to make me feel a little sick. I am so tired of hearing candidates talk about how their faith informs their decision-making because statements like that scare the hell out of me. At the same time, I'd drawn to it like a moth to the flame.

Is this really what it is coming to - the Democratic Party wallowing in religious delusion to seduce voters? Can any sane person argue that more religion is what America needs?

For more on this important topic, see Bligbi and Religious Right Watch.

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