March 31, 2008

Christian Extremism Kills

There is incredibly sad news out of Wisconsin involving the unnecessary death of Madeline Neumann, an 11-year-old girl, after her mother refused medical treatment for diabetes, instead preferring to pray. According to MSNBC, "The family believes in the Bible, and it says healing comes from God, but they are not crazy, religious people, she [the mother] said." Indeed. What exactly would she call them then?

It appears that Ms. Neumann has learned nothing at all from her daughter's tragic death, saying "Only our faith in God is giving us strength at this time."

After observing their daughter's illness over the course of 30 days during which symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and excessive thirst were noted, Leilani Neumann chose prayer rather than medicine.
We stayed fast in prayer then. We believed that she would recover. We saw signs that to us, it looked like she was recovering.

We just believe in the Bible, that's all. This is our faith.
Not to be outdone by the severity of his wife's mental illness, Mr. Neumann added, "We believe the word of God and live according to its precepts." And how's that working out for you, guy?

Ms. Neumann says that she and her husband are not worried about a criminal investigation because "our lives are in God's hands." I certainly hope that there will be a criminal investigation resulting in charges of negligent homicide. The state needs to seek justice for young Madeline, an innocent girl who died as a result of her parents' Christian extremism.

For more on this disturbing story, visit Debunking Christianity.

H/Ts to Alexander the Atheist and Stardust Musings and Thoughts for the Freethinker

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Humanist Symposium #17 and Carnival of the Godless #88

Yesterday was a good day for atheist blog carnivals, as both Carnival of the Godless and Humanist Symposium were posted. You can find Carnival of the Godless at Atheist FAQ and Humanist Symposium at Mind on Fire. Check them out.

March 29, 2008

For the Bible Tells Me So

If you enjoy documentary films and have any interest whatsoever in the topic of homophobia in the Christian Church and the enormous toll it takes on countless American families, I highly recommend For the Bible Tells Me So. If you are homosexual or have homosexual children, especially if you are a Christian, it is a must-see.

I rented this one after hearing little about it and was pleasantly surprised. I watch many documentaries, and this was a great one. While some atheists may tire of the religious focus (e.g., the director and everyone in the film are unapologetically Christian), the message is worthwhile, and the film serves as a reminder that not all Christians are rabid extremists.

One of the key things I took from the film is that Christian teachings about homosexuality being an abomination and so on serve to create an environment in which violence is condoned. I realize this does not come as news to you, but I think this is a point that needs more attention and repetition in the media. Repeatedly labeling homosexuals as perverse, sinful, unnatural and the like, fosters violence and helps maintain the high suicide rate in the GLBT community.

March 28, 2008

Catching Flies: Both Honey and Vinegar Needed

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Are we freethinkers (i.e., atheists, humanists, agnostics) likely to be more influential by promoting reason and secular morality rather than railing against superstition? Should we not be expending more energy toward serving as examples of how to live without religious delusion and less on mockery and criticism of religion? Maybe it is more complex than this simple dichotomy would suggest.

Let me get one bit of self-disclosure out of the way first. I've been going through a vinegar-filled phase lately. If you look over my post for the last couple weeks, you'll see it as clearly as I feel it. My tone has been angrier, and I've been doing way more bitching about religion than promoting reason or other healthy solutions. I'm out of balance, and I feel it acutely. I'm confident that I will find my center again soon, but I haven't done so just yet.

It seems that balance represents a worthy goal as we reflect on the honey and vinegar metaphor. However, there is a world of difference between balance at the individual level and balance at the level of the entire reality-based community.

Some individuals, and I am one, need to maintain some reasonable balance between promoting atheism, humanism, and the like vs. criticizing religious belief. I do not do well when I remain unbalanced for too long, and I readily acknowledge this as a personal flaw. Others have no such need and are content to gravitate toward one or another pole and remain there. They may even become more effective in such a position than I could ever be, and they experience no adverse effects.

It is the community as a whole that needs some degree of balance, and I think the honey and vinegar metaphor contains at least a kernel of truth. Attacks on religious belief are needed. For far too long, our fear has kept us silent and has allowed the religious to be exempt from criticism of their beliefs. This is starting to change, and I applaud all who have contributed to this important prong of the contemporary freethought movement.

Still, such attacks cannot be all we have to offer. This is where they honey is needed. We cannot neglect the promotion of reason, science, secular education, humanism, critical thought, community, and the like. It is not just about public perception; it is also about us and the sort of lives we want to create for ourselves. Bitch sessions can relieve stress, but more is likely to be needed over time. We need to stand for - and not just against - something. We benefit from a shared sense of community, and future generations benefit from our example.

I'll find my personal balance eventually, and I am optimistic that the broad freethought movement will maintain a balance as well. Those who focus on criticizing religious belief are a critical part of this balance, as are those who prefer to devote their time toward promoting the many positives of a reality-based worldview. We need to celebrate both the honey and the vinegar.

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March 27, 2008

What Would You Say To Christian Leaders?

If you are interested in some atheist-theist dialogue, I must apologize for not providing many opportunities around here lately. However, I can direct you to such an opportunity at An Apostate's Chapel. The Chaplain received an interesting question from a Christian reader seeking input from non-believers.

The reader's question is as follows:
Non-Christians can only draw conclusions about the Christian Church from the church’s collective public attitudes and behaviors. I believe much of the Christian Church wants to play a vital role in the health of their communities, but many churches are currently struggling with an identity crisis. If churches are not going to ‘go away’ (and I do not believe that is going to happen), they need to know how the greater community could see itself benefiting from the presence of the church. I would like to hear from the non-Christians: “If you were given the opportunity to speak from a public platform that reached a large constituency of Christian leaders, and you could say just one thing to them, what would you like to say that might make their presence more acceptable and their ‘love/grace’ message more authentic?”
Here is the comment I left:
First, it is simply untrue that non-Christians “can only draw conclusions about the Christian Church from the church’s collective public attitudes and behaviors.” Some of my conclusions come from close examination of Christian doctrine (e.g., the Christian bible). It is safe to say that an important part of what I believe about the Christian church is based on their willingness to accept irrational beliefs.

I am skeptical of your claim that “much of the Christian Church wants to play a vital role in the health of their communities…” because I think the primary mission of most churches is simply to sustain themselves. In all fairness, I think many do want to play a role in their communities, although I’m less willing to accept the notion that they are truly interested in the health of the community.

I agree with you completely that churches are not going to go away, at least not anytime soon. Their identity crisis is really a struggle to remain relevant in the modern world. To their credit, many are evolving to do so. The problem, from my perspective, with your question is that I am not convinced that the community does benefit from the presence of churches.

In my opinion, the church as an institution is obsolete. The good works they provide (and they do provide good works in many communities) can and should be provided by secular agencies so that assistance will not be contingent on acceptance of irrational dogma.

I suppose my message to Christian leaders would be that they need to get out of the way of reason, science, and secular education. They need to be energetic participants in the struggle to strengthen separation of church and state. They have a right to believe what they will, but they must recognize that merging religion and government is bad for both. I do not buy their “love/grace message” one bit because it smacks of hypocrisy and seems to apply only to those who believe as they do. As for making their presence more acceptable, I’m honestly not sure. Encouraging people to believe claims without evidence is unlikely to be acceptable to me.
Head on over to An Apostate's Chapel to contribute to the discussion.

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March 26, 2008

Atheist Blogroll: 600 Strong and Growing

According to Mojoey at Deep Thoughts, the Atheist Blogroll has reached 600 members. This means that we are continuing to see explosive growth in the number of atheist blogs. Clearly, there are many of us with something to say. Thanks to Mojoey for maintaining this excellent blogroll, and congratulations to #600, NYC-Atheists Blog.

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March 25, 2008

What Do You Think About Obama's Pastor?

Okay folks, I need your help on this one. You have been hearing about Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in the news, and I'm curious to know what you think about this situation. Personally, I find myself agreeing with much of what Rev. Wright said, and I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the real issue here is not race but whether it is appropriate for a presidential candidate to criticize America. If you think I'm wrong, especially if you are outraged over my lack of outrage, I'd really like to hear from you.

According to Ornicus (and I agree), the most controversial statements made by Wright during various sermons are these reported by ABC News:
The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.

We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye.

We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost.
And these also reported by ABC News:
The winds of Katrina blew the cover off America. The hurricane exposed the hypocrisy, protecting white folks' property took priority over saving black folks' lives. This storm called Katrina says far more about a racist government than it does about the wrath of God.

The United States government has failed the vast majority of our citizens of African descent. For every one Oprah, a billionaire, you've got five million blacks who are out of work. For every one Colin Powell, a millionaire, you've got 10 million blacks who cannot read. For every one Condoskeeza [sic] Rice, you've got one million in prison. For every one Tiger Woods, who needs to get beat, at the Masters, with his cap-blazing hips, playing on a course that discriminates against women. For every one Tiger Woods, we got 10,000 black kids who will never see a golf course.
I'm a middle-class white guy who also happens to be an atheist, and I agree with the bulk of what Rev. Wright said, especially in view of the full context. Racism remains a serious problem in America. The United States has a long history of the sort of unilateral imperialism that is bound to upset other nations and result in terrorism. In fact, we are one of the leading sponsors of global terrorism. Rev. Wright should be mad, just as American atheists should be mad.

I see some atheists condemning Wright's comments as "hatespeak," and I am simply not seeing it that way at all. I've presented my theory about the real controversy here, but I'm feeling like I'm in such a tiny minority on this one that I'm wondering if I missed something obvious. It just seems to me that we have way more to worry about than Rev. Wright.

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March 24, 2008

How Come We Never Hear About Jewish Extremism?

While reading an interesting post at Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant, I had an interesting thought I'd like to share. The atheist blogosphere is filled with criticism for the Christian right, and Christian extremism is increasingly recognized as a pox on American society. So how come we almost never hear about Jewish extremism? I'm not just talking about the mainstream media here but about what you'll find on atheist blogs, including this one.

Frankly, Jewish extremism is something about which I devoted little thought. Maybe it is because I have never personally come in contact with a Jewish extremist. I have probably been more than casual acquaintances with no more than five Jewish people to this point in my life. Where I grew up, there simply was no Jewish presence. I met my first Jewish friend in college, and he was more atheist than religious extremist. Here in Mississippi, I work with a few Jewish individuals but once again, they are allies in church-state separation rather than extremists.

I realize that Jewish extremists exist. I watched CNN's God's Warriors series like many of you and saw the part on "Jewish Warriors." I've learned from the news that Israel has contributed its fair share to the conflict in the Middle East and is certainly not blameless for the long conflict in the region. I also recognize that at least some of U.S. policy in the Middle East is influenced by American Jews. Still, I've never bought into the Jewish conspiracy claims I've heard.

I've been criticized, mostly by Christians, for not devoting enough attention to Islamic extremists. I think some of this criticism is warranted even though I have tried to explain my rationale for focusing on Christian extremism. Interestingly, I don't recall ever being criticized for not addressing Jewish extremism more often.

What do you think? Why do we never hear about Jewish extremism, even in the atheist blogosphere?

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March 23, 2008

Day of Mockery: The Obligatory Easter Post

Easter is an excellent day for mocking Christian beliefs. I'm not advocating the mockery of Christians, and I wouldn't even suggest that all their beliefs deserve mockery. I suspect that most Christians are what could be called "Christian in name only" because they do not actually believe much of the core Christian doctrine. They merely find it familiar and haven't bothered to question much of it. I save my mockery for the beliefs of those who do actually believe this nonsense, rejecting reason, science, and even common sense in pursuit of delusion.

I realize that the claim that most so-called Christians do not believe the central dogma is controversial. It requires support, a task on which I and others in the atheist blogosphere are working (also see The Prime Directive). In a nutshell, our argument is that the majority of persons who identify as Christian do not live their lives as if they truly believed what they claim to believe. However, this claim is not my focus for this post. Rather, I'd like to focus on those few who do actually believe this garbage.

The Importance of Church-State Separation

Maybe it is a little silly for me to participate in the annual Blog Against Theocracy. After all, this isn't a once-a-year topic for me but one I address quite frequently. Still, this does give me an excuse to reflect on the issue of church-state separation and that can't be a bad thing. I'd like to make this contribution more of a personal one by focusing on why I am passionate about preserving the separation of church and state, even widening the gap between them.

In taking an honest look at why I am so devoted to church-state separation, I think it is probably accurate to say that I can boil it down to two reasons. First, I am an atheist, and as such, I recognize that I have no safety in a religiously-infused government. I know full well what proponents of theocracy think of atheists. It is in my self-interest to fight for the separation of church and state because I am imperiled by the alternative.

The second reason for my ongoing focus on church-state separation is that I am convinced that the introduction of religion into government is bad for everyone because religious belief is inherently irrational and destructive. I am for the separation of church and state, in part, because I recognize the costs of religion and consider them excessive.

Those who oppose the Constitutional separation of church and state which has been among America's most important contributions to global politics are unlikely to be swayed by any rational arguments. They want their particular religion, nearly always evangelical fundamentalist Christianity, to be given special status. While they naturally oppose the blending of any other religion with government, they are convinced that theirs is the exception because they are the ones with "the truth."

Even though moderates of many religious traditions recognize that merging religion and government is as bad for religion as it is for government, the Christian extremists who strive for Christian theocracy are willing to take that risk. Remember, these are the sorts who routinely argue that the laws of their god should take priority over our laws. Sounds a bit too much like Iran for my taste.

I'll continue to blog against theocracy year-round, defending reason from those who attack it in the name of religious delusion and opposing Christian extremism as a threat.

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March 22, 2008

Legislating Civility: No Cussing Week

When you ask most Americans what they think of the Christian right, you will hear something negative. The two most common complaints are likely to be hypocrisy and the tendency of conservative Christians to impose their view of morality on others. While many Americans adopt a "live and let live" stance toward religion, a great many resent being told how to live by the "family values" crowd. If you can relate to this, you are going to love this example out of South Pasadena, CA.

According to FaithNews Network, the city of South Pasadena, California, recently had a citywide "No Cussing Week." Regardless of whether this particular case had anything to do with conservative Christians, it is a classic example of the sort of measures the religious right loves. Why? They get to rant and rave against "moral depravity," bemoan the fact that it is no longer the 1950s, and look like they are doing something without actually having to bring about meaningful change.

I recently read an article stating that Christian extremism was a political dead end because if they ever accomplished their goals (e.g., banning gay marriage), there would be little else around which to rally their base. When I see cases like this and fondly remember the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) nonsense of the 1980s, I'm not so sure.

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March 21, 2008

Good Friday: Crucify Yourself

The Death of Jesus
The Death of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For many Christians, Good Friday is a celebration of the brutal death of Jesus. Even if we assume for a moment that there is clear historical evidence that this Jesus actually lived, it may still seem odd to celebrate his death. After all, this was someone whom Christians are supposed to revere, even worship.

While many American Christians barely acknowledge the Good Friday holiday, "real Christians" in the Philippines show how much they love Jesus by crucifying themselves. No, we're not talking about symbolic crucifixion here. These believers are actually being nailed to crosses and whipped. Talk about S&M gone wrong!

As much as this has to hurt, I suppose that these extreme measures help the participants to "get right" with their god. Maybe their god is so impressed with their acts of devotion that they are protected from harm.

I guess American Christians will just have to look on in envy. Except for the few "real Christians" who handle poisonous snakes, it would seem that most American Christians do not believe strongly enough to actually put their faith to the test.

Words of Wisdom: Katha Pollitt

The following is from a speech by Katha Pollitt at the Freedom From Religion Foundation's 2007 annual convention:
Ultimately, the United States has to make its way in the modern world. That's the only world there is. Our modern global economy runs on knowledge, on science, on innovation, and competition. We cannot be top country if we let science and education be run by people who think the dinosaurs drowned in Noah's flood. We can't be in the forefront of biotechnology, an enormous industry, and medicine, if the federal government bans funding stem-cell research to please a religious minority in order to win votes on election day - which is really all it's about. Other countries will do that research. They will find the cures, they will get the patents, they will generate the jobs and the profits.
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March 19, 2008

Stop the Iraq War

My country is at war. That seems like a strange statement, especially when this is the fifth year it has been true. In examining my daily life, nobody would guess I was a citizen in a nation at war, and I am hardly unique in this respect. With the exception of those who have close friends or family serving in Iraq, the daily lives of my fellow Americans remain largely unaffected by this war. Is this why we are not out in the streets demanding immediate withdrawal? Or perhaps our inaction reflects the sort of learned helplessness that sets in after years of observing the utter lack of accountability which pervades our government. Our president and his minions do what they want without regard for the law, and our Congress refuses to reign them in at all.

I cannot think about America's war in Iraq without remembering how we got there in the first place. The American president lied us into this war, betraying the Constitution he swore to uphold and blatantly violating the public trust. We did not know this at the time, but he was fully aware of what he was doing and the likely consequences of invasion. This unjust, preemptive war was initially Bush's folly and his alone, however Congress would soon sign on to be a willing accomplice. Some so-called Democrats even authorized Bush's use of aggression. So much for our two-party system.

As the years rolled by and the war continued, making Americans progressively less safe from terrorism, the scope of Bush's crimes emerged. The American people finally decided to send a message. We elected more Democrats to Congress in the hope that this shifting balance of power would allow them to stop the war and hold the corrupt regime accountable. What we did not count on was that they had little interest in actually doing either. Impeachment was immediately removed as an option, and Congressional Democrats made it clear that stopping the war in the only way they could was a political risk they were unwilling to assume.

And then something even worse happened, something that reflects just how dire this situation was becoming. The American people signed on to the war too. Through our apathy and inaction, we gave this administration and a failed Congress exactly what they most wanted. Instead of demanding an end to the war and impeachment of those who lied us into it, we folded. Instead of pressuring the Democratic majority we had just elected to uphold their promises to represent the will of the people, we gave up. After all, the war has had little impact on our daily lives, and say, that Britney Spears sure seems interesting. In greater numbers, we turned off the news and turned on American Idol. We disengaged from the process, telling ourselves that we had tried and done what we could.

With the Democratic presidential primary making news and Obama generating so much excitement among new voters, a brief window of opportunity is opening. The November presidential election will offer the American people one last chance to send a message on Iraq. We can elect McBush, assuring what this unjust war will become the longest in American history and that our reputation abroad will be irreparably damaged, or we can elect someone who promises to end the war and then make sure they actually do so.

Of course, it is not my intention to suggest that we must wait for November to make our voices heard. If our continued involvement in this war makes you as mad as it does me, there are things you can do now. Here are a few ideas:
  • Contact your elected officials and make sure they know that ending the war in Iraq is important to you. Let them know that you vote and are not willing to keep voting for them if they continue to neglect their duty to the people.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper expressing your position on Iraq.
  • Call for the impeachment of President Bush.
For more, see this post from BuzzFlash. And finally, now is the time to be proactive on Iran so that it does not become next on Bush's list.

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March 18, 2008

Obama is NOT a Muslim

As if the popularity of religion in America was not evidence enough that we humans are an irrational bunch, a recent MSNBC poll reveals that 13% of Americans are convinced that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Never mind repeated statements from the candidate and members of the news media not affiliated with Fox "News," some people are going to believe what they want without the slightest regard for the truth. They want him to be a Muslim, so he's a Muslim. End of story.

Personally, I would be no less likely to vote for Obama if he was in fact a Muslim than I am now. I have absolutely no reason to believe that Christianity is any better (or worse) than Islam. They are equivalently absurd.

Obama is a Christian, and I have a hard enough time with the idea of electing someone to office who is willing to abandon reason and embrace faith. It is not that such an individual would necessarily be a bad leader; it is just that I want to make sure the individual can operate as a member of the reality-based community during the course of leading the country. If he or she wants to indulge in religious delusion in private, so be it.

I support Barack Obama not because he is a Christian but in spite of it. I would like to see him become the next American president, and I sincerely hope that he will be able to do so without abandoning the secular principles that make America great.

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March 17, 2008

"If You Die Tonight..."

"If you die tonight, do you know where you'll go?" It is a favorite opening of evangelical Christians attempting to convert someone to their particular brand of Christianity. There they stand, smug look and all, thinking they are going to reach you when nobody else could. Oh, and please do not waste my time with any drivel about how only some "holy ghost" can convert people. If you really believed that, you wouldn't have bothered to initiate the conversation in the first place!

If I die tonight, I'm not going anywhere. This question presupposes that there is some part of us that endures death. As a materialist (i.e., nothing but matter and energy), I don't buy this because I have no evidence to support the existence of anything outside of nature. In fact, the very concept of "supernatural" makes no sense to me.

Of course, the question is designed to get me to think about whether I'm "right with Jesus." This is equally nonsensical. Even though there is little evidence to suggest that the particular Jesus character to which you refer ever lived, I can acknowledge that it is at least possible that someone like this lived a couple thousand years ago. The thing is, I have no reason to "get right" with any dead people, even if I had the pleasure to know them while they were living.

Who teaches these childish tactics to evangelicals, and does anyone actually think they work? Maybe they aren't even supposed to work in the sense of converting others. Maybe they are more of a strategy to maintain the belief of those using them. Then again, maybe they do work. If people who earn less than $200,000/year can be convinced to vote Republican through simple psychological tricks, such methods could be highly effective recruitment tools.

But regardless, there is something about this sort of evangelism that has always struck a nerve. I mean, who the hell are these people who claim to have enough of the answers that they stopped asking meaningful questions long ago? Can they really think I'd want to be like them, holier than though and cloaked in smug self-righteousness? No thanks! Asking the questions is too much fun, and my mind will not be caged by mere fictions.

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Carnival of the Godless #87 at Ironwolf

The 87th edition of Carnival of the Godless is up at Ironwolf. This one is set up to focus on readability, as Robert offers brief descriptive summaries of each post so you'll know which ones to peruse. My contribution to this carnival is my post about Wesley Crawford, the brave Mississippi high school student standing up for separation of church and state.

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March 16, 2008

Dawkins Promotes Critical Thinking in American Campus Tour

It sounds like Richard Dawkins pulled no punches during his recent presentation at the University of Wisconsin. Good for him! You can read about what he said here.

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March 15, 2008

How Many Atheists?

There is reason to believe that surveys conducted to identify the number of American atheists provide low estimates, but let's assume for a minute that we can trust these data as reasonably accurate. A commonly reported number is that 1.6% of Americans identify themselves as atheists. If the U.S. population is approximately 303.5 million, this means that there are at least 4,856,000 atheists in America who identify as such. That is a lot of atheists!

Given that the number of Americans reporting no religious affiliation is 16.1%, we can assume that there are at least some out there who are atheists but who do not want to identify as such for a variety of reasons. As a quick example, combining the number who identify as either atheist or agnostic gets us to 4% (roughly 12,140,000 people).

But the real question concerns the remaining 12% we haven't accounted for yet. Of these 12%, approximately half identify themselves as secular and without religious affiliation. How can one be secular, have no religious affiliation, and be neither atheist nor agnostic? I'm not sure, and I think a reasonable case can be made for adding them to the number we've been examining, even if only to provide a plausible upper limit. This takes us up to 10% of Americans who identify as atheist, agnostic, or secular and without any religious affiliation (approximately 30,350,000 people).

Looking at these numbers, we can conclude that are at least 4,856,000 atheists in America willing to identify as such and that approximately 30,350,000 people, or 10% of the population, are atheists, agnostics, or secular folks.

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March 14, 2008

Holding Christians to a Higher Moral Standard

It does not seem fair to hold Christians to a higher moral standard, does it? Morality has nothing to do with supernatural entities, and both Christians and atheists are perfectly capable of operating in a moral way. And yet, it would seem that increased responsibility for Christians is precisely what Billy Graham advocated in this 2006 column.

Graham tells a Christian writing to his column,

Because you understand more clearly than some people do what God expects of you, in one way you are even more guilty in God's eyes than they are.
While Graham rightly concludes that non-believers are hardly free from responsibility for committing immoral acts, he suggests that believers are even more so.
You have even less excuse than someone with no understanding of God's Word, because you know what is right. But do you also understand how spiritually dangerous it is for you to keep living in sin? Perhaps in the back of your mind you think you'll repent and turn to Christ someday -- but how do you know that day will ever come? One of the most sobering verses in all the Bible is this: "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).
I think Graham's description of the god in which he believes is appropriate. I would not want to "fall into the hands" of such a cruel and monstrous entity either. Good thing that no such horror exists!

If one believes, as I suspect Graham does, that the Christian god is the source of all morality, then I suppose it might be difficult to escape his conclusion that a Christian somehow deserves more punishment than a a non-believer for committing an immoral act. I prefer to see the common humanity shared by Christians and atheists and recognize that we share the need to be moral and the consequences for failing to do so.

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March 13, 2008

Biggest Threat to America? Just Ask Rep. Kern

In your opinion, what is the single most important problem facing America today? The environment? Religious extremism? Poverty and the economy? There are many defensible choices and compelling arguments can be made for each. However, the usual litany of problems pales in comparison to one, at least it does if you were to ask Rep. Sally Kern (R-OK)

Recorded during a meeting without her knowledge, Rep. Kern stated,
I honestly think it’s [homosexuality] the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam.
That's right - forget the terror alerts and bring on the new color-coded warning system for "the gay." I can see it now, Homeland Security interrupting your favorite TV show to broadcast the latest code pink warning.

Homosexuality is worse than terrorism, huh? And why is that exactly? Is it the gay suicide bombings, the sabotage of government facilities, the biochemical weapons programs, what? Or maybe it is just because they would like the right to marry.
They want to get them into the government schools so they can indoctrinate them.

…They are going after our young children, as young as two years of age, to try to teach them that the homosexual lifestyle is an acceptable lifestyle.
Yep, the danger is tolerance. The real threat is that our children might learn that homosexuals are to be neither hated nor feared. And why would that be such a terrible thing? Other than signaling the collapse of America's Republican Party, I'm not sure what dire consequence is expected. And if the Republican Party cannot be sustained without hatred and religiously-inspired bigotry, then I say good riddance.

March 12, 2008

Show Your Support for Brave Mississippi Student

Following up on my recent post about Wesley Crawford, the brave high school freshman in Mississippi who is standing up against religious assemblies at his public school, I have learned that he is beginning to experience harassment and even threats from Christian extremists in his community. At Mississippi Atheists, we are calling on those in our state to e-mail Wesley and show their support. Now I'd like to cast the net even wider and ask you to consider doing the same, regardless of where you live.

You can find Wesley's courageous letter to the Hattiesburg American newspaper here. His e-mail address is [email protected]. Finally, I am including the e-mail I just sent to him below:
Dear Wesley,

I just wanted to write to thank you for your brave letter to the Hattiesburg American in which you called attention to the illegal merger of church and state which was taking place in your school. That you would be sensitive to these issues at your age is impressive enough, but the courage you demonstrated by writing that eloquent letter is truly awe-inspiring. To those of us in Mississippi and others throughout America who are uncomfortable with the infusion of evangelical Christianity into publicly funded agencies, you are a hero.

I expect that you are going to experience harassment and even threats from some ignorant individuals for your brave words. Standing up for what is right is rarely easy, and too few have the courage to do so. The notion that you would be harassed for questioning the legality of a group seeking to push its religious beliefs on public school students is infuriating but not especially surprising given where we live. Please realize that there are many right here in Mississippi who fully support you.

In case any of this would be helpful, I have complied a brief list of resources which seem relevant:
You have my support, and I want you to know that there are many right here in Mississippi who support you.

Mississippi Atheists
If you e-mail him, please realize that Wesley is not an atheist. He is not doing this to make a point, stir up trouble, or even remove religion from his school completely. He simply wants to be able to opt-out of attending mandatory religious assemblies at his school.

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Carnival of Education #162 at Learn Me Good

The 162nd Carnival of Education is up at Learn Me Good. I just made the submission deadline with yesterday's post about Oklahoma's worrisome HB 2211. It will be interesting to hear what teachers think about this one.

For obvious reasons, atheist bloggers tend to focus on Carnival of the Godless and the Humanist Symposium, but there are many excellent blog carnivals to consider that may help you expand your audience.

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March 11, 2008

Oklahoma HB 2211 Would Be Disaster

Cleverly masquerading as a measure to promote religious freedom in the schools, House Bill 2211 is currently making its way through the Oklahoma legislature. This is one that should be watched by all who value education over indoctrination. Like many similar bills in other states (some actually passed), HB 2211 was written by Christian extremists and requires public schools to allow students to express their religious beliefs in class and in their homework without penalty. The implications of such a policy would be disastrous to the quality of education students receive.

According to a great op-ed in the Edmond Sun,
If a student’s religious beliefs were in conflict with scientific theory, and the student chose to express those beliefs rather than explain the theory in response to an exam question, the student’s incorrect response would be deemed satisfactory, according to this bill.
Thus, the bill would require teachers to award grades out of respect for students' religious delusion rather than their mastery of the material taught.
Even simple, factual information such as the age of the earth (4.65 billion years) would be subject to the student’s belief, and if the student answered 6,000 years based on his or her religious belief, the school would have to credit it as correct. Science education becomes absurd under such a situation.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic here, it is the opinion of this author that such a measure would effectively signal the end of public education in America. How could we expect our children to compete in a global economy if we were to teach superstitious drivel over factual information?

H/T to Atheist Media Blog

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March 10, 2008

PZ Myers on Eliminating Religion

Okay, so PZ Myers is one of my heroes in the atheist blogosphere. But he's more than that. He is one smart dude who certainly has a way with words and frequently inspires. I'd like to share an outstanding example from a recent post at Pharyngula (update: link no longer active).

Pedro at Way of the Mind brought this gem in PZ's post to my attention, and the underlining is his (update: link no longer active):

As for the charge that these New Atheists are unable to tolerate a harmless religion, and that their goal is the elimination of the enemy, that's complete nonsense. We want to eliminate them in the same sense that we want to eliminate illiteracy; we will educate, we will talk, we will stand up for our ideas.
Yes! I want to see the end of religious belief much as I want to see the end of illiteracy, poverty, infant mortality, and the like. I want to eliminate it in this way and not in the draconian way Christians are so fond of describing. What a perfect description!

Islamic Extremism in Iraq: Change on the Horizon?

It makes sense to me that learning firsthand about the perils of religious extremism would lead one to question the merits of faith. In the United States, the long rise of Christian extremism, characterized by increased hatred and bigotry, is being followed by a resurgence of secularism and rejection of faith. As we look to the Middle East, there are encouraging signs of a similar backlash beginning among Iraqi youth. Time will tell if this trend can be sustained, but a reduced influence of religious extremism is something we can all welcome.

According to the International Herald Tribune, young Iraqis are growing tired of nearly constant immersion in violence fueled by Islamic extremism. About damn time!
After almost five years of war, many young Iraqis, exhausted by constant firsthand exposure to the violence of religious extremism, say they have grown disillusioned with religious leaders and skeptical of the faith that they preach.
Yes, after years of being caught in a civil war, provoked by an unjust and unprovoked American invasion, the young men and women who have seen their country deteriorate into chaos are starting to question what their religious leaders have been telling them. They are recognizing that Islam offers nothing but empty promises and oppression.

If Islam is to be salvaged, the extremism has to go and a significant reformation is needed. It is easy to forget that many of the reforms which forced led to a loosening hold of Christianity over the West have never occurred in the Islamic world. If the Iraqi youth are any indication, such reforms cannot come soon enough.
Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, said: "The religion men are liars. Young people don't believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore."
Perhaps there is hope for reason to supplant religious delusion and the violence to which it so often leads.

H/T to Daily Atheist

March 9, 2008

Courage in Mississippi: High School Student Stands Up For Church-State Separation

Since my readers know I'm atheist living in Mississippi, it is not surprising that I have received more than a few e-mails alerting me to the story of a brave high school student in my state who is blowing the whistle on organized religious practices in his school. In fact, after the original article appeared in my local paper, we posted it on Mississippi Atheists. It is nice to see that the story has attracted the attention of many atheist bloggers (e.g., Dispatches From the Culture Wars) and gained traction well outside of Mississippi.

As Mississippi Atheists co-author, Butch, pointed out in his commentary on the article, Wesley Crawford is one brave high school freshman. Even though he took care to convey respect for the religious beliefs and practices of others, you better believe he will face repercussions for his courageous stand. After all, this is a religiously oppressive environment where "freedom of religion" generally means that one is free to attend an evangelical Protestant church of one's choice and to talk about how one has been "saved" at every opportunity.

I agree with Wesley that inviting religious speakers to public school assemblies is highly inappropriate and likely illegal. If you read his letter carefully, you'll notice that the incidents he describes were not simply a matter of having religious speakers at assemblies but about religious speakers explicitly admonishing public school students to accept Jesus as their savior or live in "a Christ-like manner." Also note that these assemblies ended in organized prayer with no opt-out option given.

As someone who spends considerable time in Greene County, Butch says that he expects little to come of this letter other than unpleasant consequences for Wesley. I strongly urge Wesley to contact the ACLU of Mississippi (they offer an online complaint form) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to file a report.

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March 8, 2008

Texas Graduation Prayer Lawsuit Settled

According to a statement issued by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a lawsuit over prayer at Texas public school graduation ceremonies has been settled. The degree to which this settlement will influence other public school districts is uncertain, although it does involve a District Court ruling. In a nutshell, the settlement prevents a Texas school district from implementing a policy whereby students could vote on whether to permit prayer at graduation ceremonies.

The settlement, between Americans United and the Round Rock Independent School District, says that the district may not leave the decision of whether to include prayer at graduation ceremonies up to a student vote.

According to the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United,
Religious liberty is too precious to subject to a majority-rules vote. This lawsuit was designed to prevent school officials from meddling in what ought to be personal religious matters.
This case is an example of why I continue to support Americans United through membership dues. All too often, their intervention is needed to preserve the separation of church and state.

I have no problem with people praying in their homes or churches. I don't even mind students praying silently on their own in public school (as they can do under current law). However, organized and vocal prayer has no place in our public schools.

As the judge in this case noted, the Supreme Court has been clear that public schools may not impose prayers on students, even if a majority of students votes to allow such prayers.

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March 7, 2008

Meditations on Anti-Theism

Atheist badges.
Atheist badges. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The term anti-theism has been cropping up around the atheist blogosphere a lot lately. It seems like a fairly simple concept at first glance. One who believes that theism is a problem to be overcome could be described as anti-theistic (i.e., someone who actively opposes theism). And yet, the term may also be a convenient way to package some of the factions within the larger secular community.

I am an atheist in that I do not accept the theistic belief claim (i.e., some god or gods exist). Atheism describes my lack of acceptance of this claim and entails nothing else - no worldview, belief system, philosophy, or religion. To be an atheist, I don't have to be 100% certain that no gods exist; my atheism is simply my lack of theistic belief.

But I have many other beliefs that do form a cogent system or worldview. Besides not being a theist, I am convinced that theistic belief is something with which humanity would be better off without. In this way, it would probably be accurate to describe me as anti-theistic because I am opposed to theism. That is, I start with atheism (i.e., I am without theistic belief) and go an additional step whereby I am willing to label theistic belief as a problem in need of solutions.

March 6, 2008

Good Riddance, Huckabee

As bad for America as a John McCain presidency would be, at least we can all breathe a sigh of relief that Mike Huckabee is out of the race. He's always struck me as a true theocrat. Despite McCain's shameless pandering to the Christian extremist community, I have a hard time believing he's at Huckabee's level in this regard. So I join my colleagues in the atheist blogosphere in celebration of the news of Huckabee's departure.

Here are some of the other celebrants:

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Using MyBlogLog To Boost Traffic

As you've probably noticed from my right sidebar, I added a MyBlogLog widget awhile ago as something of an experiment. I have read many claims that active participation in MyBlogLog will do wonders for one's blog traffic. I have not noticed any traffic increase yet that I can trace to MyBlogLog, but it is still early and I plan to give it a chance before pulling the plug. If nothing else, has been neat to see the steady increase in the number of atheist blogs being added to the site.

There are probably thousands of blog posts and web pages listing strategies for increasing traffic to one's blog. One common suggestion made by nearly every one I've read involves active participation in MyBlogLog. Notice that I keep saying "active participation?" This is intentional because I have yet to find anyone recommending that users simply add the widget and do nothing else.

To derive the claimed benefit from MyBlogLog, the user is supposed to add the widget and then spend considerable time on the MyBlogLog site to join as many communities as is humanly possible. Think of a community as a group of fans for a particular blog. If you sign up with MyBlogLog, people can join the community which is created for your blog (you can find the Atheist Revolution community here). For this to have any sort of meaningful impact on traffic, most of the recommendations I've seen say that one should try to join something like 15 new communities per day.

The way this is supposed to work is that when someone joins your community, you are naturally curious about them and tend to look at their profile, join their community, add them as a contact, or - and this is the critical factor - actually visit their blog. Now I must confess that I have rarely taken this last step in MyBlogLog and actually visited someone's blog outside of the MyBlogLog site. Even though I do tend to check out profiles, add contacts, and join communities, it is fairly rare that I visit someone's blog out of the site. Assuming that I am not atypical in this regard, I am skeptical that MyBlogLog will do much for one's traffic.

Like any good skeptic, I am trying to follow the recommendations the best I can while monitoring my traffic. I will follow the evidence on this one and withhold any recommendation for MyBlogLog for now. Instead, I will continue my experiment and report the results here once I'm confident that I've given it a fair test.

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March 5, 2008

All Children are Born Atheists

Anyone who understands the definition of atheism must acknowledge that all children are born atheists, including those born to Christian parents. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of acceptance of the theistic belief claim (i.e., some god or gods exist). A theist is one who believes that god(s) exist; an atheist is one who does not share this belief. The newborn child cannot even entertain such possibilities and thus lacks theistic belief. Atheism is the default position, and this is where we all begin.

In order for Christians to argue against the reality that all children are born atheists, they must distort the meaning of atheism. They must convince themselves and their audience that atheism is a religion, a philosophy, or a worldview. They claim that atheism is an explicit repudiation of religion and that it involves faith that no gods exist. Such distortions in the meaning of atheism allow them to claim that children cannot be born atheist because atheism requires the same sort of deliberate choice required by religious belief.

Atheism is not a belief system but lack of acceptance of one particular belief. It requires no faith; it is the absence of faith. It is the null hypothesis, the default condition, the natural starting point for each of us.

But why must Christians distort the meaning of atheism at all? Why should they even care if their children are born atheists, especially when it is likely that they will begin brainwashing them at an early age? There are many reasons, ranging from a need to see the child as connected to them through the manner they consider most important (i.e., religion) to the harsh implications of infant mortality to their belief system.

To expand on this latter point, consider the Christian parent whose child dies before the child is capable of forming the cognitions necessary to comprehend theistic belief. According to this parent's own Christian doctrine, this child is likely destined for hell. This is where non-believers go, and this child is clearly a non-believer. The Catholics toyed with limbo as a way out, but the evangelical Protestants now engaging in America's "culture wars" never really warmed to this idea. Even theism will be insufficient for such a parent, as a personal relationship with Jesus is thought to be the only vehicle for salvation.

It should be remembered that Christians have created this doctrine for themselves and should be solely responsible for unraveling the many conundrums it presents. Distorting atheism is not an acceptable way out of the mess they have made.

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March 4, 2008

Atheism Doesn't Always Strengthen Their Faith

It seems nearly impossible for Christians to discuss atheism without eventually making some claim about how atheism only strengthens their faith. Of course, this should be no surprise. Material which contradicts one's belief system will often strengthen one's belief in the "truth" one thinks one has, especially when one refuses to seriously question the assumptions behind this "truth" (i.e., refuses to exercise reason). And yet, many ex-Christians report that exposure to atheism had exactly the opposite effect, helping them eventually break free from irrational belief.

Those of us maintaining atheist blogs do sometimes wonder if we are preaching to the choir. If I were to analyze the readership of this blog, it is likely that I would find that the vast majority of my readers were atheists. Among the Christians with whom I have interacted here, there have been some curious visitors, many pesky trolls, and only a handful of regular readers who seem to genuinely engage the material without the not-so-subtle conversion ploys.

However, this group of Christians who do appear to be interested in real dialogue are a great bunch, and I wish I could attract more of them. They make me think, stimulate discussion in the comment thread, and provide cause for optimism. Indeed, this sort of Christian will always be welcome here.

I also happen to believe that they are among the least likely to report that atheism strengthens their faith. I base this speculation on the fact that I was once one of them. Exposure to atheism certainly did not strengthen my faith; it showed me that there was a viable alternative which made far more sense to my rational mind. Most of all, exposure to atheism provided me with a needed model of a life without superstition.

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March 3, 2008

Non-Religious Americans Outnumber Most Faiths

We knew there were more of us than anyone seems willing to admit, but now we have additional evidence of our numbers. Recent data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life show that 16.1% of Americans describe themselves as having no religion. This means that we are second only to Catholics (23.9%) in number. I have provided a recent press release from the Center for Inquiry below.

Pew study confirms non-religious are significant bloc


Contact: Nathan Bupp
Phone: (716) 636-7571 x 218
E-mail: [email protected]

Survey shows Non-Religious Outnumber Those of Every Single Faith (But One)

Americans' Faiths in Flux as More Reject Their Given Religions

Amherst, New York (March 3, 2008)—The most detailed estimates to date of Americans' religious affiliations reports that a significant portion of U.S. citizens claim "none of the above," placing the unaffiliated second only to Roman Catholics in number. Monday's release of the 35,000-respondent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that 16.1 percent of Americans have no particular religion at all, while 23.9 percent identify themselves as Catholic. The next largest "belief group" is Evangelical Baptist at 10.8 percent. All other denominational groupings show in the single digits or less.

The study also shows the number of Americans who identify as atheist or agnostic has risen from 3.2 percent to 4 percent, while a "remarkably high" 44 percent have rejected the religion placed on them in childhood.

"People are finding out that what they've been handed in youth doesn't work, or isn't important enough to defend when confronted with marriage or some other life situation that forces them to examine it," said Paul Kurtz, founder of the Council for Secular Humanism. "But when the shuffling is done, this study shows that three people are dropping religion altogether for each one gaining a faith."

The study also confirms the previous 2004 Pew Forum-University of Akron study findings that those who identify as strictly secular comprise more than 10 percent of the population, only on a much larger scale.

"The breakdown is interesting, in that it distinguishes between the vaguely religious and those who fall squarely in the secular camp," Kurtz said. "But I would venture to say that there is a significant number of Americans who sympathize with secularism, but who may still be nominal members of religious organizations. It's apparent that a significant percentage of the population identifies with secularism, and I trust politicians will bear this in mind."

The Council for Secular Humanism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization promoting rational inquiry, secular values and positive human development through the advancement of secular humanism. The Council, publisher of the bimonthly journal Free Inquiry, has a Web site at


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Baptists At My Door

no proselytizing sign I don't remember a time when I did not despise religious proselytizing. Growing up in the Western United States, the door-to-door peddling of superstition was restricted to Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. We simply did not have anything like the evangelical Christians which now surround me. Since moving to Mississippi, I have become accustomed to frequent visits by evangelicals. It seems to irritate me more each time it happens, mostly because they keep coming no matter what I do.

When I added a large "No Soliciting" sign to my front yard, positioned so that most people would be able to see it before getting out of their cars, I expected it to help a little. I knew that the most rabid Christians would not see it as applying to them. They were their to convert me and not to sell me anything. Still, I figured the sign might have some impact. While it effectively ended most non-religious door-to-door sales, it had no measurable effect on proselytizing.

March 2, 2008

Carnival of the Godless #86 at Life Before Death

Carnival of the Godless #86 is up at Life Before Death in case you haven't found it yet. My recent post, "In God We Trust" Must Go is included, as are many great posts from my fellow atheist bloggers.

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Why Don't We Ever Hear About Christian Extremism In The Media?

We hear quite a bit about about religious extremism in other parts of the world but very little about Christian extremism right here in America. Don't get me wrong - Islamic extremism is a real concern and deserves the attention it receives. However, I think it is a mistake to completely ignore Christian extremism at home. I suppose it would be accurate to say that one of the main reasons I maintain this blog is to call attention to what I perceive as a neglected issue: Christian extremism in America.

I previously offered a definition of Christian extremism and will not repeat it here. However, I would remind the reader that extremism is not synonymous with terrorism and that an obvious reason for the media's neglect of Christian extremism is that it rarely reaches the level of terrorist attacks. Coverage of the Muslim world often confuses extremism with terrorism and uses the terms interchangeably.

When I say that Christian extremism is neglected by the American media, I am not saying that Christian extremists themselves are neglected (they are most certainly not). The media loves to feature the Pat Robertsons among us. What they neglect is covering such figures as the Christian extremists they are.

It is tempting to immediately point to Christian privilege as the main culprit of the media's neglect of Christian extremism. After all, the American media (and its audience) are so thoroughly saturated with fundamentalist Christianity that it is reasonable to guess that it simply might not occur to them to cover it. With Christianity as the dominant religion in America, many Americans do not have the perspective to consider alternatives or to ask the difficult questions about the extremists among us.

The Christian progressives and moderates have had relatively little to say on the subject of the vocal extremists who dominate the conversation (see here for an exception). In part, this may be because the media refuses to give them a similar platform. However, I tend to think that at least some of the blame rests on the shoulders of the progressives and moderates. It is difficult for them to criticize their extremist colleagues without feeling that their religious beliefs may be weakened in the process.

Before Iraq and before 9/11, how much did you hear about other forms of religious extremism in the media? Not much. Compared to now, one almost never heard of "Islamic extremists" and the like prior to 9/11. 9/11 and Bush's subsequent blunders not only cast a spotlight of national attention on the issue of extremism in the Muslim world but also contributed to its rise. Could it be that this increased coverage of religious extremism serves political goals and reflects no genuine concern about religious extremism?

The reason you hear about Christian extremism here on this blog is that I believe in fixing one's own problems instead of simply pointing out those of others. I agree that Islamic extremism is an important problem, but I think that religious extremism in general is a problem. I am not content to ignore what I see going wrong in America to point the finger at other nations.

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March 1, 2008

New Mississippi Atheists Blog

It has been quiet around here today because I've been focused on getting the word out about the new Mississippi Atheists blog I'm working on. Since it will be a team blog, I don't expect it to take away from what I'm doing here. Of course, I do need to get a few more authors lined up because I'd like to have atheist voices from across the state represented. I'm also pleased to discover that there are more atheist groups in the state than I realized. Hopefully, I can help my fellow atheists in Mississippi by making them a bit easier to find. I figured it was time for me to do something about fostering community among atheists rather than just talking about it.

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