July 31, 2008

Carnival of the Liberals at The Cult of Gracie

The latest edition of Carnival of the Liberals is up at The Cult of Gracie. I am happy to see that my contribution was accepted. Carnival of the Liberals is one of the few blog carnivals I read regularly, along with Carnival of the Godless and the Humanist Symposium.

While most of what I post here is generally a better fit for Carnival of the Godless (and sometimes the Humanist Symposium), contributing an occasional post to a blog carnival on other subjects is a nice way to expose people to atheism who might not otherwise be exposed.

Army Coerces Soldiers Into Attending Baptist Church

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the U.S. Department of Defense to investigate Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for promoting attendance at a Baptist church. This is certainly not the first time we've heard about Christian proselytizing in the military (and it won't be the last), but it is of the few cases I can recall where soldiers were directed toward a particular denomination of Christianity.

The troublesome practice in this case, according to Americans United, is the Army base's coercion of soldiers to attend church as part of their training.
Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri offers "Free Day Away" as one of only two opportunities for soldiers to leave the base during eight weeks of vigorous Army training. (The other day is the day before graduation, which can be spent with parents and guests.) During "Free Day Away," trainees are picked up by a bus sent from the Tabernacle Baptist Church of Lebanon, Mo., to participate in a day full of recreational activities, followed by dinner and a required church service.
For trainees who want to leave the base on their "Free Day Away," attendance at this particular Baptist church apparently required. Americans United also reports that trainees are under the impression that this activity is sponsored by the Army.
Trainees are given the impression that the event is sponsored by the Army and that they must attend. If they do not attend, they have to remain on the base and continue with training, while those who attend the event have a break for the day.
As if this was not all bad enough, the particular church they must attend is determined to "save" them and even requests information about their families for the purpose of "saving" them. This really is outrageous, and I would expect non-Christians and even non-Baptist denominations to be at least equally upset about this. I mean, where the hell is Bill Donahue on this one? And yet, it once again seems to fall on atheists to protect the separation of church and state which benefits religious individuals every bit as much as atheists.

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July 30, 2008

Identity and Outrage: Implications for Understanding Christians

Bob Dylan - what is identity?Is there a relationship between how we define ourselves (i.e., our identity) and our experience of outrage? If so, how much responsibility do we have for this, if any? In this post, I will attempt to shed some light on how I think the identity-outrage link might work and suggest some implications for atheists in understanding and interacting with Christians.

Examining Identity

How do you perceive yourself? Who are you, and what most makes you who you are? Take a minute and think about all the different roles you occupy. For example, some of mine (in no particular order) might include things such as:
  • blogger
  • skeptic
  • teacher
  • atheist
  • researcher
  • liberal
  • son
  • freethinker
I am quite confident that each of us could develop lists of roles. We could even construct various hierarchies in which some terms could be subsumed under others. But for the purpose of this post, the crucial question to ask ourselves is about the relative importance of the roles we fill. That is, when we ask ourselves "Who am I really?" which terms rise to the surface? This gives us a sense not only of our perceived identity but of the components which we perceive as being most central to it.

July 29, 2008

Atheist Revolution's Blogroll

In an effort to simplify the main page and improve load times, I decided it was finally time to move my blogroll to its own page. This should give me the opportunity to expand it without worrying quite so much about formatting implications. As always, I will regularly prune it to remove inactive blogs or those I am no longer following.

Without further ado, these are the atheist-related blogs you should be reading:

Promoting Atheism in the Workplace

I want to put a pro-atheist sticker on my office door at work, maybe the scarlet A from the OUT Campaign. I work at a state university located in an environment which is extremely oppressive to anyone who is not a fundamentalist Christian, and I want provide a safe haven for the few students who might actually be oriented to reality. I no longer care that it would piss off some of my co-workers. I do plenty of that in ways which have nothing to do with atheism. However, there is one compelling reason why I have been unable to bring myself to put such a sticker on my door.

I can honestly say that my motivation for wanting to put such a symbol on my door is not about attacking anyone's religion. Yes, I do that regularly on this blog. But that is really not why I want the sticker. I know there are students around who struggle with the oppressively Christian environment. I know that some of my colleagues and many of their peers would quickly tell such students that they are going to hell unless they have some sort of relationship with a mythical figure. I want to be able to communicate subtly that there is reason to be found even here. Much like I have seen others communicate tolerance to GLBT students, I want to be able to do this with atheist students.

I can explain the reason I am reluctant to do this quite easily. Imagine that you are an atheist college student and you see a pro-Christian symbol on the door of a professor with whom you need to interact. The inner reaction you are having right now is precisely why I am hesitant to put an atheist symbol on my door - I don't want to make students feel that way. All other reasons not to apply the sticker pale in comparison to this one.

So, it boils down to this: I must balance the good I could do by communicating that I was a safe place for atheist students to be themselves against the harm this could cause by making Christian students uncomfortable around me. At this point, the balance favors wanting to avoid the potential harm. However, I find myself becoming increasingly attracted to the alternative. I suppose it is a choice with which I must continue to wrestle.

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July 28, 2008

Atheist Revolution Tries Twitter

I was initially quite skeptical of Twitter. I figured that I probably would have loved it as a teenager, but I wasn't sure how I would use it now that I don't really have the sort of friends who would want to follow a play-by-play of my activities throughout the day, nor I theirs. But after seeing a handful of other atheist bloggers using the service in different ways, I decided to investigate. It turns out that Twitter may be a useful tool for blog promotion, interacting with readers, getting ideas for posts, and more. I plan to try it for at least a month so that my evaluation of its merit will be sufficiently thorough for others to find informative.

What the heck is Twitter? It is a micro-blogging service that feels something like a blend of IM and blogging. You post "tweets," which are short posts (up to 140 characters), and they are received by users who are following you. You can set up your cell phone to be able to work with the service if you want to be as mobile as possible. You can also add a widget to your blog that will display your tweets. You can see mine on the right sidebar.

If you are brand new to Twitter, as I was as recently as yesterday, here is all you have to do to get set up on this free service:
  1. Sign up for a Twitter account.
  2. Find at least a handful of people you want to follow on Twitter. You can find me at http://twitter.com/vjack and at least a few other atheist bloggers use the service.
  3. While you can post updates (i.e., "tweets") directly from the Twitter websites, there are a variety of plug-ins for your favorite browser and small desktop apps that make the process a bit more flexible. You can download and install a variety from Twitter's downloads page.
This will get you up and running. If you want to learn more about how Twitter can help your blogging efforts, I encourage you to read ProBlogger's post on the subject.

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July 27, 2008

Interpreting the Serotonin-Spirituality Link

You have probably heard about a Swedish study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry and popularized by Psychology Today and other mainstream news outlets finding a link between serotonin and spirituality. I am not going to put much stock in this until I have read the original study and the findings have been replicated by independent researchers. However, I do have some words of caution for those trying to make sense out of these findings and their possible implications.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter with many functions, one of which involves the regulation of mood. Clinical depression is associated with low serotonin levels in the brain. Most modern antidepressants (e.g., Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, etc.) work by indirectly increasing available serotonin in the brain. That is why this class of drugs is known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Data from the Swedish study suggest that serotonin may be associated with "spiritual experiences." Specifically, increased serotonin activity in the brain may be associated with various spiritual experiences (e.g., transcendence, etc.).

Even if it holds up, this is not a particularly groundbreaking finding. We have long known that drugs such as LSD that influence neural transmission, resulting in experiences often described as "spiritual." Still, these findings may help elucidate one neural pathway by which this occurs.

What studies like this do certainly imply is that spirituality involves biology as well as culture and environment. There are no supernatural forces at work here, but one's brain chemistry can certainly lead one to experience phenomena which one interprets as supernatural.

But we should be cautious of what we are seeing in the mainstream media about this study. Some are trying to interpret these and other similar findings as evidence that spirituality is less about culture and more about biological characteristics (remember that god gene nonsense?). The problem with this is that environmental experiences can and do influence serotonin levels. Biology is not independent from but interacts with one's environment. Going from studies like this to the conclusion that god belief is inborn are simply not justified.

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July 26, 2008

Stops Along the Journey From Christian to Atheist

Poodles has an interesting post over at Poodles Place about coming out as an atheist. The question asked is whether atheists go through common stages as part of the coming out process. That is, do atheists who were formerly Christian transition smoothly from Christianity to atheism, or are there intermediate stops along the way? It is an interesting question that has not received much attention because most of the writing on coming out atheist deals instead with the sort of reactions one can expect from friends and family.

Poodles writes,
Some of us went through phases. I know I personally tried on several different religions. I even tried wiccan (sic) on for size as a final attempt to hold on to something society would recognize as delusional belief.
I did something similar but in a bit of a different order. I went from Christianity to sort of an indifferent agnosticism, to atheism, then played with Buddhism briefly, then back to atheism where I've been ever since. Now that i think about it, my dabbling in Buddhism had very little to do with fitting in or clinging to delusion - it was really little more than some college experimentation.

Poodles is correct to note,
Being godless in America isn’t easy, as I am sure most of us know. People here like to see delusions in others, it gives them comfort in their own. And once you realize the truth about religion and god it can be a hard thing to admit to yourself and others. It comes with a stigma, but it cannot be denied once you reach that epiphany. If you choose to come out to anyone you have to be prepared to deal with the reactions when they come.
Does this awareness lead people to make various stops on their ride to atheism?

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July 25, 2008

Democratic Convention To Include Interfaith Service Led By Pentecostal

Plans are coming together for the 2008 Democratic National Convention scheduled next month in Denver. But one question remains for the organizers to answer - what to do with those pesky atheists in the party. Specifically, should they be represented in the interfaith service someone deemed necessary to open the Convention? And in case you haven't heard about that yet, not only will there be an interfaith service, but it will be led by a Pentecostal minister, Leah Daughtry.

If you don't recall interfaith services at previous Democratic conventions, that is because this appears to be the first. Not surprisingly, atheists are asking whether they will have any role in such a service or whether they are correct to interpret this as exclusionary.

Personally, I am not overly worried about whether atheists end up being part of the interfaith service or not. On the other hand, I am worried about why an interfaith service is deemed necessary in a country founded on separation of church and state. I am even more bothered over the role of a Pentecostal minister in organizing the service.

If this article is accurate, as I believe it is, in describing the Pentecostal brand of Christianity as "a fast-growing growing branch of evangelical Christianity that emphasizes the supernatural, including healing, prophesy and speaking in tongues," you'll understand my concern. Modern Americans should be embarrassed by such a set of beliefs rather than trying to elevate them in status.

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July 24, 2008

Atheist Activists, Keep Stirring the Pot

The so-called "Crackergate" incident in which PZ Myers threatened to desecrate a communion wafer, enraging Bill Donahue and receiving multiple death threats from good Christians, has renewed a discussion over "militant atheism." While "militant atheism" is a meaningless term, there are certainly atheist activists and anti-theists, many of whom are passionate about protecting the separation of church and state, opposing religious extremism, and highlighting the irrationality of religious belief. In fact, we need more of this pot stirring, not less.

I disagree with PZ over the use of his academic title and university position on his personal blog, and I think it is inappropriate for him to link to Pharyngula from university-based web pages. However, I applaud the manner in which he is bringing attention to what Catholics believe through Crackergate. By messing with a communion wafer, PZ is showing that it is not necessary for atheists to pretend we respect religious beliefs. To us, it is just a "frackin' cracker," and it is okay to treat it as such.

As BlackSun recently noted,

Atheists are right to be upset. Ridicule is only the beginning. If we want a sustainable, rational and just society, religion will have to be marginalized, no matter how much that may hurt some people’s feelings.

Imagine if someone started a Church of Harry Potter or a Church of the Jedi (actually already exists). Are we really supposed to take them seriously? Of course not. We all know these are forms of entertainment and we don’t have to ‘respect’ other people who pretend they’re real.

The world’s major religions are no less ridiculous, they are just older and more widely accepted. They need to get over themselves, and quickly. I’ll be there stirring the pot until and unless that happens. Call me as many names as you like, I’ll take reason over superstition, and I’ll keep insisting you’re insane if you don’t.
He's right. What we need are more atheists stirring the pot. This is the only way we are going to see religion fade into the background, becoming an important tradition for many but having increasingly less influence in the modern world. Erroneous beliefs do not warrant respect.

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July 23, 2008

"Holiness in the Hood" Offers Fun With Strings Attached

It was the title of the article in the Herald & Review (Illinois) that caught my attention: "'Holiness in the Hood' Draws Youth to Neighborhood Church Celebration." Holiness in the hood? It described a community outreach event conducted by the Love Fellowship Christian Church in Decatur. It sounds like a neat event that almost certainly provided some fun for area families. Up to a point, I think that churches are to be commended for providing this sort of event to the communities which support them.

The article describes the event as follows:
"Holiness in the Hood" spread out across the church parking lot, where a three-on-three basketball tournament was in progress; down the front steps, where a disc jockey blasted out rap music; and into the side yard, where hamburgers and hot dogs sizzled on a grill outside a huge tent erected to fend off sporadic rain.
Sounds fun to me, except of course for the worship services on either end of the event.
"This is a community event," said Jamey Wills, daughter of Overseer James Wills, Love Fellowship's pastor. "We want to provide a safe environment for young people that gives them something to do. It gets young people to come together in love and unity. We're just trying to touch a young person."
I'm all for providing safe environments to youth, although I think I can do without "trying to touch a young person." Seems like the Catholics have seen so much trouble for being unable to resist this urge that others would have learned to avoid it by now.

Seriously though, I applaud the church for organizing what sounds like a good time for families who might be in need of one. I think it is too bad that there have to be strings attached though. The whole "touch a young person" makes it clear that evangelism is the goal. It is too bad that providing young people with a safe and enjoyable experience isn't a sufficient goal in its own right.

But the question this raises for me is a little different. What I want to know is "What about the nonbelievers?" Do non-Christian families not desire fun? Are their children less deserving of safety? Could they attend such an event without being subjected to proselytizing?
Anyone needing a smile, encouragement or a kind word only had to drop in Saturday afternoon at Love Fellowship Christian Church.
Does "anyone" really refer to anyone, or is it limited to Christians? Perhaps I deserve criticism for being too damn cynical here. Can't the church simply be trying to do something positive for their community without conversion being a part of it?
"What we hope to do is bridge between the church and the community," Jamerson said. "We want to re-establish the church as the community. The majority of people around this neighborhood don't attend any church. Events like this show people we can have a good relationship with Christ regardless of race. We can make our cities better places to live in."
I guess not. Not when events such as this are designed to "get you ready for Jesus." Oh well.

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July 22, 2008

Picketing Churches

Worshipers at Phoenix First Assembly of God, a...
Worshipers at Phoenix First Assembly of God, an AG megachurch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I think atheists can generally agree that Christian extremism is a problem. The hard part is agreeing on tactics to oppose it. I have a question for the atheist readers today, one I'd like you to think about before responding. As atheists, should we consider picketing the Christian extremist churches in our communities? Let me elaborate a bit before you answer in case this idea strikes you as absurd on it's face (which it still might be). My goal is not to sell you on the idea but to find out what you think about it.

Suppose that there is a fundamentalist Christian church in your community that could rightly be considered to be of the Christian extremist variety. Should atheists consider picketing such a church?

Sounds risky doesn't it? If you are imagining forming picket line in front of the church with the 2-3 other local atheists you know, think bigger. What if the effort was organized so that atheists from around your state and perhaps even neighboring states joined the picket? Perhaps the picket is not even happening in your community but a nearby one where you are unlikely to know anyone.

It seems to me, and I am merely speculating here, that picketing such a church could have several dramatic effects:
  • Due to the nearly unprecedented nature of such an action, it would likely generate great publicity. The media would almost certainly consider it newsworthy. Coverage might provide atheists with a forum to educate the public about atheism and about Christian extremism.
  • An action like this could motivate atheists in other communities to undertake similar efforts, having a viral effect.
  • It would show the world that atheists were through pretending to respect dangerous falsehoods.
Of course, the whole thing could backfire horribly as well. Effective organization would be essential, and even then, there would be no guarantee that the desired effects would be attained. Is picketing churches something atheists should seriously consider? What do you think?

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July 21, 2008

No Church-State Separation in Kearny: Matthew LaClair Revisited

When the story of then 16 year-old Matthew LaClair first broke, I was captivated. Perhaps it was because I vividly remember what it was like to be an atheist in school. Or maybe it is because I am now on the other side of things, teaching and observing how atheist students are treated by their peers. I am happy to see that Matthew, now 18, is in the news again. However, I am appalled to learn that Matthew's ordeal 2 years ago "bitterly divides the town of Kearny, a community of about 41,000 that’s located across the Passaic River from Newark." Does this mean that there are still many Americans who failed to learn anything from Matthew's case?

I did not learn of Matthew LaClair until roughly a year ago. Here was how I opened my post about him in July of 2007:
High school is a turbulent time for many, and I think we'd all agree that there are plenty of things that can interfere with the learning process. If you are a high school student or the parent of one, you know the myriad difficulties in navigating this period. But the list of potential obstacles rarely includes the teachers. Imagine that you are a 16 year-old public high school student and one of your teachers spends considerable class time proselytizing, explicitly promoting Jesus, threatening sinners with hell, telling the class that dinosaurs accompanied humans on Noah's ark, and that evolution is a lie. What do you do?
During his junior year at Kearny High School in New Jersey, Matthew found himself in an accelerated history class taught by David Paszkiewicz (public school teacher and Baptist pastor). After his initial complaints about Paszkiewicz's proselytizing were ignored, Matthew bravely taped eight classes. These recordings revealed Paszkiewicz telling his students that their salvation depended on their acceptance of Jesus, "that if they do not believe that Jesus died for their sins, they 'belong in hell'," and that there is no scientific evidence supporting evolution.

When Matthew brought his tapes to school officials, he became the target of harassment and death threats. He was even subject to retaliation by the school administrators who should have been on his side. The even refused to punish the students harassing him.

As the story hit the national media, the school finally agreed to settle. Part of the settlement included providing training for teachers and students on topics such as the scientific basis of evolution and separation of church and state.

Now the Telegram & Gazette (Worchester, Massachusetts) has printed a follow-up on the case, noting that Paszkiewicz (still the youth pastor at Kearny Baptist Church) is still teaching at Kearny High. The part of the report that caught my attention was as follows:
What happened almost two years ago still bitterly divides the town of Kearny, a community of about 41,000 that’s located across the Passaic River from Newark. It also has provided further fodder in the long-running debate about the role of religion in public classrooms.
How could something this obviously inappropriate still be dividing the town? Wouldn't that have to mean that there were still plenty of people in Kearny who believed that Paszkiewicz was somehow in the right and that separation of church and state was invalid? Sadly, that appears to be exactly what it means.

Interviewed for this report, Matthew LaClair said that he was surprised that most of Kearny supported Paszkiewicz. That makes two of us, Matthew. Then again, I am not sure I would describe what I am feeling as surprise. Outrage seems more fitting.

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July 20, 2008

Tell This Bigot What You Think

Want another example of anti-atheist bigotry to get you riled up? Try this column by Alex McRae in the Times-Herald (GA) on for size. It basically asserts that atheists are boring, opposed to having fun, do not enjoy life, are not creative, and have no sense of humor. If you'd like to stop by and leave the author a comment, I encourage you to do so. You'll see mine among them, pointing out that anti-atheist bigotry is still bigotry.

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Zombie Jesus for President

Suppose you are an American voter who doesn't particularly care for McCain or Obama. You are no libertarian, and you cannot imagine voting for the Green Party candidate. Fortunately, you have another option besides simply staying home on election day. You can join a group of crazed evangelical Christians and vote for a corpse. But this isn't just any corpse - this one has either been dead for over 2,000 years or never existed at all. Oh yeah! We're talking Zombie Jesus for President.

Not exactly known for embracing reality, a group of evangelical Christians in Pennsylvania are campaigning for Jesus. To lend credibility to their cause, they are led by a white guy with dreadlocks (photo here). Surely that will help.

In all fairness, I must say that I agree with some of the positions held by this group. It would be nice to see America finally do something meaningful to help the poor among us. It is just too bad that their goals have to be wrapped up in a dead guy.

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July 19, 2008

Atheist Rob Sherman in the News Again

It looks like atheist activist, Rob Sherman is in the news again. You may remember him for his lawsuit to stop the "moment of silence" sham in public schools. Or you may remember him for being the target of one of the more egregious examples of anti-atheist bigotry we've seen in awhile. Now he is reported to be back in court to stop the state of Illinois from giving money to rebuild a historic church. Go Rob!

According to Chicago Public Radio's City Room, Sherman filed papers in court to prevent the state of Illinois from giving $1 million to Pilgrim Baptist Church to help them rebuild following a fire.

As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing wrong with anyone wanting to rebuild their church. However, the money simply cannot come from the state. Remember a little thing called separation of church and state?

So here we go again with atheists having to pressure the government to obey the law. I am glad for Sherman and his dedication to preserving the separation of church and state for all Americans.

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July 18, 2008

McCain's Adultery: Where is the Media?

It has been widely reported around the blogosphere and other independent media outlets that America's mainstream media has been giving Sen. John McCain a free pass for some time. There are all sorts of theories about why this is the case, some more sinister than others, but there is widespread agreement that the trend continues today. I mentioned one example here already concerning blatantly racist statements McCain made in 2000. Now the Los Angeles Times has provided another, and this time it is one that may actually be upsetting to McCain's evangelical supporters. It involves adultery but gets even worse.

Here is how the story was summarized by The Carpetbagger Report:
We learned that McCain turned his back on his wife after she was seriously injured in a car accident, committed adultery, and left the mother of his children when he found a younger, wealthier woman.

Worse, we also learned that McCain didn’t tell the truth about this in his own memoir. McCain insisted that he was separated from his first wife before he began dating his second wife. That’s not true. McCain also insisted he’d been divorced for months before remarrying. That wasn’t true, either. (In fact, the LAT reported, “McCain obtained an Arizona marriage license on March 6, 1980, while still legally married to his first wife.”)
As The Carpetbagger Report correctly points out, this is usually the sort of story the mainstream media loves. Anybody remember Bill Clinton? So why has there been virtual media silence on it? Probably for the same reason McCain's racist comments in the 2000 GOP primary are not getting any attention even in an election year where the media seems determined to make race a central issue. McCain has been given a free pass from the mainstream media.

At the risk of sounding overly conspiratorial, I wonder if we are simply seeing the consequence of corporate ownership of the mainstream media. I'm not suggesting that is the only - or even the main - reason for the bubble around McCain, but I think it could be one factor.

I join The Carpetbagger Report in asking the media decision-makers to consider the following:
If investigative reporters at the LA Times had discovered that Barack Obama had been divorced, cheated on his first wife, left her after she was injured in a car accident, pursued a younger woman while still married, and then lied about the circumstances of his marriages in his memoir, does anyone seriously believe that news outlets would blow off the story completely?

Or is it more likely we would never hear the end of this?
This is a question we should continue to ask, and this is yet another issue about which the American people should be informed. Don't we deserve to have all the facts?

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July 17, 2008

Evolution Has Been Disproven

Matt over at [GBG] Atheist News deserves props for making me laugh out loud with this one. I won't even blame him for the coffee I had to wipe off my keyboard because it was so worth it! It seems that a Christian who came across his blog decided to e-mail him one of the best refutations of evolutionary theory one could hope to find. This is going to set the science world on fire, so make sure you pay Matt a visit and express your appreciation for his willingness to share the gem I have reproduced below.

Here is the e-mail Matt received, unedited and titled "Proof evolution is wrong:"
i saw on your blog that you like to talk about the religion of evolution and trick people by using big words and pretending that science actually proves evolution. I dont know any science or anything and even i know evolution isnt real. for one it isnt in the bible the bible said god made everything in 6 days, not millions of years. second, when we go to the zoo we cant talk to monkies, if we used to be monkies why cant we talk to them? three, how could a monkey become a person over billions of years when they dont live that long? AND why are there still monkies if they turned into people? five, even darwin said he was wrong. on his death bed he converted to christianity and said evolution was a hoax. If there is any science that makes it look like evolution is real then it has to be either a hoax by EVILutionists or put there by god to find out who believes in him.

I hope that after reading my questions you will see that evolution cant be true and people dont come from monkies. i will pray to god asking him to make you think like me.
Priceless! I just keep reading it over and over again. If it was intended as a joke, it is a good one. If it was not intended as a joke, it is a better one. I think I might have to print and frame it. It would be perfect for some blank wall space right above my monitor.

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July 16, 2008

Guest Post: Bible as Human Creation

Below is a fantastic (and very long) guest post from reader and atheist, Bill Carson. Bill lives in Colorado Springs, CO, approximately 100 yards from a certain James Dobson. Talk about a threat to property values! In the post that follows and which he agreed to let me share with you, Bill exposes some of the craziest parts of the Christian bible and asks believers to confront them. He raises some pretty persuasive questions. Frankly, I am baffled as to how Christians can get their heads that far underneath the sand.

It is hard for me to agree with the idea that an all-powerful god would allow so many errors, contradictions and horrible teachings to be in the Bible. It seems obvious that the Bible was written by men long ago with no influence from a god. At least not a god I would be interested in worshiping. Below, I would like to explain why I have come to this conclusion.

  • Ex. 31:15 Kill anyone that has worked on a Sunday.
  • Ex. 21:17 Kill anyone who has ever got upset and used swear words against one of their parents.
  • Lev. 20:10 Kill anyone that commits adultery (adultery is defined as marrying someone that has been divorced according to Matthew 5.32)
  • Ex. 22:20 Destroy those that follow other religions.
  • Deuteronomy 17:2-7 Kill anyone with a different religion.
There are many more outrageous laws and teachings in the Bible. Many Christians will say that since the above laws are in the Old Testament, Christians can ignore them because Jesus came to change those old laws. But, the Bible tells a different story. The writers of the Bible claim that the two verses below are direct quotes from Jesus.
Luke 16:17 “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.”

Matthew 5:17-19 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But, whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Here is more of God’s word (according to the writers of the Bible).
  • 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
  • Isaiah 40:8 “the word of our God stands forever”
  • 1 Peter 24:25 “but the word of the Lord abides forever”
  • Psalm 19:7 “the Law of the Lord is perfect”
Do any of these verses make it sound like parts of God’s word should not be followed anymore?

Why have so many Christians told me the Old Testament teachings are not relevant when there are so many verses that clearly state that this is not true? The same people who will tell me that the O.T. verses I quote are no longer valid will quote other O.T. verses and claim they are God’s words which should be followed. Many Christians will quote verses that say different things than the verses I quote. Which makes an important point, the bible is full of contradictions! You can find plenty of verses that say you should kill people and plenty of verses that say to be nice to people.

Some of the teachings of the New Testament are not that much of an improvement.
For example:
  • a believer can drink any deadly poison and it will not harm them (Mark 16:18)
  • do not resist who is evil (Matthew 5:39) no one should have fought back against Hitler?
  • whoever curses against their mother or father should be put to death (Mark 7:10)
  • there are verses that still approve slavery in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:18, Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-2) these verses are telling the slaves to obey their masters
Another major problem with the Bible is this. Most of the stories are not from eye witnesses. They were written by people sometimes hundreds of years later who were trying to promote the religion they were writing about. Also, many of the stories in the Bible are very similar to stories that were written about other religions that had been created by men earlier. The Mormons, Muslims, Christians and Jews appear to have a lot in common. The men involved at the beginning of each religion claim that an angel or god himself told them what to write in their book (Book of Mormon, Koran, Old Testament). But, all 3 books have a lot of words that appear to have come from human sources, not from the mouth of a god or angel.

Many people have suffered or been killed because of those who follow the teachings of the Bible. A human being is probably less likely to want to hurt another person unless there is a book they think comes from the word of God that tells them to kill people that have different religions or work schedules that require work on Sunday, etc. Please do not make the argument that only radicals have done bad things in the name of religion. In many cases, they are just doing what the Bible tells them to do. How is that “radical” to just love the Lord and do what the word of God says?

The writers of the Bible were probably writing words which they hoped would help them to accomplish many different things. Below are some examples:
  • controlling behavior by making people afraid of going to a bad place after they die if they do not obey what the writers of the Bible say
  • keep the religion going a long time (encourage having lots of kids and indoctrinate the kids early to believe that they will go to a bad place when they die if they do not follow the religion of their parents)
  • own slaves Leviticus 25:44 (the writers of the Bible claim their god said it was ok to acquire slaves from the pagan nations, of course their race should not be slaves) and Ephesians 6:5 (they actually included a verse that told slaves to obey and serve their slave masters just like they would Jesus Christ)
When the writers of the Bible include verses like that, it makes me wonder if they were ever concerned that it was going to be too obvious that they were just making up verses that would be to their benefit. Look at the logic.
  1. God’s people can acquire slaves from other nations
  2. God’s people should not be slaves
  3. God says that the slaves need to obey their masters (God’s people)
Isn’t that very convenient for God’s people? (the people responsible for writing the Bible)

The Bible teachings about women are so anti-women that it seems obvious that men, not a loving god had to come up with them. Look at the examples below.
  • Exodus 20:17 women are property of husband
  • Exodus 21:7-11 rules for selling your daughter into slavery
  • Leviticus 19:20-22 if a man rapes a female slave the female should be punished Deuteronomy 22:28-29 rules requiring a virgin to marry the man who raped her
  • 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 women should remain silent in church
  • Ephesians 5:22-24 rules about how women should submit themselves to their husbands Numbers 31:17-18 here the writers of the Bible claim that their god has ordered them to kill all the Midianites except for the Midianite virgins which they can keep for themselves (I wonder if the women doubted whether their loving god really inspired this verse?)
  • Deuteronomy 22:20-21 kill women who are not virgins on their wedding night
Isn’t it amazing that a group of primitive men could write stuff like this and have it catch on and last for thousands of years?
  • there are many examples in the Bible where men have multiple wives (another example of how the people who wrote the Bible keep favoring men over women)
  • get the masses to go to war to conquer new lands (the Bible has helped motivate believers to go kill people in other lands that have different beliefs)
  • get money (10% of everyone's money is supposed to go to the people who created and then later promoted the religion)
  • make their race the most important (the writers of the Bible made sure to claim that their God selected their race to be the “chosen one”) wouldn’t it have been a lot more believable if the Bible was inspired by a god and the people writing the stories did not happen to be the chosen ones?
  • to try to explain things that are probably always going to be unexplainable
There are even examples in the Bible where there are references to the 4 corners of the earth and going up high to see all ends of the earth. It appears that the writers of the Bible thought the earth was flat. Why didn’t an all-knowing god inspire only verses that clearly state that the earth is round?

Many people have told me that even if it is not true, Christianity is still a good thing. Of course women, slaves, non-Christians, gays, Sunday workers and adulterers may have a different opinion. Well, if is ok to believe in something that is probably completely made-up why don’t we make up a new religion where there is not so much bad stuff written in the book the followers base their beliefs from. Maybe the many problems with the Bible are a reason why Scientology was created and is popular with a lot of people. Of course, another question is why do so many people feel the need to believe in fairy tales and a space daddy in the sky? Why can’t we just live our life with the rational idea that we just do not know how we got here and what happens after we die?

Here is the most common point in favor of Christianity. Something had to have created all this. That may be true. Maybe something did create this world. But, how do you know hardly anything after that premise? Maybe this world was created by a few gods working together. Maybe the god or gods that created this are not interested in being worshiped. Worshiping is kind of a strange concept. If you had the power to create an earth with human beings, would you require that they all had to worship you? Maybe whatever created the earth is not paying much attention to us anymore. So, even if it is true that something created all this, we know virtually nothing about how this something wants us to live our lives. The Bible is certainly not a consistent, moral, practical guide to live by. And, I hope that most of this letter shows how obvious it is that a god did not inspire the Bible anyway. Also, it is difficult to respect this something if it has the power to stop really bad things from happening and does not bother to do it. Also, why don’t the creators or creator make it easy for a rational thinking person to know they are around? Is it maybe because they are not involved here on this earth or maybe do not exist at all?

Another common argument is “what if you are wrong?” I have trouble understanding that argument. If you want to believe in a religion just in case it might actually be true, how do you decide which one to believe in? Should I believe in the Greek gods just in case they might be true? Also, I do not see how I can pretend to believe in a religion if deep down I really do not think it is true.

What are the chances that the religion someone chooses to follow is actually truthful? Out of the thousands of religions that have been started throughout history only one could be completely true, and probably they are all wrong. No one really knows what created all this and what happens after we die. It is amazing how many religions are flourishing when there is so little evidence that any of them are telling the truth.

My experience has been that the more I read the Bible the more obvious it is to me that it was written by a small group of men trying to get a religion started that would benefit them. When you read the Bible carefully, does it really appear to be inspired by an all-knowing, all-powerful and loving god? There are just way too many errors, contradictions and horrible teachings for the Bible not to be the work of human beings. It makes sense to me that a group of men are likely to come up with a law where a raped virgin has to marry the man who raped her. If more people would read the Bible carefully, I think there would be a lot more atheists and agnostics in this world.

Bill Carson

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July 15, 2008

Impeachment Back on the Table?

The last couple of weeks have seen one disaster after another for the McCain campaign. The faltering economy and climbing oil prices highlights the absurdity of his insistence that the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent and that the American people should continue to give tax breaks to big oil. Just as he was reaching out in an effort to reassure voters, his top economic advisor, Phil Gramm, called America "a nation of whiners." Unemployment is up, the stock market is down, and projections of more Americans losing their homes have been released. Whiners indeed. So how can it be then that some polls suggest McCain is actually catching up to Obama?

In spite of reports that McCain's campaign is in serious trouble, some polls tell a different story. The gap between McCain's support and that of Obama appears to be shrinking. How can this be?

To this observer, the most likely explanation is that Obama is losing support as he moves toward the right. His vote on FISA is costing him, and although he was never a true progressive, some in the progressive base who decided to support him are beginning to wonder if they made a mistake.

Dissatisfaction among the Democratic base is not limited to Obama. Public approval of this Congress has dropped to only 9%. It is clear to me that Pelosi made a huge mistake by taking impeachment off the table and then refusing to change her position as additional evidence of Bush's crimes has accumulated. Now there are rumblings that she may finally be coming around. Could this be the shot of adrenaline needed to re-energize the Democratic base?

Imagine what could happen if impeachment was suddenly on the table, as it should have been all along, and Obama got behind it. This could be huge for his candidacy and would go a long way toward dispelling the doubts of many progressives. It seems that the Democratic Party would have little to lose and everything to gain by giving the American people what they want - impeachment.

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Atheist Nexus is Not a Scam

As one of the atheist bloggers selected to render judgment on Atheist Nexus and the questions raised over whether it might be a Christian sham, I am ready to do so. I believe that Atheist Nexus is safe and encourage my readers to join and promote the site. Of course, no social networking site is truly 100% safe. Members should still be mindful of the personal information they disclose there. However, I do not believe that Atheist Nexus, regardless of its origins, is now a Christian sham. To understand how I reached this decision, read on.

Shortly after the investigation of Atheist Nexus was launched by the temporary administrator, Brother Richard, a surprising turn of events rendered it mostly moot. The individual who created Atheist Nexus and about whom many questions were raised, Kym, stepped down and turned the entire operation over to Brother Richard from Life Without Faith. This is no longer a temporary situation pending the results of our investigation, but a permanent one. Therefore, the actual investigation is of minimal importance in determining whether to utilize Atheist Nexus. Still, because of the interest surrounding this subject, I'll highlight the following:
  1. Kym is a fairly recent de-convert to atheism. After a period of confusion over his Christian faith, he read some books about atheism and managed to escape from delusion. You can read his story here. He has identified as an atheist only for a few months.
  2. Kym works as a freelance web designer and has done some work for Christian groups.
  3. Atheist Nexus is built on the Ning platform, which prevents administrators from ever accessing user passwords. The only information an administrator ever has access to is the information provided by members on their profiles. Ning appears to be as safe as Facebook and similar sites. Like these, users should use common sense.
  4. Kym applied for and received an EIN number from the IRS. I have seen documentation of this. The initial statement Kym made that the site was "organized as a non-profit" was inaccurate because the process was still underway. But no money was ever collected from anyone.
In my opinion, Atheist Nexus was never designed as a Christian scam. Some mistakes were made, however, I do not attribute malevolence to Kym. I am content to view this matter as put to rest and encourage others to do the same. I would be happy to answer additional questions to the best of my ability, but I am satisfied that Atheist Nexus is something we can all support.

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July 14, 2008

Dueling Bible Theme Parks in Tennessee

What is funnier than the idea of a bible theme park? How about two of them competing against each other to attract Christian families with more disposable income than sense? That would do it. According to UPI, this appears to be the situation developing in Nashville, TN, as The Holy Land Experience is planning to expand their presence in the area while Bible Park USA is trying to buy land nearby. As Ed Brayton of Dispatches From the Culture Wars wittily notes, this probably won't end well.

According to the UPI article,
"This is not a good time to be opening theme parks," said Dennis Spiegel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., an industry consulting firm. "And history has shown us that Bible theme parks just haven't done well."
Bible theme parks have not done well? I just don't understand this one bit. I mean, what child doesn't grow up thinking of the Christian bible as a fun time for all?

And then there is the issue of the residents not particularly wanting a massive theme park in their neighborhood. I can't say I blame them. I wouldn't welcome something like this even if it was a real (i.e., fun) amusement park. Think of the noise, the traffic, and the litter. But a park that would attract hordes of Christians? No thanks! I can just imagine them getting all "holied up" and then running through the residential neighborhoods looking for converts.

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July 13, 2008

Crackergate And Why PZ May Be Wrong About One Thing

Elevation of the host after the consecration, ...
Elevation of the host after the consecration, a scene from the life of Martin of Tours (fresco by Simone Martini, 1322-1326) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you read any atheists blogs at all, you've undoubtedly heard about Crackergate and the death threats PZ Myers has received from enraged Catholics after threatening to harm a Communion wafer. I applaud PZ's efforts because they send the message that crackers are simply crackers and nothing more. We in the reality-based community should not be asked to respect religious beliefs any more than we would respect psychotic delusions. But Myers may be wrong on at least one count. 

PZ Myers is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota - Morris. His blog is hosted on Seed, which has no affiliation with his home university. However, according to the Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul), the Catholic League has pointed out that Myers' blog, Pharyngula, is linked to from at least one university website. I doubt that this is true, as I tend to be skeptical of anything this particular hate group says. But if true, this might be a problem.

If PZ links to Pharyngula from a university-hosted web site, this could blur the line between what he is doing on his personal time and with his own resources vs. what he is doing on university time and with university resources. If a university-hosted website is linking to Pharyngula, it could give the impression that the university is supporting the views PZ expresses on Pharyngula. I can imagine that the university administration would not be thrilled with this. But let me repeat that I suspect that there is no such link and that PZ would realize that this would be problematic.

But what about academic freedom? The way many academic freedom policies are written, the focus is on the classroom and what is taught there. However, those policies which are broader tend to ask for some separation between what a faculty member does in his or her official capacity as a representative of the university and what he or she does in his or her own time.

Now this one is much less clear than the link issue, but there may be another problem for PZ that has nothing to do with Catholic allegations. Look at his picture on Pharyngula and examine the text directly below his picture. He provides his academic title and university affiliation. By doing so, I could imagine some university administrators arguing that this implied he was representing himself as an agent of the university on a personal blog.

When I write a letter to the editors of my local paper, I don't get to include my academic rank and university affiliation. Why? Because I am writing as a private citizen and not a spokesperson for the university.

I have no respect for Bill Donohue or his group of Christian extremists, and I applaud the steps taken by PZ Myers to offend them. However, I think that PZ might want to be a bit more careful about clearly separating his blog from his employer. Not doing so places him in a precarious position that is unlikely to be helped by flooding the office of his university president with letters from atheists.

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Upgrading My Computing Space

Since I spend so much time in front of my computer when I'm home, I finally decided it was time to improve the experience. I bought a new iMac at the end of May, marking the first of many planned (and many more unplanned) upgrades to my home workstation. This was soon followed by a 1TB external hard drive for Time Machine, surge protector with battery backup, and USB hub. But now I am ready for the next big ticket item, a new computer desk.

I plan to order a computer desk from Anthrocart, probably a Fit System Standard Unit in black. I've read great things about these desks but never owned one. The desk I am using now is in terrible shape, and I could really use something durable and with the flexibility to expand it to better meet my needs.

After that, I'd like to do something about the horrible sound coming out of my ancient computer speakers. I listen to iTunes almost all the time when I'm at my computer, and my current speaker setup is far from ideal at music playback. I plan to pick up a pair of powered bookshelf speakers and connect them to my computer through a DAC.

Then I'll just need to pick up a couple bookshelves to hold all these atheist books I keep adding to the collection!

As you think about your own computing setup, what do you really like and what would you like to improve?

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July 12, 2008

Former Bush Press Secretary Tony Snow Dies of Cancer

Former Bush Press Secretary Tony Snow died today from cancer at the age of 53. I am sure he will be missed by fans of Fox "News" and those in the Bush administration. While it is unfortunate that his time was cut short, we can take consolation in the knowledge that Snow was around long enough to experience the end of racism in America.

H/T to The Carpetbagger Report

Blogging Tip #7: Increasing Search Traffic With HitTail

I have been using HitTail on this blog for over a year now for long tail keyword data, and I have found it a very useful method for increasing search engine traffic. This tip focuses on how to use HitTail for this purpose. Don't worry if some of these terms are new to you - it is much simpler than it sounds.

HitTail is a long tail keyword marketing tool. Huh? Think of it this way: HitTail helps you tailor your post content in such a way that you are better positioned to attract traffic from search engines like Google. According to the HitTail website,
HitTail reveals in real-time the least utilized, most promising keywords hidden in the Long Tail of your natural search results. We present these terms to you as writing suggestions that, when used as the topic of new site content or blog posts, can boost the natural search results of your site. It's that simple.
HitTail shows you in real time the search terms that are bringing people to your blog, extracts the underperforming keywords, and presents them to you as suggestions for future post topics. If you utilize these topic suggestions, you attract more readers from search engines. You can certainly read more about what HitTail does on their site if you are interested, but I am going to move on. You really do not need to understand the ins and outs of what it does to benefit.

Like many tracking tools, HitTail needs to be up and running on your blog for awhile before you'll get much out of it. I would recommend installing it and then forgetting about it for at least a couple weeks, but this will depend on the sort of traffic you are getting. On high traffic blogs, it won't take that long. On lower traffic blogs, you might need a month.

After some time has passed, log in to your HitTail account. The Search Hits tab will be active, and this is where you see real time incoming traffic. If you click on the Keywords tab, you'll see the search terms that are bringing visitors from search engines to your blog. But the tab we care most about is the Suggestions tab. This is where HitTail is displaying those underperforming keywords that you should consider including in your posts. Not only can this help to improve your traffic from search engines, but the suggestions can provide you with some good post ideas.

Time for one final suggestion. If you are going to use HitTail, you want to be able to evaluate whether it is actually increasing your search engine traffic, right? If you've been using Google Analytics to track your hits, this is easy. At the lower left corner of the View Reports screen, you'll see a pie graph in which you can see how your traffic from search engines compares to that direct traffic and referring sites. To evaluate how HitTail is working, jot down the number of hits from search engine traffic. This will give you a baseline against which you can compare the same number after a month or so of using HitTail. Just remember that HitTail doesn't do the work for you - it merely offers suggestions which you still need to utilize.

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July 11, 2008

More Information About Atheist Nexus

Since the concerns about Atheist Nexus first emerged, those of us using the site have not had the easiest time tracking down reasonable explanations about what was going on and why. I think those in charge assumed a brief explanation would be sufficient and took some time to respond when it became clear that it would not be enough. However, they have now taken the time to post a more detailed account. In the interest of helping my readers find this information, I am going to post the latest information below in full. For those who belong to Atheist Nexus, you can also find it here.
I would like thank everyone for their participation in the growth of Atheist|Nexus. I am glad to be among people of rational thought. As some members have suggested, I am going to give an account of my life here. Please read this to understand who Thor is and why Atheist|Nexus exists.

I was born 40 years ago to African diplomats in New York. I spent a lot of my childhood in Africa and France. I came to the U.S. to reclaim my citizenship and pursue “the America Dream” 6 years ago. All throughout my life, I was a committed follower of the Christian “God”. I went to college for Theology (yes, I took a class in Apologetics) and was always active in the church. I was raised to believe in “God”, so the fear of death and damnation in hell stifled my burning need to ask the hard questions. The many times when I did ask the questions, my “programming” kicked in and I intuitively defended my faith. I was a true proponent of the ontological defense.

Since I am naturally inquisitive, I persisted in my doubts. These questions weighed heavily on me to the effect that I stopped attending church. Yes, I maintained my faith, albeit weak. The prayer for the China and Myanmar victims (posted within the last 2 months) is a reflection of my real concern for other human beings, even in light of my personal struggle with faith. During the time that I abstained from church, I was reading and assimilating the works of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others. I especially enjoyed “A Letter to a Christian Nation” [Harris] and “The God Delusion” [Dawkins]. Coupled with my own festering doubts, the books and videos literally destroyed any bit of faith that might have been left in me. I was born again to reason.

My wife has posted about our little girl – Ellyze. She turns one this Saturday and she’s never been able to sit up. She has a condition called CHARGE syndrome and faces severe developmental challenges. She’s deaf and has weak sight. I know many will say, “You’re not an atheist, Thor. You’re angry at God.” I am angry, but not at “God”. There is no “God”. I am angry because I have dedicated my life to leading people astray, peddling a false “God”. I am angry because as a child, I never had a chance in hell to break free from the fallacies of Christianity. I, like so many others like me, was programmed from infancy to believe that “God” was real and that he wanted me to “serve and live for him”. Hell yeah, I’m angry. But there’s a silver lining here – I have seen reason. My daughter’s condition was one of the triggers for my realization of truth. Life sucks sometimes, but that’s reality.

Now, I am free from the idiocy of religion. And because I have always stood up for what I believe, I did not think twice about investing my time and effort to create Atheist|Nexus. While some of my language and mannerisms might show through as “religious”, you can be sure that’s only because I have spent the greater part of life speaking that way. I understand completely the questions that people have raised. There is still work to be done, and I am open to learning what I can from the 1000+ freethinkers on this site.

The issue of DivineChristianCenter.org is simple, really. As mentioned in my earlier message to everyone, I build websites as a freelancer. When I publish a web template, it automatically populates with my contact information. That is why the contact information on the two sites matched. You will also find that my fax number is linked to my profiles on Alibaba.com and Tradekey.com – I am a Project Director for an industrial supply company during the day. If it is the wish of the membership, I will keep this site operational. I have always said that this site will be managed by its members. If anyone is willing to contribute their time and skills, please contact us. This was never intended to be a one-man-operation. To this effect, I have requested (and received) the help of Richard of http://lifewithoutfaith.com (Brother Richard) to share the administrative aspect of http://AtheistNexus.org. I also met with Phil Pherguson of http://CUFree.net today and we had a good conversation. Phil cannot vouch for my character, having only met me today. Our meeting did allow me the opportunity to discuss my position with someone face to face. After we deal with the initial concerns, it is Richard's and my desire to create a board of directors and revisit the organizational structure. I hope that the many great minds here will converge and establish the direction of this project.

Kym Membe
I find this account satisfactory and will continue to participate in Atheist Nexus. Hopefully, this is the last post I will need to do on the subject for awhile.

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