September 30, 2008

How Miracles Work

Miracle logoReligious believers sometimes struggle to explain exactly how miracles work. This is understandable. Explaining something that doesn't exist can be tough. Fortunately, I found two Christians who were at least willing to try amidst a sad story from Florida. Maybe we can learn something about miracles together.

The driver of a tractor-trailer, talking on his cell phone while driving like virtually every bad driver I see on the road these days (can you tell this is a pet peeve?), collided with a school bus. One child died, but passers-by were able to rescue others before they burned to death. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

September 29, 2008

Carnival of the Godless #101 at The Lay Scientist

The 101st Carnival of the Godless is up at The Lay Scientist. There are many excellent posts, so visit the carnival to catch up on your atheistic reading. And speaking of atheistic reading, I plan to write a post on the top books I'd recommend to those just beginning their exploration of atheism. Look for it here later this week.

American Atheists Speaks Out On Church Politicking

American AtheistsImage via WikipediaI have been rather sharp in my criticism of American Atheists for seeming to do far less than the Freedom From Religion Foundation or Americans United for Separation of Church and State. One mention in the news is certainly not going to change my opinion, but it is nice to see them raising questions about the tax exempt status of American churches. In order to maintain their exemption from paying taxes, I would like to see churches required to demonstrate how they serve their communities. And by "serve their communities," I include services they provide to all residents and not simply those who attend or accept their superstition. If they cannot do this, they should be paying taxes. What do you think?

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September 28, 2008

Remembering Matthew Shepard

The 10th anniversary of the brutal death of Matthew Shepard at the hands of two homophobes in Laramie, Wyoming, will occur next month. The University of Wyoming is marking the occasion by dedicating a memorial bench on their campus to Shepard.

I hope that you will join me in pausing to reflect on what Shepard's death says about the society in which we live and the dangers of bigotry. The fact some Christians interpret their "holy" book as providing a rationale for cruelty and hatred does not excuse it and must not render it immune to critical examination. Bigotry, regardless of whether it is given a religious rationale, is dangerous.

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How to Resolve the Economic Crisis

Trinity Church on Wall StreetImage by alistairmcmillan via FlickrWith Christians using prayer to reduce gas prices, eliminate "the gay," control the weather, and even harm their enemies, it occurs to me that we are missing an obvious solution to the current U.S. economic crisis. Instead of an expensive bailout of Wall Street, Christians could simply pray away the crisis.

This soultion would be far cheaper and would prevent U.S. taxpayers from being overburdened with additional debt involved in a bailout. I wonder why more conservative Christian politicians are not suggesting this as a solution? Isn't the Republican Party the one with Jesus on its side?

September 26, 2008

Thoughts on the Debate

Wall Street taken above steam stack road works.Image via WikipediaI watched the debate from Oxford with great interest, and while I was disappointed in many respects with both candidates, I thought it was fairly clear that Obama came across sounding more presidential, smarter, and more effective. He was far from perfect, but he impressed me as the obvious choice over McCain/Palin. It turns out that the analysts agree. Here are some more detailed thoughts and reactions about what I saw.
  • Obama was absolutely correct to repeatedly blame America's current economic crisis on movement conservatism. We have repeatedly experimented with conservative economics under Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. It has repeatedly failed. Now we are seeing exactly what happens when government regulation is not allowed.
  • Obama said, "We’ve had years in which the reining ideology has been ‘What’s good for Wall Street’ and not ‘What’s good for Main Street.’" McCain simply refused to address this critical problem. He suggested that he would support regulation, but this does not match his record at all.
  • McCain’s approach to the economic crisis is "getting spending in Washington under control." He is trying to blame earmarking for all the economic problems instead of acknowledging that movement conservatism is the root cause. He says he’ll veto "every single spending bill" that comes across his desk. What kind of country would this create?

  • McCain is trying to present himself as a crusader against government corruption. What about the Keating Five?

  • On taxes, we have a big difference between the candidates. McCain wants to cut taxes on the wealthy and freeze government spending; Obama wants to cut taxes for 95% of Americans, repeal the Bush cuts, and spend on necessary and effective programs. McCain criticizes Obama for wanting to spend any money. He refuses to consider how Obama is paying for his proposed spending (repealing the Bush tax cuts).

  • McCain does not appear to understand that offshore drilling will do nothing to affect gas prices.
  • McCain says he wants families and doctors to make health care decisions instead of the federal government. Okay, then what about abortion?

  • McCain thinks that going to Bagdad somehow makes him more qualified to lead America even though the administration he supported 90% of the time horribly botched nearly everything about this war. Is this selective memory or senility? Great move by Obama to point out all the times McCain has been wrong on Iraq.

  • The “my friends” thing is getting extremely annoying. Will someone in his campaign please explain this to McCain? And what sort of a moron repeatedly refers to himself as a "maverick?" Isn’t this something people are supposed to say about you? Saying it about yourself is simply pathetic! As for Obama, he needs to stop using the word “look” all the time and knock off the unecessary compliments to McCain. Every time he wants to say, "John’s right," he needs to pause and remember that this is the same John who selected Palin.

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Wall Street Bailout a Bad Idea

Iraq War Protest: Dissent Is DemocraticImage by J.L. McVay / StereoactiveNYC via FlickrI think the likely bailout of Wall Street is a bad idea. In saying that, I suppose I align myself with the the fiscal conservatives and break ranks with what now appears to be the mainstream of the Democratic Party. So be it. I still think it is a bad idea. To be fair, I recognize that their are progressive organizations opposing the bailout too, but it appears that they will once again be ignored by the party of who calls them their base.

I've heard the case for the bailout, and while I thought Bush's address yesterday was one of his more coherent ones, I'm still not buying it. After all, he has a bit of a credibility problem. He needs to do more than play the "fear card" to persuade me that handing over $700 billion of taxpayer money to the wealthy elite is a good idea.

I know that Bush and his supporters, which now seems to include the bulk of the Democratic Party, are trying to pitch this as a last-ditch effort to save the American economy to all our benefit. But it isn't to all our benefit. We're being asked to incur one hell of a debt (in addition to the bill for the unjust war in Iraq) without any assurances that this gamble will work.

The Bush administration's resume includes (1) leaving us unprotected on 9/11 despite the warnings; (2) invading Iraq under false pretenses and without provocation, planning, or exit strategy; (3) showcasing their inability to govern in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; and (4) pushing the very sort of deregulation which led to the current economic "crisis." How can we now be expected to swallow their latest concoction?

Are economic recessions not a natural part of market behavior? Is there to be absolutely no accountability for the financial sectors responsible for our current situation? I realize that this makes me sound like a raging conservative here, but I can't help thinking that we should allow the market to correct itself and then follow the correction with improved policies.

Yes, this is scary for the average American who has little understanding of the economy. And I certainly don't envy those depending on their investments for retirement income. But that shouldn't mean that we act hastily and without adequate protections in place.
This is the time for reasoned analysis. If a bailout really is necessary, those who represent us ought to keep our best interests in mind. It is the struggling American who needs a bailout and not Wall Street.

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September 25, 2008

"You're Not Really An Atheist, Are You?"

Sigmund FreudImage via WikipediaNothing like a visit from the family to remind me of the power of denial. It is quite remarkable how people can "forget" what they don't want to know in the first place regardless of how many reminders they might get. I had an interesting interaction with my parents recently that illustrates this well and which may sound familiar to my atheist readers.

After commenting that my bookshelf left no question about my political and religious leanings, the following brief interchanges occurred:
"You're not really an atheist, are you?"

"Um, yes. Yes I am."

"Oh. How long have you been an atheist?"

"Since I was 16."

"I thought you were just an agnostic..."
I do love the "just an agnostic" phrase! Agnostics clearly aren't as threatening as atheists. I suppose this is why so many atheists prefer to call themselves "agnostic." But the denial is what really gets me.

I've made no secret of my atheism. In fact, I was quite a pain in the ass about it between about 16 and 19 (no comments from the peanut gallery). Not sure how the family could have forgotten, especially since the topic has come up at least once during virtually every visit we've had since I moved to Mississippi 8 years ago.

Instead of simply forgetfulness, this seems to be a case of denial. So strong is the desire for me not to be an atheist, that all the evidence to the contrary is ignored. Sounds familiar, doesn't it. Yes, I really think Freud was on to something about religious belief having quite a bit to do with wish fulfillment.

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September 24, 2008

Proof of Atheism

Rubik's cube
Most atheists are well aware that the burden of proof on the god question rests with the theist. Still, I have seen more than a few atheists get sucked into the trap of a theist asking for proof of atheism. In this post, I will suggest that there are at least two reasons for not seriously entertaining requests for such proof of atheism.

Burden of Proof

Anyone who has taken even an introductory course in philosophy will tell you that the burden of proof always rests with the side making the claim. The theist claims that there is some sort of god; the atheist does not accept this claim (usually due to a lack of sufficient evidence). The burden of proof belongs to the theist. If you want us to believe that your god(s) exist, make your case by providing evidence sufficient to support the claim.

Educated believers generally accept this burden but attempt to sidestep it through faith. Since they realize that there is insufficient evidence to support their god claim, they resort to faith. Some even try to turn faith (i.e., the acceptance of a claim without sufficient evidence) into a virtue of sorts.

Less educated believers may actually ask atheists to prove that no gods exist. In such cases, it may be necessary to teach them about the burden of proof and use examples with which they can relate. It may also be necessary to help them understand what atheism means in the first place. With patience, it is often possible to show them that their request was misplaced.

The Role of Proof in Evaluating Religious Claims

In addition to helping the theist understand his or her burden of proof, it is often helpful to consider that "proof" might not even be the correct standard here. I would argue that the problem with believing that some god or gods exist is not that the existence of such a beings cannot be proven; the problem is that there is insufficient evidence to justify the belief.

Not all atheists will agree with this, so let me be clear about what I am saying here. I can accept the idea that someone could believe something without having absolute proof in the object of one's belief. As long as the evidence adequately justifies the claim, it need not rise to the level of proof in all cases. Clearly, this means that the nature of the evidence needed will vary with the type of claim being made.

If I claim that I regularly walk to my mailbox to get the mail without wearing shoes, you may just take my word for it and require minimal evidence. On the other hand, you are right to ask for considerable evidence to support my claim that a supernatural being punishes sinners with hurricanes while rewarding homophobia with Republican votes.

The bottom line is that atheists need not entertain requests for proof of atheism from believers. It is they who have the burden of proof, and if not proof, then sufficient evidence to justify their claims. That they they have been unable to come close to meeting such a burden is all the "proof" atheism needs.

September 23, 2008

Obstacles to Activism: Black-and-White Thinking

AtheismImage via Wikipedia It is undeniable that atheist activism is desperately needed. It is also clear that we can make an important difference through even a minimal investment of time. So why aren't more atheists engaging in activism? It occurs to me that it might be useful to address some of the obstacles to atheist activism. This post examines black-and-white thinking as one such barrier to activism.

Psychologists have long recognized dichotomous thinking as a form of irrational belief that can contribute to a variety of emotional problems. This is often referred to as black-and-white or all-or-none thinking because it involves an amplification of two extremes while ignoring the middle gray area.

Imagine someone who assumes that others either love them or hate them. Their social world is divided into extreme categories with nothing in between. Can you see how this sort of cognitive style might lead to depression? We see an even more primitive version of this among some Christians who divide the world into good and evil and seem to lose sight of anything not in one of these absolute categories.

What does this have to do with atheist activism? Plenty. I am convinced that one important obstacle to activism involves the tendency to dichotomize activism so that one perceives oneself as "activist" or "not activist" without realizing that there are degrees of activism. This sort of thinking then prevents people from engage in activism because, after all, "I'm not really an activist."

We overcome this obstacle by promoting small, simple activist efforts. Instead of trying to create atheist activists, our goal must be one of stimulating interest in activism. We need to offer concrete ideas that allow people to promote atheism and call out anti-atheist bigotry while maintaining their "not an activist" identities.

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September 22, 2008

Now I'm Behind

As I said on Twitter a few days ago, I would be away from the blog for a bit due to family visiting from afar. I managed to post sporadically, but have had time for little else. However, that didn't stop the flow of e-mails I received. Now I have some serious catching up to do, and with a busy week ahead, precious little time to do so. Since this blog is my priority, it may be awhile before I am able to respond to e-mails received in the last several days. I'm not ignoring you, but I need to resume my posting schedule before doing much else. Thanks for understanding. Oh, and if you are really desperate for content, go watch this video about Palin's pastor.

September 21, 2008

Check Out Theist's Anonymous

AA meeting signImage via Wikipedia I remember what it was like to have a brand new blog and wonder if I would ever get any readers. More established atheist bloggers helped me get going, and I've always valued the opportunity to help others when I can. When I find a new blog that offers something different and that I think is worth a look, I like to mention it here. I'd like to invite you to check out just such a new blog, Theist's Anonymous. It is organized around AA's 12 steps, but the focus is on overcoming religion rather than alcohol dependence. Very clever!

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September 19, 2008

Effective Activism Via Your Local Newspaper's Website

"WATCH YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER^^" - NARA - 535653 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the most common suggestions for atheist activism you are likely to find involves writing letters to the editor of your local newspaper. This is a good suggestion and one to which I will likely return. However, there is so much more than can be done these days with one's local paper that I want to bring some other ideas to your attention today. Since we are going to focus on what you can do with your local newspaper's website, the first thing you'll need to do is find your paper's website. Once you have done that, we can get started.

Most newspapers have websites these days, and it is becoming increasingly common for these websites to provide all sorts of services that can be useful for our purposes. Take some time to explore your paper's website, and look for the following:
  • Online forums
  • A place for readers to host their own blogs on the newspaper's site
  • Reader profiles (you'll have to create an online account but should be able to do this even if you do not actually subscribe to the paper)
  • A way to easily post photos and/or videos
  • An Opinion section making it easy to submit material right through the website
Odds are, you will find most of these and more. Most newspapers are finally understanding the importance of solid websites. Now, I recommend that you do as many of the following as you want:
  • Create an account (you don't have to use your name if you don't want to), and add the URL for your blog (if you have one), and make sure the bio section says something about you being an atheist.
  • With your account, you will probably be able to leave comments on the paper's website for any article posted from the print version or web-only content. Take advantage of this to promote reason, call attention to Christian extremism, point out anti-atheist bigotry, and inform other readers that there are in fact atheists in your area.
  • Play around with what is likely to be a fairly primitive blog-hosting service. Even if you already have your own blog, you might find creative ways to use the paper's service to spread the word about atheism in your community.
  • Use the forums regularly, starting threads and contributing to threads in progress. Use your signature to link to your blog, promote atheism, etc. Not only can this be a great way to meet like-minded individuals, but it also demonstrates that the reality-based community is present in your area.
  • Submit photos, videos, or opinion articles. Many papers will require you to use your real name and provide them with an accurate phone number for letters to the editor. However, some websites will not have these requirements for online content. Depending on your comfort level, you can do both.
Collectively, these tasks show others in your community that their neighbors do not necessarily buy into their religious delusion. You are also provoking thought among people who may have never stopped to consider what it might be like to be an atheist surrounded by believers. I have been doing these things for awhile now, and I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised to find support in some unlikely places.

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September 18, 2008

Atheists as Values Voters

Conservative Christians have done an impressive job of labeling themselves "values voters" and getting this label to stick. The American media has been fully complicit, going along for the ride without stopping to question what gives any group exclusive claim to have values. In fact, the media does not seem particularly interested in understanding the values which allegedly guide these voters. Instead, the term serves as a sort of shorthand for describing socially conservative Christians who are politically active.

When most people hear the phrase "values voters," they perceive it as code for conservative Christians. In this way, "values voter" is an effective sort of shorthand for identifying someone who opposes female reproductive freedom, gay people, social welfare programs, environmental regulation, and the like. The "values voter" is not only assumed to have these attitudes but to vote based on them.

But why are these sort of values the only that deserve recognition? Aren't values of some sort important to most people who vote? What about Americans who vote based on an entirely different set of values?

Those of us who vote after a reasoned analysis of the issues and in consideration of candidates' position on the issues are still making value-based judgments. This is perhaps most evident in how we prioritize the issues. No candidate is going to match a voter perfectly on every single issue. The voter must determine how much of a match is acceptable based on his or her values.

All voters are "values voters." Using it only to refer to conservative Christians is misleading at best and bigoted at worst. Personally, I am a secular values voter.

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September 16, 2008

Have You Seen Billboards Like This In Your State?

A double-decker bus passes the north side of t...Image via Wikipedia Oliver took a break from attending assorted Christian churches and writing about his experience on Mississippi Atheists to do a bit of photojournalism. He managed to capture some extremely disturbing billboards near Oxford, Mississippi. It appears that Christian extremists are spending money to persuade Mississippians that the United States is (or at least should be) a Christian nation. Have you seen extremist propaganda like this in your area too?

If these billboards are part of a national trend and you tell me that you've seen similar material in other areas, I suppose I might feel a little bit better. Otherwise, I'm can't help feeling completely embarrassed by Mississippi. Well, that and outrage. Differences in political opinion are one thing; blatantly lying with the goal of imposing one's twisted morality on others is simply despicable!

I think I'm going to need to allocate a bit more of my time promoting reason and opposing Christian extremism locally. Not that this will change anything I do here, but I think I need to make time for both.

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September 15, 2008

Impeaching Jesus

Regular readers know that I rarely post videos here. If readers want to know what videos I've been enjoying lately, they can always check out the Atheist Revolution Video Collection. I've never been a fan of video blogging, and nothing causes me to stop following a blog faster than a series of consecutive video posts. Still, some videos just deserve the widest possible audience even if it means making an exception to my distaste for posting videos on this blog. You'll find such a video below.

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Atheist Revolution Begins New Series: The 30 Minute Activist

I think I am going to use my recent post, "Be an Atheist Activist in 30 Minutes a Week," to inspire a new series of posts on atheist activism. I am calling the series "The 30 Minute Activist" to emphasize the point that one can make a significant difference by devoting a mere 30 minutes a week to atheist activism. While our Christian neighbors are wasting time in church, we can do something worthwhile to benefit our fellow atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and freethinkers. After all, effective activism does not have to be complicated or difficult.

The 30 Minute Activist series will providers readers with ideas for the sort of atheist activism that can be accomplished quickly, easily, and cheaply. Similar to my ongoing series of blogging tips, I expect that posts in the new series will each present a single tip or idea regarding atheist activism.

If you want to contact me with ideas for the series, please feel free to do so via e-mail. Just don't forget to tell me how you'd like to be credited. If you have your own blog and want to be a part of this, I am sure we could figure out a way to use trackbacks, links, etc. to facilitate the process.

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September 14, 2008

Christian Politicians

I've encountered more than a few Christians who are convinced that we atheists would like to see a religious test for office that would disqualify any theist from holding office. I suppose it is possible that some atheists feel this way, but I certainly do not. I'm far more interested in doing what the Constitution says we're supposed to. In fact, I have no problem whatsoever with voting for Christian politicians. The problem I have is with those who cannot keep their religious beliefs out of their political decision-making, especially if they are deluded to the point of thinking that they are on some sort of mission from a supernatural entity. Such a delusion should in fact keep people out of office because it renders them unfit to uphold the Constitution.

Sure, I would love to see more atheist politicians. However, I say this not because I necessarily think they would be better leaders but because their presence would help to end anti-atheist bigotry. I have no reason to believe that an average atheist would be a superior politician than an average Christian. The only issue I have with voting for Christian politicians is that I tire of them being my only choice.

The sort of delusion involving a politician believing that his or her acts are divinely inspired absolutely should disqualify one from office. It should have disqualified Bush, and it should disqualify Palin. How can the rest of us possibly expect a leader to listen to his or her constituency when the leader is receiving orders from some god? We can't. Such a leader has no intent of representing anyone. He or she is trapped in the grips of a grandiose delusion.

I recognize that there is a certain gray area inherent in the question of whether one can keep one's religious beliefs out of one's political decision-making. Clearly, the politician must realize that he or she is supposed to represent all citizens and not simply the Christians. In addition, the politician must understand and agree to uphold what the Constitution actually says and not what Christian extremists wish it said. Still, I think there is some room for religiously-derived beliefs and values to shape the manner in which one leads. It is not realistic to expect that a Christian politician leave his or her religion at the door completely. I'm not even sure that would be possible.

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September 13, 2008

Should the News Media be Liable for Promoting Prayer?

Pick any natural disaster over the past 20 years, including Hurricane Ike, and you can observe a common thread in news reporting. In each case, it is relatively easy to find stories in which religious faith in general and prayer in particular are mentioned. Moreover, they are always mentioned in a neutral to positive manner. Imminent danger is bearing down, but the news media will always find someone remaining in the path of danger because they are convinced that their prayers will be answered. Does this sort of uncritical coverage amount to promoting inaction?

Although I believe some interesting questions could be raised about liability in a legal sense, I am focusing on the moral sort of liability here. By covering prayer in the way they do, is the news media implicitly promoting it as a viable coping strategy? If so, do they not share some of the responsibility for the injuries and loss of life that often happen next?

I started thinking about this question after reading a recent post by Stardust at God is for Suckers! The post referenced an article from MSNBC on Hurricane Ike. Stardust calls on the news media to "STOP THIS PRAYER BULLCRAP and encourage people to follow evacuation orders to get the hell out of the storm’s path."

I agree. By describing case after case of people resorting to prayer instead of effective coping skills, the news media is indeed promoting prayer. In doing so, they are endangering people. Prayer is far from harmless, especially as an alternative to action.

For similar stories, see the following:
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September 12, 2008

Thoughts With Texans Today

It seems like this region just had to deal with Hurricane Gustav, and CNN is reporting that Hurricane Ike is closing fast on the Texas coast. Evacuations have been in full swing since yesterday. Now the National Weather Service is waring that Ike brings "certain death" to coastal areas around Galveston. FEMA is rightly concerned about some residents ignoring the warnings due to "hurricane fatigue." This is always a danger during an especially active hurricane season.

I was relieved that Ike veered off the original course that had it heading for Louisiana and Mississippi. Gustav cost Mississippi over $70 million, and I hate to think how that is going to impact an already poor state. The last thing we needed was another blow.

Now that it looks like we'll be safe, my thoughts turn to Texas. I hope that Ike weakens quickly and that residents along the Texas Gulf Coast manage to evacuate safely. Ike is projected to bring major damage. Stay safe, Texas!

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September 11, 2008

Win a Trip to the Galapagos and Support a Great Cause

Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists are holding a raffle where the prize is a trip for 2 to the Galapagos! Even cooler, all proceeds from the raffle are going to sponsor their public science education days, Darwin Day, Constitution Day, and even...Carl Sagan Day! Not only is that a great prize, but it is an opportunity to support an excellent cause. To learn more, visit their website.

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Blogging Tip #11: Combatting Plagiarism

If you maintain a blog long enough, someone will steal your content. Plagiarism happens all the time in the blogosphere. Particularly blatant cases may involve someone simply copying and pasting one of your entire posts. This is problematic even when you are given credit, but it is plagiarism when the thief attempts to pass your writing off as his or her own. Suppose you find someone plagiarizing your content. What can you do about it?

But I've Given You Credit

Before tackling plagiarism (i.e., your content is used without crediting you as the author), we need to address an often misunderstood and even more common practice - reproducing an entire post with credit. You wrote an excellent post last week, one of which you are really proud. You now discover that another blogger, one whose blog received far more traffic than yours, has cut and pasted your entire post, giving you credit at the bottom of the post. You should be happy, right? After all, you are this blogger is giving you credit for your work and hopefully sending some visitors your way.

Not so fast. Yes, the fact that you've been given credit is good. Unfortunately, not everyone who links to this other blogger is going to do so. Imagine a scenario where Blog A reproduces your entire post and credits you. Blog B, a true giant in the niche along the lines of a Pharyngula, now cites material from your Blog A's post (which is your content) but credits Blog A with authorship rather than you.

I experienced something similar to this recently with one of my posts. I am happy to say that both bloggers - the one who copied my entire post and the one who credited the copier but not me - apologized and corrected their posts. I got lucky. What about next time?

You want other bloggers to link to you, and you want them to quote your content. However, you do not (or should not) want them to reproduce your posts in their entirety on their blog. Quoting excerpts, good; copying whole posts, bad.

Protecting Your Content

The key in protecting your content from plagiarism or other undesirable uses (such as reproducing entire posts), is prevention. If you have not already done so, get a free Creative Commons license for your blog and make sure it is displayed. You need to make it clear what others can and cannot do with your content. Next, run periodic checks on how your content is being used with Copyscape. This can help you identify blog plagiarism.

Assuming you find a blog which is using your content in violation of your license, consider the following steps in the order listed (mildest to most severe):
  1. Contact the blogger. Most of the time, the violation is done out of ignorance rather than malice. Be courteous and assume that no harm was intended. Most of the time, this is all that is necessary.
  2. Contact others in the community. The online atheist community is small and tight enough that many of us may be able to help you track down a blogger who has not responded to your queries. If the blogger has not responded in 1 week, consider using Twitter, Friendfeed, or a similar service to ask around to see if anybody knows what is going on. You are not trying to harm anybody's reputation here - you are just looking for current and reliable contact information for the blogger.
  3. Contact the blogger's hosting company. If the previous steps have yielded no results, contact the hosting company of the blogger in question and inform them that there has been a copyright violation.
  4. Contact the blogger's domain registrar. If neither the blogger nor their hosting company will respond in a reasonable amount of time, try contacting the domain registrar.
  5. File abuse and/or duplicate content reports with various search engines. Since this may result in the other blogger getting banned, you do not want to take this lightly.
  6. Get medieval on the blogger's ass. When all the above fails, the gloves come off. File complaints with copyright-related boards such as Intellectual Property, contact the blogger's advertisers, write a post about the situation on your own blog and send it to every social networking site imaginable, and consider pursuing legal action.
For some recommended reading about protecting your content and how to deal with plagiarism of your blog, consult the following:
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September 10, 2008

Action Alert: Does Sarah Palin Speak For You?

Virtually every American atheist blogger I know has been writing about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McSame's VP selection. Heck, a Christian blogger even compiled many atheist reactions to Palin! Initially, it appeared that she was grossly unqualified for the job and that her selection was insulting to women. As more details emerged about Palin, it became clear that she was far worse than unqualified. If you are an atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, freethinker, or other member of the reality-based community eligible to vote in the U.S. election, you owe it to yourself and your country to vote against the McSame/Palin ticket. Even if you like McSame for some inexplicable reason, he age and health make Palin's proximity to the presidency an unacceptable risk.

Why would Palin be so bad for America in general and American atheists in particular? As I have previously explained:
In addition, it appears that Gov. Palin is unable to keep her religious beliefs our of her political role. She seems to view herself as divinely directed in her decisions. We saw the consequences of this mindset in Bush, and we should not be eager to repeat it. Palin is far outside the mainstream, even for evangelical Christians.

Other than voting against her, what else can you do? First, if Sarah Palin does not speak for you, join me in signing this letter from People for the American Way saying so. Next, keep blogging about her and what she would mean for America. Much has been made about how Palin will help rally the Christian extremist base around McSame. Well, Palin can do that for us too - she has already convinced me that this election is far more important than I previously realized.

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September 9, 2008

Be an Atheist Activist in 30 Minutes a Week

Sign of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, ...
Sign of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The links contained in the original post from 2008 were updated in December 2013 and again in July 2015.

Many atheists care deeply about maintaining the separation of church and state, promoting atheist equality, correcting popular misconceptions about atheists, and all sorts of other important goals. The number of worthy causes may even seem overwhelming at times. How can one person with limited time and resources hope to make a meaningful difference? Fortunately, one can be an effective atheist activist by investing merely 30 minutes a week.


Maximizing the impact of a limited time investment requires a little preparation. After all, one must know where best to direct one's efforts. Therefore, I recommend using your first 30 minute period to do the following, each of which will make future efforts even easier:
  1. Install an RSS reader if you do not already have one. There are too many free ones out there to list them all. I am currently using NetNewsWire on OS X and Vienna for cross-platform applications.
  2. Add each of the RSS feeds for your favorite atheist blogs to your reader. Be sure to include: Internet Infidels News WireAmericans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Humanist Association, the Secular Coalition for America, Friendly Atheist, and of course, Atheist Revolution.
  3. Bookmark the following webpages for information of relevant legislative issues and other action alerts: Americans United - Legislative Alerts, Freedom From Religion Foundation - Action Alerts, and Secular Coalition for America - Activism.
  4. Join Reddit (or Voat) and StumbleUpon.
The 30-Minute Activist

Now that you are set up, it is time to figure out how best to use your 30 minutes a week for the good of atheists everywhere. In no particular order, here are several things you can do on a regular basis to benefit the atheist movement:
  1. Vote up good atheist-related material on Reddit (or Voat) and StumbleUpon. If you use Facebook, Google+, and/or Twitter, consider using these platforms to promote atheist content too. This helps others find it, magnifying its influence.
  2. Take action on relevant action alerts you receive. This is typically as simply as making a phone call, signing an on-line petition, or sending a letter to an elected official.
  3. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper and learn how to use your local paper's website effectively.
  4. Learn who your elected officials are, how they vote on issues of importance to atheists, and how to contact them.
  5. Find out if there is a local atheist group in your area.
  6. Give blood.
  7. Learn how to work toward ending anti-atheist bigotry.
  8. Learn how to complain about church-state violations.
Just imagine what could happen if even 25% of atheists wrote one letter to the editor of their local newspaper once a month! We would be impossible to ignore. Atheist activism does not have to be arduous. Together, we can do amazing things in only 30 minutes a week.

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