February 28, 2009

What is the Atheist Stereotype?

Friendly Atheist recently wrote a post asking readers about whether they fit the atheist stereotype. Interesting question except that I'm not sure I know what the stereotype is. He seemed to assume that we would know what he meant because he said no more than "evil, angry, militant, immoral." What exactly is the atheist stereotype, or is this all there is to it?

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Words of Wisdom: Stephen Jay Gould

Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism and is therefore one of the keys to human social and civic decency.
- Stephen Jay Gould in the foreword to Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things.

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February 27, 2009

Dobson Resigns From Focus on the Family

Thanks to Pam's House Blend for this breaking news: It appears that Christian extremist James Dobson has resigned from the board of Focus on the Family. According to the Associated Press:
Dobson has a devoted following. His radio broadcast reaches an estimated 1.5 million U.S. listeners daily. Yet critics say his influence is waning, pointing to evangelicals pushing to broaden the movement's agenda beyond abortion, gay marriage and other issues Dobson views as most vital.
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Need a Christian Extremist Trucking Company?

If you own a business, you probably have a need to ship items. You might use UPS or FedEx to ship small items, but depending on the nature of your business, you might have a need for a trucking company that can handle large time-sensitive loads. Fortunately, there are many trucking companies that would be happy for your business.

But what if you are a Christian extremist who simply cannot do business with anyone who does not share your Christian values and need to proselytize constantly? What if you need a Christian trucking company willing to plaster all their trucks with pro-Jesus slogans? Well, I have good news for you.

Ship with Sam (update: link no longer active, but you can try this one) wants your business, and they "attribute our superior service to an unconditional commitment to our core set of values." Not just any values, mind you, but the sort of Christian values not bothered by using their trucks to proselytize. You see, Ship with Sam is not just a trucking company but a ministry.
Our main focus at Sam Kholi transport is to present to the world that Jesus Christ is lord not a swear word.

If you notice on our trailers you will see the name of Jesus Christ. Our heart yearns for the world to know that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. Hollywood has portrayed a different image, an image that portrays Jesus Christ as trash as a bad word. The Most Holy, the Most Majestic created our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and our mission is to use trucking to spread the word to America and God willing all the way to England.
When a run-of-the-mill Christian trucking company is not nauseatingly evangelical enough, consider Ship with Sam. And for those thinking that this is some sort of hoax, I don't blame you. After all, whoever created their website misspelled the state in which they are based, Montana. However, one of these trucks was recently sighted near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Seriously.

February 26, 2009

Time to Reject the Non-Apology Apology

"I'm sorry." Why is that such a difficult thing to say? It used to be that "I'm sorry" meant that the speaker was remorseful, that he or she regretted something. An apology used to involve taking responsibility for something one had done or said. Granted, we have always questioned the sincerity of many high-profile public apologies, but having to question whether what we heard was actually an apology is a recent phenomenon. As far as this author is concerned, it is also a phenomenon which needs to end.

I see no need to pick on Rupert Murdoch right now. I already have a very low opinion of the man, and the saga of the New York Post cartoon does little to make it any worse. Besides, Murdoch is not the only one do give the non-apology apology; he's simply the latest in a long list of public figures.

Remember, Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago), the anti-atheist bigot who berated activist Rob Sherman on the floor of the Illinois legislature? She too gave a non-apology apology. The media, and even Mr. Sherman, allowed her to get away with it.

Saying that one is sorry if someone was offended is not an apology. It externalizes responsibility for one's behavior and places it on the audience. The person making such an apology is essentially saying, "It is too bad that you are upset." This may be a nice sentiment, but it is not an apology.

As long as we allow public figures to get away with the non-apology apology, they will continue to do so. This is why I hope we do not let Murdoch get away with it.

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February 25, 2009

Tell Ottawa to Allow Atheist Bus Ads

City of OttawaImage via Wikipedia

I happen to think that the atheist bus ads appearing in many major cities around the world are a great idea, and I would like to see even more of them. Unfortunately, some cities have rejected the ads. I am posting the following at the request of a reader from Ottawa, Canada, one such city. It sounds like there is a reasonable chance that they will reconsider the ads if they hear from enough of us. I'm no Pharyngula, but I'd like to bring this to the attention of as many people as I can.

As I am sure you already know, Ottawa, Canada has rejected the "there probably is not god" bus ads. The good news is that City Councillor Alex Cullen will be moving to repeal the decision at the Council's March 11 meeting. I've asked him what I could do to help and he advised contacting the other Council members before the meeting,
asking them to allow the ads to be displayed.

As I am sure you know, the more people we have contacting them, the better. I have already posted on Atheist Nexus, but you have a great deal of readers and would be able to reach far more people than I ever could. I was hoping that you would consider posting about Ottawa's March 11 Council meeting and ask people to contact the Councillors.

Here is a link to the Councillors' contact information:

To make things really easy, I've pulled together all their e-mail addresses:
[email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected]

Thank you very much for considering my request. Here's hoping for good
news on March 12!
I imagine that this is the sort of effort we will need to do more of if we want to see more of these bus ads.

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February 24, 2009

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Health Care

Adequate ventilation has also been regarded as...Image via Wikipedia
Think how much money could be saved if the entire U.S. health care system was dismantled. No more Medicare or Medicaid. No more employer-supported health care for workers. No more expensive hospitals.

Eliminating all health care spending would leave vast sums which could be redirected elsewhere. Taxes could be significantly reduced across the board. Sound like a far-fetched Republican wet-dream? No, we could go way beyond what even the most rabid Republican would want. We could eliminate health care completely - nobody would have access regardless of how much money they had. If this does not sound very appealing, that is because you have not read Time recently.

In the cover story of what can hardly be called a fringe publication, Jeffrey Kluger offers us the following:
Here's what's surprising: a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that faith may indeed bring us health. People who attend religious services do have a lower risk of dying in any one year than people who don't attend. People who believe in a loving God fare better after a diagnosis of illness than people who believe in a punitive God. No less a killer than AIDS will back off at least a bit when it's hit with a double-barreled blast of belief. "Even accounting for medications," says Dr. Gail Ironson, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Miami who studies HIV and religious belief, "spirituality predicts for better disease control."
Why are we continuing to waste money on health care when prayer is free and evidently quite effective? Did I mention that this is a cover story from Time? Why are we spending money on HIV/AIDS research? Granted, we're hardly spending anything, but even the little we are spending could be cut off and replaced with "a double-barreled blast of belief."

And why stop at health care? How come this isn't our economic stimulus package? We could have a faith-based economy! There would be no production costs whatsoever. How about eliminating the military and all defense spending, replacing it all with prayer?

Ladies and gentlemen, if I may indulge one more time: This is a cover story in Time Magazine!!! Does the media have no responsibility for spreading this sort of garbage?

H/T to The New Republic

February 23, 2009

Reaching Out to Atheist College Students

Higher educationImage via Wikipedia

Long-time readers know that I have repeatedly struggled with ways to foster a positive atmosphere for atheist students at the university where I work. I want to provide such students with a safe place where they can find reprieve from the religiously oppressive environment in which we find ourselves. At the same time, I am not particularly interested in going out of my way to alienate the numerous fundamentalists Christian students (and faculty) who walk the same halls of higher learning. I have always been wary of those who use their positions as educators to advance political agendas. The challenge, which remains largely unsolved, is how to provide a welcoming and safe environment for atheist students without alienating the Christians who are equally deserving of a positive learning environment.

You can imagine my delight in seeing that the Chronicle of Higher Education addressed this very topic. Surely I would find some assistance in this highly respected source.

After documenting the need for universities to attend to atheist students, the authors offer some tips for faculty and university administrators:
  • Create a welcoming environment for atheist students.
  • Include atheism in student programming.
  • Ensure that atheists can, like other students, explore their inner development.
  • Create safe spaces that are "atheist only" for students.
  • Look to other institutions for best practices.
  • I appreciate what they are saying, but these recommendations are simply too general to be of much value. What I want to know is how to create a welcoming and safe environment for atheist students. As an individual faculty member, what can I do to help?

    I recognize that many campuses have active groups for atheist students. I would be thrilled to serve as the faculty advisor to such a group, but I am not sure how interested students would even know to approach me about doing so. Clearly, I need to be more open about my atheism at work. I'm willing to do so, but I'm still not quite sure how best to do so.

    H/T to Friendly Atheist

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    February 22, 2009

    How to Select a Psychologist or Counselor: A Guide for Atheists

    Mental Health Awareness Ribbon
    Mental Health Awareness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    I guess it was the title of Friendly Atheist's post ("Can You Avoid Religious Psychologists?") that struck a nerve and prompted this post. As an atheist, it ticks me off when people spread misconceptions about atheists. I suppose as someone with a background in the mental health field, I feel similarly when it comes to my profession.

    The good news is that it is much more difficult to find a psychologist, counselor, or other mental health professional who will push religion on his or her clients than it is one who would never dream of doing so. That said, it is important that atheists seeking a mental health provider are able to find one with whom they will feel comfortable. In this post, I will use Friendly Atheist's post as a springboard for sharing some tips on selecting a mental health provider.

    February 21, 2009

    Antidote to Irrationality: The Southern Skeptical Society

    New Orleans, December 2004Image by K.Caylor via Flickr

    The Southeastern U.S. is a hotbed of Christian extremism, and many Southern states have shown little interest in adequately funding education. What are those of us in the region to do if we are interested in overcoming irrationality, promoting science education, and strengthening the wall of separation between church and state? In short, we need to organize, cat herding metaphor be damned.

    I am happy to report that efforts are underway to create the Southern Skeptical Society, a group from Southeast Mississippi to Orlando, Florida, interested in supporting science and reason in the Southern U.S. The group is now in its infancy, but the organizer is trying to spread the word and stimulate interest. Plans include acquiring a web domain name and obtaining non-profit status. In the meantime, those on facebook can find them at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=51753147667.

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    February 20, 2009

    If Prayer Worked...

    When someone claims that prayer works, the first thing we should ask is what the speaker means by "works" in this context. If I say that prayer works because engaging in prayer makes me feel better, I may be right to claim that it works. However, this is not usually what the religious claim. Instead, they want to posit something supernatural in between the prayer and my feeling better. They want to claim that their god(s) intervened in some manner. They are also rarely content to limit the efficacy of prayer to simply making someone feel temporarily better. But does even the most devout religious person really believe that their prayers bring about divine intervention? Their behavior certainly suggests otherwise.

    Unreasonable Faith uses a recent comment in which the central question is framed for a nurse:
    Now I’d like to ask you a question… why did you go through all the necessary medical training if you believe that prayer can heal people?
    I have certainly blogged about this many times before, as has nearly every other atheist blogger with whom I am familiar. Still, I continue to find it a fascinating question. May that is because I have yet to hear a religious person answer sufficiently. (None of the following are sufficient answers: "God works in mysterious ways," "God helps those who help themselves," or "I don't claim to know the mind of god." Meaningless cliches? Yes. Sufficient responses? No).

    The question can be phrased a variety of ways:
    • If you believe in prayer, why do you have insurance?
    • If you believe in prayer, why do you invest?
    • If you believe in prayer, why do you have a burglar alarm?
    • If you believe in prayer, why do you see a doctor?
    The crux of the question is simple: If you truly believe that prayer works - works in the sense that your god intervenes in your life - why do you not behave as if you believed it?

    If "prayer works" means nothing other than the act of praying makes me feel better, I do not disagree. But if it means anything more than that, then those advocating the wonders of prayer should have no need for the reality-based alternatives to which they cling. And if it does not always work, work completely, or only works on the small matters, then what does this say about your god?

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    February 17, 2009

    Embarrassed For Humanity

    Embarrassed womanLate last month, Bligbi wrote a great post titled "What century do we live in again?" (update: link no longer active). I don't know about you, but I find myself asking this question every time I open a paper, watch a news program on TV, or get my fix of news from multiple sources on the Internet. Increasingly, I find myself feeling embarrassed for humanity. I know we can do better than this, and I am becoming increasingly impatient that we refuse to do so.

    Here are a couple examples of what I'm talking about:
    I think that we can do better. 

    February 16, 2009

    Are Atheists Too Comfortable For Activism?

    Bund rally, 1917Image via Wikipedia

    I received some good comments on my recent letter to President Obama about including non-believers. One in particular got me thinking about the atheist movement, especially atheist activism and some of the challenges to such activism. Anton, a regular commenter, noted,
    Unfortunately, I don't see anything on the horizon and since most North American Atheists are still in the closet, I would imagine any advancements will take at least 25 years after the gays obtain their "rights". They are more active while Atheists are too comfortable.
    I think he's right. In many ways, we are too comfortable. This goes a long way toward explaining the somewhat pitiful state of atheist activism.

    It is not my intention to demean the efforts of atheist activists. Such activism is clearly needed, has accomplished much, and will continue to be an important force for promoting atheist equality. No, I applaud all who are engaged in activism to promote reality-based education, protect the separation of church and state, and help people escape the clutches of religious delusion.

    The problem is not the activists or what they do; the problem is that there aren't enough of them. Maybe we are too comfortable. The activist speaks out, takes a stand, and seeks change. This entails some level of risk. Many atheists are content to keep quiet and refrain from stirring the pot. They would rather maintain the status quo than risk activism.

    If we think of this as sort of a balance sheet, we could say that the perceived costs of activism exceed the expected benefits. Remaining silent and avoiding activism keep us where we are, but for a great many people, this isn't so bad.

    What this suggests is that there are a couple of paths to increasing atheist activism. One involves reducing the perceived costs of activism. By making activist efforts easier, more are likely to adopt them. The other path involves amplifying the perceived costs of doing nothing. By informing atheists about the limits to atheist equality, we seek to make apathy less tolerable.

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    February 15, 2009

    Plagued With Disrespectful Comments

    The "report" feature of Intense Debate is a useful way for readers to notify the blogger of objectionable comments (e.g., those that violate the blogger's comment policy). When a reader reports a comment, the blogger is notified via e-mail and can then check out the complaint. It is not used very often here because it is rarely necessary, but when necessary, it can be quite helpful. In fact, a reader reported a comment just yesterday. It was reported on the grounds that it was "disrespectful," but that is not why I am writing this post. I am writing this post because the "disrespectful" comment reported to me was written by...um...me.

    I guess I'm just a disrespectful bastard, but you already knew that, didn't you? Here was my comment - the one which was reported:
    You'll get no disagreement here about Islam. It has no evidence to support its claims and is clearly a destructive force in the world. I don't speak for all atheists, but I choose to address Christianity because I live in an environment where I am surrounded by Christian extremists. If I lived in Iran, I would undoubtedly focus on Islam. One of the crucial points I try to get across on this blog is that Christianity is no less absurd than any other religion.
    And here is what the reader had to say about why this comment was being reported:
    "Islam is clearly a destructive force in the world" and the word "absurd" about Christianity. nnI am a religious person. think these comments are disrepectful. I have no objects with the author of the article as one can make his or her argument in a respectful manner.nAsh
    Getting past the typos and spelling errors, the crux of the objection appears to be my characterization of Islam as "destructive" and my application of the word "absurd" to Christianity. You can tell this is a new reader, can't you? The reader agrees to allow me to make my argument as long as I do so in a respectful manner. How gracious!

    I have said it before and I'll say it again: irrational and destructive beliefs deserve no respect. In fact, those of us concerned about humanity are obligated to speak out against them. Christianity, Islam, and the other major religions are irrational and yes, absurd. They would be the mere objects of mockery if they were not so harmful.

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    February 14, 2009

    Right-Wing Hate

    Lest there be any doubt regarding what motivated Jim Adkisson to shoot up the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church last year, that doubt can now be erased. You may recall that police found hate literature by Savage, Hannity and O'Reilly in Adkisson's home. Now Adkisson, serving a life sentence, has provided a manifesto in which he not only indicated that he was motivated to kill liberals but also called for a violent right-wing revolution.

    From Adkisson's manifesto:

    Know this if nothing else: This was a hate crime. I hate the damn left-wing liberals. There is a vast left-wing conspiracy in this country & these liberals are working together to attack every decent & honorable institution in the nation, trying to turn this country into a communist state. Shame on them....
    These are the views expressed by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and other right-wing media celebrities. Millons of Americans rely on these sources as their only source of news and political commentary. Be afraid.

    H/T to Pam's House Blend

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    February 13, 2009

    Plane Crash in Buffalo

    Aerial view of Buffalo, New York, USA, on the ...Image via Wikipedia

    I woke up this morning to news of a bad plane crash in Buffalo, NY. I suspect we will hear quite a bit about it during today's new cycle. It is already being contrasted with the "miracle" on the Hudson. Does this mean that the families of those who died in the crash will wonder why Jesus didn't bother to save their loved ones? This is a truly sad state of affairs, and my thoughts are with the families today. I hope that they can find some consolation in the reality that there was no divine intervention in either case.

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    February 12, 2009

    Darwinism is Not a Religion

    Charles DarwinImage by Colin Purrington via Flickr

    Why is it that people even refer to "Darwinism" in the first place? Nobody calls those of us who believe in gravity "Newtonians," or...well, you get the point. The word "Darwinism" is nothing more than a weak attempt by creationists or those who have been misled by creationists to disparage evolution. They know that opposing the foundation of modern biology is likely to raise questions about their grasp on reality, so they manufacture controversy and pretend that evolutionary theory, which they equate with Darwin, is somehow controversial. It does not bother them that evolution is not controversial in the scientific community. They are quite content to ignore facts that get in the way of their religious beliefs. And their worst accusation of all...that we who accept the reality of evolution are just like them (i.e., religious).

    Darwin was tremendously influential, and his fingerprints remain all over modern biology. Along with his predecessors, he gave us concepts without which contemporary biological sciences could not exist (e.g., natural selection). His lasting contributions deserve respect and admiration. In fact, if I may be so bold as to suggest it, they deserve to be taught in science classrooms across the world.

    But if there is one thing Darwin was not, it is divine. There is nothing magic, sacred, or holy about his theory. It is firmly grounded in reality and has the full strength of science behind it. Darwin provided us with a scientific theory, not a religion.

    Those who accept the reality of evolution go by many names - "scientists," "informed consumers of science," "educated people," etc. Calling them "Darwinists" does little more than shine a spotlight on the idiocy of the speaker.

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    February 11, 2009

    Tale of a Good Christian

    Christian Atheism - Happiness in a bad worldImage by David Maddison via Flickr

    I attended a Christian college not because I was Christian at the time (I was far more public about my atheism then as compared to now) but because the school had a great reputation in the region. I encountered my share of religiously-motivated bigotry, certainly more than I would have at one of the state universities in the area, but this ended up being good preparation for life in Mississippi. In fact, there is not much I would change about the experience. It wasn't always pleasant, but it helped to make me who I am today. In this post, I'd like to tell you about a particularly outstanding Christian professor who I admired and respected a great deal. If nothing else, this may serve as a reminder that even devout Christians can be wonderful teachers and good people.

    The professor in question had his appointment in the departments of philosophy and held degrees in both religion and philosophy. The course I took with him was an upper-level philosophy course, the philosophy of religion. I ended up minoring in philosophy after being unable to figure out what I would do with a philosophy major.

    I went into the course as a fairly rabid anti-theist with a chip on my shoulder. I suppose I expected to be penalized for expressing what I really thought about religion. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Well, that's not entirely accurate. You see, I did take plenty of shit from the other students, nearly all of whom were Christians. But the professor was nothing but accepting, encouraging, and genuinely helpful.

    As we studied the various arguments for and against the existence of gods, focusing on classic and contemporary Christian apologists, the professor was clear about what he believed but equally clear that we were to arrive at our own conclusions. He never preached or attempted to impose his beliefs. Students were expected to wrestle with the material and critically evaluate it.

    In hindsight, this was probably my favorite class from my time in college. It was quite difficult, both intellectually and emotionally, because it forced us to fully engage the material. I saw more than a couple Christian students break down and cry in class when one of their cherished arguments was effectively demolished. I remained an atheist but certainly became more thoughtful and mature about my atheism.

    Best of all, I experienced support and guidance from someone who clearly did not agree with me but was nevertheless committed to helping me. Whenever I am tempted to lump all Christians together and apply categorical statements, I recall this professor as the exception that shatters my stereotype.

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    February 10, 2009

    Investing in Infrastructure is a Matter of National Security

    Electric power transmissionImage via Wikipedia
    Now that Republicans have decided not to support President Obama's economic stimulus plan, I sincerely hope he will dump the corporate tax breaks and beef up infrastructure spending considerably. It is increasingly difficult for me to imagine how anyone can oppose infrastructure spending, especially in an economic climate where job creation seems to be so important. I think that part of the problem is the failure by those promoting infrastructure spending to frame it as an issue of national security. Then again, it might be easier to pass infrastructure spending bills if fewer people seemed so eager to use catastrophic failures of infrastructure to find "miracles."

    The condition our infrastructure in the U.S. is terrible. Few would deny this, so the debate centers on the price tag. And yes, restoring our infrastructure will be expensive. Still, we must remember that the cost is as high as it is because of decades of neglect.

    When one considers that millions in Kentucky were without power following the sort of winter storm that happens with some regularity, one starts to perceive the national security implications. Suppose terrorists, foreign or domestic, were to take out a key power grid. Residents would be without electricity (which often means heat and/or air conditioning as well as communication) and safe drinking water. Understaffed and poorly equipped power companies would do the best they could to restore services, but a clever enough attack could prolong their efforts considerably.

    My power goes out at least weekly. The reported culprit is almost always wind, and this is not known as a particularly windy part of the country. It never stays off for more than a couple hours, but I am consistently amazed that we still rely on above-ground power lines. I'm no engineer, but I assume the barrier to widespread adoption of weather-resistant solutions is primarily one of cost. But if a little wind can knock out power for several hours, how vulnerable are we to someone wanting to harm us?

    Part of any good defense strategy involves target hardening. It seems to be that making dramatic improvements to our infrastructure would be an excellent example of such a strategy. Best of all, spending on infrastructure would create new jobs and provide a substantial boost to the economy. Unfortunately, it seems that widespread recognition of these facts just might require a "miracle."

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    February 9, 2009

    Guest Post: Getting Involved

    Image representing Meetup as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

    One of my readers, Doc, thought I might be receptive to some guest posts as I bog down with work. Man, was he right! If you don't have your own blog and feel like writing a guest post here, feel free to do so.

    Doc's guest post, which you will find below, deals with how to get involved in the atheist community. Not only did he contribute a great post, but he also nailed one of my pet topics! Bravo, Doc!

    Getting Involved

    There's a great little site on the web that helps put people of like minds together. Its called Meetup and I hope some of you can take advantage of how it can put you in touch with our growing atheist movement. Groups are easy to gather by using the on site search features (which happily includes categories of interest called "atheist" and "agnostic").

    Starting up a new group is very affordable if none is already established near your home town. A recent success of forming an atheist group just happened this month in the city of Joplin Missouri. The group calls itself Joplin Freethinkers and they've formed themselves into an overnight society of nineteen non-religious citizens - all happy to get together and share their common bonds of baby-eating and Hell-bound godlessness. In addition, their group then successfully linked up with another nearby group, Four State Atheists, which includes members from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. WOW.

    I hope you can already see the upside that browsing Meetup.com could provide to the causes of secular growth. If you happen to be disaffected or disconnected form other non-believers, this site is for you. Getting personally involved is the key to forming the kind of world we're all hopeful to see.

    Thanks for reading Atheist Revolution.

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    February 8, 2009

    Time for Some Blog Carnivals

    There is a 2 for 1 special on atheistic reading today. The 110th edition of Carnival of the Godless is up at The Greenbelt, and A Superfluous Ramble is hosting Humanist Symposium #32 (update: link no longer active). Talk about an incentive for getting my work done as quickly as possible!

    February 7, 2009

    Atheist Revolution Post Frequency To Decline

    Archaelogical sites of Chichén-Itzá in Yucatán...Image via Wikipedia

    I've been busier at work than any previous time I can recall, and I have finally reached the conclusion that something has to give. I have been protecting my blogging time as long as I possibly can, but I can do so no longer. Don't worry - I'm not abandoning Atheist Revolution or anything drastic like that. However, I have decided to scale back the daily posting schedule I have been employing here for quite some time. I plan to post an average of one post every other day for the foreseeable future. I think this is doable and should give me back some desperately needed time. Thanks for understanding and continuing to visit.

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    February 6, 2009

    Christian Terrorist Strikes in Colorado

    Małe Ciche, wyciąg narciarskiImage via Wikipedia

    Given that their bible commands Christians to kill non-believers, I suppose we atheists should consider ourselves quite lucky that this sort of thing does not happen more often. Sadly, there is nothing unusual about religiously-motivated murder. What makes this case out of Colorado noteworthy is that the gunman was quoted by witnesses as saying, "If you're not a Christian, you're going to die" as he opened fire.

    Eldora manager Brian Mahon, fatally wounded by the gunman, identified himself as Catholic. Evidently, the shooter did not consider this sufficiently Christian.

    Gunman Derik Bonestroo may have been many things. He may have been emotionally disturbed. But it seems that one thing is clear: he was a Christian terrorist.

    H/T to Antimattr

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    February 5, 2009

    Strengthening the Separation of Church and State

    Constantine's Conversion, depicting the conver...Image via WikipediaIt is time once again to revisit the platform on which I have been working gradually. In addition to (1) ending anti-atheist bigotry and (2) promoting reason and critical thinking, I am now ready to add the third plank: strengthening the separation of church and state. Although I suspect most readers of this blog will agree that this is an important goal, I also expect that some of you may disagree sharply with at least one aspect of what I will say below.

    An American Tradition

    Students of history know that the U.S. was founded as a secular democracy and that the importance of church-state separation was recognized by our founders. That is not to say that the decision to eschew a national religion was without controversy. And yet, is was no accident that the U.S. Constitution omitted any mention of gods.

    That we have no national religion should be a source of pride. This is one of the central factors which distinguishes the U.S. from other Western democracies. The separation of church and state remains an important part of our national heritage.

    Keeping Religion Out of Government

    Separation of church and state means that the government is not allowed to establish a state religion. Moreover, it has typically been interpreted as prohibiting the government from elevating the status of one religion over others (or even religion itself over no religion).

    When atheists receive public attention, it is most often for our efforts to have religious symbols removed from government property. Religious believers often view this as trivial meddling with tradition, but it is about protecting the Constitution and defending our American heritage.

    The nativity scene in the public library or the Ten Commandments in the courthouse are problematic not because we want to abolish religion but because these are government buildings which are not supposed to show preference to any one religion. Either all sets of beliefs are represented or none are.

    Keeping Government Out of Religion

    What atheists do not spend nearly enough time talking about is the importance of keeping government out of religion as well. If we are serious about preserving the separation of church and state, we must educate religious believers about the perils of merging the two with regard to the harm sustained by religion.

    It is for this reason that I think many of my colleagues in the atheist blogosphere might be mistaken to call for churches to be taxed. I understand that this would cause many churches to go out of business, and I agree that this would be a positive outcome. However, taxing churches would remove any prohibition on their politicking. As long as we refuse to organize ourselves to provide an effective counter to what they do, I think we better tread carefully here.

    What Can We Do?

    I suspect we could come up with a hundred ideas for preserving the separation of church and state fairly easily. Here are just a few:

    • Join a national organization dedicated to promoting church-state separation, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation or Americans United for Separation of Church and State. For some of the bigger cases, attorneys and lobbyists are necessary. These groups need our support.
    • Get involved at the local level. When you encounter violations of church-state separation in your community, act. Ask questions, complain, write a letter to the editor, contact your elected officials, alert your fellow bloggers, etc. Our inaction often serves as implicit agreement that the violation is not important.
    • Educate yourself and others about church-state issues.
    • Connect with other church-state activists in your community.
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    February 4, 2009

    Christian Extremists Support School Bullying

    Image taken by me on March 5, 2007.Image via Wikipedia

    It must be difficult to be a Christian extremist parent in 2009. First, those pesky public schools actually want to educate your children in science so they'll be able to compete in an increasingly complex job market. Second, some dare to teach method of sex education which have been shown to be...(gasp)...effective, instead of simply preaching "don't do it." And now, some schools have the nerve to realize that bullying detracts from the learning conducive environment they are trying to foster. What is a good Christian extremist parent to do? Oppose measures to reduce bullying, of course.

    Evidently, last week's No Name-Calling Week was too much for some Christian extremist parents to swallow. Homosecular Gaytheist brings us the story of Linda Harvey from Mission America who is upset over efforts to reduce school bullying. The source of Ms. Harvey's displeasure is that reducing bullying interferes with the fundamental right of Christian children to spread anti-gay hatred and bigotry at their schools. You see, in Ms. Harvey's world, refraining from hurling homophobic insults at one's peers amounts to condoning the dreaded homosexual lifestyle.

    Over at Friendly Atheist, Hemant shows us that Ms. Harvey has some company among the Christian extremist ranks. He brings us the story of Christian attorney, Brad Dacus, who echoes Ms. Harvey's fears about anti-bullying measures. In fact, Mr. Dacus is convinced that children prevented from bullying one another just might grow up tolerant. The horror!
    They're promoting, all the way down to the first-grade level, children to read and be exposed to books and material that is pro-homosexual -- and it's all under the guise of opposing name-calling.
    The truly mind-blowing part of this is that both Ms. Harvey and Mr. Dacus believe that by trying to reduce anti-gay bigotry, the schools are actually denigrating their religion. According to Dacus:
    The alleged homosexual kids are not the only ones being bullied. There's [sic] kids of faith being called 'homophobic' and 'homophobe,' and yet those words and that name-calling is not under attack and is not being addressed by this alleged week of tolerance that's being pushed.
    By labeling intolerance as intolerant, the schools are opposing Dacus and Harvey's brand of hate-based Christianity. Where is the outrage from Christians who do not want their religion equated with hatred and bigotry?

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    February 3, 2009

    Letter to Obama: Stop Excluding Non-Believers

    President Obama's acknowledgment that we non-believers exist was a small but positive step, even if the inauguration as a whole felt like way too much of a godfest. It is time to encourage the Obama administration to take another important step. What follows is a letter I am sending to President Obama at the suggestion of Atheist Ethicist. I have modeled it closely on Alonzo's letter but attempted to give it my voice as well.

    Dear President Obama:

    Like millions of Americans, I was happy to hear you acknowledge non-believers in your inaugural address. It was nice to be recognized as a worthwhile part of this great nation. I am writing both to thank you for including us and to ask you to consider taking another important step to signal that you value the contribution of all Americans.

    You have held many events where people of faith have come together to discuss their visions of America, both through informal discussions and religious services. You have provided them with forums for sharing their views and their values, but have not included non-religious Americans.

    Regardless of your intention, this exclusion communicates that atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and freethinkers have little to offer in crafting a vision of America. It suggests that your administration considers values to be the exclusive purview of the religious community. We non-believers are also stakeholders in the future of our country, and we have much to contribute. We should be included in discussions of American values.

    As a secular democracy, our government has no business promoting faith-based events. However, events focused around values which include representatives from the various faith communities and from communities of non-believers would be an effective solution. Everyone would benefit from such an inclusive gathering, religious and non-religious alike.

    I hope you will cease to promote events which cater to religious believers while excluding non-believers and instead embrace an inclusive approach. This would send a powerful message that you value the input of all Americans and could do wonders in bringing diverse groups together in pursuit of common goals.

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    February 2, 2009

    Eroding Christian Privilege in New Jersey

    Map of New JerseyImage via WikipediaJust when I was feeling discouraged, Austin Cline is there with some good news out of New Jersey to cheer me up. It seems that the town council of Newton, NJ, is going to abandon their 60-year practice of opening meetings with an explicitly Christian prayer all because an atheist complained. The atheist's complaint apparently promoted the council's attorney to investigate the matter. Sure enough, the sectarian prayer was in violation of the law. Rather than risk losing a lawsuit, the council wisely decided to drop the prayer.

    As Austin points out, the good news in this case is tainted with the realization that the Newton town council knew full well that they were in violation of the law and would have been content to continue to ignore it had this brave atheist not complained. This is Christian privilege plain and simple.

    Let this case be a reminder to all: when you see something that clearly violates separation of church and state, do something about it. Failing to do so only allows Christian privilege to persist. As Austin tells us:
    Naturally all of this upsets many Christians because they don't like not being able to dominate society. It is, however, a situation they are going to have to get used to because non-Christians in America will not be willing to return to a second-class status. Christianity must cease to be a privileged class of beliefs, institutions, traditions, and people just as "male" and "white" must cease to be privileged classes in America. It will take a long time for this process to be complete, but it must happen.
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    February 1, 2009

    Prayer on Super Bowl Sunday

    The final play of Super Bowl XLIII
    The final play of Super Bowl XLIII (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    Today is Super Bowl Sunday in the good ole' U.S. of A. My favorite team is not playing in the game. I do like the Steelers and generally root for them, but I think it is cool that the Cardinals defied expectations by making it this far. I'd probably cheer them on in today's game if I didn't know what I knew about Kurt Warner. Now I'm not sure I really care who wins. Maybe I'll watch some of the game, and maybe not. I haven't decided yet. I bring up the Super Bowl again because I have not stopped thinking about yesterday's post on the subject of faith in football. I'd like to continue with that subject in this post.

    In a nation as nauseatingly religious at the U.S., it is only natural that sports and faith would blend. My neighbors pray for everything which they regard as being of any consequence, so why not include victories by their favorite football team?

    Players and fans who pray for victory are sometimes mocked for wasting their god's time. Does their god not have more important things on which to focus? Some go so far as to argue that there is something truly sick about focusing one's prayers on the outcome of a football game when people all over the world are starving and being killed in armed conflicts.

    Then again, praying for desirable outcomes of sporting events makes more sense in some respects than other sorts of prayers. Take today's game as an example. As time runs out, we will have one of two outcomes: a win for the Cardinals or a win for the Steelers. No other outcome is possible. This means that prayers expended on the outcome of the game have a much better chance of being granted than normal.

    Of course, the prayers will not actually be granted, as there is nothing to grant them. But that isn't what matters here. What matters is that a sizable number of people who pray for their desired outcome will receive their desired outcome, strengthening their tendency to pray in the future.

    In many ways, I think that the typical Christian is much smarter than most atheists give him or her credit for being. The Christian can pray for peace in the Middle East, winning the lottery, the end of global poverty, or some other unlikely event all he or she wants. It is not going to happen. At some level, I think that many Christians are aware of this. They may indulge in such prayers because doing so eases their guilt, but they do not really expect divine intervention on matters of consequence. This is why we rarely see truly faith-based investing, medicine, national defense, and the like.

    If Christians are going to be somewhat choosy about what they ask of their god, why not ask the things that are likely to happen anyway? This maintains faith and wards off the creeping realization that the whole enterprise is a sham.