June 30, 2009

Atheist Billboard in Fort Lauderdale

Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists (FLASH) has erected a billboard in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Here is what the group had to say in a recent press release:
This is the start of a campaign to counter the negative image portrayed of "non-believers". Many people would be surprised to find out that some of the nicest, most honest people they know are secretly atheist, and agnostic. One in 6 Americans claims no religious affiliation. That number would most likely increase if it were not for family and social pressures.
Anyone wanting to know more about the group can reach them at [email protected].

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What Michael Jackson Can Teach Us About the Catholic Church

Michael Jackson at the Cannes film fe...
Michael Jackson at the Cannes film festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
From what I have seen on CNN lately, the death of Michael Jackson appears to be the story of the year. I watched with a sense of building disgust as they rolled out some "singer-songwriter" I didn't recognize and asked her about Jackson's message. In what just has to be a new low point for CNN, she replied, "Well, I did not know him personally, but..." and then proceeded to offer up some drivel about his message to the world. That was when I turned off the TV, picked up The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, and went to bed to read until I fell asleep. I now believe that there is at least one lesson we should take from Jackson's life, and it involves the Catholic Church.

Those of us who remember the birth of MTV remember what Jackson did for the network and for popular music itself. Along with everyone I knew at the time, I had a copy of Thriller and listened to it constantly. I tuned in to see Jackson during his various appearances at award shows, his videos, etc. He was so damn cool.

June 29, 2009

Carnival of the Godless #120 at (((Billy))) the Atheist

CoG #120 is up at (((Billy))) the Atheist. Now I'm really wishing it wasn't Monday so I had more time to read it now. I guess that is what browser bookmarks are for. Check it out.

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What Does the Bible Say About Mark Sanford?

One of the common claims I have heard about the Christian bible is that it provides an excellent guide for living. Even though it was written a long time ago, many believers consider it to have been divinely inspired and thus timeless. It is only natural, then, that we would look to the Christian bible in times of tribulation. What wisdom does the Christian bible offer in the case of Gov. Mark Sanford's (R-SC) extramarital affair?

Put yourself in the shoes of the core Republican base for a moment. As a proud bible-believing "family values" conservative, you were dismayed to learn of Sanford's sin. You know that he will be seen as a hypocrite and that this sort of publicity hardly helps your party. Moreover, you feel personally betrayed by Sanford because he seemed to speak from the heart when promoting your shared values. He spoke your language, and you were convinced that he was one of the good ones, a true believer like yourself. It is perfectly natural that you would feel betrayed.

As an evangelical Christian, you are used to finding strength in your bible when you most need it. So what does your bible say on the subject of Gov. Sanford, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), and so many others? According to Leviticus 20:10,
And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
As State of Protest (update: blog no longer active) recently pointed out, Sanford had better hope that nobody takes his repeated references to "god's law" or his efforts to violate separate of church and state too seriously. Note to Sanford and Ensign: Stay the hell away from any future Palin rallies!

Of course, neither Gov. Sanford nor Sen. Ensign deserve death. But they do deserve to be labeled hypocrites. And the bible-believing "family values" conservatives? They deserve a therapeutic dose of reality.

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June 28, 2009

Must-See Video on Militant Atheism

I've never cared for video-only posts. You know, the ones where the blogger gets lazy and posts nothing except an embedded YouTube clip. For me to do so, I've got to be convinced that every one of my readers really needs to see the clip in question. Not many clips rise to that standard, but I think I just found one that does.

I've written previously about how there is no such thing as militant atheism. This video provides a different and very effective take on the subject. It deserves to be seen and shared.

H/T to EXchristian.net

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Ecto 3: A Brief Review for Blogger Users

I have been playing with the Mac version of Ecto 3 for a couple weeks now. After investing several hours into not only using the application but also reading all available documentation, I thought I'd share my thoughts. I've been using Ecto with Blogger, so this review will be most useful to those of you with Blogger blogs. However, those using other platforms may still find something of value.

I came to Ecto after reading many glowing reviews. Again and again, Ecto was described as the best desktop blog editor available for the Mac. I downloaded the 21-day trial and have been putting Ecto through its paces.

What Do I Like?

The main reason to consider a tool like Ecto is that it makes it easier to write blog posts when one is not connected to the Internet. For me, this is not a big deal because I rarely do this. However, I can see how valuable this would be if I was traveling regularly. In such a situation, I am fairly sur01328_cannonbeach_2560x1600.jpge I would want an application like this.

The clean interface has grown on me, and I do like the Rich Text editor. The built in integration of Amazon and Flickr (now that I've managed to get the Flickr part working) are really nice touches. Not only is it easy to add my own photos from Flickr, but I can search all of Flickr by photo tags. Some of the image setting features are nice (i.e., being able to specify margins, float settings, and padding around the image). They do take awhile to learn, but it is clear that they are more powerful than I initially thought.

I also like how easily Ecto handles multiple blogs. It allows me to set general settings and blog-specific settings. Users with multiple blogs will find this valuable.

What Do I Not Like?

One of the first problems I encountered with Ecto was that there does not appear to be any way to replicate Blogger's post template functions. I have this set up in Blogger to do two things. First it contains the code to allow peek-a-boo posts. Since I can find no way to get Ecto to do this, I'd have to add the code manually to every post. Second, it contains the code to include the reminder to subscribe to my RSS feed at the bottom of every post. You'll see that I added that manually at the bottom of this post, but the point is, I had to do it manually.


Aside from the Flickr integration mentioned above, I am not crazy about how Ecto handles images. While it couldn't be any easier to get an image into a post, positioning it where one wants it is an entirely different matter. Of course, one can always move the image to the desired location in the source HTML, but being able to dragging it to the proper location in the text editor would be so nice. When one moves the picture around, the text which was repositioned to accommodate it, does not always return to where it was and has to be adjusted. I was also surprised that there weren't any options to add effects to images. Live Writer does this well, and this seems like a major oversight for Ecto not to include anything along these lines.

The primarily flaw with Ecto 3 concerns the documentation. This is not the most intuitive application, and the "extensive documentation" the developers claim is built into the Help menu is anything but extensive. Although Ecto 3 has been out for roughly a year, virtually all of the supplemental how-to material I could find on the Internet was based on an older version with a very different interface. In other words, it really wasn't of any value.

Ecto does have a support forum, but most of the entries you'll find there are old. Those providing the support do not seem to be particularly responsive. Worst of all, each time I tried to start a new thread to ask one of my many questions that had not previously been asked, I was treated to an error message.

Blogger-Specific Problems

Unfortunately, Ecto 3 suffers from at least one problem which appears to be specific to Blogger: extra spacing between paragraphs will appear unless one changes a setting in Blogger. This sounds like a minor problem except that as soon as one changes the setting in Blogger (i.e., Convert Line Breaks = No), all posts written prior to using Ecto will have their spacing messed up. If this is a new blog with only a handful of posts, this could be fixed fairly easily. For established blogs, it cannot realistically be fixed.

What this means is that one is likely to be stuck with Ecto's extra paragraph spacing on Blogger (you are seeing what that looks like in this post). Only you can decide whether this is a deal-breaker for you.

Although I am not 100% sure that this problem is specific to Blogger, I will mention it here as well because I have not seen it reported elsewhere. Whenever I publish with Ecto, I receive an error message about invalid HTML. It appears that ecto is somehow pulling text from my RSS feed and trying to add it to the end of the post. Fortunately, it will work if I just hit "ignore," but nothing I have tried will stop this error from occurring.

Lastly, it does not appear that there is any way to implement Technorati tags on Blogger blogs with ecto.


As much as I want to like Ecto 3 and as often as I keep coming back to play around with it, I have a hard time recommending it to those who use Blogger and are not just starting their blogs (so that the paragraph spacing being wrecked on previous posts would not be an issue). All other issues aside, I think I'd be tempted to stick with it if it wasn't for that problem, especially if I regularly wanted to write posts while not connected to the Internet.

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June 27, 2009

Idiot of the Week: Patricia McKinney

Idiocy may be growing in popularity these days, but that does not mean that particularly dramatic examples should be highlighted. That is exactly what happens right here in the Idiot of the Week series. A new "winner" is named each Saturday.

This week was a hard call that nearly ended in a tie. As soon as I heard about the "gay exorcism" conducted by Manifested Glory Ministries Church, I knew it would be tough to beat. But then I saw the press release issued by Dr. Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission. Not only did he side with the exorcist, but he tried to turn it into a question of racism:
White homosexual activists who demand tolerance for their sexual sin have no right to defame black Christians for practicing their Constitutional religious liberty.
As tough as it was, I had to go with McKinney in the end. After all, she's the one claiming to to be some sort of prophet:
We are a spiritual church. I am an in-time prophet. I declare the word of the Lord. And all’s I’m doing [sic] is the work of the Lord. We’re not coming up against the gay community, we’re not coming up against homosexuality…
And then, there's the CNN interview.

A Christian pastor in 2009 trying to cast out demons is something that each of us should ponder, Christian and atheist alike. Exorcism was widely used as a "treatment" for mental illness during the Middle Ages. Most of humanity recognized the cruelty and absurdity of the method long ago. Then again, most people recognize that homosexuality is not something that needs "treatment."

H/T to ZackFord Blogs

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June 26, 2009

Why Do Christians Want Health Insurance?

Blood testing in a medical facility in Ethiopia.Image via Wikipedia
It was almost a year ago that I unveiled my health care plan. Now that the Obama administration is moving ahead on their own plan for reforming American health care, I have a good excuse to revisit it. Instead of merely rehashing it, I'd like to use it to inquire into whether most Christians really believe what they often claim to believe.

Do Christians Really Believe What They Claim to Believe?

One of the things that has always bugged me about Christians is that there often seems to be a massive discrepancy between what they claim to believe and how they behave. Health care offers an excellent example of what I am talking about. For the Christians who claim to believe that they have a personal relationship with Jesus and are cared for by a benevolent god, why do they need health insurance? Why avail themselves of modern medicine at all? Shouldn't prayer be sufficient?

An obvious explanation is that the Christians who take advantage of medical treatment do not actually believe what they claim to believe. They may say that they are content to trust their god, etc., but their use of the health care system suggests otherwise.

I can accept such an explanation (i.e., that many Christians do not actually believe what they often claim to believe). In fact, I find it at least somewhat encouraging. But is it accurate? And if so, why do so many continue to insist that they really believe such things?

The critic will object, "Wait a minute! By your line of argument, you could say that Christians who work for a living are hypocritical if they do not merely pray for wealth." I see this as a very different sort of argument. The Jesus/god as healer is a theme encountered throughout the Christian bible. I don't think I'm reaching too much to pose that question.

Revisiting Atheist Revolution's Health Care Plan

Here is how I previously described the plan:
Under my plan, atheists would receive health care at government expense just like what everyone receives in the counties with the highest quality health care systems. Christians and believers of other absurdities would automatically be placed on the Prayer Care Plan. This plan would not cost the government (or anyone else) anything at all. When believers got sick, they would pray for recovery. It's really that simple.
This should be quite appealing to the large number of conservative Christians who oppose any step toward universal health care because it would save large sums of money. If they really believe in prayer, as they so often claim, then they would have nothing to worry about on the Prayer Care Plan. In fact, their health care should be better than that received by the rest of us!

You know as well as I do that Christians are not going to be lining up for such a plan. They are not interested in opting out of their current health insurance or failing to seek medical treatment. The question is why. The seemingly inescapable answer is that most Christians do not believe what they so often claim to believe.

But My Particular God Works in Mysterious Ways!

That is a cop-out, and I believe you know it. If you want to respond with any sort of "but that isn't how my god works" claim, the question you still must answer is why. That is, why does your god, a god which you insist loves you, turn a blind eye to your health problems?

The "mysterious ways" thing is little more than a smoke screen. It does nothing to answer the underlying question. If you believe in the sort of god in which you claim to believe, why isn't prayer sufficient for you?

June 25, 2009

Why Are Atheists So Happy?

A smiley by Pumbaa, drawn using a text editor.Image via Wikipedia

I recently read an an odd post by Doug Thomas written for HumanistNetworkNews.org. If you missed it, read it before you read this post. If you don't, you'll likely think I've lost it. For those who have read it, I think you'll get what I'm going for here.

I thought I'd ask a question that should be asked more often: Why are atheists so happy? Are we blissfully unaware that much of the population despises us? Do we not realize that many of our neighbors regard as as terrorists (or worse)? Our situation is unenviable, and yet, we often seem to find happiness.

When I look around at the plight of atheists here in the American bible belt, I am puzzled about how so many of my fellow atheists seem so content. We're surrounded by Christians who distrust us, believe that we are going to be tortured in an eternal hell, and who have few compunctions about telling us this at every opportunity. How we can possibly be so happy?

We do not seem to get bogged down in the daily hassles but instead manage to be productive members of society. We have careers, raise families, and enjoy spending time with our friends. We strive to make our world a better place by supporting quality education, donating to charities, and participating in our nation's political processes. How is it that we have been so resilient in the face of so much adversity?

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June 24, 2009

"If You Don't Believe in an Afterlife, Why Be Moral?"

Questions about morality are among the most common atheists receive from Christians. There are many variations, but the common element is the notion that some sort of gods (and often the Christian god in particular) are required for moral behavior. As many times as this claim has been debunked, it continues to surface. The version I most often hear asks what incentive one who rejects any sort of afterlife could have for moral behavior in this life.

Here is an example from a comment on another post made by Vance:
Dear sirs you have a lot of knowledge my question is if we die and there is nothing after death why not just be the evilest you can be.To me it does not make sense to help my so-called fellow man and have a temporary life and love people if in the end it means nothing. I want it all and all the evil I could do and try to get away with it without the authorities catching me. What do I care about anything or anyone if in the end it does not matter what I do in this temporary life if in the end I am nothingness it does not make sense to be good and it makes a lot more sense to be evil, no consequences when death comes. Isnt that the bottom line in atheism nothing really matters we die and that is it. What are your comments and thank you.
The crux of the question is quite clear: If I do not believe in an afterlife where I will be rewarded or punished for my behavior, why should I behave myself in this life?

Empathy for Others

The first thing I would say to Vance and others asking this question is that human empathy and perspective-taking (i.e., the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another and relate to them on an emotional level) are not dependent on any sort of supernatural entities or planes of existence. Independent of earthly consequences (e.g., incarceration), we tend to engage in moral behavior because we are able to empathize with others.

When I have to take a toy away from a small child because the pieces are small enough that I have to worry about choking, I can recognize that the child does not want to surrender the toy. Even though I know I am doing the right thing (i.e., removing a potential choking hazard), I recognize the child's unhappiness and may try to do something to relieve it (e.g., offering a safe toy as an alternative).

When a Christian tells me that I am going to spend eternity burning in the Christian hell, I refrain from knocking his teeth out as much as I might want to do so. Why? Because I remember being like him. I know what it is like to hold that worldview and to be convinced that I am somehow helping others by threatening them with hell. As much as I may now dislike this Christian and what he represents, I am still able to empathize with him.

The "Golden Rule"

Another powerful reason for moral behavior the notion that I should treat others the way I would like to be treated. Many Christians mistakenly believe that this "rule" came from their bible. It did not. It predated their bible by a large margin.

The idea here is simple but powerful. I do my best to treat others the way I would like to be treated, and this has nothing whatsoever to do with rewards or punishments. It is simply the right thing to do. How do I know? Because it makes good intuitive sense and helps maintain a desirable social structure.

Moral Development

The statement that one would commit all sorts of atrocities if one stopped believing in heaven and hell reflects a primitive but not unusual stage of moral development. In fact, it represents the very first stage of moral development in Kohlberg's six-stage model.

Most of us, including most Christians, continue to develop and pass through at least some of the other stages. Although this is a gross oversimplification, one could say that someone who grows into adulthood while remaining in this initial stage is a sociopath.

So another response to the initial question is that most adults progress to higher levels of morality that do not rest on mere rewards and punishments. Most adults, Christians included, are not moral because of what they believe about any sort of afterlife.

When Vance asks, "What do I care about anything or anyone if in the end it does not matter what I do in this temporary life if in the end I am nothingness it does not make sense to be good and it makes a lot more sense to be evil, no consequences when death comes," it appears that he is firmly fixed in the first stage of what Kohlberg refers to as preconventional morality.

A Question for the Christians

For all those Christians questioning why anyone would be good without the promise of heaven, I offer the following from Michael Shermer:
What would you do if there were no God? Would you commit robbery, rape, and murder, or would you continue being a good and moral person? Either way the question is a debate stopper. If the answer is that you would soon turn to robbery, rape, or murder, then this is a moral indictment of your character, indicating you are not to be trusted because if, for any reason, you were to turn away from your belief in God, your true immoral nature would emerge…If the answer is that you would continue being good and moral, then apparently you can be good without God. QED. [Michael Shermer, The Science of Good and Evil, pp. 154-155].
For more on the subject of atheist morality, I encourage you to read the following:
Photo credit: jurvetson

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June 23, 2009

Atheist Blogroll: Now With 900 Blogs

If you write an atheist blog, you probably already know about the Atheist Blogroll, maintained by our friend Mojoey of Deep Thoughts. But this isn't just about bringing traffic to atheist bloggers. The Atheist Blogroll is also an ideal starting point for anyone wanting to read about atheism and related topics such as church-state separation, humanism, the dangers of religious extremism, community building, and activism.

And now, the Atheist Blogroll has 900 blogs and a combined 4,308,160 page views. It seems that the word is getting out about who we are and what we do.

To celebrate (and because I think it is incredibly cool), I am sharing a video made by toomantribbles below. Enjoy!

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June 22, 2009

Is Religion the Primary Front in the War Over Reality?

Stylized and exaggerated picture of the preces...Image via Wikipedia

Spanish Inquisitor wrote a great post, "The War Over Reality," which warrants discussion. He describes the struggle between a set of worldviews based on religion, faith, and the supernatural vs. atheistic worldviews rooted in materialism, nature, and science. He suggests that this particular war has been over for hundreds of years, as the utility of the scientific method was realized, but that the religious are "simply clinging onto their religious view out of pure fear." Despite my agreement with this analysis, I am not so sure that religion is the primary front in today's war over reality.

Spanish Inquisitor sees modern theists as stubbornly refusing to accept that their view of reality is incorrect, primarily because they fear the implications:
What they don’t realize is that the battle over which view of reality is correct was over hundreds of years ago, and they are simply clinging onto their religious view out of pure fear. They delude themselves cannot accept the indisputable fact that they will die, and their religious beliefs give them comfort and hope that they will linger on after they’ve completed their enlistment in the human race.
I think he's right, but I see today's war over reality as being so broad that I'm not sure religion even remains the primary point of divergence.

There seems to be, at least in the United States, a fundamental conflict over the nature and importance of knowledge. A Congressman allowed himself to be captured on film by Bill Maher defending his own ignorance by pointing out that there is no intelligence test required for members of Congress. Politicians and other decision-makers not only refuse to listen to scientific experts on a wide range of issues, but some go out of their way to denigrate expertise itself. That they are able to do so without consequences is illuminating; that doing so may actually earn them the admiration of their constituencies is truly startling.

I think that Spanish Inquisitor is absolutely correct to focus on religion, as it is a particularly dramatic example of the lengths to which people will go to ignore reality. But I have the sense that there is something even more fundamental going on of which religion is certainly a part.

We envy Bill Gates' money, but American adolescents who excel in school are still referred to as nerds and pressured to minimize their intellect. As Japanese technology demonstrated it's superiority, many continued to buy American products and berate those who did not. What may have initially been misguided patriotism became an increasing hostility to reality itself.

And consider those who today rely on Fox "News" or Rush Limbaugh as their primary source of information. They will not be swayed by research showing the biased nature of their chosen media. For them, "ivy league" and "intellectual" are insults. They have little patience for facts, no respect for those able to utilize them effectively, and are quick to anger when questioned.

Religion is certainly relevant. I wouldn't be writing this blog if I didn't think so. But I am starting to suspect that religion may be a symptom of a deeper problem rather than a root cause.

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June 21, 2009

Proposing a Project for Atheist Bloggers

== Summary == Universal recycling symbol outli...Image via Wikipedia

I have had this idea for awhile but more urgent things have kept coming up to delay this post. What if several atheist bloggers all started to write down the questions and challenges we constantly receive from Christians and poorly informed atheists? And then what if we could develop a convenient way to share our posts that responded to such questions with each other? If we had some way of group them into a manageable number of categories, we would produce a shared pool of information from which we could each draw.

You see, I am quite convinced that many of the Christians who troll our blogs or e-mail us this stuff are merely recycling a rather small amount of material. From this categorized list, we could write blog posts that provided reasonable thorough responses/rebuttals. That way, when one of us received another one of the comments/challenges, we'd already have the response ready to go - a previous post from our own blog or another atheist blog to which we could link.

To a degree, I've already been doing this. I suspect that most of you have as well (in fact, I know some of you have). But I've been doing it in a much less formal and not especially useful way.

Let me give you a quick example. I have lost count of the number of times I encounter the "atheism requires faith" claim. After realizing it was going to keep coming up and that I was wasting time by writing the same responses over and over in the forms of comments or e-mails, I wrote "Atheism Does NOT Require Faith." Admittedly, it is not one of my better posts, but it at least gave me a starting point for when it next came up.

Here's the embarrassing thing though: I didn't realize when I wrote that post last year that I had already written one with the same title a year earlier! What this tells me is that having a ready supply of such posts is only half the battle. One also needs an effective system for finding them. Of course, this would be even more critical if they were distributed across several atheist blogs.

I'm not sure of the best way to do this logistically. The Atheist Blogroll Search Engine is a great tool, but I haven't found it particularly useful for this purpose. I wonder if something like delicious would be good at such a task. I've been using it to tag posts with keywords to help me find them later when I am searching for recurrent themes (e.g., morality, faith, meaning of atheism, etc.). It can certainly be set up to share this sort of information with others, but there may be better options of which I am unaware.

For all I know, others won't even like this idea. But I thought I'd through it out there in case it appeals to anyone. It seems like it could reduce the amount of time we spend retreading the same ground. It also seems like we would benefit from making it easier to find and use what others are writing on many of these recurrent subjects.

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June 20, 2009

Idiot of the Week: Juliana Davis

Astounding idiocy deserves attention, and that is what it receives right here in the Idiot of the Week series. Stop by each Saturday to see a new winner.

As fun as it is to showcase the high-profile idiocy from those with a reputation for it, I enjoy highlighting those who would normally slip through the cracks even more. Today's winner, Juliana Davis of The Leaven, is just such a case. You may think I decided to give Davis the prize just for the title of the press release she sent to Christian Newswire, "Sarah Palin is Right: It is Time for Women to Stand Up to Say 'Enough'," but you'd be wrong.

Despite that excellent title for what initially looked like just another anti-Letterman rant, I realized that Davis deserved the prize when I realized that she was blaming all who value reproductive rights for sexism.
Sexual slurs are the result of a contraceptive mentality that in reality has only retarded masculine maturity, ironically emasculating men rather than demanding of them virtues that produce good fathers and husbands. Consider near epidemic addiction to pornography among single and married men as an example.
Huh? A "contraceptive mentality" is to blame for not only for sexism but also for porn addiction? What the hell is she talking about?
Slurs against femininity are part of the much broader assault on women due to widespread rejection of the prophetic wisdom of Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, wherein he predicted the impoverishment of women through contraception and abortion.
Oh, that clears things up considerably. Sexism is really the fault of those of us who reject the Pope's "prophetic wisdom" when it comes to contraception and abortion.
Contraception hurts women, and in so doing it hurts all of society, every man, woman, and child.
It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that some people reconcile any discrepancies they encounter between reality and religious belief by completely disregarding reality. Congratulations, Ms. Davis. I think you've set a new standard here.

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June 19, 2009

Clergy Prison Gangs?

Jail cell in the Brecksville Police Department...Image via Wikipedia

I don't know about you, but I feel like not a day goes by that I don't hear about Catholic priests, Baptist pastors, and the like being sent to prison for all manner of criminal offenses. Whether it is theft, sexual abuse, or some combination of the two (there seems to be some lack of creativity on their part, doesn't there?), the number of convictions is impressive. I wonder if there are prison gangs composed of such offenders? Maybe Lockup should investigate. I'd watch that one.

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June 18, 2009

Confronting Hate Speech

The Fox News WatchLike many of you, I have been following the recent debate over the possible influence of right-wing hate speech on the recent acts of domestic terrorism. When we see people shooting up churches, murdering physicians, or attacking the Holocaust Museum, it is natural that we would seek motivating factors. When we find that the right-wing extremism and misinformation peddled by Fox “News,” Rush Limbaugh, and other popular personalities on the far right is a common thread uniting these and many other acts of domestic terrorism, it make sense that we would question the degree to which these elements are good for society. And yet, this is not a comfortable question for anyone who values free speech.

I'll be honest: I have been struggling with this topic for some time. I've made my decision, resolving the issue in my mind, but that does not mean I never have second thoughts or worry about the possible implications of my decision.

My conclusion is fairly simple and can be presented in two related parts. First, right-wing hate speech, even the most extreme forms one regularly hears on conservative talk radio, must remain Constitutionally protected speech. They have the right to keep questioning Obama’s birth certificate, calling physicians “baby killers,” ranting about the evils of liberalism. I don’t like it, but I am committed to protecting their right to do it. The law, as I understand it, allows them to say virtually anything that stops short of inciting specific acts of violence against specified targets. This is as it should be.

The second part of my conclusion requires a distinction between censorship (i.e., government efforts to legislatively restrict free speech) and corporate and social measures to reduce certain forms of hate speech through a variety of other means. You see, the second part of my conclusion is that those of us who are troubled by the apparent effects of right-wing hate speech have the right, perhaps even the obligation, to oppose it. While we must avoid censorship, we have at our disposal a range of other responses.

To understand what I’m getting at, consider Fox “News” for a moment. I oppose any governmental actions aimed at shutting them down, restricting what they are able to say, etc. The use of state police power to restrict speech is something I oppose, no matter how vile I may find such speech. However, I encourage those of us who worry about the toxic influence of Fox “News” on American society to pressure their corporate sponsors to pull their advertising. This is not censorship.

I also hope to see victims of right-wing hate explore the possibility of suing those who disseminate right-wing hate and misinformation. Again, we are talking about private citizens exercising their rights in civil court and not state police power.

Freedom of speech must protect even those forms of speech which we consider to be most detrimental to society. However, that does not mean that we must sit idly by. After all, we have the right to speak out too. There is much we can do without censoring views with which we disagree.

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June 17, 2009

Did Jesus Abolish the Old Testament?

Old Testament
46 is the earliest (nearly) complete manuscript of the Epistles written by Paul in the new testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Have you ever discussed the bible in which many Christians claim to believe with a Christian? If so, the odds are good that you may have asked the Christian about some of what you found in the Old Testament. When you did this, you were almost certainly told that whichever part you asked about is no longer valid (although depending on who you are talking to, some parts of Leviticus may still apply). Somehow, the good parts of this book are still perfectly valid but the bad or embarrassing ones are not. Interesting how that seems to work, isn't it?

Jesus, the Christian might insist, did away with the various bad parts you point out. Of course, the Christian will not be able to show you anything in their bible that makes it clear that this was the case. The Christian just knows it somehow, and you are expected to believe it too.

A reader - I'll call him Jason - e-mailed me a great question recently. It is one I have received several times. In fact, it is one I have asked several times! I am going to post it here, take a stab at answering it and then invite you to chime in. I readily admit that my answer is tentative, as I am really not sure about the most effective way to respond. Let's get to the question.

June 16, 2009

Helping the People of Iran

TEHRAN, IRAN - JUNE 16:  People attend a state...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

As we have focused our attention on Iran in the aftermath of their "election," it is natural to want to do something to help. And yet, there seems to be very little we can do. This breeds feelings of apathy and frustration, neither of which are likely to be very productive. Aside from what those of us on Twitter can do, I think that the single most effective thing we can now do is simply keep talking and writing about Iran. We need to keep the situation there in the public consciousness. The more attention Iran receives, the better the situation will be for the Iranian people.

The Boston Globe has released some of the most striking images I have yet to see coming out of Iran. I urge you to check them out if you have not already done so. As for news, the sources I previously recommended continue to be some of the best.

And speaking of news, the BBC is now reporting that Iran's Guardian Council has agreed to hold a recount while refusing to annul the election. Unfortunately, it does not sound like anybody really thinks a recount is going to change much. If the reports I saw on Twitter last Saturday night were accurate, truckloads of ballots were being loaded on trucks and taken to be burned. Moreover, the Guardian Council is described as being very conservative, which seems to indicate that they might not have much invested in seeing a more moderate opposition party winning.

In any case, the opposition says there were so many other irregularities, that a recount alone would not satisfy them. For example, many more ballot papers were issued than counted, they say. Some people did not get enough ballot papers so they could not vote in areas loyal to the opposition. Polling stations were closed early, and so on and so forth.
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This is Christian Morality?

English: Painting of Moravian spiritual leader...
Painting of Moravian spiritual leader Christian Renatus von Zinzendorf, 1727-1752. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the most pervasive myths about atheism is that atheists are immoral because gods are somehow required for good behavior. Of course, the person making such an accusation tends to have a particular god in mind and to disqualify all others without any justification. I think I'll steer clear of that tangent for now. Instead, I'd like to stick with the idea that a particular god - or at least belief in a particular god - is the only thing standing between a person and bad behavior. This appears to be a core tenet of the sort of Christian "morality" practiced by fundamentalists and extremists.

When a Christian makes the claim that atheists are necessarily immoral because of their lack of belief in the Christian's preferred god, the atheist typically retorts by asking if god-belief is the only thing preventing the Christian from running wild in the streets. Some Christians will answer in the affirmative; others will recognize the worrisome implications of this and activate their reality-distortion field to escape the question.

June 15, 2009

Tone Down the Rhetoric? No Thanks

Malcolm X at Queens CourtImage via Wikipedia
Common sense suggests that loud, angry rhetoric will hurt one's agenda more than help it, right? This is certainly what many Christians and some atheists would like us to believe. Again and again, we are urged to tone down our rhetoric and be more accepting of religious moderates. You know who else was told to tone down their rhetoric?
  • African Americans during the civil rights movement of the 1960s
  • Women during the women's suffrage and subsequent equal rights movements
  • Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons during the gay rights movement
I, for one, am glad they didn't listen! There will be no toning down of anything here at Atheist Revolution.

I respect those who have decided to present a kinder, gentler (or even friendlier) atheism. They are an important and valued part of the atheist movement. However, I am growing increasingly tired of hearing some of them repeatedly telling the rest of us to tone down what we do. I know I am not alone in this sentiment either.

June 14, 2009

CNN Facing Backlash for Lack of Iran Coverage

Cnn.Image via Wikipedia

I certainly expected more from CNN last night as they essentially ignored what was happening in Iran. Like many others, I turned to Twitter to learn about the aftermath of the election. Now it appears that CNN and other American media outlets are beginning to face a backlash from those who want news from a self-described news network rather than mindless entertainment.

We have seen it before - mainstream media is conspicuously absent from a big story while blogs and various forms of social media step in to provide information to those looking for news. However, I'm not sure I've seen such a dramatic example of it prior to last night.

The following sources are among those covering Iran well:
As for CNN, the question echoing around the Internet is "What happened?" Did they not agree that this was a big story?

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Twitter Brings News From Iran

Iran (Persia) with Black, Caspian and Arabian ...
Iran (Persia) with Black, Caspian and Arabian seas around (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For reasons which I personally cannot fathom, the American media seems to have decided that the Iranian election and it's aftermath were either not newsworthy at all or simply a minor story not worth interrupting regular programming. After seeing report after report on Twitter last night from inside Iran about the rapidly deteriorating situation there, I flipped to every major news station on TV.

Nobody was covering what was happening in Iran. Larry King was interviewing motorcycle builders, MSNBC was airing a sensationalistic documentary on some American prison, and Glen Beck was...well...playing with goldfish. Disgusted, I turned the TV off and went back to Twitter.

If you want news out of Iran - not the official government press releases but breaking news from the street level - check out the #iranelection hashtag. If you are new to Twitter and unfamiliar with how to search for hashtags, you can simply go here. You just may be surprised at how little the American media is telling you about the situation on the ground.

Carnival of the Godless #119 at Sunny Skeptic


The 119th Carnival of the Godless has been posted for your reading pleasure at The Sunny Skeptic. This edition includes some interesting pictures along with the always interesting posts. Check it out.

June 13, 2009

Why You Should Have an Intense Debate Account

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This post is not about installing the IntenseDebate commenting system on your blog (if you have one). Instead, it is about why those of you commenting on this and countless other blogs which use IntenseDebate should create an IntenseDebate account. I know most of you already have such an account, but for those who do not, I am going to give you some reasons to do so.

Here are some of the benefits of creating an IntenseDebate account from the perspective of anyone leaving comments on the many blogs which use IntenseDebate:
  • You get to have a custom avatar.
  • You can set up a custom profile to direct others to your blog, Twitter account, website, or whatever you want.
  • You can leave comments via e-mail.
  • If you use Twitter, you can have IntenseDebate automatically tweet when you leave a comment.
  • Those who value your contributions can subscribe to an RSS feed of your comments on all IntenseDebate blogs.
  • You can develop an online reputation as a worthwhile commenter by letting you build a reputation score based on your comments across the blogosphere. You'll see a number in highlighted yellow next to the avatars of those who have accounts. Those with higher numbers have received more thumbs-up votes on their comments.
  • You make it more difficult for others to impersonate you, leaving comments under your preferred handle.
Want one more reason? I may soon require it for persons wanting to leave comments to reduce increasingly hostile Christian trolling. If you don't yet have an IntenseDebate account, it couldn't be simpler to get one. All you have to do is go to IntenseDebate and fill out the brief form.

Idiot of the Week: John Boehner

Idiocy of this magnitude deserves attention, and that is exactly what it gets right here in the ever popular Idiot of the Week series. A new winner is announced each Saturday.

This week's winner is House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). There is plenty to detest about Boehner, from his histrionic sobbing to his orange spray-tan. But Boehner is also a repository of some grade A idiocy. Take, for example, Boehner's recent comments about how his Republican party:
We’re digging ourselves out of a deep hole. We took it in the shorts with Bush-Cheney, the Iraq War, and by sacrificing fiscal responsibility to hold power.
On the surface, this doesn't look like idiocy at all. In fact, it might even be an accurate statement. One little problem though. As Think Progress points out, Boehner should be blaming himself rather than the administration he consistently supported.
He voted to authorize use of military force against Iraq, and voted against a House-approved Iraq withdrawal in 2007. He also voted for the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, which were largely responsible for turning our nation’s surplus into a massive deficit. As Boehner himself said in 2006, “I think that Republicans ought to stand up and support George W. Bush for the job that he’s done.”
By blaming the Bush administration, Boehner does not have to acknowledge that much of our current situation is due to his politics, politics he has not exactly disowned. Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

June 12, 2009

Another Ecto Post

From everything I have heard about ecto, it is supposed to make using images in blog posts much easier than any of the online editors. I am used to using Blogger's online interface, so yeah, it could be easier. That would be nice because I like to use images, but I am a bit skeptical that anything ecto can do would be much easier than Zemanta.

It looks like ecto has something called "Flickr Helper," and that certainly sounds promising. After I finally figured out how to grant this helper application access to my flickr account, I see that I can search based on photo tags. I tried several keywords, and each time was rewarded for my efforts with "Failed to get data from Flickr!" No matter what I entered, this was the outcome.

I'll try bringing in an image from my hard drive. I've read that I can simply drag and drop with ecto, so I decided to give that a try first. Sure enough, it works. It looks like this might work well for images that are already on my hard drive, but it is certainly not as nice as Zemanta at finding material on Flickr. In addition, once the image comes in, it is not clear how to best integrate it with the post. It looks like there are several settings which can be changed and potentially saved in the form of presets for future posts, however, so that is certainly encouraging.

I suppose I'd have to say that the main flaw with ecto is the absence of any useful documentation, at least for version 3. I still haven't figured out how to have certain HTML automatically included in every post or how to get it to handle Technorati tags.

Quick Update: I've got the Flickr feature working now. It required installing some new components. Evidently, the developers couldn't be bothered to include the newer files in the application itself.

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Tags: , ,

Testing Ecto

I just downloaded the 21-day trial version of ecto, the popular deskop blog editor for the mac. I have to say that I am not at all impressed with it so far. The documentation is terrible, and the screenshots don't look anything like the actual software. I am guessing that they were based on an older version and never updated. That may be okay in some cases, but the interface on this version does not look anything like the one I'm seeing in the few tutorials I can find. I suppose this thing may also just have a very steep learning curve, but I don't know if I have the patience to stick with it, much less pay for it.

In the unlikely event that you are an ecto expert, the main issues I am having seem to be with image presets and custom post templates. I have Blogger set up to use a post template, but there does not seem to be any way to get ecto to do this.

Do You Believe in God(s)?

Belief (Photo credit: mRio)
The meaning of atheism is quite clear. At least, it should be to those of us genuinely interested in the subject. And yet, it is equally clear that the manner in which we ask the question greatly influences the answers we should expect to receive. During a recent visit to Pure Nothing, one of the recent additions to the Atheist Blogroll, I noticed a poll in the sidebar with some interesting responses.

Consider the question for a moment. Forget about ontology and metaphysics for a second. Take the question at face value and answer it for yourself. Do you believe in god(s)?

Note that this question is not synonymous with, "Does some sort of god(s) exist?" In asking directly about something's existence, we open the door to the secondary question of certainty. It is only natural to follow "Does some sort of god(s) exist?" with "How sure are you of that?"

Questions of the existence of god(s) are what we atheists usually address. The theistic belief claim (i.e., some sort of god or gods exists) is precisely the claim to which atheism reacts. The theist asserts this claim. The atheist seeks evidence and, finding none, does not accept the claim.

Agnosticism enters here - not as a meaningful alternative to theism or atheism - but as a statement on the secondary question of certainty. Thus, we can talk intelligently about gnostic and agnostic atheists if we so desire.

Return to the original question: "Do you believe in god(s)?" This question is not asking you whether gods exist. It is not asking you how certain you are that gods can or do exist. It is simply asking about what you believe.

What are we to make of the respondents who answered "I'm not sure" to this question? Does this mean that they are unsure what they believe about god(s)? I find this difficult to imagine.

When the question is framed as one of what one believes, there is little room for agnosticism. Suppose that "I'm not sure" mean something akin to "I've never really thought about it before." Someone who could honestly claim such a thing clearly does not believe in god(s), for he or she has not considered the matter enough to have any sort of belief.

Now suppose that "I'm not sure" means "I haven't decided yet." This reflects a misunderstanding of the question. Again, the question is about what one believes and not whether one thinks that various entities can or do exist.

I post this merely to make the point that how we ask the question will (and probably should) have an important influence on the sort of responses we consider meaningful.

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June 11, 2009

Atheist Rocks and Other Absurdities

Rock with erosion holes in itImage by Martin LaBar (going on hiatus) via Flickr

I received a recent e-mail from someone engaged in a debate over the meaning of atheism. He said that his opponent referenced the definition I have repeatedly used here at Atheist Revolution but then claimed that this definition meant that "rocks and other inanimate objects were also atheists." I think I've heard this bizarre claim once before. I did not take it seriously, and I remember thinking that anyone making it is getting fairly desperate. After hearing it again, I figured the least I could do was address the matter.

When I said, "An atheist is one who does not accept the theistic claim," I assumed that "one" would be understood in the context of this statement as implying personhood. It seems that some people are now trying to remove the context and pretend that inanimate objects would count as atheists. When dealing with such concrete thinkers, I suggest phrasing the definition as follows:
An atheist is a person who does not accept the theistic belief claim.
Perhaps that will be clearer.

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June 10, 2009

Coming Out as an Atheist to Your Christian Family

Coney Island, the Whole Darnd Family [i.e. Dar...Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr
The challenge of telling one's Christian family that one is an atheist for the first time is not something that anyone should take lightly. This is an anxiety-provoking subject, and while many people report that it went better than they anticipated, there is some real risk involved. The outcome is not always positive, and particularly for teenagers still living at home, the consequences can be devastating. What I've tried to do in this post is offer some tips on how to prepare for the process.

Initial Considerations

For big and often scary decisions like this, it is often helpful to consider the pros and cons of making such a disclosure. The idea is that if the benefits clearly outweigh the risks, one feels more confident in moving forward. Unfortunately, this is a situation where it is not always easy to assess the risks accurately.

If you are trying to decide if and how best to disclose your atheism to your family, I recommend that you start by asking and answering the following questions for yourself:
  1. How old are you, and if you are living in your parents' home, how many more years do you expect to live there?
  2. If you imagine your family's Christian beliefs ranging on a continuum from progressive to extremist, where would you place them?
  3. If you imagine yourself remaining silent and not disclosing your atheism for another year, how tolerable vs. intolerable does doing so seem? That is, how critical is it that you make the disclosure now as opposed to a year from now?
  4. What is your motive for disclosing your atheism?
As we look through these and examine your answers, the picture may become a bit clearer. For those under the age of 18, I am generally comfortable with saying that the younger you are the more likely I would be to advise you to postpone your disclosure. For those over 18, the situation changes dramatically (see For the Adult Atheist below).

In addition to considering these questions one-by-one, think about their interaction. For example, if you are 14 and expect to be in your parents' home for at least another 4 years, you may want to give yourself a couple more years before disclosing your atheism if you rated your family in the fundamentalist to extremist range of the belief continuum, especially if you also perceive your current situation as fairly tolerable. On the other hand, a 14 year-old in a fairly progressive family who cannot imagine remaining silent any longer may decide to speak out sooner.

For the Adult Atheist

If you are over 18 and not residing with your parents or planning to move out soon, your situation becomes much simpler because your level of risk tends to be considerably lower. Consideration #1 and #3 become irrelevant, leaving you to focus on #2 and #4. Even then, #2 is relevant only with regard to how you might make your disclosure.

Since there has been a tremendous amount written about coming out by LGBT authors, this is a great place to start. For the adult atheist, the power dynamics are vastly different, the risk is lower, and one has far more control over how to navigate the aftermath.

In future posts, we'll look at how to make the disclosure and consider how to cope with the aftermath.

June 9, 2009

Another Problem with Rooting Morality in God

Cropped image of a Socrates bust for use in ph...
Bust carved by by Victor Wager from a model by Paul Montford, University of Western Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Regardless of their favored argument for believing in their particular god, many Christians seem particularly fond of criticizing atheists on moral grounds. Such Christians often believe that all atheists seek the complete eradication of their religion and are likely to oppose this primarily on moral grounds. Specifically, such Christians claim that moral order is somehow dependent upon their god, or at least upon continued belief in their god. Of course, making such a claim requires them to dismiss or simply ignore evidence that predominately secular societies are not necessarily dysfunctional, but we can set that aside for now to examine an often neglected counterargument. As we will see, insisting that morality comes from their god creates an important philosophical problem for Christians.

Most of you are at least somewhat familiar with Plato and Socrates, even if only by name. Students of Western philosophy may even recall Euthyphro's dilemma from Plato's dialog Euthyphro. Plato presents the following dialog between Socrates and Euthyphro where Socrates is trying to understand a critical implication of that has become a central plank in the contemporary Christian worldview:
Socrates: And what do you say of piety, Euthyphro? Is not piety, according to your definition, loved by all the gods?

Euthyphro: Certainly.

Socrates: Because it is pious or holy, or for some other reason?

Euthyphro: No, that is the reason.

Socrates: It is loved because it is holy, not holy because it is loved?
In essence, Euthyphro's dilemma is this: Is something good simply because god(s) say so, or does god(s) say something is good because of some other quality?

Using Euthyphro's dilemma as a starting point, Bertrand Russell presents us with the following in Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects:
If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.
Add this to the many difficulties involved in the common Christian claim that human morality is somehow rooted in their particular god.

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June 8, 2009

Acknowledging Some Good Christians

Scene.Image via Wikipedia

Many of us often lament how few Christian moderates speak out against Christian extremism. When one comes along who is willing to do just that, recognition is due. Thus, I would like to credit Dwight KcKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, TX, for stepping up to denounce Wiley Drake, our most recent Idiot of the Week, for praying for the death of President Obama. McKissic has also called on Southern Baptist leaders to do the same.

I would also like to commend former reproductive rights opponent, Frank Schaeffer, for taking responsibility and apologizing for his role in contributing to the murder of Dr. George Tiller. Schaeffer acknowledges his role in helping to create the milieu of hate which fosters violence toward those who practice reproductive medicine.

I'm not holding my breath for Fox "News" to follow Schaeffer's example, but I will certainly give them credit if they do so.

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