September 30, 2009

Fools for Christ

Happy Blasphemy Day! There was a great post at by agnosticator on the arrogance of faith, and I think it is perfect for today. Using a quote from a Christian reader, the author illustrates the extreme arrogance which seems to be common among self-described people of faith. This was my favorite part:
We are called fools for being wise (i.e., intellectual or educated), while anyone who believes the New Testament's "good news" is called wise-even if he is not too bright. God loves us and wants to save us, but if you use the brain he gave might reject his offer. So, let us become fools for Christ!
It makes perfect sense to me that anti-intellectualism was necessary to maintain Christianity during the Enlightenment. It is, however, sad to see the lengths to which some Christians will go even today to maintain their religion. Those who oppose education, attack a scientific worldview, or disregard the contributions of experts do humanity no favors.

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September 29, 2009

Atheist Activism Needed on Catholic Clergy Abuse

Priestly Ordination, a popular devotional depi...Image via Wikipedia

So there I was sitting in front of my computer, coffee in hand, looking forward to enjoying a nice quiet Sunday morning catching up with the atheist blogosphere. I clicked on a link left in a comment by pelican666, and my calm was shattered. The priest abuse scandal in Italy commands attention but is receiving virtually none in the U.S. media. There are plenty of things in this world that piss me off, but I am finding that few have more power to do so than what this article characterizes as the "culture of silence" around sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

I know that sexual abuse is often an uncomfortable topic. I also know that the pedestal on which many Western cultures place religion inevitably leads to greater discomfort and avoidance of discussing abuse committed by members of the clergy. Unfortunately, this means that the burden of raising awareness of these crimes tends to fall disproportionately on two groups: victims' advocates and atheists.

I have known a great many victims' advocates who work tirelessly to raise awareness about the prevalence and dire consequences of child sexual abuse. But they need our help. Many are in positions where it is difficult for them to call out religious institutions or point to the unique manner in which religious belief protects pedophile priests and allows the churches to perpetuate such abuse. Frankly, they should be expected to do this because their primary role is one of providing assistance to the victims.

Perhaps atheist activists can increasingly take on the role of raising public awareness of how religious belief facilitates child sexual abuse. Whenever I see one of these stories, I experience what can only be described as rage. "How dare these sick Christians do this to children!" But at least an equal source of outrage involves the growing realization that the rest of us allow this to continue. The institutions which have been proven to perpetuate these atrocities need to be dismantled. Bill Donahue be damned!
For decades, a culture of silence has surrounded priest abuse in Italy, where surveys show the church is considered one of the country's most respected institutions.
Maybe I should feel relieved that such news is reported at all. But when I see how quickly these stories are buried and hear Bill Donahue claiming that those of us wanting to protect children are somehow anti-Catholic bigots, whatever relief I might have felt evaporates.

What can we do? For starters, I think we need to do a better job of covering these stories and demonstrating how religious belief facilitates these crimes. We need to overcome our hesitancy about confronting these crimes. I also think that it is important for us to spread the word about organizations such as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Those who are victimized need to know where to go for help. It is clear that the Catholic power structure remains determined to sweep these crimes under the rug. We must not allow that to happen.

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September 28, 2009

How Prayer Works

While searching for some information online about some of the methodologically sound studies of intercessory prayer, I stumbled across a Christian blog. This particular blog, Tidbits and Treasures, contained an absolute gem of an explanation for why prayer "works" even though none of the reputable research supports its efficacy. The author referred to one of the studies showing that prayer does not work and then claimed,
It would be impossible to measure PRAYER, or how it works, in a survey. I believe, if a person is a believer, and requests prayer, prays for themselves, or accepts the prayers of others, then prayer works!
The author appears to have no understanding whatsoever of what the study was measuring. Nobody was attempting to measure "PRAYER" in a survey; the key measure used involved health outcomes. But the second sentence is my favorite. Prayer works because this author says it does - all evidence to the contrary be damned. This is Christian "logic" in all its glory.

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September 27, 2009

Ambushed by Jehova's Witnesses

Jehova witnesses
Jehova's witnesses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was mowing my back yard yesterday morning. It was hot and muggy - typical Mississippi weather, and I was quite sweaty by the time I was finished. As I opened my gate and pulled the mower through on the way to the garage, I heard a voice behind me that startled me. I had been listening to my iPod, and it was tough to make out what the voice was saying through the music. I turned around quickly to see two well-dressed men. One was about 30 feet away, and the other was all the way on the other side of my front yard. My first thought was that one of them was a political candidate campaigning for something.

When I pulled the headphones off, I heard the man who was closer to me comment about how I was smart to get my yard work done early before the weather heated up. He did look like a politician, and he was dressed too nicely to be a neighbor. Then I noticed what looked like a Christian bible in his hand.

He motioned to the front of my house and said, "We noticed your signs and weren't sure whether to knock." Caught off guard, it took me a moment to realize what he was talking about. I have a large "no soliciting" sign in the flowerbed in front of my house and a no proselytizing sign in a window near the front door. The combination has been extremely effective at deterring Christians.

As I paused, he continued, "Yes, we're Jehova's Witnesses." I laughed reflexively and replied, "In that case, you were probably wise to not to knock." After a bit more small talk and no more references to religion, they left.

As much as I despise proselytizing, it was a polite encounter all around. Had I not been itching all over from the grass clippings and longing for a shower, I might have asked him why he bothers to seek converts in Jesusland. I can't help wondering if most of his encounters with the Southern Baptists in my neighborhood were as civil.

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September 26, 2009

Idiot of the Week: Ray Comfort

The Way of the MasterImage via Wikipedia

Each Saturday right here at Atheist Revolution, a new idiot receives the prestigious idiot of the week title. And boy, have we had some deserving winners! It is again time for another installment in the Idiot of the Week series, so let's get to it.

This week's idiot is none other than Ray "the banana man" Comfort. Special thanks to Dispatches From the Culture Wars for reporting on Comfort's latest bit of insanity from WorldNutDaily so I didn't have to contribute to their traffic. So what did Comfort do now?

At WorldNutDaily under the headline "Finally exposed: The scientific impossibility of evolution," Comfort dropped this gem:
All you have to do is push them into a corner and say, 'So, you're an atheist?' 'Yep.' 'So you believe that nothing created everything, a scientific impossibility?' And they'll say, 'Well, no.' 'So you believe something created everything?' And they say, 'Well, yeah. Something did, obviously.' 'So you're not an atheist?' 'OK, I'm not an atheist.'

'This something you believe created everything, do you think it was intelligent? I mean, could you create a bird or a flower or a tree or a blade of grass from nothing?' And they'll say, 'No, I can't do that.' 'Well, is this something you believe created everything intelligent?' And they'll say, 'Obviously.' And I'll say, 'Congratulations, you've just become an anti-science, knuckle-dragger in the eyes of our learning institutions, because you believe in intelligent design.'
Ladies and gentleman, Ray Comfort has clearly disproved evolution! Then again, maybe he's just distinguished himself as idiot of the week.

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September 24, 2009

Why Atheists Can't Let Go of the Crusades

medieval miniature painting of the Siege of An...Image via Wikipedia

Many Christians are puzzled about why atheists cannot seem to let go of the Crusades. Why must we continue to bring up these atrocities from the relatively remote past, they wonder, and use the atrocities of their ancestors against them today? It hardly seems fair. One might even be tempted to use American slavery as an example to illustrate how little sense it makes to blame a people for what their distant relatives did. And yet, I'll be taking a very different position here and arguing that atheists must not let go of the Crusades.

To paraphrase the common maxim, we who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. We must remember the Crusades, the various periods of the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the Satanic ritual abuse scare in the 1980's, and recent revelations about the Family. We must remember these grotesque episodes just as we must never forget the Holocaust, Jonestown, or Heaven's Gate. We remember them because we cannot allow them to be repeated.

And yet, there is more to it than maintaining these memories out of any noble cause. No, we must remember because our very survival depends on it. Atheists remember many of these periods because there are enough of us, at least in the U.S., who go through our daily lives feeling that another such period could be right around the corner.

We lived 8 years under a Christian extremist presidency, and we are too suspect of human nature to conclude with absolute certainty that we'll never see a President Huckabee. It could happen. We have heard again and again how our Christian neighbors feel about us and what some of them would like to do to us to relax completely.

We have seen a Christian extremist presence infiltrate our military, at least one of our modern political parties, and countless wealthy corporations. The consolidation of political power, military strength, and massive wealth into Christian extremist hands is something that should terrify every atheist. We know what can happen because we have seen it again and again throughout history.

Those of us who live in hotbeds of Christian extremism often feel that we are a step closer to the nightmare that others have the luxury of pretending is solely in our past. "Never forget" is our cry, and we are not about to abandon it. Celebrate progress where one finds it, but never forget. Far too much is at stake.

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September 23, 2009

Understanding Atheism and Agnosticism

Atheist Campaign on Tube TrainImage by Loz Flowers via Flickr
One of the more frequent points of confusion for those first beginning to explore the subject of atheism is the relationship of atheism to agnosticism. It is often thought that these represent two distinct positions on the question of god(s) and that one must be either an agnostic or an atheist. Among atheists, people who identify themselves as "agnostic" are sometimes even derided as people who don't have the guts to admit that they are atheists.

Atheism and agnosticism refer to different questions. Atheism is indeed a response to the question of belief in god(s); agnosticism addresses the question of certainty. I recently ran across a great comment in reddit/atheism by a user called disturbd that provided a succinct yet accurate summary. I have edited it only for grammar.
Agnosticism deals with one's claim to knowledge on a subject; atheism describes one's lack of belief in deities. They are not mutually exclusive terms. If you don't claim to know whether or not gods exist, regardless of your belief or lack thereof, you are agnostic. Agnostic simply means "without knowledge." You can be an agnostic atheist (I don't know, but I don't believe in gods), or an agnostic theist (I don't know, but I do believe in god/s). A gnostic atheist/theist would claim to know their position is true. A gnostic theist holds the position, "I believe in god and I know he exists". A gnostic atheist is the opposite, "I know there is no god."
The author goes on to explain that he, just like me, is an agnostic atheist.
So to answer you question, I'm both. I'm an agnostic atheist. I just think the label "atheist" more closely describes my lack of belief. I find that many people that call themselves agnostic are actually atheists, but choose to label themselves agnostic to avoid the stigma associated with the word, and any consequential persecution from theists that may follow their "coming out." I look at it the other way. If I tell you I am an atheist, and you view me differently because of it, I would like to know that so I can move on with my life and pay you no mind.
For more on this subject, see:
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September 22, 2009

Announcing Skepticon II

Missouri State UniversityImage via Wikipedia

Lauren Lane, Treasurer of the Missouri State University's Chapter of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, would like you to know about Skepticon II, the Midwest's largest atheist convention. This is the second year of the convention, and it will be held November 20-22 in Springfield, Missouri. Skepticon II features 13 speakers, including PZ Meyers, Richard Carrier, Rebecca Watson, Joe Nickell, DJ Grothe, Victor Stenger, Robert M. Price, and Dan Barker. Admission is free to the public.

It sounds like Lauren and her fellow FSM devotees are doing some good things in Missouri. They could use our help in spreading the word about Skepticon II.

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September 20, 2009

Celebrating the Win Does Not Always Mean Deriding the Loser

American athletes display their pride after th...Image via Wikipedia

State of Protest had an interesting post a couple days ago with a title that caught my attention: Do Atheists Get Happy When "Bad Things" Happen to Christians? My first thought when seeing the title was that this atheist certainly does not. My second thought was that I'd better read the post to see what it was talking about. I'm glad I did. It is a good one that asks us to consider some challenging questions.

In the post, Procrustes asks whether atheists experience feelings of joy upon learning about Christians losing church-state separation cases. Well, that's different, isn't it? I absolutely do feel happy upon encountering such news. I tend to interpret it as a victory for the law rather than a defeat for Christians, but I'm sure the Christians involved in the court case don't see it that way. It makes perfect sense that a Christian on the losing end of a constitutional battle would perceive my reaction as anti-Christian, even if I don't see it that way.

Procrustes also asks whether we ever laugh at a Christian who fails miserably in a debate. Guilty. And yes, here I must acknowledge that it is more than me wanting to cheer on the forces of reason, truth, and logic. I admit that I take a certain delight in seeing some holier-than-thou sort fall on his or her ass. I can't say I'm proud of it, but I freely confess it.

Procrustes asks:
Is it right for atheists to revel in victory? Is is honorable, rational, or productive to laugh in the face of a fallen opponent? Have centuries of oppression and fear caused us to suffer from nervous laughter syndrome, whereby our repressed emotions and need to express ourselves manifest derision and ridicule at even the slightest slip by our oppressors? Is it healthy or beneficial for us to perpetuate such reactions? Do we threaten the already tenuous relations between believers and non-believers?
I do sometimes laugh when Christians fail, and I sometimes do so for fairly petty reasons. This is not especially productive, but I believe it is human. Yes, I think it is human to deride what we know to be absurdly false. Does it threaten our relations with religious believers? Probably, but I'm not here to accommodate dangerous irrationality. I'm not here to profess tolerance to what history reveals as one of the most potent forces of intolerance ever conceived. I'm all for positive relations, but not at any price.

Setting all that aside, however, I do want to be clear about one thing. My positive emotional reactions usually have more to do with seeing reason triumph rather than seeing delusion fail. Most of the times that I smile, laugh, or celebrate such an outcome, I am focused on the law or human reason working the way it is supposed to work. Most of the time, it really isn't about the theist at all (as hard as that seems for some of them to believe).

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September 19, 2009

Idiot of the Week: Carrie Prejean (Again)

Carrie Prejean - Miss California 2009Image by via Flickr

This is one of those Saturdays where I still haven't woken up properly and remain in a bit of a haze from what turned out to be a long and difficult work week spent battling a cold and losing. And yet, Saturday means that it is time for another Idiot of the Week installment.

Carrie Prejean has already won this prestigious award once before, so you're probably wondering what she could have done to win it again, especially now that she's largely irrelevant. Well, Ms. Prejean is still talking about her loss in the Miss USA Pageant and has become the celeb du jour of the Values Voter crowd. During yesterday's Values Voter Summit, Ms. Prejean said that she was called by her god during the pageant and that "even though I didn't win the crown that night, I know that the Lord has so much of a bigger crown in Heaven for me."

You just keep telling yourself that, Carrie. It couldn't possibly have been your terrible judgment in expressing anti-gay bigotry during the Q&A portion of the "contest." It had to be part of some divine master plan. Sure.

If you are a sucker for punishment, you can watch her Values Voter speech at RightWingWatch. Man, does she have some crazy eyes in the videos!

H/T to Pam's House Blend

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September 17, 2009

Free Speech, "Offensive" T-Shirts, and Christian Privilege

The ichthys as adopted as a Christian symbol.Image via Wikipedia
I cannot count the number of times I've encountered Christians wearing t-shirts that could be described as offensive. I remember the Campus Crusade for Christ shirts my fellow students used to wear during my college days and their bloody Jesus imagery. I remember the "Nuke Iraq" shirts adorned with Christian bible verses when the U.S. attacked Iraq in the 1990s. More recently, there are the shirts opposing reproductive rights that depict aborted fetuses, anti-gay bigotry, atheist bashing, anti-democracy, and the like. And yet, no matter how much some of these shirts might irritate me, I am happy to defend the right of those wearing them to do so. They are exercising their right to free expression, and I do not have to like the message in order to appreciate their right to express it.

September 16, 2009

Are Religious Extremists the Only True Believers?

The Bible Car: Driver SideImage by ASurroca via Flickr

Perhaps the real difference between a religious moderate and an extremist is that the extremists consistently behaves as if he or she really believes his or her religion to be true. Religious believers are fond of talking about testing faith. Some of the Christian bible passages most cherished by adherents of that religion are those that involve various figures passing difficult challenges to their faith. To retain one's faith in the face of such a challenge is widely considered a virtue.

I suppose it should come as no surprise, then, that adherents of various religions around the world tell women to shut up, maim or kill their own children, oppose bullying prevention measures in schools, try to kill those who do not share their beliefs, disown their children for seeking life-saving medical procedures, rape women who are curious about other religions, praise acts of terrorism, pray for the death of those with whom they disagree, become violent over cartoons they don't like, and undermine democracy, all in the name of their religion. They believe that these and many similar acts are not just justified but actually required by their religion. They can point to passages in their "holy" texts that do indeed seem to condone such behaviors.

Could it be that the religious moderates refrain from such acts at least in part because they do not believe with the same intensity as the truly faithful?

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September 15, 2009

Disturbing Video From 9/12 Teabagging

The following video from the 9/12 teabagging fest in Washington DC may be difficult to watch, but I believe that everyone should do so. Whenever you find yourself wondering why progress of any kind is so difficult, just watch it again. Ignorance + fear = mass idiocy which can have dire consequences.

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How to Participate at Atheist Revolution

US Navy 100709-N-7643B-296 Sailors and Coast Guardsmen participate in a game of tug-of-war as part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Singapore 2010 sports dayWelcome! This brief post is for new visitors who are just found Atheist Revolution and are having trouble figuring out how to participate.

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September 14, 2009

Baylor Study Reveals Prevalence of Clergy Abuse

Baylor University
Baylor University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When you hear someone say that the prevalence rate of something is roughly 3%, does this seem like a lot or a little? I suppose it depends on the context. The lifetime prevalence rate of schizophrenia in the general population is only 1%, and yet, many of us know someone who suffers from the disorder. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Washington DC is 3%. The prevalence of ADHD among school children in the U.S. is usually described as being between 3-7%. In such contexts, 3% is not at all trivial, is it? Well, something else occurs at a rate of 3%, and I bet you'll never guess what it is (unless you read the title of the post).

The Washington Post recently reported on a study conducted by Baylor University that revealed 1 in 33 women (i.e., 3%) who regularly attend religious services report being subjected to sexual advances by a religious leader.
The study, by Baylor University researchers, found that the problem is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of denominations, religious traditions and leaders.
The study also showed that most of those who made sexual advances were married at the time. So much for religious morality, huh? Okay, maybe that isn't fair. After all, it isn't like these leaders are using religion to to influence their victims or anything - or are they?
Carolyn Waterstradt, 42, a graduate student who lives in the Midwest, said she was coerced into a sexual relationship with a married minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for 18 months. He had been her pastor for a decade, she said, and told her the relationship was ordained by God.
It is good to see that some churches are taking steps to prevent this sort of thing from happening. It is even better to see that some states are moving to criminalize this sort thing.

Of course, it is important to remember that members of all sorts of professions engage in this sort of activity. The power differential inherent in many professions inevitably opens the door to exploitative relationships. The public needs to be aware of this, as do professional organizations and their members.
But, Garland said, "when you put it with a spiritual leader or moral leader, you've really added a power that we typically don't think about in secular society -- which is that this person speaks for God and interprets God for people. And that really adds a power."
Indeed. There are many corrupting influence besides religion, but nothing corrupts quite like religion.

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September 13, 2009

Joe Wilson: Reality and Civility

The Honorable Joe Wilson of South CarolinaImage by Mike Licht, via Flickr

If you read yesterday's post about Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) being the idiot of the week, you may assume that I think he should apologize to his peers in Congress, something he is under tremendous pressure to do. However, you would be wrong. I do not believe Rep. Wilson should have to apologize to anyone unless he decides that he wants to do so. I also disagree with those on the left who seem determined to make Wilson's outburst about Obama's race, although I do acknowledge that it fits into the broader critique of Obama that does appear to be race-related.

In parsing Rep. Wilson's outburst and the varied reactions to it, I find two issues worth addressing: civility in political discourse and the interface of reality and politics. Aside from these two areas, I am content to ignore the entire spectacle.

Let's start with the easier of the two issues, the role of reality in politics. As I have argued previously, I believe that U.S. politics desperately needs a dose of reality. Political propaganda is absolutely toxic to democracy, and it should not be tolerated from either party. Rep. Wilson's mistake was that he accused the President of lying when he was not in fact lying. In other words, Wilson was wrong. Loudly and uncivilly wrong to be sure, but it is the wrong part that matters most.

I was disappointed by Obama's bluff that he will "call out" those who spread lies about whatever health care bill emerges from Congress. I do not believe this for a second. He's already shown me that he lacks even a basic willingness to stand for justice against those who tortured in our names. Until he rectifies this, I do not expect him to be a moral actor. But more to the point, the responsibility of calling out those who spread lies, misinformation, and other forms of propaganda is a responsibility we all share. I may not care whether Obama calls anyone out, but I care deeply whether the rest of us do so. When someone spews lies, including those cloaked in religious garb, they must be called out.

The second issue, that of civility in political discourse, is admittedly more complex. The argument from free speech has great appeal even if it seems somewhat naive. Let Rep. Wilson say what he wants, and let his critics respond as they wish. Out of the debate, truth will emerge. The slippery slope claim also holds appeal. By allowing our political discourse to become decreasingly civil, are we not opening the door to the end of meaningful debate? Imagine that what began at the Palin rallies and has now devolved into teabagging, "birthers", and "deathers" continues unabated. Should this continue to bleed into Congress, it is difficult to imagine our fragile democracy surviving.

Of course, the counterarguments are compelling too. Perhaps if we had seen more incivility during the Bush years, we wouldn't be in the mess in which we now find ourselves. Perhaps if the Democratic Party had grown a pair during this time, they'd now be able to lead competently! And doesn't all this whining about incivility make us sound like a bunch of...(gasp)...Christians?

Yeah, I can see both sides of this one quite clearly. So, how to I come down? In the particular case of Rep. Wilson, I am not bothered by the incivility he demonstrated during his outburst. On the other hand, I think we should all ask ourselves about the purpose of political discourse and debate. If we believe that it functions to move us closer to the truth, then I think it is appropriate to expect at least a minimal level of civility. If, however, we no longer care about approaching the truth - if we care more for being heard without regard to how wrong what we have to say might be, then it is indeed bedtime for democracy.

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American Hate: Images From the 9/12 Rally in DC

You may have already seen these. They've been circulating since Glenn Beck's 9/12 rally in Washington DC yesterday, and I found the link to this particular "hall of shame" set through Twitter. If you haven't yet seen them, brace yourself. This is pure American hate, and it may turn your stomach. You've been warned.

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September 12, 2009

Words of Wisdom: Victor Stenger

Okay, so I'm a day late with this one. Just consider it to be directed to Glenn Beck's lunatic faction celebrating 9/12 today.
Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.
- Victor Stenger

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Idiot of the Week: Rep. Joe Wilson

{{w|Joe Wilson (U.S. politician)}}, U.S. Congr...Image via Wikipedia

Every Saturday here at Atheist Revolution, a new Idiot of the Week is honored. It is again time to crown an idiot, so let's get to it.

Since beginning this series, I have to say that this is easily the most obvious choice I've made: Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). You know him as the moron who heckled President Obama during his speech before the joint session of Congress. While I am not necessarily opposed to heckling a President, even in such a forum, Wilson was factually incorrect in his accusation and has still not acknowledged this. Moreover, his own voting record on the subject reveals that he is a blatant hypocrite. For more on Wilson, see Olbermann's recent special comment below.

Honorable mention goes to Glenn Beck for the 9/12 fiasco he is sponsoring today. Evidently, Beck still hasn't tired of exploiting this national tragedy.

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September 11, 2009

In Praise of Religious People Doing the Right Thing

WASHINGTON - MAY 02:  Louisana Governor Bobby ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I criticize religion (and Christian extremism in particular) quite a bit here. Frankly, I believe that doing so is a moral obligation given that religious belief is both irrational and dangerous. However, I also try to credit those religious groups who do have the courage to speak out against religious extremism and the many abuses committed in the name of religion. They are unfortunately rare, but that makes it all the more important to hold them up as models to remind us that some religious people agree with us on many issues.

I'd like to commend the Interfaith Alliance for their willingness to call out Louisiana Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal for spending taxpayer money to visit Protestant churches throughout his state. This is a church-state issue, and the Alliance is calling on Jindal to reimburse Louisiana taxpayers the $45,000 he has spent so far.

We atheists would do well to remember that there are religious groups who seek to maintain clear separation between church and state just as we do. I applaud the Interfaith Alliance for their work in this case.

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September 10, 2009

The Party of Selfishness: Republican Opposition to Health Care Reform

"Republican Party Elephant" logoImage via Wikipedia

Have you seen any of the clips from Rep. Lynn Jenkins' (R-KS) July town hall? I was watching it the other night, and I think it contained a moment that perfectly sums up the Republican mind set when it comes to health care reform and most social programs. Jenkins received a great question from Elizabeth Smith, a constituent whose employer does not provide health insurance and cannot afford private insurance.
I want an option that I can pay for. I work. I pay my bills. I'm not a burden on the state. I pay my taxes. So why can't I get an affordable option? Why are you against that?
It is a fair question at which Jenkins initially laughs and then responds in a condescending manner, suggesting that "people should...go be a grown-up and go buy the insurance." But none of this was what really got my attention.

No, even though Rep. Jenkins appeared to be saying something akin to "let them eat cake," this was not the significant moment for me. That came when someone in the crowd could be heard shouting the following to Ms. Smith:
Why should we pay for your health care?
I have a very difficult time seeing this sentiment as anything but pure selfishness. It goes beyond a mere lack of empathy and arrives at what I can only describe as an antisocial attitude. The unidentified audience member might as well have been saying,
As long as I have mine, to hell with everybody else!
Where does such a despicable attitude come from? Is this what people are learning at church these days? Are parents actually teaching their children this sort of contempt for their neighbors? Are we destined to turn into a society of sociopaths?

I suppose we can find consolation in the fact that the town halls weren't nearly as heated as many in our media would like us to believe. Then again, the behavior of South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson last night was a stark reminder of the degree to which our political discourse has deteriorated.

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September 9, 2009

KillerStartups Reviews Atheist Revolution

Image representing KillerStartups as depicted ...Image via CrunchBase

Atheist Revolution was recently reviewed by, a site that reviews web sites and allows users to vote up the ones they think will be successful. Cool idea, huh? I was not familiar with KillerStartups until noticing that they were linking to my blog, but I think that their site is a great idea. I imagine that it will be helpful for people looking for new websites as well as promoting their own sites.

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September 8, 2009

Deconstructing the Atheist Movement: Is There an Atheist Movement?

atheism for dummiesThis is the second post in a series on deconstructing the atheist movement. You can find the first post here.

Perhaps it strikes you as silly to start with the question of whether or not there is an atheist movement. After all, we tend to distance ourselves from those who dwell on the deconstruction of non-existent entities, right? I must already be convinced that an atheist movement exists; otherwise I wouldn't bother with this series at all. That is true, but we have to start somewhere. In this brief post, I'd like to explain what I mean by atheist movement.

As I said in the first post, I believe that it makes sense to speak of an atheist movement as long as we acknowledge that it is in the early stages and still taking shape. But what exactly is this atheist movement? It is you and I. It is:
  • Atheist bloggers and creators of atheist web sites and Internet-based social networks
  • So-called "new atheist" authors
  • National atheist organizations
  • Local atheist groups
  • Those who sponsor, support, and attend atheist conventions
  • Atheist activists and their supporters
The atheist movement is a large and poorly organized constellation of atheists who have an interest in learning about atheism, promoting atheism as a sensible alternative to religious belief, working for atheist civil rights, and/or criticizing religious belief for its reliance on faith and superstition. We are the atheist movement.

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September 7, 2009

Kentucky to Waste Tax Money on Supernatural Defense

You may recall hearing back in December that the state of Kentucky passed a law in 2006 requiring the Emergency Operations Center of their Department of Homeland Security to post a plaque stating,
The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.
You may also recall the the bill was sponsored by state representative Tom Riner, also a Southern Baptist pastor. Rep. Riner became upset in December because the annual report issued by this agency did not credit his god. The god reference in the original law was struck down last month as unconstitutional, and Kentucky has announced their intention to appeal.

If you are living in Kentucky and the idea of your state spending tax dollars to appeal this court decision bothers you, please let your state representatives hear from you.

H/T to Universal Heretic

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"Real Americans" vs. Academics

Johnny CashImage via Wikipedia

According to Ed Brayton (Dispatches From the Culture Wars), the letters from readers at WorldNutDaily reveal "a constant struggle for dominance between stupidity and insanity." He provides a few good examples of what he's talking about, and I have to agree with his selection of his favorite:
You know, the lawyers and academics that just happen to be running our country ought to think about whom they are messing with. Football fans, NASCAR types, deer hunters, rednecks, honkey tonk bar associations (thanks Garth Brooks) and just common Constitution-loving Americans outnumber them about 150,000 to one. In my opinion, it would be a wise thing for them to get "religion" quickly, or just resign, before these people get really ticked!
Maybe I especially like this one because I am an academic. It does not matter that I am also a football fan, that I grew up in and continue to prefer to live in small towns, or that I love the Constitution too (especially the Establishment Clause). Nor does it matter that you'll never catch me at a play, an art gallery, or a fancy restaurant but might find me wandering in the woods from time to time. It makes no difference that I own a gun or that I think Johnny Cash had one of the greatest voices in all of music. I am still an academic, and so I am going to be despised by these people no matter what else we might have in common.

I often wonder why I represent such a threat to these self-proclaimed "real Americans." I don't run much of anything, much less the country. Happy Labor Day, "real Americans."

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September 6, 2009

More Violent Rhetoric From Christian Clergy

I'm all for the exercise of free speech, but calling for the death of someone has never quite impressed me as the sort of speech that should be protected. Maybe this is because I have spent enough time working with emotionally troubled individuals to know that many do not need much prodding to go over the edge and engage in violent acts. Sure, most high-functioning people are going to be minimally susceptible to such speech, but they aren't the ones we need to worry about. There are enough emotionally disturbed people, those we might describe as high-risk, that I cannot help thinking that repeated calls for the death of someone are probably more dangerous than most people realize.

Why am I bringing this up, and what does this have to do with atheism? Well, it seems that yet another Christian pastor is unapologetically calling for the death of a prominent public figure. According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State,
The Rev. Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church told his Tempe, Ariz., congregation he prays that Obama “dies and goes to hell.” In an Aug. 16 sermon that recently came to public attention, Anderson said, “If you want to know how I’d like to see Obama die, I’d like him to die of natural causes. I don’t want him to be a martyr, we don't need another holiday. I'd like to see him die, like Ted Kennedy, of brain cancer.”
Now, it is entirely possible that Rev. Anderson knows full well that his god is a sham and that his prayers have no effect. And yet, I don't think it is any sort of god that we need to worry about. What Rev. Anderson is clearly saying is that he would like to see the death of President Obama. Unfortunately, there are more than a few disturbed individuals out there who might interpret such statements as a command (or at least permission) from someone who knows the mind of a god.

I join Americans United for Separation of Church and State in denouncing Rev. Anderson's calls for violence. I sincerely hope other religious leaders will do so as well. Disagreement is welcome (even encouraged), but the violent rhetoric has to stop before it motivates additional murders.

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Carnival of the Godless #125 at a Nadder

The 125th Carnival of the Godless has been posted at a Nadder! just in time for your Sunday reading. Check it out.

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September 5, 2009

Introducing Grassroots Skeptics

One of the most common experiences reported by atheists is the feeling that they are alone in a sea of religious belief. I can certainly relate, and this is why organizations such as the newly formed Grassroots Skeptics are so important. They help connect those of us in the reality-based community with skeptical groups around the world. If you have a local group, be sure to add yourself to their directory. If you are looking for a local group, be sure to check their list often.

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