October 31, 2009

Best Horror Films of 2008

Eden LakeImage via Wikipedia

If you haven't yet had your fill of horror, here are my picks for best horror films of 2008. All are out on DVD, and none should be too hard to find. Presented in no particular order:
  1. Splinter
  2. Midnight Meat Train
  3. Cloverfield
  4. The Strangers
  5. Eden Lake
I watched Splinter again last night. I don't think I'll be able to work up the nerve to watch Eden Lake again for quite a long time.

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Happy Halloween 2009!

It seems like October just started yesterday, and it is Halloween already. I suppose Easter is Zombie Jesus Day, but I cannot resist reminding my readers about zombie Jesus each Halloween. Halloween is a day when many Christians might watch a zombie flick and squeal in fear without realizing that their religion centers on zombie worship. Sure, a decomposing Jesus does not actually eat their brains, but the mind virus that is Christianity certainly seems capable of rotting the brains it infects.

I also cannot resist noting that every day is Halloween for Christians. After all, they imagine angels and demons at war for their "souls," and worship assorted spirits with which they claim to be able to communicate. How strange it must be to inhabit such a world!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using Halloween as an excuse to suspend one's disbelief in monsters, ghosts, etc. long enough to get a tingle of fear. I don't know about you, but I love the sensation of being freaked out like that once in awhile. I'll even go so far as to admit that this sort of fear is one of the things I occasionally miss about being a Christian. I watch countless horror films in pursuit of that tingle (and also because I love the genre).

Idiot of the Week: Pastor Jimmy Dillon

HalloweenImage by Miala via Flickr

Time for a Halloween edition of the Idiot of the Week series, and what better way to do one but to honor some of the religiously-based anti-Halloween idiocy which rears its head each and every year. In my neck of the woods, this generally comes from the Baptists, so I'd like to honor Trinity Baptist Church (Wichita Falls, TX) Pastor Dillon.

According to this article from their local paper, Pastor Dillon has fond memories of celebrating Halloween as a child but has decided that he should now deprive other Christians of the opportunity to enjoy the holiday.
Dillon preached a sermon Sunday on his convictions that Christians should not participate — or allow their children to participate — in anything remotely connected to Halloween.
It appears that he's convinced himself that it is evil because of...well...he learned something about its history. As seems to be commonplace for Christians who have such a change of heart, Pastor Dillon went overboard with his opposition to Halloween.
Dillon soon became so firmly opposed to the holiday that he not only refused to celebrate it, but also decided never to engage in any of the typical “alternatives,” such as fall festivals.
One has to enjoy the pastor's "reasoning" with regard to Halloween. Because he does not like what the ancient Druids believed about the day, he has determined that no self-respecting Christian should have anything to do with the holiday. That would be a bit like reading the Old Testament, seeing how cruel and bloodthirsty this so-called god was and then rejecting all of Christianity on that basis. Hmmmm...maybe Pastor Dillon has a point after all.

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October 30, 2009

Atheist Heroes: Great Southern Humanist Society

Mississippi Gulf CoastImage by jimmywayne via Flickr

The Mississippi Coastal Cleanup has become an annual tradition for members of the Great Southern Humanist Society in the Gulfport-Biloxi area of South Mississippi. Why do they spend several hours of a perfectly fine weekend picking up trash along coastal Mississippi? Quite simply, they care about making the world a better place. They just completed their 2009 cleanup and are showing no signs of slowing down. It is groups like this that show communities that the godless can make a positive difference.

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October 28, 2009

Understanding Satanism

Church of Satan
My path from atheism to Christianity and back to atheism was not a straight line. There were a few detours along the way which led me to various dead ends. One of these was Satanism. If there is one stance on religion that is more misunderstood than atheism, it would have to be Satanism. In this series, I will attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions about Satanism, highlight some of the important similarities and differences between Satanism and atheism, and even make the shocking suggestion that we atheists could learn something from the Satanists.

Two Forms of Satanism

I want to distinguish between two forms of Satanism so that the reader will understand what I am talking about here and not get bogged down in Christian hysteria or inaccurate media portrayals. There have been way too much of both.

What most of us think of when we heat the term "Satanism" does not really deserve to be called Satanism at all. Think of this as the catch-all category containing all the various forms of unorganized mysticism involving dark, Satanic themes with which many American teenage metal fans are fascinated. This is the form that Christians tend to become hysterical about, to exaggerate, and which the U.S. news media loved to cover in the 1980s and early 1990s. If you lived in the U.S. during this period of time, you'll know exactly what I mean.

I am not proud of this at all, but this is the primary form of Satanism in which I dabbled as a teenage metal fan. I still love metal, the darker and more "evil" the better, but I've outgrown the desire to emulate these darker themes. But back in the day, I was into this stuff. I never sacrificed anything, robbed graves, or did most of the other things that the hysterical news media wanted you to believe was epidemic in the 80s. I did do (and did believe) some pretty ridiculous things back then though. In my defense, this was little more than short-lived experimentation. It did not take me long to move on.

The second form of Satanism is what I want to focus on: the real Satanism. There are several schools of Satanism with some important differences among them. The particular form you've probably heard the most about is the religious philosophy and ritual established by Anton Szandor LaVey in the form of the Church of Satan and described in The Satanic Bible. This is certainly not the only school of Satanism, and not all real Satanists see eye-to-eye with the Church of Satan.

For the sake of brevity and because it is not my intent to make this an exhaustive exposition on Satanism, I am going to take the liberty of temporarily referring to the Church of Satan and their belief system when I use "Satanism" here. Again, I recognize that there are other forms of Satanism which could be considered "real Satanism" and which depart in some important ways from what I describe here. At some future date, I may come back to them.

If you are not familiar with the form of Satanism involving the Church of Satan, here are some things to keep in mind:
  • The Church of Satan came out of San Francisco in the late 1960s, and LaVey's initial following included a magician, a filmmaker, various authors, at least one local politicians, and even foreign royalty.
  • These Satanists do not believe in or worship a literal Satan; they use the symbol of Satan to shock, challenge, and unsettle. Satan is merely a powerful image of an adversary.
  • These Satanists are atheists and are intensely anti-theistic.
  • This form of Satanism explicitly prohibits human and animal sacrifice.
  • The Satanic rituals practiced in this particular form are based on psychodrama and are as much if not more about personal transformation than belief in the supernatural.
In the next post in this series, we will examine the relationship between Satanism and atheism, identifying the relevant similarities and differences. Stay tuned.

October 27, 2009

Afghanistan: Is It Winnable?

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -AUGUST 27 :  An Afghan sta...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I've ben thinking about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan lately. When Bush initially went in after 9/11, I supported it. Admittedly, my support was based on a desire for revenge and not reason. The idea of going in quick and crushing those who attacked us was appealing, even if it turned out to be completely pointless. I don't mean it was pointless because Bush didn't finish the job but because Al Qaeda simply crossed into Pakistan and waited for us to leave. Had the decision to go in been a bit more deliberate and thoughtful, it might have been possible to get it right. But regardless of the initial U.S. entry, we're back and appear to be bracing to be there for the long haul.

Obama campaigned, at least in part, on the idea that Iraq was the wrong war and that resources there needed to be withdrawn and reallocated to Afghanistan. I agreed with this and am disappointed that he now seems to have little intent on following through with plans to withdraw from Iraq (at least in the near future). But Afghanistan isn't going well, and nobody can be surprised by this.

Now it appears that the U.S. is going to send more troops. It seems to me that success is going to be elusive unless we decide to go into Pakistan with more than just drones. It does not appear that they have been at all cooperative, and it is difficult to imagine that real progress can be made on one side of the border without support from the other side.

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October 26, 2009

Of Course Fox News is Not News!

When representatives of the Obama administration recently said that they did not regard what Fox "News" does as news, most of us reacted with some variation of, "Well, duh!" The best description of what Fox does that I've yet heard was provided by Keith Olbermann during a recent appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show. I am paraphrasing here based on my memory, but the just of it was that Fox starts with a real news story, blows some trivial detail of it way out of proportion, manufactures outrage, and then reports on the outrage as if it were a legitimate story. Olbermann is well-qualified to provide such an analysis since he essentially does the same thing on MSNBC.

Millions of people rely on Fox "News" as their primary source of information. Therefore, if anyone is going to make allegations about Fox not being a legitimate news source, they are going to need to put together a compelling case. One of the more comprehensive I've yet to find was written by Adele Stan for AlterNet, 8 Reasons Fox Is Not a News Organization. It is lengthy, but definitely worth a read for any who have not yet made up their mind about Fox.

Some have taken me to task recently for pointing out similarities between what Fox "News" does and what Keith Olbermann does on Countdown. I am not claiming that they are equally bad, and I'll be the first to admit that Olbermann generally does have more facts on his side. However, his recent statements lead me to believe that Olbermann views his program as a news show with some opinion pieces which he clearly identifies as such (i.e., his "special comment" segments). As a regular viewer of Countdown, I do not buy this for a second. Olbermann's opinion is clearly evident in virtually every minute of his show and in every story he reports.

And yet, it would be a mistake to equate what Olbermann and Maddow do with what Fox "News" does. There are many important differences. The primary one is that they provide factual news with opinion instead of presenting opinion as factual news. Yes, viewers are going to hear exactly what Olbermann thinks about each and every news story. But he is not merely making things up to manipulate his audience.

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October 25, 2009

Church of Sweden Votes to Allow Gay Marriage

Coat of arms of the Church of Sweden.Image via Wikipedia

In spite of veiled threats by the Church of England about how it would harm relations, the Synod of the Lutheran Church of Sweden recently voted to approve church weddings for homosexual couples. Good for them! It is nice to see that some churches are actually willing to promote civil rights, even if the texts which they claim to be sacred are fairly clear about not doing so.

I agree with atheist and Swedish blogger, Jesper Isaksson (Jazzperous), that marriage should ultimately be separated from religion. To speak of marriage as a sacred covenant before some god may sound good, but it overlooks the simple fact that there is no evidence that any such gods exist. In our modern world, marriage is a legal matter. As Jesper writes,
The problem today is that marriage isn't only about religion and love - it's also about legal rights. A not married couple doesn't have the same rights and isn't equal in front of the law as married couples. This is what needs to be changed. In a secular country like Sweden, few couples get married "religiously" anyway even if they marry in church and by a priest. It's tradition and a romantic goal for many of us to achieve. It is time to leave the idea of marriage being a religous (sic) ritual behind and instead let it be what it is to many of us anyway: an act of love and law.
What religion has done to many in the LGBT community is indeed tragic. The Christian bible is undoubtedly anti-gay, and yet, many cling to a religion in which they have no place. I admire the progress the gay community has made in forcing some churches to evolve when it comes to human rights, but I would hope that more would turn their backs on the ancient superstition that remains the primary obstacle to their equality.

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October 24, 2009

Idiot of the Week: Bill Donohue (Again)

The SimpsonsThe Simpsons via last.fm

Another Saturday means another Idiot of the Week post. And despite several good options this week, I simply have no choice but to come back to a personal favorite...Bill Donohue.

I'll be the first to admit that I have a particularly strong dislike for Bill Donohue and his Catholic League. It is probably because he has appointed himself the defender of that which is utterly indefensible. This is a man who routinely levels accusations of bigotry against those who are only trying to protect innocent children from the clutches of pedophile priests. So yeah, I guess it is safe to say that Donohue really rubs me the wrong way.

So what did Donohue do this week to get on my radar? A new episode of The Simpsons aired last Sunday which contained a great line making fun of a certain absurd ritual propagated by a certain church.
What kind of civilized people eat the body and blood of their savior?
If you saw the episode, like I did, you'll know that it was quite funny in context. And yet, it prompted our idiot extraordinaire to complain.
What kind of uncivilized people work at Fox? Last year, when they poked some gentle fun at the Apostle’s Creed on the Halloween episode, we said nothing. That’s because it didn’t cross the line. This year is different: mocking the heart of any religion always crosses the line, and mocking the Eucharist does it for Catholics. They know this at Fox, which is precisely why they did it.
As PZ Myers (Pharyngula) pointed out, "Silly superstitions will always be a magnet for mockery." This is precisely what Donohue cannot seem to realize. When you believe something stupid and insist on sharing your belief with everyone, mockery is going to be the natural response. Dressing it up in religious garb changes nothing.

H/T to Friendly Atheist

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October 23, 2009

Health Care: Right or Privilege?

Hospital room (Denmark, 2005)Image via Wikipedia
At present, health care is a privilege in the U.S. and not a right. Those who believe that health care should be a universal human right have an uphill battle. The number of homeless people throughout our nation suggests that we do not consider basic shelter to be a right either. The fact that some people still do not get enough to eat suggests that food too is often seen as a privilege. It becomes harder to argue that health care is a basic human right, when we do not seem to feel the same way about food or shelter.

Why is it that healthier food tends to be more expensive in our grocery stores? Is good nutrition also a privilege? Why is it still possible to buy new automobile without side-curtain air bags or anti-lock brakes? Is vehicular safety also a privilege?

October 22, 2009

Fighting Anti-Atheist Bigotry and Discrimination

The real part of the modular discriminant as a...Image via Wikipedia
Austin Cline (About.com:Agnosticism/Atheism) has written a great how-to post about how atheist activists can oppose anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination. Wouldn't it be cool to have a comprehensive guide for atheist activists with contributions from multiple authors? So much to do, so little time!

Here are some of my thoughts on the subject of what we can do to combat anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination:

October 21, 2009

Twitter's Actions Reprehensible, Not Censorship

Detail from Government. Mural by Elihu Vedder....Image via Wikipedia

When Twitter removed "no god" from their list of trending topics, the online atheist community immediately started buzzing. Atheist bloggers and Twitter users alike complained of Twitter's censorship. Twitter's action in this matter was unfortunate but it was not censorship. Calling it censorship reflects a common misunderstanding of censorship. So what's the big deal?

In a nutshell, censorship requires government intervention. Censorship refers to governmental actions that restrict free expression. It is a problem because it conflicts with certain laws protecting free expression.

In the private sector (e.g., Twitter), a company can decide to do things like removing or adding content of their choosing. Twitter's decision to remove "no god" from the trending topics list was not censorship. Similarly, the decision by Fox "News" not to cover recent LGBT protests in Washington DC was not censorship. Mistaken? Sure. Evidence that Fox "News" is anything but news? Absolutely. But not censorship.

Censorship is real, continues to occur, and is a serious problem. Christian extremist groups do indeed pressure the government to censor certain materials, and far too often, the government caves in to this pressure and engages in censorship. By labeling Twitter's actions as censorship, we confuse the issue and make real censorship seem less important.

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Read Atheist Revolution on Your Phone

Image representing iPhone 3G as depicted in Cr...Image via CrunchBase

If you have a Blackberry, iPhone, or other web-capable portable device and Atheist Revolution doesn't look right when you try to view it there, try the new mobile site. You'll find it at http://atheistrev.mofuse.mobi

I haven't had a chance to test it yet, so please let me know if it doesn't work for you.

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October 20, 2009

Do Good Works Balance Clergy Sexual Abuse?

Pope Vader
In the face of scandal after scandal, many of which involve the sexual abuse of children followed by systematic and well-organized attempts to conceal the crimes and ensure the perpetrator ready access to more victims, one cannot help but wonder how the Catholic Church endures. Tempting as it may be, one need not conjure conspiracy theories to explain how they survive. No, one only need to examine how easily the public rationalizes away the crimes. The bottom line for many people appears to be this: as long as churches continue to do something we can call "good works," we are perfectly willing to ignore the evil they do, even if our silence makes us complicit in their crimes.

If my accusation seems overly harsh, allow me to draw your attention to a brief letter to the editor by Tom Albano of Miramar, FL (update: link no longer active), that appeared in The Miami Herald:
The media are quick to report about priests who are having affairs and breaking their celibacy vows. They reveal their names and publish photographs of them, as well as their life histories.

Where is balanced news reporting? The Catholic Church, which includes many priests and laypeople, helps the poor, feeds the hungry, visits the sick, counsels prisoners and comforts AIDS patients, to mention only a few of its the positive activities in our community.

I'd like to read about these. I would like to read about the teenagers at my church who collected 2,000 canned and nonperishable food items last weekend to help the poor in our community.

Report the news that people need to hear, not the news that destroys people's lives and reputations.
To be clear, I am not claiming that Mr. Albano wants to see more kids molested by Catholic priests. I am simply using Mr. Albano's words to demonstrate how the Catholic Church is able to survive. Not only does he imply that news of clergy abuse is not something about which the public should hear, but he seems to think that the good works he attributes to the Church somehow make up for the pain and suffering it causes.

It seems to me that newspapers, indeed media in general, have an obligation to promote public safety by providing accurate and timely information for use by the public. Blowing the whistle on child molesting clergy strikes me as an excellent way to do so.

Mr. Albano calls for balance. I cannot speak to the Miami Herald specifically, but I can say that every newspaper in every city in which I have ever lived has made the mistake of heaping praise on churches and churchgoers simply as a function of their professed religiosity. That is, the coverage I have seen buys the hype propagated by the churches themselves that religious belief is superior to atheism and that religious believers are superior to atheists.

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October 19, 2009

The Ken Burns Series on America's National Parks

Yosemite valley, Yosemite National Park, Calif...Image via Wikipedia

I've been watching The National Parks: America's Best Idea on PBS when I can remember to catch it, and I must confess being a bit surprised by all the emotion it has brought up. I have experienced pride and awe mixed with longing, regret, and anger. Primarily, it makes me long for the long gone days of my childhood when my family and I visited many of the Western parks, as well as countless state parks. It was disheartening to realize that I have done an incredibly poor job of continuing to explore America's many natural treasures in my adult years. Sure, it is easy to blame work for getting in the way, but that only means that it hasn't been much of a priority. For that, I am ashamed.

The series has also made me feel proud to be part of a country that fought so hard to establish these parks and open them to the public. I have not visited all the national parks, but I have made it to many of them. The sense of awe and grandeur one experiences in such places of beauty is all the more appreciated when one realizes what our ancestors had to go through in order to establish and maintain the parks system. Again and again, I found myself realizing how important it is that current generations protect these parks for future generations to enjoy. They are, after all, an essential part of what it means to be an American.

I have also been forced to recognize that most of the opposition to the parks, historically and today, has come from those who are convinced that all lands should be privatized (i.e., conservatives). Much as they now wish to prevent impoverished Americans from accessing affordable health care, they would just as soon fence of these parks and charge exorbitant entry fees or simply turn them into parking lots and high-rises. Their selfishness is repugnant.

Politics aside, it is clear that our national parks do not receive the same attention they once did. Visitors abound, but budgets have been cut deeply. Litter has become a ubiquitous sight at the parks, as large numbers of people now view the world as their personal garbage can. Visiting a park today, especially during their peak season, can be as much about observing human nature as it is about taking in the natural beauty.

Our national parks are such a vital part of the American experience that I hope this series stimulates renewed interest in and willingness to support the parks. If you have not yet had the opportunity to visit these parks, find the one nearest to you and start there. As for me, well, I think my to-do list just got a bit longer.

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October 18, 2009

Atheist Heroes: Christopher Kelly

Mokena Sunset 1Image by Morydd via Flickr

This is the first post in what I expect will become a new series here at Atheist Revolution, one honoring atheist heroes. At this point, I have no plans to make it a weekly series. Instead, I will use it simply to express appreciation to those making a difference in the atheist movement.

Christopher Kelly, a reader of this blog and resident of Mokena, IL, wrote a great letter to the editor of The Mokena Messenger in which he called out a local pastor for spreading idiocy in the paper. One of the things that makes this act noteworthy is that Christopher took the risk of putting himself out there as an atheist in his community.

Here is an excerpt from his letter:
In regards to the Sept. 24 pastor column by Rev. Robert Meyer. I would like to see the human race continue to advance, discover and understand the world we live in. It saddens me to know that you cannot take pleasure in the idea of human potential. Even worse, you influence people in our community, preaching a faith built on fear, teaching that a quest for learning and understanding is forbidden and punishable.
Efforts like this go a long way toward provoking thought and helping those of us in the reality-based community feel a bit less alone.

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October 17, 2009

Time to End Government-Funded Religious Discrimination

President Obama's record of keeping his campaign promises has been less than stellar so far. One of the promises we aren't yet hearing much about involves ending government funding for social service organizations that engage in religious discrimination. Fortunately, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is reminding us. From a recent AU action alert:
Today, every dollar that is funneled to social services via the federal government is subject to the exact same set of rules and regulations put in place by the Bush Administration. That means that an otherwise qualified individual can STILL be turned away from working for a government-funded program based on his or her religion - and the President has done nothing about it yet.
I understand that this may be fairly low on Obama's list of priorities but it also seems like one that would be fairly easy to fix. According to AU, the Obama administration has not even bothered to address a 2007 DOJ memo authorizing discrimination by religious groups even when such discrimination is prohibited by prior law.

It is time to remind President Obama of his promises and to signal that we expect him to follow through. Government-funded discrimination cannot be tolerated. Tell President Obama that you oppose government-funded religious discrimination.

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Idiot of the Week: Dallin H. Oaks

Each Saturday, an example of supreme idiocy is highlighted here at Atheist Revolution's Idiot of the Week series. There were some very deserving candidates nominated at our Atheist Nexus group this week, easily beating out anyone I had in mind.

This week's award goes to LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks. He compared the backlash his church faced after their support for California's Proposition 8 became widely known to the plight of African Americans during the civil rights movement. Oaks characterized those of us who oppose anti-gay bigotry by the Mormon Church as follows:
...they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation.
As University of Utah historian Colleen McDannell noted,
By comparing these two things, it diminishes the real violence that African-Americans experienced in the '60s, when they were struggling for equal rights. There is no equivalence between the two.
Oaks also referred to efforts to promote LGBT equality as "alleged civil rights." Best of all, he had this to say:
During my lifetime I have seen a significant deterioration in the respect accorded to religion in our public life, and I believe that the vitality of religious freedom is in danger of being weakened accordingly. Atheists and others would intimidate persons with religious-based points of view from influencing or making the laws of their state or nation.
A classic blame-the-atheists move tipped the scales in his direction and earned Oaks Idiot of the Week honors.

H/T to Poodles for the nomination.

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October 16, 2009

U.S. Founders Recognized Importance of Church-State Separation

University of Alabama at BirminghamImage via Wikipedia

Alabama may not be a place you would associate with enlightened attitudes, but I'd like to draw your attention to a courageous article by Aaron Graf of the University of Alabama Birmingham Kaleidoscope titled "Founding Fathers wanted church, state separate." Not only is it a great reminder that reality-based communities can blossom in some of the most unlikely places, but it is an excellent example of the sort of article that should be appearing in papers throughout the U.S.

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October 15, 2009

Thoughts on the Out Campaign Two Years Later

I first learned about the OUT Campaign in August of 2007. My initial reaction was fairly negative, and that is putting it mildly. While I liked the idea of encouraging atheists to be more open and public about their atheism, I was concerned about the implications of blindly encouraging everyone to do so without understanding the risk they might face (e.g., the dangers faced by those of us living in the Bible Belt region of the U.S). Moreover, I was suspicious of how the campaign seemed to be as much about marketing apparel with the scarlet A than anything else. I also thought it was a bad mistake for the campaign to be as tightly linked to Richard Dawkins as it was. Finally, I was more than a little annoyed with those who insisted that fully embracing the campaign was a requirement for being a "real atheist." That line of reasoning sounded a bit too Christian for my tastes. Long-time readers will know that my position softened in some ways, and I would come to support the OUT Campaign. Now, a little more than two years later, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on what parts of my initial reaction have changed and what have not.

Despite my initial reaction, I soon decided that the pros of something like the OUT Campaign far outweighed the cons. The last thing I wanted to be was one of those atheists who are always putting down the efforts of others to improve our plight without bringing better ideas to the table. Something like the OUT Campaign was clearly needed, and I recognized that now was the time for such an effort. After Dawkins clarified the intended purpose of the campaign, I decided that it was something I could support. That said, I still rejected the scarlet A symbol at this point.

Roughly a month after decided I could support the OUT Campaign, I was still complaining about the unfortunate choice of the scarlet A as the chosen symbol. I still feel this way but to a much lesser degree. While it would not be my choice of a symbol, it has caught on to some degree. When I and many other atheists see it, we know what it signifies. Really, that is all it was ever supposed to do. I can live with it.

Fast forward to the present day. I've learned to accept the scarlet A, and I continue to support the OUT Campaign (although I do so with the caveat that nobody should be blindly encouraged to "come out" without first assessing the potential risks to their personal safety for doing so). That said, I continue to have one substantive complaint with the OUT Campaign: it continues to me much too closely linked to Richard Dawkins, and I think that this is a recipe for disaster. Let me explain why.
  1. Should anything unfortunate happen to Dawkins, or should his reputation be irreparably tarnished in some extreme way, it seems likely that the Campaign would fall with him.
  2. While I personally enjoy Dawkins' books, I am not particularly enthusiastic about being part of a movement in which he is widely perceived as a leader. I have also met some atheists who do not care for him at all.
  3. There is no question that Dawkins is a brilliant guy, but I do not see him as a champion of atheist civil rights. At least for those of us in the U.S., this is what we most need at the forefront of an atheist movement.
If I had it my way, the OUT Campaign would be freed from the Richard Dawkins Foundation and RichardDawkins.net and grown into more of a civil rights organization. That said, I will continue to support it, even in its present form. I still believe that having something like this, flaws and all, is far better than having nothing in its place.

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October 14, 2009

New Atheist Revolution Group on Atheist Nexus

After entirely too much procrastination, I created a new group at Atheist Nexus for readers of Atheist Revolution. I hope it will give those of us using Atheist Nexus a chance to interact off blog about whatever we'd like. You can find it at http://www.atheistnexus.org/group/atheistrev

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October 13, 2009

Now This is a Deterrent to Proselytizing!

The combination of a "no soliciting" sign in my yard and an anti-proselytizing symbol in the window next to my front door has been very effective at deterring proselytizing Christians. I would say that it has reduced non-religious solicitation by at least 90% and Christian proselytizing by roughly 80%. What else could an atheist do to make it clear that he or she wants to be left alone by those wanting to spread the "good news" about their mind virus? A reader emailed me this picture of a welcome mat he had made, and I am quite jealous.

no proselytizing welcome matThe only drawback I see is that it can't be seen from the street, which means that the purveyors of delusion will likely leave their "literature" on one's porch. But that also means the neighbors won't see it every time they drive by, and that might not be a bad thing.

October 12, 2009

Absence of Reason in the U.S. Health Care Debate

healthcare_graphImage by jonathantellerelsberg via Flickr

Reason appears to be largely absent from the current debate over health care reform in the U.S., and this is true for both sides: the far right and the center right. In this post, I want to briefly address what I see as the single most obvious sign of reason's absence. There are many others, but I am picking this one because it is so simple I would expect anyone to understand it. What I'm talking about is the chasm between public perceptions of the relative standing of U.S. health care quality and the well publicized facts about how health care in the U.S. compares to that of other nations.

This post was prompted by a simply poll I encountered on Facebook. The question was: "Do you think the United States has the best health care system in the world?" My initial reaction upon reading the question was that it didn't matter what I thought because the facts are quite clear.
  • According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. health care system ranks 37th out of 191 countries. (While we were #1 in responsiveness, our score suffered from our lack of universal health care. That is, we would have scored much higher if our health care system wasn't so damned expensive.).
  • Health care costs in the U.S. far exceed that of any other nation.
  • Using any of the common statistical indices of health (e.g., life expectancy, infant mortality, etc.), the U.S. falls well below other developed nations.
So, what exactly does it mean to say that we have the best health care system in the world? If one defines "best" as most expensive without regard to quality, then the U.S. would have the best health care system in the world. However, this is not how most of us would define it. By "best," we tend to be interested in outcomes. Here, it is quite clear that the U.S. ranks far lower than most developed countries.

The question of what one thinks about health care is still valid. Perhaps questions like this are intended as indirect measures of irrationality. What are we to make of those who answered "yes" to the Facebook poll? Some may not have taken the question seriously. Among those who did, those answering "yes" would have to be thoroughly misinformed, lying, or some combination of these possibilities.

The reasoned approach would reflect the data. Conclusions would be based on facts rather than opinions. When so much is at stake in this debate, it is sad that idiocy once again prevails.

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October 11, 2009

Thoughts on Atheist Identity

Spend much time on atheist blogs or forums, and you are sure to encounter some version of the following:
I just don't get why atheists would be into atheist t-shirts, car emblems, or other symbols like the Dawkins A. I mean, what's the point of wearing a symbol to tell people what you don't believe in?
I find myself thinking about culture and identity today for some reason, so I'd like to share my thoughts on this question.

It is true that atheism merely refers to the lack of god belief. And yet, for those of us living in the U.S., being an atheist is very different than being someone who doesn't believe in fairies, monsters under the bed, Santa Claus, or unicorns. While I agree that it wouldn't make much sense to wear a t-shirt saying "I don't believe in Santa Claus," this is not because such a statement is analogous to atheism; it is because such a statement has no significant implications for one's identity in a culture.

What many Christians and more than a few atheists seem to have difficulty understanding is that atheism remains a pretty big deal in the U.S. It is widely perceived as a rejection of anything positive and as an embrace of pure evil. We are despised as arrogant, immoral, and treasonous by a vast segment of the populace. We are the ultimate scapegoats. One implication of this widespread anti-atheist bias is that publicly disclosing one's lack of god belief is far more significant than expressing one's lack of belief in monsters or fairies.

By declaring that I do not believe in unicorns, I am saying nothing of significance to anyone. However, by explaining that I think the existence of gods is no more likely than the existence of unicorns, I am making a statement with vast cultural implications. I am identifying myself as a member of a tiny and thoroughly hated minority

What we must understand is that the same factors which lend cultural significance to atheism also make it a part of our identity which many of us view as worthy of celebration. There is a reason that many of us would extend congratulations to someone who told us that they were an ex-Christian who was just beginning to explore atheism. We see it as an accomplishment to have escaped the dominate cultural paradigm and ally oneself with what is real rather than merely what is popular. We atheists may not agree with one another on many issues, but it means something to most of us to know that we share membership in the subculture of atheism.

When I see someone with an atheist tattoo, wearing an atheist t-shirt, or driving a vehicle with an atheist emblem, I feel a little bit less alone. I even feel a bit more hopeful about the future.

For more on this subject, see Atheist Identity.

H/T to Religious People Are Funny

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October 10, 2009

Words of Wisdom: Polish Atheists

On the subject of atheists "coming out"...
In a situation when a minority is not visible, it is easy to discriminate against it, to exclude its interests and rights, especially in the crucial area of legislation.
- MAiA Website, Poland

H/T to Friendly Atheist

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Idiot of the Week: The State of Oklahoma

State seal of OklahomaImage via Wikipedia

Living in Mississippi, it is not often I get to look at something another state is doing and ask, "What the hell is wrong with you people?" But when just such an occasion presents itself, I can't pass it up.

As I suspect you have heard by now, a new law is scheduled to take effect in Oklahoma at the first of next month that will publicize details about women having abortions in the state. According to Think Progress, the information will be collected and then posted on a publicly accessible website. Although no names or addresses will be reported, Think Progress reports that Feminists for Choice is criticizing the legislation on the grounds that it will make it fairly easy to identify the women who are from small communities.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is challenging the law, and I certainly hope they are successful. In the meantime, I have no choice but to honor Oklahoma for this remarkable idiocy.

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October 8, 2009

I Get Email From an Entertaining Christian

It is not uncommon for me to receive entertaining emails from Christians. I don't share most of them here, but every now and then, I like to do so. What follows is a verbatim email I received from a Josh Spolar, reproduced here for your amusement (and mine).
Hey man (or woman), I really hope God has mercy on you
Christian trolls? Seriously what are you like 6? Grow up and have the same amount of respect for Christians (and all religions) that you would expect from us.

You fall into the category of every typical atheist; you most likely don't have any understanding of how reliable of a source the Bible is (historically and what not), and you probably blindly accept every flawed/true new idea that the evolutionist scientists throw out.

look buddy you need to do some realizing. If religion was such a stupid, non-supported idea, then why would sooo many people still believe it?

the answer to that riddle is because no one has proved it wrong, and no one will.
Evolutionists and whatever can come out with these new "missing links" and stuff, but a lot of them end up proving the exact opposite of what they have been saying all along, so they have to completely change some of their theories. But people follow so blindly they never realize what's going on, or all the mistakes that scientists make. Like Lucy, for example, whom scientists extremely stretched the facts to make her look more human than ape. Truth is she wasn't, but almost every kid you ask nowadays will say, "oh she was that austrio-something right? a missing link?"

Your site is crude and distasteful, but to be honest it's exactly what I expected from an Atheist website. Look if everyone expects religious people to be understanding and respectful of all the liberal, secular things that pass for socially acceptable today, then you atheists and agnostics need to do the same.
But i can't expect much from people who think that they are great-great-great-great cousins of fish or monkeys who fling poop at each other
It is difficult to pick a favorite part because so many of the trite Christian absurdities shine through (e.g., one shouldn't believe in science blindly, but the Christian bible is different). I love the anti-science nonsense, but I suppose my favorite would have to be the idea that my site is "crude and distasteful," which was what he expected...before he came here anyway. Hmmmm...I wonder what that says about him?

The most puzzling part, though, would have to be the last part about how "everyone expects religious people to be understanding and respectful..." Who expects this? The only people I've encountered who expect this from religious people are other religious people. I certainly don't expect it! To the contrary, I expect religious people to be quite hostile to anyone who believes other than they do (kind of like Josh).

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Could Lodi be the Next Church-State Battleground?

Lodi ArchImage by happyshooter via Flickr

The LA Times recently ran an interesting story in which Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) reportedly said that her group is planning to sue over public prayer at government meetings in California. Lodi was described as one of several communities in the state where an FFRF lawsuit might take place. Naturally, the group will want to select the specific case on which they have the best chance of winning.

I am glad to see that the FFRF is planning to take action to end the unconstitutional practice of sectarian prayer at public meetings. I hope they succeed, and I hope they plan to carry out similar action here in the South. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the FFRF is an organization all of us in the U.S. should be supporting.

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October 7, 2009

Are Democrats as Incapable of Governing as it Appears?

Inauguration of President Barack ObamaImage by sneakerdog via Flickr

When they were the minority party during the Bush years, the Democratic Party revealed themselves to be wholly ineffective at mounting even mild opposition. They submitted to the draconian Patriot Act, went along with Iraq, and squandered countless opportunities to halt the damage Bush and Cheney did to the U.S. Bush was the 2 year-old loose in the toy store, and Democrats in Congress were the parent who decided it was best just to look the other way. Now that the Democrats control the Presidency and both houses of Congress, one would think that they might be able to deliver on the message of change on which President Obama campaigned so effectively. Sadly, this has not been the case.

When it comes to being an effective opposition party, the Democrats have never seemed particularly effective. And yet, I have generally assumed that they could govern once in power. In contrast, the Republicans have been (and in my opinion, continue to be) an extremely effective opposition party. Those who count them out now are underestimating their prowess. Of course, they have repeatedly proven that they are thoroughly incapable of actually governing when in power. Given their flawed political ideology, this is hardly surprising.

No, the surprise has been that the Democrats, once in power, do not seem to be much more capable. Despite their majority in Congress and their control of the Presidency, the Democrats have become little more than a bad joke. They have the superior political ideology to be sure, but their delivery has been disastrous so far. Obama seems completely incapable of setting aside his fantasy of bipartisanship. As a result, he is unlikely to accomplish any of the progressive reforms he promised those of us who voted for him. The party allows itself to be held hostage by Republicans and a handful of conservative "Democrats," further ensuring that nothing meaningful will be accomplished.

Unless Democrats in Congress and especially President Obama can grow a spine and push through some progressive legislation, they are guaranteeing that potential Democratic voters will stay away from the polls in 2010 and 2012. They still have time, but so far I can see only one reason that I would even think about bothering to vote and that is to make it more difficult for the Republicans to regain control of Congress. Then again, it is getting harder and harder to tell the difference.

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