December 31, 2009

Idiot of the Year for 2009

The comments on my post about nominees were quite helpful, although their cumulative effect involved making my head spin with confusion. So many good points, and so many compelling nominees. After much deliberation, I think I have finally settled on a choice. It will not please everyone, and it may be viewed as cheating because my selection did not win an Idiot of the Week award during 2009. Still, he was included in the nominees post so this probably won't come as much of a surprise.

December 30, 2009

Reason is Needed in Underpants Bomber Aftermath

pic.airplane.757.jpgI think that the primary take-home lesson after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed attempt to detonate explosives on Flight 253 is that we need to improve our intelligence and investigative capabilities. The CIA apparently had advance information about Abdulmutallab that they chose to ignore. I am saddened to see funds that could be used to improve our intelligence capabilities being squandered on airport security measures. I have no reason to believe that better airport scanners, while they might have helped in this particular case, will be sufficient to catch the next terrorist.

I'm not suggesting that airport security is unnecessary or should be dramatically scaled back. I am, however, suggesting that much of what we have been doing is simply for show. By spending money on window dressing to make travelers think that they are more secure, we have less to spend on intelligence and investigative methods that might prevent individuals like Abdulmutallab from being in a position to endanger us.

This seems to be yet another example where the injection of reason would be helpful in policy decisions. Our emotionally-driven responses have a particularly poor track record when it comes to terrorism.

For other important lessons to take away from Abdulmutallab's attempted bombing, see this article from AlterNet.

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December 29, 2009

The Best of Atheist Revolution in 2009

best.jpgThe older I get, the quicker time seems to move. It is hard to believe that this year is already about to come to a close. 2009 was not a bad year for Atheist Revolution, if I do say so myself.

Here are the 10 most viewed posts of 2009 (based solely on pageviews), presented in no particular order:

  1. Religion Should Be Like Your Genitals

  2. The Fool Says In His Heart...

  3. The Proposition 8 Ruling: Implications For Atheists

  4. Common Absurdities Atheists Hear From Christians

  5. Keep Your Ridiculous Christianspeak to Yourself!

  6. Obama Says U.S. Not a Christian Nation

  7. The Question Christians Must Answer

  8. Coming Out as an Atheist to Your Christian Family

  9. Lancet Scolds Pope's Idiocy

  10. Degrading Higher Education in Oklahoma

I'm looking forward to another year of atheist blogging in 2010, and I hope you'll stick around.

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December 28, 2009

Idiot of the Year Nominees for 2009

trophy_000.jpgYou have gotten used to seeing my Idiot of the Week posts here each Saturday. I thought it would be fun to look through the "winners" and select one for top honors as 2009's idiot of the year. But how do we pick just one from this crowded field?

Even if 2008 can properly be remembered as the year of Sarah Palin, it wasn't like she was any less conspicuous in 2009. Granted, 2008 was when she brought down McCain's presidential campaign, but even that pales in comparison to her resignation speech in 2009. Hell, no less a figure than Keith Olbermann will likely select her as his "wackiest whack job of the year." At least, that is my prediction.

Year-End Charitable Donations

give.jpgI can count on being bombarded each and every December with mailings from every charitable organization to which I have ever donated. All of the organizations I belong to, including the ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and a few others have sent me requests for "special contributions" in the last month. A variety of other organizations I have not joined have done so as well. The envelopes are piling up, and there simply isn't enough money to meet all the outstretched hands, especially as I have has multiple unexpected expenses this year.

December 27, 2009

Why Atheists Shouldn't Eat at Chick-fil-A

S. Truett Cathy
I suspect that most atheists already know that Chick-fil-A is one restaurant to avoid. Then again, I am often wrong in making assumptions about what others know. Let's face it, in this complex and rapidly-changing world, it is easy to miss relevant information. So if you have no idea why I would think it is a bad idea for atheists to eat at Chick-fil-A, don't worry. You're about to find out.

Chick-fil-A was founded by S. Truett Cathy, a Christian whose influence on his company is undeniable. In fact, the company's mission statement notes that the business seeks "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A." Is this a cause you want to support?

December 26, 2009

Idiot of the Week: Sen. Tom Coburn

Tom_Coburn.jpgIt may be the day after Christmas, but it is still Saturday. And that means that it is time for another edition of the Idiot of the Week series here at Atheist Revolution.

Some choices for idiot of the week are easier than others. Some weeks there are so many possibilities that it makes my head spin. But I have to say that this one was about as easy as they get.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) deserves recognition this week for making the following statement on the floor of the Senate while discussing health care reform:
What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight. That’s what they ought to pray.

Obama Says Jesus is Reason for the Season

Christmas figures

During a recent visit to a Washington D.C. Boys and Girls Club, President Barack Obama had this to say:
THE PRESIDENT: I think one thing that's important to remember is that, even though there's a lot of fun at Christmas, you know, you got -- especially when it's snowy like this, so it's pretty outside, you got the Christmas tree, you got the Christmas cookies, you've got presents. You know, I think that the most important thing is just to remember why we celebrate Christmas.

December 25, 2009

Words of Wisdom: Robert G. Ingersoll

Robert G. Ingersoll signature
The good part of Christmas is not always Christian, it is generally Pagan; that is to say, human and natural. Christianity did not come with tidings of great joy, but with a message of eternal grief. It came with the threat of everlasting torture on its lips. It meant war on earth and perdition a torch-bearer, as a bringer of joy, it has been a failure. It has given infinite consequences to the acts of finite beings, crushing the soul with a responsibility too great for mortals to bear. It has filled the future with fear and flame...
-- Robert G. Ingersoll, 1891.

December 24, 2009

The Evolution of Christmas

Darwin santa hatMusician Michael Feinstein wrote an interesting op-ed in the New York Times last week titled, "Whose Christmas Is It?" In the article, he described an experience some years ago in which he was performing Christmas concerts and was told by a member of the orchestra with which he was playing that his music program was "too Jewish." Feinstein went on to note that one can find evidence for the evolution of Christmas in how holiday music has changed over the years, becoming increasingly secular.

This notion of Christmas evolving and becoming increasing secular over time was interesting; however, the part of Feinstein's article that really caught my attention was the following:
Many Christians feel that the true essence of Christmas has been lost, and I respect that opinion. It must be difficult to see religious tradition eroded in the name of commerce and further dissipated by others’ embrace of a holiday without a sense of what it truly means to the faithful.
This may come as a surprise, but I can respect this particular Christian opinion too. Even though I personally welcome the continued erosion of religious tradition, I recognize that this must be both disappointing and frustrating for those who see Christmas primarily as a religious holiday.

Of course, I also recognize that many Christians - probably the overwhelming majority of Christians living in the U.S. - are complicit in the commercialization of Christmas. Contrary to the whining that one often hears this time of year, Christmas is the way it is largely because Christians have wholeheartedly embraced the materialism which pervades our culture of consumerism.

I disagree with Feinstein's suggestion that there is anything "universal" about "the spirit of the holiday," but he is certainly right that traditions are going to be diluted as a result of our increasingly multicultural society. That is inevitable. Even more dilution will occur so long as the majority of Christians focus more on the materialistic aspects of their holiday than the religious.

December 23, 2009

The Day I Became an Atheist Activist

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
- Edmund Burke

When I woke up on a recent morning, I had no idea that I would take an important step toward becoming one of "those atheists" we hear so much about. You know, the atheists who are always "attacking" religion in the public square by asking religious believers to obey the law.

Sure, I have written to the elected officials who are supposed to represent me many times, and I have written letters to the editor of various newspapers. But I have generally avoided putting my job on the line in the name of atheist activism. This would be the day when that changed.

Photography is Not a Crime

StikersWithoutNumbers.jpgEver since 9/11, those of us who enjoy photography have had to think about something that never would have crossed most of our minds previously: Am I going to get in trouble for taking this photo? In the U.S., this strikes me as a particularly absurd question that no photographer should have to ask. This is supposed to be a "free country," and if something or someone is out in public, I should damn well be able to photograph it! Photography is not a crime. Hearing stories like this (and there are plenty of them) really pisses me off.

One of the things I have always admired about Mojoey (Deep Thoughts) is that he actually does what I am always kicking myself for not doing - he brings his camera with him wherever he goes and actually uses it. It is rare that I remember mine and rarer still that I remember I have it when I do have it.

What does this have to do with the subject of photography not being a crime? Short of someone trespassing on private property to photograph something, the phrase "you can't take pictures here" is one that should not exist. Not in the United States.
My questions are always the same. What does it matter what I shoot with my camera? Why do people care?
I am not going to concern myself with why people care. But the idea that someone might call the police to complain about someone taking photos and that this would require explaining oneself to them...that's just too much for me.

December 22, 2009

Should Atheists Celebrate Christmas?

evil corporate santa returns.jpgI have noticed that many atheists seem to have a handful of complexes (i.e., challenging psychological conflicts that have been invested with considerable emotional resources). This isn't a bad thing; it reflects our humanity. It seems that one of the big ones revolves around Christmas. Should atheists celebrate Christmas? Some atheists love Christmas, look forward to it each year, and celebrate it in a manner that would put many Christians to shame. Others prefer not to acknowledge the holiday at all, enjoying a day off work and nothing more.

Disclosure Policy

When we read content, even on the Internet, it is only natural that we want it to be reliable and accurate. If we cannot trust the source, then we are unlikely to stick around. Trust matters.

This is a personal blog, written and edited by me. I have never thought of myself as a journalist when it comes to writing this blog. My writing reflects my opinions, and I strive to be open about what I think. Expect me to be honest with you here.

December 21, 2009

Americans United Urges Army to Avoid Religious Coercion

AU_logo_fullcolor.pngThe following is a press release from Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

WASHINGTON - December 18 - U.S. military officials should make further changes at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri to ensure that soldiers are not subjected to unwanted religious proselytism, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In July of 2008, Americans United wrote to Department of Defense officials to raise concerns about the "Tabernacle Baptist Church Retreat" (previously known as "Free Day Away"), a program sponsored by a church in Lebanon, Mo. Under the program, soldiers are taken to the church for food and recreational activities but are required to attend an evangelistic service while there.

Soldiers who chose not to attend were left behind at the base to continue with their military responsibilities. The fort is a training center for new recruits, and the "Church Retreat" program is the only day (other than the day before graduation) off base allotted to enlistees. Officials at the fort had been promoting the program for 36 years.

Shortly after AU sent its missive, Department of Defense officials issued guidelines stating that it should be made clear that attendance is voluntary and that soldiers who remain behind should be allotted free time and not made to work.

Read the full press release here.

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Is Obama's War Just?

nobelpeaceprize1.jpgStardust got me thinking about the absurdity of giving a Nobel Peace Prize to someone who is in the midst of escalating the U.S. war in Afghanistan. My reaction to President Obama's Nobel acceptance speech was viscerally negative, and yet, I find it rather difficult to sort out how I feel about the matter.

The "just war" doctrine has always given me pause. I do believe that there are circumstances where war can be just, but virtually any example I can think of involves self-defense, the defense of one's allies, or humanitarian grounds. I was willing to accept Bush's initial invasion of Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 as a justifiable extension of self-defense. But I find continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan increasingly difficult to justify.

December 20, 2009

Hillary Clinton and Al Gore Linked to "The Family"

Hillary ClintonThe December 2009 issue of Church & State, the monthly newsletter I receive from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, arrived recently. I rarely read it cover-to-cover but skim it for content that looks interesting. This edition of the newsletter contained a brief article about the recent decision to partially revoke the tax exempt status of the infamous "C Street" house owned by the Christian extremist group known as "The Family." It is difficult to comprehend how a group like this ever could have received tax exempt status!

Although I was already familiar this the news that efforts were in progress to review and at least partially revoke the group's tax exempt status, there was one sentence in the article that was a bit of an unexpected bombshell. 
Over the years, former attorneys general John Ashcroft and Edwin Meese, U.S. Sens. James Inhofe, Charles Grassley and Sam Brownback, several members of the House of Representatives and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore have been affiliated with the Family.

December 19, 2009

Atheism 210: An Intermediate Reading List

The_Portable_Atheist_Essential_Readings_for_the_Nonbeliever-119187672369907.jpgYou've finished most of the books on my Atheism 101 reading list, and you are ready for more. You have already learned quite a bit about atheism and the dangers of religion in the modern world, but many questions remain. How is it that people come to believe all this religious nonsense in the first place? Can someone really be good without gods? In this post, I'll provide another reading list, this time to help you explore some of the excellent intermediate work in this area.

Idiot of the Week: Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)

jim-demint.jpgAnother work week has ended, and Saturday heralds a new Idiot of the Week. There are so many to pick from, but I found that this week's winner really stood out.

I am going with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) this week. Oh, you remember Sen. DeMint. He's the one who referred to health care reform as Obama's Waterloo last summer and talked about how stopping health care reform would "break him." Now he has himself all mixed up with the teabaggers.

So what has DeMint been up to recently that earned him our award? Not only is he opposing any sort of health care reform, but because he's actually been praying in public, in direct opposition to his bible, for the defeat of health care reform legislation. That's right, Sen. DeMint is praying to his god for help killing health care reform in the Senate!

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December 18, 2009

Aggressive vs. Friendly Atheism: Misleading Labels Get Us Nowhere

On the subject of "aggressive" vs. "friendly" atheism, Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) argues that there are more similarities than differences. For example, he notes that both types of atheists "want to both increase the respectability of the atheist viewpoint while at the same time persuading others that it’s the most rational point of view." That sounds reasonable to me. But I have to part ways with Mehta in his description of "aggressive" atheists:
The difference is that the “aggressive” types don’t care who they offend. They’ll go after religion in all its forms — it doesn’t matter if they criticize the Vatican or the local church down the street or your sweet neighbor who happens to be religious.

December 17, 2009

Businesses Offering Discounts to Christians

Grains of exclusion.jpgWhat are your thoughts on the subject of businesses that offer discounts to Christian customers? Is this practice no different from the even more common practice of granting discounts to seniors, or is there an important enough difference that one should be permitted but not the other? Would you spend money at such a business, knowing that you were paying more than those patrons who professed Christianity?

I bring up this subject after a recent post at Mississippi Atheists in which one of my co-authors, Steve, encountered just such a business near his home in Biloxi, MS. Grains of Montana, a restaurant and bakery, proudly advertises a 10% discount to anyone who brings in a church bulletin. According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, this practice violates the federal Civil Rights Act. In fact, they helped to resolve a similar case in North Carolina not too long ago.

Steve and a friend plan to visit the establishment and inquire about the size of the discount offered to atheist customers. I can't wait to hear how that goes. In the meantime, we are trying to get a letter writing (and/or email) campaign going.

I think it is quite obvious that businesses like this resort to such tactics in an effort to attract the post-church crowd. Here in Mississippi, that is a massive crowd indeed. I learned long ago that Sunday was a bad time to go out to eat because of these crowds. Attracting such crowds means considerable revenue.

It is equally obvious, to me at least, that I would never support such a business if at all possible. Businesses who engage in such practices probably do so without realizing that they are violating the law. I hope that the combination of pointing this out and letting them know that they are losing customers over this may help.

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December 16, 2009

Atheist Heroes: Cecil Bothwell

51oAJQ3VxsL._SL160_.jpgWe all know that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the use of religious tests for public office even though a handful of state constitutions still include such provisions. Why state legislatures would not be interested in bringing their state constitutions in line with federal requirements is beyond me, but those of us who ask are usually told that it does not matter because those provisions of state constitutions cannot be enforced. It appears that this will soon be put to the test in North Carolina.

December 15, 2009

Do Twitter Auto-Follow Bots Have Any Productive Use?

TĂȘte de robot / Robot head.
TĂȘte de robot / Robot head. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you use Twitter at all, you have encountered auto-follow bots. You tweet something with a particular keyword that suddenly causes you to be followed by assorted businesses. Perhaps some individuals use these bots, but the ones I have noticed all appear to be businesses. I find myself wondering if there is any way for the average user to benefit from this sort of technology. Has anyone found such an application for this sort of thing?

I suppose if I had a business, it might make sense to track what people were saying about it. Is this something that bloggers should be doing too? I wouldn't know how to automatically follow anyone who tweeted "atheist revolution," and I'm honestly not sure if it would be worthwhile to look into how to do so. Is this something other atheist bloggers are doing with Twitter?

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December 14, 2009

Trying a New Template

As you have undoubtedly noticed, I am playing with a new blog template. No real motivation except I was ready for something different. As far as I can tell, everything is working except the Intense Debate comment count is not showing up correctly at the top of each post. The comments still work, and you'll see the actual count and the comment box just like usual if you click on "Comments" or the post's title.

I realize this is not ideal, and I have contacted Intense Debate's tech support for some help with the issue. Hopefully, I'll be able to get it resolved soon with their help.

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What Atheists Could Learn From Satanists

BaphometEnough procrastinating! It is time for the third part of my series on atheism and Satanism. In the first part, I tried to clarify some of the more common misconceptions about Satanism, making sure we could start with a common reference point. The second part dealt with the relationship of Satanism to atheism and also to anti-theism. In this part, I'll examine the question of whether Satanism offers any lessons for atheists.

I suppose I already tipped my hand in one of the previous posts in this series by stating that I would "even make the shocking suggestion that we atheists could learn something from the Satanists." While this remains true, I am by no means suggesting that atheists should embrace Satanism.

In a way, it makes sense to think of a (LeVeyan) Satanist as an atheist who is intensely anti-theistic and has embraced the power of confrontational imagery and ritual (Note: Again, I am referring to the Church of Satan variety of Satanism in this series). The Satanist has embraced the power of symbolism, aesthetics, confrontational imagery, and ritual. While many atheists bristle at the very idea of ritual, the Satanist has recognized that many people seek the community and ritualism offered by organized religion. Rather than encouraging people to simply ignore these needs, Satanists provide an alternative. Could there be lessons here for atheists?

December 13, 2009

Standing Up For Christ in Chambersburg, PA

Chambersburg PA Public Square.jpgThe community of Chambersburg, PA, was recently faced with the same choice many communities throughout the U.S. must make each year: allow atheist signs to accompany Christian holiday displays or ban such displays altogether. Most communities decide to allow all displays, but Chambersburg opted for the ban. As you might expect, this has riled up a few of the town's Christians.

December 12, 2009

Rick Warren Finally Speaks Out on Uganda

uganda-map.jpgSince I picked Pastor Rick Warren as Idiot of the Week recently for refusing to condemn plans in Uganda to make homosexuality punishable by death, I thought it was only fair to do a brief follow-up. In response to considerable public pressure, Pastor Warren did eventually speak out against the Ugandan legislation. I remain skeptical that this remains anything more by Warren than an effort to save his tarnished reputation, but regardless, he deserves credit for speaking out on this atrocity.

Lest you mistake this for a retraction of what I said previously about Warren's idiocy, check this out.

While we're on the subject of Uganda, it is important to note that the secretive Christian extremist group known as "the Family" has now been linked to anti-gay legislation there. Just when I thought we had heard all we were going to hear about the Family, they are back in the news with ties to Uganda and what appears to be fairly successful efforts to export their anti-gay bigotry to Africa.

I applaud all those responsible for continuing to shine a light on the Family and expose this group to public scrutiny.

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Idiot of the Week: Those Who Insist That Christmas is Under Attack

war on christmas card I felt like doing something a little different for this week's Idiot of the Week post. I've decided that this post will honor those who insist that there is a war being waged by atheists against their cherished holiday in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Yes, those who take this particular form of right-wing fundraising propaganda as truth are idiots.

I'm no fan of Christmas, and I have not celebrated it since I had any choice in the matter. The gift-giving out of obligation annoys me, and I find the crass commercialism more than a little sad. I despise the music, and while I don't mind the better manners some exhibit this time of year, I cannot help perceiving it as a bit superficial. It does not bother me one bit that most Americans, including most atheists I have encountered, choose to celebrate the holiday. What I do find tiresome is those who act as if I am a lunatic, a grouch, or a spoilsport simply because I'd rather not celebrate their holiday.

Just because I want nothing to do with this holiday does not mean that I don't want others to celebrate it. I really don't care one way or another. And while I certainly wish people would shut up about it in public rather than assuming that everyone else feels exactly the same way they do about it, I'm generally willing to look the other way. What I will not do, however, is look the other way on violations of separation and church and state simply because it happens to be a particular time of year. Yep, I expect Christians to obey the law even in December.

December 11, 2009

Religion Should Be Like Your Genitals

Darth JesusI am fortunate (but not blessed) to receive many excellent comments on this blog. One of my all-time favorites, left by Personal Failure quite awhile ago on a post about Christians "witnessing" to atheists, deserves to be shared because it makes me smile every time I read it.

The post in question had prompted a comment from a Christian visitor about how he simply could not help spreading the "good news" door-to-door. In fact, this made such an impression on me, that I asked whether others suffered from this compulsion (assuming it was in fact a compulsion). I must admit that I had never previously heard a Christian claim that he could not stop himself from engaging in door-to-door evangelism.

December 10, 2009

Atheism: Just a Phase?

william-adolphe-bouguereau-a-childhood-idyll-1900.jpgHave you ever been told that your atheism is merely a phase you are going through, something you will outgrow? Yeah, me too. Many times. In fact, my own mother spent roughly 15 years insisting this very thing! The good news is that I think she's finally given up. She may still believe it, but she has at least learned to keep this opinion to herself. For that, I am grateful.

My atheism, which I first begin to label as such around age 16, has been as much an enduring part of my adult life as nearly anything else about me. Many interests have come and gone, as have many relationships, jobs, places I have called home, friends, etc. And I have certainly been through my share of phases. Yet I remain an atheist.

This is not to say that my atheism today is exactly the same as it was at 16. That is hardly the case. But I can say that by about the time I turned 18, I have considered atheism to be one aspect of who I am. Since then, I have realized that I am not comfortable pretending to believe things I do not believe simply because doing so might reduce conflict. Sure, I have still had periods of my life where I did this, but I have long realized that it is not a permanent solution.

One of the things that always frustrated me about the "just a phase" perspective is that it characterizes atheism as somehow immature. Imagine a child questioning the existence of Santa Claus and being told by a parent, "Don't worry, that is just a phase. You will believe again." For me, believing absurdities without sufficient evidence was the phase. In fact, it was a developmentally appropriate phase that begin to fade as I developed the capacity for critical thinking and abstract reasoning. I'm glad to have it behind me.

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December 9, 2009

Senate Democrats Compromise on Health Care

v146.jpgIt would be premature to spend much time on the recently announced Senate health care compromise. Details remain sketchy, and I imagine that there will be plenty of time to examine the bill as it moves to the next stage. Based on what I'm hearing so far, there doesn't seem to be much reason to celebrate. In fact, it sounds like it would be appropriate to call this one a big win for the insurance companies.

Observers have long speculated that a meaningful public option would eventually be scrapped and that all sides would declare victory. One side would claim that they defeated the public option, and another side would simultaneously claim that the final result really was a public option but was being called something else for strategic purposes. It looks to me like this is already beginning to happen.

If the Senate compromise does indeed extend Medicare coverage down to those 55 or older, this sounds like a step in the right direction. At least, it would if we assume that they will have real Medicare and not some scaled back version. Of course, this raises the question of how such a bill would help anyone under 55. That is not yet clear.

I say that this looks like a win for the insurance companies because it appears that they are going to gain a mandate for Americans to buy their product without many meaningful regulations on their many questionable business practices. Hopefully, some of the better parts of the House bill will find their way into the Senate version. After all, someone has to represent the people, don't they?

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Mike Huckabee is a Dangerous Christian Extremist

chuckabee.jpgMike Huckabee is quickly becoming one of my least favorite public figures. I personally think that a Huckabee presidency would be worse for the U.S. than just about anyone else, including Palin. The man is an unapologetic Christian extremist and yet countless people are willing to look the other way simply because he has a certain gentle charm. This makes him plenty dangerous.

It is widely known that Huckabee detests the fact that the U.S. was founded as a secular democracy. He has convinced himself that all law must be based on his preferred version of the Ten Commandments, and he has indicated that he wants to change the U.S. Constitution to take one giant step closer to Christian theocracy. This provides strong evidence that Huckabee has little interest in separating his personal religious beliefs from the manner in which he would govern.

Now we have what may be another piece of the Huckabee puzzle in his pardoning of the Washington State cop killer. Valerie Tarico has written a must-read post for in which she probes the possible role of Huckabee's extremist Christianity in the slaying of four police officers in Washington State.

Here is an excerpt, but I really do encourage you to read the whole article:
When it comes to their own religion, moderate people of faith often defer publicly to even the wildest fellow believers. Most mainline Christians maintain downcast eyes while fundamentalists rant about demons and witchcraft and spiritual warfare. Mainstream Muslims are painfully quiet about terrorism in the name of God. The Rick Warrens and Joel Olsteens of the world go mute when the book of Psalms is used to invoke God as a celestial hit man against Mikey Weinstein (Military Religious Freedom Foundation) or Barack Obama. Christian Science lobbyists make straight-faced attempts to get “prayer treatments” paid for by any national health plan, and somehow lawmakers maintain straight faces.
Tarico is not claiming that these murders were caused by Huckabee's disturbing worldview, but she is certainly asking the right questions about the core tenets of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. It seems highly likely that Huckabee's pardon was linked to this worldview and the skill with which the murderer was able to manipulate it.

As Bob Hayes recently pointed out (update: link no longer active), this news has not appeared to do much to damage Huckabee's political future. Maybe it is about time that changes. Huckabee is a Christian extremist who has no place in politics.

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December 8, 2009

The Rapture Ready Christians

pets.jpgI found a real gem in a post on USAToday's website pointing to an article in the Union Leader. The brief post dealt with Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, with which I suspect you are already familiar. New Hampshire atheist, Bart Centre, co-owns this company, offering to care for the pets of fundamentalist Christians after they are raptured away. They are very clear that this is a money-making venture, that there will be no refunds when the rapture doesn't happen, etc. No harm in that. In fact, I think it is an outstanding idea.

Eternal Earth-Bound Pets has set up a network of atheists in 22 states who have agreed to look after any pets "left behind" by their owners. A one-time fee of $110 entitles the Christian to something akin to a 10-year insurance policy. That is, they are covered in the event that the rapture occurs within 10 years from their policy date.

Here's the fun part. First, Centre says that some Christians have actually signed up for the service. Great. It is nice to know that there are at least a few Christians out there who may actually believe what they claim to believe. Second, Terry James, editor of the Christian website Rapture Ready is quoted as calling Centre's service "a scam." He says,
Anyone who would take that offer seriously, well, how would you even follow up?
Let that sink in a moment. A Christian who claims to believe in the rapture to the point where he runs a website devoted to it thinks that Centre is the scammer and expresses surprise that anyone would take the pet service seriously. In fact, James counsels worried Christians "that if people in Heaven find they miss their pets, they can decide to have them brought up later."

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December 7, 2009

Defining "Atheist Activism"

b574638q.jpgWhat does atheist activism mean to you? Greta Christina recently defined atheist activism as "trying to persuade people that atheism is correct and working to change the world into one without religion." Does that capture what you think of when you encounter the term? This isn't what I usually mean by atheist activism, at least not completely.

Could someone be an atheist activist if this person does not try to persuade others than atheism is correct? Yes. This part of Greta Christina's definition does not strike me as essential for atheist activism. One could be an atheist activist without attempting to de-convert others.

Similarly, if asked whether someone could be an atheist activist without "working to change the world into one without religion," I'd likely say yes. While most people I would consider atheist activists certainly work to reduce the political influence of religion, I do not think that they necessarily must seek the abolition of religion.

In addition, I suggest that one of the ways I often use the term "atheist activist" is not captured by the above definition at all - one who works to promote atheist equality. However, while I consider this an important form of atheist activism, I do not view it as an essential part of the definition.

So what is an atheist activist, and what is atheist activism? I'd like to suggest something along these lines:
Atheist activism refers to the process of promoting atheism through activities such as promoting a worldview free from gods, reducing the privileged status of religion in society, and promoting atheist civil rights.
Use of the "such as" phrase reminds us that these are merely examples of how an atheist activist might promote atheism, none of which is a necessary condition. The essential feature would be the promotion of atheism (i.e., I cannot think of a form of atheist activism that in no way involves the promotion of atheism).

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December 6, 2009

Fantasy Feels Good But Makes Poor Substitute for Reality

Fantasy Art by George Grie
Fantasy Art by George Grie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Suppose someone were to tell you that he or she has a bit of a crush on a co-worker. This person knows full well that nothing is ever going to materialize but feels powerless to turn off the feelings. The other party has no idea of the crush, and this is how it needs to stay. Getting involved with someone at work would be a disaster on multiple levels. While the two seem compatible in many areas, there are at least as many where they would clash. And yet, the fantasy that something could happen someday seems so much more appealing than the reality.

I suspect most of us have found ourselves in situations like this at one time or another. I further suppose that situations like this might make it easier for us to empathize with religious believers at least a little bit. They have crafted what they consider to be a perfect god, and while what is left of the rational part of their minds may experience doubt at times, who wouldn't want such a god? Forget about all the reasons it cannot be true. Isn't it more exciting to ponder the possibility that it might be?

Sometimes I wonder if the feelings of excitement the religious believer reports while considering their god are really that different from those we experience when fantasizing about what might (but won't) be of a potential romantic situation. Do they not sometimes worry about losing themselves in the face of their passion just as we sometimes have to exert self-control not to do or say something we'd instantly regret?

And what about other pleasant fantasies that do not involve the possibility of romance? Wouldn't it be great to be smarter, stronger, better looking, or more talented than we really were? Wouldn't you stand in line for superpowers if they were being handed out? There are many types of fantasies that should help us understand part of the pull of religion.

I have encountered many religious people who respond to my objections with some variation of, "I don't care whether it is true or not; it makes me feel better to believe it." Fair enough. If they wouldn't have to take the next step of meddling in everyone else's lives, maybe we could all just allow each other our fantasies. Then again, we might recognize that some fantasies can be harmful.

Maybe the difference between non-religious fantasies and religious fantasies is that those of us who have non-religious fantasies can recognize that they are not real. We don't really believe that the other person is in love with us or that we have superpowers. We wish it was true while recognizing that it is not. We want to believe that we'll find ourselves in relationship bliss or be able to handle any villains that come our way. Daydreaming about such possibilities may feel better than facing reality at times, but we still realize that the fantasies are not real. If we were unable to do so, we'd be appropriately described as delusional.

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December 5, 2009

Idiot of the Week: Rick Warren

I have not written an Idiot of the Week post in awhile, but that doesn't mean that there has not been plenty of idiocy. I'm back this week with another "winner" from a crowded field.

Props to Obama's inauguration speaker, Christian extremist Pastor Rick Warren, for picking up this week's honor. Pastor Warren sparked outrage from almost everyone outside his extremist circle when he refused to condemn Ugandan legislation that would make certain homosexual acts punishable by death. As if that wasn't bad enough, Warren could do worse (and soon did).

According to Think Progress, Warren recently tweeted the following in a desperate attempt to change the subject:


Clearly, Pastor Warren recognizes the difficult spot in which he now finds himself. On one hand, he risks alienating most moderate Christians by refusing to condemn Uganda's human rights abuses. On the other hand, he probably feels that he cannot do so because his Christian extremist supporters would quickly turn on him.

Doing the right thing isn't supposed to be easy, Pastor. Do you hate homosexuals so much that you cannot speak out against those who would simply kill them?

H/T to Pam's House Blend

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December 4, 2009

Thoughts on Afghanistan in the Season of Peace

afghan.gifI think putting more troops in Afghanistan is a mistake. I understand that President Obama indicated that he would do this during his campaign, and I am not surprised that he sent additional troops shortly after taking office. Nor am I surprised that his generals want still more troops now and that he is inclined to send them. Whether I like it or not, he has now taken full ownership of this war, a war my country has been waging for the past 8 years. It no longer matters why this war started or the many mistakes made by the previous administration. This is now Obama's war.

The first thing that bothers me about the war in Afghanistan is that we cannot afford it. The U.S. economy is not doing well, and expanded domestic programs are desperately needed at home. Health care costs continue to rise, and state after state is crippling higher education because of budget shortfalls. We should have learned something from what happened to the former Soviet Union, but we appear to be making a similar blunder.

Beyond the cost and all which must be sacrificed to meet it, I have a very difficult time believing that the situation in Afghanistan is resolvable without a real U.S. military presence in Pakistan and perhaps even other neighboring countries. Of course, this is not going to happen, making the effort in Afghanistan increasingly futile. I am simply not convinced that the nature of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan allows us to make much progress without forces on both sides.

An additional concern springs from the widespread corruption within the Afghan government. It is not that I am trying to point fingers here, for a freely acknowledge that corruption is a serious problem in the U.S. government as well. Still, I am not sure how U.S. efforts to prop up a corrupt Afghan government are going to be productive.

It is difficult to take stock of the fact that we have been at war, fighting multiple wars even, for the past 8 years without reprieve. As we approach a season in which many claim to celebrate the notion of peace, I feel that it is time to take a hard look at ourselves.

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December 3, 2009

Karma and Christian Morality

KarmaCop-311x322.jpgOf all the assorted religious dogma I have encountered in my life, karma has always been the most appealing. If only it were true that one would be rewarded for good deeds and punished for bad ones. If only we had future lives to look forward to such that our status in each would be sort of a divine accounting of what we had contributed in our current lives. I find that notion so much more appealing than any of the Christian garbage about salvation through Jesus. Sadly, finding it more appealing doesn't make it any more true.

With the idea of karma, there is a certain inevitability of justice. If one screws up enough in life, there is no forgiveness and no absolution of "sin" gained by repeated hail Mary's. No deathbed confessions will save your ass. Your fate will be determined by your own behavior, just as it should be. The various Christian denominations seem determined to offer short-cuts - ways to get away with sin.

In a karma-based system, there are no short-cuts. However, there are plenty of second chances. One has an eternity to get it right, but one must change one's behavior in order to do so. No amount of belief is going to cut it.

It is no surprise that Christianity is so big in the U.S. We're all about short-cuts, get-out-of-jail-free cards, and escaping responsibility for our actions. The Eastern religions of which karma plays a part could never endure here. They violate too many parts of our culture.

There are many problems with Christian morality, but the idea that one can escape bad behavior through belief seems to be one of those we do not hear enough about.

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