January 31, 2010

Humanist Symposium and CoG


The Purloined Letter is hosting the Humanist Symposium today, and Right to Think is hosting Carnival of the Godless (update: link no longer active). I forgot, yet again, to submit anything to either carnival. I guess that is what happens when I get stuck at work longer than usual on a Friday. Fortunately, many great atheist bloggers did get their submissions in on time. Looks like a good opportunity to catch up with the reality-based community.

Matthew 25:35 Republican Style

Matthew 25:35

I find The Colbert Report too annoying to watch more than occasionally, but Stephen Colbert certainly does deliver a gem every once in awhile.

H/T to The Perplexed Observer (update: blog no longer active) for this one.

January 30, 2010

Idiot of the Week: Scientologists

th-scientology.jpgIn some ways, Scientologists are a bit like Michele Bachmann or Glenn Beck in that I could easily choose to honor them with this award each week and few would argue. It would become boring quickly, but it is hard to imagine anyone arguing that they wouldn't deserve such recognition.

But also like Beck or Bachmann, I don't typically have to wait very long for them to do something even more idiotic than their normal behavior. And this is just such a week.

January 29, 2010

Christian Comes Close to Sounding Reasonable on Haiti

Writing for Sojouner's, one of the most popular Christian left blogs, C├ęsar Baldelomar came very close to sounding reasonable in his article contrasting two Christian responses to the disaster in Haiti. Not surprisingly, Pat Robertson was used as the bad example. Catholic Archbishop Favalora (Miami) was the good example. I'll even forgive Baldelomar for committing the "not a real Christian" error with Robertson because he had something far more important to say.

Referring to Archbishop Favalora, Baldelomar wrote:
Instead of blaming the Haitian people for the earthquake, or ridiculously and irrationally asserting that their ancestors made a pact with an imaginary ghoul, the archbishop expressed his concern and pledged to the Haitian community his solidarity and that of his archdiocese.
Wow! What a refreshing and reality-based take on Robertson's idiocy! Kudos to Mr. Baldelomar for expressing this so effectively. Now brace yourself because I am about to quote the sentence which followed Baldelomar's gem above.
This is Christianity at its best!
No! Christianity simply substitutes one "imaginary ghoul" for another. How is that any better? Baldelomar was right to mock Robertson's reference to the devil, but his own god is equally imaginary. Baldelomar was so close, but he never recovers.

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January 28, 2010

Obama's Broken Promises

obama-sad.jpgThe fact that politicians frequently break campaign promises it not exactly big news. I suspect that most rational people understand that this is going to happen. We have experienced it enough that it cannot surprise us. Of course, this doesn't make it much less upsetting when it happens. We may not be surprised, but we are certainly disappointed. President Obama was hailed by many as the candidate who would bring real change to American politics. Yet it is now clear that he too has broken some important campaign promises.

January 27, 2010

Government Officials Wallowing in Religious Delusion

I am going to try something a little bit different for this post. I think you will enjoy this.

I'd like you to do a bit of visualization, some guided imagery if you will. Start by think about an extremely primitive sort of ritual you might have seen on TV or in the movies. Maybe it is a voodoo ritual where a circle of people are writhing under torchlight while several drummers keep a furious rhythm. Maybe you'd prefer some sort of shaman or witchdoctor in exotic native dress. That would be fine too.

January 26, 2010

Action Alert: Rep. Grayson's "Save Our Democracy" Platform

supremebuilding.jpgAs those of you in the U.S. have undoubtedly heard by now, our Supreme Court just overturned over 100 years of statute and precedent by ruling that corporations can spend all the money that they want to influence elections. At a time when many of us are becoming increasingly convinced that getting big money out of politics is the only way to bring about meaningful change, this is terrible news.

January 25, 2010

Does the Christian God Suffer?

God.jpgHumans suffer. Animals suffer. We suffer because we are subjected to painful circumstances over which we have no control. We suffer because physical and/or emotional pain persists, and we are unable to ease it.

What about the Christian god? Asserting that an omnipotent god suffers when he/she/it sees humans in pain seems like an absurd claim that ignores the problem of evil and most of the Christian bible. And yet, this is exactly the claim renowned liberal Christian, Jim Wallis made on his blog in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake.

January 24, 2010

The Atheism Tapes

The Atheism Tapes cover I have really been enjoying The Atheism Tapes. For those not familiar with them, they are a collection of 6 brief interviews, each lasting roughly 30 minutes and each conducted with a different prominent atheist intellectual. I know that "intellectual" is a bad word these days in the U.S., but that is a real shame.

It is an absolute delight to listen to what Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Collin McGinn, Denys Turner, Steven Weinberg, and Arthur Miller have to say on the subject of atheism. The interviews are further enhanced through the involvement of Jonathan Miller as the interviewer. Miller really seems to to know his stuff and was so well prepared for the interviews that he was able to tailor each to the expertise of the subject effectively. A sharper contrast with what passes for in-depth interviews on American news programs one will not find.

The interviews were filmed in 2004 for part of the BBC series titled "Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief." The six clips which make up this collection were cut from the series to keep the length manageable.

The Atheism Tapes is easy to recommend to anyone with an interest in atheism.

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January 23, 2010

Idiot of the Week: Jay-Z

Jay-Z (Photo credit: nick step)
I am feeling more than a little burned out on this Idiot of the Week series. I think it may be that I am finally realizing that idiocy has become the norm and is so pervasive that picking a particularly stellar example each week has become more depressing and less enjoyable than I thought it would be. But the show goes on...at least for now.

Since most of my selections end up being so obvious that you see them coming a mile away, I thought I'd throw you a curve this week and select rapper Jay-Z (the obvious choice this week would probably have to be the U.S. Supreme Court). So what did Jay-Z do or say to make me select him? Admittedly, it was nothing spectacular. It was not even anything out of the ordinary. I suppose I just found something about his interview with Angie Martinez particularly nauseating.

Blogging Tip #17: How Atheist Bloggers Can Benefit From SEO

search-engine-marketing.jpgSearch engine optimization (SEO) refers to an extremely popular array of methods for increasing the visibility of one's blog and generating additional traffic from search engines. This post is not going to be a comprehensive SEO how-to guide because my knowledge in this area is still quite primitive. However, I would like to explain one method I have found helpful that influences what you see posted here from time to time. In my opinion, it is particularly useful for niche bloggers (e.g., those of us focusing on atheism).

January 22, 2010

Inside the Christian Mind: Government Should Not Help the Poor

6a00d83451df4569e200e551f758248833-800wi.gifWe atheists know a little something about stereotypes, how much work it can be to correct them, and their power to shape perceptions. Those of us in the U.S. are used to being demonized by many Christians. Again and again, we find ourselves wishing that those who want to discuss atheists would pose their questions to us rather than making up their preferred answers on their own.

We should try to avoid making similar errors when it comes to how we portray Christians. One effective way to do this involves examining what Christians are actually saying. This is one reason I like to visit Christian blogs and read Christian new sources from time-to-time. It enables me to check my perceptions against the reality.

January 21, 2010

Do Those Calling Obama a Socialist Have Any Idea What Socialism Means?

7aoog.jpgThis question has been on my mind ever since the birther and teabagger movements were co-opted by mainstream Republican politicians and popular far-right pundits. Perhaps some of the less educated across America (like this woman pictured here) genuinely have no idea what socialism means. I can accept that. However, I tend to think that many of those funneling money into the movement, using it to further their own political agenda, or simply to boost their ratings know full well that Obama's policies are not even remotely socialist. My hunch is that there is a much simpler explanation for why we continue to see accusations of socialism.

January 20, 2010

In Questions of Free Speech, Does Reality Matter?

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day - Mohammed by Hlkolaya
Everybody Draw Mohammed Day - Mohammed by Hlkolaya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Christian extremists and conservatives are fond of whining about free speech whenever anyone suggests that they avoid blatant intolerance. However, free speech is a complex subject with few easy answers. My question for this post is whether external reality should play any role in evaluating claims of intolerance and free speech or whether it is largely irrelevant.

January 19, 2010

Fact Checking Claims About Atheists

fact-check-logo-hog-lg-300x234.jpgMisinformation and propaganda have become so prevalent in the modern political scene that fact checking has emerged as an indispensable tool. If atheism continues to become increasingly visible and if atheists become even more assertive about achieving equality, I predict that we will see a greater need to fact checking on atheism, church-state issues, and other domains in which our community has expertise.

January 18, 2010

Remember Atheist Civil Rights

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.On the day which most of the U.S. remembers Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to think of civil rights. I cannot help thinking that Dr. King would have been disappointed to see some in the African American community making a little bit of progress only to turn around and embrace anti-LGBT bigotry. I have no idea what King would have had to say on the subject of the anti-atheist bigotry or what he would think about the discrimination we continue to face for not going along with the popular religious delusion of our time. What I do know is that this day should be an occasion for reflecting on bigotry in all its forms.

Pat Robertson is a Real Christian

patrobertson.jpgThe atheist blogosphere has been buzzing lately over the reprehensible comments Christian extremist Pat Robertson made about Haiti. That Robertson said something stupid and offensive should not surprise anyone. I think we're used to both by now.

What has been somewhat more surprising are the negative reactions coming from some in the Christian community. While some lunatics have actually agreed with Robertson, other Christians have provided more reasonable condemnations. With one important exception, I find this an encouraging development.

January 17, 2010

Helping Haiti: Non-Believers Giving Aid

charity-706285.jpgWe want to donate to Haitian disaster relief, and the good news is that there are many ways atheists can help without having to funnel money through religious organizations. Now RichardDawkins.net has set up a new way for we atheists to donate to the International Red Cross and/or Doctors Without Borders in the form of Non-Believers Giving Aid.

By routing our contributions through Non-Believers Giving Aid, 100% of our contribution will go to these organizations (with Dawkins himself covering any PayPal fees involved) and we help to dispel the myth that we're a bunch of heartless bastards. What could be better?

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Carnival of the Godless #133 at Null Session


If you are looking for some godless reading this Sunday (and I know you are), head over to Null Session for the 133rd Carnival of the Godless. Take the time to read the introduction to the carnival. It should not be missed.

Oh, and whatever you do, please remember that Pat Robertson is indeed a real Christian.

Haiti Should Make Us Question Our Own Morality

Port_au_Prince(nasa).jpgI was listening to the BBC this morning as I usually do early Sunday mornings. A representative from Oxfam was being interviewed about Haiti. Among the many interesting bits of information she shared, one in particular caught my attention: prior to the earthquake, only 40% of Port-au-Prince had consistent access to safe drinking water.

Why has the international community allowed such a dire situation to persist in Haiti for so long? Why was an earthquake required for us to confront reality?

In the next week or two, we in the U.S. will see partisan politics come to dominate the discussion of Haiti. As this happens, I believe that the critical question for us to keep in mind is what it says about us that we were content to largely ignore the dire poverty in Haiti until this disaster struck.

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January 16, 2010

Idiot of the Week: Pat Robertson (Again)

I searched for an alternative to Robertson for this week's idiot. I really did. Robertson already won the coveted award once before, and I've already mentioned him this week. Hell, I even have another post about him finished ready to go in the next few days!

I simply couldn't find anyone that could rival the idiocy of suggesting that the Haitian people are suffering at the hands of his god for their "pact" with his "devil." If he had to make such a statement, couldn't he have at least waited until the situation was stable and people weren't still dying in collapsed buildings? Of course not. And that is what makes Pat Robertson our Idiot of the Week...again.

Universal Heretic has made a compelling case that Robertson deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award in the domain of religiously-fueled idiocy. I'd certainly expect that he could hold his own in such a competition.

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Thoughts on an Atheist Unity Convention

s320x240.jpgAfter describing the idea of an atheist unity convention, I ran a poll here for a week to see how many of my readers would attend such an event in Washington DC sometime in 2013. The results, based on 361 responses, indicated that most readers had favorable attitudes toward such an event and would be either "very likely" (31%) or "somewhat likely" (32%) to attend. I found the comment thread, where a handful of readers explained the rationale behind their vote to be at least as interesting as the poll results.

January 15, 2010

When Prayer Works

Unemployment line at FDR
Unemployment line at FDR (Photo credit: kanu101)
When JoAnna Caldwell and a few others recently braved freezing temperatures to gather in Central Park Plaza for a brief Christian prayer asking for for jobs, they actually accomplished something. Regardless of the fact that prayer has been repeatedly discredited in scientific studies, Caldwell and friends managed to do some good. Through their action and the publicity they received from the Journal-Courier (Jacksonville, IL), they brought attention to an important social and economic issue: unemployment. I suspect that their action will spark at least some discussion in their community about unemployment, and it is hard to imagine how that is a bad thing.

In this sense, we can agree that Ms. Caldwell's prayer worked. Of course, no sane person expects supernatural intervention on her behalf. And yes, if she is truly hearing voices, she might benefit from a psychiatric evaluation to see if she would benefit from medication. But none of this necessarily detracts from her success in calling attention to unemployment in her community.

Could Ms. Caldwell have accomplished the same thing without any god talk? Absolutely. Would her efforts be better spent doing something else instead of promoting superstition? Probably. But I suggest that what she did was still probably better than doing nothing at all.

H/T to Stupid Evil Bastard

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January 14, 2010

Pat Robertson's Grotesque Insensitivity

robertson.jpgI would like to commend Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State for this press release in which he condemned Christian extremist Pat Robertson's "grotesque insensitivity" when discussing the disaster in Haiti.

Following the earthquake, Robertson stated that the people of Haiti "swore a pact to the devil" and have been "cursed" by his god. That is, they deserved the quake, according to Robertson.

Rev. Lynn was absolutely correct to call Robertson out on this, and I applaud his willingness to do so. I sincerely hope that many other Christians will follow his lead. Pat Robertson is a dangerous Christian extremist, and I join Rev. Lynn in denouncing him as such.

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Islam is a Problem

Danish CartoonChristians, and at least a few atheists, like to criticize me for focusing too much on Christian extremism to the neglect of other forms of religious extremism. This is a fair criticism even though I have explained my rationale for this decision. It is understandable that some readers would want more content dealing with Islam. After all, the mainstream news media in the U.S. is quick to label Islamic extremism the enemy without even acknowledging Christian extremism. Of course Islam is a problem. The thing is, I'm not entirely convinced that Islam is a problem for vastly different reasons than Christianity.

January 12, 2010

Dick Cheney is a War Criminal Who Belongs in Prison

cheney_drevil.jpgDick Cheney is a free man. In spite of publicly admitting that he authorized torture in clear violation of U.S. law, nobody with the authority to do so seems even remotely interested in prosecuting him. It isn't that they've been swayed by his remorse; Cheney continues to defend torture at every opportunity. He has faced absolutely zero accountability for the war crimes he committed even though our unwillingness to prosecute him threatens our national security. As mad as this makes me, I find it even less tolerable that so few people still seem to give a damn. Aside from a handful of progressive blogs, hardly anyone is still talking about war crimes prosecution. Do we really give up that easily?

January 11, 2010

The ACLU and Religion

American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For many people on the political or religious right, the ACLU is one of the most despised organizations in the U.S. For the wealthy, it might make sense to oppose the ACLU's efforts to protect the civil liberties of those who refuse to simply accept the status quo. However, much of the hatred directed at the ACLU by those who are not wealthy appears to be based on misinformation and propaganda.

January 10, 2010

Atheist Groups Still Growing

community.jpegAtheist groups in the community and on university campuses appear to be growing, both in terms of membership and in the number of new groups being formed. It is particularly encouraging to see such groups springing up in areas not traditionally associated with freethought.

Sara Anne Corrigan wrote a great article for the Evansville Courier & Press about a freethought group at the University of Evansville (Indiana). The article focuses on the growth of atheist groups in the area, such as the University of Evansville Skeptical Society and Agnostics and Atheists Club of North High School. Evidently, five such groups have appeared in Evansville in the past year alone.

January 9, 2010

Idiot of the Week: Brit Hume

No surprise this week. Try as I might, I simply couldn't find anything to rival Fox "News" personality Brit Hume's double-dose of idiocy. He started us off with this gem:
The extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith. He is said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger is, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'
Then when people became upset over his on-air proselytizing, Hume dug himself into an even deeper hole of idiocy.

Not only does he continue proselytizing and get into some magical thinking about how "we would know it" if Tiger converted, but he also delves into the myth that modern Christians are persecuted in the U.S. Hasn't this been sufficiently discredited by now?

Brit Hume has long been held up by Fox "News" as evidence that they are not 100% biased and have at least one real journalist on the payroll. I think he's demolished that argument quite convincingly.

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Living With MarsEdit

MarsEditIcon128.jpgMy search for a Mac-compatible blogging client has come to at least a temporary end. I bought MarsEdit after a brief trial. My impressions have not changed greatly since I posted about my initial experience. There are many things MarsEdit does not do as well as Ecto, and if Ecto had worked without destroying Blogger's paragraph spacing, I probably would have selected it. But MarsEdit works perfectly well with Blogger, and that was what I needed.

January 8, 2010

Poll: Would You Attend an Atheist Unity Convention?

A novel idea emerged from Margaret Downey (Atheist Alliance International) and Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) back in 2008: a unity convention in which all the various national atheist groups coordinated a massive combined meeting. PZ Myers (Pharyngula) is now on board and popularizing the idea in the form of a 2013 atheist "unity convention" in Washington DC:
We could all join hands in the Mall and make a joyful noise for humanity and reason, and then adjourn to the Smithsonian for some tasty science.
My question for you is simple. If such a convention was held in Washington DC in 2013, would you attend? I think we can probably agree that such a large gathering is a fine idea and something worth supporting, at least in some abstract sense. What I'm curious about is whether you would actually attend.

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Atheism and the Meaning of Life

English: Tibetan endless knot Nederlands: Tibe...
Tibetan endless knot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was happy to see a recent post by Stefan at EXchristian.net in which he shared his existential pain over the meaninglessness of life after discarding his Christian faith. I am not sure how many ex-Christians face a similar struggle, but I applaud Stefan's willingness to share what had to be a difficult post to write. This is a subject that I have neglected and one which I believe deserves more attention.

January 7, 2010

Banning Books to Protect a Delusion

A reader sent me this link to a list of banned and/or challenged books, thinking it might be interesting material for a post. I agree. I started by simply scanning the list to see which of these books I had read. It turns out I've read most of them and that I had little idea that many of them had been banned or nearly banned. If others had their way, I might never have had the opportunity to experience such great books. Inevitably, this made me ask the question we've all asked at one time or another: why would anyone try to prevent others from reading a book?

January 6, 2010

Church-State Violators Count on Our Apathy

Church versus StateWhen local or state government officials knowingly violate separation of church and state by permitting nativity scenes on public property and the like, they are counting on one of two things. Either we will be too apathetic to mount serious opposition, and they'll be seen as heroic for promoting Christianity in their communities, or we will oppose them, allowing them to posture as champions of Christianity who rise to defend it from the evil atheist hordes. Even if they lose a court case or two, they merely demonize us and raise large sums of money in doing so. It is a pretty effective racket, isn't it?

Take this case from Arkansas as an example. It took a federal judge to allow the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers to place a winter solstice kiosk at the state capitol alongside a nativity scene. The entire state of Arkansas couldn't figure out something this simple, prompting the atheist group to sue the Secretary of State.

January 5, 2010

Delegitimizing Obama

change-hitler-obama-lenin1.jpgDelegitimization seems to be the kindest way to understand the approach of today's Republican Party with regard to President Obama. If we start with the assumption that the far right has decided that their optimal strategy is to thoroughly delegitimize Obama's presidency, virtually all of their tactics begin to make sense. Even the many despicable examples of racism can be viewed as a strategic approach in service to the larger goal. Rather than engage in constructive efforts to improve Obama's policies (many of which badly need improvement), the right has chosen the destructive path of delegitimization.

January 4, 2010

Atheist Heroes: Atheist Ireland

Ireland's new anti-blasphemy law has got to go. According to CNN,
A person breaks the law by saying or publishing anything "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion."
As many more eloquent that I have already pointed out, this means that offending the religious would become a criminal offense. Unacceptable! It is sometimes necessary to offend those who take offense at reality.

I am encouraged to see that Atheist Ireland is preparing to challenge this new law by continuing to express themselves. Hopefully, they will succeed. Ireland deserves better, and so does the rest of the world. It is time to set aside these ancient superstitions before they do any more harm.

It also seems to me that we should remember who stands to benefit the most by silencing religious criticism in Ireland.

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January 3, 2010

Words of Wisdom: Lemuel K. Washburn

What a queer thing is Christian salvation! Believing in firemen will not save a burning house; believing in doctors will not make one well, but believing in a savior saves men. Fudge!
- Lemuel K. Washburn, 1911

Currently Reading: The Age of American Unreason

I recently started reading The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby, and while I am only a few chapters into it, I already love it. Honestly, I was hooked mid-way through the introduction. I really enjoyed Jacoby's earlier book, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, so I approached this one with high expectations. So far, I find myself enjoying it even more than the previous one.

Jacoby's writing style is a bit more sophisticated than many of the atheist-related books I have read, but she manages to be sufficiently engaging that I barely notice this. In fact, this is one of the few books I've read in the past year that causes me to lose time while I'm reading it. I tell myself that I am just going to read for 15 minutes and 45 pass before I realize it.

Not surprisingly, Jacoby discusses American evangelical fundamentalism as an important culprit in anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. However, she goes well beyond this factor and examines the media's role in perpetuating an entertainment culture where video has replaced the written word and the attention spans of our children have diminished greatly.

What I like most about both of Jacoby's books is the historical perspective she brings. She traces the roots of anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism back to the earliest days of America and makes a compelling argument that these forces have been part of our heritage from the beginning. She demonstrates that widespread hostility to public education is nothing new in the U.S., especially in the South. I found her discussion of regional differences in fundamentalism and anti-rationalism particularly informative. Unlike many others I have read, she does not take the easy way out by attempting to blame Southern slavery for all such differences.

If you are looking for a good post-holiday read, The Age of American Unreason is an easy book to recommend. As I work my way through the book, I'll probably continue to share some insights here.

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January 2, 2010

Idiot of the Week: Editorial Board of the Natchez Democrat

mississippi.gif2009 was a great year for idiocy. Before we close the door on the past year completely, I want to return for one last bit of idiocy. Unfortunately, this is one that will likely carry us well into 2010 and beyond.

I trust that you have all heard about the recent report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in which the state of Mississippi was ranked #1 in attendance at religious services, god belief, and frequency of prayer. What you may not have heard about, unless you read Mississippi Atheists, is how the report is being received here in Mississippi.