March 31, 2010

Wasting Your Time

As my regular readers know, this blog generally focuses on atheism and related topics likely to be of interest to atheists. I also write an ongoing series of blogging tips in an effort to give something back to the atheist blogosphere. But as I have explained many times, I make no attempt to restrict myself to these topics alone. For example, I post about political issues from time to time (although I am doing less of that now that I've got Red State Progressive going). All in all, I make an effort to keep at least 80% of my posts focused on atheism and allow the other 20% to delve into other areas (the 80/20 rule referenced here).

March 30, 2010

Pope Enabled Molestation of 200 Deaf Boys

English: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Rome (Sa...
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Rome (Sant'Uffizio). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When the person in charge is informed of wrongdoing by his or her subordinates, we expect action to be taken. When the person in charge received repeated warnings a subordinate is doing something truly awful, we expect the action to be swift so that the behavior is quickly brought under control.

Suppose instead that the person at the top decides to ignore the reports, look the other way, and try to sweep the whole thing under the rug. In such a case, we are likely to view him or her as sharing at least some of the blame for the continued bad behavior of his or her subordinates.

Maureen Dowd wrote a good Op-Ed in the New York Times this weekend on the subject of Pope's involvement in concealing child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. It is good to see more and more people speaking out against this man, his church, and the atrocities that continue to surface.
Now we learn the sickening news that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” when he was the church’s enforcer on matters of faith and sin, ignored repeated warnings and looked away in the case of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.

March 29, 2010

Dr. John Shook on the Psychology of Religious Belief

A reader in North Carolina emailed me with a link to videos of a recent presentation by Dr. John Shook, Vice President for Education and Research at the Center for Inquiry, at the University of North Carolina - Greensboro on the psychology of religious belief. Dr. Shook is a philosopher with some very interesting material. Those with an interest in the psychology of religion and secular humanism will likely enjoy this. You can find the first part below.

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March 28, 2010

Profaning the Sabbath

Bachmann.jpgFor better or worse, the health care reform legislation that politicians in the U.S. have been debating intensely is now law. But that doesn't mean we can't still enjoy some of the highlights of the debate.

A couple weeks ago, reader favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) did an interview with right-wing extremist radio host Michael Savage. Worried that one of the key health care reform votes might actually take place on a Sunday, Bachmann had this to say:
For people who are Christians this is the Easter season called Lent and on Sunday, on the Sabbath, they’re going to force pro-life democrats to take a vote on the Sabbath to force all Americans to pay for other people’s abortions against their will and violate their moral conscience. They are going to profane the Sabbath.
Never mind that Republican claims about health care legislation and abortion have been thoroughly fact checked and found to be void of any factual basis, Bachmann continues to repeat them. But I must say that I love the "profane the Sabbath" part. In fact, I think I will profane the Sabbath today by working.

H/T to Dispatches From the Culture Wars

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March 27, 2010

Idiots of the Week (Video Edition): Teabaggers

The misinformation and willingness to blindly recite Fox "News" talking points is astounding. Opposition to legislation is one thing, but this is pure idiocy. Don't those who claim that the world is ending because of "Obamacare" at least have an obligation to know what they are talking about? I am embarrassed for them.

March 26, 2010

Musical Fidelity V-DAC Initial Impressions

I spend too much time sitting in front of my computer. Blogging takes up some of my time, but I also do quite a bit of work from home. I figure that since I spend so much time here, I might as well make it as pleasant as I can. I remain very happy with the iMac I bought back in 2008, however it did not take me long to realize that I needed to improve the audio quality of a system I used so much for listening to music. I replaced the poor quality external speakers I had been using with some powered speakers from Audioengine awhile ago, and I continue to be impressed on a daily basis with what a difference they have made. Now I took another step toward audio bliss with the addition of an external DAC, the Musical Fidelity V-DAC.

March 25, 2010

The Establishment Clause of Our Secular Constitution

Constitution.PNGThe U.S. Constitution is a thoroughly secular document, and it was intended as such by those who drafted it. This has long been a particular strength of our government, and it is difficult to imagine how anyone who claimed to be a true patriot would not celebrate it. The language of the Establishment Clause, combined with the writings of Thomas Jefferson, makes it clear that there is to be separation of church and state in the United States and that this "wall" is designed to protect both religion and government.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

March 24, 2010

When Fox News Gets it Right

You've heard the saying that even a broken clock is right twice a day, right? Well, even Fox "News" gets it right once in awhile. How many times have you seen a news anchor or pundit interviewing a Christian extremist and failing to call him or her on any blatantly absurd statements out of some misguided notion of respect for religious belief? This clip from Hannity and Colmes provides a nice example of how the media should handle Christian extremists.

It pains me to say this, but I even found myself thinking "go Hannity" at a few points during the clip.

Thanks to Adrien for emailing this clip to me.

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March 23, 2010

Vandalism Shows That Atheists Face Prejudice


Nirak Warikoo's article in the Detroit Free Press summarized the take home message from still more vandalism of atheist bus ads perfectly: "Vandalism shows how group faces prejudice."

The Detroit ads simply said, "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." A more positive and inoffensive message I cannot imagine. But this did not deter the vandals, much as it has not deterred countless Christians who have denounced this message as offensive.
"It's unfortunate," said Fred Edwords, national director for the United Coalition of Reason, the Washington D.C.-based group that paid for the ads. "It's a sign that we need to keep getting our message out. This kind of prejudice won't go away unless we are up front and out there."
Edwords is right. This is more evidence that we need to stand up and speak out. If anti-atheist bigotry is to become socially unacceptable, it will be because we make it happen.

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March 22, 2010

Another Reason to Wear Atheist T-Shirts

thb_smile.jpgIn a recent post on the subject of atheist t-shirts and other items communicating atheist-oriented messages, I listed some of the advantages I saw for publicly displaying such messages. I missed a big one, and I am grateful to a reader for pointing it out. After expressing agreement with the advantages I listed, he noted, "While those are valid reasons, I feel the most important is to provide an alternative to skeptics of religion." Absolutely! This is way too important to be left out of the discussion.

March 21, 2010

Atheist Heroes: Todd Stiefel

An article by The (Raleigh) News & Observer reports on North Carolina philanthropist, Todd Stiefel and his generous contributions to secular and atheist causes. The article describes Stiefel's gifts to the Secular Coalition of America, American Atheists, and the Secular Student Alliance.

Todd Stiefel recently donated $20,000 to the ACLU of Mississippi in order to help them sponsor a prom for the high school in Itawamba County after they decided that it was better to cancel the prom than risk exposing students to "teh gay."

According to the article,
Stiefel wants to create a culture in the United States in which secularists — be they atheists, agnostics or humanists — are respected.
It is great to see someone with Stiefel's means helping to achieve such a worthy goal. More on Stiefel and his generous support of the reality-based community can be found at

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March 20, 2010

Atheist Dad Considers Civil Disobedience at Daughter's Graduation Ceremony

I am posting the following for a reader, Maldon, who sent it to me with a request for assistance after his daughter informed him of Atheist Revolution (how cool is that?). He is particularly interested in your input.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter (who is first in line to be valedictorian at her upcoming high school graduation) approached me and said “They are going to make time for a student led prayer at my graduation ceremony. I don't think this is right. Should I say something?” This at a mid-western high school which shall (for now) remain nameless.

Idiot of the Week: CNN

CNN.jpgThere were way too many solid choices this week, but this pick allowed me to add a new idiot to the ranks instead of simply awarding it to Michele Bachmann yet again. Just what did CNN do to win Idiot of the Week honors? As I suspect you've heard by now, they hired right-wing extremist Erick Erickson ( as their newest pundit.

March 19, 2010

Atheist Activists: Stand Your Ground

revolution.jpgWould you agree that the LGBT community in the U.S. is now in better shape than they were in the 1970s? There is no denying that gay rights still has a long way to go, but I think we can agree that tremendous progress has been made. Do you suspect that there were people both inside and outside the early days of the movement who thought that the activists should tone it down, be more respectful to mainstream culture, and the like? Good thing the activists didn't listen to these critics!

It is often said that the atheist movement is now where the gay rights movement was in the early 1970s. I'm not sure I agree with this. I see us as being closer to where they were in the 1950s, but I digress. That is not what I want to talk about here. Instead, I want us to examine the frequent criticism leveled at the atheist movement and realize that we had better not listen to it either.

March 18, 2010

Conservative Christians Set Texas Curriculum Standards

Texas Logo.jpgI have been doing most of my political posting at Red State Progressive, but I will continue to address a number of political subjects that are relevant to atheists here (e.g., separation of church and state). The recent conflict over educational requirements in Texas is just such an issue, reminding us all that politics matter.

According to The Dallas Morning News, the Texas State Board of Education has split along political lines in a way that seriously impacts public education in that state. Democrats on the board recently proposed requiring Texas students to learn about the rationale for separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution. The board's Republican majority rejected this proposal.

March 17, 2010

Under God and In God We Trust: Atheists Are Not Real Americans

cross-flag.jpgAtheists living in the United States know what it is like to be strangers in a strange land. We are surrounded by reminders of our outsider status, and we should not be surprised to find that this can exert a psychological toll upon us. Admittedly, I know this feeling much better now that I'm living in Mississippi, but I suspect that it would be experienced to a lesser degree nearly anywhere.

March 16, 2010

Do You Wear Atheist T-Shirts?

WHITEDESIGN2B.jpgI realize that what I experience as an atheist living in Mississippi is a bit different from what those of you in more enlightened areas experience. My experience here shapes how I view the world, and there is simply no getting around that fact. But I've found myself thinking lately that I want to be more than a passive recipient of my environment; I want to shape it as well. I'm going to look at atheist t-shirts, vehicle emblems, and the like as examples of what I'm talking about.

March 15, 2010

Carnival of the Godless #137 at Melliferax


Yesterday did not feel like Sunday for some reason, and I forgot to announce that the 137th Carnival of the Godless was posted at Melliferax. And since it was the "steak and blowjob" edition, my neglect must be remedied. If you haven't visited Melliferax yet, head on over for some good godless reading.

Oh and while you're there, give the carnival page a thumbs up in StumbleUpon. I was horrified to see that I was the first one to do so this morning. If we are serious about spreading the atheist meme, we really need to take better advantage of such easy methods for promoting content.

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A Universe From Nothing

For readers who are particularly interested in cosmology and the "why is there something rather than nothing" question, you'll enjoy this presentation by Lawrence Krauss delivered at the 2009 Atheist Alliance International convention. A reader send me the link to this clip, and I really enjoyed it. It is long (over an hour) but quite interesting.

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March 14, 2010

Skeptical Software

iphone.pngWith so many of us in the reality-based community, one would think more creative businesses would be catering to us. So why does there seem to be so little skeptical software available?

Some of you iPhone users might be interested in this one. A reader, TechSkeptic, emailed me about a Skeptics Bingo app that sounds awfully interesting. You can read more about it at Effort Sisyphus.

I don't have an iPhone and probably won't until all the reviews I read stop saying that the Blackberry handles email better, but I think that developing software like this is a great idea for all platforms.

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Pope Trouble: More Evidence of a Catholic Conspiracy of Silence

Pope BenedictI don't expect to see the end of Catholicism just yet; however, it is getting increasingly difficult for me to understand how any moral individual would want to continue to associate with this organization. With many child sexual abuse scandals already raging, the news out of Germany is getting awfully close to Pope Benedict XVI himself. Moreover, the Pope is coming under fire for a 2001 Vatican document he wrote advising bishops to conceal clergy abuse cases. What more do Catholics need to walk away from this corrupt organization?

According to the Huffington Post,
The revelations have put the spotlight on Benedict's handling of abuse claims both when he was archbishop of Munich from 1977-1982 and then the prefect of the Vatican office that deals with such crimes - a position he held until his 2005 election as pope.
Questions are mounting about what Pope Benedict XVI knew about child sexual abuse in Germany and what he did or did not do about it while he was stationed there. Some are going so far as to suggest that this pope may soon be through.

March 13, 2010

Idiot of the Week: Itawamba County School Board

Another week has flown by, and it is once again time to crown an Idiot of the Week. If you remember that I live in Mississippi, this week's pick probably isn't going to come as much of a surprise: the Itawamba County school board.

constance-mcmillen.jpgAs I am sure you have all heard by now, the Itawamba County school board cancelled the high school prom rather than allowing Constance McMillen, a lesbian student, to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. Not surprisingly, this absurd decision is now making life quite difficult for Ms. McMillen.

After the ACLU intervened on Ms. McMillen's behalf, the school board simply cancelled the prom. Evidently, they thought that the other students would not be able to handle the sight of two lesbians dancing together.

According to the Associated Press, Pastor Bobby Crenshaw of Southside Baptist Church complained that he has seen many website discussing this situation portray the South as "backwards." The Pastor went on to say, "but a lot more people here have biblically based values." Right. Backwards and bigoted.

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March 12, 2010



You gotta love StumbleUpon for turning up gems like this. Much like the "Why is there something rather than nothing" query I recently addressed, this poster reminds us that scientific illiteracy is a poor excuse for religious belief.

Those who continue to worship the "god of the gaps" are proving that they have learned little about how science works and have even less knowledge of history. Theirs is a shrinking god with more in common with the Deistic model of theism than any sort of Christianity.

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James Dobson: A Legacy of Hate

james_dobson.gifWhen it comes to anti-gay bigotry, few individuals have been as influential as Dr. James Dobson, the former head of Focus on the Family. Autumn Sandeen (Pam's House Blend) has documented the reach of this Christian extremist, illustrating how much damage one hate-filled person can do to an entire community of people.

We knew that Dobson was a prominent defender of hate crimes against members of the GLBT community, and now it appears that he has had a hand in several anti-gay groups. Dobson has established a notable legacy of hate, all in the name of his god.

The next time I find myself becoming pessimistic about what any one of us can do to change our world, I'm going to think of Dobson. If one person can create that much pain and misery for so many, then surely any one of us could do the opposite. Perhaps Dobson's legacy of hate can become a motivator of sorts. Maybe it can drive our efforts to confront bigotry, defend reason, and work to achieve the world we all deserve. And if you think I'd find more than a little satisfaction in using Dobson as motivation to undo his "achievements" and correct the damage he's done, you'd be right.

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March 11, 2010

Introducing Religion Clause

constitution.jpgI want to tell you about a blog you might not have heard of and will probably find valuable: Religion Clause. It is written by Howard M. Friedman, Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Toledo. Like the title suggests, it focuses on legal news of relevance to the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Prof. Friedman has a real talent for writing brief but highly informative posts. Religion Clause has become an indispensable resource for me in staying abreast of important church-state developments. Check it out.

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March 10, 2010

Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

cosmos.jpgWhy is there something rather than nothing? Many Christian apologists and theologians are fond of this question. Through some complicated mental gymnastics, they manage to convince themselves that the only answer to this question is "god did it." It does not seem to bother them that many find the question irrelevant or regard their method of of answering it as circular at best. Nor does not seem to bother them that cosmologists have been considering such questions scientifically and doing quite well without having to rely on gods.

This question has been posed to me many times by amateur Christians (i.e., those who do not make their living from writing about questions like this). It usually comes in a challenging tone.
Oh yeah, then why is there something rather than nothing?
At least 99% of the time, the speaker seems to think that this is the first time I've ever heard such a question. To the contrary, I've heard it many times. I've never found it even a little bit compelling. I rarely bother to respond anymore. Who has time to drop whatever they're doing at the moment to teach a Christian who may not even have a basic science education about cosmology?

Maybe I'm being too harsh. The thing is, I've grown awfully tired of this same old debate and the form it inevitably takes. This isn't how science works. We don't get to rely on supernatural explanations for anything we can't fully explain. The Christian who tries this line of attack is merely revealing an utter lack of knowledge about science itself.

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March 9, 2010

The Obligation to Challenge False Claims

Rudy GiulianiI respect the right to free expression, but I will not necessarily respect the content of what someone decides to say. A racist statement, for example, is one that I not only will not respect but against which I may opt to speak out. A factually incorrect statement, presented as fact, also deserves no respect. Yes, you do have the right to speak your mind, the right to be wrong, and even the right to make an ass of yourself. What you do not have is the right to do these things without being held accountable for the content of what you say. And this is particularly important when you are attempting to prevent falsehoods as truths.

March 8, 2010

Smut for Smut

bible3.gifThanks to Dangerous Talk for reminding me about a topic I keep meaning to address here: the "Smut for Smut" campaign being carried out by Atheist Agenda, an atheist student group at the University of Texas - San Antonio. The campaign involves the sort of porn for bibles exchange we've seen atheist groups organizing on many campuses. Here is how the group describes it:
We’ve set up a table where people can stop by and donate their religious reading material and – if they desire, and if they are old enough – receive a number of porn magazines. This can include fundamental texts like the Koran, the Bible, or Dianetics; religious apologia and self-help like Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life and Lewis’s Mere Christianity; or those unnerving little tracts that Jack Chick makes.
Now you see why they are calling it "Smut for Smut."

March 7, 2010

Every Village Needs an Atheist

John Corvino, Ph.D., wrote an interesting post for titled "The Village Atheist." One part in particular got me thinking about atheism and the questions around if and how to promote it.
Frankly, there’s a part of me that feels a bit impolite even bringing up the subject [of nonbelief in gods]. I’m trying to get over that feeling, since I believe this nation could use a healthy dose of religious skepticism. A great deal of mischief gets licensed in the name of faith, giving people “infallible” backing for their prejudices.
Atheism for the good of society. I agree completely. We do need more religious skepticism in the U.S. It is not simply a matter of assisting others in the de-conversion process (although that is important to) but one of introducing skepticism toward religion into the public discourse.

As Dr. Corvino suggests, one of the most important things each of us can do to change the world for the better is to contribute honestly to the public discourse. We can "provide an example of a thoughtful, real-life openly atheist person to people who had never knowingly interacted with one." Like Dr. Corvino, we can stand for "truth, and courage, and integrity."

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Explore Your Creative Side With WriteRoom

images.jpgThe first time I launched WriteRoom, I wondered whether I would ever actually find a use for it. For those who have not yet made the jump to Mac, WriteRoom is a stripped down word processor that fills the screen with what appears to be a 1980s word processor - black background and green text with no menus to distract the writer. There is no bloat, and virtually none of the familiar formatting features with which we are familiar in modern word processing software. It really does feel like going back in time, and you know what, it is brilliant!

March 6, 2010

Undoctrinate: A Short Film

A reader sent me a link to a short film he made with his roommate, both of whom are atheist Jews. The film, Undoctrinate, represents their loss of faith. You can see it below.

Undoctrinate from Scott Lazes on Vimeo.

This sort of thing always makes me jealous that I have never been a particularly creative person. Short film is an intriguing medium with which to explore atheism, and I think it would be great if more people would try it.

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Idiot of the Week: WorldNetDaily

WorldNetDaily.jpgWhen idiocy is so pervasive and consistent, it may be difficult to spot even some of the most egregious examples. Case in point, "birther" website WorldNetDaily has somehow managed to go under the radar, never previously being honored in this series. That changes today with the selection of WorldNetDaily as Idiot of the Week.

March 5, 2010

Right-Wing Atheists

republican-elephant.jpgI know atheists are routinely stereotyped as fringe liberals, socialists, or even Communists, but the reality is that there are plenty of conservative atheists. I've encountered Republican atheists, libertarian atheists, and all sorts of atheists who ally themselves with the political right. Once one understands what atheism is, this should come as little surprise.

There are a number of good atheist blogs written from a right-wing perspective. For an example, check out the Unreligious Right. And if you are a politically conservative atheist blogger and your blog reflects this perspective, please feel free to leave a link to your blog in the comments on this post. I'll repost this at some point with a list of right-wing atheist blogs.

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March 4, 2010

Criticizing Christians on Facebook Can Get You Fired

freespeechzone.jpgThe Perplexed Observer has posted a story you will not want to miss. I urge you to visit his blog to read it in its entirety, but I will provide a brief summary here because it is too important not to.

Melissa Hussain, a Wake County (North Carolina) middle-school science teacher, has been suspended because she complained on her Facebook page about some nutty Christian students in her class. According to,
Hussain wrote on the social-networking site that it was a "hate crime" that students anonymously left a Bible on her desk, and she told how she "was able to shame her kids" over the incident. Her Facebook page included comments from friends about "ignorant southern rednecks," and one commenter suggested Hussain retaliate by bringing a Dale Earnhardt Jr. poster to class with a swastika drawn on the NASCAR driver's forehead.
Although this particular school district does not have a policy on social networking sites, the district indicates that Ms. Hussain's behavior violates their ethics code.

The article notes,
Teachers across the nation have been suspended or fired because of questionable material posted on their Facebook pages and other online social networking sites.
So much for the First Amendment, huh?

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March 3, 2010

Sen. Susan Collins Displays Willful Ignorance

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) provides us with another compelling example of willful ignorance in the politicians we elect. I am becoming increasingly concerned over the degree to which blantant lying is now typical behavior for many Republican members of Congress and how little accountability there seems for those who repeatedly engage in it.

Rachel Maddow does an excellent job of setting Sen. Collins straight in this clip, but somehow that doesn't seem good enough. There has to be a political price to pay for this sort of thing, doesn't there?

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Those of us in the reality-based community are fond of pointing out that one is entitled to one's own opinion but not one's own facts. Aside from calling it out like Maddow did when people are caught doing this, I'm not sure what else we can do.

H/T to Dirigo Blue

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March 2, 2010

What is Christian Privilege?

APTEAS.jpgI remember the first time I was exposed to the idea of male privilege. I can't say I was initially receptive to the idea, mostly due to the accusatory manner in which it was presented. And yet, I now marvel that I ever had trouble grasping it. Part of what we mean by the various forms of privilege and how they work in society is that they tend to be virtually invisible to the group(s) that possess them. As a man, it was no wonder that I didn't immediately recognize male privilege. That's kind of the point. How about Christian privilege? Is it real, and if so, how do we help Christians understand it?

March 1, 2010

Carnival of the Godless #136 at the Barefoot Bum


In case you missed it yesterday, Carnival of the Godless #136 can be found at the Barefoot Bum in the form of a special "Revolutionary Communist Edition." Be sure to check it out for some great godless blogging.

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