September 29, 2010

Atheist America

Godless AmericaIn the relatively brief span of time that there has been a United States, this country has been one of the more religious nations in the world. While religiosity has ebbed and flowed over the years, it has done so within a fairly small range. Americans have never experienced a period where a majority of their neighbors doubted the existence of gods, angels, and demons. This is a frequent cause of disappointment in the short-term, but when considered in a global context, it might also be a source of long-term optimism.

September 28, 2010

Before You Support the Center for Inquiry

There are many excellent groups working to promote atheism, defend science, support skepticism, and the like. I have repeatedly encouraged my American readers to support groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom From Religion Foundation because I have been tremendously impressed with their work and believe that it is vital for us to have better representation. But I also realize that the number of worthy groups means that most of us will have to be selective about who we support. It is for this reason that I'd like to bring something to your attention about a group you may want to avoid: The Center for Inquiry.

I have supported the Center for Inquiry (CFI) in the past, but this was before they decided to make a habit of atheist-bashing. I think CFI has done some good work and probably continues to do so. However, I can find little reason to support a group with such hostility toward atheists.

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September 27, 2010

Alternative Realities and Mega-Churches

English: The First Cathedral, A Megachurch in ...
English: The First Cathedral, A Megachurch in Bloomfield Connecticut, during Sunday Morning Praise and Worship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Craig James (The Religion Virus) wrote a good post recently about the Republican Tea Party and how they inhabit an alternate reality made possible by right-wing media. He suggests that the Internet, cable news, and conservative radio have allowed the Teabaggers to construct sort a of parallel reality. He's right, but he's missing one important component of this alternate reality: church.

September 26, 2010

Meditations on Death: Prelude

Death_of_Marat_by_David.jpgI don't write very many posts without knowing whether I'll actually put them up on the blog. This is one of them. I wrote this after hearing about Mojoey's (Deep Thoughts) recent loss of his father. I found myself thinking that death is one of those things that really needs more attention in Western culture. We don't like to think about it, and as a result, rarely discuss it. I cannot help thinking that this reluctance has many adverse effects.

September 25, 2010

First Impressions of the Kindle 3

KindleMy Kindle 3 arrived this week, and while I haven't had as much time to use it as I'd like, I thought I'd share my initial impressions now and then follow up with a more thorough review at a later date. Surprisingly, I've already noticed that some of my initial impressions upon opening the box were quite wrong.

I bought a Kindle because I like to read, have accumulated way too many books over the years, and would like to reduce clutter by buying most (but not all) my books electronically. I've tried reading on the Kindle application on my desktop computer and on my Android phone, but I was not satisfied by either. The phone screen was too small, and I like to read in bed, which ruled out the desktop.

On unboxing the Kindle, my biggest surprise was how thin and light the device was. It seemed like the perfect size, but the thinness, combined with the marginal fit and finish of the face, made it feel cheap. I decided I was going to have to be quite careful with this device.

September 24, 2010

On Offending Others

Don't piss me offI bet that you've known at least a handful of people during the course of your life who seemed to be offended too easily. I have known quite a few. Some are even family members.

Maybe they are offended by "bad" language, going so far as to gasp in horror when they hear "a swear word." Or maybe they had difficulty with any sort of criticism, seeming so emotionally fragile that they would burst into tears if somebody dared to laugh at them. Perhaps they were Christian and protested whenever someone dared to use the name of their "lord" in a way they didn't like.

You have all known people like this. They might have seemed almost as if they were looking for the next offense to the point where they would see it where nobody else could. I think that these people have an important lesson to offer, and that we would do well to learn it.

September 23, 2010

Enlighten the Vote

Ellen Johnson, former president of American Atheists, has re-branded the Godless Americans PAC as Enlighten the Vote and is hoping to make a difference. Enlighten the Vote is a non-partisan PAC working to elect atheists. I think it is a great idea and deserves our support.

I also have two suggestions for Ms. Johnson that I hope will help. First, stop capitalizing "atheists." It is grammatically incorrect and a bit annoying. Second, find someone who will update the Enlighten the Vote website and blog on a regular basis. If you are serious about fundraising, you need a web presence that communicates activity. The current version looks like it was set up and then abandoned.

H/T to Dangerous Talk

September 22, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Proud Atheists

I just learned that Mark (Proud Atheists) has decided to close his blog due to a combination of time constraints and a loss of interest in maintaining it. I'm going to miss his contributions to the atheist blogosphere, and I know I will not be alone in that sentiment.

Proud Atheists could always be counted on to provide a thought-provoking and often funny take on religion. Most of all, I came to associate Mark's work with the sort of passionate atheism I love to see. He routinely delivered sharp criticism of religion that I can only compare to a kick in the nuts. He was not about pulling punches, and in this way, provided a great model for what some choose to mistake as "militant atheism."

Mark, you have an open invitation to write guest posts here any time you want.

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September 21, 2010

What's the Harm if Believing Makes People Feel Good?


On the occasions when I discuss religion with Christians, I can count on being asked one question every time: What is the harm in believing? A common phrasing of this question would be as follows:
I understand that you don't believe in God. But I don't know why you seem to care that others do. I mean, what's the harm in believing in God if it makes people feel good to believe?
If you are an atheist, I'd say it is a virtual certainty that you've been asked this question many times too. In this post, I'd like us to forget about how we might phrase our response and just think through the question itself.

September 20, 2010

Congratulations to Dave Silverman, American Atheists' President-Elect

Dave SilvermanAs you have probably heard by now, Dave Silverman has been elected president of American Atheists. Silverman has been working with American Atheists as their Communications Director and Vice President, so you have probably seen him on TV. He's also the guy behind NoGodBlog.

I have been impressed with what I've seen from him so far, and I imagine that he will put his experience in communications to use in his new role. I think that American Atheists would benefit from increased visibility, and Silverman has already been working to make this happen. I am looking forward to seeing where he decides to take the organization.

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September 19, 2010

Protesting the Pope

It turns out that the reality-based community and others in Great Britain who value human rights have not been thrilled with their government's decision to grant Nazi Pope's a state visit to the UK. They have been doing what any outraged group not beset by apathy would do: organizing protests.

Reader stephendarlington dropped by to share some of his photographs from yesterday's protest, and I really enjoyed them (watch the slideshow here). I recognize that not everyone upset by the Pope's visit is an atheist, but I am confident that many involved are indeed atheist heroes.

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September 18, 2010

Idiot of the Week: Pope Benedict XVI

nazi pope

I admit that I have not been following the coverage of Nazi Pope's visit to the UK very closely. I am aware that their have been protests and that the Vatican has actually claimed being surprised by this. I am also aware that many British tax payers are not exactly thrilled with having to pay for the Pope's visit, and I would feel exactly the same way if I were in their shoes. I suppose this is one of those rare situations when I catch myself avoiding something because I know that facing it will make me extremely mad and there is little I can do about it. Pretty poor excuse, isn't it? Well, I figured the least I can do was "honor" the Pope as our Idiot of the Week.

No Gods Necessary

If you have read The Grand Design, I'd love to know what you thought and whether you'd recommend it. After seeing the video below, I thought it sounded like something I might like.

September 17, 2010

Atheist Bloggers, How Do You Advertise Your Blog?

Adgitize your web site.If you are an atheist blogger, what (if anything) have you done to advertise your blog? I am particularly interested in hearing about any sort of formal advertising (e.g., text-link advertising, paid banner ads, etc.) and not informal methods like commenting on other blogs, writing guest posts, or putting your URL in your email signature. I'd also like to hear both about what has worked and what hasn't. And yes, I'll be happy to share my experience with what I have tried so far, including:

I've already reported on my experience with Entrecard and plan to review the others when I feel I have enough data to write something that might be useful. In fact, I should have a report on Adgitize ready soon.

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September 15, 2010

Intolerant of Intolerance? You Better Believe It!

intoleranceDarkwulfe (Musing of a Madman) recently wrote one of the sort of posts we should all be writing every now and then. We are so used to looking at others that it can be easy to forget to examine ourselves, our biases, and our motivations. I don't imagine there are many atheists who haven't at one time or another asked themselves whether they might be guilty of some of the same intolerance of which they accuse religious believers. At least, I hope we all remember to ask this of ourselves from time to time.

Darkwulfe describes a thought-provoking encounter:
One person I love and respect very much has told me that I am intolerant of intolerance and therefore I have no right to really say anything since I am equally intolerant. He also tells me I am judgmental of judgmental people and therefore have no right to judge them for being judgmental. While a bit circular in his logic, to a point he has a grain of truth in what he is saying.

September 14, 2010

Do Methodists Have Clergy Sex Abuse Problems Too?

Ken KlecknerWhen one thinks of child sexual abuse, one immediately thinks of Catholic priests. And yes, when one thinks of Catholicism, child sexual abuse has joined the ranks of other likely associations such as Popes in Prada and genocide via HIV/AIDS in Africa based on opposition to contraception. It isn't that all Catholic priests molest children; it is that the conspiracy of silence which has enabled such crimes over the decades reaches all the way to the top of the Catholic hierarchy. Indeed, ordinary Catholics who continue to contribute money to their local churches are funding a criminal empire (see How to Leave the Catholic Church if this bothers you).

September 13, 2010

I Finally Ordered a Kindle

Kindle 3
Those of you who have patiently endured my public indecision over whether to jump into the whole e-reader thing, and if so, whether to do it with a Kindle or an iPad, may be interested to know that I did order one of the new Kindles. This is the one I ordered: Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite - Latest Generation. I don't have it yet because the less expensive model ($139) ended up being so popular that they are back ordered. I will be sure to share my impressions with the device itself and with the availability of atheist-oriented reading material for it.

Why no iPad? I want to read more, and for me, this means reading without other distractions. Besides, I've never been crazy about the idea of buying first-generation tech products. While I will be happy to see what Apple comes out with in the second generation model, I'm not yet convinced I need such a device.

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September 12, 2010

Obama Says He "Relies Heavily" on Christian Faith

Obama nopeDuring a question-and-answer session with media on Friday, President Obama said the following after praising how former President George W. Bush distinguished between Muslims and terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11:
We are one nation under God. We may call that God different names, but we are one nation.
This was a surprising error from someone who should know better. The United States is a secular nation. Our Constitution makes that quite clear. I suspect Obama is fully aware of this and was simply pandering. After all, he has previously mentioned non-believers, almost as if he regards us as equally American.

I wish I could say that this was the most disturbing statement in the whole exchange, but that was not the case. I was in my car listening to this on NPR at the time, and I nearly ran off the road when I heard this:
As someone who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can make.
Did our president just say that he "relies heavily" on his Christian faith in performing the duties of his job as our President? Yep. If that is true, it strikes me as a fairly serious problem. That he is religious at all is bad enough, but now it sounds like he is either unable or unwilling to prevent it from influencing the manner in which he does his job.

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September 11, 2010

Idiot of the Week (9/11 Edition)

When I clear my mind and think about 9/11, the first thing that pops into my head is an image, not unlike the one below. It arrives simultaneously with a few strong emotions: sadness, anger, and disgust. For me, the image has come to symbolize the fact that we do not have to look back to the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, or the era of Joe McCarthy to appreciate the dangers of religious extremism and public hysteria. We have U.S. troops evangelizing in occupied Muslim nations, Christian extremists bombing Planned Parenthood clinics, and yes, terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim extremists.

imagine no religion

This week, I am assigning Idiot of the Week honors to those of us who allowed our civil liberties to be set aside out of fear, supported an unjust war because we wanted revenge, and continue to look the other way on torture for reasons I have not yet been able to comprehend. We suspended reason, and we continue to pay a high price for doing so. I realize that I am describing a large group of people here, and I am okay with that. You see, I hold out hope that many of us can learn from our mistakes and avoid making similar ones in the future. We may have screwed up, but we can redeem ourselves by realizing that and abandoning the destructive path of fear.

One statement I have come to despise almost as much as any religious saying is that "9/11 changed everything." No. We changed everything because we were afraid to the point where we weren't thinking clearly. We allowed abuses to happen, and we continue to do so. If this idiocy is permanent, it is because we choose to embrace it.

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September 10, 2010

29% of Religiously Unaffiliated Support Republican Party

Republican JesusAccording to MSNBC, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows that three in ten Americans who report being unaffiliated with any religion support the Republican party and that this is an increase from 2008. Granted, this was a small increase (i.e., 25% to 29%), but we can still have some fun speculating about what it may mean.

One possibility concerns a weakening of the association between the Republican party and Christian extremism in the minds of voters. To the degree that Democrats have been pushing Jesus too, it is possible that this association has become less salient for voters. That is, if both parties are constantly pushing religion, this ceases to be something to dislike about the Republicans.

Still, I suspect that the most likely explanation is that the religiously unaffiliated are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the Democratic party. Not only have they made a big deal of embracing religion, but the Obama administration and Democratic majority in Congress has not exactly brought us the sweeping change for which many of us had long hoped.

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September 9, 2010

What Books Were Helpful in Debunking Ghosts, Demonic Possession, and Other Woo?

I was recently contacted by a reader through Formspring with an excellent question, and I wanted to share it here to see if you have some ideas. This reader has been left fearful and uncertain from years of religious brainwashing and is wanting assistance in reversing the process. What books would you recommend for someone seeking help scientifically disproving things like the paranormal, ghosts, spirits, possession, and the like?

I recommended Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark because it is one of my favorite books of all time and one of the few I would recommend everyone read. What else would be good recommendations?

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September 8, 2010

The Freedom to Insult

free speechHere in the U.S., we are supposed to have the right to free expression. Of course, this does not mean that courts have not wrestled with how to define this and what limits should apply. As tempting as it is to argue that the right to free expression should be absolute and unrestricted, I suspect that most of us would agree to certain limitations.

If not, I invite you to imagine a 40 year-old pedophile graphically describing his sexual fantasies to your 6 year-old. I suspect this is something you would favor preventing even though doing so would involve limiting his free speech. But as clear as some of the extreme scenarios are, the issue as a whole is quite muddy.

September 7, 2010

Plenty of Blame to Go Around for Quality of American Education

educationI'd like to expand a bit on some of the discussion provoked by my post, Inside a Tennessee Science Classroom. It is very easy to blame the teacher featured in the video clip, and I have little doubt that this is appropriate. But what many fail to realize is that teachers like this are under tremendous pressure these days (1) not to offend anyone, and (2) avoid lawsuits. None of this absolves the teacher from responsibility, but it will have to be considered if we want to improve the quality of public education in the U.S.

Imagine for a second that you are given the task of teaching science, social studies, or a range of other subjects without offending anybody. You cannot offend the overly sheltered kids who have been brainwashed by fundamentalist homeschoolers. You cannot offend any parents, no matter how unhinged they might be. It is difficult to imagine how any teacher can accomplish this.

September 6, 2010

Thomas Jefferson on Mocking Religion

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.
- Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 1816

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September 5, 2010

California Planned Parenthood Clinic Firebombed

I missed this one last week but want to mention it now. Some nutjob firebombed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Madera, CA on Thursday. This happens to be the same place where someone threw a brick through the window of a mosque just one week prior to the firebombing. It does not sound like the FBI thinks the crimes are connected, but I think it is probably fair to speculate that the perpetrators shared a common motive: Christian extremism.

There are plenty of Christian churches who will condemn these actions. They might not do it as publicly as some would like, but I have no doubt that they will do it. But there are other Christian churches where whoever committed these acts will be regarded as heroes. And this is a problem.

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When Hate Fails

I was intently reading a recent post at Friendly Atheist about how atheist students at Penn State responded to a recent visit by assorted campus preachers. As I have said previously, I think that public idiocy should be met with public mockery, and so I always love to hear about it happening. The Penn State Atheist Agnostic Association handled this situation beautifully and should be commended for their tactics.

But one line in Hemant's post really clicked for me.
They [the campus preachers] just came to preach the hate and then acted shocked when they realized it wasn’t working:
That is such a perfect description. They came to preach hate, and it did not work. I like to think that the atheists who were so effectively countering their message gave others a space to reject the preachers' message without feeling guilty about doing so.

Once again we see how effective mockery can be when used strategically to counter hatred and bigotry.

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September 4, 2010

Idiot of the Week: Jan Brewer

Yeah, I'm sure you saw this coming. Some weeks, this is just too damn easy.

Idiot of the Week goes to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Before this, she was known primarily for her "papers please" law. After her performance in the gubernatorial debate, I cannot imagine that she will be known for anything else.

I have to confess that I have watched this clip at least 10 times. It is priceless! "We have did what was right for Arizona."

On a serious note, I would expect that a performance like this would be more than enough to end a political career. And yet, I know full well that it won't be. If Sarah Palin is any indication, Brewer's blank state, uncomfortable giggling, and maniacal stare will simply endear her to enough voters to earn re-election. And we wonder why our elected officials often seem so ineffective and untrustworthy!

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September 3, 2010

Meet Dr. Wynne LeGrow

Wynne LeGrowRep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) is a member of the secretive anti-democratic group known as "The Family." He also happens to be the one who introduced the bill to reaffirm "In God We Trust" as the national motto. The good news is that he now has some competition in the state of Virginia. Meet Dr. Wynne LeGrow, a Democratic challenger for the seat held by Rep. Forbes.

Dr. LeGrow's background is impressive. He is a primary care physician, a retired Major in the U.S. Army, and a family man. And he is a self-described non-believer. Yes, that's right, an atheist is challenging a Christian extremist in Virginia's 4th Congressional District.

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September 2, 2010

We Promote Knowledge and Tolerance

Compelling stuff that is all too rarely addressed on American television. Silverman is right that atheism has at least a couple of things to offer society: the promotion of knowledge and tolerance.

H/T to Atheist Media Blog

September 1, 2010

An Atheist Blogger Apologizes

admit you're an assholeI have seen a handful of former Christians turned atheists apologize for some of what they did as Christians (e.g., bigotry, evangelism, etc.). I think this is a positive development, and I hope that such examples continue to inspire more to do the same.

While I was generally content to keep my Christian beliefs to myself when I actually had such beliefs, I do have something much more recent for which I'd like to apologize. In fact, my apology isn't for something I did as a Christian at all but for something I did as an atheist.