May 31, 2011

Visiting Your University Counseling Center: A Guide for Atheist Students

counseling center roomI first addressed the subject of selecting a psychologist or counselor back in 2009, and I'd like to revisit it now in a specific context: the university counseling center. Imagine that you are an atheist student and you'd like to get some professional help. However, you want to make sure that the person you talk to is not a peddler of woo. Maybe you have mental health issues, and maybe you'd just like some objective support to help with career decision-making or another common concern. In any case, you deserve a practitioner of evidence-based services.

May 30, 2011

Legitimizing Faith

media failThere are other ways the mainstream media could cover stories like this one about survivors of the Joplin, MO, tornadoes wallowing in religious delusion. By choosing to cover these stories in the way they are almost always covered, the authors legitimize faith. Just look at this one from CNN as an example of what I mean.

By characterizing "religious leaders" as trying "to offer meaning after such a senseless disaster," this article contradicts itself. If the disaster was senseless (accurate), trying to "offer meaning" necessarily involves distorting reality. Why is this something to be praised rather than condemned?

May 29, 2011

As an Atheist, What Do I Want?

evolutionAs an atheist, what do I want? At first glance, this question is a tough one. After all, most of what I want has very little to do with atheism. When I am asked this question, I find that the person asking it usually wants to know if I am after the complete eradication of religion or whether I might be content with something short of this unlikely scenario.

What I want, as an atheist, is actually a bit simpler:
I would like to see a gradual erosion of the social acceptability of religious belief until it becomes something which most educated adults would be embarrassed to profess.

May 28, 2011

Adding Blog to Empire Avenue


You can ignore than bit of verification code. I'm adding Atheist Revolution to Empire Avenue to see if it can help with blog promotion. I've heard good things about it, and they do have an atheist community. So naturally, I will seek to dominate it.

Seriously though, if it ends up being a useful tool for blog promotion, I'll be sure to let you know.

May 27, 2011

The Baffling Era of Religious Suicide-Massacres

This is a guest post by James A. Haught.

Islam Is NOT a Peaceful religionOsama bin Laden achieved a remarkable feat: He mobilized the power of religion to spur devout young men to kill themselves in order to murder defenseless strangers. Grotesquely, the suicide-killers felt they were performing holy acts that would please God and assure them martyr rewards in paradise.

The annals of faith-based killing are long: human sacrifice, the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch-hunts, Reformation wars, drowning of Anabaptists, jihads, pogroms against Jews, China's Taiping Rebellion, Mexico's Cristero War, cult horrors, abortion clinic murders, and many modern ethnic conflicts fueled by "religious tribalism." A new phase was led by bin Laden, who orchestrated the 21st-century phenomenon of Islamic suicide-bombing. Mercifully, his personal chapter ended when Navy Seals stormed his Asian hideout on May 1.

May 26, 2011

Improving Christianity

The Jefferson BibleWasn't it Thomas Jefferson who created a condensed version of the Christian bible, one that contained nothing but the words attributed to Jesus? It seems to me that The Jefferson Bible is the one that should be used by those Christians who insist that they have a personal relationship with Jesus. You know the sort I'm talking about - the Christians who claim that they are not even practicing a religion but are simply "Christ followers." It seems like this version would be all they'd ever need.

I have not read this particular version of the Christian bible; however, if I am correct about the nature of its contents, it seems like it would be a vast improvement over the original. By presenting only the words attributed to Jesus, Christians would have access to a much clearer idea of how they are supposed to live their lives without getting bogged down in so much of the cruelty, intolerance, and hatred that fills the pages of their bibles.

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May 25, 2011

Lessons From the Damon Fowler Case

prayer in schoolI have devoted some time to writing about Damon Fowler, not simply because he's in Louisiana and I'm in neighboring Mississippi and feel a connection to him in that aspect. No, the reason I've continued to address Damon's brave stand to stop school-sanctioned prayer at his public high school graduation and the aftermath of his actions is that I believe that this case highlights much of what is wrong with Christian privilege here in the bible belt. There are a few things about Damon's case that continue to trouble me, and I'd like to address them here.

May 24, 2011

Harold Camping Doubles Down

Harold CampingHarold Camping returned to his radio show for the first scheduled broadcast after his failed rapture prediction and...repeated his claim that the world will end on October 21, 2011.

As you'll remember, Camping initially said that the rapture would occur on May 21 to be followed by the end of the world on October 21. Instead of apologizing for all the harm he's caused, he decided to simply repeat the second half of his original claim.

Best of all, when he was questioned directly by reporters about whether he was to blame for the dire situations in which many of his followers now find themselves, Camping responded as follows:
I don't have any responsibility. I'm only teaching the Bible. I'm telling ... this is what the Bible says. I don't have spiritual rule over anybody ... except my wife as the head of the household.
I had previously thought that Camping might be delusional. Now I'm more inclined to suspect that he's a psychopath.

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Beware of Christian Hell

HellIn my experience, most Christians who want to persuade you to believe in their god will eventually mention hell. Some of the fundamentalists will go there immediately in an effort to frighten you into sharing their belief. Others may take some time to get there. But eventually, they all seem to get there.

One of these days if I find myself feeling sufficiently bored, I'll have to indulge the Christian a bit and allow this absurd argument to play out a bit longer than I usually do.

I imagine it going something like this:
Christian: You talk about wanting to be rational, but it seems far more rational to do everything one can to avoid hell.

Me: So maybe I should believe in your god in order to avoid hell?

Christian: Yes, but also because you want to go to heaven.

Me: If I'm understanding you correctly, you are saying that I should believe in - not just believe in but also worship - a god who would torture me forever simply for doubting that he/she/it exists.

Christian: No. You should believe in god because he loves you and sent his only son to die for your sins...

Me: And if I do not believe in your god, this god will torture me for all eternity in hell. If such a god existed, surely it would be my enemy.
Okay, that's enough of that. The point is simple: why on earth would I possibly want to worship something that has so little compassion for me that it would torment me forever just for questioning its existence? I wouldn't.

Christian morality appears to be based on fear and guilt. This is hardly a satisfactory basis for an ethical system, at least not one I'm inclined to advocate.

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May 23, 2011

Entering the Job Market With a Background in Atheist Activism

JobsOne of my favorite things about Friendly Atheist is how Hemant tackles tough questions asked by his readers in an effort to help them. In a recent post, he addressed a question from a reader hoping to land a job as a teacher who was worried about how to handle her involvement in secular groups. I agree with almost everything he suggested, especially the part about scrubbing one's resume clean of any mention of atheist activism. In fact, all I really want to add is the perspective of one who is "surrounded by die-hard conservatives."

May 22, 2011

Damon Fowler Kicked Out of Parents' Home

Bastrop LAWhen we last left Damon Fowler, the brave Louisiana high school student who complained about the prayer planned for his public school graduation, we saw that the class valedictorian prayed even after the school said they would not have any prayer at the ceremony. Now it appears that Damon's parents have thrown him out of their home, tossing his possessions on the front porch and leaving town. How's that for Christian love?

It sounds like the next step for Damon will probably involve moving to Texas and living with his brother. It certainly is fortunate that he has at least one supportive family member. After all that has happened, I suspect that leaving Bastrop behind is a smart move.

But you know what? It really pisses me off that people are still essentially being run out of town in 2011 in the U.S. merely for standing up for the separation of church and state.

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Failed Rapture Gives Christians Perfect Opportunity to Question Their Faith

rapture billboardRegardless of whether they believed that the rapture would occur yesterday, Christians now have a perfect opportunity to question their faith. It is an opportunity that many will squander, but it could be a giant step in the right direction for those willing to ask some difficult questions. Perhaps it could even be a time to learn about atheism.

May 21, 2011

The Rapture Holds Important Lesson for Christians

RaptureHappy Rapture Day 2011! Depending on what time zone you live in, you may have already been "left behind" as all the evangelical fundamentalist Christians (i.e., the real Christians) around you were raptured away. It is my understanding that the rapture is supposed to strike each time zone at 6:00pm. That leaves me with some time to repent.

Amidst all the noise today, I believe that there is one point that should be made and that it should be made over-and-over in each and every discussion with Christians and on every atheist blog:
Believing that the rapture will occur at some point in the future is no less crazy than thinking it will happen today.
I know I've said this already. I'll probably say it again too. After all, days like today should be teachable moments. We can do more than simply mock believers; we can remind them that there is an important lesson here.

All the drivel some Christians believe about Jesus returning someday to magically whisk them away is no different from the person standing on the street corner (possibly without pants), waving a bible, and proclaiming that the end is near. I know many Christians desperately want to see a difference between what they believe and these modern doomsday prophets, but there isn't one.

The sad reality is that beliefs like this have unfortunate real-world consequences. If we're going to mock these beliefs (and I'm not suggesting that we should not do so), let us at least try to offer a lesson too.

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May 20, 2011

Damon Fowler is an Atheist Hero

Damon FowlerThe atheist blogosphere has been buzzing about Damon Fowler and for good reason. His case highlights what atheist youth here in the bible belt of the U.S. must endure. But the real story here is Damon's courage. Instead of giving in to fears about what might happen to him if he questioned the illegal prayers taking place at his high school graduation ceremony, he stood up for himself and asked his school to obey the law.

Damon's actions remind us that it is the danger inherent in atheist activism that makes it necessary in the first place.

Most Christians are Skeptical About Rapture Happening Tomorrow

How to Profit From the Coming Rapture: Getting Ahead When You're Left BehindI have been reminded that 99.99% of Christians do not think that the rapture is happening tomorrow. Fair enough. But a reasonable number of them do believe that there will be a rapture eventually. So they share the crazy rapture belief and just happen to differ on the timeline. Is that really the sort of difference that makes them seem sane while those insisting it will be tomorrow are not?

I don't think so. Believing that the rapture will take place next year, 10 years from now, or even 100 years in the future really isn't any less crazy than believing it will happen tomorrow.

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May 19, 2011

Rapture Watch: The Weather Forecast Says it All

Weather for the armageddonWith the rapture just a couple days away, the idea of looking ahead for a weekend weather forecast might seem a bit silly. At least, it might if I was planning on being magically vaporized on Saturday.

Instead, I'm planning to see a bunch of Christians making excuses for why their dire predictions turned out to be wrong yet again. I also know that this won't last long. They will have new predictions out quickly. They will assure us that they will be right next time.

Most of all, I'm planning to see many Christians scoffing at those among them who have made these predictions. They will try to distance themselves from the "end-of-the-worlders" as if their beliefs were any less absurd. And when I point that out, I'll be accused of not being sufficiently respectful.

In other words, I'm expecting life to go on as usual.

H/T to ichazz for the graphic

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Christians Reluctant to Take Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibilityIt is unfortunate that "personal responsibility" has become Republican code for doing away with social safety net programs and imposing unreasonably harsh prison sentences on minority drug offenders. Personal responsibility should be a good thing, maybe even something to which we all aspire.

With rights come responsibility. I realize few want to acknowledge this and even fewer want to talk about it. Nevertheless, I think it is an important point for us to remember.

Staks at Dangerous Talk made a great point recently about the refusal of many Christians to accept personal responsibility for much of anything.
If something good happens due to their hard work, “Thank God.” If something bad happens because of some poor choices, “God has a plan.”
It really makes one wonder how those on the political right always preaching about the virtues of personal responsibility can stomach Christianity. One would think that atheism would be a far better option for anyone interested in personal responsibility.

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May 18, 2011

Atheists Thrown Under the Bus By Progressives

Godless LiberalOne would think that persons on the same side of the political spectrum (i.e., those who lean left and describe themselves as liberal or progressive) might recognize that they are stronger when they have more allies and weaker when they go out of their way to dismiss or alienate like-minded persons. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

Austin Cline wrote a thought-provoking post on the subject of progressives marginalizing atheists. As someone who is both a progressive (or at least a liberal) and an atheist, I read it with great interest. And having been on the receiving end of this sort of treatment by a few on the left, it certainly rang true to me.

In the U.S., we have all seen how this scenario happens again and again. Conservatives constantly attack liberals and progressives, in part by suggesting that there is a link between liberalism and atheism. Of course, what they don't say is that they maintain this relationship by exploiting public misunderstanding about the meaning of secularism and making the demonization of atheists a central part of their position.

May 16, 2011

Why Doesn't Pascal's Wager Apply to Christians Too?

But what if you are wrong about God?
Gate of hellYou've undoubtedly heard this question from Christians many times. They begin a conversation by assuming that you believe in their god. You correct them, explaining that you do not. They then ask you this question, determined to show you the error of your ways. They point out that if you are wrong about their god, you will be tortured forever in their hell.

Eventually, they'll get around to some version of Pascal's Wager (i.e., the idea that you should believe in their god to protect yourself in case you end up being wrong). These Christians do not seem to realize that there are at least two serious problems with this argument.

May 14, 2011

My Post About the Rapture Was Raptured


Shortly after posting "Are You Ready for the Rapture?" I was alerted via email and Twitter that the post had disappeared. I checked the blog, and sure enough, it was gone without a trace. I immediately decided that the post itself must have been raptured. I would soon learn that Blogger had experienced a fairly massive crash, preventing new posts or system access for roughly a day. I was informed that posts and comments made during a particular time frame had been temporarily lost but that they would be restored once the system was fixed. Nonsense! My post had been raptured.

May 13, 2011

Are You Ready for the Rapture?

Homer simpson end is nearI suspect most of you have heard by now that the rapture (i.e., that glorious day where all the fundamentalist Christians are magically transported to heaven) is happening on May 21st. I'm ready, but I worry that many Christians might not be. Fortunately, I think I can help.

Remember that part of the Christian bible about it being more difficult for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle? If you want to be raptured away, you are going to need to give away all your money and possessions before May 21st. And that does not leave you much time. The good news is that I'm willing to take everything you own off your hands.

Not crazy about that idea? I can't say I blame you. How about instead donating everything you own to the truly needy. Sure, some of them will be raptured away with you, but just think how needly those who are left behind will be! Can you imagine how many magic Jesus points giving all your wealth to them will earn you?

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May 10, 2011

Is the Recession Over...For Churches?

HomelessI don't think the recession is over just yet, but I might be wrong. After all, people seem to have enough money that they are perfectly willing to throw it away at church. I know, I know! Many churches do lots of wonderful things in their communities. I do recognize that.

Of course, there often seem to be strings attached when they do so. One could reasonably accuse many of these churches as using the aid they provide as a way to prey on the vulnerable among us.

I disagree with those in the Republican Tea Party who seek to abolish government assistance and rely on the churches for everything. As far as I'm concerned, someone who is hungry ought to be able to find a meal without having to listen to religious drivel. Haven't they endured enough already?

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May 8, 2011

Atheist Group Forming in South Mississippi

Secular Student Alliance at Southern MissA courageous group of atheist college students are hoping to form the first Secular Student Alliance (SSA) group in the state of Mississippi. There have been previous efforts to form SSA affiliates at public universities in our state, but they have failed. From what I have heard, the group behind the new effort is energetic, determined, and most important of all...unafraid.

The Secular Student Alliance at Southern Miss will soon submit an application for a charter to the University of Southern Mississippi. The university will then decide whether they can become an official student group on campus.

What are the chances of a Mississippi university approving such a group? I'm really not sure. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, it would be great if those of you on Facebook would pay the group a visit and express your support.

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May 7, 2011

Should We Be More Outraged About Abortion Than Child Rape?

Catholic cartoonOpponents of reproductive rights for women are fond of claiming that since one abortion is murder, legalized abortion amounts to genocide. This line of argument enables some Christian extremists to justify the murder of physicians who provide abortion services. After all, these doctors are really engaged in genocide, killing them may seem warranted. Of course, this entire line of argument rests on the controversial claim that abortion is murder.

It seems like it might be interesting to apply some of the "logic" from the anti-choice movement and apply it to a different scenario. Suppose something was happening that was undeniably criminal (e.g., child rape). Victims exist, and the act is certainly illegal. Couldn't those who perpetrate the crimes, conceal the crimes, and provide the perpetrators with access to victims rightly be viewed as committing atrocities?

May 6, 2011

We are a Bunch of Jackasses

JackassOne of the more frustrating aspects of the human condition is that we can never truly know what someone else thinks of us. We can certainly choose to trust others, but there is always some aspect of doubt. I know what he or she tells me, but what does he or she really think about me? It is something we must least most of the time. Sometimes the veil is pulled back and we get a glimpse of someone's true feelings. What we discover is not always pleasant.

May 4, 2011

Rely on the Churches

ChurchConservative politicians generally seem to agree that the government should not be in the business of providing any sort of assistance to unemployed or impoverished Americans. Let the churches do that, they say. By shifting this burden from the government to the faith-based sector, they aim to relieve the wealthiest 2% of most of their tax burden and shrink the size of government (at least in certain areas to which they are ideologically opposed).

But look at what happens if we play this scenario out. The public has to count on churches to provide the safety net. These are the same churches the conservative politicians would like to free from any sort of regulations about who they hire and who they may choose to help. Aid comes with strings attached once churches are so freed. The government cannot discriminate; churches would have few such constraints.

Being a fiscal conservative who prefers a smaller government is one thing; supporting policies that would require the needy to grovel before the churches to receive aid is something else entirely. It seems like a plan designed to bypass the wall between church and state.

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May 2, 2011

Americans Rejoice at News of Bin Laden's Death

Osama bin Laded deadMedia of all forms is abuzz with news that Osama bin Laden was killed. It was a big story, so lots of coverage is understandable. As you can see in the screenshot to the right, CNN went with the tagline, "Terrorist leader's body buried at sea; Americans rejoice." Americans rejoice? Absolutely. If you spend any time on Facebook or Twitter today, you saw that this description was perfectly accurate.

May 1, 2011

The Right Kind of Islam

Some of my posts are inspired by hours - even days - of introspection and reflection. Others are sparked by mere seconds of exposure to something interesting. This is one of the latter, prompted by a brief snippet of a discussion on BBC radio I heard this morning.

A Muslim woman was commenting about how someone "practiced the right kind of Islam." Because it was so brief, I don't have any context for this statement. Nevertheless, it stuck with me. Is there a "right kind of Islam?"