January 31, 2012

Theirs is a Jealous God

Jealous God

There are many things that bother me about the sort of god that Christians claim to worship. This image captures one of them: the absurdity of thinking that a god so powerful, so wise, so good would demand worship from humans and would condemn them to eternal punishment for the crime of not believing. Only a god created by the human mind would have such petty desires.

January 30, 2012

Devil's Playground

Devil's Playground is a 2002 documentary about a rite-of-passage called "Rumspringa" that Amish teens go through before deciding whether they will join the Amish church and embrace the culture in they were raised or leave it all behind for the modern world. I had heard of the film but never got around to seeing it until it aired on the National Geographic Channel recently.

One of the things that stood out to me from the film was how much pressure these Amish teens must feel in making a decision that will impact the rest of their lives. Raised without modern technology until age 16, they are suddenly released into the modern world to experience all it has to offer. Joining the church means that they promise to give up all the technology and modern conveniences they have experienced and devote their lives to their religion and to having as many children as possible. Deciding not to join the church means leaving their families and all they have known behind and striking out on their own.

January 29, 2012

Decline of Christian Extremist Influence Should Not Be Overstated

evangelismEvery few years, a story appears in the U.S. news media suggesting that evangelical fundamentalist Christianity is losing political influence and is on its way out. These predictions never seem to materialize, but that doesn't stop people from making them.

With Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum's poll numbers remaining relatively low even after winning the endorsement of many prominent Christian extremists, we saw another round of these stories. When Santorum drops out of the Republican presidential primary, I suspect we will see another. With history as our guide, I suggest that we approach such stories with considerable skepticism.

During my lifetime, the political influence of evangelical Christian fundamentalists has waxed and waned. It has never been a constant, and I'm not sure why this would surprise anyone. Again and again, we witness a rise to power, a series of overreaches that make most of the sane public quite nervous, and a loss of influence. But it would seem naive to assume that there will not be another rise in the future.

Even though I would like to believe that we are finally seeing the beginning of the end of this toxic movement, I cannot. Christian extremism isn't going anywhere.

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January 28, 2012

Anti-Bullying Legislation Cannot Exempt Religiously-Motivated Bullying

stop bullyingIf you aren't familiar with Secular News Daily, you are missing out. Increasingly, I am finding that they are one of my go-to sources for breaking news on the subject of church-state separation and related matters. They recently posted an article by Lauren Anderson Youngblood, the Communications Manager of the Secular Coalition for America, suggesting that the case of Jessica Ahlquist highlights the need for considering how to protect youth who are subjected to religiously-based bullying.

January 27, 2012

The Fallacy of Atheism's Public Relations Problem

I think we can all agree that atheists are an unpopular minority in the United States. We've seen countless examples of bigotry directed at us by Christians, including elected officials who are supposed to know better. And it is not just the Christians; the record is not much better for members of other mainstream religions. I suspect we can agree that there are multiple reasons for how we are perceived by many religious individuals.

A number of prominent atheist bloggers, women and men whose work I respect, seem to share the opinion that one of the most important obstacles faced by modern atheists is our lousy public image. Some even appear to suggest that this image is largely of our own making. Again and again, we are cautioned against offending the religious. We are told, "Don't be a dick," and our tactics are criticized as too rude or too assertive. We are accused of picking the wrong battles, and some of our activism is labeled as counterproductive. Many of us are now seen as part of the problem because our particular brand of atheism contributes to bad PR. That is, we are not nice enough, tame enough, or passive enough.

January 25, 2012

Do You Support Religious Businesses?

Hobby LobbyNone of us has as much money as we'd probably like. Even if you reject the "consumer culture" of the United States and many other Western nations, you could probably think of some genuinely good things you'd like to do if you could afford it (e.g., funding secular organizations to the point where they could be truly influential). But there are things each and every one of us can do with our money that do not require us to spend any more of it than we already do. Yes, I'm talking about using our power as consumers to influence our world.

January 24, 2012

Sexism in the Atheist Community: Sexism and Misogyny

make me a sammichSexism and misogyny are loaded terms in that nobody wants to be accused of either of them. But what do they mean? I have seen many prominent atheist bloggers using these terms interchangeably. This was a surprise, as I've always understood them to be related but distinct concepts. I think it may be helpful to define these terms and determine whether they mean the same thing or not.

January 23, 2012

FFRF Files Complaint in Rhode Island

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a complaint with the State of Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights after area florists refused to deliver an order to Jessica Ahlquist. The complaint alleges "illegal discrimination based on religion." Under Rhode Island law, a business cannot deny services to someone on the basis of that person's religion.

My guess is that the florists will suggest that the FFRF lacks standing to bring the complaint on Ahlquist's behalf. I that fails, they'll most likely claim that their refusal was not based on Ahlquist's religion (or lack thereof) but on their reluctance to take part in a controversy.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how this one turns out.

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January 22, 2012

Remember Christian Extremism on the 39th Anniversary of Roe

Keep Abortion LegalToday is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized a woman's legal right to abort a pregnancy. As we celebrate this important case and its promotion of reproductive freedom, we must not forget to acknowledge a very real problem Roe has exposed.

In the years since Roe, we have seen a constant push from evangelical fundamentalist Christians to overturn it. We have also witnessed an organized campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence directed at doctors who perform the procedure, one which many terrorist groups would be proud to claim. This campaign of terror has largely been waged by Christian extremists, providing evidence that they are a clear and present danger right here in the U.S.

Congratulations, Newt

Newt GingrichHe's an ethically challenged hypocrite who relies on time-tested racist tactics to influence the Republican electorate. He's Newt Gingrich, and he won yesterday's South Carolina primary. As many in the corporate news media try to boost their ratings by suggesting that Willard "Mittens" Romney is in trouble and that this is an important story, it may be helpful to pause for a moment to recall a bit of political history.

In the 1996 Republican primary, Pat Buchanan won New Hampshire, Alaska, Missouri, and Louisiana before being defeated by the establishment candidate (Bob Dole). Much of the criticism now aimed at Mittens mirrors that directed against Dole, and many of what are now being heralded as Gingrich's advantages were then said about Buchanan.

Gingrich should enjoy his momentum while it lasts, but I'm quite comfortable predicting that Mittens will be the nominee.

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January 21, 2012

Idiot of the Week: Gov. Steve Beshear (D-KY)

Steve BeshearI live in a country where a state governor, a Democratic one at that, believes it is appropriate to cut his state's education budget while giving $43 million in tax breaks to a bible-themed amusement park. Keep in mind that this governor, Steve Beshear (D-KY) presides over a state where education is already reeling from previous cuts. Even so, he's proposed a budget that cuts $50 million more while offering a $43 million tax break to the so-called "Ark Park."

I tweeted this story several hours ago when I first saw it. It certainly caught my attention, but I wasn't planning to do an Idiot of the Week post today. I was in a positive, optimistic mood and wanted to keep it for a bit. Ever feel that way? I didn't want to have to think about stupidity because I knew it would bring me down. But I guess I couldn't stay away after being reminded by PZ at Pharyngula.

When people ask why the U.S. has fallen behind economically and why our once impressive system of public education has deteriorated, I'll think of Gov. Beshear and his priorities.

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FFRF to Support Brave Atheists in Need

FFRFThe Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) offers a few different scholarships and awards for deserving students and others who contribute to the atheist community. These include essay competitions, student activist awards, and awards for activism and achievement given at their conventions. They have just announced the creation of a new fund, which will be dedicated to granting scholarships and other assistance to "persons who exhibit bravery in furthering the cause and experience hardship because of that stand." The new Atheist in Foxholes Support Fund sounds like a wonderful idea to me.

January 20, 2012

Republican Voters Reject Perry

Rick PerryI don't often get to reflect on how proud I am of the American people. And it is even more rare that I get to experience strong positive feelings toward Republican voters in particular. And yet, the news that Rick Perry finally dropped out of the Republican primary does indeed leave me feeling good about Republican voters.

Religious Thuggery

Prophet MuhammadReligious thuggery (i.e., attempts to impose religiously derived preferences on others through violence) is nothing new. We have encountered many examples of upset Christians using it to intimidate those with whom they disagree or to punish those who were successful in protecting the separation of church and state. But religious thuggery is certainly not unique to Christians. In some ways, Islam seems to have perfected it.

Adam Lee (Daylight Atheism) wrote an informative post in which he reviews many recent examples where Muslims have attempted to suppress any criticism of their religion. And yes, there has been some thuggery involved. Many Muslims seem to have little tolerance for free expression when it involves criticism of their religious beliefs by non-Muslims. In case after case, we see offended Muslims seek to silence criticism through intimidation. And when non-violent approaches fail, blatant thuggery is quick to emerge.

January 19, 2012

The Purpose of Prayer


This simple chart provides a fairly accurate description of why prayer serves no real purpose. Assuming that the god at which religious believers are directing their prayers has some sort of plan for them, as most Christians insist, prayer is either redundant or futile. If one's prayer happens to coincide with the will one one's preferred god, it ends up being redundant. On the other hand, if one's prayer conflicts with the will of one's preferred god, it ends up being futile. In either case, prayer serves no purpose.

I should note one important omission from the chart. Prayer, even if it has no purpose in the sense described by the chart might temporarily make a believer feel better. For this reason, one could argue that temporary self-soothing is the only purpose that could be served by prayer.

January 16, 2012

Church-State Heroes Face Threats of Violence from Christians

God is angryWe've seen it happen countless times. A U.S. citizen has the courage to stand up for the First Amendment of our Constitution and subsequently faces a barrage of insults, including threats of physical harm or even death, from Christians. Why it happens is no mystery. Significant numbers of Christians are hateful and feel justified in behaving this way when their privilege is threatened. It does not matter to them whether the subject of the original complaint was illegal; all that matters is that they perceive a threat to their Christian privilege and believe it is acceptable to react by threatening the brave individual who requested that the law be enforced.

MLK on Privilege

Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
-- Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail, April 1963.

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January 15, 2012

Rick Santorum: The Christian Extremists' Choice

SantorumAs you have almost certainly heard by now, a large and influential group of Christian extremists met in Texas yesterday with the goal of choosing a Republican presidential candidate behind which to unify in order to prevent Willard "Mittens" Romney from receiving the nomination. They worry that he's not conservative enough and that he's the wrong kind of Christian (i.e., Mormon). And which candidate did this who's who of Christian hate decide to endorse? Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum, a man so anti-gay he'd probably be happier in Uganda.

Although most of my readers are located in the U.S. (according to Google Analytics), there are a sizable group in other countries. It often occurs to me that they must look at U.S. politics with quite a bit of puzzlement. Take the current crop of Republican presidential candidates as an example. While I wouldn't expect many outside the U.S. to follow our politics all that closely, they have to wonder what is wrong with us when they hear about some of these candidates.

The good news is that I do not think anyone who follows U.S. politics thinks Santorum has a legitimate chance of winning the Republican nomination. Barring a colossal blunder, Romney has that locked up. And even if Santorum did somehow manage to surprise us all, there is no way he wins a general election against President Obama. So yeah, I know it is scary to hear someone like this discussed as if he was a viable candidate, but he really isn't.

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Sexism in the Atheist Community: Initial Objections

ObjectionsI have only written two posts so far in this series on sexism in the atheist community, an introduction to the series and an explanation of why I believe that sexism is a problem in our community, and I have already received quite a few objections. A few have come in the form of comments; many more have come via email, Twitter, etc. Some have raised important issues that map on well to future posts I have planned for the series, and it makes sense to address them at that time. Others have raised the possibility that a series like this is just a bad idea and that I am hopelessly deluded for even attempting it. It is this latter group that I'd like to address here.

January 14, 2012

Idiot of the Week: Richard Floyd

Richard FloydA state representative in Tennessee, Richard Floyd (R-Chattanooga), sponsored a bill that has been dubbed the "Bathroom Harassment Act" (HB 2279). The bill is designed to punish transgendered persons for not using the dressing rooms or restrooms that Rep. Floyd thinks they should use. He has somehow managed to convince himself that this is a serious threat to his state.

As bad is that is, this legislation is not why I'm calling Rep. Floyd this week's idiot (although it didn't help). No, Floyd earned that designation for claiming that he would become violent if he ever encountered a transgendered person in a dressing room. Yep, an elected state representative is on the record as saying that he would "stomp" a transgendered person for having the nerve to use a dressing room where his wife or daughter trying on clothes.

Turn or Burn: A Case of Hate Speech in the U.K.

IslamFive Muslim men are on trial in the U.K. under a hate crimes law for distributing anti-gay leaflets that depicted gay men being executed for the "crime" of being gay. The purpose of the literature appeared to be one of encouraging hatred and even violence against homosexuals. One actually called for the death penalty for homosexual behavior. According to The Telegraph, this case is the first prosecution of an anti-gay hate crime since the law was changed in 2010 to include sexual orientation.

January 13, 2012

Ahlquist Stands Up for Separation of Church and State and Wins

When I was in high school, I am fairly certain that I would not have been brave enough to stand up to the entire school and out myself as an atheist. Jessica Ahlquist did this and more. After the school ignored her complaints about a school prayer banner (photo here) hanging in Cranston West High School in Rhode Island, Ahlquist sued. In spite of the harassment and death threats, she persevered and won. U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux, a Reagan appointee, has ordered that the banner come down.

According to Cranston.Patch.com, Ahlquist said:
Even if lots of kids in school hate you, even if there's nasty comments on the Internet, it's important to stand up for something you believe in.
And there is no doubt that there's a great deal of hate coming Jessica's way. She's a true inspiration.

You can find Judge Lagueux's 40-page ruling here as a .pdf.

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January 12, 2012

The Danger of Freethought

governments fear thinking individuals

Atheists are commonly viewed as potential threats by religious individuals. This is often justified by their concerns about our morality, as many doubt that we can be good without their preferred god(s). I think it is also fair to speculate that we may be viewed in this manner because our presence reminds religious believers that the might be wrong. However, I've been wondering lately about whether an even more important reason for perceiving us as a threat might be our tendency to question the status quo, particularly the religious privilege that is a central part of it.

January 11, 2012

Sexism in the Atheist Community: We Have a Problem

we have a problemWhat type of atheist community do we want? I want an atheist community that is diverse and that goes far beyond merely tolerating diversity. I want an atheist community that celebrates diversity and that strives to be welcoming to all atheists.

This is not the sort of atheist community we currently have. How do I know? First and most importantly, I have heard the accounts of many atheist women. Many have not experienced our community as particularly welcoming. It is great that some have, but many others have not. In fact, many have felt marginalized and have described the atheist community as a "boys' club." A few examples:
  • Some women report that their contributions and those of other women are not taken as seriously during meetings or group interactions as the contributions of men.
  • Prominent female atheists are often overlooked at conferences or various lists of influential atheists.
  • There is a tendency for women to be sexualized, even in contexts that have nothing to do with sex.
What makes me think that the atheist community has a problem with sexism? Many women have said so. Isn't that enough? It is for me, but there are two other factors I'd like to mention even though they are somewhat extraneous.

January 10, 2012

Sharia Ban Unconstitutional

Think Progress is reporting that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals just struck down Oklahoma's bizarre ban on Sharia law. This had to be one of the stranger laws approved by voters in recent years, since the danger of Oklahoma being taken over by Islamic law was probably less likely than an outspoken atheist being elected President of the United States.

The court recognized the law as violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and noted that the law appears unnecessary. From the ruling:
Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve. Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma. See Awad, 754 F. Supp. 2d at 1308; Aplt. App. Vol. 1 at 67-68.
This case is a serious blow to right-wing Islamophobia in the U.S.

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California University of Pennsylvania Discriminates Against Atheists

California University of PennsylvaniaI have never heard of California University of Pennsylvania, one of the universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. But they are making news after deciding to offer fans with church affiliation a discount on university basketball games. Even more problematic, this public university offered the discount during a "Faith and Family Night."

January 8, 2012

Mississippi Seeks to Establish Legislative Prayer and Ministry Caucus to Promote Biblical Worldview

I want to share a bit about what we're going to have to deal with here in Mississippi. Senate Concurrent Resolution 505 seeks to establish a "legislative prayer and ministry caucus." Here is how the proposed legislation describes the goal of the caucus:
…to encourage, train and support legislative leaders in every field who believe in the power of prayer and ministry, and to highlight the vital role that prayer and Judeo-Christian principles have played in the history of our Nation and our state in strengthening the fabric of our society, at all times consistent with the progress of our state...
Doesn't seem like it could possibly be constitutional, does it? For the first time since Reconstruction, the Republican party controls all branches of government in Mississippi. This appears to be the sort of thing they have in store for us.

I note that this resolution makes specific mention both to "Judeo-Christian principles" and explains that one of the goals of the caucus will be "to provide educational material needed to form and live life according to a Biblical world view." Unless I'm missing something, this appears to be a blatant violation of church-state separation.

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Sexism in the Atheist Community: Introduction

Sexism"Oh, come on! Not another blog writing about sexism in the atheist community!" Yep. I have been thinking about this subject a great deal lately. This is certainly not a new problem, but a growing number of atheist women I respect have come forward and explained that many women do not feel welcome in the atheist community. They have shared more than enough evidence to erase any skepticism I might have had. I've been asking myself how I have contributed to this problem. I've been asking myself what I have done to be part of the solution. Needless to say, I was not satisfied with the answers.

January 7, 2012

Atheist Community

CommunityIs there an atheist community? Should there be an atheist community? What do we even mean by community in this context?

At the micro level, it makes no sense to talk about "an atheist community" but several atheist communities. Think about the small meet up groups where a handful of atheists get together for various social and activist-oriented events. These are the sort of atheist communities where one can easily get to know everyone else and have the sense of working together in a tangible way.

January 6, 2012

The National Atheist Party

National Atheist PartyBig thanks to Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) for his recent post about the National Atheist Party. He reminds me of something I've been meaning to address for awhile: the National Atheist Party. Since I first heard of this organization, I have been trying to figure out what they hope to accomplish and understand their vision for improving the plight of atheists in the U.S. I'll share what I've learned after reading as much as I could find on their website and Facebook page, as well as watching the videos they have released so far. I'll also highlight the questions for which I have been unable to find answers because I think that is equally important in this case.

January 5, 2012

I'm Ready for Some Daylight

Heinrich Heine

Bye Bye Bachmann

Michele BachmannIt is all over for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). She did not get her miracle after all. Jesus was not in her corner like she thought. And that is really good news for the reality-based community.

As she announced that she was dropping out of the presidential race following her poor showing in Iowa, Bachmann repeatedly referred to her god, you know, the god who wanted her to run for president in the first place.
Surrounded by her family, Mrs. Bachmann invoked her faith frequently. “I look forward to the next chapter in God’s plan,” she said. “He has one for each of us, you know.”

January 4, 2012

Irrational Atheists

IrrationalAs atheists, many of us aspire to be more rational. And yet, we are still human. We are still prone to the same biases, prejudices, and cognitive errors known by cognitive scientists to be part of how our human brains function. While some atheists may be more rational than our religious counterparts on the question of gods, not all atheists arrived at or maintain their atheism through rational means. And once one sets aside the question of gods and examines other topics, one finds little evidence that atheists are any more rational than religious believers.

January 3, 2012

Reading the Christian Delusion

I tend to have a little extra free time in late December and early January than I do the rest of the year, and I've been taking advantage of it by reading what is turning out to be a great book, John Loftus' The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails.

I'm only about four chapters into it so far, but I have to report that David Eller's chapter about the role of culture in religious belief was one of the most interesting things I've read in a long time. He reveals the startling degree to which Christianity has imbedded itself in American culture, so much so that it is nearly invisible. He also explains some of the most formidable barriers atheists will face in reducing the influence of religion. And he suggests that we atheists could learn a great deal by studying the manner in which Christian missionaries spread their delusion among cultures unfamiliar with it. I would love to see many of the ideas in this chapter expanded to form a book, as I think there is more than enough there.

If the rest of this book is even close to being as good as what I've read so far, it is going to be easy to recommend.

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January 2, 2012

On Being Constructive

hatersDo you write a blog or comment on those written by others? Do you contribute content and/or comments to Reddit? If so, you know that it is a hell of a lot easier to shit all over someone else's work than to create one's own. Putting one's ideas out there for all to see entails exposing them to criticism; criticizing someone else's ideas involves virtually no risk. This is particularly true of Internet-based communication. Saying the equivalent of "this is stupid" in a comment or downvoting someone on Reddit without providing a valid reason is much easier than attempting to contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way.

January 1, 2012

The Atheist Movement in 2012

Happy New YearWelcome to 2012! It is precisely 2012 years after the death of someone who may well have never lived in the first place. I trust you enjoyed last night's culturally-sanctioned alcohol abuse and are now ready to spend money you don't have on mass produced self-improvement products.

As a child, 2012 seemed like the distant future. Okay, it was the distant future. But now that we're here and the world hasn't ended like a bad Hollywood disaster flick, it doesn't seem all that different, at least not in the important ways I had hoped. We still haven't cured cancer, ended our dependence on fossil fuels, or figured out a faster way to travel than planes. But we certainly have come a long way in consumer electronics, and I suppose that's all that really matters.