April 30, 2012

Why the National Day of Prayer Must End

end the national day of prayerHere in the U.S., some will celebrate the National Day of Prayer in early May. Others will celebrate the National Day of Reason. But there is a critical difference between these celebrations that is not evident from their names. The National Day of Prayer has the support of the U.S. government; it has an official designation. The National Day of Reason has no such support and no such designation. In fact, it is little more than a grassroots attempt by the reality-based community to offer an alternative to the National Day of Prayer.

April 29, 2012

The Reason Religion Persists: Fear of Death

Jesus death

Paul Waldman hits the nail on the head in a recent article in The American Prospect when he provides this answer to the question of why religion has persisted even as science and reason have made it less necessary:
Why? Death, of course. Which helps explain why religion has such staying power.

April 28, 2012

Oppose the War on Women

TNatlWoWhanks to Adam (Daylight Atheism) for letting me know that today is the date set aside for those of us concerned about equality to come together against the war on women. If you visit UniteWomen.org, you can see what is happening in your area.

As Adam points out, American women are under attack by the Christian extremist wing of the Republican Party and there are plenty of excellent reasons why atheists and feminists are ideal allies.
So, what can you do? Make your voice heard! If there's a march near you, join it. If there isn't, call and e-mail your elected representatives. Blog about it, tweet about it, post about it on Facebook and whatever social sites you belong to. Let the churches and the politicians hear from you; send them the message that the Dark Ages are over, and we aren't going back. The world is a far better place when women have equal rights and all children are wanted. The religious crusaders ought to hear that when they try to deprive us of that, all they'll succeed in doing is awakening a sleeping giant.
When conservative Christians overreach like this, they end up losing power and driving away the youth. They've already been hurting themselves through their war on the LGBT community, and now they've declared war on women too. It is time to let the politicians and churches hear from us. Enough!

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April 27, 2012

In Defense of Making Mountains of Molehills

Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) brings us the story of a church-state violation at a dinner held by city officials in Saskatoon to honor volunteers. It seems that one official offered a sectarian prayer during the dinner. This promoted a complaint from Ashu Solo, an atheist who was among those invited to the dinner to receive an award. Hemant believes that Solo overreacted and that his response "makes him (and us) look crazy." On one hand, I agree with much of what Hemant wrote in his post. On the other, this is precisely the sort of thing I was talking about here.

Hemant is absolutely right that Solo was not the victim of religious bigotry or discrimination, as he claimed. This was about Christian privilege, and Hemant recognized it correctly. Hemant is also right when he points out the exclusionary nature of prayers at government functions and suggests that Solo was right to point this out.

April 26, 2012

Bullying is a Problem (Even When it is Religiously Motivated)

BullyingAs an educator, one of the things that really gets under my skin is bullying. I strongly believe that every child has the right to a safe learning environment, relatively free from distraction, where he or she can actively participate in the educational process. Bullying is extremely disruptive and ends up depriving the victims and some of the witnesses from such an opportunity. It is a difficult set of behaviors to for schools to handle, as it requires systemic approaches for effective management.

April 24, 2012

Big Tent Atheism

E pluribus unumSarah Robinson (AlterNet) wrote an interesting article, 6 People You Need to Start a Revolution, that is worth a read. Her argument is that no movement seeking meaningful change can hope to succeed without effectively utilizing diversity of talent. I agree completely, and this is part of why I have repeatedly called for "big tent" atheism (i.e., a recognition that the atheist movement needs all kinds of people performing different roles).

April 22, 2012

As Catholic Child Rape Details Emerge in Court, What Are Catholics Waiting For?

Victims of child rapeDetails emerging from the Catholic clergy-abuse trial in Philadelphia paint a sickening picture of a truly corrupt organization. We recognize that child sexual abuse happens regardless of religion, but we also recognize that certain aspects of religious doctrine can facilitate it (e.g., the degree to which priests are placed on pedestals, the notion that they have a direct line to some sort of god, the idea that we should trust them).

And yet, the well orchestrated conspiracy of silence that allowed child rape by Catholic clergy to continue long after it was known seems impossible to excuse. So why do so many Catholics continue to excuse it?

April 21, 2012

Cohesion Comes at a Price

Social CohesionYou know how atheists are fond of saying that religious moderates are at least partly responsible for Christian extremism? We are good at identifying problems among religious believers, much better than we are at recognizing similar problems in our own community. We don't generally like to talk about it, but there is something similar going on in the atheist movement. We are willing to overlook quite a bit of bad behavior in order to maintain cohesion in the atheist community. This tendency is understandable, but it is not without peril.

April 20, 2012

The Atheist Movement Needs a Calendar

CalendarYesterday was National Ask an Atheist Day in the U.S. No, it isn't a cool new national holiday; it is an effort to raise awareness from the Secular Student Alliance. But here's the thing - I didn't find out about it until late yesterday afternoon. What would I have done if I had known it was coming ahead of time? I'm not sure, but I could have done something.

It has been my observation for some time now that we in the atheist community are kind of lousy at promoting ourselves, especially when it comes to upcoming events. In fact, we are so poor at it that many of us are routinely caught by surprise when the next atheist-oriented occasion rolls around.

The atheist movement needs a calendar, or a website listing all the upcoming atheist-related events month by month, or something we can download and import into whatever other calendar software we use. That would be helpful.

Update: Here are some dates to remember.

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April 19, 2012

Everyone Opposes Wasteful Government Spending

WASTEFUL SPENDINGAren't we all against wasteful government spending? It seems that nearly everyone opposes it and that the differences lie primarily in what one considers wasteful. The politicians in Congress who oppose efforts to end the development of weapons systems or vehicles that the U.S. military does not want tend to be Republican. The politicians in Congress who oppose efforts to reform social welfare programs tend to be Democrats. And most politicians, regardless of party, seem to support the failed "war on drugs." One would think we could at least agree not to fund programs that lack any meaningful evidence to support their utility, but this is clearly not the case.

April 17, 2012

Taking a Look at Mainstream Christian Beliefs

Catholic crucifixOne of the accusations Christians regularly make against atheist bloggers is that we present a skewed and unrealistic view of their religion by covering only the most extreme examples. By doing so, we portray something that the individual Christian often feels has little resemblance to his or her faith. I think this is a valid criticism.

Of course, most of us who do this know full well that we are doing it and are even doing it somewhat strategically. For example, we may use extreme examples because they tend to reveal more about the thought processes which underlie most religious faith. Or we may use extreme examples to motivate activism, encourage self-selection, or other goals. But still, they have a point in criticizing us for this approach.

April 15, 2012

Doing Something About State Promotion of Religion

English: It represents the 1905 law on secular...
English: It represents the 1905 law on secularity in France, and more info is found there about its legal state. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am an atheist. I think it would be great if there were more atheists, but I really don't care a great deal about trying to persuade anybody to give up their superstitions. Many believers have told me that they need their religious beliefs and cannot imagine life without them. I tend to think that they are quite a bit stronger than they realize, but I'll take them at their word.

Atheism does not have to be for everybody. I'm fine with that. What I'm not fine with are the widespread efforts by many religious believers to have the state promote their religious beliefs.

April 13, 2012

Recognizing Bigotry

Consider the following statement for a moment:
I would not vote for a man who was Black.
Aside from a handful of teabaggers, I suspect that most people would recognize this statement as bigotry. Why? The statement implies that all people who belong to the specified category (i.e., Black) are unfit to hold office simply because of their membership in this category. Since the category is irrelevant to this judgment, we have both a falsehood and an unwarranted generalization. This is bigotry, and most people correctly identify it as such.

Now let's examine the actual quote from the Rev. Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz:
I would not vote for a man who was atheist.
Once again, this is bigotry. But this time, many people refuse to see it as bigotry. In the U.S. at least, bigotry against atheists is still socially acceptable. We are working on changing that, but we've got a long road ahead.

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April 12, 2012

Pat Robertson, Demon Hunter

I know my readers are familiar with Pat Robertson and his antics. After all, Robertson is one of the more popular spokespersons for Christian extremism in the U.S. You've marveled at his idiocy, and you've joined countless atheists in denouncing him plenty of times. So I figured you'd enjoy this compilation of Robertson's greatest misses.

H/T to Unreasonable Faith

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April 11, 2012

The Responsibility of Religious Moderates for Religious Extremism

religious nutsAside from the existence of god(s) and the moral superiority many Christians claim for themselves, I think one of the biggest disagreements between Christians and atheists is whether moderate Christians have at least some responsibility for Christian extremists. I, along with most atheists, believe that they do. However, virtually none of the moderate Christians I know agree with this perspective. I suspect that this generalizes to moderates and extremists of other religious too.

April 10, 2012

Christian Email: Believe or You Will Be Tortured Forever

The following e-mail arrived a few days ago with "My heart breaks for you" in the subject field. I have not edited it in any way, as I figured you'd enjoy the typos and lack of paragraph breaks too:
I was looking at this site and my heart was hurt at some of the stuff that was said. I dont condemn or judge you for what you believe. Nor do I think harshly toward the way that you believe, that is your choice. Christianity and serving the One true, living God, is a choice I chose to take, and you choose not to. Thats your perogative. I dont know who you are but I will be praying for you that you will see the truth before, you have no choice. I know you might not like what I have said, but I dont even know you and I wanted to tell you the truth in love. Jesus loves you and died for you...One day every knee will bow and tounge confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but the choice we make now to serve him or reject Him will determine if we willingly confess that in love and joy, or in shame and des! pair. The choice that we make now really is a matter of life and death. Its appointed unto man to die once then judgement. We all will die one day, but thats not the death that matters. If we dont go into eternity knowing Jesus, then we will die the second death, spending an eternity in hell where there is no hope. Is that a risk thats worth taking. Im 25 and God has delivered me from a bunch of junk. Hes given me a family and a beautiful daughter. I know my Jesus is not dead but alive. He loved me even whenI was a sinner and still died for me...and you. I love you mam or sir and I hope that you to will be able to experiance that peace and joy He gives. Im sorry and I apologive if the church has ever offended you or hurt you. Jesus is about love, and life. Not hippy love, real love, that type of love you would have for someone enough to lay your life down for them. That kind of love.

April 9, 2012

Prof. Peter Boghossian on Faith

Peter BoghossianThe Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science linked to an interview Georgia Perry (The Portland Mercury) did with Portland State University philosophy professor, Peter Boghossian. After reading it, I have to admit that I am quite jealous of the academic freedom Dr. Boghossian enjoys at Portland State. Granted, he's in Oregon and I'm in Mississippi, but it is so refreshing to hear that he can say what he's been saying and keep his job.

April 8, 2012

Private Religious Beliefs vs. Public Expressions of Religious Beliefs

Zombie JesusI'd never single out some random person and mock them for their private beliefs. It would be cruel to do so, and would likely accomplish nothing. Besides, I'd have no way of knowing what their private beliefs were in the first place. However, public beliefs are a somewhat different matter. Someone who introduces his or her beliefs into the public arena is asking for attention. In these cases, a response may be appropriate.

Suppose a stranger approaches me in the parking lot of a local store and loudly informs me that he believes the Loch Ness monster is real and that scientists are concealing evidence. Whatever reluctance I might feel to mock private beliefs is not relevant here. I might opt not to mock this man at all. I might agree with him, suggest that he seek mental health treatment, attempt to steer clear of him out of fear, or any number of other responses that would not include mockery. But I may also laugh in his face, let him know that I disagree with him, or engage him in discussion with the goal of showing him the error of what he believes.

He is Risen

Zombie Jesus

via Angry-Eyeball

April 7, 2012

New Atheist Holidays: Zombie Jesus Weekend

Zombie JesusI regularly see posts in the atheist blogosphere suggesting new atheist-friendly holidays (e.g., Darwin Day) or co-opting existing holidays from the religious (e.g., celebrating winter solstice in place of Christmas). I've never been particularly excited about holidays (except for Halloween), and I think it is because I've rejected most of the traditions in which I was raised. But I would like to throw my hat into this ring anyway by suggesting another holiday for atheists to co-opt from the religious: Zombie Jesus Weekend.

April 6, 2012

Happy Dead Jesus Day!

Good FridayThe day that would become Good Friday was initially set aside by the Christian church during the fourth century to commemorate the death of Jesus. The "Good Friday" label was adopted by the Roman Catholics somewhat later and has persisted today.

Historically, Good Friday was a fairly somber occasion. Clergy wore black and did not light the usual candles so that the altar was bare. The solemn nature of the service was supposed to reflect grief over Jesus' death.

April 4, 2012

The Assault on Secularism Poses a Real Threat to Religious Freedom

SecularismTaner Edis over at the Secular Outpost wrote a thought-provoking post in which he argues rather convincingly that secularism is under assault and perhaps weaker today than at many times in the past. I think this is an important read, especially in the context of recent celebrations of atheism like the Reason Rally and Rock Beyond Belief. It isn't that Taner is trying to rain on anyone's parade; he's simply reminding us that secularism (which is not synonymous with atheism) is fairly weak today. Unfortunately, I have to agree.

April 3, 2012

Atheists Sought for Online Research

ResearchI wholeheartedly support efforts to include atheists in social science research. I recognize that researchers often have difficulty finding sufficient numbers of atheists to include in their studies, so I am happy to help get the word out when I can.

I was recently contacted by a master's student in sociology at the University of Colorado - Colorado Springs. He's looking for a diverse sample to complete a brief online questionnaire. He has pulled together a list of churches, mosques, temples, and assorted religious centers to contact, but he could use some assistance in recruiting atheist participants.

If you have a few minutes to spare and are willing to help him out, you can find the survey here.

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April 2, 2012

Why American Catholics Are Leaving the Church

American bishopsDan Merica posted a fascinating article over at CNN's Belief Blog about the large number of Americans leaving the Catholic Church in recent years. Evidently, one in ten Americans is now an ex-Catholic! I realize that most ex-Catholics are not becoming atheists, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

The most interesting part of Merica's article was his summary of a recent study by Byron and Zech conducted to assess the opinions of 300 ex-Catholics in Trenton, NJ. The researchers were brought in at the request of Trenton's bishop to figure out why so many were leaving the church.

April 1, 2012

What is Post-Atheism?

atheismHave you heard the term "post-atheism" used by people in the atheist movement? I have encountered a few different definitions of this term, but I've always thought that the best one was the idea that post-atheism refers to the mindset that while one is still technically an atheist (i.e., one does not accept the theistic belief claim), one no longer considers atheism to be a significant part of one's identity.

One way to look at post-atheism would be to say that it would describe us all if religious belief were to disappear. In such a scenario, we'd all be post-atheists because atheism would be too irrelevant to have any value in our identity. But this is not the way most people use the term. Most use it to describe a step they reach after atheism.