January 31, 2013

Prohibition is Alive and Well in Some Mississippi Counties

Another "no alcohol" logo
Another "no alcohol" logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You know those ad circulars that show up in your mailbox a couple times a month that are sort of a combination between a small local newspaper and a bunch of ads? Do you get these too? Anyway, I was looking through one of them the other day, and something quite strange caught my eye.

Using public court records, this particular circular published recent arrest records. The name of the person arrested along with their date of birth, gender, race (this is Mississippi, after all), and charges were included. I found this somewhat odd, but not nearly as surprising as what I saw when I looked more closely at the information.

One of the individuals listed here had been charged with many things pertaining to what sounded like a traffic stop for suspected DUI. What caught my eye was this particular charge:
Possession of Beer/Wine in a Dry County

January 30, 2013

Arkansas Senate Approves Guns in Church

According to Religion News Service, the Arkansas Senate recently passed a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons in church.
The proposal, which goes to the Arkansas House for consideration, would allow churches to decide which, if any, worshippers with concealed carry permits can bring their firearms inside (sic).
I wonder if congregant-on-congregant crime is real a problem in Arkansas churches. But most of all, I wonder why those who claim to worship a benevolent god that is supposed to be intimately involved in the affairs of humans would not simply place their fate in its hands. Shouldn't prayer alleviate the need for handguns in church?

Perhaps churchgoing Christians in Arkansas understand the futility of prayer better than they let on.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

Twitter Tips: What They Mean By 'Tweeting At' Someone?

Emergency "Twitter was down so I wrote my...
Emergency "Twitter was down so I wrote my tweet on paper and photographed it and posted on flickr" : Satire on internet culture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Twitter can be an odd medium for communicating. Is it a broadcast medium where one says what one wants and ignores what everyone else is saying, an interactive medium where conversation and debate occur, or some combination of both? Anyone can talk to anyone, regardless of who is following who. And yet, attempting to communicate with someone who is not following you, sometimes labeled "tweeting at me," may be a risky proposition. In fact, attempting to communicate with someone who is not following you is sometimes perceived as harassment by the recipient. Is it any wonder that Twitter has been the place where the conflict surrounding Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ has been most evident?

In this post, I'd like to offer a few suggestions for navigating this mess on Twitter. I have found these tips useful in practice, but feel free to take them or leave them, as your situation may differ from mine.

January 29, 2013

Atheists, I Guess We Do Have Leaders

English: A picture of Roy Speckhardt, Executiv...
A picture of Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the most common criticisms of the atheist movement (i.e., the activist-oriented subset of the atheist community) is our lack of leadership. Without leaders, organization is difficult. Without organization, it is almost impossible to utilize our numbers effectively to bring about change. Someone has to mobilize the many activists and point them toward shared goals, and that is what leaders are for.

Imagine my surprise to learn that we have leaders after all. At least, if CNN's account is to be believed, we have leaders. According to CNN, our leaders met last weekend in Atlanta at something called "the eighth annual Heads Meeting." Never heard of it.
Some of the nation’s most influential leaders, representing various organizations, will convene to chart a path forward and discuss the most important issues facing "nones" today.

January 28, 2013

Time to Decriminalize Marijuana

Marijuana small
Marijuana small (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to the FBI, more people in the U.S. were arrested for the possession of marijuana than for violent offenses during 2011. Given that violent offenses are less common than marijuana possession, this information is not terribly surprising. However, I cannot help but think that it reflects a problem with our law enforcement priorities and the manner in which law enforcement resources are being allocated.

The possession of marijuana should not be a criminal offense. Public support for decriminalization has reached record levels, and it has been clear to most of us for some time that our law enforcement resources would be better utilized elsewhere. Our nation has far more pressing problems with which to contend than marijuana.

I have heard some opponents of decriminalization say that it would send the wrong message to our children. I'm not sure how losing a "war on drugs" and harming countless people in the process sends a better one. I have also heard opponents say that marijuana and other drugs are harmful because they prevent people from dealing effectively with reality. Perhaps, but couldn't the same point could be made about religion?

H/T to Think Progress

January 27, 2013

Church: A Waste of a Sunday Morning

Christian Flag etc Covenant Presbyterian Long Beach 20050213.jpg My father is not an atheist. He's been a Christian longer than I've been alive. While his attitudes and behaviors have certainly moved away from what most Christians would recognize over the years, he still considers himself a Christian. I suspect this is largely due to a combination of the manner in which he was raised, his distaste for getting bogged down in deep questions, and the psychological and social benefits he accrues from Christianity.

When I was a child, one of my father's expressions I always liked was his description of church as "a waste of a perfectly good Sunday morning." He never seemed to enjoy going to church, and I think he went primarily because my mother wanted to. He may have shared her belief that church was good for me in some manner, but she seemed far more convinced of this than he ever did.

January 25, 2013

New Data on the Desire for Religious Liberty in the U.S.

A Ten Commandments monument which includes the...
A Ten Commandments monument which includes the command to "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Joseph L. Conn (Secular News Daily) brings us word of a new public opinion poll conducted by the Barna Group. One of the interesting findings was that "66 percent of Americans say no one set of values should dominate in this country." I agree that this sounds positive. A clear majority of those polled appear to value religious pluralism and diversity.

It occurs to me that this group of people should be interested in protecting the separation of church and state. Perhaps groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State have some real potential for growth if they can find a way to tap into these numbers.

Conn notes that not all of the survey results were quite so positive.
Twenty-three percent of those polled say “traditional Judeo-Christian values” should be given preference in the United States. Among evangelical Christians that number rose to 54 percent!

January 24, 2013

Do Your Co-Workers Know You Are an Atheist?

Job Site Radio
Job Site Radio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It has been awhile since I addressed the subject of atheism in the workplace, but I continue to be interested in this topic. For those of you who are atheists and who are employed, do your co-workers know of your atheism? If so, has this created any problems for you at work? It occurs to me that people doing different jobs may have very different experiences, ranging from atheism being the norm among their co-workers to being fired because of it. I thought it might be interesting to hear how atheists in different jobs have handled their atheism and what, if any, impact they have experienced in the workplace.

January 23, 2013

Overcoming First Impressions: The Case of ReapSow Radio

English: Impressions at sunset by JoJan.
English: Impressions at sunset by JoJan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
First impressions matter, and they can be difficult to overcome. I cannot count the number of times I have formed a negative first impression of someone or something only to learn I was wrong. I'd like to tell you about a recent example.

A couple months ago, I listened to an episode of ReapSow Radio, an irreverent podcast focusing on the conflict in the atheist community. I was not sure what to expect. Everything I had heard about the show was negative, but it had all come from the FtB/Skepchick/Atheism+ crowd. I had already learned not to put much stock in their opinions, so I figured I should check out the show for myself. If Reap was really the vile misogynist they insisted he was, I could move on.

January 22, 2013

Context in the Gun Control Debate

A well-regulated militia I figured it was time to take a look at gun policy now that the Obama administration has announced some of the measures under consideration. I've always been a bit ambivalent on the subject of gun control, because I can see both sides of this issue and have been discouraged by the unthinking rhetoric I hear being spouted from the polar opposites of the debate. If we are going to expand gun control in some way, I'd hope we would do so rationally.

The Second Amendment: Different Interpretations

When I read the 2nd Amendment and consider the historical context around it, it seems obvious to me that there are at least two very different ways in which it can be read. Here is what it says:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

January 20, 2013

Can't They Just Pray Away the Flu?

Dr. Gregory S. Neal, UM Elder, presides at the...
Dr. Gregory S. Neal, UM Elder, presides at the Eucharist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This has been a bad flu season for nearly every state in the U.S., including those here in the so-called "bible belt." I was out of commission for a couple weeks during the holiday season. Even though I remembered to get my flu shot this year, I still got a bad and long-lasting case of the flu that eventually sent me to the doctor.

I suppose my illness could be chalked up to my atheism and the fact that I am not "saved," but that does not explain why so many of my Christian acquaintances and their entire families were sick too. It is almost as if their god makes no distinction between those who believe and those who do not. Of course, this same observation could also be consistent with the possibility that this god does not exist.

January 17, 2013

The 'Obama Faked Newtown to Take Our Guns' Theory

Idiot America: How stupidity became a virtue in the land of the freeOne of the points Charles Pierce made in his excellent book, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, was that we in the U.S. love our conspiracy theories. He traced several such theories over the course of our nation's history, and I suspect we can all think of a few in our present and recent past. One of the newest and most disturbing concerns the mass murder that took place in Newtown, CT, late last year. Evidently, some on the right are now pushing the theory that President Obama faked the entire thing, hiring actors to make it look convincing. And why would he do such a thing? To provide false justification for taking our guns, of course.

This particular theory, like so many others on the right, starts with the conviction that black helicopters filled with ATF agents are going to show up on our property any day now in order to disarm us. "It will be like Waco but on a larger scale!" Sure it will. From the belief that this outcome is inevitable, they work backwards to provide a way in which it could come about. And somehow the UN will be involved. They always are.

January 16, 2013

'Rise of the Nones' Likely to End Sooner or Later

Present-day archaeological site of the Salem V...
Present-day archaeological site of the Salem Village parsonage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In a recent post, Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) examined some Gallup data being interpreted by some as showing that the "rise of the nones" about which we've been hearing so much has finally started to level-off. The poll data show only a slight increase in our numbers between 2011 and 2012. It is tempting to interpret this as evidence that our growth spurt may be over. As Hemant correctly notes, such a suggestion would be premature. After all, one data point does not make a trend. Having said that, I do not expect growth among those with no religious affiliation to continue at the same rate until religion is extinct.

As I have pointed out before, the demise of religion in the U.S. has been predicted and then declared many times. Each time, a resurgence (i.e., a "religious awakening") has followed. The influence of religion has ebbed and flowed for some time, and it seems naive to suggest that this pattern will not persist.

January 15, 2013

Satanic Ritual Abuse

Sacrifice of a Christian Child
Sacrifice of a Christian Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The flyers were all over the psychology building. Dr. Richard Ofshe, a renowned professor at the University of California at Berkeley who had won a Pulitzer years earlier, was delivering a lecture on the use of recovered memories in psychotherapy. It was the mid-1990s, and I was in graduate school at the time. I knew that Ofshe had become a controversial figure due to his evidence-based criticism of attempts by therapists to recover client's memories of childhood sexual abuse during therapy. I rearranged my schedule so I could attend his lecture. I had no idea just how controversial it was going to be.

I assume that my readers are generally familiar with the term moral panic. Notorious examples of moral panics in the U.S. include the Red Scare, Salem witch trials, and the so-called "Satanic panic" that emerged during the 1980s over fears of Satanic ritual abuse. The idea that there were Satanic cults operating in nearly every town throughout the U.S. caught on in a big way and would not really begin to fade away until the late 1990s. It was a fascinating period to have lived through, and I sometimes have a difficult time believing that it happened at all.

January 14, 2013

Susan Jacoby on the 'Blessings' of Atheism

Cover of "The Age of American Unreason"
Cover of The Age of American Unreason
Susan Jacoby's recent op-ed in The New York Times has been receiving quite a bit of attention around the atheist community, and for good reason. I have read two of Jacoby's books (Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism and The Age of American Unreason), was impressed with both, and have enjoyed almost everything I've heard from her. My reaction to her recent op-ed is mixed though, and I'd like to share it here.

Jacoby's thesis appears to be that atheists should work to change public perceptions by emphasizing our empathy and kindness as well as our intellect. She believes that the primary obstacle holding us back from achieving greater influence in society involves the widespread perception that we have nothing positive to offer.

January 11, 2013

In Defense of Greta Christina

No shoes
No shoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am going to keep this brief because I am attempting to minimize the time I spend on the Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ stuff. It has come to my attention that a handful of people opposed to this group are upset because Greta Christina spent some of the money donated to her on a pair of shoes. Some have even taken to calling this "Shoegate."

Greta Christina, a talented atheist blogger at Freethought Blogs, was recently diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She asked for financial help via online donations and raised more than enough money to cover her mortgage and other expenses while recovering. She spent some of the money on a pair of shoes, and this somehow became the latest controversy to sweep across the atheist community.

January 10, 2013

Before You Link to the Huffington Post

Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Dear members of the reality-based community:

Based on the available data pertaining to the political preferences of our community, there is reason to believe that your political leanings are likely to be somewhat left of center. There are certainly exceptions. But if I know nothing about you other than your preference for reality over superstition, I would be wise to predict that you are more likely to lean left than to lean right. We also know from a wealth of psychological research that we humans tend to seek information that confirms or validates our positions and pay more attention to it than we do with information that disconfirms and invalidates them (i.e., confirmation bias). If I put these two pieces of information together, acknowledging that they are general statements that will not apply equally to every individual, I should expect you to consume media that could be described as more liberal (or progressive) in orientation.

What I would like to convince you of today is that not all of these media sources are equally valuable and that at least one of them should be actively avoided. In particular, I'd like to persuade you that no member of the reality-based community should promote The Huffington Post (HuffPo) by sharing links to it on websites, blogs, or social media. The next time you are tempted to tweet a link to HuffPo, I hope you'll think twice.

January 9, 2013

How to Write Better Reviews of Atheist Books

There are way too many good books on atheism waiting to be read, and nobody wants to waste their time on the lesser of them. This is why I really appreciate it when atheist bloggers post book reviews. Of course, not all book reviews are equally helpful. In this post, I'll give you an example of the sort of book review that captures my attention, take a look at why it is so effective, and offer some quick tips for those of you reviewing atheist books.

I want to start with an example of the sort of book review that really gets my attention. Check out Al Stefanelli's great review of Alan Jeskin's Outgrowing God: Moving Beyond Religion.

January 8, 2013

How to Discuss Feminism in the Atheist Community

FeminismThis one requires just a bit of context, so let me to set the stage for you. Ed Brayton (Dispatches from the Culture Wars) wrote a post last month in which he scolded Al Stefanelli for a video criticizing the behavior of 4-5 bloggers on the Freethought Blogs (FtB) network. I am not planning to address the content of Brayton's post here, as I want to focus instead on a comment on his post left by Greta Christina (Greta Christina's Blog). She posed what I consider to be a brilliant question that has helped to show me that I've been missing something important about the role of feminism in the atheist community, how we discuss it, and the ongoing controversy surrounding Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+. I feel like my eyes have been opened, and I am kicking myself a bit for not fully realizing this on my own.  

Greta Christina's Question

Greta's comment was in response to a reader who complained, "The treatment that anyone who isn't a feminist encounters down here is beyond reprehensible." Part of Greta's response included the following question:
How would you respond if someone said, “The treatment that anyone who’s a racist encounters down here is beyond reprehensible”? Or, “The treatment that anyone who’s a homophobe encounters down here is beyond reprehensible”? Have you considered the possibility that you’re treated the way you are because not being a feminist is reprehensible?
I know that some of you may be tempted to dismiss this out of hand. Please do not be so hasty. I think she's on to something important here.

January 7, 2013

Atheists in the Heartland

Barn HDR
Barn HDR (Photo credit: little.tomato)
It may have been the title of Dan Denvir's article for Salon.com that first caught my attention, "There really is a war on Christmas!" However, the article's tagline is what got me thinking and inspired this post: "And it's being fought by some of the bravest atheists in the country, nonbelievers in rural areas and the heartland." No, this is not another post about Christmas or the imaginary war on Christmas. Instead, I'd like to take a look at Denvir's thesis that those wanting to find the angriest atheists will do so in small towns located throughout in the central U.S. rather than in big cities on the coasts.

Here is how he put it:
Forget Hollywood and the Upper West Side. The angriest atheists are from the American heartland, where they live surrounded by the faithful.
Denvir cites Pew data from 2007 showing that rural atheists were more likely to report there being a conflict between the religious and non-religious than urban respondents. This is something I hadn't thought much about before, but it does make sense. Where an atheist lives, at least in terms of the implications this has for the manner in which the atheist encounters religion, probably has something to do with how the atheist feels about religion.

January 5, 2013

Twitter Tips: Scheduling Tweets With SocialOmph

Twitter Shiny IconI've been sharing blogging tips here at Atheist Revolution for some time. The more I've been using Twitter, the more valuable I have found it. For those of you who use Twitter to promote your blogs, interact with others in the vast online atheist community, or any other purpose, I thought I'd share a few tips for how to optimize your use of Twitter.

In this one, I'll show you one of the many ways you can write a tweet and have it sent out at a later time of your choosing. Why would you want to do this? Perhaps the bulk of your audience is in a different time zone. Or maybe you are trying to maximize the odds of your tweet being seen by sending it during a time of peak use when you are at work or otherwise occupied. You might even want to do this just because you want to spread out your tweets, as you know how annoying it can be when someone sends several at once.

January 3, 2013

Preferences vs. Demands

Television remote control
Television remote control (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the wonderful things about humanity is our diversity. And one of the places were you'll find the most diversity is in the realm of preferences. We like different foods, appreciate different art, listen to different music, and so on. Can you imagine how boring life would be if there was no variability in preferences and we all liked the same things?

When it comes to something like what we watch on television, we recognize that we are dealing with preferences and not much else. I love a show that you don't like, and your favorite is one I cannot stand. You do not accuse me of being wrong in some moral sense for liking the show I do, and I do not condemn you for watching a show I don't like. We may argue at times over whether a show has redeeming social value, but we do not generally waste time on whether one of us is morally corrupt to like what we like. We recognize that our preferences differ, and we are usually content that we've each found something we like on TV. Leave it to the religious to go around trying to ban everything they don't like; we atheists simply change the channel.

January 2, 2013

Rise of the Nones to Continue in 2013

In writing his end-of-the-year piece for CNN's Belief Blog, Dan Gilgoff explained five things he has learned while editing the blog. The whole list is interesting, but take a look at #2:
2.) The explosion of people with no religion will be a huge story in this century, and the news media have only begun to explore its many implications. CNN reporter Dan Merica has led the news media pack in reporting on what the growth of “religious nones” means for American politics and for the burgeoning movement of activist atheists, which represents only a small portion of those with no religion. There are countless other stories to be found among the tens of millions of religious “nones” - about making meaning, tradition and ethics in a post-religious existence. These stories won’t be provoked by press releases. If you’re a religious “none,” speak up. Let the news media know what we should be covering in your world.
He's right. This story gained real traction in 2012, and is likely to continue in 2013.

January 1, 2013

Changes for 2013

English: New Year's Day postcard mailed in 190...
English: New Year's Day postcard mailed in 1909. It reads: "A New Year's Resolution / Jan. 1st / Good Resolution / Each resolution that I make / My conscience surely troubles / Because I find they always break / As easy as Soap bubbles" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
2013 is here. Happy New Year! I've never been a fan of New Year's resolutions. I've tried them in the past and nearly always failed at them. What I haven't tried before is making some sort of a record of them to hold myself accountable. I'm going to try that now with a portion of my resolution for this year - the portion that pertains to my online activity. In this regard, there are three main things I've like to accomplish in 2013: spend less time online, reduce the level of aggravation I experience while online, and begin to take advantage of the wealth posts I've accumulated over the years.  

1. Spend Less Time Online

In order to meet my goal of spending less time online, a goal I have because there are other things I want to do (or need to do) more of offline, I am going to need to make a couple of changes. First, I need to free myself from some of what I've allowed to become obligations. I started this process by closing two of the three active Twitter accounts I've been using for some time. Besides my primary account (@vjack), I had two others: one for Mississippi Atheists and one for Red State Progressive. It was eating up too much time to maintain them, so they are gone.