February 28, 2013


I finally got around to watching the documentary film, Bully. No, it was not about "freethought bullies" or anything of the sort. It dealt with the important and often neglected subject of bullying in schools. It provided a voice to children who are bullied and showed us some of what they and their parents face on a daily basis.

It was not quite what I was expecting, but I'm glad I watched it. I remember the controversy around its release. I had incorrectly assumed that it would contain scenes that would be extremely difficult to watch. It turns out that the controversy was more about the film's rating than the contents. While it was far from pleasant to see children being tormented by bullies or hear about those who had killed themselves to escape, it lacked the visceral punch of Jesus Camp, at least for me. After watching it, I felt sad but at least somewhat encouraged that the issue was receiving much needed attention. After watching Jesus Camp, I felt like I was going to throw up and had nightmares. But I suppose films like these will affect everyone differently.

February 27, 2013

Atheist Group Settles Landmark Discrimination Case

The following is a press release from the Center for Inquiry:

Atheist Group Settles Landmark Discrimination Case with Michigan Country Club

Plaintiff Calls Settlement “Unqualified Vindication” for Nonbelievers’ Rights

A Michigan country club that cancelled an event by the Center for Inquiry (CFI), allegedly because of the speaker’s and attendees’ atheism, has agreed to a settlement in the case brought against it, marking perhaps the first time federal and state civil rights statutes have been successfully invoked by nonbelievers in a public accommodations lawsuit.

In April of last year, the Center for Inquiry, an organization advocating for science, reason, and secular values, brought suit against the Wyndgate Country Club of Rochester Hills, Michigan for violation of both the federal and state civil rights laws, as well as breach of contract, after it cancelled an October, 2011 CFI-Michigan event featuring famous atheist Richard Dawkins. The club tried to justify breaking its contract by stating that “the owner does not wish to associate with certain individuals and philosophies.” The club’s representative specifically cited a concern over Dawkins’ appearance on The O’Reilly Factor a few days before, in which Dawkins’ atheism was the chief topic.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome of this case, which we regard as an unqualified vindication of the rights of nonbelievers,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We are confident it will send a strong message that as much as this country now rejects discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, and religion, so must we reject just as strongly discrimination against those with no religion.”

As part of this settlement, the Wyndgate has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to the Center for Inquiry.

“Of course the majority of businesses welcome the patronage of nonbelievers as much as anyone else,” added Lindsay, “but if one should choose to prejudicially exclude us because of our lack of religious belief, we have shown that there will be consequences.”

CFI was represented in this lawsuit by the Royal Oak, Michigan law firm of Pitt McGehee, Palmer, Rivers & Golden, P.C. CFI is grateful for their able assistance in this case.

* * *

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.

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February 26, 2013

Understanding Secularism

Freedom From Religion Foundation got this sign...
Freedom From Religion Foundation got this sign put up on busy 2nd Street in Harrisburg, PA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Secularism has long been one of Christian extremists' favorite boogeymen. They use it to fuel the myth that Christianity is under attack in the United States. At one time or another, they have sought to blame nearly every social ill on secularism. In doing so, they present a distorted picture of secularism, demonized secularists, and neglected to mention that secularism is beneficial to religion and to religious believers.

If those of us who value secularism are going to be able to stand up against those who would attack it, we must make sure that we understand it and that we are consistent in how we speak and write about it. Only then will we be able to provide an effective counter to the misinformation and propaganda that fuels much of the hatred aimed at those of us who defend the separation of church and state.

February 25, 2013

Begging For Grades in College

SJSA Grade Six -  The Year I Rebelled
SJSA Grade Six - The Year I Rebelled (Photo credit: Michael 1952)
Most of us in the reality-based community agree that education is valuable. We see a secular public education as an antidote, at least in part, to religious indoctrination. So it is understandable that we would support science education and prefer the teaching of evolution in science class to the teaching of creationism. It is also understandable that we would have some interest in the overall quality of our system of public education.

One of the many disturbing trends I've noticed over the last several years is that some students actually beg for grades. I am not talking about a student who attempts to argue about how his or her paper or essay exam was graded. No, I'm talking about the student who acknowledges that his or her performance in a course corresponds to the "F" range of the grading scale and simply asks the teacher for a higher grade because receiving a failing grade is undesirable. Believe it or not, I see quite a bit of this at the college level.

February 24, 2013

Horrible T-Shirt Bullying

Harriet Hall with Safe shirtI am going to assume that you are familiar with snark and sarcasm on the Internet. That is what you are going to find in this post. I am writing it in such a tone - not because I am trying to hurt anyone's feelings - but because I am having an extremely difficult time giving the subject I will address here the gravely serious tone some seem to think it deserves. I find it absurd, and that is how I choose to interact with it in this post. You know how we atheists are so fond of advocating snark and even mockery of absurd religious ideas, right? Sometimes we need to be able to laugh at ourselves too.

With TAM 2013 scheduled for July, those of you planning to attend have plenty of time to give serious consideration to your attire during the meeting. Huh? Why would you have to give any thought to what you would wear? Well, you do not want to be guilty of "horrible T-shirt bullying," do you?

What exactly is t-shirt bullying, and how can you avoid it? According to Amanda Marcotte's recent article in The Raw Story, "t-shirt bullying" was an offense committed by Dr. Harriet Hall during a previous TAM. You can see Dr. Hall wearing her evil t-shirt in the photo to the right. It says, "I feel safe and welcome at TAM." How awful of her! I probably should have expanded my disclaimer at the beginning of this post to give you a "trigger warning." I sincerely hope nobody is traumatized by that photo of Dr. Hall's t-shirt. I mean, how dare she feel safe at TAM when it is clearly not a "safe space" for everyone! What right does she have to express herself in a manner that is different from a couple of the other attendees?

February 23, 2013

TAM 2013

TAM London 2010: James Randi
TAM London 2010: James Randi (Photo credit: Stew Dean)
The Amaz!ing Meeting (TAM) 2013 has been announced, and the theme of "Fighting the Fakers" sounds like a great way to bring some attention to skepticism. The lineup of speakers looks impressive too. It is cool to see that Susan Jacoby will be delivering the keynote. I have really enjoyed her books, and I bet she'd be a fascinating speaker in such a venue. She seems to have a great deal of insight on many relevant topics.

If you have spent any time on Twitter, you are probably aware that what has been receiving most of the attention is not who will be speaking at TAM but who will not. Unlike previous years, there appears to be a distinct lack of representatives from the FtB/Skepchick/A+ faction of the atheist community. It is not clear to this blogger if this happened because they are boycotting TAM for some reason or if the conference organizers simply decided not to invite them this year. I would not be surprised by either possibility.

February 22, 2013

Seeking Input of Atheist Parents

This one is for all you atheist parents out there. I am not a parent, and I feel poorly equipped to respond to this great question left by Krystal in a comment on a post about how to find an atheist support group. I suspect she is not the only one who has faced this situation before. Here's her question:
I need some advice! After years of desperately trying to make sense of my Christian religion, I have come to terms with the fact that I just don't believe that fantasy anymore! Although this is a good thing for me, my young children (8 and under) have been involved with the Methodist church and I have taught them about God and Jesus. I always thought that just because I am having problems in my faith I shouldn't keep them from trying to know Christ. Now I know I have made a mistake. How do I tell my young children that I made a mistake and that God is not real?
What do you think? Is it a matter of telling one's children that gods are not real, hoping they will discover this on their own, or something else? I guess I'd be tempted to tell them that I have changed my mind and explain why and try not to pressure them to change their minds, but I'd be very interested to hear what you think.

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February 21, 2013

When Your Doctor Wants to Talk About God

The Doctor, by Sir Luke Fildes (1891)
The Doctor, by Sir Luke Fildes (1891) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I went to one of the doctors I see last week for routine follow up care. This doctor has never been much for meaningless chit-chat, and this has always been one of the things I have liked about him. This time was different. I think our recent tornado must have affected him deeply because he wanted to talk about it. This was fine until he brought up the role of some sort of god. Living in the most religious state in the U.S., I generally assume that everyone with whom I interact is religious. I am usually correct to do so. But when someone like this doctor begins the god-talk, it still takes me by surprise. And yes, I still find it completely inappropriate.

When I shared this experience recently on Twitter, Cephus (Bitchspot) told me exactly what I probably would have told him if he had been the one sharing the experience: it is tough to want to continue seeing a doctor who believes this superstitious nonsense enough to talk to his or her patients about it. I agree. And yet, I have little doubt that I will continue to do just that.

February 20, 2013

How To Know If You Are An Atheist

Proof Of God
Proof Of God (Photo credit: ed7929)
Even if we understand the meaning of atheism, it is not always easy for someone brought up in a religious family or culture to acknowledge that he or she might be an atheist. Such an individual may have been raised to believe that atheists are evil and that it is not possible to be a good person without faith in some sort of god(s). In short, there may be many psychological barriers that could prevent someone from wanting to acknowledge that he or she may be an atheist.

The good news is that it is fairly easy for you to figure out whether you are an atheist. By the end of this post, you will know if you are an atheist. What you choose to do with that information is up to you.

February 19, 2013

Introducing Alt_Education

Deutsch: Schulbusflotte Thomas Freightliner
Deutsch: Schulbusflotte Thomas Freightliner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Nobody is surprised these days to hear that the American system of public education is in trouble. Conservative politicians have been demonizing teachers, encouraging them to teach "alternatives to evolution," cutting state funding for education, and pushing religious schools as an alternative for some time. At the same time, it often seems like teachers unions protect some of the worst teachers, ensuring that they keep their jobs regardless of their performance. This is not only directly harmful to the children they teach, but it has an adverse impact on the morale of the good teachers at their schools. Meanwhile, there is evidence that our high school seniors are losing ground in educational achievement, raising serious questions about our long-term ability to compete in a global economy.

One perspective that is often missing in discussions of public education system is that of the good teachers who are immersed in this system. This is why I was happy to discover a blog called Alt_Education, written by John Vlaun, a public school science teacher. He is a proponent of critical thinking in the classroom and is hoping to set the record straight by offering real solutions to some of the problems facing us. I look forward to hearing more from him.

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February 17, 2013

Civility Pledges

English: Photographs of the Rally to Restore S...
English: Photographs of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The online atheist community is talking about civility once again. Personally, I think this is a good thing. We should talk about civility every now and then, as long as incivility continues to be an issue. I welcome these discussions.

This time, the discussion is being driven by Daniel Fincke's (Camels With Hammers) lengthy civility pledge. I am glad he wrote this, as it is has already spawned some great discussion. Are civility pledges of some kind necessary? Do they accomplish something meaningful? What should a civility pledge look like? Interesting questions indeed.

I have read Daniel's pledge a couple of times. I agree with much of it. I also disagree with some of it, and I honestly don't understand some of it. Needless to say, I won't be signing it. Instead, I'd like to share my civility pledge, one that I make to myself and my readers.

The Atheist Revolution Civility Pledge

In full recognition that I am an imperfect being who makes mistakes and occasionally does or says irresponsible things out of anger, I strive to treat others how I would like to be treated.

That's all folks.

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February 15, 2013

Who Controls the Atheist Movement?

DeArmond Tremolo Control top
DeArmond Tremolo Control top (Photo credit: germanium)
Who controls the atheist movement? Seems like a strange question, doesn't it? In one important sense, the atheist movement is controlled by the activists at the grassroots level. Without them, no movement would exist. At the same time, individual activists rarely make decisions about where the overall movement heads. That is up to those who lead the many groups and organizations that attempt to steer the movement.

Gurdur made an interesting point about the FtB/Skepchick/A+ controversy in a post written back in July at Stranger in an Even Stranger Land that escaped my attention at the time. He suggested that one of the issues driving the infighting may involve the question of who controls the atheist movement. Among the other factors contributing to the controversy, he added:
Control of the atheist and skepticism movements as they are (including whom gets to speak at conferences, themes and so on, evidenced for example by how PZ Myers and others have spoken against Abbie Smith, a young woman scientist, blogger and atheist, being allowed to speak at atheist conferences).
I'll admit that I'm not familiar with Abbie Smith or that particular part of the story, so I cannot comment on it. But there is something intriguing about Gurdur's point about control. Could the divide and the recent infighting be, at least in part, about who controls the atheist movement?

February 14, 2013

We Never Know Who Is Reading

A gathering of atheists for the Global Atheist...
A gathering of atheists for the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne in 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was listening to a recent episode of ReapSow Radio while shredding old financial documents (I'm on a mildly paranoid cleaning kick at the moment), and Reap made an excellent point that is relevant to all of us who blog, tweet, podcast, or make videos. One never knows who is reading, listening, or watching, and we would all do well to remember that our work may affect people beyond our core audience. This is something of which I have to remind myself periodically, as it is easy to fall into the trap of writing for a fairly narrow audience.

I bring this up because I've been thinking a lot lately about how we can do a better job of reaching those who do not currently identify themselves as atheists. Part of what I have come to realize is that we are already reaching many, but we are not always aiming our message at them. That is, we sometimes forget to write or speak directly to them. Worse yet, we may sometimes lose our patience and end up providing something other than a welcoming environment.

February 13, 2013

No, Atheists Do Not Sacrifice Goats

Midwinter Sacrifice
Midwinter Sacrifice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Austin Cline (About.com Agnosticism/Atheism) recently responded to a question from a reader about atheists and animal sacrifice. Here was the first part of the question:
I just want to know if atheists practice anything like sacrificing animals or anything sort of devilish? I don't know much about the subject, so sorry to be ignorant to it. But I was told once that they do sacrifice goats.
Austin provided a great answer, and I hope anybody with the same question will read it. My reason for posting this is not to elaborate on his response but to suggest that the question serves as a potent reminder that there are many misconceptions about atheism out there. Anticipating them, correcting them, and informing the public about atheism is one of the things those of us who identify as atheists should be doing. In this post, I'd like to offer two brief pieces of information for those interested in understanding atheism.

February 12, 2013

Darwin Day 2013

Charles Darwin, photographed by Julia Margaret...
Charles Darwin, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Happy Darwin Day! Today is the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the day we celebrate his life and his many contributions to science. But Darwin Day has become even bigger than Darwin himself.

Darwin Day is not just a day to honor Darwin; it is also a day to recognize the value of science. This recognition is even more important in nations where religiously deluded politicians publicly oppose science.

Here's how the International Darwin Day Foundation describes what Darwin Day is all about:
More generally, Darwin Day expresses gratitude for the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity.
In honor of Darwin Day, I made a donation to the National Center for Science Education. I applaud their efforts, even as I struggle to comprehend how an organization like theirs could possibly be necessary in 2013. The point is that their efforts are necessary, and I want to support them when I'm able to do so.

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Introducing Teach Not Preach

Picture of downtown Red Wing, Minnesota taken ...
Picture of downtown Red Wing, Minnesota taken from Memorial Park. The Highway 63 bridge across the Mississippi River is in the middle, and Barn Bluff is to the right of the bridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I received an email from a public high school teacher in Red Wing, Minnesota, with an interesting story to tell. He teaches a critical course on religion, which he describes as "extremely rare and controversial." I bet it is!

I love the idea of high school students being encouraged to think critically about something as divisive as religion. I would not think that very many communities would allow such a thing. He notes that it has not been easy and that conservatives in the community have fought it every step of the way.

He's now got a blog set up to share his experiences: Teach Not Preach. Check it out if the subject matter sounds interesting to you.

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February 11, 2013

Boy Scouts, Catholics, and Nazis

"Boy Scouts of America" march (sheet...
"Boy Scouts of America" march (sheet music) Page 1 of 6 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I rarely go out of my way to engage Christians online, and this is especially true when it comes to Twitter. When a Christian goes out of his or her way to begin an argument with me, I rarely respond. That isn't why I'm on Twitter, and I have little interest in hearing the same tired arguments yet again. But every once in awhile, I'll take the bait and attempt to have an actual discussion. The second the name-calling begins, I'm gone. But until then, I might give it a try. I had an interesting interaction with someone claiming to be a Catholic priest (@fr_andy) recently that did manage to provoke some real thought on my part, and I'd like to tell you about it.

I had tweeted about how I thought the Boy Scouts of America should stop discriminating against gays and atheists. This man responded that gays and atheists were free to begin their own youth organizations but that they were not wanted in the Scouts (I am going to use male pronouns because that is how he identified himself to me). I replied that I had hoped we'd all learned that "separate but equal" was not really equal. He responded by arguing that discrimination was only illegal when the government did it and that private organizations like the Scouts and his church could legally do it. I replied that discrimination, legal or not, was not what I would consider morally virtuous.

February 10, 2013

A Soundtrack for the Revolution

Cover of "Enemy Of God"
Cover of Enemy Of God
Music has been a big part of my life since I was about 14. I've never had the talent to create it, but that has not dampened my appreciation for those who can or diminished my love of listening to it. It caught me by surprise when someone on Twitter asked me what the soundtrack for this blog would be if I were to have one. What an intriguing question!

Assuming that I was to put together an Atheist Revolution soundtrack, giving myself room for 13 tracks, here's what it might look like:
  1. The Fight Song (Marilyn Manson)
  2. Don't Need Religion (Motorhead)
  3. Best God in Show (NOFX)
  4. Cult (Slayer)
  5. Materialist (Bad Religion)
  6. Enemy of God (Kreator)
  7. Judith (A Perfect Circle)
  8. Leper Messiah (Metallica)
  9. Opiate (Tool)
  10. Terrible Lie (Nine Inch Nails)
  11. No Truth (Atheist)
  12. Shallow Be Thy Name (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
  13. To Hell With God (Deicide)
Every blog should have a soundtrack. To the bloggers out there, what would yours be?

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February 6, 2013

Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated Atheists

Connections (Photo credit: Pascal Maramis)
We have been hearing a great deal about the rise of the religiously unaffiliated lately (i.e., the "nones"). In a recent post, I noted that a relatively small portion of the religiously unaffiliated identify themselves as atheists. Some use other labels (e.g., agnostic, humanist, skeptic, freethinker, secularist), some are theists who do not want to associate with particular churches, and others may prefer no label at all. Only a small number have embraced the "atheist" label.

Referring to the religiously unaffiliated group as a whole, I wrote:
Their numbers include unaffiliated theists and atheists who do not realize they are atheists or do not want to acknowledge it. I believe that one of the most important things we could do this year involves reaching out to both of these groups.
If I am right and these are the two groups we should try to reach, it occurs to me that we may need different approaches to do so. I'd like to start with the group that should be easier to reach - those who are atheists and are either unaware or are reluctant to acknowledge it. How do we connect with them, help them realize that they are atheists, and make it more likely that they will come to identify themselves as atheists?

February 5, 2013

Some Call for 'Cease Fire' in Atheist Infighting

English: Atheist Badge: The design of the A-le...
Atheist Badge: The design of the A-letter originates from the outcampaign.org - "Scarlet A" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There has been some talk lately about whether the demise of the infighting related to Freethought Blogs/Skepchick/Atheism+ can be hastened in some manner or if it is here to stay. After Lee More (A-News) called for a "cease fire" in what has become "a No-holds-barred online war" in the atheist community, Justin Vacula (Justin Vacula's Blog) suggested that stepping back from the in-fighting would be a good thing. Staks Rosch (Dangerous Talk) agreed that an end to the conflict would be nice but expressed some pessimism about it actually happening. I share his pessimism. Some people seem to have more to gain by the conflict continuing than they do by getting along with others. Until that changes, I expect the infighting will continue.

February 4, 2013

Are You a Secular Humanist?

British Humanist Association logo
British Humanist Association logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The British Humanist Association has a short quiz on their website that visitors can use to find out if they are humanists. Perhaps a more accurate way to describe the quiz would be to say that it provides a rough numerical index, expressed as a percentage, of the degree to which respondents share humanist values. Quizzes like this are notoriously imprecise. If you are anything like me, you may find that there were a couple of questions with no options accurately describing your perspective. Still, I really like quizzes like this because they may lead visitors to think about humanism.

I scored an 86% on the quiz, and I was surprised that my score was this high. While I do consider myself to be a secular humanist, I recognize that I am a lousy one in many respects. I'm not particularly optimistic about our ability to overcome the animalistic aspects of our nature. I am too cynical of others' motives. And I am probably too much of a curmudgeon. Okay, I am definitely too much of a curmudgeon!

So why do I call myself a humanist at all? I call myself a humanist primarily because I embrace scientific naturalism and human rights, reject the value of faith, and believe that reason is preferable to superstition when it comes to morality. This last point is critical to understanding secular humanism. That is, the primary reason I call myself a humanist is that I embrace a fully secular form of morality and recognize that no gods are necessary for moral behavior.

How about you? Do you consider yourself a secular humanist?

February 2, 2013

A Super Bowl Prediction

SF 49ers HQ tophy wall I probably won't watch the Super Bowl this year. I do not particularly care who wins, and that always makes the game less enjoyable for me. I skipped it last year too, and I did not miss it. I have been told that I should watch the game for the commercials, but I cannot imagine why I would do that.

In any case, I do have a prediction. Actually, I have several. I predict that there will be quite a bit of prayer by players and fans of both teams. I predict that payers on whichever team wins will publicly thank some sort of god, as if supernatural assistance was truly essential to their victory. And I predict that some of the losers will console themselves by muttering about the plan of some sort of god. But of course, none of them will actually blame a god for their loss. That just would not do.