June 30, 2013

I Agree With Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C.
Speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You would not believe how hard it was to write the words in that title. Every part of me was screaming in resistance. And yet, I managed to get the words down. Why?

Former senator, Christian extremist, and failed Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently said that faith-based films are generally poor, Christians should stop trying to distance themselves from popular culture, and that Christian films are often "cheesy." Wow! As much as I hate to say it, I cannot argue with any of that. He's right. Christian films are usually terrible, and his description of them as "cheesy" and "hokey" is certainly part of why.

Not surprisingly, this new found insight is part of Santorum's broad strategy of improving Christian films to increase the chances that you will be converted by them. Santorum is now the CEO of a faith-based film studio, so it makes sense that he's thinking along these lines.

Still, I feel like I may have underestimated Santorum just a bit. I figured that him getting his hands on a film company would result in several classic Hollywood films being remade with terrible production values, awful Christian music (yes, that was redundant), and Chuck Norris cast in the leading role no matter what. I suppose everyone gets it right once in awhile, even Rick Santorum.

Google Reader Shuts Down Tomorrow

Feedly Logo
Feedly Logo (Photo credit: AJC1)
To those of you who have been following Atheist Revolution's RSS feed with Google Reader, please be aware that Google is shutting down the service tomorrow (July 1). The most commonly recommended free cross-platform replacement for Google Reader appears to be Feedly. This service offers what they describe as "one-click Google Reader import," so moving your feeds from Google Reader to Feedly looks quite easy. Now might be a good time to check out Feedly so you don't not lose this and every other feed tomorrow when Google Reader closes.

Of course, RSS is not the only way to receive posts from Atheist Revolution. You can also follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Still, I suspect most people prefer to get content via RSS, and switching to Feedly should make that easy. In fact. it took me only a few seconds to get up and running in Feedly.

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June 29, 2013

The South is a Christian Nation

A photograph can sometimes capture things in a way that text cannot. I think we have a suitable example here in the form of this photo taken today by @fieryskulldiary at American Atheists' dedication of the first public atheist monument outside the Bradford County courthouse in Starke, Florida. Evidently, a small number of Christian protestors showed up.

Christian privilege

Aside from the obvious blunder here in that "the South" is not any sort of nation at all, I think that the sign on the left perfectly captures what it is like to be an atheist in this part of the U.S. You know that Southern hospitality you hear so much about? It isn't for atheists.

There are certainly some exceptions, but a great many people here really do seem to think like this. They cannot comprehend that we are not going to let them chase us away or that we have as much right to be here as they do. This is the sort of blindness and bigotry that are part of Christian privilege.

H/T to Friendly Atheist

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A Federal Ban on Teaching Creationism?

A petition is underway at the WhiteHouse.gov petition site in which petitioners are asking the Obama administration to ban creationism and intelligent design from being taught in the U.S. Here is what appears to be the full text of the petition, spelling error included:
Since Darwin's groundbreaking theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, scientists all around the world have found monumental amounts of evidence in favor of the theory, now treated as scientific fact by 99.9% of all scientists.

However, even after 150 years after the establishment of evolution, some schools across the US are "teaching the controversy," including Creationism and Intelligent Design. Both of these so-called "theories" have no basis in scientific fact, and have absolutely zero evidence pointing towards these conjectures. These types of loopholes in our education are partially to blame for our dangerously low student performances in math and science.

Therefore, we petition the Obama Adminstration to ban the teachings of these conjectures that contradict Evolution.
At the time I am writing this post, the petition has 38,974 signatures and needs an additional 61,026 before July 15.

June 28, 2013

Alleged Rent-Boy Sex Scandal at the Vatican

If the video below is to be believed, we may be about to see another Catholic abuse scandal breaking. The allegations involve a child prostitution ring connected to the Vatican. According to VaticanCrimes.com, Patrizio Poggi, a priest himself convicted of sexual abuse, has blown the whistle on approximately 20 others who are currently being investigated by Italian authorities. The allegations include reports that Catholic clergy hired underage "rent-boys" for sex on church premises.

Since I have never heard of ChurchMilitant.tv (formerly RealCatholic TV), I did a bit of research in an attempt to assess its credibility on this story. What I learned what that it is a project of Michael Voris, an American Roman Catholic apologist. Not only is Voris a popular Catholic apologist, but he has been described as a "Catholic fundamentalist" by some and criticized by the Church for his criticism of leadership. Voris seems to be one of those rare sorts who is both an apologist and a critic at the same time. Whether this makes him more or less credible is unclear.

I should note that the sourcing on the allegations is not limited to ChurchMilitant.tv. VaticanCrimes.com has provided multiple sources which appear to confirm the allegations mentioned in the video. While most are not written in English, some have been translated or can be read with the assistance of Google Translate (see New Vatican prelates accused of pedophilia and Vatican faces 'revenge' rent-boy scandal). Thus, it appears that the information in the video is backed up by at least some print media.

It will be interesting to see if this story is picked up or simply ignored by the mainstream news media in the U.S.

Update: It sounds like Patrizio Poggi has been arrested for alleged slander, as prosecutors suspect he may have fabricated his accusations.

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Atheism May Be An Insufficient Basis for Community

English: The statue on the headland. A religio...
English: The statue on the headland. A religious statue erected by the local Catholic community. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Would I like to live in an area where I'd be surrounded by atheists nearly every time I left the home? Sure. I like the idea of being completely open with regard to my thoughts about religion. But realistically, I'd happily settle for being surrounded by people who kept their thoughts on religion to themselves.

If I was going to take a photography class, would I prefer that most of the other students in the class were atheists? No, not really. What I would prefer is that the other students in the class kept their thoughts on religion to themselves since I would expect religion to be thoroughly irrelevant to the subject matter and to the reasons we were taking the class. The only way I'd prefer that the class be full of atheists would be if my only choices were between atheists and religious individuals who were unwilling to keep their religion to themselves.

Suppose that a particular form of political activism was very important to me (e.g., reproductive rights, the environment, feminism) and I wanted to get involved as an activist at the local level. It seems like I'd find plenty of like-minded people in a group devoted to that goal, regardless of whether they were atheists. As long as they could keep their religious beliefs to themselves, it wouldn't matter much how many atheists there were.

June 27, 2013

Christian Extremism and Marriage

English: American politician Tony Perkins.
English: American politician Tony Perkins. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For Christian extremists like Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), there was a "bright side" to yesterday's historic ruling in U.S. v. Windsor: it did not legalize same-sex marriage in every state. Evidently, Perkins was pleased that the court did not legislate full marriage equality. Is there any real doubt that this will eventually happen? With public opinion shifting toward support of marriage equality and younger survey respondents wondering what all the fuss is about over people wanting to get married, isn't it just a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legal in every state? While it would have been wonderful for that to happen yesterday, it will happen in the not too distant future.

Perkins, and his fellow Christian extremists, are determined to see this particular form of marriage as less "natural" than the alternative. Maybe they don't feel they have a choice. After all, their 2000+ year old "holy" book condemns homosexuality. But that possibility falls flat the moment one realizes how much of the same book they are perfectly content to ignore. And for growing numbers of Americans, especially the younger generations, same-sex marriage is every bit as natural as any other marriage between two consenting adults.

June 26, 2013

Victory for Human Rights Today at Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court building.
U.S. Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The U.S. Supreme Court made history today by striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and an appeal concerning California's Proposition 8. The pair of rulings is being heralded as a massive victory for human rights, and I agree.

The ruling in U.S. v. Windsor means that the court found a federal law preventing the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages from those states that allow it to be unconstitutional. This finally opens the door to same-sex couples by allowing them to receive the same federal benefits heterosexual couples receive. And yes, that's a big deal.

In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court ruled that proponents of California's Proposition 8 who had been defending the measure in court after the state refused to do so did not have standing. Essentially, this means that Proposition 8 fails with the Ninth Circuit opinion being vacated. No ban on same-sex marriage for California.

The Supreme Court does not always get it right, but these historic decisions, especially in Windsor, are great examples of how important it can be when they do. I think this is what it feels like to see the tide turning in how LGBT persons are treated. One of these days, same-sex marriage will simply be called marriage.

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Understanding Harassment: A Phenomenological Definition

I wrote a post called Understanding Harassment back in March. It proved to be controversial, largely based on some choosing to ignore the following sentence:
Because of the legal implications of harassment, I believe it makes sense to begin by examining how the law defines harassment. I am not suggesting that we must restrict ourselves to a legal definition, but it at least gives us a place to start.
By ignoring that sentence, some readers managed to convince themselves that I was claiming to provide the final word on how harassment should be defined. I was not. As the post clearly stated, I was examining legal definitions as a starting point. This did not matter to Ophelia Benson or Rebecca Watson, both of whom publicly complained after someone affiliated with the Atheist Alliance International retweeted a link to my post (the details about what happened next are available here).

A Very Different View of Harassment

Waters 承燁 韓
In this post, I'd like to do what I had planned to do all along and take a look another definition of harassment. Like I said previously, what I will address in this post is not the final word but merely another step in the process. Also, what I present here is not my definition of harassment any more than the first post was.

Since the first post examined legal definitions of harassment, I wanted to move as far away from that as possible for this post. To do so, I'd like to address a fascinating view of harassment that I will label the phenomenological perspective. It begins with the assumption that there can be no general definition of harassment because its meaning is purely subjective. Harassment can only be understood from the perspective of the person being harassed.

June 25, 2013

Those Who Abandon Bigotry Only When It Affects Their Children

Official portrait of United States Senator (R-OH).
Official portrait of United States Senator (R-OH). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We have watched the scenario play out too many times to track: a religious person with a reputation for anti-gay bigotry learns that one of his or her children is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered. This leads to the eventual realization that the sort of bigotry to which he or she has been contributing is a problem. The rest of us have known that bigotry was problematic all along, and we cannot help seeing something hypocritical in the behavior of this person. Evidently, anti-gay hatred was perfectly fine right up until it involved his or her own child. On one hand, I suppose we can be glad that such a person finally came to his or her senses. On the other hand, what are we to make of someone who abandoned hate only when it affected his or her family? What about all the other families struggling to cope with the hate such a person has spread?

June 24, 2013

Fanaticism and the Fact-Proof Screen

All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside of it.
- Eric Hoffer (1951), The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

Cover of "The True Believer: Thoughts on ...
Cover via Amazon
This quote will strike some of you as being relevant to religion, and it certainly is. Much of Hoffer's classic book is relevant to religion even though political fanaticism occupied at least as much of his focus. Unfortunately, fanaticism need not be religious; even secular movements can adopt ideologies that some adherents will approach in a dogmatic and fanatical manner.

We do not expect to encounter fanaticism in the atheist community. Many of us came to atheism by way of critical thinking, skepticism, and free inquiry. These things cannot be reconciled with fanaticism except through compartmentalization (i.e., one applies critical thinking, skepticism, and free inquiry elsewhere but not to the ideology about which one is fanatical). Thus, we would expect that most atheists would be at least somewhat inoculated against fanaticism. And yet, fanaticism can be found in certain corners of the atheist community today.

How might we recognize the fanatic in our midst? Perhaps he or she has divorced skepticism, abandoned critical thinking, and can no longer afford free inquiry. Some fanatics are still quite capable of applying these skills outside of the ideology about which they are fanatical, but they do not do so with their ideology. To the fanatic, critical thinking, skepticism, and free inquiry are no longer necessary when it comes to his or her chosen ideology. The issues are settled, and the ideology itself is not merely correct but has become imbued with the force of moral righteousness. Those who question it reveal themselves as flawed beings. It is not just that they are wrong; their disagreement makes them bad people who are now worthy of condemnation.

June 22, 2013

Atheist Hotline Seeking Volunteers

Hotline (J. Geils Band album)
Hotline (J. Geils Band album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the most valuable ways an individual atheist can promote atheism and make a real difference in his or her community involves reaching out to those who are just beginning to struggle with their faith and consider the possibility of a life without it. Many of us know firsthand how difficult this experience can be, how alone one can feel going through it, and how helpful it would have been to have some assistance from someone who understood. Now there is another way you can help those who are going through this process.

Recovering From Religion (RR) is an international organization founded in 2009 with the goal of supporting those who have been adversely impacted by religion and who are contemplating making a break from religious belief. They are setting up a toll-free 24-hour secular hotline to assist people who are questioning their faith or coping with the many problems related to walking away from religious belief. They have raised over $30,000 so far and are now seeking volunteers to staff the hotline.
The Hotline will provide trained volunteers to answer a 24-hour, toll-free hotline and provide real time, caller-specific support to each person who calls. Callers will be connected with national, regional, and local resources – a secular support network they can utilize, as they question their faith.
Those who are interested in helping can find a volunteer application on the RR website.

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June 21, 2013

The Relevance of Expertise in the Atheist Community

The Areas of My Expertise
The Areas of My Expertise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the sciences, expertise is fairly easy to assess. We look at each others' curriculum vita (CVs), lengthy academically-oriented resumes listing our degrees, work history, and every peer-reviewed paper we have published, conference presentation we have given, grant we have received, etc. The strength of one's CV tells us something about one's standing in one's discipline. We also recognize that this sort of expertise tends to be quite narrow. For example, an expert in molecular biology is unlikely to have expertise in other areas of biology and certainly not in other fields of study. In fact, few outside the sciences realize just how narrow this sort of advanced expertise really is within disciplines. Thus, the CV needs to be both strong and relevant.

At the interface of science and law (i.e., forensic science), we find scientists serving as expert witnesses in court. Expertise in this setting is also typically assessed on the strength and relevance of one's CV. When an attorney calls an expert witness to testify, the court first establishes whether the scientist qualifies as an expert. This decision process often centers around the contents of the prospective expert's CV. Once the scientist is qualified as an expert witness by the court, he or she gains a measure of credibility in the minds of the jurors.

In this post, I'd like to take a look at how expertise is assessed in the atheist community and whether it is something we find relevant.

June 20, 2013

John Oliver's Comments About Sarah Palin Have Relevance to Atheist Community

I caught this brief clip (03:15) on The Daily Show earlier in the week and found it both funny and poignant in light of some of the recent drama in the atheist community. Although Sarah Palin is the subject, the comments John Oliver makes about how we respond to her have a much broader relevance.

As John Oliver so eloquently reminds us in this clip,
Just because I walked into a turd supermarket doesn't mean I have to buy anything.
I think there just might be a lesson there when it comes to how we respond to things we encounter on the Internet, even right here in the atheist community. When faced with obnoxious trolling, we do have the option to refusing to engage. We can ignore the troll or refuse to take the bait of our favorite rage blogger. I'm not suggesting we should always do so, but it is important to remember that we do indeed have that option. We do not always have to shower such persons with the attention they seem to crave.

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June 19, 2013

The Christians are Listening

University of Oregon
University of Oregon (Photo credit: jjorogen)
No, this one is not about the latest "scandal" about how the NSA may be spying on U.S. citizens (I have scandal in quotes because I think this should be a real scandal, and yet most Americans don't seem to give a damn). Instead, this post is about the fact that some Christians are starting to listen to atheists and advise other Christians to do so too. They see the data showing that young people are finding their religion increasingly less appealing. They would like to stop losing followers, and so some have started asking young atheists why they are leaving religion behind.

Larry Taunton's recent article in The Atlantic describes how a Christian foundation interviewed members of the Secular Student Alliance and freethought societies on college campuses to discover why they had turned their backs on Christianity. What they claimed to have learned from their results included the following:
  • Most of those surveyed had a history of attending Christian churches.
  • Most described the message they heard at their churches in vague terms.
  • Most perceived their churches as having provided superficial answers to life's questions.
  • Most indicated that they had some respect for clergy who took Christian dogma seriously (i.e., the true believers).
  • Most rejected Christianity during the high school years.
  • Most reported that the process of abandoning religion was, at least in part, an emotional one.
  • The Internet was often mentioned as an important catalyst for these atheists in the process of leaving their religion. 

June 18, 2013

Atheist Drama Heating Up

Yes Drama
Yes Drama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Lovers of atheist drama are certainly getting their fill, and it is only Tuesday. Here's what has happened in the span of the last few days:
Those of you who have been predicting that "the great rift" will get worse before it gets better seem to have been on the right track. Here's hoping you are also right about things eventually getting better.

In the meantime, I'd like to point out that tempers are running particularly high right now for many reasons. Perhaps this is a good time to be both rational and constructive instead of seeking to throw fuel on the fire. Instead of tossing the CFI statement in the face of those now announcing plans to boycott CFI events, why not focus on thanking the Board for how they handled the situation? And instead of haranguing David Silverman for not denouncing what the treatment of EllenBeth by Freethought Blogs, how about letting EllenBeth know how much we appreciate her courage and fortitude? It seems like such an approach might accomplish more in the long-run.

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June 17, 2013

Center for Inquiry Board of Directors Release Statement on Ron Lindsay Controversy

As expected, the Board of Directors of the Center for Inquiry apparently met to discuss the matter of CEO Ron Lindsay's opening remarks at the Women in Secularism 2 conference. They have released a statement following their meeting, and you can find the Board's statement here.

Sounds good to me. Hopefully we can consider this matter resolved and move on.

Great to See So Many LGBT Adults Losing Their Religion

Rainbow flag. Symbol of gay pride.
Rainbow flag. Symbol of gay pride. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I saw the title of Hemant Mehta's (Friendly Atheist) recent post, Pew Study Shows That 48% of LGBT Adults Are Non-Religious, I have to admit that I didn't have the most positive reaction. "Only 48%? That's not even a majority?" I wondered how LGBT adults could cling to ideologies which have been so instrumental in oppressing them and that even today seek to deny them one of the most fundamental human rights (i.e., marriage).

Moments later, I realized that this was unfair. Not every religious group has been openly hostile to the LGBT community. Some of the more liberal to moderate forms of Christianity, for example, have managed to be at least somewhat accepting. I was making a mistake by equating "religious" with "fundamentalist." And of course, many LGBT adults were probably indoctrinated in a religious tradition during their childhoods. So it is silly that I would be surprised that most would not still believe in what they were raised to believe. Overcoming years of indoctrination is not an easy task.

June 16, 2013

David Silverman's Appearance on Brave Hero Radio

David Silverman
David Silverman (Photo credit: MikeSheridan89)
David Silverman, president of American Atheists, recently joined Justin Vacula and Karla Porter for an episode of Brave Hero Radio. You can listen to it here.

I would like to thank both men for sharing their interaction with the larger community. I thought that both of them made some valid points. I also feel like I learned something about how both men perceive the conflict currently plaguing the atheist community. I suppose that is valuable.

This interaction is not going to heal any rifts, nor did I expect either participant to approach it with the assumption that it would do so. I think the best thing we can hope for now is that it does not end up exacerbating the conflict.

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Will Open Carry Laws Lead to More Armed Atheists?

Cartridge Belt and Holster
Cartridge Belt and Holster (Photo credit: Kordite)
I already told you about the new law promoting school prayer in Mississippi that will take effect on July 1. We have another even more controversial new law taking effect on the same date. Mississippi will become an open carry state, meaning that it will be legal to openly carry a handgun on one's person in public (e.g., pistol in a visible belt holster) without needing a permit of any kind. Those who wish to conceal their weapons will still need a concealed weapons permit, but no permit will be needed for open carry. According to Mississippi's attorney general, the new law is "poorly written" and will likely keep the courts busy for several years.

In the meantime, I cannot help wondering if I might see a few more atheists around here arming themselves now that it will be a little easier to do so. I hope not, but I would not blame them for doing so even if I'm not quite ready to join them myself. While I have some difficulty believing that the sight of a pistol on a civilian's belt would have a large deterrent effect to Christian extremists who wanted to assault an atheist, I can understand why some atheists living here would hope for just such a benefit.

I suppose many of the atheists living in the U.S. bible belt who have reason to fear some of their Christian extremist neighbors are already utilizing concealed carry. If most of those who would want to carry a gun are already doing so, laws like this might not have much of an impact. It will be interesting to see how it pans out.

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June 14, 2013

Why Do You Hate My God? Oversimplification and Irrationality

Error (EP)
Error (EP) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Uninformed Christians are fond of accusing atheists of hating their preferred god. We know this is nonsensical because it assumes that we can somehow hate something in which we do not believe. When some Christians deny our nonbelief in order to keep pushing the myth about how we hate their god, one cannot help wondering if they are trying to protect their faith by convincing themselves that nobody could possibly disagree with them on the god question. If you have spent any time on Twitter, you have almost certainly seen Christians claiming that "atheists do not exist."

I suspect that what we are seeing here is a primitive form of dichotomous thinking where some Christians have divided their world into good people (i.e, those who believe as I do) and bad people (i.e., those who do not believe as I do). The existence of people like us who do not accept the theistic claim in the first place is too troubling for some Christians to acknowledge. It is far easier to cling to the simplistic worldview where everyone is good or bad and where those who are bad hate their god.

Fortunately, not all Christians make this sort of error. Many of those who have spent any time thinking about their beliefs have far more nuanced views. They recognize that the world is far more complex than good and bad. Some are even able to recognize that a person could share their beliefs and still be a bad person, while someone else could not share their beliefs and be a good person.

June 13, 2013

We Admire a Principled Stand, But Only to a Point

Civil War monument
Soldier (Photo credit: vjack)
We admire the politician who takes a principled stand, especially when so many others seem to sell out to the highest bidder or change their views to conform to public opinion. We may even admire someone who holds political views with which we do not agree because "at least they stand for something."

In the context of secular activism, we praise the individual who brings the church-state complaint - not only because we consider it important - because we know the social consequences our complainant is likely to face. We know how easy it is to remain silent in the face of injustice.

I think it is safe to say that most people tend to respect someone who is willing to stand up for his or her principles in the face of opposition and pressure to conform. We often refer to individuals who fail to do this when we think they should as "spineless" or worse.

And yet, what I have always found curious about our tendency to admire the principled stance is how quickly and how thoroughly the admiration can turn to loathing. It appears that most people will only value a willingness to stand on principle up to a point. Once this point is crossed, they are quick to condemn the individual for being too idealistic, having unrealistic goals, being too impatient, or some other flaw that was not mentioned previously.

June 12, 2013

Vacation Bible School: Indoctrination or Social Skills Training?

Vacation Bible School
Vacation Bible School (Photo credit: heraldpost)
Vacation bible schools are popular with families in many areas of the U.S. They provide children with organized activities and give parents who are used to their children being in school during the day with a bit of a break from them.

One of my co-authors at Mississippi Atheists, Turniphead, recently wrote a post in which he described how he and his wife negotiated over whether they would allow their first-grader to attend a summer vacation bible school with a friend.

Turniphead clearly had some strong feelings about this matter and ended by concluding:
I will not trust my child’s upbringing to people who believe in magic and superstition and teach those things as truth. Yes, my children must know how to navigate the waters. Most of their peers in Mississippi’s public schools will already be indoctrinated, and my children will need to know how to deal with them. That will come. But for now, I’m skipping the indoctrination, thank you.
He and his wife decided that their child would not attend the program.

June 11, 2013

Center for Inquiry Board to Meet About Ron Lindsay

Prince Controversy Live
Prince Controversy Live (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I wrote a post yesterday in which I encouraged those of us in the atheist community to think twice about marginalizing those among us engaged in activism. While we can (and should) express disagreement with our colleagues when appropriate, trying to force them out of our community because we disagree with some aspects of their politics seems counterproductive.

This reminds me to remind you that the Board of the Center for Inquiry is expected to meet this month to discuss the complaints they have received about the opening remarks made by their CEO, Ron Lindsay, at Women in Secularism 2. On the basis of these comments, comments which should not have been controversial, Dr. Lindsay was embroiled in controversy. He has been called a misogynist, and some are calling for his resignation.

June 10, 2013

Think Twice About Marginalizing Atheist Activists

An old bird-eye map (circa 1889) for Wilkes-Ba...
An old bird-eye map (circa 1889) for Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This post is not about Justin Vacula, but I am going to refer to him here to make a point about activism in the atheist community. I realize this may be asking a bit much, but I'd like to ask that you make an effort to temporarily set aside whatever feelings you may have - positive or negative - toward Justin and not let that get in the way.

If we look at the sort of church-state activism in which Justin has engaged in his Pennsylvania community, I think we can agree that he has done some good work. Justin is doing something about what he perceives to be violations of church-state separation in his community. He's not merely complaining on his blog; he's been out in the street risking his safety and his reputation to make a difference. There was a time, back before "the great rift" when many of us openly admired these efforts.

A recent example of Justin's activism began when he found a banner advertising the National Day of Prayer and promoting an event called "Circle the Square With Prayer" in a public area of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) to report the violation, protested in the public square, explained why he was protesting, and worked with the FFRF to erect a "Nothing Fails Like Prayer" banner in response. Justin has also been documenting his efforts on detail on his blog so that others might learn from his experience.

June 9, 2013

Virginia's Republican Candidate for Lt. Gov. Fears Satan

E. W. Jackson is a Republican running for lieutenant governor of Virginia. This has led some people to take a look at his 2008 book, Ten Commandments To An Extraordinary Life. According to Betsy Woodruff's post at National Review Online, there are some real gems in Jackson's book.

Here is the one that grabbed my attention:
When one hears the word meditation, it conjures an image of Maharishi Yoga talking about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana. . . . The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. That is why people serve Satan without ever knowing it or deciding to, but no one can be a child of God without making a decision to surrender to him. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. You will end up filled with something you probably do not want.
This really takes me back. I remember hearing from many evangelical fundamentalist Christians that meditation was evil. They used to regard anything associated with the New Age movement or Eastern religions as Satanic. Crystals, meditation, yoga, and the like were not just misguided; they were evil. Anything unfamiliar had to be labeled evil. Just as Jackson said, unfamiliar practices like yoga opened one up to serving Satan.

It seems like this was so long ago. Just look at how popular yoga has become! I hadn't realized that evangelical Christians were clinging to these beliefs as recently as 2008. I wonder if Mr. Jackson still believes that meditation leads to demonic possession? That could make for some interesting politics in Virginia.

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Atheist Revolution Protects Commenter Privacy

privacy (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)
PZ Myers, an atheist blogger who writes on the Freethought Blogs network, recently announced that he will publicly reveal the identity of anyone who leaves comments he does not like on his blog using a pseudonym. He goes so far as to say, "...I won’t hesitate to expose your IP address and email." Although I believe this is a serious mistake on his part, I do appreciate that he has made this policy public so that potential commenters can accurately appraise the risks involved in commenting on his blog before they do so.

As Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution is True) recently noted in an excellent post, this announcement is likely to raise questions from potential commenters on other blogs. He's right, and so I'd like to follow Dr. Coyne's lead in disclosing my own policy when it comes to the privacy of commenters at Atheist Revolution.

I welcome comments from those who prefer to use pseudonyms when commenting at Atheist Revolution. I recognize that there are many valid reasons someone would want to comment under a pseudonym. I also recognize that the potential harm resulting from publicly outing (i.e., doxxing) someone is both substantial and impossible to foresee. For these reasons, I endorse the following portion of Dr. Coyne's pledge and will apply it here:
under no circumstances will I reveal your name, email, IP address, or other personal information to other commenters. Nor will I reveal them to anyone with one exception: if a comment appears to threaten physical or other harm to someone, including me, I will report the information to the proper authorities.
I recognize that there are plenty of effective ways of dealing with trolls, individuals who repeatedly violate the comment policy, and those engaging in other forms of bad behavior here. Publicly "outing" them (e.g., doxxing) is not something I am going to do.

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June 8, 2013

Sectarian Prayer at South Carolina High School Graduation

Here we have the valedictorian at Liberty High School in South Carolina giving a sectarian prayer after school officials decided to obey the law with regard to prayer at the graduation ceremonies of this public school.

Fortunately, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is on the case. It does not sound like this is the first time this school district has come to their attention.

H/T Religion News Service

June 7, 2013

The Personal Impact of Negative Attitudes Toward Islam

Melody Moezzi recently posted an op-ed on CNN's Belief Blog titled A plea from an exhausted Muslim woman. She begins by noting that it is fairly common to hear public officials (e.g., Tony Blair) disparaging her religion. She suggests that there is a different standard in that these same officials who do not think twice about criticizing Islam would never make similar statements about Christianity or Judaism. I suspect she's right about that.
But Muslims are used to having their faith openly denigrated by public officials.

We’re used to people failing to distinguish between “Islam” and “a few Muslims.” And we’re used to being called terrorists despite the fact that the vast majority of terrorist acts on American and European soil have been carried out by non-Muslims.
Moezzi uses the bulk of her article in what I assume is an effort to raise awareness of the long-term impact of what she describes as "hate and hostility directed at you on a daily basis" on ordinary Muslims. I'll leave it to you to determine whether she succeeded.

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June 6, 2013

Will New Southern Baptist Leadership Improve Approach to Clergy Sex Abuse?

Logo of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Logo of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I don't imagine most atheists follow the Southern Baptist leadership all that closely. Why would they? But 'round these parts, it pays to know what is going on with the vast Southern Baptist majority. Maybe that's why this story grabbed my attention.

According to Religion News Service, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is "the public policy arm for the Southern Baptist Convention." Since 1988, Richard Land has led the ERLC and has been responsible for their efforts to "rally social conservatives in the nation's culture wars." Yes, so we have Land to thank for all the damage that has brought.

The ERLC now has new leadership in the form of Russell Moore, a native of Mississippi.
“I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve Southern Baptists as ERLC president,” said Moore in a statement. “I pray for God’s grace to lead the ERLC to be a catalyst to connect the agenda of the kingdom of Christ to the cultures of local congregations for the sake of the mission of the gospel in the world.”

June 5, 2013

A Letter From Skeptic Women

Skeptic WomenThanks to West Coast Atheist for bringing this to my attention. It seems that there is finally a clear public statement of opposition to how some self-described feminists in the atheist community have been behaving, one written by women for women. It comes in the form of a letter by Skeptic Women explaining that have found the atheist, skeptic, and secular communities to be safe and welcoming.

It is important to note that the letter does not deny the reality of sexism in these communities. The authors acknowledge that it is sometimes problematic but suggest that incidents of sexism should not be interpreted as indicating that the entire community is sexist or misogynistic. They also call for the under-representation of women and minorities to be addressed "without reliance on ideological adherence and appeals to emotion."

The letter expresses concern with how "the great rift" has affected women (and men):
We have found ourselves marginalized by certain actions and moral proscriptions emerging from Skepchick, Freethought Blogs, Atheism Plus and even Secular Woman. In regard to this sphere, we do feel silenced. This ideological camp claims to speak for women, but refuses to listen to us. It has also spoken hatefully of some people - women and men - without allowing them an opportunity to contest those claims. Examples include censorship of blog post criticism, frequent assumptions of guilt by association, and the popularity of a meme mocking communication efforts: "Freeze Peach." This behavior creates a divisive, unwelcoming atmosphere which has a chilling effect on open discussion for women and men.
The letter goes on to express disagreement with the efforts of Amanda Marcotte and others to have Dr. Ron Lindsay removed from his position with the Center for Inquiry.

Skeptic Women is seeking female signatories. If you identify as a woman, check out the letter and see if you agree. A link to the letter has been shared on Reddit/atheism, and Skeptic Women has a Facebook community.

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The Arrogance of Evangelism

English: 4 days of Evangelism Training in Sout...
4 days of Evangelism Training in Southern California provided by LivingWaters Ministry. Obeying the great commission of Jesus Christ. "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to everyone" Mark 16:15 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It makes sense to me why an evangelical Christian would evangelize to close friends or family members who did not share his or her beliefs. This could be seen as a way of trying to bring the friends or family members closer, strengthening their relationship through this aspect of a shared worldview. This is not terribly difficult for me to wrap my head around. At the same time, the evangelical Christian who seeks to persuade strangers to adopt his or her beliefs strikes me as quite arrogant.

Most evangelical Christians I've known seem to start with the assumption that nobody can be truly happy without believing in their particular god. It does not seem to matter whether the targets of their evangelism are Christians who believe in the "wrong kind of Christianity," former Christians who knowingly rejected their beliefs previously, or persons raised in an entirely different religious tradition. This basic assumption is the same, and it goes a long way toward explaining how they can live with themselves as they devalue all other belief systems, talk about "false gods," threaten people with hell, and the like.

June 4, 2013

My Initial Reaction to the Latest Doxxing Allegations

English: A canoe in the BWCA
English: A canoe in the BWCA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a controversy raging in certain corners of the atheist community over if and under what circumstances it might be acceptable to publicly "out" an atheist who has been using the Internet under a pseudonym. This is not a new controversy; this sort of thing has happened before and will undoubtedly happen again. The most recent example involves allegations that a couple of bloggers who write for Freethought Blogs did this to a woman with whom they disagreed.

As far as I am concerned, the threshold at which one may reasonably conclude that it is acceptable to publicly "out" or doxx someone in such a manner that their identity will be revealed must be quite high - much higher than it is alleged to have been here. In fact, I'm having a difficult time thinking of a scenario where doxxing is justified that does not involve criminal behavior.

For now, I'll merely say that I believe the crux of the matter is twofold:
  1. There are many good reasons to use a pseudonym online, and we are rarely in a position to know the full circumstances behind why someone is doing so.
  2. Our actions often have unintended consequences.
I may come back and expand on the first point at some future time because I think it is important and often misunderstood. In addressing the second point, I'd like to ask you two brief questions:
Can you imagine a scenario where you publicly "out" someone as an atheist and they experience real harm as a result? 
I'm not talking about hurt feelings here. Instead, I am referring to situations in which the individual who has been outed loses a job, is kicked out of their home, or worse. I can imagine many such scenarios. I bet you can too.
Could you live with yourself if the person you doxxed was violently assaulted, maybe even raped, as a result of your outing them to the world? 
I could not. I could not live with that. Publicly outing someone as an atheist is an extreme response. I'm not saying it can never be justified, but I am suggesting that justifying it should require that a considerably burden be met. We better have something far more than a few critical comments online.

This post originally appeared on Atheist Revolution. If you are not reading this via email or RSS feed from Atheist Revolution, it may have been stolen.

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