December 31, 2013

Reviewing My Progress in 2013

English: Home made by John Heckathorn (Grandfa...
English: Home made by John Heckathorn (Grandfather) Wilmington, NC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
On January 1, 2013, I wrote a post noting three changes I hoped to implement in 2013 with regard to Atheist Revolution and how I spend my time online. I've never been much of a fan of New Year's resolutions, but I thought that I'd give this a try anyway. I'm happy to say that I've been very successful with two of the three and partially successful with the other one. It is time to take another look at the list, review my progress, and identify areas for continued improvement.

My list was:
  1. Spend less time online and make better use of the time I do spend online.
  2. Reduce aggravation by not being so quick to engage trolls and others who contribute nothing besides annoyance.
  3. Do a better job of utilizing past posts, revisiting some that deserve another look.

December 30, 2013

A Different Look for Mobile Users

Русский: Планшет
Русский: Планшет (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you use your tablet or cellphone to access Atheist Revolution, you may have noticed that it looks a bit different now. After receiving a few reports of malware issues from Android users, I decided to try going with a separate mobile version of the site to see if that would fix the problems.

Blogger generates it automatically, and I don't have any real control over how it looks. I hope this helps resolve the malware problems.

Disclaimers on Blogs and Social Media Accounts

The museum of natural history in NYC has color...
The museum of natural history in NYC has colored boxes which parallel tags like 'disputed' on enwiki. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the business world, it is very common to see individuals' blogs or social media accounts bearing disclaimers like, "Opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of my employer." And this is not something unique to business. I work in education, and most of my personal social media accounts include similar disclaimers. Human Resources does not explicitly require it, but they strongly encourage it. And for the most part, I think it makes sense.

The use of such disclaimers help to provide an individual employee to make it clear that what he or she says in that space should not be interpreted as reflecting the views of his or her employer because it is little more than his or her personal opinion. Employers generally like it too because it gives them some room for claiming that the individual employee is expressing his or her personal views only and not the views of the employer.

In practice, however, such disclaimers probably do not provide nearly as much protection as people might suspect. After all, there are many cases where it becomes difficult to argue that the individual is not functioning, at least to some degree, as a representative of his or her employer.

December 29, 2013

Duck Dynasty: Who Will Win at Outrage Tennis?

Phil Richardson Suspended By A&E From Duck Dynasty For Homophobic Remarks In GQAfter GQ published an interview with Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson in which he made bigoted comments, many on the left were outraged. Robertson's comments were condemned by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Human Rights Campaign, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, just to name a few. The outrage quickly spread over social media. At the time, some on the right spoke out in defense of Robertson and mocked the left for their outrage; however, it seemed that many were hoping the whole thing would just fade away and people would get over it.

As the outrage on the left built and it became clear that this was becoming a major story, A&E announced that they were suspending Phil Robertson indefinitely. The outrage now shifted to the right. They took to Fox News, conservative talk radio, right-wing blogs, and the like to express support for Robertson and to condemn A&E. Some on the left spoke out in support of A&E's decision and mocked the right for their outrage and what looked like a defense of bigotry. But mostly, it seemed that the left hoped this was over and people would eventually move on.

Outrage on the right grew exponentially amidst talk of "censorship," religious freedom, and boycotts. A&E then announced that it had decided to lift their suspension of Robertson only 9 days after announcing it. And suddenly, it is the left's turn to be outraged once again. Once again, the right mocks the left for their outrage and hopes the entire situation will soon be behind us.

Is this over yet, and if not, what do you suppose will happen next in this game of outrage tennis? As for me, I don't have any more to add than what I've already written on the subject. Besides, I've never found tennis all that interesting to watch.

H/T to Republic of Gilead

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Atheist Revolution's Most Read Posts of 2013

Here are the ten most visited posts at Atheist Revolution during 2013 based on the number of pageviews:
  1. Bible Commands Christians to Kill Nonbelievers
  2. More Internet Vigilantism as Shermer Accused of Rape
  3. Rethinking 'Happy Holidays'
  4. U.S. is Secular Nation Unless You Are a Republican
  5. Schrödinger’s Rapist
  6. Shermer Sends Cease and Desist Letter to PZ
  7. How to Promote Atheism With Almost No Effort
  8. Atheism 101: A Reading List
  9. Michael Shermer is Latest to be Demonized
  10. Idiot of the Week: Noelle Nikpour
Much as was the case in 2012, many of these were posted prior to 2013. In fact, only three of the top ten were written in 2013.

As always, thanks to you the reader for being a part of Atheist Revolution.

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December 26, 2013

Atheists Call on Pope to End Clergy Abuse

Pope Francis in March 2013 (cropped)Pope Francis certainly has received a lot of attention from the mainstream news media in the U.S. this year. As you have undoubtedly heard, he was selected by Time as their person of the year. Even those of us who think that there were better choices for this honor generally agree that the Pope has had a great impact so far (at least in the sense that he has generated considerable media buzz). Moreover, there is little question that some of the places where his views appear to diverge from that of his predecessor are being viewed favorably by many people. Whether he will have a significant impact beyond the hype is yet to be determined.

In the first Christmas address since taking the helm of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis called on atheists to join with religious believers to work toward global peace. Not surprisingly, the mention of atheists in this address has been receiving considerable attention around the atheist blogosphere. Is he serious? Does he really value our inclusion, or is this just an effort to mute our criticism or convert us? I think it would be fair to characterize the reaction of most atheists as hopeful but skeptical.

Global peace is a worthwhile goal, and I am perfectly willing to work with religious believers as an equal partner in pursuing it. I realize that not all atheists agree with this position, but I am willing to work alongside religious believers as equal partners on all sorts of shared goals. If the Pope is sincere in his apparent desire to work with us in this way - and I will admit to being highly skeptical of this - then this could be a positive step.

Canadian and UK Google Users Interested in 'Happy Holidays'

Français : icône pour articles sur le cananda
Français : icône pour articles sur le cananda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have had many traffic spikes over the years, and it is usually easy to identify the source. When pageviews for a particular post suddenly shoot through the roof, it is almost always because another blog or website has linked to it. The blog or website is usually another atheist-oriented site but not always. Some spikes come from social sites like Reddit or StumbleUpon; others come from mainstream news sites. Such sources are usually quite easy to identify via Google Analytics. A couple days ago, I had a spike on the post Rethinking 'Happy Holidays' that was quite different from anything I've seen before.

I consulted Google Analytics, assuming that the spike was happening because a reader submitted the post to Reddit or someone had linked to it on their blog. But there was no evidence of this. Instead, the primary source of the traffic was, which I assume is the Canadian version of Google. This post was receiving a little more than twice the traffic as that coming from the U.S. version (i.e., Late in the day and into the next day, I noticed another source: I am not sure why this post attracted so much traffic from Canada and the UK, both of which remain substantially higher than U.S. Google traffic.

From what I can tell by digging into the Google Analytics data a bit more, the spike had to do with a number of people using Canadian Google and then UK Google to search for "happy holidays" on December 24 and 25. Fascinating that so many people in these regions took time on these days to search the Internet for this phrase. I am not sure what to make of it, but thanks to you Canadians and UK Google users for the holiday traffic bump!

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Atheist Blogs Will Remain Relevant

Blog of the day once again
Blog of the day once again (Photo credit: the Italian voice)
Whenever the end of a year draws close, many of us have a tendency to look back over the year to highlight the major developments that defined it for us. At the same time, we often use the approach of a new year as a time to look ahead to the future and ponder what the next year may bring. What changes are on the horizon, and where will we be at this time next year?

One interesting question about the future that was asked recently is whether blogs, a medium some are now describing as obsolete, will be as important a part of the atheist movement as they have been to date. Perhaps blog readership will decline because people no longer have the patience to read for more than 140 characters at a time or would rather mindlessly click the "like" button for their favorite meme.

In a post written for Friendly Atheist, Paul Fidalgo (Center for Inquiry) wrote:
If you’re like me, and you keep abreast of news and opinion on technology and media, you’ve already probably been told many, many times that the blog is dead, a medium that served its purpose in the twenty-aughts, but has now been rendered mostly irrelevant by Tweetbooksnaptumblegram.

December 25, 2013

Some Atheists Do Not Celebrate Christmas

christmas 2007
christmas 2007 (Photo credit: paparutzi)
The politics of the "war on Christmas" are well known, and it is no secret that conservative groups have found it to be a lucrative means of separating gullible Americans from their money. To the extent that Christians feel that their holiday has been ruined, a brief look in the mirror should be all that is necessary to identify those responsible. As they have largely turned their backs on their own bibles and embraced the commercial aspects of holiday, they have managed to secularize Christmas far more effectively than the secular progressives they love to demonize ever could have accomplished. That is, Christians have willingly participated in the commercialization and secularization of Christmas.

Meanwhile, many atheists celebrate a secular version of Christmas that is difficult to distinguish from the secular version of Christmas celebrated by many Christians. Others have suggested the creation of other secular occasions distinct from Christmas. For an atheist determined to celebrate something in late December, there are quite a few options.

December 24, 2013

How to Help Someone Online Who Appears to be Suicidal

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Encountering someone on the Internet who appears to be suicidal can be a scary and overwhelming experience. It is normal to feel powerless on encountering such a person. You want to help, but what can you do? You might not know the person in real life, and they could live on the other side of the country from you. Fortunately, you have at least one option you might not have realized.

If you live in the United States, you should know about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a project of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The Lifeline has a page offering suggestions for how to help someone you encounter online who appears to be suicidal, and it includes information about how to report someone as potentially suicidal on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, and Tumblr.

I encourage you to bookmark this resource. You never know when you might need it, and it could help save a life.

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Rethinking 'Happy Holidays'

According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 5% of U.S. adults report that they do not celebrate any holidays in December. And yet, as Tom Flynn (Center for Inquiry) noted in a post, 5% is more than twice the commonly reported size of the Jewish community in the U.S. (2.2%). But the number of people who do not celebrate December holidays was not what was so interesting about Flynn's post; the truly interesting part was what he had to say about the "happy holidays" greeting we hear so often this time of year.
Think about this. Decades ago, the American Jewish community, which then comprised perhaps 3 or 4 percent of the population, was able to compel the shift from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays" simply out of respect for Hanukkah. Today the nation is more diverse, and "Happy Holidays" also allows for folks who celebrate Kwanzaa, Diwali, Festivus, and (in some years) one or another Islamic Eid. The group that "Happy Holidays" disregards is, of course, those who aren't celebrating anything this time of year. Many who celebrate nothing this month presumably find it annoying, even disrespectful, when others share a greeting that casually assumes that everyone is celebrating something as year's end draws near.

December 22, 2013

How Satanists Can Help Preserve the Separation of Church and State

Domestic Satanism
Domestic Satanism (Photo credit: Thawt Hawthje)
It is almost Christmas, so what better time of year than to address the subject of Satanism. We have a Catholic "demonologist" in the news making absurd pronouncements about how secularism has "left an 'open door' for the devil," efforts by the Satanic Temple to erect a statue next to a Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma, and a potential legal battle brewing in Florida after the Department of Management Services rejected a holiday display from the Satanic Temple. As you may have guessed, this post isn't really about Satanism as much as it is about the separation of church and state.

I, for one, am thrilled to see Satanists attempting to contribute holiday displays. Why? Because this might finally open the eyes of some Christians to what happens when Christian displays (e.g., nativity scenes) are allowed on government property. This is how separation of church and state works: The state may decide to allow no religious displays whatsoever, or they must allow all of them.

Top Catholic 'Angelologist' Says Secularism Has Left 'Open Door' for Devil

English: Bytča (Nagybiccse) - mosaic in the ca...
English: Bytča (Nagybiccse) - mosaic in the catholic church Slovenčina: Bytča - mozaika v katolíckej cirkvi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Have you ever had the experience of watching a horror movie and having to reassure yourself (e.g., "Its only a movie") repeatedly? I haven't had this experience in awhile, but it was fairly common in my youth. In these moments, we remind ourselves that what we are seeing is not real, that it is fictional. If I were ever to become truly scared, I'd make myself think about how the filmmakers accomplished the special effects as a way of reminding myself that I was watching a movie.

Don't you suppose that most people who watch horror films (and any other genre) know that what they are seeing isn't real? I've always assumed this, but I'm not so sure lately. I am starting to think I may have been mistaken to think that most people are capable of easily distinguishing reality from fiction.

Take the example of Father Renzo Lavatori, described by Raw Story as "a top Catholic Church 'angelogist'" in a recent post. This man apparently believes in angels. For real. And the Catholic Church evidently agrees, so much so that they have different levels of "angelologists" so that it makes sense to talk about Father Lavatori being a top one.

December 21, 2013

Responding to Some Questions About Phil Robertson and A&E

I have been asked several questions about what I think of the comments made by Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson and the subsequent action taken by A&E. I'll admit that I do not find this story terribly compelling, but the questions keep coming so I'll attempt to answer them in this post.

What did you think about the comments Robertson made in the GQ interview?

I thought the comments were an example of religiously-motivated bigotry. It makes me sad that this sort of ignorance and hatred is as common as it seems to be in the United States at this time, but I cannot say that I'm surprised to see it.

Do you consider Robertson a bigot, a homophobe, and/or a racist?

If I had nothing more to go on than the comments printed in the GQ article, my answer would have to be no. The comments were certainly bigoted, homophobic, and racist; however, I would not conclude on this basis alone that Robertson himself is necessarily all of these things. Having said that, I'd revisit the possibility that Robertson might in fact deserve such labels if additional statements along these lines were to surface. The more of these statements that surfaced, the more convinced I would become that this was a pattern and that the labels might be fully deserved.

December 20, 2013

Morton Grove Public Library Treasurer Calls Friendly Atheist 'Hate Group'

Morton Grove Public Library
Morton Grove Public Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many atheists have done great work to raise money for charities and other groups. For some, it is simply about doing the right thing and support an organization that has value to them; for others, it is about countering some of the negative stereotypes many religious believers have of atheists. Now some are noticing what appears to be a trend in which some organizations are actually refusing to accept money donated by atheists. Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) recently had this happen to him...twice.

After learning that the American Legion Post 134 was withholding planned support of the Morton Grove Park District in Illinois because the district's commissioner had refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance during board meetings, Hemant used his blog to raise just over $3,000. The Legion had been contributing $2,600 to the district annually, so Hemant and his readers figured that their donation would help make up for the loss. Just one problem: the district refused to accept the donation.

Does Anybody Really Need Religious Belief?

Lanza billboard 1024x298

This is American Atheists' latest billboard, the one that has been generating so much controversy after it went up in Times Square, NY. You can read more about the controversy at Friendly Atheist. I will not be addressing how New York State Senator Andrew Lanza has been making an ass of himself in this post. Instead, I'd like to ask what you think about the first line printed on this billboard. Is it true that "nobody needs the "Christ" in Christmas?" And more generally, is it true that nobody needs "Christ" at all?

Were we to focus only on Christmas, as this billboard does, I see nothing with which I can disagree. Nobody needs the "Christ" in Christmas, and this is in large part because nobody really needs Christmas at all. This does not mean that plenty of people don't enjoy it; they certainly do. I'm just not convinced that anybody really needs Christmas. And if nobody really needs it, the inclusion of "Christ" certainly seems unnecessary. But this really isn't what I want to address here. I want to consider the far broader question of whether anybody really needs "Christ," Christianity, or any other sort of religious belief at all.

December 19, 2013

Taking Back Skepticism

English: Skepticism educator James Randi at a ...
English: Skepticism educator James Randi at a lecture at Rockefeller University, on October 10, 2008. In the above photo he is holding an $800 device advertised as a dowsing instrument. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Conservative Skeptic wrote a thought provoking post, Let's Take Back Skepticism, that is sure to divide readers. He raises some interesting questions. For example, can someone buy into a particular ideology so completely that one ceases to be critical of this ideology and still be a skeptic? He says no, and I am inclined to agree. Political orientation is one of the first things that comes to mind. I suspect we all know people who are thoroughly un-skeptical when it comes to the conservative political views or their liberal political views. Such individuals may be skeptical in other areas of their lives, but they are certainly not being skeptical when it comes to their political views.

The most intriguing question was what, if anything, those of us who are committed to skepticism should do about "the pseudo-intellectuals that constantly convey nonsense to the world." I assume he's talking about the drama bloggers who use skepticism when advantageous but refuse to apply it to their ideology. They cloak themselves in the mantle of skepticism and then disseminate information that is thoroughly un-skeptical to an audience who may then form erroneous impressions of skepticism. At the worst, one could imagine how this might come to tarnish public impressions of skepticism.

Identifying Oneself as an Atheist is a Revolutionary Act

The Radical's Arms
The Radical's Arms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We know what atheism means. It refers to the lack of theistic belief, and that is all. An atheist is someone who does not accept the the claim that god(s) exist. But this post is not about the definition of atheism; it is about the socially constructed meaning the act of identifying oneself as an atheist carries in religiously oppressive environments.

The meaning of identifying oneself as an atheist (though not the definition of atheism itself) is somewhat fluid, changing as a function of the time and place. There are many parts of the world, for example, where identifying oneself as an atheist today means something quite different today than it did 30 years ago.

What I would like to submit for your consideration here is the following thought:
In a religiously oppressive environment, merely identifying oneself as an atheist is a revolutionary act.

December 18, 2013

God Belief Declining in the U.S.

Jesus Resurrection 1778
Jesus Resurrection 1778 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The results of a new poll from Harris Interactive were released a couple days ago with a title that is sure to grab your attention: Americans' Belief in God, Miracles and Heaven Declines. The poll is based on 2,250 adults surveyed between November 13 and 18, 2013. Here are a few of the highlights that stood out to me:
  • 74% of U.S. adults report god-belief; however, this number has dropped from 82% in previous polls conducted in 2005, 2007, and 2009.
  • Belief in miracles, heaven, the resurrection of Jesus, the survival of the soul after death, hell, the Virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus all showed drops when compared to 2005 data.
  • Belief in evolution has increased from 42% in 2005 to 47% in 2013.
While this certainly looks like progress, it also looks like fairly small progress in the sense that the percentages are not vastly different. Still, the numbers at least appear to be heading in the right direction.

Big Question 4: Tolerating Diverse Ideas Among Atheists

We have arrived at question #4 in our series of the six big questions that divide atheists, and I am finding this one the least pleasant to address so far. For the most part, this is because I consider it to be the most potentially divisive of the questions considered to this point. It isn't just that people disagree on this one; opinions seem to take on a moral quality we don't see with many of the other questions. That is, someone who disagrees with one's answer to this question is often viewed as a bad person.

The other part of my distaste for this question is that it seems to be the question where Atheism+ best fits, and I feel like I've written as much as I want to about that subject. My hope is that we can find a way to meaningfully address this question without having to revisit the Atheism+ stuff here. I agree that it is a relevant example, but I think the question is much broader. Even if Atheism+ had never existed, I think this question would have eventually become relevant.

The fourth question on our list is the following:
How tolerant should atheists be of diverse ideas within our own community and those who hold them? Some atheists are interested in purging the community of ideas they find unacceptable (e.g., conservative political views); others believe that there is strength in diversity and that our community is big enough for those holding what may be unpopular views to be included (i.e., "big tent" atheism). I'm inclined to include much of the Atheism+ (and Freethought Blogs/Skepchick) debate here because much of it seems to boil down to whether we must chose a single ideology (i.e., liberal politics married to third wave feminism) and banish those who do not agree with it from our community or accept others who might have some different opinions.
So the crux of the question involves how we deal with ideas in the atheist community with which we may disagree and those who hold them.

December 17, 2013

Harold Camping Dies Before the Rapture

Harold Camping in 2008
Harold Camping in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Harold Camping, the Christian radio preacher who predicted that the rapture would happen, has died at the age of 92. If you have never heard of Camping, you are probably curious as to why his demise is receiving so much attention around the atheist blogosphere. Who was Camping, and why is everybody talking about him now? He certainly does not have the name recognition as a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson, but he was still an interesting figure.

Long time readers may remember that I have written multiple posts about Camping, so I figured I should provide a concise summary of how and why he came to our attention. I first became aware of Camping when he made news for predicting that the rapture would take place on May 21, 2011. At the time, I wrote:
Even before May 21st ran its course without anyone being raptured, most Christians thought that Harold Camping was a nut. They were right to do so. But it wasn't Camping's conviction that he could predict the date and time of the rapture that made him a nut; it was his belief in the rapture itself. And because this is a belief most Christians seem to share, this is the lesson Christians should take from yesterday: rapture-belief is nutty, regardless of when one thinks it will happen.
But Camping was not deterred by his failed prediction. He returned to the radio and repeated his rapture claim with a new date: October 21, 2011. Instead of apologizing for the harm his initial prediction caused (e.g., many of his followers quit their jobs and gave away their possessions), he denied having any responsibility and moved ahead with a new date.

When October 21 passed without incident, something unexpected happened. Camping disappeared. He would not return until Spring of 2012, and when he did so, he offered a partial apology. You see, Camping blamed himself for predicting specific and obviously incorrect dates but refused to question the reality of the rapture or the god in which he claimed to believe. Moreover, he seemed to see his failed predictions as beneficial in spite of the harm they caused. The denial was strong with Camping.

I wonder what Camping's former followers think of him at this point, especially the ones who believed him so thoroughly that they gave away everything they owned in anticipation of being vacuumed up to "heaven" by Jesus. Will they mourn him, or will his passing bring up the old wounds of betrayal? I'd like to think that Camping helped to open at least a few eyes, demonstrating the perils of believing nonsense.

H/T to Stupid Evil Bastard

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December 16, 2013

Religion Does Not Belong at Public School Graduation Ceremonies

6.23.10UCHSGraduation2010ByLuigiNovi22 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Imagine that your son or daughter is graduating from public high school or a state college. You are a devout Christian, and you provided your child with the best Christian upbringing you could manage. It was successful in that he or she shares your faith. You are incredibly proud to attend the commencement ceremony today at the school. But something unexpected happens that really makes you uncomfortable. One of the student speakers at the ceremony delivers something that sounds a bit like a prayer and references Allah during it. Strangely, it does not seem like anyone in the audience took notice.

The commencement speaker is introduced and steps up to the podium. She shares some of the generic life lessons with the graduating students speakers at such events typically mention tells. One of them includes the importance of religious faith in guiding one's life. She shares that her Muslim faith has been a key part of her success and that she hopes the graduates will find "Allah's purpose" for them.

How do you feel about Muslim prayers and references to Allah dominating your child's commencement ceremony? Nobody mentioned your god or Jesus. Instead, they spoke of Allah, and nobody in the audience seemed to mind. As you struggle to wrap your head around what you just witnessed, I'd venture a couple of guesses about how you are feeling.

December 15, 2013

Who Ruined Christmas?

Christmas gifts
Christmas gifts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For a slight majority of people living in the U.S., Christmas is a religious holiday. And yet, those who celebrate Christmas here are more likely to participate in secular traditions than religious ones. So while a majority report believing that Christmas is a religious holiday, the manner in which they choose to celebrate the holiday suggests that the secular aspects of the holiday may be even more important.

Assuming that you are a "bible-believing Christian" who thinks that Jesus - and not axial tilt - is the reason for the season, who is to blame for the extent to which Christmas has been secularized? It had to be those evil secularists and their "war on Christmas" who eventually succeeded in turning Christmas into something far different from a celebration of Jesus, right? I mean, they are the ones who complain when you erect nativity scenes in government buildings. It must be their fault. They are the ones seeking to ban "merry Christmas" and prevent you from putting that plastic Jesus on your yard. Many people have accepted this narrative without realizing that those who push it are raking in the money for doing so. It is little more than lucrative propaganda.

December 14, 2013

Genuine Stupidity or a Clever Act?

Former President George W. Bush and his wife L...
Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush give a final farewell wave... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am not sure when it first started, but the first time I remember hearing the idea that voters wanted a president that was someone "they'd like to have a beer with" was during George W. Bush's run for his first term. I remember thinking that this idea that we'd want to put someone "like us" in the White House was quite strange. I wouldn't trust someone like me with the presidency; I wanted someone a hell of a lot smarter and more capable than me. Would voters really elect the least intellectually curious presidential candidate I could recall? Yes, they would.

I think that former President Bush would agree with my description of him as not being intellectually curious. He was not much of a reader or a particularly deep thinker, and I think he was fairly open about this. Compared with every previous president I could recall, he seemed quite stupid at times. But I was never sure whether I was seeing genuine stupidity or some sort of act. I always had the suspicion that at least some of what I interpreted as stupidity was deliberate on his part.

It would be great if the story ended there, but Bush was only the beginning. The genuine stupidity vs. deliberate act question reached new heights with Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. I decided that Bachmann was probably not the moron she seemed to be. I was less sure about Palin. Was she an idiot or one of the most talented actresses in a generation? But the question remained: if these women were acting, who were they acting for and what were they hoping to accomplish?

December 12, 2013

Big Question 3: Is There An Atheist Movement?

Molecule Man
Molecule Man (Photo credit: Secret Pilgrim)
This post will address my thoughts about the third of the  six big questions over which atheists have disagreed, one I almost did not include in the original list. Before doing so, we should briefly take stock of where we have been so far. Since this post will bring us to the halfway point in working our way through the questions, it will be a good time to take a short break from the series for some other posts I have in mind.

After explaining why I think it is meaningful to discuss points of common disagreement among atheists, I shared my thoughts on the first two questions here:
In this post, I'll take a look at the third question:
Is there an atheist movement that exists independently of the secular movement, and if not, should there be one? Some atheists insist that there can be no such thing as an atheist movement because atheism is not the sort of thing that can bring people together; others believe that it is meaningful to think of an atheist movement that is distinct from the secular movement even though the two have much overlap.
The reason I almost omitted this one from the original list is that the number of atheists I have encountered arguing that there can be no atheist movement, atheist community, or anything of the sort because atheism is insufficient for bringing people together is quite small in comparison to those taking the other side of this question and seems to be at least partially based on the misconception that talking about a group of people necessarily involves redefining words. So why did I decide to include it? I suppose the primary reason is that I see quite a few misconceptions about atheism and secular activism rolled up in this question.

December 11, 2013

Big Question 2: Do Ridicule and Mockery Have a Place?

English: Ray Comfort
English: Ray Comfort (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Having addressed the first question (anti-theism vs. secularism) on the list of six big questions that divide atheists, it is time to move on to the second. Of the six questions, this is probably the one I find easiest to answer. This does not mean that it is an easy question to answer; it is not. I think I find it a bit easier than the others because it is the first of the six questions with which I struggled. I encountered it as soon as I started Atheist Revolution. I had to answer it for myself early in the life of the blog, and I have had to revisit it several times since.

Of the six questions, this is also undoubtedly the one I have had directed at me the most by visitors to this blog. I expect this is because so many atheists have pondered it themselves when considering how best to interact with religious believers and how best to respond to religious claims. It seems to be the sort of question almost every atheist will need to answer at some point in time. And I imagine this is also because we will adopt opinions of other atheists based on how we answer this question and on what their behavior tells us about how they have answered it.
Do ridicule and mockery have any place in how atheists respond to religious belief? Some atheists say we should avoid such tactics (e.g., "don't be a dick") because they are counterproductive or make us look bad; others say they have their place in our repertoire.
I wrote about this question as recently as last month, so it is no surprise that my views have not changed since then. I believe that ridicule and mockery do indeed have a place in the repertoire of atheists. At the same time, I acknowledge that they can be used excessively or inappropriately. Moreover, while I think they can play a role, I would hate to think that they are all an atheist can muster in his or her interactions with religious believers.

December 10, 2013

How to Be More Active in the Atheist Community

English: "Beware of Dogma" billboard...
English: "Beware of Dogma" billboard of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A comment left on a recent post highlighted a subject about which I used to write frequently but have neglected as of late: how can someone new to atheism be more active in the atheist community without having to be fully "out" about one's atheism? This is an excellent question and one that deserves more attention than I have been giving it lately. There are many ways for people who are new to atheism and not yet able to be completely open about their beliefs to get involved and be more active in the atheist community.

Learn More About Atheism

The time in between when one first realizes that one no longer believes in gods and when one decides it is safe to be more open about it is a perfect time to learn more about atheism. Along with secularism and freethought, atheism has a long and distinguished history. It has received more attention in recent years due to a number of factors, but it has been around awhile. The point is, there is much to learn.

Fortunately, there are a number of excellent books on atheism, atheist blogs one can read, websites on atheism, YouTube videos, and podcasts. Plenty of information is now available that can be used to hone one's understanding of the relevant issues. If one thinks that atheist or secular activism might be in one's future, having an advanced understanding of the issues will be an asset.

December 9, 2013

Big Question 1: Anti-Theism vs. Secularism

English: Close up of seats.
Close up of seats. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Now that I've identified what I think are six of the big questions that divide atheists and clarified that I think it is meaningful to discuss common areas of disagreement among atheists, I'd like to move on to consider the various questions, devoting one post to each.

I do not consider the initial list of six to be exhaustive by any means. In fact, a couple other possibilities have already been suggested for inclusion that may be worth adding to the list. While more may follow, but I'd like to start with the original six and see where it leads.

Here is the question I'd like to consider for this post:
Should atheists work toward the total eradication of religious belief, or is it sufficient to stop those who would impose their religiously-based morality on the rest of us? Some anti-theistic atheists argue that we should stop at nothing short of ending religion and that it is a mistake to seek religious allies who may share our goal of secularism; other atheists believe that secularism should be our primary goal and are perfectly content to work alongside religious secularists when it may be beneficial to do so.
For the sake of brevity, I am using the "anti-theism vs. secularism" title. I realize that this is overly simplistic and that there is more going on here than that; however, it does seem relevant in the sense that anti-theism generally aims for the eradication of religious belief and secularism has a different focus.

December 7, 2013

Discussing the Questions That Divide Atheists

Atheist-No-Symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In my recent post, 'What Are The Big Questions That Divide Atheists?', I listed six of the biggest and most enduring areas of disagreement among atheists I have encountered. I asked readers what I had missed, as I would be very surprised if this list turned out to be comprehensive in any way.

A perusal of the comments received at the time I am writing this post suggests that many readers were not terribly interested in this question. Many of the comments were responses to one or more of the six areas of disagreement or criticisms of the idea of addressing areas of disagreement among atheists. I am not going to address any of the six questions yet because I had planned to write posts about each of them. Instead, I'd like to address the criticism about how the entire enterprise is flawed because we can't meaningfully talk about disagreement (or agreement) among atheists.

Cephus wrote:
The problem is, there aren't any questions that divide atheists, there are questions that divide people who happen to be atheists. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods. That's it. Full stop. There is nothing else to being an atheist. There are no questions involved. The only way to fail at being an atheist is to believe in a god. Then there are subjects that people who happen to be atheists may or may not agree on. Those are not atheistic subjects. They are not related to atheism. They are something else and need to be treated as such.

That's something all of these activist, political, social-thinking atheists need to get through their heads.
There aren't any questions that divide atheists? I disagree. I think there are several.

December 5, 2013

What Are The Big Questions That Divide Atheists?

Science and Religion are portrayed to be in ha...
Science and Religion are portrayed to be in harmony in the Tiffany window Education (1890). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As atheists, we may have reached our answer to the god question in different ways, but we share the same answer in that we do not believe in gods. On the one question of whether gods exist, we atheists are unanimous. But as many readers of this blog are fond of pointing out, we do not necessarily agree on much else.

I've tried to highlight other areas where at least most of us agree, but I'd like to explore a different question in this post: What are the big questions that divide atheists? In other words, what are the primary sources of disagreement among atheists?

I have started to pull together a list. Again, I am seeking to identify the big ones that have received the most attention and caused the most debate. I realize there are many little ones, but I think they can generally be subsumed into one of the larger ones I have listed below. For example, we often hear a great deal about atheists being divided over whether to celebrate religious holidays this time of year. I suppose it could be argued that this deserves a spot on the list, but I see it as difficult to separate from #1 below.

December 4, 2013

The Individual Christian is Not Usually the Problem

Demonstration for religious freedom
Demonstration for religious freedom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It does not bother me in the least what the individual Christian chooses to do in his or her home or church. The Christian can chose to believe as much absurd nonsense as he or she wants, can pray for whatever he or she wants, and can cover his or her home with tacky Jesus decorations this time of year. All of this falls under religious freedom, and it would not occur to me to try and stop any of it. As long as the Christian isn't harming anyone, what he or she does at home or in church really isn't my concern.

The point at which I begin to take notice is when the Christian, usually after joining with other Christians, decides to impose his or her religious beliefs on others through state power. Church-state violations are the classic example of this. The group of Christians may decide that our government should no longer remain neutral on matters of religion (i.e., secular) and should instead give preference to Christianity over all other belief systems. This is problematic and requires activism.

December 3, 2013

The Day the Atheist Movement Died

Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dawkins at the University of Texas at Austin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some events are said to define generations. Everybody of certain age at the time remembers them vividly and reports that things were never quite the same afterwards. The assassination of JFK, the Challenger disaster, the Rodney King verdict, the suicide of Kurt Cobain, and 9/11 are just a few examples. There are plenty of others that may resonate with you depending on your age and where you live.

It also makes sense that different events would impact subgroups of people in different ways. For example, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. or Medgar Evers, while having an undeniably broad impact in the U.S., are likely to have been particularly important to those involved in the Civil Rights movement at the time. The Stonewall riots, while also influential on American society as a whole, were likely to be especially important for those involved in the LGBT movement at the time. Some events of this nature even seem to end up defining mass movements.

December 2, 2013

The Politics of the War on Christmas

Glass ornament with snow Austin Cline (About Agnosticism/ brings us news of a 2011 poll about the so-called 'war on Christmas' we secularists are allegedly waging in the U.S. The results may be a bit dated, but that does not make them any less interesting. And while most of the findings were predictable, there is at least one surprise.

Based on these 2011 data, the U.S. population appears to be about evenly divided on the question of whether there is any sort of war on Christmas. I suppose this will be a surprise to some, but it makes sense when one considers that we seem to be about evenly divided on nearly everything these days. Things get more interesting when one digs below the surface and examines finer distinctions showing that belief in this particular form of nonsense varies by political orientation and region. For example, Republicans are far more likely to believe that there is a war on Christmas (58%) vs. Democrats (22%). Similarly, conservatives are more likely to agree (61%) than liberals (21%). It should also be no surprise that belief in the Christmas wars is higher in the South. One surprise, as Austin notes, is that the difference between the South and other regions is not more pronounced.

December 1, 2013

When Athletes Pray

The Mount Tabor High School (Winston-Salem, No...
The Mount Tabor High School (Winston-Salem, North Carolina) baseball team prays before a conference-championship game against West Forsyth High School. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When an athlete prays before a game, privately or publicly, what does he or she pray for? Does the athlete ask for the strength to play well and to perform his or her best, or does the athlete ask for a certain outcome (i.e., "Please let us win"). It seems to me that the athlete who prays for something other than victory might differ in some important ways from the one who prays for victory. Such an athlete seems to expect far less from his or her god than the individual who prays for victory. Take the example of praying for the strength to play well. Why would someone do this instead of praying for victory? Could it be that such an athlete understands - perhaps not consciously - that there aren't any gods out there to grant victory? Praying for the strength to play well almost seems more like meditation than prayer in the sense that one is almost calling on oneself to summon strength from within rather than asking for divine intervention.

The athlete who prays for victory seems different somehow. Such an athlete seems more likely to be a true believer, believing in the sort of god we hear the most about. And I suppose that makes some sense. If you truly believe in the sort of god who takes a genuine interest in human affairs and is susceptible to influence through prayer, why wouldn't you pray for victory? Are we not told that through prayer, all things are possible?