April 30, 2014

I Don't Get It

Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Have you ever had the experience of trying something with which you were unfamiliar because it was recommended to you by several people, only to discover you do not like it one bit? Of course you have! We've all had this experience. And as we realize we don't agree with all the recommendations, we shake our heads and wonder how so many people could be so wrong. We don't get it.

I feel like this happens to me fairly often, and it used to bother me. I used to wonder what was wrong with me that I didn't share everyone's enjoyment of whatever it was that was recommended so highly by so many. On occasion, I'll still have this thought. Sad but true. But most of the time, I simply conclude that I don't get it and move on. I don't usually dwell on why I don't get it. That would seem to be an impossible question to answer. It is enough to recognize that I don't get it and go on with my life.

April 29, 2014

Efforts to Restrict Free Expression From the Left

I prefer to reserve the word censorship for situations in which a government entity intervenes to restrict free expression (i.e., making certain speech illegal) in violation of one's First Amendment rights. I like this more restrictive definition, in part, because I think it helps us remember that not every attempt to restrict free expression is equally bad. For example, I find it far more troubling when a public university rescinds an invitation for someone to speak on campus because they are worried about the speaker's "controversial views" than I do when a private business decides to pull a product or remove information because they are worried about how it might tarnish their image or rile up their customers. And yet, I do not consider either of these examples to be censorship. Far more troubling that either of these examples would be the scenario where a government arrests someone for saying something someone considers offensive.

In this post, I want to talk about the efforts to restrict the free expression of words, images, or ideas that do not involve governments or laws. That is, I want to focus on efforts that while troubling, fall short of censorship. Many such efforts involve the actions of private groups that attempt to pressure others into restricting free expression. While I may consider these efforts to be somewhat less troubling than actual censorship, this does not mean I do not still find them problematic.

April 28, 2014

The Christian Bible: Holy or Not?

The Holy Bible
The Christian bible is either holy or it is not holy. If it is not holy, it could still be appreciated for its historic influence or its literary beauty. Even if it is not holy, one could still find parts of it to be meaningful or inspiring in some way.

If the Christian bible is holy, what possibly makes many Christians think they have the right or the ability to interpret it in any way? If it is indeed holy, wouldn't the sensible position be to read it, learn it, and to make sure that one's behavior conformed with it? If it really is holy, it would seem that anything short of this would be horribly arrogant.

April 25, 2014

Losing Unreasonable Faith

Hemant Karkare
Hemant Karkare (Photo credit: Koshyk)
It is difficult for me to imagine that any atheist blogger who keeps at it for awhile won't have times when he or she gives serious consideration to hanging it up. I have been writing Atheist Revolution since 2005, and I have certainly had my share of doubts and frustrations, including a few near closures. Sure, some of this may be about the various crap that gets hurled in our direction but most of it is just due to the fact that blogging is work. No matter what benefits one derives from it, there are bound to be times when the benefits do not seem like enough of a reason to keep at it.

I just learned that we are losing one of the good ones. After roughly 6 years as a fixture in the atheist blogosphere, Unreasonable Faith is shutting down. Hemant Mehta provides a classy send off here, and he's absolutely right to suggest that much of what Daniel Florien described in his final post at Unreasonable Faith is relatable. Hemant is also spot on when he notes that Unreasonable Faith has been a source of many posts. I'd have to agree with that.

Unreasonable Faith really was one of the good ones, and the atheist blogosphere will be lessened by its departure. I wish Daniel and Vorjack the best in their future endeavors.

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April 24, 2014

New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission Still Finds Atheism Offensive

Location map of New Jersey, USA
New Jersey, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have been asked by a few readers if I heard about the case of Shannon Morgan, the atheist in New Jersey who filed a complaint in court after her request for a vanity license place reading "8THEIST" was denied by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. I did read about this a few days after it hit the news; however, I did not have the time to write about it. I'll share my thoughts now, brief as they are.

According to CNN, the complaint indicates that the rationale provided by the Commission for denying the requested plate was that it "may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency." Atheism is offensive to good taste and decency? That strikes me as an incredibly bigoted stance, one that should not be expected to influence decisions made by a government agency.

April 23, 2014

Pismo Beach City Council Votes to Halt Prayer at Meetings

English: The coast at Pismo Beach.
The coast at Pismo Beach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The following press release is being posted by request from a reader and was received on April 16, 2014. I hope it will serve as yet another reminder that church-state activism can be effective.

The Pismo Beach City Council (California) voted yesterday evening to accept an agreement with the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and a local member of Atheists United San Luis Obispo (AU/SLO) to end all prayers at council meetings and eliminate the city chaplaincy.

After a closed session at last night's city council meeting, the City Attorney reported that the Council had voted 3-0 to authorize him to accept a stipulated judgment with the plaintiffs to pay each $1 in nominal damages, discontinue the city chaplaincy, and cease "scheduling, coordinating, inviting, delivering, or otherwise participating in prayers, invocations, or religious rituals at the opening, immediately proceeding, or following, council meetings."

City Council members Vardas and Reiss did not attend last night's meeting, at which no invocation was given.

"We are very happy the city of Pismo Beach has decided to end this exclusionary and unconstitutional practice and make their government meetings welcoming to all citizens," said David Leidner, AU/SLO board member.

The settlement between FFRF and Pismo Beach will be reviewed by San Luis Obispo superior court Judge Martin Tangeman, who is expected to sign it and make it legally binding.

Atheists United SLO is a local non-profit organization that aims to create a supportive community for atheists, agnostics, and rationalists in San Luis Obispo County. AU/SLO encourages critical thinking about religion, advocates for the separation of church and state, and strives to demonstrate the positive aspects of atheism.

For additional info: http://auslo.org/news.html

For a podcast of an interview with David Leidner: http://kvec.edbroadcasters.com/dave-congalton-podcasts/

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April 22, 2014

Should Atheists Seek to Be More Like the Religious?

A sign posted by the Connecticut Valley Atheis...
A sign posted by the Connecticut Valley Atheists in Rockville's Central Park in December 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Should atheists seek to be more like religious believers? Why would we want to do that? I don't think we necessarily should want to do that, but the assumption that we should do so seems to be everywhere these days. Perhaps it is even correct in some limited ways, but it bothers me that it is not being questioned. We seem to be expected to take it for granted, and I'm not sure we should.

I have not seen many people overtly claiming that atheists should work to be more like religious believers. Such a claim would bring a wave of criticism and many questions. Instead, the idea that we should be more like religious believers operates as an implicit assumption made by some humanists who want to mold atheism into something a bit different than what it is.

Let me be clear in saying that I do not necessarily disagree with some of the molding these humanists want to do. At the same time, I believe that it is important to recognize some of the assumptions being made and to question their validity. They may turn out to be correct, but they should not be unquestioned.

April 20, 2014

Zombie Jesus is Risen

Sweet Zombie JesusThe phrase "He is Risen" inevitably shows up this time of year in the form of Christian propaganda, and it has always grated on me. Thus, I figured I might as well mock it with the title of this post.

Christians have co-opted a number of holidays, creating their own mythology around them to great effect. We atheists should be able to do the same minus all the religious nonsense, of course. And this is exactly what we have done with Zombie Jesus Day.

The notion that Zombie Jesus returns each year on Easter Sunday and prowls the Earth devouring brains is a great story on which to base a holiday. It is fun, and it mocks the absurdity of the Easter story while containing a great metaphor (i.e., Zombie Jesus devours brains in much the same way Christianity seems to). What's not to like?

We all need an excuse for silly fun from time-to-time, and the growing popularity of Zombie Jesus events suggest that this particular one may be here to stay. And to the Christians who get upset over all the silliness, I'll just point out that the myth of Zombie Jesus really isn't any stranger than what you believe. And of course, we recognize that ours is a myth too.

Happy Zombie Jesus Day!

April 18, 2014

Zombie Jesus Weekend is Finally Here

Zombie Jesus at Mama's Royal Cafe

You might think I'd have grown tired of the Zombie Jesus meme by now, but you'd be wrong. I continue to be fascinated with the zombie genre and the notion that someone who returns from the dead is in fact a zombie. I also continue to think that a belief system that is both irrational and destructive might have earned a bit of gentle mocking.

Today is Dead Jesus Day, and I enjoyed the day off work. Actually, I still worked but did so from home, and that beats the hell out of having to go to work. The day did kind of creep up on me this year. I've been so busy that I almost forgot that this is Zombie Jesus Weekend.

Things may be a bit quiet around here since I'll likely be out celebrating some of the more bizarre local festivities. So here's hoping that you and yours have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend. And as always, be sure to escape the superstition with your brains in tact!

April 17, 2014

Atheism and the Decline of Religion in the U.S.

The Mall at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsb...
The Mall at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. Hamerschlag Hall in the foreground and Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There is some evidence that certain indicators of religiosity appear to be going through a slight decline in the United States. That is the good news. The bad news is that the size of the apparent decline in most of these indicators is quite small and tends to be limited to comparisons between generational cohorts (e.g., the so-called Millennials aged 18-29 vs. other generations). And the really bad news is that some of us (and I can find fault with myself here too) seem determined to spin the numbers as being far more meaningful than they probably are.

No Use for the Christian Bible

Here are some highlights from the American Bible Society's State of the Bible 2014 poll, one of the more recent surveys you have been hearing about around the atheist blogosphere:
  • There was a slight decline in the number of people listing the Christian bible when asked about "holy" books between 2011 and 2014. In 2011, 86% of respondents mentioned the Christian bible as compared with 79% in 2014.
  • 50% of Americans surveyed strongly agree that the Christian bible "contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life," and this percentage is essentially unchanged from 2013 and 2011.
  • 50% of Americans surveyed indicated that the Christian bible has "too little influence" in U.S. society compared with only 16% who said it has too much influence. The number believing it has too little influence has decreased slightly since 2013 (i.e., declined by about 6 percentage points).
  • Millennials are "far more likely than average" to say that the Christian bible has too much influence on society "(30% compared to 50% of all adults)." The number of Millennials saying that the Christian bible has too little influence (30%) has declined from 44% in 2011.
  • In spite of the numbers reported above, 26% of respondents indicated that they have never read the Christian bible.
  • 30% of those surveyed said that the Christian bible is the "inspired word" of some sort of god and "has no errors, although some verses are meant to be symbolic" while another 23% view it as "the actual Word" of some sort of god and insist that it should be taken literally, "word for word." Only 18% "express strong skepticism of Scripture..." These numbers were all stable over time, except for the number saying the Christian bible is "just another book of good teachings" is now 18% compared with 11% in 2007.

April 15, 2014

Technology Undermining Religion

This image was selected as a picture of the we...
This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Farsi Wikipedia for the 13th week, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Even though we all benefit greatly from technology, we are also quite fond of complaining about it. It is becoming almost cliche to complain about how technology is supposed to make our lives easier but has instead introduced all sorts of new problems that end up detracting from how we live. There is some truth to this, at least in the sense that technology has become something besides a tool for simplifying the way we do tasks. It has transformed the way we live, and some people have found these transformations to be rather negative. Just look, they say, at how the technology of the Internet has undermined the hold of religious belief on our society.

I think that part of the reason we complain is that we are quick to take technological advances for granted. Once we become accustomed to them, we no longer perceive them as remarkable. At least, not until something happens that leads us to reflect on just how remarkable some of our modern technology is.

A few months ago, I found myself in my car late on a Sunday night careening through what little traffic there was. I was I had one hand on the wheel and one on my dog, who was laying on a towel covering the back seat and covered with blood. So much blood. I tried to call the vet, but of course they were closed on Sundays (Jesus and all). They had given me the name of an emergency vet, which was naturally located about as far away as possible while still managing to be located in the same town. I was heading in that direction as quickly as I could but had no idea where it was. I was close to panic.

April 13, 2014

Easter is Coming, Churches are Advertising

I scanned the image to the right after it showed up in my mailbox last week in the form of a slick 5x7 postcard. The back is an invitation to attend Easter services at the largest Southern Baptist megachurch in the town where I live.

Based on the quality of the thick card stock and the colorful, glossy image, I have to assume these were not inexpensive to print and mail. It seems like something far more positive than boosting their attendance for a day could have been accomplished with this money. Then again, I suppose increased attendance would likely lead to increased donations.

How cynical of me! Aren't they doing this mostly to spread the "good news" in which they claim to believe? Maybe. I'm not quite ready to rule that out as a possible explanation. But more and more, I find myself suspicious that most Christians living in the United States today do not genuinely believe much of what they claim to believe. At least, very few seem to live their lives as if they believed much of what they say they believe. This often looks like hypocrisy, but I suppose it could be something else. Perhaps Christians find strength, social acceptance, or other benefits from their claims of belief.

April 11, 2014

Some Opinions Are Better Than Others

Opinion (Photo credit: Kevin Steinhardt)
We all have opinions. Some of our opinions are based on reason, critical inquiry, and even time-consuming research to learn more about the world around us. These are the sorts of opinions we can defend because we have a reasonable basis for them. We have taken care in how we formed them, doing so with deliberation. We can intelligently explain them to others, and in doing so, we might actually convince them that our opinion is valid even though this does not necessarily mean they will come to share it.

Other opinions reflect nothing more than our moment-to-moment emotional reactions to our surroundings. They evidence little to no thought, and many fall apart with even minimal reflection. If we do take a moment to critically examine them, we may even be ashamed to have ever had such opinions. And this is why many adults have learned to keep such opinions to themselves, lest they be subject to ridicule by others or simply regret launching a half-baked idea.

April 9, 2014

Monotonous Proselytizing

Christianity-Jesus Christ Died for your SinFor reasons I will not pretend to understand, the number of comments Christian trolls attempt to leave on this blog is quite variable. I'll have some weeks where I do not get any and others where I end up with 20 or more. I let most of them through the moderation Intense Debate requires regardless of my settings, but I generally try to delete those that are nothing more than name calling or blatant violations of the comment policy. Why? I figure that most atheists don't visit atheist blogs because they want a heavy dose of Christian proselytizing.

Most of the comments from Christian trolls contribute to a sense of clutter and contain few novel ideas. Many just keep repeating the same tired ideas over and over, indifferent or oblivious to the fact that we have heard it all before many times.

Here is a recent example of the sort of comment I might sometimes delete:
As someone who has experienced God in my life numerous times, sometimes blatant other times subtle, I can assure all of you God is very real and has freely given us (to whomever desires) hope for a future. One beyond this life. This hope is only through Christ and Christ alone. No other religion or belief has hope. I ask that you evaluate your life. Think about your motives in life and I challenge you to sincerely ask yourselves "What if I'm wrong?" I do this out of love because I was given this hope and I want others to share in this hope. If you have any questions I would love to do my best to answer them with the knowledge I have acquired throughout my life. Peace and blessings to you all!

1 John 5:9-13
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which[c] He has testified of His Son. 10 He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,[d] and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

April 8, 2014

Attending Church on the Holidays

Holy Week at Santhome Basilica, Chennai (HDR)
Holy Week at Santhome Basilica, Chennai (HDR) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In terms of church attendance, Christmas and Easter always drew the biggest crowds in the church I was forced to attend as a child. There were a handful of other religious holidays where one would typically see a spike in attendance, but these were the big ones where the church really filled up.

When we would attend church on these occasions, I remember my parents expressing concern about not wanting to be perceived as the sort of people who only went to church on these holidays. Evidently, that was a really bad thing to be known as. This concern never made much sense to me. We certainly did not go every Sunday, but we went quite a bit. And the only reason we wouldn't go would be if we were driving back from a weekend spent out of town or someone was sick. Nevertheless, this was a real concern for them.

April 7, 2014

Mississippi Passes Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Mississippi State Capitol
Mississippi State Capitol (Photo credit: shawnzrossi)
During the last few months, much of my limited free time was occupied by signing petitions, writing letters, using social media to spread the word, and emailing and calling my state senators, representatives, and governor in an effort to stop SB 2681 (the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act). If this is the first time you are reading about SB 2681, you should know that this bill adds "In God We Trust" to Mississippi's state seal and includes similar language as was found in Arizona's "turn away the gays" law. In essence, it appears to grant businesses the right to discriminate against LGBT persons and then hide behind their religious beliefs.

After the bill passed the Senate at the end of January, significant grassroots opposition roared to life in February when we were told that the House was scheduled to vote on February 27. The vote was delayed, as the House sent the bill to committee for modification. I suspect that this would not have happened at all had the public opposition not been as substantial as it was. The bill was watered down to some degree, but much of the discriminatory language (and all the god stuff) remained. In mid-March, the bill passed the House in amended form. They split off the portion that appeared to permit religiously-based discrimination against LGBT individuals and sent it to a committee for further study. That is, the god stuff passed but the discriminatory part was set aside.

April 3, 2014

Christian Extremists Want Public Floggings for Blasphemy

18th century illustration of Elizabeth Brownri...
18th century illustration of Elizabeth Brownrigg flogging a foundling servant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What would you do if you were in charge? It is an intriguing question, and it can be quite revealing in the sense that learning what someone would do if they were in charge provides some insight into their values and approach to morality.

What would Christian extremists do if they had the power to enact their will? Evidently, some would enact laws to punish blasphemy. Such laws would mandate physical punishment in the form of public flogging for those found guilty of blasphemy.

Those of us who write atheist blogs or who share anti-religious thoughts on social media would be convicted of blasphemy and beaten in public as a deterrent to others. This is apparently an image that some Christian extremists would fight quite delightful.

April 2, 2014

Ohioans Offended by Summer Camp

1898 photograph of a group of young girls lear...
1898 photograph of a group of young girls learning how to make a bed at a "vacation school." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It seems like there are quite a few people out there who derive some pleasure or a sense of purpose from getting offended, so much so that they appear to seek opportunities to take offense. I'll admit that I have always had difficulty understanding this mindset, as I'd generally prefer not to feel offended. My tentative theory is that offense-taking gives some of them a sense that they are doing something meaningful even though this is rarely the case.

Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) brings us the latest example of offense-taking run amok in a post about readers of The Blade (Toledo, OH) who took offense to an article the paper printed about Camp Quest. The article did not strike me as an endorsement, but it was certainly not a condemnation either, and that seems to have upset some of the paper's readers.

April 1, 2014

Foolin' Ourselves

English: A ticket to the washing of the lion, ...
A ticket to the washing of the lion, a traditional April fool's prank (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
April Fools' Day is an odd sort of holiday. Here in the U.S., it seems to be primarily about lying to one's friends or family. One tells a lie, persuades the other to believe it, and then gleefully shouts "April Fools!" Many of the lies seem to be little more than exercises in lying, but some can be quite elaborate and complex, progressing beyond simple lies to hoaxes or pranks. But it is all in fun, and everybody usually gets a laugh at the end.

I have been on the giving end and receiving end of some good April Fools' Day lies and pranks over the years, and harmless fun is how I would describe most of it. I do have a co-worker who has a tendency to get carried away and cross the line into the sort of lie that can lead to some hard feelings by those he dupes, but I think everyone has finally caught on to his antics. Sorry pal, but nobody is going to believe that you are dying again this year!