May 30, 2014

Markuze Enters Guilty Plea

English: Flag of the City of Montreal Fran├žais...
Flag of the City of Montreal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Atheist bloggers are going to encounter trolls on their blogs, and unless their commenting systems are far more effective than the one I use, readers will encounter trolls when at least a few of their comments get through. This is certainly not specific to atheism; however, the public's negative attitudes toward atheism seem to ensure that we will receive plenty of attention from trolls. Many are Christian, most are harmless, and some are struggling with mental health problems. A rare few cross the line from mere annoyance to potential threat.

Long-time readers and others who have been active in the online atheist community for the past few years may remember Dennis Markuze (aka, David Mabus). He was by far the most prolific troll of atheist blogs I have come across. He left comments here for some time and sent me countless emails, a few of which contained threats of violence. In 2010 and 2011, it seemed that practically every atheist blogger was familiar with his antics.

May 28, 2014

Four Things We Can Do To Make More Atheists

religion is obsolete

Some atheists have little interest in de-converting religious believers or anything we might call secular activism. They do not care whether others are religious, as they are not convinced that widespread religious belief is detrimental to humanity. They just want religious believers to leave them alone, and they do not see how efforts to help people escape religious belief or promote the separation of church and state translate into their being more likely to be left alone. This post is not aimed at these atheists.

I am writing this post for the atheists who are interested in there being fewer religious believers, less religious influence exerted in society, and more atheists. How do we get there? How do we make more atheists? In this post, I am going to discuss four suggestions:
  1. Criticize Religious Belief
  2. Promote Atheism
  3. Support Atheists
  4. Confront Our Own Hypocrisy and Repudiate Bad Behavior
I believe that we would be far more successful in our efforts if we organized and collaborated; however, I recognize that there is a great deal of resistance here. This was part of why I selected these four suggestions; these are areas where each of us can make worthwhile contributions individually.

May 27, 2014

Back to the Grind

Keep up and blog on
Keep up and blog on (Photo credit: futureshape)
It used to seem like I had a similar experience whenever I took a break from blogging. I'd miss it initially, forget about it after a few days, and return with an adjusted perspective. I have since learned that every break is different, and I never quite know what to expect. The one constant seems to be that getting away from blogging every now and then is good for me. I've never been good about taking breaks when I need them, and I've long known that I need to take more of them. This latest one falls into the much needed category, and find myself somewhat ambivalent about coming back at this moment.

I have decided that my key problem when it comes to blogging is that of balance. I have a tendency to devote too much of my time and mental energy to blogging. I don't mean that I spend too much time writing; I spend too much time thinking about the topics about which I write before I sit down to write. This tendency seems to creep up on me very slowly so that I don't perceive it is becoming problematic until it is too late. And it always becomes problematic in the same way: other things suffer because too much of my focus is going to atheist stuff. This inevitably leads me to feel overwhelmed because I am not doing some of what I need to in other areas.

If I am right about this tendency, it reminds me why breaks are important and why I really do need to do a better job of using them. Regular breaks seem to help me recalibrate and restore a more healthy balance. Not only can I use them to get some other things accomplished, but they help me readjust my priorities.

May 25, 2014

Thoughts on Memorial Day Weekend 2014

Memorial Day: 'We Resolve That These Dead Shal...
Memorial Day: 'We Resolve That These Dead Shall Not Have Died In Vain' -- Naperville (IL) Riverwalk (Photo credit: Ron Cogswell)
I have long been a fan of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, watching it when I get the chance. If you have seen it lately, you'll know that Stewart seems to have taken up the problems with the VA's record system, delays in providing care, and the unwillingness of our elected officials to resolve the problems as his cause du jour. One of the things that has made his focus on this especially powerful is that he has been bipartisan in his criticism. The problems have spanned multiple administrations, both Democratic and Republican.

As Stewart pointed out in a recent episode, our government has a long history of feigning respect for the men and women who serve in the military and their families while providing a very different reality. He showed clips of elected officials praising those actively serving, veterans, and the families who have lost members in various wars, contrasting these clips with the harsh realities of refusal to provide aid to veterans and military families and the problems associated with the VA. Powerful stuff, and I find myself thinking about it this Memorial Day.

May 24, 2014

Global Secular Council Launches

Abstract Colorful Universe Wallpaper - TTdesign
Abstract Colorful Universe - TTdesign (Photo credit: tomt6788)
Think tanks play a valuable role in modern politics. It seems like the growing secular community might benefit from having more organizations serving working as think tanks. And now we've got a new one.

A new resource center, the Global Secular Council (GSC), launched a few days ago and is likely to be making news in the atheist community. According to Lauren Anderson Youngblood, the group's Director of Communications, they will be "focused primarily on compiling fresh ideas, data, and research helpful to the secular community." Sounds good to me!

The GSC launches with 30 council members, including many names you will recognize, and I imagine more will be added over time. How the GSC will fit into the landscape of other secular organizations (e.g., the Center for Inquiry) remains to be seen. I imagine similarities and differences will take some time to emerge, as they carve out their role.

From the GSC's mission statement:
We are committed to promoting objective reason and science as the most reliable methods for understanding the Universe and improving the human condition through better public policy.
That sounds like something we can get behind. I look forward to hearing more from the GSC.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

May 14, 2014

Time for a Break

Break Time

What do you do when you are feeling tired, burned out, or less interested in things you normally enjoy? You take a break!

In the first post I wrote in 2014, I said that one of the things I hoped to do differently this year was to take more planned breaks from blogging. It is now time to take one.

I'm not sure how long my break will last, but I'd guess I may be away for a week or two. If you have not already subscribed to Atheist Revolution, now might be a good time to do so. The RSS link is below, or you can subscribe via email here. That way, you'll know when I have returned.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

May 12, 2014

Opting Out of the Implicit Prayer Agreement

Silence (Photo credit: Mara ~earth light~)
Nearly all of the atheists I have known do something similar when faced with public prayer: they politely feign respect for it. I'm not being accusatory here; I do exactly the same thing. When I am in a meeting of some sort at work, a social situation with people I don't know terribly well (e.g., eating a meal at a restaurant), or even a setting where public prayer is quite inappropriate (e.g., jury duty or some other official government proceeding) and someone launches into inappropriate sectarian prayer, I typically hold my tongue and wait for it to be over. I don't close my eyes or bow my head, but I clam up and wait the thing out. Why? To be polite and not to call attention to myself I suppose.

When it comes to public prayer in the United States, atheists and Christians appear to have reached an implicit arrangement: when they pray, we sit there in silence. The benefits of this arrangement to Christians are clear. They get to pray whenever and wherever they want. They do not need to stop to consider the effect of their public prayer on others. What do we atheists get out of the arrangement? I'm still trying to figure that out.

May 11, 2014

Empathy for Atheists Has Been Unnecessary for Many Christians

English: Student pledging to the flag, 1899.
Student pledging to the flag, 1899 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have written previously about the potential value of empathy among atheists in the sense that having empathy for Christians can be helpful if we truly seek to understand them. For those of us who are surrounded by Christians in our daily lives, I think that a bit of understanding can be useful.

Of course, it would be ideal of empathy was recognized as a two-way street. It would be nice if more Christians would try a bit of empathy in their dealings with atheists (i.e., understanding instead of demonizing).

Why don't we see more empathy from our Christian neighbors? Perhaps the answer, at least in part, is that empathy for atheists has not been necessary for many Christians.

Regarding a recent poll from LifeWay Research that found that 85% of Americans surveyed prefer to keep "under god" in the pledge of allegiance, Hemant Mehta (Friendly Atheist) noted:
Most Americans are religious and they don’t have the ability to empathize with non-Christians on issues like this. They can’t put themselves in our shoes and imagine what it’d feel like to either say a pledge you don’t agree with or purposely excuse yourself out of the classroom (or remain seated) so you don’t have to participate. They still conflate religion with patriotism, even after those remnants from the Soviet era should’ve burnt out.

May 9, 2014

Many Christians Ignorant of Their Bible

Israel MK Effie Eitam at the American Bible So...
Israel MK Effie Eitam at the American Bible Society's Bible Library in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
People sometimes lie, claiming one thing and doing another. Besides lying, which implies intent, people often engage in self-deception. They may not even perceive the gross inconsistencies between what they claim and how they behave. This sort of self-deception is often involved in hypocrisy, and it can be extremely difficult to spot in oneself.

If Christians truly believed that their bible was sacred, holy, divinely inspired, and/or a guide for how they ought to live their lives, wouldn't it be fair to assume that they read it regularly? Shouldn't we expect them to not just read it but study it until they had learned it thoroughly? The Christian bible is a lengthy, complex, and frequently inconsistent collection of writings. If it really is everything Christians claim, it seems like they would take it quite seriously.

According to the American Bible Society's yearly "State of the Bible" survey, this does not seem to be happening. As summarized in this post by Cathy Lynn Grossman for Religion News Service, familiarity with the contents of the Christian bible appears to be rather poor among Christians.
When it came to assessing what the Bible says on several critical social issues, many showed fuzzy knowledge of the attitudes and behaviors addressed in Scripture.

May 8, 2014

Frustrated, Angry, and Impatient? Choose Activism

English: Demonstrators in front of the Delawar...
Demonstrators in front of the Delaware, OH office of Citibank at a demonstration against the Citibank's unfair investment policies in poor countries. Taken on November 16, 2001. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Maybe it is the recent Supreme Court ruling in Greece v. Galloway that started me thinking along these lines. Or maybe it is the inspiration I am finding in the stories of young people finding atheism collected in Dan Riley's excellent book, Generation Atheist. Or maybe it is just that I have a lot of work to do and am procrastinating because I find it rather unpleasant. In any case, I want to expand on something I wrote in a recent post.

When you first heard that the U.S. Supreme Court had cleared the way for sectarian prayer at city council meetings, how did you feel? That's right, I'm asking about how you felt and not what you thought. Based on what I have read online, I think it is a safe bet that many of you felt frustrated, even angry. Me too. I am impatient to see progress, and this decision seemed to be a step backward. Angry is an apt description of how I felt and how I still feel when I think about it.

The day after the Court handed down their decision in Greece v. Galloway, I wrote:
I hope that this decision serves to mobilize secular activists to expand efforts to push for change. National organizations like the Center for Inquiry, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Secular Coalition for America are speaking out against this ruling, and I hope those of us who value the separation of church and state will join them. If we can channel the frustration we are feeling into activism, some good can come of this.

May 7, 2014

Freedom of Speech, Not Freedom From Consequences

Freedom of Speech (preliminary version)
Freedom of Speech (Photo credit: cliff1066™)
Most of us realize that freedom of speech does not mean that one is free to say whatever one wishes without experiencing any negative consequences whatsoever. If you use your freedom to insult someone, he or she may turn around and use his or her freedom to insult you right back. And as we have seen again and again, if you use your freedom to broadcast something incredibly stupid on the Internet, it is quite likely that someone will use his or her freedom to express disagreement or even mock you.

It works this way because we all share this particular freedom. Freedom of speech applies to everyone, and not just to people who agree with us or who are on our side in various political issues. Defending free speech includes defending it when it is used to express ideas we do not like.

But here's the thing: it seems like there is a point at which the negative consequences one experiences could become so severe that we might begin to consider them to be somewhat coercive. And as they become increasingly coercive, what we want to call freedom seems to erode. This is one of the things I find concerning about political correctness.

May 6, 2014

SCOTUS Makes Another Poor Decision

West Facade of the United States Supreme Court...
West Facade of the United States Supreme Court Building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While conservative Christians here in Mississippi are jubilant over the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Greece v. Galloway that it is perfectly acceptable for town boards to begin meetings with sectarian prayers, many atheists are considerably less pleased. How's that for an understatement? Here is a quick sampling of perspectives from around the atheist blogosphere:

May 5, 2014

Openly Secular Takes Aim at Discrimination Against Atheists

Diversity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Several secular groups, including the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, Secular Student Alliance, Secular Coalition for America, and Stiefel Freethought Foundation, have launched a new project called Openly Secular. Openly Secular seeks to build on the Out Campaign by taking on discrimination and bigotry aimed at atheists, secular humanists, and others who do not believe in gods.

I must admit that I am still a bit fuzzy on Openly Secular's goals and how (or if) they differ from the goals of most secular organizations, but it appears that they are starting by collecting examples of discrimination from atheists. If you have one to share, you can do so here.

I look forward to seeing what is next from the new coalition.

H/T to Religion News Service

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

May 4, 2014

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Seeks Christian Theocracy

English: August 2003 rally in front of the Ala...
August 2003 rally in front of the Alabama state judicial building in support of Roy Moore. Taken from the Re-taking America website, copyrighted by Kelly McGinley at Re-Taking America, from whom permission has been received to license this material under the GNU Free Documentation License. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When defenders of church-state separation in the United States speak of theocracy, we are typically accused of either not adequately understanding the meaning of the word or of exaggerating for effect. Nobody really wants to turn the U.S. into a theocracy, we are told. There are already many protections in place to prevent something like this from happening. We are merely making mountains out of molehills. I'm not so sure.

If you have paid much attention to church-state issues over the past decade, you will probably recognize the name Roy Moore. He is now serving as the Chief Justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, but he made a name for himself primarily over his refusal to comply with a federal court's order that he remove the unconstitutional ten commandments monument he placed in the lobby of the Alabama courthouse.

It was this refusal that led to Moore's removal from the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003, the very same court over which he now presides. In addition to running for governor of Alabama, Moore also has a reputation for making bigoted public statements about LGBT persons and promoting a Christian theocracy in the U.S.

It now appears that violating the U.S. Constitution is not enough for Moore. According to Brett Wilkins' article in Digital Journal:
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has been traveling the nation spreading his message that America has always been a Christian nation that has "lost its way" and that the Judeo-Christian deity figure 'God' should reign supreme over the US government and judicial system.
This may sound like the same revisionist history you have heard countless times from Christian extremists on the political right, but do not be fooled. Moore appears to be even more extreme in where he is willing to take this rhetoric. Wilkins reports that Moore "received a standing ovation after recently advocating for a Christian theocracy in the United States and suggesting that the First Amendment only applies to Christians." Let that sink in for a moment.

May 2, 2014

The National Day of Prayer

National Day of Prayer
National Day of Prayer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer. I did not post anything about it yesterday because I had other things on my mind and because I feel like I've already said pretty much everything I have to say on the subject (see Why the National Day of Prayer Must End).

Here are some other thoughts on the National Day of Prayer from around the atheist blogosphere this week:
All I have to add to them is a brief reminder that the Christian bible condemns public prayer.

May 1, 2014

The Right to Die

Skull and crossbones
Skull and crossbones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is not a suicide note. I'm not ready to die just yet. There are still a few things I'd like to do first. This is also not some sort of abstract thought experiment in which I write about something to clarify my thoughts or try tp provoke thought among my readers. I've been thinking about this subject for awhile now, and I mean what I am about to say.

When it comes to death, there is something I very much want for myself and for each of you: the option to die with dignity when we decide we are ready. I'm not talking about our families having the option to pull the plug without conservative politicians interfering, although I certainly hope we'd have that right too. No, I am talking about something quite a bit more controversial than turning off the life support.

The option I want for myself, you see, is active euthanasia (i.e., physician-assisted suicide). Should I decide that I'm ready to go in order to spare myself some pain and suffering, I'd like the option of a lethal injection. We do this for our pets and recognize it as compassionate; I think we should have the same option for ourselves. I think we should be able to end our lives in much the same manner.