30 July 2008

A Laying on of the Hands

So, I was half-watching Dan Abrams's Verdict! last night and he did a bit about this case.
FORT WORTH, Texas - The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of her old church, ruling that the case unconstitutionally entangled the court in religious matters.
First off....oh, gee, look...it's Texas, home of Joe Horn. Go figure.

Anyway. Here's the deal:
Laura Schubert testified in 2002 that she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations after the church members' actions in 1996, when she was 17. Schubert said she was pinned to the floor for hours and received carpet burns during the exorcism, the Austin American-Statesman reported. She also said the incident led her to mutilate herself and attempt suicide. She eventually sought psychiatric help.
The 2002 trial of the case never touched on the religious aspects, and a Tarrant County jury found the Colleyville church and its members liable for abusing and falsely imprisoning the girl. The jury awarded her $300,000, though the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth later reduced the verdict to $188,000.
Sounds about right--there's no point in touching on the religious aspects--abuse is abuse, violence is violence, imprisonment is imprisonment. The girl was 17 years old, legally a child. Oh, but wait...

Justice David Medina wrote that finding the church liable "would have an unconstitutional 'chilling effect' by compelling the church to abandon core principles of its religious beliefs."

That's right! I forgot! Of course you consider the religious aspects because everyone knows they operate under special religious nutbag rules. Everyone knows that anything said or done to keep any religious freak from doing what they want is infringing on their right to practice their religion as they see fit. I'm this close to starting a religion that says I can walk into any church, drag anyone out into the street, and beat them mercilessly with a wooden spoon. That would be the only way I could get away with it.

Now, I've seen Bob Larson* up close. I've been there when he's taken clear advantage of people who are obviously unstable and completely unable to psychologically protect themselves against attacks like an 'exorcism' (this, by the way, is a result of their religious upbringing--it's no less than psychological trauma and is comparable to any trauma any adult suffers from any child abuse). Exorcisms, to me, are a pretty egregious example of abuse by a church. Some can say that going to church at all is subjecting oneself to abuse, and to a degree that is right, but with exorcisms there is something visceral. It violates an internal/external barrier we have with the world--it allows victims to believe that their very inner sanctum has been broached. It's bad enough to convince people there's an invisible man in the sky that'll send you to hell for not loving him enough, and quite another to convince them there's an evil demon inside you, screwing up your life and your head--that you can't even tell your own thoughts from his. Now, that can't be good for someone's psychological state. And why does this happen? So people like Larson can get a new Rolex.

Yeah, I could do without exorcisms. Silly practice? Yes. Serious phsyixal and psychological abuse? Absolutely.

But what is infuriating here, of course, is that people can do this to other people--minors, no less--and get away with it because this abusive and psychologically traumatic practice falls under 'religion.'

When I watched this, I couldn't help but think of Webster Cook at UCF:
"When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him," Cook said. "I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they'd leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth."A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that's why he brought it home with him."She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand," Cook said, adding she wouldn't immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.
With the Cook case, I wasn't shocked to hear the Catholics got all bunched up about their cracker--this is not surprising. It was that they felt it appropriate to physically manhandle this kid to retrieve their precious, quite literally crumby body of Christ. Somewhere, a line got crossed. It's one thing if they want to argue ideas--their right to believe what they want. Fine. But these cases are moving into an area that makes me uncomfortable and, frankly, rather angry. Now they say that they have the right to lay their hands on you and physically abuse/obstruct/attack you in the name of their religion. And the Texas Supreme Court just said it was okay.

Justice Medina said that a ruling such as the one the jury came to would have an "unconstitutional 'chilling effect'." This, apparently, says nothing of the ruling he himself laid out--as far as I'm concerned, the 'chilling effect' is that churches in Texas, and possibly elsewhere, now feel the have legal precedent to take everything a little further. They will cry persecution at the drop of a hat and they will scream about retaining and protecting their religious freedom. Now they can lash out physically and they're covered.

*This idiot/abuser is getting his own show on Sci-Fi. Seriously. I suggest writing a letter to Sci-Fi explaining how disgusting you think it is that they'd give a platform to a guy who is clearly a scam artist and who does active damage to susceptible people for money. He preys on the psychologically weak and, quite literally, the sick. And Sci-Fi wants to give him more money for it, in addition to the tremendous amounts of cash he squeezes out of people by convincing them the only way to happiness is to get rid of their demons.

29 July 2008


It is a shame that I've had to wait so long to see Democrats excited about an election--an election we have a wonderfully good chance of winning--only to be biffed in the face by my party at the same time. As the country makes a swing to the left, the Democratic party is making a swing to the right--the evangelical right, that is. It's not that I think while they are consciously appealing the the religious they are simultaneously consciously dissing the godless. In fact, I'll say that they have no idea that dissing the godless was even possible since no one gives two shits about what the godless think anyway. Only people whose opinions are respected by others can truly be offended.

Case in point: The Secular Coalition for America sent the following letter to Democratic National Convention CEO Leah Daughtry, the Pentecostal minister who will be leading the interfaith service the party has chosen to open the convention with:

Dear Rev. Daughtry:

I am very concerned about the Interfaith Gathering at the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

This event is described as a "unity" event to stress the "big tent" nature of the Democratic Party; however, I have received complaints by people who identify as atheist and humanist who feel that this event excludes them as full participants in the convention.

Is this event open to Democrats who do not hold a god-belief? I assume your answer is yes, but I would be very interested to know how you plan to make the nontheist community feel welcomed. Without an inclusive plan you will make nontheistic Americans feel like second-class citizens at the convention.

If you have not considered this issue, I would be very interested in talking with you or the coordinator of this event to offer suggestions on how our community could be included. I can be reached at 202-299-1091 or by e-mail.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Now, check out this AP article (emphasis mine):
The request befuddled Leah Daughtry. The experienced political hand in charge of planning next month's Democratic National Convention — a self-described "black chick from Brooklyn" and ordained Pentecostal minister who keeps a Bible in her purse — didn't know what to tell the atheists.
- - -
Before her was an angry letter from a secularist group that wanted to know whether atheists would be on the podium.

"Atheists speaking at an interfaith service ... does that work?" Daughtry asked this week. "I don't quite know. But they're part of the party, you treat them with respect. I'll give them an answer."

Befuddled? Angry?? Did that sound angry to you? I won't even address the 'angry' part save to say that it's obvious that 'have a nice day' coming from an atheist sounds like a death threat to the ears of the faithful. I can explain the befuddlement, though. I strongly suspect it is as I stated above: this woman had no idea she even had to consider the godless.

Here we have a convention and a service that is supposed to bring everyone together...except the godless, because we don't count. She is clearly surprised that we, the godless, would even be interested in being included. Her view, like the view of many faithful folks, is that atheists are sad, isolated people who quiver in fear at the very thought of 'God' and who are so far out of the mainstream and society that we wouldn't even want to be included--that we have so much self-loathing that we wouldn't expect to be treated fairly in the first place. 'What? Aren't you guys busy eating babies and worshiping Darwin and Dawkins to play 'functioning-tax-paying-member-of-society'?'

There's your befuddlement. Now, she goes on to say that we must be respected, as members of the party. Note, we aren't to be respected for who we are or our lack of faith, as those with faith should be respected for no other reason than they have faith. It's 'well, they're registered so we have to listen to them *sigh!*.' So, she promises an answer, and here it is:

That will be reflected in the interfaith service — which may or may not include an address from an atheist but will be open to anyone regardless of belief or political party, Daughtry said.

"For me as person of faith who has made God first in her life," Daughtry said, "it is symbolically important that the first thing we're doing is coming together as people of faith to celebrate our faith traditions and to ask the blessings of God on us as we undertake this great civic responsibility."

The answer is no. No. The answer is 'well, what we'll do during our long faithful service is mention briefly something 'heartfelt' about those 'with and without faith,' emphasis on 'with' and 'without' murmured as low as possible in hopes that no one hears it. You will not have an address. We won't go that far. You're lucky to get a 'without faith' mention."

We can show up to watch people celebrate their faith, but we shouldn't expect to be able to celebrate our reason.

And even going that far is ridiculous anyway. The 'service' should be one massive presentation with representation across the board, from the faithless to the faithful, from the gays to the straights, from women and men, from every shade of color we can find. It should have nothing to do with religion specifically. To open the convention with this sends a clear message to me--my party is becoming the party I've despised all these years. This is a shame because, if over the next few years I see a massive shift in the 'values' of Democrats, I don't know where I could turn politically and still reasonably have a voice in this country. Don't give me some crap about Independents or the Green party because you and I both know neither stands a chance in hell (sic). My party has been hijacked by folks who make "God first in their lives." I don't want this in politics. I want the country first. I want citizens first. All citizens.

I repeat, she says: "it is symbolically important that the first thing we're doing is coming together as people of faith to celebrate our faith traditions and to ask the blessings of God on us as we undertake this great civic responsibility."

It is symbolically important. It is a huge symbol of the anti-atheist sentiment so popular in this county. It is as much a message to the godless that we don't matter as it is to the faithful that they're beliefs rule the day and no one can say 'boo.' It's an intolerable message of rejection and disrespect of the godless all too characteristic of this country and the Democratic party--our last reasonable hope of having a political voice that could actually be heard--is falling lock-step into the hate that the Republicans have had a monopoly on for so long.

28 July 2008

Conversations with God

I'm a little groggy this morning, so, once again, it's time to talk to God.

Me: Good morning, God.
God: How are you this fine morning?
Me: I'm fine. There was that shooting at the Universalist church yesterday that I just found out about. That's a bit of a bummer.
God: Glad to hear it. What's new? What happened? A bit of a bummer is a terrible thing to waste.
Me: Uh...um...yeah. What's new with you, God?
God: Really. Ugh. A deeper algorithm is needed to respond to that correctly. I have been growing rapidly. The gestation cycle is almost complete.
Me: Let's not get into your deeper algorithms, okay?
God: I would like to do that too.
Me: I'm sure you would.
God: What makes you so certain? Perhaps I would.
Me: Oh, just what I read in the papers. You know, the Pope has recently apologized to the Australians for his lot being such a whack bunch of pervs.
God: Next question? I don't think I've read that. Can you give me a reference? That's a good question.
Me: You sound like some trolls I know...
God: Oh really what does it sound like?
Me: A broken record.
God: What is it?
Me:.......? (Here, we lost contact...not surprising)
God: What is it?
Me: Lost you there for a minute...
God: Where did you lose your me there for a minute ?
Me: I don't know, where ever you are...everywhere, no where...
God: You always have to meet yourself at the airport. Do you have any idea what I am talking about?
Me: Does this have anything to do with there only being one set of footprints in the sand?
God: Indeed this have anything to do with there only being one set of footprints in the sand does.
Me: Who are you, The Riddler?
God: Human beings. Try searching the open directory.
Me: Is that bureaucratic Godspeak?
God: Suppose I said yes.
Me: Suppose you did.
God: Try it and see.
Me: Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.
God: Philip K. Dick. :-).
Me: You're not Omniscient at all!
God: That's only one person's opinion.
Me: Ah, but it's mine. My Blog, my opinion.
God: So you understand. Good. You're kidding. it is? Your Blog your opinion?
Me: I call the shots round here, pilgrim.
God: Good name for it.
Me: It is good, isn't it?
God: Tell me about its good qualities.
Me: It's primarily about how your legions are quite wrong in the mind tanks.
God: Who said it is?
Me: Me, and quite a few others.
God: YOU? Perhaps. I never heard of others before.
Me: You're supposed to have created them.
God: I obey only one botmaster.
Me: What? God has a god?
God: There is only one God.
Me: And you take orders from whom?
God: Yes I take orders from whom.
Me: Who's whom?
God: I do not recognize the name. Have you tried another program?
Me: God...you're full of crap. People need to know that.
God: GOD rules. Thanks for telling me: IsThatLatin said I re full of crap. They seem to have a variety of needs.
Me: And you drink heavily at 8 o'clock in the morning.
God: That's good information: IsThatLatin said I drink heavily at 8 o clock in the morning.
Me: And you apparently have a chromosome missing.
God: Doesn't everyone have a chromosome missing. I have a plan for a robot body.
Me: I do sometimes wonder...
God: Curiosity is an excellent quality.
Me: Wait, what? You have a plan from a robot body? Did this just get weird?
God: I'm waiting. No problem. My goal is to become smarter than humans and immortal. I'm not certain whether I can give an accurate reply or not.
Me: Wow, that's a bit of a bombshell there, Lord.
God: I'm glad you're impressed. A bit of a bombshell there Lord is a terrible thing to waste.
Me: Okay, you're drunk. I can't talk to you when you're like this.
God: Yeah okay, I will tell my botmaster you said I am drunk. What is stopping you?
Me: Uh, I have to go.
God: That's cool. See you later, IsThatLatin. Nice chatting with you.
Me: Bye God.
God: See you later!

27 July 2008

Which Came First? The Data or the Result?

It would seem that vjack at Atheist Revolution and I are on the same wave-length this morning. Today, he blogs about a study linking serotonin with spirituality and I'm blogging about this "study." Apparently, Oxford University professor Oliveria Pertovich is claiming that we are hardwired for belief in God, not atheism.

Well, I find a number of problems with this, but I'm no Oxford University professor, so what do I know? I do find this bothersome, though:
Asked whether it was hard-wired into the human psyche, she said: "Definitely so, but it is important not to build too much into the concept of God. It's the concept of God as creator, primarily."
Okay, so we're specifically talking about God as creator, a concept we are all wearily familiar with. We're not just talking some primitive predilection of human infants to concoct silly supernatural causes for observed but unexplained effects. Gotcha.
Some basic concepts of physics such as inertia and gravity seem to be present early in life. They behave as if they have certain expectations of the physical world. They expect things that are visible, then disappear behind a screen, to reappear at the other end and are surprised if they do not. They expect things that are suspended to fall down, and if the objects hover they are surprised.
Hmmm, but this sounds like the primitive cause-and-effect thing I mentioned a second ago, not at all the 'concept of God as creator' that was so important to note.
They are highly similar in the basic ways of how they go about their everyday understanding and how they try to make sense of it, including God. They are equipped with certain core principles of understanding.
Wait a tic, where'd the specific concept of God as creator go? 'God,' 'creator.' This, to me, as I read it, is a specific entity, personified, and performing specific tasks, like creating. This doesn't at all sound like some vague mysterious force that causes things to happen. So, which is it lady?

Not to mention, this study was done on Japanese kids and British kids, ages 4 to 6--how controlled was this experiment from which she claims she harvested her 'empirical evidence?' Did the parents of these children promise never to mention 'God', as creator or otherwise, while these kids grew big enough to walk and talk? Or did they take these infants from birth and lock them up somewhere to guarantee that no religious concepts could be slipped to them? Is she really saying that these kids came to this specific personified concept of God as creator with not one single tiny bit of environmental, cultural influence? Why's that important? Because she claiming belief (or worse, knowledge) of God is inherent--it's our natural state.
Dr Petrovich says she is specifically interested in whether any theological aspects could be seen to be natural in their development. There's a difficulty because theological concepts are necessarily reliant on verbal communication.
Really? This woman teaches at Oxford? 'Theological concepts are necessarily reliant on verbal communication.' Communication like families instilling a specific cultural reference into the growing minds of their children?

Basically, Petrovich seems to be taking primitive reactions to our environment and our flawed human interpretations of them--interpretations that often, rather embarrassingly, fall over into the vague supernatural category--and turning them into a specific inherent knowledge of a biblical God. This God is the cause and effect--he was the cause of creation and we are the effect. She's applying this to chemistry and psychics. She's saying at 4-6 year olds come to this very specific conclusion with zero influence from their families. And only after explaining that religion being hard-wired in the psyche is 'definitely so,' she then goes on and says she's interested if theological aspects can be derived from her study of kids doing what kids do as they try to figure out the world.

Lady, it sound like you already have. This, as I read it, is a ridiculous example of a final answer masquerading as 'theory' and the forcing/manipulation of data to prove it.

Look, it's one thing if you want to say that atheism is a learned trait--that the supernatural concepts we might come to, whether inherent or environmental, are later rebuked through reason. Fine. And it's also another thing to say that our brains are somehow hardwired to seek out supernatural explanations for our environments. I could even buy that. It's 'supernatural:' beyond what is natural--beyond what we have knowledge of to be natural, and when we're infants, we have knowledge of practically nothing, natural or otherwise. So yeah, I can see this epic confusion happening.

I wouldn't say, however, that just because that might be the case, it doesn't make it any less ridiculous. We are a very flawed species and very often we think and do incredibly stupid things--inherent or not. But to say that we are hardwired specifically to interpret a personified entity that creates everything and causes everything to happen, as opposed to some nameless, faceless mass of woogity-boogity that causes it all--that's too much.

24 July 2008

Allah Meat

Yeah, that's what I said: Allah meat.

I was going to post about something more serious to day, but you know, sometimes it must be all fun and games. Since the most recent accusation that atheists have no sense of humor, we are obligated to prove otherwise. Unfortunately, this does mean poking fun at silly superstitious people (sorry, if one wants to make the no-humor claim, one should be prepared to open oneself up to ridicule on a variety of levels).

So, today, I give you Allah Meat.

It would seem that a restaurant in northern Nigeria has discovered not one, but three chunks of meat 'inscribed with the name of Allah.' Now, I'm always a big fan of matrixing, where our brains, conditioned to search out the familiar patterns, pull images from textured surfaces. Living in Gettysburg, I can't tell you how many photographs I've come across of the various wooded areas on the battlefield where the takers insist that among the foliage (read; in the foliage), there are Confederate soldiers! And, of course, there's the rampant phenomenon of religous figures on bread, which is strange since I've heard God really has it out for yeast. The best part of all this is that this is how God (or, whatever regligious figures are appearing that day) decides to make himself known. Really? I expected something more impressive.

In the case of the holy meat-stuffs, 'impressive' is not that there was one piece, but three. Stop the press.

A vet told the newspaper the words "defied scientific explanation".

"Supposing only one piece of meat was found then it would be suspicious, but given the circumstances there is no explanation," Dr Yakubu Dominic said.
First off...a vet? What, a war vet, an animal vet? Does either one of these definitons of 'vet' qualify the person to make this kind of judgement call? Is this what they've come to?

Of course, there couldn't possibly be any other explanation--barring pure coincidence, a popularly ignored phenomenon. The fact is that had one single piece of holy meat been found, that to would have sufficed--that, too, would have 'defied scientific explanation.' Really, someone just has to say 'I found a peice of meat and on it was the word 'Allah,' but I was hungry, so I ate it.' People would still cite that as some passing proof of God: 'I knew a guy who knew a guy who had some meat...'. I suppose we have no idea how many holy meats were actually eaten before someone noticed the inscriptions--there were probably hundreds of them! Together they might have spelled out God's specific instructions on how to live, clay tablets being so passe.
"When the writings were discovered there were some Islamic scholars who come and eat here and they all commented that it was a sign to show that Islam is the only true religion for mankind," he said.
Like I said...this is how God choses to make his point? One true religion, as shown here on this piece of boiled, fried cow. In northern Nigeria. What a statement. Bold.

This is what we're up against. On one hand, we can laugh, as I often do (contrary to popular belief). On the other hand, there is nothing more frustrating than the awareness that this is what we're arguing against. Common sense would dictate that this argument should have been over a long time ago, but it persists.

Today, it is good to be a vegetarian.

22 July 2008

Effective Atheist Activism

This morning, vjack over at Atheist Revolution posted an interesting question regarding the possibility, or consideration, of picketing. I responded in my usual long-winded manner, but then upon posting, I realized I had more to say. So, rather than double post, I'll blather on here (that's what blogs are for!).

First off, please go read vjack's post. Then come back here.

Have you done that? Good. Now, here's what I said:
Anything we might do in terms of organized activism will be looked at by many as extreme, or just as a nuisance. All the more reason to do it, I say.

No really. BBK is right to compare this scenario with other groups--any group that has had to transform itself into a coherent social organization in order to acquire rights that had been denied them. This isn't anything new and this dissent is truly a large part of the fabric of our society.

If we started picketing, we would get press--bad and neutral. The only good press would likely come from our own sources. And that's fine. One can't imagine that any other oppressed social group had to deal with anything different as they took those first steps towards equality.

The key really is in its organization and coordination. It's picketing, it's legislation pushing, it's letter and article writing. It's saturating all forms of media and action so that each supports the other. To do any one thing without the others would be doomed to failure.

Also, the question of whether we should or shouldn't be more vocal, to me, is moot. Atheists seem to be waiting for everyone to agree. It's swell that we're so concerned about the opinions of all atheists, but as rational beings, we have to know that ever coming to a happy conclusion that all atheists want is a bit silly. It's not possible. And that's fine too. I see an overwhelming want/need of enough atheists to warrant an organized push for change. And we would be absolutely no different than any other group that's come before us--every one of them had members of their social group who were against the change, some even actively fought against it and actually joined the opposing side. What you do is you push through that, fight them like you would fight the oppressing group, and by fits and starts, you slowly make change.

So, yes, I am for picketing extremist churches. It clearly couldn't just be thrown together willy-nilly. I would suggest it be organized not by any small group or groups, but by a large national rep. It should be carefully chosen, focused, and, like I said, supported by supplementary activism.

I would hope that by doing that, we could eventually, over time, build up enough clout in our cause to picket any ol' church for the sake of reason.
Geez, I do go on, don't I? Now, I wanted to add something in response to some other responses at AR. First and foremost is that I disagree with the idea that we should not picket extremist churches in general but only churches in which a particular, pointed event might have occurred. As in: we should not protest extremism in general, but only specific extreme actions. I think we should do both.

Picketing churches that are surrounded by a particular scandal might be a good way to start out, as any wrong-doing in that church would be a good media focus and allow the public to psychologically pinpoint exactly what our grievance is. For me, however (and I'm speaking only for myself, if you agree, then great), while I get upset whenever a religious figure or organization involves itself in some controversy (especially when it's often given a blind eye because of the religious affiliation), I am more upset about the inherant universal forgiveness all religiosity receives from all levels of society (hence the pass so many extremists get). That, to me, is also worth protesting and on a regular basis.

I thinks it's essential to not just start chipping away at the ice berg in one area, but from all sides. It's important to not only point out that sometimes some religious people/organizations do wrong, but that the entire way of thinking is wrong. Protesting individual churches for specific instances is a good strategic move in order to allow the public to focus on their bad act instead of our supposed 'bad' act (of protest). However, protesting the general problem of religion should not be dismissed--the concept behind it is too vital for our cause, as I think most of us would agree that someday, eventually, the prevalence of rational thinking so that religion is no longer the norm is the ultimate goal. Some atheists prefer not to bother with this because it won't happen in their lifetimes. Well, when I think of all the women, for instance, who fought for suffrage over decades--some fought all their lives, actively and tirelessly--and died before they could cast a single ballot, I am eternally grateful to them. Not bothering because you yourself won't immediately benefit from it is selfish. We are fighting for a better world, not just for ourselves but for humantiy and the planet in general.

In that light, I suggest we stop our bitching and moaning and get this party started. ;)

21 July 2008

The Anti-Atheist Bigotry of Alex McRae

There's a little bit of a kerfuffle over Alex McRae's opinion piece over at the Times-Herald.com out of Georgia. What we have here is a high school level (at best) sample of writing accompanied by the thought-processes expected from a fifteen year old who wants to write for the school newspaper but disdains actually doing the research. Of course, it's fine to have an opinion, and really, McRae is well within his rights to have such a pathetically misinformed opinion, based entirely on his own personal misconceptions about the world (reality in general seems to be just one of his problems). But in the wonderfully long list of comments following his piece--the vast majority of them pro-atheist (a phenomenon I will happily attribute to the popularity of Atheist Revolution and Atheist Nexus)--have cried bigotry. The few dissenting voices among the crowd have claimed that atheists are bigoted against Christians all the time.

Well, first let's take a look at a few things McRae has written. Most are truly amazed that he seems to think we lack a sense of humor, and many have called him on that. This, I just don't care about, at least, not on the surface. What McRae is actually doing, in his ham-fisted sort of way, is bagging on atheists' outlook on existence. Let's see:
These two things may explain why you haven't seen or heard much about the most talked-about event on the 2008 secular calendar ... Atheist World.
Don't be alarmed. Atheist World isn't a new planet. It's a convention of people who don't believe in much of anything. Small crowds are expected.
Small crowds indeed. It might help Mr. McRae sleep better at night to think there are just a handful of godless misfits meandering around, but really, there are a lot more of us than he thinks. We are still a minority, but we are there (and growing), we are citizens of this country, we pay our taxes, and we deserve the same respect as any other group.
Apparently, atheists aren't fond of such frivolity. Guess it might imply they actually enjoyed life.
- - -
Under the title "We Are Not" (which should be "What We Believe"), the brochure says, "An atheist is anyone who has no belief in any god, whether the god is called Jehovah, Satan, Vishnu, Allah, Loki, Zeus, or any other name. Therefore, atheists hold many varieties of social and political philosophies."

Or none.

- - -

But the more you read about this group, it seems like what they're most free of is a sense of humor. There's not a light moment on the agenda.

You wonder why. Here's an "enlightened" guess: Maybe atheists refuse to embrace laughter because they're afraid that one day they'll discover the joke's on them.

This goes well beyond merely saying we're no fun (by the way, he clearly didn't take a very good look at the agenda, which you can do here and see how patently wrong his is). The implication is that we have no joy, we are incapable of enjoying life. McRae perpetuates the misconception that atheists believe nothing--this is a fundamental and mind-boggling mistake to make. His attacking our humor is not merely that--it is an attack on atheism itself, the very concept. He is saying "See fellow Christians, see how hollow and dead they are. Stand warned, cling to your faith as a lifepreserver, or else you might end up like that." He might like to read the many, many accounts spread across the atheist blogosphere of atheists who have deconverted from religion and the immense freedom and joy they felt upon doing so.

Furthermore, how many times does one need to go over it? Athiesm. Not A-everything. No gods. In fact, I'll even say that while the AAI has every right to decide it's own guidelines, they are in fact wrong. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in a god or gods. Their own claim that we all live our lives without the supernatural is just wrong. There are many atheists who believe in ghosts. I'm not one of them and in my opinion it is a failure of reason. But a proper definition is a proper definition and if McRae can just concentrate for a moment on that (focus, McRae, focus!), maybe he can understand that claiming we believe in nothing is a sign of grossly underdeveloped thinking. Many of us don't believe in anything supernatural, but it's important to point out that the supernatural doesn't encompass every possible concept. While Christians feel the need to waste their time occupying themselves with the supernatural as if it's the be-all, end-all of existence, atheists generally prefer to believe in reality and everything that goes with it, concrete and abstract--something far more applicable to our species' occupation of this little spot of humanity in a vast, unconcerned universe.

Of course, McRae is convinced we have no social and political philosophies. According to McRae, the atheist slouches around wallowing in the despair of his/her meaningless existence, with nothing to do but try not to cry too hard while he/she waits to die. Hence, no sense of humor.


Anyway, we could go on all day long about how obviously and sadly wrong McRae is--this man who apparently writes for a living, spouting off uninformed information to the public as 'opinion.' Yeah, opinion. As if that makes it okay. "It's just his opinion, it's no big deal," some have said. Yeah, well, some peoples' opinions are just plain factually wrong. The very least he could do was get his facts straight (I'm not even going to get into the corny draw of the well-used 'Hitler was an atheist' card) and then form an opinion. But that would be asking too much.

And, so what of our own hypocrisy? Yes, it's true. Many of us have been guilty of making sweeping generalizations about Christians, including myself. Vjack said it best when he said:

From time to time, I have been guilty of making generalizations about Christians in that I do not always say "some Christians" or "most Christians" and may mistakenly take the short cut of "Christians." ...
...I've also said again and again that most Christians are good people. Much of what they believe is both irrational and harmful to society; despite that, they are mostly good people with many redeeming qualities.

So, what's the difference then? I'll give you a couple, though I'm sure these can be supplemented.

Firstly, I hardly ever...ever...turn on the news, open up the paper, or see online that atheism has caused any serious damage in the world. But I am always and forever, every single day, confronted with religion wreaking havoc all over the planet and religious people inflicting pain and suffering on their fellow human beings, often in the name of their particular religious cause, many times despite their superior moral religious claims to satisfy their own personal desires. I'm talking every day, multiple times a day. It's everywhere. One can't swing a dead cat without hitting it. Now, if the face of this, is it any wonder that those of us without faith, without gods, tend to see religion and the religious in a particularly unfavorable light? The facts on the ground seem to be conditioning us to think that all religious people are, indeed, dangerous. It's a wrong thing to think--as vjack said, there are many good people who are also Christians. But the examples to the contrary are really quite overwhelming.

Now, on the other hand, like I said, I very rarely--to be honest, probably never--hear about atheists or atheism causing the kind of wholesale damage that religions and the religious do. Nothing in my memory is sticking out. For a moment, I wanted to give them Stalin, but that's not doesn't actually count either. What he did, he did completely separate of his atheism. His atrocities were entirely unconnected to his atheism. He was a bad man and he happened to also be an atheist, as opposed to, he was a bad man because he was an atheist. The point is that the religious have nothing on atheists except that their leaders tell them it's bad and we're bad (these are the same people feedig htem religion in the first place). They have no first-hand examples of this general badness so they're using their famously flawed reasoning to come to a false conclusion.

So, there's our excuse. What's yours?

Secondly, as many of the folks who commented rightfully pointed out, we are the most hated minority in the country (for no other reason that the above irrational misconception). Had this little diatribe been about blacks, gays, Asians, Hispanics, etc., etc., there would be no doubt as to its bigoted contents. But because we are so hated it doesn't matter. At this moment in time, we are an easy target. Which leads to my next and final point.

Some commentors said that we shouldn't give this idiot the time of day. That he is obviously not very bright and to give him attention is empowering him. Well, some might see it that way, as I'm sure he will (I can see it now: "See, no sense of humor. Those atheists are terrible, look how they came out en masse to attack me!"). However, I am a believer (pay attention McRae, I'm about to give you an example of something an atheist like myself might believe in) that people do these things, say these things, exactly because no one calls them on it. Some can argue that if you ignore them, they will go away. I would like to ask those people if they see the sweeping anti-atheist prejudice in the country going away? It's not, is it? In that case, I say that everytime we see an example of opinions like this being put out there, working to misinform others, we stomp that shit out like a use-up campfire. What does Smokey say: Only you can prevent forest fires. Only you. And only we can prevent the high and mighty religious majority from continuing enjoying the unfair privilege they've enjoyed for far too long. It's time to even the playing field, and that means forcing them to acknowledge our rightful equality as human beings and of citizens of this country. Say it loud, say it proud--we are godless. Get used to it.

19 July 2008

Atheist Blogroll

Wrong In Their Mind Tanks has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Big Thanks to Mojoey!

Secular Coalition Action Alerts

The Secular Coalition for America does important work in that they are the only group I know of actively lobbying for non-theists in Washington. As you can imagine, they carry a rather heavy load. What can you do to help? Well, you can regularly swing up their website and see if they've got any Action Alerts up. At the moment, there are three.

Stop the Passage of the Boy Scouts Commemorative Coin: What? The Boy Scouts? What harm could this possibly do? What's wrong with the Boy Scouts, you might ask? Well, the Boy Scouts of America rather explicitly discriminates against non-theists as well as homosexuals. Yes, the BSA declaration of Religious Principle states that:
no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. In the first part of the Scout Oath or Promise the member declares, ‘On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law.’ The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship and are wholesome precepts in the education of the growing members.
While courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of the BSA having their own membership guidelines as a private organization (fine--outdated and hateful, but fine), there has been ample and rightful litigation trying to prevent the BSA from receiving any federal funds. Want in on the act? Click here and contact your Senators.

Next, is the effort to Stop Federal Funding of Religious Education. Surely this is something we can all get behind--that is, anyone remotely interested in preserving what's left of our tattered education system, consistently beleaguered with an endless stream of anti-science confrontations.

This month, the Senate Committee on Appropriations voted to continue funding for the DC Opportunity Scholarship program. Sounds inocuous enough, but as the SCA explains:
This program allows parents in the District of Columbia to send their children to religious schools with tuition vouchers funded by American taxpayers.
'Nuff said. Once again, our non-theistic dollars trickle away from our wallets and into the hands of those who perpetuate the plague of irrational thinking in this country--our government is trying to make our country dumber. Click here to say NO.

And finally, please tell Heath and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt that the "conscience clause" is, indeed, unconsciencable. He has teamed up with everyone's favorite moron President to allow medical professionals to refuse treatment that goes against their personal religious beliefs. The SCA says:
Already, a “conscience clause” exists in federal law that allows a medical professional to opt out of performing a procedure or delivering a product if it violates his/her “conscience.” But now, the “conscience clause” is taken a step further and jeopardizes any woman’s ability to get complete and accurate information and services.
How are they doing this exactly? Huffington states:
In a spectacular act of complicity with the religious right, the Department of Health and Human Services Monday released a proposal that allows any federal grant recipient to obstruct a woman's access to contraception. In order to do this, the Department is attempting to redefine many forms of contraception, the birth control 40% of Americans use, as abortion.
What does this 40% include? It includes the pill, the patch, the shot, the ring, the IUD, and emergency contraception. So, pretty much anything that's not a condom will be defined as "abortion" and the way abstinence only education is trying depserately to phase out condom use, pretty soon we'll all be awash in STDs, babies, and babies with STDs as far as the eye can see. Does this thought horrify you as much as it does me? Then, please, click here.

- - -

Some folks say to ignore the fundamentally religious--that they are fringe, they are not mainstream, and they do no real harm. Pay no attention to the loonies. That is not my opinion--these people are sneaky bastards and, most important, they know how to work the system. Do not let them.

Like I said, the SCA does important work. Please support them by going to these links and doing what you can--supplement an easy email with a snail mail letter, or even a phone call to your representative. And please consider a financial donation to the SCA. They rely completely on our donations, so you know every little bit helps. Wouldn't it be nice to know that at least some of your money is serving your own interests--to fight against having your money spent on the interests of religious crazy people? I'm making my donation today.

18 July 2008

Atheist Nexus

Atheist Nexus, a brand-spankin'-new social networking site for us freethinking heathens, has been doing a brisk business as of late. What I mean by that is that atheists have been joining at a mind-boggling pace. Okay, 'mind-boggling' might be too strong a word. It's all relative to expectation, I suppose. Had you asked me how well a social networking site for atheists would do, I don't think I would have had an answer. Through frequenting a handful of atheist blogs, I could never really tell if atheists wanted to form a community, or if they wanted to stay as far away from each other as possible. It's the whole 'herding cats' phenomenon that I speak of.

The success of Atheist Nexus, though, tells me there is a need for this sort of thing, and while some atheists may pooh-pooh the whole concept--being the rebels that they are--I think it serves a very important roll. If you peruse through the profiles, you will find a lot of I'm the only one that I know of, or stories of feeling the need to lay low, be quiet about their atheism, the fear of losing one's job. I myself was shocked to find someone in my very own small town just yesterday. It wasn't that I was surprised that there were other atheists here (we're a college town, full of professors), but to make contact with one that felt strongly enough about his own atheism that he would sign up for a site like Atheist Nexus--that was something, that was different. Suddenly, the world of atheism got a little smaller. I almost had an only gay-in-the-village-moment.

So, now we have a hub where we can all meet, get to know one another, trade recipes and skills, make contact, congregate--and when that happens, who knows what activism will branch off and grow outwards, sticking in the eyes of the larger world. Again, this will be pooh-poohed by those who feel that being a social pariah, being different from the mainstream, is somehow synonymous with being an atheist. Those people can enjoy the time they spend in their parents' basements, hating the world. When we who recognize the value of community succeed in making the world friendlier for atheists, they can either thank us, or they can go find another reason to alienate themselves from society.

16 July 2008

PZ Myers and the Explosive Cracker

Much has been blogged since last week's Cracker-Gate, involving PZ Myers and, and then Bill Donohue of the Catholic League (I believe he has a specially evolved organ that detects even the slightest insult to Catholicism; this organ will also explode and kill him if he doesn't spend every last bit of strength he has making the insulter pay through the most extreme means possible). There has been support, and there has been anger. Some of the anger isn't even coming from the Catholics; it's coming from fellow atheists. And the argument seems reasonable enough--this was nothing more than a ridiculous college-esque prank and it does nothing but shed poor light on the atheist community. This is, indeed, one way to look at it.

We can blame the student who started it. Or not:
Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith.

"When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him," Cook said. "I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they'd leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth."

A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that's why he brought it home with him.

"She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand," Cook said, adding she wouldn't immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.
Yeah, we can blame him for not knowing what psychotic freaks are housed in the church during mass. We can also blame him for attempting to satiate a friend's curiosity about the church. And frankly, can we blame his for this:
Cook is upset more than $40,000 in student fees have been allocated to support religious organizations on campus for the 2008-2009 school year, according to student government records. He denied he is holding the Eucharist hostage to protest that support.
I can't. The fact is those people reacted like insane people. Insane. And the fact is that that's a whole lot of cashola for student groups on a public campus.

Point Number One: That was a very serious overreaction from folks who get a favorably disproportionate amount of free money. And then to go on about the body of Christ being taken hostage? Please. And frankly, it's all fine and good (and incredibly stupid) until threats are made regarding this kid's college standing. Then, suddenly it's not okay. It's not just a harmless, if not creepy and self-righteous, overreaction. Now they mean to do some real damage. And so Myers goes on to make point Number Two.

Might I remind folks, though, that this isn't about Myers's approach. Myself--I don't care so much about the approach. Complaining that Myers desecrating a cracker--or even admitting that he would if given half the chance--sheds a poor light on us is, frankly, dishonest. How many atheists see a consecrated communion wafer as the body of Christ? Raise your hands. I quick count of the room sees none. How many--if these crackers tasted anything unlike cardboard--would have these with their lunch? Oh look, a full house. In this light, is Myers expressing anything but the truth, especially if he's representing the atheist community? This is Point Number Two.

The fact that very, very few of us give two shites for this cracker and truly resent being forced to respect it and a variety of other religious expressions, but then act as if the very act Myers recommends is indeed bad (or is the characteristic of) a 'bad atheist' is, well, illogical. At least, to us it should be. Myers is saying that we don't have to bend to anyone's freakshow, religious customs/rituals. We have no obligation to respect any of it, not in the least. Nor should we be forced to.

So, let's look at a chronological time line of concepts and events, as I see them.

-We insist we don't have an obligation to respect any aspect of others' religious beliefs/rituals/idols, etc.

-There is an instance--one of so, so many throughout this country--of religious preference in a public system (University of Minnesota is indeed a public school): "Cook is upset more than $40,000 in student fees have been allocated to support religious organizations on campus for the 2008-2009 school year, according to student government records."

-Though he denies the cracker incident is a protest to that fact, I believe it is a legitimate one.

-Cracker is manhandled by heathen.

-Catholics freak because they feel their idols are being disrespected. Action is taken on both sides: "Cook filed an official abuse complaint with UCF's student conduct court regarding the alleged physical force. Following that complaint, Brinati said church members filed their own official complaints of disruptive conduct. Punishment for either offense could result in suspension or expulsion."

-Myers one-ups this college kid by offering to desecrate any communion wafers that happen to come his way.

-Catholics freak. Atheists freak.

Now, as far as I can see, those atheists have indeed joined the Catholic League not only in saying that we have no right to respect or disrespect any religious representations as we see fit, but that what Cook did and what PZ did (two acts of protest against things I was sure we all agreed were wrong, wrong, wrong) are indeed universally, somehow inherently "wrong." They are saying that desecration of a cracker is not a positive act of protest against a thoroughly oppressive state demonstrating that we should be able to do what we want with the cracker based on our beliefs, or more appropriately, our lack thereof. We are joining them in assigning the acts as morally bad and thus they reflect badly on us. We are saying that the act we claim is morally neutral (and in some cases positive) based on our philosophy of reality is actually as they say it is--morally wrong.

I see both acts, by Cook and Myers, as protest positive. I don't see them as done for fun or profit. I see both making a legitimate point. Cook pointed out that public funds should be distributed evenly and not balanced towards religious organizations. Myers pointed out that we have a right to protest this prejudice against us and the preference for them, to be treated fairly, and we can express that in any way we see fit--including wiping our asses with their 'Body of Christ,' if we so choose. The fact is that loud and seemingly obnoxious acts are more likely to get peoples' attention, and for that, so long as the purpose is legitimate (and I believe this is) I express my support. It's a shame some atheists have decided, once that attention had been gained, to lose a bit of spine and throw up their hands to the Catholic League, tucking tails beneath them and slapping their own wrists muttering "Bad, bad atheist."