On Santa and Ghosts (Holy or Otherwise)

Recently, while scouring the Internet for something not even remotely related, I found an article that struck quite a chord with me.  It’s a couple of years old, but it seemed to resonate.  The news piece, ‘Santa Claus does not exist’ school tells stunned kids relates the horror experienced by parents (and, perhaps, some children) when they were told be a teacher that Mr. Claus does not, indeed, exist.  Perhaps it’s offensive to teach children certain truths, but the “outcry” (remember, this is just a random news article) was quite ridiculous.  Quotes from concerned parents seemed to focus on the horrors of this atrocious act of the dissemination of truth.  Some quotes:

“What gives the school the right to decide when children should know the truth about such a harmless matter when knowing the truth does take away that little bit of magic?”

Amanda Piovesana, whose daughter is in Year 5, said: “I am upset because it has taken away a magical part of Christmas for my daughter and a teacher should not have the right to do that. My little girl was very upset.”

Angry parents at Calcot Junior School in Berkshire said the teacher had ‘ruined’ Christmas for their children.

“As parents it is for us to decide when we tell our children and some of the parents in that class could have got away with it for another year and now they can’t.

“I just hope my little girl does not twig because she is in the year below.”

“It is like a loss of innocence. Children should have the right to stay innocent for as long as possible.”

Perhaps the last one sums it up well, as I believe it’s confusing innocence with ignorance.  Where’s the “guilt” in knowing the truth?  Keep in mind that teachers have been fired over this. 

The issue, to me, is that this culture of teaching children flat-out lies is not only acceptable, but to even suggest that people be exposed to the truth is a source of great exception.  Does this sound roughly analogous to other popular myths? 

Religion is a perfect example of this thinking.  Here’s where otherwise intelligent and rational human beings can abandon all reason.  They have no need for evidence and fight viciously against those that claim that their make-believe characters are not real.  Many of these same people have no problem teaching their children that a God who knows and loves them will not hesitate to sentence them to an eternity of torture simply because they choose to question his existence.  Of course, it’s good to question everything else…  Just not Jesus… Or Father Christmas. 

We all learn many “lessons” from an early age that are hard to let go of.  These lessons can include emotions related to love, compassion, hatred, fear, racism, and just about everything in between.  But as we grow older, most of us learn to question what we’re taught.  We simply can’t grow as a species if people cling to superstitions, ghosts, and good ol’ classic fear of the unknown.  Religion looks to be one of the last of these areas to fall, but I predict that it’s inevitable.

And for those who still might be interested in some scientific issues posed by the presence of St. Nick and his merry band of characters, I invite you to review The Physics of Santa Claus.  And to all a good night!

Advertisements

Colbert’s Greatest Hits: Atheism

I often find it refreshing to hear intelligent commentary in near mainstream media.  Stephen Colbert is a good example.  While I don’t often watch his show (perhaps because I can’t handle laughing at the neve-rending stream of disasters created by the Bush Administration), I do respect the show overall.

Comedy Central Insider recently posted a page that links to Colbert’s 8 Best Atheist Moments.  In the various videos, he talks to well-know atheists, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others.  Here are some samples:

Most of the comments are both witty and thought-provoking (especially for those who haven’t given any serious consideration to these topics).  However, it’s kind of sad to see that Colbert himself often cuts off some of the more interesting comments.  He seems to straddle the popular middle ground that despite all of the ridiculous assumptions about the theory of a God, that somehow it’s a plausible theory. 

More Atheist Quotes

I have posted numerous times before about quotes related to atheism.  Some of these are so well written, that it’s difficult to ignore the ideas (although most Americans seem to have found a way).  Overall, I hope that readers will be provoked to think and question their beliefs instead of being overtaken by the more base emotion of feeling offended.  AtheistBlogger.com has a new collection, 101 Atheist Quotes.  While I’ve read most before, here are some of my favorites:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. – Richard Dawkins

Faith means not wanting to know what is true. – Friedrich Nietzsche

We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes. – Gene Roddenberry

If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul. – Isaac Asimov

The world holds two classes of men – intelligent men without religion, and religious men without intelligence. – Abu’l‐Ala al Ma’arri

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. – Christopher Hitchens

It will yet be the proud boast of women that they never contributed a line to the Bible. – George W. Foote

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. – Stephen Roberts

God should be executed for crimes against humanity. – Bryan Emmanuel Gutierrez

To say that atheism requires faith is as dim-witted as saying that disbelief in pixies or leprechauns takes faith. Even if Einstein himself told me there was an elf on my shoulder, I would still ask for proof and I wouldn’t be wrong to ask. – Geoff Mather

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God? – Epicurus

Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a God superior to themselves. Most Gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child. – Robert A Heinlein

I refuse to believe in a god who is the primary cause of conflict in the world, preaches racism, sexism, homophobia, and ignorance, and then sends me to hell if I’m ‘bad’. – Mike Fuhrman

Faith does not give you the answers, it just stops you asking the questions. – Frater Ravus

If we expect God to subscribe to one religion at the exclusion of all the others, then we should expect damnation as a matter of chance. This should give Christians pause when expounding their religious beliefs, but it does not. – Sam Harris

Most religions prophecy the end of the world and then consistently work together to ensure that these prophecies come true. – Anonymous

The list obviously includes some famous names – people who have really advanced the field of human thought.  I hope their contributions will help open more peoples’ eyes in a world that seems to cling to superstition and mystical beliefs.

More Proof of Bush 2.0

The comparisons between George Bush and John McCain are hard to overlook, though it seems that most Americans have found a way.  The evidence seems to show that McCain will carry on the Bush legacy of bumbling and ignorance.  As with Bush, we have always had all the information we need to see that McCain is not a very intelligent man.  His mind seems to be clouded by religion, and he seems to have no interest in learning about things he doesn’t understand. 

It’s refreshing to see a mainstream media outlet like CNN post a valid opinion on what could be our nation’s second greatest disaster.  Jack Cafferty asks some important questions in Commentary: Is McCain another George W. Bush?:

It occurs to me that John McCain is as intellectually shallow as our current president. When asked what his Christian faith means to him, his answer was a one-liner. “It means I’m saved and forgiven.” Great scholars have wrestled with the meaning of faith for centuries. McCain then retold a story we’ve all heard a hundred times about a guard in Vietnam drawing a cross in the sand.

He was asked “if evil exists.” His response was to repeat for the umpteenth time that Osama bin Laden is a bad man and he will pursue him to “the gates of hell.” That was it.

He was asked to define rich. After trying to dodge the question — his wife is worth a reported $100 million — he finally said he thought an income of $5 million was rich.

One after another, McCain’s answers were shallow, simplistic, and trite. He showed the same intellectual curiosity that George Bush has — virtually none.

John McCain graduated 894th in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy at Annapolis. His father and grandfather were four star admirals in the Navy. Some have suggested that might have played a role in McCain being admitted. His academic record was awful. And it shows over and over again whenever McCain is called upon to think on his feet.

The conclusion is concise, well-written, and terrifying:

George Bush’s record as a student, military man, businessman and leader of the free world is one of constant failure. And the part that troubles me most is he seems content with himself.

He will leave office with the country $10 trillion in debt, fighting two wars, our international reputation in shambles, our government cloaked in secrecy and suspicion that his entire presidency has been a litany of broken laws and promises, our citizens’ faith in our own country ripped to shreds. Yet Bush goes bumbling along, grinning and spewing moronic one-liners, as though nobody understands what a colossal failure he has been.

I fear to the depth of my being that John McCain is just like him.

Sadly, history shows that these “qualities” are what will make McCain a serious candidate in the 2008 election.

Kinky Sex Stories – According to God

Of the Bible’s many failings related to accuracy and consistency, perhaps its treatment of the topic of sex is the most entertaining.  Apparently, the supreme creator of the Universe finds little issue with slavery and the treatment of women as property.  But, the topic of sex (which is most often portrayed as a heinous taboo) shows some clear signs of repression.  Leave it to the team at Cracked.com to discover some examples from their religious studies.  A summary from The 6 Raunchiest, Most Depraved Sex Acts (From the Bible):

#6. Lot Has Drunk, Drunk Sex in a Cave. With His Daughters.

#5. Jacob, Two Sisters, And What the Hell, a Handmaid

#4. God Gives You Tips on How to Hold Your Load

#3. I Thought She Was a Prostitute, But She Was My Daughter-in-Law!

#2. Solomon Gives Boobies 10 Fingers Up

#1. Gods and Girls

If you thought that porn scripts seemed overly contrived, be sure to check out the staring role that dark rooms and veils seem to have on the otherwise good sense of the denizens of Godland. 

OK, so perhaps the team at Cracked.com is not comprised of poets.  Still, they do a good job of exposing what a disturbing number of people consider to the literal word of God.  “The Good Book”, indeed.

The Terms of Afterlife

The obvious apparent purpose of many religious myths is to give people some form of peace about a future after they or a loved one dies.  The need for some kind of comfort seems so extreme that people will accept just about any wacky idea.  For example, Christians believe that a God that created, knows, and loves them, wouldn’t think twice about sentencing them to an eternity of torture.  But, as long as they accept him as a savior, all will be well.  Others, of course, can [literally] go to Hell.  Potentially thorny issues, such as children who die early and haven’t (and actually cannot rationally) accept Jesus going to Hell are conveniently swept under the rug.  The same applies to questions about how a loving and just God (who would know where everyone’s going to end up) justify the mass-torturing of approximately half the population of Earth. 

Of course, Christian beliefs are the only game in town when it comes to crazy theories about the unknown and what’s beyond.  Cracked.com has a post about The 5 Most Ridiculously Unjust Religious Afterlives.  These are all actually based on real beliefs and most are hilarious at face value (Cracked’s often childish translations are entertaining but also superfluous).  Here are some examples:

Regarding Zoroastrianism:

Judgement is decreed by the individual’s ability to cross the Bridge of Chinvat, the account keeper (a St. Peter type person). Cross the bridge and you’re in paradise, sitting on your golden stool in Mazda’s house of songs. Fall off and you’re dropping to hell.

Aztec Beliefs:

The Aztecs did not believe your fate was based on whether or not you lived a moral life. Instead, they believed that whichever of the three afterlives you got depended largely on your role in society and the manner of your death. So you could be a total shit who spent their adult life breaking into blind people’s houses to move their furniture around, and depending on how you died, you could still find yourself sitting by the side of some god in the late afternoon sun, eating cheese and drinking wine with your feet in the pool.

Tribal Ancestor Worship:

For some tribes, the souls of the deceased just mill around in a happy state, so long as the skulls or bodies they previously belonged to were looked after. Basically if you had a family who was good at looking after your skull, times were good. If your offspring were lazy assholes who turned your skull into a bong, then you were in for a pretty tough time

Egyptians:

The Egyptians believed that mummification was an essential part of a journey towards a good afterlife, and mummification was expensive. It took seventy days, and after that, you had to be buried in a tomb which was acceptable in the eyes of the Gods. Which was, again, expensive. Basically, if you were a horrible little poor person, the Gods extended a middle finger in your direction and packed you on your way to eternal oblivion.

Of course, the typical religious mind can quickly and summarily reject the absurdness of these beliefs, unless they are from their own religion. 

Church Signs Gone Wild

While few things related to religion actually shock me these days, there’s seems to be no bounds to the ridiculousness of church signs.  Most of these make even less sense than the religions they’re trying to peddle.  Even so, it’s amazing how poorly-written some of the statements can be.  HolyTaco.com provides a small smattering of signs in Church Signs That Won’t Make You Go To Church.  From the article:

Driving across the rural parts of America you’ll undoubtedly notice the large number of churches that use their signs to try and draw people into their church with a joke or a pun or some good old fashioned fire and brimstone fear. The problem is, the comedy stylings of most church pastors is kind of like a combination of Yakov Smirnoff and Rush Limbaugh. You either get the world’s crappiest puns or some sort of evil, hate filled message that’s supposed to scare you into attending, or a totally awesome unintentional double entrendre. Either way, these signs are the only interesting thing to look at when you’re driving from Pennsylvania to Colorado.

Here are two highlights.  The first refers to how God apparently chooses to communicate with us.

 JesusSaves

Of course, causing all of this pain and suffering is far easier than actually providing any evidence for his existence.  I especially like the “Welcome” at the end – it really makes me want to check it out.  Note how the statement is attributed to “God”, as if there were any doubt who could be so malicious, cruel, or capricious.

But wait, there’s more:

JesusSaves2

… And probably the less said about the second one, the better.

Religion and Imaginary Friends

It’s a simple fact that the overwhelming majority of people that claim to be religious know extremely little about what they believe.  In previous posts, I’ve cited statistics related to how little American “Christians” know about their Bible.  I doubt most of them could explain away the questions of a ten-year-old.  But, I can understand that group of people – they’re either not interested or are otherwise unmotivated to examine (let alone question) their beliefs. 

What tends to surprise me more are those who claim to actually research their religion and still appear to believe in it.  Just about all religious texts are filled with obvious contradictions.  They’re internally consistent (let alone completely inaccurate with respect to the real world).  Still, the majority of humanity professes to believe in a supreme creator of the universe.

Thanks to a link from RichardDawkins.net, I ran into a web site called God is imaginary.  As the title suggests, the site includes a list of “50 simple proofs” that God does not exist.  It focuses on Christianity, but many of the proofs apply just as well to any religious beliefs.  Here’s a list from the site’s Table of Contents:

    1. Try praying
    2. Statistically analyze prayer
    3. Look at all historical gods
    4. Think about science
    5. Read the Bible
    6. Ponder God’s plan
    7. Understand religious delusion
    8. Think about Near Death Experiences
    9. Understand ambiguity
    10. Watch the offering plate
    11. Notice that there is no scientific evidence
    12. See the magic
    13. Take a look at slavery
    14. Examine Jesus’ miracles
    15. Examine Jesus’ resurrection
    16. Contemplate the contradictions
    17. Think about Leprechauns
    18. Imagine heaven
    19. Notice that you ignore Jesus
    20. Notice your church
    21. Understand Jesus’ core message
    22. Count all the people God wants to murder
    23. Listen to the Doxology
    24. Ask why religion causes so many problems
    25. Understand evolution and abiogenesis
    26. Notice that the Bible’s author is not “all-knowing”
    27. Think about life after death
    28. Notice how many gods you reject
    29. Think about communion
    30. Examine God’s sexism
    31. Understand that religion is superstition
    32. Talk to a theologian
    33. Contemplate the crucifixion
    34. Examine your health insurance policy
    35. Notice Jesus’ myopia
    36. Realize that God is impossible
    37. Think about DNA
    38. Contemplate the divorce rate among Christians
    39. Realize that Jesus was a jerk
    40. Understand Christian motivations
    41. Flip a coin
    42. Listen when “God talks”
    43. Realize that a “hidden God” is impossible
    44. Think about a Christian housewife
    45. Consider Noah’s Ark
    46. Ponder Pascal’s Wager
    47. Contemplate Creation
    48. Compare prayer to a lucky horseshoe
    49. Look at who speaks for God
    50. Ask Jesus to appear

While there’s nothing revolutionary about many of these ideas, I found them to be particularly well-written.  I hope they’ll have the intended effect on readers, but somehow doubt it.  After all, if something is taken “on faith”, then proof really doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Super Powers in The Bible

BiblePowersIt has always been interesting to me how people often seem to put a lot of stock in the most absurd of stories. We tend to believe in hidden weapons of mass destruction that no one seems to be able to find.  We think everyone’s out to get us (just leave your front door unlocked for a single night, and who knows what evil might get in).  And phrases like “Evil-doers” are now part of our standard language.

Of course, you’d be hard-pressed to find any fiction that’s more outrageously unbelievable as The Bible (with special commendations to the Old Testament).  Even highly-selective excerpts and numerous revised translations can’t hide the absurdity of a talking snake (which, incidentally, was involved in the downfall of humanity).  Many of the myths focused around nature, or “borrowed” heavily from other religions.  While there’s almost no chance that any of this stuff is true, it’s still entertaining.

And on the topic of entertainment, I highlight recommend Cracked.com’s 5 Superpowers From the Bible That Put Marvel and DC to Shame   Cracked.com.  You learn about zombies, snakes, and magical powers that can be used to control the flow of water.  It’s great stuff that even Superman might envy.  Check it out, but I recommend you stay away from the original source material.

The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos

A commonly argument for religion is that, without it, humanity would have no basis for morality.  The world would devolve into chaos and a seemingly endless stream of bad thins would happen.  I find this argument to be exceptionally annoying in that it ignores all evidence, research, and reason to the contrary.  Sam Harris addressed this issue in a brief but thorough examination of the issue in The Myth of Secular Chaos (you can find a better-formatted version on RichardDawkins.net).  In the article, Harris addresses some of the most common arguments:

1. If a book like the Bible were the only reliable blueprint for human decency that we had, it would be impossible (both practically and logically) to criticize it in moral terms. But it is extraordinarily easy to criticize the morality one finds in the Bible, as most of it is simply odious and incompatible with a civil society.

The notion that the Bible is a perfect guide to morality is really quite amazing, given the contents of the book. Human sacrifice, genocide, slaveholding, and misogyny are consistently celebrated. Of course, God’s counsel to parents is refreshingly straightforward: whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13:24, 20:30, and 23:13–14). If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18–21, Mark 7:9–13, and Matthew 15:4–7). We must also stone people to death for heresy, adultery, homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, worshiping graven images, practicing sorcery, and a wide variety of other imaginary crimes.

Most Christians imagine that Jesus did away with all this barbarism and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration. He didn’t. (See Matthew 5:18–19, Luke 16:17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 20–21, John 7:19.) Anyone who believes that Jesus only taught the Golden Rule and love of one’s neighbor should go back and read the New Testament. And he or she should pay particular attention to the morality that will be on display if Jesus ever returns to earth trailing clouds of glory (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9, 2:8; Hebrews 10:28–29; 2 Peter 3:7; and all of Revelation).

It is not an accident that St. Thomas Aquinas thought heretics should be killed and that St. Augustine thought they should be tortured. (Ask yourself, what are the chances that these good doctors of the Church hadn’t read the New Testament closely enough to discover the error of their ways?) As a source of objective morality, the Bible is one of the worst books we have. It might be the very worst, in fact—if we didn’t also happen to have the Qur’an.

It is important to point out that we decide what is good in the Good Book. We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses; we read that a woman found not to be a virgin on her wedding night should be stoned to death, and we (if we are civilized) decide that this is the most vile lunacy imaginable. Our own ethical intuitions are, therefore, primary. So the choice before us is simple: we can either have a twenty-first-century conversation about ethics—availing ourselves of all the arguments and scientific insights that have accumulated in the last two thousand years of human discourse—or we can confine ourselves to a first-century conversation as it is preserved in the Bible.

In addition, here are the other two points addressed in the article:

If religion were necessary for morality, there should be some evidence that atheists are less moral than believers.

If religion really provided the only conceivable objective basis for morality, it should be impossible to posit a nontheistic objective basis for morality. But it is not impossible; it is rather easy.

Obviously, few Christians (at least in the United States) read their Bibles.  And extremely few actually questions its teachings.  I contend that the majority of the world’s problems (at least ones that are human-made) stem from religion.  The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition clearly could have been handled better (or, best of all, would not have occurred at all).  We have a President in the White House – one that is widely considered the worst in the history of the United States – who claims that God guides his decisions.  And no one seems to question that.

Intelligence vs. Religion

Several studies have shown that there’s a strong positive correlation between intelligence and atheism.  In fact, the U.S. is somewhat of an anomaly in the fact that we have a fairly decent educational system (at least when compared to the entire world).  We have elected (or appointed, as the case may be) a President who says that God comes to him in dreams and has commanded him to attack Iraq.  Yet people, for the most part, seem to be OK with it.  After all, how can you question an irrational belief?

The Telegraph has posted another article that draws what shouldn’t be a surprising conclusion.  From Intelligent people ‘less likely to believe in God’:

He told Times Higher Education magazine: “Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.”

He said religious belief had declined across 137 developed nations in the 20th century at the same time as people became more intelligent.

Dr David Hardman, principal lecturer in learning development at London Metropolitan University, said: “It is very difficult to conduct true experiments that would explicate a causal relationship between IQ and religious belief. Nonetheless, there is evidence from other domains that higher levels of intelligence are associated with a greater ability – or perhaps willingness – to question and overturn strongly felt institutions.”

I have written previously about the strong correlation between religiosity and rates such social issues as teen pregnancy and violence.  You can see that within the U.S. (e.g., in the Bible Belt and in Republican States) as well as throughout the globe.  Yet, people seem to cling to the idea that religion is good.

A common response to this kind of evidence (when there’s even one at all), is that the belief in God is fundamentally good, but people just seem to always get it wrong.  That is, it’s the people that are the problem – not faith itself.  I clearly disagree.  If faith is generally defined as the belief in something without evidence, then how can it be considered a good thing? 

And then there are those who maintain that religious beliefs should be personal.  I disagree there, as well.  If the goal is the search for truth, then we should treat religious claims like any other.  We should demand evidence and research the claims that are being made.  The truth is, of course, that there is no reliable evidence whatsoever for the existence of a supreme being of any sort.  Those that choose to believe in one should admit at least that much. 

Finally, it’s always interesting to me how most religious people can quickly dismiss any religion other than their own.  They readily see the internal and external contradictions and hypocrisy associated with any God other than their own (or, in some cases, even within different interpretations of their own holy books).  Richard Dawkins sums it up nicely in stating that most humans have chosen to disbelieve in thousands of religions (past, present, and most likely, future).  Some of us just go one further.

Also, as Dawkins has expressed in his book, The God Delusion, we should stop being “polite” to people who have indefensible views.  Just as we would correct people that make any wild assertion about math or science without any background, we should ask for more from those that claim to be faithful.  I’d like to think that the tide is turning (in the direction of rationalism), but the last decade or so in the United States is not a good sign.

Learning at the Creation Museum

American ignorance is, perhaps, at an all-time high.  In the past, I posted about The Creation Museum – a landmark that provides testimony to this fact.  A new article, Exploring the Creation Museum: American’s New Meccas of Fanatical Ignorance provides a powerful (though wordy and highly opinionated) review of a visit to the museum.  From the article:

For those of you who haven’t heard about this yet (and I’m surprised how many people still haven’t), The Creation Museum is the crowning achievement of religious stupidity – a shrine of ignorance that only America’s chewy center could play host to. It’s a $27 million dollar, 60,000 square foot state-of-the-art complex in Kentucky, designed to look and feel exactly like a science/natural history museum. It has elaborate dioramas of animals and nature, audio-visual presentations, animatronic dinosaurs, fossil replicas, diagrams of geological formations, and even a gift shop. But one small detail sets it distinctly apart from other science museums you’ve probably visited: There is not a single shred of science on display within its walls. Worse still, its very existence is a bold mockery of science itself.

The “exhibits” show dinosaurs coexisting with humans, and provide “science-like” explanations for things that science has clearly explained to thinking peoples’ satisfaction.  Ironically, this really does test visitors’ faith: They can just to believe in a supernatural world, or they can choose to think study it and find real answers.  It seems that the implicit answer for most people (at least those in the Bible Belt) is obvious.

Upcoming Film: Religulous (Bill Maher & Larry Charles)

Slashfilm reports on an upcoming documentary, titled Religulous.  This looks like it’s sure to be entertaining and informative.  You can see a trailer at the Religulous Movie Trailer post.  Also, check out the poster.

Larry Charles had this to say:

Comedian, acerbic commentator, raconteur, skeptic, seeker Bill Maher and I set off in search of answers to these questions in a raunchy, rude, irreverent, outrageous, and shocking nonfiction film about the greatest fiction ever told.

Set to the rhythms of “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Jesus Walks,” from the Western Wall to the Vatican, from self-professed messiahs to self professed Pariahs, we will not only expose the hypocrisy and corruption in organized religion but the absurdly hilarious logic that holds it together.

… and, from Bill Maher:

Since starting on Politically Incorrect in 1993, it has been my pleasure over the last decade and a half to make organized religion one of my favorite targets.  I often explained to people, “I don’t need to make fun of religion, it makes fun of itself.”  And, then I go ahead and make fun of it too, just for laughs.

With religious fanatics like George Bush and Osama bin Laden now taking over the world, it seemed to me in recent years that this issue — this cause of debunking the man behind the curtain — needed to have a larger, more insistent and focused forum than late night television.  I wanted to make a documentary, and I wanted it to be funny.  In fact, since there is nothing more ridiculous than the ancient mythological stories that live on as today’s religions, this movie would try to be a real knee slapper.  Unless, of course, you’re religious, then you might not like it.

Perhaps the only problem is that we’ll have to wait until October to see the film.  By then, Jesus Freaks might have taken over the world and have suppressed the film.  Perhaps we should pray for an early release of the film?

[Even More] Bored of Education: Teaching of Creationism in Schools

While it’s tempting to dismiss creationists (also known as those that subscribe to the belief of “Intelligent Design”), the sad truth is that they’re hardly the lunatic fringe.  Rather, beliefs in mystical, supernatural forces that tinker with the world (perhaps to trick us into believing falsehoods like evolution) are commonplace.  Popular Science reports on recent findings in One in Eight U.S. Biology Teachers Teaches Creationism.  Keeping in mind that this practice is illegal (and for good reason), here are the results as stated in the article:

The results of the first national survey of teachers about evolution in their classrooms are in. Darwin would quiver in his boots to learn that in this day and age, one in eight American biology teachers teach creationism and intelligent design as a sound alternative to his theory. In fact, 13 percent of the country’s teachers think they can run an excellent biology class without even mentioning Darwin or evolution. A few findings of note:

  • The surveyed teachers spent an average of 13.7 classroom hours per year on general evolutionary processes in their biology classes.
  • The majority spent no more than five hours a year on human evolution, and 17 percent did not cover it all.
  • Only two percent of teachers did not teach about evolution, human or otherwise, at all.
  • Thirteen percent of teachers thought an excellent biology course could exist without mentioning Darwin or evolutionary theory.
  • Twenty-five percent of teachers said that they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to creationism or intelligent design. About half of this subset—one in eight biology teachers—taught it not in critique but as a “valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species” and one that “many reputable scientists” endorse.
  • Sixteen percent of all teachers surveyed believe personally in the “young earth” story of origins: that human beings were created by God in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. About 48 percent of the general public believes this.

The survey, which was conducted by a team of Penn State political scientists last spring, assessed 939 randomly sampled U.S. biology teachers. It appears in PLoS Biology.

U.S. High Schools Schools Still Teaching Creationism

There’s probably no better indicator of the United States’ slide into irrationality and a world clouded by religion than the controversy over the teaching of creationism (aka, “Intelligent Design”) in American schools.  While the legal rulings are clear (that Creationism and ID are religious views that should not be taught in public schools), the ignorance of teachers seems to dominate what’s really being taught.  LiveScience.com reports in Creationism Creeps into U.S. Classrooms

One in eight U.S. high school biology teachers presents creationism or intelligent design in a positive light in the classroom, a new survey shows, despite a federal court’s recent ban against it.

And a quarter of the nation’s high school biology teachers say they devoted at least one or two classroom hours to the topics, with about half presenting it favorably and half presenting it as an invalid alternative.

Those results are part of a nationally representative, random sample of 939 teachers who filled out surveys between March 5, 2007, and May 1, 2007 on questions concerning the teaching of evolution. The figures have a 3 percent margin of error.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, also revealed that between 12 percent and 16 percent of the nation’s biology teachers are creationists, and about one in six of them have a “young Earth” orientation, which means they believe that human beings were created by God in their present form within the past 10,000 years.

Scientists, on the other hand, agree that humans evolved from a common primate ancestor in a process that stretches back tens of millions of years. The theory of evolution on which this is based is one of the most well-supported theories in science.

The remainder of the statistics and information paint a scary picture.  For example, 38% of adults believe that superstitious theories should be taught in schools.  It’s sad that, despite the clear outcome of the Dover Trial, so many Americans remain in the Dark Ages.  It all makes a return to rationality and reason to seem more distant than ever before.

McCain Supporter: Islam Must Die

In recent months, even the mainstream media hasn’t been able to ignore the horrific impacts of religion on American politics.  To me, it seems clear that Bush’s Holy War in the Middle East is something that the majority of Americans agree with (or at least choose to allow).  But certainly there should be a backlash against this, right?  In most ways, McCain seems to be every bit as fueled by war-related fantasies as is Dubya.  Therefore, I think it’s important to consider the views of his supporters and influencers.

BraveNewFilms.org reports in McCain’s “Spiritual Guide” Wants America to Destroy Islam:

You may have heard of Rev. John Hagee, the McCain supporter who said God created Hurricane Katrina to punish New Orleans for its homosexual “sins.”   Well now meet Rev. Rod Parsley, the televangelist megachurch pastor from Ohio who hates Islam.  According to David Corn of Mother Jones, Parsley has called on Christians to wage war against Islam, which he considers to be a “false religion.”  In the past, Parsley has also railed against the separation of church and state, homosexuals, and abortion rights, comparing Planned Parenthood to Nazis

Since the media won’t question McCain about his deeply bigoted pastor, it’s up to you to call attention to this issue.  Make McCain’s pastor problem a major story by forwarding this video to your family, friends, and colleagues.

We can’t let McCain get away with aligning himself with a religious leader who’s called for an all-out war on Islam, someone who draws no distinctions between Muslims and violent Islamic extremists.  Now is the crucial time to act.

Most Americans seem to believe that Islam is a violent religion and is a threat to their own views.  Surprisingly, most of these people seem to be able to overlook the horrific acts in the Old Testament and the amount of violence in the New Testament.  Studies have shown that few Christian Americans read the Bible, and that gives hate-mongers clear reign to influence politics.  At the very least, we should be asking questions about what McCain – someone who has stated that the doesn’t think Americans would mind another 1,000 years of war in the Middle East – really thinks.

Locked Up in the U.S.A.: Record Numbers of Inmates

It’s no secret that the United States is engulfed in a culture of fear.  From Amber Alerts to a resurgence of homophobia, we seem to be scared of everything.  Local news stations in small towns will go far out of their way to report on any death that might have occurred.  And it’s not uncommon for violent news to dominate the airways.  Unfortunately, this often trumps more important and relevant news, like tax cuts for the rich and scientific research.

Could this be one of the reasons for the large numbers of Americans that are in prison?  The New York Times reports on statistics in American Exception: Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations’:

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. 

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America’s extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

We have far fewer prisoners that the entire nation of China.  A lot of this information seems consistent with statistics cited in Michael Moore’s movie, Bowling for Columbine.  That movie explored Americans’ obsession with violence.

The sad thing is that imprisoning people should be a last resort.  The cost of housing a prisoner is tremendous (not to mention the lost opportunity cost of having an individual that cannot contribute to society in any way).  So what’s the cause?  The article offers some theories, but I think the rise of religion in the United States is partly to blame.  We showed how cowardly and blinded we could be after the September 11th attacks.  We follow a leader who says that God told him to attack a nation, completely unprovoked.  We watch for Amber Alerts that state that a “Gray Volkswagen” was involved in a kidnapping (how could that help anyone?).  Christians fear that a God that supposedly loves them would torture them for all eternity if they break some arbitrary rules.  When we can identify these people, why not lock them up to keep them away from the “good” people?

Living in any society comes with risks.  Unfortunately, it looks like Americans are so terrified of crime, that we would spend amazing amounts of money on removing people from society.

My Personal Experience: A Message from God

There’s no shortage of funny and relevant quotes about atheism (I’ll post more in the near future).  Recently, I was thinking about something that several of my “faithful” (that is, religious) friends tend to say: “Open your heart and listen to what God is trying to tell you.”  They then allude to conversations with the Almighty – a benevolent being who apparently wouldn’t hesitate to torture you for all eternity if you question his existence. 

Of course, this one-way “conversation” can apply to just about anything, from making financial decisions, to acceptance of violence and torture, and to deciding on one’s outlook on the world.  All reason, logic, and evidence points to the fact that there is no such creature.  But, assuming that one did exist (admittedly, a huge leap), this God would have given free-thinking humans not only the ability and motivation to question it, but also the backing facts and evidence. 

So, in response, I’d like to propose the following:

Religious people often tell me to listen to what God is trying to tell me. Assuming that such a Supreme Being exists, the message appears to be clear: “I don’t exist.”

I can only hope someone finds it clever enough to quote me. After all, if people can take their cues from the Bible…

Historians: Bush is Worst President in History

It’s always amazing to me that people continue to tolerate George Bush’s Presidency.  Perhaps some Americans think that he’s almost out of the White House, and that we should just sit back and wait it out.  But there’s still an incredible amount of damage that he and his puppet-masters can do, and the thought that King George will get away with all of his many crimes is appalling to me.

While most of us seem to hope that Bush was history already, it appears that historians can agree that his administration has been a disaster.  The History News Network reports in HNN Poll: 61% of Historians Rate the Bush Presidency Worst:

A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that the share of the American public that approves of President George W. Bush has dropped to a new low of 28 percent.

An unscientific poll of professional historians completed the same week produced results far worse for a president clinging to the hope that history will someday take a kinder view of his presidency than does contemporary public opinion.

In an informal survey of 109 professional historians conducted over a three-week period through the History News Network, 98.2 percent assessed the presidency of Mr. Bush to be a failure while 1.8 percent classified it as a success.

Asked to rank the presidency of George W. Bush in comparison to those of the other 41 American presidents, more than 61 percent of the historians concluded that the current presidency is the worst in the nation’s history. Another 35 percent of the historians surveyed rated the Bush presidency in the 31st to 41st category, while only four of the 109 respondents ranked the current presidency as even among the top two-thirds of American administrations.

Those are the statistics.  Hopefully the complaints are fairly obvious.  However, here’s one particularly well-worded summary:

“No individual president can compare to the second Bush,” wrote one [historian]. “Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world’s goodwill. In short, no other president’s faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large.”

But that’s just one “review” of his presidency.  I would encourage people to read the others to see if there’s any part of it with which they disagree.

Of course, Americans have grown into a habit of ignoring professionals and experts.  Along with reason, logic, and a reliance on evidence, these things seem to be just annoying aspects of living in our universe.  It’s safe to assume that few Americans will care about what historians say.  Still, the fact that we’ll allow the Bush Administration to continue to damage the nation makes me wonder: What won’t American accept or tolerate?  The list is getting shorter…

The OUT Campaign: Support Atheism

image

Part of the challenge with atheism is that many of us are too scared to speak up in public (does this sound familiar?).  If you’re interested in voicing your opinion on atheism, please visit The OUT Campaign, an organization that encourages atheists to Come OUT, Reach OUT, Speak OUT, Keep OUT, and Stand OUT.  I strongly agree with the site’s message that there are far more atheists out there than most people would like to recognize.  If you have a blog consider adding the Scarlet Letter of Atheism to your site and adding it to the Campaign’s BlogRoll.

The Sickness of "Faith Healing"

For those that tend to think that religion is just harmless fun for the deluded, it’s important to remember that the belief in the supernatural can have everyday consequences.  Such was the case for a less-than-two-year-old girl that was suffering from an otherwise easily treatable infection.  MSNBC reports in Faith-healing parents charged in baby’s death:

OREGON CITY, Ore. – A couple whose church preaches against medical care are facing criminal charges after their young daughter died of an infection that authorities said went untreated.

Carl and Raylene Worthington were indicted Friday on charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment in the death of their 15-month-old daughter Ava. They belong to the Followers of Christ Church, whose members have a history of treating gravely ill children only with prayer.

Ava died March 2 of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. The state medical examiner’s office has said she could have been treated with antibiotics.

The Worthingtons could face more than six years if convicted on the manslaughter charges and up to a year on the mistreatment charges, said Greg Horner, chief deputy district attorney. They were released on $250,000 bail, he said.

Encouragingly, the article states that this is the first time that laws designed to prevent this form of child abuse have actually been enforced.  That’s good news for these poor children whose only “crime” was being born to extremely superstitious and irrational parents.  I think it’s fair to expect the Bush Administration or some of his cronies to start treating faith-based healing as a real solution.  In any case, it’s probably not much worse than the current state of the U.S. healthcare system.

Obama on Religion and Atheism

In general, I would consider myself a supporter of Barack Obama.  He seems to be a rational man that’s not blinded by the “political” side of politics.  One part that does bother me, however, is his emphasis on the fact that he’s a Christian.  Even without the recent fiasco related to his preacher’s hateful comments, the idea that someone that believes in a supreme being doesn’t sit well with me.  After all, we’re living in a nation where the President states that God has told him to attack a nation, completely unprovoked.  And Americans seem to be fine with that (those that aren’t completely ignorant of it, at least).

But, assuming that a political candidate must profess (or at least, pretend) to believe in some magical Creator of the Universe in order to have a chance of being elected, Obama is probably the least of numerous evils.  At least the Mormon guy is out of the race. 

On the topic of his religious beliefs, I ran into a June, 2006 article by Obama titled Call to Renewal Keynote Address.  From the article:

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.

This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

So it sees that he’s at least capable of thinking about religion rationally.  And he’s not afraid to draw a line between absurd claims and the laws that govern the United States.  That alone is a huge step forward from the reign of King George. 

But I wonder if Obama really sees the many contradictions he pointed out.  The Bible is filled with tons of garbage that’s absolutely unconscionable by today’s standards.  Imagine if we had laws that made it acceptable to own slaves or murder children.  Yet, many Americans claim to believe in the literal truth of The Bible.  The other stories and examples of comments and statistics in this article should be terrifying.  But, because they’re based on “faith”, people accept these horrific views of the world. 

I truly hope that Obama can help save religious Americans from themselves.  Today, that seems to be a problem that God – even if one did exist – couldn’t solve.

Modern America: Number of Hate Groups Rises

Americans now live in a country where our leader claims that God commands him to make some of his most important (and devastating) decisions.  Rather than being shock and awed by the this unjustifiable belief in commanding voices in his head, we seem to just go along with it.  After all, how could anyone question “God”?  Never mind that hatred, injustice, cruelty, and economic ruin that it includes.

It should, perhaps, come as no surprise that extreme views are becoming increasingly common in the U.S. The Washington Post reports some statistics in Hate Rises.  From the article:

HateGroups-KKKThe dwindling Ku Klux Klan may seem like a relic of crueler times, but the number of hate groups operating in the United States has actually jumped a staggering 48 percent since 2000. Many of these groups have sprouted along the border in Arizona, California and Texas, where their ringleaders have often hijacked the immigration debate. – Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

This seems to be fairly typical of situations in which “faith” starts to control societies.  While the religious seem to preach incessantly about tolerance and openness, they’re messages (and the teachings of their God) are often exactly the opposite.  Today, homophobia is clearly on the rise (didn’t we get over this in the late 80’s?) and Americans accept that torture is necessary (despite the fact that the action is considered a crime against humanity).  Over a million Iraqis are dead subsequent to our baseless attack on the nation.  Yet, we have a leader that claims that God commanded all this, and he’s still in power.  The correlation between religion and the many things most faiths claim to oppose is staggering.  Until he can free ourselves from the tyranny of Dark Ages thinking, hate in America will continue to rise.

God and Bush: War was the "Right Decision"

One might hope that, with all of the violence caused by religion, that people would start to learn that there’s a strong correlation between the two.  But not in the United States: We have a leader who claims that God told him to attack Iraq.  Apparently, this all-powerful and “good” deity didn’t mention anything about torture or the complete lack of evidence for creating a new war that has killed over a million people (I guess they were destined for Hell, anyway). 

But the greatest hits don’t stop there.  Dubya’s at it again.  The Raw Story has posted an article, Cheering God, Bush says war with Iraq ‘will forever be’ the right decision, that presents some truly scary thoughts:

Speaking Tuesday to the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention, President Bush declared the decision to “remove” Saddam Hussein in 2003 the “right decision at this point in my presidency, and it will forever be the right decision.”

The 42-minute speech, covered in the New York Times, drew rousing applause, “mixing faith and foreign policy as he told a group of Christian broadcasters that his policies in the region were predicated on the beliefs that freedom was a God-given right and ‘every human being bears the image of our maker.'”

“The effects of a free Iraq and a free Afghanistan will reach beyond the borders of those two countries,” Bush said. “It will show others what’s possible. And we undertake this work because we believe that every human being bears the image of our maker. That’s why we’re doing this. No one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave.”

In another political and intellectual time, people would be horrified to hear this kind of thinking.  Sadly, in the U.S. it’s all just part of “business as usual.”  Let’s just hope that King George’s Holy Wars are nearing an end.

Majority of British Claim "No Religion"

It’s really easy to see the effects of religion in just about every aspect of American life, and I can hardly think of any positive effects.  The President of this country apparently believes that God has ordered him to create wars (and also has no problem with torture), and the American people seem to be quite content with that.  Fortunately, it looks like there’s some hope in the rest of the world.  The UK Times Online reports in Over half of Britons claim no religion.  From the article:

In a 23-page report published this evening, a UN rapporteur claims the 2001 Census findings that nearly 72 per cent of the population is Christian can no longer be regarded as accurate. The report claims that two-thirds of British people now do not admit to any religious adherence.

The report also calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England. The role and privileges of the established Church are challenged because they do not reflect “the religious demography of the country and the rising proportion of other Christian denominations.”

I’m really encouraged by this, and I hope we have seen the last time that the “pendulum” will swing toward religion.  I also suspect that the number of Christians is actually lower than reported here.  While statistics show that most people don’t lie on anonymous surveys, I wonder if that holds up when people thing that some God (who reportedly loves them) will sentence them to an eternity of torture if they don’t say that they believe. 

On a side note, the site also has many interesting links related to atheism and religion, including some interviews and commentary on Richard Dawkins.  Personally, I find listening to Dawkins to be extremely “enlightening” and refreshing, especially in the wake of the tragedy of the Bush Administration.

American Prejudices: By the Numbers

I have often quoted numbers and statistics related to the bigotry and close-mindedness of the American people.  Of particular concern to me is the relatively large numbers of people that they would never vote for a person based on certain factors (examples include being black, being a woman, being homosexual, or being an atheist).  PollingReport.com’s Politics page provides a summary of the various findings from the many different polls that are taken. 

Of particular interest to me is the result of a fairly recent Gallup Poll.  Here are the details and the question asked to over 1,000 adults in the United States:

“Between now and the 2008 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates — their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [see below], would you vote for that person?” Trend includes slight variation in wording.

Note: The left-hand column in the charts is used to express the dates of the results.  It’s extremely difficult to read, but it does convey the data.

There are many results in the list that I find disheartening (and others that I find downright scary).  For example, Atheists rank at the absolute bottom of the list.  Put another way, no single group is more despised by American adults.  Anyone who planned to run for President would at least have to pay lip service to religion (read: Christianity) in order to have a chance of leading the country. 

Note, however, that almost anyone would vote for a Catholic.  Apparently, issues such as hypocrisy in the church and widespread, organized child sex rings aren’t much of a detractor as long as one claims to adhere to these bizarre, outdated, and backwards practices.  People report that they are much more likely to vote for a Mormon or a homosexual than an atheist.  I have to wonder, though, how many of these people have any idea what it is that Mormons actually teach and believe.

On the bright side, the general trends are positive.  A large majority of people would vote for a black or female candidate (compare this to the early numbers, and we’re clearly headed in the right direction).  Still, it’s extremely frustrating to me that there’s so much outstanding prejudice in areas such as race and beliefs. 

Apparently, it’s fine for the leader of our nation to wage war on another country without evidence.  No one seems to care about his claim that God told him to do it.  Yet someone who chooses not to believe in supernatural forces, mysticism, miracles and superstition stands little or no chance of ever running the United States.

Note: The Polling Report page that I linked to earlier is a wealth of information from numerous other polls and studies into Americans’ attitudes.  Upon reviewing some of them, it looks like the Gallup Poll results were actually optimistic.

The Freedom From Religion Billboard Campaign

It’s quite difficult to drive a mile in most major American cities without seeing at least a few churches, bumper stickers, or billboards that advertise how much Jesus loves us.  Christian-related messages (no matter how poorly stated or taken out of context) seem to be all around us.  It hints that it’s somehow good to believe in something without evidence, reason, or logic.  Clearly, American policy under the Bush Administration has been shaped by this level of ignorance.

That’s why it’s good to see an organization actually fighting back.  BBSNews reports on the effort in Free Thought Takes on Organized Religion in National Billboard Campaign.  Below is an image of the sign along with a quote from the article:

imaginenoreligionbillboard

The national campaign is an effort to let Americans know that there is room for reason and clarity of thought, free from the dogma that organized religion uses to keep its flock in line; as well as donating.

Dan Barker, Foundation co-president and author of ‘Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist’ said “Many of our members, including generous sponsors in Ohio, want to balance all that religion on the roadside with some reason on the roadside.”

According to the FFRF, one of the local Ohio donors to the new nationwide sign campaign said, “Gov. Ted Strickland apparently needs to be reminded that many wonderful, patriotic, hard-working Ohioans do not ‘support churches.’ In fact, they believe that too much religious influence over state government is harming the state. In recent years, state officials have caved to the religious right on issues such as gay rights, the right of other consenting adults to live as they wish, and the display of Christian symbols on state property. These divisive actions have driven people from Ohio and distracted the state from the serious economic problems it faces.”

Obviously, we can expect a backlash against this type of “advertisement”.  It seems that many people who are reluctant to think for themselves have a problem with advertising the importance of free thought.  For some typical reactions, read some of the comments.  It’s always strange to me how threatened people feel by the mere suggestion that they question their “faith”.  If faith is the belief in something without evidence or reason, then shouldn’t we question (and, hopefully, reject) it?  For more information, see the Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s web site.

Obama on Religion

Religion will be an important topic for many votes in the 2008 elections.  We have some candidates that believe in some of the most outrageous and extremist views (even for religion) that are candidates for the highest position in the nation.  We already have a President that believes that God talks to him in dreams.  We have Republican candidates that believe in Mormonism and that think that God has chosen them to lead the United States.  In some ways, it seems like these people are almost ashamed of their beliefs (as I believe they should be).  They try not to talk about their ideology (which is often indefensible anyway) and cast enough doubt so the religious sheep of America overlook the plain contradictions in what they’re saying.

Much of that is expected nowadays from conservative Republican candidates.  But what about the Democracts?  Several months ago, Barack Obama spoke on the topic.  You can read the entire contents in Call to Renewal’ Keynote Address.  From the beginning of the article:

But today I’d like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments that we’ve been seeing over the last several years.

I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible; and we can raise up and pass out this Covenant for a New America. We can talk to the press, and we can discuss the religious call to address poverty and environmental stewardship all we want, but it won’t have an impact unless we tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.

Later, Obama presents the following, highlighting the standard view of many religious people:

For some time now, there has been plenty of talk among pundits and pollsters that the political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines. Indeed, the single biggest “gap” in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called Red States and those who reside in Blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.

Conservative leaders have been all too happy to exploit this gap, consistently reminding evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design.

He also recites some statistics that I have also posted on this blog in the past:

And if we’re going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

And later he talks about the difficulty and risk of trying to define public policy based on religion:

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on these statements.  On one hand, it finally restores a sense of separation between church and State (something that shouldn’t be optional in our current government).  However, I wish Obama would have gone further.  I wish he would have pointed out that there’s no evidence whatosever for the believe in a magical, supreme being (despite what the majority of under-educated people might claim).  I wish he had drawn the parallels between violence and religion.  And I wish he had said more about encouraging people to really question their faiths.  (On the last point I quoted, I do agree with Obama: If Christians were to read their bibles, I think there would be far fewer religious people.)

Then again, the most important thing for this country is to get religious zealots that manufacture wars out of office.  In that respect, Obama is a step in the right direction.  I just hope I live long enough to see nations abandon these silly notions of religion and start to thing logically, rationally, and based on study and evidence.  It’s a real long-shot based on the recent history of the United States, but I’m holding out hope.

Comic: God vs. Gays (for children)

While very few people seem to have any objection to it, religious indoctrination is worst when it’s aimed at children.  Children will instinctively accept most information from parents and teachers.  In some ways, this is for good reason.  But in other cases, that trust is clearly betrayed.  Chick Publications has a comic strip that does a great job of illustrating this.  In a comic strip called Birds and the Bees, author Jack T. Chick presents some truly scary ideas, apparently aimed directly at children.  Here’s are some excerpts from the comic strip (click on the images if they’re hard to see – the facial expressions and homophobic imagery will make it worth it).

First, the setup:

1052_04

Apparently, Satan is far more tolerant than God (as is evidenced by his not-so-attractive agents in the background).  The teacher’s not looking all that great herself.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say that she’s going to Hell for sure (although God loves her and really doesn’t want it to come to that).  It gets far better.  These children – whose education is unfairly restricted by laws – start to discover the “truth” for themselves…

 1052_10 1052_11

There are so many comments to be made from just these few panels.  First off, these children are learning (indirectly) from one girl’s grandfather.  I think it’s same to assume that this guy isn’t the best source for objective information about morals (or even the Bible). 

The fear element, to me, is both the most effective and the most offensive.  Kids want to be good, right?  And Hell is bad, of course.  So, they must do whatever they can – no matter how immoral or unconscionable – to stay out of there.  Note how much anger and hatred God seems to have.  I don’t even need to get into the details of the paradoxes and logical contradictions here (God clearly created “the Gays”, and he’s awfully frustrated for someone who’s supposed to be all-powerful). 

If you find yourself convinced by the comic strip, you should consider filling out the little form at the bottom of the page.  For the rest of us, I guess we’ll have to keep supporting our Godless ways of tolerance, acceptance, and non-religious education.

God and the U.S. Constitution According to Huckabee

The term “standards” seems hardly fitting when we evaluate the quality of political candidates in the United States.  We have a President who wages war with no evidence (other than, apparently, God’s voice in his head), and a population that seems to be just fine with that.  Worst of all, it seems that we’ve learned nothing, and these people are still able to run for office.

TheRawStory reports on another example in Huckabee: Amend Constitution to be in ‘God’s standards’.  From the article:

The United States Constitution never uses the word “God” or makes mention of any religion, drawing its sole authority from “We the People.” However, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee thinks it’s time to put an end to that.

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

Perhaps it’s worth reminding people that this kind of change is exactly what the authors of our Constitution wanted to prevent against.  Religion tends to pollute everything it touches, and government is no exception.  If this were some backwoods, uneducated, country preacher speaking, it would be easier to dismiss.  But this guy is actually in the running to lead the United States!

Texas License Plates & Jesus

I recently saw the following paper included with a vehicle registration renewal form for Texas license plates:

Texas License Plates

Incase the text is a little hard to read, the statements include:

Fight Terrorism

God Bless America

God Bless Texas

I have always wondered exactly what kind of message these license plates are supposed to convey.  If you really believe that some omnipotent being is watching over the entire universe, then why should this person bless only America or Texas?  And what about “fight terrorism”?  What exactly should we do – live in fear or continue unbridled funding for the Bush Administration’s pointless wars? 

It’s not much of a surprise that this comes from Texas (I’m sure other states have similar offers), but it’s actually quite embarrassing.  It looks like the irony is completely lost on drivers of 5,000-pound SUVs that have stickers suggesting that we should “fight terrorism”.  Ugh…

Top 50 Quotes on Atheism

Courtesy of Digg, here’s an interesting list of the Top 50 Atheism Quotes.  All of these are from people who are generally well-respected intellectuals.  A classic (and of my favorites) is the first one by George Carlin:

Religion easily has the best bullshit story of all time. Think about it. Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky. Who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer, and burn, and scream, until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

What I have always found very interesting about religion is who people come to trust.  Rather than trust educated people who have contributed greatly to humankind, people tend to turn to tele-evangelists for their religious information.  The vast majority of these people are worth many millions of dollars and have committed numerous crimes.  Their formal education (if any) is limited, and the routinely speak about things they barely understand (for example, the science behind evolution). 

Furthermore, children are often told by their parents (at an early and impressionable age) that it is good to be faithful.  They are told that God is good and that believing in God is the right thing to do.  It is only in this one case that faith – the belief in something without reason – is considered a good thing.  The same logic used in any other area of life would be considered insanity.

Why should we use a different set of standards for testing religion?  And why do the masses ignore people that we would trust with other important decisions in the area of religion?  We should be listening to Richard Dawkins and others that base their beliefs of logic, reason, and evidence. 

Fundamentalist Quotes: What [Some] People Believe

Even in light of the many surveys and studies that show the obvious ignorance and prejudice of a large portion of the United States, I still run across things that surprise me.  I recently read a post on Digg titled 100 Greatest Quotes from fundamentalist Christian chat rooms.  The site which hosts the original source document is currently inaccessible (due, no doubt, to bandwidth limitations).  You can read the Google Cache version of the article if you can’t get to the primary site. This Top 100 list features so many logical fallacies and ignorant statements that it’s hard to pick out the best.  You can choose from racism, general bigotry, a complete misunderstanding of science, and just good ol’ stupidity.

Some might argue that this post tends to target a Straw Man (that is, it picks about arguments from the most unqualified people to represent religion). I could agree with that to some extent, but I don’t think it’s a good generalization.  I have friends that are educated but believe in the literal truth of the Bible (including stories such as the one about Noah’s Ark) and feel that it’s just fine to attack, murder, and torture Muslims with no need for evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever.  I maintain that these people aren’t just “religious freaks” – they reflect much of the standard beliefs that are prevalent in our society.  They also give some helpful insight into how people could let the United States devolve into its current state so quickly and with little or no debate whatsoever.  We’re on a dangerous track, and I think this post helps create a “hit list” of ideas we must address.

Hollywood’s Portrayal of the Arabs

One of the things I really liked about the TV show Heroes is that it portrayed non-white people as actual normal human beings.  You had Asian people who weren’t just bumbling extras.  Hiro was a friendly and good-natured guy who was just out to save the world.  And, you had Indian characters who weren’t just people with funny accents to be ridiculed by the rednecks of the nation.  Sadly, that’s certainly the exception.  The overwhelming majority of movies and TV (and, consequently, public opinion) in the United States is stacked against brown people.

Thanks to Digg, I recently cam across a 9-minute YouTube video titled Planet of the Arabs helps highlight some of the details.  The original Digg post provides some interesting statistics:

Planet of the Arabs is a powerful 9 minute collage of racist stereotyping of Arabs in movies.Out of 1000 films that have Arab & Muslim characters (from the year 1896 to 2000) 12 were positive depictions, 52 were even handed and the rest of the 900 and so were negative. A montage of Hollywood’s relentless dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims.

What’s saddest is that a lot of Americans think this is just fine.  After all, it’s not just a few masterminds in Hollywood that are coming up with this stuff – there’s a true demand for it.  Even friends of mine will start to giggle when they see any non-white person enter a scene on a TV show or movie.  I don’t see these stereotypes changing anytime soon, though. 

The Candidates on Science

I was happy to hear that at least some individuals and groups are pressing the 2008 candidates on topics that actually matter.  To me, views on sciences are extremely important.  Wired reports in Scientists Push Presidential Candidates for Positions on Science.  From the introduction:

A Who’s Who of America’s top scientists are launching a quixotic last-minute effort this week to force presidential candidates to detail the role science would play in their administrations — a question they say is key to the future of the country, if not the world.

“Right now we have a confluence of issues facing candidates: embryonic stem cell research, global warming, science and technology education, biotechnology and energy policy — it’s just becoming an avalanche,” says Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor at Case Western University, and author of the bestselling The Physics of Star Trek. “I think at some level, you have to get some insight into what the candidates know, or what they’re willing to learn.”

Behind the call is a growing fear that the United States is falling behind in science and technology education, and that a leader who is scientifically illiterate won’t be able to keep the United States ahead in the global economy.

Americans seem to have developed a distaste for rational and logical thought.  We focus on the latest escapades of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and the like.  The only time real issues seem to come up is when ultra-religious-types oppose things like stem cell research and the teaching of evolution.  It’s certainly time to get some more intelligence in our government.  Another Dubya might sink this nation into another Dark Age.

Church and State Draw Closer: The White House’s Christmas Card

This probably won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone, but The Huffington Post Post reports about The White House’s Super Christian Christmas Card.  The article includes pictures, and here’s the description:

This morning on “The View,” Barbara Walters displayed the Christmas card she recently received from the White House. She said it was the most religious White House Christmas card in her memory. The card included explicit religious references beyond just a bible verse.

The super-Christian card features a verse from Nehemiah (Old Testament, it should be noted):

You alone are the LORD.
You made the heavens, even the highest heavens,
and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it,
the seas and all that is in them.
You give life to everything,
and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
NEHEMIAH 9:6 (NIV)

But whereas in previous years the President and the First Lady opted for messages of happiness, goodwill, and peace, this year featured the following closer:

May the joy of all creation fill your heart this blessed season 2007.

It is then signed by both George and Laura Bush.

So, if I understand this correctly, some Bible verse is far more important a message than happiness, goodwill, and peace.  I, for one, certainly don’t think those more meaningful goals are compatible with the current goals of the Bush Administration.  Choosing from the Old Testament – one of the most violent and immoral books in all human history – is somewhat appropriate.  I just wish that more people would detect the irony.

Answers from Atheists

Perhaps one of the reasons that people seem to fear or discount atheism is that they don’t understand it.  One of the reasons I started this blog was to provide some responses to common questions.  In some cases, the questions themselves are so ridiculous that I would find it inappropriate to answer.  Others, however, seem of reflect a lack of knowledge about atheism.  Recently, a commenter on this blog, Joel Justiss, lead me to find an interesting site: FriendlyAtheist.com. The author has posted numerous observations that help show the plight and struggle of atheists (as well as all-too-common examples of religiosity in the United States).

Of particular interest is the posting Keep Them Short and Sweet – a series of questions for atheists.  A few examples:

  • Why do you not believe in God?
  • Where do your morals come from?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Is atheism a religion?
  • If you don’t pray, what do you do during troubling times?

The comments section includes many responses, as does Joel’s “Forest Trail” page.  Some of my personal favorite responses include:

What is the meaning of life?
The meaning of a person’s life is the message communicated to other people by that person’s words and actions. The idea that a particular message is intended by someone or something outside of that person is a natural consequence of belief in gods, but it implies that people are not responsible for their own lives.

Shouldn’t all religious beliefs be respected?
All people should be respected. Beliefs deserve respect to the degree that they are supported by evidence, not merely because someone holds to them.

Would the world be better off without any religion?
The world would be better off with more focus on truth—without religion or superstition in any form.

While there are certainly no canned or standard answers to these questions, I have found most responses to be well thought-out.  And, to my pleasant surprise, it has been rather rare for me to find a comment with which I completely disagree.  In the future, I’ll try to develop my own list of short and sweet responses and post them here.

Humans and Morality

A recent Time Magazine article, What Makes Us Moral, investigates the issue of human behavior.  From the introduction:

If the entire human species were a single individual, that person would long ago have been declared mad. The insanity would not lie in the anger and darkness of the human mind—though it can be a black and raging place indeed. And it certainly wouldn’t lie in the transcendent goodness of that mind—one so sublime, we fold it into a larger “soul.” The madness would lie instead in the fact that both of those qualities, the savage and the splendid, can exist in one creature, one person, often in one instant.

Morality may be a hard concept to grasp, but we acquire it fast. A preschooler will learn that it’s not all right to eat in the classroom, because the teacher says it’s not. If the rule is lifted and eating is approved, the child will happily comply. But if the same teacher says it’s also O.K. to push another student off a chair, the child hesitates. “He’ll respond, ‘No, the teacher shouldn’t say that,'” says psychologist Michael Schulman, co-author of Bringing Up a Moral Child. In both cases, somebody taught the child a rule, but the rule against pushing has a stickiness about it, one that resists coming unstuck even if someone in authority countenances it. That’s the difference between a matter of morality and one of mere social convention, and Schulman and others believe kids feel it innately.

… and from the conclusion:

For grossly imperfect creatures like us, morality may be the steepest of all developmental mountains. Our opposable thumbs and big brains gave us the tools to dominate the planet, but wisdom comes more slowly than physical hardware. We surely have a lot of killing and savagery ahead of us before we fully civilize ourselves. The hope—a realistic one, perhaps—is that the struggles still to come are fewer than those left behind.

While the general question is certainly an interesting one, I find it particularly relevant with relation to religion. People seem to have this idea that (at least for religious people), morality is defined in their ancient texts.  It follows, then, that the rest of us (atheists, for example), have no reason to follow generally-accepted moral teachings.  Personally, I feel this is complete garbage.  There’s little evidence that religion has anything to do with morality, and many of the teachings of books such as the Christian Bible are filled with immoral acts performed by none other than God himself.

Evidence and studies show quite the opposite: Human beings (and other animals) exhibit traits and behaviors that are inline with what we consider “morality.”  Much of this is independent of learning, and has roots elsewhere. Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, describes studies that show that there’s no correlation between religiosity and the decisions people will make when presented with difficult decisions.  The Brights organization has also started a project to investigate the same.  For details, see “Action Arena #1: Reality about Human Morality.” 

Overall, I hope that these studies will have some impact on making the human race less violent (especially in the name of religion).  History shows that it’s unlikely to help, but there’s always hope.

[Yet Another] Church Scandal

I’m not usually inclined to further gossip and stories that tend to be blown out of proportion, but I found a story on MSNBC to be relevant to the topic to the focus of this blog.  That article, Megachurch leader in mega-sized sex scandal, provides details about another church-related scandal:

DECATUR, Ga. – The 80-year-old leader of a suburban Atlanta megachurch is at the center of a sex scandal of biblical dimensions: He slept with his brother’s wife and fathered a child by her.

Members of Archbishop Earl Paulk’s family stood at the pulpit of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church a few Sundays ago and revealed the secret exposed by a recent court-ordered paternity test.

In truth, this is not the first — or even the second — sex scandal to engulf Paulk and the independent, charismatic church. But this time, he could be in trouble with the law for lying under oath about the affair.

I’m guessing that most people won’t be shocked by this (I’m certainly not).  However, it makes me wonder: If these religious “leaders” really believed in anything that they preached, wouldn’t they be less likely to commit these kind of offenses?  We have some of the richest organizations in the world that claim to be devoted to religion.  They don’t have to pay taxes and, in many cases, don’t even have to report where their money goes.  The leaders of these rackets have been found hiring prostitutes, covering up organized pedophilia, and so many other bizarre acts that a complete account would be even wackier than most of the stories in the Bible.  Still, this doesn’t seem to hurt their popularity all that much.  Here’s more from the article:

At its peak in the early 1990s, it claimed about 10,000 members and 24 pastors and was a media powerhouse. By soliciting tithes of 10 percent from each member’s income, the church was able to build a Bible college, two schools, a worldwide TV ministry and a $12 million sanctuary the size of a fortress.

Today, though, membership is down to about 1,500, the church has 18 pastors, most of them volunteers, and the Bible college and TV ministry have shuttered — a downturn blamed largely on complaints about the alleged sexual transgressions of the elder Paulks.

In 1992, a church member claimed she was pressured into a sexual relationship with Don Paulk. Other women also claimed they had been coerced into sex with Earl Paulk and other members of the church’s administration.

My theory: Much of what religions state as “good” from a moral or behavioral standpoint are flat-out contradictory to human nature.  From the promotion of abstinence-only programs to general sexual repression, it’s really no surprise that religious people run into these types of problems.  What is (or at least should be) surprising, is that no one ever seems to learn from these failures. 

Despite the fact that there’s no verifiable evidence of miracles, Hell, or events in religious texts, people still follow these teachings.  It does seem consistent with the nature of religious belief.  Many people I’ve talked to feel that facts and evidence are only useful if they agree with their preconceptions and prejudices.  I’d like to think that some good might come from this latest “scandal”, but I doubt it will have any effect on the typical religious mind.

Angry at Non-Atheists

I recently read a post on Greta Christina’s Blog titled Atheists and Anger that attempts to address the issue.  Among the many examples of infuriating issues cited by the author are the following:

I’m angry that according to a recent Gallup poll, only 45 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist for President.

I’m angry that the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, said of atheists, in my lifetime, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” My President. No, I didn’t vote for him, but he was still my President, and he still said that my lack of religious belief meant that I shouldn’t be regarded as a citizen.

I’m angry that it took until 1961 for atheists to be guaranteed the right to serve on juries, testify in court, or hold public office in every state in the country.

I’m angry that women are dying of AIDS in Africa and South America because the Catholic Church has convinced them that using condoms makes baby Jesus cry.

I get angry when advice columnists tell their troubled letter-writers to talk to their priest or minister or rabbi… when there is absolutely no legal requirement that a religious leader have any sort of training in counseling or therapy.

I’m angry at preachers who tell women in their flock to submit to their husbands because it’s the will of God, even when their husbands are beating them within an inch of their lives.

I’m angry that so many parents and religious leaders terrorize children — who (a) have brains that are hard-wired to trust adults and believe what they’re told, and (b) are very literal-minded — with vivid, traumatizing stories of eternal burning and torture to ensure that they’ll be too frightened to even question religion.

I’m angrier when religious leaders explicitly tell children – and adults, for that matter — that the very questioning of religion and the existence of hell is a dreadful sin, one that will guarantee them that hell is where they’ll end up.

I’m angry — enraged — at the priests who molest children and tell them it’s God’s will. I’m enraged at the Catholic Church that consciously, deliberately, repeatedly, for years, acted to protect priests who molested children, and consciously and deliberately acted to keep it a secret, placing the Church’s reputation as a higher priority than, for fuck’s sake, children not being molested.

I’m angry that huge swaths of public policy in this country — not just on same-sex marriage, but on abortion and stem-cell research and sex education in schools — are being based, not on evidence of which policies do and don’t work and what is and isn’t true about the world, but on religious texts written hundreds or thousands of years ago, and on their own personal feelings about how those texts should be interpreted, with no supporting evidence whatsoever — and no apparent concept of why any evidence should be needed.

I’ll add one more of my own to the list: I’m angry that people seem to think that they’re the exception to the rules of religion.  Their believes (no matter how horrible or dangerous) are acceptable, as long as they feel that they are acting based on God’s will.  They distance themselves from other religious believers who claim the same thing and do thing with which they might not agree.  People need to be accountable and should oppose pointless wars and social injustice – whether it’s purportedly God’s will or not.

It was tempting for me to copy the entire article, but I highly recommend reading the entire article.  I have written about many of these issues in past blog postings, and I hope that they help inform people of America’s position on religion and those who do not believe in superstition.  I would have hoped that important events like the freeing of slaves and the Civil Rights movement in the United States have taught us something about what we should and should not tolerate.  Personally, I find it surprising that people would not be angry at some of these things. 

I would ask: If anger is not the most appropriate reaction to these outrages, what is?

Homophobia vs. Microsoft

A Redmond, WA conservative preacher is attempting to take on Microsoft’s “sinful” ways.  Could this be about anti-trust or anti-competitive actions?  No.  This guy’s talking about Microsoft’s acceptance of gay people.  The Telegraph reports in Pastor in Microsoft ‘gay rights’ share bid:

“There are 256 Fortune 500 companies alone pouring millions upon millions of dollars into pushing the homosexual agenda,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“I consider myself a warrior for Christ. Microsoft don’t scare me. I got God with me.

“I told them that you need to work with me or we will put a firestorm on you like you have never seen in you life because I am your worst nightmare. I am a black man with a righteous cause with a whole host of powerful white people behind me.”

Mr Hutcherson’s office is decorated with the heads of deer, elk and a buffalo – “when I run into animals, I kill them and bring them home and eat them” – as well as invitations to the White House and signed pictures of himself with President George W. Bush.

His ambitious plan signals a new offensive in his two-year battle with Microsoft after it abandoned its neutral stance on gay rights legislation, which he says he helped secretly negotiate before outraged gay employees intervened.

By trying to become a political player in Washington state, he said, the company was trying to impose its sinful ways on others.

This is just but one more example of how neo-conservatism can make outrageous claims against progress.  Thousands of people apparently believe (or will at least listen to and pay) this guy.  From treating homosexuality as a choice (I’m sure lots of people want to line up to be persecuted) to seeing his mission as a Crusade against “sin”, this would have been rather shocking a few years ago.  Now, it seems to be the norm.

Conservative Christians for Torture?

I’ve been looking for a good way to bring up this topic for quite a while.  If the Republican Party leadership is based on a conservative Christian constituency, shouldn’t there be some reaction to our leadership’s open advocacy of torture? And if religions somehow preach good, moral, decent behavior, why are so few churches and religious people speaking against such horrible atrocities?  An opinion piece in the Progessive Daily Beacon states, “Republicans Should Ask, ‘Who would Jesus Torture?’”  From the article:

The Republican Party is supposed to be home to a lot of Christians and that might be true. Judging by the view of most Republicans, however, the Party doesn’t appear to contain very many Christ-like people. It is hard to imagine Jesus Christ waterboarding someone while sermonizing on turning the other cheek, or loving thy neighbor, or doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
And yet, a lot of Republicans, Christian Conservative Republicans, are vocal supporters of torture.

Personally, I don’t believe that people get their morals from religion.  One needs only read a small portion of the Bible (by starting at a random place) to see that.  From advocating the subjugation of women and condoning slavery, I would certainly hope that no one took this garbage seriously.  Unfortunately, those that do seem to be running this country.  And, we’re all stuck with the results.

Investigating Televangelists

If ever there has been a sign of religious leadership gone awry it’s the televangelists.  These people con their “flocks” (of human sheep, I suppose) out of millions of dollars in the name of God.  They survive (and even thrive) after being caught with prostitutes.  And, they do it all tax-free.  In the United States, all you have to do is claim to be a church, and you’re exempt from having to report where all this money is going.  Hopefully, more of these outrages will soon be exposed.  CBS News reports in “Senate Panel Probes 6 Top Televangelists“:

Because they have tax status as churches, the ministries do not have to file IRS 990 forms like other non-profit organizations – leaving much financial information largely behind closed doors.

The letters sent Monday were the culmination of a long investigation fueled in part by complaints from Ole Anthony, a crusader against religious fraud who operates the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, which describes itself as a watchdog monitoring religious media, fraud and abuse. “We’ve been working with them for two years,” Anthony told CBS News. “We have furnished them with enough information to fill a small Volkswagen.”

Anthony said after twenty years of working with media organizations to expose televangelists, he saw little reform. He says that’s why he turned to another tactic, going straight to Grassley. He is confident that Grassley’s inquiry will be different, “What we hope is that this will lead to reform in religious nonprofits.”

Of course, based on religious followers’ acceptance of past outrages, it’s unlikely that any type of finding or indictment will shake their “faith”.  Much of this information is not new, and one doesn’t have to look hard to find out how these people live.  Still, they’re revered by many as the cornerstone of Christianity.  It almost makes me want to pray…

U.S. Behind in Acceptance of Evolution

For many people, this will come as no surprise, as it’s almost taken for granted that evolution is a controversial subject.  Thankfully, that’s really not the case in most of the world. In U.S. Lags World in Grasp of Genetics and Acceptance of Evolution

The researchers combined data from public surveys on evolution collected from 32 European countries, the United States and Japan between 1985 and 2005. Adults in each country were asked whether they thought the statement ?Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals,? was true, false, or if they were unsure.

 

The study found that over the past 20 years:

  • The percentage of U.S. adults who accept evolution declined from 45 to 40 percent.
  • The percentage overtly rejecting evolution declined from 48 to 39 percent, however.
  • And the percentage of adults who were unsure increased, from 7 to 21 percent.

Of the other countries surveyed, only Turkey ranked lower, with about 25 percent of the population accepting evolution and 75 percent rejecting it. In Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and France, 80 percent or more of adults accepted evolution; in Japan, 78 percent of adults did.

I have encountered or directly experience this type of thinking (or lack thereof) numerous times with friends and acquaintances.  Not only are these people ignorant of science (even though most of them have college educations), but they seem to be offended by the suggestion that they even investigate science and their their beliefs.  There have even been religion vs. atheism “debates” where the religious leaders have asked that, if evolution is correct, why no human has ever given birth to a monkey.  These people just “feel” that their beliefs are correct, and that seems to be enough.  Perhaps it’s natural to fear what one doesn’t understand.  Americans seemed to be up in arms about the whole stem cell research issue (which isn’t an issue in most parts of the world).  But how many Americans could tell you what a cell really is? 

Also from the article:

Paul Meyers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota who was not involved in the study, says that what politicians should be doing is saying, ‘We ought to defer these questions to qualified authorities and we should have committees of scientists and engineers who we will approach for the right answers.”

Hopefully, this is a passing fad that cannot possibly continue.  This stuff does matter – it affects education, our economy, and our society.  Reason, logic, and science are clearly important, and the U.S. is lagging far behind in modern thought about life and our role in it.

Reference

The series of articles continues at LiveScience.com:

PART 1
An Ambiguous Assault on Evolution
This Trojan Horse for Creationism has become very popular. But who is being duped? And what does it all mean for morality?

PART 2
The Death of Science’
Intelligent design is presented as a legitimate scientific theory and an alternative to Darwinism, but a close look at the arguments shows they don’t pass scientific muster. So why are scientists worried?

PART 3
Belief Posing as Theory
As evolution takes a beating, scientists remind us of the difference between fact, theory and belief.

PART 4:
Anti-evolution Attacks on the Rise
Each time the effort to introduce creationism into classrooms starts up again, so does legislation aimed against evolution. Learn about the rash of recent cases, plus a look at historically pertinent court cases.

The Lowering Perception of Christianity

It has always been my hope that the absurd levels of religious nonsense in the United States would lead to a backlash.  Rather than being influenced by the ever-present influence of religion on politics (e.g., George Bush stating that God told him to attack Iraq), some of this religious extremism should have a counter-effect.  Highlights within the last decade include absurd initiatives against stem cell research, gays, and abstinence-only programs.  Fortunately, there are some numbers that show the actual effects.

An AlterNet post provides details in Young People Rejecting Christianity, Have Perception of Religion as Homophobic.  From the article:

A study released last week by the Barna Group, a reputable Evangelical research and polling firm, found that under-30s — both Christian and non-Christian — are strikingly more critical of Christianity than their peers were just a decade ago. According to the summary report, Barna pollster David Kinnaman found that the opinions of non-Christians, in particular, had slid like a rock in that time frame. Ten years ago, “the vast majority” of non-Christians had generally favorable views of Christianity. Now, that number stands at just 16%. When asked specifically about Evangelicals, the number are even worse: only 3% of non-Christian Millennials have positive associations with Evangelicals. Among the Boomers, it’s eight times higher.

The article also mentions that these views aren’t just from outsiders or critics:

And this wasn’t just ignorance talking. The people interviewed had an average of five Christian friends. Eighty percent of them had spent at least six months attending church themselves in the past; and half of them had considered becoming Christian, but rejected it. Familiarity with the faith, it appears, has bred quite a bit of contempt…

Also, Sara Robinson sums up some of the many reasons for this in All Over But the Shouting

I often hear the argument that it’s not the religions that are “bad” – it’s the people that do negative things in the name of religion.  Personally, I don’t buy it.  I believe that there’s a fundamental issue with claiming that absolute truth comes from a book that condones so many immoral activities and condemns other activities that are now the basis of civilized society. 

Overall, I’m glad to see that there’s a limit to how much double-talk and hypocrisy people are willing to put up with.  I truly hope that this will result in a long (or even permanent) improvement in politics and society.

Saturday Morning Satan

One of the big issues that I have with religion is that most people have never taken the time to even consider their beliefs (let alone less research atheism or other religions).  From very early in childhood, Western religions teach children that they were created by a kind, just God that love them.  Incidentally, this same creator has promised to torture them from all eternity in the pits of Hell.  Of course, you can always choose whether or not you want to believe.  Regardless of the fact that there’s no evidence for the existence of a Supreme Being, more than 90% of Americans claim that they believe in God.

People need to be scared into believe in religion, since it can’t stand on its own merits.  Along the lines of starting early, here’s a particularly creepy cartoon describing Satan: Banned Childrens’ Cartoon about Satan.  There are several more stop-motion animation films (search YouTube’s recommendations for a list).  

I can only hope that most adults will find this to be humorous and also outrageous (and not in a good way).  Richard Dawkins has described teaching children about Hell as tantamount to child abuse.  I certainly agree with that.  Hopefully someday children will be able to make their own informed decisions about what to believe without the shadow of fear.

Neo-Cons and Morality

I have always wondered about how neoconservatives (generally ultra-Christian conservatives) can reconcile their supposed belief in faith with the violence, racism, hatred, and bigotry that they so often preach.  It seems strange to me that affluent people would feel so threatened by equity in the world. 

Populist America has an article that sheds some light on the subject.  In the The Morality of Neoconservatism, the article states:

Blinded by such an ethnocentric vision of the world, they tend to become convinced that we, as a nation of people who have received the special blessing of God, are somehow inherently better than, somehow superior in relation to, and thus more worthy than all others in the world — vis a vis, Western civilization along with its associated religious beliefs excel all else in the world.

 

The result is an egocentric world view that breeds a vitriolic arrogance that inclines so many of us as Americans to ignore the fact that other people value their lives just as much as we do, and that their values, their beliefs, their ways of living are every bit as important to them as ours are to us. Such a harsh and brutal way of approaching others can do nothing but lead those of us who hold such an outlook to have nothing but contempt for the rest of the world.

I hope most people thing there’s something odd with the “God Bless America”-type bumper stickers that are so fashionable these days.  Couldn’t an all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the Universe just bless everyone?  Why should the purchaser of said bumper sticker by privileged to be born in a place that seems to guarantee his or her carriage into Heaven? 

The results of this kind of thinking are far from harmless:

Consequently, neoconservatives have seemingly come to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with our having invaded the country of Iraq even though as many as 100,000 or more Iraqis have died (been killed?). With little concern for those who have died, the dead have been degraded as nothing more than “collateral damage“– a simple, yet unfortunate cost of war, an inauspicious accident of having taken residence at the side of a beleaguered enemy.

I wish I could say that this kind of thinking were extreme.  Unfortunately, friends of mine seem to think this way.  I question whether they even think of “those Middle Easterners” as human beings.  Imagine if another country ha attacked the U.S. without any provocation.  Should we welcome them as liberators? 

Bush, in his infinitesimal wisdom, has claim that God told him to attack Iraq.  I think Christians, most of all, should be outraged by this.  But, as group, they’re his biggest supporters.  We’re a long way off from making rational and logical decisions, and neoconservatives are definitely not pointing the nation in the right direction.

The Freedom To Not Believe

I’ve heard people claim that one of the things that makes America great is that people can believe whatever they want.  Of course, this sounds good in theory, but in practice the situation is quite different.  In general, the best course of action for an atheist is to keep his or her mouth shut.  Sharing that opinion generally leads to being marginalized or being a rather hated outcast.  And why?  Personally, I think that most people know that their views on religion are on such shaky foundation that even questioning it would be a threat to their irrational views. 

In any case, Truthout reports in Pentagon Sued Over Mandatory Christianity the details of a lawsuit against the U.S. Army.  From the article:

“Immediately after plaintiff made it known he would decline to join hands and pray, he was confronted, in the presence of other military personnel, by the senior ranking … staff sergeant who asked plaintiff why he did not want to pray, whereupon plaintiff explained because he is an atheist,” says the lawsuit, a copy of which was provided to Truthout. “The staff sergeant asked plaintiff what an atheist is and plaintiff responded it meant that he (plaintiff) did not believe in God. This response caused the staff sergeant to tell plaintiff that he would have to sit elsewhere for the Thanksgiving dinner. Nonetheless, plaintiff sat at the table in silence and finished his meal.”

Moreover, the complaint alleges that on August 7, when Hall received permission by an Army chaplain to organize a meeting of other soldiers who shared his atheist beliefs, his supervisor, Army Major Paul Welborne, broke up the gathering and threatened to retaliate against the soldier by charging him with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The complaint also alleges that Welborne vowed to block Hall’s reenlistment in the Army if the atheist group continued to meet – a violation of Hall’s First Amendment rights under the Constitution. Welborne is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

While this is one specific example of forced religion, it’s certainly not an isolated one.  It’s quite common in schools (at all levels) for teachers to assume that people believe in God (n.b. the singular form of the word).  As I mentioned in the past, George Bush apparently doesn’t believe that atheists should be considered citizens.  Clearly, religious (or anti-religious) persecution is quite alive and well in the United States.

The View (of Ignorance)

A while back, there was a big fiasco over a fight on the talk show The View.  The “debate” concerned a statement that Rosie O’Donnell has made in the past related to how the argument could be made that Americans are terrorists for invading Iraq.  Based on the fact that George Bush has said that God told him to do it, I find it hard to tell the difference.  Regardless, the womens’ arguments were a perfect example of a lack of rationality and logic.  Rather than focus on getting and understanding information and views (the name of the show), this degenerates into people making silly soundclip-type assertions. 

Here’s another case in point: New “View” Co-Host Sherri Shepherd Doesn’t Know If World Is Flat.  The other women on the show are right to press the issue, but again, you really don’t get any answer.  I have to differ with the argument that it’s not really important whether the Earth is flat.  Sherri Shepherd tries to respond, but it doesn’t really make her seem much more intelligent.  I wonder, what does it take to get on this show?

So if all of this were just an episode of The Family Guy, perhaps it would be funny.  But many people actually have their views influenced by this kind of discussion.  It’s really worrisome that more people could name all of the regular cast members of The View, and few could even mention the name of a handful of scientists.  Clearly, people’s time and attention would be better rewarded watching just about anything else on TV.

Meaningful Acceptance Speeches

Award acceptance speeches are generally known for the inane babbling, sending thanks to long lists of people who no one else really cares about.  You even get an occasional shout to Jesus (who apparently didn’t favor the other nominees).  Recently, there have been a couple of more interesting ones, though.

ThinkProgress reports in Fox censors Sally Field’s anti-war speech at Emmy’s Fields’ full comments:

“Surely this [award] belongs to all the mothers of the world,” she stated. “May they be seen, may their work be valued and raised. Especially to the mothers who stand with an open heart and wait. Wait for their children to come home from danger, from harm’s way, and from war. I am proud to be one of those women.”

Field then continued, “If mothers ruled the world, there would be no –” But the Fox Emmycast cut off her sound and pointed the camera away from the stage, silencing the rest of her sentence: “god-damned wars in the first place.”

Another good one is from Kathy Griffin.  Reuters reports the details in Kathy Griffin’s Jesus remark cut from Emmy show.  The offending quote:

“A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus,” an exultant Griffin said, holding up her statuette. “Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now.”

Asked about her speech backstage a short time later, an unrepentant Griffin added, “I hope I offended some people. I didn’t want to win the Emmy for nothing.”

It’s no surprise that major networks would suppress these views, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually hear non-mainstream opinions every once in a while?  I’m just glad that I’m not the only one that has problems with Jesus or the Iraq War.  At least I can voice them in this blog.

« Older entries