Thursday, June 28, 2007

Latest Religious News

Pope backs adult stem cell research

I am really pleased about this news. When I'm not being a grad student/writing instructor, I do web design and other media writing for the Stem Cell Research Center at my university, so over the past six months stem cell issues have become incredibly important to me. I think this news shows some serious progress in the way religion views scientific research. Unfortunately, I don't see the Catholic view on embryonic stem cells changing anytime soon, which is a little frustrating, because if you're actually paying attention to the research, you'd see that scientists have been finding ways to access embryonic stem cells without actually killing embryos. The findings are not yet confirmed, but science is moving in that direction. Still, I just don't see those opinions changing in the face of new evidence. Look how long it took the Pope to develop this opinion on adult stem cell research!

I'm not saying that stem cell research of any kind needs the backing of religion. Scientists are getting along just fine without Catholicism condoning their work. However, I'm happy about this news because I think it shows that some religions are recognizing the value of stem cell research and regenerative medicine. No, there isn't going to be full acceptance of stem cell treatments anytime soon, but these things take time. This is a small step in the right direction towards the acceptance of scientific research to treat heart attacks (by regenerating damaged heart muscle), cancer (they help replenish areas damaged from cancer surgery, as well as re-establishing the immune system), and a whole host of other severe conditions. Scientific research is starting to be seen as a positive part of society.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Three Assumptions

Last night, I was thinking back to a conversation I had with a friend, Russell, in college. Russell was an atheist philosophy major, and one of the most intelligent people I've ever met. He argued that belief in a god was impossible because there were three major assumptions that people (mainly Christians) made about god that contradicted each other.

These three assumptions are:

  1. God is all-powerful
  2. God is good
  3. There is evil in the world
According to Russell, these three assumptions cannot be true at the same time. If there is evil in the world, either God can be good but not all-powerful (and therefore he cannot eradicate evil), or God is all-powerful but not good (and thus he chooses to allow people to suffer). You can figure out the rest of the permutations.

I really like this argument, but it troubles me that it's not incredibly detailed. I think that if I were a professor and Russell were my student, I'd ask him to revise this and expand on his ideas. I say this because I am sure there are many religious people out there who would find loopholes in his reasoning based on the fact that it lacks explication and explanation. Of course, you can't fault him too much; it's something that came up in a lunchtime discussion in the campus dining hall. So while I wouldn't consider his argument complete yet, I think it's definitely worth our consideration.

Monday, June 25, 2007

UK knocks out ID

Today has been a great day for articles. This article from The Register mentions how ID is not considered science, and will not be taught in the UK. I say great for the UK, they are one step ahead of the US now.

Feel free to ignore this part, it's just me rambling on.
For some odd reason this reminds me of a time when I was at a county fair. I was walking by one of those religious booths, you know the ones that give away those really small bibles to everyone. I must have been about 12 at the time. One of the people in the booth stopped me, that was before I was smart enough to keep walking, and asked me if I believed. I informed the person that I did not (wrong move), this got him talking to me about how god must be real, and how I should believe. I can't recall too much of it, but I do recall one of his arguments (this is not an exact quote) "Take the nose for example. If god didn't design us, then our noses could have grows upside down, then anytime it rained we would drown!" I politely informed him that if that happened then the upside down nose trait would not be passed on, and we would never know about it, so it would look like design, but would in fact be evolution. He ignored this and continued on about the nose and design. It was at that point that people will ignore what they don't like, and continue to believe no matter what.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/06/25/id_not_science/
http://www.theregister.co.uk
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design

No challenges on money to religious charities

I ran into another article for everyone to read. In this one "The Supreme Court ruled Monday that ordinary taxpayers cannot challenge a White House initiative that helps religious charities get a share of federal money".
In the US a citizen has the right to challenge government programs that promote religion. I won't go into the subject of religious organizations getting government money (that a whole other post), but I would like to point out that we no longer, effectively, have the right to challenge the White House on the dispersement of funds going to religious organizations - the First Amendment be damned.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070625/ap_on_go_su_co/scotus_faith_based

Atheists Split On How To Not Believe

The title of this article may sound quite funny, but the subject is near and dear to my heart. Before I started this blog, I was a happy, complacent atheist, for the most part. I would still get on my soap box when needed. But those days are long gone and I now find myself fluctuating between a "new atheist" and a "militant" one. Yet I do have my commonsense worries, in that I feel strongly that all atheists, agnostics and secularists should unite to form one strong voting block in this country, and we can't do that if we atheists start forming ourselves into splinter groups. So read on and see what you think!

Atheists Split On How To Not Believe
By Jay Lindsay
Reposted From: Associated Press

Atheists are under attack these days for being too militant, for not just disbelieving in religious faith but for trying to eradicate it. And who’s leveling these accusations? Other atheists, it turns out.

Among the millions of Americans who don’t believe God exists, there’s a split between people such as Greg Epstein, who holds the partially endowed post of humanist chaplain at Harvard University, and so-called “New Atheists.”

Epstein and other humanists feel their movement is on verge of explosive growth, but are concerned it will be dragged down by what they see as the militancy of New Atheism.

The most pre-eminent New Atheists include best-selling authors Richard Dawkins, who has called the God of the Old Testament “a psychotic delinquent,” and Sam Harris, who foresees global catastrophe unless faith is renounced. They say religious belief is so harmful it must be defeated and replaced by science and reason.

Epstein calls them “atheist fundamentalists.” He sees them as rigid in their dogma, and as intolerant as some of the faith leaders with whom atheists share the most obvious differences.

Next month, as Harvard celebrates the 30th anniversary of its humanist chaplaincy, Epstein will use the occasion to provide a counterpoint to the New Atheists.

“Humanism is not about erasing religion,” he said. “It’s an embracing philosophy.”

In general, humanism rejects supernaturalism, while stressing principles such as dignity of the individual, equality and social justice. If there’s no God to help humanity, it holds, people better do the work.

The celebration of a “New Humanism” will emphasize inclusion and diversity within the movement and will include Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist E.O. Wilson, a humanist who has made well-chronicled efforts to team with evangelical Christians to fight global warming.

Part of the New Humanism, Wilson said, is “an invitation to a common search for morally based action in areas agreement can be reached in.”

The tone of the New Atheists will only alienate important faith groups whose help is needed to solve the world’s problems, Wilson said. “I would suggest possibly that while there is use in the critiques by Dawkins and Harris, that they’ve overdone it,” he said.

Harris, author of “Letter to a Christian Nation,” sees the disagreement as overblown. He thinks there’s room for multiple arguments in the debate between scientific rationalism and religious dogmatism.

Harris also rejected the term “atheist fundamentalist,” calling it “a silly play upon words.” He noted that, when it comes to the ancient Greek gods, everyone is an atheist and no one is asked to justify that to pagans who want to believe in Zeus.

“Likewise with the God of Abraham,” he said. “There is nothing ‘fundamentalist’ about finding the claims of religious demagogues implausible.”

Some of the participants in Harvard’s celebration of its humanist chaplaincy have no problem with the New Atheists’ tone.

Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker said the forcefulness of their criticism is standard in scientific and political debate, and “far milder than what we accept in book and movie reviews.”

Dawkins did not respond to requests for comment.

A 2006 Baylor University survey estimates about 15 million atheists in the United States.

Not all nonbelievers identify as humanists or atheists, with some calling themselves agnostics, freethinkers or skeptics. But humanists see the potential for unifying the groups under their banner, creating a large, powerful minority that can’t be ignored or disdained by mainstream political and social thinkers.

But Epstein worries the attacks on religion by the New Atheists will keep converts away.

“The philosophy of the future is not going to be one that tries to erase its enemies,” he said. “The future is going to be people coming together from what motivates them.
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Friday, June 22, 2007

Purity Ring and religions

While reading some Oddly Enough articles today, I came across this one. It is about a girl who is not allowed to wear her Purity ring to school due to the school's uniform policy. Here are a couple of good pieces from the article:

"It is really important to me because in the Bible it says we should do this," she told BBC radio.
So the bible told people to wear a ring with a reference to a specific bible scripture on it? Some how I think not. Oh, did I mention that her parents "help run the British arm of the American campaign group the Silver Ring Thing"? I can't help but think that her parents are pushing this more than she is. I sense a political agenda...

"What I would describe as a secular fundamentalism is coming to the fore, which really wants to silence certain beliefs, and Christian views in particular," he said.
Okay people, what do you think? Should she be allowed to wear a piece of jewelry to school, because it has a religious significance to her? Even though there is no reference to it in her actual religion? I wonder how this would be playing out if it was a wican who wanted to wear a pentagram to school - would the family still hold the same stance on the issue? I'm thinking not.

Here is a problem with religions, each and everyone. Once you become the largest religion in an area, then you think that you should be able to do anything you wish - sounds like a bully doesn't it. The needs of other religions are not seen to be as important. Then when someone says to that religious group that they can't do something, the their reaction is that everyone hates them, and is trying to silence them - sounds like a spoiled child. This isn't the fault of the religion, it is the fault of the people who are associated with that religion. I don't have a problem with religion, any religion, I have a problem with some of the people who follow that religion. The same can happen to any group - it doesn't have to be religious groups.

What do you think, hit the comments and tell us.

http://www.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idUSL2270307520070622?=undefined&sp=true
http://www.silverringthing.com/index.html

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hotel bibles


I have wanted to write on this topic for a while, for a few reasons, but have never gotten around to it. For most of my working life, I have worked in hotels. Before you ask, I can't get you a cheap room.
As far as I know, I would love to be wrong on this, all hotels in the USA* carry Gideons Bibles in their rooms - at the very least all major brands do.

Okay, so we know that most, if not all, hotels in the USA* carry bibles in their rooms. I think that what we need to ask ourselves is:

Why do the hotels put bibles in their rooms?

  • The bibles are free, Gideons will provide hotels with as many free bibles as they request. What does a hotel have to loose by putting a free item in a room?
  • The hotels feel that by putting a bible (and a Book of Mormon at Marriott properties), they will appear to be a wholesome establishment, which makes the guests more content.
  • It has been done for a very long time Gideons was founded in 1899, and it was done before that.

What can we do about it?

As much as I love the bible disclaimer stickers, I just don't think they are the way to go. *IF* they are noticed by the hotel, or brought to the attention of the hotel, then the bible is simply replaced with another; believe me, hotels have stacks of bibles in their housekeeping areas. The stickers do two things, entertain people who don't believe, or serve to make religious nuts feel that they are correct about atheists being evil satan worshipers; one is good, the other very bad.

So stickers and other forms of vandalism are out, what else is there? Play the fair card. If every non-xian (atheists, and people of a different faith) all did this, bibles would most likely start to become a thing of the past.

The Fair Card

The fair card? What the [expletive of your choice] is that? The fair card is rather simple, ask the hotels to be fair. Ask the hotels to not only provide a copy of the bible in every room, but also provide a copy of any religious text you can think of. This will do two things. First, cost the hotel money, somethings most hotels don't have a whole lot of. Second, be a really big bother for the staff in general. By the way, this works not only for hotels, but for any institution, to pick anything out of the air, government.

Why does this work? Hotels are a business that strives to keep customers returning, if they feel that it is worthwhile enough to the guests, then they will start to add other religious texts to the rooms; as more texts get added, the more difficult, and expensive it will become - so you will start to see the texts disappearing from the rooms, and moved behind the front desk for people to ask for.

Dos and Don't of talking to a hotel. If you have a problem, a normal problem, you talk to the hotel staff or management first, then you contact the hotel chain customer service. In this case, skip the hotel staff, and talk to the customer service staff right away, they keep tabs on the complaints, and that will get seen by the decision makers.
  • Do - write or call each time you stay in a hotel, each effort helps.
  • Don't - contact them if you have not stayed in a hotel - unless it is a general letter to the company.
  • Do - be courteous, but forceful in telling them that you want X literature in your hotel room.
  • Don't - demand that all literature gets put in the rooms, you will be ignored.
  • Do - inform them that you will have to start staying somewhere else if they can do as you ask.
  • Don't - inform them you feel they are stupid.
  • Never tell them what you believe in, or in our case, don't believe in.
  • Don't - take the bible from the room, this will only go to show the hotel that there is a greater demand for them.
  • Do - feel free to move the bible around in the room, any ol' bin you can find will do.
I think that is all for now. Hit the comments and let us know what you think, I look forward to readings everyones thoughts on this.

* I'm not sure about other countries, though I assume that it would be fairly similar in Europe, South America, etc.

Award

Apparently we won an award. Woohoo for us.
Here is the nomination:

3. The Atheist Diaries : Not my kind of philosophy, but these guys have mind-intriguing posts. I like different points of view on things, and they are very intelligent when expressing their opinions. You win this award in the category "Best challenge of the year"!
Thanks Max, we appreciate it.
Click here for the full list of nominations.

http://maxcouti.blogspot.com/2007/06/thinking-blogger-award.html

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jesus was white european?

Let me give you some background on where this post is coming from. This morning I was sleeping peacefully, when the door bell range. Half asleep I put on some pants, tried to calm my growling cat, and headed for the door; when I looked outside I saw it was a woman dressed in her Sunday best - I decided not to answer the door, and let her go on her way. After she left I took a quick look outside to find a flyer propped in my screen door. I'm sure you can imagine my unadulterated joy. This is what I found:


Now look at that image? Does it look like someone from the Middle East? No? Imagine that. Okay, so the artist decided that Jesus looked like some guy I would run into at the Gap, in modern times (White, about 6' 2", modern hair cut, perfect skin). Let's just say that seems odd considering where Jesus was supposed to have been born, and when.
Upon looking into this, I ran into an article from Popular Mechanics (I can't believe that I missed this issue), too bad the article was no longer available, but then we do have archive.org.

Why do I bring this up, to me the false image just goes to show how religion, and society in general will change things to make them feel better. Since that is true, how can you truly trust what any part of religion has to say? How much of it is real, and how much of it is a recent development to fit into society's already defined values?

And to go back to the start of my post, why do I always get the religious people coming to my door? Anyone thing a big sign saying "An atheist lives here" would help with that?

Hit the comments and let me know your thoughts.

http://web.archive.org/web/20021228234809/http://popularmechanics.com/science/research/2002/12/real_face_jesus/index.phtml

Desperate Mormon Housewives

The current issues of Bust magazine has an article entitled "Despearte Mormon Housewives." (Bust doesn't put their content online, but I encourage everyone to find a copy of the magazine and read this article). It's an interesting look into the rise of feminism among Mormon women. As it turns out, many women who practice Mormonism are dissatisfied with the fact that they have no opportunities for leadership in the church. Additionally, many of them want to pursue careers and occupations outside the role of "mother." Unfortunatley, they're not getting any support at home or in church. And they can't really talk about it to each other, as such discussions are frowned upon. A few extremely vocal Mormon feminists have even been excommunicated (although nobody fears a mass purge of feminists, as that would be bad PR for the church).

Because they can't talk to their families, church leaders or even each other about feminism, Mormon women interested in the issue are turning to the internet, specifically the blogosphere (or as some Mormon women call it, the "bloggernacle"). Although there are a few feminist Mormon sites out there, the powerhouse is Feminist Mormon Housewives. In this site, discussion is focused on how to balance feminist ideology with Mormon faith. Because the vast majority of these women are in the role of homemaker, a lot of the discussions also include stories about their home lives, parenting, etc. But there is also a lot of talk about political issues, and how feminism affects their lives. There's a book club which reads texts like The Feminine Mystique and The Price of Motherhood (the latter of which I wholeheartedly endorse). These women definitely want to see change in the way their religion views women, and I think that's great. I'm not sure how far they will get if they limit themselves to the internet, but I really like what's going on at this site. No, I don't agree with everything they say (heck, I have a lot of problems with feminist ideology as well), but I think this shows that change is on the horizon.

Ironically, Mormonism did not start out as an anti-feminist faith. Originally, women had leadership roles in the church. They were not on completely equal footing with men, but they did have a voice. And Mormonism believes in a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. But after Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) died, male leaders revoked the rights of women (another example of religion, which I think is more or less benign, becoming bad in the wrong hands). Furthermore, they claimed that people could not pray to or discuss the Heavenly Mother because she was "too sacred." Therefore, women had no voice, and they didn't have anyone to even relate to in liturgy. It looks like things might be changing again.

It makes me really happy to see that Mormon women are looking to theories and ideas outside of their religion. I imagine their struggle to find a balance is incredibly challenging. I hope that their online discussions help them find the solidarity they need to enact change within Mormonism as a whole. And I think that the rise of feminsim in Mormon circles is going to improve a lot of other things as well. Mormon women are learning that feminism, which they identify with a secular lifestyle, doesn't have to completely conflict with their beliefs. They're discovering that feminists aren't out to annihiliate families or destroy their beliefs. I think that by learning more about feminism and how it can have a postive influence on their lives, it's going to mean fewer negative stereotypes about those of us who are completely secular. And I think that with feminism as a common ground, there will be a potential for better dialogue between religious people, atheists, agnostics, etc.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Jediism, impact of books, kind of wondering post

Jediism

A few days ago Jana and I had a Star Wars marathon (over a three day period we watched each episode in order 1-6), that was rather fun. One thing I have always wondered about the Star Wars universe is how the Jedis' got their start. What was their beginning? After the marathon I decided to search the internet for the answer. I haven't found the answer to that question, though if someone knows where I can find the answer let me know in the comments, but I did find something a little closer to home that is just as interesting.

As everyone knows, the internet is home to many things, it is a giant meeting place for people with similar interests. On my searches, I found a movement of people who wish to be Jedi.

If you are not familiar with Jedi, then I suggest you stop reading this right now, go rent Star Wars, and do some research into the subject - don't worry, we'll still be here when you get done. Okay, everyone familiar with the Jedi religion, as told by the Star Wars films? Good. Now imagine people on good ol' Earth who wanted to be a part of that (hey, they are cool). You will end up with a community of people who are trying to live up to standards of the film (and book) Jedi.

I'm not here to say if that is good, bad, or somewhere in the middle. Though I will go out on a limb and say that from what I have seen, it is rather harmless (they don't have light sabers, nor can they throw you across a room with their mind), it seems to be more about living up to the values that the Jedi embody (which happens to mirror certain eastern religions).

Okay, there is the background, on to the next part.

Books, Movies, Games, etc.

I'm sitting here looking at the Jedi phenomenon, wondering something. Is it possible for a book, movie, or game to be realistic enough that people will start to believe in it, even try to duplicate it?

Let us take Dracula for example, did anyone truly believe that a person could turn into a lizard, suck blood, and was supper strong as night, *before* the book came out? How many after the book came out? How about Harry Potter, how many people looked into witchcraft as a result of reading the books, or seeing the films? I don't have the exact answer to those questions, but I'm willing to bet that we would all be surprised by the answers.

No matter how you look at it, stories, either told to us, shown to us (books), or acted out for us (movies) have a big influence on how we see the world. Sometimes they expand our world view (the people who decided to learn about the Wiccan religion due to Harry Potter), sometimes they make our world seem more frightening than it really is (Dracula).

What does any of my above rambling have to do with atheism? Well let me ask you a question - what kind of impact did the best selling book of all time* have on people (and society) - did it expand our view of the world, or did it make life seem more frightening that it really is? Did it result in people trying to duplicate parts of it?

If the Jediism movement catches on, what kind of impact will it have on the future? Will it be the next big religion?**

I think I lost my train of thought somewhere in there...

* The Holy Bible is the best selling book of all time. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books

** Please note that I'm not picking on people of the Jediism movement, but rather using it as a way to help people understand my thinking.

A response to "G-d is Greater than Christopher Hitchens"

In an effort to have an understanding of my fiancé's religious beliefs, I read a few Jewish blogs, and also subscribe to a Jewish Wisdom newsletter from Beliefnet. I don't maintain that Beliefnet is the ultimate authority on any faith, but it's a good way for me to at least get an idea of what's going on; I can always ask my fiancé later if something seems inaccurate.

In Sunday's newsletter, there is a link to a blog article written by Rabbi Smuley Boteach entitled "G-d is Greater Than Christopher Hitchens." I am not a follower of Rabbi Boteach's blog, because the few articles I have read seem reactionary/inflammatory, and don't seem to present the view of Judaism that I have come to view from my fiancé and his friends. They have demonstrated that Judaism is a religion that is tolerant, peaceful, and focused on self-improvement as well as social justice (but in a way that doesn't involve trying to win converts at the same time). Although I disagree with Judaism on the premise that a god exists, and while I disagree with some of the traditions, I respect the overarching themes I have come to see expressed by my Jewish friends. However, Rabbi Boteach's articles are antithetical to what I have learned. But because this particular article targeted atheism, I felt compelled to read and respond.

Rabbi Boteach's main point is a fairly familiar one: that if we all simply believed in evolution and "survival of the fittest," there would not be any morality. It is only because the Bible exists that humans know the difference between good and evil, and it is what motivates us to care for others. He uses Stephen Hawking as an example. Rabbi Boteach claims that it is because of our Bible-given morality that Hawking has received ongoing treatment for his illness; it is because of religion we did not leave him to die once it became clear that he was not "valuable" to the overall survival of the species. However, Rabbi Boteach is taking an inaccurate view of "survival of the fittest." This phrase does not apply to whether or not an individual being lives into old age. "Survival of the fittest" is a reproductive concept; an animal/being is considered fit if he/she/it is capable of reproducing, of passing his/her/its genetic material down to the next generation. Hawking's fitness and survival are determined by whether or not he was able to produce offspring (he did).

Beyond that, all animals, be they humans or otherwise, exhibit prosocial behavior whether or not they are religious. Caring for others of your family/tribe/group, even when it poses stress or risk on your finances, time, or biological/reproductive resources, is something that all creatures do whether or not they have religious beliefs. Prairie dogs, for example, put themselves at risk by being vocal when they spot a predator. Although this allows the rest of the group to find shelter, the individual animal is at risk for being spotted and killed. In fact, although prosocial behavior may limit an individual's resources and biological fitness, it can in fact improve the overall fitness of the rest of the group. Putting oneself at risk can better ensure the survival of the species; in the prairie dog example, the risk of one animal's life means that fewer members of the group will be killed, meaning better chances for reproduction. Prairie dogs don't have the kind of neurological development that allows for religious belief, and yet they exhbit moral behavior, putting others before themselves.

Rabbi Boteach's article takes an underlying assumption that evolutionary theory is inherently evil. He cites the example of Francis Crick advocating observing newborns for 48 hours and killing them if they were "defective." He also uses the racist views of Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley, as well as the mass killings under the atheist regimes of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. However, I maintain that his position of evolution being inherently evil and religion being inherently good is inaccurate. I believe that all thoughts and tools have the potential to be used for good as well as for evil. How you use a particular ideology or technology determines its status as "good" or "evil"; context is key. Biotechnology has provided us with medical treatments for severe illnesses; it has also given us the power to create biological weapons to be used for terrorism. The internet allows us new methods of communication, but it also leaves children vulnerable to pedophilia. Ideas of evolution can be misconstrued to advocate racism, but also provide us with new ways of understanding our world and our origins. Even religion isn't safe. Religious beliefs can be peaceful, tolerant, and open-minded, or their messages can be twised around to advocate intolerance and stereotype those who do not follow their particular beliefs.

The Atheist's Bible

I hope everyone's as interested in this new book and book review as I am. Looks like great summer reading!! Please let us know what you think, i.e. do you plan on buying it, etc... Thanks!!

Slim Portable Gift Book For Atheists - June 18th, 2007

By Carlin Romano - courtesty of Philly.com
Inquirer Book Critic

THE ATHEIST'S BIBLE - Edited by Joan Konner
Ecco. 193 pp. $16.95

To stir secular intellectuals, American philosopher Daniel C. Dennett last year published Breaking the Spell. British scientist Richard Dawkins soon followed with The God Delusion.

At the same time, writer Sam Harris has kept grabbing middlebrow readers with Letters to a Christian Nation and other work. And, earlier this month, caustic British American culture critic Christopher Hitchens goosed atheism to best-sellerdom - his God Is Not Great debuted at No. 1 on the all-important New York Times list.

Any surprise that atheism now turns up as a gift book, the kind stackable by the register? If atheism's going mass, after all, you need not just a sacred text but an easily portable one.

The Atheist's Bible, compiled by former Columbia School of Journalism dean Joan Konner, gains its more-than-tchotchke credibility from the authority of its creator - an odd standard to apply to a pro-atheism book, but there you are.

Credit Konner with caginess. The book presents no conventional introduction. A few footnotes suggest classic balance ("Atheists can be as intemperate, unreasonable and extreme as fire-and-brimstone preachers"). On the whole, however, The Atheist's Bible organizes hundreds of aphorisms and excerpts to sway an uncertain mind - that is, a mind uncertain about both God's existence and whether it wants to spend valuable summer time plowing through Dennett, Dawkins or Hitchens.

So consider The Atheist's Bible your atheism beach book, your big-A graphic novel, your Atheism for Dummies, a slim book that permits you to feel like a high-achieving apostate every 20 seconds while you build up strength for serious blasphemy when cooler weather returns.

It accomplishes many tasks. For one, it balances the uncritical, submissive tone toward God and religion that dominates American mass media. You get that every day in every way. This book (and review) airs the other side.

Second, it reminds us that before D, D and H - the current Three Musketeers of Non-Belief - there were Aristotle, Hume, Voltaire, Tom Paine, George Eliot, George Santayana, Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein, Simone de Beauvoir, Katharine Hepburn and a slew of others.

Not a bad dinner party - or reality show. Such secularists expressed many of the atheistic thoughts and arguments we read today, albeit in more elegant prose.
Multiple thinkers here, for instance, echo Aristotle's ancient claim that "men create the gods after their own images," for reasons of intellectual primitiveness. "Religions are like glow-worms," wrote philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. "They need darkness in order to shine." For Santayana, "Fear first created the gods."

Although God and religion remain separate concepts - hostility to the first needn't imply hostility to the second - the atheistic tradition includes the latter, even from such religion-friendly sources as Blaise Pascal. He wrote that "men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Napoleon thought religion "keeps the poor from murdering the rich." Freud regarded religions as "mass delusions."

Konner's choices also remind us that Bible-bashing is next to godliness among atheists. Issac Asimov viewed the Bible as "the most potent force for atheism ever conceived." Paine described it as "a book of lies and contradictions," "the work of a demon" more than "the word of God," and denounced its "obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries . . . the unrelenting vindictiveness."

Voltaire shared Paine's disapproval, defining the Bible as "what fools have written, what imbeciles command, what rogues teach." Leading 19th-century American atheist Robert Ingersoll castigated it for presenting a God who upholds slavery, commands soldiers to kill women and babies, supports polygamy, persecutes people for their opinions, and punishes unbelievers forever.

The clergy also catch it on the chin. "Every step that the intelligence of Europe has taken," wrote Victor Hugo, "has been in spite of the clerical party." Émile Zola agreed: "Civilization will not attain to its perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest!"

A core tenet of atheism, Konner's selections confirm, is the weakness of evidence for God, understood in accord with the view of 19th-century British scientist W.K. Clifford that "it is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." Thus, Samuel Butler contended that "if God wants us to do a thing, he should make his wishes sufficiently clear. Sensible people will wait till he has done this before paying much attention to him."

As mainstream culture regularly demonstrates, believers possess lots of standard replies to atheistic points - evidence is not the point of faith, the joy of belief proves its truth, and so on. One payoff of The Atheist's Bible, for nonbelievers, is that it provides ammunition for second-round retorts. "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic," remarked George Bernard Shaw, "is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one."

Similarly, it provides sources for atheists and scientists who reject reconciliation between science and religion. "Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion," says Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg, "should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization."

For atheists, the trick is to find alternatives to belief in God and religion. For Pearl Buck, it was "faith in human beings." For Frank Lloyd Wright, "Nature."
In the end, one leitmotif runs through The Atheist's Bible: Certainty kills.
"If we believe absurdities," Voltaire warned, "we shall commit atrocities." H.L. Mencken echoed the thought: "Men become civilized not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt."

Will atheism soar enough for hotels to put an Atheist's Bible in every room? Konner is probably unconcerned. Atheists live for the here and now, a truism she recognizes in the epitaph that closes her book:
Here lies an atheist

All dressed up

And no place to go.

Contact book critic Carlin Romano
at 215-854-5615 or cromano@phillynews.com.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/carlinromano.
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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Interesting article

There is an interesting article from Scientific American. It is two scientists discussing science and faith. An interesting read.

Presumably you wouldn’t reach out to a Flat Earther. Nor, perhaps, to a Young Earth Creationist who thinks the entire universe began after the Middle Stone Age. But perhaps you would reach out to an Old Earth Creationist who thinks God started the whole thing off and then intervened from time to time to help evolution over the difficult jumps.
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=25A5DA8D-E7F2-99DF-32F53BCD97024B43&ref=rss

Saturday, June 16, 2007

THE OFFICIAL GOD FAQ

Question: “Is there a God?”

Answer: “No.”


In the quite unlikely event that you were to discover any omissions or inaccuracies on this page, they may be reported to the international headquarters of The Official God FAQ, at aod@400monkeys.com, where they will be thoroughly investigated, submitted to rigorous scientific testing and, if substantiated, included in a subsequent update. Thank you.

Link to the original page: http://www.400monkeys.com/God/
Thanks to

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wis.dm

I ran into a new site (for me anyway) called wis.dm, this is a site where you can ask questions, and answer them. Kind of fun to play with. Well I decided to take a look at the religion topic and ran into the normal question "Do you believe in God". Regretfully the answer No only has 25%, 1 of 4 answers, of the vote (as of this post).
I'm asking everyone to go and make sure we atheists are heard out there.


Links in this post:
http://wis.dm/
http://wis.dm/topics/religion
http://wis.dm/questions/44232-do-you-believe-in-god

Monday, June 11, 2007

Conversion

Being the only atheist in my family and in my close circle of friends, the religious people in my life definitely give me a lot to think about. This weekend, I was thinking about my father's new status as a converted Catholic. It's a long story, one that is grounded within hypocrisy, but illustrates perfectly the way I feel about conversion.

My dad was raised Methodist, and his father was a minister. In his late teens, my dad realized that he didn't believe anymore, although he stayed active in order to avoid the draft, as back then Methodism was a religion that got you an exemption. In his early twenties, my father gave up religion, and never regretted it. I remember that when I was a kid, we would have a lot of talks about faith, why he didn't believe, etc. Those are really great memories I have of him.

In my senior year of college, dad left my mom for another woman. Upon moving in with his mistress, he starting attending the Catholic Church at her request, and made a full conversion a few weeks ago. It made me feel sick for a number of reasons. First, he converted to a religion that forbids divorce, and went so far as to have his marriage to my mom annulled by the Catholic Church authorities (presumably so he can marry his mistress, although he hasn't specifically said anything about it). How ironic that he enters into a religion so intolerant of divorce . . . Then, of course, is the fact of his atheism. I suppose he could have developed some form of belief over the past couple of months, but I honestly doubt it. Since he left our family a year and a half ago, I've come to doubt the sincerity of most of his actions. Additionally, dad converted to the religion he hated the most. I'm not kidding. Of all the religions out there, he was most hostile to Catholicism, and often not even hostile in a critical way, but in a manner that relied on stereotypes. This is enough to lead me to the idea that he's not converting because he believes.

Interfaith couples are becoming more and more common, and in several cases, one member of an "interfaith" couple does not actually have any faith at all. As long as both sides are able to respect one another's beliefs (or lack thereof), I think it can definitely work out. Of course, if that relationship is a serious one, the issue of one party converting might just become a topic of discussion. This has been the case in my own relationship. But I never had to give it much thought; I don't believe in god. Even before my father's own hypocritical conversion, I knew that I would never take my fiancé's faith, because it's ridiculous to convert if you don't believe. Adopting a religion, whether your atheist or simply a different faith from your partner, is ridiculous if you're just doing it for the other person. I can't see how anyone could find fulfillment as a result.

Ironically, I got some resistance from friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Their argument was that there are lots of Jewish atheists out there, so I could still convert and yet retain my athiest status. However, I find that idea borderline offensive. Judaism is both a religion and an ethnicity. You can convert to a religion, but I don't think you can really convert to a particular ethnicity. (Perhaps this is in fact possible, but I'm just not comfortable with the idea.) I think it would be wrong of me, someone who was not born into a Jewish family and raised with Jewish cultural traditions, to convert and claim I am a member of this ethnicity. It just seems wrong.

In general, my fiancé is fine with my resistance; if he were that insistent on it, we wouldn't have gotten engaged in the first place. Still, he is somewhat upset by the idea that if we have children, they won't be Jewish; we'd have to do a conversion ceremony for them. Judaism is a matrilineal religion, meaning cultural/ethinic/religious identity is passed on through the mother. Still, I'm not going to convert. For one thing, I don't see why, if our kids went to services and had bar/bath mitzvahs, they would have to convert just because I didn't convert before they were born. Perhaps because I don't come from a religious family, I don't see why beliefs and culture are passed down exclusively from one parent. After all, my mom's religious beliefs sure didn't rub off on me.

But beyond that, I think it would be a bad example to set for my hypothetical children if I converted just for the sake of them being born Jewish. If we have kids, I want them to have the confidence to be able to make such decisions in their own lives. I don't want them to feel pressured to practice the Jewish religion just because they have to; I want them to decide whether or not to be religious or atheist (or agnostic or spiritual or whatever) based on their own beliefs and ideas. If I convert just for my fiancé or to uphold a tradition I don't believe in, I'll just be sending the message to them that, even if you don't believe, you should sometimes pretend to for the sake of others. That's not the type of parent I want to be. Additionally, I think they need to see that an atheist and a religious person can love and respect one another, and my conversion would cheapen that idea. I think that by not converting, I'm honestly doing the best thing for everyone involved.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Presidential Faithful?

If you were watching the Democratic and Republican Presidential debates on CNN last week, than you, I and the rest of the world just witnessed the possible ruin of this country (at least, according to me). Just how many of those GOP smarty-pants claimed to believe in creation? And just how many claimed that "jesus is my lord and saviour"? Almost enough times to put me in convulsions. Eww!!! To me, it was almost worse than torture. I felt nauseous, I couldn't stop squirming. But this was to be more or less expected by the Republicans, except maybe for the old Rudy Giuliani -- who, by the way, never did a damn thing for NYC before, during or after 9/11.

But...the Democrats? Did you see that ridiculous show CNN did about Faith and Politics? First, who the hell ever said that one had to be religious or have faith to care about the less fortunate, or others? Well according to the priests, they asked the hopefuls how their faith would help them eradicate poverty? I was by myself and I remember laughing out loud at the thought that any hopeful who won would pray really hard, and all poverty would just vanish instantly, like Samantha on Bewitched.

Most of all I'ld just like to know when and how all of this religiosity became socially acceptable; especially and more frighteningly so, among the mainstream, liberal media? This wouldn't have happened 5, 10, 15 or 30 years ago. There would have been protests, backlash, it just couldn't have happened. Not even with Falwell's Moral Majority. In fact, because of Falwell, there was always the liberal mainstay against the evangelical right; so, no, that doesn't expain it.

Is this country getting more conservative, in general? For example, I am not just pro-choice, I am pro-abortion and have been since the mid 1980's when it was very legal and very available almost everywhere. Now it wasn't until 1991 that the National Right To Life Movement started getting very serious, with the fire-bombings, physician murders, etc., and 16 years later it's as if abortion never existed. As a very coincidental aside to this, I was researching something earlier yesterday, and came across a site about abortion. I instantly thought to myself that, oh this is another one of those anti-abortion sites, but I started reading and became overjoyed that it wasn't! It had been that long since I had seen or heard anything positive about abortion.

If 70% of Americans want the invasion in Iraq to end and our poor troops to come home, doesn't that make us less conservative? Maybe it doesn't and I just don't understand the "average" American. And there's the rub. I never have and I never will know what makes the average American tick. How could I? I was born on one coast, and brought up on the other. That leaves a whole lotta land in between, with people and problems that I couldn't begin to fathom!

But if anyone has some answers to these questions, please write in.

-Valerie

Friday, June 8, 2007

Creation Museum Field-Trip

Really I'm just reposting a link to an article. Here is a quick excerpt from the article:

Presumably to avoid labels of anti-Semitism, the museum takes it easy on Judaism. So far, no surprises. But then we get to its handling of the science and truly step through the looking glass.
The Flickr slide show is an interesting look at the museum. All in all, worth a quick look.

Looking through the images, I can see how this would be a fundamentalist's wet-dream. You have to love how facts can be twisted to fit any agenda you may have.

Links from the above post:
http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/ars-takes-a-field-trip-the-creation-museum.ars
http://www.flickr.com/photos/drjonboyg/sets/72157600301874014/show/

Thursday, June 7, 2007

#1 Reason Why Women Should Think Twice About Religion

The following is an excerpt from "Reasoned Spirituality" by B. W. Holmes

"Man has created his gods in his own image; usually physically, but always with human characteristics. Evidence suggests that gods were originally female; which makes sense, since women nurture and produce life. It is likely that masculine deities were developed to justify human aggression; changing god from an entity that passively provided for, and created life; to a pro-active force that assisted particular groups in the domination of others ("God is on our side"). As society developed, and male/female roles became less clearly defined, the masculine deity began to serve an additional purpose: to maintain male authority over women. Most religions still place restrictions upon the female members; allegedly due to orders from the male gods."

I hope with all my heart that any woman reading this, who has any doubts about, or is questioning her religion, would please educate herself on these topics. You can find information anwhere, in the library, all over the internet. Just re-read the bible, torah or koran, and you will see, with renewed vision, just how incredibly demeaning and hateful the writers of these books were to women.

-Valerie

Reasoned Spirituality, by B. W. Holmes (http://www.reasoned.org)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Protest at Creation Museum

Here's a video of a bit of Defcon's protest at the Creation Museum:






priceless...

Very well spoken-I'm glad someone is making an attempt to bring attention to the absurdity of the museum.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Healthy Doubt

My fiancé is Jewish (Conservative). Just over a year ago, he decided to start keeping kosher. Not full-out with separate plates for meat/dairy, but simply not eating pig products and not mixing meat and dairy. His reason for doing so was that he felt that he could not simply pick and choose which rules he was going to follow, and that he shouldn't just not observe the ones that he didn't like or that were a bit inconvenient. Given my habit of interrogating religion at every turn, I spent some time questioning his decision. This wasn't an effort to make him give up Judaism (I would never try to do that, and it wouldn't happen anyway), or even to get him to not keep kosher. I mean, I was a little freaked out by his decision. Although I had no plans of keeping kosher, I was going to have to remember to not mix meat and dairy when cooking for both of us, and I was worried about his religion encroaching on my atheism. But I asked him so many questions because first, I really wanted to understand more about Judaism, and second, because I really wanted to know where he was coming from with his interpretation of Jewish law.

Ultimately, his being kosher turned out not to be a real problem for me. Sometimes I would forget not to mix meat and dairy, but honestly, it wasn't difficult; I could always add dairy separately to my meals. Still, my fiancés reason for keeping kosher bothered me. He said he didn't feel you could simply pick and choose what rules to follow, but I could think of lots of other rules (such as not wearing polyester fabrics) that he wasn't following. But it got to the point where I quit debating the issue, because it was clear that neither of us was going to be satisfied with the other's answers. It was going to be a time when we had to agree to disagree.

About a year later, some of those contradictions have started to stand out for him. While in a Torah study, the group read a passage that states that a deformed person cannot enter the synogogue. My fiancé realized that this was a rule he simply could not accept. Now he's putting a lot of thought into the interpretations he has about Judaism. He's not losing his faith per se, but he definitely has a lot of questions right now, questions I think only he can answer. He has to figure out how to distinguish between rules he doesn't like and rules he does not feel he can accept. Although I like discussing everything with him still, even if we're not going to come to an agreement.

How does this relate to atheism? To put it simply, I think that even atheists experience times of non-spiritual confusion and questioning. These sorts of questions and contradictions that my fiancé is thinking about now were ones that ultimately led me away from religion. Granted, I was not raised in a religious household. I came to Christianity/Catholicism in my early teens (our town was almost entirely Catholic), and spent a long time exploring religion and belief. I found a lot of problems with religion, most of them you have experienced as well. I spent a lot of time trying to answer my own questions, and definitely experienced what one might cause a crisis of faith, even though I didn't really have a lot of faith. And even as an athiest I've had these period crises, when I sometimes doubt my disbelief. Ultimately, I think these periods of questioning have been really healthy, and helpful to my development. I have in fact come away from them stronger in my convictions, because these have been periods in which I've read up both on atheism and religion, and though that learning understood why I cannot be a believer.

I think that an atheist can have a crisis of non-faith, just as a believer can have a crisis of faith. And I think these crises are ultimately beneficial, because they force you to think critically about what you do and do not believe. I think atheists pride themselves on being critical thinkers, and periods of confusion can be a time to really engage with what you do and do not believe on a very deep level. I don't think the point is to just say "I don't believe" and be done with it. The point, I think, it to continually engage with the world, with other people, with current events, and to always be thinking and interrogating. Don't just take a stance and become complacent.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

What kind of atheist are you?


You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


100%

Apathetic Atheist


92%

Spiritual Atheist


83%

Agnostic


67%

Angry Atheist


50%

Militant Atheist


33%

Theist


17%

What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Found via Stupid Evil Bastard (http://stupidevilbastard.com)

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Atheist Rap



Today while flipping through kde-look.org, I ran into this background image, which then lead me to the site of an atheist rapper. I don't follow the rap scene, so I was wondering if anyone knew anything about Greydon Square. Post your comments below.

This also leads me to ask everyone, do you have any favorite atheist music?

- Duane

Funny bit on Ed Brayton's blog

If you're not familiar with Ed Brayton, he's a brilliant blogger at Science Blogs-well worth adding to your RSS reader. Lots of great information and commentary on church/state issues, among many other things.

Here's a funny bit posted today:

This is the text of a very funny bit by a Canadian comic named John Wing, truly one of the great stand ups working today. It's called "And God Said...." and I'll paste it all below the fold.

And God Said...

And God said let there be light and there was light.

And God was lonely resting there on the 7th day, he was so lonely, and God said let there be cable. And there was cable.

http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2007/06/and_god_said.php

P.S. I'd add a trackback but blogger doesn't support that yet...

The Opiate Of The Masses

Why is religion "the opiate of the masses"? Well we know that it begins with the brain-washing of the poor and the needy - wash, rinse, dry, repeat. And the cycle continues ad infinitum, decade after decade, century after century.

Is it me or has anybody else noticed the socio-economic divide between those with the most faith and those with the most knowledge? The poorest and most needy among us always seem to have the most unshaken faith and belief in their god and religion. It most probably springs from (and I am talking about christianity here) the priest/minister's sermons and the bible's talk of "life everlasting", "heaven", blah blah blah (I really don't know enough about the Madlibs bible to be an authoritarian!) :)

But I am absolutely serious about the fact that every single person of a rich educational and/or upper-middle class background that I have ever met, is either an atheist or agnostic.
I know plenty of catholics, protestants and others, but are they practising? NO. Do they believe in organized religion? NO. Do most of them believe in god? NO!!!

This has been my own private, up-close-and-personal perspective.

-Valerie

Friday, June 1, 2007

Critical Thinking


Everyone knows them, those people who just can't seem to think for themselves. You have to hold their hand and lead them to the answer, often times having to give it to them. These people are an example of what I consider to be an epidemic in the US, a lack of *critical thinking* skills.

For those of you who do not know, I have worked in hotels for the last nine years. In that time, I have trained a lot of people on the various computer systems (called PMS - Property Management Systems in hotels) that hotels run. Thinking back, I have found that I employed two different kinds of training; the first kind I used was what I call the "What do you think" system, and the second being the "Let me walk you through" system. The "What do you think" system was where I would show someone how to do something, then the next day I would expect them to do it; often times in this system people would not know the answer, so I would ask the questions that should be going through their head (how, what, where, and why) "How do I get to my desired result?", "What will get me to my desired result?", etc. The "Let me walk you through" system was where I would continuously walk someone through the situation and show them the answer. The two systems gave different results, the second one resulted in more phone calls from staff that ran into a situation that I trained them for, but came at them in a different way; the first system resulted in fewer calls, and a more competent set of staff.

I'm sure you are asking how this all relates to the US as a whole. Simply put, people are not *taught* how to think critically, they are not taught to question. This means that many people in the world are just waiting for someone to give them the answers.

The current war, taking any old example. People were led by the hand into wanting the war. We were shown images, we were fed lies - the thing is, most people did not think about the information critically. Would critical thinking have stopped the war, no one can say for sure, but people would not have been so eager.

Religion; from the ripe old age of 14 days many people are introduced to religion. From that age people are taught to respect and fear religion, but never taught to truly think about it. Maybe if people were taught to critically think about religion, then there might be more atheists in the world.

The problem: Critical Thinking is not taught.
My solution: Teach critical thinking in every grade level. Teach the teachers how to alter their teaching methods to integrate it into the existing curriculum.

Critical thinking, the anti-drug.

- Duane

Billboards, continued.

In her most recent post, nycnontheist said that athiests "should get together and pay for several of these billboards for real to be posted wherever atheist organizations deem them necessary!" I'm wholeheartedly in favor of this, and given my interest in shaking things up, I say we go for it. Of course, there is a lot to do. Figuring out states in which we should make these billboards, researching different companies (I'm sure there are some who would not want to take us on as clients), getting price quotes, and most importantly, raising money. Well, that and actually designing the billboards. This would involve a pretty big network of people, and a lot of time and effort (and of course money). So to get the ball rolling, here are a list of states I have been in that I know could use a bit of billboard atheism.

Potential States
1. Ohio
2. Michigan
3. Indiana
4. Kentucky
5. Tennessee

Admittedly, this list is pretty short -- suffice to say, I haven't traveled much, or at least, I've really only gone to places without a lot of Christian propaganda on the roadside. But I am serious about this. Leave comments with states where you'd like to see these billboards. Think of fundraising ideas, or let us know if you'd be willing to donate out of your own pocket. Brainstorm design ideas.