Saturday, July 21, 2007

Suspect in Colorado anti-evolution death threats case is missing

Wikinews is reporting on the apparent flight of Menachem "Michael" Korn. Michael Korn is a possible string of anti-evolution "death threats" that were sent to biology faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The article is located here.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harry Potter and the Clash with the Sabbath

"Israeli Minister Warns Against Harry Potter Sales"

The international released of the seventh Harry Potter book conflicts with the Jewish Sabbath in Israel. Due to time differences, the book will launch in Israel at 2 a.m. on Saturday. Booksellers are contractually bound to launch at this specific time - and yet an ultra-Orthodox government official intends to fine every bookstore which participates. All stores which are open during the Sabbath are required to pay fines, although Eli Yishai seems to be particularly fervent about going after the bookstores.

Of course, the revenues from this book will likely offset the cost of the fines, as well as the mandatory overtime they are required to pay their employees. I know that Israel is governed by the laws of Judaism, and that they can't necessarily make a special case for one book. And yet this article points out that "most Israelis are secular." I find it frustrating that although Israel seems to be a somewhat secular country, it's still bound by these laws. But perhaps Israeli citizens nonetheless prefer the sense of tradition.

I think what frustrates me most is how restrictive rules can be, without leaving room for much personal interpretation. I was discussing the Sabbath issue with my fiancé, who often breaks Sabbath rules because things which the Torah forbids are actually ways he relaxes and enjoys the time off. Playing his musical instruments, writing stories and poems and songs, are all ways for him to rest and not focus so much on work. And yet these things still count as "work," and so technically, he's not supposed to partake in the things he finds most relaxing and rejuvenating.

Harry Potter is a book that brings many people great amounts of joy. And reading the novels certainly isn't work, unless for some reason a teacher has assigned it. I know that in several bookstores in the U.S., employees are asked to volunteer to participate in the book's release, and do so willingly because they see it as part of the fun. But I suppose ultra-Orthodox members of government aren't going to incorporate many ideas about personal interpretation, especially when the book's release is going to violate a pretty big rule: exchanging money on the Sabbath is definitely forbidden (so every time my fiancé and I spend money to see a weekend movie . . . ).

I understand why the Sabbath rules for businesses are in place. But I'm frustrated that government officials are so unforgiving. What about someone who finds a great deal of enjoyment in his/her business? Everyone needs a day off now and then, but I am definitely someone who really enjoys doing a little "work" every day, because my academic writing, while part of my career, is nonetheless enjoyable for me, much more so than the less-demanding part-time job I have to help pay for school. If Israel is becoming more secular, if individuals are making more personal interpretations of their faith, why isn't the government becoming more secular as well? As I mentioned above, it could be a respect and appreciation for tradition. But it still seems to me that eventually, a more liberal government would come into being.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The image is some filler from the Dresden Codak webcomic. And I think it can be interpreted as a great metaphor for atheism. The hole in people's chests is something which many people fear or are insecure about. In the third panel, people turn to religion, wanton materialism, or dependence on others in order to fill this void in their lives. But the narrator, as we find out, ultimately doesn't feel the need to fill it. He doesn't see it as a source of emptiness or incompleteness; he feels his life is fine with a hole in his chest. And in a way, this hole contributes to his life, in the fact that it can provide amusement.

Atheism doesn't necessarily give us a source of entertainment. But I think that it contributes to our lives. We're all a lot like this narrator; we don't see our lives as lacking or empty. We're content. That doesn't mean we like everything about the world; if something bothers us, we're going to change it. But we don't need deities or toys or relationships to make our lives complete; we do that for ourselves.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I play clarinet in a gay/straight alliance concert band. Last night, one of the trombone players showed up wearing a t-shirt from Soulforce. I didn't get the chance to ask her about it, but I was very curious, so I went to their website this morning. The header on their website states that their goal is to create: "Freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious & political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance." The mission statement goes on to elaborate their points:

Spiritual violence is the misuse of religion to sanction the condemnation and rejection of any of God’s children.

Misusing religion and/or God to support society’s bias against sexual and gender minorities also inappropriately justifies psychological, legal and physical violence against them. Some zealots blatantly articulate spiritual violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people when they scream "God Hates Fags."

Mainline churches may be less blatant and more sophisticated, but they are no less guilty of spiritual violence. It is just as violent spiritually when pastors and parents—quoting scripture—condemn and reject members of their congregation and their family. When this happens, God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children also feel condemned and rejected by their Creator as well.

Based on their mission statement, this site is definitely targeting people who are both homosexual/transgender and also struggling with their religious beliefs. And although I'm an atheist, I think this is a worthwhile organization. This group is attempting to do some serious good in the religious sector of society. Although spiritual people themselves, they recognize that there is a lot of hypocrisy in religion. And I think it's great that they're making an active effort to break down the anti-gay attitude in many churches today. My particular stance as an atheist is that I don't necessarily want to "convert" people to atheism, just as I don't want religious people to try and convert me. What I want to see is people being critical and questioning of their beliefs (this goes for atheists, too). And this organization is doing just that.

I think Soulforce has the potential to do a lot of good in the world. And something tells me that they wouldn't mind help from atheists or agnostics; I'm willing to be that they're a pretty tolerant group. Although this a religiously-oriented group, I think their goals to increase tolerance for homosexual/transgender people will help pave the way for other forms of tolerance as well.

Monday, July 2, 2007

What happend before the Big Bang?

I ran into a rather interesting blog post from Phil Plait, who runs the Bad Astronomy site. He has a nice post on a theory called Loop Quantum Gravity, apparently this may be able to tell us what happened before the Big Bang. He has a couple paragraphs towards the end that have some pointed remarks about creationism. Well worth a read.
In an earlier post of his, he has this video embedded - it has some nice arguments against creationism.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ban The Bible?

The wonderful Secular Humanist Society of New York publishes a monthly newsletter called "Pique". I just received the July issue Yesterday, and found a fascinating little article about the Chinese, the Bible, and indecency:

"More than 800 Hong Kong residents have called on authorities to reclassify the Bible as "indecent" due to its sexual and violent content.

The complaints follow the launch of an anonymous Web site - -which said the book "made one tremble" given its sexual and violent content, including rape and incest, and that the Bible's sexual content "far exceeds" that of a recent sex column published in the Chinese Univeristy's Student Press magazine, which had asked readers whether they'd ever fantasized about incest or bestiality.

If Hong Kong's authorities do classify it as "indecent," only adults over 18 will be allowed to buy the Bible - sealed in a (we assume plain) wrapper with a statutory warning notice."

With all the sex, incest, rape, sodomy, bestiality, murder and just general brutality that is in the Bible, I am in absolute agreement that this is a book that should only be in the hands of those over the age of 18 (or maybe, even 21). Also, this is a fictional book that is used to brainwash millions of children everyday, around the world.

Do you agree that the Bible should come with a warning lable? Tell us what you think!