Thursday, December 17, 2009

CFI and secular hatred

Got a letter from the Center for Inquiry yesterday. I read through it just for fun, and ended up not having any fun at all.

They bemoaned their financial status (typical fare for CFI), and then followed up with an appeal for a donation. After seeing mention of their sponsorship of "International Blasphemy Day," an unnecessary insult cast toward religion ("that most sacred of sacred cows, namely the taboo against criticizing religious beliefs"), and talk of a "struggle for a secular society," I threw up in my mouth a little and then wasted a stamp to ask them to take me off their mailing list.

Hey - doesn't the definition of Islamic jihad include mention of a "struggle" as well? Interesting...

Friday, November 27, 2009

A McKown recommendation that could use some modification

Suggestion #2 from Delos B. McKown for "replacing religion with science," 1984:

Seek ways, including the possible use of professional sanctions, to help safeguard the integrity of science instruction in public schools and to shield science teachers against uninformed public opinion or other political pressures.

Okay, I totally get the ‘political pressures’ thing, but there’s a question I have to ask about that other part:

Out of just whose loins are squirting all of these young people who are eventually showing up in our godless, mass production public school systems?

(wait for it…)

OMG, could it be?

The uninformed public!!!

Suddenly this suggestion of "safeguard[ing] against uninformed public opinion" has gone from being an uphill battle to a vertical cliff scaling. How does one "protect" a kid against the worldview of his or her own parents if no laws are being overtly violated? Could you imagine the litigation resulting from an effort to regulate how parents talk to their children in their own homes? Gaaak!

Here I’d put forward a simple counter-suggestion: let’s make more of a concerted effort to turn the uninformed public into the informed public! Revolutionary! Ingenious! Ground-breaking! Reachable! Innovative!

Nah. Let’s just insult Christians some more. That’s so much more fun, after all, and in the deluded minds of so many of my fellow non-believers, it’s massively productive. We’re SO winning the battle against evil religion, yes?

But, I still see that church just down the street from me. People still go there on Sundays. Thought the building would have been deserted by now, what with all the atheist converts we’re getting.

Maybe we’re not winning?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An interesting quote from Carl Sagan

"In Italy, the Inquisition was condemning people to death until the end of the eighteenth century, and inquisitional torture was not abolished in the Catholic Church until 1816. The last bastion of support for the reality of witchcraft and the necessity of punishment has been the Christian churches."

--Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (1996)

Great minds think alike. At least Carl Sagan had the presence of mind to be able to narrow down the scope of this particular (and quite horrifying, I would add) problem. I would certainly agree that it is within the realm of Christianity that we can find "the last bastion of support for the reality of witchcraft." But, could we then say with 100% certainty that each and every Christian on Earth today believes this reality? My bet is on "no." I will hold out for the probability that there are more progressive believers, and it is here that we may find excellent allies.

Of course, my expectation is that many of my fellow nonbelievers would rather pour derision on quotes like this, just as they did on Stephen Jay Gould for advancing his NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) ideas.

Once again, so much for claims of "rationality" among the nonreligious.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I'm not the only one, thank Goodness

Saw this last month on NPR:

I am relieved to hear that I'm not the only one who sees sense over all of this. Have to admit I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Paul Kurtz, icon of the so-called "skeptic" movement, also sees these atheist extremists for what they are. The term "fundamentalist" describes them quite accurately, in spite of their lame denials.

In response to a commenter's (most welcome) suggestion that I develop a more positive and productive focus regarding my worldview, I am working on some things now. Some time ago I posted on my bedroom wall an excerpt from a 1984 article by Delos B. McKown that had some suggestions for "replacing" religion with science. I scoff at the idea of trying to actively nudge religion out of existence, but if I ignore that premise some of the ideas look pretty good for 1) taking on Christian extremists and 2) increasing scientific literacy and appreciation.

Oh, and that painting mentioned in the NPR article, Jesus Paints His Nails? Not funny, but I appreciate having that visual proof of the absolute abandonment of rationality (as well as humanity) by atheist fundamentalists.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

So THAT'S the reason for all of this!

Been thinking about a news item I saw on the other night.

You've likely heard about the recent controversy in Gainesville, Florida over students being sent home from school because they were wearing shirts that said Islam is of the Devil. There's a great deal I could address on this issue, but instead I'm going to invite my readers to pay a visit to the following page, which I eventually found after moving from the MSNBC article to the web site of the Dove World Outreach Center:

On the page is a short video, Students wear anti-Islam T-shirts, in which members of the Sapp family are being interviewed about the shirts. The part that caught my attention was near the end, when the father, Wayne Sapp, was speaking about the effectiveness of the shirts' message:

How many churches put out a message...God will do it, God is in control...uh...Jesus loves you...uh...those kind of messages, and how much does that actually grab your attention? How many churches can...the name of a church or to make you think, 'I need to look that up, I need to find out about that'? How many churches have you seen their marquee, their billboard, something they've said, something they've done, to really make you go and search to say, 'Is that true?' That's one of the reasons for being this...uh...bold, this out there...

Out of the mouth of this ignorant, ignorant man comes what is perhaps the precise answer to so many of my questions about the New Jerkism. The method of drawing attention to a cause through sensationalist tactics is, I must sadly concede, a far more effective one than the peaceful, rational means that I would personally advocate. But is that what all of this jumping up and down and calling religion names is, just a way to sending up some kind of flare regarding the plight of the nonreligious? And while both religious and nonreligious people are playing these useless games, does there not exist any better way for us as human beings to have a more positive impact on the world? In case no one has noticed, all of the bad things that make this world hard to live in go on unimpeded while the two sides of this so-called debate occupy themselves with all of this childish vying for attention. People are still dying. Check your local paper, or the nightly newscast on TV.

I am starting to think that Dr. Tyson really did know what he was doing when he disavowed association with any movement, secular or otherwise. For myself, I am embarrassed and ashamed that I ever began associating with the carnival of attention-getters who call themselves atheists, most of whom being no more mature or rational than their extremist Christian opposition. I am starting to think that the very best way for me to deal with all of this madness is to simply return to the state I took on between mid-2007 and the present time: when asked, I will state that I am a nonreligious person and then I will move the hell on. I figure that, in doing this, I will likely be joining millions of fellow secular Americans who are just as frustrated and embarrassed at the cartoony antics of staged religion bashing as I am.

I truly have something better to do than trying to somehow reason with those of my fellow secularists who have chosen the paths of extremism and disengenuous sensationalism. I suppose it's about time I stopped wasting time here and started doing it. I will think about this.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A visit to the Friendly Atheist's blog

Back in '07 I used to hang out on Hemant's blog, and I still stop by every now and then just to see how things are going. I saw Hemant at the recent SSA conference in Columbus and considered saying hello and reminiscing, but with his increasing fame in the secular blogosphere I doubt if he would have had much time for me. Last night I saw a post about Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, author, and host of the PBS series Nova Science Now. Tyson had been interviewed in a recent issue of The Humanist and had been asked about his nonreligious affiliation. His answer, I feel, was well stated:

I’ve never identified with any movement. I just am what I am and occasionally a movement claims me because there is resonance between my writings and speeches and what they do, and that’s fine; I don’t mind that. But no, I have never been politically or organizationally active in that way. Astrophysics — that’s what I identify with.

He went on to mention that, on his wiki page, he had to adjust the applied label atheist to agnostic a couple of times; apparently somebody (and indeed, who knows who it could have been on Wikipedia) felt some urgent need to pin the Scarlet A on the astrophysicist.

The comments and discussion following the post, I must say, were the best I've seen yet in a secular blog. Kudos to the courage of Janiece, who said

Isn’t it a bit of a non-starter to debate someone else’s religious self-identification?

If he says he’s an agnostic, then that’s what he is. Claiming he’s really an atheist in order to use his fame to promote your own movement makes you no better than the dipsticks who try to claim the U.S. is a “Christian nation.”

And my hat is off to an anonymous poster who argued very eloquently about the labeling issue:

For what it’s worth, I’m disappointed in atheists who insist that other atheists should always accept and embrace the atheist label. It’s that same identity politics mentality – your atheist in-group comes first, and everything else comes second. I disagree.

I think Neil provides a sound example of when your atheism should come second. Scientific literacy and/or critical thinking are far more important than accepting that there is no God. You won’t get people to accept that God doesn’t exist if they don’t think critically or are not scientifically literate to begin with.n the

A concrete example is the evolution-creationism debate. I agree with evolutionary biologists that real biology would be better served if atheists just butted out.

I don’t mean that atheists shouldn’t contribute to the defense of evolution. But they shouldn’t defend evolution under the banner of atheism. That is utterly stupid and counterproductive – it just reinforces religious resistance to taking science seriously, or to asking questions critically. It actually turns people away (religious people) from becoming scientifically literate or critical thinkers.

If you care about scientific literacy and/or critical thinking, you should be willing to admit that there are times when identity politics doesn’t trump everything else. Promoting atheism is important, but not as important as educating the public about science, or getting people to examine questions in a thoughtful way.

I see this as the biggest divide within organized atheism. Most groups think that identity politics comes before all else, but a few recognize that their atheism isn’t everything. This is probably why the Center for Inquiry has a secular humanism wing over here, and a skeptic wing over there. There is an implied recognition there that getting non-atheists to think critically is more important than getting them to accept atheism.

I am in complete agreement with both Janiece's and anonymous' thinking, and I'm concerned that anonymous may have felt the need to remain anonymous because of his or her perfectly okay, but dissenting, viewpoint. Is it not well within the definition of free thought to be able to discuss differences of opinion within the community openly and without fear of jerk retaliation?

I have no problem with Tyson's desire to just pursue his science. I'd be happy to do the same. My question to those who criticize his decision is, in some perfect world where we eventually achieve acceptance for the secular worldview, what is the secular activist to do? The answer's simple: retire from the activism and concentrate on things that really matter, like exploring the bigger questions of how the natural world - and the universe - works. We harp so much about defending science, but then we toss it into the back seat in favor of the War. Strange.

And it's not like Tyson hasn't been pulled into the conflict anyway.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Janet Parshall says something interesting...

Let's shift gears for a moment. While I was driving around town yesterday, I was listening to the radio. I'm quite the channel-flipper, and in the course of my jumps around the dial I lit on a local conservative Christian station that plays the radio show Janet Parshall's America. Ms. Parshall was giving some air time to recent remarks by President Obama that were targeted toward Muslims during their holy holiday of Ramadan. She would play each piece, following it up with the word interesting and expressing concern about the amount of deference given to Muslims on their holiday as opposed to that given to Christians on, say, the National Day of Prayer.

I listened hard to the clips of the President's remarks, deliberately looking for anything that I myself might find to be of concern. Whatever it was that was irking Ms. Parshall, I must have missed it. His words expressed tolerance and optimism for a better relationship with the Muslim world. While I don't count myself some fawning Obama fan, I think the man is doing the very best he can under the present circumstances. I like what he's saying so far.

One remark (paraphrased here) was especially interesting to me. Ms. Parshall asked: if we're going to give such glowing, extended coverage to Muslims, are we going to take the time to do the same for all of the other religions? One example she gave particularly stood out as a dig - Native Americans who smoke Peyote. Well, Ms. Parshall, I gladly concede to you this point, but I think that if you'd actually understood your own question you would never have posed it. You see, this is the very rationale behind keeping religion (as a body) out of the public arena; to incorporate one religious belief would, in the interest of fairness, necessitate the inclusion of every other, and the resulting time and effort spent to cover it all would be overwhelming. Take creationism, for example. If science teachers in the public schools were somehow legislated into giving so-called equal time to the Judeo-Christian creation story, it would only be fair that they also teach the creation stories of all of the other cultures that have them. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these. A single lesson would take the entire year to teach, and the class would become exclusively one in comparative religious studies rather than one in science. Therefore, in addition to the fact that they are not science anyway, creation stories are kept out of the science classroom to address precisely the problem you spoke of in your critique of President Obama's remarks.

This story lends itself very well to the point of this blog. Note, if you will, the following progressive sequence of statements:

  • We need to end religion in the world.

  • We need to end the negative influence of religion in the world.

  • We need to end the negative influence of Christianity in the United States.

  • We need to end the negative influence of Christian extremists like Janet Parshall in the United States.

Folks, I've never contested that we have a legitimate opponent standing in the way of the better world we seek. These people, who hide behind the shield and camouflage of their stated belief system, seek to impose unwelcome control over others, a state counter to the principles of liberty on which this country was founded. The above sequence of statements evolves from irrational generalization to rational, specific addressing of a tangible challenge. We certainly seem to grasp the true problem, but the words we say don't match the understanding we appear to have. What I am pointing out here is that we who are secular activists do ourselves and our efforts to keep these controlling people at bay a massive disservice when we publicly declare unrealistic, irrational goals (like the end of religion) and overgeneralize to the point of alienating potential allies. Why is this so hard to understand?

One more thing: following Ms. Parshall's analysis of the President's remarks, a female caller to the show made the following statement: Janet, I'm not very politically saavy, and that's why I listen to you.

Indeed, the most interesting statement of all.

"When the cops arrive, blame the theists..."

This is, unbelievably, what a fellow atheist actually recommended to me back in '07 when I was considering attending the upcoming National Day of Prayer event on May 2nd. He instructed me to show up with protest signs and make some serious noise, and then to deflect any personal responsibility when law enforcement officials arrived to break up the ensuing melee. The advice greatly saddened me and led almost directly to my temporary retreat from atheism. In spite of the burnout that was already in full progress at the time, I ended up attending my local event, which was being held in a public park.

I'm so glad I didn't show up with the signs and vitriol, as had been suggested by my godless pal. Had I done so, the signs would have certainly remained in the car, and my clenched fists would have unclenched completely. Truth be told, I'd have been pretty embarrassed to have gone in ready for a fight.

Keeping in mind that there were other events around the local area that may have been better attended and intending no offense to anyone, it was an awkward little affair. I counted about fifty people total. A listless-looking child held a Christian flag in his hand, and participants talked quietly amongst themselves. I noted the presence of a local Lutheran pastor whose church I had attended for a couple of Sundays in the time before I made my final decision to settle into a nonreligious worldview. The city's Mayor gave a speech (yeah, I get it - the violation of separation of church and state thing) and led a small prayer. Overall I sensed very little impetus or energy in this display, and I left about halfway through the event just shaking my head. (Note that I keep saying I - no other sign-carrying, indignant atheists had even bothered to show up. Interesting.)

What do I think of the National Day of Prayer? If you're asking, I think that it is a semi-organized, last-ditch effort to reassure its own participants that their weakening faith is still somehow dominant in our society. Those possessing stronger faith, who feel no real threat to their personal worldview, likely went about their May 2nd normally and continued incorporating daily prayers as they surely would have on May 1st, April 22nd, or December 25th. Wiser people understand that every day is a national day of prayer, whatever the belief system, and in spite of the Newdows and the FFRF's and the Madalyn Murrays, no one is threatening their personal right to to personally engage in conversation with God whenever they feel the need. The infamous Radical Response Squad of Blasphemy Challenge fame will not be sending armed militants into churches to disrupt services any time soon, and no magic machine has yet been developed by mad scientists to physically stop an individual from transmitting a mental or verbal communique to the Divine. I'm not counting small, high-velocity projectiles, and I hope that I do this with good justification. If jerkism is becoming pandemic amongst atheists in modern-day America, we haven't yet as a movement become murderers.

Let's keep it that way.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My first comment!

Wow, someone commented. First, my thanks to the commenter, BlackSun, for stopping by and taking an interest. Second, I will make a point of occasionally discussing such comments in a blog post, if there is a possibility that doing so could lead to some sort of progress in understanding what I'm doing here in the blogosphere.

Here's what BlackSun says in response to my post about Sam's Blasphemy Challenge video, taken in sections:

The war must end. Hmm. Surrender? The dead-cat humor doesn't make up for your total lack of intellectual integrity.

I will ignore what is obviously needling and focus instead on the word surrender. I have not advocated anywhere on this blog for any kind of surrender of the nonreligious to the religious. It is very much to my point that, contrary to our claim of possessing the high ground of rationality, many of us jump to conclusions such as dissenters within our community advocating complete capitulation to an opposing point of view. It was not what I said, and no evidence exists to back up the claim.

Trashing a courageous young girl as a hypocrite for denying a fairy tale you claim not to believe in? You've got to do better than that.

Since the focus here is on my charge of hypocrisy, I'll explain it. Say I actually did believe the fairy tale (more needling in this part of the comment), or that I converted back to it for some reason. If I published an article or made a video in which I stated that atheism was a dangerous worldview and that I'd do whatever it took to eliminate it from human society, I would receive tons of mail decrying my intolerance and bigotry (one thing I've learned is that atheists rise very well to the call of angry letter-writing campaigns; I've participated in them myself). Sam, of course, would have put in her two cents. So, it's okay to tell religion to go away, but it's not okay for someone religious to tell atheism to go away. Perhaps it could be argued that hypocrisy wasn't the technically correct term to apply here, but my point is: how is the secular worldview validated by this double standard? Who sides with you when you can't take what you give?

If you truly seek understanding, understand this: Atheist activists are not declaring war on the supernatural. It's a war on the very real problem of religious privilege in our society--or hadn't you noticed?

I just went back to watch the video again. Anyone else can do the same; that's why I embedded it in the blog. Sam speaks specifically of bringing an end to religion itself, not religious privilege, as BlackSun seems to be saying. I would ask that it be pointed out to me where in the video the words or the concept of religious privilege appear.

It is unfortunate that we can't have disagreements within this community without little digs like a lack of intellectual integrity or --or hadn't you noticed? I challenge my commenters to make their comments with rationality, maturity, and respect. Otherwise, the War will just go on, and the better secularists will be shamed yet again by your behavior.

"Respect" - what is it?

How many times have I argued for taking a position of respect in dialogues regarding religion, only to be admonished that being polite to the Christians or trying not to offend Christians is a bad thing to do? It's almost as if my words had passed through some kind of Universal Atheist Translator before it got to the other person's ears. Any counterassertion on my part that I'm not advocating for politeness or appeasement is utterly ignored. This situation is quite bizarre, so I guess I need to look into it further.

I grabbed a definition of respect off of Merriam-Webster's dictionary site ( just to see how it's being technically defined. I focused on the transitive verb form. Here it is:

1 a: to consider worthy of high regard : esteem b: to refrain from interfering with <please respect their privacy>
2: to have reference to : concern

Definition 1 seems more relevant to this discussion, so I'll stick with it. I can go with definition 1a in the sense that I am talking to a fellow human being (regardless of the belief system) and should hold human beings in high regard so long as they haven't forsaken their humanity. As for holding the person's religious belief in high regard, I would only do that in the sense of acknowledging that such belief works for them.

Definition 1b is interesting. Perhaps this is what fellow atheists are talking about when they express concern over the weakness of showing respect. I am, just as much as anyone else, aware of the attitude that religion is somehow far above any kind of reproach or critical analysis in the public arena, and I don't agree with that position either. What merit I do see in definition 1b should be appreciated by both believers and non: don't interfere with my right, as an individual, to adhere to my worldview, even if it's not the same as yours. Discuss, critique, and disagree if you must, but respect the worldview if that's what the other person is ultimately comfortable with. I continue to be amazed when fellow atheists demand that Christians leave them alone and then turn right around and call for the end of Christianity. I am so not getting this double standard.

I didn't see the word polite or the specific phrase being careful not to give offense to in the Merriam-Webster definition. Certainly these could be found elsewhere, so perhaps I'm just looking at a different dictionary than most of my comrades. But I want to clarify what I know about the giving of offense. If anyone reading this would conduct a small experiment, namely to go out of your way to try not to offend someone else, you'll find that the effort will fail over a sufficiently large amount of time no matter how hard you try. Inadvertent offense, or offense misperceived by someone else, is unavoidable. In such a case it remains for us to explain that such offense was not intentional and offer further clarification of the offending remark. In no way does offense taken to an opposing point of view obligate the opponent to change his or her stance; that's common ground I hold with every other secular person. My point in all of this is simply to stick with the conviction but leave out the name-calling. Such strengthens the argument for acceptance of our worldview, IMHO.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Now added to the Atheist Blogroll...

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

We are fulfilling scripture

When I was young and attending the little Southern Baptist church a few streets over, one of the things I learned that still remains with me is this: they will persecute you for your faith. I never really wondered at the time who they were; I just assumed they were stupid, evil people sent by the Devil to try to knock me out of my relationship with God. More importantly, I knew how I would respond to their persecution: I would remain steadfastly on the path to righteousness and salvation. Or whatever.

Nowadays I hear a lot of stories about atheists who were former Christians, and I wonder what church they went to that they didn't receive the same message that I did. Isn't it one of the constants of Christianity (along with Islam and Judaism) that Evil is going to throw everything it has at you to upset your relationship with the Divine? What about the early Christians, who were supposedly fed to lions for their belief? Anyone remember the story of Daniel in the Lion's Den? These people are fully braced to be made fun of, laughed at, ridiculed, punched in the face, or (in theory) even killed. Understanding this, what's up with the fellow atheist who once told me that ridicule was the very best way to deal with Christians?

A popular saying, sometimes attributed to Einstein, sometimes to Benjamin Franklin, is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In the two years since I came out of the closet into non-religion, I have yet to see a concrete case of a religious person who yielded to ridicule and abandoned his or her religion. I'd honestly like to see statistics on how effective this strategy is overall. It seems to me that, since the allegedly evil atheists are fulfilling scriptural edicts with such incredible accuracy, the person would more likely elect to stay with that which was on the money with the prediction, namely scripture. How do we end religion when we are doing just what the Bible (or the Koran, or the Torah, or whatever) said we would do? Wouldn't it be more effective for us to contradict scriptural predictions by not persecuting?

Just what is it that enjoins us to mount an offensive against Christianity in particular or against religion in general? Why can we not simply insist on being accepted in our society, rather than taking on the utterly impossible task of dismantling something that has been with us since nearly the dawn of civilization? And, once again, is not our call for the end of religion just the perfect mirror of the extremist Christian call for the end of atheism, or radical Islam's call for the death of all infidels? What, then, separates us from this so-called enemy? If we are that which we wish to destroy, should we not then be obligated to destroy ourselves?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A "Blasphemy Challenge" video - yay!

On a YouTube roll. Got the urge to take a random sampling from the Blasphemy Challenge. This one is from Sam, who posted her video on December 16 of 2006:

Well, lessee...lemme get out the dead, he's stiff today! Okay, I'm swingin' him.....WHAP! Aw, it's that Methodist church down the street, and it still appears to be occupied on Sundays. I guess I should give Sam a break, though - it has been only two years and some months since she made her proclamation regarding the end of religion. I wonder what she's been doing to end the evils of Christianity - maybe some games on the Wii, or a tea party?

Seriously, Sam, do you think you'll see the end of religion in your lifetime? In anyone's? I don't think so. But, just to show I'm fair, I'll swing my dead cat around on my 89th birthday, and if I don't hit any churches, then maybe I will concede that atheism has won. But at what cost? Lots of people take personal comfort from religion. What will those people do when that comfort is forcibly taken away, as you are so obviously advocating for? And what would you say if someone told you that it was their intent to see atheism removed from the world by the end of their lifetime? What if they ended up the winner? How would you feel then? If you'd say that you wouldn't like that, then I have a new word for you to look up.


And the point of this jab was...?

Please take a look at the following video:

Now, if you would, attempt to answer the question that has been bending my brain ever since I first saw this. What, exactly, was the point of Dawkins telling this man that he was hallucinating? He was trying to accomplish something, certainly. But what? To my perception, the man's belief system remained intact (if not stronger than before), and Dawkins likely ended up making himself look rather bad for a response that was out of proportion to the tone and nature of the man's question. I'm thinking negative progress here, but if you see something positive, please enlighten me. I just don't get it.

Why am I doing this?

It can be frustrating knowing that having this blog will not have much effect on the current tensions between the extremes of religion and non-religion. So why am I doing this? Why not spend my time more productively?

I guess this will have to do for an answer: I do it because I want whoever reads this to hear my voice. I want people to know that I as a secular person am not represented by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, or PZ Myers. I do not follow these men like some lost puppy, and I do not hang on their every word as if they were pop icons of atheism. I am embarrassed and sickened by their unnecessary level of outrage and hatred in responding to religion. Their New Atheism strategy is counterproductive, and it gives secular people a worse name than they had before.

I'm sure that there are many others in this country who feel exactly the same way as I do, but they aren't talking because they think it doesn't matter anyway. Well, it matters to me, folks. Remember George Tiller? He was killed because he was considered a baby murderer by a Christian extremist. Doing his job brought about his end, and such I would consider to be an honourable way to die. I may end up getting killed someday because these high-profile messiahs of secularism are poking religious extremists too hard with their sharp sticks, and I don't consider that honourable at all. If I'm going to die for my worldview, is it too much to ask that it be due to something I said or did, rather than as a result of some disagreeable self-appointed loudmouth who thinks he or she is some international atheist superhero?

So there it is. I don't believe in the supernatural, but I don't see any reason to declare war on it. What gets accomplished by that? If anyone is going to ask me to become a fawning fan of the Dawkins Foundation, you need to explain to me how it's going to make the world a better place. I'll listen, but I'll be asking the hard questions as well.

A study in contrasts

Positive advocacy for secularists:

Negative provocation (mild though it be):

The first message is unassailable: it asks a question and states a fact. No insults, no vitriol, nothing that can justifiably work up the ire of someone on the other side. I am now hearing of a bus driver who recently refused to drive her bus because this particular billboard was on the side. She was suspended. She argued that the message clashed with her belief system, but I'd have to get more information before I could offer sympathy for her plight. I feel that this billboard meets and exceeds the requirements of respect in the dialogue between religious and nonreligious people, so there's really no problem here.

The second billboard, however, does present a problem for me. It's not a mean message, but I guess one has to look at it from a you give as you get standpoint. If we as secularists expect others to ingest an eyeful of our opinions about no-god on public billboards without complaint, then fair play demands that all of those public displays of Ten Commandments and Jesus is Lord and so on be palatable to us. The Double Standard should be universally condemned by all sides. The net result of all of us tossing opinions at each other on public billboards, then, would be zero.

My advice would then be to return to a point of advocacy, as with the first billboard. I would love to say that such is a no-brainer, but my experience tells me otherwise.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Against generalizations of the religious

The title of Christopher Hitchens' book is God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Though I have yet to read the book, and I will, I find this title to be a really bad generalization, one that effectively serves to shoot the secular person in his or her own foot. Case in point: most of us are likely well aware of Ken Ham and his Creation Museum down in Kentucky. I will have plenty to say about creationism and Intelligent Design theory - pet peeves of mine - in this blog, but that's for later. Mr. Ham's web site is called Answers in Genesis.

But, hey - has anyone heard of a little site called Answers in Creation?

Sure, it sounds as scary as AiG at first, but a closer look reveals that these people are Christians who accept the concept of an old earth. They're allies (shudder) to science.

Most unfortunately, however, they're still Christians, and Christianity's a religion, and religion poisons everything, so whatever. Way to go, Mr. Hitchens and all the secular people who are too mad at religion to be rational! I couldn't blame the admins of AiC one bit if one day they just got sick of the hatred coming from both of the extremes (Apostates! X-tian morons!) and decided to just go back to a young-earth standpoint. What's their reason for maintaining their site and their stance when they're taking hostile fire from the very people they are agreeing with (secular advocates of real science), simply on the basis that they are still religious? It makes no sense to alienate them when they are on our side in terms of advocating legitimate science.

This is one of the inconsistencies about what's going on with this New Atheism that I'm still awaiting an explanation for. I'm not holding my breath.

And So It Begins...the Camp Quest Controversy

I'd never wanted to go into PZ Myers' blog. I'd seen it before, and I was really disappointed with all of his ineffective vitriol and ridicule against religion. But, a friend of mine pointed out a couple of posts that might interest me, and in I went last evening.

Oh, crap.

Warning: this is probably going to sound like a cheap, online drama fest at first - please bear with me.

After posting a humorous comment here and there on some of the more palatable posts (I found the PZ rides a placoderm in the sky pic simply hilarious), I came to a post entitled We need one in every state," referring, of course, to Camp Quest. I'll spare the details on the post itself; that's why I linked it. I was reading the comments when I came across a poster named pdferguson who was making a point that I supported: indoctrination camps (my term, not pdferguson's), no matter religious or non, are pointless. Summer camp should be SUMMER CAMP, a place where kids have fun, not a camp about advocating or slamming worldviews. pd, of course, was promptly and viciously attacked by a very immature and rude poster named Jadehawk OM, who soon was challenging pd's freedom of speech and expression by advising him/her to STFU. I chimed in just after midnight, defending PD's position and giving Jadehawk the telling off he/she deserved. Two thugs soon joined in and tried to needle me (a lame argumentative style, quite ineffective in terms of resolving questions or conflicts). An appeal to reason quickly silenced them.

I went a little further with the comment I made, though. I had noticed that Myers himself had commented on his own post, talking to a commenter named Uberlieder and advising Uber to pay a visit to a Camp Quest. Jadehawk and buddies can act as big a gang of trolling jackass as they want, but my fire was lit by what PZ had suggested to Uber. Here's why.

Several months back I had received a brochure about Camp Quest, asking me to support it financially. Suspecting that it was just the bigoted reverse of the interesting kids' summer fun place portrayed in the film Jesus Camp, I sent the following query via e-mail to


I am in receipt of your recent letter and brochure regarding Camp Quest. I have two questions:

1. Would you allow children who profess a religious belief but claim to be open-minded and critical-thinking to participate in the camps?

2. Would you allow interested persons to come in and observe activities at one of the camps during the summer?

Thank you,

Patrick Craig

And gosh - what a surprise! No reply at all. Perhaps they don't want a truly inquiring mind to go in there and expose the horrible things they very likely say about religion to the kids, so no, of course they wouldn't talk to me.

Or, maybe they just never received my e-mail. I actually hope that this is the case.

I wonder if they'll reply to me now that I've issued the following challenge:

Hey, Prof. Myers, could you explain to me why, when I wrote to the main CQ site asking if I could pay a visit sometime, they never wrote back? E-mail glitch, maybe? Or could it be because they don't want me to find out that, in truth, they are a bunch of extremist bigots who bash religion in front of the kids?

Probably not. Just like extremist Christians, there is no accountability that these people need own up to. In a world with two extremes and rampant apathy in the middle, no one is required to answer to anyone, and no one cares. Religious extremists try to influence legislation to reinstate the control they've lost over hundreds of years, and secular extremists live in a dream world where ridicule makes religion dry up and go away. No one cares to listen to the possibility there may be some middle ground. My favourite phrase is now ...and the War goes on. And it always will, I suppose. The only reason I'm saying anything at all is because I'm not exactly looking forward to the day when I get beaten up or killed because of this pervasive and uncontrolled state of animosity on the part of so many secularists that I do not share. I, for one, would like to live in a world where life can be lived in some small measure of comfort, not in fear or hatred. I find myself wondering if there are others who feel the same way...


I'll make this short and sweet. My name's Pat. I came out of the closet on the side of nonreligion two years ago, and a great deal of what I've seen in my chosen community since has deeply disappointed and disgusted me. I nearly ran back into the closet in mid '07, and it took some time for me to realize that I could still be a secular person and not subscribe to the horrid behaviors exhibited by so many of my people all around me. For those who feel good about insulting others (a highly immoral condition, IMHO), I suppose I could be labeled a faitheist, an accomodationist who feels that sensible practitioners of both religion and non-religion can somehow establish peace and live together as human beings. Apparently this is unacceptable by the extremists on both sides, and such is unfortunate.

For all I will talk about in this blog, one irrefutable fact remains clear: the so-called New Atheism is an ongoing, disastrous failure. Were I to shoot my pet cat (an unconscionable act that would ultimately guarantee me a prized position with the Philadelphia Eagles, apparently) and then swing his lifeless body about once a day for the rest of my life, I would hit a church. Religion (Christianity in particular here in the U.S.) hasn't gone away in response to the negative pronouncements of the Four Horsemen (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett), and it hasn't gone away as a result of hateful atheist blogs I've so often read in the two years since I came out. It's my contention that neither the insults nor efforts to somehow rid the world of religion are necessary or useful. What I do believe to be useful is 1) positive advocacy for those who are secular and 2) respectful dialogue with those who disagree with us. The end of the War - as I now call this needless bickering between our camps - begins there.

Honestly, I'll be surprised if anyone reads this. If no one does (and no surprise, with the billions of more entertaining blogs out there at present) then it will at least be a place for me to think out loud about all of this madness.

Deep we go.