Monday, October 27, 2008

Christopher Hitchens on Sarah Palin

Here's a gem of a quote from a recent article by Christopher Hitchens on Sarah Palin (read the whole thing, it's positively delectable):
With Palin, however, the contempt for science may be something a little more sinister than the bluff, empty-headed plain-man's philistinism of McCain. We never get a chance to ask her in detail about these things, but she is known to favor the teaching of creationism in schools (smuggling this crazy idea through customs in the innocent disguise of "teaching the argument," as if there was an argument), and so it is at least probable that she believes all creatures from humans to fruit flies were created just as they are now. This would make DNA or any other kind of research pointless, whether conducted in Paris or not. Projects such as sequencing the DNA of the flu virus, the better to inoculate against it, would not need to be funded. We could all expire happily in the name of God. Gov. Palin also says that she doesn't think humans are responsible for global warming; again, one would like to ask her whether, like some of her co-religionists, she is a "premillenial dispensationalist"—in other words, someone who believes that there is no point in protecting and preserving the natural world, since the end of days will soon be upon us.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Study Fails to Equate Religious Belief with Superstition

Another good-natured riposte to Andrew Sullivan, a man I respect for his political commentary. In a short post referring to a study conducted by Baylor University (a Baptist theological institution, mind you) that examines whether people of faith believe in certain superstitious notions such as astrology, he makes a self-defeating reference that needs to be explored. He wrote:
"Bill Maher attacked people of faith by making fun of those who believe in guardian angels. But according to a new study, non-believers are far more superstitious than believers." (emphasis mine)
This is a false comparison that relies upon his flawed representation of what superstition means. Superstition is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as "an irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome." Whichever way you want to look at it, it is hard to make an argument that a belief in God (not to mention a resurrected Jesus and burning bushes) is not fundamentally "an irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome".

From this, shouldn't all religious believers be deemed 100% superstitious due to their irrational belief in an unknowable God? With that in mind, his final sentence becomes nonsense. 100% superstition is unarguably a larger figure than the 31% of non-believers identified in the article from which his source quotes.

By the way, Mollie Hemingway, the source from which Sullivan draws his conclusion, makes a similar mistake in her article:
"Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama's former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin's former denomination, did." (emphasis mine)
I think you see where I'm going with this. To get to her conclusion, Hemingway relies on another false comparison involving the definition of the word paranormal, which means: "beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation." Again, it is hard to make the argument that a belief in God is not "beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation." Thus, religious people who believe in God (especially of the Pentecostal variety) are, as a defined group, necessarily 100% believers in the paranormal. 100% belief in the paranormal by religious believers is, again, a much greater percentage than the 31% of non-believers identified by Hemingway.

P.S. I wonder to what greater proof Sullivan owes his religious faith than an ardent ufologist or believer in healing crystal pyramids? Just asking...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A World Without Theism?

A reader at the Daily Dish replied to the atheist that I replied to yesterday. It's a really great read and I agree with most of his/her points (any emphasis mine):

To me, atheism is a scientific argument with moral ramifications. Theism is a theory that cannot be reasonably defended within the paradigm our natural world. Just like no scientist would give any consideration to people claiming that the sun revolves around the earth. It's not matter of ridicule. It matter of understanding hypothesis, observation, and conclusion. While this angers many religious folk as somehow condescending, most atheists like Dawkins are simply saying that based on our knowledge of the scientific method, one cannot argue that the world was created in seven days, or that water turned to wine, etc., etc. There is no malice intended. There is only frustration at the number of people who can selectively relax their notion of scientific rigor to allow for these supernatural beliefs.

Personally, I can understand anti-theism, and in many ways support it. The reason has nothing to do with superiority or snobbishness. It pains me in my heart to see the death and destruction that religion has caused throughout history. It gives me anxiety to look at my one-year old son and think that he'll be brought up in a society that doesn't see any link between the erosion of critical thinking and the increase in religiosity. People seem to need figures like bin Laden, Koresh, Hubbard, etc., so they can point fingers and proclaim them to be religious fanatics or "wackos". It makes the average moderate Christian/Muslim/Jew/Hindu feel better about their faith. As if the suspension of scientific thought that they exercise has absolutely nothing to do the extremism that is built on the same principle. I am not trying to lump everyone into the same group here, I'm just attempting to explain how a scientist views this general line of thinking as major threat to society. The slippery-est of slopes.

I sincerely believe that most atheism is spawned not out of hate and elitism, but out of love. Atheists like me have simply lost all faith that religion can exist without being used as a tool for justifying war and subjugation. If it could, even scientists that cringe at the thought of accepting supernatural beliefs would probably learn to coexist peacefully with theism, given that many beliefs system also catalyze acts of great compassion. But in the end, I'm torn as to which notion is more naïve and idealistic: a world without theism or world in which theism does not lead to human suffering.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


A disgruntled milquetoast atheist has this to say of antitheism:

The new atheism has made its challenge, then. And here is my answer. I don't believe in God, in any meaningful way. I am not a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Jew, or whatever else you will. In questions of public policy I feel religion has no place, and rational discourse has to rule. I don't want religious artifacts in the public square, I don't want creationism taught in public schools, and I don't want any religion privileged in any way by government. I am, in most every way that matters, a natural ally of atheism.

But atheism has expelled me. It has expelled me because it has in its heart contempt and loathing and fear of the other. So I reject it. I don't reject all atheists; many atheists are uninterested in ridiculing the religious-- they simply want to be left in peace, and not have religion forced on them or on the law. That, to me, is a principled atheism, and one I am happy to coexist with. But this new atheism, this anti-theism, has only contempt at its heart, and I reject it as thoroughly as it has rejected me.

I respectfully disagree.

In a nutshell, when faced with something evil, the proper reaction is revulsion and contempt.

In my opinion, milquetoast atheism (which is happy to let religion perform its daily evils upon us) only holds any validity if you accept as your fundamental premise that religion is ultimately innocuous.

As I have written about on this blog for months now, in my opinion, religion is NOT innocuous. It causes untold amounts of suffering and subjects us to evil acts every day.

As an antitheist, I believe that religion deserves our contempt. If this has the effect of "rejecting" people that are fine with tolerating religion, then so be it.

Update: Dealing with the precise subject matter of the atheist-in-question's remarks, I don't see why he/she thinks they are being rejected from the broader atheist movement.

As noted in this post, an atheist is "Someone who denies the existence of god". Antitheism goes one step further, generally being defined as "Active opposition to the belief in the existence of a God". From this, we can see that antitheism is a smaller subset within the larger construct of atheism.

Based on the above, the broader atheist/non-antitheist movement would be (and likely is) happy to have the writer within its fold. It's the antitheist subset that would not be comfortable with the writer's dangerous religious apologism.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Christian Group Says Hitler Never Killed Homosexuals

Some lovely Christian organization wants you to believe that the Nazis didn't kill homosexuals. There truly is no depth to which they will not sink. On the July 10 episode of the "Christian Worldview Network":
In today's program Brannon exposes that lie that Hitler killed homosexuals. Even a homosexual writer admits that is false. Some of Hitler's inner circle were homosexual and bi-sexual. The Brown Shirts started as a homosexual and bisexual organization. Brannon also reveals how the SS officers were desensitized. Many of the SS were "Christians" that went to church and some were even installed in ceremonies in churches. Evangelical pastors from other countries even praised Hitler at the beginning. The church of Germany was weak prior to Hitler coming to power and the weak pulpits make the church no obstacle for Hitler. Is the American church in the same condition?
Seriously, f**k these ignorant a**holes.

Here's some facts:
Upon the rise of Adolf Hitler, gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians,[1] were two of several groups targeted by the Nazi Party and were ultimately among the roster of Holocaust victims. Beginning in 1933, gay organizations were banned, scholarly books about homosexuality, and sexuality in general, were burned, and homosexuals within the Nazi Party itself were murdered. The Gestapo compiled lists of homosexuals, and they were compelled to sexually conform to the German norm. An estimated 1.2 million men were out homosexuals in Germany in 1928.[citation needed] Between 1933-45, more than 100,000 men were registered by police as homosexuals ("Rosa Listen" or "Pink List"), and of these, some 50,000 were officially sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps. It is unclear how many of these 5,000 to 15,000 eventually perished in the concentration camps. The leading scholar Ruediger Lautman however believes that the death rate in concentration camps of imprisoned homosexuals may have been as high as 60%. Homosexuals in camps were treated in an unusually cruel manner by their captors, and were also persecuted by their fellow inmates. This was a factor in the relatively high death rate for homosexuals, compared to other "anti-social groups".

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Need for Militant Antitheism

Here's some interesting nuggets from an email exchange I had recently on an Atheist listserv:

I responded to this email from one Tyler:
Not all religion is malicious. Childish, illogical, and bad on the extreme, but not always evil. Besides, what can we do against the vast majority? We can spread knowledge that Atheism is an option and is a justified position (in the Richard Dawkins way). That's pretty much it. And seriously... "go to religious websites and engage the enemy". Really? I mean, as funny as it would be to tear down their set-in-stone beliefs, wouldn't we just be painting a bad image of atheism? I'd rather keep our number of enemies lower, and try to foster better relations with more people. Here is a potentially superior list-

Elect atheists to Senate and House
Elect atheist president
Have that president appoint an atheist Justice

A lot harder, I know. What we need to do is work toward acheiving all three of those. This means all of us have to actively try to make most religions comfortable (enough) with us. If we can do the first two things on that list, we've already won the war on religion. Spreading divisive (even if true) remarks won't help reach any of these goals.
Here's my response:
Most religions (especially of the Ambrahamic variety) will absolutely never be comfortable with Atheism. Period. Full Stop. The only way Atheism will ever have greater acceptance in America is to have less religious people inhabiting it.

To your "We can spread knowledge that Atheism is an option and is a justified position": Yeah, we've been doing that for a long while. In some countries it catches on (see Scandinavia). It won't here for a variety of reasons.

Hitchens, Dawkins and (especially) Sam Harris are part of the much more militant antitheism movement and embody the only way we can ratchet back the religious insanity in this country. This is by aggressively refuting their magical thinking and refusing to accept religious appeasement (i.e. oh, religion is fine as long as you're outwardly pleasant and not bombing things). Too many of us get distracted by noticeably BIG evils and forget to notice the subtle evils of moderate religious toleration that, in the aggregate, amount to a much greater mound of evil.

Photo of the Day - Jesse Helms

I was strolling around my new digs in Chicago's tony Andersonville neighborhood and came across a gallery that was having a most unusual 4th of July sale. Let's just say they were celebrating an occasion nearly as enjoyable as Independence Day:

Friday, July 4, 2008

Jesse Helms - Good Riddance

Jesse Helms, one of the most hateful bigots to hold the office of Senator of the United States of America in the last century, died today.

If he truly held the Christian beliefs he said that he did, I suspect he'll find his new home in the afterlife to be a bit warm. If the hell he believed in really is a place where you are tormented by your sins for eternity, let's just say that some strapping male African demons will be, ahem, "having their way" with him for a very long time.

Here's a sample of the hatred, fear, racism and homophobia that fed his career:
As an aide to the 1950 Senate campaign of North Carolina Republican candidate Willis Smith, Helms reportedly helped create attack ads against Smith's opponent, including one which read: "White people, wake up before it is too late. Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters, in your mills and factories? Frank Graham favors mingling of the races."

Another ad featured photographs Helms himself had doctored to illustrate the allegation that Graham's wife had danced with a black man. (The News and Observer, 8/26/01; The New Republic, 6/19/95; The Observer, 5/5/96; Hard Right: The Rise of Jesse Helms, by Ernest B. Furgurson, Norton, 1986)

Ancient history? No. Helms remains unapologetic to this day. Forty years after the Smith campaign, Helms would win election against black opponent Harvey Gantt with another ad playing to racist white fear-- the so-called "white hands" ad, in which a white man's hands crumple a rejected job application while a voiceover intones, "You needed that job…but they had to give it to a minority."

In columns, commentaries and pronouncements from the Senate floor, Helms sowed hatred and called names: The University of North Carolina was "the University of Negroes and Communists." (Capital Times, 11/22/94) Black civil rights activists were "Communists and sex perverts." (Copley News Service, 8/23/01)

Over the years Helms has declared homosexuality "degenerate," and homosexuals "weak, morally sick wretches." (Newsweek, 12/5/94) In a tirade highlighting his routine opposition to AIDS research funding, Helms lashed out at the Kennedy-Hatch AIDS bill in 1988: "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy." (States News Service, 5/17/88)

More recently, when a caller to CNN's Larry King Live show praised guest Jesse Helms for "everything you've done to help keep down the niggers," Helms' response was to salute the camera and say, "Well, thank you, I think." (Wilmington Star-News, 9/16/95)

Read More

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Muslims Hate Puppies?

Sometimes reality really is so much stranger than fiction. According to the Daily Mail, British Muslims are upset because a cute puppy was used in an advertisement! Yes, a puppy:
A postcard featuring a cute puppy sitting in a policeman's hat advertising a Scottish police force's new telephone number has sparked outrage from Muslims.

Tayside Police's new non-emergency phone number has prompted complaints from members of the Islamic community.

The choice of image on the Tayside Police cards - a black dog sitting in a police officer's hat - has now been raised with Chief Constable John Vine.

The advert has upset Muslims because dogs are considered ritually unclean and has sparked such anger that some shopkeepers in Dundee have refused to display the advert.

Dundee councillor Mohammed Asif said: 'My concern was that it's not welcomed by all communities, with the dog on the cards.
This is really just absurd. Just when you thought religion had some really funny ideas, they keep coming up with new bulls&*t with which to entertain you.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How Antitheism Differs from Atheism

The two most common terms to describe non-believers are "Atheist" and "Agnostic", although in my mind the line between the two is blurred somewhat by the fact that both atheists and agnostics lack a belief in god:
Atheist: Someone who denies the existence of god.

Agnostic: A person who claims that they cannot have true knowledge about the existence of god (but does not deny that god might exist).
As for me, I prefer the term "Antitheist", which means:
Active opposition to the belief in the existence of a God
There's a great page up on Wikipedia that goes into depth on how antitheism differs from atheism.

The basic gist, however, is that an antitheist is actively opposed to the idea of god and the religions that spring from once people start believing in god. As Wikipedia puts it:
Antitheism may be adopted as a label by those who take the view that theism is destructive.
This is where I come out. I don't just lack a belief in god, I actively subscribe to the idea that a belief in god and religion is inherently destructive and causes untold suffering.

Here's Christopher Hitchens:
I'm not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.

Thoughts on Atheism

More from an email exchange today, this time on the question of whether atheism has a "belief system":
My view is that atheism is a rejection of a belief system rather than a belief system in and of itself.

Theism is defined as "The doctrine or belief in the existence of a God or gods".

Atheism is defined as "A lack of belief in the existence of God or gods"

I prefer the term Antitheism as it applies to me: "Active opposition to the belief in the existence of a God." (or, in the words of the always amusing Urban Dictionary: "Militantly opposed to religious bulls**t(ers) and their prolongation of human conflict and lack of moral concern.")

My status as an Antitheist doesn't carry any beliefs along with it, per se. I am just fundamentally opposed to systematized irrational magical thinking that causes untold suffering (i.e. religion).

Thought of the Day

I posted this to a listserve recently and thought I'd pass it along.
My own personal opinion is that theists hate atheists largely because their crippled rational faculties see a latent part of themselves reflected in us -- the part of the human mind that craves curiosity, logic, proof, support and substance. Because they have given themselves over to irrational faith in a magic being, our staunch refusal to let the power of our own rational minds be thus squelched holds up a painful mirror in testament to their capitulation.

Monday, June 23, 2008

McEwan: 'I despise Islamism'


Today the Booker-winning novelist Ian McEwan found himself at the centre of an uncharacteristic row.

During an interview with an Italian newspaper, the author launched a stinging attack on Islamism, saying he despised it and that it wanted 'to create a society that I detest.'


'As soon as a writer expresses an opinion against Islamism, immediately someone on the left leaps to his feet and claims that because the majority of Muslims are dark-skinned, he who criticises it is racist.

"This is logically absurd and morally unacceptable. Martin is not a racist.

'And I myself despise Islamism, because it wants to create a society that I detest, based on religious belief, on a text, on lack of freedom for women, intolerance towards homosexuality and so on – we know it well.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Catholic Church's Abuse Cover-Up

A good piece of reporting by Andrew Sullivan on the Catholic Church's cover-up of credible and well-known instances of abuse by the leader of a far-right Catholic cult. Good for Andrew to face up to the kinds of evil institutionalized religion can visit upon its flock. Too bad he still thinks that the Church deserves his devotion.
If you want to know how the current Pope handled very credible, very well-documented and overwhelming evidence that a very powerful associate had long been a child-abuser, check this clip out:

The abuse-case that caused the Pope to lose his temper - to the point of a prissy smack - was Father Marcial Maciel. Until his death earlier this year, Maciel ran a large, far-right Catholic cult called the Legionaries of Christ. The Legionaries and their lay counterpart, Regnum Christi, are very powerful entities in the new Catholicism, given special protection by Pope John Paul II and much favor under his successor. And at the core of the Legionaries, like many religious cults, was a sexual abuse ring designed to please the founder. Secrecy was maintained by indoctrinating many members at a young age, and enforcing vows of silence on all topics related to Maciel. This cult-like stricture is still causing grief and suspicion in many parts of the Catholic world, most recently in the Baltimore archdiocese.

The reason I bring this up today is because journalist Jason Berry, of the Hartford Courant, has a new and gripping documentary on Maciel and the abusive cult-like practices he pioneered. It's called "Vows Of Silence" and it carefully exposes the appalling facts of the enmeshment of the last two Popes in covering up sexual abuse and protecting a serial predator.

Maciel was a sadly twisted gay man, who committed many acts of abuse, pederasty and pedophilia against other men and boys under his control. He is also a hero to the theoconservative movement, the leaders of which have yet to come to terms with his appalling record.

Much of this the Vatican eventually conceded - but never held Maciel fully accountable for, part from asking him in his final years to recede from public view. More to the point: Maciel's abuse was known to Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for years, and they did nothing about it. The Maciel case is important because it reveals the current and former Pope to be knowing, conscious protectors of a child abuser and shows how the sick sexual dysfunction at the heart of the Catholic hierarchy was abetted and fomented at the very, very top. Here's the movie trailer. I watched the film the other night and even after following this issue for years, was shocked at the gravity and specificity of the charges. The theocons still deny Maciel's guilt, of course. But many of them have long stopped valuing truth over power.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Higher IQ = Less Belief in God

We need more studies like this:
People with higher IQs are less likely to believe in God, according to a new study.

A survey of Royal Society fellows found that only 3.3 per cent believed in God - at a time when 68.5 per cent of the general UK population described themselves as believers.

A separate poll in the 90s found only seven per cent of members of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God.

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

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

The best part of the article is this bit from a true believer:

Professor Gordon Lynch, director of the Centre for Religion and Contemporary Society at Birkbeck College, London, said: "Linking religious belief and intelligence in this way could reflect a dangerous trend, developing a simplistic characterisation of religion as primitive, which - while we are trying to deal with very complex issues of religious and cultural pluralism - is perhaps not the most helpful response," he said.

I think a simplistic characterization of religion as "primitive" is indeed warranted. Funny how he says it as if that would be a bad thing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stupid Is as Stupid Believes

This is too brilliant to pass up. Apparently, the more predisposed to biblical literalism, the stupider you are.

A few months ago I posted data which showed, unsurprisingly, that Unitarian-Universalists tend to have high IQs and Pentecostals not so much. What about something like Biblical literalism and IQ? Well, I plotted the IQ values from the General Social Survey for selected denominations and plotted them against the proportion which believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Prepare to be greeted by a very banal reality below the fold....


Also, convert the IQ values into percentiles....


Thursday, April 24, 2008

UK Poll: Religion is Evil

You gotta hand it to the Brits, they're far ahead on a great many things these days -- and now this!

A new British poll finds that the people of the UK identify religion as one of the worst social evils of our time. This made some Brits happy:

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said he was “extremely pleased”.

“Britain has had it with religion,” he said.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saudi Arabia Declares Crusade Against Atheism

From The Carpetbagger Report:

If there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s being lectured on morality by a corpulent autocrat with four wives who heads one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

I speak of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, that bastion of freedom of thought and freedom of religion. The king recently had a bright idea: Bring together representatives of the world’s monotheistic religions for a confab.

Many media outlets reported this as a positive thing. After all, Muslims and Jews would sit down together in Riyadh. Wouldn’t that dialogue be a good thing? The Washington Post even praised Abdullah’s action as a sign of tolerance.

A large chunk of the world’s population might have reason to feel differently. Let’s look at the details: Abdullah has a plan to unite Islam, Judaism and Christianity against a common foe — non-believers.

The Times of London reported:

According to the official Saudi Press Agency, King Abdullah said, “I have noticed that the family system has weakened and that atheism has increased. That is an unacceptable behavior to all religions, to the Koran, the Torah and the Bible. We ask God to save humanity. There is a lack of ethics, loyalty and sincerity for our religions and humanity.”

Unacceptable? That makes me a bit nervous. After all, homosexuality is “unacceptable” in Saudi Arabia. It can warrant the death penalty.

Imagine if Abdullah has singled out just about any other class of people. Pretend he had said Hinduism is increasing, and this is unacceptable. Substitute Buddhists, Sikhs, followers of Confucius or whatever. Can you imagine the uproar? Would any Christian or Jewish religious leader endorse such talks?

Apparently it’s OK to declare a new crusade as long as it’s aimed at religious skeptics. Ironically, the same day Abdullah called for interfaith dialogue, his government formally denied a request from the Vatican to build the first Christian church in Saudi Arabia. It is, after all, illegal to worship as a Christian in that country. This guy’s going to teach us how to be tolerant? No thanks.

As an aside, anyone who thinks bias against non-believers is limited to countries like Saudi Arabia should check a recent piece by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn. Rob Sherman, a local atheist activist, testified before the Illinois House of Representative’s State Government Administration Committee, expressing his opposition to a bill that would allocate $1 million in tax funds to rehabilitate a church deemed “historic.”

Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat, unloaded at Sherman.

“I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy — it’s tragic — when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school. I don’t see you fighting guns in school, you know? I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln, where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children…. What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous….”

Davis later added, “Get out of that seat! … You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.”


After Davis’ harangue generated some national attention, she apologized. It’s a start, though I suspect she actually believes what she shouted during the hearing.

I have an idea: Let’s put King Abdullah and Rep. Davis in a tiny room and let them dialogue with one another. They seem to have a lot in common.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Foster Ignorance in Your Flock

I never quote Andrew Sullivan lightly here due to my fundamental disagreement with him on his strained attempt at reconciling his sexual orientation and his Catholic faith but this post today was just too startling.

So, some of you may have heard that some Christianist nutjobs are calling for a boycott of McDonald's because they reached out to the gay and lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

This is the kind of redneck, religious ignorance that ensues:

"And this is so strange, because it's the family that McDonald's appeals to -- children's playland, you know, all the little toys, all of that. And they are promoting a lifestyle that would utterly destroy the traditional family."


My son and I often stop by McDonald's for a bite to eat after homeschool bowling on Fridays. But not today...

Not today, in light of reports that McDonald's has decided, apparently, to declare war on my family. And to declare war on the civilization of liberty, independence, creativity, and humanity under God that my Dad fought for in World War II.

Via Ed Brayton. I guess I just don't know what to say in the face of this hysteria. I guess we have to repeat this again and again and again and again: we gay couples do not want to "declare war" on any family; we merely want to be fully part of our own. If Wildmon could have seen our wedding, he would have witnessed two families, of all generations, bringing two men more closely together and in greater communion with their own parents and sisters and brothers and nieces and cousins and nephews and friends. Having the support of our families - and supporting them in turn - is what our marriage is partly about. We threaten no one. So stop threatening us. And have a Big Mac while you're at it.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Atheism: A Positive Case

From Mark Vernon:

Question: 'Can a positive case be made for atheism?'.

The quick answer to the question is, fairly obviously I would have thought, yes. A positive case for atheism will inevitably have some holes in it, some weak points, just like a positive case for belief in God. But I am sure that many atheists here imagine that being an atheist is a positive thing, most of the time.

So I’d like to raise a slightly different challenge – not so much making a positive case for atheism, which would primarily be an intellectual exercise. But rather asking about the existential task of actually being an atheist – atheism as a way of life, as it were.

It is an interesting question because when you look at the writings of atheism’s greatest philosophers, I think they suggest that being an atheist, as opposed to just arguing about it, is actually tough.

Take Sartre. His existentialism is based upon what he takes to be the bottom line for we humans, that we exist, period. He argued that this leads to a kind of terror, since there can be no reason given for this existence. It’s thrown at us. We’ve got to make of it what we will. ‘It confronts man with a possibility of choice,’ he wrote. Hence words like ‘abandonment’, ‘despair’ and ‘condemnation’ litter his writings.

Sartre is taking a lead from Kierkegaard here. Kierkegaard thought that it was well-nigh impossible, not to be an atheist, but to be a Christian. Faith is too difficult to really make your own, quite as difficult as a father being told to kill his son, as he interpreted the story of Abraham and Isaac. So Kierkegaard said he was becoming a Christian. Sartre too seems to suggest that it is very difficult to be an atheist. Becoming an atheist is what he might hope for.

Further, there is a sense from this in which making an intellectual case for your atheism, as opposed to trying to be an atheist, is actually a distraction. It is a distraction from the existential angst of not believing in God. That is the real matter to get to grips with. Hence Sartre also writes:

Existentialism is not atheist in the sense that it would exhaust itself in demonstrations of the non-existence of God. It declares, rather, that even if God existed that would make no difference from its point of view. Not that we believe God does exist, but we think that the real problem is not that of His existence; what man needs is to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God.

So, I suspect that Sartre would say that the evangelical atheists of today risk abrogating their responsibility. They are a bit like the bishops and philosophers that Kierkegaard so loathed. They are so busy defending their intellectual edifices and self-justifications that they fail to address the real issue which is the great challenge of being an atheist, being a Christian.

Another great atheist was also very conscious of this. That was Nietzsche. You’ll remember how he ‘announces’ the death of God in The Gay Science. He does not do so by refuting the arguments for the existence of God, or celebrating the successes of Darwinism, say. Rather, he tells the story of a madman who one day went to the marketplace. His fellow human beings were going about their everyday, secular activities. And the madman cried out: ‘I seek God! I seek God!’. They laughed and mocked – asking whether God had got lost, or whether God was hiding, or if God is afraid of us? But then the madman turned on his tormenters. ‘I will tell you,’ he cried. ‘We have killed him – you and I.’

Nietzsche’s point is not to plead God’s cause. Rather it is indicate the ramifications of God’s departure from the modern world. The madman continues – for he is not really mad but a prophet, in the sense of someone who sees things clearly:

How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?

It may have been inevitable that God died. It may have been desirable. Presumably Nietzsche thought so. However, this did not blind him to the great problems it would throw up for humankind. Problems of how to ground morality, how to locate a sense of meaning, how to orientate ourselves through our lives. How to be an atheist.

Thus, I think, Nietzsche too would have been critical of much of what passes for atheism these days. He might have thought it rather glib – as if all that is required is to breath deeply of enlightenment air and watch as the sun dispels the clouds. The atheistic call, as Nietzsche sees it, is far more tremendous.

I think that Nietzsche can be read as rehearsing the warning of Kant, from his famous essay What is Enlightenment? Enlightenment is tough. It does not come easily because it requires profound change, penetrating discernment, and time. Moreover, it is precisely when great intellectual revolutions are proclaimed prematurely that they nurture personal delusions and go wrong. Instead of enlightenment what you get is a new kind of immaturity.

Later in The Gay Science, Nietzsche offers his own estimation of how long enlightenment might take. Centuries. And in the meantime, human beings will be constantly tempted to fall back on old superstitions and strange faiths, often without realising it. Chief amongst these will be that they are enlightened already.

This flags up another reason that the comparison between becoming a theist and becoming an atheist might be illuminating. Surprising as it may seem, I think the tasks are really quite similar. Both are efforts in ditching false gods – be they metaphysical imaginings in the sky or false hopes here on earth. For example, the great medieval preacher, Meister Eckhart, once spoke these words:

If thou lovest God as God, as spirit, as Person or as image, that must all go. Love him as he is: a not-God, a non-spirit, a not-Person, a not-image; as sheer, pure, limpid unity, alien from all duality. And in this one let us sink down eternally from nothingness to nothingness.

It sounds like being an atheist, and as difficult. And if Sartre and Nietzsche would have not thought much of what passes for atheism today, then I suspect that Eckhart and Kierkegaard would not think much of what passes for Christianity either. Kierkegaard had a good line. He said that faith can turn water into wine, whereas the faith of contemporary Christians turns wine into water.

If you buy this, you might then ask what the difference is between being an atheist and being a theist. Less, I suspect, than you might think. But there is one thing that stands out. The atheist, I would imagine, presumes that their existence, and the existence of the universe, is pure luck, ‘just there’ as the atheistically-inclined Bertrand Russell put it. The theist, though, thinks that the world is created – created out of nothing, ex nihilo, for sure, because it is a mystery. But because it is created by God, it is therefore not ‘just there’, but is a gift. And so the theist can be thankful to their God, for all that they might fail to live up to their theistic calling. In this sense, then, I think it might actually be harder to be an atheist than to be a theist, to make a positive case for their atheism. For at least the theist has grounds to be existentially thankful.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Religion Kills 11-Year-Old Diabetic

First up from the God machine this week is one of the more painful religious stories I’ve seen in a while. I suspect very few people would ever want to interfere with parents’ rights and the religious upbringing of their children, but this does seem criminal.

Police [in Weston, Wis.] are investigating an 11-year-old girl’s death from an undiagnosed, treatable form of diabetes after her parents chose to pray for her rather than take her to a doctor.

An autopsy showed Madeline Neumann died Sunday from diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that left too little insulin in her body, Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said.

She had probably been ill for about a month, suffering symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness, the chief said Wednesday, noting that he expects to complete the investigation by Friday and forward the results to the district attorney.

The girl, who was homeschooled, had not been to a physician since she was three. Family members begged her parents to take her to the hospital, but they refused.

When her health deteriorated, the girl’s aunt called authorities to seek help. “My sister-in-law, she’s very religious, she believes in faith instead of doctors …,” she told a sheriff’s dispatcher in a call from California. “And she called my mother-in-law today … and she explained to us that she believes her daughter’s in a coma now and she’s relying on faith.”

When the dispatcher asked if an ambulance should be sent, the family member said the girl’s mother is “refusing” to seek medical care for her daughter. The dispatcher eventually got the family’s location, but by the time paramedics got Madeline Neumann to the hospital, she was declared dead.

Leilani Neumann, Madeline’s mother, said she and her husband are not worried about the investigation because “our lives are in God’s hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do.”

I have no idea what the law is regarding these kinds of cases, but it sounds like criminal negligence to me. People can be as religious as they like, and believe whatever they choose. But when they let a little girl slip into a coma and die — from an easily treated ailment — without getting her care, it’s time for the state to intervene.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* After losing in court a few weeks ago, state lawmakers in Kansas passed another law this week to restrict some right-wing religious fanatics from protesting at funerals for U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fillipinos Urged Not to Crucify Themselves

From the BBC:

Filipinos warned on crucifixions
By Frances Harrison
Religious affairs reporter, BBC News

Filipinos nailed to crosses on Good Friday in 2002
Crucifixions are an annual event in the Philippines
Health officials in the Philippines have issued a warning to people taking part in Easter crucifixion rituals.

They have urged them to get tetanus vaccinations before they flagellate themselves and are nailed to crosses, and to practise good hygiene.

On Good Friday dozens of very devout Catholics in the Philippines re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

It is something that has become a huge tourist attraction, although the Church frowns on the practice.


The health department has strongly advised penitents to check the condition of the whips they plan to use to lash their backs, the Manila Times newspaper reports.

A Filipino is nailed to a cross on Good Friday in 2002
Real nails are used in the re-enactments

They want people to have what they call "well-maintained" whips.

In the hot and dusty atmosphere, officials warn, using unhygienic whips to make deep cuts in the body could lead to tetanus and other infections.

And they advise that the nails used to fix people to crosses must be properly disinfected first. Often people soak the nails in alcohol throughout the year.

Every Good Friday, in towns across the Philippines, people atone for sins or give thanks for an answered prayer by re-enacting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Giving thanks

In the northern city of San Fernando alone there will be three separate improvised Golgothas - the biblical name for the hill where Jesus was crucified.

Four people there have pledged to have their feet and hands nailed to wooden crosses, while others will flog themselves while walking barefoot through villages.

Sometimes people repeat the penance year after year, like the fish vendor who will be nailed to the cross for the 15th and last time on Friday to give thanks for his mother's recovery from tuberculosis.

With long hair and a beard, wearing sandals and a crown of thorns, he is tied with cloth to the cross but also has nails driven through the flesh of his hands and feet, avoiding the bones.

Minister Prefers to Export Homosexuals from US


"I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States because we believe homosexuality is destructive to society."

That's how Peter Sprigg, vice president of policy at the Family Research Council, explained the conservative group's opposition to the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans the same right straight Americans have to sponsor a foreign partner for citizenship here.

Just in case you wondered…

(Video here; Spriggs quotes at 1:37)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Catholic Church "Spins" The Inquisition

A new article in Newsweek highlights a new push by the Catholic church to downplay how bad the Inquisition was. Seriously. Good to see the Pope has learned the tricks of modern day spin.

Best Quote: "Now, after centuries of secrecy on the subject, the Vatican has launched a new phase in its campaign to show that the Inquisition wasn't so bad after all."

Followed by: "In 2004, the Vatican published an 800-page report claiming that of those investigated as heretics by the notorious Spanish Inquisition—which became independent of Rome in the 15th century—only 1.8 percent were actually executed."

Only 1.8%? that's nothing.

The gall of these people. I wonder what's on deck for explaining away the Crusades?

Read More: Secrets of the Inquisition

Friday, January 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day:
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
-- Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tom Cruise's Scientology Indoctrination Video

Click below to view one of the most disturbing videos I've ever seen. It's a leaked Scientology indoctrination video featuring Tom Cruise. There are hardly words enough to describe how much my brain hurts after having watched it.

The Cruise Indoctrination Video Scientology Tried To Suppress

Monday, January 14, 2008

Islam and Freedom of Speech in Canada

This is quite possibly one of the most brilliant speeches I can ever recall having the pleasure to bear witness to. The publisher of a newspaper in Canada that re-printed the cartoons featuring Mohammad originally published in a Danish newspaper was called before a Canadian human rights commission to explain himself. All thinking persons in the free world need to read the following speech and reflect on how ridiculous the coddling of religious sentiments in the name of political correctness has become.

From by Ezra Levant (via Andrew Sullivan)

I have just returned home from my session at the kangaroo court, called the Alberta human rights commission. Here is my opening statement that I delivered at the interrogation. I will post more details about the interrogation soon.

Alberta Human Rights Commission Interrogation

Opening remarks by Ezra Levant, January 11, 2008 – Calgary

My name is Ezra Levant. Before this government interrogation begins, I will make a statement.

When the Western Standard magazine printed the Danish cartoons of Mohammed two years ago, I was the publisher. It was the proudest moment of my public life. I would do it again today. In fact, I did do it again today. Though the Western Standard, sadly, no longer publishes a print edition, I posted the cartoons this morning on my website,

I am here at this government interrogation under protest. It is my position that the government has no legal or moral authority to interrogate me or anyone else for publishing these words and pictures. That is a violation of my ancient and inalienable freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and in this case, religious freedom and the separation of mosque and state. It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights. So I will now call those bureaucrats “the commission” or “the hrc”, since to call the commission a “human rights commission” is to destroy the meaning of those words.

I believe that this commission has no proper authority over me. The commission was meant as a low-level, quasi-judicial body to arbitrate squabbles about housing, employment and other matters, where a complainant felt that their race or sex was the reason they were discriminated against. The commission was meant to deal with deeds, not words or ideas. Now the commission, which is funded by a secular government, from the pockets of taxpayers of all backgrounds, is taking it upon itself to be an enforcer of the views of radical Islam. So much for the separation of mosque and state.

I have read the past few years’ worth of decisions from this commission, and it is clear that it has become a dump for the junk that gets rejected from the real legal system. I read one case where a male hair salon student complained that he was called a “loser” by the girls in the class. The commission actually had a hearing about this. Another case was a kitchen manager with Hepatitis-C, who complained that it was against her rights to be fired. The commission actually agreed with her, and forced the restaurant to pay her $4,900. In other words, the commission is a joke – it’s the Alberta equivalent of a U.S. television pseudo-court like Judge Judy – except that Judge Judy actually was a judge, whereas none of the commission’s panellists are judges, and some aren’t even lawyers. And, unlike the commission, Judge Judy believes in freedom of speech.

It’s bad enough that this sick joke is being wreaked on hair salons and restaurants. But it’s even worse now that the commissions are attacking free speech. That’s my first point: the commissions have leapt out of the small cage they were confined to, and are now attacking our fundamental freedoms. As Alan Borovoy, Canada’s leading civil libertarian, a man who helped form these commissions in the 60’s and 70’s, wrote, in specific reference to our magazine, being a censor is, quote, “hardly the role we had envisioned for human rights commissions. There should be no question of the right to publish the impugned cartoons.” Unquote. Since the commission is so obviously out of control, he said quote “It would be best, therefore, to change the provisions of the Human Rights Act to remove any such ambiguities of interpretation.” Unquote.

The commission has no legal authority to act as censor. It is not in their statutory authority. They’re just making it up – even Alan Borovoy says so.

But even if the commissions had some statutory fig leaf for their attempts at political and religious censorship, it would still be unlawful and unconstitutional.

We have a heritage of free speech that we inherited from Great Britain that goes back to the year 1215 and the Magna Carta. We have a heritage of eight hundred years of British common law protection for speech, augmented by 250 years of common law in Canada.

That common law has been restated in various fundamental documents, especially since the Second World War.

In 1948, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is a party, declared that, quote:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights guaranteed, quote

1. “ human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,

(c) freedom of religion; (d) freedom of speech; (e) freedom of assembly and association; and (f) freedom of the press.

In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteed, quote:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

Those were even called “fundamental freedoms” – to give them extra importance.

For a government bureaucrat to call any publisher or anyone else to an interrogation to be quizzed about his political or religious expression is a violation of 800 years of common law, a Universal Declaration of Rights, a Bill of Rights and a Charter of Rights. This commission is applying Saudi values, not Canadian values.

It is also deeply procedurally one-sided and unjust. The complainant – in this case, a radical Muslim imam, who was trained at an officially anti-Semitic university in Saudi Arabia, and who has called for sharia law to govern Canada – doesn’t have to pay a penny; Alberta taxpayers pay for the prosecution of the complaint against me. The victims of the complaints, like the Western Standard, have to pay for their own lawyers from their own pockets. Even if we win, we lose – the process has become the punishment. (At this point, I’d like to thank the magazine’s many donors who have given their own money to help us fight against the Saudi imam and his enablers in the Alberta government.)

It is procedurally unfair. Unlike real courts, there is no way to apply for a dismissal of nuisance lawsuits. Common law rules of evidence don’t apply. Rules of court don’t apply. It is a system that is part Kafka, and part Stalin. Even this interrogation today – at which I appear under duress – saw the commission tell me who I could or could not bring with me as my counsel and advisors.

I have no faith in this farcical commission. But I do have faith in the justice and good sense of my fellow Albertans and Canadians. I believe that the better they understand this case, the more shocked they will be. I am here under your compulsion to answer the commission’s questions. But it is not I who am on trial: it is the freedom of all Canadians.

You may start your interrogation.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Atheists Prefer Obama

Here's a post I just found on Obama's support among Atheists.

by Ilya Lichtenstein

Who do you think won the June 3rd democratic primary debate?obama

A recent Avanoo question asked “Who do you think won the Democratic debate?” The results were pretty evenly divided among Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with John Edwards a strong third. But digging deeper with the Wisdom of Communities, we saw an interesting pattern- when filtering results by religion, 80% of atheists thought Barack Obama won the debate. Hillary Clinton, the overall frontrunner, has 0% support among atheists so far. Was it something he said?

The Title of "Atheist"

Here's a great quote for the day.
It is a bit of a problem, the title "Atheist"--No one really wants to be defined by what they do not believe in. We haven't yet settled on a name, but you wouldn't expect a Baptist minister to go around calling himself an a-Darwinist. But it is crucial that people who do not have a sky god and don't have a set of supernatural beliefs assert their belief in moral values and in love and in the transcendence that they might experience in landscape or art or music or sculpture or whatever. Since they do not believe in an afterlife, it makes them give more valence to life itself. The little spark that we do have becomes all the more valuable when you can't be trading off any moments for eternity.

Ian McEwan in the TNR (via Andrew Sullivan)