I'm of two minds

I’ve been an atheist for roughly 20 years. As a child, I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious household. My parents believed (and still do) in the god of the bible, but their belief wasn’t attached to any particular denomination. Unlike other families, we didn’t attend church services*. I wasn’t part of any church groups. We didn’t read bible verses at home. Heck, I don’t recall ever seeing a bible in the house (though I’m sure there was at least one). From what I recall (my memory regarding finer details is spotty the further I go back) god was not a subject that was often discussed at home. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we sat at the table and said grace, thanking god for giving us the food we were about to eat and praying that he’d ensure our continued health and happiness, but that was about it. This was par for the course for pretty much my entire childhood. As a teenager, I had some vague belief in god. If someone had asked me, I’d have said “yes, I believe in god”, but more than that? There wasn’t anything more than that. When I got to college, that ill-defined belief in a deity was challenged once I took Philosophy 101 and 202. It was in those classes that I began to explore morality and ethics. Questioning the morality of an a particular act led me down the path to atheism. Just as importantly, in those classes, I was exposed to other religions and learned that humans have created gods for thousands of years. By the time I’d taken my break from college in my sophomore year, I was an atheist. I realized that humans had been creating deities for a very long time and those gods so often served to explain aspects of the world we couldn’t explain. That bright flashing light in the sky when it rains? No idea what that was. Nor any idea where the rain came from. But chalk it up to Jupitor or Thor and you have an “explanation”. Does something happen to us after we die? No idea, but Hel and Valhalla provide an “answer”. As I began to learn about the similarities between religions, I began to think that if those were all invented, there’s no reason Christianity couldn’t have been invented either. Plus, the modern Christians had no more evidence to support the existence of their god than the ancient Greeks had to support the assertion that their gods existed. That was the primary reason I rejected a belief in any god or gods (there were other, slightly less important reasons, such as the problem of evil and my growing belief that there was nothing wrong with me or anyone else being gay-contrary to many religious teachings). I say all of this bc my lack of a belief in any higher power(s) had (and has) fuck-all to do with having faith. And that’s why I have a hard time understanding the perspective of Ijeoma Oluo, an atheist who recently wrote an article for the Guardian titled ‘My atheism does not make me superior to believers. It’s a leap of faith too

Continue reading “I'm of two minds”

I'm of two minds
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I’m of two minds

I’ve been an atheist for roughly 20 years. As a child, I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious household. My parents believed (and still do) in the god of the bible, but their belief wasn’t attached to any particular denomination. Unlike other families, we didn’t attend church services*. I wasn’t part of any church groups. We didn’t read bible verses at home. Heck, I don’t recall ever seeing a bible in the house (though I’m sure there was at least one). From what I recall (my memory regarding finer details is spotty the further I go back) god was not a subject that was often discussed at home. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we sat at the table and said grace, thanking god for giving us the food we were about to eat and praying that he’d ensure our continued health and happiness, but that was about it. This was par for the course for pretty much my entire childhood. As a teenager, I had some vague belief in god. If someone had asked me, I’d have said “yes, I believe in god”, but more than that? There wasn’t anything more than that. When I got to college, that ill-defined belief in a deity was challenged once I took Philosophy 101 and 202. It was in those classes that I began to explore morality and ethics. Questioning the morality of an a particular act led me down the path to atheism. Just as importantly, in those classes, I was exposed to other religions and learned that humans have created gods for thousands of years. By the time I’d taken my break from college in my sophomore year, I was an atheist. I realized that humans had been creating deities for a very long time and those gods so often served to explain aspects of the world we couldn’t explain. That bright flashing light in the sky when it rains? No idea what that was. Nor any idea where the rain came from. But chalk it up to Jupitor or Thor and you have an “explanation”. Does something happen to us after we die? No idea, but Hel and Valhalla provide an “answer”. As I began to learn about the similarities between religions, I began to think that if those were all invented, there’s no reason Christianity couldn’t have been invented either. Plus, the modern Christians had no more evidence to support the existence of their god than the ancient Greeks had to support the assertion that their gods existed. That was the primary reason I rejected a belief in any god or gods (there were other, slightly less important reasons, such as the problem of evil and my growing belief that there was nothing wrong with me or anyone else being gay-contrary to many religious teachings). I say all of this bc my lack of a belief in any higher power(s) had (and has) fuck-all to do with having faith. And that’s why I have a hard time understanding the perspective of Ijeoma Oluo, an atheist who recently wrote an article for the Guardian titled ‘My atheism does not make me superior to believers. It’s a leap of faith too

Continue reading “I’m of two minds”

I’m of two minds

Protecting the lives of secular bloggers is more important than protecting religious beliefs

One of the most essential of all human rights is the freedom of speech. The right to hold an opinion or belief and to communicate that opinion or belief-as well as the freedom to seek out and receive information and ideas from others-  free from government interference or censure, enables individuals to share their thoughts without fear of reprisal. Governments who have sought to regulate and control the possession and free exchange of ideas and information are governments who do not place value upon the freedom of their citizens. In the past (and even in modern times) such tyrannical dominance has often lead to state-sanctioned acts of barbarism upon a populace. Such acts are antithetical to the prosperity and well-being of human beings. While freedom of speech is not absolute-there are limits (limits ((some reasonable, some not)) which vary from country to country)-enshrining it as a right is a crucial means of placing restrictions on the power of a government, thus ensuring the liberty and freedom of its citizenry. In addition to ensuring the free speech rights of citizens, it is also vital that governments work to ensure that their citizenry can speak their minds and share their thoughts without fear of being murdered for doing so. Unfortunately for members of the Bangladeshi secular community, that fear is all too real.

Continue reading “Protecting the lives of secular bloggers is more important than protecting religious beliefs”

Protecting the lives of secular bloggers is more important than protecting religious beliefs

Quote of the Day: Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (b. 1872, d. 1970) was a British logician, philosopher, essayist, social critic, and one of them thar non-believers. In atheist circles, he is known for his criticism and disdain of the religious concept of faith via his china teapot “hypothesis”. His writings played an important role in my rejection of religion.

Continue reading “Quote of the Day: Bertrand Russell”

Quote of the Day: Bertrand Russell

Someone tell Jesus to stop kissing people

One bright summer day in the late 80s, teenage-me was faced with a dilemma: how best to get home. I stood there, at the top of the hill leading to the swimming pool, weighing my options. There were a fair amount of trees along the hill, but not so many that I couldn’t safely navigate. Besides, if things got hairy, I could simply apply the brakes on my bicycle and slow myself down. There was another route (one that didn’t involve hills or trees) I could have taken to leave the pool, but this one was shorter. Which made it the better choice, of course (at least to my then-teenage mind). As I hopped on my bicycle and began the downhill journey, I began to question if I was being wise or foolish (definitely foolish). Shortly after beginning my descent, I realized I was going faster than I wanted. No problem I thought. Bike brakes, remember? Of course to function properly, bike brakes need brake pads that are not worn. Mine were very, very worn. Panic set in. My speed was increasing, and I couldn’t think of a way to stop that didn’t involve some pain and suffering. My panic diminished when I saw a ditch at the base of the hill. A ditch with a bridge spanning it. If I could make it to the bridge safely, I’d be in the clear. So I aimed for the bridge. Unfortunately, I missed and my bike (with me still on it) careened into the ditch. When my bike fell, I fell with it. As my bike skidded across the concrete ditch, so did my body. I still have the scars on the left side of my body from that accident. I remember that the experience was painful.

Despite what I had just experienced, I was able to pick myself up and drag myself home. I don’t recall the look on the faces of my parents, but I imagine it was that panicked look most parents get when they learn that their child has been injured. Let me be clear though: those injuries…the pain I was in…the suffering I experienced? It was all minor. No limbs were lost. There was no significant blood loss. I had no life-threatening injuries. Nonetheless, it still qualifies as an experience involving pain and suffering. According to the late, not-so-great Catholic icon Mother Theresa, experiences such as mine-while awful-are ultimately a good thing:

One day I met a lady who was dying of cancer in a most terrible condition. And I told her, I say, “You know, this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.” And she joined her hands together and said, “Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.”

The message is clear: pain and suffering are the path to Jesus. Uh-huh. At the time of my accident, I was still a believer (it took nearly a decade before I came to recognize the error of my ways and rejected religious nonsense). Nevertheless, I think my teenage-self would have preferred to avoid that kiss, thank you very much.

The idea that human suffering should be passively accepted or held up as a glorious part of the human experience (and thus, nothing we should try to alleviate) is a repulsive idea to me. I don’t like pain. I’d venture to say that the majority of people living on this planet don’t like pain. If it can be avoided, we humans often do. Because pain hurts. As for suffering, who the hell wants to be deprived of food, air, water, or shelter? Who wants to lead a solitary life with no interaction with other human beings? Who wants to be subjected to malnutrition, starvation, or disease? While the odd human here or there might say they like to suffer, I think it’s safe to say that the overwhelming majority of human beings don’t like to suffer. Sadly, the Catholic Church-that self-proclaimed bastion of morality that claims to have the best interests of humanity at heart-continues to disagree:

Jesus Sahagun, from Valladolid, has been charged with several offences including gender violence and causing injury and mistreatment.

The events began in 2012 when the girl’s parents asked for Sahaguns help because they believed Satan had possessed their daughter.

She was then subject to 13 exorcisms, in which she was repeatedly tied up and had crucifixes held over her head.

The girl’s aunts and uncles complained to police after the teenager tried to commit suicide.

In a statement in court, the girl’s parents said the Priest was aware their daughter was suffering from anorexia but that he told them the exorcisms would not interfere with her treatment.

In an interview with El Mundo newspaper in 2014, Sahagun said the exorcisms were necessary because the girl was “possessed by the devil.”

“The young woman’s suicide attempt was not a result of the exorcisms practiced on her,” he said.

Sahagun also defended exorcisms as “a religious practice maintained as part of the Church’s tradition, as a right available to all the faithful.”

While the causes of anorexia nervosa are not known, I think it’s reasonable to reject any supernatural hypothesis, bc hey, there’s no evidence for the existence of any supernatural beings (whether godlike or demonic). Before one more exorcism is performed, the Catholic Church should be made to prove the existence of their particular flavor of deity, as well as the existence of demons. They should also have to prove that demons can and do possess humans, and how they know this to be true. Finally, they ought to be required to demonstrate the efficacy of exorcisms. Until they do so, they should be forbidden from engaging in exorcisms, on penalty of prosecution. They should not get a free pass to engage in practices that contribute to human suffering simply because they are a religious organization.

That’s how things ought to be. Pity that’s not the way things are. They get to continue engaging in exorcisms and other actions that, rather than ameliorating human suffering, exacerbate it. Actions like installing a watering system to keep homeless people from sleeping in cathedral doorways:

The cathedral, at Geary and Gough, is the home church of the Archbishop. There are four tall side doors, with sheltered alcoves, that attract homeless people at night.

“They actually have signs in there that say, ‘No Trespassing,’” said a homeless man named Robert.

But there are no signs warning the homeless about what happens in these doorways, at various times, all through the night. Water pours from a hole in the ceiling, about 30 feet above, drenching the alcove and anyone in it.

The shower ran for about 75 seconds, every 30 to 60 minutes while we were there, starting before sunset, simultaneously in all four doorways. KCBS witnessed it soak homeless people, and their belongings.

“We’re going to be wet there all night, so hypothermia, cold, all that other stuff could set in. Keeping the church clean, but it could make people sick,” Robert said.

The water doesn’t really clean the area. There are syringes, cigarette butts, soggy clothing and cardboard. There is no drainage system. The water pools on the steps and sidewalks.

A neighbor who witnessed the drenching told KCBS, “I was just shocked, one because it’s inhumane to treat people that way. The second thing is that we are in this terrible drought.

Yes, that is an inhumane way to treat other humans (and hey, what about those alleged teachings of Jesus that Catholics claim to follow) but if you put on your Think Like Mother Theresa Hat, it makes sense. Homeless people being drenched in water? Facing hypothermia? Kicked out of one of the few areas that provides some shelter? Yeah, that’s suffering, but what are you complaining about? You just got kissed by god!

Someone tell Jesus to stop kissing people

A response to Pope Francis' "respect religion, or else"

Pope Francis is the latest public figure to make remarks about the deadly terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo in France. Speaking to reporters on a flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines the pontiff shared his thoughts on faith and freedom of expression:

Pope Francis suggested there are limits to freedom of expression, saying in response to the Charlie Hebdo terror attack that “one cannot make fun of faith” and that anyone who throws insults can expect a “punch.”

The pontiff said that both freedom of faith and freedom of speech were fundamental human rights and that “every religion has its dignity.”

“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” he said. “There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”

I agree with the Pope on one point. There are limitations on free speech. Here in the United States, for instance, there are several types of speech that are not protected under the First Amendment:

Restrictions that are based on people’s reactions to words include both instances of a complete exception, and cases of diminished protection. Speech that involves incitement, false statements of fact, obscenity, child pornography, threats, and speech owned by others are all completely exempt from First Amendment protections. Commercial advertising receives diminished, but not eliminated, protection.

Along with communicative restrictions, less protection is afforded for uninhibited speech when the government acts as subsidizer or speaker, is an employer, controls education, or regulates the following: the mail, airwaves, legal bar, military, prisons, and immigration.

Taken at face value, Pope Francis’ “there are limits on free speech” comment is accurate.  As you can see above, there literally are limits on free speech. Noticeably absent from the list of exceptions to the First Amendment? Speech that mocks, criticizes, or insults religion or religious beliefs…and I don’t think Pope Francis likes that. After all, he says:

The right to liberty of expression comes with the “obligation” to speak for “the common good,” Pope Francis said, cautioning against provocation.

To illustrate his point, he joked about Vatican aide Alberto Gasparri who was standing nearby on the plane.

“It’s true that we can’t react violently, but, for example if Dr. Gasbarri here, a great friend of mine, says a curse word against my mother, then a punch awaits him,” the pontiff said.

Most readers who understand how words work can see that the Pope is making an analogy to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. In his analogy, Dr. Gasbarri is a stand-in for Charlie Hebdo, while his mother is in the role of Islam. Despite his comment about not reacting violently, the Pope says that if you insult his mother, you should expect a violent reaction. Likewise, if you insult Islam (and by extension, all religions), you should expect a violent reaction. But here’s the thing:  you shouldn’t expect a violent reaction.  Violence is not a reasonable response to words of criticism, scorn, insult, or yes, mockery. Questions of quality aside, the creators of Charlie Hebdo produced words (and images).  Words that expressed mockery, scorn, and insult, to be sure, but words nonetheless.  To Pope Francis though, those words crossed a line, into the realm of things you shouldn’t say, and you shouldn’t say them because…hold on, his papal majesty must have offered a reason, so I’ll just go back and re-read what he wrote.

Um…

Hmm…

Interesting…

Pope Francis doesn’t offer any reasoning for why we should not mock or insult religion or religious beliefs. He just says don’t do it. Welp, I’m convinced. Oh, wait, no I’m not because fuck authoritarian thinking like that. If, instead of condemning any form of speech that ridicules, mocks, or insults religion, he said “we must be cautious about the manner in which we criticize, ridicule, or insult, lest we punch down the power gradient” or something along those lines, I’d have agreed.  But that isn’t what he said. He said don’t do it because reasons…reasons he forgot to include. That’s not being completely fair. He did offer up a reason, albeit not a terribly strong one: the so-called dignity of religion.

Here’s the thing though:  I don’t think it is essential to treat religion or religious beliefs with dignity. As I understand the word, dignity means the quality or state of being worthy of respect or esteem. As a species, we humans have decided that when any of us are denied our basic rights…when we are treated as beings unworthy of existence…when we are denied basic dignity:  we suffer and we die. That’s why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted. When religion or religious beliefs are not treated with reverence…when they are mocked, or criticized, nothing happens. Religion doesn’t get hurt. Religious beliefs don’t die. It should be obvious why (hint: neither religion nor religious beliefs are living beings that can suffer and die).

I fully understand that for many people, religion and religious beliefs are of great importance. Such importance, in fact, that they are granted tremendous respect. Now, on a personal level, if an individual decides they want to grant religion dignity, that’s their choice. No one should attempt to force them to do otherwise, as that would be a violation of their right to freedom of conscience. The opposite holds true as well. If an individual does not wish to grant dignity to religion, that is their choice and they should not be coerced into treating religion with reverence.

I am one such individual. I do not respect religion or religious beliefs. Down through the ages, people have used their religion and their religious beliefs to justify, support, or defend-in whole or in part-the most vile, barbaric, and inhumane ideas, actions, and institutions. Pogroms. Witch hunts. Crusades. Condoning slavery. Sexism and misogyny. Anti-LGBT bigotry. The selling and trafficking of newborns. The rape and molestation of children by priests. Spreading lies about contraception. Treating women as brood mares. Refusing life-saving blood transfusions for children. Condoning rape. Opposition to abortion. The list could go on and on. I refuse to respect institutions or beliefs that justify, support, or provide defense of such horrific violations of human rights. On another, more simple level, there is one more reason I don’t respect religious beliefs or religion.

Simply put: I’m a non-believer…an atheist.  I do not adhere to, nor am I bound by the beliefs of any religion-whether in the here and now or in the distant past. I do not believe in the so-called divine. I do not believe in gods of any sort (pick a god among the thousands created by humanity, and I assure you, I won’t believe in its existence). Pope Francis’ words boil down to “respect religion and religious beliefs or else harm will befall you”. For me, as a non-believer, I do not respect either one. The Pope’s words are an attempt at coercion. Rather than use rhetoric to persuade people to be respectful, Pope Francis supports the use of force by way of coercion.

To the Pope, I say:

“As a human being, I have the freedom of conscience. I have the right to choose what I want to believe or not believe. Moreover, it is unconscionable for you or anyone to attempt to coerce me (or anyone else) into respecting any religion or religious beliefs. Such an attempt is a violation of the rights of anyone who chooses to believe differently than you. The threat of force, whether by your hand or others, will not stay me from criticizing, mocking, or yes, insulting religion or its tenets.”

Or, shorter me (by way of  Tim Minchin):  Fuck the Pope.

A response to Pope Francis' "respect religion, or else"

A response to Pope Francis’ “respect religion, or else”

Pope Francis is the latest public figure to make remarks about the deadly terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo in France. Speaking to reporters on a flight from Sri Lanka to the Philippines the pontiff shared his thoughts on faith and freedom of expression:

Pope Francis suggested there are limits to freedom of expression, saying in response to the Charlie Hebdo terror attack that “one cannot make fun of faith” and that anyone who throws insults can expect a “punch.”

The pontiff said that both freedom of faith and freedom of speech were fundamental human rights and that “every religion has its dignity.”

“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” he said. “There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”

I agree with the Pope on one point. There are limitations on free speech. Here in the United States, for instance, there are several types of speech that are not protected under the First Amendment:

Restrictions that are based on people’s reactions to words include both instances of a complete exception, and cases of diminished protection. Speech that involves incitement, false statements of fact, obscenity, child pornography, threats, and speech owned by others are all completely exempt from First Amendment protections. Commercial advertising receives diminished, but not eliminated, protection.

Along with communicative restrictions, less protection is afforded for uninhibited speech when the government acts as subsidizer or speaker, is an employer, controls education, or regulates the following: the mail, airwaves, legal bar, military, prisons, and immigration.

Taken at face value, Pope Francis’ “there are limits on free speech” comment is accurate.  As you can see above, there literally are limits on free speech. Noticeably absent from the list of exceptions to the First Amendment? Speech that mocks, criticizes, or insults religion or religious beliefs…and I don’t think Pope Francis likes that. After all, he says:

The right to liberty of expression comes with the “obligation” to speak for “the common good,” Pope Francis said, cautioning against provocation.

To illustrate his point, he joked about Vatican aide Alberto Gasparri who was standing nearby on the plane.

“It’s true that we can’t react violently, but, for example if Dr. Gasbarri here, a great friend of mine, says a curse word against my mother, then a punch awaits him,” the pontiff said.

Most readers who understand how words work can see that the Pope is making an analogy to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. In his analogy, Dr. Gasbarri is a stand-in for Charlie Hebdo, while his mother is in the role of Islam. Despite his comment about not reacting violently, the Pope says that if you insult his mother, you should expect a violent reaction. Likewise, if you insult Islam (and by extension, all religions), you should expect a violent reaction. But here’s the thing:  you shouldn’t expect a violent reaction.  Violence is not a reasonable response to words of criticism, scorn, insult, or yes, mockery. Questions of quality aside, the creators of Charlie Hebdo produced words (and images).  Words that expressed mockery, scorn, and insult, to be sure, but words nonetheless.  To Pope Francis though, those words crossed a line, into the realm of things you shouldn’t say, and you shouldn’t say them because…hold on, his papal majesty must have offered a reason, so I’ll just go back and re-read what he wrote.

Um…

Hmm…

Interesting…

Pope Francis doesn’t offer any reasoning for why we should not mock or insult religion or religious beliefs. He just says don’t do it. Welp, I’m convinced. Oh, wait, no I’m not because fuck authoritarian thinking like that. If, instead of condemning any form of speech that ridicules, mocks, or insults religion, he said “we must be cautious about the manner in which we criticize, ridicule, or insult, lest we punch down the power gradient” or something along those lines, I’d have agreed.  But that isn’t what he said. He said don’t do it because reasons…reasons he forgot to include. That’s not being completely fair. He did offer up a reason, albeit not a terribly strong one: the so-called dignity of religion.

Here’s the thing though:  I don’t think it is essential to treat religion or religious beliefs with dignity. As I understand the word, dignity means the quality or state of being worthy of respect or esteem. As a species, we humans have decided that when any of us are denied our basic rights…when we are treated as beings unworthy of existence…when we are denied basic dignity:  we suffer and we die. That’s why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted. When religion or religious beliefs are not treated with reverence…when they are mocked, or criticized, nothing happens. Religion doesn’t get hurt. Religious beliefs don’t die. It should be obvious why (hint: neither religion nor religious beliefs are living beings that can suffer and die).

I fully understand that for many people, religion and religious beliefs are of great importance. Such importance, in fact, that they are granted tremendous respect. Now, on a personal level, if an individual decides they want to grant religion dignity, that’s their choice. No one should attempt to force them to do otherwise, as that would be a violation of their right to freedom of conscience. The opposite holds true as well. If an individual does not wish to grant dignity to religion, that is their choice and they should not be coerced into treating religion with reverence.

I am one such individual. I do not respect religion or religious beliefs. Down through the ages, people have used their religion and their religious beliefs to justify, support, or defend-in whole or in part-the most vile, barbaric, and inhumane ideas, actions, and institutions. Pogroms. Witch hunts. Crusades. Condoning slavery. Sexism and misogyny. Anti-LGBT bigotry. The selling and trafficking of newborns. The rape and molestation of children by priests. Spreading lies about contraception. Treating women as brood mares. Refusing life-saving blood transfusions for children. Condoning rape. Opposition to abortion. The list could go on and on. I refuse to respect institutions or beliefs that justify, support, or provide defense of such horrific violations of human rights. On another, more simple level, there is one more reason I don’t respect religious beliefs or religion.

Simply put: I’m a non-believer…an atheist.  I do not adhere to, nor am I bound by the beliefs of any religion-whether in the here and now or in the distant past. I do not believe in the so-called divine. I do not believe in gods of any sort (pick a god among the thousands created by humanity, and I assure you, I won’t believe in its existence). Pope Francis’ words boil down to “respect religion and religious beliefs or else harm will befall you”. For me, as a non-believer, I do not respect either one. The Pope’s words are an attempt at coercion. Rather than use rhetoric to persuade people to be respectful, Pope Francis supports the use of force by way of coercion.

To the Pope, I say:

“As a human being, I have the freedom of conscience. I have the right to choose what I want to believe or not believe. Moreover, it is unconscionable for you or anyone to attempt to coerce me (or anyone else) into respecting any religion or religious beliefs. Such an attempt is a violation of the rights of anyone who chooses to believe differently than you. The threat of force, whether by your hand or others, will not stay me from criticizing, mocking, or yes, insulting religion or its tenets.”

Or, shorter me (by way of  Tim Minchin):  Fuck the Pope.

A response to Pope Francis’ “respect religion, or else”

Extraordinary claim? Check. Extraordinary evidence? Umm…

The late Carl Sagan popularized the phrase “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (I mistakenly thought it was the late atheist warmonger Christopher Hitchens-you learn something new every day). Central to critical thinking and skepticism, the phrase is often uttered in skeptic, atheist, and rationalist circles.  “God exists”, “aliens visited ancient civilizations and erected massive structures”, “Bigfoot is real”, and “psychics can commune with the dead” are just some of the extraordinary claims the phrase is applied to. Believers in psychic powers, aliens, or gods often have little to no evidence to back up their claims (and when they do provide what they think of as evidence, it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny), let alone the extraordinary evidence necessary to convince others that [for example] human beings can communicate with the dead. Obviously the popular phrase doesn’t apply to all claims.  When I tell readers that I ordered a deep-dish pepperoni and Italian sausage pizza from Domino’s Pizza earlier, that’s not an extraordinary claim. Why? Domino’s Pizza exists.  That can be confirmed by millions of other people. You can visit their stores. You can view their online site. Phone numbers and addresses exist for their locations. The names of franchise owners can be found. Articles discussing their products can be Googled. You can actually call them up, order food, and have it delivered to your door.  All of that is evidence that Domino’s Pizza exists. Contrast that with the lack of evidence to support the claim that

  • the positions of the planets and stars affect the personalities of human beings
  • Uri Gellar can bend spoons with the power of his mind
  • any deity exists-be it Odin, Zeus, Hephaestus, Isis, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Allah, or Yahweh

Nor is there, to the best of my knowledge, any evidence to support the claim that airplanes existed in India 7,000 years ago:

Aeroplanes existed in 7,000 years ago and they travelled from one country to another and from one planet to another, the Indian Science was told today in a controversial lecture that examined ancient aviation technology in the Vedas.

The hosting of the lecture, presented by Captain Anand J Bodas, a retired principal of a pilot training facility, had recently attracted criticism from some scientists who said it undermined the primacy of empirical evidence on which the 102-year-old Congress was founded.

The lecture was presented on the second day of the Congress under the aegis of University as part of a symposium on ‘Ancient Sciences through Sanskrit’.

Drawing upon the ancient Vedic texts to support the claim that there was flying technology in ancient India, Bodas said, “There is a reference of ancient aviation in the Rigveda.”

He said Maharishi Bharadwaj spoke 7,000 years ago of “the existence of aeroplanes which travel from one country to another, from one continent to another and from one planet to another. He mentioned 97 reference books for aviation.”

“History merely notes that the Wright brothers first flew in 1904,” he said.

Bharadwaj, who authored the book Vimana Samhita, had written about various types of metal alloys used to build an aeroplane, Bodas said, adding, “Now we have to import aeroplane alloys. The young generation should study the alloys mentioned in his book and make them here,”

He also spoke of the “huge” aeroplanes which flew in ancient India. “The basic structure was of 60 by 60 feet and in some cases, over 200 feet. They were jumbo planes,” he said.

“The ancient planes had 40 small engines. Today’s aviation does not know even of flexible exhaust system,” he said.

The ancient Indian radar system was called ‘rooparkanrahasya’. “In this system, the shape of the aeroplane was presented to the observer, instead of the mere blimp that is seen on modern radar systems,” he said.

Bharadwaj’s book mentioned a diet of pilots. It contained of milk of buffalo, cow and sheep for specific periods, Bodas said.

The pilot’s dress cloth came from vegetation grown underwater, he said.

An online petition by a scientist at the NASA research centre had demanded that the scheduled lecture be cancelled as it mixes mythology with science.

The comments by Bodas came a day after Union Minister for Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan told the Congress that Algebra and the Pythagoras’ theorem both originated in India but the credit for these has gone to people from other countries.

Incidentally, these 7K-year-old airplanes must have been far more advanced than the airliners of today, as there is no plane I know of that can achieve the speed necessary to escape the pull of Earth’s gravity*, let alone the speeds necessary for interplanetary travel.

*escape velocity, roughly 25,000 mph

Extraordinary claim? Check. Extraordinary evidence? Umm…

Quote of the day: Annie Laurie Gaylor

Thanks to my friend Iris Vander Pluym for highlighting this great quote by Annie Laurie Gaylor that perfectly sums up the problem with religion (the quote is part of a longer post by Gaylor, which can be found here):

Religion’s greatest “sin” lies in displacing human endeavor, thought, time, resources and efforts from this world, our only world, in order to exalt a highly unlikely, unknowable, unseeable, unprovable and unbelievable pretend afterworld. The only afterlife that ought to concern us is leaving our descendants (along with the other animals and life we share our planet with) a secure and pleasant future.

Quote of the day: Annie Laurie Gaylor

Religion News 1.1.15

Former 7th Day Adventist pastor who gave up religion for a year to test his faith may not go back

Ryan Bell became a fascination for the religious and non-religious alike when he announced that he would be conducting an “intellectual experiment” to test out atheism after he began struggling with his own faith.

In a way, it was the perfect time for a change. Just months before his “experiment,” Bell resigned as pastor of the church he had worked at for 19 years. He had become uncomfortable with the way his religion has handled homosexuality and felt that the organization was no longer in line with his more liberal views. At the same time, his 17-year marriage was also ending. In that turmoil, Bell saw the potential for a radical change and took it.

According to Bell, he would spend all of 2014 living “as if there is no God.”

“I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances.”

I applaud his intent, but I wonder how successful he was in living as if there is no god. Monotheistic belief pervades our society. To the extent that we have “In god we trust” emblazoned on our currency. We say “God bless you” after someone sneezes. We cry out “God damn it” when angry. Eliminating those trivial references seems a difficult task to me.

For some of the faithful, that may appear to be blasphemous and quite possibly endanger Bell’s soul. Bell was a bit more good-humored about it, arguing that if there was a God, then God will probably “not be too flummoxed” by the test. In short, Bell assumed that a God worthy of the name probably can handle some guy not talking to him for 12 months without the world ending.

After his decision to “live as if there is no God,” things didn’t become easier for Bell. However, it wasn’t God who had forsaken him, but people. Almost immediately, two Christian schools where he worked as a teacher fired him. He was now a single parent with two young daughters to care for so things were grim.

Of course they fired him. That’s what they call “Christian Love”. Yes, that’s as nonsensical as Bible-based morality.

Luckily, an atheist blogger heard about his experiment and started an online fundraising campaign that ultimately raised over $27,000 to help support his family during the year.  Around the same time, Bell took his passion for helping people into the secular world. He landed a job as a “life skills” teacher at PATH, a nonprofit that focuses on helping homeless people get a solid education and marketable skills.

The year of “giving atheism a try” hasn’t had the negative affect that Bell probably assumed it would. Instead, he seems more comfortable in it. While he still hasn’t decided whether he will return to the church (he has until January), he now feels confident in describing himself as a “weak atheist.” It’s a designation that says one does not currently hold a belief in God (as compared to “strong atheism” which asserts that one is convinced that there is no God). Weak or strong, a former pastor describing himself as an atheist means he’s come a long way.

He has come a long way indeed. To even think about an undertaking such as this makes me wonder how much doubt was roiling around in his head. Hopefully he’ll complete this leg of his intellectual journey by casting theism aside and embracing reality. It’s far more beautiful and awe-inspiring than anything humanity has created–including Christianity and it’s so-called “loving” deity.

Update:  Even though Bell finds atheism a weird fit, he’s not going back to theism.

* * * *

Newlywed couple. Post vows. Robbed. Broad daylight. “In front of the flower girls” ::gasp::

I seem to have misplaced my bedazzled fainting couch. Can I borrow someone else’s?

A California couple who had just taken their vows on Saturday were robbed right in front of god and everyone while taking photos in front of their old high school. In broad daylight and “in front of the flower girls.”

The Washington Post, which has recounted the story to highlight that the flower girls were affected by the robbery, reports that the newlyweds had met at Oakland High and just wanted to go back and take a few photos for old time’s sake. What they learned, however, like those kids who would come back to high school just to say “hello” the year after they graduated — I never got that. Why did people do that? — is that nothing good comes from going back to the past. Especially when you’ve got over $13,000 in camera equipment on you at the time.

Where are NOM, Brian Brown, Tony Perkins, and all those defenders of heterosexual marriage? The thieves threatened the peace and sanctity of a marriage ceremony. Such perfidy should not be allowed to stand.

For that matter, isn’t their deity supposedly very concerned about heterosexual marriage? Why would he allow such theft to occur? Why didn’t he strike down those robbers with heavenly bolts of lighting?  Or y’know, a well placed banana peel. Oh, I forgot his horrible aim.  He probably wanted to punish them, but instead, he hit a small Caribbean island with a tropical storm.

He may be all-powerful.

He may be all-knowing.

He may be all-everywhere.

What he ain’t is precise with his punishments. It may be the whole not existing thing.

* * * *

 Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore criticizes secular invocation at city council meetings

“We’re having prayers [by] atheists? We’re having Wiccans say prayers? How foolish can we be?” he asked members of the Madison County Republican Men’s Club.

“I’ll say this in Huntsville because I think it needs to be said in Huntsville,” Moore continued. “There is one God and it’s the God on which this nation was founded. And it’s the God of the Scriptures. I don’t need applause for that. It’s a truth in history and it’s a truth in law.”

I find it highly unlikely that this man passed the bar without knowing that the laws in this country are not based on the Bible. I also think he’s lying when he says it’s a historical truth.  I think he’s being intentionally dishonest here.  Pandering perhaps?

In June, he claimed that “[w]ithout God there would be no nation. Without God there would be no freedom to believe what you want. That goes all the way back to people like Thomas Jefferson in his bill for religious freedom. He knew what it meant. He knew the limits of civil government, and he knew who gave us that freedom to believe what we want about God, but it comes from God.”

Oh yeah, bc freedom of religion? That’s a concept you’ll find in the Bible. ::rolls eyes::  I wonder if Judge Moore has heard of the Treaty of Tripoli…

Moore’s specific complaint was in reference to Huntsville’s decision to allow North Alabama Freethought Association board member Kelly McCauley to open a city council meeting with a secular invocation.

They have to allow any religious or secular invocation if they’re going to allow even just one.  To allow just a Christian invocation would be an example of the government endorsing or showing preference to one religion, which is unconstitutional.  Even I know that and I am not a constitutional lawyer.

* * * *

Counterintuitive though it may be, the religious are more likely than the non-religious to support torture 

After the Senate Intelligence Committee released the CIA Torture Report earlier this month, a poll was conducted by the Washington Post/ABC on the subject. They questioned people about many aspects of the report, including whether people believed enhanced interrogation techniques were torture, whether CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified and whether torture itself can be justified.

One of the more remarkable findings revealed by the poll was a great divide between those who are religious and those who are non-religious. Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches shares her analysis of the findings:

“Just 39% of white evangelicals believe the CIA’s treatment of detainees amounted to torture, with 53% of white non-evangelical Protestants and 45% of white Catholics agreeing with that statement. Among the non-religious, though, 72% said the treatment amounted to torture.”

Religious Americans are are between 19% to 33% less likely to believe waterboarding and force-feeding hummus by way of a rectal tube are torture than their non-religious brothers and sisters. When Americans were asked if the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were justified, religious and non-religious people were divided, as well. According to Posner:

“Sixty nine percent of white evangelicals believe the CIA treatment was justified, compared to just 20% who said it was not. A full three-quarters (75%) of white non-evangelical Protestants outnumber the 22% of their brethren in saying CIA treatment was justified. White Catholics believe the treatment was justified by a 66-23% margin. But a majority of non-religious adults, 53%, believe the CIA actions were not justified, with 41% of the non-religious saying the treatment was justified.”

At first glance the statistics appear counter-intuitive, but a similar poll by Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted in May of 2009 generated similar results.

The results are confusing. Why is it that religious folks tend to be copacetic with torture when non-religious people are inclined to reject the practice?

Good question. One of the core ideas of Christianity is that Jesus Christ was persecuted and tortured. Hell, many Christians wear a symbol of his torture around their necks in the form of a cross. You’d think they would be among the first to denounce torture.

* * * *

American Atheists President Dave Silverman demands apology for Troy University’s anti-atheist mass email

Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins sent a mass email to faculty and staff with a link to a YouTube video that demeans atheists and non-believers.  Here’s the video:

Dave Silverman wasn’t very happy with that email, and has demanded an apology.  In a letter to Chancellor Hawkins, Silverman says:

American Atheists is contacting you on behalf of a Troy University student, who is concerned about a video you sent to all students and staff in your end-of-year email on December 30. The video asserts that religion, particularly Judeo-Christian beliefs, are necessary to be moral, law-abiding citizens, and implies that those who do not attend church will be anti-democracy and anti-social members of society.

Atheists are not a trivial minority. In Alabama alone, we represent 11% of the population, and statistically even higher numbers in universities and among college-aged residents; as many as 32% of people under age 30 are not religious.

On behalf of the student who contacted us, the Alabama members of American Atheists, the thousands of atheists at Troy University, and the hundreds of millions of atheists worldwide who live productive, law-abiding lives without religion, we demand an apology from you for using the public university email system and your publicly funded position to disparage atheists and minority religious groups as well as perpetuating the discrimination and anti-patriotic sentiment against atheists in the United States.

As you represent an institution of higher learning, we would like to take this opportunity to educate you about atheists and morality. Atheists are overwhelmingly ethical and upstanding people. It is not true that religion is necessary to keep people from becoming criminals.

According to leading secularism researcher Professor Phil Zuckerman at Pitzer College, “We can plainly see that the least religious countries and states are generally the most moral, peaceful, and humane, while the most religious countries and states are the most crime-ridden, corrupt, and socially troubled. End of discussion.”

In fact, in the United States, in states with the highest percentages of atheists, the murder rate is lower than average. In the most-religious states, the murder rate is higher than average.

Further, on average and generally speaking, atheists have fewer divorces, abortions, and STDs, and lower poverty rates, homicide rates, overall crime rates, and teen pregnancy rates. As a demographic, atheists have higher IQs, incomes, education rates, and literacy rates, and more Nobel Prizes and university professorships.

We need to teach young people to use critical thinking and be more skeptical, not more obedient. Teaching as such leads—demonstrably—to more ethical behavior.

American Atheists will be hosting its annual national convention the first weekend in April at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. We invite you to attend any or all of the events to experience for yourself what atheism and atheists are like. We believe that personal experience helps fight ignorance so we invite you to be our special guest.

We ask for a public apology to the student, and other atheists whom you have disparaged with the video you included in your email.

Religion News 1.1.15