Monday, June 30, 2008

If you don't have anything nice to say...

This is not a new Pat Condell video that I’m posting. It’s from late last year. But this was the first time I’ve seen it and I’m guessing you haven’t seen it yet either.

I have to say the point he is making is outstanding. You might say, well, if you think it is outstanding Mr. Evo, it certainly doesn’t sound much like how you do things. And this would be true. I’ll have to give some thought to the possibility that I’m doing things wrong.

In the meanwhile, I do think I do the next best thing. I rarely debate theists. I mean, I do respond to things they say to me and I think when I do I say it in a strong manner. I don’t go looking for theists to debate and I’m not trying to deconvert them.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

You are my reason for being!

It's stories like these that make life so interesting. Homo sapiens never stop being fascinating.

At first I was going to ask Exterminator, do you swear to god you aren't a Brit? But the next to the last paragraph excused him.

What might he have got had he made it to his 5th anniversary? Probably a good thing he left us when he did.

Personally, I'll make it easier than this for my family. Just do to me what the wife did in the last story.

Ahhhh.... (as in, you folks never cease to leave me in awe).

Friday, June 27, 2008

Music break

I may be ancient, but this never gets old to me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

James Dobson - Fascist On The Family

As pointed out in my previous post, it's probably a good thing that all of this religious angst is being exposed during this years' elections. I kind of loved James Dobson coming out with his Jesus guns blazing at Obama yesterday. Here was one response to his accusation that Obama has a fruitcake view of the Constitution.

The People for the American Way had the following to say in a press release:

“James Dobson is certainly entitled to his opinions, no matter how ridiculous they may be, but the media should make clear that it’s Dobson, not Obama who’s outside the mainstream. Dr. Dobson has made a career of using the Bible as a political bludgeon — he’s never been shy to condemn those he disagrees with, and no one should be surprised that he’s doing it now.

“It’s disappointing that Dr. Dobson is so callously abusing the trust that many well meaning people have placed in him.”

An evangelical insider gives this view on why Dobson's attack will actually back-fire due to the fact that millions of Evangelicals have already figured out this Bush boot-licker. I hope it's true, though I needn't depend on it for an Obama victory in November. Nevertheless, it's yet another indicator that the religious folks are at war with each other. We can simply enjoy it, and hope for the best when the smoke clears.

Obama isn't taking Dobson's shit quietly, like so many milquetoast Democrats have in the past. Last night he said that Dobson was
"making stuff up", and that he was "deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview."

Keep it up guys. I love it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dobson accuses Obama of 'distorting' Bible

This is the video that got Dobson's religious panties in a knot

So, Dobson says (among other things)

"Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the lives of tiny babies?" Dobson said. "What he's trying to say here is unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe."

Many of us have been quite concerned about what appears to be a heightened insertion of religion into this campaign - Obama's "committed Christian" flyer, Hillary and her association with "The Family", Jeremiah Wright, The Compassion Forum, Pastor Hagee, Reverend Parsley, just to name some of it so far (and it's only June, for "god's" sake)!

Maybe it's a good thing though. Good in the sense that a huge, festering sore being relieved of it's puss is good. This campaign might be something we point back to as the moment when millions of Americans finally woke up to the absurdity of linking religious beliefs to public discourse. Maybe videos like this one will actually be beneficial to our religiously psychotic society - over time.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tribute to George Carlin

Comedian George Carlin died Sunday, about 2 miles away from where I sit. As Exterminator says:

"Too bad to lose a humorous voice for reason."

This is what I think about when I remember George Carlin -

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What Would Jesus Buy?

I’ve said in the past that the Jesus I’ve read about would never own a gun and never vote Republican. My intent is clear when you think about the profile most likely associated with hard-core Christian belief in America. Last year a documentary on ubiquitous American consumerism and the "Shopocalypse" hit the theaters. It was titled "What Would Jesus Buy" and came out concurrent to the '07 Christmas shopping season. I think it was one of the few things that our society didn't spend much money on in 2007. Who wants to go to a mall in December to see a movie that makes you feel bad about shopping?

Yesterday, in an email interchange with a friend of ours in which we were discussing the notion of success defined as having more possessions, including money. I told him, “Having more would be nice… but only to the point of being free of want. Anything beyond that is superfluous. Being poor (but not hopelessly so) and content, is the key to satisfaction.”

I also linked him to this article. It deals with the dirty little truth that lies just out of view of our problems – unnecessary and illegal wars, dogmatic religion, abuse of the Constitution, the “corporatization” of politics, ignoring the ecological morass, denial of wisdom gleaned from the sciences. We might think of these as tangentially related to each other, but I submit that there is a common thread running through all of these and many more societal scourges. Consider yourself urged to read the article.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Women for McCain

The guy dumped his disabled wife after he got back from Viet Nam and married a rich, young, politically connected hottie. He has promised to put Justices on the Supreme Court who would roll back women's reproductive rights. But at least he's a gentleman.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How certain are YOU that there is no god?

Most theists don’t understand that atheists (or at least most of us) do not claim to be 100% certain that there is no god. Worshippers think atheism is an arrogant position of claiming omniscience about the possibilities in the Universe, but this isn’t it at all. First of all, being a rational thinker, and a person who accepts the scientific method as being the single most effective tool for learning facts about nature, instructs one to avoid dealing in absolutes. Secondly, we simply say that we think there is no supernatural gods in the universe. I shouldn’t talk for other atheists. It's what I mean when I say I’m an atheist.

But there is a continuum, along which you can find degrees of certainty for any given proposition. For instance, I rate my “certainty” that there are no highly intelligent beings (besides Homo sapiens) buzzing about the Universe in advanced transportation vehicles, at about 75%. Hey, the Universe is huge. My certainty that such beings are not making regular clandestine visits to Earth, on a mission to observe our culture, is more like 99%. When we talk about these issues in terms of probabilities, it might make it a bit easier for the theist to understand the atheistic mindset.

So I’ll give a short probability example of what I’d tell theists about my atheism, so that they could get a strong grasp on what I mean when I tell them that I am an atheist.

If someone who was widely accepted as a world renowned spiritual person (think, I guess, the Pope or the Dali Lama) approached me and offered me two choices: (1) Simply say that I accept their version of god (even if I find it nearly impossible to believe) and, if there is an afterlife, I will be guaranteed to participate in the more pleasant aspects of it or (2) receive a gift certificate for a Happy Meal at McDonalds, and if there is an afterlife I will either not be able to participate or, if I do, it will be to receive the most horrible punishments associated with such – I’d immediately grab my free meal. That’s how certain I am. On the other hand, if my “gift” in Choice 2 were a brand new shiny penny, I’d say, “I accept your version of god, my friend”.

I hope this clarifies exactly what I mean when I say I’m an atheist. I’ve simply never heard a notion of “god” that is worth 2 cents. I invite readers to leave their own probability examples of how certain they are that there is no god(s).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Towards a more secular America

I promised, in my post Why the Gods are not Winning, that I’d have more to say about this same-titled article. I was a little distracted by the media ignoring Rep. Dennis Kucinich and his Articles of Impeachment. But, hey, it’s been 36 hours and I’m ready to move on too. That’s the way we Americans are.

Early in the article, the authors state:

"It is well documented that Christianity has withered dramatically in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The failure of the faith in the west is regularly denounced by Popes and Protestant leaders. Churches are being converted into libraries, laundromats and pubs. Those who disbelieve in deities typically make up large portions of the population, according to some surveys they make up the majority of citizens in Scandinavia, France and Japan. Evolution is accepted by the majority in all secular nations, up to four in five in some."

Notice that America is not one of the places where “Christianity has withered dramatically”. You knew that, of course. We are all very well aware of it. But why not? We started this whole democratic society thing. Why would religion still have it’s claws so much deeper into American culture than all of those (and many more) mentioned above? Is it possible that America somehow much more accurately reflects the trend of religious belief in the future than these others? Let’s see what the authors say in this regard:

"The mass loss of popular faith in the Eurocultures is often waved away as an isolated aberration in a world still infatuated with the gods. After all, who cares what the "old Europe" of France and Sweden is up to? This is a big mistake. Such a thing has never been seen before in history. And where it has happened is critical to the future of faith. Aside from constituting proof of principle that religion is dangerously vulnerable to modernity, that secularism and disbelief do best in nations that are the most democratic, educated and prosperous directly falsifies the Shah and Toft thesis that these factors are the allies of religiosity.

At this point I was still furiously scratching my head. Are we not modern? Of course we are! Educated? Somewhat more problematic, but we are still well educated when seen on the grand world scale. How about prosperous? Most would argue that we are, but maybe we are closing in on some key differences between The United States and other “Western style” democracies. What is it that is going on “over there” that’s maybe a little different:

"Nor is it all that surprising that faith has imploded in most of the west. Every single 1st world nation that is irreligious shares a set of distinctive attributes. These include handgun control, anti-corporal punishment and anti-bullying policies, rehabilitative rather than punitive incarceration, intensive sex education that emphasizes condom use, reduced socio-economic disparity via tax and welfare systems combined with comprehensive health care, increased leisure time that can be dedicated to family needs and stress reduction, and so forth.

"As a result the great majority enjoy long, safe, comfortable, middle class lives that they can be confident will not be lost due to factors beyond their control. It is hard to lose one's middle class status in Europe, Canada and so forth, and modern medicine is always accessible regardless of income. Nor do these egalitarians culture emphasize the attainment of immense wealth and luxury, so most folks are reasonably satisfied with what they have got. Such circumstances dramatically reduces peoples' need to believe in supernatural forces that protect them from life's calamities, help them get what they don't have, or at least make up for them with the ultimate Club Med of heaven. One of us (Zuckerman) interviewed secular Europeans and verified that the process of secularization is casual; most hardly think about the issue of God, not finding the concept relevant to their contented lives.

"The result is plain to see. Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity. They all go material."

OK. Now we are getting somewhere. So what the hell is the problem here in the Untied States?

"Because they are afraid and insecure. Arbitrary dismissal from a long held job, loss of health insurance followed by an extended illness, excessive debt due to the struggle to live like the wealthy; before you know it a typical American family can find itself financially ruined. Overwhelming medical bills are a leading cause of bankruptcy.

"In part to try to accumulate the wealth needed to try to prevent financial catastrophe, in part to compete in a culture of growing economic disparity with the super rich, the typical American is engaged in a Darwinian, keeping up with the Jones competition in which failure to perform to expectations further raises levels of psychological stress. It is not, therefore, surprising that most look to friendly forces from the beyond to protect them from the pitfalls of a risky American life, and if that fails compensate with a blissful eternal existence.

"The effect can be more direct. For instance, the absence of universal health care encourages the utilization of faith-based medical charities. The latter, as well intentioned as they are, cannot provide the comprehensive health services that best suppress mortality at all ages. But charities extend the reach of the churches into the secular community, enhancing their ability to influence society and politics, and retain and recruit members."

I teased this post by saying that it all has something to do with Darwin. Not biological evolution but, unfortunately and ironically, the fact that while Christians hate the notion of evolution, and use the examples of the horrors they think occurred during the 20th century being due to the evils of “social Darwinism”, we live in an American society that is deeply a social Darwinian one.

So I think I have the answer to our problems here, though I know a lot of people won’t like it. We have to move towards a more socialist society. We can still be a capitalist society, but it can’t be simply a free-market economy. We have to veer towards what I’ll call Capitalistic Socialism. Until the under-classes are secure in all aspects of their lives, religion will thrive. We have to have a culture in which adults can expect a decent paying job (that rather than being moderately likely to lose, would be extremely unlikely that they will be fired), have themselves and their families assured that their health problems will be taken care of without lose of home, and that their children will receive a top-rank education without making other sacrifices. This is what other democracies have done and those countries are now much more free of religious influence.

We certainly aren’t likely to move in this direction with Republicans in the White House and controlling the Congress. I’m not a Democrat and I’m not saying that voting Democratic is the only way to get to where we need to be. But we have to start somewhere and we need to do it immediately. Barack Obama has made universal heath care one of his top platform issues. That would be a great place to start.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Impeachment Charge Made - Where's the News Media?

I was really happy when Dennis Kucinich got up on the floor of Congress yesterday and presented Articles of Impeachment. I had no intent to get on my blog today and talk about it. But I was listening to a radio program last night in which the host seemed certain there would be a virtual news black-out on it. I thought that was paranoid. Of course it would be all over the news! Just watch it! It's incredibly newsworthy. So I've spent a good deal of time roaming the Internet this morning and there is very little mention of it. Where it is mentioned, it's pretty well buried and is certainly not one of the "top stories". So I'm going to do my duty and keep it circulating. For what it's worth....

UPDATE: From The Raw Story

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Why the Gods Are Not Winning

This is the title of one of the most thought-provoking and heartening articles of the state of non-theism that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. This is not to say that there isn’t plenty here to equally stimulate even my most cynical friends (Exterminator and Phillychief – please read it)! The news is far from all good. And with a looming world-wide economic catastrophe, we could see deep set-backs in the gains we have made in the past 100 years.

But the gains are important. The article documents atheism and general non-belief as being the fasting growing position within the larger context of “religion”. At the beginning of the 20th century, this group represented the thinking of 1-2% of the world population. It is now somewhere around 20% and would be the 4th largest “religion” in the world.

The article makes very clear to me the underlying reasons why America lags behind Europe, Japan and Australia when it comes to our religions’ seemingly inextricable nature. Let me give a hint: Darwin has a part in it (though not the obvious one, that you might expect me to latch on to). Let me give you teaser: after you have read the article, expect my next post to outline how I think Barack Obama might help us – should he become the next President.

Just as a side note concerning tangents - I started searching for information on the general subject of the differences between American and European atheism due to watching this video of biologist Jerry Coyne, which Phillychief found. In particular, the very end of the video. My search led me to this article and this article has filled me with new perspectives on the future of atheism. Funny how it goes...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Religion an atheist can live with

Today, a friend of mine linked me to an article by About.Com's atheism spokesman, Austin Cline. It raised some of the concerns that Cline has about his ability to live with Barack Obama's religious views should he become the next President of the United States. Cline thinks Obama is sending out mixed messages that may either represent the Senator's confused thinking or simply that he is talking out of both sides of his mouth.

I was shocked at the low level of logic and reason that Cline used. I like to think that we atheists and agnostics are generally "a cut above" when it comes to the use of our free-thought capability. What disturbed me most from his article was this. First, Cline quotes Obama and then dissects the comment.

And by the way, we need Christians on Capitol Hill, Jews on Capitol Hill and Muslims on Capitol Hill talking about the estate tax. When you've got an estate tax debate that proposes a trillion dollars being taken out of social programs to go to a handful of folks who don't need and weren't even asking for it, you know that we need an injection of morality in our political debate. ... So the question is, how do we build on these still-tentative partnerships between religious and secular people of good will? It's going to take more work, a lot more work than we've done so far.

We need Christians on Capitol Hill? What kind of statement is that? Almost all legislators are Christians — in fact, they are a higher percentage of legislators than they are of the general population. It makes no sense to say that "we need Christians on Capital Hill" when almost everyone on Capitol Hill is already a Christian. I would only expect such a statement from a Christian Nationalist who doesn't believe that most Christians in America are "real" Christians in the first place.

Really, Austin? Seems terribly clear to me that Obama was saying that we need Christians on Capitol Hill to demonstrate the morals they claim their faith informs, in this case by taking a hard look at an unfair estate tax which would cost social programs dearly. This is a classic case of taking out of context, in particular his dwelling (needlessly) on the first part of the sentence "We need Christians on Capitol Hill".

If he really wants to know how Obama would likely allow his faith to inform his decision making, Cline could have done a little more research. There is plenty of information out there like this video, which I think would have greatly assuaged his concerns. Is it too much to ask of a fellow rational thinker? Anyway, we know we are going to have a President who represents some religious tradition. That being the case, Obama is a man of faith that this atheist will gladly accept.

Hillary the Healer?

Shortly (probably by the time you read this) Hillary Rodham Clinton will have “officially” ended her campaign and pledged her support to Barack Obama. The first article I was greeted with this morning was all about the supposed race between Obama and McCain to secure the female vote.

I’ll be shocked if more than 10% of females who voted for Hillary in the primaries will now go to McCain in the fall. Nearly all her supporters were in her corner for reasons beyond just that “she’s a woman”. Certainly, for many, it was a primary factor, perhaps even the main one. But they were still doing so from a certain political sensibility which, in the end, will bring them to the man who is most representative of their ideals. Hint: it isn’t a 71 year old, war loving, reproductive rights ambivalent, universal health care hating, Republican.

The first thing that we have to deal with is this, from early in the article:

Even the Democratic National Committee chairman is avidly trying to make up for accusations that he allowed sexism in the race to pass unchallenged.

“The wounds of sexism need to be the subject of a national discussion,” the chairman, Howard Dean, said in an interview. “Many of the most prominent people on TV behaved like middle schoolers” toward Mrs. Clinton.

Now, I have no doubt that there was sexism in the campaign. There was also racism. But ultimately Barack and Hillary secured over 35 million votes between them, while all the white male candidates were left in the dust. Furthermore, the sexism, as pointed out by Dean, had absolutely nothing to do with Obama. (I’ll leave the racism issue alone, in deference to the healing process. But lets just say – it wasn’t entirely from the media).

Once it’s made clear that Obama had exactly Z E R O to do with any issues of sexism that came up during the primary campaign, he will be well on his way to securing nearly all of Hillary’s voters. I hope when she makes her concession speech she goes out of her way to spell out that sexism was not used by the Obama camp. I’m afraid she won’t go quite far enough on this issue today. To be honest, the main reason we are at a point where healing is necessary at all is because of her - and I'll leave everything else alone and simply say that her speech last Tuesday was an awful start to the process. While I don't think she had to make a full concession on the last night of the campaign, she certainly should not have given such a combative speech. Based on everything that has happened throughout the campaign, I'm not convinced she'll go nearly far enough today towards healing the wounds. Since you’ve probably seen her speech already, you can tell me how wrong I am.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Turning the light of rationality on our Israel policy

Today Senators Obama and Clinton both spoke to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is known as heavily right wing (LIKUD) tilted, and has been linked to spying for the Israeli government within the borders of the United States. But, it’s a highly respected Israel lobbying group and all politicians pay homage, just as politicians on both sides of the aisle want to achieve a favorable reaction from the NAACP or other groups representing politics on the left.

Obama has been viewed suspiciously in some Jewish quarters, and no wonder with the smear campaigns that have swept the Internet. His middle name, his father’s religion of birth, pictures of him in Islamic garments, have all been used effectively by the Clinton campaign and by the right wing (I know – kind of the same thing in many respects).

Actually though, Clinton was showing signs of realizing that her campaign is finished as she informed AIPEC – “I know Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel.” This statement seems to indicate a realization that Obama is the nominee and may well be the next President, as well as support for him if he is. But why is it necessary for Clinton to assure this lobbying group and what does Obama say on his own behalf?

From today’s New York Times – “Mr. Obama has struggled to combat the wariness about him that has been harbored by some Jewish voters, a wariness evidently fueled by e-mail messages spreading false rumors about his background and positions. In his speech, he promised to be uncompromising in his defense of Israel’s security. He also revived the contentious issue of how much to engage foreign adversaries, especially Iran, which promises to be a central dispute in his general election battle with Mr. McCain.”

While I don’t care for the pandering, I understand what politicians have to do (yes, even the candidate of “change”) if they have any hope of getting elected. Some pandering is worse than others though, and pandering to this group can have catastrophic consequences down the road. We may indeed see the apocalypse get its start in the Middle East, with Israel at the center of the ultimate death play. It won’t be directly because of any biblical prophesy, but certainly it would have a part in it – a “self-fulfilling” role.

I truly hope that when the heat of the campaign is over and if Obama does become our next President (because this post will definitely be irrelevant if McCain is elected) that we will have a national dialog about our role with Israel. I believe we should stand beside the democracy if it is attacked by other countries in the Middle East. But I think we have to send a clear message to Israelis that their job in this – the price they must pay for our support – is to pursue a vision of peace and reconciliation. This might not be possible. I’m not particularly optimistic that it is. But it has to be the course of action. I want Israel to understand that we will no longer defend and give moral support to every action they take in the Middle East. We might even (gasp!) publicly rebuke them for over-reactions in military situations.

In the middle of a U.S. Presidential campaign, there is no way to have this discussion. But there will be a time within the next 12 moths or so that we can. We should. We must prevent Reverends Parsley and Hagee from having their dreams come true.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hope for intellectualism

I think this was a pretty cool analysis of the current state of public intellectualism by Daniel Drezner. Some of the more cynical will have their doubts.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Take a bow, Bo

Thanks for your contributions on behalf of the “good guys” in Culture Wars. I would say “see ya”, but… you know. By the way, at the end of his life he lived about 100 miles up the road from our friend, The Exterminator.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Deluded by god?

About a year and half ago, Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion. It has created many months of controversy. People are still savaging the book in fierce protest against the evil attack on religion. I wonder what all the anger is about. It seems to me a classic representation of “you protest too much”.

From the standpoint of someone believing in invisible deities of any sort, why would being called delusional be so offensive? If you are certain that you don’t suffer delusions about god(s) then one would think it a rather mild and inoffensive rebuke. Why not laugh it off and go about your business while offering a quick prayer for the poor soul who may have insulted your god?

Is it possible that somewhere in the back of your brain, there is a thought that perhaps you are indeed being delusional? Now, one could see how that would be deeply troubling. If someone told me I was being delusional in thinking that the vaccines I received in childhood would protect me against polio, and there was a little doubt in my mind, I might get pretty upset at being told I was delusional. Being certain in my knowledge, I’d simply laugh about being called delusional and be about my business.

Atheists have been called much worse than "delusional" over the centuries. We've been described as hateful, blasphemous, Satanists, evil, witches, warlocks, wizards, murderers, etc. All of these epithets actually call for action. If you believe them to be true, you would be well advised to do something about the person. These are descriptions of a person who brings dangers into the arena of human affairs and needs to be dealt with accordingly. And, indeed, this is exactly what has happened. Be happy that the atheists who recognize your delusion only hope that you will come to your senses and stop wasting all of our time worshipping unseen and unproven beings.

Most atheists are reluctant to use ad hominem attacks when talking about others. So if anyone calls you "batshit crazy", you might want to keep an eye on us. It's only fair, I suppose. We, after all, are definitely keeping an eye on you.