Tuesday, August 22, 2006

He's probably a Saints fan...

Some of you may be familiar with my (decidedly not compelling) Disproof from Mundanity argument, being that any deity worth his salt wouldn't be caught dead acting as an ontological foundation to material existence, seeing how so much of the world is crumbly, dirty, and ragged. Example: cigarette butts. If the presence of the Creator really does suffuse all of the universe, wouldn't a soggy butt floating in a toilet bowl be just as full of the divine spark as any child's eyes? By which I mean really nothing more than the god concept seems exceedingly silly in a certain light. This silliness is seen clearly when theists carry out the notion that theirs is an anthropomorphic god, to extreme ends. Although this has been seen elsewhere on the Net, really, it's worth seeing again. I present: Jesus playing football. Here's a question: does a child's willingness to tackle his Lord and Savior make him a better Christian, or a worse one?

As someone who doesn't subscribe to any religious belief, it's easy for me to enjoy a laugh at the expense of religion; I don't have anything invested in it. That doesn't mean atheism, for me, is just an excuse to disdain believers and their traditions. Far from it; since I am relieved of the influence of religious dogma, I have one less excuse to be belligerent, unsympathetic, or callous toward my fellow man. But because I don't laugh at theists, does that I mean I cannot laugh at the spectacle of the Nazarene accepting a forward pass?

Political Prayer Bothers Us Now

Steve Berthiaume of the Lowell Atheists wrote earlier this month last week to tune us in to the pious habits of his local elected representatives. He wrote:
"The Lowell City Council is starting session with the Lord's Prayer! I've posted an article at the blog , and there's a hearty discussion going on at the Left in Lowell forum (didn't know there were so many atheists in Lowell!). What we need to do is write to these councilors and let them know that prayer is unacceptable at government functions. It doesn't matter whether you're from Lowell, this is happening in our Commonwealth!"
If you find the time to dash off a note objecting to this unwelcome intrusion of personal shortcomings into what should properly be a forum for clear and rational thinking, visit the Lowell Atheists blog and share your letter with Steve. Let him know that he isn't the only one who thinks religion should be kept out of government.

In an article by Nick Brown of the Lowell Sun, 79-year-old Lowell resident Terry Byrne, says, "To each his own. It hasn't bothered anybody before. Why start now?" I couldn’t do better than Steve’s own resounding answer: “Because it bothers us now.”

I’m always bothered by politicians who haven’t outgrown belief in the invisible; such beliefs call into question their competency to deal with visible affairs like reproductive rights, municipal budgeting, freedom of speech, acts of war…

Adolescent Protest is Toxic

In a profile of Maryland student Ian Gibson in the July issue of American Atheist, we learn that he proudly defied the prevailingly pious atmosphere on May 4th, the National Day of Prayer. Rather than keep quiet with his revulsion for the proceedings, he wore a subtly critical tee-shirt under his jacket. He writes:

"... as soon as I saw the hands-clasped, heads-down group talking to themselves I ripped off the coat like I was Superman."
My initial reaction to this escapade was triumphal applause. Go get 'em, etc. But as I thought about the incident, I realized that Mr. Gibson's act failed as protest and as an act of rational criticism. Atheists often respond with indignation to the suggestion that their professed worldview is a religious one, but isn't the proud and defiant defense of his beliefs shown by our young compatriot here just as fundamentalist as the culturally-determined prayerfulness of his classmates?

What teenager doesn't imagine himself a superhero, endowed with a superhuman righteousness? It's a foolish thing, to hold up a discontented student as a model of atheistic integrity, when there is no way to tell whether Mr. Gibson is acting as an autonomous and rational person, or as an adolescent content to rally against the closest form of authority at hand, whether parental, governmental or theistic. Without delving deeper than the "amazing rush" of expressing beliefs "in a loud and obnoxious way", the American Atheists profile wastes an opportunity to remind readers that it is not merely a lack of belief that unites atheists, but rather a devotion to critical thought. A commitment to reason produces atheism just as it produces justice, freedom, sensible public policy, and humane treatment for each other. When atheists define themselves through the wearing of wiseass tee-shirts, they are obscuring the thinking behind the critical.

An entire gallery of anti-this and anti-that 'political' tee-shirts can be seen and purchased at zazzle.com/igibson. There, you'll see the other side of the Toxic shirt sports a much more productive motto: "Don't pray in my school, and I won't think in your church."

Ultimately, I have to remain agnostic on the issue of Ian Gibson and his Religion is Toxic sentiment; I'm prepared to believe that his was a reasoned and deliberate act of protest against his Pharisaic culture. Unfortunately, it's more likely that he was motivated by the falliable zeal fueling so many protesters on either side of any debate: "I'm right and good, you are wrong and stupid." I for one am unwilling to define atheism as the belief that religion is toxic. We're altogether too interesting, complex, humane, and intelligent to be reduced to belligerence.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ann Coulter's book "Godless"

Ann Coulter's widely popular and blisteringly ignorant new rant, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, is given a sensible brush-off by Jerry Coyne at Powell's Books.

That reminds me, fellow atheist. I haven't seen you in church recently. Perhaps you sat in the back? Or maybe I was just so immersed in our fiendish scripture of baby-killing and god-mocking that I failed to notice you. To be fair, Ms. Coulter's book seems to be more concerned with flaunting her avid and misinformed enthusiasm for Intelligent Design than with connecting liberalism, atheism, and depravity. I will sometimes plug a book for the sake of understanding someone else's perspective, but in this case I will tell you to take Coyne's word for it that Godless is not worth the read. Let's as a nation choose instead to turn away from her repugnant rodomontade, and hope she packs it in.

NB: In the Book Description section of the Amazon listing for this fresh wound against rationality, the publisher informs the potential book-buyer that Ms. Couter is "writing with a keen appreciation for genuine science." Wickedly malapropos, I initially thought the line said "a keen appreciation for Genesis science."

Krauss on Scientific Literacy

Matthew West directs your attention to a typically rousing essay by Lawrence Krauss in today's Times, concerning Kansas creationists: "How To Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Literate" (log-in required; e-mail me if you'd like to borrow my copy of today's issue). Says Matthew:

The article is concise, but he doesn't go far enough. By characterizing the reaction against school board creationism as "not against faith, but against ignorance", he fails to acknowledge that such ignorance is predicated upon an anti-intellectual religious culture... a culture that in various ways impedes progress toward a more competent democracy.
When Krauss says elsewhere that Intelligent Design is "not just bad science, but bad theology to imply that it is better to remain ignorant," one wonders what comprises good theology. But of course the complaint should not be directed at theology, which is a profession carried out to good effect by intelligent men and women. ID isn't theology, but rather an inviable chimera, misbegotten offspring of incompatible parents. Faith is not found through reason, though reasons it may have. A battle against faith is a battle against ignorance, and indeed shall in the long run have more enduring benefit by undermining the cause of ignorance as well as correcting it.