Thursday, April 30, 2009

"More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops"

From The New York Times:
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Two months after the local atheist organization here put up a billboard saying “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone,” the group’s 13 board members met in Laura and Alex Kasman’s living room to grapple with the fallout.

The problem was not that the group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, had attracted an outpouring of hostility. It was the opposite. An overflow audience of more than 100 had showed up for their most recent public symposium, and the board members discussed whether it was time to find a larger place.

And now parents were coming out of the woodwork asking for family-oriented programs where they could meet like-minded nonbelievers.
Says Picco, an organizer with the Connecticut Valley Atheists: "Great news for the good guys. I know that once we are able to get the word out, people can easily decide what the real truth is."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Charity Update

Jackie: $20
Zachary: $20
Olivia: $10
Cecilia: $25
Abra: $26
Nicole: $13
David: $13
Nick: $13
McCoy: $13
Andy: $13
Jamie: $13
Nora: $13
Trevor: $13
Suzann: $10
Jon: $30
Libby: $10
Nadia: $10
Calvin: $20
Courtney: $10
Barbara: $10
$305 thus far raised for the Boston Atheists first charity cause, Doctors Without Borders

Friday, April 24, 2009

The chorister's complaint about the pastor's plush pay

According to the NY Daily News, Manhattan's illustrious Riverside Church is paying its new pastor more than $600,000 in annual compensation. Church sources say Dr. Brad Braxton's annual package is to include:
  • $250,000 in salary.
  • $11,500 monthly housing allowance.
  • Private school tuition for his child.
  • A full-time maid.
  • Entertainment, travel and "professional development" allowances.
  • Pension and life insurance benefits.
  • An equity allowance for Braxton to save up to buy a home.
"Where's the social justice in this?" cries Diana Solomon-Glover, a chorister and one of several church members who filed suit to delay Braxton's appointment while the question of compensation is debated further.

We should social justice be more likely found in a church than elsewhere in society? Given the reality of the nonexistence of god, no church can claim the singular virtue of being inspired by ethical purity straight from the source. There ain't no source, of course. A church is merely a community come together as a congregation to share their peculiar values -- medieval, silly, humanistic, benign, etc., depending -- and to pursue communal goals. If the majority membership of this community has determined that its goals are best met, and its values best represented, by hiring a pastor who commands such a salary, then all the complaints of the choir are misplaced. I would hope that the Riverside community can muster charity enough to address the concerns of those irritated by the prospect of vasty sums wafting above the altar; a community should foster discussion when faced with dissent. I would hope that Dr. Baxter earns his salary, which in light of the Gospel message does strike this uninformed and disinterested nontheist as excessively grand. His scholarly and clerical credentials are sound <*knocks on wood*> and he might well apply this collective capital of Riverside, concentrated as it is in his paycheck, toward benevolent ends. Think of all the good the Rockefellers and Carnegies did, and weren't they religious leaders of a kind? Note the depth of meaning here.

Finally, while I am expressing hope, I would hope that rationality blooms among the Riverside congregants. Wouldn't it be nice if the resources of this 1,500-member-strong flock of well-to-dos were able to see that gathering regularly as People Who Care About One Another need not be done under the banner of superstition?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Boston Atheism Examiner

I have recently been accepted as the Boston Atheism Examiner for a website called I'm really excited to be able to represent atheism for the Boston area on this website.

My first article is all about the need for Atheist communities, which features some insight from our own Zachary Bos and information on what the Boston Atheists group is about. I hope you enjoy it, and also you can subscribe to my journal via feedreader or email, the links are available on the site.

Despite joining the Examiner I will still continue to be a contributor to this blog.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CT Christians want a separate, but equal, gay-free economy

The Hartford Courant is reporting that a venomous faction wants the state of Connecticut to endorse religiously-motivated (read: antirational) prejudice by passing protection for business owners who want to withhold services from gay couples seeking support for the marriage process -- bakers of wedding cakes, wedding photographers, DJ slings of the "Chicken Dance," and so on: all the contractors whose collective work make matrimonial ceremony so impressive and expensive:
The Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Church and the Family Institute of Connecticut are asking the state legislature to create what they are calling a religious liberties exception [to allow businesses to turn away gay couples seeking gay marriage services] when it codifies the ruling that legalized gay marriage here. The effort was turned back in the legislature's judiciary committee, but proponents are hoping it will be brought forward on the Senate floor. A vote could come later this week. [from the April 21st Courant article]
I have no problem with this, as long as they make their case for bigotry on non-religious grounds. Presumably, they can call Yahweh to the stand to testify before the relevant court, or to the table to address the legislators in session? As long as their argument for discrimination does not aspire to transmute Biblical nonsense into legal action, why not? It's a free country. Discrimination against the Christian community has already cost them the Miss USA crown; what other indignations must they endure?

And in this free country, don't we have a history of workable solutions to the problem of an enlightened population wanting not to do business with a polluted minority? I propose we implement the lessons of history and establish a separate-but-equal faith economy, where those who take their moral cues from ignorant and badly edited treatises passed down from the deprived antiquity of certain desert cultures will be free to exchange silver for services in the small business way without ever tampering with their deeply-held and privileged belief that some kinds of love are disgusting.

The rest of us can pity their minority, but be comforted by the protection this solution affords the constitutional rights of all citizens. The division of the economy into two camps -- the Rational Ethical, and the Holy Homobigoted -- ensures through separation equal protection under the law.

I'm being unkind; I believe there are many decent people who oppose gay marriage, for reasons they do not understand and could not defend in earnest discussion. Conversation, outreach, kindliness, and education will go a long way toward curing them of their received prejudice. As for the homobigot leadership -- if they choose to segregate themselves in pockets of hate, what right have I to force them to mix with the general population? As long as they don't raise children (that is, abusively inculcate their offspring into a tradition of indefensible homobigotry) or vote (that is, allow their poisonous irrationality to contravene the political will of other, less delusional citizens), then they and I have no quarrel. Otherwise, quarrel we have. And quarrel I will.

And quarrel I do, with campaigns like that featured at I pity their fear, and scorn their efforts to disguise irrationalist bigotry as laudable faith.

NB: The above commentary is provocative and satirical -- which qualities I do not think are sufficient to advance a serious discussion of policy between disagreeing parties -- but it does accurately convey my response to this campaign -- bafflement and outcry. If you run a business that's open to the public, the law does not protect discrimination of any kind, religious, racist, or other. I am willing to share my point of view, informed as it is by knowledge of state and constitutional law and by a surprising (even to myself) grasp of secular ethics, with any interested parties. In good faith, I extend this invitation to members of the Knights of Columbus Connecticut State Council, the Hartford Catholic Archdiocese, and/or the Family Institute of Connecticut, with whom I have shared this commentary by email.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Judge bans religious song from school

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., April 17 (UPI) -- A federal judge has banned a Florida elementary school from having children sing a country song, "In God We Still Trust," at a school assembly.

The lyrics attack the principle of separation of church and state, U.S. District Judge Harvey Schlesinger said. He issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday against the Webster School in St. Augustine, The Jacksonville Times-Union reported.

While some religious songs can be sung in public schools, "In God We Still Trust" by Diamond Rio is "patently religious and proselytizing," the judge said.

He cited some of the lyrics: "There's no separation. ... We're one nation under Him ... Now there are those among us who want to push Him out and erase His name from everything this country is all about ... Now it's time for all believers to make our voices heard."

The parents of two Webster students filed the lawsuit in March, saying their children were being forced to endorse views they do not share.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Iowa Clerks Scorn Homobigotry

Kudos to the Iowa courts for resisting the efforts of a bigoted legislative minority to resist granting equal status before the law to homosexual couples seeking to marry: for now, in that corn-covered state, gay marriage is decidedly constitutional. Kudos also to the Iowa county recorders who are showing backbone and integrity by resisting the pressure homobigot lawmakers are placing on them to refuse to process marriage licenses for gay couples. According to an article in the Des Moines Register, the clerk of Republican Rep. Kent Sorenson called at least one clerk's office to lay a little pressure down. One imagines the conversation thusly:

Homobigot Clerk: "Them gays wants to fornicate on the courthouse law, and get your kids to watch."
County Clerk: "I think they just want to get married."
Homobigot Clerk: "You've been brainwashed by the godless logic of an activist Communist judiciary!"
County Clerk: "It's my job. Why are you bothering me?"
Homobigot Clerk: (hangs up phone, scours self with holy water and Brillo pads, prays for the strength to resist the urge to order a homosexual hooker... again.)

This is the office of the same Sorenson who told the press that he plans to fight to defend the definition of marriage as between 1 man and 1 woman. This, he announced to the world on Twitter -- twit politics for the new era.

Put briefly: the homobigots wanted to disallow gay marriage; the courts squashed their religiously-motivated politicking; the homobigots asked county clerk to implement prejudice as an 'act of conscience'; state officials squashed the hate by issuing strict instructions that marriage licenses are to be issued regardless of clerks' beliefs. The score so far looks like Rational justice in Iowa: 2, Homobigotry: 0.

Sorenson told the press that he did not ask his staff to place the call. He clarified his belief that "she has to do her job. That’s up to her, the oath she took and what she feels she has to do.” What she FEELS she has to do? I hadn't realized that a government official's purview of duties is open to interpretation. The clerks who are repelling this sly pressure don't seem at all persuaded by the same line of thinking, as all their published statements indicate that they'll be discharging their duties as specified by law.

In the Register article, Johnson County Recorder Kim Painter calls the issue cut and dry. "Supreme Courts always have the final word as to the constitutionality of laws passed by the legislature — except in countries like Syria,” she wrote. “Personally, I don’t want to live in Syria, so I am abiding by the system of governance and laws in America.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Boston Atheists Report 1.7

Our mid-April podcast, recorded 4/14/2009. Topics: American Atheists convention; quiverfulls; infant dead and mother jailed because of Baltimore cult; Iowa declares homobigotry unconstitutional; Joss Whedon receives Harvard Humanist lifetime achievement award.

[Edited on November 2, 2009, to remove link to live download: Only the most current ten episodes of the Boston Atheists Report are available for immediate streaming. Please email us if you'd like to be sent earlier episodes.]

Sources Cited:

Ad hominem

Reductio ad Hitlerum: A Revision of History

One of the most common Ad Hominem arguments made is oddly specific:  You're a Nazi.  On Easter Sunday, The Catholic bishop of Augsburg tried to blame the holocaust on atheists.  Never mind that the Nazi troops wore belts inscribed with “Gott Mit Uns,” and let's ignore all the Catholic signatures on the Reichskonkordat for a second.  Isn't calling everyone Nazis just a little passé yet?  If there were not audible groans when he started in on the Atheism is the cause of Nazism spiel, then the whole place ought to be ashamed.

When the term Reductio ad Hitlerum was coined in 1953 as a tongue-in-cheek rebranding of the association fallacy in logical argument, I'm not sure that anyone could have guessed there would still be a need for another tongue-in-cheek rebranding in 1990 with Godwin's Law, which states, "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."  All the modern presidents and presidential candidates have been compared to hitler, everyone who's ever seen a public debate should be familliar with the tactic.  And yet it lives on.

Not even 9/11 could kill the trend, apparently.  The comparisons to terrorists were flying at homosexuals, high school bullies, republicans, democrats, and at everyone who liked civil liberties while the site was still smoking.  So I thought the new comparison might finally overtake the old one.  The new argument (can we call it Reductio ad Terrorem?) wouldn't be any better than the old one, but at least it would be a change of scenery.  So I find myself advocating for two things:  1.  Let's put the silly comparisons behind us, or at least change them up now and then.  2. "a good rule in most discussions is that the first person to call the other a Nazi automatically loses the argument." (from The Economist in 2007).

Also.  The Catholics totally caused the Holocaust.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Think of the Children

How many times have we heard that from the religious right when they spew their anti-same sex marriage bigotry? Yes, we need to think of the children, but not in the way you think.

A young 11-year-old boy killed himself after constantly being bullied and called gay or too feminine. Recently his mother spoke out:

"It's not just a gay issue," Walker said. "It's bigger. He was 11 years old, and he wasn't aware of his sexuality. These homophobic people attach derogatory terms to a child who's 11 years old, who goes to church, school, and the library, and he becomes confused. He thinks, Maybe I'm like this. Maybe I'm not. What do I do?"

I would disagree and say it is a gay issue. Whether this child was gay or not will never be known, but he was referred to as one in such a derogatory way that he eventually killed himself. Is this the kind of behaviour we want in our schools?

In a recent ad campaign the National Organization for Marriage brought up an example of a Massachusetts mom who "helplessly" has to let her child learn that gay marriage is okay. Ignoring the horrible misrepresentation of the facts, at face value is that a bad thing? No! We need to teach our children that being gay is okay, because the fact of the matter as that being gay is a matter of who you are from birth and if you teach your children bigotry the results are as tragic as the example above. Too many children kill themselves when they can't handle the pressures of being gay and living in a world where their parents, their friends, or their perceived God hates them for who they are. This problem is propogated by the child bigots, armed with the teachings of their homophobic parents, who verbally torture students for seeming gay, whether it's true or not.

Gay Marriage is not just about allowing same-sex couples to have the same rights as dual-gender couples, but to also show that being gay is okay. It is so vitally important to let the children who are dealing with their own homosexuality to know that they are not abominations, that they are not wrong, that they have a place in our society.

We absolutely MUST think of the children in order to prevent tragedies like this from happening again.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Our Favorite Heathen is at it Again!

Christopher Hitchen's book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is now available on paperback and so Hitchen's seems to be making the rounds on various shows. He was recently on Real Time with Bill Maher and Hardball with Chris Matthews.

I did however want to point out a couple of appearances in which we see Hitchens in his wonderfully scathing glory. First, Hitchen's was in a 2 hour debate with 4 theists in which the topic was: Does the God of Christianity exist, and what difference does it make? The moderator can hardly be called as such since he was clearly biased and interjected his own apologetics. Despite facing off FIVE theists, Hitchen's managed to come out swinging and never let up, however I would definitely say that whichever side you are on in this debate you would not be swayed one way or another. While Hitchen's is a master of turning points around on the person trying to make them, he does fail to fully rebutt certain points made by the Christians. Mostly this had to do with proving certain points about first cause and the historicity of Jesus. However, that simply is not Hitchen's style. His preference is to debate Christianity on merits and not try and disprove the God hypethesis as Victor Stenger has done. Despite this and completely unbalanced panel it's worth it to listen to what Hitchen's does best.

Next, Hitchens was invited to a radio show where he is supposed to play a game of "What if" in which a fundie tries to trap Hitchen's into admitting that Jesus is his savior. Hitchen's, of course, does not fall into the trap and deftly eludes the bait. Todd Friel can't seem to handle it and often reminds Hitchen's that "it's just a game", a fact which Hitchen's does not forget. Definitely fun to listen to and not as long as the debate above.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Books of possible interest

Worldview and Mind: Religious Thought and Psychological Development, by Eugene Webb (university of Missouri Press; 312 pages; $49.95). Draws on the theories of Karl Kaspers and Jean Piaget in a study of links between religious belief and aggression or intolerance. [ZB: I think prior to focusing on religious belief, a more foundational study should be conducted to understand the relationship between aggression/intolerance and ideological thinking, of which religious belief is a subset.)

Encountering the Secular: Philosophical Endeavors in Religion and Culture, by J. Heath Atchley (University of Virgina Press; 181 pages; $49.50 hardcover, $19.50 paperback). Argues that a dogmatic separation between religion and the secular impedes the experience of what is termed immanent value. [ZB: Such impediment is an achievement of rationalism.]

Both these authors seem to be trading in nonsense (I've only seen the Atchley book). The supposed experience of those who claim to have encountered immanent is a category error, committed when we attribute existence to a reified percept that doesn't have a counterpart in reality. As when we think of god -- immanent entities may seem to exist, but our experience is no proof of their existence. Atchley's argument may be imaginative, but stumbles out of the blocks and is, by the finish, invalid. Immanence is widely thought to describe a number of entities which exist; I'm still waiting for an argument to be made that the term has any meaning at all in relation to ontology.

"Webb argues that authentic religion need not succumb to dogmatism, or support fanaticism, or be consigned to the stages of immature culture." (from the publisher's website.) There are other reasons for identifying religion as the practice of an immature culture, even if Prof. Webb is successful in demonstrating that the critics of religion do not account for the complexity of the institution they are deriding.

Responding to critics of religion, from Sigmund Freud to Daniel Dennett, he demonstrates that religious traditions have more spiritual depth than these critics have granted and a greater potential for development than they believe, along lines they might even favor. His insightful book proposes that, if religious people can step back from their traditions and consider them as partial ways of relating to transcendent ultimacy, the world’s religions might manage to develop a way of living together with mutual appreciation and respect." Sure they can: just adopt publicly accessible rules for mediating mutually exclusive claims for truth, instead of hiding behind a civil but only seeming tolerance. Jesus came to bring the sword, after all, division -- not peace. If religions can't all be correct, let's get to finding out which one is the right one. I have a guess, of course: the one without the imaginary friends. Oh, they all have such friends? Then maybe they're all equally wrong.

Two more grand expeditions, struck out from the humanities camp in a hunting way. They're after tigers, and more: for they'd like to bag the credit for dressing theistic belief in intellectually defensible skins, as well. Unfortunately for their project -- though I don't really think it unfortunate -- is the reality that transcendent entities have not ever been shown to exist, that the world looks as we would expect given the nonexistence of deities.

(I came across these listings in The Chronicle Review, 3/20/09)