Perseids, Galileo, Religion, and Torture


Tacoma Atheists recently twittered about the upcoming Perseid meteor shower which in turn got me thinking more about Galileo, science, and atheism.

It was Galileo's curiosity about the heavens that inspired him to refine the telescope and start studying the stars and planets of the night sky. It was in 1610 that he first saw Jupiter and noticed four moons which were orbiting around the planet, which was proof that the Catholic church was wrong about the universe revolving around the Earth.

Galileo wasn't trying to prove anyone wrong, he was simply curious and his curiosity at that time in history was a dangerous thing. Previous to this discovery there had already been several church killings as a response to scientific discovery, including some of Galileo's closest friends. These killings often included barbaric tortures such as driving nails through victim's tongues and burning people alive.

One of the things that saved Galileo's bacon was the fact that he was friends with the pope at that time and was even given permission to write a book with the stipulation that his ideas and the church's ideas be given equal weight. Once the book was published it was decided he failed to maintain equality and in 1632 he was called to Rome by the Catholic Inquisition.

At age 70 he recanted his scientific research and discoveries - undoubtedly out of fear of being horribly tortured - and was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.

It was only in 1992 - that's 23 years after the moon landing - that the Catholic church admitted that Galileo was right about his (and by extension Copernicus') heliocentric universe. How did they address the torture and anguish their institution was responsible for during the time when Galileo lived? They didn't. In fact there are plenty of other scientists from that era who are still considered wicked and whose writings are still condemned. Did they praise Galileo for being the brilliant scientist that he was, as one of the first men to incorporate empirical research into his work and someone who helped define and understand the universe as it is? No. They attributed his successes to their god, of course.

It would be nice if this negative reaction to scientific discovery were a thing of the past but it's not. Now we don't have people ignorantly rallying against heliocentric ideas, now we have people foaming at the mouth over evolution. Back then it was an affront to the Catholic religion to admit that the earth was not the center of everything. Now, it seems the fact that everything changes on this world - plants, people, the planet itself - and that nothing that you see today is the same as it was and always will be is an affront to religious people across the board. You can cite animal husbandry, aviary speciation, co-evolution of flowers and the unique animals which pollinate them, but it's a waste of breath.

Just recently there was a study where the change of a single gene within two closely related populations of birds has evidently started the process of speciation. This is stuff we can see, we can witness in our lifetime - proof that evolution is the process by which life as we know it came to be yet there are still people who reject it without even trying to understand what it is. Why? A guy in a robe, a lady behind a podium, a smiling soothsayer on TV told them to reject it. That is the power of religion right there.

I often wonder, if given the opportunity, how many of these evolution naysayers would drive nails through our tongues and burn us at the stake if given the oppertunity. It seems like that really is the only way to keep logic from reaching people - make logic punishable by torture and death.


My Son Vs. The Mormons


An interesting thing happened today. I have a six year old boy, and since he started asking questions about heaven and an afterlife shortly after my father died, I've made it a point to tell him everything I know about every kind of belief. We've talked about heaven, reincarnation, atheism, and a few other related topics and I've always tried to be very clear that I have my own beliefs but that he should decide for himself what he thinks, and that he should take as long as he feels he needs to to make a decision about those beliefs.

I have a sister who is christian and she has a bit of the normal christian accents in her home - prayers on the wall and a few other religious items but nothing overbearing or too intense. When my son was spending a lot of time with my sister he started talking about my dad being in heaven and being an angel and how he wanted to be an angel with him when he died.

It's been difficult at times for me to not scoff or react rudely when my son talks about certain myths, but I have tried very hard to be sure he knows that everyone believes something different and that the only person who can and should decide what my son believes is himself.

Well, today we had some mormons come to the door and I was very polite, as I always am, but firm in letting them know I was in no way interested in their message. The conversation went about like this:

Mormons: Hi, we're in the neighborhood doing mission work.

Me: Oh hey, I'm not at all interested, but thank you anyway.

Mormons: Oh, so you've heard this before then?

Me: Oh yes, I know exactly what you're on about. Sorry, but I'm not interested. Have a nice day though.

Mormons: Nice Futurama poster there on your wall...

Me: Thanks! Have a nice day guys, try to stay cool.

It was at this point that my young son surprised me. He popped out of the bathroom, visibly annoyed and said "My mom is an atheist, she doesn't want to talk to you!" I laughed, a little stunned, but the Mormons seemed concerned. "Well, if she's an atheist, what are you?" Incredulous, my little man replied, "I'm 6! I don't know what I am yet!"

At this point the Mormons went to leave but one of them, presumably trying to be playful, turned and stuck out his tongue at my son, waving his fingers on either side of his face. In response my son put both his hand up in front of his face like claws and hissed at them as they left. I have to assume this struck them as a childish interpretation of a demon, when actually he was mimicking a space alien he often pretends to be.

I'm pretty proud of my son for not declaring he's an atheist only because I am. I'm glad he's leaving himself open to making that decision for himself, but at the same time is not impressed by wandering religionists looking for an excuse to proselytize.


Being Proud of Being Atheist


On the No God Blog there was recently a post referring to the Brad Pitt story which was titled 'Brad Pitt Admits His Atheism.' The issue, of course, was the wording of this statement as if to imply that atheism is something which requires admittance.

The writer of the original story is Trina Hoaks, an atheist blogger, so I doubt her choice of words was meant to imply any kind of negative connotation with atheism but the fact remains that the term 'admit' carries with it negative connotations. One admits things that they are embarrassed about or that are weaknesses. For example, no one would admit they got into an ivy league college, they would joyfully celebrate it. That same person, however, may admit that they're a drug addict. You admit things that you are ashamed about and atheists should not be ashamed or embarrassed about their atheism.

A couple of comments which peaked my interest at No God Blog was an exchange between a proud atheist and a resident fundamental christian. I think Joe Zamecki's response in the last comment says it all:

joe zamecki says:

This seems like another good reason to capitalize “Atheist.” We’re proud. It needs to be celebrated. The world needs to hear about our positive message. If nothing else, I want Atheism to get the respect it deserves.

phreedm says:

Two questions…

1. What’s positive? There is no positive way to define atheism.
2. Why does the world need to hear? Sounds like evangelism to me.

joe zamecki says:

To me, Atheism is positive because religion is so very negative. Religion has so much power, and Atheists have so little, it seems. So common sense has helped our numbers increase, that and mass communication.

I’m proud to be an Atheist because that’s what I graduated to, when I figured out that religion is a scam. I was lied to, and then I figured out the facts. To me, that’s a reason to celebrate. I bettered myself.

But that religion put me down so LOW, and I’m way above that now, is special. I’ll capitalize that.
I know that a lot of atheists don't see atheism as something to be anything about, prideful or otherwise, because it's such a simple thing - a rejection of an idea. I sway that way myself from time to time because when you remove all opposition from atheism it really is as unimportant as not believing in fairies or men on the moon.

I think what makes me proud of being an atheist is in part what makes Joe proud - the fact that religion is so negative and I feel so positive knowing that I'm not under the control of something so massive, ugly and cruel as belief in a mean spirited, vengeful, jealous god. I am proud of being a part of something that isn't afraid to stand up to the big bad bully of organized religion and say that it's wrong, even if it opens me up to ridicule and abuse.


Healthcare Debate Turns To Abortion

James Oliphant writes in a recent Los Angeles Times article regarding the latest(?) healthcare reform issue - abortion:
Reporting from Washington -- With House leaders struggling to reach agreement on healthcare legislation, aiming toward a possible vote this week, a new hurdle has emerged: abortion.

Some conservative Democrats are threatening to pull their support from the massive healthcare bill unless their concerns over potential federal funding of abortion procedures are met. They fear that the Obama administration will take advantage of an expanded government role in healthcare to increase the availability of abortions nationwide.
Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to use the divisive issue to build opposition to the bill.

The abortion issue has taken a back seat to a protracted dispute between Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats who worry about the bill's price tag and lack of cost controls. That conflict has delayed House Democrats from arriving at a final version of the bill and made it increasingly unlikely that the chamber will vote on the package this week.

On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) signaled an openness to postponing the voting.

"I have said that I wanted a bill to pass before we left for the August recess," she said. "But I've also said that our members need the time . . . not only to get the bill written but to have plenty of time to review it. . . . So, we're on schedule either to do it now or to do it whenever."

The Senate last week pushed off floor action on a healthcare measure until September to give the finance committee more time to draft its version of the bill.

If the House leadership's dispute with the Blue Dogs is resolved, abortion looms as the next sticking point. Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan and other Democrats opposed to abortion rights want to ensure that the bill includes language restricting taxpayer funds for the procedure.

The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, explicitly prevents the federal government from using tax dollars to fund abortion through Medicaid. But the reach of that law grows murkier if the government establishes its own competitive health insurance plan, or if it assists in creating a new market in which the public could sort through various private insurance plans. Both ideas could be included in the healthcare bill under consideration in Congress.

The Obama administration has tried to stay neutral on the matter.

"I think that it's appropriate for us to figure out how to just deliver on the cost savings and not get distracted by the abortion debate," President Obama said in an interview with CBS News;photovideo last week.

When asked about abortion prohibitions in the bill, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last week that "a benefit package is better left to experts in the medical field to determine how best and what procedures to cover."

That is precisely what worries antiabortion advocates.

"By being silent on this issue, [Obama is] actually making an affirmative statement in favor of taxpayer abortions," Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.

As it stands, the House bill would create a Health Benefits Advisory Committee to prescribe which "essential benefits" should be offered in any government-supported insurance plan.

Opponents of abortion rights believe that unless there is specific wording to the contrary, abortion services will be included. "Unless you can specifically exclude abortion, it will be part of any federalized healthcare system," said Charmaine Yoest, executive director of Americans United for Life.

Efforts in other House committees to insert such prohibitions have failed. Stupak has vowed to push Waxman to include them in the version being written by the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Stupak was one of 19 Democrats to write to Pelosi last month to say that they "cannot support any healthcare proposal unless it excludes abortion from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan."

Abortion rights advocates say the bill simply would maintain the status quo, in which companies that offer health insurance are free to choose whether to cover abortion services. And they argue that any government restriction would mean that women who seek abortion coverage could be forced to choose a more expensive private health plan instead of a lower-cost, government-supported one. They also fear that insurers who wished to take advantage of government incentives would be forced to discontinue covering abortion procedures.

Stupak's proposal has drawn strong opposition from abortion rights advocates such as Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who leads the rules committee.

"The starting point for Rep. Slaughter on the healthcare debate was protecting abortion rights," said Slaughter's spokesman, Vincent Morris.

"Opponents of women's health and healthcare reform are exploiting healthcare reform as a way to push for unprecedented prohibitions on abortion coverage in the private marketplace," Planned Parenthood said in a recent statement.
As it stands, if a woman without medical insurance or with inadequate medical coverage becomes pregnant in my home state, she can apply for medical through welfare and either receive an abortion or have her medical costs completely paid for through pregnancy and birth. This is her choice to make, and both options are offered to her without any pressure for the woman to pick one or the other.

Planned Parenthood offers UA pregnancy tests free of charge and in the event of a pregnancy, provides the woman with a complete packet of information including contact numbers for counselors and other supportive services regardless of the choice the woman makes. If the woman is not pregnant, the clinic will at the very least give the woman information regarding free birth control programs and, if she is interested, will help to enroll the woman in the free brith control programs.

My point is, I feel like this is how it should be. It is the choice of the people personally involved with the pregnancy - the mother and father - who should be making decisions regarding whether to abort or to take the pregnancy to term. I hate this fear that some people seem to have of allowing people to make their own choices regarding pregnancy.

The focus of these debates shouldn't be abortion, the focus of these talks should be how to effectively educate about unwanted pregnancy prevention.

Official Religious Opinions On Gay Marriage - A Few Surprises


I was wondering the other day about christianity in all its forms and other religions and how each sect reacts to gay marriage. Not many surprises here

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.

In 2005, the governing body of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. affirmed that "God's design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman" and that "homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching." In 2006, the church's southwestern regional board (which includes churches in California, Hawaii, Nevada and Arizona) split from the national church in reaction to its failure to penalize congregations that welcomed openly gay members.


There is no universal Buddhist position on same-sex marriage. According to some interpretations of the Buddha's teachings, one of the 10 non-virtuous deeds that lead to suffering is "sexual misconduct." The term is primarily understood to refer to adultery. However, some Buddhists interpret this term to include homosexuality, largely due to different cultural attitudes toward the practice in certain Buddhist countries.


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes gay marriage on the ground that "marriage is a faithful, exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman." In 2003, the conference stated that "what are called ‘homosexual unions' [cannot be given the status of marriage] because they do not express full human complementarity and because they are inherently nonprocreative."

Episcopal Church

Although the Episcopal Church has not explicitly established a position in favor of gay marriage, in 2006 the church stated its "support of gay and lesbian persons and [opposition to] any state or federal constitutional amendment" prohibiting gay marriages or civil unions. Furthermore, in 2009, the church’s national convention voted to give bishops the option to bless same-sex unions.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The ELCA currently defines marriage as a "lifelong and committed relationship between a man and a woman." In August 2009, however, the church's legislative body will vote to decide whether to adopt a new social statement on human sexuality. Specifically, the proposal at issue asks the church to "commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."


There is no official Hindu position on the issue of same-sex marriage. Depending on different cultural attitudes toward homosexuality, some Hindus do not support the practice of homosexuality. But others may choose to follow ancient Hindu texts, such as the Kama Sutra, that allow for homosexual behavior.


Islamic law explicitly denounces homosexuality, and the practice of homosexuality is a crime in many Islamic countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.


While the Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish movements are ardent supporters of gay and lesbian rights, including the right of same-sex couples to wed, they do not require rabbis to officiate at the weddings of gay couples. The Conservative movement, which does not sanctify gay marriage, grants autonomy to individual rabbis to choose whether or not to recognize same-sex unions. The leadership of Orthodox Judaism has defined marriage as an institution between a man and a woman and therefore does not accept same-sex marriage.

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

In 2006, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod reaffirmed its position that same-sex marriage is "contrary to the will of the Creator."

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Mormon theology stipulates that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God." As a result, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not endorse same-sex marriage.

National Association of Evangelicals

In 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals reaffirmed its 1985 resolution that homosexuality is not sanctioned by the Bible. Thus the group does not support gay marriage or civil unions.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Although the Presbyterian Church's governing body has not explicitly addressed the issue of gay marriage, the church issued a ruling in 1997 prohibiting the ordination of homosexuals. Regional bodies and clergy, however, have challenged this ruling, causing a major rift among Presbyterians.

Southern Baptist Convention

In 2003, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a statement confirming its opposition to gay marriage. It called on "Southern Baptists not only to stand against same-sex unions but to demonstrate our love for those practicing homosexuality by sharing with them the forgiving and transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)."

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

In 1996, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations passed a resolution in support of same-sex marriage.

United Church of Christ

In 2005, the United Church of Christ voted to legally recognize and advocate in favor of same-sex marriage.

United Methodist Church

In 2008, the United Methodist Church's top policymaking body reaffirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman. The church does not sanction civil unions, despite recent objections from some regional congregations and clergy.


I was suprised that some buddhists are opposed to homosexual lifestyles. However, this sounds more like a personal belief and not a religiously mandated stance. I was also confused about the methodist position for personal reasons as I have a friend who attends a methodist church who is gay and his particular church seems very accepting of him and his partner, their lifestyle and commitment to one another.

It's important to point out that official doctrines do not nessecarily dictate how specific churches operate, but if a church is willing to ignore the rules of it's own sect, then why do they maintain afffiliation with these institutions at all? Somehow I think standing up for equal civil rights might easily enough take a backseat to pre-determined tax exemption and other sect-specific perks - but pointing that out would be so very atheist of me, wouldn't it?


Scientology - The Perfect Christian Scapegoat


Australian News Net reports:

John Travolta Fears Church of Scientology Would Retaliate If He Left

Melbourne, July 27 : Actor John Travolta has reportedly made private threats to leave the Church of Scientology, but he may not follow through on them because he fears the church may retaliate by revealing embarrassing details about his private life.

Travolta, 55, who became a recluse after the sudden death of his son Jett, 16, in the Bahamas during a New Year family holiday, is so distraught that he is barely able to function and is seldom seen in public.

According to reports in Britain's Mail, Travolta is disillusioned with the secretive church, and bitterly regrets adhering to its teachings when treating his son's condition, which is believed to have been autism.

The report also quotes a neighbour of Travolta's as saying that he is rarely seen during daylight hours, but is often spotted driving around his property at night, alone in the golf buggy.

"We used to see him driving around on a buggy with his son. Now its just John by himself," News.com.au quoted the unnamed neighbour as saying.

The report also revealed that Travolta has cancelled all work commitments since Jett's death, and that he resents going along with Scientology's prescribed treatment for son's condition.

The church does not recognise autism as genuine, but instead believes it to be merely psychosomatic, and recommends treatment with vitamins and a detox program, not prescription medicines.

The report also said that the church's response to the teenager's death has been to conduct "intensive sessions" with so-called ethics officers, whose job is to question Travolta and other family members to determine if their "negative influences" caused the tragedy.

Rick Ross, an author who has watched the church for 30 years, said that Travolta's reported threat is a dangerous move, and that it was not only the actor but also any high-profile practitioner who wanted out.

"Scientology keeps files on its celebrity members containing embarrassing personal information about them," he said.

"And Scientology has proven in the past that it has a penchant for releasing that information to embarrass people who have left and who have said things it doesn't like," he added.

Scientology is one of those rare unifying factors that christians and atheists seem to agree on. Atheists tend to reject scientology as a more obvious ludicrous belief system than christianity, though typically it is stated that religions should be considered equally in that once something is not true, the level of how far from truth something sits is essentially unimportant. Christians are often found rejecting scientology as an insane cult which can in no way be compared to their own religious beliefs. In fact, I personally have often witnessed christians offering up scientology as a kind of example of what ridiculous religion looks like in defense of their own illogical beliefs.

Personally, I am more of the mind that no christian has the right to look at scientology and ridicule it as if anything found in scientology is any more outlandishly mythological than the fantastic stories outlined in the bible. Christians must find solace in the fact there there is a religion out there whose origin story includes aliens and volcanoes and the like. How did Adam and Eve's kids have kids you ask? I don't know, but look at these cr-a-zy scientologists over here!

The fact is there is little difference between telling people we're all H-bombed souls with implanted memories and telling people we all came from a single man and woman, that the earth was at one time entirely flooded, or that there are sometimes visible/mostly invisible angels that watch over us. The difference isn't severity of nonsense, the difference is familiarity.

To Travolta, I have to agree with what one commenter said on the Australian news story: When you're afraid to leave, LEAVE NOW.

This is Your Brain on God


NPR has a fun little interactive page about religion and the brain in which there are 5 basic subtopics:

The God Chemical
The God Spot
Spiritual Virtuosos
The Biology of Belief
Near Death Experiences

Reading through the articles I had some positive and negative reactions to what was being said. I want to focus on the first topic, the god chemical, as this was both the most obvious explanation for people's passionate belief in god and the article which inspired the most negative response from myself.

Under the first category, the god chemical, it reads:

research suggests that chemicals that act on the serotonin system trigger mystical experiences that are life-altering. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that helps regulate mood and sleep. Now those neurologists -- and others -- are replicating studies from the 1960s in which patients with end-stage cancer were given LSD to see if they were convinced that life exists beyond death. The research raises the question, is God a delusion created by brain chemistry, or is brain chemistry a necessary conduit for people to reach God?

Now, I have had my assumptions all along that there must be some kind of correlation between brain activity/chemical balances and the passionate adherence to beliefs which logically seem entirely ridiculous. The thing that bothers me about this is the question which is posed at the end - The research raises the question, is God a delusion created by brain chemistry, or is brain chemistry a necessary conduit for people to reach God?

This question is only raised if you are somehow inclined to believe that god exists in the first place. Given the overwhelming evidence that points to god not being real, it seems ludicrous to say that in this instance brain chemistry and activity might exist as a conduit for holy interactions when in most other cases brain chemistry and activity is considered with far more scrutiny - certainly more scrutiny than would allow such a theory in any other area to even be proposed.

This begs the question: why is it that the rules seem to change whenever god is brought into the picture?

Now I admit I'm treading into unknown waters here as I am not a biologist or scientist of any kind and so I also freely admit that there could be information which I don't know about which could solidify the suggestion of there being a god connection wired in the brain. I know that the brain is one of the most unknown organs of the body despite decades of dedicated research, but that to me seems to weaken the argument that because x part of the brain reacts in this way when exposed to god, that means that x could be necessary in talking to god. That seems like more of a logic jump than what should be allowed with the amount of information we currently have available.

Logic jumps like these seem to only be widely permissible when kept within the context of religion, and so to a skeptic like myself that makes these allowances all the more suspect.


The Charitable Atheist - Not At All An Oxymoron


(This was written specifically for Tacoma Atheists but I felt it was also worth posting here)

"Philanthropist" is a word which, translated from Greek, literally means "lover of humanity". There is no caveats attached to this term which dictates that the lover of humanity must also believe in a god or gods, but it would seem that some religiously affiliated and atheist warry folks would ignore that lack of inclusion as an overlooked but understood truth. Those people are certainly misguided - it is only the religious who feel that religion is needed in order to be a charitable person.

Something which should be a point of pride for all atheists - especially when you're being told by someone who knows little about you besides the fact that you're not a believer that you're the reason babies die and the elderly lose their ability to do cartwheels - is that the two biggest charitable contributions in American history can both be attributed to non believers: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

But charity is not and should not be a game of tallying which side has done more and then declaring a winner. Is shouldn't be about who wins - the focus should be on helping people whether you're religious or not. I have been told more than once by religious people who were disturbed by my atheism that if there were no god fearing, good people on this earth there would be no hospitals, no orphanages, no clothing and food drives, no helping hand for anyone. In this bleak and truly apocalypic atheist future, everyone is looking out for themselves and the very idea of helping others is perverse and uncessesary. Help out your fellow man? Heh, who's gonna make me?

The fact is that there are plenty of secular institutions already in existance that provide every kind of charitable resource you could imagine - and they provide these things without the common "Are you really thankful for our help? Well then you should probabaly believe in this god." attitude which is often found when participating at religiously affiliated institutions and events. I remember specifically helping an older woman who's husband had died. A big group of us were there cleaning her house and fixing up her yard. I was helping the woman sort through clothes and she started talking about how wonderful the Catholic organization was that had set up the work we doing and by proxy, how wonderful we all were. I thanked her, and I didn't correct her assumption that we were all Catholics doing good Catholic work because I felt that the work we were doing was important, not the details of who was doing it to be nice and who was doing it because of god. However, I personally realized that in a lot of cases people do assume that charity work is being done in the name of some holy organization.

The only way I can see to change the public perception of atheists and to help change the common assumptions being made about charitable work is for atheists to get involved with their communities as atheists so that we can show by example that we are upstanding citizens who are interested in philanthropy in it's purest form.

Below is a list of secular charities and aid-based organizations which would be worth looking into if you are looking to donate some time or money to your fellow human beings. This is by no means a complete list and does not include many local organizations which are always looking for volunteers. Remember, while donating money is always appreciated and needed, what a lot of charities need even more is your time and physical involvment. If we all tried to get involved or if those of us who can't get involved were willing to support those who are even a little bit, we could do a lot to change the commonly held and entirely unfair position that atheists are selfish, mean people who don't have the capacity for compassion that religious folks have. It's not at all fair to have to do so, but it's up to us to prove them wrong.

a simple way to provide students in need with resources that our public schools often lack.

lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world.

The Union of Concerned Scientists
The leading science-based non-profit working for a healthy environment and safer world.

American Red Cross
The American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization led by volunteers, guided by its Congressional Charter and the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross Movement, will provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies. The USA's premier emergency response organization, over 91% of Red Cross spending is on charitable services.

American Civil Liberties Union
The mission of the ACLU is to preserve all of constitutional protections and guarantees relating to First Amendment rights, including the freedom to practice religion and the freedom not to have religion rammed down our throats, equal protection, due process, and right to privacy.

United Nations Children's Fund
UNICEF mobilizes political will and material resources to help countries, particularly developing countries, ensure a "first call for children" and to build their capacity to form appropriate policies and deliver services for children and their families. UNICEF provides emergency and disaster relief.

Doctors without Borders
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters, and exclusion from health care in nearly 70 countries.

Amnesty International
AI’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.
In pursuit of this vision, AI’s mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights.

Oxfam International
Oxfam International is a confederation of 12 organizations working together with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty, suffering and injustice. The Oxfams operate in over 100 countries worldwide working with local partners to alleviate poverty and injustice.

The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy is a leading international, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the diversity of life on Earth. An environmental group that protects natural habitats and the wildlife within them. Focuses on "science-based" initiatives.

Population Connection
Population Connection is the national grassroots population organization that educates young people and advocates progressive action to stabilize world population at a level that can be sustained by Earth's resources. Works against faith-based policies that are supported by the Religious Right.

DefCon: Campaign to Defend the Constitution
DefCon is an online grassroots movement combating the growing power of the religious right. It includes a blog on religious freedom issues, action alerts, and in-depth articles on scientific, religious, and legal issues of the day.

The SEED foundation
National nonprofit that establishes urban public boarding schools to prepare students from underserved communities for success in college.

Project Peanut Butter
Project Peanut Butter is a therapeutic feeding program for malnourished children in Malawi and Sierra Leone, on the continent of Africa. It was founded by Professor Mark Manary, M.D., a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and a professor of pediatric medicine at Washington University School of Medicine.

Electronic Frontiers Foundation
When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. Blending the expertise of lawyers, policy analysts, activists, and technologists, EFF achieves significant victories on behalf of consumers and the general public. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations.

Mercy corps
Mercy Corps exists to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.

Our programs serve people who have been economically, politically, or otherwise marginalized. We change our program approach to relate to their culture and circumstances, reaching out in very different ways, for example, to nomads in Tibet, women in Tanzania, or indigenous Mayans in Guatemala. Our aim is to build a bridge of compassion between our donors and the people we serve — people around the world who have the fewest resources.

International Peace Institute
The International Peace Institute (IPI) formerly International Peace Academy is an independent, international institution dedicated to promoting the prevention and settlement of armed conflict between and within states through policy research and development.

One Atheist Does Not Define Another


I am open about my atheism to everyone I know, at work and otherwise. I work with a few other atheists and I find it endlessly enlightening to discuss any and every topic with them because of how different we all are despite the common thread of atheism which tenuously connects us to one another. Last night I found myself participating in a discussion about civil rights. A woman I work with, I'll call her F, was making a very convincing point that she couldn't understand how someone could justify supporting gay rights but not supporting gun rights.

To be honest, I could see her logic with this and while I understand that the issue of gun rights and the issue of gay rights are different enough for it to be questionable to simplify either issue to the point where it's interchangeable with one another, the basic message was clear - civil rights are paramount and should be protected regardless of your personal biases or opinions. I happen to fully support gay rights and cautiously support gun rights, so this was a point that I easily understood.

Then I brought up the case of the baby who had recently died because her parents believed in faith healing and refused to take the little girl to the doctor and posed the question - do the rights of the parents trump the rights of the child because it's a religious issue or should those parents be charged for child endangerment and/or manslaughter?

I was shocked that my co-worker and very vocal atheist F was quick to say "Oh no, that's religion. That's not an issue of civil rights - you can't mess with that."

I was incensed! How could a fellow atheist honestly feel that religion should be allowed in any way to trump a person's civil rights - especially when that person is a truly helpless child whose very right to live is being put at risk? As a parent I would be madder than hell if someone told me I couldn't raise my kid the way I saw fit and so in that respect, I can understand the emotionally intense feelings behind parental rights. I have to add, currently being of sound body and mind, that if I was ever effed up enough to decide I was justified in allowing my son to come to harm in any way because of my beliefs which I was imposing onto him, I hope someone would have the balls to step in and save my kid from myself.

I argued that the baby had no way to choose the religion, so basically F was saying that the parents were justified in making two decisions for the child which were not their place to make - the first being what religion the kid was and the second being the choice to allow the child to die from an ailment which is easily treated. F said that the Constitution protects religion and a minor is subject to its parent's decisions and that's that.

Other people were present during our conversation and so, as it often does in polite company, the conversation quickly moved away from religion but the couple of minutes that I found myself disagreeing with another atheist about a position which I honestly felt was pretty much universally accepted among atheists of every kind was immensely enlightening.

Atheists really do come in every possible personality and lifestyle and so it becomes even more important for us to focus on unification if we want to be respected, accepted and represented in society. Maybe one of the reasons so many of us tend to focus on the negative aspects of religion so much is because it's the one subject that we all can, on some level, agree on.


No Specific Religious Figures Means No Jesus - Obviously?


PITTSBURGH — State House officials say they have been inundated with protests about a policy that barred a clergyman from using the word "Jesus" in a prayer that was to open one of the lawmakers' daily sessions.

The Rev. Gerry Stoltzfoos, of the Freedom Valley Worship Center in Gettysburg, had planned to end his recent prayer with "In Jesus' name, Amen." Under the policy then in effect, he was asked by House Speaker Keith McCall's office to submit the planned prayer in writing and to make sure it was nondenominational.

"They said my prayer was rejected because it contained an offensive word. Just once, in closing, I mentioned Jesus," he said. "I thought they were kidding. I had carefully crafted the prayer not to be offensive in any way."

He said he decided not to say the prayer at all rather than omit the name. The incident has sparked a controversy on the Internet including an online petition and denunciations of McCall.

Paul Parcells, McCall's chief of staff, said the situation has been blown out of proportion.

"We've had threats phoned in and a ton of angry e-mail," said Parcells, who called McCall "a devout Catholic" but said "he doesn't wear his religion on his sleeve."

Guest chaplains are sent a letter asking them to use "an interfaith, non-denominational prayer" and to refrain from expressing views on legislative, political or governmental issues. House officials say use of "God" or "Father" is permissible, but they do not want mentions of specific religious figures such as Jesus, Muhammad, or Buddha.

I don't understand what the confusion is here - the rules say no specific religious figures. It doesn't matter if the guy mentioned Jesus 'just once', just once breaks the rules. Rules which pre-existed the invitation to this man to speak.

Is there really this level of expected entitlement going on with religious groups to the point where only invoking a specific religion's deity once isn't seen as, well, invoking a specific deity? Just don't say Jesus. There. Super easy. No one is excluded and you still get to perpetuate your snake-oil brand of spiritualism. We all KNOW you mean the christian god when you say god anyway, you don't NEED to break the rules (or make fun of the rules or pretend you don't understand the rules in order to gain attention).

But he's not the issue here, the issues lies with the sentence which partially states, "...inundated with protests about a policy that barred a clergyman..." Really? Because it seems pretty cut and dry to me - guy receives an invitation to be a guest chaplain and he's told to keep it cool, no specifics, God and Father are OK but don't get too detailed with the deities. Then guy ignores that, and tries to slip in Jesus at the buzzer, as if just saying Jesus once at the end shouldn't be considered breaking the 'no specifics' rule.

'No specifics' is pretty clear. No Muhammad, no Buddha, no Jesus, no exclusionary speech. Well, unless you're one of those freaks who just doesn't believe in ANYTHING. :)


Memory Walk to AIDS walk - Joining Forces For A Stronger Presence


I had previously posted my intention to try to start an atheist walking team for the Memory Walk being held in Seattle in September. I have since decided to abandon my efforts to start up a team for the Memory Walk and instead join the already formed atheist group that is getting involved in the Pierce County AIDS Walk.

The main reason for giving up on the Memory Walk completely is the fact that both walks are happening on the same day. Also, in trying to recruit my group of atheist friends, I found that a good deal of them will be out of town or have otherwise pressing commitments which can't be altered in favor of participation in the walk.

I had not given up on the Memory Walk but was somewhat disillusioned by this new information when I ran across a twitter from Tacoma Atheists promoting their participation in the AIDS Walk. I was immediately interested in joining this group and though saddened to learn that both walks were scheduled for the same day, decided to join forces with an already established group with a pre-existing list of participants. I feel that it is more important to create a solid presence in a single event than to show a weaker presence in two separate events.

My hope is still to recruit people into participating as atheists in this walk in order provide an example of atheists doing charitable, good work. I hope I can get at least two more people on board with me - that would be an admittedly small victory but one worth being proud of.

If you wish to sponsor me or our group on this walk, please visit my personal page and donate, or just leave a comment if you wish to show some support. Either would be tremendously appreciated.

The Co-Evolution Imperative of Capitalism and Religion


After reading this wonderful editorial by Bill Maher I began considering the modern American zeitgeist and how paramount both the "Abrahamic religions" and capitalism seem to our current climate. For me, this begs a question - are capitalism and religion two entities which thrive independently of one another or are they two entities which have both gained promenence in this country by means of a kind of social co-evolution?

Personally, I feel the latter theory is not only correct but glaringly obvious.

Let me pre-face this by saying that I am not strictly anti-capitalism. Rather I should say, I'm anti-capitalism in the scope it's seen in America today, but I am also aware that no other system besides a somewhat capitalist one has ever proven to be successful and so I have concluded that it's not a bad system, it's just easily manipulated into becoming the monster we see in America today.

Many claim that the largely privitized system we have is a result of the American dream and therefore anyone who opposes it opposes the very spirit which made this counrty what it is today.

I disagree, first that the people who succeed in regard to large wealth are the people who made this country what it is. I think they're part of it, but of no more importance than the workers in that person's business who generate the products or services for far less than a six figure salary. Most of us are those people, and we're of no less importance to this country than the people who own the businesses that we work for.

I also disagree on the current attitude toward the American dream. I know I'm fond of this idea and I'm sure most people are either fond of it or reject it completely. I believe those who reject it completely are the more rational of the two. The American dream has always been just that - a dream. One that was attainable to many when the dream itself was not as decadent and self indulgent as it is today. When the American dream was for an immigrant to be able to come to America and start a new and better life, that was attainable for enough people to keep that dream going. Then the dream became having the house with the while picket fence, 2.5 kinds and all that. A notably different dream because the America of that time was different, but still simple and attainable. People wanted to have enough to live a comfortable but still modest lifestyle.

What is the American dream now? It seems to be a dead concept for most people because when it is envoked, the current incarnation of it is something so unattainable for everyday people that it's not even a dream anymore, it's a delusion. We are not all going to live the P. Diddy (or whatever his name is now) lifestyle, we can't all be ballers, we can't all live large. One of the reasons we can't is because that's not how capitalism works. As the rich get richer, the poor become more destitute. Therefore, this current American dream is an indication of the times and the popular acceptance that making money - lots of money - is the indication of success and should be a common goal. Though thankfully not for everyone, for many the current American dream is either a reminder of insigifigance and a beacon of hopelessness or it is an invitation to reach for that bank account - no holds barred.

For the no holds barred crowd which often turns to action which are hurtful in some way in the persuit of money, there is a wonderful privitized system to keep them busy - lawyers and jails and the like.

It is the hopless and even worse - the hopeful and unconcerned with the American dream that need to be kept busy in order to keep the current state of our caplitalist country going and that means diverting public interest as much as possible so that the people aren't allowed to realize the power they have as a unified force. This is where religion comes into play.

The marriage of government and religion has been happening since the beginning of time when the religious were known more as the wisemen of the society and therefore their wisdom was important to a governing body as a source of insight and information. With the progression of science, religion has lost it's power in regard to being the most accurate source of factual information, and so for fear of losing their position of influence and power, religion is trying to turn spirituality into a daily vitamin of sorts for Americans. That is to say, selling religion as something everyone needs in order to be a complete and healthy American.

Abrahamic religions specifically teach people to be subservient to a god figure and to follow his word unquestioningly. The word of god is delivered by the very people who are trying to keep their positions of power, so it is logical to conclude that these figures may have some vested interest in guiding people to accept capitalism as it is capitalism that allows religion to retain it's place.

My conjecturing is completely unscientific, but I follow this line of thinking to the conclusion that both capitalism and religion somewhat match one another in regard to extremity. This seems to explain the contradiction that, in a country so mired in greed and evidently unconcerned with the human toll that uncontrolled capitalism takes, extreme religious views which dictate, among lots of other things, that the sin of greed will send you to hell is so unquestioningly embraced.

More and more I feel that the religious pay very little attention to their holy books as a means of introspection and personal reflection. The proof is mounting that in actuality, these books are really only meant to be used as righeous weapons against anyone who proposes to question the powerful place of religion. Otherwise, most of what they say is of little importance.


Bush Administrations Abstinence Programs Produce Unsavory Results


It would seem that abstinence doesn't work. I know, I know, of course abstinence works if it is honestly adhered to, but according to the latest Centers for Disease Control numbers, the falling rates of teen pregnancies and STD's either stalled or increased, in some cases sharply, by 2005 - Bush's 6th year in office.

According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but rose sharply in more than half of American states after 2005. The number of teenage girls with syphilis had risen by nearly half after a big decrease, while a 20-year fall in the gonorrhea infection rate was being reversed. AIDS cases in adolescent boys had nearly doubled.
What do abstinence groups say in response to these telling numbers? What is their answer? Why, more abstinence of course! Now, the fact is that even though abstinence is in fact a certain way of not getting pregnant or spreading STD's, it's not a viable solution to teenage pregnancy or STDs. Why? Because teenagers are horny and they are going to get down, whether you give them a condom or tell them to think about Jesus and take a cold shower.

The emphisis should be on a healthy approach to sexuality, not an approach which leans toward shame and ridicule when a person or two people feel compelled to react on completely natural urges. No one should feel strange about having sex or not having sex because it's a personal choice - one that you might make at 15 or 35 - and while as a mom I would hate to think of my beautiful baby boy knocking boots at 15 I would also rather he have every oppertunity to engage in that kind of activity safely and with the utmost amount of education on the subject rather than trying to pull out or perpetuating other ridiculous myths in regard to sex.

Sorry kids, if the chick is on top, she can in fact still get pregnant.

It's no secret that abstinence programs and religious institutions more often than not are interweaved with one another which leads me to ask this question - what needs to happen before these organizations face the fact that less education will never result in positive trends? When will these groups be held accountable for the fact that ignoring the teen pregancy problem by only offering an outdated and unrealistic solution is the same thing as willingly allowing teen pregnancy to become a much much worse issue?


Memory Walk Atheist Team - An Experiment


My atheist friends and I have had several talks about the stereotype of the 'soul less' atheist. The common opinion among my friends seems to be that it's ridiculous to presume that people need a god to tell them to be good people and that atheists are just as good of people as anyone else. Not shockingly, I passionately agree.

I have previously made the point that it's unfair to generalize any group in regard to disposition because disposition is affected by immeasurable factors - some of which might be commonly shared within a group but still should not be defining characteristics of the group. It's a fact that atheists tend to be intelligent and intelligent people tend to be more skeptical and skeptical people tend to be more morose. From this line of reasoning you cannot say that atheists tend to be more morose because by saying that you are reversing the flow of the line of reasoning and in doing that, you could very well make assumptions which are incorrect when considered in the opposite way. For example - intelligent people tend to be skeptical, but it is correct to then assume that skepital people tend to be intelligent? Not necessarily.

Regardless, I have decided to do an experiment with my atheist friends to see if they're willing to put their money - or rather their time and energy, if only for a day - where their mouths are.

One of the biggest fears I have with growing old (though not yet being 30 I have quite a while to really worry about old age - I'm human and I still consider it) is Alzheimer Disease. I don't know why this is the one disease I'm really concerned with, but maybe I'm concerned by it because it's degenerative and causes the person suffering from it to forget, to lose knowledge. The other day I saw an advert for something i had no idea existed, the Memory Walk which is sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association in order to "raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer care, support and research". When I saw this advert, I automatically thought, that's what I'm going to organize to show people atheists care about helping people just as much as any other group.

I've already called a few people and discussed the idea, and I've written to Seattle Atheists to make sure they already don't have something in the works with this. The hardest part of this project will be recruitment of team members, but not because atheists don't care. These kinds of fund raising activities require people to something which most people dislike doing - asking for money. I hate doing it, and I can see a good deal of my friends declining to participate because of an aversion to this kind of thing as well. Also, while I may deem Alzheimer's research an important cause, that doesn't mean my friends will agree that it's a cause worth applying work and time toward.

This will be an interesting experiment to say the least, and I will keep this blog informed in regard to the successes, failures, and lessons learned along the way.


"Why Are Atheists So Angry?"


It's the most common assumption made in regard to atheists - we are angry. We are mad, curmudgeonly angry people! Is this true? Well, in some cases of course, because an angry disposition is a common personality trait. The fact is, however, that the trait transcends belief or non-belief. Some people are just angry, and some of those some people are indeed atheists.

The reason why the "angry atheist" stereotype bothers me so much is because of personal experience with being accused of being one of these kinds of people. I have been told that I am an angry atheist at least two times that I can remember, and I was angry when the person accused me of being angry, I fully admit that. I was angry on both occasions because I had already suffered through a long conversation where a theist had no problems insulting my intelligence and my morality while simultaneously presenting unproven information as facts and distorting the meaning of language in order to prove their points.

This is an old christian debate trick - trip them up in so much BS that they (hopefully) become too tired and distracted to be able to continue to argue coherently, then claim to have won the debate. Make sure to pepper responses with overwhelming and unapologetic condescension and disrespectful assumptions on the atheist's personality, personal life, and general morality. Make sure you tell them you pity them. Then, when they lose their cool and return the admittedly inappropriate personal attacks, write them off as 'just another angry atheist.'

The trick here is to have the willpower to walk away from a debate if you sense that the conversation is less an exchange of ideas and more of a person with an opposing viewpoint looking for validation through any means - regardless of the validity of their reasoning and information. However, this can be more and more difficult to do in correlation to how ridiculous the claims being made are. It's a fine line between refusing to be silent and speaking up for the atheist point of view and speaking yourself right into a malicious trap meant to spur a reaction from your ego by any means necessary in order to fallaciously marginalize you as 'just another angry atheist.'


A Plan of Action


The other night I was at work (I work seasonally at a Drive In theater) and I was talking to a friend of mine about something silly and the subject of atheism came up. I was happy that not only was the conversation not derailed by the subject, but that my friend responded with ease "yeah, people think we..." letting me know without being terribly obvious that he too was an atheists.

After the requisite baby eating jokes and the like, we started talking about what we might be able to do in order to improve the image of atheists since what we were joking about was funny, but also unfortunately grounded in actual opinions people hold of my friend and I simply because of our beliefs.

The idea came about that it might be interesting to go around with a camera and do random favors for strangers for no reason at all - and at the end of the interaction mention that we are atheists and see what kinds of responses we get. Now, this kind of project would do very little to prove that your average atheist is a compassionate and kind person (which in my experience has been the case 95% of the time - but keep in mind that is mere anecdotal information) since the random acts of kindness would be completely motivated by an agenda that is not completely charity based. However, I do think these kinds of projects are important and if more of us took these ideas and transformed them into actual projects, we would all be doing a little something to, at the very least, provide the public with a more realistic view of what an atheist is.

So, I offer that idea up for you to mull over and in return I would ask to hear your ideas - have you ever conceptualized any kind of activity such as the one listed above and if so, did you follow through with it and what happened. If you didn't follow through with it, what's holding you back? I think it's important to remember as well that not everyone lives in an area where open and activist level atheism would be peacefully received. That's one of the reasons I feel compelled to take advantage of living in the liberal pacific northwest and trying to organize people who are interested in and willing to participate in these kinds of demonstrations.

Let me know what you think!


Proof That It's All A Bunch of Shit


The Virgin Mary seems to choose quite a few wacky places to appear and the latest occurrence that has ridiculously misguided followers flocking for a view is probably the most spot on medium of all for a religious 'sighting': The Virgin Mary has been found in bird shit.

I'm trying to not be a jerk about this, honestly I'm not, but this is nothing short of absurd. Whether you question the credibility of the test for psychological use, most people are familiar with the Rorschach Test. In theory, this test works by the assumption that the test taker's spontaneous or unrehearsed responses reveal deep secrets or significant information about the taker's personality or innermost thoughts. While this test is questionable on a psychiatric level, the basic premise of the test is grounded in the fact that the human brain can take an abstract image and see something entirely physical within that image regardless of how random the actual image might be.

When I hear about these passionately religious people crying and having profound feelings of presence and similar religious experiences when they look at bird feces on the mirror of a truck, I can't help but automatically conclude that these people are not witnessing some kind of divine portrait, but seeing what they want to see. If I came out and proclaimed that this poop spot was none other than the mighty Atheismo come to give hope and comfort to all of it's atheist bretherin, I would be considered a little off my rocker by whomever happened to hear my proclamation, but more-over my undivine discovery would be largely ignored. As it should be! These kind of "sightings" deserve no more investigation or attention than the cat lady down the street who claims her ex husband talks to her through her morning cup of coffee.

Harmless? Probably. Newsworthy? Not at all.


Christian Moderates and Social Responsibility


I was raised in an atheist environment and my dad was not shy about professing his disdain and irreverence for religion and religious people. My reaction to this was a kind of curiosity regarding religion - I've never experienced a need for religion but I have always been curious about it. At one point growing up, I found myself regularly spending time in a Unitarian church as a kind of 'atheist ringer' for the drama program and found that most religious people there seemed like good people who were very sincere in their beliefs. I grew to respect religious people based on this experience and when I met the occasional fundamentalist quack, I was quick to shrug them off as an unfortunate religious minority.

Through conversations I've had with my partner and other similarly de-converted folks, I've come to re-think my position on what I regard as 'moderate Christianity'. While in my childhood I saw the Unitarian congregation I was exposed to as a representative of the majority of Christians, I realize now that those kinds of loving, happy, accepting Christians seem in actuality to be a minorty within the group. Interestingly, on several occasions I have been told by Christain extremeists that the Unitarians I grew up with and grew to care for were not even 'real' Christians. If they were real Christians, I've been told, they would have cared enough about my immortal soul to agressively try to convert me to their religion, regardless of what my parents wanted and what I myself wanted.

However, it's the moderate Christians that are proving to be more of an issue to me than the extremeists and this is why - though a moderate Christian will, when pressed, claim that they should not be 'lumped together' with those Christian extremeists who tend to make the more outrageous claims in regard to religious control in everyone's personal life, they are very seldom seen publicly denouncing this kind of behavior. This begs the question - is ignoring a problem within your society the same thing as endorsing the behavior you claim to feel is 'inappropriate' and 'not indicative' of your own beliefs?

I feel that as an atheist, I have a responsibility to speak up if I hear another atheist claim that religion should be outlawed - though I feel that religion is generally a negative influence on people on a personal level and on a socital level, I feel that the personal freedom for people to believe whatever they want is far more important than my opinion of what people should think. Were I to remain silent when these claims are made, it seems obvious to me that my silence would and logically should be taken as at best, indifference to the claim being made and at worse, agreement of the claim. I feel that the religious people of this country are faced with the exact same responsibility in regard to what is said in the name of their religion and I feel that in regard to this responsibility, they are failing miserably.


Homophobic Atheists


In the last few months I have run across a phenomenon which I cannot for the life of me understand. Most of the time when I cross paths with a person who does not support equal rights for homosexuals, that person presents the various edicts of their religion as the main reason for their support of the social rejection of gays, with an additional admission that they personally find homosexuality 'gross'.

Lately I have met a few atheists who do not believe homosexuals deserve equal rights, and their position remains essentially the same as the christian position, minus the religion. Which is to say, these people don't support equal rights for gays because they feel homosexuality is gross.

That's it. That's the only reason.

Now, I'm not saying these people don't dress their position up in misleading or grandiose wording such as claiming that homosexuality is unnatural (ignoring the facts that homosexuality occurs without any 'unnatural' intervention, making it entirely natural and that homosexuality occurs in many many animal cultures beyond humans as well) or claiming that homosexuality is a choice and that these people have equal rights if they 'choose' to be 'normal'. Hardly anyone comes out and says the real reason they oppose these people's basic rights - because homosexual relationships personally make them uncomfortable. I have to imagine a bit of dressing up is required when the truth of the position is so glaringly ignorant and selfish.

I have to wonder if these atheist homophobes don't allow us a unique view into the honesty of the anti-gay position. The religious tend to suppose a kind of helpless bystander role when confronted by the glaring disregard for another human being's rights with an air of "Don't blame me, God says it's wrong." When an atheist opposes homosexuality, you see the inspiration for the opposition for what it is - the selfish assumption that personal opinion of a majority should trump individual rights. I submit that this is the real reason for the rejection of homosexual rights among the vast majority of people and religion is a convenient and often unopposed excuse to hide behind.

I strongly urge any atheists out there who oppose homosexual rights to replace anything they have to say about homosexuals with the term 'atheists' and see if you still think the position is fair and logical. To religious America, which is currently the majority of this nation, your reasons for not supporting homosexuals are the same reasons they don't feel we atheists deserve our rights. It's not fair for that kind of treatment to be allowed to anyone, regardless of how 'gross' you think they are.


Swearing and Religion


According to the Researchers from the school of psychology at Britain's Keele University, cursing could possibly help people deal with pain. The study had volunteers immerse their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as they could stand while both refraining from swearing and while repeating the curse word of their choice. The results of the study found that when people cursed, they could handle the ice water for an average of 40 seconds longer. What, you may ask, does this have to do with religion?

Online and in person, I have repeatedly been told by religious people that my use of curse words is offensive to them because of their religion. What specifically does the bible have to say about cursing? This is what I could find:

Matthew 15:17-20: "Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."
I have heard a myriad of complaints from christians in particular regarding swearing, all of which amount to the position that swearing is a sign of an evil or impure soul.

According to this study, swearing is a means for people to withstand pain and is likely an instictual response.

This, to me, is a perfect example of one of the biggest issues I have with religion: the insistance that human nature and instinct - reactions and emotions which occur inherently and therefore are often impossible to control or produce negative results when controlled - is evil or impure. This seems like a way to make every person born an evil and impure entitiy regardless of their merit and accomplishments and then presents religion as a kind of cure all for these impurities when there is nothing impure about instinct!

Yes, there are some instincts that we no longer require as an evolutionary imperative because of how we have progressed as a society technologically and intellectually, and we have learned as a community to control these instincts for the sake of the community we belong to. I'm not saying screaming 'fuck' in front of a group of pre-schoolers when you stub your toe is acceptable or even uncontrollable. However, I do grow tired of being told as an adult by other adults that I should censor myself because their religion tells them what I'm saying is offensive. I respect people when they ask me to curb the swearing because they personally find it offensive, but that respect is immediately lost when that offense is righteously attributed to a religion - which transforms the request for respect into a demand for me to augment my behavior because they choose to follow a religion. All I have to say to that is: no fucking thanks.


Blasphemy, Reaction and Response

So, something called The Defamation Bill was passed yesterday in the Irish Dail (kind of like the English Parliament or the American House of Representatives) and it seems likely it will be making it's way into law by October of this year:
The Defamation Bill, which also introduces a new crime of blasphemous libel, will come into operation after it is passed by the Seanad later this week and signed into law by President Mary McAleese.
In reaction to this, American Atheists made this post:

The creators of the Father Ted television series have denounced Ireland’s proposed blasphemy laws as “insanity” and pledged to support a campaign to repeal them.

Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan backed moves by a group of Irish secularists to challenge the bill against blasphemy introduced in the Dáil last week. Atheist Ireland said this weekend that it will publish a statement blaspheming all the major religions in Ireland, including Christianity and Islam. The group said it would be a calculated challenge to the law.
Accompanied by this video:

Blasphemy Oath 2009 convention from American Atheists on Vimeo.

Which inspired this comment by a resident religious troll on the AA blog, Phreedm:
Yikes…and you wonder why membership in AA is falling. How in the world could anyone take you seriously?
Phreedm inadvertently brings up a good point with his mocking comment – when atheists are serious about the topic of atheism or religion and come to a discussion with scientific facts to fully support compelling arguments, we are often labeled by the religious as ‘militant’, ‘technophiles’, ’science worshipers’ or are told that we are too serious, stuffy, nerdy, or whatever implication you prefer. When atheists have a little fun and act silly (while still making a valid point, mind you), we are called absurd and get responses like ‘how could anyone take you seriously?’

When you are told by a group of people with an opposing view that you need to loosen up and then when you loosen up you have to deal with comments such as these, it's very difficult not to feel like the opposition you face is less an honest, thoughtful response to the argument you pose and more of a ridiculous and willfully ignorant rejection based on nothing more than blind obedience to a exclusionary doctrine.


The Power of Guilt


Growing up my mother always labeled herself agnostic but she was really what I would call a 'recovering Catholic.' One of the most telling signs of her Catholic upbringing was the guilt which permeated everything she did. I've heard, of course, about the legendary 'Catholic Guilt' which people joke about and talk about almost flippantly, but I think it's important to really take a look at guilt and what a powerful weapon it can be in the hands of religious leaders.

It has been said by religious leaders of all denominations that guilt, being the feeling of responsibility or remorse for an offense - real or imagined, is the natural feeling we all have because of sin. In fact, some religious people would go so far as to say the human propensity for guilt is somehow proof of god's existence. Why else would we be plagued by this terrible emotion?

From an evolutionary standpoint, guilt can be considered a valuable trait as it aids people in engaging in and maintaining social relationships and thus benefits the species in regard to reproductive success. It is important for people to have an innate negative response to mistreatment of others within the group - ie guilt, remorse, shame, etc. - in order to facilitate living in groups. It is also important to note that while modern man's social and intellectual evolution have lessened the importance of existing in a group, this was once necessary to the advancement of our species.

If you run across someone who does not feel guilt or remorse you tend to refer to that person as a sociopath and treat them like an unstable and often dangerous entity. This is because when someone lacks guilt, it creates a completely different list of acceptable behaviors for that single person which is not common to the group and these behaviors often include mistreatment of others which would normally be kept in check by the inherent existence of guilt, among other emotions.

Guilt is powerful because it's one of the emotions humans (among other animals) feel in order to maintain social balance. The fact that religions have tried to use the existence of guilt to justify and in some cases prove their beliefs seems little more than human nature, but to confuse the human need to understand emotions through simplification - often in the form of religious explanation - with some kind of truth is very dangerous. We are gaining a better understanding of ourselves as a species every day, and I look forward to a time when we understand enough of why we think and feel the way we do to not need a blanket response like 'religion' or 'god' as an easy answer for whatever we experience which we can't easily explain or understand.


Mother Teresa: The Greatest Lie Ever Told?


As I have found out time and again, if you are critical of Mother Teresa watch out - you will be attacked regardless of the factual information you present.

Mother Teresa is often presented as one of the shining examples of religious good. Is this true? In my opinion, not at all. In fact, Mother Teresa was one of the best examples of how a legend can be produced from good PR regardless of what the person actually did for humanity.


One of the most referenced accomplishments accredited to Mother Teresa was her "Home for the Dying" in Calcutta, one of many establishments which the Missionaries of Charity established to care for "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." While these establishments seemed like true humanitarian efforts from an outsider's point of view, the truth behind them is far more sinister. The justification for the lack of medical supplies including painkillers at these places was evidently rooted in Teresa's personal belief that the path to religious purity was through suffering.

This did not, however, stop the Mother herself from utilizing some of the most expensive and technologically up to date clinics in the west when she herself begand to experience heart trouble and other issues tied to her old age. Why is it that Mother Teresa saw something beautiful in the suffering of the poor Calcutta masses but when it came to her own suffering saw no issue with allowing herself the most comfortable care, regardless of the price? This seems to indicate a lack of true belief in what she preached - a hypocrisy which should not be ignored.

Nobel Peace Prize and Birth Control

In 1979 Mother Teresa was given the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in Calcutta. At this time she was already well on her way to being one of the more influential and affluent religious leaders of our time - though her bankroll was not reflected in her homes for the destitute, nor would it ever be. Many people, including Christopher Hitchens, have asked one question in regard to her attaining the Peace Prize - Why? Her acceptance speech was a perfect example of the lack of regard for peace: “Abortion is the worst evil, and the greatest enemy of peace... Because if a mother can kill her own child, what will prevent us from killing ourselves or one another? Nothing.” These are not the words of a humble, loving person doing the work of a loving god. These are the words of a calculated religious leader who is pushing an agenda by any means nessecary.

Her attacks on birth control were constant and showed an utter disregard for the dangers of over-population and the suffering it caused - a suffering which she experienced first hand at her centers for the poorest of poor. In 1992 at an open air mass in Knock, Ireland, she said, “Let us promise our Lady who loves Ireland so much, that we will never allow this country a single abortion. And no contraceptives.” When asked about the over-popuation of India where a good portion of her work was seen as necessary because of a direct correlation between the poor and over-population, she said "God always provides. He provides for the flowers and the birds, for everything in the world He has created. And those little children are his life. There can never be enough.”

Even if one were to believe that Mother Teresa had nothing but what she felt was the best intentions in regard to these people, her comments show clearly a lack of understanding in regard to the modern world and the necessity for contraception as a means to control the destitute population in all areas of the world. At worse, her actions were selfish and calculated and at best, irresponsibly out of touch with reality.


On Being a Patriot


One of the small joys I have in life is when I see one of those circa 2001 post 9/11 bumper stickers announcing "These Colors Don't Run!" faded to a sickly sepia on the back of someone's car.

I'm not a patriot of the wearing-a-flag-shirt-from-old-navy-and-driving-a-car-with-a-magnetic-yellow-ribbon-on-the-bumper variety. I love the freedoms we have here. I love being able to get on the internet and post a blog of my thoughts with no worries as to whether my post is going to be edited, deleted, or result in my being thrown in jail or worse. I appreciate other like minded individuals I meet who believe in civil rights for all citizens, not just those who are of a certain color, or who were born here, or who find people of the opposite sex attractive. I believe the freedom to express yourself freely is one of the most important freedoms we have, because I feel that only through sharing ideas and discussing those ideas can we continue to grow together as a country to become more than we are today.

The fourth of July is a good day to think about what you like about living here for those of us who spend a lot of time focusing on what we don't like and trying to do our part to help influence people to change the injustices that we see. I think one of the most unfair labels that can be assigned to the whistle blowers of politicians, religions, and any other sect of society prone to manipulation and control over the American people through intimidation and control is 'unpatriotic' because part of being a patriot is questioning the authority of those who hold those positions of power. That's what keeps this nation of, by, and for the people.

So, to atheists who face this label day in and out I say - this is our day to celebrate our dedication to the things that have and will continue to make America great. Please continue to question your government and your fellow Americans because the moment we stop asking questions will be the moment patriotism in America goes the way of the buffalo.