On Vacation

I'm on vacation for a while. Thank you for your patience and continued interest. I'll try to post here and there as I am able, but for the next few weeks I won't be as consistent as usual. Thanks!


Teen Birth Rates Highest In More Religious States


Not at all surprising, a new study has shown that teen birth rates are highest in states which are considered heavily religious.
U.S. states whose residents have more conservative religious beliefs on average tend to have higher rates of teenagers giving birth, a new study suggests.

The relationship could be due to the fact that communities with such religious beliefs (a literal interpretation of the Bible, for instance) may frown upon contraception, researchers say. If that same culture isn't successfully discouraging teen sex, the pregnancy and birth rates rise.

In a culture which uses sexuality to sell products to people starting at ages as low as ten (Thanks, Disney) it's not at all shocking that abstinence programs fail. The mixed signals kids get from the media regarding the power and allure of sex and their parents who tell them sex is something you should wait to do is not a healthy sexual environment for anyone involved. Pair this with the typical fundamentalist religious reaction to sex - that it's evil and sinful - turns sex itself into a taboo which most teenagers find fascinating. Just say no doesn't work and abstaining for god obviously isn't working either. The one thing that religion does seem to effectively keep kids from doing is having sex intelligently - by using contraception:

However, the results don't say anything about cause and effect, though study researcher Joseph Strayhorn of Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh offers a speculation of the most probable explanation: "We conjecture that religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself."

Ahh, but I can hear the religious nuts now claiming that this study is skewed because kids on less religious states could be getting pregnant just as much if not MORE than religious states, they're just running around having abortion parties to dump their irresponsibly begotten babies so they can go out and have more heathenish orgies. Well, no. Thankfully, the study accounted for abortions and while abortions were higher in less religious states, accounting for those did nothing to change the outcome of the study.

For instance, the results showed more abortions among teenagers in the less religious states, which would skew the findings since fewer teens in these states would have births. But even after accounting for the abortions, the study team still found a state's level of religiosity could predict their teen birth rate. The higher the religiosity, the higher was the teen birth rate on average.

John Santelli of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University calls the study "well-done," adding that the results are not surprising.

"The index of religiosity is tapping into more fundamentalist religious belief," Santelli said. "I'm sure there are parts of New England that have very low teen birth rates, which have pretty high religious participation, but they're probably less conservative, less fundamentalist type of congregations."

And that right there says it all, doesn't it? I would wager that moderate or liberal religious groups are far less likely to do such a good job of denouncing contraception while doing such a terrible job at denouncingsexual activity. It makes perfect sense that this would be a fundamentalist issue - they have to keep their numbers up somehow.

Can An Atheist Be Spiritual?


A lot of people these days are throwing off the oppressive shackles of religion in favor of a more aloof and personal spirituality. My question to atheists is this - do you ever describe yourself as spiritual? Do you consider yourself spiritual in any way?

Some atheists I know claim to be spiritual in public simply because it circumvents the possibly uncomfortable conversation regarding atheism. Because spirituality is commonly understood as a personal feeling or belief that is beyond the material plane, it's a safe statement to make which requires little further explanation. Spirituality is easily transformed by the other person into whatever they think it refers to, and is therefore inoffensive even if your spirituality and their spirituality are completely different.

While I don't believe in the spirit or any other religious nonsense, I do consider myself spiritual. This is because I personally feel that the term spiritual is related to the feelings and reactions I have that are not tangibly anchored. I feel swells of complex emotion when listening to music. I feel filled with an undefinable sense of awe and inspiration in certain places like the desert at night or the ocean. I am sensitive to people's emotions and feel compelled toward compassion and empathy even for people who I dislike or who openly dislike me. These are things which have logical explanations and I don't attribute anything supernatural to them - but I do consider myself spiritual because of them.

Why complicate human reactions and emotions by labeling them as spiritual? Because personally I feel that emotions and reaction are the very root of spirituality. Emotions are something everyone has of course, and while you can map the brain and measure chemicals and somewhat quantify what an emotion is, the way it's received and expressed is very personal and in that reception and expression, I think you find my idea of spirituality.

People who are close to me understand my position. They understand that I have no belief in god or anything supernatural. When I'm having a conversation with someone I don't know very well, 'atheist' is always the first term I assign myself, but if pressed after that I do say that I am somewhat spiritual because I don't know any other succinct way to explain that I don't believe in god, but I do find overwhelming beauty in life and I am often deeply moved by things and people in ways that are entirely relevant to myself in a way that I can't really explain to other people.

One of the things that bothers me about religion is the idea of the shared experience. The feelings I feel which I would consider 'spiritual' aren't things that I expect anyone else to have felt or to really understand. I would never push the reaction I have to a sunset on anyone else and claim that they lack some aspect of humanity because they don't share my feelings of appreciation for it because I respect the fact that everyone is different and beauty is subjective. I understand that my feelings of connectivity are quite possibly completely imaginary and so I usually only talk about that kind of thing with close friends because I don't want or need agreement about those feelings in order to attain any kind of validation for them. It's how I personally feel. The collective religious experience makes little sense to me because I can't see how something so personal could be transformed into a group activity.

I think the term 'spiritual' is something that, while having a literal definition which is definitely religious in origin, is an example of a socially ambiguous idea. My version of spirituality is nothing like what a fundamentalist Christian considers spirituality and is equality different than a Zoroastrian's idea of spirituality and that's OK. I think if you consider yourself spiritual you can also be an atheist, because I think I fit into that category myself.


Ministers To Obama: Find A Church...Think of the Children!


It seems a couple of pearl clutching ministers have felt compelled to voice concern over The Obama family's personal choices regarding religion:
In Minneapolis for the Religion Newswriters Association annual conference, I asked two members of the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships about the ongoing question of the first family finding a local church. It's about the children, is basically what both the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president-elect of the National Council of Churches, and the former Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page answered.

"How will the children have a sense of Christian community?'' asked Chemberlin. "That's the pastoral question that's in my heart and I don't know the answer.'' Though she has "no criticism about the decision that they've made,'' she said the question still tugs at her." "How is the family going to get what they need, including the kids? How do they have a sense of Christian community, which for many of us is the formative place?''
This woman talks about Christian community as if Christians have a special kind of social structure that can't be found anywhere else but church. That may be true in regard to indoctrination, but otherwise anything you get from socializing at church you can attain by alternative means. Volunteering at a food bank or pet shelter, participating in community sports, even going to a park on any given day will expose your child to the same kind of community you find at church. Christians do not have any kind of monopoly on social interaction beyond proselytizing their own specific beliefs. It ends there.

If this woman has "no criticisms about the decision that they've made" then why is this being put forth as an issue of concern? This claim seems disingenuous to me - I'm not criticizing, I'm concerned. So are we to believe that your concern is because of something that you...agree with? Are comfortable with? Concern typically arises from actions which are perceived as negative in some way. By making a statement like this, You might be skirting around the edge of criticism, but that's only in regard to semantics. You're criticizing. It's OK, you have the freedom to do so. Just please be honest about it and stop trying to act as though you're not.
Page was equally concerned. "I do encourage our president to find a church for he and his family to attend,'' he said. "And while I deeply appreciate the fact that he does read the daily devotional that Joshua DuBois (director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships) sends to him - I appreciate that very much - those girls need a church. They need to be under instruction and tutelage of some godly people.''

Page said it was encouraging that Obama is currently hearing preaching from a Southern Baptist chaplain when he visits Camp David but he doesn't think that's sufficient. "He needs to be faithful on a regular basis, not just when he's on vacation at Camp David so it would help if that were a more consistent and more a part of his life," said Page. "I think it would be a grounding influence for him and an encouragement to the faith community."
The only person who knows President Obama's spiritual needs is President Obama. Perhaps it benefits the image of religion to have the president be faithful on a regular basis, but that has nothing to do with concern for Obama's immortal soul, that has everything to do with religion trying to remain as relevant and powerful as it was in the last administration in this current administration.

Personally, I respect Obama for seeking out what spirituality he personally requires and dedicating the rest of his time to, you know, running the country.


The Folly Of Perception Equaling Reality


I used to work for a terrible shoe company that made terrible shoes. It was one of those trust fund companies that the current owner, a soft handed spoiled kid turned hapless old man, had inherited from his hard working father. He ran the company with the help of his useless hag of a wife who was more interested in looking up to date than doing any work and they tried to make their way by making knock off shoes which they failed to market as cutting edge and trendy. The theme of this horrible company was "perception is reality."

"Perception is reality" is a statement which attempts to assert that reality only exists in the perceptions of one's self and others. In the shoe making business this meant that we were to sell an inferior product that was a knock off of something else as if it were the best shoe ever made in the history of mankind, because if we could affect the perception of people regarding the shoe, the reality of the shoe would be altered.

The problem with this idea is that only the willfully stupid, truly stupid, or painfully stupid are actually impressed by this notion. I think some religious people fall into each category, but it's painfully stupid people that I feel are the most destructive. The painfully stupid are people who are vain to a fault. People who are easily manipulated into following something, buying something, or believing in something because they want the positive image that's associated with it. Painfully stupid people buy crappy knock off boots because Perez Hilton mentioned them in passing once. Painfully stupid people believe in religions because they want to be rich, powerful, and/or respected - it can be one or all three of those or something else, but the main motivation for painfully stupid people to be religious and especially overtly religious boils down to perception.

These people act in ways that hold true to their perception of how a good person should act instead of just...being a good person. That's the difference between reality and perception. 'He seemed like a good guy' is the positive perception of countless neighbors living next to rapists and murderers across the country, you read about that in the news all the time. Being a good person is different that being perceived as a good person because when you are good, that's reality. When you seem good, that's perception. If we allow reality to be confused with perception, bad things often happen. For instance, perception is reality has ruled the Catholic church for a very long time and now we have thousands of cases of molestation, abuse, and misconduct coming to light because people who were perceived as being pious and good were in actuality creepy old drunk uncle types.

Perception is not reality. In simplest terms - if perception were reality, then reality wouldn't be called reality, it would be referred to as perception. Perception is our own personal take on reality - it's what you get when you have to deal with reality plus human emotions plus complex cognitive ability. Just like I shake my head in pity when I see an over-tanned, under-fed party girl wearing knock off shoes like they're Hollywood itself, I feel terrible for people who are religious for the sake of perception.


Let's Ask Adventists Some Challenging Questions, Please?


I dropped my little baby boy off this morning for his first day of school and after recovering from the feeling of my heart bursting at the fact that my little man is growing up fast, I decided to walk over to the Goodwill to look for something that might work as a Halloween costume for me or Brad for the wedding I'm helping plan for my friend Melissa. I got to the store a bit too early so I wandered over to the row of metal and plastic houses for all the free apartment guides and little nickels and lo and behold, I found a Seventh Day Adventist publication. The theme for this issue is: The Treachery of the CULTS.

Coincidentally, I bought my irony meter because it goes up to 11.

This is 64 pages worth of insight into this religion that I plan to read, but the part of the magazine that bothers me already is the very back. It's a 'Your Bible Questions' section but the questions being posed are ridiculously simplistic and accommodating. Nothing challenging whatsoever:
Q. What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Lord?

Q. If we are under grace, why must we still keep the law?

Q. What would have happened if Eve had not been tempted?

Q. When God Said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness" who else was He talking about?

Q. Does a person have to observe the Sabbath on Saturday to be a true Christian and thus be given eternal life?

Q. Is fasting a church requirement, or is it for individual needs?

Q. What is the Abyss?
Come on guys, we can come up with better questions than that. I plan on mailing a few questions in myself and I encourage you all to do the same. Let me know what your questions are too, I'd like to see what others think is a worthy question for people who are literal worsipers of the bible.
Send questions to:

Your Bible Questions
c/o Signs of the Times
PO Box 5398
Nampa, ID 83653-5398


Coach Baptizes 16 - 17 Year Old Players Without Parent's Permission


LOUISVILLE — A mother is angry about a trip led by the head football coach at Breckinridge County High School took about 20 players on a school bus late last month to his church, where nearly half of them — including her son — were baptized.

Michelle Ammons said her 16-year-old son was baptized without her knowledge and consent, and she is upset that a public school bus was used to take players to a church service — and that the school district's superintendent was there and did not object.

"Nobody should push their faith on anybody else," said Ammons, whose son, Robert Coffey, said coach Scott Mooney told him and other players that the Aug. 26 outing would include only a motivational speaker and a free steak dinner.

"He said it would bring the team together," Robert, a sophomore, said in an interview.

Two other parents, however, said in interviews that their sons told them that Mooney had said the voluntary outing to Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church in Hardin County would include a revival.

Mooney, contacted by phone, said school district officials instructed him not to comment.

But Superintendent Janet Meeks, who is a member of the church and witnessed the baptisms, said she thinks the trip was proper because attendance was not required, and another coach paid for the gas.

Meeks said parents weren't given permission slips to sign but knew the event would include a church service, if not specifically a baptism. She said eight or nine players came forward and were baptized.

"None of the players were rewarded for going and none were punished for not going," Meeks said.

David Friedman, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said in an interview that the trip would appear to violate Supreme Court edicts on the separation of church and state — even if it was voluntary and the school district didn't pay for the fuel.

"If players want to attend the coach's church and get baptized, that's great," Friedman said. But a coach cannot solicit player attendance at school, he said, noting, "Coaches have great power and persuasion by virtue of their position, and they have to stay neutral."

However, Matt Staver, founder and general counsel for Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based group that provides free legal assistance in religious liberty cases, said there was nothing wrong with trip as long as it was voluntary and no public funds were used. He compared it to a coach inviting players to attend a play or to go see a baseball game.

Neither the ACLU nor Liberty Counsel is involved in the Breckinridge County case.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said in school prayer cases that "at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise, or otherwise act in a way that establishes a state religion or religious faith, or tends to do so."

In March, the court rejected an appeal from a high school football coach in New Jersey who wanted to bow his head and kneel during prayers led by his players, despite a school district policy prohibiting it.

Meeks said she would have sought the consent of parents for the baptism of students if they had been "7 or 8 or 9" years old. But she didn't think it was necessary for the players who are "16 or 17."

She said that if Robert's parents didn't know that the outing was going to include a revival service it was because "he apparently was not forthcoming with his parents."

The church's pastor, the Rev. Ron Davis, said that he requires minors to obtain their parents' consent to be baptized, but he added: "Sometimes 16-year-olds look like 18 years. We did the best we could."

He said the event on Aug. 26 "was a great service" and that attendance by the players was strictly voluntary.

"I trust the coach 100%," he said of Mooney. "He is a fine young man and he is sure not going to manipulate anyone."

Two parents, Tim Bruington and Eric Vertress, said in interviews that they knew through their children that the trip would include a revival-type service.

Bruington said his son, Tyler, a senior, decided not to go. Vertress said his son, Matthew, elected to attend and that his mother drove to the church separately for the service.

Ammons, who lives in Big Spring, said that she is a Baptist but her husband, Danny, is Catholic, and that both feel like their son should wait until he is 18 to make important decisions on religion.

"We felt he was brainwashed," she said.

She said she was prepared to drop the matter until she found out that Meeks attended the service. She said she consulted a lawyer in Elizabethtown but hasn't decided what action she will take.

"They have no right to take my son on a school bus across county lines to be a church to be baptized," she said.

While 16 years old is, in my opinion, old enough to start looking into religions and making decisions for themselves, having a football coach ask one of his or her players to go to church while at school and then using state property to get to the church, regardless of who bought the gas for the trip, is a clear violation of the establishment clause. That coach was promoting a specific religion to his players and he was doing so on government property while in a position of influence over minors. This is ridiculous that anyone involved would even feign surprise that parents might be upset. While I am of the opinion that a 16 year old is old enough to make their own religious decisions, I don't consider a coach's influence in attending this kind of event an example of a kid making up their own mind about anything. Also, I might be ok with Tristan going to something like this when he's 16 but that doesn't mean everyone should be ok with their 16 year olds attending which is why asking permission is expected. It's not a matter of 'it was voluntary so the school didn't have to' it's a matter of respect.

The Maria Bamford Show - Faith


Thanks for the link, Mike.


The Supernatural Is More Comforting Than Saying 'I Don't Know'

I ran across a story online that is supposed to be a kind of cute, charming tale but I couldn't help but see it as a perfect example of the human need to assign labels to things they don't understand or can't have full understanding of, even if those labels are supernatural or, in this case, fantastical.

Please consider this photo:
For a closer look at the encircled entity in the photo, here you go:
What do you think this is a picture of? A beetle? A butterfly? Well, the person who took the picture has evidently exhausted the internet looking up bugs and other explanations and in her non-professional opinion it can't be any of them. In fact, there is only one explanation:
'I think it must be a fairy,' she said yesterday as she made the picture public for the first time.
...Seriously? Ok, Mrs. Bacon, you must have gotten a good look at the creature to take a picture of it, what did you yourself see, regardless of what we can see in this slightly blurry pic?
Mrs Bacon, 55, said she was not even looking through the camera at the time she took the picture. Instead she simply clicked the button while holding it at arm's length out of the back door while chatting with relatives in her kitchen after dinner.

OK. So you were having dinner and chatting and decided to take a picture out the patio door without looking over at all, took this picture with a blurry looking figure which resembles a winged beetle in the frame and decided it can't be a beetle or any other insect, it must be a fairy. Surely you've sent this picture to someone who is an expert in local wildlife, someone who studies bugs or something? Surely you've talking to someone with the credentials to say for certain that this is NOT a bug, right?

Not so much. Evidently, she's shown the photo to a few people:
'No one I've shown the photos to has come up with any plausible explanation as to what the figure is.' Mrs Bacon insists her photograph, taken in 2007, involved no sleight of hand. She said she had been reluctant to show it off widely for fear of being branded 'nutty'. 'I used to like fairy stories as a child, but I can't claim to have ever seen one before or since,' she said
So the plausible explanation you decided on is that it's a fairy? There's a good reason for your hesitation lady...you do in fact seem a bit nutty.

Now, I honestly don't think this woman is nuts, I think she's probably a nice lady who took a picture of something she couldn't understand and so she did what people usually do which is affix an explanation to the photo which satisfies her personal requirements in regard to understanding. We seem to have an issue as humans with the concept of not knowing. Humans would rather create angry jealous deities, strange and often restrictive superstitions, fanciful characters and other supernatural explinations for occurances rather than admit that we don't know something - even when it's rational to assume that not knowing something is far from a permanent state of being.

Monkey Girl FAQ - Evolution and ID Facts and Myths


To be sure, one of the more trying aspects of reading Monkey Girl was listening to the misguided and, at times, embarrassingly incorrect opinions people of the town of Dover had concerning evolution - especially people who were aggressively pushing the ID curriculum. Here is a FAQ from Edward Humes, the author of Monkey Girl, which was put together as a direct response to the kind of information and misinformation he ran across when researching for the book:

MONKEY GIRL: Evolution Facts and Myths

  • Myth: Evolutionary theory holds that life on Earth, including humans, arose by luck or random chance.
  • Fact: Evolution is mindless, but never random. Variations (in height, strength, intelligence, disease resistance, etc.) occur naturally among members of every species, from jalapeƱos to humans. Variations that help individuals survive (and reproduce) become concentrated in later generations, gradually transforming a species. Variations that pose a disadvantage are weeded out of the gene pool through the death of individuals or the extinction of whole species. This “natural selection” is evolution’s main engine.
  • Myth: Evolutionary theory states that man evolved from monkeys.
  • Fact: Evolutionary theory states that man and monkeys share a common ancestor that was neither man nor monkey, but possessed qualities passed on to each. Every species on Earth has an ancestor in common with every other species – some dating back millions of years, some hundreds of millions, others dating back billions of years. One implication of common ancestry is that there are far more extinct species than living ones; evidence in the fossil record and in living DNA suggests that more than 99 percent of creatures that have lived on Earth are now extinct.
  • Myth: Belief in evolution requires atheism or leads to it.
  • Fact: Most scientists accept the validity of evolutionary theory AND believe in God. Charles Darwin was trained to be a preacher and wrote that evolution and belief in God were completely compatible (with evolution contradicting only biblical literalism). It is true that Darwin grew to doubt the existence of God, but not because of evolution. He lost his faith when his young daughter, Annie, died.
  • Myth: Evolutionary theory asserts that life arose from nonliving chemicals in Earth’s primordial environment — a process called abiogenesis, popularly referred to as “from goo to you.”
  • Fact: Evolutionary theory has nothing to do with the beginning of life. It explains how life forms change over time, and does not attempt to explain how life began in the first place. Thus, evolutionary theory has nothing to do with creation but only change.
  • Myth: There is more factual evidence to support the biblical account of creation than evolution.
  • Fact: There is more scientific evidence, laboratory testing and direct observation to support evolutionary theory than virtually any other scientific theory, including gravitational theory* and the big bang theory. No credible evidence has yet falsified the theory of evolution, while new discoveries Darwin never dreamt of, such as the unraveling of the human genome, have supported his theory. On the other hand, there is no evidence outside of the Bible itself to support the Genesis creation and flood stories, and considerable evidence of inaccuracies and contradictions in Genesis’s description of the physical universe (such as a flat and motionless earth at the center of the universe). This is why many theologians, as well as the doctrines of mainstream churches and synagogues, avoid literal readings of Genesis in favor of metaphorical interpretations.
  • Myth: Intelligent Design is a scientific theory that has detected scientific evidence of God. It is a legitimate scientific rival for the theory of evolution.
  • Fact: Intelligent Design is a non-biblical form of creationism that avoids overtly religious references but posits an unnamed master “designer” by claming certain features in biology — particularly DNA and the complex molecular “machines” inside living cells — appear to have been designed, in the same way humans design software and complex devices. Because it posits a supernatural process — an intelligent designer fashioning life and the universe — it falls outside what is conventionally considered the realm of science, which is generally defined as the search for natural explanations for natural phenomena. This is why evolution is a scientific idea, while Intelligent Design is seen by many as a religious idea.
  • Myth: the modern Intelligent Design movement was conceived by scientists to further human knowledge and understanding.
  • Fact: The modern Intelligent Design movement was conceived by a lawyer in order to overthrow evolutionary theory and bring God “back” to public school classrooms.
  • Myth: The teaching of evolution in public schools has undermined belief in God.
  • Fact: Only one fifth of Americans believe humans evolved from earlier species.
  • Fact: Sixty-four percent of Americans are creationists (meaning they believe humans were created directly by God, as in the biblical Genesis).
  • Fact: About half of Americans believe God created the Earth and all life less than ten thousand years ago.
  • Fact: A majority of Americans — including President Bush — believes evolution, intelligent design, and creationism should all be taught in public schools equally.
  • Fact: The more educated a person is, the more likely that person will accept the validity of evolution and reject creationism (65 percent of Americans who attended graduate school believe evolutionary theory is scientific and well-supported by the evidence; 52 percent of those with bachelor’ degrees accept evolution; 20 percent of Americans with high school educations or less believe evolutionary theory is well supported by the facts).
  • Fact: 98 percent of scientists in the nation and world accept scientific evidence that the earth is four billion years old and that primitive life first appeared on the planet three billion years ago.
  • Fact: A majority of Americans who reject evolutionary theory as invalid have no clear or accurate understanding of what it is they are rejecting.

    *There is, of course, no doubt that gravity exists, but the understanding of how and why it effects space and time is surprisingly incomplete when it comes to laboratory evidence. For instance, the existence of gravitational waves is predicted by gravitational theory, but despite determined efforts by physicists for many years, such waves have never been directly detected. Evolution, on the other hand, has been observed directly in the laboratory and in nature innumerable times.


Scalia, Catholic, Contradicts Fellow Justice To Protect His Own


Last year in May, the Connecticut Supreme Court granted the request of four newspapers for the release of over 12,000 pages pertaining to a group of 23 cases which alleged sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic clergy which were settled out of court in 2001. The Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese requested a stay with the intention of asking for an extended stay from the US supreme court, which was granted.

Initially the Diocese petitioned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and she declined the request for an extended stay. So what did the Diocese do next? They asked another judge, a judge who also happens to be a conservative and devout Catholic, Justice Antonin Scalia and he decided the entire court should consider the case, effectively granting them a short reprieve from releasing the records until the court case is considered at the end of September.

The reaction to this obviously biased action was not shocking:
"The appeal to the court's most stridently Catholic member, whose son is a priest, smacks of desperation and favoritism," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
So why does the church want to fight so hard to keep the records from being released? Any reason beyond the obvious embarrassment of having their already well-known (and evidently accepted among the Catholic community) actions being made glaringly public? Well, the Catholic church protects their own.
The records have been under seal since the diocese settled the cases in 2001. They could provide details on how retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan handled the allegations when he was bishop in Bridgeport from 1988 to 2000.
It shouldn't be upsetting or even surprising to see religious figures in positions of power helping out their fellow sect-specific theists, regardless of the integrity of the position they hold, but I still find this disappointing. The Catholic church is guilty of willfully protecting pedophile priests for years, they've made no real apologies for this, and they're still only interested in covering their own asses. Disgusting.


Wal-Mart Sized Mega Churches Met With Protest


A problem some smaller communities are having is a recent insurgence of mega-churches, mosques and synagogues. These structures are huge, have an impact on the wildlife, water supplies, and landscape, and often inspire reflexive feelings of discomfort among townspeople who are accustomed to their small corner churches with tastefully understated steeples and manageable crowds on Sunday who have no problem fitting into the parking lot.

One such struggle between God's house and the public can be found in Global Mission Church in Silver Spring, Maryland:
Global Mission Church, a predominantly Korean-American congregation in Silver Spring with nearly 2,000 members, has purchased the 120-acre site straddling Frederick and Montgomery counties at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain. The three-story, 138,000-square-foot building would include a sanctuary for 1,160. Senior Pastor Dennis M. Kim - no relation to Manbae - says the Baptist church is simply following its membership, which clustered around Washington when it began 35 years ago, but has since migrated into Gaithersburg, Germantown and Frederick.

The staff of the Frederick County Planning Commission has recommended the site plan be approved. But after area residents raised objections at a commission hearing in July, the church attempted to ingratiate itself with the community at the open house last week at the Frederick Holiday Inn. Members laid on a spread of hors d'oeuvres while a string quartet from the Global Mission Church played. Architects, engineers and landscapers staffed information tables to respond to questions about the building project.

Among the 100 or so neighbors who crowded the room, there were many. Meg Menke of nearby Barnesville expressed concern about the church's carbon footprint. If 1,200 people travel three to a car 20 miles each way for services, she said, "we're talking 16,000 miles, whether they come all at once or not.

"In this day and age, we like to think of ourselves as being a little more enlightened about global stewardship and climate change," said Menke, who chairs the Barnesville Planning Commission. "I understand there hasn't been discussion about green architecture, geothermal energy and photoelectric. Where are energy sources coming from?"
This is a really good question. I would have not thought about this line of concern to be honest since my initial reaction to any mega-church construction plan is a reflexive 'ew, no.' I think that I would be far less opposed to these behemoth structures if they did focus and dedicate their building plans to being as green as possible. The funds that go into paying for these structures are 100% donated and the church itself doesn't pay taxes. I think a wonderful way to give back to a community which you don't give back to monetarily would be to act as a kind of guinea pig for new 'green' architecture and structural projects. There are plenty of government subsidies to be had by using these 'green'
Others said the church would jam up area roads and drain the area aquifer. Christine Kefauver said her family had lived around Sugarloaf Mountain for generations, and recounted past efforts to limit the surrounding development.

"When we see that church," she said, "it reminds me of driving down to [Interstate] 495 and seeing the Mormon Temple."
Church officials say the comparison is unfair. They say a balloon test showed that trees would obscure the church's highest point - an 85-foot spire - from passing traffic. Manbae Kim said more urban sites were prohibitively expensive; Dennis Kim said regulations in Montgomery County were too restrictive.

I have to assume that this is a reference to a Mormon temple in the area which is imposing on the rest of the landscape because of its size and placement, but when I read it the first time it struck me as a kind of childish back and forth. "you guys would be like the Mormons!" "Take it back!"
"Churches are doing meaningful ministries in the community," the senior pastor said, and named efforts to counsel families, combat drugs and clean up communities. "With no churches in the community, we would lose many good things. That's why we must survive and we must continue to serve. That's our purpose. That's why we are here."
Ok, now I have a problem. Scare tactics don't sit well with me and it sounds an awful lot like this pastor is trying to imply that if the community doesn't bend over and allow these giant churches to be built, their kids will become drug addicts and the community will fall apart. The implication as I read it is that communities thrive and are healthy because of church, not because of the people who comprise the community and that is insulting to everyone in Silver Spring.

It seems like churches are pushing for more and more and when the public stands up and says now wait a minute...the pastors and churches have no problem pulling out the pearl clutching tactics which have served them so well up until now. I'm glad to see people from the community letting their voice be heard when they disagree with these giant structures being built in their towns - it shows that the influence and intimidation of the church is not without limit.


Iowa School District Releases Religious Liberty Guidelines


Spencer School District in Iowa has apparently released a revised religious liberty draft policy which in part includes these guideline:

Teachers shall prepare and teach lessons throughout the year and throughout the curriculum that:

  • Approach religion as academic, not devotional
  • Strive for student awareness of religions, not acceptance of religions
  • Study about religion, but do not practice religion in the classroom
  • Expose students to diversity of religious views, not impose any particular view
  • Educate about a variety of religions, not promote or denigrate religion
  • Inform students about various beliefs, not conform students to any particular belief
  • Demonstrate the impact of economic, social, political and cultural effects of religion throughout history
  • Are age appropriate
Under the teacher training and curriculum section it states:
Further, the proper role for instruction about religion in the public school is in its educational value and not in religious observance or celebration. According to the Supreme Court, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment forbids state action or practices that aid or prefer one religion over another or that aid all religions and thus endorse or show preference for religion over non-religion, while the Free Exercise Clause requires any state actions or practices which interfere with an individual's constitutionally protected religious freedom to be strictly scrutinized.
On the surface, I agree with all of this. I think that if religion can be handled in a completely secular academic manner, it's a powerful tool that can teach kids a lot about history and society. However, I think this person's comment expresses what most of our fears are whenever any school district instills specific policies regarding religion:

This is just a time bomb waiting to explode. With the state of discourse and civility in the nation today, this will only create division, suspicion, distrust, anger, etc. among and btwn students, students & teacher/preacher, students & their family, teacher/preacher & student families, etc.

Here's what will happen. This 'class' will be inacted. Over time, the christian religion discussion will occupy 90-95% of the 'class'. At that time, someone will sue the school and the school will drop the class rather than amend the content.

Want your kid to learn religion? Do it your self, send them to a religious school or bible study. When churches, of all religions, start paying taxes then maybe we can discuss using tax money to teach religions. This isn't about education at all, it's about pushing an agenda. Those supporting this would very likely be the first to elect cutting a class they deem 'liberal'.

And speaking of cutting, with budgets the way they are, why is there money for this? I think it should be on a list of ALL options on how to spend the money this would require so it can be considered along with other items (classes, supplies, resources, tools, etc) as to which is most worthy of this expense. But that won't happen.

Also, I take exception to this statement "protecting the liberty rights of students of all faiths and no faith.". Who's to say that not believing in a religion means a person has 'no faith'? I have faith in science, nature, etc.

I don't think our country is ready to incorporate religion into the public school curriculum in a secular manner and because of that, I don't think it should be introduced at all.

Do You Avoid Religiously Inspired Art Or Music?


People draw inspiration from an endless list of different sources - love, birth, sex, jealousy, war, god, death to name a very select few - and the outcome of this inspiration is often beautiful and terrible, touching and uplifting, infuriating and bold. I've already written that I reject the claim that art and the ability to fully appreciate art is a divine gift, but I have known religious people who could not stand 'atheist' art - music which professes happily or with sorrow that there is no god, paintings which show no reverence for typically sacred imagery or specific subjects and the like. I've even seen this kind of behavior exhibited by atheists in regard to religiously inspired art or art which has religious imagery involved. One specific reaction I have heard is this:
I spent 17 years of my life feeling ashamed and afraid about eternity. I don't want to waste any more of my life 'appreciating' anything religious.
I understand this position, but I certainly don't personally share it. I feel that some people have had such a negative experience with religion that religiously inspired art seems to have the same affect on them as a person who was raped looking at Rape of the Sabine Woman by Giovanni Bologna - while I can look at the sculpture and feel sorrowful for the Sabine woman or uncomfortable with the rapist who has her held in his grip but still appreciate the form of the sculpture and the skill with which the piece was made, a person who has experienced the crime might only be able to see the ugly subject matter and may even be forced to re-live their own experiences.

As I said, personally I really like art and a good amount of music that is religiously inspired. I feel like the passion and intensity that is often put into these kinds of creations is evident and adds to the impact of the painting or sculpture or what have you. I don't believe that you have to be religious in order to appreciate the power that religious imagery has - from comics to coins to paintings, religious symbols and themes are often gripping subject matter whether the goal of the artist is to show reverence or disdain.


Racist Jesus Puppets?


I don't...I don't even know what to say. But on that same vein...

(Thanks to martinpribble and shiidii for the heads up on the first vid.)


The Biblical Unicorn - Believe In It Or Burn

I've never really studied the bible outside of comparative religions classes a little bit of fruitless reading on my own which left me tired and confused, so some of the more subtle nuances of the book have escaped me. The more I learn about all of the claims the bible makes, the more I wonder how anyone with any amount of self respecting intelligence could possibly literally follow it as if it is their god's unfiltered word.

For instance, did you know that the bible mentions unicorns? AIG (the people who brought you that bastion of absurdity, the creation museum) spells it all out for us -

Some people claim the Bible is a book of fairy tales because it mentions unicorns. However, the biblical unicorn was a real animal, not an imaginary creature. The Bible refers to the unicorn in the context of familiar animals, such as peacocks, lambs, lions, bullocks, goats, donkeys, horses, dogs, eagles, and calves (Job 39:9–12.) In Job 38–41, God reminded Job of the characteristics of a variety of impressive animals He had created, showing Job that God was far above man in power and strength.

Job had to be familiar with the animals on God’s list for the illustration to be effective. God points out in Job 39:9–12 that the unicorn, “whose strength is great,” is useless for agricultural work, refusing to serve man or “harrow (plow) the valley.” This visual aid gave Job a glimpse of God’s greatness. An imaginary fantasy animal would have defeated the purpose of God’s illustration.

Modern readers have trouble with the Bible’s unicorns because we forget that a single-horned feature is not uncommon on God’s menu for animal design. (Consider the rhinoceros and narwhal.) The Bible describes unicorns skipping like calves (Psalm 29:6), traveling like bullocks, and bleeding when they die (Isaiah 34:7). The presence of a very strong horn on this powerful, independent-minded creature is intended to make readers think of strength.

The absence of a unicorn in the modern world should not cause us to doubt its past existence. (Think of the dodo bird. It does not exist today, but we do not doubt that it existed in the past.). Eighteenth century reports from southern Africa described rock drawings and eyewitness accounts of fierce, single-horned, equine-like animals. One such report describes “a single horn, directly in front, about as long as one’s arm, and at the base about as thick . . . . [It] had a sharp point; it was not attached to the bone of the forehead, but fixed only in the skin.”

The elasmotherium, an extinct giant rhinoceros, provides another possibility for the unicorn’s identity. The elasmotherium’s 33-inch-long skull has a huge bony protuberance on the frontal bone consistent with the support structure for a massive horn. In fact, archaeologist Austen Henry Layard, in his 1849 book Nineveh and Its Remains, sketched a single-horned creature from an obelisk in company with two-horned bovine animals; he identified the single-horned animal as an Indian rhinoceros. The biblical unicorn could have been the elasmotherium.

Assyrian archaeology provides one other possible solution to the unicorn identity crisis. The biblical unicorn could have been an aurochs (a kind of wild ox known to the Assyrians as rimu). The aurochs’s horns were very symmetrical and often appeared as one in profile, as can be seen on Ashurnasirpal II’s palace relief and Esarhaddon’s stone prism. Fighting rimu was a popular sport for Assyrian kings. On a broken obelisk, for instance, Tiglath-Pileser I boasted of slaying them in the Lebanon mountains.

Extinct since about 1627, aurochs, Bos primigenius, were huge bovine creatures. Julius Caesar described them in his Gallic Wars as:

“a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, color, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied . . . . Not even when taken very young can they be rendered familiar to men and tamed. The size, shape, and appearance of their horns differ much from the horns of our oxen. These they anxiously seek after, and bind at the tips with silver, and use as cups at their most sumptuous entertainments.”

The aurochs’ highly prized horns would have been a symbol of great strength to the ancient Bible reader.

One scholarly urge to identify the biblical unicorn with the Assyrian aurochs springs from a similarity between the Assyrian word rimu and the Hebrew word re’em. We must be very careful when dealing with anglicized transliterated words from languages that do not share the English alphabet and phonetic structure. However, similar words in Ugaritic and Akkadian (other languages of the ancient Middle East) as well as Aramaic mean “wild bull” or “buffalo,” and an Arabic cognate means “white antelope.”

However, the linguistics of the text cannot conclusively prove how many horns the biblical unicorn had. While modern translations typically translate re’em as “wild ox,” the King James Version (1611), Luther’s German Bible (1534), the Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate translated this Hebrew word with words meaning “one-horned animal.”

The importance of the biblical unicorn is not so much its specific identity—much as we would like to know—but its reality. The Bible is clearly describing a real animal. The unicorn mentioned in the Bible was a powerful animal possessing one or two strong horns—not the fantasy animal that has been popularized in movies and books. Whatever it was, it is now likely extinct like many other animals. To think of the biblical unicorn as a fantasy animal is to demean God’s Word, which is true in every detail.

...I just. I don't really know what to say. All I can think of is how Lisa Frank much have had some divine inspiration when she was designing my trapper keeper in 7th grade.


Why Are You A Vocal Atheist?


In a recent post regarding the Cherry Creek Public Schools lawsuit where the FFRF sued over a program which asked the children of the public school to "spend one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution” Hemant Mehta asked "Should atheists fight these seemingly “minor” battles? Do they have a meaningful impact?"

My response to this question is a resounding yes because every infringement on our rights, however tiny or seemingly insignificant, is an infringement just the same and is just as unacceptable as the most overt attempt at blurring the separation of church and state. This particular story hit close to home with me because religious pressures and interventions in public schools is the very occurrence which inspired me to become more vocal about my atheism and my rights as an atheist in the first place.

I have never been shy about my atheism. When asked, I have always told people that I was either an atheist or, during some parts of my life, I would say I had Buddhist philosophies but didn't feel like Buddhism was my religion because I didn't participate in it in a religious way. Whether long winded or succinct, the answer was always pretty much the same - I'm an atheist.

The catalyst for my becoming more vocal in my atheism was my son getting old enough to go to school. I started researching schools and curriculum and was astonished at what I found. A lot of schools even in my beloved and presumably progressive Washington state were ducking huge chunks of biology (specifically the theory of evolution) in order to appease religious groups. Looking into the matter further I understood why they did it - religious groups had a keen way of rallying public support behind their bullheaded stupidity in a way which turned a religiously based complaint into a public outcry.

I don't want my son to grow up learning apologetic history or inaccurate and incomplete science. I want my son to have more opportunities than I had and I want him to be a part of the future generations of this country that help defeat the "stupid American" stereotype. When I looked into the roadblocks that existed between my son and a proper basic education to get him ready for college, I perceived religious censorship of knowledge as one of the major hurdles my son would have to overcome and I decided that was entirely unacceptable.

So I stopped being quiet and silently rolling my eyes and started speaking up when religious groups try to stifle me and my son's opportunities and rights in favor of their own personal beliefs. I don't know if I'll ever stop speaking up now - it may not be much in regard to society at large, but I feel that speaking up when you feel that something is wrong is the least we can do for ourselves and one another.