The Westboro Baptist Church To Protest In Portland


If there's one thing almost all people regardless of religiosity agree on, it's that the Westboro Baptist Church is super duper crazy pants.

Evidently the WBC is coming to my area, though they're still too far away for me to go and protest which kind of makes me sad. I would love to emulate the recent reaction to the WBC in other areas by standing across the street with a big sign that says "God Hates Flags" shouting things at passerbys like 'I think you're doing OK!', 'I like your shirt!', and 'You look like a good cuddler!'

Evidently they are coming to the Portland area to picket schools which they feel are too progressive when it comes to treating gay people like, you know, people:

WBC plans to picket outside Grant High School in Portland on June 3, and Heritage High School in Vancouver on June 1. Apparently both schools practice a progressive, humane and tolerant attitude towards the gay and lesbian community, an attitude which the hate group finds abhorrent.

What a delightful bunch.

If you're in the area, I encourage you to go stage a counter protest, and be sure to invite the news as well. Wear a funny hat or a costume, maybe bring some recorders, bucket drums and kazoos and turn it into a party. The worst possible reaction to these people is for anyone to act as though they're being taken seriously. Rather, use it as an excuse to get together with like minded individuals and have some fun at the expense of a group that fully deserves to publicly be made fun of.


Is Atheism Also Based On Belief?


Blah. You can skip this post. Why? Because if you read this, you're probably an atheist and so you've probably heard this before. Why then am I going to say what has been said to the point that I'm annoying myself by saying anything more about it? Because it keeps coming up! It's the point that will not die, the argument that has no end, the correction which is continually ignored!

To say that atheism is a lack of belief in god is not the same thing as saying that atheism is believing there is no god.

I know, I know. Sorry to waste your time, but evidently this is STILL an issue for some people:

Casey Doran of Seattle scolded me, as others did, for not defining atheism correctly. "I wonder how much you bothered to research what atheism actually is before you wrote this piece. Atheism is the rejection of the claim of a positive belief that god(s) exist, not the assertion that no god(s) exist. It's an important distinction, the default position is a response to a claim, not a claim in and of itself, and I would hope that the press (especially the print press) would work a little harder to get it right."

My exact words were: "Atheists simply believe there is no God, or no evidence to support the existence of God." Isn't "rejection of the claim" similar to a belief (claim) there is no God?

Atheists reject the positive belief there is a God. Well, I accept the positive belief there was a man called Jesus; that is my belief, but that doesn't necessarily hold true in some people's eyes.

Just because a person claims there is no God — that is their belief — doesn't necessarily make it true in some people's eyes.

Look, there is a big difference between saying 'you know, I just don't think, given what we know, that it makes sense to say for certain that a god exists.' and saying 'There is no god, no possibility, won't even consider it.' Trying to sell both versions of opinion as one in the same is not correct.

Given this, I think that the two last paragraphs about Jesus and belief amount to a strawman argument. Yes, claiming that there is no god is a statement of belief. But the majority of atheists don't claim to know for certain that there isn't a god, they state that there is insufficient evidence to believe that there is one.

Ahh, but what about those atheists who would self identify as a 7 on Dawkins scale? Though not representative of all atheists, the authors definition of atheism would apply to them. I'm not one, but I can understand their position of sure. Let's look at both sides of belief regarding god:

Some atheists feel comfortable stating that there is no god. Those atheists are stating a well supported belief based on what we know at this time to be true about the universe, the earth, etc., but a belief just the same. Theists claim that there is a god. Those theists are stating a poorly supported belief based largely on feelings, anecdotal evidence, or old books that are largely unverifiable.

I think it's incorrect for the author to try to insinuate that all beliefs are created equal when they obviously aren't.

Regardless, the initial definition of atheism that the author suggests - Atheists believe that there is no god- is incorrect. If they honestly don't understand the difference between saying something doesn't exist and saying that there is insufficient proof of something existing, that's a personal problem.


Republicans Launch Site - Internet LOLs


I don't do a lot of political or non-atheist posts, but sometimes I just have to step out of the box because sometimes, the universe just makes me happy. And I want to share.

While I was consumed in something random, my fiancé decided to watch what ended up being a commercial for this truly amazing new Republican-launched and endorsed website called America Speaking Out.

Zomg, this website is amazing.

The funniest thing about the site, of course, is that the Republicans who launched it seemed to think that they were somehow crafting some new, more dignified chunk of the internet out of some barren unclaimed digital land. They seemed to really believe that because they were the ones to launch this open to anyone who registers site, that it would be mainly used by Republicans and thus, reflect Republican ideals. They seemed to think that the rest of the internet was going to - for not reason at all - respect the fact that they were looking for earnest contributions and serious behavior.

Evidently in this case, the internet is serious business.

But of course it's not! I can't believe anyone is even trying to claim that at this point. What are you, new?

The commercial my fiancé was watching seemed to convey the message of - 'Hey, we found something really cool called 'The Internet'. We made a page! Come leave a comment! Republicans are awesome!'

Please tell me how that is essentially any different than, oh, every teenage goth and and self proclaimed 'poet' who has ever started a blog or website ever? Change the word 'Republicans' to the name of a school mascot and change the 'leave a comment' to 'sign my dreambook' and you have any given Geocities site ever made. Do you remember Geocities? Yeah, that was like 1995.

Pretty innovative, guys.

If the point of this failure of an experiment was to show, without a doubt, that the current political leaders within the Republican party are pathetically out of touch with reality - bravo! The guy on the commercial (Rep. Mike Spence) If I were a Republican, I would be embarrassed by this most recent failure to stay politically relevant. Of course, if I were a Republican, I would probably be used to the feeling by now.

Here are some of my favorite posts. I seriously encourage everyone to go take a peek. It's at least as awesome as LOLcats.

Aramaic as the Official Language of the US. We do this to respect two facts: this is a Christian Nation and Jesus spoke Aramaic, therefore, that should be our language as well. Anyone who refuses to speak the language of our Lord should be deported back to where they came from. This includes the Native Americans.

Gays are horrible, horrible people, but we can't pick and choose parts of Leviticus, so let's deny equal rights to all people who fall into the following group: Men who shave, anyone who touches a menstruating woman, people who eat pork, people who eat shellfish, people who work on Sundays. They're all horrible, horrible people.

Attach an electric dog collar to Glen Beck's neck, and deliver a powerful shock every time he tries to associate health care to Fascist Germany. THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SYSTEMATIC EXTERMINATION OF MILLIONS OF JEWS AND PROVIDING PEOPLE WITH AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE.

And I actually suport this last one:

We should pass a law that makes politicians replace their flag pins with the logo of their corporate sponsors.. It would make it much easier to determine who they are really representing


Terrorists, Christians, Privilege and Rights.

I am a self identifying liberal, so I was super delighted when my fiancé sent me a picture he took the other day:

Oh please, buddy, call yourself a wahhhbulance and shut up. I wish I could talk to this person and just ask him/her what rights they seriously feel terrorists have that Christians don't.

I have a sneaking suspicion, though keep in mind this is all conjecture on my part, that the 'rights' this person is referring to in regard to terrorists is something we would all identify as the rights outlined in the constitution while the 'rights' this person is referring to in regard to Christians is something everyone who isn't Christian would identify as 'privilege'.

The problem with privilege is that the ones who have it aren't going to be the ones who see it. Not until those privileges start getting taken away. Some Christians, like sticker person here, have a hard time dealing with the fact that while they are taught by their religious leaders that they are persecuted, there is a mountain of evidence that exists as proof to the contrary. Sticker person here seems like the kind of Christian that will earnestly argue that because their parents were allowed to say, pray in school, that they should be allowed to do the same and in fact, not letting them do it is somehow violating their 'Christian rights.'

But there are no Christian rights. In fact, the rights we have as Americans were pretty carefully spelled out so that they would apply to everyone equally. The very notion of Christian rights is entirely un -American.

I know, somewhere in Oklahoma a fundigelical's head just exploded.

Look, in the unlikely event that a known terrorist wanted to, for example, pray in school, guess what? He or she would be told the same thing as any other person - sorry, that's illegal according to the establishment clause of the United States constitution.

If a Christian were to commit an act of terrorism (and there are plenty of examples of Christian terrorists, by the way), they would be treated the same as any other terrorist - they would be arrested and put on trial.

I know, it's just a damn sticker and it's meant to be glib and snarky and if that's all it's meant to do, then ok. Nonsensical statements can be hilarious. But it seems like there's some point trying to be made as well and if that's the case, then somebody fill the bathtub cuz we got a fail whale coming in for a landing.


Hollywood 253 - Jesus 4 Less


I try to get involved in local atheist activities that I find interesting, especially undertakings which I feel are exceptionally broad in scope or are particularly challenging. Recently I was told about a movie being produced in my area, presumably by atheists though I imagine atheist friendly believers might be involved as well, and possibly just some people with senses of humor who are more interested in the project for its entertainment value than anything else. The premise of the film is as follows:

Aaron and Jeremy, two wayward twenty something atheists work at Jesus-4-Less, a downtown Tacoma Christian bookstore. They find themselves competing with Christ-Mart, their rival in the bible business, for acolytes and sales; and with each other for the affections of an irresistible and mysterious new co-worker, Michelle.

Amid protests, breasts, and homosexuality with the help of baby Jesus and a midget, the guys find themselves navigating the issues of fundamentalism, love, lust, greed, and marijuana in this dark comedy. Jesus 4 Less is sure to leave you wondering, offended, and most importantly laughing.

Right now the group seems to be in the midst of fundraising, which is always a tricky task to take on and requires a lot of work that often seems thankless. I'm happy to do my part in trying to promote them and their undertaking, and I hope to be able to continue to chip in any support I can along the way.

If you're in the area, I encourage you to come down this Wednesday, June 2nd to the Comedy Underground in Seattle and support this group. It's only 5 bucks, and you might win a spot in the movie (if that's your thing) or other prizes they'll be giving away as people come. If you're not in my area, I'd like to encourage you to look for projects in your area that you have interest in supporting and get involved. It's fun and it helps shape the face of the community to be more representative of the people that make it up.

Correlation, Causation, Tap Water, and the Power of Folklore


If I am brushing my teeth and my stomach begins to ache, would it be logical for me to assume that brushing one's teeth causes stomach aches? Of course not. Logically, it's important to remember that correlation does not imply causation.

Sometimes it's easy to spot when someone is confusing these two concepts, but it seems like when it comes to religion, suddenly correlation proves causation and if you don't believe it then you're just too closed-minded to see it.

This story - let's just cut to the chase and say that I'm too closed-minded to see it. :)

Hundreds of people have flocked to a remote Territory community in search of healing after news a woman had been cured by "holy" water from a miracle tap.

Hermannsburg precinct manager Heidi Williams said people had come from up to 500km away to access the tap, often loading up 44 gallon drums with water.

The water has even been taken to people who are being treated in Adelaide hospitals.

"Everyone's talking about the holy water," Ms Williams said. "The local people have just been coming here in droves, filling up bottles, all from one lady's claim of it healing her."

Healed her how you ask? They never really say, they just say she claimed to be healed after she drank from the tap on the side of a Lutheran church. The reason people believe her, or rather care very little about her personal story but are still making a big fuss about the event, all started with a Virgin Mary sighting in the area almost 29 years ago. That evidently primed the locals for the big magic spring to-do of '95, and almost a predictably 15 years later we have lady drinking off the tap and getting better from some illness no one cares to specify.

Locals believe the tap could create the same hysteria as a "holy spring" that emerged in the Catholic community of Santa Teresa about 15 years ago.

The spring appeared after an art teacher, a white woman of very strong faith, took Aboriginal women on a pilgrimage to the small village of Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared in 1981.

The Aboriginal women returned to Santa Teresa filled with powerful belief.

Soon after, the son of one Aboriginal pilgrim was walking outside his Territory town when he saw a spring gushing from a hillside. The women declared the spring holy and a crosswas erected.

Yep. She drank some water, felt better, therefore the water made her feel better and it's a miracle.

Miracles sure seem like a bit of a dollar store item these days.


Proposed Christian Prison: F*** You, Constitution!


So, there is a company that wants to create a privatized, voluntary prison run by and solely meant for Christians in Oklahoma.

A private firm proposing a prison in Wakita with all born-again Christian staff and programming does not yet have the commitments for prisoners it needs to begin construction.

Bill Robinson, the founder of Corrections Concepts Inc., a Dallas nonprofit prison ministry that is leading the proposal, said the bonding company that is financing the project will not release funds to begin construction until states or other jurisdictions have agreed to send 285 prisoners to the 624-bed facility.

"We're still working to get the adult facility done," Robinson said.

He said California has expressed an interest in sending adult inmates to Wakita, and he is in discussion with Kansas about it. Talks with Oklahoma are "in limbo."

The project has the support of city leaders in Wakita, a town near the Kansas border, and some civic leaders in the area.

"We'd be very supportive of it," said John Criner, the mayor of Enid, the largest nearby city. "We can't put any money into it, but I'd be more than happy to get him a resolution supporting the project."

Criner said Enid, which is 30 miles south of Wakita, was close enough to reap indirect economic benefit from the proposed prison.

Mayor Arden Chaffee of nearby Alva said the prison would have a positive effect on the area economy.

"It sounds like a great idea. I just don't know if they can finance something like that, which is a Christian concept, with public money," he said.

The concept of an all-Christian private prison has drawn the attention of a Washington, D.C., civil liberties group.

The group, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, sent a letter to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections asking it not to send prisoners to the proposed prison.

Alex Luchenitser, the group's senior litigation counsel, said its chief concern is that public funds would be used for religious worship and instruction. "We think this would be clearly unconstitutional," he said.

The organization also is concerned about possible civil-rights violations of prisoners, and public subsidy of an organization that hires only Christians, he said.

Robinson countered that the prison would be constitutional because inmates would go there voluntarily. He said he has legal opinions that say the prison, as a religious organization, can legally hire only people of like faith.

It seems to me that there are some obvious issues with the constitutionality of this idea, paramount being that a prison sentence is a government imposed sanction put on a person's freedoms after being found guilty of a crime. Isn't a Christian prison a violation of church and state, given that the only reason for the prison's existence is to facilitate the state imposed sanction? It seems to me that if the government is the one saying a person has to go to prison, the prison itself must adhere to the constitution, privatized or not.

Evidently, I'm not alone in feeling like this proposal is kind of, well, illegal. Especially is this proposed prison plans to take advantage of the government subsidies which most (if not all) private prisons depend on in order to shore up the financing for both building and maintaining all off the facets of a prison. If fact it would seem that, because any given state would have to give the go ahead for these religious institutions to be built in the first place, the establishment clause would be violated from the get go.

Americans United asserts it would be unconstitutional for government to support a prison that indoctrinates inmates in one faith and limits hiring based on religion.

“Taxpayers should never be forced to support religious indoctrination,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This scheme is fraught with constitutional problems, and no state should subsidize it.”

In letters to corrections officials, AU attorneys pointed out that a federal appeals court in 2007 struck down public funding of an evangelical Christian program at an Iowa prison. The Christian prison in Oklahoma, they say, would likely meet the same fate.

“If the Department were to provide funding to Corrections Concepts’ prison, indoctrination would be the inevitable result…,” Americans United asserted. “And, just as inevitably, the funding of such indoctrination would violate the Constitution.”

One area of American society I think could use a good dose of reform is the penal system, but I also think it's kind of arrogant for this company and its supporters to assume that taking what seems to be the status quo prison environment and giving it a Christian staff and Christian veneer is somehow an innovative improvement on what we have now.

That, of course, is me giving this corporation the benefit of the doubt.

Considering the fact that privatized prisons are big money makers AND factoring in that right now in America, religion seems to be an easy way for anyone to gain support for even the most convoluted ideas (*ahemTexasboardofeducationahem*), I personally don't see it as likely that this company is working on behalf of good natured Christians looking to make things better. I think this is a potentially lucrative business deal created with a religious slant in the hopes that the well intentioned and the zealous will give it unquestioning support.


Maintaining Perspective As A Vocal Atheist


I ran across what I felt was a really interesting article about something I have never really thought about - clergy who don't believe.

The article referenced a report written by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola of Tufts University, and thankfully provided a link. I thought this study was really interesting and I encourage every atheist out there who has little personal experience with religion to read it, to get a better idea of the reality of religiosity for a lot of people.

Here's an excerpt:

How on earth did we recruit them? By spreading the word discreetly. Eighteen people were contacted to participate between September 2008 and April 2009. Initial recruiting attempts were made via personal contacts (e.g., clergy and seminary acquaintances, non-believing clergy who had retired or left the profession). When approached, potential respondents were told that the intent was to “learn more about the issues that clergy face when their beliefs are not in synch with church teachings.” Dennett mentioned the study at conferences he attended. Ultimately, the five participants came from two sources: two from a list of clergy who had originally contacted the Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) for general information, and three from people who had personally contacted Dan Barker, co-director of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Barker is a former minister and author of two books about losing his religious beliefs. Jim Adams, a retired Episcopal priest, author and the founder of TCPC, provided a list of 28 names. Of those, nine were contacted and two of the nine participated in the study. Four people contacted Dan Barker directly. Of those, two agreed to participate. One contact who was a former clergyman, and therefore not eligible to participate, referred a colleague who then agreed to participate. Three women who expressed interest were not asked to participate: one because she was no longer in a pastoral role and two because their denominations were already represented in the study. Four men declined to participate: two did not follow up after showing initial interest; two others cited concerns about the term “non-believing.” Though neither of them believed in a supernatural god, both strongly self-identified as believers.

But what do they mean by this? Are they perhaps deceiving themselves? There is no way of answering, and this is no accident. The ambiguity about who is a believer and who a nonbeliever follows inexorably from the pluralism that has been assiduously fostered by many religious leaders for a century and more: God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all. This counsel of tolerance creates a gentle fog that shrouds the question of belief in God in so much indeterminacy that if asked whether they believed in God, many people could sincerely say that they don’t know what they are being asked.

This is not just agnosticism, the belief that one does not (or cannot) know whether God exists, but something prior: the belief that one cannot even know which question—if any--is being asked. Many people are utterly comfortable with this curious ignorance; it just doesn’t matter to them what the formulas mean that their churches encourage them to recite. Some churches are equally tolerant of the indeterminacy: as long as you “have faith” or are “one with Jesus” (whatever you think that means) your metaphysical convictions are your own business. But pastors can’t afford that luxury. Their role in life often requires them to articulate, from the pulpit and elsewhere, assertions about these very issues.

I find all five of the stories presented fascinating, and their responses to candid questions about hypocrisy and how they feel amongst their congregations knowing that they don't actually believe in the god they're speaking on behalf of seem honest and understandable, at least to me.

I think it's easy to take a hard nosed approach to theism in all forms when you're an atheist, and I don't think that's necessarily bad, I just feel like I personally at least need to take a step back once in a while and remember that these people I sometimes feel are my opposite, theists, are the same as me except we disagree on an idea. That's all. The degree to which we disagree and the areas that disagreement bleeds into are complicated and are not something that should be regarded as necessarily petty or unimportant by any means, but I think a regular adjustment of perspective is healthy for anyone who feels compelled to take a definite position in such a polarized and often emotional topic of debate.


Christian Congratulates A Fellow Believer For Ignoring Christ


I try to read up on what non atheists are saying about atheists, and a lot of the time I find some really cool blogs and comments and the like, written by people who are at least trying to make sense of the atheist point of view. I should spend some time focused on them, but I found this crazy book review and felt like I just had to share it. The reviewer really hits the ground running with the characterization of atheists as some kind of malevolent, possibly military force coming to rape the minds of the Facebook generation!!

Thank their god they have some lady who isn't afraid to tell Jesus to grow a pair and stop turning the other cheek like a pussy.

The new atheists are on the march. They’re in bookstores. They’re on television. They’re everywhere.

Chilling! We sound super scary!

But nowhere is their effect being felt more than on college campuses and by young people. So invasive is the new atheist movement that in many ways their outlook has become the default mainstream culture.
I don't know how I feel about someone who sees a widely accepted point of view as invasive simply because it's becoming recognized by the younger generations. Isn't that pretty standard social progress? I'd say 'social evolution' but I know how scary the 'E' word is for some religious people.

For too long Christians have been a punch line for militant secularists.
The 'militant atheist' meme has been done to death, hasn't it? What constitutes militant behavior Expressing a point of view? Standing up for equal rights and representation?

It’s time somebody punched back. And Mary Eberstadt’s new book “The Loser Letters” is an unexpected roundhouse to the new atheist movement. I read it last week and urge you to pick it up. (You can click on amazon.com)

“Christians are always at a moral disadvantage because we’re told to turn the other cheek,” said Eberstadt. “So there’s been a lot of playing defense. I’m trying to go on offense.”

Yeah! Damn that Jesus wuss for his lame ass pacifist position! Why were we listening to that huggy hippie in the first place? Oh, wait...
She calls her book “apologetics for the Facebook generation.” And they need it.
The term 'apologetics' and the fact that some religious people feel completely comfortable using the term has baffled me for a while. In fact, when I was first looking into religion and ran across this term, I thought it was an insult until I noticed that it was a term religious people proudly used to label their way of explaining away the crazy and often glaringly obvious fallacies and inconsistencies in their religions. Did they 'take it back' or something?

Anyway, the book the guy is reviewing looks like a lame recycling of the same arguments we've been hearing for years, dressed up in (what must pass for clever in the religious circles) satire. I didn't really pay much attention to the rest of the review, I just thought the beginning was so ridiculous, it was worth repeating for the sake of a giggle. I did go to amazon.com and read the pages available with the 'look inside' feature, which was enough for me to both get the joke and find myself utterly unimpressed.

You go, Christian apologists. Though I hardly see how encouraging one another to proudly shuffle off your Christian values is going to help you make a case for Christianity.


Tea Bagger Dares Local Pastors to Endorse Him From the Pulpit


Some Tea Bagger in South Dakota has decided to double dog dare via a press release pastors across the state to use their position of influence to endorse him for political office, an action which would rightfully jeopardize any participating church's tax exempt status since they would not be playing by the rules of the establishment clause which gives them tax exempt status in the first place.

Shockingly, one pastor of a Baptist (no so shocking) church took him up on the challenge.

One Rapid City pastor has accepted gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie's challenge to defy federal tax law and endorsed Howie from the pulpit.

However, other local religious leaders have dismissed Howie's Pulpit Challenge initiative as legally and pastorally irresponsible.

On May 15, the Rev. H. Wayne Williams, pastor of Liberty Baptist Tabernacle in Rapid City, officially endorsed state Sen. Gordon Howie in his bid for governor during a church service.

Williams did not return a message last week when called by the Journal, but few here expect that his church will face repercussions from the Internal Revenue Service as a result of his sermon. Federal tax code prohibits all tax-exempt organizations, including charities and churches, from endorsing any candidate for public office.

It also forbids those organizations from making donations to or fundraising for a candidate and from "becoming involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any candidate." Those restrictions on political activity for charitable organizations stem from a 1954 amendment to the tax code that historians attribute to then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson's desire to punish certain tax-exempt organizations (not churches) that supported his opponent in the 1954 Texas primary.

Federal courts have upheld those tax-exempt conditions about political activity, most recently in 2000. But the Alliance Defense Fund, which promotes Christian values in the political sphere, encourages pastors such as Williams to openly challenge the IRS and risk their tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization, in hopes that it might lead to a legal challenge and a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Johnson amendment.

It would seem that the current opinion is that it's OK for these institutions to break the law because 'no one is really going to do anything anyway.' Hopefully these churches will continue to push the envelope, to the point where the Christian privilege is forced into the mainstream and we as a nation are similarly forced to deal with it.

It would be disingenuous to insinuate that this moronic Baptist pastor is indicative of the general opinion of the religious leaders in the area, however. Though that seems to be exactly what Howie himself is trying to do.

Howie said Wednesday that his Pulpit Challenge was "getting great response from pastors across the state.

Not from the Rev. Jeff Otterman, pastor of St. James Lutheran Church in Belle Fourche, however. He called Howie's Pulpit Challenge irresponsible and insulting to his congregation.

"The people at St. James are very well-read, and they don't need their pastor telling them how to vote, or who to vote for," Otterman said. "To back one candidate over another seems far-reaching and could alienate a congregation rather than create opportunity for growth."

At Synagogue of the Hills, vice president Wayne Gilbert said its congregants hold divergent political opinions but all agree not to jeopardize the synagogue's tax-exempt status over political activity.

"I don't think any responsible leader of a tax-exempt religious group would be willing to risk tax-exempt status to endorse a candidate," Gilbert said.

Gilbert said the idea "that I should be instructed by a religious leader as to which candidate has the moral or religious high ground is personally insulting to me. I expect religious leaders to offer me insight and guidance into spiritual and moral matters, not secular and political ones."

Craig disagreed, saying pastors have a responsibility to educate their flock on God's laws, including which elected officials do the best job of following those laws. Pastors who don't are "not doing their jobs."

The Rev. Susan Huffman at First Congregational Church in Rapid City believes strongly in the separation of church and state, as did her religious ancestors, the Pilgrims.

"We recall that history and know the many problems that develop when politics and religion become entwined. We encourage our members to vote, but we won't tell them how to vote. We encourage our members to think, but we don't tell them what to think. We don't believe that one political party has a monopoly on the truth."

Even Howie's own pastor, Bishop Lorenzo Kelly at Faith Temple Church in Rapid City, said he has no plans to endorse his friend from the pulpit. "I have encouraged our people to be participants in the political arena and showed them the scriptures that back it up," Kelly said. "But I have not from the pulpit endorsed him. I wouldn't do that. I wouldn't put my church in jeopardy of anything."

It's nice to see that at least some of the religious leaders in the area don't feel it's their job to tell their congregations what to think outside of religion.

I'm very interested to see what comes of this. Like I said, the more churches that do this, the more obvious the Christian privilege becomes and we can all finally address it out in the open. Or, the churches that participate in political endorsements will lose their tax exempt status and very quickly churches will stop playing around in the political arena.


Scientists Can Design Bacteria, Therefore The Universe Was Designed?


Hopefully everyone has heard at least a little bit by now about the first "synthetic bacterium", a copy of an existing bacteria which was created with synthetic DNA. Pretty exciting stuff. What I'm finding interesting is the negative response to the experiment, of course being led by religious institutions and ethics committees. PZ Myers was kind enough to compile a quick reference list of the most ridiculous responses here, but I wanted to write specifically about one response which I felt was exceptionally ridiculous.

Given the effort that went into the synthesis of the total M. genitalium genome, it's hard to envision how unintelligent, undirected processes could have generated life from a prebiotic soup. Though not their intention, Venter's team unwittingly provided empirical evidence that life's components, and consequently, life itself must stem from the work of an Intelligent Designer.

Yes, that popping sound was my head exploding. I hate creationist arguments, mainly because they're often so convoluted that they become difficult for me to argue against. Not because they contain even a small measure of validity, but rather it's hard for me to fathom their position enough to rouse a response. So let me break this down to it's simplest form - the bacterium was designed, which is proof that the universe is designed.


One thing being designed is not proof of everything being designed. I don't understand why people even believe this argument, let alone feel confident sharing the position with others, it seems so blatantly illogical. If a building is painted, is that proof that anything with color is also painted? I hesitate to believe that even my own analogy is accurate, that's how baffling this kind of logic is to me.

In a forum I frequent, someone is trying to argue the same position, only their argument isn't the the bacteria is man made, therefore the universe was also designed, their argument seems even more rudimentary and absurd - Anyone can tell just by looking at it that Stonehenge was designed, therefore the universe, being obviously far more impressive, was also designed.

Obviously, if you didn't know that Stonehenge was man made, it might occur to you that it might have been, but you would be making an assumption. There are plenty of occurrence in nature that are just as, if not far more, wondrous that are not man made. The whole argument is based on a huge, simplistic assumption - that one instance or even a million instances of design is proof of everything in the universe being designed.

This argument boils down to a kind of pleading. "Of course the universe is designed! Just LOOK at it!!" I spend a little time being sad every time I'm reminded that people who confidently argue with this kind of thinking exist. I guess that's why we have warning labels on lighters telling us they can cause burns.


Theist Vandals Take Sophomoric Aggression Out On Sign


From this site - quite the petty, insecure reaction to a good deed.

From The Back Pew:
‘Atheists’ sign under siege
By Michael J. Arvizu

Across from me is Roberta Medford. We’re sitting in front of an open window at her Montrose residence.

“What is it about atheists that people just don’t like?” I ask.

“You would have to ask them that. I don’t know!” Medford says with a good-natured laugh.

I visited Medford on Monday evening to get her take on another vandalization of the Adopt-A-Highway Atheists United sign on the Glendale (2) Freeway. This time, the sign on the southbound side had been defaced. The “A” in “Atheists” had been covered in white paint, making it read “THEISTS UNITED.”

“I find it incredibly intolerant, and . . . maybe they should get a life,” Medford said of the vandal, or vandals, responsible.

I’ve driven past that sign many times. Of all the Adopt-A-Highway signs I pass in Los Angeles, that is the only one I pay attention to. That sign has been egged, tagged, and at one point someone took a saw to it, knocking it to the ground.

But it is always restored. The sign recognizes Atheists United for its work picking up trash along the freeway. It is one of many such signs along L.A.’s freeways that usually represent an organization located within a particular route. For example, Warner Bros. in Burbank has a sign posted along the 134 Freeway.

People don’t seem to mind Warner Bros., but atheists are another matter.

Atheism, broken down, means no theology. Atheists simply believe there is no God, or no evidence to support the existence of God. Furthermore, atheists also advocate strongly for the separation of church and state, as defined in the 1st Amendment.

“I looked at the world and realized [that] I don’t see a god there,” said Medford, who became an atheist at 14. “It’s an idea, a human invention. You have to admit, god is a human invention, it’s not a physical object or presence.”

It’s not a bad invention, she says; she just doesn’t share in the belief.

So why do atheists get such a bad rap?

I posed the question to atheists Sharon and Bill Weisman of Glendale. The couple are well-known in the community and involved in a variety of local projects. I hoped they might be able to shed some light on my question, but that wasn’t the case.

“We’re puzzled. We don’t understand the motive,” Sharon Weisman said. “For some reason, religious people don’t have a problem disrespecting atheists.”

Bill Weisman calls it an irony that someone would destroy something their very tax dollars are paying for.

“It’s motivated by hatred, motivated by anger,” he said. Bill also finds it ironic that such an act might be committed by a person whose religion is based on tolerance, acceptance and love.

Maybe the people involved feel that atheism is offensive to them because it goes against the very notion of their belief system — the existence of God, or some other deity. Atheism says no, there is no god, so the vandals, perhaps, say, “How dare you make such a statement. For that, I’m going to vandalize your sign tonight!”

Why is not believing there is a god any less valid than believing in God?

Following up on Medford’s suggestion, I ask those responsible for vandalizing the sign: Tell me, what is it about atheists that you dislike so much? Come forward; explain yourself. Tell me your side of the story.

Was an atheist unkind to you once? Or are you doing this simply because you think it’s funny?


Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!


Today is Everybody Draw Mohammad Day! I only took a few minutes with MS Paint to make my image of Mohammad, I'm hoping some others out there are a bit more creative with their drawings.

I invite everyone out there who is a fan of free speech and refuses to allow a belief structure they don't adhere to dictate their actions and freedoms even a teeny tiny bit to join me in this symbolic protest of Islamic extremists who would rather kill you than ignore the fact that you, a person who does not willingly participate in their group, draw a picture.


The National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Even though government endorsement of the NDOP was recently ruled unconstitutional, it is still being observed nationwide. If you're a New Yorker, you may have seen this lovely add in the New York Times from the FFRF which explains exactly why the NDOP is unconstitutional:

Religious people who dislike the non religiousness of non religious people seem to delight in the NDOP as a kind of 'suck it, atheists' badge of honor. I had a friend call my fiancée today to antagonistically wish him a Happy Day of Prayer today and I chuckled. I'm not humorless about it and I don't feel oppressed or offended by the whole NDOP thing, to be honest. However, I do think that the NDOP is unconstitutional and if it were abolished, I think it would be better for our nation as a whole, simply because once you start making allowances for any group's beliefs to be preferred over another within a government, you're playing a dangerous game that could potentially get out of hand rather quickly.

I don't FEEL oppressed, but it is a form of oppression for a government to recognize one belief over all others. I don't FEEL offended, but I understand people who do and I'm not about to say that they're being too sensitive or asking too much to be given the same recognition by the government as those who pray. In fact, the only time I do feel negatively in regard to the NDOP is when a religious person tells me I have no reason to be annoyed by it, that I should just shut up about it and am not entitled to an opinion regarding it, or that normal people pray (otherwise it wouldn't be a nationally recognized day, after all) and I'm somehow messed up because I don't.

Barring any of that specific stupidity being tossed my way, my personal reaction to the NDOP is that I hope all you theists in the USA appreciate your privilege. I hope you can at least recognize the fact that your beliefs are being respected a bit more than mine, that our government sees your belief as just a bit more worthy of recognition, and I hope in realizing this is the case, you'll see why the NDOP might mean little to nothing to you, but it means a whole lot more to those people who still pay taxes and are citizens of this nation, but don't pray. I hope you appreciate being regarded as a little more important while holding no distinction from me besides believing in a god who listens to you when you feel inclined to thank it, beg it for something, or whatever your prayers might contain.

Anyway, I do hope everyone who is inclined prayed to their hearts content today. Now tomorrow, why not go out and actually do something productive?


Why My Son Will Never Be A Boy Scout


One of the hardest aspects of being a parent is the social pressure to conform for the sake of your kid. I don't know anyone who has kids who hasn't at some point struggled with a choice or situation where the majority believes something is either acceptable or unacceptable, good or bad, and the parent disagrees. I feel like it's important to give your kid all of the experiences you possibly can, and though economic and social constrictions make those available experiences different in every case, I think that one of the hardest things for a parent to do is to separate their own opinions regarding activities from their willingness to allow their kids to experience those activities.

There is an activity that I will never be comfortable allowing my son to participate in, and it's something that for a lot of Americans is seen as a hugely valuable experience for boys especially - the Boy Scouts of America.

For a lot of people, the Boy Scouts are considered one of the best activities you could encourage your son to participate in. They will cite all of the great things about the Scouts - their focus on community and being a good Samaritan, their dedication to volunteerism and to being loyal, honest, etc. I find exceptional value in these things as well, the problem I have with the boy scouts ought to be an obvious one. Take a look at their oath -

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

It is a requirement to believe in god in order to be a Scout. Which, if my son decided he believed in god wouldn't be as big of an issue for me as something far more sinister - the fact the the Boy Scouts of America is an actively and vocally homophobic organization.

So, let's revisit the list of all those admirable things that makes the Scouts such a great experience for boys. Their focus on community (except for the gay community, which should be rejected) and being a good Samaritan (though this only extends as far as heterosexuality is concerned, as the scouts also teach discrimination), their dedication to (specifically straight) volunteerism and to being loyal (as long as your loyalty has nothing to do with homosexuals), honest, etc.

The fact is, it doesn't matter how many awesome things the Scouts do as an organization, everything they do is tainted by the fact that they actively endorse homophobia by not allowing homosexuals to be scouts or scout masters. Presumably this rule is in place because the Scouts are a religious organization.

I don't like the idea of making too many moral decisions on behalf of my son, but I refuse to support his participation in an organization that endorses homophobia regardless of what the popular position on the organization might be. There are no amount of camping trips and volunteer experiences that would be worth putting my son in a position where he has to reject an entire group of people in order to participate in these activities.

So, I guess this summer we're going camping.