Truth-seekers and god-slayers

PZ Myers is annoyed by the fact that, when it comes core, fundamental, human values, many atheists are as bad as believers, if not outright worse. In the eyes of some, “atheism” means only “lack of god-belief,” which means atheism cannot imply anything more than that, which means that atheism implies some kind of amoral anarchy, above and beyond mere unbelief. So which is it? Does atheism imply nothing more than absence of belief, or does it imply that “they’re right and you’re wrong?” You can’t have it both ways.

In truth, atheism absolutely does have implications beyond mere absence of belief in supernatural father figures. A world without gods to take responsibility for everything is a world where we ourselves are responsible. Atheism implies that we have work to do, morally, socially, and scientifically. And maybe that’s the reason why some unbelievers would rather not acknowledge anything more than just the absence of gods. But I suspect it goes deeper than that. I think what we’re seeing today is the emergence of two broadly-defined tribes within atheism, two different types of atheists, whom I designate as truth-seekers and god-slayers.

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Who belongs to whom?

One recent story that keeps popping up in my news feeds is how various police and intelligence authorities are complaining about the security in the iPhone 6 being too tough for them to crack. I’m not sure how much of that is real, but it does suggest a couple observations we might make.

First, if it’s true that the iPhone 6 is the first device that’s not open for the police to read whenever they want, then that means all previous devices have been more or less open to government search and seizure at their discretion. A court order might be nice, but as we’ve seen again and again, the government routinely dispenses with such formalities when they become inconvenient.

The second and more important observation is that there’s been a fundamental shift in the foundations of our democratic republic. The government is no longer owned by the people. The people are now owned by the government, at least in the government’s opinion.

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Subverting the democratic process

Via Ed Brayton, we get this argument from Jim Burroway at the Box Turtle Bulletin.

[A]t a time when we are demanding passage of the Employment Non-Discrmination Act so that companies can’t just up and fire LGBT employees because they don’t agree with them — as they can now in about two-thirds of our states — we need to think very long and hard about whether we should demand someone be removed from his job for exercising his constitutional rights as part of the cornerstone of our democracy: a free and fair election.

Ed thinks it’s a very persuasive argument, so let me make the counter-argument and see if I can be equally persuasive.

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The rise and fall of the nerd Eich

Perhaps you’ve used the Firefox web browser. If you’re an old nerd like me, you might remember the Netscape web browser, whose source code formed the basis of the Mozilla code that lies behind Firefox. If you’re really hard-core, you might know the name of the man who wrote the original JavaScript language, without which things like ad revenues and blog networks like FtB might not exist.

Brendan Eich was that man, and for a very brief number of days he was the CEO of Mozilla—until word leaked out about his tangible support for Proposition 8 and for discrimination against gays. The uproar was immediate and impossible to ignore. Other board members resigned rather than work with/for him. OkCupid put up a notice, visible specifically to FireFox users, naming and shaming Eich for his anti-gay efforts and urging users to switch to a different browser. Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere erupted with calls for his resignation and for boycotts. Eich resigned after only 10 days in office.

The aftermath has even some liberals frowning. True, it’s a sign of the times that bigots can no longer act with impunity when trying to promote discrimination against gays. That’s a positive step and a sign of the long overdue decline in society’s willingness to condone bullying and harassment. But has the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction? Have gay rights activists stepped over a line, and become guilty of “witch hunts” themselves? Is it anyone else’s business what Eich’s personal beliefs are and how they relate to his job, if he himself is careful to maintain a professional separation between the two?

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Muslims and Christians united at last

You see? Christians and Muslims can agree on common goals, beliefs, and values.

Kisumu residents engaged police in running battles in the city centre to protest the construction of a statue by members of the Hindu religion along Nyerere Road.

Police were forced to lobby teargas canisters at the protestors who had set the statue ablaze…

The protesters, Muslims and Christians, argued that erecting a religious statue in the heart of the town portrayed Kisumu as a city of the Hindu religion…

“Christians are not allowed to bow down to other gods and the location of the statue means everyone using this road bows,” said Erick Otieno, a resident.

Kisumu is in Kenya, so they don’t have to worry about the First Amendment. But this is why we have one. Secular is better. You don’t have to fight the police, dodge tear gas, and destroy other people’s property, just to defend a silly superstition.

“Liberty means not allowing freedom”—Nuns

What does liberty mean to you? Normally, we associate liberty with freedom, i.e. the absence of people telling us, “You’re not allowed to do that.” But the Little Sisters of the Poor have a definition of liberty that seems to be the exact opposite. And they’re suing the government for the right to impose this “liberty” on their employees. The NPR web site reports:

The Justice Department has argued that the nuns’ group is already exempt from providing birth control under the ACA, as long as it certifies its standing as a religious nonprofit. But the Little Sisters of the Poor, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, argues that documentation simply condones employees getting the coverage elsewhere.

“The sisters, under the new Health and Human Services mandate, are being forced by the government to either sign a form allowing a third party to provide contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs to their employees, or they’re being threatened with fines,” says Becket Fund director Kristina Arriaga.

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Homophobe? Anti-gay? None of the above?

Writing in The Atlantic, Brandon Ambrosino has some serious misgivings about broad-brushing opponents of marriage equality and defining them all as homophobic and anti-gay.

As a gay man, I found myself disappointed with this definition—that anyone with any sort of moral reservations about gay marriage is by definition anti-gay. If Raushenbush is right, then that means my parents are anti-gay, many of my religious friends (of all faiths) are anti-gay, the Pope is anti-gay, and—yes, we’ll go here—first-century, Jewish theologian Jesus is anti-gay. That’s despite the fact that while some religious people don’t support gay marriage in a sacramental sense, many of them are in favor of same-sex civil unions and full rights for the parties involved. To be sure, most gay people, myself included, won’t be satisfied until our loving, monogamous relationships are graced with the word “marriage.” But it’s important to recall that many religious individuals do support strong civil rights for the gay members of their communities.

It’s a longish piece which he obviously put a lot of thought into, and he makes some points worthy of consideration. On the other hand, he also published an earlier article in The Atlantic, entitled “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University,” and I can’t help but wonder how much his thinking is colored by whatever background led him to Lib U in the first place.

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Some Christians abandoning Boy Scouts

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports that some Christians, irate over the Boy Scouts’ failure to discriminate against gays, are leaving the organization to try and start their own initiatives.

Scott Scarborough, a former Boy Scouts volunteer and committee member under the South Plains Council, resigned his position with the organization on Sept. 1 and is bringing an emerging faith-based alternative to West Texas.

This is great news for the Boy Scouts. Without the influence (financial and otherwise) of the narrow-minded bigots, the Scouts will have a much better chance of growing into the kind of helpful, mind-broadening, and character-building organization it ought to have been all along. Someday they might even admit *gasp* atheists.

Meanwhile, the bigots are forming a “faith-based” alternative to the Boy Scouts (and thus unintentionally beginning to turn “faith-based” into the kind of term that “fundamentalist” has become). Their shirts will likely be brown, and they will boldly and prophetically announce their mission as being the oppression of gays, atheists, and anybody else who differs from the ideal white male Christian patriarchy. Oh wait, no, that’s a secret. Better let some non-whites in too, to keep it from being too obvious.

I wish them every bit of the kind of luck they deserve.

“Gateway Pundit” fails to grasp First Amendment basics

In a post melodramatically entitled “WAR ON GOD,” The Gateway Pundit wails:

A Christian ministry has been ordered by the Feds to remove all of their religious symbols if they want any federal assistance feeding the poor.

Yup, to absolutely no one’s surprise, another “faith-based initiative” got caught proselytizing poor people at taxpayer expense, and were told to stop. Scientologists aren’t allowed to use government food programs to lure people in to Scientology sessions, Muslims aren’t allowed to use them to bring people in to hear about Mohammed and the Qur’an, and Christianity is likewise constrained from turning government aid programs into taxpayer-funded evangelistic ministries, even “passively.”

And equally unsurprising, the perpetrators and their supporters are completely stunned and outraged at this blatant compliance with the requirements of the First Amendment.

Daly and her staff sat in stunned disbelief as the government agents also informed them that the Christian Service Center could no longer pray or provide Bibles to those in need. The government contract also forbade any references to the ministry’s chapel.

This is precisely why faith-based initiatives are a bad idea. When Christians are invited to participate in the delivery of government aid, they naturally assume that they are being given permission to turn a secular government program into an evangelistic ministry, taking advantage of both the needs of the poor and the generosity of the state to create a captive audience who knows that their food supply is in the hands of people who want to see some evidence that their ministry is saving souls. That’s flat out wrong, and even Christians ought to oppose it. Why would you want to fill your church with fake believers who are only pretending to love Jesus so they can get the basic nutrition the government set aside for them?

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At last, a convincing argument

This week on our local Christian talk radio show, they had a guest discussing the recent court case in New Mexico where the state supreme court ruled that a photography business could not claim a First Amendment right to discriminate against gays. (And by the way, the guest also had a book to sell.)

Like the photography business, the guest and the talk show hosts all framed their argument around the idea that the photographer’s decision was not discrimination because it was based on the lesbian couple’s behavior rather than on their status. The court didn’t buy that one, and so the Christians were outraged. How absurd! Giving an entire class of people special privileges just because of their behavior? That’s ridiculous!

And you know, I think they’re exactly right. It is absurd, and completely unjustifiable, to give an entire class of people a special privileged and protected status just because of their behavior, just because their sexual behavior happens to be oriented towards the opposite sex. Separating out heterosexuals, and making them the only class of people who are entitled to the privilege of getting married to one another, is indefensible. The only way to avoid the trap of giving people unearned privileges based on the orientation of their sexual behavior is to grant everybody the same rights and privileges regardless of sexual orientation.

It’s the first time I heard a really cogent and coherent argument from the “traditional marriage” folks, and it’s a shame they believe and practice the exact opposite of what their own argument requires.