Border Crossing: A Conversation

Scene: U.S. border checkpoint at Pembina, ND. Both vehicle and passengers are a bit low on fuel after the weekend.

Customs and Border Patrol Agent: “Where are you coming from?”

Ben: “Manitoba.”

All: [laughter]

Ben: “Sorry. Winnipeg. I’ve been doing that all weekend.”

Agent: “Why were you in Canada?”

Me: You don’t want to know. “We were at a conference.” [Read more…]

Bishop Knows Best

It’s been quite a while since I talked about Catholic hospitals and their Ethical and Religious Directives and how those make people less safe. I wish that meant they’d stopped putting people in danger, but that’s not even close to the case. Here is another case from Michigan.

It was painful to hear but ultimately seemed the best course to Jessica Mann and her family. Because of a dangerous tumor in her brain, her doctor gently suggested that she take steps to make sure that she could not get pregnant again.

So Mann, 33, who is due to have her third baby next month, decided that while she was under anesthesia during the birth, she would undergo a tubal ligation — a procedure that would prevent further pregnancies.

But her hospital said no. Genesys Regional Medical Center, which is Catholic, denied the request on religious grounds: Catholic mandates forbid procedures that cause sterilization, including vasectomies, and officials said she did not qualify for an exception.

In some ways, Mann is lucky. [Read more…]

Not Your Sacrifice for Redemption

Yes, I’m tired of the endless discussion around Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis too. Nonetheless, it turns out I still have something to say on the topic.

I’ve noted elsewhere that I disagree with the charges of hypocrisy over Davis’s prior marriages and adultery.

Here I meant misguided in the sense that I don’t believe that the forgiveness of a deity is worth much or that we can look outside the people we’ve wronged (including ourselves) for meaningful forgiveness, but this is also misguided in another very important way. [Read more…]

Google Doodle for Raif Badawi

There isn’t one yet, but one atheist activist (who is choosing to keep their name out of things) recently started a push for one. If successful, it would mean both direct PR pressure on Saudi Arabia and encouragement to Google users to talk to their own governments about the problem.

If you’d like to encourage Google yourself, here is the sample email being shared.

Dear Google Doodlers,

On June 17, Raif Badawi–the world-renowned Saudi blogger–will have been in a Saudi prison for 3 years. He was publicly flogged and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and 1000 lashes for “insulting Islam.” What he really did, though, was to speak up for human rights in Saudi Arabia.

I’m writing to ask you to please create a Google Doodle in honor of Raif Badawi.

June 17th would be an ideal day for it to run, but any day would be good.

Sincerest regards

Send it or your own letter to If you want to see more of a call to action from them than a doodle, you can include a link to this information from Amnesty International on how to help.

If a Google doodle feels frivolous to you? That’s fine. We all decide where to put our limited energy. In that case, however, maybe check out the Amnesty International suggestions or figure out whether your local atheist group is doing anything for June 17. Badawi won’t be getting any help from Saudi Arabia without intervention. Their courts just upheld his conviction and sentencing.

Atheists, Nonbelievers, and Nones, Oh, My

I’ve been digging into the statistics on atheists, nonbelievers, and “nones” lately, so the release of the latest Pew Research report on religious affiliation was inordinately exciting. (What can I say? I, geek.) The big news continues to be the growth of the religiously non-affiliated and the decline of Catholicism and Mainstream Protestantism. Bigger news in our community is the proportionally rapid growth of atheists, at 94% over the last seven years.

As usual, however, it’s worth remembering that Pew doesn’t necessarily use these words the way we would. So who are these groups? [Read more…]

“Humanism in Indiana”, Victoria Gipson on Atheists Talk

A lot has been going on in Indiana in the recent news. Govenor Mike Pence and the Indiana RFRA – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – have many of us in a tizzy, and rightfully so.

The 1993 federal RFRA signed in to law by President Bill Clinton prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s ability to practice his or her religion — unless the government can show it has a compelling interest to do so, and in those cases, they must use the the least restrictive way to achieve those interests. Amidst similar state level RFRAs springing up all over the country in recent months, Indiana has made headlines by passing a much more broadly-worded bill which has, among other indignities, opened the door to protecting flagrant bigotry in business practices.

But as usual, there are good people speaking up about bad laws. Victoria Gipson is a board member of Freethought Fort Wayne, the first chapter of the American Humanist Association. Victoria recently wrote an article for in which she discusses the passage of Indiana Senate Bill 101, and how humanists and other opponents of the bill are fighting back.

Join us this Sunday when we have Victoria Gipson on Atheists Talk to discuss the RFRA and humanism in the Hoosier state.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

“The Ten Ways Heaven Would be Hell”, Valerie Tarico on Atheists Talk

Believers sacrifice so much of their worldly lives in order to get to Heaven and to avoid Hell.  What if they get there, after forswearing Sex and Drug and Rock and Roll in this mortal life only to find that Heaven is Hell except with angels instead of demons?  Dr. Valerie Tarico has examined the ten ways that popular conceptions of Heaven would, in reality, be Hell and spelled them out in a blog post.

Dr. Tarico is a pyschologist who is a former evangelical and returns to our show this Sunday for a Hellish look at Heaven.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Not Just Fundamentalism

There’s a refrain out there, frequently applied particularly to Islam. It says, “Religion isn’t the problem. Fundamentalism is the problem.” It’s wrong.

It isn’t wrong that fundamentalism is a problem. There’s plenty of stuff in religious texts that was never meant to be taken literally. There’s plenty that’s contradictory. Hewing to a strict literal interpretation of all of it is impossible. Demanding that others do so is abusive. Taking it a step further into theocracy, using political power to enforce the adherence of people who believe differently, is unconscionable.

However, even religious sects and practices that are significantly looser in their scope can still cause damage. Even liberal sects still expect conformity to some rules. Even religious groups that focus on serving others still recognize a divine authority, even as they say that authority commands them to pro-social behavior.

As long as that authority exists, religion will continue to damage people. Yes, even liberal, non-fundamentalist religion. [Read more…]

The Time Lord Was Fine, but Creation?

A friend of mine sent me a link to a news release from Big Finish Productions, producers of Doctor Who audio plays. They’re celebrating their 15th anniversary with some reminiscences, and this one made him think of me.

“One other thing sticks very closely in my mind from running Big Finish in 2001 – death-threats. The aforementioned Bloodtide was a brilliant script by Jonny Morris, his first for us. I asked him for a Silurian story, he opted to put the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn on the Galapogas Islands with Charles Darwin and thus emerged an amazing story about evolution of the species from both a human and Silurian perceptive, with the villain of the piece taking responsibility for genetically engineering mankind in the first place. And cue the complaints, every single one from certain areas of America known as the Bible Belt. And within these outraged letters came three death threats. I had apparently challenged these peoples’ belief in God, and they were going to make me pay.

“Having offended possibly the same group earlier in the year by not spotting that Clay Hickman had inverted a pentagram on the cover of Minuet in Hell (which we changed for later repressings and the music collection), I really had run out of patience so rather than cowering from their self-righteous wrath, I pinned the letters up in the Big Finish office and delighted in the fact that a play I had produced and directed (not written, mind) had caused such a bizarre amount of vitriol from people whose grasp on the fundamental concepts of fiction was shaky at best.

“Yes, what a fun year 2001 was :-)”

A time-traveling alien with two hearts is fine. A race of lizard people who have lived alongside humanity unseen is just dandy. But don’t you dare let your fictional creatures say anything about Creation or we’ll threaten to kill you.

“You’re Not Oppressed, White Atheist Dudes”

It’s the Dear Muslima of atheist progressives, so knock it off.

Not enough? Okay, we’ll do this the long way.

No, not all atheist progressives. (Do I really have to do this?) Plenty of atheist progressives manage to critique the actions and priorities of atheist organizations without suggesting that the enterprise as a whole isn’t needed because the atheist oppression white guys complain about isn’t real. It still happens, particularly among a subset of well-educated, urban, white, progressive atheists.

Oppression of people who are otherwise well able to withstand the oppression does not stop being oppression. [Read more…]