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 proposals@google.com. 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 TheHumanist.com 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 radio@mnatheists.org 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 radio@mnatheists.org 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…]

I’m Just a Bill

Two bills, technically, as of sometime today. This was introduced in the House a week or two ago. It should be introduced in the Senate today. There’s no chance it will be passed or even receive a hearing this session, but this gives us an official version to start building support around. Isn’t it pretty?

Photo of Minnesota House bill #2966, allowing atheist and humanist nonprofits that sponsor training for marriage officiants to appoint such officiants.The funny thing about this bill is that it’s very close to what we started with. That’s because another member of the House independently introduced bills to make mayors and notaries public able to officiate weddings. We support both of those bills, so we’ll work with the people pushing them rather than start anything ourselves. Those bills have received hearings, where training turned out to be an important issue for committee members. That means that temporary officiants may be a dead proposition for the time being.

How Does This Become a Thing?

Off in a random corner of YouTube, I accidentally “discovered” mime dance. It had to be an accident, because I would never have thought this up myself. Not only did someone else think this up, but it caught on. There are thousands of these videos, and the vast majority of them appear to be religious videos. Some are several years old.

Watching them–and I’ve watched several now in fascination–I can see some continuity with the physical expressiveness of many gospel singers. I still have to wonder, though, how you move from that to the white makeup and gloves, lip syncing and dramatic literalism of mime dance. Articles and sites that talk about mime dance don’t seem to be very clear on its history. Rather they’re focused on its spread and on individual performers. I’d love to find out how it coalesced into its own form with its own traditions. [Read more…]

Contraception Is a Health Issue

As is entirely unsurprising, the news out of Bartlesville today was squirmy. St. John’s Health, which is the company that owns Jane Phillips Medical Center and that was recently acquired by Ascension Health, put out an unsigned statement that read in its entirety:

Consistent with Catholic health care organizations, St. John Health System operates in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, and therefore does not approve or support contraceptive practices. However, only physicians (not institutions) are licensed to practice medicine and make medical judgments. While our physicians agree to abide by the Directives, they also have the ability to prescribe medications, including hormonal medications, in accordance with their independent professional medical judgment. This includes informing patients when they are operating under their own professional medical judgment and not on behalf of St. John Health System.

What does that mean? It means their “ethical directives” are in conflict with the law. This one in particular:

5. Catholic health care services must adopt these Directives as policy, require adherence to them within the institution as a condition for medical privileges and employment, and provide appropriate instruction regarding the Directives for administration, medical and nursing staff, and other personnel.

It means they really, really don’t want to consider reproductive health to be a medical issue. They want it to be considered only an ethical issue unless and until a pregnant person’s life is directly on the line or they can hand-wave away contraception as treatment for something else.

That doesn’t work, though. Deciding when and whether to get pregnant is an issue of physical health, of mental health, of economic health–frequently for an entire family. Prescribing contraception, administering contraception, inserting contraception, and performing surgical interventions that obviate the need for additional contraception are all health care, even if they’re done for no other purpose than birth control. They are all subject to professional medical judgment.

No church should be interfering with this medical judgment in any way. Basing their decisions on what they posit will happen once you’re dead is not health care. Your immortal soul is not on any medical school exam and with good reason.

The good news is that there are ways to push back on this stuff. I’m still doing a bunch of reading, but I’ll bring you more soon. In the meantime, know that the first step–sometimes the only step needed–is to raise a fuss. Folks in Bartlesville did that, both with the original report, and by organizing. If Ascension Health continues to try to substitute “ethical directives” for good medical care on contraception, it’s not going to happen quietly. And they’ll have help.

In the meantime, those OB-GYNs will go on and do what their professional medical judgment tells them to do, which is what they were doing already.