Podcast Part II: Winning the War of Attrition

After we completed the main hour of the podcast, we continued our conversation and the guys over at “A Matter of Doubt” have been kind enough to put it up as a bonus clip.  This is where we get into the things that I am most interested in, LGBT issues, argument, and humanism.  I almost sound like I know what I’m talking about occasionally in here, even.

Yes, I’m pretty vitriolic online, and I am willing to call people wrong and be kind of… we’ll go with “emphatic”.  Somewhat dogged.  Win the war of attrition.  But in person, in real life, in real interactions, people are worth more than ideas.  People deserve to be treated well, people deserve to be loved for who they are, they deserve to be accepted.  You can have any opinion you want about their beliefs, but at some point you have to be willing to say, you know, I disagree with you and that’s not the most important thing about you.  We’re all worthy, we’re all equal, we’re all human.  And that’s the foundation of equal rights, that’s the foundation of why we care about the LGBT issues, it’s the foundation of why we think atheists should be treated the same.  And at some point you have to be willing to stop arguing.

http://www.amatterofdoubt.com/?p=187

Why does anyone like Ron Paul?

I’ve been trying to understand why smart people I know support Ron Paul and I just can’t get my head around it.  I get the sense that maybe the Ron Paul People I know just don’t realize what Ron Paul’s all about. That or they just don’t care.

The Ron Paul People I know are almost all straight, single, relatively young, non-religious, white men. Available demographics suggest that this is an accurate picture; there are others in Ron Paul’s camp, but it’s basically youngish white men.

They do not consider themselves to be Democrats or Republicans. Some of them hate the idea of rules, many of them hate the idea of having their money taken away in taxes, but none of them are stupid or without the resources to learn more about their candidate. And none seem to care about any of Ron Paul’s policies outside of cutting spending, regulations, and taxes.

Every Ron Paul Person I know comes out of the woodwork any time anything negative is said about the guy, no matter how true the statement and no matter how much that individual disagrees with Ron Paul’s position or behavior. I get the sense that libertarians are so excited to have someone on the national stage that they don’t want to see anything problematic with the guy, but he’s transparently a bad deal.

So, why are these people supporting a crazy, racist Christian fundamentalist?

Why People Love Ron Paul:

  1. He believes in reduced military spending
  2. Less taxes, less rules, less government
  3. He wants to end the “War on Drugs”
  4. He is “philosophically consistent”

That last one seems to be big — people seem to think that Ron Paul offers a coherent philosophy to deal with politics and that’s why they like him.

He’s very consistent on the whole taxes idea — he wants to get rid of the income tax, which apparently makes us all the property of the government, and his voting record shows this.  I can see the appeal, even if I totally disagree.

Ron Paul is Anti-Free Market:

But if we take this libertarian personal freedom thing to its logical conclusion, Paul would also be all for open borders and a completely open labor markets, right?  Yeah, but not so much — he’s very anti open borders.

The toughest part of showing any compassion or tolerance to the illegal immigrants … is the tremendous encouragement it gives for more immigrants to come illegally and avoid the wait and the bureaucracy.

So, bureaucracy good when it keeps the brown people out? Taxing the insanely rich is slavery! Letting foreign people work in America should be illegal!

He voted for building a fence on the Mexican border, reporting illegal aliens who go to hospitals, and for banning student visas from “terrorist nations”.  He’s all about reducing the military and allowing the free market, except when it comes to this for some reason.

Oh, it’s also great that he wants to get rid of the fed, I love this. You know who made the fed what it is today? A guy named Alan Greenspan. You know, Alan Greenspan, the most famous and powerful libertarian ever to work in the US government. He was a disciple of Ayn Rand and was part of the inner circle of her cult. Alan Greenspan almost single-handedly caused this recession. By all means, let’s fix the fed, but let us also acknowledge it was a libertarian that got us here!

Ron Paul Doesn’t Support Minorities:

He thinks the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you know that whole equality thing, was a violation of people’s rights and wouldn’t have forced anyone to lift the Jim Crow laws. He called MLKJr day “hate whitey day”.  According to Ron Paul supporters, this is OK because he wants to legalize drugs and end the death penalty, both of which would disproportionately go to help black men.

I don’t even want to go into all of the sketchy things that he’s said, I’ll just offer you this link and be done with it.  Suffice to say, the guy’s said some unkind things about minorities.

On top of this, he wants English to be the official language of the US and thinks government shouldn’t offer services in any other language.  How’s that for federal bureaucratic overhead?

A lot of people respect his position on gay marriage, which is that it shouldn’t be the federal government’s business even though he personally is opposed to it. It may not be the federal government’s business, but he’s certainly voted to enshrine homophobic behavior in federal law. He voted against including “sexual orientation” as a protected class in ENDA, meaning he thinks it’s OK to fire people for being gay, and he voted to ban gay adoptions in DC.

Ron Paul is Against Church/State Separation:

Ron Paul has a 17% rating with the AU, meaning he almost never votes in favor of a bill that would be promoting the separation of church and state.

The guy is crazy fundamentalist, no lie. It informs most of his political positions, including right to life stuff that I’ll address in a minute. But it also includes something that maybe some of my libertarian friends agree with. Ron Paul is one of the few politicians in DC willing to say anything negative about Zionism or Israel, and I know a lot of libertarians think that we shouldn’t be Israel’s protector anymore. But do you know why he doesn’t support Israel?

Despite the fact that many Fundies, known as Premillenialists, support Israel because their end-time theology tells them that it is necessary for the return of Jesus, Christian Reconstructionists like Paul have a different view, basically that the Israeli government isn’t the right one for the end of days and the right sort of Christians are now the chosen people of Revelations.

“I think of the Israeli government as different than what I read about in the Bible. I mean, the Israeli government doesn’t happen to be reflecting God’s views. Some of them are atheist, and their form of government is not what I would support… And there are some people who interpret the chosen people as not being so narrowly defined as only the Jews — that maybe there’s a broader definition of that.”

He and Sarah Palin can get into a fight over whose Christian end of days attitude towards Israel is the right one!

He often gets accused of being anti-Semitic because he’s anti-Zionism, and he may well be, but his position on Israel is all about religion. He’s generally isolationist anyway, so it works with the rest of his shtick.

And, while his faith isn’t his number one talking point, he sure does have a statement of faith on his website and includes a reference to it in his debates.

And, despite the fact that he thinks the education department should be dismantled, he also thinks that public funds should pay for private Christian educations and supports a constitutional amendment in favor of school prayer.  Again, not a libertarian stance at all.

Ron Paul is Rabidly Anti-Choice and Anti-Science:

This goes hand in hand with the crazy religious stuff, it’s all related.

This man, who is a doctor, does not believe in evolution.

This man, who is a doctor, believes that life begins at conception.

He has a somewhat complex view on abortion in that he believes that it, like murder, should be tried and controlled at the state level, not the federal one. That said, he has voted repeatedly for national bills that promote the pro-life cause and introduced a bill that would say that life begins at conception.

He voted not to authorize embryonic stem cell research multiple times. He has a 0% by NARAL, meaning he votes 100% against abortion rights. He voted yes on the Stupak Amendment to prevent health insurance companies from offering abortion coverage. Voted to prevent funding from going to schools that make the morning after pill available and to provide funding for abstinence only education.

He cosponsored a bill to take funds from a needy family benefit program to go to support non-governmental groups that counsel people not to have abortions.

Again, how is this not federal interference?

Ron Paul Helps Billionaires Not the Poor

This section, I know, is where a lot of libertarians are going to agree with his votes, but I have to say I think they don’t reflect well on him.

He is completely against environmental regulation and trying to find alternative energy sources.  Despite his claims that he’d rather have unions control the market than a minimum wage, he voted for legalizing union busting more than once.  Despite his supposed belief in the free market, he voted to ban shareholders from weighing in on executives’ compensation.  Extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich, expanded them, and undermined Social Security by changing the standards.

Voted against the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act to feed children and voted against a measure to ensure children had health insurance.Voted yes on a measure to prevent federally funded laborers to be paid the prevailing wage of the area, so that people making less than a living wage could be reduced even further into poverty!

Ron Paul is a Hypocrite

He is completely inconsistent, not just philosophically as a libertarian, but also on very specific issues like federal funding to local areas.  Which brings us to his response to Katrina.  You’d think someone who was so waffley about his own philosophical convictions when it comes to women’s rights and immigrants would be willing to waffle a little to save lives, after all he’s all sanctity of life, right?

Is bailing out people that chose to live on the coastline a proper function of the federal government?

But at least his congressional district in Texas doesn’t rely on tons of federal funding, right? Oh, no, it’s one of the top in Texas. Federal government using money to save people’s lives is apparently not OK, but him earmarking funds for his district is cool. More important than Katrina victims? Removing a sunken ship from a harbor and sending a few million dollars to Texan shrimp fishermen.

Ron Paul is a Little Nuts

But of course, my favorite part about Ron Paul is that he thinks the executive branch shouldn’t have very much power. The problem with that is that if you elect Ron Paul, he can’t do anything without violating his own philosophy because he would be the executive branch of the federal government.  Ron Paul just doesn’t make sense for anyone.

He thinks we should go back to the gold standard, which I think is pretty crazy, but that’s hardly the only place he goes a bit weird. On The Daily Show he said the following, I guess suggesting that he’s for regulations after he’s against them:

The regulations are much tougher in a free market, because you cannot commit fraud, you cannot steal, you cannot hurt people, and the failure has come that government wouldn’t enforce this. In the Industrial Revolution there was a collusion and you could pollute and they got away with it. But in a true free market in a libertarian society you can’t do that. You have to be responsible. So the regulations would be tougher.

And then there’s this:

I’ve been told not to talk, but these stooges don’t scare me. Threats or no threats, I’ve laid bare the coming race war in our big cities. The federal-homosexual cover-up on AIDS (my training as a physician helps me see through this one.) The Bohemian Grove–perverted, pagan playground of the powerful. Skull & Bones: the demonic fraternity that includes George Bush and leftist Senator John Kerry, Congress’s Mr. New Money. The Israeli lobby, which plays Congress like a cheap harmonica.

If people know this about Ron Paul and still want to vote for him, that’s obviously their choice, but I can’t help but feel like the only way you could vote for him would be in ignorance or denial of these facts.

Columbia Coalition of Reason Hate Mail: Part I

I still don't understand how people are offended by this

We sent out a press release this morning about the billboard, and by the afternoon we’d had coverage on some local websites and by tonight we’d had interviews on local TV.

The comments on the news sites have been pretty negative, but the people actually contacting us have been very positive and grateful.  I’ve collected some of the angry comments from our e-mail and the news sites to share with you.  Everything is copy & pasted with no editing for grammar, spelling, or logic.

We are hoping to do dramatic readings of some of these.  I’ve numbered them so that you can easily comment on which ones are your favorites.

PASCAL’S WAGER

1. “To all atheists: If as a Christian I’m right …. then you lose. If you’re right … then you still lose. Good luck with those odds.”

2. “I would much rather live my life believing that there is one true God and find out later that there isn’t, than to live my life as if there isn’t, only to find out later that there is! I guess we’ll all find out for ourselves on judgement day. As for me, I know in my heart that Jesus died for my salvation and for the salvation of all sinners, and that one day I’ll join Him in heaven with the rest of the believers. Heaven or Hell is your choice… I’ll take the high road, thank you…”

ATHEISTS ARE ALONE

3. “Don’t Believe in God? You are not alone.” Unless you look at the really big picture and realize you are. Completely. Alone.”

4. “No, if you do not believe in God you are not alone. But you soon will be.”

5. “You’re not alone” are the atheists suicidal? depressed? I’m sure they are, i would be too if i were an atheist. let’s pray that they open their hearts and minds to God

MAKE SENSE?

6. “That true God. I was surprise why to say can’t believe God?! They people already know God is true in the Heaven. I believe GOD in Heaven! I never say that unbeliever God before. Should to be change post Believe God, and not say Godless period!”

7. “Madalyn Murray O’Hair, killed by one of her own followers and employees was the most widely known and hated of all Atheists. She, one of her sons, and grand-daughter were killed in a robbery gone bad committed by one whom she trusted. Her surviving son William J. Murray is the chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., active on issues related to aiding Christians in Islamic and Communist nations. She felt so strongly about his becoming a Christian she had this to say about him. “One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess, I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times. He is beyond human forgiveness.” WOW! What a way for a mother to treat her own child over a difference of religious opinion in a country where we have a right to practice or not practice our religion freely. Way to go Atheists!”

8. What does the year 2011 mean?….. It means the age of JESUS. And he is coming back. Believe it or not.

YOU RUIN CHRISTMAS

9. “My question to the atheists and agnostics, what is the real purpose of the billboards during one of the most holiest times for Christian and Jews? Where were you in June?”

10. “”We’re your friends…” really? Friends don’t slam your beliefs during your holiest of months. If you’re our friends why not put the billboard up in June? The answer is because you enjoy slamming Christians. Give me a break. You have the right to do whatever you want, but have some class and put your signs up during another time.”

YOU GO TO HELL, YOU GOT TO HELL AND YOU DIE

11. “I THINK WE SHOULD PUT UP A SIGN RIGHT NEXT TO THAT ONE THAT SAYS “GOING TO ****? YOU ARE NOT ALONE” I WOULD DONATE. THE ONLY REASON US CHRISTIANS “PUSH” OUR BELIEFS ON ANYONE IS BECAUSE WE READ IN OUR BIBLES THAT JESUS CHRIST COMMANDS WE SHARE THE NEWS “SO THAT NONE MAY PERISH”. I SHARE JESUS BECAUSE I GENUINELY FEEL SORRY FOR THOSE THAT DO NOT KNOW HIM. TO KNOW JESUS IS TO KNOW PEACE”

12. “They might as well spend all their money on silly billboards…they can take it (to ****) with them…”

13. “The time will come when we can so OH WE TOLD YOU SO!! You say non Christians maybe be sitting by us in church-nah I don’t think so”

14. “**** is getting HOTTER as we speak! For those who don’t want to believe, that is your choice, but don’t beg for mercy on your day of Judgement!”

15. “People of all religious beliefs and backgrounds, remember one thing please. When it’s all over and you find that you were wrong, it’s TOO late then to make a change. So, be sure that what or who you believe in or don’t believe in is the right way to go, cause you only get one shot. I know where I’m going. Maybe I’ll see you there. If not, say hello to Hitler and Bin Laden for me, OK!”

16. “WIS/TV… Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason, said “Such non-theists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them.” /////////////////////////////​/////////////////////////////​////////////////// In a related story—it’s reasonable to say that what the Coalition doesn’t know, as well Is…if they stay their course—they’ll find their community—a very hot place known as…**** !!!”

17. “Atheists cease to exist once they die. They then become believers. Dont believe in God? I’m sure your boss will let you work for Christmas.”

HELL... hellooooo

MUSLIMS

18. “why don’t they do this campaign in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia, i bet those atheists feel even more lonely! American Christians don’t force their religion on people,they, just like the CoR, like to get The Word out, but what you do with it, its up to the individual. The USA still has religious freedom last i checked.”

19.

(We need one about not believing in Allah. - An Allah coloring book. - You can get an Allah coloring book with Dealchicken coupons. - The Allah Christmas Book. Allah delivers guns and bombs to all the little future terrorist. - My personal favorite...Allah lights the menorah coloring book.)

SO ANGRY

20. “I believe in Him and I also believe I’ll boycott any advertisers that use Lamar billboards.”

21. “stupid tards why would you be sitting next to us in church if your not a believer ? i think you plan backfired instead of spreading your non existent belief in god anyone who quiestions gods existence will inevitably come to the conclusion there is a god.not offended, all things work to the glory of god.”

22. “This article made me sick and so do half of you posters. That’s what is wrong with the world today. You should be ashamed. I choose to praise God and if you choose not to, then that is your problem”

23. Its funny these people don’t believe in God but they use the money that says “In God We Trust”. Since you don’t believe in God try living without the money that has His name on it.

CRAZY

24. GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY!!! MAKE THEM TAKE THEM DOWN!!! SOMEONE CLIMB UP AND PAINT OVER THE DON’T! THEN IT WILL BE A GREAT SIGN!!

25. For those who dont believe will be the ones who when the time comes will be demanding to be let into the Ark when the world does come to an end. For the way of life is through Jesus Christ and for the way to Death is those who choose not to believe.

26. do believe in God: so people need to watch out what the put on a sign. boy if my sister get hold of this she will be calling on God to take it down:

27. Why is it important that you tell the world you don’t believe? This is the work of Satan, you better believe it. I am sadden by this display.

28. I just want to let you know I am very offended about your billboards. Why can you all put this up and we cannot have billboards with God’s name in it for the good? I really feel this is not fair. Just remember God is watching you.

LONG FORM

29.

Just read on your home page in which you wrote “people who don’t believe in a god or gods can be decent citizens…” Gods? Most people (around here) believe in just one God. I think when you wrote “gods” you were being patronizing, no?

I used to be agnostic, so I understand where you are coming from. But I was a little offended by the “gods” reference. You are making fun! Look, Christians and religious folk used to really annoy the crap out of me, especially being the pragmatist that I am. But I think in the end I was more jealous that people could “let go” and accept something that was contrary to rational thought. They were more open-minded than I was and that really got under my skin. So I would make snyde comments like “do you believe in fairies too!” But really, I was just jealous that others could accept something that I could not.

I’m not going to preach. But from one former atheist/agnostic to another, I’d like you to consider one question. This is the question that ultimately helped me to become more open minded in my search for “what is?” No laughing, this is serious stuff and I want you to do your research and really, really ponder it…like for a year or more. Here goes: Why do atoms attract? (and, no, the answer is not “because God tells them to”, lol….or IS it) Remember: question everything, and let your intelligence set you free.

I can assure you that we are not making fun of religious people, nor do we intend to seem patronizing. The simple fact of the matter is that there are, in fact, people in this very community who believe in multiple gods. Both Wiccans and Hindus live in the greater Columbia area. We apologize if you felt offended.

As for your question, atoms are attracted to each other through Van Der Waal’s forces, electronegativity, and ionic or covalent bonding. As an archaeologist, I cannot speak definitively on inter-atomic forces and subatomic particle interaction, but there are plenty of physicists among us who would be happy to discuss the finer points of the theoretical physics should you ever feel inclined to attend a meeting or event advertised on our home page.

I thank you for taking the time to write and express your concerns to us directly, and I hope that my answer has proven satisfactory.

Sincerely,

Dustin Tucker
CoR Coordinator

Really? Hindus have multiple gods? They seem so nice, but that’s just crazy.

And thanks for the invite to your activities, but I’ve spent many hours participating in these types of discussions and the answers are always the same. But Justin, in your search for reason and understanding I don’t want you to forget about gravity. Its a big deal. That two objects are pulled together without a single physical, detectable thing binding them is quite the conundrum. Many physicist and scientist believe that there must be something there pulling these particles and objects together. However, this missing something is not detectable on our level or by our limited senses. Many believe it exists on a different plane or dimension all together. But it must exist. Otherwise, these objects are being pulled together by magic, and that’s not reasonable. Nonetheless, these things or invisible “forces” are well beyond our scope and certainly beyond our natural senses.

In reality, we are limited to only what we can see, hear, feel, touch and smell. To me, its incomprehensible to imagine what lies out there that we have no ability to know about or even comprehend because of our physical and sensual limitations. Science and reason are not equipped to tell us. Nor are they equipped to tell us they “don’t know” as that kind of defeats their purpose. Yet, the more we uncover, the more lucid it becomes that there is much more out there that we do not understand, including those things that we are unable to perceive. It could be anything. There is no denying this, it is simply a reasonable conclusion. Of course, what you do with that conclusion is up to you.

PALATE CLEANSER

30. “I am a Christian; I belive in God and the bible, grew up in Church etc. I am not perfect and I do sin quite frequently. We as Christians believe we are forgiven and are entitled to believe what we choose just as everyone else is; there is freedom of religion and freedom of speech in place to protect everyone and their beliefs.”

Savant Brain Meme

I feel this way so often, I feel like I must make a base image so I can make one for every circumstance!  Because I think I have felt this way about 10 times this week.

The image is all Scott Adams/Dilbert

“It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience.” -Robert Birgeneau Chancellor of UC Berkeley.

My reaction:

But it can be used in all sorts of ways.

Why “In God We Trust” is a Problem

¡Delicioso!

During the Spanish Inquisition, Catholics would find Jews by looking to see who ate pork.  They’d offer pork to people they suspected of being Jewish, and if they refused to eat it, they were arrested.  Because in the 1400s the only real Spaniard was a Catholic Spaniard.  There was a holy war aimed at getting rid of the unwanted.

There was a holy war in the United States, too, in the 1950s.  There was a man named Joe McCarthy and he waged a holy war against the atheists.  “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity,” Joe McCarthy, 1950.

At the start, let me make clear that in my opinion no special credit is due those of us who are making an all-out fight against this Godless force-a force which seeks to destroy all the honesty and decency that every Protestant, Jew and Catholic has been taught at his mother’s knee. It is a task for which we can claim no special credit for doing. It is one which we are obligated to perform. It is one of the tasks for which we were brought into this world-for which we were born. If we fail to use all the powers of mind and body which God gave us, then I am sure our mothers, wherever they are tonight, may well sorrow for the day of our birth…

Jesus wants me to further my political career by being a jerk

Government officials were put on trial, torn apart for anything that seemed vaguely related to atheism, communism, homosexuality, or not quite being patriotic enough.  Many lost their careers and were unable to find work, some were wrongfully imprisoned on laws that were later overturned as unconstitutional — often on the basis of incredibly flimsy evidence and accusations from people with personal motives.

Perhaps you remember HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, which created lists of people who weren’t considered American enough — American in this case meaning Christian Non-Commies.  Over 300 artists were boycotted by Hollywood after being put on HUAC’s blacklist and only 10% of them were able to rebuild careers.  HUAC did local witch-hunts to ferret out people they didn’t like, making sure communities could shun them as Un-American.  Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible”, about the Salem Witch Trials, was inspired by the way HUAC treated people.  It was truly a witch-hunt and the offenders were Godless.

It is thanks to McCarthyism and HUAC that the phrase “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and the phrase “In God We Trust” was adopted as the national motto in 1956, over the previous, all-inclusive motto “E Pluribus Unum” — Out of Many, One.  Before the 1950s, the national motto said that the nation was stronger thanks to the many different kinds of people who made up the country; after the 1950s, the national motto said that the nation was stronger because of a Christian God.

To be clear, God was added to the Pledge and as a motto in the 1950s not because of a strong devotion to religion but out of a desire to find and punish atheists.

The House has just overwhelmingly reaffirmed the phrase “In God We Trust” as the national motto.  A completely unnecessary move as George W. Bush signed a law in 2002 reaffirming it as the national motto, along with reaffirming “under God” in the pledge.  Congress reaffirmed it as the national motto 5 years ago.  2 years ago, the phrase was added to the Capitol visitor center.  And this ridiculous vote in the middle of economic crisis that Congress has repeatedly failed to address effectively?  OK, so Congress likes God, now can they please get around to liking their constituents?

Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job

What drives me crazy is the refusal of the American people and the political establishment to recognize that the so-called tradition of God as part of these things only dates back to the 50s.  Everyone seems to think that they were established at the beginning of the country, not as part of a witch-hunt.  And they additionally refuse to recognize that not only is it conflating church and state, it is also endorsing the behavior of McCarthy and HUAC.  SCOTUS on this issue:

It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise. – Aronow v. United States, 1970

It has everything to do with establishing atheists as a second-class group of citizens and tacitly endorsing McCarthy’s persecution of those he called “Godless”.  If the government is not embarrassed by the blatant disregard of the Establishment Clause, it could at least show the good sense to be embarrassed by Joseph McCarthy.

Prison or Church?

There’s been some major hullaballoo over Bay Minette, Alabama’s decision to allow offenders to either go to prison or, since there’s so much crowding, to instead go to a year of weekly Sunday Church Services. This is, of course, deserving of an outcry, but it’s not really that different from what the justice system has been doing for a long time.

Many states require people to attend AA, which is a religious organization, and will not allow secular versions to be used. There was a prison in South Carolina that wouldn’t let prisoners have any book except for the Bible.  When your choice is extreme pain or being forced to have religion shoved down your throat, it’s not really a choice at all.  It is basically extortion — you go to church OR ELSE.

This is clearly a grotesque violation of separation of church and state, but it’s also just really dumb. If you don’t have the room for them in prison, why not come up with something actually useful that they could do — like community service or getting counseling or education.  Or let’s just stop putting people in jail for non-violent or victimless crimes.  Does someone seriously believe that sitting in church makes someone a better person, regardless of the beliefs of the person involved?

I guess churches are so dwindling in membership that any new face is a good face.

Secular Coalition for America Summit: Day 1

What a crazy weekend that was.  So crazy that I’m writing about it what, on Thursday?  Yeah, I was tweeting, hello, busy!  In fact, nothing I’m going to say here wasn’t said with worse grammar and lack of access to spell check earlier.

I landed at Ronald Reagan airport (DCA) and took a cab to the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, which has a view of the Capital, assuming you can stand in exactly the right place and lean as far to your left as possible.  My cab driver asked me what I was doing in town, and I was a little hesitant to say “CONQUERING THE WORLD WITH ATHEISM” because cab drivers have the power to not drive you anymore, and that would be unfun.  So I started in easy, and then discovered that my self-proclaimed religious cabbie was totally on board with secular values and gay rights!  Huzzah!

I hadn’t eaten yet, and the conference started at 1:00, which was exactly when I arrived.  In the elevator I met Liz Gaston and Omar Rashid, who would become my companions over the course of the event.  Because they were also awesome.

Sean Faircloth

Sean Faircloth

The event opened with Sean Faircloth, Woody Kaplan and Amanda Knief taking the podium in turns.  I learned a lot of stats that I will now list for you, because you’re apparently reading this:

  • Avg # of Staffers per House/Senate member: 18, split between home and DC
  • Percent of staffer time spent with constituents: 75%
  • Percent of staffers who think constituent visits are VERY persuasive: 97%

We broke down into groups after being given a rather lengthy guide to sales lobbying for people who don’t know anything about sales lobbying.  Being from SC, I got to work with Herb Silverman, who invented the SCA, and Sharon.

The issues we were planning on discussing the following day were the need for Humanist Military Chaplains and HR 1179 2011, a bill which allows medical service providers refuse to provide service if their religion demands it.  The first is an easier sell, because everyone likes to help the military, the second is one that requires reframing the debate.

The reason we need Humanist Military Chaplains is not necessarily intuitive for people on the edges of the debate: who needs an atheist chaplain?  Well, if the army is going to institutionalize having counselors on the ground and then NOT train them in how to deal with the 20%+ of armed service members with no religious preference, then that’s a problem.  Humanism is a life philosophy and not actually synonymous with atheist, there’s just a large overlap.  There aren’t any, despite the fact that there are people graduated from places like Harvard with divinity degrees focusing on Humanism.

HR 1179 2011 is more of an issue of patients rights.  Doctors, Insurance, Nurses, Pharmacists, Hospitals and so on can not only refuse care that they don’t approve of, they can not tell you that they won’t do those services and not inform you that such services exist.  This includes obvious things like abortions and birth control, but also things like living wills and DNRs.  A Catholic Hospital can say it offers comprehensive female care and then not tell you most of what’s involved with comprehensive care.

I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re a Scientologist, you don’t become a Psychiatrist; if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, you don’t become a Doctor; and if you’re someone with a political agenda that puts church in front of saving lives, you stay the hell away from medicine.  But what do I know?

Me at SCOTUS

Equal Justice Under Law

Sorry, shaking it off.  I got to walk around DC, I wanted to see if maybe I could get into SCOTUS, but I couldn’t.  Omar took this very cool picture of me at the Supreme Court.  And then it was time for dinner.

Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has been my Facebook friend for a long time, but whose books I’ve never read and who I’ve never hung out with as such but is now my new favorite person, gave a speech at the dinner.  She is a proponent of Poetic Atheism, which is like Atheism, but it rhymes.  I’ll give you some quotes, grossly paraphrased:

When you know your history, you are powerful. More people in the history of humanity have not believed in God than have. (Atheism began around 600BC)

If I enjoy every day of my life I don’t worry so much about death. I mean, we barely use the life we’ve got — I dunno about you but I walk back and forth between the fridge and the computer a lot, what, I need a thousand years of it?

We were the first country founded as a secular rationalist country but we were also the first country to give the uneducated poor the vote.  They worried that the uneducated poor would elect a poor man who would redistribute all the wealth.  The uneducated poor won’t vote in a poor man, they’ll elect a stupid rich man.  This is why we need free mandatory secular education!

Nothing in science fiction, in religion, in myths is as weird as this: (points to her head) the meat thinks.  Nothing is as weird as love.

jmh

A real actual photo of JMH and a Margarita (w/salt)

George Hrab, who is Spider Jerusalem, then performed some of his atheisty songs.

Hrab

A real actual photo of George Hrab

George Hrab is of the belief that James Randi is a garden gnome.  This is undeniable.

randi

A real actual photo of James Randi

My favorite zinger was aimed at Hitchens, when Hrab was talking about an event that Hitchens was going to be at but then wasn’t actually there.

Christopher Hitchens was supposed to be there, but I guess he had to go to a scotch festival… But at least that worked out for him.

OH SNAP!  Basically what I’m saying is that George Hrab was pretty good, but he talked about his balls a lot.

After Hrab, Sean led trivia.  I had talked a rather big game before the conference, so there was some pressure to win.  Which I did quite handily, thank you very much.  With the help of Omar for “Mumford and Sons” when all I could remember was “Little Lion Man”.  We won an extra drink ticket, which I used to buy other people’s love, because people are irrationally in love with drink tickets.

After that, I went to meet George Hrab because I have a friend, Jarrett, who is a big fan.  There are all these people who really dig on podcasts and I don’t get it.  It’s like NPR but less focused, I know, I’ve been on a podcast.  He wrote a note and let me take photos and then I ended up going down and hanging out with him and Liz and some random other people in the bar downstairs.  There was an origami velociraptor involved.

georgehrab

Where the hell were you people?

The Polygamist Message from May, 2007

I know you all can’t get enough creepy messages, right?  So here’s the best of my collection, the greatest message I’ve ever gotten from a complete stranger.  Can you handle it?  Bolds are mine!

It’s come to my attention that people (women) often say that one of the most fundamental things they are looking for is honesty in a man but since they’ve more than likely never met an honest man they don’t know what to do when they actually confront one.

That having been said let’s see if you write me (an extremely honest man back. Now this writing back deal will require a certain amount of curiosity and gumption and no small amount of an open mind. If you wonder why no honest men it’s because the world is backwards and most of the the time people not only tell you what you want to hear but know what invariably happens when telling the truth…..let’s see:

You would never find a better more honest friend, lover, husband. How do I know that? Because I have two wives and I’m looking for a third. That’s getting the 500 pound gorilla out of the way up front and being honest isn’t it?

What do you suppose type of man I am? One you should avoid or embrace? Well I’m not a dishrag. I appreciate intelligent physically strong females because they make the best babies and I’m all about family and yes I can afford three wives.

Well you have a choice to ignore or explore. I expect everything and ask for nothing. Consequently I’m unable to place you in an akward position. You might just be curious….if so please feel free to write. I won’t bite and you can always use me for a topic of conversation. “I actually correspond with a polygamist from Florida on a regular basis!!!”

Looking forward to your reply……..C. Smith

Ashley Writes Back:

Well, huh. I mean, it’s simply too weird not to respond to, you know? I’ve got to admit, you’re definitely ballsy. Do you just send these out en masse, or did you actually choose to send it to me for some reason?

I’m not really interested, you being over twice my age, married, with kids, and, I’m guessing, religious. But, kudos for being totally straightforward. I’m sure that someone is looking for you, so good luck with that.

You don’t have to respond, but I do wonder if you’ve seen the show Big Love. And what on earth drives you to be so openly polygamist.

He writes back:

Hi Pumpkin,

Thanks for the reply.

I think on some level it is shocking to be in a position to tell the truth or put another way….in a position to tell society to kiss my ass. But I have structured my life so as not to place myself in a situation where I have to cowtow to others. As an example I can never be excomunicated from the catholic church. I’m not catholic!!! For that reason I’m not a joiner. If you join anything it usually comes with a handbook of rules outlining what they expect from you.

Today’s news is replete with a story about the ex-govenor’s wife and her feelings when he announced to the world that he was gay. (she wrote a book about it) Also there were 70 comments from people explaning their like experiences. I looked at it this way: If he hadn’t lied to her and she hadn’t married the bastard their daughter would never have been born.

I’m an intellectual…we speak five languages between us and number two is half way through her masters in accounting at JU. I wrote you because you have a brain. You’re curious enough to at least write back and you know that any system made by man is for the benefit of man. Women didn’t make the laws against polygamy (we are not religiously driven….just to make that clear, and nothing stops the members of my family from leaving if they want to).

Age means nothing to me (well young girls no – I’m not a pedophile) because if it were important I would think, chronologically, you would be a little young. Yuliya is just turned 27. But I should think it would be more important to know who was in charge of your household (who made the last word final decisions on the important things) your father or your mother. It would be neigh on to impossible no matter how old you are to get along with you if your mother raised you. See that’s more important don’t you think?

Finally to answer your question further about my openess. Nobody really gives ashit what you do unless it impacts them and what I do is a building experience….more family, more intelligent kids, better life style (everybody pools their resources) more fun, more options. Lets say you end up with “Mr. Right” who cheats on you and lies to you and saddles you with obligations that you don’t want. What say do you have because you were following the norm. girl it doesn’t work out for half the people who get married! Be realistic. So why should they care what I’m doing….they don’t. Now they care in Utah because the Mormons (a sect) kicked out the polygamists a hundred years ago in direct opposition to their founder Joseph Smith (who was killed by that time) so they could join the Union. So you could say they sold out and because of that they are so fervently against the other mormons who consider themselves the “real” mormons. I, of course, could care less as I build family.

Perhaps you will write back. Maybe you would like to see what I do in my spare time:

http://www.aerofast.com/photography/index.html

Is their one you like better than the others?

Clayton the Honest

Derren Brown vs Faith Healing

There are few things more difficult for the skeptic to let go of than their faith in their own intelligence.  After all, recognizing the untruth of something lots of people believe in (gods, psychics, bigfoots) does give one a sense of intellectual superiority.  I've certainly been guilty of a sort of mental vanity that is borderline absurd — not because I'm not smart but because no one is smart enough to overcome the inherent fallibility of the human mind.  Smart people are often just better at tricking themselves into believing whatever it is they wish to be true.

And this is why I so appreciate the work of Derren Brown, a mentalist and magician who captivated me last year when I read his book "Tricks of the Mind".  He reminds me of Stephen Fry — brilliant, funny, atheist, gay and charming — like something from an Oscar Wilde play, not of this time.  Derren's schtick is to do magic tricks while explaining why the mind falls for them — he's sort of like a psychologist of magic.  It's similar to Penn & Teller, but his tricks are less sleight of hand and more sleight of mind.  He has gotten some flak in skeptic circles because he usually has a trick or two he doesn't explain, retaining some of that appeal to mysticism that he's otherwise debunking, but it's all part of the show.

If you share with me a love of the horrifically compelling documentary "Marjoe" or the delightful Steve Martin film "Leap of Faith", or if you just hate swindlers, especially those abusing religion to take advantage of people, then you'll be interested in Derren's latest TV Special, slated to air in the UK on C4 Monday night at 9.  It is called "Miracles for Sale" which is a rather tame title considering the subject matter.

The special will follow Derren's attempt, which one assumes was successful since it's airing, to turn an average Joe from the streets into a faith healer, using only tricks of the mentalist trade.  Basically, he's going to see if people fall for obvious fraud.  Derren claims that this is not about God, but about exposing fraud, though it can't help but paint religion and the entire idea of faith healing in an intensely negative light.

Although I don't hide my own lack of religious belief, my repulsion at this scam comes as much from my days as a Christian as it does from simply being a human being observing ego- and money-driven fraud.

As a former Evangelical, Derren manages to have street cred with Christians, although many others see his de-conversion as some sort of personal insult or, typically, a sign that he was never really a Christian in the first place.  And of course he's already getting the kind of braindead responses you'd expect from the faith healing crowds.  "U say there's no proof of genuine miracle?  Where have u been looking??  I've personally SEEN the blind SEE the Deaf hear and many other miracles…" "Jesus heals people all the time.  It is not faith healing though.  When Jesus speaks to someone they get healed.  Everything he does works."

So much for helping those in need.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-O9aNl2Xrk&feature=related

Releasing the Prop 8 Videos

 

People in an open society do not demand infallibility in their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing – Chief Justice Berger

Former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, who presided over the Prop 8 trial, recently used some of the video that was taken during the case as part of a lecture.  The Proponents, aka supporters of Prop 8/opposers of gay marriage, immediately took great offense and sent what was essentially a cease and desist order that demanded the return of all the copies of the tapes, Walker's and anyone else who had them.

 
In response, Ted Olson and David Boies, the legal tour de force trying to lift the gay marriage ban, filed a request that the tapes be unsealed and released to the public.  After all, the trial is a matter of public record and the transcripts are freely available.
 
Originally, the trial was going to be broadcast live, but the Proponents felt like this might scare some of their witnesses away, and so they demanded that it not be broadcast.  Judge Walker taped it, but didn't release the tapes, to the great disappointment of the men and women across the country who wanted to see the greatest trial of the greatest civil rights battle of our time.

No one can really blame the Proponents for not wanting to have video footage of just how appallingly awful their defense of Prop 8 was.  They want to continue to play the victim here — they want to sell the idea that gay marriage is somehow a violation of religious liberty, rather than being completely the other way round.  The video of their disastrous performance would only reveal that they are driven solely by religion and bigotry — and that they aren't even capable of hiding that fact.

Some things that they don't want you to see on television, things that their own anti-equality witnesses did: a witness saying that DADT and DOMA were "Official Discrimination"; that same witness then saying Prop 8 was also discriminatory; Mr. Blankenhorn, their chief witness saying, "I believe that adoption of same sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children"; Blankenhorn also saying, "We would be more American on the day we legalized gay marriage than the day before".

Well, I mean, no wonder, right?  But that's exactly why these things need to be released.  People need the opportunity to see how feeble the defense was and to really understand how motivated by religion the campaign against equality was.  Not everyone is as nerdy as me and reads trial transcripts because they find them so compelling — video is the medium of our lives, and well do the religious know that since it is the medium through which they sold their hate.

The vast majority of the money and on-the-ground support for the Prop 8 campaign came from the Mormon church, supplemented by the Catholic church.  This isn't even money from California, and it's certainly money that ought to take away their tax exempt status.  People need to be shown the kind of lies they were telling to get people to vote against marriage equality, the emotional manipulation about children and families, things so blatantly false they might be defended with the disclaimer: "not intended to be a factual statement."

Gay marriage doesn't destroy families, it doesn't destroy children, it really doesn't do much except make some people very happy and give them access to rights that the rest of us take for granted.  The trial provided an overwhelming amount of evidence that refusing marriage rights not only hurt gay people, but also hurt the thousands of children of LGBT parents.  It hurts these children irreparably, immeasurably, forever.  This wasn't in question, gay marriage opponents agreed.

These tapes shouldn't just be released, they should be broadcast on every news channel for weeks to expose just how rotten the argument is against gay marriage.  If you've ever questioned why church-state separation is so important, this is why.  If conservative Christians (and I include the LDS) hadn't funded the gay marriage ban, it wouldn't be in place, and even they couldn't create enough money to make credible witnesses or a real argument against gay marriage.  The monstrous unfairness of the church taking over, infiltrating, and outright buying the political process only to then lie to the public to get their way has got to stop.  Not only is it immoral, it is un-American.

Proponents motion for return of videos http://www.scribd.com/doc/52945974/CA9Doc-338
Vaughn Walker's response: http://www.scribd.com/doc/53041973/CA9Doc-339-Letter-from-Vaughn-R-Walker
Olson and Boies request for unsealing of videos: http://www.scribd.com/doc/52945974/CA9Doc-340
San Francisco's feisty response: http://www.scribd.com/doc/52945974/CA9Doc-341