Open thread: Talking to religious family over Thanksgiving

It’s a big cliche at this time of year that people get together with lots of family members who have very different opinions, and they get in terrible arguments around the dinner table. I wanted to write a blog post about coping with this situation, but since my family isn’t religious, I have limited personal experience with this (mainly with some in-laws, but not for several years). One friend with a fundamentalist family (she may identify herself if she chooses) told me that you should never engage with your religious family about your atheism on Thanksgiving. And if they insist on talking about religion or politics, leave the room.

So instead of writing a real post about my opinions, I thought I’d just sit back and listen. For people with religious families of any kind, whether fundamentalist or liberal: In your personal experience, has it ever been productive to let yourself be drawn into a religious discussion with your family, particularly on Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear your anecdotes about this, whether it is about moderate success or comically catastrophic failure. Any strategies for shutting down discussions that aren’t welcome?

Open thread for episode #945: Matt and Tracie

I (Tracie) will do a brief reading from Bulfinch’s Mythology, for a passage on the Greek tale of Agamemnon and Iphigenia, as follows:

After two years of preparation the Greek fleet and army assembled in the port of Aulis in Boeotia. Here Agamemnon in hunting killed a stag which was sacred to Diana, and the goddess in return visited the army with pestilence, and produced a calm which prevented the ships from leaving the port. Calchas, the soothsayer, thereupon announced that the wrath of the virgin goddess could only be appeased by the sacrifice of a virgin on her altar, and that none other but the daughter of the offender would be acceptable. Agamemnon, however reluctant, yielded his consent, and the maiden Iphigenia was sent for under the pretense that she was to be married to Achilles. When she was about to be sacrificed the goddess relented and snatched her away, leaving a hind in her place, and Iphigenia, enveloped in a cloud, was carried to Tauris, where Diana made her priestess of her temple.

The earliest references to Agamemnon appear to date back to the 14th C BCE. The story of Iphigneia is reminiscent of the Binding of Isaac, told in the Biblical book of Genesis, which dates back to approximately the 5th or 6th C BCE. In both tales, a god demands the human sacrifice of an adherent’s child, stays the execution, and then supplies a substitute sacrifice after the rescue. Iphigenia’s tale has alternate endings, one of which expresses the maiden is actually killed. Likewise, scholars have suggested there is evidence the story of Isaac has a similar alternate ending that likely predated the modern tale in which he is ultimately rescued from death.

it is important to note that similarities in mythologies may or may not be evidence of prior cultural connections. And sometimes themes are simply “human” and follow a common thread, despite a lack of cultural connection. I have not researched connection in this case. I just read the story of Iphigenia this week, and was struck by the similarity to the Bible story from my youth. I found it interesting and wanted to share. If others would like to expand on research for either or both of these subjects in comments, I encourage you to do so.

Call to action: What is Islamic State’s motivation, in their own words?

Update: I think this question has been answered. See end of the post.

Yesterday on “The Non-Prophets”, we spent some time discussing the fact that we don’t entirely know or understand what the “Islamic State” terrorists claim as their motivation. The group has claimed credit for the recent attacks in Paris, but the news articles we reviewed had a hard time clearly representing why they do things like this. What is their game plan? What specific beliefs do they have about God, and how do they say committing terrorist acts will further these religious goals?

I do a regular segment on this show called “Shit Internet Apologists Say.” In it, we read and discuss/ridicule the unfiltered rants that religious extremists have written online. I would like to find material that was written by or transcribed from somebody who claims affiliation with IS or al-Qaeda, and who appears to sincerely believe that violence is an effective and justified way to achieve goals that further their specific Muslim sect’s beliefs. The reasons don’t need to make sense, obviously, but they need to be genuinely presented. I’m not looking for the intelligence community’s explanation of what IS thinks, and I definitely don’t want a satirical or sarcastic representation of their beliefs. I want a legitimate link to their real beliefs, in their own words.

If you can find something like that, please post it here, private message me, or pass it along on Twitter while mentioning me (@RussellGlasser) or using hashtag #NonProphetsNews, so that I will notice it. I will read the most useful link on the next show and credit the person who sent it to me. Thanks for your help.

Updated: James Billingham on Facebook has provided a link with the full text of a letter from the Islamic State. Unless something better comes along, I will probably use it. But I think I am definitely going to need to edit it in order to get the good bits.

Open thread for episode #944: Russell and Jen

While I have your attention, I have an announcement for Facebook users. I’m pleased to announce the creation of some new open participation groups: The Atheist Experience Official Discussion Group, and The Non-Prophets Official Discussion Group. While there are some other groups that are purportedly about the shows, these are the only ones that are officially connected to the Atheist Community of Austin. If you’d like a venue to discuss outside of this blog, where you don’t have to wait for us to initiate “open threads” like this one, please check them out.

Also: Tomorrow evening (Monday) I will be speaking to the Secular Student Alliance at Baylor University, as well as some other local groups in Waco. We’ll be meeting at the Waco Unitarian Church, 4209 N 27th St, starting at 7:30 PM.

Open thread for episode #943: Russell and Lynnea

I wish to offer a correction: During the show a caller named Jason claimed that burqas are banned in Australia. We were not able to fact check this claim while doing a live show, but accepted it at face value. As numerous people have now pointed out, there is no such law, although a rule was briefly instituted which prevented people from wearing burqas in parliament. The rule was quickly overturned. We regret the error.

#RichardDawkins #Awkward

Like a lot of you, I look back wistfully upon a time when Richard Dawkins was a name to inspire admiration, and not one whose mere mention immediately triggers an “Oh shit, what has he said this time?” response. Over on Twitter, where he’s cultivated a reputation for (to put it politely) shooting from the hip and being nearly as reactionary as any Teabagger, his latest gem goes something like this:

Hmm, okay. And yet, oddly, in 2013 (*corrected posting date), the Richard Dawkins Foundation website was favorably reporting on this:

‘Secular safe zones’ offer campus shelter to atheist students

The small sticker on professor Robert Schmidt’s office door isn’t just a decoration — it’s a beacon of safety for students who feel they are being singled out for their lack of religious beliefs.

The blue, green, yellow and pink rectangle signals that Schmidt’s office at Utah State University is a “Secular Safe Zone” — a place where students who are atheists, agnostics or just questioning their faith can go for advice about dealing with bullying, discrimination and other forms of aggression.

“Being an ally to ‘create safe spaces in which secular students can question, criticize, and discuss topics and issues important to them’ feels right to me,” Schmidt said from his Logan office, quoting the goals of the Secular Safe Zone program. “All students should feel safe on campus.” [Emphasis added.]

Yeah, this is one of those moments best addressed by a Fillion GIF.


Addendum: Sadly, it didn’t take me long to find another example of Dawkins being a bit two-faced. I noticed this tweet exchange…

…and remembered that, in the wake of Elevatorgate and “Dear Muslima,” Dawkins got some personal revenge by demanding Rebecca Watson be disinvited from Reason Rally. #Awkward.