A headline to warm your heart

Some of you have probably already seen this CNN article, with the eye-catching headline “America becoming less Christian, survey finds”. Even more full of awesome is the lead.

America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found. [Emphasis added.]

Still, don’t start throwing confetti and popping corks yet. We’re a long way from being, say, Norway. The US is still the most benighted country in the civilized world in terms of its addiction to supernaturalist twaddle. Perhaps only Turkey and Saudi Arabia are worse, and as for some of the even more radical Islamist nations, well, we could probably argue about the degree to which they’re “civilized” in the first place. I’d be dubious about applying the term to Saudi Arabia even, considering they’re still entrenched in attitudes and rules that are indistinguishable from pure barbarism.

The sobering flipside to this shift away from religion is that, among those identifying as Christian (still the humiliating majority), they are shifting further away from traditional denominations and churches, and towards the kind of blinkered, butt-ignorant evangelical fundamentalism represented by the likes of Ray Comfort, Brannon Howse, and the Texas SBOE. So the job of the reality-based community to ensure that such things as science and freethought survive into the 21st century has in fact gotten harder.

The article is, on the whole, typically bad of what you see in the MSM, as they interview numbskulls like the odious Bill Donahue and gay-basher Tony Perkins, while failing to interview anyone representing atheists or the religiously indifferent. But it’s still nice to see that the growing rejection of religious idiocy in our country is, at least, being noticed. It’s the kind of thing the AE blog and TV show are proud to contribute to.

Does the term “atheist evangelism” acknowledge that atheism is a religion?

Dale writes:

Russell,

I am 40 years an atheist and have countless communications with theists. The blogoshere has opened a deversified line of communications with theists. I have just watched your lecture series on You Tube and thoroughly enjoyed them.

I am presently debating a theist that is trying to perpetuate the myth that atheism is a religion. He is now pointing out your lectures and saying, “see, they are “evangelizing.” That proves that atheism is a religion.

My observation is that using the term “evangelizing” may not have been the best choice of words. I understand that it is meant to mean “carry the message,” but it seems that “evangelize” is strictly used in a religious connotation.

I was wondering if you you have had any other feed back on this and how you might respond to my dilemma.

I know you must be very busy but hope you have a moment to respond.

I will be supporting you and the ACA more in the future and keep up the great work that you are doing!

Best Regards,

Dale

When I titled my lecture “How atheists can be effective evangelists,” of course I was intentionally invoking the obvious religious connotation of the word.  I would say this was partly a joke — I like to use a little bit of clever wordplay in the titles of my posts and lectures whenever any occurs to me, and I picked the image of an atheist evangelist precisely because the words are so jarring together.

I recognize, though, that it’s a problem that atheists grapple with already.  Theists frequently dismiss atheism by saying it’s “just another religion” — which is hilariously ironic, since the implied irrelevance of religion makes our point for us.  But let’s tackle this question of whether atheism is really a religion.

A while ago I came up with a strategy for dealing with the “Atheism is a religion” charge on the show.  My reply can be summed up in two words: “So what?”

That’s a bit glib, sure, but let’s look at the accusation.  The problem with the charge is that “Atheism = Religion” is a huge equivocation fallacy.  It relies on the fact that “religion” is poorly defined and has many different meanings.  So when somebody tells you that atheism is a religion, the appropriate follow-up question is “What do you mean by that?”

This puts the ball more squarely in their court, and lets you evaluate the MEANING of the word rather than quibbling over the word itself.  One perfectly acceptable definition of religion is: “something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.

Gosh!  Fighting prejudice is a religion!  I certainly don’t have a problem fighting prejudice, I guess I am pro-religion!

On the other hand, another definition is: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”  Atheism is not that.  Duh.

So you see, the active meaning is the important thing.  Not the word.  There are ways that atheists do the same things religious people do.  For instance, I like the way religions form social outlets for people to get together and discuss common interests.  I think atheists should do more of that.  If they did, they’d be more like religions.

So what?

I don’t think you should take things on faith.  I don’t think you should form major unwavering beliefs on the basis of little evidence, or in spite of contrary evidence.  In that sense, atheism should not emulate religion, and probably never will.

For the purposes of the Supreme Court, secular humanism is a religion.  So what?  Should we revile secular humanism on those grounds?  Or should we say “Yeah, I can see the relevance of the legal definition, and I’m glad that this is used to confer more rights on secular humanists that were already implicit in the legal meaning of religion”?

Next time people tell you that atheists are just as religious as Christians, ask them what they mean by that.  And if they use a definition of religion that is so broad that it really does include your concept of atheism, then just reply, “So what?”

Shirts ship Friday the 13th

A quick note about the AXP T-shirts (see sidebar), which will at last be ready this Friday. If there’s one thing cooler than having two months in a row with a Friday the 13th in them, it’s that you get AXP shirts into the bargain.

The initial print run is sold out. But a second print run will be a much simpler (and faster) thing to do, as it will only involve a phone call saying “I need more shirts.” To make it worthwhile though, it’d be nice to have a good healthy second run ordered — say, 50 shirts. I know we’re all keeping tight belts right now. But everyone could use a sexay new shirt, if only to replace the one that living under eight years of a religious right presidency stole off your backs.

Any shirt orders placed between now and Wednesday will be ones I’ll try to have ready for the Friday shipping, along with the first batch. Don’t forget to include your size, which is something a lot of folks have been forgetting. There should be a text field you can use for that.

Stem cell research at last

I’m pleased, as is anyone in the pro-science camp, at Obama’s expected reversal of Bush’s ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. I especially appreciate these comments he made.

“Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry,” Obama said. “It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

That last is another richly deserved rebuke of the Bush administration, and its kowtowing to fundamentalist ignorance in issues of science. In particular, the Right Wing Cult of the Fetus is driven berserk by the idea that “babies” are being “killed” so that mad scientists can do their freakish lab experiments. The point that the fetuses being used are among those routinely destroyed as surplus by fertility clinics is not the kind of inconvenient fact that will pierce the armor plating of their righteousness. Nor is the fact that these fetuses will still be available for infertile parents who wish to conceive in vitro.

As for the results we may one day enjoy from such research, which are also disputed by the RA crowd (Righteous Anger), well, we cannot say for sure right this minute that, fifty years from now, paraplegics will be dancing the rhumba after having their new spines installed as an outpatient procedure, or that we’ll have eradicated dozens of diseases, or what have you. But the possibility is there, and not to be ignored, and that’s why research is so vital. If we can better the lives of people, we should. That’s basic.

Still, though, sometimes I think conservatives cannot only think long-term, but literally can’t understand anything that doesn’t appear to have an immediate, tangible benefit. It’s as if scientific research isn’t worth doing if it doesn’t work like an ATM, spitting out instant gratification. Get a load of Republican Rep. Eric Cantor’s ignorant and hypocritical whimper, which he tries to couch in terms of the economy.

“Why are we going and distracting ourselves from the economy? This is job No. 1. Let’s focus on what needs to be done,” Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Once more with feeling: Cantor’s party bequeathed us this tattered economy, so that’s quite enough pretense from their side of the aisle that theirs is the party that’s all about fiscal responsibility, thank you kindly. And with the stimulus package now signed, well, let’s say that the l-o-n-g road to economic repair is, at least, being mapped out.

But what’s doubly stupid about Cantor’s remarks is his failure to understand that a country engaging in strong and well-funded scientific research is one whose economy is thriving. Not only does it put researchers to work — you know, jobs — but if their research really does bear fruit, and we begin to see real treatments emerge that we’ve never had before…well, that means money, dammit, and plenty of it. It means medicine we can export, it means more students getting advanced degrees in the sciences due to the increase in jobs in the wake of these new treatments…I mean, there’s no downside.

The only downside to scientific research is when ideology hurls itself bodily in science’s path. I’m glad that, for right now at least, we have a president who respects the role of science in benefiting humanity. And the economy.

A retrospective on the millenium bug

I wrote a post on my other blog looking back at Y2K.  While it is still primarily a blog about software engineering, a lot of the post is repeating and expanding on some things I said about Gary North in my show about Dominionism last year.  Besides, you can never have too much making fun of people for their failed end-of-the-world predictions.

Hey, everyone!  Remember that one time when the banks failed, governments collapsed, truckers were immobilized, people everywhere were starving, and civilization as we know it ended?  Good times, good times.

In the immortal words of John Cleese, “I got better…”

Do Moderate Christians Enable Fundamentalist Agendas?

I have a theist friend who thinks I’m too quick to blame some of the world’s ills on religion. After all, he was raised in religion. He believes in god, and he doesn’t care if anyone else does or not. He isn’t trying to force it onto anyone else. He isn’t writing to legislators to ask them to incorporate his beliefs into laws that impact anyone else. And none of his friends or family has ever done anything like that, either. Christianity isn’t impacting U.S. policy. I’m simply imagining things.

My friend is an example of what Sam Harris discusses in his writings when he describes how moderate Christians act as a buffer—a safety net—for fundamentalist Christians who are pushing their agendas into public policy and legislation. To criticize such a Christian agenda insults moderate Christians (like my friend) who are quick to defend that their religion should not be blamed for public ills. After all, what moderate wants to be held responsible for harmful public policies and legislation?

Say that religion is at the root of such a problem, and you get shot down before you’re even out of the gate (if I can mix my metaphors)—not by overzealous fundamentalists, but by moderate, liberal Christians—like my friend. Point out where religion harms society, and you’re met with the shout down—from moderate, middle-of-the-road Christians—that you’re guilty of painting religion with too broad a brush. You’re cherry picking lunatics and fanatics and trying to impose that dysfunctional mess upon all Christians, who are, for the most part, socially benign.

To be honest, I have no idea if the majority of Christians are “moderate”—in the sense that they have personal beliefs they don’t try to spread around or impose on others. I have no aversion to assuming most Christians fit that bill. Certainly most believers I have met personally aren’t any different. But whether they have majority numbers or not, it’s the fanatics that are running the program, invading politics, and shaping law and policy in this nation to bend it to a fundamentalist Christian agenda.

If a silent majority doesn’t like being represented by a squeaky-wheel faction—I recommend they should learn to speak up against their brethren whom they condemn privately as “lunatics” and “fanatics.” Instead, from what I can see, moderates would rather use their collective, “majority” voices to speak out against anyone else who condemns their fanatical members publicly. And here I have to excuse (and applaud) more responsible, moderate Christians—few though they may be—who do actually counter fundamentalism publicly, such as Barry Lynn Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

But it can no longer be denied, by any reasonably informed person, that public policy is being shaped by Christian agendas—whether it is the work of a fanatic, but highly politically efficient, minority of Christians or not. And if the moderate middle rebuffs criticisms of their more fanatic brethren, denies there is any problem in their midst, and refuses to join anyone in confronting the negative elements within their own camp—how are they not part of the problem? These moderates aren’t just guilty of letting the fundamentalist element run roughshod while they sit silently by, they’re actually protecting fundamentalist actions against legitimate criticisms by throwing the accusation “gross generalization” and “prejudice alarmist” at anyone who dares claim there even is a problem to criticize within the Christian ranks.

In the editorial section of this morning’s Austin American-Statesman, there are two articles that address the statistically observable supreme failings of Texas’ abstinence-based sex education in public schools. One article, “Learning Sex the Texas Way,” has this to say:

“Gov. Rick Perry’s office said he is comfortable with the abstinence-based approach. ‘We oppose any sex education other than abstinence until heterosexual marriage,’ said his spokeswoman.”

Make no mistake, Perry has won re-election in the past. I cannot claim that he is unpopular. And I’m guessing he knows who his supporters are. What politician doesn’t? If he put forward policies not backed by the majority of voting Texans—how would he remain in office? Any thinking person might legitimately then ask, “what constituency would support failing programs and policies that put their own children at risk of deadly STDs and unwanted pregnancies?”

Let’s examine that question.

At the American Family Association (AFA) online, in their article, “Abstinence-Only Education Proves Effective,” it states, “there is no logical reason why abstinence-only education would not be effective in reducing sexual activity among teens.”

Logical or not, we come pretty close to abstinence-only in Texas—and it’s not working as it “logically” should.

Just to cement that this is a Christian organization, in their section “Does AFA hate homosexuals?” the site states:

“The same Holy Bible that calls us to reject sin, calls us to love our neighbor… AFA has sponsored several events reaching out to homosexuals and letting them know there is love and healing at the Cross of Christ.”

Make no mistake AFA is a Christian coalition.

Another supporter is The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. On their site is an article “Support Abstinence Education,” that says, “Don’t let the Senate jeopardize the future of abstinence education. Call or e-mail today!”

Do I need to keep going? The religious right has code words as well, such as conservative, family values, traditional, moral, and so on. They have less overtly religious organizations as well, such as the National Review—which bills itself as a “conservative” media source. Not every group is an outright Wallbuilders. But the more you educate yourself about these issues, the faster you begin to recognize the words that equal “Christian.” Doubt me? Try following a few of these sites for a month to see if you don’t start seeing particular words and phrases that begin to stand out as secular, yet repetitive.

Why use codes? Why not simply say, “This is my religious belief, and I’m going to do all I can to promote it in public policy and legislation”? AFA pretty clearly does this—so why not all organizations with a Christian base?

There is one clear advantage to hiding a religious agenda. Ask Intelligent Design proponents. When the courts tell you that teaching Creationism in schools is using the government to promote religion, and you can’t do that, you are forced to find more subversive, secular-sounding means to reach your goals. You take out “god” and put in “Intelligent Designer.” (Just make sure to double-check the search-and-replaces in your documentation really well before going to court.)

Still, today I realized something different and new and as enlightening as it is disturbing. I realized that even powerful mainstream critics of these religious fundamentalists have learned to pretend that this is actually a battle between secular ideologies—Republican vs. Democrat—and religion plays no part. In both opinion pieces, religion is oddly absent—as is any mention of who might be promoting such policies. Why call out Perry alone? Yes, he’s a politician, and his performance should be examined in the paper. I can’t deny that. But is a public official who has won re-election really the cause of bad policy or is he merely the elected representative for it? Again, without the support of the majority of voting constituents in Texas—he could not have won re-election. Perry is doing the will of the (voting) majority in Texas. And when his office can issue a statement such as the one quoted earlier—can there be any doubt it’s a Christian Right majority he intends to please?

What would happen if the paper
published an editorial critical of the “Christian” agenda to promote abstinence-only education? In addition to raising the ire of far right groups like AFA, Wallbuilders, Liberty Commission, and so on—they would upset, as well, huge numbers of “regular” people—like my friend—who would cry “foul” at being lumped under the umbrella of the fundamentalist “lunatic fringe” who are causing this harm.

But if I say Christians are at the root of the abstinence-only policy, I’m not generalizing any more broadly than if I were to say that horses run in the Kentucky Derby. The group promoting these policies consists of self-identified Christians. And the animals running in the Derby consist of horses. Do all Christians support these policies? No more than all horses run in the Derby. So, what’s the problem? I don’t care if some Christians—even most Christians—aren’t supportive of these policies. It’s no less true that the policies are, by the largest margin, Christian created, promoted and supported. But if we say that, nobody will hear—not because the Religious Right will shut us down, but because religious moderates will.

My friend made this point loud and clear. “There’s nothing religious in those articles. It’s just about the schools and education. Where do you see religion even mentioned?”

He’s right that I don’t see religion even mentioned. But I have to ask if he sees any mention of who is at the root of these policy directives? Does my friend imagine Perry just made this up himself?

Fundamentalist Christians use public policy and legislation to push their religion onto everyone else. Anyone who criticizes the far right source is immediately shot down by the moderate middle. And, for the most part, we all pretend religion has no bearing on public policy—to the point that many people actually believe this is true. Anyone who says otherwise is just an overly excited alarmist. And the fundamentalists proceed, without mainstream majority opposition or interference, to push their religious agenda onto everyone else, with absolute gratitude toward their moderate brethren—the ones who would never do anything to push their religion onto anyone else.

Fireproof

Here’s another Kirk Cameron movie that I’ll never have to watch now. Thanks, Everything Else Atheist!

After a heroic rescue and doctor drama, Cameron’s at home again, on the Internet looking at boats, an established hobby. An ad pops up – “wanna see? Click here!” Adblock plus and firefox will take care of that little annoyance, I tell you. I think it leads to porn, but since they dance around it and never say the word porn, it’s a bit hard to tell. Maybe the sexy girl in the photo wants to show him her enormous Jenga collection, maybe it’s a rickroll. We will never know, because he flips out, gets up and emotionally beats himself for thinking about clicking on that link. With the help of the advice book, he decides not only to not click the link, but to take his computer outside and destroy it with a baseball bat.

Honestly… who among us has psychological problems that can’t be solved with a simple baseball bat?

Regarding Ray Comfort, the World’s Stupidest Christian™

Ray Comfort, the World’s Stupidest Christian™, is the world’s stupidest Christian. When you consider the competition, that’s quite a feat. Ray’s degree of stupidity is truly stunning to behold. It’s so monumental it serves as a kind of strange attractor towards which other Christians, not necessarily as stupid as Ray but not especially smart either, are inexorably drawn. It’s Stupidity as a force of nature, implacable, unwavering as the tides, and entropically hurtling towards greater and greater stupidity until any remaining vestige of what might be determined intelligence has been broken down into its constituent molecules, and scattered to the voids of space.

So like, the guy’s frackin’ stupid. Really. I’ve blown boogers into tissues during a bad cold that are Nobel laureates compared to this guy. Stoo-pid.

Not content with the minor notoriety one gains from being the World’s Stupidest Christian™, Ray has decided he really needs to earn the title. After all, a man’s gotta have something in the way of an achievement in life. So, to this end, as those of you who’ve been hanging out on RDnet and Pharyngula have already heard, he has “challenged” Richard Dawkins to a “debate”. This is as funny as Verne Troyer challenging Mike Tyson to three rounds in the ring.

But it gets funnier. Ray Comfort, the World’s Stupidest Christian™, thinks Dawkins will be impressed by money. So he’s offered $10,000. Thinking a millionaire will be impressed by your $10,000 is like thinking a supermodel will be impressed by your Honda Fit. But, bless his heart, that’s why Ray is the World’s Stupidest Christian™!

Dawkins was unimpressed with the $10,000 offer, shockingly enough, replying to someone claiming to rep Ray that the offer “is less than the typical fee that I am ordinarily offered for lecturing to a serious audience (I often don’t accept it, especially in the case of a student audience, because I am a dedicated teacher). It is not, therefore, a worthwhile inducement for me to travel all the way across the Atlantic to debate with an ignorant fool.” Gold! Dawkins then added (and you can see him smiling as he wrote it) that he’d consider playing along if Ray donated $100,000 to the RDF “so that that money will NOT be available for buying animatronic dinosaurs with saddles, or other similar nonsense. The fact that he would be making a substantial donation to a charity dedicated to Reason and Science adds to the humour of the situation.”

Now it gets even funnier. Get this: Ray Comfort, the World’s Stupidest Christian™, thinks Dawkins is haggling. So he raised the offer to $20,000, imagining, I suppose, that Dawkins is now obliged to come back with something like, “How about 90?” At which point the haggling continues as a matter of form until they settle on 50.

Of course, Dawkins isn’t playing. He doesn’t have to. And the funniest thing of all, in a long list of funny things, is that without this stupid “debate” even taking place yet, Dawkins has already humiliated Ray! D’oh! That’s what you get for being the World’s Stupidest Christian™, cupcake!

And Dawkins has humiliated Ray simply by letting Ray be Ray. It’s uncontrollably funny the way Ray’s very offer essentially amounts to nothing less than an admission of inferiority in all respects. To wit, Dawkins doesn’t need Ray. Ray desperately needs Dawkins. Dawkins has everything Ray doesn’t have and cannot gain through merit: prestige, respect, authority, legitimacy, expertise. Ray wants all of those things, and hopes an association with Dawkins will cause them to rub off on him, especially as he’s deluded himself into thinking he can prove evolution false in a debate with one of the world’s leading scientific authorities on evolution. But you see, that’s Ray Comfort, the World’s Stupidest Christian™, all over!

I love Ray. Really. I heart him like a hearty thing. He cannot know what joy he brings into the daily lives of atheists, just by the million little loving ways he reminds us that he’s the World’s Stupidest Christian™.

So Dawkins has named his price, because he can, because Ray has nothing Dawkins wants or needs. And the mere fact that Ray has already upped his previously pathetic offer to a slightly less pathetic level has pretty much bagged this “debate” for Dawkins right out of the gate. In the same way it’s funny to see the no-hopers at the Discovery Institute still trying to convince themselves of their relevance more than three years after Dover put a howitzer shell through ID, by their continuing efforts to find scientists to debate them, it’s even funnier seeing Ray running after Dawkins, like some loser at a bar trailing after a hot chick pleading, “Well, maybe if I gave you my number…”

Gang, this is exactly the right way to treat creationists every time they try to make a grab for legitimacy and shore up their inflated sense of importance: pure derision. Because you know, it works! It really gets their gander up.

How did Ray Comfort, the World’s Stupidest Christian™, react to being dubbed an “ignorant fool”? Well, nosir, he dint like it! And he whined about it in entirely predictable fashion over at — where else? — the Christian Worldview Network.

During the more than 5,000 times I have spoken in the public forum, I have engaged hundreds of little Richard Dawkins’ and have noticed that when their argument is very weak, they always revert to personal insults. While I won’t condescend to insults, I will point out that Mr. Dawkins does believe that we were created by aliens.

Which, of course, he doesn’t, but that’s beside the point. Ray doesn’t realize that Dawkins is not insulting him by saying he’s an ignorant fool. He’s simply stating a fact, as I am when I refer to Ray by his unofficial title, the World’s Stupidest Christian™. It’s like, imagine that Dawkins has a bowl of chocolate ice cream in front of him. And he looks at it and says, “The flavor of this ice cream is chocolate.” Is he calling the ice cream a name? Is he insulting it? No! He is merely stating an observable fact about the nature of the ice cream. Likewise, when he points out Ray is an ignorant fool, he is merely stating an observable fact about Ray Comfort. Ray will never get these points. Because &#151 what is he, everybody…? All together now…