Obama aides to meet with atheists

Thanks, Guy Harrison, for bringing this Miami Herald article to our attention:

…several administration officials will sit down quietly for a morning meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus with about 60 workhorses from the coalition’s 10 member groups, including the American Atheists and the Council for Secular Humanism. Tina Tchen, the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and representatives from the Justice and Health and Human Services departments will participate.

Coalition leaders are billing their visit as an important meeting between a presidential administration and the “nontheist” community. On the agenda are three policy areas: child medical neglect, military proselytizing and faith-based initiatives.

“We’re raising important issues that affect real people’s lives,” said Sean Faircloth, 49, a former Maine state legislator who’s the coalition’s executive director.

Not a HUGE step, but it’s a start.

Tonight on AETV

Technical problems, especially with the UStream feed, plagued our late edition of AETV tonight. This is a shame, because our guest, Dr. Darrel Ray, who joined us to discuss his book The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture, engaged us in a tremendously enjoyable talk that made this one of our best episodes in a long time, if I do say so myself. Since most of our viewers trying to watch live online didn’t get to see the whole thing, we’ll be sure to get the full version of the show up on the web as soon as we can. I’ll be reading Dr. Ray’s book during the coming week and will offer my thoughts on it when I’m done. But with his background in psychology, it seems he’s really taken Dawkins’ concept of memes and developed the idea to much greater depth. In all, a fine night, with a terrific guest and a good studio audience too. The sort of episode that reminds us just how much we enjoy doing the show.

Here’s Dr. Ray’s adjunct site, Recovering from Religion.

Addendum, Monday night: Okay, here’s the video.


Hey gang. Here’s a positive thing you can do, in the midst of a world overrun with teabagger hate and domestic terrorism and general irrationality. One of my best friends is doing this week-long, 545-mile bike marathon this coming June, from LA to San Fran, and it’s all to benefit AIDS research. And she’s looking for sponsors. So, you know, do eet for SCIENCE! And to piss off the homophobes at the American “Family” Association, the “Family” Research Council, and all those other fundamentalist hate groups who try to hide behind the word “family.” I could only spare 10 bucks, so if $5 or $10 or $15 is all you can manage, that’d be beyond awesome. And I know all you folks are beyond awesome.

Update on Andrew Wakefield

In an earlier post, I drew attention to the anti-vax hero Andrew Wakefield. Today’s Austin American Statesman reported that Wakefield has left his executive director position at the Austin-based Thoughtful House Center for Children that he helped found. It’s possible that they can rehabilitate their reputation without him. Late last month, Wakefield was found “irresponsible” by the British General Medical Council for performing unnecessary invasive tests on children. He also “flouted the rules in pursuit of his theory – and profit”. A hearing in April will determine whether he is guilty of misconduct. If he is found guilty, he could be stripped of his medical license.

A Suicide Note I Empathize With

Today, a man flew a small plane into a building in Austin. It’s captured our attention for most of the day. It turns out that the pilot was very frustrated and did what is effectively a suicide attack on an IRS office. He also torched his own house with his wife and child in it. It appears that one of his intents was to get the world to read his suicide note. His drastic measures have proven successful.

Although I can’t understand or endorse what he did, I found a lot in his note that I agreed with. The main theme was about how so much of American life is gamed by the big guys and how little power the little guy has to stop it. He railed against tax codes that exploited his profession, health care, the legal code, the political system that fails to represent the people, and the Catholic church. He called the church “vulgar” and “corrupt” and bemoaned the fact that they have received tax exemptions that helped make them wealthy. I agree completely with the spirit of his complaints, even though I don’t understand the details of his situation.

I’m a reasonably intelligent guy and I cannot for the life of me figure out why the United States gives a tax exemption to the Catholic Church. The Church seems to exemplify the rigged system that we labor under. They have run a pedophile ring for decades in multiple countries and done everything in their power to evade responsibility. I’ve written about this before. Yes, some priests have received the justice they deserved, but to date none of the scheming hierarchy has seen the inside of a court, let alone a jail. The Catholic Church is a criminal organization that should have its assets seized under the RICO (racketeering) law until a full investigation can be performed. The assets of the church should be used to benefit its victims. I simply cannot fathom why they are still receiving a tax exemption.

To add insult to injury, the Pope has evaded a law suit in the pedophile scandal by claiming diplomatic immunity. Some people think he’s the head of some state. Ok. If they want to play that card, then let’s make all of the Catholic hierarchy Vatican citizens and revoke their US passports. They clearly have little respect for US law and they’re only following orders, like good little immoral soldiers they are. If they are convicted of a crime, they can be convicted or deported like any other badly-behaving alien. They want to have their cake and eat it too. When they can evade laws or screw with other countries, they’re a foreign country. When they want to make money, they’re a charity. So far, they’ve been very successful at the game.

I will continue to remind people of the corruption of the Catholic Church, but I don’t see them being treated any differently in the foreseeable future. Catholic laity are still deeply loyal to the Church. They appear to be happy to support the pedophilia and corruption because the value their magic crackers and ticket to perpetual orgasm over any sort of human moral virtue. Either that, or they’re hopelessly mindlessly ignorant. If a Catholic reader has a more generous interpretation, I’d like to hear it. Perhaps that reader can also explain why anyone should trust them on their woo-woo unverifiable supernatural claims when they spend so much time lying about real-world claims. They’re really good at lying, as near as I can tell.

The Catholic Church doesn’t run the US legal system. (At least I hope not.) They clearly seem to have help from outside their church. It appears that the majority of Christians value “religious tolerance”. What this has come to mean is a situational moral blind spot when the perpetrators of some atrocity happen to be fellow Christians. You also hear it as “Thou Shalt Not Judge”. In practice, it’s an agreement among thugs: “You don’t draw attention to my sociopathic Rapture snuff porn business and I won’t draw attention to your pedophile ring.” “You let me pray my sick child to death and I won’t call you on your faith-healing con game.” The list goes on. In the end, practical Christianity is about screwing someone and inhibiting anyone from doing something about it. It’s worked well for Christian leaders so far, why would they want to change it? Why would believers risk their ticket to nirvana actually doing something when they can take comfort in prayer (which has the same practical effect as masturbation)?

Lest you think I’m making this up, I have gotten a number of e-mails from Christians who seem to be shocked that I’m rattling the skeleton’s in Christianity’s closet. (I’m not party to the agreement between thugs.) Their biggest desire seems to be to shut me up. They seem to know what I’m saying is true, but they don’t want to hear it. One correspondent actually wanted me to enter a deal where if I lost, I would never say anything bad about a Christian again (even if it was true). That alone speaks volumes about Christianity to me. The moral failings of Christianity are a big part of my motivation to be an outspoken advocate for atheism. They should be a reason why we deny tax exemptions to such blatantly corrupt religious organizations.

Sadly, Christianity’s corruption is only part of the overall screwed up situation we’re in. I’m doing what I can with the tools I have. I would encourage all of you to do what you can to get us out of the myriad messes we’re all in.

Racial composition does not imply a group’s ideology

Listening to Keith Olbermann in the car this morning made me deeply annoyed. He ran one of those signature “special comments,” this time on racism in the Tea Party. That’s fine with me. I mean, when you have images like this

and this

Then yeah, I think it’s not unreasonable to speculate that there is some latent racism going on in the Tea Party movement.

But he didn’t stop there; he went on to say that the tea party protests are mostly composed exclusively of white guys. Then he said something to the effect that if they aren’t racist, how come there aren’t more black people?

And I say: MEH. It’s not as easy as Keith imagines to get a diverse group to support an activist cause, and it’s a terrible fallacy to conclude that the movement is racist because it doesn’t attract more black people.

I’ve been through seven years of college with a computer science/engineering background, okay? There were not many women in the programs. Why? Beats me. I wish more women would be computer nerds. I have worked in many companies where there was a good mix of genders, but I’ve noticed that the women in the companies far more commonly fill non-techie roles: testers, administrators, office assistants, HR, some managers. Stuff like that.

This is not a sexist claim. It’s basic statistical observation. It is not a statement of “ought,” it is a statement of “is.” It’s also obviously not universal, as I knew several women who made up, I’m guessing, 5% of my Master’s program; and I know plenty of female engineers, including Jen and Elze in the ACA. But still, as I look around my cubicle area at my job, almost everyone within view is male.

By Olbermann’s logic, computer software development must be a fundamentally sexist undertaking. The entire practice must espouse some core values that hates and derides women.

It doesn’t stop there. The Atheist Experience has a relatively good mix of men and women… by which I mean that among the hosts and cohosts are only twice as many men as women. There are also only twice as many heterosexuals as homosexuals, which is actually overrepresentative of gay people. We have no African-Americans (or “black people,” if you’re not keen on politically correct language, which I’m not). From my ten year memory of the ACA, I can think of two black women and no black men who were members. (Deepest apologies if you are somebody I left out.)

Edit: There are seven total hosts and cohosts, not six as I first thought, making the ratio of male to female 5:2, not 4:2. Same with sexual orientation.

From what I’ve heard, black atheists are really quite rare, and activist black atheists are rarer still. They’re out there, of course, and Reginald Finley (who is the most famous one I know) has helpfully compiled a list of famous black atheists — and I recognize almost none of them. (Sorry!) In the last few months I’ve heard the topic of come up at least twice on the show, prompting a string of black callers from around the country to offer their two cents on the nature of the problem. This puts us white hosts in the uncomfortable situation of having to speculate about what it is about either race or culture that makes it more difficult for black people to come out as nonbelievers.

Lest you think it’s just our tiny minority group that shares this “racism,” I’ll point out that Yearly Kos, the convention for liberal activists sponsored by the liberal blog Daily Kos, has received similar pointless criticism that they are “diversity challenged.” That because they can’t attract more black members, there is some unspoken whites-only principle in the ideology of the group.

Which is stupid, and should be transparently stupid to someone like Keith Olbermann, who loves Daily Kos and has founder Markos Moulitsas as a regular guest on his show. And yet here he is committing this rotten fallacy on the tea party movement, which only serves to undermine the (IMHO) accurate message that many people in the movement are bigoted asshats.

If there’s a lesson to draw here, it’s that you can reach the right conclusion for very wrong reasons. Like a person who becomes an atheist because Zeitgeist convinced them of the truth of some very dubious claims about Christianity; once a person finds out that the underlying arguments are terrible, they’re likely to dismiss the conclusion.

Atheist Experience on February 21st

Our regular time slot for The Atheist Experience for February 21st was taken by a class in the same studio. The crew has worked their magic and got us the slot from 8-9:30 pm that day (3.5 hours later). It looks like the show will go on. Please watch the stream and participate as you normally would.

Matt and Martin will be on and they will have a special guest, Darrell Ray, author of The God Virus: How Religion Infects our Lives and Culture.

Just says it all, don’t it…

(…sigh) Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.

It should be noted that this level of illiterate paste-eating chowderheadedness is not always indicated in home schooling situations. In fact, you’ll hear from a number of progressive, atheist parents on the TFN blog who have chosen, wisely, to homeschool because Texas is doing is damnedest to turn public schools here into little Christian houses of indoctrination. If I were a parent, I’d homeschool, absolutely. How else could I be sure my kid was getting a sound grounding in history and science, free from right-wing ideological revisionism? But it’s true that a significant amount of homeschooling is done by fundamentalist Christian parents seeking to destroy their kids’ minds and future opportunities by entrenching that very ideology. And I think that’s what we’re seeing the hilarious after-effects of here.

HT: TFN Insider

The show tomorrow and next weekend

Just a heads-up for all of you: tomorrow we’ve got the “No Boys Allowed” episode featuring the Jen & Tracie Power Team, fresh off their total ownage of Blag Hag’s poll of atheism’s most influential women. What can we say? Hit the UStream early for this one, gang.

The following weekend, sadly, we’re going to be pre-empted, a thing that looks like it’s going to happen one Sunday per month for the next couple of months, at least. This is due to ChannelAustin using the studio for training purposes, most likely, so there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. Well, I suppose we could fill in that weekend by shooting at Matt’s place again, but I suspect with his work schedule and getting over a cold, he’s probably not up for the hassle of it.

And thus I leave you, dear readers, with a small irrelevant item that I have no doubt will top off your WTF tanks for the rest of the weekend: some imaginative entreprenuer has decided that the one thing women really need when hosting baby showers for their expecting friends is a fetus-shaped cookie cutter. You are encouraged to decorate the cookies made therefrom with the baby’s name, thus committing all shower attendees to a bizarre and rather queasy-making form of communion as the baby is symbolically passed around and eaten. Well, necessity is the mother of invention, they say.

Darwin Day 2010

Aaaand I hope you’re having a nice one.

Apropos of Don’s post below, I can only reiterate the threat to science education (as well as to civics/history education, and anything else the wingnuts don’t feel meshes with their ideological “white Christians did everything!” talking points) by the current SBOE. So in that spirit I direct your attention to Teach Them Science, a website dedicated to fighting the wingnut agenda.

This isn’t a perfect meeting of the minds. For one thing, it’s a joint project between Center for Inquiry and The Clergy Letter Project. The latter is a group of religious leaders promoting positive science education and resisting creationist ignorance. Now, that’s a good thing. But I can sympathize with PZ’s wariness of the group and the way they try to pretend science and religion can somehow be simpatico. Still, I can see that perhaps such a stance is a PR necessity at present. With the vast majority of the public still clinging to religion’s skirts, good science education would be a hard sell if it came with the message that “Now you can dump all that stupid God bullshit!” There’s a whole page on the Teach Them Science site that addresses the question of whether you can accept evolution and still believe in Sky Daddy, and I admit it kind of makes me cringe. But I have to remember that’s because I’ve evolved beyond superstition, and most people aren’t so lucky. So, you know, baby steps. Sure, a person can be scientifically literate and theistic all at once, though I still don’t understand why they’d want to (lookin’ at you, Ken Miller). But the point of proper scientific education first and foremost is to fill people’s heads with facts — something the currently SBOE is fighting tooth and nail — and let them draw conclusions about worthwhile philosophies on their own after they have all the facts. It’s the SBOE that wants to deny students that freedom of choice, and impose upon them not merely a Christian philosophy, but a specifically conservative American fundamentalist Protestant one.

So, mindful of the fact that sometimes war makes for strange bedfellows, I think movements like Teach Them Science stand to do more good than harm, and that the anti-science agenda of the far right needs to be fought by any means necessary.