Understanding atheists

A response to this posting by Rabbi Adam Jacobs:

“My dear Rabbi Jacobs,

If your goal is to try to “walk back” some of the clamorous dialogue and understand each other better, perhaps you shouldn’t start by presuming to define atheism on your terms and proceding to tell us that we’re not really atheists.

Beating on the straw man of absolute certainty immediately discredits your commentary.

Perhaps you shouldn’t claim to already understand our perspective while demonstrating, at every turn, that you most certainly do not (and claiming to be seeking this understanding).

If you really wanted to understand our position, you wouldn’t claim to already understand it, you wouldn’t write such a transparently concern-troll-like sermon, you’d actually engage in conversation instead of, ironically, engaging in the very sort of dialogue you claim to be trying to avoid.”

Vote for Iron Chariots Wiki!

Atheism.about.com is running various polls for favorite atheist resources, and Iron Chariots is among the finalists!

So yes, this is shameless self-promotion of an Atheist Community of Austin-originated resource, but there are other great reasons to vote for it. Bear in mind that as a wiki, the more widely Iron Chariots is known, the easier it is to draw in great editors and improve the content. So get out there and vote!

Edit: The Atheist Experience is currently running second place for best podcast.

Update: As has been pointed out in the comments, both of ours are handily ahead now. Go, fans! We loves ya.

Onward Christian Thugs

This week in Texas, State Senator Dan Patrick proposed a bill to require women seeking abortions to undergo a mandatory sonogram, see the image of the fetus, hear its heartbeat, and hear a mandated description of the fetus by the doctor. The only purpose of such a bill is to coerce women into making a choice that Dan Patrick and his fellow Christian thugs think is the moral one. These sorts of bills have been proposed and many approved all over the country. Fortunately for Texas, some of the most odious parts of this particular bill have been softened in committee, leaving only the doctor-supplied fetal description mandatory.

The number of things wrong with this sort of effort are astonishing. Let’s see if we can list a few of them:

  • A major objection would have to be that these sorts of bills are a transparent (and often successful) attempt to use the government as a tool to further the lawmaker’s Christian beliefs. The supposedly “secular” purpose of the bill is education, but that’s a ruse (but we’ll get to that.) If freedom of religion means anything, it means freedom from religion — freedom from transparent con games.
  • They might also claim that they’re trying to reduce abortions, but that would be framing the issue wrongly. They are trying to create more people who can be coerced into their religion. You never see these Christian groups promote birth control, mandatory waiting periods or mandated doctor intervention for the MEN who are impregnating these women. You do see Christian groups working to remove an honest teaching of the responsibilities of parenthood in high school health classes. Christians feel that they’ve gotten the process this far with their efforts. They have to “close the loop” and get the baby born. See “God’s Little Rabbits” for more about their success.
  • They (and we all) know there is no God to whom they can pray to make more human beings. Only a moron would believe such a thing, right Dan? Matt. 7:7, Matt. 17:20, Matt. 21:21, Mark 11:24, John 14:12-14, Matt. 18:18 all have Jesus claiming that prayer works all the time. Gen. 1:26 (and others) has God creating humans. Christians don’t believe that stuff. Christians know they have to co-opt as many uteruses as they can (there’s plenty of sperm to go around — just make masturbation taboo).
  • Dan and his fellow Christians know that God and the church have failed to enforce their edicts on their flock. The absolutely must use the real power of the government to achieve their end.
  • After the baby is born, they lose interest. Christians know that the evolution-engineered motherhood hormones will kick in. While Christians want to have the power to make these decisions, they never step up to the plate when it comes to the responsibility for the child. If they ever did, you’d see Christian organizations make deals with women where the deep-pocketed Christian group would fund the child through college in exchange for the mother bringing the child to term. Christians instead use coercion and thuggery, which are their time honored tools.
  • Christians claim to care about poverty, but efforts like this have the effect of creating poverty. Again, the marketing doesn’t match the actual behavior. Their only “solution” here is to encourage single mothers to get married. “Family values” apparently means the creation of families by coercion. No wonder the divorce rates of evangelicals and fundamentalists is higher than that of atheists.
  • Christians like Dan don’t think the mother has the intellectual capacity to make the moral decision to keep the child, but they seem to think that she is perfectly capable of raising it. Ironically, the women seeking abortion are the ones that know their limitations. I’ll trust a woman’s decision about her abilities over Dan Patrick any day of the eternity.
  • There is often some claim of the “sanctity of life”, but Christianity is a religion that teaches our bodies are little more than soul traps whose natural use is to release the soul so that it can go meet the Christian god. The god of the Bible is a murderous thug who has also commanded the murder of children and the unborn. The “sanctity of life” is a complete fabrication incompatible with Christian dogma.
  • Dan Patrick is not a doctor, nor are any of the law makers (that I know of) creating laws like this. They have no business interfering with medical procedures.
  • Dan and his ilk clearly don’t believe in the golden rule, such as stated in Matt. 7:12. If they did, they would welcome others to insert themselves in their own medical treatments. I would encourage those of you who do believe in the golden rule to make Christians aware of this fact. If you can find someone who advocates Christian interference in medical practices, teach them a practical lesson in Jesus’ moral teachings.
  • Supposedly, women seeking abortions need education. I have yet to see a bill mandating education about the cost and responsibility of raising a child or the risk of child birth. There are no bills forcing women to see pictures of women who died in child birth. There’s no education about the emotional risks of postpartum depression and the risk of the mother harming the child or herself. The “education” that Christians propose is one-sided.
  • Christian efforts to slow abortion have failed. According to this article, countries with strong religious belief have higher rates of abortion. We might make more progress taxing religions and using those funds to support unwanted children.
  • Finally, I don’t see anything resembling compassion in Dan Patrick’s bill or other efforts by Christians to prevent abortion. These people clearly care more about their invisible friends (their concepts of god) than the women they seek to manipulate.

Christians claim to care about “sin”, but overlook the issue of responsibility. Christians seek to try to make their god happy by coercion and manipulation of vulnerable people. The atheists I know, focus on responsibility. How can we educate people so that the understand the consequences of their actions? How can we provide them with tools to mitigate harm? How can we help people who know they are in over their head? Abortion is not a good thing, but why don’t we start using reason, responsibility, and compassion to address the problem?

Regarding the studio technical problems

My inbox is occasionally plagued by comments, complaints and some suggestions about how to fix the audio problems on the TV show. Thanks.

It’s come to my attention that some people simply do not grasp the situation…

We do this show from a public access studio. These are studios that were built when the cable companies first started in order to promote free, community-run programming. These studios are old and vanishing…very few cities have studios and even fewer support live shows or call-in shows. We’re fortunate to be able to do the show at all. (Just ask the Seattle Atheists…)

The studio equipment is largely beyond our control. We can’t rewire the studio and while we’ve spent quite a bit of money on our own equipment, you can have the best equipment in the world and if you’re plugging it into antiquated or improperly configured gear, it won’t make a bit of difference. Their recent $1M renovation doesn’t seem to have involved any significant improvements to the audio.

The studio uses a Telos digital telephone hybrid but the soundboard at the studio isn’t properly wired for a mix-minus setup and doesn’t have sufficient discrete channels.

We use the studio on Sunday afternoons and it’s used by many other people throughout the week. Those people change settings. They break things. They attempt to “fix” the problems that others have created…which creates more problems. They have different needs and requirements for their show, so they reconfigure things to suit them.

Every week we show up an hour (or more) before the show, run cables, configure lights, set up the table, reconfigure equipment, figure out what is broken and try to find a way to fix it before the show starts.

Every week we’re walking into an unknown configuration and doing our best to get it back to “our” setup. We’re talking lights, sound, camera, CG, DVD recorder, background, telephone (and more)…and most of it has been “adjusted” by someone else during the week. (I can count, on one hand, the weeks where we’ve had nothing to fix.)

Additionally, there are settings we’re not allowed to change (though it doesn’t stop other people from messing with them).

We then do a ‘test call’ – which seems to work just fine, though it doesn’t seem to indicate whether or not all of the calls on a given show will work fine. The problem is intermittent. Some calls are worse than others…some have NO feedback, some have a little and some have a lot. Some calls seem to only be working in half-duplex, some are full. We’ve found no discernible pattern (I do suspect that cell phones are a huge part of the problem as they’re notoriously horrible at full-duplex and signal quality).

If you think we’re unaware of the problems, you’re wrong.
If you think we’re not MORE frustrated than anyone who watches or listens to the show, you’re wrong.
If you think we wouldn’t love to fix the problems and aren’t doing everything we can, you’re wrong.

This isn’t just a matter of finding the right expert or throwing more money at it. (I’d recommend watching the Super Bowl half-time show for a prime example of how knowing what you’re doing and having money to throw at something is no guarantee that things are going to work correctly.)

I appreciate the feedback and the suggestions. I appreciate that people care enough to try to improve the show….but I’m also baffled at how anyone could think we’re unaware of the very problems we’ve spoken about countless times on and off the show – often WHILE the problems are happening.

One recent letter added a rather ironic note (which did make me laugh):

“Please fix the phone problem! (This is your money maker, and it’s ruining discussions. Stable and clear sounding phone-lines are crucial”

Wow, I’ve never thought of that! The irony of using the phrase “money maker” when referring to a show that we actually pay to produce and freely donate thousands of hours to, is sadly humorous.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m not writing this simply to bitch at the people who are writing us about this problem, I’m just expressing my own frustration and letting people know that e-mails that are essentially pointing out the elephant that I’m riding have been read, and won’t be getting individual responses.

We’ll also continue to look for solutions, but I wanted to give people a taste of what we’re dealing with in order to avoid some of the suggestions that aren’t very helpful.

Open thread on episode #695

Today’s show was, as usual, fraught with difficulties, though not as many as we originally suspected. Once again, the calls were problematic, with some callers having a hard time hearing us. Whether the problem is with our audio, their cell phones, or a combination of everything, is unclear. But we’re well aware of ChannelAustin’s long history of audio problems. Not only that, we dropped the damn UStream feed in the last ten minutes, but the full video should be fine.

It turns out that the first call today, with Mark from Austin Stone Church, may not have been a problem on our end after all. Russell and I thought we just lost the call, which happens. After the program, Frank and John in the control room told me that Mark’s feed was just fine. Only after we’d brought up problems with Matt Slick’s TAG, Mark apparently stopped talking, then hung up.

If that’s the case, it can’t have been Mark’s proudest moment. According to him, he had the whole congregation watching (awesome!), and, if he indeed hung up, they watched him basically wither in his defense of the faith without much of a fight. Still, we’d have put him at the head of the line had he called back. Better luck next time, Mark.

Note to self: When Christians call the program and immediately demand politeness from us, they are probably about to launch into a string of absurdities and falsehoods that they don’t want us to call them on. Frankly, the minute Mark listed the risible Ray Comfort as some authority on evolution, and repeated the tiresome canard that there are “no transitional fossils,” I was done with politeness. No, I’m not going to scream nasty names at you while I correct you. But the fact is, with the plethora of scientific literature and research out there demonstrating to as high a degree of certainty as science can promise that evolution is real, there is no excuse for willful ignorance and the deliberate dissemination of disinformation about what science actually says. Frankly, the creationist line that there are no transitional fossils is on the same level of intellectual irresponsibility as flat Earth belief.

This is an aspect of religious fundamentalist dishonesty I think deserves zero tolerance, and there’s been way too much coddling and misplaced “fairness” towards a “controversy” that does not actually exist. If you’ve only read Ray Comfort and not any actual scientific text, and you want to call us and challenge us on evolution, know this: it will not be a pleasant experience for you. You are simply not in possession of the facts, and we will steamroll you with them.

Also, since the gang at Stone Church seem to think Matt Slick is impressive somehow, let me share with you an email we got from a viewer today, who passed along a question from Slick.

How can an atheist trust his own judgments if his brain is completely restricted to the neurochemical laws and cannot operate outside of those laws? Doesn’t this necessitate that all the laws/chemical reactions/brain arrangement require certain reactions based upon the stimulus that produces a specific and predictable result due to that person’s particular neurochemical arrangement in his brain? How then can such a person trust that his conclusions about the universe be accurate since what he believes and interprets is governed by those laws? How does such required neurochemical reactions produced truth and proper logical inference? If the atheists cannot answer this, then it, demonstrates his worldview has serious problems.

Jeff Dee caught this grenade and lobbed it right back.

How can a theist trust his own judgments if his mind is completely unconstrained by any rules? Doesn’t this necessitate that all of his thoughts are random disconnected nonsense? How then can such a person trust that his conclusions about the universe are accurate, since what he believes and interprets is NOT governed by any laws? How does such unconstrained rambling produce truth and proper logical inference? If the theist cannot answer this, then it demonstrates his worldview has serious problems.

So I’d suggest apologists start looking for another hero. Matt Slick isn’t as slick as he thinks.

Notice how misogynist the GOP has gotten lately? Want to do something fun about it?

Abortion rights is not necessarily an atheist issue. But it is a human rights issue. And it’s something the Christian Right has chosen to go to war over with its biggest, nastiest guns. They’re not exactly about playing fair either.

Recently, civilized hominids everywhere were left slack-jawed in disbelief when Republicans tried to redefine rape in order to make it damn near impossible for any actual rape survivor to terminate her pregnancy. They coined the baffling term “forcible rape,” implying they think there’s such a thing as “consensual rape.” Or something. Anyway, it’s obvious no Good Christian Woman would be out drinkin’ in bars and shit. So if some slutty sinful whore gets her drink roofied, it’s obviously her fault for not being pure enough, ain’t it?

Now it’s gotten crazier. As it seems to be GOP policy to constantly try to out-douche one another, Pennsylvania’s Republican Senator Joe Pitts has introduced H.R. 358. This bill would allow hospitals staffed by the kinds of people with a bug up their ass about abortion and a thin grasp of the Hippocratic Oath not only to decline to provide a life-saving abortion to a woman who direly needs one, but even to refuse to facilitate transporting her to a hospital that will. Save her life, that is. So we are presented with the spectacle of a woman dying in agony in a hospital parking lot while the nurses and orderlies on duty calmly watch Oprah and tweet about their weekends. Paradoxically, Pitts calls this the “Protect Life Act.” What a lovely thing Christian family values are.

And remember, these are the same people bleating about less government, less government!

It’s especially boggling when women, in what can only be thought of as Stockholm Syndrome taken to exponential new heights, fall into the right-wing misogyny camp and oppose the very medical procedures designed to help them in the unfortunate and hopefully unlikely event they will need them. Get it straight: no one is a fan of abortion. But to deny that sometimes the procedure is necessary, and moreover, to declare that the life of a woman is automatically worth less than that of a blastula, and that once a woman is gestating, she is automatically deprived of her personhood and her only function is now that of incubator, is nothing less than monstrous. That this is in fact how the Christian Right thinks is enough to make you think nuclear holocaust might be all humanity deserves after all.

But here’s a little something you can do. It’s even fun!

Recently, Lila Rose, a rising star in the (sexist wisecrack coming) right-wing bimbo brigade behind Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, made a ludicrous attempt to swiftboat Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides a plethora of invaluable health assistance to women everywhere, but which the right chooses to characterize exclusively as Dachau for Babies. Rose’s stunt was butt-stupid, even for a Republican. Like her BFF, convicted criminal James “Doctored ACORN Videos” O’Keefe, Rose tried to punk PP with some video doctoring of her own. Her ingenious plan must be read to be believed.

Over a five day period, visitors to Planned Parenthood health centers in six states said they were seeking information from Planned Parenthood about health services Planned Parenthood could provide to underage girls who were part of a sex trafficking ring…. Men, sometimes accompanied by a woman, have visited at least 11 Planned Parenthood health centers in six states within a one-week time frame. During their visits, they claimed to be involved in sex trafficking of teens, some of whom are in the United States illegally. These men appeared at health centers without appointments and said that they were seeking health services for themselves, but they quickly turned the conversation to the sex ring they said they were managing.

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that right. The plan was to get PP to appear as if they were helping conceal the existence of a child-sex trafficking ring. Rose’s little brainchild was itself aborted, however, when PP did what she hoped they wouldn’t do: report this bullshit to the FBI.

Now of course, poor Lila — abetted by her pals in right-wing media, of course — will continue to try to sell this false story, and probably paint herself as some kind of martyr for truth. Wingnuts do that kind of thing. But here’s a fun thing we can all do, as a kind of sweet revenge. It’s a way of letting petty little people like her, and all her anti-choice pals, know that the more they lie, the more they try to tear down women’s right to safe and legal health options through disinformation, the more we will remain committed to the cause of women’s health. And a little thing called truth.

  • Click on this link. It will take you to Planned Parenthood’s “Honorary Giving” donations page.
  • Throw a few bucks their way “in honor of” Lila Rose!
  • Finally, send Lila a friendly, cordial, profane-insult-free email at lilarose@liveaction.org, informing her that you have done this, and that her campaign of disgraceful lies has resulted in your increased support for Planned Parenthood. In her name. Don’t be snarky. Don’t cuss her out. Don’t give her any ammo to whine about the evil libral socialist godless heathen scary people who are stalking her. Be so civil it hurts. You could also add that you hope she never finds herself in need of PP’s services, and to keep an eye on her drinks when she goes out.

That should do it. A little bit of the old martial artist, turning your opponent’s attack back upon them, you see. Most satisfying. But then, people like Rose have committed to a life of lies. Committing to truth, as she’ll soon learn, wins in the end.

The Atheist Experience Facebook page

I know this won’t be of interest to many of you, but for our Facebooking friends, here’s a curious thing. Over on Facebook, there’s an Atheist Experience page that looks for all the world to be official. Except it isn’t, and never has been. We have no idea who put it up, and whoever did seems to have abandoned administrating it. It currently has over 7740 “likers,” all of whom clearly hopped aboard thinking it was an official page, and who have in fact built up something of a little community there. So it would be a shame to have to get it taken down, which is why Jen is looking into whether Facebook will simply let us take it over. We don’t relish having it taken down and starting up our own from scratch, but that’s what we’ll do if we must.

We don’t have a problem with fans doing fan stuff. After all, most of the people who have become fans of the show did so after discovering YouTube clips posted by other fans. And we’re aware that on the intarweebs, a lot of stuff is simply going to be out of our hands.

What bugs us is that this page was set up to look official when it is not, and thus whoever created it is guilty of deceiving our viewers. If this had been set up as a fan page (there’s already a fine fan group, run by the Macalpine clan, though I have no idea what the difference is between “pages” and “groups” as Facebook sees them, or why they created two separate but nearly entirely similar things in the first place), then hey, fine. If we get to take the page over, we’ll definitely use it in a more (I can’t believe I’m about to use this fucking word) proactive way, posting frequent Wall updates relating to ACA activities, blog posts, video clips, and other stuff of interest. As it is, we can use it to do none of those things, and fans meanwhile are posting stuff to its Wall addressed directly to us, oblivious to the fact we aren’t even seeing it. So, you know, we’ll keep you posted.

Of course, if the person who did create the page happens to be reading this, dude, let us have admin privileges and take it off your hands. We won’t send ninja after you or anything.

Pimpin’

Well, these turned out nicely. They’re super comfy and, given the arctic blast that slammed Texas today, I can confirm that they are warm. I’ll begin the shipping process starting tomorrow.

The first run is gone baby gone. But I will be happy to do a second run, if, this time, we can get between 50-100 takers. (The first run was only 30.) Contact me at wagnerfilm[at]yahoo[dot]com and I will send you payment and other relevant information.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog.