Bat Cruise weekend, A Better Life, and episode #780 open thread

Man! What a week. Things have been busy here in Austin Town. First, most of us spent days early in the week doing our individual photo shoots and interviews with Chris Johnson for his book project A Better Life. Some of you will remember, back in the spring, my promoting the Kickstarter fund drive for this little project. Well, it worked out for him, becoming the second-highest-funded publishing project in Kickstarter history. And now Chris is in the midst of his busy nationwide tour photographing 100 atheists for the enhancement of heathen coffee tables everywhere. Below the jump, you can see some clips from the interviews he did with us.

Then yesterday and today, ACA played host to Teresa MacBain of American Atheists and The Clergy Project, which is designed to help ministers and pastors who have figured out it’s all a steaming pile with their transition to atheism. Teresa is herself a former fundamentalist Methodist minister who only finally faced up to her nonbelief about a year ago. The story of her deconversion is a brave and sad one, contrasting the welcoming sense of fellowship (to borrow a favorite word of Christians) she’s received from the godless community with the utter loathing, anger, and shunning she’s experienced from her former friends and church members. We were proud to have her participate in a special 2-hour show today, which also featured a lovely little moment of videobombing by Aron Ra.

Our annual Bat Cruise was yesterday. This is where we rent a big boat for the privilege of being pooped on by the several million bats who famously live under Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge, the largest urban bat population in America. This year was one of the most fun cruises yet, and next year is already set up. So mark your calendars for September 28, 2013, and get your asses to Austin!

Anyway, some pics from the cruise are up on the AXP Facebook page, and the aforementioned vids are after the jump. Me for some sleep. [Read more...]

Theists Have the Best P.R. Machine Ever II

In keeping with my request in Denver, that people work on making sure theism and theistic religion have a reputation that is at least aligned with what they actually subscribe to and promote, here is part of an exchange I had with an “agnostic” (read: atheist who doesn’t know he’s an atheist), who was arguing against my anti-theistic positions. He is a great demonstration of how theistic P.R. can make even secular people unreasonable when it comes to religious considerations. His comments are in italic bold: [Read more...]

Theists Have the Best P.R. Machine Ever.

At the Denver meeting, one thing I did was encourage other atheist anti-theists to step up and make sure other people–especially those who weren’t raised in religion–understand the doctrines that are taught within religion.

With that in mind, I’ve been doing more of it. When I see a person promoting a religious doctrine that is horrible, as though it’s wonderful, I’m calling them out on it. I’m telling them they’re not going to get away with claiming religion is good where it’s hideous. They’re not going to get away with giving religion credit for things that religion did not invent, but hijacked from nature.

Recently during an exchange on a social network site, where I was arguing for anti-theism, I was confronted with a claim I wanted to share, as a golden example of what I think needs to happen every time religion is praised for hurting people–not just hurting people in obvious ways, like restricting people’s rights or killing people, but in promoting harmful ideas that are absorbed by the public as “good” and “upright.” It’s the insidious toxic crap that slides in under the radar that does the most lasting damage, because the inability of so many to even see it makes it go unaddressed. With that in mind, I bring you my response to this assertion on a thread (and please note the person is not, as far as I’m aware, a theist; he is simply arguing for the “good” of religion):

Assertion: They [religious theists] also show insight by recognizing that Man is sinful. Who can argue with that?

My response: I can and will argue that man is not only not sinful, but the doctrine of sin is one of the most wicked ideas ever hoisted upon human societies.

Sin is defined as disobedience to god. Euthyphro put forward a dilemma that demonstrated a very big problem with this concept. If god commands genocide, is it good because god commanded it or is it commanded by god because it is good? Either way, I would sin and not commit the genocide. So, what good is sin as a concept? It is only useful if you agree that no matter what atrocity god commands, people should obey god in order to avoid being sinful. If being sinful can also be moral, then what is the use of “sin”?

If I agree whatever god commands is good, then I stop using my own human moral judgment and sensibilities, and just obey a list of rules that may or may not actually be moral. How is that “good”? I agree religion dreamed up this monstrosity–but it seems wholly wicked to me to tell people to obey any command from god, and not question, and it’s evil to disobey, no matter what your personal assessment of the situation is.

This is VERY different than morality which is identified in other social species (without religion–so religion gets ZERO credit for “inventing morality”–since it’s evolved as a trait in social species) as empathy, compassion, a sense of fairness. Dogs and chimps have demonstrated some or all of these tendencies as well as a slew of other animals. Religion comes a long with “sin” and completely undermines this, and tells humans to disregard it and just obey.

So, I would argue sin is a giant load of toxic crap.

***

Please feel free to post any of your own examples of things for which religion is broadly lauded, where it is clearly damaging. I’m on a mission here.

Why people with brains laugh at Fox

This morning, some douche called in a bomb threat to the UT-Austin campus, necessitating a brief but certainly nerve-wracking and exasperating evacuation of buildings. The all-clear has since been sounded.

In reporting this breaking story, Fox News also revealed that Arkansas has been renamed Missouri, and that Alabama and Mississippi switched places overnight.

But at least Texas is BIG AND WHITE!

If we can’t trust you with 4th grade geography, Mr. Ailes and staff, are you surprised we don’t trust you with anything else?

Atheism+: Social interaction in atheist communities and elsewhere

Yep, it’s another post about Atheism+.  Just because Jen McCreight is on vacation to take a break from being trolled and harassed, doesn’t mean the rest of us still aren’t interested.

First things first: There’s a new episode of Godless Bitches.  Have you heard it?  You should hear it, it is made of win.  Beth, Tracie, and Jen were broadcasting in front of a sizable live audience at the Atheist Alliance of America national convention in Denver, along with special guest Greta Christina, who as far as I’m concerned ought to be on every week.  Tracie had some inspired commentary on how she became interested in being more than a dictionary atheist and take on these issues.  I can’t sum up in a way that does it justice, go listen.

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Are people being murdered because of trolling?

By now most of us have heard about this film Innocence of Muslims, which has sparked riots claiming the lives of several people, one of whom was no less than the U.S. ambassador to Libya. The cruel punch line to all of this — because it’s already common knowledge that Islamists are psychopaths who will riot to anything at the drop of the proverbial hat — is that there may, in fact, be no film at all. Some in the media are beginning to be a little skeptical, too.

Sure, there’s a “trailer,” which you may have seen. Here it is.

If your first thought was that this is some shoddy attempt at a comedy sketch shot for less than what you paid for lunch today, then you’d be surprised as I was to hear the claims that this is allegedly an excerpt from a $5 million full-length feature made by a self-described “Israeli-American real estate developer in California” named Sam Bacile. Bacile claims to have raised his very-impressive-for-an-indie budget from “about 100 Jewish donors,” and shot the project last year with dozens of actors and crew. I call bullshit.

Folks, I’ve worked on a number of feature films. Sure, budget doesn’t guarantee talent. But a $5 million budget will most certainly get you an experienced AD (assistant director), DP (director of photography), grip/electric crew, sound engineers and mixers, and proper post facilities to ensure that whatever inexperience your director has will at least be compensated by technical proficiency from your department heads and their respective crews. I’ve worked on low-six-figure budgeted films that had all those things, and if nothing else, looked like films at the end of the day. Five mil also means that you meet the Screen Actors Guild requirements for their Basic Agreement, which puts you well above their Ultra Low Budget, Modified Low Budget, and Low Budget Agreement categories. You could get name talent for this. Yet no one at any agency has heard of Innocence of Muslims. It has no IMDB listing. Steven Soderbergh’s box office hit Magic Mike, which starred at least one A-lister and another one on his way if not already there, cost $7 million.

Sure, there’s nothing preventing someone who manages, by ridiculous good luck and some fundraising savvy, to raise the money Bacile claims he raised from being a raging incompetent who still thinks all he has to do to make a movie is buy a 720p camcorder from Wal-Mart, advertise for free actors on Craigslist, and rent some costumes from the local community college drama department. But you should at least have enough sense to get your green-screen work done by someone who knows his business (you can, after all, afford it), which would most likely include telling you that there was simply no sense in badly green-screening your actors against a desert backdrop when, for the money, you could totally do location work in fucking Morocco.

In short, I don’t think there’s a real movie. I think we’re looking at some especially mean-spirited and vicious trolling of Muslims, not coincidentally timed for the 9/11 anniversary. None of this excuses the lunatic rioting or the murders the rioters have caused. But it does make it all the more tragic that there have been more murders committed in the name of religion, and this time, they may have been provoked by nothing more than a lousy internet prank.


Trade journal The Hollywood Reporter also chimes in.

Though Bacile claims he spent $5 million on the movie — a figure that would put the film’s budget on par with the Toronto International Film Festival entrant and Julianne Moore-starrer What Maisie Knew — the 13 minutes of footage available online look unprofessional. Furthermore, Bacile has virtually no footprint in the Hollywood community. The writer-director-producer has no agent listed on IMDBPro and no credits on any film or TV production.


More strangeness is coming to light. This “Sam Becile” guy appears to have been conning everyone he crossed paths with. There was a cast and crew who worked a shoot, but they were, by their unanimous account, deceived into thinking they were working on something else entirely. Gawker dug up what looks like the original crew/casting call. Just weird.


Law enforcement is now reporting “Sam Bacile” has been identified as one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a right sleazebag with a rap sheet including federal bank fraud and meth manufacture.

Matrix Apologetics again?

Guy emails us today:

If we cant trust our senses, how can we know for sure whats real or not? How can we justify saying we are sure that something exists and that we arent minds in a vat? This is obviously solipsism, but I was told by a christian that unless I believe in God, I cant trust my senses. I cant trust my senses to tell me when someone else confirms my senses either.

Tell him to prove that assertion. Or just mock him by saying, “All right, if that’s the case, then my senses, which are telling me that I’m standing here talking to a human being, are lying to me, and I am in fact watching a rabbit in a pink tutu dancing Gangnam style. Which suddenly makes you far more entertaining than you have been up to now.”

More seriously, you could simply point out that he’s created a dilemma in his argument. How else are we supposed to believe in God, other than through the use of our senses, by making a choice to adopt that belief? But if we cannot trust our senses before we’ve chosen to believe in God, how can we trust them, when making that choice, to help us know we’re making the right one? Or is there one special moment when we say to ourselves, “I now choose to believe in God,” and our senses obligingly click into place so that they are completely trustworthy for me to employ in making that one choice? How do I know my senses are not being deceived into believing in Gus the Magic Cosmic Hippo, thinking it’s actually the Biblical God?

There’s more! If a Christian tells me I can’t trust my senses if I don’t believe in God, I can’t trust him. I can’t trust anything he’s telling me about God in any way! Because the only way I can hear his message of God’s salvation is by using my senses, which I can’t trust! So I have no choice but to remain atheist. Thanks, Christian! That was easy.

Reply to Stephen Feinstein, round four

This post is part of an ongoing discussion between Russell Glasser and Pastor Stephen Feinstein. Here are all the previous posts in the series.

I’ll be disabling comments one more time in this post, as per Stephen’s initial request. However, since we have agreed that the fifth round will be the last, I’ll be opening up a post-mortem open thread with comments enabled after my next post. At that point, I’ll add links to the open thread from all of the previous posts.


Stephen,

I can’t help noticing that in your last post, you seem to have reimagined your role in this debate.  Here I thought that you were simply a collegial fellow participant, but you have decided to award yourself the position of judge and arbiter.  After all, you did apparently award yourself the victory about a dozen times — rather cockily, I must say — and we haven’t even finished yet.  That shift in tone will be taken into account in this response.

Of course, this change of roles shouldn’t come as any surprise to the readers of our exchange.  It was obvious from the beginning that you would have awarded yourself the victory without exchanging a word if you could have.  When you said that you wanted to have a battle of epistemology, clearly what you really meant is that you wish there were no demands of support and evidence for your belief in God.  Instead, it would be so much easier if we’d both come around to accepting your God as “necessary,” irrespective of any observations we might make that confirm that the God actually exists.

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