Atheist Community of Austin board election this Sunday

Hey Austin locals, our annual elections will be taking place this Sunday at 1:00 PM CT at the ACA Freethought Library, 1507 West Koenig Lane in Austin. Any member in good standing may attend the election meeting and vote on board members. If your membership has lapsed, you may renew at the meeting and vote.

Here is a statement our current president Jen Peeples made on our official Facebook group earlier this week:

After much consideration, I have decided not to run for the board this year. This was a difficult decision, because I’ve had the pleasure of serving with an amazing group of people on the current ACA Board of Directors. We’ve been able to get a lot done, and although we’ve had some disagreements, they’ve been constructive, and the organization is better for it. The ACA Board is not an echo chamber, and that’s a good thing.

My reasons for not continuing on the board are entirely related to competing demands on my time. Without getting into more detail than anyone needs or wants, I have a number of things going on right now, both personally and professionally, and I just don’t feel like I can give the ACA the time and attention it deserves. Being the ACA President really is just like running a small corporation. I’ve fallen far short of what I’d hoped to do as President, and when I consider what I have ahead of me in the coming year, well….I need to step back and not be the roadblock.

So, I’m passing the reins to Russell, who will run for President in the election on Sunday. Tracie Harris has graciously agreed to run for Vice President. They’ll both be phenomenal in their new roles.

I’ll still be around as an admin in this group and in the other ACA groups and pages, engaging in spirited debate and swatting the occasional troll. You’ll still see me on the TV show, and who knows, maybe I’ll even (finally) make an appearance on the Non-Prophets.

I’m currently running unopposed, although if you would like to show up and vie for that position, or any other board seat, please feel free. See you Sunday!

Of Liars and Truth-Tellers

(Hidden tribute to the late David Bowie here)

I used to really love logic puzzles when I was a kid. I’ve mentioned the professional logician Raymond Smullyan a few times as a big influence of mine, and I highly recommend his puzzle books. Here’s a complete list of what Amazon carries, and I’ll highlight some, roughly in order of personal preference:

Also noteworthy is his book of philosophical essays, The Tao Is Silent. Smullyan, like fellow mathematician Bertrand Russell, dabbles in philosophy a bit, and this book is a westerner’s perspective on eastern religion. I’m sure it takes a lot of liberties with the subject matter, and I imagine if I reread the whole thing now I’d find I agree with him a lot less than I used to in my teens and twenties. But still, his style is playful and entertaining, and there are a couple of essays in that book which I love to reference: “Is God a Taoist?” and “An Epistemological Nightmare.” The first is one of my favorite speculations I’ve ever read on the nature of the “god” concept.

But I digress. I wanted to talk for a minute about Smullyan’s logic puzzles in order to illustrate a point about religious arguments.

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Review of “Spotlight”

This Wednesday on the new episode of The Non-Prophets, Jeff and Denis reviewed the movie Spotlight while I had to leave the room to avoid spoilers. Lynnea and I finally had a chance to go see it last night. Jeff and Denis said it was great, and the reviews were all very positive, but we didn’t expect it to be as excellent a movie as it was. You should listen to their discussion of the movie on Wednesday’s episode, since their coverage is also excellent, beginning a little past the eight minute mark. But I didn’t get to put in my two cents, so here’s what I thought.

The subject of child abuse by priests isn’t easy or pleasant to confront, and it’s hard to predict that the movie could be as emotionally gripping and, in the end, satisfying as they actually made it. But the focus of the story is on struggling journalists who are investigating a mystery, and that topic has a special place in my heart.

(Review continues after the break)
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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?

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.