‘Tis the season for naked commerce!

See that sexay Atheist Experience blog logo to the right there? It’s currently being silk-screened on T-shirts. Admit it, you’re too stylish not to wear one. I’m printing up a hundred (real screen printing, not the transfer stuff you get using online p.o.d. services), but it’s easy enough to place a phone call if more are needed, so don’t worry about size availability.

For those of you of a green bent, I’m considering totes too. What think you?

Matt Dillahunty has also been asked by some of the TV show viewers about offering a wider variety of ACA or AE TV show merch — stuff like shirts, mousepads, more mugs, whatever. He replied that he’s thinking about that. If he or the organization ever decide to offer such stuff, assuming there’s an interest, he’ll offer it here as well as the regular TV show site if he wishes. What might you like to see, specifically?

Your messages for Possummomma

Several folks have left comments at the previous post, offering their well-wishes. But consider this an open comments thread where the idea is that you post a message directly to Possummomma herself, as if she were reading it (which she will, because I’m emailing her the link to this post). If her blogging has impacted you — and it’s impacted many of us — let her know.

Concern over Possummomma

Some folks may have noticed that Possummomma’s blog has been inaccessible for some days. I’ve been in touch with her via email, and can assure everyone that this is nothing to do with her or the family being in any kind of imminent physical danger. Yes, there is a situation in play involving some vile scumbag who threatened the lives of her kids, necessitating a panicked return from a camping trip that, as children, they should have had the right to enjoy without interference from theistic madness. But that fellow is currently facing criminal charges, the law is on it, and so that situation can be considered under control.

What has been going on involves a pattern of online harassment she’s been having to deal with, that is literally too bizarre to be described. Sorry not to be more specific than that, but I figure if she ever wants to come back online and spill the details (and she hasn’t wanted to so far, mainly so as not to seem as if she’s giving the people responsible any legitimacy, which I understand), that’s up to her. But she did want me to let everyone know that they are all, at the very least, safe.

I don’t know what it is about P-Momma, that’s she’s proved to be some kind of Internet maniac magnet. But I’ve assured her that there’s no reason for the current nonsense she’s been experiencing to cause her to quit blogging altogether, which she seemed resigned to in her last email to me. I’ve told her, hey, just go over to WordPress, start up again there. But don’t let assholes stifle your right to speech. Where would any of us be if we caved whenever people who can’t stand anyone different from them tried to intimidate us into silence? Sure, I know, with P-Momma’s health, and her concerns over the safety of her kids, it can be easy to find your energy wearing out after a while. But I support her, and I know her readers, a lot of whom also stop by here, support her too. There are a lot more decent folks out there on her side, than there are fools and madmen (and madwomen) with a desperate need to assuage the feelings of inadequacy their superstitions cannot compensate for by making life miserable for a mom and her little kids.


Addendum: Calladus has the most thorough accounting of what’s happened. Seriously, it’s frickin’ insane.

Post-Ike

We’ve gotten a couple of emails, from some overseas fans, asking if we’re all okay in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Thanks for your concern, and the short answer is: yes. In fact the storm avoided Austin entirely, except for a light shower that popped up at about 11:30 last night and went away just as quickly. After slamming Galveston, Houston and Beaumont, Ike’s remnants shuffled on up the Texas/Louisiana border. My parents live in Jefferson, about a 45-minute drive from Shreveport, way up in what’s called the ArkLaTex, that area where the three states meet. They reported fairly heavy rains, really heavy winds (an entire oak blew down at their lakehouse), and a power outage that lasted until about 4:30 this afternoon and even affected other nearby towns like Marshall and Longview.

Last weekend when I was on the show, someone called in asking some vague question about the severity of hurricanes lately, and I pointed out that this was a pretty clear sign of global warming, as it’s the function of hurricanes to act as a heat sink, channeling excess heat from the equatorial regions towards the poles. So if you have more heat sending more evaporation into the weather systems, presto, big hurricane. My use of the word “function” got the knickers of one viewer in a twist, who felt that word was inappropriate to use when referring to a natural phenomenon. Well, “function” can be used that way, and does not imply that the thing in question was designed, nor does it impart any teleological purpose to it. Basically he was in the mood to gripe about semantics that day, I guess. Not to say that’s an invalid gripe, as people frequently will misrepresent the intent of words in conversation. After all just look how enthusiastically creationists distort the words of Gould and Dawkins. It’s practically a sport. Still, I don’t think too many people were confused about what I meant when I was discussing the function of hurricanes.

Replaying an old speech

I’m not really fond of empty memorials. I actually think it’s kind of trite the way people rush to post their memories of 9/11/01 every year. On the one hand, I think it’s important to remember and respect the people who died; on the other hand, I think it’s been cheapened by some people who use it to push a political agenda, either once a year like clockwork, or in a constant undertone. But I’m going to participate in my own small way.

The fact is that I’ve always seen the attack of September 11 as an act of religious intolerance, and then it was used as an excuse to foster even more religious intolerance. One of the reasons why I feel so perpetually annoyed by “Loose Change” style conspiracy theories is because they dismiss and disregard the very real component of religious extremism that played an important role in motivating the attackers. I don’t single out Islam for this: ALL brands of religious extremism are dangerous.

I could go on, but instead I think I’ll just repeat a speech that I read for a secular one-year memorial that was sponsored by the ACA on 9/11. It was an event that featured many fine tributes by ACA members. Here’s my small contribution. Many of the links may be outdated, since they pointed to news sites that are now outdated by six years.

After September 11 a year ago, for a short period of time — maybe a few days, maybe a couple of weeks — the United States really seemed to be unified. We were a nation in mourning; we all had a grief that we shared, even though most of us didn’t personally know anyone who died in the tragedy. Everyone seemed just a little more sympathetic towards each other. People went out of their way to call old acquaintances and make sure they were okay. My wife even said she noticed that drivers were a little less rude in traffic. They wouldn’t cut each other off, they would slow down to let you change lanes, and they wouldn’t honk and gesture so much.

Human nature being what it is, it’s not really surprising that this camaraderie didn’t last very long. The first crack I noticed came from an unsurprising source: Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Instead of offering moral support and positive suggestions, they began casting around for someone to blame. It was on September 13, just two days later, that Jerry and Pat appeared on “The 700 Club” to offer these words of support and comfort to our nation: “…what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be minuscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”

Falwell then went on to explain why we deserved what we got. It would seem that it’s all the fault of a laundry list of groups: the American Civil Liberties Union, pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, and lesbians. They all make his God angry.

At the same time, something else was happening in America. Reports of hate crimes against people of Arabic descent started coming in. We all heard the reports about assaults, death threats, and general harassment against people who looked middle-Eastern. They were directed against innocent people who weren’t involved in the attacks, who would never dream of such an action. In many cases, the victims weren’t even the RIGHT ethnicity — they were Pakistani or Indian; they practiced Hinduism rather than Islam. Racial prejudice isn’t known for its logic.

To Ann Coulter it’s obvious what the solution is to Islamic terrorism. In a column on September 14, she wrote that “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” OBVIOUSLY the problem is that the assailants were Muslims; if they had been Christians, they would never have done such a thing, because there are no recorded instances of people killing each other in the name of Christianity, right?

The news about racial hate crimes has diminished in more recent times, but it has been replaced by a general undercurrent of anger against Muslims. As recently as last month, we’ve heard Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, tell us that all Islamic people scare him, saying, “the silence of the (Islamic) clerics around the world is frightening to me.” In reality, there are hundreds of Muslim leaders from around the world who have issued public statements denouncing the actions of the terrorists, and yet Graham ignores this fact and asks: “How come they haven’t come to this country, how come they haven’t apologized to the American people?”

Ashraf Sabrin, a medical technician who volunteered for the relief efforts at the twin towers and the Pentagon, said: “We’ve had so many different events — open houses, candlelight vigils, national press releases. What’s it going to take exactly?” Ironically, Franklin Graham’s false sweeping generalization about Muslims came up shortly after the publication of a book he wrote which included the following claim: “Islam – unlike Christianity – has among its basic teachings a deep intolerance for those who follow other faiths.”

Meanwhile, popular radio commentators and news editorialists can be heard daily making sarcastic mockeries of Arabs, saying “If they don’t want to be frisked at every checkpoint and looked at with perpetual suspicion by all American citizens, then they shouldn’t come here and blow up our buildings.” That is, of course, absurd. Most of the people we are talking about are American citizens themselves, who watched in horror along with the rest of us as the twin towers collapsed; but unlike the rest of us, they received the additional insult of being harassed and targeted by angry people looking for revenge on someone, anyone. The reality is that the peaceful American citizens of Arab descent who walk among us in our cities are NOT the same ones who attacked us.

We atheists have also received a bit more than our fair share of the blame for an event that didn’t involve us at all. Kathleen Parker wrote an editorial for USA Today on October 1 that begins by saying, “One can’t help notice the silence of atheists these days.” The general idea of this article was that it would be a very good thing if atheists would all shut up about that irritating “separation of church and state” and go away so we could get back to the business of giving our children proper values. It concluded by saying, “If we’re to win this war — sure to last into our children’s futures — we have to reweave the rituals of God and country into our institutions.”

Well, obviously atheists haven’t been keeping silent — here we are, after all — but they’ve been marginalized as much as possible ever since last year. We’ve become convenient bogeymen representing everything that’s wrong with American values, which led God to decide that we’re not worthy of being protected anymore.

So, whose fault was September 11? On the one hand, we hear that the reason we’re being targeted by terrorist attacks is because we deserve it, thanks to all the atheists and evolutionists and ACLU members and gay people and so on. On the other hand, we hear that it’s all the fault of every single person who has a certain ethnic background, especially if they are presumably too foolish to recognize that one religion is inherently evil and violent while another religion is noble and good.

Human beings are pattern-seeking animals. When we see something that interests or scares us, we look for a way that we can generalize the experience. Sometimes this is simply good survival instinct; after all, if you recognize the circumstances when you ma
ke a mistake, then hopefully you won’t make the same mistake again. But as a method of dealing with other people, sometimes it’s just bad policy.

A common thread that we see in all this is Americans attacking other Americans, looking for easy rules of thumb to tell them who the bad guys are. No such rules exist, of course, especially in a pluralistic society where many different ways of life are represented. We’re letting generalizations get in the way of thinking.

Unfortunately, atheists are sometimes guilty of this habit too. How many of you were listening to what I said about Robertson, Falwell, and Graham, and thinking to yourselves “See? That just goes to show that you can’t trust those religious people”? It’s very easy for non-Christians to take the worst examples of Christianity and use that as a substitute for the religion as a whole. But in fact, it’s not that being a member of a particular religion makes you a bad person, any more than being a member of no religion. There are some fine and wonderful Christians out there, just as there are fine and wonderful Muslims and atheists.

The danger that any religion poses occurs only when its members become entrenched in the idea that “Our metaphysical truth is right, and theirs is SO WRONG that there is no possibility that we can even communicate.” Jerry Falwell said it about large numbers of Americans. Franklin Graham said it about all Muslims. And Osama bin Laden said it about us. In that sense, when fundamentalism is practiced to extremes in this country, it mirrors the sort practiced in Afghanistan.

We shouldn’t do that. We’re supposed to be the country that values diversity, and we’re proud of our freedom to choose to believe whatever religion we want, including none at all.

But we are, each one of us, about more than just our religion. We are not our set of beliefs. We are not the groups we join or the people we associate with. Each one of us is an individual, someone who is worthy of respect and appreciation for our unique qualities.

Let’s not join together in groups as a way of shutting out the rest of the world. If we do join groups, it should be because we want to feel close to each other and have friends. Study the examples of the Taliban and al Qaeda, and understand that they’re bad not because they practice Islam, and not because of their dark skin, but because they’ve come to a place where they can’t accept anyone having different beliefs than their own. And then let’s try not to follow their example.

We have great fans

Since many people that read this blog are also fans of the show, I thought I’d make people aware of our new Fan Appreciation page on the Atheist Experience web site.

The page will gather together web-based works done by Atheist Experience fans that have promoted our show. Of course, it’ will grow over time with new content as we become aware of it.

I wanted to give a special thanks to people who take clips of our show and re-post them in other venues, usually YouTube. Those little nuggets have gotten the show a lot of free advertising and we really appreciate being able to reach new audiences. On the page above, we’ve gathered those clips and indexed them by episode number. There are about 90 of them now. Who knew? They’re all in one place if you need just a little bite of atheism to help you make it through your day!

As always, send us feedback to the tv show e-mail if you see something that can be improved in some way.

Okay, so I’m giving this Atheist Nexus thingy a try

The last time an atheist-centric social network was attempted — that would be Dawkins Social — it was so ineptly put together and unattractive I just gave up on it. A shame, because Dawkins is the world’s most visible atheist celebrity (if you don’t count people even more famous for things other than their nonbelief, like Jodie Foster and Angelina Jolie), and having his name as a kind of godless gravity well around which the online atheist community could orbit made sound marketing sense, I suppose. But the whole thing was just badly designed, and I can’t be bothered to log on (which I haven’t done in over a year) to see if they’ve fixed it. (And in any case, Dawkins.net’s forum is succeeding where the social network failed, I think.)

Along comes Atheist Nexus, another social networking time waster. But hey, these things are free, and if this one is better put together than Dawkins Social, I’m happy to give it a shot. And if it proves silly and useless, I can just forget it, like I very quickly learned to forget Twitter. So there’s a buttony thingummy to my profile, where those of you also attending the party can friend me if you choose.

View my page on Atheist Nexus


Addendum: Well, the friend requests have been steadily coming in over the last few hours, including lots from fans of the blog/show I haven’t met yet, which is nice to see. And there appear to be a lot of active groups, too. So this one might work out.

Hilariously, I also see that desperate little attention-seeking twit Dan Marvin has joined (remember him?), apparently so he can flaunt his ridiculous non-arguments and scientific illiteracy to his intellectual betters, who will then proceed to flog him mercilessly for it. Masochistic much, Dan? Go ahead and accept his friend requests if you like, that’s your business. Me, I decided long ago it goes against my rational secular morality to abuse the handicapped. ;-)


Addendum 2: Okay, I just added a whopping 90 photos to a TAM6 album, which is pretty much the same as my Flickr set, except longer, with more of my road trip shots. Later on I’ll create an album for TAM5 and Dawkins’ Austin visit back in March. I figure if I’m going to be part of this thing, I can’t complain I’m getting nothing out of it if I don’t put in.