Whom does God really endorse, anyway?

Slacktivist pointed out that no less than four Republican candidates have claimed that God called them to run.  Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain all state regularly that they are in the race at least partly due to the wishes of the Lord.

I know this is never actually going to happen, but wouldn’t it be magnificently awkward if reporters would start asking the candidates about each other’s divine mandate?  You know, “So, Governor Perry, Representative Bachmann here has said that she regularly receives assurance from The Lord that she is meant to run.  Do you feel that she is incorrect?”

We all know that there is a big social taboo against questioning any candidate’s deeply rooted personal religious opinions.  But personally, I feel like the omniscient ruler over all creation ought to be a little bit more decisive about guiding an election, don’t you think?  In a world where God really existed and actively desired the election of one particular candidate, there might in principle be a single right answer to the question of who’s really God’s candidate.  It might, of course, be an undiscoverable answer; but if all these candidates are going around claiming they know they have God’s endorsement, at least three of them must be lying or mistaken, yes?  That ought to be a fairly obvious statement even for the most hardened theocrat.

And I’d like some follow-up questions, too.  Mitt Romney the Mormon is presumed to be the likely front runner right now; suppose he wins the primary?  Is somebody please, PLEASE going to go up to Rick Santorum and ask “So, Rick, you said that God wanted you to run, but that Mormon guy sure did kick your ass.  Why did that happen?”  And if Obama is re-elected, I’m dying for all four of them to answer the question about what the heck God was up to.

Russell’s interview on Ask an Atheist

When I went to Seattle and joined the team of Ask an Atheist, I also stuck around for another half hour or so while Casey interviewed me. It was fun for me and we got to touch on topics that I don’t usually get to talk about on The Atheist Experience

As this clip contains some politics talk, I expect that many of our core audience will have some disagreement. Assume the disclaimer applies: My opinions are my own and do not represent those of either TV show.

Talk about last minute…

…But the Texas Freedom Network has sent the information for registering to speak at the next Texas SBOE hearings on social studies curriculum standards. So if you are in Austin and wish to speak — and the fundies who simply love the new “it’s all about white Christians!” standards will almost certainly be trying to fill the rolls — you gotta get up pretty early in the morning.

1. You have to register to testify with the Texas Education Agency. TEA will accept registration on Friday, May 14, 2010 from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it is beneficial to register as early as possible on Friday. You can either register by phone by calling 512-463-9007, download a form by clicking here and fax it to 512-936-4319 or hand deliver the form to the William B. Travis State Office Building. The building address is 1701 N. Congress Ave. Austin, TX. (Click here for a google map).

2. Click here to download the form you will need to register with the TEA. Here is some information to help you fill out your form. The hearing date is May 19. Item to be addressed is Social Studies TEKS, and the grade level you will be testifying about: elementary, middle school, or high school. You will need to bring 35 hard copies of your testimony with you to give to the board members. If you represent an organization or business, please indicate that in the section marked “affiliation”; otherwise indicate “parent” or “self”. Do not mark your affiliation as TFN. TFN will have only one official spokesperson that day.

3. The hearing will take place at the William B. Travis State Office Building, 1701 N. Congress Ave., Austin. The hearing will be on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 9:00 a.m. (Click here for a google map). The hearing room is 1-104.

4. Parking is limited. There is street parking around the William B. Travis State Office Building that is metered, and we recommend parking at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum garage. (Click here for information on the parking garage).

5. We suggest you also look over the general rules for public testimony and the registration process created by the Texas Education Agency by clicking here.

6. You only have 3 minutes to give your testimony, so it is important to state your main points clearly and quickly.

7. Please click here to read the proposed social studies standards.

The narrow window is to keep the rolls thin so everyone won’t be there till one in the morning, and I’m sure the McLeroy/Leo bloc hopes they can pack it with the church crowd. If you wish to speak, well, I hope this post gets to you in time.

McLeroy’s moronity gets press across the pond

Just in time for the end of his SBOE career, Texas’ moron du jour Don McLeroy is profiled in this piece in the Times. Unlike the mealy-mouthed faux journalism of the US, where everyone is expected to play nice and all views no matter how foolish are to be accorded “respect,” McLeroy here is unambiguously painted as a pants-on-head ignorant ideologue openly attempting to politicize education. Just another reason to be grateful he’s been shown the door.

“I love science,” he protests. Of course you do, Mac. Like priests love kids.

This is our 1000th post

…and originally I thought it would be cute to waste it in postmodern fashion simply informing you of that fact. But then I realized that would basically be an exercise in irony so banal and obvious it would tip over into mere douchebaggery. So I’m much happier to spend this post in the valuable act of informing you of an exciting legal development in the ongoing fight against the theocratizing (that’s probably not a word, but screw it) of America.

A federal judge, Barbara Crabb, in Wisconsin has ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. I simply cannot wait for the 700 Club and Whirled Nut Daily to sound off on this, let alone the raging paranoiacs over at Christian Worldview Network, who will no doubt rush to blame the ruling on the baby-eating communopinkosocialistical policies of Barack 666Satan666 Obama, despite a flack for the administration assuring the pearl-clutchers that “President Obama intends to recognize a National Day of Prayer.” Naturally, we get a sound bite from fundie legal beagle Jay Sekulow, who distorts on cue:

“It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it,” ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a statement.

Well, you see, Jay, the thing is the court did recognize that. It’s just that unlike you, the court also recognized it is the prerogative of private citizens to determine for themselves when and where and how they set aside days of prayer. It is not the privilege of the government to do that for them. See the difference? Citizens deciding their own religious observations: within 1st Amendment. Government promoting religious practice on specified day: violation of same. Come on, Jay, IANAL, and you are, and even I know that rudimentary difference.

But that is, of course, what Sekulow and the fundagelicals want: to be able to use the power and authority of the government to impose their brand of Christianity™ upon the nation. Yes, these are the same people who lose their shit and wail about “Soshullisum” when “BIG Government” tries to pass health care reform that makes it harder for your insurance company to sodomize you while rifling your wallet at will. But when it comes to pushing Jesus like he came in dime bags at the playground, oh, does the right ever love Big Government then.

Gotta heat up some popcorn for this cagematch, kids. It’ll be a good one.


Addendum: The fun begins. Nothing too mouth-foamy there yet, but there is, of course, already one falsehood present.

[Alliance Defense Fund] Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster…argued the day gives opportunity “for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith – and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance.”

That might have been the intent and the spirit of the NDOP on general principles. In practice, reality is much different. The Texas Freedom Network has cataloged incidents of Christians excluding non-Christians from formal NDOP events. Mother Jones also has an account of James Dobson’s (surprise surprise) bullying of those worshiping the wrong invisible man, and pluralism.org has a detailed account of Christians using legal muscle to keep a Hindu from participating in an NDOP event in Troy, MI. The idea that the NDOP has ever really been ecumenical is as transparently full of shit as Fox News’s “fair and balanced” slogan.

McLEROY IS OUT!

Okay, we had Rethuglican primaries here in Texas yesterday, and there is some good news to report on the SBOE front. What rocks is the upset of Don McLeroy by his opponent, Thomas Ratliff. It was a near thing, only an 800-vote spread, which just goes to show how powerful the extremists among the just-don’t-give-a-shit-what-anyone-thinks right wing still are, despite McLeroy’s shameless track record of turning Texas into a global laughingstock during his tenure. Now I’m sure the Ol’ Boy Network will kick in, and Rick Perry — who, I’m sorry to say, almost certainly will win another term — will find Mac something to do. But at least we won’t have to gawp at this mustachioed moron as he boldly stands up to the experts at SBOE hearings anymore.

Now, other seats look a little dicey. Ken “Piltdown Man” Mercer easily squashed his opponent, Tim Tuggey, which blows. And the vacancy left by überloon Cynthia Dunbar has come down to a runoff between Marsha Farney and Dunbar’s hand-picked mini-me, Brian Russell. So we have to hope things go Farney’s way, because District 10 will go Republican in the general election and any Democratic or progressive indie candidate cannot be expected to have a hope.

There’s more possible not-so-good news in the loss of another incumbent, Geraldine Miller, to her challenger, George Clayton. Clayton, on first blush, doesn’t look bad, with his harsh criticisms of teaching to standardized tests rather than actually engaging students to learn for real. But sadly, he is also on record boasting that he is “an educator” and then promptly pissing that cred away by saying, “It’s an impossibility to talk about evolution without mentioning creationism,” forever branding him an assclown. (Inasmuch as one might say, “Evolution is true and creationism is retarded,” George is essentially right, but I suspect that isn’t what he means.) Sorry, George, but when you’re asked a simple no-DUH question about the age of the Earth, you don’t lapse into mindless spinspeak like “I’m not going to cut [the Earth] in half and count the rings,” not after bragging that you’re supposed to be a fucking “educator,” goddammit. You answer that question by saying, “Between 4-5 billion years…next?” unless you want to be sent to the corner in the pointy hat. The last thing we need on the SBOE is another uneducated “educator.”

So it’s hardly a clean sweep for reason and intelligence in the primaries. Ratliff could turn into the Manchurian Candidate all on his own. Yet it ain’t over till it’s over. Dems and independents could still have a chance to rally voters and cause some upsets down the road in the general election.

But damn!…McLEROY’S OUT! And that alone makes me ready to throw a block party. Hopefully Texas has decided it’s ready to start evolving after all.

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.

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.

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.

The intellectual entirety of the Tea Party movement in one screencap

Cue the fail at the Teabagger Convention: Here’s cover girl Sarah Palin, after banking 100 large to give a speech slamming overspending and greed, answering one of the pre-screened questions by looking at notes written on her hand.

As a number of folks have already remarked, most of us were a little more subtle about this kind of cheating in junior high school, for chrissakes. And 53% of Republicans think she’s more qualified to sit in the White House than Obama!? Look, whatever you think of the man’s policies, he’s definitely not a complete paste-eating chowderhead. I knew this country was into breeding the stupid, but I’m always astounded at how polluted the gene pool has really gotten.