Notes on episode 710

Yes, we know the video link isn’t working. We’re working on it. Specifically, Don says we’re shifting to a new server. So I’ll add an addendum to this post when there’s a workable video to view.

A couple of notes on some things that a few viewers have emailed us about, regarding how a couple of the calls went.

Mark “from Stone Church”: Some folks have admonished us for being a bit curt and dismissive of Mark this time, considering how he seems to have made such progress in shifting from mindless follower to free thinker. Yes, about that. While I’m not as inclined to think there are as many Poes calling us as a lot of our viewers like to think, there is something about Mark that sets my skeptical Spidey-sense a-tingling with every call we get. I’m not the first person to make this observation. That his IP address originates from Canada has raised some eyebrows as to whether he really attends Austin Stone Church at all (though that’s not proof of anything, as a person could use any ISP they chose, I suppose). But there was just something about Sunday’s call that made a little blinking red light labeled Bogus! go off in my head, though I really could not put my finger on any one definite thing. Is he someone who’s been jerking our chain all this time? I cannot point to any smoking-gun evidence. Call it a hunch, which I know is about as unscientific as it gets.

There are little things — notice how Mark always claims to be present in a room full of people when he calls (“I’m with my congregation…” “I’ve got all my friends watching…”), yet you never hear any background chatter? You’d think a room full of Christians calling an atheist show would be full of “Hey, ask them this!” and “Let me, let me!” And then there’s the abrupt shift from “You’re going to hell!” to “Let’s get together on this investigation that shows every time you question religion it’s proven false!” Most of us who came from a religious background will tell you, you don’t go from a devout believer to hardline, investigation-minded skeptic in the span of a couple of weeks. Deconversion happens all the time, but it’s a long and gradual process and it often takes years to shake off the more insidious and psychologically oppressive aspects of religious indoctrination, such as the fear of even the remotest, 1% possibility that disbelief will lead to eternity in hell. (Pascal’s Wager is intellectually risible, but to a non-critical mind, it’s an emotional sledgehammer.)

But the strange thing is, if Mark is a Poe, he hasn’t been asking us anything overtly obnoxious or trollish. (His hellfire admonitions in his “believer” phase were standard Christian stuff.) So while I’m not sure I believe he is who or what he says he is, he hasn’t given us much reason to be rude or contemptuous of him, and that wasn’t the intent on Sunday. But by the time his call was over we were 25 minutes into a one-hour show and it was time to move on.

Charlie the “atheist homophobe”: Unfortunately, we had to move on to this assclown.

Again, some folks have opined that Tracie and I handled this one all wrong, and in fact I’d agree. What I should have done — with 20/20 hindsight — was point out that as an African-American, Charlie ought to know a thing or two about how hurtful and damaging ignorance, hate and bigotry are, and that for him to hold such views was simply disgraceful. Click, you’re done.

What I do not think we had any obligation to do was grant Charlie his point that the term homophobia ought to refer to “disgust” towards gays rather than hate and fear. First off, even if this were true, what difference would it make? Sure, homophobia can (and does) include “disgust,” but it’s the most asinine hair-splitting to try to claim that this emotion is somehow independent or entirely unrelated to fear or hate, when in fact “disgust” in this case is simply an emotional by-product of said fear and hate.

And even if it weren’t a by-product of those things, what exactly was Charlie thinking? That our attitude towards homophobia might change — that we’d revise our opinion that it’s sheer contemptible idiocy — if hate and fear were removed from the definition? And try as we might, we simply couldn’t stop Charlie from spinning in circles on the definition and pin him down on one salient question: if he thinks the definition of homophobia is an inaccurate description of his attitude, then why add to the confusion by using the term to classify himself?

Homophobia’s definition, I agree, is more complex than the strict dictionary definition (“irrational fear and antipathy towards homosexuals”) may reveal. Regular commenter GeorgeFromNY pointed out on Facebook last night that the term has its origins in clinical psych, and originally referred to men whose aversion to the gay was so intense as to be pathological. Furthermore, it’s often noted that what these homophobes fear is not gay men per se, but the possibility that they themselves might respond positively to a potential gay sexual advance, due to some latent unexplored homoerotic attraction they haven’t (and cannot) come to terms with. In short, it was projection gone wild. Now, I’ll admit that many homophobes may in fact not be closet cases, though the sheer number of anti-gay conservative politicians and clergymen who have eventually been caught in flagrante delicto with their young swains does tend to lend some legitimacy to the stereotype.

But really, I think what Charlie was trying to do was perform a semantic Mexican Hat Dance around the real matter at hand, which is, if you call us up and the first words out of your mouth are “I’m a homophobe,” we are not going to respect you. It’s no different than calling up and saying “I’m a misogynist!” or “I’m a racist!” It all translates to “I’m a bigoted douche!” And whether your bigotry is based on fear or disgust, it’s all the same in the end, and equally beneath contempt. Trying to play some game with definitions in order to defend something indefensible is about as absurd as it gets.

“Oh, I see, you don’t fear gays, you’re simply disgusted by them. Well, that’s okay then.” Really, Charlie? Really?

So yeah, we handled Charlie poorly and could have shut him down sooner. But you learn a little something with every episode you do, and we always appreciate the feedback, pro and con, from viewers, because it helps us think about how to do better every time.

Burning Korans, drawing Mohammed, avoiding hypocrisy, creative vs. destructive protests — religion just makes the whole frickin’ world crazy!

There’s a truth about the upcoming Koran cookout planned by Dove World Church and its grandstanding (and light-fingered) pastor Terry Jones: they have every right under the Constitution to do this thing. Are they a bunch of dicks who don’t care about the potential devastating backlash of their actions as long as they get the publicity they crave? Yeah, I suppose they are.

Recently, atheists proudly participated in an online event called Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, which was as deliberate a middle finger to Islam as we could have thought up. Before that, PZ Myers famously threw a cracker in the trash, making him the bête noire of Catholics worldwide. (Though they conveniently forget that he also trashed a copy of The God Delusion at the same time.) As people who are not above acts of deliberate provocation ourselves — indeed, as people who are currently arguing amongst ourselves about the merits of “being a dick” in our encounters with religionists — it would hardly be honest of us to join the chorus of chest-beating outrage against Jones’ church for the horrible offense of burning somebody’s holy book. While most of us, I’m sure, take Fahrenheit 451 to heart and deplore book-burning on general principles as a disgraceful act of intellectual cowardice and the suppression of ideas, we should also acknowledge the legitimacy of the act as a form of protest speech. After all, I can’t very well defend the rights of flag-burners while condemning a Koran-burner. Don’t work dat way!

I suppose where the conversation ought to go from here for atheists is in whether or not Jones is motivated by a desire to conduct a legitimate form of protest, or if he’s simply a crass political opportunist, playing into a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in order to increase his profile from “obscure pastor of an outcast hick church” to “internationally famous martyr and warrior for Christ”. Well, what is legitimate protest in this context? Yes, radical Islamists brought down the World Trade Center. But all Muslims are not radical Islamists, and all Muslims did not partake in, let alone condone, the 9/11 attacks. So if Jones’s idea is that he’s protesting Islam for 9/11, he’s clearly throwing his net way too wide. The thing is, I suppose he knows it, but doesn’t care. He’s getting the publicity he wants.

The potential for hypocrisy in criticizing the upcoming burning has been much on my mind, and I’ve been forced to think about the similarities and differences between what Jones is about to do, and, say, Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. And then I’ve been forced to question whether or not any of my ideas are simply bullshit justifications I’ve been making up to feel better. I don’t think they are. But I do think it’s a positive thing, overall, that I’m willing to be self-critical. This is an advantage the godless life offers, I think, over the brazen certainties of God-botherers like Jones, who confidently assert that God (i.e., their projection of themselves upon the universe) truly wants them to do what they’re planning.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, for one thing, was on the whole a creative rather than destructive act of protest. It was a response, not only to the real Islamist violence and threats of violence that erupted in the wake of the publication of a few innocuous (and not especially good, when you think about it) cartoons, but to the arrogant assumption on the part of Islamists that non-Muslims were somehow obligated to follow Islam’s rules. Also, at the end of the day, what you had were a bunch of silly cartoons. While there was a little huffing and puffing about EDMD, in the end, the message I think got across (to the general public, if not to radicals) that taking someone’s life over a lame doodle was both insane and pitiful in equal measure. Lame doodles themselves can’t possibly hurt a fly. EDMD might have offended some Muslims. But in the end, no one killed anyone.

Now, piling up a couple hundred copies of the Koran and torching them — that would be a destructive form of protest. Furthermore, it’s hypocritical of Jones to justify it by condemning Islam as a hateful, intolerant religion, when he has a history of hate speech (against gays, the usual suspects) and intolerance. While I think Jones has the right to go through with his speech, I don’t think his motives are honest. He’s exactly what he condemns, except that his religious radicalism wears a cross rather than a crescent moon and star. (The atheists who took part in EDMD might condemn Islam and Islamist violence, but we’d never want to deprive Muslims of their right to worship, as many right-wingers do right now.)

Could this event trigger more terrorist attacks and counter-strikes against our troops overseas? Yeah, I suppose it could, though it isn’t as if they needed more reasons to do that. But if Jones ends up giving them one, the first such attack will be all the vindication he needs. “See, we were right about how violent Islam is!” Not caring that, in this instance, he threw the first punch. Yeah, it’s entirely valid to condemn radical Islamists for doing what they actually do, which is kill people who aren’t sufficiently “respectful” to their beliefs. But you limit your condemnation to those individuals and groups who do the violence. As has been pointed out to an indifferent Jones, it’s absurd and dishonest as hell for him to suggest that he’s only protesting the violent Islamists, and that “moderate Muslims” ought to support him, when it’s their holy book he’s burning too.

In the end, I think what we as atheists should take away from all this insanity is a sobering realization that this is the kind of world you get when religion runs the show. Belief pits us against our fellow man for the most absurd of reasons: failure to worship the correct invisible magic man in the correct way. And for all that defenders bleat about the alleged benefits of religion — that sense of charity, well-being, love and community we are told believers enjoy better than any of the rest of us — they always leave out the part about religion’s innate tribalism. Whatever benefits religious beliefs confer are only enjoyed by those within that particular belief community. If you’re an outsider…run.

We rationalists can only hope humanity outgrows its penchant for religious tribalism one day, and that all these vile superstitions are eradicated from our cultural landscape completely. (Not through violence, of course, but through intellectual and moral awakening.) There really ought to only be one tribe — humanity.

But until then…yeah, go ahead, burn that Koran. Whatever. I’ll be at home that day. Let me know when the smoke clears and it’s safe to breathe free again.

An Islamic response to drawing Mohammed

Via Rationalists: Some Muslims decided that the best response to everybody drawing Mohammed was to start an “everyone draw the holocaust” day.

Which is dumb. It’s not even that offensive (says the token Jew on the blogging team). I mean sure, it’s in poor taste, but considering that it’s an attempt to shock and horrify, I think it falls far short. The thing is, there is no specific religious injunction against drawing murdered Jews.

In fact, here’s how stupid it is: Jews themselves have certainly done more to draw attention to the holocaust than Muslims are doing now. There’s a holocaust museum founded by Jews in the United States. There’s another one in Israel. There has been great literature based on the holocaust, and many excellent movies, even comedies even comedies*. Yes, really! Tons of famous photographs, and several Choose Your Own Adventure books for crying out loud.

The point is, Jews aren’t trying to stop you from showing scenes from the Holocaust. As an attempt to respond in kind, it’s an utter flop. It isn’t breaking a religious taboo. At worst, it’s just being kind of a dick.

Now arguably, you could say that those of us who chose to draw Mohammed were also dicks. But so what? Isn’t that kind of the point? We don’t contest anyone’s right to be a dick. We support their free speech. We just think they’re wrong.

* The struck out link is a clip from “The Great Dictator” starring Charlie Chaplin. Since it was correctly pointed out that Chaplin was making fun of Nazis before the holocaust occurred, I’ve added an alternate (and equally hilarious) clip from the original “Producers” by Mel Brooks. This link is more appropriate anyway — Chaplin, while attacked with rumors that he was Jewish, was baptised and probably agnostic. Mel Brooks, on the other hand, was and is a big old loud and proud Jew.

They do homophobia bigger in Utah!

If you haven’t seen this delirious anti-gay ad that recently ran in the Salt Lake City paper, placed by AmericaForever.com, one of those patriotism-is-the-last-refuge-of-scoundrels Christian hate groups, you haven’t lived. I don’t know what’s funnier here. Just basking in the raving paranoia and idiocy (seriously, people, if you really believe your own marriages will be devalued by letting gay couples marry, then your marriages aren’t worth shit to begin with); trying to count the misspellings and number of fonts used; or simply having a chuckle over the we-didn’t-catch-the-irony use of such words as “backdoor”.

Enjoy. And, uh, think of the children.

But there’s more. Here’s an example of thermostupid right from their website, copied as written, without editing or corrections.

They are using intimadation to gain ground and are lying to the public, ALL THEY WANT IS MARRIAGE RIGHTS to valdite their relationship of the same-sex!!! THEY ALREADY HAVE THE RIGHT to Marry, a gay man can marry a gay woman!

Comedy frickin’ gold!

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.

Aggressive Atheist Extremists

Maybe you’ve seen the PhillyCOR billboard recently? Floaty clouds on a blue sky, with the text “Don’t believe in god?” on top, and “You are not alone,” on the bottom. It’s an invitation to disenfranchised atheists to get in touch with local humanist, atheist, free-thought or secular organizations in their areas. And it’s as inoffensive a message as I’ve ever seen from any atheist group. No attack on religion. No invitation to anyone to reconsider their beliefs. Just a note to those who already don’t believe, who think they’re on their own, to encourage them and let them know there are like-minded people “out there” who would like to get to know them and offer them camaraderie and community involvement. PhillyCOR actually even works alongside religious organizations to support charitable endeavors.

So, here again we have the age-old question: Is there any way—at all—that an atheist can express his opinion that won’t be considered an attack on or offense to believers?

The answer, PhillyCOR has now made clear, is “no.”

In an interview with Fox News, Family Research Council’s own Peter Sprigg had this to say about the board:

“This billboard in Philadelphia seems to represent a trend—a new assertiveness, even aggressiveness on the part of atheists.”

You heard right. Putting up a billboard to let like-minded people know you exist—people who often think they are utterly alone—is “aggressive.” The billboard represents—is part of—a trend of “aggressiveness.” Am I to assume that Sprigg has never seen a Christian billboard before? He should come to Austin, where he would be able to see several in a five mile stretch in any direction. And they don’t just appeal to other Christians—they appeal to everyone to come to church, accept Jesus, believe in god, convert to Christianity. Would Sprigg label Christians as a “hyper aggressive” group, then? I’m guessing not—but to be consistent, he actually would have to. If atheists today are “aggressive,” I can’t see how Sprigg doesn’t consider Christians to be hovering over the edge of “dangerous.”

Further, this man who claims atheists are being “aggressive” has the following to add:

“Atheists are very vigorous in promoting the separation of church and state, but with the extreme way that they interpret that concept, you would basically eliminate every mention of god from the public square, and that would amount to the establishment of atheism.”

First of all, it’s not about eliminating the mention of anything from any “public square.” People in the public square, speaking as private citizens, can say whatever they like. It’s people and institutions that are in any way representatives of government that cannot, and should not, promote any religious perspective—including the existence or nonexistence of any god or gods. That’s a little different, and perhaps a subtlety that is lost on people like Sprigg—although, if I am to speak frankly, I don’t believe it’s lost on him at all. I believe it to be an intentional misrepresentation—a strawman—intended to rile religious masses, because Sprigg knows that an accurate representation would not be nearly as compelling and effective in attaining that goal.

Free advice: When someone misrepresents their case, always, always, always ask “why?”

And while I am on misrepresentations, another interesting fact that Sprigg seems to conveniently have misplaced, is that one of the most active entities promoting separation of church and state is a group headed by the Reverend Barry Lynn, who often speaks on behalf of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Since Sprigg’s group is so very interested in separation issues, I can’t imagine he is unaware of this. And yet, he promotes separation as an “atheist vs. theist” issue, in order to launch an unfounded attack on atheists and rally undeserved support to his own agenda to use the government, openly and unapologetically, to promote a worldview that just happens to align with conservative Christian religious ideologies.

Asking Sprigg to not use our government as a vehicle to push his religion onto others is somehow an “establishment of atheism.” I have pointed out before, but perhaps not at this blog, that asking that the government remove “under god” is in no way the equivalent of asking them to add “without a god” to the Pledge. Ensuring everyone, theists and atheists alike, is free from government sanctioned, promoted, or imposed religious ideology allows everyone, theists and atheists alike, the freedom to exercise their religion, or no religion, as they wish, by putting all religious ideologies on the same playing field—a field that is, and ever should be, found exclusively in the court of private practice.

The level of projection Sprigg employs is at least as bad as anything I have seen from any theist so far. He effortlessly scales the heights of hypocrisy as he accuses others of stepping out of line who are not, while he is guilty of absolutely all that he accuses. Ironically, even if atheists were guilty of all he accuses, they would be doing no more or less than their Sprigg-encouraged Christian counterparts, in so far as pushing their agenda via government and posting and promoting their ideology as far and wide as possible. So, how could Sprigg possibly criticize, even if atheists were guilty, without showing himself up as a raging hypocrite?

The real issue here is that Sprigg wants Christianity to enjoy special privilege and treatment from society, as well as from the government, without being able to actually explain why special status is merited. I would never advocate promoting atheism using the government. And yet, if I did, any criticism from Sprigg could be nothing less than stunning, as I’d be doing no more than he and his organization and religion are doing already (and have been doing for quite a long time).

It’s actually competition Sprigg fears—not competition from others asking government to endorse their religious views, too, but the competition that would exist if his own religious view was no longer allowed to use the government as a prop—if it had to exist, horror of horrors, on the same level upon which all other religious views and ideas are now safely relegated—far beneath his own. It isn’t that he thinks it’s wrong to empower and utilize the government to promote religious views at all. His actions illustrate that he very much supports using government to promote religious views and policies. They also illustrate, in no uncertain terms, that his real beef is that he wants his particular brand of religion to be the only one that gets to do it.

On the whole “being offensive” thing

In my Dawkins report, I discussed the way many Christians — primarily of the conservative stripe — can’t stop whining about how horribly offensive the anti-religious rhetoric of the “new atheists” is, while intentionally ignoring, and even defending, far worse behavior from their own. A perfect example is this odious hypocrisy I read via Ed Brayton’s blog.

Oklahoma representative Sally Kern, not surprisingly a sponsor of the anti-education bill HB 2211, recently had a sickening homophobic hate screed of hers recorded and made public. Is she apologizing? Of course not. She’s a Christian, and morally superior to you, after all. So not only is she sticking to her guns, she’s got the lunatics at the WorldNutDaily (to which I refuse to link, so go over to Ed’s if you must immerse yourself in such filth) concocting a nice little conspiracy theory in her defense as well. Get a load of this. Here they are talking about how the thousands of gays and lesbians whom Kern gratuitously offended with her hate speech are the ones with the problem, and how they’re victimizing her.

Basically, they’re trying to silence her by threatening, intimidating, harassing and frightening her until she can’t take any more abuse. No dialogue, no debate – just crush her.

Only a fundie would think there’s something meriting “dialogue” and “debate” when some foul-tempered, hideous old cow (oh noes, the eebul afeist is calling her naaames!) rants about how gays and lesbians are more dangerous to America than terrorists, that they’re bringing about the downfall of civilization, and who lies about non-existent “studies” that support such idiotic ideas.

From where I’m sitting, the entirety of the “dialogue” and “debate” hate speech like Kern’s deserves can be summed up as, “You’re a sick individual, a disgrace, and a vile liar, and would you please go crawl back under your rock, you ignorant useless bitch. Thank you. Signed, The Human Race.”

That’s their game. It’s despicable, and utterly un-American.

While religious hate is just so praiseworthy and “pro-American,” of course.

In a sense, Kern does a better job of validating Dawkins’ points than Dawkins does. When Dawkins wrote in his essay “Logical Path from Religious Beliefs to Evil Deeds”

Religion changes, for people, the definition of good…. For non-religious people, the behavior of consenting adults in a private bedroom is the business of nobody else, and is not bad unless it causes suffering – for example by breaking up a happy family. But many religions arrogate to themselves the right to decide that certain kinds of sexual behavior, even if they do no harm to anyone, are wrong…. The following quotation from the Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg has become well known, but it is so devastatingly true that it is worth quoting again and again: “With or without [religion] you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

…he was talking about you, Mustang Sally.

Now, back under the rock with you. Here, take your Bible. You’ll need that, since you haven’t got a brain.

Oh gee. Did I offend someone?

One Nation Under God

“It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God.’ I didn’t.”

–Barak Obama, “Call to Renewal” Keynote Address, June 28, 2006.

This quote was featured this morning on another atheist blog I frequent, Austin Cline’s atheism.about.com section.

Austin makes some good points, and points most of the people who visit this blog spot would probably think of themselves. That the phrase is openly discriminatory toward atheists, and that it furthers the disenfranchisement of atheists in our culture.

I certainly don’t disagree. Although, if I’m going to be honest, I personally also never felt that the Pledge thrust religion or monotheism upon me as a youngster. I honestly don’t believe that any child will become monotheistic by being compelled to say the Pledge every morning and recite the phrase “One Nation Under God.”

Let me be clear, however, that I acknowledge that the insertion of the phrase is completely in violation of the Establishment of Religion clause, and should be removed, if on no other grounds than that.

Also, just because the phrase never offended me, personally, I certainly don’t take issue with anyone else feeling uncomfortable with it. How it makes a person feel is just that–how it makes them feel. It’s not wrong to have feelings or to acknowledge them. And just because I don’t share a person’s feelings, doesn’t invalidate their feelings, or my lack of them.

So, it is a phrase that at the very least violates our Constitution and, therefore, our law, and also that may offend some citizens who like to think that they are just as patriotic as any theist, or that they don’t want their children compelled to say this any more than a Christian would want their child compelled to say “One Nation Without a God.”. And these are real problems.

In my humble view, however, as someone who has dialogued with quite a lot of theists, neither of these things comes close to what I consider to be the real harm caused by the insertion of this phrase into our Pledge of Allegiance. What disturbs me beyond these two very real concerns? The fact that there is a group of very vocal, very politically active theists, specifically Christians, who would insert this phrase and similar phrases all over our government and our government-sponsored public institutions in order to promote the view that we are, on some level, a theocracy.

The last time I was on AE, Matt Dillahunty pointed out that if a person says “This is a Christian nation,” and they mean by that that our citizens, by and large, are Christians, they are correct. If they mean by that that the vast majority of early Americans and founders of the United States were Christians or monotheists along Christian lines, they are correct. If, however, they mean by that that our laws are based upon the Bible, and that Biblical authority or Christian authority supersedes Constitutional authority, they couldn’t be more wrong, (and, I would add, perhaps dangerous).

I know that by posting this, I’m preaching to the choir. And I have no intention of launching into arguments that already plaster the Internet regarding why I disagree with the theocratic stance. I’m only writing to address that, to me, it is unwise to ignore a growing group who vocally express a wish to enforce their religion upon the rest of our society. And it is unwise to believe that simply because I’m not feeling particularly offended by something, it’s not potentially threatening or harmful. Did anyone see the early push that Huckabee got in the primaries? Anyone who thinks there isn’t a growing movement for theocracy in the Christian community isn’t paying attention. And anyone who isn’t concerned by that isn’t thinking it through to the end. Even Christians should fear that concept, because, historically speaking, believers haven’t been particularly kind even to other believers when they aren’t in complete doctrinal agreement.

I’m not going to slam Obama as a uniquely insensitive or unaware, here. I’m sure Obama isn’t the only person–or politician–to share this sentiment. I actually have heard many atheists say the same thing: “It doesn’t bother me, why get all worked up over it? It’s harmless recitation.” But to that, I have to respond that there is a larger world out there, beyond me and how I feel. And it would be wise of us all to take notice of how others around us “feel,” because we might find they feel that our government should require us to adopt, if not their beliefs, at least their behaviors with regard to their religious perspectives. And they use these seemingly innocuous items to promote that agenda. Since it shouldn’t be there in the first place, by law, is it wise to endorse it, retain it, or defend it as “inoffensive,” while supporters of a U.S. theocracy begin to rally and test their power?

I’m thinking, “not.”

The MySpace kerfuffle

The atheist blogosphere erupted with indignation earlier this week, and quite justifiably, when it was revealed that the massive social networking site MySpace had summarily deleted the 35,000-member-strong Atheist and Agnostic Group without so much as a by-your-leave, even though the group had violated none of the site’s terms of service. This is seen as rampant religious bigotry and it probably is, although two groups I belong to, “Atheists” (4,828 members) and “SkepticSpace” (989 members) are still alive.

So I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it does seem as if the big group was targeted by angry Christians who complained loudly enough to force the deletion. If so, it just makes the fact that Christians still whine about being the ones censored and persecuted and “expelled” all the more egregiously self-serving and dishonest.

A lot of atheists are deleting their profiles, which I can’t imagine will hurt MySpace in the tiniest. After a lot of thought on the matter I’ve decided to keep mine up, but add the complete text of the Secular Students press release along with a comment voicing my own condemnation of MySpace’s apparent religious bigotry in a nice large font. Two days later they haven’t deleted me, which leads me to think there was some personal targeting going on and there isn’t (so far) some wholesale campaign to rid MySpace of the godless.

Lots of people slag MySpace, and I can see why, but I’ve actually found it quite useful. Mainly I’m using it to promote the documentary I’m working on (and working on and working on), and have so far “networked,” as it were, with lots of folks in indie film. I’ve also discovered a buttload of good bands I’d never have heard of otherwise. When my friend Hollye ran her cat shelter, she raised about $300 in Paypal donations through her MySpace page. So yeah, for all that it’s cheesy — no matter how big MySpace gets, it will probably never live down the rep it’s gotten in the media as “that teen site” where all the pedo stalkers hang out — I have no reason to think it sucks. Like anything else, it’s all in how you use it. (And to everyone who’s likely to raid the comments with glowing endorsements of Facebook, I must say I find that site completely boring and useless. I have a profile there but have almost never had a reason to log onto it.)

I’d suggest that if you’ve still got a MySpace page, then deck it out with proud proclamations of your atheism and your disapproval of the Atheist and Agnostic group’s unwarranted deletion. As MySpace is a privately owned (by Rupert Murdoch, surprise surprise) enterprise, I don’t see that anyone involved with the deleted group could have recourse to legal action or anything, but IANAL on that score. Just use your freedom of speech and use it loudly. We’re here, we’re godless, get used to it. If they delete you, well, it’s not like you’ve lost an investment or anything. And it will just prove that the site is run by reactionary, stupid religious bigots after all.