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.

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!

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.”