Heroes that actually deserve the name

There are relatively few people in this world today who impress me enough for me to call them heroes. But they exist. Belatedly, imperfectly, incompletely, I would like to thank them for inspiring me and encouraging me to expect more and better things.

Here, in no particular order, are some of them. Please help me fill in the names I will inevitably overlook.

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Sexual panhandling

I haven’t actually been to any major atheist/skeptical/freethought conventions, but I’ve been to a few technical conferences, and I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to travel to new parts of the country and do a little sightseeing on the side. One thing I’ve found, though, is that sometimes when you step outside of the hotel or convention center, the panhandlers are waiting for you on the sidewalk, trying to bum some cash off of you. And then again, sometimes they aren’t. It depends on the venue.

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A modest baseline

I’ve been staying out of the current debate over sexism/feminism because frankly it’s a bigger issue than I have time to address. It’s a big deal, though, so here’s at least a couple cents worth: I’d like to propose a modest baseline for inter-gender interactions, and I’d like to aim it particularly at guys.

The baseline is this: before interacting with a casual female acquaintance, I want you to imagine someone you find sexually unattractive. I think, for example, a lot of you might not be attracted to, say, the comic book guy from the Simpsons. Whatever attention you wish to pay to your casual female acquaintance, imagine yourself receiving the same kind of attention from the comic book guy, with exactly the same feelings and motivations. Would it bug you? Would it be unwelcome? If so, assume that you do not have a right to behave that way towards your female acquaintance. You may eventually earn the right, but don’t just assume you have it, or that you can quickly earn it with the right “techniques,” any more than the comic book guy could with you.

That’s a modest and inadequate baseline, but I hope it might have some use as an exercise in promoting a bit of understanding and sympathy. And above all restraint.


The deacon’s backstory

Someone mentioned not knowing my backstory, so I thought I’d take a minute and share my background, and how I went from being a committed, conservative, Bible-believing Christian to being—well, whatever it is I am now.

I grew up in a nominally Christian home, and generally believed in God by familial osmosis. We weren’t terribly religious, though. When I was in the sixth grade (12-year-olds, for those of you outside the US educational system), my mother decided to start going to church again, and took us to one of the more liberal Methodist churches in the area. I hated to go because I was kind of a geek and got picked on a lot, but I did sing in the children’s choir and go to catechism class. It was there I got my very first Bible.

It was a “Young Readers” Bible, very large, with pictures and helpful footnotes and introductions to each book. The commentary confused me, because it sounded like the people who wrote the notes didn’t really believe in God, and were talking about the Bible like it had more or less evolved through human fumbling and good intentions. I decided, at that point, that I was going to believe in God regardless of what men said about Him. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that decision made my eventual atheism inevitable.

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Oo, this is fun

Now this was actually fun, you guys should try it:

  1. Go to www.kiva.org.
  2. Pick a business or family that’s looking for a small loan in a high-poverty and/or underbanked area.
  3. Make a contribution of $25 or more.

What’s fun is that this is loan, not a donation, so the money comes back again. If you keep adding to your account, you can keep making larger and larger loans, and your money is going to promote struggling economies, and help reduce poverty. Plus check out the second-place team–the screen shot’s below the fold.

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I don’t feel like taking on anything super-heavy today, so let’s see if I can start some kind of meme. Name three fiction books you’ve read more than three times, and why.

The book I’ve read the most is the Bible, due to my Christian past. I lost count of how many times I read it through cover to cover, but it was at least 8, and of course that’s only the times I was counting how many times I read the whole thing. It’s pretty poor fiction, though, so maybe we shouldn’t count this one.

I also read The Chronicles of Narnia any number of times, even as an adult. As a Christian, I enjoyed Narnia a lot more than the Bible even, because Aslan in Narnia seemed so much more like the kind of loving God Jesus should have been. I didn’t really realize it until after I stopped believing the Bible, but in a way the Bible created the kind of hunger a childish fantasy could best satisfy, by promising so much on behalf of a God Who could deliver so little. I can’t read it any more, though, because now it just reminds me of how badly my faith let me down. Fortunately, I’ve also got some secular favorites as well.

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A temple for atheists

As you’ve probably heard, Alain de Botton has announced plans to build a “Temple to Atheism” somewhere in London. Seems a rather silly idea to me. What’s next, a museum for non-stamp-collectors? Given that atheism is the absence of belief in God, the most suitable “temple” ought to be—no temple at all. And we’ve already got that.

Some very large subset of atheism might also be served by a “temple” that consisted of reality itself, since reality is the true “supreme power” to which we all must submit. But again, we’ve already got that “temple,” and always have. de Botton’s plans are a waste of money that would be better spent somewhere else.

What’s this?

Looks like there’s some kind of Facebook feud going on between the Secular Student Alliance and Campus Crusade for Christ.

Currently the Secular Students are running at about 14K “likes” versus Campus Crusade at a little over 4x that number. That’s actually not too shabby for a secular organization. I’m sure we can do better than that, though. Can’t we?

Better yet, if you’re not an FB fan (and I can certainly understand if you’re not), you can help the SSA directly by going to this link:


I’ll just pass on what the sponsor says: “Details: becoming an annual member of the SSA ($35 for adults, $10 for students) counts as a donation.  We’re trying to ride the more than double popularity we’ve achieved in the last 10 hours and hope to fill this match within the week.”

British atheists more involved than American atheists

Here is an interesting report about the effect of religion on volunteerism in Britain and the USA.

A new study released in Britain shows that atheists are just as likely to volunteer in the community as Christians. In the United States, however, religious people are three to four times as likely to volunteer, marking a stark difference of how religion affects public life in the two countries.

The report suggests that social ties may be a big reason for the American disparity. Here’s a quote from one of the authors of the study.

“The intense tie is not to the theology but in the emotional commitment to others in their small group,” Putnam, who is not a Christian, told the U.K.’s Guardian in 2007. “Most of these people are seeking meaning in their lives but they are also seeking friends. The small groups spend two hours a week together – doing the volleyball or the mountain biking and praying; they become your closest friends.”

That sounds plausible as far as it goes, but I think perhaps another reason for the disparity might be the relatively greater polarization that exists between the American believer versus the American atheist (or substitute conservative/liberal, Republican/Democrat, etc). Social relationships cut both ways, and to the extent that unbelievers are marginalized and excluded by society in general, they are correspondingly sidelined when there are opportunities to volunteer.

Fortunately, thanks to the New Atheists, a lot more unbelievers are standing up and dare I say exposing themselves as non-Christians, in a Christian-dominated society. That takes courage, especially if you’re going to be among the first to do so, but I think the seed has already been sown. British society is largely post-Christian, and I think the closer we come to follow that example, the more likely we are to show similar statistics in the realm of social participation (especially as conservatives become more and more hostile to organized social welfare).

And by the way, speaking of opportunities to volunteer, let me stick in another plug for Donors Choose. Come on, Americans, we can’t let the British atheists get all the good press! 😉

October Challenge

If there could ever be such a thing as a good religion, I think it would have to be based around three core principles: integrity, community, and purpose.

  • Integrity: being true to yourself and those around you.
  • Community: living with peace, tolerance, and charity towards those around you
  • Purpose: making life better for yourself and for those around you

That’s the philosophy/religion I call Alethianism, and it’s what I try to live by. But it’s not much good if it’s only just words. The reason I’m bringing it up now is that we’ve got a chance to act, a chance to make the world a better place for ourselves and those around us. The Freethought Bloggers have been discussing how we might get out and do some good in the world, and we’ve decided to take advantage of the Donors Choose program. If you’re not familiar with it, Donors Choose is a way teachers in financially-strapped schools can raise money to get them the things they need to get kids involved in learning, especially in poverty-stricken areas.

Please Donate.

As an added incentive, the Freethought Blogs are challenging other blogs to a contest to see who can raise the most cash. Should be fun.

(Once again, that link is http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/viewChallenge.html?id=196145. Click now!)