Last night at Threadgill’s

All right all right, I hyped up the surprise at dinner after the show, so I feel like I should just get it out and not wait on pictures to surface.

The Everything Else Atheist and I are now engaged. There, I said it. In a highly unconventional move, since we are godless heretics who scoff at tradition, she proposed to me.

Obviously none of this was a surprise to me since I announced it in advance. We had discussed marriage already and I already knew that she was planning to pull this off at dinner. What I was not expecting, though, was that she enlisted three of her coworkers at Texas Campaign for the Environment to show up dressed as the Bad Horse chorus from Doctor Horrible’s Singalong Blog. They sang the song, but the lyrics were, er… modified, to warn me of dire consequences unless I said yes.

I said yes.

The turnout was great, with about 30 people in total showing up. Among those attending were my son Ben, and a rare appearance by my sister Keryn and her husband Michael, and of course the usual crew along with numerous show cohosts.

Thanks everyone, for being there! And to everyone who knew exactly what was about to happen, thanks for keeping the secret.

Alert canceled :(

I seriously apologize for getting everyone interested and then yanking the rug out, but the idea we had for the show had to be postponed at the last minute. Hopefully it will run on January 10.

However, the post show dinner is still going to be interesting, and not even Martin knows why. 😉

Heads up for the Atheist Experience show this weekend

Let this be a teaser to all you viewers out there:

Something unusual is happening on the show this weekend. It is my guess that it will either be a successful something that will make this a widely discussed show, or it will be a spectacular flame-out. Either way, you won’t want to miss it. A new thread will appear a few minutes before the show ends so you can discuss which it was.

Word on the street is that something entirely unrelated but no less unusual and cool will also happen at the post-show dinner at Threadgill’s. If you are in Austin, You. Will. Attend.

Update: I really apologize for this, but due to circumstances beyond our control, the unusual thing for the show is postponed until next month. The dinner thing is still happening. Again, I am sorry for getting up everyone’s interest prematurely.

This holiday season, shop at “naughty” retailers!

Better call the waaaaambulance. The “War on Christmas” is in full swing in fundieland, and the first casualties are rolling in. Or not.

Got an email heads-up tonight about the “Naughty and Nice 2009” list cooked up by the American “Family” Association. Right-wing fundamentalists absolutely love their collective persecution complex. It’s the only thing they have, really, that gives them any empowerment.

The feelings of entitlement behind the nonexistent “War on Christmas” essentially have to do with Christians not liking the fact that anyone other than themselves exist, as well as not liking the fact that this secular world out there happens to be filled with people who enjoy celebrating the holiday season too, and last of all, going batshit insane over the fact that there are some retailers out there who approach the holiday shopping season with an eye to inclusiveness rather than exclusion. Fundies simply don’t want retailers to cater to anyone but themselves. So they’ve decided that if holiday advertising says things like “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!”, then these are godless evil Christian-hating lefty tree-hugging commie hippie faggot hellbound devil-worshiping retailers who want to make the Baby Jesus cry, and good Jesus-loving Amerikans have a duty to boycott them.

For those of you who don’t want to abuse your eyeballs and brain cells by following the link to the AFA page (though there are some abusive comments there that are pretty sweet), I’ll just repost their list of “anti”-Christmas retailers below — these would be retailers who cheerfully greet those who celebrate Channukah, Kwanzaa, the Yuletide, or who just enjoy the secular celebrations of gift-giving, sharing love and warmth, and scrumptious turkey and dressing, in addition to Christmas-celebrating Christians. It saddens me that so many Christians are so childish and selfish that they want to deny happiness to all but themselves this time of year. But that’s the evil of religion. Thinking you belong to the chosen people of the creator of the universe tends to do ugly things to the egos of people who lack the moral development to respect their fellow humans as much as they demand respect from us.

Companies marginalizing “Christmas” (according to the AFA, this means the company “refers to Christmas infrequently, or in a single advertising medium, but not in others”)

Bass Pro Shops
Banana Republic
Barnes & Noble
Best Buy
Gap Stores
Hancock Fabrics
Hy-Vee Stores
Old Navy
Toys R Us
Whole Foods

Companies against “Christmas” (this means the company “may use “Christmas” sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company, does not recognize it”)

Advance Auto Parts
Barnes & Noble
Best Buy
CVS Pharmacy
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Home Shopping Network
Limited Brands
Office Depot
Radio Shack
Victoria’s Secret

So what about the companies who are “for” Christmas? Well, you can shop with them too, if you like! Because as atheists, we believe in freedom of choice and conscience, both on the part of shoppers and the companies that service them, and we’d never tell you not to shop somewhere simply because we thought they offended some precious inviolable ideology of ours (and atheists don’t really have those kinds of ideologies, anyway). Sure, we might suggest that people shouldn’t patronize one business or another if it could be shown that they were engaged in unethical or illegal practices, but in that regard, we’re no different than the BBB. So hey, shop anywhere you like this holiday season. And, just to tweak the hateful, empty people at the AFA, throw a few more extra dollars than you planned at the folks they’ve red-flagged. Spread the love the AFA hasn’t got!

This just in: Dunbar not running for another SBOE term

From a TFN email I just got:

We wanted TFN members and supporters to be among the first to learn about developing news at the State Board of Education. News reports today revealed that Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, has decided not to run for re-election to her seat on the Texas State Board of Education. As TFN members know full well, Dunbar has been an outspoken leader of the far-right faction on the board, repeatedly using the state’s public school classrooms to wage her own personal culture war.

While Dunbar has not yet revealed the reason for her decision, her extremist track record has clearly made her a damaged brand in next year’s election — and TFN has been the leader in exposing that record.

  • TFN introduced the world to Dunbar’s 2008 book, One Nation Under God, in which she called public education a “tool of perversion,” “tyrannical” and unconstitutional.
  • TFN broke the story about Dunbar’s attacks against then-candidate Barack Obama, authoring an opinion column that labeled him a terrorist sympathizer who wanted another attack on America so that he could declare martial law and throw out the Constitution.
  • TFN exposed her efforts to politicize our children’s social studies classrooms and to promote creationist arguments against evolution in science classrooms.

Unfortunately, the candidate Dunbar has handpicked to be her successor shares many of her anti-science and extremist views. A blog post today at TFN Insider reveals some troubling information about Brian Russell, whom Dunbar has apparently recruited to fill her shoes on the board. So our work is not done.

Dealing with right-wing creationist d-bags is like playing Whack-A-Mole. But you gotta keep whacking.

Okay, so now that we’re all agreed we don’t play nice…

Via PZ and WikiLeaks, in case you hadn’t seen this bit of timeless comedy gold, you can now download Kent Hovind’s entire “doctoral dissertation” for “Patriot Bible University,” a farcical Christian outfit housed in a doublewide offering correspondence courses. If the above is an example of what “Patriot Bible University” considers an acceptable lead-in to a dissertation, then let’s just say the whole preposterous charade that is fundamentalist “education” is even more hilarious than you think.

While we’re on Hovind (and it’s worth noting that this remains one of our most trafficked posts ever), I’d like to add a rider to remarks that Kazim and several commenters made in the preceding post. I agree it’s most important to attack ideas and not the people expressing them — but only to a point. Yes, the ad hominem attack is a fallacy, and is most commonly used simply to score cheap shots (and yes, I’ve been guilty of that one), or when the arguer has run out of intellectual steam and can’t muster rebuttals to strong points made by his opponent.

But this is a very different thing from attacking people when they have demonstrated, by their statements or actions, that they are not merely wrong but bad and foolish people. Kent Hovind is a case in point. First off, I don’t see anything unacceptable about calling a person who is convinced to the core of his being that dinosaurs walked the earth alongside humans an “idiot.” This is not name calling, but merely descriptive, in the same way I have pointed out that Richard Dawkins’ referring to Ray Comfort, the World’s Stupidest Christian™, as an “ignorant fool” and my referring to him by his unofficial title of World’s Stupidest Christian™ are not insults but descriptors*. Listen to Ray talk and read his writings, and his stupidity is on raw display. It cannot be denied any more than you could deny getting wet while standing in a thunderstorm. There is simply no way to refer to him other than to call him what he is: a stupid, ignorant fool.

Hovind is a man who is not merely ignorant but arrogant and entitled. He is convinced he is above the law, and remains unrepentant even when a ten-year jail sentence served to show him he was wrong on that point. Moreover, he has had an impact on a number of sycophantic followers, whom he has taught to lie and prevaricate just as he does. Read the comments from Hovind’s defenders in that old post of ours, and you’ll see them spouting the usual run of tortured, self-serving falsehoods to claim Hovind’s conviction on rather blatant tax fraud was Christian persecution at the hands of a Satanic government. So, QED, Kent Hovind has significantly damaged not merely the intellectual but the moral development of hundreds if not thousands of people. He has caused demonstrable harm.

He is also, in his self absorption, utterly cold and heartless to those who really do care about him. Listen to the audio clip between Hovind and his wife Jo. Listen to her try to express her feelings to him, her concern over the rightness and wrongness of the situation they find themselves in, and then listen to him shut her down with icy finality. He’s right, he’s always right. Because he’s God’s wingman. He doesn’t need to change, he’s perfect. It’s she who needs to “advance.” You have to wonder if we witness, in that exchange, the entire dynamic of fundamentalist Christian marriage in microcosm. Is this really a world in which unfeeling, authoritarian men are simply deaf to any of their wives’ emotional and moral concerns? Sure seems that way.

So, yes, I will always concentrate on attacking arguments first. But I will not refrain from condemning people worthy of condemnation. So go laugh at Kent Hovind’s “dissertation,” and then laugh at Kent. Because he’s an ignorant, arrogant, entitled, cold-blooded, self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, felonious piece of shit. Quote me.

*Speaking scientifically, I know I cannot prove that Ray is necessarily the world’s stupidest Christian. There may well be many who are much much stupider. But if so, then they — unlike Ray, who proudly flies his stupid flag in public at every opportunity he gets, many of which he instigates himself for the attention — have the sense to stay out of the spotlight about it. Which, in turn, would make them smarter than Ray by just that much. So perhaps it can be proved that Ray’s the stupidest after all.

We don’t play nice

Basically this post could be a big “What PZ said“: The notion that there is anything “new” about “New Atheism” other than having the boldness to speak out is ridiculous; but the notion that there is a newer, better atheism that doesn’t like to make waves against religion is far more ridiculous.

I am occasionally baffled by emails such as this one that we received two days ago (as per an earlier post, this is just an excerpt):

I was going to call in to ask what you guys think about the following. Some of my friends have suggested that the “militant atheism” strategy pursued by scientists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc., may turn out to achieve precisely the opposite of its goal. The strident, aggressive stance taken by these “atheist preachers” can easily be seen by many theists as offensive, and consequently strengthen their faith and encourage the formation of a stereotype which sees the atheist as “the enemy”.

How can anyone wonder what we think of those guys? We are those guys. Oh sure, we’re not bestselling authors or anything, the crowds we draw are much smaller, comparatively speaking (although fairly high if we’re allowed to count “every single person who eventually watches each show” as part of a crowd).

But really, the entire draw of the Atheist Experience is that we are out there every single week being a walking, televised billboard saying “Hey look, here are some guys who think that it’s irrational to believe in God. Call us and argue. PLEASE.” I mean, sure, we try to do so in a manner that is polite and respectful — most of the time. (Then again, Jeff’s rants are legendary.) But in generally I try to follow a guideline something like “People deserve respect and dignity. Their flawed claims do not.”

Are we abrasive? Are we offensive? Sometimes I don’t know how to answer that question. But I will certainly say this: it is offensive to me to claim that there are ideas out there that are beyond the scope of public dispute.

Wasting your life?

We received a letter from a theist who sent us the following question:

I came across [a Youtube Video] where one of the gentlemen on your show said that spending time, “in prayer or in church is a waste of your one precious life”…If atheism is correct and the end of life is oblivion of one’s consciousness, then how is anything one does during their “precious” life a waste of time? If [2+4+75+15]*0 does equal 0 and [43-58-1002-67]*0 also equals 0 then in what real way are these problems different?… whether or not one is a theist or an atheist/agnostic there are many things you can do in this lifetime to further progress or hinder future generations. But the personal end result is always the same so I can not understand how anything you do could, at the end, be viewed as wasted.

This was the kernel of the question. The writer also pointed out that some ritualistic behaviors, such as prayer, can make some people feel good, and offered that perhaps these activities may not be a “waste” from that perspective, even if the god isn’t actually there. I replied to this particular query, and was asked to post my response to the blog. So, here it is:

Most people who put any effort, time, or resources toward attaining a goal, and then find the effort did nothing to help them get any closer to that goal, would use the term “waste” to describe that expenditure of effort. It’s simply the definition of the word “waste”—inefficient, ineffective efforts.

All we have in life are time, energy and resources. So, if those are wasted, it’s not really outside the bounds of standard definitions to call that “wasted life.” If we send money to buy a product that promises to make our clothes whiter, and we use it, and it doesn’t work—then we say it was a “waste” of our money. There’s nothing semantically or philosophically tricky about it. And whether we have no end of money (an eternal afterlife) or that was all the money we had (no eternal afterlife)—in fact, especially if that was all the money we had—the transaction is fairly, honestly, and understandably (to most people), labeled “a waste of money.”

If I hired Jim to work for me for a year for $75,000, and at the end of the year Jim came by to get paid, and I had cleared out of town without a trace, Jim would be very reasonable to conclude that he wasted a year of his life on doing work for me for nothing. He worked hard in an effort he believed would help him net a desired goal of $75k—but really the effort was fruitless in getting him anywhere close to his personal goal of $75k.

If I tell Jim to cheer up, that one day he will be dead, so the year and the money don’t actually matter—Jim probably wouldn’t like that advice very much. And I have no trouble grasping that Jim would want that year back in a bad way and feel it was “wasted” and stolen from him—even if Jim didn’t believe in an afterlife (in fact, especially if Jim didn’t believe in an afterlife—and this life/time is all he gets). I suspect Jim would spend at least some time trying to hunt me down (with a blazing vengeance) to get at least some of that compensation of which I defrauded him, so that his year wouldn’t be a “total waste” in his estimation.

For someone in my position, there is an ethical obligation if I have any regard for my fellow humans, if I meet Jim, to explain to him that caution is in order, since there is no valid evidence this company has ever paid out a dime to anyone it has ever employed, and to alert him that working for the company is a waste of his life, if he sincerely believes he will receive the promised compensation for his efforts. I won’t physically try to stop Jim, but certainly issuing a warning is a fair and reasonable effort.

The question to Jim, then, is this: “Would you work for this company for a year even if they didn’t pay you at the end of the year?” If the answer is “no,” then working for the company would constitute a waste of life for Jim–based on Jim’s own assessment. If the answer is “yes,” then Jim has some other motivation beyond the $75k that he hasn’t told me about yet, that needs to be revealed before an evaluation of “waste” could be made.

I have yet to see a person who felt anything but robbed in Jim’s situation—regardless of their religious or nonreligious leanings; and a great many ex-theists who contact us express that they feel like Jim (that their time involved with religion represents wasted life of which they often describe that they feel defrauded), and for exactly the same reasons Jim would. I hope this helps to clarify the position.

This is the end of the e-mail response. But I would like to add the following thoughts:

First of all, kudos to this theist, who replied to my e-mail to say that it helped him greatly to understand the meaning of what was said, and that he appreciated my effort to explain it. I will fully admit that I was braced for some petty semantic argument—but instead I received a nice response showing that he’d read and understood. That’s a wonderful change of pace in dealing with correspondences from theists.

But his original letter actually made me think further. Anyone could easily see my $75k analogy as being related to an afterlife promise. But actually, it is only intended to represent “motive.” In the question of theism versus atheism, everything hinges on whether or not a god exists. So, the question to Jim would translate to, “If there was no god, would you still do this?”

Interestingly, the response to the question results in a Catch-22 I had never previously considered. If the theist says, “Yes, I would still pray—even if I was convinced there is no god,” that means that for this particular theist, praying serves a primarily secular function, since whatever benefit he derives from prayer would still be there—according to him—even without a belief in god.

Alternately, if the theist says, “No, I would not continue to pray if I did not believe god exists,” then it’s fair to say that if no god exists, and if I were to help him recognize that, I would be helping him avoid wasting some portion of his life—in the same way warning Jim could salvage a year of Jim’s life.

I have heard from ex-theists who have written to our list to say things like, “I still stress over some things—like coming to grips with my own mortality,” but I have yet to get the letter that says, “My life was wonderful as a theist, and you ruined everything by convincing me god does not exist.” On the contrary, I have seen countless letters come through our list from ex-theists who want to thank us and express heavy gratitude to us for helping them get their lives back and escape from the bonds of delusional thinking. Honestly, the only people who write to us to express that taking away someone’s belief in god has ruinous results, are people who believe in god and, for whatever reason, are convinced that losing that belief would be ruinous—I assume to them? But their imagined fear contradicts the real feedback from every ex-theist who has ever contacted us.

Ironically, people who write to tell us they’ve gotten their lives “back,” must have been people who were expending a great deal of their lives on their belief in god—otherwise, why write to thank us? What have we really done for them if they weren’t devoting much, or anything, to god? They write because they were devoting quite a lot to belief in god, and now they can redirect their energy, time and resources toward something that will yield actual results in reality for them and others—not just in their minds. So, taking a person who is putting a lot of energy into belief in god, and stripping him of that belief, in reality results in a profuse “thank you,” despite the theists who claim
it will result in a loveless, bleak, meaningless, doubt-filled, fear-based existence that offers a person no reason to get out of bed in the morning.

The theist who offers this prophecy of doom, though, is only speaking from his own fear—the real cord that keeps him bound to his belief. And he is so strongly gripped by this fear that it’s beyond his capacity to imagine anyone else not being held sway by such terror. So, he projects those fears onto others because that’s all he is honestly capable of. He really, and sadly, has accepted the childhood indoctrination message that a life without god would be an awful and meaningless existence.

If you are a theist, and you think this way, please understand that this is a big, flashing sign that you are in the iron grip of irrational, mind-twisting fear that was drilled into your brain during indoctrination as a child. The fear you feel is real, I understand, but the basis for it is a lie your tiny child mind was pressured to accept by well-meaning, misguided adults. You’re accepting a lot of religious rubbish because you’ve been convinced that to not do so would have catastrophic results in your life. It’s hard to take that first step, when you’re gripped by the terror that one false move can doom you for all eternity. To be honest, many theists don’t have the nerve. When push comes to shove, a lot of them cave and just accept belief in god as best they can, in order to stop the pressure they think will never stop otherwise. Don’t believe the lie that the only choice is to accept god or live forever in fear and doubt. There is another option.

What you fear exists only in your mind. The religious claim that the only escape from it is to accept all these beliefs about god, is a lie. There are ex-theists who have rejected these beliefs and who have worked through these same fears and made it out, very successfully—to bright futures where their lives have been fully restored to them. Consider talking to some ex-theists. Don’t tell them that their lives without god are meaningless and terrible, ask them if their lives did, in fact, become terrible and meaningless after letting go of faith.

If you will listen and learn, it could save you from a wasted life.

Question for readers on publishing email

So sometimes, as you know, we get email. Sometimes we publish the email. PZ Myers has been doing it for years. And before I was a blogger, I used to publish every piece of email that I got from my web page response to Amway. (I no longer do this, but I’ve set up a guest book to let people self-publish their feedback.)

Because I am such a polite heathen, I usually ask people’s permission before posting the text of an exchange on a blog, and I will generally honor someone’s request to have their stuff taken down. However, I have until recently considered it fair game to post whatever I receive at my discretion, and only a matter of etiquette to do what they want.

But recently I had a reason to go and look up the law, and I was surprised by what I found. It turns out that legally, the writer of any message has an implied copyright on everything they produce. While the copyrights are rarely enforced, intellectual property experts generally agree that it is a significant ethical violation to post somebody else’s material without permission, even if you are just responding to it. You can paraphrase it, you can include perhaps short excerpts, but you should not simply repost it verbatim.

I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know all the details all that well. What do you think, dear readers? Are we committing copyright fraud every time we post one of those amusing “we get email” messages, when we have not obtained explicit permission in advance?

I don’t think we’d ever be taken to court for it — after all, just look how much Something Awful routinely gets away with for comedy purposes. However, as an ethical humanist with morality based on real world consequences, I’d like to reason this out and avoid validating claims that atheists are immoral sinners.