You don’t take me seriously, but I’m disrespecting YOU?

I found an odd irony in an exchange recently.

On another blog someone asked if atheists can expect fair treatment from presidential candidates who state their religious beliefs are very important to them in their own lives. While I do think it’s possible for a person to value X, but still understand and respect others who don’t value X, I also understand the reason for the question. Some religious people see their views as simply being their own personal choice, and they don’t really extend that outward to consider what other people might choose. Maybe they don’t care what other people choose so long as we’re all getting along OK. But some religious people express real difficulty even understanding how a person could be moral, trustworthy, or honest (with themselves or others) if they aren’t also religious.

Without asking each person, it’s not possible to know how an individual views their beliefs or how they judge others based on the beliefs others may hold. But it made me recollect an online exchange I had, a very brief one, with a theist recently. And here’s why: I was accused of not being objective when I questioned an inference he made. I asked, “…are you claiming [your argument] is a rational justification for belief in the existence of god (any more than it constitutes rational justification for belief in the existence of fairies)?”

The person was pretty obviously offended by my equating his god to fairies. He became defensive. So, I I responded that I wasn’t trying to be funny, that my question was in all seriousness. He never wrote back.

I have no doubt that this person truly felt I was only trying to get a rise. But I can honestly say I never was. He wrote to an atheist list. He knew in advance that atheists do not believe gods exist. Why it would surprise him that I would equate gods to fairies, in that case, and in all seriousness, I cannot fathom. Apparently, I’m supposed to pretend to grant his belief in god a special status over belief in fairies—even when he knows, before he addresses, me that I don’t. And if his arguments support the existence of fairies as much as the existence of gods, I’m not supposed to notice that or ask about it.

In other words, by expressing my perspective of god’s existence, and by not accepting his view as a given, I’m being offensive. If I say that I—honestly—can’t see how fairies wouldn’t be proven just as much as gods by the arguments he’s providing, I’m not being serious, and I’m just being a jerk. But what’s really happening is that this theist isn’t taking MY position seriously. I REALLY do not see the difference between his belief in god and a belief in fairies. And he refuses to accept that as a serious assertion on my part—even though it is asserted in 100 percent seriousness. Am I offended by that? No. After all, I didn’t go to a theist forum to push my view on anyone. What do I care what he thinks? I was just responding and asking what I thought was a fair question about claims he was making.

But, how does this tie into respect? Well, I respected his belief by treating it like any other. He didn’t care too much for that. But if he’d have come to me saying he could prove fairies, and given me the same arguments he provided for gods, I would just as well have asked, “How would this not also prove leprechauns?” And so on. Would it be offensive to compare fairies to leprechauns in that case—just because someone actually believes in them?

If I can’t even ask a question without being considered an ass; if I can’t give my view without being considered an offensive jerk; If my perspective is automatically interpreted as sarcasm and cruel joking, even though it’s not. How is THAT respect for MY belief (or in this case, lack of it)? What if, instead of asking him how his claim for god did any less to prove fairies exist, I had written back and said, “Well, if you’re just going to write to us with ludicrous claims, trying to be funny about ‘god exists’—I mean, what sort of idiots do you take us for? You can go send your joke e-mails about gods existing to someone else’s list you arrogant prick!”

THAT’S respect? I asked a serious question. He blanketly refused to take me seriously. And it appears to me that he is totally incapable of taking my view seriously on any level. Yet, somehow, that makes ME disrespectful of HIS beliefs.

While I’m not concerned about one online theist, I have to wonder how many others feel this way, or how many politicians share this view? That is a concern. Not an offense (to me, at least), but a real concern.

Good news from home, plus open election thread

Yeah, I was a little bummed that Hill squeaked by Barack in Texas last night. But he still leads in delegates, so we’ll just have to see how the next batch of primaries go.

But the news this morning that is chock full of awesome is that Pat Hardy won re-election to the SBOE! This managed to stave off what would literally have been a YEC takeover of the board, giving the forces of superstitious ignorance and scientific illiteracy a mandate to make your children ignorant. So the good guys won one, and decisively so, last night.

But you know creationists. It’s like playing Whack-a-Mole with those tards. The fight will go on.

I’m declaring the comments here an open election thread. Vent all you like about whom you hate, whom you love, and why anyone who disagrees is a razza-frazzin’ idiot! Enjoy.


PS: Sorry. Didn’t realize the Dallas Morning News link would be intercepted by one of those appallingly stupid “Register Now!” pages. Why do websites do that?

On “voting your atheism” and Ellen Johnson’s radicalism

Recently, American Atheists president Ellen Johnson caused a slight tremor on the blogosphere’s Richter scale when she opined in a video commentary that atheists should “stay home during the general election in November” because “we are ignored.” This raised the ire of at least a handful of folks, among them AC Chase, who called for Johnson’s immediate resignation as AA prexy, and VJack over at Atheist Revolution.

I agree with those who have condemned Johnson, though whether or not she resigns from AA (and she won’t) is a matter of complete indifference to me. I’ve never been a member of American Atheists and have no particular interest in joining, though I know a lot of folks who are members and support their freedom to be involved in atheist activism in whatever avenue they feel is best. Johnson doesn’t represent me and never will. However, if there is a perception out there that Johnson, and by turns AA, does represent the views of all American atheists — and it seems to be a perception AA encourages — then certainly some correctives are in order.

I admire AA on the one hand for being an organization that gets things done. The Godless Americans March on Washington held back in 2002, which drew about 2,500 atheists from around the country to a rally that raised public awareness of atheists as involved voters, would have been unheard of only a handful of years before, given the nature of atheists as rugged, stubborn individualists who frantically wish to avoid even the appearance of groupthink. On the other hand — and I am not alone in this criticism — the organization’s presumptuousness in positioning itself as the public voice for atheists nationwide can be irritating at times. The last thing we need is some godless equivalent of the SBC.

What is amazing to me about Johnson’s recent statement is that it seems to be a complete repudiation — indeed, outright betrayal — of everything that GAMOW was meant to establish. Perhaps this is because Johnson took GAMOW’s message — that of encouraging atheists to be active participants in American politics — too much to heart. She seems to have become radicalized. If no candidate is reaching out to the secular community specifically, then Johnson’s solution is for the godless to sit the whole thing out in November. Whereas in 2002 she was whipping us all up to get involved, six years later, she’s given up.

I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but how does demanding that candidates pander to atheists’ wants make atheists any different or better than the fundamentalist Christian “values voters” who gather at such appalling events as Justice Sunday demanding candidates whose platforms prioritize pandering to strictly conservative Christian interests? You know, the kinds of people who don’t give a shit about geopolitics or the war or the economy or the environment, but who will rush to the polls if they hear their pastor tell them So-and-So promises to outlaw gay marriages. If your atheism (or your theism, or your veganism, or your whateverism) is the only thing that matters to you when you go to the polls, then I’m afraid your views are pathetically narrow and selfish. There’s a hell of a lot more to me, if not to Ellen Johnson, than the fact that I’m an atheist. And I fail to see how my preferred candidate’s views on, say, troop withdrawal or lowering gas prices or the subprime lending crisis could possibly be rendered more or less valid if they somehow shoehorned their views on atheism into them. Those are unique issues in their own right, that affect every American, regardless of creed.

Back in 2000, when Nader split the Democratic vote and gave the presidency to Bush (settle down, flamers, it’s what happened), I remember the indignation from Nader voters, who repeatedly insisted that it was incredibly arrogant to assume they would have voted for Gore otherwise, and that by voting for Nader they were “voting their consciences.” I’m afraid that in this instance, they were confusing their “consciences” with their egos.

Similarly, this is what Johnson is doing. She’s confusing her principles with her ego, mistaking self-importance for integrity.

While we are all individuals with freedom of conscience, at the same time, we have to face the fact that life is sometimes all about playing the game. It’s unfortunate that we live under a two-party system of government that often comes down to voting the lesser of two evils, an act more about voting against the guy we hate the most as opposed to voting for someone we can actually stand.

Yeah, it sucks. Welcome to reality, which sucks quite often. Frankly, when faced with the choice of voting between “The Asshole,” “The Guy Who’s Less an Asshole But Has a Snowball’s Chance in Hell of Winning,” “The Guy Who’s Less an Asshole But Has a Good Chance of Upsetting the Asshole,” or “Fuck It, I’m Staying Home and Playing Mass Effect,” I just can’t bring myself to choose the latter. And even if my heart is telling me to vote for Mr. No-Chance-of-Winning Third-Party Spoiler, my rational mind, which has rarely led me astray, I’m pleased to say, will probably be telling me to go for the opponent with a reasonable chance. Because in the end, my vote isn’t about me at all, it’s about what will become of my country in the next 4-8 years. It’s hard, I suppose, for some to see the big picture that lies outside their narrow ideals. But there are times in life when reason must dictate that the big picture is bigger, and matters more, than those ideals. If you’re a person lucky enough to have “big picture” and “ideals” dovetailing all the time, great. But I don’t think many of us are that lucky. And it’s just irrational and unrealistic to think we can be.

This isn’t compromising your integrity, and it isn’t selling out your principles. It’s understanding that the world doesn’t revolve around you. And that if you want to live in reality as an active participant rather than moving out to the woods and being a hermit all your life, then you’ll often be faced with less-than-ideal choices. I believe the word for it is politics. Change always comes in increments, hardly ever with the instant gratification most Americans have gotten used to. And if you want to have any say in that change, given the fact that 100 million people who aren’t exactly like you are taking part in the process as well, then you have to participate.

Damn right I’m voting, Ellen. Follow your advice and stay home, and we all get to watch the fundies continue to run roughshod over the country. Nope, that’s not a choice my principles can countenance.

Rant over, now this: mindful of the fact that this blog is independent of the non-profit organization Atheist Community of Austin and is not bound by the laws pertaining to said organizations, then with the primaries coming up tomorrow in Texas and Ohio, I endorse Barack Obama. He’s actually a candidate I do like, and, faced with a voting year in which I have a good guy to vote for and not the usual “least an asshole” conundrum, I offer my endorsement gladly. (And if you live in Fort Worth or its environs, then for fuck’s sake vote for Pat Hardy for the SBOE!)

Meanwhile, back in reality…

While the Creationist Noise Machine continues annoying the public with its endless mantra of “there’s no evidence for evolution!” and “teach the controversy (that we’ve made up)!”, over in the real world, scientists continue to ignore such nonsense and concentrate on the actual research those people don’t do.

There’s an interesting report today about new discoveries in convergent evolution, where it’s been found that similar mutations in species of Asian monkeys and South American monkeys have led to genes that appear to confer resistance to HIV. The implication is that HIV possibly isn’t a new outbreak, and that similar diseases have afflicted primates in the past. Neat. The article doesn’t say if this research can lead to new, genetic treaments for HIV in humans, but it quite possibly could. You’d have to ask Abbie Smith about that — that’s her line.

Observe. This is exactly the kind of beneficial research that no creo has ever done. The kind of research that would be kicked in the balls if they got their wish of confusing students’ educations by introducing non-scientific ideas like ID into classrooms, shoring it all up with bold proclamations of conspiracy theories declaring scientists are evil thought police trying to control outside-the-box thinkers. Has the Discovery Institute produced any research that points to findings like the ones above, and do they have a way to explain these developments using ID? (And don’t tell me, “No, because teh eebul Darwinistas at the universities won’t let them!” because we all know how independently well funded the IDiots are.)

Of course not, all the ID crowd ever does is glom onto the latest research real scientists have done, then bitch about how it’s all wrong and shows biases against the supernatural and whatnot. As always, the IDiots have nothing to bring to the table, except their Dunning-Kruger-enhanced egos and pitiful need for attention. When it comes to advancing knowledge, they’re left sitting on the sidelines like the sad ugly kid at the school dance.

The Expelled farce gets even funnier

Check the latest post by PZ, concerning a desperate press release by the Expelled team, who are huffing and puffing and doing their best “well I never!” posturing over Robert Moore’s blistering review of the movie in the Orlando Sentinel. They claim — you’ll love this — that Moore created a “security breech [sic]” (at a press conference?) by sneaking in (to a screening for which his paper was sent an invitation?) disguised as a minister (huh?), and that he refused to sign the nondisclosure agreement (and what kind of “press conference” requires its attendees to sign an NDA?).

The usual “waah waah, the evil atheist conspiracy meanies are picking on us” self-pity you get from these losers, in other words. And they say “Big Science,” Ben’s imaginary villain, are the ones who want to “control the message”? Project much? Of course they do: they’re IDiots, which means they’re pathological liars and meretricious scumbags.

Note that on the Expelled blog, the whiny tard patrol respond by deriding PZ as an “atheist blogger and fabulist,” while somehow forgetting to note that he’s the same “fabulist” from whom they requested and got an interview for their movie under false pretenses.

How tragic it must be to be the sort of people who flail through life, literally psychologically incapable of being truthful, ever.

Because it’s not like there’s going to be a DVD boxed set

Our pal Joe Zamecki has posted the very first episode of The Atheist Experience to YouTube, from almost eleven years ago. I’ve never seen it till now. Hosting the program, which was not shot live in studio but taped at the cafeteria where the ACA used to have its Sunday brunches, are (from left) Joe, Mary Sue Osborne, and Don Rhoades, one of ACA’s true gentlemen.

A little while before my time, ’97. Yes, the technical quality is — ahem — crude. But it was a first effort from a fledgling atheist group trying something new and challenging. And the show it launched, that still runs to this day, has been an influence upon the media efforts of dozens of other little local godless organizations around the country. So here are its most humble origins, the first of several parts (the rest of which you can watch at YouTube itself). Thanks for unearthing and posting this, Joe!

England swinging towards reason

Their money is worth far more than ours, and now it seems their intellects are as well. Well, that last bit isn’t fair at all, of course. Great Britain has always had one of the richest intellectual and cultural legacies on earth. But to read that fully two-thirds of the population of the UK claim no religious affiliation is jaw-droppingly joyous to behold. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all embracing Dawkinsian atheism en masse. But it does mean that a greater percentage of them are thinking freely about these matters and refusing to commit to received belief systems and religions simply as an act of following the herd. It’s such a contrast to the headlong rush into the morass of anti-intellectual, anti-science religious irrationalism that the poor old US of A is suffering, that all one can do is wonder at how two free Western societies could take such disparate paths.

I think, in my layman’s way, that part of the cause of religion’s demise over there can be placed on their having a state-sponsored church. Nothing can turn a modern enlightened population off to the intellectual and moral dead end of religious belief than living in a country that still has blasphemy laws and is only just now considering repealing them, several centuries too late. And the way in which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams enjoys shooting off his mouth without first loading his brain on such subjects as Muslim sharia law can only serve to make the clergy and the beliefs they represent look not only unappealing but wholly reprehensible.

All I can say is I’m proud and envious of the British public as they continue to disprove the canard that we’ll never really be rid of religion, because people are weak sheep who need its comforting lies. Pro-religion views can only support themselves by selling humanity short. Secularism celebrates humanity and freedom to the greatest possible heights. I often dream I’ll live to see the day that America joins Britain and much of Europe in leeching the vile poison of religion from its system at last. What a day it will be when we can look back on the era in which megachurches brought in tens of thousands of sincere but unhappy people to separate them from their money, and politicians were judged worthy of office mainly to the degree they pandered to the most preposterous delusions, and shake our heads and laugh at our collective childishness. Alas, in too many people here, the disease really has rotted too deeply to be cut out. Will America advance, or remain mired in its superstitious rut while the rest of the West passes us by and leaves us nothing more than an intellectual backwater, to be pitied and ridiculed in equal measure? Hope springs eternal, but I remain cynical.

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.”

Punishing the Victim

This is a sick, twisted world that clearly needs to change:

The 19-year-old victim was sentenced last year to 90 lashes for meeting with an unrelated male, a former friend from whom she was retrieving photographs. The seven rapists, who abducted the pair and raped both, received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison.

The victim’s attorney, Abdulrahman al-Lahim, contested the rapists’ sentence, contending there is a fatwa, or edict under Islamic law, that considers such crimes Hiraba (sinful violent crime) and the punishment should be death.

“After a year, the preliminary court changed the punishment and made it two to nine years for the defendants,” al-Lahim said of the new decision handed down Wednesday. “However, we were shocked that they also changed the victim’s sentence to be six months in prison and 200 lashes.”

The judges more than doubled the punishment for the victim because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media,” according to a source quoted by Arab News, an English-language Middle Eastern daily newspaper.

Judge Saad al-Muhanna from the Qatif General Court also barred al-Lahim from defending his client and revoked his law license, al-Lahim said. The attorney has been ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Justice next month.

So many things are wrong with this situation that one doesn’t know where to begin fuming, or whether to end.

On the other hand, consider the implications of punishing victims with infinite torture in Hell. Think about it: the basic tenets of Christianity are infinitely worse than the barbaric actions described in the article.

This also needs to change.