Pat yourselves on the back, godless folk

Read the latest from Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman. Are we smug and arrogant? Damned right, and with good reason.

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

Consider that at the societal level, murder rates are far lower in secularized nations such as Japan or Sweden than they are in the much more religious United States, which also has a much greater portion of its population in prison. Even within this country, those states with the highest levels of church attendance, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, have significantly higher murder rates than far less religious states such as Vermont and Oregon.

As individuals, atheists tend to score high on measures of intelligence, especially verbal ability and scientific literacy. They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds when it comes to existential questions and to obey the golden rule. They are more likely to practice safe sex than the strongly religious are, and are less likely to be nationalistic or ethnocentric. They value freedom of thought.

Don’t get complacent, though: being good takes hard work. No slacking allowed, you are all expected to be well-behaved, and the only naughtiness allowed is the delightful, delicious kind.

Wait, I thought they believed in an absolute morality?

It’s always interesting when some god-walloper honestly follows through on the logical implications of his beliefs — he basically is compelled to admit that if you worship a tyrannical monster, you have to end up rationalizing monstrous tyrannies. The latest to enlighten us with excuses for bronze age barbarisms and brutalities is William Lane Craig, who thinks that tales from the Bible of God’s Chosen People slaughtering babies is A-OK:

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

Therefore, if I station myself outside a church door with an AK-47 and murder all the happy saved Christians exiting the service, I am doing the Lord’s work. Well, gosh, Willie, not only do I get to be a mass-murderer for fun, I can be self-righteous about it, too! It’s too bad I’m one of those atheists who doesn’t believe in a Happy Fun Land for the dead, so I can’t honestly do that in good conscience.

I will be interested to see if Craig now has a Christian perspective on abortion, that is, that it is a process that releases blameless innocents to heaven’s incomparable joy, and is therefore to be encouraged.

But you know who was really suffering when soldiers rampaged through a village, smashing babies’ heads against walls and raping the women and stabbing them to death afterwards? Not the women and children, oh no. Think of the rapists and murderers!

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

No. No, I can’t imagine that. I can imagine parts of it: I can imagine a long, heavy piece of sharp metal in my hands. I can imagine a frightened, unarmed woman in front of me, trying to shelter her children. The part I can’t imagine, the stuff I’m having real trouble with, is imagining voluntarily raising my hand and hacking them to death. I have a choice in that situation, and I know myself well enough that if have to choose between killing people and letting them live, I’d let them live, not that it would be a difficult decision at all. I also have no illusion that, in this imaginary situation where I have all the power and my ‘enemies’ are weak and helpless, I am the one who is being wronged.

I also tried imagining myself with a nasty cruel weapon standing before a cowering William Lane Craig. Nope, still doesn’t work; I’d set the blade aside. Except in this case I’d take a great more care to make sure Craig couldn’t get his hands on it — I don’t trust that amoral bastard.

Greta Christina makes a very good point about this. I don’t think William Lane Craig is an intrinsically evil human being. But this is a case where it is clear that religion is a tool that allows good people to bypass decent moral positions and find justification to do evil.

Victory is in our grasp!

As you know by now, we’re in a fierce competition between myself, the mega-behemoth of godless blogging, against a ragtag flock of motley pee-wee bloggers, all to raise money for Camp Quest.

I am privy to certain emails that have been flying, I should mention, and they reveal that my opposition are scoundrels and rapscallions. They see defeat staring them in the face, and they have a desperate plan: they hope to recruit more atheists to their team, to try and outnumber me even further…not that it will help.

In the face of this threat, I have no choice: I sought out allies of my own. And once again, I have accomplished my plan with rapidity, stealing a march on the confused forces that think they can defeat me.

Yes. Team PZ has received the Official Endorsement of…Richard Dawkins. Contribute now. Or a pair of 900-pound godless gorillas will crush you.

Why I am not interested in watching The Game of Thrones

HBO has this show now — you’ve heard about it? — recreating a most excellent fantasy series by George R.R. Martin. I enjoy a good fantasy story, and I think Martin is a fabulous writer…but man, I read the books, and I felt burned.

Here’s the basic premise established at the start of the first novel:

The kingdom descends into the chaos of civil war, while a mysterious supernatural threat arises far to the north, and an exiled princess across the sea plots to invade with the power of dragons. Many tangled plot lines are established with a horde of memorable characters.

Now here’s the situation at the end of the fourth novel: <SPOILERS!!!>

The kingdom is wracked with the chaos of civil war, while a mysterious supernatural threat stirs far to the north, and an exiled princess across the sea gathers her army to invade with the power of dragons. Many tangled plot lines are tangled even more deeply, a horde of memorable characters have died, and there is a new horde of memorable characters.

Martin really knows how to set a pot to boiling. He doesn’t know how to bring a delicious stew to the table. If you want to watch something churn and bubble entertainingly, you’re welcome to it, but if you’re hoping for a meal, go somewhere else.

Hey! This contest isn’t fair!

I’ve been asked to compete in a fundraising contest for Camp Quest. But look what they did to me!

Five awesome atheist bloggers are competing to see who can raise the most money to support Camp Quest!

Since one of those bloggers is the indomitable PZ Myers of Pharyngula, we have made two teams in order to make this competition more fair.

Team 1: Greta Christina of Greta Christina’s Blog, Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist, Jen McCreight of Blag Hag, and JT Eberhard of Zerowing21.

Team 2: PZ Myers of Pharyngula.

The first team to raise $5,000 for Camp Quest, or the team that has raised the most by June 1, 2011 will win!

What will the winning team receive? Bragging rights. Pure and simple.

All contestants and contributors receive: the knowledge that they have supported a fantastic program for freethinking families and their children.

Camp Quest is a fabulous program to give kids a fun and educational experience without the taint of religion. They should be encouraged and supported, but you know what this means…I must also crush the competition. Donate to help the kids, but also do it via my little widget. If you don’t, you’re probably also one of those wimps who roots for the faces rather than the heels in pro wrestling.

I have already goaded my feeble opponents into responding. Do they even realize that if they were to win (which is inconceivable), they’d have to split the bragging rights four ways? My question is, who would get the “buh?”, who gets the “err…”, who gets the “Aaaaa!”, and who gets the “gah?”

No lie too low

Coral Ridge Ministries, that awful fundagelical organization founded by D. James Kennedy, has “discovered” a couple of former workers willing to testify about the evil practices of Planned Parenthood.

“They have an abortion budget and they have a certain number of patients that you have to perform abortions on every month, and there’s a dollar amount attached to each woman.”

Everett’s business plan included outreach in schools with talks given to break down children’s natural modesty and promote Everett and her clinic associates as trusted authorities for all things sexual.

Everett wanted students to “come to us with their sexual questions so we could put them on a low dose birth control pill we knew they’d get pregnant on. Of course we passed out condoms but we never passed out high quality condoms; we always used seconds or defective condoms. Our goal was to get the kids pregnant.”

The target, Everett says, was “three to five abortions between the ages of 13 and 18 from every girl we could find.”

I know, when you’re dealing with this brand of Christian, no lie is too low. But you’d think they’d at least care about plausibility.

Oh, wait…they believe that Jesus nonsense. I take it back, neither sleazy lies nor unbelievable absurdities are barriers to these guys.

Ellen Lewin tells it like it is

Ellen Lewin is a professor in the anthropology department at the University of Iowa. Like all of us, she is constantly dunned with email announcing this, that, and the other thing at our universities, and sometimes we get email that makes our blood boil. In this case, she got mail from the College Republicans, announcing a “coming out” party (like Republicans in the midwest are a closeted and oppressed minority…) that featured some hagiographic movie about George W. Bush (that ignorant ass), an “animal rights barbecue” and other such joyful shenanigans to celebrate the party of morons and thugs and self-destructive ideologues.

Ellen Lewin had enough. Ellen Lewin got angry. Ellen Lewin fired off a one-sentence reply.


I think I’m in love with Ellen Lewin.

She later apologized for losing her temper — and I can sympathize with that, too — but I hope she never backs down in her righteous contemptuous opinion of the Republican party. I share it. I think her response was relatively mild.

Now, of course, the right-wingers are outraged. How dare she disagree loudly with an entire party of mouth-breathing, sanctimonious idiots? Read the Free Republic for examples of their response; the first comment sarcastically complains that “Liberals are SO CLASSY!!”, and then the rest, with no sense of irony, posts a picture of her and proceeds to call her a “pervert”, a “lesbian”, a “cow”, a “demonic lesbian demon”, a “bitter, old, ugly, lesbian with a hairy lip”, and suggests that she has sex with dogs.

And more! Those delicate little flowers, the College Republicans, are so hurt by her unkind words that they are filing an official complaint.

Ginty, 21, a junior, filed her complaint with the provost and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. In the complaint, she states that the April 18 email from professor Ellen Lewin and Lewin’s followup “halfhearted apology” violate general standards of decency, respect for civility in public discourse and the university’s antiharassment policy.

Ginty’s complaint says “there is little doubt that the university would not tolerate a similar string of emails by a member of the faculty targeted at a number of other student groups.”

She has a point. It wasn’t civil or respectful (although turning a brief outburst into a case of harassment and a “string of emails” is a bit much). But you know what? I approve of incivility and disrespect towards organizations that deserve it, and the Republican party is currently the party of know-nothings, hypocrites, liars, and greed — it’s the stagnant, festering slime towards which all the worst elements of society now gravitate. The problem isn’t college professors snarling at them, it’s that the party itself encourages short-sightedness, idiocy, and hatefulness. So, until the grown-ups wake up and clean out the bigotry and ignorance from their own house, I think it’s only fair for us to air our vigorous disgust with them.

I stand in solidarity with Ellen Lewin.