Was Mandela an atheist? The answer is no, and it doesn’t matter.

Here’s the summary from Jacques Rousseau.

We do now know that Mandela was a member of the Communist Party, and some might therefore think it follows that he was an atheist. On the other hand, we do know that he was baptised as a Methodist, and we have Wikipedia quoting an interview with Mcebisi Skwatsha, in which Mandela apparently confirmed that he was a Methodist. In Mandela’s book Conversations with Myself, he says ”I never abandoned my Christian beliefs”, and a comment on Pharyngula points to a CNN story, where it’s described how Mandela would regularly receive blessings from Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris.

Mandela also spoke at churches on a semi-regular basis, and in short, clearly seemed to have no antipathy to religion. Instead, his attitude to religion seems to have been exactly the right one for the leader of a nation to have – to hold it as a personal issue, and to devote himself to allowing others to exercise their religions, or lacks of religion, in the manner they see fit. In other words, regardless of what his personal beliefs were, he seems to have been fully committed to secularism in government.

He was a secularist. That ought to be good enough.

David Silverman did kick butt

Ophelia has the video of Bill Donohue, David Silverman, and Schmuley Boteach on Fox News — and she’s right, the two flanking nutcases were embarrassing, while Silverman was the voice of reason. The two theistic cranks kept whining about Satanists! Ruining Christmas! while Silverman just pointed out that yes, you don’t get to decide which religion gets to be the right one in a pluralistic country, and that means you have to give satanists the same accommodations you do Christians. But Satanists! How can you support Satan?

I found out what that was about. Oklahoma has a Ten Commandments monument on their statehouse steps…so a Satanist Temple has asked for parity. Seems fair to me. Cue predictable dismissals:

Rep. Bobby Cleveland, who plans to introduce a one such bill next year, said many Christians feel they are under attack as a result of political correctness. He dismissed the notion of Satanists erecting a monument at the Capitol.

"I think these Satanists are a different group," Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, said. "You put them under the nut category."

Brady Henderson, legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, said if state officials allow one type of religious expression, they must allow alternative forms of expression, although he said a better solution might be to allow none at all on state property.

But I think Baptists belong in the “nut category”! Can we have the Christian monument taken down? Although I think Henderson is actually the voice of reason here.

Also, the Hindus want to put a monument to Hanuman there, too. Are they in the “nut category”? How do you decide which religion is nutty?

I would also point out to Donohue and Boteach that there has been a long history of discrimination against both Catholics and Jews in the US — they won’t disagree, I’m sure both are far more aware of that history than I am — so it’s a bit weird for them to be participating in a discussion that attempts to label one religion as fringe and undeserving of recognition, support, or even respect. I guess empathy is not one of those “Judeo-Christian” virtues.

Seriously, Time magazine?

They’ve announced their person of the year, and it’s…Pope Francis, The People's Pope.

You have got to be fucking kidding me. They’ve got this great pulpit with mass media attention to actually highlight the important events and people on the planet, and they pick the pablum-spewing head of an antique organization that demands its followers adhere to obsolete and dangerous beliefs, and this is what they say about it?

The papacy is mysterious and magical: it turns a septuagenarian into a superstar while revealing almost nothing about the man himself. And it raises hopes in every corner of the world—hopes that can never be fulfilled, for they are irreconcilable. The elderly traditionalist who pines for the old Latin Mass and the devout young woman who wishes she could be a priest both have hopes. The ambitious monsignor in the Vatican Curia and the evangelizing deacon in a remote Filipino village both have hopes. No Pope can make them all happy at once.

Jebus. It’s no more mysterious and magical than the Mafia, or the Medellin Cartel, or Phillip Morris, or the NRA, and the people who turn a septuagenarian into a “superstar” are the sycophants in the media.

And this…

But what makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all. People weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while (to borrow from Milton), “the hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed.”

His virtue is solely palliative — he’s there to say soft words and create the illusion that the church isn’t the domain of child-rapists and oppressors. The church denies family planning to women in Africa, bounces pedophiles around to unsuspecting dioceses, buries tales of generations of abuse in Ireland, demands that women die in the name of fetus worship…oh, look! Pope Francis said atheists might get to go to heaven! Aww, he’s so folksy and kind.

The sheep are still not fed. But maybe they’ll be a little quieter in the slaughtering pen.

There can be only one reply.

As for Time magazine…I remember the old magazines that would gather dust on the coffee table at my grandparents’ house, Reader’s Digest and Look and others so tired that I can’t even recall their names, and I would read them because I was desperately bored, and I would mainly be curious about them because they represented what old people cared about (and near as I could tell, they didn’t even care that much about them). The magazines survived on subscription by habit, I suspect, and even then I could tell they were doomed. Welcome to that club, Time.

I’m cured, no more meat

My wife is a vegetarian, and I’ve mostly cut meat out of my diet, too — I’ll indulge a bit when I travel, but that’s about it. But I’m done now. It makes no sense: it’s not sustainable or economical, but worse, it’s brutal and cruel. Rolling Stone has just published a remarkable expose of Big Meat, the factory farms that abuse animals.

I made the mistake of watching the videos, too. Fortunately, my dinner had been vegetarian already, or I might have lost it. So be warned.

Really, everyone, this is a small step. We’ve been cutting back on meat for years — I might have a small portion, once a week, if that. We’ve already got all the recipes we need, my wife is already fully vegetarian, this is just making a little more commitment on my part. It’ll be an easy transition.

I’m a bit uncomfortable with this

Gregory Paul says that Nelson Mandela was an atheist. I’ve looked around a bit, and I can’t find any confirmation of that — I wouldn’t be surprised, but at best I find that he was a committed secularist who avoided coming out clearly about religion. Can anyone confirm? I don’t like it when dead people are immediately brought into the fold of a religion when they can’t deny it, so I’m not keen on atheists doing likewise.

Back in the last decade there was a cable talk show titled Faith Under Fire. Hosted by a right wing Christian, it featured theists and atheists in direct conflict over assorted matters. In one segment a theist challenged a leader of an atheist organization to name a single atheist who had become a great moral leader. To my annoyance the had-not-thought-about-that-one-before atheist was stumped. 

A leading example, of course, is Andrei Sakharov. The wholly ungodly leftist physicist started out as the father of the Soviet H-bomb, but became so fed up with dictatorial communism – Khrushchev’s insistence on detonating a colossal 50 megaton thermonuclear device for no practical reason being a factor – that he became the leading dissident against the system, fighting for progressive democracy at considerable expense to himself.

And the other great moral atheist leader of the 20th century was Nelson Mandela. He too was an nontheist of the left (as most are, in the US 3/4s of the nonreligious are progressives, the rest Randian libertarians.)

Now that last bit is interesting. If you’ve been wondering how big the atheist rift is, and are a little tired of vague claims that those jerks are a minority, it at least pins a specific number on them: 25%. Which isn’t small.

The claim is a little overstated, though. They aren’t necessarily Randian libertarians. The basis of that 25% comes from the Pew poll of the “nones”, which found that about a quarter of them were politically conservative.


I looked through the whole thing; no sign that they actually assessed the details of political alignment closely enough to recognize libertarians. But yeah, 25% does sound like a reasonable estimate of the fraction of jerks infesting the atheist movement.

Grrr. Stedman.

Bill O’Reilly, as he always does this time of year, was ramping up this War on Christmas nonsense again. He’s peeved at the new billboard display from American Atheists in Times Square.

American Atheists launched a major billboard display on Tuesday that declares Christmas is better without the Christ. The huge 40′x40′ digital billboard is located in Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. Using motion graphics, the billboard proclaims, “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” A hand crosses out the word “Christ” and the word “NOBODY” appears. The display then says “Celebrate the true meaning of Xmas” and offers a series of cheery words: family, friends, charity, food, snow, and more. The commercial ends with a jovial “Happy Holidays!” from American Atheists and displays the organization’s website, atheists.org.“This season is a great time of year for a hundred reasons—none of them having to do with religion,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “This year, start a new tradition: Don’t go to church. You hate it, it’s boring; you probably only go because you feel guilty or obligated. Instead, spend more time with your family and friends—or volunteer. There are better uses of your time and money.”

Ed Brayton jokes that O’Reilly should have invited him on to talk about it — he would have engaged in some merciless needling that would have annoyed the old windbag. It would have been nice, but no, no way was that going to happen; it would have been even better if David Silverman had been invited on…not only more appropriate, but Silverman is good at standing his ground and punching back. But no. O’Reilly brought on…

Chris Stedman.

He was awful. Well, from my perspective he was awful — O’Reilly seemed to think he was just wonderful, since Stedman was largely agreeing with him. O’Reilly showed part of the billboard, the bit where is it says “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody,” and then cut away to O’Reilly asking Stedman what he thought about it. He replied that they were “not contributing to the destigmatization of atheists,” and later he said that he completely agreed, and he wanted “to see more of yes of atheism than the no of atheism.”

I can guess exactly how Silverman would have responded: by pointing out that the primary message of the billboard was the importance of this season as a family holiday, which certainly is the “yes of atheism”. Stedman either didn’t do his homework or was more interested in ingratiating himself with a far right blustering jerk, and decided instead to see if the snow tires on the bus could bounce over a few atheists.

O’Reilly was pulling his usual schtick, claiming that atheists are bitter, that they sue schools if they have the temerity to let a kid sing a Christmas carol, and whining that Macy’s department store brought in a Santa Claus and didn’t announce that it was Christmas. Why can’t those atheists just leave Christmas alone, he begged.

Most of these claims of atheists hating Christmas are lies, and the criticisms groups like the FFRF levy against schools and other state institutions aren’t that kids shouldn’t be allowed to pray or sing hymns if they want, but that these schools cannot selectively privilege only the Christian religion. Stedman was totally ineffective.

Further, when O’Reilly says “What I’m seeing here is an amazing amount of anger from atheists” and “I don’t really know what they are angry about”, when the angry ranter here is O’Reilly and the atheists aren’t expressing any anger at all, Stedman feebly goes along with it and agrees with the stupid host. I guess he’s hoping for a repeat invitation.

If Stedman and the Harvard Humanists want to put up a friendly, cheerful, unchallenging milquetoast sign, they are welcome to do so, and I won’t have a problem with it. I do have a big problem when a representative of the Harvard Humanists goes on the air to deny the righteous, forthright words of a less weasely organization, and when they are so ineffectual that they can’t even raise a word of rebuttal against the BS Bill O’Reilly lays on so thickly — familiar, tired BS that anyone going on the show ought to be prepared to slap down. It’s not as if he ambushed Stedman with a weird new claim.

Stedman is too feeble, and maybe Ed Brayton would be a touch too acerbic. If they can’t get Silverman to go on, may I recommend Rob Boston, instead? He wouldn’t let the bogosity fly by with a smile and a laugh. Anyone but Stedman.

I think I want these kids to handle O’Reilly.

O’Reilly and Stossel are really getting into the true spirit of Christmas

It’s all about kicking the freeloaders to the curb. O’Reilly only gives money to charities that hand the cash over directly to kids (what?), and Stossel demonstrates that panhandlers are all freeloaders because kind people would even give him money, a sure sign of moral bankruptcy.

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The good news is that John Stossel was so gleeful at getting $11 by sitting on a street corner, waving a cup, that he’s going to grow a beard to match his mustache, give up the journamalism he has been practicing, and squat on the street for his tax free income until he dies. It’s a big win for him: there’s more dignity in that than working for Fox News.

(via Kick!)

What’s it like to be a woman victim of assault?

Can you handle another slice of life? Here’s a story about a woman trying to report a sexual assault. Just from that description, you know it’s going to be full of triggers, so consider yourself warned.

It’s too bad it doesn’t name the city where this happens, because there’s a certain police department that really needs its staff better trained.