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Archive for May, 2008

Unfortunately I get a chance to title my post, Pastor Disaster*

Posted by Skeptigator on May 30, 2008

You know how you tell your kids, “Don’t do that or it will hurt” and then they do it… and it hurts. Please read as much I-told-you-so as possible.

If you haven’t heard, another pastor has taken the pulpit at Obama’s church and mocked Senator Clinton by pretending to cry and bemoan the fact that “there’s a black man stealing [her] show” because she feels entitled as a white woman to be President. I assume God told Pfleger what Hillary Clinton thinks and now wonder why God would tell him something like that. Isn’t there some kind of doctor-patient privilege that God broke here.

Don’t believe me, well… Bam! Check it out.

Here’s one of the better quotes from the Washington Times link,

But by delivering his remarks, Father Pfleger seems to have officially submitted his entry to the What Else Can We At Trinity Do to Further Assure that the United States Does Not Have Its First African-American President Any Time Soon? video competition. And this application has “Finalist” marked all over it.

I know this post may come across as the big, bad atheist gloating over his superior Rightness but you’ll just have to trust me that this is not my intention. My intention, with a little bit of humor, is to continue to bring to light those actions and consequences that come when Politics and Religion get in each other’s business. I just blogged about this, McCain rejects Hagee endorsement, and here we are talking about it again.

I’ve been asked why I attack other people’s Personal Faith. Please note that this comes about due to one of two reasons, I let someone know I’m an atheist and then I get that question, which implies that my very existence is an attack. The second scenario takes place when I actually question someone’s religious statements or disagree with them in some way. The second scenario is more legitimate and I’m sure I’m actually guilty of outright attacks but I really do try to limit any “attacking” that I do to when someone makes a religious statement that intrudes into secular government, public policy, personal freedoms and/or they are flat-out lies.

So by bringing this Pfleger guy into the conversation am I attacking someone’s Faith? I actually like to think in some small way I am actually defending people’s Personal Faith by calling out these hacks who use the pulpit for political purposes. I suppose I have to ask the question, “Is it your Personal Faith and/or Relationship with God that mocks Hillary Clinton?” Because last time I checked those aren’t statements of Faith, that is mockery, arrogance, divisiveness and, in general, assbaggery.

In 1994, the Gingrich-led Republican Revolution took control of both houses of the Congress. That effort led to the Contract with America. You can disagree with the politics but the process was sound. Unfortunately many of those incoming freshmen took the opportunity to extend that Contract beyond it’s original intent. 15 years have passed and now both parties have gone so far down the rabbit hole in pandering to the Religious Right that they have forgotten the Original Contract with America that our Founding Fathers made. That original contract said if you keep your religion out of the People’s government, the People’s government will keep out of your religion. Your Personal Faith is part of your natural rights and that our government has no business regulating such matters.

Events like these remind us of the penalties as People, Candidates and Nations that we must pay when we willfully break that Original Contract. Our government and your faith are both damaged by these events.

* Apologies to whomever came up with the term Pastor Disaster and a tip o’ the hat to agnohumanist for bringing it to my attention.

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Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

McCain rejects Hagee endorsement

Posted by Skeptigator on May 23, 2008

So let me see if I can get this straight,

McCain & Hagee;

Catholic Church = The Whore of Babylon, McCain has no problem with that.

God-created Holocaust = Bring my people home, McCain has a problem with that

Obama & Wright;

Racially-divisive rhetoric = Black preacher’s message; Obama ok with it since he “didn’t hear it himself”.

AIDS = U.S. government conspiracy to kill blacks; Obama “sees that one” and denounces him.

Clinton & no ties to any discernible religious figure;

*crickets* (or some tenuous and odd connections to The Family)

Politics and Religion

My question is this, Isn’t the mere association with religious figures a risky behavior? Doesn’t the volatile nature of merely being associated or endorsed by a particular religious figure illustrate how divisive religion and politics can be?

Does the U.S. benefit, or more generally does religious freedom benefit, from the mixing of politics and religion in this way? How much damage is done to a candidate like Obama when he has to spend time discussing his pastors social/political/religious views? Here’s an interesting question, when Rev. Wright takes the pulpit and says (from the Rolling Stone article),

“Fact number one: We’ve got more black men in prison than there are in college,” he intones. “Fact number two: Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run!” There is thumping applause; Wright has a cadence and power that make Obama sound like John Kerry. Now the reverend begins to preach. “We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns and the training of professional KILLERS. . . . We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God. . . . We conducted radiation experiments on our own people. . . . We care nothing about human life if the ends justify the means!” The crowd whoops and amens as Wright builds to his climax: “And. And. And! GAWD! Has GOT! To be SICK! OF THIS SHIT!”

Which part of this sermon is political and which part is religious??? Is it a problem that you can’t tell?

To further illustrate the problems inherent (not specific to this instance but actually inherent) in the mixing of politics and religion is the influence that religious belief has on political decisions. Imagine for a moment that you are a dispensationalist, someone who believes that the return of the Jews to Israel is a precursor for the return of Christ. Imagine that as someone who is obsessed with “end-times” prophecy and actually bringing about Armaggedon you have the ear of the President of the United States of America. (video here, transcript here). For those who don’t know you were just imagining John Hagee.

In case you are wondering why McCain would disavow Hagee (and didn’t read the link above) he said the following,

He goes on: “Theodore Hertzel is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew who at the turn of the 19th century said, this land is our land, God wants us to live there. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said ‘I want you to come and join me in the land of Israel.’ So few went that Hertzel went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the holocaust.

“Then god sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says — Jeremiah writing — ‘They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,’ meaning there’s no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don’t let your heart be offended. I didn’t write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.

Perhaps the most disturbing part (you know, besides the obvious offensiveness of it) is that Hagee believes that his omnibenevolent God actively sought the murder of 6 million Jews that He (God) knows will go to hell because they rejected Christ. To those Christians out there, Is that your God? Is this the man you want whispering in the President’s ear?

Bottom Line

Many people have made the statement on TV, to me personally and to some extent I say the same thing. Should the candidates religious belief even matter? Why not evaluate them on their records and what they say? I wish I could and here’s the important part, I cannot only evaluate them in a religiously neutral manner because they won’t let me. That’s right. The candidates themselves have made their religious views a major point of their platform. If it is that important to them in their bids for the presidency you can be assured that it will influence their decisions in the White House.

I am obviously biased (aren’t we all) but I believe that the Founding Fathers of this country hit upon an amazing concept. That the greatest way to protect the Freedom OF Religion was to guarantee that our government was Free FROM Religion.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

John Loftus’ Speech to FreeThought Fort Wayne (Audio)

Posted by Skeptigator on May 19, 2008

[blip.tv ?posts_id=925127&dest=-1]

On May 14th, FreeThought Fort Wayne sponsored an event at the local library entitled Why I Rejected Christianity. Our speaker was John Loftus, who runs the group site, http://debunkingchristianity.net.

John Loftus is a former evangelical pastor and apologist who is now an atheist. He has previously self-published his story and his thoughts on why he left the Christian faith. Later this year, John will be releasing his forthcoming book, Why I became an Atheist, a former preacher rejects Christianity through Prometheus Books.

John’s talk to the group was very well received and most of those in attendance were very well-behaved. His speech was attended by about 45 people, of which only about half were regular attenders of FreeThought Fort Wayne. The larger than normal attendance was due in part to the interview that John Loftus gave to one of our local newspapers, Ex-preacher says goodbye to God.

It was great to see some new faces. The talk was about 2 hours long and included a slideshow, so be aware that there are some parts of the talk may not make as much sense since you can’t see the slideshow. The main portion of his talk was about an hour and a half and included about a half hour of Q&A at the end.

The bulk of John’s lecture was a high-level review of many of John’s points from his forthcoming book. If you wish to see the detailed biblical criticisms that backup his arguments you will need to get the book when it’s released . Here’s what some of our members had to say about John’s talk (I would suggest listening to the talk before reading the posts below, they will have better context);

Posted in Events, FreeThought, Local, Philosophy, Religion, Skepticism, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Enlightenment Show releases 3 new episodes

Posted by Skeptigator on May 19, 2008

As many of you know some of our members, headed up by andyscathouse, produce a show for the local public access channels. To further promote their efforts we have been uploading these videos to our site and embedding them, along with show notes, on The Enlightenment Show’s page.

I have just finished uploading and embedding the next 3 videos.

I have also configured our “channel” on blip.tv’s website and their video player is much better than what WordPress allows us to do, http://freethoughtfortwayne.blip.tv/

The next 3 episodes feature special guest Reba Boyd Wooden and are as follows,

  • Episode 5, Ben Stein fails science class, part 1.
  • Episode 6, Ben Stein fails science class, part 2.
  • Episode 7, All about the Center for Inquiry – Indiana.

Posted in Events, FreeThought, Local, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science, Skepticism, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

John Loftus entertains, informs and incites in Fort Wayne

Posted by neuralgourmet on May 16, 2008

[Cross-posted from Neural Gourmet]

John Loftus, the former evangelical minister turned atheist, author of the soon to be released book Why I Became An Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity and founder of the group blog Debunking Christianity gave a lively talk Wednesday night at the Allen County Public Library. The event, which saw about 40 people in attendance, was organized by Freethought Fort Wayne.

Among other topics, Loftus talked about his previous faith in Christianity, and how he came to lose that faith. However, the meat of Loftus’s presentation was his insightful, and inciteful, criticism of Christian theology. Although Loftus was highly educated in theological studies, including earning two Masters degress, he never completed his Doctorate, acknowledging that he just wasn’t smart enough. Loftus said, “You have to be really smart to come up with this stuff,” meaning the sometimes strained logic employed in Christian apologetics.

To illustrate his point, Loftus quoted noted theologian James D. Strauss, under whom he studied, as being famous for saying, “You can’t get to God unless you start with God”. Loftus said that was the primary problem with the logic employed in apologetics — they start with the supposition that God exists and then try to work out how a world with God would work, rather than examining the world as it is.

These and other statements didn’t sit well with some of the Christian believers in the audience who openly criticized Loftus. Accusations that Loftus’ own scholarship was poor, or that he hadn’t actually read the Bible were made but Loftus took it all in stride, cracking jokes and generally setting his critics at ease, if not convincing them of his views. Watching Loftus deftly handle the crowd it was easy to imagine him in his days as a preacher.

And while Loftus might have angered some Christians in attendance, he says that’s not his intention. He doesn’t apologize for his views and wants to be effective in communicating what he believes to be the inherent errancy of the Christian faith, but coming out of that faith he also tries to be respectful.

Before Loftus’ talk, I had a chance to chat with him about what he’s trying to do, as well as his perceptions of the so-called “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett. Loftus admitted that some of what the “new atheists” say gives him pause, especially when they make blanket statements like declaring that a religious upbringing is a form of child abuse. He said, “You’ve got to understand that both sides are scared. The atheists and other secularists are afraid that we’re going to return to the Crusades or the Inquisition. But many evangelical Christians are truly afraid that secularists are going to bring about a regime like Stalin’s where religious belief and practice are outlawed.” Loftus says that he understands that what he says is controversial to many people, but he never wants to give the impression that atheists like himself look down on or want to control believers.

Listening and talking with Loftus, one gets the impression of a man who has carefully thought through his arguments, yet who is always open to listening to the views of others, whether they happen to be believers or not. Indeed, Loftus is in a particularly unique position to criticize Christianity from the inside and perhaps persuade people in a way that no scientist or academic ever could of not only the dangers of unexamined belief, but also the rewards of freethought. In a community as deeply religious as Fort Wayne it’s perhaps all the more important that voices such as Loftus’ be heard. And while he might never convince any believer to give up their faith, Loftus’ singular perspective may well indeed serve as a bridge to furthering understanding between atheists and the faithful.

Posted in Events, FreeThought, Local, Religion, Skepticism | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Thanks, John, For A Great Meeting

Posted by mikebftw on May 16, 2008

I have to admit I was reluctant to even attend John W. Loftus’ presentation last Wednesday, especially after the unexpected press we received. (I had someone in my office – whom I would never expect to have heard about us – ask “Did you hear there’s a former preacher that’s gonna teach people how to be atheists at the library?”) As of about 5:30 Wednesday evening, I still wasn’t sure. I’m very glad I decided to go.

We owe some thanks to everyone – and I do mean everyone – who showed up Wednesday night. Most of the people who disagreed with John’s presentation were very polite – especially the respectful younger guys in the front row. However, we also need to thank the “attorney,” who showed up halfway through the presentation, immediately spent the next 15-20 minutes on his laptop visiting the Drudge Report (Where to begin?), left, came back, and launched a weak and pathetic attempt at grandstanding on a point that, had he been there at the beginning, would have already been explained more-than-sufficiently by John. We need to thank him because his presence demonstrated that not only does being a Christian not automatically make you a good person, it also doesn’t automatically save you from being an ill-behaved mannerless bag of douche.

But I digress.

When I first walked into the meeting room, I saw a number of faces I didn’t recognize. I braced for the worst – but was relieved to find that most of the attendees were not opponents, but freethinkers we hadn’t yet met. I hope these new folks make their way to the blog and the message board. As one of the (I presume) Christians at the meeting pointed out, it’s easier to critique or tear down than to create or build up. I couldn’t agree more. We are building a great organization, not of opposition, but of promotion – of science, reason, and logic. All of these contribute fundamentally to the betterment of humanity. While our first real speaker might be perceived as “anti-Christian” rather than “pro-science/reason/logic” due to the title of his book, I hope everyone in attendance realized that we are thoughtful, compassionate people that have much to offer this city.

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Posted in Events, Religion | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Forever and ever, Amen…?

Posted by Eye4Cards on May 16, 2008

The idea of eternal life is, at first glance, extremely desirable. Once you try to wrap your mind around infinity you start to see the limits to limitlessness. To experience all, see all, and to constantly be on the cusp of knowing all forever starts to sound like you yourself are a god. Desirable? Perhaps. Until boredom sets in. What will you be caring about a trillion years after you are dead? How about 10 quadrillion years, or 100 sextillion, or 500 septillion, or even a billion octillion eons? Our little neighborhood in the Milky Way will be condemned in a few billion years. Perhaps the human race will have moved uptown by then. Perhaps this life is a quiz before the test which is your afterlife. God only knows.

I wonder what it would be like to have bouts of depression for a few billion years in a row. The assumption is that all of our worries die when we live on. What if we are the result of one of God’s migraines much like Athena gave Zeus a splitting headache when She was born? That would explain why He seems so pissed off in the Old Testament and more mellow in the More Recent Testament. Maybe He’s bi-polar; good or evil, feast or famine, live or die. We at least know He is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).

It is not the specific length of time that you have to experience existence, but that there is a length to it. To know a beginning is to know an end. Without one there is no reference for the other much like you cannot know good without knowing bad or know the difference between day or night.

Besides, why bother with a preface to eternity? If there is an all-knowing and all-loving God He should do us all a favor and do away with the foreplay. And to base the quality of my afterlife on the quality of my belief in him in this life is ridiculously unfair. It is a life long challenge just getting out of the shadow of his blissful ignorance using the faulty, limited, reasoning faculties that he has given us in the first place.

As Galileo so succinctly put it:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

(Thanks to Foxy Goddess for reminding me of this gem in her recent response to John Loftus’ News Sentinel interview)

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Religion, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Taking a WikiLeak

Posted by Skeptigator on May 14, 2008

Ars Technica has published an article, Mormons, Scientologist face uphill battle againsts Wikileaks.

Wikileaks is like wikipedia, the user-maintained, free encyclopedia, however it focuses on providing a forum for getting information, whatever it may be, out to the public.

This is essentially a free speech project. They are dedicated to “developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis”. That is certainly an ambitious goal. I am, personally, all for it. I wish them the best of luck, they are beginning to take on some of the most litigious groups in existence.

How can we promote FreeThought,

… a philosophical viewpoint that holds that beliefs should be formed on the basis of science and logical principles and not be comprised by authority, tradition, or any other dogma. …

if, as a society, we don’t have access to information that would better inform our decisions. What I find particularly interesting, even damning, is the lengths to which religious groups go to actively suppress information regarding their practices and beliefs. I can understand a particular company or even the military (both within limits) having a problem with this practice since the former may lose a competitive advantage or the latter having our troops or even nations safety compromised. However what I don’t understand is a religious groups issue.

What does that say about your beliefs, religion and worldview if you send copyright infringement notices to attempt to squelch free speech. A copyright infringement? Do I have to pay royalties to worship your god? (I’m sure there’s a tithing joke in there somewhere.) Is that God™ ? Or just Mormon™?

Do you see how quickly these intellectual property/copyright infringement actions open yourselves to ridicule and ultimately serve to reinforce the “Mormons/Scientologists are just a secretive cult” stereotypes? Perhaps, the stereotype is based on truth but ultimately it is only within in the power of those groups to change those stereotypes.

Despite appearances I really don’t have any problem with those who hold religious beliefs. Really I don’t. I do have a problem however when someone attempts to use the government to enforce their religious beliefs or spends my money (tax dollars) to support someone’s religious practices. I am also concerned when groups, wielding religious authority, attempt to hide or obscure their true beliefs and practices. This goes against the spirit of a number of core values in Western society,  namely, the right to self-determination and freedome of conscience.

Good luck to Wikileaks.org

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

Atheist churches

Posted by Eye4Cards on May 14, 2008

VJACK over at atheist revolution had an interesting post about the idea of atheist churches.

There were a lot of interesting reactions and replies to the idea.

I think there has been a serious misunderstanding over the years of reading too much into the word atheist. Many theists continually use the word to imply the “religion” of the unreligious, and many times this use is intended as a derogatory slant toward anyone who doesn’t believe whatever specific dogma they call their own. It is a loaded word with a negative connotation built right into it. It is reminiscent of the Romans calling the early believers of Christ “Christians” or little anointed ones in an effort to slight their belief in a monotrinistic (oxymoron: belief in one trinity god) god.

Many atheists convolute the problem by giving too much importance to the label. Much of this is in self-defense. I know I have certainly found myself having to explain what my definition of atheism is and having to justify it with numerous arguments and posts. It is such a mind-numbing waste of time and energy arguing repetitive points to people over and over. It is necessary, but it takes time away from the more important topic; and that is, what do you center your life around that gives it meaning and value while leading you astray of organized belief in God?

I find I hardly ever dedicate time to this question, which I have read several times in different places and phrases. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in something.

The following is part of my reply to VJACK as to why atheists do not need to compete or mirror their organizations after churches, especially since there are already plenty of worthy, secular candidates to choose from to donate your time and energy to:

I don’t want to get caught up in a theological arms race and waste loads of cash and time that can be better spent by donating to local secular charities and organizations.

The reason why there is not a proliferation of atheist churches is because (at least from my point -of-view) atheism is not the central tennent of their belief systems. It’s already been said, but the only thing the label “atheist” does is let others know one’s stance on religion.

Being atheist is not what is important; it is secondary. What is important are beliefs that different atheists stand for and what their lives are built around, such as teaching, practicing science, medicine, etc.. There are no holy books that must be scrutinized and regurgitated. The closest atheists come to dogma is learning how to think critically and rationally and the scientific method and peer-review. Those things are there for our education, not for worship.

The punny guy that I am, I do find the idea of “atheist churches” to be attractive from the perspective of irony and ridicule. But it is not worth the problems it will cause by adopting the idea, no matter how comforting some of the social aspects are of belonging to a church. Even if most atheists are by metaphor black sheep that have been led astray of the flock, there is always some comfort in simply talking with like-minded people in a brick-and-mortar building no matter how effective and helpful the internet freethought community may be.

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Religion, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Get your physics on!

Posted by Andy D. on May 13, 2008

Somebody explain this to me. James Randi showcased this clip at the end of this week’s SWIFT. I don’t think it is Einstein’s special relativity because the motion isn’t uniform. Maybe it is general relativity with warped spacetime? My guess is we are seeing Newton’s third law in action which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This feeds back to the first law Newton’s First Law (also known as the Law of Inertia) states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and that an object in uniform motion tends to stay in uniform motion unless acted upon by a net external force. I will hunt for the answer. I would love for you to answer this for me!

Unlike Sally Kern’s legislation in Oklahoma for religious viewpoints anti-discrimination act (or whatever form of academic freedom they will choose next to slip religion into science class), God did it will not be an acceptable answer!

Posted in Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »