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Archive for July, 2008

Tennessee Intolerance

Posted by dystressed on July 31, 2008

About four days ago, I was in a hotel room out of town when the news came on television about a church shooting in Knoxville, Tennessee.

To be perfectly honest, my first thought was that I was glad I was so far away. My next thoughts drifted back to the families of the victims and what could have possibly been going on in the mind of the shooter. I have been kind of lax in my recent posts, so I decided I would take this opportunity to dissect the news and analyze what was going on in the shooter’s mind.

Unlike most of the recent tragic shootings in the U.S., the shooter is alive and well. We actually know why he did it. By his own admission, he wants to kill liberals and put an end to the liberal movement. Now before I get too political, I must warn readers that I am a liberal, so I couldn’t help but take this man’s actions a bit personally.

Jim David Adkisson wrote a letter explaining his actions, and he left his home wide open for police to search because he actually believed he would die in the shooting. As circumstances unfolded, however, he is alive and two good people are dead. Seven others are injured.

Adkisson has no ideology as he was not himself a churchgoer. Rather, he was caught up in the rhetoric of right-wing pundits who blame all of society’s ills on the liberal movement. Since he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement, he chose to target those who voted them into office. The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was targeted particularly because it preached tolerance.

Tolerance, in Adkisson’s perception, was the worst thing about liberals. Tolerance allowed gays to marry… and so on. Adkisson likely envisioned himself as a sort of avenging angel for the wrongs against America, so he bought a shotgun at a pawn shop, packed it into a guitar case, carried it into a church, and started firing at people during a children’s musical.

Knoxville News Sentinel image

Knoxville News Sentinel image

Killing innocent people is absolutely the wrong way of trying to win a culture “war.”

There is a lot of hot air blown by all sides, but the term culture war is a red herring. The culture war itself is nothing more than the eternal battle between divergent points of view. Society does not progress without disussion, debate, reasoning, and most importantly, compromise.

In fundamentalist circles, compromise is known as the tool of the devil. But in reality, compromise is what makes America great. Compromise gave us the tri-lateral, co-equal branches of government, the Bill of Rights, and a bicameral legislature (a congress with two houses, with representatives apportioned by population and Senators apportioned by the number of states). Compromise also got us some negative things, such as the three-fifths compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell. But by and large, compromise works for altruistic ends. Compromise is necessity. Compromise is a tool of democracy, a tool of freedom.

As important as compromise is, it cannot function without tolerance. Tolerance is defined as “the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.

As we rage on in this culture war, with our emotional attachments to our own opinions, we must respect the fact that we do not know everything on our own, nor does some divine power (or right-wing writer) give us all of the answers. It’s just a shame that people don’t think things through before they go off half-cocked.

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

Kitten of God in Dunlap Indiana. Jesus is spotted on the back of a cat

Posted by Andy D. on July 31, 2008

I wish this wasn’t happening in our state. If this is what a miracle is today, I can only imagine what the church could get away with during the dark ages. I don’t think the moderate religious believer buys this stuff like the virgin Marry toast or the Christ cheese doodle and it embarrasses them. I bet those owners of Sissy the kitten have been to or they will plan a trip to Ken Ham’s wonderland of the creation museum where the universe is only 6000 years old and dinosaurs and humans roamed the garden hand-in-claw.

As a cat lover, I really tried to look for a sign from god on the backs of my 2 cats. I didn’t see anything. One of them is even named Madonna. (I named her after the singer due to her attitude). Then it suddenly hit me and I did see a message appear long after I took the picture. Look at the bottom of the picture!

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

Hate the Supernatural (Belief), Love the Superstitious

Posted by Andy D. on July 30, 2008

I first heard that line from Joe Nickell on this Point of Inquiry interview. I was listening in the car and almost lost control because it is such a funny play on the religious outcry “hate the sin, love the sinner” line about homosexuals.

The thrust of the interview is how skeptical folks should be polite to the superstitious and he is an investigator not a debunker. James Randi has said the same thing many times. Sure we can be skeptical until their is evidence, but we have to look at the evidence and really listen to witnesses. Joe said he was known as being nice and listening. In an example, he suggested rational explanations to a supposed supernatural events that were not correct at first. However, because Joe was polite and engaged the superstitious person’s concern completely that superstitious person found the actual non-supernatural cause for the phenomenons on his own later. It was due to Joe’s prior attempt to rationally explain the event. Joe was later thanked.

In the last FreeThought Fort Wayne meeting, we talked briefly about how we engage in teaching skepticism to a lay person. I know we think there are many overly superstitious people out there. That may be true but it is not like they all have the same superstition. (The religions sects have different levels of unreason.) Most folks have one or two sacred cows and when stepped on the emotion center of the brain kicks in and overrides the reason center in the frontal cortex. (You can see that in the death threats in PZ Meyers it’s just a cracker drama. For the record that is a free speech lesson and I support it).

I think the safest way to try to engage the superstitious person is to ask them what they don’t believe in. Big Foot and Flying Saucers are usually pretty safe. You can go to other gods and worship such as cargo cults, Scientology, Joseph Smith, Heaven’s gate, etc (whatever they are not)

**Joe Nickell did make the distinction that he will attack charlatans when they abuse the superstitious.

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Do it for the kids

Posted by Skeptigator on July 29, 2008

Last week I gave my response to theo’s post on Atheist Evangelism. In it I made specific recommendations for what we as freethinkers can do today to bring about our Utopia now. My recommendations centered around starting, participating in and promoting a local freethought group however that is not the single most important thing I can do.

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In fact, I deliberately didn’t state the single most important thing I think you can do because I myself have yet to do it. I think it would be hypocritical for me to tell you what you should do when I haven’t. So at the time I felt pretty good about my post and I still stand by it. But the post bothers me immensely because of what I did not say.

So without being coy anymore, the single biggest thing you can do is Come Out. Stop hiding the fact that you are a non-theist (atheist, agnostic, rationalist, secular humanist, whatever). I suppose I should take a moment to state why doing this is perhaps the best thing you can do,

  • It certainly removes many restrictions you may have for joining, participating or promoting a local freethought group (remember it’s the second biggest thing).
  • It adds one more member to a growing and largely silent population of non-believers (particularly in the States).
  • I believe it creates a self-regulating atmosphere that doesn’t allow the religious fanatics as much leeway in the public realm if they believe there are more non-theists who will be willing to stand up to them.
  • Personally I think you will feel better. You won’t feel so self-censored and all the anxiety that that can bring with

Now having said that, the Internet and it’s relative anonymity has helped many non-theists connect with other like-minded individuals. This has certainly created an outlet for many people including myself. Maybe someone could argue that it’s created a pressure-release that would have otherwise resulted in more outspoken non-theists (I don’t think it would be very good one).

“So… um… yea..  that’s.. obviously that’s the downside” – Mr. Deity (Episode 2)

But enough about the pros, what about the downsides. I list them because I believe each of us works through them eventually. Some of these don’t apply to everyone nor is exhaustive but it’s a decent sampling.

  • Probably the number one issue would family pressure. I’m a born and bred Fort Wayner and so is my family. To understate it, they are religious. Like Benny-Hinn-Join-a-Y2K-compound religious. Like Jesus Camp religious, you get the point*.
  • Some of us have job or career fears. Not an issue for me. Sure the company picnics/potlucks start with a prayer but half of my co-workers are staring at their shoes or smirking at the 145-year-old blue-hair who feels compelled to say grace ( When will she retire already!? ).
  • For others it may be their children. Or more importantly an obligation to protect their children from harassment. If you become a vocal proponent of athiesm, non-theism or secular humanism in this community I would have serious fear for my children.

Clearly my job doesn’t present a problem. I don’t work for religious fanatics (although I have) so this isn’t an issue. Although to be honest my personal life in this regards has no reason to bleed into work, it’s not like I’m handing out atheist chick tracts. My point is that if were to become widely known it cause me any problems.

I have recently realized that hiding the fact that I’m an atheist (or more accurately a Secular Humanist) from my family is tiresome and so I’ve stopped overtly hiding from them. Such as ignoring their friend requests on Facebook (maybe they won’t know it’s me, ha).

“Do it for the kids!” – Anonymous

So bottom line, it comes down to my kids. I fear for my kids. I’m certainly not conspiratorial or think someone will outright hurt my children (although maybe I think that a little) but at a minimum I wouldn’t like my kids to get messed with. Maybe if they were older like in their teens they would be able to handle things better but my two boys being on either side of 10 I’m not sure how they would handle it.

I’ve already had a 6-year-old friend of my 6-year-old son tell him that if they don’t believe in God then they will go to Hell where “they shoot you in the stomach forever and ever”. This is the one thing that a 6-year-old felt compelled to convey to my kids about their religion. Not Jesus love, fear of Hell. Fast-forward this kid 15 years and now we have a problem. I know that’s an oversimplification and anecdotal at best but it goes to my state of mind, your honor.

“What’s wrong, McFly. Chicken?” – Biff Tannen

I haven’t overcome this last obstacle yet. I’m just not sure. I’m at the point where it depends on the day. Today I feel compelled to just be Out! but that’s not to say tomorrow I won’t regret even posting on the topic. But then again only a year ago I wouldn’t have dreamt of Friending my family on Facebook where they will see all the heathenistic blogs, pages, groups and evil atheist friends that I congregate with.

So the greatest thing you could do is to come out. Let me know how that works out for you, I’ll just… umm… you know… sit here and watch.

* I’m not joking

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Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy | Tagged: , , | 14 Comments »

Odds and Ends

Posted by neuralgourmet on July 26, 2008

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to prepare a proper post this week so in lieu of actually thinking and writing I’d like to instead offer up a pot-pourri of articles elsewhere on the web that have, in one way or the other, caught my interest in the past week or so.

However, before I do that I just want to do a little shameless self-promotion and mention my interview with the Phoenix Mars Lander. No, you didn’t read that wrong. I didn’t interview any of the scientists or technicians involved with the Phoenix project, but went direct to the robot herself. Phoenix and I have been pals on Facebook for a while now and I thought it would only be natural to interview her about her thoughts and experiences as well as the important science she is doing some 170 million miles from home.

So, with that out of the way, let’s move on to some of the more headier and serious stuff. First up, Philosophy professor Priscilla Sakezles writing in eSkeptic claims that “the famous words most often attributed to Socrates, “All I know is that I know nothing,” are in fact a misquote. Today’s skeptical movement likes to trace its roots all the way back to Socrates so it’s perhaps a good idea if we get our quotes right.

Speaking of what we know, most skeptics know that determining whether or not our knowledge accurately reflects the real world is problematic at best. While the scientific method is often considered the best tool we have for understanding how the world works, our brains tend to place more value on anecdotal evidence. Michael Shermer explains How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results.

And while the way our brains evolved means we’re not naturally very good scientists, nevertheless science continues to inform our understanding of our minds. Carl Zimmer has a particulary interesting article talking about the three ways our brains affect our perception of the passage of time.

One of the reasons, I think, that it’s important to read and understand science, even if one isn’t a scientist, is because how we understand our world has implications for the kind of society we live in. An article in the May/June 2008 New Humanist talks about how a fundamental ignorance of evolution has led to a rise in creationist beliefs in Europe, including a disturbing new phenomenom — Muslim creationism.

And lastly, it would be remiss of me not to at least mention the case of Barbara Nash. Nash is a quack nutritionist who advised 52 year old Dawn Page to go on a special “detox diet”. Nash’s diet led to Page suffering sodium deficiency so servere that she suffered seizures that left her with permanent brain damage. It is easy to call Nash a quack and wallow in outrage at her advice to Page that the uncontrollable vomiting she was experiencing was simply part of the “detoxification process”. However, Ben Goldacre reminds us that the Barbara Nashes of the world do not exist independently of the society and culture that allows them to thrive.

Posted in Religion, Science, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Flip-flops are still in season.

Posted by JD on July 25, 2008

I don’t usually talk about politics. I’m not a member of any particular party and I don’t like labeling myself as anything. I find American politics have been an increasing barrage of mud-slinging and emotional pandering the older I get. I find very little true courage or truth in politics in general and think the leading (read: financially and sociably viable) candidates are becoming more homogenized in an effort to draw as many votes as possible.

And, of course, I don’t like the religious pandering one bit from any party.

I also hate how one party in particular will spin the same message over and over until it seems true, whether there is any merit to the message and its allegations or not. If you don’t know what party I am talking about, then you haven’t been paying attention to the right things for the past 25 years.

In a recent video, McCain has been flip-flopping his stance on our current economic slump (or disaster, depending on how you look at it) in talking about what he and his campaign believes to be some of the root causes of our economic problems. He denies saying he believes our fiscal problems are psychological. Well, this video eloquently shows how he flip-flops his answers and then it shows how he and the right-wing pundit machine have driven our “psychological” economics problems in their news:

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

Robert Price Phone Interview about his book “Top Secret”

Posted by Andy D. on July 24, 2008

Dr. Robert M. Price will be speaking about his new book “Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today’s Pop Mysticisms” in Fort Wayne on Wed. Aug 6th at 7 PM in the Main Allen County Public Library in the theatre on lower level 2.

This video is a half hour phone interview with enhanced graphics about his coming presentation.  There will be a Q and A session after the talk.  We would love to see you at the speech.  For more info on the event click here.

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

Signs of the times

Posted by JD on July 24, 2008

If you haven’t yet noticed, collecting church sign pics is one of my many inane interests that occupy my mild obsessive-compulsive disorder. Of course, I may only imagine it to be OCD, so maybe I’m more of a hypochondriac. The jury is still out.

Anywho, I like church signs because they do most of the talking for me, and better yet, they are from church leaders so we get small, neatly packaged sound bites from God’s right-hand men piously displayed for all to see every two blocks in case you miss one while you blink.

Let’s see what’s on their collective minds shall we?

That’s a good question. Let’s see if anyone else can answer it:

OK, fair enough.  But I still don’t see the need to go to church.

Well, that’s a little alarming. This is more likely to scare me away. Maybe I should try a different church:

Apparently God is not an omni-speller. Let’s try again:

I’m not yet getting the warm, fuzzy feeling I’m looking for.

Maybe I’m in the wrong part of town…

Really? So we’re all little play things? Next!

No, no. My wife was Catholic. Too much up and down, on your knees stuff for me.

I hope that’s a Star Trek reference!

I’m sensing a theme here…

Maybe I should consider Islam instead:

Maybe not.

Definitely not for me then! Next!

Needless to say, I got my 10 bucks…

Quite a paradox there…

Now that sounds a little more interesting!

Apparently, theists are experts with their tongues.

Too much info. What’s the deal with the sex obsession?

That would explain why they know so much about tongues.

That’s tempting, but I’m afraid of who would be nominated.

More speaking in tongues…

That’s a little too personal to share with perfect strangers (no pun actually intended!).

Ah, so there is a catch!

Boy, they just come right out with it there!

I hope they don’t talk about tongues there!

Sounds like someone’s been shuffling Catholic priests around. That can’t be his real name. It must have been meant to be.

Getting warmer…

Oh, you lost me again!

I don’t think I could give money to churches in Crooksville.

No luck for today. I’ll find the right church for me even if it kills me. This’ll have to be continued in part deux:

Posted in Humor | 4 Comments »

We want our Utopia now

Posted by Skeptigator on July 21, 2008

theodorsing recently posted Evangelist = Evil’s Agent?, in which he asks a number of compelling questions. So my post this week has been discarded in favor of my thoughts on the same topic.

The main theme from the post was that atheism, by definition, and often in practice is a negative assertion. It provides no foundation for a positive* belief system, it offers no method, process or framework with which to create a positive* worldview. Perhaps the most you could say is that it provides a framework within which I don’t believe in your (or all) god(s). There is simply nothing there to grab a hold of.

“Suppose we’ve chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we’re just making him madder and madder.” – Homer Simpson

theo and I spoke at a local church about a month ago that was exploring other worldviews by actually inviting people who espouse those worldviews to explain for themselves what they believe. This is an excellent idea that should be explored by other organizations as well.

What we were specifically asked to address was Atheism. However in the course of working up materials and notes on the topic I realized that Atheism as a basis of a talk would be pretty bare. The person at the church offered a standard list of topics to address and after going through the list it looked a little like this: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This is only a test

Posted by dystressed on July 20, 2008

I found this video online from one of the many blogs I read. This reminds me of the kind of object lesson that I used to be transfixed by when I was younger. Specifically, the one I remember most was an abstinence lesson where someone would take a bite of an apple and pass it around the room. Then no one wanted the apple because it had been bitten.

These types of parables are the types of non-scientific emotional blackmail that people sometimes use to illustrate their points. Although the abstinence one is a little more ridiculous, this one aggravates me because in both cases, these basically boil down to emotional blackmail.

Although these cases are less extreme, this is the same kind of lizard-brain pandering that gets people riled up about war and makes people operate their lives based on fear.

Fear of the unknown is the reason that religion is possible. “What happens after we die?” is probably the most difficult question for humanity, and every religion answers in its own way.

I think that even very rational people are still swayed by these types of morality propaganda, siding with religion because they are hedging their bets. It’s better to believe and be wrong (nothing happens after death) than to not believe and be wrong (after death you go to hell). This is why I think I stuck around religion for so long, I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Posted in FreeThought, Humor, Philosophy, Skepticism, Video | 6 Comments »