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AIDS in Uganda, the Rick Warren Connection

Posted by dystressed on January 7, 2009

This is an amazing story from The Daily Beast.

Rick Warren has been working closely with the Martin Ssempe, the charismatic leader of a booming born-again minister promoting abstinence only AIDS eductaion in Uganda, more or less scrapping all the success of the previous, hugely successful ABC program of the Ugandan government.

Ssempe enjoys close ties to his country’s First Lady, Janet Museveni, and is a favorite of the Bush White House.

Ssempe is a close ally of Warren and even gave the keynote speech at Warren’s 2005 AIDS conference at the Saddleback Church.

Another amazing insight is that Ssempe believes in witches and arresting homosexuals.

Dr. Helen Epstein, a public health consultant who authored the book, The Invisible Cure: Why We’re Losing The Fight Against AIDS In Africa, met Ssempa in 2005. Epstein told me the preacher seemed gripped by paranoia, warning her of a secret witches coven that met under Lake Victoria. “Ssempa also spoke to me for a very long time about his fear of homosexual men and women,” Epstein said. “He seemed very personally terrified by their presence.”

It’s interesting to see the parallel between witch paranoia and born-again Christians. Now compared to Ssempe, Warren is a dream choice to pray at the inauguration. I just hope that people realize his record on AIDS has an ugly, evil side.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

If You’re Going to Seattle…

Posted by dystressed on January 6, 2009

…visit the Discovery Institute!  (if you can)

Skepticality had a fantastic interview with Kate Holden and Tiana Dietz, the skeptic activists who conned their way into the Discovery Institute.  You can download the MP3 of the podcast here.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the visit was the fact that the two have engaged in a lengthy blog discourse with the Discovery Institute, which claims to welcome all people with open arms.

While lying is hardly ever called for, Holden and Dietz maintain that they only did what the producers of Expelled did when they conned their own ways into interviews with Michael Shermer and PZ Myers. They kind of have a point.

The question of morality aside, the chutzpah of Kate and Tiana is admirable. They also urge fellow skeptic activists to go to the Discovery Institute and take the tour… that is, if the Discovery people will let you in.

Posted in Humor, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

She and her exes live in Texas

Posted by Andy Welfle on January 2, 2009

Marquis LaFortune and Benjamin Stakes

Benjamin Stakes and Marquis LaFortune

Score one for the Catholics. A Catholic high school teacher was fired for getting divoriced.

The reason for her termination turns on a theological tenet. According to Catholic doctrine, participants in a marriage must be an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. LaFortune told the principal that her fiance had been divorced – a proceeding not recognized by the Catholic Church.

The deacon was concerned with whether the first marriage of LaFortune’s fiance, Benjamin Stakes, had been declared invalid by a Catholic tribunal and thereby annulled. His concern, however, did not sit well with LaFortune, who refused to resign from her job or seek an annulment – a process that could reach to Rome and take more than a year.

It’s no secret the Holy See has a problem with change. They didn’t officially apologize for the imprisonment of Galileo until 1992. Hell, I remember when girls couldn’t be servers (altar boys). So the fact that they refuse to recognize divorice isn’t surprising.

And true, since over half of all marriages end in divorice, some of them should never have been married in the first place. But divorice protects people every day. It saves peoplel from spousal abuse, rape, exploitation, and even suicide. None of this matters to the Vatican — they live in a black and white world, with no room for exceptions.

No wonder their numbers are rapidly declining. They need all the teachers they can get.

Posted in Religion | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Post-Partisan Invocation

Posted by dystressed on December 29, 2008

Much has been made of Rick Warren being invited by Obama to give the invocation at the innauguration. I didn’t much care until I ran across the news that Rick Warren calls his critics “Christophobes.”

I take exception to that. I am not phobic of Christ, but of his followers. I am in fact, a Rickophobe. I am wary of people who wield tremendous power over the hearts and minds of Americans, regardless of their political leanings, but I am especially wary of the religious ones. Religious tyrranny is something the founders of this nation are known for escaping, but it is also something that we have inadvertantly perpetuated. Though we have enshrined religion with freedom and kept it marginally separate from government, we have given it de facto establishment, giving it freedom to abuse its non-profit-tax-exempt status as a billy club against dissenters and non-believers.

The rise of the Christian Right has raised the visibility of the Evangelical Agenda: Make Everyone Believe in Jesus.

If the Rick Warrens of this country have their way, there would be no religious freedom, and indeed no dissent. There would be one country ruled by those who claim to know the will of God. A quick glance back to high school literature class and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible can give you chills when you think about the end result of a theocracy. When there is no freedom of ideas, there is no freedom.

While it pains me to admit this, I believe that Rick Warren should be heard. But let him be heard for what he is, a religious fascist. There are few evangelicals who do not pray for a totalitarian Christian state that would be devoid of freedom of thought.

What Obama has done for the FreeThought community is actually a backhanded favor. By inadvertantly stirring up the embers of a long smoldering fire, he has ensured that religious moderates and liberals can be reminded how dangerous the Evangelical Agenda truly is.

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

Couldn’t have said it better myself

Posted by Eye4Cards on December 28, 2008

I was reading some Bertrand Russell on Christmas (doesn’t everybody?).  What can I say, it was a slow day and religion is on everyone’s mind that day.

I found his short essay on The Essence of Religion.  It struck a chord with me.  Many people have said most of what he wrote, but Russell managed to say so much in such a concise manner.  In case you are interested, I got this out of The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell, 1961, Touchstone.  I’m sure you can hunt down nearly all of his work online though, if you google him.  He might as well be required reading for everyone because he touched on so many facets of human thought, not just religion.  It is striking how little his works have aged:

THE ESSENCE OF RELIGION

The decay of traditional religious beliefs, bitterly bewailed by upholders of the Churches, welcomed with joy by those who regard the old creeds as mere superstition, is an undeniable fact.  Yet when the dogmas have been rejected, the question of the place of religion in life is by no means decided.  The dogmas have been valued, not so much on their own account, as because they were believed to facilitate a certain attitude towards the world, an habitual direction of our thoughts, a life in the whole, free from the finiteness of self and providing an escape from the tyranny of desire and daily cares.  Such a life in the whole is possible without dogma, and ought not to perish through the indifference of those to whom the beliefs of former ages are no longer credible.  Acts inspired by religion have some quality of infinity in them :  they seem done in obedience to a command, and though they may achieve great ends, yet it is no clear knowledge of these ends that makes them seem imperative.  The beliefs which underlie such acts are often so deep and so instinctive as to remain unknown to those whose lives are built upon them.  Indeed, it may be not belief but feeling that makes religion :  a feeling which, when brought into the sphere of belief, may involve the conviction that this or that is good, but may, if it remains untouched by intellect, be only a feeling and yet be dominant in action…

The animal part of man, being filled with the importance of its own desires, finds it intolerable to suppose that the universe is less aware of this importance;  a blank indifference to its hopes and fears is too painful to contemplate, and is therefore not regarded as admissable.  The divine part of man does not demand that the world shall conform to a pattern :  it accepts the world, and finds in wisdom a union which demands nothing of the world.  Its energy is not checked by what seems hostile, but interpenetrates it and becomes one with it.  It is not the strength of our ideals, but their weakness, that makes us dread the admission that they are ours, not the world’s.  We with our ideals must stand alone, and conquer, inwardly, the world’s indifference.  It is instinct, not wisdom, that finds this difficult and shivers at the solitude it seems to entail.  Wisdom does not feel this solitude, because it can achieve union even with what seems most alien.  The insistent demand that our ideals shall be already realized in the world is the last prison from which wisdom must be freed.  Every demand is a prison, and wisdom is only free when it asks nothing.

(The Hibbert Journal, Vol. II, October 1912.)

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Religion | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Facts, Values and a Place for the Profound: A conversation with Sam Harris

Posted by Andy D. on December 16, 2008

This is from The Science Network (TSN) and was a prelude before the Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark conference.  I am glad they added economics and  psychology sections to the usual science and religion topics.  Bookmark the site and take your time with the lectures.  Enjoy.

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

Passive-aggressive Christianity

Posted by Skeptigator on December 8, 2008

Flag of the Episcopal Church

Flag of the Episcopal Church

I occasionally peruse a local afternoon newspapers website for interesting local interest articles and I stumbled upon Kevin Leininger’s recent column, Viewing Episcopal split through historical lens, discussing the split within the Anglican Church over the issue of homosexuality.

I thought it was a good article and I usually enjoy his articles, I don’t often agree with him, but I appreciate them nonetheless.

What struck me however was the very last sentence,

And don’t tell me all of this just illustrates how silly and dangerous organized religion is. The record of organized atheism – Nazism, Communism, etc. – makes the Inquisition look tame.*

My first thought was, “What? What does that have to do with his article”. Since we are editorializing here, let me do my own. Why does the author feel its necessary to include this? On it’s face the comment really had nothing to do with the article which was specifically about a doctrinal division of a specific denomination and how it is coming to grips with living in the modern world.  But with a little further thought I think this textbook passive-aggressive swipe at an entire block of people betrays a certain doubt within the author himself. As an atheist, I’m reading this article with some interest but I never thought to myself, “This is why atheism is better” since I know atheism says *nothing* about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality (or anything for that matter).

I think that this little swipe also offers a bit of an insight into (at least) one believer’s mind and his belief that the *entire world* is shaded by those who believe in a god and those that do not. It’s the same boring Us vs. Them mentality. What this bit of lazy journalism exposes is the fact that there is a fundamental lack of perspective by the author. It is an implicit (or inferred?) approval of a black and white world and not the much more complicated grey world we actually live in, you know the Real World.

"The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and cooperation. It will preserve and defend the basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life" - Adolf Hitler, Feb. 1st, 1933.

"The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and cooperation. It will preserve and defend the basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life" - Adolf Hitler, Feb. 1st, 1933.

The author’s wife’s church, Catholic, was so grossly complicit in the Nazi regime that it should be an well-known embarrassment. And don’t get me started on the Catholic radio host, Charles Coughlin. Communism and particularly the Stalinist brand is a textbook example of ideology that exerts an enormous amount of control over people. I dare say that Stalin’s suppression of all religious activity had little to do with his disbelief in a god but more to do with the threat to his absolute control that the Church could wield. 

Any ideology that suppresses Free Inquiry should be fought, for if a belief is to be found to be true and good it should always and constantly be subjected to questioning. What many within “organized atheist movements” such as Secular Humanism have a problem with is the fact that Political and Economic ideologies are constantly argued over however any kind of critical examination of religious Ideology seems to be considered at best “bad form”.

Look at how many of the faithful simply demonize the dissenting opinions. Lienenger mentions specifically the Inquisition as if this is the only egregious example of  religious tyranny and that the truth or falsity of something is tied directly to its body count. Perhaps he meant to end it with the following:

And don’t tell me all of this just illustrates how silly and dangerous organized religious is. The record of organized atheism – Nazism, Communism, etc. – makes the Inquisition, the Crusades, Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, The Troubles in Ireland, the witch hunts of the 17th/18th century, Jonestown Massacre, Heaven’s Gate, 80% of all conflict in the Middle East and Apartheid look tame

If your religion is worth believing in, it should be open to examination. It will then be found to be deserving of it’s following or found to be lacking. The split within the Episcopal Church highlights exactly that process because many within that particular sect have found it’s doctrines to be lacking and I personally think the Episcopal Church should be applauded for even having the discussion.

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* This statement is riddled with logical fallacies making the statement almost a joke. It’s most obvious is one called Tu quoque (you too). It’s a fancy way of saying, “Because there is an example of wrong on the other side of an argument, I am therefore allowed to engage in it as well” or “Because you have no evidence I therefore need none as well”. This fallacy is almost always accompanied by a straw man logical fallacy in which the “wrong” attributed to the other side of an argument is not an actual example of the other sides arguments.

Posted in FreeThought, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

God First, then Homeland Security

Posted by dystressed on December 4, 2008

Via the Rachel Maddow Show

Kentucky law currently requires its department of homeland security to depend on god. This is the opening portion of a statement that is required to be posted outside their entrance:

The safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance on almighty god…

Any high schooler should be able to tell you that requiring a state agency to rely on god is a violation of the first amendment. Thank the Universe that a group has gotten the stones together to sue the Commonwealth.

Today the story appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

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

More like “guidelines”, really.

Posted by Eye4Cards on November 30, 2008

I found myself rereading a part of Richard Dawkins’ rather succinct book The God Delusion today; specifically, the chapter entitled The ‘Good’ Book and the Moral Zeitgeist, pages 263 and 264.  Dawkins briefly mentions a common list of “New Ten Commandments” he searched for on the internet.  He then goes on to add some personal recommendations for what he would consider an acceptable, revised edition.

I know there have been many sites that have done this before.  Most of them have made some really good lists too.  That is entirely Dawkins’ point in this section.  Your average person is capable of what would be considered ethics and morality whether they are religious or not.  Moreover, they are capable of vastly improving one of the cornerstones of Christianity to bring it up to current ethical standards.

I’ll save you the pain, boredom and irrelevance of the original “Ten Commandments” by just linking to the most popular list here (with the shortened second version later in Exodus 34:14, 17 and 21), and the second set here with another partial version (also with a few that didn’t make the cut) sprinkled in Leviticus 19:1, 3-4, 11-13, and the ‘didn’t quite make the list’ commandments such as Mark12:28-29.  Yes folks, not only do most of your Christians not know all of the commandments, they are unaware there is more than one list and more than ten, depending on what you consider qualifies as a commandment.  It’s a messy affair that ought to be airtight considering the importance Christians give them, but alas, ’tis one example of one-thousand, and yet another reason why religion is more of a sick joke nowadays than a serious belief.

My point here is not to point out the already absurd.  I think I’ll save that specifically for my next post about the Ten Commandments.  I just want to bring to light the obvious:  We all are capable of good and bad.  We all are capable of learning and modifying our own personal codes of conduct. It is evident in the following lists that I found just casually surfing the web.  The only people not capable of learning and maintaining a generally acceptable personal code of conduct are sociopaths and psychopaths; and this is because of different psychological disorders, not lack of morality or god.

This first set is from Dawkins’ book example, the popular ebonmusings.  They did a great job of elaborating on the list on their site as well:

1.  Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

2.  In all things, strive to cause no harm.

3.  Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.

4.  Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.

5.  Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.

6.  Always seek to be learning something new.

7.  Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.

8.  Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.

9.  Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.

10.  Question everything.

Here’s Dawkins’ “own amended Ten Commandments…[he] would also try to find room for”:

  • Enjoy your own sex life (so long as it damages nobody else) and leave others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none of your business.
  • Do not discriminate or oppress on the basis of sex, race or (as far as possible) species.
  • Do not indoctrinate your children.  Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.
  • Value the future on a timescale longer than your own.

Here’s a decent Ten Commandments from the Ethical Atheist.  I thought atheists weren’t supposed to be ethical, but for some reason many of them keep espousing morality anyways.  Go figure.

Here’s a list from a site calling itself positive atheism.  It is no longer ironic when a stereotype is not only wrong, but the opposite of the truth.  This is in reference to the idea that atheists cannot be moral without god (who had He existed, still knowingly created atheists this way anyway).  Ah, the stuff preachers will put in atheists’ mouths and congregations’ heads.

Indeed, I see no reason why we should be limited to just ten.  In fact, it is obvious that as complicated as we are psychologically and emotionally, we need as many general guidelines as necessary to help keep our societies healthy and happy.  And that’s what they are- guidelines.  There are no hard and fast rules to existence, let alone how to exist.

The Bible fails on many fronts, but this is a big one.  The Ten Commandments are one of the few pillars of Christianity left that haven’t crumbled under the weight of scrutiny of any kind, be it scientific or just plain common sense.  The Ten Commandments still stand because of sheer dedication to a hollow tradition of equating morals with God in an attempt to keep an archaic concept viable in a modern world free of the necessity and burdon of an almighty, vengeful and somehow simultaneously all-loving and merciful god.

Because, really, what else is there to adhere to in Christianity once the jealous, loving Yahweh’s rules are found to be entirely lacking for His creations, let alone His perfection?

Posted in FreeThought, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Liberating the Founders

Posted by Skeptigator on November 10, 2008

A couple weeks ago I heard an excellent program on NPR about the separation of church and state. On Sundays at 4PM local, Krista Tippett hosts the show Speaking of Faith.

On the October 30th show, Krista Tippett interviewed Steven Waldman (here) who runs the BeliefNet.com website. Steven Waldman speaks ostensibly about his book Founding Faith however he delves quite a bit into the early role of Evangelical Christians in establishing the separation of church and state.

I would highly recommend his book as well as listening to this podcast.

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