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Posts Tagged ‘9/11’

Encounters with a Nutcase

Posted by Andy Welfle on September 16, 2008

My friend Dave is an outspoken atheist and lived in Indy. He out this hilarious email last night to a bunch of friends, and gave me permission to share it with you:

About 2am last night I heard two guys arguing vehemently outside one of the buildings of my apartment complex.

Obviously I walked outside and became belligerent with them.

I ridiculed one for wearing a snow cap and asked them why they couldn’t have their big discussion inside. One said it was about God, and his girlfriend will get upset. So instead of getting angry I offered to join in. If I wasn’t going to be sleeping I might as well be arguing. Ten minutes later my neighbor comes outside and asks us to keep it down—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The guy with the snow cap left pretty quick after my opening shots, and I was left with a nut. It started out simple enough; he claimed the Big Bang Theory was too new to be believed, I said I don’t know or care at the moment whether it’s true, and asked for a positive reason to believe in his god. He gave me the ole’ deer-in-headlights, obviously expecting to get me tangled up as only two drunks who know nothing about science can get when trying to talk about science.

We moved on and he brought out the tired “but you can’t refute God” and I shot back “can you refute unicorns?” He paused for a second, understandably since I did just bring unicorns into the argument and I don’t think he’s taken a philosophy class or ever heard of William of Ockham.

Eventually we made it to evolution, and I did my best with what I know. Of course, it wasn’t too difficult; all I had to explain to him was that exhibiting two dead pieces of bark, which were laying conveniently at his side, and yelling to me that they couldn’t reproduce did not actually refute the theory of evolution.

He then claimed “they” found pyramids in Bosnia, made well before the Egyptian pyramids, and that that somehow disproved evolution as well. This was a couple of breaths after he laughed at carbon dating.

We treaded back a bit when I asked him why I should believe in his god over anyone else’s, and he said polytheism was silly—well, once I explained to him what it was and brought up Greek mythology—and he said it was stupid to believe in a god like Zeus and a 2,000 year-old myth. I recoiled and waited for him to correct himself. He said nothing and I waited another few beats (deer, headlights, go!) and said “wasn’t 2,000 years ago the birth of your savior?”

He changed it to 5,000 and moved on.

We visited materialism next and I told him desire for a higher being, no matter how much it made your life complete or kept your grandmother smiling and in the kitchen and she makes really good pie—it meant nothing in relation to what was or wasn’t the truth, and I brought up the 9/11 conspiracy almost by accident; a casual throw-up to an example of crazy people who disregard truth because they want a certain outcome…

FAIL. He was a 9/11 truther. I spent the next few minutes defending Bush (lemme tell you I loved that) and the government against conspiracy theory. I really don’t know the temperature at which steel bends or breaks, ergo I failed. But not so much as I finally got him off his do-it-yourself-home-course-in-structural-engineering for a bit to get him to admit that he cares more about what makes people happy—which Jesus does—than he cares about the truth.

I said: “So you’re accusing Americans of plotting and executing the worst terrorist attack our generation has seen more because it makes you happy rather than it’s the truth?”

Yeah, I admit that one wasn’t too fair. And anyway that’s when the belligerence came. He accused me of science and I accused him of being willfully ignorant, and as I was walking away, doing that thing where you’re trying to get the last, petty little remark off before your commence the angry storming, and he said this, which caused me pause:

“I hope you’re happy with your new body in seven years, because that’s what science says you’ll have!”

“Huh? What…What the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] are you talking about?” I said.

“Your new body. Seven years. I hope you’re happy with it!”
“Is it thin and sexy?”
He rolled his head and guffawed a little—like how dare I make fun of his final blow that should’ve surely set my reality to crumble—and he said:

“Yeah…I hope you’re happy because you’ll…science says you’ll have a new body so explain that!”

I walked away, finally. Just kidding, we exchanged obscenities for a few minutes before I did make it back to my stoop. I found a friend sitting and smoking a cigarette. The new-body-creationist did come over at one point to say “hey, man, we should talk when we’re sober. I really think we should have a conversation when we’re sober” and I said sure, fine, call me. He left and I recounted much of the story to my friend, who is a biology major and pre-med. I got to the 9/11 truth stuff and he stopped me:

“Yeah, that guy’s an idiot, but do you know the temperature at which steel melts? It just didn’t add up when…”

I sighed.

There was more conversation but apparently I’m the only person up at 2 AM in my apartment complex who doesn’t believe the government was behind 9/11. Fail lined the streets tonight, gentlemen, in places both expected and unexpected.

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Posted in Humor, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

We Are The People

Posted by Skeptigator on July 7, 2008

I just finished the book, We Are The People: Voices from the other side of American history. This book is a compilation of essays, excerpts, letters and oral histories as told by ordinary and extraordinary people. Have you ever wanted to hear first hand what it’s like to try and live on minimum wage, be a slave in America, organize a miner’s union in the 1920’s, be a hunted American Indian, work in an abortion clinic or hear what it’s like to be an American living in Palestine (let alone being a Palestinian). This is your book if even a fraction of these sound interesting.

The book organizes itself into 8 topics or sections with about 5-8 articles per section, they are:

  • Native Americans
  • Slavery
  • Peace
  • Women
  • Labor
  • Civil Rights
  • Poverty
  • Civil Liberties

These are stories told usually by people who actually lived or were living during many important times in our American history but their stories are not often told or heard anymore. They are certainly not taught in our history classes and are certainly not well known within the general American public.

Native Americans

With 9 articles this section covers a number of issues regarding America’s history with Native Americans. You can find a transcript of Chief Sharitarish’s speech to President Monroe in 1822, an 1850 law “for the government and protection of Indians” which essentially guaranteed nothing but slavery, the congressional testimony of John S. Smith regarding the Sand Creek Massacre of 450 Cheyenne (mostly women and children, in case you were wondering), and perhaps the most moving was the excerpt of Luther Standing Bear’s Land of the Spotted Eagle in which he retells being shipped off to an “Indian School“.

Slavery

With as much as slavery is covered in American History classes you would think the story would have been told and that a section such as this would simply be a rehashing of the same old stories. You would be wrong and so was I. The first article as an excerpt from The Life of Olaudah Equiano an African boy who was kidnapped from his village by other African villagers where he was bought, sold and traded into slavery within Africa until he was finally sold to Europeans and made the infamous “Middle Passage” to America, from the article,

O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would mean should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery.

In addition, are fugitive slave narratives, Frederick Douglass’ July 4th, 1852 speech in Rochester, New York and an excerpt from Booker T. Washington‘s Up From Slavery

Peace

Did you know that conscientious objectors were required as late as the Civil War to either “[furnish] a substitute [to go in your place] or payment of commutation money”? And that some of the pioneers in this field such as the Quaker Cyrus Pringle helped to break down this system.  You will also find Mark Twain’s diatribe against the Spanish-American War, My Country Right or Wrong. An interesting (and almost prophetic) article is the Feb. 12th, 2003 speech by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) in the run-up to Bush Jr’s War in Iraq. But perhaps one of the two most moving articles is a series of emails by American Rachel Corrie to her mother. Rachel Corrie was a volunteer in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. Her emails tell of an almost impossible situation that the Palestinians have to live in as bulldozers and Israeli police push the borders of Israel out to make way for more settlers. Rachel Corrie, 23,  was crushed to death by bulldozers on March 16th, 2003 while attempting to stop more Palestinian homes from being destroyed. The modern Jews act an awful lot like the Jews of antiquity, but then again they are Chosen People so who am I to argue.

Women

The section on women contains essays and speeches from some of the big hitters in the women’s rights movement, Sarah Grimke, Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan and Sallie Tisdale. Sally Tisdale’s essay, We Do Abortions Here, is the second of the two most moving articles of this book. Her essay details her life in an abortion clinic. She talks of the different kinds of women who come in to have abortions, so many with all the options in the world and so many without any but this one. So many women who she knows will be devastated the rest of their lives for the choice they are making and others who should be putting more thought into their choice especially after the 4th, 5th or 7th abortion. She is astounded at the almost total lack of education women have about their bodies, pregnancy and most critically birth control.

Labor

This was a tough chapter for me. I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with unions. I realize my problem with unions is the modern versions vs. the absolute critical role they played in providing fair wages and safe working conditions. Minimum wage laws, 40-hour work weeks and paid vacation and sick time are all benefits even rights that we enjoy today because of the blood, sweat and tears of many union organizers. You’ll find essays on the lack of commentary on social class in American classrooms, oral histories compiled by Studs Terkel, the Dearborn Massacre in which police shot and killed a young immigrant among others shot and wounded marching on the Ford plant in Dearborn, MI. The author Barbara Ehrenreich tries to live on minimum wage and Katherine Mieszkowski tells the story, Can My Mommy Have Her Paycheck, of Hewlett-Packard’s shift to a temporary work force and the impact that has on wages, benefits and getting your paycheck.

Civil Rights

Each of the articles retell the story of the struggle of black people for Civil Rights in America. Langston Hughes starts off with an essay decrying the shift in middle-class Black America to act white and why black artists try to “do” white art.  He starts his article with the following,

One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, “I want to be a poet – not a Negro poet,” meaning, I believe, “I want to write like a white poet”; meaning subconsciously, “I would like be a white poet”; meaning behind that, “I would like to be white.”

His essay then focuses more or less on this theme. I’m not sure I agree with his characterization of the young poets comment. How about,

… the young Negro poet said to me once, “I want to be a poet – not a Negro poet,” meaning, I believe, “I want my poetry to be evaluated, rejected or accepted based on it’s beauty, not on the color of my skin”.

My interpretation requires one step to the heart of the matter whereas Lanston Hughes has to go through three steps to get to his interpretation. It just seems like a bit of stretch. But then again he’s Langston Hughes and I’m not 😉

Many of the articles are from some prominent civil rights figures, such as, Bayard Rustin and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Others are told from the perspective of just ordinary folk, coming of age in the 50’s and 60’s and their experiences as they watched a nation change around them.

Poverty

This section has more oral histories compiled by Studs Terkel during the Great Depression and the lives that people led just to feed themselves and how they had to live. John Steinbeck, author of Grapes of Wrath, offers his commentary on migrant workers during the Great Depression and James Agee follows the stories of three sharecroppers during the 1940’s. Barbara Ehrenreich is back with another excerpt from Nickel and Dimed and James Newfield tells us How the Other Half Still Lives both offer commentary on the current state of poverty in America.

Civil Liberties

This is section is bit more eclectic and includes transcripts of testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee and Margaret Chase Smith’s Declaration of Conscience a response to the growing power of Joseph McCarthy. The final three essays speak to more recent efforts by the global justice movement, the current Bush administration’s outrageous moves to remove our constitutionally-protected rights and the current State of our rights in a post 9/11, Patriot Act Union.

There is so much I have not covered in this book but it is well worth the read. If anything it gives you a different perspective and offers a different voice on American history.

Posted in FreeThought, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Future of FreeThought

Posted by Skeptigator on June 10, 2008

I have spent the last few days putting my thoughts to digital paper but they weren’t really my thoughts. They were thoughts that I only think are mine but really have come about from reading Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism. In my first post on the matter I mentioned how profoundly this book has changed my view. How I feel to some extent a sense of connection with the past.

I liken it very loosely* to what I can imagine perhaps a homosexual in America might feel and may I be so bold as to draw a comparison between FreeThought and Homosexual Rights. The first step in the acceptance of homosexuals was the acknowledgement that “they” exist and that there is a community of them. I suppose step 2 was try not to get killed but then came step 3 begin to discover a shared history. There hasn’t been much of history for the GLBT community to draw on, they sort of sprang out of nowhere as you might be led to believe. Of couse, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there is an extensive “gay history” however it hasn’t been very pleasant and we’ll never know the full extent to which the homosexual community has always been around.

I suppose this is the natural evolution, if you will, of all groups as they struggle for identity.

This brings us to the main point of this article, the Future of FreeThought. What does tomorrow or even 5 years bring. Maybe we should be saying to ourselves, “Forget about the future. What does the present look like?”

Where we stand today

There are plenty of very good reasons to be pessimistic about the future of FreeThought considering the last 20 years in one sense hasn’t been that great. We’ve seen the ascendancy of the Religious Right during the 70’s through such organizations as Falwell’s Moral Majority and their ability to shape the political landscape of today (not to mention their power within the Republican party out of proportion to their numbers). The 80’s brought us the almost laughable Satanic Panic. The 90’s brought us the Republican Revolution and the rise of the Christian Coalition led by Ralph Reed. The 21st century was kicked off with a bang, specifically 4 bangs on 9/11. An event that should have led to soul-searching within religious circles on the power of faith and that without some kind of check or measure like reason and evidence all ideology particularly religious ideology can lead to some of the greatest atrocities of mankind. Instead, in America, the various Christian sects circled the wagons and drew Us vs. Them distinctions while the liberal left called Islam the Religion of Peace and tried to categorize the 19 young men as fundamentalists or extremists. No doubt they don’t represent the mainstream muslim but there are some very basic questions that are not being asked.

Today secularists and skeptics, atheists and agnostics face some of the same recurring issues that have cropped over the decades, nay, centuries. That thing called Intelligent Design (AKA warmed-over creationism) has been making inroads or at least the strategy has changed again to “academic freedom” bills. The broad support for faith-based initiatives and school vouchers is a reincarnated version of the very same kind of bill that was working it’s way through the Virginia Assembly that attempted to get the state of Virginia to fund religious education. The very thing that Madison and Jefferson worked vigorously to oppose and many evangelical groups of the day also opposed.

Susan Jacoby begins the final chapter of her book with a recent speech given by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia [full text here],

… the real underpinnings of Scalia’s support for the death penalty are to be found not in constitutional law but in the justice’s religious convictions. He believes that the state derives its power not from the consent of the governed – “We, the People,” as the [Constitution] plainly states – but from God. God has the power of life and death, and therefore lawful governments also have the right to exact the ultimate penalty. Democracy, with its pernicous idea that citizens are the ultimate arbiters of public policy, is responsible for the rise of opposition to the death penalty in the twentieth century. “Few doubted the morality of the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings,” Scalia noted in his speech. He would have been just as accurate had he pointed out that most subjects in absolute monarchies also supported the right of kings to torture and to impose the death penalty by drawing and quartering. To bolster his argument, Scalia turned to the perennial favorite of conservative politicians the evangelist Paul: [quotes Romans 13:1-4]

And this is from a Supreme Court justice. What happens when abortion makes it’s way to the SCOTUS? I wonder what a devout Catholic will make his decision based on, clearly not case law or prior precedent or any other impartial manner. I wouldn’t doubt if he quotes Psalms 139:13-16 in his opinion.

Now all of that is kind of a drag and I’m generally an optimistic person.

A Plan for the Future

If you are looking for me to start making predictions of what will happen in the future you can stop reading now. I don’t know and neither does anybody else but I do have some ideas about what we can begin to build today.

1) Identify that non-believers exist, acknowledge that you exist

  • A recent Pew Study shows that approximately 10.3% of the U.S. population identifies itself as either atheist, agnostic or secular-unaffiliated, there’s an additional 5-6% of the U.S. population that is religious-unaffiliated, maybe they just need to be told it’s OK to not believe.
  • Read that again 10% (that’s about 30 million people). We more than exist, we are significant chunk of the population.

2) Recognize that you have a history

  • I hope the last 3 posts have given you a taste of the extremely rich history that secularism and freethought have in America. If you don’t know about the last 3 posts here they are:
  1. Revolutionary FreeThought
  2. The Golden Age of FreeThought
  3. FreeThought in the 20th Century

3) Get involved

  • Join a group or start one. I live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, not exactly a liberal bastion by any stretch. We have a group, you can find us here, freethoughtfortwayne.org. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in starting your own.
  • Groups like CFI On Campus provide excellent resources for starting college campus groups.
  • Write letters to the editor, attend speeches and conferences promoting secular thought, scientific literacy and freethought.
  • Write your story, start a blog, write a book. We don’t live in an age anymore where you have to jump through hoops and sell your soul to get published anymore. You can self-publish. Every piece of literature out there adds to the growing number of freethought voices.

4) Begin Building Bridges

  • Instead of fighting or resisting religious groups, we should be defining where we have common ground. I suppose this goes back to that old adage, “The frontiers that trade won’t cross, armies will”, or something like that. If we won’t engage with religious groups we will only ever exchange volleys and that won’t get us anywhere
  • I’ve said it before and I say it again, we really should promote advocacy for secular government within the religious community.

Let’s do what we can to change the tone and tenor of the nation. If you are unhappy about the invasion of religion into every nook and cranny of our political discourse then speak up. Write your congressman, yours can’t be any worse than mine, Mark Souder (R) – 3rd Dist. IN. He or she works for you, remember that.

I would be interested in your comments. AM I missing something? Am I too optimistic?

* Of course, I’m a heterosexual, middle-class white guy, so what do I really know about being gay or even oppressed for that matter. Like I said “very loosely” based on the recent history of homosexuals.

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