Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Governor of Kentucky is anti-science

I just wrote the following to Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, via this contact page. The message explains why:

I just read that you will appear at a press conference with Cary Summers, consultant to Ark Encounter LLC, Mike Zovath, senior vice president of Answers in Genesis and head of the Creation Museum project, and Grant County Judge/Executive Darrell Link. You will be there to support the expansion of Mr. Zovath's anti-science endeavors in Kentucky.

I am beyond saddened by and ashamed of your support of this anti-education project, and your contribution to the stereotype of Kentuckians as ignorant religious fundamentalists who are decades behind the rest of the USA. Your support of such movements further diminishes the public's -- and, particularly, children's -- understanding of science and, indeed, the virtues of systematic logical investigation as the best way to gain knowledge. It demonizes scientists and their findings -- meaning that people will feel that empirical findings are mere belief systems.

Shame on you, Governor Beshear!

Read more about it in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

What's next? Taliban Land?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Supporting the JRE Foundation

The James Randi Educational Foundation is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign, running from November 15, 2010 through January 15, 2011.

Last year’s Season of Reason campaign raised thousands of dollars, which was used to help establish the JREF’s new Education Department and get a number of new programs off the ground. This year, JREF is hoping to raise $100,000 to support the further development of the educational programs that will be the backbone of the JREF’s work in 2011. Such support helps the JREF to continue to extend the important work of James Randi, influential skeptic and social critic who has for decades stood against the prevailing cults of nonsense and supernatural charlatans of every stripe.

The JREF needs your help to improve critical thinking and science education in schools and communities throughout North America and around the world. Your donation will increase its efforts to promote skepticism to new people through the expansion of JREF’s educational and outreach work, such as through:

  • Educator Grants

  • Scholarships for Academics

  • Regional Skeptics Workshops

  • The new JREF in the Classroom Program

  • Digital Publishing

  • Smartphone Skepticism Apps

Donate today to help JREF reach its goal!

Make an ongoing monthly pledge of $25 or more, or make a one-time donation of $100 or more during the 2010 Season of Reason: A Bright Future campaign and you will receive a limited-number Surly-Ramics holiday ornament, especially hand-made for the 2010 Season of Reason. The image on the ornament is James Randi flying a JREF sleigh pulled by a flying pigasus. See it here!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The war on science

Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, talks with Chris Mooney on how more and more Americans are rejecting science. Scary, but true:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The word holiday came from a mispronunciation of the word holy day (or, as it was spelled in Old English, hāligdæg).

So it confuses me when Christians get upset at being wished Happy Holidays (or Happy Holy Days) instead of Merry Christmas. How in the world is saying Happy Holidays secularizing Christmas?!? What part of holy don't they get?

I'm an Atheist, yet I'm not offended when someone wishes me Happy Holidays, even though the days aren't at all holy to me. I'm not offended when someone wishes me Merry Christmas either. Or salam walaikum, for that matter (it means peace be with you or peace be upon you, in case you didn't know). Heck, I don't even get upset when someone says, Bless you. I take any of these greetings as good will gestures - people wishing me happiness. And the world needs more good will, no question.

What do I say? I'll say just about anything to wish someone a happy day:
  • Happy Eid
  • Happy Hanukkah
  • Happy New Year (Lunar, Persian or Gregorian calendar)
  • Merry Christmas
  • Joyous Yule
  • Happy Festivus
I just want you to have a happy day, with or without a belief in an invisible friend. I hope you will wish the same for me.

And in case you are wondering: yes, we'll be having turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, steamed green beans, and cream of tomato soup on Thursday. Turns out it all tastes just as good without God. We'll be thankful to the farmers, supermarket workers, truckers and other food producers and shippers that made our meal possible. We'll be counting up the good things that have happened, through our own hard work, through the help of others, and through chance. And drinking heavily. We might even take some time to think about scientists, inventors, engineers, researchers, activists and others who have helped our world and our lives. And, yes, we'll still call it Thanksgiving - we'll just be thankful to humans rather than an invisible friend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

oh-so-fantastic documentary How the Earth Was Made

Whether its the pilot from 2007 or an individual episode of the 2009 series, I love love love the History Channel's How the Earth Was Made. These documentaries take the 4.5 billion year history of the Earth and turn it into a glorious tribute to the natural forces of the universe, giving the viewer a sense of wonder and awe. It's impossible to multi-task while watching the show -- put your laptop or smart phone away and drink in those visuals while the wonders of science get explained in an easy-to-understand way. Earth science has often been beyond my grasp because of boring presentation; How the Earth Was Made takes that information and presents it in a way that is absolutely accessible and wondrous.

In addition to the feast of visuals and information these documentaries provide, the information sticks with you, making hiking/walking through natural landscapes an even more awe-inspiring experience.

The show also presents the stories of the various scientists, professional and amateur, who have helped us understand historical geology, including plate tectonics, through the scientific method.

Great stuff! These are frequently shown on the History Channel - check your listings!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fear of a Bible-Based Nation

Christians are terrified of Sharia (Islamic) law. You can hear the wail and hysterics about the evils of Sharia law frequently on Fox News and in Christian pulpits across the USA. In Oklahoma, voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure that orders judges not to consider Islamic or international law when deciding cases.

Never mind that Sharia laws are almost exactly the same to those proposed in the Bible's Old Testament. And never mind that, if you vote to ban judges from not considering Sharia law when deciding a case, as they have done in Oklahoma, it pretty much nixes any chance of a judge legally considering Biblical law, including the Ten Commandments (which, BTW, are a part of Sharia law), when considering cases.

As an Atheist, I don't want any religious texts used when considering legal cases in the USA. Or government decisions. The terror Christians feel for Sharia law is the terror I feel of Christians talking about restoring or building a Bible-based nation: whenever Christians rally in front of a court house demanding a big marble monument to the Ten Commandments be re-installed. Or Kentucky passing an anti-terrorism law that requires the state's Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can't keep the state safe without "God"'s help. Or Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) insisting in an official congressional session that we shouldn't be concerned about global warming because his "God" promised Noah it wouldn't happen again (FYI, Shimkus wants to be Chair of House Energy and Commerce Committee).

So, Christians, you fear Sharia law. Well, I happen to fear YOUR law for all the same reasons. Bible-based government is a terrifying idea.

Christians say that mainstream and progressive Muslims don't speak out enough against militant and/or fundamentalist Muslims. So, where are the mainstream and progressive Christians speaking out against this frightening idea of making legal and government decisions based on the Bible in the USA? Surely the idea is frightening to mainstream and progressive Christians? Where is your outrage?

I remember reading The Handmaid's Tale the first time. I enjoyed it, but thought it was way, way out there. Impossible to happen now. By contrast, I re-read it 12 years later and thought it was absolutely prescient. How I wish that book, and Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby, were required reading in schools in the USA.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You think the Koran is violent? Have you read the Bible?!

I was raised in a Christian household, in a Christian community, in the Bible Belt. The faction of choice, for the most part: General Baptist, though there was a lot of Methodist meeting attendance also going on. That means there were at least weekly Bible readings going on (often more). I knew a lot of the bible by my teen years, but I decided reading excerpts at least twice a week wasn't enough to really understand it, and so I went through the whole enchilada, cover-to-cover. And as I read, I realized, more and more, that I didn't believe. Reading the Bible over several weeks, cover-to-cover, helped me come to terms with my disbelief -- which I'd always had but would never admit to. I was officially an un-believer shortly after that, per a phone call from a church youth leader asking me to come to church camp, and my saying, for the first time out loud (but not the last), that I am not a Christian.

For various reasons, about 20 years later, I decided to do it again: read the Bible cover-to-cover. I needed a refresher course to keep me sharp for comments like, "Jesus said homosexuality is a sin" (he never did, actually). I remembered that the Bible had made me uncomfortable, even angry, as a teen, for some of its assertions, but as an adult, I was absolutely flabbergasted at how incredibly violent and woman-hating the text is, over and over again. I had remembered the hate of the Bible from the first time around, here and there, but the text is permeated with it, and the violence -- wow. I hadn't remembered that from the first time around. Horrific. And nothing I wanted any part of!

(I have to admit that, on this second reading, I gave up at Revelation -- it's just too crazy to get through)

A couple of years later, I decided to read the Koran. All sorts of Christians were telling me it was oh-so-violent and women-hating, and so I wanted to see for myself. And... I was shocked at how far, far less violent it is than the Bible. It is far from woman-hating, as the Bible is. In fact, it does, quite often, lay out the rights of women -- something the Bible never does. "There are at least 30 verses in the Koran that support equality between women and men and that refer to women's rights in various aspects of life." (reference). Further research showed that Islamic cultures that are anti-women base their beliefs on Hadith, an oral tradition of quotes attributed to the Prophet Muhammad but that are in wide dispute as to which are authentic, on ideas they think are in the Koran but aren't (a lot like Christians who think Jesus commented on homosexuals -- which he never did), and on cultural practices that preceded Islam. While I'm still no fan of the religion (any religion), it's a shame that militants are taking over a religion whose basis for belief is actually far more peace-promoting than the Bible.

In short, Christians certainly have plenty of Biblical basis to beat their wives, rape women, keep their wives and daughters hidden at home, beat their children, and kill whomever they deem as a non-Believer. To have these same Christians claim the Koran is violent shows a jaw-dropping duplicity. By all means, condemn violence and justifications for such -- but condemn ALL justifications for such. Condemn the 911 hijackers -- and the men who blew up clinics and shot doctors in Christ's name. And if you want to say that And if they give birth, I will slaughter their beloved children. (Hosea 9:16 NLT) shouldn't be taken literally, fine -- but you have to say the same for the Koran. If you want to claim that when Paul says oh-so-clearly in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 that women should be silent in church that, really, he's just saying women only have to be silent when tongues or prophecy is happening, then you ALSO have to acknowledge that the Koran is ALSO open to interpretation.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Boom De Ah Dah!

The first time I saw this video, I wept.

Yes, ofcourse, non-Atheists like it too. They see a creator behind it all. But even if you don't see a creator behind it all, you get to still enjoy the splendor and wonder that the universe can hold -- and, perhaps, be even more wowed by it, by all of the billions and billions of years and all the various natural forces that have lead us here.

Boom De Ah Dah!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why do Atheists get married?

Christians love to say that the purpose of marriage is to get your union recognized by God and to have children. Therefore, marriage is only for Christians -- or at least only for "believers" (Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.). It also means that marriage is only for people who can bear children or, at least, will adopt children.

It's a fascinating, narrow view of marriage since, according to the earliest references in the Bible, the joining of a husband and wife wasn't at all religious -- it was about ownership, about property, and often made official through sexual intercourse, including rape. It was about owning a woman and ensuring all her kids were her owner's -- her husband's -- through exclusive sexual relations. In fact, the earliest references to loving partnerships in the Bible aren't between a man and a woman; they are between people of the same sexes, first Ruth to Naomi (in the Book of Ruth, 1:16-18) and then Jonathan and David (in the First Book of Samuel, 20:41-42). Marriage doesn't evolve into a sacrament until much later in the Bible (yup, I've read it -- more on that in a later blog).

Yet, I'm married. We had a fantastic secular ceremony where there was nary a mention of a magical invisible friend, but where I did wear a fabulous dress (a green sari, actually), followed by a kickin' catered celebration with our friends and family -- and a LOT of wine, just like Jesus would have wanted!

As an Atheist, why did I want to get married? It certainly wasn't for religious reasons. It also wasn't to have children. And I certainly am not owned by my husband (which he would be only too happy to enthusiastically affirm).

I got married because I want this guy that is now my husband
  • to be able to see me in the hospital no matter what, and vice versa.
  • so that one of us can put the other on the company health insurance as soon as one of us works for a company that offers insurance.
  • so that he has access to all my assets and vice versa.
  • so that we can live in each other's countries oh-so-easily (he's German).
  • to be able to legally call each other family and have all the legal rights and privileges that come with that designation.
My husband and I didn't need marriage to love each other nor to live with each other, at least not in most countries. But we did need marriage so that in every circumstance life might throw at us, whatever government or company bureaucracy we deal with will see us as a family. And you only get that through being married. Or adoption. We went with marriage.

If any religion doesn't want to recognize our marriage because it in no way involves God or children, that's fine with me. I don't care whether or not they do. But if they try to deny us any of the benefits for which we got married, there will be Hell on Earth to pay -- and I will be the one to bring it.

It's one of the reasons I'm such an adamant supporter of marriage rights for gay people. I would be enraged if I didn't have access to my husband in the hospital, if an insurance company said, "We don't recognize your partnership as a family" -- or if a religious institution got the official word as to whether or not I have the legal right to marry. Yet that's exactly what happens to gay people. And if a government can decide that gay people can't marry because that's what the Christians say, it's only a matter of time before they decide atheists can't marry either. Scary.

On a side note: we really love our marriage vows, which we wrote ourselves. If you are looking for some inspiration for a secular wedding ceremony, drop me a line!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Happy Carl Sagan Day!

"The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous."

Carl Sagan said that. And today is Carl Sagan's birthday. And Carl Sagan is worth celebrating.

The first time I heard Carl Sagan describe a scientific theory, I wept. I was watching a rerun of Cosmos. I was so blown away. It was poetry. It was gorgeous. And it was so incredibly understandable.

If you have never seen him, look at this YouTube video of him explaining the Scientific Theory of Evolution. Or watch his video of people's belief in "God and Gods." Great stuff. Beautiful stuff. Science and exploration as poetry. A celebration of humanity. It makes me feel inspired to face my day.

Understanding is joyous! And the seeking of understanding can be rapturous.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What "Imagine" really means

I love the song "Imagine" by John Lennon. You all know the lyrics, so I won't quote them. Plus, if I do, Yoko Ono might sue me. And I don't want that.

It's amusing what meaning some people assign to this song.

The song is, IMO, quite clear: imagine taking away all the silly, imaginary reasons that people wage war over and, therefore, imagine living in peace.

And it often sends a lot of people into a frenzy. Religious people have a melt down because they do not believe that love, respect, joy and tolerance is possible without a belief in God (example: John Shore's What Atheists Have Dead Wrong About Religion). Patriots believe you are saying that you want to burn the national flag, do away with national borders, and not fight back against, say, invading hoards of Cannibalistic Canadians. Capitalists believe you want to institute Communism and take away all their stuff.

I don't think "Imagine" is an Atheist anthem. I know a LOT of Atheists who love their possessions and don't want anyone messing with such, myself included. And we certainly didn't see John Lennon giving away all of his wealth and possessions -- the rent at the Dakota was NOT cheap!

The song's point is simply: think about what we fight over, and consider if it's really worth fighting for, and realize that so much of what we fight over is just an idea, and that's dumb.

The song isn't saying that some things aren't worth fighting for. I certainly believe there are things worth fighting for. Repelling the Nazis was most definitely worth fighting for, but I'm not sure anything in World War I was. Women's rights in Afghanistan is, IMO, worth fighting for, and there are times I wish we were arming the women there. When the Cannibalistic Canadians show up, I'll fight, I promise.

But haven't you ever read about a conflict between two groups in a land far, far away from you, your country, your culture, and maybe even your present time period and thought, geesh, what a stupid thing to fight over!? Even in the conflicts I've named earlier, even those involving Cannibalistic Canadians, aren't there always early opportunities to derail hateful momentum, before we cross the line where war might become necessary? That, I believe, is the point of the song.

People seem to always be able to find a reason to hate each other, even when there is no threat from that person whatsoever. Sometimes the reason is where or to whom the person was born, or the color of his or her skin, or his or her language. But if the reason for conflict isn't born from religion, it is all too often fueled by religion -- by a belief in a god or gods. Belief in deities and a belief that those who don't believe the same way are evil has fueled -- if not caused -- genocides and acts of terrorism the world over. And the sad reality is that we hear and see far more of these hateful, "godly" people, and feel their impact more, than we do of those who claim their religion is an instrument only of peace and transformation. Far more.

It's fascinating to hear religious people say that someone who is hateful, or a movement that wanted to make war on another group, was already full of hate and just used religion as a justification for acting on that hate -- but who attribute anything good that is done to a deity. Couldn't it also be true that good people might already be full of love and just needed religion as a justification for doing good that? If the religion wasn't there, couldn't a good person then also say, "It was my duty to my country" or "It was for the honor of my family" and right on down the line?

I wish I could say that a belief in God, patriotism and family loyalty were always -- or even usually -- forces for good. But, sadly, what I see far more, what I experience far more, is that they are forces for evil.

What Religious People Have Dead Wrong About Atheists

Religious people believe all good things -- joy, love, compassion -- come from a deity, or a group of deities. And so, religious people believe that Atheists such as myself cannot be good without "god." They believe that Atheists cannot experience true joy, love or compassion -- or at least not as much as a religious person -- because, according to the believers, Atheists deny the source of these.

Christians, Muslims and other religious people take this reasoning further and believe Atheists don't volunteer, don't care for their fellow man, and aren't bothered by human suffering. How can they? Atheists don't believe in a a deity, or a group of deities, and all of these values for helping other people come from a belief in a magical, invisible friend -- or group of such!

Religious people keep going with this thinking and say that Atheists cannot have values, since all codes of proper human conduct come from a deity, a group of deities. Atheists have no morality, since they have no magical invisible friend -- or group of friends -- feeding them these.

And then religious people take this even further, and say that Atheists have no sense of wonder and awe. They'll claim atheists can't look up into the starry sky and say, "Wow!" Instead, we say, "I see that several thousand massive, luminous balls of plasma held together by gravity are visible tonight." If a god or group of gods didn't make all that is seen and felt, then it cannot be seen as marvelous or astonishing, according to the believers.

Of course, Christians, Muslims and so many other religious people have it dead wrong about atheists regarding all of the above. True joy, love, and compassion is possible without religion -- I have certainly experienced all of these much more once I embraced my Atheism than when I was trying to believe in a magical, invisible friend.

I've dedicated a large part -- and maybe most -- of my life trying to make a positive difference in the world, trying to help others, trying to alleviate suffering and trying to help people have access to what they need to experience joyful, prosperous lives. I have morals that guide my life and my actions, and a philosophy that compels me to do certain things in order to have meaning and joy in my life. The source of my morals and philosophy is not a magical, invisible being (I'll blog in the future about where Atheist ethics come from, for those of you who don't know already).

And I most certainly look up into the starry sky and say "Wow." I don't attribute what I'm seeing to a deity or deities, but to the entirely natural forces of science -- and that, for me, has made the world no less wondrous than when I was trying to believe it was a god that did it all.

Unfortunately, we Atheists haven't written songs and chants about our reverence for rational, independent thought, the joys of intellectual exploration, the peace of studied comprehension, the rapture of scientific revelation, or the thrill of finding out there is still so much more to learn. We also don't have nearly enough pot lucks. We Atheists really need to celebrate who we are more!

Introduction to Your Atheist Muse

I'm an Atheist. I'm a Secular Humanist. Both titles are just dandy to describe me.

There are a lot of Atheist-based and Secular Humanist blogs, and their numbers are growing. I think there are a lot of reasons this is happening:
  • Atheists are starting to feel more comfortable about declaring their lack of faith.

  • Atheist bloggers are realizing that there are a *lot* of misconceptions about atheists among non-Atheists, many of them downright insulting and potentially harmful, and its in our own best interests to counter these misconceptions.

  • Atheist bloggers are becoming frightened at the rhetoric and actions of many people of faith who are working to suppress science, knowledge, and even basic freedoms and human rights.

  • Atheists bloggers are hoping to bring some comfort to fellow atheists out there, particularly those who are feeling alone in their lack of faith, surrounded by people who, consciously or not, maliciously or lovingly, keep trying to convert them to a faith-based belief system.

  • Atheists bloggers are not always comfortable with this or that atheist speaking on behalf of ALL atheists, -- and want the diversity of Atheist voices to be heard.

  • Atheists bloggers are realizing that they like being atheists and that they want to share that joy with others, Atheist or not.

  • Some Atheists bloggers are actively trying to encourage people to abandon their religions.

Which of those are my reasons for having this blog? Probably all of those but the last one. While I wouldn't mind at all being responsible for turning people of away from fundamentalist religious beliefs that promote the enslavement and oppression of women, cultivate hatred of gays, discourage an understanding of science, encourage revisions of history to be kinder to their religious beliefs, etc., I'd be perfectly content if they all became oh-so-tolerant and reasonable Universal Unitarians, Sufi Muslims, adherents to Confucianism, etc. -- those people who believe there are many paths to "God" tend not to block the teaching of scientific principles like biological evolution and plate tectonics, and tend not to encourage gay teens to kill themselves, and I really like them for that.

I decided to start this blog when a Christian blogger I thought was a pretty decent guy, and often downright reasonable, posted a blog entry called What Atheists Have Dead Wrong About Religion. As I read the blog, it dawned on me that he really has no idea what an Atheist is. None. I started reading his previous posts and further realized that, as much as I didn't want to believe it, this guy is just like most other Christians: he lumps all non-Christians, including Atheists, into one category -- and we're all secretly miserable because we don't share his faith in his particular magical, invisible friend.

So, to this Christian blogger and other Christians: yes, indeed, we Atheists are non-Christians. But so are Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and lots of other religious folks, and those folks most certainly are NOT atheists. They have much more in common with you, the Christian, than with me, the Atheist. Like it or not, if there really could be only two football teams, they would be on YOUR team, not mine.

So, here's yet another blog by an Atheist/Secular Humanist, about being an Atheist/Secular Humanist.
  • It's for people who are realizing their own Atheism and need some comfort to know they aren't alone. - It's for Atheists who are feeling under siege by religious people, who also want to know they aren't alone.

  • It's for people of faith, especially Christians in the USA, so that they understand what Atheism is, not as defined by their pastor, but by an actual Atheist. Maybe that will dispel some myths they have been told. Maybe it will encourage them to think for themselves.

But what's my name? Because of the nature of my work that takes me to many developing countries where one's political or religious views can put one in danger, I cannot associate my name directly with this blog -- which means I can't put my name on it. However, it's rather easy to figure out who I am, if you don't know already. If you write me, I'm happy to use my real name in corresponding.

And a side note to those of you wanting a career in international humanitarian development: be careful regarding your online public declarations of your political beliefs, government criticisms and religious views; there are employers, including the Peace Corps, who turn candidates away (like Derek Volkart) for saying the wrong thing online. Here is more advice on pursuing a career in international humanitarian and development efforts.