Saturday, July 30, 2011

Air Force pulls Christian-themed training session

The Air Force, in response to a report by Truthout earlier this week, has pulled a Christian-themed training session that used a quote from an ex-Nazi SS officer and numerous passages from the New and Old Testament to teach missile officers about the morals and ethics of launching nuclear weapons. More info here from Truthout.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Pet Peeve: Lousy Quoters

Atheists love to call out religious folks for misquoting their respective scriptures, and for ignoring the MANY instances when their respective scriptures have been altered over the years. I love to do it myself, having been raised a Baptist and knowing the Bible - and the history of such, including the changes - better than my religious friends.

But I'm going to have to call out my Atheist brethren for so often being lousy at quoting - specifically, for not ensuring a quote is accurate and is properly sourced before using it.

A case in point: Lighthouses are more useful than churches. Benjamin Franklin did not say this! But you will find this quote all over various blogs and web pages. The wikiquote page for Franklin says the origin of this phrase MAY be a paraphrase of something he wrote to his wife on 17 July 1757, given in a footnote on page 133 of Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1818). After describing a narrow escape from shipwreck he added:

The bell ringing for church, we went thither immediately, and with hearts full of gratitude, returned sincere thanks to God for the mercies we had received: were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.

Another one: The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. This was NOT said by George Washington. It is a line from the English version of the Treaty of Tripoli of 1796, initially signed by a representative of the US on 4 November 1796 during Washington's presidency, approved by Congress 7 June 1797 and finally signed by President John Adams on 10 June 1797. Article 11 of it reads:

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,— as it has in itself no character or enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,— and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

There are some terrific, verifiable quotes out there in support of secularism and even Atheism, including from the USA founding fathers and various great thinkers. The wikiquote site makes it super easy to find out if he or she really said whatever it is you want to quote!

And as Abraham Lincoln once said: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re not quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

You don't need religion to be sexist

Atheists love to criticize religious folk for their sexist practices - for demanding women be silent, to not teach, etc. (I Timothy 2:11-14). We are particularly amused by fundamentalist Christians criticizing what the Qu'ran may or may not say about the treatment of women, when the Bible has verses like:

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire. (Leviticus 21:9)

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. (I Corinthians 11:14)

Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:22-23)

But people that believe in a magical invisible friend don't have a monopoly on sexism; sadly, lots of Atheists can be not-so-rational when it comes to their ideas about women.

Linda Henneberg, a science communication intern at CERN in Switzerland wrote a blog post about her experiences at the laboratory as both a woman and a non-PhD physicist:

I was very excited to be at CERN for the summer. I am still excited. I love it here and I wish I could work here forever. But I did not expect to be uncomfortable or creeped out on a weekly basis. I did not expect to be hit on by a large proportion of the men I saw in a social setting. I did not expect that CERN would start me on the road to being a cynical feminist, a type of person I previously dismissed, but which I now understand.

Ouch. Henneberg's blog further inspired a blog on the Scientific American web site by Jennifer Oullette on how hard women have it in the science/skeptic universes:

I am very comfortable in male-dominated environments, and accustomed to being the only woman in the room. And yet I have had far more negative experiences with men in the skeptic/atheist community than anywhere else.

Ouch again!

I have to admit that the only gathering of skeptics I've been a part of was a tour of a whiskey distillery in Portland, Oregon with Pastafarians, so I can't speak to this at all from experience. The closet I've come to a community of Atheists is in the comments section of the Friendly Atheist, a blog by Richard Wade which brought these other blogs to my attention. If it weren't for Richard, I'd never know this sexism-among-atheists was an issue, but now I do, beginning with his reporting on the nasty backlash faced by one woman who talked online about being frightened by a guy at an Atheist/skeptics meeting hitting on her in an elevator at 4 AM.

Richard Dawkins didn't help AT ALL with his completely out-of-touch, sexist comments of his own:

The man in the elevator didn't physically touch her, didn't attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn't even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that....Rebecca's feeling that the man's proposition was 'creepy' was her own interpretation of his behavior, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum.

Wow, Dawkins. For a scientist, you sure can be a Dumb Ass!

Sexism always rears up where I least expect it. And then often doesn't show up at all where I'm on my guard. I work in aid and international development, and I'm sorry to say I have to watch everything I say and do, and take care what invitations I accept, in oh-so-many situations. Not so much when I'm around locals - no, it's with other aid workers! By contrast, I attend motorcycle rallies for people who travel internationally by motorcycle, and so far, it's been incredibly empowering - I've had men walk up to me specifically to tell me how much they admire me for riding my own bike and could they give my email address to their wives they are trying to convince to ride?

Many in the skeptics community aren't reacting well to being called out for sexist practices and attitudes. But, then, most individuals and many communities react poorly to such an accusations - no one likes to be called prejudiced. I hope all these women scientists and Atheist female bloggers will keep coming forward and sharing their stories - the more specific, the better. I think it's only through continuous sharing that, eventually, our community will accept that we might need to work on ourselves regarding this issue.

Except for Dawkins. I don't have much hope for someone who equates being propositioned in an elevator at 4 a.m. with the annoyance of standing next to a gum chewer. Geesh.

How scientists inspire

I adore Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist and Host of NOVA scienceNOW, and this interview shows why. Watching him on NOVA or reading interviews like this make me truly inspired - I buzz all day. Inspiration makes me giddy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Christians admitting historic/scriptural ties to Islam

"The Qu'ran mentions the Bible twelve times. The verses call upon the people of the Bible - Christians - to follow what God revealed to them in the Bible: to be better Christians."
-- Mohammed Sammak, Secretary General of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, speaking at the United Church of Christ's General Synod 28.

No, I don't believe in an invisible magical friend, but it's nice to see examples of religious groups actually reading their respective scriptures, and understanding history. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, in a Pew survey regarding religious knowledge of Americans back in September 2010, religious people in the USA displayed little knowledge of world religions - but more provocatively, Americans did not even know much about their own religions.

Those who scored highest on this survey? Atheists and Agnostics. We really like to read... fiction and nonfiction. And, yes, I've read the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran. And a lot about Buddhism. I'm wacky that way.

I am very annoyed by religious people who want to claim all other religions are false, and only theirs is the real deal. As an Atheist, I think all religions are false, for many of the same the reasons a religious person tries to claim all other religions but his or her's are false - but my annoyance also comes from a frustration at religious people ignoring the early tenets of their faith, not knowing their religion's history, and refusing to acknowledge historic and scriptural ties with other religions. I'm particularly annoyed by Christians and Muslims who are oblivious to their historic and scriptural ties to each other and to Jews. I find Mr. Sammak's invitation by the United Church of Christ an excellent example of Christians who are not annoying. Would love to see more of that.