Edge.org brought my attention to responses in the letters column of the New York Times (quoted below the cut), by the three atheists most prominently cited in the resurgence of outspoken atheism-- Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. They plead for the simplicity and gentleness of their positions, against the reputations they are acquiring from those who have only heard about them from their detractors. Those who take the time to actually read their books find out that far from over-reaching, cruelty, or arrogance, they gently point out obvious ennobling and enriching insights which it has been impolite to mention.

In a free society, most secularists are far more interested in ending the immunity which religious faith is granted than we are interested in the hopeless folly of attempting to end faith itself. Unfortunately, it seems that faith reacts badly to challenges to its sacred-cow status, resulting in the mischaracterizations of the New Atheists.

A frequent objection is made that Harris, Dawkins and Dennett mischaracterize religion. Exactly what religious adherents are those objectors looking at? It doesn't matter that the top 1% most sophisticated religious people are not as bad as all that. They aren't the 99% who are making problems for us. There is a No True Scotsman fallacy at work here.
Argument: "Religious faith isn't a problem."
Reply: "I'd be wealthy if I had a nickel for every example of family, friends and local leaders in the past couple of months making an appeal to credibility, where no attempt in the slightest has been made to establish that credibility, and any such attempt would be considered disloyal. They call that 'faith'."
Rebuttal: "Well, no true religious faith is a problem." The remaining rebuttal consists of the flavor-of-the-month redefinition of religion and faith to have nothing to do with the tactic we encounter in our lives from about 325 million users of the English word "faith".

Few of those who call the New Atheists "mean" notice the focus on beautiful, ennobling, enriching, and motivational answers offered by secular world views to traditionally religious questions ... even for traditionally religious purposes such as understanding your brain and genes well enough to seek how to be happy and find meaning! This New York Times article about a conference of scientists dealing with religious objections to their findings is typical in that it focuses on how many of them were combative, but in this social climate the article is remarkable that it notices their positive alternative offering at all.
Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)

Click here
to read a story titled "The Purpose-Driven Life-Takers". It's on Talk To Action, a site about resisting religious Dominionism. This is their synopsis of the new video game based on the Left Behind books:

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice.

This game immerses children in present-day New York City -- 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).

Is this paramilitary mission simulator for children anything other than prejudice and bigotry using religion as an organizing tool to get people in a violent frame of mind? The dialogue includes people saying, "Praise the Lord," as they blow infidels away.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
"Memo May Have Swayed Plan B Ruling in WashingtonPost.com.

One of the silver linings of an administration's dependence on the loudest minority of zealots in its religious base is that they're so loud they open their mouths and insert their feet, as Pat Robertson recently did when he warned Dover PA that God might smite them for voting out the anti-evolutionists on the school board.

A conservative doctor gave a sermon at his church about how his memo to the FDA prevented the availability of a contraceptive. Of course churches tape their sermons because they're in the business of getting their message out. So now this videotape is giving credence to the claims of the contraceptive's supporters that the FDA's rejection of the contraceptive ignored scientific evidence in order to make social decisions for Americans about their private lives. Decide for yourself from his sermon:

"I argued from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision," Hager said. "Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good."
Hager has been a highly controversial figure because of his strong views against abortion and emergency contraception and in favor of abstinence education. In his October sermon, he said that Christians such as himself were at "war" with people who would take faith and values out of medical care.

Does he mean the FDA should reject the contraceptive because Satan meant it for evil? Or does he mean that Satan meant the scientific evidence for evil but God turned it into good? Of course when a person who says that goes on to say he has a "scientific perspective" he means that the evidence he sees happens to go along with what he would still go on believing even if the evidence contradicted it.Read more... )
In this LJ thread I recently had a debate over the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. [livejournal.com profile] debeorn is of the view that it "simply acknowledges that the country is accountable to something more powerful then itself, even if that is the World Conciousness." I was of the view that although it's good for our nation to be accountable to its neighbors, world opinion and God are not interchangable terms.

The following may seem like a change of topic but in fact it's a serendipitous occurance. Yesterday I commented on the Lojban mailing list.
...in Lojban, either you leave gender unspecified, or you make an introductory remark about gender as in "I'm going to tell you a story about 'it,' and oh by the way 'it' was male" and the subject never comes up again without constant inconvenient awkardness. Instead of merely providing gender-neutral options so that we don't default to sexist usages, Lojban seems to make you work hard to provide the casual, ubiquitous gender awareness we are used to.

Today a member of the Lojban mailing list responded to demonstrate why this aspect of Lojban is a good thing.
Why should it be any more relevant, when discussing (say) a shopkeeper from whom I bought something today, that the shopkeeper is a man, but not that, say, the shopkeeper is Oriental, or short, or any of the equally obvious categories said shopkeeper might fit into? Yet English, like most natural languages, forces me to drag one of them in, willy-nilly, and makes me work to drag any of the others in. I much prefer the Lojban way, making you say what you mean, but not requiring you to say more than you mean - and not making it trivial to say "the person I was speaking of (who happens to be a man)" and clumsy to say "the person I was speaking of (who happens to be short)".

She attached a link to an article in which Douglas Hofstadter writes as a racist fictional character "William Satire". See especially the explanatory postscript by Hofstadter. "Satire" inhabits a fictional universe in which perfect sexual equality has been attained, even in our pronouns, but all usages of the word "man" such as "mailman," "chairman," and "mankind" have been always been "mailwhite," "chairwhite" and "whitekind." He does not see this as racist, and supports that assertion with arguments similar in nature to that of [livejournal.com profile] debeorn. [livejournal.com profile] lorrraine is especially going to get a kick out of this.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Did you really think that every modern bible believer accepts the findings of Copernicus? Witness so-called Creation Science in its purest and least hypocritical form. Geocentricity.com is the homepage of the Biblical Astronomy Association. They attempt to prove the existence of "the firmament" using sophistries and fallacious reasoning clothed in scientific language. All that serves as a good education in how to detect their type of pseudoscience through its comparison with other pseudosciences like Creationism, but when you get to their Credo they unclothe their dishonesty in plain sight:

"...All scientific endeavor which does not accept this revelation from on high without any reservations, literary, philosophical or whatever, we reject as already condemned in its unfounded first assumptions.

We believe that the creation was completed in six twenty-four hour days and that the world is not older than about six thousand years. We maintain that the Bible teaches us of an earth that neither rotates daily nor revolves yearly about the sun; that it is at rest with respect to the throne of him who called it into existence; and that hence it is absolutely at rest in the universe. ..."

{blah blah blah salvation}

" Lastly, the reason why we deem a return to a geocentric astronomy a first apologetic necessity is that its rejection at the beginning of our Modern Age constitutes one very important, if not the most important, cause of the historical development of Bible criticism, now resulting in an increasingly anti-Christian world in which atheistic existentialism is preaching a life that is really meaningless."

So there they blow it by showing their hand and revealing what's really at stake is that they can't mature emotionally and accept the cosmos as it is. As soon as they remove such passages (the same way Creationism was dressed up as Intelligent Design) watch out Kansas school boards. What is really most important about this website is that they acknowledge, and effectively demonstrate with specific passages and arguments about them, that the Christian bible teaches geocentrism and cannot be accepted literally without it. The bible must be taken figuratively.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
A web page titled Quotes from the American Taliban. I'm not going to let myself comment. Just read it.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Click here to read a riveting news story on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center. It's a story of child brides, rabid racism, multiple wives, and a secretive, religious dictator. A new Waco confrontation could be imminent.

David Allen Steed leads "a breakaway Mormon sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS)."

"In the two years since he became prophet, Jeffs has ordered all dogs shot; closed the town zoo; forbidden television, holidays, movies and music; banned laughter; forbidden swimming and water sports, and sent "God Squads" of young men to inspect residences and report any violations of his edicts."

--From the first page. Reading the story it just gets worse and worse. This is happening in America.
Having read his editorial against homosexuality as the downfall of civilization in The Rhinoceros Times of Greensboro, NC, I nominate Orson Scott Card as the first president of The Nonexistent Liberation Front. This fanciful organization would champion the right of the non-existent to be granted existence. The money quote follows:
"All the while, the P.C. elite will be shouting at dismayed parents that it is somehow evil and bigoted of them not to rejoice when their children commit themselves to a reproductive dead end.
But there is nothing irrational about parents grieving at the abduction-in-advance of their grandchildren."

"Abduction-in-advance." One has to wonder if Mr. Card, as a novelist, grieves over the non-existence of the imaginary characters in his novels as well.

I nominate pro-life campaigner Matthew O'Gorman as another candidate for President of The Nonexistent Liberation Front. Yesterday's article on This Is London website about breakthroughs in harvesting stem cells from un-fertilized eggs quotes his outrage at the procedure, even though it makes it easier to harvest stem cells without destroying a fertilized embryo or fetus. I suppose a priority of the Nonexistent Liberation Front would be billboards reading "Ovulation without conception is murder."

It will be interesting to see how many steps away from an actual person the "protect the family from attack" movement will get before they will be satisfied that no potential future person is in danger. When we have protected every speck of tissue which is sacrosanct just because it is running a biological process on human DNA, it will not be enough for the Nonexistent Liberation Front. There will still be Orson Scott Card's nebulous abstraction of "society" or "civilization" to be placed in front of tangible individuals getting on with having a life. In the ideal family-friendly world, everyone would live vicariously through their offspring; unfortunately, so would their offspring, with the outcome that no one on this planet would get to live their own life.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
In a recent reply on this blog to [livejournal.com profile] rikhei's question
I get the impression that you feel our political system should reflect Christian morality - if that's so, may I ask how you feel about the doctrine of separation of church and state?
[livejournal.com profile] sibbidy said:
This country was founded on Christian morality. The seperation of church and state was created so the government would not interfere with the church, not vice versa.

What this fails to take into account is that the involvement of your church in the state is state involvement in church-- just interfering with somebody else's church. If it was Islamic involvement in our government, [livejournal.com profile] sibbidy would quickly see a demonstration of this.

The view she expresses is Christian Supremacism, an interpretation of religious freedom identical to that of Islamic Supremacists. The shared idea of these movements is that since their nations have traditions from one particular religion, "freedom of religion" means that other religions are free to practice in privacy as tolerated guests. In this interpretation, the public sphere is a place on which a majority religion can plant a flag as the sole basis for legitimate authority, as Judge Moore did in Alabama, and which currently also exists in Iran.

I'm not sure which I would rather have: a nation under attack by Islamic violence because we hold fast to a principle of separation between church and state, or to defeat Al Quaeda abroad while succumbing to Dr. James Dobson's American Taliban in our laws. But it's clear that the threat from Christian political supremacists will be, and already has been, a greater threat to the personal first-hand experience of you and me than the threat of violence from Muslim political supremacists.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
You know I am not having a very good day when I tell a Republican Party Organizer on PCCboard the following: "If I see even one judge or their families get hurt with the contact info you're distributing, I'm taking your words straight to the authorities to make sure you get put behind bars where you belong."

This is because he said, "we identify liberal judges. We publish their pictures online along with their contact information. When they make bad rulings, we call them at the office, at home, fax them, email them and let folks know who their family members are as well. ... Federal and state judges do not want to be the next abortion doctors. Nobody wants to walk around with a target on their back."

When taken to task by other fundamentalist Christians for being a low-rent South American dictator, he replied: "Don't act so self righteous. We're at war for the heart and soul of this nation and its very survival depends on restoring Godly rule to our country. Unless you are willing to get down and dirty, you won't win, and we must win for our childrens' sakes. Ronald Reagan said it best, "When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat.""

Elsewhere on the many mouth-foaming and ranting threads on that site about the Schaivo case, I said this to a reporter (also a graduate of PCC) covering Pinellas Park right now:
"It may interest you to know how these events [you are covering, such as demonstrations and riots and signs saying we deserve for God to shed our blood] are being perceived by the blue states. I have met almost no one who cares whether Terry Schiavo lives or dies. By this I mean your opponents are not angered by the thought of her body continuing to live.
However, we are angered and scared by the conservative protesters, pundits and preachers who we see on the news and on talk shows. We are not disturbed that they want Terry's body to keep on chugging away, but we are disturbed by their reasons and arguments.
There is a lot of talk about the Red States (or as they are now known, the Vegetative States) as an enemy nation like the Islamist theocracies, because of the perfect equivalence of what we hear out of the mouths of the fanatical and gullible mobs that fill their mosques and churches and spill out into their streets."

This is why the feuds among some of my friends are so unimportant and I take no part. Feuding power struggles or cat fights in a science-fiction fan club reveal an amazing lack of perspective about what is worth getting mad over. I want to tell them, "How can you call this person an enemy just because of your personality conflict? Have you listened to the theocrats lately? You don't know what an enemy is."
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
The SF author Orson Scott Card posted an essay to a Mormon website about why Mormonism is incompatible with being openly homosexual.

This may come as a surprise to him, but the argument on which Mr. Card bases his entire essay actually is ethical relativity. Let us take an example. Either raping a woman is wrong because of the suffering of the victim, or it is wrong just because god happened to arbitrarily roll some dice and decree it. Mr. Card is among the type who would say the latter. "Against thee and thee only have I sinned," wrote the Psalmist David addressing god. In other words the suffering of the victim is inconsequential. This is a form of ethical relativism. If wrong is only wrong because of the preferences of a deity, then that preference is arbitrary whim because there is no standard higher than god for a god to judge itself against. If instead, Mr. Card believes that god observes behavior and then conforms his own laws to the evidence based on the suffering of the victims, then he is holding his decisions to an exterior standard and is therefore not god. "Arbitrary" means "held to no exterior standard."

Mr. Card thinks god's will is loving, pure, just and good. This statement can have no meaning in a theistic framework, because what standard is he using to let himself stand as judge and jury over god to say that? Is god's will the standard against which god's will is measured? Then we have said nothing about god's goodness, but only that god's will is god's will. That becomes the arbitrary definition of "good." Then it's only immutable in the sense that it immutably defines morality by its whim from moment to moment. Every time it arbitrarily changes its mind, that change becomes the new definition of morality. If it stays the same forever, so what? It is held to one arbitrary roll of the dice, forever.

The Christian or LDS rules-based moral system cannot accomplish the objectivity which they claim they want from a moral system.

This is because it confuses mere rules with moral truths, and bases morality on a set of rules instead of the other way around. Objective moral truths do not change just because an authority changes a rule-- not even god. If Mr. Card believes they do, then he is a moral relativist, except even worse, because he extends it to a cosmic scale. Only rules are man-made or God-made. Objective morality, on the other hand, cannot be man-made or God-made, it's not made by anybody. 2 + 2 = 4 doesn't need to be decreed by royal fiat. Neither does the fact that unprovoked harm of another person is biased towards you and against them. Theism makes it impossible for moral truths to be objectively real. If there is a god, then, and only then, is morality subjective and relativistic.

However, Mr. Card is right about one thing:

"Those who are not willing or able to obey the rules should honestly admit the fact and withdraw from membership. ...the LDS church, which is founded on the idea that the word of God as revealed through his prophets should determine the behavior of the Saints, is under no obligation to protect some supposed "right" of those members who would like to persuade us that neither God nor the prophets has the authority to regulate them."

I would not stop to urinate on Mr. Card's supposed god and prophets if they were on fire. This is not specifically because I disagree with them on an issue, such as homosexuality, which is just one of many problematic issues with religion. It's because of authoritarianism. Just as we can't learn to do arithmetic by always looking it up on a chart, and refusing to countenance the idea that the chart is wrong -- so too we can't practice ethical reasoning by looking it up in a so-called holy book. Therefore there is nothing so evil in the holy books as the claim that we should unquestioningly get our rules for living from them, rather than from personal reason and observation. The specific errors such as the prohibition on harmless sexual quirks would be easily repaired if it weren't for their Stalinesque attitude toward authority.

Nevertheless, I can't help but agree with Mr. Card that there are no gay Mormons by definition. To claim that his view represents a mere misunderstanding of the book of Mormon, and that the book actually does not prohibit homosexuality, is as absurd as saying that chairman Mao really was a capitalist if you read between the lines, and therefore a capitalist can legitimately claim to be a Maoist.

It's time to draw the line in the sand and step firmly across to the ethical side. The Church of Latter-Day Saints, along with other scripture-following authoritarian religions, have abandoned their responsibilities to individually observe the data of lived experience with a mind to personally weigh the costs and benefits of behaviors.
While I was searching the web for this image:

I found this story of a UNIX developer wearing this on a polo shirt being confronted and kicked out by the God-fearing. Some of my fellow liberal progressives recently denied on LJ that we have a problem with this kind of conservative in America. I've never lived in Texas, but I grew up with the people in this story. I can introduce you to some of them at my parents' church here in town. Decades ago I attended a private Christian grade school in Owosso, Michigan run by religious zealots who were stupid enough to get my classmates in trouble for drawing the solar system. They called the student body together and showed the drawing, asking if it was a sun god and challenging us to get right with the Lord. One lady confiscated a rubber stamp from a cereal box because if you twisted the triangle on top lid so that it was upside-down to the triangle on the bottom lid, you got what she thought was a pentagram. This was wrong on so many levels, that I just have to say "never mind."
I grew up listening to the Focus on the Family radio program, and continued listening several years into adulthood. Both there, and in the church I attended in Warren, Michigan, and at Pensacola Christian College, I was exposed to Christian Supremacism. Phrases like "taking back America for God" or "putting King Jesus back on the throne" were commonplace. This is an interpretation of religious freedom identical to that of Islamic Supremacists. The shared idea of these movements is that since their nations have traditions from one particular religion, "freedom of religion" means that other religions are free to practice in privacy as tolerated guests. In this interpretation, the public sphere is a place on which a majority religion can plant a flag as the sole basis for legitimate authority, as Judge Moore did in Alabama.

Christian Supremacists are not a fringe group. If you think I'm being histrionic, read the headlines:
Faithful say their votes carried the day - San Diego Union Tribune
'Moral values' agenda proves edge - Chicago Tribune
Election reinforces U.S. religious divide - Los Angeles Times
Polls show faith, morality issues drew voters to Bush - Newsday
Conservative social values helped forge Bush re-election - San Jose Mercury News
A victory for 'values,' but whose? - Washington Post

Which would you rather have? A nation under attack by Islamic violence because we hold fast to a principle of separation between church and state? Or would you rather defeat Al Quaeda abroad while succumbing to James Dobson's American Taliban in our laws, because we're too afraid of hurting the feelings of Christians? Which one is, and already has been, a greater threat to the personal first-hand experience of you and me?Read more... )
My non-humanist friends are reacting to the outcome of this election with the same stress, fear, disgust and alienation that I experience all year round. The sad thing is, when I have someone else to feel this way with, I'm actually less lonely than I do when they are calm and conciliatory toward our enemies.

It takes the carnival sideshow of politics to bring it out in them. I wonder how long it will last. Why do people get so much more worked up about the publicized struggles of power brokers in Washington, but will be conciliatory and passive with the attitudes of their loved ones and neighbors that make it possible? Do they think we suddenly started living in a state that was against gay Americans just yesterday when Proposal 2 passed? I gave my time and money to stop it because I knew we were living with our enemies all along. I knew because I spend a lot of time in the trenches, in the thick of memetic warfare. What 60% of Michigan told us in unison yesterday by voting yes on 2, individuals tell me personally. "Hearts and minds" is where it counts, but most would rather confront office-holders than confront their families, neighbors and co-workers.

The re-election of a conquering borderline-theocrat and the passing of Michigan's anti-gay constitutional amendment was a symptom. Faith and obedience toward authority is the disease. My non-religious, non-humanist friends treat church as a pastime of harmless personal enrichment. They coddle the childlike trust shown by their friends and relatives as long as it's about something distant and abstract like gods and goddesses, with the idea that it won't connect to create real-world pain. But that's what faith does. Childlike faith and obedience is a relinquishment of personal judgement, of personal responsibility, of self-respect, of personal gain. Faith is anti-human: "mis- anthropy." When this little private misanthropy called faith is lauded as a virtue by our entire culture, how could it not encourage misanthropy to manifest tangibly? I have seen it happen in anyone from Christian Supremacists to Pagan Ecofascists.

They are not as rare as we think. A woman who lives a few miles from me thinks that we should carpet-bomb a random city anywhere in the Middle East until every man, woman and baby is dead-- and she holds to that position staunchly, because in her words, ethnic cleansing is the way her god treated arabs in her Old Testament. We are surrounded in the churches of this nation with the precise moral equivalent of the woman I once saw on television who said, with cowlike eyes full of vapid peace and tepid joy, that her greatest wish is for her small children to die as suicide bombers for Allah. I have heard comparable things from your neighbors and your doctors and your mailmen. It is even on your radio and your television. But we look the other way, out of a misapplied concept of what religious toleration means. Yes, under our first amendment (a triumph of secularism) we should never restrict misanthropic attitudes through legislation. They have as much right to speak and broadcast as anyone. By all means, leave them alone. But those of us who are pro-human should stop praising misanthropic books such as the bible, the quran and the torah. We don't have to pretend it's really OK if you look somewhere in them, "down deep," scraping the bottom of the barrel to make excuses for these books and their gods, and encourage the use of them for some supposed "true" interpretation.

It's time to choose our friends, our business transactions, and our families based on whether or not they are anti-human misanthropes. At the very least, be so unambiguous and outspoken that those relationships will inevitably cool as a result. Otherwise, one is contributing to a climate that condones authoritarianism. Then one can't complain and react with surprise when supposedly Unquestionable Truths are carried straight into the voting booth.

Please visit Faithless.org.
In my discussions of marriage law (which are frequent) it amazes me to hear gays tell me how conservative they are. You want to hear an irony? Socially, gay-marriage advocates tend to be conservatives who are romanticizing the stone age.Read more... )we should not allow the state to acknowledge ANY relationships with the special designation of "legal marriage," meaning "this relationship is acceptable to the State but that one is not." Instead they should all be "civil unions" in the eyes of the state, and whether or not you're "married" depends entirely on what your church/synagogue/coven says, if any. The state shouldn't even ask about that. In this I include Christian heterosexual weddings and their "gay-inclusive" update.Read more... )

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