Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fundies to Naderize the 2008 elections? Eeen-teresting.

Dismayed by what they see as the likelihood that pro-choice Rudy Giuliani might have the GOP presidential nomination in the bag, this New York Times article hints that such prominent Christian conservative leaders as James Dobson and Tony Perkins might consider running a third party candidate. Which would rock, because while their candidate would never have any appeal on his own to reach beyond the wingnut base whose ideas about being a "values voter" stop at gay marriage and abortion, it might still be enough to split the conservative vote and get the Repugs out of the White House next November. Not that I have huge love for Hillary, but Christ, a dead wombat with a popsicle stick up its ass would be better in the Oval Office than Bush, and despite the fact all the Republican candidates are distancing themselves from him, I doubt that another GOP president would do much to steer our nation away from the course of folly this administration has led us down.

So I say "Bring it!" I can't wait to see exactly who Dobson and Co. think is ideal presidential material. Hey, I heard that madman Alan Keyes has thrown his propeller beanie into the ring! Maybe Dobson ought to look him up.

COTG showcases AE

A Load of Bright is hosting the latest installment of the Carnival of the Godless, and Tobe38 has made my takedown of John Terry the headliner, calling it an "absolute tour de force." I blush humbly. Many thanks to Tobe, and for the rest of you, getcher asses over there for some great godless reading. I'll be busy much of today doing same.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

In which I further abuse the mindless John Terry

The Northwest Arkansas News site has published one good letter to the editor excoriating John Terry for his vituperative anti-atheist rant posted last Saturday. (And to date, none supporting him.) We'll see if Terry has the stones to respond. I suspect that, like most fundie bigot morons, he'll respond to being called out on the carpet by hiding under his pulpit and babbling prayers for protection to his magic sky fairy.

Scanning some earlier op-eds from Terry, it comes as no surprise that the cretin is also a global-warming denier. In a piece posted July 28, which begins, amusingly enough, with, "I am not a scientist. In fact, the science courses I had to take in my general education bloc as an undergraduate were taken under duress.... I just never knew what it was all about," (well, knock me over with a feather!), Terry still feels confident enough to conclude:

...I firmly believe that Almighty God is in charge of the universe, and that He will not let man destroy it.... It is wrong for a man like Al Gore, a pseudo-scientist at best, to fool the world into believing that man is on track to destroy what God made — and he is making millions doing it. It is hoped that he will be understood by thinking people before he begins to destroy our economy.

Well, Gore is understood by thinking people — among whose ranks Terry can only dream of inclusion — and they've decided he's right. As Terry already admits he's a non-scientist who floundered cluelessly through every science course he was forced to take in school, what, other than his 2000-year old book of bedtime stories, does he imagine qualifies him to judge anyone as a "pseudo-scientist"? In point of fact, scientific consensus is firmly behind the facts Gore revealed in his film. So, given that the linked report was in all likelihood put together by people who, unlike Terry, did not stumble like a musk ox with Downs Syndrome through their science educations, allow me then to access my inner Bill O'Reilly and entreat him to shut up.

(And as for Terry's remark about the economy, it only stands to reason a fundamentalist would care more abut money than the planet, eh?)

Update — 9/30, 10:45 pm CST: Two more good anti-Terry letters, none yet supporting him.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Want to hear some good news for a change!?

Via Debunking Christianity, I read of the latest poll by Christian research organization The Barna Group, which shows that American youth in the 16-29 age bracket currently have the lowest opinion of Christianity than that group has ever had in previous generations.

The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.

Rock on! Now we just need to get those kids their copies of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and George H. Smith. Can it get any better? It can.

One of the groups hit hardest by the criticism is evangelicals. Such believers have always been viewed with skepticism in the broader culture. However, those negative views are crystallizing and intensifying among young non-Christians. The new study shows that only 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals.... 91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that "Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity." Among senior pastors, half contend that "ministry is more difficult than ever before because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity."

I guess that, to a well-educated and intellectually curious young population, ancient superstitions that express hostility to science and promote hatred of "undesirables" like gays, and back their demands for compliance up with threats of eternal hellfire, just aren't especially attractive or appealing ideas to embrace. So the next time you feel depressed that such cretinous examples of institutionalized idiocy like the Creation "Museum" seem to be making far more headway than they deserve, we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that young people do appear to be thinking skeptics after all. Now they just need to be encouraged to maintain that healthy freethought, before religion gets its hooks of emotional manipulation and fearmongering into them.

Classic God-Man Comics!

I'm a big fan of Ruben Bolling's comic, Tom the Dancing Bug. Periodically he'll do an episode of "God-Man," in which The Almighty is portrayed as a comic book hero. This one was an especially good shot. (Click on the image for the original location; you may have to view a short ad first.)

David Vitter and his white-supremacist creationist chums

I'm sure some of you remember David Vitter, the Louisiana "family values" senator who was caught whoremongering. You might have also heard that he is attempting a desperate act of image rehabilitation by giving $100,000 to a creationist organization called the "Louisiana Family Forum". (Isn't it offensive the way conservative Christians keep wanting to turn the word "family" into a synonym for "stupid," "superstitious," "reactionary," and "uneducated"?) This organization will presumably use the money in what will be Failed Attempt #72,408 to get creationist twaddle taught in biology classrooms alongside actual biology.

Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars reveals some interesting facts about the "Louisiana Family Forum." It is run by one Tony Perkins, who also heads up the "Family Research Council," affiliated with James Dobson's "Focus on the Family." Both the "Family Research Council" and "Focus on the Family" have promoted the anti-gay "research" of one Paul Cameron, a raving homophobe who heads up the Colorado-based "Family Research Institute," which has been formally identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

More links between Vetter, the creationist idiocy he espouses when he isn't soliciting, and radical right-wing Christian hate comes to light when we find that Perkins paid KKK wackjob David Duke over $80,000 for his mailing list for the "Family Research Council"'s use!

But...but...but...haven't all of these Christians been trying to tell people that "Darwinism" is what makes you a racist?

Gee, guess not.

This isn't just the pot calling the kettle black. It's the pot calling the kettle a pot.

Religion. Creationism. Racism. Homophobia. Ignorance. Hate. Fear. What an impressive list of "family values" and "morals" Christians are offering trailer-trash America! Gawrsh, where do I sign up?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Time reveals Billy Graham's true self

This is brilliant. Hat tip to Shell over at Words, Words, Words for this one. Here's a recent Time cover featuring still-not-dead-yet evangelical superstar Billy Graham. Notice anything revealing?

Let me adjust the picture a little bit...ah, there we are.

You know, I always suspected something...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why do atheists speak out? This is why.

The post-Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens backlash continues as more petulant Christians come out of the woodwork with their increasingly desperate smears of the character of atheists. Here's a typically asinine screed from some Christian prat writing for some news site in Arkansas. It was so full of perfect bilge that I felt compelled to take off the gloves and haul this little turd out to the woodshed, which I did in the following letter to the editor. It's too long for them to print, surely. My hope is it will be so deliciously ranty that whoever it is on their editorial staff who reads these won't be able to resist forwarding it to the writer, one John Terry. In any case, once your stomach has recovered from reading his twaddle, enjoy my bitchslap which follows.

Having just read John Terry's ignorant and reactionary screed against atheists posted to your website on 9/22, this atheist felt he simply had to respond. I have often pitied people who hold the kinds of blinkered and philistine views Mr. Terry holds. But I am not the sort of person to let his calumnies go unanswered. Hopefully he will find this letter educative and instructive, though I doubt it. The fundamentalist mind is nothing if not hidebound. It is, however, precisely the kinds of views Terry expresses in his editorial that have prompted long-silent atheists to feel motivated to speak out and say "Enough is enough!"

Terry first begins by deriding atheism as a belief in "nothing." Right from the start, in doing so he ensures his entire editorial will be based on false premises and baseless preconceptions of atheists rooted in ignorant stereotypes. Terry, blind to anything but his own indoctrination, asks, "If no God exists, what is there to get passionate about?" Golly about a little thing called real life? Perhaps Terry ought to get off his knees and up on his feet. He'll be able to see reality a lot more clearly from up there.

Atheism is simply the rejection of the belief in deities. The alternative to believing in invisible sky gods is not "nothing," it is everything. It is an appreciation of the beauty and wonder of the natural world as revealed to us by science and reason. As Mr. Terry's religious indoctrination sadly seems to have blinded him to these beauties, one can pity him. But he shouldn't be so arrogant as to assume that those who do not believe in his superstition of choice are de facto nihilistic. As I and other atheists of my acquaintance have discovered, once one emancipates oneself from the shackles of religious dogma, whole new vistas of intellectual wonder open up to you. You are free to question and explore and learn, but most important is what you are freed from: irrational fears.

Terry does say one thing partially right, when he mentions, "Contrary to the apparent belief of atheists, their nonbelief is not a danger to Christianity, nor to individual Christians. Nor does it change the existence of God."

Actually, I don't know of any atheists who consider atheism a "danger" to Christianity, though all atheists do recognize the danger religion poses to rationalism, independence, education, human rights, and peace. Sadly, we understand all too well the degree to which Christianity's dogmas and delusions have become woven into the very fabric of modern culture, and that it will take nothing short of another Enlightenment to turn us away from our present slide into a new Dark Age. Terry is also right in that atheism does not change the existence of God. It simply acknowledges that Terry's God's existence is no more plausible than the existence of Zeus, Thor, Shiva, Amun-Re, or Cthulhu. If Terry wishes me to renounce my atheism and join him in being what he gushingly calls "a child of God," then he ought to offer rational arguments and evidence for this being's existence, rather than spewing supercilious invective and facile emotional appeals. Maybe the fool does say in his heart there is no God....but the wise man says it out loud.

Terry is so ignorant and myopic on the subject of atheism that he offers up examples of perceived problems atheism poses which are simply risible.

First, he seems to think there is something bad about an atheist being left with "no wisdom but his own (except the wisdom of men) and no hope of a life beyond this one." That Terry and believers like him so fear death that they must cling to such a hope is, I suppose, understandable. But part of the process of reaching emotional and intellectual maturity is understanding that life is a finite experience, and that finitude is precisely what makes life precious. It is important to remember here that Terry's entire life has been informed by his indoctrination into one particular set of religious superstitions that enforces its authority over its followers through fear and guilt. Thus it is difficult, if not entirely impossible, for him to comprehend that there are millions of rational nonbelievers in the world who simply aren't wracked by the same existential fears that plague him. In any case, for the atheist, the "problems" Terry thinks we face aren't problems of any kind.

As for relying on the wisdom of men: well, without any proof of a God's existence, why should I rely on anything else? By relying on their own intellect and reasoning, atheists possess the capacity to learn from mistakes, to adapt to new circumstances and be receptive to new knowledge and discoveries. This would seem to me to be a better way to live one's life than to adopt the strident dogmas of a religious belief founded only on wishful thinking and "faith" (a process which seems to be all about the glorification of one's ignorance), buttressed by fear.

If, as Terry implies, it is the God of the Bible whose "wisdom" I should prefer, I confess to being puzzled by the idea that I should consider a being who consigns anyone who does not worship him to his satisfaction to an eternity of agonizing torment as "wise," when my own, pitifully inadequate notions of human wisdom tell me that a being like that is by definition a horrendously wicked and evil tyrant. Any God who refuses to make his existence unambiguously clear, and then is willing to consign individuals to eternal torture simply for doubting his existence, can only be unutterably evil, and the fact that Christians think that such a God is a paragon of all that is good is a view that quite simply perverts any meaning the notion of "goodness" could possibly have. For a Christian to hold such a view and still think he is "better off than the atheist" reveals the intellectually and morally corrupting force of Christian "faith" more powerfully than any atheist critique ever could.

Second, Terry laughably asserts that "the atheist may be able to persuade others (I knew of one situation like this where an older man concentrated on young people) that his unbelief is really true. This might consign those he persuaded to the same fate that is in store for him." What fate is this, I wonder? The Christian "hell," a concept that — as I have explained in detail above — could only be the creation of a morally bankrupt and evil belief system that seeks to ensure compliance through terror and intimidation because it lacks actual facts to support it? If this is what Terry means, then color me unimpressed. Threatening atheists with punishments that do not exist does not, to put it mildly, carry a lot of weight, and if anything, simply confirms what we already know to be religion's most egregious moral failings. To stifle free inquiry and a person's curiosity and sense of discovery by telling them that rejection of the received dogmas is punishable by damnation is perhaps Christianity's most loathsome crime against humanity. However, if, as Terry asserts, I can persuade someone that nonbelief is the way to go, then I can only be happy that I've done my part, however small, in helping someone liberate themselves from superstition's crippling shackles.

Finally, Terry makes an assertion that is simply dispicable. He implies that, lacking belief in God somehow means atheists all somehow think they are their own gods, and thus "without restraint, he may become a pedophile, a murderer, a thief, or any other kind of a deviant you can think of. Or he might just become one who lives inward, with no concern for the people or things around him. There are tragic examples of such people."

How dare you, sir?

MAY I remind you that the most recent pedophilia scandal to shock the world was not perpetrated by atheists, but by the Catholic Church? MAY I remind you that the people who crashed airplanes into buildings were not atheists, but fanatical Moslems? MAY I remind you that virtually all racist hate groups operating in the United States today are religious in focus, from the KKK all the way down to such groups as the "World Church of the Creator"? As for atheists as people turning "inward, with no concern for the people or things around him," who are these people? Who are the "tragic examples" that you claim to have heard of? Since, by your own admission, you say you have only known "no more than two dozen" atheists, how can you possibly feel justified in smearing the character of hundreds of millions of atheists worldwide, in particular smearing them by accusing them of the very crimes that have famously been committed in recent years by the religious?

I'll tell you how you can feel justified in doing it. Your beliefs are misanthropic and divisive. Religion enables hate by convincing one group of people that, because they are the devoted followers of such-and-such an invisible sky fairy, that all non-followers of said being are by definition evil, and must be viewed with suspicion, dread and loathing. The nonstop invective against atheists you spew in your article is a testament to such brainwashing. You don't know any atheists, you say (except for a small handful against whose disbelief you lamely shield yourself by flattering yourself that they're really believers who just won't admit it), but somehow you know we're all "deviants". Gee, thanks very much. That must be some of that "Christian love" I keep hearing about.

Terry's pomposity and arrogance know no bounds. He stupidly asserts that "unless the avowed atheist is prepared to account for the universe, for man in all of his complexities, and life in general, he certainly is not prepared to declare that 'there is no God,'" while completely overlooking the fact that he is in no position to declare that there is a God unless he is able to account for that God...and account for it with hard, independently verifiable and testable evidence, not just a string of Bible quotes. Remember, just because there are certain questions that science has yet to answer does not mean the religionist is justified in slapping down "Goddidit" as the all-purpose default "explanation". An explanation that has no explanatory power is no explanation at all.

Terry here is simply committing the common logical fallacy of "shifting the burden of proof." Despite what he thinks, it is not my responsibility to demonstrate to him that his deity of choice does not exist. It is his responsibility to demonstrate to me that it does. If he fails to do so, I will continue to refrain from believing in this being, just as I refrain from believing in Zeus, Thor, Set, et al.

Remember, the only claim atheism makes is that we do not believe in a God. Every time a believer asserts there is a God, and fails to meet his burden of proof, the atheist successfully meets his. In point of fact, science actually does offer a great deal of what Terry says atheists must offer as explanations — though I suspect that, as a religious fundamentalist, Terry reflexively rejects most modern science. Still, there is much left to learn, and the joy of learning, much less the freedom to learn, is one of the greatest benefits from living the rational, secular life, away from the simple-minded catch-all non-answers of religious dogma.

One difference I can say with confidence I have observed between atheists who are scientifically-minded and religious fundamentalists is that the atheists almost always have a passion for knowledge and a profound degree of dedication to understanding the truth about the world as the discoveries of science can reveal it, while the more religious a person is, the less intellectual curiosity about the world they generally have, smugly satisfied that their ancient holy book has it all figured out for them.

This is painfully evident all throughout Terry's editorial. Nowhere in the piece does Terry give atheists any indication that being as devout a Christian as he is does anything to satisfy intellectual curiosity and provide a fulfilling understanding of life and the world we live in. However, Terry's editorial does show a surfeit of smarmy, egoistic preening. Terry's Christianity may not tell him anything meaningful about the real world, but it allows him to puff himself up and declare himself a superior breed of human to all of those "deviant" atheists, and that's all he requires from it. Thanks, but I'd rather be a proud adherent to rational, secular philosophies that encourage my intellectual growth, than to a shallow superstition that acts as a band-aid to my insecurity by letting me say "Nyah nyah, I'm better than you."

As for Christians being the only people who help others, well, this is simply more snide self-flattery on Terry's part. He does not know me, but if he did, he would know of all of the charitable work I have done in my life (in terms of both money and personal time donated), how I have gone out of my way to be supportive of my friends and a good and productive member of my community. The atheist organization to which I've belonged for years does regular charitable works, inculding highway cleanup and participating in blood drives.

As Terry clearly does not wish to be disabused of his anti-atheist bigotry, then if he did know about atheists doing those things, he would probably make up some twaddle about how this shows we're all really godly people at heart, or something. I have news for Terry. A truly moral and philanthropic person does not engage in charity and acts of helpful human kindness simply because one hopes for a bright, shiny reward from one's sky-father. One does so because virtue is its own reward. The smile on someone's face I see when I have helped them at a time they could not help themselves is all the reward I need. And it is so much more meaningful than the reward Terry imagines his God will bestow upon him in some dreamed-of afterlife. Because, unlike the promises of Christianity, a person's smile is real.

I feel highly confident that I am not "misguided in my thinking" to hold these views, any more than I am "misguided" not to believe in invisible sky gods. If Terry still thinks I am misguided, then he is welcome to persuade me. However, on the slim chance he reads this, I must advise him that the way to persuade me will be through strong arguments which apply rigorous standards of evidence, and not pitiful, self-aggrandizing cheap shots and empty rhetoric that do little to prove Terry's points to the thinking skeptic, though they certainly seem to do much to shore up Terry's ego. I can imagine, what with all of us "deviant" atheists finally willing to come out and stand up to the ignorance and sanctimonious posturing of the religious, Terry's ego needs a lot of shoring.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Man, if Kathy Griffin got them riled up...

...wait till Bill Donahue gets a load of this. This TV ad has been making the blogosphere rounds. It's for a Belgian cable TV network, and depicts Jesus as a club-hoppin' party boy who uses his magic powers to score with the hotties. It's already gotten bishops in that country a little hot under their collars. Cue obligatory Monty Python reference: Maybe we'd better call in the Church Police! "The! Church! Police!"

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jesus keeps suckin' it

The flap last week over Kathy Griffin's hilarious Emmy acceptance speech is the gift that keeps on giving, it would seem. The latest salvo is the website (damn, I wish I'd thought of this!), where Griffin supporters can sign an online petition — not that there's any point to those, but it's a show of support all the same — and get a kick out of blathering, pissy Christian e-mails, like this little gem:

You are so filled with hate. You should be arrested for a hate crime. I hope one day you will see your irrational hatred and turn from your hate filled life and accept the love of Jesus Christ.

And what thoughtful, loving Christian citizen offered that delightful homily? None other than Rev. Donald Spitz of the Army of God, that cell of anti-abortion terrorist lunatics who hail executed murderer Paul Hill as an "American hero." In the deranged world of Spitz, people who make silly jokes about Jesus and put up snarky web sites are "hate filled" people who ought to be jailed, while good Christians who blow away people in their homes with rifles are heroes. Welcome to religion. It's such a good thing for people, isn't it?

Leave it to the microcephalics in the fundamentalist community to miss Griffin's point entirely. I'd think any Christian who was strong in their faith would be more offended at the way pretentious, self-absorbed celebutards think that everything God does is All About Them, and that He places special priority in making sure that little chintzy statuettes are given to them on special occasions to further puff up their already inflated egos. If I were a believer and serious about it, I'd be disgusted at such a trivialization of the role of my God. Then again, adding "Suck it, Jesus!" to the end of that might lose me, after all. But if I were dumb enough to believe in the first place, such a wake-up call would be for my own good, as resentful as I might be about it. Drug addicts and alcoholics resent being told they have a problem. It's no surprise that those deluded by the fantasies of religion would be similarly offended.

In honor of free speech, and to show just how much respect I have for homicide-enablers like Donald Spitz and their cherished beliefs, I offer this:


And, since the whiner brigade doesn't think we have the cojones for this one...


There. Equal time. Satisfied?

Yes, I know, it's been quiet around here lately

It's not as if there hasn't been anything going on worth blogging about. (There's been quite a bit, actually.) But my schedule has just been too work-intensive for me to get into the zone here, as it were. Anyway, I have quite a few blog topics chewing at the inside of my skull trying to get out. So I imagine throughout the next week I'll post a good number of new entries to take up some of the slack.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Follow-up on game theory topic

If you enjoyed yesterday's show on game theory and want to know more, I have a few items to recommend.

As I mentioned on the show, the movie A Beautiful Mind stars Russell Crowe as John Nash, a mathematician who won the Nobel Prize for his contributions to the field of game theory. The movie itself only superficially covers Nash's ideas, but it might be more interesting to watch once you understand what he was working on.

William Poundstone's book, Prisoner's Dilemma, alternates between in-depth discussions of game theory, and a biography of mathematician John von Neumann. Although I didn't get to explain this point on the show, game theory was developed partly as a way of discussing global politics in the face of potential nuclear war. This book focuses largely on that application.

I first encountered the prisoner's dilemma years ago while reading Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter. The book is a collection of Scientific American columns and does not focus primarily on game theory. However, Hofstadter is a brilliant and wildly entertaining author who makes technical subjects very accessible. The chapters on game theory, which occur toward the end of the book, are introduced with a very interesting fictional story about a small town which is threatened by a demon who has a bizarre fetish for receiving postcards. Sending large numbers of postcards is the only way to protect the town from eventual destruction. Instead of a flurry of writing, the townspeople wind up making a lot of excuses for their apathy. You can read an excerpt of this story here at Google Books.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Football fan shows rival a little Christian love

If there's anything I think is nearly as asinine as religion, it's sports fanaticism. What exactly is interesting about watching a bunch of guys throwing a ball around a field and nearly paralyzing each other for life over it escapes me completely. Still, hey, to each his own. But when one's devotion to this senseless bit of time-wastage leads to violent psychosis, I think it's time to question these fans' sanity itself.

Seems a dude wearing a Texas T-shirt walked into an Oklahoma bar. The University of Texas and University of Oklahoma have been bitter football rivals since forever, and apparently this matters to some people. Anyway, this Oklahoma fan didn't take too kindly to the offending T-shirt, and grabbed the dude by the gonads with such force he nearly castrated him.


Well, clearly, with such antisocial, violent tendencies, as least we can rest assured the attacker wasn't a Christian, right? I mean, we all know they have the morals thing down and all us wicked nonbelievers don't. So to perpetrate such an immoral (not to mention plain weird) deed, this man must have been some uncontrollable godless atheist who just didn't see any reason not to hurt anyone if there's not a God around to punish him for it. I mean, that's how they tell us it works, right?

Oh, hang on, wait a sec...

Allan Michael Beckett, a 53-year-old church deacon, federal auditor and former Army combat veteran, has pleaded not guilty.

Gawrsh. Now I'm confused. I'm sure some apologist will come along any second now and clear all this up for me...

Ah, that's better! The guy was just drunk, and he's not a True Christian™ anyway.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Hottest. Atheist. Ever.

She won't answer questions about her sexual preferences, but too-cool-for-the-room actress Jodie Foster doesn't hesitate a nanosecond to use the A-word in her latest interview. Though she admits she "loves religions and their rituals," being an atheist is nothing she needs to hide. Part of the fearlessness that's made her such a great performer, I'd say. (And smart enough to choose not to do Hannibal. Blech.)

PS: I do confess to a bit of gender bias in the headline, so I leave it up to Traci and our female (or gay male, for that matter) readers to choose the male H.A.E. I won last year so I'm out of the running, sorry.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Big ol' godless rally this weekend in Austin

And it's typical that I won't be in town to partake. Ah well. For the rest of you, American Atheists is sponsoring a Church-State Separation Rally to be held on the south steps of the state capitol building in downtown Austin, this Saturday, September 8, from noon till 3. Here's the salient info from the press release, with thanks to Joe Zamecki for being the driving force behind this.

The 2007 Texas State-Church Separation Rally will take place this coming Saturday, Sept. 8, 2007 on the South steps of the State Capitol building in Austin, TX.

Joe Zamecki, Texas State Director for American Atheists, said that the event is being held to build awareness of the First Amendment separation between government and religion, and the civil rights of non-religious people. Mr. Zamecki added that the Rally is also to show support for David Wallace Croft and his family of Carrollton, TX, who have recently challenged the recitation of the state "pledge" and a requirement that students be required to observe a "moment of silence" in public school classrooms.

"These are the sorts of state laws and practices that are all too common in Texas, and undermine our freedom from religion," said Mr. Zamecki.

"Our state legislature and Attorney General need to understand that not all Texans are fundamentalist Christians, and that freedom of conscience is important to everyone," Zamecki added. "Our state government needs to realize that we are a diverse citizenry, and should stop pushing religion on the citizens."

The State-Church Separation Rally will include speakers representing a number of Atheist, Freethought, Secular Humanist and pro-separation groups. They include Nicholas Paschall of University of Texas SA Secular Student Alliance; Meghan Regis, Atheist Agenda; Dick Hogan, American Atheists; Derek Jones,; Texas civil rights activist Marsha Corriera, and others. Mr. Dean Croft will also speak, and there will be a voter registration table.

Sadly, we Texans live in such a religion-addicted state — our tool of a Christian Right governor just appointed a pig-ignorant creationist stooge to head up the State Board of Education, fer cripes sake — that I fear we may be subject to a lot of shove-it-down-your-throat religious legislation, slickly marketed to seem pro-diversity and pro-tolerance, for some time to come. But with the increased public profile of atheism in general these days, at least rallies like these help get the message across that not every patriotic citizen thinks one should have to acknowledge sky-gods as par for the course. Also, fearful and closeted unbelievers are sometimes prompted to come out from hiding once they realize they're not as alone as they thought.

Surely one of my fine team members here will attend and post a report with photos. (Sorry...did I break anyone's toes when I dropped that hint? Heh heh...)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Show #516 on Sunday, September 2, was a response to two items of viewer mail that the TV list received. Jeremy wrote initially to say he is a “religious atheist,” which he described as adhering to a secularized Taoism (pronounced Daoism). Within one week’s time another piece of mail came through addressing the issue of “where do atheists get meaning” in life?

In addition to these two letters, we have received numerous contacts from people asking “Why do you only always focus on Christianity?” Although Matt has addressed this in the past, I felt that a show exploring secular Taoism might be relevant on multiple fronts, and so chose that as the topic for #516.

The form of Taoism that is most prevalent, and with which most of us are familiar, is attributed to Lao Tzu. Lao Tzu may or may not have ever actually lived. But the text he is said to have written goes back about 2,500 years. The name “Lao Tzu” actually means “Old Man,” and it is doubtful that anyone named Lao Tzu authored the major Taoist work, Tao te Ching.

The Tao te Ching is a small collection of poetic Chinese sayings meant to describe the Tao and its operation. The title means literally, “The Book (Ching) of the application of (te) The Way (Tao).” And Tao, literally, means “The Way.” If you read the book, you will not find any list of “dos” and “don’ts.” There are no laws to memorize, and no condemnation or threats. The passages all sound something like this (#43):

The softest thing in the universeOvercomes the hardest thing in the universe.That without substance can enter where there is no room.Hence I know the value of non-action.

“Tao” does not mean “The Way” in the sense that we think of it in Christian models. It isn’t a way to achieve salvation. In fact, Taoists don’t believe in salvation. They wouldn’t understand what they need to be saved from—because they don’t interpret life, death or the natural world to be particularly problematic or flawed. They consider it to be simply, “the way” it is. In fact, “the way” it is, is what “The Way” (Tao) normally seems to represent. A reed is flexible—that is “The Way” (or Tao) of the reed.

Because the verses are so amorphous and malleable, they are interpreted in a number of ways by different people. However, this is not considered a problem for the Taoist—who believes that following his own Tao will quite naturally differ greatly from someone else following hers. It does not represent a single path for all of mankind—but a way of looking at life that will help each individual find the path that is right for him or her. It isn’t a mode of enlightenment or special knowledge. It is an affirmation that if one is willing to examine his/her life and motives, he/she can come to an understanding of what direction is best for himself.

Taoism prefers accommodation, flexibility, and seemless integration. The example I used on the program was one of Green Architecture. To build my house on a landscape means to impose myself upon that landscape. A Taoist would do his/her best to utilize the landscape in the most efficient way to support the house, while at the same time taking the environment into consideration as he/she plans his/her house.

Taoism is not concerned with universal origins and makes no claims about how the cosmos were constructed or when they began. Taoism only notes that the cosmos exist and appear to operate under observable laws, which are best used to one’s advantage rather than resisted. A counterweight would be an excellent example. When one has to lift a heavy object, one must oppose the natural force of gravity; but by applying a counterweight, we can actually use gravity to work for us, rather than struggling against it. With a counterweight, gravity can “lift” a heavy object for us.

Duality is another factor in Taoism. We understand that concepts like good necessarily indicate “not good” (or “evil” if you prefer to call it that). But duality goes beyond opposites. In Taoism, it is not so much a statement of X and -X, as it is X and nonX. In other words, there is no “opposite” to Tracie. But there is much that is “not Tracie.” So, the universe is divided, in the Taoist view, by what is Tracie and what is “not Tracie.” Likewise, the universe divides, dualistically, in any number of similar ways with regard to any “thing” you care to define.

I wrapped the show describing some personal views about Taoism from professed Taoists. And I would encourage anyone interested in this topic to get as many personal views as possible, to get an idea of how flexible this philosophy actually is. One can only really speak generally of it, as even the Tao te Ching not only fails to—but outright refuses to—define what Taoism is. According to the book, it is “nameless”—personally discerned—and cannot be accurately defined or described. Some have made the leap to call it “god.” But there is no direct indication that Lao Tzu was describing anything other than natural forces and pragmatic observations.

For further reading, I would actually recommend obtaining a copy of the Tao te Ching—perhaps at a local library (for free). The book is brief and, if you like poetry, actually somewhat relaxing to read. An annotated version with some historic reference would be preferable to a cold read if you are entirely unfamiliar with Eastern philosophy or have never read any similar texts. As timeless as it may seem to me, I have to admit that with any text, context is also important with the Tao te Ching.

D. James Kennedy surprised to remain underground

Megachurch pastor and smarmy radio creationist D. James Kennedy died today at the ripe old age of 76.

Wait, wasn't D. James Kennedy in jail? No wait, that was Kent Hovind. Um, so is he the guy with the gay prostitute meth scandal? No, that was that Haggard guy. Let me see, Kennedy, Kennedy. Why does that ring a bell?

Oh yes, now I remember! D. James Kennedy is the one who helped Roy Moore move his giant two-and-a-half ton granite monument of the ten commandments into the courthouse in the middle of the night. Then he took video of the whole incident and sold copies in order to help pay for Moore's legal defense.

Well anyway, I guess that's one less con man to keep track of.