Category Archives: Religion
During the Spanish Inquisition, Catholics would find Jews by looking to see who ate pork. They’d offer pork to people they suspected of being Jewish, and if they refused to eat it, they were arrested. Because in the 1400s the only real Spaniard was a Catholic Spaniard. There was a holy war aimed at getting rid of the unwanted.
There was a holy war in the United States, too, in the 1950s. There was a man named Joe McCarthy and he waged a holy war against the atheists. “Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity,” Joe McCarthy, 1950.
At the start, let me make clear that in my opinion no special credit is due those of us who are making an all-out fight against this Godless force-a force which seeks to destroy all the honesty and decency that every Protestant, Jew and Catholic has been taught at his mother’s knee. It is a task for which we can claim no special credit for doing. It is one which we are obligated to perform. It is one of the tasks for which we were brought into this world-for which we were born. If we fail to use all the powers of mind and body which God gave us, then I am sure our mothers, wherever they are tonight, may well sorrow for the day of our birth…
Government officials were put on trial, torn apart for anything that seemed vaguely related to atheism, communism, homosexuality, or not quite being patriotic enough. Many lost their careers and were unable to find work, some were wrongfully imprisoned on laws that were later overturned as unconstitutional — often on the basis of incredibly flimsy evidence and accusations from people with personal motives.
Perhaps you remember HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, which created lists of people who weren’t considered American enough — American in this case meaning Christian Non-Commies. Over 300 artists were boycotted by Hollywood after being put on HUAC’s blacklist and only 10% of them were able to rebuild careers. HUAC did local witch-hunts to ferret out people they didn’t like, making sure communities could shun them as Un-American. Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible”, about the Salem Witch Trials, was inspired by the way HUAC treated people. It was truly a witch-hunt and the offenders were Godless.
It is thanks to McCarthyism and HUAC that the phrase “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and the phrase “In God We Trust” was adopted as the national motto in 1956, over the previous, all-inclusive motto “E Pluribus Unum” — Out of Many, One. Before the 1950s, the national motto said that the nation was stronger thanks to the many different kinds of people who made up the country; after the 1950s, the national motto said that the nation was stronger because of a Christian God.
To be clear, God was added to the Pledge and as a motto in the 1950s not because of a strong devotion to religion but out of a desire to find and punish atheists.
The House has just overwhelmingly reaffirmed the phrase “In God We Trust” as the national motto. A completely unnecessary move as George W. Bush signed a law in 2002 reaffirming it as the national motto, along with reaffirming “under God” in the pledge. Congress reaffirmed it as the national motto 5 years ago. 2 years ago, the phrase was added to the Capitol visitor center. And this ridiculous vote in the middle of economic crisis that Congress has repeatedly failed to address effectively? OK, so Congress likes God, now can they please get around to liking their constituents?
What drives me crazy is the refusal of the American people and the political establishment to recognize that the so-called tradition of God as part of these things only dates back to the 50s. Everyone seems to think that they were established at the beginning of the country, not as part of a witch-hunt. And they additionally refuse to recognize that not only is it conflating church and state, it is also endorsing the behavior of McCarthy and HUAC. SCOTUS on this issue:
It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency ‘In God We Trust’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise. – Aronow v. United States, 1970
It has everything to do with establishing atheists as a second-class group of citizens and tacitly endorsing McCarthy’s persecution of those he called “Godless”. If the government is not embarrassed by the blatant disregard of the Establishment Clause, it could at least show the good sense to be embarrassed by Joseph McCarthy.
There’s been some major hullaballoo over Bay Minette, Alabama’s decision to allow offenders to either go to prison or, since there’s so much crowding, to instead go to a year of weekly Sunday Church Services. This is, of course, deserving of an outcry, but it’s not really that different from what the justice system has been doing for a long time.
Many states require people to attend AA, which is a religious organization, and will not allow secular versions to be used. There was a prison in South Carolina that wouldn’t let prisoners have any book except for the Bible. When your choice is extreme pain or being forced to have religion shoved down your throat, it’s not really a choice at all. It is basically extortion — you go to church OR ELSE.
This is clearly a grotesque violation of separation of church and state, but it’s also just really dumb. If you don’t have the room for them in prison, why not come up with something actually useful that they could do — like community service or getting counseling or education. Or let’s just stop putting people in jail for non-violent or victimless crimes. Does someone seriously believe that sitting in church makes someone a better person, regardless of the beliefs of the person involved?
I guess churches are so dwindling in membership that any new face is a good face.
What a crazy weekend that was. So crazy that I’m writing about it what, on Thursday? Yeah, I was tweeting, hello, busy! In fact, nothing I’m going to say here wasn’t said with worse grammar and lack of access to spell check earlier.
I landed at Ronald Reagan airport (DCA) and took a cab to the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, which has a view of the Capital, assuming you can stand in exactly the right place and lean as far to your left as possible. My cab driver asked me what I was doing in town, and I was a little hesitant to say “CONQUERING THE WORLD WITH ATHEISM” because cab drivers have the power to not drive you anymore, and that would be unfun. So I started in easy, and then discovered that my self-proclaimed religious cabbie was totally on board with secular values and gay rights! Huzzah!
I hadn’t eaten yet, and the conference started at 1:00, which was exactly when I arrived. In the elevator I met Liz Gaston and Omar Rashid, who would become my companions over the course of the event. Because they were also awesome.
The event opened with Sean Faircloth, Woody Kaplan and Amanda Knief taking the podium in turns. I learned a lot of stats that I will now list for you, because you’re apparently reading this:
- Avg # of Staffers per House/Senate member: 18, split between home and DC
- Percent of staffer time spent with constituents: 75%
- Percent of staffers who think constituent visits are VERY persuasive: 97%
We broke down into groups after being given a rather lengthy guide to
sales lobbying for people who don’t know anything about sales lobbying. Being from SC, I got to work with Herb Silverman, who invented the SCA, and Sharon.
The issues we were planning on discussing the following day were the need for Humanist Military Chaplains and HR 1179 2011, a bill which allows medical service providers refuse to provide service if their religion demands it. The first is an easier sell, because everyone likes to help the military, the second is one that requires reframing the debate.
The reason we need Humanist Military Chaplains is not necessarily intuitive for people on the edges of the debate: who needs an atheist chaplain? Well, if the army is going to institutionalize having counselors on the ground and then NOT train them in how to deal with the 20%+ of armed service members with no religious preference, then that’s a problem. Humanism is a life philosophy and not actually synonymous with atheist, there’s just a large overlap. There aren’t any, despite the fact that there are people graduated from places like Harvard with divinity degrees focusing on Humanism.
HR 1179 2011 is more of an issue of patients rights. Doctors, Insurance, Nurses, Pharmacists, Hospitals and so on can not only refuse care that they don’t approve of, they can not tell you that they won’t do those services and not inform you that such services exist. This includes obvious things like abortions and birth control, but also things like living wills and DNRs. A Catholic Hospital can say it offers comprehensive female care and then not tell you most of what’s involved with comprehensive care.
I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re a Scientologist, you don’t become a Psychiatrist; if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, you don’t become a Doctor; and if you’re someone with a political agenda that puts church in front of saving lives, you stay the hell away from medicine. But what do I know?
Sorry, shaking it off. I got to walk around DC, I wanted to see if maybe I could get into SCOTUS, but I couldn’t. Omar took this very cool picture of me at the Supreme Court. And then it was time for dinner.
Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has been my Facebook friend for a long time, but whose books I’ve never read and who I’ve never hung out with as such but is now my new favorite person, gave a speech at the dinner. She is a proponent of Poetic Atheism, which is like Atheism, but it rhymes. I’ll give you some quotes, grossly paraphrased:
When you know your history, you are powerful. More people in the history of humanity have not believed in God than have. (Atheism began around 600BC)
If I enjoy every day of my life I don’t worry so much about death. I mean, we barely use the life we’ve got — I dunno about you but I walk back and forth between the fridge and the computer a lot, what, I need a thousand years of it?
We were the first country founded as a secular rationalist country but we were also the first country to give the uneducated poor the vote. They worried that the uneducated poor would elect a poor man who would redistribute all the wealth. The uneducated poor won’t vote in a poor man, they’ll elect a stupid rich man. This is why we need free mandatory secular education!
Nothing in science fiction, in religion, in myths is as weird as this: (points to her head) the meat thinks. Nothing is as weird as love.
George Hrab, who is Spider Jerusalem, then performed some of his atheisty songs.
George Hrab is of the belief that James Randi is a garden gnome. This is undeniable.
My favorite zinger was aimed at Hitchens, when Hrab was talking about an event that Hitchens was going to be at but then wasn’t actually there.
Christopher Hitchens was supposed to be there, but I guess he had to go to a scotch festival… But at least that worked out for him.
OH SNAP! Basically what I’m saying is that George Hrab was pretty good, but he talked about his balls a lot.
After Hrab, Sean led trivia. I had talked a rather big game before the conference, so there was some pressure to win. Which I did quite handily, thank you very much. With the help of Omar for “Mumford and Sons” when all I could remember was “Little Lion Man”. We won an extra drink ticket, which I used to buy other people’s love, because people are irrationally in love with drink tickets.
After that, I went to meet George Hrab because I have a friend, Jarrett, who is a big fan. There are all these people who really dig on podcasts and I don’t get it. It’s like NPR but less focused, I know, I’ve been on a podcast. He wrote a note and let me take photos and then I ended up going down and hanging out with him and Liz and some random other people in the bar downstairs. There was an origami velociraptor involved.
I know you all can’t get enough creepy messages, right? So here’s the best of my collection, the greatest message I’ve ever gotten from a complete stranger. Can you handle it? Bolds are mine!
It’s come to my attention that people (women) often say that one of the most fundamental things they are looking for is honesty in a man but since they’ve more than likely never met an honest man they don’t know what to do when they actually confront one.
That having been said let’s see if you write me (an extremely honest man back. Now this writing back deal will require a certain amount of curiosity and gumption and no small amount of an open mind. If you wonder why no honest men it’s because the world is backwards and most of the the time people not only tell you what you want to hear but know what invariably happens when telling the truth…..let’s see:
You would never find a better more honest friend, lover, husband. How do I know that? Because I have two wives and I’m looking for a third. That’s getting the 500 pound gorilla out of the way up front and being honest isn’t it?
What do you suppose type of man I am? One you should avoid or embrace? Well I’m not a dishrag. I appreciate intelligent physically strong females because they make the best babies and I’m all about family and yes I can afford three wives.
Well you have a choice to ignore or explore. I expect everything and ask for nothing. Consequently I’m unable to place you in an akward position. You might just be curious….if so please feel free to write. I won’t bite and you can always use me for a topic of conversation. “I actually correspond with a polygamist from Florida on a regular basis!!!”
Looking forward to your reply……..C. Smith
Ashley Writes Back:
Well, huh. I mean, it’s simply too weird not to respond to, you know? I’ve got to admit, you’re definitely ballsy. Do you just send these out en masse, or did you actually choose to send it to me for some reason?
I’m not really interested, you being over twice my age, married, with kids, and, I’m guessing, religious. But, kudos for being totally straightforward. I’m sure that someone is looking for you, so good luck with that.
You don’t have to respond, but I do wonder if you’ve seen the show Big Love. And what on earth drives you to be so openly polygamist.
He writes back:
Thanks for the reply.
I think on some level it is shocking to be in a position to tell the truth or put another way….in a position to tell society to kiss my ass. But I have structured my life so as not to place myself in a situation where I have to cowtow to others. As an example I can never be excomunicated from the catholic church. I’m not catholic!!! For that reason I’m not a joiner. If you join anything it usually comes with a handbook of rules outlining what they expect from you.
Today’s news is replete with a story about the ex-govenor’s wife and her feelings when he announced to the world that he was gay. (she wrote a book about it) Also there were 70 comments from people explaning their like experiences. I looked at it this way: If he hadn’t lied to her and she hadn’t married the bastard their daughter would never have been born.
I’m an intellectual…we speak five languages between us and number two is half way through her masters in accounting at JU. I wrote you because you have a brain. You’re curious enough to at least write back and you know that any system made by man is for the benefit of man. Women didn’t make the laws against polygamy (we are not religiously driven….just to make that clear, and nothing stops the members of my family from leaving if they want to).
Age means nothing to me (well young girls no – I’m not a pedophile) because if it were important I would think, chronologically, you would be a little young. Yuliya is just turned 27. But I should think it would be more important to know who was in charge of your household (who made the last word final decisions on the important things) your father or your mother. It would be neigh on to impossible no matter how old you are to get along with you if your mother raised you. See that’s more important don’t you think?
Finally to answer your question further about my openess. Nobody really gives ashit what you do unless it impacts them and what I do is a building experience….more family, more intelligent kids, better life style (everybody pools their resources) more fun, more options. Lets say you end up with “Mr. Right” who cheats on you and lies to you and saddles you with obligations that you don’t want. What say do you have because you were following the norm. girl it doesn’t work out for half the people who get married! Be realistic. So why should they care what I’m doing….they don’t. Now they care in Utah because the Mormons (a sect) kicked out the polygamists a hundred years ago in direct opposition to their founder Joseph Smith (who was killed by that time) so they could join the Union. So you could say they sold out and because of that they are so fervently against the other mormons who consider themselves the “real” mormons. I, of course, could care less as I build family.
Perhaps you will write back. Maybe you would like to see what I do in my spare time:
Is their one you like better than the others?
Clayton the Honest
There are few things more difficult for the skeptic to let go of than their faith in their own intelligence. After all, recognizing the untruth of something lots of people believe in (gods, psychics, bigfoots) does give one a sense of intellectual superiority. I've certainly been guilty of a sort of mental vanity that is borderline absurd — not because I'm not smart but because no one is smart enough to overcome the inherent fallibility of the human mind. Smart people are often just better at tricking themselves into believing whatever it is they wish to be true.
And this is why I so appreciate the work of Derren Brown, a mentalist and magician who captivated me last year when I read his book "Tricks of the Mind". He reminds me of Stephen Fry — brilliant, funny, atheist, gay and charming — like something from an Oscar Wilde play, not of this time. Derren's schtick is to do magic tricks while explaining why the mind falls for them — he's sort of like a psychologist of magic. It's similar to Penn & Teller, but his tricks are less sleight of hand and more sleight of mind. He has gotten some flak in skeptic circles because he usually has a trick or two he doesn't explain, retaining some of that appeal to mysticism that he's otherwise debunking, but it's all part of the show.
If you share with me a love of the horrifically compelling documentary "Marjoe" or the delightful Steve Martin film "Leap of Faith", or if you just hate swindlers, especially those abusing religion to take advantage of people, then you'll be interested in Derren's latest TV Special, slated to air in the UK on C4 Monday night at 9. It is called "Miracles for Sale" which is a rather tame title considering the subject matter.
The special will follow Derren's attempt, which one assumes was successful since it's airing, to turn an average Joe from the streets into a faith healer, using only tricks of the mentalist trade. Basically, he's going to see if people fall for obvious fraud. Derren claims that this is not about God, but about exposing fraud, though it can't help but paint religion and the entire idea of faith healing in an intensely negative light.
Although I don't hide my own lack of religious belief, my repulsion at this scam comes as much from my days as a Christian as it does from simply being a human being observing ego- and money-driven fraud.
As a former Evangelical, Derren manages to have street cred with Christians, although many others see his de-conversion as some sort of personal insult or, typically, a sign that he was never really a Christian in the first place. And of course he's already getting the kind of braindead responses you'd expect from the faith healing crowds. "U say there's no proof of genuine miracle? Where have u been looking?? I've personally SEEN the blind SEE the Deaf hear and many other miracles…" "Jesus heals people all the time. It is not faith healing though. When Jesus speaks to someone they get healed. Everything he does works."
So much for helping those in need.
When I was an adolescent, I really wanted to be Mr. Spock. I thought that being hyper-logical and unemotional would be far better than being hyper-logical and hyper-emotional. I think there is a particular kind of self-loathing that kids develop when they’re far more intellectually developed than they are emotionally developed, like I was, and it can result in an extreme distrust of emotions and things that are not strictly logical. It took me going through and coming out of an extreme depression to realize that treating emotions as the enemy wasn’t only kind of stupid, but it was also really unhealthy.
I think that there is a lot of this in the atheist/skeptic community. I don’t want to fall into the fallacy that women are more compassionate than men, but I do think that the lack of large numbers of women doesn’t help. The association of emotions with women is so strong that it seems many people are uncomfortable with thinking of emotions as important empirically, or important in comparison with logic. It’s not just men who don’t want to be seen as weak, women are also afraid of being seen as stereotypically female and not as rational as men.
Today, Hemant at The Friendly Atheist posted about a woman who, at the hands of her religious upbringing, was taught to be so ashamed of her body that she was unable to breastfeed because she was so uncomfortable with her breasts. Hemant made a real effort to give a feminist response – women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies and it’s not his place to make those decisions for someone else – but he also said “It’s ultimately her choice, but I think I’d feel more comfortable about her decision (as if it matters what I think) if there was a more scientific rationale behind it.”
I recognize in blogging you often say things off the cuff that, given a little more thought, you probably would have worded differently, but I have to say I was a bit flabbergasted that Hemant would dismiss dealing with trauma as lacking in “scientific rationale”, as though any decision made based on emotion is necessarily irrational and therefore bad. And I should say I’ve no reason to think that he wants to change the language, but I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. I love Hemant, I love his blog, I can only assume the best of him, so I hope that the way he worded it wasn’t the way he meant it.
I feel like the atheist/skeptic community does a lot of dismissing of people’s feelings. It happens whenever a woman brings up feeling uncomfortable, underrepresented, or underserved by the community. It happens whenever people point out the small number of minorities, or being uncomfortable by perceived racism. There’s something about emotions that seems to really bother people. If nothing else, I think it isn’t useful to dismiss someone’s feelings as invalid, no matter how wrong you’re sure they are. Perhaps it’s too difficult a line to walk, but treating people’s emotions as something they should be embarrassed by isn’t only cruel, it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. Ideas and behavior are things worth critiquing, but someone’s emotions cannot be invalid, you cannot argue with someone that they can’t feel something, that’s not how it works. How they respond to their feelings? Yes, that’s fair game, but that they have feelings at all isn’t something you get to say is bad.
I can’t help but look at the traditional associations of emotion with women and children and logic with men and be a bit bothered by all this from a feminist perspective. I don’t think it’s conscious, but it seems like because emotions are seen as girly they are also seen as unimportant and weak. And if something is logical or rational, it is manly and strong and important. It’s not limited to this community, but also a lot of my friends who are interested in film, a group that is dominated by men as well. When a movie is technically impressive, it is important, but if a movie relies on emotions, it is not. The King’s Speech shouldn’t have won the Oscar because it’s just a story about emotions, not a technical feat like Inception or The Social Network, because emotions aren’t important. That’s why some movies go to Lifetime and some go to Spike TV.
I ultimately decided that Spock was more irrational than people because he treated the emotional experience as invalid. Although dedicated to logic, Spock never took the extra step and accepted that human emotion was rational, and existed for rational reasons, and that to dismiss it was very limiting. Ignoring the importance of emotion and emotional health isn’t actually a rational way to deal with people. To pretend that human emotions don’t matter or aren’t important, to dismiss mental health as a non-scientific reason for pursuing a course of action… it is most illogical.
How can a person hold these two thoughts in their head?
1. The universe is too complex to simply exist, it must have been created
2. God, something so complex it can create and control universes, doesn’t require a creator
It seems to me that you can have two viewpoints that are internally consistent. You can believe either:
1. Complicated things can exist without a creator, allowing the possibility of a universe without a creator and the possibility of God or
2. Everything complicated requires a creator, demanding a creator of the universe but denying the possibility of God at the same time
I just had this question with someone who is not a stupid person. I know that atheist readers sometimes have difficulty grasping that not stupid people can believe in God, I myself have that difficulty at times, but I just cannot understand the complete lack of logic there. Not only that, but the inability of the person in question to grasp the logic fail of saying that “everything must have a cause, except God” which means that not everything must have a cause, which means there’s no need for God.
Here is a place where it is laid out in much fuller detail, but if anyone can explain to me how those two thoughts exist inside the head of a not stupid person, please do, because he sure couldn’t.