Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book review of Illogical atheism: Part 1.

I recently ran across a book on Amazon.com that I thought would be interesting to review. I’ve been toying around with the idea of doing some video blogging to mix things up a bit and also because it might attract new readers if I posted videos on YouTube. Anyway, here is the first video in this series.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Kirsten Powers conversion story makes me sad.

As someone who doesn’t watch Fox News regularly I had never heard of Kirsten Powers. However, I ran across an article on Christian Post today. Detailing this former atheist’s conversion to Christianity. I’m pretty comfortable with my atheism and haven’t heard any arguments in favor of any form of theism that rank anywhere in the vicinity of rationally convincing so I’m always interested in hearing what managed to convert a fellow atheist to theism. I have, to date, always been supremely disappointed in the strength of the arguments and evidence they felt were convincing, and usually find their conversion had a lot more to do with emotions than reason.

Powers’ story is no different, it is not a tale of someone who was convinced by clear logical argumentation, but a story of someone who appears to have been emotionally manipulated by another person and then fell prey to questionable inferences based on scant evidence. Why? Perhaps her reasons for being atheist were emotional to begin with, or perhaps she was just ignorant of both the Christian apologetics and the secular response to them. Of course I could be wrong, I’m only basing my conclusion on what was written in the article, but it was Christian Post article so I think I can assume they tried to portray her conversion in as favorable a light as possible, and she still came out poorly.

It seems her conversion started when she started dating a Christian. She said she had previously stated she would not date a religious person, but she does not explain why she made an exception for this person. She shouldn’t have, in my opinion, because the person she was dating seemed to be a bit of a jerk.

After they dated a few months, her boyfriend called to say he had something important to discuss. When he came over to her New York apartment he looked at her intently and asked, "Do you believe Jesus is your Savior?"

Her heart sank when she heard the question. She thought he might be slightly crazy. "No," she replied.

"Do you think you could ever believe it?" he asked. Then he told Powers he wanted to get married and felt that she might be the one, but he couldn't marry a non-believer.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My opinions on dominionism and the religious right when I was Christian

Goldwater-WarnsWhen I entered college back in the distant past of 1997 I was a fundamentalist Christian. I was proud of this fact, right down to my young earth creationism. There is an assumption that atheists often make that fundamentalism and some form of dominionism go hand in hand. It’s true there is a lot of overlap, but they are not necessarily the same thing.

First let’s be clear about what I mean by dominionism, because there is some debate about what this means. Dominionism is often thought of as some uniform group of people conspiring to push their religious ideas into politics. This is not entirely true. Dominionism exists more or less as a continuum of beliefs that people hold about the role of religion in politics. A few on the fringe would like to see an outright theocracy, but most have less ostentatious goals. Christians who argue that Christian teachers out to have the right to compel their students to organized prayer are an example of a relatively soft dominionism, and are much more common.

I would even argue that examples like “in God we Trust” on our currency and as the national motto are examples of a sort of soft dominionism. Many Christians of course disagree, and would argue that “in God we trust” is not an imposition of Christianity through the government. I’ve been told that I’m being over sensitive on this one.  Many people I would consider dominionists don’t like the term dominionism.

Here is the thing, when I was a believer I was a fundamentalist, as I said, but I was actually not a dominionist. I was, in fact, incredibly a-political, and I viewed many of the preachers who overtly pushed dominionist ideas, like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, with suspicion. This was actually occasionally a point of contention between me and other theists I knew, but I was hardly the only fundamentalist who thought this way.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Scalia gets something right…though he still doesn’t really understand why.

While hearing arguments about the constitutionality of having opening prayers for legislative bodies Scalia said something surprising astute. While Alito was asking whether or not a prayer could be constructed to be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus etc., Scalia Chimed in:

What about the devil worshippers?

Scalia meant it as somewhat of a joke, but his point was clear, it is impossible to design a prayer that is going to be acceptable to everyone. Of course, he doesn’t seem to understand the implication of his own argument and concludes that we should have prayers but do nothing to ensure they are acceptable to others. He is essentially arguing that each individual should have the right to make their prayer as sectarian as they wish within a government assembly and the government isn’t allowed to say squat about it. He seems to ignore the much easier solution of just not having organized prayers at all, which would allow every one to engage in their own private prayers (or not) if they so wished. Or perhaps he thinks prayer only works when done as a group?

Thing thing that always irks me about people like Scalia is that they cannot even follow the advice of the one they claim is god incarnate.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.   Matthew 6:5-6.

When I was a believer I always thought of prayer as a chance to communicate with God. Scalia and the many people who use government meetings as a forum for prayer seem more interested in showing off, and at times even seem to use their prayers to create political disputes. How exactly is this in line with their religious teachings?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

People only want to marry virgins apparently.

Today on buzz feed a person posted images from the abstinence only curriculum in a Texas school district.


It explains to us how human beings are exactly like inanimate objects and gives us helpful information like:

People want to marry a virgin, just like they want a virgin toothbrush or stick of gum.

I’ll let you guys in on a little secret. I’m getting married in March, though my fiancĂ© will be giving birth to our child in a little more than a month. You don’t have to be a math wiz to know that means we had sex before we got married. Also, does anyone want to hazard a guess at the number of fucks I gave about how many sexual partners my fiancĂ© had before me? None, absolutely zero fucks were given about this question. That isn’t to say we don’t communicate honestly about with each other, we just don’t judge another person’s worth as a human being or as a spouse by number of people we had sex with before we met each other.  So I’ll say to sex education teachers of Canyon Independent School District, stop teaching your students to be bigots, because that is what you are teaching them to be when you teach them to judge other people’s worth by the number of sexual partners they have had.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pastor Robert Jeffress strikes again

Pastor Robert Jeffress did an interview on CNN about prayers in government meetings.

He accuses Sandra Day O’Connor of making up with the “phony” endorsement test. The interviewer brings up the endorsement test, quoted below, as an argument that prayers in council meetings acts to endorse religion.

The Establishment Clause prohibits government from making adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person's standing in the political community. Government can run afoul of that prohibition...[by] endorsement or disapproval of religion. Endorsement sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.

Jeffress responds:

Well I actually I pray that way in our city council meetings when I’m asked to pray, but remember the founding fathers said congress cannot establish a religion. Sandra Day O’Conner came up with this phony endorsement test. We’ve got to go back to what the founding fathers said. They talked about establishing a state religion.

This is a typical argument by fundamentalists about church state separation. It hinges on their own peculiar definitions of the words, “establishment” and “endorsement.” They argue that establishment is wrong but endorsement is just fine. However, they define establishment in the narrowest sense possible. In their opinion the only was we could establish a religion would be to pass a law which officially created a state church. So as long as congress doesn’t pass a law naming one denomination or another the state church they think no constitutional violation has occurred.

They also like to focus on the fact that the first amendment only mentions congress instead of including state and local governments, which flatly ignores the courts interpretation of the 14th amendment as extending many of the articles in the bill of rights to the states, including the establishment clause.

It should be obvious that I don’t find their position well reasoned. There is ample reason to believe that the government can do much to establish a state religion without passing a law explicitly naming one. Jeffress wants to treat the terms “establishment” and “endorsement” as if they are entirely different things, but they can actually be quite similar. Jeffress, based on his statements, wants Christianity to be publicly endorsed by the state because he knows it will give his beliefs an advantage in the marketplace of ideas. Jeffress can say he is ok with other religious groups getting their turns to pray because he knows Christianity is in the majority; he knows that other groups will rarely, if ever, get their “turns” in most areas of the country.

He continues by pointing out that the founding fathers were ok with prayers in government assemblies. Of course this isn’t entirely true. The founding fathers weren’t some hive mind, they were individuals with, sometimes, wildly diverging opinions. As such, some of them favored prayer in government and some didn’t. However, even if every single one of them had favored prayer in the government that wouldn’t necessitate that it was a good idea.

When Jeffress says we have to “go back to what the founding fathers said,” he talks about the founding fathers as if they were infallible, but the truth is that they got stuff wrong all the time. Thomas Jefferson believed slavery would fade away over time, and we all know how well that worked out. I would argue that, on church state separation, the founding fathers had the right idea, but simply failed to apply it very consistently. The Declaration of Independence said “all men are created equal,” yet few today would argue that we should not give women equal rights, so Jeffress insistence that not deviate even slightly from the intentions of the founding fathers is just absurd.

Friday, November 1, 2013

How one man justified his own bigotry by blaming atheists.

atheistI ran across a baffling exchange last night before I went to bed. There was a particular statement that most bothered me which I will quote. I’d link directly to the blog but for two things. One I don’t want to give these particular people any extra traffic, and two, I don’t want my blog to show up in the traffic sources on their blog stats. The second reason being because the quote I’m critiquing comes from a person who I once considered a friend. I suspect you will understand why that friendship is in past tense when you read the quote.

In any case, to give you some context this was in the comment section of a blog post discussing the recent kerfuffle started between atheists and Oprah after her interview of Diana Nyad. I didn’t write this thing because quite frankly I couldn’t think of anything to say about it that hadn’t already been said elsewhere. Posts like the ones on The Friendly Atheist, and Camels with Hammers already covered everything I could want to say on the topic, so I didn’t see much reason to weigh in.

In any case the OP thinks that atheists who complain about Oprah are whiney, which makes me conclude that they haven’t actually read much of the actual criticism that atheists wrote about this interview. Most of the criticism was a lot more nuanced than just rabid demands for an apology. Further most atheists don’t get bent out of shape about every bit of religious iconography as the OP indicates that they do, only the ones that used to promote state endorsement of religion..

The OP says they were not criticizing all atheists but just liberal ones, but even this is odd since nothing about this conversation is directly related to politics. I wasn’t terribly happy about Oprah’s statements but I don’t consider myself a liberal or a Democrat. Of course, I don’t consider myself a conservative or a Republican either, but again this discussion is really unrelated to politics, not everything has to be about what political party one belongs too.

The real fun starts when a fellow atheist chimes in with criticism the simplistic way in which the OP addresses atheism and a commenter chimes in with this:

You know this problem would go away if they would just admit that they’re a religion (a belief system based on faith without a single shred of proof)…then we could break them into denominations and only attack the denominations that were annoying…but since they refuse to admit the obvious it becomes difficult.

I rarely see such a blatant attempts at victim blaming outside of a men’s rights website, or an advocate for Social Darwinism. The poster believes we are to blame for both his and the OP insulting statements about atheists because if we would just break up into denominations they wouldn’t have to generalize so much. There are so many things wrong with this statement it is difficult to even know where to begin.

First, there is no reason to think that such an action would really change anyone's behavior because you actually have to be familiar with a system of beliefs in order to start to understand the nuances in that belief system. For example, there are multiple “denominations” of Buddhism, (that range from polytheistic to atheistic) but how many people in the U.S. actually know that? I would venture to guess there aren’t many.  Nothing indicates to me that this poster cares one bit about understanding the opinions of atheists.

Secondly, it is quite easy to categorize ideas with turning them into a “religion.” We do this for politics, philosophy, and a variety of other ideas without blinking. If the commenter is unable to separate out different ideas within atheism unless they admit they are religious than that is simply a lack of imagination on their part. Though I suspect it is more likely just an excuse for what I can only refer to bigotry. Which brings me to my third point.

Categorizing people by “denominations” is not a substitute for actually getting to know people. To put it another way, I regularly criticize religion on this blog, but you won’t hear me say things like “Christians are stupid,” or “Every Muslim is a terrorist.” The reason for this is that I am not going to assume that every single person who identifies with a certain label necessarily thinks lockstep with every other person who shares that label. I’ll criticize religious ideas, and even specific religious people, but I try to avoid sweeping generalizations, and for good reason. Creating a group of sub categories just attempts to hide the problem behind another layer of generalizations that are just slightly less general.

In any case, Have denominations really helped sort out the problems in Christianity? Even within specific Christian denominations there are disagreements about a wide variety of things. We can generalize that southern Baptists are Republican and against gay marriage, but I have met a few who are neither of those things. Heck, despite thousands of denominations some Christians still argue that their beliefs are not actually a religion.

They also miss a very real reason that atheists don’t tend to like to categorize themselves much. We, meaning all humans, like to categorize things. It’s something we do quite well. It’s why things like Apophenia (seeing patterns where there are none) exist. It’s evolutionary beneficial, because it allows us to make quick decisions about unfamiliar things by attaching them to a category of things that are familiar. However, it’s also lazy thinking, and can lead to errors. Once something is fit in a category we tend to stop thinking about it very carefully. Many atheist are skeptics (though not all), and as such we recognize this behavior, and the potential problems that go with it. People who join a new group, be it religious, political or something else, don’t start out agreeing with everything, but over time tend to embrace more and more of their ideas. Categorizing ourselves into different denominations would be easy, but in the long run it would make it more difficult for us to assess new ideas fairly.

What the commenter doesn’t seem to realize is that other human beings don’t exist for their benefit. There is no requirement that we fit into neat categories to make things more intellectually easy for them. I see no reason to give up my intellectual autonomy because someone promises to quit making hatful generalizations about me if I do. If you have trouble understanding other people make an effort to understand them don’t opine about how things would be so much easier for you if everyone else conformed to your overly simplistic expectations.