Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Want to be Scared? Try WorldNetDaily, the Ultra-Right Christian News

Here's a "resource" for you if you want a little comedy every day. Unfortunately, these guys are serious. The WorldNetDaily web site is one of the craziest there is. Worse, they have the appearance of legitimacy, and are widely cited by other Christian news sites. Mainstream Christians should be embarrassed to be associated with such nuttery, but sadly they're not.

Today's sample is a good illustration. They tell the story of how Karl Marx was once a good Christian, but was corrupted by the evils of higher education.
"Why did Marx became a God hater who invented not only one of the worst tools of oppression to Christianity, but also to all of humanity? Why did Engels become his accomplice? The turning point in both of their lives occurred at the universities they attended when they learned of a new 'Christian doctrine'' called 'liberal theology.'
And they go on to imply that the entire Soviet Empire, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and so on are all the fault of the liberal theology that was – and still is! – taught in universities.

That's pretty amazing, that a few professors could alter world history so dramatically. Never mind that there

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Silly Christian Morals

In a blog last week I wrote that "modern adults realize that Christian 'morals' are a bit silly." Those are strong words. I should have realized that this would offend many people, and I started to think maybe I should retract it.

But on reflection, I can't retract it. I know it's offensive to Christians (and Jews and Muslims, because I'll add them to the mix), but I stand by this assertion. What I will do is amplify so that it's clear exactly what I mean.

Christians are for the most part a moral group. But their morals can be divided into two parts: The morals that all people share, and the morals that are uniquely Christian.

The morals that Christians share with all civilized people are not silly. Be faithful to your mate. Don't murder. Follow the golden rule. Don't steal. Protect children. Honor our parents. These are good morals that all civilized people share. But these are not Christian morals. They are human morals that arise from nature. Jewish, Christian and Muslim authors merely incorporated these into their holy scriptures thousands of years ago. This isn't unique; every civilization does this. Christians can't make some claim to exclusivity on these universal morals. (See Atheism IS Where Morality Originates.)

What about "Christian morals," the ones that are unique to the Christian faith?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Is Christianity Dying? Who is that guy hanging on the plus sign?

Is Christianity dying? Here is a nutshell summary from a Christian writer:
"A couple came into my office once with a yellow pad of their teenage son's questions. One of them was: 'What is that guy doing hanging up there on the plus sign?' "
The falling attendance of America's churches is getting to the point where even Christians are writing about it. According to Drew Dyke in Christianity Today, young people are leaving Christianity in droves. And unlike previous generations, this isn't just a folly-of-youth period in their lives. They're leaving for good.

Some Christian scholars claim the trend isn't worrisome. They point out that young people have always drifted away from church as they leave home, only to return later when they marry and have children. But according to Dyke, these are false reassurances for three reasons:
  • Today's young adults are dropping their religion at "five to six times" the historic rate.
  • The life-phase argument is no longer relevant. People now marry and have kids in their 30s instead of their 20s. After ten years away from a church they are much less likely to return.
  • Past generations lived in an overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian society with strong social pressure to stay "in the fold." Today there is little pressure to attend church, and TV, movies and media portray alternative lifestyles as acceptable. The "cultural gravity" toward religion is gone.
I like the "cultural gravity" argument the best. Religion memes are having more and more trouble propagating and reproducing themselves because of the changing memetic ecosphere. Kids today are exposed to scientific memes that directly conflict with religion memes. They're exposed to more accurate history that documents the horrors of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, slavery and many other religion-sanctioned atrocities. Kids are taught that all beliefs deserve respect.

For the memeplex that comprises Christianity, this is a complete calamity, a virtual memetic ice age. The memetic ecosphere for religion is being invaded by science memes, tolerance memes, and think-for-yourself memes, and it's reflected in the attitudes of young people. From Dyke's article:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pope Reaffirms It: All you Gays are Immoral

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Pope Benedict XVI has just reconfirmed that homosexuality can never be "morally just."

All of you gays and lesbians, sorry, but your sexuality is "against the nature that God originally willed." It's still an abomination.

But wait, there's good news! Your God-given sexual preference is "a great trial." God has singled you out, sort of like Job. The Pope himself said so!

Remember Job? Job was your basic good guy: pious, kind and loyal. But God took a bet with Satan as to whether Job was just a fair-weather friend. To test Job's mettle, God let Satan kill all of Job's children, and when that didn't turn Job away from God, Satan tortured Job with boils all over his body that were so horrible that Job tried to scrape them with broken pottery. And after all that, Job still didn't turn away from God.

So don't think of yourselves as getting some sort of raw deal. God has given you a test! You get to go through life longing for love, but God demands that you deny yourself the consummation of your love, to never join body and soul and experience the wonders and beauty of human sexuality. Just think what an opportunity this is to show what a good Catholic you are!

Why, the rest of us should be jealous. We've got it easy. We get to fall in love, get married and have happy, healthy sex lives. What's the challenge in that? How are we supposed to show God that we're worthy?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Atheist Agenda: Make Christians Defend THEIR Claims

One of the biggest problems we atheists face is that we've let the theists define us. One of the odd things about human language and culture is that we create special words to define the exceptional things in our world. Historically something like 95% of America was Christian, so the Christians got to decide what "atheist" meant.

The Christian definition of "atheist" is this sort of vague "doesn't believe in God," or "claims there is no God." Notice how this puts the focus on God. It assures the theist that God really exists, but there are a few oddballs out there who for some crazy reason want to be different. It is an inherently theistic, Yahweh-centered definition.

I don't often engage in long debates in the comments section of this blog because I like people to feel free to say what they like without me interfering. But yesterday I made an exception. A reader name Isaac wrote, "i [sic] really don't like how your over all theme shows that there is no way God could exist, but whatever man, its your blog." Here's how I responded:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Alan Turing: Gay Man who Saved the World yet Died in Disgrace

What do you do to a homosexual mathematician whose code-breaking genius saved the world during World War II? Not figuratively, but actually saved the world from Nazi domination? You put him on trial, of course! You convict him of gross indecency. You force him to choose prison or chemical castration. You strip him of all dignity and hound him until in shame and despair he swallows a cyanide pill and dies.

The story of Alan Turing is one of the most disgraceful episodes of modern civilization. A man who should have been a hero of the free world and idolized next to Einstein and Newton in the history books was instead hounded to death because of religion-inspired homophobia.

In World War II, Alan Turing's genius at breaking Nazi secret codes was so successful that the Allies could have sunk almost every single U-boat and convoy that left Germany. Turing's work was so good it was like cheating at cards: if you win every hand, the other players will quickly figure out that the game is rigged. The Allies had to employ all sorts of tricks to hide their success; if you want a fascinating account, I highly recommend Neal Stephenson's semi-fictional Cryptonomicon, the story of the rise of modern cryptography.

Alan Turing literally saved the world from Nazi domination. Without his work, WWII would have ended very differently. The Nazi regime might have remained undefeated,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Teenage Sex Sleepovers: Why American Religious Morals CAUSE Abortions

There's a way we could cut abortion rates in half in the United States, but the religious right is against it! Why? Because it requires us to be honest and open about sex with our children. It means we must be pragmatic and admit that teens have sex whether we tell them to or not.

A fascinating report by Advocates for Youth proves what many of us have known intuitively for a long time: America's religion-based "morality" doesn't work. In spite of the good intentions of Nancy Reagan and her followers, the "Just Say No" policy for sex education actually increases pregnancy, abortion, venereal disease and poverty.

Check out these disturbing facts from the Advocates for Youth report:

 United StatesNetherlands
Pregnancy per 100,00072.211.8
Births per 1,000 ages 15-1942.54.8
Abortion per 100,000 ages 15-19 19.87.8
HIV/STI Rates all adults 0.6% 0.1%
Syphilis cases per 100,000 adults 2.7 1.0
Gonorrhea cases per 100,000 ages 15-19 458.8 13.92
Chlamydia cases per 100,000 ages 15-19 2,862 150.4

If the United States could match the Netherlands' abortion rates, there would be almost 125,000 fewer abortions per year!

You'd think any anti-abortionist would take a look at these numbers and say, "Gosh, let's get on board with their program! It works!" But no, they can't. Why?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Change the Pledge: One nation under Allah?

Sadly, the Freedom from Religion Foundation lost another round in their effort to remove "Under God" from our Pledge of Allegiance. The Court wrote:
"It takes more than the presence of words with religious content to have the effect of advancing religion, let alone to do so as a primary effect," the judge wrote. "The Pledge and the phrase 'under God' are not themselves prayers, nor are they readings from or recitations of a sacred text of a religion. Here, the words 'under God' appear in a pledge to a flag – itself a secular exercise, accompanied by no other religious language or symbolism."
But for all of the Court's complex (and sometimes convoluted) reasoning, there's a simple and obvious test that shows that their decision is wrong. Even they should have seen it. Consider this:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation without God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Doesn't this also meet the Court's definition of "secular"?

Or how about this:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under Allah, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Surely that too meets the Court's definition of "secular."

Christian Beliefs Disqualify Congressman on Global Warming

Today we find yet another example of why scientists, moderate theists, humanists and atheists should all join together to fight the scourge of religious ignorance. It's good for us to respect the beliefs of others, but there are limits. When religion threatens our welfare, when it threatens to damage the entire Earth, it's time to put a stop to it.

United States Congressional Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) is trying to become the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee. Here's what Shimkus has to say about global warming:
"I believe [the Bible] is the infallible word of God, and that's the way it is going to be for his creation. ... The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood."
To make his point, Shimkus cites Genesis, the part where God promised Noah that once was enough:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Catholic Church is Looking for MORE Exorcists. Seriously.

Good grief! It's hard enough to take the Pope and the Catholic Church's politics seriously these days, given all their misguided priorities and scandals. But exorcism? For real? Do these people still believe in demonic possession?

Apparently they do. And it's not just something that the Roman Catholic church winks at. Exorcism is an official duty of Roman Catholic priests, one that requires special training. And worse, they seem to have a serious shortage of exorcists!

I'd like to think that this is just a funny joke. But there are real live victims at the bottom of this story.

These "demonically possessed" people are mentally ill and in need of serious professional medical help. To the church's (small) credit,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bad News: Atheist Palestinian Faces Death Penalty

Reports are coming in about an atheist blogger in the Palestinian West Bank who was caught in a sting via Facebook and now faces the death penalty. It seems the best he can hope for is life imprisonment. Even members of his family say so.

This should completely dispel any doubts anyone might have about the importance of America's strong separation of church and state. The fact that in the year 2010 there are still people being put to death for their religious beliefs should be repugnant to every civilized human, regardless of faith.

But that's what happens when you mix government and religion. History proves it. Down through the ages, whenever the two mix you'll find that the zealots eventually get into power and persecute everyone who doesn't agree with their views. Not just their religion, but their particular sect. Without strong legal limits on religious coercion (such as in the UK) or an outright separation (like our Constitution), it seems inevitable. Is there even one place in the world that has religious tolerance and religious leaders who are superior to the elected leaders?

I hope the civilized people of the world, whether Christian, Jewish,

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why No Republican Compromise: Not mentally capable?

A CNN story this morning caught my eye. Actually it was more than that; I was almost shocked by the implications.
Willing to
Stick to
These numbers alone are pretty scary. According to CNN, "Forty one percent of Republicans questioned in the survey say it is more important for lawmakers to stick to their beliefs even if little gets done." Imagine if the Democrats adopted that same rigid unwillingness to compromise. Our government would come to a standstill.

Coincidentally I read a fantastic article yesterday called Neuroscience and Fundamentalism by Kenneth M. Heilman and Russell S. Donda (sent to me by reader cipher – thanks!).

According to Heilman and Donda, there may be genetic reasons for why some people have more flexible beliefs than others:
How is it that one person can find it utterly intolerable to believe anything other than a given interpretation of religious doctrine, while another appears comfortable with adding his or her own meaning to the same literature? It is conceivable that the mystery underlying these distinct approaches arises from a not often considered, yet key difference in brain function.
In other words, some of us may be biologically programmed to be inflexible! I encourage you to read the whole fascinating article; I can't do it justice with a few quotes.

But there's more. Heilman and Donda go on to say that the tendency towards fundamentalist thinking can be amplified

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Biblical and Constitutional Inerrancy: Why the Tea Party is so Crazy

A few days ago I wrote that the Tea Baggers seem to live in an alternate reality. And today, I'm pleased to announce that I figured out why.

The Tea Party's alternate reality arises from the Doctrine of Constitutional Inerrancy, the belief that the United States Constitution is perfect and its authors are practically saints.

My "Aha!" moment came when I realized that Constitutional Inerrancy is a side effect of a belief in Biblical Inerrancy, the idea that the Bible is God's literal word, perfect in every way. The Tea Party has apparently extended that hollow philosophy to our Constitution and its authors. It's a new quasi-religion.

It's no surprise that these two beliefs go together. Willingness to accept authority and take things on faith

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Truly Moral Preacher? Gay Megachurch Bishop Comes Out ... for a Good Reason

Now here's a story I like. Jim Swilley is gay, but few people knew it. He kept his sexuality a secret for decades because he was founder and bishop of Conyers’ Church in the Now, a "megachurch" in Rockdale County, Georgia.

Last week Bishop Swilley decided it was time to stop living a lie and come out as gay. But it wasn't because of a scandal, or because someone was threatening to "out" him. Bishop Swilley came out as openly gay to support the gay youth of America.
"I know a lot of straight people think it is a choice. It is not. ... As a father, thinking about your 16, 17 year old killing themselves, I thought somebody needed to say something.
What a wonderful, generous man.

Those of us in the atheist/agnostic/secular/humanist blogosphere are quick to point out the flaws of church leaders who are caught in scandals. We're fast to report on a megachurch leader caught with a prostitute,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Scale of the Universe

I've written a couple times about how innumeracy, the inability to understand numbers, the scale of space and vastness of time, is one of the key factors behind creationism. People who argue against Evolution as a science just don't get how incredibly vast the ecosphere is and how long a billion years is.

Today I'll leave you with something cool:
The interactive Scale of the Universe
It starts in the middle, around our own scale, but I thought it was cool to slide the button clear to the right and then work my way left. It goes from 10-35 meters to 1024 meters, 59 orders of magnitude! That's starting from the Planck length and ending at the whole universe. It shows you what objects are relevant at each step. It's quite amazing.

How anyone can reconcile this with creationism is beyond me!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Iraqi Christian Massacre Shows Sickening Western Hypocrisy

A tragic story is illustrating the hypocritical and immoral nonchalance America has for the mass deaths of non-Christians.

All the news services are headlining the tragic murder of 58 Christians in Our Lady of Salvation Christian church of Baghdad. Al-Qaida-linked militants burst into the church during services and killed the priest and nearly everyone in the front row. They demanded that someone call the Pope to arrange for the release of Muslim women they claimed were being held captive by Coptic Christians in Egypt. Iraqi forces invaded the church, the militants blew themselves up, and 58 people ended up dead with 78 others wounded.

It was a terrible tragedy, and everyone from the Pope to presidents has been condemning it, as they should.

But where where the cries of outrage when America started our bombing campaign on Iraq? Over 150,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by American bombs (even the U.S. Government admits this), mostly women and children. That's 2,586 times as many people as were killed this weekend in the Christian church.

You would have to blow up 58 people 365 days a year for the next seven years to equal the death toll that America has inflicted on Iraqi women, children and old men.

My fiancé and I had the pleasure of hearing Sam Harris talk last week. He described an interesting experiment.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ted Nugent: Is He the Real Threat to America?

Ted Nugent is the poster child for why evangelical Christianity is the enemy of the American Constitution and why mainstream Christians, Jews and Muslims should join secularists and atheists to defend and honor the separation of church and state clause of our Constitution.

CNN was on the TV this weekend, and I happened to walk by as they were showing live coverage of Ted Nugent's rally for Republican Senate candidate John Raese in Charleston, West Virginia. Mostly it was the usual conservative Tea Bagger exhortations, but then he said this:
"It's not good versus bad ... it's good versus evil.
This sends a chill up my spine.

Any living, healthy, thriving society is full of strong opinions and dissent, and part of that dialog must include respect for those who disagree with you. I might argue vehemently that the Republican platform is wrong and will lead to catastrophe. They might counter that my politics will lead to socialism and a big-brother state. But as long as we keep arguing, we'll be OK. We'll rant and rail at each other, but somewhere in all the smoke and noise, we always manage to find a middle path that works.

But when Ted Nugent claims that God is on his side,