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Say It Ain’t So, Sarah! October 13, 2008

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Oh that Sarah Palin…bless her heart!  She proudly proclaims her high ethical standards, her accountability, her “not business as usual” maverick stance.  The only thing wrong with all of this posturing is that it’s a lie. 

In a recent Associated Press article, writer Garance Burke reports that Palin, who has vowed not to let her personal beliefs influence her decisions as an elected official, has billed the State of Alaska for travel to and time spent at various religious meetings.

Writes Burke, “Palin and her family billed the state $3,022 for the cost of attending Christian gatherings exclusively, including visits to the Assembly of God here and to the congregation they attend in Juneau, according to expense reports reviewed by the AP.”

In the article, Burke also states:

“Since she took state office in late 2006, the governor and her family have spent more than $13,000 in taxpayer funds to attend at least 10 religious events and meetings with Christian pastors, including Franklin Graham, the son of evangelical preacher Billy Graham, records show.”

That doesn’t sound like much of a separation of church and state, does it?  Nor does it sound very ethical, but then Troopergate and her recent, clutching-at-straws attacks on Barack Obama, claiming that he “pals around with terrorists,” have proven that ethics are not her strong suit, no matter what she may claim.

According to Burke, when Palin was Mayor of Wasilla, she attempted to “organize a day of prayer at city hall,” and “also joined a grass-roots, faith-based movement to stop the local hospital from performing abortions.”

I’ve asked it before and I am asking it again:  are we really supposed to believe that this woman will be able to keep her religious life and her political life separate?  Are we to believe that she will even try?  It is obvious that she has an agenda, an agenda dictated by her Evangelical Christian faith, and that she will do everything in her power to further that agenda.  And apparently she feels that it is perfectly OK to use the taxpayer’s money to do this.

Well, Sarah, it is not OK. 

It’s bad enough that she’s been doing this as the Governor of Alaska – it’s up to all of us to make sure that she does not get the chance to further her religious agenda as the Vice President of the United States.

Vote Obama.

Hollaback Girl October 11, 2008

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Well, I didn’t get a chance to see Religulous because it didn’t hit the local theaters until this weekend, but I’m going this Tuesday, come hell or high water (pun intended).

I thought I’d use today’s post to answer some of the comments I’ve gotten on earlier posts.  Much to my delight, I have yet to receive any death threats, fatwahs or impenetrable rants so far:  in fact, most of the comments have been well thought out, if not entirely grammatically correct.

“Dahni” wrote me two lengthy comments about Religion and Politics:  Why Sarah Palin Scares the Crap Out of Me, out of which I will address a few of her more interesting points.  She writes:

“…here we all are. How did we get here? Most ask or ponder this question. 1. God – Where did he come from? Nobody can answer that, so it is accepted by faith. 2. Evolution – big bang, but where did out of nothing come from? Nobody can answer this either, so it is accepted by faith. In this, there is no difference between the two.”

Yes, I agree that people’s belief in god is a matter of faith, as there is no real proof of god’s existence.  However, I do not agree that the “Big Bang” theory is accepted by faith.  It is a scientific theory, and to quote from the NASA website, a theory is a “scientifically testable general principle or body of principles offered to explain observed phenomena. In scientific usage, a theory is distinct from a hypothesis (or conjecture) that is proposed to explain previously observed phenomena. For a hypothesis to rise to the level of theory, it must predict the existence of new phenomena that are subsequently observed. A theory can be overturned if new phenomena are observed that directly contradict the theory.”

There is a huge difference between religious faith and the scientific method.  Just because science hasn’t found “all of the answers” does not mean that science is founded on faith.

“Dahni” also goes on to say:

“Finally you ask: “Why can’t Americans just grow up?” Answer: In the world, America and Americans are really a young country and people and has a young system of government. You are a mother. Americans are like children. Children need to be taught. Children not only need limits and boundaries to protect them and keep them safe, they want them. Many religious people like children, expect God to protect them, guide them, provide for them etc., just as children expect this of their parents. Many people expect the same thing from government. There is no difference.

First off, I am not a mother, nor have I ever claimed to be a mother.  Secondly, the whole point that I am trying to make is that people need to just grow up!  I agree that we are a young country, but I do not agree that it gives us license to act as children.

The last comment that I want to discuss is from “klbuley,” commenting on Dont’ Believe Everything You Read

“Do you believe in love? You cannot see love. You see the fruits of love, but it is not something tangible, or measurable. There are books written about love, from people in love, out of love, or who hope to fall in love, but what is it really? People believe it exists because it benefits them. People love, because the alternative stinks. There is little proof, as you see it, of God. People believe, because the alternative (if they are wrong), stinks.’

I understand what “klbuley” is trying to say here, but this whole comment strikes me as just very sad.  It sounds like should all believe in god because life would be horrible without someone to look after us.  To me, the very idea of that is horrible.  To think that it would be worse to stand on your own, to be responsible for your actions, to be rational?  To be so afraid of the world, of life? 

Now that would stink.

Stop the World, I Want to Get Off October 6, 2008

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I realized something as I sat down to write this blog today – I realized that I am sick to death of religion.  I am sick of talking about it, I am sick of writing about it.  I am sick of having to defend myself to religious people. I’m sick of reading about nut-jobs and crackpots who protest at the funerals of soldiers or who open pseudo-scientific “museums.”  I’ve had it up to here with smug, god-fearing, bible thumping yahoos.  I don’t want to ever see another woman dressed in a burka, or read another article about “modesty patrols” assaulting women for dressing inappropriately in Jerusalem.  I want to be able to watch a football game and not see the winning team say that god made them win.  I don’t want to read any more obituaries that speak of the deceased as being “loved” so much by god or jesus that they “were called home to be with the angels.”   

My “about the writer” page plainly states that this blog will not be a rant, and I am sorry for my tone here, but sometimes it all just gets to me.  I do hours of research for each blog, and in the course of that research I am exposed to so much madness that I just want to give up.  It is just too crazy, and too disheartening.

Do you know what I would love more than anything?  I would love to wake up tomorrow to find that the entire world had come to its senses.  No more religion.  No more superstition.  No more daddy for grownups.  But I know that is not about to happen. 

So, what is a girl to do?

The only thing I can do, really.  I’m going to go to the movie theater, get myself some popcorn and Junior Mints, and watch Bill Maher’s new movie, Religulous.  For a couple of hours, at least, I’ll be able to find something funny about religion.

Adam, Eve and T. Rex October 4, 2008

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In my recent post, Hell on Wheels, I listed and commented on some of the religious bumper stickers that I have seen around town.  One of them read:  The Overwhelming Evidence Supports Creation, not Evolution.”  My comment was, Oh really…then what’s with all of the dinosaur bones?  Well, for days now I have been tormented by that question.  What about ‘dem bones?

Lucky for me I found those answers, as well as many other enlightening bits of biblical wisdom, at answersingenesis.org.  Answers in Genesis was founded by Ken Ham, the same man who brought us the Creation Museum, which opened in Kentucky in 2007.  In an article titled  “Dinosaurs and the Bible,”  Ham explains that  dinosaur “bones do not have labels attached telling how old they are” and that “no scientist was there to see the dinosaurs live through this supposed dinosaur age.”  He goes on to say:

“As you add up all the dates…we come to the conclusion that the creation of the Earth and animals (including the dinosaurs) occurred only thousands of years ago (perhaps only 6000!), not millions of years. Thus, if the Bible is right (and it is!), dinosaurs must have lived within the past thousands of years.

And it just get’s better and better.   He claims that the Bible “makes it plain that dinosaurs and people must have lived together,” that there is evidence to support this, and that Adam, Eve and dinosaurs where all created on the same day.  His most exraordinary claim, however, has to do with the Noah’s Ark:  “God sent two of every (seven of some) land animal into the Ark…there were no exceptions. Therefore, dinosaurs must have been on the Ark.

OK, I’m sorry, but what the h___!   As if the story of Noah and the Ark isn’t far-fetched enough?  Nope, let’s up the ante and put a big old T. Rex on board.

Mr. Ham concludes that the dinosaur fossil record is simply the remains of all the many unfortunate dinoasaurs who didn’t make it onto the ark, and that “thus, the dinosaur fossils which were formed as a result of this Flood were probably formed about 4,500 years ago, not millions of years ago.  As he explains,  “If you remove the evolutionary framework, get rid of the millions of years, and then take the Bible seriously, you will find an explanation that fits the facts and makes perfect sense…”

Well, then, there you have it.  All of the answers to that pesky little question.  Now I don’t have to worry about it any more.

For more information about Ken Ham and the Creation Museum, go to http://www.noanswersingenesis.org.au/aig_ham_museum.htm.

Beauty is Only Sin Deep September 29, 2008

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I spent this weekend outdoors, doing all of the myriad chores that fall under the heading of “winter preparation.”  I harvested the rest of the root vegetables in the garden, put away tools, covered four-wheelers, drained hoses, filled tires, stowed paint, organized sheds…you name it, I did it.  When you live on a homestead that encompasses several hundred acres, there is no end to that kind of work, but the tedium is ameliorated by the beauty of the setting.  I live on a high bluff overlooking the Tanana River, with a panoramic view that stretches for hundreds of miles.  Weather boils over the Alaska Range and sweeps acroos the Tanana Flats, birch and spruce are lit by the melancholy golden rays of a dying summer, and sunsets flame with an intensity that sears your nerve endings, leaving them raw and aching and yearning for more..  It is truly, awe-inspiringly lovely.

As I worked and took in this splendor, I was struck by the thought that the wild beauty I was surrounded by means something different to me than it does to most of the people that I share the earth with.  It saddens me to think that the vast majority of humans, experiencing the world and all of its riches, see only the hand of god.  The sillhouette of a mountain against an eggshell sky, the power and fragility of a leaf falling to the forest floor, the endless pageant of clouds marching across the horizon…all of these things are heart-wrenchingly mysterious, gloriously real.

To view the world through the filter of religion seems a horrible thing to me.   To take all of the majesty, the darkness, the mind-bending wonder that is nature and chalk it all up to the workings of a supreme being is to cheat yourself, to deny the incredible. 

It takes a thing of beauty and renders it flat.  It turns truth into lie.

It takes all of the fun out of it.

Hell on Wheels September 27, 2008

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Religion.  There seems to be no escaping it.  Just when you think that by avoiding religious services and conversations with bearded homeless guys then you have escaped being preached to, you are hit with pithy little religious bon mots while innocently waiting at a stop light.   Here’s a survey of the pearls of wisdom seen in a typical week in my town. 

“The Big Bang Theory:  God Spoke, and BANG! It happened.  (Ah…so that’s what happened.  Thanks for clearing that up.)

“Tolerance is for the peson who has no conviction.”  (Really creepy)

“Warning:  In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned!”  (Even creepier)

“Proud to be a Christian from Texas.” (Don’t even get me started on that one….)  

The Overwhelming Evidence Supports Creation, not Evolution.”  (Oh really…then what’s with all of the dinosaur bones?)

Christians aren’t perfect… just forgiven.”  (And perhaps a bit smug, eh?)

And on and on and on it goes. 

There may be hope for the world, though.  Driving home from work yesterday, weary from the onslaught of Christian conviction and holier-than-thou attitude, I chanced to spot a bumper sticker that it took me a couple of seconds to figure out.  As comprehension dawned, I started laughing uncontrollably, and in fact I chuckle every time I think about it.  It said, simply, innocently, cheekily: 

Is That an Octopus or is it Satan? September 24, 2008

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The flip side of faith is hate, distrust and fear.

Human beings have always looked to demonize things that are unfamiliar or different.  We attribute evil qualities to other creatures who are ugly, or which remind us perhaps too much of ourselves.  People have been vilifying wolves for centuries:  we are all familiar with the venemous fear that these creatures engender.

Journalist Lynne Snifka explores this concept in her article “Eight Arms to Hold You”, about the octopuses at the SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska.  In the article she discusses how octopuses freak people out, since they are intelligent and have the ability to manipulate objects around them, in addition to their being alien in appearance.  Snifka quotes Victor Hugo in his story The Toilers of the Sea, in which he describes octopuses as “concrete forms of evil.”  She posits that Hugo’s “depiction of a malevolent octopus epitomized the natural human reaction to an intelligent unknown:  We demonized it.”

And isn’t that just what we do, people?  We hate what we don’t understand, affix labels and try to wedge everything in to tight little boxes, all so that we can try to make sense of the unknown or unknowable.  Religion provides a tool for those who like their worlds all nice and orderly, an answer to everything.  Religious belief is the equivalent of hiding under the blankets so that the monster can’t find you.  Pehaps it would be better, instead, to poke our heads out of the covers and take a longer look at the monster.  It just might be something beautiful, and not so evil after all.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read September 22, 2008

Posted by sociallyacceptableinsanity in American society, Atheism, politics, religion.
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Say I came up to you and wanted to tell you all about the Potato God (The Great Tuber, we shall call him).  Say I could tell you all kinds of wonderful, awe-inspiring things that The Great Tuber has done, the miracles worked by him, his disciples and his prophets.  Say I had a lengthy, lyrically-written book that I assured you would reveal all about The Great Tuber, and that by reading this book and believing in The Great Tuber, then you would have an afterlife of pure joy, for eternity.

Would you believe me?

“Give me a break!”, you say.  “Of course I wouldn’t believe you!  Why, that’s just ridiculous.  Everyone knows that there is no such thing as The Great Tuber.”

Now, suppose I came up to you and offered you a book that was filled with murder, incest, envy, greed, lust, infanticide, fratricide, patricide, rape, etc.  Would you read it?

“Of course I wouldn’t read it!”, you say.  “I’m a good, kind, decent person.  I don’t read that kind of filth!  Why that’s just sick!”

Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?  But every day people all over the world (roughly 2.1 billion) worship a god just as fanciful, just as ridiculous in concept as The Great Tuber, and they read about him in a book filled with the atrocities listed above.  That book is called The Bible.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?  It blows my mind that otherwise rational people would wholeheartedly believe in a being just because a book (written by men) tells them that this being is real, and that they are willing to do all manner of uncivilized things and use this book as justification for their actions.  It blows my mind that these same supposedly rational people can read all about this god’s crimes and adventures and not be bothered by the capricious violence attributed to this creature.  A kind and loving god, but a vengeful and wrathful god, indeed.  A god that allows Charles Manson to live, but will also allow a three year-old child to die a slow painful death by cancer.  What a guy.

To borrow a phrase from our esteemed Governor Palin, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Lest you think that I’m picking on Christians and Christians only, rest assured, I think the other major and minor religions of the world are just as deluded.   Check in later this week for my thoughts on the many other forms of socially acceptable insanity.

Religion and Politics: Why Sarah Palin Scares the Crap Out of Me September 21, 2008

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As an atheist, there is much to frustrate me about living in America, but nothing frustrates me more than the invidious stranglehold that religion has on politics in this country.

I’ve always thought it ridiculous that in a nation founded in part on religious freedom, no person running for higher office can possibly have a hope of winning unless they proudly proclaim their faith in god.  Our candidates dutifully join the flock while accompanied by a flock of their own, a flock armed with cameras and microphones.   Candidates such as Barack Obama, who has a “Muslim” name and refuses to wear an American flag lapel pin, draw virulent criticism and become the subjects of intense scrutiny.  “Is he a Christian?”, the good, right-wing people of America ask themselves in consternation.  “Is he the Anti-Christ?”, they fret.

Which brings me now to Sarah Palin, the governor of my fair state and the newly annointed darling/pin-up girl of the right-wing.  This woman is frightening!  As the weeks since her joining the Republican ticket have gone by, more and more details of her religious life and beliefs are coming to light, and it isn’t pretty.  To name a few: 

  • She attended a Pentacostal church (they of the speaking in tongues) for 25 years, only switching to a so-called “non-denominational” evangelical church six years ago. 
  • She has referred to the war in Iraq as a “task from god” and has exhorted the people of Alaska to pray for the natural gas line to be built.  
  • Her current church holds conferences on how to “pray the gay away” and promises to help homosexual men and women stop being attracted to members of their own sex. 
  • She promotes “abstinence only” sex education, which is amusing considering that her own daughter didn’t seem to absorb that message very well, and apparently neither did Sarah herself, since a study of the dates of her “elopement” with Todd and the birth of their oldest child would seem to indicate that that child was born a mere eight months after the wedding. 
  • Palin has also stated that she does not believe in women having the right to an abortion, even in the case of incest or rape.
Pastor Ed Kalnins blesses Sen. Murkowski, Lt. Gov. Parnell and Gov. Palin at One Lord Sunday

Pastor Ed Kalnins blesses Lt. Gov. Parnell, Gov. Palin and Sen. Murkowski at One Lord Sunday

Though Sarah protests that her private views on religion will not spill over in to her political life, I think it is obvious that it will.  I see the light of the zealot in her eyes, the utter conviction that her way is the right way, her god the only god.  If the McCain-Palin ticket succeeds in winning the presidential election, placing her in the position of being “one heartbeat away from the presidency,” do we really want someone like her in office?  Haven’t eight years of god-fearing, born-again Bush been enough?  What this country needs right now is a politician that cares more about rational, real solutions for our problems, not one who thinks that you can pray for things and they will happen if you ask god nicely enough.  Why do Americans insist that our politicians be “persons of faith?” Why do we confuse religious belief with love of country? 

Why can’t Americans just grow up?

On being an Atheist in America September 15, 2008

Posted by sociallyacceptableinsanity in American society, Atheism, politics, religion.
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Almost every one of us has felt alienated and misunderstood at some point in their life.  Whether it be due to socio-economic reasons, gender- or race bias, or to one of the other myriad ways in which humans belittle each other, most of us have encountered ridicule or discrimination in some form.  Society has adopted rules of behavior that have helped, to a certain extent, to ameliorate this, and most rational people stick to these rules, at least in public.  There is one area, however, that seems to have missed being included under the mantle of political correctness, and that area is atheism.

Let me start with a little background.  I have been a life-long atheist.  My parents are atheists, but they encouraged my brothers and me to read the Christian Bible, as well as any other religious texts we wished to, and we did so with alacrity.   The family dinner table was the scene of many lively discussions about religion:  holiday dinners were especially lively, as many members of my extended family did not share my family’s lack of religious belief.  The result of a lifetime of talking about religion, reading about religion and thinking about religion is this:  I do not believe in a supreme being, and I never will.  I certainly do not credit the existence of a god that is interested in the personal affairs of every living human on the planet, nor do I feel that humans need to placate, grovel or beg such a being for favors.  Nor do I wish to exchange all of the wonder and awe that I feel, when I ponder the universe and our place in it, for an all-purpose answer about our existence.  It is the wonder, after all, that is so wonderful!

So, now you know my dirty little secret.  I refer to it as a dirty little secret because that is how I, and those like me, are often made to feel it is.  Those who wouldn’t dream of telling a racist joke feel no qualms about expressing disbelief, revulsion, contempt, pity and just about any other condescending reaction that you can imagine when finding out that I am “godless.”   I have seen people, when they find out that I am an atheist, actually move away from me as if I had the plague or were about to be struck by lightening.  I have been harassed by a co-worker that was so “concerned about my immortal soul” that she felt the need to send me religious poetry that she had written, attempted to proselytize to me every chance she got, and who gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity as a parting gift when I left my position at the organization we both worked for.  I was even once made to stand in front of my fourth-grade classroom while the teacher (who had been informed of my atheist stance by a fellow classmate who had overheard a playground conversation) berated me for 20 minutes about my godlessness and told me flat out that I was going to hell.

I do not believe that I am alone in encountering this behavior, and anecdotes from the small number of other atheists I know personally bear me out.  One does not encounter many atheists in everyday life, and I have often wondered if this is due more to the fact that there just aren’t that many of us, or if it because we have learned to keep our views to ourselves in a wish to avoid the sometimes hysterical reaction of those who consider themselves saved (for a taste of what I consider hysterical, ponder if you will this quote from Pat Robertson’s New World Order).  “How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy money changers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?”

When I read things like that I am forced to ask myself this:  how can there be peace when there are people like that in the world?

So, yes, we atheists are small in number and prone to keeping a low profile, but who can blame us when you consider the numbers?  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life/U.S. Religious Landscape Survey lists the percentage of the U.S. adult population who consider themselves to be atheists as 1.6, joined by 2.4% who consider themselves agnostics and 12.1% who consider themselves “nothing in particular.”  Not promising numbers, but at least I am not completely alone in the wilderness.  However, when stacked against the 26.3% who belong to evangelical Protestant churches, the 18.1% who belong to mainline Protestant churches and the 23.9% of practicing Catholics, the number of atheists and agnostics is woefully slim.

Granted, there are some very public and outspoken atheists, George Carlin being a prime example.  Carlin said in his 1999 concert film You Are All Diseased, “When it comes to BULLSHIT…BIG-TIME, MAJOR LEAGUE BULLSHIT… you have to stand IN AWE, IN AWE of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion.”  British scientist and writer Richard Dawkins has referred to religion as a “mind virus,” and Isaac Asimov once said “I am an atheist, out and out.”  Perhaps my own feelings about religious belief can best be summed up by this quote from Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy):  “I find the whole business of religion profoundly interesting.  But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously.”

It does seem to be that more and more people are turning their backs on religious belief and becoming much more vocal about it, and it appears that they are finding a receptive audience.  Author Christopher Hitchens’ recent book, God is Not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything, reached #1 on the New York Times best seller list by it’s third week of publication, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins stayed on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller list for 51 weeks.  The internet abounds with websites which offer information to those interested in atheism, agnosticism and secular humanism.  This increasing interest in non-religious thought helps me believe that someday I will be able to share my viewpoints without it being instantly assumed that I worship satan.  Which, by the way, I do not.  It would be necessary to believe in a god if one were to believe in satan – you can’t really have one without the other. 

As I look at the world around me, mired in strife and distrust, lost in a blizzard of rhetoric and fear, I never lose hope that mankind will collectively find the way to release itself from this socially acceptable insanity that is religion.