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But Would it Play in Peoria? October 26, 2008

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The other day I read an interesting article on the web about a group that is attempting to launch an atheist advertising campaign in London.  The Atheist Campaign intends to put the slogan, “There’s probably no god.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”, on 30 buses throughout London and is soliciting donations through it’s website.  Well-known scientist and author Richard Dawkins has offered to match donations for the campaign, up to £5,500.

The Atheist Campaign is the brain-child of Ariane Sherine, who first wrote about the idea on the Comment is free website in reaction to seeing religious advertising and bible quotes on several buses.  According to The Atheist Campaign.org website, the intent of the campaign is to

… brighten people’s days on the way to work, help raise awareness of atheism in the UK, and hopefully encourage more people to come out as atheists. We can also counter the religious adverts which are currently running on London buses, and help people think for themselves.”

I think it’s a great idea, but I do wish that they would take the word “probably” out of the slogan.  What’s wrong with just saying, flat out, that there is no god?  Of course, the inclusion of that word is most likely an attempt to reach agnostics as well as atheists, but I still think it is a bit cowardly.  I’m sure it helps them get more donations, though.

What struck me most about this campaign is that it would probably never fly in the United States.  I can just imagine the public cries of outrage, the condemnation, the accusations of discrimination which so many Christians love to level at those who have the temerity to offer a dissenting opinion.  What is harder to imagine is the probability of finding a bus company in the U.S. that would actually consent to displaying an advertisement like this.  I’m sure that many buses would be defaced and that religious groups would declare boycotts.   Isn’t that the way it usually goes?

So what, dear reader, do you think?  Would this campaign work in the U.S.?  Why or why not?  Please post a comment and share your thoughts on this.

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We’re All Doomed October 19, 2008

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This Friday I finally saw Religulous, the new Bill Maher movie about the insanity that is religion.  In this movie Maher travels the world, interviewing people of many faiths and asking them questions about what and why they believe.

It probably goes without saying that I laughed a lot, as did the rest of the audience.  However, I was shaking my head ruefully while I laughed, because this movie brought home to me, once again, the sheer impossibility of getting religious people to see reason.  Almost every person he talked to seemed rational enough, but the minute he challenged them to explain inconsistancies in their beliefs they would retreat behind a wall of dogma, “faith” or just plain weirdness.  Do you really believe that Jonah lived for three days in the belly of a whale?  “It was a large fish,” the interviewee says.  As Maher wonderingly asks later, does that make a difference somehow?  Oh, it wasn’t a whale, it was a large fish.  That makes infinitely more sense, doesn’t it?  The only people that seemed open to listening to him were the truckers at a truck stop chapel, even though one of them walked out on him.

Maher takes on Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Mormonism, and televangelism, shotting holes in their hypocrisy.   Time and again, when asked why their religion fostered intolerance and hatred, respondents of all faiths would answer “it’s all political.”  That’s right:  my religion doesn’t breed hate, it’s everyone else that is causing it.

He visits the Mormom Temple in Salt Lake City (they throw him out),  the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, the Dome of the Rock, the Vatican and the Holy Land Experience in Orlando.  About the Holy Land Experience:  I could not figure out why the audience at the “Crucifixion” kept clapping!  What, were they just being polite, or did they really get off on seeing their “Lord” dragging a cross while being beaten by Roman soldiers?  Bizarre….

I really got a kick out of the two Vatican priests that he interviewed (outside the actual walls of the Vatican – the officials didn’t want him there any more than the Mormons did),  but I kept asking myself if they were really Vatican priests.  These guys were openly, cheerfully scornful of so many Catholic beliefs.   I know that Catholicism has changed a lot since Vatican II, but I didn’t think that they had gotten to the point where they didn’t believe in Hell anymore.  I think I might research that a little more.

In the end, amid images of violence and destruction intercut with those of religous adherents bobbing, swaying, gesticulating, screaming and otherwise acting like they are just plain nuts, Maher comes to his final point.  Humankind’s ability to created weapons of mass destruction does not mix well with their inablility to stop clinging to religious belief, and we may all eventually pay the ultimate price for such madness.  His final diagnosis?  That we must “grow up, or die.”

While I know that many people thought his conclusion to be heavy-handed and a bit melodramatic, I liked it. 

Because he’s right.

Hear an audio clip of audience reaction to the movie.

Religiously Unacceptable Insanity October 17, 2008

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An October 15, 2008 LiveScience.com article, titled Church Pastors Dismiss Mental Illness, is yet another example of religious stupidity at its best.

The article, which discusses a study done by Baylor University, states:

“In a study of Christian church members who approached their church for help with a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, researchers found that more than 32 percent were told by their pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness.”

The problem was solely spiritual in nature, they were told.”

Isn’t that just great?  You’re suffering mental anguish, perhaps even hearing voices, but when you seek help from your pastor or clergy member (someone whom you trust to have your best interests at heart), that person dismisses your legitimate mental problems and blames it on a not being “right” with god?  That is so supremely stupid, dangerous, and callous that it is almost impossible to comprehendTo make matters worse, the article goes on to say “those whose mental illness is dismissed by clergy are not only being told they don’t have a mental illness, they are also being told they need to stop taking their medication.”

I thought we had left the Dark Ages behind us, but evidently we have not.  What’s next, flogging and burning at the stake?  And is it any surprise that the study found that “women were more likely than men to have their mental disorders dismissed by the church?”

Lest you think that perhaps these people weren’t actually mentally ill, read on. 

“All of the participants in both studies were previously diagnosed by a licensed mental health provider as having a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder and schizoprenia, prior to approaching their local church for assistance.”

One wonders how many potentially violent or suicidal people have been pursuaded by their religious leaders to forego scientific treatment for their illness, and perhaps gone on to harm others or themselves.  One is also left to wonder if religion ever gets anything right. 

From where I stand, I’d say the answer is no.

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.

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?