Tuesday, August 28, 2007

On brainwashing

Bad Astronomy Blog on teaching creationism to children:
I am filled with sadness when I see things like this. I’ve been around a lot of kids. I helped at a local Boys and Girls Club when I was in NorCal, teaching them about the solar system, astronomy, and science. I’ve used my own telescope to show Saturn to countless kids. I’ve traveled to schools around the country to talk about the joy, the wonder, the awe of astronomy. When you see that spark, that glow, that moment when a child understands what they are seeing, or even just the potential in their faces as they chew over the nature of reality, of the Universe… the joy that fills your heart is impossible to describe. It’s wondrous.

Creationism and fundamentalist dogma destroy that potential. It’s wrong, and it’s evil.
He links to a polite deconstruction of the winning essay in a creationism essay contest.

It's heartbreaking, really.

Plus, I continue to suspect that somewhere in India and/or China, a classroom full of science students is laughing its collective ass off at us because of stuff like this.

Please sell crazy elsewhere

There are so many historical and geographic problems with this video, but I will just let it speak for itself (h/t to Jesus' General).

I'll just mention two glaring problems: (1) to make the map look like a "beast," they had to add land on the Egyptian coast where none actually exists; and (2) somehow the great "Islamic empire" that the creators of this video claim will rule over the Middle East and Europe does not include Saudi Arabia (and therefore Mecca and Medina). I guess issue #1 is the more intractable of the two (I think there's a pun in there somewhere...)

Anyway, the fact that people might honestly want to base U.S. foreign policy on a map featuring made-up land is both mind-boggling and terrifying to me. I hope these folks will quickly retreat to their mountain strongholds, so we won't have to worry about them.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

No good deed goes unpunished, or, how America told the Afghans to suck its blasphemous balls

The BBC reports that many Afghans are upset that footballs (soccer balls to you and me) bearing the name of Allah are being handed out by American forces. Upon reading the headline, "'Blasphemous' balls anger Afghans," my first reaction was to giggle like I was still in junior high. After I got over it, I wondered why Americans would have soccer balls with the word "Allah" emblazoned all over it. That was before I saw the picture:

Football dropped by US troops

It's actually the flag of Saudi Arabia, which apparently includes the "the shahada, one of the five pillars of Islam - the declaration of faith," which presumably includes the name of Allah. The article also notes that the Saudi government has complained before about its flag being used on soccer balls. The fun continues:
A spokeswoman for the US forces in Afghanistan said they made "significant efforts to work with local leaders, mullahs and elders to respect their culture" and distributing the footballs was an effort to give a gift the Afghan children would enjoy.

"Unfortunately," she added, "there was something on those footballs we didn't immediately understand to be offensive and we regret that as we do not want to offend."
Soccer balls bearing national flags are certainly not uncommon, so it makes me wonder whether Saudi Arabia does any other sort of marketing with its flag. Is there a particular way to handle this t-shirt? This coffee mug? I'm especially curious about this bumper sticker--what if you get rear-ended?

This actually reminds me quite a bit of the whole flag burning nonsense here in the U.S. Placing the importance of the physical expression of something over the thing itself is just silly. Whatever may be believed about the sanctity of the name of God, Allah, etc., it's still just a soccer ball. The same goes for the American flag--it's a symbol that is not as important as what it represents. And that is the freedom to wear American flag-patterned nylon pants (it's amazing what you can find on Google). Anyway, as tacky as the pants may be, we need these freedoms, because it allows us things like this:

Jessica Simpson on GQ cover in American flag bikini DBU pants and soldier dog tags

More hotties, more soccer, less war. That's what the world needs.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I am a scientific atheist!

You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Apathetic Atheist


Spiritual Atheist


Angry Atheist


Militant Atheist






What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Believe me when I say that I got something for his punk-ass

Religious discrimination against adherents of Santeria. Who'd'a thunk it? (Another h/t to TFN)
Practitioners of Santeria, most notably Ernesto Pichardo, the South Florida priest who won a landmark Supreme Court decision sanctioning animal sacrifices, say the complaints -- and official reaction to those complaints -- come from a misunderstanding of his religion at best, outright bigotry at worst.
How to respectfully address this one...
Neighbors said that while they respect [Coral Gables resident Noriel] Batista's right to practice his faith, they wish he would not be so public about it.

''I just think they should do those things away from neighborhoods, where there are no kids and nobody can see those things,'' said Ricardo Celiz, a sports anchor for UnivisiĆ³n's Spanish-language broadcast network, TeleFutura. His family, including two small children, lives four houses away.

''And definitely I don't want them to see any dead animals at that house,'' he said.

The tensions are understandable as second- and third-generation adherents, most of them from Cuba and other Latin countries, move up the economic ladder and out of the old neighborhoods, said Miguel De La Torre, author of Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America.

The popularity of Santeria, also called Lukumi, among non-Latins is another factor -- notably black Americans embracing their African roots, he said.

''There is a fear that is rooted in racism,'' said De La Torre, an associate professor of ethics and director of the Justice and Peace Institute at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. 'This religion is practiced by Latinos, or people of African descent. It's an element of `Oh, look at these primitive people sacrificing animals.' ''

Those fears echo the early days of the religion, which arose as African slaves in Cuba masked their religion from colonial masters by masking their orishas, or gods, with the faces of Catholic saints.

''For some people, moving up the economic or social ladder means assimilation, putting away the old religion,'' he said. 'But then you have a generation that says, `I will live in an upscale neighborhood, but I will also have my santos, thank you very much.' '
Say, don't Catholics publicly drink blood and eat flesh every Sunday? Maybe I'm making a fallacious comparison, but maybe it's just that santeros are more direct about the sacrifices they make.

And I just couldn't help it with the song lyrics. Sorry.

The headline says it all.

Pastor asks followers to pray for his critics to die (h/t to TFN)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Speaking to God

Faith Central has compiled 50 religious insights from George Bush. My personal favorite, for its unintentional irony:
Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research. ...Human life is a gift from our Creator -- and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale. 2006 State of the Union Address, Jan. 31, 2006
Here's another view of things:
“Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?”

– Lily Tomlin

One, two, Freddie [Phelps] is coming for you...

I was just reading about a Dallas-area megachurch that is refusing to bury a gay man (and Gulf War veteran) now that they know he was gay:
"We did decline to host the service - not based on hatred, not based on discrimination, but based on principle," [the church's pastor, the Rev. Gary] Simons told The Associated Press. "Had we known it on the day they first spoke about it - yes, we would have declined then. It's not that we didn't love the family."
What, you might ask, does this have to do with the shame of Topeka, Kansas? I am coming to believe that, to an outside observer, any ideology is only as good as its worst practitioner. By that I mean that the merits of a religion, political theory, or other worldview or ideology must be judged by its worst possible application. Marxism might have sounded okay at one time on paper, but then it yielded Lenin, and, well, pretty much every communist shithead to come after him. To use a contemporary, local example, American-style Democracy (at least the way it is described by the Bush administration) may be dipping in global popularity, probably due to widespread cognitive dissonance brought on by the administration's words and actions. We, as Americans, may have a pretty good view of democracy, at least as compared to life in North Korea, since we have lived with it, and generally haven't been waterboarded, for all of our lives. Much of the rest of the world is under no obligation to ignore what America is actually doing in the world and to drink the democracy Kool-Aid Bush/Cheney is serving.

Getting back to my original point (since I at least take it as axiomatic that Bush/Cheney is an undemocratic thug), a common refrain among many Christians is that homosexuality is a sin that should be discouraged as much as possible. Really, the logical application of this belief is to discourage it at every turn--God's retribution would be quite widespread, wouldn't it?. By the same token, of course, all other sins should be equally discouraged, but then there would hardly be any time to find food and shelter. The Dallas megachurch is really just a tamer example of Rev. Freddie's hobby. Rev. Freddie seems to have concluded that the whole world is going to hell and it is his job to constantly remind us of that, and he is doing it in the name of God, Christ, and all Christians, whether they realize/like it or not.

Speaking as a Non-Practicing Atheist and Recovering Christian, I'm hardly in an ideal position to respond to Rev. Freddie, but I will say this: his actions soil the image of Christianity and Christians everywhere, much as Islam is sullied by terror and Hinduism is tarnished by naitonalism in India (don't even get me started on Israel and anti-Semitism). Christians everywhere need to put up or shut up--you support Rev. Freddie, you oppose him, or there is a more--gasp--nuanced view of this whole issue.

I do have something to say directly to Rev. Freddie, though, because I think the bulk of his power comes from the simple fact that he gets so damn much attention (I admit guilt to this as well, obviously):
I know you too well now, Freddie...It's too late...I know the secret now -- this is just a dream, too -- you're not alive -- the whole thing is a dream -- so fuck off! I want my mother and friends again. I take back every bit of energy I ever gave you. You're nothing. You're shit.
Okay, so that's from the speech Nancy gives to Freddie Krueger at the end of Nightmare on Elm Street, but I think the principle is the same.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The true legacy of eastern religion?

There has been much ado about the whole Hindu prayer in Congress thing of late. Perhaps they do not fear the faith itself, but rather this:

I know that this has not added anything meaningful to the dialogue. I do not care.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A shallow quiz to determine your religion!

As I suspected, according to the Belief-O-Matic quiz, I am 100% Unitarian-Universalist, 96% Secular Humanist, 85% Liberal Quaker (?), and 79% Neo-Pagan (and I don't even own any cloaks!). Going all the way down the list, I am 13% Jehovah's Witness. I think these percentages refers to the number of beliefs I share with these particular schools of thought. I try to take the quiz every so often, to see if my total score changes over time. At some point a few years ago I scored higher as a Neo-Pagan than a UU, but I've been consistently UU most of the time. I'm only 66% "Nontheist"--not sure what that means. I'm not changing the name of the blog.

We are very very very very small...

Some more food for thought from this guy's report from YearlyKos:
[P]hysicist Sean Carroll of Caltech and Cosmic Variance addressed a vastly different subject that, nevertheless, led him back to a similar theme. Sean's talk was about, well, the nature of the universe. Mystery solved: It turns out that it's roughly 5% stuff like us, 25% "dark matter," and 70% "dark energy." Or as Sean joked: "The good news is that we understand a lot about the universe. The bad news is that it makes no sense."

But even as Sean gave us a complete and highly entertaining tour of reality, he hit on a much broader theme. The latest research in cosmology suggests that the universe is friggin weird. Indeed, there's probably no bigger blow to the human ego than the fact that because it is of an incomprehensible "dark" nature, "most of the universe can't even be bothered to interact with you," as Sean put it. Nevertheless, he concluded that there's something deeply uplifting about a way of thinking that allowed us to not only uncover but embrace this jaw-dropper of an inconvenient truth -- something that we would never have expected to find, but that becomes inescapable once you survey all the evidence. And by the same token, Sean pointed out that there's something rather shallow and small about an outlook that can't be bothered to confront facts of this unsettling nature.
One problem I always had with my religious upbringing and much of religious thought nowadays (and I know this does not apply to everyone) is the way it encourages complacency--God/Jesus/Etc. loves you, and that is all you need to know. If there is a God(s), He has been incredibly busy, and there is much more of his creation to be admired than we could possibly imagine. It at least puts sporting events into their much broader persepctive.


This made me go hmmmm:
We use “God” all the time to refer the workings of Nature, without meaning anything religious by it. Or at least, we used to; the nefarious encroachment of Intelligent Design and the religious right on our national discourse has given some of us pause. In the past I could have given a talk and said “Either you need a dynamical origin for the primordial cosmological perturbations, or you just have to accept that this is how God made the universe,” without any worry whatsoever that the physicists in the audience would have been confused. They would have known perfectly well that I was just using a colorful metaphor for “that’s just how the universe is,” in a purely cold-hearted and materialistic fashion. Nowadays I find myself avoiding such language, or substituting “Stephen Hawking” for “God” in a desperate attempt to preserve some of the humor.

All of which is to say: religion is impoverishing our language. I want God back, dammit.

Okay, whose is bigger? Let's settle this once and for all...

From the Department of Remarkable Political Time-Wasters, I fully expect Gov. Huckabee and Sen. Brownback, at least in time for the August 11 straw poll, to whip 'em out to see whose Jesus is bigger:
[O]n the ground in Iowa, which holds the first nominating contest, a pitched battle has broken out involving two lesser-known candidates who are trading accusations of religious bigotry and hypocrisy. The battle has become the most heated and personal rivalry in the Republican field.

The fight is for second place in the Aug. 11 Iowa Straw poll, a traditional bellwhether that signals the strength of Republican campaigns, and it pits Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, against Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. And it could mean life or death to either of their candidacies.

The current tensions stem from an e-mail message sent to two Brownback supporters by Rev. Tim Rude, the pastor of an evangelical church in Walnut Creek, Iowa. In the message, Mr. Rude, a Huckabee volunteer, compared the religious backgrounds of Mr. Huckabee, a Baptist pastor, and Mr. Brownback, who is Roman Catholic.

“I know Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002,” Mr. Rude wrote. “Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment when compared to the Governor’s.”

Grasping at straw poll
The message struck some as an attempt to highlight Mr. Brownback’s Catholicism in a state with a large Protestant electorate. After the message found its way into several blogs last week, Mr. Huckabee issued a statement on Wednesday saying that his campaign neither disseminated nor condoned the message. He called Mr. Brownback a “Christian brother” and added, “As believers, we don’t have time to fight each other.”

But the matter did not end there. After the Brownback campaign cried foul, Mr. Huckabee’s campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, a Catholic, said, “It’s time for Sam Brownback to stop whining and start showing some of the Christian character he seems to always find lacking in others.”

He continued, “If Brownback is going to fall to pieces every time a supporter of the Governor says something he doesn’t like, he clearly isn’t tough enough to be President.”
I love a good catfight. I say we settle this by taking the hottest intern from each campaign staff and making them Jello Wrestle for Jesus.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Lest we forget...

I would like to take a moment to thank Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle, for her role in putting God back into the Texas pledge of allegiance (via LVB and the Houston Chronicle):
State Rep. Debbie Riddle, who sponsored the bill, said it had always bothered her that God was omitted in the state’s pledge.

“Personally, I felt like the Texas pledge had a big old hole in it, and it occurred to me, ‘You know what? We need to fix that,’ ” said Riddle, R-Tomball. “Our Texas pledge is perfectly OK like it is with the exception of acknowledging that just as we are one nation under God, we are one state under God as well.”
Whew! I'm glad we got that cleared up. I suppose now all the children can just pray for school funding, and the Legislature can take a break.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Irony? Is thy name Target?

Check out this post and tell me if the placement of the book and the sticker can be considered an example of irony. I'm not sure.

The impossibility of argument regarding "faith"

It is hard to distill this article I just read into anything resembling bite-sized chunks, so I will just link to it and say this: Christopher Brookmyre offers an intriguing and thought-provoking view of the dangers of faith in certain religious dogmas, and how an unquestioning faith often leads to destructive outcomes. The commenters seem to have no sense of proportion, perspective, or irony in discussing the role of "faith" in daily life. It should be axiomatic, really, that "faith" in a god who will bestow specific rewards for specific actions (e.g. suicide bombers or snake handlers, or more mundane and less harmful tasks) is inherently irrational (i.e. not based on rational observation and deduction of the natural world), and that this is a far different proposition than the sorts of "faith" most people have every day: e.g. that the sun will rise, that cars will stop when we enter the crosswalk on a green light, that quantum fluctuations will not cause my coffee to suddenly fly out of the mug and into my face. This second type of "faith" is actually based on experience--we have all seen daily sunrises (or the aftermaths, if you sleep late), we have all crossed streets and lived to tell the tale, and we have all drank coffee without incident. It is certainly possible that the earth will stop spinning or that I will step out in front of a deranged lunatic in a Hummer eager to squash an unfamiliar bald man on the street, but I trust prior experience and I look both ways before crossing the street (can't do much about the earth-spinning thing, or the quantum fluctuation thing, but I can live with that.) Faith in the basic decency of one's fellow motorists, or in the generally-accepted laws of physics, is very, very different from the faith that would motivate someone to die and/or kill, or do any of the other quite frankly nutty things that religious fanatics so often do.

Until the varying degrees of faith can be recognized and accepted by most people, an honest dialogue between theists and non-theists is probably impossible. There is no inconsistency in rejecting the first type of faith, and tossing out a great deal of religious beliefs with it, while still holding on to the second kind of faith. At most, seeing an inconsistency there demonstrates the inadequacy of language to express certain concepts. I will gladly give up my own atheistic beliefs under the right circumstances, but even mentioning that I do not believe in God/god provokes some remarkably defensive reactions from many people. If faith and/or religion helps a person get through the day, more power to them. If faith and/or religion helps a person find the one great truth that must be imposed on all others, then there is a problem. In other words, some faith is good, and some is bad, and we as a species desperately need the wisdom to understand the difference.

As a tangentially-related side note, I do not feel that the burden of proof is on me to prove that God/god doesn't exist.

One quick note about communists and Nazis--these were not atrocities principally motivated by a lack of belief in God/god. It is by no means clear that Nazism was an atheistic ideology anyway, but that is beside the point. These ideologies had many things in common with fanatical religious doctrines--followers acted out of a fervent belief that was not supported by empirical evidence, or had as its support evidence that had been distorted beyond recognition by ideologues. Furthermore, these systems involved personality cults that might be indistinguishable from religions to outside observers. Therefore, to say that atheism naturally leads to the atrocities of Hitler or Stalin is wrong. My beef is with any ideology or system that places dogma above evidence and reason.

I'm sure this would work perfectly...

Sen. Tom Tancredo's idea for a deterrent to terrorists set on detonating a nuke in America?...Threaten to bomb Mecca and Medina. That should fix the problem of Muslim extremists hating America...