American Atheists’ Dave Muscato: Christians don’t want equality, they want supremacy


American Atheists’ Dave Muscato: Christians don’t want equality, they want supremacy  

By David Ferguson
Dave Muscato via screencap

Dave Muscato, director of media relations for American Atheists, Inc., said that Christians who complain about persecution in the public square don’t actually want equality with other viewpoints, they want supremacy over them.

In an interview with Raw Story, Muscato responded to avowals by Louisiana public officials that prayer will continue in public forums by saying that Christian officials who foist their views on private citizens are in violation of the some of this country’s most sacred founding beliefs and of the U.S. Constitution.

“These Christians,” he continued, “they’ve had a monopoly for so long. They don’t want equality, they want privilege. And when they don’t get special rights, they cry that they’re being persecuted.”

The men were discussing a case currently before the Supreme Court, Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which non-Christian plaintiffs are suing the city of Greece, NY to stop Christian prayers at the outset of city council meetings, public hearings and other government events.

Ouachita Parish Police Jury President Shane Smiley told the News-Star, “I will always vote for prayer. More important than it being a tradition, we make decisions that affect a lot of lives in the parish and need that guidance.”

“I don’t believe it’s inappropriate. I believe the jury as a whole believes an open invocation followed with the pledge of allegiance tells people who we are,” Smiley continued.

Jerry Hicks, president of the parish school board said, “Jesus Christ is our Lord. In the U.S., our god is God. I think prayer is essential. As a board, we’ll go after that if they try to take it away.”

Calling the Louisiana officials’ stance “a slap in the face to the Constitution,” Muscato said, “The United States does not have a ‘God.’ This is not a theocracy and we have freedom or religion here. People believe in all sorts of things.”

If that official feels they need to impress upon the jurors or members of the public the importance and possible ramifications of their decisions, Muscato proposed, they can bring in experts in jury outcomes, budget ramifications or other issues. It would be infinitely preferable, he said, to approach the public business in a way that “doesn’t involve the supernatural.”

Muscato appeared on Fox News on Wednesday alongside Rabbi Aryeh Spero and Bill Donohue of The Catholic League. He told Raw Story that while appearances by his group on Fox often result in a torrent of angry, anti-atheist emails, “Every time we go on Fox, we get new members and we get new people donating to us because people see us and they hear the crazy things that people actually believe. They see how dangerous it is that these people have a national stage.”

Atheists can’t be Republicans | The secular have no place in today’s GOP — and libertarian atheists should realize that now


Atheists can’t be Republicans
The secular have no place in today’s GOP — and libertarian atheists should realize that now

By CJ Werleman

Atheists can't be Republicans

Enlarge (Credit: AP/Reuters/J. Scott Applewhite/Manuel Balce Ceneta/Jonathan Ernst/Stacy Bengs/WDG Photo via Shutterstock/Salon)

We atheists like to chastise the religious for their child-like belief in an imaginary friend, but, equally, the time has come for the atheist movement to grow up. It’s understood that the so-called new atheist movement began at the start of the new millennium with the mainstream emergence of luminaries Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others.

For much of the first decade of the new century, the atheist movement behaved like a curious child in search of meaning to its own existence. Now that the child is a teenager on its way to adulthood, it needs to start acting like a grown up. The atheist movement comprises more than 2,000 groups and organizations in the U.S. today, but the movement, in composition and purpose, has failed to establish a coherent cause outside of validating non-belief and offering platitudes towards protecting the separation of church and state. Another thing one notices with the atheist movement is the fact it is predominantly upwardly middle-class, white and male. Sikivu Hutchinson writes, in her essay “Prayer Warriors and Freethinkers”: “If mainstream freethought and humanism continue to reflect the narrow cultural interests of white elites who have disposable income to go to conferences then the secular movement is destined to remain marginal and insular.”

The movement has an image problem. An image that isn’t helped by the ceaseless and over-simplified fear-mongering over Islamic terrorism from the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins — rhetoric that not only ignores our long history of foreign policy blunders in the Middle East, but also echoes the neo-conservatives, the Israel lobby and the entire right-wing echo chamber. Nathan Lean, author of “The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims,” writes, “The New Atheists became the new Islamophobes, their invectives against Muslims resembling the rowdy, uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect, rationality and reason.”

It’s time for the movement to address bigger and real issues, and the biggest issue of our time is income inequality. Of all the developed nations, the U.S. has the most unequal distribution of income. In the past decade, 95 percent of all economic gains have gone to the top 1 percent. A mere 400 individuals own one-half of the entire nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, median household income keeps falling, and our poverty levels resemble that of the Great Depression era. In other words, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being decimated. Atheists like to talk about building a better world, one that is absent of religiosity in the public square, but where are the atheist groups on helping tackle the single biggest tear in the fabric of our society — wealth disparity?

They are nowhere. Its absence on the most pressing moral issue of our time makes it difficult for the movement to establish meaningful partnerships with other moral communities. To remain white, middle class, intellectually smug and mostly apolitical will not only serve to alienate atheism from minorities and the poor, but will also ensure it remains a politically impotent movement that is incapable of building a better America. Growing up means less time and money spent on self-righteous billboard campaigns, and, instead, more resources allocated to fighting the political conditions that have caused this nation’s middle class and infrastructure to resemble that of a hyper-religious Third World nation.

Christopher Hitchens wrote that the intellectual advantage of atheism is its ability to reject unprovable assertions on face value. It’s why we don’t believe in the supernatural. Equally, it’s why we shouldn’t believe in a myth that is causing greater harm than creationism — the myth of trickle-down economics, which remains the economic blueprint for today’s Republican Party, despite the world’s leading economists lampooning it as an abject failure. In the four decades that followed FDR’s New Deal, our middle class became the envy of the world. In an op-ed titled “Abject Failure of Reaganomics,” Robert Parry writes, “It was the federal government that essentially created the Great American Middle Class — from the New Deal policies of the 1930s through other reforms of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, from Social Security to Wall Street regulation to labor rights to the GI Bill to the Interstate Highway System to the space program’s technological advances to Medicare and Medicaid to the minimum wage to civil rights.” But then came the period of Reagan’s holy trinity — privatization, deregulation, and free trade. Now here we are today — facing the largest economic crisis since the 1930s. Atheists are secularists, and a secularist cannot be a member of today’s Republican Party. You’re either one or the other.

You cannot be both. Now, I am acutely aware that a great number of atheists identify with the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, but this is comical. A lack of evidence is why atheists don’t believe in God. But to believe in libertarianism is in itself an act of faith, because libertarianism has not only never been tried anywhere, but an overwhelming number of economists reject the philosophy as little more than “capitalism with the gloves off” — a condition that would only exacerbate the winner-takes-all society we have today. If an atheist is looking for political evidence, the evidence we have is that not only is today’s Republican Party a theocratic sponsor, it’s also a party that has been proven wrong on just about everything in the past three decades or more: from evolution to climate change, trickle-down economics, that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators, that the Bush tax cuts would lead to jobs. It didn’t. It added $3 trillion to the debt.

They were wrong that the stimulus would trigger inflation, that austerity stimulates an economy and that universal healthcare is worse than slavery. It’s time for the atheist movement to get off the political sidelines. It’s time to truly help this country become a better place to live for all its citizens. The recent Values Voter Summit demonstrated that the likely 2016 GOP frontrunners and its base wish to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy — a nirvana absent gays, liberals, immigrants, Muslims and science books. If the atheist movement doesn’t evolve into a politically agitated, unified and mobilized Secular Left, then the Christian Right might just get its way. In fighting for truly meaningful social justice, such as income equality and the rights of minorities, the movement can form partnerships with communities that share common causes. For instance, building a bridge with certain religious communities that are equally concerned with fighting against class inequality and social injustice.

This would broaden the appeal of the atheism movement, and might just get people to like us a little more. Walter Bristol, an atheist interfaith activist, wrote, “Economic inequality is one of the most imminent issues facing Western society today. Any progressive movement that chooses to dismiss it is and will be rightfully dismissed themselves.” Atheists are the fastest growing minority in the country. We now have the critical mass to shape elections and policy. Either we seize our potential political power, thus acting like the grown up in the room, or we can continue to focus on the ‘pettier’ or issues, thus continuing to act like a petulant child.
CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. You can follow him on Twitter:  @cjwerleman

Study Indicates Atheists Are Better People


Study Indicates Atheists Are Better People

“Numerous studies reveal that atheists and secular people most certainly maintain strong values, beliefs, and opinions. But more significantly, when we actually compare the values and beliefs of atheists and secular people to those of religious people, the former are markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian.”

See here:-

Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions

http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Atheism.pdf

Related articles

All Children are Born Atheists


All Children are Born Atheists
Anyone who understands the definition of atheism must acknowledge that all children are born atheists, including those born to Christian parents. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of acceptance of the theistic belief claim (i.e., some god or gods exist). A theist is one who believes that god(s) exist; an atheist is one who does not share this belief. The newborn child cannot even entertain such possibilities and thus lacks theistic belief. Atheism is the default position, and this is where we all begin.

In order for Christians to argue against the reality that all children are born atheists, they must distort the meaning of atheism. They must convince themselves and their audience that atheism is a religion, a philosophy, or a worldview. They claim that atheism is an explicit repudiation of religion and that it involves faith that no gods exist. Such distortions in the meaning of atheism allow them to claim that children cannot be born atheist because atheism requires the same sort of deliberate choice required by religious belief.
Atheism is not a belief system but lack of acceptance of one particular belief. It requires no faith; it is the absence of faith. It is the null hypothesis, the default condition, the natural starting point for each of us.

But why must Christians distort the meaning of atheism at all? Why should they even care if their children are born atheists, especially when it is likely that they will begin brainwashing them at an early age? There are many reasons, ranging from a need to see the child as connected to them through the manner they consider most important (i.e., religion) to the harsh implications of infant mortality to their belief system.

To expand on this latter point, consider the Christian parent whose child dies before the child is capable of forming the cognitions necessary to comprehend theistic belief. According to this parent’s own Christian doctrine, this child is likely destined for hell. This is where non-believers go, and this child is clearly a non-believer. The Catholics toyed with limbo as a way out, but the evangelical Protestants now engaging in America’s “culture wars” never really warmed to this idea. Even theism will be insufficient for such a parent, as a personal relationship with Jesus is thought to be the only vehicle for salvation.

It should be remembered that Christians have created this doctrine for themselves and should be solely responsible for unraveling the many conundrums it presents. Distorting atheism is not an acceptable way out of the mess they have made.

Atheists and Non-Religious Underrepresented in New Congress


New Congress Underrepresents Nonreligious And ‘Nones’, But Gains In Diversity With Hindu, Buddhist

New Congress Religion

Members of the 113th US House of Representatives recite the Pledge of Allegience during the opening session at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 3, 2013.

Nearly one-in-five Americans have no religion, but only one member of the 533 people in the new 113th Congress that was sworn in Thursday would fall into one of the largest and fastest growing American demographics when it comes to religion or lack thereof.

A new analysis from the Pew Forum shows that while the new Congress is more diverse than ever before — it includes the the nation’s first Buddhist Senator and the first Hindu in either chamber of Congress, for example — it’s still far less diverse than the nation it represents.

Like the one before it, the new Congress is majority Protestant, but its changing membership is part of a “gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors trends in the country as a whole,” according to the Pew analysis. Congress is “far less” Protestant today than it was 50 years ago, when almost three-quarters of its membership was Protestant, according to the analysis.

“Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Mormons each make up a greater percentage of the members of Congress than of all U.S. adults. The same is true for some subgroups of Protestants, such as Episcopalians and Presbyterians. By contrast, Pentecostals are a much smaller percentage of Congress than of the general public,” the analysis says. “Due in part to electoral gains in recent years, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus now are represented in Congress in closer proportion to their numbers in the U.S. adult population. But some small religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, are not represented at all in Congress.”

Pew says that “perhaps greatest disparity, however, is between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who do not identify with any particular religion.” One-in-five U.S. adults are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” a group that’s altogether often called the “nones.” But only one person in the 113th Congress, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), does not affiliate with any particular religion, though Sinema has also said through a spokesman that “the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

In addition to Sinema, ten other members of the new Congress (about two percent) don’t specify their religion, an increase from six members (about one percent) in the previous Congress. According to Pew, that two percent figure is the same as the share of U.S. adults who have said in surveys that they don’t know or will not specify their religion.

The religious group to have the biggest increase in Congressional membership is Catholics, who have gained seven seats for a total of 163, making just above 30 percent of Congress Catholic. The biggest declines in numbers are among Jews and Protestants. Jews now have 33 seats in Congress (six percent), which is six fewer than before. Protestants lost eight seats, but they the current Congress has nearly the same percentage of Protestants (56 percent) as the previous one (57 percent).

The share of Protestants in each party remains nearly the same, too, as the 112th Congress. About seven-in-ten Republicans are Protestants, while less than half of Democrats are. But members of Congress who were sworn in for the first time on Thursday are significantly less Protestant than the Congressional freshmen class of 2011. Forty-eight percent of this year’s freshmen class are Protestant, compared to 59 percent of the freshmen class two years ago.

Mormons have 15 seats (about three percent) in the new Congress, the same number as in the previous Congress.

From Pew:

Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard is the first Hindu in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who has served on the Honolulu City Council and in the Hawaii state legislature, represents Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district. Gabbard takes over the seat held in the 112th Congress by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono (D), who on Nov. 6, 2012, became the first Buddhist elected to the Senate.In 2006, Hirono and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) became the first Buddhists to be elected to the House. Four years later, they were joined by a third Buddhist member, Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii). Johnson and Hanabusa were re-elected to serve in the 113th Congress.

The first Muslim to serve in either the House or the Senate, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was elected in 2006. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) became the second Muslim in Congress when he won a special election in 2008. In 2012, Michigan Democrat Syed Taj lost his bid to become the third Muslim member of Congress. Ellison and Carson were re-elected.

Members of other small religious groups started serving in Congress more than a century ago. The first Jewish member arrived in 1845, when Lewis Charles Levin of the American Party began representing Pennsylvania in the House. The first Mormon in Congress, John Milton Bernhisel, began serving in 1851, after Utah was officially recognized as a territory. California Democrat Dalip Singh Saund, the first and so far only Sikh to serve in Congress, served three terms starting in 1957.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a Unitarian who joined Congress in 1973, became the first member of Congress to publicly declare, in 2007, that he does not believe in a Supreme Being. He lost his re-election bid in 2012.

Of the 533 members of the new Congress, 299 are Protestant, which is about the same percentage (56 percent) as in the 112th Congress (57 percent) and higher than the share of Protestants in the U.S. adult population (48 percent). But the proportion of Protestants in Congress has been in gradual decline for decades, and the number in the 113th Congress is lower than the number in the previous Congress (307), even if the difference in percentage terms is slight.

From Pew:

In many ways, the changes in the religious makeup of Congress during the last half-century mirror broader changes in American society. Congress, like the nation as a whole, has become much less Protestant and more religiously diverse. The number of Protestants in Congress has dropped from three-quarters (75 percent) in 1961 to 56 percent today, which roughly tracks with broader religious demographic trends during this period. As recently as the 1980s, General Social Surveys found that about six-in-ten Americans identified themselves as Protestants. In aggregated surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2012 and reported in the Pew Forum’s October 2012 report “‘Nones’ on the Rise,” the share of self-identified Protestants has dipped to just under half (48 percent).Likewise, many of the major Protestant denominational families have lost ground in Congress in the past 50 years. Methodists, who made up nearly one-in-five members (18 percent) of the 87th Congress, which was seated in 1961, make up nine percent of the 113th Congress. Some other Protestant denominational families also have seen a decline in their numerical representation in Congress. For example, Episcopalians have gone from 12 percent to seven percent and Congregationalists from five percent to less than one percent during this period.

A few Protestant groups have fared somewhat better, however. From 1961 to today, the proportion of Baptists in Congress has increased slightly from 12 percent to 14 percent, and the Lutheran share has stayed roughly the same (around four percent).

Meanwhile, other religious groups have seen their share of congressional seats grow, in some cases dramatically. Catholics, for instance, have gone from 19 percent of the congressional membership in 1961 to 31 percent today. The percentage of Jewish members of Congress has risen from two percent in 1961 to six percent today.

Top 10 Most and Least Religious States
Loading Slideshow...
  • #1: Mississippi (59 percent)

  • #2 Utah (57 percent)

  • #3 Alabama (56 percent)

  • #4 Louisiana (54 percent)

  • #5 Arkansas (54 percent)

  • #6 South Carolina (54 percent)

  • #7 Tennessee (52 percent)

  • #8 North Carolina (50 percent)

  • #9 Georgia (48 percent)

  • #10 Oklahoma (48 percent)

  • #51 Vermont (23 percent)

  • #50 New Hampshire (23 percent)

  • #49 Maine (25 percent)

  • #48 Massachusetts (28 percent)

  • #47 Alaska (28 percent)

  • #46 Oregon (30 percent)

  • #45 Nevada (30 percent)

  • #44 Washington (30 percent)

  • #43 Connecticut (31 percent)

  • #42 District of Columbia (32 percent)

  • #42 New York (32 percent)

  • #42 Rhode Island (32 percent)

Atheists Face Death In 7 Countries


Punishment for Atheism in 7 Countries: Death

And atheists don’t enjoy full rights in Arkansas: report
Posted By Kate Seamons

            Choosing not to believe can be a deadly choice in seven of the world’s countries, according to a new report out today. It found that atheists can be executed for their views in Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Reuters notes that the report didn’t actually catalog any recent executions for atheism; but that’s likely because the charge is typically absorbed by other charges, say the researchers. Denial of “the right to exist” isn’t the only woe suffered by atheists per the report, which outlines other persecution and challenges they face around the world:

  • In countries like Bangladesh, Egypt, and Kuwait, it’s illegal (and dubbed “blasphemous”) to publish atheist views.
  • A number of countries, including Malaysia, force all citizens to register as a member of an officially recognized religion in order to obtain documents necessary for accessing everything from education to medical treatment.
  • The West doesn’t get off scot-free, with the report noting that many secular countries give deferential treatment to Christian churches. It cites the “pride of place” given to the Orthodox Church on state occasions in Greece, and Britain’s automatic bestowal of seats in parliament’s upper house on bishops of the Church of England.
  • Closer to home, atheists are actually barred from holding public office in seven US states; in Arkansas, atheists are prohibited from serving as a witness at a trial.

Atheists Are Better for Politics Than Believers. Here’s Why


Atheists are better for politics than believers. Here’s why

As my term as British Humanist Association president comes to an end, a few words of advice to my successor, Jim Al-Khalili

Polly Toynbee

Noma Bar 1412

Illustration by Noma Bar

‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so,” we implored, and many did. Over a quarter of the population registered as non-believers: more might have done were the census question unambiguous about whether it meant cultural background or personal belief. My term as president of the British Humanist Association ends this month, but gladly I hand over to Jim Al-Khalili, the distinguished professor of physics, writer, broadcaster and explainer of science. With atheism as the second largest block, he will be in a stronger position to see that unbelievers get a better hearing.

Rows over gay marriage and women bishops bewilder most people. With overwhelming popular support for both, how can abstruse theology and unpleasant prejudice cause such agitation at Westminster and in the rightwing press? Politics looks even more out of touch when obscure doctrine holds a disproportionate place in national life.

The religions still frighten politicians, because despite small numbers in the pews, synagogues and mosques, they are organised and vocal when most of the rest of society lacks community voice or influence. Labour was craven, endlessly wooing faith groups – David Blunkett wishing he could “bottle the magic” of faith schools.

With a third of state schools religious in this most secular country, Michael Gove not only swells their number but lets them discriminate as they please in admissions. As he is sending a bible to every English school, the BHA is fundraising to send out its own Young Atheist’s Handbook to school libraries. Government departments are outsourcing more services to faith groups in health, hospice, community and social care.

But of all the battles Jim Al-Khalili confronts, the most urgent is the right to die. Powerful religious forces block attempts to let the dying end their lives when they choose. Tony Nicklinson was the most public face of thousands in care homes and hospitals condemned to what he called “a living nightmare” by 26 bishops and other religious lords who say only God can dispose – the Bishop of Oxford decreed: “We are not autonomous beings.” The public supports the right to die, but many more will drag themselves off to a bleak Swiss clinic before the religions let us die in peace.

Sensing the ebbing tide of faith since the last census, the blowback against unbelievers has been remarkably violently expressed. Puzzlingly, we are routinely referred to as “aggressive atheists” as if non-belief itself were an affront. But we are with Voltaire, defending to the death people’s right to believe whatever they choose, but fighting to prevent them imposing their creeds on others.

The Abrahamic faiths, with their disgust for sex and women, still exert deep cultural influence. When David Cameron claimed “we are a Christian country”, there are certainly enough cultural relics in attitudes towards women and gays. Baroness Warsi’s letter expressing alarm that schools might teach gay marriage equality causes tremors of that sexual disgust branded into the souls of all three major monotheistic faiths. Are there many gay couples perverse enough to yearn to be married inside religions that abhor them? Humanists can offer them heartfelt celebrations.

In the Lords this week, by a whisker, section 5 of the Public Order Act was amended to remove the offence of using “insulting words or behaviour within hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harm, alarm or distress thereby”.

An extraordinary alliance of extreme religions wanting the right to preach fire and brimstone against gays joined with free thinkers wanting the right to be rude about religions. Liberty and the Christian Institute were on the same side against the government, which was defeated. Now the Commons will have to decide. Some religions argue they have a God-given right not to be caused offence, to give legal weight to fatwas against those who offend their prophets. But in the rough and tumble of free speech, no one can be protected against feeling offended. Jim Al-Khalili can expect all manner of attacks, but no protection for his sensibilities.

For instance, he might take offence at the charge that without God, unbelievers have no moral compass. Hitler and Stalin were atheists, that’s where it leads. We can ripost with religious atrocities, Godly genocides or the Inquisition, but that’s futile. Wise atheists make no moral claims, seeing good and bad randomly spread among humanity regardless of faith. Humans do have a hardwired moral sense, every child born with an instinct for justice that makes us by nature social animals, not needing revelations from ancient texts. The idea that morality can only be frightened into us artificially, by divine edict, is degrading.

The new president will confront another common insult: atheists are desiccated rationalists with nothing spiritual in their lives, poor shrivelled souls lacking transcendental joy and wonder. But in awe of the natural world of physics, he’ll have no trouble with that. Earthbound, there is enough wonder in the magical realms of human imagination, thought, dream, memory and fantasy where most people reside for much of their waking lives. There is no emotional or spiritual deficiency in rejecting creeds that stunt and infantalise the imagination.

Liberated by knowing the here and now is all there is, humanists are optimists, certain that our destiny rests in our own hands. That’s why most humanists are natural social democrats, not conservatives.

Feminism Disconnected


Feminism Disconnected
A Response to Ophelia Benson
and a Caution on Tribalism in Secularism

by Michael Shermer

I In her article on “Nontheism and Feminism: Why the Disconnect?” in the latest issue of Free Inquiry magazine, the author and journalist Ophelia Benson writes that “atheism hasn’t always been very welcoming to women.” Why? Because, Benson believes: “The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because ‘that’s a guy thing.’”

Who in their wrong mind would believe such rubbish? According to Benson, me! Her evidence that I believe women are too stupid to do nontheism is a single 10-second sentence I uttered during a wide-ranging hour-long panel discussion on an Online talk-show called The Point, hosted by the Huffington Post chief science correspondent Cara Santa Maria, who invited me and two other men (Sean Carroll and Edward Falzon) to be on the panel to discuss atheism. In a Q&A that followed the main discussion, one viewer (a man) asked: “Why isn’t the gender split closer to 50/50 as it should be?” Benson then quotes me: “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing” (at the 12 minute mark.

First of all, Benson shortened the quote. What I prefaced the above with is: “I think it probably really is 50/50.” Benson also left out my follow up comment moments later that at the 2012 TAM (The Amazing Meeting) conference of skeptics and atheists, there were more women speakers than men speakers. I misspoke slightly. According to D. J. Grothe, the TAM organizer, there were an equal number of men and women speakers (the roster on the web page is incorrect) until, ironically, Ophelia Benson herself dropped out. As for the sex ratio of attendees, there were 40% women in 2011 and 31% in 2012, the shift, Grothe speculated online, possibly due to some of these very same secular feminists irresponsibly blogging about how skeptic or atheist events were not safe for women.

In any case, please read my answer again. Where do I say or even imply that women are, in Benson’s characterization of what I said, “too stupid to do nontheism” or that “unbelieving in God is thinky work and women don’t do thinky?” Clearly that is not what I said, as punctuated by my preface that I believe the actual sex ratio is 50/50. And for the record I don’t believe for a moment that women are not smart enough to do nonbelief thinking, or any other type of cognition for that matter.

A Secular Malleus Maleficarum

I would like to use this opportunity to address a larger issue at hand, starting with another important point that Benson also failed to mention, and that is Cara Santa Maria’s own comment that she made after reading the viewer question and before I answered: “In putting together this panel I had a hellova time finding a woman who would be willing to sit on the panel with me to discuss her atheism. Why is that?”

Yes, why is that? From a social scientist’s perspective (instead of a one-off comment on a TV show), I don’t know. The only way to find out is to conduct a scientific study through a carefully constructed survey instrument that is reliable and valid and administered to an adequate sample size controlled for intervening variables that could bias the results. Until such a study is made, all of us are just speculating. I asked Cara if she had given the matter any further thought, and this is what she wrote me in an email (12-09-12):

“In my search for panelists on the show, I did reach out to a couple of high-profile female atheists local to Los Angeles, but none were available to join. We did receive a video comment from AJ Johnson, the Director of Development at American Atheists.

I don’t know why there seem to be more men in secular circles than women, or whether there truly are more men than women who proudly bear the atheist label. I do find that I get a lot of feedback from readers/viewers commending me on my ‘bravery’ for speaking up as a female atheist. I’m not sure why I’m perceived as being any more brave than a man in doing so.

What I can say is whether it’s real or perceived, a gender bias does seem to exist in atheist/secular/human circles, but I’ve never known my friend and colleague Michael Shermer to contribute to this problem. He is, in my estimation, as pro-woman and pro-atheism as they come.” [This final comment was unsolicited and I considered redacting it, but just in case there remains any doubt in the matter….]

Part of the problem generated by such questions is that they force the mind into searching for plausible causes to that particular issue, and since the mind abhors a vacuum we concoct ad-hoc explanations on the fly, ignoring the possibility that such differences may be due to chance or some other reason. It also narrows the frame of the issue in a particular way that focuses the mind to think about that and not something else. For example, had Free Inquiry hosted a special issue on why socio-economic classes are not proportionally represented in the atheist movement, we would have heard a plethora of plausible explanations (e.g., rich people don’t like atheism because religion—at least the prosperity gospel type—reinforces their wealth as deserved; or poor people reject atheism because religion serves them well; or whatever). The point is that there is a built-in cognitive bias simply in asking the question, and we should be cognizant of how that narrows our thinking and frames our answers.

As well, we should all remind ourselves to be cautious of the confirmation bias, in which we look for and find confirming evidence for what we believe and ignore disconfirming evidence. This can lead to anything from the blatant misreading of quotes to full-on accusations of misthought or misbehavior. We must remember that we are all subject to the same cognitive biases as those whom we criticize in religious and paranormal cohorts, and keep in mind that in journalism, as in science and all rational inquiry, there is an ethic of going to the primary source, and especially giving the person in question the benefit of the doubt. In this case, a simple email asking what I meant would have cleared up any misunderstanding. (Skeptical Inquirer columnist Kenneth Krause did just that after reading Benson’s article, and that removed any doubt for him as to my position.)

As well, as in witch hunts of centuries past, we should be cautious of making charges against others because of the near impossibility of denial or explanation after the accusation. (Just read the comments about me in the forum section of Benson’s blog, where I’m called a “jackass,” a “damn fool,” and other descriptors that have become commonplace in the invectosphere. Is there anything I could say that would not confirm readers’ beliefs? Denial is what true witches (and bigots, racists, and misogynists) do. Many other examples abound. Harriet Hall, M.D., the SkepDoc columnist for Skeptic magazine (one of two women columnists of our three, I might add, the other being Karen Stollznow), who lived through and helped bring about the first-wave feminist movement, told me she “was vilified on Ophelia’s blog for not following a certain kind of feminist party line of how a feminist should act and think. And I was attacked there in a disturbingly irrational, nonskeptical way.” I asked her why she didn’t defend herself. She wrote in an email (12/08/12):

“I did not dare try to explain my thinking on Ophelia’s blog, because it was apparent from the tone of the comments that anything I might say would be misinterpreted and twisted to use against me. I have always been a feminist but I have my own style of feminism. And I have felt more oppressed by these sort of feminists than by men, and far less welcome in that strain of feminism than in the atheist or skeptical communities.”

In her article Benson mentions “implicit assumptions” in stereotypes. This refers to a body of research in cognitive psychology that shows how so many of our beliefs and attitudes are unconscious (Google “Implicit Association Test”). This is a fascinating and revealing line of inquiry, but what concerns me is how this research can become the perfect tool of the inquisitor, a chapter in a secular Malleus Maleficarum: Witches (alleged bigots, racists, and misogynists today) don’t even know that they’re witches (bigots, racists, misogynists) because it is subconscious. You may deny you’re a witch (bigot, racist, misogynist) because you don’t even know you are one. Once charged, twice accused, thrice convicted.

On Tribalism in Secularism

For all I know there may very well be stereotyping still going on in secular circles, but here I would like to challenge the assumption that a sex ratio other than 50/50 is evidence of misogyny. It isn’t. As Harriet Hall observed:

“I think it is unreasonable to expect that equal numbers of men and women will be attracted to every sphere of human endeavor. Science has shown that real differences exist. We should level the playing field and ensure there are no preventable obstacles, then let the chips fall where they may.”

Perhaps unintentionally, Benson makes a strong case that something other than misogyny may be at work here, when she asks rhetorically if I would make the same argument about race. I would, yes, because I do not believe that the fact that the secular community does not contain the precise percentage of blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans as in the general population, means that all of us in the secular community are racists, explicitly or implicitly. A variance from perfect demographic symmetry does not necessarily correspond to racist attitudes. It just means that the world is not perfectly divided up according to population demographics, and people have different interests and causes. There is nothing inherently bigoted, racist, or misogynistic in the fact that the demographics of the secular community do not reflect those of the general population (in gender, in age and socio-economic class, or in height, weight, or any number of other variables for that matter), so short of some other evidence of bigotry, racism, and misogyny, there is no need to go in search of demons to exorcise.

Finally, there is a deeper problem here that I have observed over the past several years that I would like to address to the larger secular community, and that is the dangers of in-group fighting and inquisition purges of those who are not “pure” enough in their atheism, skepticism, or humanism. My partner and co-founder of the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine, Pat Linse, was involved in the first wave feminism of the 1960s, and she recalls the lamentable in-group bickering about who were the “true feminists,” and how this led to witch hunts and purges that splintered the movement and made it a less effective political force.

I suspect such purging comes with the territory of the sociology and psychology of social and political movements. Several years ago I gave the keynote address at a national atheist conference. After, my host informed me that there was much squabbling among board members about whether or not I should be allowed to speak because it was not clear if I was “atheist enough” for their members, and especially because I had called myself an agnostic in my book How We Believe. (I simply clarified the difference between the ontological question of God’s existence—for which I endorsed the agnostic position of Thomas Huxley when he coined the word in 1869 as meaning “unknowable”—and the belief question of God’s existence, for which I call myself an atheist.)

Given this tribal propensity in human nature to divide people into In-Group/Out-Group and Us v. Them cohorts, we would be wise to not let our various affiliated movements (skeptical, atheist, humanist) be rent asunder. As Ben Franklin admonished his fellow freedom fighters, “we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” There is still very real discrimination to be combatted in our society, with gays and atheists as two of the last minority groups to be targeted. Recent polls show that we are in the midst of a transformation in social acceptance of gay marriage (with the Supreme Court about to take up the issue), and as I have been predicting for years, in a few decades people will look back at this time with the same shame that we do today in recalling the Black and White drinking fountains and restrooms of the 1950s (my other prediction—Christians will take credit for bringing about the gay marriage revolution by citing some Episcopalian ministers who spoke out in favor of it).

As for the sex ratio of secular organizations, when I got into the skeptical, atheist, and secular movements in the 1980s, the conferences and meetings were mostly populated by, as Carl Sagan once described it, grumpy old white guys complaining about irrationality in the world. (Although, he added, there is much to complain about!) Since that time many of us have worked diligently to bring the membership and attendance rolls more in balance, not only in terms of gender, but race and age as well. We’re not there yet, but much progress has been made. I give dozens of public talks a year all over the country, and in every one of them when I look out I see not an audience of grumpy old white guys; I see a plethora of women, minorities, and people of all ages (although everyone still likes to complain about irrationality in the world!)

So we should hang together in our fight against real discrimination, bigotry, racism, misogyny, and homophobia wherever we find it. But instead of looking for demons and finding the witch’s mark of Satan in secular inquisitions, let us note the advancements we have made and celebrate that our movement is making real moral progress in attenuating our inner demons and accentuating the better angels of our nature through science and reason.

WHAT RELIGIONS HAVE IN COMMON | Salman Rushdie


WHAT RELIGIONS HAVE IN COMMON

What religions have in common - salman rushdie, quotes, religion, wrongness,

Salman Rushdie

Theist Writes | What Kind of People are Atheists? Behind The Scenes At an Atheist Conference


What kind of people are atheists? Behind the scenes at an atheist conference

Posted by Derek Murphy

What kind of people are atheists? Behind the scenes at an atheist conference

I got up early the second day of the conference, took a coffee and a pastry from the hotel lobby, and headed to the convention hall in Springfield Missouri. There was a large crowd outside today. I smiled, eager to meet new friends – until I realized they were Christian protesters.

Skepticon describes itself as the “Largest Free Conference on Skepticism” in the nation, and it has been a well-known atheist convention for several years.

I’d flown in the day before and driven down from Kansas City, passing through pleasant countryside, old white houses, and lots of bible colleges.

As someone with a background in theology and comparative literature, my writing and art focuses on religious themes without actually being reverent; in fact my playful paintings and research into historical religious literature and mystery cult traditions inevitably comes across as blasphemous.

It’s difficult to share my work with theists, who get uncomfortable, and so I’ve begun to make connections with atheists communities. But this was my first time actually participating in an atheist event. As somewhat of an outsider, I surveyed the gathering with the detached eye of a social scientist.

From the protesters outside, you would think atheists were dangerous, or evil, or violent, or somehow harmful to the moral fabric of America. But were they really?

What kind of people are atheists?

Here are some of the things I noticed about the people attending Skepticon:

  • They talk a lot, use big words and speak quickly. They mostly talk about becoming more rational, science and science fiction.
  • They have a lot of tattoos.
  • They dress casually, almost defiantly unstylish.
  • A lot of guys have long hair.
  • A lot of girls have died their hair bright colors.
  • They have piercings.
  • They are eloquent, and opinionated, and well informed.
  • They know a lot of stuff.

Here is a social hypothesis: they are a group of misfits. They were nerds before it became cool and fashionable to be a nerd, meaning they probably got picked on. They didn’t wear cool clothes and probably had trouble making friends. They were ignored – which pushed them further into isolation activities like reading books.

When they grew up they became anti-establishment, anti-ordinary. This was a move based in part on the social ostricization at the hands of the herd, but also the natural effect of education and the evolution of rationality and skepticism from anyone who does enough research. They celebrate their uniqueness and individuality by dying their hair and getting tattoos – proud of their nonconformity.

Interestingly, because they are full of self-motivation, self-empowerment, deliberate and conscientious with a sense of responsibility for their actions, they are more trustworthy: one vendor told me he doesn’t ever have trouble with credit cards or checks at an atheist conference, whereas at a normal conference he wouldn’t be able to trust people.

It was interesting to contrast this group with the crowd of protesters – well dressed, fashionable teens, many Asian-Americans, all huddled into themselves passive-aggressively standing up against a perceived enemy they knew nothing about, obviously sharing a group mentality about what they were doing there.

If I wanted to be mean, I could say that they just looked young, immature, and lacking intelligence. 18 years ago, I could have been one of them.

What do atheists stand for?

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” says the fortune cookie wisdom of the religious. And atheists often argue that atheism is not a belief or movement or anything except the absence of belief in a deity. But it simply isn’t true that atheists stand for nothing.

In particular, atheists want people to get educated and make smarter decisions. They want to have the freedom to make their own decisions about what they can do with their lives and their bodies, and they want to share that same freedom with others. Hemant Mehta highlighted the discrimination against young atheists in American Culture; how simply choosing not to pray a long with a high school sports team can make a teenage girl supreme villain of the community.

Atheists aren’t fighting against God or religion. They are simply fighting for their right to respectively not participate without serious social repercussions and abuse. Another speaker, I forget which one, brought up the issue of speaking with Christians.

Some atheists, he said, think the religious “aren’t worth talking to” because they can’t listen. But how many of us were religious at one point in our lives? (A majority raise their hands). “I think we were worth talking to!” he concludes. And he’s right – part of the value of having an organized community of non-believers is to help transition those people who have begun to question their beliefs but are afraid to stop going to church or voice their opinions and ideas.

My favorite speaker at the conference, James Croft, really put all of this into perspective. Atheists are being called “Nones” – having no beliefs and nothing to stand for. They are empty, meaningless, and can be ignored. But the “non-religious” segment of the USA is growing exponentially, and with increasing swiftness. (As it does in every advanced society with open communication and technology and freedom).

James talked about the necessity of building a positive moral community, because atheists DO have things that they are willing to fight for. Important issues include:

  • Climate change issue
  • Equal sex marriage
  • Reproductive rights, right to choose
  • Honesty and accountability
  • A moral constituency that is politically engaged

The interesting thing is that most of my friends and family, being Democrats, agree with with atheist values. Are these the evil ethics of Satanists trying to bring our country into evil? Yes, say the conservative republicans and religious right.

These political issues won’t be easily solved in the USA anytime soon.

As for myself, I’d much rather live in an America dominated by intelligent, scientifically progressive atheists who care about things like health care and climate change, than in an America led by Christians who determine political laws based on a book written a few thousand years ago.

The Most Godless Place on Earth


Eastern Germany: the most godless place on Earth

East German atheism can be seen as a form of continuing political and regional identification – and a taste of the future

Germany Celebrates 20 Years Fall Of The Berlin Wall

A woman dressed as an angel waves from a roof top near the German Reichstag on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Photograph: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

They are sending missionaries to eastern Germany. A recent study called Beliefs About God Across Time and Countries found that 52.1% of people asked whether they believed in God identified themselves as atheists. This compared with only 10.3% in western Germany. Indeed, the survey was unable to find a single person under the age of 28 in eastern Germany who believed in God. Obviously there are some – I think I may have even met some once – but the survey was unable to find them. On the face of it this is an extraordinary finding and it is something that needs some careful explanation.

Different reasons are adduced for the absence of religion in the east. The first one that is usually brought out is the fact that that area was run by the Communist party from 1945 to 1990 and that its explicit hostility to religion meant that it was largely stamped out. However, this is not entirely the case. In fact, after initial hostilities in the first years of the GDR, the SED came to a relatively comfortable accommodation with what was called the Church in Socialism. The churches in the GDR were given a high degree of autonomy by SED standards and indeed became the organisational focus of the dissident movement of the 1990s, which was to some extent led by Protestant pastors.

In addition to an accommodation with religion, the party also deliberately created alternative poles of integration for the population. Young people were brought up in a highly ideological atmosphere and were required to undergo a so-called Jugendweihe – a sort of atheist confirmation. Interestingly, this ceremony has survived the end of communism and many young people still voluntarily enter into it. Equally, especially under Eric Honecker in the 1970s and 80s, an attempt was made to create a sort of “GDR patriotism”, in which figures from Prussian history such as Frederick the Great were put back on their plinths in East Berlin and integrated into the Communist narrative of the forward march of history. Martin Luther, Thomas Münzer and other figures from the Reformation were also recruited into the party.

Another factor is that religion in eastern Germany is also overwhelmingly Protestant, both historically and in contemporary terms. Of the 25% who do identify themselves as religious, 21% of them are Protestants. The other 4% is made up of a small number of Catholics as well as Muslims and adherents of other new evangelical groups, new-age sects or alternative religions. The Protestant church is in steep decline with twice as many people leaving it every year as joining.

If we were to follow the Weberian line on this, then a highly Protestant area undergoing rapid modernisation would almost automatically experience a process of radical secularisation going hand-in-hand with industrialisation, a process which was only speeded up by the communist obsession with heavy industry.

When we look at western Germany however, we see that there Catholics are in a majority and indeed, political power in West Germany has traditionally been built on western-orientated Catholic support for the Christian Democratic Union in the south and west. Indeed, the first chancellor of postwar West Germany, Konrad Adenauer, had been mayor of Cologne in the 1930s and even then was in favour of the division of Germany and a “Rhineland Alliance” as a sort of precursor of the European Union.

What all of this means is that rather than simply just being an area that was occupied by the Soviet Union and their satraps in the East German Communist party, the eastern part of Germany has an identity which – almost a quarter of a century on – continues to make unification more difficult than expected. Religious confession, or rather the lack of it, plays an important role in this. This has led some to talk of East German atheism as a form of continuing political and regional identification. For example, in 2000 the Catholic theologian Eberhard Tiefensee identified what he called an “East German folk atheism” which could be argued to constitute a substantial part of a regional identity against West German Catholic domination.

Secularisation processes are under way throughout the continent and the role of religion and the church in modernity are being questioned everywhere, from gay marriage to women priests to abortion and on to whether the EU should identify itself as a Christian entity. The question should perhaps be whether it is actually folk atheism that represents the future of Europe.

Facebook Atheist Charged for “Insulting” Islam | Islamo-Fascism Attacks Free Speech


Alex Aan’s trial begins Thursday

Via:- Maryam Namazie

Alex Aan‘s trial begins tomorrow, Thursday, with the first prosecution witnesses being called, according to Rafiq Mahmood. Alex is the 30 year old Indonesian civil servant who has been charged with ‘insulting’ Islam in an atheist group in Facebook.

Rafiq says:

This isn’t just for Alex but for all of us. There have been far too many “blasphemy” cases which have just slipped by. We have to stop it if we have a chance and Indonesia is a very good place to make a stand.

And a stand we must make.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the Atheist Alliance International are collecting money towards Alex’s case. If you want to support his case financially, you can send a donation to the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Just make sure to earmark it for Alex Aan.

Defend Blasphemers


International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers – Guest Post
Bjarte Foshung     From Fevic, Norway.
posted in the comments section of the Guardian (in response to the recent debate between Richard Dawkins and Will Hutton regarding the role of religion in Britain’s public life) which I hope bears repeating:

It should be pretty clear by now that anything other than discrimination in religion’s favour will be construed as anti-religious discrimination or “imposing atheism”. The appalling thing is that in the west in the 21st century “secularism” (i.e. the absence of any religious bias from politics) still needs defending at all.

In Saudi Arabia Hamza Kashgari faces prosecution, and possibly execution, for being insufficiently deferential when tweeting about Mohammed. In Indonesia Alexander Aan is in jail (after being violently attacked by the religious mob) for making an atheist remark on Facebook (atheism is officially a crime in Indonesia). In India Salman Rushdie had to cancel his appearance at the Jaipur literary festival because of death threats. In Amsterdam muslim extremists stormed a book launch by muslim reformist Irshad Manji, threatening to break her neck. In London the Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism Society at Queen Mary College had to cancel a meeting after a muslim began filming the attendants and threatening to kill them. And some people want to tell us to that “militant” secularism is really the problem here (Notice the double standard btw: Atheists are called “militant” if they use logic and humour, whereas militant believers use threats and violence.)

Atheists are not the ones who are advocating a double standard. We are not singling out religious beliefs for special criticism. We just don’t see why it should be singled out for special protection, and we are confident that no religion could survive in the absence of the astronomical double standards that are now applied in their favour. The moment we start judging religious claims by the same standards of logic and evidence by which even the believers themselves judge secular claims, then religion will have been dealt a mortal blow. Even weak scientific hypotheses generally have more going for them than any religious claim ever had (the argument from design is just embarrassing, and all the other arguments for God’s existence are even worse), yet no scientist worth his weight in salt refrains from criticizing a weak hypothesis (or indeed a strong one) for fear of causing offence. Those who have good reasons for what they believe, appeal to those. Appeals to “respect for the beliefs of others” are only ever heard when there are no good reasons to appeal to. But a belief can hardly become any more worthy of respect for being based on bad reasons. As Sam Harris so eloquently put it: “Faith is nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail”.

There is an equally appalling moral double standard. As a thought experiment, imagine a ruler of some foreign country (preferably a white, western, secular one, otherwise we might just have to “respect his culture”) who said and did all the same things that the biblical god supposedly said and did (ordering genocides, demanding rape victims to be stoned, threatening to force anyone who disobeys him to eat their children etc.). Now imagine the reaction if someone in our part of the world publically sided with this disgusting monster. My guess is that they would be met with public outrage and charges of “hate-speech”. Leftist radicals would organize protests wherever they went, and we would see attempts to have their views censored. Substitute our imaginary dictator for an equally imaginary god, and much of the indignation suddenly turns against those who criticize the same evil. If this is not hypocrisy, then nothing is.

Even if the Bible represented the very best of its day (which it clearly didn’t), the best of the Iron Age is still awful by the standards of the 21st century and should not be allowed to influence modern life in any way. If you believe in a god who literally said and did everything that Yahweh is supposed to have said and done according to the Bible, and in spite of this you still take God’s side, then there is nothing you can accuse anybody else of that is worse than what you, yourself actively favour. Religious moderates and liberals, on the other hand, may not promote intolerance and violence themselves, but through their disingenuous whitewashing of their holy texts they give legitimacy to books and doctrines that definitely promote intolerance and violence. And just in case you wonder, I have read the Bible, and if there is any overarching message to be derived from this disaster area of a book it’s that God is not a moderate.

International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers and Apostates

 

The False Equation: Religion Equals Morality


The False Equation: Religion Equals Morality

by Gwynne Dyer

In the United States, where it is almost impossible to get elected unless you profess a strong religious faith, it would have passed completely unnoticed. Not one of the hundred US senators ticks the “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic” box, for example, although 16 percent of the American population do. But it was quite remarkable in Britain.

Last Friday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged the Church of England to lead a revival of traditional Christian values to counter the country’s “moral collapse”.Last Friday, in Oxford, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that the United Kingdom is a Christian country “and we should not be afraid to say so.” He was speaking on the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible, so he had to say something positive about religion – but he went far beyond that.

“The Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today,” he said. “Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.”

Where to start? The King James Bible was published at the start of a century in which millions of Europeans were killed in religious wars over minor differences of doctrine. Thousands of “witches” were burned at the stake during the 16th century, as were thousands of “heretics”. They have stopped doing that sort of thing in Britain now – but they’ve also stopped reading the Bible. Might there be a connection here?

Besides, what Cameron said is just not true. In last year’s British Social Attitudes Survey, conducted annually by the National Center for Social Research, only 43 percent of 4,000 British people interviewed said they were Christian, while 51 percent said they had “no religion.” Among young people, some two-thirds are non-believers.

Mind you, the official census numbers from 2001 say that 73 percent of British people identify themselves as “Christian”. However, this is probably due to a leading question on the census form. “What is your religion?” it asks, which seems to assume that you must have one – especially since it follows a section on ethnic origins, and we all have those.

So a lot of people put down Christian just because that is the ancestral religion of their family. Make the question more neutral – “Are you religious? If so, what is your religion?” –and the result would probably be very different. There were attempts to get that more neutral question onto the 2011 census form, but the churches lobbied frantically against it. They are feeling marginalized enough as it is.

Why would David Cameron proclaim the virtues of a Christian Britain that no longer exists? He is no religious fanatic; he describes himself as a “committed” but only “vaguely practicing” Christian.

You’d think that if he really believed in a God who scrutinizes his every thought and deed, and will condemn him to eternal torture in Hell if he doesn’t meet the standard of behavior required, he might be a little less vague about it all. But he doesn’t really believe that he needs religion HIMSELF; he thinks it is a necessary instrument of social control for keeping the lower orders in check.

This is a common belief among those who rule, because they confuse morality with religion. If the common folk do not fear some god (any old god will do), social discipline will collapse and the streets will run with blood. Our homes, our children, even our domestic animals will be violated. Thank god for God.

Just listen to Cameron: “The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. If we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.” The “alternative of moral neutrality”? What he means is that there cannot be moral behavior without religion – so you proles had better go on believing, or we privileged people will be in trouble.

But Cameron already lives in a post-religious country. Half its people say outright that they have no religion, two-thirds of them never attend a religious service, and a mere 8 percent go to church, mosque, synagogue or temple on a weekly basis. Yet the streets are not running with blood.

Indeed, religion may actually be bad for morality. In 2005 Paul Gregory made the case for this in a research paper in the Journal of Religion and Society entitled “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look.”

Sociological gobbledygook, but in a statistical survey of 18 developed democracies, Gregory showed that “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, (venereal disease), teen pregnancy, and abortion.”

Even within the United States, Gregory reported, “the strongly theistic, anti-evolution South and Midwest” have markedly worse crime rates and social problems than the relatively secular North-East. Of course, the deeply religious areas are also poorer, so it might just be poverty making people behave so badly. On the other hand, maybe religion causes poverty.

Whatever. The point is that David Cameron, and thousands of other politicians, religious leaders and generals in every country, are effectively saying that my children, and those of all the other millions who have no religion, are morally inferior to those who do. It is insulting and untrue.

<!–

–>

Gwynne Dyer

Gwynne Dyer has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, broadcaster and lecturer on international affairs for more than 20 years, but he was originally trained as an historian. Born in Newfoundland, he received degrees from Canadian, American and British universities. His latest book, “Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats“, was published in the United States by Oneworld.

In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens, 1949-201


In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

11:45 PM, December 15 2011
By Gasper Tringale.

Christopher Hitchens—the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant—died today at the age of 62. Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the spring of 2010, just after the publication of his memoir, Hitch-22, and began chemotherapy soon after. His matchless prose has appeared in Vanity Fair since 1992, when he was named contributing editor.

“Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic,” Hitchens wrote nearly a year ago in Vanity Fair, but his own final labors were anything but: in the last 12 months, he produced for this magazine a piece on U.S.-Pakistani relations in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, a portrait of Joan Didion, an essay on the Private Eye retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a prediction about the future of democracy in Egypt, a meditation on the legacy of progressivism in Wisconsin, and a series of frank, graceful, and exquisitely written essays in which he chronicled the physical and spiritual effects of his disease. At the end, Hitchens was more engaged, relentless, hilarious, observant, and intelligent than just about everyone else—just as he had been for the last four decades.

“My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends,” he wrote in the June 2011 issue. He died in their presence, too, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. May his 62 years of living, well, so livingly console the many of us who will miss him dearly

Signs That America Is Moving Away from Religion (At Last!)


Signs That America Is Moving Away from Religion

If you look closely there are promising signs that American
attitudes are changing in a way that may blunt the impact of religion on
politics and culture.

September 28, 2011
In between bragging about the number of
people they’ve killed and vilifying gay soldiers, the GOP presidential
candidates have spent the primaries demonstrating how little they respect the
separation of church and state. Michele Bachmann seems to think God is
personally invested
in her political career. Both she and Rick Perry have
ties to
Christian Dominionism,
a theocratic philosophy that publicly calls for
Christian takeover of America’s political and civil institutions. (Even Ron
Paul, glorified by civil libertarians for his only two good policy stances —
opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and drug prohibition — sputtered
about churches when asked during a debate where he’d send a gravely ill man without
health insurance.)

GOP pandering to the Religious Right is just
one of those facts of American public life, like climate change denial and
Creationism in schools, that leave secular Americans lamenting the decline of
the country, and of reason and logic. Organized religion’s grasp on the politics
and culture of much of Europe has been waning
for decades
— why can’t we do that here?

But there are signs that American attitudes
are changing in ways that may tame religion’s power over political life in the
future.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, tells AlterNet
that she thinks what happened in Europe is (slowly) happening here.

Read more here:- http://www.alternet.org/story/152558/5_signs_that_america_is_moving_away_from_religion

 

Perilous Times for Atheists in Pakistan


Being Pakistani and atheist a dangerous combo, but some ready to brave it

Bilal Farooqi   3 days ago |

1
  • Members of Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics trying to make their presence known and reach out to others sharing similar beliefs

       KARACHI – They realise that they belong to a country where apostasy means inviting the risk of death – even if spared by government authorities and courts, a fanatic mob would certainly not.

But they have still chosen to tread a perilous path in their attempt to reach out to other Pakistanis sharing similar beliefs and more importantly, to let the world know they exist. They are a group of Pakistani atheists called the Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics (PAA). They first tried to make their presence known two years back by making a page about their group on Facebook.

On August 14 this year, they launched their website http://www.e-paa.org that was literally an instant hit. It received more than 17,000 hits in just 48 hours after its launch from 95 countries, including Saudi Arabia.

How did the idea to bring together Pakistani atheists on a single platform come up? “When I became an atheist, I honestly thought there were no others like me in Pakistan. Through discussions on various social networking groups and forums, I found a few others like me. So we decided to make this group to find out how many more were out there,” says Hazrat NaKhuda, one of the founding members of the group. For obvious reasons, the PAA members go by pseudonyms to protect their identity.
When the PAA first appeared on the Internet, the Indian media ran a misconstrued story about the group, giving the impression that Pakistani youth were turning away from Islam due to the rising extremism and militancy. However, the PAA rebuts that story and says that its members are not only former Muslims, but people who have left Christianity, Hinduism and other faiths as well.
Extremism is not the primary reason why people leave Islam. But looking at recent converts, I can say that it has become one of the reasons why people start questioning the religion of their forefathers,” explains Hazrat NaKhuda, who personally believes that religion does not make sense in this age. “Most people are following the beliefs of their parents and have no reason to proclaim that what they have is the truth. Once one realises that, it is fairly simple,” he adds.

Bela, another member of the group, says that extremism or militancy cannot force people to leave Islam, but it can definitely force them to find out the truth. “There can be many reasons why a person starts questioning, including rising militancy, extremism, lack of logical answers or patriarchy,” she adds. Bela believes that religion is dominated by patriarchy and is nothing more than a tool for men in power to control.

“There were always questions on my mind about religious divisions, sectarian differences and treatment of women. After much research, I found that the inequality sanctioned in religion against women is appalling and the same across all religions.” Another member Maliha thinks that apart from extremism, which is “repugnant to anyone who has not been brainwashed into accepting it,” disillusionment is also one of the reasons people turn away from their faith.

“We live in a troubled society. Often enough, we are taught that if only we turn to god, to religion, we will find answers and peace. When people, especially young ones, do that, and find that there is merely rhetoric, they feel rather disillusioned with religion, and that consequently pushes them away,” she says. “Another reason is that we are living in a progressing society. The whole world is undergoing a slow change in which it is leaving behind old religions and turning towards fixing a world, the problems of which are solely ours, not to be solved by a divine hand.

The rapid progress of science has helped this process. We Pakistanis resist globalisation and the introduction of ‘Western’ ideas and concepts, and cling dearly to our Islamic values and Arabised culture, but we are still susceptible to the zeitgeist. Some members of our society have picked it up faster than others. That’s all.” But for Zaeem Kalm, it is the “injustice we see everywhere (inclusive of that due to religious extremism but not exclusive to it) that leads us to believe that there cannot possibly be a just omnipotent being”.

“The cogs also start spinning when Muslims are exposed to people of other beliefs (directly or indirectly) and they realise that they have been falsely demonised by their society and no one deserves to be tortured for all eternity no matter what. Anyone with even a smidgen of empathy would realise how utterly vile and repugnant just the mere idea is… this makes one question the character of their deity. All one needs to do then is to think of their god like one would think of a person. If all of the personality traits were found in somebody you knew, it would be very hard to tolerate, let alone worship that person,” he says.

For most atheists living in a largely conservative society such as ours, the hardest part is putting up with the response of those close to their heart – family and friends. “If I had a buck for every time my family and friends tried to bring me back to the ‘right path’, then I would be extremely rich. The responses are varied. My family was shocked and thinks that I am just confused right now and would eventually come back. However, they are okay with it now. My friends are okay with it as well. They debate with me on different issues but that’s about it,” says Hazrat NaKhuda.

Zaeem Kalm recalls that he gradually broke the news to his family with “a subtle hint here and a brow-raising joke there”. He finally told his mother how the universe made the most sense to him and that, no matter how hard he tried, he simply could not accommodate any magical beings in it without the entire perception of reality being polarised, contorted or even shattered. His parents thought that “being a good human being is the most important thing and everything else is secondary”.

“There were times when they would call it a ‘phase’ or give me a nudge back towards religion but they seem to have given up on that now and have even learnt to deal with my occasional dose of heathen-humour,” he says. Even his close friends had no issues and they mostly said that religion is personal and no one should be forced to believe anything.

However, not all PAA members are prepared to go as far as Hazrat NaKhuda and Zaeem Kalm. “I am still a closet atheist. To my friends I am a secular Muslim. They have all liked my transition from a very religious person to a secular one and today I am much more socially accepted as compared to when I was religious. I am away from my family and I am sure they will give me a tough time when they will discover that I have quit religion,” says Aek.

Maliha thinks that a confession of all-out atheism would cause an upheaval and says that she is not ready to face that yet. “My parents are moderately religious and get upset enough at what they see as my growing heresy,” she says. “My best friend, however, is deeply religious, and, she has tried several times to bring me back to the ‘right path’, using a varied approach, including emotional and rhetorical arguments. I try my best to avoid the topic altogether with her, as I do with other religious friends – or else I listen to them, even while firmly, but gently resisting conversion. It is tough, not resisting the arguments themselves, but the emotional trauma and the sense of being so thoroughly alone is one’s perception of the world.”

Are there any chances of PAA members coming out in the open and freely expressing their beliefs without the help of pseudonyms, Hazrat NaKhuda believes in the short-term no, but in the longer run yes. “I do foresee a rise of atheists and freethinkers in Pakistan…. if not in my life time, then definitely in my children’s.” Zaeem Kalm says that when people have the courtesy to tolerate others’ beliefs, Pakistani atheists would probably be quite close to the day when they are able to freely express themselves. “That said, this would be a step forward for this country that has become exceedingly counter-intuitive for us over the past few decades.”

For its members, the PAA not only allows them to express themselves but also gives them comfort that there are others like them out there as well. “That has been one of the greatest benefits of this group. Pakistani atheists knowing that they are not alone,” says Hazrat NaKhuda. Another member Atheoi Clerk says that the PAA is a platform that lets Pakistani atheists discuss among themselves, ponder over what role they should be playing and figure out how to make things happen for the betterment of humanity.

“It comforts me now to think that surely the day isn’t far when the word atheism will sound more familiar than words like ‘fate’ or ‘angels’ even in this part of the world!” Under traditional Islamic laws, apostasy is punishable by death unless the ‘guilty’ repents and reverts back to Islam in three days, however, various Islamic schools of thought hold different views over the issue.

In 2007, the Islamist political parties of Pakistan tabled a bill in the parliament called the Apostasy Act 2006 that proposed death sentence and life imprisonment for male and female apostates, respectively. It was sent to the parliament’s standing committee concerned for review.

“The apostasy bill was not passed. Otherwise, it would have been a crime in Pakistan to change your faith. Having said that, if the prosecution can prove that one had committed blasphemy in the act of committing apostasy, then the accused could be charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. But then again, all you need to charge anyone under 295-C are a few people willing to lie for you in court,” points out Hazrat NaKhuda.

He says that it is also a matter of concern for Pakistani atheists that they are left with no choice but to declare their religion when applying for a passport. The PAA wants a non-theist box to be added there. The PAA also wants it to be easier for Pakistanis to change their religion legally if they want,” he adds.

“The common population in Pakistan doesn’t care what you believe in until you get into debate with them or ridicule their values. Therefore, just being an atheist would never get me into trouble,” believes Aek.

Atheists Have Better Sex Lives


Atheists Have Better Sex Lives

Man and Woman in bed

A study finds that in individuals, the stronger their religious  beliefs were, the more powerful were their feelings of sexual guilt.

Atheists’ sex lives better than believers’
BioScholar

Atheists enjoy much better sex lives than religious people who tend to be guilt-ridden during the act and for weeks afterwards, say researchers.

A study discovered that non-believers are more willing to discuss sexual fantasies and are more satisfied with their experiences.

Both groups admitted indulging in masturbation, watching porn, having oral sex and pursuing affairs. But believers did not enjoy the experiences as much, being overcome by intense feelings of regret after climaxing, thanks to the stigma created by their belief systems.

The findings emerged in the ‘Sex and Secularism’ survey of more than 14,500 people carried out by psychologist Darrel Ray and Amanda Brown from Kansas University, the Daily Mail reported.

All of the people who were questioned were found to have sex around the same number of times a week. They also became sexually active at similar ages.

But devoutly religious people rated their sex lives far lower than atheists. They also admitted to strong feelings of guilt afterwards.

Strict religions such as Mormons ranked highest on the scale of sexual guilt. Their average score was 8.19 out of 10. They were followed closely behind by Jehovah’s Witness, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, and Baptist.

Catholics rated their levels of sexual guilt at 6.34 while Lutherans came slightly lower at 5.88. In contrast, atheists and agnostics ranked at 4.71 and 4.81 respectively.

The study found that in individuals, the stronger their religious beliefs were, the more powerful were their feelings of sexual guilt afterwards.

Is Bill O’Reilly the Stupidest Catholic in America?!


Bill O’Reilly Stumped by Tides: ‘Unexplainable’ by Science
By Alex Moore

Tread lightly—this video is truly depressing.


Yo, God, it’s me, Bill. Can you explain how the tides work?”

Today David Silverstein, president of the American Atheist Group went on the Bill O’Reilly show to debate whether god is real and whether religion is valid. O’Reilly gave him a golden hail-mary opportunity to absolutely blow his argument off the map and wipe that smug look off his face, and Silverstein blew it.

Explaining that his religious faith springs from the mysteries of nature that are unexplainable by modern science, O’Reilly said: ““I’ll tell you why [religion is] not a scam, in my opinion. Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You can’t explain why the tide goes in.”

Even more amazing than Bill O’Reilly not knowing that the tides are caused by the moon’s orbit is the fact that the atheist guy didn’t know it either! Silverstein was left to retort, “It doesn’t matter if I can’t explain it—that doesn’t mean that an invisible magic man in the sky is doing it,” his high school science (or was it middle school?) apparently failing him.

The moon, dude. The moon. Nothing so frustrating as seeing Bill O’Reilly so close to getting eviscerated, and without a rational human being in sight to put him in his place.

I guess it wasn’t meant to be this time—like the 1986 Red Sox. Just wait, O’Reilly—we rationalists will get you one of these days.

Interview here:-

http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/oreilly/transcript/o039reilly-debates-atheist-group-president-over-religions-are-039scams039-billboard

Jelly Back Obama Cowers and Panders to Religious Credulity


When Religious Pandering Goes Too Far?

by Hemant Mehta

I’m used to politicians pandering to religious Americans.

There’s more of them, so there are more votes to be gained by speaking their “language.” That coupled with the fact that President Obama is a Christian just meant we could expect a lot of religious references in his speech in Tucson, Arizona yesterday.

I wasn’t disappointed:

There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through.

As Scripture tells us:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.

I’m sure a lot of you feel it’s too much. He shouldn’t have made any religious references at all and this was overkill.

But somehow, none of those passages fazed me. They went in one ear and out the other. I’m so used to hearing them by now, I feel almost immune to them.

Until I heard the President talk about Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who died in the shooting. Obama spoke about her in some detail early in his speech, and then at the end of it, he said this:

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today.

Ugh…

No. There are no rain puddles in heaven. Christina is not jumping in them. Hell, there’s not even a heaven in the first place.

I hate this idea that we have to create imaginary memories for people who die young, as if we couldn’t find anything happier to remember them by during their lifetimes. For all the joy Christina surely provided her family with during her life, Obama chose instead to invoke this fake scenario that I feel cheapens her memory.

I realize I’m probably overreacting. This was one line in a very long (and honestly beautiful) speech.

It just rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t know if I’m alone in this.