Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Angry Atheists

This is a wonderful video of a talk that blogger Greta Christina recently delivered at a Skepticon convention concerning the accusation often leveled at atheists that we are angry.  It is an absolutely excellent response.  She lists the many good reasons atheists have for being angry, points out that these things bother us because they should bother any decent person, and points out that the "angry" accusation is often just an attempt to get us to shut up.  The one thing I don't think she mentioned, but which must be kept in mind, is that the accusation is often just shorthand for "you don't believe in god because you are mad at him."  Until the believer has the nerve to make this accusation explicit, however, simply respond to the one he has actually made.  Greta's talk should give you lots of ammunition.

Religion Is Divisive

Detractors of religion often point out that it is divisive.  While this accusation is true and (when one takes a good, long look at this aspect of religion) truly damning, it lacks the simplicity and emotional punch needed to register in the minds of believers.  The problem is that the point is too cerebral.  Frankly, most believers don't really understand what the word divisive means.  The non-believer needs to be specific in order for this point to register:

"Religion artificially divides people into mutually antagonistic groups and artificially creates conflict between those groups.  In fact, it is very often deliberately used for that purpose."

A very good example of this use of religion was recently provided to us all when some conservative pundits criticized President Obama's video address on Thanksgiving for not thanking god.  His written Thanksgiving message did thank god, and he was certainly not the first President to leave out a mention of god.  George Bush did it in 2008.  Though you will note, if I may wax cynical for a moment, that this was the last address he delivered and it occurred after Obama had won the 2008 election.  Could it be that he left out a mention of god because he no long felt a need to pander to the religious right?

What's even more revealing is that Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum did the same thing this year.  Yet the right wing pundits did not criticize them.  Why not?  Because the pundits support them.  This is not about paying homage to god; it's about riling up the mob and turning it on Obama by painting him as alien and threatening.

The right wing pundits are obviously and deliberately trying to use religion to turn the mob against Obama.  As I have mentioned before, this is one of the primary evils of religion:  that it can be so easily used in this way to incite a mob.  In fact, I would argue that this is one of its primary purposes--especially from the viewpoint of the powerful.

Here is a link to the brilliant send-up that Jon Stewart did about this little contretemps on the Daily Show.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Are Christians Persecuted in the U.S.?

A recent commenter on this blog alleged that religious people face discrimination in the U.S.  I have frequently heard this outrageous lie from other religious fanatics.  I have learned it is a sure sign that I am dealing with a fanatic because the facts are so much to the contrary that it is difficult to know where to begin.  Usually the person is complaining about the fact that their religion isn't allowed to become or act like the "established", favored religion.  In essence, they are complaining about the fact that they are not allowed to force their religion on the rest of us. 

Rob Boston published a nice, short article today in Alternet, 5 Reasons the Religious Right Should Stop Whining About Being Persecuted, which lays out some basic points concerning the ridiculousness of these claims.  I strongly recommend reading it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bias Against Non-believers V

Yesterday a religious fanatic posted comments on some of my posts.  One of the comments denied the reality of the extreme bias that non-believers in the U.S. face every day.  Consequently, I decided to post this video on the subject, which contains quite a bit of evidence concerning this bias:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Religion, Racism, and Narcissism

Narcissists are people with severely wounded and threatened egos.  Deep down they feel very inferior.  They compensate by trying to find or invent ways to feel superior.  Religion and racism both appeal to them because they allow the narcissist to feel superior simply for belonging to a "superior" group.  They can feel superior simply because of their skin color, their ethnic heritage, being a member of the "one true church" or a member of the "chosen people", etc.

A recent series of articles in Media Matters provides evidence of this link between religion and racism (not to mention ignorance).  The articles focus on an attempt to build a sort of white supremacist homeland in a region of Montana.  When explaining why they chose Montana, one of the leaders of the movement said: 

"Our Christmas parade still goes by that name and we have a nativity scene in our public square with a Baby Jesus... Come Home!"

If you spend any amount of time exploring the statements of white supremacists in America, you will realize what that "come home" exhortation means.  It is often used and is shorthand for "come home to the religion of your forefathers".  

The religion they are referring to, of course, is a traditional version of American Christianity.  This is somewhat ironic because the leaders of the white supremacist movement seem to be completely ignorant of the fact that Christ was a Jew and that their European ancestors were actually converted at the point of a sword and were, in fact, pagans.  Like most religious people, I am sure that they "deal" with these facts either by ignoring them or wishing them away.  Facts are mere nuisances, at worst, when they can be chosen based on how one feels about them. 

Monday, November 21, 2011


With Thanksgiving just around the corner in the U.S. many people are facing the prospect of visiting the home of a relative for a meal with heavy overtones of tradition--and religion.  One of the most common questions for non-believers at this time of year is how to act when one's host says a prayer before the meal.

Generally, of course, the polite thing to do is say nothing.  When one is a guest in another's home, the traditions and practices of the host are to be tolerated with the utmost politeness.  This is a simple rule and is almost universally followed.  When religious people dine at the home of non-believers, they almost never have the temerity to demand that a prayer be said.  There are occasions when this will happen, however--such as when a parent visits an apostate child and fails to respect the child's wishes and status as an adult.  There is little doubt in anyone's mind that such behavior is rude and insulting.

There is another circumstance that non-believers sometimes face in this regard.  Sometimes relatives who ordinarily do not say prayers before meals will decide to say a prayer simply because they know a non-believer is in attendance.  If you find yourself in this situation, try not to laugh and try not to comment.  The person insisting on prayer is probably hoping to start a "discussion", which means, of course, a religious argument. 

Be the better person and don't take the bait.  Instead, look around the table to see if there aren't any like minded persons in attendance.  If there are no other non-believers, you might at least be able to discover which attendees are aware of the rudeness of this anomalous prayer.

If unable to avoid the argument, your first ploy should be to point out the person's hypocrisy in not saying such prayers for years and years and then choosing to do so only when a non-believer is present, which is not only hypocrisy but deliberate rudeness.  You should make that point explicitly.  Having invited you into his or her home, thus indicating you are welcome, the host has suddenly decided to send an unmistakable signal that you are not welcome. 

Do not say that the prayer itself is offensive, that would be playing right into their hands.  Simply point out that it is obviously aimed at you because it is not the normal custom of the household.  But, do not object to the prayer itself.

In general, we have a simple rule:  The owner of the home decides whether there will be prayer, and the guests abide by that decision quietly.

These observations about propriety and prayer can be used to shed some light on the school prayer debate.  When the religious insist on having organized school prayer, they have to know full well, on some level at least, that they are sending a message to any non-believer present that says "this is our house, and you are merely a guest here".  As I have written before this, in large part, is the precise reason they want to have organized prayer.

A schoolhouse, or any other government building, does not belong to any one person or to any one group.  It belongs to everyone, including non-believers.  In such a case, the proper thing to do is not to raise the subject of religion at all.  This, too, is the proper rule of etiquette, that we all observe in our day to day lives.  When we have relatives over from different religions we do not initiate discussions about which religion is the "true" religion.  Doing so would only incite conflict and controversy.  It is rudeness to start such a discussion, especially when those gathered came together for other reasons.

Government buildings are neutral ground.  They belong to no one and to everyone.  They are created for a purpose that we all share, and that purpose is NOT religion.  No one person or group has the right to demand prayer anymore than they have the right to exclude other citizens who don't belong to their group.