Buy 'Godless in America'
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My Blog/What's New
To the religious
Irreconcilable Differences
A violation by prayer
Answering atheism's critics
Arguing the inarguable
Baloney detection
Sagan remembered
Capitol gods, historical fictions
Chance, Karma, etc
Columbine: 5 years after
Thoughts on abortion
Divine fictions
Dueling billboards
Economic cold turkey
Election reforms
Excommunicating reason
Finding the line
The First and the 10
Freedom of the press
Friday night at Curry's
From the shores of Tripoli
Garbled 'God'
Genes don't care
Fooled again?
The Gifts We Give
'God' and the pro athlete
God losing its religions
Spotting monkey traps
Inaugurating change
ID facts and fictions
A last rite
Let us think
Lethal bliss
Memo concerning a wall
mere atheism
My left lung
Mythic Lies
The numbers game
On 'atheist' atrocities
Only words
Out of the mainstream
Q&A Dialogue with a Christian
The real war
Rebutting Rabbi Gellman
Storm story
Rosa's 'No'
Rethinking the 'A' word
Same-sex marriage
See no evil
Signs signal changing times
Sitting still?
Tom Paine
Trouble with miracles
The trouble with NOMA
Under sail
Voting for bigotry
What the thunder says
When atheists attack
When faith trumps reason
Why Darwin was right
GIA errata
e-mail me

My Blog/What’s New

A running commentary on whatever strikes my fancy and an update on new developments with the book and additions to the web site.

July 9, 2009

Buy the books—Both of my books: Godless in America: conversations with an atheist and mere atheism: no gods...no problem!, are being given 10 percent discounts on Amazon.com. This is the first time both books have been discounted. GIA has been discounted by Amazon before but only briefly, then the price went back up. I have no idea how long this will last. Pricing policy is in the hands of my publisher and book sellers. So if you were planning to buy one or both books, this would be a good time to do it. If you already one or both volumes, consider buying a set to donate to your local library, etc. We now return to our regular programming.

Mobbing the media—As another yet another illustration of the “civilizing” effect of religions, consider this incident from Jerusalem where a reporter was attacked by a mob of orthodox Jews when she attempted to document their protest. Anne Barker is ABC’s Middle East correspondent. She was covering an ongoing protest by “ultra-orthodox” Jews who had been incensed by a local council’s decision to open a municipal carpark on Saturdays (Shabbat, the day of rest for the Jews). On that day Jews are not supposed to do anything, and the opening of a carpark, viewed as something that would encourage people to drive, was highly offensive to the protesters. The protests had been going on for weeks, Barker reports, and earlier protests had become violent with protestors throwing rocks at police and setting rubbish bins on fire. But when she arrived to report the story, Barker says the protesters vented their ire on her, jostling her, backing her against a wall and spitting on her repeatedly. “I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting - on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms.” Once again, religious people, this time Jews, assert the right to attack others when their religious sensibilities are offended. Apparently, the reporter’s use of a tape recorder on Shabbat incensed those who attacked her. It’s absurd for anyone to think that way, but we have heard similar claims made by members of virtually every religion on the planet. Certainly the three Abrahamic creeds, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, never fail to remind us that they are owed respect and failure to respect their cherished superstitions will result in them acting like thugs towards those they deem responsible. Religious people have it wrong though. The right to practice a religion gives no one the right to impose their beliefs on others and does not oblige anyone else to respect those beliefs. Acting like hoodlums because your cherished superstitions aren’t respected by others only gives credence to the claim that religions make people crazy.

Bible Club loses appeal—The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has let stand a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that allowed a school district to ban the Truth Bible Club at Kentridge High School in Washington state in 2001. The district had disallowed the club because of its name and because the club would have required students to pledge to Jesus Christ before being allowed to vote. The lower court had held the school district did not violate the students’ First Amendment rights by requiring that they allow all students full membership in the club, regardless of their religious opinions. By declining to hear the appeal, SCOTUS let the ruling in Truth v. Kent School District, 08-1130, and Kent School District v. Truth, 08-1268 stand.

Just saying “No”—The Templeton Foundation conducts an annual meeting at Cambridge where prominent intellectuals are invited to speak and science reporters are invited (and paid to attend) to come and write about the proceedings. Richard Dawkins.net shares, with their permission, the correspondence from two prominent philosophers, Daniel C. Dennett and Anthony Grayling, who declined the invitation and replied to a reporter’s inquiry, explaining their reasons for so doing. The Templeton Foundation is at great pains to fudge the lines between science and religion so that it will appear the two need one another. Fortunately, more and more scientists are refusing to play the game.

Vive le Tour—It’s that time of year again. I find myself spending much more time than I should watching le Tour de France on television. I have been fascinated by the event for years. Although I will confess that Lance Armstrong’s incredible feat of winning seven in a row certainly stimulated my interest, I have continued to follow the even since Lance retired, and his return this year, while intriguing, isn’t responsible for my continued addiction. I think the Tour is among a handful of athletic events that are truly remarkable. To ride that far, over flats and mountains, in all kinds of weather for so many days is nothing short of incredible. To do it while racing with 180 of the best professional bicyclists in the world is staggering. Frankly, I think anyone who finishes the tour has accomplished something worthy of respect. The handful who stand on the podium in Paris at the end of the race deserve all the accolades they receive. It is truly a monumental feat.

Party on—The Space Coast Freethought Association will host its annual Freethought Day at Disney on Saturday, October 17, 2009. For particulars, follow the link to the website. This is the fourth year the event has been held, and we would love to see more freethinkers attending. If you live in Florida, or you live somewhere else and will be near Orlando around then, consider joining us for a day at the Magic Kingdom. Everyone pays their own way for this, and as far as I know we get no discounts. Still, it should be fun to get together with like-minded individuals and socialize. Who knows, maybe some day the park be will peppered with lime green shirts as the annual Freethought Day at Disney gathers steam and attracts national attention. Come help us make that happen.

Consider this—We often hear a lot of gushing from those of a religious persuasion about the lock they have on inspiration and so on. Yet in my view the vision offered humankind by the modern scientific narrative is far more inspiring than the puny myths offered by religions. Here’s a sample of a view of life that is scientific and poetic at the same time. Carl Sagan’s description of this “Pale Blue Dot” we call home speaks to us all. And while we’re on the subject of science, here’s a video I recently saw mentioned on Pharyngula, P.Z. Myers excellent blog, of the great physicist and explainer of physics Richard Feynman talking about science and what it is really all about. These two great explainers of science are gone, but their message lives on after them. And thanks to the technology made possible by science, we can still watch them deliver it.

:This godless site—I find it absolutely incredible that 2009 is already half over. Didn’t we just celebrate New Year’s Day last week? :But seriously, the days seem to be rushing by and these web updates have a way of sneaking up on me. Seems as though I just finish one, and it’s time for another. This month I’m creating a new section called “Humor” on the links page and adding links to two sites: atheistcartoons.com and Jesus and Mo. If you haven’t seen these sites, a visit will probably reward you with a few chuckles. I’m also adding a new blog to my list of “Blogs I like.” This one is “Why Evolution Is True” by Jerry Coyne and is named after his excellent book. I’m also adding a new essay. This one is called “Irreconcilable differences: the myth of compatibility between science and religions.” Enjoy.

More to come…GR

June 8, 2009

Another death in the life of a controversy—With the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, while he attended church with his family last Sunday, the domestic terrorism of the anti-abortion movement added another murder to a long list of assaults on the lives and reputations of the brave men and women who attempt to assure that women in the United States have access to safe abortions, as is their legal right. It also demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of those who claim to value life while preaching hatred and intolerance against those who do not accept their moral dogmas. This was a murder manufactured by the talking heads and posturing preachers of the Religious Right who have seized on abortion as a “money” issue and are far more interesting in agitation and fund-raising than in actually helping those who must deal with unwanted pregnancies. I wrote about all of this years ago in an essay called “A death in the life of a controversy.” You’ll find a revised copy of that essay on this website (it’s slugged “Thoughts on abortion” and also in my book mere atheism: no gods…no problem! Moral absolutism blinds us to human necessity and denies the reality of contingency. Most pregnancies end long before abortion becomes an issue, and the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester of a pregnancy. There is no question about those facts. And there also ought to be no question that the person best qualified to make the decision about whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term is the woman involved and the people she wants to consult and/or involve in making that decision. Lawmakers should focus their efforts on protecting the rights of those women and the providers of those medical services. And those in the anti-abortion movement who claim to deplore the murder of Dr. Tiller ought to take a hard look at what they are doing to cause such violence. I extend my condolences to the doctor’s family and friends. The murderer and those who egged him on deserve the strongest possible condemnation, and their attempt at intimidation should only strengthen our resolve to refuse to be ruled by fear. Those on both sides of this controversy would better serve the cause of ending abortion if they pooled their energy and financial resources in an effort to end unwanted pregnancies by promoting better access to contraception and family planning services and more complete sex education for our young. Such an approach also would have the very desirable result of reducing the number of sexually transmitted diseases in our society.

Here comes the judge—With the nomination of Federal Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Barack Obama has chosen a distinguished jurist to replace retiring Associate Justice David Souter. Sotomayor brings an impressive and extensive record as a jurist and, thus, represents something of a departure from recent practice. Because written opinions represent potential sources of conflict in the nomination progress, presidents have tended, since the failed nomination of Robert Bork. to put forth jurists with relatively light resumes so that the nominations would be less controversial. Predictably, Sotomayor’s nomination has been condemned and opposed by the right wing media, who never met a fact they could not distort or a reputation they would not willingly trash. Sotomayor’s offense, apparently, is that she is a woman of hispanic heritage (Puerto Rican to be precise) and, consequently, must be presumed to have been chosen on that basis instead of merit. This line of argument seems to fly in the face of reason. I wonder whether a nominee with an identical resume but was a white male would also find his qualifications challenged. The notion that the only viable candidates offered for consideration must be caucasian males, else their selection will be regarded as political correctness or pandering to a particular group in our society is precisely the kind of thinking the bozos on the right claim to find objectionable. That Judge Sotomayor may have the most impressive legal resume of any nominee in recent memory seems to be lost on those who cannot see past her gender or her racial background. And frankly, lifting a few quotes out of context from a pubic career that spans decades illustrates just how impoverished her critics really are. The Republican Party has yet to decide how to deal with the nomination. Will they judge the candidate on her merit or will they continue their march to irrelevancy by opposing her nomination because she was nominated by a Democrat?

Obama does Cairo—And speaking of President Barack Obama, he recently gave a widely anticipated speech at Cairo University, one which addressed concerns in the Middle East and sought a rapprochement between religious and nationalistic concerns there. While I found the tone of much of the speech to my liking, I thought the content left a lot to be desired. Obama has shown, at home and abroad, that he is very skillful at weaving religious themes into his speeches. In this speech he wove verses from the Q’uran, Torah and Bible into a plea for understanding, peace and mutual respect. However, the great source of agreement in that region will not be found from within religions but outside them. It is our common humanity that unites us with people of all races, nationalities and religious opinions. Religions, in spite of the “grand themes” of their holy books, are more often sources of conflict and division than of peace and understanding. Much of the drive for settlements on the West Bank comes from the conviction of many Jews that the land there was promised them in a covenant with their god. The oppression of women in many Muslim countries cannot be tolerated as simple religious difference. The persecution of minority sects in various Muslim nations also violates basic principles of human decency, as does the suppression of political action and free speech. Let us not forget that Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarek, has hardly been a champion of human freedom during his long tenure as dictator. Both the city of Cairo and the university itself were on security lock down during Obama’s visit there. Certainly this was partly due to concerns for the safety of the U.S. president, but it also was to prevent protests and demonstrations against Mubarek’s government from being made on such a high-profile stage. So I would have preferred to have heard the president speaking of our common concerns and our common humanity and addressing the needs of secular states for secure borders and freedom from violence. The president was courageous in admitting U.S. complicity in the overthrow of Mossedegh in Iran and in calling on Israel to abandon the construction of new settlements in the West Bank. And certainly, this speech was better received, in the Arab world at least, than any speech by a sitting U.S. president in recent memory. But attempting to play the religion card can lead to a dangerous game because it unleashes forces that are irrational and, because irrational, unpredictable. It’s also worth remembering that the United States of America has made many promises to various people and nations in this regions. For all our fine rhetoric, I suspect those who hear the speech will be more interested in the actions that follow. To date the Obama administration has shown no indication it is willing to abandon the imperial presidency of George W. Bush. Talk of peace is cheap. What is much harder is bringing an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it remains to be seen how much political capital President Obama will be willing to expend to secure freedom and autonomy for an independent Palestinian state, while reigning in the voices of militarism and expansionism in Israel. The plain truth is that any secure and lasting peace in that region requires peace between Israelis and Palestinians. That cannot happen if either of the two states in the proposed two-state solution is allowed to fail.

Year of WHAT?—A Georgia lawmaker has proposed 2010 should be designated the “Year of the Bible.” Republican Rep. Paul Broun has authored a resolution calling upon President Obama to designate 2010 the year of the Bible. The resolution seems unlikely to ever make it to the floor of the House and would have no force of law, even if passed. So far, Broun has attracted 14 co-sponsors. In a written statement, Broun said, “The national year of the Bible resolution reminds us that our great nation was founded upon biblical principles and that religious freedom is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.” His resolution did not indicate which biblical principles he had in mind. Perhaps, those associated with the treatment of slaves or the subjugation of women would fit the bill. Broun also failed to indicate how singling out one particular holy book for recognition had anything at all to do with the religious freedom guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Personally, I always have thought Thomas Paine best identified the Bible’s contribution to our society when he wrote in The Age of Reason, “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind: and for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest every thing that is cruel.” To which I can only add a hearty and enthusiastic, “Amen.”

SCA names new director—The Secular Coalition for America has named Sean Faircloth its new executive director. In its announcement on June 4, the SCA said, “Faircloth has been a vocal champion for the separation of church and state throughout his decade of service as an elected official in the Maine Legislature.” Faircloth said, “It's a privilege to work for an organization so in line with my beliefs. I've witnessed the very real harm that can occur when Enlightenment principles of reason are abandoned and secular government is undermined. I look forward to representing the Secular Coalition in standing up for the rights of the millions of nontheists in America.” The SCA is a national lobby representing the interests of all nontheists.

Another brick in the wall—I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The Space Coast Freethought Association has created a “Virtual Wall of Separation between Church and State.” You can view the wall and add your own, personalized brick to those already in place by going here. This is a symbolic gesture to be sure. However, it’s also an easy, cost-free way to express your support for secular government and the maintenance of strict separation between governments and religions.

A missing link?—There was considerable hype and hoopla in mid May over a small primate fossil from Germany. Called “Ida,” the 47-million-year-old remains were touted as the “missing link” (i.e. common ancestor) that connected early primates, such as lemurs, with higher primates such as monkeys, apes and humans (a.k.a. the third chimpanzee). The skeleton is spectacular not only because of its age but also because of its completeness. However, the find was made more than two years ago. The announcement was timed to coincide with the release of a documentary on the History Channel and a book. I hope I will be forgiven a certain level of skepticism about all of this. While I always welcome scientific advances, I just can’t help being leery when they are accompanied by so much hype. Media blitzes of any sort tend to act as a red flag for me. I’m not alone in this. P.Z.Myers, while recognizing, as I do, that this is an important find, also finds the hype and overblown rhetoric to be off-putting. He talks about some of the reasons why in his blog, Pharyngula.

This godless site—I celebrated my 68th birthday on May 26. Actually, it was not so much a celebration as an observation. That’s the way it is these days. I note the passing years and move ahead with my life. As I’ve told my family and friends, I can’t do a damned thing about getting older, but I refuse to get old. In spite of the advance of years and my COPD, I find life to be full of surprises and pleasures. It’s no small treat for me to discover a new author or artist or performer. I enjoy talking to my children and watching them make their own way in the world. I have been fortunate enough to keep the friends that I have made through the years and have been delighted to make new ones along the way. I remain cautiously optimistic about the possibility that we humans will find a way to live together on this ball of mud and to overcome our differences as we recognize our shared concerns and interests. For my part, I continue to work at my writing, to perfect my craft and to offer whatever insights I may. Getting older is far preferable to the alternative. Preferable, that is, as long as one has possession of their mental faculties and some physical independence. After 68 years, I find myself impatient with those who want to cling to the past and wallow in nostalgia. I prefer to live in the present and to look, with some anticipation, to the future. The site has continued to attract a steady stream of visits, mostly from the United States and South Africa with a good number from England, Canada and Australia. Thanks to all who come here. If you like what you find, tell a friend. This month I’ve added an essay on the Treaty of Tripoli called, “From the shores of Tripoli.”

More to come—GR

May 4, 2009

For reason—On May 7 I’ll be joining other friends and acquaintances as the Space Coast Freethought Association hosts its annual National Day of Reason banquet at a local seafood restaurant. This will be the fifth year in a row for our modest gathering. Other organizations around the United States may be hosting similar events, so you might want to check to see if anything is going on in your area. We hold these meetings partly in reaction to the “National Day of Prayer” ordered by act of Congress on the first Thursday of May every year, and proclaimed annually by presidents, governors and mayors around the nation. While we don’t object to unofficial days of prayer organized by religious organizations, we think government sponsorship of such events is a clear violation of the principle of separation between government and religions that seems called for in our Constitution. We also hold it to remind ourselves of the importance of reason in our lives as individuals and in the life of the nation. Finally, we have these affairs because we enjoy getting together for good food and even better conversation. Celebrate reason. Enjoy life!

Say what?—As people around the world are concerned about the threat of a swine flu pandemic, an Israeli health official wants the influenza strain to be called “Mexican” influenza because the reference to pigs is offensive to Jews and Muslims. Both Islam and Judaism consider pigs to be unclean and forbid the eating of pork products. So far there has been no word from the Mexican embassy, but I doubt the government of Mexico is apt to go along. It’s true this strain of influenza surfaced in Mexico first but calling it “Mexican” flu isn’t very precise whereas calling is “swine” flu indicates correctly that this particular infectious strain originated with pigs and mutated to humans. Many of the diseases that plague humans have their origins in various kinds of domesticated animals we raise for food. Actually the World Health Organization is calling the new strain “influenza A (H1N1), but I suspect the press will continue calling it “swine flu.”

Former Vatican envoy nixes award—USA Today reports that a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican has said she won’t accept the University of Notre Dame’s Laetere Medal, which the university describes as the most prestigious honor for American Catholics. Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor and anti-abortion scholar, said she would decline the honor because the school has invited President Barack Obama to deliver an address at commencement and to receive an honorary degree. Since Obama supports abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, both positions that are in conflict with the church’s moral teachings, Glendon said she was at a loss to understand why a Catholic university would extend him such honors. Although many Catholic bishops around the nation have expressed their displeasure at the Obama invitation, more Catholics agree with Notre Dame’s invitation to the president than disagree.

Say it loud—”More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops,” that’s the headline of Laurie Goodstein’s piece in the New York Times on April 26. After a group of secular humanists in South Carolina ran a billboard ad saying “Don’t Believe in God, You Are Not Alone,” they were swamped with positive feedback. So much so they had to begin planning for a larger meeting place as more an more nonbelievers began coming forward and seeking information. Goodstein’s article confirms what I have always suspected. Those of us who do not believe in gods and do not follow religions should not be timid about standing up and speaking out. Simply identifying ourselves openly goes a long way toward ending the fiction that there are only a few atheists in existence, and they are all miserable. Be proud to be a godless American (or whatever other nationality may apply).

Tortuous—With all the discussion about torture that has dominated the news here in the United States lately, here’s an interesting aspect of the issue. It appears, according to a new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, those who belong to religions are more likely to sanction torture than those who do not. According to the study, among the U.S. population as a whole, 49 percent of those surveyed agree that torture can often or sometimes be justified, while 47 percent said the practice could rarely or never be justified. Four percent offered no opinion. Among the religious, white evangelical Protestants were most willing to agree that torture was justified, with 62 percent saying it could often or sometimes be justified. Only 33 percent of that group had qualms about the practice and 5 percent offered no opinion. Of all the groups surveyed those with no religious affiliation were least likely to condone torture, with 55 percent saying the practice was rarely or never justified. Interestingly, there also appears to be a correlation between church attendance and the willingness to agree with torture. Among those who attend religious services weekly, 54 percent agree torture is often or sometimes justified. Those who attend monthly or only a few times a year agreed torture was often or sometimes justified 51 percent of the time. Among those who seldom or never attend religious services, only 42 percent agreed torture was sometimes or often justified, while 53 percent said it was rarely or never justified with 5 percent offering no opinion. This survey was taken in the United States among four major religious traditions: white evangelical Protestants, white non-hispanic Catholics, white mainline Protestants and the unaffiliated. So the only religion represented was Christianity. If you wonder why Christians seem more willing to condone torture than the unaffiliated, I suggest you try reading the Bible (without blinders). In his Age of Reason, Thomas Paine described the holy books of Christians like this: “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.” Sounds like a clue to me.

Faithful infidelity—In a new study, Faith in Flux: Religious affiliation in the U.S., The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life documents the fickle nature of religious belief among many of the faithful. According to the survey, about 44 percent of adult Americans no longer belong to the religion of their childhood, and another 9 percent left that religion at some point but have since returned to it. This is true among all religious groups. Even among those who were raised without religious affiliation, there have been some who have since joined a religion. Nearly 3,000 adults were interviewed for the survey. The study also indicates most of those who leave the religious faith of their childhood do so as a result of gradual changes in their thinking over long periods of time rather than abrupt transitions. Think of it as evolution in action.

Letting go—And speaking of religious transformations, Julia Sweeney’s “Letting go of God” is the story of her own shift from Christianity (Catholicism specifically) to atheism. She tells of her experiences in a one-woman show that is as touching and thoughtful as it is humorous. I just bought the DVD of this performance and watched it with my wife. We both enjoyed it immensely. Ms. Sweeney’s story manages to convey respect for the importance people attach to their religious opinions while at the same time demonstrating an unflinching awareness of the implications of atheism and the value of reason and science in fashioning a view of human life that is easily more wondrous and more humane than the grandest religious vision. Whatever your thoughts about such matters, I highly recommend “Letting go of God.” If nothing else, it will entertain and inform you.

Is it the water?—Florida’s Senate has approved two new specialty license tags with religious motifs. Fortunately, the legislative session expired before the bill could be approved by the full legislature (we have a bicameral system in Florida). Governor Charlie Crist had said he would sign the bill authorizing the plates if it reached his desk. Like most states in the U.S., Florida faces serious financial problems this year. There is not enough money for major programs, and it appears there will need to be drastic cuts in education and so on in order to achieve a balanced budget, which is mandated by the state constitution. Since I have lived in the state for most of my life, I have become used to the outrageous shenanigans of Florida’s legislators. I have suspected for a long time now that there is something in the water supply in Tallahassee that induces a mild form of dementia among lawmakers working in the capitol. The benighted factions who run this state can always find time to pander to the religious fundamentalists, even when they can’t manage to deal responsibly with things like public education, health care and infrastructure improvements. Then again, this is Florida and, as an advertising slogan from years past used to say, “The rules are different here .” And to think, I can look out my front window and watch rockets being launched into space from Cape Canaveral. A state that ought to be the epitome of rationality and scientific thinking is being run by buffoons.

Vermont leads nation—Not only did the Vermont Legislature become the first legislative body in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage, but it also passed the law with such overwhelming majorities in both houses that the governor’s veto of the bill was defeated. This legislative victory followed on the heels of a decision by the Iowa Supreme Court which struck down a law limiting the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Massachusetts and Connecticut also allow same-sex marriage following court decisions in their states. But Vermont is the first to actually pass a law that legalizes such unions. They may not be the only one for long, however. Governor David Paterson of New York is urging the state legislature to pass a similar law during the current legislative session. This is an idea whose time is long overdue. Who’s next?

Kudos—President Barack Obama earned a standing ovation from this corner when he stated that the United States is not a Christian nation in a speech in Turkey. He has made similar statements before. In fact, he said much the same thing during his campaign. Every time he says it, he gets a lot of flack from the ignoramuses on the Christian Right, but the president seems unfazed by the criticisms. I keep waiting for him to go one more step and state, for the record, that “The United States of America is not now and never has been a Christian nation.” But maybe that’s too much to expect.

This Godless site—If you are a regular visitor to this site, welcome back. If you are new here, I hope you’ll take the time to look around. I think sometimes people think the web site is just a promotional tool for my books, and that really isn’t the case. Oh, there’s no denying I hope the people who come here will buy the books, if for no other reason than the money I make from selling the books is used to keep the web site going. But when I began this I envisioned it as a way to “keep the conversation going” as I indicate on the “about” page. Godless in America is subtitled Conversations with an atheist. I chose that subtitle because it was a reflection of the conversational tone in which I wanted to present what I had to say and also because I hoped my thoughts would contribute in some small way to the cultural conversation we have been having about gods and religions. On the web site I wanted to extend the discussion to areas I didn’t touch on in my book and to expand my remarks on some topics I did cover. The web site also gives you the opportunity to interact with me through email if you have any questions about what you find here. Many of you have written me with comments, compliments and questions. If you have written me and received no response to a question, you might want to try again. Be sure to put “Godless in America” in the subject line. My mail reader is set up to flag all correspondence with that heading. Please don’t send attachments. I will not open them.

This month I’m adding two new essays. The first is about the National Day of Prayer on May 7 and is called “A violation by prayer: How an official national day of prayer violates not only the spirit but the letter of the Constitution.” The second essay is called, “Q&A: dialogue with a Christian” and is a recapitulation of an email I received and my responses to it. I also am adding a new link to my “Links” page. This one is to “The Science Network” and will be found in the web connections section.

More to come…GR

April 6, 2009

Resurrection plea—I wish I could say this was an April Fool’s joke, but it’s not. A Maryland woman, Ria Ramkissoon, has pled guilty to starving her one-year-old son, Javon Thompson, to death. At her insistence, prosecutors have included a condition that should the child be resurrected, her plea will be withdrawn. Her attorney, Steven D. Silverman, said Ramkissoon believes the resurrection will occur and had agreed to plead guilty only after prosecutors agreed to drop the charges if the child comes back to life. Meanwhile, as part of her plea agreement, she will testify against four other members of a now defunct religious group called One Mind Ministries. This is an especially gruesome case. According to the AP report, members of the cult stopped feeding the child when he refused to say “Amen” after a meal. After the child had died and its body began to decompose, the remains were stuffed in a suitcase with mothballs and fabric softener sheets to mask the odor. A court-appointed psychiatrist had found Ramkissoon was competent to stand trial and could have been held criminally responsible for her son’s death because she knew the difference between right and wrong. Perhaps we need a new category of criminal offenses for people who abuse or murder their children while under the influence of a religion. It might be called “LUI” or “living under the influence” of religions.

A passing—Historian John Hope Franklin died on March 25th at the age of 94. In a distinguished career that spanned the better part of one century and the beginning of the next, he was a meticulous researcher, a distinguished chronicler of the African-American experience in the United States. His best-known work From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans, is now in its seventh edition. His autobiography, A mirror to America, told the story of his own, remarkable life and also told the story of racism as it was reflected in that life. Franklin was the first African-American to chair an all-white history department, at Brooklyn University, and served on the faculties of many prominent universities. If you aren’t familiar with his work, I recommend a trip to the library or a bookstore to make his acquaintance.

‘Peaceful’ Muslims attack Baha’is—Whenever Islam is criticized for the violence behavior of some of its practitioners, we in the West are always told Islam is a religion of peace. That may be a tough sell for followers of the Baha’i religion who live in the village of Shouraniya, Egypt (about 215 miles south of Cairo) and have just had their homes firebombed and their lives threatened by some of those peaceful Muslims. According to the AP, the attack, which went on for five days before peace was restored, was sparked after a prominent Egyptian media commentator, Gamal Abdel-Rahim, denounced a Baha’i activist as an apostate and called for her to be killed. No injuries were reported in the attack on the 15 members of the Baha’i faith who live in the village. However, rocks were thrown through their windows, and five of their homes were firebombed as the attackers shouted “No God but Allah” and “Bahai’s are enemies of Allah.” One of the villagers said a mob looted his house and destroyed his possessions. He fled the village with hi s wife and five children, saying that after living there for 45 years, he had to leave for the sake of his children’s safety. Islam’s claims of peaceful intentions are belied by the actions of many of its followers who are far too easily provoked into murderous violence by affronts, whether real or imagined.

Wronging ‘rights’—Now dominated by members of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is functioning as anything but these days, has passed another resolution urging the creation of laws in member states to prevent criticism of religions. Not surprisingly, the only religion mentioned in the resolution is Islam. This year the resolution had less support than in years past, but it still was adopted with 23 members voting in favor, 11 opposing and 13 abstaining. The resolution was passed over the objections of a coalition of nearly 200 secular, religious and media groups from around the world who issued a statement declaring the resolution “…may be used in certain countries to silence and intimidate human rights activists, religious dissenters and other independent voices.” The resolution also would restrict free speech and might even cast a pall over religious studies in open societies in the West and elsewhere, critics said. I refer interested readers to an essay on this site (and in my book: mere atheism) titled “R*E*S*P*E*C*T—cartooning religion.” It’s very much on point. Free societies must insist on the rights of conscience of all human beings. Those rights certainly include the right to freedom of religion. They also included the right to criticize, analyze, discuss, lampoon, satirize, disrespect, caricature, cartoon, study, compare, contrast, insult and treat with no reverence at all. The right of others to believe ought not be thought, in any way, to impinge on anyone’s right to discuss and criticize those beliefs in any manner whatsoever. Respect for the rights of believers does not translate into respect for the beliefs themselves. Anyone who chooses to do so may believe in any sort of nonsense. That ought not prevent any of the rest of us from pointing out that it is nonsense. The anti-defamation resolution is itself an affront to human rights of self-expression. I am not comforted by the fact that it carries no force in law. I find it very distressing that an agency supposedly committed to the promotion of human rights could consider it at all, let alone adopt it.

A birthday of sorts—The Vatican just had a birthday of sorts. On February 11, the Vatican observed the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Vatican State in 1929 by the Lateran Accords, agreed to by Pope Pius XI and fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Ironic congratulations were sent by the French Federation Nationale de la Libre Pensee (a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union), who noted their own “highly specialized” research had been unable to uncover the slightest record on any ratification of “Human Rights” or any condemnation of a fascist or corporatist regime. The note concludes with the wish, which probably won’t come to pass, that the 80th anniversary will be the last “We continue our struggle” it concludes, “for the absolute and complete Separation of all the religions and all the States and for the end of theocratic states.”

Another brick in the wall—I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The Space Coast Freethought Association has created a “Virtual Wall of Separation between Church and State.” You can view the wall and add your own, personalized brick to those already in place by going here. This is a symbolic gesture to be sure. However, it’s also an easy, cost-free way to express your support for secular government and the maintenance of strict separation between governments and religions.

This godless site—GodlessinAmerica.com has been up and running since April, 2006. In the past three years thousands of visitors have taken looks that number in the tens of thousands at the various pages offered here. The visitors have come mostly from the United States and South Africa with many others from Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, Denmark, China, and most of the other nations in the world. I have renewed the site for another year and expect to continue it as long as book sales continue to cover the cost. Thanks to all of you who have come here to have a look around. I especially hearing from some of you with comments about my books or the site itself. This month I’m adding a new link in the “Net connections” section of the links page. Atheist Nexus is a Facebook for atheists and agnostics. It offers hundreds of discussion groups, blogs, chat rooms, and other ways to connect with non believers around the world. I’ve just joined the network and am considering starting a discussion group there to talk about my books and the other writings on this web site. I’ve also added a new essay called “Excommunicating reason and humanity.” It’s a continuation of the discussion of a nine-year-old Brazilian girl who was the victim of child abuse by her stepfather, was pregnant with twins and had an abortion. Those who helped the girl, her mother and the doctors who attended her, were excommunicated by the Catholic Church. I take the position that fundamental human decency is a far better guide to right and wrong than the arbitrary absolutism of the moral despots in the clergy. Religious stances on a number of moral issues are not only irrational but also inhumane.

More to come…GR

March 7, 2009

Rape row sparks excommunications—A Brazilian archbishop has said all of those who were involved in the abortion performed on a nine-year-old rape victim on March 4 will be excommunicated by the Catholic Church, according to the BBC. The girl, who had been sexually abused by her stepfather and was pregnant with twins, will not be excommunicated because of her age, but her mother, the doctors who attended her and anyone else who facilitated the abortion will be. The church had attempted to prevent the abortion even though Brazilian law permits abortion in the case of rape or danger to the life of the mother. According to the physicians who cared for her, the girl was so young her uterus could not safely accommodate one child, much less two. Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho told Brazil’s TV Globo that the law of “God” is above human law. Thank goodness those entrusted with the care of this young girl had the good sense to ignore the former and abide by the latter. All of which illustrates something important. When it comes to morality, we are much better off seeking our guidance in the context of what is best for human beings in human societies, not from ficititous sky-gods and the ravings attributed to them by their lackeys here on earth.

Advertising non belief
—What began as a modest bus campaign sponsored by the British Humanist Association (BHA) in London, England, has spread to other nations as humanist and freethought groups in Canada, the United States, Spain, Italy and Australia attempt, with varying degrees of success to sponsor similar campaigns. As reported earlier, the American Humanist Association ran a bus campaign in December with ads asking “Why believe in God, just be good for goodness sake.” In Spain, a campaign was launched in two cities with plans to expand it. Buses running in Madrid and Malaga, Spain, mirrored the BHA message, saying “Probablemente dios no existe. Deja de preocuparte y disfruta la vida” (There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life). Similar campaigns planned for Italy and Australia have hit snags. The Italian Association of Atheists and Rational Agnostics (UAAR) had planned to launch a campaign in Genoa, Italy, featuring a sign that read “The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that we do not need him.” However, faced with strong opposition from conservative forces the ad agency pulled out. Efforts to place ads on Australian buses also have been stalled after APN Outdoor, Australia’s largest outdoor advertising agency, rejected the Atheist Foundation of Australia’s attempt to put slogan’s on Aussie buses. Those would have read “Atheism — Celebrate Reason.” Meanwhile the Freethought Association of Canada has launched a campaign using the BHA’s slogan, “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The ads are running in Toronto now. Here at home, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been placing billboards all around the nation, has started a new bus campaign in Madison, Wisconsin. The FFRF campaign will display interior bus ads featuring an attractive stained-glass motif with quotations from six prominent figures: Richard Dawkins, Clarence Darrow, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Katherine Hepburn and :Butterfly MacQueen.

It’s interesting to note that the London bus campaign apparently began in response to some bus ads promoting Christianity. Ariane Sherine, who originally suggested the atheist ad campaign and created the slogan, was inspired to do so after seeing religious ads on a couple of London buses on her way to work. The idea of actively promoting atheism as an alternative to religious thinking is relatively new, and all such efforts pale in comparison to the huge amounts of time and money various religious organizations spend to promote their wares. Couple that with the kid-glove treatment religions receive from most national and international media, and it’s not at all difficult to understand why religions have such staying power. What is surprising to me is the continued spread of non belief as more and more people begin to check their premises and analyze religious belief without blinders. It is also encouraging that many among the religious, while opposing our views, have no problem with the free expression of support for atheism. It has always seemed to me that people who are offended by such innocuous slogans as those put forth in these campaigns must be very insecure in their own beliefs, else they would not be so threatened by our modest demurrers.

‘How to spot a hidden religious agenda’—That’s the title of a piece by Amanda Gefter on New Scientist. Gefter points to several catch phrases and sentimental appeals that serve to warn the reader that what is presented as “science” may be something else entirely. It’s a short but useful essay.

Religions in the military…again—In spite of claims to the contrary, there seems to be considerable evidence of religious coercion in some branches of the United States military. At least, that’s the claim of a lawsuit reported on by Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times.
Lichtblau writes, “Leaders of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit group that brought the lawsuit against the Pentagon, point to episodes that they said represented a pattern of improper religious influence: official military retreats at off-base churches, the appearance of uniformed officers at religious events, displays of crucifixes at military chapels in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the practice of “dipping” the American flag at the altar of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., among others.” The marriage of religious faith and military service is not new. In our military forces the preferred religion is usually a fairly muscular Christianity that aids in the painting of all issues as black and white and encourages the objectification of enemies of the state as “evil incarnate.” It makes it much easier to kill people when you can pretend they are either subhuman or the mercenaries of an evil empire. We aren’t alone in that. We just ought to know better. Besides, our system of government does not allow the military to be forcing any religious opinions on service personnel. It’s wrong. It also violates both the spirit and the letter of the U.S. Constitution.

Off with her head???—The beheading of a Buffalo woman by her husband last month has prompted all sorts of comments ranging from diatribes against the barbarism of Islam to the claim that this case had nothing to do with religious extremism but was yet another example of the violence done to wives by husbands. One of the best analyses I have seen comes from Susan Jacoby in a piece called “Patriarchal Religion, Domestic Violence And A Beheading in Buffalo.” Jacoby, the author of The Age of American Unreason, discusses the link between patriarchal religions and violence against women and notes that it is disengenuous, at the very least, for muslims to suggest Islam had nothing whatever to do with the incident in question.

Dawkins to speak at AA Convention—Biologist and author Richard Dawkins headlines the list of speakers slated for American Atheists annual convention on April 9-12 at the Emory Center in Atlanta, GA. For more information or to make secure online reservations, visit the newly revamped AA web site. This will be the first convention under the direction of the organization’s new president, Ed Buckner.

Center for Inquiry hosts 12th World Congress—The Center for Inquiry will host its World Congress 2009, “Science, Public Policy and the Planetary Community,” on April 9-12th at the Hyatt Hotel in Bethesda, MD. Speakers already confirmed include NASA climatologist Drew Shindell, Roger Bonnet from the International Space Science Institute, author and social critic Christopher Hitchens, acknowledged authority on evolutionary biology Michael Ruse, skeptical investigators James Randi and Joe Nickell, renowned psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, and many others.

Supreme Court muddies water on First Amendment—Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court has failed to bring clarity to a First Amendment ruling, this time by a narrow ruling that attempts to protect a government agency’s right to speech with considering whether or not that right to speech may violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Writing for the First Amendment Center, Douglas Lee explores the issues raised in the Court’s “Summum” decision. If you are interested in the issue, you might want to read “The First and the 10,” which is my analysis of why government agencies ought not be allowed to display the 10 Commandments on taxpayer-owned property. You’ll find the essay (it’s actually the transcript of a talk I gave on the subject) on this web site. You also might enjoy “Finding the line,” a discussion of the need for separation between government and religions.

This godless site—GodlessinAmerica.com continues to attract readers from around the world. In February, the United States, South Africa, Canada, Great Britain and Australia were the countries from which we had the most visitors. I continue to get email from readers in and out of the U.S. If you decide to drop me a note, please be sure to use “Godless in America” as the subject header. I have my mail program flagged to identify mail with that header and using it will ensure that I don’t overlook your post. Please don’t send attachments as I will not open them. I welcome any comments, whether pro or con, and always try to respond to any correspondence that comes my way. I’m adding two new links to the links page this month. One is to “Rational Resistance,” the blog of Jack McCullough of Montpelier, Vermont. The other is AsktheAtheists.com, a site on which a group of atheists attempt to answer questions thrown at them by all sorts of people. I have just become one of the atheists furnishing answers, so I hope you’ll drop by there and see what’s going on. I’ll be adding that site to the net connections section. In addition to adding the new links, I’m also making a small change on the links page. I’ll be adding a section called blogs I like and putting any blogs in that section. I have also posted the updated version of the transcript of “Why Darwin was right and why it matters,” the talk I delivered last month at a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Brevard County. The folks at the Friendship Fellowship at Pineda were, as the name suggests, very friendly and seemed to enjoy my talk. The “Q&A” was fairly lively, and I had a number of complimentary exchanges with members after it was over. Finally, a doctor over in Tampa opined that the survival of a man, whose boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico, was a “miracle.” At least, that’s what was attributed to the doctor in the AP story I read. Now, I don’t know whether the doctor meant to imply there was anything divine involved, but I’m sure that’s the way religious people will read it. And there is a serious problem with that sort of thinking. I explain why in “The trouble with miracles.” Give it a look and see what you think. One last note. Those of you who have read “My left lung” will know about my medical problems. I’m happy to report that the results of the latest PET scan, done earlier this year, indicate that the nodule in the upper lobe of my left lung shows “no metabolic activity,” according to my doctor. A previous CT scan had indicated the nodule had shrunk. It’s not a miracle though. Just the result of good medical care, including a round of radiation therapy that seems to have done the trick.

More to come…GR

February 5, 2009

Worth noting—On February 12 we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of two remarkable men. Both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on that date in 1809. Lincoln, who was in office throughout the Civil War and is credited with preserving the Union, is regarded by many historians and U.S. citizens as the United States of America’s greatest president. Darwin, who identified the principle of natural selection and recognized the common ancestry of all living things, caused a revolution in scientific thinking that continues to bear fruit to this day. Also worthy of note is the 272nd anniversary of the birth of Thomas Paine, the British-born pamphleteer who was born on Jan. 29, 1737 and died in June of 1809. More than any of the Founding Fathers, Paine was the voice of the American Revolution.

Baylor study challenged—A new report released by the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) raises questions about the Baylor University religious landscaped survey of 2008. The author of the CSH report, independent scholar Gregory S. Paul, challenges both the methodology of the Baylor study and its widely heralded conclusion that America is as religious as ever. Although those who prepared the Baptist university’s materials relied on polling data from the Gallup organization, Paul noted, they ignored other data also gathered by Gallup which did not support their conclusions. In his report, Paul states, “Baylor researchers declare that America is as religious as it has always been, and that belief in religion is a universal characteristic displayed by all peoples around the world. These findings contradict those of many other social science practitioners – and in a direction favorable to Baylor’s interests as a Baptist institution. A close look at the way relevant statistics have been handled by Baylor and its premier researcher, Rodney Stark, suggests that key data is being presented in a way that misrepresents significant social trends and may serve to mislead the public.” This matters because studies like the one done at Baylor never cease to be headlined by the dominant media in the U.S. I don’t object, or especially care, when religionists tout their beliefs. However, I do care when the public record is distorted with statements like the oft-repeated “92 percent of Americans believe in God,” even though, in fact, the truth is far different. I also find it more than a bit amusing to hear religionists proclaim, on one hand, that our nation is as religious as it ever has been while, on the other hand, lamenting the increasingly secular nature of our society. One really cannot have it both ways.

Bus campaign reaches Spain—The so-called “Atheist bus campaign” that began in England and prompted a similar campaign in the Unites States (Washington, D.C.) has now reached Spain, according to the International Humanist and Ethical Union. In late January, buses began running in both Malaga and Madrid Spain, bearing the statement, “Probablemente dios no existe. Deja de preocuparte y disfruta la vida” (There's probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life). Muy bien!

Speaking engagement—For any who may be interested, here is one last reminder that I have been invited to be the guest speaker at Friendship Fellowship at Pineda, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. On February 15, 2009, I will be speaking on the topic “Why Darwin was right, and why it matters.” This will be a revised and updated version of a talk that I first delivered at the Space Coast Freethought Association in 2006 and will be a recognition of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, which already will have occurred on February 12. I have spoken before this group on previous occasions. They always give me a warm welcome and have a lively interest in the subject matter. The talks are usually shorter than the Q&A sessions that follow.

States of belief—According to a new Gallup Poll, more Mississippi residents rank religion as “important” to their lives than the residents of any other state. As part of the “State of the States” series of polls, Gallup asked more than 350,000 Americans “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” Nationally 65 percent of those taking the survey indicated religion was important, Mississippi topped the list with 85 percent of respondents answering in the affirmative, while only 42 percent of Vermont residents did so. Less than half the residents of three other states, all in New England, also said religion was an important part of their daily lives.

Dubois to head renamed department—According to the New York Times, and others, President Barack Obama has picked Joshua Dubois, the 26-year-old Pentecostal preacher who handled religious outreach for the Obama campaign, to head up the newly renamed Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The Times reports “the office will not merely oversee the distribution of grants to religious and community groups, but will also look for other ways to involve those groups in working on pressing social problems.” Thus, Obama will continue to give billions of tax dollars to religious organizations who are engaged in various “socially desirable” efforts. Under the recently departed Bush administration, much of this money was spent in the furtherance of “abstinence-only” sex education programs that did not work and other projects of questionable value. It remains to be seen whether Obama will make good on another campaign promise, i.e. to insist the organizations who receive this money must abide by the same anti-discrimination rules in hiring and so on that are imposed on other organizations who receive federal dollars. This is apparently a huge sticking point for many religious organizations who, evidently, can only do the “lord’s work” if they are allowed to discriminate against others. At some point, one hopes, our new president may come to realize that any benefit from this sort of entanglement between government agencies and religions is more than offset by a host of liabilities.

Teacher sues over religious harassment—A story in the “Collegiate Times” reports that a former Blacksburg Middle School employee has filed an antidiscrimination suit against the Montgomery County School Board (Virginia) in federal court alleging she was discharged in retaliation for her repeated complaints regarding religious hostility in the workplace. Judith Scott claims that her supervisor created a work environment in which the Christian religion was actively and blatantly promoted in the workplace. When Scott complained about the proselytizing, she says the work environment became increasingly hostile. Finally, her employment contract was not renewed. Her suit alleges she was terminated because she had complained about the religious harassment.

Gagging the ‘gag’ order—President Barack Obama has rescinded the “so-called” Mexico City rule, first imposed by then-President Ronald Reagan by executive order in 1984. The rule prohibited international agencies accepting funding from the United States government from either administering abortions or distributing information about them. The ban was first rescinded by President Bill Clinton, was reinstated by President George W. Bush as one of his first acts on taking office and has now been revoked, once again, by Obama. Called a “global gag order” by many international family planning agencies, the ban was held to be responsible for an increase in unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and, consequently, an increase in abortions. Like the ideologically driven “abstinence-only” sex education programs in this country, the global gag order generally had consequences that were the opposite of its stated intentions.

Dawkins to speak at AA Convention—Biologist and author Richard Dawkins headlines the list of speakers slated for American Atheists annual convention on April 9-12 at the Emory Center in Atlanta, GA. For more information or to make secure online reservations, visit the newly revamped AA web site. This will be the first convention under the direction of the organization’s new president, Ed Buckner.

This ‘Godless’ site—I’m trying to get back in the mode of updating the site during the first week of the month, and I may start adding shorter updates to the blog with more frequency, possibly dropping a few comments in on a weekly basis. “Godless in America” had a good January, with lots of visitors looking at lots of pages. This month, I’m adding links to several sites, all having to do with aspects of our freedoms: Freedom Forum, First Amendment Center and the Newseum. The two latter sites are sponsored by the Freedom Forum, but I’m including links to all three. The Newseum will be especially of interest to those interested in the freedom of the press and journalism. Front pages of more than 700 newspapers from the United States and around the globe are reprinted here on a daily basis. I am deleting the link to Best of Net Atheism as it is no longer functioning. After a month of waiting for it to be corrected, I’ve decided to delete the link. While I’m on that subject, if any of you notice one of the links on my “Links” page isn’t working, please drop me a note via email and let me know. Use the subject heading “Godless in America” so I’ll be sure to see it. This month I’m adding a piece called “Out of the mainstream.” It’s a commentary I wrote in 2001 about the state of what used to be called the “mainstream” press. I have revised and updated it somewhat, but I think the remarks are still relevant to the way the dominant media operates in the United States today. I hope you’ll find it of interest. I will be adding the text of the revised version of my talk, “Why Darwin was right and why it matters,” after I deliver it on February 15.

More to come…GR

January 17, 2009

Making the whole world blind—Mahatma Gandhi is credited with the statement “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” and I can’t help thinking of those words as I read about the latest carnage occurring in Gaza as Israel’s offensive against Hamas continues. There are reports that Israel will announce a cease fire later today. One can only hope. Israel cites it’s right to defend its citizens from rocket attacks launched from Gaza by Hamas. I don’t think any reasonable person can argue with the right of self defense, be it on the part of an individual or a nation. But there is a dreary sameness to all of this. Groups who claim to represent the interests of various factions with grievances continue to launch attacks on Israeli civilians. The attacks provoke Israel into a long-established pattern of massive retaliation resulting in the deaths of many parties, some guilty, mostly innocent. This response hardens the line of Israel’s enemies and ensures there will be still more attacks. As all of this goes on, the nations of the world align themselves with one side or the other, positions harden and invective grows and the people at ground zero suffer horribly. In Gaza, there is no place to hide. No place to escape the relentless bombardment. Men, women and children must live in the rubble of shattered homes, destroyed infrastructure and broken families. Yet, neither side seems able to step back from this cycle of confrontation. Hamas stands accused of terrorism; Israel of war crimes. Each side is so convinced of the righteousness of its cause that it is blinded by a willful indifference to the suffering of the other. Each side insists peace can only be had on its terms, but neither will forswear violence as a means to achieve just ends. Meanwhile, here in the United States, the unquestioning support that has been given Israel in the past is beginning to wane. We no longer accept that it is anti-semitism to criticize a state whose actions seem, at times, to be totally out of proportion to the offenses to which they are a response. Certainly, Israel has a right to exist, but so do the people of Gaza and the West Bank and Southern Lebanon. The willful blindness induced by such violent confrontation cannot resolve the issues in this conflict. Only when men and women of good will are at the helm of both sides is it going to be possible to fashion any sort of lasting peace. Sadly, that day has not yet come.

‘Green’ Bible promotes controversy—The new “Green” Bible, published recently by HarperOne, has some evangelicals up in arms, according to various press reports. Printed on recycled paper and including essays by various environmental advocates, the Bible highlights environmentally friendly passages by printing them in green ink, much as “red-letter” editions of the New Testament print the quotations attributed to Jesus in red ink. Some evangelicals take issue with the new edition, arguing that those who promote it are using the Bible to advance their environmental messages. Imagine that! People using the Bible to advance their own agendas. Who ever heard of such a thing? (Yes, folks, that is sarcasm.)

The ‘consecrated’ inaugural door—With hundreds of thousands of people slated to visit Washington, D.C., to witness the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama, it was inevitable a few nuts would make appearances as well. Last week a congressman and two ministers took it upon themselves to conduct an unofficial religious ceremony in which the ministers prayed and sprinkled olive oil on a doorway through which Obama must pass on his way to take the oath of office. Republican Congressman Paul Broun, who facilitated the event, stated that America’s leaders “need to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hmmm…I thought we elected them to serve the American people. Isn’t that what government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is supposed to mean? Broun, you may recall, declared after the election that Barack Obama was a “Marxist” and then compared him to Adolph Hitler. The congressman has since said he “regretted” making the remarks. Writing on his Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog, Jay Bookman observed, “Sane people all over the country are snickering at Broun, as they should be. He is the point at which the lunatic fringe and Republican officeholders intersect.” Shouldn’t there be, at the minimum, some sort of Congressional reprimand for a representative who so abuses his authority as to conduct an unofficial religious service in a public facility and thus abuse both the spirit and the letter of our Constitution with a bogus ceremony that is an affront to reason itself?

Inaugural choices—Meanwhile, President-elect Obama has come under fire for picking Rick Warren, he of the “Purpose-driven Life” books and the Saddleback Church, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Warren, who campaigned actively for the anti-gay Proposition 8 in California, is viewed with hostility by those in the progressive community. The critics have quieted some since it was announced that Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopalian bishop, will deliver the invocation at the event that kicks off the week’s inaugural festivities on Sunday afternoon. Personally, I’m not as much bothered by Obama’s choice of a clergyman to deliver a particular invocation as I am bothered by his decision to inject religion into what should be a celebration of our democratic institutions. I understand the president-elect claims his religion is important to him. However, what he, and all other public officials, should understand is that governance is a secular function. Our civil society does not require the injection of religious elements into what are, essentially, rites of citizenship. If the president feels the need for a religious stamp of approval on his presidency, he should seek it in the church he attends or in the privacy of his own home, not in a public ceremony that belongs to all of the people. I have more to say on this subject. See “Inaugurating change in inaugurations,” a new essay I’m adding this month.

Just say ‘no’—A consortium of 18 freethought groups including American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Council for Secular Humanism, Freedom From Religion Foundation and others has written a letter urging President-elect Barack Obama to refuse to serve as the honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America until such time as the BSA reforms its bylaws and practices and stops discriminating against people based on religious opinions or sexual orientation.

American Atheists schedule convention—American Atheists Inc. will hold its 2009 annual convention on April 9-12 in Atlanta, GA. For more information or to make secure online reservations, visit the newly revamped AA web site. This will be the first convention under the direction of the organization’s new president, Ed Buckner.

Another brick in the wall—I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The Space Coast Freethought Association has created a “Virtual Wall of Separation between Church and State.” You can view the wall and add your own, personalized brick to those already in place by going here. This is a symbolic gesture to be sure. However, it’s also an easy, cost-free way to express your support for secular government and the maintenance of strict separation between governments and religions.

Speaking engagement—This is a reminder for those who may be interested. I have been invited to be the guest speaker at Friendship Fellowship at Pineda, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. On February 15, 2009, I will be speaking on the topic “Why Darwin was right, and why it matters.” This will be a revised and updated version of a talk that I first delivered at the Space Coast Freethought Association in 2006 and will be a recognition of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, which already will have occurred on February 12. I have spoken before this group on previous occasions. They always give me a warm welcome and have a lively interest in the subject matter. The talks are usually shorter than the Q&A sessions that follow.

This ‘Godless’ site—“Godless in America” had a good year in 2008. Thousands of people visited. Most of them were from the United States, but there was also a sizable contingents from South Africa. And the site was regularly visited by folks from Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Australia, China and a host of other countries. I have debated with myself over making some cosmetic changes to the site but decided against it. I’m not a web designer and this has never been about all that anyway. The only major change I made this year was in dropping the guest book after it began attracting idiots who apparently had nothing to do except try to sabotage other people’s work. Any of you who wish to contact me directly are invited to do so by email. Just click on the appropriate toggle on your left and drop me a note. As I’ve said before, don’t send attachments because I won’t open them and won’t read the emails containing them. This month, as indicated earlier, I’ve added an essay called “Inaugurating change in inaugurations,” in which I comment on the injection of religion into the presidential inauguration I have also added a connection to Gene Garman’s web site. He is the author of America’s Real Religion and numerous other essays on church-state separation.

More to come…GR

December 18, 2008

Reason’s greetings—That’s the message on a new billboard sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Madison, WI. The billboard went up at the beginning of the month, at about the same time the FFRF put its annual Winter Solstice message on display in the first-floor rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol. Although this year’s sign is new, with an attractive gold finish and some new verbiage on the back, the message it bears is the same one it has carried for the past 13 years. “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. :There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

This year the FFRF is placing a similar sign and billboard in the Washington State Capitol in Olympia, Washington. Another is going up in Illinois. The FFRF’s Winter Solstice signs are intended to counter religious displays (specifically, nativity scenes on government-owned property) and to point out that many cultural traditions, of which Christmas is but one, are centered on and around the Winter Solstice. State governments have come under fire for allowing the FFRF’s displays but have generally agreed, albeit reluctantly, that they cannot allow sectarian religious displays on government property and then refuse to permit one that is non religious. Those who are offended by the FFRF’s sign should consider asking their public officials to stop all such displays. That would be the end of it. Keep the religious displays on private property. Put the nativity scenes and other religious displays on the grounds of churches (and other buildings owned by religions) or private homes.

We all know, after all, that earth’s axial tilt is the actual reason for the season.

American Atheists schedule convention—American Atheists Inc. will hold its 2009 annual convention on April 9-12 in Atlanta, GA. For more information or to make secure online reservations, visit the newly revamped AA web site. This will be the first convention under the direction of the organization’s new president, Ed Buckner.

Spotlight on freethinkers—”Six Prominent American Freethinkers” is the title of a new piece by James Farmelant and Mark Lindley on the Monthly Review web site. The essay provides a synopsis of the views of Col. Robert Ingersoll, Felix Adler, George Santayana, John Dewey, Ayn Rand and Michael Harrington as they relate to gods and religions. It’s an interesting read. In wrapping things up, the authors write, “Our six did all exhibit in various ways a certain American "can-do" spirit, and they all had high regard for science as one might expect of 19th- and 20th-century opponents of supernaturalism.  It is notable, however, that they tended not to be very anti-religious, but to see in religion many elements of continuing value if only the traditional supernaturalist metaphysics could be dispensed with.” I’m not at all sure what it means to not be “very anti-religious.” Are there degrees of anti-religion? Perhaps the authors are referring to the difference between open hostility and quiet disapproval, but I think one would be hard pressed to find anything in the writings of Ayn Rand, for example, that identifies “elements of continuing value” in religions. Besides, many religionists would argue that religions without “the traditional supernatural metaphysics” are not really religions at all.

A rising tide of disbelief?—Contrary to the claims made regularly in the popular media, authors Phil Zuckerman and Gregory Paul point to the emergence of an increasing number of nonbelievers in “Why the gods are not winning,” their latest contribution to Edge. Here’s an introduction to the subject matter, “Disbelief now rivals the great faiths in numbers and influence. Never before has religion faced such enormous levels of disbelief, or faced a hazard as powerful as that posed by modernity. How is organized religion going to regain the true, choice-based initiative when only one of them is growing, and it is doing so with reproductive activity rather than by convincing the masses to join in, when no major faith is proving able to grow as they break out of their ancestral lands via mass conversion, and when securely prosperous democracies appear immune to mass devotion? The religious industry simply lacks a reliable stratagem for defeating disbelief in the 21st century.”

One can only hope.

Another brick in the wall—I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The Space Coast Freethought Association has created a “Virtual Wall of Separation between Church and State.” You can view the wall and add your own, personalized brick to those already in place by going here. This is a symbolic gesture to be sure. However, it’s also an easy, cost-free way to express your support for secular government and the maintenance of strict separation between governments and religions.

Buy the books—If you give gifts at this time of year, I hope you will consider one of my books among your shopping choices. Godless in America: conversations with an atheist is a discussion of atheism and how I came to be one. It is written in a conversational tone and is aimed more at defending atheism than attacking theism. That’s not to say the book isn’t critical of religions because it is, especially of the fundamentalist strains. I believe in plain speech, and in Godless in America, I make the case for complete separation between governments and religions. My other book, mere atheism: no gods…no problem!, is a selection of essays from this web site. It continues the discussion by expanding on issues that were raised in my first book and raising others that weren’t. This collection is intended for those who prefer reading books to reading computer screens and offers some of my work in an easy-to-carry format, something that can be tossed in a beach bag or overnight case. . Both of my books are available at online book sellers. They also may be ordered from most bookstores.

Speaking engagement—Once again, I have been invited to be the guest speaker at Friendship Fellowship at Pineda, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. On February 15, 2009, I will be speaking on the topic “Why Darwin was right, and why it matters.” This will be a revised and updated version of a talk that I first delivered at the Space Coast Freethought Association in 2005 and will be geared toward the observance of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, which already will have occurred on February 12. I have spoken before this group on previous occasions. They always give me a warm welcome and have a lively interest in the subject matter. The talks are usually shorter than the Q&A sessions that follow.

On the web—November was the best month for the web site in 2008, with more visitors and more pages viewed than any previous month. My essay on Barack Obama and why I supported him drew the most attention and may have accounted for the surge. Hopefully, some of those who visited will stick around or come back to check in from time to time. I also got an email from someone who read “My left lung” and recounted her own battle with medical problems. Like me, she got through it all without any yen for a supernatural agency. I guess those of us in the reality-based community don’t waste time on such fictions. I’ve added one new essay to the site this month. It’s called “Capitol gods, historical fictions” and is a commentary on the reaction of a senator from South Carolina to the newly opened Capitol Visitor’s Center in Washington, D.C.

Enjoy—Although I celebrate no holidays, I usually enjoy this time of year because it always means more visits from our children and grandchildren. So we have a series of mini-celebrations, combining good food, good conversations and other activities we enjoy. Then, too, it’s the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one. Although I quit making New Year’s resolutions years ago, one I intend to make, and keep, this year, is to finish at least one novel. I have several in various stages of development. I’ll keep you posted on that process. I expect to keep the web site up and running for another year, at least. As long as the royalties from the books are sufficient to pay the cost, and it continues to attract interest. So, once again, thanks to all who have shown that interest. May your lives also be filled with a sense of celebration.

More to come…GR

November 17, 2008

History made—Although the phrase is probably overworked in the aftermath of the presidential election held in the United States of America on November 4, it is also apt. The election of an African American with the unlikely name of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the U.S. shatters one more barrier as this nation continues the laborious process of creating a “more perfect union” and living up to the principles it claims to hold so dear. The election also may signal a return to active engagement on the part of the United States’ electorate, which, for too long, has allowed this nation to be operated as the adjunct of corporations whose only allegiance is to their own bottom line. Of course, the president-elect has his work cut out for him, and only fools think any of this is going to be easy. But that great sigh of relief that was expressed in celebrations throughout the United States and around the world encourages this citizen to think that, at long last, we may have decided to leave behind the politics of fear and ignorance and taken up the banners of engagement and enlightenment. Only time will tell whether my optimism is justified.

Turning nasty—Meanwhile, a few insiders, anonymous of course, have exhibited the nastiness that has become all too typical of Republicans in victory and defeat by slamming John McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, with smears leaked to the media. I won’t dignify the comments by repeating them. Now, I never thought much of John McCain’s choice for vice president, and I do think she became a drag on the ticket. But she deserves better than this. For a few short weeks, her candidacy breathed some life into a campaign that was, at best, moribund. And what does it say about the man at the top of the ticket, that his first major decision turned out so badly? Those who trash the governor are doing the senator from Arizona no favors.

By the numbers—Those who enjoy studying exit polls will find some interesting reading. While 43 percent of whites voted for President-elect Obama, more than 60 percent of all other ethnic groups voted for him. McCain did best among white men, garnering 57 percent of their votes, and the elderly, winning 53 percent of theirs. Old (65+) white people were McCain’s strongest category, voting for him 58 percent of the time. Obama was much more popular with younger voters, racking up 66 percent of the votes of those under 30. Among religious voters, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports that Obama received more votes than McCain across the board, and did as well as or better than his Democratic predecessors Al Gore and John Kerry in that demographic. In spite of the lobbying of the Catholic Church against pro-choice candidates, Obama did much better than McCain among Catholic voters with 54 percent voting for him while 45 percent voted for the Republican. Although more white Catholics voted for McCain than Obama (52 percent to 47 percent), Obama still received a greater percentage of votes from that demographic than had either Gore or Kerry in 2000 and 2004 respectively. As far as percentages go, Obama received his most overwhelming support from Jewish voters (78 percent to 21 percent), members of other faiths (73 percent to 22 percent) and the unaffiliated (75 percent to 23 percent).

Just asking—The Secular Coalition of America (SCA) has prepared a lengthy open letter asking President-elect Barack Obama to “ to consider the documented problems of religious discrimination in our military that you will inherit from the Bush Administration.” The SCA, which lobbies on behalf of nonbelievers and includes the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers among its member organizations, notes more than 20 percent of U.S. armed forces personnel identify themselves as atheists or as having no religion. Reporting an increase in complaints of aggressive proselytizing and discrimination on the part of some elements within various branches of the service, the SCA’s report details various proposals for protecting the rights of conscience of all military personnel.

Bus message draws support—A campaign by the British Humanist Association to put slogans that say “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” has raised far more money than expected. By November 7, the BHA was reporting, "Donations are pouring in, as are the phone calls from newspapers, sales pitches from ad agencies, and emails from everyone who’s ever had a worldview!" More than half the number of members who join the BHA in a usual month, joined in a single day between Tuesday and Wednesday last week. Any who would like to donate to the campaign may do so by visiting the web site.

For goodness’ sake—On this side of the pond, the American Humanist Association (AHA) announced, on November 11, a new advertising campaign that will place signs that read “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” on city buses in the Washington, D.C. area. The ads will appear on the sides, taillights and interiors of more than 200 Washington DC Metro buses. The AHA launched the campaign by placing copies of the ads in the New York Times and Washington Post.

Another brick in the wall—I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. The Space Coast Freethought Association has created a “Virtual Wall of Separation between Church and State.” You can view the wall and add your own, personalized brick to those already in place by going here. This is a symbolic gesture to be sure. However, it’s also an easy, cost-free way to express your support for secular government and the maintenance of strict separation between governments and religions.

On the web site—October was the best month this year for the web site with more people looking at more pages than at any time in 2008. The site continues to remain in the Top Ten (currently ranked sixth) of the “Best of Net Atheism” and not a month goes by that I don’t hear from some of you with questions or comments. Your emails are always welcome, and I do try to answer all of them. Please be sure to put “Godless in America “ in the subject line. Don’t send attachments, as I will not open them. I’m sure the one you send is perfectly OK but others might not be. As you may or may not have noticed, I have decided to delete the “Visitor’s Guest Register” from the web site. Most of the people who visit the site don’t register, which seems pretty typical. That, in itself, wouldn’t have caused me to delete it. However, lately there seemed to be more people wanting to either post nonsense (and by nonsense I mean messages that were essentially strings of letters with no words in them and no coherent meaning) or to promote their own web sites. Deleting those was becoming a chore, so I decided to just delete the entire thing and be done with it. This month I’m adding a listing for the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers to the Links section. You’ll find it in the organizations and publications category. I’m also adding a piece called “Signs signal changing times” about the recent ad campaigns by various groups of non believers. Could they signal a renewal of rationality by our society?

Thanks—Finally, Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I’m more than a little amused by those Christians who wonder “If you don’t believe in a god, who are you thankful to?” While I really don’t see the need for a holiday called “Thanksgiving Day,” it doesn’t do any harm to remind ourselves that most of us owe a lot more to other people than we are sometimes willing to admit. In my own case, I am most thankful to the family and friends who have sustained and encouraged me over the years and especially to those of you who have expressed your appreciation for the site, have told others about it and have bought one or both of my books. Thanks to all of you.

More to come—GR

October 14, 2008

Another inconvenient truth—My goodness. It appears there is something wrong with our “free market” economy. Even President George W. Bush (known these days as the Dummy-in-Chief) says the market isn’t working properly, hence the need for massive government intervention. Once again, Dubya has it wrong. The current crash is the market’s recognition of a problem that has been developing for years, one that has been largely ignored by Democrats and Republicans alike. The American economy has contracted an illness that may be terminal. The disease is the result of the deregulation of American financial institutions and the attempted decoupling of consumerism and productivity. I say “attempted” because such a decoupling cannot endure. Add to that mix deficit spending on a massive scale by both the private and the public sectors, and you have created a prescription for disaster. It took about 30 years for us to reach this point. Predictably, the response from Washington is that we will fix the problem by doing more of what got us here in the first place. One trillion dollars of new debt has been added to the federal budget in the space of about one month.

As the rest of the world realizes the U.S. economy is no longer the engine driving the train, the problems are beginning to echo throughout the global marketplace. As the American people are no longer able to shop, shop, shop with no thought of how they will pay the tab, other nations will have less incentive to help the Fed monetize our debt. Consumption based on an ever-increasing accumulation of debt cannot continue indefinitely. Sooner or later reality intrudes.

I wrote about some of this in an essay a few months back called “An economic fix: going cold turkey.” Of course, that was before the financial implosion had reached this point. But I think, ultimately, the only real cure for what ails us is the one I prescribed there. It’s going to hurt like hell, but the notion that there is a pain-free escape from this mess is delusional. While privatizing the wealth of our society, we have socialized the risk and thus ensured that the people most responsible for this mess will be least damaged by it.

This thing we do—Every four years the American people elect (or reelect) a president. And every four years the complaints are the same. The candidates don’t talk about the issues. The candidates aren’t the best we could find. The debates are boring. The media is failing us. The whole process is corrupt. There’s no point in participating. In the words of the old Seinfeld show, “Yada, yada, yada.” The truth of the matter is that politics in America will not change substantially until and unless the American people demand it. In the meantime, we will continue to be stuck with a system that is essentially undemocratic and is calculated to preserve the status quo and meet the needs of the rich folks who benefit most from maintaining. it. The two-party duopoly works very well for those in power. It does not, however, serve the best interests of the American people. The real change we need in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, is a change in the way we do politics in this country.

If you are interested in the election and want to follow the races, here is a resource I have found useful. Remember that the U.S. president is elected by electoral votes which may or may not (anyone remember 2000?) reflect the popular vote. Electoral vote.com provides daily updates of electoral vote counts (based on current polling data) in all 50 states, as well as national polling data and the current tally of House and Senate races.

A raffle—The Florida Atheists And Secular Humanists (FLASH) and the Center for Inquiry Community of Fort Lauderdale (FL) are holding a raffle to generate funds for public education events in 2009. A 7-day, 6-night trip for two to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador is being raffled. Tickets are $50 each and only 250 will be sold.

Last call—Here is one last reminder that the Space Coast Freethought Association is sponsoring the Third Annual Freethought Day at Disney on October 18, 2008. This year’s gathering will be at Epcot Center and is open to atheists, agnostics and freethinkers of every stripe. You can learn more about what’s planned by visiting the Freethought Day at Disney web site. There you also will find a link to the email list that has been started to facilitate communication between those planning to attend. So if you plan to be in or around the Orlando area in mid-October, consider making a stop at Epcot to meet up with other freethinkers.

Selective visions—According to a piece by Richard Owen in the Times, Pope Benedict XVI wants Vatican officials to adopt stricter standards for approving sightings of the Virgin Mary. Owen writes, “Guidelines for the approval of apparitions and revelations were last issued in 1978. They lay down that a diocesan bishop can ‘either on his own initiative or at the request of the faithful’ choose to investigate an alleged apparition. He then submits a report to the Vatican for approval.” I was going to parody this, but it would be redundant.

GoodbyePaul Newman lost his battle with cancer on September 26. The 83-year-old actor died at home. He was one of the good ones—a man who approached acting like a job and despised the celebrity that went along with it. Alongside some truly memorable performances in a host of films, he was a philanthropist and humanitarian. Paul Newman will be missed. He truly left the world a better place. My condolences to his lovely wife, Joanne Woodward, and his family.

Other notes—The essay “Genes don’t care, random thoughts on evolution,” was reprinted in the August issue of American Atheist magazine. The essay can be found on this web site and is also published in my book, mere atheism: no gods…no problem! My “Memo to Messrs. McCain and Obama concerning a wall that needs mending” will appear in American Atheist magazine before the election, according to acting editor Frank Zindler. You’ll also find that essay on this web site. Godless in America.com continues to attract interest. Last month was the busiest in a while and for the first time there were more visitors from South Africa than from the United States. I don’t know why. If you are reading this in South Africa, I would love to hear from you and find out how you heard about the site, etc.

This month I’m posting two new essays. The first is simply titled “Obama” and recounts my reasons for supporting Barack Obama for president. I doubt my endorsement will influence anyone, and I’m reasonably certain it will come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The other piece is called “My left lung” and reviews my most recent adventures with health care issues. Godless people must cope with things like chronic disease, terminal illness and the like, just as believers do. Those who worship gods often claim those who do not are at a disadvantage in such circumstances. I think not. This essay will talk about that, and other things.

There will be an election here in the United States before I post another update. I suspect many people in this nation and around the world are collectively holding their breath pending the outcome. I wish us all good luck with that.

More to come…GR

September 17, 2008

A personal note—I know this is late, even for me. Unfortunately, I have been busy with medical matters lately and have been forced to let some things slide. Those of you who know me personally and/or have read Godless in America will be aware that I have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which is a combination of emphysema and chronic bronchitis and is caused (most of the time and certainly in my case) by smoking. Although I quit smoking almost 10 years ago, I’m still dealing with the consequences of my two-pack-a-day habit. I’m thinking about writing a longer piece about my recent, and ongoing, adventures in medicine. For now, suffice it to say I’ve been a bit distracted lately. And so it goes.

Constitution Day—Today is Constitution Day here in the United States of America. It is, at best, a bittersweet recognition. We are separated by 221 years from the signing of the document that forms the foundation of one of the oldest constitutional democracies on the planet. However, that paean to a “more perfect union” is in parlous condition today. The separation of powers has been undercut by a complicit Congress and an imperial presidency. Secrecy, one of the great enemies of democratic government, shrouds the operations of our government from the eyes of all but an inner circle committed to the expansion of power and the protection of privilege. The Supreme Court is slowly but steadily being packed with right-wing ideologues and increasingly resembles an adjunct of the Republican Party. Our Constitution was never a perfect document. It was created by the well-to-do gentry of this nation to protect their own status and to dampen the populist enthusiasms of the masses. That’s why it enshrined slavery and actually protected it, for a time. That’s why it placed an electoral college between the will of the people and the election of a president. That’s why it made no provision for giving the franchise to women. But in spite of those, and other, flaws, it also was a document that declared the legal basis for ordered liberty and has provided the platform from which rights that were withheld at the beginning have now been extended to women and minority groups. For all its faults, it proclaimed the rule of law and, ultimately, the essential equality of all who came under that rule. The Constitution of the United States of America provided for, in Lincoln’s phrasing, “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” However, such a government cannot endure the indifference of the people in whose name it is created. It cannot survive their ignorance of its importance and their failure to grasp its fundamental principles. We the people have it in our power to save our Constitution and our democracy, but only if we act to do so.

A raffle—The Florida Atheists And Secular Humanists (FLASH) and the Center for Inquiry Community of Fort Lauderdale (FL) are holding a raffle to generate funds for public education events in 2009. A 7-day, 6-night trip for two to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador is being raffled. Tickets are $50 each and only 250 will be sold.

A reminder—I mentioned this last month but wanted to remind you that the Freedom From Religion Foundation will hold its annual convention on the weekend of October 10-12 in Chicago, Illinois at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. For more information about the convention, go to FFRF Convention & Events.

A correction—I also wanted to mention, with the right date this time, that the Space Coast Freethought Association is sponsoring the Third Annual Freethought Day at Disney on October 18, 2008. (That’s a Saturday. I had the date wrong in last month’s update but have gone back and amended it.) This year’s gathering will be at Epcot Center and is open to atheists, agnostics and freethinkers of every stripe. You can learn more about what’s planned by visiting the Freethought Day at Disney web site. There you also will find a link to the email list that has been started to facilitate communication between those planning to attend. So if you plan to be in or around the Orlando area in mid-October, consider making a stop at Epcot to meet up with other freethinkers.

A sighting—There has been another sighting of the Virgin Mary, this time on a tree trunk in a suburb in Toronto, Canada. According to the story in the Telegraph, the image has been causing local residents to shake and cry in wonder. The owner of the tree laughed off suggestions that the image was a sign from “God,” saying it was just the scarring from a limb that was cut off the tree a year ago. The chap who spotted the likeness admits he had been drinking when he first saw it but insists he was completely sober at the time. Yeah. Sounds like another miracle to me.

An apology—Apparently experiencing remorse 126 years after his death, the Church of England has made a formal apology to Charles Darwin. Church officials addressed the apology directly to Darwin and expressed their contrition over misunderstanding his theory of evolution and heaping vilification on him when he presented it. Folks outside the church have met the announcement with derision, calling it “pointless” and “ludicrous.” Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey. Do you suppose they thought his ghost was hanging about waiting for this?

About the site—My essay “Genes don’t care” ran in the most recent issue of American Atheist magazine. “Memo to Messrs. McCain and Obama concerning a wall in need of mending” will run in an upcoming issue of the magazine between now and the general election in November. You can read both pieces here. This month I’m adding links to Robert C. Koehler’s Common Wonders, Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists, and FreeThoughtAction web sites. I have also added a new essay titled “Arguing the inarguable,” which deals with an intellectual shell game played by some religionists. I will have more to add later this month or by the first week in October and will try to do my next update closer to the beginning of the month.

More to come … GR

August 11, 2008

FFRF convenes—The Freedom From Religion Foundation will hold its annual convention on the weekend of October 10-12 in Chicago, Illinois at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. For more information about the convention, go to FFRF Convention & Events.

A celebration of freethought—
Also in October, the Space Coast Freethought Association is sponsoring the Third Annual Freethought Day at Disney on October 17, 2008. This year’s gathering will be at Epcot Center and is open to atheists, agnostics and freethinkers of every stripe. You can learn more about what’s planned by visiting the Freethought Day at Disney web site. There you also will find a link to the email list that has been started to facilitate communication between those planning to attend. So if you plan to be in or around the Orlando area in mid-October, consider making a stop at Epcot to meet up with other freethinkers.

Jesus sighted in snack food—A Missouri woman found the image of Jesus on the cross in a bag of Cheetos. She now keeps the Cheeto crucifix in a jewelry box. Her husband christened it “Cheezus.” Jesus and Mary have been making regular appearances in various foodstuffs over the past few years. Of course, they’ve also be seen in everything from cat fur to oil slicks. Some say it’s a sign we are approaching the end of days. More likely it just demonstrates that people are programmed by evolution to see patterns where none exist. Looked at any clouds lately?

‘American Stonehenge’ offends Christians—A Christian group is demanding the removal of the Georgia Guidestones, which some have called the American Stonehenge, because the monument depicts a pagan message the Christians have labeled a “satanic” 10 Commandments. The stones, which were erected on private land outside the town of Elberton, Georgia, were erected by an unknown person or persons and paid for with private funds. Mark Dice, who is spearheading the removal effort equates his effort to attempts by nonbelievers to have 10 Commandment memorials removed from public lands. It always intrigues me that the religious apparently make no distinction between public and private displays like this. There is a world of difference between complaining about a religious memorial erected at taxpayer expense and/or on property owned by taxpayers and erecting a monument on private property at your own expense. At to whether this monument contains a “satanic” message, the argument is underwhelming. I suppose it’s like finding Jesus in a bag of Cheetos. It all depends on who is looking.

A stillness at Hiroshima—Journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger remembers the atom bombing of Hiroshima and recounts the deceptions that accompanied it in a piece called “The lies of Hiroshima are the lies of today” on the anniversary of the tragedy. I know this is a sore spot with many Americans, who accept the claims that the use of the atom bomb was essential to bringing the war to an end and avoiding an invasion that would have cost many American lives. I’m not unsympathetic to the claim because my own father was on a troop transport headed for the Pacific and might well have wound up as part of any invasion force if hostilities had not ceased by the time he got there. But Pilger makes a compelling case for why that argument was faulty then and now. At the very least, the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) should remind us Americans than we are the only nation that has ever used nuclear weapons against another nation. We should join with the Japanese—and all other nations—in doing our utmost to ensure that such weapons are never again used against our fellow human beings.

Changing the rules—The Religious Right has not had much luck getting its agenda passed by the U.S. Congress, neither when the Republicans were in charge nor under the Democrats. However, they have been awarded a number of victories by the Bush Administrations willingness to change the rules to accommodate their concerns. A new rule beings considered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services illustrates the point. Billed as a conflict between “religious freedom” and “patients’ rights” by the Washington Post, the draft regulation would deny federal funds to any hospital or other healthcare entity, including health plans, that do not accommodate workers who want to opt out of health care options that are contrary to their religious convictions. This would include such things as providing birth control pills and other contraceptive devices. According to Rob Stein’s article in the Washington Post, the change would include a more expansive definition of abortion as anything that affects a fertilized egg, a definition that would have broad implications for a broad spectrum of scientific research and health care. Frankly I don’t see this as a conflict between religious freedom and patients rights as much as a conflict between religious ideology and professional standards of conduct. Certainly, I would not advocate forcing anyone to violate their religious convictions, but I also think it’s foolish for someone to enter a profession in which such conflicts may occur. If you are a pharmacist who refuses to write prescriptions for birth control pills or “morning after” pills because such medications violate your religious sensibilities, then you ought not seek employment in institutions where such medicines are dispensed. If you do, then I think your employer should have reasonable expectations that you will fulfill your professional obligations and fill the prescriptions that are ordered for the patients in that hospital. The failure to do so is unprofessional and may well violate the terms of employment. I repeat, this is not a conflict between patients’ rights and religious freedom but a conflict between professional standards and religious ideology. Certainly, it would be a violation of patients rights to withhold medical treatment because of religious ideology, but it violates no one’s religious freedom to say that, if you freely enter into an employment contract, you should be expected to do your job. If it violates your religious convictions to do so, you ought to seek employment elsewhere or find another line of work altogether.

Death by prayer—That’s the title of the cover story by Erik Gunn in the current issue of Isthmus, published in Madison, Wisconsin. Gunn’s article reviews the circumstances surrounding the death of 11-year-old Madeline Kara Neumann and the prosecution of her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, who refused to get medical treatment for their daughter, relying on prayer instead. State law in Wisconsin, and many other jurisdictions, provides an exemption from prosecution for parents whose religious beliefs make conventional medical care problematic and who resort to treatment through prayer. Since the statute under which the Neumanns are being prosecuted contains no such exemption there is a complicated legal situation that Gunn explores in his article. I come at this from the point of view that, while I will freely concede the right of adults to reject medical treatment and substitute prayer, meditation or whatever in its place, children ought not be sacrificed on the dogma of their parents’ religions. Parents have an obligation to provide for their children’s welfare, including seeking proper medical treatment. There are often questions about what constitutes the best medical option, but decisions regarding the health care of children ought to be made in consultation with health care professionals about the best medical practice. Allowing a child to die and then telling the coroner she will be resurrected the next day, as happened in this case, seems to me to be both criminal and insane.

McCain the ‘Antichrist’?—Here’s a novel idea. According to Robert Dreyfuss’s blog on The Nation website, a group of biblical scholars in Colorado Springs has uncovered “startling evidence that Senator John McCain may be the Antichrist.” Dreyfuss reports the analysis was conducted by a group called the True Bible Society and will be published in next months issue of The End Times Journal. Oh my. This has got to be a joke. Doesn’t it? I mean … could anyone actually take this sort of thing seriously? Then again, remember “Cheezus!”

Religion “outed”—The Freedom From Religion Foundation has replaced its “Imagine No Religion” billboard in Denver, Colorado, with a new one that reads “Keep Religion OUT of Politics.” This one is just in time for the Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled to be held in Denver on Aug. 24-28. What with presumptive nominee Barack Obama saying he intends to continue the Bush administration's faith-based initiative and all the other religious nonsense that seems to accompany political events these days, it’s a welcome message. Hopefully, there are plans for a similar message to greet Republicans when they hold their convention in Minneapolis - St. Paul on Sept. 1-4.

Godless notes—The web site continues to attract interest from all sorts of people and places. This month I got an email from someone in Brazil who had a question for me after reading some of the material on the site. My books continue to sell slowly, but they do continue to sell. Thanks to all for your support. I’m working on some new material to add to the site later.

More to come—GR

July 10, 2008

A profound sense of loss—That’s what I felt when I heard the news that comedian George Carlin had died of heart failure on June 22. He was 71. Carlin was a comic genius with a talent for puncturing hypocrisy with an acerbic wit. His routines were punctuated with profanity, it is true, but also with an understanding of words and how we humans use them to disguise the truth about ourselves and what we are doing. Carlin was our best-known gadfly for the better part of 50 years. He will be missed.

Unpatriotic—Speaking of Carlin, Matthew Rothschild dedicated a piece called “Why I’m Not Patriotic” to the comedian. Published in Progressive magazine, of which Rothschild is the editor, on July 4th, the essay details his reasons for rejecting the celebratory mood of the holiday and for rejecting patriotism itself. I can’t help agreeing with Rothschild. Loving one’s country makes too much of what is essentially an accident of birth. Like most nations of the world, there are things about the United States that are admirable (especially some of the principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence) and others that are not. We have no monopoly on virtue, and our unwillingness to acknowledge our own failings as a society breeds a kind of cultural myopia that is dangerous. There is no virtue in slavish parochialism. Religion and nationalism are the two great tribalisms left in the world. If we are to advance as a species, it may be time to abandon both.

From our cold, dead hands—Gun ownership got a boost when the Supreme Court declared, in a 5-4 ruling, that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to own guns and, therefore, the handgun ban in force in Washington, D.C. was unconstitutional. In an interesting piece in the Washington Post, “Packing Protection or Packing Sucide Risk,” reporter Shankar Vedantam notes the strong correlation between gun ownership and suicide rates. Several studies indicate a connection between the two. Although firearms are used in a relatively small percentage of suicide attempts (400,000 people were treated for such attempts in the nation's emergency rooms in 2005), they account for more than half of the deaths attributable to suicide. In fact, more people took their own lives using guns than were the victims of homicides by people using guns. None of this has anything to do with the constitutional questions surrounding the Second Amendment, but it certainly ought to give pause to anyone contemplating a trip to a local gun shop to buy a pistol.

le Tour—One of the reasons I’m a bit late with this update is that le Tour de France began on July 5, and I’ve been spending some time watching the quintessential athletic challenge as it unfolds across the Atlantic. I first became interested in the tour when I began doing some bicycling myself back in the late ‘70s. Please note, I was in my late thirties and never competed at any level. However, bicycling fascinated me, and the idea of a bicycle race across the French countryside, a race that includes segments in the Pyreenees and the Alps, a race that covers (this year) 3,500 kilometers over a grueling 21 days and ends in Paris on July 28, is mesmerizing. Of course, my interest was further piqued when the tour began to show up on television (If you have cable television you can watch most of the action on VS.), and Lance Armstrong began his incredible string of victories. But I’ve continued to watch the action even after Lance retired and long after my own breathing problems made cycling an impossibility for me. It’s a grand spectacle, full of interesting characters, beautiful scenery and no small portion of drama. And although international cycling has suffered through more than its share of doping scandals, I really do think the tour sponsors have done their utmost to assure a clean, competitive race. Vive le Tour!

Crackers—In one of the more bizarre religious stories of the year, a student at the University of Central Florida says he is receiving death threats because he smuggled a communion wafer or Eucharist out of the mass he was attending. The student, Webster Cook, says he took the wafer to show to a friend. A spokesperson for the perpetually offended Catholic League equated Cook’s action to a “hate crime.” She also said she expects the university to take the matter seriously and to send a message that this sort of “complete sacrilege” won’t be allowed. For his part, Cook has returned the wafer. If religious people want to be taken seriously, they really need to get their members to stop overreacting to this sort of thing. Going crackers over a cracker does nothing to advance their cause. It simply makes them seem ridiculous.

On the web—I’m adding two new essays to the site this month. The first discusses the incoherence of the idea of “God” as presented in separate studies from the John Templeton Foundation and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life respectively. It’s titled “Garbled ‘God’ leads to flawed studies.” The second is an appeal to the presumptive nominees in the upcoming presidential contest. It’s called, “Memo to Messrs. McCain and Obama concerning a wall that needs mending.” I’m also adding a link to PZ Myers science blog “Pharyngula” in the “Information and education” section.

More to come…GR

June 7, 2008

Another brick in the wall—The Space Coast Freethought Association has created a “Virtual Wall of Separation between Church and State.” You can view the wall and add your own, personalized brick to those already in place by going here. This is a symbolic gesture to be sure. However, it’s also an easy, cost-free way to express your support for secular government and the maintenance of strict separation between governments and religions.

Godless campers—As more and more parents opt to teach their children about life without gods, there is a need for facilities that offer secular alternatives to religious programming. With five locations in the United States and one in Ontario, Canada, Camp Quest offers nonreligious parents a secular alternative to the religious youth camps that dot the landscape. It’s beyond belief. One of the more encouraging signs of the age we live in is that there are more and more resources available for those who choose to live without gods and religions. The U.S. remains the most overtly religious of modern industrial societies, but there are indications we may be seeing a turning of the tide. Whether is is simply a temporary aberration or a trend that will continue and grow remains to be seen. But there are more and more organizations offering more and more opportunities for those seeking alternatives to the religious point of view.

Dispelling superstition—Meanwhile, the Atheist Centre, which is aligned with the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), in Vijayawada, India held a two-day camp for high school and college students on May 17-18. The IHEU reports a highlight of the camp was “a practical demonstration of conjuring tricks, to show how conmen deceive their audiences. The Atheist Centre has existed as an agent of social change in India since its founding in 1940. Cliff Walker of Positive Atheism has put together a marvelous section called “Atheism in India” which includes writings from the founder of the movement, Gora. We Americans often get so caught up in our own part of the world that we develop myopia about the rest of it. Here’s a chance to look at atheism and secularism in another place.

R.I.P. Universal Human Rights 1948 - 2008—That’s the cover story of the May 2008 issue of the International Humanist News. The co-option of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council by states who have no respect for human rights has resulted in the death of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to the lead article by Roy W. Brown, IHEU representative at UN, Geneva, and former President, IHEU. Brown’s article documents how the changing of language in an amendment renewing the mandate of the commission’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to require him to “report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination ….” Brown writes that this change, pushed by Pakistan and other Islamic nations, would require the Special Rapporteur who is supposed to promote free expression to police that expression. Expression which constitutes religious or racial discrimination is already covered in other parts of the declaration and falls within the bailiwick of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. In a related article Keith Porteous Wood notes that, as a result of the elections held on May 21 of this year, the number of “free” countries on the 47-member Human Rights Council now stands at 22. Islamic bloc nations control about one-third of the seats.

Voting for change—Barack Obama is now the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party and will be squaring off against John McCain in the presidential election. It appears Hillary Clinton will endorse Obama and could even wind up on the ticket. Certainly this is already an historic election, and Obama’s campaign theme has been that he will be a harbinger of change. There is one historic change he could make if he had the stomach for it. Let this be the election year that a presidential candidate finally stands up and says that regardless of his personal religious opinions, his administration will be totally committed to the defense and the reconstruction of the wall of separation between government and religions that has been so severely damaged in the last two decades. Let him declare that yes, when all is said and done, our constitution does guarantee freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. That, in fact, we cannot have the latter without the former. Let him state clearly and unequivocally that government agencies have no business promoting either individual religions or religions in general, that religious opinions or their lack are the business of individual Americans. Let candidate Obama make it clear that his White House, should he win the election, will stand firmly for the rights of conscience of all Americans, regardless of their religious opinions, and will function as a secular institution charged with the protection of those rights. That would be a change this American would find most welcome. It’s a change I could believe in.

Communion denied Obama supporter—According to a piece by E.J. Dionne, Jr., in the Washington Post on June 3, “For an ‘Obamacon,’ Communion Denied,” a prominent Republican—a conservative and long-standing critic of Roe v. Wade, was denied communion in April at a Mass for a group of Catholic businessmen, whom he later addressed at a dinner. The reason? Douglas Kmiec is an “Obamacon”—which, according to Dionne, is a new term in the political lexicon denoting a conservative who supports Obama—and was denied communion because the candidate he supports is on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate. Dionne noted that the priest (his name was withheld at Kmiec’s insistence) who denied Kmiec communion was acting on his own and out of line with the policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. However, the incident is troubling nonethless. Kmiec is a pro-life, conservative Republican whose stance is well known. He supports Obama in spite of the candidate’s stand on abortion, not because of it. How many other Catholics will be forced to choose between their religion’s dogma and their own political opinions this election year?

On the web—The web site continues to attract interest, although traffic has been down a bit this spring. I am adding two new essays with this update. One is called “An economic fix: going cold turkey” and discusses how not spending may be the long-term solution to our short-term economic problems. The other “What the thunder says” is a reflection on being human.

More to come…GR

May 23, 2008

Changing the guard—A changing of the guard is under way at American Atheists. Ellen Johnson is out as president. Frank Zindler has been named acting president by the board of directors until they settle on a permanent replacement for Johnson, who had served as the organization's president for more than thirteen years, since the brutal kidnapping and murder of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, her son, Jon Garth Murray, and her granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair. More details are available at the American Atheist web site. For reactions to the change, check out Dave Silverman’s NoGodBlog.

Chump change—Apparently having nothing better to do, the House of Representatives has passed a bill requiring the U.S. Treasury to mint a commemorative coin for the Boy Scouts of America. Thus, our government will be funding a fund-raiser for a private organization that openly discriminates against atheists and gays. To learn more about the legislation and send a letter to your senators urging them not to pass it visit the Secular Coalition for America’s web site. Let the Boy Scouts, or any other organization for that matter, do their own fund-raising. There’s no reason for the federal government to get into the act at all. Of course, it is an election year. Think the congress critters are playing us for chumps again?

Apostate?—Among the more ludicrous charges that have been leveled against Senator Barack Obama during his bid for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, possibly the most absurd is the notion that he is an apostate Muslim and this fact will damage his possible effectiveness as president. The charge has been made by several right-wing pundits. Most recently, the Christian Science Moniitor featured this story by Shireen K. Burki, “Barack Obama — Muslim Apostate?.” Ms. Burki provides an added twist, claiming that Obama must be Osama bin Laden’s dream candidate because having an apostate Muslim at the head of the U.S. government will make recruitment, etc., much easier. Apparently, since Obama’s father was once a Muslim, the son was born a Muslim and must now be regarded as a Muslim apostate—even though, by all credible accounts including his own, he was not raised a Muslim and has never practiced Islam—because he has converted to Christianity. None of this seems to be a matter of concern in the Arab media, although it has the Republican sound machine making all sorts of noise. According to Jalal Ghazi and Souhelia Al-Jadda, reporting on the New American Media web site, “Obama is No Apostate – Arab Media Have No Problem with his Christian Faith.”

The claim of apostasy seems to be based on little hard information, but like many internet rumors, it has gained currency through endless repetition by those who either don’t comprehend the difference between fact and fiction or do understand it but hope their readers won’t. Since this nonsense has been appearing in many email inboxes for a while now, Snopes.com has researched the matter (along with a number of other false charges) and reported the results in a piece called “Who is Barack Obama?” To make a long story short, it appears that Obama’s father, who was born a Muslim, had renounced his religion and was calling himself either an atheist or an agnostic when he met Obama’s mother, also an atheist. So if the charge of apostasy has any currency at all, it would have to be charged to the father, not the son. People in the media who continue to perpetrate this nonsense should have no cause for complaint if no one accepts anything they say as credible. This sort of toxic rumor-mongering has become far too commonplace in our political discourse. Unfortunately, it appears that for many the truth is a poor substitute for a truly vicious lie.

More to come…GR

May 7, 2008

Religion imagined—According to anthropologist Maurice Bloch, humans are the only species to practice religion because humans alone have the necessary neural architecture to be able to imagine gods and religions. In “Religion a Figment of Human Imagination” Andy Coghlan reports on Bloch’s findings and notes they challenge the view that religion developed and spread because it promoted human social bonding, which is the position taken by most anthropologists. Either way, it seems clear that religions and gods are the product of the human intellect and not the other way around. Imagine that!

Parents charged in death of daughter—According to the AP, the Wisconsin parents who substituted prayer for medical treatment have been charged in the death of their 11-year-old daughter, who died of a treatable diabetic condition on Easter Sunday (March 23). Reporter Robert Imrie writes that when Madeline Neumann’s parents were told an autopsy would be performed on their daughter the next day, they responded, “You won’t need to do that. She will be alive by then.” The parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann have been charged with second degree reckless homicide. According to Imrie, the criminal complaint says, in spite of pleas by family and friends that the Neumanns seek medical help for their daughter, the father thought the illness was a “test of faith” and the mother thought her daughter was under a spiritual attack. In similar news, a couple in Oregon was charged in the death of their 15-month-old daughter last month. Again, the parents prayed, the daughter died. I spend some time talking about this sort of thing in “Suffer the children,” Chapter Nine of my book, Godless in America: conversations with an atheist. Although I would not prevent adults from resorting to prayer instead of medicine if they felt that was what their religious beliefs required, I think it is clearly a form of child abuse when parents risk the health, the lives of their children in order to accommodate their own religious opinions. Religions have lots of bad ideas. The notion that prayer is a valid substitute for sound medical practice is among the worst.

Gods on short rations—The Washington Post reports that “In India, Even Gods Are Going Hungry.” According to the article, soaring food prices have caused the poor to cut back on donations of food and milk, which is used to bathe statues of Hindu deities, to temples. That a nation in which poverty and malnutrition are rampant devotes any portion of its food budget to “feeding” the gods seems absurd. Then again, calling anything about gods and religions “absurd” seems redundant.

Obama disses pastor—Also in the Post, “Obama Calls Minister’s Comments ‘Outrageous’,” Senator Barack Obama seems intent on putting as much distance as possible between himself and his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., folllowing the minister’s appearance at the National Press Club on April 28. Wright, who is now retired, said attacks on him were really attacks on black churches and black theology. Obama said the minister’s remarks were “divisive” and “outrageous.” Saying he had previously given Wright the benefit of the doubt, Obama noted he particularly resented Wright’s assertion that his own rejections of earlier remarks by the minister was political posturing. According to the Post, Obama said, “If Reverend Wright considers that political posturing, then he doesn't know me very well. Based on his comments yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought, either.” Although Wright’s remarks have little news value, except as an embarrassment to Obama (who has consistently repudiated his former pastor’s comments, even while refusing to renounce the man), the national media apparently considers it THE story of the campaign so far. I was once proud to be a professional journalist. These days, I am, with a few rare exceptions, ashamed of the profession, especially as it is practiced by the dominant media in our society.

Older but no wiser—It has been five bloody years since President George W. Bush stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln beneath a banner that declared “Mission accomplished” and announced that major combat operations in Iraq had ended. Since that premature announcement thousands of American military personnel have been killed and tens of thousands wounded. It is impossible to estimate the number of Iraqi casualties, but the amount clearly runs into hundreds of thousands killed and wounded (most of them civilians). Meanwhile the nation of Iraq has sunk into a prolonged civil war between various factions seeking to gain control and the U.S. military has become an occupying force whose presence only exacerbates the violence. Yet, for all of that, we still hear claims that our departure would signal disaster for Iraq and for the region. Republican John McCain insists the American people won’t mind keeping American troops in Iraq for one hundred years, as long as there aren’t many casualties. The U.S. Senate wants Iraq to pay for the war and the reconstruction of the infrastructure that has been destroyed in the fighting. Our troops continue to come under fire in Iraq and in the forgotten war in Afghanistan. Our illegal invasion of Iraq has become an illegal occupation. We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars that we don’t have on a fiasco that has been a disaster from the beginning, yet Bush, McCain and others continue to insist we must “stay the course.” This isn’t just stupidity. It’s insanity.

On the web—The web site is now up and running again after the glitch in early April. Unfortunately, the statistical data for the site apparently was wiped out in the crash so we are, in a sense, starting over where that’s concerned. In any case, the site continues to attract visitors and continues to be ranked in the Top Ten of the Best of Net Atheism, finishing April at #5. The site also continues to attract visitors from around the globe. During the month just ended, the United States, South Africa, Candada, Germany and France were the five countries with the most visitors.

After a hiatus, Rich Orman has reactivated his Dogma Free America web site. I’ll be adding it back to my “links” page under “web connections.” I was a guest on Rich’s show when it was on before. That was episode #21. I talked about Godless in America and about “The New Atheism.”

I hope any of you who are so inclined will sign my guest book…again, if you have already signed it once. During the recent crash, one of the casualties was the visitor’s log.

In addition to adding a link to Dogma Free America on the site I’m also adding two new articles. In “Let us think.” I talk about the National Day of Reason and why it’s a better idea than a National Day of Prayer. “Only words” is a discussion of how the values we practice creep into the language we use and reveal attitudes we prefer to keep hidden.

More to come…GR

April 21, 2008

Past due update—This update is long overdue. As some of you may have noticed, the web site was down briefly at the beginning of the month. This was due to a problem at the hosting company (a crashed server or something like that). As a consequence, the site was unavailable for viewing for a few days, and I was unable to post any new material for the better part of a week. Meanwhile, my wife and I took a vacation and were busy visiting friends and family and, especially, meeting our new grandson. The upshot of all of that is that I am only now getting back to work on the site. I expect to have some new material to add before the end of the month, but it isn’t ready now.

One thing I did want to mention. One casualty of the crash was my “Visitor’s Guest Book.,” which is located at the bottom of the “About” page. Any of you who have signed it in the past are welcome to do so again. In fact, I would appreciate it. Needless to say. Any who haven’t are encouraged to do so.

I’ll be doing a more extensive update later in the week. I just wanted to get this posted, so that everyone would know I haven’t gone anywhere.

More to come…GR

March 11, 2008

A high old time—“Moses was stoned when he set Ten Commandments, researcher claims.” That’s the headline of a story on the Guardian web site this month. The article goes on to report the claim of Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, that the Old Testament patriarch may have been on more than a religious high when he climbed to the top of Mount Sinai. Shanon says psychedelic drugs formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times. Maybe that’s why there is no ban on drug use in the big ten rules.

Bible suit settled—The New York Times’ Neela Banerjee reports that a West Texas school district has agreed to modify the curriculum in a high school course on the Bible that critics said amounted to religious indoctrination. The suit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way on behalf of eight families in Odessa, Texas, argued that the course promoted Protestant Christianity and taught a specific reading of the Bible as a historical document. Public schools may offer Bible study courses, but those courses may not proselytize on behalf of a particular religion and must approach the text in a neutral way, not as it would be treated in a Sunday School class.

The Ector County Independent School District agreed to adopt a new curriculum for the course, one that has been developed by a committee of local educators.

Religious attitudes in flux—The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has released a study titled The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which reports that almost half of adult Americans change their religious affiliations during their lifetimes. While all of the groups in the survey gained and lost members, the largest gains were shown in the group that claimed no religious affiliation. According to the survey, 16.1 percent of the adult population are unaffiliated. Of that group, 4 percent say they are either atheists or agnostics. The remaining 12.1 percent is broken into those who say they are primarily secular and are not affiliated with any religion (6.3 percent) and those who indicate they are religious but are not affiliated with any particular group (5.8 percent). The survey is based on interviews with 35,000 Americans, aged 18 and older. Protestant denominations now account for slightly more than half (51 percent) of adults, down significantly from previous surveys. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has had its losses offset by the influx of immigrants from nations where it is the dominant religion and so has managed to maintain its percentage of the total at around 25 percent.

While I think it is always a mistake to get caught up in the numbers game, the survey does make interesting reading and offers a useful snapshot of the religious landscape of American society in the first decade of the 21st Century.

A grim anniversary—On March 19, the illegal and misbegotten invasion of Iraq by the United States will have lasted five years, making it the longest war in U.S. history except for Vietnam. Almost 4,000 U.S. military personnel have died making war in Iraq, with tens of thousands more wounded. The cost of the war has now run into hundreds of billions of dollars, with no end in sight. Of course, our costs pale in comparison to the price exacted from the people of Iraq, who have seen their nation reduced to a pile of rubble, have watched the butchery of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children—the “collateral damage” of the conflict, and have witnessed the descent of their society into barbarism. It may be decades before we know all the hidden costs of this tragedy, but, even now, we know they are staggering.

On the web—I’m adding two new essays to the site this month. The first is about a battle of dueling billboards in Chambersburg, PA, and how that skirmish illustrates the difference in tactics between the rational and the dogmatic. The second offers some suggestions about reforming our approach to elections, especially the presidential kind, here in the United States. I’m also making some additions to the links page with connections to two blogs, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment and Joshua Micah Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, and one of my favorite sources of news and information, Common Dreams. You’ll find them in the “News and Commentary” category.

On a personal note, thanks again to all of you who have continued to buy my books and visit the web site. Your support is most welcome.

More to come… GR
February 10, 2008

In the wake of an outbreak of tornadoes and winter storms that have left, at least, 54 people dead and hundreds more injured, the call has gone out to aid the victims of the disaster. Readers of this web site are encouraged to donate whatever they can to one of the many organizations involved in this effort. One such organization is SHARE, the Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort, which has been sponsored by the Council for Secular Humanism for more than two decades. Funds collected by SHARE are donated to aid agencies who give direct relief to the victims of natural disasters. You can mail donations to SHARE at PO Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226 or make them online here.

Feb. 12 will mark the 199th anniversary of the birth of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Here in the U.S. we celebrate Lincoln’s birthday (along with that of George Washington) on President’s Day. Until the last few years no one had paid much attention to Darwin’s birthday. However, as the 200th anniversary of his birth approaches, Darwin Day celebrations have become more common, and a number of observances will take place in the days ahead (some already have). You’ll find a listing of planned celebrations of Darwin Day here. Join in the celebration of science and humanity by attending a celebration near you.

Ironically, on Feb 11, the state of Florida will hold its last public hearing on the new science standards being proposed for public schools in grades K-12 around the state. One of the chief bones of contention has been the adoption of standards that identify evolution as the basis of modern biology. Previously, Florida’s science standards had used the phrase “change over time” in order to avoid giving offense to those who prefer their science laced with religious myth. The state board of education is expected to decide on Feb. 19 whether to adopt the new standards as written or to amend them to appease the “evolution is only a theory” crowd. Any who are interested may attend the hearing from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Orlando Hyatt in the Orlando International Airport. To view the hearing via live web cast, go to the Florida Department of Education’s web site. To learn more about the controversy and/or to review the proposed standards, go to the Florida Science Education Standards Committee’s web site.

Political note: In the race for the presidency of the United States, Sen. Barack Obama’s unexpectedly strong showing on Super Tuesday has left him in a virtual dead heat with Sen. Hillary Clinton, who had been viewed as the presumptive heir of the Democratic nomination. Clinton’s campaign is hoping for strong showings in upcoming primaries in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania in order to regain the momentum lost. Meanwhile, the Republican Party, which seemed in such disarray a month ago, appears to have settled on John McCain to head the ticket in the fall. Mike Huckabee, the only other major candidate still in the race, is being touted as a possible running-mate for the Arizona senator. The question for McCain is this. Will he lose more votes by taking the darling of the Religious Right on the ticket than he will gain by appealing to the extreme conservative faction of the GOP. I think this is a lose-lose situation for the Republicans. They cannot win a national election without the backing of the Religious Right. However, after eight years of the Bush Administration, taking Huckabee on the ticket may kill any hope of appealing to independents and moderate Republicans. Frankly, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the state of the American economy will be the issues that decide November’s election, and the GOP seems out of touch with the electorate on both.

Godless in America.com continues to attract visitors from around the world. This January, visitors from the United States and South Africa headed the list, with the Netherlands, Spain and Canada rounding out the top five. About 54 percent of the visitors accessed the site with bookmarks or direct addresses, 38 percent arrived here using search engines and 8 percent linked to this site from other web sites, other than search engines. Some of you have been kind enough to sign my guest book. Others have emailed me with questions or comments. Thanks to all for your interest.

Last month I spoke before the Friendship Fellowship at Pineda, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Brevard County and was very warmly received. I have posted the text of my talk on the web site. It is slugged “Rethinking the A Word,” which was actually the subtitle of the presentation. “Concerning ‘The New Atheism’” included material from the essay with the same title that was already posted on the site, but also incorporated some other material as well. I am also adding a new essay called “Amendment protects bigotry, not marriage.” This piece is about a proposed amendment to the state constitution of Florida that will ban same-sex marriage and civil unions between gays and lesbians. Although it’s a local political issue, I think it raises important points about equal justice before the law and how we treat one another. The essay is slugged “voting for bigotry.”

More to come … GR

January 10, 2008

The new year has begun with a few surprises on the domestic political front and new concerns about old problems abroad.

Following Sen. Barack Obama’s surprising victory in the Iowa caucuses, the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton spent several days fending off the obituaries being written about her prospects for winning the Democratic nomination for president. However, New Hampshire left many political pundits wiping egg from their faces, as the junior senator from New York defeated Obama narrowly in the primary held Tuesday. She’s now the second Clinton to be anointed the “comeback kid” in the media. Clearly, Obama poses a serious challenge to Clinton, one that is surprising not only because of the Illinois senator’s relative inexperience, but also because Clinton had been widely assumed to have a lock on the nomination. Setting aside opinions about the relative merits of the two candidates, I think it does say something positive about the state of our democracy that the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination are a woman and a black man. Neither one deserves any special consideration because of race or gender, but it is a good thing that neither factor prevents them from running and being taken seriously.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, so to speak, the race for the Republican nomination is a mess. Following his win in the Iowa caucuses, Mike Huckabee ran third behind Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney. Rudy Giuliani, at one time considered the clear front-runner, was largely a no-show in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and, most recently (yesterday) was seen stumping in Florida. Huckabee hopes to pick up support from conservative Christians in South Carolina. Whether or not the former Baptist preacher and Arkansas governor will garner enough support from the Christian Right to offset his considerable liabilities remains to be seen. None of the other GOP front-runners appears to have much appeal for conservative Christians. If Huckabee fails to win the nomination, this may well be the year in which they make good on their threat to bolt the GOP and form a third party. One can only hope.

On the international front, the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has intensified concerns about the political situation in Pakistan, which has a small nuclear arsenal. Bhutto’s son, Bilawil, has called for a UN-sponsored investigation into the death of his mother, saying he thinks the inquiry by the government of Pakistan lacks transparency and credibility. The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has enlisted the aid of Britain’s Scotland Yard and insists it is determined to learn who is responsible for Bhutto’s death.

The United States’ claim its warships were harassed in the Straits of Hormuz by small boats manned by Iranian Revolutionary Guards was met with considerable skepticism by those old enough to remember the Gulf of Tonkin, the Reichstag Fire, and other historical “provocations” used to justify military actions by regimes in and out of Washington in the past. According to BBC News, the release of grainy footage supposedly showing the action prompted derision from the government of Iran who claimed the film was “stock” footage and the voices had been fabricated. I have no doubt the Bush administration would use such tactics to generate support for military action against Iran. I also have no doubt there are elements inside Iran who are foolish enough to think they can play such games with impunity. This may well be one of those cases in which both governments are being dishonest.

In 2007 this website had almost 17,000 visits, averaging more than 46 per day. Those visitors looked at slightly more than 100 pages each day. That’s quadruple the number of visits in 2006, when the site was up for only 10 months, and almost quadrupled the number of pages viewed, 36,522 in 2007 as against 9,871 in 2006. Of course, many visitors popped in and popped right back out again. But there were others who stayed around and came back for more. Some of you have been kind enough to let me know you appreciate the site, and I’m most grateful for those expressions of support. Since it was listed in “The Best of Net Atheism,” in spring of 2007, “Godless in America.com” has consistently ranked in the top 10 of the sites named there.

Because of such responses, and because book sales continue to furnish enough royalties to pay for the site, I’ve renewed the domain and site for another year, so you can depend on this continuing through March 2009, at least.

As noted last month, I’ll be the guest speaker at the Friendship Fellowship at Pineda, a Unitarian Universalist congregation that meets in Brevard County, Florida. I’ll be talking about my two books and the phenomenon being called “The New Atheism” in the media. My talk will be at the 10:30 a.m. service on Sunday, January 27. Any of you who are in the area should stop by. This is, as the name suggests, a friendly group. I was guest speaker in January of 2006 and found it an enjoyable experience. My talk will be titled “Concerning ‘The New Atheism’” and will be followed by a Q&A as time permits.

I’m posting a new poem called “One child” to the poetry page and making some minor revisions to the essay “Concerning ‘The New Atheism’” that I posted last month. I’ll be adding new material later this month.

More to come … GR

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