Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: February, 2009

Take Comfort in Ariane Sherine

Take an e-stroll over to the BBC’s site, and check out this conversation between Ariane Sherine, creator of the atheist bus campaign (and who also might be the most adorable atheist in world, excepting yours truly, of course) and David Larlham of the Trinitarian Bible Society. It’s not a thunderous debate or anything; Larlham seems happy that the ads get a conversation started about God, and the two seem to get on just fine.

But what I love is the sentiment expressed by Sherine, that she wants the message of the bus ads to give a little comfort to nonbelievers who may feel alone in the world. If the entire atheist movement does nothing else, I hope it can at least do that.

Go watch.

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Examiner Highlights

Here’s a quick rundown of some of my recent articles at Examiner.com. I just began work there two days ago, and so far so good.

  • In my first post, I talk about the state of atheist acceptance in America today:

    We are a small minority of nonbelievers within a country that is positively rippling with religious fervor. We value reason, science, and facts, but we often struggle to find leaders and representatives who weigh those values over those of faith and irrationality. We tend to be humanistic and tolerant, open to debate and questioning, while we are among the least liked, least trusted, and least tolerated by our neighbors. In such an environment it is extremely difficult to find a seat at the political table, let alone advance an agenda or put forward a candidate for office. Happily, President Obama has made a point of rhetorically including the nonreligious in recent speeches, but it is in the midst of a political situation that labels atheists as untouchables, as evidenced in the closing weeks of the North Carolina Senate race in which one candidate accused the other of befriending nonbelievers, only to have the other candidate repudiate the charge–and the nonbelievers as well.

  • I take a look at the potential value of promoting secularism in the interests of national security:

    To get a little idealistic for a moment, perhaps the U.S.’s best bet in mitigating the threat posed by any religious extremism, wherever it may arise, is to emphasize our own secular, nonreligious foundations and to wear them on our sleeve, showcasing a civilization in which fulfillment and happiness can be found in the freedom to choose one’s own path; that the fruits of the Enlightenment are still available to all of humanity.

  • I speculate as to whether a recent uptick in chatter among theists about the New Atheists is an indication of the power of the nontheistic argument.
  • And boy, that Bill Maher is a handful…for everybody!

Head on over and check them out. I promise, I have not abandoned the Bloc!

Pope’d!

Georg Ratzinger doesn’t think much of humans’ sense of fairness, declaring that we mere mortals would never have come up with the concept of justice without having it planted in our brains by the creator of the universe. His Popeness is also jumping on the atheists=Stalinists canard. Via the NYT:

Atheism may be “understandable” when mankind is confronted with evil and suffering, Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his second encyclical, issued on Friday. But the attempt to banish God, he wrote, “has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice,” whether through Marxist revolution or the science that produced the atomic bomb.

“To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful,” the 80-year-old pope wrote in the encyclical, the highest papal teaching. “A world without God is a world without hope. Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so.”

You have to really admire the guy’s popemobiles, being brave enough to sell that last sentence, essentially paraphrased as, “A complete lack of evidence in something is assurance of its factuality.”

According to the Times, in fact, Benny believes that thinking rationally must always lead to Bolshevism:

[The Pope said] attempts to replace God with reason alone can create disaster, whether through Marxist dogma that lead to communist states, scientific progress that could destroy the world or an Enlightenment that left man alone in the universe — without real hope.

I’m guessing that nontheistic/reason-based thinking probably has a few more branches of possibility than that.

Oh, and yes, that Enlightenment–total bust. I’m totally with the Pope on this one. Sigh.

Epic Columnist Fail

Theo Hobson at UK’s Spectator begins a post thusly:

Why do atheist scientists keep talking about religion as if they have the faintest insight into it? I mean it: why? I don’t get it. Why does the media encourage such intellectual babyishness?

Ow.

To say that religion is made redundant by science is like saying that painting is made redundant by photography. [ . . . ] Scientists who hold forth about religion really are that ignorant, and arrogant. It really is like some idiot holding forth on the arts pages, saying that Picasso’s portraits are unrealistic. [ . . . ] We need some theological education.

Oooowwwww.

Please allow me to recycle an analogy: I do not need to hold a PhD in monocorned equine biology in order to confidently dismiss the existence of unicorns, because study of the aforementioned field would be that of a fictional subject.

A Life Examined

Here’s a pretty cool development! Examiner.com, that behemoth of a blog portal employing the writing skills of people all over the country to cover all topics under the sun–from Star Trek to pets to soccer to bargain hunting–has seen some trifle of value in little me.

As of now, I’m the DC Political Atheist Examiner, and I’ll essentially be covering the same subject matter as this blog. The specifics of the differentiations will evolve, as it were, but while you can expect some degree of cross-posting from here to there and vice-versa, I will try to narrow the Examiner column particularly to politics and strategy. We’ll just see how it all shakes out.

(This comes with many thanks to Trina Hoaks, the National Atheism Examiner, for her help and moral support!)

So fire up your RSS readers, because now there’s more Paul than you’ll know what to do with.

In Praise of Atheist Activism

In contrast with the previous post, two pieces have emerged in the past day putting a positive face on atheist activism (and of course, don’t miss Ian Dunt’s piece that I mentioned yesterday).

Just to quickly draw your attention, first the Independent‘s Jerome Taylor marks the founding of the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (as have many publications and writers in the UK–more on that in a future post) as the latest milestone in a growing wave of political action by nonbelievers.

. . . the creation of this latest manifestation of atheism reveals a renaissance over the past three years for secular and humanist ideals that began with Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion and only recently manifested itself in the popular atheist bus campaign, in which double deckers carried the message: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

A renaissance indeed! The article ends with a series of quotes from prominent doubters from history.

More significantly, we find an op-ed in full-throated favor of atheist activism from–gasp–the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal; author and literature professor Maurice O’Sullivan first catalogs the recent signs of movement (such as President Obama’s shout-outs), and explains how vocal atheism fits in with the greater culture:

Why should believers welcome this emergence of unbelief? Why not? We should be glad that there are people, even the devil’s disciples, who take religion seriously enough to attack it, especially in these days when God seems to appear only in quarrels over holiday displays, during political campaigns or on the self-help shelves of Barnes & Noble.

[ . . . ]

And if we truly believe that an open, vigorous marketplace of ideas will establish value and truth as clearly as honest and open economic markets, shouldn’t we encourage everyone to enter that market?

[ . . . ] I admire people who take religion seriously enough to challenge it. And I suspect God would too, if he thought ads on the sides of buses or atheist thoughts for the day were as worthy of his time as helping people find meaning in their lives and peace in their souls. Perhaps if we are confronted with better questions about the meaning and value of religion, we will be forced to find better answers.

My kind of believer. This line of thinking is close to E. J. Dionne’s in his book Souled Out where he sees atheism as a necessary challenge to well-intentioned belief. But where Dionne mostly frowns upon the New Atheist phenomenon, O’Sullivan sees them as public signs of the movement’s health.

Nice not to be spat upon for a moment or two, eh?

On an unrelated note: Something in the Independent article did bother me a touch:

Chloë Clifford-Frith, who recently graduated from St Hilda’s in Oxford, said students today had a duty to promote atheist ideas: “We live in a world where religious governments execute adulterers and homosexuals, deny women and minority groups basic freedoms, circulate fraudulent claims about contraception and scientific research and create laws that protect them from criticism,” she said. “We are privileged, in such a world, to live in a country where we can even have this debate. As such, we have a duty to bring it into our universities and beyond.”

I would like very much for we as members of liberal democracies to stop considering ourselves privileged to have freedom of thought, expression, and conscience. I would rather we start talking about these things as they are; rights, the most basic of standards owed to every human being. We are not privileged, we are living as all humans should–in freedom. I fear that every time we talk about how privileged we are, we lend credence to the idea that oppression is a norm from which we were just lucky to escape. Let a lifetime supply of candy or owning seven houses be a privilege. Freedom should be the expected norm.

You Guys Go On Without Me

It’s important to remember that not all nonbelievers are down with everything other nonbelievers do. Part of the reason I began this blog was to take a critical, honest look at the strategies and tactics of the various members of the atheist movement (such as it is). And certainly there are choices made by some in our own ranks that I think range from misguided to flat out stupid, and I try to say so. Sometimes, I just have questions.

For atheist David Harsanyi of the Denver Post, however, it’s all bad. He’s had it with the whole thing.

Atheists claim to value reason above blind faith and individuality above the lock-step certitude of religion. My own rejection of faith, I hoped, would allow me to indulge in wicked thoughts and pork-based dishes. I hoped I could, forever, avoid hallelujah get-togethers, groupthinky organizations and constraining labels.

Yet, these days, atheists are organized. They’re activists. They will probably sue you. They have become exasperatingly earnest, hopelessly serious and unnecessarily pushy.

Harsanyi cites as grievances Michael Newdow’s suit to remove theistic invocations from the presidential inauguration (which you can now get in on if you are not of Harsanyi’s mind), any structured social gathering that resembles churchiness, and what he sees as bad sloganeering by groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and from the recent bus campaigns.

When did atheists start proselytizing with the ineptness of a third-tier televangelist?

In the United States, atheist campaigns subject us to varying degrees of corniness like, “Evolve beyond faith” or “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” In England, buses carry atheist slogans that read, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” (Hmm . . . “probably“?)

Please keep worrying. If God keeps you off my lawn, who am I to dissuade you?

That last line is the key. He clarifies:

No one has ever forced me to bow or to give penance. I have never been forced to join any religious group. So the last thing I want is a group of atheists speaking — and suing— in my name.

For Harsanyi, there isn’t any problem since no one is forcing their religion on him physically. It’s an interesting take, and one not often expressed, obviously because it is a take based on non-activism. What I wonder is if he considers that without the secular movement pushing back against theocracy in a credulous world, someone might just be forcing him to bow at some point down the line.

But there’s another important point here as well. Harsanyi is embarrassed by many atheist activist moves, and I am sympathetic even if I don’t share his opinion of what exactly is embarrassing. I have noted previously that the atheist population is so small that anyone who pops up and seems to represent the whole takes on enormous responsibility. Whether we like it or not, anything Newdow or Dan Barker or Richard Dawkins does in the public sphere reflects on the entire community.

So while I think Harsanyi severely downplays the seriousness of atheist marginalization and religious encroachment, I understand his feelings. Of course, if he feels strongly enough, he is free to start his own group, say, the American Association of Disinterested Nontheists.

Dirty, Dirty Wingnuts

At Near Earth Object, I am taken aback by the ads on an anti-atheism wingnut diatribe. See what caught my attention.

Well I Guess They Are Kind of Dirty…

[Note: this was written before the content from Near Earth Object was merged into this blog]

So here’s me, your mild-mannered, pajama’d blogger, doing my usual scouring of the World Wide Intertubes for material and news, when I come upon yet another wingnut commentary about atheists ruining America.

Wait, you say, don’t you already have a blog for this kind of thing?

For atheism and politics, yes. But this is not about that. This is about ads.

The article in question appears on Townhall.com, which competes with WorldNetDaily as the most evil website on the planet. Scanning the piece, I could not help but notice the ads on the page, and it made me think about the target audience and the motives for the companies paying for pixelated real estate.

So let’s review the ads on this one page, shall we?

First, an ad for a postage machine.

mail

No shocks there, Townhall is for conservatives, conservatives like to send mail, ergo, postage machine. Fine.

Just after the first paragraph, no surprise, we have a little cross-promotion with Ann Coulter:

ann

Coulter has apparently written another book. I haven’t read it, but I have an unsubstantiated theory that she just randomizes the words from the previous books, and churns them out as new ones every year or so. I have no basis at all for this theory, but I will, Comfort-like, stick to it no matter the evidence.

Okay, a little further down we come to a very common ad on these ultraconservative sites; the Cute White Chick Wearing a Ronald Reagan T-Shirt ad.

girl

Usually, this is an expressly hot chick staring naughtily at the camera, but this time, since we’re jamming on the hope meme, I think they wanted to go more whitebread. That’s fine.

Scrolling along, an ad just for Townhall itself, and wait, what’s that say?

fred

Fred Thompson exclusive commentary??? Pardon me while I subscribe. I have been having trouble getting to sleep lately, and this could be just the ticket.

Okay, just below that we get the standard Google ads. The links here are some of the same that come up on my other blog, so we shouldn’t look to hard at that.

google

But ease that browser down just a bit more, and what is the big, dominant ad on the page?

dove

That’s right, soap.

Not just soap, though, soap being enjoyed by a minority. And even better than that, it’s Dove soap–a dove as opposed to, say, a hawk. It’s peacenik soap for black people! On Townhall.com!

Now that I’ve exposed this, I’m sure that the neanderthals there will lose their very small minds and pull the ad. But what was Dove thinking? I’m going to guess they weren’t out to antagonize the conservatives, so they must have thought that this was the place to sell their product. Those dirty, dirty, theocratic, self-loathing pinheads must feel that they are soiled to their very souls when they write their mind-numbing ignorance and divisive screeds. The same for those who delight in the reading of their claptrap. Surely, they must feel the need to cleanse.

Or perhaps it’s there for me. Knowing I had visited more or less accidentally, they knew I’d feel the need for a hot shower (and perhaps many, many drinks). If that’s true, then they are marketing geniuses.

Empowering Ray Comfort

He’s making atheists bang their heads against the wall in frustration. He makes things up out of whole cloth and displays astounding degrees of ignorance of science and disdain for the truth. His looks oddly similar to Michael Medved and John Stossel (what is with those solo-‘staches?).

Yeah, I’m talking about Ray Comfort. For years now he’s been taking on atheists with the help of Nobel Laureate in Molecular Biology Kirk Cameron.* He recently released a book intelligently designed to get the secular goats of nonbelievers everywhere (you must read some of the Amazon user reviews). And now, he even has a column at Examiner.com. Right now he’s known as the “Creationism Examiner,” but he originally appeared as the “Anti-Atheism Examiner,” a designation so obviously and blatantly offensive, that following some letters and comments from fellow columnists and readers (including yours truly), Examiner.com wisely chose to change it.

It’s hard when someone so smugly and cheerily debases reason and reality, plays stupid games with science and logic (using the shape of a banana as proof of God’s existence is his most famous example of this brand of flim-flam), and deliberately aims to get under atheists’ skin. The natural inclination is to climb the highest mountain, open a Twitter account named @RayComfortIsAMoron, and cry refutations of his absurdisms across the valley. I mean, he’s just asking for it, right?

Yes, he is. He really, really is asking for it. Which begs the question: Should atheists give him what he wants? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I think it’s an important one. Are we only doing Comfort a favor by engaging him?

Comfort has no training in theology, let alone science, yet he has somehow attained a kind of niche credibility in the media. ABC News inexplicably chose him and Cameron to defend theism against the Rational Response Squad a few years ago, and now Comfort purportedly wants to debate Richard Dawkins, and is willing to bribe him for the pleasure.

Of course, Comfort won’t “debate” in any way that will be meaningful, because you can’t counterpoint with someone who will always fall back on ‘God is real because I know he is.’ But Comfort doesn’t need to “beat”Dawkins , he just needs to be in the venue with him. In doing so, Comfort elevates himself within his own circle to a kind of unofficial spokesperson for all theism; the Dawkins of believers. If someone as respected and important as Professor Richard Dawkins is willing to share a stage with him and engage in “intellectual” debate, the idea goes, Ray Comfort must be his equal.

Because in the minds of those who already and always will agree with him, he’s already won. There’s nothing either of them could do in such a forum that would change that even one iota.

The only upside to such an event would be for opinion makers to see how empty Comfort’s arguments are; that Dawkins makes a fool of him and he loses whatever media cache he now enjoys. But again, I fear that the mere appearance of the two of them together legitimizes Comfort to a degree he did not previously enjoy and obviously does not deserve.

But still. He really makes us mad. But I have to wonder if the deluge of blog posts raving about how enraged we are by him only makes the problem worse. Comfort is feeding off atheist anger, and he thinks that anger only strengthens his point and his position. Bullshit has to be called bullshit, and lies must be exposed, but is it possible that by overexposing a particular liar, we make of him something of a, well, deity? The One who will save us from atheism?

Our rage only makes him stronger! Man oh man does that make me mad!

Must breathe.

Update: Trina, the Anti-Anti-Atheism Examiner, agrees, as does Dan Gilbert: the debate idea is dubious.

* That was sarcasm. Cameron is actually a dumb actor from a bad sitcom.