Near Earth Archive

A backup of Near Earth Object by Paul Fidalgo

Month: September, 2009

Paul Meets the Other Atheists. All of Them.

Paul will be at AAI 09!

Picture it. Los Angeles. A swanky hotel positively overflowing with blasphemous infidels, turning their filthy noses up at the Almighty and reducing all existence to particles and dust. Hollywood leftists and foreign elites look out at the calculating throngs, spreading their messages of arrogance and empty scientific materialism.

Only one thing could make it worse.


Yes, for the first time, the humble author of this blog will head out to the City of Angels for the Atheist Alliance International 2009 Convention this Friday through Sunday.

“But Paul,” you might be exclaiming into your flat panel display, “this is so unlike you! You never leave the house!”

To that I reply: That is an unfair slight. I hold a normal office day job, have a middling social life, and often prefer coffee made in establishments other than my own kitchen.

To that I also reply: Funny you should wonder, because I am actually going as press. I will officially be attending under the auspices of (as, I am, of course, the National Secularism Examiner, and try not to get too bowled over by the awesomeness), and I’ll be covering the event every which way I can.

How will I do that? I’ll be honest – it really remains to be seen. I’ll be bringing along all the electronic trappings of the age, and I will be anxious to see who I can talk to, what I can record, what I can write about, and how I can distill it all into my column (and here too, of course).

And now a word of confession: I am about the shyest human being on Earth. I have social anxieties that no dosage of Paxil can mitigate. I am Señor Awkwardo. But that said, I will do my best to mix, to chat, and most importantly, to listen and learn. But to all those who may be attending as well: Bare with me.

And I’m really looking forward to this weekend. Hell, even though I’ve seen that movie Crash, I’m still looking forward to being in L.A.!

And maybe, just maybe, I’m looking forward to seeing you! (Probably not. I’m already afraid of you.) Off we go!


A Still More Glorious Dawn Awaits

Far too long gone, we still find ways to celebrate him and what he meant to us. He’s still my hero.

Obama! Health Care! Abortion! Bleeeaarrgh!

So I saw this little dandy near Union Station the other day.

I was a little confused (while throwing up in my mouth). Is it opposed to Obama’s health care plan? Is it claiming that his health care plan would fund abortions? That it is equivalent to abortions?

Perhaps, since it is reminding us that we “shall not murder,” we are therefore obligated to adopt Obama’s health care plan, lest all those without insurance be, as it were, aborted by the system!

That’s it!

Now clean that message up and drive that around town, mister.

P.S. – They also leave a number to “complain.” It’s for a switchboard to the Capitol. So call them up, and let them know you’re none too pleased with the dead baby being paraded around our fair city. I’m sure they’re not doing anything else.

Nones Rn’t Us

The folks who gave us the famed ARIS survey, in which the religious diversity of Americans was tallied up, have focused their attentions on the fasted-growing segment of the population: the “Nones.”

Now, it’s important to remember that “Nones” denote those without a formal religious affiliation. Atheists are in the mix, but atheism is not what is meant by Nones, and as I have written a few times before, we nonbelievers have to be careful about claiming those None numbers as our own, because it’s simply not accurate.

And lo, as if to hammer home that very point, take a look at the responses of Nones to the question of human origins:

Nones are much more likely to believe in human evolution (61%) than the general American public (38%).

So while Nones are overall better on the question of acceptance of evolution, the idea that the number is still a meager 61% — among those without a formal religious structure, no less! — should scream out loud and clear: we atheists may be Nones, but the Nones are not us. Evolution is a fact, and atheists get behind facts. We are not like the other Nones.

Other statistics in the report clarify this point. Only 7% of Nones are even categorized by ARIS as atheists, though if one includes agnostics (and I mainly do), then we’re at 42 (!) percent disbelief — or at least pending disbelief. That still means that a majority of Nones are to some extent theistic or supernaturalistic, more so if you count the “soft agnostic” category. Happily, only 17% of Nones gave horoscopes any credence.

Part of the blog chatter today about this report has to do with examination of Nones’ political leanings. But as you can see, because — as Jesse Galef at Friendly Atheist points out — it doesn’t break down within the Nones’ subdivisions, it’s not at all a good way to learn anything about atheists’ political allegiances, because we make up such a small portion of the Nones category. Yes, how interesting, very few Nones are Republicans, etc., etc. But the report tells us nothing about which Nones are Republicans — are they atheists? Or are they the Nones who think evolution is bunk? I would guess the latter, but it would only be a guess. It’s not in the report.

But boy would I like to have that data.

So I think atheists need to be careful when discussing this study and others like it. It’s good that there’s more acknowledgment of the diversity of belief that exists in America, and that established, dogmatic religions do not dominate to the extent often believed, but at the same time, this study is not really about us. We’re in it, somewhere, but only by happenstance. We just happen to agree with the rest of the Nones that those big religions aren’t for us.

The Object Shifts its Orbit

molvoteNear Earth Object is moving–merging with my other blog project, Bloc Raisonneur. This does not mean that this blog is dead, as its contents will live on over at Bloc, and the topics on which I’ve been writing will continue to be covered there (I may even preserve the title for those non-atheist-specific posts). The move is explained in more deep and entertaining detail at the new digs.

So this is not good-bye, my tens and tens of Object readers, but merely a shift of environs. I hope you will join me over at Bloc Raisonneur, a blog of overlapping magisteria.

The Object Shifts its Orbit

molvoteNear Earth Object is moving–merging with my other blog project, Bloc Raisonneur. This does not mean that this blog is dead, as its contents will live on over at Bloc, and the topics on which I’ve been writing will continue to be covered there (I may even preserve the title for those non-atheist-specific posts). The move is explained in more deep and entertaining detail at the new digs.

So this is not good-bye, my tens and tens of Object readers, but merely a shift of environs. I hope you will join me over at Bloc Raisonneur, a blog of overlapping magisteria.

If This Blog Eats Another Blog, It Will Gain the Other Blog’s Strength

This might get ugly, but it should be a worthwhile enterprise.

Today I’m beginning the somewhat arduous process of merging my personal blog, Near Earth Object, into this one. So one good way to imagine it is by picturing the good citizen Moliere up there in the banner image eating the picture of planet Earth in the other blog, and thereby gaining its strength. Exciting!

Here’s what might happen: Not to get too much into the technical weeds, but moving a WordPress blog into a Blogger format is, well, difficult, and at first it could look a little messy. So as posts move from Near Earth and into Bloc, there may be some formatting ugliness in the imported posts, some stray code suddenly visible, etc. And I have no idea what subscribers to this blog’s RSS feed will get once the old posts come pouring in. If it’s a deluge, I apologize.

So now the important question — why make the move? I’ve been pondering this for months, and there are two elements to it. The first is practical; problems juggling my two personal blogs, my Examiner column, and my neglected position at Unscrewing the Inscrutable. It’s one less platform to worry about decaying from a lack of attention.

But mainly, I find that I want to write more broadly here at Bloc, especially considering its somewhat widening audience, in large part because the things that concern atheists and secularists are not limited to atheism and secularism. My latest (and, I suppose, last) post at Near Earth Object is a perfect example–it wasn’t at all about atheism or even religion, but because it dealt with fact versus fiction and with the non-humanistic behavior of the raging idiots on the right, it seemed well-suited for my Secular Examiner column, but not for Bloc, whose tagline is/was, “a blog on atheists’ precarious place in American politics and culture.” But I wouldn’t want to exclude that post from Bloc because of a tightly-specific motto.

So I will still emphasize atheism in politics and culture, because that is my interest, and is the thrust of my personal studies and passions. But I won’t be limited to that. To bring back the issue of the tag line, Bloc will adopt Near Earth Object’s tag, which I think is actually quite appropriate: “A blog of overlapping magisteria.”

For those unfamiliar with Near Earth Object, it began years ago as a blog pretty much focused on plugging my music. I started it in 2004 when I released my first CD, Paul is Making Me Nervous. Later, it evolved into more general promotion and thoughts about my creative work. But by 2006, I was blogging primarily on politics (again, from a merger of the personal blog with a political blog I called Fifteen Nineteen), finding a particular penchant for Onion-style parody articles. But on the whole, it became a catch-all journal of my thoughts on all things that interested me, as well as a clumsy (and probably ineffective) vehicle of self-promotion. I rarely post there now, but when I do, it is something that I wish I could share with a larger audience.

I hope this move is not a huge mistake, I hope that the handful of readers of Near Earth Object don’t get pissed or confused, and I hope that Bloc’s readers will appreciate the broadening of topics.

And I hope you’ll keep spreading the word to your friends and enemies, and that you’ll keep commenting, debating, and participating. Keep up with whats going on by subscribing to this blog’s feed and by following me on Twitter.

And thanks.

Parade of the Fanatical Ignoramuses

It is almost becoming a ritual in our house these days. At the end of a long day at work, the wife and I turn on MSNBC and watch, stunned, as Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart put on the parade of angry right wing lunatics. We sit, mouths agape, as we see manufactured rage at town halls over something tangential to health care, we see Glenn Beck weeping over something called “oligarhy” and a whole circus of birthers, deathers, truthers, tenthers, and every other sort of “-er” you can think of (except “thinkers”). Obama is a Nazi, or a communist, or the antichrist, or the Hamburgler, or whatever.

My wife can’t stand it anymore, and is more inclined to change the channel to the new show about hoarders on A&E. But I always like to watch my friends in the liberal media take down the hypocrites, the liars, the ignorant. Besides, at first they all seemed harmless, a silly distraction, the easily-provoked getting riled up by an otherwise impotent minority party. But the more I consider what I’ve been hearing, the more I sense a more fundamental problem with an aspect of American culture, something dark.

To give you an idea, take a look at this foreboding interview with Frank Schaeffer, a former founding father of the Religious Right and now impassioned critic of wingnut zealotry.

Schaeffer calls the angry fanatics “beyond crazy,” a “fifth column of insanity,” particularly in their enmity toward Obama (the original subject of the interview), but I think that lets them off the hook. He notes that this pseudo-fundamentalist subculture is conditioned to “reject facts,” and I think that gets closer to the point. The rage and racism (more on that word in a bit) here is the result of a willful ignorance on the part of millions who know exactly what they’re doing. They’re not insane, they are opting out of reality.

Schaeffer also notes that the Republican Party, languishing in the political minority, is “enthralled to this subculture,” and this is evident in the unwillingness of the more reasonable members of the party to take a stand against the hate and stupidity, as well as in the more knuckle-dragging members who dive head first into the filth, hoping to ride a mosh pit of bigotry and fear into a fixed position of consolidated power.

Which leads me, as one might guess, to Rush Limbaugh. I don’t care to simply quote mine Limbaugh to prove some kind of point about what a blowhard he is–this is like explaining that fire is hot. Instead, I want to use a recent diatribe of his as an example of exactly the kind of thing Schaeffer is talking about.

If you read any liberal-leaning blog, you already know about Limbaugh’s stupid tantrum about the white student who was beat up on a school bus by black students, in which Limbaugh belched, “We need segregated buses.”

This is revolting and offensive enough on its own, but a full reading of the transcript shows that this isn’t really what Limbaugh was getting at per se–don’t worry, I’m not defending him, because it’s really worse than you think. Limbaugh said:

It’s Obama’s America, is it not? Obama’s America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now. You put your kids on a school bus, you expect safety but in Obama’s America the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, “Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on,” and, of course, everybody says the white kid deserved it, he was born a racist, he’s white. Newsweek magazine told us this. We know that white students are destroying civility on buses, white students destroying civility in classrooms all over America, white congressmen destroying civility in the House of Representatives. We can redistribute students while we redistribute their parents’ wealth. We can redistribute everything, just return the white students to their rightful place, on their own bus with bars on the windows and armed guards–they’re racists, they get what they deserve! . . .

. . . I wonder if Obama’s going to come to the defense of the assailants like he did his friend Skip Gates up there at Harvard.

It’s that term “Obama’s America” that kept haunting me as I heard this. That Rush Limbaugh and those like him harbor racist feelings and resentments is not news. But what is striking about this serving of rhetorical vomit is how it attempts to make white racism against blacks acceptable again, but uses a perversion of the phraseology of identity politics and manufactured umbrage. The important message of Limbaugh’s monologue is not “let’s bring back segregated buses,” it’s really, “You see? Black people have always been the problem!” He feels the racists have had their point proved: In Obama’s America, white kids get beat up and white men get blamed for everything, while their wealth is stolen by blacks (and gays). Another way he might have put it: “We let the blacks have a shot at being in charge, and now your kids aren’t safe from black people.”

When Obama was elected, there was a lot of fuzzy talk about the beginning of the end of racism. But Limbaugh, Beck, and their ilk (and I specifically mean anyone in the Republican Party who will not totally renounce them), in what they are telling their stupid followers, are showing us the opposite–they’re trying to make the case that it’s okay to be racist again, because Obama is a Nazi/communist/black nationalist/foreigner/racist/Muslim/antichrist. You were right all along, these inexcusably abhorrent men tell their anti-intellectual swarms, so it’s okay to take this president down.

Frank Schaeffer said something else that is spot on, that we can’t “reorganize village life to suit the village idiot.” But we do have to wake the village up, assemble a legitimate town meeting, and make sure everyone knows that the village idiot has formed a posse, and it’s headed this way.

Related posts:

Dawkins and Armstrong Politely Duel in the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal yesterday published a fascinating pair of dueling essays on the possibility of the existence of God. One of the chosen scribes will be no surprise: Richard Dawkins, subtly hawking his latest book, makes a quick and dirty case for God’s redundancy in light of physical law and evolution by natural selection.

Interestingly, the Journal does not choose as his counterpoint some conservative religionist blowhard (as one might expect from a paper owned by this guy), but Karen Armstrong, author of a slew of books on religion, most recently the soon to be published The Case for God. That’s the piece I’ll be focusing on here.

Armstrong does as one might expect: she laments the ‘unsophisticated’ view of God that she feels is rampant in modern religious thought, that of a semi-corporeal, tangible entity that goes by the name of God. Armstrong prefers what she sees as a more correct and ineffable version of God, which can probably better be described as irreducibly vague. As in The Case for God (which I am currently reading and will review here later) and in other writings, Armstrong does the case for God, I think, a disservice, by essentially defining him out of existence. She writes:

. . . Darwin may have done religion—and God—a favor by revealing a flaw in modern Western faith. Despite our scientific and technological brilliance, our understanding of God is often remarkably undeveloped—even primitive. In the past, many of the most influential Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers understood that what we call “God” is merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence, whose existence cannot be proved but is only intuited by means of spiritual exercises and a compassionate lifestyle that enable us to cultivate new capacities of mind and heart.

It is the attempts to pin God down to a palpable “thing” that ruins it for everyone, asserts Armstrong, and why science really is dealing a serious blow to what we now call religion and theism. It was before the Enlightenment, she writes, that people really got what God was all about. It was the undefinable essence that relates to Nirvana, Tao, etc.

But of course, if God is “indescribable,” something that “points beyond itself,” and as she writes later, that religion is supposed to be something that “help[s] us live creatively with realities for which there are no easy solutions and find an interior haven of peace,” then God really isn’t anything at all, but an idea. An imaginary notion that, to be brusque, makes us feel better and be nicer to each other. As I say, she defines God away into a charming ideal, but nothing that is real or holds any relevance. That’s fine with me, but it seems silly to waste precious energy defending that indescribable essence as God, or really as anything at all.

These two pieces are not necessarily direct responses to the other (though Armstrong speaks very highly of Dawkins, not something she does so often, but does so eloquently here), but Dawkins does conclude in his piece in a way that makes my point.

Now, there is a certain class of sophisticated modern theologian who will say something like this: “Good heavens, of course we are not so naive or simplistic as to care whether God exists. Existence is such a 19th-century preoccupation! It doesn’t matter whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me. If God is real for you, who cares whether science has made him redundant? Such arrogance! Such elitism.”

Well, if that’s what floats your canoe, you’ll be paddling it up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world’s peoples is very clear. They believe in God, and that means they believe he exists in objective reality, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists. If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They’ll be right.

I imagine this must have been written knowing that Armstrong would be sharing space with him in the newspaper. Either way, I think he puts it rather well. You wouldn’t get Karen Armstrong to admit she was an atheist, of course, lest her latest book title look rather silly. But I do hope that perhaps this argument can show those who think similarly to Armstrong that they have far more in common with atheists than they think. Baby steps.

They Might Be Science

I sometimes wonder how I will explain to my kid-to-be how the truth we get from science is different from the “truth” claims of religions and superstitions.

I think I just found a good way.

Hat tip to Skepchick.