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Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

Wed, 04/23/2014 - 13:26

Atheists bad, Christians good. That’s my four-word summary of God’s Not Dead.

This anti-atheist movie would be more effective if it didn’t portray every atheist as smug, angry, selfish, obnoxious, and unhappy. In contrast, nearly every Christian is kind, happy, generous. . . well, you get the idea.

The movie’s two protagonists are atheist philosophy Professor Jeffrey Radisson and Christian student Josh Wheaton at fictional Hadleigh University.

Professor Radisson is a bully who on the first day of class uses his bully pulpit to require that each student sign a “God is dead” statement or else convince him that God’s not dead — and, failing that, receive an F in the course. Radisson has been doing this for years, presumably without a complaint from students, other faculty, or administrators. In fact, he is about to become head of the Philosophy Department. He has a live-in girlfriend whom he started dating when she was his student, and he continually berates and belittles her in front of his academic colleagues. She turns to Christianity and finds the strength to get out of this abusive relationship after talking to Pastor Dave (more about him later).

Continue reading at Faith Street>>

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 13:48

Few people will change their worldviews because of a debate. But some Christians might become less inclined to stereotype atheists if atheists debate differently.

As an atheist, I’ve had a number of debates with Christians on topics like whether God exists, whether we can be moral without God, whether science makes belief in God harder or easier, and more recently, whether atheism makes more sense than Christianity.

Usually, debate preparation depends on the topic and what your opponent has previously said, but there are some common strategies that work well in any situation. With a mostly Christian audience, I look for opportunities to change atheist stereotypes and raise questions some might never have considered.

Here are five ways to behave and ten questions to answer in every debate with Christian counterparts:

Five Behaviors

1. Praise the Bible. I like to mention that every educated person should read the Bible (this line is the only time I get cheers from conservative Christians) because it’s an important part of our culture. I also provide a list that includes books like A Demon Haunted World and The History of God to hand out to audience members after the debate.

2. Target the audience. Most conservative Christians are skeptical of whatever I say in a debate. The best I usually hear from them afterward is, “The atheist seemed like a nice person, even though he’s going to hell.” While atheists usually want me to bash religion, I try not to do that because I want to reach open-minded Christians who have never heard an atheist’s point of view from an atheist.

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

Church Invitation: An Atheist on American Anglicans and Amazing Grace

Wed, 04/09/2014 - 09:39

What will an atheist find when he attends services at a conservative Christian church in South Carolina?

Editor’s note: Church Invitation is an occasional series at OnFaith where we ask people of various backgrounds to attend houses of worship and write about the experience.    

On Sunday, March 30, I visited St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, just outside of Charleston where I live. The church’s stated vision is to re-evangelize our society and transform our culture. My intention was to learn more about this church that was established in 1827 and now has more than 3000 members. So I attended both the 9 a.m. contemporary service along with several hundred young and old congregants, and then the 10:45 a.m. traditional service with fewer than a hundred people, mostly older.

Both services began with music (guitar in the first and organ in the second), followed by the minister reading Bible passages. The homily was titled “TODAY: How Should I Read the Bible?” I translated that in my mind to “How Should I Read the Bible TODAY?” However, the homilies were specifically about reading the Bible without concessions to modernity.

Rev. Chris Hancock, who led the contemporary service, was dynamic and sometimes humorous. After a little trouble with his PowerPoint presentation, he riffed off the Lord Acton quote, “Power corrupts, but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” He told us to read the Bible “humbly, prayerfully, thoughtfully, expectantly, and obediently.” No mention of reading it skeptically. He warned of scorners (like me, I guess) who use difficult passages to undermine the Bible’s authority, and quoted 2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”

Rev. John Burley had a more serious demeanor at the traditional service, though he made the same points. He warned of cultural biases that might lead us to follow only some parts of the Bible, saying that if any parts offend us, it’s because we don’t understand them. He also made the only reference to atheism, claiminginaccuracies in the film Noah were to be expected because the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, is an atheist. Burley added that we must trust only Jesus rather than those who appear to be good and moral. (Hmm . . . should congregants then not trust Rev. Burley?)

He told us to read the Bible “humbly, prayerfully, thoughtfully, expectantly, and obediently.” No mention of reading it skeptically.

I might have put money in the collection plate if the minister had said it was for a good cause, like helping the poor, but the first minister merely quoted Acts 20:35, “It is better to give than to receive,” and the second asked for an offering to God. So I kept my money.

Continue reading at Faith Street>>

SCA's Congressional Report Cards: Why Salon Got It Wrong

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 14:20

On Friday Salon.com published an article critical of the Secular Coalition for America's Congressional Report Cards, "Liberals are overlooking a major political ally: Yes, there's a religious left!" In the piece, author, Elizabeth Stoker, rightly pointed out the rubric of the report cards' "logic is open to inquiry."

Unfortunately, many of Stoker's points of concern inaccurately portray the basic facts of the report cards via misstatements, inaccuracies, or logical fallacies which beg for clarification or correction.

On Darwin Day
Salon says:
"It's even more bizarre to try to work out exactly what [the Darwin Day Resolution] would have to do with the separation of church and state."

The SCA asserts: The text of the resolution, H.Res 41, states "the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education systems." Using publicly funded schools to promote the religious belief in creationism is a textbook example of the separation of church and state.

Salon says:  "...it's absurd and insulting to imagine only non-religious people to be interested in the improvement of human life through scientific progress."

The SCA asserts: The Secular Coalition never stated, nor implied the bills we champion are only open to support from the non-religious, because that's not true. We regularly work with religiously affiliated allied organizations and continue to enthusiastically encourage their support for this bill. The separation of religion and government protects both the church and the state, which is why we work with religious organizations, including three of our own member organizations, The Society for Humanistic Judaism, American Ethical Union and HUUmanists.

On Health Care
Salon says:
 The Health Care Conscience Right Act, H.R. 940, is described as an attempt to "protect rights of conscience" as it would "signal the government's refusal to act upon individuals who, for reasons of conscience, did not want to perform a particular service. In that sense it's a clear-cut push for neutrality."

The SCA asserts: This bill, and this representation of it, continue the misinterpretation and misuse of religious freedom that has grown in the past few years. The truth is this bill exempts an individual from the requirement to purchase health insurance coverage if something they religiously or morally object to could potentially be covered. To be clear, the action required by the Affordable Care Act is purchasing insurance. The action religiously objected to is receiving various health services. These are distinctly different. There is no action which burdens religion to be exempted from here. The ACA is religiously neutral as written. This bill is not a push for neutrality, but a push away from it towards religious privilege.

On Religious Discrimination
Salon says:
 "That the SCA willingly aligns itself with symbolic legislation that takes a shot at religion writ large could, however, ultimately damage the prospects of the left as a coalition."

The SCA asserts: The Secular Coalition cannot align with "symbolic legislation that takes a shot at religion" as it does not exist. However, legislation that symbolically endorses religion is much easier to find. For example, the Congressional reaffirmations of "In God We Trust" as our national motto and "one nation under God" in the pledge of allegiance. Or possibly the 20 statements on floor of the House of Representatives honoring various reverends and pastors during the three weeks of March in which the House was in session. Pointing out favoritism is hardly an attack.

On Partisanship
Salon says:
"The breakdown of the lucky few who managed to score A's was telling: All were Democrats." "But based on the issues that appear meaningful to the SCA and the side they fall out on, it seems there's rather a political agenda tied up in their secularism, and it's a decidedly leftist one."

The SCA asserts: Correlation does not imply causation. The Secular Coalition is a nonpartisan organization. We reject political agendas, conspiracy theories and logical fallacies. The issues that are meaningful to the Secular Coalition are those which privilege religion by claiming a burden which does not exist; justify legislation with religious beliefs, not evidence nor reason; or send taxpayer money to houses of worship, exempt from any oversight or transparency. The political agenda tied up in these issues isn't ours. We will continue to recognize and thank whoever stands up to the monolithic religious-political complex pushing this agenda, no matter the party with which they are affiliated. 

 

SCA's Congressional Report Cards: Why Salon Got It Wrong

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 14:20

On Friday Salon.com published an article critical of the Secular Coalition for America's Congressional Report Cards, "Liberals are overlooking a major political ally: Yes, there's a religious left!" In the piece, author, Elizabeth Stoker, rightly pointed out the rubric of the report cards' "logic is open to inquiry."

Unfortunately, many of Stoker's points of concern inaccurately portray the basic facts of the report cards via misstatements, inaccuracies, or logical fallacies which beg for clarification or correction.

On Darwin Day
Salon says:
"It's even more bizarre to try to work out exactly what [the Darwin Day Resolution] would have to do with the separation of church and state."

The SCA asserts: The text of the resolution, H.Res 41, states "the teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education systems." Using publicly funded schools to promote the religious belief in creationism is a textbook example of the separation of church and state.

Salon says:  "...it's absurd and insulting to imagine only non-religious people to be interested in the improvement of human life through scientific progress."

The SCA asserts: The Secular Coalition never stated, nor implied the bills we champion are only open to support from the non-religious, because that's not true. We regularly work with religiously affiliated allied organizations and continue to enthusiastically encourage their support for this bill. The separation of religion and government protects both the church and the state, which is why we work with religious organizations, including three of our own member organizations, The Society for Humanistic Judaism, American Ethical Union and HUUmanists.

On Health Care
Salon says:
 The Health Care Conscience Right Act, H.R. 940, is described as an attempt to "protect rights of conscience" as it would "signal the government's refusal to act upon individuals who, for reasons of conscience, did not want to perform a particular service. In that sense it's a clear-cut push for neutrality."

The SCA asserts: This bill, and this representation of it, continue the misinterpretation and misuse of religious freedom that has grown in the past few years. The truth is this bill exempts an individual from the requirement to purchase health insurance coverage if something they religiously or morally object to could potentially be covered. To be clear, the action required by affordable care act is purchasing insurance. The action religiously objected to is receiving various health services. These are distinctly different. There is no action which burdens religion to be exempted from here. The ACA is religiously neutral as written. This bill is not a push for neutrality, but a push away from it towards religious privilege.

On Religious Discrimination
Salon says:
 "That the SCA willingly aligns itself with symbolic legislation that takes a shot at religion writ large could, however, ultimately damage the prospects of the left as a coalition."

The SCA asserts: The Secular Coalition cannot align with "symbolic legislation that takes a shot at religion" as it does not exist. However, legislation that symbolically endorses religion is much easier to find. For example, the Congressional reaffirmations of "In God We Trust" as our national motto and "one nation under God" in the pledge of allegiance. Or possibly the 20 statements on floor of the House of Representatives honoring various reverends and pastors during the three weeks of March in which the House was in session. Pointing out favoritism is hardly an attack.

On Partisanship
Salon says:
"The breakdown of the lucky few who managed to score A's was telling: All were Democrats." "But based on the issues that appear meaningful to the SCA and the side they fall out on, it seems there's rather a political agenda tied up in their secularism, and it's a decidedly leftist one."

The SCA asserts: Correlation does not imply causation. The Secular Coalition is a nonpartisan organization. We reject political agendas, conspiracy theories and logical fallacies. The issues that are meaningful to the Secular Coalition are those which privilege religion by claiming a burden which does not exist; justify legislation with religious beliefs, not evidence nor reason; or send taxpayer money to houses of worship, exempt from any oversight or transparency. The political agenda tied up in these issues isn't ours. We will continue to recognize and thank whoever stands up to the monolithic religious-political complex pushing this agenda, no matter the party with which they are affiliated. 

 

Let’s Give the Bible a Second Chance . . . By Changing It

Wed, 04/02/2014 - 13:53

Why do I prefer our United States Constitution to the Bible? Lots of reasons, but I'll focus on one. The Constitution allows for do-overs. Its authors understood the document to be imperfect and made provisions for future generations to amend it.

Alas, there is no such biblical escape clause. What you see from way back then is what you get.

Neither the Constitution nor the Bible included freedom of religion, equal rights for women, prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or the abolition of slavery - but today, through amendments, the Constitution does. We also have a democratic form of government that allows for progressive laws that our 18th-century founders might not have considered or desired.

So what about those who believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, yet can't reconcile some portions with a loving deity? It's difficult to justify passages about killing witches, slaying all women and little children in a city, the blood of Jesus being on all Jews and their children, killing homosexuals, and many more. Even biblical literalists now try to interpret some of these passages in more enlightened ways.

Not only is slavery nowhere condemned in the Bible, but some have used Noah's curse of Canaan to justify it. ("Cursed be Canaan [presumed black]! The lowest of slaves will he be to his [presumed white] brothers.") Since nobody today condones slavery (and groups like the Southern Baptist Convention have even apologized for promoting slavery), interpretations abound. For instance, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis says Noah's curse had to do with a rebellious son, not skin color.

Apparently, it's easier for some Christians to be on the moral rather than on the scientific side of history. Albert Mohler, who Time called the "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U. S., believes that the incredible Adam and Eve story goes to the heart of Christianity - because the whole point of the crucifixion and the resurrection was to undo Adam's original sin, and that without a historical Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense.

Continue Reading at On Faith >>

 

U.S. House Flunks ‘Report Card’ on Church-State Issues

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 09:06

Washington, DC – The Secular Coalition for America today released its 2013 Congressional Report Cards for the U.S. House and Senate. A majority of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives earned failing grades, but a majority of U.S. Senators earned a grade of “B” or above.

Members of Congress earned a grade from “A” to “F” based on their votes on important pieces of legislation. Representatives were graded based on their support for 14 bills related to church-state separation issues and discrimination against nontheistic and secular Americans. Senators were graded based on their support for five bills relating to similar issues.

  • U.S. House Snapshot: 35 (8 percent) received an “A”, 30 (7 percent) received a “B”, 93 (21 percent) received a “C”, 8 (2 percent) received a “D” and 271 (62 percent) received an “F”.
  • U.S. Senate Snapshot: 7 (7 percent) received an “A”, 46 (45 percent) received a “B”, 5 (5 percent) received a “C”, 0 received a “D” and 44 (43 percent) received an “F”.
  • Congress in total: 42 (8 percent) Member of Congress received an “A” grade, 76 (14 percent) received a “B”, 98 (18 percent) received a “C”, 8 (1 percent) received a “D” and 315 (58 percent) received an “F”.

In the House, some of the key votes were H.R.592 which would have allowed for FEMA funding for churches, Amdt.169 to H.R.1960 which would have allowed for a humanist chaplain in the military, and H.R.914, the so-called “Military Religious Freedom Protection Act”. Among the Senate bills scored were  S.Amdt.2013 to S.815 which would have expanded the religious exemption of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, and S.1279 the so-called “Freedom to Pray Act.”

“In a country where at least one in four Americans doesn’t identify with any religion, these grades underscore the work so many lawmakers still must do in separating their personal religious beliefs from our legislation as a pluralistic nation,” said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. “The only way to protect everyone’s right to religious freedom is to keep all religion out of our secular government.”

The Coalition’s 2013 Congressional Report Cards differ from previous years’ Report Cards in that 2013 is the first to include sponsorships, rather than strictly scoring votes. Including sponsorships increased the number of bills the SCA was able to score in one of the most inactive Congresses in history. 

Seven Senators received a perfect score: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Mazie  Hirono (D-HI), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Three Representatives received perfect scores: Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY). Although no Republicans received A’s, three Republican Senators received B’s for the first time since the Secular Coalition began compiling report cards: Murkowski (AK), Kirk (IL) and Collins (ME).

Three Representatives were tied for the lowest score, earning only a 5 percent grade: Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).

“The fact that we are now seeing at least a few Republicans scoring higher grades indicates that we are certainly moving in the right direction,” Rogers said. “However, the 315 total ‘F’ grades shows there’s still a lot of work to be done in encouraging our lawmakers not to support religious privileging in our legislation.”

The Secular Coalition published Congressional Report Cards in 2011 and 2009. The Coalition also publishes Candidate Voter Guides and will score upcoming House, Senate and Gubernatorial races this year. View all Report Cards and Voter Guides.

 

CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Communications Manager at lauren@secular.org or (202)299-1091 ext. 205, cell (202)630-9725

SCA to Organize Protest at Supreme Court Tuesday

Fri, 03/21/2014 - 14:56

Washington, DC - The Secular Coalition for America will organize secular and nontheistic protestors outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday morning, as the Court hears two cases: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.

The cases concern two for-profit companies whose owners do not want to comply with the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, arguing that it violates their religious freedom.

The Secular Coalition takes the position that every American is entitled to their personal religious beliefs and practices, but citizens-including employers-do not have the right to impose those beliefs on others or ask for privileging from the government. The Secular Coalition supports the rights of individual employees to make their own moral and health care decisions.

  • Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2014
  • Time: 8:30am - 12:00pm
  • Location: U.S. Supreme Court, 1 First Street, NE, Washington, District of Columbia 20543

"In seeking a special exception based on a for-profit business owner's religion, Hobby Lobby and similarly situated employers are effectively imposing their religious preferences and practices on their employees," said Secular Coalition for America Executive Director, Edwina Rogers. "Granting these employers a religious exemption would be a clear violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause."

 The Secular Coalition will be available on-site to offer the secular and nontheistic perspective on the cases.

 CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Director of Communications, at lauren@secular.org, office (202)299-1091 ext. 205, cell (202)630-9725.

 

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Atheism

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 09:29

I'm a "big-tent" atheist, which includes whatever non-theistic labels people prefer: agnostic, humanist, secular humanist, freethinker, secularist, and more. This list applies to the whole tent:

1. The prefix "a" can mean "anti" or "non." While some atheists are anti-theists, most are non-theists who have no desire to destroy religion. We don't have a problem with believers until they try to force their beliefs on others.

2. Atheists are not necessarily protesters, though that's how they are usually portrayed in the media. When they do protest, they protest government privileging of one religion over another or religion over non-religion.

3. Atheists are not angry at God (just as they are not angry at the Tooth Fairy), and most of us didn't become atheists because something bad happened to us. We became atheists because we find no evidence for any gods.

4. Atheists are not less trustworthy just because we don't believe in a judging God.Believing that of us only makes us think you would be untrustworthy were it not for your fear of God.

5. We can find joy without belief in God and an afterlife. We may not see any cosmic purpose of life, but we do find our own joyful purposes in life.

6. Most religious people are secular most of the time. Ask yourself how you would behave differently if you stopped believing in God. If you can't come up with a good answer, then you are what I call a functional atheist.

7. Calling atheism a religion is like calling baldness a hair color. The "religion" of atheism and secular humanism is not taught in public schools, unless you think that conveying the best available scientific information is a religious act. If you wind up abandoning faith in supernatural things because of science, as many do, that is a collateral benefit to critical thinking.

 

Continue reading at Faith Street >>

 

 

 

Sin: Making Sense Out of Nonsense

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 13:30

First, the nonsense: original sin.

Much of the Christian world believes that a talking snake convinced Adam and Eve to eat a piece of fruit forbidden by God, who then became so angry that he condemned all humankind to be born with what Christians call “original sin.” But then came the “good news”: God’s sinless son, Jesus, who is also God, paid a brief visit to earth to redeem us for that sin committed by Adam and Eve. So God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself, and when we die we will be rewarded or punished for eternity based on whether or not we believe this unbelievable story.

But rather than just make fun of such fables, I also think it’s important to read the Bible and try to understand why it has so deeply influenced our culture. Even non-religious people can find meaningful messages in “holy” books. In a previous piece, I gave a fewmoral lessons from the Bible, including the snake fable. My take was that Adam and Eve were correct to follow the snake’s advice to eat forbidden fruit in order to gain knowledge, because ignorance is not bliss and blind obedience is not a supreme virtue.

The concept of sin has evolved beyond the so-called “original” one. In Orthodox Judaism, the religion in which I was raised, I was taught that sin is violating any of the 613 Commandments found in the Hebrew Bible. Some seem reasonable (don’t murder, steal, or lie), some seem silly (don’t mix wool and cotton; don’t eat meat with milk), and some impossible (offering animal sacrifices at a Temple in Jerusalem that no longer exists). But at least we had a choice about whether to sin, rather than having been born with it.

My wife, Sharon, who grew up Catholic and is now an atheist, recalls how frightened she was as a child when she was required to go into a shadowy booth with a man hidden behind a screen and told to confess her sins. In order to comply with the pressure, even when she had no sins to confess, she made them up, like saying she had lied to her mother when she hadn’t. At the time, young Sharon failed to see the irony of committing the sin of lying to a Father (priest) about lying to her mother. Sharon’s early life was filled with warnings and worries about sin in all its many Catholic categories, including mortal, venial, and occasions of sin, which threatened to send her to hell, or at least purgatory after death.

Continue reading at Faith Street>>

A Few Kind Words for Satan

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 13:27

As an atheist, I'm often asked if I believe in Satan because "I have to believe in something." I point out that I don't believe in the existence of any supernatural forces, including Yahweh, Satan, angels or devils. But I can make theological and strategic cases for embracing the mythical Satan.

Satan comes out looking pretty good in Genesis. After God tells Adam he will die on the day he eats a particular piece of fruit, Satan (in a snake costume) tells Eve that the snack will give them knowledge. So they eat the forbidden fruit, enjoy their newly acquired knowledge, and learn that God was bluffing when he said they would die on the day they ate the fruit. A wrathful God then banishes the first couple from the Garden of Eden and tells them they must now work for a living. Adam and Eve presumably discover that ignorance is not bliss and that blind obedience is not a virtue. Though many Christians view this disobedience as the "original sin," I think Satan teaches humans that it's better to have freedom without a guarantee of security than to have security without freedom.

Interpretations of the biblical character "Satan" can motivate some people to live decent, rational lives. For instance: be curious and seek knowledge; question the sacred; reject authorities that expect blind obedience; encourage free inquiry; welcome diversity of opinion; judge individuals by their actions, not by whether they conform to arbitrary norms; respect the freedom of others, including the freedom to offend; and acknowledge the worth and dignity of the "out" group.

The word "Satan" in Hebrew means adversary. The Catholic Church recognized this adversarial role when it established in 1587 the position Promoter of the Faith, more commonly known as the devil's advocate. He was required to argue against declaring a particular dead person a saint, and to be skeptical of so-called miracles attributed to the deceased. Given the number of recognized miracles and named saints by the Church, I think most devil's advocates were probably incompetent (the number of miracles I accept is zero). Pope John Paul II must have thought that these advocates were too evidence-based, because he abolished the position in 1983, and then named to sainthood more than five times as many individuals as had all his 20th-century predecessors combined.

Continue reading at Huffington Post >>

In Defense of Snake Handlers

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 15:11

Before we get to the snakes, what do we mean by religious freedom? I think it means that individuals can practice, promote, and proselytize for their religion, but that government cannot favor one religion over another, or religion over non-religion. If government exempts an action from law because of a person's religious belief, I think that same exemption should apply to non-religious conscientious belief. Example? The Supreme Court ruling in favor of an atheist conscientious objector to war.

However, claims of religious belief or conscience cannot be used as a valid excuse to undermine society's promotion of the general welfare. For instance, we must pay taxes even for government expenses we morally oppose. For me that would include wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War on Drugs; for others it might include Obamacare. A pharmacist should be required to dispense prescriptions regardless of religious belief, just as a supermarket cashier is required to check out meat products regardless of vegan belief.

An unconscionable bill passed by the Arizona Legislature would allow widespread discrimination against the LGBT community in the name of religious liberty. If the governor signs it into law, business owners can refuse to serve gay customers by claiming that it would violate their religious principles. A similar measure was recently defeated in Kansas, but such bills are being considered in other states.

Continue reading at Huffington Post >>

Groundhog Day and Darwin Day: My Favorite Holidays

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 15:09

Several years ago, the math department at the College of Charleston, where I was a professor, hired a new administrative specialist in January. On February 2, Groundhog Day, I excitedly told her that Punxsutawney Phil had seen his shadow, which meant six more weeks of winter. When she laughed, I feigned surprise and said, "It's not nice to make fun of someone's religious beliefs. I'm from Pennsylvania, where some of us consider Groundhog Day the holiest day of the year." She then apologized profusely. Now that she knows me better, we annually joke about my "holy" day. This year, she even presented me with an autographed (paw print) picture of Phil on February 2.

I thought I had made up a new religion until learning that Groundhog Day is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which was originally a December 25 pagan holiday. February 2 was also a pagan holiday, where people would light candles to banish dark spooks. Christians appropriated the date in the fifth century and named itCandlemas Day, where clergy would light and bless candles.

However, to my mind, February 12 is far more consequential. There is even a growing international movement to publicly celebrate February 12, Charles Darwin's birthday, as Darwin Day. With the encouragement of the American Humanist Association, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) again this year introduced a resolution in Congress in support of Darwin Day. It recognized that Darwin's birthday is a "worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge." The resolution also warned that the "teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education system," and insisted that "advancement of science be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change."

Continue reading at Huffington Post >>

This Atheist Finds Some Traditional Ideas about 'God' Especially Hard to Believe

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 09:46

In debates or discussions about the existence of God, I'm often asked, "What if you're wrong and there really is a God?" These questioners, who assume that God belief is of ultimate importance, are perhaps unknowingly applying Blaise Pascal's 17th-century attempt to defend Christian belief with logic.

In his "Pensees," Pascal said, "If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is." Pascal should have stopped there, but he didn't. He concluded that it's safer to believe in God because of what became known as "Pascal's Wager": If God does not exist, we will lose nothing by believing in him; but if God does exist, we will lose everything by not believing.

Via Washington Post. Read more at HighBeam>>

Secular Americans Urge Congress to Co-Sponsor Darwin Day Resolution

Wed, 02/12/2014 - 08:30

Washington, DC - The Secular Coalition for America on Monday urged members of Congress to support House Resolution 467, which would formally recognize today, February 12, as Darwin Day.

The Secular Coalition sent letters to each U.S. House office. The resolution, which was introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (NJ), currently has eight co-sponsors.

Charles Darwin proposed the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection and detailed the scientific theory in his book "On the Origin of Species" published in 1859. Darwin Day is a global celebration of science and reason held on Darwin's February 12 birthday anniversary. 

Despite that the overwhelming majority of scientists accept evolution, attacks on the teaching of evolution in public school curriculums across the country are at a high. An October 2002 poll of 460 university science professors found that between 90 and 97 percent of professors knew of no valid evidence or alternate scientific theory that challenges the fundamental principles of the theory of evolution.

Secular Coalition for America Executive Director, Edwina Rogers, said the organization is working to protect the teaching of evolution in public schools at both at the federal and state levels. Last year, Secular Coalition chapters in Colorado and Montana were instrumental in halting so-called intelligent design bills, which aimed to create false scientific controversy around the theory of evolution in order to promote the theological theory of creationism in public schools.

"The teaching of evolution in schools is under constant attack especially at the state level," Rogers said. "We are working to ensure that our children are being taught science-not theology-in our public schools, with taxpayer dollars."

The Secular Coalition for Colorado successfully advocated against an "intelligent design" bill (H.B. 13-1089), which died in committee. And in Montana, following an address by the Secular Coalition for Montana to the House Education Committee, the "intelligent design" bill was killed. H183 was labeled as support for "critical thinking", a stealth creationism and intelligent design bill that would have allowed the teaching of theological arguments in public school science classrooms. The Secular Coalition for Montana did an excellent job presenting to the committee and had a strong showing of support from the secular and science communities. The bill was defeated.

According to a recent Pew study, the majority of Americans accept the scientific theory of evolution including many religious sects. Seventy-eight percent of white mainline Protestants accept evolution, outranking all other "religious" groups, including the religiously unaffiliated.

Rogers said it's important for members of Congress to co-sponsor the resolution because the majority of Americans who agree with Darwin deserve more support from their Representatives. 

"Darwin's great contribution to science develops common ground among those with differing religious views, exemplifying the message of Darwin Day and this resolution," Rogers said. "We commend Representative Holt for introducing this resolution and encourage more members of Congress to support it as well."

Secular Coalition for America member organization, the American Humanist Association, worked with Rep. Holt and his staff on the resolution and will be sending copies of Darwin Day Celebration. The American Humanist Association will also send a booklet on celebrating Darwin Day and highlighting Darwin's contributions to science and humanity, to all 535 members of Congress to encourage support of the resolution.

 

CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Communications Manager at lauren@secular.org or (202)299-1091 ext. 205, cell (202)630-9725

 

 

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Science Versus Bible: To Debate or Not to Debate?

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 09:56

The atheist community is deeply divided about religious fundamentalism and creationism, but not about whether such preposterous claims have any validity. They disagree on whether scientists should debate fundamentalists about the "science" of the Bible. I think both sides have reasonable arguments in the debate on whether to debate.

Here are arguments against debating: What's to debate? Evolution is--true! That a man named Noah put pairs of all species from a 6000-year-old earth in an ark he built when he was 600 years old is--false! Sharing a stage with creationists just lends them credibility. In any case, evidence will eventually win. Debates are often more about oratory skill than evidence. Preachers and pseudoscientists usually have more debating experience and skills than do scientists. Should we also debate Holocaust deniers or members of the Flat-Earth Society?

Here are arguments for debating: If scientists don't defend scientific theories, we will lose the battle of public opinion. Many fundamentalists have heard only the preacher's side and a debate might spark illumination for some who listen to a scientific theory explained by a real scientist.

Continue reading at the Huffington Post >>

State of the Union: The Secular Response

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 13:38

On Tuesday, President Obama gave his annual State of the Union Address. Recently, the Secular Coalition has been working more closely with the White House, including giving in-person input to encourage the recognition of nonbelievers and an accurate portrayal of religious liberty in the president's speech.

As a result of our work, the Presidential Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day, issued last week, recognized people of "no faith" and specifically included "atheists and agnostics" for the first time in over 200 years of Presidential proclamations.

In the lead-up to the speech, the Secular Coalition provided the White House with input on the State of the Union address. The submitted comments focused on areas in which secular issues aligned with the President's current policy agenda and covered issues of contraception coverage and false use of "religious liberty," the necessity of teaching evolution and fighting back against attempts to insert creationism in the classroom to provide a "high quality education," and recognizing the important role nonbelievers play in a religiously diverse country.

After all of our work with the White House, we were admittedly excited about this year's State of the Union Address. So, how did the President's speech do on secular issues? The results were mixed, but largely positive. While the president didn't specifically mention nontheists, he generally shied away from speaking about religion at all-which was one of our asks. He also made some key statements on issues important to the secular community, namely climate change. Here's how the President stacked up:

  • Someone needed it say it, and the President did. "The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact." And despite a spirited round of applause for his statement, there's an influential group of legislators who are not on board with what the rest of the country seems to recognize as settled science: the Republican members of the House Science Committee. This group has historically propped up false "scientific" debate and blocked legislation that would leave our children a safer world.
  • The President highlighted tax reform as a way to save money to invest in our country's infrastructure. His comment on "wasteful, complicated loopholes" focused on corporations; however, including churches and their "integrated auxiliaries" would raise billions for community improvement that helps all Americans, not just a select few. Addressing this issue would be simple: enforce the current tax exemption regulations against those churches that violate them. To make this possible, the current loopholes and protections need to be removed, creating a simpler and fairer tax code.
  • The President mentioned undoing the cuts to federally-funded research (including scientific research). Unfortunately, while this may be a priority of the President, this is a decision left up to Congress. Funding vaccine research and production is a core responsibility when it comes to protecting the safety and welfare of all Americans.
  • The President did mention religious groups during his speech once: he called on faith leaders (as well as business leaders, labor leaders and law enforcement) to act on immigration. The mention of religious groups understandably upset some in the nontheistic community, but we don't see this specific mention as necessarily negative. While not an issue of religion and government, immigration is an issue of community, hence the role of faith leaders. It is time for the secular movement to decide if addressing this issue is also important to the secular community. We do not need to agree, but as a community should discuss the moral, ethical, evidence-based reasons for immigration reform. If we want to be recognized as a community of invested Americans, we cannot stick our heads in the sand on issues that affect our entire country.
  • High quality education has always been a top priority for the secular movement. The skills highlighted by the President as crucial for the new economy, are skills the secular community champions: "problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, math." By focusing on these skills, the President is implicitly speaking out against programs that would diminish them, such as vouchers, and curricula that include the teaching of so-called intelligent design.
  • The President continued his push, from last year's speech, for high-quality pre-Kindergarten. He was clearly unhappy with the lack of progress and enlisted coalition partners to help get it done. That list had two obvious omissions: faith leaders and teachers. Faith-leaders is an omission we are pleased with, as the Secular Coalition has grave concerns as it relates to unlicensed religiously-affiliated child care centers. Their existence puts children in harm's way and the idea that they would receive federal funds to do so is atrocious. Fortunately, this has not been the case so far. However the omission of teachers is more concerning. While the listed coalition partners, including elected officials, business leaders and philanthropists are certainly necessary to get the structure of a nation-wide secular pre-K system in place, the framework of that system should be evidence-based on best practices in education.
  • President Obama spoke directly to women in the workplace. Specifically, to workplace mothers and pregnant women. Without diminishing those issues, women who want to hold off on having children, temporarily or permanently, were left out. He said "it is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode." What could be more outdated than debating birth control? An issue that was settled has now come back because employers want to tell their female employees to live their lives according to their boss' religion. If the President truly wants to "give every woman the opportunity she deserves," he will stand up against any and all attempts to limit a woman's access to controlling her body and her future.
  • The President spoke about our basic American ideals of "inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation." There could not have been a more perfect place to mention religiously motivated discrimination, especially against LGBT citizens. For his statement to ring true, anti-discrimination laws that protect the LGBT community should not have religious exemptions. Far from being "regardless of religion", these special provisions hold religion in the highest regard, written into our laws as a valid justification for hate.
  • Finally, the closing to every major speech given by almost any politician was the same on Tuesday night for President Obama: "God bless America." While the sentiment behind it is less religiously motivated and more ceremonial, it still makes 22 percent of Americans suddenly feel the last hour of inspiration was not for intended for them. Statements like these offer not-so-subtle insinuation that America offers "opportunity for all" with the usual footnotes of "if you believe in God." The problem is the lack of a good alternative --one that will speak to the entire country and evoke the same sense of closure to the speech and patriotism that are intended by these words. While challenging, this task is accomplishable, and the answer may already exist.

While the President's speech on Tuesday wasn't a major win for the movement, progress is being made, and we will continue to do our part in strengthening the separation between religion and government until the day it's no longer a question.

 

 

 

War, Mathematics and God

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 09:01

I've been actively engaged in two wars in my life, but I don't receive or deserve veterans' benefits. My most recent service occurred during the manufactured war by Fox News, the "War on Christmas." Yes, I plead guilty to wishing people "Happy Holidays" around winter solstice time, and I have even been known to provide a pagan history lesson to those who insist on telling me that Jesus is the reason for the season.

My earlier war arrived as a card game I learned at five, a game called "War." Two players are dealt 26 cards face down. Each then simultaneously shows the top card, and the player with the higher card takes both exposed cards and places them at the bottom of the player's stack. If both cards are of equal value, there is a "war." Each combatant places the next three cards face down, and the fourth face up. The card of higher value captures all the cards played and puts them at the bottom of his or her stack. The war ends when one person has all 52 cards.

I was very good at "War," or so I thought. I hadn't yet heard about "confirmation bias," which can cause us to remember more victories than defeats.

When I finally realized that the game was skill-free, I lost interest. Knowing that the outcome is completely determined once the deck is shuffled and dealt, I began to invent variations. For instance, I'd put all four aces (the highest value) in one stack and the remaining 48 cards in the other stack. After playing five times, the stack with four aces won all, but once. I concluded that it was better to start with the four-ace stack.

Continue reading at the Huffington Post >>

Eight Examples of How I Agree with Religious Fundamentalists

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 12:17

For years I’ve been advocating for “big-tent” atheism, which includes agnostics, humanists, secular humanists, freethinkers, and more. It’s a tent where people can choose activities according to their circumstances and comfort levels, a tent where they can follow their passion while respecting and supporting those with a different emphasis. Fortunately, I think the secular movement has mostly stopped arguing about labels and has begun to cooperate on important issues we can all support.

However, we still have our differences. An article in the Guardian, based on a study at the University of Tennessee, described the six types of atheists as: activist (vocal about issues), anti-theist (assertive and outspoken), intellectual (philosophical and scientific), non-theist (apathetic), ritual (enjoy culture and ceremony), and seeker (open to different views). I criticize this categorization here, and am disappointed that the largest category of all was not even mentioned: closeted atheists, the ones most likely to change our culture by finally coming out.

A thoughtful piece in the Huffington Post by Roy Speckhardt, the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, is entitled “An End to Arrogant Atheism.” Roy has no problem with most forms of atheism, but thinks arrogant atheism hinders our ability to build alliances. While I agree with Roy’s point that arrogance and humorless ridicule can be counter-productive in reaching out to others, I considered it worth pointing out that the fundamentalist worldview is far more arrogant than any atheist worldview.

Fundamentalist worldview: I know God created the entire universe just for the benefit of humans. He watches me constantly and cares about everything I say and do. I know how He wants me and everyone else to behave and believe. He is perfect and just, which is why we face an eternity of either bliss or torture, depending on whether or not we believe in Him.

 

Continue reading at Friendly Athiest >>

Dawkins Foundation Announces Robyn Blumner as New Executive Director

Thu, 01/09/2014 - 15:25

Washington, DC --The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science U.S. today announced that Robyn Blumner has been named Executive Director, effective February 5, 2014. Blumner will replace the interim Director, Edwina Rogers, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. 

Blumner is a longtime columnist and editorial writer for the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. She has an extensive background as a public advocate for church-state separation, the rights of atheists and other nontheists, a spectrum of civil liberties and civil rights causes, economic and racial justice and other progressive causes. Her nonprofit experience includes having led two statewide affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I am delighted to have Robyn Blumner leading the Foundation in the U.S,” said Richard Dawkins. “Her published writings show her to be a strong, unapologetic atheist with the vision to pursue the imaginative aims of the Foundation, while her legal background and non-profit experience equip her to put them into practice.”

A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Robyn went on to receive her J.D. Degree from New York University. Prior to joining the Times, Blumner headed up two affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union, in Utah (1987-89) and Florida (1989-97), where she rescued the affiliate from financial trouble. 

Blumner started at the Tampa Bay Times in 1997, then known as the St. Petersburg Times. Her column was later syndicated and she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2012.

“I am extremely excited to join the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Given the anti-science sentiment we’re seeing across the country, this is an extremely important time to support sound science and evidence-based logic in the public sphere,” Blumner said. “I have always been passionate not only about the issues that the Dawkins Foundation represents, but civil liberties and equality in a larger sense. This move is really a homecoming for me.” 

In 2013, the Secular Coalition for America and the Richard Dawkins Foundation U.S., announced a partnership. Secular Coalition Executive Director, Edwina Rogers served as the interim Executive Director during a transitionary period, and helped the Foundation reorganize and broaden the donor base. The two organizations will continue to work together closely, and will share adjoining offices in Washington, D.C. 

“We are excited to welcome Robyn to the Dawkins Foundation and look forward to continuing to work closely with the Foundation in many facets in the future,” said Edwina Rogers. “One of the goals of the Secular Coalition is to unify the secular and nontheistic movement—and show lawmakers that we are a community with the ability to organize. This partnership is a shining example of how far our movement has come and our continued growth.”

  CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Communications Manager at lauren@secular.org or (202)299-1091 ext. 205, cell (202)630-9725