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Who are the victims here?

June 6, 2013 5 comments

That’s four for four, unless i’m forgetting one. I wouldn’t’ve published this (i really intended it for the Editorial Board themselves), but perhaps there’s value in its publication i just don’t see (or perhaps a publisher is ill-advised to pass up any opportunity to let atheists look silly).

I was disgusted by the editorial “GOP candidate E.W. Jackson doesn’t speak for all Virginians of faith.” (24 May 2013) The editorial downplays as “fair enough” some of the most overt bigotry by any recent candidate for Virginia office, as though Jackson’s faith-which reaps him votes-absolves him of wrongdoing and of any expectation of an apology.

Yet it expects him to apologize to other Christians for speaking in their name! Evidently Christians are the true victims of Christian homophobia.

Atheists are routinely accused of paving the way for Stalinism. That’s an absurd accusation, but i certainly don’t mind condemning church-burnings (not to mention mass executions of Christians) when someone imagines i would support them. Nor do i pretend that these acts victimized me or other atheists.

Every decent Christian has the option of leaving the church and renouncing the label if they are unwilling to defend it from this kind of abuse. It’s on them if they do neither.

I kept my own structure for the blog this time, and decided my own title, since the Roanoke Times provided one perhaps best-suited to helping readers miss the point.

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Room for all to be offended

January 16, 2013 Leave a comment

The Roanoke Times printed a letter from me today:

Ann Boyd made an important point in her Dec. 31 letter (“Atheists’ message did offend”): Atheist billboards, appearing all over the country, offend many people by signaling that many others don’t believe in God.

How is this offensive? We are implicitly denying — or at least doubting — Boyd’s and many others’ testimony that God changed their lives for the better. That’s pretty personal.

Indeed, many Christians say that without God in our lives, we would have no sound morals. Without God, our inner depravity would conquer us.

However, this implicitly denies that I, an atheist, have sound morals or do good works — or that I believe anything at all.

I find that offensive.

Boyd is entitled to her offense, but I hope she’ll agree that I’m entitled to mine. After all, if atheists took as much space as Christians to complain about such offenses from billboards, marquees, politicians, pastors and letters to the editor, the papers would print nothing else.

The public dialogue concerning morality — and religion — needs to continue, and people of all beliefs will be offended along the way.

We can cope. I hope. Our nation was founded on pluralism, a value we can share.

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the fall of separation between “anti-secular” and “anti-science”

January 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Recent behavior by the Giles County School Board and the Roanoke and Franklin County Boards of Supervisors has sparked an ongoing and often heated public dialogue over the morality and Constitutionality of officially sanctioned scripture, prayer, and other religious observance in public institutions. Precedent and regional outcomes, which tend to discourage government endorsement and even indirect favoritism in favor of impartiality and minority protection, appears to have prompted some backlash at the level of the State Senate.

Via the Franklin News-Post (via Scott Mange), State Senator Bill Stanley has proposed an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia clearly intended to rescind the continuing wave of secularism. Mr. Stanley represents the nearby 20th Senatorial district, which he claimed from long-time Democratic Senator Roscoe Reynolds on the heels of the 2010 Republican wave. The amendment would amend Article I, Section 16 (“Free exercise of religion; no establishment of religion.”) to explicitly protect “the right” of “citizens as well as elected officials and employees of the Commonwealth” “to pray on government premises and public property”. It is illustrative to view parts of the amended wording as direct responses to recent events: Read more…

base morality

November 25, 2012 5 comments

A while back a muslim redditor asked a novel question, which i suspect lies toward the heart of many people’s attachment to religion in a (comparably) secular society, especially as a source and framework for morality:

So a lot my atheist friends tell me that I am “nitpicking” the good parts of Islam and the Quran and ignoring all the bad stuff that it preaches. I completely agree with them, I do that all the time. Ive just wondered why that is considered bad. I understand that if I dont follow all of the rules, Im not really 100% muslim, but thats okay with me. Im only like 75% muslim. I only believe in the part of the religion that I want to, but I think I believe in enough to still call myself a follower. Is that wrong?

This gave me the chance to expound upon a perspective on scriptural morality i’d been nursing for some time, and my response was well-enough liked that i suppose it’s worth expanding upon here.

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accessory prayer

July 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Four days before the Giles County School Board formally agreed to their proposed settlement and took down the framed transcription of the Ten Commandments in Narrows High School, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which represented the plaintiffs, began a similar correspondence with the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. The board maintains a tradition of sectarian prayers before its meetings, often by local clergy (who may discuss their own congregations as well) but not infrequently by individual volunteers.

The challenge is fairly routine. The current precedent was set in last July’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Wynne v. Town of Great Falls, in which Darla Kaye Wynne, a non-Christian, objected to the opening of town meetings with prayer that included such language as “Our Heavenly Father” and “In Christ’s name”. A district court ruled in Wynne’s favor and prohibited the town “from invoking the name of a specific deity associated with any one specific faith or belief in prayers given at Town Council meetings.” The 4th Circuit Court upheld the district decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the town’s next appeal. (Incidentally, Wynne was Wiccan, not irreligious.)

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over God: Doing My Part for the Godless Future

April 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Hank Fox’s call to atheists to share our strategies prompted me to write this note about something i do that probably lands me in the “militant” atheist camp. For a regular smattering of accessible irreligious wit, i urge you to check out Blue Collar Atheist. Thanks so much, Hank, for what you do!

I do a lot of the familiar stuff at the personal level: I sit at Ask An Atheist tables, i write letters to the editor, i regularly post religious commentary on Facebook. I cross out “In God We Trust” on dollar bills and write in “E pluribus unum”. These things matter. but they feel reactive, and marginal, like online comments on an op-ed.

Here’s something i wish more people would do: Take the Pledge of Allegiance. When i’m at a government function — e.g. most recently a Town Council meeting — and we are led in the Pledge, i no longer stay silent during the “under God” bit (that desecration of cadence). Oh, no. I take the pledge loudly, proudly, and fluidly, in its original glory.*

This leaves me pronouncing “indivisible” while everyone else is saying “under God” (or staying silent), and then “with liberty and justice” during “indivisible”. And people hear it. It turns heads, in very much the way that the silent treatment doesn’t. And, anymore, that obnoxious pause irks me like acquiescence.

I refuse to let a coalition of zealots and national supremacists coerce those of us who wish to pledge ourselves to Enlightenment values into installing their god right above them. and i refuse to be shamed into accommodating their personal superstitions in the very midst of our collective commitment to an evidence-based, inquiry-positive society.

It’s only recently that i’ve come to a greater awareness of and appreciation for the uniquely secular origins of my country. When i pledge my allegiance to this republic, my pledge extends to the principles of democracy and free inquiry on which it is founded.

Would that our citizenry were more directly confronted with the values that truly underlie our society. This is my little contribution to that effort. and it feels proactive.

* Yes, i know that the original pledge was slightly different in other ways. (Note, from the same link, that the words “under God” were indeed an overt — and unconstitutional — endorsement of religion over irreligion.)

arguments with expiration dates

February 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Background: I was first irritated by this clip several months ago, not just because a member of a house of government uttered it (though that makes it exceptionally irresponsible) but because i see a lot of this garbage being slung by both detractors and advocates of equal legal status for people of all sexual orientations and identities (hereafter “gay rights”). Behold the wisdom of Representative Steve Simon:

The first, fleeting 18 seconds are music to my ears. Listen to that quip, pause the video, and savor it. Read more…