A Secular Response

Despite the advances of science, philosophy and humanism, religion still plays a large role in the world we live in. This is a problem, but it's never going to change unless we admit and realize the harm it causes.

Egypt: Islamists hit Christian churches

While mainstream Western coverage focuses primarily on the sickening use of excessive force by the Egyptian army, it’s important to remember that the Islamist opposition is not the doe-like peace brigade we have been led to believe it is. Intolerance runs deep in both camps.

Remember, Morsi and the Islamist government lost popular support because they were going to install a theocracy and dramatically roll back the rights of millions. We can’t expect to take sides easily on this one.

The right thing trumps religion again

Linked is an article from The Atlantic about the increasing de-stigmatization of gay people in American churches. That’s great news.

This (slow) shift in attitude, of course, is not driven by religious leaders or the Bible itself. It’s the result of a concerted effort by gay rights activists appealing to the human decency of congregations. In other words, they had to convince people to ignore what their religious texts and religious leaders were telling them.

It seems to be working. America is slowly becoming a more tolerant place in which to be gay. Some religious leaders are beginning to follow suit too. Same-sex couples can even get married in some churches now. But this is only happening because average religious people (you know, the kind who haven’t read their Bible) have found a way to reconcile what they know is right in their hearts with what their religion actually preaches—or they’ve just learned to conveniently cast those verses and teachings aside.

I’m OK with this trend. If it pans out anything like my de-conversion, soon these tolerant congregations may realize they don’t need any hocus-pocus to do the right thing.

Obama, Russia, Gays, and Islam

American Thinker is a horrible, racist, homophobic, anti-woman, right-wing joke of a publication, and I absolutely hate the times when I agree with them (even if it’s just a little bit).

In this article, the author criticizes Obama for his condemnation of Putin over the treatment of LGBT individuals in Russia while keeping mum about the far greater atrocities carried out against homosexuals in the Muslim world. I think there is a sliver of a point here. Just a sliver. The only real takeaway is that we must remember there are other states and theocracies that are magnitudes greater in hostility towards homosexuals. We should remember to stay critical of these players as well.

It’s not hard to understand why Russia, which decriminalized homosexuality in ‘93, presents a different case than, say, Saudi Arabia, which has never had a great record on the subject. Russia’s move presents a setback on human rights where progress was once being made. Russia also plays a more important role in our foreign relations than most of the so-called Muslim countries. Now add in the fact that a vast majority of the world is hostile to homosexuals, and you can see how taking any sort of stand becomes a minefield riddled with hypocrisy and paradox. It’s a complicated world we live in.

But we could solve our complicated problems easier without the interference of ancient mythology.

The Russian Orthodox Church obviously plays a role in this, highlighting yet another example of why religion and politics have no business together in a free, functioning, modern society. I won’t hold my breath for American Thinker to support me on that point—indeed, take a scroll down to the comments section of this article to read the litany of “I stand with Putin” statements from bigoted knuckle draggers who think their freedom to impose Christianity on everyone else is threatened by gay people loving each other.

How many times do you have to explain "religious liberty" to religious conservatives?

Here’s yet another half-baked whine from the “persecuted” (this one is about—surprise!—the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act, which already carves out plenty of special privileges for the religious). Christian conservatives in America seem to actually believe they can separate the private implementation of their faith from their public obligations without any difficulties. They want a special privilege when it comes to foisting prayers on children with taxpayer dollars or denying healthcare options to people who do not believe the same fairy tales that they do. And then they have the gall to claim their religious liberty is being infringed.

When are the conservative Christians going to stand up for Muslims and Jews whose taxpayer dollars might be used for food stamps with which to buy pork products? Where’s the outrage against the prosecution of Christian Scientists, who let their children die instead of receiving modern medicine?

Is it too much to ask for consistency across the board? Of course it is. This isn’t about religious liberty at all. It’s about sectarianism. One need not waste much time wondering how these same people might act if the Islamic Call to Prayer was belted over the intercom in public schools, or if a Muslim executive wanted all his female employees to wear the hijab during work hours. We know exactly how much “liberty” would be extended: None.

It’ll be just fine, r/atheism

It’s not really a bad thing that r/atheism is no longer a default subreddit. When I first became a regular it was not one of the default subs. I found it anyway. Many others will be able to do the same. Quite honestly, I’ll be glad to have the discussion returned to people who actually want to discuss, criticize, and ridicule religion.

During its time as a default, I noticed an uptick in bad discussion. One could hardly post a comment critical of Islam or the Pope without an upvote brigade swarming to elevate the shallowest non-sequitur slinging, straw man foisting apologist to the top of the pile. And let’s not forget the mandatory “r/atheism is full of assholes” circlejerk immediately following. I don’t need this, and neither do you.

I would like to see the place dedicated to more quality content, but the real value of the subreddit’s will be (and always has been) in the comments section. People come to r/atheism at heart because they have a problem with religion and want to get that frustration out. It may come first as a juvenile Facebook tirade or simplistic meme, but it will inevitably end with discussion. This is a good thing, even if the quality of the original content has its ups and downs. The place will still be worth having.

To be honest, I rarely visit the subreddit anymore, but I’m incredibly glad I had it when I was first exploring my unbelief. Arguments that now seem old hat and simplistic were at one time revolutionary and important to the development of my now more sophisticated positions. It helped me discover the Four Horsemen, quality blogs, arguments against my own positions, and other subreddits built for more in-depth discussion such as r/debatanatheist.

This community will always exist as long as people have problems with religion. So don’t fret. It doesn’t need default attention.

National Atheist Party: How the Name Kills our Aim (part 1)

nationalatheistparty:

A stereotype we shall not overcome

by Andrea Quinn / @AtheistOnWheels

What’s in a name like the National Atheist Party? Other than the obvious implication of nontheistic sentiment not a lot, perhaps – unless you count the fact that there are millions of “nones” (not associated…

To be clear, I’m not overly familiar with all the position of the National Atheist Party, and it’s possible they agree with what I’m about to say. Here’s my two-cents:

The problem of organizing “nones” is certainly a nut worth cracking. There’s no doubt secularists can achieve more goals quickly by working together and combining resources. The problem with political organizing, however, is that it opens atheists and secularists to criticism unrelated to atheism or secularism. What does unbelief have to say about universal healthcare or foreign affairs? Nothing, directly. Removing religion from politics is incredibly important, but I’m not sure it warrants its own political party. It’s something we should be trying to achieve for all parties—indeed, there are fiscal conservatives and war-hawks that disdain faith in policy as much as the next hemp-munching liberal—and creating a political party means adopting positions aside from godlessness that could alienate those who would otherwise offer support. I think atheists should form political action committees rather than political parties. Money is a powerful force in politics. The religious right figured this out long ago. There is no “Christian” party. There are Christian groups that bankroll Democrats and Republicans. This is where atheists and secularists need to compete. Democrats and Republicans should be clamouring to appease secularists, not running against them in primaries and elections.

(Source: secularpartyofamerica)

One Valedictorian’s Oppression Complex

Christian conservatives are getting moist about the eyes over Roy Costner IV’s decision to invoke God and say a prayer during his valedictorian speech from South Carolina’s Liberty High School, despite efforts from the Freedom From Religion Foundation to keep the graduation ceremony devoid of sectarianism. It played right into that annoying and false oppression complex Christians are becoming more and more fond of as society slowly moves beyond faith.

Of course, the young man and all of his new fans are falling over each other to claim humility and bravery in the face of the out-of-control secular left, but I’m hard-pressed to find this wreaking of anything but arrogance. Costner could have used his time at the podium to maximize the reach of his message and craft words of encouragement that anyone from any faith could find uplifting. Apparently, that kind of thing would represent a capitulation to those heathens hellbent on undermining the very foundations of this nation.

He had this naive gem for The Blaze:

"Don’t let the few hold you back. Stand up for what you believe in…We have freedom of speech for a reason."

It is a bit humorous, I suppose, how the Christian right wing loves to use the First Amendment to tamp down on the concerns of the minority (secularists and non-Christians). And how awful it must be to exist as a Christian in South Carolina. In truth, the only thing withheld from Costner was his freedom to foist personal beliefs on a captive audience funded by taxpayer money. Opposing this is somehow bravery.

The sound of one hand clapping.

Liberal Critics

Here’s a nice article on the “liberal media’s” reporting on the Boston Bombers’ jihadist motives. The so-called leftist press isn’t anything like apologetic to the influence of radical Islam, despite what some conservatives might want you to believe. That’s progress of a kind.

Poison in a Free State

Business Insider has a great piece about the elder Boston Marathon bomber’s descent into radical Islam, all while enjoying and living in the freest multicultural society on Earth. Tamerlan Tsarnaev fell under the influence of an Armenian convert named Misha, who among other things, persuaded Tsarnaev to give up music (forbidden according to some interpretations of Islam), become interested in the Edicts of the Elders of Zion, and to dismiss the Bible as a “cheap copy” of the Qur’an (anybody who’s studied even a sliver of religious history will know that it’s the other way around).

That a young man living in America could be persuaded so profoundly by radical Islam to commit such a heinous atrocity does not speak well of the success of secular discourse. In many ways, just about every religion is at odds with the march of progress in modern society, but none so actively threatens as does radical Islam. It’s time we really had a reasoned national discussion about Islam and Western secular democracy. The public airwaves are filled with people criticizing Deuteronomy during same-sex equality debates, or on Timothy when discussing women in society. It’s time to acquaint ourselves similarly with the teachings of Islam, inform reasoned opinions, and become forcefully critical of those who want to use it to disrupt civilization. We know most Muslims do not aspire to this kind of violent faith, and its our responsibility to deny it as well.

All this means we need to fight harder to change public discussion on faith, reason, and the differences between our religions. There’s no law that’s going to solve the problem of Islamofascism. It’s a cultural problem. This is a war of ideas, and it’s critical that we win.

Boston Bombers and Islamophobia

Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic makes a good point about the United States withholding the labeling of the Boston Bombers as Islamic jihadists. He says we should wait until we have more information—that there is no harm in waiting. I agree, to an extent.

For its part, the secular community has done a great job of waiting for more information. But the more details come, the more it looks likely that radical Islamic fascism has something to do with the bombers’ motives. Friedersdorf criticizes Andrew Sullivan for saying as much. Or, rather, Sullivan is criticized for his criticism of Glenn Greenwald, who maintains there could be other motives—we just don’t know what they are yet. Friedersdorf seems to side with Greenwald’s “agnosticism” on the point.

That would be all well and good save for the fact that we can’t really rely on Greenwald and other powerful voices on the left to ever truly identify Islam as the problem. If we learned anything about Greenwald’s recent and baseless smear of Sam Harris, it’s that our modern liberals are hellbent on ascribing any motive besides religious extremism to the actions of Islamic terrorists. This will continue to be a problem as we confront the future of terrorism in the waining days of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

By all means, let us examine the motives of people who want to kill and maim innocents, and let us not jump to conclusions. But let us not cripple ourselves from the outset by giving an unfair pass to religious (particularly Islamic) extremism either. Religion is inseparable from political motivation because religion seeks to exert power in the here-and-now, and as such it should be open to criticism.