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Lori Lipman Brown Update [Sep. 3rd, 2006|06:13 am]
atheist under ur bed

As I mentioned in my Oct 1, 2005 entry (item 3 - http://www.opendiary.com/entryview.asp?authorcode=C101953&entry=20528&mode=date), the Secular Coalition for America’s Lori Lipman Brown is hard at work in Washington, DC, lobbying our elected representatives and others on behalf of us atheists and humanists.

The Aug 21 edition of New Jersey’s Daily Record newspaper included a very nice update on her activities. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

 

Lobbyist Represents The Nontheistic View by TIEN-SHUN LEE

MORRIS TWP: Lobbyist Lori Lipman Brown told members of the New Jersey Humanist Network on Sunday that she learned how much her role was needed during the first 24 hours she served as a voice for the Secular Coalition for America.

"I started getting phone calls from people near tears saying, 'I am so glad you're there. I don't know anyone else out here who's a humanist, or an atheist,'" she said, addressing an informal gathering of about 25 humanists at a summer barbecue in Lewis Morris Park. Lipman, who began lobbying for the Secular Coalition for America in September 2005, is one of the few people on Capitol Hill that actively represents a nontheistic viewpoint in issues ranging from Hurricane Katrina victims to stem cell research.

After Hurricane Katrina swept through the southern United States, Lipman fought to stop federal money from being funneled to religious schools in the form of school vouchers for children who were victims of the hurricane.

After Eagle Scout Darrell Lambert was thrown out of the Boy Scouts in 2002 for being an atheist, Lipman supported him and declared the Boy Scouts to be an discriminatory organization that should not receive federal funding.

In the past year, Lipman also supported stem cell research and fought against stripping federal courts of the power to decide on cases involving prayer in school.

"It's been quite an eye-opener,"said Lipman of her one-year experience as a lobbyist. "I had no idea how bad the church-state stuff was."

Sometimes, Lipman is alone in her lobbying efforts, like the time she fought against a section of a large defense appropriations bill that would have allowed for chaplins to proselytize military personnel any time they liked.

Other times, Lipman is part of a group of lobbyists, like when she supported stem cell research.

"I have absolutely no problem working with people who have completely different beliefs than I do," the humanist lobbyist said. "When I worked with the homeless, I worked with Catholic charities and Franciscan monks. I did it because I wanted to do good while we're here, and to leave the world a better place; they did it for a different reason. It didn't matter that we were doing it for different base reasons -- we were both doing good."

Lisa Ridge, the president of the NJHN, who lives in Hopatcong, met Lipman in May at an annual conference of the American Humanist Association in Tampa, Fla., and decided to invite her to Morris County as part of a fundraising effort for the Secular Coalition of America.

A wine and hors d'oeuvres reception at a private home in Hopatcong on Saturday night raised about $1,000 for the organization, Lipman said, and a few more donations were collected at the Sunday barbecue.

While $1,000 may not sound like a lot, it is not trivial given that Lipman's total budget for the year is $140,000. Almost all the donations that the Secular Coalition for America receives are between $25 and $100, Lipman said.

"I think we need to stop sitting around and complaining about what the reality is, and get the message out that we have people speaking for us," Ridge said on Sunday. "The Secular Coalition of America is one way to make what we want happen."

Both Ridge and Lipman agreed that the need for an organized secular coalition became stronger after Sept. 11, 2001.

"Before 9/11, my husband and I were fairly content as atheists and not really joiners," Ridge said. "After 9/11 happened, we began to feel uncomfortable. There were memorials with long prayer services, and we didn't know how we could express the pain that we felt, because we're doers, we're not prayers."

Lipman added that it did not comfort her when people told her that the victims were in a "better place with God."

Ridge and her husband, Tim, decided to join the New Jersey Humanist Network to be among other people who held similar viewpoints of humanity, including the ability of humans to solve problems with intelligence and perseverance, and the belief that humans should be held accountable for their actions.

"One of the things that's appealing to me in humanism is that instead of leaving things to some power to be taken care of, you have to be answerable to everything you do. You actually make amends. There's more responsibility, more ethical standards," said Lipman, who was influenced to by her family to start thinking about humanism between the ages of eight and 10.

Before becoming a lobbyist, Lipman was a private practice lawyer, then a Nevada State Senator from 1992 to 1994, then a high school English and drama teacher, and, most recently, a faculty member of the University of Phoenix, where she taught constitutional and education law, and American history.

Aside from providing humanist-friendly forums to discuss politics and other issues, the NJHN also hosts a book club, a bi-weekly movie night, and seminars.

 

(NOTE: Lori is the daughter of Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association.)

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Theists Vs. The Biosphere [Sep. 1st, 2006|05:08 pm]
atheist under ur bed

Regardless of whether you believe Israel’s Jews or Hezbollah’s Muslims are most responsible for the recent carnage in Lebanon, there’s another side to this tragedy that’s been under-reported yet may end up generating some of the longest-lasting consequences.

I’m referring to the horrendous environmental damage being done by Middle Eastern theists who apparently believe the world exists mainly as a stage for their quarrels to play out on and other species are nothing more than bit players or props to be used and abused at will. The actions of these theists seem to reflect the same mindset that characterizes Christian apocalyptic literature. It’s a terribly self-centered, casually cruel mindset that chills me to the very core.

Here are two recent news stories that describe some of the latest consequences of this mindset:

 

Lebanon Sees Environmental Devastation (Aug 1 - http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=2261344&page=1) - According to ABC News and the Associated Press, "BEIRUT: Endangered turtles die shortly after hatching from their eggs. Fish float dead off the coast. Flaming oil sends waves of black smoke toward the city.

"In this country of Mediterranean beaches and snowcapped mountains, Israeli bombing that caused an oil spill has created an environmental disaster. And cleanup cannot start until the fighting stops, the U.N. says.

"World attention has focused on the hundreds of people who have died in the 3-week-old conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The environmental damage has attracted little attention but experts warn the long-term effects could be devastating.

"Some 110,000 barrels of oil poured into the Mediterranean two weeks ago after Israeli warplanes hit a coastal power plant. One tank is still burning, sending thick black smoke across the country.

"Compounding the problem is an Israeli naval blockade and continuing military operations that have made any cleanup impossible. And environmental officials say the longer the problem is allowed to go unchecked, the greater the lasting damage....

"The oil so far has slicked about one-third of Lebanon's coast, a 50-mile stretch centered on the Jiyeh plant 12 miles south of Beirut, said the country's environment minister, Yaacoub Sarraf. It has also drifted out into the Mediterranean, already hitting neighboring Syria.

"Experts warn Cyprus, Turkey and even Greece could be affected.

"Sarraf said Israeli planes ‘purposely hit the tanks which are the closest to the sea,’ and knocked out the berms designed to prevent any ruptured tanks from sending oil flowing into the waters.

"‘Chances are, our whole marine ecosystem facing the Lebanese shoreline is already dead,’ Sarraf said. ‘What is at stake today is all marine life in the eastern Mediterranean.’

"Israel's Environmental Affairs ministry declined comment, referring questions to the Foreign Ministry, which did not immediately return phone calls.

"Lebanon, whose flag features a cedar tree and which is known by many as Green Lebanon for its forested mountains, is one of the few countries in the Arab world that pays attention to pollution. Minibuses that run on diesel have been banned, while factories are forced to abide by strict rules.

"Now, large parts of the country's sandy and rocky beaches, visited in the past by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, are covered with thick black oil. Many fishermen have been forced out of business, and people are getting scared to eat fish. Baby turtles, usually born in late summer, die after they swim into the polluted water shortly after hatching from eggs.

"Syria was already experiencing similar problems, said Hassan Murjan, who heads the environment department in the Syrian city of Tartous.

"‘The oil pollution has caused serious environmental damage because our coast is rocky and this is very dangerous for marine life,’ Murjan told the official news agency SANA.

"The first country to rush help to Lebanon was Kuwait, which suffered a similar disaster during the 1991 Gulf War. But three truckloads of cleanup supplies the country sent in are stuck in Beirut, with crews waiting for the fighting to wane before beginning work, said the capital's mayor, Abdel Monem Ariss.

"‘We have no access to Lebanon territorial waters,’ Sarraf said. ‘This means that we are already 10 days delayed and in terms of oil pollution, 10 days is a century.’

"Three local environmental organizations demanded a cease-fire to no avail.

"‘Cleanup operations should start as soon as possible; otherwise, most of the damage will be irreversible,’ warned Wael Hmaidan, head of the assessment group on the ground. ‘The more time we allow the oil to settle into the sand, rocks and seabed, the harder it will be to clean it up.’

"Sarraf estimated it will cost $30 million to $50 million to clean up the shorelines, and possibly ten times that much for the entire effort. Optimistic assessments suggest it will take at least six months for the shore cleanup and up to 10 years for ‘the reestablishment of the ecosystem of the eastern Mediterranean as it was two weeks ago,’ he said....

"Sarraf likened the disaster to a spill off France in 1999, when an oil tanker split in two and dumped 70,000 barrels of oil into the Atlantic. But he said this case is complicated by the burning tank and the inability of cleanup crews to begin work.

"We are facing a much more critical problem,’ he said. ‘I say imagine you having your kid sick, knowing that he is sick, and not being able to bring a physician to examine him and to know what is the disease before you start treating him. This is what we are facing.’"

 

Israel’s Forests And Wildlife Also Victims Of Rockets (Aug 2 - http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060802/ap_on_re_mi_ea/israel_scorched_forests_1) - According to Yahoo News and the Associated Press, "Huge swaths of forests and fields across northern Israel have been scorched by thousands of Hezbollah rocket strikes over the past three weeks, and experts said it would take nature at least 50 years to recover.

"Charred branches stuck out of the ground like grave markers at the Mount Naftali Forest overlooking Kiryat Shemona, where entire fields have been reduced to heaps of ash and countless animals killed. But with 19 Israeli civilians killed by the rockets, the plight of the forest has been overlooked.

"‘Usually when people get hurt so does nature, and the other way around,’ said Yossi Sarid, a former environment minister. ‘People do take precedence over nature and wildlife, but the damage is simply awful.’

"In all, the rocket fire has destroyed 16,500 acres of forests and grazing fields, according to Michael Weinberger, the forest supervisor for the Jewish National Fund, the top administrator of Israel's forests. About 1 million trees were destroyed.

"The Mount Naftali Forest was hit by a series of Katyusha rockets earlier this week, setting it ablaze. Afternoon gusts carried the flames, wiping out some 750 acres and trapping gazelles, coyotes, jackals, rabbits and snakes. The stench of smoke lingered a day later. What was once green is now black and gray. More rockets pounded the forest Wednesday.

"Firefighters have been stretched to the limit battling the blazes caused by rockets in urban areas and are reluctant to enter the dangerous, dry and potentially deadly terrain of the forest fires.

"‘With all due respect to nature, I will not risk the lives of my men for it,’ said Danny Hananiya, the fire department chief in the Northern Galilee, whose men have battled some 1,200 fires. ‘It is painful to see, but I have to decide between nature and the firefighters.’...

"Unlike buildings, bridges and other infrastructure that can quickly be rebuilt, forests will need 50 to 60 years to return to what they were before fighting started, said Omri Bonneh, the director of the Jewish National Fund's northern region....

"‘Our main job will be after the war ends, to rehabilitate the entire system,’ said Amikam Riglin, chief of law enforcement at the Jewish National Fund. ‘This is just the beginning.’

"The agency's chief ecologist, Yoram Goldring, said it would take many years to restore balance to the forest's ecosystem — if they're lucky. While some of the larger animals may have managed to escape, he said, the reptiles and insects were all lost."...

 

When will the madness end?

*Sigh* 

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My Religion Good, Yours Bad! [Aug. 30th, 2006|12:43 am]
atheist under ur bed

"I saw the quote on Andrew Sullivan's blog and he expresses well partly what I am trying to say (this quote was part of an entry about Mel Gibson's drunken tirade): ‘Gibson's kind of rigid bigotry is more a function of the fundamentalist temptation within all religion - not religion itself, and certainly not all of Christianity. The biggest lie of our time is that fundamentalism is the only authentic expression of religious faith. In my view, it is often the least authentic.’" - bavmotors1 (8/5/2006 9:43:46-9:44:10 AM)

 

What we seem to have here is yet one more attempt to make a distinction between good religion and bad religion. Such attempts are doomed to fail because all religions share the same fatal flaws: They’re logically absurd, and their basic claims aren’t supported by good empirical evidence.

The fact that some aspects of a religion agrees with what we want to be true or what we think of as moral and nice is irrelevant. As the old joke goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. That doesn’t mean stopped clocks are good clocks.

 

Consider these two cases:

The "demonic" voices in Joe’s head tells him to kill people.

The "divine" voices in Sally’s head tells her to love people.

Should we condemn Joe if he listens to his voices and kills but praise Sally if she listens to hers and loves? No, because listening to voices in our heads simply isn’t a valid way of discovering the truth or determining what we ought to do. The fact that an internal voice born of drugs or alcohol or mental illness may occasionally say something we know is right or good for other reasons doesn’t change this.

 

A logician might get the same point across using this syllogism:

All professional basketball players are tall.

Jim is tall.

Therefore, Jim is a professional basketball player.

This argument is logically invalid and must be rejected even if its conclusion just happens to be true and Jim really is a professional basketball player.

 

People who defend religion because some of its conclusions are sometimes right or good are like people who say a burned down house is a good house because it sits on a good piece of land. No! The two things have to be evaluated individually. After they are, it’s pretty clear that the burned down house of religion is a blot on the land of truth rather than a reflection or an enhancement of it.

Instead of trying to separate religion into good and bad parts or versions, we need to reject ALL religion because it posits the existence of absurd supernatural entities and teaches that absurd practices like prayer can influence the way these entities treat us.

We need to recognize that the voices called "divine revelations" that people hear in their heads (or feel in their hearts) simply aren’t reliable guides to the truth or good behavior.

We need to recognize that the teachings of ancient books shouldn’t be accepted as divine writ and applied willy-nilly to the modern world.

We need to recognize that religious teachers and preachers can’t legitimately claim a hotline to gOd that requires our absolute obedience.

Whether these "divine revelations" and teachings and preachings tell us to hate Jewish people or love them is utterly beside the point. Basing our treatment of others on such things makes no more sense than flipping a coin. The fact that sometimes "heads" will come up and "love Jewish people" is thereby mandated does absolutely nothing to validate the process.

Similarly, the fact that Andrew Sullivan’s version of Christianity may lead him to more good and right conclusions than Mel Gibson’s version does nothing to validate Christianity or religion in general.

 

Those who disagree with me here and think that religions that preach love rather than hate are thereby validated seem to be putting the cart before the horse. Judging religions this way is like judging people solely on the basis of whether or not they agree with us. Although the people who do this always seem to have great respect for religion, they’re actually putting it beneath a greater dogma - such as "It’s better to love people than to hate them." That particular dogma may well be superior to its opposite, but it’s empiricism and practicality that allows me to say this - not religion.

If his religion really was the most important thing for Sullivan, he would defend its essence and methods quite independently of the particular conclusions it comes to. After doing this, he would embrace the conclusions it comes to even if one of those conclusions happens to be "Hate Jewish people." Empiricism and practicality would play no role. Instead, he seems to believe (for empirical reasons?) that it’s better to love than to hate and then judges religions on the basis of whether or not they conform to this belief. This would undercut the importance he places on religion even as he seems to be defending it.

If, on the other hand, he actually can make the case that his version of Christianity is somehow better grounded than Gibson’s, I’d love to hear it. Extensive study indicates to me that the two versions are equally arbitrary as religions. It’s only empirical analysis that allows us to say that the conclusions of one are better than the conclusions of the other - but if we’re going to base our beliefs and behavior on empiricism, who needs religion?

 

Religion in the writing of people like Sullivan seems to serve the same purpose Tiger Woods does in car commercials. People in general seem to have a good impression of Tiger Woods, so companies want him to be associated with whatever they’re selling so people will have a good impression of it, too, even if the two have little or nothing to do with each other.

For a rational person who’s most interested in answering the question "What’s the best car for me to buy?" Tiger Woods is more or less an unfortunate distraction.

So is religion when we're trying to answer questions about the nature of reality or how we ought to live.

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Storm Warnings [Aug. 21st, 2006|06:55 pm]
atheist under ur bed

Are you still a Christian?

Here are seven more reasons to change your mind before it’s too late!

 

Baptist Church In Georgia Gutted By Fire Started By Lightning (July 26) - According to the Statesboro Herald, "Thunderstorms bringing lightning and strong winds over the past few days downed trees and limbs, caused minor property damage and resulted in a fire caused by a lightning strike Monday that damaged a southeastern Bulloch County church.

"Lawrence Baptist Church, on Jones Road, off Lawrence Church Road, suffered heavy damage to the sanctuary and smoke damage elsewhere in the building, according to reports.

"The church fire was the worst damage the storms caused, said Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn.

"‘We believe (the lightning strike) came in through the steeple,’ he said. The fire was reported around 6 p.m. Monday, and although several fire departments responded ‘with 17 pieces of machinery and 52 firefighters,’ the sanctuary could not be saved, he said.

"However, two social halls were spared, he said. [Evidence that Jesus prefers partying to preaching?]

"The church is an older wood-frame building that was bricked up, ‘a beautiful little church,’ Wynn said. But it had plenty of heart pine, which is highly flammable, in the attic.

"Responding firefighters said they heard the rafters and heart pine wood ‘popping,’ and while they did everything they could, the fire raged out of control and burned that portion of the church, he said....

"The evening thunderstorms over the past few days have brought wind, hail, and rain to the county, as well as lightning, Wynn said. But the strike to the church is the only one reported to have caused damage."...

 

Thunderbolt Knocks Baptist TV Station In Mississippi Off The Air (July 26) - According to HattiesburgAmerican.com, "Comcast Cable channel 6, the First Baptist Church of Hattiesburg channel, will be off the air for several days.

"‘We were struck by lightning this weekend,’ said Sean Grizzle, media associate for First Baptist Church. ‘Hopefully we'll be back up by the weekend.’

"The channel airs taped church services as well as locally produced shows such as ‘Southern Sketches,’ with Hattiesburg artist and First Baptist Church media director Anthony Thaxton."

 

Episcopal Church In West Virginia Damaged By Storm (July 29) - According to Maryland’s Herald-Mail.com website, "BUNKER HILL, West Virgina: Strong wind gusts on Thursday night ripped off a large section of the green metal roof of Christ Church, one of Berkeley County's oldest Episcopal houses of worship.

"‘I am deeply saddened that Christ Church, Bunker Hill, has again been damaged by natural or human disasters,’ W. Michie Klusmeyer, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church of West Virginia, said Friday after surveying the damage at the church off Runnymeade Road.

"We continue to be committed to restoring it ... our insurance company is fast on track to protect the building from any further damage from its most recent situation,’ Klusmeyer said.... [Am I the only one who thinks it mighty odd for a church to insure itself against acts of gOd?]

"[Firefighter Brian] Golliday said he had a hard time believing the wind was able to carry such a large section of Christ Church's roof, along with spouting and timbers, more than 50 yards in the air before landing in a crumpled pile next to tombstones dating to the 1700s. [So maybe an angry divinity helped it along, eh? What other possible explanation could there be??]

"A window over the entrance to the church also was blown out by the wind. [Mighty suggestive, isn’t it?]

"Christ Church was built in 1851 on the site where Episcopalians first gathered in 1740. Col. Morgan Morgan, considered to be the first settler in what now is West Virginia, was credited for establishing the first church, and the current structure is believed to be at least the third to be built on the site, according to Don C. Wood, president of the Berkeley County Historical Society.

"In the last 15 years, two fires have damaged the church, and open windows allowed pigeons to wreck the sanctuary with droppings."...

[According to Matthew 10:29, a sparrow can’t fall without gOd knowing it. Can pigeons wreck a sanctuary without his approval? Explain.]

 

New Hampshire Storm Topples Steeple Of Historic Congregationalist Church</a> (July 30) - According to the Boston Globe and the Associated Press, "PORTSMOUTH, NH: Yellow caution tape blocked off Pleasant Street in Market Square yesterday, as onlookers snapped pictures of the historic North Church, which lost its new spire Friday night during a sudden thunderstorm.

"Officials do not know whether it was wind, lightning, or both that caused the spire to fall and sent scaffolding plummeting more than 100 feet to the street below. No one was hurt from the collapse, but the scaffolding crushed some cars.

"Gloria Wennberg was closing a walking tour and visitor information booth in the lively square Friday evening as the thunderstorms quickly approached the area. ["Surely I come quickly" - Jesus, Rev. 22:20.]

"It was not until she awoke yesterday morning that she learned what had happened to Portsmouth's landmark church.

"‘It was definitely a shock,’ Wennberg said yesterday from the tour booth across the street from the Congregational church, which dates to the 1850s. [I suppose one might even call it a wake-up call, eh, Gloria? Are you listening??]

"The lower portion of the church steeple, which is being renovated, was not damaged. The old spire was removed two weeks ago, but the storm knocked down what had recently replaced it, according to Jameson French, chairman of the Market Square Steeple Fund Advisory Committee.

"While construction crews worked on the roof yesterday, Antonio Peppers, who was sitting at a cafe on Congress Street, said he thought it was ironic that men had put up the scaffold, but nature brought it down.

"‘It was God that brought the storm through here,’ said Peppers, 46, of Portsmouth. ‘God bless that nobody got hurt.’"...

[DOH! I bet Peppers would find a silver lining in Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction, too.]

According to an Aug 3 follow-up story posted by New Hampshire’s Union Leader, "About $100,000 worth of donations have poured into the North Church's restoration fund since its steeple was toppled in a storm last Friday, but none of that money is expected to go toward replacing the lost spire.

"Instead, the money is for an ongoing $1.5 million restoration of the church, while insurance is expected to cover the cost of replacing the steeple, which was brought down by high winds amid the storm last week.

"The steeple's destruction, and its ensuing media attention, has energized church officials and attracted donors from across the state - including Gov. John Lynch, who spoke here yesterday in support of the fundraising drive.

"‘I urge everybody in New Hampshire to contribute along with me to restoring the Market Square steeple,’ Lynch said at a news conference yesterday in the square....

"Community support has run high since the steeple fell, said church Rev. Dawn Shippee, giving the bad situation a silver lining.

"‘All the reasons people live in Portsmouth has been very clear in the last week,’ she said of the generosity. ‘The impact of the spire being gone has allowed people to go, "Wow, that's what it would look like without the steeple."’

"That strong winds, rather than lightning, brought down the steeple also led to an outpouring of support for the church's restoration, Pettis said. [Because lightning is a clearer sign of gOd’s wrath??]

"The extra $100,000 in donations raised the church's total fundraising campaign to more than $500,000, out of the total $1 million needed. Another $500,000 was raised by the church's congregation last year.

"Before the steeple's fall, about $400,000 had been raised for the church's restoration since February of last year.

"Media attention and Lynch's appearance are expected to continue to fuel donations to the restoration fund, which church officials hope will meet its goal by the end of the year. The ongoing restorations and renovations are expected to be completed by year end as well, barring any delays."

[I guess these "Let’s poke a stick in gOd’s eye" people would have eagerly rushed to rebuild the Tower of Babel, too!]

 

Lightning Topples Cross From Atop Michigan Church, Starts Fire (July 31) - According to the Ironwood Daily Globe, "WAKEFIELD: Wakefield's Immaculate Conception Church is temporarily closed after sustaining fire and water damage after its steeple was struck by lightning early Saturday.

"Mary LaMaide called the fire in at 5:15 a.m. after smelling smoke.

"‘My husband said someone was burning something,’ she said. ‘I said they couldn't be burning because it's raining outside.’

"LaMaide and her family were spending the night at her husband, Gavin's, family home, due east of the church.

"Wakefield firefighters used the electric department's boom truck to reach the steeple. The 5-foot cross atop the spire later fell, breaking the windshield on the truck, according to city lead man John Granato. [A warning to all those who try to frustrate gOd’s will??]

"The Lake Gogebic Volunteer Fire Department brought its ladder truck under the region's mutual aid agreement, Granato said.

"‘Until further notice, Masses will be held in Father Daniel Hall,’ said parish priest the Rev. James Roetzer.

"‘We're bringing a crew in from Washburn, Wis.,’ said Candie Frank, of ServiceMaster of Ironwood. Frank was at Immaculate Conception assessing damage and mapping a strategy to clean up the mess.

"Water was still dripping to the floor of the sanctuary at mid-morning, and the church smelled of smoke. Frank said a breaker tripped during an attempt at restoring electrical power, further complicating the clean-up effort. [Remember - if gOd’s in control, there are no coincidences!]

"The church and steeple had been reroofed a year ago. A construction lift was parked near the church Saturday and preparations had begun to weatherproof the building.

"The fire wasn't the worst in the history of the church. A 1909 fire razed the original church, which was replaced by the brick structure that now stands at the corner of Pierce and Ascherman streets."...

 

Lightning Sets Catholic Church’s Steeple On Fire In Wisconsin (Aug 3) - According to Janesville, Wisconsin’s GazetteExtra.com, "DELAVAN: A lightning strike Wednesday evening set fire to the 140-foot steeple above the bell tower of St. Andrew's Catholic Church.

"Delavan's Matthew Olson reported the fire about 6:10 p.m.

"‘I was coming back from the grocery store and saw smoke billowing out of the top of the steeple,’ Olson said.

"He called 911 to report the fire then ran to see if anyone was inside. The doors to the church were locked, so he ran to the nearby St. Andrew's School.

"Volunteers and school staff were inside and hurried to the church to save any items they could.

"They were able [to] save the crucifix on the altar, the Eucharist, wine and challises, said Melody Shanahan, who was in the school with other volunteers.

"‘Then we blew out the candles and got the heck out,’ she said.

"The city of Delavan fire department had help from the town of Delavan, Darien, Elkhorn and Walworth.

"About 70 firefighters were on the scene, said Assistant Fire Chief Tim O'Neill, who also is a parishioner at the church and city police chief [Hmmm, can a Christian police chief "turn the other cheek" and "resist not evil" as Jesus demanded? Perhaps he’s the reason the church got zapped!] The fire was under control in about an hour, he said.

"‘Whenever it is a place of worship that is on fire it's always sad for somebody, whether it's me or somebody else,’ O'Neill said. [So is it a happy time for everyone when a house or business burns?? Maybe it’s this sort of attitude that drew gOd’s wrath!]

"Fire crews were able to contain the blaze to the steeple area above the bell tower, O'Neill said. They climbed over the bell tower to battle the blaze from the inside while engines poured water and foam onto the shingled roof.

"Two firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion. [Perhaps a taste of the hellfire they’re destined for if they keep frustrating the will of gOd?] One was hospitalized but released a short time later.

"Water and smoke damage was limited to the areas in the steeple, parts of the build directly below the steeple and the front entry.

"The main body of the church and the choir balcony were not damaged, O'Neill said.

"But fire officials fear that damage inside the steeple makes the structure susceptible to toppling. Two crane operators examined the steeple Wednesday night but didn't believe their equipment was big enough to safely remove it, said Bob Ludowise, Delavan fire inspector.

"‘Our chief concern was the steeple falling into the church and then lighting the church (on fire),’ O'Neill said. [Oh, ye of little faith!]

"Fire officials also were concerned the steeple would fall east onto a power line that supplies electricity to much of Delavan's north side, O'Neill said.

"The large, copper cross that tops the steeple is another reason for worry. [Indeed!] Fire officials aren't sure if its hollow or solid and don't know how much it weighs. [Can you really be a good Christian and know so little about the cross?]

"The plan for today was to bring in two large cranes to remove the cross and assess how much of the steeple needs to come down, Ludowise said.

"The Rev. Brian Holbus said the congregation of about 600 will rally to have the steeple rebuilt. [DOH!]

"‘We'll be selling a lot of cupcakes, tamales and fish fries,’ he said. [Sounds like a combination you might find on Hell’s Menu, doesn’t it?]

"Holbus said he always worried about a fire inside the church caused by a toppled candle, not from a lightning strike.

"‘You always worry in an old church like this that something is going to burn, but not like this,’ Holbus said. [So, churches DO increase worry!]

"St. Andrew's was renovated 11 years ago for its 100th birthday.

"The church was empty when the bolt hit, although a Spanish prayer group was about to start a meeting inside the nearby rectory." [Hmmmm... Pretty suggestive, isn’t it? And just think of all the disasters that befell the US and the world before organized school prayer was banned by the Supreme Court in 1963!] ....

 

Iowa Catholic Church Leveled By Storm</a> (Aug 3) - According to the Des Moines Register, "A century-old church in Cherokee County lost the battle with strong winds and rain Tuesday night.

"Maryhill Catholic Church outside Meriden was leveled by winds that reached up to 90 mph.

"‘All that's left is the basement,’ Dave Skou, communication center supervisor for the sheriff's department, said of the church. [Apparently the closer you are to Satan during a storm, the better!]

"Maryhill Catholic Church was founded in 1892, but burned down 12 years later after it was struck by lightning. [Yet another church subject to multiple warnings!] It was rebuilt and reopened in 1905.

"‘There's not much point in rebuilding it. The population out here is dwindling,’ the Rev. Gene Sitzmann said. Meriden has about 190 residents.

"Sitzmann, who was Mary-hill's pastor for 30 years before retiring, lived next door to the church. His own home sustained ‘minimal damage,’ he said, including a few broken windows and damaged siding.

"Dan Steward, the church caretaker, also lived on the property and had some broken windows. [Apparently those living further away from the church suffered NO damage. Hmmm....]

"Sitzmann, who will remain at the same location he is now, added that Maryhill church members will more than likely be invited to join nearby parishes, although he couldn't say which ones."... [Heh. I guess they believe that if gOd wants to track ‘em down and hit ‘em again, he’s gonna have to work at it!]

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Mel Lipman Q & A [Aug. 21st, 2006|06:54 pm]
atheist under ur bed

A brief review:

Mel Lipman, President of the American Humanist Association, was in town one recent weekend.

On the Saturday afternoon of that weekend he gave a public speech. My last entry included a transcript of that speech.

When the speech was over, Mel took about 23 questions (and comments) from the audience.

Here is a brief summary of what those questions/comments were and how Mel responded. (NOTE: This highly condensed summary is based upon my notes and recollections. Although I believe it to be accurate as far as it goes, it is my creation and undoubtedly reflects my own limitations in ways I might not even be aware of. If you happen to have been there and believe I’ve gotten my facts wrong, please feel free to tell me.)

 

*****

 

Question 1: Your speech pretty much focused on the US. What are things like in the rest of the world? I’ve heard that Ireland used to be 99.9% Catholic and now fewer than 25% of the people are....

Answer: Europe is much more progressive. Norway has a state church - it’s officially a theocracy - but 75% of the people there consider themselves secular. When I visited Germany I found that their humanist association had between 15,000 and 18,000 members. The AHA in our country has 8000 members. That’s about double what it was four years ago but we still have a lot of work to do. I would love for the US to be as progressive as Europe.

 

Question 2: I’m a former Catholic. My son was raised a humanist-atheist but now he’s married a Catholic and is backsliding. What can I do?

Answer: Accept it. There’s nothing you can do. His wife has more power over him than you do.

(My response: *SIGH* How self-defeating....)

 

Question 3: With regard to the first question, I’ve learned that Denmark might be the most humanistic-atheistic country in Europe, if not the world. Its people also rank among the happiest.

Answer: Right. (Nods and smiles)

 

Question 4: (The questioner basically recounted the story of Chuck Smalkowski, the Oklahoma atheist whose family paid a price after his daughter objected to prayer at her school. Details can be found in an OD entry I posted on July 8 - http://www.opendiary.com/entryview.asp?authorcode=C101953&entry=20970)

Answer: It’s cases like that that has prompted the AHA to start a Humanist Legal Center. So far we’ve signed up 10 lawyers across the country who are willing to go to bat for humanists as the need arises. Michael Newdow - who brought the famous case against "under God" in the Pledge - is one of those 10.

Not long ago someone complained to me about a graduation prayer that was being given by a member of the clergy at an Ohio high school. I wrote a letter to the officials there on official AHA stationary, threatening to take legal action if they didn’t stop it. It was pretty much a bluff at the time, since we didn’t have our Legal Center in place yet and, although I AM an attorney, I really wasn’t in any position to follow up on my threat. Fortunately, they backed down and promised to stop offering these prayers - just because I sent a letter. We hope to eventually have volunteer lawyers in every state so we can do more.

 

Question 5: I’ve found that people are receptive to hearing about my humanist beliefs until I use the word "atheist" - that kills things. We need to avoid that term. It’s all about packaging....

Answer: (I believe what Mel said was that the term is going to come up even if we try to avoid it. I think he even cited his experience during a radio interview the previous day in which he gave an outline of humanist beliefs that included the term "without supernaturalism" and people quickly figured out he meant "without gOd" and that quickly became the focus of the conversation. I think Mel then said that we have to honestly acknowledge our atheism even as we refrain from rubbing people’s noses in it.)

 

Question 6: You asked "Do your neighbors know you’re a humanist?" Mine do - and I find that they’ve accepted me once they got to know me as a person. It’s the same thing with me as one-half of a lesbian couple. We moved to an area where I thought things might be dicey but once people got to know us, all was well.

Answer: Exactly. We need to come out more.

 

Question 7: (This question or statement was about humanists coming out. It was too convoluted or trite for me to make any notes regarding it. Or maybe I was just distracted....)

Answer: (Wish I knew!)

 

Question 8: I’m a humanist mother with humanist kids and I’ve discovered that when I’ve talked to my kids’s teachers about it, they often stop and go, "Hey, that’s what I am, too! I just never knew that was the label for what I believe." The teachers have been very accepting and some have even changed the way they teach about holidays, etc., so that they make students aware that there’s a humanist point of view, too.

Answer: Great.

 

Question 9: I’m a humanist mother, too, but I and my kids have been shunned as a result. Everything was fine, the kids played together, etc., but when the other kids’s mom found out we were humanists, they told their kids that they could no longer play with mine.

Answer: (I think Mel basically agreed that, yes, prejudice remains and is bad.)

 

Question 10: (The questioner talked about having just seen author Margaret Atwood interviewed by Bill Moyers on his current PBS series dealing with religion. Atwood identified herself as an agnostic. The questioner wondered about this. I believe Mel responded by mentioning how he had handled things the day before on the radio when asked if he was an atheist. He had said that he doesn’t believe in gOd but that he doesn’t say gOd does not exist. "So you’re really an agnostic?" the caller had pressed. "OK, yes," Mel more or less conceded the point rather than get bogged down in semantics.)

SIDENOTE: This issue came up repeatedly over the weekend - and every time it did I was annoyed by the way it was handled. It reminded me of evolutionist-creationist debates in which creationists say evolution is "only a theory" - which of course betrays a profound ignorance about the way scientists properly define theory. In most evolutionist-creationist debates, however, the scientist quickly sets the creationist straight. When it came to the atheist-agnostic issue this last weekend, however, neither Mel nor anyone else seems to have been capable of explaining things correctly. I suppose this is because the issue is a bit complex and Mel is a spokesperson for humanism - NOT a philosopher.

Here - briefly - is the answer I believe Mel should have given (based on George H. Smith’s book, Atheism: The Case Against God, among other sources):

Although the term "agnosticism" is commonly believed to describe a position halfway between theism and atheism, it really doesn’t. "Atheism" and "theism" relate to belief; "agnosticism" relates to knowledge. Agnostic (derived from the Greek gnosis, "to know"), means "without knowledge" or "one without knowledge."

You can be an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist. The agnostic theist says, "I don’t have any knowledge of gOd - but I have faith and believe anyway." The agnostic atheist says, "I don’t have any knowledge of gOd - and in the absence of knowledge, we shouldn’t believe gOd exists." That kind of atheist is often referred to as a "soft" or "weak" atheist (which Mel seems to be).

"Soft" and "weak" aren’t meant as pejorative terms but are used as a way of distinguishing this sort of atheism from "hard" or "strong" atheism - the kind that says "gOd does not exist." This type of atheism is usually based on the idea that the very concept of gOd is incomprehensible or absurd (as well as the utter absence of evidence for any gOd). For example, the common Judeo-Christian definition of gOd as all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good is inherently self-contradictory (as the quote from Epicurus on my front page explains). The common claim that gOd is a being unlike any other being also seems to generate fatal problems. (For example, gOd is alleged to be a being with a consciousness apart from a brain even though every consciousness we know of is completely dependent on brain. The claim that gOd has a disembodied or "spiritual" consciousness but no physical brain thus appears to be analogous to describing an object as having size or weight but not having height, length, depth, or mass.) The common idea of gOd also seems absurd when the term "perfect creator" is part of it. Why? Because perfect beings wouldn’t need to create anything - by definition, they’d be self-sufficient. Any act of creation would be unnecessary and superfluous - words that simply can’t be applied to perfect beings.

This is some of why I’m a hard or strong atheist - and why Mel’s weak defense of weak atheism really bothered me.

 

Question 11: (The "questioner" made a statement about her involvement with Camp Quest - the summer camp for non-believers [http://www.camp-quest.org/]. Some 31 kids participated this year. They loved being in an environment where it was ok not to believe in gOd. Yay!)

 

Question 12: You talked about the differences between the US and Europe but what about regional differences within the US?

Answer: The two coasts seem to have the most humanists. And South Carolina, surprisingly enough. My guess is that’s because religion is so powerful there that humanists and atheists have had to get together out of a sense of self-preservation. Of all the states, though, California probably ranks #1 for humanists. Only four states have no AHA affiliates: Delaware, Arkansas, and North and South Dakota.

 

Question 13: (The "questioner" made a statement about the years-long lack of public access TV in Columbus and urged people to contact the mayor and city council in an attempt to get this service restored. When Columbus did have public access TV, humanist tapes were regularly broadcast.)

 

Question 14: (The "questioner" seconded #13's recommendation and recounted seeing one of those humanist tapes on Passover and liking it.)

 

Question 15: All babies are born atheists. So why do they grow up to be theists? Is it the human need to belong to a group?

Answer: Yes. But there’s a need for answers, too. I have no problem with saying "I don’t know" but a lot of people do. That’s when they resort to the so-called "gOd of the gaps" - whenever they come to something they can’t figure out, well, gOd must have done it. As scientific knowledge has advanced, the realm of this gOd has gotten smaller and smaller.

 

Question 16: You made a distinction between attacking religion and criticizing religion. What exactly is the difference?

Answer: It’s like being a movie critic. You can review individual movies and say what’s good or bad about them, but you can’t just say "All movies are bad."

SIDENOTE: This was another issue which I think Mel failed to properly address. In my estimation (and that of people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins), we can and must reject all forms of religion because all forms suffer from the same fatal flaws: They simply don’t make sense; there’s no good evidence to support their claims; and they inspire Very Bad behavior.

Mel, however, seems to believe that we can separate good theists from bad theists - the good theists being those who believe in love, and gay rights, and church-state separation. As a practical matter, he believes we need to cooperate with them to get things done and offset the real danger - fundamentalism.

In my estimation, the most important thing we need to do is expose religion for the dangerous absurdity it is. Instead of using a movie analogy, I’d compare it to child abuse. Just as no one should try to defend child abuse on the grounds that it does some good (e.g., it makes the abuser feel better, it teaches kids not to trust adults, it provides huge numbers of clients for psychiatrists and psychologists and social workers, and - when it results in death - it helps with the overpopulation problem), no one should try to defend religion on the grounds that it sometimes does good things. There’s nothing positive that’s associated with religion that can’t be obtained in better, safer ways. Like child abuse, however, there are some Very Bad Things associated with religion that religion simply can’t avoid generating (such as teaching people it’s ok to embrace and act on absurd and empirically unsupported beliefs). We’d be better off dumping it entirely rather than cooperating with religionists to achieve some much less important goal.

 

Question 17: Are irrationalism and humanism irreconcilable?

Answer: Yes. But we still need to work with liberal religionists to get some things done.

 

Question 18: On the radio yesterday you said you were a humanist minister. What’s that all about?

Answer: I live in Nevada. We wanted to be able to offer humanist wedding services for our members. Nevada, however, insists you have to be a minister to do this. So I filed the necessary paperwork to have myself listed as a humanist minister. You have to belong to a national organization - which I do - and so on. So now I can perform weddings. It also allows me to participate in my local interfaith group. Some of the others in it grumbled, but now we humanists have a voice there. And I also can now serve as a humanist chaplain in prisons - even though I don’t really need to, since there are so few humanists in prison! (Laughter)

 

Question 19: (Statement) Unitarian ministers can be atheists. I’ve heard that at least one of the ministers at the Unitarian church you’ll be talking at tomorrow calls himself an agnostic atheist.

 

Question 20: I’ve listened to your talk but I still don’t get it. What’s THE humanist issue?

Answer: The issue is that we’re being demonized by our culture and society and we need to get together to educate people and stop this. We need to counter the wrong and dangerous idea that in order to be patriotic in this country, you have to be a theist.

 

Question 21: (Statement) I think some people have trouble tolerating uncertainty.

 

Question 22: I came in late so maybe I missed this but do humanists have a political platform?

Answer: (I think Mel said that while his organization can’t endorse political candidates it can and does address issues. The AHA is for human rights, gay rights, reproductive choice, and stem cell research. In his estimation, the hot issues of the day - gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research - are hot issues because of religion.)

 

Question 23: (This was more of a long, rambling statement by an elderly man. When he first got up and started speaking in a VERY loud voice I thought, "Oh-oh, we have our first Christian witness!" But no - he went into a short dissertation on how the Enlightenment rather than religion inspired the Founding Fathers. But then he talked about how the 9th and 10th Amendments to the US Constitution safeguard our rights from government infringement. In his opinion, if the government actually obeyed these amendments, issues such as gay marriage and abortion wouldn’t be issues at all - the government would simply lack the power to regulate them. Mel was polite in his response. He later indicated at the dinner that followed his talk that the guy was misinformed. Since Mel is a lawyer who has taught Constitutional law, I assume he knows what he’s talking about.)

 

*****

 

NOTE: One of the questioners (maybe #7) mentioned how he’d never heard about our local humanist group before and said we needed to do a better job getting the word out. Our local president then stood up and informed him that we’ve tried. In fact, some 29 press packets were sent out recently to local newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations encouraging them to send reporters to a press conference Mel held Friday afternoon. Not one reporter showed up. This news brought audible gasps from the audience. Mel indicated that this was pretty typical. The highest number of reporters that have ever attended a press conference of his is two. The average? 0.25. Our local president encouraged audience members to contact the "Faith & Values" editor at the Columbus Dispatch and ask for more coverage of the atheist-humanist point of view. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if they do - and if it makes any difference.

 

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Mel Lipman Q & A [Aug. 18th, 2006|10:27 pm]
atheist under ur bed

A brief review:

Mel Lipman, President of the American Humanist Association, was in town one recent weekend.

On the Saturday afternoon of that weekend he gave a public speech. My last entry included a transcript of that speech.

When the speech was over, Mel took about 23 questions (and comments) from the audience.

Here is a brief summary of what those questions/comments were and how Mel responded. (NOTE: This highly condensed summary is based upon my notes and recollections. Although I believe it to be accurate as far as it goes, it is my creation and undoubtedly reflects my own limitations in ways I might not even be aware of. If you happen to have been there and believe I’ve gotten my facts wrong, please feel free to tell me.)

 

*****

 

Question 1: Your speech pretty much focused on the US. What are things like in the rest of the world? I’ve heard that Ireland used to be 99.9% Catholic and now fewer than 25% of the people are....

Answer: Europe is much more progressive. Norway has a state church - it’s officially a theocracy - but 75% of the people there consider themselves secular. When I visited Germany I found that their humanist association had between 15,000 and 18,000 members. The AHA in our country has 8000 members. That’s about double what it was four years ago but we still have a lot of work to do. I would love for the US to be as progressive as Europe.

 

Question 2: I’m a former Catholic. My son was raised a humanist-atheist but now he’s married a Catholic and is backsliding. What can I do?

Answer: Accept it. There’s nothing you can do. His wife has more power over him than you do.

(My response: *SIGH* How self-defeating....)

 

Question 3: With regard to the first question, I’ve learned that Denmark might be the most humanistic-atheistic country in Europe, if not the world. Its people also rank among the happiest.

Answer: Right. (Nods and smiles)

 

Question 4: (The questioner basically recounted the story of Chuck Smalkowski, the Oklahoma atheist whose family paid a price after his daughter objected to prayer at her school. Details can be found in an OD entry I posted on July 8 - http://www.opendiary.com/entryview.asp?authorcode=C101953&entry=20970)

Answer: It’s cases like that that has prompted the AHA to start a Humanist Legal Center. So far we’ve signed up 10 lawyers across the country who are willing to go to bat for humanists as the need arises. Michael Newdow - who brought the famous case against "under God" in the Pledge - is one of those 10.

Not long ago someone complained to me about a graduation prayer that was being given by a member of the clergy at an Ohio high school. I wrote a letter to the officials there on official AHA stationary, threatening to take legal action if they didn’t stop it. It was pretty much a bluff at the time, since we didn’t have our Legal Center in place yet and, although I AM an attorney, I really wasn’t in any position to follow up on my threat. Fortunately, they backed down and promised to stop offering these prayers - just because I sent a letter. We hope to eventually have volunteer lawyers in every state so we can do more.

 

Question 5: I’ve found that people are receptive to hearing about my humanist beliefs until I use the word "atheist" - that kills things. We need to avoid that term. It’s all about packaging....

Answer: (I believe what Mel said was that the term is going to come up even if we try to avoid it. I think he even cited his experience during a radio interview the previous day in which he gave an outline of humanist beliefs that included the term "without supernaturalism" and people quickly figured out he meant "without gOd" and that quickly became the focus of the conversation. I think Mel then said that we have to honestly acknowledge our atheism even as we refrain from rubbing people’s noses in it.)

 

Question 6: You asked "Do your neighbors know you’re a humanist?" Mine do - and I find that they’ve accepted me once they got to know me as a person. It’s the same thing with me as one-half of a lesbian couple. We moved to an area where I thought things might be dicey but once people got to know us, all was well.

Answer: Exactly. We need to come out more.

 

Question 7: (This question or statement was about humanists coming out. It was too convoluted or trite for me to make any notes regarding it. Or maybe I was just distracted....)

Answer: (Wish I knew!)

 

Question 8: I’m a humanist mother with humanist kids and I’ve discovered that when I’ve talked to my kids’s teachers about it, they often stop and go, "Hey, that’s what I am, too! I just never knew that was the label for what I believe." The teachers have been very accepting and some have even changed the way they teach about holidays, etc., so that they make students aware that there’s a humanist point of view, too.

Answer: Great.

 

Question 9: I’m a humanist mother, too, but I and my kids have been shunned as a result. Everything was fine, the kids played together, etc., but when the other kids’s mom found out we were humanists, they told their kids that they could no longer play with mine.

Answer: (I think Mel basically agreed that, yes, prejudice remains and is bad.)

 

Question 10: (The questioner talked about having just seen author Margaret Atwood interviewed by Bill Moyers on his current PBS series dealing with religion. Atwood identified herself as an agnostic. The questioner wondered about this. I believe Mel responded by mentioning how he had handled things the day before on the radio when asked if he was an atheist. He had said that he doesn’t believe in gOd but that he doesn’t say gOd does not exist. "So you’re really an agnostic?" the caller had pressed. "OK, yes," Mel more or less conceded the point rather than get bogged down in semantics.)

SIDENOTE: This issue came up repeatedly over the weekend - and every time it did I was annoyed by the way it was handled. It reminded me of evolutionist-creationist debates in which creationists say evolution is "only a theory" - which of course betrays a profound ignorance about the way scientists properly define theory. In most evolutionist-creationist debates, however, the scientist quickly sets the creationist straight. When it came to the atheist-agnostic issue this last weekend, however, neither Mel nor anyone else seems to have been capable of explaining things correctly. I suppose this is because the issue is a bit complex and Mel is a spokesperson for humanism - NOT a philosopher.

Here - briefly - is the answer I believe Mel should have given (based on George H. Smith’s book, Atheism: The Case Against God, among other sources):

Although the term "agnosticism" is commonly believed to describe a position halfway between theism and atheism, it really doesn’t. "Atheism" and "theism" relate to belief; "agnosticism" relates to knowledge. Agnostic (derived from the Greek gnosis, "to know"), means "without knowledge" or "one without knowledge."

You can be an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist. The agnostic theist says, "I don’t have any knowledge of gOd - but I have faith and believe anyway." The agnostic atheist says, "I don’t have any knowledge of gOd - and in the absence of knowledge, we shouldn’t believe gOd exists." That kind of atheist is often referred to as a "soft" or "weak" atheist (which Mel seems to be).

"Soft" and "weak" aren’t meant as pejorative terms but are used as a way of distinguishing this sort of atheism from "hard" or "strong" atheism - the kind that says "gOd does not exist." This type of atheism is usually based on the idea that the very concept of gOd is incomprehensible or absurd (as well as the utter absence of evidence for any gOd). For example, the common Judeo-Christian definition of gOd as all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good is inherently self-contradictory (as the quote from Epicurus on my front page explains). The common claim that gOd is a being unlike any other being also seems to generate fatal problems. (For example, gOd is alleged to be a being with a consciousness apart from a brain even though every consciousness we know of is completely dependent on brain. The claim that gOd has a disembodied or "spiritual" consciousness but no physical brain thus appears to be analogous to describing an object as having size or weight but not having height, length, depth, or mass.) The common idea of gOd also seems absurd when the term "perfect creator" is part of it. Why? Because perfect beings wouldn’t need to create anything - by definition, they’d be self-sufficient. Any act of creation would be unnecessary and superfluous - words that simply can’t be applied to perfect beings.

This is some of why I’m a hard or strong atheist - and why Mel’s weak defense of weak atheism really bothered me.

 

Question 11: (The "questioner" made a statement about her involvement with Camp Quest - the summer camp for non-believers [http://www.camp-quest.org/]. Some 31 kids participated this year. They loved being in an environment where it was ok not to believe in gOd. Yay!)

 

Question 12: You talked about the differences between the US and Europe but what about regional differences within the US?

Answer: The two coasts seem to have the most humanists. And South Carolina, surprisingly enough. My guess is that’s because religion is so powerful there that humanists and atheists have had to get together out of a sense of self-preservation. Of all the states, though, California probably ranks #1 for humanists. Only four states have no AHA affiliates: Delaware, Arkansas, and North and South Dakota.

 

Question 13: (The "questioner" made a statement about the years-long lack of public access TV in Columbus and urged people to contact the mayor and city council in an attempt to get this service restored. When Columbus did have public access TV, humanist tapes were regularly broadcast.)

 

Question 14: (The "questioner" seconded #13's recommendation and recounted seeing one of those humanist tapes on Passover and liking it.)

 

Question 15: All babies are born atheists. So why do they grow up to be theists? Is it the human need to belong to a group?

Answer: Yes. But there’s a need for answers, too. I have no problem with saying "I don’t know" but a lot of people do. That’s when they resort to the so-called "gOd of the gaps" - whenever they come to something they can’t figure out, well, gOd must have done it. As scientific knowledge has advanced, the realm of this gOd has gotten smaller and smaller.

 

Question 16: You made a distinction between attacking religion and criticizing religion. What exactly is the difference?

Answer: It’s like being a movie critic. You can review individual movies and say what’s good or bad about them, but you can’t just say "All movies are bad."

SIDENOTE: This was another issue which I think Mel failed to properly address. In my estimation (and that of people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins), we can and must reject all forms of religion because all forms suffer from the same fatal flaws: They simply don’t make sense; there’s no good evidence to support their claims; and they inspire Very Bad behavior.

Mel, however, seems to believe that we can separate good theists from bad theists - the good theists being those who believe in love, and gay rights, and church-state separation. As a practical matter, he believes we need to cooperate with them to get things done and offset the real danger - fundamentalism.

In my estimation, the most important thing we need to do is expose religion for the dangerous absurdity it is. Instead of using a movie analogy, I’d compare it to child abuse. Just as no one should try to defend child abuse on the grounds that it does some good (e.g., it makes the abuser feel better, it teaches kids not to trust adults, it provides huge numbers of clients for psychiatrists and psychologists and social workers, and - when it results in death - it helps with the overpopulation problem), no one should try to defend religion on the grounds that it sometimes does good things. There’s nothing positive that’s associated with religion that can’t be obtained in better, safer ways. Like child abuse, however, there are some Very Bad Things associated with religion that religion simply can’t avoid generating (such as teaching people it’s ok to embrace and act on absurd and empirically unsupported beliefs). We’d be better off dumping it entirely rather than cooperating with religionists to achieve some much less important goal.

 

Question 17: Are irrationalism and humanism irreconcilable?

Answer: Yes. But we still need to work with liberal religionists to get some things done.

 

Question 18: On the radio yesterday you said you were a humanist minister. What’s that all about?

Answer: I live in Nevada. We wanted to be able to offer humanist wedding services for our members. Nevada, however, insists you have to be a minister to do this. So I filed the necessary paperwork to have myself listed as a humanist minister. You have to belong to a national organization - which I do - and so on. So now I can perform weddings. It also allows me to participate in my local interfaith group. Some of the others in it grumbled, but now we humanists have a voice there. And I also can now serve as a humanist chaplain in prisons - even though I don’t really need to, since there are so few humanists in prison! (Laughter)

 

Question 19: (Statement) Unitarian ministers can be atheists. I’ve heard that at least one of the ministers at the Unitarian church you’ll be talking at tomorrow calls himself an agnostic atheist.

 

Question 20: I’ve listened to your talk but I still don’t get it. What’s THE humanist issue?

Answer: The issue is that we’re being demonized by our culture and society and we need to get together to educate people and stop this. We need to counter the wrong and dangerous idea that in order to be patriotic in this country, you have to be a theist.

 

Question 21: (Statement) I think some people have trouble tolerating uncertainty.

 

Question 22: I came in late so maybe I missed this but do humanists have a political platform?

Answer: (I think Mel said that while his organization can’t endorse political candidates it can and does address issues. The AHA is for human rights, gay rights, reproductive choice, and stem cell research. In his estimation, the hot issues of the day - gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research - are hot issues because of religion.)

 

Question 23: (This was more of a long, rambling statement by an elderly man. When he first got up and started speaking in a VERY loud voice I thought, "Oh-oh, we have our first Christian witness!" But no - he went into a short dissertation on how the Enlightenment rather than religion inspired the Founding Fathers. But then he talked about how the 9th and 10th Amendments to the US Constitution safeguard our rights from government infringement. In his opinion, if the government actually obeyed these amendments, issues such as gay marriage and abortion wouldn’t be issues at all - the government would simply lack the power to regulate them. Mel was polite in his response. He later indicated at the dinner that followed his talk that the guy was misinformed. Since Mel is a lawyer who has taught Constitutional law, I assume he knows what he’s talking about.)

 

*****

 

NOTE: One of the questioners (maybe #7) mentioned how he’d never heard about our local humanist group before and said we needed to do a better job getting the word out. Our local president then stood up and informed him that we’ve tried. In fact, some 29 press packets were sent out recently to local newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations encouraging them to send reporters to a press conference Mel held Friday afternoon. Not one reporter showed up. This news brought audible gasps from the audience. Mel indicated that this was pretty typical. The highest number of reporters that have ever attended a press conference of his is two. The average? 0.25. Our local president encouraged audience members to contact the "Faith & Values" editor at the Columbus Dispatch and ask for more coverage of the atheist-humanist point of view. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if they do - and if it makes any difference.

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Another Weekend, Another President [Aug. 18th, 2006|03:16 am]
atheist under ur bed
I recently posted an account of my dinner with the president of another city’s humanist group.

A large chunk of another recent weekend was spent attending events here in Columbus at which the star attraction was Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association.

I suppose if this keeps up, I’m going to have to rename myself Atheist Under Ur Bed Until Lured Out By A Visiting Dignitary Who Comes To Town Bearing Free Snacks.

In any case, here’s a transcript (thanks to the blogger known as Renee and her site http://realreligiousleft.blogspot.com/) of what Mel had to say at a public presentation he gave one recent Saturday afternoon:

**********

The American Humanist Association [http://www.americanhumanist.org/index.html] is the largest and the oldest Humanist organization in the United States. We have 114 chapters and affiliates in 46 different states, plus Washington D.C. The purpose of the American Humanist Association is to promote the awareness of Humanism.

Why do we need to promote the awareness of Humanism? A recent study was published in March of this year by the University of Minnesota, which showed that Humanists, Atheists, Agnostics - we're all in the same boat - are the most despised minority in the United States. Most of the public feels that it's terrible to say that "I won't vote for" someone because it's a woman, because they're gay, because they're Black, but more than 50% of the population in this country feels it's very proper to say "I won't vote for an Atheist." We need to make the public aware that we're your next-door neighbors, that we don't have horns, (laughter) that we're not evil people. And that's one of the major functions of the American Humanist Association, to address that issue.

We advise our members through action alerts periodically - at least one every week, press releases, whenever any national news comes of interest to Humanists. We monitor the legislation that's taking place in Congress. We have our own Humanist Legal Center, where we would actually file suits or file briefs to support law suits that protect church-state issues that we're involved in.

That's just a general idea of who we are, and I'll be glad to talk to anybody and let you know how to join if you'd like to.

Today my talk was entitled "Asserting Our Humanism." What does that mean? Well, comedian Paula Poundstone says "Being an Evangelical Atheist doesn't mean knocking on doors and yelling 'There is no Word!'" (laughter) So how do we assert our Humanism? Well, the first sentence in the Humanist Manifesto provides a succinct description of Humanism - it gives what we call an "elevator answer" to the question "What is Humanism?" Elevator answers are if you get in an elevator and somebody sees your pin and says 'What is it?' You say 'That's the Humanist symbol.' Well, what's a Humanist? And all you have is 14 floors down to explain what a Humanist is - where I could spend 7 hours and still not sufficiently explain it.

But the brief description would be that first sentence in our Humanist Manifesto. And what it says is "Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity."

Now that's a pretty big sentence. What it stresses is, first, the responsibility of every Humanist is to live a life of personal fulfillment. How do we get that fulfillment? Through our social responsibility, our lives aspire for the greater good of humanity. That's what Humanists are all about.

The key words that distinguishes us from other social-minded philosophies are the two words "without supernaturalism". And that's what keeps us apart from many other social-minded groups. Humanism does not rely on or accept any supernatural interpretation of reality.

So, what does that mean in our culture today? Well, we know we live in a supernatural culture - one in which "believing" has become more important than what you believe in. One in which clergy and parishioners alike claim personal knowledge of the unknown. The Humanist view questions and wonders how one can know the unknown. The Humanist view does not include revelations interpreted according to the aims and whims of a chosen few - an authoritarian clergy. A clergy that allow religious and political dogmas to trump science and reason, that makes it acceptable to allow our president to continue to deny effective stem cell research. That makes it acceptable for this country to refuse to distribute condoms to fight AIDS in Africa. That makes it acceptable for some Ohio School Board members to even consider changing teaching standards by labeling as controversial such scientific facts as evolution, as global warming, stem cell research.

Reason and science are not trumped by the Humanist view. In the Humanist view, reason would dominate the public square, science would be respected in national policy and debate.

When the 1990 National Survey of Religious Identification - and that's a survey conducted by City University of New York. They conducted a survey in 1990, and another one in 2001. And in comparing those surveys, we find that the number of adults who identify with no religion more than doubled between those two surveys. U.S. population increased by only 18%, but there was a 100% increase in the number of people who identify with no religion.

But when we say "no religion", that might mean they still believe in a supernatural supreme being, they just don't follow any particular religion. Further studies and further questions have indicated that the percentage of people in this country who don't believe in any supreme being, have ranged from 8 to as high as 20%. I like to use the figure 10% - generally a conservative figure of the number of Humanists, or Atheists, or Freethinkers, or whatever else they're called. So I would estimate, 10%, the population of the United States is 300 million, therefore there'd be about 30 million of us in this country.

Until about 20 years ago, it was sufficient just to keep our beliefs or our nonbelief to ourselves. It was nobody's business what we believed. But times have changed, and today we're in a position where it is essential that we assert our Humanist values.

Timothy LaHaye - anybody ever hear of Timothy LaHaye? (Some laughter) The author of the Christian fundamentalist Left Behind series, was on the Jerry Falwell show about six months ago, and he said, "We're in a religious war and we need to aggressively oppose secular humanism; these people are as religiously motivated as we are and they are filled with the devil."

Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist at a meeting of the theocratic Family Research Council in March of this year, spoke about the "war on secular society", and he said, "We need to find ways to win the war." And so, it's a war against us, and we need to fight back in this war.

Another Bush administration adviser Paul Weyrich said, "The real enemy is the secular humanist mindset, which seeks to destroy everything that is good in this society." It's nice to know that we're so powerful. (Laughter)

In 2003, speaking to the Christian Coalition, Alabama Governor Bob Riley, spoke about a "more important war than the war in Iraq". He said the war against secular humanists is "a war for the absolute soul of this country". He called for a "crusade" to restore the Christian character of America.

Well, friends, I think we should be prepared for a crusade. It's creeping up slowly. It's like the analogy of the frog in water, you've probably heard, that if you put a frog in lukewarm water, the frog will just sit there. And then you start turning up the heat little by little until it starts to boil, and it's too late. The frog is unconscious and can't jump out.

Changes are not made all at once. We're not going to have a government that takes away our rights not to believe all at once. But we've got to see the signs. We've got to see what is happening, and we have to be prepared to defend ourselves.

Last year, after a close Senate vote to approve her nomination to the Federal Court of Appeals, and she was approved, California Justice Janice Rogers Brown said that people of faith were in a war - they keep using that term *war*. She said they're in a war against secular humanists, who threaten to divorce America from its religious roots. Brown complained that America has moved away from the religious tradition on which it is founded, and to which we need to get back.

In June 2002, responding the the 9th Circuit's courageous decision concerning the Pledge of Allegiance, George Bush, the second, our president, said "I will only appoint judges who know their rights come from God." Now Article VI of the United States Constitution specifically prohibits the use of any religious test for any public office. But I guess *our* president can legitimately claim complete ignorance of the Constitution as an excuse. (Laughter).

In 25 years, the Christian right has gone from their self-described "Silent Majority" to the "Moral Majority", and today, to the "Embattled Christians".

Singer and songwriter Holly Neer said it quite well. She wrote a song called, "I Ain't Afraid". And, part of the lyrics of that song are, "I ain't afraid of your Yahweh, I ain't afraid of your Allah, I ain't afraid of your Jesus, I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your god."

I'm not afraid of religion, I'm afraid of what people are doing in the name of their religions. The intent to completely break down the wall of separation between religion and government, has made anti-Humanist discrimination fashionable, with Humanists being depicted as without values and less than patriotic.

I mentioned the University of Minnesota study that was released this past March. It concluded that acceptance of religious diversity does not extend to those who do not believe in a God. When 2000 American households were sampled and asked which minority group shared their values of American society, Atheists were ranked below every other minority group. Atheists were associated with all kinds of immorality and criminality. Though today, Atheists - at least those that acknowledge they're Atheists - and they're unorganized as a group. They are seen as a major threat to the American way of life. Of the total U.S. population of about 300 million, as I said earlier, it's estimated that about 30 million do not identify with any supernatural God. A conservative, which is that 30 million, is more than the Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and any individual Protestant sect, combined.

So, we are a large group. But, if those 30 million remain in their closets, we have no voice. We need to raise the level of awareness, and the level of acceptance, of non-supernaturalists. We need to make the public aware that we're not devils, that we can be nice, kind, ethical people. How many of your neighbors know that you're Humanists? Probably very few - it's a topic that we try to avoid. We tend to live our lives separate from our Humanist identity, while others, literally, wear their identification on their sleeve or around their necks, or on the bumpers of their cars.

How many friends and associates, acquaintances, coworkers, know of your Humanism? That could be the reason we think we're so few - we simply don't know each other. If we are to be known, and to have a positive influence on our culture (and I shouldn't have to explain the need for that) we must identify ourselves. Not be ashamed of our beliefs.

For too long we've allowed our nation's leaders to ignore, or even actively oppose, the interests of Humanists. We're a growing constituency, and we have a right to the same respectful attention legislators give to other citizens, and now, with one voice, we can insist that it be delivered. If humanists are open about their beliefs, we can soon be a strong and powerful minority. But if we choose to remain in our closets, we'll soon find that the closet door is sealed shut, so that we cannot get out.

So, we've come out. What now? How can we be most effective? Well first, by supporting our national, nontheist organizations, so that we can speak with an organized voice. There are enough national organizations in this country to suit everyone's tastes. I proudly belong to every one of those national organizations. And the next step is to get our national organizations to cooperate with each other. The Christian Coalition did it, while each member organization maintained its own identity - why can't our organizations do the same thing?

Last year, five national organizations combined their efforts, and formed the Secular Coalition for America [http://www.secular.org/]. Two other organizations have since joined the coalition. There are now seven organizations that make up the Secular Coalition. By combining our efforts, the Coalition now has the first lobbyist in Washington D.C. whose lobbying efforts are devoted exclusively to protecting the rights of secularists.

The American Humanist Association has provided office space for that lobbyist, and her staff of one. And in addition to her contacts with Congress, she's received national coverage by a feature story in USA Today, several major newspapers, appearances on Tucker Carlson's show and the O'Reilly Show, and numerous other appearances on radio, TV, newspapers.

Each one of those appearances has resulted in individual humanists coming out and joining our fight, to prevent our country from becoming a theocracy. To start paying attention to the dangers to our planet, and to its people in this life, and not in some imaginary afterlife.

Turning to another issue, ask most people if they would vote for an Atheist. Again, the response would be a proud "No!" And the responder doesn't even think she is bigoted. But anyone would think it's bigoted if we said we wouldn't vote for somebody because he's a Muslim, or because he's gay, but very proudly they'll say "I would never vote for an Atheist."

I don't think in the near future we'll completely remove religion from our government, or even be able to elect an Atheist president, or even to Congress. Although there may be some elected officials who have not yet come out of the closet, I am unaware of any known Atheist who has been a successful candidate for any national public office in this country. We need more public exposure. We need to run for public office. And while not pushing our beliefs, we must not hide them if the question arises.

Al Smith's defeat for the United States presidency in 1928 because he was Catholic, paved the way for another Catholic, John F. Kennedy, to be successful 32 years later. We need an articulate, reasonable, national candidate to bring the issue of religious tolerance into the discussion. We need to stop debating among ourselves as to who's a "real Humanist", or Atheist, or Freethinker, or whatever.

We need to spend less time attacking religion generally, and devote our attention to those aspects of organized religion that impact negatively on us. I'm really not interested in convincing my neighbor that he's stupid for praying to an imaginary man in the sky, as long as my neighbor does not interfere with my right to my beliefs. As long as my neighbor does not insist on making me or my children listen to his or her prayers in school or in public meetings. That is where our concerns should be directed.

Let's devote our energies to eliminating the perception in this country that morality is related to supernatural beliefs, and that you can't have one without the other. Let's encourage our young people to be as proud of their beliefs as are the religionists.

This encouragement will not come from attacking religion, but from talking about our *own* philosophy of life. Let's talk more about the joy we have living a life free of superstition. A life where we can think for ourselves, where we know that bad things do not happen to us because we are bad, or because we are being punished. A life where we can accept and understand the concept, "Shit happens!" (Laughter) And yet go on living optimistically about the future.

As Humanists, we are not immoral, and we are not intellectual snobs. We are happy people living complete lives, and doing what we can to ensure the survival of our species. We are mature enough to accept our lives. We are mature enough to accept the reality of our existence without perpetuating imaginary childhood fantasies. We are grownups who no longer believe in Tooth Fairies, or Santa Claus, or imaginary friends, or imaginary gods.

But, we will never get religion to disappear. Religions will always exist, because it's the only way some people will choose to cope with life. But the degree of radical fundamentalism that we are seeing today *will* diminish as our society changes. And radical attacks on religion in general will only polarize and create more fundamentalism. I can coexist with liberal and even moderate religionists. It's the fundamentalists that concern me. Recognizing the existence of religion does not mean accepting irrational beliefs. It does not mean that we must refrain from ever being critical of irrationalism.

It's okay to attack political beliefs, economic beliefs, we have book critics, movie critics. While all beliefs can be criticized, it's still considered socially incorrect to criticize religious beliefs. It's ironic that we live in a Democratic society where ideas are constantly and vigorously discussed openly, yet we are afraid of offending others by discussing religion.

Being critical of others' beliefs should not be the defining characteristic of Humanism. Rather than being overly involved in attacking other beliefs, we should be more evangelical in spreading the word about the overwhelming joy and comfort that we can derive from our naturalistic life stance.

Every religion has its own assurance of reward, rewards either in this life or in some imaginary future life. Christianity promises eternal life in heaven, Buddhism offers the blissful state of nirvana, New Age religions promise inner peace and union with God as well as power over external events, Islam offers 72 virgins in the afterlife... every religion has its big, big promise. Humanists need to offer our own promises, rather than devoting most of our energies attacking the promises of other groups. Let's take the spotlight off the supernatural religions, and focus the spotlight on what Humanism has to offer.

Humanism is much more than the default condition that prevails when no brainwashing has occurred. The big promise of Humanism is the good life, here and now. Edwin H. Wilson summed it up when he wrote,

"The Humanist lives as if this world were all and enough. He is not otherworldly. He holds that the time spent on the contemplation of a possible afterlife is time wasted. He fears no hell and seeks no heaven, save that which he and others created on earth. He willingly accepts the world that exists on this side of the grave as the place for moral struggle and creative living. He seeks the life abundant for his neighbor as for himself. He is content to live one world at a time and let the next life - if such there may be - take care of itself. He need not deny immortality; he simply is not interested. His interests are here."

While the religionists make claims that no one has ever proved, our claims are real. Our claims and our promises have been proven over and over and over.

There's a quote attributable to the Jesuits that says, "Give me a child at an impressionable age, and he's mine for life." What about children of Humanists? How do we nurture *their* beliefs the way the churches do? Humanist parents often feel defensive when asked, "What religion do you raise your children in?" The questions themselves offend me. Do we ask every Christian or Jew or Muslim, "What do you teach your kids?" Are *we* expected to raise our children to follow some religion that we, ourselves reject?

Of course not. We must respond to religionists who ask "What do you teach your kids?" by making it clear that we are *not* "believers in nothing". And that we have lots of Humanist values and Humanist ethics to teach our children. It's important that Humanist parents give attention to the issues that religion concerns itself with. Things like morality and ethics, and interrelating with others. If we don't answer our children's questions about the world, and the way it works - the mystery, the injustice - if we don't have these conversations, nothing else will do the job except maybe the supernatural religions.

I'm looking forward mostly to the questions, so let me finish with a quote from Howard Zinn. He said, "Throughout history, people have felt powerless before authority, but that at certain times these powerless people, by organizing, acting, risking, persisting, have created enough power to change the world around them, even if a little. That is the history of the labor movement, the women's movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the disabled persons’ movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the movement of Black people in the South."

And I'm hopeful that will also be the history of the Humanist movement.

(Applause)

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I didn’t agree with everything Mel said (bonus points if you can pinpoint any of our disagreements) but by and large I thought he delivered a very good speech. It went over very well, too.

About 23 questions were asked in the Q&A portion that immediately followed what I posted above. Maybe I’ll share them in another entry.

Right now, I’d like to know what YOU thought of his address.

(*Cookies* to give you the strength to type your comments.)

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Good News You May Have Missed [Aug. 16th, 2006|01:04 pm]
atheist under ur bed

Kuwait’s Women Savor Right To Vote (June 30) - According to the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, "Female voters Thursday went to the polls for the first time in Kuwait's parliamentary elections, many delighted to cast their ballots.

"‘It feels like a wedding day,’ said Salwa Sanoussi, 45, one of the first to arrive at the women's polling station in Dahiya, one of Kuwait's wealthiest areas. She wore black and covered her hair with a matching head scarf.

"Some women arrived in buses and others stepped out of chauffeur-driven cars. Women, who got the right to vote and run for office last year, constitute 57% of the electorate....

"In Washington, the State Department said the participation of women in the elections was ‘a huge step forward’ for Kuwait and the region. Saudi Arabia is now the only Arab country that doesn't allow women to vote."...

 

Danish PM Against Politicians Referring To God In Speeches (June 30) - According to WorldWide Religious News and the Associated Press, "COPENHAGEN: Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen appealed to politicians and public figures in comments published today to refrain from referring to God in their official speeches and campaigns.

"‘I certainly don't like that political leaders publicly involve God in their speeches,’ Fogh Rasmussen was quoted as saying by Denmark's Kristeligt Dagblad, or Christian Daily.

"Without identifying lawmakers, public figures or groups by name, Fogh Rasmussen said that frequent reference to God represents a ‘dangerous cocktail’ - especially when rivals and warring sides each claim God is on their side.

"‘If all rivals insist on having God on their side in the fight, then it becomes a brutal world,’ he said. ‘Any human being, including politicians, should here show humility and recognize that we don't even know what this or that God would think of our ventures.’

"‘On this particular point, there is a great need for less religion in the public arena,’ said Fogh Rasmussen, who is not known as a churchgoer.

"The newspaper contrasted Fogh Rasmussen's stand with world leaders such as US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Bush is known for starting meetings with a prayer and referring to his Christian beliefs in his foreign policy. Blair said in a March interview that God would ultimately judge his decision to go to war with Iraq and that his policy decisions are guided by his Christian faith."...

 

Catholicism Withering Away In Britain (July 4) - According to CathNews.com, "A bracing 260-page report on the state of the Church in Britain has found that mass attendance has slumped by 40 per cent and Catholic marriages by 60 per cent over the last 30 years.

"Unison reports that the study also shows the number of adult converts fell by 55 per cent and first communions by nearly 40 per cent, describing the crisis as the ‘greatest pastoral and demographic catastrophe’ since the 16th century Reformation.

"The study by Anthony Spencer of the Pastoral Research Centre covers the period from 1963 to 1991. But more recent figures, from 2004, indicate little improvement.

"In 1991, Mass attendance in England and Wales stood at 1.3 million, compared with 960,000 in 2004. Deaths among congregations rose by 40 per cent between 1963 and 1991, reflecting the growing elderly profile....

"The Australian reports that in a separate publication, entitled The Future of the Catholic Church in Britain, a former senior press officer for the Catholic Bishops' Conference called for strategic thinking to fix the crisis.

"In the report, Tom Horwood says: ‘The church in Britain is suffering from a terminal decline in membership, irregular commitment among the remnant, and in the wake of persistent child-abuse scandals, a leadership of bishops and priests that has toppled from its pedestal with a mighty crash.’"...

 

European Court Rules That Mandatory Religion Classes In Turkey Are A Human Rights Violation (July 5) - According to WorldWide Religious News and the Turkish Daily News, "The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the obligation for children from Alawite families to attend mandatory religion classes in Turkey is a violation of human rights, reports yesterday's Hürriyet.

"According to the report, an Alawite family from Istanbul who wanted to exempt their daughter from having to attend mandatory religion courses applied to the court in 2001 after having exhausted all legal remedies available to them in Turkey. Europe's top human rights watchdog ruled that mandatory religion courses are a violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights covering the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The court is expected to announce the decision publicly this fall.

"Abolishing mandatory religion courses altogether might now be a possibility, according to the Hürriyet report. In any case, children from Alawite families will have to be exempted from mandatory classes as the court's decision is binding for the Turkish ministries of justice and education since international covenants ratified by Turkey overrule domestic law in the Turkish legal system."

 

US House Rejects Gay Marriage Ban Amendment (July 18) - According to the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press, "WASHINGTON: The House rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on Tuesday, a setback that conservatives hope to turn to their advantage in the fall elections.

"The vote was 236-187 with one member voting ‘present,’ a slight improvement over the last House vote just before the 2004 election but still 47 short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance a constitutional amendment.

"Supporters argued that Congress must trump the actions of judges around the country who have ruled in favor of gay marriages. ‘We must not allow an institution of such great importance to be arbitrarily redefined for the entire nation by a small number of unelected judges,’ said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa.

"Opponents, including 27 Republicans, argued that the measure was meaningless -- the Senate rejected the amendment last month, effectively killing it for this session of Congress -- as well as unneeded and mean-spirited.

"‘This is a partisan effort by Republicans to divide the American people rather than forge consensus to solve our urgent problems,’ said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

"Democrats argued that the House's focus on the GOP's ‘American values agenda,’ which includes votes this week on a pledge protection bill and a vote on President Bush's expected veto of an embryonic stem cell bill, was a distraction at a time the nation faced serious domestic and international problems.

"Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of just a few openly gay members of Congress, said he took the proposal personally. ‘I think this is motivated, frankly, by a dislike of those of us who are gay and lesbian,’ he said, and he objected to ‘people taking batting practice with my life.’...

"The proposed amendment says that ‘marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither the Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.’

"The House vote in 2004 was 227-186 in favor of the amendment, 49 short of the needed majority.

"‘They have now failed twice in their shameful election-year ploys, using gay and lesbian families as punching bags,’ said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group. ‘We didn't see any traction’ in Tuesday's vote, he said.

"The Constitution has been amended only 27 times, including the 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights. In addition to two-thirds congressional approval, a proposed amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states."

 

Bolivia’s President Tells Catholic Church It Must Change, Respect Freedom Of Religion (July 26) - According to the BBC, "Bolivian President Evo Morales has called for change within the country's Catholic Church, accusing it of acting as in the ‘times of the Inquisition’.

"Mr Morales said Catholic leaders should understand the need for freedom of religion and belief.

"His government recently announced plans to teach a range of religions in schools, as well as native traditions.

"Church leaders have opposed the planned changes, calling on Catholics to defend their faith.

"‘I want to ask the (Church) hierarchies that they understand freedom of religion and beliefs in our country,’ Mr Morales said.

"‘It's not possible to impose their views. I am very worried by the behaviour of some Catholic Church leaders, who act like in the time of the Inquisition.’...

"He spoke out after Catholic leaders criticised the planned reforms, which would break the long-standing dominance of Catholicism in Bolivian schools.

"The archbishop of Santa Cruz, Cardinal Julio Terrazzas, said on Sunday that Catholics were being ‘passive’ in the face of Mr Morales' planned changes.

"‘Great wars begin with small theories... with this discourse of hate, of rancour, of unforgiveness,’ he said.

"On Sunday the country's education minister, Felix Patzi, said Catholic leaders were ‘lying’ over claims that the government was aiming to destroy the Church.

"However, he said the planned changes would allow Bolivians to break down ‘ethnic borders’ that have marginalised native traditions for more than 500 years, the Associated Press reported.

"A majority of Bolivians describe themselves as Catholic, according to census figures.

"After the Roman Catholic Church consolidated its power across Europe in the 12th and 13th Century, it set up the Inquisition to ensure that heretics did not undermine that authority."

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Dear Enthusiast.... [Aug. 14th, 2006|08:17 pm]
atheist under ur bed

Thanks for your recent notes. Because they raise several issues that I suspect are of interest to others as well as yourself, I’ve decided to repost them here along with my own comments.

Enjoy!

 

*****

 

This first note was left on the entry I entitled "Tax Dollars Used To Spread Christian Abortion Lies" [http://www.opendiary.com/entryview.asp?authorcode=C101953&entry=21002]:

 

"Just as my tax dollars go to teach Christian children about unproven scientific theories like our origin from primordial ooze and acceptance and respect for homosexual lifestyles. It goes both ways." - Enthusiast

 

In my entry (based on multiple sources) I gave detailed information about the lies that are being spread via taxpayer-funded Christian offices that are masquerading as "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" (CPCs).

Can you give me a single example of taxpayer funds being used to teach children about "our origin from primordial ooze"?

Can you tell me anything about how a specific teacher has taught this?

As things stand, I don’t think your general, vague, and unsupported claim is a very effective counter to the very specific facts I provided in my entry.

Your approach also seems to commit the informal logical fallacy known as tu quoque - Latin for "you too". Even if it turns out that you’re factually correct that tax dollars are being used inappropriately to teach school kids something untrue, that doesn’t excuse what’s going on in those offices I talked about in my last entry.

*

As far as teaching "acceptance and respect for homosexual lifestyles" goes.... Do you have a specific example in mind that we could talk about?

If a teacher discovers that a student is gay and has been bullied by other students because of his or her sexual orientation, what would you have that teacher do? Teach the bullies that they need to accept and respect the gay student? Praise the bullies? What?

As far as I know, there are no good secular, scientific, or rational reasons to reject or disrespect gays. None. As such, anti-gay feelings, beliefs, and behaviors seem to me as ugly and unwarranted as anti-black or anti-female ones. Teachers have a responsibility to strongly discourage all of these things as irrational, dangerous, and cruel. (If the Bible says otherwise, well, so much the worse for that ancient book of lies and fables.)

 

*****

 

"I wrote an entry about this around Independence Day. I don't believe that Jefferson was a Christian, but he did have a respect for the morality of the Bible and quotes can be found from him that support the message of Jesus. But he did tear the Bible apart and create his own version. Now look up some information on Ben Franklin and we'll be even." -  Enthusiast

 

Thanks for pointing me to that entry of yours "Diests or Theists or Atheists or Christians?" (July 5, 2006) [http://www.opendiary.com/entryview.asp?authorcode=A276719&entry=20513&mode=]. (One quick correction: You say "The first people to settle on these shores came her for religious freedom, and THEY were Christians." I think you’re forgetting the Indians. Maybe you had the Pilgrims in mind? Alas, they had religious freedom in Holland - and they didn’t much like it. So they came here so they could create a theocracy and deny religious freedom to others. Which they proceeded to do. Ugly stuff.)

Jefferson’s precise religious beliefs remain something of a mystery to me even after reading Edwin S. Gaustad’s Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson and numerous other works. Maybe that’s because those beliefs drifted over time; maybe it’s because Jefferson was - among other things - a politician whose message changed with the audience he was addressing; maybe other factors are involved.

Jefferson himself seems to have waved us off the subject when he wrote "Say nothing of my religion. It is known to my god and myself alone" in a January 11, 1817 letter to John Adams. I suppose one might use that as evidence that Jefferson at least believed in *some* gOd, but maybe he meant the term poetically (as the lack of capitalization might imply).

Although Jefferson did talk about a Creator who gives us our rights in the Declaration of Independence, that’s obviously a very political document rather than the careful academic work of a philosopher. It was meant to rally people to a cause and "going over the head" of King George by appealing to a deity served that purpose regardless of what Jefferson might have really believed at the time (let alone later in life after he’d had much more time to think things through).

This is, of course, a recurring problem with any analysis of the Founding Fathers - we don’t know them as abstract debaters in the rarefied atmosphere of an ideal university setting but as revolutionaries, social reformers, businessmen, etc., who wanted to have a certain impact on society (or at least maintain a certain relationship with that society). What they actually believed and what they were willing to say publicly (or commit to writing) might well have been two very different things.

Given that they had very little to gain (and much to lose) socially and politically from condemning religion or abandoning gOd, it shouldn’t surprise us to find them at times embracing both. What’s notable to me is the extent to which many of them *did* express anti-Christian sentiments at a time when there seems to have been very little social or political incentive for them to do so.

Consequently, I am most impressed by the following words of Jefferson:

*

"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies." - Undated letter to Dr. Woods

"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." - April 11, 1823 letter to John Adams

"We find in the writings of his [Jesus’s] biographers [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John]... a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications." - August 4, 1822 letter to William Short

*

Despite these words, Jefferson may still have been impressed with the alleged moral teachings of Jesus. If so, I don’t know why. The above passages (and similar ones to be found at the Positive Atheism website [http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/jefferson.htm]) make far more sense to me than Jesus’s alleged comments about how we shouldn’t resist evil, we shouldn’t give a thought to tomorrow because gOd will provide, that we must hate our parents, etc., etc.

 

*****

 

"Now look up some information on Ben Franklin and we'll be even." -  Enthusiast

 

I’ve actually already done quite a bit of reading on Franklin. You can find a brief summary of what I discovered in that I posted back on May 2, 2004 [http://www.opendiary.com/entryview.asp?authorcode=C101953&entry=11424&mode=date].

If Franklin was in any sense a Christian, he was a variety of Christian I’ve never met.

*

One final comment about the Founding Fathers: Most seem to have been very practical, science-oriented men who had little time or patience for theology. I suspect most were Deists only because they were unable to imagine how the world and life might have come about without a conscious creator. Had they lived long enough to encounter the work of Darwin, I strongly suspect that most if not all of them would have embraced evolution and perhaps abandoned gOd in the process (much as Darwin himself did). It is very difficult for me to believe that any of the discoveries we’ve made in the last 200 years would have made them more religious or more Christian.

 

*****

 

"Satan does not control the weather." - Enthusiast

 

How do you know?

 

*****

 

"I think the UN is INSANE! I think it should be abolished and we should start over." - Enthusiast

 

The UN isn’t perfect but I’d think we’d be much worse off without it.

As I mentioned in an entry I posted last Nov 24 [http://www.opendiary.com/entryview.asp?authorcode=C101953&entry=20605], "According to USA Today and the Associated Press, ‘Armed conflicts have declined by 40% since the end of the Cold War primarily because the United Nations was finally able to launch peacekeeping and conflict-prevention operations around the world, according to a new study.’"

The UN’s World Health Organization [http://www.who.int/en/]  also does a lot of good work.

So does UNESCO [http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=29008&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html].

 

*****

 

"Did George Bush say he went to war because of God? Can you show me where he said that? I've never heard that before." - Enthusiast

 

Bush has apparently uttered words to this effect several times now. I summarized his comments in an entry I posted last Oct 15 [http://www.opendiary.com/entryview.asp?authorcode=C101953&entry=20550&mode=date].

As that entry points out, these comments aren’t out of character with other things Bush has said - they’re right in line with them and seem to reveal a mindset that believes it’s somehow in touch with gOd on a regular basis and is doing that gOd’s will.

Scary stuff.

In fact, I’d even say it constitutes a mental disability that warrants his removal from office under the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution if not his impeachment.

I’m just not sure how far down the line of succession we’d have to go before we find someone who doesn’t share the same disability....

 

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Tax Dollars Used To Spread Christian Abortion Lies [Aug. 13th, 2006|08:14 pm]
atheist under ur bed

An eye-opening essay from syndicated columnist Robyn Blumner appeared in the Columbus Dispatch  on July 24.

Here it is (I’ve taken the liberty of underlining some of the most important points):

 

"If you're willing to lie, deceive and intimidate others for your beliefs, the Christian Right needs you to staff the nation's Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

"A new congressional study [http://reform.democrats.house.gov/story.asp?ID=10] exposes what goes on in these centers for what it is: religiously grounded anti-abortion stagecraft designed to lure vulnerable, pregnant women and use lies to scare them out of ending their pregnancy.

"So what is the government doing funding them?

"There are about 4,000 CPCs in the country today, as opposed to 2,000 abortion clinics. The CPCs are often affiliated with fundamentalist and evangelical religious organizations and churches. Their modus operandi is to appear to be a legitimate medical facility, like a Planned Parenthood clinic - in fact they are often in the same buildings or shopping centers as abortion clinics, hoping to confuse the clinic's clients. But when unsuspecting women, usually young and low-income, come in for a free pregnancy test or ultrasound, they are bombarded with anti-abortion propaganda that has little relationship to medical truth.

"Since 2001, and President Bush's push to redirect tax money into faith-based institutions, the CPCs have received more than $30 million in federal funds, much of it for abstinence-only education programs, but some for strengthening their operations. Florida spends $2 million a year for a ''pregnancy support' hot line that directs women to their local CPC, and some states send the proceeds from their 'Choose Life' license plate programs to the centers.

"That's millions of tax dollars underwriting religiously motivated fraud that can adversely impact women's lives and health.

"A new congressional study, requested by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., found that 20 of 23 federally funded centers investigated used a variety of well-worn scare tactics. Female congressional staffers who called pretending to be 17 and possibly pregnant were told by CPC counselors that abortion significantly increases the risk of breast cancer, future infertility and suffering 'post-abortion syndrome.'

"It's all bunk. A 1997 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found no causal relationship between abortion and breast cancer, consistent with the overwhelming consensus of the medical community. As to subsequent infertility, there is no more risk of that from an abortion than from giving birth. And 'post-abortion syndrome' is a made-up neurosis that is not recognized by any legitimate psychiatric association.

"The medical facts are that a woman is 11 times more likely to die from complications arising from childbirth than from an abortion. But that never gets mentioned by the CPCs.

"Katie Stephens, an options counselor at a Planned Parenthood affiliate and an abortion clinic in Gainesville, Fla., says she sees the CPCs' handiwork all the time. Stephens estimates that about 10 percent of her clients first had contact with a CPC. She says they often come to her harboring 'real extreme' ideas about the dangers of abortion. They've been told that there is a good chance they won't be able to have future children, Stephens says, and some have asked her, 'Am I going to die?'

"Deb Berry, writing for Orlando Weekly magazine in 2003, [http://www.orlandoweekly.com/features/story.asp?id=3042] described in depth her personal experience with a CPC years ago when she became pregnant with an abusive boyfriend's child. Looking for an abortion referral, she responded to an ad that read 'Pregnant? Scared? We can help.' When she told the Orlando-area center that she had no money, wasn't ready to be a mother and her boyfriend was abusive, a staffer told her to 'just put your faith in God.' And as to the abuse, she was assured that 'he'll change once he sees his beautiful little baby.'

"Yeah, right.

"The CPCs' true purpose is not to serve women in trouble but to proselytize and block women from receiving valid information about their health and options.

"Many CPCs like to claim that they will provide prenatal care to women who plan to have their children, but a telling report by the Christian conservative group, the Family Research Council, worried aloud about the diversion of too many resources to future moms. The report said that 'there are sharply rising numbers of women coming to the centers who are not "at risk" for abortion. These women have decided to carry their children to term and come in for material assistance or other services....

"'These trends,' the report notes, 'could threaten the primary mission of the centers - to reach women at risk for abortion.'

"It would be comforting to think that this is just the work of a narrow group of extremists and leave it at that. But when our tax dollars are supporting this dangerous lunacy and when the president vetoes a bill that supports promising life-saving medical research in order to protect the 'life' of a cluster of cells, the delusional have truly taken over. Medical fraud is official policy when abortion politics are at play."

*****

Here are a few passages from a summary of the congressional study mentioned above:

 

----- "The centers provided false and misleading information about a link between abortion and breast cancer. There is a medical consensus that induced abortion does not cause an increased risk of breast cancer. Despite this consensus, eight centers told the caller that having an abortion would in fact increase her risk. One center said that 'all abortion causes an increased risk of breast cancer in later years,' while another told the caller that an abortion would 'affect the milk developing in her breasts' and that the risk of breast cancer increased by as much as 80% following an abortion.

----- "The centers provided false and misleading information about the effect of abortion on future fertility. Abortions in the first trimester, using the most common abortion procedure, do not pose an increased risk of infertility. However, seven centers told the caller that having an abortion could hurt her chances of having children in the future. One center said that damage from abortion could lead to 'many miscarriages' or to 'permanent damage' so 'you wouldn’t be able to carry,' telling the caller that this is 'common' and happens 'a lot.'

----- "The centers provided false and misleading information about the mental health effects of abortion. Research shows that significant psychological stress after an abortion is no more common than after birth. However, thirteen centers told the caller that the psychological effects of abortion are severe, long-lasting, and common. One center said that the suicide rate in the year after an abortion 'goes up by seven times.' Another center said that post-abortion stress suffered by women having abortions is 'much like' that seen in soldiers returning from Vietnam and 'is something that anyone who’s had an abortion is sure to suffer from.'"

*****

According to a July 18 story that the Washington Post ran about all this [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/17/AR2006071701145.html], Molly Ford (who is identified as spokeswoman for one of the two large networks of pregnancy resource centers) "agrees with pregnancy counselors who tell women that abortion may increase the risk of breast cancer, infertility and a condition described by antiabortion groups as ‘post-abortion syndrome.’

"‘We have many studies that show significant medical problems associated with abortion,’ she said.

"Those studies are at odds with mainstream medical opinion. An expert panel of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), for instance, concluded in 2003 that an ‘abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer.’ The experts said their conclusion was ‘well established’ by the evidence....

"Some counselors also said the psychological effects of abortion are severe and long-lasting, while research generally has found that severe stress reactions are no more common after an abortion than after giving birth."

*****

According to Deb Berry’s Orlando Weekly story that was mentioned above, "The first CPC in the United States was launched in 1967 by anti-abortion zealot Robert Pearson in Hawaii after the state liberalized its abortion laws.... Pearson's manual instructs CPC staff to use vague and evasive language so as not to clue women and girls in to the fact that the centers are anti-abortion. He advises centers to list themselves in the phone book ‘under the headings of abortion, pregnancy, birth control information, clinics, social services, welfare organizations, women's organizations and services, and health services’ in order to mislead women. The manual also suggests that CPCs locate themselves in the same buildings as abortion clinics so that ‘the abortion chamber is paying for advertising to bring that girl to you.’... Pearson's philosophy deems that CPC staffers should use whatever means necessary to prevent a woman from getting an abortion. In a 1994 speech, he declared: ‘Obviously, we're fighting Satan ... A killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help her [do that].’...

"Every CPC I visited warned me about ‘post-abortion syndrome,’ a condition not recognized or acknowledged by any legitimate medical, psychiatric or psychological institution. It exists nowhere in the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,’ the comprehensive reference for mental-health professionals. Research studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, American Psychologist and Professional Psychology: Research and Practice have all concluded that ‘post-abortion syndrome’ is a fiction. The same studies report that the most common emotion reported by women after an abortion is relief."

*****

I guess we really shouldn’t be surprised. Christians have been spreading lies about hell and eternal damnation for centuries in an attempt to scare people into embracing their absurd theology. Spreading lies about abortion in an attempt to get people to embrace their beliefs on that subject, too, is par for the course.

The fact that tax dollars from atheists and other non-Christians have been helping them to spread these lies since 2001 just takes things to a new and especially obnoxious level....

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