December 9th, 2009


Atheists and Public Office

The vast majority of believing Americans and even some atheists are a bit too complacent about the remnants (and new intrusions) of religion into the public sphere. No atheist is safe from the ire of religious conservatives so long as unjust laws remain on the books... even those found to be unconstitutional.

As we saw with the Dover trial, there will always be someone looking to revive old issues that have already been decided in the slim hope that they will be able to overturn policies of fairness that prevent them from discriminating against those they despise. And do not be fooled by their claims to the contrary; they do despise atheists.

A case in point is a recent story out of North Carolina where the citizens of Asheville duly elected an atheist to the city council--and I am extremely proud of the citizens of Asheville for doing it--but now his opponents wish to challenge his election in court, saying that he can't be sworn into office because the North Carolina constitution requires a belief in god, explicitly.

It doesn't matter to these people that the Supreme Court ruled these provisions unconstitutional, superceded by Article VI that forbids religious tests for office. It does not matter especially that they probably have little chance in court... they know this. Rather, they seek to make it that much harder for atheists to serve the public. Heaven forbid that they might be shown to be just as moral as believers (or more so) in the performance of their public duties.

It doesn't matter if they lose, it will still cost the city thousands in legal fees, and if they get a sympathetic judge to rule against them or have a wealthy backer, still more. This may be enough to discourage voters in struggling cities to not elect atheists in the future, fearful that doing so will force money to be paid to lawyers to defend their city official, rather than, say, beat cops.

It is a war of intimidation, nothing more.

I will not be intimidated, but unfortunately, for something like this, it's not only up to me.

But keep your eye on this guy from North Carolina, Cecil Bothwell, the man at the heart of this controversy. He was elected as an open atheist in North Carolina. That's really something.

catching up

Backberries are in season somewhere in the world because they are really cheap in the stores right now, and I've been eating them every day. :)

Giving exams this week, so I have some time to kill until the first class of the day is finished. After that, I can grade their papers during the next class. So, I'm using the time to catch up on links I've been saving to talk about on the blog. Sorry about the flurry of posts.

I watched an interesting Intelligence-Squared debate on whether atheism was the "new fundamentalism". As any atheist will assert, that a crock of shit. Atheism doesn't have any core beliefs; it's an absence of belief. How can you be fundamentalist about that? Though, I suppose it's just their way of being derogatory, words have meanings, and this is being pushed too far. It's no different than calling Obama a socialist... yeah, I'm not a socialist, and I'm way further left than him!

I tweeted (@theonides) about the debate while I was watching the recording. Some of the arguments from the believers were pathetic and insulting, not to mention counterfactual. But the debate was followed up by this story in the Telegraph. The author completely missed the point.

For one thing, he's harping about a lack of courtesy from the atheists? In an age when believers refuse to drive buses with the most innocuous signs on them ("You are not alone?") supporting atheism/atheists, we are the ones being accused of lacking courtesy? If I hadn't reread it, I would never have believed he'd said it in the first place.

And he also missed the point about atheists outnumbering the believers. The proof was not in the number of people for or against the proposition, but rather the change in the number of people who were supporting it, or undecided. The undecideds clearly moved into the "no" position at the end, by a large majority, proving that the believers totally failed to make their case.

I also didn't understand this quote from the article: "Moore's charge that the atheists were engaged in a narrow pursuit of literal truth above all else began to ring true."

Regardless of Moore's position, what is wrong with pursuing truth? And why would anyone pursue something other than "literal" truth? What use is metaphorical truth, for instance? And what does that have to do with art? There is no break between creativity and atheism, or creativity and truth.

I also don't understand this comment: " And increasingly, it looks like a cult, with Dawkins its leader."

A cult? Again, what is with the religious metaphors here? I don't consider Dawkins my "leader", nor PZ Myers, nor Christopher Hitchens, nor any of the other Four Horesemen, or anyone else. We are simply fellow travelers who happen to agree with each other. I became an atheist long before I'd ever heard of Richard Dawkins. Nor do I consider The God Delusion my Bible. I listened to it once on audiobook; it was enjoyable and I haven't listened to any of it since. I don't turn to it for guidance or worship it in a secret ceremony.

And again, real cults are extremely dangerous creatures, demanding people break ties with their families, and all that. Dawkins advocates nothing of the kind, and it's hardly his fault if religious families expel their own members because of differing religious views.

It is impossible not to see the contrast between the language that is being used against atheists and their actual religious counterparts. Religious cults kill people. Atheist "cults", I guess, put signs on buses?
science wins

Atheism and Gender

Last one for today, I promise, but I just couldn't let this one be passed up, because of all the links I saved, this one had my blood boiling with the stupidity. PZ Myers pharyngula mentioned it yesterday, and the author deserves to be beaten over the head with his own nonsense.

Stephen Prothero, in his blog for USA Today complains that the problem with atheists is that there aren't enough prominent women in the movement. Not because he wants to see more women atheists, per se, but rather because of the perception that women atheists will go easier on believers in their kinder and gentler way, I suppose.

I'm here to tell Stephen Prothero that he will get no quarter from this woman atheist, and he will soon be wishing that all he had to deal with was PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. They will be far nicer than I because I have little tolerance for stupidity of Prothero's sort.

I found it particularly interesting that he comes out claiming that it's the women's voices who are the most persuasive, and then the first person he talks about and praises is a man, Greg Epstein.

I call bullshit, bullshit.

What Prothero really wants is the kinder, gentler, wishy-washy atheists, the accomodationists, who let believers go on believing their delusions are real and don't try to demand too many rights for themselves or be too confrontational about the nonsense believers believe. I've got news for Prothero... most of the public figures like that are men, too. Witness: Greg Epstein.

His analogy with the gay rights movement is also deeply flawed. Straight people, by definition, is not a question of which reality they live in, but merely whom they sleep with. Religion, as believers themselves attest, say that it touches every aspect of their lives, from birth until death. And what they believe about god really does affect the way they deal with reality. Compare Sarah Palin, the pathological liar, to Richard Dawkins. If religious belief was just about deism vs. atheism, atheist would be perfectly happy to have pleasant arguments with believers and otherwise, live and let live. But instead, most believers accept positions that are contrary to the facts, and to reality, the reality that even most believers live in. It's that level of insanity that must be opposed and stopped. You can't tell me that what Sen. Inhofe and George Bush believe doesn't affect me... in a way that who the guy across the street sleeps with does not. Prothero's analogy fails utterly.

As far as this civil rights movement goes, there were also angry voices in that movement, as you may recall, voices like mine, who are pissed at the religious nonsense coming out of the Congress over the healthcare debate, using their religion to demand all women observe their religious proscriptions when it comes to sex and reproduction, who are actually asking the Conference of Catholic Bishops, those hypocrites, to approve legislation preventing even indirect government entanglement with a legal medical procedure, all the while continuing to take funds from the government, in violation of separation of church and state. All the while they are getting tax exemptions, but are telling Catholic legislators that they will be punished in their congregations if they don't tow the Catholic line. The only way to acheive full equality for women is to throw off the chains of religion... not simply to live with it side-by-side while my sisters are sent to an early grave having a dozen children, or being married off as teenagers... or forced to endure an unwanted pregnancy at the possible risk to her own life, while the man who empregnated her walks free, and moralizes about what a slut she was.

And Prothero thinks women want to just live and let live?

Never. I am never going back, and I will not stand by quietly while men, in the name of their religion, continue to try to oppress me, and send us back in time 50 years. I will never go back. I've been told far too often that there were things I could not do just because I was a woman. I did not fold for them, and I will not fold now. If Prothero isn't used to seeing fire and brimstone from a woman's lips, he hasn't been paying attention to very many civil rights movements.

Every movement needs both voices. The voices who are passionate and urgent, and those who are more approachable. If Prothero managed to pay closer attention to the men he derides, he might also find their personal stories to be just as moving. Christopher Hitchens is a firebrand, but when he talks about his daughters, and his friend and fellow atheist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, he can also be moving, and you understand that his passion is not just about reason (as though that were a bad thing if it was).

No, Prothero just hasn't been listening.