Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dinesh D'Souza Tries to Change History

Conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza apparently has the ability to change history like I change my daughter's dirty diapers.

He has a new book out extolling the virtues of Christianity while also taking ample time to dump on us hostile atheists. I'm going to pick apart this opinion piece from yesterday's USAToday (which is just an excerpt from his book):

We seem to be witnessing an aggressive attempt by leading atheists to portray religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as the bane of civilization.

There’s that word “aggressive” again…”aggressive”, “militant”, “vicious”…you’d think atheists are a pack of rabid dogs! Come on, everybody, say it with me now – the word is “outspoken”…”O-U-T-S-P-O-K-E-N”. That’s the word you’re looking for!

The proposed solution: a completely secular society, liberated from Christian symbols and beliefs.

Strawman alert! This is not possible, nor is it what most atheists want.

Christianity is responsible even for secular institutions such as democracy and science.

It doesn’t appear that Mr. D’Souza took 8th-grade history in this country. Because if he did, he would know that the Greeks are generally credited with the creation of Democracy (and that’s the Before Christ Greeks I’m talking about). And the word “democracy” comes from Greek to boot!

Because science is based on an assumption that is, at root, faith-based and theological. That is the assumption that the universe is rational and follows laws that are discoverable through human reason.

Maybe someone can explain to me how this assumption is “faith-based and theological”. I’m drawing a blank.

There's no particular reason the laws of nature that we find on Earth should also govern a star billions of light years away.

Well, maybe except for the fact that, as D’Souza stated in the previous paragraph – “That is the assumption that the universe is rational and follows laws…”

No wonder also that the greatest scientists of the West - Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo…were priests.

Remember Galileo? Right – he was the one who was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life because he dared state that the Earth revolved around the Sun. The Bible said otherwise! Nice to know Christians hold him in such high esteem now.

If modern science has Christian roots, so do our most basic political institutions and values. Consider Thomas Jefferson's famous assertion in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal." He claimed this was "self-evident," but one only has to look to history and to other cultures to see that it is not evident at all. Everywhere we see dramatic evidence of human inequality. Jefferson's point, however, was that human beings are moral equals. Every life has a worth no greater and no less than any other.

First of all, when Thomas Jefferson asserted that “all men are created equal”, we all know that he meant all white men. Slavery would continue well into the 1870’s, and women didn’t even get the right to vote until the 1920’s. Jefferson may have been a role model for his time, but why are Christians so obsessed with the founding fathers and using them to somehow prove we are a Christian nation because of them?

And secondly, I’m sure that the poor and disenfranchised in America and all over the world are so happy to know that they are “moral” equals with everyone else. Every life has an equal worth? Really? Then how many Iraqi civilians do you think equal one American civilian? The sad thing is, it is very much possible to calculate that value based on economics.

Christianity initially tolerated slavery- a universal institution at the time - but gradually mobilized the moral and political resources to end it.

Cop-out alert! D’Souza justifies Christianity’s initial tolerance of slavery by saying the institution was universal. Hey Dinesh – here’s my favorite parental quote: “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” I guess it’s kind of hard to be against slavery when the Bible promotes it.

From the beginning, Christianity discouraged the enslavement of fellow Christians. Slavery, the foundation of Greek and Roman civilization, withered and largely disappeared throughout medieval Christendom in the Middle Ages.

“…discouraged the enslavement of fellow Christians.” Great, but go ahead and enslave everyone else who doesn’t submit to Jesus! This statement from D’Souza is laughable. And let’s not forget that slavery was a big part of the foundation for American civilization as well.

Consider finally modern notions of human rights - the right to freedom of conscience, or to property, or to marry and form a family, or to be treated equally before the law - as enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The universalism of this declaration is based on the particular teachings of Christianity. The premise is that all human lives have equal dignity and worth, but this is not the teaching of all the world's cultures and religions.

Aside from the fact that human rights are a common-sense issue (who needs a god to tell you that killing someone is wrong?), I wonder if Mr. D’Souza knows that the United Nations Human Rights Commission – the keeper of the UDHR –says homosexuals are protected under the declaration. How does your Christian conscience feel about that?

One reason the atheist philosopher Nietzsche hated democracy is because he understood its religious foundation.

It seems only fitting to end with Nietzsche. I’ll let you in on a little secret, Dinesh – Nietzsche was crazy, and he hated everyone and everything. I think you may have something in common with him.

The Sad Demise of Left Behind: The Video Game

I was doing some research this morning for a new post, and I came across this blog post (on a [not bad] Christian blog, no less), chronicling the demise of Left Behind: Eternal Forces. I'm not sure if it's related to the "Left Behind" book series I mentioned in my last post, but it's pretty amusing nonetheless. Be sure to click through all the links in the post to get the full history.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Glenn Beck: Full of Holes on "The Golden Compass"

The other night, Glenn Beck - a commentator for CNN Headline News, interviewed the authors of the Left Behind series of Christian novels.

You can read the transcript of the interview here (scroll all the way to the bottom, then scroll up - it's the next to last segment). Let's fill in the holes:

First - this is the movie they're talking about. Which is based on this series of books geared towards young adults. Interesting how they didn't talk at all about either of them. They just threw the name of the film out there and started going off about atheists.

Now, what they tried to accomplish in this interview was to get people to boycott a film called "The Golden Compass" because the book that it's based on supposedly attacks Christianity.

[Sorry, I got sidelined by a nasty cold at this point in the post. It's now October 22nd, but I'll try to remember where I was and finish up.]

So, yeah, these two Christian authors and Glenn Beck are ganging up on this film based on the book series. Here are some interesting points in the transcript of the conversation I'd like to pick apart:

GLENN BECK: The film is based on the first installment of an award-winning children's series called "His Dark Materials." Nothing spooky or sketchy about that title, huh? OK, like "Left Behind" doesn't sound sinister either. Nothing like scaring your kids into believing something.

GLENN BECK: ...The author is an avowed atheist. Not really. Had Mr. Beck done some research, he may have found this interview with the author (whose name is Philip Pullman - another fact not mentioned for some reason, nor was Mr. Pullman apparently invited to be on the show) who clearly states he is "caught between the words 'atheist' and 'agnostic'".

TIM LAHAYE: Well, the problem is it's a vicious attack on Christianity, the church, and moral values. Why is it that every time someone writes or says something negative about or questioning religion that it is termed "a vicious attack"? To me, a vicious attack involves some kind of physical injury. Like if someone bombed a church, that would surely be a vicious attack. But for someone to write a fantasy novel that draws some parallels to modern Christianity, and asks young adults to give religion a hard look - that's not vicious. But I understand why it scares Christians!

GLENN BECK: But, Tim, you say that atheism is on the rise in this country and it's tearing us apart, and I believe I agree with you. I'm not sure who Beck means by "us" when he says "it's tearing us apart", but I'm going to assume he means "this country" (The United States). What I would like to know is exactly how atheism is tearing the country apart. Here are some current events that I think are tearing the country apart - please tell me how atheism is involved: the war in Iraq, lack of health insurance for those that most need it, droughts in the South and East, wildfires in the West...shall I go on?

LAHAYE: Well, it's not only on the increase, but it's becoming more evangelistic and more aggressive. Evangelistic? Hey, Christianity invented evangelism. Are they just mad that we're dipping into their bag of tricks? Aggressive? Another bad euphemism, like "militant", that Christians like to use instead of "outspoken". Yes, for the umpteenth time, we atheists are becoming more outspoken.

LAHAYE: Pullman admits that he's an activist atheist, and he'd like to tear down the church and discredit it in the eyes of the young people. Please show me where Pullman says this.

LAHAYE: This is something like indoctrination against belief in God. As opposed to an indoctrination for belief in God. That's what belief in God is, isn't it? If you raise your child to believe in God, that's indoctrination. So why badmouth atheists for doing it? Again, I think they're just mad because we're using the same tricks they are.

BECK: OK. I have not -- I've never even heard of this series before. Can either of you -- have either of you read this series? Can you tell me what's in it that is so disturbing, the things that are in it?

JERRY JENKINS: That's the problem, is that we haven't seen it and we don't like people criticizing our stuff when we haven't read it. But from all the things that have been quoted about the author, he clearly is, as Dr. LaHaye says, an active atheist and wants to propagate his views. At least they admit that they haven't read the books. They're just scared that the author is (supposedly) an active atheist who wants to propagate his views. Do you know what we call that in America? Free speech.

LAHAYE: Well, this atheism is even more subtle. Jesus made it very clear that children have a built-in faith. He said "they that believe in him." He just took it for granted. You have to teach children atheism, and that's the harm. Children have a "built-in faith" because Jesus said so? You have to "teach children atheism"? Well, sorry gentlemen. But I was not taught atheism. And neither were most atheists. We were taught religion, and we rejected it. If I had a "built-in faith", it must have come broken from the manufacturer.

I hope all of you on-the-fencers out there can see what I'm getting at.

UPDATE: Paul Johnson

Apparently the letter that I wrote to Forbes regarding Paul Johnson's anti-atheist diatribe got someone's attention, as I received this e-mail from Forbes about 12 hours ago:

Michele Anderson <*****@forbes.com>

Thanks for your email. I am passing it along to the editor of our Readers Say section for possible use in an upcoming issue.

Hooray for me and atheists everywhere!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ann Coulter is Insane

The biggest favor Christians could do for themselves (aside from maybe pulling together a version of the Bible that they could stand behind 100%) is slap a big old muzzle on conservative commentator Ann Coulter and throw her in a dungeon somewhere. Witness this insanity.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's Creepy Christian Week on The Smoking Gun!

The Smoking Gun, one of my favorite Web sites, has a couple of gems this week featuring the escapades of a couple of fun-loving Christians:

Klutzo the Christian Clown

The death of a kinky minister

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Pat Condell Tells It How It Is

If you check out only one atheist user's videos on YouTube, make it Pat Condell's. He will make you an un-believer.

Here's one of my favorites:

Get Your God (Helmet) On!

I have got to get me one of these.

UK Religious Institutions Want Protected Hate Speech

So, there's a new law being proposed in the United Kingdom that would serve up jail time to anyone who incites hate against any gay or lesbian person.

Of course, since nearly every religion opposes homosexuality, leaders from all major religions are in an uproar. Not surprising, but it was this quote from the article that really got to me:

"Religious groups warned it could lead to preachers being prosecuted for emotionally expressing their firmly-held beliefs and will restrict freedom of speech."

It's this "emotionally expressing" cop-out that I find ridiculous. If a preacher of whatever religion is emotionally expressing his belief that homosexuality is wrong, it sounds like a euphemism for inciting hatred to me.

Leaders of religious congregation wield a great deal of influence. If they believe that homosexuality is wrong, but they also believe that homosexuals have a right to exist and should not be attacked, then they should say this clearly to their congregants. A good leader should be able to keep emotions in check, especially if the result of an "emotional expression" could be violence.

There is a less sensationalized article about the legislation here.

Paul Johnson & the Strawman

Forbes, the venerable business magazine that I somewhat respect, somehow allowed this article by historian Paul Johnson to slip into its pages. I'll let you go ahead and read first. What follows is the response I sent to the editor (just under the 500-word limit!).


To The Editor:

As an atheist it was with no surprise that I read the old, tired arguments against atheism from Paul Johnson.

To call atheists “militant” is to suggest that we are violent, and that is inflammatory at best. Did I miss reports of a recent string of bombings for which prominent atheist organizations took credit? I believe the adjective Mr. Johnson meant to use is “outspoken”. Yes, we are outspoken and are becoming more so. We are getting more press, more television coverage and traffic is increasing on atheist Web sites. Mr. Johnson is correct to note that atheism is on the rise, but that is the only point he makes that could be considered so.

There is too much superstitious, conspiracy-theorist nonsense in Mr. Johnson’s article to refute in 500 words, but it is clear that he dislikes not only atheists but anyone who does not believe in the God of the Bible. I can only assume that at least one of states he speaks of that has an interest in acquiring nuclear weapons is Iran, which is an Islamic republic – not an atheist one. And it is not revulsion against Islamic extremism that is partly driving the current “wave” atheism as Mr. Johnson suggests – it is our revulsion against the aggressive response of a significant portion of the Christian population towards what is a very small percentage of the total Islamic population. Lumping atheists together with Islamic extremists is a transparent tactic – one indicative of his level of paranoia.

Mr. Johnson also suggests that if we atheists had our way, we would demolish churches, burn artworks and attempt to purge history of any mention of God. We aren’t interested in trying to change the past, Mr. Johnson. There are plenty of people trying to do that already. It’s the future we’re most worried about.

As atheists, we believe that using faith as a crutch, that hiding behind it in order to see only what we want to see, is akin to shutting one’s eyes while driving on the highway. You can have “faith” that God will see you to safety, but chances are someone will needlessly wind up getting killed.

In conclusion, to address Mr. Johnson’s question about whether this latest wave of atheism is a “phase”, he will be sad to learn that it is not. Atheists currently make up about ten percent of the population, but recent studies have shown that 20% or more of young people under the age of 25 are identifying themselves as non-believers. And Christianity has only itself to thank. Thanks to the internet we can read about every church scandal, fallacy and abuse of power. And it wouldn’t take more than a few days of news coverage to make a reasonable young person believe that a life in God’s service is not much of a life at all.


For those of you unfamiliar with debate tactics (particularly of the theist vs. atheist variety), Mr. Johnson employs in his article one of the most common methods of deflecting (and I do mean deflecting - not debunking) an atheist argument: the "strawman".

A strawman is essentially an implication that your opponent holds a certain (undesirable) position that they actually don't. Here is the text from his article where the strawman is let loose:

"I could not find content in a landscape whose horizon held no churches or in a civilization whose literature was purged of any reference to a divine being; whose art had blotted out the nativities, crucifixions, saints and angels; and whose music contained no intimations of immortality. And I believe the vast majority of people share such a view."

Mr. Johnson is right - the vast majority of people, including atheists, share this view. As I stated in my response to this article, it is clear that Johnson is implying that atheists would unleash a scorched-earth campaign against religious imagery and literature if we were in charge. This argument is clearly a strawman because (1) to do such a thing would be logistically impossible, and (2) most atheists simply would have no interest in such an undertaking.

So - to all you on-the-fencers out there, here is your first lesson on monitoring theist vs. atheist debates: Beware the Strawman!

U.S. Troops Force-Fed Christianity

It's bad enough being sent to a war zone like Iraq, a hot, dusty place with roadside bombs seemingly waiting around every corner. So, as an atheist soldier, you decide to try and meet up with some like-minded warriors to make sense of it all. Only to have your meeting disrupted by a superior officer posing as an atheist, who proceeds to threaten you and your future in the military because you don't believe in God.

In relation to my last post, is this not government establishment of a religion? A couple of weeks ago I was on an atheist forum where one of the members was about to join the Marines. He told us that during boot camp on Sundays, you had to be on a work detail if you chose not to go to church. I couldn't believe it. That was just before this story came out.

This isn't the first time that the military has tangled with allegations of improper evangelism. You may recall in 2004 the U.S. Air Force Academy had to bring in a new commandant on the heels of news that cadets of other faiths (or no faith) were being unfairly persecuted by evangelical Christian staff and cadets.

How is our military supposed to fight a common enemy when it can't reconcile differences within it's own ranks?

John McCain: Constitution Established a Christian Nation

I'm not sure what's more disturbing - the fact that Republican Senator and presidential candidate John McCain thinks the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation, or that 55% of Americans agree with him.

In case you're wondering, the U.S. Constitution mentions religion in exactly one paragraph - the First Amendment. It says the following:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I would like to know how a reasonable person would believe that this text establishes the United States as a Christian nation. Christians will commonly argue in response that the United States was "founded on Christian principles" because the majority of the founding fathers were Christian. That may be true, but if the founding fathers were really that concerned about cementing the place of Christianity in our country's founding, perhaps they would have taken a few minutes to write it into the Constitution. Instead, they made their intentions very clear in the First Amendment - the practice of religion (any religion) would not be interfered with, but no single religion would be endorsed by the government either.

The moral of this story? Read your Constitution folks! Especially you elected officials. The Cornell University Law school has a nice navigable electronic version here.

Say It With Me...

My name is [your name here], and I'm an atheist.

Didn't that feel good?

If you're not an atheist, then it either didn't feel good or you just didn't say it. Either way, that's fine. You're not my target audience. Which isn't to say that I'm not interested in your input. But we'll get to that part shortly.

So let's start this off properly - my name is Geir, and I'm an atheist. I have been for a long time. Always, actually. Don't get me wrong - I was raised Lutheran, went to Sunday school and all that for several years, went through confirmation...and then never went to church again (except for the occasional wedding, of course). None of that religious education stuck. Why? I don't know. But I do believe that religion is instilled by indoctrination, and part of my atheism, I'm sure, is that the indoctrination just wasn't strong enough. (The church I went to was ELCA, not Missouri Synod - those of you raised Lutheran will understand).

Anyway, why is this important? Why am I doing this? The simplest answer I can give is this: organized religion is either directly or indirectly influencing and causing a lot of things in the world that it shouldn't be. And it is also denying or refusing to deal will issues that must be addressed. In the past week, in particular, several news articles appeared that finally drove me over the edge.

I've been thinking about creating this blog for a while. It will function as sort of a running tally of religion causing trouble, as reported by the media. Plus some color commentary from me, as time permits.

Now - back to my target audience. My target audience is those of you who are or may be on the fence about religion, faith or whatever you want to call it. If there are lingering doubts in your mind about the existence of the God of the Bible, or any god, I hope you take a good look at the cases I show here and ask yourself what makes more sense - an invisible man in the sky, supposedly all-powerful and in control of everything that happens, or the fact that we're just here, in control of our own destinies, and responsible for making the most of it. It's more complicated than that, of course. Entire books have been written on the subject. But this is a blog, not a book, so I'll do the best I can.

To those of you who are atheists already, I ask you come out of the closet if you haven't yet! You don't have to put up a blog or anything. As a good first step, I'd recommend checking out The Rational Response Squad, which is a great clearinghouse for atheism-related information. It's probably the only link I'll include at the top of this blog as they have links to everywhere else I would consider going.

One last point to end this long-winded first post. I am not interested in, and nor will I, attack any individual based on his or her faith. As atheists, we don't attack individuals. We attack the shameful and destructive results of religion taken too far. So please don't take my existence or the existence of this blog as an attack on you or your beliefs. As I said before, I am interested in your input. If you want to debate, we can debate. In fact, at some point soon I'll be posting something just for you believers to respond to!

On with the show!