The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘belief’

The Pope Tries to Have It Both Ways on Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 24, 2015

Like many, I was pleasantly surprised when Pope Francis recently made public comments about climate change, wherein he stated that a) it was real, and b) it is largely due to human activity. This is good news because, rightly or wrongly, the Pope is looked up to by billions of people around the world, and when someone of his stature speaks, people listen; and it seems his words are having a positive effect. It is also interesting that so many global warming deniers are beside themselves, even going so far as to label the Pope’s stance as off base and that he should (get this) leave “science to the scientists” (pardon me while I laugh at the irony of that comment). Of course, what do you expect from people who continually confuse weather with climate?

Now, while I’m happy to see these developments, I also urge caution. It’s not like Pope Francis is suddenly a big booster for science. Like too many high-profile public figures, he is a science-booster when it works for him and a science-denier when it works against him. Case in point: I was also a tad disappointed when the Pope visited Turin, Italy a few days ago, and he took some time to pray before the much-revered Shroud of Turin.

italy_turin_pope_francis_visit_tur31_50953173

(Image source)

So why does this matter? It matters because, to put it bluntly, it has been shown rather conclusively that the Shroud of Turin, which many claim is the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, is fake. For instance, there is the historical evidence which dates it to a time (around the year 1300 C.E. – roughly 13 centuries after Christ’s supposed burial) when supposed “holy relics” abounded in Europe; then there is the radio-carbon dating which dates it conclusively to the same time frame; then there is the evidence that, despite claims by the Vatican to the contrary, that it is actually rather easy to fake the phenomenon of the Shroud. All of this evidence pointing to the fakery that is the revered Shroud is nicely summed up in this entry at the Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Which leads to an obvious question: If Pope Francis is such a science-booster, why is he avoiding the entire question of the Shroud’s authenticity? Why are his statements regarding the Shroud little more than veiled references to Jesus and the Christian faith? Could it be because he wants to have it both ways, like Sen. Rick Santorum, and leave “science to the scientists”, except when he doesn’t like the answers science reveals?

Officially, the Vatican hasn’t taken a stance on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, but apparently that won’t stop the Pope from giving every indication that he believes it is real and thus influencing millions of Shroud-believers. Taking this stance is essentially to make one big argument from ignorance – that’s what this entire endeavor basically boils down to: we don’t know whether or not the Shroud is real, so therefore it really was the burial cloth of Jesus Christ!

So because you don’t know, you know???

Seriously? That’s the argument? Using such sloppy logic I could just as easily argue that the Shroud was created by invisible leprechauns, but somehow I don’t think the Catholic Church would go with that explanation. And that’s the silly thing about arguments from ignorance: once you use such thinking as an acceptable method of argumentation, just about any kind of crazy idea (without any evidence to support it whatsoever) becomes fair game.

Ah well, at least the Pope got it right on climate change.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, global warming denial, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

No, Facebook is NOT Banning Atheism

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 7, 2015

Lots of nonsense and misinformation gets spread around the Internet; it was true back in the “AOL days” (wow, now I feel old) when fake email chains got blindly forwarded, and now it’s still true in this age of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). I and many of my skeptically-minded friends and colleagues also identify as atheists, extending our skepticism of pseudoscience into the realm of religion, but that doesn’t necessarily make atheists think any more critically than many of the religious believers whom we often criticize.

Case in point: this morning I opened Facebook to see the following post from one of my atheist Facebook friends; the last comment is particularly relevant:

FUFBatheistban

Of course, there could be a number of reasons why Facebook would block a specific link, but note how quickly this comment thread jumped to the assertion that Facebook was banning atheist pages and links. You see similar comments all the time from many religious believers, which ties into the oft-emphasized (and completely false) claim from pastors and politicians alike that there is a “War on Religion” on Facebook or the Internet. Fortunately, someone else jumped into the thread rather quickly and corrected this erroneous claim by linking to the following article from Snopes.com :)

FBbansAtheism

On 24 May 2015, the fake news web site IFLScience.org (a spoof of the popular IFLScience.com site) published an article titled “Facebook to Ban Atheism from their Social Network over Cyber Bullying.” Echoing earlier fake news claims that Facebook was banning religious content…

… Of course, the statement (and claim) were cut from whole cloth, as IFLScience.org is one of many fake news peddlers making hay out of outrage-based shares on social sites such as Facebook. As noted in an earlier snopes.com article, the IFLScience.org site has successfully duped readers into mistaking their “satirical” content for that of its more credible doppleganger by way of initial visual similarities. However, there are a few notable differences:

  • IFLScience.org uses the tagline “100% Mostest Official and More Sciencey.”
  • As of May 2015, IFLScience.org only has a few hundred likes on Facebook, while IFLScience.com has millions.
  • The IFLScience.org Twitter icon links to the satirical Christians Against Dinosaurs Twitter page.
  • The logos used on IFLScience.org and IFLScience.com are only similar to one another on first glance:

For more tips on spotting fake news sites, check out our article on its most common tells.

And if you stop and think about these false claims in more detail, they make no sense given the broader societal context: recent surveys show that secularism is on the rise in the United States (and Facebook is centered in the U.S.) and that the religiously unaffiliated comprise roughly 23% of the population now. So if nearly a quarter of the population in the country which is home to Facebook identifies as non-religious, then how does this claim that “Facebook is going to ban atheism” make any sense? It doesn’t.

The lesson here is that whether or not you are religious, it is far too easy for us to believe satirical stories and spin them into conspiracy theories which seem to target things we hold dear. When it comes to something that means a lot to us, we often emote first and think rationally later, and the tools of social media make it far too easy for us to continue spreading such misinformation. So before you hit “Share” or “Forward”, take a moment to investigate a little bit and be certain that claim you’re passing on is accurate.

Posted in internet, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“The Limits of Skepticism?” Panel from Dragon*Con 2013

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 19, 2014

In honor of the upcoming Skeptrack at Dragon*Con 2014, I wanted to share the video of my favorite panel from last year’s Skeptrack, titled “The Limits of Skepticism?”  In this panel, we discussed a variety of heady topics related to skepticism, philosophy, religion, God, politics, cultural issues and how far skepticism can and cannot go.  I served as the moderator of the panel, which included philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, astronomer Pamela Gay, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) DJ Grothe, Center For Inquiry activist Debbie Goddard, freethought activist Margaret Downey, and author of “What’s the Harm?” website Tim Farley.

And, with that, here’s the video.  Enjoy! :)

The Limits of Skepticism?

The Limits of Skepticism 2 - DragonCon 2013

 

Posted in philosophy, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Yet More Evidence the Bible is Being Edited Even Today

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 29, 2013

One of the most popular posts I’ve made on this blog was about how the Bible has been edited in recent decades to promote a specific political agenda related to abortion. Since writing that post, it has become even more clear that the Bible continues to be edited in order to promote a very modern, right-wing, and fundamentalist worldview. What’s more is that those engaged in this effort, namely those paragons of intellectual honesty and virtue at Conservapedia (where they believe that Einstein’s physics theories are a “left-wing conspiracy”), are openly admitting what they are doing. But don’t take it from me, read what they have to say on their very own page for their Conservative Bible Project:

The Conservative Bible Project is a project utilizing the “best of the public” to render God’s word into modern English without liberal translation distortions. A Colbert Report interview featured this project. We completed a first draft of our translation of the New Testament on April 23, 2010.

Already our translators have identified numerous pro-abortion distortions that omit or twist clear references to the unborn child.

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning:

*lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ
*lack of precision in modern language
*translation bias, mainly of the liberal kind, in converting the original language to the modern one.

Experts in ancient languages are helpful in reducing the first type of error above, which is a vanishing source of error as scholarship advances understanding. English language linguists are helpful in reducing the second type of error, which also decreases due to an increasing vocabulary. But the third — and largest — source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate. [emphasis in the original] …

So there you have it. The folks at Conservapedia abandon all pretense and openly admit their political agenda; no doubt the phrase “best of the public” refers only to those people who share the fundamentalist worldview of Conservapedia’s authors. But what about their so-called claims to be addressing “lack of precision in the original language” and “translation bias”? Well, this article has some interesting info on that…

Right-Wing Group Seeks Help Rewriting the Bible Because It’s Not Conservative Enough

The King James Bible and more recent translations are veritable primers of progressive agitprop, according to the founder of Conservapedia.

… Don’t know Aramaic, Hebrew or ancient Greek? Not a problem. What they are looking for is not exactly egghead scholarship, but a knack for using words they’ve read in the Wall Street Journal. They have a list of promising candidates on their website— words like capitalism, work ethic, death penalty, anticompetitive, elitism, productivity, privatize, pro-life—all of which are conspicuously missing from those socialist-inspired Bibles we’ve been reading lately. …

Uhhh, yeah. Because ancient societies totally used the word “capitalism”, despite the fact the word didn’t even exist until the mid-19th century. But wait, it gets better!

… To give a sense of how to go about your own retranslation, here are some examples of changes the editors have already made.

Take that story where the mob surrounds a woman accused of adultery and gets ready to stone her, but Jesus intervenes and says, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” (John 7:53-8:11). It might have been a later addition that wasn’t in the original Gospels, according to some right-thinking, or rather right-leaning scholars. So the editors have excised this bleeding-heart favorite from the Good Book, and they’ve also removed Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

“The simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing,” Schlafly points out, proving that, “Jesus might never had said it at all.”

Another thing Jesus might never have said at all is, “Blessed are the meek.” Change that one to, “Blessed are the God-fearing,” the translation’s editors advise, which is far less touchy-feely than the King James version.

Where Jesus teaches that, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:24) our mentors at Conservapedia recommend that we scratch the word “rich” and replace it with either “fully fed and entertained” or, if you prefer, “idle miser,” which have none of the Occupy Wall Street-ish sour grapes of the better-known translation.

When Jesus greets his disciples with the blessing, “Peace be with you” (John 20, 26), the editors cleverly change the wording to, “Peace of mind be with you,” so that nobody gets the wrong idea and thinks Jesus was some kind of lilly-livered pacifist.

Likewise where Jesus says, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but to save it” (John 3, 17), they change “world” to “mankind,” so it is clear the Christian savior is not advocating environmentalism here. Hey, you can’t be too careful!

Finally, when Jesus admonishes hypocrites to, “Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye,” the conservative Bible replaces the word “hypocrite” with “deceiver,” since hypocrite is often “misused politically against Christians.” Good point! …

I think you get the idea.

However, there is one overwhelming fact that should be emphasized in all this: regardless of what the “original Bible” (an oxymoron for many reasons) did or did not say, what this whole fiasco proves, without a doubt, is that the Bible – like all religious texts – are the work of humans! The fact that the folks at Conservapedia are doing what they’re doing in such a blatant manner shows that they are, like all religious believers, I think, simply projecting their own beliefs and value systems onto what they believe to be an all-powerful god.

And therein lies one of the great ironies of the entire thing: so many right-wing fundamentalists have justified their worldview in the past by pointing to the Bible and saying “See? It says so in the Bible!” Yet now we see a bunch who are so wedded to their right-wing political worldview that they are openly changing the Bible (which they often claimed is inerrant and unchanging) to be more in line with that worldview.

If this isn’t evidence that those espousing this right-wing ideology and religion are doing so in a blatantly subjective and relativistic manner, I don’t know what is.

It also makes you wonder just how many times in the past such holy books have been edited to promote a specific, and wholly human, agenda, doesn’t it?

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Creationist Update: Creationism Loses Popularity, Texas Creationists Are Honest, and More Financial Shenanigans from Ken Ham

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 23, 2013

So much has been going on in the world of creationism lately that it’s been touch to keep track of it all, so I just want to give you a quick summary of three news items…

1.  Creationism Loses Popularity?

According to this blog post over at Patheos.com, it seems that creationism (and by “creationism” I mostly mean young-Earth creationism) may just be, slowly but surely, losing support among the public in the United States:

Just when we start to think the regressive policies of red states mean the battle is becoming harder, the secular movement gets more proof that what we’re doing really does matter.

poll of 1,000 people conducted by the Internet-based market research firm YouGovearlier this month indicates that since 2004, the level of public acceptance of creationism and the level for support for teaching creationism in U.S. public schools are down, and the level of acceptance of the theory of evolution is up.

Coming the week marking the 88th anniversary of the Scopes Monkey Trial, this is good news indeed. The numbers are far lower than what they need to be, though. While nearly half of the respondents agreed that evolution, whether guided by a deity or not, resulted in homo sapiens sapiens, significantly more than a third rejected evolution altogether and the remaining 17% claimed uncertainty.

YouGov’s poll marks substantial change from a similar CBS poll conducted in 2004. Thirteen percent of CBS’s 2004 respondents agreed with the statement. “Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process.” In 2013 the figure jumped to 21%. Correspondingly, strong creationism has taken the hardest hit. In 2004, 55% of respondents said that ”God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years,” and 5% said they were undecided. The strict creationists now account for 37% of the respondents. … [emphasis added]

Personally, I’ll take whatever good news I can get on this front, but I would like to see more than one poll yield the same information before I go celebrating too much.  Still, these results are pleasing :)

2.  Texas Creationists Get Honest

If you’ve followed the ongoing saga of creationism’s attempts to get into public schools, you probably know that the intent of creationists on school boards for decades, whether they espoused “teach the controversy”, “equal time”, or “academic freedom”, really meant “don’t teach evolution, instead teach (our view of) creationism.  Well, at least now the creationists who are attempting to manipulate the Texas Board of Education are now being open and honest about it (from Patheos.com) …

It used to be that creationists were sneaky.  They knew teaching creationism was against the law, so they tried to dress it up as science, or as teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.  It wasn’t exactly crafty, and it certainly wasn’t honest.

And the reason they weren’t honest is because playing fairly would result in immediate defeat (it turns out creationists don’t get to break the law more than anybody else).  This is a lesson the creationists on the Texas board of education are about to learn.  Karen Beathard, one of the reviewers, made a misstep by telling the truth.

“Religious conservatives serving on state textbook review panels have criticized several proposed high school biology textbooks for not including arguments against Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The review panels include several creationists. They urge the State Board of Education to reject the books unless publishers include more disclaimers on key concepts of evolution.

One reviewer even suggested a rule requiring that each biology book cover “creation science.” That would run counter to a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The decision banned the teaching of creationism in public school science classes. 

“I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution,” said Texas A&M University nutritionist Karen Beathard, one of the biology textbook reviewers. “At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I feel very firmly that creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.” [emphasis in the original]

Whoops.  That’s going to look pretty embarrassing for the creationists when they inevitably get hauled into court.  Can’t help fools… at least these are honest fools.

3.  Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Government Bailout?

It seems that despite all the rosy financial projections of a few years ago, uber-creationist Ken Ham is having even more difficulty than previously thought raising funds for the newest attraction at his Creation Museum, the “Ark Encounter”.  He has resorted to some questionable methods of raising money, seemingly putting the public on the hook by dipping into taxpayer funding in Kentucky (from NCSE):

When Answers in Genesis chief Ken Ham isn’t dealing with employees being zotted by lightning, or getting schooled on theology by a college student, he’s trying to build an amusement park centered on Noah’s Ark. He wants it to be full-sized (assuming they’re right about how long a cubit was), he wants it to be built by Amish carpenters (just like Noah’s was), he wants a mock first-century village, he wants to charge admission, and, as Daniel Phelps reports at Panda’s Thumb he hopes taxpayers as well as private citizens will cover part of the bill.

The project has already been promised a tourism-related state tax rebate and state road crews will widen the road leading to the park, but apparently the campaign to raise capital for construction has not been meeting expectations (neither has Creation Museum attendance, reportedly). So Ken Ham is looking for a new way to scare up money. He sent out an appeal to the Answers in Genesis mailing list offering people a chance to buy bonds to fund the park, bonds issued by the city of Williamstown, Kentucky. …

From the Panda’s Thumb link, I found the following comment to be of particular interest:

… Unfortunately, what it sounds like is that the City of Williamstown is going to issue some type of municipal bonds.

Municipal bonds are a loan made by a public entity. If you buy the bonds, you get a stream of “coupon” payments, as with any other type of bonds (“zero coupon” structure is just a variant of a coupon stream). You can think of the coupon payments as interest on the loan, even though it works slightly differently than the variable interest savings account that most people are more familiar with. Bottom line, a municipality borrows money and taxpayers pay the interest.

The hypocrisy here is unbelievable. I’m going to use the term “corruption” as well. There may or may not be anything technically illegal going on. But if this a surreptitious issuing of municipal bonds to fund a religious display, that may raise legal issues, and absolutely raises ethical issues. …

Ethical issues, indeed.  In my mind, the more I look at this entire situation with Ken Ham and his attempts to use public money to fund his creationist theme-park, the more I am reminded of this famous scene from The Simpsons:

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DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack Panel – Limits of Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 6, 2013

The second panel in which I participated this past Labor Day weekend at DragonCon was a Skeptrack panel titled “Limits of Skepticism”.  I served as the moderator of the panel, which included philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, astronomer Pamela Gay, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) DJ Grothe, Center For Inquiry activist Debbie Goddard, freethought activist Margaret Downey, and author of “What’s the Harm?” website Tim Farley.  In this discussion we ranged far and wide on the question of what is skepticism, what are the tools of skepticism, what are the limits of skepticism, and how skepticism can apply beyond the so-called “traditional” topics (UFOs, Bigfoot, creationism, etc).  I recorded the audio of the panel and share it with you below – enjoy!

Skeptrack
DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack – Limits of Skepticism

Posted in philosophy, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

God on a Goldfish Cracker?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 8, 2013

Every now and then, just when you think things cannot get too silly, they do.  Case in point: the fact that the news media is actually giving some attention to a woman’s claim that her goldfish cracket is a “sign from God”…

Florida woman finds ‘sign from God’ on Goldfish cracker

GoldfishGod

It’s a fishy story, but the woman telling it believes it’s pure gold. The Florida resident says the markings she found on a Goldfish cracker are a direct message affirming her Christian faith.

“I believe that it’s a sign, a sign from God,” Patti Burke told Florida Today. “He is still in our life every day, and he wants to show that to his people.”

It’s not quite manna, but in Burke’s eyes it’s a manifestation of her faith.

The cracker in question has two markings, or imperfections, on its surface. Burke says the first marking is of a cross with a circle around it. The second marking, near the head of the fish, represents a golden crown.

“When I picked this one up, I knew he was special,” she said. “Something I’ve never seen before out of all the Goldfish I’ve eaten.”

Burke admittedly has been working from a large sample size, consuming between two and three pounds of the crackers per week. She says she eats the small crackers individually, examining each one for the optimal amount of savory coating. … [emphasis added]

Umm… yeah.  Pardon me, but… IT’S A CRACKER!!! Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system.  Come on folks, is it really any surprise that the person making this “miraculous discovery” (which has all the markings of a modern-day “religious relic” such as the infamous Virgin Mary Grill Cheese Sandwich) is a devout Christian?  That is the classic marker of pareidolia – our evolution-wired brains are developed for pattern recognition, and one of the most recognized patterns for a Christian is the cross. Throw into the mix a bit of religious fervor (i.e. in this case, devout Christianity) and viola! you have a “miracle” appearance of the cross on a cracker.

Here’s another interesting bit of pareidolia to get you thinking.  Years ago a man cut into a melon, and he saw this…

So what, if anything, do you see?  If you’re like me, you see some wavy lines which are essentially meaningless.  But if you are a devout Muslim who can read Arabic, you will likely see “Allah” (God) written out in Arabic.  And, before you roll your eyes, there are people who treat this as seriously as our lady does her cross-marked cracker.  So, what this shows you is that the interpretation of these “miracles” is strongly context and culturally specific.

In conclusion, what this all really teaches us about these kinds of “miraculous events” is this: it’s all in your head, folks, and people who believe strongly enough can find amazing ways to validate those beliefs – even if to the rest of us it’s utter gibberish.

It also seems to teach us something about God’s powers, namely that as time goes on the kind of “miracles” that God apparently performs become increasingly mundane, as this graph displays :)

Gods Power vs Time

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Is Secularism Making a Comeback?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 22, 2013

As I’ve written before, it seems that there is a growing secular and non-religious demographic in the United States that is starting to speak up.  This topic is the subject of a recent opinion piece that I read on the Washington Post’s Guest Voices blog, and I found the analysis by the author, Jacques Berlinerblau, to be worth noting…

Is secularism making a comeback?

By Jacques Berlinerblau

 When it comes to not making optimistic, pie-in-the-sky pronouncements about American secularism I have almost unparalleled street cred. For years I have rued and bemoaned and lamented the fate of this poor mangled –ism.

But in the past few months there have been some positive and unexpected developments both here and abroad as well.The first is far less obvious than it might seem. By far, the best thing that has happened to American secularism in about half a century was that the reactionary 2012 iteration of the Republican party, while not McGovernized, was pretty thoroughly thrashed. To the long list of those in this country who were perplexed and repulsed by this aberrant version of the GOP (e.g., Latinos, African-Americans, gays, women) let us add secular Americans. …

… I want to stress that Republicans, historically, have not been anti-secular nor should the same be said about many of their core convictions. The shift occurred with the synergies that developed between Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the  late 1970s. In fits and starts the relation between the Christian Right and the Republicans has grown for three decades. Did it crest in 2012? Will a humbled GOP shuck the divisive God-botherers in its midst? That is the question that secularists are eagerly—nay, gleefully—posing. …

Indeed, I can be counted among those secularists who are hoping quite strongly that the Republican party can finally free itself from the stranglehold of the religious right.  Unfortunately, the religious right is dug so deeply into the GOP that they will not go quietly nor easily; methinks the Republican party is in for a long and nasty internal fight.

However, there is a note of caution to be heard…

… I am a pessimist by nature so let me raise a few caveats about the political potency of the nones. The first is that their Election Day turnout was somewhat underwhelming (they were 12 percent of the electorate though they are nearly 20 percent of the population). They actually gave less of their ballot to Obama in 2012 than they did in 2008 (70 percent down from 75 percent).

Most crucially, they are not an organized, disciplined, well-funded political juggernaut like the Christian Right, but a category on a demographer’s clipboard. The Democrats will need to organize and mobilize them (and perhaps this is why Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast gave them a shout out when he referred to “those of no faith that they can name”).

This is why I want to note, buzzkillingly, that 2012 was more a victory for secularism than a victory by secularism. But a victory nonetheless! Moreover, secularists can’t help but wonder if the pope’s recent resignation signals, at the very least, a set back for the global anti-secular platform.

So, long story short, the “nones” should be happy to celebrate this victory, but we should not be so naive as to think that progress on those secular issues important to us will simply march along all by itself.  The moment that we take our eye off the political ball, I think the religious right – which is more well-funded and organized than the secular movement – will swoop in and attempt to drag us all back to the Dark Ages.

Rather than rest on our laurels, this moment should serve to motivate us to become more involved in secular issues.  We need to make sure to defend church-state separation, stand up for strong science education, and seek to curb the influence of sectarian religious groups upon our government.  My suggestion is that you take some time to learn more about groups like the Secular Coalition for America and consider signing up with them.  Get involved, get active, and we can make a more secular nation a reality! :)

Posted in politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Non-Religious on the Rise… In Congress!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2013

If you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, then you know that I’ve touched on the topic of a rising secular and non-religious demographic in the United States; in fact, now 1-in-5 Americans label themselves as non-religious.  I also wrote about Kyrsten Sinema, a newly elected Congresswoman who has openly identified herself as atheist.  Well, it seems that there is now a convergence between these two things emerging, because this new Congress now contains the highest number of openly non-religious members in history!

US-Congress

It’s not just for religious fundamentalists anymore :)

This Politico story has more details:

Non-believers on rise in Congress

By CHARLES MAHTESIAN | 1/5/13 2:34 PM EST

The number of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion is on the rise, according to an analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

In the 96th Congress (1979-80), not a single member of the House or Senate said they didn’t belong to any particular faith, didn’t know or refused to disclose their religion. But in the new 113th Congress, 10 members fall under that category.

That’s twice as many as in the 111th Congress (2009-10).

Pew notes there’s still a great disparity between the percentage of U.S. adults and the percentage of members of Congress who don’t identify with any particular religion. …

… The numbers here caught my eye, not because of the disparity between non-believers in the general population and in Congress, but because I was surprised so many members actually admitted to it. … [emphasis added]

Exactly.  I, and many others, have long suspected that there are a good number of closeted “nones” in our Congress, but up until now they’ve been cautious about self-identifying as non-religious for fear of electoral backlash.  However, it seems that, slowly but surely, those days are drawing to a close :)

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Follow Up to Religious Fundamentalists’ Reaction to Sandy Hook Massacre

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2012

As I recently blogged, there was the all-too-predictable nutty and inhuman reaction to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School from the religious zealots in our nation in the past few days… it’s the fault of gays and atheists, don’t ya know!  Thanks to all who have reblogged (thanks to Phil at Skeptic Money :) ), tweeted, commented, and emailed me with feedback about that blog post.  I wanted to share with you all a really good bit of correspondence I got from my online friend “Other Jesus”, because it goes to the root of some deeper questions related to religion and how people do/don’t think about it.  Read on…

I liked your article. I was actually waiting for these groups to emerge. Most of the responses on all sides of the background debate have responded in predictable manner. I know the main characters are the anti- and pro-gun groups, the “more mental health” people, and the “we need more God in school…” religious folks. But some of the most annoying folks are the “prayers and hugs” crew in the periphery. Every tragedy like this evokes a “hug your kids and pray for the family of the victims”. How’s that working? (Don’t quote me on the above!)

The Huckabee premise deserves a more blatant study and response. So Mike thinks we need more God in school for protection. Meanwhile, some folks are calling for full-time armed security in schools (Sean Hannity, eg.). So what if God applied for the security guard job at a school? Well the principal would need to review His resume and he/she might ask for more explanation about the following:

1) Where was God during the murder of Able? Was it preventable?

2) Where was God during the murder of the Egyptian first born in the 10th Plague? What about His alleged
ties to the Angel of Death?

3) Wasn’t God in the land of His “chosen people” during Herod’s “murder of the innocents”? Did He take any steps to prevent the slaughter?

4) During the Great Flood, what did God do to protect the babies and young innocent children? Did he have any role in the cause of the flood?

Now these are events from long ago, so the principal might accept God’s excuse that “that was then, this is now”. So how about a more modern example? A school like Huckabee wants: With God fully in-place. Maybe God’s checkered resume can be redeemed.

5) Where was God on December 1, 1958? Was he watching a student play with matches in the basement of Out Lady of Angel’s Catholic school in Chicago? What did he do when the young man ignitee a trash barrel? Did he take any action to stop the fire before it killed 92 kids and three nuns?

I don’t think that the principal conducting the interview would have a hard time deciding whether or not God was qualified, despite the endorsement from Mike Huckabee.

(NOTE TO SELF: Be very skeptical of anyone Mick Huckabee refers.)

And here are some other good points brought up by various people who read my article:

What really irritates me are those who claim that shootings happen at schools because God is not allowed in schools. However, that does not explain why students at a Jewish school in France (earlier this year) were killed by a gunman. Does God only dwell in Christian schools? The point is, belief in God has nothing to do with these tragic events. Horrible things happen because horrible people cause them to happen – it is not the result of divine punishment.

… and…

So how is it that shootings have occurred in churches, religious schools and if no sin is greater than another; why all the child molesting and rape in churches?   Has God been removed from there as well.

… and…

Also, I’d like to know how Mike Huckabee explains the fact that slavery and segregation were legal while much of that praying was going on in schools.

Hmm, good questions.  Food for thought, folks… food for thought.

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