Friday, December 21, 2007

How Many Bibles Can You Fit on the Head of a Pin?

Breaking News:

In a nanotechnology breakthrough, scientists from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have printed the entire Old Testament onto a silicone chip smaller than a pinhead (less than 1/1000th of an inch).

If only it’s influence was reduced accordingly!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

People for the Ethical Treatment of People

A new study by Ralph Pyle, a sociologist from Michigan State University, regarding religious attitudes towards tolerance and prejudice, presented at this month's joint meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association in Tampa, FL, yielded some interesting results. As reported by David Briggs of the Cleveland Plain Dealer,
Pyle measured nearly 3,000 responses from General Social Survey data from 1998-2004 on several issues such as openness to racial intermarriage and racially mixed neighborhoods and ranked religious groups on a scale of anti-black and anti-immigrant attitudes.

He found that moderate Protestants held the strongest anti-black attitudes. The next most prejudiced group? Liberal Protestants. As expected, black Protestants were the least prejudiced against blacks. But they were the most prejudiced against immigrants. Conservative Protestants were the second most prejudiced group against immigrants. Jews, Catholics and other religious groups showed less prejudice to both groups, being particularly open to immigrants. People who go to church regularly were less likely to be prejudiced, Pyle said. Noteworthy were people with no religious affiliation who were much less likely to be prejudiced than individuals showing modest levels of commitment to their faith, those who attend services monthly or less.

So let’s get this straight. Moderate and liberal Protestants were the most prejudiced, followed by conservative Protestants. Catholics and Jews, were less prejudiced followed by non-religionists who were “much less likely” than the rest to be prejudiced, even less likely than devout church-goers. Empirical data thus show that religion is no bellwether for ethical treatment towards our fellow human beings. In other words, secular humanism, which is the conscious expression of these attitudes of tolerance and lack of prejudice, trumps religion in its supposed moral superiority.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Season's Greetings!

Rather than extol a mythical past let's work towards a sustainable future.

Imagine There's no Religion...

Well not here in the 'Good Ole USA' circa 2007. Our National Season's Greeting Card has taken on a decided turn towards creationism.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Judith Warner's latest blog entry on the Christian right

Check out Judith Warner's latest blog entry musings on the Christian right and how their values are anything but our modern understanding of Christian compassion:

While I lament that I will probably not experience an openly atheist US president in my lifetime, I agree with Warner, Barack Obama, and Dean Howard that we can't concede that the Christian right in this country represent Christian values. If Christianity is supposed to embody the values of compassion, brotherly love, neighborly love, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, then the Christian right isn't Christian.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Say It Ain't So!

As a baseball fan I’ve been conflicted by the prosecution cum persecution of Barry Bonds because of his alleged steroid use. Now the long awaited report on steroid use in Major League Baseball has been released and low and behold a bevy of superstars including Roger Clemens have been implicated. It’s Clemen’s alleged usage that strikes me as most telling. Clemens and Bonds are mirror images of each other. Clemens the greatest pitcher of the modern era destined for the Hall of Fame. Bonds the greatest hitter. Both are in the twilight of their careers and have posted amazing stats well into their late 30s and early 40s. Both have abrasive personalities and are not particularly well liked by the media. But will Clemens now be pilloried in the same fashion as Bonds? Will his records be ridiculed and disparaged in like manner? I tend to doubt it, but only time will tell. Could there be some underlying racism here?

A Jew, A Muslim and 10 Christians Board a Train, No This is Not a Joke!

As the following story illustrates human kindness will transcend our differences when we recognize our shared humanity. Be it Christian, Muslim or Jew, however, those who take their religion as sacrosanct are prone to impose their beliefs on others through intimidation or outright physical violence. Take this recent example from NYC:
A Muslim man jumped to the aid of three Jewish subway riders after they were attacked by a group of young people who objected to one of the Jews saying "Happy Hanukkah". View the video report below:

Newdow's Suit

Last week I had the chance to go to San Francisco to participate in a rally to support Michael Newdow and his suit against Congress in an attempt to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Alleliance.

The phrase was added in 1954 amidst the hysteria about the "Godless Communists."

About 30 of us were there for his appearance before the 9th Circuit Appellate Court. As usual, he was articulat and well prepared. "This is not a suit against religion," he said, "but rather a suit to treat us all as equals."

A ruling from the three-judge panel is not expected until sometime this Spring.

There's more information posted on the Santa Cruz Atheists blogsite at

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Religionists Seeking Political Hegemony Take Two

If you think Romney’s remarks on faith are dangerous let’s not forget that the Rev. Huckabee wants to put those words into direct action
I didn't get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives…I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.

While he may come across to some as a good ole boy, he is even more duplicitous than the current weasel in the White House, if that's possible.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Wouldn’t You Know It!

Just as you might expect the tragic shootings at a missionary center and a church in Colorado that left four people dead (including two teenage sisters) and five wounded has been laid at the footsteps of the “secular media” by Tony Perkins, President of the ultra right-wing Family Research Council.

At the (and as reported on Keith Olbermann tonight) Steve Benen writes that:

Under a headline that read, “An Assault on Faith,” Perkins told supporters in a weekly email newsletter:

“It is hard not to draw a line between the hostility that is being fomented in our culture from some in the secular media toward Christians and evangelicals in particular and the acts of violence that took place in Colorado yesterday.”

I’m not sure what’s more twisted — Perkins seeking to exploit a tragedy to advance his religio-political agenda, or his bizarre belief that the “secular media” is responsible for fomenting hostility towards evangelicals.

In both instances, Perkins, a prominent religious right leader, has the story backwards. Murray, who was obviously suffering from severe mental illnesses, wasn’t immersed in the “secular media,” he was home-schooled in “a deeply religious Christian household."

Exactly! If there ever was a case of “the pot calling the kettle black” this is it! The murderer was reared as a Christian fundamentalist not a secular humanist. His on-line ravings against Christianity were the result of his intimate association with the evangelical New Life Church formerly led by the disgraced hypocrite Ted Haggert. The killer’s actions were antithetical to the principles of secular humanism but perfectly consistent with the vengeful Abrahamic creed he was exposed to. Which is not to say that all Christians should be blamed for the slayings. The shooter was said to have heard voices and was obviously psychotic.

Monday, December 10, 2007

'Tis the Season Redux

In a recent post I mentioned the fact that the marmoset, a small South American primate, engages in altruist behavior towards other genetically unrelated members of its species. This behavioral trait was linked to the cooperative breeding system of marmosets in which, like humans, both parents contribute to the rearing of their offspring. Now a new study illuminates the underlying genetic basis for this behavior. For the first time a common, but variable human gene, also found in lower mammals, has been shown to contribute to displays of generosity in an economic-decision making game. The finding that the same gene contributing to social bonding in lower animals also appears to operate similarly in human behavior suggests a common evolutionary mechanism. To read more go to this article at ScienceDaily. Both the behavioral and genetic research are mutually supportive and demonstrate that the “Christmas spirit” is a product of evolutionary biology.

To Mitt Romney and Bill O'Reilly

Mitt Romney recently spoke to an audience of right-wing Christians to assure them that, as president, he would not impose his Mormon faith on the nation but would advance religious (Judeo-Christian) values in "the public square." Besides keeping Christmas trees and menorahs in the public square, Romney would strive to keep "In God We Trust" on our currency and "under God" in our Pledge of Allegiance.
I assume he would also want to continue funneling federal tax money to religious charities and withholding federal tax money from organizations that advocate family planning, the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and sex education in schools that doesn't consist solely in advising teenagers to abstain from sex until they marry. He likely will want to promote the teaching of intelligent design instead of evolution in public science classrooms. George W. Bush has promoted all of these things with the support of a Republican-controlled Congress and a conservative-majority Supreme Court. (I'll refrain from listing all of the non-religious ways President Bush has defied our Constitution.)
Romney and the religious right are clearly threatened by secular humanism, by brave and dedicated atheists like Michael Newdow. Fox News' Bill O'Reilly claims secular humanists have a "very secret plan" to get rid of public religion in this nation. As an open secular humanist and atheist, I object to O'Reilly's claim that I'm part of some conspiracy. As a member of the newly formed Secular Humanists of Santa Cruz County, I am not hiding my atheism nor plotting with any of the other members to remove religion from the "public square." We openly advertise our existence and invite others to join us in discussion about religious and secular humanist issues affecting our civic, public lives.
At our last meeting, no one registered concern that downtown Santa Cruz displays both a Christmas tree and large menorah. Instead, we discussed how to respond to Romney's assault on secular humanists. We are not intent on stripping the joy of the holidays from anyone. We are intent, though, in opposing the religious right, who insist on promoting a religious government in direct violation of the Constitution.
Romney and O'Reilly incorrectly ascribe a Christian religiosity to our Founding Fathers. George Washington attended Anglican/Episcopalian church with Martha, but he never took communion, an act that would have signaled his belief. Thomas Jefferson wrote often of his skepticism. Benjamin Franklin was a deist, not a Christian. Later, James Madison staunchly defended the Constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state, fully appreciating that this was absolutely the intent of our Founding Fathers.
While the Puritans certainly settled New England, and Spain certainly spread Catholicism in Florida and up the coast of California, the Framers of our Constitution founded this nation's government on religious freedom. No president should be forced to pass a litmus test of religious belief, and the president, Congress, and Supreme Court should never be permitted to promote a religion. This nation became a hotbed of Christian fundamentalism during the Great Awakenings, after the founding of the government during the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason. And "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, at the height of anti-communism in America. Philosophically, the nation's secular roots are older than its religious ones. I guess Romney and O'Reilly flunked history and government in high school.
The religious right fears losing the presidency to a person who would end the current president's disregard for the Constitution. They should be scared. It's long past time for reasonable people to stop the religious right's influence and power. Secular humanist conspiracy isn't going to bring down religious fundamentalism. Secular humanist open participation in the public square and in the public courts (go, Michael Newdow!) and halls of government are going to restore our Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, including the right to be religion free.
To Romney and the religious right, I say again that I (and probably a good many of my fellow secular humanists) enjoy religious celebrations and displays in the public square. To O'Reilly, I say that I don't feel offended when a store greeter says "Merry Christmas" to me during this season. I'm not offended that stores allow the Salvation Army to ring bells and collect donations at store entrances. I'm not upset that the US Post Office sells Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa stamps.
As a member of the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus, I sang in its 25th annual Music for the Feast of Christmas Concerts and Community Sings at Holy Cross Church just two weekends ago. My joy in singing gorgeous music by Bach, Mendelssohn, Gabrieli, and so many others was not diminished by the fact that I didn't believe a religious word of what I was singing. I love singing Christmas songs (and Hanukkah songs, for that matter) and celebrating the holiday with family and friends. My non-belief in a god incarnate, born of a virgin, doesn't lessen my pleasure in Christmas trees and wreaths, candles, carols, wassail, eggnog, and family togetherness. What gives me deep pain is living under a president who deprives me of Constitutionally guaranteed rights . . . and the prospect of another one who would do the same.

The Biological Evolution of Religion

Is religion the product of “God’s” revelation to humankind as our faithful brethren insist? Or is it the inherent result of more mundane processes? A conversation about the nature of religion with the celebrated philosopher Daniel Dennett suggests that the religious impulse is a product of evolution and should be studied as a biological phenomenon. Listen to the conversation he recently had with KUSP's Robert Pollie.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Religionists Seeking Political and Cultural Hegemony

At one time in the not so distant past, the United States was routinely recognized as a secular society. By this it was meant that civil society was free of the impositions of religious dogma and a citizen's faith, or lack thereof, in religious doctrine was his or her personal choice.

The right-wing evangelical movement in this country has, however, attempted to rewrite our history and remake the U.S. into a “Christian Nation,” a concept anathema to our founding fathers. In so doing they have tried to stigmatize the terms “secular” and “humanism” in the same way that the terms “socialism” and “atheism” have been stigmatized in the past. Bill O’Reiley’s decrying of the so-called “War on Christmas,” the supposed attempt by “secular progressives” to subvert the ‘Christmas spirit,” which he trots out each December, is in actuality one front in the premeditated attempt by right-wing extremists to wage a war on secularism and to subvert and destroy our first amendment right to be free of religious intimidation and control.

Now this war on the secular underpinnings of American culture and society has been openly declared by Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president and a self-avowed Mormon. In his recent “Faith in America” speech Romney declared:

“In recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

"Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?”

The above quote is chock full of misinformation and doublethink. The idea of a “religion of secularism” is particularly pernicious and a complete oxymoron. Religion is “belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe,” while secularism is characterized by being “not specifically related to religion or to a religious body.” Secularism is not a religion but a guiding principle for a civil society free of religious domination! What Romney proposes is the exact opposite, a society founded on a presumptive set of faith-based beliefs.

Culturally, renewed attempts are being made to censor children’s classics that have a non-religious tenor, such as the Harry Potter books and the recently released film “The Golden Compass.” Non-believers, agnostics and atheists are portrayed as “outsiders” who are a threat to American cultural (i.e. religious) values. This two pronged attack, both cultural and political, is gaining adherents in both political parties as candidates pander to the lowest common denominator within the electorate.

I’m greatly encouraged that many patriotic citizens are beginning to come together to challenge these assaults on our fundamental right to freedom from religion, which is as inherent an America right as freedom of religion. I for one could care less what anyone believes in on a personal level, but will fight for and defend my right to be free of the imposition of those beliefs on me and other non-believers in the public square.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Religious right insists presidential candidates believe Christian faith

The NY Times (yes, I get most of my news from this source) had this to say about Mitt Romney's recent speech to representatives of the Republican religious right:

We are living in the 21st century as if it were ancient times, it seems. The religious right is trying to convince us that our Founding Fathers were Christian and wanted this nation to be so, too, despite the Constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state. The religious right wants Republican candidates to declare their Christianity and, in fact, their fundamentalism--a belief in the literal, divinely inspired word of god represented by the bible. Can it really be the year 2007? Can this really be happening in the United States when we have a Constitution that is supposed to prevent this sort of religious litmus test for our president and other leaders? Outrageous!

Non-existent moderate Muslims, by A. H. Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes about missing moderate Muslims in the NY Times:

She quotes the following verse from the Koran on Islamic law:

The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with 100 stripes: Let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. (Koran 24:2)

Unconscionable is right.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I highly recommend reading Somalian refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali's "Infidel." But I warn that it will at times greatly disturb the reader. I recently read Ali's memory of being circumcised, along with her brother and sisters. Their grandmother forced them to receive these "purification" procedures, without anesthesia, at the hands, knife, and scissors of an itinerant circumciser (a man), when Ali was five years old, her brother six, and her sisters four and three. Truly blood chilling and horrific. And this practice continues all over the Middle East and Africa as a rite that pre-dates Islam but which is justified now in the minds of its perpetrators by Islam.

Mitt Romney

Quoted in the NY Times:

I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from the God who gave us liberty. Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage.

MITT ROMNEY on his Mormon faith

Such a goal sends shivers of fear through me. I want to be separated from Romney's god and everyone else's god, too. No god gave me or my ancestors liberty. And I utterly reject as archaic and liberty-depriving the religious heritage of the so-called Great Awakenings of this nation. It is a religious heritage more recent than the secular Enlightenment that informed the philosophy of our Founding Fathers. The second Great Awakening wave of the early 1800s is also what spawned Mormonism. And what a rational development that was--NOT. Buried books written in a proto-Egyptian script, interpreted by magic stones called ummin and thummin, and then conveniently taken to heaven by an angel. Riiiiight. What was Joseph Smith's background? His father believed in the magic of divining rods and other superstitions. Throw a susceptible, nearly illiterate, superstitious mind like Smith's into the fervor of the second Great Awakening of the eastern seaboard states and presto, you get Mormonism.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Suicidal Terrorist Attack in Omaha Nebraska

After over five years of the "war on terrorism" why are we no safer today than before 9/11? The horrendous shootings by a deranged gunman at an Omaha shopping mall, left 9 dead and 5 wounded. The killer left a suicide note saying he wanted to “go out in style.” How does this differ from a suicidal terrorist act perpetuated by an Islamic jihardist, other than in motivation? The destructive physical and psychological impacts are the same. Yet I haven’t heard one reference to what happened as an act of terrorism. If a fraction of the money spent fighting overseas was spent on increasing security at public venues domestically, maybe this tragedy could have been prevented.

Prophetic Words? Please, Tell Me If I'm Wrong.

Let's face it, the War in Iraq is over, and the US has won, if by winning one means the long-term stationing of American military personnel in that devastated country. Simply put the US was never interested in uncovering “WMDs” or making Iraq safe for democracy. It was interested in one and only one thing, a permanent, strategic placement of an advance guard of shock troops smack dab in the middle of the Middle East. The death of tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis; the crippling, both physically and emotionally, of countless Iraqi men, women and children; the exiling, both internal and external, of millions of Iraqi citizens; the destruction of Iraqi civil society and physical infrastructure, are all collateral damage of little or no concern to our country’s power elites. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are going to withdraw troops and abandon the US presence in Iraq. The differences between the two parties are tactical not strategic. If violence in Iraq and US casualties can be held within “acceptable limits” the American public will acquiesce to our continued occupation of Iraq just as it has in Europe and Korea. This is the long-term, stated goal of the Bush administration. It is not a hidden agenda. So let’s take the scales off our eyes and admit that the US objective has been achieved. Don't expect to see a total withdrawal of US troops from Iraq within our lifetime.

'Tis the Season

The following abstract from an article in the Proceedings of the National Science Academy, “Other-regarding preferences in a non-human primate: Common marmosets provision food altruistically” by Judith M. Burkart, et al. serves to inform us about the biological origins of so-called “ethical” or “moral” conduct by us humans.

“Human cooperation is unparalleled in the animal world and rests on an altruistic concern for the welfare of genetically unrelated strangers. The evolutionary roots of human altruism, however, remain poorly understood. Recent evidence suggests a discontinuity between humans and other primates because individual chimpanzees do not spontaneously provide food to other group members, indicating a lack of concern for their welfare. Here, we demonstrate that common marmoset monkeys (Callithrix jacchus) do spontaneously provide food to nonreciprocating and genetically unrelated individuals, indicating that other-regarding preferences are not unique to humans and that their evolution did not require advanced cognitive abilities such as theory of mind. Because humans and marmosets are cooperative breeders and the only two primate taxa in which such unsolicited prosociality has been found, we conclude that these prosocial predispositions may emanate from cooperative breeding.”

Marmosets are cute, little South American monkeys. Young marmosets are reared by both parents (cooperative breeding). The only other primates that engage in “cooperative breeding” are us people. What the research suggests is that the human proclivity to “good deeds,” especially hawked by Christians during the holiday season is a by-product of cooperative breeding. That is to say, the genetically based behavioral changes that led to both parents, male and female looking after their young, also led to an extension of that rearing behavior beyond the confines of the immediate “nuclear family.” The “Golden Rule” is thus a biological imperative of our socio-sexual community structure. That’s why it’s so universal amongst humans. So happy solstice days and give to the Salvation Army bell-ringers like a good marmoset should.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Equal Opportunity Idiocy

“Hundreds of protesters brandishing swords and sticks gathered outside Khartoum's presidential palace Friday to vent their anger against a British teacher jailed for allowing children to name a teddy bear "Mohammed.”

“A few hours after a judge ruled that a 14-year-old Jehovah's Witness sick with leukemia had the right to refuse a blood transfusion that might have helped him, the boy died, a newspaper reported.”

'Nuff said.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Bible Tells Me So

Watched the “Republican Debacle” last night on CNN. Loved the stammering response of Romney to the question, “do you believe every word written in the Bible”. He seemed to realize how utterly stupid it would sound if he said that he did. You could see the clogs slowly moving in his addled brain, “OMG I better say yes to cover all my ‘evangelical’ bases”. Giuliani’s and Huckabee’s responses weren’t much different. Giuliani at least recognized that the bible should not be taken literally, while Huckabee, preacher and ole southern boy that he is, gave an ‘aw shucks’ reply. Unfortunately, this is the level of political discourse we’re subject to as we begin moving further into the 21st century.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Couldn't Have Said it Better

Pat Condell tells it like it is. He took the words right out of my mouth.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

GOD Spelled Backwards is DOG

Thought readers would enjoy this. I won't give away who produced it, so as not to destroy the effect. It leads the viewer towards an unexpected conclusion and is a wonderful counterpoint to what would be the more conventional message. You will know what I mean after watching it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Christian fundamentalist evangelicals deny global warming, look to Jesus' return to save the earth

The NY Times recently had this article about the IPCC's latest and final "synthesis" report on global warming:

Although some evangelical Christians have acknowledged the reality of global warming and are calling for carbon-emissions reductions from individuals, corporations, and governments, I am, sadly, related to many who deny that global warming is real. They believe, and I quote an aunt, that we just have to wait for Jesus' second coming, when he will clean up all of the pollution for us and give us a new earth to live on for his million-year reign before the apocalypse and judgment day, after which those of us who have been born again and saved will live with him for eternity in heaven and the rest will live an eternity of everlasting damnation in hell. This type of superstitious belief, when held by a powerful political bloc like the religious right in this country, threatens our very future existence and that of the other species inhabiting this planet. It is the reason the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in science and is able to elect a president who thinks he talks to god and believes intelligent design deserves equal (or greater) time and credence in public-school science teaching. This administration and the religious right have declared war on science and reason. Reasonable people must fight back.

Judicial Injustice

Here are two items of interest for us to ponder. First, the Rosenbaum Foundation and the Open Society Institute have issued a report on the US “Injustice System” (my phrasing) showing that, “the US prison population has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to the taxpayer”. “There are more than 1.5 million people in US state and federal jails” and “inmate numbers are projected to rise by 192,000 in five years, costing $27.5bn to build and run jails”. The report goes on to state, “There is no evidence that keeping people in prison longer makes us any safer”.

The second item concerns juvenile offenders. A study, titled Sentencing Children to Die in Prison, by the University of San Francisco's Centre for Law & Global Justice, found that the United States has far more juveniles serving life terms than any other country — 2387. Israel, the only other country that imprisons juveniles for life has seven — and has not issued such a sentence since 2004. In California, black juveniles are 20 times more likely to receive such sentences. In the US, life terms have fallen disproportionately on non-white children, who are 10 times more likely than white children to be given life without parole, the report found.

The above statistics are a national disgrace. Our judicial system rivals that of Saudi Arabia as the most punitive and archaic in the world. And why should this be? I would suggest it’s due to the influence of the Bible-thumping miscreants who rule the roost in this country, insisting on imposing their vindictive, punitive medieval ideology on the rest of us.

As our Draft Statement of Principles says, “We categorically oppose all forms of capital punishment, torture and our system of punitive judicial injustice.” I urge one and all to contact your representatives to demand they begin to address these issues and bring our penal system in line with civilized 21st century norms. The US system of judicial injustice is a hideous and painful reminder of our vengeful Judeo-Christian heritage.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Real US Military Death Toll From the War in Iraq: Take 2

I'm not the only one to comment on recent revelations regarding the astronomic suicide rate among Iraqi War vets. Over at Counterpunch, Mike Whitney has a similar analysis.

Musings of a Lifelong Atheist

I’ve been thinking that these pages can be used as a means for members of our group to tell their own stories. How you came to be a skeptic, agnostic, atheist or whatever it is you like to call yourself. You can also use your post to describe your personal belief system. Just e-mail it to me for posting or ask for posting rights so you can do-it-yourself. I’ll take the lead with my own musings.

I’ve been an atheist my entire life. One of my earliest and fondest memories is proudly proclaiming to a peer (i.e. another 5 year old) that I did not believe in god and thought the concept made absolutely no sense.

Theists are peculiarly self-righteous, thinking that the human condition makes no sense and the universe is meaningless if not for the existence of their god. My own personal experience however runs counter to their sanctimonious insistence that a godless world is devoid of meaning and morality. I am sensitive to the feelings of others and experience empathy towards the plight of those in pain and suffering. I give to charitable causes and lead what I consider to be a relatively moral life. In other words, I’m no different than most people with whom I associate.

As a scientist I accept naturalistic explanations for worldly phenomena. Call me a “materialist” if you will. I intuitively feel for others and care for them and their well-being. Rather than ascribe these feelings to adherence to some religious scripture, I am convinced that there is a naturalistic explanation (i.e. sociobiological, evolutionary or psychological ) for my and most of humanity’s similar personality traits. Moreover, I do not believe in emotional or behavioral creationism, i.e. the belief that feelings and emotions are unique to our species. I believe that other species possess consciousness and have emotional lives, including the ability to be empathetic. To my way of thinking this is a perspective that is morally superior to the anthropocentric morality of most religionists. What evidence do I have in support of my belief system? Much more than any born again fundamentalist has about the resurrection. There is large body of comparative scientific research on primates and other animals that attest to their possession of empathy, feelings of inequality, and the giving of deferred rewards and punishments to members of the group they belong to. That is all those aspects of morality that have been thought to be the special preserve of us people. So when I'm asked, as an atheistic materialist why I care if people live or die; and if matter is all there is, why does it "matter" to me if I live or die, my only response is to not suffer the fool. I care because I was born to care as a member of a social order of mammals that has been evolving for millions upon millions of years to function within a nexus of complex cooperative cum competitive social relationships.

Now tell me. I’ve always wondered, why does the god of the Jews, Christians and Islamists (JCIs) behave so badly? I’m a father. I have three sons. Good kids. Never given me any trouble. Sometimes they do clueless things and I get angry. You can say they’ve sinned against me (at times being disrespectful, not acknowledging the sacrifices I’ve made to ensure their well-being, not believing what I tell them, etc.). Should I therefore disinherit them and condemn them to eternal damnation? Why does the god of the bible act in such strange and mysterious ways, setting up this obtuse situation where he creates people who are flawed (i.e. they sin) and then creating this theater of the absurd where you have this ridiculous trinity and crucifixion and all the other nonsense and mumbo-jumbo that Christianity preaches? As a father I do not want my sons to bow down to me and wipe my feet. I don’t want then to cower in fear of me. I love them unconditionally. Isn’t that the way Christians describe their god’s love for humanity? If so, why all this business about being saved? Look, if one of my sons committed a heinous crime I’d want him to be punished, perhaps put away for life, basically to protect others from the harm he may commit in the future. But I’m against the death penalty and believe in rehabilitation. Why is the spiritual “father” of JCIs so vengeful and mean-spirited? Of course, it has to do with the historical development of Hebraic religions based on tribal patriarchy in which fathers actually did want their sons to kiss their feet, etc. Are JCI’s so clueless not to recognize this? Hebraic religion is a crock, full of outmoded, outrageous ideas that should be studied in the same fashion that the beliefs of animists are studied.

Well, if a belief in the JCI god, or any god for that matter, is not a prerequisite for empathetic, moral behavior and if the behavior of their god is abominable to say the least, why the need for adherence to such an antiquated and unnecessary belief system? In my discussions with Christian apologists philosophically, at least, the whole question of “god” devolves to the question of first cause. Theists insist that there is a cause for every effect except for god itself. God is exempted because it exists in a supernatural eternal realm beyond human experience. Thus its postulated that only god can constitute the first cause that initiated the phenomenal universe. The existence of god is inferred as a logical necessity to explain the creation event per se. But what is this creation event? In actuality, it is an attempt to confront the fundamental question of existence itself. It is the question of existence that needs explaining, not the question of god. In fact, god can be conceptualized as a personification of existence. Existence has all the attributes of god. If we accept the premise that something cannot come from nothing, existence has no beginning or end. For proponents of the Big Bang, even nothing is something, as virtual particles are constantly popping into existence out of the quantum vacuum. Existence is therefore eternal, it has neither a beginning nor end. Existence encompasses all that is, has been or will be, it is thus both omnipresent and omniscient. Since existence produces all phenomena, it is thus omnipotent. All the above qualities of the abstract notion of existence have been rarefied and attributed to god. The only difference between the two concepts is that existence is impersonal and part and parcel of the phenomenal world, while god is personal and placed beyond the phenomenal world in a separate supernatural realm. For a materialist, god as a first cause is therefore totally superfluous. Just as the theist sees god as a cause unto itself, for the atheist so is the universe (i.e. the realm of objective reality).

What is most pathetic however is the overwhelming hubris of many (not all) theists, particularly the most ignorant amongst them. They live in a hermetically sealed, self-referenced world stuck in a medieval mind-set, their appreciation of the wonders of the real, material universe is circumscribed by the limited vision of bronze age tribal shepherds. The nearly infinite beauty of the cosmos, the vastness of time and space, the innumerable permutations of the natural world, and the profound unity of all creation escapes them completely. Rather than the awe-inspiring grandeur of organic evolution with its “endless forms most beautiful” responding by the seat of their pants to ever changing environmental fluctuations, they are left with a Geppettan tinkerer fumbling around cobbling together a hodge-podge of trilobites, dinosaurs and mammoths for no apparent rhyme or reason other than to satisfy their god's whimsical fancy. Give me the real thing any time, not some pale, uninspired, insipid imitation. Revel in the mysteries of existence. We know but a fraction of what there is to know. If we continue to advance our scientific knowledge of the material world what wonders of nature will we comprehend in a hundred years or a thousand years hence? The religionists among us would have us groping about like the proverbial six blind men feeling an elephant.

Finally, we come to the great fear of death and its aftermath. But the nature of things long ago determined that there is no life without death. We would still be archaean prokaryotic bacteria if not for death. Every life, both human and non-human, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has an impact on the lives that follow. Think of yourself as a quantum burst of consciousness lighting up your little corner of the world in a crescendo of sentience that will eventually engulf the universe. Or perhaps we are but a flicker, a wisp of cognizance that will be blown out never to be realized again, a unique confluence of matter and energy at a particular juncture in space-time. However one views their place in nature make the most of the limited time we have, within our limited abilities, to move our beautifully sublime spinning globe one step closer to the unity and harmony which should be our offspring’s birthright.

It is only by humbling ourselves before the fount of wisdom that nature provides that we can come to grips with both our insignificance and our transcendence.

American Mussolini Makes New Pledge

“Seeking support during an address to the Federalist Society, Giuliani promised to nominate justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as well as endorsing gun rights.” --- LA Times

Why is it that these Republican hopefuls get a free pass when they pander to the most far rightwing elements in the electorate? Imagine if ‘Hillary,’ Edwards, or Obama promised during an address to a convention that they would nominate only left-wing “abortionists” and pacifists to the Supreme Court. The outcry from the MSM (mainstream media) would be cacophonous. Where’s the outrage that should ensue when a leading candidate for president promises to stack the court with rightwing ideologues who would skew the SC towards reaction for decades to come?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Displaced Aggression

As an antidote to the pious moralizing of religionists who think they have a premium on ethics read David P. Barash on displaced aggression. It’s a cogent article that outlines the biological imperatives behind much of human aggression. If we are going to understand “crime and punishment” from a secular humanist perspective, I think this essay is must reading. I’d be interested in comments about what Prof. Barash has to say. You can also listen to an interview with Dr. Barash on NPR in which he explains that taking out anger on others may be biologically good for us, but it doesn't mean we should continue to do it.

African children accused of witchcraft abused, cast out, even killed by own relatives, including parents

See this NY Times article about this tragic happening in Angola, Congo, and Congo Republic:

The churches promoting belief in witchcraft are Christian. Take a look at the pictures. As the article explains, the real reason behind parents accusing their children of witchcraft and then throwing them out to fend for themselves on the streets is poverty. Believing their child is a witch gives them an excuse not to care for the child. Cultural disintegration is on display here at a truly low level, and religion is playing a huge role in that disintegration. I realize the one Catholic church and its bishop cited in the article are trying to help some of these children, but how much is the world Catholic church and its stance against birth control and sex education to blame for causing the situation--large families with unwanted children--in the first place? This is what fundamentalist and Catholic Christian missionaries have wrought in Africa, a horrible blend of their superstition with existing Bantu superstition, both of which include belief in witches. Angola, Congo, and Congo Republic are living in a medieval world in the 21st century.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Real US Military Death Toll From the War in Iraq

The Bush Administration is not supporting our troops and as a result thousands upon thousands are dying both at home and abroad.

Let’s put two and two together, and in the process demonstrate that the US military fatalities resulting from the War in Iraq are much greater than previously reported. First off, let's look at the number of military personnel dismissed from the Army, without subsequent support or benefits, for so-called personality disorders. According to NPR:

“New Pentagon figures … show that since the United States invaded Iraq, officers have kicked out far more troops for having behavior issues that are potentially linked to post-traumatic stress disorder than they did before the war.”

“… an Army chart, which NPR recently received, shows that since the United States invaded Iraq:

— Commanders have discharged almost 20 percent more soldiers for "misconduct" than they did in the same period before the war;

— Commanders have discharged more than twice as many soldiers for "drug abuse" (a subset of the "misconduct" category);

— Commanders have discharged almost 40 percent more soldiers for "personality disorder."

In all, the Army has kicked out more than 28,000 soldiers since the war in Iraq began on the grounds of personality disorder and misconduct.”

(Click here to read the entire NPR Report)

These soldiers are basically given what amounts to a dishonorable discharge and are not eligible for VA medical care or other benefits. They are almost uniformly misdiagnosed and actually suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and as a consequence of their dismissal are not able to get proper psychological treatment. It can be assumed that such soldiers would be very susceptible to major psychological distress including an increased potential for suicide.

Next, let’s add in the following ingredient, the actual incidence of suicide amongst vets who served in Iraq versus earlier pre-war vets and the public at large. As CBS reported on Veteran’s Day there is a suicide epidemic amongst Iraqi War vets. What CBS found was that:

“In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year.

Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.

It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)”

(Click here to read the entire CBS Report).

We can extrapolate that over the five years of war there has been an excess of at least 15,000 service related suicides relative to pre-war numbers, certainly a direct consequence of the trauma these vets have suffered in battle and the lack of concern or care for them after their “homecoming” The real death toll of the Iraqi War is therefore more like 20-25,000 rather than the 3700 acknowledged battlefield fatalities. These delayed deaths are just as tragic and even more inexcusable, since they could have been easily prevented with proper counseling. For all their pious pronouncements about "supporting the troops," the premeditated mistreatment of these vets and their resulting deaths, must be laid at the doorstep of the criminal Bush Administration.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (NOVA)

Be sure to watch the latest episode of NOVA on PBS: Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. As the lead-in states - Science is 'Exhibit A' in a landmark trial on the teaching of evolution. It's all about the Dover trial on the teaching of ID and Judge Jones' landmark decision equating ID with the teaching of creationism. Its gotten rave reviews. As a physical anthropologist I can attest to its high standard of reportage. It aired yesterday (November 13, 2007) on PBS, but is being repeated multiple times on Comcast Cable. It's definitely a must see.

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