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.