Archive for September, 2008

Why the Four Horsemen matter

Posted in Atheism with tags , , , , on September 30, 2008 by St. Bastard

Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennet are described by the media as alternately the New Atheists or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. All four men have written books that challenge religion, ranging from imploring theists to simply rationally consider their beliefs to flat-out mocking the stupidity of belief in a sky fiend that is unprovable and obviously doesn’t act in a way that is consistent with their belief system (hence, the old cop-out “God works in mysterious ways”).

These four are not the only atheists to write books lately, but they certainly are the ones that get the most press. It’s not difficult to understand why: each of these authors has risen in the face of years of treating religion with kids gloves and directly called attention to the irrationality of unchallenged beliefs. Reactions to this new brazen charge, including the rise in media attention to atheism, incorporated opposing reactions. On the positive side, many non-theists saw these books and the resulting media attention as a positive step in not only coming out of the atheist closet, but also more strongly asserting their belief systems. On the negative side, many (including a fair share of atheists) felt that the confrontational language of the books was too strong and served to widen the social gap between theists and non-theists.

It’s not difficult to acknowledge the conflict that the publication of these books has stirred up, but we would be remiss in dismissing the books of the Four Horsemen based solely on this fact. For you atheists and theists who think these books are distateful because of their confrontational and blunt nature and see it as a dividing line between the two groups, that may be. However, it wasn’t the point of them to narrow the divide. Some have described the books as evangelical, attempts to make theists see the light. That seems more likely, but I don’t think that was really it, either.

What I see these books doing is bringing atheists out of the closet, which is no mean feat. They are letting atheists know that we have a reason to be proud of our realistic view of the world, that we’re no bad because of it, and there’s damn good reason to see the world as we do. Use of humor, reasonable argument, and meaninful prose, each book tells us atheists that we are right to think as we do, and there’s no reason to let other make you feel bad for it. They instill a sense of pride for a human condition that has vastly been seen as a nasty to an even monstrous belief.

That is why we must not ignore these books or these writers. They may not have acheived a goal that we thought would have been more worthy, but what they did acheive was laudable in and of itself.

PS: This post was written over a few days, so please forgive any inconsisencies!

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More Islamic human rights

Posted in Religion with tags , , on September 26, 2008 by St. Bastard

A 28-year-old Russian woman and a 30-year-old Lebanese man were arrested in Dubai and put on trial. Normally, this is where you’d read that they were smuggling opium, but their crime was far more atrocious than that. They drank juice in public.

Shame! Scandal! Oh, the delinque… wait, what?

Yes, they are on trial for drinking juice and were arrested because:

In accordance with the Federal Penal Code of the United Arab Emirates, a public intake of food and beverages during daytime hours of the month of Ramadan is forbidden by Article 313. The article stipulates the punishment in the form of either a monetary penalty – up to 2,000 dirhems ($555) – or even a term of up to one month in prison.

Ah, sharia law… Is there no idiocy that it can’t commit?

(h/t to RichardDawkins.net)

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Last post on the haunted mansion

Posted in Paranormal with tags , , on September 25, 2008 by St. Bastard

Okay, this is the last word on this, but it looks like commenter Jae was right. According to Steven Novella at the always excellent Rogues Gallery, Anwar Rashid had filed for bankruptcy. Looks like he couldn’t quite afford that mansion after all, so he defaulted on the loan and made up a story about ghosts.

It turns out that Anwar Rashid is in bankruptcy. The following is from public records posted on Richard Dawkins.net:

7 (17.09.2007) BANKRUPTCY NOTICE entered under section 86(2) of the

Land Registration Act 2002 in respect of a pending action, as the

title of the proprietor of the registered estate appears to be

affected by a petition in bankruptcy against Anwar Rashid

presented in the High Court (Court Reference Number 9623 of 2007 )

Incredible, the amount of bullshit that can spew from someone’s mouth when they are trying to get out of trouble. Considering the amount of play this story has gotten, the better financial decision may have been to start offering tours for $50 a pop.

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Why religion matters in politics

Posted in Politics, Religion with tags , , , , on September 25, 2008 by St. Bastard

We know that there isn’t supposed to be a religious test for political office, and the vast majority of the secular community suports that. Including me. However, there is another level to this that is more obvious this year than it has been in the past.

Our current president, may he fade from the public eye soon, started a war based on what he thought was god’s decree. This year, we have the democrats falling all over themselves to gain the christian vote, but the real shock to the non-theists came with McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Palin is a Pentecostal christian. When someone jokingly refers to people speaking in tongues and praying for the end of the world, it’s the Pentecostals that actually belive that shit. This is when I started thinking about the religious test for office in a different way.

Could you imagine Palin getting all riled up, for instance, in front of the UN?

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: Vice President Palin, you have requested to speak to the Assembly about peace in Israel. The Secretary General yields the floor.

VP Palin: BLAARGHARGH hummina hummina woop! woop! falrgindle gret marnia digglet paferndum! Pref! PREF! Charligndle freep vardenbingle wibble wobble!

Yerp.

General Assembly (as one): HOLY SHIT!

No, let me say that this is never going to happen. I just wanted to lighten the mood before I talk about what really bothers me about Palin, or any people who share her weird religious beliefs, potentially running this country. This is the belief that we are in the end-times and the second coming of jesus is “nigh”. Worse, they believe this is a good thing and want it to happen in their lifetime.

This belief infects all of their thinking. Why bother dealing with global warming. We’ll be in heaven soon! Why try to end war in the middle east when it’s a sign of the end times? Why bother improving anything at all when the world’s time is so short? Jesus will sort it all out when he gets here again!

Having this kind of thinking in our highest office frightens the shit out of me. I wouldn’t want to see President Jim Jones and I don’t want to see Vice President Palin. Religion, when it affects secular values and how you will affect the world, must be a consideration when voting for a candidate. Until religion is something that is not a factor in politics, I’m afraid it very much is a test for office.

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Quote of the day

Posted in Humor with tags , on September 24, 2008 by St. Bastard

This one-liner from vjack of Atheist Revolution made me laugh out loud, literally. RIght at my desk, too. Thanks for that one, vjack!

On the other hand, you are right to ask for considerable evidence to support my claim that a supernatural being punishes sinners with hurricanes while rewarding homophobia with Republican votes. (source)

Well played!

Atheism in politics

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2008 by St. Bastard

Thanks the excellent Google news alerts service, I get emails containing links to news articles that hold a special interest to me. One of those is articles reating to atheism and secularism. Before I get to the point of this article, let me give a word of advice to other bloggers: this service is a great way to target articles of interest without having to actively search or poach from other blogs or Fark.

One of the articles sent to me today is on secularism, atheism, and politics: On Secularism and Politics, by Rob Breakenridge. In this article, Rob wites on theism, atheism, and secularisms place in politics and makes a few good point, but reaches a faulty conclusion. Some key excerpts:

Secularism is the principle that there be no religious test for public office. Beliefs about first and last things, and religious worship, are private choices in which the state has absolutely no legitimate role.

Atheism is a private belief, and one I hold; it is not a position that should occupy civic space, any more than should the monotheistic religions.

The cause of secularism is politically vital. But there is no political case for atheism.

All of this is absolutely true. I wouldn’t appreciate an atheist congressman using his office to promote atheism any more than I appreciate people like Bush or (if things go terribly wrong in November) Palin legislating their religion. It is simply not the place for it, and it wastes my time and my tax dollars. We pay these people to run our country, no to use their office as a soapbox for their religious or irreligious beliefs. However, I think Breakenridge is overlooking the strong ties between atheists and secularism when he says:

I do not wish to see, and will not sign up to, an organised interest group of atheists, because atheism is a private belief, of no civic significance.

Yes, atheism is a private belief, but who is out there with the strongest voice supporting secularism? Focus on the Family? The Discovery Institute? No, it’s groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State; two groups founded by, run by, and supported by primely atheists. These are atheist groups, make no mistake about it, and that makes them atheist lobbyists. I’m glad they are out there, and I’m completely unsurprised that these atheist groups are able to promote secularism without allowing their beliefs on religion to get in the way.

So, opposite of Rob Breakenridge’s views, I say “Bring ’em on!” We need more atheists fighting for secularism. So few theists are.

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Clifton Hall haunting: part 2

Posted in Paranormal with tags , , on September 23, 2008 by St. Bastard

I’m getting a lot of traffic on the previous post on Anwar Rashid and the “haunting” at Clifton Hall. The comments that I’m getting on that post shows a bewildering ignorance on what kind of site this is, so let me break it down:

THIS IS A SKEPTICS SITE AND WE DON’T BELIEVE IN GHOSTS, SPOOKS, OR SPECTRES HERE!

Got it? I had thought that the mocking “video” of Mr. Rashid being attacked by ghosts actually being an animated gif of fucking Pac-man might have given that impression. Apparently, I am being too kind to certain thick-headed people. Listen, folks, context clues are not exactly an obscure literary convention. Please learn to target and make use of them!

Another note: I don’t know how to contact Mr. Rashid. I just wanted to mock a guy who gave up a multi-million dollar mansion because of Inky, Binky, Pinky, and Clyde. I would also like to say that if I did know Mr. Rashid, I would help him by engaging the aid of a therapist and a sound accountant, not psychics, dowsers, ghostbusters, or any of that rabble.

I hope I have made myself perfectly clear.