Site updates

Just a quick post to let you know I haven’t disappeared, been sent to hell by any so-called deities, etc. As I mentioned a while ago, I’ve been working behind the scenes on some things for the site, so some days will have less activity on the surface. I also have some personal news I will share in my next update. In the meantime, check out one of my favorite irreligious songs that a friend of mine shared with me: Big Butter Jesus by Heywood Banks .

In God they don’t vote

As promised, here is an update on the "In God We Trust" vote . In the Senate, the proposal was accepted by voice vote, so we don’t have a record of  who did or didn’t support engraving In God We Trust and The Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol Visitor Center. Here on the House’s site is the list of Yeas, Nays, Presents, and No Votes for the House vote.

The 8 who voted against it are:

Conyers (Michigan)
Edwards (Maryland)
Hirono (Hawaii)
Honda (California)
McDermott (Washington)
Paul (Texas)
Scott (Virgina)
Stark (California)

Pete Stark (CA) is the only one who is openly atheist. He "came out" on a 2006 questionnaire sent by the Secular Coalition for America . According to the LA Times , 22 representatives reported not having a belief in God to the SCA, but asked not to be publicly identified (likely because of the political fallout that might occur among some of their constituents).

Here are the two who voted present (e.g. I’m here, but am not going to vote either way):

Farr (California)
Moran (VA)

Then there were 12 people who were absent from the vote:

Buyer (Indiana)
DeLauro (Connecticut)
Fudge (Ohio)
Granger (Texas)
Kaptur (Ohio)
Larson (Connecticut)
Linder (Georgia)
McHenry (North Carolina)
Murphy (New York)
Murtha (Pennsylvania)
Sherman (California)
Stupak (Michigan)

Besides Stark, I’m unaware of the professed religious beliefs (or lack thereof) of the others. If I find out, I will update this post. Voting against the In God We Trust / Pledge engravings does not necessarily indicate atheism or freethought; they may simply not want to waste additional tax dollars on the overbudget Visitor Center, for example.

Voting present may mean any number of things, from supporting a bill in general but objecting to some issue in it, to being against it and not wanting to be on the record as voting against it. The Secular Coalition for America counts "present" votes as voting the "incorrect" way on bills and resolutions they identify as important. I think that’s a little unfair, so I’ll have to look into their ratings a little more. The non-voting members either simply weren’t there, didn’t feel it was important enough to vote on, or stayed away on purpose. Unless they state why, there’s no way to know.

One Rep who Wikipedia identifies, along with Stark, as being a Unitarian Universalist (Congressman Walter Minnick of Idaho) voted FOR the bill, which goes to show again that UUs, atheists, and others can’t all be lumped together, as some like to do.

The reasons for voting against the bill or not going on the record either way are varied, and I haven’t found any statements explaining why from the Representatives who fall in those categories. With increased religious diversity in the Congress, and a number of congresspeople not believing in a higher power, maybe a day will come where it’s not taboo to speak out against forcing religious on others in the Capitol.

Pat Condell speaks out against “appeasement monkeys” (on burkas, women’s rights)

Pat Condell ‘s latest video "Apologists for Evil" takes people to task, especially politically-correct liberals, who defend the sexism of Islam (including in the recent burqa debate ) because they are either too afraid to speak out against it or because they say that it is "racism" to criticize Islam and Muslims.

I agree with Pat Condell: standing up for women’s rights against a religion or a culture that wants to subjugate women is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not racist to support equal rights for women. It’s crazy that people would even suggest this, since Islam isn’t even a race! But it’s not the first time I’ve heard criticism of Islam wrongly linked to racism.

Expecting women to cover their faces or to obey men (among a myriad of other sexist things supported by the Quran, the Bible, or many of their followers) are misogynistic cultural and religious practices which are against values laid out by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and those held by most people in Western societies. It has absolutely nothing to do with race, since people of any race can be Muslims and people of any race can, unfortunately, discriminate against women.

A person should be able to support a woman’s right to equality and dignity without being labeled a racist. Atheists and others should not be afraid to speak out when religions, and their proponents, support things which are clearly dehumanizing or discriminatory.

In smears we trust

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent an email noting several recent articles railing against their move to sue to keep "In God We Trust" and the god-filled Pledge of Allegiance out of the Capital Visitor Center (my take on the issue here ).

One article that caught my eye in particular was in the Examiner , a site I had recently quoted from. (See a few quick notes at the end about the Examiner and sources in general). The author directly addresses FFRF and its co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor directly, saying:

you are wrong about something… there are not 15% of Americans who identify themselves as non-religious. At best, (or worst, depending on your point of view) only 5% of our population claims atheist/agnostic status.

The Examiner article by Doug Billings cites no source refuting the claim, only makes an unsupported counter-claim about atheists and agnostics (making it seem like that’s the same as non-religious, which it’s not). I can (and did, in the comments) cite a well-publicized source identifying 15% of Americans identifying as non-religious. The ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey) data was collected by Trinity College in Connecticut. Although their charter prohibits discriminating based on religion, they were founded by Episcopals  and have "Trinity" right in their name, so they don’t on the surface appear to be anti-Christian, and yet they still claim 15% of Americans self-identify as non-religious.

The majority of the rest of the article/opinion piece is just a name-calling rant against non-believers, including this image:

and referring to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s point about the country not being founded on Christianity by saying "In another gleaming example of her intellectual shortcomings […]". Everyone has a right to their opinion, but they should not pull statistics and alleged facts out of the air on a site run by a news agency, where such items are accepted by some as news articles.

Although they openly call for people from around the country to apply to be examiners to submit local news, and did have some atheist-related news on them, it is important to note that they have as their owner Philip Anschutz , funder and proponent of the Discovery Institute .

This does not mean that all information on the Examiner site is false or slanted, just that it’s important to remember for all information you get, to consider where it’s coming from, including from my site and blog. I’m obviously going to pick stories that are related to atheism, freethought, etc., but I do attempt to be as unbiased as possible when it comes to presenting facts. I also cite my sources, and when it’s not obvious from the name of the source if they have a slant, I point it out when I’m aware of it, and normally try to find out and report on it when I’m not.

We all, including myself, should be careful about the information we use: not to limit where we look, but to judge its worth and try to verify when possible. Otherwise we might be like the author of the Examiner article who may actually believe he is telling the truth, when it instead comes out as an unjustified and inaccurate smear against those who aren’t religious.

Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac (comedy)

Here’s a hilarious sketch by That Mitchell and Webb Look , a British comedy show, about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Thanks to Unreasonable Faith and Friendly Atheist for posting this.

You should definitely check out other irreligious and skeptical skits online by them on YouTube or elsewhere. I can’t imagine stuff like this being broadcast in the US. Maybe on cable/satellite, but even then probably not.

Jimmy Carter: The words of God do not justify cruelty to women

Jimmy Carter

Former US president Jimmy Carter published an op-ed piece in the Observer (UK) earlier this week about the relationship between women and religion. In it, Carter calls on religious leaders to promote the "dignity and equality" of women. Cartner does not, however, come out against the major religions or their holy books as misogynistic. Instead, he just claims that some leaders are just taking "carefully selected" verses to promote an agenda.

I did not know this, but Carter left the Southern Baptists about 10 years ago because they refused to recognize the equality of women. So it seems like this is a very important issue to him. I found a piece in Salon.com entitled "Jimmy Carter: How religion subjugates women", but I think this headline is a little misleading. It’s not an anti-religion piece, but it does bring up some important points that religious leaders will hopefully consider.

Here are some quotes from the article, and my thoughts. Carter says in the Observer

My decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands […] This was in conflict with my belief – confirmed in the holy scriptures – that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

I admire the fact that Carter doesn’t believe women should be subjugated to men, and it’s true that some parts of the Bible say women should be equal, including the Galatians 3:28 quote he includes at the beginning of his op-ed (along with a quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , attempting to show it and the Bible go hand-in-hand I assume). However, as The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible points out many other parts of the Bible where women are denigrated, including verses where women are subjugated to men, such as Genesis 3:16 ("he shall rule over thee", King James Version).

Additionally, the first creation account, in Genesis 1, does tend to indicate equality, but the second starting in Genesis 2 does not. Carter is right that Christian leaders sometimes use "carefully selected verses" to further repressing women, but you also have to carefully select your verses to find ones that promote equality. That’s why I feel his statement is somewhat misleading (although not inaccurate), making it sound like the anti-feminist verses in the Bible are hard to find, when they’re not. I’m sure he feels he’s justified in doing this sleight of hand though saying which verses he believes personally (meaning he must not believe the Bible is inerrant) to try to stop religious people from oppressing women.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive area to challenge.

Very true, but as leaders they are supposed to "lead", right? Sometimes you have to pick your battles, but I think ensuring equality for women is not a battle you pick if you’re in power, it’s a battle you have to fight for the majority of your constituents. Women are half or more than half of the population in nearly every country.

The Elders have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. We have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

I think this is an excellent statement. It’s something that both theists and non-theists can get behind.

I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. […] During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

Again, his heart may be in the right place, but he’s not being completely truthful here. While I’ve read that there are indications that the Bible was tampered with (including the end of Luke I posted about earlier), there’s nothing I’ve read that indicates 4th century leaders rewrote Genesis to make it sound like Eve caused original sin, that she should be subjugated, and a host of other verses that indicate that God (or the leaders writing about him at the time) clearly discriminated against women.

The pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world […] is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God.

I’m not going to refute all of these, but as you may suspect, all of these figures also have times where they do not treat "all the children of God" equally. Moses kills entire races of people under God’s command, Paul tells women to be silent in church, etc. Some anti-feminist verses may be later manipulations, but they can’t all be, can they?

If there are widespread additions, deletions, or changes throughout the Bible on what would seem to be a fundamental issue like whether or not women should be equal to mean, then how can you tell what God wants in the Bible at all? The Bible would seem to be so untrustworthy as to be useless. A better explanation is that the Bible, and other holy books, are not divinely inspired, they were written by men (regardless of the century) who generally wanted to oppress women, with a few dissenters who squeaked in there.

So while Jimmy Carter should be applauded for actively supporting women’s rights and trying to engage the religious community in this pursuit, I disagree with him making it seem like he is fully supported in this by the Bible, The Quran, etc. It is he who is carefully picking and choosing from the same overwhelmingly misogynistic religions that largely served to oppress women in the first place.

Site news, plans, and feedback request

Well, as visitors to my site may have noticed, I’m still settling into my new location on the web, and all the growing pains it entails. Here’s a few quick updates:

* I’ve already gotten thousands of hits to my site, which surprised me, but only a few comments so far. If you visit the site or blog and like them, or have any suggestions, please post! If you have feedback on what you’d like to see more of (or less of) on the blog or on the main site , you can post here or email me at admin@iamtheblog.com, whichever you prefer.

* I am attempting to find a way to add a blogroll to my blog so that you don’t have to go to my main site to get links. With the adapted template I’m using, I haven’t found an easy way to do this while keeping the links to my main site (which I feel are also important), so it may take a while. If you have any sites you’d like to suggest for my links page or my future blogroll, please let me know.

* I still have to convert my old blog over to the new one. I got about a third of the way through transferring the posts, I will work on this a little today and should hopefully be done by sometime next week with filling in tags, etc.

* Now that I know what pingback is, I’ve disabled it since I often comment on the sites I site regularly anyway (and I don’t want to seem like I’m spamming them by posting and pinging them back!). I apologize for double-posts or unwanted pingbacks people may have received. I still have pings toward my site enabled, though, so if you mention my site and you’re on a pingback-compatible blog, it should show up on my blog.

* I am eventually planning on adding other features to the site, such as polls, etc. I have a number of "free" (aka including in my hosting plan) applications at my disposal, so as I get the hang of everything, I will start trying out new features to see how they work. If there’s anything specific you’d like to see, please let me know by commenting to this post or emailing me .

* And I’m still reading the Bible! I will eventually get back to blogging about the Bible, but with site updates and what seems like a lot of atheist-related news lately (maybe I’m just noticing it more), it’s been hard keeping up.

So that’s it for news for site now. Hope you’re enjoying the site, and thanks in advance for any comments or emails.

Robert Wright’s “new atheism” delusion

"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

Robert Wright , who I mentioned in a recent post is the author of The Evolution of God , has now gone on the offensive to attack in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post what he calls "new atheism."

His book, reviewed in episode 58 of the podcast American Freethought , gives a history of the evolution of the Abrahamic God (of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths). Wright reportedly gives an account of the historical reasons behind the development of these religions, leading up to the modern day. While not taking an openly theistic stance in the book, he does include some enigmatic references to notions such as a "greater purpose".

In American Freethought, Wright criticized some of the so-called atheist leaders (Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dawkins, etc.), while co-host John Snider made it clear that atheism is not a unified movement and these people do not speak for all atheists. In the Huffington Post piece, however, Wright again depicts atheism (or at least "new atheism") as one voice. In the Huffington Post , Wright says:

When it comes to foreign policy, a right-wing bias afflicts not just Hitchens’s world view, but the whole ideology of "new atheism" […]

Atheism has little intrinsic ideological bent. (Karl Marx. Ayn Rand. I rest my case.) But things change when you add the key ingredient of the new atheism: the idea that religion is not just mistaken, but evil — that it "poisons everything," as Hitchens has put it with characteristic nuance.

This does not represent all atheists, and not even all the prominent he mentions. Richard Dawkins specifically counters such a notion in The God Delusion . In response to the title of a television program(me) on BBC 4 that was entitled "The root of all evil?" (the title of which he had reportedly fought against), Dawkins said on the very first page of the Preface:

From the start, I didn’t like the title. Religion is not the root of all evil, for no one thing is the root of all anything.

The Wright article is filled with mischaracterizations and overgeneralizations about both atheism and historical events. Does he truly think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is "basically" unrelated to religion? Does he know for a fact that most atheists agree with Hitchens’ right-wing views on the war on terror? Where is the proof that new atheists think religion is completely evil? It makes me wonder what his agenda is, but it does seem like he is more openly criticizing atheism when before he seemed to be straddling the fence. The fact that he would still present atheism as some organized mass conspiracy, with no proof of this, is disheartening.

For a more in-depth critique of the article, see John Snider’s post on the American Freethought website.

Professors’ belief and disbelief in God

People in the US often talk about how university professors are liberal. But does that mean they also atheistic?

According to an article in Sociology of Religion , it may depend on what field the professor is in. Approximately 50% of psychology professors profess to being atheists ("I do not believe in God"), while less than 10% of accounting professors claim the same. You can refer to the chart below to see where others fall in.

Source: Epiphenom

I would have thought more professors would be atheists or agnostic, but if you add together the atheists and agnostics ("I don’t believe…" and "I don’t know…") it would appear to be at least a little more on average than the American population as a whole, of which 15% self-identifies as non-religious. A number of specialties are not covered by the study, so it’d be interesting to see if a larger study could be done encompassing more fields.

There are virtually no atheists among professors teaching our future elementary school teachers?? Does this mean that people who are likely to be interested in teaching little kids are more likely to be God-believers, or just that people who want to teach these future teachers are God-believers? As long as they don’t force their beliefs on their students, I’d say it’s disappointing but okay.

Thanks to Epiphenom and anatheist.net for covering this story.

American Freethought — Bill Mahr…and me!

American Freethought Podcast

Well, apparently July is the month for my comments to be read on podcasts! On American Freethought , hosted by John Snider and David Driscoll, they read some comments I had left them as their first feedback in episode 59 . This is an episode which also featured a review of Bill Mahr ‘s stand-up tour (who coincidentally I just saw on Comedy Central last night!).

It sounds like Mahr’s current tour does definitely spend some time on religious topics, but according to David Driscoll, Mahr said he leaves this mostly left at the end so that people who might be offended at such things at least see the rest of his show before walking out! (I don’t know if that’s a joke or if Mahr’s being [half-]serious about it). I’ve never seen him in person, but I have been a fan of Mahr’s since back in his Politically Incorrect days, and long before I was even close to considering myself an atheist. Based on David Driscoll’s review, it sounds like he puts on a very good show about a variety of political, social, and religious topics. Hopefully I’ll get to see it some time.

The rest of the podcast focused mostly on listener emails. My feedback, which I had left on the American Freethought Atheist Nexus page, was about an in-depth interview they had done in episode 58 with author Robert Wright . John Snider’s review of Wright’s book The Evolution of God can be found here . In a nutshell, the book is about how worldly forces (economy, politics, etc.), as opposed to divine inspiration, shaped the Abrahamic religions.

I haven’t read the book, but based on the review and the author’s comments in the interview, it seems like while the author details clearly non-theistic reasons for the development of religion, he still believes in a “greater purpose”. Frustratingly, he won’t explain what this means (is it supernatural? destiny? what?!?). This is what my comments focused on. John Snider had done a really good job of trying to pinpoint him on this as well as defending the atheist community against some preconceptions Wright seems to have. In case you’re interested, my comment is the first one that was read, from “anonymous” (because my Atheist Nexus page is under my pseudonym I Am The Blog and not my real name.)

I’d better start doing reviews of other podcasts, otherwise people will think I only care about shows that mention my comments (as I mentioned before, Dogma Free America was also nice enough to read my email on their most recent episode ). I’ve left comments for a number of shows via different media, so I guess it’s just a coincidence that my comments appeared twice in two weeks.

If you haven’t yet, I highly urge you to check out American Freethought , which is already in my links section on my website. Unlike Dogma Free America , which focuses on dogma- and atheist-related news events from around the world (with a humorous twist), American Freethought focuses mainly on interviews with notable people in the world of freethought and religion, as well as other occasional features such as “Holey Scripture” (featuring not-so-flattering Bible verses) and reports on freethought events around the country.