God Is Not Great (and other songs)

If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out George Hrab‘s new album Trebuchet, as previewed for free on his own Geologic Podcast as well as several others (Dogma Free America, American Freethought, Skepticality, etc.). There are a number of skeptic/freethought tunes on it, insightful lyrics, and a great variety of musical styles. Just bought my own copy and am loving it. Check it out at:

http://www.geologicpodcast.com/the_geologic_podcast_episode_170
https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/hrab6

Image source: http://www.geologicpodcast.com/the_geologic_podcast_episode_170

God-awful week

It’s been a god-awful week for me personally. Nothing at all compared to the horrible situation in Haiti (Doctors Without Borders is one of the many secular charities helping there). But probably the worst week I’ve had in a very long time.

Things seems to be looking up, though. And this afternoon I finally had a little time to breathe, and was able to finish writing a song parody I got the idea for about a week ago. I’m pretty happy with it, and I plan on doing like I had done with my Baby Lord parody on my previous blog: posting a version of it online here with the lyrics. So please stay tuned!

I have to get going, but in the meantime, for those who may not have seen this yet (or heard about it on Dogma Free America), there’s been news about a US Defense Department weapons contractor who’s been sneaking Bible verses….onto guns. Not only is it illegal for the government to be providing weapons to soldiers that advertise Christianity, but there are obvious problems with using these “spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ” (as some have called them) while waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan…

http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/us-military-weapons-inscribed-secret-jesus-bible-codes/story?id=9575794

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.

Ireland legislature passes blasphemy bill

Ireland is reinforcing a part of their constitution which says blasphemy is illegal by clarifying what is meant by blasphemy and imposing a hefty fine and possible house raids for anyone suspected of blaspheming.

It sounds unbelievable, but numerous sources confirm this bill was under consideration: The GuardianDogma Free America , UTV , MediaWatch UK . According to examiner.com and ProudAtheists [and apparently the Irish Times: see update at the end], the law has passed. The Examiner says:

One of the aspects of this bill would make it illegal to criticize religion… any religion under penalty of fines up to 25,000 Euros. That is the equivalent to nearly $35,000.

Here are some excerpts of the Guardian article, which includes Atheist Ireland’s co-founder Michael Nugent thoughts.

Dermot Ahern, Ireland’s justice minister, has proposed the legislation, which will outlaw anything seen as "grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion , thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion". […]

[Michael] Nugent said blasphemy was not the only anomaly in the constitution. "You cannot become president of Ireland or be appointed a judge in the republic unless you take a religious oath asking God to direct and sustain you in your work. […]

"We should be amending our constitution to remove these theistic references, not creating new crimes to enforce provisions that were written in the 1930s," he added.

Here’s a direct quote from the proposed bill, which is apparently now law in Ireland.

(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under section 36, the court may issue a warrant (a) authorising any member of the Garda Siochana [Irish police] to enter (if necessary by the use of reasonable force) at all reasonable times any premises (including a dwelling) at which he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that copies of the statement to which the offence related are to be found, and to search those premises and seize and remove all copies of the statement found therein, (b) directing the seizure and removal by any member of the Garda Siochana of all copies of the statement to which the offence related […]

It’s scandalous that a country, in this day and age, is not only upholding previous law protecting religion against open debate and criticism, but is actually trying to strengthen these laws with fines and threats of raids against offenders. I’ll post any updates to this that I find.

UPDATE: It appears that the bill has passed the entire Oireachtas (Legislature), according to the Irish Times (as well as this opinion piece by Atheists Ireland published in the Irish Times). I’ve seen conflicting reports on this, but I will take the Irish Times’ word since they are an Irish newpaper and presumably know how the government works. Apparently the law will become official once the Irish president signs it. According to Wikipedia :

In most circumstances, the President is in effect obliged to sign all laws approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas, although he or she has the power to refer most bills to the Supreme Court for a ruling on constitutionality.

So it would appear that unless the President challenges the law on constitutionality (which seems unlikely since blasphemy was already illegal under the constitution), the bill will become a law. Atheists Ireland plan to challenge the new law by publishing a blasphemous statement soon.

UPDATE: It was pointed out by "droth", a poster on Cynical-C Blog , that there is a provision in the new law that states "It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates." While this is some consolation, it still puts the onus on the person making the allegedly blasphemous statement to prove it has "value".

It’s unfair to protect religion in this way. For example it’s apparently fine to say "Atheism is evil and Richard Dawkins is morally bankrupt", but I can’t say "Catholicism is evil and the Pope is morally bankrupt" unless I can prove my comments have a "literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value." Speech about religion, whether praising or criticizing it, should be protected.

I Am The Blog — as heard on Dogma Free America!

I listened to the most recent episode of Dogma Free America last night, and was shocked to hear an email I had sent in read on the air!! (If you can say "on the air" for a podcast.)

Here’s a link to Episode 94 , which features among other more important things, my email at the end. Since I sent it in anonymously as "I Am the Blog" and not under my real name (since I’m still not "out" as an atheist yet), I just assumed it would not be read. My email was about the news story Dogma Free America had reported on in Episode 93 about whether or not having a living area without motion-sensor lights was a human right for strict observers of the Sabbath (which I referenced to briefly in a previous blog post ).

As I mentioned in my links section on my main website, Dogma Free America (hosted by Rich Orman ) is one of my favorite podcasts because it combines humor with serious commentary about almost-too-crazy-to-be-true news stories related to religion. The often-used tagline "Because dogma makes you crazy" is a good indication of what the show is about.

If you have not done so yet, be sure to check out Dogma Free America.

P.S. The part of my email which was not read (because as with some of my posts, my email was fairly long!) had to do with a discussion from an earlier podcast on whether or not Dogma Free America should be listened to at 2x speed (which is now possible on iPhones). In a nutshell, I said I thought this was okay provided that you listen to the most important parts of the show (the intro, the funny accents Rich does, and "Jackass of the Week") at regular speed.

Remember the Sabbath, to spit on journalists

A reporter for Australia’s ABC was recently attacked by Orthodox Jews. Her story is here . (Thanks to Richard Collins for posting a link to an article on End Herediatary Religion about this.)

An ultra-Orthodox Jew is carried away by Israeli police officers during a Jerusalem protest (Getty Images: Darren Whiteside)
A protester being carried away by Israeli police
Getty Images: Darren Whiteside

Basically, ABC Middle East correspondent Anne Barker took a wrong turn while covering a protest by (ultra) Orthodox Jews over a city parking lot being open on the Sabbath. And this is how she was treated. From the ABC Australia article by Anne Barker:

As a journalist I’ve covered more than my share of protests. […] I’ve been at violent rallies in East Timor. I’ve had rocks and metal darts thrown my way. […] But I have to admit no protest – indeed no story in my career – has distressed me in the way I was distressed at a protest in Jerusalem on Saturday[…]

Orthodox Jews are angry at the local council’s decision to open a municipal carpark on Saturdays – or Shabbat, the day of rest for Jews. […] I was mindful I would need to dress conservatively and keep out of harm’s way. But I made my mistake when I parked the car and started walking towards the protest, not fully sure which street was which. […]

Suddenly the crowd turned on me, screaming in my face. Dozens of angry men began spitting on me. I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting – on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms. It was like rain, coming at me from all directions […] Somewhere behind me – I didn’t see him – a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me. wasn’t even sure why the mob was angry with me. […]

In fact, I was later told, it was because using a tape-recorder is itself a desecration of the Shabbat even though I’m not Jewish and don’t observe the Sabbath.

Because they believe Yahweh doesn’t want anyone to break the Sabbath (after recently rereading Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, I know this is supposed to apply to both Jewish people and strangers), they think they are justified in repeatedly assaulting a reporter just because she has a tape recorder running.

Religion can be dangerous when it says it applies to not only people who follow it, but to everyone around you. I guess considering how God acts in the Old Testament, if you believe it literally I can understand why they’d want to make it clear to God that they were not condoning her breaking of the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2-3 (KJV) says

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.

Since they were specifically upset about the tape recorder, my guess is that was because of the electricity ("fire") it uses. Dogma Free America recently reported on a claim by an Orthodox Jew couple that it is a "human right" not to have motion-sensor lights, since they believe they must stay out of the hallway so as not to trip the "fire" of the lights on the Sabbath.

The big question for me is this: the Bible is clear in a number of places that if you break the Sabbath,  you should be put to death. But they left her alive. Why would they think that they still need to keep the Sabbath, but not apply the punishment? I guess it’s some small consolation at least that they didn’t decide to kill her.

I know that not all people who believe in Judaism or religion in general are like this, but it shows what can happen when people take dogma too literally. It’s sad when people hold ridiculous beliefs like this, but an outrage when they attack other people for not holding the same beliefs.