Sunday, January 31, 2010

Send an Atheist to Church

The local Non-Theists Society is doing a charity event called “Send an Atheist to Church”. On Feb. 18 and 19 they will be in the Union with some different Christian denominations (I do not know which ones). They will be taking donations that will go towards the Food Finders Food Bank of Tippecanoe County. With each donation they will ask to which denomination the donation should be associated with. This is to figure out how many non-theists will be attending each church, the more money that is donated on behalf of a specific church, the more non-theists who will attend that church’s services. Afterwards each person who attended a particular church service will write a short piece on their experience. I look forward to reading them. I will most likely stop by and donate on behalf of the LDS Church to see if anyone will attend our services.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pat Robertson is a True Christian: So saith Dawkins

By now everyone has heard about the earthquake in Haiti. Some are estimating that the death toll may reach 200,000. Whenever a natural disaster of this magnitude occurs one can always count on Pat Robertson to give his, usually illogical, opinion as to why the event occurred. By now his comments on the earthquake in Haiti have been heard by most everyone as they made national news. In case you have not heard exactly what he said, here it is in all its inane glory.
They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal [...] ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.
His comments have drawn well deserved criticism and condemnation from many groups and people, including other Christians. But, it seems, those Christians condemning Robertson’s bigotry are not in fact “true” Christians, at least according to Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins is not really the friendliest person when it comes to interactions with religion and religious believers. His work on religion generally follows the pattern of painting with the widest brush available and can be insulting even at the best of times (except when it comes to Biology which he is surprisingly good at). But this time his attempt at criticizing religion (and I emphasize attempt) has crossed from the realm of “Extremist Overgeneralization”, to the point where his criticisms become useless, to being “So Stupid, It’s Funny” in his most recent article, Haiti and the hypocrisy of Christian theology.
Needless to say, milder-mannered faith-heads* are falling over themselves to disown Pat Robertson, just as they disowned those other pastors, evangelists, missionaries and mullahs at the time of the earlier disasters.
What hypocrisy.
Loathsome as Robertson's views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition.
It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here.
According to Dawkins, Pat Robertson’s recent comments represent someone who is a “true Christian”. It is not the millions upon millions of people who claim the title of Christian and simply go about their lives trying to live them the best they can without interfering with other people’s lives, but the minority of extremists Christians who preach hatred and bigotry that are the “true Christians”. It is not the people who send thousands of pounds of needed supplies, teams of doctors, and provide much needed shelter, for Haitians who are currently suffering, but the people who claim Haiti somehow deserved the tragedy that befell the nation who are the “true Christians”.

I am not sure I have ever seen someone trying so hard to validate their bigotry. In his flailing Dawkins attempts to marginalize non-extremist Christians (you know, the majority of all Christians) in what I can only guess is an attempt to make his criticisms seem somehow valid as opposed to the overgeneralizations that they truly are the majority of the time. And his flailing does not stop there, it continues in the article.
Where was God in Noah's flood? He was systematically drowning the entire world, animal as well as human, as punishment for 'sin'. Where was God when Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed with fire and brimstone? He was deliberately barbecuing the citizenry, lock stock and barrel, as punishment for 'sin'.
I hope no one tells him about all us Christians who do not take the Bible to be infallible and completely literal. It may cause his little imaginary world he has built around Christians to come tumbling down. Although I find it hard to believe that Dawkins has yet to encounter non-literalists as they have existed for over a thousand years. Any serious study in Christian theology should reveal religious scholars have warned against interpreting scripture too literally since at least the time of Augustine of Hippo (4th Century)†. I realize this advice has not always been taken but trying to imply that it never existed is simply disingenuous.

*Faith-heads, seriously? Where did he pick this term up, an elementary school playground?
†De Genesi ad literam 1:19–20, Chapt. 19 [408] and 2:9

Saturday, January 23, 2010

St. Cloud Secular Student Alliance

The Secular Student Alliance is a student atheist group at St. Cloud University in Minnesota. They are a new chapter who is just getting started on their campus.
SSA’s goal is to work as an umbrella organization for students who are without religion. SSA works with atheists, agnostics, humanists and other non religious students.
“The official mission statement is to create a sense of community for every loosely related irreligious group,” Maddox said.
SSA is a non political group. Maddox said members included every aspect of the political spectrum including liberals and conservatives. SSA does take a political stance for separation of church and state, however.
SSA has been tabling in Atwood to promote their group. They have also sponsored a social event which included playing “Apples to Apples” with the Campus Crusade for Christ, ping pong and a movie night.
“The metaphor I would use is we’re trying to say hello to the campus,” Maddox said.
SSA has a committee that works with Campus Crusade for Christ.
What really struck me as interesting is the last bit about the group having a specific committee for working with Campus Crusade for Christ. I think that is a great idea to foster better communication and dialogue between the two groups. I wonder if our local Non-Theists Society has such a group. It would be neat if they did.

 Thanks to Friendly Atheist for original article.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blog-whoring for Jesus

If you have not heard, the Thomas Society and the Students for Free Thought at Ohio State will be building houses in New Orleans this spring break. Naturally both the groups need to raise the funding required to pay for things such as gas, food, and various expenses. To help with this they decided to hold a live video blogging event which The Amazing Atheist agreed to host. They had quite a few guests including some big names from the atheist community.

What do we have planned for this event? Oh, all kinds of atheist/christian goodness. First, we will have the PZ/preacher event. Then, we will have giveaways such as a signed edition of Ray Comfort’s debacle and a promised signed copy of my novel. Not to mention the special guests like Hemant Mehta, atheist vidbloggers like ZOMgitscriss, and Keith Jensen, the atheist comedian from the Coexist comedy tour.*

Unfortunately I missed most of the live blogging but I did catch part of the discussion with Hemant Mehta. The parts I saw seemed to be a relaxed conversation between friends that was also kind of humorous at points. As for the part with PZ, Thomas gave a short description of how he was planning on the discussion to go and it sounds like it was supposed to be fairly similar. Basically, it was not structured to be some kind of heated debate or argument. This was supposed to be a discussion with the main intention of raising money for a humanitarian trip. I say this because apparently comments made by some Christians, in the chat room during the discussion, suggested some people expected differently.

So, I did this little interview with PZ Myers and I think people had unrealistic expectations. I think people wanted to see a knock down drag out fight.

First, that was never my plan. As this was an interview, I wasn’t out to lead PZ into a trap or make him look like an idiot. Some people even wrote that I should tell PZ he is going to hell.

Or, I got this comment a lot, “This preacher is a nice guy, but he obviously doesn’t know his faith.”

Rolling eyes.

Sometimes, I think people really do enjoy rolling in the crap.

However, it was not only Christians who expected a “knock down drag out fight”. It seems many atheists expected it as well, judging from the nearly 100 comments on PZ’s blog about the event. Here are a few examples:

· Yeah, PZ doesn't look as clear but he sure speaks more clearly. The pastor stutters and doesn't make any kind of sense. Another nice guy who doesn't know how to think straight. Sad really.

· The pastor certainly was fuzzy/fluffy in his thinking. And he has no idea of real evidence...

· "Theology is self-correcting, like science."- I hurt my side laughing at that statement.

· Couldn't watch all the way to the end. The pastor just keep ranting on and on. He said he didn't agree with the "God of the Gaps" idea, however, when PZ asked what compelled him to Christianity, he basically pulled out that argument and was ranting on about nothing.

· I really enjoyed the interview. The pastor seems like a nice guy, but never could give a passable defense of Christianity. His tap dancing around the obvious was amusing.

· Ah, after I left the tone concern strategy came into play !
That will soon be all that believers have left to defend their bigotry and superstitions.
So expect more of it...:-)

· Ugh, he was way more fuzzier than PZ despite the connection when it came to the discussions. I figured he would have to be for a guy that seems so understanding and accepting despite holding on to Christianity. It makes me tired just to think of the mental gymnastics going on in his head to make everything fit.

· I might have guessed - a glibertarian arsehole. Well fuck off then.
Posters were even asking for what would amount to a full defense of Christianity from Thomas. After declining to do so there, as the comment section on another person’s blog was hardly the place for such a discussion, he was ridiculed from people claiming he did not want to be “laughed out of the room” followed by claims of attempted “blogwhoring”.

The Thomas Society - blogwhoring for Jesus since 1994!

And those comments are not all. There are still more at PZ’s blog along with an equal amount at Thomas’ blog. All this over a discussion meant to generate funding for a charity trip. Here is a response from Thomas expressing his surprise over the veracity of the comments he received.

I’m trying hard not to post a blistering rant this morning. It seems like people are more pissed that I didn’t confirm their little fantasy that all Christians are people hating morons, so they have to find something wrong. What did they find wrong? That I actually agreed with PZ that some pastors are in it for the money and that science is a good thing. Horrors. Shrug. Oh well.

This whole fiasco made me wonder, we hear atheists ranting about the evils and bigotry of religious followers all the time. Now of those who do so, how many are actually interested in holding a friendly, two-way, discussion with believers? And I am not talking about the larger names in atheism, as it seems those who appeared in this event are, at the least, capable of doing so. I am talking about your every day atheist who participates in the religious debate dialogue. Just how many of them are willing to step back from the constant arguments and insult exchanging and have a relaxed discussion with someone of opposite belief? Perhaps both sides could then come to the realization that the other side is comprised of actual people.

*PZ and the Preacher: Saturday Night!!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I am a Skeptic

On the site I wrote about in my last post, Mormon Scholars Testify, I found a very interesting testimony written by Ron Hellings from Montana State University who works in theoretical physics. I love his first sentence,
I am a skeptic.
It seems today that many atheists all but lay complete claim to the term skeptic*. A very large number of atheistic organizations include “skeptic”, or some variation, in their name and many atheist blogs talk about skepticism on a regular basis. But what you almost never see or hear is someone saying that it is possible to be a skeptic and religious. I think this is partially responsible to an underlying implication that in order to be skeptical of something, one must either reject it or remain neutral towards it. Thus, the implication is that when directed towards religion, to be a "skeptic" one must, to some degree or another, reject religion. I am not saying that this idea is advocated directly and intentionally, but it definitely is implied in many instances.

His testimony is very worth reading and I suggest it even to atheists as a way to understand why some of us believe.

*Here is an example of the internal debate over if being a skeptic requires being an atheist.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mormon Scholars Testify

It is always frustrating when anti-theists claim that religion, in general, is a hindrance to education, reasoning, and learning (See this post for an example). Mormon Scholars Testify is an interesting new site, started by Daniel C. Peterson, Scott Gordon, and Tanya Spackman, that helps dispels this mantra of "religion = lower intelligence".

One of the unique characteristics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is its emphasis on education and scholarship. Studies have shown that among Latter-day Saints (Mormons), higher levels of education are strongly correlated with higher church attendance, and higher levels of devotion. (see footnote)
In LDS scripture, Mormons are encouraged to study and learn. In the book Doctrine and Covenants, a book considered to be a collection of modern day revelation from God, it says:
D & C 109: 7 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith;
This website gives LDS scholars the opportunity to express their views and feelings about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are some who may feel that people of education and learning can’t be religious. It is hoped that these testimonies will help dispel that myth, educate, and give insights into the thoughts and feelings of LDS scholars.
Each page will have the testimony of the scholar and at the bottom of the page you will be able to read the credentials of the scholar. We hope you enjoy reading these testimonies.
• Stan L. Albrecht, Tim B. Heaton, “Secularization, Higher Education, and Religiosity,” Review of Religious Research 26/1, Special Issue Co-Sponsored by the Society for the Sociological Study of Mormon Life and the Family and Demographic Institute of Brigham Young University (September 1984): 437-58. Link to off site article
• James T. Duke, ed., Latter-day Saint Social Life (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 1998), 287
Hopefully we will be getting some people from Purdue up soon. I know of at least one person who is more than qualified.