Thursday, December 13, 2007

And They Say Atheism Would Permit Anything

Just another great example of Christianity in action.

In Niger, the local preachers have been turning their parishoners against young children for the crime of witchcraft. From The Observer:

But an exploitative situation has now grown into something much more sinister as preachers are turning their attentions to children - naming them as witches. In a maddened state of terror, parents and whole villages turn on the child. They are burnt, poisoned, slashed, chained to trees, buried alive or simply beaten and chased off into the bush.

Some parents scrape together sums needed to pay for a deliverance - sometimes as much as three or four months' salary for the average working man - although the pastor will explain that the witch might return and a second deliverance will be needed. Even if the parent wants to keep the child, their neighbours may attack it in the street.

Now, I know the vast majority of Christians would find these events abhorrent, but it points to a fundamental problem of religion. We've always heard the argument that without God, anything is permitted. Now, in the most realistic sense, I suppose that would be true. However, human institutions and the general sense of empathy we all have create very real consequences, whether it comes from the legal system or a crushing feeling of guilt for having harmed another. Without God, we have to answer for our crimes in this life, even if it's only to ourselves.

It seems clear the unbeliever can easily turn that standard charge against atheism back towards the faithful. In its basic doctrine (as far as the monotheistic religions are concerned), religion gives you a get out of jail for free card, so long as your crime has been sanctioned by the faith. Even if it hasn't been explicity sanctioned, as long as a person believes he or she is doing God's will, anything is permissable.

The situation in Niger makes an excellent case and point. It seems quite clear these parents feel they are doing God's work when they torture and murder their children for the laughable crime of being a witch. This is something no self-respecting mother would do without the irrational baggage that comes with faith.

What's worse is the preachers getting rich off the hysteria they themselves have created. Do they have no sense of decency? Do they have no respect at all for their fellow human beings? Clearly, this is the second major problem that religious belief creates. Charlatans in positions of religious power find it all too easy to benefit at terrible cost to their unquestioning followers.

It's certainly arguable whether the preachers' motivations came from their faith or merely their greed. However, I think most of us can agree that if these people had not been such slaves to their religion, none of this would have happened.

So my question is, what exactly did faith prevent these people from doing? Besides keeping them from asking much-needed questions, I find myself without any answers.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Huckabee's Medieval Mindset

Everyday, new bits of information come to light concerning the positions presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took while he was governor of Arkansas. From Think Progress:

In June 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a “statement on the family” that asserted, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” Two months later, then-governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee was one of 131 signatories to a full-page ad in USA Today specifically endorsing the Convention’s view on marriage:

You are right because you called wives to graciously submit to their husband’s sacrificial leadership.

I sincerely hope this and Huckabee's other archaic statements drive all the Republican moderates and idependents towards more rational-thinking candidates. Surely the moderate Republicans can see that Huckabee would lead with the Bible first and foremost in his mind and constitutional considerations would only come as an afterthought. Surely they can see that Huckabee would create a virtual theocracy where only the Southern Baptist version of Christianity would have any real say.

However, I think the progressive bloggers' efforts to bring these sort of facts to light will go a long ways towards sinking Huckabee's campaign by driving away any independent who might have considered him a decent candidate. Furthermore, I doubt any self-respecting woman who isn't deluded by her church would support a candidate who stands behind such a blatant violation of women's rights.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Follow Up On the Religious Shootings

Over the past day, a clearer picture has emerged concerning Matthew J. Murray, the shooter in Colorado who killed four and wounded five at a missionary center in Arvada and New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Murray had been kicked out of the missionary school in 2002 for mental problems that included hearing voices in his head, which made it immpossible for him to go on the group's mission trip to Bosnia. Eventually, he started sending hate mail to the school where he revealed a deep seated resentment towards Christians in general:

You Christians brought this on yourselves. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you ... as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.

It's hard to say what he based his hatred on beyond his mere expulsion. Besides his time at the mission school, Murray's immediate family are all deeply conservative Christians, which might have played a role. But I doubt this shooting has much to do with faith. Murray obviously had mental problems that caused him to hold a deep resentment which he eventually tried to resolve through violence. Faith or lack thereof doesn't really factor into the picture.

As expected, pastors have taken advantage of the incident to further their ends. Pastor Gino Geraci of Calvary Chapel South Denver said:

We're taking a journey away from moral responsibility. We live in a culture and society that want to share the blame rather than holding people accountable and responsible for their actions.

And Rev. Andreas Hock, professor of Sacred Scripture at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary said:

Losing sight of God can mean losing sight of the value of human life.

I don't want to stoop to their level and use this shooting to toot the horn of atheism. As I said earlier, faith obviously has nothing to do with it. But I will use these pastors' comments because Christianity does the exact opposite of what they suggest it does. The central tenet of Christian faith is that Jesus will absolve the believer of all his sins, which is just a way of saying that Jesus will free the believer of all moral responsibility, so long as he believes. It does not hold believers accountable for their actions, so long as they're "born again" and put their faith in Christ. Second, this notion that religion is the only thing that allows us to value human life is absurd. If anything, it creates a sense that we are worthless creatures whose only purpose in life is to appease a seemingly indifferent diety, and it clearly segregates people into believers and nonbelievers, where the believers obviously have more worth than the infidels.

No, I don't think religion is the answer to society's problems, especially in this case when you have a young man who hears voices in his head. What he needed was proper medical care, not fantasies.

Click here to read more from The Rocky Mountain News.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Religious Shootings in Colorado

Earlier today there were two separate shooting incidents at religious centers in Colorado. The first was in a missionary training center in Arvada, a suburb of Denver, where two people were killed. The other was in the New Life Church in Colorado Springs (coincidentally, the one founded by Ted Haggard) where one victim was murdered before a security guard shot and killed the gunman. Police think the two might be related, but it's too soon to know for sure.

Of course, this is no different than the murder of innocent people going about their lives in any other shooting, but it just strikes close to home for me since I went to the New Life Church a couple of times when I lived in Colorado Springs. I found their particular brand of theology distasteful (even before I was an atheist), but I would never wish this upon them, ever. After all, even the biggest theocrat ultimately feels his or her actions are for the greater good. The truly evil are only the inhuman murderers such as the gunman who would indiscriminately murder innocent people. I think we can agree that we're all human and we can only make the world a better place if we all find a way to work together, regardless of our religious views or lack thereof.

My thoughts are with the families with the hopes that they will find the strength to overcome this difficult time.

You Should Probably Cleanse the Blog Readability Test From Your Site

Charles Arthur at The Guardian has brought to light the fact that the Blog Readability Test so many of us have used is not exactly what it seems. If the site that provides the image ever goes down, it will default to an advertisement for an obscure company that is certainly a proxy. You can edit out the code that would default to the ad (I did when I first posted it because I thought it was annoying).

However, the site it is hosted at, Critics Rant, seems to have no knowledge of the test. It all seems kind of shady to me, so I'm removing it from my blog. If you've utilized the meme as well, you might want to read Arthur's article and see what you think.

H/T to Pharyngula.

Carnival of the Godless

The 80th Carnival of the Godless is now up at The Jesus Myth. Yours truly made the cut, but there some great essays over there, and I've only just begun. So, if you want to enjoy some great godless thought, go check it out.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mike Huckabee: An Ignoramous on History

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently did an interview with GQ Magazine. He said a lot of theocratic crap that made me wince, but the historian in me just died a little when I read this part:

GQ: Is the strategy shifting because social conservatives are losing on those core issues? Ten years ago, it would have been unimaginable to have gay marriage even in liberal Massachusetts. Now it’s there.

Mike Huckabee: I don’t think the issue’s about being against gay marriage. It’s about being for traditional marriage and articulating the reason that’s important. You have to have a basic family structure. There’s never been a civilization that has rewritten what marriage and family means and survived. So there is a sense in which, you know, it’s one thing to say if people want to live a different way, that’s their business. But when you want to redefine what family means or what marriage means, then that’s an issue that should require some serious and significant debate in the public square. And if you look at states that have had it on the ballot—I know in our state it was a 70-percent-against issue. Most states are similar to that.

First off Mike, you sure as hell didn't articulate the reason it's important. You just said the standard Conservative Christian line that it will cause the downfall of our civilization because it's happened before. That's nice rhetoric, and I'm sure it works with the ignorantly faithful, but give me one example of a civilization that collapsed because it deviated from what you consider the basic family structure. Furthermore, name a civilization that had our modern concept of family.

DevilsTower at Daily Kos did an excellent job addressing my second challenge to this propaganda:

Was it the many civilizations were marriage was arranged and decided long before children were of marriageable age? Was it the Jewish civilizations of Jesus' day where brothers were required to marry their brother's widows? Was it civilizations that allowed siblings to marry? How about first cousins? Could be it civilizations who adopted the silly idea that you should marry for love. Perhaps it was the Mormons who decided to practice polygamy. Perhaps it was those who decided to stop. Or maybe it was the polyandrous cultures in many mountainous or arctic regions.

To start with, "marriage" is merely a word with a culturally defined concept behind it. Committed homosexual couples are already in a "marriage" state on an emotional and philosophical level. Just because you attach the legal term marriage to it doesn't change anything. The stars won't realign, the mountains won't crumble at their foundations, and the seas won't rise and swallow us all. No, homosexuals' serious relationships will just have a legal word attached to them that makes it easier for them to deal with things such as retirement plans and untimely death. Plus, you don't have to recognize it in your church. That's your right. But realize they are already in a state of marriage whether you attach the word to it or not.

But, the fact remains that our modern concept of marriage is exactly that, modern. Before the 20th century it was virtually unheard of that a man and a woman would marry for love. Far more often than not, marriage was used for political reasons to strengthen family alliances. Of course, maybe that's what Huckabee supports, since it is what we find throughout most civilizations at the height of their success. Maybe Huckabee doesn't believe in marriages based on love. After all, that's what led homosexuals to want marriage in the first place. They can't help who they fall in love with.

I seriously doubt Huckabee stands behind arranged marriages, so I'll leave it at that and move on to my other challenge: did any civilization collapse because it altered family structures?

To start with, civilization is a fairly vague term. It can be incredibly broad, such as: Western Civilization. It includes a plethora of societies going all the way back to the ancient Greeks. It's had its difficulties, but it's never completely collapsed and disappeared. The same goes for the other broadly defined civilizations as we see them today. The only large scale civilization that has really collapsed and disappeared was the Meso-American civilzation. However, we know fairly well why it disappeared, and it had nothing to do with family structure. No, it was ravaged by the worst plague in human history and then subjected to a slow genocide at the hands of invading Europeans. I don't think making sure only men and women are "married" would have saved it from either one of those problems.

Perhaps Huckabee means something more specific, focused more on individual nations. Perhaps he sees the United States as its own civilization. Okay then, let's look at a few nations (or entities that resemble nations since the modern concept of the nation-state didn't appear until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648). To keep this post a reasonable length, I'll only consider the superpowers in history. I say it's a fair truncation since, following Huckabee's line of reasoning, weak nations obviously didn't have strong "family values".

We'll start with the Persian Empire, the world's first superpower. Unfortunately, we know perfectly well what brought about its demise: Alexander the Great. And it wasn't because the Persian family structure had been changed. No, the Macedonian army was simply superior in battle, forcing King Darius III of Persia to flee, bringing about a collapse in his empire.

That leads us to Alexander's Empire, but it only lasted as long as its king. Once he died without an heir, his generals turned on each other for control of the throne. I doubt family values had anything to do with it since the Greeks were comfortable with homosexuality long before Alexander's day.

Next we have Rome. But it didn't collapse until after it became Christian. Obviously, Christian family values didn't save it. Of course, they were Catholic and Orthodox, so that doesn't count for Baptist Huckabee. But looking at the families, they were usually the standard form that Huckabee calls for with a patriarchal hierarchy, but marriage in Rome was arranged to create family alliances, and that never really changed throughout its history. However, that "traditional" family structure probably hurt more than it helped. Towards the end of Rome's existence, it simply didn't have enough soldiers to guard its extensive frontier against a growing number of incursions on all sides. The only thing that really would have saved Rome is more babies, and monogamous societies almost always have lower birth rates than polygamous ones.

Then I can point to the Mongols. But they were brought down by internal stuggles due to their highly tribalized political structure. Plus, field cannons made cavalry archers, the most potent weapon in the Ancient and Medieval worlds, obsolete, removing the Mongol Empire's only advantage.

Then we come to the British Empire, but its civilization still exists, just in a liberalized form without its colonies. Even then, Britian didn't allow gays to marry before it started losing its colonies, so there's clearly no correlation there.

Then I suppose that just leaves us with the Soviets and the US. Since Huckabee is a Republican, I'm sure he knows it was Ronald Reagan who single-handedly brought down the Soviets. Even though that's not entirely accurate, it was obviously economic reasons tied to the communist market system that brought the USSR down and not gay marriage.

As for us, we'll decline eventually. But it won't be because homosexuals get a legal term attached to their relationships. No, it'll probably come when China supplants us as the richest nation in the world. Saying that civilizations collapse because they allow gay marriage is worse than saying the decline in pirates causes global warming. At least the latter has a correlation.

Update: If you'd like to learn more about Roman family values over time, Richard Saller from the University of Chicago has an excellent essay on the subject. Then, like today, conservative Roman politicians decried the decline in Roman family values and harkened back to a mythical era that never actually existed. So, before I get accused of poor historical scholarship, there were cartainly Roman writers who spoke of a decline in family. But we have the same thing today, and, unless you think the Cleaver family was real, it just doesn't correlate with reality. Similarly, the evidence doesn't support conservative Roman propaganda.

Romney Doesn't Get It

If you've been following the presidential campaigns at all, you know that Mitt Romney has recently been spending considerable time defending his Mormon faith, on the grounds that it shouldn't matter. In a speech earlier today he said:

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.

No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

On that point, I have to agree. It shouldn't matter what a candidate's religion is as long as he doesn't let it interfere with his job so he or she can stay fair to all the nation's citizens.

However, Romney goes on to show that he has no idea on how to maintain that fairness when he lambasts separation of church and state:

It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America -- the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

I'm going to look past the fact that secularism is, by definition, not a religion.

However, Romney wants to have his cake and eat it too. Secularism is the only way to ensure that no religious liberties are trampled upon. If Romney refuses to adhere to secularism when governing, then what religious philosophy does he propose to utilize? Governing through any type of religion convictions will immediately infringe on other religious beliefs, due to their mutually incompatible doctrines. Secularism is the only way to maintain any sort of fairness.

And I'm not talking about oulawing any sort of belief system. I'm not even talking about atheism. That's not what secularism is about. People are free to have their beliefs. I want to be very clear on that. But people can't have their beliefs uninfringed so long as the government rules through specific religious ideologies. No matter how vague, these religious ideologies will only appeal to a fraction of the nation's citizens. Only a secular government that rules through reason and clear evidence can be truly fair. After all, beliefs are subject to interpretation. Facts are undeniable.

The only way Romney's faith would become a non-issue is if secularism were the name of the game in our government. However, since he seems intent on pushing religion into our governing process, his Mormonism will never cease to matter.

Although, he'd be a far better choice than Mike Huckabee. The last thing we need is a former Baptist minister in the White House. If you think Bush has been bad, he'd be nothing compared to the theocratic crap that Huckabee would bring to the executive branch.

Anyway, you can read more on Romney's speech at CNN.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Message to Chuck Norris: You Suck

There was a time when I enjoyed the Chuck Norris jokes that made their rounds on the internet. But now I just can't help but think about how much his faith has made him an ignorant bastard. If you want to take a walk down Stupid Lane, just read his column at World Net Daily.

To get an idea of how rediculous he is, he's a few paragraphs from his column "How to Outlaw Christianity":

Once upon a time, years ago, it seemed that the only major fire for atheism burned from the anti-Christian work of Madelyn Murray O'Hair and the American Atheist organization, whose claim to fame was the banning of prayer and Bible reading in public schools in 1963.

Today many more antagonist groups and individuals to theism abound, and they are using every means possible for global proliferation – from local government to the World Wide Web. Such secular progressives include the Institute for Humanist Studies, Secular Coalition of America, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Internet Infidels, the Atheist Alliance International, Secular Student Alliance, Society for Humanistic Judaism, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, etc. Of course no list of atheistic advocates would be complete without mentioning the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, as well as the anti-God militancy of men like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

Though the U.S. Constitution outlaws religious discrimination, these organizations and individuals would love nothing more than to help society look with distain upon Christianity and, ultimately, make its components illegal. In fact, right now, they are coalescing and rallying at least 5 million of their troops to mount counter offensives to Christianity.

For that reason I believe theistic patriots need to be wise to atheists' overt and covert schemes, exposing their agenda and fighting to lay waste to their plans.

Okay Chuck, why can't athiests share their thoughts with our fellow citizens? There are hundreds of thousands of Christian organizations that do the exact same thing for their causes. If you want to be consistent, you'd want them to cease their efforts as well. Of course, you agree with them because you want a Christian theocracy imposed on this country.

Second, you are laughably hysterical. For someone who is reputably so tough, you seem downright terrified of a few academics whose only "militant" actions have been to publish books, give speeches, and take part in debates. I wish we were as powerful as you seem to think we are. In reality, we're a loosely connected group of people who can hardly agree on anything. It's the price we pay for thinking for ourselves.

As for thinking for ourselves, it shouldn't surprise you that so many people are leaving the faith. If you ever actually read the Bible, you'll find it's a self contradictory work hoplessly caught up in first century thinking. I'm amazed it's taken people so long to look at the more consistent philosophies with better morals written in the 2000 years since.

Finally, just because you think athiesm and secularism is immoral doesn't mean jack. I think Christianity is immoral, but I certainly don't want to outlaw it. I just want Christians to stop forcing their beliefs on the rest of us. These "counter offensives to Christianity" are simply efforts to remove the special status the religion has within our government, a status it received by default, not merit. Just because most of the founding fathers were Christian does mean the rest of us have to be. You don't want atheism imposed on you, so you'd damn well better expect that I don't want Christianity imposed on me. It's called freedom, get over it. And it's real freedom, not the kind where only fundamental Christians are allowed to do what they want at everyone else's expense.

Wow, Just....Wow

As a history major, this just makes me shudder in terror:

How does someone like this end up on television? Just goes to show it's not all that it's cracked up to be.

I could correct her errors, but I don't want to insult your intelligence.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Now I'm Not Sure I Want to Live Here

I'm currently moving to my new place of residence in El Paso, Texas. It seemed all nice and good until I stumbled across the disturbing news that the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency, Chris Comer, has been forced to resign because she forwarded an email annoucing a speech by Barbara Forrest, who is a philosopher of science and traces ID's connections to creationism.

Why was it so terrible to announce a speech by a reknowned scientist? Because a Baby Jesus lover who is offended by reality is the Chair of the State Board of Education. Dr. Don McLeroy is a well known advocate of Creationism and ID, and in September he put in place a policy where the TEA must remain neutral on evolution and ID. Obviously part of the new effort to quietly diminish evolution since creationists have been unable to force it out overtly.

Now, what was the offending email that cost Comer her job? Here's a copy of it (from The Austringer):


To: Glenn Branch
From: Glenn Branch
Subject: Barbara Forrest in Austin 11/2
Bcc: [redacted]

Dear Austin-area friends of NCSE,

I thought that you might like to know that Barbara Forrest will be speaking
on “Inside Creationism’s Trojan Horse” in Austin on November 2, 2007. Her
talk, sponsored by the Center for Inquiry Austin, begins at 7:00 p.m. in
the Monarch Event Center, Suite 3100, 6406 North IH-35 in Austin. The cost
is $6; free to friends of the Center.

In her talk, Forrest will provide a detailed report on her expert testimony
in the Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board trial as well as an overview of the
history of the “intelligent design” movement. Forrest is a Professor of
Philosophy in the Department of History and Political Science at
Southeastern Louisiana University; she is also a member of NCSE’s board of

For further details, visit:

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools

Eugenie C. Scott’s Evolution vs. Creationism

NCSE’s work is supported by its members. Join today!


Hmm...I don't know if that warrants a firing. Tell me if I'm wrong.

I wonder if Ben Stein's new movie, Expelled, will talk about his. After all, this woman actually lost her job, unlike the Creationist hacks featured in the movie who simply couldn't get their papers published because they didn't have anything scientific in them. But I doubt it. Ben Stein is blinded by religion too, and the fact that supporters of evolution are having it worse wouldn't work to well in Stein's tale of Intelligent Design persecution.

What's worse is the TEA's proposed facilitator. (Sounds almost like a comic book villian, doesn't it...The Facilitator)

The State Board of Education (SBOE) has a proposal before it to hire a "facilitator" or "standards writing consultant" to write the standards document after workgroup members consisting of master teachers and university professors have initially written the initial standards document and after additional university professor experts review that standards document. One wonders why the initial writing and review are necessary when the facilitator will have complete freedom to write whatever he or she wants at the conclusion of the process.

One does wonder. Perhaps it's a way to put something in place that none of those experts would approve of? What's the point of even having all those experts? You might as well fire all of them too and just have a Bible to consult instead. After all, it has all the knowledge one really needs, right?

Anyway, we'll see what happens, but I certainly plan of living far from here before I have any kids.

For more information, read this report on the firing and information on the facilitator, both from the Texas Citizens for Science.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

This Guy Is Great

Sometimes it's just nice to hear unrestrained rants against religion. One of my favorite sources is Pat Condell's series of videos on YouTube. Here's a sample:

I love this guy, and I see nothing disrespectful in being truthful. The fact remains that most religions are simply interpretations of antiquated stories that don't tell us anything useful beyond providing a window on the culture that wrote them. No one should feel hesitant about pointing that fact out.

Anyway, Condell has a whole bunch of videos on YouTube, and I encourage you to check them out.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Planet Atheism

Like my old blog, The Iron Chariot is now a member of Planet Atheism. If you've never heard of it, Planet Atheism collects the recent posts from several contributing atheist blogs and reposts them in one easy to find location. So if you're a big fan of rationality and free thinking, I suggest out check it out.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Golden Compass Controversy

It hasn’t received much attention in the media, but religious groups are raising a stink over the upcoming fantasy film The Golden Compass. The complaints aren’t with the movie itself, but with the fact that it might lead children to read the book the movie is based upon. What’s wrong with the book, you ask? It’s written by Phillip Pullman, a well-known atheist, and the book expresses a number of anti-religious views. These themes have been mostly watered down for the film, but that hasn’t stopped the Catholic league from launching a crusade against the film. On their website, they state:

The Catholic League wants Christians to stay away from this movie precisely because it knows that the film is bait for the books: unsuspecting parents who take their children to see the movie may be impelled to buy the three books as a Christmas present. And no parent who wants to bring their children up in the faith will want any part of these books.

First, I just want to say that censorship is the worst possible way to deal with criticism. Often, criticism addresses a legitimate concern. If people simply ignore that criticism, the problem will continue unabated. Furthermore, criticism can be the result of a misunderstanding that can never be corrected if the criticized side refuses to take part in any dialogue. Unfortunately, refusal to hear criticism is an essential part of religion, so it’s not unexpected.

Second, what’s the problem with “selling atheism to children”, as Bill Donahue, head of the Catholic League, put it? Donahue obviously has no qualms about promoting theism to children and criticizing atheists. If Donahue’s faith is so weak that he believes a fantasy story will destroy the next generation’s belief, maybe he needs a stronger worldview.

I say, let the criticisms be out there. I don’t mind the religious being critical of atheists. In fact, I encourage it because it leads to fruitful discussions, which allows me to better define my positions and rethink my conclusions on different issues. Nothing is above critique. It’d be nice if the believers would be as open. Of course, I’m not going to hold my breath on that one. To perpetuate itself, religion must be rigid, lest reason and logic reveal the kinks in the armor.

As for The Golden Compass, I doubt it will be much of a success with the knowledge of its atheistic origins in the public awareness. I was in Barnes and Noble last week when a woman in front of me tried to return the book saying, “It was written by an atheist who hates God.” Considering this country is mostly Christian, I’m sure there’s a large body of people out there just like her who will refuse to see the film. Even atheists are upset over the producers watering down the book’s original themes. While the success of the movie itself doesn’t matter to me, I do worry that it will set an unfortunate precedent. If it flops, it could be a long time before we see another movie with godless themes. Film studios would not want the financial risk when making something like The Passion of the Christ is a guaranteed money maker. But only time will tell.

DefCon Shuts Down

This morning I just recieved the unfortunate news that one of my favorite organizations, The Campaign to Defend the Constitution, is shutting down due to a lack of funding.

DefCon provided an essential service, raising public awareness of the Religious Right's efforts to subvert the Constitution. It was especially important when the Republican Party was at the height of its power before the 2006 elections.

Even though we've found a bit of relief from those frightening days, the Religious Right is certainly not going away. The pendulum will eventually swing the other way again, and we will need organizations like DefCon to do what they did.

Luckily, there are still a number of organizations keeping up the good fight including Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (Americans United, for short) and the Secular Coalition for America. There are others out there, but those are the major ones fighting for our essential freedom of and from religion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Obsess Much?

Kieran Healy from Out of a Crooked Timber has brought to light an amusing, yet extremely telling set of statistics from Conservapedia.

If you don't know what it is, Conservapedia was created as a counter to Wikipedia, because of Wikipedia's supposed "liberal bias". I think it just goes to show that Stephen Colbert wasn't too far off when he said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias." So to fix this, a group of conservatives decided to create an online encyclopedia with their mythical version of reality.

Anyway, if you go to Conservapedia's Statistics page, you'll find the following:

I hate to make generalizations, but it seems obvious that the subject of homosexuality is an obsession for many conservatives. Of all the legitimate problems in this country conservatives could focus their efforts towards, they choose the non issue of homosexuality because they seriously believe that if homsexuals get married, it will somehow destroy everyone else's marriage. It makes no sense. It should be obvious that a marriage is solely dependent on the relationship between the two people involved. It doesn't matter what happens between other people you will never meet.

Unfortunately, I think it's just a symptom of a greater problem. Americans are deathly afraid of the wrong things and politicians are able to use this to their advantage. For example, terrorism is a threat, but Republicans act like it is the greatest existential threat our country has ever faced. I'm sorry but jihadists will never be able to destroy this country. They simply don't have the means. The only enemy that ever had that capability was the Soviet Union, and it's gone now. In the same way, Conservative Christians are terrified of the prospect of homosexual marriage for irrational, religious reasons, and Republicans use it to their advantage, which only reinforces the problem.
I say, let the gays get married and let's focus on something that is actually hurting the country. We'll all be a lot better off for it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Getting Caught Up

Just got back from a few days in the woods. Once I get caught up with the news, I'll find something to rant about.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Out Campaign


I know I'm way behind on this due to my hiatus from blogging, but for anyone who doesn't know, The Out Campaign is an idea from Richard Dawkins to provide a way for atheists to make their beliefs (or lack thereof) known by publically displaying a scarlet "A". Dawkins hopes to model it on the gay rights movement, which encouraged homosexuals to make their orientation known so they could stand up for their rights. In much the same way, the Out Campaign encourages athiests to "come out" and see that they are not alone in the world. In this way, we can better interact, organize, and stand up for our freedoms.

While I may not wear the t-shirt (the A is just a little too big), I fully support the ideals of the campaign and will proudly display its logo on this blog's sidebar. No athiest should be afraid to share his or her views of the world. Theists do it everyday without thinking. Why shouldn't we?

In the end, it's my hope that efforts such as this will cause the public to view those who blame atheism for the nation's woes no differently than those who would blame it on specific creeds or ethnic groups. This is a free nation. We shouldn't have to censor our basic view of life.

Read more about the campaign here.

Georgia Governor Resorts to Talking to Himself to End Drought

Even though there's not much one can do to end a drought except wait, I find it amusing that Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia is holding a public prayer vigil at the statehouse, promising to "pray up a storm."

Unfortunately for Georgians, even Governor Perdue seems unsure of the effectiveness of his actions:

[Perdue] said God may still answer the prayers with rain tomorrow or next week.

It's good to see God came into Perdue's heart and gave him a nice accurate date to expect rain.

Of course, where being vague won't cover all your bases, Rev. Gil Watson of United Methodist Church, who led the prayer vigil, said:

"We have not been good stewards of our land. We have not been good stewards of our water. Lord, have mercy on your people, have mercy on us and grant us rain. Oh God, let rain fall on this land of Georgia."

Nice. Even if God doesn't provide what we ask, it can't be his fault. It must be the fault of us poor, wicked sinners who should feel nothing but shame for the crime of merely existing.

This is where I have to tip my hat to the simple genius of the world's major religions. If things go right, the faithful give credit to God. If things go wrong, it must be the people who messed up since God is perfect. With logic like that, no wonder it has such an easy time perpetuating itself amongst those who refuse to question it.

Happily, the article ended with the predictions of those I'm more inclined to believe:

The National Weather Service said some light rain is possible later this week, although not enough to break the drought.

You can find the complete article at NewsDaily.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

I just finished watching PBS' documentary on the Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board trial titled Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (visit the documentary's website here), and I must say, it was a stellar defense of rational thought.

Not only did the documentary lay out the events of the trial, but it attacked and refuted the essential arguments of ID including irreducible complexity and the "just a theory" claim. Furthermore, it featured Barbara Forrest who brought the "Wedge Document" to light, showing the undeniably religious nature of ID, which I fear few Americans know about. Even speaking with just a few of my friends, I always seem to find that no one understands that ID is the antithesis to evolution and that the two are not in any way complimentary. One is science, the other wants to us take back to a pre-Enlightenment understanding of the universe.

Anyway, a nice touch was how the documentary presented the ID arguments from the mouths of its supporters. Then after letting them have their say, it presented the best scientific opinions on the matter from real scientists. Needless to say, it wasn't terribly flattering to the ID cause since the entire ID movement is political and religious rather than scientific. In fact, it made the IDists look positively silly.

I loved the little bit at the end when the ID supporters painted themselves as the poor victims of persecution for their beliefs. Then Bill Buckingham (the former school board member who pushed for creationism in the first place) came off looking like a jackass, especially when he resorted to ad hominem attacks of Judge Jones and displayed his ignorance of the US Constitution. All I have to say to them is: if you want your kids to stay ignorant, homeschool them and stop using well-funded propaganda organizations to push your ideology on the rest of us at the same time. Scientists don't have enough funding to make your safe, comfortable lives possible while fighting your willfil ignorance.

Though I doubt many Americans will see this documentary since it's on PBS, at least it says what needs to be said.

To you PBS, I say bravo.

Religion Does Not Make Someone a Better Person

From time to time, I will place some of my better posts from my old blog here. This is one of those times:

The claim I always have to shake my head at is the idea that religion will make someone a better human being since it provides something a person would not otherwise have. However, is there any real validity to this claim? Let’s look at a little evidence and use a little logic, shall we?

Without a doubt, nearly all religious people are good, moral people. It’s silly to claim otherwise. However, I’d argue that most people are naturally good to start with. Can we really attribute religion to that person being good? All people have a natural sense of empathy. It’s what makes us feel bad when a person is harmed or what makes us feel guilty when we do something that harms another. It seems more like religion is the way humans try to codify that sense of empathy. Plus, the existence of empathy is easy to see even before the development of the Ten Commandments. In the older Code of Hammurabi, one can find the same general rules that basically direct people not to harm one another. At least as long as there’s been civilization, humans have felt empathy towards one another. The next question becomes: could we have developed empathy without a higher power?

One can easily see why evolution would favor humans who help others within their own social groups. Besides our cognitive abilities, humans excel at few things. We can’t run fast. We don’t have any natural defenses. We dehydrate quickly. Our brain requires a vast amount of energy to operate. Our young are helpless for more than a year after birth. There seems to be no reason for us to have survived until one adds empathy to the equation. Since empathy makes people feel good about alleviating suffering in others, it makes people want to work together because it lessens suffering throughout the society. Working together, humans can acquire more resources than loners, and empathetic individuals care for the sick and wounded, making it more likely empathetic humans will live long enough to reproduce. Loners would not have these benefits. We can see it today. People who lack a sense of empathy, rapists, murderers, etc., are quickly shunned from society, preventing them from gaining the benefits of society. Therefore, it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to see why surviving humans would naturally develop a sense of empathy. Plus, we can see the same behavior in chimpanzees, so it’s not a trait unique to humans.

Now, if religion is just how people codify empathy, then what’s the problem? The problem is that religion can also remove the sense of empathy one feels towards a different group of human beings. Every religion proclaims its believers are the only people that matter and nonbelievers are to be despised. This removes the sense of empathy a group of religious people would otherwise feel towards nonbelievers. This dehumanization then allows the believers to maim, torture, kill, and otherwise harm other humans with no sense of remorse. Plus, it makes the believers feel good because they believe they have helped others within their social group. Just look at the historical example of the Inquisition. Inquisitors happily killed heretics because they felt they were helping society by removing the destructive influence of sin. This willingness to kill in the name of religion is just an unfortunate side effect of our ability to be selective with our empathy.

Of course, religion isn’t the only societal construct to do this. Racism and the efforts of Social Darwinism do the same things. However, most modern people can agree that adherence to racism and Social Darwinism is harmful to those who suffer from it. Why should religion be any different? It needlessly categorizes people along lines that would otherwise not exist.

In the end, most people will be good because we’ve evolved that way. It’s what allows us to survive in a dangerous world. Unfortunately, our sense of empathy only extends to humans within our perceived societal group. Religion inadvertently exploits this shortcoming, making it easer for religious people to discriminate those of a different faith. In the end, it’s an extra rift that simply doesn’t need to be there and doesn’t add anything substantial to our sense of morality. We don't need fear of a giant, invisible man in the sky to be good people.

Why "The Iron Chariot"?

The name for this blog comes from a passage in the Old Testament of the Bible:

And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

- Judges 1:19

If God is omnipotent, then why should iron chariots, of all things, be a problem?

Since this blog is an argument against the existence of any gods, I feel there is no better literary device to represent this blog than the iron chariots God found impossible to defeat. So I ride my Iron Chariot of Reason against the theistic hordes...


Hello, and welcome to The Iron Chariot. For those of you who were readers of my old blog, Lord J-Bar for Democracy, Not Theocracy, you can expect more of the same. For those of you who are new, let me tell you a little bit about myself:

First and foremost, I am an atheist. I have found religion to be a rather superfluous exercise and a waste of time and money that could be better spent on things that actually help people. I'll be sure to give you the reasons as time goes on, but, for now, just know that I have not come to my current worldview lightly. I agree with the late Carl Sagan in that, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Considering that the God hypothesis is an extremely extraordinary claim, I am disinclined to believe until the theists have more than a mere ancient book and a few anecdotes to back up their claims.

Besides, I have found the intellectual freedom that comes from atheism to be far greater than any wishful thinking that might come from religion. It allows one to truly contemplate the nature of the universe without the blinders of religion and better understand why the universe is the way it is.

Finally, I worry that the recent religious upswelling in this country poses a significant threat to our way of life. I'm concerned with how the conservative, Religious Right wants to destroy many of our essential civil rights to recreate a historical era of Christian values that never actually existed. As far as I'm concerned, the only way to provide freedom for all this nation's citizens is to ensure the government will not impose any sort of religious dogma upon them. It is unfortunate that atheists seem to be the most vocal group on this critical endeavor, but I am proud to be a part of it and wouldn't have it any other way.

As for my credentials, I have a bachelor's degree in military history from the US Military Academy with a focus on ancient and medieval warfare. Beyond that, I have done as much as I can to further educate myself on historial and scientific issues. I certainly don't know as much as I would like--and never will--but I strive to learn more everyday, and I'm more happy to hear new ideas and views on every issue.

In short, here you'll find rational arguments to support science and pleas to maintain the US Constitution as the secular document the Founding Fathers intended it to be. I may even groan a bit over the intolerances of fundamental religion. Anyway, you may disagree with everything I have to say, but I hope you at least learn something....