Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Prayer Is Not the Answer to American Gun Lobby Terrorism

In the Dec. 17 Yahoo! news site there was a video of President Obama attending a religious service for the children and staff who died in the Sandy Hook School shooting. Obama had also publicly offered a Christian biblical quotation  in response to  the tragedy.   This itself is government endorsement of a particular religion and therefore a violation of separation and state, but that's another matter for another time.

More to the point, the time has come  for the country to act not by indulging in the passivity of worship every time there's a mass murder. Prayer is useless under any conditions, and especially at a time like this. The victims are dead and there's no supreme being who will bring them back to life any more than there was one to protect them from being murdered in the first place. Instead it's time for America to take action and once and for all face down the rabidly extremist National Rifle Association by finally instituting meaningful gun control legislation at the federal level.

So far  Obama has made the usual presidential noises about this horrific tragedy, but has not specifically committed to advocating gun control. On the other hand,  Senator Diane Feinstein has promised to propose such a bill, but it remains to be seen how much support she will get, especially from Obama and how far she will pursue the measure.  BTW note that the NRA which thrives on intimidation against its opponents showed its cowardly stripes following the massacre by shutting down its Facebook page due to its being on the receiving end widespread criticism.

Also note that the more civilized countries in the Western world have stricter gun laws, much less gun violence, and at the same time a much larger percentage of atheists among their citizenry than in the U.S. As long as America's answer to mass murders like at Sandy Hook is God and more assault weapons (a ban on which expired in 2004 and  thanks to the  NRA-gun nuts  was never reinstated), you can bet the carnage will never stop. It will only get worse.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Walking a Fine Line

One of the objectionable customs of many religions especially most theistic ones  is proselytization. I consider this practice rude and condescending because of its implication that the adherent's beliefs are superior to those of other people's and thus they need to be saved from the error of their ways.

Atheists on the other hand as a whole don't knock on doors or buttonhole people on the street to spread our message. But in order to get our ideas across to others, defend our rights to non-belief, and counter our image as baby-eaters, we must do so in a manner that doesn't impose on religionists' privacy.

So what is the difference then between proselytizing on one hand and being assertive—or even aggressive—on the other in presenting what we stand for to the community at large?  I think that it comes down to whom we approach in order to deliver our point of view. This means that atheists should not badger individuals who have not initiated an exchange about religion by "starting it". But we have every right to put in our two cents in the market of ideas and public debate. This means disseminating the atheist perspective via the media, Internet, speakers, and billboards just to name a few venues. Richard Dawkins comes to mind as an example  a non-believer who has no qualms about standing up to religious interests and through the use of logic and biting wit does so in an effective manner.

I would like to think that on a personal level, the foregoing won't be construed as supporting "don't ask don't tell".  If anything, it should be clear that on a one-on-one basis I favor telling others plenty, but only if they ask.  For example I have a devoutly religious family member who recently underwent a cancer related amputation. I would  not go up to her and tell her that, prior confirmation of the malignancy her prayers that all she had was a benign cyst were a waste of time and didn't make a dime's worth of difference in the outcome of her illness. I think that would be crass and unfeeling. Yet, I don't hesitate to state my atheist's opinions which she might see in social media about the inefficacy of prayer. It is this type of distinction in handling public and private matters that I submit might be a useful guide in dealing with believers.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hooray! I Was Wrong

I'm glad to acknowledge that my worry was exaggerated about the possibility of Superstorm Sandy—as serious as it was—disrupting  the 2012 elections. But beyond that, I'm also extremely relieved by the results of the race itself. To be sure, I'm disappointed by the failings of President Obama's first administration, but considering the alternative of  having Romney in the White House, there's no question that it's well worth taking another chance with Obama. I think that there's a possibility that his determination to get the job done may improve this time around, especially inasmuch as he's not up for further re-election and can thus concentrate on meeting his stated goals without the distraction and the need to compromise his agenda that would come with running for another term.  

My concern now however is that the Republicans, who couldn't defeat Obama with obstructionism and were frustrated in their aim to make him a one-term president, will now resort  to impeachment on some flimsy pretext or other, which is the wrecking ball strategy that they used against President Clinton who at the time was also a second-term Democrat. And even though the attempt failed, it was an ugly hate fest put up by the extreme Right  that served no useful purpose for the country and wound up costing the public millions of dollars.

As spiteful as many of the Republicans were in the 1990's, just about the entire party has gone completely over to the dark side since then. It's true that based on the election results, the Democrats now control the Senate. However, the Republicans control the House of Representatives; This is the chamber that initiates the articles of impeachment.  So it's no great leap of the imagination to conceive how GOP  members from this branch of Congress could attempt to remove another despised Democrat from office.

In short, Obama owes the Republicans nothing, least of the same attempt at bipartisanship  with which he went overboard in his first term. They will likely once again try to sabotage his efforts no matter what he does. I'd like to think that he realizes this and will proceed  to push his programs forward this time, rabid opponents and detractors be damned.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Will Sandy Cause Election Day Chaos?

I was appalled to learn of the damage inflicted at this point (early morning Eastern time, Oct. 30) on a large section of America  by Hurricane Sandy and the "frankenstorm" into which it has morphed.  At this writing the worst may be yet to come in some areas either from the storm itself or the aftermath. This weather front is a stark reminder of the raw power of nature and that even the most modern and advanced architectural and technological achievements of man are no match for this awesome force. (I shudder to think what would happen if such an overwhelming natural event were ever to strike here in Metro-Manila or some other other third world city.)

And what a time for this disaster to hit the U.S—one week before the 2012 presidential election.  How this storm will affect the outcome, not to mention the process itself, is a wild card. At this time President Obama faces a set of  circumstances similar to those experienced by then President Bush during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bush's incompetence in handling the aftermath of that devastating storm was the beginning of the end of his popularity.  But unlike Obama, Bush was not up for re-election.

So the election, as close as it is in imminence and in the race itself could well be decided on Obama's  and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) ) restoring some degree of order and normalcy in the wake of Sandy. But even if he handles it successfully to the extent that any degree of recovery can be achieved in such as short time before next Tuesday, it wouldn't be surprising if the Republicans find a way to play politics and try to stymie Obama's efforts (just as they were involved in voter suppression attempts  in Ohio before Sandy).  At this point it should be noted that Mitt Romney is opposed to federal aid in such disasters and if elected would dismantle the FEMA, leaving the individual states to fend for themselves.

But no matter how well or poorly the government assists people  in areas hard hit by the storm in digging out of the debris and in helping them put their lives back together, they may be too distracted to vote and / or the polling places and facilities may have been too damaged to be of service. For example, how will voters be able to cast their ballots on electronic voting machines if the power is still out in  as may be the case in some locales?  These are just a few possible scenarios that may materialize on election day.

So the period between now and Nov. 6 as well as that date itself will be extremely critical.  Thanks to Sandy It may well result in one  of the most contested and contentious elections on all levels—federal, state, and local—in American history. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Argument Against Theistic-Based Humanism

Is it possible for a theistic religion no matter how liberal its doctrines to be truly humanistic? I have a close friend who's an ardent Reform Jew and who strongly believes that the two thought systems are indeed compatible.  In fact  one reason for his dedication to  Reform Judaism is its enlightened concern with the human condition instead of on rigid observance and ritual as is the case with Orthodox Judaism.  Personally, I admire Reform Judaism for its historic attachment to progressive causes. 

But in the final analysis as long as Reform Judaism and other moderate forms of  religions have a theistic component, I don't see them as being fully humanistic.  Here's why. There's a conflict between humanism which by its nature is secular and traditional religion. Humanism of course  as the name implies is a perspective on life that's human centered, one that enables people to grow and unfold their powers to understand the world around them and be able to relate to their fellow humans. (BTW I credit my perspective on this point to the influence of humanistic psychoanalyst Erich Fromm)

Theism on the other hand is is god-centered.  As such it requires people to look to a supreme being, whose existence is unproven, for the answers  to life's questions. This limits their horizons of searching  and awareness to the confines of this deity's dictates.

As Richard Dawkins said "I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world".  Inasmuch as theists tend to address human needs in terms of such archaic concepts as the soul and man's relationship with God, the same is true about religion's limited approach to humanity and humanism.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Moving On: Atheism's Role for Mankind's Advancement

It may seem too obvious at first glance to even bother stating that as the centuries have passed since the Bronze Age biblical era , humankind's knowledge and understanding of nature has grown at  a staggering rate and that current technology has surpassed even what the most advanced minds of 100 years ago could have imagined. What were once regarded as acts of a supreme being can be readily explained by science--or even simple logic.

Yet a consequence of this progress is that the more we have come to know  and understand about natural causes of events,  the less we have needed to depend on theistic explanation or look to scripture as a revelation about them and our place in the universe.  For that matter when we compare the universe itself based on scientific evidence on models with that as portrayed  in religious sources such as the Torah, the New Testament, and the Quran, we see that these books are shot full of errors about (as an example) the nature of the heavens, in particular the sequence of  cosmological creation, and the  placement of the Earth at the center of the universe.

The Earth is of course heliocentric, and the sun is just an average star in an ordinary galaxy among billions of other such star systems. In turn, there are more stars in the universe than grains of sands on all the beaches on Earth. Many if not most of these stars have planets. Odds are that some support life. That makes humans and our world infinitesimally minuscule in the greater scheme of things and the god of the bible as absolutely puny in light of the structure of the real universe.

However, even in this day and age,  a large number of people in the U.S. still have faith in scriptural explanations as inerrant about creation, whether they accept them literally or figuratively (It's almost comical to hear various sources resort to contorted explanations to justify acceptance of the latter as "symbolic" and to hear the literalists bend the facts to fit their religious beliefs, such as by rejecting the theory of evolution, asserting that the world is only 6,000 years old and that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, Flinstones style. Just to give a specific  example of the shocking rate of ignorance in the United States, 46% of Americans believe in creationism .

Probably every religion in the world has a creation myth. Most likely, these ancient stories were based on the attempts to make sense of and explain the world as people in ancient times understood it, which is a psychological need common to all humans.  They did the best they could with what limited knowledge they had. But that was then and this is now.  So there's no reason for modern man to continue looking at these myths other than interesting literature and a window on  the way people of that era thought and lived.    

To put it another way, if  the Old and New Testaments are true word of God  as the fundamentalists would have us believe, why is there no mention in these books to the discoveries and technology that humans have developed  (and will continue to develop) through the ages since the biblical era?  Why didn't God reveal the knowledge of science to man in ancient times instead of letting him wallow in ignorance about what we have since learned from those days?  As a matter of fact, "pagan" cultures such as the ancient Greeks and Romans made great scientific and mathematical discoveries  and expounded profound philosophies in those times.  Who knows how much further they might have gone if Christianity hadn't usurped the culture in that part of the world?

Christians might frame God's refusal to speed the progress of humankind in terms of "the fall of man"  and by invoking Genesis  3:17-20 wherein God condemned man to a life of toil for eating from the tree of knowledge. Yet as the centuries  have passed especially since the Enlightenment, as was previously mentioned humans overall are having to struggle less and less in order to survive through the powers of education, reason and science. As a result, as was previously mentioned our dependence and belief in a supernatural being have diminished accordingly.

Note that modern societies that have made the most socioeconomic and scientific progress are those that have largely secular, whose people are well educated and have outgrown belief in a supreme being. Not surprisingly, these countries are also the happiest ones in the world. One  examples is Denmark  which not only has a high rate of atheism, but also a long life expectancy and a  low rate of violence just to name a few favorable features. On the other hand, countries that have high rates of poverty, dishonesty in government, and violence are those whose people are the most religious. The Philippines, for example, has the highest rate of theism in the world and yet is beset with these problems.  Out of 183 countries, that country   is rated the 129th most corrupt.

In short the message is this: Humankind has made great strides since ancient times, but in order to reach a higher stage of maturity, we need to shed the baggage of belief in a phantom supreme being.  Until that happens, for all our progress, the burden of theism is holding back its adherents in a Dark Ages mentality.

I would like to close with a beautiful quotation from Thomas Jefferson who stated humanity's optimal goal  most succinctly:  "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear ... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue on the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Power Points: Confronting Christian Privilege

Among the Jewish population, which constitutes only a small demographic minority in the U.S., it seems that there are various group-based approaches in dealing with the predominantly Christian population. One is a deferential conformity or assimilation in which Jews will go out of their to maintain good relations with their non-Jewish associates in order not to upset or stir up latent (and not so latent as the case may be) anti-Semitic feelings that these people might harbor. This submissive behavior is usually found in locales where Jews constitute a relatively miniscule number such as in small towns and rural areas.

Another approach is assertiveness, wherein Jews are less concerned about what Christians think of them. As such, they are less inclined to "go along to get along." This outlook is more typically found where Jews are in larger numbers and are on more or less equal footing with non-Jews in terms of numbers as well as economic and political power such as in large metropolitan areas.

But what happens if one or a few members of a small Jewish community who are joined with outside allies stand up for principle on an issue that goes against the grain of the larger Christian population in that locale? That's what happened in Hawaii in 1985 a Jewish group protested against a large cross as a violation of church-state separation. The monument had been erected several years before on federal landa marine base to be exact, and it had come to be considered a landmark of sorts by the non-Jewish locals. The challenge went to court, and in 1986 the U.S. District Court agreed that the cross indeed sent a religious message and should be removed.

As might be expected, this affair raised the ire of the Christians against the Jews there, and for fear of that very consequence, many of the latter had opposed undertaking the legal challenge in the first place. It's obvious as to which of the above group-based approaches this community was taking. And therein lies the heart of the matter.

First there is the cultural phenomenon of Christian privilege in the U.S.,  which is a a sense of entitlement that most Christians there take for granted and most other Americans accept without questioning. For example, no other religion in the U.S. gets its own national holiday (Christmas).  Followers of other religions in the U.S. generally don't assume that everyone else must accept public displays of their symbols of faith on public landand then get upset when they don't get their way; or impose its dogma on science instruction in public schools (creationism); or use the power and notoriety of political offices to promote or endorse their religious views (think Governors Rick Perryand Mike Huckabee).  In short, no other religious group in the U.S.so blatantly defies  the separation of state and church which is a cornerstone of American democracy. 

Yet the justification for Christians to think that they ought to be so honored, namely that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation", is totally false.  America is not now and never has been owned by any religious entity.  There is not a single word in the United States Constitution about God or Jesus, or an endorsement of any particular faith. The only references in that document to religion regard  freedom of and from it (First Amendment and Article 6, Section 3).  Also Many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, not Christians. Finally, the Treaty of Tripoli which was signed in 1796, flatly states that America is not a Christian nation.       

Not surprisingly, this entitlement mentality has also has spilled over into the U.S. military as well, where Christian proselytizing especially since the Reagan era has become a serious issue.  To combat (no pun intended) this menace, in 2005 Mikey Weinstein founded the MRFF (Military Religious Freedom Foundation).

Mr. Weinstein is a Jewish graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and retired officer whose son and other non-Christians endured religious discrimination and harassment at that institution. It turns out that the USAFA is not the only source of Christian bullying of religious minorities and atheists.  It's endemic throughout the Armed Forces. Yet despite the accomplishments of the MRFF, an acquaintance of mine who is also a Jewish retired military officer thinks that Weinstein is too militant and that he should try to work within the system to accomplish his goals. (In fact, this acquainance was the one who told me about the Hawaii incident).  However, Weinsteins's frustrationds are based on the very futility of his having going through proper channels to seek a solution  to Christian abuse of power only to be met with indifference. Morevoer, the MRFF has been nominated for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.   That doesn't sound very belligerent to me.
No doubt it's their numbers that have led so many of American Christian into this mindset of superiority and obliviousness to the rights of others. But thanks to the Constitution, the religious majority does not get to run the country. So it's time for diffident and indifferent non-Christians to take a lesson people like Mikey Weinstein and assert themselves in this issue, just as advocates of CP need to get put aside their delusions of grandeur and get over themselves.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Promoting Atheism Through Facebook

As one who was originally indifferent about social media, I joined Facebook a few years ago only at the behest of my wife's nephew who said that it's a more streamlined way than email to keep in touch with family and others in one's circle of interest, which turned out to be the case as far as it went.   This turned out to be correct.  However, since that time, I have also found FB to be a useful tool in sending and receiving communications about other matters in which I'm involved, including the atheist movement,  the struggle against religious fundamentalism, and my own thoughts and activities as a non-believer.

This is because Facebook is a great tool for sharing ideas,.  Why. for example, would I have any greater reservations about including atheist-oriented material on my page or profile than my theistic  counterparts do about their beliefs on their pages? In doing so I have connected  with other atheists and have received a wealth of information including various features and sites, some of  which I found to be not only very useful in gaining knowledge but fascinating reading as well.  In turn I have found similar Facebook-ready works of interest  to share with others from such various sources as progressive newsletters  

One use for Facebook for those atheists who haven't come out of the closet to their FB Friends (who often include family members) is to do so through that medium. Personally, I have made no secret on Facebook about  being godless and so far have had no negative reactions from those Friends (many of whom are believers) who were previously unaware of my position. But crypto-atheists who choose  Facebook as a venue to out themselves may learn whether or not their believer FB Friends are truly worthy of that description.

There are certainly other means of getting the word out about atheism, such as through forums and blog sites. But these are read mainly by those with an interest in that topic  On the other hand because of its  widespread and generalized following, Facebook may be better suited for non-believers to present ourselves and our narrative to others who as Friends, especially those theists to whom we have close ties, may well be willing to trust and accept us.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Are There Wrong Reasons for Becoming an Atheist?

Most atheists including those who were previously religious are nonbelievers because they have used reason and logic to reach the conclusion that there's no evidence  for the existence of god(s) and therefore theism makes no sense . Yet, there are others who lost their faith in a supreme being due to disappointment that their prayers went unanswered or because of some affliction that beset them or  their loved ones.  In other words, the motivation for their non-belief is based on emotion and projection (narcissism?): "God let me down; therefore he must not exist."

So the question is: how sincere and committed are such former believers to  atheism?  Not very, I would wager.  It seems to me that genuine atheism  is based on objective considerations, not subjective  feelings. In other words, those who arrived at their non-religious  perspective through discontent with a supreme being's "performance" may not really be atheists at all, but just mad at God and may be prone to regain their religious faith if he makes things right again in their eyes. (I also explored the "mad at God" concept in my post  "What's God Got To Do With It? Fallacies of Theistic Belief" )

Some atheists-by-reason  may assert that it doesn't matter how one became a non-believer or why (s)he rejects a supernatural explanation for the existence of the universe.  As a beleaguered and perhaps the most hated minority in America,  we need all the adherents we can get.  And besides, there's no membership  committee, vetting process, or test to determine one's dedication to atheism anyway. This is a tempting argument, but I personally I would rather have a "lean and mean" core of members in the atheist movement who arrived at their convictions of godlessness through due intellectual diligence. Those who claim to be non-believers merely as the result of  discouraging circumstances vis a vis the relationship with their god  may just be "foul weather" atheists who revert to theism when the sun shines again in their lives.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Christian and Islamic Misogyny: Two Sides of the Same Coin

There is a campaign underway in Egypt headed by  a Muslim political party to restore the centuries-old practice of  female genital mutilation.  This custom which had been carried out for centuries was banned during the Mubarak administration. Yet unofficially, it's still a rite of passage for many girls in that and many other countries in Africa as well as in Muslim immigrant communities in Europe and America.  In Egypt alone, it's estimated that as many as 70--90% of the  women have been subjected to this brutal act at some time in their early lives.

Egyptian women's rights groups have voiced opposition to legal  reinstatement of  this tradition.  But the fact that the Parliament would even consider its revival indicates that legal protection for women from ever again having to face such an attack on their  freedom from such forced maiming  was never that secure in the first place.

Just how does the American extreme right wing political/ religious mentality regarding women's rights differ from its Middle Eastern counterpart? Not very much.   A Mississippi lawmaker  applauding that state's recent total ban on abortion in effect declared that he has no problem with desperate women resorting to coat hangers to end their pregnancies.  Although such self-induced abortions are obviously dangerous to the health and often the lives of these women, the legislator said, "...hey you have to have moral values.  You have to start somewhere, and that's what we've decided to do."

This callousness and contempt for woman is not an isolated incident. In March, another lawmaker, this time from Georgia, in support of that state's legislation to outlaw all abortions after the fifth month even if the fetus is unlikely to survive, compared women to farm livestock. He said that if cows and pigs can carry dead fetuses to term, women should be required to do likewise.  The law known as House Bill 954 passed the Georgia State Assembly with a vote of 102—65.    

One might expect such twisted and ignorant thinking from politicians and voters in the above bible belt states.. However, there is also a bill in Congress that would outlaw abortions  in Washington D.C.  under any circumstances  including rape, incest or protection of  the woman's health after the 20th week. A  woman who carries a dead or nonviable fetus to term, especially involuntarily, obviously faces both physical and mental hazards. Hence, if such legislation can be considered as a law for our nation's capital, is any part of America safe from anti-choice fanatics? 

So overall, women's personal freedom to decide  whether or not to continue  a pregnancy is probably at greatest risk since Roe vs. Wade. In that sense, if such rights of women in the U.S. can be abrogated just like in Egypt, then do their basic freedoms have any meaning at all in this country?  (The same question could be asked for the loss of rights for of all Americans since 9-11, and there there could be a relationship between the two issues.  But that's a topic for another post).    

And the sad thing is that women themselves have often played a role in this backwards march, both in the Middle East and the U.S.  In the former, many of the supporters of the proposed revival of female genital mutilation in Egypt are midwives who perform this procedure and whose livelihoods have been affected by the present prohibition.  Even victims themselves want their daughters and granddaughters to undergo FGM in the name of "purity".   As for America, one of the six sponsors of House Bill 954 in Georgia is Donna Sheldon. In  the Oklahoma House of Representatives,  the author of a bill in that confers personhood on a fertilized egg is Rep. Lisa Billy, who also also authored the Oklahoma law requiring ultrasounds for abortion seekers. (Fortunately, this legislation was struck down in court). Not surprisingly, these officials are Republicans, as are many other women at various levels of political participation.  Their affiliation with the GOP which no longer has a moderate wing and is mainly composed of conservative Christians points up that it's not just men who are to blame for carrying out  that party's war on women.

In short, Americans need to remember that when (rightfully) criticizing religion-based gender repression in other parts of the world, we should  keep in mind that the rights of women in the U.S.are no less at risk.  American freethinkers and other progressives may not be able to make changes in Egypt, but we don't have to put up with attacks by theistic groups on gender equality in our own country.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Unconventional Atheists Convention

According to a poll, the Philippines leads the world in the number of God-believers. So it's ironic that as an American atheist, I would wind up residing here. Yet,  I've never felt uncomfortable as a freethinker in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country.  (In fact, I had more problems as a non-believer while living in the U.S.)  At any rate, I am fortunate that I managed to find and get involved with a local organization of non-believers called PATAS (Philippine Atheist and Agnostics Society).

On Apr. 21, PATAS held a convention for atheists and agnostics at the Bayview Park Hotel in Manila.  The event was billed as the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. I'm happy to say that seating was totally sold out and the affair itself was a great success.

I attended, and at first I felt a little out of place as a senior among mostly young people, a majority of whom appeared to be in their twenties. But then I realized what an asset their youth is to the future of the movement. These people have many productive years ahead as non-believers. And  those who have children will hopefully teach their kids to think independently, or at least that they don't need a god to be good.

Another thing that I noticed is that based on the percentage of women at the convention, there may be a greater proportion of Filipinas who actively support atheism and who hold positions of leadership in the movement than their gender counterparts in the U.S.  One such example is the Chairperson of PATAS, Marissa Torres Langseth.  BTW she and the other planners deserve a shout-out for the time and effort that they contributed in order to bring the convention to fruition.

There was an impressive array of renown speakers both local and from abroad who approached atheism from various perspectives. The latter group included Americans Dan Barker, Norm Allen, David Orenstein,and Jeremiah Camara.  Their presentations were lively and were followed by a discussion session with the audience after each speech. I chatted briefly with the speakers during lunch and found them all to be personable and dedicated to the cause of non-belief.

There seemed to be a consensus among the speakers and attendees, which numbered approximately 200, that there are many more atheists in this country than might be imagined. However, the majority of them are afraid to openly identify themselves as such for fear of negative reactions from their religionist families, friends, and employers. Filipinos tend to be very sensitive to the opinion of those in their circle of interest. And for most of them just the thought of rejection, especially by one's family (to which most people here are inordinately tied) is unbearable. Yet, if PATAS and other like-minded groups make their presence more widely known, closet atheists and agnostics might feel encouraged to take the giant step of outing themselves. The consequences may not be as dire as they fear. After all, many PATAS members themselves overcame the same hurdles and lived to tell the tale.

And who knows, maybe the hotel management who accepted the convention booking and the waitstaff saw for themselves that atheists are not the baby-eaters that they might have imagined us to be.

The theme of the conventions was "Godless Philippines. Are you ready for this?" For one day, a tiny number of the Philippine population  joined together in a public venue and celebrated their godlessness. They were not only ready but willing and able. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Why It's Futile to Argue with Religionists

Trying to engage in  or respond to believers, especially fundamentalists,  in a discussion about religious issues can be frustrating.  This is because they are usually so wrong on so many levels that it's almost impossible to know where to begin.  

For example, on an ER episode some years back Jerry, the emergency room desk clerk informed Dr. Weaver who had just come out as a lesbian that because of her sexual orientation she is going to hell.  Weaver was so stunned by this remark, especially by someone who she apparently never realized is a bigot, that she was at a loss for a reply.

And so it is for atheists. How do we reply when religious extremists confront us with a similar prediction about our eternal fate?  Just ignore it?  Respond that non-believers should not be condemned for who they are since most of them are moral people? That hell is a myth? That the attacker is rude for making such a statement in the first place? That it's none of their business that atheists don't believe in a god?

Atheists can, of course, request these fundies prove their assertion. Their typical reply is that it says so in the bible. But if advised that such a passage is an still just an assertion and not proof of anything including the existence of hell (or a supreme being for that matter)  they will likely say something to the effect of  "God said it. I believe it. That settles it."  This of course kills any further exchange.  You can't counter faith with reason.

On this basis, especially in such areas as education, politics, and especially science.I don't see how atheists and religious believers can accommodate each others' perspectives.  And since it's usually the latter who often have no regard for the First Amendment and who demand special legal and social privileges at the expense of others, it's certainly not incumbent upon non-believers to make any effort towards reconciliation..

Friday, March 16, 2012

Coping With Pesonal Tragedy: Two Perspectives

Thanks to Classmates.com, I've been able to reconnect with some of my fellow high school alumni. I was pleased to learn several months ago that one of these people, who also happened to be my next door neighbor when we were kids, had achieved a fulfilling life life including a Ph.D, a successful career, and a long andfrom what I  gatherhappy marriage. I remember her as a fine person who deserves her good fortune.

So I was saddened to later learn that she had been stricken with (a non-smoker's form of) lung cancer for which a cause hadn't been detected (as is often the case with cancer anyway) and which appeared to be inoperable.  As it turns out, however,  a regimen of chemotherapy eventually shrank the tumor which was then was fully excised, and her chances of recovery are favorable. 

As a theist and the wife of a rabbi, her initial reaction to the original diagnosis was to question why this dreadful illness had befallen her and that she must be a bad person for God to punish her this way(!).  Although she kept her faith,  she says that she came to understand that's not the way misfortune works.  But her initial reaction of feeling forsaken by a trusted supreme being is not only instructive in its contrast  to an atheist's response to distressing news but is also an indictment of religion to the extent that the latter adds unnecessary feelings of guilt and betrayal to the emotional devastation of the crisis itself.

As an atheist I don't claim that non-believers are any less emotionally affected by bad news, e.g. life threatening illnesses, than are theists.  However, not having a god to blame, fear, question,  or beg for divine intervention, is one less obstacle to the opportunity of dealing and coming to terms with the matter at hand with less clouded judgment. I know this from personal experience simply by comparing my response as an atheist upon learning of my own perilous health situations and of those close to me vs.my reaction when I was still a god-believer  wasting time and energy with the self delusion that prayer might lead to a positive outcome.

In short atheism makes it easier to face reality. This is not to say that non-believers can't hope for happy endings in bad times. After all, life without that state of mind is barren. But for hope to be meaningful, it must be based on an objective and reasonable assessment of the situation.  So although I'm well aware of  the reality that my former schoolmate's cancer may return, based on the circumstances to date I can rationally hope for her to enjoy a long term and perhaps permanent remission.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Shot In the Arm for Childhood Immunization

I'm often critical of  conservative religious and political right wing adherents for  their absurd and regressive beliefs,e.g. creationism.. But the left is not exempt from equally untenable ideologies, two of which are postmodernism and its equally harebrained derivative, multiculturalism.

But there is one idea in particular held by many of those on the left that IMO is especially irrational: opposition to vaccinations, especially for children, based on the fear that such inoculations cause autism.  As this concern had already been scientifically shown to be baseless, I thought that the  issue  had already been resolved,. But according to a commentary, "The Vaccination Nation," that appeared in the March 1  edition of the online progressive newsletter, "Truthout", this misguided position is alive and kicking.

As I see it, most parents who refuse to accept the fact that there is no proven link between vaccines and autism and are thus against protecting their kids from childhood diseases are too young to remember the world before  protection against childhood illnesses was available. And "The Vaccine Nation" bears this out. Apparently, they can't comprehend the high infant mortality rate of those times and of the children who survived but were afflicted for life by the ravages that these diseases left behind.

For example, I recall  when the "good old summertime" was also the season for  outbreaks of polio which until the advent of the Salk vaccine in the 1950's crippled and paralyzed thousands of people in America, especially kids. Yet, one responder in the comment section of "The Vaccination Nation" who is anti-inoculation had the incredibly cruel temerity to say that Franklin D. Roosevelt had this disease but was still able to become president of the U.S. In other words in balancing the "risks" of inoculation against the possibility of contracting a crippling illness , the reader believes that the latter is an acceptable outcome.

And resistance to immunization is not totally confined to those on the political left.  According to the article, some people choose not to vaccinate for religious reasons and accordingly are exempted by local authorities from inoculation requirements.  However according to the article, "religion"-based refusals are often just a dodge. In either case those who reject inoculations are not only putting their own families at risk, but their communities as well.

"The Vaccine Nation" is an extremely comprehensive and well written analysis on the matter of vaccinations and vaccine safety. So whatever your take on the question, I think that you will find this essay a very worthwhile read.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Caution: Belief in Creationism May Be Hazardous to Your Health (and Mine)

Last September  I published a post on this site called  "America's Regressive Tendencies" in which I discussed disturbing trends in Americans' rejection of science in favor of irrational religious beliefs. It appears that in the meantime, the situation has deteriorated. According to "Teaching Creationism as  Science is Un-American", since that time several bills have introduced in various state legislators that in one form or another denouncing the teaching of the  theory of evolution.

As it turns out, American religious conservatives are not the only ones who refuse to accept scientific evidence that clash with their beliefs. Big business in this country, specifically agribusiness and the Big Meat industry, have refused to change their practices in which they have engaged for years and  which have been proven to be a danger to consumers: the indiscriminate use of antibiotics on livestock. Sadly, under the Obama administration, government regulations restricting this practice, which have long been slipshod, have been weakened even further.

According to "The Scary Dangers of Meat (Even for Those Who Don't Eat It", animals  grown for the purpose of eventual human consumption are usually confined in quarters so crowded that they are standing in their own manure. They are dosed not only to prevent disease that would occur under these horrific conditions (which of course should be outlawed) but also to enhance their growth and increase their weight which in turn means more and quicker profits for producers.

Even taking into account their potential disease exposure, why is it still unhealthful to give non-infected animals antibiotics? For the same reason that indiscriminate use of antibiotics by humans is likewise dangerous. Over time, bacteria exposed such drugs develop resistance, and so the antibiotics become ineffective. This along with other factors such as unsanitary slaughterhouses and meat packers is the reason for numerous outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in America that happen year after year. The situation is aggravated by a decades-old revolving door of meat industry executives being appointed to government regulatory agencies such as the FDA and the Department of Agriculture.  Guess whose interests they're going to look after.

As it is, meat industry generated food poisoning bacteria doesn't just sicken its victim for a few days. Many people die from it. Eventually, pathogens that can no longer be controlled by drugs can develop into superbugs that could threaten the safety of the entire country with resultant deadly diseases.  So why don't lawmakers, especially "patriotic" Republican politicians, supported by  their conservative Christian constituents who are supposedly advocates of "family values" and concerned with national security, put a stop to this  madness of  policies that place the U.S. in such grave peril? After all, isn't it a "family value" to want to protect the health and safety of their loved ones and ensure that they are provided with safe, wholesome food?  Or do these "values" and families themselves along with the welfare of Amerca matter less than the totems of  "free enterprise" and "de-regulation"?

But here's another possible reason for for their reluctance to tackle this issue. Conservative Christians are usually creationists. To acknowledge that through natural selection and mutation, bacteria develop into resistant strains is to grant the validity of the theory of evolution. Denial of this scientific principle is not just a belief with these people. As the opening paragraph of this post  demonstrates, it is an obsession.

So thanks to this strong tie (collusion?) between the powerful interests of religion and capitalism in America  the ignorance of evolution deniers places not just themselves at risk (if only that it were so). Their recklessness and irresponsibility in the public sphere menaces everybody. Something to think about before you bite into your next hamburger.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jenni Lake And the Pro-Choice Movement

The controversy over abortion may seem to generate more heat than light especially when one considers the news item  about Jenni Lake, which gives a somewhat different twist to the debate. Jenni was a 17 year old cancer patient who upon learning she was 10 weeks pregnant  decided to suspend radiation and chemotherapy treatments which if continued would pose a risk to her fetus. In taking this step she knew that she was placing herself in extreme peril. Even in  locales in the U.S.that have severe restrictions on abortion, this procedure may be performed if a woman's life is in danger; so Jenni would well have been in her rights to have an abortion to save her own life. Jenni was aware of this but went forward with her pregnancy anyway. She gave birth on Nov. 21, 2011 and died 12 days later from her illness.

But  her son, Chad. will now grow up without a mother, and his family and others will likely remind him everyday of his life that she sacrificed her life for him. Also no doubt by now  some network TV hack has probably already written the  "Jenni Lake Story". One can only hope that whatever financial proceeds are generated from such likely exploitations, they will be enough to comfortably support the boy.  The father, Nathan Williams,  has supposedly promised  to raise him. However, judging from appearances, his age and socioeconomic status do not offer a promising future for the baby.

Be all that as it may, note that Jenni was the one who made the call from beginning to end about whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. Yet, for all the praise that she received as well as her firm belief that she had done the right thing (After her delivery, Jenni supposedly said that she did what she was supposed to do.),    in effect didn't she needlessly commit suicide?  She had initially been given a prognosis of a 30% chance to survive  two years with treatment. But after only two sessions of chemo, the tumor was found to be shrinking.

Now, suppose Jenni had decided that she wanted to end her pregnancy and instead continue therapy for her illness but was informed that the decision is not hers to make.  Instead,  She must stop the treatment and carry the fetus to term, regardless of the fact that doing so would likely be fatal for her.

Under various laws that Congress is considering, this is not a far-fetched scenario of what may lie ahead for women who are unwillingly pregnant. In October, the House passed HR 358, aka the "Let Women Die bill" which would give the right to federally funded hospitals the right to refuse to perform an abortion even to save a woman's life. This would also apply to religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals. And lest anyone think that this legislation is a conspiracy by misogynistic male representatives, be aware that at least one congresswoman was in on it too.  

Even if HR 358 never makes it past the Senate or is vetoed by the President, the fact that such legislation, which is so draconian that it violates international human rights standards, could even be passed by the House of Representatives in the first place speaks volumes about the the Dark Ages mindset of many—and one is too manyfetus-worshiping  American lawmakers and their constituents: They refuse to acknowledge the person-hood of  those who are already  born, particularly women who should be entitled to make their own childbearing decisions, especially if pregnancy could wind up killing them.

There are those who consider Jenni an inspiration. Perhaps some even consider her a martyr.  But the real martyrs will be the involuntarily pregnant woman in America who will die if the mentality of those support laws like HR 358 is ever allowed to prevail in this country.