Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Prayer-adox": The Illogic of Pleading for Divine Intervention

Whenever there's the a typhoon or other natural disaster or even the the threat of such an occurrence here in the Philippines,a country which has the world's highest percentage of theists, the people immediately call upon divine intervention to save them. In fact Church authorities urge the faithful  to "storm heaven" with prayers for God to bring relief from or to ward off impending calamity. Such was the case with the recent typhoon "Hagupit"  (locally known as "Ruby") that struck this country beginning almost two weeks ago and and finally departing around the middle of this past week.

Even those who are highly educated and should therefore have an understanding of  the workings of nature than are not immune from this irrational mindset.   For example Boo Chanco, a highly respected business professional, made the following observation in  his  Dec. 7 "Philippine Star" newspaper column: "Thank God It's Over":

"I don’t care what some atheists say about the power of prayer, but in this case it surely worked. The faith of millions of Filipinos at home and abroad praying had been powerful enough to cause the typhoon to start dissipating and weakening after it hit land. Earlier forecasts warned of Ruby keeping her strength as it hits the metro area." 

Following is an open letter to Mr. Chanco which addresses his assertion about the cause of the typhoon's abatement.

Dear Mr Chanco:

I don't understand how highly intelligent people like yourself can be so insistent  about believing in the power of prayer and in theism.  But let's assume for the sake of argument that God exists and hears these pleas directed to him. Are you claiming that God loves some parts of the Philippines more than others? After all, the God that "spared" Metro Manila is the same deity that caused or allowed the typhoon to happen in the first place and that caused fatalities elsewhere in the country. Yes there certainly were fewer deaths than from "Yolanda", but fatalities are still fatalities, no matter how few.  And unlike in the case of Yolanda, that decline in the death rate was the result of preparedness by the authorities. Still, it must be cold comfort for the  victims' families to know that only THEIR loved ones, unlike the thousands of people who died in Yolanda,  were killed this time.

As for faith and prayers changing God's mind, how can that be if he already has a divine plan for the world?  Being supposedly omniscient, he knows everything that has happenspast, present and future.  Hence he would be aware before hand that Filipinos would pray for deliverance when he created and turned "Ruby" loose in the first place. So if he changed his mind based on those prayers, then he's not omniscient after all. And after all, isn't God pestered with prayers for favors every second from millions of people around the world, pleas that are often at odds with each other?  Moreover, who are these Pinoys or any supplicant for that matter to challenge the wisdom which is manifested in his decisions?

In reality of course, the typhoon weakened not because of some "godly" intervention. According to PAGASA (the government weather agency) it was simply "intrusion of cold air mass from the Northeast Monsoon, or Amihan."  That's all it was: no miracles, simply a weather pattern that prevails in the local climate at this time of the year. And just as there was a rational scientific explanation for the reduction  in the intensity of this storm, so there is for all natural phenomenon everywhere, regardless of their degree of impact on us humans.

In short, there is no evidence for any other kind of explanation, particularly the supernatural.

Very truly yours,
Rick Levy
Eastwood City

Monday, November 17, 2014

America's Deformed Immigration Reform

I strenuously object to  President Obama's plans to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants residing in the U.S; For that matter I am against such leniency towards these gate crashers under any circumstances. Why should these people be rewarded for flagrantly making a mockery of the American legal system? Giving in this way  and especially considering a pathway to citizenship for them as well is a slap in the face of LEGAL immigrants who have waited years for a visa to enter the U,S, abided by laws of the U.S. and still must wait more years before being naturalized.

Further inflaming the matter is the politically correct propaganda disseminated by advocates for the illegals and their "rights"(!). These supporters have deliberately and unscrupulously confused the issue by referring to undocumented aliens simply as "immigrants" thus conflating them with those aliens who entered the U.S. by the book. This false label distorts the issue and makes those who oppose the presence in America of the  lawbreakers as being against all immigration. Nothing could be further from the truth. Foreigners in America whose visa status allows them to be there are welcome and should not be considered  part of the problem at hand.   

But beyond ethical and moral considerations, there are practical repercussions as well. The economic status of the American worker has been eroding for decades. And  employment and salaries for the American labor force have never fully recovered from the economic crash in 2008 (the jobs are supposedly back but not the previous wages). Flooding the  workforce with five million  more workers, most of whom are low and unskilled, will likely drag down job openings and  the wage scale for U.S. workers as a whole even further. If the border crashers are in the U.S. due to economic hardship in their native countries, especially Mexico and other parts of Latin America, where is it written that the U.S.  has to act as safety valve for the economies of those countries?  The governments of those places need to clean up their act and  start instituting socioeconomic reforms instead of sending their surplus populations, including unaccompanied minors who put a strain on American social services, to el norte .

Even if the pending amnesty applies only to those illegals who have been in the U.S. for a certain number of years, it will only encourage more border crashers to enter the country, hoping that they too will also eventually be allowed to stay. For those who don't remember,  there was a previous amnesty in 1986  (under a Republican administration that time) after which there were  supposed to be employer verification of job applicants' legal status to work in the U.S. and tighter borders. These never really happened because of lax enforcement. This time around I don't even find a pretense of such restrictions in  Obama's blanket amnesty proposal.

I also find it infuriating that just like in 1986 legal immigrants (disclosure: one of whom was my wife),   are being unjustly  left out of the picture. If the President  is so gung-ho on letting  undocumented aliens  stay in the U.S., then in all fairness, his executive order should also offer immediate citizenship to qualified immigrant permanent residents in the U.S.  But instead just like 28 years ago, legal aliens will get wind up receiving NOTHING but the frustration of seeing illegals getting preferential treatment. What else would you call it when the latter will receive the  permission to remain in the U.S. for which their legal alien counterparts had to apply and wait, often as previously noted for many years?   How betrayed and foolish they must feel. So the message is clear: Sneak into the country, bide your time, and you will eventually be home free.

In effect, America has lost control of its borders, and the resulting implications for the country's security are ominous. What a sorry state of affairs.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Into The Light of Day

When I became an atheist over 20 years ago while living in the U.S., I knew that there would be consequences. Nevertheless, I didn't try to pretend  to myself or to others that I was still a God-believer . This alienated some of the people in my life at the time, especially  at the workplace. And although I couldn't prove it, I may have even lost one job as a result.

As for my family, as it turned out, no one was particularly bothered by my rejection of theism, least of all my wife Lydia who had been an atheist most of her life and had been patiently waiting for me to catch up with her. Importantly, I am on good terms with her family members, who have taken my non-belief in stride, even though, most of them are devout believers.. 

Now as as a senior and a retiree living a minimalist but  independent-minded life style, at this stage of life I feel that I have little to lose in my relationship with others by  making clear when the occasion presents itself my non-belief in a supreme being, including to fellow members of the local synagogue that I occasionally attend for social purposes.  In fact, overall, here in the Philippines  where my wife Lydia and I have resided as expats for over 9 years and which is a highly religious society,  I feel more comfortable as an atheist than I did in the States . Again, this is likely because I am more in control of my life than in my earlier years.

It might seem strange, even paradoxical, that I would have this sense of freedom while living in a country which is predominantly and observantly Roman Catholic and which has the world's highest rate of God-believers. Yet there are nascent atheist and humanist organizations that have taken root here.  Among them are PATASFilipino Free Thinkers, and HAPI.  It's no surprise that their membership constitutes a minute fraction of the country's population. But the truth is that no one really knows how many atheists there are in the Philippines.  This is because many non-believers in this culture of dependency are stuck in the closet for fear of jeopardizing their ties with the members of their circles of interest, which usually include nuclear and extended families and close friends.

 It cannot be overemphasized that  these relationships are taken very seriously here. Hence, many secret atheists here do not want to risk being forsaken or shunned by coming out. I recall a social media entry by  a Filipino who stated that he's a 22 year old closet atheist and wanted to disclose his non-belief to his parents. However, he was afraid that if he do so, they would disown him , and he wanted advice on how to handle the situation. Now, on one level, I can certainly sympathize with his plight. Most people do not want to be turned away from their families. But my response to him was that he needs step up and unashamedly declare his atheism. After all, he's 22, not 12. In other words, he is not a child and has as much right to his convictions and principles as his parents do theirs.

The alternative for this young man and others who share his predicament is to live a lie. But regardless of  nationality or culture, when you do that,  you are disowning yourself. And that is the worst kind of rejection of all.

Friday, September 12, 2014

American Atheists And Their Struggle For Equal Rights

There are those who say that atheists are simply those who do not believe in a supreme being. And technically that's true in the abstract. But in the real, concrete world we can't "do" atheism without ensuring that our rights as nonbelievers are recognized and protected. Separation of church and state is probably the most paramount of these interests. How can I claim to be an atheist for example but then be forced to swear on a bible that I will tell "... nothing but the truth so help me God" when appearing in court as a witness, or making a pledge to uphold the law or as a candidate for jury duty? In the past, there were discriminatory laws against atheists throughout the U.S. And I would bet that if some Christian legislators were to have their way at present, atheists would be barred from giving legal testimony or serving as jurors for refusing to comply with this form of oath-taking.

Coincidentally, shortly after entering the above observation in my Facebook page,  I came across the following news story also in FB. It's one that shows just how hostile theistic government officials can be to non-believers. An atheist, Joseph Richardson was forced by mayor John Rees of Winter Park, Florida to leave a City Commission public meeting under police escort because he refused to stand when requested to do for a Christian prayer and for  the pledge of allegiance which contains the phrase "under God". According to previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Richardson was completely within his rights to take this position (no pun intended) but was still "escorted" from the chamber by a police officer. Fortunately, through intervention by the  Freedom From Religion Foundation, the City Commission agreed to refrain from further such infringements on personal rights.  But the trampling of Richardson's personal freedoms should never have happened in the first place.

Then there is the matter of a U.S. Air Force  sergeant (who has chosen to not be publicly identified)  who wanted to extend his term of service but was rejected just  because he crossed out the phrase "under God" in the oath section of his  re-enlistment contract. He is now in the unenviable position of having to file suit against the U.S. Government in order  to challenge this unconstitutional requirement just to be allowed to continue serving his country.

In short, it should be small wonder that atheists resent attempts by advocates of Christian privilege not only for their attempts to impose their beliefs on others but especially their means of doing so, such as by abuse of political power,  contempt for the American Constitution, and lack of common decency towards others who do not share their beliefs.

This anti-atheist malice by those in power can make life difficult for non-believers. But considering what's at stake, it's essential for atheists to stand our ground and fight back by asserting ourselves and our rights when faced with such stumbling blocks. When these challenges arise, remember people like Joseph Richardson or the beleaguered Air Force sergeant, and be inspired by their courage. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

In Support of Israel: What's God Got Do With It?

Whenever I read or hear  the statement that God is on Israel's side in these troubled times for that country and for that reason, all Jews must support Israel,  I cringe with embarrassment. The justification that "God is with us" is also used by Hamas for their cause to annihilate  Israel and by almost every country  where theism is part of the culture in order to drum up blind faith in its people for whatever goal their leaders have in mind, whether it's honorable or dishonorable.

Instead, I  stand with Israel  in its confrontation  with Hamas in the interest of simple fair play   Israel as a nation is being held by its bashers to a ridiculous standard in its self-defense  that no other country in the world is expected to follow. For example the U.N. has condemned Israel for not sharing its Iron Dome anti-missile defense system with Hamas as a war crime!  WTF! What would any other nation do if it were being attacked by missiles from across its border day after day? Certainly not sit back and take it or hand over its self-protection technology to the enemy.  Instead it would counter-attack until the other side is incapable of further aggression. Pardon the pun but that's not rocket science. And in this case, if Israel happens to have superior firepower, which of course results in great destruction in Gaza, that will stop when Hamas does.

BTW there's no end to irrational condemnation of Israel. A United Nations official has revived a canard that blames wife beating by Palestinian men on Israel.because of the these husbands' dissatisfaction over their lives under the occupation.  Never mind that such domestic violence is as normal as breathing  in Arab-Islamic societies  in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond.

And as I mentioned in a Facebook entry, there is the  matter of the recent riots in Europe against Jews along with the destruction of Jewish owned businesses and temples there with cries of "Gas the Jews" by Palestinian and other protesters. These actions originally began with demonstrations opposing Israel's "attack" on Gaza . But when they turned into pogroms, that  proved that Zionism and Israel were not the real issue. As is usually the case, that was just a pretext. At the end of the day, the real reason is just plain out and out Jew hatred.  So how in the world can Israel ever be expected to negotiate with the likes of Hamas and its ilk who not only want to wipe out Israeli Jews but Jews everywhere.

At this writing, Israel has pulled its troops from Gaza, and  has entered into a 72-hour ceasefire with  Hamas. Whether this cessation will hold and lead to a more lasting armistice is anybody's guess, but based on Hamas' past violations of such temporary truces, I wouldn't bet on it. However,  I hope that I'm wrong  about this as  I, like many others, am tired of the bloodshed.  But there can never be permanent peace between Israel and Hamas until the latter revokes its destructive charter and sincerely accepts the existence of Israel once and for all.   

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why Religious Interference By Employers Is A Bad Business Practice

After the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 that American corporations  have the constitutional right to free speech, it's no surprise that SCOTUS would  grant them freedom of religion as well (closely held ones anyway, e.g. those owned by families) . This is what happened on June 30 in the Burwell v Hobby Lobby decision, which allows employers to refuse to follow the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") regarding the requirement to pay for women's contraceptives in their company health plans. As I understand it, this includes employees who are co-paying for such insurance.  However, in the latter cases there may be a recourse for these workers available through  the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The USDHHS   has a plan for use by religious-nonprofit organization whereby the employer's insurance company covers the employee directly for the cost of her contraceptives. Supposedly, this system  could be expanded to include workers at for-profit corporations as well.

Also this ruling is  limited to the issue of contraceptives and supposedly could not be used as a precedent  (um, yeah) for other types of religious meddling by employers, such as a Jehovah's Witness owned corporation whose company health plan refuses to cover the cost of blood transfusions. But that leads to the question: What is so special about contraceptives as compared to other forms of health protection that allows employers to invoke "religious principles" as a reason to refuse including them in their company in their group insurance plans? Why do they have this obsession with the sex life of their employees?

Moreover, big business and conservative Christians have a peculiar perspective about corporations: That this type of organization should have a special legal status that enables it to conduct business transactions as a separate entity from its shareholders and which protects them from lawsuits and other legal actions that might be filed against the corporation itself  Yet at the same time the businesses /  conservative Christians  support the endowment of  corporations with the status of "personhood"  (which is a standing that it does have in the eyes of the law) and extend the meaning of that word to include, as mentioned above, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. What's next? Designation of corporations as fully human so that the state can't ever revoke their  charters, as this would constitute cruel and unusual punishment?

But this whole uproar simply points out that employees shouldn't have to rely on their employers for insurance in the first place. The Affordable Care Act doesn't go far enough in dealing with this problem.. A more realistic and long overdue solution is is Medicare for all. If this coverage were ever enacted, Americans would have access to health care as a fundamental human right like the rest of the civilized world, not as a privilege. And it would be one less opportunity for conservative Christian owned Christians  to impose their religious beliefs on others.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Confronting America's Gun Obession

As a result of the Isla Vista massacre, many gun control advocates are predictably blaming the  National Rifle Association  for at least an indirect role in this nightmare.  But I think that the NRA (which weapons manufacturers now likewise support)  and the gun lobby as a whole are not so much the cause of such violence but are rather the result of a destructive flaw in the American character. How else could the gun nuts flourish in the U.S, the way that they do unlike in other Western industrialized countries? As an example one such fanatic,  political icon Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher,  publicly commented that the dead kids of the Sandy Hook mass murder don't trump his constitutional rights. How could anyone  with an ounce of decency so shamelessly make such a remark? Evidently his obsession with firearms crushes any respect that he may have ever had for humanity. And his type appears to be more the rule than the exception among the pro-gun crowd, the very mention of whom seems to cause the typical vote-seeking politician to cringe in fear for his /her  job if  (s)he is even perceived as favoring gun control legislation. Yet why wasn't the grievous wounding a member of Congress,  Rep. Gabriella Gifford, in a 2011 shooting rampage enough to make elected officials angry enough to finally say "enough, already"  especially considering  that she was also a legislator?

So what is it  that allowed the NRA and its ilk to mutate from their former role as supporters  for the right of Americans to own and properly use ordinary weapons such as hunting weapons, into a rabid political force that in the name of defending their rights  defeated a ban on personal possession of assault weapons?  One alibi that the gun lovers offer for such an interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is that the  right of the people to bear arms is a means of protection against a tyrannical government, especially one that might try to "take away their weapons".  But this doesn't wash simply because an attempted rebellion by these tinfoil-hat loonies would be crushed by the obviously superior firepower of U.S.military in a heartbeat. Perhaps their real motive is that they feel so personally inadequate that gun ownership gives them the feeling of strength and power that can't achieve on their own.

The previously mentioned cowardice of so many of our  leaders in the face of the gun lobby says more about them than it does about the organizations that are exercising this "persuasion". But these pro-gun groups do not intimidate the millions of American who despise their  goals of turning the country not just into a "wild West" but into a violent "gun-ocracy". Clearly, the NRA and their ilk have proven themselves to be such vociferous extremists that there's no point in continuing to try engaging them in polite debate on this matter.  Instead, we need to make our voices heard and our own political clout felt from the local to the federal level.

The main method by which the gun lobby has become so powerful  is by outspending their opponents in achieving their ambitions to control public policy. Enter former mayor of New York and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a gun control advocate  who has proposed using $50 million of his own wealth to push back against this imbalance.   In doing so he will fight fire with fire.  Then there is Richard Martinez, a father one of the Isla Vista victims who is also determined to take on the NRA. Yes, we've had false starts before following shooting sprees, but  maybe this will be the start of a new chapter in American history in which we will finally be able to bring sanity to our gun laws, take back the country from the gun freaks, and most importantly repair and transform our damaged culture into one that will no longer allow them to thrive.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why Justice Kennedy Doesn't Get It

Like most other American atheists and secularists, I'm disappointed with the SCOTUS Town of Greece v. Galloway decision which strengthens government endorsement of religious sectarianism in local official legislative settings.  I believe that the ruling  was wrong on  many levels. But I'd like to focus on one in particular: the cluelessness  factor.  For example, Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the decision for the  majority determined that members of the audience who are bothered by the  sectarian (read Christian) nature of prayers recited by  government officials to open a public meeting (such as a city council session) are "mature adults" who are not coerced to listen,  supposedly unlike to children in similar circumstances of peer and authority pressure, and are  free to leave and return when the prayer is finished.

But Kennedy who evidently made this smug assertion from the perspective of Christian privilege misses the point, perhaps deliberately.   For example  if such an invocation is recited,  is the audience expected to stand and /or bow their heads during the benediction? If so, when a public official  gives a Christian oriented invocation among a like-minded group of constituents,  those in the minority maybe even a single individualwho refuse to rise or who may otherwise register dissent may well be subject to severe social opprobrium  and reprisals, and perhaps even criminal charges of creating a disturbance if they vocally protest. But why should any non-Christian be put in the awkward position of having to make such a choice  and to be made to feel like an outsider in his or her own community? For a more articulate discussion in accordance with this line of reasoning, click here to read Justice Elena Kagan's opinion  which she wrote in behalf of the dissenting Supreme Court minority in this case.

Significantly, in the Town of Greece decision, the three justices on the Supreme Court who are Jewish all dissented with the majority opinion.  Perhaps they may  been subjected to such discrimination, and hence saw how the above ruling could lead to negative consequences. An event somewhat similar to the above group pressure scenario happened to me. At a company  where I once worked, I was the only Jew in my  department and experienced an incident there in which I was deliberately placed into an an outsider position vis-a-vis my non-Jewish co-workers. What happened was that I attended what was supposed to be (as in previous years) a "secular"  Christmas season office luncheon.  But just  as we were about to start eating, the department supervisor turned to one of my co-workers, a lay preacher, and asked him if he would like to offer a Christmas prayer,  a request to which he eagerly consented.  They both knew that I was the only Jew there and asked me if I would like to step out and return when the grace was finished, By  turning the party into a religious occasion, they evidently didn't care about  what an awkward position they were putting me in, especially with everyone watching to see what I would do. Because I was totally blind-sided,  I was uncertain how to handle the matter, so  I complied and left the room. When I came back, I was upset but said nothing.   Perhaps I should have complained afterwards to the department manager or to personnel.  Instead, I let the matter drop. But to this day I recall the incident with a mixture of embarrassment and anger.

Granted, the above episode was in a workplace setting not a government held public assembly.  But in both cases the pattern was identical: an attempt by those in power or authority to  inculcate or reinforce in dissident individuals a sense of separateness and exclusion from their peers or community.   Such imposition of majority religious beliefs on others  for their personally held convictions is not only a violation of the Constitution, but of human dignity as well.

Oh BTW, according to the New Testament (Matt:6:5-6), Jesus admonishes his followers to pray  only in private and not to make a spectacle of themselves by performing this act of worship in public. So if Christians would only follow this exhortation, cases like Town of Greece would likely never happen in the first place.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On The Absurdity Of God-Belief

I hope that it's not a sign of the inflexibility that often accompanies advancing age, but as time goes by I find myself becoming less patient with theists, more specifically the theistic mentality, particularly in the U.S.  It just make no sense in this day and age for the majority of adults in a supposed First-World  country to believe in the fantastic tales from the scriptures, especially the one purporting the existence of a supreme being just because they are told these myths are true, even though evidence for their claims is non-existent. Moreover, most of these stories fly in the face of logic and are totally refuted by scientific facts. An example of such nonsense that has been thoroughly discredited but just won't go away is creationism. . 

Or take the recent movie "Noah" which has generated controversy because some Christian viewers are upset that over the film's  "historical inaccuracies" in depicting a biblical story. Let that sink in for a minute. There was no such event in history as  "The Flood".  It's just a made-up story and not even original to the book of Genesis at that. The authors of that section of the bible apparently borrowed it from an earlier  Babylonian tale regarding a similar event.  Regardless,  theist literalists believe it was real and don't think that the movie should have taken liberties in its narration  So what did the producer Darren Aronofsky do in response to this complaint? He edited the movie to soothe the Christians' ruffled feathers. And here I thought the days had long since passed when Hollywood allowed itself to be censored by religious groups. What's next, reinstatement  of the Hays Code?

But why  have critics of the movie and others have ignored the larger issue about this biblical story. I'm referring to the enormity of the mass murder committed by God in wiping out almost all life on earth, an act that I call "biocide". God did this .just because he didn't like the way that humans,  whom he made "in his own  image" were behaving. What?  He didn't have the power to correct or change them, so in a hissy-fit he obliterated them instead, along with most other life forms? A supreme being like that deserves contempt, not worship; and the best thing that can be said about him is that in real life he doesn't exist.

Compare this and other bible stories to other ancient myths such as the Greek legends. Christians and other theists rightfully dismiss them for the fiction that they are  (although IMO the Greek myths do a better job of imparting  lessons about the human condition than  both the Old and New Testaments). Yet there is no more proof for the existence of God and Jesus as his son and the of scriptural events surrounding them than for the deities of Mt. Olympus and their accompanying tales.. Nevertheless, many (most?) Christians accept the former anyway because as I previously mentioned they're told these events really happened.

Some apologists might respond that most such believers are indoctrinated from early childhood with these fables, so it's very difficult if not impossible to change their thinking.  But can't the same be said about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? Yet how many of these grownups still believe in them? In other words, as adults isn't it our responsibility to outgrow beliefs that are obviously baseless and that prevent us from seeing and dealing with the world as it really is?

And for those who claim that religion is necessary as the only means of imparting personal morality and that fear of God is a must in order to keep people from indulging in criminal behavior, consider this. The record shows that countries with the lowest crime rates are those with highest rate of non-believers.  And nations with high percentages of theists have high crime rates. (The latter is especially the case here in the Philippines, a country which has the highest percentage of religious believers in the world and yet is plagued with lawlessness).

Yet there is hope. In the U.S., the number of people who claim no religious affiliation is on the rise. Just google  the phrase  religious "nones" in america increasing  and note the numerous search results responses that confirm this trend.  True, in and of itself, this doesn't mean necessarily that people in this category are all atheists. Many (most?) of them may still be god-believers but prefer not to affiliate with any particular congregation or sect. Yet this is still a step in the right direction.

If the number of atheists in the U.S.  is in fact on the upswing, it will probably be many years before their political impact is felt and their non-belief  is fully accepted as an alternative to religion.  That is  something that will not likely happen in my lifetime, my impatience notwithstanding.   But based on  the experience of countries where atheists already predominate, when it does take place, America will likely be a better country for it.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Pulling The Plug On Israel's Freeloaders

Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Jews seem to have a natural talent for chutzpah. They are upset that the Israeli Parliament is seriously considering legislation that would require their eligibility for military conscription just like the rest of the citizenry but  from which they have  been exempted since Israel became a nation in 1948,.in order to  pursue yeshiva studies  which they also have also used as an excuse to not seek gainful employment.  But the rest of Israeli society is  getting tired of these abuses and of carrying these inter-generational deadbeats who also happen to have  a high birth rate, e.g. the  haredim, who are "ultra-ultra":Orthodox and who  number about 11% of Israel's 8 million total population.

The zealots'  response to this proposed change in the law was a large protest demonstration on March 2 and even threatened to leave the country if their status were changed.  After decades of being coddled, is it any wonder that they think they deserve their special privileges? Yet they have carried this narcissism  to the point that  not only do they not feel obligated to contribute to the welfare of the society in which they live but instead should receive welfare from that society.

This mindset is an example of how religious beliefs can twist minds into a state of total irrationality.  The character of these people is so narcissistic as a result of the long standing collective power of their rabbis and their supporting political parties that they refuse to recognize the "otherness" the existenceof those outside their own circle of interest. In other words these ultra Orthodox  have no qualms about biting the hands that have been feeding them for all these decades:, namely the rest of  Israelis who perform their civic duty  and at the same time carry the burden of taxes and military service that they choose to shirk. And as though that weren't outrageous enough, many of  the Israeli haredim are anti-Zionist because they believe that only God can decree the establishment of  Israel  as a nation which won't happen until the arrival of the messianic age. Yet you can bet they wouldn't refuse protection from the Zionist government  and soldiers who would put their lives on the line for these extremists if the country were attacked or if their safety were otherwise threatened..

As I mentioned in my previous post "Change The Channel" American Jews who are opposed to these moochers can do their part by not donating to organizations like Chabad and other Hasidic groups. Protestations to the contrary, who knows how much of the charitable funds contributed to  them  likely  wind up channeled  into the hands of the Israeli ultra Orthodox leaders.

In short, Israel's holy rollers have been allowed  to become wholly useless.  Here's hoping their free ride will soon be over.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hereditary Religion—A Tainted Legacy?

In societies such as the U.S. where religion, especially theism, is an important cultural component, the roots of this belief system are planted in most people at a very early age such that just past toddler-hood, many (most?) children are already taught by their families to recite simple prayers to a god who they are also told will punish them if they misbehave and / or fail to adhere to certain rituals.

Theists have long understood the importance of indoctrinating young minds. Francis Xavier, the founder of the Roman Catholic Jesuits order, is credited with the motto  "Give me a boy until he is seven and I will give you the man".  Among Orthodox Jews, boys customarily began Torah study  at age four. My grandfather was one of them, and no doubt his zealous piety was likely the result of this intense education.  That happened well over a century ago; yet such thought control practices continue into the modern era.  It may sound like an overreaction on my part that I feel sad when I see little kids already dressed in religiously traditional garb before they can even understand what's going on. But IMO such apparel is symbolic of the oppression to which their  young minds are just starting to be conditioned.

These are just a few examples of  hereditary religion,  and some atheists assert that such training is brainwashing and a form of child abuse. However, devout parents may respond that freedom of religion entitles them  to raise their children as they see fit,  and as such they have the right and the duty to instill a godly morality in them.  Further,  they  may argue that the state has no right to dictate to them how to practice such parental obligations  (short of prohibiting demonstrable cruelty). And in fact, doesn't this argument cuts both ways? Can't it be used by  atheist families to protect their rights to bring up their kids as non-believers? For them this freedom is an important bulwark especially  in the "red" states Christian where privilege prevails and church-state separation is frequently violated. 

That is why the case for legal challenges to hereditary religion is difficult to make. So rather than fruitlessly trying to compel parents from indoctrinating  their children, as distasteful to nonbelievers as such practices might be, atheists need to try to counter that kind of setting  when children are outside the home.  One way to do this is by advocating the requirement that public schools  proved a strictly secular their students with special vigilance against creationism being taught in the classroom. Another step is promoting the revocation of tax exempt tuition for religious schools. Normally, such expenses are not tax deductible, but may be under certain circumstances. (IMO donations to religious institutions should be  tax-exempt under no circumstances).  This won't prevent parents and these institutions from inculcating religious belief in their children, but it will send a message that doing so comes at a price (literally and figuratively) and that secularists will no longer accept the burden of paying the shifted taxes for which these families should be responsible.  

As long as there are religious believers, they will likely try to pass their faith on to the next generation,  and in itself that's not necessarily a guarantee that their kids will not eventually kick over the trances and become atheists. Many nonbelievers were onetime theists, myself included.  Realistically, we can't interfere with the family life of believers without  being accused of proselytizing.  So all that secularists can do is  work to provide a public environment where kids are encouraged to think and question the myths that they've been taught to accept as the truth.   If doing so can help even a few of them overcome their theistic upbringing, it will be well worth the effort.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Why Atheists Shouldn't Be Insulted Over Threats of Eternal Damnation

One of my favorite blogs, "Atheist Revolution" had a rather interesting post yesterday. The topic regards a statement from  a well-known evangelist, Mark Driscoll, that all non-Christians are hell-bound. An important point made in that post is whether at least some of Driscolls followers agree with him.

This may in turn also lead to the question that for every influential fundamentalist like Driscoll who comes up with this kind of remark, how many other Christians feel the same but aren't as vocal about it as he is. Probably not very many. Fundamentalists like these usually aren't shy about expressing their hellfire opinions to anyone who will listen and of course even to those who aren't interested. Importantly though, for non-Christian theists such rhetoric may be hurtful and outrageous.

But as an atheist, I couldn't care less that some Christian fundie says that I'm going to a place that  doesn't even exist. His beliefs  are so wrong on so many levels that it's futile to try to have an intelligent discussion with people like that.  Naturally, if you call them down with logic and reason and ask for evidence for their assertions, they'll just say that it's in the bible and may even quote chapter and verse to support their contention.  If you  counter with another biblical passage that contradicts their position, they'll just mumble something about "your incorrect understanding"  and / or change the topic.

So what it comes down to is this: In God-centered religions, especially Christianity, there are no objective standards, just interpretations about stories that never even happened and characters who likely never existed in the first place.  And debating believers on their terms in these matters  is about as productive as arguing over the color of unicorns.