Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Jesus Would Be On Facebook & Twitter?

German priest Robert Zollitsch has declared that, if Jesus were alive today, he would be on Facebook & Twitter.
Head of Germany's Catholic Church, Robert Zollitsch, has given everyone celebrating something new to think about the Christmas story. Zollitsch told a German newspaper that if Jesus were alive today, he'd be Facebook friends with all of his followers. "Fundamentally all media are suited to bring the word of God to the people," he told German paper The Local. "Jesus would certainly today be on Facebook and Twitter."
I think he's right. Why Jesus wouldn't Jesus use social media? Deepak Chopra & John Edward use it. Why would Jesus be any different? Although, being that popular, and getting a message to the masses, today, without using the Internet, would certainly be helpful in proving his claims of divinity.  It shouldn't be that difficult for a god.

And if Jesus is a god, wouldn't he already be capable of signing up for Facebook & Twitter?  He wouldn't even need a computer.  He could even be popular on Friendster or My Space.  I bet that would be compelling evidence for many skeptics.

Credit: @mashable

Monday, December 24, 2012

Twelve Apostates - Tim Minchin

People who know me know I appreciate sarcasm.  I probably couldn't get through my day without it.  So, of course, I appreciate Tim Minchin.

Sound check before the Reason Rally
I was aware of Tim Minchin before the Reason Rally and already a huge fan of The Pope Song[1] because it illustrates precisely how I feel about the Pope and the Vatican.

That song hits a complicated issue right in the face with how simple it is.  If you protect pedophiles, you're culpable in their crimes.  In other words, fuck the Pope.  I've encountered Catholics who see that song and only respond with complaints about the language, completely missing the point and further highlighting why the message of the song is spot on.

Before the Reason Rally, I hadn't yet heard his song "Thank You God"[2], but it resonated with me like nothing had since I first encountered George Carlin's take on religion.  That moment was the closest I've ever come to knowing what religious people feel when they think they're feeling the Holy Spirit.  The song mocks the notion that prayer works, while highlighting some of the errors people make in thinking it does.

He's also used comedy to give the Bible itself some due criticism.

This song shows quite well how Christian Bible is a terrible book that should absolutely not be upheld as a source of morality.

New age woo woo, as James Randi puts it, has not escaped either.

I'm sure we've all met someone like Storm and wanted to rant at them like that.  Silly beliefs aren't restricted to religious beliefs and should not be immune to criticism.  Also similar to Randi, he's offered a reward for anyone who can prove claims such as Storm's.

On top of that, he's handled, better than most, one of the most talked about topics in the debate between religion and atheism.  Evolution.

And after all that entirely appropriate criticism of religion, he managed to create a beautiful song about celebrating Christmas.

1.  It was rainy that day, and this picture is of the sign language interpreter, who spent much of that day in the rain signing diligently, during the Pope Song.

2.  This is probably because my exposure to Minchin had been primarily on YouTube and it's not up there.  Although, a decent cover has posted since.  It's still the only version of the song on YouTube, while I've seen some others get posted and later removed.

Godless Comics

It's been a while since I've found one, but I've collected numerous Chick Tracts (found mostly at work).

Most have been this one:

They are typically a dark portrayal of what the Christian god is supposedly like, relying heavily on threats of Hell.

I think my favorite is "Holy Joe".  It hilariously paints the Army as packed full of militant, angry atheists, the exact opposite picture of what is reality.

So I was pleased to learn about the atheist counter to it, Godless Comics.

They project has already been more than fully funded, so donations aren't necessary.  Although, you still can if you so choose.  I love that they're doing this and look forward to seeing where this project goes.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Campaign Pitch

The following is intended for the voting members of Omaha Atheists.  I'm running to retain my seat on the board of the group, and this is my campaign pitch.  If you're not interested in our politics, please feel free to skip this one.

As I see it, marketing for us should be a combination of 2 approaches.  Visibility and appeal.  If you saw my bid for President, I've already said some of what I mean by this, but I'll go into more detail here.


People cannot join what they do not know about.  Booths at events is one of the things I've already proposed.  But it's far from the only thing we should be doing.  It's the minimum we should be doing.  We should also be handing out generic cards for the group to all members, so they can hand them out to atheists they meet who do not know about us.  It's something that's already been happening on a small scale.  I'm proposing we make it a full scale policy.

I also plan to continue working with the rest of the committees to make sure we're publicizing their efforts.  We do some great things in our community service efforts, and while getting credit for doing good things isn't why we do them, we should still be showing the community that we do them and encouraging more people to do these good things in the process.

The website needs an overhaul.  I've already been speaking with the amazing RJ about potential ideas for a new website and she's agreed to help with this project once we've finished with the complete redesign for the Midwest Freethought Conference website that is to be revealed later with some other major changes to the conference that are coming soon.  I'm very excited about these changes, to point that I'm disappointed about not being able to go into further detail than that at this time.

The new website would include, among other things, a form for seeing the inventory of our lending library and requesting a book, a page for the videos mentioned below, revamped contact options, a picture gallery, an in-depth description of our community service efforts, atheist friendly businesses, and a description of the perks of membership.


I see this problem as similar to what Tony Pinn talked about at Skepticon 5.  People simply won't join if they don't think there's something here for them.  We need to give people a reason to join.

A marketing campaign I am planning would be a series of videos (similar to the style of We Are Atheism), of members stating in their own words why they're a part of this group.  We all get something different out of our participation in this group, and having us all give those reasons would be a great way to highlight this variety of reasons.  These videos would show people unsure about joining our community why it's something that they would benefit from.  It would also have the added benefit of putting a face on the group (something we definitely should be doing more of).  I've already arranged for help from one of our video experts on this project.

We also need a way to appeal to the people who have tried the group out but didn't find something for them.    This is why I've been pushing for us to be more family friendly and more accommodating to atheists with children.  Too many times I've seen people, who appear to want to participate, not do so because of their children or because of the group's attitude (as a whole and individual people) toward children.  This is not acceptable to me, and it's our job to fix that, not the parents'.  These people want to be a part of our community, and we would be fools to not do what we can to welcome them.

Parents are not the only group I want to make a point to accommodate  but they're a great place to start.  Any time we see this many atheists who are being excluded from our community, it needs to be addressed.  All atheists in the Omaha area should be made to feel as welcome as I was when I found this group.


I see big potential for this group.  That's why, this Fall, I proposed the changes to the bylaws I did and worked with the rest of the board to mold them into the changes we implemented, including the creation of 2 new positions and the reassignment of the duties of another.

This position also involves co-chairing the Fundraising committee, which I've already begun work on.  I got us an Amazon Affiliate link, which has already begun working for us.  I've already begun looking into options for other fundraising options, including the effort I've proposed to raise enough to help send some kids to Camp Quest KC.

I've only had this job a few months and I've already been able to bring big, positive changes to the organization.  I would absolutely love the opportunity to continue these efforts.

Twelve Apostates - Omaha Atheists (And Other Local Groups)

I never actively sought out an atheist group to join.  When I joined the Omaha Atheists Facebook group, it was one of many atheist pages/groups I had liked/joined that day.  I didn't put enough thought into it to even realize it was a group who met in person.  I just joined the Facebook group & forgot about it.

A little bit later, I got an invite to the Facebook event for their New Member Meetup.  I was free then & curious, so i decided to check it out.  My first regular event was the May 21 (End of the World) picnic.  I was welcomed as part of the group immediately.  And it wasn't in that creepy cultish, "We're going to pretend to be nice until we dull your senses to the brainwashing that's coming" kind of way I get when I visit some churches.

It was a sincere welcoming that has persisted since.  It's done so because it's a community.  Several of my favorite people in the world are in that group, and I haven't even known them that long.  And many of them are people I could have already known but did not.  Many are gamers, like me.  So, we now have a monthly Game Night, and many of us meet more often to play the games we enjoy together.  Some worked at the same company as me, for as long as I have.

They're not just random people who happen to be in the same group as me.  They're my closest friends.  They're like family.  Many of them helped me move, without me even having to ask.  I've done the same for many of them.  It's a support structure, for both problems relating to religion and otherwise, both online and in person.  We've gone on vacations together, including sending more than 20 people to the Reason Rally.  We've also gone camping together multiple times, visited Kansas City to party with some KCAC folks, and gone to Skepticon as a group.

We have so much going on, with 3 events that each recur monthly and many more things going on, that we don't often go more than a week seeing each other.  And when we do go a week without seeing someone, it is noticed and they're told they've been missed.  Even with all the events, we still see each other on a regular basis in between them.

Like I said, we're a community.  It's a community I've not even been a part of 2 years yet, but it's certainly one I wouldn't want to go without.

As much as I care for Omaha Atheists, and the people of it, I don't think they're entirely unique.  I also think it's a good thing that we're not unique.  Hundreds of local atheist groups exist around the country and the world.  I've seen similar community from the other local groups I've interacted with so far.  

We're at a point where even just simply participating in an atheist group is itself activism.  It does a lot to normalize atheism.  I don't mean the groups make being atheist normal, as I already think it's normal.  But it's, sadly, not viewed that way by many people.  These groups provide the perfect evidence to show people they're wrong about us.  We're just like them, except for that one thing, and they already like us.  One excellent example of what I mean by this was given by JT Eberhard in his submission to the We Are Atheism project.

If you haven't found a group, I hope you will give it a try.  They can be found in a variety of ways.
  • See if your area has a Coalition of Reason, by visiting their website and using the tool they have right on the front page.  If your area has one, it will give you a list of the atheist groups in your area.
  • - Log in and search for groups in your area.  Searching for atheist usually does the trick, but some places do use other terms for their names such as "freethinkers", "secularists", "rationalists", "skeptics", "humanists".
  • Use the same search options I gave for Meetup in a Google search.

If you find your town doesn't have one, please start one.  It's incredibly easy to do, and your town (depending on its size) probably has more atheists other than just you.  Even though it often feels like you're the only one.  The Atheist Community of Austin was started with an ad in the newspaper.  But at the time, they didn't have such effective resources available via the Internet.  Start Meetup and/or Facebook group, and grow from there.

It will be worth it, I promise.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Twelve Apostates - Matt Dillahunty

I enjoy the media produced by the Atheist Community of Austin[1].  I'm behind on the 2 podcasts, but I've been able to keep up on the Atheist Experience via the episodes various people have put on YouTube.

I've also been using YouTube to catch up on past episodes.  Roughly 150 so far.  All the hosts are good at what they do.  They achieve their stated goal of promoting positive atheism.  

They effectively counter the theist arguments presented to them by callers.  They all do so better than I'm able, and they do it better than most atheists I know.  But, as I suspect the rest of the hosts would agree, none do so as effectively as Matt Dillahunty.

When the show started in 1997 Dillahunty was still a Christian.

But when he eventually deconverted and joined the Austin folks, he took an already good show and made it better, just by knowing his stuff better than most.  He knows the Bible and the Christian arguments better than most Christians and even most atheists. 

He challenges stupid ideas, calls them stupid, and accurately details why they're stupid. He also makes it clear that he's attacking the ideas, not the people.  And he doesn't just attack the ideas randomly.  He's got a knack for attacking the foundation of wrong ideas.

If there's anyone capable of filling the void left behind by the death of Christopher Hitchens, it's Matt Dillahunty.

2.  I picked that particular clip for 2 reasons.  One, it shows what I'm talking about regarding how Dillahunty doesn't call Christians in general stupid (a pet peeve of mine I'll be writing about soon), and two, it features another atheist I'm quite fond of, Dr Darrel Ray, founder of my favorite non-profit and all around good guy.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ancient Science

Today was the day people have been joking about.  At some point, it was decided that the Mayans had predicted today was the end of the world.  The fact that they did no such thing was completely irrelevant to the joke.  In having our fun with the joke, the Mayan's actual prediction appears to have gone unnoticed by most.

The Mayans were very interested in astronomy, and they were quite good at it for people who didn't even have telescopes.  They also made complicated calendars.  As everyone is aware, today was a big day on that calendar.  Today is, the first day of a new piktun (the Mayan Long Count or 20 b'ak'tuns), and it fell right on the Solstice.

Instead of freaking out about fabricated claims about an apocalypse that they didn't even predict, we could  have been focusing on appreciating that an ancient civilization created a calendar period more than 5,000 years long that landed directly on both the Winter Solstice and a day when "the sun will align with the center of the Milky Way galaxy".

Some folks certainly had some fun today at Stonehenge, another example of the amazing things ancient cultures could predict using the stars.

I wonder if those civilizations had people denying astronomy the way Creationists today deny Evolution.

Credit:  @HuffPostRelig

Twelve Apostates - Neil deGrasse Tyson

The single most requested person[1], as far as speakers at atheist conferences go, doesn't even identify as an atheist.  He got himself into some trouble with how he chose to word that choice in a video for Big Think, but his point was a good one.  The man may not self identify as atheist, but he quite clearly is.  He's just not an activist for atheism.  Or at least not openly.

He values his role as an educator and correctly fears identifying as an atheist would him less effective in that role.  It's an odd situation for someone to be in.  He's in a rare position where he can do more for atheism if he's not labeled as one of us and while his intention has nothing to do with atheism, other than the coincidence of it being the only honest position to take.

Whether he identifies with the Atheist Movement or not, he does more for it than most.  He gets people to see why science is a good thing.  And he calls out the fact that somehow people still don't understand that it is.  He has done a better job than anyone debunking the ridiculousness that they call "Intelligent Design", brilliantly destroying its claims of being scientific.

In responding to Bill O'Reilly's tides comment, he made one the best arguments against the God of the Gaps I've ever seen.

Tyson has earned his spot as the successor to a role once filled by Carl Sagan.  He advances science, by showing the wondrous things we can learn by using it properly.  If Congress would listen to him, scientific advancement would be improved across the board.  He understands that the Space Race was about much more than getting to the moon.

He is able to do this because he appeals to a "mainstream" audience.  In other words, many Christians like him.  This means Christians listen to what he has to say.  This is why I didn't like it when PZ Myers criticized Brian Dunning for being proud that his podcast has a lot of Christian listeners.  Congress won't be asking David Silverman to testify in front of them.  But they've done so with Neil deGrasse Tyson.  A Republican (or even a Democrat) President won't be asking PZ Myers or Richard Dawkins for their input, but George  W Bush appointed Neil deGrasse Tyson to two different advisory committees[2].

A big part of why I included James Randi & Christopher Hitchens on this list was that the fact that they get their message to more than just those who agree with them.  Preaching to the choir is to convincing people as masturbation is to procreation.  It's fun, but it's unlikely to get you the results you're looking for.

So, he may not vocally support our movement, or actively participate in the atheist community, but he sure as hell[3] helps our cause.  It's the inevitable byproduct of promoting truth, science, and recognition of reality.

1.  I base this on a conversation with a Skepticon organizer and my own experiences volunteering with planning a conference.
3.  Pun intended

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Twelve Apostates - JT Eberhard

JT Eberhard, author of the popular blog WWJTD, is a fast rising star within the atheist community.  He knows it but doesn't behave like it, and I do not think he ever will.  It's just not something that seems within his personality. 

JT co-founded Skepticon, the largest free atheist convention in America.  Of the few I've been to, it's my favorite, with the exception of the Reason Rally of course.  Their speakers have included Richard Carrier & PZ Myers (who have both been at all 5), Dan BarkerMatt Dillahunty, Hemant Mehta, Brother Sam Singleton, and more.

He also spent some time with the Secular Student Alliance, helping kids in high school start SSA chapters at their schools.

At Lobby Day, the day before the Reason Rally, there was some buzz about the fact that he was there participating.  Although, that was mostly centered around comments about him and his girlfriend being excessively cute together.  If you've seen them together, you know what I mean.  Especially if you saw his talk at Skepticon 5.

As good as that talk was, his workshop on activism, earlier the same day, was better.  It was informative and fun, which fits his main point about how to do activism effectively.  Make it fun.  This attracts both attention to the cause and people to participate.  I previously said the debater I most wanted to emulate was Christopher Hitchens, but the activist I would choose to emulate is JT.  I'm hoping to get him to Omaha to do that workshop for the people here, who I already know are interested in activism.

I doubt JT would like being put on a list like this one, but having met him a few times, and being aware of what he's done for the movement, I wasn't left with any other choice.  He's done amazing things for the movement and will likely do even more.

It's those things done that has him on this list.  He's not content just to write a popular blog, which he does well.  He's not content just to debate Christians, which he does well.  As he once put it (in a post I was hoping to link to but could not find), he's out there doing shit.  We should all be so motivated.  After all, we know he's doing shit for a very worthy cause.

Find JT on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Evil Among Us?

I'd never heard of Ron Petak before his column today in The Omaha World Herald.  It's his response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.  
Sure as there is oxygen in the air, evil is among us. It comes in the form of African genocide, drug lords, and ministers and coaches abusing the trust of the children. It comes dressed as religious extremists, drive-by shooters and company CEOs who pilfer from the working man's pension fund.
He's attempting to say evil is among us.  And apparently, only his god can stop it.  Interesting that he alluded to the Penn State child abuse scandal, while completely ignoring a certain other child abuse scandal.
Sunday night, the residents of Newtown and Connecticut and the nation needed God, not the ACLU.
What the flying fuck does the ACLU have to do with this?  If we're calling things evil, I've got a few.

Capitalizing on a tragedy to push an unrelated agenda is evil.

Taking advantage of people's grief to push your religion is evil.

Pretending your god will solve problems, while doing nothing yourself to actually solve those problems, thus leaving them unaddressed, is evil.
I pray you will join me.
And I hope people refuse to join you.  The less people praying the better.  Every second praying is a second spent not helping.  The world's very real problems need action.  Not fantasy.

Credit:  A fellow member of Omaha Atheists

Twelve Apostates - Christopher Hitchens

One of the most common things I see said to my atheist friends by their Christian friends & family is attempts, via various tactics, to shut them up.  They don't like it when we speak up about religion.  They especially do not like it when we do so effectively.

No one did it more effectively than the late Christopher Hitchens.

In initially planning for this list, I was not going to include any of the Four Horsemen.  But when I switched it to be personal to me, leaving Hitchens out ceased to be an option.  He pointed out the absurdity of what religions expect us to believe with unmatched eloquence.  He condemned religion, with veracity and without apology, for the evils it contains and attempts to force upon us.

He did this so well, the act of him doing it was given a name.  Hitchslap.

Christians tried relentlessly to shut Hitchens up.  He, as he would put it, was having none of that.  They also attempted to outwit him.  They failed miserably every time.  Even as he was dying of cancer, he refused to stop until the cancer forced him to.

As much as I admire James Randi, the atheist debater I most wish to emulate is Hitch.  I share his disdain for religion.  And while, I'm not likely to ever attain his level of eloquence (not many will), I don't plan to let that stop me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Twelve Apostates - The Amazing Randi

James Randi is a liar.  He made a career out of being a liar.  But there's a key difference between Randi and the people he's been exposing for decades.  Randi tells people he's lying.  He's a magician, or as he prefers to be called a conjurer.

If I were forced to choose one person as my favorite atheist, that person would be James Randi.  He has exposed numerous frauds and con artists.  He does so with a smile on his face, in a polite manner, without compromise of scientific principles, and without fear.

He put Peter Popoff out of business by exposing his trickery on the Tonight Show. He also used his friendship with Johnny Carson to expose the fraud of Uri Geller.

Those are just his most famous exposures.  He's debunked countless more.

His debunking is made all the more effective with his Million Dollar Challenge.  Anyone who can actually prove their supernatural or paranormal abilities would get a million dollars.  No one has ever come close to it, of course.

Randi actively pursued famous psychic Sylvia Browne to try the challenge for years.  He even got her to accept on national television.

She never actually went through it, which I'm sure was a complete shock to everyone involved.  But she did continue to be a terrible person.

Peter Popoff is back to conning people, somehow overcoming being revealed as a con artist.  Sylvia Browne's fraud wasn't stopped by Randi.  But he exposed them for anyone willing to accept reality.  The resiliency of these people to being held accountable for their scams makes Randi's work that much more important.  They must be exposed as much as possible.

When the world inevitably loses The Amazing Randi, he will leave behind some mighty big shoes to fill.

More James Randi on the YouTubes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Twelve Apostates - Gene Roddenberry

I'm of the Next Generation generation.  I had never seen The Original Series when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered.  My television watching in the 90's consisted largely of Star Trek and reruns of M*A*S*H.

With the Star Trek Universe, Gene Roddenberry gave us a look at what we could do after we finally outgrow religion.  And he did so without even raising the ire of those who freak out at even the slightest criticism of religion/Christianity.  Not even when they took a direct shot at the danger religion poses to society.

I think how it treated religion was a big part of why Star Trek appealed to me so much.  For them, religion was a thing of the past.  All religion was to them like the Greek's gods are to us now.  Even when they found worlds who had gods, there was actual evidence of those gods.  They had characters that could easily be mistaken for gods who were, for the most part, never actually treated like gods.

And when they found something claiming to be a god, they still challenged them, giving us one of the best lines in cinema, as well as one of my favorite things to say to people quoting the Bible as proof of their god claims.

The Earth of Star Trek was a world beyond war, crime, hate, poverty, etc.  It was a world without religion.  It's one of the best examples of  "Good Without God" I've seen.

It may have been a fictional utopian world, but it's still a goal worth striving for.  We may not get there, but as long as we are fighting over who's myth is better and willfully holding back societal and technological progress, it's not even a possibility.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Twelve Apostates - Michael Newdow

Somehow, I made it to over 30 before I met another atheist (who I knew was atheist) in person.  I'm not sure how long I made it before discovering another person who was openly atheist at all, but I do know it was a very long time.  I later learned that one my closest friends since junior high was an atheist but hadn't said anything to me about until 18 years later, but that's a story for another day.

Even by the time I learned about the lawsuits Michael Newdow was filing  I didn't know about many atheists.  I had been an atheist my entire life, and the word atheist was still quite foreign to me.  I was barely even really that aware of the existence of other atheists.

I had long since stopped saying the Pledge, for two different reasons.  I didn't know the term "nationalism" then, but I apparently could recognize it when I saw it, and, to me, t felt creepy   

My other problem with the Pledge was the same problem most atheists have with it.  The phrase "under God".  Having learned about the Freedom of Religion, I knew religion and government were supposed to stay out of each other's business.  It bothered me, but I never did anything about it.

Michael Newdow did.  He sued to try force his daughter's school to do the right thing.  

He gave rational reasons for why he thought this fight was worth fighting and why he was on the right side of it.  But, like everyone else on the right side of this fight, he was vilified for it. 

He hasn't won the overall fight, but he hasn't stopped fighting it.  Among his other activities, he is currently on the Advisory Board for the Secular Coalition for America.  The Secular Coalition for America is fighting a fight that shouldn't even need to be fought, considering the answer is in the Constitution our opposition pretends to revere.  But I'm sure glad they're fighting it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Twelve Apostates - Young Atheist Activists

At Skepticon 5, I met young girl who responded to something on the table about prayer in schools.  She mentioned her school had Christian prayers displayed was visibly upset by it.  Her mother mentioned wanting to do something about it, but she also mentioned her son's opposition to it.  He didn't want to make waves.  This took place a few hours before Jessica Ahlquist was scheduled to speak.

They weren't that familiar with Ahlquist's case or that she was speaking later the same day.  I hope they stuck around to see Ahlquist speak, and more so, I hope they got a chance to speak to her.

Kids like Jessica Ahlquist and Damon Fowler go through tremendous turmoil for standing up for what is right.  They get treated like freaks for daring to stand up to religion being put into public schools in violation of the Constitution.
Damon Fowler, an atheist student at Bastrop High School in Louisiana, was about to graduate. His public school was planning to have a prayer as part of the graduation ceremony: as they traditionally did, as so many public schools around the country do every year. But Fowler -- knowing that government-sponsored prayer in the public schools is  unconstitutional and legally forbidden -- contacted the school superintendent to let him know that he opposed the prayer, and would be contacting the ACLU if it happened. The school -- at first, anyway -- agreed, and canceled the prayer.
Then Fowler's name, and his role in this incident, was leaked. As a direct result:
1) Fowler has been hounded, pilloried, and ostracized by his community.
2) One of Fowler's teachers has publicly demeaned him.
3) Fowler has been physically threatened. Students have threatened to "jump him" at graduation practice, and he has received multiple threats of bodily harm, and even death threats.
4) Fowler's parents have cut off his financial support, kicked him out of the house, and thrown his belongings onto the front porch.
Oh, and by the way? They went ahead and had the graduation prayer anyway.
Even considering that, I hope that family I met at Skepticon ends up standing up to the school's violation of our Constitution, but I certainly won't blame them if they do not go through all the drama that would entail.  I'm not really sure what I would have done if there had been a prayer banner up in my high school.

I suspect the most likely possibility is that I would have said something to a few people, never gotten any support, given up, and been annoyed as shit by it until graduation.  I already went that far without speaking up about how much the Pledge of Allegiance bothered me.  "Under God" first bothered me at least as far back as 3rd grade, but I never said anything about it until I had already graduated.  I never even really considered saying something about it.

Ahlquist and Fowler did what many teenage atheist have not done, and many cannot do it for fear of repercussions even worse than they felt.  They took stands many adults aren't even willing or able to take.  They are to be praised.  They are to be emulated.

And most importantly, their successors are to be supported.  If you know an atheist in their situation, child or adult, please do whatever you can to support them.  Help them to take that stand against religious violations of the Separation of Church and State.  Be there for them when the attacks come from the followers of Jesus.

The world needs more kids following in their footsteps.  Maybe the more we help them along, the less necessary it will be for this fight to have to be fought.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Twelve Apostates - George Carlin

George Carlin was the first celebrity I ever knew was atheist.  He was among the first few I knew, other than myself, who were atheist at all.  Possibly the very first one at all.

To this day, he's still done better than just about anyone at giving religion the criticism it is due.  I think he should have been included in the group labeled "New Atheists" and should have been considered one of the Four Horseman (not to say any of the four given that distinction were undeserving, of course).   His words against religion did precede theirs, after all.

I had heard of Carlin before, but only marginally.  I first learned of his stance on religion when I saw his now famous bit about religion being the best at bullshit.

In that rant, he compared god worship to sun worship and praying to a god to praying to Joe Pesci.  He made fun of the concept of Hell and how it's supposed to be a punishment from an all-loving god.  He made fun of churches' need for money.

He said everything I already felt but had never expressed and had never heard anyone else express.  Until then, I thought I was the only one.  Seeing this rant of Carlin's changed my life.  That was the day I learned I wasn't alone.  I'm a fan of stand-up comedy, and George Carlin was among the best of all time.  But it was this bit from him for which I will be eternally gratefully.

Well, at least as close to eternal as a mortal can get.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twelve Apostates - Former Clergy

This had to be my first post in this series because, at Skepticon 5, I let it slip to Jerry that I was writing about him and he wanted me to publish it.  Although, I'll forgive him for not remembering that two minute conversation out of a weekend packed full of fun.

I'm generally not a fan of excessively positive people.  Jerry DeWitt (former minister, the first graduate of The Clergy Project, and Executive Director of my favorite national atheist organization, Recovering From Religion) is one of the exceptions.  He's had a rough time over the last couple years, because he dared be honest about his loss of faith.

He lost jobs.  He lost friends.  He lost family.  He became a pariah in his home town.  But he's handled it with grace & dignity.  At least as far as I've been able to see.  The man is quickly becoming a star of the atheist community, but you're not likely to catch him ever admitting it.  I'm excited to see where his upcoming book takes him.

At the 2012 American Atheists Convention, while helping out at the Recovering From Religion table, I briefly met a woman who was introduced to me as Lynn.  I had no idea was about to happen or that, when she left the room, she was headed to go on stage.

The cheers in that video were so loud, they could be heard in the next room.

Neither intended to become atheists.  It's just something that happened because they were intellectually honest and applied critical thinking to their religious beliefs.  They could have stayed ministers and never dealt with the turmoil they went through in their coming out, a process much more difficult for clergy than the average atheist.

Except that they couldn't have, because they have integrity.  It takes bravery, for someone whose livelihood comes from being a believer, to come out as atheist.  It takes integrity to stay out instead of having a "come to Jesus moment", pretending to believe again, getting your old friends and family back, and making a bunch of money by selling the story.

Things are working out overall for both of them now, with Jerry's book and Teresa working for American Atheists, but they had no idea what was going to happen when they came out.  Although, they both appear to me (from the handful of times I've met them) to be the kind of positive people who don't dwell on the negative.

These two are far from the only clergy coming out.  They're just two of the most well known.  Hundreds more have joined The Clergy Project and will graduate without much recognition.  But they're not doing it for fame.  They're doing it because they do not want to live a lie.  And for that, they have my respect.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reasons I'm Glad I'm Atheist, She-Ra Edition

Despite the best efforts of my childhood dog, who would only eat my He-Man toys while ignoring all my other toys, I loved He-Man.  So when She-Ra began, I watched that too.  I may have even liked it better.  Although, I cannot be sure since I was six years old when it started.

Either way, my point is that I never had a concept that show was supposedly "for girls".  I just knew that I liked it.  I never had religion telling me that I couldn't watch it because I was boy.  I never had shame imposed on me for not fitting into narrow minded expectations of gender roles.  My parents didn't freak out thinking that watching it might make gay.

I watched what I liked.  Thundercats, GI Joe, Transformers, Silverhawks, M.A.S.K., Duck Tales, Shirt-Tales, Snorks, He-Man, She-Ra.  I didn't watch what I didn't like.  Jonny Quest, Jem.  Gender was irrelevant.

When people ask, what we "get" out of atheism, as if everything must have a tangible reward to be worthwhile, this is a small example.  We get the freedom to like whatever the hell we feel like, without being hindered by religion and its stupid, stupid ideas on gender roles.

Credit:  @drzach

The Twelve Apostates

Christians have the Twelve Days of Christmas and their Jesus has the Twelve Apostles. I, obviously, do not buy into the Twelve Apostles myth. And, while Secular Christmas is celebrated by many atheists, I do not (except for the obligations I've held onto that come from having family who does celebrate).

I was recently planning for a list of the atheists I respect and sometimes get inspiration from. While thinking of who to include, and what size to make the list, I thought of the Twelve Days of Christmas and the Twelve Apostles.  So I decided to call my list "The Twelve Apostates" and publish it as a series with a new one each day leading up to Christmas Day.  I have just enough to say for most of them, that making it all one post would make it much too long for a single post.

Some will be specific people, while others will be groups of people.  It more appropriately be called "Twelve  Days of Apostates", but I like "Twelve Apostates" better.  Yes, I'm neurotic enough that I put that much thought into it.  Some will be from my childhood, while others will be much more recent.  They will be in no particular order, with one exception on the first.

You may not agree with any or all of them, but it's not meant to be a universal list. It's meant to be personal to me.  I would love to see your lists as well.  I hope to use those as part of another list, that will be meant to be more universal.  A friend already beat me to it, quite a while ago.

The title of this post and the date it was published is a coincidence.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Seven Countries For Atheists To Know About

I do a lot of complaining about how atheists are treated in America.  This could be confused for a lack of appreciation for the freedoms that come with having been born here.  It's quite the opposite though.  My disdain for the way many American Christians behave is because of my fondness for our Separation of Church and State.

My complaints about American Christians may also be seen as me ignoring how it is in some other countries.  I'm well aware of how poorly many countries treat atheists and sometimes even other believers.  For instance, there are seven countries where being atheist can be punishable by death.

The report tracks, among other things, which countries have laws explicitly targeting atheists. There are not many, but the states that forbid non-religiousness – typically as part of “anti-blasphemy” legislation – include seven nations where atheism is punishable by death. All seven establish Islam as the state religion. Though that list includes some dictatorships, the country that appears to most frequently condemn atheists to death for their beliefs is actually a democracy, if a frail one: Pakistan. Others include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, the West African state of Mauritania, and the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. These countries are colored red on the above map.
Saudi Arabia
The Maldives

As much as I hate how many Christians behave in America, we do have it better than any of those seven countries.

This certainly doesn't mean I'll lay off the American Christians though.  Our fight against their efforts to force their religion onto us and into our government is all that is keeping our country from being added to that map.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Agree With John Hagee

Of America's hateful televangelists, John Hagee is among the most successful.  He's far from one of my favorite people.  That's probably because he's one of the worst people in the world.

So, I was little surprised to find this today.

He's completely right.  It's a statement I would expect an atheist to make, not a Christian preacher.  One of the replies covers it well.

Their promise of a reward is one of the most common things I hear from Christians.  When you think you're getting a reward of eternal bliss, you don't really get to claim you're doing something with the promise of a reward.

For atheists, when we do good, not only are we doing with the promise of a reward, we're doing it with Christians constantly telling us we're going to Hell no matter how much good we do.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Atheist Census Attacked

Atheist Alliance International has launched an effort to count the world's atheists, and they've called it Atheist Census.  I went there this evening to add my name to their quickly growing census and found something  rather disappointing.

From the AAI website
On 7 December Atheist Alliance International launched Atheist Census at, a global project to count and collect information on the world's atheists.  The response to Atheist Census was very positive, with 8,880 confirmed entries and another c. 2,300 pending before the site was taken offline as a result of a DoS (denial of service) attack, around 17 hours after launch.  We do not know who was behind the attack, but it's a reasonable conclusion that they do not like atheists being counted.  We are working hard to get Atheist Census online again.
Carlos A. Diaz
President, Atheist Alliance International
 It's especially disheartening because I went there right after reading an article about how atheists worldwide suffer very real persecution.  It's not out of the question that the same thing could happen to a Christian group, but what would the coverage difference be?  This attack is being covered by me, on this blog that very few people read.  Some of the bigger atheist blogs may post about it as well.  It's sure to be covered on The Friendly Atheist, who linked to it yesterday.  

But it certainly won't get covered on any of the big media outlets.  Nor am I saying it should be.  But if it did happen to a Christian group, it's not unrealistic to think it could be talked about on a national news network.  Or at least Fox.

Their Religion Is Discrimination

Earlier this year, the Omaha City Council passed an ordinance to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of reasons people cannot legally be fired by their employers.  I was there that day, in support of the ordinance, because I happen to think discrimination is a bad thing.  Some Omaha Christians disagree.

Since it was passed, they've been working to undo it.  One of the groups behind this called the Nebraska Heritage Coalition.  They oppose these basic civil rights and have even succeeded in getting it reviewed by the Nebraska Legislature.

This is exactly what I meant when I said opposition to marriage equality is almost entirely religious.  Their very first  instruction on their page on the hearing tomorrow is to pray.
1.   Pray NOW – also about joining us at City Hall to “Watch & Pray”
  • Pray for Divine intervention.
  • Pray for God’s people to repent of apathy and our sins then rise up and publicly stand for righteousness.
  • Pray that our leaders hear our testimony and fear God.
They go on to claim the ordinance's prohibition of discrimination is itself discrimination against their religious freedom.
Testimony should focus on: "Sexual orientation and gender identity are not civil rights issues." and/or that it that it also threatens our religious freedoms.
 2.   This type of legislation, wherever passed, discriminates against many people of faith and threatens our religious liberties. 
  • The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion to individuals, not just to religious organizations. 

  • This type of legislation violates separation of church and state as the state rules that selected aspects our faith to be “Hate Speech,” a violation of diversity, promoting a hostile environment, or in this case a violation of civil rights.
Apparently, creating a law that entirely ignores their religion is a violation of the Separation of Church and State.  Apparently, it's a violation of the Separation of Church to see hate speech and call it hate speech, even if someone wants to use their religion to justify it and pretend it's not hate speech.  Apparently, the rights of Christians are being violated unless we all conform to how they say we should live.

So remember, don't do what you think is right or what works for you.  Do exactly what these Christians say you should do.  Otherwise, you're an oppressive bigot who hates freedom.