Saturday, March 29, 2014

An Update On The Campaign To Get Biblename to AACon2014

Some friends met last weekend to create a campaign to get a talented photographer to the 2014 American Atheists Convention.  Having an active YouTuber in the room also meant getting a pretty good video for the effort.

Soon after posting it, I saw links to it all over my news feed.  Throughout the week, I've had numerous inquiries about the status of it.

In less than a week, with entirely viral marketing, this campaign is fully funded.

It's heartwarming to see atheists so eagerly supporting artistic talent and each other.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Elected Representative Does Not Understand What Religious Freedom Is

My Congressional Representative, Lee Terry, posted this statement about Hobby Lobby's Supreme Court case.

Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE) today made the following statement on the oral arguments before the Supreme Court today on the Hobby Lobby case in the support of religious freedom:
“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments on behalf of individuals who under Obamacare feel that their constitutional right to religious freedom has been violated.
“Our nation’s motto is ‘In God We Trust’ and it couldn’t be more clear. Every single American should have the freedom to practice their faith and protect their conscious separate from cumbersome federal mandates. I want to add my voice in support of these Americans who have unjustly been coerced by an overreaching Administration and forced to choose between their God and their government.”
I'll ignore the many issues just in his invocation (pun intended) of "In God We Trust", or his less than subtle presumption that all Americans believe in a god, for now.  That's another fight for another day.

The issue for today is Hobby Lobby, who is demanding the right to ignore the ACA mandate to cover birth control within health insurance for its employees.  They are demanding that the religion of their owners limit the healthcare options of their employees.

To illustrate the problem with that, here's something from Keith Lowell Jensen.

That is not religion freedom.  That is religious oppression.  It's a violation of the religious freedom of every employee of Hobby Lobby.  No one should be forced to find another job, or go without proper healthcare, just because their employer doesn't want to follow the law.

From the comments of Terry's statement:

Hobby Lobby is not requesting religious freedom.  They're demanding special privilege to ignore the law.

By supporting Hobby Lobby, Lee Terry is supporting religious oppression. Not religious freedom. Religious freedom would be everyone following the same laws, regardless of their religion. Religious freedom is NOT everyone but Christians following the law.

My representation in Washington DC needs a grade school level civics lesson.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Note On Some Responses To Fred Phelps Dying

When Jerry Falwell died, I shed no tears.  I was happy because his absence made the world a better place.  But it's different for me this time around.  I simply cannot be happy about it this time.

Maybe it's because, since then, I've had more exposure to the atheist community.  I've seen so many people who naturally behave out of love rather than hate.  More than just about anyone I've met, Nathan Phelps is one of those people.  I've had the honor of meeting him and experienced first hand what a genuinely kind hearted person he is.

My inability to be happy is likely also biased by the fact that I've been through the same loss.  I know how hard it was for me, and I didn't have the added burden of both being excluded by my family and having the world tell me how happy they were about my father's death.  Every time I see that sentiment expressed, I see it through a combination of (my perception of) Nate's eyes and my own.

It's hurtful, unnecessary, and unbecoming of humanist values.  I get the urge to respond how I've seen many do, but we owe it to ourselves and to each other to be better.The best response to hate is not more hate.  The best response to hate is to show that, even when it's the easy choice, you will not add to the hate.

The best response to hate is love.  Let's please all remember that as best we can.

Monday, March 10, 2014

David Silverman Goes To CPAC, Some Atheists Miss The Point

As soon as American Atheists announced they were going to CPAC, they got nearly as much fight from atheists as they did from the conservatives who got them kicked out.  Dave Muscato's personal (not in his official capacity with American Atheists) response to one such complaint is the best defense of the effort that I've seen so far.
If an atheist is being discriminated against for religious reasons, or is being intimidated such that s/he's staying in the closet about her atheism, or being forced to pray in a government space, or being forced to learn religious mythology in science class, etc, it is not our place, as an atheist-rights nonprofit, to treat that person any differently regardless of whether she was a conservative or a liberal. We still fight for her because that's what we do.
While there, Dave Silverman said something about abortion that resulted in some atheists getting upset at him.
“I came with the message that Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked,” he told me, “and that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives — social conservatism isn’t real conservatism, it’s actually big government, it’s theocracy. I’m talking about gay rights, right to die, abortion rights –”
Hold on, I said, I think the Right to Life guys who have a booth here, and have had every year since CPAC started, would disagree that they’re not real conservatives.
I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”
People were upset over that for a variety of reasons.  JT Eberhard debunked them so well, I was compelled to tweet this about it:
It's well worth the read.  It says exactly what I was trying to explain some, that the argument against Silverman is not based in reality.  It was all I had to say about the matter until I read a few other pieces from the perspective JT was challenging.

On the blog Reasonable Faith, objection to even going to CPAC was repeated.
So, they’re closet atheists? “A lot of them, yes.” And beyond that, he says, “a vast majority of Christians here would support atheists being part of the movement.” Well, they need all the help they can get.
Iffy. There may be a lot of atheists lurking about. But ever since Edmund Burke the conservative tradition has emphasized the need for religious institutions and religious indoctrination to ensure social order. Even an atheist might endorse religion if they think it will keep the masses in check. I’m reminded of Emerson’s line that his aunt was not a Calvinist but wished that everybody else was.
They're much more likely to keep going with the religious line if the atheist community keeps telling them they're not welcome.  Why would they want to join us if we're telling them they're not welcome?  On the other hand, if we show ourselves willing to support them in their atheism (without necessarily supporting all of their politics), they'll be more likely be openly atheist around the Christian Right that dominates American conservatism.

I don't think it's unreasonable to say we can agree that bad arguments won't hold weight if they lose the protective veil of religion & the vagueness of gods.  Getting conservative atheists (who do exist) to be openly atheist is a step toward this end.  Shunning them just because they have different politics is a step away from it.

Jason Thibeault's response to the hullabaloo was much longer, and thus much more wrong.  I've generally liked what I've seen from Thibeault, but on this issue, he's so intensely wrong I simply cannot speak up.  If I addressed all the wrong things, this post would be way longer than it already is, but some the overall point needs addressing.
People are upset about this, and I strongly feel, rightly so. I’m pretty upset about it too. Not that Silverman is explicitly anti-choice, because he’s later apparently multiple times clarified that he’s not personally convinced by those arguments. I’m mostly upset that he raised the issue of secular arguments for conservative social causes, thus painting himself into a corner where he could be trapped into having to weasel out of a specific counterpoint that easily undermined what he was saying. I’m further upset that by hedging on this issue, he gives cover to people who think he means there’s a valid, cogent argument against the right of a mother to choose whether to be pregnant.
He knows Silverman isn't anti-choice, so he's just upset that Silverman admitted that there are secular arguments against abortion.  Those arguments do, in fact, exist.  The other option Silverman was to lie.  I tend to prefer honesty over lying.  I expect Thibeault has a similar stance, despite his inaccuracies here.

He claims Silverman hedged & painted himself into a corner.  Also nonsense.  Thibeault's post goes through a lot of mental gymnastics & hypotheticals to justify this stance, but it's all entirely unnecessary and done for reasons I cannot figure out.  It's especially confusing because he stated the plain truth in the middle of all of it.
He did not say that there was a valid, cogent argument against abortion. Only that there’s a secular one. 
That's it.  He only said there was a secular argument against abortion.  Because there is.  The quality of that argument was completely irrelevant to what Silverman was talking about there and counterproductive to his entire purpose for being there.  He was there to show conservative atheists that it's okay to be openly atheist.  Not to pick fights with them.  There's nothing wrong with saving the arguments for later, and doing so need not imply malice or incompetence.
But my criticisms are entirely predicated on the face value of what he said, without reading anything extra into it.
They're really not.  His criticisms are entirely reliant on reading more into it.  Entirely reliant on a pile of completely unnecessary hypotheticals, "what ifs", and the complaint that he didn't make a point to argue against abortion right then & there.  That last bit is the crux of this.

Silverman is accused of painting himself into a corner while simultaneously being accused of avoiding the argument.  It cannot be both.  But that incoherence fits the rest of it.  The argument against Silverman here is so bad and so desperate, it includes some blatantly inaccurate statements.
There’s even a secular argument for prayer in schools. But first you have to have a secular prayer, to eliminate the religion from the context of the consequence as well as the argument. When you do that, you’re left with, essentially, arguments for the American Pledge of Allegiance, which is still said in most states. It’s a vocal exhortation to an entity that is not a deity, said mostly to remind yourself and others around you that you are affiliated with that entity. Only in this case, it’s a country, not a god.
There, by definition, cannot be a secular argument for (school led) prayer in school.  Prayer is explicitly religious.  "Secular" explicitly means "without regard to religion".  The example of the Pledge of Allegiance is a huge stretch, to the point of just being flat out wrong.  The Pledge is not prayer.  And since 1954, it's not even secular. And even though, it's currently religious, it's still not prayer.  It's not TOO a god.  It merely references one.  My money, before I fix it, isn't praying either.

Silverman is accused of hedging because he didn't go off message by not going after abortion at that moment.  It's like his famous "Tides go in" encounter with Bill O'Reilly.  He got criticism for not correcting O'Reilly on the air.  I was among those criticizing him initially, until I realized why I was wrong.  Rather than letting O'Reilly derail the conversation, Silverman staid on message.  He wisely saved the argument for another time.  He did his job.

I'm sure I will end up criticizing Silverman at some point.  While quite good at his job, he's not infallible.  And I have a big mouth.  But if/when I do, it will be based on something he actually said or did.  And it won't be something as silly as an over-hyped complaint about one instance where he didn't do what I specifically wished he'd done in one fleeting moment.  Especially not one where he said something accurate and staid on message, like what happened in this instance.

So far, my only complaint about David Silverman since joining American Atheists is that he hasn't grown the devil beard back yet.