Why Do Atheists Care about Religion?

I couldn’t have said this better myself.

I’ll let the video explain it all.

Religulous

A movie review.

ReligulousI just watched Bill Maher’s documentary, Religulous. It’s been in my Netflix queue for some time now and I recently let it ride to the top. I watched it on my second monitor while doing some relatively mindless work on the other.

The movie was just what I expected: Bill Maher trying to talk reason to religious zealots. While his breakaways to movie scenes and comic subtitles were generally amusing, much of the rest of the movie was quite disturbing. It isn’t Maher’s views that bother me — I share them. It’s the stubbornness of the religious zealots he spoke to. They simply did not want to listen to reason.

Want some specific examples?

He spoke with Christians about Jesus and pointed out that an ancient Egyptian god named Horus shared much of Jesus’s history, from virgin birth to crucifixion and resurrection. This is documented in ancient Egyptian writing. Yet the Christians refused to acknowledge that the Egyptian myths exist. How can they be so stubborn?

He pointed out to Christians that the New Testament, which forms the basis of Christianity and Christian beliefs says nothing about homosexuality being a sin. He pointed out other things that are and are not in the Bible. If what he said contradicted current Christian beliefs, however, these people denied what he said. They clearly had no clue what was in the holy scriptures they swore was the word of god.

He pointed out to Muslims that the Koran contains multiple references about violence against non-Muslim “infidels.” They either denied the meaning of those references or tried to claim that they applied to another time.

He had similar confrontations with Jews, Mormons (and ex-Mormons), and members of other religions.

This went on for nearly two hours.

This was exactly what I expected and, to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it very much. It’s an argument he’ll never win. None of the atheists will. People have faith — blind faith in whatever it is that they believe. They ignore the evidence that they’re wrong. They go on believing, thinking that they’ll be rewarded someday while the non-believers — or the people that believe in Brand X religion — will be punished.

Meanwhile, they keep fighting and hating and killing and keeping their women and children in the dark ages intellectually — all in the name of their god.

It makes me sick.

I’m not quite sure what Maher intended to do with this movie. He’s obviously not going to convert anyone. There wasn’t enough comedy to make it fun to watch. Was he just trying to give atheists a bit of support in their quest for reason? To convince us to speak out as he has?

What’s the point?

This reminds me of a post I read last week on Think Atheist, “Why Talk About It?.” In it, the blogger compares religion to collecting stamps:

When you are in safe company, you poke fun at the stamp collectors and their silly beliefs. You find comfort in the fact that you are not the only sane person around. In a world of stamp collectors, you are one of only a few non-stamp collectors.

Maybe that’s what Religulous was all about: To remind us that we’re not the only ones who don’t collect stamps.

The Creation Museum

Yeah. Science lies. Believe this crap instead.

I learned this morning that the Creation Museum’s attendance exceeds expectations. I find this factoid distressing.

If you haven’t heard of the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, consider yourself lucky. This bible-story-gone-wild uses exhibits to illustrate biblical explanations of the natural world. In doing so, it’s attracting thousands of Christian school students on field trips. From the Courier-Journal article:

Inside, the students learned from displays that, contrary to mainstream textbooks, science supports the Bible’s accounts of the Earth’s creation in six days; that the Grand Canyon was created suddenly in Noah’s flood; that dinosaurs and humans lived together; and that animal poison did not exist before Adam’s original sin.

This, as a “supplement” to science lessons.

My first exposure to the Creation Museum came from a John Scalzi photographic tour titled “A Visit to the Creation Museum, 11/10/07.” I clearly remember viewing the photos and great captions Scalzi put on Flickr; I was stuck at the FBO at Las Vegas McCarren Airport, waiting for a helicopter mechanic to replace my alternator belt, feet up, surfing on my laptop. It was the highlight of the day. Also quite enjoyable was Scalzi’s blog post, “Your Creation Museum Report.” It really got to the meat of the matter. I recall reading it, wondering how long it would be until the “museum” was laughed out of existence.

And then this report about its popularity, complete with stories of visits by school children as part of their science lessons. Those school groups make up 20 to 30 percent of the attendance.

Ouch.

Now my question is this: Of the 70 to 80 percent of other visitors, how many of them are visiting, like Scalzi did, to take in this spectacle of ignorance and close mindedness? How many of them want to see irrationally designed models and dioramas depicting impossible scenes from natural history? How many of them just go for a good laugh?

I hope that most of them do. The alternative — that people actually believe this crap — is too frightening to consider.

It’s bad enough that they’re exposing our children to it.

E-Mail I’d Rather Not Get

Today’s crop of e-mail messages illustrate how bothersome people can be.

I get about 10-20 unsolicited non-spam e-mail messages today. These are e-mail messages from people I don’t know.

One of the reasons that number is so low is because I actively discourage people from contacting me for help. While this may turn some people off, it’s the only way I can limit e-mail so I get work done.

But today’s inbox included three examples of e-mail messages I try to avoid. They’re either nasty or they’re trying to pull me into a discussion I’m not interested in being a part of.

Mass Times?

The first e-mail came from the reader of a web site I maintain with information about my town. The site’s called wickenburg-az.com and it’s full of content submitted by contributors to the site. It’s not funded by anyone, although we occasionally do get a donation to help cover hosting costs. It’s also not designed to provide every piece of information anyone could want to know about the town. The town is small, but it would take a full time staff of at least 20 people to manage that kind of information.

I’m not sure, but I think person who sent the e-mail message read a post I’d written back in 2006 about St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. It’s a beautiful little church in downtown Wickenburg. I’m not a religious person, but I do appreciate good architecture and the main gist of this short piece was to show a nice photo of the church.

Or he may have read another post called “Churches in Wickenburg,” also from 2006, that the Webmaster used to list the names and phone numbers of all the churches in town.

In any case, his nasty message was as follows:

I’ll bet many Wickenburg visitors are forced to phone you to find out the mass times. Why should this be so?

It is NOT difficult to put this info on your home page and it would certainly be a service to visitors.

If you want to use the internet, use it to your advantage.

First of all, no one phones me about Wickenburg, mostly because my phone number is not listed online or in the phone book. And besides, wouldn’t it be easier to call the church in question than to call me? And does he really think I’m going to put church service times on my site’s home page?

Also, many — but not all — people who use the Contact Us link to contact us can read where it clearly says:

All of the information we have about Wickenburg, its businesses, and its events are included on this Web site. We do not have any additional information that we can send out to site visitors.

The people who can read and comprehend this realize that they’d be wasting their time asking me for more information. The ones who can’t read or comprehend it really do waste their time because I simply delete their messages without a response.

But the ones who are nasty to me, get a nasty response. Here’s what this jerk got today:

What are you talking about? No one calls me for “mass times.” I don’t even know what you’re referring to.

And if YOU want to use the Internet, I suggest you stop being so rude to people providing FREE services.

He may think that for some reason I care whether he visits the site. If so, he’s wrong. I really don’t care. The site’s a labor of love and it’s not for people who don’t appreciate the effort that goes into it — people like him.

And is it me or is this just another example of the hypocrisy of these “Christian” types? If they’re so good, then why are they so nasty? What would Jesus say?

Premiere Operator?

The next guy wasn’t so bad, but there was something in the tone of his message that got under my skin. Maybe I was already revved up by the churchgoer referred to above.

This was in reference to the Robbie book I’m distributing in North America for its Australia-based author. I did a mass mailing of postcards to Robinson owners that has resulted in a few orders and general interest in the book.

I received a postcard offering for sale your book “Robbie” which I’d like to order. I reviewed your web site for companies you photographed and noticed the premier remote Robinson R44 flying company, “XXX Aviation”, wasn’t on the list. Is that the case or is it actually part of the book?

I XXXed out the name of the company here because I didn’t want to embarrass anyone. I’d never heard of the company and have no clue where it’s based. I know that the author of the book tried to visit as many Robinson operators as he could but many operators simply told him they weren’t interested in being included.

I think it was the word “premier” that hit a sore spot with me. It was almost as if he were saying, your book can’t be very good if you left out the best company out there.

I responded as follows:

First of all, the book isn’t ours. It’s a publication of Eye in the Sky Productions in Australia. Flying M Productions is the North American distributor and has no control over content.

To my knowledge, the only companies included in the book are the ones listed on our site. They’re the same ones listed on the author’s and publisher’s sites.

I know from discussions with Jon Davison that there were MANY Robinson operators that turned down his offer to be included in the book. Perhaps XXX was one of them? This is something Jon could answer for you, if you need to know. He can be contacted through his Web site, http://eyeinthesky.com.au/

Hope that didn’t come off as nasty.

Loved Your Book; Can You Help Me?

The next message followed the tried-and-true formula so many readers use to contact me for help and advice. The first sentence or paragraph tells me how much they liked one of my books. The next sentence or paragraph is their plea for help.

Here’s today’s catch:

First, I have read your great book on WordPress, and I just want to thank you for a job well done.

My question: I was thinking about creating a site similar to yours for my town in NY where I live. I would like to know your opinion about it, and whether it’s possible to make money out of it.

In defense of this person, he used the contact form on wickenburg-az.com instead of the one on this site. The one on this site basically tells people that I don’t provide support or advice via e-mail or any other method. Instead, I provide Q&A posts for each book that’s still in print and ask them to comment there. This way, their question and my response can be read by others who might have the same question.

In this case, the book in question is 2-1/2 years old and covers WordPress 2.0. I’m pretty sure it’s out of print, since we decided not to revise it for WordPress 2.5. WordPress is now up to version 2.6, with 2.7 due out shortly. Since 2.5, I’ve been doing video courses about WordPress for Lynda.com.

To be fair, his question wasn’t about WordPress. He wanted to know if I make money on wickenburg-az.com. While I realize that’s not exactly what he asked, reading between the lines results in that question.

First of all, I don’t. Second, it’s none of his business. Third, I know from experience that a response would only start a dialog that I have no desire to participate in.

But I responded anyway:

Thanks for the kind words about my book. In answer to your question, no.

I’m a Bitch and I Know It

I know I can really be a bitch sometimes. It’s one of my shortcomings. It has to do with my complete lack of patience. That’s likely because I was born and raised in the New York City area, where we learn from a young age not to tolerate bullshit.

In fact, during a job performance review, I was once complemented on my failure to tolerate bullshit — using that exact word. My boss said something like, “What I like about you is that you don’t take bullshit from anyone. That’s good.” In the real world business of finance, accounting, and auditing, it is a good trait to have.

Elsewhere, it’s kind of limiting.

I do like to help people, but it irks me to no end when you provide a service for free and people have the nerve to complain about it — especially in a nasty way. This is something that bloggers deal with all too often. It just reminds me that there are people out there who would look a gift horse in the mouth (so to speak) and still complain bitterly if the horse’s teeth had gold fillings but one tooth was missing.

People also need to realize that I simply don’t have time to enter into one-on-one e-mail advice sessions with anyone who happens to have read one of my 72 books. Let’s be real, folks. The purchase of one of my books does not entitle anyone to free, unlimited advice and support for the rest of my life. I’ve written about readers who just don’t get it here and here. And I’ll likely write about it again in the future.

Comments? Keep it civil.

For the last time: NO, Obama is NOT a Muslim

Evidently, even a few folks with functioning brains believe this.

Yesterday, I was shocked and awed when someone I do business with admitted that she thinks Obama might be a Muslim.

I can’t make this stuff up.

This person, who occasionally reads this blog, might be offended by my “How Stupid Are We?” post, where I pretty much said that anyone who believes lies like this is stupid. I hate to offend people I like, so I’m writing this post. I don’t think she’s stupid. I think she’s just fallen into the Web of lies and innuendo woven by the conservatives who want to keep Republicans — even if it means John McCain — in power.

So I’ll say something here that I never thought I’d have to say. (Frankly, I thought my readers were smart and well-informed enough for me to skip a statement of the obvious.)

Obama is not a Muslim.

The whole “Obama is a Muslim” rumor can be traced back to Andy Martin. You can read all about it in — dare I suggest it? — the New York Times: “The Man Behind the Whispers About Obama.” Here’s an excerpt:

An examination of legal documents and election filings, along with interviews with his acquaintances, revealed Mr. Martin, 62, to be a man with a history of scintillating if not always factual claims. He has left a trail of animosity — some of it provoked by anti-Jewish comments — among political leaders, lawyers and judges in three states over more than 30 years.

Is this the kind of guy you want to believe?

Of course, he appeared on FoxNews, which “…allowed Mr. Martin to assert falsely and without challenge that Mr. Obama had once trained to overthrow the government. ” I guess if it’s on FoxNews, it must be gospel (pun intended).

Anyway, all this upsets me to the extreme. I don’t mind people voting for the candidate I don’t support. But I do mind them making their decision based on vicious lies and innuendo — especially those made by a man with a history of lying and accepted by a news organization with a track record of bias.

I want people to know the truth and make decisions based on that.

Note to Religious Fanatics

You are not welcome here.

I am not a religious person. In fact, I’m an atheist.

I don’t use this blog to promote my religious (or non-religious) views. While some of my comments may reflect those views, I’m not trying to convince anyone that they should change their views. Religion (or lack thereof) is a personal choice.

By the same token, I don’t expect or want any reader to use the comments feature to try to convince me or any other reader to change their religious views. If you want to preach, go bother some other blogger. Don’t bother me.

Read this carefully: I will delete any comment that attempts to communicate what I or any other person should believe about a higher being. This blog is not a forum for religious debate. Period.

I just had a four-comment exchange going with a reader who found God and evidently looked down on me because I hadn’t. When I told him I wasn’t interested in a religious debate but offered to leave his comments online for others to discuss with him, he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted a debate with me. His final comment — which never appeared here — was a condescending jab at me. I’m inferior in his eyes because I don’t believe that his god is watching over me and controlling my life. This same god, I should mention, is also just standing by while innocent people all over the world suffer from illness, starvation, and the cruelty of others.

God is all powerful and all good? Give me a fucking break.

In the meantime, I think this guy is an idiot for wasting his time preaching religion to the non-religous on the Web.

Well, he blew it and he screwed it up for anyone else with the idea of talking religion here. I won’t tolerate it any more. All of his comments have been removed and you won’t see any others.

You don’t like this policy? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that I care. There are millions of other blogs out there. Go bother someone else.

Abstinence-Only Sex Education Does Not Work

Perhaps the Bristol Palin situation will put a spotlight on this.

One of the things that bugs me the most about the Religious Conservatives in this country is its policy regarding sex education. Basically, they don’t want it taught in schools.

Social conservatives — including, ironically, Sarah Palin — promote an “abstinence-only” sex education program. My understanding of such programs is that they attempt to teach young people to abstain from sex until they are married. There’s no deep discussion of what sex is and how it works. There’s certainly no discussion of “safe sex” or birth control. Young people are simply told not to have sex. Period. End of statement.

I’m pretty sure the idea behind all this has something to do with sin. Evidently, it’s a sin to have sex before you’re married. And since most high school kids aren’t married, they shouldn’t be having sex. Doing so would commit a sin. I’m not quite sure what happens when you commit a sin like that — eternal damnation seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? — but it’s evidently a bad thing.

Now I could go off on a tangent and bring up the theories of Richard Dawkins, who claims that parents forcing their religious beliefs on their kids is akin to child abuse, but I won’t. Although I do agree with a lot of what Dawkins has to say, I believe that parents have a right to bring a religious (or non-religious, for that matter) belief system into their kids’ lives. (I don’t, however, believe they should force their kids to marry before the age of consent, as at least one religious cult is apparently doing.)

The trouble with this is that kids can be kids. Teenagers have raging hormones. Things happen. One thing leads to another. Not all girls (or guys, for that matter) are thinking about abstinence or sin or mom and dad on a date when opportunity (and something else) arises. It’s hard to stop once you get started. Anyone who has had (and enjoyed) sex can tell you that. (Which makes me wonder if these abstinence-only supporters ever enjoyed sex, but that’s something to debate another day.)

So when the moment of truth arrives and neither party remembers abstinence and holds up a STOP sign, where are the condoms? Obviously, they’re not around. These poor kids were never taught about safe sex and birth control. They were probably even told that birth control is a sin. Neither one of them would be caught dead with a condom in their possession. At that moment of truth, all they know is what their bodies are telling them they need to do. So they do it.

The very lucky ones don’t start a baby and they don’t share a disease. But maybe that just confirms that what they’ve done is okay. So they do it again another time. Or with another partner. And sooner or later, there will be a pregnancy or a disease or both.

Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter, brought up in a religious conservative household by a mother who believes in abstinence-only sex education, is the victim of her mother’s policies. I don’t know the girl and I don’t know what she was taught. But I know she made a mistake and I can’t help but wonder whether the mistake was one of ignorance rather than stupidity.

I’m angry about this. I’m angry because the Republican party is simply blowing it off, using this unfortunate situation as proof that Sarah Palin is “just like anyone else,” with the same kind of family challenges that anyone has. This teenage pregnancy is okay to them. After all. Bristol is still going to have the baby. And she’s going to get married. So everything is okay, right?

Did anyone ever stop to consider what Bristol may have wanted to do with her life? Maybe she didn’t want to start bearing children when she was 17 years old. Maybe she wanted to finish high school and go to college. To become a doctor or a lawyer or — dare I say it? — a community organizer. In other words, maybe she wanted to start a career or have a bit of life on her own before getting married and starting a family. Or maybe she didn’t want to have a family at all.

Even if she did want to start a family when she was young, do you think she really wanted to be changing diapers for her own baby when she was only 17 years old?

Now although I’ll admit that I’m pro-Choice — as every woman who isn’t held firmly under a man’s thumb should be — I’m not for a moment suggesting that she abort the baby. While I think that could have been an option very early on, it should not be an option at 5 months into the pregnancy. (And yes, folks, there is a difference.)

What I’m suggesting here is that if Bristol — and the thousands of young women like her all over the country — received proper sex education, including safe sex and birth control information, she would not be in the situation she’s in. And neither would her boyfriend, who will soon find himself in attendance as the groom at a good, old-fashioned, shotgun wedding. (After all, why potentially ruin one life when you can potentially ruin two?)

Bristol’s lucky, in a way. Her parents are well-to-do. They have good jobs — hell, there’s a chance her mother might even be vice president. They have money. Even if Mom’s away on official business, there will be nannies around to help. Bristol might come out of this okay — if the media attention doesn’t permanently traumatize her.

But what I’m hoping for is that Bristol’s predicament opens a few eyes among the members of the Religious Right. Abstinence-only sex education does not work.

And now we have a poster child for it.