bookmark_borderAtheists distrusted by 97% of the population

As reported at Pharyngula:

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

This comes from a study done at the University of Minnesota.

bookmark_borderThe Anthropic Principle

Thanks to Don Morgan for forwarding this to me:

“The ‘anthropic principle’ states that the laws of nature were fine-tuned by the Great Designer to allow the existence of beings so intelligent that they could discover the anthropic principle. This is so incredibly deep that something happens to scientists who dwell on it too long.”

– WHAT’S NEW, Robert L. Park; Friday, 17 Mar 06; Washington, DC

bookmark_borderIs the U.S. Air Force a Christian Air Force?

There are obviously many non-Christians who have served or are currently serving in the U.S. Air Force (USAF), but there is growing evidence that the USAF is, despite claims to the contrary, institutionally Christian. According to a recent article in USA Today, an Air Force recruiter has filed suit against the USAF because of consistent proselytizing by superior officers. (Thanks to Eddie Tabash for pointing this out to me.) The article states:

The 12-page court filing says guest speakers at conventions of Air Force recruiters in 2003 and 2005 told Burleigh and other recruiters that “they needed to accept Jesus Christ in order to perform their job duties” and “to use faith in Jesus Christ while recruiting.”

When the plaintiff resisted his superiors’ efforts at proselytizing, he became the target of lower performance ratings than peers who attended religious activities such as prayer groups and church.

I don’t have much to say, except the obvious. If the allegations are true, then what the superior officers in the Air Force Recruiting Service are doing is not only conduct unbecoming a United States Airman, but illegal and indeed unconstitutional behavior. It would constitute an abuse of power by zealous Christian airmen trying to coerce a lower-ranking airman into becoming a Christian. (On a philosophical note, one wonders if the same individuals who are trying to coerce lower-ranking airmen into becoming Christians also use the “Free Will Defense” against arguments from evil for God’s nonexistence, but I guess bullies don’t have to be philosophically consistent.)

A Challenge to Christians

What I’d like to know is if any of the Christians who read this blog believe that such behavior is wrong and are willing to condemn it. I’m especially interested in whether the Christian bloggers who read this blog are willing to condemn the behavior on their own blogs.

A New Non-Profit Devoted to Military Religious Freedom

On a related subject, Jim Lippard just made me aware of a new non-profit organization devoted to military religious freedom: the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. They have a very polished website and also a brand new blog. The fact that non-Christians with ties to the U.S. Armed Forces even feel it necessary to create such a foundation is a sad commentary on the state of religious freedom within the U.S. Armed Forces. In any case, check out their organization.

bookmark_borderMoral Orel

I’ve recently discovered the stop-motion animated show “Moral Orel” on Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network. It’s the story of a very devout 11-year-old boy, Orel, who lives in the fictional town of Moralton in the fictional state of Statesota (located between Kansas and Missouri). Orel loves church, but frequently misunderstands the religious moral principles he’s being taught, leading to horrifying situations that have to be cleaned up by the end of each episode. For example, in the episode “Waste,” his mother tells him to clean up his plate, because God hates waste. When on a camping trip, a Scout leader tells the troop that if they get lost in the woods and have no other source of water, they can drink their own urine. Orel concludes that not drinking his own urine is a form of waste… In another episode, “God Fearing,” Orel is concerned that he doesn’t fear God, and so decides to violate all of the Ten Commandments in order to be appropriately afraid. In “The Lord’s Greatest Gift,” Orel checks out the Necronomicon from the library and starts resurrecting the dead, creating zombies, so that they can continue to enjoy God’s gift of life. An episode guide may be found at Wikipedia.

It’s not a show for the easily offended. It looks very much like the old show “Davey and Goliath,” but its creator, Dino Stamatopoulos, says he was inspired by the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials and didn’t set out to create a parody of “Davey and Goliath.”

If you like “South Park” or the Mad TV parody “Raging Rudolph” (Rankin/Bass meets Scorsese), you’ll probably like “Moral Orel.”

bookmark_borderAre you Rapture Ready?

The rapture index, now at 156, has been trending lower recently which is great because I’m not ready for Old Pitch to start ruling the world just yet. Of course there is another upside. If the rapture happens tomorrow then those of us left behind can just walk around and take our pick of nice cars. So at least in the post-nuclear Mad Max apocalypse we’ll be driving around in style. I can just see some Christian looking down from his cloud saying “Hey! Look at those bullet holes in my car! I only had two payments left!”

Ok maybe this is a bit silly. But what can be more absurd than the rapture index anyway? It utterly fails to measure anything since the indices reflect nothing more than the morbid biases of its author. For instance, one category is Liberalism, which is a code word for the Democratic Party in the US. Shortly after Sep 2001, the Liberalism index shot up to 3 because “The Democratic [sic] in the US congress are ending their pledge to work in a spirit of bipartisanism.” Wow, God must really be ready to end the world on that bit of trivia. The author also recently increased his Supernatural rating because the Sep 2001 attack was “demonic” in nature. No explanation or evidence is given for that non sequitur. Other categories like Apostasy, Leadership, and Moral Standards are so subjective as to be utterly worthless. My favorites are the geology categories like Earthquakes, Drought, Floods, and one called “Wild Weather.” Occam’s Razor suggests that extreme weather patterns have more to do with global climate change than God’s wrath but maybe that’s being too practical and draining all the fun out of it. And of course what rapture index could be complete without a category on Satan himself? Satanism is on the rise in Russia, the author claims. A quick searth on Pravda reveals this article in which an orthodox priest essentially complains about those darned kids and their rock and roll music. Not exactly fire and brimstone. I wonder how many Christians out there fail to live this life fully because they’re too busy waiting for the world to end? After all, why plan or do anything if it’s all for nothing? Now who’s the nihilist?

bookmark_borderEverything is Permitted Under God

There was a great opinion piece in the Sunday Times by Slavoj Zizek (behind the subscription firewall here). An atheist from the former Yugoslavia, Zizek criticizes the “Karamozov fallacy” in which Christians have long-argued that without God everything is permitted. As he points out, the Enlightenment principles in Europe that led to large numbers of atheists over the past few centuries (a demographic that is still fast growing) has shown the opposite to be true. Post-Enlightenment humanistic principles have contributed substantially toward gains in human rights, free speech, greater understanding and tolerance of other faiths, and liberal democracy. But increasingly, Christian and Muslim fundamentalism — flip sides of the same coin — have brought us to the point where under God everything is permitted. Here’s the money quote:

Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God’s will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God’s favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward.

Religion was supposed to bring peace but it has brought a sword. Fundamentalists, shouting “God is great!”, are gunning down anyone they perceive to be an infidel or a heretic. In the name of God, other religious zealots are strapping bombs to themselves and blowing up thousands of innocents. Everything immoral and evil does seem to be permitted but it is not due to the lack of religion; rather because of it.

bookmark_borderAtheist sells chance to save soul on eBay

DePaul University graduate student Hemant Mehta–an atheist and chairman of the Secular Student Alliance–sold, on eBay, the chance to save his soul. His offer was that for each $10 of the final bid, he would attend one hour of church services, and document the results on his blog. The winning bidder (at $504, which was donated to the Secular Student Alliance) was Jim Henderson, a former evangelical minister from Seattle, who instead hired Mehta to attend 10-15 services of Henderson’s choosing and then write about them for his organization, Off-the-Map, where Mehta has been given a guest blog.

This has proven to be quite a bargain for Henderson–that $504 has not only gotten him a lot more than that in publicity, but it seems to me he’s gotten an excellent price on Mehta’s labor and the rights to the resulting works. I hope that SSA and Mehta also gain from the publicity.

bookmark_borderChurch Burnings

The church fires of the past three months were very puzzling. At first, with black churches being set ablaze, it seemed like a classic hate crime. But then white churches went up in flames too. The mystery is only partly solved with the just-announced arrest of three white college students, all of whom met each other at Birmingham-Southern College. Yet, why would students at an elite Christian school (affiliated with United Methodist) allegedly torch area churches? Just for the thrill of it? Very strange.

bookmark_borderHenry M. Morris

Henry M. Morris, the leading figure of creationism in the 20th century, died on February 25 (See also the ICR site). He was instrumental in the revival of young-earth creationism, through his writings, his tireless work among conservative Christians, and his institution-building. His influence will live on for a long time yet; even Muslim creationists today borrow wholesale from the Protestant creationist movement inspired by Morris.

In terms of intellectual substance, Morris’s views are hard to take seriously. Nevertheless, I think that in the long run, leaders who inspire popular religious attitudes are very relevant to the intellectual debate over religion. Many critics of theism focus on those religious thinkers who get more academic respect — the Alvin Plantingas of the world rather than the Henry Morrises, even if their views seem just as crazy from a naturalistic perspective. But Morris may have done more to shape the landscape of religious commitments and beliefs than any apologist who works in a philosophical rather than pseudoscientific idiom.

bookmark_borderWafa Sultan interview

There’s an interesting selection from an interview with Wafa Sultan, a secular Arab-American, broadcast on Al Jazeera. (Thanks to D J Grothe for mentioning this.) It’s an eloquent expression of secularist frustration with fundamentalist Islam.

It’s unfortunate that this appears on the web site of MEMRI, a right-wing Islamophobic organization who I don’t trust very much. Still, just because they have an eye out for anything that puts Islam or Arabs in a bad light, they occasionally come across some sensible critiques of Islam as well.