Monthly Archives: June 2011

We’ve got a highway!

Our local atheist meetup group has adopted a highway. More specifically, 2.6 miles of highway just outside of Cohoes, New York.

highwaysign

That’s me on the left there. (Many more photos here.) We just wrapped up our first highway cleanup event. Eight people showed up, and over the course of half the full route, we went through over a dozen trash bags. Lots of litter… mostly plastic cups, cigarette packs and butts, beer cans, energy drinks, and random bits of paper and foam packaging.

Things we learned today, as said on Facebook by Rick, the event’s organizer:

  • Apparently, high proportions of the nation’s dwindling number of smokers are drawn, irresistibly, to Cohoes, NY, much in the way that visionaries flocked to Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
  • Litterers exhibit a strong preference for Budweiser, Red Bull, Five Hour Energy and Newports.
  • Unlike love, Styrofoam is forever.

I got a nice sunburn, and I’m looking forward to doing this again – with a bigger group so we can split up and do the whole route.

Give them the exemptions–it will backfire.

The New York state Senate is currently mulling over a bill to legalize gay marriage in New York, finally bringing marriage equality to one of the most famously liberal states in America. There’s just one little nit to pick first: religious groups, like the Catholic church, are insisting that lawmakers write exemptions into the law allowing them to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

I say we should give them what they want.

Despite the stereotype of hard-core conservative Catholicism, recent polling shows that as many as 43% of American Catholics support the rights of same-sex couples to marry, with another 31% supporting civil unions that are equal in all but name. Imagine nearly half of the Catholic population suddenly being legally at odds with their own church. This organization that they’ve made such a central part of their identity suddenly becomes a caricature of itself, sticking dogmatically to old, hateful moral ideas they’ve long since discarded.

And it’s not just the Catholics. Part of what keeps people in organized religions is the idea that they’re a part of some great force of moral authority. Hundreds of thousands of liberal Christians officially ally themselves with anti-gay groups without even recognizing it. But when a gay Christian couple approaches their church to ask them to perform a marriage ceremony, only to find themselves tossed aside as immoral garbage because of the bigoted teachings of the larger church, they’ll become disillusioned with the body of the church and may start to question the claims of authority it makes on other issues.

So as I said before, let the bigoted religious groups refuse to perform marriage ceremonies. It’ll be a good way to sort out the hateful fools from the more reasonable folks, and it’ll push people to leave organized religions and thus force church officials to come to grips with just how out of touch they are with the rest of humanity.

Church vandalized with FSM graffiti… help them out or not? [Update: probably not.]

**Please read the updates at the end before considering donating.**

Last night, some vandals took it upon themselves to spray paint symbols and slogans related to the Flying Spaghetti Monster all over two Christian churches in Bend, Oregon. It’s a dick move; there’s no justification for this sort of stupid behavior. I don’t care if it’s a church; I don’t care how offensive I find their message; you don’t attack someone’s property.

Bobby Henderson, the “prophet” of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, released a statement about the vandalism:

This is not ok.  This is counter to everything we stand for and acts like these only set back our cause.  I don’t know who did this, but I will try to find out.

Over at Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta started a cleanup fund for the church, calling for atheists to find it in our hearts to chip in. (If you want, you can do so below.)

[donation widget removed. see the update.]

There’s a lot of disagreement in the atheist blogs(among commenters, at least) about whether or not atheists should be donating to a church at all, even for something like this. After all, say the opponents, this’ll just free up their money to spread their message, and judging from what church officials have said about the perpetrators, their message is none too friendly:

“Yeah, it’s a bummer what we have to go through and redo all this for a brand new facility,” said Rod Kirk, the director of facilities for Westside Church. “But the bottom line is that God is the one that’s going to get revenge — we aren’t.”

God’s going to get revenge? Really? Yeah, that’s totally not creepy at all.

Hemant and others suggest that this would be a good opportunity to “be the change we want to see in the world,” as the saying goes. After all, we might not expect a church to pony up some cash to help out if an atheist billboard or bus ad gets vandalized; we should aim to be the bigger person.

So… what would you do? Chip in to help out a crime victim (and give atheists some good PR), or refuse on principle to donate to a religious organization?

* UPDATE *

It turns out that this church is much less than friendly. This comes straight from their website:

“Are you struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions? Have you lived as a homosexual but now are looking for a way out. [sic] You have come to the right place. New Dawn offers hope and help to people seeking freedom from homosexuality.

This is a group that gets tax-free donations to support the unscientific, hateful idea that homosexuality is a disorder that needs to be cured. So… they can kindly get fucked, as far as I’m concerned.

* UPDATE 2 *

Hemant has posted some followup to the story, including a video from the local news covering the fundraising effort.

You worship a monster.

A while ago at work I overheard a couple of coworkers talking about The Secret, a silly bit of pseudoscience that claims that any intentions you “put out into the universe” will somehow attract whatever it is you intend. For example, if you “put it out into the universe” that you want a new car, eventually you’ll get one. It’s a dumb idea, I know. Our thoughts don’t actually affect reality outside of what they lead us to do.

But there’s a dark side to this kind of belief. You see, according to The Secret, everything that happens is the result of our intentions. Sure, when we get that big bonus at work, it’s a sign of the power of our intentions. But when a tsunami hits and kills us and hundreds of thousands of others, it’s really just because not one of those hundreds of thousands of people really wanted to be safe from tsunamis – or, worse, that more of them wanted to die in a tsunami than wanted to be kept safe. In other words, as soon as you get outside of this sappy, fluffy, happy-go-lucky, upper-middle-class, first world life, The Secret starts becoming horrifying. Everything bad that happens is either because of too many people wanting it to happen or not enough people wanting it not to happen.

With The Secret, though, at least we can only blame ourselves. If the so-called Law of Attraction were true, we could do something about it.

When you believe in an omnipotent god that you call perfectly good, you’re in an even worse situation. Because you’re stuck believing in a being that is capable of literally anything, but which (for whatever reason) still decides to take a course of action that engenders massive amounts of suffering. An omnipotent being could, of course, achieve its goals through any means it decides to use. So if it achieves its goals through means that require human suffering, the only logical conclusion is that it prefers human suffering to the absence thereof.

And we’re absolutely unable to make the situation any better.

I’ve seen Christians extol the virtues of their god by talking about how everyone feels God’s love in their lives. Tell that to the African boy that just starved to death, in agony and terror, because a parasitic worm burrowed its way into his large intestine and siphoned off all the nutrients from the tiny amount of food he managed to scavenge. Tell him that it happened because your god loves us all equally and doesn’t wish for us to suffer. Yes, clearly your happy-clappy scripture is a comfort to people who aren’t as pampered and privileged as you are in a rich first world country.

If you believe in an omnipotent god, and you believe that everything which happens is a part of that god’s plan, you worship a monster. There’s no other way to put it.

This is what debating a creationist looks like

Richard Dawkins is a patient, patient man. Wendy Wright is a creationist nutjob with a disturbing amount of political clout. The following interview comes from The Genius of Charles Darwin, a series of shows Dawkins produced back in 2008. I don’t think I could’ve taken such willful stupidity for as long as he did.

I watched the whole thing. I feel unclean.