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I Once Was Lost (About 30 Minutes Ago)

13 Aug

Should have brought the sat nav.

My family and I moved into a new house about two weeks ago.  We bought a small home in a quiet, established area with tall trees, lawn-obsessed neighbors, and their hilarious Yorkshire terrier that cowers in fright every time he sees you ambling down the sidewalk. One of my son’s favorite new things to do is to take an evening “walk” around our neighborhood.  This typically includes him zooming down the sidewalks on his Buzz Lightyear bicycle, stopping at corners and looking behind as he waits for my husband and I to catch up.  We play at this for about half an hour and then head home.

Tonight, however, my husband said he wanted to get some unpacking done and some pictures on hung on the walls so I volunteered to go on the walk with my son.  Alone.  Everything was going along pleasantly for the first part of the trip.  He was doing a great job of following directions… not getting too far ahead, stopping at every corner to wait.  There was a pleasant breeze and the smell of someone’s dinner just off the backyard grill. I was enjoying myself so much that I zoned out for a few moments and stopped paying attention to what street we were on or how many turns we had made.

You can guess what happened next.  I stopped at a stop sign, looked around to try and get my bearings and realized… I was lost.  Okay, well maybe not exactly lost but definitely turned around.

I have a rather keen since of direction.  I’ve traveled, seen a bit of the world, and have gotten turned around in some unfamiliar cities (Yes, I’m talking about you, Dublin). Usually it is no big deal, because usually I’m not alone.

The sun was setting, and as I wandered I noticed it growing darker.  Soon, the cars that passed us by all had their headlights on. Lawn sprinklers on automatic timers suddenly burst to life. My son, though thrilled to still be outside at such a time (and even more thrilled with the lawn sprinklers) soon began to repeat the same expectant question.  Mommy, are we lost?

The first thing that came to my mind when I realized that I actually might not be able to get us home on my own was that surely my husband would notice it getting dark and wonder what happened.  He’d get in his car and drive around the neighborhood until he found us.  He’d definitely do that.  Right?

I needed someone to come bail me out of my mess.  I needed a savior.

And when you stop and think about it, isn’t that life in microcosm?  It is a big, scary world that doesn’t seem to make much sense.  It is terrifying to think about making the wrong turn, taking the wrong job, marrying the wrong spouse, selecting the wrong financial investment. This holds especially true if you, like me, were raised to have little confidence in your own decision-making abilities.  Add to that the fact that so much of life is out of our control anyway.  Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what decisions or choices you make.  Things inexplicably happen and you have to find a way to deal.

With so many ways to go wrong, get lost, or just plain fuck up… it is easy to see at least part of theism’s appeal.  We all want to think that there is a guiding force that is acting on our behalf.  I was speaking with a coworker last week.  She was having some electrical work done on her home.  The wiring was in such need of repair that after looking at the home the electrician told her he couldn’t believe the place had not yet burned down. “I must have angels watching over me,” she said.  I thought that she should try telling that to all of the people who have lost everything (including love ones) in home fires and see what they have to say about angels.

But even I wanted to believe that someone was out there looking for me as I wandered in the half-dark.  Turns out I wasn’t lost.  Not really.  I started trying to make turns only going East toward the main road through our neighborhood and even though I didn’t initially recognize any of the street names, I soon found myself back on the same street I’d started from about three or four blocks down from my house.

So, what say you, reader?  Do you think it is ingrained in our very nature to call upon divine help even when there is no evidence that it ever works? Is the human need to make sense of an impersonal, random and senseless universe so overwhelming that we will literally make up a Sky Helper to whom we appeal? Let me know your thoughts.

And next time I take a walk, I’m just going to bring my iPhone.  Seriously.  Who gets lost in suburbia these days?

Lazy Atheist

1 Jun

Somebody should really spank me.  Kidding.  Maybe.

Seriously, though.  I have been very lazy and neglectful with this blog.  I was rolling along just fine for a while and goodness knows the religious whackaloons don’t give me any shortage of material.  Maybe it was boredom. Or laziness. Or the feeling that I’m such a small voice in a big, crazy world.  I think maybe everyone trying to establish or maintain an online presence has at some point in time battled feelings of irrelevance.

I needed inspiration.  I needed Damon Fowler and Jessica Ahlquist.

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week The Non-Prophets supported by the fine folks over at the Atheist Community of Austin.  They interviewed two teenagers who against all odds are standing up for the separation of church and state provided for us in the Constitution.  I had been keeping up with their stories, but hearing their own voices speak out on that podcast was a revelation.

In case you aren’t aware of their stories, I’ll briefly try to summarize.  Damon just graduated from high school in Bastrop, Louisiana.  He sent an email to school administrators stating that if a Christian prayer was recited at graduation, he would file a complaint with the ACLU.  My understanding of the situation is that the school was further informed of the illegality of the Christian graduation prayer.  Word got out that Damon, an atheist, set the wheels in motion for the prayer to be removed.  The slackjawed mouthbreathers of Bastrop, LA bullied and threatened Damon.  His own parents kicked him out of his house.  In the end, the graduation prayer went through and now there might be legal action against the school for this violation of the Constitution.  Damon, for his part, now has the full attention of the atheist movement as well as a respectable college fund.  His Facebook page is Support Damon.

Jessica is in a similar situation.  She is an atheist attending high school in Cranston, Rhode Island.  This Rhode Island community is predominantly Catholic.  When Jessica requested that a prayer be removed from the wall of the public school she attends, she was met with the bullying and animosity of her schoolmates.  She is currently involved in legal action to have the prayer removed.  While she has the support of her family, she is only a sophomore at this school and will continue to attend during the course of the legal proceedings.  Her Facebook page is Support the Removal of the Cranston High School West Prayer.

I cannot thank these brave students enough.  Listening to their interviews woke me out of my laziness and reminded me just how critical atheist activism is.  I admire them for coming to their atheism at such a young age.  I was not that clear-thinking in high school.  Even if I had been, I don’t think I would have had the nerve to stand up for what is right.  I would have been afraid of what my parents and community would say.  I would have been worried about losing friends.  But too long have atheists been closeted in intimidated silence.  People like Damon and Jessica are paving the way for more and more atheists to come out of hiding and to make their stand.

Also, I should note that religious people should be thanking Damon and Jessica as well.  They are not only acting for “atheist rights.”  They are not taking a stand only because the school-sanctioned prayers offended them personally.  They are speaking out because these prayers are in violation of the Constitution. That same Constitution protects Christians from being forced to say Muslim prayers.  Or Muslims being forced to say Hindu prayers.  Or Hindus…  You get the point.  The separation of church and state was not intended by our founding fathers to cripple religion.  It was designed to protect religious freedom.

Please stop by their Facebook pages and tell them thank you.  Damon and Jessica, we need more people out there like you.

Thanks to them, I am all fired up again. I am committing right now to posting a new blog article once per week.  Please do your part and share, share, share.

My Response to Georgia Purdom, Answers in Genesis

10 Mar

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called Anthropocentrism: All of God’s Special Little SnowflakesI was fortunate enough to have this republished on PZ Myers’ blog Pharyngula as a guest post. (Many thanks to PZ, by the way).  The comments from Pharyngula readers were overwhelmingly positive and for a few moments I felt like my humble little blog was actually relevant and that I was contributing to a larger conversation.

Guess who else wants in on the conversation?  Why, none other than the young earth creationists over at Answers in Genesis.  Apparently, Georgia Purdom read my guest post and had a few things to say about it.  You can read her response here if you like.  I’m not so green at this blogging stuff that I don’t know when you have something to say about someone else’s blog post, you link back to it for your readers.  Naturally, Purdom didn’t link back to Pharyngula or to The Cupcake Atheist.  Wouldn’t want her readers to go clicking around and stumble upon something contradictory, now would we?

Now, when I say my blog is humble, I mean tiny and (with the exception of a few devout readers) mostly irrelevant. I’m still pretty new at this.  Going up against AiG would be (dare I use the analogy) a David and Goliath scenario.  Likewise, trying to persuade Purdom and the young-earthers is a poor use of my time.  If hundreds of years of scientific study, multiple converging lines of evidence and the entire scientific consensus can’t convince them their beliefs are foolish, then Cupcake here doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance.

However, since Purdom expressed such a personal concern about my son’s upbringing and about my ability as a mother I’ll happily take the time to respond.

She writes: “her son asked, ‘Mommy, are we animals?’ To which the mother replied, ‘Yes.’ Then the young boy said, ‘But, Mommy, we seem . . . different.’ Out of the mouths of babes!” As though my son’s observation about humans favors her point.  My son is bright.  Of course humans are different from other animals and, naturally, he noticed.  We have large brains, a capacity for language, art, music, etc.  We are fascinating and complex animals, but animals none-the-less.  From a biological perspective, to insist that humans are anything but animals is lunacy.

Furthermore, why is it dehumanizing to accept that humans are animals but somehow less dehumanizing to believe we are the product of something supernatural? In a previous response to Purdom, blogger Tantalus Prime had this to say: Here is what the The KJV has to say about what humans are: ‘And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.’ So, if claiming man is an animal dehumanizes man, then just what the bloody hell does claiming he is a bag of dirt do? I’ll take being an animal any day of the week.

Well said, Tantalus.  I couldn’t have said it any better myself, so I didn’t.

Purdom continues: “How does knowing that I am a living thing, here and alive, and have a temporary place in the natural world (which is not in any way supreme to animals) give meaning, purpose, and hope in life? It doesn’t! If she really believes that God does not exist and when we die, that’s it, then why bother trying to convince people she’s right?” Knowing that I am a part of the natural world and that I am the product of millions of years of gradual evolution leaves me awestruck.  It is meaningful to be able to trace my origins back through the fossil record and to think I’m here because of time and selection.  Out of the endless set of possible people allowed by our DNA, I’m here.  Ordinary me.  And what makes it even more beautiful is the fact that it is only temporary.  I am transient matter.  How precious my time here on Earth is!  I don’t need supernatural explanations to feel like a part of something bigger than myself.  Every atom in my fragile, temporary body is tied to a 13.7 billion-year-old universe.

And that is flipping awesome.

And, lastly, why do I try to convince people that I’m right?  Are you kidding me?  This question from the representative of an organization whose reason for existing is to try and convince people that a 2,000 year-old book is literally true from beginning to end?  I don’t need to be ‘right.’  I do my best to not be dogmatically bound to any set of ideas.  I am willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.  Unfortunately for AiG, the evidence doesn’t favor their version of reality. If my blog post about anthropocentrism ‘convinces’ someone by turning them on to science and skepticism then yay for me.

In an odd turn, Purdom goes on to ask what I would do if my son were to grow up to be a murderer. ‘But if the Bible isn’t true and humans are animals, then she wouldn’t have a basis for saying what her son did was wrong, because after all, he’s just an animal, and morality doesn’t apply to animals.’ That statement is, of course, wrong and I’m not going to rehash the whole secular morality thing here.  If you like, you can read my recent post about atheism and morality. But the bottom line is that if Purdom needs ancient texts and an invisible space daddy to help her distinguish right from wrong, then that is not morality.

She concludes her post by quoting some Bible passages and with an expression of concern for my son. Her concern is patronizing and unwarranted.

My son is healthy and happy.  He is bright, inquisitive, and affectionate.  He is being raised in a home where he is valued and loved, where his questions and ideas are welcome and critical thinking is encouraged.  He has a mother and a father who spend time reading with him, playing games and doing puzzles.  And yes, we take him to the zoo.

Trust me, Georgia.  The kid is alright.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Indoctrinated

5 Mar

“The obsession with children, and with rigid control over their upbringing, has been part of every system of absolute authority… Indoctrination of the young often has the reverse effect, as we also know from the fate of many secular ideologies, but it seems that the religious will run this risk in order to imprint the average boy or girl with enough propaganda.  What else can they hope to do?”

–       Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great

“Let children learn about different faiths, let them notice their incompatibility and let them draw their own conclusions about the consequences of that incompatibility….Let them make up their own minds when they are old enough to do so.”

–      Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

This picture represents my friend Bob. Bob can't hear you because Bob is too entrenched in her own ideologies.

 

The other day someone called me indoctrinated.  Usually, such a claim would bounce right off me but this time I was called indoctrinated by the one person in the world I would label most responsible for attempting to indoctrinate me.  So as not to reveal her identity all over the interwebs, we’ll just call her “Bob.” Let me give you some context:

Bob and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum on almost every subject.  We got into an argument that started off on the topic of politics but which inevitably turned to religion.  She basically made the assertion that my higher education indoctrinated me into godless liberalism.  It is a claim she has made before, but for some reason the use of the term indoctrination was like a slap across the face.  For a moment, I didn’t realize what had actually transpired.  Then, slowly, my brain registered that someone I viewed as so utterly blinded by cultural and religious indoctrination had turned the term around and applied it to me.  What in the world was going on?  Was it opposite day?

To be indoctrinated means to be imbued with specific biased beliefs or a specific point of view.  So, this is what Bob believes happened to me as a result of higher education.  Our colleges and universities are just big indoctrination machines, taking in sweet children raised in good Christian homes and cranking out liberal heathens.

There are some serious problems with Bob’s claim.  First and foremost, I was indoctrinated long before I ever set foot in a university.  I was raised in a Christian home, called a “Christian child” (even though I hadn’t the wherewithal to choose that label for myself at that point in my development), and made to memorize prayers and catechisms. I was taught that my parents’ belief system was superior to all other belief systems, but I wasn’t told how that could possibly be.  I was taught about heaven and hell and who gets sent where.

As a young adult, I was a choir girl, a Sunday school teacher and eventually a Bible camp counselor.  I made life decisions based on the myths my parents filled my head with as a child, including which schools to go to.  I chose to attend private, religious universities for both undergraduate and graduate studies. The result of all this?  At some point I became a full-on, brainwashed, atheist zombie.

In truth, education helped me unravel the years of religious indoctrination I endured as a child.  This is not to say that everyone needs a college degree to be an atheist, or that all atheists are college graduates.  Perhaps some people are smart enough to figure it out on their own, but not me.  I needed distance from my family and my upbringing.  I needed access to a ton of books and enlightened professors who welcomed me to study, think and decide for myself. I found all this while in school and yet years passed before I finally called myself an atheist.

Bob is the product of indoctrination.  She was raised in the religion of her parents who were raised in the religion of their parents.  As a child, she was brought up in a primarily Christian nation and so she believes there is profound truth to that particular worldview. I’ve never asked but in all likelihood it has never occurred to her what beliefs she would so vehemently defend if she had been born and raised in ancient Egypt.  Or modern India, Saudi Arabia or anywhere Christianity is not the dominant religion.

Perhaps saddest of all, she is the product of a failed education system. She was taught that the United States is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles, even though in reality the founding fathers were men of reason who knew the difference between what it means to be Christian and what it means to be an American. She wasn’t taught about evolution in school because it is controversial, although the controversy is entirely cultural and not scientific.  Publicly in school and privately at home, she heard the same consistent message and learned that to question that message too deeply would be denying who she is as a human being.

I heard the message too, but I was fortunate enough to get away from it long enough to have some exposure to different ideas. My family taught me what to think.  As I matured, I learned how to think.  That doesn’t sound like indoctrination to me.

It should come as no surprise to you readers that Bob also takes issue with the way I’m raising my own child.  I have a strong desire to break the cycle of religious indoctrination. This is mistakenly taken for indoctrinating my child into atheism.  I wouldn’t call my child an atheist child or a Christian child, or any sort of child.  Those labels have no meaning to children too young to sort through these complexities for themselves.  Nor is my child denied access to religious education.  We have 3 versions of the Bible, an English version Koran, writings by different Buddhist thinkers, in addition to all of the books on theology and world religions my husband and I amassed in college.  My goal is not to protect him from being exposed to religion, but rather to present religion in a comparative context and to let the glaring incompatibilities speak for themselves.

In the end, my altercation with Bob was a learning experience for me.  I don’t think Bob got much out it of it, however.  As is sometimes the case with heated debates, each side just ends up getting further entrenched in their original position. You can’t reason someone out of a belief that was never based in reason to begin with.  Poor Bob.


Prayer is mean. I mean it.

1 Mar

“You know the insults I receive, and my shame and dishonor; my foes are all known to you…  Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them… Add guilt to their guilt; may they have no acquittal from you.  Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.”

– – Psalm 69 19, 24, 27-28 An “Imprecatory” Psalm

“As far as I’m concerned, all prayers for conversion are imprecatory. They are secret wishes that someone you care about will become a slave.”

– – Tony VanderHeyden

If you are a non-religious person, at some point in time you may have encountered the believer who promises (usually publicly) to “pray for you.”  If you haven’t encountered this yet, don’t worry.  You will.  If you are a believer reading this, then first and foremost welcome and good for you!  Secondly, at some point in time you most likely prayed for someone, for either their physical, emotional or spiritual health. Believers are persistent about the power of prayer in all matters: health, happiness, prosperity and spiritual well being.   This begs the question, why are there so many unhealthy, unhappy, economically challenged, malcontented people on this planet?  The ineffectiveness of prayer is a topic for whole separate article.  In this post, I want to focus exclusively on how prayer, like faith, is something that is often taken for granted as a good and necessary thing.  Upon closer investigation, prayer (even the well-intentioned prayers of a kindhearted believer) is not only irrational, but immoral.

I love you, and I will pray for you. This is what I heard from a family member the other day in response to my challenging her statement that Jesus lives in her heart and that she cannot live without him.  My challenge wasn’t vicious, I simply asked her to substantiate the claim she was making by providing some evidence.  Since the evidence was all “in her heart” she was unable to do so.  Whether out of genuine concern or because she lacked a more substantive response, she said she would pray for me.

I’ll admit I never quite know how to behave when someone says they will pray for me.  The soft, sweet cupcakey part of me wants to be grateful.  The person is saying, in the only way she knows how, that she loves me and is concerned about me.  On the other hand, the not-so-cupcakey part of me gets peeved at the condescension of it.  As though my non-belief is something to be pitied.  When you really think about it, if friends or family members are praying that you will find faith they are effectively saying you are not good enough the way you are.  You could be a wonderful mother or father.  You could be warm, hard working, loyal to your friends, helpful to your community and an all-around kickass person to be with.  It doesn’t matter to the person praying for you.  To them, you are lost without god.  They are praying for you to abandon reason and turn to prayer just like them.

In short, they are hoping not that you’ll lose your mind, but that you’ll willingly set it aside.

It isn’t just prayers for conversion that set me on edge.  It is the concept of prayer in general.  People who are praying believe that they have a direct line of communication with a magical being somewhere who will consider their requests and possibly grant them wishes. This makes me massively uncomfortable because someone who believes they have a power like that on their side are not likely to look at difficult situations through the lens of reality.  Consider, for example, someone who has a sick family member. Many friends will say “I’ll pray for you” or “You’re in our prayers.”  If that sick family member recovers, the person might say “Thank you for all your prayers!”  What a prickish, selfish thing to say.  Do the prayerful not consider the doctors and nurses who devoted themselves to years of medical training?  Are they not mindful of all of the people out there who were also prayed for but who did not recover? It is a trick of the mind to selectively remember only the successes and to disregard the times when prayer doesn’t work.

Even worse are the people who attribute the success of prayer and the intervention of a supernatural being to the most mundane and inconsequential occurrences.  Thank god I found my missing ring under the sofa!  God heard my prayer!  Thank you, god, for letting me find exact change in my car seat at the drive-thru.  God is good all the time! Thank you, god, for letting me win that raffle. Praise the lord!  The belief that a supernatural being intervened on your behalf to help you solve your ridiculously petty problems while letting millions of people around the world suffer hunger, disease, and misery is completely deluded, self-centered and insulting to the rest of humanity.  It is dehumanizing and immoral.

When I was religious, I used to pray for others.  Now that I am an atheist, I have a difficult time remembering what exactly my intentions were when I was praying.  I think they were good.  Still, I have come to view prayer as a particularly wicked manifestation of a selfish and twisted worldview.  I can’t help but look at the world around me and see beauty alongside suffering. I predict with confidence the lives of every single person reading this blog post will be filled with moments of overwhelming joy, debilitating sadness and whole lot of in-between.

It is almost as though there is no guiding hand at all.  The universe operates exactly as it would if there were no godly intervention whatsoever.

I chose to respond to my prayerful family member not with vitriol but with an appeal to her sense of humanity.  I asked to trade my prayer time for something practical.  I suggested that instead of praying for me, she could spend the time she would have spent in prayer volunteering at an animal rescue or reading to children at the library. After all, it is up to us to make the world a better place for one another.  No god is going to do it for us.

DISCUSSION QUESTION:  How do you, the reader, handle it when someone says they will pray for you?  If you are a religious person, how do you feel about praying for someone else?

Making love to Dawkins’ brain, then leaving $5 for a cab: An interview with Jake Farr-Wharton

20 Feb

Hello, Cupcake readers. Meet Super Jake.

Jake is a Freethinker, Secularist, Skeptic, Naturalist, Atheist, Anti-theism-ist, Humanist, LGBT Activist, Garden Gnome Makeup Artist, Writer, Underpants Enthusiast and Self-Professed 2011 Sexiest Atheist on God’s Green Earth.

When fighting irrationality, his weapon of choice is the ImaginaryFriendsShow.com podcast, which was recently nominated for an atheism/agnosticism award on About.com which makes it in the top 5 of atheist/agnostic podcasts IN THE WORLD!  You can click here to vote for Jake’s podcast and move it from its current ranking at #5 all the way to the top.

Also, Jake has recently published his book Letters to Christian Leaders; Hollow be thy claimsThe book is now available on Amazon.com

Jake was kind enough to spend some time speaking with me about his new book.  Enjoy!

Q: Welcome to The Cupcake Atheist, Jake.  I really enjoyed your book. One of the things I enjoyed most was that each chapter begins with an excerpt taken from the speech or writings of an evangelical Christian, followed by your rebuttal.  Why did you choose to use your subjects’ own words and do you think that is important to the aim of your book?

A. I read a lot of atheist literature and find that atheist books often misrepresent Christians and in misrepresenting them they distance themselves from them. Atheists who likely spent the majority of their lives as atheists often write these books, and they are trying to put in words what they think the Christian or Muslim believes.  What I wanted to do in my book is quote word-for-word what these Christians are being taught by these morons, by these disgusting people who are trying to infect the minds of potentially productive, intelligent people.

Q: Did your own experiences with religion influence that decision?

A: Effectively, I was raised a fundamentalist Christian. When I was a Christian, I’m not sure I would have appreciated an atheist screaming in my ear.  I absolutely would have listened if an atheist or scientist would have gotten up in front of my church and debated my priest and taken apart his own messages.  So that is what I wanted to do in my book.

Q: The foreword of your book indicates that the rationalist message is “getting out but it isn’t being bought.”  Why do you think this is the case?

A:  It is the way the message it is packaged and sold.  You can scream all you want at a believer or a theist.  It simply doesn’t work. The message will never reach them.  Their mind is blocked and that’s it. I absolutely love Dawkins and have read most of his books.  I’m an avid lover of biology and genetics and I would just love to make love to Dawkins’ brain. He is a really incredible person.  It is the way he structures his message.  Effectively, his texts are structured toward people who already get the message and just want to learn more about it.  No Christian wants to think about their belief in god as a “delusion.” I’ve chosen a different attack.  I want to let the theists know that it’s not their fault.  They were complicit, but in most cases they were just children who were being taught bullshit by people they trusted.  How were they to know what they were being taught is completely contrary to all evidence?

Q: Can you speak to why you chose to target Christian leaders as opposed to all believers?

A: By leaving the believers and the individual theists out of the attack and going right for the jugular, right for the people who disseminate that message of garbage we leave the believer to think on their own.  They don’t have to challenge themselves because it is their pastors who are being challenged.  I’m not pointing at individual believers and saying, “hey, pick up your brain, you left it behind.”  It’s the pastor who is saying that he has this beautiful new cloak on but no one else can see it.

Q: A quote from the book: “It seems all Christianity is good for is holding humanity back.”  In your opinion, has religion anything positive to offer humankind?

A: Yes, it does, and not just Christianity but all religion. I spoke with someone the other day that is going through cancer. Basically, this person said that when he was told he has cancer he immediately sunk into a deep depression.  He almost put off treatment, but it was faith in god that helped bring him through. This is a very specific situation.  I don’t think this benefit translates to belief in general.  Religion has something to offer in very small, personal ways.  To the greater society, it just impedes us and keeps us from progressing. If religion is to have any benefit to society, it is by keeping the hell away from society.  It needs to be kept in the home, out of government buildings and off the streets.  You have a religious belief? Great, keep it inside your home.

Q: What topics might you address in future works?

A: I don’t want to make my next book all about religion. I am a lover of science and skepticism, and I want to target some other things such as homeopathy.  I want to smash the shit out of homeopathy.  Also, ghosts and these sort of ridiculous things that permeate culture. Then urinate on them.  I’m not sure you can urinate on the entirety of homeopathy, but its only water anyway. Then, my plan is to take on Islam.  I will not sleep until I get a fatwa. If I could get a cleric to put out a fatwa of non-communication towards Jake Farr-Wharton, that would be great.

Q: You mention noted atheists and skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer.  Do you have a favorite public skeptic?

A: I look up to a few people for different reasons.  I like the work of Guy P. Harrison.  He wrote 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God and Race and Reality.  He respects the individual believer.  I love CJ Werleman who wrote God Hates You, Hate Him Back. It analyzes the Bible from a skeptical point of view.  I love Richard Dawkins for his work on evolutionary biology. One of my favorite books is The Greatest Show on Earth, his most recent one.  Neil deGrasse Tyson tops my list though, he speaks and I have a nerdgasm!

Q: Lastly, what is your favorite dessert?

A: I’ve got coeliac’s disease, so I can’t digest wheat or gluten.  That being said, there are very specific desserts that I take immense pleasure in.  One is Orange and Poppyseed Friands, but only when done well.  I love my Nona’s Tiramisu.  She makes it just for me, and being Italian, she puts in too much alcohol and you end up drunk after eating it.

Atheist Activism: An Interview with Jonathan Meddings

17 Feb

Jonathan Meddings is the Queensland State Convener of the Freethought University Alliance in Australia, President of the James Cook University Society of Atheist Philosophy, Head Coach of the North Queensland Fencing Association and member of the Humanist Society of Queensland.

He studies Medical Laboratory Science Honours at James Cook University and his research involves serology and haematology in freshwater turtles.

His writing includes contributions to the Young Australian Skeptics and those of his own blog The Carapace. He is currently writing a book about atheism which he aims to have completed by the end of 2011.

Jonathan was kind enough to spend some time talking with me about atheist activism.

Q. How did you become involved in atheist activism?

A. I first read The God Delusion in 2007 during a trip to Malaysia. Dawkins had reaffirmed my atheism by supporting it with valid arguments. Over the next couple of years I continued reading books by the likes of Hitchens and Harris and found that the arguments supporting atheism far outweighed those supporting religion; although I didn’t really become active about my atheism until March of 2010, when I attended the Global Atheist Convention. It was the largest gathering of atheists in history as I understand it.  Meeting so many other atheists there who were doing so much inspired to get involved. I also had the opportunity to get my copy of The God Delusion signed by Dawkins which was nice, even though I waited in line for nearly two hours.

Q. Did you finally get to meet him?

A. I had enough time to congratulate him on his talk before being ushered away by security trying to keep the line moving.

Q. As a movement, atheists are generally described as notoriously difficult to organize.  It is often likened to trying to herd cats.  How do you get atheists involved and working together toward a goal?

A. This is something I have experienced as President of an atheist club. I think it is fair to say that atheists are generally individuals and freethinkers whereas the religious follow a group mentality and are more like a herd of cattle or sheep. I am not sure how to go about organizing atheists, but I think if they see that we are acting to create positive change they will get on board.

Q. Tell our readers about your organizations and your blog The Carapace. What would you like them to know?

A. Well I run a club at my university called the Society of Atheist Philosophy and I represent the Freethought University Alliance for my state. The Freethought Alliance is a coalition of atheist, humanist, secular and skeptic groups from around the country. I started The Carapace after attending the Atheist Convention and meeting scientists and skeptics who are also bloggers like PZ Myers and Kylie Sturgess. Before that I didn’t really know what a blog was to be honest.

Q. Australia has an openly atheist PM, whereas the U.S has an unspoken religious test for holding our highest political office.  What political challenges do you see ahead for atheists in Australia?

A. Well, I think it is important to note that while our Prime Minister is an atheist one of her first acts of office was to ensure over $200 million dollars to fund the school chaplaincy program. In addition, she remains opposed to gay marriage. I think it has less to do with one’s religion or lack of religion and more to do with whether or not one has the courage to hold to personal convictions in the face of political pressure from the religious right.

Q. Do you have a favorite public skeptic or atheist?  Someone who has inspired you?

A. As someone involved in science I enjoy the work of Dawkins, Myers and Harris. I find that my views in particular are very much aligned with those of Harris.

Q. And how do you find your views are in line with those of Harris?

A. I like the way he has approached the problem of Islam and is going where few others have dared by discussing science and morality.

Regarding Islam I think he and I are very much on the same page. It is sad that people usually misunderstand what people like Harris and I are trying to say and instead label us as racists or xenophobes. However, although I cannot speak for Harris, I think we both understand the difference between Muslims as people who identify with the religion of Islam and Islamists who follow the political ideology of Islam.

It is an important distinction to understand because although all Islamists are Muslim, not all Muslims are Islamists. That doesn’t mean that I have to agree with Muslims who say that Islam is a religion of peace though – and I don’t. Having looked at Islam objectively I find it is more of a political ideology than a religion and that at best it can be called little more than a religion of hate. In my view the Islamists are following the objectively true Islam.

It seems to me that there is no such thing as religious moderates, only moderates who wrongly consider themselves religious, and this is especially true in the case of Muslims. I am not saying that there aren’t moderates out there who hold some religious views. I just think it reaches a point where one is ignoring so much of what their religion teaches that they either have to start a new religion or stop identifying with their current one.

Q. A hot topic in the atheist movement is how best to engage religious people in dialogue and how tolerant or accommodating of religion we should be.  What are your thoughts on this?

A. Well that is a tough one. I think if people are reasonable you should try to reason with them. If they are unreasonable though you are just wasting your time, because you can’t reason someone out of a belief they weren’t reasoned into in the first place. For example I really don’t think you could have a reasonable discussion with a creationist. It reaches a point where some people are just so ignorant that when you talk to them it is like you are speaking a different language, which suits them just fine seeing as they don’t care what you have to say anyway, they have already made up their minds, which remain very much closed to rational discussion.

Q. As a researcher and someone involved in science, what are your thoughts on the current state of science education in Australia and/or the U.S.?  Do you feel like science education and rationalism are related and if so, how?

A. Well in my experience as a science and a research student we tend to teach science students what science has discovered, and ignore actually teaching them the scientific method. The result is that you get students who have good scientific knowledge but lack scientific intelligence. To explain that — I always say knowledge is what you know and intelligence is how you know it. That is the difference between someone who studies science and someone who is a scientist, the former can tell you a lot of scientific facts and the latter can explain them. Frankly it worries me that I know people who get to the end of their science degrees without even being able to distinguish between the general public’s definition of a theory and a scientific theory.

To answer the second part of your question — I think that all types of education should be based on rationalism, which is simply using reason and evidence to justify your conclusions, as the scientific method does. This is why creationism shouldn’t be allowed in schools. There is simply no evidence supporting it. That is why creationism cannot be taught, only preached.

Q. What are your future plans for atheist outreach?

A. Well I am in the middle of writing a book which I aim to have finished by the end of the year. I plan to keep blogging and working with the Society of Atheist Philosophy and Freethought University Alliance. I’m also currently trying to organize an atheist art exhibition to involve artists who are willing to create and display art with atheist themes. Through the Society of Atheist Philosophy I am also organizing an event on campus so people can bring their Bibles and other holy books and trade them in for sex toys, lubes and condoms. We would trade pornography but my state has strict censorship laws about that.

Q. Lastly, what is your favorite dessert?

A. That’s an easy one.  My favorite dessert is Poffertjes, which are little Dutch pancakes. They are typically served with syrup but I like them with lots of chocolate sauce.

The Rite: A Brief Movie Review

12 Feb

***Near-spoiler Alert***

This is a movie review.  If you are the type of person who gets easily angered by movie spoilers, near-spoilers, or anything that could potentially be considered a spoiler, please click somewhere else now.  Or go make yourself some hot chocolate.  Or I hear there are some adorable videos of kittens playing the piano over on YouTube.


I was very much looking forward to seeing The Rite.  I cannot resist spooky movies, especially the kind filled with creepy, Catholic hoo-hah.  Also upping the creep factor?  Sir Anthony Hopkins.  He plays an unorthodox Catholic priest who specializes in exorcisms. That is literally as much as I knew about the film before sitting down in the movie theater a few hours ago.  What I found so intriguing about The Rite is that from the previews it appeared to have a slightly skeptical flavor to it.  I had heard that Sir Hopkins himself is a doubter who was quoted in an interview as saying, “Our existence is beyond our explanation, whether we believe in God or we have religion or we’re atheist. Our existence is beyond our understanding. No one has an answer.”

Creepiness.  Acting talent.  Doubt.  All fine ingredients for the making of a great movie where religion is front and center.

In the film. a young man with a troubled homelife seeks the priesthood to get away.  After four years in seminary, he finds himself in Rome at what basically amounts to an exorcism retreat.  After expressing his doubt in the existence of demons, devils and gods to the head dress-wearing priest dude, he gets sent to observe Father Sir Hopkins perform an exorcism for “proof.”  Like a good skeptic, the troubled young priest thinks the subject of the exorcism would be better served by medical science.

However, the tables are soon turned when the doubter finds himself experiencing the supernatural firsthand. Father Sir Hopkins cautions him that, “choosing not to believe in the devil will not protect you from him.” The young man is faced with a choice: continue in his disbelief or turn to god.

The majority of the film is beautifully set against the backdrop of Rome. It is well shot and visually stunning.  Also, the acting talent assembled for this film is top notch.  It should go without saying that Sir Hopkins is absolutely convincing in his role as the elderly Jesuit exorcist.

Unfortunately, that is where my praise of this film ends.  What begins as a promising film about the intersection of faith and skepticism morphs into something else entirely.  By the end, I realized I had just watched a 114-minute long advertisement for belief.  The young apprentice exorcist provides the only skepticism in the entire movie and he ends up being totally wrong.  Please don’t mistake me, I’m not disappointed in the film because the demons end up being real and the skeptic ends up having to revise his point of view.  That is precisely what any good skeptic should do when presented with overwhelming evidence.  The real trouble occurs when doubter-priest finally accepts that god and demons are real and is immediately granted the power to cast out the nasty demons thereby saving the day.  I slowly came to the painful realization that the whole point of the film is that faith saves you where science and medicine cannot. And everybody duck because there goes my extra-large soda at the screen.

It didn’t even deliver the anticipated creepiness that I had hoped for.  The demonic possessions were pretty standard fare.  Strange, growling voices speaking Latin.  Unnatural body contortions.  Black eyes and disgusting “demon” skin.  Frankly, the most unsettling part of the entire film is a scene where Sir Hopkins is shirtless.

And speaking of Sir Hopkins, I thought he was a skeptic and a doubter.  I want to invite him over for tea, bake him some cupcakes, sit down on his lap and sweetly ask him what in the burning hell he was thinking. As a skeptic, I couldn’t imagine signing on to a project where the message is so anti-skepticism.  Even if that was not the writers’ intention, the end result is:

  1. Faith gives you automatic superpowers.  Just believe!
  2. If you are experiencing voices, disorientation, hallucinations, or skin rashes do not waste your time going to see silly doctors.  You’d better call in a priest.
  3. Doubting, questioning and critical thinking will cause you pain and confusion.

In spite of Sir Hopkins, The Rite is a faith-filled flop.  The tag line from the movie poster summarizes it adequately:  You Can Only Defeat It When You Believe.

Thank you, Australia!

3 Feb

The Freethought University Alliance in Australia made The Cupcake Atheist the featured blog in their February newsletter.  So, a thank you to them.  Pop on over to their website http://freethoughtalliance.org.au/ and show them love.

This Year in Crazy (So Far…)

31 Jan

Welcome to 2011, everyone.  We’re one month in and it promises to be as crazy as the last.   There was so much kookiness in January that it is difficult to even know where to begin.

Oh wait.  Yes, I do.  Let’s start with Harold Camping.  He is an 89-year-old, California-based Christian radio broadcaster who prophesied the end of the world in 1994 and failed miserably.  Guess what?  He’s done it again.  According to Camping and his followers, the world is due to end in rapture in May 2011.  That’s right, folks.  We have less than two months left, which is a real bitch because I was planning on attending TAM 9 in July and my husband’s car is almost paid off.

What, might you ask, would lead Camping to try to convince people that the rapture is right around the corner?  The Bible, of course.  He believes the Bible contains the date of the return of christ and that date is May 21, 2011.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  Visit his website for a full dose of crazy:  WeCanKnow.org.  His flock is out and about turning vehicles into moving billboards for his cause.  His website has a photograph of an actual billboard with the message “Noah Knew. WE Can Know.”

Oh really?  Did Noah predict the end of the world, get it completely wrong, and then have another go at it 17 years later?

What I find most staggering about the whole thing is that the sheeple who follow him have already worked out a solution to protect their beliefs if he fails yet again.  One of his followers was quoted in an MSN article as saying, “If May 21 passes and I’m still here, that means I wasn’t saved. Does that mean God’s word is inaccurate or untrue? Not at all.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40885541/ns/us_news-life/) And that really is faith in a nutshell, yes?  People hold to their beliefs even if all evidence points to the contrary?

Speaking of Noah, next on the chopping block is Ark Encounter, aka the Ark Park.  This is a creationist-themed museum/park scheduled to be built in Kentucky.  As of right now, their website indicates they have raised $930,104 of the $24.5 M that Answers in Genesis will be contributing to the project. That’s right.  They are going to spend $24.5 million dollars trying to convince people that an event for which there is no scientific evidence actually occurred.

Think about all the tangible good that could be done with $24.5 M.  Now gently put down that fork you were about to use to gouge out your eyes.

If you haven’t put your own eyes out in frustration and are still reading this, I encourage you to think about what this park actually means in terms of christian faith.  The folks over at Answers in Genesis believe that the Bible is literally true from cover to cover.  They believe literally in the story of Noah, that angry god-daddy was mad at his unruly children and thought that the best solution would be to drown all of his children in a massive flood and start over.

And they believe that this god is good and most worthy of worship.

Let’s imagine an actual human father thought his children were unruly and beyond all hope of discipline or order.  And then let’s imagine he consequently drowned them all in the bathtub.  Would we spend $24.5 M building a theme park for THAT guy?

These two stories were highly publicized and you’ve probably already read or heard about them.  I hope you don’t feel ripped off by this post, like when you turn on your favorite sitcom and realize that the lazy assholes just cobbled together a clip show.

My point in sharing these with you is that I think, to some degree, this craziness works to the advantage of the rational.  I’m not talking about the religious craziness where people hurt themselves or parents pray instead of taking their kid to the doctor.  I certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt.  This type of crazy, however, might be okay.  The more media attention this kind of insane behavior gets, the more laughable religion becomes.

So to Harold Camping and followers and to Ken Ham and all the loony-tunes over at Answers in Genesis I say, keep rocking your special brand of crazy.  And keep the cameras rolling at all times so that the whole world can see.

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