March 27


Why the Indiana RFRA is not the same as the Federal RFRA

State of Distress
State of Distress. Source: Original Work

PLEASE NOTE: A much more in depth and educated analysis can be found here. Mine is cursory and from a layman’s perspective.

Recently, there has been quite a bit of hullabaloo in Indiana and nationwide about the passing into law of SB101, Indiana’s version of the RFRA, or Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Governor Mike Pence’s defense of the bill and now law is that it is not different than the now twenty year old federal law of the same name, passed nearly unanimously and signed by then president Bill Clinton. The problem is, that is not true. Although similar on the surface, there are some important differences. Differences that I think that a lot of people in the media are not really explaining, and I hope to do so here. I myself was guilty of hopping on the bandwagon of criticism of the bill without understanding why I was doing so, and, because of that, I nearly stopped when I considered what Governor Pence was offering as defense. However, I have a feeling he was not expecting people to actually do the research he was encouraging, or they would realize what was really going on.

So, we will discuss some of the larger points, then get into the finer points after the jump.

The Federal RFRA was designed, primarily, to help Native American tribes who had come under legal attack from the federal government in projects that were threatening sacred land, as well as protecting the use of peyote in Native American religious ritual. Although it was not specifically written for Native Americans, that was the original driving factor.

Originally, it applied to the federal as well as state government, although that changed when it was ruled that it was not constitutional to cover state law in such a way, which led to the increase in states passing their own versions of the law.

Continue reading

March 22

Fighting MS without God

Orange Swirl
Orange Swirl. Source: Morguefile

One thing that has cropped up during my search for a wider realm of support during my battle with MS is the number of people who turn to religion as a support structure to help them through their own personal battles. While I have no problem with whatever one needs to help them through fighting a chronic disease like MS. A problem arises when there is an expectation that everyone else has to offer up support only in that way, and no other.

My treatment by others set aside as a needless digression, how do I fight a disease so far outside of my control when I have no belief in the supernatural?

I look to those things in my life worth living for, worth fighting the MonSter for. My wife and children are at the top of the list, with my parents and friends close behind. All very real, all very here. I place myself third, along with my writing and programming goals. These are enough to keep me breathing, keep me fighting, keep me pushing myself to my feet when I am on the floor and struggling, keep me taking my meds and doing my injections.

My pain may be great, but it is just pain. My tired and sore muscles are still mine, even if they don’t listen well.

I don’t need to look up to the sky for inspiration. I don’t need a god to take my burden; I can carry it with the help from those I love. I don’t need hollow platitudes or the empty promises of prayer to get me through the day.

Do not pity me for making it through without relying on a god. Realize I am making it through, and wonder how a simple human could do something like that.

March 16

Science Fiction – An effective treatment for Religion

Dammit, Jim, I'm a blogger, not a prophet!
Captain’s Chair. Source: Morguefile

There has been discussion after discussion on atheist message boards about the nature of religion, whether it is a mem-viru (Or mirus, as I like to call it), a con game, a method of control, a delusion, or simply wishful thinking.

There has also been discussion about what, if anything, should be done about religion due to the damage it has inflicted upon the world.

Some have suggested an active campaign to eliminate religion, and some well known atheists actually do act towards that end. The lunatic fringe have suggested the same kind of violence that religion has prompted through the ages, but, thankfully, they do not get much traction. Some, on the other end, urge just waiting it out as the world wakes up from the thousands of years of superstition that have led us here.

In my journey, I have realized that, like alcoholism, all that one can do is treat religion and help people from getting involved in it in the first place. One such treatment is science fiction.

“Science fiction?” you say, incredulous. Hear me out.

One of the primary roles of religion is to try and take the uncertainty out of the future. The future is a scary place, full of unknowns, and that is what religions deals in, providing easy answers for unknowns. The future is a favorite subject of religion, usually taking the form of a deity coming and enacting vengeance/justice on those that were bad to the followers of the religion, or broke the rules in some way. Sometimes, the future of everything is not a focus, but the future of the self. Either way, the future is assured by religion. Or, at least, if one does or believes specific things.

Then there is science fiction. It offers up possible futures, some good, some bad, but all without demanding belief. The reader enters the illusion knowing it’s an illusion. Even so, the futures are still possible. Religious futures used to be compelling and possible, but as time goes on, the amount of mental hoops one has to jump through to keep it believable increases. Yes, the same is true of outdated science fiction, but there is always new science fiction. New religions are few and far between, and are usually based on previous religions. When they are not, there tenets are usually hard for the majority to swallow, and have to rely on hiding what their tenets actually are behind cargo cult science and trying desperately to keep their beliefs under wraps, such as Scientology.

But science fiction doesn’t have to hide. Bony heads, tentacles, warp drives, and light sabers galore; science fiction has it all. And we’re not ashamed.

So, if you want a certain future that is increasingly silly and mostly bleak, stick with religion. If you want a future of hope and promise that can change based on what we know, and that no one takes seriously enough to kill over, turn to science fiction. We have conventions. Many of us are into DIY. We are geeks. And, we let you sleep in.

And we fill the same mental place as religion. You can be as serious or as relaxed as you want. You can argue about it online, or even in person. But, the likelihood that someone will kill you for your opinion is nearly nonexistent. Star Wars fans do not kill Star Trek fans. Babylon 5 fans don’t blow themselves up on buses full of Firefly fans.

Chill the fuck out. Relax, have a Pangalactic Gargleblaster, pick up some Niven, and stop fighting over whose Supreme Being is the most peaceful.

March 11

How to Disengage from Antiapologetics, Part III

Not the right way.
Not the right way. Source: Morgefile

So far, we’ve covered why you should stop debating, and how to stop. Now, we will cover how to stay away from the debate.

First things first. I am not saying you should not have an opinion. I’m not even saying you should not publicly state your opinion. What I am saying is that you should not get embroiled in lengthy debates where the only result is that everyone is stressed out an no one gets their point across.

What are some things you should do instead?

The best thing to do, of course, is to channel your feelings into something constructive. Instead of fighting about who is right online, how about you state your case in a non-combative way? Remember when I mentioned that the fence sitters were not watching? Do you know where they are?

Reading blogs and opinion pieces. Doing research.

Rather than try in vain to change the mind of a thoroughly entrenched fundamentalist, present your case without having to battle the opposing view. Start a blog, write a book, draw a comic, whatever method you prefer. You will reach more people and be more convincing if you are not going toe to toe with your opposition. the debates serve only to legitimize the other position. Why don’t people normally debate those that believe in Big Foot? Because there is no point.

Don’t legitimize the position of those you disagree with! Besides, getting into debates means you are more likely to respond in anger, and out of emotion rather than logic and thought. Isn’t rationality what we are going for? Why fight in the arena of emotion?

Or, better still, act rather than speak. how often have you seen theists attack atheists saying there are no atheist hospitals or orphanages? Be the change you want to see! Do good for the sake of good!

Finally, you could spend your life doing something completely unrelated. There is no mandate to save anyone.

To sum up, channel your energy into more productive, more successful ways of getting your message across. Or do something different. Just get away from the self defeating meme propagation.

March 10

How to Disengage from Antiapologetics, Part II

Adding a stop sign.
Adding a stop sign. Source: Morguefile

Now that you have admitted that your antiapologetic behavior is really nothing more than ego stroking, it is time to discuss ways to stop doing it. It is a waste of your time. It is playing chess with a pigeon, it is teaching a pig to sing.

Colorful metaphors aside, you need to stop.

You need to realize that it is an addiction. That’s the first thing. Don’t worry, we’re not going to advocate a twelve step program. It’s much simpler than that.

Five Dos:

  1. Tell the next person you want to respond to, “You know, I never really thought of it that way. I need to think about this.” or something else along those lines.
    Why this is a good idea: Although you are not telling them they are right, you are handing them a victory of sorts, one they were not expecting. This means they are less likely to want to continue the discussion, which will help you disengage.
  2. Do whatever you need to in order to not be reminded of the conversation. Facebook has a way to turn off notifications for many posts (although I am still trying to figure out how to do it with the newer hierarchical comment system). If you cannot turn off notifications, you will need to have the willpower to not click and read any other comments in the thread.
    Why this is a good idea: Out of sight, out of mind. Constant reminders of the fun you had debating will suck you back in.
  3. Take a break from whatever media source you were arguing on. Some will be easy, like if the source was a website you do not frequent. Facebook and Youtube may be more difficult. Even if it is only a few hours, breaking the mental cycle is a good thing. However, I recommend doing something engaging that does not just “make time pass”. If you are merely waiting to get back on Facebook, you are defeating yourself.
    Why this is a good idea: You are breaking a pattern. The more broken it is, the harder it will be to slip back into it.
  4. If you really want to kick the habit, unjoin debate groups and block any debaters you have had issues with in the past. Clean the slate.
    Why this is a good idea: You don’t hold weight loss meetings in the middle of a supermarket, do you?
  5. Finally, tell your debating palls that you are either taking a break or not doing it anymore, whichever you are comfortable with.
    Why this is a good idea: If they respect you, they should respect that. If not, screw up. Unfriend them and move on.

Five Don’ts:

  1. Don’t leave on a flounce. No grand exit, no potshots on the way out. You are not a dying swan. No one is going to give you an academy award for your performance. Say goodbye and leave, at the most.
  2. Don’t return. Don’t go back to a group you have left. Stick to what you said, stick by your word. By saying goodbye, you said you were leaving. Stay gone. Don’t be one of those people.
  3. Don’t replace one argument with another. Don’t push away from the computer and get into a fight with your spouse or your roommate.
  4. Don’t think ill of the people you are arguing with. They are as devoted to their position as you are to yours. Whether or not it is based in facts and reality or emotion and the Bible, it means something to them. It comforts them.
  5. Finally, don’t debate in absentia. If your debating buddies want to chat you up about their debates, let them, but don’t fan their flames.

In Part III, I will discuss how to keep from returning to the debate.

March 10

How to Disengage from Antiapologetics, Part I

Broken Way
Broken Way. Source: Morguefile

Sometimes, you find that the lure of antiapologetics is too great, and you find yourself in a long, protracted, and pointless battle with young earth creationists, anti-gay marriage bigots, anti-choicers, or some other equally entrenched group.

The first thing you have to realize is that you are not going to ‘win’ this battle. Neither are they, admittedly, but there is no ‘win’ state.

People rarely change their mind, and, when they do so, it is from one position to a position close to where they were. It is exceedingly rare that someone will radically shift position, going from young earth creationism to old earth supporter of science. It’s one of the things to be highly suspect of in politics, and why “flip flop” is a bad thing, usually.

In other words, you are not getting through to them.

“But I am doing it for the fence sitters who are watching!” you say, indignantly.

They aren’t. Stop saying it. Unless you are Matt Dillahunty or some other well known Internet personality, they aren’t. You are most likely in a back alley battle of wits and links, which means only your side and theirs is watching.

So, you now know there is a problem. I’ll bet you have stayed up until all hours of the night in debate, links from the NCSE, Rationalwiki, and a variety of sources flying from your comments. Hopefully, you have refrained from too many insults. If not, well, then it really is time to quit. You’re trying to catch flies with vinegar.

But, how did a find upstanding skeptic like you get sucked in to this? You want to be right. It really is that simple. You think you are “fighting the good fight”, doing what you think is right.

Let me guess. You used to be a theist, didn’t you?

You got rid of the beliefs, but the underlying behaviors and desires are still there. No shame, my friend, no shame. It’s okay, we’re not going to ostrich size you or anything (yes, that was a pun).

But you have realized that something is wrong, and that is a good first step. In Part II, we talk about the actual moment of disengagement.

Buy, why should we disengage? Watch this.

March 9

The return of Christian Violence

Repent or Die
Repent or Die

My recent lapse and return to antiapologetics has had some rather stunning results.

While debating marriage equality, I found Christians who actively support slavery. I found one who excused slavery in the Old Testament by claiming that the slaves were not human.

While debating the story of Noah, I found Christians who advocated killing gay people. I found others who claimed that the US was a Christian nation and all other faiths existed here at the sufferance of Christians.

Recently, a pastor was fired for preaching compassion and love.

What the bleeding Hell is going on?

I think there are some factors that can account for this, at least for online interactions.

  • First, I think the Internet is acting to strip away many of the moderate Christians. Many are really looking into Christianity and finding the flaws and inconsistencies in it, and either leaving religion for apatheism or atheism. Many that are left are strongly Christian, and will defend it strongly.
  • Second, the moderate Christians that are left are not prone to examine their faith, and so do not participate at the front lines of causes that could cause them to question it. ‘Soft’ anti-choice sentiment, for example, can lead voting decisions, but, unless the person is active in the movement, they will not come up against those that question their views.
  • Third, the Internet fosters an air of anonymity that leads people to act in a way that is greatly exaggerated from the way they would in person. In addition, quick access to supporting information from like minds and opinions, as well as the rise of quote mines such as ICR, AiG, CARM, and Conservapedia.
  • Finally, it has allowed loud, aggressive Christians to gather in groups. In days past, these are the kind of wide eyed crazies that would have stood on street corners with sandwich boards declaring the end was nigh. Today, they can form entire churches and cults, convincing the slightly less crazy Christians to follow them.

These factors lead to large numbers of aggressive Christians appearing. But, there is one other factor that is in play, that I did not include in the list. Radical Islam has taught Radical Christians that society at large is finally willing to accept violence as a means again. September 11th didn’t just open the door to radical Islam like ISIS, but radical Christians like the WBC.

However, what it has also given rise to is a reactionary response that has led to the empowerment of causes that in previous years no one thought had enough traction to get anywhere.

I am the father of a transgendered teenager. My eldest was interested in joining the military, and, although I think the rigid discipline and regimented attitudes are exactly the opposite of their personality, one concern was how the military would deal with the transgendered status. We have an acquaintance who served in the military who is transgendered, but had to pretend to be their birth gender to make it through, so we asked a few months back if they thought the military might be ready to handy transgender by the time my eldest was of age to join.

They didn’t think so. A month later, this happened.

Thirty seven states allow for marriage equality for same sex couples. Ten years ago, that was a pipe dream.

The reaction from moderates to extreme, and public, religious zealotry has been to swing away from it and become more liberal. Perhaps their rage is fueling positive change in society, much to their dismay. In turn, it is probably fanning the fires of their rage. It is probably the same kind of pattern that was seen in the 1960s with civil rights.

March 7

The Lure of Antiapologetics

The lure of chasing fish.
The lure of chasing fish. Image from Morguefile.

As an atheist, even one who feels like they have graduated from the angry phase of noob atheism, there is a certain attraction for the behavior I call Antiapologetics. Not exactly counterapologetics, which can be part of it, but the active state of challenging apologetics, especially among Young Earth Creation types, science deniers, and social conservatives.

On one hand, it is a rush to delve into debate with soft targets like these. Of course, they will never change their minds. Too much of who they are is invested in it. Even if they did, you are unlikely to ever find out about it.

On the other, it portrays atheists as intolerant blowhards, trolls, stalkers, or, worse, intellectuals. It seems not to be the kind of activity that does anything positive. So, why do atheists do it?

Newer atheists (not ‘New Atheists’) tend to have pent up frustration, anger, and resentment towards religion for wasting their time and money for so long. The temptation to rush in, guns blazing, defending the Atheist Way is a strong one. But, over time, as the atheist matures, they realize the startling truth that there is no “atheist way”. Atheism is a single answer to a single question. It confers no additional meaning. It is not a club, not a group. There is no secret handshake or code of ethics. Of course, if theists taught the truth about atheists, fresh atheists would know this. But, it isn’t exactly in the general theist best interest to be accurate in their portrayal of the people the consider to be an enemy.

So, then, where does this drive come from?

Well, we’re humans. We like to be right. It helps reinforce our worldviews when we confirm ourselves as correct. We, as humans, do a lot of things to accomplish this. Whether it is being part of a fandom, being a fan of a specific sports team, or merely hanging out with friends, we work best when we have positive re-enforcement. Become an atheist is a completely new thing, as there is no inherent structure for re-enforcement from our peers. Atheist churches and study groups have sprung up to try and provide this structure, which, of course, some theists attack. What they do not realize is that when people are marginalized and isolated, they tend to get stuck in negative cyclical thinking. I would be completely unsurprised if Craig Hicks, the atheist who shot and killed the three Muslim students, was isolated from others.

To return to the main topic, antiapologetics tends to appear in fresh atheists who are still in the early stages of atheism. The good news is that the core of the practice is research and knowledge, which naturally leads the fresh atheist towards maturity. It also drops the rates of recidivism. Few, if any, mature atheists become religious once they are atheists.

Take, for example, the case of Ryan Bell.

Now, in his case, his path was slightly different than most atheists. A minister who decided to test his own faith and found it lacking. I applauded his attempt even before he, in the end, rejected his faith in favor of atheism, but my point is that atheists who stick to reason and skepticism and do not fall prey to emotional appeals or other logical fallacies find atheism not a difficult position to maintain.

One of the points I was trying to discuss with this piece is that, sometimes, an atheist has to put their foot down and end their antiapologetics. Even so, it is a difficult road.

Recently, Jeff Dee, one of the hosts of The Atheist Experience, a well known atheist television show out of Austin, responded to a anti-atheist post on a Facebook group. As he is someone I follow online, it popped up on my timeline, and I was drawn into the debate as well. Even though I have tried desperately to stay out of online debates, the siren song of these debates keeps bringing me back in.

I’ve had to resist debating with family and friends. I even unfollowed my own mother on Facebook after a kerfuffle earlier this year.

To sum up, humans like to win. We like to be right. That’s the point of apologetics, counterapologetics, and antiapologetics. Sometimes, the only way to win a game is to not play.

February 11

Justice Theology vs. Forgiveness Theology

Justice, source Morguefile

There are two basic viewpoints on how sin is dealt with by a deity. Either the deity is just, and sin is treated like a crime against the deity, and punishments are meted out in a judicial way. In some cultures, this meant each person went before the deity or their chosen arbiter, and possibly plead their case, or were at least a witness to their case being plead. Those whose evil deeds outweighed their good were punished, and those who had done good were rewarded.

It was a simple, elegant system. Of course, different cultures added different embellishments. Some reflected the justice systems they knew, others the systems the desperately wished for. Some people, however, end up in the Not So Nice Place, whatever that particular religion calls it or describes it as.

At some point, someone came up with the idea of forgiveness in the face of this justice. Whether in the form of someone else standing in for the sinner (as in Christianity) or the deity just outright forgiving the misdeeds of the sinner (as in Islam) the concept is basically the same. The deity forgives all crimes, no matter what they are, given that the sinner does something specific. In Christianity, the basic act is to believe in Jesus (John 3:16). In Islam, it is to become Muslim, which has a host of things associated with it, from daily prayer to eating specific things to this that and the other thing (depending on the branch of Islam).

The problem with justice theology versus forgiveness theology is that forgiveness theology turns what is effectively a “perfectly just” system into a perfect system of bribery. Imagine, if you will, a judge who hands out nothing but death sentences. However, if you go to his son, before your trial, and tell him you love him, the son will go to his dad and tell him to go easy on you… but that is the only way not to hang. That’s the flip side of the coin, the nasty little secret that forgiveness theology carries along. You cannot just “be good” and expect to be treated well in the after life. No, in forgiveness theology, if you have not greased the right palm, into the fire you go. It makes all actions on Earth, save the bribery, completely meaningless. An evil person can kill and eat children, and end up in heaven, given he has accepted Jesus into his heart, and his victims, all Muslim and Jewish children, will burn in Hell. Some Christians talk about how God is “infinitely just” but the whole idea behind forgiveness theology throws justice out the window. True justice does not bow to bribery. Absolute mercy and absolute justice are absolutes that cancel each other out. If someone deserves death, and gets no punishment at all, then where is the justice?

The concept of a stand in taking the punishment for the sinner in some forgiveness theologies is an adaptation of the older sacrificial justice theologies, such as Judaism, which had a complex system of sacrifices. This concept goes back into the misty pre-historical record period, the idea that the deity or deities are just like humans and, when angry, can be soothed in specific ways. In a very real way, Christ as a human sacrifice is just a slight adaptation of the same ritual source as the Aztec ruler autosacrifice on the feast of Huey Tozoztli.

If your parent is angry, or not giving you what you want or need, you give them something they want, or something to get their attention.

What we are left with is a very powerful, and dangerous, concept. First, a theology based on the concept that one can be forgiven for any crime (nearly; most forgiveness religions have something that is unforgivable, usually something along the lines of “talking bad about the religion/our deity/our holy man”) which means that the leaders of these religions can commit atrocities, and even ask others to commit atrocities, even acts that their religion expressly forbids. This means that spreading faith by the sword, although possibly embarrassing later, can be psychologically excused by the believer. You would be hard pressed to find a Catholic who is truly angry at the Holy Roman Church for the acts committed during the Crusades or the Inquisition. Most merely wave it off as “Oh, well, that was another time, another culture”. The same thing happens with modern Muslims and horrendous acts committed by ISIS, Osama Bin Laden, and others. Some blame others for driving them to do it, others merely say, “Oh, well, they don’t represent my faith!”

Second, it allows for hypocritical behavior on a smaller level as well. Loving Christian parents feel justified in throwing their homosexual children in the street, ignoring certain commands of their faith in favor of others. Muslims who hurt or kill other Muslims, while other Muslims declare that Islam is a religion of peace.

I think one problem with forgiveness theology is that it has to assume that people are born bad, or it loses part of its power. Judaism is a culture as well as a religion; a Jew is a Jew from birth because of culture, not necessarily because they were born bad. Christianity teaches that the sin of Adam and Eve is a stain on every human (ignoring Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20) and therefore we must seek forgiveness from birth.

Finally, although religion was already an extension of tribal “us vs. them” mentality, moving from one tribe/religion to another under justice theology was difficult. That meant that wars fought between groups were for land, wealth, slaves, power of the group. This meant that peace could be brokered if there was a balance of power, which happened more often than not. With the change to forgiveness theology, conversion became not only possible, but desirable, and, in some religions, strongly suggested or ordered by the deity. This added another reason for war, one that pushed peace off the table. When god wants souls, who can stand in his way? This began bloody warfare that lasted thousands of years and only settled down once believers were so horrified by the industrial slaughter of the infidels that they finally settled down.

One of the short list of good things Hitler did that was good for the world was to end most Christian conversion by blood. And, like every other thing on the list, he didn’t set out to do it.

We are now faced with a religion that has the same idea, Islam. How we deal with it will determine the shape of the 21st and probably the 22nd and possibly later centuries. I sincerely hope it will not take another holocaust to disgust the common Muslim enough to forcibly put a halt to the extremist clerics.