I’m seriously interested in your opinion. Here is a press release concerning their current activities in Texas: Continue reading What do you think about the Satanic Temple?
I have often made the argument that religiosity, a personal belief in god, spirits, the supernatural, etc., would emerge in human societies on its own if it wasn’t there already.
Imagine taking an entire generation of people in a geographically isolated region, and wiping out their memory of religion, and also, removing all references to religion that they might ever encounter. They would be religion free for a while, maybe even for a number of generations, but eventually, they would reinvent it.
Everybody has a theory of why religion exists, what purposes it serves, etc. etc. Until proven otherwise, I will assume that these “functions” are all post hoc. Religion may serve one or another role in a given society or culture, but I’m going to assume that religion was incorporated for this purpose after the fact, not developed, evolved, or inserted for this purpose. I may be wrong, but until I see compelling evidence to the contrary, I think it is the safest assumption.
Why would religion (using that term very loosely) emerge in a non-religious human society? Because of lawnmowers and dogs, or dreams or delusion, mainly.
One day I was driving down the street and I witnessed a dog transform into a law mower. How could that happen if there was no spirit like force beyond some kind of veil that usually clouds our perceptions, hiding from us things that defy physics most, but not all, of the time? The only way to explain this is to invoke some sort of religious thinking, right?
Here’s what happened. It was a bright sunny fall day. Warm. It was a densely populated residential neighborhood. Families were out, parents raking leaves and the kids jumping in them, dogs running around, children playing ball. I was unsure of where I was or where I was going (I was not familiar with the neighborhood), scanning back and forth for street signs and house numbers. The sun was low enough to be causing a lot of glare. So, I was paying a lot of attention to my peripheral vision (looking for a kid running into the street, or a dog not seeing me coming). Off to my left, I saw a large dog sitting on a lawn. I glanced to the right, then back to the left, and now saw that the dog was a lawn mower with someone’s coat draped over the handle. Miraculous transformation of a spirt being!
Or, a simple mistake.
And that, of course, is how I would actually explain what I say … a trick of the lousy light in a confused tapestry of activity that I was not initially paying much attention to.
We experience things in real life that can’t be true, now and then. We usually but not always explain them, but sometimes we explain them with “I don’t know what that was, but it is not important… just a trick of the light.” But say I was a young and impressionable youth searching for meaning in life, and I had just seen a talk given by a spiritualist who claimed that spirit dogs occasionally appeared out of nowhere, transforming from inanimate objects into a large dog, then back again. Well, if that has been the case that day, perhaps I would have started worshiping spirt dogs, and I would never look at a lawn mower quite the same way again. If the spirit dog belief was a growing belief in my subculture, a belief held by community leaders, respected individuals, potential mates, and family members, I might be even more likely to break that way. And so on. You get the point.
The current National Geographic Roundtable asks the question, “Is belief in God innate in our brains, as if it were installed by some divine programmer? Or is spirituality a more complex evolving adaptation that has both helped and harmed us as a species?”
Neither, as stated. It is not innate in our species, as people usually understand the term — coded for by genes, the inevitable outcome of typical development. But I said it would always emerge in human societies, right? Yes, but not because it is innate (built in) but because the process of human behavior in the context of our physical world and culture would prod and poke and hint and push until it started to emerge here and there, and eventually, it would become part of the larger system of behavior. And no, of course, a tendency to eventually develop religion in a society was not put there by a divine programmer, any more than a paisley tea pot was set into orbit around the Planet Jupiter by a mischievous flying unicorn.
Yes, religion, spirituality, and all that, is a complex changing thing that may have helped and may have harmed. But is it an adaptation? No. It is a side effect.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. But to get a different set of perspectives, check out The God Brain, which premiers Feb 21st at 9PM Eastern on National Geographic.
Host Jason Silva travels to Jerusalem, Israel, to explore, “The God Brain.” Fascinating new research has uncovered the possibility that believing in God may be hardwired in our brains. Is this because a divine power greater than us installed this software? Or is it possible that the believing part of the brain has evolved over thousands of years as an evolutionary adaptation that helps us succeed as a species. Physician and neuroscientist Andrew Newberg of Jefferson University Hospital has spent decades exploring the neurophysiology of religious and spiritual practice. Dr. Trevor Cox from the University of Salford, an expert on sound perception, explains how you respond to different musical keys and music played in churches. Dr. Jennifer Whitson of UCLA focuses on the psychological experience of control and sheds light on how to make sense of the environment and inexplicable events. Dr. Bruce Hood, an experimental psychologist at the University of Bristol, will demonstrate that even the most nonbelieving brain can have unconscious biases, which are fundamental characteristics for supernatural thinking.
I don’t normally write about faith (I’m an atheist, I’d be bad at it), but I do often write about climate change. But my friend and colleague Paul Douglas happens to be an Evangelical Christian, Republican, and Rock Star Meteorologist. You’ve seen his work if you’ve seen the movies Jurassic Park or Twister. If you are from the Twin Cities area, you are probably still mourning his departure from WCCO TV, where he was famous for giving highly accurate weather forecasts, and acknowledging the realty of global warming.
Paul calls himself an albino unicorn, because he is a Republican and an Evangelical Christian who seriously respects, and understands, the science, and is very open about that. Paul is part of a small group of interested parties including me, John Abraham (at St. Thomas University), and meteorology expert Tenney Naumer, who stay in touch on a regular basis pointing out interesting meteorological events to each other so we can all keep up with happenings in this rapidly changing world, and passing back and forth ideas on how to communicate this information to the general public while at the same time keeping very true to the science.
Paul’s day job is to run Aeris weather, a high end very sophisticated meteorology company. This is one of a series of companies entrepreneur Douglas has created and developed into a success. He also blogs at the Star Tribune. If you live in the Twin Cities, this is where you get your short and long term weather predictions, if you are smart.
A note about that blog: Paul adds to every blog, after discussing the regional weather and the most interesting or important tropical storm or other untoward event happening elsewhere in the world, a listing of climate change related news stories, so this is a great place to keep up with what is going on in both those worlds of weather and climate change.
Paul also regularly gives talks on climate and meteorology to groups in the Twin Cities, and regularly appears on local TV and radio shows. In a way, he moonlights as a kind of therapist for many of us who live in this rugged and unforgiving climate, where for many days in the winter, there is nothing between us and the North Pole but a barbed wire fence. (A favorite expression of Paul’s.)
And, as part of that mission to speak with the public about climate change, retired Minnesota Public Radio host Gary Eichten interviewed albino unicorn Paul Douglas at a local Evangelical college about climate change.
The interview actually addresses climate change in general, addressing the “faith” side of it for only part of the interview. There is a lot of good information in the interview, and Paul does a great job of modeling how to speak of these issues to a presumably hostile audience.
ADDED: Now available, a video of the talk:
I will assume you are paying some attention to the discussion of racism vis-a-vis Charlie Hebdo, Muslim bashing, obnoxious religious (in this case Islamic) rules of behavior, freedom of speech and expression, etc. If you were thinking that this situation is simple you better check your thought process, or your privilege, or something. Get an oil change. Take a class on race and racism. Something. Because it is not simple.
The following thought experiment is still an oversimplification but perhaps worthy of consideration, as a means of parsing out the very first level of complexity and nuance. I’d love comments on it.
A religion includes a prohibition against drawing its prophet. Otherwise, nothing interesting happens. Practitioners of that religion are barely noticed by the rest of society. They are easily confused with Unitarians, perhaps, except this one rule they have. However, a very large percentage of people in this religion are not of the dominant ethnicity/race. Indeed, when a run of the mill working or middle class white person is found to be of that religion, almost invariably, people are at least a little surprised. So they are like brownish Unitarians. Indeed, for this thought experiment we shall call them the Brown Unitarians.
Somebody draws their prophet simply because there is a rule against it. Since these people are slightly brown, there is a certain amount of racism already baked in. This was a racist act. It might have been an intentionally racist act, or it might have been a blunder, but that would have the same effect, and failing to recognize the similarity is itself a racist act (intentional or otherwise). At the very least, the act is not polite, is harassment, and mild racism, but it could be worse depending on the nature of the drawing, the context in which it is distributed, and other factors. (It was possible that someone drew the Brown Unitarian Prophet entirely by accident, unknowingly, and the test of that is that if they are informed of the wishes of the Brown Unitarians, they make some effort to undraw the prophet and apologize, because, after all, offending people’s religion is a dick move, and why do that without a reason?)
Now imagine the same scenario as above, but previous instances in which the Brown Unitarian Prophet has been displayed have resulted in peaceful but strong protests.
In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act but it might also simply be a counter protest by someone concerned about free expression.
Now imagine the same scenario, but advanced one level. Some of the protests over drawing the Brown Unitarian Prophet are violent, and there is an attempt to codify the prohibition over creating this image into law.
In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act, or it might be a simple counter protest about free expression, but it could also be an important, not really optional, statement against the spread of bone-headed rules (like “you can’t draw a picture of my imaginary friend”) in otherwise secular society.
Now imagine the same scenario, but amid the various sorts of protests, we now have acts of deadly and bloody terrorism involving guns, bombs, etc. People linked with the drawing of the Brown Unitarian Prophet are now being gunned down now and then, occasionally in large numbers.
In response, somebody draws the prophet again. This might be a racist act … nothing that has happened has obviates that possibility. It might be a routine protest in favor of freedom of expression. But it might also be a brave and necessary, forceful and meaningful, slap in the face against those who want to repress others with their unreasonable, extremist, and very annoying rules based on dumb-ass rules about their imaginary friends.
Did you notice that this starts with the people drawing the prophet being dicks? Did you notice that the racism (actual or potential) never goes away? Did you notice all along there may be a large grey area in which racist acts can be achieved, but disguised as noble acts?
I think this is a partial analogy to the circumstances surrounding the Charlie Hebdo situation, except the beginning, the first scenario.
April 27th, I’ll be giving a talk hosted by Minnesota Atheists at the Maplewood Library, 3025 Southlawn Dr, Maplewood, Minnesota. Details are here.
You may attend any part of the meeting you wish, here’s the schedule:
1:00-1:15 p.m. – Social Time
1:15-1:45 p.m. – Business Meeting
1:45-2:00 p.m. – Break
2:00-3:30 p.m. – Talk by Greg Laden
4:00-whenever – Dinner at Pizza Ranch (1845 County Road D East, Maplewood MN)
This will be a talk about climate change focusing on current and challenging research questions that everyone needs to know about, as well as the relationship between climate change and religion.
Most of the important events in the Bible are linked to climate change. Genesis describes the creation of a planet with a rapidly changing climate. Noah helped all the animals and his family escape an epic case of sea level rise. We can guess that the seven years of lean following the seven years of abundance associated with the early days of the sons of Israel were a climate effect. The plagues and some of the other major events were a form of “weather whiplash.” Indeed, during the days of Moses, wildfires may have been more common, given the number of burning bushes reported for the time!
After all this you would think that mainstream Abrahamic religion would be on the forefront of climate change. And, since humans were in one way or another responsible for most of those Biblical events, one would expect to see widespread acceptance of Anthropogenic Global Warming in religious communities. The reality, however, is more complex than that.
There is a reason that the National Center for Science Education addresses both evolution and climate change curriculum in public schools. But don’t expect the link to be simple or straightforward. Historically, there has been almost as much denial of climate science from the secular community as from the religious community, a situation that has been changing only in recent years. We’ll look at the links, some overt, some more subtle, between efforts lead by the religious right to damage science education and parallel efforts to deny climate science, as well as efforts by Christian fundamentalists to support climate change science.
This talk will also address the most current thinking–in some cases rapidly changing thinking–about climate change. In particular, how does global warming affect weather extremes? Are the California Drought, recent major floods, and the recent visitation of the Polar Vortex acts of a vengeful god, random events, or the effects of climate change? While climate science is not sure, these are probably the result of one of the last two. And, increasingly, thinking among climate scientists is leaning strongly towards the global warming – weather whiplash link.
Another area of concern, and timely given that summer is (supposedly) on the way, is the problem of sea level rise caused by melting large masses of ice currently trapped in glaciers. Sea level rise is one of the issues many feel has not been adequately addressed by the well known IPCC, partly because of the discordance between the timing of important research and the production cycle of the IPCC reports.
Greg Laden writes about climate change, evolution, science education, and other topics at National Geographic Science Blogs and other venues. He is a trained biological anthropologist and archaeologist who has taught at several colleges and universities. Today he mostly engages in climate-change-related science communication. He has done a number of interviews and talks on these various topics for Minnesota Atheists and other groups in the area.
The Public Religion Research Institute has conducted a poll about the Superbowl They found:
27% of Americans believe that God plays a role in determining which team winds a sporting event.
53% of Americans believe that god rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success
42% of Americans don’t think that those 53% of Americans are correct.
By religion, there is variation in the percentage of people who believe that god determines the outcome of sporting events, or that god rewards athletes of faith. They have a graph:
50% of Americans are fine with athletes making public shows of their religiosity during a sporting event. An amazingly low 4% don’t approve. Which is funny, because every single person I know disapproves of this, religious or otherwise. I suspect this may be the way the question was asked (in this poll, 45% don’t think it matters).
And now, for the scary bit, the part that proves that most Americans are not patriots:
Nearly 9-in-10 (89%) Republicans agree that public high schools should be allowed to sponsor prayer before football games, compared to more than three-quarters (77%) of independents and nearly 7-in-10 (68%) Democrats.
Are those same people also against due process, freedom of speech, and the right to own a firearm? I think not. Makes no sense. Why religiously believe that failing to have strong beliefs that conform to the Constitution makes one evil, except here and there? WHY?
When Atheists talk, people listen.
Then, they tell them to shut up.
David Phillip Norris of the Twin Cities recently wrote an article for MNPost called With talk of tolerance and equality, one group is still forgotten: atheists. This was written as a reflection on the just finished and rather dramatic fight against an anti same sex marriage constitutional amendment on the ballot in Minnesota. By today’s electoral standards, the amendment was soundly defeated.
So while I’m thrilled that we can start talking about the possibility of voting “yes” instead of “no” for same-sex marriage in Minnesota, I’m still left feeling frustrated. In addition to being gay, I’m also a secular humanist. And an atheist. With candidates and party conventions making declarations about faith and belief in God, the amount of religious language used this year was alarming, but the marriage-amendment conversation was particularly loaded.
I don’t know how effective the faith-symp strategy was during that campaign, but it was a big part of it. The idea, clearly, was to show that in Minnesota, being religious does not mean being anti-gay or anti same sex marriage. This is true. In fact, not long after I moved to Minnesota, a friend of mine got married in a church. She was gay, her newly wedded spouse was gay, the ceremony was carried out in a Lutheran church by a female minister. I remember thinking, “Wow, Minnesota is progressive.”
Apparently, I had attended a completely illegal activity. The marriage was a sham, because gay marriage was not legal. But, the good people of South Minneapolis apparently chose to ignore that. Still, once “married” my friends would still not have had the rights afforded to others who happened to be in opposite sex marriages.
But I digress. Norris makes this point:
I wondered where my voice was in the conversation, where my link was on websites, and why more atheists weren’t speaking up on my behalf. In September, I attended a public forum on the amendment featuring panelists who shared their reasons for opposing it. All but one – August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists — was religious. His arguments against the amendment were so sound and appealing that I was amazed they weren’t being used in MN United’s talking points. But Berkshire was the only prominent atheist I recall hearing from in the last 18 months about LGBT rights.
I should point out that Minnesota Atheists is the only non theistic group that has provided a legal brief in a law suit being carried out here regarding same sex marriage. Apparently, as Norrris says, the whole same sex marriage debate is a discussion being had among religious people. Go read his post, it’s very good and important. Here, my intention is not to expand on his arguments, but rather, to use this opportunity to point out a different (but very much related) problem: How do non-Atheists react when an Atheists says something out loud, about Atheism or anything relate to it?
You may recall that last summer, Minnesota Atheists (and American Atheists) teamed up with the local minor league team, the Saint Paul Saints, to sponsor a ball game. The Saints have a lot of sponsored games, and they are mutual fund raising activities. They changed their name to the Mr. Paul Aints for the game, and various other adjustments were made. The Saints, or rather, Aints have a lot of fun with their games, and this game was no exception.
But, after it became known that the Saints/Aints wer teaming up with Atheists, a certain amount of fecal matter hit the air moving device. I heard but did not confirm that there was a move in the home town of the team that was to play the Saints that night to forfeit the game rather than to play in an Atheist sponsored event. A couple of local professional journalists wrote columns that were very intolerant, asking why the heck anyone would want to do something with a bunch of atheists.
To our credit, we who often speak out locally on behalf of Atheism responded cooly and calmly and pointed out to those journalists that they were doing it wrong. One approach I took was to re-write one of the journalists columns replacing mentions of “Atheists” or “Atheism” with “Jews” and “Judaism.” That shift in frame made the column look like something from Germany in the 1930s, sort of. This can be a very effective way to point out the true nature of intolerance.
So, now, let’s do something along those lines with the comments on Norris’s post. I’ve screen captured a few of them for you. Note that I did not black out names because these are all public comments on the above cited post. They are shown in order of appearance. You may need more context than I provide here, and that is why you should click through and read Norris’s original essay.
This first one is a bit grammatically flawed (looks like AutoCorrect has had its way with it) but you can get the point:
Let me rephrase:
I have often found Jews to be as dogmatic as the orthodox religious, perhaps a more palatable view (to me) is better expressed by Lutherans.
Well, to each his or her own when it comes to religion, but the author of this comment is saying that often Atheists are unpalatable, presumably not in a cannibalistic sense, but rather, in regard to the things they say. This implies that it would be better (for him) if Atheists remained silent. This, posted on an essay by an Atheists expressing a sense of not belonging and not being listened to could be translated further as:
I do wish that you had not written this post. Please shut up.
OK, let’s look at the next one:
The commenter starts out by putting words in Norris’s mouth. Norris does not say, or imply, that people of faith are not for human rights. Rather, he clearly documents that many Minnesotans of faith were very active in the pro same sex marriage movement. This first statement is also a bit of a smokescreen because he mentions that “…In fact these values are fundamental to Christianity.” So, now we have a “fact” on the table that Christians are all for human rights and equality. But, the anti same sex marriage bill was introduced by members of a very common sect of Christians and supported by many churches. The smoke is rather thin in this case. In fact, he acknowledges this in his next paragraph, but the chance to school the Atheist on how good people of faith are was not deterred by the fact that they often are not so good and that the situation is more complex.
In the third paragraph, he (as did many of the atheists in the comments) restates the mistaken assumption that Atheists are not organized. We are. But here, we see our organizations, which were mentioned explicitly in the post and illustrated with a photograph of the president of the statewide organization and everything, are being ignored. Or, more precisely, set aside. moved out of the way.
Then we are told that we are annoying. Squeaky wheels. And we are going to do it wrong by being condescending. Go read Norris’s post. It is nothing like condescending. But it was an Athiest talking, and when a Atheist whispers, many theists hear … well, at least a squeaky sound, of not something more harsh.
More precisely, we are being told that until we do it right, we will not be acknowledged.
After all this disrespect, we are told this:
The key is that atheists must respect all people and their beliefs.
And it goes beyond that. After mischaracterizing the Atheist Voice, and not even knowing that there is in fact a statewide group of organized Atheists (and many other groups) even though he was just told this, the commenter tells us he will disregard Atheists until they, Atheists, learn all about him and how he thinks and does things. And he does this in a harsh and insulting way:
…. guess what? I’m not going to give a rip about what an atheist thinks if he or she isn’t willing to even attempt to understand what my values are, where they come from and why I hold them so dear. I’m not looking to proselytize. I’m looking for real relationship with the people I’m devoting months if not years of my free time to work with on a campaign or cause. That’s how effective organizing happens.
So, “effective organizing” means ignoring the perspective and presence of an entire group of potential allies, telling them to shut up when they politely ask questions about their position at the organizing table, and insisting that they jump through hoops that you have designed for them. Huh. Didn’t know that.
The next comment is by the same person responding to an Athiest:
The response is very annoying. First, the Atheist is told he is speaking in the wrong tone. To add to the commenter’s (Greene’s) authority, he explicitly approves of a part of the comment. That was nice of him. But in telling the Atheists to shut up, essentially, and after complaining at length about how Atheists are doing it wrong, he scolds that one should not negatively label people if you want them to like you. In other words, STFU and maybe I won’t dislike you, disregard you, and set you aside. And, again, he verifies that he knows nothing about Atheists in Minnesota, even though he insists that Atheists, to be listened to, must first learn about his beliefs.
And finally, we are reminded that Atheists are not recognized because of their own failure, their own negativity. After a campaign in which theists (some, not all of them, of course) were busy being very negative to a portion of our population, and attempting to extend that negativity into the State’s Constitution:
To many, when an Atheist talks, that is a negative thing. To some, Atheists should only talk when they are not being negative.
The question I have, then, is this: If you throw a person in the mill pond and they sink to the bottom, does that mean that they were not an Atheist?
Please click through and visit the post, and the blog!
Atheist Voices of Minnesota: an Anthology of Personal Stories was released earlier this year. It is chock full of personal stories about the journey from some place to atheism, written by Minnesota authors such as Norman Barrett Wiik, Elizabeth Becker, Kenneth Bellew, Ryan Benson, August Berkshire, Donald L. Boese, Ryan Bolin, Jill Carlson, Justin M. Chase, Greta Christina, Linda Davis, Andrew Downs, Shannon Drury, Anthony Faust, Paul Gramstad, Mike Haubrich, Kori Hennessy, Peter N. Holste, Michelle M. Huber, Eric Jayne, George Kane, Greg Laden, Bill Lehto, M. A. Melby, PZ Myers, Robin Raianiemi, Rohit Ravindran, Jason Schoenack, Kim Socha, Chris Stedman, Elizabeth Stiras, Todd N. Torkelson, Timothy Wick, Rob Young, James Zimmerman, Jennifer Zimmerman, and Stephanie Zvan.
This is the perfect give to leave under the tree or to use as a stocking stuffer, so that while the rest of your family is busy celebrating the birth of Jesus and shopping you can let them know that just because you are an Atheist, you are not necessarily a monster.
“A chorus not of arguments and positions but of shared human lives . . . At turns smart, funny, and deeply touching.” – Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief
ST. PAUL, Minn. (8/14/2012) —Atheists have turned a corner in public visibility in recent years, but they nevertheless remain one of America’s most misunderstood and mistrusted groups of people. A new anthology, Atheist Voices of Minnesota, attempts to address these preconceptions by letting thirty-six atheists from Minnesota openly share their personal and unique stories. The results are touching, fascinating, and diverse.
Since this is a cross section of how everyday atheists think and feel, this collection is an excellent introduction to atheism, and will inspire other atheists to come out to their family and friends. It includes contributions from well known atheists, such as PZ Myers, the world’s most popular atheist blogger, and Chris Stedman, a Huffington Post and Washington Post blogger. But it also contains previously unheard voices, part of its power and uniqueness.
The book has already received endorsements from major figures in the freethought community, and has a foreword by Greta Christina, a prominent atheist blogger, speaker, and author. Kendyl Gibbons, senior minister of the First Unitarian Society in Minneapolis, writes that the authors’ “thoughtful perspectives will be illuminating to people of any faith, or none.”
Atheist Voices of Minnesota is published by Freethought House. All net proceeds will go to Minnesota Atheists, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, with authors, editors, designers, and other volunteers receiving no financial benefit. Minnesota Atheists is Minnesota’s oldest, largest, and most active atheist organization. Its mission is to promote the positive contributions of atheism to society and to maintain separation of state and church. For more information, visit http://mnatheists.org.
This is why I don’t want to hear you belly-aching about Obama and telling us all about how you can’t vote for him because he didn’t do some thing you for some quite possibly invalid reason you thought he would do despite having only two years without a Republican congress and almost no time without a Fillibuster.
Any single one of these stooges running for the republicans, including and maybe especially, New Gingrich, could be the next president of the United States if a) enough liberal stay home and b) enough liberals and progressives vote for a third party or do some other stupid thing, ensuring that Obama is not re-elected.
Gingrich has stated that he would use the Federal Marshall Service to arrest judges who make decisions that he does not agree with. Consider the following interview:
SCHIEFFER: One of the things you say is that if you don’t like what a court has done, that Congress should subpoena the judge and bring him before Congress and hold a Congressional hearing… how would you enforce that? Would you send the Capitol Police down to arrest him?
GINGRICH: Sure. If you had to. Or you’d instruct the Justice Department to send a U.S. Marshal.
So, get all passive aggressive at Obama, maybe you get Gingrich.