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I watched Bill O’Reilly’s show last night. You can’t explain that! (well, you can, but…)

Like most sensible people, I try to avoid Bill O’Reilly whenever possible. Last night, though, I watched a bit of his show so that I could see his interview with Richard Dawkins. And, you know, I knew it would be painful. I knew O’Reilly would be a loud sneering bully. I knew he’d spin the hell out of it (right there in that “No-Spin Zone” of his). I knew he’d turn it into an “ATHEISTS R COMIN FOR YR CHILDREN, GOOD PATRIOTS OF AMERICA!” kind of thing. And indeed he did. But it was much, much worse than I had expected. Oh my god, it was painful.

A few notes:

1) O’Reilly took full advantage of the pre-taped interview format, adding in this “SEE, AMERICAN PATRIOTS? SEE? ATHEISTS R EVIL!! LOOK AT THEM! AND THEY’RE A’COMIN FOR YR CHILDREN!” image overlay. Seriously!:

Oh, Bill. What subtle rhetorical flourish you have!

2) So, you know how O’Reilly loves to claim that his show is a “No-Spin Zone”? Yeah… Because this headline from his site isn’t “spun” at all. Nope. No spin here. None whatsoever: “O’Reilly Crushes Atheist Richard Dawkins“. “Crushes“? No, Bill. No. You didn’t “crush” anyone. You came off as a mean sad little wannabe tyrant.

More on that “No-Spin” thing. Take a look at this, from his site. Oh the irony, it burns. It burns!:

Richard Dawkins has a new book that explains science to children, and warns them against religious “myths” about how the world works. He entered the No Spin Zone to explain why he wanted to deliver his atheist message to kids.

Well, except for the book isn’t an atheist book at all (it’s a beautiful book about science), and it’s certainly not delivering an “atheist message to kids”. But O’Reilly isn’t fond of facts or science, of course. He was determined to spin this into an “ATHEISTS R COMIN FOR YR CHILDREN, GOOD PATRIOTS OF AMERICA!” thing, and that’s exactly what he did.

Seriously, this “spin” thing of his just slays me. Is “rhetorical hypocrisy” a thing? If it is, he’s the All-Time World Champion of it. His entire show is one big exercise in “spin”, all carried out within a “No-Spin Zone”.

“Spin” “spin” “spin”. Take it away, Inigo Montoya!:

3) Appropriate LOLs are appropriate:

4) It dawned on me last night that O’Reilly is a 21st century Roderick Spode (a P.G. Wodehouse character). Take it away, Bertie!:

“The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting ‘Heil, Spode!’ and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: ‘Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?”

5) “Y U NO” Guy, I cede the floor to you:

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How should we help adults deal with the after-effects of childhood religious indoctrination?

To varying degrees, and in a variety of ways, childhood religious indoctrination fills the most trusting, eager, and vulnerable of minds with intense fear, shame, and guilt. This indoctrination can damage or even destroy a child’s curiosity and critical thinking skills. Many of us who experienced such indoctrination are left with lifelong scars of one form or another. Our rationality, intellect, and skepticism are often no match for the pernicious after-effects of childhood religious indoctrination.

And this indoctrination isn’t going to stop anytime soon. We may not want to admit that, we may wish that it weren’t true, but it is. It’s just not reasonable to think that all forms of childhood religious indoctrination can be stopped, at least not in the near future. Such indoctrination has persisted this long for one reason: it works. It keeps the churches full. Most children who are indoctrinated into a particular religion remain members of that religion for life and grow up to indoctrinate their own children into that same religious tradition. They perpetuate the cycle. And as for the permanent scars caused by childhood religious indoctrination? From the perspective of someone whose primary concern is perpetuating his or her religious tradition of choice, the emotional trauma caused by such indoctrination is just collateral damage: unfortunate, perhaps, but inevitable.

So, while raising consciousness about childhood religious indoctrination is a vitally important endeavor, we must also acknowledge the fact that this indoctrination isn’t going to end anytime soon and adjust our actions accordingly. As such, I think that it would be worthwhile to divert some of our time and resources towards helping (in what way(s)? What does “helping” mean in this context? How can we avoid making this seem like some sort of touchy-feely group therapy thing?) adults deal with the after-effects of childhood religious indoctrination. The consequences of such indoctrination are rarely given the consideration or attention that they deserve. Despite the fact that most children remain in the religious tradition into which they were indoctrinated, there are many of us who, at one point, decided to leave our religious faith behind. Yet most of us are at least somewhat reluctant to discuss our experiences. It’s a rather taboo topic, even among atheists. I suspect that many of us are afraid that we’ll be accused of using our experiences as an “excuse” for something or other. We (quite understandably) don’t want to play the victim card, so we pretend that we’re strong enough to completely rid ourselves of the pain, fear, and guilt that never really goes away. But many of us aren’t. And admitting that doesn’t mean that we’re weak or that we’re making excuses. Our feelings are nothing to be ashamed of. They’re simply an understandable response to a specific kind of childhood trauma.

The problem is, I’m not really sure how such an endeavor could/should be accomplished. I do have one idea, though: I think that, if we’re comfortable doing so, it’s important for those of us who experienced any form of childhood religious indoctrination to share our experiences and to encourage others to do the same. Sharing our stories and engaging in the conversations/discussions they spark can be helpful for both ourselves and others. It’s always a relief to know that we’re not alone and that others can relate to our experiences and feelings. Additionally, discussing our experiences may help make this topic less taboo and convince others that it’s something that deserves to be taken seriously. I think that it might be worthwhile to set up some sort of website that could serve as both a repository for these stories and a collection of helpful resources (what kind of resources, though? I’m not sure) for individuals who are struggling (in one way or another) with the after-effects of their experiences with childhood religious indoctrination. In order to to make such a website as useful and effective as possible, I think that it would probably be best to divide it into separate sections for different religions (ex-Catholic, ex-Christian, ex-Jewish, ex-Muslim, etc.).

That’s just one idea. As I said, although I think that this is an important issue that deserves our time and resources, I’m not sure what, precisely, can/should be done about it or how our time and resources could best be utilized. Education is the most effective tool we have in the crucially important goal of raising consciousness about childhood religious indoctrination. However, because such indoctrination isn’t going to end anytime soon, I think that we should also try to find ways to help those who have left behind the religious tradition in which they were raised.

Do you have any suggestions or ideas? Any answers to the parenthetical questions I’ve posed in this post? I’d love to hear them. Thanks!

Mmm, peach pie…

Me & some birthday (peach) pie!:

(My birthday was a few days ago.)

Delicious stuff!

Also, me & my birthday pie are honored to have been featured in this post by Jerry “Professor Ceiling Cat, PhD” Coyne.

& On the “my friends write great blog posts” note, be sure to check out Brother Blackford’s wise and thoughtful commentary on the issues discussed in my recent post about American Atheists.

American Atheists are an embarrassment to atheism

No surprise here: American Atheists are once again engaging in reckless and unproductively antagonistic behavior. This time, though, they’ve really gone beyond the pale. In a recent post on their “No God Blog”, “Taking The Gloves Off…“, American Atheists’ Georgia State Director Al Stefanelli uses lazy and shockingly vitriolic rhetoric, unsupported assumptions, and sweeping generalizations in a futile attempt to defend an indefensible thesis.

Throughout his rant, Stefanelli fails to provide any actual evidence in support of his assertions, instead relying on generalizations, stereotypes, assumptions, anger, and arguments from personal experiences. He wants his audience to believe that his rant is a legitimate argument that should be taken seriously, yet the combination of its extreme nature and his refusal to engage in civil, rational, and evidence-based argument results in a thesis that is ultimately indefensible. Stefanelli is not deterred by this fact, though. He is determined to defend his thesis no matter what, and the result is a completely ineffective, vitriolic, and potentially dangerous rant dressed up as a legitimate argument.

The vitriol and ridiculousness is apparent from the start:

Intolerance toward beliefs and doctrines that serve only to promote hatred, bigotry and discrimination should be lauded, as should extremist points of view toward the eradication of these beliefs and doctrines.

I’ll give him this: at the very least, he sticks to “beliefs and doctrines” here (specifically, as he later explains, “fundamentalist Christian and radical Islamic doctrines”) instead of believers.

There are some major issues, though:

1) Intolerance and “extremist points of view” should never be “lauded” or encouraged. Yes, we should praise and encourage those who speak out against the unquestioned societal privileging of religious beliefs. That’s vastly different from promoting intolerance, though. This argument is untenable, uncivil, counterproductive, and irresponsible.

2) In this context, “eradication” is a horrible, thoughtless, and confusing (how could any form of religious belief or doctrine ever be eradicated?) word. “Eradication” brings to mind acts of violence and cruelty, and carries the connotation of eliminating one’s enemy by any means necessary. This is important to keep in mind, primarily because Stefanelli soon begins to blur the distinction between “beliefs” and “believers”, and it is this blurring that makes his rhetoric truly irresponsible and dangerous. Such rhetoric may create an atmosphere in which violent acts against religious individuals are tolerated and even encouraged, something that any civilized society and any compassionate individual should find completely unacceptable.

Stefanelli continues:

Most of these people [followers of “fundamentalist Christian and radical Islamic doctrines”] lack the maturity and intelligence to act in a socially acceptable manner.  Many of them are sociopaths and quite a good number of them are psychopaths.  All of them are clearly delusional.

Huh? He can get away with “delusional”, if we (as I do) interpret it as a comment on the fact that belief in a theistic God requires one to hold on to the false (read: delusional) notion that God directly intervenes in one’s life. Stefanelli’s other allegations, though, are completely unsupported assumptions. Mature adults who care about responsible, ethical, and evidence-based argument do not make such allegations without supporting their claims with legitimate concrete statistical evidence. It’s here that Stefanelli begins to blur the distinction between “beliefs” and “believers”, an act that is particularly dangerous in the context of an article that throws around words like “eradication” and makes baseless allegations about the people who hold the beliefs that Stefanelli wants to “eradicate”. I imagine that most of us would acknowledge that both words and rhetoric can have serious consequences and thus must be used responsibly, yet Stefanelli either doesn’t understand this or doesn’t care (as much as I’d like to grant him the benefit of the doubt, it’s pretty clear that the second option applies here).

More Stefanelli:

The fact is that fundamentalist Christians and radical Muslims are not interested in coexisting or getting along. They have no desire for peace. They do not want to sit down with us in diplomatic efforts to iron out our differences and come to an agreement on developing an integrated society.

They want us to die.

Yet more assumptions and sweeping generalizations. For example: fundamentalist Christians and radical Muslims are not the same. Their differences outnumber their similarities. But, as Stefanelli’s failure to properly distinguish between “beliefs” and “believers” makes clear, he isn’t interested in factual and responsible rhetoric, so his attempt to morph these two religious groups into one comes as no surprise.

And does each and every Christian fundamentalist and radical Muslim “want [atheists] to die”. No, of course not.  When an author makes such an extreme claim, they must, at the very least, support it with multiple examples from quality and trustworthy sources. But Stefanelli doesn’t do that. He knows that this claim is patently false and cannot be supported by actual evidence, so he instead chooses to rely on the hope that his audience’s confirmation bias will provide all the “evidence” that he needs.

Stefanelli continues to blur the line between “beliefs” and “believers”:

Again, bigotry, discrimination, hatred, coercion, terrorism, slavery, misogyny and everything else that is part and parcel of fundamental Christianity and radical Islam should not be tolerated and anyone who agrees with this needs to adopt extremist points of view that includes the intolerance of their very existence. The only reason these groups exist is because they are allowed to, and we, as a society, are allowing them to.

This ambiguity is dangerous. The prime example: “intolerance of their very existence”. What is “their” referring to here? He later claimed (in the article’s comment section) that, throughout his article, he was obviously referring to “beliefs”, not believers. But, despite what Stefanelli claims, a dangerous ambiguity pervades his arguments. Further evidence of this ambiguity can be found in his assertion that “these groups” exist only because “they are allowed to”. Consider this: what is a “group”? A collection of people or things. Thus, there is no way that Stefanelli can claim that he was referring to “beliefs” here, not “believers”. And rhetoric that calls for “the intolerance of [the] very existence” of any group of people is extremely unethical, callous, and, above all, dangerous.

And there’s more:

But the underbelly of fundamentalist Christianity and radical Islam does not operate in the legal system. They don’t respond to lawsuits, letters, amicus briefs or other grass-roots campaigns and they must, must, must be eradicated.

Again, Stefanelli’s use of “they” in this context is disturbingly ambiguous. It’s quite arguably a reference to “believers”, not “beliefs”. For example, a belief can’t “respond to a lawsuit”; only an individual or a group can do that. Thus, when Stefanelli proceeds to say that “they must, must, must be eradicated”, I’m honestly baffled as to how anyone could possibly interpret that “they” as anything but a reference to “believers”.

At the end of his article, he tries to backpedal a bit:

If we don’t take a stand and, as a society, insist that these doctrines and beliefs are treated just the same as they would be if religion were not part of the equation, we will become extinct not due to natural selection, but at the hands of those who believe that the supernatural has made the selection.

This passage has nothing to do with the article itself, though. It’s tacked on at the end, perhaps in an attempt to make the article seem less vitriolic and ridiculous than it is. In his article, he isn’t encouraging his readers to speak out against the unquestioned societal privileging of religious beliefs. No: he’s arguing for the eradication of believers.

Stefanelli can backpedal all he wants (he continues to do so in the comments section of the article), but this article must be taken as it was written. Perhaps Stefanelli is guilty only of lazy rhetoric and unclear writing, not of encouraging violence towards individuals and groups. I don’t know for certain. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but that’s very difficult to do here. What I do know is that Stefanelli’s arguments are callous, unsupported, ridiculous, and potentially quite dangerous.

And the worst thing is that American Atheists, as an organization, are happy to promote and endorse articles like Stefanelli’s. This is just one of the many reasons that they are an embarrassment to atheism, and, I’d argue, a major impediment to both the progression of the atheist movement and to acceptance of atheism in general. American Atheists are reactionary, counterproductive, and completely embarrassing. My only hope is that other atheist groups will recognize American Atheists’ tactics for what they are and will distance themselves accordingly.

In which I make a video…

(Updated on 8/21- see end of post)

The We Are Atheism project is really exciting and inspiring:

We want to provide a platform for atheists around the globe to see that they are not alone. Atheists come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds. The only thing that we all have in common is that we don’t see any credible evidence to believe in a god. It’s ok to be an atheist, and we want the world to know.

On their site, you can find videos of all sorts of atheists telling their stories and encouraging others to do the same.  I very rarely make videos, as I’m quite shy and almost always prefer to communicate my ideas in writing. But I’m very fond of this project, so I decided to submit a video. It will probably be posted on their site soon (and I’ll update this post when it is). I’ll also embed it below:

______________

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Thanks for watching ♥

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Update: Yay! My video is now posted on weareatheism.com. Check it out here.

An embarrassing lawsuit

Susan Jacoby has a great article in The Washington Post about American Atheists‘ legal action opposing the inclusion in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum of a cross-shaped steel beam that was found among the ruins of the World Trade Center.

From Jacoby’s article:

But American Atheists, a New Jersey-based group with an unerring nose for for the scent of publicity…

Yes indeed. American Atheists are our Catholic League. Their publicity stunts are embarrassing.

Yes, it would be a violation of the establishment clause if the battered cross-shaped object were displayed at the entrance as the museum’s official symbol. And I’d be the first to go to court to get it removed. But there is no evidence that the museum intends this piece, when the building opens, to be anything but one exhibit in a large collection that will include many other objects belonging to the history of that day and its aftermath. It is now being installed in an underground section of the future museum.

Yes.

If their case does go to trial, their lawyers will have to prove that the cross’s placement violates the “endorsement test“:

[A] government action is invalid if it creates a perception in the mind of a reasonable observer that the government is either endorsing or disapproving of religion.

(Although the endorsement test is often considered to be a subset or a fourth “prong” of the “Lemon test“, the Lemon test really isn’t relevant in this case, as the Lemon test focuses primarily on legislation, not general governmental action.)

Like Jacoby says, the cross isn’t going to be displayed in a manner or place that will indicate governmental endorsement of Christianity. As such, I think that American Atheists are going to have a difficult time proving that the cross’s placement violates the endorsement test (and, by extension, the Establishment Clause).

This lawsuit is both frivolous and almost certainly doomed to fail.

James Croft has written a fantastic and informative post about this lawsuit. In the latest update to his post, he writes that:

I’ve just received confirmation from a 9/11 Memorial Representative that “The World Trade Center Cross will be part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, opening in September 2012. It will be displayed in the historical exhibition.”

I hope this clears up the issue for everybody – the cross is not in the memorial gardens, as American Atheists, Inc. have repeatedly claimed on their Facebook page, but is an exhibit in the museum, as I have contended from the start.

I’m quite curious to hear American Atheists’ response to all of the evidence that James has tracked down (assuming they don’t just willfully ignore it, that is).

(h/t: RD.net)

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