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How big will the Reason Rally be?

I just booked two tickets for the Reason Rally bus and tickets were going fast.  There were only a few spaces left on the bus.  This may be a bigger turnout than I anticipated.

If you are a secular American and you’re tired of our government bowing to the religious who throw bronze age rules and regulations in your face, consider attending.  Richard Dawkins is going to speak as well as Adam Savage from Mythbusters, Greta Christina and many others.  The purpose of the rally is to demonstrate our numbers and that we can be a formidable voting bloc.  This voting bloc wants reason to prevail in the way we run our government, make our laws, educate our children and maintain our privacy.  You do not have to be a non-believer to attend this rally.  All that is required is a desire to protect the separation of church and state.

The attack on reason is gathering steam.  In addition to the new regulations on abortion and contraception sweeping the nation, Tennessee has just passed a Monkey Bill which will mandate that science classrooms teach that evolution and climate change are controversial subjects.  While reasonable people can debate the degree to which human activity contributes to global warming, there is nothing “controversial” about the subject of evolution.  It happened and continues to happen. I see it in the sequences I download and proteins I study every day.  There is no better evidence.  The only thing that is controversial about it is scientists’ opinion on why the religious right refuses to believe an incontrovertible truth.  Some say it’s stupidity, while people like me say it’s indoctrination.  It’s a controversy.  Can we discuss that in Tennessee classrooms?

And for those of you who just can’t get enough politics, here is a very informative video of Sean Faircloth, author of Attack of the Theocrats on the strategy for secular success.

Coming out of the closet as a non-religious person

Digby’s back to her usual quotable self today, lamenting why it is that the religious get all of the respect.  With respect to a doctor’s concern with his freedom to treat women in a Catholic hospital according to his professional judgment, Digby writes:

He points out that the Catholic Hospital system has been growing as they take over more and more community hospitals around the country. He also points out that they receive many millions of taxpayer dollars to do it. So, what about my conscience? It is truly offended by this behavior and I’m not being facetious. Why does this only go one way?

This isn’t just about lady parts, although they are as obsessed with them as ever. This is about dying with dignity as well, another extremely personal decision that these religious people take out of the hands of individuals and their families and insist on their own religious practices, regardless of the medical necessity among other extremely personal issues.

I find that story morally reprehensible and I deeply resent contributing to such practices. Maybe it’s time for non-believers and those of other faiths to seriously start challenging this with their own arguments. Many of doctors who’ve been forced into these institutions chafe at what they are required to do as well. Perhaps they should invoke the Hippocratic oath and stop doing harm as well.

[...]

Maybe we should be thinking about ways to change that mix.

Well, there’s always The Reason Rally that’s coming up on March 24. Richard Dawkins and Adam Savage will be speaking there.  The rally is intended to be a demonstration of the growing numbers of secularists in America.  You don’t have to be an atheist to attend.  You just have to want to protect our secular government and the separation of church and state.

But now that I’ve brought it up, how many people have come out of the closet about their religious beliefs?  The podcast, TheThinkingAtheist, hosted by Seth (whose last name I can never find), takes calls from many people every week who have come out to their family as non-believers and get a similar reaction to coming out as gay.  Their families reject them or treat them as sub-adult.  What’s really annoying is that the religious refuse to confer the same respect for the non-religious believer’s worldview that the religious demand from everyone else regarding their belief in God.  Some out of the closet non-believers have been disinherited.  You can even lose your job or custody of your children if you’re an atheist.  In many respects, it really is like being gay.

But the numbers of non-believers is growing and there is some safety in numbers.  I’ve really been surprised by the number of non-believer outlets out here that have sprung up in just the last couple of years.  There are worldwide conferences as well.  For some strange reason, Australia seems to host a lot of them.  Maybe that has something to do with their single, white, female, atheist prime minister.  But even here in the US, freethought societies and atheist associations are springing up all over the place including the south, where being an atheist might be hazardous to your health.

This new cohort of non-believers are all ages, all sexes, all socioeconomic groups.  There are more women and they’re not the Madelyn Murray O’Hare types of the 60′s.  They’re people like Annie Laurie Gaylor of FFRF, Cristina Rad, and atheist minister Margaret Downey.  And Seth gets calls from young and old, cosmopolitan and good old boy.  Suddenly, it’s getting safer-and apparently a lot more popular, to be a non-believer.
This bunch of non-believers are not rejecting God so much as thriving in a naturalistic worldview without God.  It’s a return to nature.

We’re not a majority.  The religious still outnumber us by a wide margin.  But our numbers are not insignificant anymore and we are a growing voting bloc.  Whether this is a natural evolution of the human condition, part of a step from totems and anunna spirits, to polytheism, to monotheism, to something else, or just a reaction to the non-stop, shoving of 13th century BCE traditions down our throats to the point where they have a choked the life out of our modern American culture is a question that will only resolve over time.  But whatever it is, it’s not going back in the bottle.

So, what’s the membership like these days?  Can we get a show of hands? (BTW, there’s no way for me to know who you are if you respond to this poll.  Your secret is safe from me)  

My resident atheist was mildly curious about my recent interest in the atheist community.  “Are you ready to come to the dark side?”, she asked with a grin.  “We have cookies.”

I have to admit that the prospect of hot chocolate chip cookies and a glass of cold milk is very tempting…

Another reason…

… to go to the Reason Rally in Washington DC on March 24, 2012:

Blast from the Past:

Do any of you remember this Obama image from 2008?

When I first saw that I thought, I’ve seen that before somewhere.  It took me awhile but then it hit me.  My grandparents had a picture of something just like it next to their JFK shrine:

You might say that I’m the kind of person who sees the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast but I don’t think you have to stretch your imagination too far to see the resemblance here.  If a non-religious person who was a part time Catholic in her childhood can see it…

They’ll never know what hit them

In light of reports that Obama is starting to cave on the contraceptive issue to the red beanie boys, it would be a good idea to show him and the Democrats (forget the Republicans, they’re a lost cause) that secularism is alive and thriving in America.  I am amazed at the growing number of podcasts and personalities who have taken to online media in just the last couple of years.  They’re scientists like Richard Dawkins, former pastors like Dan Barker, advertising executives like Jane Caro, and lively and beautiful people like Margaret Downey and Seth, The Thinking Atheist.  They are changing the face of the non-believer, the skeptic, the freethinker.  They have a sense of humor and a genuine concern for people and the planet. Something is happening here.  Secularists are coming out of the closet in a wave.  Just like women who have finally had enough after the Komen debacle, the secular are starting to push back.

Even if you are a believer, of whatever, but are adamant about the separation of church and state, consider going.  If you think it is wrong that some old, celibate dudes from Vatican Inc can make decisions about your reproductive organs to preserve their job security, if you think it’s wrong that the religious get too many breaks, too much deference and have too much influence, if you think it is alarming that our government officials have to continually swear allegiance to a bunch of people who let a Bronze Age piece of literature run their lives, this rally might be for you.

March 24, 2012, the Mall, Washington, DC.  Be there.

Speaking of The Thinking Atheist, he’s got a new episode up today on Religion and Sexuality, which seems quite timely.  “We interview Dr. Marty Klein http://www.martyklein.com, author of such books as “America’s War on Sex: The Attack on Law,Lust & Liberty.”  And we speak with Darrel Ray, Ed.D, author of the book “Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality.”

(Too funny, that podcast veers wildly from professional to profane and Seth turns out to be somewhat of a prude.  Towards the end, it even made me squirm uncomfortably, which just goes to show that we’re not all the same and there are places even the ungodly won’t go.)

********************************

Santorum picked up wins in some states in yesterday’s Republican primaries.  Veddy interesting.  I think this is how it’s going to work out: Romney has the party apparatus and the financing guys all lined up but he’s going to have to take on Rick Santorum as VP to appease the mighty religious contingent.  Come to think of it, the red beanie boys must have seen the numbers over the weekend and that’s why they’re pushing Obama to make compromises on the contraceptive front.

Everyone knows that the VP spot is largely ceremonial (which is why I want Hillary to stay clear of it, but I’m pretty sure she already knows this).  But the “Christians” will like the idea of Ricky standing by in the wings and *counseling* the Mormon on what is morally right, like Mitt is going to spend the next four years tearing his garments over abortion and birth control.  Am I right, rapture-ready people?

So, where is Rick Santorum getting all of his support?  Beats me, I still think the country is evolving away from religion, which is why Vatican Inc is getting so panicky and pre-emptive.  But Santorum did get the Duggar endorsement.  I have relatives who are in awe of the Duggars.  Recently, I forced myself to sit through some of their youtube episodes to see what the attraction is.  I mean, one particular relative made it sound like Michelle Duggar was Mother Teresa and General Patton all rolled up in one.  Her family is held up as some kind of example of perfection.

Ehhhh, I’m not feelin’ it.  But I think I see what the problem is.  Here it is: the people who admire the Duggars have somehow convinced themselves that modern women have been deceived into a unfulfilling life of hard work when they would be much happier if they stopped fighting the natural and godly order of things, got back into their houses and produced a lovely family full of clean, obedient and musical children.

I don’t know *what* makes them think this is a good thing for all women and children.  It is held up as an ideal of Godly perfection but it ignores everything about human nature.  And it’s not like this relative hasn’t seen this kind of lifestyle played out disastrously before in a different high control group religious cult.  The Duggars are no different.  The boys’ profile pages are full of their favorite subjects, like math and science (they’re all homeschooled).  The girls’ pages are mostly devoid of subject matter.  Girls have a father figure holding authority over them for all of their lives from father to husband to older sons.  They don’t have careers outside the home and they are expected to leave their family size up to God.  The whole family travels as a pack together.  Or they split up into other reasonably large sized chunks.  The children sleep in dorms.  They rarely have a minute to themselves.  There is always a buddy or a sibling to be a minder.

I see heartbreak in the Duggar family future.  One boy says he wants to study science and cure cancer.  Can’t do that without fully accepting the concepts of natural selection and evolution.  He’s going to have to make a choice.  For all we know, he might be the kid who can crack this nut but we’ll never find out if he doesn’t go to a rigorous college or university and if he stays within the family’s faith and circle, he won’t ever get that opportunity.

There’s a good probability that some of the younger boys will be gay.  I’ve read about this before about large families and gay sons. (need citation)  It’s either related to the size of the family or the number of older brothers.  Evolutionally, it kind of makes sense.  If you have a large number of siblings and your parents die, it’s good to have a couple of kids around who won’t have kids of their own who can provide resources and take on parenting tasks.  I think that having a gay kid in a large family is a blessing, but I’m betting the Duggars don’t.  And I’m preeeetty sure I know which one of these kids it’s going to be (betcha the Duggars do too).

Then there are the girls.  One of them, Jinger Duggar, has a very expressive face and is frequently caught on camera rolling her eyes or otherwise having a “And that affects me *how*?” look.  There’s even a couple of websites dedicated to freeing Jinger Duggar.  But she’s not the one I would expect to be the rebel.

Nope, I’m placing my money on Jessa Duggar whose natural extroversion, wit and ambition are not going to be satisfied with a batch of babies.  No, not Jessa.  Jessa likes the Prayer of Jabez.  Jessa wants prosperity.  Her focus on the success of the family business makes her an excellent family spokesdaughter.  I’d like to see her father try to hand her authority over to some fresh faced Christian boy who thinks he can guide and protect her.  That’s a series I’d be willing to watch on TLC.

Then there’s oldest daughter, Jana.  At 22, she’s unmarried and probably close to her expiration date.  What’s up with that?  Can’t they find some decent courtship material for her or is she holding out for a conservatory education so she can continue to play the harp in peace for a few hours a day?

That’s not to say their childhood is bad.  They’re clean, well fed, well cared for and none of them appear to be stupid. Anyway, it’s all they know, since the most contact they have with the outside world in their childhood is with the production crew that follows them around and their own circle of like minded Christian families. But they are a herd and in this herd there are mavericks.  Their world is highly intolerant of mavericks.  It’s going to be very hard on some of them to lose the love that Michelle and Jim-Bob have spent so much time and energy creating.  They either have to deny their faith and upbringing or they have to deny themselves.

And this is a choice that the Duggars would like to impose on the rest of the country.  In the world of the conservative religious, the only grace you get is from Jesus.  The rest of the country should not expect unconditional love under a Christan regime.

Monday: Be Good for Goodness Sake

Ok, bear with me, these things are related.  I think.

I was idly surfing the web, as I sometimes do.  You do that too, don’t you?  And I ran across a podcast on the crazy super secret handshakes and decoder rings of the Church of Latter Day Saints aka the Mormons and that lead me to a playlist of a lecture on youtube on the modern secular movement.  As it turns out, people who identify themselves as non-religious, ie secularists, atheists, freethinkers, pastafarians etc) belong to a fast growing group here in the US.  Although the official number is around 3%, the leaders of this movement think that the number of non-religious Americans is about 10%.  Revealing your atheism is still pretty risky these days so there are probably more than the surveys say.  Compare that to the population of Jews in this country, which is only around 1.5%.  I find that number incredibly low but that’s probably because I live in New Jersey.  I know a lot of Jews.  So, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think there are a lot more atheists around than we think.  In fact, I live with one who announced her atheism at 9 yrs old just before she asked if she could have another cookie.

Anyway, one of the more accesible speakers on atheism has to be Dan Barker.  Barker became a born again Christian at the age of 15 and studied to be an evangelical, fundamentalist preacher.  He preached for 19 years before his side line as a composer of Christian music took him out of his comfort zone in fundamentalism and into mainstream Christian churches.  It was all downhill from there.  Before long he was learning liberal theology and reading stuff and asking questions.  Eventually, he decided that there was no god.  In his YouTube lecture on the subject, he relates his experiences as a secretly atheist preacher in the final days of his ministry and how awkward it was.  Finally, he came clean with his friends and relatives and sent them all a letter announcing his atheism.  Some of his friends dropped him.  Others loved him anyway.  In particular, his mother, a devout Christian, started asking her own questions.  It wasn’t long before she too gave up God, with some relief.  She said, “Being an atheist is great.  I don’t have to hate anyone!”

Dan Barker’s lecture is interesting.  He has a lot to say about  fundamentalist minds and their worldview that those of you who have grown up in normal families were fortunate enough to have missed.  Both he and another leader of the secular movement, Dr. Sam Harris, confirm what I’ve been said about arguing with fundamentalists.  Don’t.  I mean, don’t bother.  Their whole reason for being is to lure you into conversations with them for the express purpose of shooting down your belief system.  They’ve got their arguments all lined up like a gatling gun.  There is no give and take in these conversations.  They are not interested in your point of view.  You may think you are debating.  You are not.  And if you are the kind of person who routinely applies reason and logic in your approach to the world, a fundamentalist is not going to impress you.  Just politely excuse yourself and go get another cocktail.  In fact, let this be a warning to fundamentalists.  Don’t get into an argument with a person who applies reason and logic in his/her approach to the world.  You’ll just be wasting your precious time. Cross them off your life list.  They’re lost causes.  Find an easier mark.

So, the Dan Barker lecture lead me to The God Debate II where Sam Harris debated William Craig on morality.  This one was good too but I found Harris’s intro speech particularly illuminating.  My tin foil antenna picked up signal about how we may have ended up with the stupid decision on Plan B.  Take a listen starting at minute mark 27.35:

For those of you who want the short summary, here it is.  Harris went to a conference and met a bioethicist who was appointed by President Obama.  The bioethicist, a woman, took Harris to task for his condemnation of the Taliban’s treatment of women.  She asked what right Americans had to condemn forcing women into burqas.  That’s what the Taliban and Afghanistan valued.  Harris countered that he didn’t think it was good for the well being of women to be stuffed into bags and to be beaten for not wearing them and that the Taliban’s treatment of women resulted in low lifespan for women as well as high illiteracy, and maternal and infant mortality.  He was surprised by her attitude so he asked how she would feel about a culture whose religion dictated that the eyes of every third child should be put out because their scriptures said, “Every third one shall walk in darkness.”  The bioethicist said it wasn’t our place to judge.  Harris was amazed at this response since earlier in that conference, he’d heard this same bioethicist give an impassioned speech on the unconstitutionality and immorality of torture in detention.

What are we to make of that and what does it have to do with Plan B?  First, it seems to me that the bioethicist has no problem accepting international and constitutional legal proscriptions regarding torture.  But when it comes to matters of religion, there seems to be a hands-off attitude because to insert oneself between another person and their god is arrogant and cultural imperialism, even if the religious act results in another form of physical torture.  It’s not the torture that is the problem, it is the context in which the torture is carried out.  As long as the torture is religious in nature, the bioethicist felt that to give offense was worse than allowing the torture to happen.

In the past couple of months, the right wing nutcases have rolled out their campaign for “religious freedom”, which, from what I can tell, means sufficiently fanatical religious people have the freedom to shove religion down your gullet whenever and wherever they want or they will have a noisy, screaming, bloody tantrum.  Their religious freedom trumps your right to be left alone.  It’s simply not enough to be able to practice their religion at home and not be persecuted for practicing their religion in a place of worship.  No, they have to be in your face, 24/7, and be able to take their religion everywhere.

And it looks like President Obama is going to let them do it and let them push the envelope as far as it will go.  Because it is OK by him for the mayors of various cities to enforce petty little laws that truncate your right to protest government in public but no one in his administration will dare to condemn you for practicing religion any damn place you please even if everyone around you finds your values abominable.  It’s simply uncouth.  One doesn’t do such things.  It’s like discussing religion and politics at Easter dinner.  Very rude.  Besides, religious people are inherently moral beings, even if what they do doesn’t seem right to the rest of us.  Who are we to judge?

So, protestors chanting “We are the 99%” and non-violently camping in a public park?  Dangerous malcontents.  Fanatically religious, viciously ugly, men and women hatefully humiliating women outside an abortion clinic?  Moral upstanding citizens.  Scared 15 yr old teenager who let nature get the best of her thinking self?  Bad little girl.  Obama administration who overruled its FDA?  Benevolent moral father figure.  What about the rest of us who aren’t religious who don’t think the administration had any right to deny our high school daughters access to Plan B?  Why do I get the feeling that the answer to that question is another question?  “Why aren’t you religious?”

Should we be asking ourselves if only religious people in this country have rights?  And do those rights include the ability to invade other people’s privacy at will?  And what does Harris’s story about Obama’s bioethicist say about how the administration will handle other issues where law and religion conflict?  According to most religions, women are subservient to their husbands and fathers.  Is this what Obama is sanctioning with his Plan B decision?  Because that’s what it sounds like to me.  So, will it be OK for men to beat their wives into submission again?  Interfere with her right to get an abortion?  Deny her birth control?  Forbid her from getting a higher education or work?  Where does Obama draw the line?  Must we always meekly defer to the religious for fear of denying their freedom for imposing some legal standards of behavior on them?

And what are we to make of the new religious freedom campaign in this environment?  I’d say the Republicans and religious crazies know just which buttons to push with President Obama.  And they will keep pushing them as long as he lets them get away with it.  It could be just a re-election strategy or it could be his own personal philosophy.  When it comes to the religious, he’s non-confrontational.  Better to just let their morality lead and get out of the way.  Is this a backdoor way of allowing for the establishment of religion?  If you can’t question the religious and you allow their morality to make your decisions, then the rest of us are involuntary participants against our own consciences.

If this is the way Obama’s administration operates, expect to see a lot more catering to the religious right in the next year.  They’ll push and he’ll cave so that he isn’t perceived as overriding their right to follow their religious moral teachings, even if it means letting every third child walk in darkness or get pregnant in high school.

*****************************

And on the right side of the aisle, Newt Gingrich drills into the dark recesses of the authoritarian follower’s unconscious and digs up an all too real sounding modern apocalyptic scenario.  In Among Gingrich’s Passions, a Doomsday Vision, the New York Times reveals Gingrich’s warnings about EMP, electro magnetic pulse.  The scenario goes like this: some crazy axis of evil country detonates a nuclear device in a certain stratum of the atmosphere over our country, the home of the free, land of the brave, and takes down the entire electrical grid.  Suddenly, nothing electrical will work.  Your refrigerator, TV, cell phones, trains, even some cars, all dead.  The wires of the grid irretrievably destroyed all over the country, the nation plunges into a period of darkness, chaos, starvation and danger.

There was a work of fiction written about this a few years back called One Second After.  Wouldn’t you know, Gingrich wrote the introduction for it.  {{rolling eyes}} I happen to have listened to this book because it was recommended on audible.  Not knowing that it was a work of propaganda, until after the intro, I listened to about half of it before I couldn’t take it anymore.  The book was designed for middle aged guys with a hero fantasy.  Picture Rambo crossed with the protagonist from a Tom Clancy novel, except with a patriotic, moral “family values” streak.  He’s rugged and good looking and he snags the best looking babe.  He’s wise, he’s tough, he has a gift for planning, strategy and war.  He takes care of his family first and doesn’t flinch when he has to execute people who don’t follow the law he has laid down who get in his way. He has no patience with civil liberties. It’s the kind of book only your annoyingly righteous brother could love and pack away with his stash of MRE’s and survivalist gear in the basement.

I think we can see who Newt’s target demographic is.  Newt is appealing to the apocalyptic nervous Nellies who want a strong, fatherly type who will get them through the coming tribulations with hard and fast authority.  There are no shades of gray in this world.  He’ll do what he has to do to keep his country safe from dangerous entities who want to kill us in the night.  He will be vigilant, he will be patriotic, he will not be soft.  And he won’t have any patience for basic constitutional rights or charity for others.  He will put the country on a war footing.  We’ll all be twitchy just waitin’ for someone to step out of line.  (By the way, have you read what Paul Krugman wrote about what happened to Hungary?  It’s a country that Gingrich could admire.)

I did skip ahead to the end.  You’ll be happy to know that the Army does finally come to the rescue at the end and that the lights do slowly come back on.  But the country is irreparably changed by then.  Most of the population is dead from starvation or just plain killin’.  And the hero rules his roost like a not so benevolent dictator while his neighbors and recruits worship him for saving them from what surely was the end of the world.

Newt is a little bit like Walt Disney.  He’s going to make his fantasies come true and it will be one scary E- ticket ride.

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