Monday, March 31, 2008

A Non-Believer in Church: Church of Christ at Oxford

It's like those miserable Psalms... they're so depressing. Now knock it off!

I stayed local for church this week. I went over to the Church of Christ on North Lamar Street in Oxford. Services start promptly at 10 PM. The layout is traditional for a Church of Christ auditorium: classical pews fill the room with a single pulpit and baptistery at the front. The auditorium seats roughly 400 people. Perhaps I'm revealing too much of myself here, but I've been in dozens of Churches of Christ, and they all follow this pattern.

If you aren't familiar with the Churches of Christ, maybe you recall the trial of Mary Winkler, accused of shooting her husband, a preacher of a Church of Christ congregation. Mary Winkler's problems should be her own, but her religion was dragged into it. It was a storm of media attention and I followed most of it. On the CNN show "Nancy Grace", Nancy investigated deeper into the Church of Christ... by interviewing a Baptist minister. The Baptist minister, in a bit of irony, called the Church of Christ "kind of is a borderline cult, unfortunately." Pot. Kettle. All denominations retain some knowledge that the other denominations either don't have, have overlooked, or just ignored, and this is what makes denomination X better than all of the others. What I can say about the Church of Christ is that they follow a painstakingly strict interpretation of the Bible.

The services started with several songs. There are no instruments in the services, and the congregation puts forth all of their effort into each song. The communion is passed and the offering followed. The prayers are long drawn out pleas to God, including calls asking for wisdom, thanking God for the weather, mentioning the sick of the congregation by name, and asking for forgiveness. This service had more than one of these pleas to God.

The lesson of the hour came from the 107th Psalm on the redemptive powers of God. At the heart of the preacher's lesson was his understanding that God is providentially working in our lives. He cited examples of drug addicts turning their lives to God, alcoholics turning their lives to God, and gambling addicts turning their lives to God. The message was clear: the only way to break free from a harmful addiction is to turn your life to God. You may be wondering how turning your life over to a metaphysical concept helps, but that's where the belief in providence must come in. He decried individualism, saying that it was currently the biggest problem plaguing the church. I had to agree with the preacher here: once I started to think for myself, I stopped believing. He thought it was interesting that the Christian religion is most successful with people who seem to be at the lowest point in their lives, but did not speculate as to why. The point was also made to study the Bible more, because verse 20 of that psalm says "He sent his word, and healed them," and made the implication that the only book that you really need to consider in helping your troubled life is the Bible.

As an aside to the rest of the lesson, the preacher talked about how the differences in the character of God between the Old Testament and the New Testament were "a bunch of bologna." His point was that God was a god of love all the time. When we characterize the God of the Old Testament as a god of wrath and the God of the New Testament as a god of love, then we completely misrepresent the love of God.

I understood what the preacher was trying to say, but I didn't believe him. Through out the Old Testament, God allows evil to happen to both the righteous (see Job) and the unrighteous (see the rest of the Old Testament) and yet in the New Testament, he is still striking people dead for minor offenses. Old habits are hard to break. The argument could be made that God is a god of love throughout the Bible, but only if you over look all of those passages where he isn't. God loves you, except when your great grandfather was an unbeliever.

After the lesson, the invitation was offered to anyone who needed the prayers of the church. Three people came forward, including one person who needed prayers to help him attend church more often. I kept thinking to myself, "I'm looking for a way out, and he's looking for a way in."

I'm going to be on the eastern side of the Mississippi this weekend, which will give me the opportunity to visit a new church. If the response to this post is positive, I might turn this into a series. The idea of visiting churches and writing the experience is respectfully ripped off of Hemant Mehta's fascinating book "I Sold My Soul On eBay".

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Carnival of the Godless #88 at Atheist FAQ

Those of you looking for some good blog posts on atheism and related topics can find them at the 88th edition of Carnival of the Godless at Atheist FAQ. Oliver's recent account of attending "The Orchard" is among the contributions. Check it out.


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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ready for the Rapture?

I attended "Hubfest" today in Hattiesburg, a good-sized street fair during which a few blocks of the downtown area are closed off to make room for crowds of people, food and craft booths, and two stages of live music. Aside from the weather not cooperating very well (afternoon thunderstorm), it was fun. i had forgotten what great reminders that I am in Mississippi these things can be.

Virtually every organization I could think of had a booth. Local restaurants were well represented, as were groups ranging from the university to animal shelters. And then there were the religious fanatics.

I managed to find an entire booth devoted to "the rapture." The man staffing it had the wild-eyed look of a street preacher off his anti-psychotics. His booth was covered with signs asking passersby to consider whether they were "right with god," knew where they'd go if they died today, and the like. We was pushing literature and CD-Rs containing who knows what. It also appeared that, like any good evangelical Christian extremist in the South, he was well stocked with anti-Catholic propaganda.

What surprised me was not his presence. I have never been to an event like this in Mississippi where his kind was not well represented. What surprised me was how many people I saw stopping by his booth to talk with him and take his literature. Evidently, there are a great many people in this area who actually believe that the world is going to end soon and they will be summoned to "heaven" while the rest of us burn.

I don't know how I feel about this. I pity those who suffer from this type of delusion, but I am also enraged by their presence, as they distribute fear and hate among all the smiles.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

MS Gulf Coat Atheist and Freethinking Association April Meeting

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Atheist and Freethinking Association will meet on Sunday, April 13 at 3:00 PM in Gulfport. At 5:00, the group will be joined by the Ocean Springs Movie Fanatics for a potluck, and at 7:00, all are invited to a program of classic and art films. See here for details.

Monday, March 24, 2008

An Inferior Morality

"I know you don't claim to be a Christian but even you wouldn't put something like that on your (web)page..." That's how the blow was delivered today - subtle but clear.

This was spoken by my good (?) friend and supervisor who I mentioned in my "Outed at Work" post. We were discussing one of the young girls at her church whose MySpace page had been hacked and terrible things posted. My friend described the very graphic and vulgar sexual innuendo and words that had been used about this little 14 year-old girl.

And then she told me that my morality was inferior.

I doubt she meant it fully the way she said it but it came out nonetheless. I am not a Christian so, of course, I must be less moral than she is. Somehow I am more likely to put up a webpage that is hurtful and indecent simply because I'm not a believer. Why is this?

I wonder if she has really felt this way about me all along? Have all my efforts to prove myself a good person been for nothing? Am I doomed to always be judged by my atheism and never for my character? It surely seems so this week. That this barb came from someone I considered a dear friend makes it all the more cruel.

No wonder so many people never let anyone know that they're atheists - particularly in the Bible Belt! When even your Christian friends think you are somehow less of a person because you don't believe, what hope do you have left? All I find myself thinking these days is, "I really wish I had some atheist friends nearby. If they didn't like me, at least it wouldn't be because of my beliefs."

How sad. How real.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Non-Believer in Church: The Orchard at Tupelo

I should explain a few things before I begin. I come from a devote Christian family. All of my family as well as my Mississippi friends still think I am a believer. I gave up believing the mythology about two years ago. I still go to church regularly out of fear of what others will think of (or might do to) me. Since I am going to church, I ought to be recording these experiences. Maybe it is ironic that I'm writing while listening to the excellent Christian music podcast "Bored Again Christian," which I would recommend to anyone.

About three weeks ago, I attended the services of "The Orchard," a church of the United Methodist in Tupelo. It's a much larger church than I am use to attending, with around 1,000 people in attendance. The place looks like an airport terminal. The signs that hang from the walls have a giant typeface to direct people to different areas of the building. There are free coffee and donut stations throughout the auditorium. The church has a store with spiritual living books, t-shirts, and coffee mugs. Several wooden crosses hang from the ceiling. The front of the auditorium has a stage and a full band was used throughout the service.

Most of the service consisted of live music, which was enjoyable to me. The band played while the congregation (or more appropriately "audience") watched. There was some encouragement to sing and the lyrics were on an overhead screen, but I didn't see a lot of participation. The majority of the people were content to stand and listen. The older Christian me would have been bothered by the lack of singing from the group. The newer secular me wonders why a person would make any effort at all to come to church and not try to participate.

The speaker of the hour talked about a passage from The Book of Hosea, Ch. 11. Hosea is a book about a prophet who is so angry that he spends most of the book begging God to curse and torture the tribe of Ephraim in cruel and inhuman ways. The speaker is obviously talented enough to turn this book into a family friendly lesson. He told a funny story from his childhood where his mother would read a children's book to him when he got in trouble, and that this was much worse than any spanking he could have received. It was clever in that it showed that the bond between God and his people should be the same between the bond between parents and children, thus the overall message of "God loves you" was complete.

After the speaker finished, there was more live music, followed by the offering. One minister introduced a family who had recently had a baby girl. The family said that they all wanted to be rededicated to God, including the baby. The minister sprinkled the water on the baby's head and talked about how she was now a sister of the church, but not yet a full member. This portion of the service made me realize that the indoctrination of children into a religion begins before they are even able to learn of alternatives to what the parents already believe.

There were some closing announcements and one minister told a shocking story about how someone died of a heart attack in the middle of the previous Sunday service. Then he clarified that no one died and no one even had a health issue. He was highlighting the problem that people are parking in the zones reserved for emergency vehicles. It was a shocking way to get my attention, and it worked, but I don't exactly condone that sort of attention grabbing. It harkens back to the story of the boy who cried wolf too many times.

The service concluded with a minister simply saying that the service was over. The window drapes are mechanized to all open at the same time, so as the service finished the auditorium filled with sunlight. It was quite beautiful and it certainly had the emotional draw to it. Looking back, every aspect of the service was based on an emotional appeal to follow God. There was no effort to make a reasoned appeal to follow God because it wasn't needed. Why do you need reason to get people in the doors if free coffee, donuts, and live music do just as well?

I enjoyed my brief time at "The Orchard," if only for the entertainment value. If you are a member of this church, I hope this provides a new perspective on this church's style of worship. Also, be on the lookout for a new guy sitting on your pew taking copious notes (and that goes for any church in Northern Mississippi).

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Christian Privilege and the Road to Theocracy

Easter in Mississippi, a more perfect occasion to reflect on the importance of maintaining the separation of church and state would be hard to find. It also happens to be time for the annual Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm. We in Mississippi know a little something about theocracy, for it our daily lives often feel as though we are living in a theocratic society dominated by Christian extremism.

Church is an important part of the social fabric in many regions of America, however, it often seems to be the cloth itself in Mississippi. A brief trip to the online forums of my local newspaper, the Hattiesburg American, uncovers a "Faith and belief" forum with the following description:
Devout beliefs are an integral part of life in the Pine Belt. Here is a place to discuss your faith and values.
Yep, we actually have a regular section of our paper focusing on faith. If the description of our community as centering around religious faith seems alienating to those of us who prefer reason to superstition, this is because it is so. And yet, I cannot disagree that religious beliefs are a core part of life in Mississippi. The description may be alienating, but the reality is far more so.

When one examines the nature of Christianity in Mississippi, one realizes that this is no ordinary Christianity. It is evangelical, fundamentalist, and often extremist is nature. Hatred of homosexuals and atheists is the rule. Wives are to be submissive to their husbands, defiant children must not be "spared the rod," and most problems can be traced back to "godless liberals" and "moral decline."

As unpleasant as all this can be, it still does not bring us to theocracy. It is only when one begins to confront the scope of Christian privilege in Mississippi that one begins down this road. The level of Christian privilege in this state is unlike anything I've experienced outside of Utah. If social networks are a form of power and influence and the point of entry to such networks is Christianity, one realizes that power and Christianity are inextricably linked here.

I sometimes think of Mississippi as a living example of what the rest of America will become if the wall of separation between church and state were to fall. Granted, this really isn't fair given the number of other problems we have. But it may be appropriate with regard to the influence of Christianity in one's daily life.

We in Mississippi must remain committed to opposing theocracy and strengthening church-state separation. At the same time, we can begin to chip away at the Christian privilege which surrounds us and paves the road to theocracy.

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My Christian Ex-Friend

A couple of years ago, a young girl moved in across the street. Her husband worked away from home for long periods of time and wasn't very attentive when he was at home. She had been disowned by her family and was always very sick and nervous. She started to rely on me for support. I tried to help her as much as I could even though she was very needy. I drove her places, I gave her things, and I even visited her in the hospital although I have a phobia of needles and such.

She knew I was an atheist. She told me it was no problem and she'd always respect that. I knew she was an apathetic believer at best and I respected her as well.

Then one day she went to church with some people. As time passed, she began to rely more on them and less on me. I didn't mind - she was seriously draining me physically and emotionally - so I welcomed the help from any source. On the last day I saw her, this church had given her furniture and helped her move across town. I figured I'd never see her again and I was almost right.

I haven't heard from the girl for 2 years. Once she had someone else to rely on, I guess she didn't need me anymore. Frankly, I enjoyed the peace and quiet. I will help anyone in need that I can but I really have a problem with clingy people. So I wished her well and just put her out of my mind.

Until yesterday, that is. My husband and I were doing some work outside when we were approached by an older lady and a young girl pushing a baby stroller. The older lady introduced them and, sure enough, the girl was my old friend. She didn't acknowledge me, didn't say a word as the older lady gave us a handout and invited us to Easter services. My husband and I were polite but I was seething inside. Here was a girl who took everything I had to give and then just dropped me when she found new, more able friends. Here was someone who told me she respected me and here she was inviting me to church while pretending she didn't even know me. I was livid.

I looked straight at her and said hello, calling her by her name. She looked like I had slapped her but said hello back and asked how we were. I responded politely but my eyes were shooting daggers. She got the message and couldn't get away quickly enough. She knew exactly what I was thinking and she seemed to be ashamed. She should be. Hypocrite!

But the truth is, I'm a hypocrite too. I write all the time advocating a high level of morality among atheists and a gentle approach to most Christians among us. But inside me lurks that same animal as all others have - that primitive creature who understands fear and hatred and responds with what it knows. I resented the intrusion on my time by these peddlers of superstitious garbage. I was angry that this girl had the audacity to come up to me and invite me to her church knowing full well I was an atheist. And I despised her for being the conniving little leech she was. I could have shaken her until her teeth fell out. I hate being used. I hate being disrespected. I hate liars and frauds.

But I was polite. Maybe this makes me the biggest fraud of all.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Outed at Work

Reposted from my blog by request:

As some of you may know by now, I have made no secret of my atheism to anyone outside my family. I have not told my parents or grandparents simply because I think my grandparents would literally die if they found out (and I do mean literally - they are quite old and very devout). Although I am open and honest about my atheism at work when asked, I do not go out of my way to talk about it. Those who know respect me enough to live and let live. I accord them the same respect.

I have a new boss now who is a Southern Baptist. He seems like a nice enough guy but something that happened today has me a bit upset. Our financial consultant and my immediate supervisor were both talking with me today in front of my boss when the consultant brought up my atheism. I felt embarrassed and shocked - we don't normally speak so openly about religion and I had wanted my boss to get to know me first for my character and the quality of my work. When I mentioned to the two later that I was a bit upset, they kind of blew it all off as no big deal. My supervisor said it didn't matter because she'd already told him I was ... she couldn't even say the word "atheist." I said, "Why were you discussing it him? It has nothing to do with my work." She replied that she didn't want him to say something to offend me. I have no doubt that she is telling the truth. I trust her completely and I know neither of these people meant any harm. They know me and they are comfortable with me.

What they don't understand (and what I tried to explain to them) is that not everyone is so tolerant. I told them about my atheist friends who were threatened and run out of a nearby town just a couple of years ago because they didn't want the public school preaching and teaching religion to their son. I expressed concern that some people might treat me badly or make things harder for me because of my atheism. They just didn't get it. I suppose when you've never been hated and shunned like the atheists and gays, then maybe you just can't really understand.

So here I sit now wondering how I should feel. I was outed to my boss before I even realized I was outed! My friends say it's no big deal but it feels like a violation somehow. I feel like I'm on display and my boss will be watching me to see what I may say or do next. Am I paranoid or is there a possibility that I will suffer in some way?

As silly as it may sound, I think I'm uncomfortable because I no longer feel in control. When we all just got along and accepted each other, things were fine. But now that I know someone feels she must reveal my atheism (even for my own sake), I don't have that sense of control anymore. I feel diminished, somehow, as if I had ceased to become a person in that conversation and just an atheist who needed to be handled carefully.

I don't want to be treated differently because I'm an atheist. I don't want anyone to make changes in order to make me feel comfortable. I want people to do what's right by me because it is right and I fully intend to reciprocate.

I want people to see me as a good person who happens to be an atheist and not the other way around. But no matter what happens as a result of this, I will continue to proclaim myself a proud member of the reality-based community. I can only hope that the consequences will not be severe.

Lecture on Hinduism in Memphis

From the Memphis Freethought Alliance:
Lecture: 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm
Q&A: 2:30 pm to 3:00 pm
Location: 3030 Poplar Avenue, Main Library in Memphis
Date: March 30, 2008

Hinduism, the world's oldest and most complex religion, can be a great challenge for outsiders to comprehend. The Hindu tradition embraces polytheism and monotheism, iconography and iconoclasm, social stratification and spiritual equality. This vast spectrum of beliefs and practices defies simple classification and easy understanding.

Dr. Mark W. Muesse, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rhodes College and author of The Teaching Company lecture series on Hinduism, will address these issues in a talk for the Memphis Freethought Alliance. Dr. Muesse will discuss the diversity of Hindu practices and beliefs as well as the principles that most Hindus hold in common.

Our lectures are FREE and OPEN to the public!
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Want to Write for Mississippi Atheists?

If you are an atheist living in Mississippi who has something to say, we'd like to invite you to submit material to Mississippi Atheists. You see, we'd like this blog to provide readers with the perspectives of atheists across our state. What is it like living as an atheist in Mississippi? What sort of experiences have you had that may be of interest or of use to other atheists in our state? Are you a member of an atheist group that meets regularly that you'd like to tell us about?

To contribute material or story ideas, e-mail me at atheistrevolution AT gmail.com. After a good contribution or two, we'll most likely invite you to join our team of regular authors. We'd like to have every region of the state represented on our team, and our expectations with regard to the frequency of your contributions are quite low. In fact, we'd welcome those who could only write one post every couple weeks. Oh, and you can post under a handle of your choice to protect your anonymity if you wish.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Madison Atheists Meeting March 27

The Madison Atheists group is planning a combined Easter, election, and Spring Break gathering for Thursday, March 27, 2008, at 7:00 PM in Jackson. For details and to RSVP, visit the Madison Atheists Meetup Group.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

World Renowned Paleoanthropologist Lectures in Memphis

From the Olive Branch Atheists:

On March 25, 2008, at 7:00 PM, the Hyde Family Foundation and the Gilliland Symposium in association with Rhodes College will present Dr. Donald C. Johanson on the importance of "Lucy." The presentation will be held at Rhodes College, Bryan Campus Life Center in Memphis. Dr. Johanson is one the world's best known paleoanthropologists and is internationally recognized for his discovery of the 3.2 million-year-old fossil remains called "Lucy". He is America's foremost authority on the science of human evolution and founder of the Institute of Human Origins.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

An Atheist in Mississippi: One Perspective

Like many parts of America, collectively referred to as the "Bible Belt," Mississippi can be considered a hostile environment for an atheist. But what does this hostility look like and how is it experienced in the daily life of an atheist? I recognize that other atheists in Mississippi may have vastly different experiences than mine, and this is one of the reasons I hope this blog will come to reflect the voices of atheism across our state.

In my experience, the hardest thing about being an atheist in Mississippi is that it seems to require one to choose between deception and ostracization. Disclosing one's atheism often leads to surprisingly swift rejection, condemnation, or even outright bigotry. I vividly recall how a former next door neighbor with whom I seemed to get along reasonably well never spoke to me again after I answered his questions about where I attend church and then why I chose not to attend church. What appeared to have real potential as a friendship ended abruptly as if I no longer existed in this neighbor's mind. In retrospect, I guess I should not have been surprised. Still, it stung quite a bit at the time.

I've also endured more than enough atheist-bashing conversations at work, coming from co-workers I respect and consider friends. While not a regular topic, the disparaging comments seem to come out of nowhere anytime subjects such as religion or politics are raised. I have never and would never disparage the religious beliefs of a co-worker during conversation, but this courtesy does not extend in both directions. In the work context, the consequences of complete ostracization could actually harm my career.

The temptation is to keep my atheism to myself, buried deep within and masked with a fake respect for religious belief. To be clear, I never lie if asked directly what I think of religion. But I have certainly lied through omission, changing the subject or simply not volunteering information. This sort of deception makes me feel terrible, guilty for not standing up for my beliefs and sad that this could seem necessary in this modern age.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mississippi Primary Raises Questions About Race, Idiocy

Obama's win over Clinton in the Mississippi Democratic primary was not a surprise to anyone. Even though it is likely that Mississippi will continue to be a red state, going for McCain in November, Obama supporters have to be happy with his support among African American voters. Unfortunately, only story the mainstream media seems to be promoting is the racial polarization of our state. I'll provide a brief summary of what they are reporting and suggest some other lessons from our primary.

Exit polls of persons voting in the Democratic primary showed that 70% of whites voted for Clinton while 92% of blacks voted for Obama. As expected, Clinton won with white women, but somewhat surprising to this observer, she was supported by 68% of white men. Evidently, this is her best performance among white male voters so far. This is the sort of statistic that makes one wonder about the effects of race and racism in this election.

With 25% of white voters indicating that race was a factor in their votes (and nearly all voting for Clinton), one cannot help wondering whether a sizable number of Mississippians do not like the idea of a black president. I am not saying that this is the only possible explanation, only that it saddens me that it could well be one. And yet, one could just as easily marvel that it was only 25%.

Among Republican voters, it was disturbing to see that 68% reported positive views of Mike "the theocrat" Huckabee. Wow! This is the guy who cozies up to white supremacist groups, thinks wives should submit to their husbands, wants to change the Constitution to inject his god, denies evolution, and even covered up his son's brutal torture and murder of a stray dog! With 40% saying that John McCain is not conservative enough for them, I suppose this must be where Huckabee comes in. But my favorite statistic to emerge from these data would have to be that 29% of Mississippi's Republican primary voters reported listening to conservative talk radio on a regular basis. Explains a lot about our state, doesn't it?

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Friday, March 14, 2008

New Google Group for Mississippi Atheists

Blogs are a great way to disseminate information and generate discussion around particular topics but probably not the best way to encourage interaction and socializing among a large group. For this reason, we created a Mississippi Atheists group through Google Groups to supplement this blog. This group is open to all atheists living in Mississippi, and we hope it will facilitate interaction and provide a means of socialization for atheists across the state.

If you are not familiar with Google Groups, they work much like Usenet groups or listservs, depending on how you configure your preferences. You can receive individual or digest e-mails from everyone on the list or participate through a web-based discussion forum. This flexibility is part of what makes the service so appealing.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Olive Branch Atheists March Meetup

The Olive Branch Atheists have a meetup scheduled for Sunday, March 16 at 4:00 PM in Southaven at Fox and Hound. More information can be found here.

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Atheism as a Civil Rights Issue

In response to a comment I left about Mississippi Atheists in the Hattiesburg American online forums, I received a sarcastic reply asking why anyone would want to meet to discuss things they do not believe exist. This is a common reaction from believers first hearing about local atheist groups. What's the point, they figure, in assembling to talk about beliefs they do not share? In a nutshell, my response is that atheism is a civil rights issue. Let me explain.

In a strict philosophical sense, atheism is nothing more than the lack of theistic belief. A theist is one who asserts that some sort of god or gods exist. An atheist is simply one who does not accept this assertion as fact.

Granted, most people use atheist in a broader way to refer to a wide range of beliefs that are not synonymous with atheism (e.g., naturalism, ontological materialism, empiricism, etc.) but which are widely associated with it. Still others use atheism as a shorthand way of referring to the atheist movement, a broad activist coalition of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, and freethinkers, working to preserve the separation of church and state. Although this notion of an atheist as one who belongs to this sort of atheist movement is both inaccurate and misleading, it will help the reader understand what I mean by saying that atheism in a civil rights issue.

Atheists living in the more culturally oppressive regions of the United States, of which Mississippi is certainly one, experience tremendous social pressure to conform to the dominant norm (i.e., Christianity). We live in an environment where everyone is assumed to be Christian and those who are not are viewed with suspicion, mistrust, and even hatred. It is this demonization of atheists, combined with Christian privilege, which helps drive discrimination and bigotry toward atheists.

The persecution of atheists simply for being atheists opens the door to civil rights violations. Examples include employment discrimination, legal tests for political suitability, and physical assault on the basis of one's atheism. Thus, it is no surprise that America's oldest and most respected civil rights organization, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) moved to include the Secular Coalition for America last December (see press release).

I can't speak for other atheists, but one of the primary reasons I am interested in atheist activism is because I want to protect the civil rights of all atheists. We are tired of being viewed as second class citizens (or worse) simply because we refuse to entertain religious notions for which no evidence exists.

For more information on this important topic, the interested reader is referred to the following sources:
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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Please Help A Brave Young Man In South Mississippi

As a follow up to my post about the young man in south Mississippi who took a stand for the separation of church and state, his mother says he’s starting to get a lot of harassment, threats, etc. She contacted me by email after I kind of stuck up for the kid in the newspaper forums. She requested that I send his email around and see if people who support him could drop him a line and tell him that he does have a lot of support and that there are people who believe in what he did. She mentioned that he “really needs it.” I work in that county and I can imagine what he’s having to face right now.

His email is [email protected].

Any help you could give to lend some support to this young man would be much appreciated. As you are probably aware, he’s got pretty much the entire community against him. Send him a short email expressing your support and encouragement.

Mississippi Voter Information

If you haven't made it to your polling station just yet, here is some basic information about voting in Mississippi. I voted this morning, and I must say that it was nice to feel like my vote might actually mean something in this primary. I heard on MPB this morning that voter turnout is expected to be low to moderate.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Mississippi Atheists, Go Vote!

I know it may not be high on your list of favorite activities, but I urge you to vote on Tuesday. Why? It is so rare that a Mississippi primary means anything, but we get to help decide the Democratic nominee in this one. In addition, it is time we begin to realize that there are enough of us to have a meaningful influence on the political process. We can use our votes to support the reality-based community and stand against ignorance.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Oxford Humanist Society Meeting Tomorrow

The Oxford Humanist Society is scheduled to meet on March 10 at 7:00 PM at Square Books in Oxford. See here for details.

Humanist Symposium #16 at Glittering Muse

If you are looking for some good godless reading on this beautiful Sunday morning, check out the Humanist Symposium hosted at Glittering Muse. If you are not familiar with the Humanist Symposium blog carnival, you can learn more about it here.


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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Couldn’t have said it better myself


Photo taken by my wife in Oak Grove, MS (west of Hattiesburg) on 5 March 2008. Unedited and unphotoshopped.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Greene County Schools Break The Law And Defy Constitution

From a letter to the editor in the Hattiesburg American:
I am a freshman at Greene County High School, and I am writing to express my concerns on several assemblies that we have had this year.

It is understood that we live in a region of the country called the "Bible Belt," and in this region Christianity does play a significant role in the lives and the views of many people. I not only understand this, but I also respect it.

This school year we have had three assemblies where the speaker was a religious figure. The first person was a local preacher. During this assembly he preached to us on the importance of making the right choices and accepting Jesus as our savior.

The next person was a biker-turned-preacher from the Gulf Coast. His program was focused on making the right choices. He didn't preach to us, but he did mention that turning to Christianity helped him turn his life around.

The other speaker was a preacher from Louisiana. He preached on the importance of living in a Christ-like manner.

These assemblies were all concluded in prayer. We were never given the option to not attend.

I respect all of these people and their commitment to the Christian religion just as much as I respect the Constitution and rights given to us by this document. This time, however, the two are at odds with each other.

The Establishment Clause of the Constitution has been interpreted in many court cases as a wall of separation between church and state. Moreover, it states clearly in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that no school official shall mandate or organize religious ceremonies.

I have no problem with the assemblies themselves, but public schools are not the place to preach a religion. The Constitution is the reason that this country hasn't crumbled into a chaotic state. Now is not the time to overlook this important document. These assemblies, no matter how good of a message they bear, are still technically illegal.

Wesley Crawford

First of all the young man is highly articulate and has a bright future in front of him. Not only because he is such an obviously bright kid, but because he has already demonstrated the kind of courage and all-out ballsyness that most people never develop in a lifetime.

These assemblies really are an outrage. But I work in Greene County quite a bit and I would be shocked if anything comes of this other than ostracism of the young man who wrote the letter.

This was inexcusable and an abuse of the school’s authority. It was blatantly illegal and unconstitutional. I hope the young man and his family suffer no repercussions, but judging from past cases like this, that may be too much to hope for.

Butch

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Bill Clinton in Tupelo Today

Those of you in the Tupelo area can see former president Bill Clinton today at 5:30 PM at the Tupelo Furniture Market. This is a free event. The market is located at 1879 North Coley Road in Tupelo. If only I didn't have to work today!

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Golden Triangle Freethought Association Meeting

The Golden Triangle Freethought Association is planning a meeting this Saturday, March 8 at 4:00 PM in Columbus. The meeting, to be held at Zachary's, is informal and will be a chance to hang out with other atheists and freethinkers. For details, see here.

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MS Gulf Coast Atheist and Freethinking Association March Meeting

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Atheist and Freethinking Association is holding their March meeting on Sunday, March 9 at 2:00 PM in Gulfport. For details, see here.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Inaugural Meeting of the Starkville Freethought Association

The Inaugural Meeting of the Starkville Freethought Association will be held tonight (March 5) at 6:30 pm at Mi Hacienda. Here is the address:

Mi Hacienda
911 Highway 12 West Suite 101A
Starkville MS 39759
(662) 320-2233

If you are in the Starkville area and want to connect with some freethinkers, this is an excellent chance to do so.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Destination Graduation Summit Ignores Ignorance-Religion Link

A state education summit held in Jackson last week marks a step in the right direction. Mississippi lags most other states in education, helping to explain the levels of fundamentalist Christianity one finds here. Improving Mississippi's rate of high school graduation is a worthy goal, as long as it does not entail weaker educational standards. After all, it would be nice if our high school graduates could compete with those of other states.

Some may accuse me of nitpicking here, but I am having a great deal of trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that this statewide Destination Graduation summit was held in a Baptist church. Yes, the summit was held at First Baptist Church in downtown Jackson. I cannot think of a less fitting destination.

Forget for a second that summit attendees included many public school representatives and that holding something like this in a church raises important questions about the lack of church-state separation in Mississippi. Forget that a variety of faith-based organizations were invited to the summit. Selecting such a temple of ignorance as the location for an educational summit shines a spotlight on one of the important things wrong with education in Mississippi.

According to the Hattiesburg American, Gov. Barbour said that future Mississippi jobs will "demand strong minds." And if there is one antidote to strong minds, it is religion.

I recognize the complexity of fixing an educational system which is truly in shambles and would not suggest that any one factor is responsible. Still, to ignore the relationship between ignorance and religion seems counterproductive here. Like most Americans, we Mississippians are willing to work hard for what we value. It is time to value a strong secular education.

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Baptists At My Door

I don't remember a time when I did not despise proselytizing. Growing up in the Western United States, the door-to-door peddling of superstition was restricted to Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. We simply did not have anything like the evangelical Christians which now surround me. Since moving to Mississippi, I have become accustomed to frequent visits by evangelicals. It seems to irritate me more each time it happens, mostly because they keep coming no matter what I do.

When I added a large "No Soliciting" sign to my front yard, positioned so that most people would be able to see it before getting out of their cars, I expected it to help a little. I knew that the most rabid Christians would not see it as applying to them. They were their to convert me to their delusion and not to sell me anything. Still, I figured the sign might have some impact. While it effectively ended most non-religious door-to-door sales, it had no measurable effect on proselytizing.

I decided that it was time to be even clearer with the would-be converters. I added a symbol which I thought would be difficult for anyone to mistake. It helped tremendously, and I thought I might finally see the end of door-to-door proselytizing. Close, but no cigar.

I was in the midst of an important phone call last weekend when my dog started barking like crazy, making it impossible to hear the person on the other end of the call. I looked out the window to see a car parked in front of my house with four well-dressed people dispersing around the neighborhood. Baptists!

I was surprised when the doorbell rang because I figured they'd see my signs and move on. I tried in vain to continue the call, but the dog was really going nuts now. When the doorbell rang again, I threw the phone down and ran for the door. I could hear the person on the other side messing with the handle as if they were trying to force their way in.

Not thinking clearly through the rage, I flung open the door and asked, "What the hell do you think you're doing?" I was too mad to worry about being polite even as my brain finally realized that the man on my porch had been attempting to tie a plastic bag filled with church propaganda to the handle of my front door. "I don't want your church crap on my door! Can't you read these signs and realize they are meant for you?" He muttered something, took his litter, and left quickly.

And you know what? I felt guilty almost immediately afterward. I played right into the "angry atheist" stereotype. It was obvious that I scared this guy, and I have to admit that was precisely my intent. Yes, I realize that he was the one intruding, that he interrupted me, and that he was planning to leave his mind-rot for me to dispose of, but none of this stopped me from regretting my outburst.

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Atheist Groups in Mississippi

I have been pleasantly surprised to discover a number of atheist groups in Mississippi through meetup.com. I'm in the process of adding these to the left sidebar, so please feel free to let me know of any I've missed so I can add them. Also, if you are an active member of any of these groups, I'd love to do a brief interview via e-mail with you for a post here to help promote your group. As this site grows, I hope to provide readers with detailed information about atheist events and groups across the state.

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