I Hear You Don't Have a Religion...

Hope Owens-Wilson has an interesting article in the Jackson Free Press that you might enjoy. I'm not sure if she would call herself an atheist or not, but it is nice to see more Mississippians expressing the sentiment she's expressing here, regardless of their exact take on religion. Perhaps this is the sort of thing that might help our neighbors think before speaking.

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What Are Those Atheists Up To?





From Atheist Cartoons and way too good not to share.

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The Atheist's Way




As a resident of a southern state and a concerned citizen, I have been keeping up with the investigation into the string of church arsons in Texas to include the recent arrests of Texans, Jason Bourque (19) and Daniel McAllister (21).

The recent history of church burnings in the south (post civil rights and Klan era) have usually resulted in the arrests of local drunk college students out for a night of peer supported stupidity and malicious wilding and not part of some nefarious persecution of Christians despite the best efforts to engage the imagination to make it so.

Once again it was ultimately the physical evidence, a diligent investigation by human beings and a tip from people helping out that brought a stop to the nihilistic actions of those who have abandoned all reason, care and compassion for their community.

Of course, these crimes having occurred in the deep south, it wasn’t long before credit for the arrests was given to the same God that somehow was unable to simply prevent the ten churches from burning to the ground to begin with.


Deputies, officers, and agents who worked the case are also breathing sigh of relief.

"To God be the glory. We couldn't have done it without His help," Lt. Dana said.

Okay, I know, folks need to be put back into cognitive suspension as soon as possible after such ambiguous chaos seeped into the matrix, but now this apathy has turned proactive and downright ugly.

Apparently, investigators and reporters in Texas have now created a boogeyman to explain the motives which led to this abominable attack on their faith.


“One of two East Texas church arson suspects kept books on demon possession and atheism as well as assault rifles and guns, and may have left graffiti offering inside information about one of the attacks in a local store bathroom, according to court records.”

“A search of Bourque's home after his arrest recovered books titled Demon Possession and The Atheist's Way.”

Note the nicely crafted conflation of demon possession with atheism which sufficiently conjures up the preconceived fears and notions about non-believers that adherents are already taught weekly from the bully pulpit.

Well, having never heard of the book, I decided to look it up.

The actual complete title (not surprisingly left out of the article by Lee Hancock of the Dallas News) is:


“Dr. Eric Maisel, author of more than 30 books that include The Van Gogh Blues, Creativity For Life, Coaching the Artist Within, and Fearless Creating, provides a comprehensive picture of the power and possibilities of a lifestyle free of superstition, aligned with the facts of existence, and heroic in its attention to meaning. The Atheist’s Way is the next step in atheist thought and a liberating manual for living.”

I tried to find the directives on how to and why atheists burn churches, but came up as empty handed as a pastor’s prayers.

Needless to say, my curiosity piqued regarding whether or not this effort to disparage atheists was made part of the actual legal record as probable cause to articulate a motive for these abhorrent crimes, I wrote the following letter to Mr. Hancock and will attempt to discover how deeply folks are attached to their obviously unfounded bias:

-------
Dear Lee Hancock,

I am an atheist and have many bibles of assorted versions and denominations along with other modern religious texts, the Torah, Qur'an, Book of Mormon, Dhammapada, The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, books on Druids, Wicca, astrology, mythology (demons, angels, monsters and heroes), Chinese philosophy, etc. I also have books by Professor Richard Dawkins setting right next to C.S. Lewis and biblical concordances.

You may also be interested to know that I am a loving husband (we celebrated our 20th anniversary last December), father of three wonderful kids, community service activist/volunteer and veteran law enforcement officer with many awards to include meritorious service for actions before, during and after both hurricanes Ivan and Katrina (which my family survived through human diligence, though temporarily displaced when our home was destroyed).

The disingenuous angle found in your recent article, "Atheist books, guns found at home of suspect in East Texas church fires", is an absolute and intentional ruse created to inflame anti-atheist fervor and to promote the fallacy that those without religious belief are nihilistic deviants by default. The article, not surprisingly, was completely empty of actual meaning and substance despite the headline.

Noting that this unfortunate and flawed perspective was offered to you on a silver platter by law enforcement officers who should be held to account as to why it was important at all to incorporate "The Atheist's Way" into a criminal affidavit speaks volumes about the deeply inbred misconceptions the good folks in Texas law enforcement have regarding the simple non-belief in deities, their own included.

Here is a link to the book, by the way ~

http://www.theatheistsway.com/

You should find the chapter on how to and why atheists start church fires especially elusive.

It would be greatly appreciated if you would consider delving further into the flawed and deliberately xenophobic perspective that uses a book on atheism to infer the reason why two local Texas youths raised within the religion of Christianity would create havoc and risk human lives by burning down churches.

Perhaps you will find it in your heart to even inform your reading audience of your new discoveries and suggest that those representing the criminal affidavit may want to correct and remove their bigotry and bias from a legal document.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Steve Schlicht
Biloxi MS
[email protected]

You may publicly post this letter, including email.
-------


I am hoping to hear from Mr. Hancock soon and recommend that others feel free to offer their own views to him as well.

His email is Lhancock[at]dallasnews.com



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Humanist Symposium at the Gaytheists

hs-logo2.jpg


This week's edition of the Humanist Symposium is hosted at the Gaytheists. I actually remembered to submit something this time, so we have a post featured from Mississippi Atheists. It looks like they have some good ones in the carnival, so I'm heading there now for some Sunday reading.

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Stand Up For Your Worldview

I am posting this for Mims at his request:

I have been in touch with Kohl Harrington, who is doing the film project mentioned here in a previous post. I have made arrangements to meet him next Wednesday at 5:30pm somewhere down here on the coast to do an interview. If anyone else is interested in joining us, we would both be delighted. I will post again when the venue is decided.

My dog Connie is probably dying. I won't go in to details, she is old, but I am watching her through the weekend, on my vet's advice, and we may have to put her down. This brings up a lot of issues for me, but for this post, I would like to concentrate on some correspondence I have had with a friend.

I posted Connie's condition on my Facebook page earlier today. One of my friends wrote back saying she would pray for Connie and all who loved her. I wrote her back saying that I really appreciate it, but Connie and I are atheists and just some good thoughts for a boy and his dog would be just fine. I did this because I don't believe in compromising my world view even with friends. I don't believe in prayer, and if it is just a substitute for good wishes, well, to me it does not work.

The reason this might be important is that this friend was my former boss in a very critical stage of my career, and now I am in a position where I may be looking for a new job soon, and she is an important reference. I have put her down as a reference for numerous jobs lately. If she had taken offense, it could have had a severe impact on my future job options. She wrote back almost immediately, saying essentially she would wish us well, then, and saying some very nice things about me. So I don't think I have to worry about anything. Except my dog dying. There is a lesson here. Stand up for your world view. Those of good character, believers or not, will stand with you.

Mims

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Not of religion: Film Student Interest in Southern Atheists


I recently received an email from a film student in California who is interested in the views and personal experiences of non-religious folks raised and/or living here in the Deep South, aka the “Bible Belt”.

Our plan is to meet and discuss assorted issues after I return from Chicago next week. During our recent exchanges, I also suggested that we open the invitation for others in our area to participate in this unique effort as well, if y'all are interested.

Kohl let me know that he would be more than welcome to hear from everyone for his project.

Here is his email, including point of contact information, and I’m sure he will appreciate everyone’s individual perspective and insight.


Hi Steve,

My name is Kohl Harrington. I'm a film student in Los Angeles,
CA. I grew up in Vernon, Florida in the Florida Panhandle. I'm
currently making a documentary about the power of religion in
the South and how it affects society.

I will be visiting the Florida Panhandle area from Feb 17th-
27th. I'm looking to speak and interview people (like myself)
who are not of religion and living in a predominately
religious society. I'm wanting to talk about the pressures from
religion and how a person can live a perfectly moral and
ethical life free from religious thought.

I've included my e-mail address so you can contact me directly.
I would love to speak with you further about the possibility of
including you and other members in the film.

Thanks so much for your time. I really hope to hear from you
soon.

Kohl Harrington


I am aware that many folks are leery of "outing" themselves as atheists, secular and/or non-religious due to family and business concerns. I'm confident that Kohl will be respectful and take all of the necessary steps to prevent such exposure. Please feel free to contact him ahead of time so that all of the necessary precautions are considered.

As an aside, we’re again establishing a team for the "Relay for Life" event which will be held at the Biloxi Soccer Fields this year (instead of the High School).

I’ll post a link once Daisy updates the local information.

Thanks!

Steve

Rep. Gene Taylor Has a Challenger

According to a press release from State Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Biloxi), he plans to challenge Democratic incumbent Gene Taylor for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. My favorite part of the press release was this quote from Palazzo:
After long discussions with family and friends over the issues facing our community and with a considerable amount of prayer, I made the decision to run for Congress.
(Sigh).

H/T to Y'all Politics

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More on the Personhood Amendment

From what I've been able to gather, the purpose of the Personhood Mississippi group I mentioned yesterday is to amend our state constitution to ban abortion. The manner in which they are going about this involves at least a few steps. First, they need to get enough signatures to get their proposal on the ballot. It sounds like they have probably already done so. Second, there will likely involve a statewide vote in 2011. Assuming the measure passes, the goal would be to set up a challenge to overturn Roe v. Wade. So obviously, they are hoping that the effects of this will extend far beyond Mississippi.

Similar efforts are underway in Colorado. The difference appears to be that Christian extremists in Colorado tried this in 2008 only to see their proposal fail at the polls.

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Personhood Mississippi Press Conference Tomorrow

Personhood Mississippi, an activist group opposed to reproductive freedom for women, is planning to hold a press conference tomorrow in Jackson to announce how many signatures they have gathered for the "personhood" amendment they want. Evidently, our Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant has been working with them to roll back women's rights in Mississippi.

The amendment, if successful, would add the following to Mississippi's constitution:
Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof." This initiative shall not require any additional revenue for implementation.
The press conference and subsequent "victory rally" are scheduled for 4:00pm tomorrow afternoon at 401 Mississippi Street in Jackson.

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Sorry, Saints Fans

NewOrleansSaints.jpgIf you are a fan of the New Orleans Saints and are thrilled that they had such a good season, culminating in a Super Bowl victory, I've got some bad news for you. They didn't win because they were talented, worked hard, were well-coached, or anything of their sort. In fact, they deserve no praise or credit for their winning season at all. Why? You see, Goddidit! That's right, their Super Bowl win happened only because the Christian god made it happen.

Skeptical Monkey has a great post on the idiocy of many Saints players. My favorite part is the observation that the Christian god was involved in human affairs enough to care who won the game while practically destroying Haiti (or at least allowing it to happen).
Apparently, god takes a vested interest in who wins the Super Bowl, but he couldn’t be bothered to spare the lives hundreds of thousands of Haitian citizens.
You don't get to have it both ways, Christians. Your god is involved, or it isn't.

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Happy Darwin and Snow Day!

We hope everyone had a wonderful day honoring the life and efforts of Charles Darwin.

It snowed in Biloxi for about 30-45 minutes starting around 11:30 a.m.

Of course, nothing stuck to the ground and it was gone far too soon.

Our family then went to Hattiesburg and played in the snow at the USM campus for a good while and, on the way back, we stopped for more fun at a huge field next to a Baptist church.

Everyone had a blast!

In honor of this wonderful snow day in Mississippi as we celebrate life, knowledge and the diligent journey for more information and answers to the great questions, I give you the Symphony of Science ~

http://symphonyofscience.com/videos.html

Enjoy and y'all have a safe Mardi Gras weekend.

Steve Schlicht
Biloxi MS

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The Best of Penn Says: Religion



For all of the Penn and Teller fans out there who have thoroughly enjoyed their shows and oftentimes brutal critiques of religious claims, comes now "The Best of Penn Says: Religion" series on DVD complete with three new rants.

I often wince at just how precise the evisceration of a particular sect or ritualistic religious practice can be from Penn, but there is no doubt that the views expressed are derived from an honest exploration of the material and very well reasoned.

Many of the topics he addresses in his videos we have also discussed here at MSAtheists and at
Atheist Revolution so I thought his insight would be of interest to atheists here in Mississippi.

For those not familiar with the Penn Says videos, they can be found over at Crackle.

Enjoy!


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Coming Out of the Atheist Closet: You Do Have a Choice

A-100-v3.pngI am on several different listservs maintained by atheist groups around Mississippi. I like to see what other atheists are doing around our state so that I can help spread the word about it here. This was a big part of why I created Mississippi Atheists. But what I like best about these listservs is that I get to experience the diversity of thought among atheists in our state. While we may agree more often than not, there is also intelligent, lively debate happening on these listservs. When I have time to read and participate, I always come away thinking on a deeper level. This post was inspired by some recent discussions about the need to remain secretive about one's atheism here in Mississippi.

There is no question that Mississippi is a difficult place for an atheist to live. Judging by what I have seen on the listservs of atheist groups throughout our state, the majority of atheists here remain securely closeted. Some may reveal their atheism to close friends or family members, but few are "out" at work or in their daily social lives.

This is perfectly understandable. I have the good fortune to work in one of the more enlightened settings, and I'm still not 100% out. From what I have heard about the less enlightened settings, I cannot imagine how hard it would be to be even a little bit out there. It almost certainly seems as if someone working in such a setting has no choice but to remain highly guarded.

And yet, we do have a choice. We always have a choice. I could be 100% out tomorrow, and so could you. We would almost certainly face some unpleasant consequences, and some might indeed be as bad as those we imagine. But we are still making a decision.

I often hear atheists complaining that they have "no choice," but I have always found it more empowering to accept my choice and realize that I am doing what I need to do in order to protect myself, my family, or my career. I can think of many good reasons for not being more open than I am, and I can think of many equally good reasons for not being more secretive and guarded than I am.

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Kidnapping For Jesus

By now everyone has heard about Laura Silsby, the grifter facing several civil lawsuits through her internet business riddled with deceptive practices facing several civil suits, and her group of doe-eyed Christian Fundamentalist Protestants that believe they are on a mission from God to do whatever they want regardless of secular laws.

Well, today they were denied release and any special treatment despite their pleas regarding their perfect and divine plan to take children from a sovereign country without so much as a "praise Jesus, we're taking these babies" to the legal authority, both Haitian and international.

Their attorney and even the Southern Baptist Convention are now pulling out all of the stops to convince the world that these 10 folks were just simpletons, naive in the ways of the world by just doing what the Big Guy demanded them to do.

Of course, the truth is that grown men and women decided to travel into a disaster zone and work with a local Haitian pastor who had convinced (sold) families of children (not orphans) on the idea that they were taking them to a temporary club for kids in the Dominican Republic and that the families could later come and visit. We've since learned that they were told by Dominican and UN authorities ahead of time that they would be committing an illegal act if they were to persist...and they did so anyway.

This Baptist group asserts plainly that they went there to "adopt orphans", convert them to the Protestant religious sect of Christianity (as is their stated foundational mission) and farm them out to others of their own faith.
Silsby's Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, had begun planning last year to build an orphanage, school and church in Magante, on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Their plan was to work with U.S. adoption agencies to find "loving Christian parents" for Haitian and Dominican children. When the quake struck, the church members decided to act immediately, renting a hotel in a nearby Dominican beach resort and hiring a bus to collect children from the disaster area.
They not only didn't "complete the paperwork", they had none, and felt that they could just walk in and skip over everyone else who has been participating in the correct adoption processes in place to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

They were duplicitous because their intent was to eventually take these children and present them to other Christians for adoption, not keep them in the region or to keep families and traditions intact.

The bottom line is that this group didn't go to Haiti to simply provide humanitarian aid or to protect the sanctity of families and ancestral culture.

They went there to take children from their lands in the midst of chaos, proselytize and attempt to convert them to their own brand of religion at a time when ordinary "checks and balances" were down for the count.

Certainly they present a "physical mission", but it is merely a cover for the "real mission", which is to convert children to their own particular religious affiliation when these poor families are suffering and most open to the subtlety of emotional pressure.

The sect violated international law, Haitian law and the laws of common sense and promoting themselves now as victims of persecution by the forces of Satan in need of special legal consideration is the most cynical and slick use of religion there is and always has been.

The leader of this fiasco, Laura Silsby, will be put under the microscope soon and will no doubt further and continuously raise the specter of Christian persecution to dodge culpability for these actions (among others).

Expect more petitions to keep these Christian victims in prayers for special deliverance and much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth demanding instant and default dismissal on the grounds that to not do so would be a Satanic conspiracy of historical proportions.

Never has there been a more stark and glaring example of both the hubris and irresponsible use of religion than right now.

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Secular S.H.A.R.E Helps Haiti


I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of the atheists, secular humanists, agnostics and other skeptics out there in our country who continue to help others for the greater good.

We may have all sorts of other affiliations, personal perspectives and lifestyles but it was really good to see us all come together again in a time of need.

Of course, we all fully recognize that many theists of all sects and denominations participate in caring for the human family as well, but it is far too often asserted that religious ideologies hold the monopoly on empathy, reciprocity, ethics and moral standards.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth and just this one particular secular outreach is approaching the $100,000 in donations mark:

January 15, 2010, Amherst, New York—In response to Haitian residents’ emergency needs following the Jan. 12 earthquake, the Center for Inquiry’s Skeptics and Humanist Aid and Relief Effort (S.H.A.R.E.) has raised $47,000 in less than 24 hours. Those who live without God or religion, along with faith groups, recognize the need to assist the stricken nation’s survivors and have answered the call.

All donations to S.H.A.R.E.—100 percent with no operating costs retained—will be sent directly to the secular aid group Doctors Without Borders, which suffered the loss of all three of its medical facilities and is working against difficulties to provide the basics of first-aid care and stabilization.

“Good, nonreligious people want to help, but are often reluctant to give when they know their donations may be diverted from real aid to sectarian causes,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “S.H.A.R.E. provides an assured opportunity for people to directly help those in need—and to show they care—without a needless entanglement in religion.”


One of the appealing aspects of SHARE is that all donations—100 percent with no operating costs retained—are sent directly to secular aid groups who are actively helping in the affected area. In this case, donations benefit the secular aid group Doctors Without Borders, which suffered the loss of all three of its medical facilities.

Just to put it in local perspective, this very same effort generated about $80,000 for our gulf coast community in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, so it is a very practical and worthwhile effort that is much appreciated by real people in the midst of despair.

Thanks again and keep up the great work.

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MS Gulf Coast Atheists Schedule February Meetup

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Atheist and Freethinking Association has scheduled their February meetup for Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 3:00 PM in Gulfport. For more information, visit their website.

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