Monday, April 28, 2008

Gas Prices Got You Down? Try Prayer

Living in a state with an extremely regressive tax system and the highest grocery tax in the United States is no picnic, especially when skyrocketing gas prices begin to increase the cost of groceries. Across Mississippi, families are feeling the pinch with no relief in sight. Higher prices are even starting to take a toll on this liberal elitist. Fortunately, the good people of California have a solution tailor made for us to import to Mississippi: prayer.

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, community organizer, Rocky Twyman, held a pray-in at a Chevron station in San Francisco to seek supernatural assistance in lowering gas prices. This was not an isolated event, as Twyman held pray-ins in Washington DC and Oakland too.
"God is the only one we can turn to at this point," said Twyman, 59. "Our leaders don't seem to be able to do anything about it. The prices keep soaring and soaring."
Absolutely. Since many people refuse to stop voting Republican no matter what it does to their economic self-interest, they do indeed have few options remaining.

When the politicians they elected primarily for their stance on manufactured "values issues" refuse to help them with real economic problems, learned helplessness sets in. That is, because nothing they have tried has made a difference, they stop trying. This is precisely where prayer comes in. An interesting PR strategy to be sure, but any success it brings will be due to raising awareness rather than supernatural intervention.

In fairness to Twyman, he sounds like a decent guy. He's clear-headed enough to realize that prayer is not going to solve this problem. Unlike some who would follow this path, he is not looking to prayer to replace action. If his efforts manage to call attention to how high gas prices are affecting those least able to afford them, then more power to him.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Atheist Soldier Jeremy Hall to Appear on CBS News Sunday Morning

The story of Spc. Jeremy Hall, the brave atheist soldier who filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense alleging violations of his religious freedom, is finally making its way into the mainstream media. After generating interest for quite some time across the atheist blogosphere, Hall's story just appeared in The New York Times. Now Hall will be interviewed tomorrow along with Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation on CBS News Sunday Morning.

For those interesting in supporting Hall and the plight of other atheists in the military, I encourage you to visit the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to learn more about this important organization and their efforts to protect the religious freedom of our military personnel. They accept online donations, and I hope that their role in Hall's suit will bring them some much needed funds.

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Two Arks and Two Magisteria

In a recent post here on MS Atheists, Butch has a dead-on take on the intersection of religion and science. Because of the recent offensives to reason committed by Christians, including this story I'm about to tell, I am worried about the state of science education in America.

A friend of mine, who does not realize that I am a skeptic, told this story to me (I'm doing my best to remember):
A Christian and a Skeptic were having a conversation. The Skeptic wanted to trap the Christian into admitting that a flaw existed in the Bible.

Skeptic: "So, do you know anything about the story of the ark in Genesis?"
Christian: "Why yes. I know the story quite well."

Skeptic: "That ark must have weight several tons, right?"
Christian: "It probably weighed several thousands of tons. It was meant to hold many animals."

Skeptic: "When the Bible says that it only took four priest to lift the ark, do you think that is possible?"

So the skeptic in the story is confusing Noah's Ark and the Ark of the Covenant, thus it stereotypes all Bible skeptics as being ignorant of basic Bible stories. While this may be true for some, there are many dedicated skeptics who come from Christian homes and have a good knowledge of the Bible. Skeptics must work to impress upon Bible believers that they are equal in terms of Bible knowledge.

In an effort to maintain a literal view of the Bible, fundamentalist Christians are limiting the amount of science education that they wish to learn. If a scientific theory conflicts with the Bible, that is all that is necessary to invalidate it. I've even heard this sentiment while sitting in church: "God said it and I believe it." One preacher took it a step further: "God said it, and it doesn't matter what I believe, it is truth." To them, their salvation depends on the inerrancy of the Bible.

Even the New Testament writer Paul was faced with skeptics. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-34, you can sense the frustration in Paul's writing because people refuse to believe that the resurrection of the dead is possible. He concludes the passage as if he were screaming at the reader: "STOP SINNING... for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame!" Paul is faced with the difficult problem that he can't prove a word of what he claims. His only experience of Jesus was a one-time-only vision with an audience of one, despite being surrounded by people when the vision happened. He claims that there are other witnesses (500 of them!) but then says that they are dying off. Even if he could gather 500 witnesses, we would have 500 anecdotal accounts and still no way of testing the claim. For good reason, faith is the most prominent message taught by Paul across all of the books that he authored. Christianity requires faith.

Christianity's dependence on faith should be put in contrast with science's refusal to accept faith as evidence. Academia wants science students to be rigorous testers of scientific concepts. If an idea cannot be tested, or the testing of an idea repeatedly fails, then the idea is thrown out. Evolution is an ordinary claim (organisms change over time) that is backed up by ordinary evidence, but the same cannot be said for any religion's extraordinary claims about the natural world.

Like the writer Paul, the tactic of modern day fundamentalists is to launch an attack on anyone who makes a scientific claim that differs from scriptures. Saint Augustine, just a few centuries after Paul, realized that you cannot teach extraordinary claims by refuting scientific claims. He wrote the following:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. .... Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

Saint Augustine wants his Christian brethren to stop making fools of themselves. If science conflicts with your religion, learn to accept this.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Great Southern Humanist Society Blood Drive

The Great Southern Humanist Society will hold a blood drive to celebrate the National Day of Reason on May 1st between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM. You can find more information here.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

American Atheists Freedom Walk

American Atheists Press Release (4/19/08): Thwarted 1963 Freedom Walk to be Finished 45 years later.

My name is Ellen Johnson and on April 23, 2008 I am going on a journey to rewrite history and get some justice for the many Freedom Walkers who were prevented from delivering a letter for racial harmony in 1963.

The story began in 1963 with an Atheist named Bill Moore. He was a civil rights activist, author, marine corporal, and graduate from Johns Hopkins University. Bill was a member of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality and SNCC the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1962 the governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnet refused to allow James Meredith, a black man, to attend the University of Mississippi. It was then that Bill Moore decided to try, in his own small way to bring racial harmony to our nation. He wanted to see his home state of Mississippi do the right thing towards blacks. He decided that he was going to hand deliver a letter to Governor Barnett asking him to reconsider his position on segregation. He was going to carry the letter from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. It was a freedom walk.

The letter read:
Dear Governor Barnett:

I have always had a warm place in my heart for Mississippi, the land of my childhood and my ancestors. I dislike the reputation this state has acquired as being the most backward and most bigoted in the land. Those who truly love Mississippi must work to change this image.

Frankly, I do not know which is worse - to be raised to believe that one should be happy to live in poverty and die twice as fast as the white man and to be told to reject the ideas of those who tell you democracy means the right to vote whatever the color of one's skin; or is it worse to be raised as members of a sort of 'master race' which fights a losing battle to preserve injustice with barbaric laws and police state methods.

The British were wise in that they dissolved their empire before they were forced to do so. Consequently, the governments of countries such as India and Nigeria are stable and friendly and democratic. The French, on the other hand, held onto their empire as long as they could. Thus the bitter strife in Laos, Vietnam, Algeria.

The end of Mississippi colonialism is fast approaching. The only question is whether you will help it to end in a friendship like the British, or try to hold onto what is already lost, creating bitterness and hatred, as did the French. For our sake, as well as the Negro's, I hope you will decide to try the British way.

The white man cannot be truly free himself until all men have their rights. Each is dependent upon the other. Do not go down in infamy as one who fought democracy for all, which you have not the power to prevent.

Be gracious. Give more than is immediately demanded of you. Make certain that when the Negro gets his rights and his vote that he does not in the process learn to treat the white man with the contempt and disdain that, unfortunately, some of us now treat him.

William L. Moore
Bill Moore used his two-week vacation from his job as a postal worker in Baltimore, Maryland and began his walk. He planned to walk 40 miles a day for ten days.

He made a sandwich board sign for the walk - in the home of Madalyn O'Hair, who he supported in her Supreme Court case in 1963 called Murray v. Curlett. The front of the sign read: End Segregation In America. Eat At Joe's - Both Black and White. The back read: Equal Rights For All (Mississippi or Bust)

Bill began his walk from Chattanooga, Tennessee on April 21, 1963.

Along the way, he was greeted by both friend and foe. Two days later on April 23, a motorist found Moore's body. He had been shot twice in the head at close range with a .22 caliber rifle. The gun's ownership was traced to Floyd Simpson, whom Moore had argued with earlier that day. Simpson was never indicted. Bill Moore was murdered because of his Atheism and his politics.

A week later ten more Freedom Walkers, both black and white, attempted to finish Bill's walk. They never made it. They were stopped at the border of Alabama and they were beaten and jailed. They languished in jail for months. They were sentenced to death and fed muffins with crushed glass inside.

Four other attempts, involving hundreds of people were made and all were thwarted by the segregationists in Alabama and Mississippi. On August 3, 1963, the fifth and final attempt was made to complete Bill Moore's walk from Gadsden, Alabama. Six hundred and eighty-two people were arrested attempting to finish the walk of a man they never even knew.

Forty-five years later it is time to deliver that letter.

Bill Moore did not die in vain. The Freedom Walkers (Sam Shirah, Winston Lockett, Bill Haley, Zev Aelony, Chico Neblett, Bill Hansen, Bob Zellner, Eric Weinberger and Robert Gore to name few) attempts to deliver the letter and their subsequent punishments must not have been in vain.

On April 23 I will be in Attalla, Alabama where Bill Moore was murdered and I'm going to finish his walk and deliver his letter to the governor of Mississippi. Then the history books will show that the Freedom Walkers were not defeated and that the letter was delivered. It may have been delivered 45 years later, but it was delivered.

Ellen Johnson, President
American Atheists

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.
American Atheists, Inc.
P. O. Box 5733
Parsippany, NJ 07054-6733
Tel.: (908) 276-7300
Fax: (908) 276-7402

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Science Only Goes So Far

Near Carriere, MS on 18 April 2008

I’m actually not sure how to take this church sign. On the one hand, it’s right. Science, by its very nature can only go so far. Science, by definition, is only concerned with naturalistic explanations. Anything beyond that is simply beyond the scope of science to even investigate much less draw any conclusions about. Gould’s Non-overlapping Magisteria.

So if you postulate some supernatural entity (a god), then you are right to say that science cannot prove it doesn’t exist. Hell, science can’t even tell you the first thing about it. However, once you start to make factual claims about this god or it’s actions, such as a global flood, a 6-day creation, stopping the sun from moving across the sky, etc, then science can certainly address these. In other words, don’t play the “you can’t disprove a god” canard then claim this makes your assertion of Jehovah likely. I may not be able to disprove the Deist’s God, but the followers of Yahweh/Jehovah/Allah have left too much in the way of factual claims around to even leave the possibility of his existence in doubt.

But on the other hand, the sign insinuates that there is something beyond nature that we need to be asking about. In other words, it’s taken at face value that there is something supernatural out there that science cannot address. My question is “What makes you think so?” Asking a question like that is like asking what color is Tuesday. It’s a nonsense question. By it’s very definition, it’s beyond our ability to comprehend. The religionists are right when they say God is beyond our comprehension. What I find so odd is that even this admission doesn’t slow them down in their insistence that they know his mind well enough to impose his will on us all.

As an aside, I actually dig the Bible verse on the sign. It was one of my favorites when I was a Christian and one I’m still partial to. No reason not to take wisdom wherever you can find it.

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Humanist Symposium #18 at Spanish Inquisitor

The 18th Humanist Symposium is up at Spanish Inquisitor. A recent post by our own Agnosticat is included. Check it out.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Meeting on Racial Profiling in Madison County

The information in this post is from the ACLU of Mississippi. The CONCERNED CITIZENS OF FLORA and the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (ACLU) will hold a community meeting on Thursday, April 24 in Flora to discuss and document complaints of unconstitutional racial profiling by area law enforcement, including the Madison County Sheriff’s Department.

National and local attorneys will be at this meeting to document complaints and answer your questions.

King Downing—attorney with the ACLU’s national Racial Justice Project in New York—will speak and be on-hand to answer questions and help you file complaints with the ACLU.

Now is the time to speak out and DOCUMENT complaints of unlawful racial profiling by area law enforcement. Come to this meeting and encourage friends to attend. Together we can end racial profiling in Madison County.

For more information:
Concerned Citizens of Flora: 601-720-6517
ACLU: 601-502-5520 / [email protected]

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Coming Out Atheist

One of the main reasons I felt it was important to start this blog and to recruit co-authors from around our state was the immense social stigma associated with atheism in Mississippi. The demonization of atheists leads many of us to keep quiet out of fear. We end up feeling alienated because we have few opportunities to learn that there are other atheists in our communities. I want atheists, even those in Mississippi, to know that they are not alone.

Sadly, Americans living in far more progressive regions experience many of the same obstacles to living openly as atheists. Take John McLellan's recent article in the University of Washington's The Daily. In describing his decision to reveal his atheism to his family, McLellan wrote:
Going through the process and the accompanying extreme anxiety got me thinking. It would seem that for a typical religious convert, when rejected or disowned, their new religious community extends support to them. This alleviates the pain somewhat by providing comfort and understanding, but most importantly it affirms that their decision to convert was right and good.

This is not the case for atheism. We have no churches, and our population is low enough that communities are small and disjointed. There is no immediate support for an atheist spurned by family in a society in which the majority cannot understand a lack of a deity.
For some people, coming out as an atheist to one's family may lead to a complete severing of familial ties. This is a sobering reality and an important reason why I disagree with those who boldly encourage all atheists to come out regardless of their individual circumstances. Even those fortunate enough to receive acceptance and understanding from their families may encounter rejection by the larger community. Thus, the question becomes what the rest of us can do to step in and offer support.

Prior to the explosion of atheism on the Internet, there was simply nowhere an atheist could go in many communities to find like-minded individuals for support. I think this goes a long way toward explaining the phenomenal growth we have witnessed in atheist blogs, forums, websites, and the like. Moreover, this online activity has spawned meetup groups in many communities where atheists actually congregate offline.

We atheists occupy an interesting place among other minority groups. Unlike many others, we have the advantage that we can easily pass for members of the Christian majority when necessary. As McLellan notes,
In the United States, atheists are passing, riding the security of identifying through agnosticism, espousing phrases to appease their religious contacts saying, “I’m agnostic, I believe there may be a God but I haven’t found it.” This gives the impression that religion is waiting to snatch them up and bring them to the light. Having been in this situation, I know that these phrases were never about what I believed, but about avoiding the persecution and attention that accompanies godlessness.
And yet, this comes at a high cost. We can end up feeling disingenuous and increasingly alienated from ourselves. The GLBT community advocates coming out not only because they realize that there is strength in numbers but because they know that it is healthier to live in concordance with oneself rather than the alternative.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Encounter on the Street

On my way to Dollar General after work today, I noticed a black man taking down a sign and talking excitedly with a couple of black ladies. They shook their heads at him and walked away. Curious, I smiled at him as I walked toward the door. He called me over to his table so I went to speak with him.

The man's name was Huvell Edwards and he was selling his autobiography. He asked me to read the first page and I quickly realized his story was about his life on drugs and how God had helped him break his addiction. Even though I have little use for God stories, I was interested in his experiences as a black man and I also wanted to help a fellow struggling writer. So I agreed to buy the book.

Mr. Edwards signed the book for me and gave me his email address so I could let him know how I liked the book. I wished him well and he said, "Hey, I got the Lord on my side so it's going to be ok, you know?"

I replied without even thinking, "No, not really."

He was taken aback, "What?"

The standing on the street in broad daylight in Mississippi, I finally said it, "I'm an atheist."

The man jumped back as if I'd told him I was an alien but quickly regained his composure. "You're an atheist? Why are you an atheist?"

I replied, "Because I haven't seen any evidence of gods."

He seemed stunned. He asked how long I'd been an atheist and, upon discovering that I had actually been raised Southern Baptist, he expressed great amazement that I had never seen any evidence of God.

I suppose at this point I could have expected a lot of bad things to happen. He could have started shouting at me. He could have started preaching to me. But instead he smiled and stepped closer and said, "I'm not going to preach to you because I'm sure you get that a lot. All I ask is that you just read my book."

I smiled in return and told him I was really looking forward to reading the book (which I am). We wished each other well and that was the end.

I never expected to stand on the street today and tell a complete stranger that I'm an atheist. That's not looked on very well down here. It's also not considered proper or smart in some circles for a lone white female to approach a black male. But I did both and I'm glad. I'm think I'm going to enjoy his book and I know I enjoyed having a gentle conversation with a Christian who didn't judge me or abuse me for my open atheism.

I intend to post on the book after I've read it and had time to really let it sink in. But today I'm reminded that it doesn't always take a great deed to bring about positive change. Sometimes it's all in the way we handle the little things and how we treat one another.

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Louisiana Tech Gets Secular Student Alliance Group

Good news for atheists across the South is a scarce commodity, but I'd like to share some. Louisiana Tech University now has a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance on campus. Most universities have dozens of student groups, with some boasting hundreds of such groups. And yet, groups for freethinkers are relatively scarce. I just hope this particular group at Louisiana Tech survives. You see, the reaction to their presence has been...well, less than positive.

Writing for The Tech Talk Online, Meredith Maines informs us:
Vicedomini said she and co-founder Rachael Drella, a sophomore physics major, were not surprised to find their informational posters provided by the SSA torn down. In turn, they designed new posters, minus the bold atheistic headlines, using instead the euphemism "freethought society."
Fortunately, it seems that there is at least one pastor in the area who thinks the group may be something other than evil incarnate.
[Pastor Jason] Mayhall said he believes both sides should engage in dialogue regarding their beliefs more often.

"I think we should react favorably to it," Mayhall said. "It should be a natural crossroads for us to come together and talk about it. [Christians'] ideas need to be challenged just as much as theirs do."

Not only does Mayhall believe discussion to be beneficial, he also said non-believers should be offered an apology for some Christians' unChrist-like behavior.

"It would be healthy and humbling for secular students to be able to vent their frustrations about Christianity to Christians," he said. "We'd probably find we share very similar ideas."
I applaud the Louisiana Tech students who founded this group and hope they succeed. I'm sure they will continue to encounter opposition, but I am confident that there are many on their campus who will also appreciate their presence.

H/T to The Friendly Atheist

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Non-Believer in Church: First Presbyterian at Oxford

My third post in this series of church visits generated a fair amount of feedback because it highlighted the issue that Christian extremism still exists in Mississippi. When the post was featured on the Friendly Atheist blog, one commenter suggested that I visit the First Presbyterian Church in Oxford. I live in Oxford, so it was a natural pick.

Traffic is heavy because Eli Manning is in town and I made it to church at few minutes late (which I can't stand). I slipped in the back door, grabbed a bulletin and sat on the back pew after 8:30 AM. Today was "Youth Sunday 2008," which means that the entire service was conducted by the church youth. I know nothing about the traditions of the Presbyterian faith, so if anyone would like to comment on this, I would appreciate it. This church visit was certainly an improvement over my last visit.

I made a quick headcount estimate of 150 people. The church building is small, but beautiful. The walls are lined with gorgeous stained glass windows, each depicting a popular story from the Bible. There is a large organ and a choir pit for 20 members. A cross made out of cedar timber rest in the front corner of the auditorium.

The service outline was long and took over two pages of the bulletin to print every song, prayer, and poem in the program. Every word of every prayer was in the outline, as were some of the shorter songs. The service had an odd arrangement where everyone was required to sit or stand at different times and this wasn't announced or printed in the bulletin. I stood after everyone stood up and sat when I saw everyone sit back down. Some cues would have been helpful.

The regular church-goers wore their traditional Sunday clothes. The youth all wore black t-shirts with the words "Even the smallest light shines," which was this Sunday's theme.

Instead of one lesson, there were four lessons, each given by a high school student. Each lesson had to draw from the theme found in Ephesians 5:8-14. The first speaker was a girl! I have never been in a church service where the lesson was given by a female. This was the most pleasant surprise of the morning. There are passages in the Bible which directly say that the women must learn in silence and it takes courage to realize that this is sexist and should be ignored. She talked about the darkness that she faced because she is a senior who still didn't know where she wanted to go for college or what might be her major. The other three speakers talked about circumstances where they felt in the dark: a friend who committed suicide, a sister in the hospital, and an encounter with a stranger as a young child. Only one of the speakers referenced a Bible verse: John 3:16-21. "John 3:16" is a classic sign to see at sporting events, but the rest of the passage is lesser known. I would like to write a critical critique of that passage, but I'll save it for a later time since the speaker is a high school student and was probably only using the passage because it is classic.

After the lesson, there was the offering, three girls sang a beautiful hymn and then the communion followed. The head preacher gave a nice, short talk about the purpose of the communion: it should be for everyone who is interested in Christ and wanting what he has to offer. Rather than pass the communion on plates through the aisles, everyone in the church stood up and in an organized manner walked to the front of the room to take it. I was the only one in the room to stay in my pew and I know I looked like an oddball.

One of the youth played his guitar during the communion and it took me a second to realize that he wasn't playing a hymn. He was playing the Black Crows' "She Talks to Angels," which is funny because it's a song about drug addiction. After the service, we all walked out into the church court yard. The head preacher, an older gentleman, walked up to me, gave me an odd dap handshake and said, "What's up, my man? All is well?" I have to respect a man who tries to reach out to a younger culture, even if I don't know which younger culture he's trying to reaching.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mississippi Christians Ask "Why Evolution?"

Although I am not as brave as Oliver to visit our local churches, I do subscribe to a couple of monthly newsletters put out by the Mississippi Churches of Christ (individual churches - not one particular organization). I'd like to report on a question asked by the editor of one of these newsletters. Keep in mind that the churches of Christ believe that they are worshipping as the original Christians did by going EXACTLY by the Bible (no musical instruments, must be baptized for salvation), at least, when it's convenient.

The editor of the Magnolia Messenger asks "Why do some "Christians" accept a godless theory of evolution when the Bible plainly teaches that 'God created the heavens and the earth' and, 'that without Him was not anything made that was made'."

This is a great question. My mother-in-law is a member of the church of Christ and she does believe in evolution. Why does she believe it? Because the scientific evidence is there, she says. She believes that God used (and is using) evolution as a natural means for us to develop. Now because she accepts science and has reconciled that to her faith, she is being relegated to a list of "so-called Christians" by the editor of this newsletter. How comforting for him that at least he has the truth even if members of his own church are deceived.....

He goes on to say, "If the Biblical account is trustworthy (not a lie), evolution is, at best, only an unproven theory; and, when truly put to the test it is, in reality, a lie!"

Aside from the ignorant "unproven theory" statement (for which he can be forgiven since he is not a scientist), he makes an assumption that the Bible must be literally true. There is no either/or. It's all true or it's all lies. When one sees the world in black and white this way, one is bound to eventually make some serious mistakes. Since Christians like this are unable to reconcile the evidence to their faith, they must either stand in the ludicrous position of denying reality or else they must fall. Neither position is very enviable.

So his final question is, "Why accept 'evolution' when the Bible teaches 'creation'?"

Why indeed? Why accept the mountain of scientific evidence when you could just believe an ancient book of stories? Why try to learn anything different when you believe you have all the answers right in front of you? In my opinion, that's one of the things that is wrong with Mississippi's brand of religion. Christianity here thinks it has all the answers and no one else - not even other types of Christians - can possibly be right or have anything else to offer. That attitude breeds arrogance and contempt for others. Small wonder that some Christians hate atheists when they also show such disdain for those sitting next to them in the pew.

We have our work cut out for us to combat this type of mentality. Science and reason seem to be very ineffective because people like this don't really know how to use these tools. And let's be honest - Mississippi schools are not teaching kids how to think and critically examine claims. Once again, the answer to this type of irrational mindset seems to be education. Let's hope that Mississippians learn the value of education and critical thinking before it's too late.

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Olive Branch Atheists April Meetup

The Olive Branch Atheists are scheduled to meet on Sunday, April 20 at 3:00 PM at Fox and Hound in Southaven, MS. Details about the meeting can be found here.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Madison Atheists Organizer Steps Down

Rico, the organizer of the Madison Atheists Meetup Group, is stepping down. A new organizer has not been announced yet.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Painful Path of Atheism

Anyone who thinks that atheists don't believe in any gods simply to avoid responsibility have obviously never had much to do with any atheists. Atheism is a very lonely and frightening path that leads us deep into the unknown. There are no guarantees and everything is subject to change as new evidence is presented. No wonder then that atheists would reach out seeking other non-believers with which to share their thoughts and experiences. You'd think that finding such a community would be a great source of comfort and joy.

But you might be wrong.

With atheism often comes a high degree of skepticism which is both healthy and necessary for our continued growth as educated people. However, the skeptical atmosphere can be very discouraging and intimidating for a budding atheist. When I first "came over to the Dark Side," I joined an atheist forum in order to discuss my feelings and ideas. Some people were very supportive but there were others who tore my posts apart and searched every nit-picking sentence for flaws. I felt so stupid and ashamed that I didn't post anything else for a couple of years.

Looking back, I realize that learning to accept criticism is a good thing because it keeps us on our toes. Nevertheless, it can be very difficult for someone who has not had much exposure to skeptical or scientific thinking. Putting these people on the defensive is probably the last thing we need. And as our small Mississippi community of atheists grows, I hope we will all keep in mind that not everyone who joins us started on the same level as we perhaps did. We can be critical thinkers and questioners without being harsh or overly critical. If our goal is to increase the number of confident, educated minds in this state, I think it's imperative that we always remember that our path is painful enough without causing any more needless sorrow.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Non-Believer in Church: First Free Will Baptist at Iuka

My travels brought me through Iuka this past Sunday, so I stopped by the First Free Will Baptist Church. I stepped in the door, picked up a bulletin, and sat on the back pew just after 11 AM. This is a small church with only about 100 in attendance. For a church this small, they had a piano, an organ, and an electric guitar. 20 members made up the choir. The bulletin said that today is the first day of a 6 day revival meeting and the church was providing "OLD-FASHION PREACHING DAY AND NIGHT". I was about to discover their meaning of "old-fashion preaching."

The services began with choir singing, a duet, a solo, and a long, rambling fast spoken prayer. People were lifting their hands and standing and hollering "Praise the Lord!" and "Praise Jesus" when the passion came to them. The preacher got up to deliver his lesson, but before he got very far, a man stood up to tell everyone how much Jesus helped him with his life. This didn't seemed planned. This man talked for a few minutes before he sat back down. The preacher spoke about half a sentence when a woman stood up and told everyone about how Jesus solves all our problems. She talked for a few minutes about how Jesus worked in her life and then sat down. I guess this preacher is use to constant interruptions.

The preacher finally got a chance to give his lesson on Isaiah 59:1-4. His talk was about sin. To give you an idea of his preaching style, think of Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" hyped up on steroids. He knew how to get this mostly elderly congregation pumped up and going strong for JESUS! He gave his congregation a long list of sins, all while shouting at the top of his lungs. He called "baby killing" a sin and homosexuality a sin and told everyone to speak out against any sign of sin, even if they have family members who might be engaged in that sort of activity. He wanted to bring the Bible and prayer back into our schools. He warned his congregation that if they tried to bring the Bible into schools, the government would oppose them, but do not worry: God will be on the side of God, and God's side always wins. Everything the preacher said was shouted. The people shouted "Praise the Lord!", "Praise Jesus!", and "Amen" through all of this. The preacher was talking fast and loud and everyone had their hands up in the air. I felt like I was at a cattle auction without any cattle.

When I listen to sermons in any church, I try to look at the lesson with an objective mindset. Where was the preacher right? Where was he wrong? Did everything he say agree with the Bible that he claims to have read? You couldn't do that to any point in this preacher's lesson. He was stereotypical of everything that non-believers see in Christians: they are loud, obnoxious, ignorant, and filled with prejudice and self-righteous attitudes. It is hard not to stereotype when I'm watching Christian fundamentalism in action. It could be summarized in one line that the preacher spoke during his lesson: "Now church... don't go out an tell your friends that I told you to get rid of your televisions, but if the Lord tells you to get rid of your television, you don't sell it, YOU BEAT IT WITH A BASEBALL BAT!" This, in all honesty, scared me. The lesson ended with a prayer, but I couldn't understand a word of it because everyone was still shouting their "Amens". What good is a public prayer if no one hears it?

The services ended with some announcements, which were the only even-tempered part of the whole service. In a very clam manner, it was announced that there will be a women's lunch event later this week. The final prayer was given and everyone woke up from their trance. They talked (at a regular volume) and acted like it was another normal Sunday. One lady introduced herself to me, but at this point, I was making a dash for the door.

I'm heading north of Oxford next weekend, so that's where I'll report next time for church (if I recover from this week).

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Some Statistics About Atheism

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Political Activism in Hattiesburg

It is always good to see some progressive political activism, even if it is a rare sight around Mississippi. Small anti-war protests have been occurring right here in Hattiesburg, and I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea. In fact, it appears that there are some progressive political bloggers right here in Hattiesburg! Could it be that I'm not the only one who is convinced that George W. Bush is a criminal and that a McCain presidency would be a disaster?

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