Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Protect the Vote 2008

Protect the Vote 2008 Launches Toll Free Number for Voter Protection
Unprecedented number of new voters raises need for public education

October 24, 2008
Contact: Nsombi Lambright. Executive Director, ACLU of Mississippi
Office: 601-354-3408
Email: [email protected]

Jackson, MS. -- As the countdown to the November 4, election nears; the ACLU of Mississippi has helped form a nonpartisan coalition, Protect the Vote 2008, which has launched a statewide campaign designed to educate voters and volunteers about voting rights in Mississippi. The program includes a toll free number, 1-888-601-VOTE (1-888-601-8683), which will be staffed by legal professionals on Nov. 4, to field questions and provide legal assistance for resolving any Election Day concerns.

Materials from Protect the Vote 2008 have been distributed to newly-registered voters around the state reminding them of their rights on Election Day. The program provides voter information and assistance, as well as, expert legal help, poll monitors to help voters understand their rights and voter assistance when problems arise.

Protect the Vote 2008 volunteers must attend a training prior to Election Day sponsored by the coalition. Individuals who want to volunteer on Election Day for Protect the Vote 2008 can call Yumeka Rushing (Protect the Vote 2008 coordinator) at 601-201-5311 or contact her via e-mail at [email protected].

Protect the Vote 2008 is a nonpartisan coalition. Participating organizations include: the Mississippi State Conference NAACP in partnership with the ACLU of Mississippi, Magnolia Bar Association, the Mississippi Association for Justice and the Mississippi Center for Justice.

For more information about the work of the ACLU of Mississippi please visit

Monday, October 27, 2008

Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark

Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and S...Image via WikipediaLooking for some good reality-based video clips? Beyond Belief: Candles in the Dark, a project of the Science Network, is now available for viewing online. As you may know, this is the third annual series in an effort to promote reason in social policy. This one is particularly solution-focused and ought to be informative. Check it out.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Publicizing Mississippi Atheists

Jackson, Mississippi city hallImage via WikipediaIt is not easy to get the word out about atheism here in Mississippi. But if this blog is going to serve as the voice of atheism in our state, it is essential that we get a core group of authors who will make regular contributions. Unfortunately, this has been elusive. With this in mind, I added a brief introduction on the Clarion-Ledger's (Jackson) website. By itself, it is not going to do much, but I hope it makes us just a little easier to find. I'll do the same with my local newspaper, the Hattiesburg American. If you have other ideas, I'm eager to hear them. Every little bit helps.

Oh, and if you know any Mississippi atheists with something to say, ask them to consider joining us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Non-Believer in Church: The Orchard at Oxford

Jonah Cast Forth By The Whale, by Gustave Doré.Image via WikipediaSince my last post to the First Baptist Church, I've been in communication with Pat, the pastor of The Orchard church in Oxford. The Orchard (not to be confused with The Orchard in Tupelo) is a small Methodist church that meets in The Powerhouse, which is the community center for the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. The sign in the front of The Powerhouse says that The Orchard is "A Church for Everyone." That's a pretty lofty goal once considering that "everyone" includes people from non-Christian religions as well as non-believers.

Being a small church, it should be easy to spot the visitors. Pat recognized me as soon as I came in the door, despite having never met in person. I have to say that this immediately put me on the defensive. He began talking to me about what he and I have in common. It seems we both have interests in Twitter and pop culture. He had to greet others, so he told me to help myself to the free coffee. I'm already concerned about how objective I can be about this column (Hi Pat!). At least this church doesn't have a problem with an atheist visiting the service.

I've been to other services that were casual. The Orchard at Tupelo, with over 1000 members, was equally as casual as this service. This service had about 50 people, with age ranges from college student up to middle aged. There were few children or elderly people. The music consisted of a guitar player and a drummer (I think). It was simple, acoustic, and beautiful. The lyrics to the songs were on an overhead projector, but I didn't see anyone singing along.

The pastor's lesson was on "The Scandal of Grace". It focused on God's perspective of grace by retelling the story of Jonah. The story is classic: God argued with Jonah to convince him that the people of Nineveh are in need of God's word despite Jonah believing that they are all unworthy. The message from the book is also clear: God's grace is currently extended to anyone, no matter how far away a person is from God. Pulling from the story in Luke 15:11, he pointed out that many aspects of our lives are not fair. Thing may not appear fair to us, but God sees things differently from us. This is why God is in charge and we are not (which I thought was a tad oversimplified). In his view, the idea of grace is "scandalous" because all people are undeserving of grace and are still allowed to have it.

He suggest that the Christian God represents that which is hope, mercy, grace, love and compassion. Once you factor in other Biblical concepts such as Hell and judgment, the idea of a loving God becomes muddled. As for these types of lessons, I prefer these messages over the dogmatic ones. I saw a glimpse of this last Sunday, as well as at the Episcopal service and the Unitarian service. Some churches are moving in the direction of teaching ideas that shape the overall community, while other churches are moving in the direction of their respective dogma. In the interest of easing the tension between believers and non-believers, I want churches to move toward community ideas (such as grace, peace, and love).

No discussion was made over the likelihood of a person being able to survive for three days in the belly of a fish, or why didn't God just reveal himself to someone inside Nineveh and cut out the middle man. Maybe it's best that these details were overlooked. It is easier to examine these improbable tales for the moral messages than examine them for their accuracy. Just one step in the direction of reality and the Book of Jonah as a historical account falls apart. This is true for most of the Bible.

After a closing song, the service ended. Members could stay for the communion, but people who didn't want to take it were allowed to leave. That is something that I haven't seen any other church do. Most of the time I'm left sitting by myself in the pews while everyone else takes communion. That flexibility to the service was a nice change.

I do have friends that attend this church, so I'll probably be back at some point.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Will Religulous Come to Mississippi?

Bill Maher by David ShankboneImage via WikipediaBill Maher's new film, Religulous, is making quite a buzz in theaters across America. But will it come to Mississippi? That seems like an odd question to have to ask, doesn't it? After all, Mississippi is supposed to be part of America. And yet, this is exactly the question being asked in a letter to the editor printed in the Clarion-Ledger (Jackson) by a Mississippi atheist.

I don't see many movies in the theater these days and usually wait for the DVD to come out. But I'd like the option to see Religulous in the theater just like most Americans enjoy. Should I be deprived of that option simply because I live in a bastion of Christian extremism?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thoughts on Religulous

The Holy Sepulchre Church, Jerusalem. Catholic...Image via WikipediaOn my birthday, Oct. 5, my daughter and I went to New Orleans to see Religulous at the Canal Place Cinema. We went to the matinee. The small theater was about 1/3 full, which is the largest crowd I have ever seen on a Sunday Noonish show at this theater. Madeline and I go fairly regularly as this theater shows films that aren't seen in general release. The movie was very funny and very well made.

A common criticism of the film has been that it attacks the less subtle practitioners of religion, emphasizing literalist, fundamentalist Christians, with the occasional bizarre Jew, Scientologist, and hemp worshipper.

My reply to the critics who say that the film targeted the less sophisticated practitioner of Christianity, and that most of the faithful are far more sophisticated in their understanding of god is...bullshit. I have read, studied and debated with Christian theologians who are supposedly 'sophisticated' and find that they are ultimately no more sophisticated in their thinking than the people portrayed in this documentary. There is a word for their theological sophistry - casuistry.

In one interesting segment in front of the Vatican, Bill talks to a priest who says that no one really believes in heaven, virgin births, miracles, no one scares kids with hell anymore, no one believes any of that stuff anymore. This priest looked like a plumber from Chicago. It turns out he was from a working class family in Wisconsin who happens to have been one of the top Latinist scholars for the Vatican for about forty years. Anyway, he seemed strangely out of touch. My daughter is only seventeen. She went to a Catholic grade school not long ago. If you ask her if they tried to scare her with hell way back, like five years ago, she would tell you 'Oh yeah, big time.'

When I talked to a priest about divorcing my wife in 2006, he had the temerity to threaten me with hell. He said a whole lot of other things that were so sadly rooted in superstition that I think it proves that this movie was not about unsophisticated morons, but mainstream Christians.

Bill also interviewed a Jewish scholar who said that Jews did not deserve to be in the Holy Land, that they had broken their covenant with god and therefore did not deserve to inhabit the ancestral home of their race. He was treated with contempt for his views, which seem totally out of sync with the mainstream of Jewish thought today. Interestingly enough, his was the majority view among Jews for centuries until the ascendance of the Zionist movement in the 19th century.

Anyway, the movie is far more interesting than I thought it would be, and funnier than I thought it would be. The guy with the church of pot was hilarious.

I hope you all get to see it.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Central Mississippi Atheist October Meetup

The Central Mississippi Atheist Meetup Group is holding their October meeting in Jackson on October 23rd at 7:00 PM. For more information, visit their page.

Monday, October 6, 2008

How Will Economy Impact Mississippi Senate Race?

The Musgrove-Wicker debate was close, slight edge to Musgrove but unlikely to change any minds. Now that the nationwide economic crisis is starting to have effects in Mississippi, it will be important for Democrats campaigning in our state to continue to stress the relationship between Republican economic policies and our current economic situation. Musgrove managed to do this effectively in the debate, but more reminders will be needed. I suppose the real question will be whether Mississippi voters will set aside the various wedge issues (e.g., abortion, gay marriage, etc.) in this election to vote for their economic self-interest.

If there was ever an election where it would be reasonable to expect wedge issues to have less of an impact that usual, it would be this one. Even the Iraq war has moved off of the front page to make room for the economic crisis as the story of the day. Given the Republican role in creating this mess, this should be an excellent opportunity for the Democratic Party to take the presidency and strengthen their Congressional majority.

Mississippi residents who earn less than $250,000/year and are disheartened about what they've been hearing about the economy should vote for Democratic candidates. In previous elections, this has been obscured by many factors, religious "values" being primary among them. This could be the year to do something positive for our country and our state by setting aside whatever desire we might have to legislate our morality and pursue meaningful change.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

More Corruption in Mississippi

Mississippi State University's Drill Field. Le...Image via WikipediaIn addition to being a bastion of Christian extremism and a frequently hostile place for atheists to live, what else is Mississippi known for around the rest of the country? Racism, of course, but this seems to be mostly based on our history rather than current differences from other regions. How about corruption? I've always associated Mississippi with the political cronyism no evident in everything from no-bid contracts to good-ole-boy networks of power. Sadly, it appears that we have another current example of this in the form of our state's board of higher education.

Tom Meredith, Commissioner of Higher Education, is on paid leave while alleged misconduct is investigated. And what is Meredith suspected of doing? According to the Associated Press,
Mississippi State University workers and equipment allegedly were used for landscaping at Meredith's home near Jackson, the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson reported Saturday.
That certainly does not sound good, nor does the suspicion that Mississippi State University Interim President Vance Watson may have been involved. Every state has its problems to be sure, but it seems like ours just keep conforming to the stereotypes of our state. That makes is hard to change how we are perceived.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sen. Cochran Votes Against Bailout

Thad Cochran, member of the United States Sena...Image via WikipediaI don't get to say this very often, but thanks to Sen. Thad Cochran for voting against the Wall Street bailout. I may not often agree with Cochran's politics, but it is nice to see that at least some senators are willing to do what their constituency wants. I am not opposed to government intervention in response to this economic mess, but I want a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down model. I hope the House can block this bill and replace it with a superior one.