Lessons From Florida Atheists

Florida's state quarter.Image via Wikipedia

I wish Ruth Morris (AFP) had found a different title for her recent article, Atheists on the march in America. Marching has a militaristic connotation to me, and this seems to be one of the last things of which most atheists can fairly be accused. Again and again, we see our fellow atheists spending almost as much time and energy attacking the idea of organizing as they do opposing religion. But regardless, I think Morris' article was excellent and contains some valuable lessons for those of us who like the idea of there being an atheist movement.

The article focuses on Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists (FLASH) and their rise from five members to an impressive group of nearly 500. Here are some of the things that stood out to me about FLASH and what they are doing:
  • They meet weekly.
  • They promote the events they plan (e.g., designing bumper stickers, etc.).
  • They picketed a prayer meeting held in a public safety building and supported with tax money.
  • The president of their groups receives regular hate mail, including some threats of violence, but perseveres anyway.
Even though a group of atheists this large has to be very diverse in their outlook, their goals, and the degree of activism with which they are comfortable, they somehow manage to come together regularly and make a difference in their community. I must confess feeling a sense of awe and even some envy of what they have been able to build.

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Introducing Progress for Mississippi

At first glance, I thought that Progress for Mississippi was a new progressive group hoping to improve our state. To say I was excited would have been an understatement. However, Y'all Politics has suggested that the organization is a campaign site for Bill Luckett who is hoping to run for governor as a Democrat. This makes it a bit of a harder sell for me and not just because I'm unfamiliar with Luckett. Why? Well, Gene Taylor is technically a Democrat, and I have a hard time seeing him as even remotely progressive. Is Luckett a genuine progressive or just another conservative pretending to be progressive to capitalize on President Obama's popularity?

I know, I know. This is Mississippi, and a real progressive could never get elected here, right? I guess that may be true, but I am tired of voting for what is merely a false choice. I'm happy to support a real progressive but having an increasingly hard time just voting against the more Christian extremist of the candidates.

The web site offers some clues about what to expect from Luckett, some of which I do not find particularly encouraging.
Through the decades I have listened to so many reports of Mississippi being last. Whenever media reports examine education, poverty, health issues and public services, it seems that our state’s enduring legacy is filled with disappointments and documented with failures...But that is not the Mississippi I know! While it is true that we have very real problems to address in our state, the Mississippi I know is ready for rebirth.
Our state has serious problems that are going to require real sacrifice to turn around. We need genuine change and not merely a different sort of PR campaign. It isn't about showcasing our strengths. We need a leader who is willing to call for hard work and capable of selling what may be unpopular but necessary. Could Luckett be such a leader? I guess time will tell.

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Fatherhood Initiative Revealed as Christian Infiltration

Dad Can Help Me Reach The Skies!Image by Ivan Makarov via Flickr

This one is from Mims, and it will make you proud of him and sick with rage at the same time (or maybe that's just me).

I had a disturbing experience at work yesterday. The relief agency I work for hosted a seminar on strengthening fathering skills. The presenter was working under a federal grant aimed at strengthening the family under the theory that the family is the core institution of our society, and keeping families together will improve our society. I have no problem with this concept. Nor do I dispute the idea that fatherhood is an important role that a lot of men, including me, could use a little more training in.

I had received little notice on this seminar, I was told when I arrived at the office at 7am that the seminar will take place at 10am and that some other agencies were sending representatives.

The presenter showed up at 10:45, having apparently forgotten about the appointment. When he arrived, he started a rambling introduction to the program he was running to help fathers improve their skills. It seemed ok when he was talking about the skills he was attempting to impart. When he started talking about the federal program, my jaw hit the floor. He said he was part of a Christian attempt to infiltrate government with Christians and that groups like the AFA were behind the attempt.

Before he could go on much farther, I asked him if the antics of Gov. Sanford of South Carolina, Sen. Ensign of Nevada, or numerous other good Christians going back to Newt Gingrich, are examples of this infiltration. You'd have thought I slapped him on the face. He started sputtering about how these guys were phony 'Christians' (yes, he did the air quotes) and not true Christians, how, yeah, there were too many sinful air-quote Christians in government, and then he started on a rant about Bill Clinton. Then he realized he was on dangerous ground and asked if we had a screen for his power point presentation. I went with my director, a committed Christian who is equally committed to keeping her federally-funded work within our secular non-profit organization well away from any religious involvement, to get the screen. She just said to me (she knows my world view), "He was on very dangerous ground there. I am glad you slapped him down."

The rest of the seminar was a joke. He was obviously unprepared, both in his organization of materials (none of his power point worked) and in his presentation of the program. He said his funding was ending soon, and it did not look like it would be renewed. The 'strengthening families' program apparently had three components - his fatherhood training, a motherhood training, and an 'abstinence only' sex ed. component. He said that he had mainly done the training in jails, as the public schools had not allowed him to present, and even local churches would not let him present because the program is federally funded.

We served lunch after the 'seminar'. The presenter realized how badly it had gone, and undoubtedly blamed me in large part. I know he was pretty surly and unappreciative of the fact that I sat down next to him to eat. I tried to engage him in conversation about prison work, which I have some experience in, but he was pretty intent on his salad, and unwilling to communicate much. Some of the other people at the table were totally clueless about what had gone on, and were asking him questions which he knew he could not answer honestly with me sitting by him.

If the whole thing had not wasted two hours of my time, time I could have been devoting to helping people in need solve their life problems, I would be much happier about clipping this asshole's wings.

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Moving with Jesus

One of the joys of living in Mississippi is that one can find all sorts of businesses trying to take advantage of our more gullible neighbors (and no, I'm not referring only to the churches). Just take a look at this truck, spotted at a gas station in Clinton, MS!

Why trust your those precious earthly belongings you've been accumulating to any old movers when you can be assured that your movers are similarly deluded?

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Great Southern Humanist Society Heartwalk

February is American Heart MonthImage by Mykl Roventine via Flickr

The Great Southern Humanist Society is holding a heart walk to benefit the American Heart Association on October 3, 2009, at the Gulfport VA. They have set up a donation page, and more information about the event can be found on their Meetup.com page.

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Brad Harrub (1)

Anti-evolution car in Athens, GeorgiaImage via Wikipedia

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail telling me about a Creationism seminar being taught by Dr. Brad Harrub, PhD to be held at the Collierville Church of Christ in Collierville, TN. (I'm sorry, but this story is a rare departure from Mississippi.) This e-mail wasn't from an online atheist buddy informing me of a nearby attack on science, but a member of this church wanting to inform me about the latest in attacks on god. I even gave my friend a ride home after the meeting. I hope the church sends me a "thank you" card for taking care of one of their own.

The lecture was titled "Atheism’s Attack on America". I eagerly wanted to know how much destruction that I have rot on America. I dare say that America will never recover from the devastating blow that all atheists have dealt to her core values of baseball, apple pie, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Go ahead. Name one The Four Seasons song without looking it up. If you can't, then the atheists have already won.

All atheists are trying to say is "There's probably no god," and "Church and state shouldn't influence each other." The first point is debatable, and we love to argue with others over it. The second point is not, and we will work to ensure it. If there is one value that atheists have tried to change it's the value of thinking for one's self independent of any religious dogma. But therein lies the issue: shall we decide between man's wisdom or god's wisdom? If you've been following this issue any, then you know that we spend a great deal of effort trying to convince people that there probably isn't a god, therefore there probably isn't any divine wisdom to be found. Stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Who's this guy kidding? The entire Collierville Church of Christ, that's who, as well as every other church where he has given his "Origins" seminar. Dr. Harrub gives this talk around 40 times per year and can give the talk at your next event for $1200. At this seminar, no minds were changed. In fact, everyone in the room (including myself) was more firmly grounded in their original positions. That's how you know that the seminar is a complete failure. The information is misrepresented, the Christians accept it uncritically, and the atheists do their best to correct the misinformation in the question and answer period.

You are probably wondering what atheists are guilty of doing. Dr. Harrub flashed a quote on the screen. "Let me control the textbooks, and I will control the state. -Adolph Hitler (2)." After we took god out of our textbooks, our country has become more immoral. We can show this by looking at the dramatic increase in crime and teen pregnancy rates and by completely ignoring ever changing socio-economic factors. You or I may think that the simple removal of god from textbooks by atheists because of an evil German dictator to harm American values is a proposition that only a madman would maintain. You might even call it hate speech toward atheists. But Dr. Harrub also points out that our textbooks have evolution and evolution just isn't true (3).

Yes, Dr. Harrub is a creationist, which means he's among the 0.14% of scientists who believe in Creationism (4). In order to prove his point, he has to misrepresent the theory of evolution anyway he can. He has a PhD in Neurobiology from the University of Tennessee. He had to understand the cornerstone of biology to advance in his studies and complete his dissertation, so I have no doubts that he realizes that it's all a misrepresentation. He paraded the classic perceptions of transitional humans: Piltdown man, Nebraska Man, and Lucy and others. Some of these fossils have been discredited by other scientists (5). Others, such as Lucy, Dr. Harrub had to weaseled this on his own to discredit the fossil.

Oh, then the question and answer session came, and it was dominated by atheists who were rightfully angry at the hate speech. The atheists corrected his slides on church and state cases. They defended themselves to the church as having morals. One person pointed out that we, as Americans, enslaved one race of people and nearly exterminated another while our children were learning about god in the public schools during the 19th century, so his thesis is bunk. And yes, the atheists defended the theory of evolution. As the questions dragged on, one person asked Dr. Harrub about why he thought homosexuality was immoral and his answer was for the same reasons that rape is immoral (which I found horribly offensive). The issue of morality was a major point of contention. Dr. Harrub asked one of the atheists where he gets his morals, and he answered that morals primarily come through the avoidance of pain and suffering. Dr. Harrub then asked if it was moral to beat small girls who are unable to experience physical pain due to a neural disability (6). Tensions were very high. There was one church member who was mocking all of the questions on morality by cocking his index finger and thumb as if it were a gun and pointing it at various people in the room (complete with making the shooting sound). The atheists asked why god would command genocide in the Old Testament. Dr. Harrub said that god would never command such a thing, and we would never be able to provide Bible verse to support a claim. I found the passage, so that makes Dr. Harrub a liar.

1 Samuel 15:2-3 - Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

The atheists in attendance left on a higher moral ground than the speaker. I was proud to tell others in attendance that I was an atheists in the church.

(1) is a used car salesman for Jesus. Anyone who plays this fast and loose with the truth always has a backup career.
(2) By the way, I can find no credible source to back up this quote, but I have found hundreds of Christian apologetics sites repeating it. It's probably a fabrication.
(3) Dr. Harrub showed slides of quotes on evolution from popular biology textbooks. One of those textbooks was written by Kenneth Miller, a devout Roman Catholic who has written plenty on evolution/creationism controversy. I wanted to ask Dr. Harrub why he was quoting a Roman Catholic as an example of why atheists are attacking America.
(4) http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_publi.htm
(5) Science is awesome because scientists are actively critical of every other scientist. Only the best ideas should be allowed to survive. Dr. Harrub is being critical of science, but he should also know that his criticisms have been dealt with many, many times. If he honestly believes that he has a legitimate point to make on the theory of evolution, he should make his point the proper way: by aggregating research data, writing a paper, passing peer review and discussing the paper at a conference. I encourage every Christian creationist reading this message to encourage this of Dr. Harrub. His details can be found on his contact page. Be polite if you contact him.
(6) I'm not making this up.

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Katrina Memorial Blood Drive

The Great Southern Humanist Society is encouraging members of the reality-based community to consider donating blood at the Edgewater Mall in Biloxi on August 29, 2009 between 11:00 AM and 6:00 PM as part of the Katrina Memorial Blood Drive.
Now is a really good time to donate because supplies are lower than ever and it is such a wonderful way to help others for the greater good of the human family while also memorializing the events and aftermath of Katrina in a practical and reasoned way.
For those unable to give blood, please consider making a donation to the Red Cross.

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Teagging With Birthers and Racists (For Jesus)

Remember the excellent photos userjack6880 shared with us from the teabagging in Biloxi? Someone else liked them too and beat me to using them to more fully illustrate what the teabagger movement has become. Check out this post at Bay of Fundy, and you'll see what I mean.
Patriots always speak up when the government goes astray. If you only speak up when your guy loses the election, you aren’t patriotic at all.
The overlap between teabaggers, birthers, racists, Fox "News" consumers, and Christian extremists strikes me as more than coincidental. Regardless, this new movement also seems to overlap with what we are seeing in the town hall meetings of Democratic members of Congress. Scary stuff that seems to be getting closer to a boiling point.

Are the viable arguments for fiscal responsibility? Absolutely. Are there legitimate objections that can be raised to the Democratic plan for health care form? Absolutely. The thing is, this isn't it.

Photo credit: userjack6880

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Evolution vs. Creationism Seminar in TN

Fun With Church Signs: Young Earth CreationismImage by dmacdoesjapan via Flickr

Atheists within driving distance of the Memphis area may be interested to know that a Creation vs. Evolution seminar will be held August 14-16 at Collierville Church of Christ in Collierville, TN (east of Memphis). The Memphis Freethought Alliance and Memphis Atheists are planning to attend and are interested in promoting a decent atheist turnout.

The seminar will feature Brad Harrub, Ph.D., young earth creationist, co-founder of Focus Press, and co-editor of Think magazine. His bio says he has a doctorate in anatomy and neurobiology (his website says from University of Tennessee College of Medicine) and co-authored Diamonds in the Rough: The Truth About Human Origins, Matters of Life and Death, and Investigating Christian Evidences.

Here is some information I received via email:
Anyway - topics listed for the seminar include: Atheism's Attack on America at 7:00 p.m. on August 14; Is Genesis a Myth at 6:30 on the 15th; The Dinosaur Dilemma at 7:30 on the 15th; Was Darwin Wrong at 9:30 a.m. on the 16th; Medical Examination of the Crucifixion at 10:30 a.m.; and The Scientific Accuracy of the Bible at 1:30 P.M. The program flier I have states that he will answer these questions: Did humans and dinosaurs coexist? Did humans evolve from ape-like creatures? and How old is the Earth?
Why let the Republicans opposed to health care reform have all the fun? If you like the idea of exercising your freedom of speech, this may be for you.

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Faith-Based Murderer Convicted

Some people like the concept of health care reform but believe that President Obama and Democratic members of Congress are going about it the wrong way. Others are opposed to the idea of health care reform because they believe that it is immoral for poor people to receive anything they have not earned. Still others are opposed to the very idea of health care itself, believing that faith and prayer are the only acceptable means of healing. Unfortunately, the children of this last group are often in peril.

I suspect you've already heard about the sad case of Dale Neumann, recently convicted by a jury of his peers for allowing his 11-year-old diabetic daughter to die because he chose prayer over medical care. Why would Neumann do such a thing? Simple. He thought that his god would heal his daughter.

Neumann was quoted in a BBC report as saying,
If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God. I am not believing what he said he would do.
Once again, we see that Christian extremism can kill.

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Southern Pride: We are the Birthers!

Always on the lookout for things that might better help me understand the South, it seems that we can now take pride in being home to a much higher proportion of birthers than anywhere else in the U.S. Oh, how I wish I was even mildly surprised by this news!

Progress Ohio reports on a recent Daily Kos poll in which participants were asked whether they believe that Obama was born in the U.S. The regional numbers were quite telling.

More evidence that living in the South is like being part of a psychological experiment from which one cannot escape. What do you think is going on here? Is this mostly about race, religion, what?

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