On Chick-Fil-A, bigotry, and absurd rationalizations

August 1, 2012

I’m going to take it as a given that everyone has heard about the recent controversy surrounding the fast food restaurant, Chick Fil-A, and so I’m not going to rehash the whole story. What I want to talk about is bigotry and why some non-bigots express their willingness to continue to frequent Chick Fil-A.

Now I’ve heard A LOT of people feed me A LOT of different reasons for why there’s nothing unethical or political about their decision to continue giving money to Chick Fil-A. In every single case, however, it all boiled down to rationalizations and excuses. The fact is that when someone starts feeding you their personal line about why it’s okay for them to buy Chick Fil-A even though they’re in favor of marriage equality and civil rights, what they are really telling you is:  I enjoy that chicken sandwich so much that I will keep buying it NO MATTER WHO IT HURTS.

And make no mistake. When you buy Chick Fil-A, you’re not just giving money to a bigot, but rather you are indirectly funding organizations who are actively engaged in trying to curtail civil liberties in Washington. These organizations spend millions campaigning to influence public policy in order to prevent marriage equality. And without your money, they simply can’t do that.

So if your craving for this one fast food joint trumps accepting responsibility for contributing in some small way to causes that you very well know hurt people, then it’s become a dangerous addiction. In a way I think the same could be said with another issue that’s been back in the news lately, America’s obsession with guns despite the undeniable harm that produces. But this isn’t a piece on gun regulation, so let me get back on track.

One actually reasonable argument I’ve heard against a boycott is that obviously not all Chick Fil-A franchise owners and employees agree with CEO Dan Cathy’s position, and while Dan Cathy isn’t likely to go broke, the innocent may be the ones most hurt by such a boycott. But you can say that about any organization, and on those grounds, it’s never acceptable to fight any corporation. I tend to liken it to the famous scene in the film Clerks, when they discuss the independent contractors working on the second Death Star, who certainly died when the rebels destroyed it (spoiler alert):

Chick Fil-A’s overly Right-Wing Christian values are well known and anyone who would choose to invest in a Chick Fil-A franchise would have to be an idiot to have not done any research at all. And surely employees aren’t blind to the company’s politics. So when you get in bed with a business like that, like the Death Star contractors, you knew the risks when you took the job.

One interesting aspect to this whole controversy is how quickly Republican politicians who have probably never eaten at a Chick Fil-A before in their lives have come out in support of the fast food chain via Twitter, mostly with passive aggressive tweets about how they’re at this very moment eating at Chick Fil-A with their families. Ironically, Sarah Palin did this as well mere weeks after the world was shocked when her toddler bastard of a grandson called his aunt a “faggot” on television. Wonder where the kid picks up this sort of stuff. Kinda reminds me of that old drug PSA from the 80’s where the kid is asked by his father where he learned about drugs and the kid famously replies, “From you, alright! I learned it from watching you!”

The less passive approach has also been quite popular among conservative pundits like Michelle Malkin, who, as recently as today, decried calls to boycott Chick Fil-A as a “war on Christian businesses.” Funny how nobody is calling to boycott any other Christian-owned or run businesses, not even ones whose CEOs are openly anti-gay. Some war, huh. That’s like insisting after the BP oil spill of 2010, that angry protests against BP are a war on business run by white people. It’s also ironic how conservatives are usually the ones who most insist letting the free market decide is the answer to all our problems and that there’s no crying in politics. What happened, tough guys? Suddenly, when the market of public opinion has ruled against the GRAND Old Party, all we hear is whining about what big meanies the Left is and that darned Christian persecution that’s so rampant in this country. When Democrats called the Republican’s consistent pushing of policies that infringe on women’s rights a “War on Women,” the GOP condemned such sensational language. But now a proposed boycott by Christians and non-Christians alike against a single company that donates millions of dollars to organizations promoting bigoted legislation is suddenly a “war on Christian businesses”?  Give me a break. And of course the height of the irony comes from those on the Right who have directly called this proposed boycott itself an act of “intolerance.”  Moreover, Mike Huckabee tweeted today that eating at Chick Fil-A is supporting free speech. But free speech is FREE; spending millions on bigoted public policy is corporate thuggery.

Now, all that’s not to say I don’t agree with the Right with regards to news that certain city officials have tried to exile Chick Fil-A from their cities. For the record, I do think that constitutes as an abuse of political power. The only good thing I have to say about that is that it’s at least refreshing to see the so-called “culture war” or public opinion, so dramatically shift in favor of equality and LGBT-acceptance.

Now, to return to a point I only casually made two paragraphs earlier, there are just as many Christians, if not more, who either disagree with Chick Fil-A’s policy or are more neutral. For instance, I read a piece the other day from a Christian moderate, Rachel Held Evans, on this very subject that tried really hard to find balance between the two most prominent sides in this debate. I for one think this is an issue where one side is right and the other wrong, where such attempts at neutrality just fail miserably. This is evident from the comments section of Held Evan’s piece. There were three positions represented:  the unambiguous bigots, those making excuses to justify having their precious chicken sandwich even though it hurts people, and then the far more thoughtful responses from people leveling what, in my opinion, is a devastating rebuttal to those positions.

Held Evans criticizes both sides. To those against Chick Fil-A, she decries the use of the words “bigot” and “homophobe” in their rhetoric, saying:

You have every right to be tired of being treated as a second-class citizen.

I get it. I really do.

But I beg you to please remember that not all Christians who speak out against gay marriage are bigots or homophobes, and calling them those names is as unjust as it is unkind.

Now don’t get me wrong. I hear what Held is saying. I get it. I really do. I know her intentions are honorable.

But she’s dead wrong. This is a total false equivalency that only suggests she’s out of touch she is with the everyday realities of being part of such a marginalized class. Now I know there are many who would throw around the word “privilege” to explain her lack of awareness, but I’m not going to go there because, frankly, I don’t know what her life has been like. Certainly, as a woman, she too may have faced serious marginalization. And being a straight man myself, I can’t say I entirely understand what it’s like to be LGBT in America today.

But to return to Held Evan’s statement quoted above, to suggest that being called a bigot or homophobe, even if unjustified, is somehow “as unjust and unkind” as being  denied basic civil rights (a thing that she too acknowledges this is about in the very second sentence of her piece) is ridiculous. But the even bigger problem on display here is this implication (and maybe it’s unintentional) that nobody should ever be called a bigot or homophobe…even, you know, bigots and homophobes. Now certainly if you want to talk strategy in terms of trying to persuade bigots and homophobes to stop being such things, a legitimate conversation can be had regarding how persuasive such loaded terms are in changing the minds of bigots and homophobes. But that’s not really what we’re talking about here.

The very first commenter on Held Evans’ piece, KatR, said it quite well:

No one is a racist any more, have you noticed this? When some city council member forwards some atrocious email and is called on it, the first thing he/she says is “I’m not a racist”. The word has become so loaded that in order to be classified as a “racist”, you need to be a full throated member of the KKK, participating in cross burnings and threatening lynchings.

I think Christians have gotten this way with the word “homophobe”.  They think its those horrible people at Westboro Baptist, not them voting to make prejudice a part of the state constitution, or giving money to pray the gay away groups. But they aren’t yelling and screaming at anybody! So it’s different.

I get it. I used to be a nice bigot too. But all of the flowery Scriptures and love the sin not the sinner in the world cant take away the fact that I was a bigot. And it’s not going to take it away from them either.

I almost wanted to paraphrase that but it was just too elegantly said as is that I didn’t even try. KatR just nails it right on the head with that one. That was immediately followed by this great comment from Kaoru Negisa:

I was just about to come here and point this out. Denying people rights is, by definition. bigoted. You can be sweet as a human being, but you’re still a bigot. You can help your neighbors, but you’re still a bigot. There is no getting around this.

Fred Clark already covered this very nicely, I think http://www.patheos.com/blogs/s…

I’m sure Rachel’s friends feel very bad about having to make other people’s lives measurably more miserable. But quite frankly I don’t much care that somebody’s feelings are hurt by being called a homophobe when they engage in homophobic behavior. Not so long as same-sex couples are not allowed to visit one another in the hospital or don’t get the same government benefits or are bullied and beaten up by those who live in a culture where they see the very existence of LGBT people as intrinsically wrong, regardless of the intentions of those who “simply disagree.”

When a person acts in a bigoted fashion, they are a bigot, regardless of the source of their bigotry. And they deserve to be called out on it.

Then when asked if both sides can be accused of being bigots, Negisa beautifully responded:

The key word is “prejudices”. Those are, as far as we understand language, pre-conceived notions on the behavior of people. However, the opposition to anti-LGBT activity is reactive. Gay people are not proactively looking to demean Christians, they are reacting to people who lie about them, condemn them, and oppose their legal equality. This is not some pre-conceived notion invented to demonize people, it’s a response to the demonization LGBT people receive on a regular basis.

Held Evans herself  chimes in on the comments with this:

I guess I feel like a better approach would be to begin with the assumption that many of the folks who oppose gay marriage don’t hate gay people, and then use that assumption as an appeal to urge them to support equal rights for gays and lesbians.

Option 1: “You’re against gay marriage so you must hate gay people.”

Option 2:”Because you don’t hate gay people, don’t you think they should be given the same basic rights that you enjoy?”

Maybe it’s too subtle a difference…or maybe it’s too stark. I guess I just feel like the conversation breaks down right off the bat when we start with Option 1 instead of Option 2.

Again, I hear what she’s saying and I think her heart is in the right place, but I think what she’s describing is a distinction without a difference because if we all agree that marriage is indeed a civil right (and again, she herself says as much right at the very start of the article), then the belief that one group that’s solely defined by a largely innate and uncontrollable characteristic that doesn’t hurt anyone should be denied that civil right is inescapably unfair, i.e. unjust. And while hypothetically, we can sit around and invent some imaginary alternative motivation for such a belief that doesn’t ultimately boil down to an unjustified belief in that group’s inferiority or “otherness,” all the excuses that have been so far presented have either been expressly expressed as homosexuality being viewed as sinful or unnatural, etc. or thinly disguised as such, as with the absurd literalist interpretation of the dictionary’s current definition of marriage. Now you could say that believing homosexuality is sinful, evil, or unnatural is not synonymous with “hating” gays. I don’t get the impression that Held Evans buys the “hate the sin, not the sinner” line of BS that are so prominent among Christian bigots, but the problem is see with her Option 2 is that I can’t even fathom what alternative reasonable reason one could devise for someone who thinks gays are equal citizens to everyone else to actively oppose them having the same basic rights. But as a skeptic, I must volunteer that this could be simply due to my own failure of imagination, so I’m certainly open to such alternative arguments.

And again, commenter Negisa, gave a wonderful reply to Held Evans in her comments section:

You’re talking about approach here, and I’m talking about reality. You’re right, there are times when calling a person a bigot for acting in a bigoted manner is not the right approach. Sometimes it is the right approach, and the realization of their own discrimination will snap them out of it. It’s a case-by-case thing.

What I was replying to was your statement that there are people who oppose marriage equality and aren’t bigoted or homophobes, and that’s impossible. As KatR alluded to, you can no more do that than post a Whites Only sign on your pool and claim to not be a racist (which happened in Ohio last year). I’m sorry your friends feel so bad about having to add to human misery, but they are adding to human misery in significant amounts. There’s no getting around that, and pretending that somebody can be against the rights of others and not be bigoted doesn’t help anyone.

To be fair, Held Evans does say a lot that I agree with too. She rightfully says we should all be concerned that public officials are trying to legislate away the bigotry, which could set a very dangerous precedent and can easily be exploited by propagandists who will point to it as alleged proof of a “gay agenda.”  She also rightfully says Christians ought not cry persecution and rightfully warns Christians that defiantly putting up Facebook pictures of themselves holding a Chick Fil-A bag may send a different and more hurtful message than they intend. And I absolutely agree with this advice of hers:

Finally, I urge you to take a few moments to listen to the stories of gays and lesbians who have been negatively affected by the organizations that are supported by Chick-fil-A. 

Really, my largest point of disagreement with Held Evans concerns what I feel is her letting the continued patrons off easy:

So, in short, you can choose to patronize Chick-fil-A without 1) rubbing it in people’s faces, 2) crying persecution, and 3) closing your ears to the concerns of others, particularly those from the LGBT community.

Related to this, there’s another moderate Christian take on this issue comes from Branson Parlor over at Think Christian. I get the sense that the fast food chain’s position leaves a bad taste in Parlor’s mouth but yet he still ends his piece with a rather misguided attempt to de-politicize his favorite chicken sandwich in order to rationalize his addiction to it NO MATTER WHO IT HURTS:

So, if I am hungry for a chicken sandwich, I will eat at Chick-fil-A. What is the meaning of this? Simply that I’m hungry for a chicken sandwich. If I want to watch the Muppets, I will. What is the meaning of this? Simply that I find the Muppets amusing. We typically do not ask about the religious affiliation of our plumbers, grocers, accountantsand mechanics because we recognize the reality of common grace. In a similar way, we should recognize that the political positions of our retailers, book-store clerks, Internet providers and pharmacists are not as big of a deal as we are often led to believe.

In the end, being pacifists in the culture wars may turn out to be the best way to embody the Christian worldview. Instead of worrying about winning, we can start to truly seek the shalom of the culture to which we’ve been sent.

He’s simply deciding to tune it all out so he doesn’t have to think about the consequences of his actions, where his money is going, or take personal responsibility in being complicit in injustice. He’s like a child putting his fingers in his ears, shouting:  “La, la, la, la, I can’t hear you!” Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. As Uncle Ben so famously said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Or how about Edmund Burke, who said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Or Christopher Hitchens, who said, “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.” I don’t think I have to remind my readers of how history has judged the bystanders around Dachau or Auschwitz, or Switzerland, who similarly chose to stay neutral.

A culture of injustice and bullying can ONLY exist so long as individuals are willing to put up with it. And choosing to sell the freedoms of others so you can enjoy some greasy chicken sandwich is a Faustian bargain that comes at too high a price, as my friend Mitch explains here.

And once again, another great commenter, James G. Gilmore, stepped up for a rebuttal to Parlor:

I take issue with your suggestion that some acts are inherently apolitical.

The choices we make about what we eat, what media we watch, what we buy, are inherently and always political choices, using a more expansive definition of the “political” in terms of the “polis”—anything implicating questions of how we organize and maintain society—rather than the narrow “partisan” usage.

When one buys a sandwich at Chik-Fil-A, one provides material support to a number of political (in the expansive definition) viewpoints—not just Dan Cathy’s opposition to LGBT equality, but also to American currency as valuable, to meat-eating, to CFA’s payment and treatment of their workers—in short, to the systems in which Chik-Fil-A exists. Buying a farmer’s market tomato, a McDonald’s burger, or a $100 bottle of wine is a similarly political act.

Many will probably say that I’m overdoing it with the previous Holocaust references because it’s just about some silly fast food joint, but injustice and unfairness must be challenged at every turn, big and small. To let it go because, “It’s not my problem,”  is to invite evil. And while you might not be the target this time, one day it might be you, and you’ll just have to hope others take your concerns more seriously than you did theirs.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Martin Niemöller

To anyone who continues to give them money while knowing full well that that money will be used to fund evil because, like Gollum with his “precious”, they just couldn’t resist the damned chicken, you are not neutral; you are an accomplice. Your choices have an impact and your excuses are no good here.


Responding to Christian moderates at Think Christian about the gays and morality [re-edited]

May 13, 2012

[Writer’s note:  As of May 17, 2012, this piece has been re-edited. The main reason is that due to the great length of my comment on Think Christian, they politely asked me to condense it down to 250 words or less and graciously agreed to link to this longer-form article on their Facebook page to create a larger discussion. So I’ve modified the second half of this piece featuring the comment and moved some of the material as to distinguish my comment from my additional points that didn’t make it into that 250-word cut. But also, rereading this piece, I wasn’t proud of how I phrased a few things, so I also modified the earlier section. My main points, however, have not been changed. With that, I’d like to welcome any readers who have been referred here by Think Christian as well as thank Think Christian for facilitating this sharing of ideas]

My love of the podcast Filmspotting recently led me to discover that the new co-host on the podcast also contributes to a website called Think Christian, a site run by Christian moderates. Think Christian is a Christianity I can kinda get behind. They are quite different from the ultra-Right-Wing fundamentalists and evangelicals I typically encounter from those who wear their Christianity on their sleeves. In my opinion (though I haven’t followed the site for long and they might disagree), Think Christian seems to wisely ignore much of the actual content of the Bible and form their own progressive moral viewpoints.  Though, while I rather like these guys, my one main complaint is I feel they somewhat misguidedly try to attribute their progressive humanist values to Christianity.

Politically, I think we share many of the same values. Again, they’re infinitely better than evangelicals and they’re living in the right century. But while I find this mutation of Christianity useful to progressive causes in the short-term, I think it becomes problematic to reinforce a system that needs to first re-brand any particular civil or human right as a “Christian value” before defending it, and doing so only on the grounds that its considered god’s will to do so rather than as a good on its own, independent of the opinions of any alleged higher power.

A perfect recent example of this was Barack Obama’s announcement that he personally supports same-sex marriage. Obama didn’t defend marriage equality as a civil rights issue. Instead, he dressed it up in Christian language, declaring it merely his personal feelings on the matter based on his interpretation of Christianity that places fairness and The Golden Rule above the actual text of the Bible. Despite the Bible denouncing gay sex repeatedly, Obama actually defended gay marriage on Christian grounds. And when the Bible was used to defend slavery, many abolitionists pulled the same trick of ignoring the Bible’s unmistakably pro-slavery content and presenting it as being somehow Christian to oppose slavery, defying what their god allegedly actually said in favor of their own human sense of righteousness.  Martin Luther King invoked alleged Christian values when making his case for civil rights as well.

In my opinion, re-branding  secular humanist values as somehow Christian when they categorically oppose what is actually written in scripture is just not the right or honest way to go about positive social change in the world. Far better is just accepting that the Bible and Christianity are largely archaic mythologies held originally by mostly barbarians from a barbaric age with a few decent ideas sprinkled in, while fighting to end social wrongs simply on the grounds that they are social wrongs and cause unnecessary human suffering. Isn’t that enough of a reason? Why must we add “my god also said it’s wrong” to the list before it becomes a worthwhile cause?

Now since I constantly get asked by religious individuals to explain how one can even objectively and rationally ground morality without the presence of a divine third-party, I just completed a separate, lengthy article ambitiously titled, “The basis of all morality“. I very briefly touch on some of it below, but I get much more in depth on my central thesis in that article.

But anyway, here’s the very interesting piece from Think Christian on the issue of marriage equality and the following is my response:

Ideologues do exploit science, twisting it to rationalize their biases when science can only inform our decisions. But ethics belongs to philosophy, not religion. Religion too is easily manipulated when religions stress tradition, obedience, blind faith, and submission, while reducing morality to the proclamations of a dictator.

You’re right that whether homosexuality is a natural part of the human condition or simply preference is wholly irrelevant to any moral discussion. Homosexuality naturally exists across countless species. Being a particularly social species, our factors for pair bonding are more nuanced, though research finds human same-sex pair bonding largely biological. But it’s irrelevant to ethics because, as you said, one can’t form an ought from an is. If homosexuality (or heterosexuality) were 100% natural, that wouldn’t make it right or wrong and if it were 100% preference, it still wouldn’t.

There’s insufficient evidence of societal or individual harm from homosexuality while we observe benefits such as providing parent-less children an opportunity grow up in a loving bi-parent environment, creating less overall human suffering.

Morality boils down to what’s good or bad for us, society. It’s the trial and error process of figuring out and weighing what’s most advantageous to society with the least suffering to or infringement on the individual. Traffic laws make a perfect microcosm of all morality in that we just do our best as a cooperative society to determine how to keep society and the individuals within thriving and as free of suffering as possible.

Now what didn’t make it into my 250-word comment but I wanted to bring up anyway:

I further agree with you about choices never being fully free. But this “we’re all children of god” and “we’re in the image of god” stuff seems to me to be all just shallow, empty platitudes. I don’t give a fig if a creature were the exact opposite of the image of the Christian god. If rats worshiped a god, it’d look remarkably just like them too. This just seems like rhetorical gibberish to take credit away from philosophy for secular progressive values. While some notable moral philosophers have been religious, it wasn’t their religion that led to their contribution to ethics. And as long as religion roots its moral positions in the uncritical worship of creatures that may or may not even exist, it will never make any significant contribution to ethics. And as for gaining “perfection through Christ,” he can keep it. What an dreadful existence perfection would be!

But the part of your piece where I couldn’t disagree more on is when the authors seem to suggest humans are only valuable because we were “made in God’s image.” They appear to me to be suggesting humans have no value on our own as unique individuals who think and feel and create and discover? Are they suggesting our human value is that we’re just lucky to be monuments to the vanity of a supremely vain and egotistical deity? Humans are valuable in and of themselves regardless of whether or not there is a god or a creator or whatever. We don’t need a deity to give us value. Shakespeare, Tennyson–greater poets than those who wrote the Bible have demonstrated man’s self-worth far more eloquently than I ever could.

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Letter to the Editor 12.31.11

January 1, 2012
christmas 2007

Image by paparutzi via Flickr

The year 2011 is now over, and I ended the year on a good note, with a letter to the editor in my local paper. The link won’t last long but I’ll reproduce my piece here:

Regarding “Why can’t we say ‘Christmas’?” (Your Views, Dec. 25):

I suspect the two letter writers are themselves to blame for their own bitterness this holiday season with their insistence on the use of the word Christmas instead of more inclusive language.

I thought the season was about fellowship, family, goodwill toward others and appreciating what one has. Nope. Apparently, it’s just about a particular brand of spoiled, privileged Christians making sure everyone in our multicultural society is constantly reminded that despite the well-known origins of Christmas and its traditions, Christians own the season.

Apparently, what most concerns these people is that anyone would have the audacity to respect others in precisely the same manner as both letter writers demand for themselves. Though I myself follow the time-honored Jewish tradition of atheism, I never take offense to being in good faith wished a “Merry Christmas!” Would the letter writers be as gracious if sincerely wished a “Happy Kwanzaa”?

But what I do take great umbrage at is this sense of entitlement and presumption that Christianity alone holds the deed to the winter season. I consider that both a grave insult to this nation’s founding principles and a grotesque mockery of true spirit of the season.

And on that note, hope everyone had a happy holidays. See you all in 2012!

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Public school staffer boasts to me on Facebook about proselytizing to students for 30 years

December 30, 2011

For reasons that are probably related to masochism, I follow Eric Hovind on Facebook. Hovind is the son of infamous creationist and convicted felon Kent Hovind, and has chosen the stupid life path of going into the family business.

Now I never really paid much attention to Eric Hovind’s Facebook page until last night. That’s when a video he posted got my attention. Initially, I just left a short, snarky comment and expected to not return to post another comment any time soon.

But that all changed when a woman claiming to be a public elementary school teacher named Mary Mattheiss confessed to the crime of violating her students’ first amendment rights for the last 30 years by regularly proselytizing to students. And in her boasting about her attempts to bring elementary school students to Jesus, she was also good enough to mention the name of the school she works for.

That’s when the shit hit the fan. After me and one other individual named Robert K. Gjerde started calling Mattheiss out on her behavior, she began digging herself even deeper, I started getting bombarded with non-sequitur attacks against science and atheism as the Hovind hoard desperately tried to change the subject to something other than the woman confessing to occupational misconduct that’s possibly even illegal.

That’s when I had the good sense to screen capture a particularly incriminating section of the conversation and started spreading the word on Facebook and to secular bloggers with large readerships.

The first and so far only one of those bloggers to run with the story was Hemant Mehta on his Friendly Atheist blog (here). Mehta also added more to the story. After I walked away from the discussion, Mattheiss seems to have realized she said a few things she shouldn’t have and started disappearing her incriminating comments.

If only someone had preserved her thoughtless statements by screen capturing them! Oh, that’s right:

You can find a screen capture of what this section looks like now over at the Friendly Atheist post linked to above and you can find the entire exchange (as it appears currently anyway) on Eric Hovind’s Facebook page here, where my comments seem to have become super popular since the Mehta story ran.

Mehta also posted an update to the story that reports that Mattheiss is actually a staff member at the school but is not a teacher there. Of course, that detail doesn’t get Mattheiss off the hook in the slightest.

Here’s her Florida school’s website: http://wes-ecsd-fl.schoolloop.com/and there is an email link under the ‘staff’ tab for the principal. Its an online email form.

Thanks Hemant, and you’re welcome.

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Blasphemy Day 2011 is here!

September 29, 2011

This Week In God 8.10.11

August 10, 2011

1. Three great blogs moving – PZ Myers’ blog, Pharyngula, has moved from Scienceblogs to freethoughtblogs. Though he still posts some of his material at the old site, I’m not crazy about this move because because freethoughtblogs seems more atheist-focused whereas scienceblogs at least gives the impression of Pharyngula being more science-focused, regardless of whether the actual emphasis changes or not. Hermant Mehta has also moved his Friendly Atheist blog to Patheos, a site hosting blogs from many different religious and spiritual perspectives. I think this one was a good move because it gives Mehta’s atheist blog a great opportunity to gain readers among the religious, and this could possibly change some people’s views about atheism. And lastly, blogger Greta Christina will be soon moving her blog to freethoughtblogs. I’m fairly neutral about this because she’s already got a strong atheist readership, so I don’t expect much change one way or the other in terms of her readership.

2. Speaking of PZ Myers, he too has now publicly taken a position on the American Atheists’ lawsuit over the “9/11 Cross.” It seems that even that nasty militant atheist that Jeff Wagg today (I think quite unfairly) called the “FoxNews of atheism” in a tweet agrees with me that it’s just not worth the effort and that we’ve got bigger fish to fry:

I can understand that in principle it’s promoting religion, and I look at that random chunk of steel that forms a crude cross and can see that it is abysmally stupid to consider it a holy relic, but man, if atheists have to police every single act of stupidity committed by the human race, we’re going to get very, very tired. We need to pick our battles better, and this one is just plain pointless.

3. Stephen Hawking’s Curiosity refutes god on Discover Channel – You can watch the whole first installment at the link above…at least for now.

4. Jonathan T. Pararajasingham follows up his videos of 100 academics explaining their atheism with a 25-minute video of 20 academics and theologians explaining why they believe in god. The former is a wonderful collection of brilliant thinkers making intelligent arguments in favor of atheism while the latter is a depressing example of how motivated reasoning can poison the minds of otherwise intelligent people, causing them to make the most asinine and incoherent arguments to defend their indefensible faith.

5. Evolution wins out in Texas – Okay, I’m very late on this story. So sue me. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution in a 14-0 vote, approving scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers, rejecting the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

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American Atheists in desperate need of a competent PR person

July 29, 2011

It seems as though every movement has at least one organization that loses sight of its goals and simply becomes obsessed with coming up with whatever crazy stunt will grab them headlines regardless of how it reflects on the very cause their fighting.

For instance, the animal rights movement has PETA, who have long ago abandoned taking any actions to actually prevent unnecessary animal cruelty, opting instead to be media whores who happily grab attention by declaring owning pets is equal to the African slave trade and consuming beef makes you a Nazi. The gay rights movement has GLAAD, who for as long as I can remember has been devoted to doing nothing but accusing non-homophobic celebrities of being homophobic bigots. And of course even most Christian fundamentalists who agree with 99% of what the Westboro Baptist Church says find their methods of media whoring vile.

Well, atheism is no different. We have several organizations that seem far more interested in grabbing any attention they can–usually by filing frivolous lawsuits–than actually doing something that demonstrably benefits anyone. Now I recently chastised the NYC Atheists for their asinine attempts to stop the naming of a New York city street “Seven In Heaven Way” to honor NY firefighters who died on 9/11 on the grounds that it somehow caused them great harm. As I pointed out, the argument they were making was weak and was stretching the interpretation of the First Amendment rather thin. I also pointed out why going up against a 9/11 memorial was politically a terrible play and would only feed into Fox News’ derogatory narrative  of atheists.

But now it’s the American Atheists turn to jump on an ill-conceived media stunt painting atheists as enemies of those honoring 9/11  victims. In this case, the American Atheists are filing a suit against New York over the infamous 9/11 Cross being included as part of a 9/11 exhibit. I could have told them this was a bad PR move beforehand, but now that Fox News literally pitted atheist Blair Scott against a 9/11 First Responder on the issue, my concerns have been proven correct (see clip in link above).

I like Blair Scott, but like the NYC Atheists, he’s talking out of his ass when it comes to this extremist interpretation of the First Amendment. The First Responder who debated Scott on Fox News is correct that there’s simply no real legal merit in the complaint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art receive public funding too; so should they be prohibited from displaying religious-themed art?  There’s no injury being done and thus no actionable offense. This is little more than a shameless ploy to exploit 9/11 to grab some publicity.

Of course the girders are nothing miraculous. And sure, it’s unfortunate that religious nuts managed to capitalize on the vaguely cross-like image they create. And sure, I can understand its inclusion in a collection of artifacts from that day can be offensive. As someone living in NYC when the Towers fell and who breathed 9/11 every single day for many months in its aftermath, I certainly find it distasteful. But like I often tell the religious who protest the endless number of things that offend their delicate sensibilities, you don’t have a right to not be offended. Nothing in the Constitution says that atheists mustn’t be offended.

Can’t the American Atheists  focus on issues that, you know, actually matter instead of chasing any headlines they can get, even those that will inevitably be seen as atheists vs. 9/11 First Responders? The goal should be to expose that Fox News is WRONG about atheists, not to work with Fox News to further marginalize atheists from the rest of society. Unless that now is American Atheists’ goal. In which case, bravo. You’re succeeding in feeding public hatred of atheists. [applause]

But might I suggest an alternative approach. Actually seek out ways where atheists will be seen as the heroes of a news story–or at the very least, as the victims–instead of as the enemy of all that is good in the world. For instance, here’s a great pro-atheist news story about atheists helping others in the aftermath of another tragedy. See, that gets publicity for the RIGHT REASONS. Seriously guys, being more like Scientology should not be a goal to which you aspire. Can’t American Atheists afford a competent PR person? If not, hire me. I’ll give you a discount.