Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The trouble with quoting people out of context

Can a person not make a nuanced statement about the complexity of human behavior and motivation without having their words twisted by someone? Funny how even the mention of Hitler still causes people to lose all sense of reason.

In a story published Saturday in the Daily Record, Smith was quoted saying: "Even Hitler didn't wake up going, 'let me do the most evil thing I can do today.' I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was 'good.' "

I think Will's absolutely right. What Hitler did is what would be expected when you combine charisma, ignorance, hatred, extreme nationalism, and way too much power. Other than that, he was just a normal human like the rest of us.

Just my two cents...

Will Smith angry over Hitler comment interpretation -

Monday, December 24, 2007

on being a practicing Buddhist but still a cultural Christian

I think this is an interesting thing to make note of today, as this is Christmas Eve. Although I am now a practicing Buddhist, I will fully participating in Christmas celebrations with my family this evening and tomorrow morning.
What brings this to mind is a bit of conversation about religion I had with a guy I've been seeing and a friend of his over dinner on Saturday evening. Both he and his friend are East Indian, and what is what made the conversation particularly interesting.
I guess my friend was just making some casual conversation, but for some reason or another he asked me about church. We've discussed religion before (I told him about Unitarian Universalism, and I already knew he was a Sikh). I'd told him that I didn't believe in a God but that I went to a church that didn't place so much emphasis on belief as on how one lives one's life. And that my religion is different from my parents, who are evangelical Christians. I've never told him I was studying Buddhism.
Anyway, I was slightly perturbed about him bringing it up because for some reason or another I get painfully shy about discussing my religion. It's an incredibly personal thing to me, and also I'm fairly new to Buddhism and I'm concerned that I might say something that would give a wrong impression. But I think it's mostly just a fear of having my thoughts and feelings rejected.
Anyway, I decided on this occasion that I would tell him that I haven't been actually going to Church, that I haven't been a Christian for several years, and that I was actually now a Buddhist. He seemed absolutely shocked. I'm not really sure why I got that reaction. What surprised me was that he didn't even know that Buddhism originated in India--this was a surprised cause he likes to brag a lot about all the good stuff that came from India--but at least his friend knew about that. His friend asked where there was a Buddhist temple in this area, and honestly I don't know of any. This, I suspect, is a cultural thing. I mean, where they are from it might be assumed that a Buddhist would visit a temple regularly. I would like to visit one from time to time, but I can't see how that would be essential to practicing. My friend thought if I was a Buddhist I was supposed to shave my head. (LOL) I explained that is something I'd only be expected to do if I was a monk.
So, apparently they have a bit of a hard time seeing how someone can be a Buddhist without all the cultural stuff that would come with being raised as a Buddhist in a country that is largely Buddhist. Well, that is just not the situation I am in--no matter how much my personal beliefs and practice are Buddhist, I'm still culturally a Christian. And that is my reality.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Interesting License Plate

I now live close enough to my workplace to drive home for lunch. So I decided to do that today.

Anyway, on the way home I saw a car parked in the street. I was sitting at a light so I had time to get a good look. First I noticed the bumper sticker: "Topless mountains are obscene." Very true, I thought. It was only then that I noticed the license plate.


Humm...I knew I knew the word, but could not place it. Pretty sure it was a Sanskrit word that I came across in reading about Buddhism but I still get all those terms mixed up. So I did a search and here is what I found.

Non-violence. Very cool.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Absolutely shocking...



The Council for Secular Humanism Chides Congress for Disrespecting Religions

(December 14, 2007) -- Experts from the Council for Secular Humanism noted with alarm the passage of H. Res. 847 in the House of Representatives. This unnecessary, unwarranted, and bigoted law, under the misleading title "Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith" passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support It effectively undermines the sort of religious tolerance necessary in these changing times.

Just days ago in the midst of the Jewish Festival of Lights, four Jewish men in New York City were attacked on the subway for replying to a group of ten people who wished them a "Merry Christmas" with a similar greeting: "Happy Hanukkah. For this, these men were first insulted, then beaten. It was a Muslim man who came to their physical defense. The actions of the Congress, by passing the resolution and thus expressing preference to the Christian faith over all the others represented by the diverse population of these United States, encourages this sort of behavior.

The First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty, and of the nonestablishment of religion, was devised to create a secular state in which all religions would be equally tolerated and none given preference. The language of the House resolution effectively undermines the design of the Founders, and creates an atmosphere where non-Christians will continue to be targeted, treated like second-class citizens, and even become victims of violence like those four Jewish subway riders in New York.

Paul Kurtz, CSH chair, stated, "It is deplorable that in this day and age and in light of violence against religious minorities here in the United States that the Congress would stoke those flames with preferential language in support of a single religion." David Koepsell, CSH's executive director, noted, "Te First Amendment Guarantee was designed to prevent the sort of religious intolerance that resulted in violence in Europe, and our Congress should respect the intent of the Founders."

We call on the Congress to reject this resolution, to stand up for religious freedom, secularism, and pluralism, and to foster a climate in which all believers and nonbelievers alike are treated equally.

I'm speechless.

Here is the text of H. Res. 847 in case you are interested.



1st Session

H. RES. 847
Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.


December 6, 2007

Mr. KING of Iowa (for himself, Mr. AKIN, Mrs. BACHMANN, Mr. BAKER, Mr. BARRETT of South Carolina, Mr. BISHOP of Utah, Mr. BOOZMAN, Mr. BRADY of Texas, Mr. BROUN of Georgia, Mr. BURTON of Indiana, Mr. CARTER, Mr. CONAWAY, Mr. DAVID DAVIS of Tennessee, Mr. DOOLITTLE, Mr. FEENEY, Mr. FORTENBERRY, Ms. FOXX, Mr. FRANKS of Arizona, Mr. GINGREY, Mr. GOHMERT, Mr. HAYES, Mr. HERGER, Mr. ISSA, Mr. SAM JOHNSON of Texas, Mr. JONES of North Carolina, Mr. JORDAN of Ohio, Mr. KINGSTON, Mr. KLINE of Minnesota, Mr. KUHL of New York, Mr. LAHOOD, Mr. LAMBORN, Mr. LAMPSON, Mr. DANIEL E. LUNGREN of California, Mr. MCCAUL of Texas, Mr. MCINTYRE, Mrs. MCMORRIS RODGERS, Mr. MILLER of Florida, Mrs. MUSGRAVE, Mrs. MYRICK, Mr. NEUGEBAUER, Mr. POE, Mr. SALI, Mr. SHADEGG, Mr. SMITH of Texas, Mr. STEARNS, Mr. TERRY, Mr. TIAHRT, Mr. WALBERG, Mr. WELDON of Florida, Mr. WILSON of South Carolina, Mr. DAVIS of Kentucky, and Mrs. DRAKE) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs


Recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its roots in Christianity;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.


So what about a rejection of bigotry and persecution against anyone, regardless of religion? What about those four Jewish men in New York? And the Muslim man who came to their defense?

The Founding Fathers are turning in their graves, I'm sure.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Colorado gunman scared co-workers 5 years ago, one says -

I just can't help commenting on this...

He said Murray was told in December 2002 he would not be allowed to join a mission trip to Bosnia. That was five days after Murray performed a pair of dark rock songs at a concert at the mission that made fellow workers "pretty scared," according to Werner.

The performance -- which included a song by rock band Linkin Park and another that had been recorded by controversial rocker Marilyn Manson -- followed months of strange behavior, Werner said

I used to belong a evangelical group with similar beliefs as this "Youth With a Mission" group. When I was in there, I was terrified of stuff like metal and industrial music. However, now I know there is nothing there to fear...except the fear you create in your own mind. If they were so worried about his 'wierd behavior'--they claim that he even said he was hearing 'voices'--then why didn't they get him some help? I have to suspect, very strongly, that the news media is not reporting the whole story. Linkin Park and Marilyn Manson songs are not going to cause a guy to shoot people in a church, though (knowing how these people think) I'm sure a lot of people will assume the songs influenced him in some dark and sinister way. I'd be interested in knowing what really happened in this young man's life to lead to such an attrocious act.

Colorado gunman scared co-workers 5 years ago, one says -

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Golden Compass

*****Big SPOILER Alert! If you have not either read the book or seen the movie, you may not want to read this just yet!!!****

That being said...

After months of waiting, I finally got to see The Golden Compass movie today. I'd heard about it a few months ago, and heard that it was written by an atheist and that it had gotten the church, the Catholic Church in particular, all up in arms and warning its members not to see the movie. So, I thought, I'd better check it out! (Same way I first encountered the Harry Potter series as well, for that matter, but that is beside the point.) Got to love the irony--as a major theme in The Golden Compass is like this: Don't let the Magisterium do your thinking for you!!! And in as far as the church wants to act like the Magisterium and control people's thinking, and only let them access the 'desired' truths, and only see movies with the 'desired' messages--well they are only proving Pullman's point, are they not? (They may not have the power now, but back when they were in control this was exactly the sort of thing they did.)

Ok, stepping off the soapbox now :)

I think the movie is worth seeing. For one thing, the visual effects were great. The daemons were just as good as I'd imagined them to be, and this is a great compliment for any 'based on book' movie. Also, they kept the story pretty well in tact--even though they had to do a lot of condensing. It's slightly less than 2 hours long. That is a lot of story to squeeze into two hours. I hope there is an extended version when it comes out on DVD.

I was also impressed with the way the characters were played out. The girl that played Lyra Silvertongue was great--especially in the scene with Iofer Raknison. And then there was the scene where Mrs. Coulter was looking at the picture of Lyra and the golden monkey slaps it out of her hand--and in return she slaps him. It really shows her as a person divided, which is not quite so clear in the first book of the series (comes out later though.) Her very soul is full of evil, but yet there is some sort goodness in there, fighting to come out? This was very nicely played by Nicole Kidman.

I have one beef with the movie--they cut out the last scene! Right after Lyra gets the kids out out Bolvangar and her and Roger get in the airship to go to Asriel, the credits come up! I was anticipating seeing Asriel blow the Northern sky open! When I saw that wasn't going to happen, at least not in this movie, I audibly said "You've got to be kidding me!" (a bit embarrassing, actually...) Lets just say that adding that last scene would have make the movie a lot more interesting and true to the book, and would have make a great cliffhanger in lieu of the next movie. However, it would have made the movie a bit darker, so that is probably why it wasn't included. You know if you've read the book, that when the alethiometer tells Lyra that she is bringing Asriel what he needs, it is not referring to itself. And I'll leave that at that--you will have to either read the book or wait until the next movie to find exactly what I mean.

Friday, November 30, 2007

revisiting faith

I've been rethinking the whole idea of faith. A while back I made a YouTube video asking the question 'What is Faith'. I got a couple of decent responses, but it didn't really start up the discussion that I'd hoped. Anyway, I've never stopped thinking about it. And since then I've thought of an idea of faith that I'd not considered before. What about a faith that doesn't require you to believe in dogmas, but rather one that requires you to believe nothing other than what you have experienced or reasoned out yourself? And what about a faith that allows you to have doubt, and acknowledge that that doubt is there and is not necessarily a bad thing. I'm talking about faith in reality and in your powers of discernment. This faith is a belief that no matter what you find in reality, believing that will be better than living a fantasy.

I'm really getting to think that the whole idea that 'faith' means believing absolutely and unconditionally in things even if they defy reason or empirical evidence is just wrong. And so are the religions that rely on this sort of faith--the dogmatic and fundamentalist sects that have found a spot in every religion in the world. Like the folk of the infamous creation museum that insist that the earth must only be 6,000 years old because their interpretation of a religious text tells them so . . . However, I really think there is a decent type of faith that can let people absorb changes in knowledge, admit when their belief is wrong, and then get on with life in a sane and rational manner.

Here is what I think is the basic rule of thumb for having such a faith: Don't try to make yourself believe what you don't think is true and consistent with a realistic view of the world. Follow the moral and ethical teachings of your philosophy or religion, and enjoy the ritual and devotional aspects of religion if you like those sorts of things. But if your religious tradition tells you to believe something you think is dubious, just admit to yourself that you think it's dubious. Put it on the back burner of your mind for a while. Don't even worry about believing it until you either decide it may be true or you decide it probably is not true (in which case you either toss the useless dogma out with the trash or stick with some symbolic version of it). I think this is really difficult and requires a degree of courage if you were raised in a religion like Christianity which hangs one's very salvation on believing the right things. I think simple honesty with oneself and a openness to reality--even if you have been told that you will be risking your very soul--is much better than uncritical belief in a dogma. I think being dishonesty with oneself, and the cognitive dissonance that goes with having beliefs that clash with the known world, is a much worse risk. Have some faith in yourself :)

But then, that is just my point of view. And I'm using this blog to hash out this idea, so I'm not done thinking about it. I probably never will be done thinking about it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

If the anti-Christmas forces are winning, then the war in Iraq is nothing short of total victory.

What 'War on Christmas'?

As I was considering the so-called 'war on Christmas', I thought I'd do a google search and see what is out there on the internet about it. I found this article from a couple of years ago that really hits the mark for any recent year, including this one. Let's have no war on Christmas, but please, no war on pluralism either.

What 'War on Christmas'?

By Ruth Marcus

Saturday, December 10, 2005; Page A21

I've been hearing about this "War on Christmas," so I headed to the Heritage Foundation the other day for a briefing from one of the defending army's generals: Fox News anchor John Gibson, author of "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought." Gibson -- and Bill O'Reilly, his comrade in the Fox-hole -- see this as a two-front war: Assaulting Christmas from the government end, they say, are pusillanimous school principals, politically corrected city managers and their ilk, bullied by the ACLU types into extirpating any trace of Christmas from the public square. Battering the holiday from the private sector are infidel retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart, which balk at using the C-word in their advertising in favor of such secularist slogans as "Happy Holidays."

The assault, Gibson told the Heritage crowd, has reached a "shocking level this year."

After the lecture, I wandered over to Union Station to check out a retail battlefield. Inside and out, the station was festooned with giant You Know What wreaths. A huge You Know What tree, with presents wrapped in red and green underneath, stood in the main hall, near a placard announcing "Norwegian Christmas at Union Station." A high-tech player piano was playing "Go Tell It on the Mountain," proclaiming the birth of You Know Who; the next selection was You Know Who Else Is Coming to Town. The most generic element was a small sign reading "Happy Holidays," but even then the words were bracketed by reindeer -- and let's just say, they weren't eating latkes. It was beginning to look a lot like You Know What.

If the anti-Christmas forces are winning, then the war in Iraq is nothing short of total victory.

It may seem strange -- even foolhardy -- for a nice Jewish girl to be writing about Christmas. So let me say: I'm a huge fan, always have been, in a kind of nose-pressed-against-the-glass sort of way. When I was growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, my family used to pile into the car every Christmas and drive around looking at the lights, with my mother and I engaging in earnest discussion of what color scheme we'd choose. If I were Christian, I suspect, I'd be the sort of over-the-top type who buys ornaments year-round and has a drawer full of Christmas sweaters, the kind featuring pompoms as tree ornaments.

This is the time of year, though, when those of us who aren't Christian, or who don't celebrate Christmas, most feel our minority status. I've experienced this especially acutely since my children started to look longingly at shopping mall Santas (Santa's a nice guy, honey, but he's not for us) and ask why there are so few menorahs or dreidels among the reindeer and Christmas trees. (How to break this gently? Their team has a lot more players.)

I'm not one who would argue that we ought to Grinch our way out of this discomfort by aggressively de-Christmafying. And to the extent that the war-on-Christmas crowd is simply reacting to knee-jerk political correctness, I'm with them. It's idiotic to call the Capitol conifer a Holiday Tree -- as it has been for the past several years, until it was re-, um, christened this year. If, as Gibson reports, the Plano, Tex., schools really have an edict banning red-and-green decorations (was it either color or just the combination?) -- well, you don't have to be Christian to find this more than a little silly.

But there is an ugly, bullying aspect to this dispute, in which the pro-Christmas forces are not only asking, reasonably, that their religion be treated with equal status and respect but in which they are attacking legitimate efforts at inclusivity. It's this sense of aggrieved victimhood that confuses me: What, exactly, is so threatening about calling the school holiday a winter break rather than Christmas vacation?

The latest alleged perfidy is the failure of the White House Christmas card to mention Christmas, instead expressing "best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness" and featuring a verse from Psalms. William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, calls this evidence that the administration has "capitulated to the worst elements in our culture." I call it a recognition, especially welcome at a time of sectarian violence, that not all the 1.4 million folks on the Christmas list are Christian.

This has reached its most imposition-of-Sharia-law-like level of intolerance in the campaign to cow stores into saying Christmas. O'Reilly, escalating his "Christmas Under Siege" campaign, has posted a list of naughty and nice retailers. The American Family Association goes further, calling for a boycott of stores -- it's targeted Target -- that fail to use the word Christmas in their advertising or in-store promotions. "Target doesn't want to offend a small minority who oppose Christmas," says AFA's chairman, Donald Wildmon. "But they don't mind offending Christians who celebrate the birth of Christ."

Really? I've just gone on the Target Web site and plugged Christmas into my product search. "We found 39,197 match(es) for 'Christmas' at Target," it reported. How offensive is that?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

YouTube - Christmas With a Capital "C"

I think there is no war on Christmas. If there is a war on a winter holiday, it's on Kwanza and Channukah and Human Light and Yule. And it's being waged by these people. Unfortunatly, there is a particular brand of Christian out there that can't stand that their winter traditions are not the only ones. Have a look at this, and let them know what you think of it.

YouTube - Christmas With a Capital "C"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New Job, etc

Life has now settled back down to a semi-normal state. At least I am back in the usual routine of getting up and going to work for about eight hours a day. I started at my new job exactly a week ago, and it is going well. It's good to be employed again.

I have also signed a lease on a new apartment. Now rather than commuting about 40 minutes on a congested interstate highway, I will have an easy 15 minute drive to work. And it's closer to a lot of other places I like to go as well. Right now I'm living half-way between two apartments--I'm moving the stuff I can get in my car daily. Downside to this is what when I woke up this morning I realized my toothbrush was at the other apartment. I'll have to coordinate with my stronger and truck-owning friends to get the larger bits of furniture moved over. I've been so eager to start living there that I've spent one night at the new place on mats on the floor. Yes, I'm still young enough to sleep on the floor. :)

I'm still working on the yoga as well. This Monday, I touched the floor without bending my knees for the first time. Small victories :)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

crazy job search

This job search has been crazy. I've interviewed with five different companies--mainly contacts I gained though a couple different consulting companies I'm working with. It is the first time I've every interviewed at several places as once, and then had to juggle multiple has been quite the experience.

I interviewed with one company that I was really excited about since the interview went so well and I enjoyed talking to the people there. But then I accepted the offer from another company to come on as a contractor for six months--with the option of extending the contract beyond that. The only real reason I did it was because the other place were offering about $3,000 a year higher in wages, even though I didn't like their environment nearly as well. It was a bad move. I found out yesterday that they lost their biggest client, and are now not hiring (or taking on contractors, obviously.)

So I tried to go back to the other place--which had been my first choice to start with, and they had already extended an offer to someone else. :(

I do have another offer to fall back on however--such is the advantage of going to several interviews--and lucky for me it is still available. It wasn't quite the perfect situation I was hoping for but it's not bad, and it is definitely a good offer. I'm going to give it a chance.

Moral of this story--if you interview with a place and have a really good feeling about it, don't pass it up for more money! You might just get burned, like I was.

Note, of course, that I'm not mentioning any names, lest the companies or recruiters I've worked with find this blog.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

updates and observations

Wow, I've had so much time on my hands and I spent so little on this blog. So, here is an update on what is going on in my life.

Picking up from my last post on September 10th, here is the update on the job search. I am still currently unemployed. However, I have a phone interview and two face-to-face interviews scheduled for the next couple of days regarding positions that look very promising. For both my skill set and career aspirations. Also, I had an interview last Friday that I think went well and I'm waiting to see if I hear back from them with an offer. So, while the job search has not yet borne fruit--the prospects look promising.

I am also using a bit of my free time to study for a certification in my chosen field, so, professionally speaking, this hiatus from work has not been wasted.

Ok, that is enough about work.

I've also rediscovered the importance of sitting meditation during these past few weeks. Pretty much out of necessity. Since I lost my job, for the first couple of weeks I was on on emotional roller-coaster between events such as getting my first interview (elation!) to finding out that that position was not what I'd hoped for (really down in the dumps.) I've taken skill evaluations that I thought I'd done horribly on and this had me so depressed that I felt like a total failure. Then come to find out that I'd actually done alright on the evaluation--actually ahead of the curve of most of the people who'd taken it. So I guess it's all a matter of perception...but anyway I had to get these mood swings under control, and that meditation cushion sitting in the corner of my bedroom was starting to look really inviting.

Pretty much like it's a package deal with the meditation, I decided to pull out some of my books on Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh again. Like meeting an old friend again after a couple of years of absence. And that led to me deciding to visit my sangha again on Sunday. This time it was literally meeting old friends after a couple years of absence. Along with some new ones (the group has grown!) Maybe I'll stick around a bit longer this time.

And I've started taking yoga classes too. They are wonderful--I'll add more on that topic later.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Cosmic Connection | The Eloquent Atheist

This site is not the Eloquent Atheist for no reason. This poem is just wonderful and I couldn't help but spread it around.

Cosmic Connection The Eloquent Atheist

Far out on a country hill I place my blanket on the grass and lie flat.
Above my head to the north is steady Polaris.
Off my left arm the gas giant Jupiter rises silently. Off my right, Mercury Is settling into the deep blue twilight.
As velvet black of true darkness comes, the majestic backbone of night appears – the Milky Way.
Its angle from my right foot across to my left shoulder orients me, and I tilt my head to the right to become upright in my home galaxy.
Peering into the dense star cloud of Sagittarius, where the galactic center hides, I begin to feel my citizenship in the Universe.
Reaching out, I run fingertips along the edges of the billion-star band of light.
The Carbon, Nitrogen and Oxygen atoms that are me resonate with their birthplaces, in the cores of those stellar furnaces.
And the connection is made, transcendence complete.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nothing perminant but change...

I've liked to reflect on the fact that none of us has even one more breath guaranteed to us. In fact, there is absolutely no way of knowing how your life might change even one one second in the future either for better or worse. And the events of the past couple of weeks have really reminded me of this...

For one thing, I found something special with a guy that I've known now for about a year and a half. I remember when I first saw him, and I'd never had guessed this would happen. But the longer I've know him, the more I've been interested, and then I found out suddenly about two weeks ago that he felt the same about me. Wow...

Then about a week after that I was called into my manager's office because she apparently needed to talk to me about something. Come to find out, upper management has dictated the need to cut a few positions...and next thing I know I'm handing in my badge and I'm on the way out.

In the course of all this I've found a good friend who has made this a lot easier to take, and I've found help and guidance that I'd not looked for, in places that I'd not expected. After I'd arrived home on the day I'd found myself in sudden involuntary unemployment, I took a walk around Lake Nevin in Bernhiem Forest and even found a unexpected treat-- something I'd never expected to see--a passionflower in full bloom. Most likely I'd never have seen it if I hadn't gone to Bernhiem to decompress--next time I went to go see it all the flowers were closed. In an odd way it was like I was getting a message from the universe not to give up hope, because you never know what is right around the corner.

Isn't life strange?

Monday, August 20, 2007

God Bless Me, It's a Best-Seller!: Politics & Power:

I'm liking Christopher Hitchens more all the time. This article is about his unexpected experiences on his tour of the United States. This account is my favorite.

June 5, Los Angeles: A three-hour debate with the Reverend Mark Roberts, senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, in Orange County, on Hugh Hewitt's conservative Christian chat show. Very nice of Mr. Hewitt. The Rev doesn't accuse me of not knowing what I'm talking about: indeed, he's very civil about the book. At one point I ask him if he believes the story in Saint Matthew's Gospel about the graves opening in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, and the occupants walking the streets. Doesn't it rather cheapen the idea of resurrection? He replies that as a Christian he does believe it, though as a historian he has his doubts. I realize that I am limited here: I can usually think myself into an opponent's position, but this is something I can't imagine myself saying, let alone thinking.

The crazy things Christians say. We all know they do that, I mean, split what they believe and what they know into two totally separate mental compartments, but how often do you hear one come right out and admit it?

Here is the link to the entire article:

God Bless Me, It's a Best-Seller!: Politics & Power:

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Patriotism For All

Yesterday, I had a very brief exchange about the Pledge of Allegiance in the schools. The person with whom I was speaking still doesn't understand what the fuss is about, and still thinks its just the awful secularists trying to take God out of American life. And it got me thinking again about the pledge--how come so many people can't see how divisive it is to have the school systems not only endorse their particular form of monotheism but also equate it with patriotism? As if us non-theists or polytheists cannot be equally patriotic?

Anyway, I found this site (Patriotism For All - Home) and was actually pretty impressed by it. It lays out just what the issue are with the pledge. It also suggests what I think are some plausible ways of dealing with these issue while at the same time giving kids an outlet to express their patriotism at schools if they so desire.

My favorite solution is just to change the pledge to non-sectarian and non-divisive pre-1954 form:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which is stands,
One Nation Indivisible,
Liberty and Justice for All.

Also besides the religious aspect of the new pledge, I find that "One Nation Indivisible" constitutes a complete thought on its own. And a particularly poignant thought given that the pledge was written not long after the Civil War. Breaking that up by inserting anything is a disservice to the pledge.

Source: See for a brief history of the Pledge.

Thanks to Emmett Fields at the Bank of Wisdom for the 'Pledge of Allegiance' image above. You can get that design on a poster at

Monday, August 13, 2007

Faith of an Atheist

Just in case you wondered (if anyone has even read it yet) my last questioning bit on faith was inspired by this UU sermon.

A devout atheist would say, take your attention out of the unknown, out of the heavens. Turn it instead with full concentration on your own life, your own experience. The faith of an atheist, is the remarkable notion that this is enough. What we see with our eyes, and touch with our skin, and know with our minds, and live with our lives must be enough. This human existence must redeem itself, must bless itself, must create itself. The faith of an atheist is not a faith in god, but in life itself. That is faith.

Faith of an Atheist

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What is Faith? Part 2

I haven't gotten much response to my video question "What is Faith?". I've been giving it a bit more thought, and have come to what I consider a surprising conclusion. I think this is a Unitarian Universalist side coming out...

I've decided to give the word "faith" a bit of reconsideration. Now, don't get me wrong, I still hold the idea of faith as absolute belief regardless of and even in spite of evidence to the contrary in as much contempt as any atheist out there. However I also find that, outside of fundamentalist and evangelical circles at least, this is not what is meant by the word. But like lots of English words, this one is rather, well, ambiguous. It has lots of different meanings that don't necessarily have anything to do with unsupported belief. Quite often when people use the word faith, the intended meaning is more like "trust" or "hope"--even if the evangelicals and fundies want to twist that meaning back into "trust" in a god or "hope" for life after death, which just pushes us back to the old contemptuous meaning of the word. So, are we just going to concede the word to the fundies and evangelicals then, since they are so attached to it?

I'm still debating in my mind on this one. Maybe it's just because the word is in such use in the language. And maybe I just want to still use the word because it makes it easier for me to accept that my fellow UU's are using the word in the rational sense--and it seems to me that they usually are. Is there anything wrong with an atheist saying they have faith in human compassion? Or in reason itself, for that matter?

What do you think? Is it still a useful word to use, or not, or is it just too likely to invite confusion?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Assertive Atheism

Just when I thought I'd already found all the good atheist themed sites on the Internet I stumbled upon this one when actually looking for something else...have a look, it's a good one.

Assertive Atheism

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Particle Physics - Higgs Boson - What’s in a Name? Parsing the ‘God Particle,’ the Ultimate Metaphor - New York Times

An interesting article, and a come-back for anyone who has a religious person bandy about the 'god particle' as evidence that science has found god.

Particle Physics - Higgs Boson - What’s in a Name? Parsing the ‘God Particle,’ the Ultimate Metaphor - New York Times

What’s in a Name? Parsing the ‘God Particle,’ the Ultimate Metaphor
Published: August 7, 2007
The biggest name-dropper in
science, Albert Einstein, mentioned God often enough that one could imagine he
and the “Old One” had a standing date for coffee or tennis.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I just got this newsletter from Edwin Kagin, who is the director of American Atheists in KY. I wanted to post this since I think it's both very interesting and troubling. And because he gave clear permission and encouragement to post in blogs :)

Date: August 02, 2007

Kentucky Atheists, P.O. Box 48, Union, KY 41091; Email:
Phone: (859) 384-7000; Fax: (859) 384-7324; Web:
Editor's personal web site:
Editor’s personal blog:
Edited by:
Edwin Kagin, Kentucky State Director, American Atheists, Inc.
(AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)
To Unidentified Recipients:

The report below is forwarded from the Military Director for American Atheists, Kathleen Johnson who is currently serving on active duty in Iraq.

This report is about an issue in Iraq. I don’t think there will be any surprises in this report for most of you because this is the reason American Atheists exists. Just the same, it still has quite a bit of impact. This is the battle we are fighting and sometimes it can be tough. Not all of our battles are this hard, but they vary by degree only.

I’m including the article in Stars and Stripes that Kathleen mentions in her report below at the bottom of this email. As per Kathleen’s request, please send any emails of encouragement to the brave young soldier who is mentioned below by using Kathleen’s email which follows.

Kudos to this brave young soldier for having the courage to stand up for his beliefs and right to express them freely in the face of such drastic opposition. Kudos to the other brave soldiers who had the courage to participate. And Kudos to Kathleen Johnson for leading our cause in such a hostile environment. They all deserve medals for bravery. Not just for standing up for their beliefs, but also for being in Iraq in the first place. Whether you agree with this war or not, our troops deserve at least that much.

It’s my personal opinion that if all Atheists stood up for their beliefs and were as vocal as these soldiers we would not be facing the discrimination we are facing today. We would be perceived as a much larger majority that should not be trifled with. I’m proud to be a part of the national organization that fights for the civil rights of Atheists in the face of this discrimination.

Kathleen’s report follows.

Bart Meltzer,
Director of State and Regional Operations,
American Atheists, Inc.

ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)


Thought you'd be interested in this report of the first-ever meeting of Atheist service-members in Iraq under the umbrella of the MAAF-Iraq chapter of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers. This meeting was put together by the same young MAAF member who recently had his second letter published in the Stars and Stripes.

One of our members, a young Atheist enlisted soldier, thought he would like to see if he could generate some interest in MAAF meetings at his Forward Operating Base (FOB) here in Iraq (not the base I'm at, by the way). He got things coordinated and started hanging flyers, and after weeks of having to re-hang his flyers almost daily because some vandal kept tearing them down, he finally succeeded in having a small MAAF meeting. I wasn't there because the meeting wasn't on my FOB, but I knew he was holding it and was expecting to hear from him after the meeting. Keep in mind that this young soldier did everything right - he went through the Chaplain's office and jumped through all the hoops it takes to legally hold meetings that are religiously or philosophically based. Four soldiers attended this meeting - all of them very junior enlisted soldiers with the exception of one Major (an O-4), who claimed to be a "freethinker".

Well, to make a very long story a little shorter, the Major turned out to be a fundamentalist Christian who verbally berated the other attendees, accused them of plotting against Christians and disrespecting soldiers who have died protecting the Constitution, and threatened them with punishment under the UCMJ for their activities (said they were "going down") and said he would do whatever it took to shut the meetings down. Keep in mind that by this point, he had two of the attendees (one soldier fled when the shouting started) standing at the position of attention so that he could yell at them, berate them, and humiliate them. This apparently went on for several minutes at which time the Major shut down the meeting by saying he wasn't some "push-over Chaplain" and that he would not tolerate the meetings to continue.

The young MAAF member who hosted the meeting is absolutely freaked out about what happened, but he said he's going to continue with the meetings and isn't going to be bullied by the prayer warriors. I've advised him to immediately notify the Chaplain sponsor of what happened to get guidance while I try to figure out what to do next. I should hear something back from him tonight sometime and there's even a small possibility I might be able to score a mission to his FOB and attend one of his meetings in the next few weeks (if I do, I'll meet with the Chaplain in person).

As for immediate action, he's going to get me the names of his Chaplain sponsor and the name of the officer who disrupted the meeting. My intent right now is to make a formal report to the most senior Chaplain I can find along with possibly an Equal Opportunity complaint against the officer if we can get him fully identified. I may not be eligible to make that complaint because I wasn't there, but I can at least smooth the way for this young troop to make one if he elects to. At the very least, I can make the EO office formally aware of what happened there.

More info will follow when I get it, but right now, feel free to disseminate this information since I've intentionally sanitized it for names and locations. I will be happy to forward any words of support to him if they get mailed to my address - he could really use some encouragement right now, I think.


Kathleen Johnson,
Military Director,
American Atheists, Inc.

ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)

Read the Constitution

It seems to me the author of “Atheist revival bad …” (letter, July 13) needs to read the Constitution he swore to uphold and defend, and study some American history.

Our nation was not “founded under God, upon Christian principles.” The first settlers of the new world were seeking, among other things, escape from religious persecution, not to form a faith-based colony. As Americans, we are granted the freedom of religion, which includes not having one, not the freedom to choose which form of Christianity we follow.

The author seems to think Camp Quest is somehow dangerous to our country and our youth, when in fact it’s people exercising their right to free assembly. The number of religious-based summer camps far outweighs the atheist ones, and those based on a system of beliefs will prove to be more of a “training ground” than any that encourages free thought.

I highly doubt any of the children at Camp Quest would be chastised if they thought a higher power might exist. On the other hand, what would happen if a child at a Christian retreat voiced doubt that Jesus was the son of God?

Atheists come from every walk of life and many are educated about several faiths. As a child I was fortunate enough to be allowed to attend many churches. By the third grade I knew there was no God, and still educated myself by attending a variety of services. This is common with a lot of atheists. Many people force their children into the family religion and shun other beliefs, that’s the true “brainwashing.”

There is no atheist revival, we’ve always been here as a silent minority, most just choose to live their own lives and let you live yours.

Staff Sgt. Gene Horrigan
Al Udeid Air Base,

Camp Quest is legal

After reading “Atheist revival bad for U.S.,” I couldn’t help but laugh. Does no one research anything for themselves anymore? Or do they just repeat what they heard from someone else?

The writer complains how atheist children have their own summer camp (Camp Quest). And that someone else is actually happy about it. Well, it’s 100 percent legal, because of the U.S. Constitution.

It’s just as legal as any other private organization, such as Bible camps and churches. The next thing that bothered me was the claim that the U.S. was founded “under God.” And that it was based on Christian principles and values. Well, that just sucks for a lot of people, doesn’t it?

Since America is a Christian nation, I guess everyone else is just second-rate! Sorry (insert religious minority here), you’re not good enough. Nowhere in the Constitution is there a mention of a God. Religion is referenced as exclusionary. Such as stating that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.” (Article VI) That sounds secular to me.

The U.S. is a free nation. The First Amendment applies to every private citizen. And that includes us atheists. It is the individual freedoms that make our nation great.

Spc. Jeremy Hall
Camp Speicher, Iraq
As the author observes, “…a nation that forgets what made it great is destined to fail.”
Perhaps he, and the un-American Major discussed above, would be happier in the army of some other country.
Do you feel safer knowing that these persons are in the Army of the United States of America?
Why do they hate our freedom?
Atheist ‘revival’ bad for U.S.
I have to say that I was very disturbed to read the article “Atheists are happy campers at Ohio retreat” (July 8). From just looking at the picture next to the article with the children playing together, you would think that they were just at an outside function participating in a fun activity. But when I read the article, I found there is a lot more to it than that.
The author of the article seems to be overjoyed and ecstatic about young teenagers being at a summer camp where the existence of God is happily denied and refuted, speaking of a revival of atheism and Camp Quest (the name of the summer camp) being a training ground for the atheist movement. How sad to see yet another example of God being kicked out and pushed aside in our society, and young kids being taught — or, in my opinion, brainwashed — to do it.
I wonder how long it will be before America becomes a completely secular society when I see and read things like the Camp Quest article. We already have people fighting daily to remove God from our money, the Pledge of Allegiance and more. As one girl who was quoted in the article stated, “This year, I stopped getting up and saying the pledge,” because it includes the words “under God” in it.
Like it or not, our nation was founded under God, upon Christian principles and values, and yet it seems people, such as the ones who founded Camp Quest, continue to ignore and defy it and encourage others to do the same. It seems to me a nation that forgets what made it great is destined to fail.
Spc. Matthew B. Cravens
Hanau, Germany


I'm sure there are plenty of good, even saintly selfless people out in the world, but I don't think Mother Theresa should be our example...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I'm proud of myself :)

I went to Bernhiem Forest today to enjoy some of the nice weather and get some ideas for the 'Dragonflies and Damselflies' theme for the exhibit I'm putting together.
While I was there I meet up with a couple friends who are also in the Naturalist-In-Training program and we went on an impromptu hike and were going around identifying trees and that sort of thing. When we were done we hung around for a while and just chatted at the trail head and one of them asked me what the symbol on my necklace was. It was my American Atheist necklace and for half a moment I wondered what to say, but then decided to just be straight forward about it. I told them that it is the symbol for American Atheists and then explained the iconography of the symbol (see: I was a bit worried for a moment how they would react--as I didn't really feel like fielding questions about why I don't believe in god at the moment. But as it turned out we pretty much just went on to the next topic after I told them. I had a long and good conversation about belief and experience with one guy who turned out to be a relatively open-minded and enlightened Christian. So all-in-all it was a good experience.

I'm just proud to say that I'm finally getting to be bolder about telling people about my symbol for Atheism when they ask me. This was a big step, as I normally sidestepped the question when it came right down to it. I'm getting braver.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A subtle difficulty with being an atheist

I've had an epiphany about something. I just got my copy of God is not Great in the mail yesterday and started reading it that night. And I've noticed that in all the latest books on atheism (The End of Faith, The God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, Breaking the Spell) the authors come to their topics with their own styles, their own attitudes, and their own vast diversity of knowledge and experience. Indeed, I can't read any of Dawkin's or Harris's, or Hitchen's or Dennett's books without being enriched by a lot of knowledge and wonder that go beyond merely arguing that god doesn't exist. I'm already convinced of that and I don't need to constantly reinforce it like I had to do with my faith when I was a Christian. But, to get to the point, while I was reading God is not Great last night I realized a difficulty I'd always had in being an atheist even though I never realized it.

A lack of atheist role models.

It seems perfectly obvious now. I grew up with a notion of how atheists are. Atheists are supposed to be angry at God, rebellious, selfish sinners--at least this is the image I grew up with. And I knew no atheists personally, at least no one who admitted to it. No wonder that for a long time after I realized that I didn't believe in god, I'd had trouble with calling myself an Atheist. Now I've finally been exposed to so many different and rich images of what it means to be an Atheist. It is perfectly right and consistent for an Atheist to be ethical and caring and smart. Even tolerant and tactful and diplomatic. And, of course, smart and rational. I've finally recognized this void in my former life--thanks to all of my role models out there. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Declaration of Independence

Happy Forth of July! I was inspired this morning to go online and find the Declaration of Independence. I've lived and been educated in this country for a whole 27 years now, and just realized that I don't think I've ever actually read this foundational document. I've just heard the main two quotes from it.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Now I hear this was a new thing: A government "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed", not from the authority of a god. Even if it contains an appeal to "Nature and Nature's God" the God of the Deists, of course, it does not claim that it's authority comes from him. But that makes sense, given that all the arguments in the document are based on reason, not on faith or some claim to divine revelation. Quite the departure from the usual European ways at the time. Amazing.

And there is not even the slightest mention of Jesus Christ, not even in passing. I think it bears saying that this concept of the governing power coming from the the governed is in contrast, if not complete contradiction, to what is said in the Bible regarding the "governing authorities". As to the people who say the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document because it has the three letter word G-o-d in it--I think they do not know what they are talking about. The founders of America were doing nothing if not rebelling against the governing authorities!
Romans 13:1-7 NIV

1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Ok, now for the conclusion of the Declaration:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Now that hits home, when you think that when these men signed the Declaration, they really were risking their lives and liberty if they would have been captured, or failed in their endeavor.

Well, this should be required reading for all Americans--and this is the perfect day to read it on.

The Declaration of Independence

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

— John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Faith is a word
Seldom understood but often heard
Is it to hold fantastic beliefs dear
In an attempt to stave off fear
Of the dark?
Is it the mark
Of an non-rational mind
With hopes of a supernatural power
In which to take refuge as in a strong tower?
Or is it a compulsion
To bring strong towers to the level of the ocean
To bring judgment on those who show distaste
For the dogmas of your own dictatorial Faith?

As for me, I’ve no use for Faith
I’d rather be guided by Reason.
Better to keep an open mind,
And embrace superior ideas in their season.
The blindness of Faith leads to intolerance, and bigotry
To both theological divisions, and the most terrible tragedies of history.
Give me science and reason and the freedom of my mind
And we will leave the dark superstitions of the past far behind!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

YouTube - Disturbed - Remember

Since I'm on a Disturbed kick right now...Here is a song by them that really helped me a lot during my early atheist days, when I was first making the escape from Christianity. I listened a lot to that Believe album during that time. Thanks Disturbed!

Sensation washes over me
I can't describe it
Pain I felt so long ago
I don't remember
Tear a hole so I can see
My devastation
Feelings from so long ago
I don't remember

Holding on, to let them know
What's given to me
To hide behind
The mask this time
And try to believe

Blind your eyes to what you see
You can't embrace it
Leave it well enough alone
And don't remember
Cut your pride and watch it bleed
You can't deny it
Pain you know you can't ignore
I don't remember

Holding on, to let them know
What's given to me
To hide behind
The mask this time
And try to believe

Blind your eyes to what you see
You can't embrace it
Leave it well enough alone
And don't remember

Cut your pride and watch it bleed
You can't deny it
Pain you know you can't ignore
I don't remember

If I can
To know this will
Conquer me
If I can
Just walk alone
And try to escape
Into me

YouTube - Land Of Confusion Disturbed

Cool animated music video! I love this song, and the video really have something to say about war and the greed behind it--both in Iraq and elsewhere. The animation makes me want to see some Pink Floyd too :)

YouTube - Land Of Confusion Disturbed

Ah, speaking of Pink Floyd.

Friday, June 29, 2007

I've been tagged!

Stardust has tagged me with a new meme. Here are the rules, in my own words.
  1. First post the rules.
  2. Post eight (8) random facts/habits about oneself.
  3. Anyone who is tagged needs to write a new blog entry including the rules and their eight (8) facts/habits.
  4. Tag eight (8) other people with blogs to participate in the meme, and list their names at the end of the blog post.
  5. Leave a comment at each of the tagged blogs and let them know they have been tagged. Refer them to your blog post so they can read and find out what you are talking about.
So, here are my 8 random facts/habits:
  1. I ride the bus to work, and ride my bike from home to the bus stop and then from the last bus stop on to to work.
  2. I have a picture of Darwin posted in my computer/reading room.
  3. I have a current obsession with kayaking, and have shopped a lot for my own kayak. But I'm torn on how much I'm able to spend and where in my apartment I'd store the thing if I bought one.
  4. I'm a vegetarian, since April this year. I have not really even been tempted to go back to eating meat, much to my own surprise.
  5. I seldom listen to radio other than NPR anymore, and that is only when I'm in my car. Which is not often during the work week anymore.
  6. I am volunteering at Bernheim Forest and working though their Naturalist-In-Training program and learning all about how to connect people with nature. And I've been learning how to identify lots of locally native plants--It's been really fascinating!
  7. I get really pee'd off when someone still doesn't get that global climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed. And I need to learn to pick my battles!
  8. A lot of the times when I find a bug in my apartment, or elsewhere in a living place or car or something like that, I'll look closely at the bug and decide that it's actually really cool and I'm not going to kill it. I take it out if I can. Unless it's a tick, mosquito, or gnat--these can expect no mercy from me.
Alright--now I need to see if I can find eight other bloggers who have not already been tagged! It looks like pretty much the whole atheist blogroll has been infected already.
  1. Star of Star's Journal of Random Thoughts
  2. Contemplative Activist
  3. Action Skeptics
Ok, this is a lot of work. I think this meme has been very effective already--I'll add the other 5 later if I find any more willing hosts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A camp they can believe in | Chicago Tribune

Man! I wish I could have gone to these when I was young! Maybe I'll volunteer at the next one, who knows?

A camp they can believe in Chicago Tribune

A camp they can believe in
Ohio's Camp Quest lets young atheists enjoy summer fun with like-minded children

By Ron Grossman
Tribune staff reporter

June 27, 2007

CLARKSVILLE, Ohio -- At the same time youngsters at Bible camps across the nation are reciting, "Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep," kids at Camp Quest are climbing into their bunks, confident there is no one out there to hear those prayers.

Proudly proclaiming the motto "Beyond Belief," Camp Quest bills itself as the nation's first sleep-away summer camp for atheists. Founded in 1996, it has inspired four similar camps across the nation for children whose parents are either opposed or indifferent to religion.

Much of what goes on here, amid the cornfields of southwestern Ohio, is little different from any other camp. Campers canoe on the Little Miami River, practice archery skills and go on nature hikes.

To be sure, they also engage in some unusual rainy-day discussions of philosophical issues. Children who barely come up to an adult's waist toss around terms such as "circular logic." And those nature hikes focus on the beauty of evolution, unaided by any unseen hand.

Atheism has been experiencing a revival, as it were. Some national surveys show the numbers of non-believers growing. Books hyper-critical of religion are best-sellers. The biologist Richard Dawkins argued in "The God Delusion" that religion is just that. Faith as the source of all evil was explored with burning passion by Christopher Hitchens in "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

But more than a training ground for a movement, Camp Quest is a place to set down the burden of being different.

Children who grow up in Christian households have the emotional security of being in the nation's majority. Members of religious minorities have similarly minded friends and relatives. But coming from a family that does not believe in God often sets a child on a lonely road.

Frieda Lindroth, a first-year camper, recognized that her first day at Camp Quest.

"'Wow!' I said to myself, 'I'm not alone,'" said Frieda, 12. She recalls being an atheist since the 2nd grade.

For its inaugural season, Camp Quest drew 20 campers. This year, it enrolled 47 young people, ranging from 8 to 17 years old, for its weeklong session at a campground rented from a 4-H group. About 100 others will attend Quest's daughter camps in Michigan, Minnesota, California and Ontario, Canada.

A Harris Interactive survey in 2003 found that 9 percent of Americans don't believe in God, while another 12 percent are uncertain about the issue. Even if their numbers are lower, the Secular Coalition for America calculates that the ranks of non-believers are larger than the combined number of religious Jews, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Presbyterians, Hindus, Muslims and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Camp Quest's founder, Edwin Kagin, thinks non-believers have become more outspoken as a reaction to the religious right. School boards have inserted "intelligent design" into their curricula almost as fast as the courts can veto such measures.

Kagin and his wife, Helen, founded Camp Quest out of frustration with what they saw as a forced march to theocracy. His father was a minister in a family line of Presbyterian clergy tracing back to John Knox, the great Scottish reformer.

"But I went to college and started reading books my father had preached against," said Kagin, 66.

Kagin has a full beard, a rolling gait and a sardonic delivery reminiscent of Mark Twain, as played by Hal Holbrook. He became active in atheist causes but was frustrated by lawyers hired to fight them. So he got a law degree and became the legal director of the activist group American Atheists.

In the 1990s, the Boy Scouts, a chief sponsor of camping in America, began excluding atheists and gays from its leadership. That prompted the Kagins to create an outdoorsy alternative for non-believers.

"We wanted a camp not to preach there is no God," said Kagin, "but as a place where children could learn it's OK not to believe in God."

Many Camp Questers have wrestled with that issue on their own, among them Sophia Riehemann, a 9th-year camper. She long avoided the words "under God," during recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance at school.

"This year, I stopped getting up and saying the Pledge," said Riehemann, 16, who, like other campers, reports that it is taxing constantly negotiating with the world of believers. "Here at camp, that little barrier is finally down."

Like many campers, Riehemann comes from a home that stresses a scientific explanation of reality in place of the biblical account. Similarly, the dining room walls at Camp Quest are hung with portraits of notable free-thinkers and scientists, ranging from Darwin and Einstein to Woody Allen, honored for giving comedic expression to religious skepticism.

Riehemann notes that a secular perspective takes away childhood joys other kids have, such as Christmas. But that doesn't bother her. "They have Santa Claus," she said, "and we have Isaac Newton."

Like Riehemann, other campers report the painful experience of publicly declaring their lack of religious belief. Like gay people, they call it "coming out."

Allison Page, 9, read a book of Bible stories and decided they "were just silly." When her classmates found that out, they called her names and threatened her. That prompted her parents to home-school Allison. They sent her to camp so she would have summertime playmates.

Allison reports finding the Bible incompatible with her experience of life. An only child who'd like to have siblings, she was stumped by the story of Cain and Abel.

"It just doesn't make sense," Allison said. "A brother wouldn't kill his brother."

Sheridan Scott, 10, encountered hostility on the front lines of atheist activism. He and his mother are part of a group of Florida atheists that raises the banner for non-belief in public places.

"As a hobby," he explained. "But some people are so hostile, yelling at us: 'You will go to Hell.'"

Ed Golly, a camp counselor, belongs to the Florida atheist-activist group. When members saw Christian revivalists preaching on the streets of a Tampa night-club district, they mounted counterdemonstrations.

"We hold up banners saying, 'Jesus is not Coming' and 'No Prayer in School,'" said Golly, 55, a volunteer like all the staff.

A small-craft pilot, Golly flies his airplane to camp and takes campers up in it. They gleefully report that, at least as high as a Cessna can go, there is no evidence for a God in the sky.

Much of the learning at Camp Quest is similarly non-directive. Atheism isn't so much advocated as set alongside traditional belief systems. There are meal-time talks on various religions. Campers debate questions such as, "Would the world be better off without religion?"

Many of the young people come to more measured conclusions than Dawkins and Hitchens, acknowledging religion has some virtues, like providing some people a sense of community.

But at the final campfire, it was obvious how most Camp Questers come down on the question of belief. The young people giggled and laughed through skits and songs, savoring for one last moment being just one of the gang.

For the concluding act, Edwin Kagin stood in front of the crackling flames, pounding an oversized walking stick worthy of a biblical prophet. He broadly impersonated an evangelical preacher, exhorting his congregation to believe in the unseen.

"Who needs proof, if we have faith?" he asked.

All around the campfire, young hands went up.

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

Thursday, June 21, 2007

This world is my home . . . - Testimonies of Ex-Christians

This world is my home . . . - Testimonies of Ex-Christians

This really brings back some memories for me. It's a post to that I wrote in October 2003, just a few days after my Mom had finally found out that I was an infidel. I sent in an essay that I'd written to Mom, at her request, explaining just why I rejected Christianity. It still resonates with me today.

What happens when you try to believe two contradictory things at the same time? Such as the belief that the universe is ruled by the laws of science and that the universe is controlled by a supernatural being. Or that I am a good and worthwhile person and also that I am so horrible that I must lean on God’s mercy to avoid hell. Or “creation-science”? A few years ago while I was still a Christian I read _1984_ by George Orwell and was introduced to this notion of “double-think.” The book is not really about religion (at least not that I remember) but when I read about double-think I couldn’t stop my mind from making the connection to religion – even though at the time I refused to consider the implications.

I was an agnostic for a long time before I realized it or was willing to admit it. I prayed and nothing happened, I went to church and nothing changed. During revivals I kept going to the altar and genuinely expected God to work changes in my life and to guide me, but nothing ever happened. And nothing happened in the churches I went to that was not brought about by pure human effort – however much they “gave God the glory.” I longed for a “personal testimony” so I could tell people what God had done in my life – but I couldn’t think of anything that would convince me, much less anyone else. I was always afraid of witnessing although I was well versed in my faith and in the bible. But at the same time I felt I had to witness—if I didn’t tell them about Jesus and warn them of hell, I didn’t really care and I would be held responsible for not warning them of eternal consequences. I had read Christian apologetics like Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis and More Then A Carpenter by I don’t remember who. I could talk and debate with other Christians about what the bible said, because we all believed in the bible. But when it came to trying to convince an unbeliever that the bible is reliable, I was clueless. None of the arguments were convincing to me! Even though I accepted them because I already believed.

Eventually double-think can wear a person down, and it made me depressed for a long time. I went to a church school for my first two years of college and after the initial high (I thought it was because of God that I was able to attend there, and thus had something to say about what God had done in my life) I found myself in low spirits most of the time. What was being said in the chapel services was not what was taught in the academic courses on religion I was taking. In class I was learning about how the bible was put together by councils, and how Isaiah 53 was not even a messianic passage. I also learned about the multiple schisms and disagreements about basic tenants of Christianity in the early Christian church. Things like how much is Jesus god and how much is he man! I had thought there could not have been a question about this at all! I remember being close to tears in the library as I studied and pondered this on more than one occasion. If god could not have been more clear in his revelation of the truth back then—as to avoid all the schisms and disagreements on disputable passages—what kind of clarity can we expect today?

Then I discovered science. I transferred out of the Christian college (for various reasons) and enrolled in a secular university near my home. And one of the first courses I took was Introduction to Astronomy, since it covered a natural sciences requirement and because I’ve always been fascinated with the night sky. In the first secular science class I had since middle school I learned about the evolution of stars and cosmology and the cosmic background radiation—predicted (!) leftover of the Big Bang. (WOW! An actual acurately fufilled prediction! This is more then religion ever delivered!) Later, this lead me to read a bit about the theory of evolution and realize that all branches of science are connected—deny one of them (like creationism does to evolution) and you might as well throw all of them out. The evolution of the cosmos and that of life on earth are closely connected, after all. Also, I realized that in science, theories and hypothesis are made and tested and if they do not describe reality as we know it they are thrown out. This is the self-correction of science; ideas that are false are eventually displayed as false and discarded. Unlike religious dogma, which is not open to challenge and has perpetuated error for centuries at a time. I decided that natural explanations of the world were superior to supernatural ones, and by this time I was on my way to agnostic-atheism. This naturalistic view made sense to me, and didn’t require me to force absurd beliefs on my mind.

The Christians would say “This world is not my home” because they are expecting to go to a home in heaven in the end. But as for me, I am a natural part of the universe, and I belong here—not as an artifact placed here by some god, but as a natural phenomena in my own right. This world, this universe, free of angels and demons and heaven and hell, is my home.

Sex: Female

URL: HomePage

State: Kentucky

Country: USA

Became a Christian: Not sure, raised into it from a very young age.

Ceased being a Christian: Gradual deconverson over about 4-5 years. . . started considering myself an atheist at age 23 (this year).

Labels before: Nazarene

Labels now: agnostic-atheist, bright, skeptic, humanist

Why I joined: raised that way

Why I left: Continually asked myself why I believe and decided eventually that there are more good reasons not to believe.

A letter to my mother:

Why I Don't Believe in Christianity

First I want to thank you for your patience and ask you to continue to be patient with me. I am sorry that my attitude has not been the best around you - but this, I suppose, is a consequence of trying to hide my thoughts and feelings about what I know you hold very dear to your heart. Lately I have seen where I have been wrong and I've been trying to behave better. I've been afraid for a long time that you would find out about my disbelief, and have thought long and hard about how to break it to you. Of course, now that you have figured it out, I no longer have to worry about that.

(By the way, I have never heard of an organization called "the church of the infidels." [She originally confronted me about my unbelief--after she found in the family computer history and connected this with my recent disregard for church-- by asking why I choose the "church of the infidels."] When you first used the term I was shocked that you brought up the subject and took it to mean that you know that I am an infidel, unbeliever, apostate, or whatever words you with to use. I prefer to think of myself as a skeptic. But when I got over the initial shock, the term offended me very much. This is only to say that I would like for both of us to avoid emotionally-charged language when talking to one another on the subject of religious beliefs. Even if you think you are simply saying it "the way it is." It only leads to hurt feelings, and that can't do any good at all.)

Before going in the reasons for my disbelief, I want to point out what my reasons are not. First of all I did not do it to try to hurt anyone or to break away from the family. Once when I was looking into the Catholic Church you said something about me disregarding my family heritage. Personally, I think the reasons for the religious beliefs of a person must go beyond simply what they were brought up to believe. You know this. "God has no grandchildren," as they say. Another reason that is not why I left Christianity is because I want to indulge in some new sin without worrying about the consequences. Besides not going to church, my lifestyle has not changed--nor has my sense of morality (for the most part, my morals have not been based strictly on religious doctrine anyway). I have not indulged in any sin except perhaps the "sin" of disbelief, of which I have tried to repent of many, many times before I gave in. I wish I had a dime for every time I prayed "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" and "Keep me from falling." Something about my mind simply will not accept belief (without doubt) of things of which I am simply not convinced.

Actually, for a long time I was convinced of the truth of Christianity. I'm not sure where my doubts began, perhaps gradually with the continuous replacement of supernatural causes with natural ones the more I learn about the world and about science. I'll do my best not to embellish my memories - the human mind can work wonders at interpreting events when trying to make a point! Remember the W.O.W. [Wisdom of the Word, a Bible study program] meeting where we were going around the table and talking about experiences/situations where we have seen God (or, more appropriately, seen God at work)? When you came to me my mind drew a complete blank. I was not playing games, but was taking the exercise very seriously and did not want to make anything up. I could not think of a single thing that I could attribute to God, nothing at least that I could not much more simply attribute to human or natural causes. I figured that I was just inexperienced or not looking hard enough. But I still can't think of anything I could attribute to God that I could not more easily attribute to more natural causes.

For a while my faith was based totally upon the Bible. If you could have shown me that the Bible said something, I would believe it. After all, there were all those prophesies that Jesus fulfilled. But which of them were really intended as prophesies in the first place? I remember learning from my Introduction to Biblical Faith class that I took at [name of church-sponsored school] that my personal favorite prophesy, Isaiah 53, was not even considered to be a messianic prophesy by the Jews. (I wish I still had my book-I don't trust my own memory very well in this.) And it doesn't all fit Jesus either-"He shall see his seed" (Isaiah 53:10) -what does this mean? I take "seed" to mean descendants (it does say "offspring" in the NRSV)-but Jesus had no children. And where in the Old Testament does it say that the messiah must be killed and then be raised to life on the third day?

I know that you are a lot more studied in Biblical prophecy than I am, and if you want to pick out a few prophesies and write a paper to demonstrate how they are genuine messianic prophesies and not after the fact coincidences that parallel the life of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels, then I promise I will read it. I am skeptical, but open to evidence. (In fact, if I wasn't open to evidence I wouldn't be skeptical but rather dogmatic.) Saying that the Gospel writer cited it as a prophecy is not sufficient. Nothing would point to the authenticity of the Bible like a few genuinely specific fulfilled prophesies. However, in the absence of such prophesies I can see no evidence of the Divine Revelation in scripture-and thus no reason why I should believe in the Bible as containing the one and only Truth.

You asked for two paragraphs? I didn't think I'd be able to squeeze all of this into two paragraphs. But here is what you asked for specifically-the benefits of non-belief. These are totally subjective, of course. And, of course, whether or not religion or disbelief makes me feel more comfortable or not is irrelevant to the truth of it all. You may have these things within the framework of faith. I didn't.

  • The ability to be honest with myself about my doubts-freedom from the guilt I felt about my honest thoughts.

  • Ability to stop worrying compulsively about the state of my salvation. Among other things (not including the behavior of other church members-they really are wonderful people!), this made me extremely depressed during and after church services, and that is the main reason why I stopped going to [name of church deleted] and didn't want to go back.

  • Now able to live more in the present moment--life before death is worthy of my full attention.

  • Not feeling like I have this huge responsibility to push Christianity on all my friends (I nearly drove [name deleted] completely away because of this one. He is still a believer, by the way. I haven't tried to "de-convert" him.)

  • Freedom from the feeling that I am really a horrible person (would go to hell if not for the mercy of God, deserved to be on the cross, etc) but that God just loves me for some completely unimaginable reason. (It was never said like this in so many words, but my mind couldn't help but draw this conclusion.)

  • Confirmation. A naturalistic worldview has the advantage of verifiability. Though some scientific theories cannot be tested directly, they at least spin implications (hypothesis) that can be tested. Scientists have been wrong before (used to think the Earth was central to the universe, for example), but ongoing discovery and testing tend to correct those mistakes. It's an ongoing, progressive learning process. For this reason, I accept a scientific worldview as being more reliable than a religious one.

  • I still retain humility at all the things I know that I don't know. I don't have the answers to the world's problems and I don't pretend that I do.

You might say that I have misunderstood what I have been told about Christianity and that my trouble is simply the result of the devil messing with my mind. If this is correct, then I should simply stop thinking for myself at all and follow blindly the teachings of the church. I would also have to blindly believe that there is a devil in order to accept this line of reasoning in the first place. Same with original sin, a concept that gave me difficulty from the first time I heard it. You have to believe the teaching of Christianity that we are born guilty in order to believe that Christianity can save us from that innate sin. It goes in one big circle.

Perhaps all I have to say comes down to this: I can't prove there is no God and you can't prove there is a God. But I am deeply suspicious of a claim that cannot, by its very supernatural nature, be proven nor disproved--especially a claim that demands that I devote my entire life to it.