Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tortoises and Birds

I've always viewed the most important part of skepticism and scientific thinking is the ability to ask questions and receive criticism. How is a person to learn, to grow, and to correct themselves without criticism and dialog?

Lately, I've felt really frustrated because I can't seem to stimulate the kind of dialog that I want and I'm not getting the kind of criticism that I need. I'm tempted to blame this on the internet trolls who have pretty much taken over every sphere and made the place inhospitable for people who operate in good faith. But as tempting as this would be, it's possible that the problem is my own. So I'm going to tell you all how I feel and maybe you can help me figure this out.

There are two groups of people that I'm having difficulty with: tortoises and birds. I don't really understand them and I don't know how to work with them. The first group, the tortoises, stay in their shells a lot and don't chime in much - especially if they disagree. They seem to be afraid to speak their mind for fear that the wrath of the internet will fall down upon them. By not participating in conversation, especially when the topic is controversial or feelings are running high, we lose their insight and perspective.

The second group of people are the birds. These people aren't interested in constructive criticism or adding anything to the conversation. All they want to do is swoop down and poop on someone in order to shut them up. I feel frustrated by these people because they don't offer any correction or help - they just drop in to tell me that I'm wrong or wasting everyone's time. 

I almost feel as if people have just gotten to the point where they expect others to jump down their throats and treat them like crap so they don't say much of anything. I can see the temptation but I don't want anyone to expect such bad behavior from me. I think we have a serious need to learn how to criticize ideas without tearing down people. How to achieve that though if some people are too afraid to talk and others delight in shutting down those who do?

Anyone else noticed this or am I just having a crappy week?

A Better Understanding of Church and State Separation Is Needed

A lot of people do not fully understand the reasoning behind the church and state violation cases that have made the news as of late. Jumping to the "I'm being persecuted!" claim has made it even harder to talk to people about this subject. There are facts at hand that have been established long before these violations have come to light. That being said, I think a little bit of history is needed to educate both the religious and non-religious.

Did you know that the phrase "wall of separation" to describe the relationship of the church and state was first used by Roger Williams back in the mid 1600s. He and his wife arrived in the "new world" (Boston) at the beginning of 1631.

"His search for the true church eventually carried him out of Congregationalism, the Baptists, and any visible church. From 1639 forward, he waited for Christ to send a new apostle to reestablish the church, and he saw himself as a "witness" to Christianity until that time came."

He strongly believed that "everyone had the natural right to freedom of religion" and thus the church and state must be separated in all aspects. Later in 1802, Thomas Jefferson would use the phrase "wall of separation" that echoed Roger Williams in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.

"In the spring of 1636, Williams and a number of his followers from Salem began a settlement on land that Williams had bought from Massasoit, only to be told by Plymouth that he was still within their land grant. They warned that they might be forced to extradite him to Massachusetts and invited him to cross the Seekonk River to territory beyond any charter. The outcasts rowed over to Narragansett territory, and having secured land from Canonicus and Miantonomi, chief sachems of the Narragansetts, Williams established a settlement with twelve 'loving friends.' He called it 'Providence' because he felt that God's Providence had brought him there. (He would later name his third child, the first born in his new settlement, "Providence" as well.) He said that his settlement was to be a haven for those 'distressed of conscience,' and it soon attracted quite a collection of dissenters and otherwise-minded individuals."

Something most people didn't know or have forgotten is the establishment or creation of the town of Providence. It was created and became a safe haven for various people regardless of their religious views. It was their "like-mindedness" that drew them together. Now the significance of Roger Williams and Providence, RI, in religious history is about to be revealed:

"Williams had himself baptized by Ezekiel Holliman in late 1638. Thus was constituted a church which still survives as the First Baptist Church in America. A few years later, John Clarke, Williams’ compatriot in the cause of religious freedom in the New World, established a Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island. Roger Williams and John Clarke are variously credited as being the founder of the Baptist faith in America."

It's a really good read and we strongly suggest it - you won't learn about him in public schools and probably not in most religious schools outside of baptist ones. I didn't even know about him until Tweenky and Jessica had mentioned him recently. I hated history class in school and I blame 50% of that on the way it was being taught and/or presented, the other 50% was me not being interested since I was taught that "the world was going to end soon" or "we are in the last days". After looking back at the history of most religions, I have found that every couple of generations you see them saying something about being in the last days.

Just want to start off with a couple examples and then the feedback or backlash I've noticed from said examples:

One of the main examples that is continuously being brought up here in the South is "prayer in schools." This isn't just something that happens in the South either as we have all probably heard about events in Cranston, RI. Here in the South most of the school games are preceded by a prayer over the P.A. system or at graduation ceremonies.

The problem is not the prayer that is being said (although it is usually exclusively from one denomination) at the school games or ceremonies. Prayer that is lead by teachers, school faculty or even a local priest, preacher, bishop, or father is in itself an endorsement by the school. That is the violation and what makes it unconstitutional regardless of how long they have been doing it. The U.S. Supreme Court first ruled government-sponsored prayer in the public schools unconstitutional in 1962. Ala,s most southern states have held onto their prayers in school thinking that, "We'll do it until we are told or made to stop," as one school principal said at a faculty meeting in Tishomingo County, Mississippi.

Is the bible belt and other places really that thick in thinking they can just do as they please when it comes to our school systems and, most importantly, our children? Indoctrination at a young age is a must for most these religions - get them young and it's harder to lose them. They become entrenched with the constant reminder of being a sinner or threatened with going to hell.

The other example that seems to make headlines every year is the nativity scene "on public/governement property." This was seen last year all over the country with only a few places getting air time on the news. Athens, Texas, was a huge one that got most the publicity. Rick Perry may have had something to do with that, not sure. This was a case in point of an obvious church and state separation violation.

This whole thing was not about the nativity scene but rather its location on the grounds of the government building. Had they just moved it across the street or down the block to a private property location there wouldn't have been an issue. But it was a long standing tradition and had been there for over 50 years. That just means it has been in violation of the law for the last 49 years.

The backlash from all this was a feeding of the faux news trolls and their so called "Christian persecution". They used it to further claim a persecution on Christians by saying they were trying to "take Christ out of Christmas". No one ever said it had to be taken down and never shown again; they just wanted it moved off public property. Simple, right?

So with that I leave you with the following facts available for everyone to look up and read for themselves:

The phrase "separation of church and state" itself does not appear in the United States Constitution. The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The Supreme Court did not consider the question of how this applied to the states until 1947; when they did, in Everson v. Board of Education, all nine justices agreed that there was a wall of separation between church and state.
(Kermit Hall, ed. The Oxford companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2005) pp 303-4)

The decision of Everson followed in 1947, the first incorporating the Establishment Clause.
(Larson, Edward John (2003). Trial and error: the American controversy over creation and evolution (3, revised ed.).)

The establishment clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference by the U.S. government of one religion over another. The first approach is called the "separation" or "no aid" interpretation, while the second approach is called the "non-preferential" or "accommodation" interpretation. The accommodation interpretation prohibits Congress from preferring one religion over another.

Like any other case that goes before the court, once ruled on they can set a precedent.

The issue at hand is not the fact that this was a religious prayer but that it was displayed on public school property. It is a matter of location, every citizen can display this prayer on their private property to show how religious they are if need be or wear a T-Shirt. That is your private property. If the government were to pass a law that controls what you can and cannot wear or display on your private property, then you will see people unite from all faiths and non-faiths alike.

Again it is a matter of location, the precedent has been set and will continue to be upheld as long as we have the 1st and 14th amendments intact.

We applaud and thank you, Jessica, and the many others religious and non-religious people over the years that have stood up for church and state separation.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

An Idiot's Ten Commandments

What could be better than starting off your day with an idiot's rewrite of the Ten Commandments? Fortunately, Johanna Heckler of WND has written them for you.

First, she claims that the Ten Commandments don't promote Christianity because they predate Christianity and were followed in all ancient societies. "What religion then do they establish?" she asks. "Judaism? Islam?" How about all 3 in a twisted sort of way?  And I would love to see a copy of these tablets from Babylon, Sumeria, or Assyria. I'm sure they'd be word for word.

But the really funny thing here is that she mentions how even in pagan societies, people have a conscience. Therefore, conscience is built within us - obviously a sign of God's handiwork. Then she goes right on to craft a list of "Pagans' 10 Commandments" that she really means are for atheists. In doing so, she manages to insult pagans and atheists in one blow.

01. There is no God, you may do as you please without restraint. Love yourself above all else. Be selfish.

Well, we can't put that on government buildings because it promotes atheism. The government has to stay neutral. Also, neither pagans nor atheists generally advocate such selfish hedonism and certainly not to the extent that they would have no regard for other people.

02. Graven images are obsolete, but you may worship anything you choose, your appetites, your possessions, or those of anyone else.

Yeah, that's kind of what the First Amendment says: worship whatever and however you choose. And if we weren't constantly trying to fulfill our desires and get more stuff, capitalism wouldn't work. Why does this lady hate America?

03. Profanity and obscenities are the language of choice. Express yourself any way you want to, the more offensive the better.

First Amendment again, free speech. Be glad we have it because I certainly consider Johanna's words here offensive. It would be a shame if she got censored because of her own stupidity.

04. A day of rest or worship is totally unneeded, so heap upon yourselves all the work or play you desire until your physical bodies are completely worn out. Work your employees, animals and machines the same way.

In my experience, workaholics in this area are often Christian men and I think a lot of that has to do with them being raised "old school" that they have to provide for the family no matter what it costs them physically or emotionally. My Dad certainly fell victim to that. But I do not know of any atheists or pagans who actively promote this ideal. Why would we? We enjoy family and friends and quiet time like anyone else.

05. Regard for your parents or their teaching is an hindrance to your freedoms, so ignore their needs completely, curse them if you wish, and arrange for their demise as soon as possible.

Not all parents are created equally. Some are negligent. Some are abusive. Some are so dysfunctional that they harm the mental and emotional well-being of their children through manipulation and guilt. In the happy fantasy world of Christians like Johanna, parents (and parenting) are a blessing and a child should be grateful. I say children should give respect where earned and care for their parents according to what they believe is proper and healthy. But nowhere have I seen any pagans or atheists promoting general disrepect to parents, much less plotting to have them all killed.

06. You may steal whenever you please. Don’t bother to guard your possessions, as others have a right to steal them as well.

Huh? We don't advocate stealing and we don't like it when others steal from us. She seems to be accusing us of her brand of "socialism" or something. I'd love for her to recite this to a gun-toting pagan (Jessica, are you out there?)

07. Adulterous affairs should be a daily occurrence for your ultimate pleasure. You may even steal a same-sex partner from his mate. Satisfy your lust with whomever, wherever and whenever.

Adultery should be a daily occurrence, gay or straight or both? We can do it all day, in the streets, on the bus, in the churchyard? Seriously, this is just absurd. She seems to think we have no self-control and no ability to be honest and faithful to our chosen partner(s). I think she's mad because her gang has to lie about their affairs while we can at least be honest about our sex lives.

08. You may kill your enemies at will, including anyone who annoys you or causes you distress.

If we believed in this, I'd already have taken this lady out. She annoys me. Luckily for her, however, I do not advocate murder. Still can't think of anyone who does...

09. Lying should be a natural part of your communication. Don’t bother to take an oath to establish identity or viability as a witness. A false witness is completely acceptable.

Johanna's already following this rule very well because everything she's written about us is absolutely false. If anything, most of us think we need more realization of the truth, not less. 

10. By hook or crook, obtain what you desire, no matter where or whose it is. Greed is the only way to get ahead in life.

Again, this is kind of the driving force of capitalism - certainly of unregulated capitalism. The human race can't advance without pursuing our desires. Our goal is to weigh those desires against the needs of others. Most of us manage to do this pretty well without any help from gods.

Johanna concludes by saying, "Is this the society we really want? This is what we are getting!"

I don't know what the hell is going on in her corner of northern Minnesota, but here in the real world, we're getting along pretty well and the situation is absolutely nothing like the picture she painted. False witness indeed!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Award-Winning JD Returns

The winner of yesterday's award appears not to be too happy with receiving it. Instead of correcting any misconceptions we might have or explaining his positions, he has decided to indulge in personal attacks against us instead. What could be more Christian?

First, JD tries to attack Nathan for his religious upbringing and the problems that resulted from that association. Considering that Nathan has conquered the dogma of his former religion, conquered substance abuse, and is now in a happy, rewarding relationship, I don't see how JD has much ammo here. His jabs appear petty at best.

Turning to me, JD notes how I experimented with all kinds of religious systems and beliefs. What he fails to note is that I did not cling to any of them and became an atheist. I conquered those delusions as well. Then he goes on to attack my mental illness as if I am somehow still suffering from hallucinations and delusions. Apparently, he has not heard of modern medicine which keeps the symptoms at bay pretty well. He jokes about the "nuthouse" as if I should somehow be ashamed that I have spent time at hospitals trying to find the right kind of medication. The ironic thing is that most of the paranoid schizophrenics I met inside were less paranoid than JD himself.

As for the "Son of Sam" comment, my voices never told me to hoard guns, cleanse the earth of non-Christians, or that people were coming to murder me. JD appears to be able to do this without any voices other than his own delusional voice. Which is more frightening?

Finally, he uses a sort of argument from unpopularity to attack us. Our community page has only 4 likes. So what? Our blog pages has almost 20,000 hits and we think that's good for the short amount of time we've been operating. Our podcast is doing pretty well too considering that we've been sporadic with it. This argument can be brushed off like a bad case of fleas.

So, JD, I did "BLOG THIS!" and the truth is, we're all laughing at you. Nobody cares. Our page is public, your page is public...people can read all this for themselves and judge. At the end of the day, you still get the Redonkulous Redneck award and today you get a gold shiny star to stick on it.

As a personal message from me, JD, I'd like for you to know that I don't hate you. I don't want to kill you. I'm not coming to get you. I don't want to shut you up. I actually agree with some of your less extreme political positions. I think the parties are largely ignoring the Constitution to play games with us for their profit. I understand your anger, fear, and resentment toward them. 

But you need to understand that here, in the marketplace of ideas, I wage war as fiercely as anyone. I am happy to expose your pathological obsessions and to debunk your insane notions that we want you dead. The more you focus on us, the more we'll focus on you. The ball's in your court. My advice: accept your award and let it fade. Otherwise, our blog posts will double and triple. That's the way free speech works and I know, as a lover of the Constitution, you support my free speech.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Redonkulous Redneck: JD Meadows!

It's possible that this post will get me in big trouble but I'm more than willing to take the risk. I was born and raised in North Mississippi so I know quite a few people here. A few years ago, I watched a disturbing documentary called White Power USA that contained a segment about Ripley, a small town about an hour north of Tupelo. They interviewed JD Meadows about his "Tea Party" organization but discovered that he had, apparently unknowingly, entered the dark world of "white power" racial supremacy. I felt sorry for him at the time.

Now, however, he has shown his true colors today by making some very nasty comments against the 58% of us who voted against prop 26, the "Personhood" amendment. I'd like to publish those for you but someone deleted them from Sen. Alan Nunnelee's page.* Suffice to say that Meadows considers us all to be murderers and "just as bad as rapists." He seems to think we're all out to kill him or that we all wish he had been aborted. I don't know where he got that idea but his paranoia is disturbing. Some people in the conversation chose to block him and he blocked me. Nevertheless, it does him no good because I still have access to his Facebook page and his old MySpace page - the Tweenky is everywhere and not so easily removed. 

*Edited to add a sample of his comments from Nunnelee's page. Thanks to a kind contributor who supplied me with this!

Since Meadows' uses somewhat violent rhetoric to intimidate people, I thought it might be worth letting him know that not everyone is scared of him. I'm not afraid so I thought I'd show you a collection of his posts. I'd like for everyone to see who this guy is and what he is trying (but failing) to hide. Let me say now for the record that all this information is available to anyone who is not blocked. JD, for all his computer knowledge, apparently doesn't know how to fix his privacy settings very well. Or maybe he just doesn't care.

JD's biggest gripe today that started this whole thing is abortion. He's 100% against it and apparently for personal reasons. I don't know them and I'm not going to speculate but, when he says that we 58% want him dead, he's absolutely wrong. We don't advocate abortion - we advocate informed choice. I find it fascinating that he thinks abortion doctors should be tried for murder and that he thinks the 58% are murderers but yet he doesn't say anywhere that I've seen that the mother is a murderer and should go to jail. What's chilling here is his perceived endorsement of violence to stop abortion. If someone kills an abortion doctor, how is that person any less of a murderer? JD has an answer for that:

This appears to be a sanction for any person to shoot an abortion doctor or perhaps a pregnant woman seeking an abortion on sight going into the clinic. If that doesn't chill your blood, I'm not sure what would. But JD seems to think that someone is after him, still trying to kill him after 30 years, and he's ready:

He's armed and he's ready to kill you if he perceives a threat. If the threats against him were real, I'd understand, but does he really think pro-choicers want to kill him? Does he think anybody gives a damn if he tore a tag off a mattress he bought? Yes, he thinks the government is out to get him personally and, by the gods, he is ready. Would he actually use violence if he believed he were being attacked?

Perhaps so. Lincoln deserved to be murdered according to JD and everyone that supports an equal USA instead of a confederacy built on slavery should be murdered too. He's going to need a lot of ammo to carry that out. If you didn't know JD, you'd be tempted to think that his statement is about race but I don't think it is. JD is more focused on freedom and I think he feels that Lincoln was trampling Southern rights.

Not so for Brian Pace who "liked" that comment. You may remember Brian from the video - he's the real deal.

Pace is big on white power and says clearly in the video what he stands for. He also mentions how he suckers in folks like poor JD who think they are just being politically active in their local Tea Party and pulls them into racism. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Speaking of politics, JD is very big on freedom for him but, as we've seen, not so much freedom for women. He really seems to detest Sen. Alan Nunnelee (which I can understand). However, JD's comments seem very vulgar and crude coming from someone who claims to be such a "true" Christian:

Nunnelee is evil, JD says. Reminds me of the time Phil Bryant said that we 58% were evil. JD also describes Nunnelee as "shit." How Christian of you, sir. Speaking of which:

So Christians can only vote for Ron Paul and, if you don't, you're no better than a beast. I guess if you're being led around, then you're kind of a slave. Is that where the rest of us belong, JD? Enslaved to you and your "superior" friends like Brian Pace who seems to have bought hook, line, and sinker into the NWO conspiracy theory.

Yes, indeed. I'm sure my dad would just LOVE to know that he is "Satan incarnate" because he's considering a vote for Romney. He might lose his deaconship over that. LOL!

Mitt Romney is described by JD the Christian as "human garbage." JD also described the 58% as garbage today. So any living human who does not agree with JD is garbage, has no value, and should be killed. But a fertilized egg that can't think or feel anything is sacred and untouchable. I find this kind of value system to be immoral and cruel. But am I being unfair to JD? Am I making too much of his violent imagery?

I don't think so. I think JD is pretty clear that he'd at least like to take out many of us who don't think like he does. I feel like he could be a pretty dangerous guy if he was put in the right kind of situation. Does this blog post about him qualify? Maybe...I don't know. I might be putting myself at risk exposing him like this but I think it's really important that someone has the courage to do so. Behaviors like this survive and spread because they are mostly hidden underground. Exposing them to the light of day is kind of like catching the vampire in the sunshine - it sure takes a lot of the power out of their bluster. Needless to say, however, I won't be going to his house and I certainly won't be doing business with his company. I don't want a dime of mine going to support someone like this.

So if I go missing or end up dead, you might check with some of these guys first. But don't worry - it will have been worth it to give this month's Redonkulous Redneck award to JD Meadows. Congratulations, sir. You've more than earned it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Triad of Belief: Pt 3 - Credulity

Let's quickly review our line of belief and how we define these terms for the purpose of this discussion:

Skepticism is following the evidence wherever it leads. Denial is refusing to believe no matter how compelling the evidence is. Credulity, therefore, is believing in something no matter how compelling the evidence against it is.

Some people need to (or think they need to) believe. The easiest place to see that is with religion. It doesn't take a lot of rational thought to realize that not every religion can be true and that most traditional religions require belief in things that are highly improbable. Yet people persist in these beliefs no matter the evidence against. They want to believe. They need that belief in order to cope or make sense of their world. 

The same is true in politics. Consider those who take a hard line regarding their politics. Typically, they'll cling to the candidates and positions that are approved by the party with little to no regard for the truth. In fact, if you present people with evidence against their beliefs, they are likely to dig in further and cling even tighter to their position.

Of course, both of these examples are stereotypes. There are many people in the world who do have more nuanced views or are skeptical of some things. In fact, most of us can be at any position on this line depending upon the subject matter. Let's look at some other ways in which every day credulity can be misleading or harmful.

There are some people who believe that UFOs are alien spacecraft and that we've been visited before. Some folks even believe that our world is already being guided (or maybe has been invaded) by these creatures. They believe this so strongly that every odd occurrence, every single anomaly, becomes confirmation of their belief. And no matter what rational evidence or sound explanations you provide, they will dismiss you as part of the cover-up or simply blind.

The same goes for most any conspiracy theory whether it be regarding the Illuminati, the New World Order, the JFK assassination, communist/socialist takeover,  fad diets, detox, homeopathy, or other junk. There will always be those credulous people out there who cling to something outlandish and unproven to make sense of their world. Dare to challenge them and, at best, you'll be accused to being part of the conspiracy. Laugh at the idea of the NWO and you'll hear something like, "You're blind to it now but wait and see. You'll wish you'd listened to me when they take control." Challenge someone's ideas about detox or alternative medicine and they'll accuse you of being paid off by "Big Pharma." 

The problem here is not that people believe something that's untrue so much as that they believe it so strongly that they simply cannot question it or allow you to question it. It has become dogma for them and is no longer open for debate. They may waste their time, money, and energy on these ideas with little or no obvious harm yet, as these unsubstantiated ideas spread, the more time, money, and energy gets wasted on them. Eventually, they may reach critical mass where they become like politics and religion - belief systems in which each person is absolutely sure s/he has the right answer and to hell with anyone who dares to disagree.

How do we find that healthy point of skepticism? It's not always easy. Every one of us has beliefs that we cling to ferociously whether they were taught to us from childhood or whether we developed them on our own. Some of these beliefs make up our core identity and, as such, are difficult to challenge. But that challenge is precisely what we face if we wish to be people of truth. For if we can learn to be skeptical of the things we think we know best, then we will have retained our ability to learn, to be flexible, and to be humble before the vast body of knowledge that exists in this world.

From my own past, I must admit that I was a very credulous child. I believed 100% in Christianity, in the supernatural, in ghosts, angels, fairies, UFOs, aliens, Nessie, and Bigfoot. I believed anything and everything I was told because: 1) I wanted to believe it, and 2) I was taught to trust adults unquestioningly. It took me many years to apply my skepticism to these things and, believe me, it was difficult. It hurt. It was a little scary and very disheartening. I thought my world was going to be dull and dreary if I accepted that this stuff probably doesn't exist. 

Instead, I find out that reality is much richer than I ever could have imagined. I count myself fortunate to have gotten out of credulity and into skepticism. Now I don't feel like I'm wasting my life fantasizing about what can never be true. Instead, I'm delving deeper into what is demonstrably true and I'm loving it!

Ask yourself today what pet beliefs you hold that need to be challenged. You might be amazed. After all, we are presented with tons of information everyday (thanks to TV and the internet) and we need some way to separate fact from fiction. How do you do it? How do you know you're doing it right?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Forced Parenthood Hydra Returns

As many of you may have seen on Facebook, I am now going to refer to the Personhood movement as the "Forced Parenthood" movement. I think this more accurately reflects what they intend. After all, if they really believed a fertilized egg was a person, then they'd investigate all miscarriages, issue death certificates for them, and count those deaths in our mortality statistics. But that's not on their agenda - all they are really interested in doing is preventing women from having access to contraception and abortion. That, my friends, is forced parenthood - the opposite of planned parenthood - and a great infringement on our liberty.

I remember during the 26 campaign how some supporters claimed that we thought children born of rape or children born with birth defects should have been aborted. Certainly, I never thought such a thing, much less said it. You can be very sure that when you oppose these new forced parenthood measures, we will be accused of saying these things again. Here is my thinking on the subject:

If I say that a woman should have aborted (or been forced to abort) her child for any reason, then I am guilty of doing the same thing that pro-forced parenthood people are doing. I'm simply desiring a different outcome. Forced parenthood supporters want to control women's choices so that they will ultimately have children. Pro-abortion supporters (and who do you know who even is one?) want to control women's choices so that they cannot have (certain) children. Same game, different outcome.

I am pro-choice. I believe that the choice, as well as the responsibility, rests with the woman and those she chooses to include. I do not want to control the outcome but recognize her liberty to decide what is in her own best interest.

It's still amazing how these "small government" people want to force parenthood through legislation and ballot initiatives. Clearly, they are in favor of penis-sized government since they constantly attempt to ram belief down our throats, shove injustice up our rears, and fill our wombs with their tainted seed. This would be a humorous comparison if not for the fact that it's an insult to the penis which is generally a fine, worthy instrument.

Mississippi's battle starts anew today and many more states are going to be confronting heads from the same hydra. Our battle tactics are the same: cut off the heads and burn the stump. Get the word out and do everything you can. You may lose some fair-weather friends but you'll find better ones just around the corner...friends and neighbors who won't go into your bedroom uninvited and will be content to let you choose if and when you wish to be a parent.

Do not be ashamed of your position. Do not cede the moral high ground. Do not let anyone go unchallenged who says that you are evil because of your views. Stand up for yourself, for your family, and for your freedom. Stand up for what's right.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Triad of Belief: Pt. 2 - Denial

Last time we examined the continuum of belief as it ranges from denial to skepticism to credulity. We talked about the meaning of skepticism and its value as a way of evaluating claims. Today we're going to look at denial. 

People tend to confuse skepticism and denialism. Remember that skepticism means, "Following the evidence wherever it leads," for the purposes of our discussion. Denialism, therefore, means, "Refusing to believe a claim no matter how much evidence supports it."

Let's look at the Holocaust. You've heard the stories about millions of Jews being murdered by the Nazi regime but is it true? Could 20th century human beings really have committed such an atrocity? You don't want to believe that a white, Christian society could have really done such a thing so you investigate.

You read everything you can find and the accounts give you graphic detail about the murders, the methods, the locations, and the graves. 

You interview survivors and their families. You hear their stories firsthand and see the numbers tattooed on their arms. You're still not sure.

You see the photographs and videos of the bodies piled into mass graves. You're still not sure.

You go to the museums and the former concentration camps. You see the relics for yourself.

Then you walk away saying, "It's all made up. It didn't really happen (or it didn't happen the way history says it did). You've fallen into the realm of denial because you have ignored or dismissed all the evidence in favor of your preferred conclusion.

Holocaust denial is not the only kind of denialism prevalent in our society. AIDS deniers (like Bryan Fischer of the AFA) claim that HIV does not cause AIDS despite the mountains of evidence we have demonstrating that it does. Vaccine deniers claim that vaccines cause autism or that vaccines are all harmful despite evidence to the contrary. The problem is not so much that these people are wrong - it's that they will cling to their erroneous beliefs no matter how much evidence is presented to them. The more you show them they are wrong, the more they dig in. They simply cannot be wrong.

Recently, we've seen a very good example of the difference between skepticism and denial in the climate change community. We know that there are climate change deniers who, in the face of all contradictory evidence, insist that the earth is not warming. They could be standing in front of a boiling ocean and they still wouldn't admit that something is going on. They are deniers. 

But Richard Muller is not a denier - he's a skeptic. He didn't think there was anything to this climate change notion. He thought the previous studies might be faulty so he did his own independent examination of the evidence. At the end of the day, he discovered that the other research teams were right and climate change really is happening. He changed his position based on the new evidence. That is skepticism and it's very different from denial.

What about religious denialism? I'm sure you've heard people say, "I don't care how much evidence you have, I have faith and I'll never stop believing in God." You've probably also heard people say, "Evolution isn't true because the Bible says God created the world in 7 days." These people will deny any fact in order to cling to their beliefs. They are not willing to change their minds. Period.

Denialism can be very dangerous for the individual and for society. By pretending that problems don't exist, it's easy to forget the hard-won lessons of the past. By pretending a horrible disease is behavior-based rather than rooted in germ theory, it's easy to demonize and persecute those who have the disease. By pretending that all vaccines are dangerous and do no good, millions of people become at risk for diseases that long should have been eradicated.

Let me be clear here: there is nothing wrong with questioning established claims or challenging the evidence that we accept regarding them. That's actually an important part of the scientific process. But once the jury is out and all your questions have been answered,  you have a duty to change your mind and accept the evidence. If you persist in disbelief and continue to throw mud seeing what will stick, you've become a denier. 

Ultimately, it comes down to whether you want to live a life of truth or falsehoods. Denial is for those who want to cling to falsehoods no matter what. It's easy to fall into, especially when the belief you hold is very important to you. No one is immune so we must always be vigilant and continue to go wherever the evidence leads.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Personhood's appeal to emotion

I have never been really good at expressing myself. I blame my upbringing and the mind conditioning I was subjected to. At the very early age of 4 yrs. old, if memory serves, I was taught and would practice vigorously a brief presentation for a religious tract. This in itself was a very effective tool used by the ministry of the Jehovah's Witnesses and many other religions as well. I mean, seriously, if a little boy/girl around 4-5 years old came up to you and asked you, "Would you like to live forever on earth in peace and harmony with no fear of sickness or death?" how could you not listen to them and respond in any way, shape or form? Whether it was complete politeness or true heartfelt curiosity, the message was in fact delivered and it was in your mind stewing quietly and provoking some thought on the matter.

 However, one thing that I did manage to take away from all that was the ability to ask people (complete strangers even) some very thought provoking questions in a way that would make them think and, hopefully, start a conversation. I am, however, a little out of practice with going door-to-door and asking these questions, but I have it within myself to use if I should so need to. So exactly were am I going with this? Well, that's a question I had to actually ask myself. Literally, I had to stop typing and recollect my thoughts because I was thinking about one subject when I started and was thinking about 3 different ways I could go from here. (I blame Tweenky for that since, meeting her, she has encouraged me to be myself, express myself, think about the subject matter beyond its surface and read books on skepticism. I have been asking questions from a very young age, but never got answers that made any sense or was told, "'Cause I said so." Now I can find the answers myself and question without fear or disapproval - after all, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," right?)

Ok, so I can get back on track now. The main item I wanted to discuss was the "heartstrings effect". This is something I have been guilty of at a very young age but completely oblivious to it until recently. I have to admit it is a very effective method and it is widely use throughout our daily lives. Now it infuriates me when people use these tactics to mislead or misinform others. Prime example is when any pro-life ad or statement mentions something about "tearing a baby apart" or similar phrases. I mean, come on, really, that is in reference to a procedure used some 30 years ago. The idea and image it puts in your mind makes you have feelings of disgust, sympathy for the baby and outrage that this happens at all. So I ask you all, when you hear someone quoting such bullshit or see it in an article online, call them on it. Help show the rest of the crowd, that seem to act like mindless sheep, that the facts are greatly exaggerated and show them where they can find the truth of the matter. Please help by getting them to look up the information themselves and help educate everyone. There are so few of us out there right now calling them on their bullshit and we can only do so much, but with one person showing a few and a few showing a dozen the numbers grow exponentially and we become a better educated nation as we should be. This in turn will make it harder for them to pull this crap and make them actually own up to what they claim. Seriously though, I'm not immune either - if I'm ever guilty of spewing just flagrant bull, call me on it. I promise to be the bigger person and admit I was wrong, retract a statement and give credit to who ever called me on it. I know my shit stinks just like the next person but i'm not the one blaming the girl down the road for it.

Today, through the use of modern medicine the D&X procedure seems even more barbaric because now we have access to pills that can prevent implantation before sex and even after with "Plan B." So why continue to use this reference to a 30 year old procedure that they are fully aware of is no longer used, except in the rare occasion of a late term complication and there are no other options? It all about the heartstrings: if they can get you emotionally involved, you will be more willing to follow whatever course they have laid out for you. Even if that course leads you down a road that will strip women of their rights in all matters concerning their own bodies. But that's just it, we have so many other options today than we did back then. If the proposed "personhood" amendments are allowed to continue they will eventually reduce all these options drastically.

The recent upsurging push to bring "personhood" up for debate actually hasn't been a debate really at all. They have just skipped the debate and pushed for it to be voted on and even with a ballot initiative failure they now have people in positions to start pushing it in the legislature. Twice now personhood was defeated in 2008, 2010 in Colorado, even recently 2011 in Mississippi it failed by 58%.  In fact, there are several presidential candidates that have mentioned something in line with personhood, banning birth control, etc.

Really? Since when does the majority of the people not have a final say on a matter that affects them directly. This is just like a small child that ask mommy,  "Can I go outside?" "No, dear, it's too dangerous out there!" only to have the child to go ask daddy the same question hoping for a different answer. That is another issue for another blog post in the near future.

When it comes to these heartstrings attempts, I can see their usefulness. That doesn't mean I  condone using it when you're misleading someone to believe lies and half-truths. They are most effective when telling a story and the need for you to become emotionally involved helps you understand the feeling of the words. Take for example the following:

I was recently talking with a few friends about our work involving personhood and what lies we have exposed and such. When, out of the blue, a close friend who rarely gets involved with such things says "What the fuck, are you serious? The government wants to take away my wife and daughter's rights and force them them to continue to carrying the baby should they happen to get raped by some diseased infested, honky, wet-back, nigga?"

Needless to say, I was taken aback. Here is a self-proclaimed Christian, born and raised in the South, and has some hidden racism that I had never heard from him before. It did surprise me but he never expressed anything like that before until it became something that hit him emotionally. Then I thought about what he was saying without the racism involved. He was not only upset that his loved ones would be forced to carry a child of rape and in his mind the rapist could have been of any race but that they were diseased-infested as well.

The very idea that you could be forced to endure a pregnancy from rape is indeed appalling when there are options available. For him to convey that emotio,n he had to imagine the worst possible man and describe him to us. Whether they are diseased-infested, drug-addicted or one of those guys from "The Hills Have Eyes," it's a very emotional picture he painted in words. The difference is he was expressing his opinion as opposed to these pro-life ad or articles that are misleading people as they are describing a 30 year old procedure that is rarely used unless, as stated before, there is a late term complication and all other options have been exhausted.

So again, please call them on their bullshit - don't stand in it and let them mislead your friends and family.

The Triad of Belief: Pt. 1 - Skepticism

We make hundreds of decisions every day. Most are not very important but some can have profound effects on our lives and the lives of others. If we took the time to scrutinize every single claim we encounter, we'd never get anything done. That's why it's vital that we have a reliable mechanism in place for discerning plausible statements from implausible statements.

Take a look at this line:

Where do you fall on this line when the subject is religion? The holocaust? UFO sightings? Vaccines? Climate change? 2012 apocalypse? Nostradamus? AIDS? Bigfoot? Evolution?

Different people fall into different categories, of course. We tend to slide along this scale depending on the subject being discussed.

Today I want to focus on skepticism because I believe this is the best, most accurate way to judge all claims. This is the dot I try to stay closest to and I do my best to apply it to every area of my life. 

Let me define skepticism in a simple way as, "Following the evidence wherever it leads." I am not invested in the outcome but in the process. Put another way, I care less about the answer itself than in using the right method to get an answer. I use two sayings to whittle down everything quickly and, I hope, efficiently.

1. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." - Carl Sagan
2. "The simplest explanation is probably the best one." - Occam's Razor

Let's see how these work. 

Jake calls me up and says:

Wow, there is a terrible wreck on Hwy. 78! A truck overturned and several cars skidded into it. Several people are dead and many more hurt.

This is a tragic story but it's quite plausible. There are no extraordinary claims here because trucks overturn every day. Wrecks happen every day. People died or are injured in wrecks every single day. The law of large numbers makes it very reasonable for such a pile up to happen on Hwy. 78 today. I am highly inclined to accept this story at face value.

But what if Jake calls me up and says this?

Wow, there is a terrible wreck on Hwy. 78! An alien spacecraft ran a truck off the road and it caused a huge pileup!

Now I have a problem - what's the likelihood that an alien spacecraft appeared and did this? Is this something that verifiably happens every day? Even some days? Of course not! This is highly extraordinary so I'm going to need to see some proof. I need to see video of this, debris from the spacecraft, and hear eyewitness testimony at the very least.

Now what if Jake calls me up and says this?

Wow, there's a terrible wreck on Hwy. 78! An alien spacecraft ran a truck off the road. The truck's cargo spilled out and it was all zombies!! They started preying on the injured people and now they are spreading out into the city to attack everyone. I heard that the people who were bitten are rising as zombies too now. We're doomed!

At this point, I'm very concerned for Jake and I wonder if he is well. That story is highly implausible, even more so than the second story. These things haven't happened before and it's so improbable that they could ever happen. In order to believe this story, I need to see all the evidence for the alien spacecraft as well as the evidence for the zombie hordes. 

Now these stories sound ridiculous to most of us but think about the claims you hear every day. Claims about invisible sky gods, claims about magic weight loss products, claims about perfect balance, claims about boosting your immune system, claims about extraterrestrial communication, claims about fascinating creatures that no one else has managed to verify.

We live with claims like this all the time - especially marketing claims on TV. The best way I've found to stay relatively safe is to be skeptical of all of them. Being skeptical doesn't mean you necessarily dismiss them out of hand. It doesn't mean being a killjoy. What it means is that you wait for further evidence before making a decision. It's the logical thing to do really.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An Article of Faith

The other Baptist Record article that I want to tell you about is called, "The Impossibility of Christmas." As you recall, my mother had given me a copy of this publication in one of my gift boxes for Christmas and had marked three articles for me to read. This article caught my eye because it was timely and the headline smacked of truth.

The author, William Perkins, claims (quite rightly, I think) that the literal Christmas story would be incredibly difficult, almost impossible, to believe by a person who relied on scientific evidence. These are the points that he brings out to stress the implausibility of the tale:

1. The Bible is an ancient text based on oral traditions and tales that cannot be confirmed.

2. The Bible makes predictions based on personal revelation.

3. The greatest Biblical prophecy, that of the Messiah, was fulfilled in a poor Jewish bastard child (I use the word deliberately because, if the story is literally true, Jesus was conceived out of wedlock) that nobody really ever understood.

People wouldn't believe just any book they picked up that made such ridiculous claims. Why do they automatically assume that these assertions have more authority simply because they come from the Bible? The author will tell us why once he's finished listing the other questions that any sane, rational person would ask:

1. How can a virgin female, one who has engaged in no sex acts of any kind, get pregnant and give birth?

2. What kind of genetic makeup would the child of such a birth have? Would it have only 23 chromosomes? Sexually, it would have inherited an X chromosome from virgin mom but there would be no Y chromosome from the other side so how could such a creature be male? Could it even be human?

3. How did mom survive a trip to Bethlehem on a donkey when she was so far along? How did the newborn survive?

4. What time of year was it anyway? We don't really know for sure.

5. Why should be place any weight on Joseph's dream? People have crazy dreams all the time. When they start believing in those dreams and basing their relationships and future around them, we put them in mental institutions. Why was Joseph exempt from this critique?

Perkins finishes his list with this question, "No reasonable explanation can be found in science for the impossible circumstances surrounding Jesus' birth, so why should we believe the Bible account?

Why indeed? Why should a reasonable person believe any of that is true? Perkins gives us the answer in one simple word: Faith.

Hebrews 11:1 defines "faith" and I want to share with you a few different translation:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (King James Version)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (New International Version)

Faith is what makes real the things we hope for. It is proof of what we cannot see. (Easy-to-Read Version)

It's hard for me to come away with anything more than the kind of assurance we hear in books like The Secret. Faith is the practice of believing in something without any evidence and doing it so hard and for so long that one's wish will eventually come true.

As a skeptic, I can't accept faith as a reason to do anything- especially make important life decisions regarding who I love, who I am intimate with, what kind of health care I choose, and how I treat my fellow humans. I simply cannot use faith as a tool for living because it is irrational and immoral to me. It is irresponsible. It is unhelpful.

My mother has told me on a few occasions that she is fuzzy on the evidence for the Bible but that she doesn't need to know it because her belief is based on faith. I understand why she has chosen that path. It's a safe path for her and it helps her cope with life. But I believe she is wrong about the nature of faith and I cannot follow her down a road I know to be false.

Perkins tells us to forget all the questions he listed and just have faith. He asks me to be intellectually lazy and morally irresponsible. I won't do it. I have too much integrity to be faithful.

Anyone who scoffs at New Age thinking, The Secret, and such but reveres faith in the Bible has a lot of explaining to do to me because, for the life of me, I cannot understand.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Look Back - N. Piccolo

Well, here it is the ever dreaded 2012 - end of the world scares shall begin hence forth. Pfft, whatever this "End of The World" has been talked about for last 100+ years.  People say "but we have the Mayan Calender." Oh that's nice, I have the new " Logical Thinking" calender and it has a few pictures. We have all year to debate that issue so I'd like to take a look back at last year and reflect a few key events that made last year special to us here at DFFT.

On a personal note last January 1, 2011, I celebrated my 2nd sober New Years in 12+ years by sleeping in with Tweenky. At the end of the month I took Tweenky out for an authentic Italian dinner in Gulfport, MS at Pasta Italia Trattoria. About half way through our salad, Tweenky suffered a severe nose bleed and we ended up in the hospital. There we discovered that she had high blood pressure which resulted in a posterior tear in her nasal cavity, but the high blood pressure was caused by her being pregnant...... Yes I said pregnant, something I was told previously some years ago would be impossible for me after sustaining an injury and some painful swelling. Nevertheless, the results came back positive and she was approximately 21-22 weeks and it was a boy. We were both surprised, scared, excited and lost to say the least. Neither of us had planned on ever having kids - it was something I once longed for but had been denied early on in life, thus given up on. Tweenky had decided that she hadn't had any yet and just didn't really think she wanted to have any as she got older.

It was about a week later when I got up for work and she said she was having trouble seeing; in fact she had gone completely blind for a few minutes and then the seizures happened. I had managed to get her into the car when she came back around and we headed straight to the hospital where she had 2 more seizures in the ER. After finally getting her stable, they tried 3-4 different times and with different equipment to find and check the baby's heartbeat. The ER doctor took me outside and said, "There's no heartbeat or movement and we are moving her to labor and delivery." I felt my world stop, fall around me, and there was nothing else around me except Tweenky. After calling family on both sides, I stayed at her side while the ob-gyn ran tests. It was within a half hour the doctor confirmed that our son had in fact died, but that was only part of the problem. Tweenky was suffering a severe type of pre-eclampsia called HELLP Syndrome, symptoms of DIC and her kidneys were barely functioning. Her platelet count had dropped to almost 30,000; it should be around 250-300,000. This meant surgically removing our son (which would stop the DIC and release from the HELLP syndrome) was not an option and she would have to perform a vaginal birth. Tweenky fell in and out of consciousness 3 times after being moved to the ICU. I know that it was 3 times because, when she would come around and ask what was going on, I had to tell her that we lost the baby each time. The doctors came to me with paper work for a blood transfusion and other life-saving permissions, I signed them all without hesitation. I wanted them to do everything imaginably possible to save her. All the while they were telling us to plan for the worst. Thankfully, she was given prostaglandin suppositories to induce labor; otherwise, she would continue to slowly die from our dead son who was now becoming septic to her body. I spent the next week at her side in the hospital as she slowly recovered. Though she suffered seizures, there wasn't any permanent damage. Personal care, medicine for high blood pressure and depression would be a constant fixture for a long while. I quit my job in Biloxi and we moved  just north of Tupelo, MS, to be closer to family.

I started up my own company and this allowed us to work around "Our" schedule. Having more free time, we took time for ourselves and went to Lake Hypatia in Talledega, AL, in July and met with other freethinkers,  atheists, and agnostics. We met people from all over the south and a few from far reaches of the US - even Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. But only 3 people were from MS and we were 2 of them. This was a thought-provoking experience as we talked to and heard from several others about their podcasts, web sites, blogs, and other activities they were engaged in. It was invigorating and inspiring at the same time. "We could do this!" or "We should do this!" were constant conversation pieces over the next few months.

August, hot as usual and not just from the weather, this was the first we had heard about "Amendment 26" and it was a close and personal subject that struck a nerve with us both so deep that, by the first week of September, the Deep Fried Free Thinkers was born. We stumbled into existence and were soon into a full sprint. We joined every group we could find that was against this insane, bible-driven amendment and put all of our energy into getting the word out to everyone any way we could. By the time the election was over and the amendment defeated, we had joined 10 Facebook groups, produced 21 videos, 50 blog posts, and it wasn't over.

We continued covering issues like Phil Bryant and his "Satan wins" and thwarting AFA attempts to continue personhood by making counter videos and exposing their lies every chance we got. All the while, we were searching every state for more groups that are in opposition to personhood and letting them know of national groups like Americans Against Personhood and Parents Against Personhood. Hoping that by having national groups, more people would get informed and stand up against it.

What started out as the worst possible year of our lives has turned into a fun adventure in the end. We have learned a great deal and have so much more to discover. Even after 5 podcasts, 35 videos, and 64 blog posts, there is still so much for us to learn and teach as well. We look forward to reading every email, comment, and article that is sent to us and replying to as many as possible.

Thank you all from the bottoms of our hearts, for all your support and words of encouragement, without which the DFFT would be all for naught.

Thank you,

Nathan Piccolo and Tweenky Dee

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mom, Mohler, and Hitchens

We had a lovely Christmas this year, my first year as being an out atheist to my family. No one brought it up and no one seemed to care overmuch. It simply wasn't important to our family celebration...at least, on the outside.

On the inside, I know my mom cares very deeply and that she deals with the truth by pretending it doesn't exist most of the time. I have learned to accept that because how she copes with that truth is not my responsibility. 

Nevertheless, I was quite proud of how she dealt with things at Christmas. I knew deep down she had some things to say but I did not know if, or how, she'd say them. Based on the past, I could have expected that she might make pointed jabs or make some kind of scene. She didn't do that and I'm very proud of her for it. What she did do is include in one of my gift boxes a copy of The Baptist Record with some articles marked that might be "of interest." I'm actually quite fine with this approach because it's far more adult than what I've come to expect and I enjoy reading religious publications because they give me something to consider.

And so it was with this issue of the paper. The third article was a large, 3/4 page write-up on the death of Christopher Hitchens. It gave a little background about him and his "new atheism." It quoted a few religious folks who were mostly oozing with sympathy and sorrow over his demise. But it was the tweet by Alfred Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, that really caught my eye:

The death tonight of Christopher Hitchens is an excruciating reminder of the consequences of unbelief. We can only pray others will believe. The point about Christopher Hitchens is not that he died of unbelief, but that his unbelief is all that matters now. Unspeakably sad.

The first thing that grabbed me was this idea that Hitchens died because of unbelief. Notice Mohler didn't say he died "in unbelief" but "of unbelief." There's a big difference there that's worth mentioning. Mohler seems to suggest that Hitchens' death was directly attributable to his unbelief in the Christian god. Did he mean that only unbelievers die of cancer? Surely not. That's demonstrably false. Did he mean that unbelievers die because they aren't praying? Surely not. That's stupid and false as well. So what exactly did Mohler mean by his statement?

Second, is this idea that only Hitchens' unbelief matters now. That seems to really wrap up the fundamentalist Christian viewpoint to me. No matter what you did in life, it's only what you believed on your deathbed that counts. Hitchens spent his entire life examining the world and sharing with us what he saw in it. Most of the time I think he was spot on. Sometimes I wondered what he was smoking. But I never doubted for one second that he wasn't brutally honest and passionate. Yet none of that matters to believers like Mohler. Nothing Hitchens did in his life is worth anything - it's only the fact that he died in unbelief and is now in Hell. What a degrading and disgusting dogma!

If my mom wonders why I can't accept Christianity in general and the Southern Baptist denomination in particular, she need look no farther than that one article to know why. I do not believe that there are any tyrannical deities in the sky waiting to punish us for the most trivial of offenses and neither do I believe that the sum of our lives is no more than whether we got one answer right or wrong at the end. I find that to be vile doctrine, cruel and stupid, that I can never again adhere to. I would rather die now as a person of honesty, passion, and dignity like Hitchens than to live a full lifetime of irresponsible musings, blind faith, and the pale immorality that Mohler espouses.