Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beat the Heat and Beyond

After 6 long weeks, we can finally say that DFFT, through the donations of many generous nonbelievers, have "Beat the Heat." What began as "an idea in the car in the driveway" morphed into a full kindness campaign that we hope will continue for many years.

At first, we thought this would be simple: we'd ask for donations, buy a couple of air conditioners, find out who needed them, and then provide them. Things turned out to be much more complicated.

First, we had zero luck getting any local help. Everybody claimed it was a great thing to do but nobody had any real desire to do the work. It seems people around here - even churches - are very skeptical about helping others who aren't of their own flock. Everybody talked a good game but when it came down to actually giving their money, they weren't willing. 

Second, we had a really hard time tracing the Community Action group that had the list of folks in need. The phone number in the original article was wrong and, when we got the right one, it was for a different group. We spent a lot of time calling all over northeast Mississippi trying desperately to find out which organization could help us. When we finally found Community Action, we took the time to vet them. They are part of a government program to help elderly, disabled, and low income families. They screen people to prevent fraud and, because they are federally funded, they do not discriminate against any person for race, religion, etc. They told us that they have lots of requests because the local Good Samaritan and Salvation Army don't provide enough help. By this time, we were thoroughly unsurprised.

There was a light at the end of this long tunnel, however. We ended up with a ton more money than we had thought we would thanks to the Friendly Atheist and his wonderful community. These people came out of the woodwork to donate to the cause and, because of their efforts, we were able to buy seven air conditions instead of just one or two. To Hemant and his readers, we thank you so much for trusting us to make the lives of the poor and elderly just a little bit better.

Here are the seven brand new air conditioners we purchased with the donated funds:

We had some money left over so we decided to go shopping and see what else we could put together for donation. This is what we found:

It may not look like much, but this is enough file folders, notebooks, pencils, and hand sanitizer for 40 kids. There are also about 20 rulers in this pack. No child should have to start school without the basic stuff! 

We still had money left over after we grabbed every notebook and folder off those shelves so we went to another store and found some discount medical supplies. We decided to make some little first aid kits.

Just some basics here: alcohol, band-aids, aspirin, antibiotic ointment, and some OTC allergy relief. Not perfect but just what a Mississippian needs going into school and flu season!

So here's the financial breakdown of this campaign:

We're so pleased with how this campaign went that we want to do more of this. And that brings me to some really great news: this campaign has given birth to the Northeast Mississippi Secular Humanist Association (NEMSHA). We are in our infancy stage with only 4 members right now but we want to continue this charitable work in our area and to promote education and secular values. If you live in the Northeast Mississippi area and are interested in participating, please send an email to

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Get the Lead Out, Alex Jones

I listened to 5 minutes of Alex Jones on the radio last night - 5 precious minutes that I will never get back. I don't know which "expert" he was talking with but I knew as soon as he trotted out the old "Fluoride lowers your IQ" study, that this guy was scientifically illiterate.

As if to confirm my hypothesis, this "expert" then started talking about how we need "a little" arsenic and lead in our bodies. He finished up this dangerous nonsense with the statement, "Our DNA is made of lead."

Lead is Pb on the Element Table. Here's a photo of it on the chart:


Now, here is a picture of DNA. See if you can spot the Pb in there:

Image: Scientific Psychic
Nope, I couldn't either. Whoever that guy was doesn't know diddly squat about biochemistry. Furthermore, this is his 3-step plan to cure sickness. When you contract an illness, do these things:

1.) Fire your doctor.
2.) Sign up for his website/newsletter.
3.) Buy their natural supplements 

Why do this? Because "healing is easy," folks. You don't need any science. Just pop some quacko vitamins and everything will be o-tay.

I am not going to sit here and claim that the pharmaceutical companies are saints. We know they can be very corrupt and, at times, even unsafe. But if you think quackery is a good alternative to science, you're just wrong. It's bad enough that quacks make statements that are scientifically wrong but then they want to sell your their overpriced, unregulated shit on top of that. You cannot guarantee the content or purity of anything that is not FDA approved: homeopathic remedies are mostly just sugar water and those vitamins you take could have any level of any substance in them and you'd never know until it started making you sick.

It's great to look for things that you can do to naturally improve your health (like moderate diets and exercise) but you're taking a huge risk with this kind of quackery - an industry that has so little regard for truth that they will even tell you that your DNA is made of lead in order to sell a subscription and some pills.

Let the buyer beware indeed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Doctor Who Is My God

One of the last, great tenets that Christianity doggedly holds onto is the idea that all morality must come from God. Far better writers than I have demolished this notion but I want to speak to the idea myself. You see, my tongue seems to have gotten lodged in my cheek today and my snark factor is high. That said, I have a confession to make to all theists: my morality does indeed come from God...and Doctor Who is my God.

I wish to share my faith with you today which is based on my own version of "The Ten Whomandments" and is backed with the authority of 35 years of study and devotion. It goes a little something like this:

***spoilers ahead***

1. Never resort to violence first... How many times have we seen the Brigadier pull out a gun only to be told, "This isn't the way."? How many times have we seen the Doctor refuse to carry a firearm, much less use it. As he says in The Hand of Fear, "I think we should try much older weapons...speech, diplomacy...conversation." We don't have to tackle everyone and everything in life with all our guns blazing. Many times the simple, gentle approach is enough. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

2. ...but be prepared to make tough choices when all else fails. No matter how strong our morals or high-minded our purpose, some people will not work with us and will, in fact, do whatever they can to tear us down. The Tenth Doctor made a point of always giving the bad guys the option to stop hurting people and leave but he was prepared to deal with them when they refused. It's a sad fact but some people can't be reasoned with and they won't stop their destructive behavior. When this happens, we must make tough choices and be ready to accept the consequences of those decisions. Dealing harshly with others should never rest lightly on our shoulders.

3. The ends don't justify the means. We can become the monsters we hate. In Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor had the option to destroy the Daleks before they became a widespread menace. He could not do it. If he committed genocide, he would have been a mass murderer just like them. Likewise, in Survival, he lamented his struggle with the Master saying, "If we fight like animals, we'll die like animals!" This was literally true but holds metaphorically too - when we choose the methods of our enemies, we become our enemies. What's the point of eliminating a threat if, in the process, we become just as vicious and corrupt?

4. Emotion is not a weakness. The Cybermen taunted the Doctor in almost every episode for having emotions that would not allow him to see his companions suffer. Yet the Doctor always maintained that his emotions were not weakness but rather a strength that made life worth living. In Earthshock he says, "For some people, small, beautiful events is what life is all about." It would be tempting for those of us with impaired emotions to buy into the Cybermen's idea that our feelings are a liability because they cripple us and make us vulnerable. Certainly, many of us have felt vulnerable or been manipulated because of our emotions. But the Doctor is right - emotion is what makes us human and gives us such wonderful things as love, compassion, and motivation. Our capacity for altruism and our ability to empathize help us form relationships deeper than any other animal could conceive of.

5. You can't save everybody. I love the Doctor's conviction that, "Nobody dies today!" It would be wonderful if we could save the world and always make things right. But the real world isn't like that. Not even the Doctor can always assure a perfect outcome. Over his life he has lost a few companions: Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Rory Williams (although he came back to life) but no loss was probably more devastating than that of Adric. We're so used to seeing our heroes always save the day so it was quite a shock to see the Doctor watching helplessly and in horror as the Earthshock freighter collided with Earth taking Adric with it. As the credits rolled in silence against the backdrop of his broken star, I realized that no one is immune to suffering and death and no one can save us all. No matter how hard we try, we can't fix everything and we can't fix everyone. Sometimes decisions have consequences and those are out of our hands.

6. It's ok to be different. The Doctor has encountered all shapes, sizes, colors, and kinds of creatures in his travels and he tends to treat them all with respect. Whatever stance he takes is based on their actions and not on their particular race. Likewise, he treats our beloved bi-sexual Captain Jack Harkness the same as he treats anyone else. He even allows Jack to hug him and give him a kiss without going nuts about it. The Doctor is secure in his identity and has no need to torment others simply for being different.

7. There is always a rational explanation. Magic is high-tech science, gods are powerful aliens. The devil - well, we don't really know what that thing in The Satan Pit is but it's bound to make sense one day. In Robots of Death, the Doctor quips, "Nothing is inexplicable, only unexplained." This attitude keeps us searching for answers in a world where answers aren't always easy to come by. And it reminds us that the authoritative, "easy" answers we've been given may not always be the right ones. Rather than have the arrogance of one who thinks he has all the answers, it's far better to admit that we really know only a little about our world and we will unapologetically continue to search for the truth.

8. Megalomania sucks. There is no shortage of creatures out there who want to "rule the universe" though I suspect most of them wouldn't know what to do with it if they had it. Lust for power tends to become an uncontrollable, consuming force whether one wishes to dominate a galaxy or just a conversation. Take Davros for example: his quest for power scarred him both inside and out. Not only did he lose his eyes, legs, and one hand but he also lost his capacity for empathy and genuine relationships. He became dependent on "lesser" creatures and, ultimately, on his own creation (the Daleks) who despised him. Megalomania might look cool on TV for a while but it has ugly consequences. If you want to control everyone in your home, your workplace, or your community then be prepared. People may fear you but they won't love you. They won't even really respect you. And there will always be those who are looking for your weakness and will take you down given the slightest opportunity. Piss off enough people and it's guaranteed that you won't be able to hold that power for long no matter how smart you are or how well you've done for yourself. Nobody likes a control freak.

9. Everyone has value. In The End of Time, the Doctor has to make a choice: he can surrender his life to save an old man or he can walk away and just let the guy die. He rages against this choice saying, "...look at you, not remotely important...but me? I could do so much more! So much more! But this is what I get. My reward." In a moment of self-awareness, he realizes that he has gone too far, he's lost a vital part of himself to his own pain and fury. He is not the man he thought he was. But here was one simple human who needed help...a person of value. The Doctor sacrifices himself to save this man saying, "Wilfred, it's my honor..." We likely won't ever be called on to give our lives for another person but what if we took the time to try to see the value in others? What if we struggled with our own faults before mindlessly searching them out elsewhere? What if our honor depends on being true to our principles, especially when it's no longer convenient?

10. Life can be fun no matter your destination. Most of us are not where we want to be and many of us will never get to see and do the things we've dreamed about. But that's ok. The Doctor reminds us in Kinda that, "...there's always something to see if you keep your eyes open." It's just as well that he holds to this philosophy because we know he rarely ends up where he plans. That's just part of the fun for him, though. No matter where he goes or who he travels with, he knows he will find excitement and adventure because his mind is open to new possibilities. Some of us don't get to travel too far but the world around us holds more mystery than we can possibly comprehend.  Don't be afraid to explore your reality. You don't have to understand it all in order to enjoy it. Let life knock your socks off every once in a while! Be amazed and share that with a friend.

Why are you still here? The universe is waiting!

*This post is reprinted from my old blog in its entirety and, of course, with my permission.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Invitation to All Persecuted Mississippi Christians

I read today's letter to the Daily Corinithian with great interest. Donny H. Davis of Rienzi laments the divisions between Christian denominations and encourages all Christians to band together against "the Enemy." This isn't altogether odd except that when he says "enemy," he isn't just talking about Ol' Nick (Satan). He clearly describes two kinds of enemies who are taking over America and persecuting Christians:

1. Those who "seek to destroy Christianity."

2. The government who has sided with #1.

According to Davis, anyone who practices a different religion from Christianity is an anti-christ and, therefore, an enemy of Christians. That means the American government and every single American who dares not to be Christian is an anti-christ and an enemy. Strong language, eh? Davis fears that a day is coming where Christians will be thrown into American prisons if they don't band together now and ... what exactly he hopes to accomplish is a thing of my nightmares, I guess.

So here's my open invitation to the poor persecuted Christians of Mississippi:

Please post comments here and tell us about the time you were fined or jailed for going to church. Tell us about the time your church was fire-bombed or some non-Christian came in and started shooting. Tell us how federal agents burst into your home and arrested you for praying. Tell us how groups of vigilante atheists, Muslims, Jews, or Buddhists dragged you out of your house and beat you in front of your wife and kids. Tell us how you were denied a job or refused a promotion because you dared to admit that you're a Christian. Tell us how vandals spray painted graffiti on your house and broke out the windows because your religion is so unpopular. Tell us about all the death threats you've received because you had to file a lawsuit preventing the local school from forcing your kid to face east and pray toward Mecca. Tell us your stories.

Oh wait, you can't do that because you're all lying sacks of whining crap. You have an undeniable position of privilege and power in the United States, especially in the South. You've never had to worry about anything on a Sunday more than whether or not there would be fresh food still out on the buffet if the preacher went a little over noon. You've been petted and pampered by our culture with undeserved deference, tax breaks, and boons yet you dare to call yourself persecuted.

Your brothers and sisters overseas who are busting their asses to spread the gospel put you to shame. They are in foreign countries suffering from disease, hiding in basements to study the Bible, and running from bombs yet you think that somehow you should get to play the martyr instead. You're a real piece of work and your attitude disgusts me.

We non-Christians don't want to take over the world and wipe out Christianity. We just want equal rights to practice our beliefs (or not practice any belief). We want equality - not superiority. But I suspect on some level you already know that. You just can't stand the idea of living in a world where not everyone is just like you.

So for all the Donny Davises of the world, listen up: the next time you want to cry persecution and play the martyr, take a look at the picture up there of that little girl. She was burned in a fire-bombing because she's a Christian. What the fuck has happened to you lately?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Intro and Profession of Reason

So I've been a part of the team here for a few weeks and have been trying to figure out how I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Dante, and I've been friends with Tweenky D and Nathan Piccolo for awhile now. Although I've left the deep south for greener pastures, I still stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters back home fighting the fight for humanist values.

When Tweenky asked me if I wanted to contribute to DFFT, I was conflicted, as I often keep to myself and don't often put myself out in the public forum. But after tossing it around, I started to like the idea more and more, and, well... here I am.

Like Tweenky and Nathan, I'm originally from Mississippi. I spent the better part of 30 years there. I don't think I was ever actually religious; my parents were never the churchgoing types. But some of my close family were deeply religious, as was most of my community, so there was a strong push to conform. I flirted with Christianity a couple of times, but could never quite find satisfactory answers to my questions. I was conflicted for many years; my parents had always taught me to question, and I had loved science ever since I received a book on astronomy as a child. I even flirted with Wicca in the vain hopes of impressing a lady I had my eye on, but that worked about as well as you might expect.

As a teenager, I was as credulous as anyone: I believed in ghosts and UFOs and psychic powers. To this day I'm not entirely sure why, but the idea of hidden knowledge... knowing things that most people didn't... was a powerful lure into the world of woo. The irony here was that Carl Sagan was a hero of mine at this age, but I never quite made the leap during my younger days.

It was not until I had met my wife and begun to stand on my own two feet that I truly started down the path to skepticism and freethought. I had entered my final dance with Christianity and was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of answers; evolution made sense to me, the Bible didn't. Big bang cosmology made sense, the Bible didn't. And so, over a period of about a year, I began to purge myself of any beliefs that couldn't stand up to the light of scrutiny.

Some time after this, I found the online skeptical community and ever since I have thrown myself in with this crowd; above ALL else, I identify as a skeptic first and foremost. This has been a vital step in my path to atheism and humanism.

Now, nearly ten years later, I find myself still regularly challenging myself, still submitting my beliefs to the crucible of reason. It's not always a comfortable process, but it's the only way I can be honest with myself.

I'm not exactly sure what I will talk about here. I'm am interested in a dizzying array of topics; my academic training is in computer science and mathematics, and I'm currently working as a computer security researcher, but in general I am interested in almost anything, from physics to economics to military history. I hope I can offer something unique to DFFT and not make Nathan and Tweenky regret offering me this spot. :)

I want to end this with a Profession of Reason: what I believe, in no particular order.

  • I believe that the scientific method is the only way we can truly understand reality and the world around us. 
  • I believe that authority is to be distrusted and questioned. Respect should be earned by those in power and not freely given. A title, name, or fancy hat does not command respect or obedience.
  • I believe that everyone has value, from the greatest king to the lowliest pauper. Society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.
  • I believe that women are human beings and should be treated as such. Feminism is not a dirty word.
  • I believe that race is an absurd concept and has no scientific validity. The color of ones skin should never be a proxy for ones abilities.
  • I believe that everyone has the right to love freely, regardless of their sexual preference. Consenting adults should be able to marry in whatever arrangements they choose.
  • I believe that transgender people should be treated with dignity and respect. 
  • I believe that dogma should not be tolerated. Skepticism and critical thinking should be encouraged, not snuffed out. It is never wrong to question.
  • I believe that everyone has a right to their own beliefs and to freely speak their mind. They do not have the right to enforce their beliefs on others, nor do they have the right to go uncriticized for shooting their mouth off. 
  • I believe that the free market is a powerful tool that can provide both limitless opportunity and devastating harm. The free market is not perfect, and should not be treated as such. We should help those who fall through the cracks or are harmed by the market's ruthlessness. 
  • And most importantly, I believe that there is so much I don't know, and so much that I don't even know I don't know. This has been the hardest, and yet most valuable, lesson of my life. Ignorance in itself is not bad; only willful ignorance.
At any rate, I look forward to posting more and seeing where this experiment goes. Thank you again to my gracious hosts. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Cult of Blood (Southern-Style)

It lurks out there somewhere in the dark - invisible, intangible - waiting for next doomed victim of its rage. It has been at war with humanity since the beginning and will be the author of our ultimate destruction. No one can stand against this monster and no one can escape its wrath unless...unless one covers oneself in the blood of an innocent sacrifice.

This monster is named Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament and the New Testament. And if you think the above paragraph is just so much hyperbole, I invite you to read the Bible and pay close attention to what I'm about to post next.

The central theme of Judaism is that humanity is fallen and Yahweh must have the blood of an unblemished sacrifice to forgive man's sins.

The central theme of Christianity is that humanity is fallen and Yahweh must have the blood of an unblemished sacrifice to forgive man's sins.

In the first case, animals would suffice. In the second, the sacrifice required no less than Yahweh's unblemished son.

Lest you think that these are quaint notions that no longer have any real impact on the faith, let me remind you that Christianity's greatest celebration - the Eucharist or Lord's Supper - is a reenactment of Christ's body being broken and the blood spilling out over mankind. For Catholics, this is literal. For Protestants, it is symbolic. But whether you are a Catholic cannibal or a Protestant pretender, you must realize that the essence of your faith is that you must cover yourself with the sacrificial blood of an innocent victim in order to get a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. For the life of me, I can find nothing decent or moral about such an idea.

This theme is captured and replayed weekly in Southern churches. Most of the hymns I grew up singing were written to celebrate the blood sacrifice made to appease the most bloodthirsty of gods. Here's a sample:

There is power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of the lamb. - Power in the Blood

Nothing can for sin atone. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Not the good that I have done. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. - Nothing but the Blood 

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. - There Is a Fountain

Just as I am without one plea...but that thy blood was shed for me. - Just As I Am

I heard about his groaning, of his precious blood's atoning... - Victory in Jesus

Alas and did my Savior bleed and did my sovereign die. Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I? - At the Cross

There to my heart was the blood applied; Glory to His name! - Down at the Cross

Are you washed in the blood, in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb? - Are You Washed in the Blood

A quick search for "blood" on returns 133 pages of songs about blood and so it should for Christianity is nothing more than a cult of blood sacrifice. And while it might be tempting to think that "Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild" won't hurt your kids, you must realize that your kids are singing hymns about blood sacrifice that tell them they are unclean wretches, worms that deserve death unless they accept the blood sacrifice of another (allegedly) human being. It's right there in the text of the songs. It's right there in the text of the New Testament. 

It's time to lay this blood-sacrificing cult to rest. It is a relic of our primitive nature - a time when we thought blood had magic properties and that the gods were as petty and stupid as we were. It's time to let go of Christianity and embrace reality.