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I’ve got this book finally coming out in August, The Happy Atheist, and I thought I’d tease you with the opening paragraphs.
On any fine morning in rural Minnesota, I can step outside the door of my home and look a few blocks to the southwest and see the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just out of sight behind nearby houses and a few blocks to the west lies the First Lutheran Church. About four blocks to the the east is the Federated Church, the ‘liberal’ church in town. Even closer is the Lutheran Campus Ministry, which serves the university at which I work, and the Newman Center, its Catholic counterpart. Since this is Minnesota, I’ve got fairly fine-grained sectarian choices within Lutheranism that I could make: the First Lutheran Church belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, but I could attend Faith Lutheran Church, which is another member of ELCA, or if I wanted something a bit more conservative, I could attend St Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran church, which belongs to the Wisconsin Synod, or Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. There’s also the Zion Lutheran Church nearby, which belongs to the Missouri Synod.
If I were really broad-minded, I also have a choice of the First Baptist Church, the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Apostolic Christian Church, or the Morris Community Church, which meets in the local high school. I count 15 churches within walking distance of my house; there are no synagogues or mosques, probably because the believers they would prey upon are too thinly populated here to be profitable.
You can see I’m taking a rather personal approach to this religion thing; I’m kind of surrounded. I’ve been to a few of these churches for special events — usually when they bring a creationist into town to harangue the congregation with lies about science, but I haven’t actually attended their regular services. Yet here I am mentioning them in this book (don’t worry, I don’t say rude things about them sight unseen — I only question the need for such excessive godliness), and I’ve been feeling like maybe I ought to do a little more research.
So I’ve decided to start attending church services, a different church each week, all of this summer while I’m in town.
I’m not going to be confrontational, I won’t be leaping up in the middle of a sermon and shouting, “HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?”, I won’t be sneering at the congregation…I’ll just be going to politely observe and take notes. And, of course, discussing the experience here. I’ll be taking an anthropological view, as neutral as I can be. Let’s find out what it’s actually like to be a church-going Christian in a small town in the upper midwest!
So stay tuned. Every Sunday I’ll talk about my local experience.
Very shortly, at 9 central, David Silverman will be interviewed on Minnesota Atheists’ Atheists Talk radio. Call in and give him some support!
Turkey has erupted in demonstrations and protests over the last few days. The precipitating event was an effort to demolish an historic town square to build commercial properties, but it seems to be an expression of long resentment over a corrupt and autocratic leadership, and the growing tension within a country that was founded as a secular nation but is facing a rising Islamist faction. What happens when you try to mix capitalism and theocracy, modernism with traditionalism? We’re finding out.
The scenes carried the symbolic weight of specific grievances: people held beers in the air, a rebuke to the recently passed law banning alcohol in public spaces; young men smashed the windshields of the bulldozers that had begun razing Taksim Square; and a red flag bearing the face of modern Turkey’s secular founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was draped over a destroyed police vehicle.
Many of the protesters, some of whom voted for Mr. Erdogan, said his leadership had become increasingly dictatorial. In a Twitter message late Saturday, Mr. Erdogan appeared to mock the protesters, saying he could mobilize a million people to support him in Taksim Square, while putting the number of protesters at 100,000.
“When he first came to power, he was a good persuader and a good speaker,” said Serder Cilik, 32, who was sitting at a tea shop watching the chaos unfold. Mr. Cilik said he had voted for Mr. Erdogan but would never do so again.
An older man standing nearby, overhearing the conversation, yelled, “Dictator!”
Mr. Cilik, who is unemployed, continued: “He brainwashed people with religion, and that’s how he got the votes. He fooled us. He’s a liar and a dictator.”
I think I love these people. 90 demonstrations in 48 cities, hundreds injured or arrested, two have been killed, all in the face of extreme police action, and they keep on fighting for what is right. They are actually standing against an increasingly authoritarian, conservative, and religious government.
I wish we Americans had that kind of courage.
County agrees to 11th commandment: Fla. atheists get monument, too
A granite display of secular quotes will be erected outside the Bradford County Courthouse opposite a Ten Commandments monument that the American Atheists sued the county over last year. The sponsoring Community Men's Fellowship declined a county ...
Nation's First Atheist Monument Coming to Florida CourthouseOpposing Views
Branson, it's your turn to see God's lawWND.com
all 5 news articles »
Bill Maher: 'I think the pope might be an atheist like I think Obama is'
On Friday's episode of HBO's “Real Time,” host Bill Maher laid out the case that Pope Francis I might be an atheist, based on the pontiff's surprising recent statement that through good works “even the atheists” might meet Christians on the “beautiful ...
It’s from Jill Stanek, so of course it’s twisted. She’s upset that people might consider Jimmy Connors, ex-tennis champ, to be a bit of a sleazebag for writing an autobiography that shames ex-girlfriend Chris Everett for getting an abortion. It seems to me that it was Everett’s private decision, and that Connors needs some greater ethical awareness, but Stanek instead wants to shame Everett for an abortion 30 years ago. So she has a poll, apparently expecting that a majority would agree with her idea that outing people who got abortions is acceptable.
So far, it’s not going her way, despite her misleading phrasing that abortion is “killing a child”.
I wonder if she would consider it legit for a third party to reveal any medical procedure received by a woman?
I’ve tried very hard to see abortion from the perspective of the anti-choicers. The only way I can get even close is by assuming that a fetus is fully, 100% equivalent to a child or adult human being — that there is absolutely nothing to distinguish the fetus from its mother on a moral level. In that case, you could make an argument that the rights and happiness of the fetus deserve consideration — although even in this most optimistic case the best solution you can arrive at is a compromise, not an absolute prohibition of all abortion.
However, the equivalence of mother and fetus is an untenable proposition. A mouse has more complexity and autonomy than a fetus, and we don’t even hesitate when the choice is between the life of a mouse and a human being. We don’t even argue about it. And to argue that a single-celled zygote or even an embryo with a few dozen cells at implantation is anything but a negligible component of any moral equation is utterly absurd. It’s a fantasy of the deeply ignorant, the kind of people who think the babies on Pro-Life Across America billboards are actually accurate representations of the age-specific fetus, to think that there’s something cute, adorable, personable about a self-organizing mass of cells.
So I have to agree, and think the only reasonable conclusion, is reflected in this memorial to Dr George Tiller, the man murdered by an anti-choice fanatic.
Dr. Tiller listened to his patients, he trusted their decisions, and he knew that the people he was helping deserved his ear and his trust. He treated his patients like people (which really shouldn’t be such a radical position but, because of how anti-choicers have shaped the narrative around abortion, it is). He believed that those he helped were more important than the fetus inside of them. That is not a morally-bankrupt position. THAT IS THE MORAL SIDE.
Trusting patients, seeing them as individuals, believing in their abilities to make decisions for their own specific lives: THAT IS THE MORAL SIDE.
Thank you for everything you did, Dr. Tiller. Thank you for everything and everyone you championed. Thank you for risking your life to provide your patients with a safe and legal medical procedure. Thank you for doing so with no regrets, no animosity, no judgement, and no apologies.
You, sir, were a moral man on a moral mission. And I won’t forget it. WE ARE THE MORAL SIDE.
That’s not enough for you? Read the story of Henlek Morgentaler, the man who fought to secure women’s reproductive rights in Canada, and who just recently died.
“The worst, God, I’ll never forget. She was one of our gynecology floor nurses. She’d cared for these girls before and she knew what could happen. She was beautiful, and smart, and kind. One of our best nurses. I was on call when she arrived. She was grey, had a low blood pressure, and a rigid belly. She must have known what that meant as we wheeled her back to the operating room. She was full of pus and so we cleaned her out as best we could. I was the one who called her family. Her father hung up on me.”
He paused and wiped his eyes. “You know Jen, we all took turns sitting with her as she died.”
Oh, hell yes, we are the moral side. Don’t ever forget that when dealing with the amoral side.
Maher: 'The Pope's an Atheist'
BILL MAHER: But, you know, people always say, you know, when somebody says something obvious, “Oh is the Pope Catholic,” I think he might not be. I think the Pope might be an atheist - there, I've said it - like I think Obama is, because he said this ...
Maher: They're going to 'poison' Pope Francis for being too progressiveRaw Story
all 2 news articles »
Another Google+ hangout? I’m all talked out now. This one has me, Ed Brayton, Ophelia Benson, and Russell Glasser just shooting the breeze.
Public Atheist Monument Going Up Near Courthouse In Starke, Florida, Is ...
A small city in heavily Christian northern Florida is about to become home to the first public monument in the United States dedicated to atheism. Florida members of American Atheists, a national advocacy group, plan to erect a 1,500-pound granite ...
Robert Ingersoll, America's Most Famous Forgotten Atheist
A self-educated attorney and atheist, Ingersoll was a Victorian-era rock star who could pack theaters from Texas to New York with people who came from hundreds of miles around to hear “The Great Agnostic” lecture against religion. He was courted by ...
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It confuses me, anyway. But you can contribute to diminishing one bizarre episode by signing this petition to end a smear campaign against John Kieffer and EllenBeth Wachs.
London's Atheist church The Sunday Assembly goes global with new Melbourne ...
Atheist congregation The Sunday Assembly has got five more congregations outside of the Big Smoke, and is even going global now with one new Assembly starting up in Melbourne. Five new Assemblies are due to launch over the summer, with the first in ...
The English Defence League — from all I’ve heard, they sound rather like our Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, hate groups organized solely to propagate stereotypes and stir up anti-Muslim fervor, all in the name of patriotism. They’re apparently planning on stirring up mischief this weekend.
Over this weekend, the violent English Defence League will hold demonstrations in towns and cities across our country, trying to spread their message of hate. By blaming all Muslims for the terrible murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the EDL will attempt to whip up a climate of fear and violence towards the Muslim community in Britain.
They don’t sound like very nice people at all.
At least large numbers of UK citizens are signing this petition to rebuke the EDL’s message of hate. It sounds like a good plan to me, I hope many more of you will do so. We can reject Islamism and the follies of religion without doing harm to people, or demonizing entire ethnic groups.
I think promoting critical thinking and secular ethics in Cambodia (and the world!) is a good idea, and here’s a charity planning to do just that. The Cambodian Children’s Trust (a secular organization) is raising money to teach children ethics and philosophy.
They’ve got backing from Atheist Alliance International, which is going to pay half the cost if they can get seed money from donors like us. Go forth and help build more secular humanist institutions in the world!
Meet Robert Ingersoll, America's most famous forgotten atheist
Meet Robert Ingersoll, the most famous American atheist you've probably never heard of. A self-educated lawyer, Ingersoll was a Victorian-era rock star who could pack theaters from Texas to New York with people who traveled hundreds of miles to hear ...
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And a lot of it is students asking him to do their homework for them. I get this too, and I sympathize — but Zimmer goes straight to the teachers to ask them what they’re doing.
It’s great that you are looking for new ways for your students to do research and learn about science. But having them send emails to scientists and writers has failure stitched into its very concept. Writers are perpetually scrambling to meet deadlines and pitch new stories. Scientists have full plates as well, between their research, their eternal quest for the next grant, and their teaching. To answer a single email from a student–either in the form of a long list of questions or just an open-ended plea for help–takes a lot of time. We may respond to the first few emails we get, but as they keep pouring in, we tend to burn out. And the more popular this becomes as a pedagogical tool, the more emails students will be sending to scientists and writers. And that makes people burn out even faster. It doesn’t seem fair to the students for their grade to depend on whether they get a reply from their email. Even the most polite email may land in the inbox of someone who decided long ago never to respond to such requests.
And, frankly, we can’t help but wonder what good this exercise does. When we were young, it certainly was a thrill to get an email or a letter from someone we admired. A message like that can steer young people into a career and change their life. But the exchanges we get today are nothing of the sort. They are just requests for information. They’re sometimes courteous and they’re sometimes unintentionally rude. But it feels about as educational for the students as copying a Wikipedia page.
I sometimes get a ittle flood of emails all at once, and it’s clearly from a class that’s gotten an assignment like that. More often, though, it’s single students, acting on their own initiative, thinking they’ve got an angle to getting a difficult concept explained with little effort on their part.
But I also see it from the other side.
I see a lot of students who freak out when I give them an exam question that isn’t neatly summarized for them in a text book — who come to college not having the slightest clue how to synthesize information. They’re often really good at regurgitation and the kind of mechanical skills that get emphasized on standardized tests, but coming up with something new? That’s too hard.
I often get these complaints (and they also show up in my student evaluations):
“But the answer wasn’t in the textbook!”
“You didn’t tell us we’d have to know that!”
“I looked all over my lecture notes, and you didn’t talk about that!”
That’s right, I didn’t, and it wasn’t in there. Sometimes it was somewhere in the assigned readings, but I didn’t mention it; sometimes you have to integrate a couple of lines of evidence to come up with the answer; sometimes the answer isn’t known by anyone, and you have to come up with the best answer you can.
I second Zimmer’s concern. Teachers, your students don’t need to learn how to transcribe information, they need to master the skill of expressing new ideas. Encourage them to interpret science creatively and go out on a limb now and then — that’ll serve them better when they get deeper into science.
By the way, teachers, could you please also kill the 5-paragraph essay? I hate those things.
And maybe, Oklahomans be nuts, too. How do you live in that state? This video convinces me I’d be safer living atop a volcano in an earthquake zone near the sea, where the tsunamis could reach me. Why am I living in the midwest, anyway?
Hint for the videographer: The footage of what’s going on outside the car is dramatic and terrifying, but the camera turned inside is boring and annoying. In particular, the guy yelling non-stop from the passenger seat made me want to club him and make him stop distracting the guy who was actually driving.