Saturday, December 8, 2012

My New Gig: A-News Reports

Just a quick post to let everyone know: I now have a writing gig for a site called A-News Reports, which does little news articles geared towards the atheist, agnostic, and freethinker communities. I've already done three articles, and so far all feedback has been very positive:


Feel free to check out the whole site, and if you're interested in becoming a writer for the site, you can contact us here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In memoriam: My grandmother

This past Friday, my grandmother had passed away. She was 84 years old. On Monday, the family gathered at the Condon Memorial Home in Harrison, where practically everybody in the Agudo family goes to after they pass on. Of course, there were a lot of tears and sadness, but also a lot of discussions, and even some smiles and laughter. Even when death is in the room, life goes on.

During the second wake session, the pastor of the Pentecostal church that Grandma went to in her later years(She was previously Catholic, then Mormon, then a Jehovah's Witness, until she settled on a Pentecostal faith) came by to deliver a sermon for. Even I appreciated this because Rev. Cruz has known our family for at least a decade now, and his sermons are very family-oriented. While my Spanish is very rusty, he gave a very comforting sermon, stressing that she had a long life, had many children and even more grandchildren. Her legacy lives on in our memories, and literally within us.

Abuelita and me on her 84th birthday
Of course, he is a priest, so at the end of the sermon it came time to pray. I should note that while some of my relatives know I'm an atheist, my grandmother was not one of them(Though I suspect now that this is published, word might get out pretty quick and I might catch some hell for a while). However, when everybody bowed their heads, closed their eyes and prayed along, I did something slightly different. I bowed my head, but instead of praying, I let my mind drift into my fondest memory of Abuelita(as we affectionately call her): When I was a kid, Abuelita lived in an apartment above a small grocery store with a big comic book section. Every time I came over, I asked "Abuelita, dame un peso, por favor?"(Grandma, can you give me a dollar, please?). She happily always said yes, and I always used it either towards a comic book, or a soda, or a pack of Garbage Pail Kids trading cards(C'mon, they were hilarious). I thanked her for spoiling me so much then, and thank her again now.

Yesterday morning, we said our last goodbyes and buried her in the cemetery where my grandfather, her husband, is buried as well. Before we embarked to the cemetery, Rev. Cruz gave another sermon. While still stressing the family bonds, it was a bit more heavy with religious language. Even more so when a chaplain came up afterwards and delivered a sermon in English, saying that "Jesus is with us" and whatnot. So I did what I did the night before and drowned out the religious talk with memories of Grandma, because that's who it's really all about, not a 2,000 year old carpenter or a religion.

After we buried her, we all went to a Spanish Pavilion(literally named "Spanish Pavilion") at the edge of town, ate a ton of food, talked more, and then went back to our normal life routines. Normal, except when the holidays hit us soon. While we'll be okay in years to come, this year things will be quite different without Grandma at the Thanksgiving table or handing out the presents on Christmas Eve. But, we'll still manage to have a good time and enjoy life, because that's what Abuelita wanted us to do.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Faith Healing: A dangerous scam

Quite a while back, the A-News Discussions Facebook group got spammed by a Christianity-addicted evangelist. Upon perusing this young man's timeline(before he blocked me), I came across a video of the African "faith healer" Dag Heward-Mills, where his spokesperson in the video claims he healed a "hunchback" through prayer.

I immediately decided to take a look at Mr. Heward-Mills' other videos supposedly showcasing "healing miracles" he performed. Unfortunately, all the other videos suffer the same fatal flaw as the hunchback video: They provide absolutely no real evidence a healing actually occurred, just mere assertions. The best, and most laughable videos are the ones where they bring up a boy who was supposedly born with only one visible testicle, where they claim to heal a man who is deaf in one ear, and to complete the trifecta, a man who was blind in one eye. On each of those videos I left an appropriate comment(they've long since removed them) calling out the obvious(and quite frankly, very poor) deceptions being played out.

What dismayed me in watching these videos, is that virtually all the people in the audience cheered the obvious scam with extreme gullibility. They, like the Christian spammer I encountered on Facebook, truly believe that faith can heal any illness, while never stopping to think that they're getting fleeced.
Unfortunately, faith healing isn't a scam confined to third world countries. Particularly in the Pentecostal, Evangelical and fundamentalist communities, faith healing scams happen every day in the United States, as magician and skeptic Derren Brown investigated and exposed a few years ago. These "faith healers" justify their scams with what is labelled the "prosperity gospel", which is basically "give me your money and God will make you several times richer in wealth and/or health". Of course, when that doesn't happen, the person is accused of not having enough faith. The worst cases are when a person's health declines because they stop taking medications or treatment because they are convinced that their session with a faith healer cured him/her. Death can even occur as a result of this delusion.

But there's an even worse situation when children are conscripted into it by their believing parents. And the worst part of it, when these children suffer serious physical harm and even die from their parents' refusal to get proper medical treatment in favor of "prayer", is that in many states the parents are legally protected from prosecution(even after a death is the result of the faith healing act), citing "religious exemptions". And when folks challenge these exemptions to bring about reasonable protections for the children of faith healing parents, resistance from misguided politicians and unmerited charges of "You're just here to bash religion" invariably comes up as attempts to derail and slime what is really just a sober, rational discussion about the dangers of faith healing to children.

So until the law finally catches up with reality, the best things we can do are to raise awareness, speak out, lobby for opposition against faith healing exemptions(such as through the Secular Coalition of America and Americans United), and just say no to faith healing(or alternatively insist on having it in conjunction with proper medical care).

Friday, November 2, 2012

Post-Sandy Recovery

In my previous post, I blogged about my experience enduring Hurricane Sandy as it was clobbering the Northeastern United States. It's been almost three days now since then, and there's a hell of a lot to talk about.

First, what surprised many of us(particularly folks in places safe from flooding like myself) was just how badly we underestimated Sandy's destructive power. This was due primarily from the Northeast's relative inexperience with hurricanes compared with states around and below the Mason-Dixon line, and basing our expectations of Sandy against what we experienced last year with Hurricane Irene. Even I had thought Sandy wouldn't be a serious problem. As you'll read just below, I had no clue how dead wrong I was.

On Tuesday, I was expecting a jump in business at the store, due to people from downtown and Hoboken suffering from flood damage. But then I went to go grab something to eat over on Central Avenue. Nearly every building in Central Avenue was closed because there was no power at all. The only two food places open besides Stop & Shop were the Chinese fast food joint(they had a generator) across the street and Dunkin Donuts(which was quite a few blocks up the Avenue). Also, I was floored when I seen that one of the mainstays of Central Avenue had literally collapsed under Sandy's fury.
Kennedy Department Store is just smashed.

I decided to go to my workplace to grab a microwavable meal, since it was the only place with stable power. That's when I was greeted with a scene straight out of a nightmare: There were virtually no shopping carts in the corral, hordes of people were charging their cell phones(and laptops!) everywhere they could find an outlet on the sales floor(they even used power strips), every line to the registers were all the way down the aisles constantly and we were getting customers not only from Jersey City, but folks from Hoboken, North Bergen, Nutley, Union City, and possibly other places. As it turns out, the Stop & Shop on Central Avenue was the only major supermarket store for miles that wasn't flooded and had power. There were widespread utility outages everywhere. It was the most serious state of emergency I had ever seen. After work, Central Avenue was literally pitch black.

And to make matters worse, no grocery or perishable deliveries could get to us until Wednesday and Thursday, thereby stripping the store of essential supplies to offer to customers. Also, we're actually a very small store(just nine aisles), with no full deli, seafood, pharmacy, bakery or even florist departments. And we have the only working ATM on the Avenue(that I know of). So we were the most ill-equipped to meet our customers' basic needs during the extreme crisis, thanks to a combination of horrific damages and really bad luck. To our credit though, we've been sticking it out like real troopers and we're still doing our damn best to help speed up local recovery.

On Wednesday, I had found out that the city government had initiated a 7pm curfew for the whole city. However, I was beginning to see signs of slow but actual recovery. We were still getting chaotic business, but I noticed a significant decrease in register line length as the day passed. We finally got a grocery delivery, bringing in much needed water, canned food, juices and other essential foodstuffs.

On Thursday, some businesses on the Avenue opened up, albeit sans power or running off generators. I managed to get a BLT sandwich at a deli across the street, and after subsisting on relatively little amounts of food the past two days, eating something with bacon in it really helped get me through the day. We're also finally getting perishable and ice deliveries, which helps even further.

Tomorrow, the curfew will be lifted(*), as at least some sort of power will be restored to the Avenue and there's news of two supermarkets finally opening back up, helping put a lot of pressure off us. But we've still got a long ways to go before full recovery. For example, I was speaking to the driver of the perishable delivery that finally came in, and he said that his next stop is in Connecticut. Yup, that is how seriously extensive Sandy's damage is: His next stop is in another state!

So that's what's happening so far where I'm at, and I've been hearing rumors that we may be getting a snowstorm next week(Seems very unlikely though). But snowstorms are something New Jerseyans know quite well and can get through fairly easy.

*Correction: I found out that the curfew won't be lifted for at least another 2-3 days, as it is estimated that that is how long it will take to restore power to the Heights area at least.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, Atheists and Douchebag Preachers

As I'm typing this, it's just past midnight and Hurricane Sandy is still whipping the New England area pretty bad. I'm relatively safe despite being right in Sandy's path, thanks to a combination of a few things: The house I live in shares an entire wall with the next door neighbors, making it structurally tough; there's no trees right in front of my house, so there's no risk of tree damage, and I live in a neighborhood that is comfortably above sea level, so there's no flooding danger. The worst I've gotten so far is two minor power outages that lasted no longer than a minute(Yay for study electrical infrastructure!) and the crappy plastic storage shed in the backyard is demolished(It's my not-so-bright uncle's shed and I didn't have anything in it, so it's not a worry for me at least).

During my continuing hunkering down in the house with my aunt and cousins, I've been seeing some pretty good hurricane survival advice being shared by fellow atheists on Facebook. Some good tips include: "If you're fairly certain that your water may get shut off and you have a bathtub, clean it good, rinse it, put a drain stopper in it and fill it up before the storm hits", "fill up gallon sized freezer bags with water and freeze them. That way if the power goes out the frozen bags can help keep the fridge cool and you'll have fresh water when the bags melt", "virtually all canned foods can be eaten straight from the can", "If you have a gas grill, you can use it to cook and boil water" and "If you see a zombie, always either cut off the head or destroy the brain"(okay, that last one is made up). Even David Silverman laid out some basic, solid advice to folks last year when Hurricane Irene came around, despite the bullying attempts by the host and guests.

What you won't see from atheists is crap like this: "Christian preacher blames gays for Hurricane Sandy". I should note that Mr. McTernan's irrational and laughable views are not an isolated incident at all. Just yesterday my friend Lee Moore of A-News noted that street preachers were out in force in NYC, no doubt using the fear of Sandy's imminent arrival as a method to get people to believe their religious propaganda. Every time there is a major disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese earthquake/tsunami and power plant meltdown, major earthquakes and other natural disasters, there are preachers of all faiths who will blindly assert that it's not nature behind the disasters, but divine judgement for whatever issue the preacher and his/her religion is currently against(homosexuals, Israel, contraception, abortion, unbelief/apostasy, you name it). Telling people to "pray to be saved" does nothing to help the situation. It only serves to scare people into thinking they are doing something when in fact they aren't. If it did actually do something, then these churches might have still been standing.

So the next time a natural disaster comes your way, remember what Mr. Silverman said: Act like an atheist; be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. Two hands working are better than a thousand clasped in prayer.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Misfit Atheist watches "The Genesis Code"

The other night after my work shift was done, I checked the Redbox machine in the store to see what was new. Redbox is known to not only carry major box office titles, but also craptacular B-movies and equally crappy Christian propaganda films(like Ben Stein's "Expelled"). That night, I seen that "The Genesis Code" was "new" and in stock. I never watched a Christian propaganda film before, so I figured to rent it and review it. As I write this, I've just finished watching it and quite frankly, my head hurts from all of the blatant dishonesty emanating from it. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to give as much of a rational review of it as possible.

The Plot

"The Genesis Code" is a religious film surrounding a romance story between a college hockey player and a college student journalist. The movie opens on a college hockey game, where the local team win the game thanks to their new star player Blake. After the game, Blake is approached by Kerry, a college journalist assigned with writing a story on Blake. When Kerry rebuffs Blake's initial advance by telling him that's she "chaste", he instantly picks up that she's a Christian. Later in the movie, we find out the reason why: She's a preacher's daughter(who also happens to be the movie's executive producer).

The titular theme of the Genesis story is introduced via Blake's teammates poking fun at her religious beliefs, citing the Genesis creation as Bronze Age fairy tales(which they are, but I'll save the detailed criticisms for later in this post). Blake doesn't believe the Genesis story as well and challenges her to prove the Genesis story correct as a condition of telling her anything she wants to know for her story. So she enlists her geeky brother and his friends to cook up a pseudo-scientific theory to prove that the Genesis story of creation is correct and in accord with science.

While this is going down, we discover Blake's harsh dilemma: His mother is in a coma, dying from cancer. His grandparents want to honor his mother's wish to die mercifully by putting her off life support, but he refuses to allow it. On this, I can sympathize with both Blake and his grandparents.

Anyways, later on we hit on the third theme of the film, which is the theme most likely to make any reasonable person stand up and point out as utter bullshit(again, as I'll critique later in the post): Kerry's faith gets challenged by her intellectually-vapid academic advisor, played by Catherine Hicks.

Each of the themes are then "resolved" in turn, while steadily amping up the religious overtones, culminating in Blake's team prayer for his mother and the inevitable "miracle" of his mother having a temporary reprieve and being awake. And then the credits roll with the preacher reading off the Genesis creation story.

Critique

For starters, there's the "Genesis Code" pseudo-science involved. The explanation is actually a sleight-of-hand trick. It relies on using the natural phenomenon of time dilation to sound scientific, and hopes nobody looks up anything other than Wikipedia's entry on time dilation(in other words, it's a lie fed to scientifically illiterate people). For example, the theory states the age of the universe at 15.75 billion years. This is incorrect(it's 13.7 billion with 0.13 billion years, give or take), and was likely stated that way to make the "POTS" math fit. But that's a niggle compared to what comes up next.

The most glaring problem, to me, is when they redefine Day 4 in Genesis to read as when the moon, sun and stars "appeared". But Genesis 1:14-19 clearly state that's when God created the sun, moon and stars. Yet the Earth was already basically formed. However, astrophysics and cosmology tell us that in order to have planets(including the Earth), stars must come first. Planets come into play after a star goes supernova, releasing all the elements created during stellar nucleosynthesis, then having the resulting accretion disks coagulate into planets, moons and stars. So right there, science and religion completely disagree, thereby making "The Genesis Code" a failed hypothesis. But wait, there's more.

The movie also gets the Cambrian Explosion(Day 5)dead wrong. Day 5 in Genesis claims that every type of land and air creature appears at the same time. However, anybody who studies the Cambrian Explosion will know that only sea life dominated the planet. No land animals at all. Yet the scientist character claims that land animals appeared at the same time. It's obvious the makers of the film couldn't be bothered to take even 5 minutes to fact-check the actual science they so blatantly misuse. And yes, there's more.

If the movie sets out to prove Genesis correct, shouldn't they also address what comes after the creation? Like Adam & Eve, the talking snake, and all that? Nope, we don't get that because even the creationists know they can't try to square that circle.

Since I've thrashed the movie's main selling point enough, there's one thing about this movie that simultaneously pisses me off and amuses me to no end: Catherine Hicks' role as a blatantly bat-crazy mischaracterization of academia. Through Hicks, you can see just how divorced from reality the people behind the movie are. Hicks is actually portraying the creationist fantasy of what they wish academia would be like. But she overacts it so much, that I wonder if she did it on purpose to clue in the otherwise oblivious audience that "this movie is bullshit".

And finally, there's the end-of-life decision theme. This is the only theme I would say they explored even-handedly up until the literal deus ex machina at the end. The grandparents were trying to do the right thing by their daughter's wishes(and I would side with them), but again, I do sympathize with Blake wanting his mother to hang on as long as possible. However, it's clear the writers use this situation as a catalyst to set up Blake's "come to Jesus" moment in a group prayer.

Conclusion

So I'll end this badly written review and critique with a bit of advice for potential viewers: If you must watch this film(most likely as a punishment), bring something you can safely vent your frustrations on, because this movie will test your patience with dishonesty. Otherwise, avoid this film at all costs.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why I am not for "Atheism+"

Before I go into detail about why I'm not in support of Atheism+, I'd like to preface the post with a statement in advance of a potential flood of Atheism+ supporters: My objections to Atheism+ does not mean that I am opposed to the platforms of social justice, gender equality, women's rights, LGBTQ rights and racial equality espoused in Atheism+. I very much support these things, but I recognize that these are not borne of atheism at all but rather basic human empathy and compassion. So do not assume that I am somehow a "misogynist", "evil", "privileged" or an "asshole" merely for being critical. Now, on to business.

The first reason why I am opposed to the Atheism+ movement is the intentional conflation of atheism with issues that do not have a logical progression from it(As I hinted at above). Nor does it follow that these issues necessarily flow into atheism(perhaps misotheism, though), since there are theistic groups that support many issues in the Atheism+ platform. This does not mean that atheists should not support these things at all. On the contrary, these issues should be encouraged and we have done this with great success. But it is not a good idea to take one thing and attach so many non-relevant issues to it that it essentially becomes an ideological platform, which can so easily turn into dogmas. And having dogmas in a group can be a telltale sign of religious or cultish behavior.

Secondly, this conflation of atheism with so many issues politicizes and obscures atheism to the point of, well, obscurity. The atheism movement is still facing the issues of: society's still-dim views of atheists/agnostics/freethinkers, theocratic encroachments and woo-peddling. To put these issues on the backburner and say "We shouldn't be doing A as much because A is taking too long, so we should be doing X,Y, and Z because I think they're more important" is inviting disaster because although we've made progress, it is progress that can easily be erased by creationists, theocrats and fundamentalists if we don't keep challenging them. In shorter words, the Atheism+ platform tends to treat atheism and it's direct issues as peripheral rather than integral.

Thirdly, because I don't accept the gender feminism and radical feminism practiced by the vast majority of the Atheism+ movement. They claim egalitarianism or equity feminism, but their own visceral responses to legitimate men's rights issues and men's rights activists put the lie to that. You can also see misandry and androphobia in Atheism+ when they've adopted socially destructive theories such as "Schrodinger's Rapist"(forum link) and Patriarchy. It's even been suggested that Atheism+ is more accurately described as "feminism+" or "A+theism".

There is also the problem of the "special snowflake" and "victim complex" cultures developing within the Atheism+ movement(See "Schrodinger's Rapist" again and this link as examples). These cultures are destructive to the stated goals of Atheism+ and generates conflicts where there shouldn't be. As a result, the group has become quite isolated and insular.

And finally, I cannot in good conscience join a group that is so willing and eager to do unethical things such as plagiarism, copyright infringement, smearing and attacking others for dissenting thoughts, and unthinkingly committing credulity all in the name of "social justice" or "the greater good". In fact, it is this continuing unethical behavior, above all else, that is why I cannot support Atheism+.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A clarification and addendum on "Nailed To The Plus"

My last post had talked about Matt Dillahunty's recent falling out with the Atheism+ forum. While I did get some of the essential facts right, there were a few inaccuracies and potential points of confusion I had made in the heat of writing the post.

First, on describing Matt's creating the two accounts, folks may get confused and think Matt created both at the same time. That's false. The "Matt Dillahunty" account was created when the forum first came up. The "Curious" account got created just after ban of "skep tickle", which apparently made the mods think "Curious" was skep tickle. However, it still doesn't excuse the bad faith behavior on the mods to treat a new user like that, even if the creation time of the account was suspect.

Second, the post that got deleted wasn't intentionally deleted, but rather not approved. But still, it got deleted as a result of the approval denial process.

Third, I may have gone a bit overboard on the rhetoric. Like the "batshit crazy" quip, for example. I should have said "The other day, Matt Dillahunty(who is the host of the show The Atheist Experience) had done a social experiment in an attempt to prove that the Atheism+ folks weren't as hostile as all of the critics claim they are to new users." Again, I made the post in the heat of things. I'll try to tone the rhetoric down going forward.

And also, the mods didn't "flip" so much as I described them to be. They were somewhat apologetic, but they staunchly maintained that Matt broke the "No sockpuppeting" rule and proceeded to permanently ban him, while actually acknowledging specific process problems he exposed and took steps to resolve them. But instead of thanking him for pointing them out, they now claim he "caused harm to the community" and demand an apology if he wants to return to the forum. So, I'll leave his response to that and this as my final word(in jest) for now on "Dillahunty-gate": Matt got "Nailed to the Plus", but then...
P.S. - If there's anything else I failed to clarify or correct, feel free to drop a comment.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Matt Dillahunty gets Nailed To The Plus

For the past week or so, I've been drafting up a blog post about why I do not support Atheism+. That post is still upcoming, but I want to share a specific instance of one of the reasons why I simply cannot join this group.

The other day, Matt Dillahunty(who is the host of the show The Atheist Experience) had done a social experiment in an attempt to prove that the Atheism+ folks weren't as batshit crazy as all of the critics claim they are to new users. He created two accounts on the Atheism+ forum: One was "Matt Dillahunty", and the other was a "sockpuppet" account called "Curious".

What set the whole thing off was this thread(do read the whole thread, it's awesome). Curious/Matt's post got deleted and was instructed in the notification email to take his case to the moderators. The post that got deleted questioned the merits of a ban(in particular, the ban of "skep tickle" over questioning the now-successful bullying of Justin Vacula). Matt then proceeded to start a thread asking to have his deleted post reposted in that thread or put in an appopriate forum. From there, they ravaged "Curious" like a pack of wolves over fresh meat. That is, until Matt signed a post with his real name. The moderator mocked Curious, going so far as to say(paraphrasing): "Hahaha! I know Matt Dillahunty. He's a good man. You, however, are not".

Then Matt directed the Atheism+ admins and mods to his Twitter feed, where they found this bombshell: "Hello to the admins at Atheism+ forum. Curious is me". And then the mods' attitudes flipped from "Fuck off, troll!" to "We're sorry, we didn't know it was you, Mr. Dillahunty. Had we known, you would have been treated better".

Folks, do you see the problem here? Matt certainly does by now: They refused to treat Matt's questioning as legitimate purely on the bases of "I felt like it was trolling"(caprice) and "You're a nobody, so you must be a troll" instead of on the merits. Matt Dillahunty has finally experienced the pure nastiness that pervades the entire Atheism+ group. It is the same nastiness and failure of logic and skepticism originally born of the Elevatorgate scandal, and has spread to Free(from)ThoughtBlogs and Skepchick. And they have further proven their nastiness in their "resolution", permanently banning Matt from their forum unless he "apologizes" for his actions.

So, a congratulations is in order to Matt Dillahunty. He has joined the ranks of those "Nailed To The Plus"(Stef McGraw, Richard Dawkins, Abbie Smith, Justicar/integralmath, Thunderf00t, Girlwriteswhat, Anna Johnstone and most recently Justin Vacula), but with the unenviable distinction of not being able to go back to the wider atheist community without getting chewed out for his uncritical support of a group that has proven itself utterly toxic and subversive.

Perhaps now that his eyes have been opened, he'll look at the Atheism+ critics' claims with a more critical mindset and judge them on their merits, instead of dismissing them based on the propaganda spewed out by the FfTB/Skepchick/Atheism+ triad. But, forgive me if I'm not entirely holding my breath over it.

Update: Matt directly talks about the forum incident and the "resolution", and comes out with some serious issues with Atheism+.

Update 2: I've posted a clarification and addendum here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

In which the Democrats fail to follow basic voting rules

Yesterday, The Democratic National Convention did something horribly egregious. They forced a platform resolution via a 2/3rds majority voice vote, despite at least 1/2 of convention's delegates clearly saying "No", which should have denied the resolution from passing. The resolution in question? Reinstating "God" in the platform and "recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel". When the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villariagosa, realized that a 2/3rds majority was not reached for passing, he called for a second try. Again, there was at least 50% of the delegation against the resolution.  Then, in an awkward moment of realization that the resolution didn't get enough "Aye"'s again, Mr. Villariagosa looked around to figure out what to do. A lady went up to him and said "You gotta rule, and then let them do what they're gonna do". Apparently Mr. Villariagosa took it to mean "Ignore the now-obvious majority in the negative", because after a third and final vote(again failing a 2/3rds majority in the affirmative), he declared the resolution passed and the platform amended.

As an atheist, my feelings on this are at once hopeful, because it is now apparent there is a sizeable opposition to religious pandering within the Democratic Party, and angry because the higher-ups chose to immediately trash an instance of one of the most basic practices of democracy(voting) when the vote does not go the  expected way. This actually makes the recent RNC debacle of having the nomination vote results appear on a teleprompter before the actual results came in a minor gaffe in comparison.

As a result of this thuggish trashing of a democratic process, one young delegate immediately walked out of the convention, and announced he was quitting the Democratic Party and joining the Occupy movement. I don't blame him at all.

Friday, August 3, 2012

I finally get email

Yesterday during work, I got a lovely email, titled "The most important message of your life from someone who really cares about you". It seems I hit a milestone: I got my first "repent or burn" Christian email. Whoo-hoo! So, without further ado, here's the email in it's entirety and my response after:

Leeon Andrew (email redacted) 

One day you are going to stand before Jesus Christ and give an account of your life to Him, WHETHER YOU BELIEVE IT OR NOT. Because of this, I suggest that you read this message all the way through, it could save your life!

We live in a world that has no time or thought for God, and yet one day we will all stand before Him and be judged. We live only for today, pleasing ourselves with what we do, with no thought whatsoever of where we will SPEND ETERNITY! We forget that SIN must be punished, and that is the reason why God sent His Son into the world...

So who is Jesus Christ and why did He come to earth?

Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God! He left heaven, and the presence of His Father, to come and die in your place and my place! But Why? The Bible tells us that we are all sinners "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." There is none righteous, no not one. "David who was one of the greatest kings of all Israel said 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me."

Sin has to be punished by a Holy God. Jesus came to save us from our sins, and from the punishment of God because he loves us. He did this by taking our sin upon Himself, and allowing Himself to be crucified, bearing all the suffering, judgement and wrath of God His Father in our place! The Bible says "...without the shedding of blood there is no remission (pardon & forgiveness)" He shed His own blood so that we can have our sins forgiven. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" For he hath made him (Jesus) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

Three day's after His crucifixion He arose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of His Father in Heaven. 

This is how much Jesus Christ loves you, He died in your place and took your punishment for your sins!! "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all."

"And as it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgement." Can you imagine what this day will be like? Nothing will be hid, every secret sin will be laid open before the Lord, not one sin will go unpunished!

The only way to escape the wrath and judgement of God, and to gain a place in heaven is by asking Jesus Christ to forgive your sins. It is by believing, in faith, that He became the perfect sacrifice for all sin. There is no other way of being saved  and having your sins forgiven, religion can't save you, living a 'good' life can't save you, IT IS ONLY THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST THAT CAN SAVE YOU! "Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins."

WARNING...
If you die without having your sins forgiven, you will go to Hell forever & ever! (FACT!)

This is written out of love, because, THIS IS THE TRUTH! 

PLEASE UNDERSTAND HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS! SOON, MAY BE TOO LATE!

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

My response: Leeon, can you point to any actual evidence that your god, Jesus, heaven or hell actually exists? If you reply "It's a matter of faith", then you've lost the argument because faith doesn't replace truth. If it did, then Buddhism, Islam or Scientology, for example, would be as true as Christianity because it's a matter of faith in those religions too. If you reply "the Bible is my evidence", then you don't know what evidence means. The Bible is the claim, not the proof. But putting all that aside for a moment, let's suppose you're right. Suppose I had somehow "sinned" against your god and the only way to save myself from punishment is to make another person take the punishment in my place, even though that person is innocent. Is that not scapegoating? Would it be moral, rather, to be accountable for my actions and accept proper punishment? Also, is not cruel to inflict eternal punishment for finite crimes? I'm genuinely interested in your responses to these questions and look forward to hearing back from you.

Update: Leeon has responded, and it's facepalming all around. Here's his response and my reply:

On Fri, Aug 3, 2012 at 2:11 AM, Leeon Andrew (email redacted) wrote:

Some reading for you to do...

Proof of hell http://www.av1611.org/hell_proof.html
The resurrection of Jesus Christ Fact or Fiction? http://www.av1611.org/resur.html
Response in red
Leeon, can you point to any actual evidence that your god, Jesus, heaven or hell actually exists? If you reply "It's a matter of faith", then you've lost the argument because faith doesn't replace truth. If it did, then Buddhism, Islam or Scientology, for example, would be as true as Christianity because it's a matter of faith in those religions too. If you reply "the Bible is my evidence", then you don't know what evidence means. The Bible is the claim, not the proof. But putting all that aside for a moment, let's suppose you're right. Suppose I had somehow "sinned" against your god and the only way to save myself from punishment is to make another person take the punishment in my place, even though that person is innocent. Is that not scapegoating?God took your punishment upon Himself. We have an eternal soul. If you die without Christ you will spend an eternity in the lake of fire. If you die Jesus Christ being your Lord and your Saviour you will get eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Tony, eternal life is a free gift to anyone! But okay, if your right then this is all there is and when I die I will cease to exist and have NOTHING to worry about. But if I'm right and you die without Jesus Christ then you face an eternity in the lake of fire. God did not prepare hell for use, it was for the devil and his angels. When we are born we are born sinners, this means our father is the devil, but when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour then God becomes our Father. So its your choice you can either spend an eternity with God or Satan.  Would it be moral, rather, to be accountable for my actions and accept proper punishment? Also, is not cruel to inflict eternal punishment for finite crimes? I'm genuinely interested in your responses to these questions and look forward to hearing back from you.
My reply: I've read your response, and frankly I'm disappointed. First there's your "proof" of hell, which only proves that the concept of hell pervades our cultures and is linked to volcanoes and the core of the earth. Also, if you took two seconds to look beyond Christian-biased sources, you'll find that the core of the earth isn't a "lake of fire" at all. It's metallic and solid. Lava and magma come from the upper mantle and lower crust in certain places: http://blogs.agu.org/martianchronicles/2008/08/22/hot-lava-where-does-it-come-fro/. There's no proof given to your and your source's assertion that that is where we go after we die and don't believe what you do. As for your "proof" of Jesus, let me ask you a few questions, and when you go looking for the answers, look in each of the four gospels of Christ for the answer and compare them against each each other. 1. At what time of the day was Jesus crucified? 2. What was inscribed on Jesus' cross? 3. Who went to the sepulchre where Jesus was buried? 4. How many angels were at the sepulchre and where were they located at the sepulchre? 5. Where did the apostles go after Jesus' death? Now, for every question did all of the gospels match up? If they don't, what does that tell you about the veracity of the gospels? I could concede that there may have been an eccentric preacher named Jesus who lived nearly 2,000 years ago, but his claims that he was the son of a god and his "miracles" are by no means original. Look up Horus, Appolonius, Krishna, Mithras, for example, and you'll see quite a few similarities in the lives of those "saviors". Is it not more likely that Jesus was just an ordinary man and became highly mythologized after his death? Or just as likely, a mythologized legend?

Finally, to your response in red, you're simply making assertions upon assertions. You assert that we have "eternal souls". Please prove that souls exist. You again assert that without belief our "souls" go to a place of eternal torture. Again I ask for proof of this assertion. You also assert that we are born "sinners". Answer this: A newborn baby dies shortly after birth. He/she has no knowledge of Christianity. Where will the child's "soul" go? And most of the rest of your response seems little more than Pascal's Wager: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZpJ7yUPwdU


And I'm further disappointed that you did not answer my question asking if throwing my sins and punishment on Jesus is scapegoating. I really would like a yes or no answer to this with a rationale for it.
 Yes, he believes hell is the core of the Earth, I kid you not!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Misfit Atheist reads the Bible: Genesis 4-9

(If you want a list of all of my "atheist Bible study" posts, just click here. Also, if you're feeling a little Bible-d out, here's something that I find makes much better reading: Aesop's Fables.)

Our first post dealt with the Biblical creation of the universe, Adam & Eve and the Fall of Man(aka "original sin") which formed the foundation of the Abrahamic religions. Now we turn to how Adam & Eve make out after getting thrown out of the Garden of Eden. We find out that despite leaving a supposed paradise on Earth, they seem to be doing quite well. They have several children, the first two of which are Cain and Abel.

As the story goes, both Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to God(as Bronze Age farmers usually do), but God likes Abel's animal sacrifices over Cain's fruit sacrifices. Cain gets depressed and God asks "Why so down, bro?". Then Cain kills his brother in the field, and when all-knowing God asks where Abel is, Cain says "Am I my brother's keeper?"(meaning "How should I know? I'm not his babysitter.") When God figures out what happened, he curses Cain to be a "fugitive and a vagabond". At least unlike what he did to his parents for learning, this seems a sensible punishment.

But it turns out Cain got over God's punishment more or less, as he finds a wife(where did she come from?Did  God pull another creation in another county?), has a son and builds a city(both named Enoch). And then a couple of generations later, we have Lamech, who according to the Bible is the first polygamist(he had two wives) and apparently takes up his great-great-grandfather's criminality by killing a man.

Meanwhile, Adam knocks up Eve again(at this point he's multiple times great-grandfather) and has Seth. Seth bares a son(again, where did his wife come from?), and then we're treated to a generational recap with some new insights and questions.

In the recap, Adam actually had some daughters, but they remain nameless. All of the patriarchs supposedly lived ridiculously long lives. Quite a feat, considering they had virtually no medical knowledge or science. At the end of the recap, we discover Lamech gets a son named Noah. Yes folks, that Noah!

Genesis 6 wastes no time getting straight to the Great Flood that gives Young Earth Creationists such a hard-on. Apparently God got fed up with sin in the world and attempted to get rid of it by killing everything on the planet, save for Noah and his family. So God tells Noah to build a boat that's apparently too big to be seaworthy yet too small for every pair of animals on the planet. And there's quite a few other problems with the Flood story that come to mind, but are addressed here.

Fast forward to Genesis 8, and we find that the Flood has receded. Noah makes animal sacrifices to God(effectively making many animal species extinct thanks to the Flood in the first place), and this convinces God not to flood the world again. God then tells Noah and his family to "be fruitful and multiply". Let's take a step back and observe the whole picture thus far, courtesy of DarkMatter2525:


Okay, so now that we have the Flood in the rear-view mirror, let's see how Noah and his family make out in the aftermath. Hmm. Apparently Noah gets plastered off his own wine and runs around in his birthday suit in his tent. His son Ham covers him up, but Noah doesn't like it. As punishment, Noah curses his grandson(who had nothing to do with it) to be a slave. Gotta love that biblical justice, eh?

That's pretty much it for Genesis 4-9. Next up: The Tower of Babel!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Glenn Beck and David Barton lie about Thomas Jefferson

Remember my previous post about seeing Glenn Beck and David Barton on a stage together? Well, it turns out that wasn't a coincidence at all. It turns out they're actually "good friends" and Beck has invited him to plug a book that outright lies about the life of Thomas Jefferson.

Barton, being the unqualified fake historian for Jesus that he is, claimed that Jefferson created his abbreviated Bible for missionaries to give to Native Americans. One problem with this claim is that this abbreviated Bible would be outright rejected by missionaries because it cuts out much of the Christian myths, most notably the assertions that Jesus was divine and resurrected. And another problem is that claim is a bold-faced lie, as shown in this letter he sent to Joseph Priestley. He did it to show his view of Christianity, which he specifically states in the letter is a deistic one. While he didn't accomplish everything he wanted to in the letter, the Jefferson Bible did mostly follow a deistic view of Jesus.

Another thing Barton says is that the Jefferson Bible contains examples of Jesus performing miracles. This is also proven a lie if you actually do what Barton implores you to do(but counts on the probability you'll just take his word for it): read it. It's mostly Jesus telling parables to his disciples. He performs no miracles at all.

The Jefferson Bible, however, isn't perfect when it really comes to morality. For example, the passages where he orders his followers to steal horses in his name doesn't really translate to a good moral example. Or where he says you should pluck out your eye if it offends you.  And "take no thought of tomorrow" should need no explanation as to why that is a bad idea.

All in all, the Jefferson Bible was a interesting attempt to strip the Bible of supernatural crap and focus on the central character. But Barton doesn't do Jefferson, the Jefferson Bible or himself any favors by outright lying to try and square the circle of Jefferson's deism with Christianity. Beck only allows this because it furthers his crazy religious and political views. Both men should be ashamed, but that's not gonna happen anytime soon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Misfit Atheist reads the Bible: Genesis 1-3

Last year, one of my favorite YouTube atheists, Keight Fahr(aka BionicDance), did a series of videos where she reads and critiques parts of the Bible. Although the series is incomplete(the last video is on 1 Kings), it's excellent yet I think there's quite a few valid critiques she missed. So I finally decided to do something similar, but in blog form and will go into more detail than she did, starting with Genesis 1-3 because it's the foundation where the Abrahamic religions rest upon.

First, there's the two incongruent creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, in which the first creation story also contradicts what science tells us about creation. According to Genesis 1:

  1. Heaven and earth are created first.
  2. Light comes next(But how can you have light without light-producing objects?).
  3. The "firmament", ground and plants are created.
  4. The sun and stars are made.(The actual light-producing objects)
  5. All the aquatic and flying animals are made.
  6. All the "beasts of the earth" and man are made.
  7. God takes a siesta.
Science tells us that before anything else, you must have light and light-producing objects(stars). We know that the stars created after the initial Big Bang went through a process known as stellar nucleosynthesis, where all the heavy elements were created. Eventually, the stars exploded, spilling out all it's elemental contents outward, creating planetary accretion disks. These disks eventually coagulated into what we now call planets. After billions of years on our tiny little planet, abiogenesis occurred. Then through the incredibly long process of biological evolution, all the animals we know of, and ourselves finally appeared.

But getting back to Genesis, now we're at the Garden of Eden with Adam, Eve and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in chapters 2 and 3. Here we get to see the first lie told in Biblical history. I'm referring, of course, not to the serpent that convinced Eve to eat the apple, but to the lie God told about eating from the tree:
Genesis 2:17 - "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
So God's telling Adam that if he eats from the tree, he's dead on the spot. Yet we discover in Genesis 5:5 that Adam wound up living for at least eight hundred years(even though the idea that a human can live that long is ludicrous, it does nevertheless mean that Adam & Eve had a relatively full life). And going back to the serpent, did the serpent lie? Nope, because we see that God himself confirms the serpent's claim in Genesis 3:22. Then God doles out his punishments and banishes Adam & Eve from the garden.

So just in the first three chapters of the Bible, we see two incongruent and scientifically impossible creation stories, a God that willfully creates the first humans without any knowledge of good and evil, lies about the tree he put in front of them that would give them that knowledge, and punishes them and all future generations for the " original sin" of attaining that knowledge when he wasn't looking. This sounds more like a story about a God whose omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence got easily trumped by a mere animal(that could "intelligibly speak" even though we know only humans can speak), and then punishes all of mankind out of embarrassment and vanity. And that's just the first three short chapters. We're off to a lovely start, folks.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Glenn Beck thinks America "worships Baal"

This came up in a friend's Facebook feed, and I find this too delicious to pass up: Apocalyptic fear monger Glenn Beck(the man behind the awful site theblaze.com, and who thought the Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima was "Biblical prophecy") and David Barton(an accomplished historical liar for Jesus) together on a Christian television show along with some other kooky panelists.

What makes this extremely laughable is that Beck declares that America is "in bed with absolute evil", referring to the increasing secularization of American society(a good thing, IMO) and his contention that we're all "unconsciously worshiping Baal". And not only does not a single person call out such bullshit, but they pile on with more tripe such as comparing the relatively non-existent threat of Islamic imposition on the United States with the Biblical tale of Jeremiah and the Babylonian captivity. And of course they say the "solution" isn't better security via law enforcement, military or diplomatic means driven by reason and rationality, it's dropping everything and going back to hysterical Bronze Age ideals(what they refer to as "getting back to God") that would make us no different than the theocratic Islamic states they rage against. And that is a nightmare that would make our Founding Fathers roll in their graves.

Happy Belated Christopher Hitchens Day!

While Christopher Hitchens Day has officially ended one hour ago, I just came across this video of Hitchens making his closing comments at a debate he had with William Dembski, and I simply had to share it here:

Belated Introductory Post

Hi there. I guess I should introduce myself. I'm Tony Agudo. I'm 31 years old, currently single(hint, hint ladies), I work in a major supermarket store, and just recently become something of an atheist activist. I have another blog which focuses on my other interests(Second Life, OpenSim, and many things related to open source programming), but this one will focus on issues around atheism, secularism, and religion. You can find me not only on here, but also on Facebook and Twitter(though I don't keep up with it much). Thanks for visiting my blog and I hpe you'll find it interesting and thought-provoking!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Joel D. Hirst gets it wrong on charity

(Apologies for not taking the time writing a proper introductory post, but the subject below necessitated the creation of this blog. So consider this post as "hitting the ground running" and I'll update here when I make a proper intro post. Update: Here it is.)

The other day, I came across this guest article on The Blaze(because I have a high tolerance for right-wing BS that borders on sadomasochism), in which the author(some guy who used to be involved with charity organizations) argues that charity should be "devolved to communities of faith". In other words, he believes only religious institutions and communities should do charity and aid, using examples of government-run charity and aid failures to buttress his argument.

I took him to task on that in the comment section, pointing out the existence of secular charities and asked his opinion of them. I also pointed out that faith-based charities can and often do impose their beliefs on recipients, using the example of some Salvation Army chapters refusing to give out donated Twilight or Harry Potter toys, citing the organization's Christian beliefs as reasons why.

His response-
Hi Tony – Thanks for your comments. I of course have no problem with MSF, CARE or others. But if you look historically; these types of organizations emerge as an offshoot of Christian Missions. They are the values of Christianity seeping into society – which is exactly my point. And still, the lion’s share of this type of financial support goes to Christian organizations – World Vision, Compassion, Food for the Hungry, etc. MSF (biggest in Spain and France) is relatively small, gets lots of $ from the govermnent. As to the second point – of course you can point to individual failures of charities. I can probably point to more than you can (I’m very familiar with the industry). Unfortunately, this is so often the excuse of big government folks – they highlight one failure for the takeover of the industry. This is actually faulty logic, as an “indicutive fallacy”; its an “unrepresentative sample” or sometimes an “appeal to emotion”. Like saying “All catholic priests are pedophiles” when the fact is that it really is a tiny percentage.

Notice the emphasized sentences. He's now claiming that a specific religion's(Christianity) "values" are the source of the moral action we label as charity. While I will gladly agree that historically organized charity was primarily conducted by religious institutions, that is a false and propagandistic claim by religious leaders and Mr. Hirst that I absolutely must refute. Ironically, Joel unknowingly did it for me in the article:

The act of helping people through these difficult moments is an act of personal sacrifice (for both those helping and those being helped).  It must be motivated by the humanizing emotion of empathy and compassion, not that of pity.

Empathy and compassion are not "Christian values". They are evolved human emotions accessible to all regardless of religious beliefs(or lack of them). Empathy and compassion(and indeed charitable acts) existed well before the emergence of Christianity, and today we have charities explicitly run by nonreligious groups(like Foundation Beyond Belief). That should tell Joel that charity is not, and should never be exclusive only to his professed religion. Everybody deserves the opportunity to serve those who need help, be it the government, churches or secular/nontheist organizations.

Update: Jared Smith gives a great counterpoint to the religious hijacking of charity.