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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: December 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just in Time for the Annual “War on Christmas”

Rather than re-posting my thoughts on the “War on Christmas,” this time I thought I would share this wonderful poem I found by Possummomma (a.k.a. Atheist in a Minivan).

War on Christmas?

Twas the month before Christmas and all through the land,
the Christians were stirring: a war was at hand. As the secular people hung lights and red bows,
the fundies were thinking up mass e-mail prose.

They picked up their Bibles and lobbied with fury
at atheists and lib'rals as cop, judge, and jury.
The fundies - they cried, with phenomenal flair,
at a war that just didn't appear to be there.

They spoke of no greetings and secular schools while expecting the nation to bend all its rules.

Sorry, poor Rachel, you're only a Jew,
the Christians 'round here can't be bothered with you.
Kwanzaa is new, and therefore, competing,
with Jesus and Santa and holy tent meetings.

"How horrid!", "How dour!", "How pathetic!" they cried,
"It's Christmas or nothing!" and "nothing" just died.
"No glorious mangers and tunes at low level?"
"Surely, this must be the work of the devil."

And, all of those secular wallets at stores,
are they turning away all those dollars at doors?

"Jesus is the reason" they'll scream, pray, and shout,
while whipping their wallets, with credit cards, out.
And, while they are screaming, I hope they remember,
that their Jesus was likely not born in December.

iPods and XBox, enemy toys!
The Bible's the gift for good girls and boys.
Oh wait! They have products to substitute in,
by Haggard, and Hovind, and someone named Hinn?

"Here Billy! A book that will help you stay true,
about pillage and rape and incestual crews.
"But, woe to the Wii game with family fun Unless it's of Jesus, we shouldn't have none.

Tolerance, humans, and diversity,
are the wrong reasons to light up a tree?
Encouraging good will towards folk of all kind is not what dear Matthew and Luke had in mind.

It's a war on Christmas and the fundies are back,
to tell us that Jesus is under attack.
Cradles, and crosses, and creches galore!
But, worship him, worship him, worship him more.

In their zeal and devotion to make Jesus matter,
their cause has been hurt by their incessant chatter.
A war with no weapons or obvious sides,
is a war of no reason but blind fundie pride.

So, here's my proposal, for all human kind:
You celebrate your way and I'll party mine.
Praise Jesus and Mary and stars that shine bright;
I'll read to my kids and then turn out the light.

For the gifts of humanity, freedom for all,
means seeing a menorah a-light at your mall.
The lessons of Kwanzaa, it's principles seven
do nothing to prevent one a place in your heaven.

And, when we awake for our own celebrations,
it's okay that we'll build them on different foundations.
You have your Christmas and we'll have our own,
and we'll strive to feel pride in the friendships we've sown.

Tarran also has a great post at The Liberty Papers where he asks the question: Should Governments Promote Religious Holidays?

At the risk of offending everyone, with the intent of offending no one, I want to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas, Happening Hanukah, a kick-ass Kwanza, a Festive Festivus, a Wonderful Winter Solstice (Did I leave anyone out?), and a prosperous New Year!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Speaking of Ayn Rand…

Shortly after posting my last post concerning “atheist atrocities,” I ran across this short 1961 video clip of Ayn Rand that Doug Mataconis posted at The Liberty Papers. In this clip, Rand explains where the Republican Party and the conservative movement went so horribly wrong in the way they were trying to defend Capitalism and liberty.

Defending Capitalism and liberty on the basis of faith and/or tradition, is a prescription for failure. What’s amazing to me is that Rand saw these fallacies creeping into the conservative movement’s dialogue well before the Christian Right took over the Republican Party.

Now, fast forward to the 2008 presidential campaign: What are the central topics for debate on Republican side? Unfortunately, most of the discussion appears to be about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and whether or not Mormons are really Christians. With every passing day, the debate gets even more absurd. Mike Huckabee was curious as to whether or not Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers!

Is this really what keeps G.O.P. primary voters up at night?

While the religious convictions of the candidates are and their willingness to defend traditions take center stage, issues concerning Capitalism and liberty are mere afterthoughts. Mike Huckabee shows disdain for “greedy corporations” and “outsourcing” in much the same way the Left does while promoting the Christian Conservative agenda. He’s basically a cross between Lou Dobbs and Pat Robertson – the worst of both worlds.

Mitt Romney wants government run healthcare, though he insists that Romneycare is very different from Hillarycare. Rudy Giuliani is a gun grabbing authoritarian (who claims that he has since changed his ways since being the mayor of New York City) who recently won the endorsement of Pat Robertson. John McCain thinks that free speech doesn’t apply to political speech. Fred Thomson has made some attempts to defend Federalism and Capitalism but apparently doesn’t really want to be president.

Only one candidate, Ron Paul, speaks about such things as liberty, Capitalism, and the Constitution with any credibility. Frudy McRomnabee laughs and mocks Ron Paul as he advocates upholding the Constitution and the principle of limited government.

These were the principles that Conservatives once cared about. At least when Ayn Rand recorded this video they were willing to defend these things even as flawed as their arguments were.
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Friday, December 14, 2007

Atheist Atrocities? (Part 3 of 3)

Continued from Part 2

As I watched the video, two individuals who are about as far from Communism as one could get came to the front of my mind: Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Both valued Capitalism and the sovereignty of the individual. Both found the idea of sacrifice for the benefit others not as a moral good but as a moral wrong. Both believed that the only purpose of the state was to aid in helping the individual preserve his rights of life, liberty, and property. A state which violates these rights has no right or reason to exist at all.

Ayn Rand escaped the tyranny of Soviet Russia when she was young. From a very young age she understood the immorality of collectivism. She was an atheist who went on to develop a philosophy known as Objectivism. Objectivism is based on four core principles: objective reality (“facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears”), Reason (“the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses”), Selfishness (or rational self-interest; man exists for his own sake rather than the sake of others), and capitalism (the economic system she believed to be the most moral of all economic systems). Here are a few of my favorite Ayn Rand quotes which embody her philosophy of Objectivism:

“I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
“It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.”
“Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”

Milton Friedman was also an unapologetic defender of liberty and Capitalism. In 1976, Friedman won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Perhaps Friedman’s most famous works are his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom and his 1982 book and PBS television series Free to Choose (I cannot recommend the Free to Choose television series highly enough. Watch the entire series here). Friedman also influenced Barry Goldwater (served as the economic advisor to Goldwater’s presidential campaign), was an advisor to Richard Nixon (though Friedman complained that Nixon often did not take his advice), and Ronald Reagan (a true believer in many of Friedman’s economic theories; Reagan’s “trickle down economic policy” reflected that).

Milton Friedman was almost universally praised by fiscal conservatives and libertarians of all stripes. Many supply side economists consider him to be their hero. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, even has an award called “The Milton Friedman Award for Advancing Liberty” which is awarded every other year to an individual “who has made a significant contribution to the advance of human freedom.”

Did I mention that Milton Friedman was an agnostic? Unless asked, neither did he. While Ayn Rand was very outspoken about her negative views about religion, Friedman had very little interest in the topic of religion at all. Perhaps this is why conservatives who normally wouldn’t give an agnostic/atheist the time of day made an exception for Milton Friedman.

Certainly, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman are not the only ones skeptical of religion who happened to also believe in free markets and free minds. In my own experience I have run into a number of libertarians who happened to also be atheist or agnostic. Objectivists are by their nature also atheists. I doubt seriously that even Skeptic Antidote could truly believe that had Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, or others of a similar philosophy taken over control of any government such a leader would resort to committing atrocities against humanity. After all, if the rights of the individual are respected above the rights of the group, how can such a policy lead to killing various classes of people?

When it comes to choosing our leaders, we must look beyond his or her religious beliefs or lack thereof. In order to guard against someone who would commit atrocities, we should select leaders who do not call for the sacrifice of the individual but instead recognizes the Lockean individual rights of life, liberty, and property.

If Skeptic Antidote's position is that a few bad people who happened to be atheists killed more human beings than anyone else, then fine...I can’t argue against that. If, however, he contends that these despots were despots because of their atheism and/or that the end goal was to promote atheism (rather than a means to an end), he has failed miserably to make the case.

But why not give him another chance? My challenge to Skeptic Antidote (or anyone else for that matter): find me one example of an atrocity committed by an atheist individual, group, or government in the past 100 years which had the end goal of rooting out religion in favor of atheism as an end in itself (as many religious zealots have done to kill in the name of their religion in an effort to further their religion by force). I will be waiting with pregnant anticipation.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Atheist Atrocities? (Part 2 of 3)

In the first post on this topic of “atheist atrocities,” I gave some historical context to the Reign of Terror at the peak of the French Revolution. I admitted that perhaps Skeptic Antidote can accurately claim that atheists who had control of the levers of power killed some 6,000 Christians in the name of atheism. Other than the Reign of Terror, the remaining atrocities cannot be attributed to atheists killing in an effort to promote atheism.

At the very beginning of his video he makes the claim “No one has killed more human beings than atheists.” Before I move on, I think there needs to be some clarification because I am convinced that most people who are terrified of atheists do not even know what an atheist is. An atheist is someone who does not believe in gods. That’s it. That’s all. If I am introduced to a stranger and all he tells me is that he is an atheist, that doesn’t tell me a whole lot about what kind of person he is. I don’t know anything about his values, if he is honest, if he gives to charity, what his interests are, or if he is an intelligent person. I certainly wouldn’t know anything about his political beliefs; he could be a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, an Objectivist, a Socialist, a Communist, or any number of other things. I can no more tell what kind of person he is than if all I knew was that he was a theist.

Skeptic Antidote seems to assume that atheism is equal to Communism; certainly he is not the first to draw this conclusion. In fact, the placement of the phrase “In God We Trust” was placed on all American currency as a response to the “godless commies” during the Cold War.

So how did atheism become synonymous with Communism to so many? As the Communists gained political power in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church became illegal (here again the church was an integral part of the state) and churches throughout the country were being closed and reopened as museums. Atheist propaganda was being spread by the government to this end. The leaders of the new government believed that churches would threaten its authority. Atheism was not the reason for the subjugation of the religious, but a means to an end (the end being complete Communist control of the country).

The other Communist countries mentioned in Skeptic Antidote’s video followed a similar pattern as the Russians. While many tyrannical regimes used religion to their advantage, the Communists decided to use a different strategy. Karl Marx, the principle founder of Communism, once called religion “the opiate of the masses.” Like opium, religion has a way of comforting the user with a sense of euphoria while simultaneously impairing the user’s ability to reason. Marx and his intellectual heirs must have realized that this “opiate” phenomenon could be used to found a new religion which would replace the worship of a god to the worship of an all powerful state. Communism would be a religion in of itself (and like most religions, the Communists did not like to deal with competing religions).

Marx did not create the religion of Communism out of whole cloth, however. Many of the principle tenets of Communism are similar to those of Christianity. Perhaps the most common theme of both religions is this notion of sacrifice for the sake of the common good at the expense of the individual. Neither religion places much if any value on the rights of the individual. The Bible is full of examples where individuals were sacrificed for the good of a people (the most extreme example of course is Jesus’ death on the cross to save all of humanity). The Communists believed much the same thing.

Among the atrocities listed in Skeptic Antidote’s video is how many people were killed under Communist regimes (though he substitutes the word “Communist” with “Atheist”). The citizens who lived under the boot of these regimes were repeatedly asked and expected to sacrifice for the common good of their countries. Many times, the government asked citizens to sacrifice their very lives. Because Russia had fallen behind most of the industrialized world due to its agricultural based economy, the leadership believed the country needed to change quickly to encourage growth in manufacturing. The industrial population centers of the country were suffering. The solution? Go to the rural areas of the country, steal the grain from the farmers, and take over the farms. The Communists saw that the starving of a few million people was worth preserving the well being of the majority of citizens (as even tyrants understand, you have to keep the majority of the citizens happy or you risk revolution against your rule).

As Skeptic Antidote points out, most if not all of these Communist dictators were atheists. Therefore, what? If an atheist is trusted in a position of power s/he will commit similar atrocities because s/he values the common good over the individual? This is where his argument falls apart.

Next post: the conclusion of this 3 part series.
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Monday, December 03, 2007

Atheist Atrocities? (Part 1 of 3)

The other day I went YouTubn’ around and found this little gem called “Atheist Atrocities: Frightening Stats About Atheists.” Throughout history, people have killed and been killed in the name of a religion and/or in the name of a god. Every single day, somewhere in the world believers of various religions kill “infidels” who believe something different than they do. Could the same be said about atheist, agnostics, and other freethinkers? When was the last time an atheist strapped a bomb to himself to kill complete strangers on a bus, in a pizzeria, a church, mosque, or synagogue? Previous to watching this video, I was unaware of any mass killing in the name of atheism. The title of the video intrigued me; I’m always willing to learn even if what I learn challenges what I believe to be true. This video mostly failed to make the case.

Near the beginning of the video, the infamous atrocities of the Catholic Church are pointed out: The Inquisition, The Crusades, The Conquistadors, and persecution of Protestants and Anabaptists. But instead of recognizing these as atrocities committed by Christians, the video’s creator “Skeptic Antidote” makes the bizarre claim that these were not Christians committing these atrocities but “pagan temple worshipers led by a pope.” Based on this statement, I’m not sure if Skeptic Antidote is anti-Catholic or not; maybe he believes that Catholics are not really Christians. He does admit, however; that these acts were carried out IN GOD’s NAME. I also believe the use of the term “pagan” was intentionally used to confuse people (or maybe he’s confused?) who do not understand the difference between a pagan and an atheist (sometimes these words are used interchangeably). Of course atheists are pagans but not all pagans are atheists. A pagan is a pejorative term referring to someone who is not a Jew, Christian, or Muslim. Atheists would obviously fall into this category because an atheist is simply someone who does not believe in a god or gods (even theists are atheist when it comes to gods other than the ones they believe in). Last time I checked, there are many other religions which are completely separate from these Abrahamic religions (though it’s fair to say that most people in the world belong to one of these religions one way or another). If you do not belong to one of these religions, guess what: you’re a pagan too!

In the next part where the video Skeptic Antidote goes on to list the atrocities of atheists; the viewer is supposed to discount the aforementioned Christian atrocities but any and all atrocities committed by atheists are supposed to attributed to atheism. The first part regarding “The Reign of Terror” is the only legitimate atheist atrocity in the video. However, some context is necessary to understand the conditions which led to the Reign of Terror. The Reign of Terror took place in the height of the French Revolution. This era of French history was embroiled in extreme economic, political, and social chaos; France was a complete basket case. As one political party gained power, the minority rival party members were treated like enemies of the state who could face imprisonment or death. This was a constant vicious cycle.

During the Reign of Terror, the Jacobin faction led by Maximilien de Robespierre controlled the French government. Robespierre and the Jacobin’s put in place the Reign of Terror which was a policy that gave the government the power to violently put down any resistance to the government or the current aims of the revolution. Shortly thereafter, another law was passed called the “Law of Suspects” which allowed the government to extend the terror to anyone who was believed to be a counter-revolutionary. A counter-revolutionary was loosely defined as someone who committed “crimes against liberty” (sounds kind of Orwellian doesn’t it?).

As Skeptic Antidote points out, the clergy were among those who were considered “enemies of the revolution” and many were executed without trial. Why was the clergy believed to be such a threat? Prior to the revolution and during the time of the Monarchy, the clergy enjoyed power and privileges the average French citizen did not. The clergy along with the nobility prevented the middle class from advancing socially and politically, persecuted religious minorities (such as Jews, protestants, and atheists), and used the government as a tool to intrude in the private lives of citizens. In the early part of the Revolution prior to the Jacobins rise to power; the clergy became part of the state. When economic hardship worsened, the government decided to sell some of the church’s property; the rationale was that the property belonged to the government and could do with it whatever the government wished. This did not sit well with the clergy. As the clergy pushed back, new laws were enacted to allow individuals (of any religion or no religion at all) to run for the office of clergy. The clergy were further required to swear an oath of loyalty to the state (as opposed to the Vatican, which revolutionaries thought had entirely too much influence in France’s internal affairs). Understandably, many of the clergy refused and paid with their lives from that moment forward.

The saying “power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely” seems to apply here. When the Catholics controlled the levers of power, they made life difficult on religious minorities. When the atheists took over, they did much the same and exacted revenge. But as I said, this wasn’t merely a jihad against the religious by atheistofacists. About 15% of the 40,000 victims of the Terror were clergy and nobles. The remaining victims were suspected enemies of the Revolution and even others who supported the Revolution who were considered too moderate by Robespierre and more radical elements of the Jacobins. Thomas Paine, who wrote the pamphlet The Age of Reason (which was a scathing rebuke of the Bible and organized religion), narrowly escaped execution by the Jacobins. Luckily for Paine, Robespierre was captured and summarily executed by his own party before Paine had his turn at the guillotine.

Now that we know the context of the Reign of Terror, we can sufficiently comment on these atrocities. Roughly 6,000 Christians were killed at the hands of atheists in the name of atheism. Such acts are atrocities and are shameful. Skeptic Antidote would have us believe that such atrocities are the rule not the exception; I argue the opposite. Among the leading outspoken atheists in the public eye such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, and Annie Laurie Gaylor, who among them would support a similar Reign of Terror against today’s theists? Though they and many atheists loath religion, few would support any such policy.

In the next post I deal with the rest of Skeptic Antidote’s atheist atrocities.
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