Thursday, February 23, 2012

Streisand Effect anyone?

Krystal Myers is a student at Lenoir City high school in Tennessee. She is editor of the school paper, captain of the swim team, and an honors student. Someone any school would be proud to have,right? Apparently not. You see,she is also an atheist and wrote an editorial for the school paper about a lot of potential illegal things going on around her school as far as SOCAS goes. The school's response? To prevent her story from being printed and to suppress it. The school has obviously never heard of the Streisand Effect. Thanks to the internet, Krystal's article can be read by anyone. So here it is. Read it. Spread it around. Send your thoughts to the Lenoir City schools if you want.

People in the atheist movement (and outside of it) are always asking where are all the women in the movement? Apparently they are all in high school (see Jessica Ahlquist as well) and they rock.

Here is Krystal's editorial. Share as you see fit:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thoughts on mocking the beliefs of others

An acquaintance of mine, on Facebook, posted the following status this week: "If you are secure in your own beliefs, then there is no need to mock others in their beliefs."

Now, this person is not a complete fundamentalist. They are pro-choice, pro-birth control, pro-marriage equality, etc. So mostly left-leaning on the social issues. They are one of those people that claim they dislike religion but they are a believer in the existence and divinity of Jesus (I know, that one is a completely different, tangential discussion that we could also discuss all day long.) I'm not sure exactly where they stand on evolution vs creationism. We both found ourselves commenting on another post once regarding Indiana's proposed creation bill, and when I pointed out that creationism was not science, they liked my comment. But they then went on to post their own comment stating that they saw no problem with children being exposed to all kinds of ideas in school. So my guess is leaning toward creationist/ID'er of some-sort.

Interestingly enough, this acquaintance just had a Facebook post and discussion a day prior where they pointed out the issue of Catholic institutions having to provide birth control coverage for their employees being dominated by old, white guys who had no personal skin in the birth control game. So in this discussion, they mocked the folly of the Catholic belief against contraception being used in the political arena to affect the personal health choices of women everywhere. So it was perfectly okay in that moment to not respect someone else's beliefs because of the side of the issue that they came down on. Little bit of hypocrisy there, no? Either you always respect others' beliefs, or you don't. You can't only throw up the "respect my beliefs" shield only when it is your dangerous logic being criticized.

Anyway, getting back to the point of my post, I hear versions of the above sentiment about belief security bandied about a lot by those with faith. Now, by nature, I'm very much a live and let live person. I don't enjoy confrontation normally. When it comes to my atheism, I've always fallen somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of accomodationist vs firebrand. I'm a scientist and an engineer with an education from a science and engineering university, so I'm a strident defender of evolution and scientific thinking. That is my Alamo. I will wade into the fray at all costs when it comes to defending evolution and critical, scientific thinking. However, on most other religious matters, I try to just roll my eyes and walk away.

However, I don't respect this statement. Because if someone else's beliefs are dangerous, I believe that mockery is fully justified. For example, Rick Santorum's "Google Problem." The man is a hateful bigot when it comes to LGBTQ folks. He has also recently compared secularism and lack of religious belief to the beheadings performed by the French during the French revolution. His religious views color his political and world view in such a way that he can justify taking away the rights and freedoms of others in the name of his god. In that respect, Santorum and his ilk deserve all the mockery they get.

I really think what this statement means underneath is "I understand that some of my beliefs require massive amounts of mental gymnastics and cognitive dissonance to hold, I cannot soundly defend some of them without being backed into an indefensible position, so I would appreciate it if you wouldn't challenge me and just leave me be in my cloak of ignorance." This is not a good thing for society. If we are to truly work toward establishing a Heaven on Earth (which is the only Heaven us rational folks believe in,) I think we have to challenge silly superstitions and ideas when they become harmful. This happens when theocrats like Santorum talk about legislating morality. But this criticism should not be reserved for politicians. An Average Joe believing the same thing will teach the nonsense to his children, will propagate the nonsense in discussion with friends, and ultimately will cast votes for politicians like Santorum who will affect the liberty and safety of us all. Maybe I am becoming more of a firebrand, who knows?

The thing is, us non-theists often can't say ANYTHING critical of someone's personally held beliefs without it being viewed as an attack. The minute we ask a question that can't be defended by their scripture or dogma, all of a sudden WE are the bad guy. WE are the offensive ones. If we are talking about beliefs that affect others' personal happiness (marriage equallity,) education (evolution and cosmological science,) and freedom of choice (abortion, sexual preference, lifestyle) then those ideas put forth into the public domain by theists are very much targets for discussion, dissection, and yes, even ridicule. If those ideas are going to try to impact other's lives in such a big way, they need to survive the marketplace of ideas on their own by standing up to scrutiny, not accepted because the religious authorities (God, the Church, the Pope, the priest, whomever) said so.

If people just utilized their religion to inspire their own lives and behavior, and weren't hurting anyone, trying to deny others' liberties, trying to confuse children about science, or trying to base our laws on violent, ancient texts written by primitive people, then I wouldn't mock their silly beliefs or have any problem with it. But as long as there are victims, and people trying to base important decisions in our society that affect others based on self-proclaimed moral superiority from the word of a god they've yet to present, I will continue to say "this is freaking ridiculous", point my finger, and laugh my *** off.

Religion needs to be taken off of the "thou shalt not criticize" list. If the beliefs and actions reinforced by religious teaching are going to infringe on and impact society, then mockery is not out of bounds. If you say that the Earth and man is 6,000 years old when there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary, we should mock you.

As another blogger, JT Eberhard stated: "Religions tell people it’s ok to be irrational. It’s not. It causes 21st century people to abide by moral standards that should’ve died in their parent centuries, such as discrimination against LGBT people. What people believe determines their actions – actions that affect their neighbors. And so the religious beliefs of others are of tremendous consequence to me...and to everybody who believes reason is necessary for a better world."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What is going on in Indiana?

I've lived in Cincinnati for the past 12 years or so. But I was actually born, grew up and went to college in Indiana. So it has gotten my attention that since the first the year, one crazy piece of proposed legislation after another has been hitting the news. In just the past couple of days, I've heard about 1) a proposed education bill which will require teaching "creation science" alongside evolution 2) a law to make it illegal to sing the national anthem the wrong way (I'm serious, I'm not making this up.) 3) and a law that would allow students to be led in the recitation of the Lord's Prayer to start off every school day.

Is this the same state that I grew up in? I was taught evolution in high school, without a hint of creationism. I heard some awfully bad renditions of the national anthem before basketball and baseball games, but I wouldn't want anyone fined over it (no, not even Roseanne.)

Two of these three bills are sponsored by Republican Dennis Kruse (the Lord's Prayer bill and the creationism bill.) Of course, the Star Spangled Banner law is also sponsored by a Republican. Because if you're not singing the anthem the right way, you ain't Americun enough or a big enough patriot.

Let's start with Kruse's creation science bill. The text of that bill is here, but in summary it says:
 Teaching of creation science. Provides that the governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.
Um no, a school may not do this. This has been to the courts and has been settled time and again. Creationism is not science. Period. The Supreme Court held in 1987 in Edwards vs Aguillard that it's unconstitutional for creationism to be taught as science in public schools. There is no way this would stand up under challenge and the school systems and taxpayers would be on the hook to spend money on legal fees and court costs for an effort they will most assuredly lose. Is Dennis Kruse, a supposed fiscal conservative, really advocating something that will cost his constituents lots of wasted tax dollars?

The Indianapolis Star story about Star Spangled Banner law is here. I'm not really sure what to say about this. It just blows my mind period. So the supposed small government GOP of Indiana is really advocating telling people how they can perform the national anthem? I wonder what Jimi Hendrix would have to say about that?

And then we have the Lord's Prayer bill. The text of the bill to allow students to start every day by being led in a prayer is here. The summary of it is:

School prayer. Allows the governing body of a school
corporation or the equivalent authority of a charter school to provide
for the recitation of the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of each school

This one is also being sponsored by Kruse, who obviously is all about making sure he tries everything he can to turn Indiana into a theocracy. Did Mr. Kruse not get the update just last night out of Rhode Island? You can't advocate prayer in school. This is a clear violation of the separation clause and has been upheld time and time again by the courts. There isn't even any attempted veiling of this one, Kruse is coming right out and saying that our children would be better off if they prayed the Lord's Prayer every day.  Here's the thing. The Lord's Prayer appears in the bible in Matthew 6:9-13. Appearing just before that in the bible is Mathew 6:5, which tells Christians this:
When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.
FOUR VERSES PRIOR! Look back just four verses Mr. Kruse.  Then tell me, if your bible is the words to live by, how forcing our school children to recite your Christian prayer every day is not a direct violation of your Lord's own instructions. But Kruse doesn't care. He's just willing to play his part for the GOP machine and drum up controversy around prayer, evolution and creationism in a red state in an election year.

If any of these laws are enacted, none of them will stand up under court challenge. The constituents of Indiana need to decide if they're going to continue to support lawmakers who refuse to spend legislative time on the real problems we have today and instead keep retreading over tired, settled, religious nonsense to try to force it upon our children.

Jessica Ahlquist has won her court case!

What a great welcome-to-the-blogosphere gift for the Cincinatheist to receive. I have been following the fight of 16-year-old Cranston, Rhode Island high-schooler Jessica Ahlquist for the past year. Jessica is an atheist who took her high school to court over the Christian prayer banner hanging in the school's auditorium after the school's administration refused to take it down when asked. The banner reads:

Our Heavenly Father.

Grant us each day the desire to do our best.
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically.
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers.
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others.
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.
Teach us the value of true friendship.
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.


Well, tonight the court released their decision, and Jessica was victorious. You can read the entire, 40 page court decision here if you're into that kind of thing.

Jessica and her family put up with lots of hate and bile both from within and outside of their community during this whole process. But she bravely persevered and even became part of the activist atheist community, doing things such as giving talks over the past year for organizations like the Secular Student Alliance.

Hemant, over at the Friendly Atheist, has set up a Chip-In account for those who would like to donate to a scholarship fund to Jessica so that she can go to a wonderful college. One where, as Hemant put it, "she can be respected in a way that many of the people at her high school don't." If you'd like to throw in a couple bucks for Jessica, click below.

You can read about the decision in the Providence, RI newspaper here. (Also, for fun you can read the comments on that story where the Christians are tripping over themselves and working themselves into a tizzy about this being an assault on their freedom of religion.)

This needs to serve as a warning to school boards and local governments around the country. Pious displays of religious symbols on public property and in public buildings could end up costing a lot of money if legal action is pursued. So just use your brains and take them down when called upon (or better yet, don't put them up in the first place.) Because due to the hard-headedness of the Cranston West school board, the taxpayers of the local community and the school are now on the hook for court costs that will have to be paid with money that could have, nay, should have, gone towards educating the students.

Congrats again on your bravery Jessica. Oh, and don't forget to add her blog to your feed/reader to keep up with her musings.

Science saved my soul

I can't remember where I first came across this video from video blogger Phil Hellenes. But I know, that after watching it, I immediately had to go watch it again. The video contains so many quotes and ideas that you'd like to file away to use later, that while your mind is still chewing on one thing he said, you miss three more. Yes, it is fifteen minutes long, and in this short-order, microwave world we live in, that can be an eternity for a YouTube video. But nothing has ever made me feel so insignificant yet so lucky and important all at once. So do yourself a favor, watch this video. Then watch it again, and maybe again. Actually, as one of my friends said, watch it every morning while having your cup of joe to start your day.

And we're live...

The Cincinatheist is a blog that will document the thoughts, opinions, outlook, and experience of one father living non-theistically in the conservative city of Cincinnati, OH. I will also gather and share thoughts, current events, news stories, and other items of interest that I come across on the topics of religion, politics, philosophy, and whatever else wanders through my brain.

I decided to start this blog not to try to compete with the other great atheist/freethinking blogs that are already out there (whose links can be found  in the right column under the "Sites I Love" section), but to complement them.  And to give myself an outlet (other than Facebook, which just brings too much drama sometimes) to vent and possibly save an aneurysm. The greater Cincinnati area (southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky) is particularly conservative--especially having a traditionally Catholic heritage. Just south of Cincinnati in Petersburg, Kentucky, we even have the Creation Museum, a "museum" built and operated by the group Answers In Genesis, which attempts to educate the public on the "fact" that the bible creation story should be interpreted literally. Living as a non-believer in this city can be challenging at times, and I'd like to share those thoughts, stories and experiences here with others. That is, if in fact, assuming anyone ever reads this thing.

So welcome. Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment on any of the entries, submit relevant articles that you think would be of interest, or even submit personal stories to me via email that you would like to share to cincinatheist -at- gmail (dot) com.