Monthly Archives: February 2012

Atheists are Dumb, Maybe Literally

If you are at the University of Chicago, you may have noticed that the Secular Alliance is currently having an event marathon: a Greta Christina Youtube clip day, a Greta Christina (yes the actual person) talk about Atheism and Sexuality, a “Transfaith” discussion with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a movie night hangout, participation in a Speed Faithing event, and a cookie giveout/free hugs day. This is all within the next one and a half weeks! All of this requires a lot of planning and advertising so people can actually show up and have a great time at our fun events.

It was to our surprise that VP Alex Novet noticed that one of our flyers was heavily vandalized. Take a look here:

Sure, the flyer had a quirky (maybe even offensive) and funny slogan to it. Sure, it may have been a cheap way to entice people come to one of our meetings (using Satanic offerings like ice cream). Sure, we featured a feminist-atheist-queer speaker who loudly criticized the grotesque, extreme immorality that religion is uniquely capable of. Sure, we’re not everybody’s cup of tea.

But atheists are dumb? Really? Literally?

Are we less intelligent on average? Do we make stupid arguments? Do we as a whole act or think in idiotic ways? Is there even any evidence that atheist communities are in fact mindless communities who don’t think critically and intelligently about our world and our place in it?

I’ve had enough of this. What do you think?

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Secularism is the Religion of Humanity

What does it mean to be “secular”? Does it mean that you’re an anti-theist or even an atheist? No it doesn’t. The word “secular” originally meant a preoccupation with worldly, human affairs. It’s not just a denial of religion, but an affirmation of humanity. Robert G. Ingersoll explains:

Secularism is the religion of humanity, for it embraces the affairs of this world. It is interested in everything that touches the welfare of a sentient being. It advises attention to the particular planet on which we happen to live. It means that each individual counts for something. It is a declaration of intellectual independence. It says that the pew is superior to the pulpit. It says that those who bear the burdens shall have the profits, and that they who fill the purses shall hold the strings. It is a protest against ecclesiastical tyranny, against being the serf, subject, or slave of any phantom, or the priest of any phantom. It proposes to let the gods take care of themselves. It is living for ourselves and each other, for the present instead of the past, for this world instead of another. It is striving to do away with violence and vice, ignorance, poverty, and disease. But it does not believe in praying and receiving, but in earning and deserving. It says to the whole world: Work that you may eat, drink, and be clothed! Work that you may enjoy! Work that you may give and never need! That is secularism. That is the religion of humanity.

Robert G. Ingersoll was a 19th century orator who was known for his passionate defense of secularism during the Golden Age of Freethought.

Rap

Is the Singularity coming? I don’t know, but this song by Gripp is awesome. Consider some of these lyrics:

You will never go back, once you’re given the awe. It’s grander than any caricature religion can draw…

We need clear heads to get out of this mess, so tell religious leaders step aside, it’s probably best.

And my favorite:

Religion and science have a different basic approach. You see, one of them built the planes. The other made them explode.

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, assembled in 1820, is the title of the Thomas Jefferson’s edited compilation of the stories in the New Testament. Jefferson literally took a razor and cut out all the supernatural, nonsensical aspects of the Gospels and kept all the stories that had moral value.

I was very fortunate to be able to see the actual Jefferson Bible during my visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. They have a new exhibit that recently opened in November 2011 and will run until July 2012.

This is what the American History Museum looks like on the outside.

 

The exhibit was right next to this more permanent one about Jefferson’s involvement in the dark side of slavery.

 

The entrance into the exhibit.

 

“Left behind in the source material were those elements that he could not support through reason or that he believed were later embellishments, such as the miracles and the Resurrection.”

 

More background information.

 

At last, the thing itself.

Darwin Day in Washington, D.C.

For those of you who don’t know, the Smithsonian Institution is one of the largest research and museum complexes in the world. Located mostly in Washington, D.C., the museums all have free admission.

I couldn’t therefore turn down the opportunity (which was a large coincidence) to visit the National Museum of Natural History on Darwin Day.

It was pretty busy on that cold Sunday afternoon.

I learned about the evolutionary history of animals in the sea.

But the Natural History Museum doesn’t just have countless displays of animals (and really cool animals like dinosaurs). It has one of the best Human Origins exhibits I’ve ever seen.

You see a clear progression in brain size.

The timeline below of 6 million years is so unbelievably, unthinkably long that it cannot really be imagined. Yet, I realize it is nothing compared to the timeline of the Earth and the Cosmos. We are newcomers to this Universe indeed.

This is what fascinates me most about human evolution. There may have been over a dozen “human-like” species, and we are just one of them. We are the descendants of not one Adam and Eve, but entire populations of intermingling, interbreeding species and subspecies. Our evolutionary history is not as clean as many would like to believe. Unlike our cousins, we may have simply been lucky.

This is the full scope of the kind of diversity we are talking about. By the way, of the humanoids in the picture below, which of them do you think had souls? Which of them do you think thought about the afterlife or had religion?

Compared to the set of all human-like species, modern Homo sapiens are very much the same. Though we may have evolved some distinguishing features like skin color and facial features, we all come from the same place.

Sexism and Why I Can’t Stand it Anymore

First a disclaimer. I’m not even a feminist blogger, at least it isn’t what I focus on. And yes, I don’t normally post on feminist issues because apart from some mundane economic topics on this, I don’t have much to add.

However, there are moments when, as Martin Luther King said, silence is betrayal, and saying nothing is lethal. I had this exact sentiment after attending a good event put on by the Muslims Students Association at my university. They invited a young female evangelical student (who I shall not identify apart from her association with IVCF) and who wanted to speak about modesty and gender roles. This student talked about an interesting experience where she wore the Hijab during Lent. A large part of the presentation, however, was reading verbatim from select Biblical verses in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians, which I reproduce below:

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her ownhead, because of the angels.  Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

I thought these passages were up to “interpretation” and careful reading that took into account its historical context. I thought they were like commandments to stone homosexuals and keep slaves for your own, that is, not taken seriously.

Not so on that day. It was clear that the young lady who was presenting took these passage quite literally; she emphasized that the role of women in the world was to glorify God by being good wives and submitting to their husbands (although one must find a loving Christian husband in the first place). She talked about how the role of women was to have a baby, and how she wanted to “give” her pure body away on her wedding night.

This kind of twisted sexist theology is something that we should never accept, and yes, I just can’t stand this stuff anymore. Women are not baby factories. They are not submissive wives. And they aren’t “created” for men any more than men are “created” for women. The great thing about our secular society is that women don’t have to be wives. They don’t have to get married. Their purpose, role, and destiny is their own to create, to imagine, to pursue. It’s rather unfortunate that women have made so much progress and yet still face so many challenges in the form of glass ceilings, sexual objectification, cultural misogyny, and in this case, sexist theology.

Another terrible part of this ideology is that it contributes to a culture that makes life so much worse for people who do not fit into the male/female dichotomy, or feel that they are a different gender than their biological sex. I asked why the gender binary was necessary/relevant and got the usual response: the same usual “love the sinner” and “show them Jesus” nonsense that avoids the issue. The fact of the matter is that the promotion of gender roles completely alienates people who don’t fit in your dogmatic categories. Is it really surprising that so many LGBTQ youth grow up in this kind of Christian culture and want to leave their households, hide inside social closets, or in some cases kill themselves, despite all our desperate attempts to convey “love”? The fact is that this kind of Christianity gives no adequate answers because some people just don’t fit in.

Part of the reason why this is so important is that even in Christianity, there a move towards egalitarianism, which many theologians find is more in the spirit of a loving, liberal Christianity. More and more people are rejecting the selective and literalist interpretation of passages, and I’ve met many sex-positive, LGBTQ-affirming Christians on campus that have really changed my perspective on what Christianity is. I can’t say that this is a bad thing.

And the kind of active condemnation and disapproval of sexism I’m talking about should be universal. I felt the same “I can’t stand it anymore” sentiment when the Amazing Atheist (an active Youtuber) explicitly called for the rape of another human being. Fortunately, Reddit was immediately filled with condemnations, and he reached a new high in terms of disapproval. So yes, sexism is everywhere.

It is as important as ever that we remain vigilant about these issues and to stand up when needed. Doing otherwise is something I cannot accept.

Putting Life Into Perspective

It is almost Darwin Day, and before the cakes and celebrations and talks about biology start in various secular/scientific communities around the world, I think it is absolutely vital to remind ourselves of the big picture. Come reflect with us, as we, with our fallibilities, cognitive biases, and irrational tendencies, ponder about our place in the Universe, where we came from, and where we are going.

What a Majestic Story