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SSA Blogathon Here

It’s SSA’s blogathon week! In case you didn’t know, the Secular Student Alliance empowers students from all over the country to build secular communities and to do generally awesome things.

So if you’re willing to donate money, let me know, and I’ll write a blog post for you right here on Inspirational Freethought, on any topic of your choice, which will be published from 12PM to 6PM this Sunday!

If you’re not in the position to donate, you can still request a blog post, although I can’t guarantee it, and I just won’t be as nice to you. =)

So any topics, issues, or questions you’re interested in?

The Most Inspirational Image from SSA Con: Water

At the 2012 Secular Student Alliance Conference this past weekend, Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism told us that we don’t win every battle. Not every church and state issue goes our way. Not every debate or argument ends in someone changing his or her mind. And superstition, irrationality, bigotry, and religious dogma often run over our lives. For some of us, there are moments in time when it seems like every street corner is filled with nothing but church steeples and people praying.

But the secular movement is not magic. We can’t transfigure things instantly. Things will be broken for a long time, and we have to understand that.

The secular movement is like water. It may feel soft and gentle when you look at it under a microscope, but it’s water, and it can form a raging river.

And that raging river, if you let it run, can do this:

This why you should be inspired.

Every progressive movement–including the abolitionist movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, and the gay rights movement–pushed back against mountains and mountains of established, entrenched dogma (and most often religious dogma).

But guess what? The activists in those movements won, or are currently winning.

And the secular movement is going to win too.

We’re not just going to change minds. We’re going to change society.

We’re going to win full legislative equality. We’re going to win a popular majority. We’re going to make society more liberal and tolerant. We’re going to establish social justice. We’re going to make this century the century of science and rationality. We’re going to make atheism and humanism normal and accepted.

As Dave Silverman says, the only thing stopping us now is apathy.

This Image Gives Me Hope

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?

Church Visit #1 and Nice Surprises

I, along with some heathen buddies at the UChicago Secular Alliance, are taking a tour of the many religious services around the Chicago-land area. We plan on going to Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, and more. We started our journey today at Living Hope, a small Presbyterian church that has its services at one of UChicago’s buildings.

First of all, the music was excellent. It was much more lively and eventful than the last church I’ve been to; a Jehovah’s Witness sermon literally bored me to yawning tears.

Most admirable was the community’s concern with violence and injustice in the local community. Though I don’t agree with prayer as a treatment for a serious problem, people at the church demonstrated that they were very aware of the insane amounts of shootings and criminal activities on our own streets. Inspired by this, I hope to speak to this topic and/or raise awareness at an SSA meeting.

After the sermon, the Pastor gave us a chance to have a Q/A session which was quite productive. We got to ask questions like, “how does faith impact your life?” and “Why do you pray?”

The first question I got to ask related to the service because there were quite a few instances when people prayed for people to get well in a hospital. I was wondering if people actually thought that their prayers would have an effect on the outcome. The answers I got, frankly, really surprised me.

There was a young lady who said she knew prayer worked because she or one of her friends (these things are always anecdotal, so bear with me here) had a miracle cure that was inexplicable. One day, a person didn’t need crutches anymore. The pastor also referenced a few examples in his life when people suddenly got better. I had no idea in this day and age, much less in an environment like the University of Chicago, people still subscribe to these superstitious beliefs about faith-healing. Of course, there was some discussion about scientific studies about the (non)influence of prayer, but few seemed to understand that virtually all the scientific literature pointed to the fact that prayer has no medical effect. Someone briefly mentioned this study which showed that only when patients knew that they were being prayed for was there an effect (and the effect was negative because of performance anxiety).

Anyways, the more interesting part of the discussion came when we discussed topics like morality and “finding hope as an atheist”. Nothing surprised me here, and the arguments on both sides were pretty standard. We got very very good questions from the Christians there too, like “How do you define good?” and “Where did we develop the ability to empathize?”

Of course, I’d be surprised once again. The pastor talked about how great it would be to survive one’s death and live into an afterlife. After all, we could do so much more than just try to leave a legacy here on Earth. My response was simply that, yes, although I find Hell an appalling concept, the idea of Heaven–the idea that one could survive death–is very appealing. It would be great if it were true.

The pastor then replied, “Oh. So you simply don’t see that the Resurrection shows that there is an after-life.”

“What? Did you say that the Resurrection proves that there is an after-life?” asking for clarification when I couldn’t believe my ears.

Do you see where this is going? Even if one could demonstrate positively that there was a Resurrection, there is no possible relevance to the question of whether there is an after-life.

I commented that I myself could be Resurrected, and everything I say could be nonsense. After all, there were many Resurrections in the Bible. Clearly, there was something terribly wrong with his argument.

So the pastor clarified that the Resurrection demonstrated the existence of an after-life because of who Jesus was. He was supposedly an exemplary moral figure, a man who made spectacular claims about the Universe, and performed many many miracles. He even predicted his own future. I found it quite odd that he admits that the Resurrection itself isn’t sufficient; it is only sufficient when it is couple with even more spectacular non-sequitur claims about being related to God, predicting the future, and performing miracles.

But how does that show anything? First of all, I can easily conceive of a (fictional) person who made the spectacular claims that Jesus did, did all the miracles, acted perfectly moral, and fulfilled many prophecies. Yet, he could still be the Devil’s assistant, sent here to trick men into believing an after-life.

But that’s not even the main problem with the argument. The most surprising thing is that this is a pastor advising people on what he believes based on a widely fallacious argument from authority.

Suppose Jesus said something demonstrably true like “for all right triangles, side one squared plus side two squared equals the hypotenuse squared”. It would seem like the pastor would like us to believe that the theorem is true because Jesus said it. I, and most atheists, on the other hand, think that propositions are true or false based on the properties of the thing being referred to (in this case, a right triangle). We believe therefore the only proper way to know if something is true is to study the thing itself (through geometry) and not by listening to authority.

Similarly, answers to questions like “is there an afterlife?” beg for study of the existence of the afterlife itself. We can try to study consciousness to see if it can possibly survive after death. We can refer to cognitive philosophy. We can look at studies of near-death experiences. Maybe the endeavor is futile, and we can’t know the answer.

But too many religious people say they already know, and that it is true because a figure in a desert said it was so, and because he:

i) had a mom who never had sex
ii) could turn water in wine
iii) claimed to be the Son of God
iv) was a perfect moral figure
v) etc. etc. etc.

If we imagine this list going to infinity, would that convince us? Would that convince you?

Always looking for surprises. Until next time, don’t keep the faith.

SSA Poster Vandalized

Interestingly, when I was photographing the IVCF poster yesterday, I came upon something peculiar on one of our own posters for Superstition Bash. (SuperBash is a huge event put on by the UChicago Secular Student Alliance for this Friday the 13th.)

As you can see, it’s quite faint, and I barely noticed it. But there’s a giant “X,” written with white chalk, on our poster. You can see my chalked finger when I rubbed it.

Now, I never knew there were such ardent defenders of superstitious nonsense. Could it be the homeopathy apologists, or the true believers in Bigfoot? Some of us suspect it was either the crop-circlers or the fortune cookie addicts. I personally believe that it was masterminded by the fanatical practitioners of ESP.

Seriously though, whatever faith-based tribe you come from, drawing on people’s posters is not nice.

This is not the first time UChicago SSA’s posters have been defaced. The last incident involved a conversation with UChicago Bias Response that raised the question of whether the defacing was a “hate crime.”

In other words, we take stuff like this really seriously. And you should too.

—-

P.S. The Superstition Bash is happening on Friday the 13th of May, and you’re invited! There will be a FREE DINNER and AWESOME ENTERTAINMENT (featuring The Shaft, Occam’s Razor, Voices in Your Head), as well as a whole array of attractions and activities.

It’s sponsored by the Spiritual Life Office at Rockefeller Chapel. It is not offensive, and there’s no reason to vandalize over it.

I hope to see you there. Check out http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=167232626667710 for more information.

The Double Standard

When a group of students set up a table at Larkin High School for Ask An Atheist Day, the principal didn’t think it was such a big deal.

“Kids could come up to the table and ask them questions,” Tuin said. “Students didn’t have to go up to them and talk. It wasn’t like a group came in to do a presentation.”

Exactly. Atheist groups have a right to have their own tables, just like any other student group in the high school. But apparently, some parents weren’t very happy.

“They were here to talk about atheism,” said Shavon Stanback of Elgin. “That’s totally unacceptable to me.”

She continued: “I’m a Christian woman. I believe in God. I believe in heaven and hell.”

While this woman is just completely outrageous, this attitude of “why are atheists here at all?” is very common.

I’ve been asked countless times why the SSA exists on campus, most often from people with the presumption that the group is pointless to begin with.

There’s also the double standard. The students at Larkin High weren’t even proselytizing. They were not going out and interrupting people in the halls or making announcements on the PA system. They weren’t confrontational at all, and they only made contact with people who chose to come and speak to them.

But for the mere act of having a presence, atheists are labeled as “militant,” as people willing to push their beliefs on others.

And when religious groups go further and actually proselytize (notably the Christian ones), they are seen as contributing to the overall discussion and stirring up valuable debate.

Creationist Bingo

There are some wacky things in life that are just so amazingly fun. Snowball fights, Nerf gun wars, Apples to Apples, and now, thanks to the UChicago SSA, Creationist Bingo.

My favorite video:

The square for this was “Life can’t come from non-life,” but I was about to put it on “Simple Stupidity/Ignorance.”

Anyways, I was very inspired to find a video more awesome than Ray Comfort’s intelligently designed banana.

Keep Trying and Never Give Up

If there’s anything that new-age Christians and “liberal” religious people do, it is that they keep trying and they never give up.

I’m writing this somewhat in response to the graduate advisor for the UChicago Secular Student Alliance. He writes a blog called Sleeping in Sundays, and apparently this Sunday, he couldn’t find a better example of ignorance and dishonesty than from a post by Sam Harris, who, after citing a myriad of verses from it, merely concluded that the Quran gives “a unified message of triumphalism, otherworldliness, and religious hatred” and that Muslims who deny this are being dishonest.

Note that this in no way obstructs what Muslims in particular and religious people in general want to do anyways: interpret and metaphorize every verse that conflicts with 21st century morals. There’s no denying that this is what religious people do. But should this impress us?

The usual argument goes like this:

The reason that we have so many crazies (creationists, genital mutilators, suicide bombers, etc.) and backwards societies (theocracies, religious laws, religious education, etc.) is that there are a few fundamentalists. Why do millions and millions of people take to the streets to call for governments to shut down newspapers? Why do religious societies treat women so horribly? Why do we open therapy camps in this country to treat homosexuality? It’s the fundamentalists. They ruin it for everyone else. Simple as that.

How do they ruin it for everyone else? Fundamentalists: they aren’t as fancy and sophisticated as us. They don’t think about the text. They don’t look at context. They don’t look at history. And most important of all: they don’t “struggle” and “wrestle” with the text. They just give up.

The solution? Let’s have the determination to wrestle with the text. When there’s something in the Bible that is outrageous, you must be reading it wrong. When there are entire stories in the Quran that show the overwhelming superiority of Muslims over atheists, you must be ignoring history. Indeed, if you ever ever have an interpretation of a Holy Book that is upsetting, you just aren’t trying hard enough to contextualize it. The solution to all these social ills is to keep trying, to never ever give up.

When countless societies and millions and millions of religious people fail again and again and again at reaching the “correct” interpretation (one in line with secular humanistic values), let’s keep trying again and again and again to fix it, by wrestling with the text.

What He Learned at Straight Camp

An extremely entertaining guy, Ted Cox showed up at the University of Chicago at an event hosted by the Secular Student Alliance. He is a journalist who pretended to be gay in order to infiltrate multiple therapy camps designed to cure homosexuality. Of course, he’s really straight and an atheist, and he gives an amazing presentation about the history of the religious ex-gay movement and his own experiences.

Here’s a photo tour of our event.

His (beautiful) Powerpoint presentation.

 

Rubberbands were handed out to all audience members. Pourquoi je ne sais pas.

(Actually they were used in the straight camps so that you could fling the rubber band at yourself each time you had a sinful homosexual thought.)

 

It’s a crowded room…

 

Alas, we see him. He gets freaked out by the camera sometimes.

 

Our SSA President giving a short introduction.

 

He begins talking. What does he talk about?

 

He gives a warning/disclaimer to those faint at heart. I was about to leave when I saw “Jesus on a Dinosaur.” Oh the trauma…

 

“Journey Into Manhood” — the Christian straight camp that Ted Cox infiltrated.

 

A group of volunteers taking directions.

 

What they did was re-enact a therapy technique called the “Motorcycle.” It involves giving manly support to the person (via touch) in the middle while singing Christian music. Note: this is not meant to be sexual in any way. Apparently the audience didn’t do it right (we just giggled all the way through), and nobody was cured.

 

Our graduate student advisor looking very interested.

 

Scholars on the connection between the status of homosexuality and the role of women in the Bible.

 

Ted answers questions from the audience.

 

The post-event SSA dinner. Apparently Ted loves beer.