Archive for August, 2009

Company of Fools- The Religious Right and Health Care

August 27, 2009

I was reading when I came across this gem:

“That’s really where this battle will be won — on our knees in prayer and fasting.” — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), quoted by the Minnesota Independent, on how Republicans will stop health care reform.

That’s right, Bachmann is once again bringing the crazy. In a “teletownhall” meeting along with North Carolina Rep. Foxx, and former Colorado Rep. Musgrave Bachmann parroted Palin’s “death panels” nonsense, indicated that all medical doctors might be required to perform abortions, and suggested that “in God’s timing that he may have allowed us, as members of Congress, to be in the position that we’re in just for this specific issue right now.”

Well, that’s it then. I’m sure many religious people have lain awake at night wondering why God would make someone like Michele Bachmann. The liberal religious types will be disappointed. Obviously Michele Bachmann’s purpose in life is to oppose health care for the poor and sick, just as Jesus would have wanted. Wait a minute. I was raised Lutheran and I happen to remember Jesus was all about healing and feeding the sick. How on earth could Bachmann be using her religion to oppose people getting medical care? Here’s how:

“Everything that all of us have worked together and labored for over the years, all of it could be undermined with this one bill. President Obama realizes that. The radicals that are on the pro-abortion left, they realize that. They could win it all. And the unborn, and the vulnerable, the disabled and those at the end of life could lose it it all.”

Allow me to work this through. You are saying that the people many conservatives have called bleeding heart liberals for years are in fact not interested in health care at all? They are only using health care as part of a plot to kill babies, disabled people and and the elderly? Ah. Well then. That makes perfect sense. But before I back away from you slowly, I need to make an important point to my fellow humans who like the idea of caring for each other.

Bachmann didn’t stop with this: “That’s really where this battle will be won — on our knees in prayer and fasting,”

If she had, we’d have nothing to worry about from her quarter- we could go about doing things to help people and her crowd could kneel and talk to themselves. She said this, though: “Remember: faith without works is dead. So we’re asking you to do all of it: pray, fast, believe, trust the Lord, but also act.”

That act bit is scary. It means that many people will be opposing reform of a health system that drastically needs it even though that reform will help everyone, including themselves. And they will be doing it for reasons that have nothing to do with the actual stakes involved. The fact that their reasons are vacuous doesn’t make them less effective while donating money. It might when trying to convince reasonable people to be on their side- but there are plenty of unreasonable people out there and it won’t necessarily make them harder to convince.

If we don’t educate people about the actual stakes involved as opposed to the fictional ones and we don’t do our utmost to help our fellows by talking to our politicians and donating to the cause, health care reform will not happen. Something might happen, but it won’t be reform. That is not an outcome that is acceptable to a great many people who are uninsurable or to the many more that will become uninsurable the moment their insurance company finds a way to weasel out of paying their first major claim.

Edit: I’m adding this link: Fresh Health Care Insanity: Death Book, Prayer, and Unicorns as I am impressed by his amusing and concise summation of the, yes, insanity we have in lieu of a serious discussion of health care reform.

Further Edit: I’m thanking Hemant Mehta for his treatment of Michele Bachmann’s Solution to the Health Care Crisis and for linking to me, thus sending godless hordes my way. I have to admit, I’ve missed the hordes since the SSA conference.

Secular Student Alliance (And Lyz Liddell, Their Secret Weapon)

August 20, 2009

I decided I wanted to start a campus group to discuss science, to promote human rights and freedom of speech, and to let other atheists know they aren’t alone. In the summer, clubs are defunct at my campus, so I had time to mull this over. And I came across the SSA. I liked their mission statement, the short form of which is taken from their site and posted here*:

“We welcome as affiliates campus groups that share our values of naturalism, reason and compassion in the service of making the world a better place for all humanity. Our philosophical worldview is informed by the methods of science, recognizes the evolution of our knowledge and is free from dogma and open to revision as new evidence and more compelling reasons are presented.” – August Brunsman

The horrible part is that, “evil atheist” as August is, he gives me nothing to argue with- I agree on every point- how can I deal with that? I have to read more. (Yes, that last phrase will likely become my battle cry around here.)

To make matters worse, they schedule a trip to bring as many of this skeptical bunch as would like to go to the Creation Museum Temple to Ignorance immediately before their conference. At this point I concede they have solid ideals, writing skills, and style.

So I join up. I pay my student membership fee of 10 bucks, and pay to attend the conference. I also apply for a travel grant-which I received at the conference- for $200 which is a greater amount than the money I’ve paid at this point to the SSA. (This generosity is one- but only one- reason I now donate $5 a month to the SSA.)

I also request a group starting packet. My sense of how incredibly organized the SSA is gets affirmed, because I get the most well written confirmation request email I’ve ever seen. It has only one typo. Could it possibly be that either 1) someone actually proofreads their form letters or 2) a real human sent the request receipt? So I confirm, and I send back a letter pointing out the typo, not sure if I was dealing with a human. I wasn’t, but here is when I encounter their secret weapon because instead of a program simply noting that my address replied, Lyz got my email, fixed the typo in their automatic responder and sent me an email which ended with “ps – Thanks for catching our typo – I’ve fixed it right up!”

This was impressive and a bit intimidating. Allow me to explain something: If I could not make appointments on my iphone, I would probably forget to socialize, to go to meetings, to do anything not in my normal routine. I am not an organized person, except when it comes to bookshelves. (By the way, please put books on re-shelving carts instead of random places on shelves. Thank you, on behalf of all librarians, library techs, and shelvers.) The idea that someone is reading every single email that the SSA receives is a daunting one. Later, when I realized that it is only one someone- Lyz- reading through all of them, it became even more impressive, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The summer quarter ended the day before the conference began, so in order to get from California to Ohio on time, my beautiful, kind and sweet fiancee (who reads my blog) picked me up immediately after I finished my last final and brought me to the airport.  I got to Columbus at 1:38 local time, less than 4 hours before I had to wake up to get a ride to Columbus. Yes, I am hardcore. (For a given value of hardcore)

Hemant Mehta gave me a ride from there to the Creation “Museum.” Which was a relief, because when the meetup address turned out to be an apartment instead of a public place, I had a few paranoid thoughts about creationists with misleading screennames, guns and grudges against the ungodly.

I met a bunch of unbelievers at that apartment and had an enjoyable conversation with four of them on the drive to and from Ham’s Folly.

I helped Lyz set up the registration table and it was halfway through that process that I noticed the spelling on her nametag and said “Oh, you’re that Lyz!” Lyz seems used to gathering volunteer labor wherever she can find it and- without any assistants other than those she created out of the early comers to the conference building- had the lobby ready well before the scheduled start of the first talk. The SSA’s secret weapon strikes again.

I won’t go too far into the talks, but here is my short list of people I’d most like to speak to my college community, and my campus group once it is up and running:

Sean Faircloth- because of his practical talk about how to lobby representatives as well as his inspirational talk about the Constitution and the actual beliefs of the founders of the United States of America.

Jesse Galef- because of his practical talk about how to lobby representatives.

Lyz Liddell- because of her advice on getting people to meetings and her organizational skills. I will have to email her about getting her talk up on the Secular Student youtube channel. I’ll bet she emails me back before I manage to post my first book review.

Ashley Paramore- because of her great insight and experience with service projects.

Jonathan Weyer-because of his insight as a Christian working with atheists.

Amanda Metskas- because Camp Quest is a wonderful idea.

Jason Torpy- because of his experience and fortitude as an atheist in a foxhole.

Hemant Mehta- because of his humorous handling of a crucial subject for many nonbelievers of college age- dating.

August Berkshire- because his talk seemed to be a wonderful jumping off point to spark debate and discussion at the community college level.

P.Z. Myers- because he understands and communicates that humor is more effective than anger when opposing anti scientific religious claims and he also doesn’t take himself too seriously.

What I will talk more about is the sense of community at the event. Many of the students hadn’t been before and only knew people by reputation or not at all. Despite this, there was a quick and effortless camaraderie. I think part of it was a shared knowledge of what it is to be on the outside. In a world and especially a country so saturated by religion, it is an amazing thing to be in a large group of people who treat religious claims in the same manner as other claims- as subject to evaluation and critique, and when lacking supporting evidence, dismissal.

My opinion is that another part of the equation was the lack of barriers to humanity. Too often religious doctrines blinds people to simple morality- not in all religions or for all adherents of a given religion but too often- simple morality that declares that humans deserve human rights, that ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, class and belief are all categories which are less important than the basic category of human. Some people make causal connections between atheism and beliefs, but how can a lack of belief in a deity be a cause of belief?

It is not. Rather, it is the barrier of faith in doctrinal religion which causes a a lack of connection between humans and the instinctive morality we would develop in the absence of absolute faith based decrees.

We may have had other barriers, but without that very significant one we were able to connect with a speed and ease which was inspiring and heartwarming. I thank all of you who were there with me. Especially those who conversed with me, argued with me, or laughed with me. You are part of my extended community, even if from now on we only communicate through this medium or others indirect.

And to Lyz and August and the others who organized and kept this event running as scheduled- with time in between talks to socialize and build a sense of community- thank you. Perhaps this sense of community will keep people involved in what is a potentially powerful movement for human rights and freedom of expression.

*The full version is at this link:

Creation “Museum”, also known as Ham’s Folly.

August 18, 2009

I have been putting off these posts for too long. I still haven’t got my pictures, but I will just have to add those later.

The trip was hilarious and sad and fun and upsetting and insulting and uplifting all at once.

That sentence didn’t make sense on the face of it, so let me explain:

The exhibits were hilarious in a horrifying, “they can’t really believe this, right- but if they didn’t, they wouldn’t build it, so they must believe it- but it is insane” sort of way. My favorite examples? 1)Believing that the earth contained enough water to flood the entirety of its surface to a height topping the tallest mountains and 2) Their epic fail with dinosaurs. Apparently Ham thinks that Noah saved all of the dinosaurs from drowning on the Ark, but the flood killed off every single plant the dinosaurs ate while leaving alive all of the plants eaten by humans and every other type of animal. The death of all of the carnivorous dinosaurs? I must have missed that part. Thankfully and helpfully, the other SSA members had apparently brought extra reserves of wit and humor and plain snark with them, which intensified the humor while mitigating the horror.

The trip was sad because I looked around this joke of a “museum” while small children became further insulated against science under the eyes of their already insulated parents. Really and truly, if anybody wants to bemoan the lack of scientific understanding in this country, I challenge them to tour the Creation “Museum” and come to the conclusion that religion is harmless in this regard. I’m looking at you, Mooney and Kirshenbaum.

It was fun because I met many great people who I was able to hang around with during the tour. If only we had more time, I’m sure just the handful of people I roamed with could have punched holes in every claim made in that Temple to Unreason.

The exhibits were upsetting in the sheer lack of regard for fact and reality. If any of the individuals making those exhibits had the smallest concern with truth, the results would have been far different. Of course, if they limited themselves to the truth, it would either not exist, or it would be a real museum.

The theme running through the tour was insulting to the entire species, pitting “Human Reason” against “God’s Word” and implying strongly that Human Reason was nothing to trust or be proud to possess. In addition, I felt resentful of the scare tactics they used about the big bad atheist. I was wearing my name tag which said Secular Student Alliance and my name, and I did my usual when interacting with people in customer service: said thank you to all of the staff who scanned my ticket or opened a door or helped me in any way- and although some of the staff said “You’re welcome” sincerely, two shied back from me. Did they think that talking with me would endanger their souls? Did they think I was going to lunge at them and rip out their throats? Maybe is my best answer to both questions. I frequently get mistaken as a Christian by Christians, (“Oh, you’re such a nice Christian boy.” “Well, you are partly right…”) and even with my experience with that, I was bothered by how much my group membership shaped perception of me.

Finally, the members of the SSA were uplifting in their humor, their curiosity, their respect for rational thought, and the way in which everyone treated everyone else with respect and civility, even when debating economics or politics while shuttling between Columbus, Ohio and Kentucky. It was great talking with you all. After this trip I am convinced that if everyone met an out atheist, we would be one of the most highly regarded groups in America, rather than second to worst, right above Scientology.

My next post will be about the Secular Student Alliance Conference and after that I will post about Timothy Keller’s humorously titled book “The Reason For God”.

con group 09 squid-y

Reading apologetics, shaking my head, thinking of the SSA.

August 14, 2009

I will be starting a Secular Student Alliance affiliate group when I get back to California, so I thought I would make a list of reasons for the club. Please give me additional reasons if you have any offhand.

1. To provide a warm community for those who have no religion and no desire to acquire religion.

2. To provide a forum to discuss the natural world without people making conversation stopping assertations that goddidit.

3. To perform community service without it being assumed we are doing it for a god.

4. To create a means with which we can work towards upholding the establishment clause, towards ensuring freedom of expression and with which we can fight gender and racial equality as well as equality for nonbelievers.

5. To be able to discuss, compare and contrast religions and their change over time without people becoming offended and asserting that just for discussing such things, we are being hateful.

6. To develop our critical thinking skills and ability to logically construct and deconstruct arguments in writing and speech.