Podcast #256 – Matthew O’Neil (After Life)

afterlifeWe interview Matthew O’Neil, author of After Life: Solving Science and Religion’s Great Disagreement. In his new book, he looks at what the Bible actually says about things like Heaven, Hell, the soul and Resurrection, and how it differs from modern, mainstream Christian ideas. He also delves into what science can tell us about an afterlife and about the process of death.

We previously spoke with Matthew in episode #242 about his book What the Bible Really Does (and Doesn’t Say) about Sex.

Plus:

If you’re coming to DragonCon, come see American Freethought live at the Skeptrack, Monday, September 5th at 11:30am. The topic will be “Diversity in the Freethought/Skeptic Community” and there will be special guests.

To listen to this episode click here.

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Desert Resurrection

desertresurrectionFor the last nine years, the song “To Be Dead” by the long-defunct St. Louis-based alternative rock band Body Found has provided the intro and sign-off music for the American Freethought podcast.

Did I say “long-defunct”? I meant long-dormant. In recent years, the members of Body Found (including my brother, bassist Greg Snider), have gotten together for a couple of more-or-less informal jam sessions, blowing the dust off their instruments and reminiscing about the good ol’ days. But during their most recent reunion–in Phoenix, Arizona–they gathered in a professional recording studio to record (and re-record) a new album of their original songs. The result is the album Desert Resurrection, available starting today at Amazon.com, iTunes and most of the other places you can download music.

About half the tracks are new interpretations of songs–including “To Be Dead”–off their one and only previous release (a self-titled and nowadays extremely hard-to-find cassette from 1992); a couple are songs they demo’d back in the day but never distributed; and a couple are original songs they performed but never recorded until now.

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Podcast #255 – Is Kaine Able?

timkaineWe take a look–from a freethinking and skeptical viewpoint–at Democratic Platform 2016, as well as the political positions of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s pick as Vice Presidential running mate.

Plus:

The recent leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee shows that some staffers, at least, entertained the despicable notion of using presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ supposed atheism against him in an effort to aid rival Hillary Clinton among the “Southern Baptist peeps.”

Body Found–an alt-rock band active in St. Louis, Missouri in the early 1990’s, whose song “To Be Dead” is this podcast’s theme song–has a new album! Desert Ressurection is available August 1st via Amazon.com, iTunes, and all the usual places you can download music. Show your appreciation for their contribution to American Freethought!

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #254 – Pence and Insensibility

trumppenceWe take a look–from a freethinking and skeptical viewpoint–at Republican Platform 2016, as well as the political positions of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s pick as Vice Presidential running mate.

Plus:

A new Pew poll shows evangelicals and so-called “nones” falling in line behind Trump and Clinton, respectively and unsurprisingly. The poll also shows a reasurring drop in the number of voters who say that it’s important that the President have strong religious beliefs.

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #253 – Baby Fingers, Baby Christian

trumpfingersFor the third presidential election cycle in a row, evangelical fundamentalist Christians have failed to nominate a Republican candidate that’s a full-throated theocratic nut job (although they came close with Ted Cruz). And once again they’re faced with the daunting task of keeping themselves relevant by throwing their weight behind the inevitable candidate, no matter how odious he may be. And so, we have people like Focus Crosshairs on the Family president James Dobson declaring, with no evidence, really, that Donald Trump (he of the bloviation and baby fingers) is now a “baby Christian” who was brought to Christ “recently.” Trump himself has made laughable attempts to ingratiate himself to the fundamentalist vote, quoting “Two” Corinthians and saying his favorite Bible verse is “an eye for an eye”–the one Bible verse that Jesus explicitly refuted! Anyway, a road is being paved to give conservative Christians an path (rickety at best) to vote for Trump as one of theirs.

Plus:

A federal judge blocks Mississippi’s Orwellian “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” a law expressly designed to enable anti-gay, one-man-one-woman Christian bigots from ever having to deal with anyone in the LGBT community. Look for this one to be resolved in a year or two by the Supreme Court, almost certainly on the side of those who want to see all citizens treated equally and without discrimination.

Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter boondoggle has opened for business in central Kentucky. Holey Scripture looks at how the Ark (both Noah’s and Ham’s) was made. And just what the heck is “gopher” wood?

To listen to this podcast click here.

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Podcast #252 – Frank Lambert (Separation of Church and State)

separationWe interview Dr. Franklin T. Lambert, author of Separation of Church and State: Founding Principle of Religious Liberty. In this, his latest book, he corrects the claims of revisionist “historians” like David Barton that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and that separation of church and state is a myth promulgated by a conspiracy of left-wing elitist academics. Dr. Lambert is professor of History at Purdue University, where he teaches courses on Colonial and Revolutionary American History and American Religious History. He is the author of eight books, including The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America and Religion in American Politics: A Short History.

Plus:

A brief discussion of the recent massacre of 49 people in Orland0, Florida by a self-proclaimed follower if ISIS.

A brief discussion about the American Ethical Union (aeu.org), which has permanent congregations in several cities, including Washington, DC; Vienna, Virginia; and St. Louis, Missouri.

To listen to this episode click here.

 

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Thoughts on the Orlando Massacre

You’ll probably know by now that more than 50 people were murdered overnight in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The gunman (dead after a shootout with police) is identified as Omar Mateen, a native-born American citizen whose parents are from Afghanistan.

The whole thing is unspeakable horrific, and the set of known facts is quickly expanding as details continue to emerge. What follows are some of my initial thoughts in response to a couple of things that have been said in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

  1. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said (among many other things) that this incident was “something that we never imagined and is unimaginable.”

Really? Unimaginable? Perhaps Mayor Dyer is simply in shock; perhaps he was speaking with little preparation; perhaps he didn’t think too closely about the exact meaning of the word “unimaginable.” But, in 2016 America the MOST IMAGINABLE THING POSSIBLE is that mass shootings can and do occur in any place at any time. Mass shootings (let’s define as at least three dead per incident) have been commonplace in America for decades. They occur in restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, universities, nightclubs, churches and private homes. There is one gun for every man, woman and child in America. But there is virtually no social or political will to reduce the number of available guns, to regulate the types and capacities of guns, or to increase the legally required training or restrictions for those who wish to own them. Given this constellation of facts, how can anyone say that gun violence in general and mass shootings in particular are surprising, shocking, unpredictable or unimaginable? (If there is any silver lining in this dark cloud, it’s that overall gun violence in America is actually down, although mass shootings are way up. In any case, there’s no excuse not to increase our efforts to reduce the numbers of deaths from this most preventable of causes. )

Also, it’s a safe bet to assume, even before the facts are in, that Omar Mateen obtained all his weapons and ammunition through legal means, rendering meaningless and absurd any declarations by the National Rifle Association about laws and regulations serving only to disarm the “good guys” and empower the “bad guys.” [Update: Turns out Mateen was a professional security guard, licensed to carry, who did purchase his weapons through legal means.]

2. Omar Mateen’s father issued a statement expressing sympathy for his son’s victims, denying that the family had any knowledge of his plans, and declaring that the shooting “had nothing to do with religion.” But he noted that his son “got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago and thinks that may be related to the shooting.”

I’m going to go out on a limb right now and say that this attack had EVERYTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION. In America, 99% of objection to gay rights (not to speak of objection to gay existence) is fueled by religion, mostly Christianity but also by Islam. Sure, it’s possible Omar Mateen was grossed out by the sight of two men kissing one another, but is it possible that he engineered the worst mass shooting in US history simply because he got the heebie jeebies? No, it’s another safe bet to assume that will we discover that Mateen had somehow been radicalized and plotted his attack in solidarity with ISIS or some other Muslim extremist group. (ISIS has reportedly called on the pious to commit terrorist acts during the “holy” month of Ramadan.) I will be surprised and shocked (if I may use those terms) if we discover his motivation was garden variety mental illness, mere revulsion or even jealousy. [Update: Mateen called 911 during his attack and stated his allegiance to ISIS. Further information reveals that he had a history of making disturbing statements relating to Islam, and was twice investigated by authorities, who for some reason decided he posed no threat. It also appears Mateen had–at the very least–anger management issues, so mental illness cannot be ruled out as a major contributing factor to his crime.] The only thing that suprises me more about this whole situation, frankly, is that a similar atrocity hasn’t already been perpetrated by some overzealous Christian.

To sum up, nothing about this incident should come as a surprise to any of us. We should also not be surprised when (especially during this contentious election year) nothing is done to try to prevent, or even attenuate, such things from happening in the future. Americans will continue to embrace guns for the forseeable future, and as a result will have to continue to deal with the consequences.

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Answering Dennis Prager’s “Two Questions for Atheists”

Someone pointed me toward conservative commentator and radio host Dennis Prager’s recent essay “Two Questions for Atheists.” I thought it might be interested to actually answer them. I’ll wait for you to go read his article.

Back so soon?

Mr. Prager has posed a couple of interesting questions, albeit ones that are overly broad and clearly designed to give the interrogator all kinds of maneuvering room regardless of the response. It’s a silly debate tactic rather than a serious attempt to arrive at the truth. Frankly, it offers more of a window into Mr. Prager’s mindset than any real challenge to atheist belief.

Nonetheless, let’s take a stab at his questions.

***

  1. Do you hope you are right or wrong?

Well, I hope I misread those last Powerball numbers, so maybe I should take another look. Also, I’m hoping I’m right to shift my support to Hillary now that Bernie’s chances at the nomination are essentially zero, but… Oh. That’s not what you meant? Perhaps you should be a bit clearer. Right or wrong about God? (If so, which God?) About my atheism? About what, exactly?

If you’re asking do I hope I’m right or wrong about disbelieving in the God of the Old Testament, the New Testament and/or the Quran, well, I hope I’m right. Such a vengeful, petty, cruel, capricious and nonsensical God would have tragic consequences indeed: the vast majority of humanity condemned to eternal torture while a tiny minority of fanatics live in bliss for eternity. And for what purpose? An omnipotent God could easily grant all his creatures Paradise–and without the need to die, while He’s at it. Maybe you should wish for a better God.

It would also be a shame if such manifestly self-contradictory holy books as the Bible and the Quran actually described reality. It would make a mockery of the knowledge and progress humanity has made over the last 6,000 two million years. Anyway, as far as the God of the Abrahamic religions is concerned, I think I’m on pretty solid ground in saying that His existence can be easily dismissed on lack of evidence for and on preponderance of evidence against.

As for any of the other infinitely possible gods that have not yet been described, I can’t say if I hope I’m right or wrong, since I don’t know whether they are cruel or kind gods, logical or illogical gods, gods who offer a pleasant afterlife, or gods who make the nightmares of Lovecraft look like the Teletubbies. I hope I’m wrong about any potential bad gods and right about any potential good gods, but either way I withhold judgment until I have had an opportunity to weigh all the evidence. Right now the simplest explanation for the available facts is that there is no God (of any sort), there is no afterlife, and you make your own meaning for your life where you can. As far as the implication that a universe without your God is not worth living… the consequences of the truth offer no support for the truth. If it turns out that a godless universe is just a nihilistic hellscape, then that’s the way it is. (I don’t agree, but let’s just say.) It doesn’t make the God of the Bible real, and it doesn’t make it right to believe in Him.

2. Do you ever doubt your atheism? 

Again, if you mean my atheism toward any described version of the Abrahamic God, no. Not in a very long time. (And I don’t count as “doubt” the occasional emotional twinge in wishing I could live forever, or longing to see a deceased loved one, etc. Emotional states do not dictate reality.)

As far as a “universal atheism”–that is, a disbelief in any potential god or gods for whom evidence might be found in the future–show me the evidence. Then we’ll talk about doubt.

***

Okay, maybe those questions aren’t as interesting as I’d hoped they’d be. I’m sure Mr. Prager has gotten plenty of feedback on this, and if he reads the responses maybe he’ll learn that life is worth living, and living well, even without the promise of eternal bliss or the threat of eternal damnation. He’ll also learn that being an atheist is just one tiny aspect of a rational, science-minded, humanistic existence.

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I’m with Hillary

hillaryclintonCongratulations to Hillary Clinton, who last night all but sealed the deal on becoming the first woman to be nominated by a major party for President. (There have been other women at the top of the ticket for minor parties, beginning with Victorial Woodhull, who was chosen to lead the Equal Rights Party back in 1872, before women could even vote!)

Is Secretary Clinton a perfect candidate? No. She comes with a lot of baggage, including the ongoing shadow of her husband’s sexual misadventures, and questions surrounding her use of a private email server during her time at the State Department. She’s also more hawkish than I’d like, and has shown a level of hubris that I find unbecoming and potentially hazardous for someone who soon may be the most powerful person on the planet. But she’s spent decades as “senior advisor” to one of the most successful presidents in recent history; served eight years as a Senator and four as Secretary of State. If you don’t think she’s qualified, please stop reading now and don’t bother emailing me.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to confess that I ceased being a Libertarian several years ago, and have embraced the Democratic agenda as by far the best option in creating a free and prosperous United States. While the libertarian ideal of minimal government and maximum personal freedom still resonates with me, I have come to believe that the kind of laissez faire, every-man-for-himself, I’ve-got-mine-now-you-go-get-yours, devil-take-the-hindmost “society” envisioned by American libertarianism is unproductive, unrealistic and destructive to American progress. Plus, the Libertarian Party (like the Republican Party, but for different reasons) has become hopelessly infected with crazy people: gun nuts, racists, gold-standard fetishists, etc. The details of my “Big-L” Libertarian estrangement are a conversation for another time.

Bottom line: I’ve come to believe that it is acceptable (if not entirely ideal) to force people to do things and pay taxes for things they may not agree with, in order to achieve a far greater good for society at large. And I’ve come to believe that the Democratic Party is onboard with the project of creating a better America, while the Republican Party is hell-bent on dragging us back to a time when white men were at the top of the food chain, women stayed at home with the babies, blacks knew their place, and homosexuals were welcome to skulk in the shadows. Thanks, but no thanks.

Frankly, I voted for Bernie Sanders during the primary, seeing him as less corrupted and more idealistic than Hillary Clinton. But I am by no means Bernie-or-Bust. I’d much rather see Hillary in the White House than the fascist salesman she’s going to be running against. If Hillary is the lesser of two evils, it’s in a very unequal equation.

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Podcast #251 – (Almost) Live from Reason Rally 2016

David Driscoll offers his on-site observations from Reason Rally 2016, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. For more info on the event visit ReasonRally.com.

To listen to this episode click here.

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