Podcast #214: War on Christmas Special 2014

It’s time once again to celebrate the non-existent War on Christmas. For those heathens who enjoy celebrating the holidays, here are our recommendations for gifts for nonbelievers. Even if you don’t like our suggestions, you can buy whatever you want at Amazon.com through American Freethought using this link.

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Podcast #213 – 10C KO’d in OK

The Republican victories in the 2014 midterms are bad news not just for church-state separation, but also for reason-based policies on climate change and a host of other issues.

Meanwhile…

A self-proclaimed Satanist has damaged the controversial Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma capitol. We recommend legal means in removing such monuments, not vandalism.

Voters in Alabama have overwhelmingly approved an amendment that will ban application of “foreign law” (like, oh, say, Sharia law) in Alabama courts and prohibit the state from giving full faith and credit to out-of-state acts (like, oh, say, gay marriage) that conflict with Alabama law. Look for this one to be declared unconstitutional after much waste of attorney hours and taxpayer funds.

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has upheld gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. This is in stark contrast to rulings by other Circuit Courts that have declared such bans unconstitutional. This sets the stage for what will certainly be on of the most-watched Supreme Court showdowns in recent years.

For movies with a freethought spin, David recommends Snowpiercer (starring Chris Evans) and Hercules (starring Dwayne Johnson).

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #212 – VP of Spirituality?!?

Signature Healthcare, a Louisville-based company that runs dozens of nursing homes, has taken religion in the workplace to a whole new level. “Spirituality” is one of their three core competencies. They even have a Vice President of Spirituality!

Plus:

Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, basking in the glow of his recent Supreme Court victory, has announced plans to build an $800 million Bible Museum just two blocks off the National Mall in Washington, DC.

There are a lot of Republican bad candidates for political office in the 2014 midterms, but Texas Lt. Governor candidate Dan Patrick might just take the cake. Mother Jones has a great exposé on him. Patrick is almost certain to win. Congratulations, Texas!

Finally, Pat Robertson (bless his withered, addled heart) is at it again. This time he’s warning people not to go to Kenya lest they get AIDS from the towels there.

To listen to this podcast click here.

 

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Podcast #211 – Affleck vs Harris vs Aslan vs Maher

Ben Affleck’s cable-TV clash with Bill Maher and Sam Harris over liberalism and its (lack of) cricitism of Islam overlaps with Reza Aslan‘s recent criticisms of Maher and Harris. Is Islam a religion of peace hijacked by a handful of extremists, or does the orthodox core of Islam inconveniently overlap with the violent policies enacted by the likes of ISIS and al-Qaeda? Watch the sparks fly here. Also, check out this and this… and this… oh, and this, then see which side is closer to the truth.

Plus:

SCOTUS declines to hear numerous appeals from states seeking to overturn federal court rulings against same-sex marriage bans. Is this a signal from the Court that marriage equality has won, or is this a strategic pause awaiting the right opportunity for a conservative masterstroke?

Meanwhile, SCOTUS hears a ridiculous (but hilarious) case involving the religious infringement ramifications of state prison bans on beards. Is that a tiny revolver in your Van Dyke, or are you just exercising your First Amendment rights?

Announcements:

NUTS! Here’s your opportunity to offer Kickstarter support for a documentary about the controversial fertility quack John Brinkley, could claimed he could cure men’s problems by… well, let’s not spoil the suprise.

Nonfiction book recommendations: John suggests John Hersey’s atomic classic Hiroshima, as well as Ann Heller’s 2009 (refreshingly non-hagiographic) Ayn Rand and the World She Made.

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #210 – Waking Up

We discuss Sam Harris’s new book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

Waking Up is available September 9, 2014 in hardcover, for Kindle, and as an audiobook. For more about Sam Harris visit SamHarris.org.

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #209 – Ian Harris (Critical and Thinking)

We interview comedian Ian Harris, whose new special Critical & Thinking is available now on iTunes and video-on-demand (check your local availability). As you’ll hear, Harris is one of us, a skeptic and atheist whose humor tackles such topics as religion, the paranormal, astrology, pop-mysticism and alternative medicine. You can befriend him at facebook.com/comediocre.

Plus:

Our DragonCon wrap-up.

We mourn the passing of physicist, philosopher, author and skeptic Victor Stenger (1935-2014).

To listen to this episode click here.

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Waking Up, Conclusion

Chapter-by-Chapter thoughts on Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

[Waking Up is available September 9, 2014 in hardcover, for Kindle, and as an audiobook. For more about Sam Harris visit SamHarris.org.]

On the very day I’m writing this, the last installment, Sam Harris’s new book hits bookshelves. I didn’t plan it that way, but it seems appropriate.

Sam Harris is (or ought to be, by now) used to stirring up criticism from fellow travellers for being too far to the right on some social issues (for example) while simultaneously getting hammered by religionists who see him as just another “new” atheist. I am certain this book will be no different.

This book is Harris’s first broad explication of concepts he’s been hinting at since The End of Faith; namely, that the nontheistic community has walled itself off from anything that might have the whiff of religiosity or superstition. Harris believes (and not without some justification) that secularists have avoided and ignored practices like meditation that have a longstanding tradition in the religious world, even though those practices can be shown to have secular and rational applications.

It’s true that many secularists have become stuck in a rut of obsession, railing against all things churchy, and thus have also ceased to grow in their personal philosophies. Some of them have ceased to grow, period. I agree with Harris to the extent that I encourage freethinkers to get back to the roots of that label, to explore the unknown without fear that they’ll be scoffed at or rejected by the mainstream of the Nones. Harris says, “A middle path exists out of making religion out of spiritual life and having no spiritual life at all.” I still think we need to work on some of the semantics: I’m still not sure I grok what Harris means by “spirituality” and “self-transcendence.” But if meditation (in one form or another) leads to better mental health, better lives, and a better understanding of human nature, then I’m all for it.

If this book serves no other purpose than to continue the conversations and explorations surrounding these subjects, it will have been worth Harris’s time to have written it, and worth our time to read it.

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Waking Up, Chapter 5: Gurus, Death, Drugs and Other Puzzles

Chapter-by-Chapter thoughts on Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

[Waking Up is available September 9, 2014 in hardcover, for Kindle, and as an audiobook. For more about Sam Harris visit SamHarris.org.]

Harris offers an overview of the challenge of finding a suitable spiritual guide. It’s hard enough knowing if your auto mechanic is telling you the truth, much less if an evolutionary biologist or a cosmologist is. It’s just not possible to become an expert on everything; at every point you have to balance what you already know with the credibility of expert claims. Harris admits the increased difficulty of measuring the claims of spiritual experts; also known as gurus. Gurus come on all shapes and sizes, from the blantantly fraudulent to the self-deluded; from the well-meaning and altruistic to the depraved and egotistical. The search for a spiritual guru is far more fraught than the search for an expert astrophysicist, precisely because spiritual quests come with far more emotional baggage and mental confusion that, say, wanting to know something about the chemistry within a white dwarf.

Another (potential) window into the mysteries of the mind lies in Near Death Experiences (NDEs), not because NDEs reveal life after death, but because they reveal something about how the mind works under fringe circumstances. Harris gleefully tears apart Eben Alexander’s bestselling Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. Harris’s bottom line is that Alexander is a trained physician who knows better and almost certainly knows he’s perpetuating a fraud.

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Waking Up, Chapter 4: Meditation

Chapter-by-Chapter thoughts on Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

[Waking Up is available September 9, 2014 in hardcover, for Kindle, and as an audiobook. For more about Sam Harris visit SamHarris.org.]

So what good does meditation do us? Harris stated earlier that meditation is NOT just about “stress reduction” (although, by my lights that would be enough).

Harris begins by establishing that it is inherent to our minds that they wander. We are, in many ways, subject to wave after waver of unsolicited and often unwelcome thoughts and feelings. And while this may be natural, it isn’t necessarily the best way to live, nor the most productive.

Harris points out that there is enough research out there to support the idea that seasoned meditators have brains less susceptible to the effects of aging, and are more effectively able to respond to pain and deal with stress.

One of the problems with meditation is that, for most practitioners, its effects are sporadic. Even Harris talks about “glimpses” and “fleeting experiences.” How to bolster these occasional drips of enlightenment and achieve the ability to tap into a sense of freedom and well-being on a regular basis?

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Podcast #208 – Live at DragonCon 2014

David couldn’t make it this year, so Allison jumps in to take up the slack! In this live version of the podcast we discuss recent Supreme Court decisions, take a look at Satanism, and share some really (really, really) bad Biblical puns. The song at the top of the show is “Modest Proposal” by the legendary composer/performer Mose Allison. (Photo courtesy of Dan Barber.)

Thanks again to Derek Colundano for organizing the Skeptrack. And thanks to Mark Ditsler and Company of Abrupt Media for providing stellar audiovisual infrastructure.

To listen to this episode click here.

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