Podcast #199 – Blood Moon

We look at the controversy in some Christian circles regarding the recent “blood moon” lunar eclipse. Is it a sign of the End Times? (Probably not.)

Plus:

Parents in Oviedo, Florida claim a public school teacher stopped their kindergartener from praying before lunch. Is this a legitimate beef, or just a cheap publicity stunt engineered by a father who just happens to work for a Christian book publisher who just happens to be publishing a book (by a Fox News personality, no less) about how put-upon Christians are in the U S of A nowadays.

Louisiana lawmakers are advancing a bill that would declare the Holy Bible as the official state book. Really.

Check out Chuck Hall’s new book Playing Chess with Pigeons, a collection of refutations of common religious attacks against nonbelievers.

Announcements:

Atlanta SkeptiCamp is May 2-4, 2014! For more visit atlantaskeptics.com/skepticamp

Atlanta Coalition of Reason (“ATL CoR”) is holding a pair of kick-off events June 21-22, featuring rapper Greydon Square, satirist Sam Singleton, author Jeremiah Camara, and comedian Steve “The King of Consciousness” Hill. Tickets are on sale now! For more visit unitedcor.org/atl

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #198 – Hobby Lobby at SCOTUS

This summer’s Supreme Court ruling on the Hobby Lobby case will decide whether or not private, for-profit employers can opt out of federal legislation based on sincerely held religious belief. (Cartoon from RobRogers.com.)

Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, has died.

If you live in the Washington, DC, area, check out author Lawrence Wright’s new play Camp David (about the Egypt-Israel peace accord brokered by Jimmy Carter). It stars Richard Thomas and Ron Rifkin.

The Baseball Bat of Doubt returns! We read an excerpt from David Mahlar’s Kindle short “Forming a Worldview: One Man’s Journey.”

Finally, if you’re in metro Atlanta, put the upcoming SkeptiCamp on your calendar, May 3-4, 2014.

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #197 – COSMOS Returns!

We discuss the pilot episode of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s classic 1980 documentary miniseries. It airs on FOX TV Sundays at 9PM Eastern.

Plus:

Former Tennessee Judge Lu Ann “You Can’t Name Your Kid ‘Messiah’” Belluw is in more trouble. Not only has she been fired for letting her religious beliefs get in the way of her judicial obligations, now she’s been censured by the state Board of Judicial Conduct.

Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming film Noah is under fire. Fundamentalist Christians (including Ken Ham) are upset it’s not a literal interpretation of the Old Testament story, and some Muslim-majority countries are banning the film because it dares to depict one of the prophets of Islam.

To listen to this episode click here.

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Podcast #196 – The False War to Protect Religious Freedom

We look at the recent rash of legislation (either proposed or actually passed) in several states that try to protect anti-gay discrimination under the banner of religious freedom. Briefly, these broadly-worded bills require the state to show that there is a compelling state interest and no practical alternative when infringing on the religious freedom of citizens. That’s all fine and dandy, but what it’s really sets out to do is allow discrimination against homosexuals, among other things.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer just vetoed one such bill, arguing (correctly, but much to her chagrin, we are sure) that she could not find “one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.”

Plus:

(Another) snake-handling preacher dies handling a snake.

Herbert and Catherine Schiable have just been sentenced to no more than seven years in prison for allowing their infant son to die of pneumonia without medical attention because they believed in the power of prayer. Even more outrageous is the fact that another son–two years old–died a few years ago under similar circumstances.

Americans are stunningly ignorant of basic science facts. 26% of those surveyed said the sun orbits the earth, while 48% did not know (although we suspect they “know” but simply “deny”) that humans developed from earlier species. If it’s any consolation, Europeans didn’t do much better in the same survey.

We’re excited about the upcoming revival of COSMOS, a continuation of Carl Sagan’s classic documentary miniseries. The new COSMOS, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, premieres on FOX TV, Sunday, March 9th, 9pm Eastern.

We’re less excited about the new feature films Son of God (February 28th, nothing more than an edited version of the Jesusy episodes from the recent television miniseries The Bible) and Heaven Is for Real (April 16th, based on the “non-fiction” baloney-fest book in which preacher Todd Burpo claims his son Colton had a near-death experience and saw Jesus riding a rainbow pony).

All is not lost at the cinema, however: Darren Aronofsky’s Noah comes out March 28th, and it’s already pissing off religious types because it promises NOT to be a straight-up Old Testament documentary.

Finally, the American Freethought podcast is now on Stitcher!

To listen to this episode click here.

 

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Podcast #195 – Ham-on-Nye Recap

We analyze the recent Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate on the scientific viability of Creationism. While we’re at it, we discuss the new HBO documentary Questioning Darwin and Kevin Jackson’s e-book Darwin’s Odyssey: The Voyage of the Beagle (available for Kindle)And in a related story, we listen to the disturbing responses regarding Creationism from all four Republican candidates for Lieutenant Governor of Texas.

Plus: President Obama speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast, and (finally) Tennessee Judge Lu Ann Ballew is removed from her post for letting her religious beliefs interfere with her Constitutional duties. Finally, we look at the cinematic train wreck (haha! get it?) that is Atlas Shrugged Part II.

To listen to this episode click here.

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Can Muslims be assimilated in America? (Part 2 of 2)

For those Muslims who wish to be peaceful, productive members of Western culture (and I believe that’s the vast majority of them), we don’t make it easy. As Arun Kundnani details in his new book The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror (available in hardcover and for Kindle) the Muslim community has been systematically stereotyped and demonized by both the mainstream media and government law enforcement agencies.

Before I go any further, I should point out that I fully understand that Islamic terrorism and Islamic extremism are global problems that must be dealt with. I agree that the Muslim community bears some responsibility to combat extremists who claim to speak for Islam. That combat make take the form of physical combat (when necessary), or it could mean engaging in discussion with extremists, educating children, and–yes–cooperating with authorities who may happen to be non-Muslims, all the name of the greater good and long-term goals of peace and prosperity.

That said, it’s important we acknowledge how small the problem of domestic Islamic terrorism has been since 9/11.  Defining what constitutes a terrorist attack is a bit tricky, but the grand total of Americans killed by ALL TERRORIST ATTACKS SINCE 1970 is on the order of 3,500. Three thousand of those occurred on 9/11 alone. At any rate, that’s something like 75 deaths a year due to terrorism. Continue reading

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Can Muslims be assimilated in America? Part 1 of 2

Despite the repeated alarmist cries about homegrown jihadist cells, and warnings that Islam is a “very evil and wicked religion,” (thank you, Franklin Graham) the evidence is that, by and large, Muslims are assimilating into American society and will continue to do so, if given the chance by mainstream Americans.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Islam is as wrong a model of reality as Christianity or Judaism or any other religion you care to name. But one need only look around to see that, despite the violence, prejudice, misogyny, and ignorance contained in the Torah and the Bible, most Christians and Jews have assimilated (even if in a conflicted fashion) into a modern, post-Enlightenment, tolerant and democratic society.

Of course there are bumps in the road: the Republican Party is currently in the heat of an internecine war between old-school business interests and evangelical/fundamentalist Teabaggers who are panicking over the fact that middle-class white Christians won’t be able to call all the shots for much longer. Conservative factions have built flood walls against impending liberal progress: anti-gay state constitutional measures; specious medical regulations aimed at shutting down abortion clinics; opposing domestic reforms on pretense of deficit control; voter ID laws that combat nonexistent fraud and serve only to disenfranchise the poor and minorities; etc. Ultimately, I think all these rearguard actions will be overcome, but it will be an ugly and tedious process.

I digress, but only slightly. My point is that, if history is any indicator, religious conservatism, even in the mainstream, will be tempered by constitutional democracy. And the tiny trickle of Muslim immigration will be absorbed into the vast ocean of American culture in the same way that Africans, Jews, Catholics, Irish and Hispanics have been and are being absorbed. Despite 9/11, despite the Boston Marathon bombing, despite the occasional hapless moron duped by g-men into going along with a fake terrorist plot, the vast majority of Muslims appear to be content, if not completely happy, to be part of America and away from the poverty, corruption and sectarian chaos that plagues much of the Muslim world.

Two books I’ve read recently argue that Muslims in America can and will assimilate, but that Western, nativist paranoia and Orwellian post-9/11 government programs aren’t making it any easier. Continue reading

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Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast

As expected, the president attended the (so-called “National”) Prayer Breakfast again this year. I know I sound like a broken record when I point this out, but the NPB is sponsored by a group called the Family, a secretive political organization that grooms conservative politicians, teaching them that the powerful are the chosen of God and need not worry about such trivialities as the law. The Family is cozy with Third World dictators, and has been instrumental in supporting disturbing homophobic legislation that’s been passed in places like Uganda. For more go here and here and here.

Nonetheless, the NPB has become a tradition in Washington, and no president has dared not attend for at least 40 years. I’ve said many times that I wish Obama would either boycott the NPB and publicly call them out for the egregious beliefs and policies outlined above, or attend and give them a withering speech, condemning them right to their faces.

Of course, that’ll never happen. So the president attended and rattled off the usual religious pabulum about the Almighty guiding us, yadda yadda yadda.

But I will give him credit for slipping in a couple of relatively subtle jabs at religious conservatives. For example:

We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love.

Nice shout out for gay rights and marriage equality, but not exactly a call to arms.

Then there’s this one:

And central to [the inherent dignity of every human being] is freedom of religion — the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear.

Read the entire speech here.

It’s become par for the course for Obama to mention the nonreligious in the State of the Union and other symbolically important speeches. I still can’t decide if he’s just throwing us a bone, or making a legitimate attempt at expanding the spectrum of world views that are acceptable in American political discussions.

I’ll be interested to see if the tone of the president’s public proclamations change significantly AFTER the midterm Congressional elections. Regardless of which way the political balance in the Senate or the House shifts, presidents in their late second term have always had a bit of freedom to do or say certain things with little concern about the political fallout. Meanwhile, I’ll give him a D+ for his NPB performance.

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The Ham-Nye Debate will be Live Streamed

For those interested in the February 4th debate between Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and Ken Ham (founder of the Creation Museum), it will be available via live streaming at DebateLive.org. Registration (providing an email address) is required, but free.

The debate kicks off at 7PMEastern and runs until approximately 9:30.

The debate will also be available at YouTube for an indefinite period after the debate.

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Podcast #194 – The Tide Turns in Virginia

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/05/virginia-gay-rights-terry-mcauliffe-ew-jackson-91763.html

President Obama mentions “atheists and agnostics” in his annual Religious Freedom Day proclamation and there’s hardly a peep from the conservative blogosphere. In year’s past Obama has made occasional mention of “non-believers” so I guess an explicit mention is a step up. On the down side, the President is still scheduled to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the secretive conservative religious organization The Family.

On the gay rights front: Amazing what a few weeks can do. On New Year’s Eve Virginia had a Republican Governor, Lt Governor and Attorney General. Now they’ve been replaced by Democrats. Virginia’s newly-elected AG Mark Herring has said he won’t defend the commonwealth’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, a mother is in jail, accused of murdering two of her children as part of an alleged exorcism. Tragic things can happen when mental illness and religion collide.

To listen to this episode click here.

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