Parent-Approved Kidnapping and Brainwashing

May 29, 2011

When I was a kid, my church youth group thought it would be a funny idea to show up at my door in a gorilla suit and abduct me in a van. The idea was to snatch up the kids who hadn’t been to church in a while and show us the fun that was happening at one of their picnics. Or at least, that’s how I interpreted it.

Pretty harmless, especially since my Dad forewarned me that a gorilla would be kidnapping me and that I should pretend like I’m surprised. He didn’t want me to freak out – thanks dad!

Unfortunately, my innocent experience is becoming a common tactic with certain reform schools, but these brainwashing academies don’t use gorilla suits. Instead, they just send goons to your bedroom to wake you up and haul you off to their prison program. And instead of having a good time at a party, these children are stashed away at rehabilitation centers where they are emotionally abused (and sometimes worse), force-fed religious propaganda, and social engineered to be church-approved automatons.

Obviously, this sort of outsourcing of parenting is in complete violation of my principles as a parent who wants to raise my children to be freethinking individuals. I’m disgusted with what I’ve read about schools that are part of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs.

Check out this article on reddit to read a first hand account of a girl’s experience at one of these hideous programs. Despicable!


A Skeptic Goes To Church

July 18, 2010

As a skeptic, I steer clear of dogmatic religions that insist their congregations adhere to a strict view of spirituality and divinity. In fact, I’m uncomfortable with most churches, even the more liberal and accepting churches, such as the mega-church I visited (out of courtesy and curiosity) in Chicago. The reason is that I simply do not have faith in their god, or a desire to believe in anything supernatural.

I’m a naturalist. My personal choice is to appreciate the world for it’s actual inherent qualities, as proven by science, rather than how I imagine things to be, or wish them to be. I also believe that truth is provisional based on current evidence, and that truth can change depending on our collective knowledge. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t see value in ritual, community, and the humanist principles of ethics and morality, all of which are understandably important to our society. So, when I was invited to attend a new Unitarian Universalist church in my area, I accepted the invitation with an open mind.

Beliefs

From what I can understand, Unitarians have diverse beliefs, including many who are atheists. The UU service I attended today was all about empathy, a subject that some would consider a spiritual topic, and thus outside of my science-based comfort zone.  But, as anyone who has read Christine Carter’s Raising Happiness blog knows, there’s a great deal of science behind teaching kids to be empathetic to others. I felt like I was able to contribute ideas from the science-based perspective to the conversation.

The service was more of a group discussion, almost like a formal meet-up group. This particular church has no regular pastor, so the members alternate who leads the discussion each week. I enjoyed this interactive format, but the thought crossed my mind that open discussions have the potential of putting the group at risk of  argument and division.  There weren’t any arguments today, but I wonder how unitarians manage to stay unified when their members are so diverse in beliefs. If there’s one thing that potentially holds me back from joining, it’s the worry that beliefs for which I feel strongly (such as being pro-vaccination) will naturally put me at odds with others in the church.

Also, I personally enjoy debating subjects in which I’m passionate, and church does not seem like the appropriate place for disagreements. Perhaps attending UU church will teach me patience and understanding for the points-of-view of others, something that I sometimes lack being an outspoken advocate for science and reasoning. Everyone can learn the lesson of perspective taking, even an old rationalist curmudgeon such as myself.

Rituals

Some skeptics would be bothered by the rituals of UU church. I accept their discomfort, which is probably based on their distaste for catholicism and other christian churches, but I’m not one of those people. I enjoy the symbolism of lighting a candle to represent the search for truth, and I’m pretty sure that everyone in attendance understood that the flame was just a flame and not a magical light of truth. I’d much rather be at a service that lights a flame for truth than a service where people are expected to eat a wafer that reportedly becomes the actual flesh of a sweaty bearded man as soon as you put it in your mouth.

We also went around the room and spoke about our joys and sorrows. Again, I saw this as being very therapeutic and appropriate for a church service. After we mentioned our joys and/or sorrows, we placed a rock in a bowl of water, presumably the ripples caused by the splash signify how we are all connected to each other. I don’t know exactly, but I thought it was a nice ceremony. The kids seemed to really enjoy sharing their joys and sorrows before they moved on to their own activities.

Creed

This congregation of Unitarians believe:

In the worth and dignity of every person;
That all people should be treated fairly and with kindness;
That we should accept one another and encourage spiritual growth;
In a free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
that all people should have a voice in the world;
In working for a peaceful, fair, and free world;
In caring for our planet earth, the home we share with all living things.

OK, so I bolded my favorite line because it best matches my own principles, though I’m personally less interested in the meaning of truth than I am the details. I think everything else is fine, except that I personally disagree that people should be “encouraged” toward spiritual growth because I don’t personally believe in a spirit. I do, however, understand what people mean when they say the word “spiritual”, and they’re not necessarily talking about the disembodied everlasting ghost that resides inside our corporeal vessel. Sometimes “spirit” is just used as a catch-all term for the seemingly abstract areas of our mind: peace, joy, love, hope, etc. Anyway, that’s how I will choose to interpret the term.

Conclusion

I enjoyed the conversation and making new friends. I will go back.


Atheists in Catholic School

May 26, 2010

Cincinnati is a melting pot of faiths, but the predominant religion here is catholicism. There are 66 catholic schools in my county. Judging from my interactions with other parents in the community, many of those schools are enrolled with the children of atheists and agnostics.

The overwhelming opinion, and debatable fact, of the public schools here is that they are dangerous hives of villainy where bright (non-black) children will be dragged down by the riff raff. This popular opinion even extends to the white-flight suburbs, which might remove a small portion of the racism out of the equation. As bad as parents deem the low quality public schools, they inversely praise the catholic schools for their high standards of education.

Who can entirely blame them? Many of these freethinking parents attended the very same catholic schools when they were students, well before their conversion toward agnosticism. And many of them remember higher standards of education and higher expectations of the graduates.

And yet, I’m having a very hard time accepting this way of life in Cincinnati. For one thing, my wife often points out that this is a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy. If every parent of a bright child yanks each of their kids out of public school and puts them in a catholic school, then there won’t be any scholars left to attend public school. But, the question is whether I want my kids to be the exception. Do I want my daughters to stagnate in an institution that has been abandoned by other well-intentioned parents in the community? Do I want my daughters to suffer because I insisted on having them attend a poor quality public school, instead of the distinguished catholic school.

The other problem here is the money. First, I can’t afford the expense of catholic school. In fact, I’d wager my small income that many of the debt-ridden families that attend catholic school can’t afford it either. Even if I could afford catholic school, I would have serious ethical issues paying massive amounts of money to a religious institution in which I neither believe nor wish to support in any way. I don’t want to be too melodramatic about it, but the stories of systemic sexual abuse in the catholic church are revolting enough that supporting them in any way would sincerely bother me.

There’s also another problem with having my children attend catholic school. They expect you to go to church. They even keep tabs on whether you have tithed enough. So, not only are your children at the mercy of nuns who are shoving the threat of hell at them on a consistent basis, but these students are expected to extend their exposure to religion on Sundays too. The ironic thing that I like to point out is that these parents would feel very uncomfortable teaching their kids about atheism because they are worried that they might indoctrinate them.

And then what will these freethinking parents tell their children when the inevitable questions of church and faith come up? There will surely be an awkward conversation about why they must attend a religious school while living in a non-religious house. Will this seem like hypocrisy? I’m not entirely sure how it will play out, but I wonder about how these children will handle interacting with their faithful peers. Will they be bullied, ignored, teased, or will they learn to keep their beliefs quiet so that they won’t be kicked out of the school or socially ostracized?

I don’t judge the freethinking parents who are deciding to put their children in these religious schools. Every parent wants the best for their kids, including myself. I could never condemn an atheist for making this difficult choice, but I think the idea deserves a conversation. What do you think?


Is Science a Religion?

January 7, 2010

I spent some time explaining my science advocacy to my friends last night. In the course of the discussion, one of them described science as a religion, which I interpreted to mean that they see my enthusiasm for skepticism as being cult-like in nature. It makes me cringe to think that my closest friends see me as being similar to the Jehovah’s Witness knocking on their door on a Saturday morning.

My immediate response to the comparison of religion to science was to agree but to clarify that it’s self-correcting.

Why did I agree?

Well, I can see the intended point that I’m required to believe in scientists and the scientific process to make most of my factual claims. I wasn’t on the Alaskan expedition when the fossil of Tiktaalik, the intermediate species between fish and amphibian, was discovered. I haven’t seen the fossil, except when it was shown on a recent episode of PBS’s Nova. Yes, I must accept the existence of Tiktaalik without being able to analyze the specimen itself, but I must also do the same with most information, as does anyone. Somehow, we all manage to find ways to interpret what is real and what is not.

But, science, as I said to my friend, is a self-correcting belief system. That is to say, if a consensus of scientists were to refute the existence of Tiktaalik (for instance, to say that it was a clay model) then I would revise my belief in the specimen and acknowledge that I was wrong. Before today, I thought that Tiktaalik was the earliest example of a tetrapod, and yet, my evidence-based assumption must be revised based on new findings of footprints that predate Tiktaalik by several million years.

It must be noted that even denialists believe in science. A creationist who denies 99% of Earth’s existence would gladly fly on an airplane to visit Kentucky’s infamous Creation Museum. He, more than likely, accepts the laws of aerodynamics, but does not accept the variety of evidence proving the age of the Earth and natural selection. Why? Because his belief system is not self-correcting – he will never admit when he is proven wrong by a consensus of scientists.

But, the point my friends were trying to make is that perhaps I shouldn’t be so vocal and confident about facts that are tentative. This is a valid argument. Skeptics can come across as arrogant and presumptuous, and that happens when we speak out on issues that lack easy answers. I try my best to not over-state the facts in my posts that concern factually ambiguous matters, such as spanking or Bisphenol-A; instead I try to use language that makes it clear that the content is merely my informed opinion, to be accepted or ignored.

I will not budge on certain points of fact. Someone who tells me that they believe that the Earth is 6000 years old or that homeopathic remedies are powerful cures may as well be telling me that the Earth does not revolve around the sun. As far as I’m concerned, reality doesn’t have wiggle room for creationism or homeopathy. My friends might argue that those ideas never killed anybody, implying that it doesn’t matter whether some people believe in these ideas.

Whatever.

Somebody cares. There’s somebody out there who will throw her “Arnica 30x” in the trash when she hears the truth about homeopathy being nothing but inert sugar pills. There’s a creationist out there who will abandon his belief when he is forced to confront the discoveries in whale evolution. There’s no belief that’s too precious to be questioned. There’s no idea that is to sacred to challenge.  In the end, though, we must have mutually agreed upon ways to define reality. The reality of a young-Earth-creationist can’t exist in the same reality where Carbon-14 has a half life of 5,730 years. Somebody has to be correct, which means somebody has a better tool to assess reality.

I clearly don’t think science is like a religion. Science and skepticism are tools that we use to assess claims, test hypotheses, formulate theories, and create universal laws of nature. What better method could we use to interpret our world?

I don’t think that science is the only way we should filter information. First of all, not everything is tested or analyzed by the scientific method. There are ethical, philosophical, artistic and rational reasons that we make decisions too. Sometimes we make choices based on a hunch, and that’s mostly OK. Sometimes we make choices because of our individual preferences, and that’s mostly OK too. Obviously, I would never want anyone to harm another person, but other than that, I’m not going to judge an individual for the choices he makes, even if they are not based on scientific principles.

Our articles here are mostly filtered through the lens of skepticism. We analyze claims that are important to parents, and offer our point-of-view from the scientific perspective. Many of us have friends and family who disagree with us. That’s OK. We hope that, though they may fundamentally disagree, that our friends (and enemies) respect our perspective and consider our arguments, as we will try to do for them.


The “Sin” of At-Home Fathering

October 6, 2008

As if I needed more reasons not to be a christian, I get this gem of a video full of theistic righteousness about at-home dads.  This couple from Mars Hill Church show their spiritual side in a loving display of mockery and scorn for involved fathers.

The wife, Gracie Driscoll, quotes the biblical book of Timothy (later the quote is attributed to Paul) as her source saying that a man who doesn’t provide is “worse than an unbeliever”.  Whew… I was worried until I realized that I am an unbeliever.  Timothy also teaches that a woman should be silent and not teach.  I guess that Gracie is not honoring god, either.  Timothy also says that women should not have braided hair or jewelry, so that puts at-home dads in the sordid company of many Moms out there.  I suppose that women in braids and jewelry should be disciplined and mocked for “maligning the word of God” too.

Gracie also claims that letting a father care for children is selfish of a mother because mothers are “built to be able to recognize what they need.”  So true.  I go blind and dumb every time my wife leaves the house.  And, of course, the Pastor Mark Driscoll says that “statistically” you will have a better marriage and prevent divorce if the man is the provider.  Really?  Where are those statistics?  Statistically, 50% of marriages end in divorce.  I had no idea that the majority of those marriages had fathers as primary caregivers.

Then, Pastor Mark says that there are no examples in the bible of at-home fathers.  But there are examples of fathers offering up their own sons as a sacrifice to God, fathers offering their daughters to be raped by a mob of perverts, and fathers who get drunk and sleep with their daughters.  These stories are straight out of the bible, and the Mars Hill congregation are supposed to accept the interpretations of some random meat head?

In case you needed more reasons not to be a Christian.  Watch John McCain’s favorite pastor, John Hagee, talk trash about at-home fathers.

http://www.rightwingwatch.org/2008/08/hagee_says_stay.html


Muslim Smear Still Fooling Ohio Voters!

October 1, 2008

I just became a statistic today.  I’m one of many progressive liberals to hear the Obama-is-a-Muslim slander that the Rovian hoarde have so shamelessly planted into the fertile imaginations of Bible Belt America.

My neighbor told me that she was “all for Obama until the ‘Muslim’ thing”.  Come on, Grandma!  Do you buy swiftboats wholesale at Sam’s or something?

Barack Obama has been campaigning for months now with more than half the population supporting him, he has spoken eloquently about racism, patriotism, religion, the economy, etc., and yet there are still people who believe that he is a secret muslim.  Unbelievable!

Seriously, you would have thought that this stuff would’ve ended with the Reverend Wright fiasco that painted Obama as a radical Christian.  How can anyone still think he is a muslim after he attended a Christian church for 20 years?  And I’m sad that this even needs to be said, but why should anyone care if he is a muslim or not?  Why should it matter which crazy religion he worships?  I mean, if you’re going to make your vote based on a bigoted viewpoint, at least have the nerve to investigate the slander past the e-mail you were forwarded three months ago.  Or at least own up and admit that you hate black people instead of hiding behind the religious bigotry that is so acceptable here in the heartland.

And now this sketchy anti-terrorist DVD called “Obsession” has been pumped into the homes of swing state voters.  I just received mine today.  Do these people really think we’ve forgotten to hate Al Qaeda?  Where did they get all their funding to send out millions of copies of their DVD, and why are they singling out swing states?  And is it any coincidence that babies and toddlers at a Dayton mosque were sabotaged with a chemical gas attack the day after Obsession was distributed in local papers?  I’m sure that the saboteur is some idiot lazyboy Nascar butt picker who is hypnotized by the voice of Sean Hannity, some moron who watched that free DVD and decided to get off his ass and bomb a mosque.

I’m embarassed to live in this state, this quintessence of America.   Ohio, you suck.


Sacred Cows Beyond Belief!

September 22, 2008

After yesterday’s secular parenting seminar, I had the pleasure of meeting Edwin and Helen Kagin, two elder statesmen of atheism with whom I was previously unfamiliar.  They were total spitfires, and meeting them was a highlight, if only because they gave the lunch so much character and cantankerous charm.

The Kagins are well known in the area for starting Camp Quest, the summer camp for children of secular humanists.  They told the tale of their legal battle struggle that started after their former renters, a Baptist camp, decided to petition for a change in the discrimination laws so that the Baptists could refuse rental based on religious differences. The law was passed, vetoed by the governor, and the veto was overturned by the legislature.  Edwin is also known for his rally for reason against the despicable Creation Museum in northern Kentucky.

Camp Quest is a normal camp that has the same amounts of fun and bonding that occur at other camps, but you’ll be sure to find a few things that are different.  For instance, there is a long standing tradition that two invisible unicorns are wandering the property, and any child who proves that these unicorns do not exist receives a $100 bill.  As the claim is unfalsifiable, the reward has yet to be claimed.

I told the Kagins that my mother kind of rolled her eyes and groaned when I brought up a humanist summer camp, and that I reminded her that I was sent to a methodist summer camp.  How is it any better to send your kid off to a camp to make crucifix arts and crafts?

The lunch was rolling along fine with a friendly socialism vs. libertarianism debate until the conversation came to an abrupt halt on the topic of… acupuncture.  Of course, I’m well versed on the subject because of my baby’s mama, so I started going off on the weakness of the treatment – the unfalisifiable claims of chi flowing through assigned meridians.  Suddenly, Helen Kagin cut me off to correct me that there was, in fact, such a thing as chi.  I was completely befuddled and agog.  What did she just say?  For a minute I thought she was joking until she turned and whispered to her atheist husband with amusement in her voice that I don’t believe in chi, and he actually said matter-of-factly “But I can feel the energy inside me.”

Two dedicated atheist activists were telling me that they believed in an ancient magical energy of unknown origin that can neither be detected, seen, nor measured, and that they believed this because they could “feel” it.  At this point, I was wondering if they could “feel” the invisible unicorns at Camp Quest.  A lot of believers insist that they can “feel” the presence of God, and yet a typical atheist would just as casually dismiss those feelings as an illusion.  Yes, there is some science that confirms some of the claims of acupuncture, and that has given Traditional Chinese Medicine a boost lately, but there are many more studies that disprove the claims of TCM.  And yet, acupuncturists don’t have to change their claims because they are not bound by the universal laws of science.

Who came up with meridians?  How did they find them?  How does anybody know they are there?  Why can’t we detect them?  Surely these channels of energy are physical because the treatment is a needle.  How does an undetectable invisible energy react to a needle?  Why are the needles put at certain spots?  None of these questions can be answered by anybody but an apologetic acupuncturist trying to justify what can’t be proven.

Acupuncture meridians are the bible of TCM passed down by generations and originating from some unknown persons.  Chi is the god of TCM, a mysterious power that can neither be detected nor falsified.  And the patient of TCM is the true believing worshipper, who relies on nothing but faith and anecdotes for belief in the magical.

I’m not saying that I’m better than the Kagins because I’m so smart about acupuncture.  I have been very accepting of TCM, have had treatments from my wife, and have defended the cultural tradition on other forums.  But, when you let the claims of TCM settle to the bottom, you see that there is truly nothing there but normal responses such as placebo and endorphins.  Needling does not manipulate chi because there is no such thing as chi.

There are no meridians, and if you think you can prove that there are any magical energy channels, I’ve got a $100 reward and a couple of invisible unicorns for you.  Any takers?


Harry Potter is Not the Devil

September 17, 2008

I was tricked into commenting on a conservative blog that is actually a parody.  Everyone must be in on the joke because I received a comment two seconds after posting it.  I stand behind everything I said against it, but to save myself further embarrassment, I will delete everything except one paragraph.

J.K. Rowling wrote a series of books about an abused boy who finds a way to compensate for his helpless life by achieving greatness in a fantasy world of witchcraft and wizardry.  The Harry Potter novels are no different than the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of books written by a christian.  In fact, J.K. Rowling is a christian herself.  SHOCK!  Of course, if fundamentalists would chill out and actually enjoy her fiction without imagining it being written by the hand of Satan, they might notice that Harry celebrates Christmas with his Godfather; they might also read some Christian symbolism written into the stories.  But I guess that would be too much to ask.

There ya go!


Didgeridon’t – An Aboriginal World

September 4, 2008

PZ Meyers of the science/atheism blog Pharyngula did a post on an aboriginal “expert” who claims that girls will become infertile if they touch a didgeridoo.  The “expert”, Mark Rose, is referring to the didgeridoo instructions portion of the popular book “The Daring Book for Girls” by Miriam Peskowitz, which will soon be published in Australia.

Of course, we know this to be perfect nonsense, but it bears rephrasing that a dried hollow piece of wood with a resin mouthpiece holds no magic power.   Or at least I hope it doesn’t.  Believe it or not, one of my summer jobs was to be an aboriginal storyteller at Kentucky Down Under, and my presentations always included a didgeridoo lesson.  To think that all those girls trying the didgeridoo would lose their fertility.  The horror!

Good thing it’s the DARING book for Girls.  Maybe Mr. Rose should buy the SPINELESS book for Pansies.

Just as an exercise in silliness, I thought maybe we should look at all the ways the world would be different if the indigenous tribes of Australia were right about their ancient cultural beliefs about the “Dreamtime“…

  • Rainbows are not refracted light, but are instead a Serpent God born from the Milky Way.
  • In order to pass through puberty, you must be swallowed by a giant snake and regurgitated.
  • People are given life when a spirit climbs in the womb and gives a child a totem.
  • Magpies and crows are colored black because they were having too much fun at a party until an Eagle burned them in a cave.
  • Rock pools are created by the footsteps of a giant born from a meteorite God.
  • The moon is a man who reached the sky on a magical growing gum tree.

And, of course there are many many more.  Don’t get me wrong.  We should appreciate cultural myths, but clearly telling girls not to play the didgeridoo is going too far.

[/silly rant]


I Teach The “Controversy” of Evolution!

August 30, 2008

*This post today in honor of McCain’s VP pick, Sarah Palin, who believes that we should teach the “controversy” of evolution and creationism in public schools.

Today, class, we’re continuing our lesson on the “controversialorigins of life.

Yesterday, we discussed evolution through natural selection, a theory first developed by (the evil) Charles Darwin over a century ago.  Just to review, since the publication of (devil worshiper) Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, our observations and scientific advancements have only served to validate the theory of evolution.  Or to put it in a way that is fair to the “controversy”, God is testing whether we have an unswerving belief in him by planting misleading evidence in the fossil record and that we will all go to hell unless we deny the evidence for evolution that the natural world constantly provides us.

Which brings us to today’s lesson – that God made the heavens and the Earth, the plants and the animals, and humanity in the form of Adam and Eve.  Now, if you follow the ancestral lineage as detailed in the Bible, you will see that Adam and Eve were created by God roughly 6,000 years ago.  Now, we know that the Earth is billions of years old from a variety of multiple observations and measurements, and we’ve also discovered early hominids (such as australopithecus) that predate homo sapiens and aren’t mentioned in the Old Testament.  Again, remember, that in today’s lesson we are chalking up those lines of evidence contradicting the bible to a capricious and all-powerful God tempting humanity into false belief.

Now just like science, the Bible has undergone peer review.  The councils of Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus were a way for humans to clear up confusion from the Bible, an ancient collection of texts with anonymously authored content that contradicts scientific observation.  For instance, every bit of observable evidence leads us to the concept that we live on a spherical Earth that rotates around the sun.  Yet, the Bible tells us that we live on a flat Earth in a geocentric universe.  Again, today we are learning that such observations are tricks of the devil.    Isn’t that an interesting controversy?

Theists point to the complex majestic natural interactions that occur on this planet that improbably support life.  Surely, a creator must have designed a world that provides the abundance of resources we find in our ecosystem.  Of course, since the concept of God can’t be falsified, we can ask ourselves one simple logical question.  If all the Earth’s natural complexity and beauty was created by a God, then who created the God?  Surely, any all-powerful self-aware designer would be complex enough to have been designed himself.  Again, in today’s class we are teaching the controversy, so we must categorize such questions as sinful thoughts planted by the Devil or one of his demons.

For homework tonight, I want you all to pray for a new toy and write down your observations on whether you get the toy.  Then I want you to write an essay on the results of your prayer.  If you get the toy, write about how you proved God’s existence, and if you don’t get the toy, write about how God is testing you.

Tomorrow we will teach the global warming “controversy”.