Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Texans for Truthful Text Books Rally

You may be interested in some pictures I took of the Texans for Truthful Text Books Rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin. Here’s a video of the event. http://atheists.org/events/Texas_Rally

Fun was had by all, both atheists and theists alike. Also, the god’s complied as the weather was perfect. It stated raining after the event was over. There were many great speakers. (The one’s I have pictured are Kathleen Johnson, American Atheists VP and Military Director), Aime Parsons, Director of Camp Quest, and Texas School Board Candidate, and, of Course, Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists.)

Matt Dillahaunty, of the Atheist Experience was there and they recorder a TV show directly after the event. http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/6978489 Well, it wasn’t directly after the even because a lot of us (and I mean a LOT of us) stopped by a pub, the Dog and Duck and watched the show there.

My personal thoughts were that Austin is a beautiful capitol, apart from abominations like the Board of Education and this specific monument (pictured) outside the capitol building, (of wich four of the ten “commandments” are unconstitutional, and one is just stupid!) Also, the Austin atheist community has to be one of the best, if not the best, in the country. The friendliness, community, and sheer number of events that they have organized for freethinkers are comparable to any church.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is my Godless Evangelism too Close to Fred Phelps-ism?

It like your comments on whether my Godless Evangelism has gone too far. My weekend activities ended up with a couple of very angry Catholic Priests calling the police.
I’m interested in social psychology, especially when it involves religion. I’m hoping to start an MA in the subject at an online university that may eventually lead to a Ph.D. I’m specifically interested in why religious belief has a free pass in society. My theory is that just as genes are analogous to memes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme as biological and cultural replicators, the biological phenomena known as ‘allelopathy’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allelopathy, where plants emit toxins that inhibit the growth of other plants, religion emits ‘toxins’ into the cultural system that ‘inhibit the growth’ of reason by making it ‘uncomfortable’ to dismiss or even question the irrational beliefs.

Anyway, I thought I’d do a social experiment where I ‘plant a seed’ of atheism in ‘soil’ where, one would have thought, it had no chance to ‘grow’. That’s outside a Church after Sunday morning worship.

I made up a sign that said “Hello, I’m and Atheist. Do you have any questions for me?” I had it fit over the roof of my car for three reasons. One is that I thought it looked less intimidating than me holding a sign. http://friendlyatheist.com/2009/02/26/atheist-proselytizing-it-leads-to-boobies/boobies/ The second is that I knew I would be around people that were getting into their cars and I wanted to look as much like them as possible. (I also dressed in my ‘Sunday best’.) The third reason was because I wanted to show off my license plate with my phone number. http://friendlyatheist.com/2009/07/01/an-atheist-license-plate-story-with-a-happy-ending/

My criteria for selecting a church were primarily the size and lavishness of the structure and its subsequent popularity. Secondly, finding a location to park my car and display the sign that was both visually accessible to the congregation, and also legal. I knew parking on the church property was defiantly not appropriate. This turned out to be a more difficult task than one would imagine. However, I found a few, The New Covenant Presbyterian Church, and The Pentecostals of Mandeville.
However, I decided to start with the largest Catholic Church in my community Mary Queen of Peace Church. (Also, due to the recent actions of the Pope, I have a special ‘fondness’ for the Catholic religion.)
I sent the following email to the Pastor, Rev. Ronald L. Calkins and copied Msgr. William Bilinsky, http://www.maryqueenofpeace.org/contact.html : -

Pastor Calkins

I’m an atheist. www.godlessevangelist.com. I’d like to give the people that visit your church the opportunity to hear the alternate point of view

I’m planning on standing outside your church after Sunday mass with a sign that says, “Hello, I’m and Atheist. Do you have any questions for me?” I also have some business cards with contact information and tracts to hand out to anyone that would take them.

I’d like to ask your advice on where I can stand and park my car so I’m not seeming too assertive or violating any laws.

If you would like to meet me prior to the event, please don’t hesitate to ask.



Doug Stewart

Home: (985) 792-7229

Cell: (504) 676-0536

To his credit, he did get back to me: -

Mr. Stewart,

I have received your e-mail. You are not welcome to be on the church property for the purposes of handing out literature or espousing your views.

Father Ronald Calkins

(Maybe I could have worded my email better but I had no intension of standing or parking on church property.)

I parked my car on the side of the road near the exit of the church’s parking lot. I was acknowledged by, I would guess, the majority of people leaving. Some honked their horns; some slowed down to stare at me and did the sign of the cross on their bodies; and some just waved. I didn’t witness any angry behavior… And then the Priests came out.
Two Priests confronted me, Ronald Calkins and William Bilinsky, (I think), together with two church officials in plain clothes. Ronald Calkins said abruptly, “We want you to leave”. My immediate thought was that there were many things that I ‘want’ as well. (Being massaged with exotic oils by the Los Angeles Laker Cheer Leaders sprang to mind, but I didn’t think that reply would have been appropriate – Besides, they never return my calls.) I, as politely as possible, replied with something like, “well, I’m here because I’m concerned about the power of religion in this country”. (Next time, I’ll remember to record any conversations.) With that, Calkins demeanor changed to what I can only explain as extreme anxiety, frustration and even anger. He’d obviously never experienced such outright disobedience. So much so that he seemed to back off in despair. Bilinsky then took over and said that I can’t be where I was because I was “causing an obstruction”. I agreed with him and asked if there was anywhere he could recommend I park my car. His repeated reply, together with that of Calkins was to just “go away”, “why can’t you go away”, “just go away”. They said it so often that I didn’t even have an opportunity to reply.

Note: This is evidence for the memetic allelopathy of religious belief in culture. Not even the religious leaders themselves know why it exists or how it works; just that society should never confront religion. Why shouldn’t society confront religion? I don’t know, it’s just that society should never confront religion. (Repeat ad infinitum) In the very rare event that religion is confronted, the only defense mechanism is to repeatedly ask that religion not be confronted. (?!?!?!?!)

I was then given the ‘ultimatum’ that if I didn’t “just go away” they would call the police. I agreed. The police car came almost immediately. The officer asked me to stay with my car and spoke to the church officials first. He was with them for about 10 to 15 minutes. Then all the church officials returned to the church and the police officer, who was very congenial and understanding explained to me that even though I wasn’t causing an obstruction, the hard shoulder was reserved for broken down vehicles and I should move, which of course I had no problem with. He even pointed out that if I just pulled forward about 50 feet I could park in the lot of the neighboring business. He also said that he explained to the Priests that I had every right to display a sigh that said just about anything. (Wow! A cop that understands the First Amendment – What a concept!) He took my driving license and returned to his car to run my ID which took what seemed to be nearly half an hour! However, that was a good thing because having a police presence together with a couple of priests and a small crown meant that I had my sign seen by even more people.

My question to you is, am I no better than the Westboro Baptist Church ‘God Hates Fags’ members? I did try to make my sign as civil and unassertive as possible. And I couldn’t have been any more polite. Do you think this is a positive, negative, or neutral reflection on atheism in general? Should I do it again? If so, should I rotate churches and religious denominations? Should I be in a more person-to-person location, like parked in a neighboring lot in order to encourage discussion?
Not meaning to have the arrogance of over exaggerating my actions, but I do believe that there are parallels with the Greensboro Sit-In during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greensboro_sit-ins (There are differences in that unlike the Sit-Ins wanted to share the restaurant with white people, I don’t want to ‘share worship’, I want to shine the light of reason on their belief systems to undermine, if not completely irradiate, their supernatural belief.) Note that the four protesters were not heroes to all African Americans. One black woman, a dishwasher behind the counter was heard shouting that they were “stupid, ignorant . . . rabble-rousers, and troublemakers.” (Probably because they risked her loosing her job.) Am I similarly at fault?

P.S. If anyone’s under the impression that evangelizing isn’t imbedded in religious doctrine, I took this picture (see Photo 8) on the exit of a Pentecostal church’s parking lot. I’m thinking of standing next to it with my sign in an attempt to get people to missionize me. Waddya think?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Doug Stewart – “Political Lobbyist”… Eh?

I recently visited Washington DC to attend the ‘Civic Days at the Capital’ event put on by the Center For Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy. The Center for Inquiry advocates for science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values and the Office of Public Policy hosts Civic Days to bring non-believers, secular humanists, and skeptics from across America to Washington DC to engage in citizen lobbying on important issues, and also to have a little fun!

I flew in to DC the afternoon of Saturday April 24th and met that evening with all the CFI staff over pizza, salad and beer. Matt Sapara, CFI Policy Analyst gave a Welcome to DC presentation, and the Director of Public Policy, Toni Van Pelt gave us an overview of the lobbying we were to be doing the following Tuesday. An added bonus was that a friend I met in New Orleans, Sean Faircloth, the Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America was in attendance. Sean was the guest of honor at the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association’s 10th Anniversary Banquet last year.

The following Sunday and Monday were packed full of things to do. With interesting presentations by people such as Maggie Garrett of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Marissa Brown from the Alliance for Justice, and Dr. Stu Jordan, CFI’s Science Adviser. CFI also had ‘real live politicians’ come speak to us like Doug Crandall, Director of Legislative Affairs for the US Forest Service and now Acting USDA Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations for the Obama Administration, who told us how Washington really works. (The quote, “There are two things you will never wish to watch: the making of sausage and the making of legislation”, is really true.) Also, the very charismatic, likable, and advocate for church~state separation, Congressman Brian Baird, (D-WA) http://baird.house.gov/ talked about The Importance of Citizen Involvement in Government.

But that was just the half of it. CFI organized a tour at the Smithsonian Museum Hall of Human Origins where I got to meet all my distant cousins, my favorite being ‘Lucy’, otherwise know as Australopithecus Afarensis. It had been about 3.2 million years so we had a lot to catch up on. This was followed by an exhibition in honor of Charles Darwin called The Evolution of Evolution that focused on the significant role that Darwin’s theory has played in explaining and unifying all the biological sciences. The last “museum” I visited was the Creation Museum in Kentucky. (I apologize.) Believe me, the science, evidence, reason, and absence of the supernatural in explaining our history was refreshing to say the least.

A very entertaining walking tour was provided by Steve C. Lowe, a Director of the Washington Area Secular Humanists (WASH) on ‘The Great Agnostic’ Robert G. Ingersoll. He was the best-known orator and a political speechmaker of 19th-century America on subjects such as politics, ethics, human freedom, and he spoke against slavery and opposed the Religious Right of his day. Part of the tour involved reciting some of Ingersoll’s quotes. My favorite was Is there an intelligent man or woman now in the world who believes in the Garden of Eden story? If you find any man who believes it, strike his forehead and you will hear an echo. Something is for rent.” Information about the walking tour can be found at http://www.ingersoll.wash.org/.

There was also a guided tour of the Capitol Building, which included both the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. It was quite awe inspiring.

The Monday evening culminated with a formal dinner attended by Dr. R. Elisabeth 'Liz' Cornwell, Executive Director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. http://richarddawkinsfoundation.%20org/foundation,RDFRSstaff.

Tuesday April 27th was lobbying day! CFI had previously instructed us on how to set up appointments with the Legislative Offices of our choice. I chose Congressman Steve Scalise, representing the 1st District of Louisiana, (Northshore, where I live), and Louisiana Senator David Vitter. David Vitter’s office never even acknowledged my emails and voice mails, (hmm?), but I did get an appointment with Scalise’s Legislative Assistant, Caitlin Songy. Assisted by CFI’s Matt Separa we discussed a number of issues, starting with the Louisiana Science Education Act, something dear to my heart, which allows school teachers to teach creationism along side evolution in schools. I tried to point out the national embarrassment that this Bill spotlights on Louisiana. I was told that this was a gubernatorial issue, but I did ask that my impression be conveyed to the Congressman. Other issues ranged from the Faith Based Initiatives to repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy concerning gays in the military. Congressman Scalise has a 100% ‘pro family’ (read ‘pro religion’) voting record, so there is little or no hope of budging his opinion. However, being able to vent my point of view so close to his ear gave me a real sense of achievement.

However, I would say that the highlight of the visit was when I went to the National Archives Building to see the actual Constitution of the United States of America. I approached the Bill of Rights and, leaning over the casing (you’re not allowed to touch the glass), I put on my reading glasses and read out loud, slowly and clearly the complete First Amendment. It bought a tear to my eye. I now have personal proof that it exists! This is in spite of legislation such as that for the engraving of “In God We Trust” at the Capitol Visitor Center. (See Photo 7.) In July 2009, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution (Senate by voice vote and in the House by 410-8) to compel the Office of the Architect of the U.S. Capitol to prominently engrave this religious motto at a cost of about $50,000 of tax payers money. In addition to being discriminatory against me, it’s in direct violation of those ten tortured words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. Maybe the politicians in Washington should do as I did and read them?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Another Approach to Rebut the Resurrection Story

No doubt you’ve been given the endless drivel of reasons why the resurrection of Jesus Christ was true, the Bible no doubt? Well there’s a book with the credibility of a used car salesman with a crack addiction.

I was recently corresponding with a theologian on the subject and decided on another approach. This is my email. What do you think?

To [Theologian]

I won’t bore you with the multitudes of Biblical contradictions about the resurrection (and everything else for that matter). Just Google, “contradictions in the bible - resurrection” and reach out to your intellectual honesty.

I’d like to approach your belief from the angle of what’s going on in your head. The relatively new subject called the Cognitive Science of Religion, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_science_of_religion, had identified naturally evolved thought processes, (Note: By the way, if you don’t accept evolution, I’m afraid we’re a non starter), that religion has hijacked. This coupled with the transfer mechanism of ‘memes’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme, shows that we’re pre-programmed to believe.

The HIV virus is
exquisitely evolved with receptors, chemical signals, physical structure, etc, to invade cells, specifically those of the human immune system. How did it get to do this I hear you ask? It evolved to do it. All the other viruses that morphed to have different infection techniques that weren’t as good as HIV, simply didn’t survive. Similarly, the memetic virus known as the story of someone that died unjustly 2000 years ago and, because he came back to life, he took away all the responsibility for all the bad deeds, not just done by you, but for all of humanity, has exquisitely evolved ‘receptors’, pleasing ‘signals’, and ‘physical evidence – the Bible' (in your mind anyway), that this story is actually true.

For example, if I told you 1.) there was a tree in my back yard, you’d say, “so?” If I told you 2.) there was a tree in my back yard that turned invisible every second Wednesday, you’d say, “Doug, go and get some therapy.” However, if I told you 3.) there was a tree in my back yard that, due to it being next to the pond, and the sound of the fountain, and the pleasant greenery of Louisiana, etc., etc., if you sit down underneath it and watch the ducks gently swimming about their own business, you can maybe feel the weight of the world lift from your shoulders. Occasionally you can even hear the breeze blow through the trees branches and, if you listen carefully, sometimes they speak to you and provide ideas and direction that can aid you and your loved ones in the future.

Now, ‘meme’ 1.) is boring. Enough said. Meme 2. is stupid. Enough said. But meme 3.) is what’s called ‘minimally counter intuitive’. It’s initially believable in that who on this planet doesn’t have problems, concerns, and worries? Furthermore, who wouldn’t appreciate a beautiful scene with a pond, a fountain, ducks, greenery, etc.? But then it slides very slightly and slowly into the supernatural, but that’s okay because you get something out of it. You get your psychological stress relieved and what’s more, you get answers for the future. Also, using the words ‘occasionally’, 'sometimes' and ‘maybe’ implies that even if it doesn't happen all the time, it doesn't mean that it's not true. This is exactly the same as the resurrection story.

To the New Orleans Theological Baptist Seminary’s credit, they had a theologian, Dr. Michael Murray come speak about this very subject. http://www.epsapologetics.com/sessions/sessions.asp?mode=detail&sid=17. Of course, he ended the lecture by saying “it’s all God’s will”, but up to that point, his presentation was excellent.

I don’t know if you have an interest in social psychology, and more specifically, cognitive evolution, but that’s where the answers to religious belief are.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Extreme Makeover - Home Edition is Immoral

What are we told to do when we see a panhandler in the street? The official answer is point them in the direction of a charity aided center and then go home and make a donation to that charity.

What does the ABC show, Extreme Makeover effectively do? They scour the country for the most pathetic family in America that are in genuine need of help, and turn them into a Barnum and Bailey emotional side show. Let me ask you another question. What about the ‘second’ most pathetic family? O the third? Or the fourth? They get nothing, and they’re still out there in the real world.

Wouldn’t it be great if all the corporations, companies, and people donated to organizations that helped ALL families in need, not just the most photogenically pitiable? This approach may be accused of being “socialist”, (shhhhh! – who said that word?), but the blatantly capitalistic approach of ‘winner takes all” is immoral.

What the programs fail to tell their audience is that the ‘lucky’ recipient’s home mortgages are adjusted based on the lavish new property, which has resulted in several of the families not being able to keep up with the payments. As a result, many are now facing foreclosure.

This has many parallels with organized religion and the Faith Based Initiatives. They take all the credit for charitable giving, but of course as long as you’re not homosexual, a woman in need of certain legal medical help, (contraception, abortion), or simply don’t believe in the same invisible man in the sky that they do, or don’t believe in ANY invisible man in the sky for that matter, then everything’s fine! Isn’t this more a display of the failure by our secular government than the ‘success’ of religions?

I was in Washington DC recently and went to the National Archives Building and read the 1st Amendment out loud. It said, “Congress shall make no law respecting and establishment of religion”. It didn’t say, “Congress shall make no law respecting and establishment of religion unless Congress can’t be bothered to help its people – then its okay”.

What is Religion?

My personal observation is that religion is ‘the terrible feeling that someone somewhere is happy’.

But the experts in the field of psychology called the Cognitive Science of Religion, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_science_of_religion, such as Pascal Boyer, David Sloan Wilson, Justine Barrette, Jesse Baring, Scott Atran, Stewart Guthrie, and many more are debating the whether religion is either: -

An evolutionary adaptation ~ vs. ~ A byproduct or ‘spandrel’

However, people such as Richard Dawkins, (Evolutionary Biologist), Daniel Dennett, (Philosopher and Evolutionist), and J. Anderson Thompson, (Psychiatrist), and Darrel Ray, (Psychiatrist), believe that religion is a cultural parasite that has hijacked normal cognitive mechanisms for it’s own ends, which, like any viral infection is to survive and multiply. To me, this sounds just like religion, so I’m going with it.

As purely an academic exercise, it made me think of trying to group the human thought processes that contribute to religious belief into the adaptation or byproduct categories. Even though the religious mental pathogen infects all of them, this is what I came up with.

Religion’s Cognitive Mechanisms that are primarily an adaptation:

Minimally Counter Intuitive (MCI)

Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD)

Theory of Mind

Decoupled Cognition

Cognitive Dissidence


Reciprocal Altruism

Altruistic Punishment

Childhood Credulity

Deference to Authority

Attachment Systems



Relationship Transference

Kin Psychology


Mirror Neurons







Religion’s Cognitive Mechanisms that are primarily a byproduct:


Dealing with Death

Dualism (Soul)

Intuitive Reasoning

Motivated Reasoning


Confirmation Bias

Familiarity Bias

Memetic Replication (Transfer)

Memetic Allelopathy

Contagion Interference Systems

Flawed Recollection

Perception of Design

Quest for Purpose

Need for Explanation

Causal Determinacy

Intuitive Reasoning

Motivated Reasoning

Confirmation Bias


Belief in Belief

Attitude Inoculation

Reactance Theory

Elaboration Likelihood Model (Peripheral route)

Costly Signals of Commitment

Mere Messenger Strategy

Naïve Group Psychology

In Group/Out Group Psychology

What do you think?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Daniel Dennett & Percy Sledge?

Daniel Dennett, when interviewed by BeliefNet, http://www.beliefnet.com was asked:

You write that loyalty to religion is a bit like falling in love, and that's why people take such great offense when you try to counter their views. How are they similar?

The emotional passion with which people declare their love for their religion should be taken very seriously. Whenever there is a love object, whether it is another person, or a nation or a religious creed or the Boston Red Sox, there is a built-in, outraged response to anything that threatens or demeans or is even skeptical [of that love object]. If you start saying something skeptical of my loved one, my dukes are up. That's a response which I'm quite sure is genetically favored in our species, in the same way it's favored in mammals in general to protect their young.

This reminded me of the song by Percy Sledge, ‘When a Man Loves a Woman”. Read through the lyrics and replace “woman” with “Jesus”, and, ‘voila!’, you have a religious fundamentalist.

When a man loves a woman Jesus
Can't keep his mind on nothing else
He'll trade the world
For the good thing he's found
If she's bad he can't see it
She can do no wrong
Turn his back on his best friend
If he put her him down

When a man loves a woman Jesus
Spend his very last dime
Tryin' to hold on to what he needs
He'd give up all his comfort
Sleep out in the rain
If she said that's the way it ought to be

Well, this man loves a woman Jesus
I gave you everything I had
Tryin' to hold on to your precious love
Baby, Jesus, please don't treat me bad

When a man loves a woman Jesus
Down deep in his soul
She can bring him such misery
If she plays him for a fool
He's the last one to know
Lovin' eyes can't ever see

When a man loves a woman Jesus
He can do no wrong
He can never own some other girl God
Yes when a man loves a woman Jesus
I know exactly how he feels
'Cause baby, baby, baby, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus you're my world

When a man loves a woman Jesus.....

Don't you think the expressions “Love is Blind” and “Blind Faith” go together?