Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

25 January 2011

Religious Indoctrination in the Military

By Diana Hsieh

Here's another personal report from an American soldier on indoctrination in the military:

M[y] religion? I was born a Methodist and guess I still am one. I’m not very religious but consider myself to be a Christian. I don’t go to chapel services that often although I go every now and then. I can’t stand the chaplains as most of them are trying to always get me and my friends to “commit to Christ” and be far more religious as well as they try to get more and more soldiers to get more and more soldiers to be the same type of “committed Christian”. I cannot count the number of times that these chaplains and my own chain of command has described this war we fight as a religious one against the Muslims and their “false, evil and violent” religion. I am a Christian and therefore neither an agnostic nor an atheist though many of my fellow soldiers are such. Now to the point. I, and everyone else who is enlisted in my company, was ORDERED by my Battalion Commander to take the GAT’s Spiritual Fitness Test not very long ago. Let me make this CLEAR, we were all ORDERD to take it.

After we did, our unit’s First Sgt. individually asked us all how we did on the test. There was NO “anonymity” at all. None of us were ever told that we did NOT have to take this Spiritual Fitness Test nor that we did NOT have to tell our FIrst Sgt. what our results were. A bunch of us “failed” the SFT and when we told that to our First Sgt., per his disclosure order, he further ordered us to make immediate appointments with the chaplains so that we would not “kill ourselves on his watch”. None of us wanted to do it but we were scared. None of us wanted to get in the shits with our First Sgt. who can and will make life miserable for anyone who might have said no to him.

They keep saying that this is all to stop us soldiers from killing ourselves but THIS degrading SFT “failure” only makes it worse. Two of my battle buddies who I KNOW are thinking of ending it all were a million times worse off after failing this SFT and being called a “spiritual failure” and then ordered to go see the chaplains. I felt like a total coward for not standing up to my First Sgt. but I did what he told me to do. I was scared to tell him no.

So I went to see the chaplain. When this chaplain told me that I failed the SFT because it was “Jesus’ way of personally knocking on my door as an invitation for me to come to Him as a born again ‘REAL’ Christian” so that I could be saved and not burn forever in Hell for rejecting him, I thought of 3 things. First, I thought of the fact that I was already born a Christian and did not need to be born again. Second, I thought of my battle buddy (name and rank withheld) who took a bullet for me in his face during the Battle of (name of Iraqi battle withheld) and that he was the same kind of Christian as me and this chaplain is telling me that my battle buddy (name and rank withheld) is burning in hell for all time. Third, I thought how I wanted to blow that fucking chaplain’s head right off.
If that's the treatment that born-once Christians receive, I can only imagine the problems that some commanders create for atheists and agnostics. Go read the whole thing.

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21 January 2011

A Miraculous Shooting?

By Ari

We can indeed be thankful that Gabrielle Giffords survived the attempt to take her life. It was a horrifying event, a slaughter of innocents, and an assault on our Republic. No doubt Giffords faces a tough recovery.

But was her survival a miracle, as I have heard numerous people claim? Today The Christian Post reported, "About 77 percent of American voters said they believed that prayer literally helped Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords survive the Tucson shooting, according to a Fox News poll released Thursday."

Was it miraculous that the murderer killed six and wounded fourteen more?

If God were interested in miraculous intervention (and if he existed), why would he wait until after the bullets struck their victims to take action? Following are some examples of what might have been truly useful and impressive miracles. God could have placed the murderer in a force field to prevent him from shooting people. God could have called down from the heavens, "Be warned! Take cover! A mass murderer is approaching your location!" God could have given all the victims temporary superpowers, such that the bullets bounced off of them (like Superman). Or, God could simply have totally healed Giffords on the spot.

If miraculous intervention kept Giffords alive, why didn't God step in to save the six people slaughtered? Did God not care about them? Were they not worthy of miraculous intervention? Were the prayers of their loved ones not honored by God?

True, people shot in the head often die, so, given the fact that Giffords was shot, she was relatively lucky to survive and start down the path to recovery. But she was immensely unlucky to be shot in the first place, so to call her subsequent survival a "miracle" is to abuse the language. One might as well claim it was a "miracle" that she was shot and six others died.

We take some comfort in the fact that Giffords survived the shooting, and we hope for her recovery. But, in recognition of the immense trauma she in fact suffered, and out of respect for those who died, let's not chalk up the events of that day to miracles and prayer.

This post originally was published on Ari Armstrong's blog.

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20 January 2011

Ricky Gervais, Atheist

By Diana Hsieh

Last month, comedian Ricky Gervais published a statement in the Wall Street Journal entitled A Holiday Message From Ricky Gervais: Why I’m an Atheist. I'd heard that it was good, but when I read it, I enjoyed it more than I expected. Here's a taste:

Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith.” If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, ‘’F—ing fly then you lunatic.”
And:
The dictionary definition of God is “a supernatural creator and overseer of the universe.” Included in this definition are all deities, goddesses and supernatural beings. Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6,000 years ago, historians have cataloged over 3700 supernatural beings, of which 2870 can be considered deities.

So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say “Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra?…” If they say “Just God. I only believe in the one God,” I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869.
Christians, in fact, used to be called "atheists" by the pagan Romans, because they denied the existence of so many gods.

Of particular interest to me was just how small of a suggestion he required, as a young boy, to reject Christianity. But you can read the whole thing for that.

The follow-up -- Does God Exist? Ricky Gervais Takes Your Questions -- was even more fun. Here are my favorite bits:
Woody Allen is widely quoted as having once said: “You cannot prove the nonexistence of God; you just have to take it on faith.” Is being an atheist as unscientific a stance as believing in God? Isn’t it more intellectually honest to be agnostic?

Well Woody Allen was being facetious but makes a good point. Is being an atheist as unscientific a stance as believing in God? No definitely not. How can not believing in something that is backed up with no empirical evidence be less scientific than believing in something that not only has no empirical evidence but actually goes against the laws of the universe and in many cases actually contradicts itself?
And:
People who believe in God sometimes have moments of doubt about their faith. Have you had any moments of doubt about your atheism?

Atheism isn’t a belief system. I have a belief system but it’s not “based on” atheism, it’s just not based on the existence of a god. I make none of my moral, social, or artistic decisions based on any god or superstitions. Saying atheism is a belief system is like saying not going skiing is a hobby. I’ve never been skiing. It’s my biggest hobby. I literally do it all the time. But to answer your question I am constantly faced with theories of God, and angels, and hell. It’s everywhere. But unless there is an ounce of credibility to it, I reject. I have to. You can’t lie to yourself. If you do you’ve only fooled a deluded person and where’s the victory in that?
To top it off, here's Gervais mocking Genesis:



Like many atheists today, Gervais' weakness is his acceptance of the morality of altruism. Yet he doesn't seem as deeply committed to that as many of the new atheists, and overall, I came away impressed... and amused.

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04 January 2011

Final Thoughts on the "Personhood" Pledge

By Diana Hsieh

Just a few days ago, I closed the books on the pledge project for Ari Armstrong's and my policy paper, The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life. I'm so grateful to all the people who contributed to Ari's and my work by their pledges. The paper would not have been updated without those contributions -- many of them very generous and all of them appreciated. Given that the measure didn't even break 30%, I'm so glad that we put in those grueling hours. Plus, I'm really proud that we offered the most substantive defense of abortion rights from an Objectivist perspective written to date.

I can't properly explain how motivating the pledges are. It's not just that I'm paid for my work. It's that I'm paid directly by individuals, many of whom I know personally. And in the process of pledging, those people tell me what my work means to them. Given that activism can seem like a grind sometimes, that's hugely important to me.

Amy Mossoff was one of the pledgers on this project, and I really appreciated her take on the pledge model as a way of raising money for such projects. Here's what she said, shortly after the paper was released:

I haven't read the whole paper yet (just the intro), but I already know that am pleased with my (oh so small) investment. Thanks for your great work, and the brilliant pledge idea, which allows me to support things like this without sacrificing or else feeling like my scarce money was just a meaningless drop in the bucket.
Exactly!

Unfortunately -- and for the very first time -- a few people failed to make good on their pledges. I've sent multiple invoices over many months, but I've not heard back from these few people. I wouldn't mind quite so much if they would just write me to explain. As I've said with every pledge project, I'll gladly void the pledge (or offer a refund) to anyone not satisfied with the product delivered, provided that he explains his reasons. Of course, if a person lost his job and needed every penny to put food on the table, I'd be happy to void his pledge too. I'd just like to hear back, so that I'm not left hanging. So... if you're one of those people who pledged but never paid, please do me the courtesy of e-mailing me some kind of explanation.

For now, while I have so many other projects in the works, I've decided to put the Coalition for Secular Government on hold. I might blog for Politics without God on occasion, but likely nothing more. However, never fear... Ari and I will surely fight Colorado's next "personhood" measure in 2012. We've already put in far too much work on the issue to let those theocratic bastards take the moral high ground... ever!

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