Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ebola The Gay and Atheist Away

Via Right Wing Watch comes this report of a Christian wingnut named Rick Wiles, who has a radio program called Trunews.  While I am sure I have heard of him before, nothing he said stuck in my memory.  Well, I will certainly remember him now.

On his program, Wiles said "Now this Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic and that’s another name for plague. It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming.”  He then went on to say, among other things, “Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion.”

Normally, I would just shrug this kind of thing off as some nutty utterances by a fringe character.  In this case though, shortly after uttering these comments, Wiles had on his program Frank Wolf, a veteran Republican congressman from Virginia.

I don't know if Congressman Wolf heard Wiles remarks before speaking with him.  If he did, I would like to know why he still appeared on Wiles program.  If he didn't hear the remarks, will he condemn them if brought to his attention?

I was sufficiently disgusted that I called Wolf's office and spoke to one of his staffers.  I told her that Wolf appeared on Wiles program several days before, what Wiles had said, and asked her why the congressman would validate a radio show host who uttered such horrible things.  She took down my address, but the tone of her voice had that "we'll be sure to give this the attention it is due" vibe to it.  I won't hold my breath waiting for a letter in the mail from the congressman, though if by some chance I do, I will be sure to share it here.

I also wanted to follow up with an e-mail, but the e-mail form requires one to enter a zip code and informs you that only e-mails from constituents will be answered.  As I am a New Yorker, that ruled out any chance of my getting a reply.

I just looked a moment ago on his website to see if perhaps there was a press release condemning Wiles remarks, but there was none.

It would be great if some of Wolf's constituents who are angered by Wiles comments were to contact Wolf to let him know that it is unacceptable and wrong to associate himself and legitimize Wiles.

But back to Wiles himself.  While hateful, his remarks, along with those by other so-called Christians, are also rather revealing, not to mention pathetic.  It's as though they are throwing up their hands and hoping that their imaginary friend will do their work for them and use plagues and natural disasters to wipe out the people and things they hate because they can't do it themselves.  It also strikes me as very unchristian behavior.  After all, Jesus implored his followers to love their enemies.  Wiles doesn't seem to be expressing any love for me by hoping I die from Ebola for having the temerity to be an atheist in America.  Furthermore, as a frequent blood donor, if I were to be killed by Wiles god, my community would no longer benefit from my generosity as a donor.

If by any chance you read this Rick Wiles, I don't want you to die from Ebola.  Instead, I want you to reevaluate what you believe and make an effort to become a decent human being, if that is at all possible.

Praying For A Discount

This article on the BBC web site caught my attention.  It seems a diner in North Carolina was offering 15% discounts to customers who visibly prayed over their meals or before being served.

While some Christians might think this is such a wonderful thing, I can't help but think what's to stop nonreligious customers, once they hear of the discount, from engaging in phony prayers just to knock 15% off their tab?  Especially us atheists.  After all, if Christians believe that we are immoral and untrustworthy by nature, then local atheists should eat at that diner en masse, making outward displays of prayer and piety, while inwardly snickering to themselves in satisfaction for hoodwinking the restaurant's owner.

I imagine if enough people did it, it would start to cut into the restaurant's profit margin, thereby causing the owner to terminate the discount.

If you are an atheist and you were going to eat in a restaurant knowing that customers who prayed in the restaurant would receive a 15% discount, would you make a show of prayer to save a few bucks on your bill?

Not sure if I would, but if I did, I might write Matthew 6:5-6 on the bill.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Baby Jesus Was Watching Over You

As I have mentioned before, Facebook is a gold mine of religious silliness for an atheist blogger.

Some months ago, a friend from high school shared on Facebook a traffic incident that she had experienced.  She was driving on a dark road somewhere out in eastern Suffolk County in inclement weather when the car ahead of her lost control, spun around, and narrowly avoided colliding with her.

One of her Facebook friends proclaimed in a comment to the post that "the Baby Jesus was watching over you."

I had to figuratively bite my tongue to keep myself from writing something sarcastic in response.

I wanted to write "The Baby Jesus?  How could the Baby Jesus watch over her?  Jesus was an adult when, according to the Gospels, he was crucified, died and rose from the dead.  Do you mean to tell me there is a part of Jesus that remains perpetually an infant to this very day?  Maybe the Trinity needs to be revised (would you call it a Quadrinity?)  to Father, Grown Son, Infant Son, and the Holy Spirit!"

I guess this is one function of my blog.  A place where I can vent about the things I can't write on Facebook in response to some of the nuttiness I encounter.

The Importance of Skepticism

The atheist/skeptic community quite naturally focuses the majority of its attention on religious claims, and for good reason.

However, a healthy skepticism is vitally important on other facets of our lives as well.

This is a post I mean to write for quite a while, but unfortunately I never seemed to get around to it.  Now that I am attempting to revive this blog, it seems as good a time to address it as any.

Several years ago, we received a letter in the mail from the People To People Ambassador Program informing that our daughter, who at the time was in 4th grade, was nominated (by who, it didn't say) to participate in a trip to London and Paris.  Wanting to find out more information, I went on the web site.  Strangely, when I entered the code that was in the letter, the address it had for my daughter was in Wisconsin instead of New York.  I called the number and spoke to a customer service representative, who said it must have been a glitch or something.

Anyway, the program was having a presentation for interested parents at the SUNY Stony Brook campus.  My daughter was quite thrilled at the prospect of going on a trip to London and Paris, and I recall at one point when I made a joke about her not being able to go, she started to cry and said "You have no idea how much this means to me!"

So, my wife, my daughter and I made the trip to SUNY Stony Brook on the appointed day.  When you arrive, they collect the letter you receive in the mail.  In retrospect, I wish I had made a copy of it so I could reproduce its contents for this post.

We, along with other parents and children in attendance, entered the auditorium and listened to a man named Mike speak to us.  He then showed us a short film about the program.  After that, he brought out some of the people who have participated as chaperones for the program.  If memory serves, they were all school teachers.

The presentation was rather slick, and at least one person I read online described it as similar to promoting a time share.  There was a great emphasis made about how international travel can boost one's chances of being accepted to college and how it was such an enriching experience.  The cost estimate for the trip, to the best of my recollection, was somewhere around $5,000 to $6,000 dollars.  For parents who would have difficulty paying for the trip on their own, there were some fundraising opportunities, which I guess was doing things like selling candy bars and such.

After the presentation was over, Mike said that representatives were available in the lobby to accept deposits for early registration for the trip.  When we went out into the lobby, I saw that a number of parents had lined up to register their children for the trip and pay the deposit.  My wife asked me if we should do the same and I told her that I wasn't going to be rushed into paying for my daughter to travel to Europe with a bunch of strangers without doing more research about the organization.

Sure enough, when I did do some online sleuthing (the Internet is your friend!), I found some not so flattering things about the People to People organization.

For starters, my daughter had not done anything noteworthy to have received her invitation to the trip. 

An investigation by CBS found some bizarre irregularities in the invitations that were sent out.

"Many parents... believe their kids won an honor from a non-profit run by President Eisenhower's granddaughter. But the experience of Steve and Jennifer Barbee indicates otherwise.

The Barbees' daughter, Katelynn, got invited on a People to People trip this summer with other "high school students" from Tennessee. But Katelynn died back in 1996 when she was 10 days old.

CBS News found the same story in Iowa - a boy supposedly "recommended for the honor" of a People to People trip for his "outstanding middle school achievements." Impossible, said the mom in a letter, because her son "died at seven weeks of age in 1993."

I also found reviews of People to People by former and current employees of the company at a web site called Glassdoor.  The picture they painted was not a very encouraging one.

One employee wrote in May of 2011 that the cons of the organization included:

Unpleasant work environment full of aggression, anger and frustration.
Many people afraid of being fired for speaking their mind.
High turnover among staff.
High pressure selling leads to many cancellations.

A former employee wrote around the same time that "There seems to be a lot of very angry and nasty people in the management group.  It is not unusual for shouting matches to break out among 'leaders' in the company."

Another current employee wrote "Attempts to find and keep senior people have failed time and again as they arrive and figure out the real situation and leave.  Consequently, the same poorly qualified individuals stay and continue to make poor decisions." 

When I was doing the research I had found a review site from parents and students, where many, though not all, of the reviews were mostly negative.  I tried to find it again, but it may no longer be online.

Needless to say, after having investigated the matter to my satisfaction, I went over my findings with my daughter to explain why I would not register her for the trip. She was very understanding and accepted the decision.  I only wished I had done the research before wasting the time and gasoline to drive all the way out to Stony Brook. 

That being said, I do not deny that a fair number of children who go on People to People's trips have enjoyable and memorable experiences, and I read a number of reviews to this effect.  Some of them may even end up reading this post and commenting here.

Still, it seems clear that the way these trips are marketed to impressionable children and well meaning parents is not entirely honest.  As explained above, my daughter didn't receive her invitation because of any special achievement on her part.  With regard to college, I had never traveled outside the United States until I was 20, and that didn't stop me from getting a college education.  My daughter and my son are certainly more well traveled at their young ages than I was.  I didn't fly on an airplane for the first time until I was 25.  My son was less than six months old on his maiden flight.  I was 20 the first time I ever left the United States, and that was a drive to Montreal, where I stayed less than 24 hours.  My kids have been to the Philippines and Hong Kong 3 times, as well as Taipei, the Bahamas, the Caymans, and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. 

By all means, send your children on a People to People trip if you want to, but don't do it because you believe that they will suffer some horrible set back in life for not attending, because they surely won't.

You Can Keep Your Religion, but...

When I first started this blog back in the Autumn of 2006, I tapped out this brief declaration in which I exhorted religious people to give up their religion.  At the time, I saw my blog as a platform for atheist evangelizing, and I perhaps naively hoped way back then that I could write posts that would cause religious believers to acknowledge that they could and should abandon their religious beliefs.

Time and experience have since mellowed me in this regard.  Don't get me wrong, I still think it would be great if people abandoned superstitious religious beliefs, and I still proclaim that the god of the Bible and the Quran is no more real than leprechauns or the Loch Ness Monster.

What has changed is my sense of priorities.  As a parent of two children, one 13 and the other 11, one of my most important responsibilities is to do my best to raise them to be educated, morally autonomous young adults who can behave responsibly, earn a decent living, and make positive contributions to their community.  This is one facet of my life where I feel that I need to focus on getting things right, for lack of a better word.   It is more important for me to be successful in my personal life, being a good father, a good husband, a good son, a good neighbor and a good citizen, than it is to be an atheist telling religious people that the beliefs they hold dear are not true.

I have since come to divide religious believers into two broad camps.  One camp consists of religious people whose beliefs fall under what I call Inner Fulfillment Purposes.  They practice their religious beliefs because it gives them a sense of meaning, purpose and joy.  I don't really have a problem with them.  The other camp consists of the Busybodies.  These are the people who feel that their religious beliefs give them license to insert themselves into the lives of others.  They run the gamut from the relatively harmless Jehovah's Witness who will ring your doorbell on a Saturday morning to the Muslim extremists who will beat you do to death because you allegedly wrote something insulting about the prophet Muhammed.

So, if going to church on a Sunday morning or synagogue on a Friday evening floats your boat, far be it for me to complain about it.  But as far as the Busybodies are concerned, they're still fair game to me.