Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Responding to, "In God We Trust" defense.

There is an editorial (In God - and Democracy - We Trust that defends the posting of "In God We Trust" in public buildings.

I thought it deserved a response.

I would suggest that others respond as well.


A national motto of “In God We Trust” simply means one thing.

It means that the most important doctrine governing the United States – the principle that is so important that we elevate it to the top spot – is the idea that the population is to be divided between a “we” who “trust in God”, and a “they” who do not.

It is a motto of exclusion – of segregation – that says that certain people (those who do not trust in God) do not belong here. “We may tolerate their presence, but we certainly do not want them to get the idea that they are welcome. Only those who trust in God are welcome. Only those who trust in God are ‘we’”.

Indeed, this was why “In God We Trust” was adopted as a national motto in 1956. It was the McCarthy era, when “the enemy” was those ‘atheist communists’. We certainly do not want those ‘atheist communists’ to feel welcome over here, so we (the Congress of the United States) adopt the motto “In God We Trust” specifically for the purpose of making this subgroup feel excluded.

Only, the motto targets not only atheist communists, but all atheists.

It does not matter how popular such a sign may be. What matters is whether the sign says something that people should be proud of. We can well imagine a community that is 85% white voting to put a sign that says “White Power” in City Hall. (A sign that is not in any way qualitatively different than one that says, “Power to those who believe in God” or “In God We Trust”), its popularity does not make it right.

Alonzo Fyfe
Atheist Ethicist

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bigotry and "Community Values"

From The Friendly Atheist, there is a post from yesterday titled, Local Government Shouldn't Be Serving God concerning the "mission statement" of the City of Hudsonville. That statement says:

The City Commission and Administration of the City of Hudsonville strive to serve God through the strengthening of family and community life and are committed to excellence in providing quality municipal services.
We Pledge to protect the lives and property of our citizens, provide for responsible and orderly growth, and to promote the beliefs and convictions, economic opportunities, and quality of life for all residents.

Apparently, the Grand Rapids Press thinks that "the mission statement hardly poses a threat to religious freedom or the Constitution. The sentence simply reflects deeply held community values."

That’s it. Nobody is being asked to subscribe to a certain set of beliefs or take part in a ritual not to their liking. Nobody is being forced to pray to a foreign deity, or to any deity at all, for that matter. Nobody’s being asked to agree. In fact, in a democracy, dissent is actively encouraged. In defining their mission, city leaders sought to make a statement about value and purpose that reflects their community.

Are people being forced to pay taxes?

Is it not the case that they are being forced to pay taxes to an organization that reports itself to be "striv[ing] to serve God"?

If this is true, then people are not being asked to subscribe to take part in a ritual not to their liking - they are being forced by law to contribute to such a ritual.

And what does this statement say about the position of any atheist who might want to run for public office? Clearly, he cannot subscribe to the "mission" of serving God. So, the statement does force citizens to subscribe to a set of beliefs - it forces political candidates to subscribe to the mission of serving God, and disqualifies any candidate who cannot subscribe to that mission.

This statemetn may well reflect strong community values. However, Jim Crowe laws, when they were in effect, also reflected strong community values. It is also the case that Jim Crowe Laws, and the Hudsonville mission statement, both express the value of exclusion and segregation - of taking two groups of people who by right should be considered political equals, and elevating one group above the other.

If these are "strong community values", then there is something wrong with that community - and with the paper that endorses them.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Teaching Nonsense to Children

Podblack Bog has a post telling us of a new ghost buster series in which children will be sent out to hunt for ghosts.

I took existing ghost-hunter shows with a grain of superstitous salt - just one of way too many ways in which people in this country waste their time on nonsense when they could be devoting their time and effort to real problems (like fighting real diseases such as malaria and polio).

However, to involve kids in such a show moves from the simply stupid to that which is downright wrong. The purpose of the show will teach children to believe in a nonsense that will weaken their ability to find real-world solutions to real-world problems. It will make the world a worse place than it otherwise would have been by creating a group of people who will be less capable of distinguishing between real-world solutions and myth.

Again, the sponsors, and everybody who helps to put such a show on are people who find no problem making the world a worse place in which to live as long as they can put money in their own pockets.

This deserves more than a casual roll of the eyball. This deserves our condemnation.

Leave the kids out of it.

Hate and Profit Motive

The Underground Unbeliever reports in Jerk on the Radio about an automobile dealership advertising that is summarized as follows:

Folks, I'm not sure if you heard about them before, but there are people in this country who don't believe in God. They want to remove God from the Pledge and from the money. Well since they are only about 14 percent of the people of this country, then I think that they should sit down and shut up. I'm sure that I've offended these 14 percent and I don't care. Now folks, the rest of you who don't belong to the 14 percent can come on down and get a good deal on a Ford.

Actually, this type of marketing will work. There are a lot of people with money who will spend it at this dealership because of this advertisement.

And when other businessess see this form of advertising as profitable, they will join in.

This will continue to get worse until and unless somebody decides that they are going to devote some effort into fighting it.

Somebody needs to shout as loud and as long as possible that:


Which is an entirely true statement.

Many people who are not atheists want these things removed from the Pledge and the money because they think that mixing church and state is a bad idea (or other reasons).

Some atheists do not want these things removed from the pledge and the money because they think that these are trivial concerns and that we should devote our energies to issues that really matter.

So, why assign this position to 'atheists'?

Because this company wants to sell cars by playing on the popular dislike for atheists. It's a standard marketing trick - to associate one's company with something desired (beauty, patriotism, sex) or to position one's company as an allie against something hated in order to promote the company's standing in a culture.

This company is not interested in truth. It is interested in exploiting society's hatred of atheists in order to make money.

Of course, it is inherent in stating, "Consider our company an allie in hating these people," without endorsing that hatred. Without 'selling' hate at the same time one is selling cars.

And the best way to fight this type of move is to devote whatever time and energy it takes to get people to realize that this company (and any who follow its path) are actually associated with something negative.

With the attitude that it is permissible to use lies and hate to make money.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rationizing Harmful Behavior in Israel

Tommy at Exercise in Futility brings news of a BBC report in which an Israeli lawmaker claimed that Gay Cause Earthquakes in Israel.

Shlomo Benizri, the lawmaker who made this claim, is a malicious individual who victimizes others in two ways.

He victimizes homosexuals by holding them accountable for things that they are not responsible for.

He victimizes the victims of earthquakes because he diverts attention away from the true causes of earthquakes.

He is very much like the primitive shaman who sacrifices a virgin to a volcano in order to save the village. Not only will his sacrifice fail to save the village from the volcano, but he has also murdered the virgin.

In another way, Benizri is very much like your typical rapist. A rapist who wants to force sex on a woman (or child) is eager to wrap his actions in some aura of legitimacy. It is an act of charity (women like this sort of thing), or justice (she deserved it).

Benizri wishes to do harm to homosexuals. But, unable to simply face the fact that he loves to do harm to others, he grasps onto this 'earthquake' theory to justify the harms he wants to do the same way a rapist grasps onto the 'women like it' theory.

Electing Benizri to a seat in the Israeli parliament is like electing a defender of rape. The fact that he is willing to grasp onto such absurdities to defend harm to others proves that he has no place in government.

And those who place (or keep) him there are no better.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Carnivals and Symposiums

I managed to get myself into a couple of blog carnivals this weekend, and to get two articles in each carnival. It was an accident, I assure you.

One is the Carnival of the Godless #85, which covers my posts lying to get into good schools or scouts (or to buy acceptance when saying the Pledge of Allegiance) and a post on my answer to the rationality problem of "The Ultimatum Game."

The other is the 15th Humanist Symposium at Cafe Philos, which presented my opposition to the thesis that only atheists can be moral and on lying.

I would recommend stopping by. These provide excellent opportunities to browse through a wide range of contemporary thought in atheism and in humanism.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Global Warming and Approaching the Unknown

As more and more evidence comes in suggesting that the effects of global warming will be worse than expected, more quickly than expected, I constantly think back on some of the arguments used several years ago against taking action.

One of those arguments was, "We don't really know what is going to happen, so we shouldn't take action just yet. We should wait."

Which I argued is a lot like thinking, "I don't know if that gun that this stranger is pointing at me is loaded, so I shouldn't try to prevent him from pulling the trigger."

The main issue, however, is not that this argument was made. It's the fact that this was part of a public relations campaign bought-and-paid-for by those who benefit from our failure to take action to protect our future and our children's future.

This was not an intellectual failing. This was a moral failing. This was a conscious decision made by people who said to themselves, "If I can prevent this person from taking action that might save his child from permanent harm, I will make $10," and opted for the $10.

Particularly during this election year, I don't want people to forget about the moral character of the types of people taking sides in some of these political issues.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Politics and the Pledge

Ronbrown, in a post on Obama's view of religion in America, wrote:

There is really only one thing that I can recall disagreeing with him on, though perhaps readers may be able to jog my memory on other things I might have taken exception to. Obama said that having “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is not a form of religious brainwashing. While I definitely do not accuse him of dishonesty in this, I personally believe that the citing of God in official national statements is a form of subtle but nevertheless powerful religious endorsement.

Here's an important fact:

We live in a country where no candidate who seriously hopes to become President can question the phrase, "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. No matter how contrived or twisted his argument must become, he (or she) must admit to the fact that to tell the truth about the Pledge is to concede defeat in the election.

Our job, if we choose to accept it, is to create a society in which a candidate can call for removing "under God" from the Pledge without being defeated for public office.

Which means that we should not be so stupid as to think that the answer comes from waiting for a President to tell the truth on this matter. The answer comes from taking the case directly to the people themselves, until enough people understand the truth that a candidate can speak this truth without suffering defeat.

This is my goal with the "Perspective on the Pledge".

I am going to be working heavily on expanding this work over the next two weeks - including two new sections that I will be posting on my other blog today.

Hopefully, this story can make some contribution towards that end.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Permission to Adopt a Philosphy

Possummomma has a posting, "Props to P2's Vice Principal" , that concerns atheism and her child that contains the line:

I reiterated that he doesn't have to choose any philosophy just yet, and that it was no one's business.

I disagree with this.

It is morally obligatory to rule out certain 'philosophies' at a very early level - to teach children that this or that philosophy is unacceptable, and not on the legitimate list of choices.

We can see this quite clearly in the philosophies of the Nazi or the racist. Telling a child that he "doesn't have to choose whether the Jews are an inferior creature that should be exterminated just yet, and that it was no one's business," is utter nonsense.

It is just as much nonsense to tell a child that he may still choose to believe that homosexuals and those who work on the Sabbath should be stoned to death, or that women should be denied basic freedoms concerning who they may speak to, what they may wear, or even basic medical and educational care.

In fact, the bullying that P2 was subjected to is yet another example of a 'philosophy' that no person has the liberty to choose - even 11 and 12 year old kids. They should, at that age, know that these philosophies are off limits.

I can anticipate a response to this being that, "Of course, that is what I meant, Alonzo. You are twisting my words, taking it out of context."

And, yet, this brings up the question, "Exactly what philosophies do you actually think that this child has the liberty to choose?" To say that a child has a liberty to choose such a philosophy is to say that there are no moral objections to the way that the people who adopt that philosophy behave.

I do argue that belief that a God exists is morally neutral, and nothing we have reason to be too concerned over. Yet, this philosophy is very rare, and hardly the thing that comes immediately to mind when granting these sorts of permissions.

Friday, February 1, 2008


vjack has a posting, My Conflict over Religious Bigotry that contains the following statement:

I was taught that cultural differences are to be understood, valued, and respected. Attempting to impose one's culture on others was unacceptable, and increased cultural awareness was held up as a desirable path toward increased tolerance.

I reject this point of view . . . to a degree.

I think we can distinguish between those aspects of culture that we can preserve, and those aspects where we have not only a right, but a duty, to rid cultures of such elements.

As I wrote in Morality and Religious Culture, there is a difference between religious culture and morality.

Religious culture have to do with private actions that one does not have to justify to anybody - what to eat, when to eat, when to pray, how to pray, what to watch on television.

Morality has to do with those elements that need to transcend religion - to cut across religions - prohibitions on theft, murder, rape, slavery, and the like.

The former is where we should not impose our culture on others. The latter is where refusing to impose our culture on others means that we are leaving others free to victimize people.