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How To Protect Atheists And Christians Alike

What do you get when church and state are mixed?

You get things like the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Who could object to that?

Atheists could object, of course, but then, you know how atheists are, complaining all the time…

…when they get locked up behind bars.

This week, Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a government body that seeks out religious heretics so that they may be punished, referred a list of atheist bloggers from Saudi Arabia to the Interior Ministry, so that the atheists could be hunted down by the police and thrown into prison. Human Rights Watch notes that the government of Saudi Arabia categorizes the promotion of atheist ideas as a form of terrorism.

We don’t arrest people for being atheist here in the United States, but there are many who wish to make Christianity an official state-sponsored religion. In Florida, the Brevard County Commission voted unanimously this week to exclude members of the Central Florida Freethought Community from ever giving an invocation before the Commission.

The Commission told the freethinkers that the purpose of invocation is “guidance for the County Commission from the highest spiritual authority”. Given that freethinkers are often atheists, and don’t acknowledge spiritual authority, they aren’t eligible to give an invocation. One of the commissioners, Andy Anderson, explained that only Christian prayers should be allowed before the Brevard County Commission, because Christianity is under attack… in Iraq.

Christians are under attack in Iraq, but not because of separation of church and state. Rather, attacks against Christians come from groups that seek to strengthen the incorporation of religion into government at all levels. The best way to protect Christians from attack is also the best way to protect atheists from attack – to honor the approach of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, ensuring that government neither sponsors religion nor opposes its free practice.

Despite the New York Times Column, Not Too Many People Actually Need Smith

Following the strategy of Americans Elect and Unity08, the mysterious media-fueled political enterprise called We Need Smith has started to cite well-placed columns by acquaintances as evidence that the nation is ready for an outside campaign for President and seats in Congress in 2016.

Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a column for the New York Times this week noting how poorly Republican politicians are evaluated on the basis of empathy and suggesting that to increase their empathy ratings they begin to depict themselves as non-partisan. We Need Smith quickly cited the column as a justification for its still-nebulous plans.

The reaction by actual people is muted to say the least. We Need Smith keeps a running tally of Americans who have signed up to receive its e-mail blasts. Despite national promotion, over the last week We Need Smith has added just 14 people to its listserv. 5 more people have followed its Facebook account. Over the same period, We Need Smith’s follower base on Twitter has fallen by 14. At this rate, We Need Smith won’t even have the population of a small town standing behind it before the 2016 elections wind down. To succeed, We Need Smith will either need to change its message or stop pretending to have a popular base.

Ancient Skepticism And The Snake God Glycon

Present-day skeptics are fond of presenting their kind of thinking as the latest thing, a relatively new invention that was developed only with the struggle and sacrifice of freethinkers and scientists during the Enlightenment. However, the writings of Lucian of Samosata, who lived in present-day Syria nearly two thousand years ago, show that the skill skeptical inquiry is quite ancient.

Lucian writes of the popular god Glycon, a god who was said to have descended from the heavens to take on the earthly form of a snake. That snake was held in the arms of Alexander of Abonoteichus, who was said to have discovered him. Upon hearing of the wonders of Glycon, who was said to have been able to heal the sick and raise the dead, Lucian went himself to see what it was all about.

glyconLucian claims to have uncovered proof that Glycon’s prophet Alexander created the whole religion out of thin air. According to Lucian, Alexander planted false evidence of a prophecy of Glycon, by, in a foreshadowing of the Mormon’s Joseph Smith, burying bronze tablets with cryptic writing, and then discovering them later.

The next step, according to Lucian, was to perform a similar false discovery with the incarnation of the god itself. Lucian writes that Alexander, “went one night to the temple foundations, still in the process of digging, and with standing water in them which had collected from the rainfall or otherwise; here he deposited a goose egg, into which, after blowing it, he had inserted some newborn reptile. He made a resting-place deep down in the mud for this, and departed. Early next morning he rushed into the marketplace, naked expect for a gold-spangled loincloth; with nothing but this and his scimitar, and shaking his long loose hair, like the fanatics who collect money in the name of Cybele, he climbed on to a lofty altar and delivered a harangue, felicitating the city upon the advent of the god now to bless them with his presence. In a few minutes nearly the whole population was on the spot, women, old men, and children included; all was awe, prayer, and adoration. He uttered some unintelligible sounds, which might have been Hebrew or Phoenician, but completed his victory over his audience, who could make nothing of what he said, beyond the constant repetition of the names Apollo and Asclepius.

He then set off at a run for the future temple. Arrived at the excavation and the already completed sacred fount, he got down into the water, chanted in a loud voice hymns to Asclepius and Apollo, and invited the god to come, a welcome guest, to the city. He next demanded a bowl, and when this was handed to him, had no difficulty in putting it down a the right place and scooping up, besides water and mud, the egg in which the god had been enclosed; the edges of the aperture had been joined with wax and white lead. He took the egg in his hand and announced that here he held Asclepius. The people, who had been sufficiently astonished by the discovery of the egg in the water, were now all eyes for what was to come. He broke it, and received in his hollowed palm the hardly developed reptile; the crowd could see it stirring and winding about his fingers; they raised a shout, hailed the god, blessed the city, and every mouth was full of prayers—for treasure and wealth and health and all the other good things that he might give.”

Quickly, devotees of the new religion, worshipping Glycon, gathered in the province of Bithynia-Pontus, on the south shore of the Black Sea. In time, however, Lucian says that people began to see through the flim flam of the snake god. So, the prophet Alexander resorted to a tactic well-known to many present day preachers: Focus believers on the danger of infidels in their midst. Lucian writes, “A time came when a number of sensible people began to shake off their intoxication and combine against him, chief among them the numerous Epicureans; in the cities, the imposture with all its theatrical accessories began to be seen through. It was now that he resorted to a measure of intimidation; he proclaimed that Pontus was overrun with atheists and Christians, who presumed to spread the most scandalous reports concerning him; he exhorted Pontus, as it valued the god’s favor, to stone these men.”

We can’t know whether Lucian’s depictions of the religion of Glycon’s many frauds are honest and accurate, because we don’t have any corroborating evidence. It’s possible that Lucian had an axe to grind with the growing power of Glycon’s followers, and made up his story much as he accuses Alexander of doing. What Lucian’s writings about Alexander and Glycon do prove, however, is that the ability to think critically about religious claims of fantastic events has been around for a very long time.

Do not use rest room out of order!

IMG_0080.JPG

I certainly intend to comply. If you do it out of order, who knows what might happen.

Holy Water Ethics

holy water for sierra leoneA Nigerian preacher named Temitope Joshua has sent thousands of bottles of holy water to Sierra Leone as cures for the deadly ebola virus sweeping through that country.

Is this donation:

1. A great idea, as the holy water can’t do any harm

2. A terrible idea, given that holy water has never been shown to benefit people infected with ebola, and may interfere with legitimate humanitarian efforts

3. Not worthy of attention, given that it’s just a gimmick from the preacher to get attention for himself

4… something else

?

World Humanitarian Day

worldhumanitariandayAs F.G. Fitzer observed earlier this morning, today is National Aviation Day, a holiday that promotes an industry that has become more of an annoyance than an inspiration. Today also commemorates something more inspiring: Humanitarian workers who put themselves into dangerous situations in order to help other human beings.

August 19 is World Humanitarian Day, established by the United Nations, which explains: “World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the world. Thousands of people across the globe are doing incredible work every day. But unfortunately some of them pay the ultimate price. This World Humanitarian Day, we honour those humanitarians who face danger to help people in need.”

According to the Guardian, last year was the most dangerous year on record for Humanitarian workers. 155 were killed while doing their work.

The United Nations is promoting a Messengers of Humanity program in which people allow the UN to hijack their social media web sites to spread messages it writes about the need to keep humanitarian workers safe. It would probably be more effective, however, for you to write your own messages promoting World Humanitarian Day – spam for a good cause is still spam. The hashtag on Twitter is #HumanitarianHeroes.

5 Ways To Celebrate National Aviation Day

Today is National Aviation Day. It’s an official holiday, established in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but banks are open during National Aviation Day, so that people can be sure to have access to money as they sit at airports, waiting for their delayed flights to finally board.

Of course, there are many ways to celebrate National Aviation Day, even if you won’t be flying today. Here are five things that you can do to observe the holiday:

1. Play Airplane

Get some of your friends together to sit in tightly compacted rows of chairs. Every couple of hours, take out your cell phones, and call someone to say, “I just landed. I’ll call you when I get there.” Then sit back down again.

2. Make the Airport Where You Are

The glamour of going to the airport can be recreated anywhere. Try it at a shopping mall. Just go up to a mall directory, and pretend it’s flight notification board. Put your hands on your hips, sigh, and then lie down on the floor.

3. Security Parties

It’s the Twister of our time. Invite your neighbors over for dinner, and ask them to take off their shoes and take off their belts as they come through the front door. Then pat them down for “security”, and let the fun begin.

4. Airport Dinner

Have a romantic airport dinner at home. Find a small table, and surround it with luggage. Put a big tray of condiments in the middle, and a large TV playing Fox News in the corner. For a special touch, bring out the plastic cutlery.

5. Rollerboard Relay Races

Pretend you’ve got just 10 minutes to get to your gate before your next flight takes off. Grab your luggage, and run… but as you’re pulling it behind you on its unsteady wheels. How far can you make it?

national aviation day

What Is This Wildflower?

I am visiting Maine. Alongside the trail I was hiking today, I saw large stands of this pink wildflower. It doesn’t grow where I live.

Does anyone know what it is called?

0818141541

New Park in Rockland, Maine Celebrates Google Maps

“The brilliance of Google,” writes Owl Eyes Creative, “is that the company has grown to understand its users.”

trailer park rockland mainePart of understanding Google’s users is an understanding of where Google users live. Google has become an unrivaled expert at using the power of well-designed data mining to create a deeper level of understanding for users about the real-world geography that surrounds them.

Google’s accomplishments in this area are being celebrated around the world, but nowhere is this recognition stronger than in the small coastal community, which has dedicated a park to George Trailer, the principal architect of Google’s intelligent mapping systems. George Trailer lived in Rockland for a 7-month period while his parents were getting divorced back in 1997.

Right behind the stand-alone Walmart One Hour Photo booth on Route 1 lies the new Trailer Park, a green and peaceful area with playgrounds, picnic tables, a volleyball court, and the George Trailer Map Museum, which was dedicated today in a noontime ceremony. “Google’s maps are so accurate,” said Rockland resident Arthur Thentick, who attended the ceremony. “I think it’s a lovely thing that Trailer Park is now included on Google Maps, of which we are so proud. I couldn’t get around Rockland without his inventions.”

Opportunity

In the southbound lane of the long, high metal and asphalt bridge over the Piscataqua River that divides New Hampshire from Maine, a grate covers a storm-water drain. Out of that drain, a lone sunflower plant has grown. Today it is in full blossom, facing its bloom toward the sun.

If you are a designer of inspirational greeting cards, pull out your high-speed camera.

If you are an author of motivational business books, start counting the ways in which low-paid corporate drudges aren’t working as hard as that sunflower.

If you have a sermon to write for next week, ask, “isn’t Jesus like that?”

If you are a cynic, think about the chances of a bumblebee making it all the way out there.

Monday Effects

Among investors, the “Monday Effect” is a theory that financial markets will, on a Monday, tend to follow trajectories similar to what occurred on the previous Friday. Vijay Gondhalekar and Seyed Mehdian, in a study in the Quarterly Journal of Business and Economics, extended discussion of the Monday Effect into a “blue-Monday hypothesis”, positing an “inherent gloom” among investors because of a relatively high level of risk in Monday trading.

Brandon Holmquest reacts to the following lines in the poem Monday in Seven Days, by Albanian poet Luljeta Lleshanaku, by telling us that if we don’t grasp “how truly excellent the choice of the word ‘hurl’ is and how excellently true the observation contained in the lines is”, then we must not like poetry very much, and should read more of it.

“Preparing for winter
isn’t tradition, but instinct. We hurl our spare anxieties
like precious cargo from a shipwreck.”

What does it mean for something to be excellently true? Can something be true, but not excellently so?

I think I must not like poetry very much, and should read more of it. Is “hurl” a truly excellent word choice because it suggests vomit? Does it do so in the original Albanian?

Wolfram Alpha tells me that next Monday, there will be 30 minutes less sunlight than there will be this Monday.

About half of the images representing Monday on Giphy show disoriented non-human animals.

The web site for Monday Magazine in British Columbia hasn’t been updated for three Mondays, because it is a monthly magazine. Even back in the days when it was a weekly magazine, Monday Magazine was distributed on Thursdays, not Mondays.

The town of Thingal Nagar, in Tamil Nadu, was once known as Monday Market, because it had a noteworthy market on Mondays. The name is gone but the market remains.

make dollars not senseThis year, Target and Walmart extending the Cyber Monday holiday in November into an entire Cyber Week (Amazon is intent on celebrating only Cyber Monday, because it’s on the orthodox commercial calendar). Is it a coincidence that this week will come on the heels of a Halloween on which Amazon is encouraging children to place Cyberman helmets over their heads, to be assimilated?

Halloween is on a Friday this year, not a Monday, but according to the Monday Effect theory, it’s pretty much the same thing.

I’m not worried if that doesn’t make sense to you, because, according to the web site Motivational Monday, we should make dollars, not sense.

The most prominent Monday legislation currently in Congress is H.R. 681, from Frank Wolf: “To amend title 5, United States Code, to provide that Washington’s Birthday be observed on February 22, rather than the third Monday in February, of each year.” At present, the bill has nine cosponsors.