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Apr 13 2014

Brandeis University dishonors atheist and Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Brandeis University

Brandeis University is an American private research university with a liberal arts focus. It is located in Waltham, Massachusetts, 9 miles (14 km) west of Boston. The university has an enrollment of approximately 3,600 undergraduate and 2,200 graduate students.

Its motto is: Truth even unto its innermost parts.

American academia bites the dust: Brandeis University’s historic mistake

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has just been dishonored by Brandeis University, which withdrew its offer of a Distinguished Professorship because the Muslim Brotherhood in America mounted a successful campaign against the award. Brandeis simply caved to the lynch mob. This is a terrible moment for academic freedom and critical inquiry on the American campus.

Brandeis students nix Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali. What a pity.,0,7940815.story#axzz2ykraY65p

This year, we have the unfortunate example of a university choosing not to stand for freedom of expression, critical thinking and robust debate and instead folding under pressure. Good going, Brandeis University. You’re setting a terrific example.

The “offending” speaker was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 44, a feminist and outspoken critic of Islam who is affiliated with Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. After an outcry spearheaded by Muslim students unwilling to share their moment with someone whose views they consider offensive, Ali was disinvited to the May 18 ceremony.

Atheist leader David Silverman drops support for Brandeis University over Ayaan Hirsi Ali controversy

David Silverman, president of American Atheists who graduated from Brandeis in 1988, announced that he is withdrawing his support from Brandeis University and its alumni association because the academic institution rescinded its plans to give an honorary degree to controversial social commentator Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

“Today, that pride is gone as Brandeis has caved to religious intolerance masquerading as political correctness and uninvited a valuable voice in the discussion of religion in public life,” wrote Silverman.

Here’s What I Would Have Said at Brandeis

By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Violence is escalating in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Libya, in Egypt. And far more than was the case when you were born, organized violence in the world today is disproportionately concentrated in the Muslim world.

Another striking feature of the countries I have just named, and of the Middle East generally, is that violence against women is also increasing. In Saudi Arabia, there has been a noticeable rise in the practice of female genital mutilation. In Egypt, 99% of women report being sexually harassed and up to 80 sexual assaults occur in a single day.

Especially troubling is the way the status of women as second-class citizens is being cemented in legislation. In Iraq, a law is being proposed that lowers to 9 the legal age at which a girl can be forced into marriage. That same law would give a husband the right to deny his wife permission to leave the house.

Sadly, the list could go on. I hope I speak for many when I say that this is not the world that my generation meant to bequeath yours. When you were born, the West was jubilant, having defeated Soviet communism. An international coalition had forced Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The next mission for American armed forces would be famine relief in my homeland of Somalia. There was no Department of Homeland Security, and few Americans talked about terrorism.

Two decades ago, not even the bleakest pessimist would have anticipated all that has gone wrong in the part of world where I grew up. After so many victories for feminism in the West, no one would have predicted that women’s basic human rights would actually be reduced in so many countries as the 20th century gave way to the 21st.

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Apr 07 2014

Freethought news – 2014-04-07

Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists

Saudi Arabia has introduced a series of new laws which define atheists as terrorists, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

Yet last month further regulations were issued by the Saudi interior ministry, identifying a broad list of groups which the government considers to be terrorist organisations – including the Muslim Brotherhood. Article one of the new provisions defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based”.


Secular values, not religion, make us a tolerant society

The secular mind is better equipped than religion to reach reasoned and compassionate judgments. That was the argument of Ian McEwan at the Oxford Literary Festival this week. It should not be controversial. Religious belief resolves no moral problem and yields no knowledge. On the contrary, much suffering is caused by people who believe they know the will of God and have a duty to enforce it.

Religions typically have a lethal assumption in common: that faith is a virtue.

It isn’t the Bible or the Koran that has made Western societies democratic and tolerant. It’s the idea, encapsulated in Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that what people believe is irrelevant to public office. As the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “All men are naturally inclined to obscure the morally ambiguous element in their political cause by investing it with religious sanctity. This is why religion is more frequently a source of confusion than of light in the political realm.”


American Atheists attorney Edwin Kagin dies at 73

Kentucky attorney Edwin Kagin became a leading advocate for atheism as national legal director of the American Atheists, the advocacy group founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, whose suit led the Supreme Court to end daily prayer in American public schools. Kagin died Friday at his home in Union, in Northern Kentucky — a non-believer to the end — according to his sister, Mary Kagin Kramer, a churchgoer who lives in Jeffersonville, Ind. He was 73 and had suffered for several years from heart disease.

Kagin founded Camp Quest, a secular summer camp for young nonbelievers, many of whom, he said, had been harassed or hounded for their lack of faith. Amanda Metskas, director of the organization, which now offers camps in 18 states and two foreign countries, said this week on its website that Kagin was “gruff and generous and brilliant and cantankerous — all at once.”

In one of Kagin’s biggest legal victories, in 2010, he persuaded a federal appeals court to rule that the placement of 12-foot high crosses along Utah highways to honor fallen state troopers violated the prohibition of government establishment of religion. The Utah Highway Patrol Association claimed the crosses were not a religious symbol….


‘Cosmos’ host Neil deGrasse Tyson will speak at Omaha Pastafarians conference

Tyson will speak in association with the sixth Apostacon, an annual Omaha conference for “atheists, humanists, agnostics, skeptics, apostates, freethinkers, rationalists and Pastafarians.” The conference, which started in Lincoln in 2009, has a Flying Spaghetti Monster for a logo and bills itself as the “sauciest freethought conference in the Noodle-verse.”

Tyson’s speech will take place Sept. 19 (which is Talk Like a Pirate Day, incidentally) at the DoubleTree Hilton, 1616 Dodge St. “An Evening of Scientific Inquiry” with Tyson is sponsored by the Omaha Coalition of Reason. It’s technically only associated with Apostacon.


Parents concerned after Kentucky schools allow Atheists to distribute literature

Parents of children attending three Kentucky public schools have reportedly expressed concern after an atheist group arrived on the campuses to distribute free books regarding secularism.

Some parents of Casey County, Ky., kept their children home last Friday when the Tri-State Freethinkers atheist group set up a secularist book display at three local public elementary schools, including Liberty, Walnut, and Jones Park. The atheist group was able to set up the displays after the American Civil Liberties Union contacted the Casey County School District, arguing that because administrators allowed the Christian group Gideons International to set up a Christian-themed book display, they should also allow the atheist group to do so.

The Danville Advocate-Messenger reported that some parents did in fact gather in one of the school’s parking lots on Thursday evening to confront Tri-State Freethinkers as they set up their table. One woman, who refused to be identified, told the local media outlet that she and a small number of other parents had gathered to “defend God and His glory.” The parents also demanded to see where the books were going to be displayed.

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Mar 31 2014


Climate change is felt globally and risks are rising, U.N. panel says,0,1584240.story#axzz2xc1hz4Lj

Global warming threatens food and water supplies, security and economic growth, and will worsen many existing problems, including hunger, drought, flooding, wildfires, poverty and war, says the report by hundreds of scientists from 70 countries.

One of the panel’s most striking new conclusions is that rising temperatures are already depressing crop yields, including those of corn and wheat. In the coming decades, farmers may not be able to grow enough food to meet the demands of the world’s growing population, it warns.

My comments as “Oregon Iconoclast”:

Without human population reduction, all other efforts to reduce our destruction of Earth are doomed. Imagine the long-term environmental effect of a family with ten children, who in turn over-reproduce. Your having no more than two children and recycling won’t counter the effects of uncontrolled or deliberate over-reproduction (often due to religious belief) by others.

See also:  

Climate-changing microbes ‘made 90% of species on earth extinct’

An example of nature’s environmental destruction, taking only 30 million years for recovery.

Climate-changing microbes may have caused the biggest mass extinction in history 252 million years ago, scientists believe. Volcanic eruptions had previously been blamed for the sudden loss of 90 per cent of all species on earth at the end of the Permian era. But new research suggests volcanoes played only a bit part in the catastrophe.

The chief perpetrators were a microscopic methane-producing archaea life-form called methanosarcina that bloomed explosively in the oceans. Enormous quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, generated by methanosarcina are thought to have sent temperatures soaring and acidified the seas. Unable to adapt in time, countless species died out and vanished from the earth.

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Mar 27 2014


The art of scientific thinking


Check out “How Do We Know What’s True?” and “How Can I Be Happy?”, both narrated by Stephen Fry.

SkeptiSketch is a project I started to promote secular and scientific thinkers and their ideas.  Many of the brilliant secular and scientific arguments on YouTube are found on shaky camcorder footage of debates and lectures. By illustrating these in a new and interesting way I hope to promote these ideas to a wider audience and hopefully add depth to the ideas themselves.

SkeptiSketch is Mike MacMillan. I am a husband and the father of 2 young boys.  I live near Orillia, Ontario. You can email me at skeptisketch at

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Mar 25 2014

Freethought news – 2014-03-25

Does the Air Force ‘encourage atheism’ and ‘prosecute Christianity’?

[Fox News: masters of misinterpretation and princes of propaganda]

Todd Starnes of Fox News is claiming that a “double-standard at the Air Force Academy” has created an atmosphere that “encourage[s] atheism [and] prosecute[s] Christianity.” In Starnes’s eyes, the fact that the Freethinkers Club’s event was advertised over email and on bulletin screens indicates that the Academy is “[encouraging] atheism.”

And yet Starnes’s own piece quotes a statement from the Academy acknowledging that other groups do host such events: “‘The Academy allows all cadet groups to host information fairs regardless of espoused religious beliefs or no beliefs at all,’ the statement read—noting there were also events scheduled for Christians and Muslims.”


No, Buddhism is not “stupid,” judge tells Louisiana teacher

Excellent news! The parents of a sixth grade student in Louisiana whose teacher made fun of him because he is Buddhist have won their lawsuit against the school district.  In the past, Rita Roark had told her students that the universe was created by God about 6,000 years ago and informed them that both the Big Bang theory and evolution are false. She told her students that, “If evolution was real, it would still be happening: Apes would be turning into humans today.”

This level of ignorance makes me wonder if this woman is actually a credentialed teacher. One test she gave to students asked: “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The correct answer was “Lord,” but one child, known simply as “C.C.,” wrote in something else.

When informed that C.C. was a Buddhist and therefore didn’t believe in God, Roark allegedly responded, “you’re stupid if you don’t believe in God.”


The Humanist on the Boat—no mere fishing expedition

I am not a commercial fisherman like Captain Rob or Ronnie; I’m a marine biologist (my official title is “fisheries observer”) with the National Marine Fisheries Service. My job is to collect fisheries data for use in management and policy decisions; however, if you were to pass our vessel while out sport fishing for red drum, you’d most likely assume I was another commercial fisherman. I wear the same clothes, speak the same language, and even have the same untidy facial hair. The one major difference between me and most of the crew I work alongside is not immediately apparent: faith.

The topic always arises at some point during our time on the water and ultimately leads to the question: “Do you believe in God, Phil?” I reply I don’t. The tension becomes palpable but I’ve become adept at diffusing these situations. The fishermen ask me if I have ever been to church. I have a tendency to respond with a stifled chuckle and a nod. I was raised as a pastor’s child.

While I try to explain morality without a deity, they seem less interested in the details of my personal moral philosophy and more interested in how someone like me comes to have a worldview that is, to them, a novel one. This is where I start talking about the wonders of biology.

While promoting humanism is one of my passions, I am just as passionate about promoting ecology and biology. When I view nature in its purest form, I feel an almost religious sense of wonder. When I first gained this understanding, the Christian God became something that got in the way or cheapened the experience.


The destructive myth about religion that Americans disproportionately believe

This week, Pew Research Center published the results of a survey conducted among 40,080 people in 40 countries between 2011 and 2013. The survey asked a simple question: Is belief in God essential to morality?

In 22 of the 40 countries surveyed, the majority says it is necessary to believe in God in order to be a moral person. “This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East,” says the report.

Interestingly, clear majorities in all highly developed countries do not think belief in god to be necessary for morality, with one exception only: the USA.

Only 15 percent of the French population answered in the affirmative. Spain: 19 percent. Australia: 23 percent. Britain: 20 percent. Italy: 27 percent. Canada: 31 percent. Germany 33 percent. Israel: 37 percent.

So what of the U.S.? A comparatively eye-popping 53 percent of Americans essentially believe atheists and agnostics are living in sin. Despite the fact that a research analyst at the Federal Bureau of Prisons determined that atheists are thoroughly underrepresented in the places where rapists, thieves and murderers invariably end up: prisons. While atheists make upward of 15 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 0.2 percent of the prison population.


Atheist author leads event about listening to reason

Atheist author Peter Boghossian visited TCU [Texas Christian University] Wednesday to talk to the Freethinking Frogs student organization.

Peter Boghossian, a philosophy instructor at Portland State University, encouraged members of the audience Wednesday to use reason when evaluating their beliefs. Boghossian is currently touring the U.S. to talk about his new book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists.”

Boghossian is advocating that people “confront dangerous ideas and not cower to them.” The purpose of Boghossian’s new book is to help atheists convey their beliefs to convert everyone to atheism, from the common believer to theologians.

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Mar 19 2014

Freethought news – 2014-03-19

Iraqi atheists demand recognition, guarantee of their rights

Atheism and heresy have a long history in Mesopotamia with the renowned Arab philosopher Abul al-Ala al-Ma’arri (973-1058) defending, 1,000 years ago, his nonbelief in religions. Ibn al-Rawandi (837-911) also dedicated sections of his books to countering the Quran in Baghdad. Furthermore, Ikhwan al-Safa, a secret group from the third century Hijri, wrote their books to include a critique of Muslim beliefs in Basra; and contemporary Iraqi researcher and poet Maarouf al-Rasafi disputed the religious aspect of the Prophet Muhammad’s life in his book The Muhamadiyan Personality. Rasafi is a writer from Fallujah, an Iraqi city famous for its mosques and religious fervor.

Finally, and in light of the prevailing atmosphere of religious sectarianism and fundamentalism, protecting atheists, agnostics and secularists becomes a more pressing necessity. They are a minority whose right to freedom of belief must be defended, particularly considering that they are not even recognized as a group and that there are no Iraqi or global entities that protect or defend them, as a result of the lack of interest in mentioning their plight in international human rights reports.


Religions can criticize each other, so why isn’t it OK for atheists to criticize religion?

[D]isagreement about the validity of theological teachings hasn’t stood in the way of increased interfaith cooperation, as witnessed by the recent outreach between the Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim communities.

By contrast, when humanists challenge these very same beliefs they are often viewed by the religious community as disrespectful and even outright hurtful. Why is this? One explanation is that we’re seeing religious people of all stripes on the defensive, circling their wagons around religious belief considering the strides being made by those whose morality doesn’t come from faith.

Another explanation is that religious criticism from the inside preserves religion whereas such criticism from the outside diminishes it. While a given religion’s criticism of competitors is aimed at supporting the critic’s claim of being the one true religion, it isn’t aimed at invalidating religion itself and putting the whole enterprise out of business. In this way, humanists might be seen as exploiting religious conflict for their own ends.

So while this practice of expressing disdain for humanism’s critique of religion while tolerating similar criticism from religious allies is a double standard, the practice is more defensive than malicious. But it divides groups that might otherwise be powerful allies.


Spreading the word on the power of atheism

SEATTLE — The atheist writer S. T. Joshi, 55, born in India, raised in Indiana and now living in Seattle, has written or edited more than 200 books, including a novel of detective fiction, a bibliography of writings about Gore Vidal and numerous works about H. L. Mencken.

He edits four periodicals, including Lovecraft Annual, the major review of scholarship about the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft; The American Rationalist, a journal for unbelievers; and The Weird Fiction Review, which is what it sounds like. He once spent years scanning into his computer — and typing what could not be scanned — every word ever written by Ambrose Bierce, about six million total.

One of the strange, wonderful facts about many atheists is their eccentricity and intellectual omnivorousness. Christopher Hitchens, author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” (2007), was a literary critic, a journalist in several war zones and a biographer of George Orwell. Sam Harris, who wrote “The End of Faith” (2004), also writes about free will and about lying; his next book promises to expand on his case for psychedelic drugs. Several professional magicians, like James Randi and the illusionists Penn and Teller, work to promote atheism on the side.

Perhaps because many academic philosophers take atheism to be a given, the only common-sense position, it is left to these quirky, freelance amateurs, with their large cabinets of obsessions, to make the public case against God. And none of them seems to be as quirky, or as obsessive, as Mr. Joshi. On Thursday, he held forth at his kitchen table about the ingredients that went into his own intellectual stew. It began, he said, with his father, an economist.

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Mar 17 2014


Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so. [Bertrand Russell]

Pearls Before Swine

by Stephan Pastis

March 17, 2014


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Mar 14 2014


Corvallis Secular Society meets tomorrow

Our next meeting will be Saturday, March 15, from 2 to 4 pm at Corl House: ;


Freethinkers of note: Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)

American writer, characterized by his caustic wit and sense of realistic horror. Bierce was an agnostic.

One of Bierce’s most famous works is his much-quoted book, The Devil’s Dictionary, originally an occasional newspaper item which was first published in book form in 1906 as The Cynic’s Word Book. It consists of satirical definitions of English words which lampoon cant and political double-talk.

At least three films have been made of Bierce’s story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. A silent film version, The Bridge, was made in 1929. A French version called La Rivière du Hibou, directed by Robert Enrico, was released in 1962; this black-and-white film faithfully recounts the original narrative using voice-over. Another version, directed by Brian James Egen, was released in 2005. The French version was aired in 1964 as one of the final episodes of the television series The Twilight Zone: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. Author Kurt Vonnegut once stated that he considered “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” the greatest American short story and a work of flawless American genius.

From The Devil’s Dictionary (1911):

Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

Clergyman, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.

Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

Infidel, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.

Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.

Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

Reverence, n. The spiritual attitude of a man to a god and a dog to a man.

Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.


Issues for possible discussion:

Secularizing public crosses with two cuts

There’s an uptick in legal cases challenging public displays of Christian crosses these days.

If you are on a city council and preside over a public space with a Christian cross on it, save your community money and address it today before you are sued. Instead of taking it down and building expensive new ones, hire a carpenter or a mason to come correct the problem. Yes, I’m suggesting we cut down the arms of the cross and make it into proud column, or consider other even more useful alternatives.

Oh, does that sound offensive? Is this anti-Christian? Not at all. For the moment I’m simply taking religious-right leaders at their word.

Those who defend the existence of crosses on public land emphatically state that they are not religious symbols. Kathy Davis, one of the people organizing to save the Bladensburg cross, appeared to agree with this sentiment when she stated, “It was not put up there as a religious symbol. It was put up there as a memorial to our veterans who died.” Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin concured, claiming that “this monument transcends religion.” Even the notoriously conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic, thinks that these cross monuments aren’t religious, stating, “I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead…. I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead.”


Atheism’s radical new heroes: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and an evolving new moral view

In the preface to Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1998), Richard Dawkins, then Oxford’s Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, recounted two incidents that in part prompted him to write his new book. One concerned an unnamed foreign publisher who had told him that, after reading his first book The Selfish Gene (1976), he could not sleep for three nights, so troubled was he by its “cold, bleak message.” The other story concerned a teacher “from a distant country” who had written to him reproachfully that a pupil had come to him in tears after reading the same book “because it had persuaded her that life was empty and purposeless. He advised her not to show the book to any of her friends, for fear of contaminating them with the same nihilistic pessimism.”

Dawkins comments: “[S]uch very proper purging of saccharine false purpose; such laudable tough-mindedness in the debunking of cosmic sentimentality must not be confused with the loss of personal hope. Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life’s hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway? Of course we don’t; not if we are sane. Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer, warmer, human ambitions and perceptions. To accuse science of robbing life of the warmth that makes it worth living is so preposterously mistaken, so diametrically opposite to my own feelings and those of most working scientists, I am almost driven to the despair of which I am wrongly suspected.” On the contrary, he wanted to convey the sense of awed wonder that science can give us and which makes it “one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable.”

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Mar 09 2014

Carl Sagan

With new ‘Cosmos’ series, Carl Sagan’s following grows

Many viewers may be hoping that “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” lives up to the original series created by astronomer Carl Sagan 35 years ago.

But no one will watch the program, airing Sunday on Fox, with greater anticipation than nonbelievers — atheists, agnostics, humanists and other “nones.” Among this group, many credit Sagan and the original “Cosmos” with instilling in them skepticism of the supernatural and a sense of wonder about the universe. Both, they say, encouraged their rejection of institutional religion.


Our place in the ‘Cosmos’: Carl Sagan’s Humanism

Astronomer Carl Sagan is widely credited with inspiring a generation of scientists—and with good reason. In fact, when I recently asked Sagan’s first doctoral student David Morrison what Sagan’s legacy is, Morrison replied: “Carl Sagan inspired a generation of scientists.”

But Sagan’s humanistic words and actions also inspired a generation of other people to better understand themselves and others, and to work for a better world. Sagan was an agnostic, and openly shared his skepticism about religious claims—but he also offered a positive, vibrant vision for a humanistic society.

“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” —Cosmos

“Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a hum-drum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.” —Cosmos

“For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” —Contact

“Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group… Groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together [is] surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth.” —Cosmos

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Mar 08 2014

Freethought news – 2014-03-08

Why Hollywood thinks atheism is bad for business

By Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist and the director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University.

This month, major movie studios are doing more evangelizing than Pat Robertson, with the release of two Biblical blockbusters. Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” which arrives in theatres at the end of March, dramatizes the famously incredible story of a man and his ark, while the unambiguously titled “Son of God,” released last week, provides the umpteenth dramatization of the Biblical story of Jesus. For those that like their religion more saccharine, April will bring “Heaven is for Real,” the film adaptation of the best-seller about a young boy who, after nearly dying on the operating table, convinces his family that he actually visited heaven during surgery. The evidence? He describes his experience in terms that bear a remarkable resemblance to the visions of heaven he had likely been exposed to at home.

When a non-religious person—part of a growing minority in the United States and the rest of the developed world—points out that these stories are facile at best and demeaning at worst, they risk being condemned as “strident,” or at least disrespectful of religious sensibilities….

My own perspective on this matter was shaped by my involvement in a feature-length documentary, “The Unbelievers,” which was released in New York last December. The film follows me and the world’s most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, as we tour the world carrying out discussions, and sometimes debates, about science, reason, myth, and superstition. (Full disclosure: I am also one of the movie’s executive producers.)

We were assured in advance by people in the film industry that a movie about atheism—even one that featured various celebrities—would not be suitable for a general theatrical release, in spite of more than four hundred thousand people downloading the film’s trailer, and a poll of test audiences which suggested that more than ninety per cent of religious individuals who saw the film would recommend it to a friend.


Ads for controversial ‘Noah’ will now carry disclaimer,0,2975183.story#axzz2ufmWNHOw

In a move clearly aimed to appease potential religious critics, Paramount Pictures is adding a disclaimer to marketing materials for “Noah,” writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s drama about the great flood.

The studio announced late Thursday that the “explanatory message,” as Paramount calls it, will read: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”


UK: Leading vet calls for an end to religious slaughter

John Blackwell, president-elect of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), told The Times that the traditional practice of slitting animals’ throats and allowing them to bleed to death for halal and kosher meat caused unnecessary suffering. Mr Blackwell said: “As veterinary surgeons, it is one of the most important issues on our radar. This is something that can be changed in an instant.” 

In addition to the BVA, the exemption that permits slaughter without pre-stunning is opposed by the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, amongst others.The European Union’s Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) have said: “Due to the serious animal welfare concerns associated with slaughter without stunning, pre-cut stunning should always be performed.”


Clinton stresses reproductive rights at UN

Hillary Clinton said Friday that it is a “bedrock truth” that humanity cannot progress as a whole if women lack reproductive rights. The former secretary of state and likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate delivered those remarks at the United Nations as her party continues to charge that Republicans are engaged in a “war on women.”


Dalai Lama shares message of compassion, unity

The Dalai Lama told a packed National Cathedral on Friday that compassion is the true path to divinity — a path he said isn’t always easy for human beings to take. The nature of humans is to be compassionate, which becomes the basis for hope, he said. However, he conceded that the practice of compassion is not easy — particularly in dealing with anger and hatred, both of which are self-centered attitudes related to greed, jealousy and distrust.

“Our experiences are a result of our actions, and if you do good to others you benefit … [but] if you do harm, you get major consequences,” he said. He added, however, that because religion can be used as an instrument of exploitation, there’s need for a global sense of oneness among people.

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