This country is rotten and it will never change, no matter what

Atheists, non-believers and freethinkers are pissed off across the globe like never before. Just this past week I discovered new freethought websites in Greece,  Cyprus, Uganda and Italy.* I’m now keeping a list, so if you know of any I don’t please send info.

I am pissed off this week because Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini wrote an article which he published in the Osservatore Romano, a Vatican newspaper, attacking atheists as “perverse” and a “threat to society.” I’ve translated the money quote into English so non-Italian readers can see what theocratic bigots are running the roost here:

“Christians also must be able to forge an agreement with Muslims on how to fight those aspects which, like all extremisms, threaten society. I refer to atheism, materialism and relativism. Christians, Muslims and Jews can work together to reach this common objective. I believe it’s time for a new humanism in order to struggle against these perverse phenomena, because only the centrality of the human being is an antidote to fanaticism and intolerance.”

So it’s war he wants, and he’s rallying his homophobic, misogynistic friends at the Vatican against his fellow citizens in a holy alliance which is supposed to include their worst historical enemies, Jews and Muslims. I’m beginning to think we’ve entered a new phase of religious warfare on Earth: it’s no longer going to be Muslims vs. Christians or skirmishes over minor doctrinal differences, but the faithful against the secular. The only thing they can agree on is that non-believers are the enemy (at least they can finally agree on something) of their unfounded truths.

I should point out Frattini’s howler in his call for a new humanism. Is he really unaware of the fact that almost all atheists are humanists? And that faith in the supernatural is by definition not humanism, because it relies on a power outside humanity to solve humanity’s problems? That’s why we call ourselves humanists.

I wrote a short note to President Giorgio Napolitano over at the Quirinale in my best polite Italian, explaining my personal indignation. The UAAR has called for Frattini’s resignation, stating that his ideas are “clearly incompatible with the [Italian] constitution and detrimental to Italy’s international standing” as a “founding member of the European Union.”

But what pisses me off even more are my fellow atheists and secularists – Italian and American – who chide my microscopic efforts. “Why bother? This country is rotten to the core. It won’t change because you wrote an email or posted something angry on your blog.” What should I do, accept that Italy is a Vatican proxy and that I live in a Catholic theocracy? Are these the same people who want me to “accept” that the Tea Partiers mean business and will be ruling the United States in an Evangelical coalition, imposing their God on the rest of us while we kvetch that “it’s pointless to speak out”? The whole point of Gnu Atheism – if you haven’t been listening – is that those days are a distant memory. Non-believers have begun to speak up in unprecedented numbers the world over and they are not going to shut up any time soon.

Go ahead and declare war on us. We’ll continue to send indignant emails, and start blogs and websites dedicated to combating your superstition, ignorance and contempt for reason. And, in the fullness of time (we can cite the Bible, too, guys) we will win this battle. One blog at a time.

* The hat tip goes to PZ Myers, who is tracking the global spread of freethought websites daily at Pharyngula.

Teenage atheists, you are normal!

Ophelia Benson has an article in the New Humanist on Gnu Atheism. I especially like the last paragraph:

Spare a thought for that teenager though. That’s the other side of all this. Yes there is some noisy atheist ranting and name-calling on the internet, but on the other hand, ten years ago that godless teenager would have thought she was the only atheist in the universe, and now she knows very well she isn’t. Maybe she pushes back a little too hard now and then, but she is feeling liberated and no longer isolated, and that’s a good thing. Eventually atheism will become commonplace, and the drive-by commenters will calm down. The teenager in North Dakota has a better future.

Making it gnu

There has been a lot of dissatisfaction penned lately against the Gnu Atheists. Call it in-fighting. A friend put it this way after I’d sent him Ophelia Benson’s reply to Julian Baggini: “I felt like I was reading the kind of fashionably CP debate the 20s spawned in magazines 5 people read but two were later assassinated for when Stalin made sure to end debating.” I’ve learned through many heated emails that my friend is not a Gnu Atheist, though I most definitely am.

The attacks range from “Don’t be a dick” slaps-on-the-wrist to outright “we’ve outgrown this childish New Atheism crap.” The message is clear: we need to forge alliances with the moderate religious groups; only together can we fight the real fanatical dickwads. And the Gnus – while they may have done much of the legwork in kicking down the door – are spoiling our cause with their rant.

Which all sounds very nice, except that the Gnus have been doing a fine job of fighting dangerous nonsense for a long time now – at least since Baruch Spinoza set down his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. In fact, there is really nothing “new” about the Gnus, save the medium (blogs, mainly) and the skyrocketing success of a few of their books (Hitchens & Dawkins et al.)

But to read the accomodationists, or “fatheists”, one gets the idea that the Gnus have overstepped some invisible boundary of polite debate ethic. They are routinely accused of being “strident,” “no-nothing,” presumptuous, indelicate. A favorite criticism is that the Gnus attack a straw man God, or the religion of only the most fanatical fringes. Real people, they admonish, are more like Karen Armstrong and Terry Eagleton; they believe in a vaporous, disinterested God who can be all things to all people. Well, hip hip hooray. PZ Myers has posted a challenge on his blog. Send him your best contemporary arguments for God and he will, uh, consider them. I predict they will fail dismally, though like all Gnus I am open to the possibility – however faint – that I might be persuaded.

I’m with the Gnus on this one. I’ve read their books and regularly read their blogs and I can tell you I’d be proud to call this disparate bunch of nerdy atheists my pals in unbelief. Not that I dislike the more moderate tone of the “accomodationists” (I realize not everyone is comfortable taking such strong positions), but I have a problem when they begin chastising their more flamboyant peers for being, well, too outspoken. It’s thanks to the Gnus, after all, that meeker atheists are getting op-eds in mainstream newspapers like HuffPo, Guardian and NYT. Remember Natalie Angier’s Confessions of a Lonely Atheist, published in the NYT less than ten years ago?

You want to know who the Gnu Atheists are in their own words, and how far from a pack of jackals they really are? Hang out at Pharyngula for a few hours, then walk across the street to Butterflies and Wheels, Ex-Catholic Girl, Blag Hag and Why Evolution Is True. That’s where the action is right now. These are exciting voices. They are also fiercely liberal, wonderfully intelligent and disarmingly good-humored. You’re in for a pleasant surprise.

For a long list of atheist blogs check out the Atheist Blogroll, which lists 1270 openly atheist blogs as of this writing (including this one). Enjoy your day.

Ophelia took the words right…

…out of my mouth.

That vicious authoritarian theocratic homophobic misogynist hierarchical thug presumes to blame atheists for Nazism when his own fucking church was all but an ally of the Nazis and really was an ally of Mussolini and Franco.

That about sums it up with uncommon economy.

Ratzinger’s war against atheism

Miranda Celeste Hale writes an excellent blog called Ex-Catholic Girl. Here is her recent post on Pope Ratzinger’s declaration of war against atheism from his current tour of the UK.

…instead of using his platform to give a genuine apology to victims of clergy sexual abuse, or to take responsibility for his own actions in the subsequent widespread and institutionally-sanctioned cover-up of this abuse, he decided to lash out at atheists, asserting that atheism led to the Holocaust and that atheism is bringing about the downfall of civilized society as we know it.

My favorite line is this zinger, though.

An educated and empathetic individual is the Church’s worst enemy.

I’d add, is religion’s worst enemy. But you get the picture.

Baptism ends in drowning

Here is a story from this summer which I had missed due to my excusable lack of vigilance. It’s about a child who was killed during baptism by full-immersion in Moldova. I understand full-immersion baptism is much less common than the ordinary sprinkle-on-the-head kind, and there’s probably a good reason why.

My favorite comment: “How sad – but strangely ironic that in giving him God’s blessing, God didn’t see fit to protect him…”

Indeed – where was almighty God, anyway?

The poverty of agnosticism

A woman named Zinnia Jones, who bills herself as the “Queen of Atheism” on her YouTube channel, has given Ron Rosenbaum all the answers he never wanted to his infamous agnostic coming-out. It’s kind of a long video, but she pretty much slices and dices Rosenbaum’s arguments-from-ignorance better than anyone except PZ Meyers. And she’s like twenty years old.

This has been floating around the internet for about a month now, but I only just sat down and watched it straight through . Oh, and don’t worry, I figured out she’s a he. He does a mean Mel Gibson, too.

The rise of the radical agnostics

Ron Rosenbaum has been getting his share of verbal spanking for the past week from the secret atheist police. They are always out to silence the opposition, even if the opposition is pretty much on their side. Atheists, the new Radical Agnostics say, will settle for nothing less than absolute unbelief. Anything veering from the path of the Truth (there is no God) is suspect and therefore mincemeat for the Atheist Inquisition, especially if you’re guzzling Templeton gelt. It’s only a matter of time before they set up the gallows in your hometown.

What is this radical agnosticism Rosenbaum has proposed, anyway? It is the assertion that WE DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. It paints science as the pretension to a TOE – or Theory of Everything – and atheists as the henchmen of its church. Agnostics, feeling left out of the NYT bestseller list in the past seven years, want their share now, too.  But how can you be radically undecided? This reminds me of one of those hollow political slogans you see at election time in Italy, Estremo Centro. Get it? Extreme Center. Enough fighting! We have the answer. We’re all just a bunch of ignoramuses. Scientists are no better than theologians. Life is a mystery. We’re all hypocrites. Even me. Even you.

What ever happened to the ancient, respectable art of making an argument and backing it up? Or is that just too fundamentalist for these troubled times?

Ron Rosenbaum’s agnostic howler

Ron Rosenbaum has written a piece for Slate called An Agnostic Manifesto. It’s a complete howler from start to finish. A full-scale rebuttal of Rosenbaum’s argument – and that’s being generous – can be found at Pharyngula.

As anyone who reads this blog already knows (there are some of you, I promise!), I like Ron Rosenbaum. He’s a top-notch investigative reporter who wrote one of the most engrossing books I’ve read in recent memory (Explaining Hitler). That’s why I’m dismayed by his article. He’s going after scientism and calling it atheism. And how confused he is.

His arguments for agnosticism- there aren’t any new ones here at all – are meant to “hold it apart from the certitudes of both theism and atheism.” But atheism is not a certitude. As Sam Harris – that world-famous atheist – never tires of pointing out, the word atheism shouldn’t even need to exist. It only does because religious belief is so widespread. We have no word for non-astrologer. This is worth considering as Rosenbaum makes his way through the muck of his own misunderstanding.

Rosenbaum actually gives the game away early: “Let me make clear that I accept most of the New Atheist’s criticism of religious bad behavior over the centuries, and of theology itself.” This is just after he makes clear that “I still consider myself Jewish in everything but the believing in God part.” So Rosenbaum doesn’t believe in God, agrees substantially with the “new atheists'” arguments agains religion, but for some reason feels the need to distinguish himself. They just aren’t punk enough.

Rosenbaum’s gripe, if I have it correctly, isn’t with atheism at all; it’s with scientism, which he scandalously and sloppily attributes to people like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. But this is like confusing meliorism with utopianism. His Big Unanswerable Question for the atheists is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He apparently is of the opinion that many, if not most, atheists think they have the answer to such a (trick) question. He hasn’t read much of the literature, clearly. Nowhere in my reading have I come across such an inane claim as to know “why” the universe exists, unless you count various scriptural claims. He has it ass backwards.

So obsessed has he grown with what he believes to be his pot of gold that he even posits the Rosenbaum Challenge:

In fact, I challenge any atheist, New or old, to send me their answer to the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” I can’t wait for the evasions to pour forth. Or even the evidence that this question ever could be answered by science and logic.

Even if we all agree that we cannot know the answer to such a question, science at least suggests it may be knowable. Rosenbaum accepts the Mystery as eternal. Why? If scientists thought that way we would still be the cowering subjects of priests and shamans, trembling at the wrath of the gods each time we heard thunder crack beyond the hills. The anti-science posture among some intellectuals has really got to go.

Anyway, one could go through the whole article in similar fashion. But, again, why? Perhaps this “agnostic manifesto” gives some of the best reasons to just come out of the closet and go atheist. Rosenbaum’s agnosticism is little more than a caricature of what he pretends to detest (which is just what he says about the atheists). And if he really wanted the scientific-cum-atheist community to take his ranting seriously, he should’ve kept his mouth shut about his Templeton Fellowship.