Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In LRH we trust

In the comments of the last post, someone brought up the old line "freedom of religion, not freedom from religion." I've heard this saying tons of time, particularly with regard to the issue of having the words "In God we trust" on our money. It always seems like the people using this line think they are being inordinately clever.

Well, it just seems inordinately stupid to me.

What do people even mean when they use the "freedom of, not freedom from" line? I suppose they occasionally mean that in America we have the right to choose our religion, but not the right to choose to have no religion. Does that make sense to anyone? Do they really think government should force us to pick a faith?

I suppose that line is more commonly used to express the idea that we should not remove religious symbolism from the public sphere, as doing so would somehow force us to be "free from religion". As if removing "In God we Trust" from our money would suddenly force religious people to abandon their faith.

Well, the actual guarantee in the constitution is that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Does removing "In God we trust" from our money prohibit the free exercise of religion? I think not. The fact that it doesn't say "In LRH we trust" on money does not restrict the right Scientologists to practice religion, and removing "In God we trust" wouldn't force Christians to stop believing in God.

It seems to me that "In God we trust" is in fact an endorsement of religion, since there are people who do not believe in "God" (atheists, Buddhists, pagans etc.) . Imagine how a religious Jew would feel if he saw the words "In Jesus we trust" every time he looked at his money. Or how a Christian would feel if it said "In Allah we trust". Nobody should be made to feel like they are not a "true" American because they don't believe in the particular deity endorsed on their currency.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Thou shalt not be a moron

I just saw this on Pharyngula, and just had to post it. It's part of the Oklahoma GOP platform:
4. While the objective study of philosophy and religion can be beneficial, public schools should not be endorsing any specific religion or philosophy. We believe that students and teachers should enjoy the right of free exercise of religion.

5. We support posting the Ten Commandments and our Nation's motto, "In God We Trust," in all public schools in recognition of our religious heritage. U.S. citizens. We support teaching the intent of our founding fathers, the original founding documents, and the difference between a democracy and a republic.
That's hilarious! We should not endorse any specific religion, but we should post the Ten Commandments in public schools!

Were they thinking that because the Ten Commandments are part of more than one religion that this doesn't qualify as an endorsement of a "specific" religion? More likely, they just weren't thinking.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A storm is coming!

I've been super busy with school lately, so I haven't really had time to post. I'll try to write something substantial in the near future (i.e. sometime between tomorrow and when the sun turns into a red giant). For now, I just thought I'd post this awesome Colbert clip about the ridiculous National Organization for Marriage commercial.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition's Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage Commercial

Friday, April 17, 2009


I've been tagged by OTD to fill out this questionnaire, so here goes:

Q1. How would you define "atheism"?

I would define it as the lack of a belief in any gods or supernatural forces (whatever that means). Sometimes people make a distinction between my definition ("weak atheism") and the positive belief that there is no god ("strong atheism"). However, there do not seem to be very many strong atheists, so in common usage we can usually use the term "atheism" as meaning "weak atheism".

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

Yes. Orthodox Judaism (Lubavitch, specifically).

Q3. How would you describe "Intelligent Design", using only one word?


Q4. What scientific endeavor really excites you?

The search for Dark Matter and Dark Energy. We are pretty sure (from astronomical observations) that most of the "stuff" in the universe is not ordinary matter and energy, but we have no idea what that "stuff" is! (Actually we have a lot of ides, but we don't know if any of them are correct, yet).

Q5. If you could change one thing about the "atheist community", what would it be and why?

I would like it to be more vocal/visible. People shouldn't have to feel the need to be in the atheist closet. If civilization survives the problems we are currently facing, it will likely be because we abandon our ancient dogmas and superstitions. People will be more willing to do this when they realize there are a lot of good people out there who have the courage to be rational.

Q6. If your child came up to you and said "I'm joining the clergy", what would be your first response?

I would tell them to do so if it makes them happy, but I would encourage them not to indoctrinate their children into their chosen faith. Then I would try to convince them that they can feel fulfilled without faith, but I'd accept their decision either way.

Q7. What's your favorite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

Most of the arguments are pretty silly. One I especially like refuting is Pascal's Wager, which basically says its smarter to believe in god because the price of false belief (nothing) is less than the price of false disbelief (hell). There are many ways to refute this, including to note that there are many possible and mutually exclusive gods to believe in, so which god should I pick?

Q8. What's your most "controversial" (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

I think I pretty much toe the party line. I think some atheists treat religion with too much undue respect, but that has been changing as of late.

Q9. Of the "Four Horsemen" (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favorite, and why?

Can I pick a fifth Horseman? If so, PZ Myers is my favorite. He's just so chutzpadik. If not, I'll pick Dawkins, his arguments are usually organized more clearly than the others, IMO.

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

My hypothetical kid who wants to join the clergy. If you mean a real person, then I'll pick the Pope.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Shafran hearts Madoff

PZ took time out of his busy schedule of mocking Christian kooks to mock a Jewish kook for a change. Apparently Rabbi Avi Shafran thinks that Bernie Madoff is more moral than Captain Sullenberger, because Sully did not publicly thank God for his successful river landing, while Bernie apologized for stealing billions of dollars (only after he was caught, of course). In the words of Sarah Palin, I kid you not.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Same-Sex Marriage Legal in Iowa

There was a big victory today in the struggle for gay rights. The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that Iowa's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. I hope that their ruling sticks longer than California's did, and that more states follow suit soon.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Don't daven for me.

Last week I got a phone call from an old friend who went to high school and yeshiva with me. We had been good friends in school but had only talked a few times in the last few years. He was calling to ask me about my relationship status, as he wanted to set me up on a shidduch date. I informed him that I am no longer frum (apparently he had not heard that I "frei'd out," which was surprising to me, since everyone used to gossip about the "frei'aks" in our community), so it would probably not be a good idea for me to date a frum girl.

After my friend got over his initial shock that I went off the derech, the conversation inevitably turned to the reasons why I left. I often try to avoid this type of conversation when I meet frum folks, as they tend to turn unpleasant, but I used to be really close to this friend and I wanted to be truthful with him. I informed him that I am no longer a believer, and tried to explain why. I explained in length that there is no evidence that any gods exist, that there is no good reason to believe that the Torah is the word of God, and that many of the stories in the Torah are almost certainly false (e.g. the flood).

My friend answered back with a bunch of the usual frum arguments, he was particularly fond of the argument that multitudes of people witnessed the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and such a revelation could not possibly be faked (Kuzari). After I explained to him why I thought each of his arguments was invalid, he tried the old tactic of Jewish guilt. He told me that millions of Jews had died over the millenia because of their belief, and I was spitting on their graves with my denouncements. He then asked me if I would be able to swear on a Torah that I don't believe in God, and I answered that I could. After he heard that, he told me that he was very sad for me and that he would daven for my neshama. I told him that he really shouldn't worry about me, and that I hoped we could still be friends. He politely agreed, but I got the feeling that I may not hear from him again.

Maybe it would have been better not to have told him that I'm an atheist. Many frum people seem willing to accept that I became not frum, but they have more trouble accepting that someone could stop believing in God and the Torah. I guess they'd rather think I'm just some hedonist who couldn't handle the restrictions of Halacha. I don't really care if they think that, but I don't like feeling that I have to lie about who I am just to avoid unpleasant conversations.