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Ceaselessly Devour, Transfigure, and Replenish

April 22, 2019

At least 290 people are killed and hundreds more injured in bombing attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Officials are pinning the blame on an Islamist group you probably never heard of, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath.

Delivering a gut punch to atheist equality and the separation of church and state, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit rules against the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s Dan Barker in his suit against the chaplain of the House of Representatives, backing the chaplain’s stance that an atheists can be barred from delivering House invocations. We responded:

“It’s obvious now that our federal courts view atheists as second-class citizens who can be excluded from full participation in society because of their lack of belief in a god,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “They aren’t even trying to hide it any more, or dress it up in obfuscating language.”

Meanwhile, Nick took part in FFRF’s Ask an Atheist “Question Free-for-All” video event.

A group called the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing is holding an event in Washington state to promote a “miracle mineral solution” cure-all that is actually industrial bleach. The FDA is telling folks to steer clear, and if they have purchased the product to throw it away.

At the CFI blog, John Murdoch takes a deep look at the various overlaps in belief among the followers of traditional religions and in “new age” notions like astrology and psychic powers, marveling at the contradictions, and reconsidering the skeptic movement’s priorities:

Depending on how uphill the battle is, belief by belief, is it essential to dispel as many superstitions as possible? Or is checking a daily horoscope a minor grievance as long as the people checking can still be convinced of evidence-based medicine and science?

Jim Underdown gives an atheist’s take on Good Friday and the universal freedom to believe or not as one chooses:

Freedom of conscience can only truly exist where people can hold their beliefs without reprisal – from the laws of the land, from the religious majority, or from the individual treatment they receive in the culture.

Now this doesn’t mean all ideas are equal. It only means that one should not be deprived of life, liberty, or employment on the basis of religious belief – or non-belief.

The Providence Journal has a weird, passive-aggressive Easter/Passover editorial tut-tutting Americans for not being religious enough:

The people will ultimately decide whether organized religion has any value in their lives. We certainly hope that morality will survive as a pillar of America — protecting the rights of each individual to free speech, peaceful participation in government, and other essential liberties.

At India’s The Wire, Anurag Mehra says the government’s embrace of pseudoscience (like, really out-there pseudoscience in which it is claimed that ancient Hindus invented advanced modern technology) is less about the woo, and more about a nationalist narrative:

…these religious “theories” of creation had a natural corollary: that God did not just create human beings; he also created the cast-in-stone hierarchies into which he put them. Like that, race and caste become immutable and eternal, with divine sanction. … The more virulent responses are packaged in nationalistic rhetoric of ‘our science versus theirs’, and disbelief in mythology-motivated science being seen as anti-national.

At the New York Times, Christopher Caldwell makes some fairly flimsy claims about why the nonreligious were as upset about the Notre Dame fire as the religious:

Objects and traditions bound up with religious belief lend a feeling of sense and stability. For believers they are a reinforcement. For nonbelievers they are a substitute.

Oh really? Gosh, all this time I thought I was just capable of respecting a nearly thousand-year-old jewel of art and architecture and hold a naturalistic worldview at the same time. Silly me.

Two women, including the heir to Seagram liquor, plead guilty to charges related to assisting and financing the sex-slave cult Nxivm.

In an Ask an Atheist Day post, James Croft muses on the future of the secular movement:

It was never a good thing that the movement seemed to care about atheists and only atheists. Now I’m wondering what we can do to encourage people who feel uncomfortable with this shift to stay on board. Contemporary social justice discourse can be uncompromising and even quite self-righteous, and I wonder whether we might find ways to talk about social justice values within the atheist community which would bring skeptics along more effectively. I’d like to see us become experts in communicating social justice ideas in welcoming ways, without compromising any of those values in the process.

Writing at Friendly Atheist, David Niose says that while it’s fun to watch Pete Buttigieg baffle Mike Pence on his own religious terms, “we need to ask ourselves if this is really where we want to take the American political dialogue.”

Ferris Jabr at the New York Times says there might be merit to the Gaia hypothesis, the notion that Earth is, itself, a “vast being”:

If Earth breathes, sweats and quakes — if it births zillions of organisms that ceaselessly devour, transfigure and replenish its air, water and rock — and if those creatures and their physical environments evolve in tandem, then why shouldn’t we think of our planet as alive?

Humans are the brain — the consciousness — of the planet. We are Earth made aware of itself. Viewed this way, our ecological responsibility could not be clearer.

Or, as Jabr quotes David Grinspoon as having said, “Life is not something that happened on Earth, but something that happened to Earth.”

Jabr has another piece, this time in The Atlantic, on an unrelated topic, and one that will make you feel even more uneasy than you already do; the lack of science in dentistry:

The uneasy relationship between dentist and patient is further complicated by an unfortunate reality: Common dental procedures are not always as safe, effective, or durable as we are meant to believe. As a profession, dentistry has not yet applied the same level of self-scrutiny as medicine, or embraced as sweeping an emphasis on scientific evidence. … Consider the maxim that everyone should visit the dentist twice a year for cleanings. We hear it so often, and from such a young age, that we’ve internalized it as truth. But this supposed commandment of oral health has no scientific grounding. … Many standard dental treatments—to say nothing of all the recent innovations and cosmetic extravagances—are likewise not well substantiated by research. Many have never been tested in meticulous clinical trials. And the data that are available are not always reassuring.

Great.

Quote of the Day

Nicholas Kristof interviews Serene Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary, and I’m definitely surprised by some of the assertions she makes about the whole Jesus-on-the-cross story. Some examples:

There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb. Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves. … The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts. … I don’t worship an all-powerful, all-controlling omnipotent, omniscient being. That is a fabrication of Roman juridical theory and Greek mythology. That’s not the God of Easter. The God of Easter is vulnerable and is connected to the world in profound ways that don’t involve manipulating the world but constantly inviting us into love, justice, mercy.

How often do you hear God described as “vulnerable”? Don’t tell the other gods, they can smell weakness.

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Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.