Posted inGeneral

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates Identifies as an Atheist

Reading Time: 2 minutes I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the finest writers working today. Hardly a day, a news story, a crisis, or a controversy goes by in which the people I respect online don’t say something akin to, “TNC nails it,” followed by a link to his take. And they’re usually right.
Coates has recently been steeping himself in European history, which has included a couple of volumes on 20th century Europe in the midst of Hitler, Stalin, the Holocaust, and its struggles to repair, redeem, and unify. Considering the breadth and relentlessness of human violence and disorder, he figured something out:

Posted inGeneral

The Downside of TED Talks as 'Secular Megachurches'

Reading Time: 2 minutes Bouncing off some of the issues about seculars and the need (or lack thereof) for religion and church-like ritual I and others have been posting about over the past couple of days, I tweeted this yesterday:

Ha ha ha, right? If you’ve read more than a handful of my work, you’ve already seen me go on and on about how I half-jokingly consider Apple my “religion” and The Steve (peace be upon him) my prophet. Ha ha ha. Old news.
But when I made that tweet, I had no idea that this piece by Benjamin Bratton in The Guardian would go up hours later (thereby confirming my psychic powers). The subject? How TED talks have become, as Bratton describes them, “middlebrow megachurch infotainment.”

Posted inGeneral, Politics

Imprisonment for Blasphemy and Religious Dissent Around the World Detailed in New Report

Reading Time: 2 minutes Human Rights Without Frontiers International, a Brussels-based nonprofit, has released a rather comprehensive report on those who have been imprisoned for religious dissent around the world, and the countries who imprison them. Of particular note to this audience is the report’s acknowledgment of the nonreligious.

This year, a specific section has been created for prisoners whose freedom of expression related to religious issues was violated on the basis of laws against blasphemy, defamation of religion or the Prophet and similar issues: Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia and Turkey.

Posted inGeneral

Research Suggests the Brain Benefits Socially and Cognitively from Prayer

Reading Time: 2 minutes According to new research, the act of prayer can strengthen one’s will and refuel an exhausted brain. This comes to us from a post at Scientific American by Piercarlo Valdesolo, where we learn that Prof. Malt Friese and Michaela Wanke put participants through some emotionally and cognitively draining tasks — suppressing emotion and laughter while watching a funny video followed by identifying the colors of words that spell different colors as they flash by rapidly. Then the participants were told to pray for 5 minutes, and what happened?

Participants who were asked to pray about a topic of their choosing for five minutes showed significantly better performance on the [color identifying task] after emotion suppression, compared to participants who were simply asked to think about a topic of their choosing. And this effect held regardless of whether participants identified as religious (70 percent) or not.

Posted inGeneral

Are Psychotropic Drugs at the Root of Religion?

Reading Time: 2 minutes In an excerpt from his book Drugs: The Science and Culture of Psychotropic Drugs at The Atlantic, Richard J. Miller examines the claim that intense religious experience, and religion itself, can be traced back to the consumption of hallucinogenic drugs, or, “entheogenic” drugs.
It’s hard to deny that there is a strong connection between religion and these substances, with, as Miller notes, countless references to particular drugs in various religious texts (from “soma” in Hindu scripture to “the drug of forgetfulness” in The Odyssey), and considering the “spiritual” impact psychotropics have been shown to have. Take this bit of research by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert cited by Miller:

On Good Friday 1962, two groups of students received either psilocybin or niacin (a nonhallucinogenic “control” substance) on a double-blind basis prior to the service in Boston University’s Marsh Chapel.

Posted inPolitics

Let's All Wonder About Obama's Religion Some More

Reading Time: 2 minutes Ah, the timeless question that has plagued mankind since the dawning of, well, 2007 or so: What religion is President Obama, really?
I think it’s a fairly silly question. But we have right-wingers who suspect, nay, insist, that he’s a Muslim. On the other side we have atheists like Bill Maher who are certain that Obama is one of us (though Maher also thinks the Pope is an atheist, which I think is quite a reach). For me, personally, I think it’s best to take the man at his word, that he’s a Christian, until some overwhelming evidence suggests something else. Like, for example, him saying “I’m actually an atheist.” That would probably convince me.
All that said, his particular version of Christianity remains murky to many who care about this kind of thing. As the holidays now pass us by, Ashley Parker at the New York Times notes that the Obamas have not attended any Christmas church services since coming to Washington, nor have they chosen an “official” church as their religious home in DC, choosing instead to visit a variety of them, and even then they haven’t gone all that often.

Posted inPolitics

Jennifer Michael Hecht and Ron Reagan Talk Atheism in Politics on 'Hardball'

Reading Time: < 1 minute Jennifer Michael Hecht, one of my absolute favorite writers, recently appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball, along with fellow atheist Ron Reagan, to talk about her article in Politico Magazine about atheism as “the last taboo” in American politics. Though it’s a brief segment, they took a serious look at the “poison pill” problem we all presume atheists would face in political contests, particularly in regard to the presidency.
Michael Smerconish was the guest host, and it was encouraging to hear him so eager to, as he put it, “test the hypothesis” that an avowed atheist would be effectively barred from high office in the current political climate. As Hecht says in the segment, the culture is just crawling its way out of the religious tensions associated with the Cold War (“godless communism” vs. American Judeo-Christianity) and 9/11, and that the time really has come for nonbelieving politicians to make themselves known.

Posted inUncategorized

Biblical Blockbusters Soon to Flood Theaters

Reading Time: 2 minutes Even if you never saw The Passion of the Christ when it first hit theaters (and I have yet to see it), you probably couldn’t escape hearing about it. The Mel Gibson-directed, hyper-violent, all-Aramaic-and-Latin telling of Jesus’s last days was an enormous hit, with the faithful showing up to see it by the busload. Recently, the ironically-named History Channel had its biggest hit yet with a miniseries based on the Bible. The lesson here is that giving religion the Hollywood touch can mean big, big bucks.
Well, get ready, because there’s about to be a flood (ahem) of biblical blockbusters coming our way. But this time, they won’t be subtitled or relegated to basic cable. As reported by Nick Allen at The Telegraph, the A-listers are about to take on several episodes of God’s book.

Posted inPolitics

The Badawi Apostasy Case and the Saudi Crackdown on Dissent

Reading Time: < 1 minute Russia-based news network RT covers the apostasy case against Raif Badawi, and his possible execution, in the video below. It includes reaction from Amnesty International, and some context from human rights activist Hala Al-Dosari, who notes that there is little to no actual evidence of Badawi’s alleged “apostasy,” other than a “general description of his attitude as unacceptable” to Saudi authorities.
As noted previously, Badawi has already been convicted and punished once, with seven years in prison and 600 lashes. That’s not a typo. Six-zero-zero.

Posted inGeneral

The Token Skeptic Experiments with Crowdfunding

Reading Time: < 1 minute If you delve into skeptic media even a little bit, you probably already know who Kylie Sturgess is. For those who don’t, she’s a first-class communicator of science and skepticism, known best for her podcast and blog Token Skeptic, and her work writing at the Skeptical Inquirer website.
Podcasting, though, doesn’t pay the bills like it ought to. So Kylie’s taken to the indie fundraising site Patreon to crowdsource the funding of her podcasting work.

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