Why Are Athiests so Angry?

Sam Harris answers the question of why are athiests so angry at Jewcy (reprinted at Huffington Post). Here’s a portion of his post:

The United States now stands alone in the developed world as a country that conducts its national discourse under the shadow of religious literalism. Eighty-three percent of the U.S. population believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead; 53% believe that the universe is 6,000 years old. This is embarrassing. Add to this comedy of false certainties the fact that 44% of Americans are confident that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years and you will glimpse the terrible liability of this sort of thinking.

Nearly half of the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world. This dewy-eyed nihilism provides absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization. Many of these people are lunatics, but they are not the lunatic fringe. Some of them can actually get Karl Rove on the phone whenever they want.

While Muslim extremists now fly planes into our buildings, saw the heads off journalists and aid-workers, and riot by the tens of thousands over cartoons, several recent polls reveal that atheists are now the most reviled minority in the United States. A majority of Americans say they would refuse to vote for an atheist even if he were a “well-qualified candidate” from their own political party. Atheism, therefore, is a perfect impediment to holding elected office in this country (while being a woman, black, Muslim, Jewish, or gay is not). Most Americans also say that of all the unsavory alternatives on offer, they would be least likely to allow their child to marry an atheist. These declarations of prejudice might be enough to make some atheists angry. But they are not what makes me angry.

As an atheist, I am angry that we live in a society in which the plain truth cannot be spoken without offending 90% of the population. The plain truth is this: There is no good reason to believe in a personal God; there is no good reason to believe that the Bible, the Koran, or any other book was dictated by an omniscient being; we do not, in any important sense, get our morality from religion; the Bible and the Koran are not, even remotely, the best sources of guidance we have for living in the 21st century; and the belief in God and in the divine provenance of scripture is getting a lot of people killed unnecessarily.

Gingrich Calls For Restrictions on Freedom of Speech

Newt Gingrich is creating controversy by arguing that Free Speech Should Be Curtailed To Fight Terrorism:

“We need to get ahead of the curve rather than wait until we actually literally lose a city, which I think could literally happen in the next decade if we’re unfortunate,” Mr. Gingrich said Monday night during a speech in New Hampshire. “We now should be impaneling people to look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of if it weren’t for the scale of the threat.”

Speaking at an award dinner billed as a tribute to crusaders for the First Amendment, Mr. Gingrich, who is considering a run for the White House in 2008, painted an ominous picture of the dangers facing America.

“This is a serious, long-term war,” the former speaker said, according an audio excerpt of his remarks made available yesterday by his office. “Either before we lose a city or, if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people.”

It comes as no surprise that liberal bloggers are disturbed by Gingrich’s statements. Mainstream media coverage hasn’t been very favorable, such as with CBS reporting this as Newt’s First Amendment Flub? What I’m especially happy to see is that even some conservative bloggers find reason to be disturbed by Gingrich advocating such restrictions. For example, Captain’s Quarters writes:

Gingrich left the specifics out of the proposal, which makes this somewhat vague. Does Newt propose limiting political speech that supports radical Islamists? Does he want to restrict the exercise of religion by Muslims in radical mosques? Could he be proposing both? Until we get more specific about the restrictions, specific criticism will be difficult to stage, and perhaps that’s his intent.

However, it isn’t difficult to defend the First Amendment in principle, and we need to do that now. The First Amendment has always had an exception for speech that incites a movement to violently overthrow the government of the United States, and I’m all for enforcing that. However, if Gingrich believes that we can win the war by silencing American citizens, then he is fighting the wrong war on behalf of the wrong principles. All he is doing is replacing one bogeyman (political corruption) for another (terrorism); in essence, he’s no different from McCain.

The remedy for bad speech is more speech. The solution to radical mosques is to enforce immigration laws and to tighten visa requirements to keep radicals from entering the US. If people want to advocate for terrorist attacks and the violent overthrow of our elected government, then they have already broken the law, and it requires no sacrifice from Americans to prosecute such people. Free speech and religious freedom did not cause terrorism; in fact, the lack of both causes it. If Gingrich wants to offer the hair of the dog as a solution, then he will find himself very lonely on the campaign trail for the next two years.

Right. We don’t need new restrictions for law enforcement to go after terrorists threatening to destroy an American city.

Rating Video Games and Movies

Looking thru my RSS reader I clicked on one story due to the title, War on Christmas Update at Centerfield. The post actually had nothing to do with the War on Christmas. It was actually on a report that the National Institute on Media and the Family has released its 11th annual Video Game Report Card, which rates violence, aggression and sexual content in video games.

I always have mixed feelings about such lists. Do they promote censorship, or do they reduce the need for government censorship by giving parents the information needed to make a decision without government intervention? Such lists aren’t necessarily bad as long as parents use their own judgement as opposed to buying or not buying purely based upon whether something is on somebody’s list.

As someone who is both a parent and strongly opposed to censorship I welcome such ratings as long as they are kept voluntary and intended as a source of information as opposed to promoting censorship. One problem I see with this list is that there really is not very much information here. You either accept their judgement or not.

My daughter never got very much into video games so I haven’t had to become concerned with these ratings, but I’ve welcomed comparable ratings of movies. When my daughter was younger I often used a very conservative web site to review movies. The site gave the specifics of every sexual innuendo and anything anybody could find in any way objectionable. Some things were listed which I would not want my daughter to see, but other things really did not sound like a problem to me.

It would have been a big mistake to avoid all movies which their listings considered heavy in sexual content. However, being able to see a list of everything possibly objectionable in a movie I could decide whether the movie really had anything to be concerned about.

TV Alert: John Kerry on Larry King

From tonight’s listings for Larry King: Plus, Sen. John Kerry on his Iraq joke gone wrong.

Whether Kerry will become a viable candidate for the 2008 nomination depends partially upon whether he can get beyond the unfavorable publicity caused by a poorly written joke which was even more poorly delivered. Kerry has no choice but to appear on shows like this to explain, but it is sure a shame. The country would be far better served by listening to John Kerry’s ideas for getting out of the Iraq war gone bad, as well as his ideas on making health care more affordable, and for strengthening small business.

Psychotics for Bush

A thesis completed at Southern Connecticut State University found that those who are psychotic were more likely to vote for George Bush:

The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.

“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”

The study also showed something else which other studies have also found:

“Bush supporters had significantly less knowledge about current issues, government and politics than those who supported Kerry,” the study says.

Supreme Court Declines To Take Case Banning State Funds for Religious Education

Despite the rightward tilt of the Supreme Court, there has been a victory on one church vs. state issue. On Monday the Supreme Court decided against hearing a case against the State of Maine for their law barring the use of public funds for private religious schools:

A conservative group, the Institute for Justice, had asked the justices to take the case. The group is representing eight Maine families who would receive public tuition funds but for the fact that their children attend religious schools.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush‘s homestate of Texas had weighed in, saying in filings to the Supreme Court that Maine is unconstitutionally discriminating against religion.

Vouchers are championed by the president and many conservatives who call them a ticket out of dismal and dangerous public schools. However, those who champion public education say that vouchers divert already-scarce resources from a system badly in need of repair.

School districts in 145 small towns in Maine that have no high schools currently offer tuition for 17,000 students to attend high schools of their choice, public or private, in-state or out-of-state. But religious schools are no longer on the list. Maine’s school system dates back to 1879.

Losing the Enlightenment

Victor Davis Hanson has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Losing the Enlightenment. The question is who is responsible for losing the values of the enlightenment:

But our newest foes of Reason are not the enraged Athenian democrats who tried and executed Socrates. And they are not the Christian zealots of the medieval church who persecuted philosophers of heliocentricity. Nor are they Nazis who burned books and turned Western science against its own to murder millions en masse.

No, the culprits are now more often us.

From there, an essay which started with promise goes bad. When he says the culprits are us, he ultimately turns it into the typical attack on Democrats seen at the Wall Street Journal, complete with their usual attacks based upon misquotations rather than addressing the real views of the other side.

Yes, we are in danger of losing the values of the enlightenment, and this is pertinent to fighting Islamic extremism as Hanson argues. The difference is that in singling out Islamic extremism as the enemy, Hanson ignores the lack of values coming from the Republicans supported by the Wall Street Journal. This includes the loss of journalistic integrity seen in his article as he uses the typical misquotations to attack Democrats. More importantly, this includes the opposition to separation of Church and State promoted by Republicans as they try to use the powers of the state to enforce the religious views of one segment of society upon all. The enemy of the enlightenment is both Islamic extremism and Christian extremism.

Other values which developed out of the enlightenment have also been threatened by the Republicans such as limitations on the power of government. The healthy skepticism of authority encouraged by the founding fathers is referred to as treason and hatred of America by fanatics of the right. The checks and balances on the different branches of government were seriously damaged during the past several years as Republicans worked to increase power in the executive branch.

The enlightenment brought an era of scientific discovery in place of finding information by religious revelation. Today it is the Republicans who wage a war on science which includes working to prevent the teaching of basic biology in the class room under the guise of intelligent design. Other fields such as geology, for contradicting the biblical age of the universe, and cosmology are also under attack. Research into life saving technology such as embryonic stem cell research is being restricted, and Republicans fight to deny women the basic right to control their own bodies. Even the dangers of global warming are ignored because this doesn’t fit into their economic priories.

Hanson notes that “By past definitions of relative power, al-Qaeda and its epigones were weak and could not defeat the West militarily” but he misunderstands how al Qaeda threatens to win. When we ignore the principles upon which this nation was founded, give up our civil liberties out of fear, attack those who question the government, and resort to torture we become more like al Qaeda and less like products of the enlightenment.

Thomas Friedman Offers Ten Months or Ten Years for Iraq

Thomas Friedman offers two possible scenarios for Iraq considering the current realities, which are even worse than being in a civil war:

Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war — it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.

Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years. This would require reinvading Iraq, with at least 150,000 more troops, crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch.

Anyone who tells you that we can just train a few more Iraqi troops and police officers and then slip out in two or three years is either lying or a fool. The minute we would leave, Iraq would collapse. There is nothing we can do by the end of the Bush presidency that would produce a self-sustaining stable Iraq — and “self-sustaining” is the key metric.

Friedman had previously applied the “Pottery Barn rule” to Iraq which warns that, “You break it, you own it.” He no longer believes this applies:

But my Pottery Barn rule was wrong, because Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there — broken, it seems, by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. It was held together only by Saddam’s iron fist. Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.

That vacuum was filled by murderous Sunni Baathists and Al Qaeda types, who butchered Iraqi Shiites until they finally wouldn’t take it any longer and started butchering back, which brought us to where we are today. The Sunni Muslim world should hang its head in shame for the barbarism it has tolerated and tacitly supported by the Sunnis of Iraq, whose violence, from the start, has had only one goal: America must fail in its effort to bring progressive politics or democracy to this region. America must fail — no matter how many Iraqis have to be killed, America must fail.