Chronicling the follies of religion and superstition, the virtues of skepticism, and the wonders of the real (natural) universe as revealed by science. Plus other interesting and educational stuff.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

Suicide Bomb Trainer in Iraq Accidentally Blows Up His Class


BAGHDAD — If there were such a thing, it would probably be rule No. 1 in the teaching manual for instructors of aspiring suicide bombers: Don’t give lessons with live explosives.

In what represented a cautionary tale for terrorist teachers, and a cause of dark humor for ordinary Iraqis, a commander at a secluded terrorist training camp north of Baghdad unwittingly used a belt packed with explosives while conducting a demonstration early Monday for a group of militants, killing himself and 21 other members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, army and police officials said.

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christiannightmarestoo:

How a Christian boy lost his faith on a warm summer day in Northern Ireland
I lost my Christian faith on 15 August, 1998, in the village of Omagh in County Tyrone around 3:00pm.
It was one of those summer days where you could be glad to be a 10-year-old. Sunny and warm, a rarity in Ireland where we get clouds and rain nearly every morning. I was celebrating my recent progression to open champion in Irish dance, the highest level achievable. It was only three weeks till my 11th birthday and my mate Johnny, also a competitive Irish dancer, invited me to his home for the weekend. My grandparents were nervous about it at first. It wasn’t as though I was camping out with one of my cousins across the county. Omagh was nearly an hour away. In addition, it was in Northern Ireland, and my grandparents had lived three decades in the shadow of the Troubles. But after much begging and cajoling, and with my grandfather’s reminder that Omagh had been virtually untouched by the violence, my grandmother finally relented.
That Saturday, Johnny and I insisted on being allowed to go to the town centre unaccompanied. Market Street was a popular tourist destination and we wanted to see the sights and play with the lads. Naturally, Johnny’s parents refused our perfectly reasonable request. But after much begging and cajoling (a skill we had perfected down to an art form) they agreed and let us go, provided that Johnny’s 14-year-old sister Maeve accompanied us.
It was every lad’s dream. We played tag and pop-around-the-barrel with a group of local lads, as Maeve stood with her girlfriends and sniffed over our desperate immaturity. Johnny and I kept a close eye on her, and when her back was turned for a moment, we scampered off, headed down toward the courthouse to have our own adventure, congratulating ourselves on our daring and bravado.
We hadn’t gotten 50 yards down the side way when we heard the car bomb go off behind us.
We stared at each other for long moments, the shock turning our faces ashy white. Johnny sprinted off first, headed into the carnage, screaming for his sister. I was immediately behind him, but we lost sight of each other the moment we entered the boiling mass of people. The smoke stung my eyes as I pushed my way through, the fires that had broken out sending people into a panic. I stepped over falling, crying people, bloodied shrapnel, bits of masonry, bits of bodies. I fought the crowds, screaming for Maeve, for Johnny, for anyone, my voice lost amongst the hundreds raised, all crying for Jack, for Aodhan, Alan, Mary, Osla, Aoife, Michael, Padraig, Brigit. A swell of people pushed me to the cobblestones, and I lay there stunned for a moment, unsure if it was from the impact or from the bloody, charred arm that lay a metre from me.
“Oh god,” I whispered. “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”
But no god heard my prayer, nor did he hear the prayers of hundreds of other people around me screaming for their loved ones. I picked myself up and brushed the dirt from my jacket and trousers, and fought my way back into the crowd. I never prayed again.
I didn’t leave the town centre for another hour. When I did, Johnny was at my side, dusty and red-eyed from the smoke and from the sobbing. I looked down at the road as we stumbled away towards his home where his parents were waiting, oblivious to what had happened until Maeve came home moments before us, hysterical but unharmed. As I pulled my trainers from my feet, I noticed for the first time that the white leather strip above the soles had been stained a dirty, blackened red.
Twenty nine people died in the town centre of Omagh. Twelve of them were children and teenagers.
No one ever ‘officially’ claimed credit for the bombing of Omagh. But the acknowledgement came soon after nonetheless. They called themselves RIRA, the Real Irish Republican Army. They were Christian militants, angry about the recent Good Friday Agreement that had been signed back in April that had called for an unequivocal ceasefire between the opposing Catholic and Protestant forces. They had given the village of Omagh a warning earlier that day. They told them an inaccurate location for a bomb, one that would push the evacuating crowds into the actual target zone.
This was by no means my first encounter with extremist Christianity; it had been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. In Mass, the priest prayed for the deaths of the Protestant oppressors of our Catholic brothers and sisters. On the television, I would see Protestants in the north burning the Tricolour and screaming for the deaths of Catholics. Despite the efforts of the adults to keep what was happening out of sight of the children, we all knew about what was happening in Ireland. Men and women killed for walking out of the wrong church. For marrying someone of the wrong religion. For suspected Loyalist sympathies, for associating with the wrong denomination, for simply being in the way of the true targets, and for no other reason than the Christians wanted some more press. Thousands of bloody, pointless deaths.
I will not step foot in a church again. Because to give tacit approval to that belief system in any way is tantamount to rubbing shoulders with the butchers of my people. – by Tim Gavin (The Irish Atheist)

christiannightmarestoo:

How a Christian boy lost his faith on a warm summer day in Northern Ireland

I lost my Christian faith on 15 August, 1998, in the village of Omagh in County Tyrone around 3:00pm.

It was one of those summer days where you could be glad to be a 10-year-old. Sunny and warm, a rarity in Ireland where we get clouds and rain nearly every morning. I was celebrating my recent progression to open champion in Irish dance, the highest level achievable. It was only three weeks till my 11th birthday and my mate Johnny, also a competitive Irish dancer, invited me to his home for the weekend. My grandparents were nervous about it at first. It wasn’t as though I was camping out with one of my cousins across the county. Omagh was nearly an hour away. In addition, it was in Northern Ireland, and my grandparents had lived three decades in the shadow of the Troubles. But after much begging and cajoling, and with my grandfather’s reminder that Omagh had been virtually untouched by the violence, my grandmother finally relented.

That Saturday, Johnny and I insisted on being allowed to go to the town centre unaccompanied. Market Street was a popular tourist destination and we wanted to see the sights and play with the lads. Naturally, Johnny’s parents refused our perfectly reasonable request. But after much begging and cajoling (a skill we had perfected down to an art form) they agreed and let us go, provided that Johnny’s 14-year-old sister Maeve accompanied us.

It was every lad’s dream. We played tag and pop-around-the-barrel with a group of local lads, as Maeve stood with her girlfriends and sniffed over our desperate immaturity. Johnny and I kept a close eye on her, and when her back was turned for a moment, we scampered off, headed down toward the courthouse to have our own adventure, congratulating ourselves on our daring and bravado.

We hadn’t gotten 50 yards down the side way when we heard the car bomb go off behind us.

We stared at each other for long moments, the shock turning our faces ashy white. Johnny sprinted off first, headed into the carnage, screaming for his sister. I was immediately behind him, but we lost sight of each other the moment we entered the boiling mass of people. The smoke stung my eyes as I pushed my way through, the fires that had broken out sending people into a panic. I stepped over falling, crying people, bloodied shrapnel, bits of masonry, bits of bodies. I fought the crowds, screaming for Maeve, for Johnny, for anyone, my voice lost amongst the hundreds raised, all crying for Jack, for Aodhan, Alan, Mary, Osla, Aoife, Michael, Padraig, Brigit. A swell of people pushed me to the cobblestones, and I lay there stunned for a moment, unsure if it was from the impact or from the bloody, charred arm that lay a metre from me.

“Oh god,” I whispered. “Oh god, oh god, oh god.”

But no god heard my prayer, nor did he hear the prayers of hundreds of other people around me screaming for their loved ones. I picked myself up and brushed the dirt from my jacket and trousers, and fought my way back into the crowd. I never prayed again.

I didn’t leave the town centre for another hour. When I did, Johnny was at my side, dusty and red-eyed from the smoke and from the sobbing. I looked down at the road as we stumbled away towards his home where his parents were waiting, oblivious to what had happened until Maeve came home moments before us, hysterical but unharmed. As I pulled my trainers from my feet, I noticed for the first time that the white leather strip above the soles had been stained a dirty, blackened red.

Twenty nine people died in the town centre of Omagh. Twelve of them were children and teenagers.

No one ever ‘officially’ claimed credit for the bombing of Omagh. But the acknowledgement came soon after nonetheless. They called themselves RIRA, the Real Irish Republican Army. They were Christian militants, angry about the recent Good Friday Agreement that had been signed back in April that had called for an unequivocal ceasefire between the opposing Catholic and Protestant forces. They had given the village of Omagh a warning earlier that day. They told them an inaccurate location for a bomb, one that would push the evacuating crowds into the actual target zone.

This was by no means my first encounter with extremist Christianity; it had been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. In Mass, the priest prayed for the deaths of the Protestant oppressors of our Catholic brothers and sisters. On the television, I would see Protestants in the north burning the Tricolour and screaming for the deaths of Catholics. Despite the efforts of the adults to keep what was happening out of sight of the children, we all knew about what was happening in Ireland. Men and women killed for walking out of the wrong church. For marrying someone of the wrong religion. For suspected Loyalist sympathies, for associating with the wrong denomination, for simply being in the way of the true targets, and for no other reason than the Christians wanted some more press. Thousands of bloody, pointless deaths.

I will not step foot in a church again. Because to give tacit approval to that belief system in any way is tantamount to rubbing shoulders with the butchers of my people. – by Tim Gavin (The Irish Atheist)

The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.

I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized in our efforts to meet this risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.

In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.

Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown our any logically based intentions [unclear], it is usually an American soldier that is ordered to carry out some ill-conceived mission.

Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy—the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, the Japanese-American internment camps—to name a few. I am confident that many of our actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.

As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

I understand that my actions violated the law, and I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intention to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

Statement by Bradley Manning read after his sentancing, by his lawyer David Coombs (via mollycrabapple)

An Atheist Muslim's Perspective on the 'Root Causes' of Islamist Jihadism and the Politics of Islamophobia

The ambassador answered us that [their right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

The above passage is not a reference to a declaration by al Qaeda or some Iranian fatwa. They are the words of Thomas Jefferson, then the U.S. ambassador to France, reporting to Secretary of State John Jay a conversation he’d had with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, Tripoli’s envoy to London, in 1786 — more than two and a quarter centuries ago.

That is before al Qaeda and the Taliban, before the creation of Israel or the Arab-Israeli conflict, before Khomeini, before Saudi Arabia, before drones, before most Americans even knew what jihad or Islam was, and, most importantly, well before the United States had engaged in a single military incursion overseas or even had an established foreign policy.

At the time, thousands of American and European trade ships entering the Mediterranean had been targeted by pirates from the Muslim Barbary states (modern-day North Africa). More than a million Westerners had been kidnapped, imprisoned and enslaved. Tripoli was the nexus for these operations. Jefferson’s attempts to negotiate resulted in deadlock, and he was told simply that the kidnapping and enslavement of the infidels would continue, tersely articulated by Adja in the exchange paraphrased above.

Adja’s position wasn’t a random one-off. This conflict continued for years, seminally resulting in the Treaty of Tripoli, signed into law by President John Adams in 1797. Article 11 of the document, a direct product of the United States’ first-ever overseas conflict, contained these famous words, cementing America’s fundamental commitment to secularism:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext, arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Yes, the establishment of secularism in America back in the 18th century was largely related to a conflict with Islamist jihadism.

So where did Abdul Rahman Adja’s bin Laden-esque words come from?

They couldn’t have been a response to American imperialism (the start of the conflict precedes the presidency of George Washington), U.S. foreign policy, globalization, AIPAC or Islamophobia. Yet his words are virtually identical to those spouted ad nauseum by jihadists today who justify their bellicosity as a reaction to these U.S.-centric factors, which were nonexistent in Adja’s time.

How do we make sense of this? Well, the common denominator here just happens to be the elephant in the room.

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the foiled al Qaeda-backed plot in Toronto, the “anything but jihad” brigade is out in full force again. If the perpetrators of such attacks say they were influenced by politics, nationalism, money, video games or hip-hop, we take their answers at face value. But when they repeatedly and consistently cite their religious beliefs as their central motivation, we back off, stroke our chins and suspect that there has to be something deeper at play, a “root cause.”

The taboo against criticizing religion is still so astonishingly pervasive that centuries of hard lessons haven’t yet opened our eyes to what has been apparent all along: It is often religion itself, not the “distortion,” “hijacking,” “misrepresentation” or “politicization” of religion, that is the root cause.

The recent attack on “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens by Nathan Lean and Murtaza Hussain have been endorsed by renowned liberal writers like Glenn Greenwald, who has also recently joined a chorus of denialists convinced that jihad and religious fervor had nothing to do with the Tsarnaev brothers’ motive, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary. (HuffPost Live recently had a great segment holding Murtaza Hussain accountable for his claims.)

In a way, these attacks on Dawkins et al. are a good thing. Typically, resorting to ad hominem attacks and/or labeling the opposing side “bigoted” is a last resort, when the opponent is unable to generate a substantive counterargument.

This phenomenon can be wholly represented by loaded terms like “Islamophobia.” As an atheist Muslim (I’m not a believer, but I love Eid, the feasts of Ramadan and my Muslim family and friends), I could be jailed or executed in my country of birth, the country I grew up in and a host of other Muslim countries around the world for writing this very piece. Obviously, this is an unsettling, scary feeling for me. You may describe that fear as a very literal form of “Islamophobia.” But is that the same thing as anti-Muslim bigotry? No.

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apreacherskid:

skepticalavenger:

A good response to another stupid Facebook thing.

Xenophobic pieces of shit. Funny since he’s a legal immigrant and basically grew up here. Is legal immigration a problem now? Newsflash: American culture creates psychopaths. Own that shit.
A+ for trying to blame undocumented immigrants when they have absolutely nothing to do with the bombings, and everything to do with the food that’s on your fucking table.

apreacherskid:

skepticalavenger:

A good response to another stupid Facebook thing.

Xenophobic pieces of shit. Funny since he’s a legal immigrant and basically grew up here. Is legal immigration a problem now? Newsflash: American culture creates psychopaths. Own that shit.

A+ for trying to blame undocumented immigrants when they have absolutely nothing to do with the bombings, and everything to do with the food that’s on your fucking table.

Family Research Council blames ‘sexual liberalism’ for Newtown, Boston murders. Really.

Tony Perkins: "If Congress wants to stop these tragedies, then it has to address the government’s own hostility to the institution of the family and organizations that can address the real problem: the human heart. As I’ve said before, America doesn’t need gun control, it needs self-control. And a Congress that actively discourages it—through abortion, family breakdown, sexual liberalism, or religious hostility—is only compounding the problem."

Are you a feminist? Do you support a woman’s right to choose? Are you a single parent? Do you support gay adoption? Do you have unmarried or homosexual sex? Do you oppose an employers right to dictate the terms of their employees healthcare coverage based on their own religious objections?

If you answered yes to any of that, Tony Perkins and the FRC think you share some blame for Newtown and Boston. You thought you were just sharing your life with the person you love, or supporting your friends in doing the same… who would have thought you were actually supporting domestic terrorism!? I guess it’s a thought that only occurs to the the most reactionary right-wingers.

Source

Top Ten Differences Between White Terrorists and Others

afternoonsnoozebutton:

faineemae:

Top Ten Differences Between White Terrorists and Others

1. White terrorists are called “gunmen.” What does that even mean? A person with a gun? Wouldn’t that be, like, everyone in the US? Other terrorists are called, like, “terrorists.”
2. White terrorists are “troubled loners.” Other terrorists are always suspected of being part of a global plot, even when they are obviously troubled loners.
3. Doing a study on the danger of white terrorists at the Department of Homeland Security will get you sidelined by angry white Congressmen. Doing studies on other kinds of terrorists is a guaranteed promotion.
4. The family of a white terrorist is interviewed, weeping as they wonder where he went wrong. The families of other terrorists are almost never interviewed.
5. White terrorists are part of a “fringe.” Other terrorists are apparently mainstream.
6. White terrorists are random events, like tornadoes. Other terrorists are long-running conspiracies.
7. White terrorists are never called “white.” But other terrorists are given ethnic affiliations.
8. Nobody thinks white terrorists are typical of white people. But other terrorists are considered paragons of their societies.
9. White terrorists are alcoholics, addicts or mentally ill. Other terrorists are apparently clean-living and perfectly sane.
10. There is nothing you can do about white terrorists. Gun control won’t stop them. No policy you could make, no government program, could possibly have an impact on them. But hundreds of billions of dollars must be spent on police and on the Department of Defense, and on TSA, which must virtually strip search 60 million people a year, to deal with other terrorists.

Anti-abortion terrorists are attacking women’s health clinics that don’t even perform abortions

abaldwin360:

Anti-abortion violence has been a critical part of the so-called culture wars since the 70s.  And it raises profound issues that as a democratic society, built on a constitutional system and carefully constructed culture of religious pluralism, we have dealt with poorly.  

Although the vast majority of anti-abortion leaders condemn violence and consider acts of violence to undermine their cause; serious crimes, including acts of violence against abortion providers continue.  Most recently, there have been three burglaries and two arsons against Atlanta area clinics and the offices of ob gyn physicians,   making regionalnews. However, the doctors who have been victims of the burglaries and one of the arsons believe that although they do not perform abortions, they were being targeted in retaliation for public opposition to antiabortion “fetal pain” legislation recently signed by the governor. 

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These are the actions of terrorists.

Terrorism for damn sure.

Increasing blog readership in one easy step!

underthemountainbunker:

undercovernun:

That step?  Use one or more of the words that trigger the Department of Homeland Security to monitor your blog or web site.  What might those words be?  There’s a list… and it’s such a great list! 

So next time you want to talk about viruses and malware on the Internet, to encourage people to be prepared for hurricanes or tornadoes, to recommend traveling by Amtrak instead of having to go through a humiliating body scanner at the airport, or even to apologize for not blogging because of your miserable bout of stomach flu that came on from eating bad pork — get as many of these keywords in as you can!  Then you know that analysts at the Department of Homeland Security will be reading your blog.  More hits! More pageviews!  Maybe they’ll even click a banner ad or two!  After all, if you do this right, those fractions of pennies of ad revenue could really pile up.

Welcome DHS! I guess you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now. 

They’ve definitely been to my blog. I’m tempted to write a post that consists of every single one of these words. Maybe it would get me an interview with DHS.

(Source: undercovernun)

FDR was right: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ More so than any terror threat, it is the fear mongering about national security that presents the greatest danger to our Republic’s future. No ‘home of the brave’ would be brow-beaten by fears of ‘giving rights to terrorists’ into resigning its own rights, inviting repression upon itself by allowing government powers long used to define authoritarianism. Welcome to the U.S. House of Representatives! Is it too generous to say that democracy in America hangs by a thread?

Shahid Buttar, Congress cans the Constitution, as Chicago police abduct activists

The failures of Congress, or for that matter the (to quote…ahem…Sarah Palin) “lamestream press” to pay any heed to these myriad [transpartisan] voices [of dissent against the NDAA] suggests a process problem even beyond military detention. If our elected leaders are beholden to executive power and hellbent on eroding the judiciary’s (and their own) ability to check future abuses, does it even matter what We the People do?

It’s a bit like watching a Republic fall apart at the seams, in slow motion.

(via theamericanbear)