Air Force Changes Oath Policy

airmen oathWhat a night. Work late getting windows at L’foes. In bed, realize Pig the cat is locked out somewhere, on second floor porch. Took forever to figure that out. Then stray cat gets in house in early AM. Pig chases it. Pig gets put in room with me while ugliest stray cat ever gets chased out. Now Pig standing guard. I’m seeking coffee. Not looking forward to another stray cat extrication.

The Air Force has changed its mind on forcing reenlistments to say the oath.

The U.S. Air Force said Wednesday that enlisted members and officers are permitted to omit the phrase “so help me God” from their oaths if they so chose. In a statement Wednesday, the Air Force said it arrived at the decision after consulting with the Department of Defense General Counsel; last week an airman who was prohibited from re-enlisting until he uttered the phrase threatened to sue if the Air Force did not change their policy.

“We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen’s rights are protected.”

Really? Being threatened to be sued, and the huge media coverage might have something to do with it.

I tried to find a photo of group giving oath with someone declining. Nada. Had one local military person say he could opt in Army but when he did it was like he was the odd man out, and sore thumb of ranks.

Image source.

Jim Newman.

The Sense of Awe and Religiosity

mountain viewNear everyone has experience of vastness, mystery, and feelings of relatedness. We live in a world where there are things really small, really big, and really hard to understand. This is often called a sense of awe.

Barbara King started us out using two books she’d recently finished to dispel the notion that atheists can’t feel awe. She further argued that it’s an experience that need have nothing to do with the “sacred” but can be a pure response to science’s own unpacking of the world’s richness. Then, Tania Lombrozo picked up the ball by looking at psychological research showing how the feeling of awe has two characteristics: an experience of vastness and the need for an accommodation with that experience. Both the religious and non-religious have this experience of vastness, she argued. The real difference between them arises with how the subsequent accommodation is accomplished.

Often people combine this with our seemingly inherent need to explain things.

Marcelo Gleiser then drew from the ancient Greeks to explore how reason could be a gateway to a profound sense of spirituality but only if that sense eschews mysticism. In this way, Marcelo argued we might “rid spirituality of its supernatural prison.” Alva Noë finished the week taking a different path. In his meditation on the limits of rationality, he argued it’s imperative to see meaning and value as real in and of itself, something perhaps rationality can’t do.

There are a couple of things that bother me about this. One is

What makes the elemental human experience of awe significant is it is, first and foremost, an experience of meaning. It saturates the world with meaning. Explanations for the origins of that meaning must always come later.

This is not true for me and I don’t think it is for many others. I don’t sit at the top of a mountain and say “hey, there’s meaning” or “hey, what I am seeing gives meaning to my life.” Yes I do get that “wow the world is huge and I’m puny” sometimes and yes also “this is so incredibly beautiful.” But that doesn’t lead me to believe that my purpose or meaning in life is awe or based on awe. I can get that feeling from looking at the fantastic bizarre beauty of cancer cells or the amazing fuzziness of small mites that love to live on me. I can also have it at the profound worry that things are trying to kill me but it’s amazing how they do it, and I’m pretty helpless against it. Frankly the meaning of my life most of the time is food on the table, keeping people happy, and paying the bills with a few side glances and attempted mindfulness of the world at hand.

This desire to use awe as commonality misses the entire point of the distance between religion and non religion. Awe doesn’t lead to a belief in a sky daddy much less one as described in religious texts. Nor does it lead me to consider authority, hierarchy, and xenophobia as being entailed with a sense of awe. Of course we all experience awe and I guess that recognition is helpful.

But this tactic is like saying “hey, since were humans, we’re really the same.” The issue is how religions and those who practice them harm others with sacred certainty, why and how to stop it. Not humans will be humans.

Seeing a waterfall and saying it convinced them of god is as ridiculous as seeing a cancer cell and being convinced of satan. They are just using experience to reinforce what they have been raised to believe; not discovering anything.

Jim Newman,

Atheist Airman Denied Reenlistment

united-states-air-force-oathSeveral days without internet and the entire family went ozone. Finally, I call Frontier again and they say oh, yeah, it’s working. Not in our house. Turns out not only were modem and RJ-11 jacks fried by lightning but the line through the wall to the first jack. I fed a long line through a window. Family is no longer threatening to move to hotel. Service says Frontier has to come out and swap line to first jack, they installed it.


You can’t fight for your country unless you believe in a sky daddy.

The American Humanist Association is threatening to sue the Air Force on behalf of an atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada after he was denied reenlistment into the service last month because he refused to say “so help me God” in the Oath of Enlistment.

An Air Force official explained in a USA Today report that taking the oath to God is a statutory requirement and the only way the atheist airman can opt out of acknowledging God is if Congress changes it.

A “statutory requirement?” Really? All these changes being made in the various military corps and they found one the requires an act of congress?

The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center noted. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.”

The Air Force did their bureau-hand-waving.

AFI 36-2606 “is consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502. Paragraph 5.6 (and) was changed in October 2013 to reflect the aforementioned statutory requirement and airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words ‘so help me God,’” she added.

So you can be gay but not believe in a sky daddy?

image source

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason. com  @jimnnewman

Ralph Reed and Bill Maher Discuss Faith

reed and maherIn a rather lopsided discussion with mockery versus sincerity Bill Maher loses sight of what’s important to Christians in both rhetoric and value. Ralph Reed a Pentecostal asserts that national debt, welfare (even social security and Medicare), and the greater difficulties of children from single-parent families could be resolved by faith. What Reed is really saying here is the forced endurance of a permanent familial relationship is the best means of preventing government support on near all levels. Though I presume huge costs for the military (even if only defense) would still be required. I also wonder how he would support infrastructure but I would guess he would say that would be done by volunteered charity.

What so many miss in these conversations is the family unit has never been very stable. Even when societies were agrarian physical mobility was essential. Only by technological improvement was agriculture able to increase productivity such that land produced more with the same amount of labor. Otherwise, and this occurred often since productivity improvements are not linear, children had to leave the land to begin anew elsewhere. Often to other countries and outlying areas taken either by discovery or conquest. It’s a small world now.

Often primogeniture laws or customs were supported to prevent land from being divided by giving the entire amount to a single child, typically the oldest male. This breakup of families means oral and familial traditions are not easily passed from generation to generation. The loss of parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents requires outside traditions, laws, and support to preserve wisdom, knowledge, and labor between generations.

Industrial ages haven’t done much better. Factories and manufacturing centers might arise with surrounding communities but as changes in efficiency and market endurance occur these communities move or die, dissolving families and intergenerational traditions and support.

With productivity exceeding consumption ability, exacerbated by the constant pressure to reduce wages due to increasing competition, forcing lower profit margins, family members have to work more to keep up. Without extended support families aren’t able to provide basic sustenance on their own.  Servants and institutions are paid less in the hopes that thee wage differences will offset the loss of labor at home.

With an increasing labor surplus, forcing both parents to work, families have to extend themselves beyond their nuclear core. When well paid work that could pay for this additional support requires one parent having a great job and another having any job, because an area cannot support enough well paying jobs, couples split and move on. Chid labor laws, and schools, prevent their indenture and added income as well.

This process has nothing to do with moral turpitude or fidelity. it is the economics of productivity and the variance in wages. Reed’s hope that a covenant that forces a family to remain together will ensure prosperity falls apart. The reality of wage disparity makes it impossible for a local community to support its members equally or even toe subsistence levels. With the loss of land it is impossible to live off the land as the last, desperate, level of familial independence.

Another problem is the questionable need for couples and families to remain together when abuse is present. When families, nuclear and extended, could remain near by, geographically, it was far more easy to ensure continuity and support in relationships as they changed. It’s no longer possible to provide psychological and emotional support by family members who must leave. Monetary support is important but what Reed values is much more than that, as do must of us.

The only effective way to compensate for these difficulties are schools, child-care centers, and community support for those who can’t possibly make enough. If a parent, grandparent, or sibling is absent, outside support must replace that familial resource on all levels. Schools are not just for education but to cache children so more adults can work.

Few want to talk about the issue of labor surplus and resource shortage driving families apart, negating the utility of faith covenants, but that’s the issue.

Reed’s second goal is the use of the bible to provide a personal relationship with god through Jesus. While admitting that he doesn’t think it is about rules and regulations he is clear that covenants are essential. Rules don’t get much stronger than this essentialist contract.

Reed’s hope, trust, that a personal relationship with god and Jesus will create appropriate information to do the right thing is far more dependent on the details of that informing than he admits. Trusting faith does not ensure that right information and desires are passed along. So called natural laws may inform many, naturally, but natural disobedience does the same. Some sort of specific laws and mores must be codified that can be followed without simple faith.

Reed does admit that nonbelievers can be good but also asserts that everyone has fallen. But why and how to remedy? More and more specific laws are required to meet growing demand for certainty and diversity. We all can’t be farmers, capitalists, laborers, or foragers. The expansion of products and consumption means the division of labor becomes more specific, and diverse, requiring greater mobility and not less. Moral laws work the same way. They are another product. Being charitable or kind must change its expression to meet more diverse needs and desires.

A simple example of this is in the old testament, assuming one uses the old testament. Thou shalt not kill. This usually means thou shalt not murder wantonly for no good reason. What about about abusive relations where it’s not murder but physical damage? What about those who can’t do unto others because they are self abusive and would be fine passing that along? What about people and companies that do harm, even murder, in blindness? There are reasons why the old testament has 10-800 laws. The new testament isn’t specific enough for people to follow without more information and support. And Reed is clear that the rules and regulations of the old testament are antiquated and mostly useless. Even being kind has its issues. Is it Ok to beat children to make them behave? Will a pacifist Quaker harm an intruder attacking their family?

The issue of patriarchy is so embedded in both testaments no one can read them in any fashionable hermeneutics and not be tainted.

Catholics created a hierarchy to met this need. Protestants rely on direct, individual, intuition or local pastors. Pentecostals depend on direct intuition. But what holds these pastors together in some sort of coherence that doesn’t create dissonance as people move around as they must? They have to deal with often vast culture and moral changes and the moral compass does’t know where to swing because true North has changed.

The video is below and somewhat disturbing.

Jim Newman, bright and well

Theology, Atheism, & Pissing on People

atheist strategyThe pope continues his confusing thoughts and actions. He is still pissing on the people. The Vatican is worried that he is a workaholic. Perhaps it is his ongoing exhaustion that keeps him from thinking clearly enough. He goes to the Mideast and asks for peace sounding like a contestant for Miss America. Everyone wants peace but not to the loss of justice–punitive, restorative, or just isolating the offending parties. Better that he would declare religious issues are the root of the problem. If all of them put aside their childish texts and follow humaneness things would be different. At least something specific.

The pope inviting the Eastern Orthodox to Rome seems more like inviting the wolf to the house for hopes of conversion. Best beware. The last time this had any real effect was when Constantine visited, decided Rome was too corrupt to bear, and decided the East was to be the center of Christian authority. Perhaps they discussed how they would divide up Russia. Maybe they commiserated on how followers were being attacked by Muslims; a chorus of an enemy of my friend is my friend. Was it to establish how to divide territories for missionary work.

The clean out of the Vatican financial auditory board is more an acknowledgement of its dysfunctionality due to personalities and quests for authority.  Where is a real concern to dismantle the money-laundering and money-hoarding schemes of a church that claims it wants to help the poor? That the pope is confused about priorities is well shown in his inane statements that relationships with pets prevent breeder mentality and birthing action. We really do need more people, and more hetero folks at that.

The incredulous example of how the Catholic church abused children sickens. This is the Catholic love of children yet hates abortion and birth control?  Women who shouldn’t or couldn’t economically be having children left their children in their care only to have them be treated as less than less. When dead, they were buried, some 800, in a septic tank. Many of these children were used for *scientific* testing. If the Catholic church had promoted family planning and women’s control of their bodies they wouldn’t have needed to create these concentration death camps.

The children were abused in their surrounding society. With shunning, social ostracism, and neglect how did the adults sleep at night? Aaah, but that’s not all Christians. We have to contextualize it to Ireland in their worst days. Hmm, one didn’t need a potato famine or a dysfunctional landlord system to want to get the hell out of Ireland.

As to animals, PETA was quite wrong and lost a lot of support with their ridiculous ad showing milk to be linked to autism. First this supports those who consider autism to be caused by vaccinations since it implies it is all chemical, just which one. Further, that milk can’t be a good middle ground between being a carnivore or a vegetarian. What next? Eggs are the aborted fetuses of chickens and they are people too? I can see their ad now; fried fetus for breakfast is another person down the hatch. This would make egg eaters both abortors and cannibals. The expanding circle of self would cause even eggs to be us in some way. Wouldn’t it be better to promote better conditions for chickens and dairy cows? It would further their cause more effectively to provide examples and recipes of alternatives.

Protestants are proving that they may be even worse than Catholics in their sexual abuse of children. In one month some 25 cases were brought to law in the US and surely more exist. This is scary as does this prove that privatizing religious authority actually enables more abuse? Is Hobbes right that an abusive, tyrannical authority still helps keep renegade individuals in line? I trust not. The issue is the inculcation of religious patriarchal law based on books that are inherently contradictory and inhumane. Good laws make good people. If they don’t we change the laws.

This confusion of fairness is displayed by London College disbanding a Nietzsche club as well as their preventing the speech of atheists-humanists in an attempt to console the offended religious and sensitive liberals. Claiming offense is not an automatic red card to eliminate opposing voices. That past philosophers said things that inspired some to do wrong means these philosophers should be studied more carefully, not less. Or that their words actually promoted violence. On inspection, we can winnow the bad from the good. Just as in the bible, where the messages for  the growing number of progressives are love, charity, compassion, and the embrace of the other. Just don’t forget to annotate or edit the texts. Frankly, Nietzsche saying god was dead was an affirmation that society should return to a passion that is so strong it could be considered beyond good and evil. He is important for considering passion an essential aspect of the human condition. Dated yes, obsolete no.

Atheists are themselves showing a startling imitation of past farm, labor, and suffrage movements. Debate has become more centered around members and what membership means. Was there ever an original strategy of uniting to a common goal? It seems that the male-centered, atheist-humanist-skeptic movement really was just another white boys club where the only rally cry was no god(s). Tempting, and happening, to stand on their shoulders and pee. Reasonably so since those still alive seem more intent on protectionism than inclusion. The denial of social justice when atheism is just *no god* is a facile and vapid discussion. It only discourages new members and many older members, white boys even. The only reason we cared to discuss theology was because those who practiced it weren’t doing justice. We wanted to know why, what inspired them.

Dismantling god was a good start. We need to dig deep to follow the evidence of what that means. Evidence shows god to not be true and not helpful. Following the evidence leads to strategies and tactics towards justice and equality. If evidence is the muscle of the arguments on god’s existence then evidence also leads to prescriptions of how to have a better life.

The remarks of atheist-humanist, social-justice bloggers that the most and worst comments are not from the religious but members supports the inability of too many to see social justice as a core value. This is an interesting inversion and example. It mimmics the debate of suffragettes on whether to include atheism in their platform. Elizabeth Cady Stanton said it must but others said no. They worried it would alienate the wider public. In this case social justice is the issue. It is worrisome that online discussions go astray simply because one person uses “” instead of  ** when paraphrasing or for emphasis. This should not create a flame war.

I wonder if it isn’t part of follow-the-money. Professional (paid) bloggers vie for followers and *up* marks to get better ad revenue and a larger platform from which to publish books and be asked to lectures (another cost to platform base). If a movement evolves through 10-year generations there must be turnover. This makes profitable, political professionalism a short tenure except for a very few. A contrary view was that this is just more tribalism where disagreements attract audiences with strong but poorly reflected loyalty to a person. My spouse, a retired, evangelizing, political feminist, offered to me that movements tend to try to achieve perfection where any flaw is exaggerated beyond reason. At some point, one stupid remark and you’re out. Shall we all be quiet until we get to 100% right?

The Global Secular Council blew it on a grand scale. It tagged its introduction with a post-dinner, casual-but-posed photo of four white men and two women from the US and UK. This certainly caused me and others to wonder how this could be global. The responses were condescending, patronizing and name-calling. It resulted in some being blocked because they kept asking questions instead of shutting up. I narrowly missed being blocked myself. I was *warned* several times and put on a Level 1 list by an SCA supporter. I had to block him as he sent me incessant messages that I was defending the wrong person and trolling. I wondered if I were skipped purely because I was a man, only women were blocked, or because I was new to the community. My remarks were just as adamant.

In making posts to this new Twitter community of mine I did find that random people would follow me. When I checked their posts I saw they were not *”followers”* but clear opponents. I found “Block” to be one of my more common Twitter words. I didn’t join Twitter to make war but for education and to find community. It seems impossible for many to just let a diametric opinion be. I don’t see how I can deconstruct this kind of binary aggression in digital streams of 140-character flotsam. Just what does trolling mean?

Sam Harris found a winner in his essay contest of whether science informs, proves, or sustains morality.  The winner writes there must be something before science that anchors moral value. Harris asserts evidence provides accurate descriptions for creating moral prescriptions and prosthesis, a kind of hindsight accuracy of consequentialism. He seems unwilling to say we can discern what to do in advance without the assumption that well being is always the goal regardless.

Could society choose not to follow well being and even self destruct for the sake of the planet, for example? A death wish is immoral? It gets so much more complicated. Families are a prime example of organizations that sacrifice for continuity, well being. People without children enhance society. It gets difficult to say which action is beneficial until it’s all over. Evolution is the judge. Nevertheless since no knowledge can exist without empiricism, the foundation of science, it would be impossible for any morality to exist without it. This tautology pretty much rigged the contest.

The most grotesque news recently: the rape of so many in India and their excuse by authorities; the refusal of so-called Muslim education societies to admit they support stoning; and the complete obliviousness by the press and public to Boko Haram’s killing of hundreds in Nigeria. I guess it wasn’t as good a photo opportunity as Christian school girls, fully obscured, and reciting forced, Muslim prayers.

At the end of the week, it’s clear that religions destroy more people’s lives than they help, movements shoot themselves in the feet, and women are still at the bottom of the heap.

Jim Newman, bright and well

Christians Freak over Offensive Book, Student Gives them Away

brady kisselIdaho the state you love to leave but miss the mountains. An Idaho school banned the bookThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Brady Kissel took a few copies over to a nearby park to give them away.

A steady flow of students showed up Wednesday afternoon, at a municipal park near Meridian’s perpetually crowded Eagle Road thoroughfare. Kissel made sure a box load of the books went back to the school’s drama club for distribution. One classmate asked Kissel to autograph her copy — her first autograph, Kissel said with a smile.

If they haven’t yet a university should give her a full-ride scholarship.

However, when Christian parents found out about this, they were furious and attempted to call the police to stop the event because they believe the book is too sexual and anti-Christian.

“If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs,” is among the many lines in the book that concerned parents seemed to have a problem with.

The police showed up, talked to her, did nothing as she had done no wrong and left.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was published in 2007 and it is one of the most popular books for schools that want to discuss the life of Native American children growing up today. Both critics and students have received the book with open arms because of its impeccable use of wit and charm, so much so that when it was banned, a petition circulated inside after Mountain View High School received more than 300 signatures, compelling authorities to reinstate the book in its reading list. The book, written by a Native American author Sherman Alexie, isn’t particularly anti-Christian, except it raises several questions about religion – questions similar to those raised by most teens who wrestle themselves while trying to discover their identities.

Alexie was outraged when schools in Idaho decided to remove the book from their reading lists, saying, “Book banners want to control debate and limit the imagination. I encourage debate and celebrate imagination.”

brady kissel bookKissel’s book promotion caught on.

Two Washington women, University of Washington student Sara Baker and Jennifer Lott of Spokane, started a fundraising drive. They eventually secured about $3,000, enough to pay for 350 books. Their goal was to make sure every student who signed Kissel’s petition would have access to the novel.

Then, on Tuesday, Alexie’s publishing house committed to donate 350 more books. They’ll arrive next week, said Erin Nelson of Rediscovered Bookshop, a Boise shop helping with the distribution.

At Rediscovered Bookshop, there were no second thoughts about wading into the controversy. For Nelson, who read the novel during her senior year of high school, the topic has added resonance. She believes parents should have a say over what their children read. But she says this novel, which chronicles an American Indian student assimilating in an all-white high school, explores real-world issues of class and race.

“I think it’s a really important book,” she said. “If anyone wants to read it, they should have the right to do that.”

I guess if trigger warnings catch on we will have to start labeling these books so Christians won’t experience PTSD since they are still recovering and say they continue to experience persecution.

One has to wonder about the Native Americans. Maybe we need trigger warnings on stories such as these so Native Americans will be more ready when they are exposed to this bullshit.
Jim Newman, bright and well