The Witch Children of Nigeria

I've written on several past occasions about how belief in malignant supernatural forces causes real harm to real people. There are examples of this from every region of the world, but some of the most wrenching are from Africa, where Biblical beliefs about demons and evil spirits still run rampant.In January, I wrote about the witch camps of Ghana, where people suspected of using black magic to harm their neighbors are exiled as if they were lepers. In April, there were the Pentecostals of … [Read more...]

Poetry Sunday: The Snowstorm

Compliments of the season, today's Poetry Sunday brings you "The Snowstorm" by the famous American transcendentalist poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was born in 1803 in Boston, son of a Unitarian minister, and at first looked set to follow in his father's footsteps. But before he was 30, he walked away from even that liberal religious viewpoint to found a movement that was entirely his own, and authentically American.The transcendentalist movement, which can best be described as rational and … [Read more...]

Movie Review: The Golden Compass

Last night I saw The Golden Compass, the movie adaptation of the first book in Philip Pullman's acclaimed fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. The movie, like the book, is set in a fantastic and richly imagined parallel universe, similar to our own world but different in many important ways. In Pullman's steampunk world, human beings' souls live outside their bodies, in the form of talking animal familiars called daemons; the icy north is ruled by fearsome armored bears and clans of flying … [Read more...]

Pro-Life and Pro-Family

Inspired by an interview on a recent episode of Freethought Radio, I want to talk about a term that greatly annoys me: "values voters". This term is used by American religious conservatives to describe themselves, and all too often, we see the media playing along and using it to describe this voting bloc as well."Values voters" is widely understood to refer to the heavily religious Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, who reliably vote Republican. This group generally supports the war in … [Read more...]

Season of Division: The Episcopal Church Splits Up

There's at least one Christian denomination that won't be singing "peace on earth" this holiday season. A diocese of the Episcopal Church has seceded and plans to align with a South American branch of the Anglican Church, the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. (For readers unfamiliar with the tedious details of church hierarchy, the Anglican Church is the global denomination; the Episcopal Church is the American branch of that church. The Episcopal Church, until this announcement, had 110 … [Read more...]

The Rules Don’t Apply to Me

Last month, Senator Chuck Grassley asked six notorious preachers of the prosperity gospel to account for some highly questionable expenditures, in light of their ministries' non-profit status. So far, it seems that only one of the six, Joyce Meyer, has complied. Three others - Benny Hinn, Paula White, and Kenneth Copeland - have yet to respond. Now the remaining two, Creflo Dollar and Eddie Long, have announced that they will not cooperate.The letter from Dollar's attorney expresses concern … [Read more...]

Mitt Romney's Kennedy Moment?

Last Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a speech in which he argued that his Mormon religious beliefs should not prevent Americans from voting for him.I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions... I will put no doctrine of … [Read more...]

Instruction Manual or Chronicle?

A few days ago, I had an epiphany that I think sheds considerable light on the difference between liberal and fundamentalist believers. This principle seems to me to be underappreciated, and if it was more widely understood, I think it might head off some of the misunderstandings which I've seen atheists commit. Here it is:Fundamentalist believers view their sacred text as an instruction manual; liberal believers view it as a chronicle of events.This difference is important in shaping the … [Read more...]

Theocracy Watch XIII: Fighting Prison Theocracy

Last year, in a previous installment of Theocracy Watch, I wrote about unconstitutional government-supported prison ministries which target a literal captive audience. Many Christian evangelists view these ministries as a great opportunity to preach to those who can't escape, as if the prisons were their own personal factories for churning out converts. Worse, the Bush administration has been all too willing to let them in, and has cooperated in setting up coercive programs that offer special … [Read more...]

Building a Secular Community

A recent column by Katha Pollitt, The Atheist's Dilemma, laments how atheists would like to take away what people value and offer nothing in return:But if all you can offer people is reasons to quit their religion—which also often means their community, their family, their support system and their identity—you're not going to have many takers. For every brilliant angry teenager you strengthen in doubt, there's a mosque- or churchful of people who'll choose the old-time religion if … [Read more...]


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