Popular Delusions I: Astrology

I don’t regularly read the New York Daily News, which could be generously described as a tabloid, but a story in the May 29 edition happened to catch my attention, and not in a good way. To the right is a scan of the page (click for larger version): Just below a story on the birth of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s newborn daughter is an article by the paper’s astrology columnist, Susan Miller, confidently asserting what the girl’s personality… Read more

It's Your First Amendment Too

An important fact that the modern-day religious right does not grasp is that the principle of church-state separation, which they revile so bitterly, was enacted for their benefit. It is probably not a coincidence that in Europe, where many nations still have established churches that are a legacy of earlier ages, church attendance is dropping precipitously, whereas in the United States, which has always had a vigorous tradition of separation, churches and sects of all kinds flourish and attendance and… Read more

Fossil Fuels

For more than a hundred years of human history, the words “the 21st century” were used as shorthand for the distant, advanced future. Utopians and futurists looked forward to an era of transformation, when knowledge and will would reshape human society almost beyond recognition. Now we are in the 21st century, and we can see for ourselves how those prognostications have fared. In many ways they have fallen short. We still have war, crime, disease and poverty; we do not… Read more

The Road Not Taken

It was one day several months ago, while I was still in graduate school in New York City, I went to Manhattan’s Union Theological Seminary to check out some books from their library to review for Ebon Musings. As I passed through the doors, I felt the momentary flash of irrational anxiety that I sometimes feel when entering such places – will they realize who I am? what will they say if they do? – but of course no such… Read more

Memorial Day

In the United States, this Monday is Memorial Day, established by Congress to commemorate America’s war dead. Across the nation, the day is marked by parades and solemn ceremonies, 21-gun salutes, roll calls of the names of the fallen, and flags, wreaths and ribbons placed on the graves of veterans. These ceremonies are familiar to us; we repeat them every year. And yet, those flags seem to have a special poignancy this year. Against the green grass, their colors seem… Read more

What Are You, Stupid?

There seems to be a perception among religious people that atheists believe all religious people to be stupid, ignorant, or deluded. (Witness a recent question on the Yahoo Answers service.) Where this perception comes from is something of a mystery – given how severely underrepresented atheists are in the media, it is almost certain that it does not actually come from anything we have said. Nevertheless, there is no question that a large number of theists take the statement “Hello,… Read more

Sacred Ponds, Sacred Cows

In a recent post, A World in Shadow I, I wrote about how religious superstition was hindering the efforts of health workers to eradicate several treatable Third World diseases. For example, one village in the remote region of Ogi, Nigeria refused permission to treat their local “sacred pond” with a mild pesticide that would wipe out the parasitic guinea worms infesting it, on the grounds that doing so would anger their deceased ancestors. However, if I left it at that,… Read more

Little-Known Bible Verses: The Sin of Sodom

One of the biblical stories from which the modern-day religious right draws the most inspiration is the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The religious right has assumed that the sin for which they merited this fate was rampant homosexuality, to the point that “sodomite” has become a derogatory synonym for homosexuals. (Consider the Jack Chick tract “Doom Town”, which contains a variety of grossly offensive antigay caricatures.) However, there is some evidence that this is jumping to conclusions. The… Read more

Onward Christian Soldiers

The Bible has always presented a schizophrenic view of the Christian god’s attributes. On one hand, he is styled the “Prince of Peace” who exhorts his followers to resist not evil, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies, and to put up the sword lest one perish by it. On the other hand, he is repeatedly called the “Lord of Hosts” – or to use modern terminology, the “Lord of Armies” – who commands his followers to slaughter… Read more

A World in Shadow I

The New York Times recently ran a series, titled “Diseases on the Brink”, that surveyed five diseases – polio, measles, dracunculiasis (also known as guinea worm), blinding trachoma and lymphatic filariasis – that it may be possible to eradicate, if the political will of the world community is up to the task. All these diseases can be treated with relatively simple measures, and have been wiped out or nearly so in industrialized nations thanks to improved sanitation and vaccination, but… Read more

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