On the Morality of: Military Spending

I've been following, with some incredulity, a battle brewing in Congress over a military-spending bill and whether it will include money to buy more F-22 Raptors, a jet fighter used by the Air Force during the Cold War. Even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates insists that these planes are not needed, a contingent of Congresspeople are bent on putting that spending back into the budget - forcing the military to take these planes against their will!Bizarre as this sounds, it's a classic … [Read more...]

Benevolent Business

Back in 2007, I wrote a post on optimistic populism, or how free markets can be a force for good: by spurring efficiency and innovation, they increase the total amount of wealth in the world, making it possible to raise the standard of living for all people. I also noted the irony that libertarians, the fiercest defenders of the free market, so often misunderstand this. In their jeremiads against taxation, they're implicitly buying into the view that wealth cannot be created and that the economy … [Read more...]

Taxation Is Not Theft

In last August's post "Spread the Wealth", I talked about the justifications for redistributive taxation. I felt that some of the issues raised in the comments deserved to be revisited - and since it's tax time here in the U.S., it's worth a reminder of why we pay them and what we get out of it.The centerpiece of the libertarian rhetorical strategy is to refer to taxation as theft, robbery, slavery. I've heard these epithets and others like them many times. It's easy to see what purpose this … [Read more...]

Atheists, Do Some Good: Join Kiva

An accusation that's often leveled against atheists is that we lack charitable impulses, that faith-based organizations do the hard work of caring for the needy and atheism only promotes selfishness. This is a hateful slur, and to counter it, I've discussed outstanding acts of charity by individual atheists in the past. Evidence like this shows that, as a group, we do not lack compassion. On the contrary, we know that this life is the only one we'll ever have, which gives us the strongest … [Read more...]

Little-Known Bible Verses XII: Communism

"Atheism and communism always seem to go hand in hand," begins a letter to the editor I recently found through a Google alert. And though the fear of communism has died down since the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the prejudice that this writer was parroting has affected our politics for decades.In the Cold War, when anti-communist fear and paranoia were rampant, we sought to differentiate ourselves from the enemy in every way possible. It was this fear that spurred the U.S. government to … [Read more...]

On Gift-Giving

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Hanukkah's prominence was the plan of reformist rabbis, seeking to create a Jewish holiday to compete with Christmas just as Christmas was created to compete with pagan solstice festivals. In an ironic sense, this campaign has been both a success and a failure: although the cause of Hanukkah was eagerly taken up by marketers, it failed to dislodge Christmas from public consciousness and has simply contributed further to the commercialization of the holiday … [Read more...]

A Solstice Sermon

In past years, I've used the occasion of the winter solstice to deliver a brief homily on an issue of moral importance. This year, I'd like to do so again.Although nearly every society has put its own religious or cultural gloss on it, the solstice is an event marked and commemorated by all of humanity. In Japan, the solstice festival is Amaterasu, the reemergence of the sun goddess. To ancient Romans, it was Brumalia, the feast of the wine god Bacchus, and to Germanic pagans, it was Yule. To … [Read more...]

Rapture Bonds

One of the great virtues of market forces is that they consistently reward investors who can correctly predict future events. Whenever two people disagree about the plausibility of some event, you can create a financial instrument whereby the one who's right can profit at the expense of the one who's wrong.The Christian community in America, particularly that section of it aligned with the religious right, commands vast wealth and influence. Although atheists are beginning to make our mark, … [Read more...]

Down to Earth

I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.—Thomas Jefferson, letter to Alexander Donald, 7 February 1788What should we seek to get out of life? To a secular humanist, what is the goal toward which our labors should point?As atheists, we don't believe in a heavenly reward, so that path is … [Read more...]

Spread the Wealth: Further Thoughts on Capitalism

In his 1651 book Leviathan, the Enlightenment political theorist Thomas Hobbes wrote that in the uncivilized, lawless state of nature, the life of humankind was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". Even in Hobbes' own day, when a relative degree of civilization had been achieved, there was considerable truth to this. But in just the last few hundred years, our society has been transformed almost beyond recognition.For most of human history, nearly everyone lived in conditions of … [Read more...]


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