Atlas Shrugged: L’Etat, C’Est Moi


Atlas Shrugged, part III, chapter IIWhile Ragnar Danneskjold thinks of himself as a reverse Robin Hood, I think he's more like the Objectivist Santa Claus. He comes down the chimney to give gold to all the good girls and boys of superlative individual value. He may not have a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer, but he does have a stealth battleship which can both outrun and outfight all the navies of the world while simultaneously being small enough to hide undetectably, which we can safely say … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Welcome to Atlantis


Atlas Shrugged, part III, chapter IAnd now, we embark on the third and final part of Atlas Shrugged. When we left off at the conclusion of Part II, it was on a cliffhanger: Dagny's plane was spiraling down for a crash landing, plummeting into a mysterious valley that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Part III begins as she regains consciousness:When she opened her eyes, she saw sunlight, green leaves and a man's face....She was looking up at the face of a man who knelt by her … [Read more...]

The Perils of Scriptural Morality


I was cheered by a story I saw last week about about heroic activist groups working to end the barbaric custom of female "circumcision", aka female genital mutilation, that's practiced in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. FGM isn't unique to Christianity or to Islam, but is found across a range of traditional societies that fetishize female virginity and purity and view girls as unfit for marriage if they aren't cut. The harm to women is immense: death from infection and blood loss, … [Read more...]

Dispatches from Future America: Nation Ratifies Reproductive Rights Amendment

[Editor's Note: The last dispatch I received in this ongoing series was particularly bleak. As if on cue, I got another message the other day, this one apparently originating from a very different, and much rosier, future. I get the strong impression that these two possible worlds are, in some manner, competing against each other.]JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI (August 6, 2037) — The Thirty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified today after passing the Mississippi state … [Read more...]

There Are 10 Times as Many Atheists as Mormons: When Will Non-Believers Become a Political Force?

This essay was originally published on AlterNet.The propagandists of the religious right shout it aloud as their battle cry: "America is a Christian nation!" And in the trivial sense that ours is a nation populated mostly by Christians, this is true. But in the sense that they mean it, that Christianity was intended to occupy a privileged place in the law - or worse, that Christianity was intended to be the only belief professed by Americans - it couldn't be more false. Although religion in … [Read more...]

Dispatches from Future America: Nation Celebrates National Day of Reason

[Editor's Note: This just keeps getting stranger.Last month, I received a news dispatch from a disturbing future version of America through an anonymous remailer. The other day, I received a message from a different address, presenting itself as the same thing... but apparently from a very different future than the previous one.I have no idea how to explain this. Parallel universes? Uncollapsed quantum wavefunctions? Which of these, if any, are our future? Are different possibilities … [Read more...]

Chris Hedges Doesn’t Believe In Moral Progress (Except When He Does)

A Review of When Atheism Becomes Religion, Part IIIAs I've written before, Chris Hedges is a nihilist. He flatly denies the possibility of moral progress, and vehemently asserts that any efforts to improve humanity will inevitably end in mass slaughter and destruction. He says so bluntly at the beginning of his book:Those who insist we are morally advancing as a species are deluding themselves. There is little in science or history to support this idea. Human individuals can make moral … [Read more...]

The Contributions of Freethinkers: Gene Roddenberry

As a wedding present to ourselves, my wife and I bought the DVDs of the original Star Trek, and these past few months, we've been working our way through them. For myself, it was a test: I hadn't seen most of these episodes since my childhood, and I was curious to see if they held up. I'm pleased to say that, for the most part, they more than hold their own. There's plenty to criticize, but after all this time, it hasn't lost its charm.Despite everything that makes me roll my eyes about Star … [Read more...]

Reengineering Human Nature: Dogmatism

The Problem: Human beings are stubborn creatures, set in our ways, resistant to changing our minds once we've made a decision. Religious groups publish creeds which they believe must be taken on faith and should be maintained against all contrary evidence - and they consider the ability to do that a virtue, rather than a character flaw. Even when dramatic disconfirmation comes, such as the apocalypse failing to occur on a predicted date, a common response is for believers to become even more … [Read more...]

Reengineering Human Nature: Pride

The Problem: According to Christianity and other monotheistic religions, pride is the deadliest sin. Taking excessive pleasure in yourself and your own talents and accomplishments is the surest way to end up condemned. I personally don't agree with the extreme view that pride is the worst possible character flaw - when properly harnessed, it's an important driver of individual effort and achievement - but I do agree that excessive pride is a problem common to human nature.Most dictators and … [Read more...]