Religious People Score Embarrassingly Low on Knowledge of Their Holy Texts; Atheists Excel

I remember reading about this study when it came out, in 2010, but I’d never seen this illuminating CNN interview with the chief authors. Tip of the hat to reddit.

Also, per the screenshot below, I somehow managed to be the 666th viewer of that YouTube video. Cross yourself!

CNN_ Do agnostics know more than believers? - YouTube

On TV, Christians Boast of Ruining Atheist Lit

In Orange County, FL, Christian groups were allowed to display and leave Bibles and informational literature in public high schools. Atheist groups then obtained permission to leave brochures in the same manner.

In some schools, boxes of atheist brochures were stolen. Watch this video to see a Boone High student named Heather Senfire (I couldn’t verify the spelling of her last name) proudly admit to the TV interviewer that she ruined the remaining atheist literature by pouring water on it. The reason: She didn’t like the stuff. She couldn’t just walk by it without doing something. Quote:

“I mean, I understand that it’s fair, you know — like, Christians come in here with their Bibles — but, you know … we all have our own opinions.”

To her credit, she does seem to squirm a little bit when she catches herself in her own lack of logic. Watch it at 0:42.
Heather might get along great with Joe MacDonald, the Wilkes-Barre vandal who illegally took down an atheist banner from a public space last December. MacDonald faces criminal mischief charges.

On Religion: Frik Vermeulen, Unsung Genius

Finally, someone sorts through the world’s major faiths and helps us figure out “which Religion is right.”


We applaud South Africa’s Frik Vermeulen and his fearless decision to “way in and hopefully bring some sanity to the tables.”

Egyptian Activists: Scrub Religion From ID Cards

Other than for gathering anonymous census data, why would the government ever ask you what religion you are? And if the government issues national ID cards, as it does in many countries, why would your religious affiliation deserve a mandatory mention on that card? What purpose does it serve?

And what would happen if you told nosy bureaucrats to stay out of your business?

That’s the thinking of British-Egyptian journalist and blogger Sarah Carr, who teamed up with a friend, Mohamad Adam, to try to change the official Egyptian conflation of identity and religion. Via the New York Times:

Egyptian activists have begun an online campaign against sectarianism in the wake of a deadly attack on mourners at Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral this month.


To begin the process of disentangling religion and citizenship, the “None of Your Business” campaign, driven by a Facebook group and a YouTube video, urges Egyptian citizens to cover up the section of their national identity cards that states their religion. The group’s Facebook page describes the initiative as “a campaign against interference in citizens’ private lives by the state, and by other citizens. We are for the removal of religion from official documents — the most important of which is the personal ID card — as a small but important step towards ending discrimination on the basis of religion.”

In response, supporters of the campaign have uploaded photographs of their ID cards to social networks with messages along the lines of “my faith is my own business,” obscuring their religions.

Says Carr:

“I couldn’t think of a single use for the religion field; the Egyptian state has a well-documented thirst for bureaucracy and collecting information about its citizens, but there is absolutely no need for it to have this information, which serves no purpose other than giving prejudiced state officials, and anyone else who sees the ID card, the opportunity to give [you] a hard time.”

She would ultimately like ID cards to be abolished altogether, calling them “unnecessary and sinister,” but concedes that’s still a ways off.

“Removing the religion field from ID cards is a symbolic first step towards this. If it ever did happen, it would be a message that the state need not and should not have a role in defining, controlling or exploiting religious identity.”

Happy Birthday Christopher Hitchens

He would have turned 64 today. I miss him.



Hiring a New Pastor? Consider a Criminal!

Sometimes, organized religion looks for all the world like a rehabilitation racket for criminals.

Consider: Ex-cons with long criminal records, including assault and murder, can conveniently declare themselves reborn. Upon their conversion and release, the most convincing ones are instantly regarded as great pastor material by Christians whose penchant for forgiveness is as naive as it is fatal. The latest example:

The former pastor of the Cowboy Church of Marshall County was convicted Friday of sexual assault in Navarro County, Texas, and sentenced to 50 years in prison, a district attorney said.


Mark Allen Green, 42 [photo], was convicted of “continuous sexual assault of a child,” a Texas charge for ongoing crimes, for incidents involving a 13-year-old girl, said Lowell Thompson, criminal district attorney for Navarro County.

Green had served several prison sentences in Texas before being hired as pastor of the church in Albertville, according to a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Green had been in prison there “multiple times” on theft and burglary charges, with his latest sentence beginning in 2006, she said. [emphasis added]

Just the guy you want to go see in church every Sunday, preaching about right and wrong.

Look, I love the concept of forgiveness, in principle. I’m just not a fan of throwing caution to the wind and putting innocents in harm’s way. Christians think forgiveness is a feature of their faith; as I’ve argued before, I think it may be a bug instead.

For instance, two weeks ago, we learned of the guilty plea of John D. White, a mid-Michigan minister charged with killing a young woman in her mobile home. White is a violent ex-con who only needed to profess a faith in Jesus to be rehabilitated and employed as pastor — by a flock of well-intentioned if over-credulous forgiveness junkies.

He’s an ex-convict who settled outside Mt. Pleasant and became pastor of a tiny church, Christ Community Fellowship. Police say he confessed to killing 24-year-old Rebekah Gay on Oct. 31 as part of a sexual fantasy [necrophilia].

In 2007, [White had been] released from prison, after serving nearly 12 years for manslaughter in the death of a 26-year-old woman in Kalamazoo County, according to the Michigan Corrections Department. He had previously been sentenced to probation for choking and stabbing a 17-year-old Battle Creek girl in 1981. [emphasis added]

There’s nothing wrong with forgiving others and moving on. I’ve done it plenty of times (and I keenly appreciate that I’ve been the recipient of people’s forgiveness, too). But churches appointing known rapists and murderers as their clergy … sorry, that’s just another reason why people like me avoid the pews, and so-called holy men, on any day of the week that ends in a y.

Breaking: At 11th Hour, Oklahoma Joe’s Nixes Fundraiser For Kids; Doesn’t Serve Atheists


As best as I can piece together by following the web and Facebook trail, this happened tonight in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, about 20 miles from Tulsa.

A state chapter of Camp Quest, an organization that runs science camps where kids from secular and religious families mix, had planned a dinner and fundraiser at Oklahoma Joe’s, a local BBQ restaurant. The group communicated with the restaurant weeks ahead of time and made sure that all comers could be accommodated. Oklahoma Joe’s said sure, and even offered to donate 10 percent of the food and beverage proceeds.

Camp Quest Oklahoma then put up flyers and began promoting the dinner on social media, touting Joe’s as the place with the best ribs in the greater Tulsa area. The group was expecting about 50-60 diners/donors to show up.

Camp Quest Fund Raiser Dinner

Today, roughly an hour after the event started, owner Joe Davidson belatedly got wind of the fact that Camp Quest is run by secular people. That was enough to make him change his mind. On the spot, the restaurant canceled the fundraiser and put the following note on the door:

Camp Quest Fund Raiser Dinner-1

“Everyone except atheists?” asked Camp Quest supporter Nicole Cook on the group’s Facebook page, addressing Davidson and his note. “Is this legal? Do you kick out Jews?”

Those are good questions. I have a call in to both Mr. Davidson and to Camp Quest to try to get some answers, and will update this story if new and pertinent information becomes available.


UPDATE, 11:45 p.m. EST: I just got off the phone with Cindy Cooper, Vice President of Camp Quest Oklahoma.

She confirmed the account above, and added that months ago, Camp Quest volunteers gave the restaurant camp literature and invited the management to visit the group’s website. Cooper also says that the flyer for the event was approved by Davidson’s wife; the flyer makes explicit mention of the organization’s humanist leanings.

That’s true, and that does make it unlikely that Joe Davidson was being completely truthful on Tulsa Fox23 News tonight, when he claimed that the group had misled him about its mission and background.

Though Cooper has already seen a backlash brewing against Oklahoma Joe’s since news of the conflict began filtering out in the early evening — with irate non-theists taking to sites as diverse as Reddit and Yelp to voice their displeasure — she predicts that the kerfuffle will benefit Oklahoma Joe’s.

“This is Oklahoma,” she says. “It’ll probably end up being played like ‘poor Christians being persecuted for their beliefs.’ It wouldn’t surprise me if Christians start visiting the restaurant just to take a stand, like they did with Chick-fil-A.”

The events of Monday night have left her and her colleagues a little rattled, but Camp Quest has no desire to become a pawn in the culture war, says Cooper. “We try to maintain a neutral image, because it’s not about us — it’s about the kids,” she says.

“By the way, we have plenty of Christian children as campers. It wouldn’t occur to us to discriminate against them. I wish it worked the same the other way around.”

Note: My call to Joe Davidson has not yet been returned.

UPDATE 2, 12:30 a.m.: Hemant Mehta has more, including quotes from Joe Davidson (via American Atheists) and, in the comments, an account by an eye witness — one of the Camp Quest diners.

Huge Bangladeshi Crowd Chants ‘Kill Atheists’

Vast throngs of people marched on the Bangladeshi capital today to demand the execution of four atheists. The protest comes five weeks after a local atheist blogger was murdered by Muslim assassins.

Dhaka march Islam bloggers - Google Search

Hundreds of thousands of Islamists rallied in Dhaka on Saturday after staging a “long march” to the Bangladeshi capital to demand the execution of atheist bloggers for allegedly defaming Islam. It was the latest protest to rack Bangladesh, deepening tensions between secularists and the largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, whose leaders are under trial for crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence.

The Islamists converged on Dhaka’s main commercial hub to protest against what they said were blasphemous writings by atheist bloggers, shouting “God is great — hang the atheist bloggers”.

Footage of the protest here.

[image via Financial Express]

A Nation of Believers … In Just About Anything

Irrational beliefs are alive and well in the United States. For instance,

One in five Republican voters believes Barack Obama is the ‘antichrist’ and nearly a third of all Americans think a secret power elite controls the world, according to new research on conspiracy theories.

A survey by the Public Policy Polling group aimed to shed light on the link between political leanings and belief in conspiracy theories. The poll found that:

• 34 percent of Republicans polled believe a New World Order controls the world, compared with 35 percent of independent voters and 15 percent of Democrats.

• 29 percent of US voters believe aliens exist.

• 13 percent of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22 percent of Romney voters.

More here.


I’m happy for people to believe whatever they want — no skin off my backside. All the same, it can be dispiriting to live in a country whose populace takes to nonsense and disinformation as a fish takes to water.

The survey steered clear of asking about delusional beliefs in various deities, but we know the picture would have been bleak indeed.

[image via Shirtoid]

Amen. I Mean, Right On.

Via BrightRock.


‘Where Do You Get Morals, If Not From Religion?’

It’s a frequently asked question when theists encounter an atheist: How can people tell right from wrong if they don’t believe in God?

I’m tempted to reprise Penn Jillette’s answer and leave it at that:


But here’s a nicer way of describing it (it’s going to take a few paragraphs though): We can’t really thrive and advance as individuals. There’s a reason most people don’t become hermits. We need others. Not just to procreate, but to collaborate with, for all kinds of practical purposes.

Thousands of years ago, in times predating today’s religions, we joined forces with others to build hunter-and-gatherer communities. If you weren’t a helpful part of such a group, you didn’t remain in good standing. You might’ve even been exiled. So there are clear reciprocal advantages to sharing, and to helping others, and to working/fishing/hunting together.

Those who violated the social contract would find themselves without food if food got scarce, and without care if they got wounded or sick. That’s pretty much the mother of all incentives to be good.

Being good, in that context, means don’t murder, don’t rape, don’t steal, don’t make others suffer needlessly, and don’t be a selfish pig; and do try to treat others as you would like to be treated. Those were the general rules and expectations in the millennia before Christianity, Islam, Judaism, et cetera; they’re still perfectly valid today.

good without god

I’ll add another observation, going from the sociological to the purely personal. Because I don’t believe in god(s), I have no confessor or savior to wash away my sins. If I fuck up, it’s on me. My misstep will haunt me. My guilt will gnaw at me. No shortcuts to (self-)forgiveness are available to me. I can’t go to church to pray and tell Jesus how sorry I am, and then walk out with both the pastor’s blessing and with the knowledge that Christ, who died for my sins, has already forgiven me.

No — I’m responsible for what I did.

That’s good, because it’s a very powerful preventative. As unlikely as it may sound to the religious, not believing in a god, for me, is what helps immensely to keep me on the straight and narrow. I think I might be a worse person if I could buy cosmic forgiveness for absolutely anything with just a few heartfelt prayers.

That doesn’t mean I think you are probably a bad person if you believe in God. Not at all. I’m just describing what works for me.

[cartoon via Freethinkers of East Texas]

Muslim Vandals Attack Dawkins Website

This is currently the front page of Richard Dawkinswebsite (Wednesday 10:30 EST.)

Islamist goons think they have the right to prevent others from speaking, even more so than other stripes of religious nannies.

As much as they say they abhor swine … ironically, to me, that’s exactly what these people are.