2013.08 News: Faith Healing vs. Measles

Spoiler alert: Faith healing loses!

Naive Christians continue to believe that childlike faith in Bronze Age superstitions is preferable to the greatest advance in public health in human history, namely routine, universal immunization against common diseases. The latest example of this stubborn refusal to face reality occurred in a fundamentalist evangelical megachurch in Texas, where 16 people came down with measles after being exposed to a carrier who had just returned from an overseas trip and hugged many fellow congregation members in greeting.

Measles is seldom fatal (tho it can be) but it makes you miserable for upwards of a week, and it's totally unnecessary. Other diseases that can be prevented by vaccination are more likely to be lethal (or to have long-term health consequences like shingles or cervical cancer), but even in the absence of a death threat, failing to vaccinate your kids against them is like telling them to take off those heathenish seat belts, which only an atheist — not trusting in God for safety — would ever use.

The pastor at the afflicted church said she has no particular objections to vaccination but that it was important to spend lots and lots of time getting right with God first, then if you felt you had to, go ahead and get the shots. This is akin to the notorious wristband logic:
• "I am a Catholic. In case of medical emergency, please call a priest."
• "I am an atheist. In case of medical emergency, please call a doctor."


2013.08 Opinion: Religion's unbroken record of failure

Name one scientific principle revealed thru prayer.
Name one medical cure discovered by reading the Bible.
Name one work of literature translated from tongue-speakers.
Name one catastrophe averted by a holy amulet.
Name one amputee healed by a miracle.
Name one mountain — or even one grain of sand — moved by faith.

All these claims of religion — all of them, 100% — have been failures.
Each time. Every time. All the time.
Those who made the claims were either deluded fools or outright liars.
Religion is beyond worthless and well into outright harmful.

If you knew of a horse which had lost its previous 999 races, would you still bet on it for #1000?


2013.08 History: I Have a Dream

Not quite half a century ago, on 1963 Aug. 28, Washington DC hosted an event that went down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. And there was no doubt what the centerpiece and highlight of that demonstration was: Martin Luther King Jr.'s magnificent "I Have a Dream" speech. It was a masterpiece of eloquence, nuance, cadence, metaphor, evocation, and most of all effectiveness. It galvanized a nation and led to the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

For some unknown reason, this 50th anniversary of the march and Dr. King's speech seems to have crept up on us unnoticed. I've heard of no celebrations or commemorations planned around it. But the absence of public recognition is no bar to each of us individually being able to relive that historic turning point thru the wonders of modern technology:

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UV1fs8lAbg
Text: http://historywired.si.edu/detail.cfm?ID=501
Context: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Have_a_Dream

As you watch the video, notice that, for the first half of the speech, Dr. King is reading from his prepared text, which concluded with the stirring imagery from the Book of Amos about justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Then he looks up and realizes that his intended conclusion, while speaking to the aspirations of the people before him, was from the head more than the heart, and he begins to improvise. The second half of the speech, where he looks directly at us, was largely composed on the fly, making it all the more astonishing in its power and coherence.

This speech hangs on the wall of my living room, and I recite it aloud at least once a year. It is a family tradition I commend to all — especially to the families of 5 guys in black robes out there in DC, where they seem to have forgotten it.

Incidentally, the speech's concluding lines — taken directly from the funeral services of so many American slaves — are inscribed on Dr. King's tombstone: "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last."


2013.08 News: Are Atheists Brighter Than Religionists?

Are atheists brighter than religionists? And that's not using the term "Bright" in its organizational sense but rather with the common meaning of "intelligent".

Glad you asked! Yes, as a matter of fact, according to a huge metastudy covering from 1928 to 2012, we are!


2013.08 Feature: Women in Atheism

In an essay in Salon last week, Katie Englehardt asked "Where Are the Women of the New Atheism?".

Among the 150+ comments on it was this one from me (Richard S. Russell):
  • American Atheists — founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair, carried on by Ellen Johnson
  • Freedom From Religion Foundation — founded by Anne Gaylor, carried on by her dotter Annie Laurie Gaylor
  • Anti-Discrimination Support Network — founded by Margaret Downey
  • Atheist Alliance (originally "Inc.", then "International", now "of America") — originally founded by (among others) Bobbie Kirkhart, Cleo Kocol, Mynga Futrell, and Marie Alena Castle. Castle, Kirkhart, and Downey subsequently served as presidents.
  • Atheist Alliance ("new") International — first president, Tanya Smith
  • Camp Quest — co-founded by Helen Kagin
  • Greta Christina! — say no more!

Anyone who thinks that women haven't been involved — root, trunk, and branch — with organized atheism in America must be on the outside looking in thru a murky window. Quite the contrary, women have long been the go-getters, the organizers, the movers and shakers, the inspirations, the good examples. Those of us on the inside used to occasionally puzzle over where all the men were.
But that was a questioning of the basic premise that there were no women in atheism. A different tack, addressing the question of why women in atheism aren't more visible to the great outer world, was taken by Soraya Chemaly in this week's follow-up essay, the unfortunately titled "5 Reasons There Aren't More Women in Atheism".