December 3 - 9, 2006

This column will provide links to, plus quotes and summaries of, on-line articles that might be of interest to the Infidel community. Because is concerned with educational issues, the articles selected will help to inform and enlighten readers as well as entertain them. In order to conform to "fair use practices," only small segments of the articles will be quoted. One caveat: to read the entire linked article, readers may have to subscribe to on-line versions of newspapers or magazines.

Last week, I noted that The Christian Science Monitor had published an op ed by Dinesh D'Souza, which stated that atheists were bloodthirsty warmongers. The Monitor noted that it had been flooded with responses, but it did publish a few letters to the editor, which included this one by Fred Edwords of the AHA:

In his Nov. 21 Opinion piece, "Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history," Dinesh D'Souza claims that the death toll from history's greatest religious wars and persecutions "are minuscule compared with the death tolls produced by the atheist despotisms of the 20th century." But in making this claim, Mr. D'Souza mentions this fact only in passing: "[O]f course population levels were much lower" in earlier times. Yes, they were. The world population didn't reach a half billion until 1650. Today it is more than 6.5 billion. And modern mass murderers aren't limited to the swords and arrows of the past; the 20th century gave us weapons of mass destruction.

Another writer noted:

Mr. D'Souza says that most carnage connected with religious causes has really been more about power and territory. I think it is self-serving to say that death and destruction instigated by atheist or nonreligious leaders of the 20th century is any different. Leaders such as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Mao Zedong persecuted religious groups, not in a bid to expand atheism, but as a way of focusing people's hatred on these groups to consolidate their own power.

D'Souza's response is pretty lame.

You can read it and the other letters here...

Now we have this opinion, published in the NY Times on Nov. 27: "Atheists Agonistes," By Richard A. Shweder.

Why, then, are the enlightened so conspicuously up in arms these days, reiterating every possible argument against the existence of God? Why are they indulging in books — Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell,” Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation,” and Richard Dawkins’s “God Delusion” — in which authors lampoon religion or rail against the devout under the banner of a crusading atheism? Books dictated or co-written by God sell quite well among the 2.1 billion self-declared Christians and 1.3 billion self-declared Muslims of the world. What explains the current interest among secularists in absolutely, positively establishing that the author is a fraud?

The most obvious answer is that the armies of disbelief have been provoked. Articulate secularists may be merely reacting to the many recent incitements from religious zealots at home and abroad, as fanatics and infidels have their ways of keeping each other in business.

A deeper and far more unsettling answer, however, is that the popularity of the current counterattack on religion cloaks a renewed and intense anxiety within secular society that it is not the story of religion but rather the story of the Enlightenment that may be more illusory than real.

Read the Article here...

Six letters were published in response. Here are excerpts from two:

I’m one of those atheists who Richard A. Shweder says is up in arms these days. Is it because my confidence in Enlightenment thinking is waning, as Mr. Shweder suggests? Actually, it’s the opposite: I’m alarmed that the Enlightenment principles embodied in our Constitution are being compromised, distorted and weakened.

We have a president who is reported to believe that a god is personally talking to him. President Bush wants to operate as a “unitary executive,” with the power to do whatever he wants despite what the law says.


Atheists can prove that Daniel C. Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins wrote their books.

Who can prove that there are books “dictated or co-written by God”? That’s what it’s all about.

Read these here...

LONDON - Physicist Stephen Hawking received the highest award for scientific achievement Thursday for his work in theoretical physics and cosmology.

The Copley medal first was awarded in 1731 by the Royal Society, Britain's elite scientific academy. Previous recipients have included Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur and Capt. James Cook.

Find the full article here...

Evidence of the first known human ritual has been discovered. Another story from MSNBC:

A startling discovery of 70,000-year-old artifacts and a python's head carved of stone appears to represent the first known human rituals.
Scientists had thought human intelligence had not evolved the capacity to perform group rituals until perhaps 40,000 years ago.

But inside a cave in remote hills in Kalahari Desert of Botswana, archeologists found the stone snake that was carved long ago. It is as tall as a man and 20 feet long.

Read this article here...

The shape of politics to come, regarding AIDS? Senator and perhaps presidential contender Barack Obama unites with evangelical pastor Rick Warren to battle AIDS, with Warren especially taking some heat for cooperating with Obama. From the L.A. Times:

Some evangelicals had already criticized Warren for his different approach toward AIDS, which included working with gays. But the speech by the pro-choice potential presidential contender has drawn renewed vitriol from conservative Christian radio hosts and pundits, as well as some evangelical preachers.

"Why would Warren marry the moral equivalency of his pulpit — a sacred piece of honor in evangelical traditions — to the inhumane, sick and sinister evil that Obama has worked for as a legislator?" wrote radio host and blogger Kevin McCullough.

Saddleback Church responded to the criticism with a statement Wednesday defending Obama's appearance at the conference, but also noted Warren's disapproval of some of his political beliefs.

Read the L.A. Times story here...

For those of us who struggle to understand why we belong to a religious organization (I'm an active member of a Unitarian Universalist fellowship), here is a link to a very interesting article by Robert Jensen, University of Texas professor. (Jensen will inaugurate a lecture series, largely funded by many people in my UU fellowship, at Texas Tech University on Jan. 25, 2007; his subject is pornography). The essay was published at Counterpunch, but is available on Jensen's web site:

This past year, after decades of steadfastly avoiding churches of all kinds, I returned to church. Ironically, and completely by coincidence, I returned to a Presbyterian church, the denomination in which I was raised and to which I swore -- in both senses of the term -- I would never return. But return I have, prodigally perhaps, depending on one’s position on various doctrinal issues, which we will get to tonight in due time.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but my early experience with church had been life-threatening: I was bored, nearly to death. For me, growing up in a middle-of-the-road Protestant church in the Midwest, religion seemed a bland and banal approach to life -- literature, politics, and philosophy seemed far more fruitful paths to explore. As I have confessed to my pastor, in my entire life I have cheated on only one test -- the exam to pass confirmation class so I could fulfill that requirement imposed by my parents and be done with the whole enterprise. For that sin, I have neither sought nor been granted absolution.

So, my friends and family were somewhat startled with I joined -- of my own free will, being of sound mind and body -- St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. Some friends gravely warned me to be careful getting mixed up with “the God crowd,” as one put it. Well, it turns out that this decision has gotten me in a bit of trouble, though not in the ways my skeptical friends could have predicted.

Because I do not hold conventional views about the nature of the divine, there’s been some debate about whether or not I am a “real” Christian, a controversy I did not expect when I stood before that congregation in December 2005. Whether I will be allowed to remain a member of St. Andrew’s is currently a subject of deliberation by various bodies within the denomination, another controversy that took me by surprise.

Read the rest of Jensen's essay here...

The Talk of Lawrence