Institutional Religious Control and Why Everyone Should be Afraid of the Hobby Lobby Outcome

I have to admit that being an Atheist in America is a lot less dangerous precisely because encased within the very first amendment of our constitution is a line that sets a definitive ‘wall of separation‘ between church and state, known as the Establishment Clause.  The irony of the Hobby Lobby case is that their claim of institutional religious control is actually as much of an attack against the individual Christian viewpoint as it is an attack against the individual Muslim, Atheist, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist viewpoint.  This is because, as many of us know, not everyone agrees on an individual basis with the institutional tenets the groups we identify with might put forward.  For example, over 80 percent of Catholic individuals according to this pew research poll disagree with the fundamentalist stance of the Catholic Church on access to birth control.  The Catholic Church’s institutional views are also counter to the institutional views of Unitarian Universalists, some methodists and plenty of other ‘liberal’ christians.  There is even a split among Christians when it comes to giving an exemption to specifically religious institutions, which the Hobby Lobby is not.  But not only is there a problem of individual and institutional church disagreement, there is also, as always seems to be the case with people who want religion in government, the fact that those fighting on behalf of Hobby Lobby fail to understand the law of unintended consequences that this case could open.  You might think the fundamentalists would have learned from the recent consequences arising as a result of their last ‘religious liberty’ bill in Louisiana but it seems providing funding for a Sharia Law Indoctrinating School was either wiped clean from their memories or they probably never heard about it.
So lets look at a few examples of some of the consequences that might come about if the Hobby Lobby wins.  For starters, just like in Louisiana this would be a boon for minority religious owners such as those who require prayer over treatment like these people whose second child just died of pneumonia, to start claiming their sincerely held religious beliefs compelled them not to seek treatment.  This case could now open up the door to people who go to churches like Kenneth Copeland Ministries whose irresponsible views on vaccination have already caused an outbreak of measles, to make health decisions for anyone employed by a person at their church.  For Jehovah’s witness owned businesses they might want to take out that portion of your health care that allows for blood transfusions.  The Scientologists may want to refuse to pay for the meds you need for your schizophrenia, based on the idea that they are letting you infect yourself with evil, mind controlling, ancient aliens.  Basically, if this court goes Hobby Lobby’s way, whatever fringe religious group that is out there and happens to own a business you are employed by can start saying what kind of health care you can and can’t use for as long as you work for them.  It may even open up the door to Fundamentalist, Muslim owned institutions trying to require their employees to wear a hijab because now a company owner’s religious views provide for religious exemptions to every U.S. Law (Great job getting Sharia Law into the U.S. Hobby Lobby!).
The huge irony of all of this is that this line of institutional religious control being used to justify taking away people’s individual liberty, isn’t new.  We know that slave owners in the south used their view of the Christian religion for slavery as much as any abolitionist christian used their religion against it.  Are we going to now go back to enslaving humans as a requirement of ‘sincerely held religious beliefs.  After all, the consequences of the south’s institutional liberty meant slave owners could claim human beings as property.  They were considered property precisely because they were not citizens.  The Supreme Court of The United States of America in Dred Scott v Sanford even affirmed slaves as property under a decision whose opinion was written by a Supreme Court Justice named Roger B. Taney, a person who claimed his religion as Roman Catholic.  How long before someone in the south grabs a truck fool of Mexican Immigrants who have no standing in our courts because they aren’t citizens and claims a combination of the Hobby Lobby’s case and the Dredd Scott case to try an justify enslaving them?
On a less dramatic but nonetheless disturbing note, if this goes Hobby Lobby’s way it also opens the door to companies telling an individual how they can or cannot spend the compensation they are provided, which supposedly died long ago with company scrip.  While health care isn’t exactly company scrip you have to spend at the company store it is a benefit that an individual is paid as a part of their compensation.  There is nothing in the law that Hobby Lobby is challenging that says individuals have to use the contraception coverage that is provided without a premium.  There is also nothing in the ACA that says a person who has an objection to any contraception they believe, however erroneously, causes an abortion has to be used.  Therefore, what the company is being asked to do is to pay for it, as a part of the normal compensation all health plans are required to provide, if the individual decides that it is something they wish to use.  This shouldn’t be the companies decision anymore than it is the company’s decision to tell you how you can spend the $9.34 an hour they pay to their cashiers on average.  As surely as company scrip was used as a backdoor way to control it’s worker’s lives during the 1920’s it seems Healthcare is heading toward a backdoor way that company owners can impose their religion on the employees they hire.
Finally, if Hobby Lobby can object to paying for birth control while their 401k plans make investments in companies that manufacture contraceptives, including “the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.”, than a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby would smack of a hypocrisy where it is supposedly wrong for them to pay for contraceptives but perfectly alright for them to make money off others selling them.
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Bill Nye VS Ken Ham: Facing the Truth

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Creation Museum last night where the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham took place.  A friend of mine who is a fellow Navy Veteran and a stay at home dad was able to get five tickets and was kind enough to offer me one.  Although I hate the idea of giving any money to the Creation Museum I also relished in the fact that I would get to see, in person, one of my childhood heroes, Bill Nye, in a nationally recognized debate that millions could only watch from home.
Ticket for Bill Nye VS Ken Ham

Now there were plenty of people out there who criticized Bill Nye for agreeing to do this, including Peter Boghossian And James Lindsay in their piece on the Richard Dawkins foundation website but I completely disagree with them and their arguments.  I do however have a ton of respect and generally agree with a lot of what the Dawkins Foundation and these two people are trying to promote though.  In fact, being Facebook friends with Peter, I would even encourage you to have a look at his page and book “A Manual For Creating Atheists” for some pretty good insights.

I disagreed with people who said Bill Nye shouldn’t debate Ken Ham mainly because I grew up not too far from the Creation Museum in a little town called Milford, Ohio.  There I saw, directly, the influence of men and women like Ken Ham. For example, in middle school I encountered not only one but two SCIENCE teachers who refused to teach anything about evolution because they said it was controversial and unproven*. I continue to see people I grew up with at this school buy into the idea that they are inherently evil for having any feelings of sexuality. I also continue to see people I grew up with buy into the ludicrous idea that the Bible is literal, meaning the universe was made in six days and science isn’t real if it is counter to anything in their literal interpretation of the Bible.

Now you may think, “Wow! Those people are so dumb we should never talk to them because they are just too stupid to know anything!  Hahaha!” but I would counter that sort of thinking on the part of Scientists and people who have the knowledge these people need, is exactly how these people continue to be able to hold beliefs so out of whack with reality even Pat Roberts thinks they are a joke**. Why? Because when ludicrous beliefs remain unchallenged you can’t even get to the state of Cognitive Dissonance. This is precisely because no one they know can show them why that sort of thinking is wrongheaded. Yes, you are not going to win them over with one debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye but what counters cognitive dissonance is conflicting evidence. You start winning them over with conflicting evidence like the ice bubbles that show millions of years of fall, winter, spring and summer cycles. You win them over with evidence like the 9,000 year old tree that wouldn’t have survived a flood 4,000 years ago. You eventually win them over with simple explanations for why 45,000 year old trees could be buried in millions of years old rock. You win them over by showing them the way crime shows like CSI are exactly the kind of “You weren’t there so you can’t know science” that Ken Ham is arguing can’t tell you the truth.

For many people outside of this area of the United States it is easy to dismiss the influence these people have.  It is easy to just say there is no way of convincing these people.  You are wrong though.  While I have seen the above mentioned tragedies’ related to a ‘see no science, hear no science, believe no science’ based outlook on life there are also people I grew up with whom now recognize that the pursuit of truth is much more important than simply believing what they were told growing up.  Just today on a Facebook thread on my page I was happy to read this from a high school classmate:

So, you can say all you want about how these debates are pointless.  It just so happens that it’s doing something, since even the Christian Today Poll showed 92 percent of the people on their Christian oriented site thought Bill Nye won the debate.

*To Learn anything about Evolution I had to borrow my Grandma’s copy of ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ by Richard Dawkins, which was not an easy read at 12.

** You would also understand that they aren’t stupid because many of them hold high level degrees like MBAs, Masters of Accounting, Computer Science and Engineering degrees.  The more likely answer in my humble opinion is compartmentalization and a lack of qualified people willing to challenge them.

See more pictures from my Creation Museum trip below.

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Unlike everyone else in the picture, you could clearly see the faces of those two.
http://www.markecaddo.com

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This is when I first arrived.

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I was wondering why there was no human riding this…
wwww.markecaddo.com

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Does the cafe serve two of everything?
wwww.markecaddo.com

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Yeah, because Raptors would definitely not be devouring that person’s corpse…
http://www.markecaddo.com

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To Be A Jerk or Not Be A Jerk: My Personal Atheist Question

I make an effort not to be a “jerk” but I also recognize that simply stating I am an atheist can be a challenge for people who are dogmatic in their beliefs (Bramson, 1981; Brinkman & Kirshner, 2006), even if they are the ones asking me what my religious views are or what church I attend.

This dialogue can get a little more intense when Christians start to quote cherry-picked bible verses in response to my answer, like the tired old Psalm 14:1, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God…” because it is too easy to reply with, “Yes I am a fool for not believing in a book that says in Psalm 137:9, ‘Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.’”  However, as much as I might like to belittle someone (and sometimes do succumb), I have never found that getting mad and being a “jerk” is conducive to building relationships or moving toward progress.

What I find more effective at both maintaining civility and even possibly convincing people to read their “Holy Book” without the selective verse picking their pastors, parents and other influential people in their lives have taught them to do, is ask thought-provoking questions like, “Ok, since you think that Psalm 14:1 has relevance, what do you think about Jesus saying that you have to hate yourself and your family if you are going to follow him? (Luke 14:26, KJV)” or “What do you think about Jesus telling slaves (and please note that the Hebrew word used here is ebed, which is translated as both slave in some parts and servants in others but nonetheless applies) to follow their masters? (Ephesians 6:5)” and especially if the person is a woman, “What do you think about 1 Timothy 2:12?” and my favorite, “How is it that a God that knows everything did not know that Adam and Eve were going to eat from the Tree of Knowledge when he told them not to?”

I also find that I get a lot better response from people when I answer honestly those questions that are flat out insulting like, “Where do you get your morality with no God?” without resorting to sarcasm or becoming upset.  This is because not only is it a relevant question from their point of view but also there are, unfortunately, people who sincerely have not ever considered that morality might be separate from religion.  They actually think that the second part of Psalm 14:1 is true and that people who don’t believe in God are “…corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good,” because they either haven’t ever met an atheist (that they know of) or in keeping with the cognitive dissonance that everyone struggles with when their views are challenged, their memories of atheists tend to be whatever negative aspect they could latch onto.  Also, regardless of how atheists act they have been bombarded with so many lies like, “Hitler was an atheist,” one really has to work to show them the truth.  See below, the picture of Hitler shaking hands with the Pope if you are a theist reading this:

So, even though it is personally insulting, it is valid from the veil of ignorance by which they have been blinded.

Last, by saying I am not trying to be a jerk about it I am not at all suggesting that some atheists don’t speak up.  I am simply saying that telling someone they are a f***ing religitard and that they need to understand logic and reason before they open their f***ing dumb a** theist mouths does not make that person want to listen to you.  If you want people to listen, you would do better to first understand their perspective and examine ways that convinced you and/or others that belief in gods is silly, and then build the bridge with them.  No one actually changes his or her mind when you are a jerk and if you want people to accept that you are reasonable, you have to actually be reasonable, even when others are not.

*Note: This originally said emphasize.  That was not what I meant to say.

*Updated with editing from Kimberly Koste, 6-5-13.

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How You Are Being Misled About Vaccines

It is very telling to me how far one, so widely, and astonishingly debunked, study can go when people are looking for something to blame for their ‘problems.’   Before I start posting all the links to since taken down Salon Articles, retractions by the very journal that first published the ‘study’ that started the vaccine firestorm and a few other points in this long and sometimes confusing argument, I would like to address Autism itself and people who have Autism.  I personally have had the pleasure to deal with a number of people with Autism through a local nonprofit here in Cincinnati, called Starfire.  The people that I met there were all awesome.  I found most of the people there to be vibrant, funny, and enthusiastic in ways I never understood before I took the time to meet someone with Autism on a personal level.  Most of those people were attempting to live a normal life in a society that tells them, way too many times and way too often, that is something impossible for them.  That is unfair and untrue.  The way that many of them are portrayed is unfair and untrue.  They are not victims and they are not people you should feel sorry for.  They are human beings who deserve respect the same as any human being deserves respect.  They are not some scapegoat for your next conspiracy theory.  They are people you should get to know, if you have the chance, because many of their problems stem from the stigma, not because they are incapable of a lot of the things you think they are.  That’s just my two cents but I hope you will think about it the next time you meet someone who you consider handicapped.  Read on to see how you are being misled about vaccines.

First things first, if you do not know who Andrew Wakefield is, you are missing a big part of the reason you are being told there is a link between Autism and vaccines.  He published a 1998 research paper in the Journal Lancet, with the astonishingly low sample size of 12 kids, all hand-picked by him personally (i.e. Not a random sample like most statistical analysis) and without regard for the various conflicts of interest he had.  Since then, his article has been retracted by the journal that published it and a detailed story about why was written in the New York Times about it (which you can be read by clicking here).  Now, you might think this retraction has to do with some sort of cover-up by Big Pharma, that is what I usually find people believe when I engage in this conversation but the irony of that is always the best part of the discussion.  Two big reasons Andrew Wakefield’s Research paper was retracted are that he failed to reveal that a large part of the cost for the study “…were paid by lawyers for parents seeking to sue vaccine makers for damages” and he “…was also found to have patented in 1997 a measles vaccine that would succeed if the combined vaccine were withdrawn or discredited.” So the irony is that Andrew Wakefield and his friends stood to gain a ton of money if his research proved the link.

There is also more to this story though, Brian Deers and Fiona Godlee from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) actually say what he did was outright fraud, not just negligence.  Finona’s story can be found here and Brian Deers web page outlining the whole thing can be found here.  I don’t know 100 percent if Dr. Wakefield lied, manipulated the data in such a way to make it look like there is a link when there wasn’t one, or any of the other claims but these two make a pretty good case.  The case gets even stronger, when you realize that Dr. Wakefield actually tried to sue both these people and the journal, along with their publishers but the case was dismissed…because you don’t try to sue a journal in England, in a court in Texas (Especially when he could have actually sued in England) unless all you want to do is dish out false outrage for your followers.  Now the BMJ did have a conflict of interest, which they published here (Basically they get advertising revenue from drug companies), you make your own decision on that but please keep in mind, one party has been open about any conflict of interest (BMJ) while the other has denied any conflict.

Moving on from Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the big pushers of the anti-vaccine movement in the U.S. are Generation Rescue and The Huffington Post.  The main pusher of this agenda at The Huffington Post has been David Kirby, joined at least once by Robert Kennedy Jr (Yes the same Robert Kennedy whose 2005 Slate article had to be corrected because “I regret we didn’t move on this more quickly, as evidence continued to emerge debunking the vaccines and autism link,” says former Salon editor in chief Joan Walsh”).  This is actually where things get a little complicated and confusing though, because upon first read of at least one case, David Kirby makes a pretty convincing argument by illustrating the way the Vaccine Court in America doesn’t allow any case that claims there is a link between vaccines and Autism but will admit that, at least in one, specific, case “…the vaccines aggravated a cell disorder [Called Mitochondrial Disease] nobody knew Hannah had, leaving her with permanent brain damage and autistic-like symptoms.” (L. Shaka).  Upon first read of this case I thought I was going to have to hunker down and admit that there is possibly a link between Autism and vaccines…until I looked into the cell disorder that Hannah had.  The thing about the cell disorder is the side effect that was found to have aggravated her cell disorder and which they found was caused by the vaccine is encephalopathy, which can also “…be prevented by vaccines…” according to the CDC’s Mitochondrial Disease FAQ.  This is important for a number of reasons, the least of which is that the cost of not vaccinating is that the cellular disorder can also be aggravated when the person is exposed to the side effect of getting something as simple as the flu or as dangerous as Measles, Mumps, or Rubella, along with the much worse side effects like, you know, personally dying or killing someone else’s kids if it is the latter and not just the former problem of the flu.  Dying isn’t just a small risk though, at least 10 children in California have died because parents have stopped vaccinating for whooping cough based on the fear-mongering against the DTP vaccine.

The irony is that because of the widespread fear of the DTP vaccine (The P stands for Pertussis, which is the scientific name for whooping cough), a less ‘dangerous’ vaccine called the DTaP vaccine is now given, that has less of a possibility for side effects but is also less effective…meaning not only are people at risk now who haven’t gotten the vaccine but even people who have gotten the disease are more susceptible because the vaccine is less effective and the amount of time that vaccine keeps you safe hasn’t been sussed out yet.

Now, it seems that the same thing could start happening with the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine because one of the ingredients used to make this vaccine effective was Thimerasol (Note: There is a correction to this at the bottom of the story), which was removed in 2001, because people like Robert Kennedy Jr. and others put forward the idea that it was dangerous because it had the word mercury associated with it.  The giant irony of that is that there hasn’t been a change in the rise of Autism anywhere the ingredient has been removed which is totally in keeping with findings like Dr. Paul T. Shattuck’s in the Journal Pediatrics whose study concluded, “data do not support the claim of an autism epidemic because the administrative prevalence figures for most states are well below epidemiological estimates. The growing administrative prevalence of autism from 1994 to 2003 was associated with corresponding declines in the usage of other diagnostic categories.”

Frankly, people have been afraid of vaccines since their inception and been trying to find ways to keep them away for a long time.  In fact, when the Small Pox Epidemic was running wild people with dying children had to be forced to vaccinate, according to this NPR story and as a result of these sort of government actions, we no longer have to worry about the small pox virus.  I’m sure people will continue to attempt to find ways to avoid vaccines but I know that I will not.  After reading through a ton of material (all of which I will list at the bottom of this article), I personally have much less of a worry about vaccinating and much more suspicion of the people who are against vaccination.  Most of the so called links are not supported by the science.  Most of the things that are supposedly aggravating cellular disorders are actually just as easily aggravated by getting the things being vaccinated for (And the less people who vaccinate children with this cellular disorder are at risk).  Overall, although there are always risks to any medical procedure, the risk of not vaccinating is much higher to you and your children, as well as other people and other people’s children.  If you want to read more, I have multiple pages of references for you to look through.  If you have anything you think should be added, let me know and if it has something new to bring, I will post it without hesitance.

Journal Retracts 1998 Paper Linking Autism to Vaccines, Brian Gardner, Gardiner Harris, Februrary 2, 2010

Book Is Rallying Resistance to the Antivaccine Crusade, Donald G McNeil Jr, January 12, 2009

Vaccine Excipient & Media Summary, Excipients Included in U.S. Vaccines, by Vaccine, Center For Disease Control, Last Updated February 2012

Demystifying Vaccine Ingredients, Todd W. (Harpocratesspeaks.com), April 5 2012

Mitochondrial Disease – Frequently Asked Questions, Centers For Disease Control, Last updated May 13, 2010

Thimerosal in Vaccines Questions and Answers, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Last updated April 30, 2009

Vaccine Court Awards Millions to Two Children With Autism, David Kirby, January 14, 2013

Thimerosal in Vaccines: What Are the Facts?, Paul A. Offit, MD, December  28, 2012

Thimerosal for Vaccines: AAP Endorses WHO Statement, Larry Hand, Dec 17, 2012

British Medical Council Bars Doctor Who Linked Vaccine With Autism, John F. Burns, May 24, 2010

Neurologic adverse events following vaccination, Sienkiewicz D.*, Kułak W., Okurowska-Zawada B., Paszko-Patej G, Prog Health Sci 2012, Vol 2 , No1

Weekly epidemiological record, World Health Organization, 25 MAY 2012

Robert F. Kennedy Junior’s completely dishonest thimerosal article, Skeptico, Last updated January 16, 2011

Correcting our record, Kerry Lauerman, Slate, January 16, 2011

Salon.com flushes its credibility down the toilet, Orac, June 17, 2005

Swimming through the Thimerasol, Orac, June 18, 2005

Is the Rise in Autism Rates Real?, Steven Novella, January 8, 2009

Three Reasons Not to Believe in an Autism Epidemic, Morton Ann Gernsbacher, Michelle Dawson, and H. Hill Goldsmith, 2005

NINDS Encephalopathy Information Page, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Last updated November 9, 2010

Children With Autism Have Mitochondrial Dysfunction, Study Finds, Science Daily, November 30, 2010

Possible Side-effects from Vaccines, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Last updated August 29, 2012

Mitochondrial dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis, D A Rossignol and R E Frye, Mol Psychiatry, March 2012

Doctor linking MMR vaccine and autism sues critics, Andy Coghlan, 6 January 2012

Andrew Wakefield’s libel suit against Brian Deer: Dismissed!, Orac,  August 4, 2012

Exposed: Andrew Wakefield and the MMR-autism fraud, Brian Deer, 2004-2011

Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent, Fiona Godlee, 6 January 2011

Correction to Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent, Fiona Godlee, 6 January 2011

Banned: doctor who linked MMR vaccine with autism, Andy Coghlan, 24 May 2010

Hannah Poling awarded 1.5 million in vaccine injury case, L. Shaka, September 10, 2010

Study provides evidence for effect of expanded diagnostic criteria on rates of autism, L. Shaka, September 29, 2012

Autism spectrum disorder reclassified: a second look at the 1980s Utah/UCLA Autism Epidemiologic Study, Miller JS, Bilder D, Farley M, Coon H, Pinborough-Zimmerman J, Jenson W, Rice CE, Fombonne E, Pingree CB, Ritvo E, Ritvo RA, McMahon WM., January 2013

Petitioners v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Issued with Redaction: July 23, 2010

If You Vaccinate, Ask 8!, What You Need to Know Before & After Vaccination, National Vaccine Information Center, (No date listed for when it was last updated)

Vaccine Ingredients & Side Effects, Generation Rescue, November 2008

Cindy Oxley and Steven Oxley v. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, United States Claims Court, Filed November 27, 1991

Lassiter vs. US Federal Court, United States Court of Federal Claims, Filed December 17, 1996

Bailey Banks, by his father Kevin Banks v. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Filed July 20, 2007

Vaccine Court: Autism Debate Continues, Robert F. Kennedy and David Kirby, February 24, 2009

The “Vaccine Court”, Generation Rescue, (No date when last updated)

Links to Vaccination Schedules, Generation Rescue, (No date when last updated)

How The ‘Pox’ Epidemic Changed Vaccination Rules, Michael Willrich, April 05, 2011

The Contribution of Diagnostic Substitution to the Growing Administrative Prevalence of Autism in US Special Education, Paul T. Shattuck, PhD, August 18, 2005

*Correction: It has been pointed out to me that according to the CDC: “…measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines do not and never did contain thimerosal.”

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You, Me and My Gun (Part 2)

In part one of You, Me and My Gun, I talked about my personal experience transitioning from someone that was deathly afraid of guns to a person with the same respect but less   fear.  I talked about why I personally don’t find an assault weapons ban to be the answer.  I talked about the serious need for a focus on Mental Health, instead of taking away weapons from otherwise law-abiding citizens.  I also talked about why even if you make something illegal that doesn’t necessarily mean it will fix what is seen as ‘the problem.’

Since then I have read some more arguments and President Obama has put forward his proposal for gun law changes.  In the President’s proposals and in some of the arguments since I wrote You, Me & My Gun, I have seen some things I agree with and others that I think are just the same old propaganda from both sides.  Because of the new information I have gathered though, I feel this topic needs to be looked at again.  So here goes.

For starters let’s talk about the amount of gun deaths.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were 31,672 overall firearm deaths in 2010.  That number by itself is large and unsettling to me but thinking about anyone dying a violent death is unsettling to me.  It is just as unsettling that there were 42,917 deaths by poison and 33,687 deaths because of Motor Vehicle accidents.  What is even more disturbing about the firearm deaths though is that according to the data on Table 10, Page 4 of the CDC’s more in depth look at deaths over 2010, the majority of those gun deaths are from suicide (19,392).  The amount of homicides is 11,078.  This says to me, once again, there is a need to look at mental health and the other factors out here causing this, not the lesser problem of Assault Weapons.

Looking at homicides on the FBI Crime Statistics, the problem of assault weapons looks like even less of a problem than the others.  In fact, if you compare the 367 rifle homicides to deaths by ‘Personal Weapons’ (i.e. fists, hands, feet, etc.) the ‘Personal Weapons’ consistently kill twice as many people.  If you compare rifle deaths to knives or other cutting instruments there are almost five times as many deaths by knives and other cutting instruments.  While it is true that gun deaths overall have the highest number of homicides, the majority of them are handguns (6,115) and as far as I know, there isn’t even one proposal to ban those.  Even if there was a proposal to ban handguns outright though, District of Columbia v. Heller (No. 07-290) prevents that from happening without a constitutional amendment.

With all that said, while comparing the FBI Crime statistics with the CDC numbers I did find something about this fight over guns that disturbed me and that I think needs to be changed.  The numbers between those two agencies *don’t match up.  This could have something to do with the fact that Congress made it clear in the early 2000s that “no federal funds should be used to promote gun control” with the CDC as a specific target.  It could be that each entity’s data collection methods are different.  It could also be that each entity is using different sample methods (Hard to explain if you haven’t taken statistics).  I have to admit that I don’t know.  I do know, that anyone who is attempting to stifle the tracking of gun deaths is wrong without question.  I also know that I am disturbed beyond belief that someone would attempt to block honest research of any topic.  Finally, within President Obama’s proposal, the freedom to examine gun deaths is there and something I agree with.

The other thing that I have come across that disturbs me is the gun show loophole.  Although it may be true that this is an exception only made for private gun sales (It isn’t clear to me at this point if that is true or not) I don’t think anyone should be allowed to sell a weapon to someone else without a thorough background check.  I also think that whenever possible, gun sales should be made through third party professional arms distributors.

I know the above statements may upset those people convinced that the reason they have their guns is in order to protect themselves from ‘The Government’ but that is not something I agree with personally.  I think guns are for personal protection from others who wish you or those you love harm or for hunting.  If you want to have a gun to protect yourself from ‘The Government’ you might want to consider some help with mental health.  Having been a part of ‘The Government’ in both a military capacity and a civilian capacity I can tell you that it is a lot of paperwork, a lot of bureaucratic arguments, and a lot of infighting.  Most of the people with any real power are elected officials and most of those elected officials are more worried about how many people think they are cool, than keeping tabs on your stockpile of food or guns unless you start to show signs you are going to kill people over the fantasy.

*Note: I made a typing error here and initially said that the numbers do match up.  They do not, in fact match up.  The CDC reports 11,078 homicides in 2010 and the FBI Crime Statistics report 13,164.  Thank you to my friend Bob, for pointing this out to me.

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The French-Canadian Girlfriend Fallacy

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I was asked the other night at a get together why I don’t believe in God.  It’s simple, I explained, there is no evidence that any God exists.  Of course, I knew what was going to come next so I wasn’t surprised when he said, “But you can’t disprove God.”  Yes, this is true.  I don’t base beliefs on whether or not things can be dis-proven though and really, other than when it comes to God, I don’t know anyone who does.  There are any number of things that can’t be dis-proven.  That does not in any way mean you should believe them.  In fact, I like to think of this kind of reasoning as the “French-Canadian Girlfriend Fallacy.”

The scenario goes like this.  You run into a random, super-nerdy, awkward, and pimple-faced young adult on the street.  He shows you a picture of a supermodel hot woman that he claims is his girlfriend.  You ask him to introduce you but he explains that she is from a remote part of French-Canada, unreachable at this time of year.  You ask him if they are Facebook friends and he explains she doesn’t have a Facebook.  You ask if she has a phone number and he explains that she is against phones cause they cause cancer and doesn’t speak English even if you could talk to her.  You go through all the ways that you might verify that anything he says is true and in all instances the only thing that can be verified is that his “girlfriend” can’t be verified through any known means.  If you now go by the standard for claims that can’t be disproved, you should go ahead and take on ‘faith’ that he is telling you the truth.

It gets even worse the more it starts to resemble a religion though.  For example, let’s say that he tells you that you can have a hot French-Canadian girlfriend too.  He explains that if you read this 3,000 page book that he has and pray to the French-Canadian Model Goddess, she will bless you with someone just as hot as her.  What?  No, he explains with conviction, “It’s true.”

He then takes you to a ‘church’ where multiple people claim that they were blessed with hot girlfriends they were introduced to over a special internet, only available to the people of their church.  They all have pictures of supermodel beautiful girlfriends, and with the exception of one guy, their girlfriends are all absent.  Their excuses for the absence are also very similar to the first guy you met on the street.

That one male, who is notably more attractive, dressed in much nicer clothes and whose ‘girlfriend’ is wearing a diamond the size of a small African villa, introduces you to his super hot girlfriend.  He claims the 3,000 page book you were given earlier was written by the Prophet Muhummus and it was passed down to him from three generations of holy men with hot girlfriends.  Although he happens to be the only one with a hot girlfriend present, he assures the people there that if they believe hard enough and follow the rules within his…um he meant to say, the Prophet’s book, their ‘girlfriends’ will be there to meet them soon.  He ends by passing around a basket for donations so that they can continue to search for their girlfriends, who you now find out, were taken by the demon Baal but can be brought back if they raise enough money and spread the word to enough people.

Starting to sound like a scam?  Keep this in mind.  You cannot disprove any of their claims.  Their girlfriends are not verifiable but they deeply believe they exist.  The existence of the Demon Baal is supposedly proven by their girlfriends’ absence, who they also deeply believe exist.  The passages of the 3,000 page book claim they have millions of witnesses to numerous miracles.  Within the book, the Prophet describes miracles at places like Alert, Nunavut, Canada, and even a supposed connection to the Mayans, as is evident from the words on page 316, “The star people, found at the southern most tip will lead you through time.”

Now, if you are thoroughly convinced this is a bunch of made up crap.  (Hint: It is.  I am making it up).  Stop and please take the time to really think about this scenario.  Try applying the same sort of logic and scrutiny you are using now to any religious claim that cannot be disproved.  Think about how disturbed you might be if these people not only made these claims but were influencing American politicians to send people to them for advice and help rebuilding their lives after some sort of tragedy.  What if they were the majority?  Would you be more apt to believe them?  What if they were part of your family?

Also, think about this.  Supposedly, according to the bible, miracles from God used to be the norm before we could record things, put them on the internet or in any way objectively verify them.  For example, when God came and asked Moses to be the savior of his people, Moses replied, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” (Exodus 4:1)  God then goes on to bestow upon Moses things to prove God appeared to him.  Like the ability to turn his staff into a snake, changing his hand from being Leprous to not being Leprous, and turning water from the Nile into blood when he dropped it on the ground (Exodus 4:2-9).  Of course, Jesus is also supposed to have done all kinds of miracles like curing the blind (Mark 8:22-25), curing Lepers (Matthew 8:1-4), and raising the dead (John 11:42-44)  to prove he was the son of God.

So, if any of it is real, why should you have to believe it just because it can’t be dis-proven?  If it took miracles to prove it was real before, why are we now forced to believe on faith?  What do you think?  Leave a comment below so I can read about it.

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Is The Battle Intelligence vs Religion?

Finger Mustache Man

No.  It’s very easy to say that someone is religious because they are dumb or they lack intelligence but it is obviously wrong when you consider the varying intelligence of both Atheists and Theists alike.  Really, questioning someone’s intelligence just means you don’t have to acknowledge that there are other people out there with a different view, with your same level of intelligence or more, who have come to a different conclusion.  It means you don’t have to acknowledge that you might be wrong.  It takes a group of people who might have treated you badly and gives an easy explanation for why they did it, that demeans them in a way that they might have demeaned you.  However good it feels though, what matters is whether or not any of it is true.  Because at the end of the day, if you want to show why your position is the most correct one, you have to know what the person you are speaking with is going through.

So let’s be honest, life isn’t simple and as someone who was, albeit briefly, a ‘believer’ in Christianity I know it wasn’t because I suddenly became dumber.  If we are going to be honest, it was because friends and girlfriends were repeatedly feeling alienated by my view on religion and they didn’t like hearing the sort of complicated questions I felt obligated to ask because of my position.  So because I wanted to remain a part of the group that included lots of friends and a lot of very pretty girlfriends and even a possible future in Politics, I told myself that I believed it, even though I didn’t. I know that this happens to lots of fellow Atheist’s who remain anonymous in one way or another and some who even have to argue publicly for religion while their doubts and questions are just as strong as mine, without ever being spoken out loud.  I’ve heard Teresa MacBain, who I recently watched on episode 780 of the Atheist Experience express something similar to this when she talked about being a preacher while also being a closeted Atheist.

As far as when I started to acknowledge I was an atheist.  It didn’t have anything to do with my intelligence either.  It was my desire for real answers that drove me to even read the bible in the first place.  After that, it became my dissatisfaction with what I was reading and observing in reality versus what I was told about Christianity that led to my questioning of it and looking toward other religions like Buddhism, Taoism, Animism, Islam and Spiritualism.  I can’t really pinpoint the straw that broke the camel’s back but time and time again over the nearly 20 years I’ve been looking for the truth, the constant lack of evidence, appeals to ignorance, science denial, quote mining by so many Theologians I have engaged with and easily refuted Pascal’s Wager style arguments for any God or any religion, have convinced and continue to convince me that although I can’t disprove a god, or any religion, or Carl Sagan’s cosmic teapot, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc. there is no good reason for me to believe any of those things exist.

After being a Christian though things got a lot harder than I expected.  It became hard because if I really wanted the truth above anything, I not only had to truly investigate but I also had to be willing to suffer the consequences if the answers I got were counter to what my current friends, my current girlfriend and other social contacts might want.  Today it may not be as bad as it was ten years ago but it is still one of the most difficult parts of admitting your view on religion when you start to realize how egregiously hateful some people can be once they realize you are an Atheist, especially when you are affiliated with either side of the two main political parties.

On the other side of the coin though, if I am going to continue to remain honest I have to remain open to the evidence and the possible consequences of claiming the title of Atheist while fully admitting that my view could change.  And it could easily change, regardless of mine or anyone else’s intelligence, regardless of logical arguments, and regardless of anything I do or don’t want to believe.  It could change if an actual being that knew me the same as the Bible claims God knows his creations (Matthew 6:8) or some other god with similar qualities, would provide the evidence it knows would convince me.

For someone else though, if I am trying to convince them of the truth about religion their standard for evidence is a much lower standard because of the social consequences of not believing.  The fact that anyone needs ‘faith’ to believe in something that supposedly performs miracles, knows you better than you know yourself, and reveals itself in every church on every Sunday throughout the year is ridiculous to me now but after having it pounded into you by everyone you trust from childhood on and having sometimes life-changing consequences if you admit you don’t believe it, any non-theist should realize what is really at play here before you start throwing out words like dumb and ignorant.

What is at play are people with a real world vested interest.  Once enough of the pressure is applied to certain people at the properly vulnerable time, they can be convinced to tell themselves that what they believe is valid through what seems like real evidence, once you believe it is.  Although, yes, it is obviously circular, it has nothing to do with the evidence itself.  It has to do with a new religious person, with newly found and very accepting peers among the church as long as that person continues to profess belief.  These same people then start to tell a person what is true the more invested they become and generally start to alienate the person, if they start to question in not so subtle ways like dedicating a sermon to answering their questions, or telling the church there is a doubter among them, and many other embarrassing ways.

Pile on top of all the other local, and immediate social pressure, the societal pressure from the fact that there are giant organizations, making millions upon millions of dollars, with influence in politics.  Who have money and are often given special access to help people when they are down and the most vulnerable.  That are embedded into practically every popular culture story.  That are, in general, given a sort of tyrannical power through religion that you can only gain through religion that draws people who crave power and you should start to see why people who are more than reasonably intelligent (even highly intelligent people like doctors, scientists, etc.) can be convinced that their religion is the correct one and so is their God.

It’s also the reason why the various forms of Pascal’s Wager style arguments are what people site and not evidence.  ‘Faith’ skips evidence altogether and appeals to what you want to be true, regardless of evidence, intelligence, or any sort of genuine truth.

So, is the battle intelligence vs religion?  No, it’s much more complicated than that and I have barely touched the surface.  I’m curious to hear what you think though, so please let me know in the comments section.

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