Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason
Sean Faircloth served five terms in the Maine Legislature. Faircloth served on the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees. In his last term Faircloth was elected Majority Whip by his colleagues.
An accomplished legislator, Faircloth successfully spearheaded over thirty laws, including the so-called Deadbeat Dad child support law which saved Maine taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and was later incorporated into federal law. Faircloth had numerous legislative successes in children’s issues and justice system reform.
In two years as Executive Director of Secular Coalition for America, Faircloth conceived and led the Secular Decade plan, a specific strategic vision for resecularizing American government. Faircloth writes about his ten point vision of a Secular American government in his book Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What to Do About It.
Faircloth earned a reputation for strategic thinking, innovative ideas, and speaking to groups in a way that energized them to support the secular cause.
As Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason, Faircloth will expand his strategic efforts on behalf of the entire secular movement, speak regarding policy issues, discuss the ideas in his book, and seek innovative ways to improve the secular movement. Faircloth has spoken around the United States about separation of church and state, the Constitution, children’s policy, obesity policy, and sex crime law. Faircloth chaired a Commission on sex crime law reform which led to substantive improvement in that area of law. Faircloth chaired an early childhood commission, as well as a Commission regarding the citizen initiative process.
In Maine Faircloth also had the idea for the Maine Discovery Museum and led the four-year project from concept to completion in 2001. Maine Discovery Museum was then the second largest children’s museum outside Boston of the twenty-five children’s museums in New England. Faircloth graduated from the University of Notre Dame and has a law degree from University of California Hastings College of the Law. Faircloth served as a state Assistant Attorney General, and as a lobbyist for the state bar association.
- A New Way of Thinking — Faircloth Interview – - – Point of Inquiry (richarddawkins.net)
- Q&A, Sean Faircloth on Secular Strategy, Romney & the Religious Right – Sean Faircloth – RichardDawkins.net (richarddawkins.net)
- [UPDATE 10-Feb - video Chapter 7] Sean Faircloth discusses his new book Attack of the Theocrats – Sean Faircloth – Pitchstone Publishing (richarddawkins.net)
- Attack of the Theocrats!: A Review and an Interview with Author Sean Faircloth (patheos.com)
- Universal Tolerance (atheistethicist.blogspot.com)
- Religious Bias in Public Schools (atheistethicist.blogspot.com)
Why Government Becomes the Scapegoat
“The biggest problem with scapegoating government is that it makes it much harder to solve our pressing social and economic problems.”
Conservatives and business like to blame government for most of the problems in society. They must scapegoat government in order to distract public attention from the real causes of many of our social and economic problems.
In the summer of 2011, the U.S. economy was still suffering from the lingering effects of the Great Recession that began in 2008. Economic growth was anemic, a double dip recession was a very real possibility, and unemployment remained disturbingly high. While serious analysts debated about how to best revive the economy, Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives came up with a novel approach to this problem: they passed a bill that curtailed thirty-nine environmental regulations. As Rep. Mike Simpson explained: “Many of us believe that overregulation by the EPA is at the heart of our stalled economy.”1 Not be be outdone, Rep. Michelle Bachmann came up with her own pet theory about how the government had to be the cause of our economic woes. She announced that health care reform was the reason we had such high unemployment. She seemed to forget that the major components of that bill were not scheduled to take effect for several years.
These examples of bizarre reasoning should really have surprised no one. They are typical of what has become an ongoing and central political strategy of anti-government conservatives: to blame the government for just about every problem we have as a society. This idea has always been popular in conservative circles, but it received a major boost from Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural addressed in which he famously quipped that “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” It was an argument that resonated deeply with most conservatives, and they have engaged in a continuous campaign to make the government the scapegoat for virtually all of society’s ills.
- Jared Bernstein: Why the Economic ‘Uncertainty’ Line Is Shovel-Ready Nonsense (huffingtonpost.com)
Imagine a new idea as vital as democracy.
Imagine a new idea as vital as democracy. Now imagine helping it spread quickly throughout the world! Child Honouring is one such idea, an idea whose time has come.
We invite you to be a part of the global movement that views honouring children as the best way to create sustainable, peacemaking societies.
The Centre for Child Honouring – on Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada – is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing Child Honouring as a universal ethic, an organizing principle for societal transformation.
Child Honouring is a unique social change revolution, one with the child at its heart. It is a positive vision that stresses “the primacy of early years” as key to activating the powerful potential of our species.
Supporting the Earth Charter and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, A Covenant for Honouring Children is a poetic declaration of our duty to respect children, “to honour their caring ideals as the heart of being human”.
The Child Honouring principles offer a guide for living as conscious beings. They constitute the basis for a multi-faith consensus on societal renewal.
At this critical point in human history, we invite you to join the Centre’s work to co-create a vast change in the human paradigm.
Lebanese Youth to Bring Down Confessional System
Protests sweeping the Middle East have given new impetus to Lebanese youths who have launched their own revolt on Facebook in a bid — albeit improbable — to bring down Lebanon’s confessional system.
Using slogans popularized by protesters in Tunisia and Egypt, several pages urging the Lebanese to bring down the Mediterranean country’s confessional “regime” or calling for a “day of wrath” against confessionalism, corruption and poverty have appeared recently on the social networking site.
“Lebanese youths, rise up against the oppression of this regime,” writes Mahmoud al-Khatib on www.facebook.com/lebrevolution, which has attracted more than 10,000 friends.
But observers and those behind the initiative say they are well aware that changing the system, in which most government and other posts are attributed according to religion rather than merit, will be a hard-won battle.
“The Lebanese are always boasting about their freedom and democracy as compared to other Arab countries,” said Hassan Chouman, a 24-year-old computer analyst in favor of change.
“But Arab countries each have one dictator whereas we have at least seven or eight,” he added, referring to the political leaders that rule in Lebanon and who represent the country’s various Christian and Muslim communities.
Contrary to other countries in the Middle East, Lebanon’s system of government is rooted in a 1943 power-sharing agreement adopted after the country won its independence from France.
Aimed at maintaining a balance between the 18 religious sects, the agreement calls for the president to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister to be a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.
Other government jobs are also allocated according to religious affiliation.
“In Lebanon, competence doesn’t stand for much,” said Ghassan al-Azzi, political science professor at Lebanese University. “The leader of each community appoints members of his clan to top posts which renders our public administration rotten.”
And changing such a system is a bigger challenge than bringing down a dictator, he said.
“Here in Lebanon, if you hold street protests, it is not clear who it would target, which institution, which group. There is nothing tangible,” Azzi added.
Religion plays such a major part in all aspects of Lebanese society that even secular politicians are forced to join the system if they wish to survive, he noted.
One Facebook message put it bluntly: “This movement is bound to fail unless each confession brings down its own leader,” it said.
Antoine Messarra, a member of the Constitutional Council, said change will not come through a revolution in Lebanon but rather step by step, through education and better ties between the state and its citizens.
“We shouldn’t settle for promises but must address the problem methodically,” he said.
But for some, the current wave of upheaval in the Arab world is reason to hope that change is possible, despite deep divisions in the country pitting a pro-Western camp against a Hezbollah bloc backed by Iran and Syria.
“The lesson to be drawn from the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia is that we must put aside all our differences in favor of a common objective,” said Abu Reem, 39, administrator of the Facebook page titled “the Lebanese people want to bring down the confessional system.”
He said an open meeting would be held on March 6 in Beirut to plot out the next move after his page garnered more than 10,000 admirers.
“Nothing is impossible, even if it’s a long road ahead,” Abu Reem said.(AFP)
- Lebanese On Facebook Seek Change, Not Revolution (allfacebook.com)
- Hundreds protest Lebanon’s ‘sectarian’ government (sfgate.com)
- Hundreds protest Lebanon’s ‘sectarian’ government (foxnews.com)
- Hundreds protest Lebanon’s ‘sectarian’ government (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- “Beirut – Hundreds Protest Lebanon’s ‘sectarian’ Government” and related posts (vosizneias.com)
- A Tour of Lebanon: A Quick Overview of The Nation of Lebanon, Plus a Recipe for Hommus as Lagniappe (trifter.com)
Have our minds become wrecks?
“I am satisfied the good sense of the people is the strongest army our government can ever have, and that it will not fail them.” –Thomas Jefferson to William Carmichael, 1786. ME 6:31
“We believed that men, enjoying in ease and security the full fruits of their own industry, enlisted by all their interests on the side of law and order, habituated to think for themselves and to follow their reason as their guide, would be more easily and safely governed than with minds nourished in error and vitiated and debased… by ignorance, indigence and oppression.” –Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson, 1823. ME 15:441
“This blessed country of free inquiry and belief has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests.” –Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse, 1822. ME 15:385
“Truth and reason are eternal. They have prevailed. And they will eternally prevail; however, in times and places they may be overborne for a while by violence, military, civil, or ecclesiastical.” –Thomas Jefferson to Rev. Samuel Knox, 1810. ME 12:360
“Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Smith, 1822. ME 15:409
“I have so much confidence in the good sense of man, and his qualifications for self-government, that I am never afraid of the issue where reason is left free to exert her force.” –Thomas Jefferson to Comte Diodati, 1789. Papers 15:326
However, religious entities have historically fought vigorously against reason. To succeed they developed many direct and indirect tactics to discredit reason.
Blogger Ebon Musings writes how religion fights rational thought:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
–Proverbs 3:5 (KJV)
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…”
–2 Corinthians 10:5 (KJV)“The Bible is preserved, reliable, and true because of the nature of its Author. It should be believed over observation and evidence.”
–Kurt Wise, Faith, Form, and Time, p.26. Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN, 2002.
“Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter, not vice versa.”
–William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, p. 36. Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1994 (revised edition).
“If the conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”
–Tom Porch and Brad Batdorf, Biology for Christian Schools (3rd edition). BJU Press, 2004. Available online at BJU Press.
“By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.”
–From Answers in Genesis’ “Statement of Faith” (available online at http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/about/faith.asp)
“To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it…”
–Ignatius of Loyola, “Spiritual Exercises” (available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/ignatius/exercises.html)
“After ten years (in prison in Siberia), [Dostoevsky] emerged from exile with unshakable Christian convictions, as expressed in one famous passage, ‘If anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth… then I would prefer to remain with Christ than with the truth.’”
–Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 141. Zondervan Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995.
The last, most pernicious and most powerful meme used by religions to control the thoughts of their followers is the belief that a person’s faith takes priority over the facts of the external world when it comes to deciding what is true. This belief lies at the heart of most religions and could justifiably be considered the defining characteristic that sets them apart from all other systems of thought. And although not all religious individuals or groups would state this as plainly as the above quotes illuminate, it is present nevertheless.
Consider the message that these statements convey. The first three, from Christian apologists Kurt Wise and William Lane Craig and a biology textbook used in some Christian schools, state that the authors’ version of Christianity should be believed over any evidence a believer might see or any arguments they might hear – in short, that facts, reason and logic are ultimately unimportant when it comes to deciding what is true. The fourth quote, from the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, declares that any evidence that contradicts their interpretation of the Bible is by definition invalid – as if the very concept of truth, in these creationists’ minds, was redefined to read, “Truth, noun: See ‘Bible’”. And the last two excerpts go even farther: the quote from Ignatius of Loyola instructs believers to disregard even the evidence of their own eyes if it contradicts what they have been taught to believe, while the one from Dostoevsky states that he would not give up his religious beliefs even if they could be shown to be false. This message is cleverly reinforced in the Bible and other holy books by stories such as Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, Daniel in the lion’s den, or David and Goliath – all of which convey the message that the impossible can and will happen if only one keeps the faith and does not doubt God.
And this distorted dogmatic way of slavish thinking is dutifully passed from parent to child down through the generations. Should there be any doubt that this is the source of so much bigotry, stupidity, and ignorance in our society? Imagine any other group of people deliberately disabusing children from using evidence and logic in their lives. There would be loud protests and demands that it stop. But religion, that is different. Almost any harmful practice the clerics care to foist on children gets a pass.
We are a country ruled by citizens that the founders envisioned as educated and engaged. Is that what we see now when kids cannot identify the three branches of our government, but can name the judges on American Idol? Why did civics get cut from the curriculum in so many schools? Who allowed unregulated sham home schools to sequester one million kids and subject them to lies about our history and gross distortions of science, principally evolution, but geology, anthropology and many others.
- Debunking Beck University [Dispatches from the Culture Wars] (scienceblogs.com)
Abuses Against Children Persist Despite Rights Convention
By Lisa Schlein
08 October 2009
Child rights advocates have kicked off more than a month of global activities leading up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on November 20, 1989, is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty. Every country in the world, except the United States and Somalia, has ratified it.
Before the Convention on the Rights of the Child came into force in 1989, most of the world thought children should be seen and not heard. Now, 20 years later, some of their voices are being heard, but their rights continue to be violated.
“I believe every child has the right to feel safe, protected from armed conflict, abuse, child labor, trafficking, exploitation. It is really very simple. No child should have to suffer at the hands of others. Not one,” says UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Hollywood actress, Mia Farrow, who has been fighting for the rights of children for years.
Senator Barbara Boxer and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are moving to accomplish US Senate ratification of the UN CRC. Political analysts say there are votes in the Senate to accomplish ratification, but it may be a tough battle given the unmitigated opposition by fringe partisans who seemingly speak for the Republican party these days. The preposterous lies and distortions they are spreading about the convention are beyond the pale.
Ratification is merely the first step. The difficult challenge will come when state and federal laws will have to be adapted to the requirements of the convention. One obstacle is the prohibition of executing minors which is legal in Texas. Corporal punishment is still legal in 20 states even though there is consensus by child development experts that this reprehensible practice is counter productive. Over 60 nations have made it a crime to strike a child. We must govern ourselves by reason not dogma.
The UN CRC is not just about child soldiers in Africa or elsewhere, or the trafficking of children for illicit purposes. Approximately 9,000,000 American children suffered abuse or neglect in a recent year where data is available.
The Republican religious fringe must not be permitted to seize control of our national debate like they did with health care reform. Shout them down and shut them up, they have no legitimate standing.
“Folks, this is scary stuff! Big Brother (Governments) want to take over our rights as parents and have children tell us what to do! The devil loves to twist around the natural order that Almighty God has made, we are in dark times!”
– Deacon John
Quoted from the web site: http://deaconforlife.blogspot.com/2009/06/childs-rights-forces-mobilize.html
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- Children’s Bill of Religious Rights (endhereditaryreligion.com)
- Children have the right to information (endhereditaryreligion.com)
- Parents’ Rights Amendment Reaches 120 Co-Sponsors (deaconforlife.blogspot.com)
- BILL S-207 and the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children (endhereditaryreligion.com)
Blasphemy day — a new tradition
The following is a gift from my facebook friend, Torbjorn Nordhagen
A Life of Blasphemy or, My Thoughts on International Blasphemy Day
Yesterday at 8:58pm
Tomorrow, September 30, 2009, is International Blasphemy Day. The date was chosen to mark the four-year anniversary of the Muslim “Danish cartoon riots.” Rather than merely fire off another one of my pithy facebook status updates (although I reserve the right to do this as well), I thought I’d write down a few of my thoughts on the event itself and my own feelings on it.
From the official site: “International Blasphemy Day is not just a day. It is a movement to dismantle the wall which exists between religion and criticism.”
My guess is that almost anyone reading this note knows something of my background: raised Evangelical Christian, went through a protracted and very painful period of deconversion from late 2003 to mid-2005. I’ve long maintained the line touted by such “new atheist” luminaries as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that religion should be subject to criticism. In all honesty, I’ve wrestled with formulating my own position on this: how to be candid and honest about one’s opinions while still maintaining cordial and amicable relations with friends and family members who are of faith. And yes, at times I was rather leery of the “new atheist” movement.
Today, however, I am a proud “new” atheist. Having come to my views through no small struggle I hold that freethought and religious skepticism is precious. It is a blood-bought treasure of Western civilization. Consider this: at the time of the American Revolution, Maryland had an anti-blasphemy statute. If you spoke blasphemy against the Holy Trinity three times (the magic number, three) and were of sound mind, the sentence was death without benefit of clergy. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The bloody history of the suppression of religious dissent is well-known and needs little elaborating, but here we go anyway:
The Medieval Inquisition was instituted in the early 13th century (if memory serves) by Pope Innocent III for the purpose of persecuting “heretics.” The focus was southern Europe, where trade across the Mediterranean had engendered the rise of the Cathari in southern France (also known as the Albigensians). The heinous Albigensian Crusade down the Rhone and into northern Italy was the result.
The European Witch Craze began in the late 15th century and raged throughout the sixteenth, mostly in northern Europe–especially the “Holy” Roman Empire (modern-day Germany) and Scotland. Around the same time that the Spanish Inquisition revived the bloodshed and madness in Spain (and then Portugal, and it spread from both places–even to Goa and Malabar with the Portuguese). The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 came at the very tail end of the appalling affront to human dignity. The vast majority of the victims of the Witch Craze were women. The Inquisition in Spain targeted Jews and conversos, derisively known as “Marranos” (pigs)–Jews who had converted to Catholicism to escape persecution. Spain’s remnant Muslim population was also not exempt. The Portuguese targeted Jews in Portugal and “heretic” Christians of the Syrian Church in India.
These are only two particularly notorious historic examples. Today, Ireland has a blasphemy law, as does Afghanistan–proof positive that the medieval streak runs deep in both Catholicism and Islam alike.
But hang on, friends, because we haven’t even got to the meat of the argument yet. And for that, we must consider the source: the sacra, the canonical texts of the religions themselves. For purposes of brevity and salience I will confine my remarks to Christianity, as I am less familiar with Islam’s sacra for obvious reasons (never having been a Muslim).
You see, the barbaric and medieval notion currently enshrined in the jurisprudence of the Republic of Ireland has its source solidly in the Bible itself. I am referring, of course, to the Unpardonable Sin. In the words attributed to Christ:
28 “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29 but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— 30 because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
~Mark 3:28-30, NKJV.
10 “And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.
~Luke 12:10, NKJV.
But what does it MEAN to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? The pastoral opinion regnant in most circles (to my knowledge) is that “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” is the rejection of the Gospel–the perpetual, ongoing, ultimate rejection of the work and mission of the Holy Spirit.
Whether you accept this definition or take the passages in question at slightly more face value and maintain that this means a verbal denunciation of the Holy Spirit, the mentality that this doctrine engenders and its ramifications are very clear and, for me as a skeptic, extremely noxious. Whatever interpretation you adopt, you are still left with an explicit doctrine of the sacred that precludes criticism–or at the very least, criticism beyond a certain point. In other words, these passages are the heart and soul of the anti-dissent doctrine in Christianity.
However I would submit to you, dear readers, that even discarding these passages–supposing for a moment that they were never written, or were found to be apocryphal in some way–that the problem remains. And the problem goes deeper than Christianity, to encompass certainly all of the three major monotheistic religions. The reason is simple: in Christopher Hitchens’s words, all of these religions enshrine a doctrine of god as Celestial Dictator, a kind of Divine Big Brother who monitors your every thought, word and deed–and finds you wanting. He can and does convict you of “thought-crime”–at least in Christianity. In Judaism and in Islam he demands a series of ritual observances and practices–certainly far more than in most Christian denominations.
Hitchens goes so far as to liken at least the Christian god to North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung, the “Great Leader,” and his son Kim Jong-il, the “Dear Leader”: both of which have been deified through Kim Il-Sung’s elaborate personality cult. North Korea, like the Abrahamic religions, extensively monitors the actions and deeds (they’re not quite up to the level of sophisticated thought-surveillance, to be fair, but watch out) of its citizens. Dissenters are silenced. There are slave-labor camps for not only dissenters but FAMILIES of dissenters and escapees. Indeed, the parallels are positively chilling.
And what is the ultimate fate of dissenters and blasphemers? While in North Korea the government has absolute power over its citizenry only in life, the god of the Bible and the Qu’ran has no such limitations. The Qu’ran speaks of the “fire whose fuel is men and stones.” I’m rather more familiar with the Bible’s stance:
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
~Matthew 10:28, NKJV.
[In the words of John of Patmos]:
15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
~Revelation 20:15, NKJV.
8 But the cowardly, unbelieving,[a] abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
~Revelation 21:8, NKJV.
There you have it: by failing to accept the gift of salvation offered by the meek-and-mild savior, those of us who do not believe merit eternal perdition. So much for a loving god. The first conclusion that I draw from this is that it is religious morality that is fundamentally immoral, not atheistic morality. Secondly, dear readers, I propose that under this system those of us who do not believe are ALREADY COMMITTING BLASPHEMY. There is NOTHING that we can say, do, write or depict tomorrow or any other day which can further compound the blasphemy of our very lives of unbelief under such a system.
I am all for an International Blasphemy Day. But we must use it as a reminder of the true scope and scale of blasphemy. We must remember that blasphemy does not solely consist of pithy and humorous slogans and witticisms, of provocative pictures and images. There is no need to state “I deny the Holy Spirit” when our very LIVES are lived in denial of the EXISTENCE of the same!
So tomorrow, if you wake up in a time and place in history where you have the freedom to criticize the prevalent religion in your society if you so choose–be very thankful and be very humble. I don’t care if you’re a theist, atheist or whatever–free speech is precious. Dissent is precious.
And happy International Blasphemy Day, to believers and unbelievers alike! Remember, even if you ARE a believer, you’re not exempt–there will always be other believers of other sects and religions who find you a heretic or unbeliever in your own right.
Cheers, all, ~Tor
Note: The illustration is a portion of manuscript, which is identified by Wiki as Armenian and contains the passage from Mark concerning blasphemy.
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