Monday, May 25, 2020
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In England, a New Law Makes All Adults Organ Donors Unless They Say Otherwise | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist

Thanks to a welcome change in the law, England has adopted an organ donation system that presumes you’re an organ donor unless you or a loved one say otherwise.

The sensible change, which goes into effect today, will inevitably save lives. As it stands, while 80% of adults in the country say they would consider organ donation, only 40% have taken the steps to sign up as donors. In Wales, where a similar law has been in effect since 2015, donation rates are an astonishing 75%. The new law will cut down on transplant waiting times and help bridge the gap between those who need organs and those able to donate. It does not apply to children, people visiting the country, or anyone lacking mental capacity.

The law is called Max and Keira’s law, after a boy whose life was saved when he received the heart of a nine-year-old girl who died in a car crash.

Family consent will still be required for organs or tissues to be retrieved, both out of consideration for the family, and to make sure additional relevant information is gathered.

While conspiracy theories abound about supposed organ harvesting and doctors willing to let you die because your organs are needed more than you, the opposition to this kind of bill tends to focus on how people oppose “government control” of their bodies after death.

Though when you’re dead, who the hell cares? Refusing to be an organ donor is a selfish act. If you can help someone else when you’re gone, and you explicitly choose not to, what the hell are you thinking?

Humanists UK welcomed the change, as they’ve been campaigning for it for years. It’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, “The new, evidence-led opt-out law provides a more humane and rational approach for the 21st century which will save countless lives. For humanists, who don’t believe in an afterlife, there can be no better legacy.”

At least England won’t need to run ads like this to get people to do the right thing.

(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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What Has the Resistance Accomplished?

karate stance

Offline, atheism is probably still my least popular position. That may largely be a function of where I live. Online, things are very different. I no longer think that atheism is my least popular or most controversial position. Something has replaced it, although I am hesitant to characterize the replacement as an opinion. It is more of a suspicion or a doubt, as I am not sure enough about it to label it as anything more. Here it is: I’m not sure that the anti-Trump movement widely known as “the resistance” has been particularly helpful. I am not sure it has accomplished much, and I fear that some of it has even been counterproductive in some important ways.

I have no difficulty understanding why “the resistance” has been appealing. I don’t like Trump either, and I didn’t like how President Obama was treated by many on the political right. The notion of treating their guy like they treated our guy is appealing in a child-on-the-playground sort of way. I get why it would be an attractive approach to so many. After all, treating others poorly while avoiding the guilt this would usually provoke and even getting to feel self-righteous about it is something many seem to cherish.

At the same time, I recognize that just because something can produce positive feelings in the short-term does not mean it is effective in accomplishing anything useful in the long-term. Religion would be one example of this, but I suspect “the resistance” may be another. We won’t know whether the anti-Trump resistance will be able to generate the sort of voter turnout that will be needed to defeat him in 2020 (or whenever we have the next presidential election). If it does, then perhaps it will have been worthwhile. In the meantime, I can only note that the efforts to resist have not seemed to stop Trump from doing most of what he wants to do.

I think it could be argued that “the resistance” has provided those who are part of it with a sense of community or shared purpose. They’ve been able to unite, at least to some degree, based on their shared hatred of Trump. The question is whether this can be valuable even if it has not produced results. I think it probably can, but I believe that having few tangible results makes it harder to see how. I also wonder about those who seem to define themselves almost solely by their membership in this resistance. I am aware that what I am seeing is just their social media personality and not the real them, but this still seems awfully limited (not unlike atheism).

Maybe the real question should be how we ought to define accomplishment or measure progress. If the resistance exists primarily to make Trump’s life a little more difficult and to show the world that we are far from united behind him, then it has clearly accomplished that. If it exists primarily as true political opposition, it seems to have achieved few victories so far. How should we evaluate what this movement has accomplished?

The United States feels hopelessly and irrevocably divided today; however, I can’t blame that on Trump or those who say they are resisting him. The divisions were there long before Trump. They were there long before President Obama too. Still, I think it would be fair to say that we saw them get much worse under Obama and worse yet during Trump’s first term. It once seemed like we knew how to use reason but often preferred not to do so; it now seems like many have abandoned reason entirely.

Remember how much of the United States came together, however briefly, in the aftermath of 9/11? I know it did not last long, but there was at least a brief sense that we were all in this together and that we were going to support one another against an external threat. I see very little of that today as we face an even greater threat in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe we will find it as the body count climbs, but it isn’t looking good so far.

The resistance isn’t the problem here, at least not directly. The problem is the division and the tribalism. To the degree that the resistance has fueled this, it becomes “part of the problem,” to borrow a phrase some favor. The same is true for the other side (i.e., Trump’s side). Divided we fall. So let’s not fall.

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Secular World – May 2020 – Atheist Alliance International


Secular World – May 2020 – Atheist Alliance International

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Tell the Government Not to Waste More Money on Abstinence-Only Education!

Washington, D.C.—The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has proposed launching a biased data collection project called IDEAS intended to generate “evidence” to support primarily religious, abstinence-only programs. 

Abstinence-only programs are unethical, promote misinformation, fear, gender stereotypes, and shaming tactics, and leave out important aspects of comprehensive sex education. 

After more than $2 billion over the past three decades wasted by the government on abstinence-only programs, we already know they are ineffective in delaying sexual initiation, in reducing unwanted pregnancy, and in changing sexual risk behavior among youth.

Because the federal government already collects data on the efficacy of sex education programs, ACF’s new efforts are even more wasteful and unnecessary.

Please write to ACF now and tell them not to waste your taxpayer dollars on this biased data collection. They should instead focus on providing comprehensive sex education for young people.

We need as many people as possible to take action and to tell ACF that this propagandistic survey is not acceptable, by the deadline of June 1st!

Please take a few minutes to talk about why this issue is important to you or how it affects you and your loved ones. If you are one of the thousands of Americans who had a negative experience relating to abstinence-only programs, have a child in high school, or belong to a specific group that faces exclusion because of these programs, such as LGBTQ people, we encourage you to address that in your comment. 

Let’s work together to tell ACF to stop spending taxpayer money on propaganda and failed programs that hurt youth!

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Norma McCorvey (a.k.a. “Roe”): Christians Paid Me To Say I’m Anti-Abortion | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist

For more than two decades, one of the most outspoken opponents of abortion rights was Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. the “Roe” in Roe v. Wade. She had been the plaintiff in the lawsuit that legalized abortion throughout the country, but in 1995, she stunningly announced that she was now opposed to those very rights. It was an incredible coup for the Christian Right.

But now, in a new documentary filmed before her death in 2017, McCorvey says she didn’t believe any of that stuff.

Christians just paid her to lie about it.

The LA TimesMeredith Blake explains:

“I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say. That’s what I’d say,” she says in “AKA Jane Roe,” which premieres Friday on FX. “It was all an act. I did it well too. I am a good actress.”

In what she describes as a “deathbed confession,” a visibly ailing McCorvey restates her support for reproductive rights in colorful terms: “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.”

The groups that paid her include Operation Rescue (now Operation Save America), once led by Pastor Rob Schenck, who now also regrets his anti-abortion past.

Schenck confirmed the payments:

[Schenck said] she was paid out of concern “that she would go back to the other side,” he says in the film. “There were times I wondered: Is she playing us? And what I didn’t have the guts to say was, because I know damn well we were playing her.”

For a Christian-led movement that been built on telling lies about abortion — the process, the supposed consequences, what Planned Parenthood does, etc. — this is one of the biggest. And no one should expect the right-wing Christians who paraded McCorvey around for years as their biggest trophy to ever apologize for their role in the deception. They thrive on lying to people in the name of their cause. They’ve brainwashed plenty of people to go along for the ride. They’ve accumulated a lot of political power. Simply put, they’ve gotten too far to give a damn about taking advantage of yet another woman.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

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Don’t Forget the New Atheists

girl learning math

I have said repeatedly that there is nothing new about the so-called “new atheism” unless one means only that the mainstream news media has decided to pay a little bit of attention to us. And I suppose that is not really new either. After all, atheism was once even more scandalous than it is today. But even though I have discouraged atheists from propagating “new atheism” because it detracts from the accomplishments of our predecessors and from the long and distinguished history of freethought, I have to acknowledge that atheism went through a resurgence around the time people were talking about it.

The title of this post is not intended to refer to that “new atheism” but to people who are new to atheism (i.e., those who are just beginning to explore atheism). Those of us writing atheist blogs should remember that many new readers are finding us each day and that at least some of them are still fairly new to atheism. They are an important portion of our readership, and we would do well to remember that.

It does sometimes feel like we are re-treading familiar ground on atheist blogs. That is probably inevitable since atheism is a very narrow subject. That’s why few of us confine ourselves to it. But you know what? I think that the repetition can be a good thing too, especially when one remembers the changing (and hopefully expanding) nature of our audience. If one assumes that at least a portion of one’s readers are still fairly new to atheism, the fact that we are writing about the same topic again begins to make a great deal of sense.

As an example, I recently had someone ask me about the difference between atheism and agnosticism. He wondered why many of the atheists he had encountered online had told him that he was probably an agnostic atheist. He’d never heard that phrase before. And you know what? Up until around 2010 or so, neither had I.

This is precisely the sort of person (i.e., someone new to atheism) that we should take care to make sure we are reaching. I remember the confusion and loneliness all too well. Had I encountered impatient and rude people when I was first beginning to explore atheism, I’m not sure where I would be today. And I am not thinking of this only in terms of people who are creating and sharing atheist-oriented content. I believe we all have a role to play. And yes, I am aware that the post I linked to in the previous sentence makes some people quite angry. I hear from them whenever I share it on social media.

In writing Atheist Revolution, I sometimes struggle with how best to mix introductory material with more advanced stuff. I periodically catch myself thinking something like, “Everybody already knows this.” I forget that I have visitors who are atheists and may not realize it. I forget that I have visitors who may still believe some unfortunate things about atheists they have been taught by clergy or bigoted family members. Clearly, not every visitor will have studied atheism. I never want to lose sight of this. I didn’t have many people to help me begin my journey to atheism, and I know it would not have taken me as long as it did if I had felt supported. This is something we can offer. All we have to do is remember where we came from and have realistic expectations of others (e.g., recognizing that other atheists may are often at different places on their journey than we are on ours).

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2010. It was revised and expanded in 2020.

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Small Business Administration Must Fix New Rules to Prevent Unconstitutional Church Bailouts

Washington, D.C.—Today, the religious equality watchdog organization American Atheists submitted comments to the Small Business Administration, opposing the agency’s interim final rules for the Paycheck Protection Program because they roll back long-standing constitutional protections for the separation of religion and government.

“Religious liberty is built on the idea that government entanglement with religion can be a profound threat to individual rights, too often leading to religious oppression,” wrote Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists, in the comments. “A core principle of religious liberty is that the coercive taxing power of the government cannot be used to force citizens to support a religion that is not their own.”

In April, Congress passed the CARES Act, creating an initial pot of $350 billion in forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The Small Business Administration suddenly “declined to enforce” long-standing regulations that prevented direct funding of religious activity, opening up these forgivable loans — essentially free government money — to houses of worship.

“In the CARES Act, Congress recognized the importance of church/state separation protections by, for example, ensuring that higher education recipients could not spend funding on ‘sectarian instruction, or religious worship,’” explained Gill. “Congress did not stipulate in the CARES Act that PPP forgivable loans could not be extended to houses of worship because, until this point, SBA already had in place sufficient church/state separation protections.”

In its comments, American Atheists urged SBA to issue a new interim final rule providing that loans forgiveness under PPP is not available for any funds used for inherently religious activities. Funds ineligible for loan forgiveness should include 1) the salary of any clergy or other staff engaged in inherent religious activity 2) any amount spent on rent or mortgage interest payment for facilities related to sectarian instruction or religious worship, and 3) any utilities costs for facilities related to sectarian instruction or religious worship, said the religious equality watchdog group. 

“SBA now has an opportunity to correct the constitutional deficiencies and misstatements of law in their original guidance and issue new rules for this important program,” said Gill. “Even during a pandemic, SBA cannot be allowed to violate the critical protections for religious freedom in the U.S. Constitution.”

Read the full comments below.

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Every (UK) COVID-19 Briefing Ever

Just for a bit more light-hearted, yet spot-on entertainment. This is very pertinent for those who have sat through countless UK coronavirus updates. Very formulaic.   Stay in touch! Like A Tippling Philosopher on Facebook: A Tippling Philosopher You can also buy me a cuppa. Please… It justifies me continuing to do this!

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In Apparent Rebuke to Other Churches, Episcopal Bishops Champion COVID Prudence | Terry Firma | Friendly Atheist

This ought to be the default, common-sense position for all people who care not just for their own lives, but for the lives of others too. As such, the language in the open letter below is unremarkable, except that it comes from church leaders — a group that has produced and encouraged some of the most blithe, selfish, irresponsible, murderous behavior in recent memory.

As the Episcopal Bishops of the State of Michigan and as a people of faith, we follow the commandment Jesus gave us — to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Loving our neighbors these days in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, means setting limits: quarantining, refraining from traveling, physical distancing when in public, and closing down places of gathering where transmission is likely. This is how we love our neighbors — by working to slow the spread of this extremely contagious, life-threatening virus.

In March, we issued a directive to close all 203 Episcopal Churches in our state despite the religious exemption offered by the governor. We believe it’s our duty as bishops and as citizens to relinquish our right to gather together in-person during this most Holy Season. We know that coming together, even for the best of reasons, can spread this disease.

That’s from a public declaration by Episcopalian leaders Bonnie A. PerryWhayne M. Hougland, Jr., and Rayford Ray. I know: They don’t deserve a cookie for displaying concern for others and overall decency — again, those sentiments should be the baseline for any Christian. For any human being. And yet — well, you know. To the huge right-evangelical wing of the Jesus faith, the bishops’ kind of statement is almost heretical.

We support Governor Whitmer’s current directives and urge her to continue to protect the people of Michigan by listening to the recommendations of healthcare providers and scientists…

Yes. Yes please. Before it’s too late.

…and grounding herself in compassion and care for her people. Our state should reopen only when we have the proper safeguards in place — control of infection rates, available virus testing and tracing, increased healthcare capacity, and a plan for how to implement changes as we return to the new normal. And, when the pandemic is behind us, we urge our political leaders to consider how the injustices exposed in this crisis might be addressed — how together we might stop hunger, end poverty, eliminate racism, and the violence that plagues our world.

I’d be glad to break bread with these people. Too bad that U.S. Episcopalians only number 3 million, or 1.2 percent of the adult population.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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Misplacing Faith | Atheist Revolution

Faith refers to a particular kind of belief, a belief that lacks sufficient evidence to support it. To say that I have faith that my car will start tomorrow morning is misleading because I need no faith to hold such a belief. I have evidence to support such a prediction (i.e., considerable experience with my car starting previously, a basic understanding of how engines work, etc.). Similarly, if I tell you that the ball I am about to throw in the air will fall to the ground, you’d be correct to point out that this belief is not rooted in faith. Faith refers to a belief which is held in the absence of sufficient evidence to justify it. If we had sufficient evidence, we wouldn’t need faith.

Suppose I show you an ordinary coin and tell you that I have faith that I can flip this coin 20 consecutive times and that it will land on “heads” every single one of the 20 flips. If we assume that this is not a trick coin, we could say that my belief requires faith. When the first of my flips comes up “tails,” it is clear that my claim is wrong. If I were to deny this reality and persist in my faith regarding coin flipping, you would rightly regard me as delusional (at least in the lay sense).

Now consider religious faith. Most faith-based claims made by religion are those that cannot easily be empirically tested. They cannot be shown to be true or false. Of course, there are exceptions. Recall the “prophets” who said that the world would end at the start of 2000 (or again in 2011). When the world did not end as they predicted, some of their followers simply clung to faith that they’d be right “next time.”

How is this different from my coin-flip example? It is different because the bulk of religious faith is designed so that its claims can never be tested (e.g., the existence of an afterlife). As science has exposed the falsehood of many religious claims, believers have retreated into their shell of artificial reality and are far less likely to offer testable claims. They have decided that the continued existence of their beliefs is more important than having an accurate view of reality. Thus, they have erected a system in which it is almost impossible for them to discover that their faith has been misplaced all along.

An early version of this post first appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2006. It was revised and expanded in 2020.

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