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Thanks to members Shandra McClanahan, Beth Jones, Lou Fontana, Kylene Jones Wray Boswell and Marc Masor for contributing to this month’s newsletter!
“Cruel men believe in a cruel God and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly God, and they would be kindly in any case.” Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1967)
Next general meeting:
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 15
Meetings are at Irish Embassy, 900 Main Street Durango
Dinner, for those interested, from 5:30PM. Discussion starts at 6:30
Member Shandra McClanahan will lead the discussion for this month on the topic of “Indoctrination”
It happens the moment we take our first breath…we learn our parent’s religion and absorb our parents’ politics…we are taught love of country and distrust enemies…we are indoctrinated in the mores of the society into which we are born. Is it inevitable? Unavoidable? Is it bad, something to be resisted? Or is it another word for ‘experience’?
Shandra says: “What does it take to separate a human being from their ability to reason and think for themselves? What would it take to undo that damage? The following sources will give you a great deal of fuel for our discussion this month”:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIfABmbqSMA An interesting 25 minute interview with a therapist who specializes in helping patients overcome the trauma caused by their religious upbringing and the lingering fears that plague them well into adulthood, even after they have abandoned their childhood beliefs.
http://journeyfree.org/ The website of Marlene Winell, PhD who is the therapist interviewed in the clip above. Dr. Winell originated the term Religious Trauma Syndrome to describe the struggle that some people encounter when they abandon the religious traditions which at one time dominated their lives. The site features short video clips and written testimonials that explore the personal stories of some of Dr. Winell’s patients. Here’s an example: I thought there would be no life worth living apart from my faith, but I feel more alive and in love with this ‘one shot’ I get then I ever could serving my imagination. . . Funny how it seems to unfold… this fantastic mystery called life. As a Christian I was so petrified of knowing the ‘exact truth’ about ‘how it all worked.’ Now? Who cares, lets just play with all the ideas. – Arnie
https://soundcloud.com/samharrisorg/leaving-the-church-a-conversation-with-megan-phelps-roper A fascinating interview by Sam Harris of a woman who once was a member of the infamous Phelps family Westboro Baptist Church (the ‘God hates fags’church). Megan Phelps was only 5 years old when her family began to picket with offensive signs that captured the nation’s attention. She left the church and her family when she was 25 years old. She shares her insights into her family and their extreme religious theology. What’s interesting is how she humanizes her family and explores the motives and rationale behind what appears, to outsiders, to be a hate-fueled theology. Well worth your time.
“I never told my religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert nor wished to change another’s creed. I have judged of others’ religion by their lives, for it is from our lives and not from our words that our religion must be read. By the same test must the world judge me.” – Thomas Jefferson
Book Club Selection for April 8: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance
“Science never cheered up anyone. The truth about the human situation is just too awful.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake
Can You Be An American If You Are Not Christian? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/02/01/you-have-to-be-christian-to-truly-be-american-people-in-the-us-are-far-more-likely-to-say-so/?utm_term=.8e5d55026a5e According to a Washington Post Poll, 1/3 of Americans believe that, in order to be a ‘true American, one must be Christian. The same number Americans feel that being born in the United States is critical to being an American. So much for that ‘give us your tired, your poor, you huddled masses yearning to be free’ crap. Further, 70% say that being American means having to speak English.
Big Data is Watching…and Influencing Our Elections (Contributed by Beth Jones) https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/big-data-cambridge-analytica-brexit-trump You are probably aware that much of what you see and do on the internet is not exactly private. Every website you visit, every time you click on a link or a ‘like’ button, your actions leave a digital trace that others can, and do, exploit. Beth sent this link to an astonishing and horrifying article that reveals the shocking extent that this data has was used to manipulate votes in the 2016 Presidential election by the Donald Trump campaign. The hopes, fears, preferences, and biases of 220 million Americans are now an open book to Big Data, allowing micro-targeted, finely tuned social media access to each individual voter. 1984 is finally here.
‘Truth’ is Now a Commodity (Contributed by Lou Fontana) http://www.chronicle.com/article/When-Truth-Becomes-a-Commodity/238866 Truth? We can’t handle the truth. “We do not live in an era stripped of truths. We live, to the contrary, in a political-cultural moment saturated with competing claims on truth, each insisting on its veracity. We have contrived to construct an open marketplace of truths, and it is not a happy state.”
The Wall That Donald Trump Wants to ‘Destroy’ http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/317542-trump-vows-to-destroy-the-johnson-amendment The ‘wall’ between church and state is in Donald Trump’s sights as he promised to ‘destroy’ the Johnson Amendment to the US tax code which forbids churches from participating in political activities at the risk of their tax-exempt status. He termed freedom of religion a ‘sacred right’ that is ‘under threat’. Here is a link to The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/02/donald-trump-national-prayer-breakfast/515445/ that quotes Mr.Trump as saying, “the world is under serious, serious threat in so many different ways but we’re going to straighten it out. That’s what I do. I fix things”
Trump Moves to Ban (Free) Speech About Abortion http://www.undispatch.com/global-gag-rule-just-got-way-intense/ Donald Trump reinstated the ‘Global Gag Rule’ and has dramatically expanded the scope of [the rule] to include ALL global health assistance provided by the US government. According to the United Nations, this move places in jeopardy organizations that provide mosquito netting (which prevents malaria and Zika), run HIV programs, distribute condoms and many other essential health care services not related to abortion. The UN says, “This is a profound expansion of what was already a harmful policy”. The UN and Population Action International worry that the gag rule will lead to more abortions, rather than fewer, because contraceptive devices will become more difficult to obtain in the countries that need them the most. http://www.undispatch.com/one-paragraph-describes-harmful-global-gag-rule-fighting-hivaids-preventing-unwanted-pregancies/
Automation Is the Real Job Killer (Contributed by Kylene Jones) https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/21/upshot/the-long-term-jobs-killer-is-not-china-its-automation.html?mc=aud_dev&mcid=fb-nytimes&mccr=JanHighMC&mcdt=2017-01&subid=JanHighMC&ad-keywords=AudDevGate&_r=0 Kylene sent this link to the NYT, noting that she doesn’t feel this topic was well covered in the past election. While Donald Trump promised to return jobs to the US by clamping down on China, off-shore manufacturing and immigration, the real culprit is automation. Automation is why the manufacturing output of the United States is at an all-time high while unemployment ravages our workforce.
According to The Week, since 1984 US manufacturing has been able to double its output while using just 1/3 the number of workers. In the next two decades, according to an Oxford University study, nearly 50% of all jobs currently held by humans will become automated…jobs such as truck driver, accountant, medical diagnosticians will be done by intelligent machines.
SCIENCE & HEALTH:
Vaccines ‘Controversy’ (Again) Recently, politicians and parents have expressed concerns that young children are getting ‘too many’ vaccines, often for diseases that are no longer a threat. Dr. Donald Trump has mused about vaccines in ‘large doses’ causing autism and is considering appointing a committee to look into the matter despite the debunking of a link between vaccinations and autism. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/01/10/donald-trump-is-rekindling-one-of-his-favorite-conspiracy-theories-vaccine-safety/?utm_term=.125f502b7a42
Paul A. Offit, MD, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia explains that (duh) the diseases aren’t a threat BECAUSE of vaccines and that today’s vaccines have benefited from advances in protein chemistry and purification which make them safer today than ever. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/01/29/are-children-getting-too-many-vaccines.html?via=desktop&source=email
Mr. Trump Is Asking Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to Head Vaccine Inquirey http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/01/trump-robert-kennedy-jr-vaccines-meeting-autism-214626 RFK, Jr. confirmed that he has been asked by Mr. Trump to head an inquiry into the ‘issue’ of vaccines and autism. Kennedy is a long-time vaccine skeptic who frames his arguments as being about ‘safety’ of vaccines and not the efficacy. ” Kennedy, an attorney who has no formal scientific or medical training, has actively campaigned against vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since the early 2000s, citing a scientifically discredited concern that the preservative thimerosal contained in some vaccines causes neurodevelopmental disorders in children.”
Discredited British researcher, Andrew Wakefield, has also been named to the panel by Trump. Wakefield is the man who, in the late 1990’s, published his findings (since debunked many times) that vaccinations cause autism.
“Clearly Donald Trump has questions about vaccine safety—he made that clear in the first debate—but I still would have imagined he would have sought out some level of expertise,” says Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and co-developer of the rotavirus vaccine. “There is an enormous amount of expertise about vaccines in this country. Instead, he picks [to advise him] two people—Andrew Wakefield and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—who both have no expertise and, frankly, are conspiracy theorists.”
Rex Tillerson’s Take on Climate Change https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/rex-tillerson-climate-change/512843/ Rex Tillerson, Donald newly minted Secretary of State, says that after 20 years ‘as a scientist and engineer’, he has concluded “…the risk of climate change does exist”. But he stops short of connecting emissions from fossil fuels to the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere. (The burning of fossil fuels is considered to be the main contributor to global climate change). Surprisingly, he does support the Paris Climate Accord saying, “I think it’s important that the United States maintain its seat at the table in the conversation on how to address threats of climate change. They do require a global response. No one country is going to solve this alone.” He offered no specifics on what actions the US should undertake, but his position is in sharp contrast to that of most of the Republican Party (see next item).
Republicans Mount Effort to Abolish the EPA (Contributed by Marc Masor) https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/861/cosponsors?r=10 and https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/02/donald-trump-plans-to-abolish-environmental-protection-agency With EPA foe Scott Pruitt taking the reins of the EPA, the Trump Administration has taken a giant step towards its cherished goal of abolishing the federal Environmental Protection Agency. A Republican Congressman from Florida has introduced a bill to do just that. (The EPA was established during the Republican administration of Richard Nixon in 1970). The Trump administration feels that the responsibility for the functions of the EPA would be better handled by the 50 states, individually. Among the actions being pondered by the Trump transition team is a roll-back of auto emissions standards which were implemented by the Obama administration as part of its commitment to the Paris climate agreement.
Is AI a Threat to Christianity? (Contributed by Wray Boswell) https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/02/artificial-intelligence-christianity/515463/ The Pope recently commented that he’d be willing to baptize an intelligent alien life form if it requested it. Which opens the door to the question of how far Christianity would be willing to go…if it would embrace all intelligent life, would it also recognize hyper-intelligent thinking machines as being worthy of redemption? Google is presently working on the development of ‘artificial moral reasoning’ so its cars can make life-and-death decisions without a human at the wheel. Can the day when machines are imbued with emotions, consciousness and self-awareness be far away? Stephen Hawking commented in 2014 “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.” This would be the ‘singularity’ that was much discussed at our last meeting. Will AI cause a disruption in religious/spiritual thinking as other scientific advances (sun-centric solar system, evolution by natural selection) have in the past? AI calls into question that theological construct of the human ‘soul’ which is the part of us that is supposed to be a mirror of God the Creator him/her/its self. But would a digitally encoded copy of a human brain have a soul? Would intelligent machines be able to form a relationship with ‘God’? AI calls into question the entire notion of ‘soul’. Interesting article on the topic at the link posted above.
MULTI-MEDIA/(MUCH NEEDED) COMIC RELIEF
http://www.onionstudios.com/videos/this-church-choirs-rendition-of-christ-cometh-to-my-house-and-eats-all-of-my-food-is-absolutely-stunning-4981 Just because it makes as much sense as anything these days…
Now, your moment of Bug(s)
Tom the Dancing Bug is reprinted in the Durango Skeptics and Atheists Newsletter with the permission of its creator, Reuben Bolling. See more TtDB cartoons at http://www.gocomics.com/tomthedancingbug. Help support Reuben Bolling’s “Inner Hive”
Now through April, Reuben Bolling will contribute $25 to the ACLU for every new membership ($11.25) in the ‘Inner Hive’.