Author: Michael Stone
“Protests from Muslim hardliners in Indonesia have forced the Miss World beauty pageant to cancel the bikini portion of the annual contest. Indonesia will host the 2013 Miss World competition on the country’s resort island of Bali in September.
On Thursday, June 5, local organizers said all contestants will be required to wear Bali’s traditional long sarongs instead of the sexy bikinis that are traditionally part of the competition. Pageant organizers fear reprisals if they offend locals in the Muslim-majority country.
Last November, Muslim modesty police forced Jennifer Lopez and her dancers to “cover up” in order to be allowed to perform in the Islamic country. In May of 2012, Lady Gaga canceled a scheduled concert in Jakarta rather than submit to similar demands made by the Muslim modesty police.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation.”
Source: Al Jazeera English
Author: Marwan Bishara
“In light of the historic resignation of one pope and the election of another, my Al Jazeera show Empire has travelled to Rome  asking after the future of the Catholic Church as it bleeds worshipers and loses influence. As we take stock of the new Pope‘s priorities, it’s clear that the role of the women in Church isn’t one of them.
Ever since the 4th century Christianisation of the Roman Empire, which gave birth to an imperial Vatican, the Church has had a global reach like no other.
The Vatican has enjoyed religious authority worldwide, directly controlling more than a million bishops and nuns who are followed by 1.2 billion worshipers: more than any other Christian sect.
However, in recent decades, the Church has been losing the faithful at an alarming rate.
In Latin America, the home of half a billion Catholics, the Church has been losing more than a million adherents each year.
And in North America, US bishops closed down 1,373 churches from 1995 to 2010, according to Jason Berry, author of Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church  - that’s more than one parish per week for fifteen years.
While there’s been a surge of believers in Africa and Asia , the Church has lost even more in Europe, including in Italy, which has witnessed a two thirds-drop among churchgoers over the last several decades.
Sex abuse scandals
There is little doubt that the latest sex abuse scandals have played a major role in shrinking the Church’s membership and undermining its credibility.
In a recent New York Times article “Beyond the Bedroom “, columnist Frank Bruni argued that “It’s on matters of sexual morality that the church has lost much of its authority. And it’s on matters of sexual morality that it largely wastes its breath.”
And that’s true to a large degree, Ending mandatory celibacy would go a long way to deal with much of the hypocrisy witnessed over the years. It would also confirm the Church’s pronounced commitment to the family and so-called “family values”.
However, sexual matters in all forms – abusive, excessive, “sinful” - are symptoms of a greater problem facing not only the Vatican but also the other organised Abrahamic faiths.
The problem is the monopolisation of power among old men who are unwilling to change any aspect of religion or matter of faith.
Indeed, it’s the absence of women from the all decisive and leadership roles that sets up the antiquated Vatican and other organised religions against progress.
Keeping the women down
Within the church, it’s the hundreds of thousands of nuns that are the true global foot soldiers for the Catholic empire.
They staff and “man” healthcare centres, hospitals, schools, and orphanages in mostly impoverished Catholic societies around the world where people earn on average less than $2 a day.
But women can’t ever reach senior positions in the church. They can’t become priests, let alone cardinals or popes: positions that determine the governance of the church and the articulation of its doctrines.
The Vatican has rejected pleas  by one umbrella group that represents most American nuns to include women “in all ministries of our church”, including the priesthood.
According to news reports, The Vatican has rebuked the organised nuns for spending extra time “promoting issues of social justice” and not enough time speaking about “issues of crucial importance to the life of the church and society”, such as abortion and gay marriage.
The new, conservative Pope Francis has thus far shown himself to be more humble and open than his predecessor. But avid observers I spoke with in Rome don’t see in him as an advocate of equality for women in the Church.
It’s no coincidence then that American nuns are also leaving the church in record numbers, according to Catholic World News. Their number has dropped  from 180,000 nuns in 1965 to 75,000 in 2002, and to 56,000 today. They are expected to drop to well below 40,000 by 2020.
Democratising the Church
The Church has long made humanitarianism, at least in theory, a hallmark of its Christian mission. But the humanitarian surely begins with fairness and equality to half of humanity: women.
It is common sense that women who make up the majority of the Church’s worshipers, should have equal influence over a church in crisis and incapable of truly reforming itself.
Strangely, the Church recognises hundreds of women as “Saints” for their “great deeds or meritorious conduct”, yet won’t recognise them as priests or cardinals.
Many women have lost their lives in defence of the faith, but they aren’t entrusted with the bureaucracy of the Church.
Just as women are breaking the glass ceiling everywhere to become ever more influential in most fields, the Vatican is lowering the ceiling on its own.
But Pope Francis who comes from a predominantly Catholic country knows all too well that Argentina and its neighbours Brazil and Chile – all influential Latin American nations – have been led by democratically elected women, Kirchner, Dilma, and Bachelet, respectively.
Why not the Vatican? Why should it remain an exclusive club for men?
It’s hardly revolutionary to argue that progressive and feminist voices are ever more needed – on all levels of authority – to undo the terrible imbalances and abuses of power in the church.
In fact, only such infusion could truly save the church from its own excesses and better prepare it to deal with modernity. And I don’t mean dealing with issues limited to women such as contraception, but rather the broader challenges facing the church in the 21st century.
And this is a bottom-up struggle as it is a top-down necessity.
While I am not sure that nuns can or even want to liberalise the church, I am certain women are more likely to be progressive and fair than the men currently controlling and, in some cases, abusing the power of Vatican’s bureaucracy, the Curia.
Alas, lack of fairness and equality isn’t limited only to the Vatican. After all, a woman cannot become Pontiff for the same reason that she can’t become an Ayatollah, a Chief Rabbi, head of Al Azhar, or a Patriarch: it’s about old men controlling powerful institutions in the name of god.
Remember, power has no religion.”
Author: Mary Elizabeth Williams
In a message delivered Wednesday via Vatican Radio, the new pontiff distinguished himself with a call for tolerance and a message of support – and even admiration – toward nonbelievers.
Naturally, a guy whose job it is to lead the world’s largest Christian faith is still going to come at his flock with a Jesus-centric message. But he’s taking it in an encouraging new direction. In his message, Francis dissed the apostles for being “a little intolerant” and said, “All of us have this commandment at heart: Do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not (a) Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must.”
And the pope spoke of the need to meet each other somewhere on our on common ground. “This commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” It was a deeper affirmation of his comments back in March, when he declared that the faithful and atheists can be “precious allies… to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”
That’s a message that’s vastly different from Catholicism’s traditional “We’re number one!” dogma. Six years ago, the Vatican reasserted the church’s stance that while there may be“elements of sanctification and truth” in other faiths, “that fullness of grace and of truth… has been entrusted to the Catholic Church.” In other words, close but no cigar, everybody else.
There are plenty of atheists out there who will no doubt take the pope’s message with a grain of salt or even flat-out disdain. The last thing somebody who doesn’t believe in heaven could possibly need is some guy in a funny hat telling them that they’re okay in God’s eyes anyway. But maybe, whatever we believe or don’t believe, we can consider that the man is on to something when he speaks about “the culture of encounter.”
Francis notes that the apostles were “closed off by the idea of possessing the truth,” an arrogant certainty that no one group currently has a monopoly on. Where we find each other is in practicing tolerance for our differences, and in finding the commonality of our values. “Doing good,” Francis says, “is not a matter of faith.”
It’s not that faith, for the faithful, doesn’t matter. It’s that belonging to a church isn’t what saves us. It’s belonging to each other.”
Source: National Memo
Author: Sarah Posner
“Even before the ink was dry on the Treasury Department Inspector General’s report on the IRS, Franklin Graham, son of evangelical icon Billy Graham, wrote a letter to President Obama, demanding that the president “take some immediate action to reassure Americans we are not in a new chapter of America’s history—repressive government rule.”
Graham contended he was in possession of proof of this dire scenario: Last year, he says, the IRS conducted an audit of two tax-exempt organizations he runs, Samaritan’s Purse and The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. To Graham, this is no coincidence. “[P]rofiling by the IRS,” he lectured the president, “was not limited to conservative organizations; indeed, it extended to religious charities—Jewish and Christian—as well.”
Since Graham’s letter hit the pages of Politico on Tuesday, a number of religious right organizations and individuals have claimed that the IRS targeted them for audits, held up their tax-exempt applications, or subjected them to intrusive questioning, all of which they claim amounts to orchestrated anti-Christian bias.
In Graham’s case, though, the IRS was doing exactly what it is supposed to do. His ministries, both 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, are barred from attempting to influence the outcome of elections, the precise activity for which Graham admits the agency audited them.
Graham’s situation is “quite a different kettle of fish” than the IRS review of the Tea Party 501(c)(4) applications, said Rob Boston, Senior Policy Analyst at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Unlike 501(c)(4) organizations, which are allowed to devote less than 50% of their activities to influencing political campaigns, there is an absolute ban on electoral campaign activity by 501(c)(3) organizations.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, for example, has advised its followers to support only “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.” That, along with the elder Graham’s promise to Mitt Romney to “do all I can to help you,” were attempts to influence the outcome of the election, said Boston.
Boston said he was actually “surprised” to read Graham’s claim that the IRS had audited his ministries “because we have reported a number of houses of worship for clearer cases of politicking,” with no apparent action by the IRS.
If a 501(c)(3) organization engages in politicking, said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program at People for the American Way, “it is incumbent upon the IRS to do these investigations.” It has to “ask these questions,” but it “can’t single out a particular group because of their political views, ideology, or religious beliefs.” Any audit of the Graham group alone “doesn’t prove anything” about IRS bias against conservative groups, said Baker.
Observers on both sides of church-state separation issues say such investigations stalled after a 2009 federal court ruling ordering the agency to promulgate regulations under a statute that requires audits of churches be authorized by an “appropriate high-level Treasury official.” The IRS reportedly suspended all church audits until the adoption of rules to comply with the court ruling.
Opponents of the rule against church electioneering hope to provoke the IRS into conducting audits in order to generate a case to mount a Constitutional challenge to the rule.
Greg Scott, Senior Director of Media Relations at the Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious-right group that organizes Pulpit Freedom Sunday, during which pastors flaunt the rule in their pulpits, said that one church, Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minnesota, “was investigated briefly, but [the] file was closed due to what the IRS called a ‘procedural issue.’”
“Otherwise,” Scott said, “crickets.”
That would suggest that, contrary to claims that the IRS is “targeting” Christian groups, it has been hamstrung from investigating cases due to a bureaucratic failure to promulgate a rule required by the court ruling.
Graham, said Boston, seems to be “deliberately trying to confuse the issue to get play in the media.”
A number of religious-right organizations have jumped on the Graham bandwagon, claiming anti-Christian repression. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family who, after his retirement, launched a new radio program, maintains that the IRS asked inappropriate questions of his Family Talk Action as it applied for 501(c)(4) status. In a statement, Dobson claimed that an IRS employee told his lawyer she didn’t think the exemption would be granted because the group is “not educational”; it presented only one view, sounded like a “partisan right-wing group,” and was “political” because it “criticized President Obama, who was a candidate.” Dobson claims this is “viewpoint discrimination.”
Dobson, whose organization was eventually granted (c)(4) status, complained, “The American people deserve better treatment from its government than this. Christian ministries and others supporting the family must not be silenced or intimidated by the IRS or other branches of the government.”
Richard Schmalbeck, professor of law at Duke University and an expert on tax-exempt organizations, said that while “it is always dangerous to reach firm conclusions as to ultimate outcomes based on only partial statements of fact received from only one party to a dispute,” the Dobson situation appeared to be a result of bureaucratic confusion. The questions Dobson’s organization received might have been “irrelevant” to a 501(c)(4) determination, but relevant to a 501(c)(3) inquiry. Perhaps, Schmalbeck said, “the agent mistakenly thought that was the case, or mistakenly applied (c)(3) tests to a (c)(4) application.”
Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law and chairman of the religious-right legal firm Liberty Counsel, also claimed the IRS “targeted” his group, the Freedom Federation. He said that in the (c)(4) application process, the IRS asked the Freedom Federation to provide copies of original content it publishes on its website; to describe its meetings and provide copies of materials distributed at them; and to provide copies of all materials distributed at an event, “including but not limited to event agendas and itineraries, promotional materials, newsletters, educational materials, flyers, and other materials.”
“What business does the IRS have asking these questions?” Staver demanded, adding, “An investigation of the IRS is necessary to stop this agency from pushing a political agenda.”
But Schmalbeck said these questions appeared designed to determine whether the organization’s activities were “primarily aimed at influencing the outcome of elections,” and therefore appeared to be appropriate.
Other religious-right organizations and individuals are offering stories that are mysteriously undetailed. Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze reported that Anne Hendershott, a conservative Catholic professor, was audited by the IRS, and asserted it was because she had been critical of left-leaning Catholic groups and of President Obama. The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage claims the fact that the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign obtained a copy of its confidential tax returns “suggests that problems at the IRS are potentially far more serious than even these latest revelations reveal,” and hinted the Obama re-election campaign had played a role. Pharmacists for Life Internationalsays two of its officers and board members were “harassed” by the IRS—but would not identify the employees or the specific nature of the alleged harassment.
Anti-choice groups are also making claims of harassment—some of which were echoed by Republican lawmakers in the House Ways and Means Committee hearing Friday.
Christian Voices for Life, an anti-choice group whose application for 501(c)(3) status was eventually approved, claimsthe “IRS has sought to know whether the group does ‘education on both sides of the issues,’” and “whether members of the group “try to block people to [sic] enter a … medical clinic.”
Rep. Aaron Schock, an Illinois Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, entered a 150-page exhibit from Christian Voices for Life’s legal counsel, the Thomas More Society, about its and two other Thomas More clients’ treatment by the IRS. Schock maintained the documents showed “horrible instances of IRS abuse of power, political and religious bias, and repression of their Constitutional rights.”
After the hearing, the Thomas More Society issued a statement, “Congress Receives Irrefutable Evidence of IRS Harassment of Pro-Life Organizations.”
With regard to Christian Voices for Life, Schmalbeck said that if the group had applied for tax-exempt status as an educational organization, the agent’s queries about balanced views would have been appropriate, but not if it had applied as a religious organization. One of the letters sent by its lawyers to the IRS maintained the group’s focus “is on educational activities designed to promote respect for life.”
The questions about the activity outside clinics, however, appear to be aimed at a legitimate concern. “[O]rganizations that practice civil disobedience are denied exempt status,” said Schmalbeck. IRS questions about blocking access to clinics, then, were probably “aimed at making that determination, and that would be appropriate,” he said.
The current uproar over the Tea Party 501(c)(4) applications appears to feed a previously existing grievance among conservatives that the IRS is biased against them. When Christian Voices for Life obtained its tax-exempt status in 2011, the Thomas More Society’s executive director, Peter Breen, claimed, “This is not the first time that Internal Revenue Service personnel have attempted to place unconstitutional restrictions on pro-life organizations.”
This area of the law, said Schmalbeck, “is quite complicated, and even IRS agents can make mistakes that do not necessarily reflect political animus. Still, it would be nice if they were well enough trained that they got these questions right in almost all cases.”
Author: Greta Christina
“Why would any organization or social change movement want to ally itself with a community that’s energetic, excited about activism, highly motivated, increasingly visible, good at fundraising, good at getting into the news, increasingly populated by young people, and with a proven track record of mobilizing online in massive numbers on a moment’s notice?
If you need to ask that — maybe you shouldn’t be in political activism.
And if you don’t need to ask that — if reading that paragraph is making you clutch your chest and drool like a baby — maybe you should be paying attention to the atheist movement.
The so-called “new atheist” movement is definitely not so new. Atheists have been around for decades, and they’ve been organizing for decades. But something new, something big, has been happening in atheism in the last few years — atheism has become much more visible, more vocal, more activist, better organized, and more readily mobilized — especially online, but increasingly in the flesh as well. The recent Reason Rally in Washington, DC brought an estimated 20,000 attendees to the National Mall on March 24 — and that was in the rain. Twenty thousand atheists trucked in from around the country, indeed from around the world, and stood in the rain, all day: to mingle, network, listen to speakers and musicians and comedians, check out organizations, schmooze, celebrate, and show the world the face of happy, diverse, energetic, organized atheism.
Atheists are becoming a force to be reckoned with. Atheists are gaining clout. Atheists are becoming a powerful ally when we’re inspired to take action — and a powerful opponent when we get treated like dirt.
Case Study Number One, “Powerful Ally” Division: The million dollars currently being raised — and the goodness knows how many people being mobilized — for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s “Light the Night Walks,” by the non-theistic Foundation Beyond Belief and the Todd Stiefel family.
The Stiefel Family and the Foundation Beyond Belief have wanted to make a large atheist contribution to the fight against cancer for some time. Like many people, Todd Stiefel has had many people in his life afflicted with cancer. His family has the resources to make a large financial donation to the fight against it. And as the largest non-theistic charitable organization in the world, the Foundation Beyond Belief was the perfect organization to channel and structure the Stiefel family’s matching offer — and to round up supporters for it.
But it was distressingly difficult to give this money away. If this whole “atheists donating pots of money to the fight against cancer” story seems familiar … you may be remembering the American Cancer Society controversy, in which the ACS initially accepted a $250,000 matching offer from the Stiefel family and the Foundation Beyond Belief to participate as a national team in the ACS’s Relay for Life — and then, suddenly and mysteriously, turned it down. (And were then deluged with angry protests — and withdrawals of donations — when the story hit the Internet. More on that in a tic.)
That isn’t happening this time around. The Stiefel family and the Foundation Beyond Belief have found an organization that’s more than happy to partner with them in the fight against cancer. When Stiefel reached out to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, they cheerfully accepted his offer — a half million dollars in matching funds, as a “Special Friend” team partner in the LL&S’s “Light the Night” Walks, with the goal of uniting the freethought movement around the world to raise a million dollars for the fight against cancer. Andrea Greif, Director of Public Relations for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, says, “LLS is appreciative that Foundation Beyond Belief has set such a generous goal to help us beat blood cancer and we look forward to having their teams join LLS’s Light the Night Walk.” And Stiefel describes the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as “enthusiastic at the prospect of working with us.” He went on to say, “We LOVE working with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They have been very kind, supportive and helpful. They have made it very clear that cancer doesn’t discriminate and neither do they. LLS just wants to put the mission of fighting cancer first.”
This could easily have been a controversial effort. For one thing, the Honored Hero for the FBB in this year’s Light the Night Walk is the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens — a hero to many in the atheist movement, but a very controversial figure to many outside of it (and indeed, even to many atheists). But Hitchens’ status as the FBB’s Honored Hero is apparently not an issue. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is accepting FBB’s partnership and generosity with open arms. And these efforts have been extremely effective. As of this writing, the Foundation Beyond Belief has already hit 50 LLS local teams — halfway to the 100 team minimum goal. (By the way: If you were ticked off about the American Cancer Society thing, and you want to translate that anger into action? Participating in the FBB’s Light the Night Walks in your area — or starting an FBB LTN team in your area — would be a great way to do that.)
And this isn’t an isolated incident. In recent months, the atheist community has proven to be extraordinarily good at raising money, visibility, and support for people and causes that capture their imagination. And they have exceptional skills when it comes to fundraising and hell-raising on the Internet.
When high school atheist Jessica Ahlquist was being harassed, bullied and threatened by her schoolmates and community for asking her public school to enforce the state/church separation laws and take down a prayer banner from the school auditorium, the atheist community rose to her aid, with an outpouring of love, admiration, and emotional support… and a college fund totaling over $62,000. When high school atheist Damon Fowler was being harassed, bullied, and threatened by his schoolmates and community for standing up against prayer at his public high school graduation — and was kicked out of his home by his parents — the atheist community rose to his aid, with an outpouring of sympathy and support… and a college fund totaling over $31,000. When Camp Quest, the summer camp for children of non-theist families, was engaged in a major fundraising drive last year, several atheist bloggers (conflict of interest alert — including me) teamed up in a fundraising contest involving a series of grandiose and increasingly ridiculous dares and forfeits, ultimately raising $30,074.80 for the cause.
Atheists aren’t just raising money for their own, either. On Kiva — the microlending organization working to alleviate poverty and empower people in need around the world — the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and Non-Religious team is the #1 all-time leader in amount of money loaned… not just among religious affiliation teams, but among all the teams on Kiva. The Reddit atheist community raised over $200,000 for Doctors Without Borders last November, in a fundraising drive that came close to crashing Reddit with the traffic. The Foundation Beyond Belief has been supporting charitable and human rights projects for over two years — well before the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society project began — and to date has raised over a quarter of a million dollars to support human rights, the environment, education, child welfare, anti-poverty efforts, public health, and more.
And the power of atheist organizing extends beyond simple fundraising. To give just two recent examples: When preacher Sean Harris was caught on tape exhorting parents to beat their gay kids, the local atheist communities in the area immediately began sounding the alarm — and rounded up activists to protest at the church the following Sunday. According to Priscilla Parker, President of Military Atheists & Secular Humanists, 27 of the Sean Harris protestors last Sunday were from secular/atheist groups. That may not sound like much — but when you realize that there were a total of about 70 protestors at the event, the atheist presence suddenly looks a lot more significant. (Especially for an event in a highly religious, largely conservative town — and especially for an event that was organized on extremely short notice.) And when American Airlines was planning to air an anti-vaccination ad on their planes’ video systems and in their in-flight magazines, the atheist and skeptical communities dove into action: publicizing the Change.org petition against the Australian Vaccination Network’s ad, and slamming the decision all around the Internet. The story went viral, in large part because of the Internet power of atheists and skeptics — and the joint effort between heathens and other activists ultimately pressured the airline into rejecting the ad.
When a cause catches their hearts, the atheist community can be a powerful ally.
And when a cause catches their hearts in a different way, they can be a powerful opponent.
The American Cancer Society snafu is probably the most obvious example of this. When the ACS turned down the Foundation Beyond Belief’s offer to participate as a national team in the Relay for Life, they apparently didn’t expect much pushback. But when the story broke, it went viral — and made misery for the ACS. For weeks, the ACS was deluged with emails, letters, phone calls, and posts to their Facebook wall. For weeks, their Facebook wall was taken up almost entirely with angry posts about the story. Importantly, while the chief instigators of the rage-fest were atheists, they were quickly followed by a crowd of religious believers, who were just as outraged at the anti-atheist bigotry — and at the rejection of perfectly good money — as the heathens. And very importantly, a flood of people halted their donations to the ACS… including many people who had been regular donors for years.
But there are plenty of other examples as well. The above mentioned American Airlines anti-vaccination ad. The above mentioned Sean Harris protest. The sublimely ridiculous Gelatogate, in which a local gelato merchant in Springfield, Missouri posted a sign in his store window reading, “Skepticon [a skeptical/ atheist conference] is NOT Welcomed To My Christian Business”… and then got a faceful of Internet fury when a photo of the sign was Facebooked, Tweeted, G-plussed, texted, blogged, emailed, and generally spread through the atheosphere like wildfire… and then backpedaled as fast as it is possible for a human being to backpedal. Like many social change movements, organizing atheists is like herding cats, and it’s not easy to predict which issues will catch their imaginations — but when it happens, the combination of passionate motivation and Internet savvy turns them into a powerhouse.
And very importantly, the atheist movement is increasingly becoming a youth movement. TheSecular Student Alliance — an umbrella organization of non-theistic college and high school groups around the United States and the world — is growing at an astonishing rate. In 2009, they had 143 affiliates: in 2012, they had 351. Impressively, their high school rates are climbing at an even faster clip. In 2010, the organization had only four high school affiliates: this year, that number has climbed to 37. And as anyone knows who understands politics getting young people inspired and on board is enormously important for the long-term future of any social change movement. What’s more, many of these student groups are active in service projects and social change activism outside of atheism… and are eager to partner with other groups to get the job done. If you’re in any doubt about the power of atheism to help move political mountains, now and in the coming years — pay attention to those SSA affiliate numbers. And pay attention to how they keep growing… and growing… and growing.
So what’s the take-home message?
Atheists are your friend. Or they can be. And they can be a very powerful friend indeed.
Progressive and social-change organizers and organizations are having a hard time seeing the atheist movement as… well, as anything, really. Except maybe as a pain in the neck. Many progressives are undoubtedly aware of the existence of atheists: the atheist community’s efforts at visibility have been paying off, and atheism is being discussed in progressive circles as widely as it is everywhere else. But somehow, while the existence of atheists has become undeniable, the existence of atheism as a social change movement is still largely being ignored. To give just one example: In over 100 panels, training sessions, and other presentations at the upcoming 2012Netroots Nation conference for online progressive activists, not one is about atheists or atheism. (Conflict of interest alert: I was one of the proposed panelists on a proposed atheism panel for Netroots Nation 2012.)
It’s hard to tell what this is about. Do social change organizations see atheists as toxic — too controversial, too likely to draw negative attention, more trouble than we’re worth? Or are these organizations simply unaware that atheists have formed into a serious social change movement — and are growing this movement at a rapid pace?
If it’s the former… then shame on you. In the early days of the LGBT movement, queers were far more controversial than they are now, and associating with queers was considered by many to be toxic. It was still the right thing to do. (Not to mention the smart thing to do.)
If it’s the latter… then sit up. Pay attention. Atheists are here. In just a few short years, the movement has gone from zero to sixty, in both visibility and mobilization. And the atheist movement is largely comprised of people who are passionate, compassionate, courageous, Internet savvy, skilled at seeing through bullshit, willing to defy the status quo, excited about activism… and dedicated to changing the world. After all, as far as they’re concerned, it’s the only world they’ve got.
You want these people on your side.“
Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.
Source: Mother Jones
Authors: Tim McDonnell, and James West
Over the last couple weeks, scientists and environmentalists have been keeping a particularly close eye on the Hawaii-based monitoring station that tracks how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, as the count tiptoed closer to a record-smashing 400 parts per million. Yesterday, we finally got there: The daily mean concentration was higher than at any time in human history, NOAA reported today.
Don’t worry: The earth is not about to go up in a ball of flame. The 400 ppm mark is only a milestone, 50 ppm over what legendary NASA scientist James Hansen has since 1988 called the safe zone for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, and yet only halfway to what the IPCC predicts we’ll reach by the end of the century.
“Somehow in the last 50 ppm we melted the Arctic,” said environmentalist and founder of activist group 350.org Bill McKibben, who called today’s news a “grim but predictable milestone” and has long used the symbolic number as a rallying call for climate action. “We’ll see what happens in the next 50.”
We could find out soon enough: With the East Coast still recovering from Superstorm Sandy and the West gearing up for what promises to be a nasty fire season, University of California ecologist Max Moritz says milestones like these are “an excuse for us to take a good hard look at where we are,” especially as the carbon concentration shows no signs of reversing course.
Scientists first saw the carbon scale tip past 400 ppm last summer, but only briefly; the record reported today by NOAA is the first time a daily average has surpassed that point. For the last several years concentrations have hovered in the 390s, and we’re still not to the point where the carbon concentration will stay above the 400 ppm threshold permanently. But that’s just around the corner, said J. Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society.
“It’s clear that sometime next year we’ll see 400 consistently,” he said. “Avoiding the future warming will require a large and rapid reduction in greenhouse gases.“
Most scientists, environmentalists, and climate-conscious policymakers agree this will require, at a minimum, slashing the use of fossil fuels, and in the meantime, taking steps to adapt for a world with higher temperatures, higher seas, and more extreme weather. For example, according to Hansen, the world will need to completely stop burning coal by 2030 if returning to 350 ppm is to remain possible. What’s the holdup? Texas Tech climatologist Katherine Hayhoe blames “the inertia of our economic system, and the inertia of our political system.” But she, like most of her peers, believe it can—and must—be done: “We have to change how we get our energy and how we use our energy.”