American Freethought Podcast
Podcast 249 - The Faith of Christopher Hitchens

We discuss Larry Alex Taunton's new book The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist (available in hardcover, as an audiobook, or for Kindle). In this memoir, Taunton (a Birmingham, Alabama based minister and founder of the Fixed Point Foundation) recounts the friendship that developed between himself and Christopher Hitchens. Considerable controversy has arisen over Taunton's insinuation that Hitchens, while he had no deathbed conversion, may have re-evaluated religion (if not Christianity) during his final months.

Direct download: 249_American_Freethought_Podcast_249.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 9:15pm EDT

Podcast 248 - Cruz Is No Lucifer, but Trump Might Be the Anti-Christ

Recently retired Speaker of the House John Boehner told a Stanford University audience that  Texas Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz was "Lucifer in the flesh" and "the most miserable son of a bitch" he's ever worked with. Nobody's less happy about the comparison than actual Satanists, who don't think Lucifer is real to begin with, and who object to Cruz's incessant moralizing and desire for full-on Christian theocracy. (Of course, Cruz has since dropped out of the campaign, leaving the field wide open for walking id Donald Trump.)

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore continues his crusade to make life miserable for the LGBT community. He's sticking to his orders to state officials to ignore the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v Hodges, which ensures equal treatment for same-sex couples who want to get married. Moore held a press conference recently, saying that "atheists, homosexuals and transgender individuals" were behind complaints against him. Well, duh.

Actor and fundamentalist evangelical Kirk Cameron is at it again. This time he's describing his (or maybe God's) version of a perfect marriage: "Wives are to honor and respect and follow their husband's lead, not to tell their husband how he ought to be a better husband." Yeah.

Announcements!

Get ready for the Reason Rally, June 4th at the Lincoln Memorial. David will be there--say hi if you can find him.

DragonCon will be here before you know it. John and Allison will be there, doing a live show if all goes as planned. Meanwhile, send your suggestions for topics we can cover or questions we can answer, and if you're looking to get married...

Direct download: 248_American_Freethought_Podcast_248.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 9:28pm EDT

Podcast 247 - Win Some, Lose Some vs RFRA, Part 2

More fallout in the aftermath of North Carolina's infamous law that prevents local governments from passing LGBT protections. Bruce Springsteen and former Beatle Ringo Starr are among the artists who have cancelled shows in the Tar Heel state.

Meanwhile, Mississippi has passed HB 1523, the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," which more or less allows anyone to discriminate against LGBT citizens as long as they cite sincerely held religious beliefs. This law is seen as so extreme that some other state governments (including New York and Washington) and even local governments have issued (largely symbolic) bans against traveling to Mississippi for government business. 

Finally, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has vetoed a bill aimed at making the Bible the official state book, saying it trivializes the Bible (rather than giving the more obvious reason that the law is blatantly unconstitutional).

There's a Supreme Court showdown just over the horizon.

Direct download: 247_American_Freethought_Podcast_247.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 9:38pm EDT

Podcast 246 - Win Some, Lose Some vs RFRA

So-called Religious Freedom Restorations Acts are meeting with mixed success at the state level. RFRAs are ostensibly about protecting religious freedom, but they're really just pandering to religious conservatives who want to discriminate against the hated gays (just like Jesus would have).

In Georgia, under pressure from civil liberties organizations and business interests who warn the state could lose its lucrative movie-making industry, Governor Nathan Deal (a conservative Republican!) just wielded his veto power on a discriminatory bill, citing the lack of need for such a law and appealing to love and tolerance.

Meanwhile, North Carolina just passed a law prohibiting local governments from protecting LGBT rights (this in response to a Charlotte city ordinance allowing transgendered people to use restrooms that correspond with their self-identity). Supporters are crowing about "common sense," but others are already calling for boycotts of the state, and North Carolina's Attorney General (a Democrat running for governor) has already declared the law unconstitutional and says he won't defend it in court.

Look for a Supreme Court showdown in the next couple of years.

Plus:

A "Prophet of God" brandishing what turned out to be a pellet gun is shot and wounded by police near the US Capitol.

An anti-vaccination documentary directed and co-written by disgraced medical researcher Andrew Wakefield has been dropped from the TriBeCa Film Festival. Some cry censorship; others say the film will simply rehash old (bad) arguments and will rekindle a conversation not worth having. If you want to more more about vaccinations, listener Ted from New Jersey recommends this, and this, ...and this.

Finally, the latest in the recent batch of "Christian" films hits theaters April 1st: God's Not Dead 2: He's Surely Alive feeds the myth that Christianity is under attack in America's schools by evil ACLU atheists bent on proving God doesn't exist. Please.

Direct download: 246_American_Freethought_Podcast_246.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 8:03am EDT

Podcast 245 - Thank God for Science

We are bemused and befuddled by the tendency of the pious to thank God for their good luck (especially when it comes to medical recoveries), but ignore the direct and obvious contributions of medical researcher, doctors, nurses, paramedics, etc. (And why is it that God occasionally cures cancer and other diseases, but never bothers to cure missing limbs and organs? Curiouser and curiouser.)

Plus:

The Roman Catholic Church has scheduled September 4th as the date when the late Mother Teresa will achieve sainthood. Nevermind that she seemingly valued the transcendence of suffering over the relieving of suffering, and hobnobbed with dictators. And nevermind that the "evidence" supporting her alleged miracles would be laughed out of a court of law. Apparently the gullibility of the faithful is enough to become a saint.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has dropped out of the presidential primary after getting trounced in his home state, lamenting (pitifully) that "it is not God's plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever." Which reminded us of the (perhaps not so surprisingly) large number of Republican candidates who claim that God told them to run for president. In the case of the 2016 Republican primary, given the fact that so many such candidates have had to drop out, is God just messing with them?

There's been a rash lately of state and local police forces putting "In God We Trust" on their squad cars. After all, it's the national motto. It's just for patriotic reasons and not because it expresses a religious sentiment (wink-wink)--who could object? Now the cops in Alpine, Texas are putting Christian crosses on their cars, and they're being sued by FFRF for their efforts.

Finally, Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmed El-Zend is out of job (and maybe soon out of a life) for joking on national television that he would jail even the Prophet Mohammed if he committed certain crimes. Islamic society is notoriously humorless when it comes to jokes about the Prophet, so let's hope that El-Zend can retire in peace and not end up headless for an ill-advised off-the-cuff remark. (But just imagine the outcry in this country if US Attorney General Loretta Lynch had said at a Senate hearing that she would jail "even Jesus" for such-and-such crime? She wouldn't lose her head, but she would lose her cabinet position.)

Direct download: 245_American_Freethought_Podcast_245.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 11:19am EDT

Podcast 244 - Bart Ehrman (Jesus Before the Gospels)

We interview Dr. Bart D. Ehrman about his new book Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior. Dr. Ehrman looks at what research on memory--how it's formed, how it's recalled, how it can change when transmitted from person to person, and how it can be remolded based on historical perspective and current events--and what it can tell us about how the written accounts of Jesus' life were created. Jesus Before the Gospels is available in hardcoveraudiobook and for Kindle. For more about Dr. Ehrman's work, visit bartdehrman.com.

Plus:

Here are some recent and upcoming books our listeners might find interesting:

Scientology: A to Xenu by former Scientologist Chris Shelton. It's a detailed and critical analysis of every aspect of Scientology, focusing on its organization and the damaging actions it takes against its current and former members. Also, check out Shelton's  YouTube channelpodcast and blog.

The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us about the Apocalypse by Phil Torres. Would you trust science or religion to tackle ther existential risks facing the world today--risks like synthetic biology, nanotechnology, nuclear weaponry, and (possibly, soon) superintelligence

Secular Meditation: 32 Practices for Cultivating Inner Peace, Compassion, and Joy by Rick Heller of the Humanist Community at Harvard University. In this book, Heller has attempted to filter out anything that sounds like woo from meditation and put it on a purely secular basis, as a kind of exercise for the mind.

The Devil You Know: The Surprising Link between Conservative Christianity and Crime by Elicka Peterson Sparks. This book focuses on the negative impact of Christian nationalism on violent crime in the US, as well as the impact of this belief system on criminal justice policies.

Direct download: 244_American_Freethought_Podcast_244.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 8:02pm EDT

Podcast 243 - Ask Your Doctor if Arthritic Goat's Milk Is Right for You

Comedian and television talk show host Bill Maher gave "Dr." Sam Chachoua nearly ten minutes on a recent show to talk about his quack cure for AIDS that involves the milk from arthritic goats. "Dr. Sam" supposedly cured Charlie Sheen during a retreat in Mexico, and he claims to have eradicated AIDS/HIV completely from the island nation Comoros. None of which is true. Check out Dr. Harriet Hall's analysis st Skeptic.com.

But this isn't the first time Maher has danced on the edge of madness. He told David Letterman that Western food and prescription medicine are killing Americans (some part of which is true, but not quite in the way Maher implies). On Larry King Live, he said that flu shots cause Alzheimer's. His opinions on vaccines are so disconnected from reality that conservative Republican Bill Frist (a medical doctor) tried without success to talk him off that ledge. Maher got a lot of blowback from the Frist interview, but a couple of weeks later, he doubled down, repeating quackish talking points, speculating that childhood vaccines and mercury in dental fillings caused allergies.

Plus:

Holey Scripture is back! Do animals go to Heaven?

Richard Dawkins is recovering from a minor stroke. Prognosis is good, and we wish him the best.

Finally, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is dead, and his corpse had hardly cooled before Republican leadership and presidential candidates are shouting that the sitting President should not nominate a replacement--despite the fact that he still has nearly a year in office!

 

Direct download: 243_American_Freethought_Podcast_243.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 9:50pm EDT

Podcast 242 - Matthew O'Neil on Bible Sex

We interview Matthew O'Neil about his new book What the Bible Really Does (and Doesn't Say) about Sex. Matthew is an activist, theologian, and teacher. He has his MA in theology from Saint Michael’s College with graduate certification in Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies, and he is a certified Humanist chaplain and celebrant through the American Humanist Association. He is also the author of the books Judas and You Say That I Am: Jesus and the Messianic Problem and writes for the Danthropology blog through the Patheos network.

Plus:

We get email. Chris in the UK urges us to cover more international news, and spiritual-but-not-religious Larry in the US laments that atheists are running roughshod over the rest of America, and wants to know whom he should sue.

Direct download: 242_American_Freethought_Podcast_242.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 9:07pm EDT

Podcast 241 - Murdered for Being an Atheist?

We look at three recent cases in which violent perpetrators of excuse their crimes by pointing to their victims atheism.

Earlier this month, a woman in Louisville, Kentucky was arrested for savagely beating a disabled man with his own cane, reportedly because he denied believing on God. (Luckily the man survived.)

Late last year, Phoenix, Arizona's Anitra Braxton (pictured) was arrested for shooting an acquaintance in the eye and keeping her corpse on the couch as a "shrine from God," all for "not believing in her God."

Meanwhile, Texan Justin Green is serving a 30-year sentence for murdering a fellow veteran, burying him in a shallow grave, and using his credit cards to buy pizza. Family members--who helped Green hide the body--say that Green killed the man because he did not believe in God.

Granted, in all these cases, there are plenty of other plausible reasons--greed, anger, mental illness--why these crimes were committed. But it is disturbing to consider that these people thought that the atheism of their victims was a legitimate excuse.

Plus:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin "Applesauce" Scalia says that, while the Constitution must be neutral when it comes to religious denominations, it can privilege religion over non-religion. Thankfully, Scalia is a) old and b) just one of nine Justices.

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy "Ten Commandments" Moore has issued another memorandum to the state's probate justices, reiterating his position that they are not required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He continues to insist that God's law trumps the US Constitution; this despite the recent US Supreme Court decision (no thanks to Scalia--see above) that marriage equality is consistent with the Constitution.

 

Direct download: 241_American_Freethought_Podcast_241.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 9:22pm EDT

Podcast 240 - GOP in Crisis

The Reverend Franklin Graham (prominent Protestant fundamentalist and son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham) says he's quitting the Republican Party. Why? He says it's because Republicans aren't standing on principle. He cites as an example the Republican-dominated US Congress passing a massive spending bill that retains funding for the much-hated Planned Parenthood. In other words, Republicans compromised with the Democrats in order to keep the government running. Graham's exit may be part of a larger movement within the conservative movement: For years, Tea Partiers and their fellow travelers have been calling on their elected officials to toe the line, NOT to compromise in any way with the hated liberal-progressive-secularists when it comes to abortion, gay rights, etc. This rift (and the eternal desire to have "easy" solutions to problems that are always someone else's fault) in the GOP is what has crazy people like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz leading the polls.

Plus:

Franklin (North Carolina) Mayor Bob Scott has been called "un-American, arrogant and an asshole" because he dared take his oath of office by placing his hand on a copy of the US Constitution instead of a Bible. We salute his courage and hope that many more elected officials follow suit.

Kentucky's new Tea Party affiliated Governor Matt Bevin has issued an executive order (of questionable legality) removing county clerks' names from the state's marriage license form, supposedly to protect the religious rights of Christians who disagree with same-sex marriage. Bevin's action is in response to Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis' infamous refusal to issue same-sex licenses in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's landmark decision.

Gossip columns are reporting that former Miss USA/Miss Universe Olivia Culpo has dumped her latest boyfriend, former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, over his vow of abstinence before marriage. Not that it's anybody else's business: as weird as the rest of us might think it is, what Tebow does (or doesn't do) with his love life should be between him and his would-be lovers. (Tebow, you will recall, was a successful college player who came under criticism for painting Bible verses in his eye-black, and for "Tebowing," in which he dropped to one knee in prayer after a touchdown. Tebow has been unable to parlay his NCAA victories into a successful NFL career: in September 2015, the Philadelphia Eagles became the fourth team to drop him from their roster.)

 

Direct download: 240_American_Freethought_Podcast_240.mp3
Category:podcast -- posted at: 10:18am EDT