Link bomb #15

(Because it has been a while since the last link bomb, this will be the biggest one yet—a nuclear link bomb, if you will.)

South Park’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are about to unveil their first broadway musical, The Book of Mormon (it premieres at the end of February). The show tells the story of two young LDS missionaries who are sent to Uganda and quickly realize that their faith doesn’t equip them with answers to the suffering they encounter there. I’m excited to see it, but Mormons’ reactions are mixed.

Atheism is on the rise in the West, but in China, where there has been state-imposed atheism for decades, theism is stronger than ever. Eighty-five percent of Chinese either hold some religious beliefs or practice some kind of religion.

While an open revolution is underway in Egypt, there is a covert one here in America. Or so many on the Religious Right would have you believe. Conservatives worry that Muslims are sneaking Sharia law into the US through the commercial introduction of Halal foods.

The president of a Florida atheist group was ejected from a city council meeting because the mayor was offended by their t-shirt that read: “One Nation, Indivisible.”

The best torrent on the web isn’t a music download or pornography. This torrent includes dozens of texts relating to Mormonism, including academic articles, legal documents, and key LDS talks, manuals, and pamphlets.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley may soon sponsor legislation to reform or remove religious and charitable organizations’ tax-exempt status. He argues the status quo is rife with abuses, and increased accountability and transparency is needed.

Check up on the “I’m an Ex-Mormon” campaign. There have been several new and compelling videos.

A study by the National Center of Education Statistics finds that 60% of science teachers in America are afraid to teach evolution, and 13% explicitly advocate creationism and intelligent design in the classroom.

Secular philosopher Daniel C. Dennett spoke to a conference of Canadian atheists and humanist about what should replace religion, if it even could/should be replaced at all.

Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was brutally murdered on Thursday. His name was published among others in a hit list of the “top 100 homosexuals” in Uganda. Uganda’s homophobia made headlines in late 2009, when a bill was proposed to make homosexuality a capital offense punishable by death.

A homeless shelter in Georgia, ironically named the House of Mercy, won’t offer refuge to homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people. This despite the fact that 20-40% of the homeless youth population is LGBT. Also in Georgia, a Christian group attempts to burn a man alive for being gay.

Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins and James Randi thoroughly debunk Astrology.

Christopher Hitchens’ latest interview with C-SPAN is pretty disheartening. He doesn’t look or sound very good. His cancer is now at stage 4 (there is no stage 5). You can write Hitchens’ a letter of well-wishing and thanks here.

A mentally-disturbed woman hanged and burned her nephew’s (‘devil’) dog for chewing on the Bible. The joke’s on her though, because all dogs go to heaven.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, UCLA philosophy professor Tyler Burge contends that media reports about psychological and neurological findings are often guilty of exaggeration and reductionism.

The winners of the 2010 Brodie Awards have been declared. The SHAFT blog won in 3 of the 6 categories in which we were nominated! Thanks for your support. Be sure to read the other winning entries; there’s a lot of quality material.

Ben Goldacre at Nerdstock discusses a curious discovery: placebos are getting more effective.

Uh oh. Robots have evolved the ability to lie, and autonomous killer robots are right around the corner.

Last Sunday’s Deseret News boasted that by 2080, there will be nearly 270 million Mormons. I’m skeptical, but it’s possible. I would almost welcome that kind of growth. The more Mormons there are, the more ex-Mormons there will be, and thus the larger SHAFT’s audience! (Though I hope, for my sake, I’m not still writing for this blog in 2080. Ha ha.)

Soldiers are required to take a ‘spiritual fitness test’, and if they fail (that is, if they do not generally conform to the evangelical brand of Christianity that is predominant within the military) they have to meet with a chaplain.

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters Exorcists. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that exorcism is back, and not just in Hollywood.

The American Atheists student scholarship deadline in January 31st. Apply! The winner is awarded $2,000 dollars, and the two runner-ups a $1,000 dollars each.

Two displays of crazy at Sundance

One of the most anticipated films to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this year was Kevin Smith’s Red State. The plot of Red State isn’t overtly political (it’s a horror film), but its portrayal of small town America and conservative Christians is pretty unflattering.

The film drew protests from the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, whose leader, Pastor Fred Phelps, was the inspiration for one of Red State‘s characters. The liberal Sundance goers enjoyed sparring with and ridiculing the group. And all this played to Red State’s advantage, as I’m sure many people (wrongly) saw the Westboro Baptists as representative of Christian fundamentalism and American conservatism.

It’s easy to identify the crazy in other people, especially when those ‘other people’ are the Westboro Baptists. But I also identified another kind of crazy at Sundance.

Continue reading Two displays of crazy at Sundance

Elder Packer criticizes liberal, atheist USU professors

In 1973, Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke to Utah State University graduates about the corrosive influence of liberals and atheists in academia. Granted, this isn’t news (as my title might suggest). But it is news to me. I just recently stumbled about this talk, and I’d like to share it.

(What follows is an abbreviated version of the talk. Here is the full text.)

Standards have changed much in our universities. Through the influence of a few, restrictions on dormitory living have been pulled down. Standards have been abandoned in favor of coeducational living in university housing.

New courses are being introduced in many universities, under the general heading “Alternatives to Marriage.” Some of those alternatives, if accepted, would give our communities kinship with the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The trend sees enrollments declining, endowments withheld (some withdrawn), a loss of confidence in our system of higher education, and worse than that, the graduates from many institutions of higher learning are moving into private and public life well-trained, technically proficient, even talented, but somehow without that attribute of character called integrity.

Continue reading Elder Packer criticizes liberal, atheist USU professors

My review of Daymon Smith’s The Book of Mammon

Luke 16:13 reads:

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

This admonition hasn’t stopped the LDS Church from trying however. Anthropologist Daymon Smith, in The Book of Mammon, contends that the LDS Church tries to serve both God and mammon, prophet and profit. The result is an organization that is too corporate to be truly religious, and too religious to be truly corporate (members’ deference to ‘inspired’ church leaders makes competition and accountability difficult).

(What follows is my brief review of the book. I’d encourage you to read these more thorough reviews.)

The book recounts Daymon Smith’s experiences in the Church Office Building, where he worked as a media evaluator. Daymon gives us a rare inside-look into the church’s business practices, day-to-day operations, and office politics. Thread throughout the book are fascinating anecdotes about Mormon history and astute insights about Mormonism more generally.

Continue reading My review of Daymon Smith’s The Book of Mammon

Pagan Mormon Atheist

Andrew is a senior in social studies education at USU, and has worked with SHAFT as an officer in the Religious Studies Club and USU Pagan Alliance. His personal blog can be found at A Ticin’ Viking.

I was inspired to become a skeptic by the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky, who’s wonderful fan fiction, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality pointed out to me that my beliefs aren’t that far from many positions commonly held by atheists. I believe in science, and that logic is a good thing. I basically only disagree on one point. That was the value of religion. As I kept reading the SHAFT blog and the blogs I was introduced to through it the reasons for these differences in opinion became less and less important. I was finding that I held two different perspectives that most would call incompatible; a Pagan one and An Atheistic/Rational one. Add to that my increasing certainty that I would never be certain about the nature of magic and the gods, and I’m left with an interesting muddle of views. To add confusion to that I happen to be ethnically Mormon, and don’t want to leave that behind while I leave the Church behind. This adds Mormon to the Pagan and Atheist, making things more confusing for me.

So to begin with, I am an atheist. Specifically I am a strong Atheist concerning the claims of the biblical god. There is no All-powerful, All-knowing, All-good paternal figure who created the universe. In that claim I join most SHAFT member’s. It has taken me almost 5 years since leaving Mormonism to become willing to openly make that statement of belief, and to admit that I still has belief in belief of “God”. Even as a practicing pagan, I never really said, “you’re wrong,” just, “I don’t agree, and we should agree to disagree.” Having made the most difficult move for most post-Mormons; a serious and open break with the church. I was quite hesitant to take a further step and call the church wrong.

Continue reading Pagan Mormon Atheist

Vote now in the 2010 Brodie Awards

The SHAFT blog has been nominated in six categories in this year’s Brodie Awards. Last year, we won two Brodies–one for “Best Humor Piece”, and the other for “Best New Blog”.

Here are this year’s nominated SHAFT posts and their respective categories:

LDS leader look-a-likes — “Funniest Humor Piece”

My bishop: “Masturbation leads to homosexuality” — “Best Chat with Church Leader”

BYU censors letter to the editor critical of Prop 8 — “Best News Reporting”

My apology to Pastor Ted Haggard — “Best Religion-and-Homosexuality Discussion”

This is your brain on god — “Best Science Piece”

Gordon B. Hinckley and the downplaying of Mormon peculiarity — “Best LDS Church Watch”

We are winning in four of those categories, and are competitive in the other two. Please consider voting not only for this site, but for all the other Mormon/ex-Mormon blogs you wish to recognize.

Vote here, and vote soon.

Thanks again for your continued support.

Link bomb #14

A new year, a new link bomb.

Philosopher Nicholas Everitt discusses God’s various attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenovelence) and their incompatibility. Everitt recommends that theists tweak these traditional attributes, and some Mormon thinkers have done just that.

I’m not very persuasive, and the movie Inception explains why.

Before 1971, less than one percent of Canadians reported having “no religion” on national surveys. Today, nearly a quarter say they aren’t religious. Secularism is making advances in the United States as well, with an overwhelming majority of Americans (70%) feeling that religion’s influence is on the decline. A recent study, though, claims that America isn’t becoming less religious, only more honest. Despite all our pious professions, we Americans don’t act more religious than our European and Canadian counterparts.

None of this spells religion’s demise, however. If birth rates are any indication, atheists are a dying breed.

The 20 most interesting studies on religion from 2008-2010.

Another study that has been receiving a lot of press was done by BYU. The study claims that those who wait until marriage to have sex are more likely to enjoy healthier marriages. The study’s conclusion may well be true, but its methodology is seriously flawed.

Atheists have a diversity problem. A survey of the members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation found that 95% were white, and the majority male. Readers of this site don’t fare much better: 88% of SHAFTers are white, and 76% male.

Women are often the most victimized by religion, and yet—as we established above—they are less likely to leave religion. In fact, of the over 100,000 Britons who have converted to Islam, the average convert is a 27-year-old white woman. And while some assume that Mormon women are chaffing under the patriarchy of their church, only 10% of them want the priesthood.

Common Sense Atheism and Debunking Christianity, two of my favorite atheist blogs, compile their best posts of 2010.

Among the most damning evidences against Mormonism, in my opinion, is the botched translation of Egyptian papyri that is the Book of Abraham. A popular apologetic response is that we’ve lost the papyri from which Joseph Smith translated. But new research published in Dialogue, which employed a sophisticated statistical analysis of the papyri, indicates that we possess roughly the entire scroll.

I like to seek out thoughtful arguments against gay marriage; they force me to challenge my gay marriage advocacy and help me play contrarian with my fellow liberals. This case against gay marriage falls short of being compelling, but it is nonetheless worth your consideration.

Mormon Stories is doing a series of podcasts called “Atheism after Mormonism.” You can listen to the first episode here.

I hope Santa didn’t bring you any Power Balance bracelets, because they’re bunk. (I have a friend who manages to sell these with a straight face.)

A fascinating fringe movement: do-it-yourself transhumanism.

From the makers of the Mormon blockbuster The Singles Ward comes The Real Life Singles Ward, a documentary that examines and pokes fun at Mormon dating culture.

You’re welcome for the Facebook fodder.