10/22/14

How to Participate in American Atheists' #AtheistVoter Campaign

AtheistVoter ProfileDo you use Twitter? Are you ready for a bit of Twitter activism? On October 21, 2014, American Atheists launched a two-week social media campaign designed to encourage atheists and other non-religious individuals in the U.S. to contact our elected officials, let them know that we vote, and tell them about our concerns and priorities.

The #AtheistVoter campaign is aimed at candidates who are running in the rapidly approaching midterm elections; however, I see no problem with using it as an opportunity to let our elected officials hear from us whether they are running for re-election or not. In fact, I think it is a great idea for us to remind our elected officials here in Mississippi that they represent significant numbers of atheists, humanists, and other non-religious persons. By making our presence known, we may be more difficult to forget. Over time, it may become clearer that ignoring us and continuing to pander to the religious will cost votes.
“Atheists make up millions of voters in every election but we get little attention from candidates or elected officials,” said American Atheists President David Silverman. “It’s time that we make ourselves known–that we be loud about the fact that we vote and about the issues we care about. If candidates want our votes, they are going to have to pay more attention to us.”

10/17/14

Another Church-State Violation in Rankin County

Highway 18, Rankin County, Mississippi. Except...
Highway 18, Rankin County, Mississippi. Except for the ugly power lines in front of it, this is a pretty church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Rankin county has received a bit of attention for their church-state violations, though not nearly enough. Rankin county first came to my attention when a Christian flag was spotted at the Rankin County Justice Court in Brandon back in 2008. I found this concerning but was unable to persuade others to do much of anything about it. Without somebody in the area being willing to obtain more evidence, the matter went nowhere.

Things played out much differently in 2013 when the American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center sued Northwest Rankin High School in federal court on behalf of a student after the school forced students to attend Christian presentations. Descriptions of assemblies featuring Christian proselytizing and teachers blocking the exits were reported on many atheist blogs, and this quickly spread to larger more politically oriented blogs. This suit was successful and involved an admission of liability (i.e., the school had to acknowledge that they violated the Establishment Clause). One would assume that this would be a powerful lesson that would reverberate through Rankin county.

10/12/14

Ghost Tours in Ellisville Presented Uncritically

English: Tom and Dave of KAPS Paranormal Radio...
Tom and Dave of KAPS Paranormal Radio interview Jason Hawes of Ghost Hunters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I picked up a copy of the Hattiesburg American on Thursday because an out-of-town guest wanted a local paper. After subscribing to this paper for a couple years and not being impressed, I do not generally bother with it unless I know there is something in particular I want to read. This turned out to be an excellent day to pick one up.

The front page story read "Haunted history: Deason Home hosts paranormal tours." Here is how the author, Emily Ham Price, began her front page article:
About 25 miles outside of Hattiesburg sits a house watered by time and stained by blood.
Well, she certainly got my attention! I suppose that's what sensationalistic writing like this is supposed to do, especially when one's goal appears to be the promotion of a particular attraction. So far, so good. The article continued:
While it hasn't housed a family since the 1980's, Ellisville's Deason Home, built circa 1854, is a veritable hotbed of paranormal activity for area and regional ghost hunters.
It seems like an important word is missing from this sentence. Shouldn't something like "reported" or "alleged" be included before "paranormal activity" so as not to give the impression that this is a factual statement? Ms. Price is telling her readers that this house "is a veritable hotbed of paranormal activity," which is very different from explaining that some people claim to have had so-called paranormal experiences there.

9/21/14

Why You Haven't Heard More About the Great Rift Here

English: Dr. Michael Shermer receives an award...
Dr. Michael Shermer receives an award
for his work with Skeptic Magazine.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For better or worse, I decided some time ago not to write much here at Mississippi Atheists about "the great rift" that divides atheists these days. I've addressed this topic periodically at Atheist Revolution, and Turniphead wrote a post about it here in early 2013. I've also mentioned it at least once that I can recall here. I suppose my primary reason for trying to steer clear of the subject here has been that I was never convinced that what a handful of rage bloggers wrote had much relevance to most atheists living in Mississippi. Perhaps this was wrong of me, but it was the decision I made.

Some have told me that I should completely ignore people like PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, and Rebecca Watson because this is the only way to reduce their habit of writing outrageous content to elicit criticism, interpret the criticism as "harassment," and then use that as an excuse to disparage and demonize those who dare to express disagreement with them. Assuming they do this primarily to drive traffic to their blogs, ignoring them might help to reduce that traffic and lead to a healthier approach. Others have argued that one cannot ignore the bad apples in our midst without engaging in the sort of hypocrisy of which we often accuse the religious moderates who will not speak out against their extremists. Besides, they say, ignoring them means their bad behavior goes unchallenged, leading others (e.g., journalists) to think we might approve of their behavior and/or agree with their outlandish claims. I'm not sure who is right here.

9/14/14

Bubbles of Safety in Mississippi

19th century LGBT rights advocate Karl Heinric...
19th century LGBT rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs introduced the idea of coming out as a means of emancipation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have lived in Mississippi for over 10 years now, and I am still regularly asked by people I knew before moving here what it is like to live here as an atheist or a liberal. I've lost count of how many times the same people have asked me these same questions over the years. Perhaps my answers have never been satisfactory or sufficiently memorable. Or maybe those who ask cannot comprehend how someone like me could have found his way here and managed to stay as long as I have. It probably doesn't help matters that I'm not sure how to explain myself.

If you missed Joce Pritchett's recent article in The Jackson Free Press, "What's It Like Living LGBT in Mississippi?," be sure to check it out. I suspect that many Mississippi atheists will be able to relate to some of what she has to say, although some have certainly had different experiences of Mississippi.

Pritchett notes that people who have lived here long enough to remember all the violence and hatred surrounding school desegregation have good reason to be wary.
When I say that some LGBT Mississippians are afraid to come out of the closet and live authentic lives, it's not theoretical or an intellectual decision—they are genuinely afraid for their lives and livelihoods.