Why a new campaign for black atheists does not offend me

The above title may seem odd, but it is a reference to a post I wrote back in October. In that post I wrote about a short piece by a black atheist explaining why she is an atheist. Her basic point was that she didn’t see a distinction between modern day religion and older religions we now accept as fictional, so she concluded that all religion is false. It was faulty reasoning, but that isn’t what got me. What drew my ire was that she then randomly mentioned the color of her skin. I considered that bad writing because it was a non-sequitur which she didn’t even bother to explain. I’m sure being black has contributed greatly to her perspective in life, but failing to draw a distinction between religious premises is not race-dependent. And if it is, she didn’t bother to tell anyone why.

One result of my response post was some misunderstanding by FTSOS readers. Occasional commenter Paul Kussmann, for instance, claimed I was making racial assumptions. Neil Rickert thought I was offended by the specific content rather than the writing itself. Both were wrong, Paul less understandably so than Neil. The fact is, I cringe at bad writing. In that fact is not a claim on my part to be a great writer (though I think of my skills in the area as quite strong). I simply have a considerable concern for language.

This all brings me to African Americans for Humanism. The group is currently running an ad campaign to bring atheism to the black community and/or encourage black atheists to be more vocal. It’s a good campaign because of the high degree of religiosity amongst blacks. We need to discourage religious belief everywhere, but especially where it holds strong. I support the goals of the AAH and I hope it succeeds.

All that said, could it be rightly claimed that any of this offends me? Of course not. I’ve never denied that being a black atheist is often very different from being a white atheist. It’s important to acknowledge, discuss, and understand these distinctions in order to better advance the cause of humanists and Gnu atheists. I’m confident I have never once expressed a problem with any of this. The only way I would have a qualm with the AAH or its goals is if they were ever expressed in a poorly organized, haphazardly composed, or badly written fashion.

Language matters.


I was perusing the letters to the editor for my local paper when I came across one about the treatment of prisoners. It was a response to another letter, but it isn’t necessary to get bogged down in details. The gist is this: Some people think prisoners have it too easy and should get no privileges (such as TV) whereas other people believe it is better to use the carrot instead of the stick. Here is the response I left in the comment section:

[Letter writer] Kevin Tardiff makes some very salient points; I agree with his position.

The point of prison is not to merely punish. Punishment is the vehicle we use for two more important purposes: the safety of society and the rehabilitation of the offender. We cannot achieve these goals if we mistreat those we place behind bars. Isn’t it obvious the U.S. prison system is a failure? Countries which treat their prisoners with a certain level of human respect have lower recidivism rates, less crime, and less violence behind prison walls.

It’s clear there is an underlying desire among many people to get revenge. This reflects the false view that prison is for the primary purpose of punishment, and it’s a petty perspective to have. Aren’t we supposed to be better than those we imprison? People will argue (and some here already have) that violent offenders have mistreated their victims, so we shouldn’t give them any decent treatment in return. This is a bogus, inhumane position that promotes the exact sort of thing we wish to deter. People who make that sort of argument should be ashamed and embarrassed – ashamed because they are seeking hypocritical revenge, and embarrassed because their argument is logically incoherent. Should we also rape rapists in an act of tit-for-tat?

No one is arguing prison ought to be a cakewalk. And, the fact is, it isn’t. That’s why no one wants to be there. But we should have societal safety and rehabilitation in mind when we design prison programs and procedures. Treat the animal in the cage nicely and it won’t bite you when you let it out. Treat it poorly and you get what you deserve.

We’ve tried the macho tough-on-crime bullshit for a few decades now. It hasn’t worked. It has been an expensive endeavor that has only trained people to be better criminals. It’s time we start looking in the other direction. I know people are interested in abstract ideas of justice, but we have to do away with some of that. Let’s hold onto our ideals, of course, but let’s not pretend like we’re actually making anything better in the world by doling out a sort of government-endorsed karma. That might make us feel better in the short-term, but it doesn’t make us any safer or productive as a society.

Okay, they aren’t total cowards

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about The Hostel Life refusing to publish constructively critical comments. Well, I’ve taken another look at the comment section in question. They still haven’t published my original comment (I presume it has been deleted all together), but they did publish this other one:

Again, great article, terrible title.

I’m glad someone has a little integrity. Now go read this wonderful article if you haven’t already.

Colorado considering trans-fat ban in schools

I hope they follow through:

The nation’s leanest state is taking aim at junk food in school cafeterias as it considers the nation’s toughest school trans-fat ban.

A Colorado House committee was scheduled to hear a bill Thursday to forbid any trans-fat in school food — not just the food served through regular cafeteria lunches.

That would mean vending machines, after-school bake sales and popular “a la carte” items on lunch lines such as ice creams or pizza would have to be produced without artery-clogging trans fats.

This would constitute one of the broadest bans in the nation. I fully support it. There is no reason we should be practically trying to produce unhealthy children. It isn’t merely the improvement of their minds that should be our concern.

Colorado has a decent track history of creating good public healthy policies. It also is usually in the top ten in income, so when that is coupled with its expansive outdoor recreational options, the results are generally positive. For instance, as the article states, Colorado is the “leanest” state in the Union. It still has an incredible 19% obesity rate, but this is pretty decent by American standards. (When looking at other health factors, New England tends to dominate the positive ranks.)

I hope to see more aggressive steps by Colorado in the future. It isn’t a polarized state in the eyes of the nation like a Mississippi or a California is, so it has a real chance to be a leader in health.