- Freethought Radio expands to 35 new markets
- All things elastic: 11/24/10 Atheist Cartoon
- Education White Paper: more state-funded 'faith' schools, and compulsory worship and Religious Education remain unreformed
- It's time to get off the "Telephone"
- Dick's Sporting Goods caves to American Family Association bullying
Posted: 24 Nov 2010 05:42 PM PST
Freethought Radio, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's weekly weekend radio program featuring irreverent views, news, music and interviews, is debuting on 35 new stations starting this Saturday.
Starting Saturday, Nov. 27, Freethought Radio can be heard from 8-9 am in:
Freethought Radio, co-hosted by FFRF directors Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, began in 2006. It later became part of the Air America Network weekend lineup for more than two years.
Since Air America folded, Freethought Radio has aired in Madison, Wis., where it is originally broadcast, in Anchorage, Atlanta, Monterey, and Grand Rapids, Mich., as well as having 10,000 regular podcast listeners.
"We don't want to just preach to the deconverted," jokes Gaylor. "You can turn on the radio or TV 24/7 and be preached at. We want to reach the public, and educate them about the views of nontheists," one of FFRF's two express purposes. FFRF is also a major state/church watchdog.
"This is radio for the rest of us," says Barker, who bills himself as "the friendly neighborhood atheist of the airwaves."
This week's show highlights young nonbelievers, with guest Jesse Galef, who works with the Secular Student Alliance.
Freethought Radio originates in the studio of The Mic. 92.1,
Ada/Grand Rapids, MI: WPRR AM 1680 and 95.3 FM Public Reality Radio, Airs Weds 3 pm, Thurs 3 am
FFRF archives all of the shows online. Listeners can also sign up to hear the show view iTunes, etc. For more information: http://ffrf.org/news/radio/
Posted: 24 Nov 2010 10:55 AM PST
Posted: 24 Nov 2010 10:54 AM PST
The BHA has responded to the Government's White Paper, 'The Importance of Teaching', which lays out proposed changes to the education system in England, welcoming the commitment given to good sex and relationships education and PSHE, but has expressed severe concern about the silence within the White Paper on the future within the compulsory curriculum subject of Religious Education (RE), on the future of compulsory religious worship in all schools, and on the failure of the White Paper to engage with the widely-shared concerns of the British public over an increase in the number of state-funded 'faith' schools.
The BHA has warned that government proposals to leave religious education (RE) largely unchanged in the reform of the curriculum would be a 'profound missed opportunity'.
In the new education white paper, set to be introduced as a bill later this year, the government appears to propose retaining the current arrangements for RE, despite consistent criticism from religious and secular groups and bodies such as Ofsted.
In most schools RE is taught according to syllabuses set by local committees which comprise representatives of the main religions. In most faith schools, it is taught according to the religion of the school and not inspected by Ofsted.
These arrangements have attracted continual criticism for leading to patchy and uneven provision of RE, with local syllabuses being overly prescriptive and cluttered with incidental detail. A recent report by Ofsted also found that non-religious beliefs such as Humanism are frequently excluded or dealt with poorly and that RE teachers are often uncertain what they are trying to achieve in the subject. In faith schools, 'confessional' RE has been linked to problems with community cohesion and the teaching of creationism.
BHA chief executive Andrew Copson said 'To leave the current arrangements for RE in place would represent a profound missed opportunity. Properly taught and examined, RE has the potential not only to be a rigorous introduction to the diverse philosophical heritage of humanity but also a subject where, introduced and engaging with a range of religious and non-religious beliefs and values, young people can refine their own developing worldviews. It can be a hugely important subject which has the potential to greatly enrich young people's lives, but the current system, including the current legislative framework, prevents it from doing so. All too often pupils are denied the opportunity to really engage with the subject, which is frequently delivered by teachers who are unsupported and unsure what they are trying to achieve.'
'When the government is enacting sweeping reforms in all aspects of education, it seems absurd to leave the overly prescriptive and wasteful arrangements for RE intact. The government has a unique opportunity to turn RE into an academically rigorous subject, taught by specialists, which covers a range of religious and non-religious beliefs – we and many others will be urging them to take it.'
Compulsory religious worship
'The Importance of Teaching' is silent on the future of compulsory religious worship in English schools – currently something required by law on a daily basis.
Mr Copson said, 'The White Paper emphasises that the Government is committed to empowering and listening to teachers. Every major teaching union in the last few years has agreed that the law requiring daily Christian worship in schools ought to be repealed – why isn't the Government listening to them?
'If this restrictive law is scrapped, schools will be free to hold inclusive educational assemblies which can build shared values and a sense of community. If the government really is serious about abolishing unfair and unnecessary laws, and about "freeing" schools, then the law on school worship should be near the top of the government's list, not excluded from consideration entirely.'
Encouraging new 'faith' schools
The White Paper reproduces earlier Government assumptions that an increase in the number and type of state funded faith schools is unproblematic and something to be encouraged.
Naomi Phillips, BHA Head of Public Affairs, said, 'There has been no engagement by the Government with the issues that many people have with different state-funded 'faith' schools from discriminatory admissions and employment policies to their extremist teaching. Government should not just wash its hands of responsibility for children's rights and fair parental access to local schools in the name of a spurious freedom of choice, and while deregulation may be a liberation for many, it is a denial of protection for many more.'
Posted: 24 Nov 2010 12:01 AM PST
It is a common assertion that many religious stories as we know them can't be validated because they weren't written down until many years after the events supposedly took place. As evidence, people often cite the game "Telephone," where a phrase whispered to one person ends up something completely different when passed individually from one person to the next in succession, through a chain of many people, usually children. This "evidence" of the unreliability of oral transmission of information is not valid and should be dropped because it presents a false picture of the problem and it's distracting. There are more than enough valid arguments against mythical stories and the superstitions they spawn.
In the Telephone game, there are several aspects that are at odds with what happens during the passing on of a society's oral traditions. (I do not wish for anyone to think this list is exhaustive. Anyone who has a professional or academic background in this area can certainly add to this list, or modify mine to give it more accuracy.)
First: The beginning sentence whispered to the first player is without any context. It would be an interesting experiment if before the game began, the players were to listen to a short story, with the chosen sentence to be passed be from the story. This would give context, with the likely result being the transmission of the phrase being more intact than it would be otherwise.
Second: The players are expectingan odd result at the end. When the game is over, everyone is hoping to laugh at the result because of the predicition that there will be a funny result. In the passing on of ancient oral histories, that would not be a factor.
Third: Repetition. A great number of a society's oral histories are stories that are repeated continually. They are often repeated during yearly ceremonies commemorating the various cyclical points the society has recognized. They are also used during times of stress, such as just before a war gets underway or in the middle of a drought, for example. The stories that would be told during times of joy would also be repeated, such as when a child is born or when a wedding takes place. These stories will be repeated many times during a person's life.
Plus, the stories being told during highly memorable events gives additional context, allowing them to be recalled with relative ease when that event happens again.
Fourth: There is no inherent cadence in "Telephone." When oral traditions are passed on, more likely than not they would be in the form of poetry and/or music. It will be easy for anyone to recognize how simple it is to remember song lyrics, even years after they've last been heard. With poetry the recall powers are the same. These methods of transmission give the information a cadence that provides a framework on which the words are laid, giving them a structure that is, for some reason, a method that human brains (and others, too, most likely) find easy to use for the purposes of recall.
Fifth: If a society has not developed writing, or uses it sparingly, listeners to these oral traditions will be more conscious of the need to remember them because it's all they have. If one looks back far enough before the advent of writing, they likely didn't even contemplate any other options.
One of the reasons a society's elders were once given so much respect is that they were the keepers of their history–a library, if you will. To not keep that library open and functioning is to destroy the society.
Sixth: These stories were usually told in a group setting. Any deviation from the original could be caught by the group of listeners, all acting as verifiers against what they've heard before.
One of the things that got me to thinking about this subject had to do with the death earlier this year of the last woman who spoke Bo, perhaps the world oldest language at the time.
This language is possibly 65,000 years old. The thing that struck me is the natural melodic nature of it. I asked myself the question, "What if all ancient languages were more melodic than today's spoken tongues, which came along after the invention of writing?" If a language is naturally melodic–or tonal, as linguists would say–it would seem that anything spoken in that tongue would be easier to remember.
For a pop culture reference, there was an episode of the '80s TV show Cheers which had as a closing scene the Coach character teaching the Sam character how to memorize information for a night school class they were taking. His "trick" was to sing the material, making it easier to remember.
There are many "tricks" like this–they are known as mnemonics, which comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of memory, Mnemosyne. The "tricks" are many and I won't outline them here. But, it is safe to say that ancient peoples were aware of ways to aid memory and were maybe more keenly aware of its failures than are we, given their necessary attention to the subject. They would put together their stories with various mnemonic methods in mind in order that they would be remembered in an oral society.
There are assertions which continue to be made that try to debunk the Bible based on being written down much later than the stories contained within them. It is generally understood, for example, concerning the New Testament that nothing was written down any earlier than 30 years after the supposed death of Jesus. For Buddha, nothing was written down until about 150 years after his death. Other religious texts are similar in their distance between creation and the stories they contain.
All of this does not mean, however, that the information contained within the stories themselves has been proven to be true if they could be shown to match a previous oral telling (which would be practically impossible). Only that it is not an outlandish claim to make that a story might be close to its original telling when it was eventually written down. We can't dismiss this claim out-of-hand based on the experience of a children's game of amusement.
There are other factors, of course, having to do with deliberate manipulation and undetected mistakes, especially if the stories are being told to outsiders with nothing with which to compare them. Translation from one language to another is also most certainly a factor, among others. There are reasons to challenge the idea that an oral story and its eventual written counterpart are not the same, but to say it can't happen, ever, is a mistake.
Confirming those stories with modern tools and methods, however, is something we can and should do on top of the possibility that the story hasn't remained constant over time, whether it jumped from one medium of transmission to another or not.
I want to share a short quote from Stanley Diamond's introduction to the 1963 book Primitive Views of the World,a collection of essays from various people about how ancient people saw the world.
This is just a small part of a much larger point, among others, that ancient peoples were more closely tied to the earth's cycles and needed to integrate with them in order to survive. With only the initial ability to pass on information orally–and minimally through art–they had to be extremely careful that their stories were accurate and useful and could be remembered.
The fabric of an ancient society is tightly woven with its stories. The fabric will unravel if the stories fail to do their job. If those stories are seriously altered, the fabric comes undone and the society collapses.
As a bit of trivia, according to Guinness Book of World Records,the largest game of Telephone (which they call "Chinese Whispers") was 1,330 children and it took 2 hours and 4 minutes. From their website, "The original sentence was 'Together we can make a world of difference' but once this was passed on 1,330 times it had morphed to 'We're going to break a world record' and finished as an excited 'Haaaa!'")
Posted: 23 Nov 2010 09:05 PM PST
The American Family Association is all over the news this week. Their "War on Christmas" has shown successes, as their latest boycott threat brings Dick's Sporting Goods to its knees . . . yet they've also been declared a hate group.
For the past several years, the AFA has whined, complained, wept and yammered ad nauseam to anyone who would listen about the horror of retailers wishing shoppers "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas". Apparently, AFA's leadership thinks it very important to tie thoughtless purchases of Chinese-made plastic junk for relatives we rarely see to the birth of their Savior.
Over the past five years, according to AFA's special projects director Randy Sharp, the retailers including "Christmas" in their holiday advertisements increased from 20% to 80%. This year, its list of "Companies Against Christmas" has dropped to a record low of
This Friday, AFA planned to direct its 2.3 million members to boycott Dick's Sporting Goods. Dick's had the gall to promote an online "Holiday Shop" instead of a "Christmas Shop"! But what's that? When I look at AFA's website, I do not see Dick's in the "Companies Against Christmas" list. I see it in the "Companies FOR Christmas" list!
That's right, fear of a boycott has led Dick's to change its website today. The "Holiday Shop" graphic seen earlier today (8:30 pm PST) has been replaced by a "Christmas Shop" graphic (8:35 pm PST). Quite literally as I am writing this article. They didn't change the permalink (yet), which still says "HolidayShop".
A number of other retailers, victims of AFA's bullying in the past, have also given in. Fearful of alienating large numbers of customers in a down economy, Target, Sears, Lowe's, Gap, and WalMart have all instilled their ads with that CHRISTmas spirit.
§ Barnes & Noble
§ CVS Pharmacy
§ Office Depot
§ Radio Shack
If this is an inadequate selection for your holiday gift-giving, be sure to check out the "Companies MARGINALIZING Christmas":
§ Banana Republic
§ Bath & Body Works
§ Gap Stores
§ Hancock Fabrics
§ Hy-Vee Stores
§ Old Navy
§ Limited Brands
§ Whole Foods
How will Dick's and other retailers feel knowing that they gave in to the demands of one of the Southern Poverty Law Center's newest designated anti-gay hate groups?
The SPLC lists thirteen designated anti-gay hate groups. Listing by SPLC requires meeting certain criteria:
The AFA's entry, in part:
Other groups recently added include the Family Research Council, Illinois Family Institute, and Americans for Truth about Homosexuality. You may recall our article about AFTAH's anti-gay "Truth Academy" earlier this year, which featured luminaries from the Illinois Family Institute, Coral Ridge Ministries, and others.
What do you think? Will this designation blunt AFA's influence? Will Dick's now be seen as siding not "with Christmas", but with an anti-gay hate group?