Prayer at City Hall

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

On Tuesday, I was contacted by a producer with Radio-Canada (the French division of CBC) for an interview. They were putting together a téléjournal (television news) piece about prayer in Winnipeg City Council meetings, and were hoping for comment from the Winnipeg Skeptics. I agreed to speak with them, and also attempted to put them in contact with Jeff Olsson of the Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba and Robert McGregor of the Winnipeg Secularists (who, I informed them, had put together a petition on precisely this subject).

Robert McGregor speaks to Catherine Dulude. Image from CBC. Used under fair dealing.

Winnipeg City Council generally starts the day with a prayer—see, for example, the minutes from the City Council meeting on 25 April 2012. (The minutes of all City Council meetings can be found here.)

There were several points that I stressed in the interview, which I’ll summarize here.

First of all, while the Winnipeg Skeptics has no official position with regard to any particular religious claim (except for those that relate to science, such as creationism), the organisation is supportive of secular government over sectarian government.

It is true that Canada doesn’t have a constitutional separation of church and state; indeed, while we have no official religion, our head of state is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. That said, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion.

I have no problem with members of City Council praying privately. I would never ask a politician to “check their religion at the door”. But when religious observance is carried out by an elected body that is meant to represent the people, that religious observance is effectively being carried out on behalf of the people. Canada’s government is committed (nominally, at least) to multiculturalism and religious pluralism. It seems to me that, in such a nation, governmental entanglement with religious practice (such as prayer) should be minimized.

Even the most benign, vague, and seemingly inoffensive prayers can be divisive. A simple prayer to “God” may be offensive to a deist, who may not believe in an interventionist god, or to a Hindu, who may believe in many. Members of minority religious or cultural groups may see governmental prayer as another way in which they are marginalized.

As is to be expected, the five-minute discussion that I had with the journalist was cut down to a single soundbite—but one that accurately represented my position—while Robert McGregor was (appropriately) given a more extensive interview. I thought that the finished piece (which is a distinctly Manitoban combination of French and English) was very good, and you can view it here.

Image from CBC. Used under fair dealing.

Less good was the online article summarizing the téléjournal piece, which identified me as the organiser of the Winnipeg Secularists and seemed generally convinced that Robert and I were the same person. This has since been corrected, but until about an hour ago still listed my name as “Greg”.

If you don’t read French, feel free to have Google translate the article for you. Alternatively, there is a similar article (bereft of any reference to yours truly) on CBC. The usual caveats against reading the comments section apply, of course.

Episode 17: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 2

Episode 17: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 2

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, host Jeffrey Olsson continues his discussion with Ali Ashtari (a former Shia Muslim), Scott Carnegie (a former Mormon), and Greg Christensen (who dabbled in Christianity), talking about how leaving their faiths behind has changed their lives for the better.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown | Quebec Kids Cannot Opt Out of Religion Course (Redux) | Expelled Exposed | NOVA | Neil deGrasse Tyson | The Atheist Experience | Timetree | Shia Islam | Anglicanism | Mormonism | Leaving Faith Behind (Blog, Book)

Also on this episode, the second instalment of Where’s My Jetpack? This week Old Man Newman asks, “Where’s my pet dinosaur?”

Where’s My Jetpack? Links: Jack Horner: How to Hatch a Dinosaur (Wired, TED Talk, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe) | Woolly Mammoth to be Cloned (Discovery News, BBC, Discoblog) | Dinosaur Taxonomy

Programming Note: In the coming weeks we start releasing an episode every second Sunday. We are making the switch to a bi-weekly release model to allow our team more time to research topics and edit podcasts. This will ultimately serve to provide you, our listeners, with a higher quality listening experience!

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown

The Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown is back… and this year more cities are participating than ever before!

The Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown is a British-style pub quiz that occurs every year on or around Pi-Day (the fourteenth of March) in multiple locations across Canada, with local and national bragging rights at stake. Teams of four(-ish) will compete in a series of five rounds of questions to see whose knowledge of all things skeptical will reign supreme!

If you want to participate, form a team of up to four players and come down to the closest event near you. And if you don’t have a team, don’t worry about it! Single players will be placed into new or existing teams upon arrival. If you decide to come down, I will personally guarantee you’ll have a great time!

Our event in Winnipeg will be held at the Norwood Hotel (112 Marion Street) on 14 March 2012 at 7:00 pm. You can RSVP at our Meetup site, or you can just show up!

But if you’re not in Winnipeg, you can attend one of the four other events across Canada this year.

City Venue Date Time
Halifax TBA TBA TBA
Niagara Region Mahtay Café TBA TBA
Ottawa Foolish Chicken 14 March 2012 TBA
Vancouver Billy Bishop Legion 14 March 2012 7:30
Winnipeg Norwood Hotel 14 March 2012 7:00

Participation is free!

The champion team for the past two years running is missing a core member. Come on out and give it your best. Have fun, and maybe walk away as the new national skeptical champion!

For more information on the other locations across Canada, this post will be updated as information becomes available. You can also email XCANSKEPSMACK@gmail.com for more info.

Episode 16: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 1

Episode 16: Leaving Faith Behind, Part 1

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, host Jeffrey Olsson sits down with Ali Ashtari (a former Shia Muslim), Scott Carnegie (a former Mormon), and Greg Christensen (a former Protestant Christian) to discuss their journeys away from faith.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Third Annual Cross Canada Skeptical Smackdown | Mormon Baptism Targets Anne Frank – Again | Afganistan Koran Protests Claim More Lives | All Dead Mormons Are Now Gay | Shia Islam | Anglicanism | Mormonism

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

Episode 11: Alternative Marriage

Episode 11: Alternative Marriage

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, host Laura Targownik discusses some secular and skeptical perspectives on non-traditional marriage with Ashlyn Noble, Jeff Olsson, and Anlina Sheng.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Winnipeg Sun “Editorial: Rainbow conniption over ‘queer’ pledge” | Winnipeg Free Press “Three’s Company: Polyamory in Winnipeg” | Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha | The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Fundamentalism in Canada by Marci McDonald | Leaving Faith Behind by Jeffery Olsson

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

Episode 4: Skepticon 4 Recap

Episode 4: Skepticon 4 Recap

In this episode of Life, the Universe, & Everything Else, Mark, Leslie, Scott, and Robert talk about the highlights of Mark’s trip to Skepticon 4 in Springfield, MO. You can learn more about Skepticon 4 by visiting their website or by watching the talks that have been made available on YoutTube by Hambone Productions. If you’re interested in hearing more about the Winnipeg Skeptics’ visit to our (now defunct) local creation museum, you can do so here.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Skepticon.org | Hambone Productions | Creation Museum Visit

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

Deconversion

This isn’t my story—I don’t really have a deconversion story. The following is a guest post from Tim Herd, a fellow software developer and member of the Winnipeg Skeptics. Tim, an avid redditor, can be found online at The Flagcarrier. This entry is cross-posted from his blog.


“It is they who see this charade for what it is and join in the pageantry who are to blame.”

—Wiegraf Folles

Today I attended the monthly “Drinking Skeptically” meeting from our local skeptics association. I’ve been skipping it, but I thought I’d go tonight on account of it would help with my being-antisocial problem.

At one point, the topic of Christian upbringings came up. It seems that most of our members were either raised secularly, or given some meaningless wishy-washy version of Christianity that might as well not have been. Maybe not atheism per se, but secularism was the default for them. But not for me. After going through my story a bit, I’ve realized that I would really like a canonical record I can point people to, so I don’t have to keep telling the story and accidentally changing it every time. So, here goes.


First, my background. I was raised, as far as faith is concerned, by a Mennonite mother and a homebrew-protestant father. For those of you unaware, Mennonites are an anabaptist branch of protestantism. Due to 500 years of living in reclusive colonies, they are also effectively their own cultural group. Imagine Ukranians, that speak German, and are devoutly religious, but not in your face about it at all. That is Mennonites. They have a fairly agreeable doctrine, it’s very traditional but not conservative so to speak. They are also pretty progressive. They have great social services they provide, and in general with them it is always help first, proselytize second. All things considered, they are generally a fairly good version of christianity. Obviously though, I still have some disagreements.

My stepdad’s homegrown protestantism, on the other hand, was different. It was a very serious thing, for one. He was of a fundamentalist mindset, but in a very different way. Where most fundamentalists in the States, for instance, look at the physical descriptions in the Bible as literal truth, my stepdad never did. The earth was probably billions of years old, but who cares. If the scientists tell us evolution happened, then God did it. But the moral precepts in the Bible were taken extremely literally. These are the rules. You have to follow them. You have to like them. If you don’t, Hell.

Growing up, I took my “faith” extremely seriously (up until my story here begins, anyway). After all, one wrong move and I’m burning in Hell forever, and that’s a long time. This fucked me up royally. I never had youthful indiscretions. To do that would be a sin. You always hear about the “straight edge” kids. The kids at church private schools who look all prim and proper, and then go lesbian experiment with their first-cousins, drink at 14, sell cocaine, sleep with their youth pastor (all true stories of people I personally know, btw). I was never like that. I never drank. I never smoked. I never even SAW a drug. I never kissed a girl, because what if she’s not religious enough. I never shoplifted. I never lied. I never disobeyed my parents, in any significant way. Because to do that, would be hell.

A lot of people have a strong emotional connection to their religion. I never did. To me, it was quite simple, cut and dry. This book is true. It says I have to do X. Therefore, I’m doing X. No emotional connection required. Part of this was my natural tendencies; I am a computer programmer, and prone to both literal, and critical/rational thinking. But part of this was my parents. You see, my stepdad also took religion very seriously. To him, an emotional connection to religion was evil. After all, if you’re having an emotional connection to, say, the church hymn, you’re gratifying yourself instead of worshipping Jesus. We actually switched churches, three times, and finally ended up no longer attending, because the congregations treated it too much like a social outing, and not enough like the very real threat of hellfire it was.

Because this was a very serious thing to me, I read the entire Bible, cover to cover. Not cherry-picking verses like they like to do, but like an actual book, starting at the front and ending at the back. Unlike almost every other theist-turned-skeptic I know, I was not shocked by the Bible’s insanity. To me, that made no sense. The Bible DEFINED sane, so if I didn’t agree with it, I was wrong. But this had an important effect on me nonetheless.

Remember Mennonites? The specific part of the specific city I live in has one of the highest concentration of Mennonites in the world. There were 12 Mennonite churches within walking distance of my house. A large number of my peers at school were Mennonite. And some of them were really religious. As I started to get close to some of them, I noticed something. None of them were nearly as serious about it as I was. And, well, I considered myself to be doing just the bare minimum to get by. Some of the more openly pious ones (reminiscent of that story about the pharisees praying outside) would not even associate with me, because I “wasn’t religious enough”; I didn’t attend their youth groups with them. To me, their youth groups were nothing but an excuse to socialize, while simultaneously being arrogant and holier-than-thou because they filled their weekly church quota. I would talk to some of these more pious peers, and find out that their Biblical literacy was pathetic. Some didn’t even own a Bible. None of them knew what it said. They all violated the commandments within the Bible daily, and they didn’t even think this was a big deal. In my indoctrinated mind, not taking the Bible seriously was like condemning yourself to Hell with no chance of being saved. And that all these people, including the “most religious” friends I had, acting like it was no big deal? The dissonance was disturbing.

For a while, I could convince myself that those people were just “not true Christians”. The persecution complex that the Bible advocates played well. Obviously, in a church of say 1000 people, there may only be 20 “true Christians”. This was, after all, the rhetoric that my parents preached in our “homechurching” every Sunday, so it made perfect sense. While this is complete bullshit, I believed it right around age 15-17, at the perfect time to ensure I would be socially retarded forever and alienate all the people who could otherwise still be my friends. But I couldn’t believe this forever. Two main things contributed to this.

The first thing was that I sung in the church choir. At the time, we attended a small community church, populated mostly by the elderly. So, the church choir was made up of two main groups of people: The Elderly, and The Preacher’s Family. I assumed, naievely, that the pastor’s family would be of higher theological calibre than other church attendees. But what I saw contradicted this. The preacher and his family, as far as I could tell, sung in the choir simply because, well, that was expected. Where my stepdad had me convinced that I needed to sing to prove that I loved Jesus, the preacher’s family was singing because “what would they think if they saw the preacher’s family not in the choir?”. The internal politics of church life, the putting up images, the constant judging everyone elses’ piety. This was all so strongly distasteful to me that I started to doubt my faith. After all, as far as I knew, the consequences of infidelity was Hell. And the preacher’s family of all people didn’t even take this seriously. Maybe I shouldn’t either.

The second thing that happened, not to get too stereotypical, was science. I took science classes. In biology, I learned about evolution. Natural selection. Common ancestors. I learned that a literal creation was unnecessary. I had never been anti-science. I always acknowledged evolution as being at least somewhat meritous, because why else would they all believe it. But seeing just how thoroughly worked out the science was was a bit of a shock. In physics, I learned about the beauty and simplicity of the laws that governed the world. Before taking gr 11/12 physics, I fully believed that God can and did invoke miracles on a regular basis. After learning the science, I realized that miracles were impossible.

And so, having had my previous worldview shaken thoroughly, I started investigating. I looked up Christian apologetics and tried to convert my long time atheist best friend. But looking up the best arguments that Christians had come up with, having 2000 years to prepare, I found them laughable. Filled with fallacy and appeals to ignorance. This is the best they can come up with, I thought. It was pathetic.

At this point, I was prepared to stop calling myself a Christian. I read over the Mennonite Confession of Faith, and realized that I didn’t agree with any of it. I looked at the “Christians” I knew and saw them as mindless sheep, brainlessly parroting whatever snappy catchphrase they had heard the previous Sunday. I looked at my parents and it occurred to me just how many things they did, that maybe they shouldn’t’ve, but that were justified by their faith. I realized that it would simply be dishonest to call myself a Christian. Instead, I latched onto the concept of Deism. There is a God, but he is clearly not the Christian one, and he is clearly not fucking with the universe. Ever. At this point I was just turning 18

Although I didn’t really believe anyone was listening, at this point I started praying, every night, for the truth. “I don’t know what to believe, God, but I know that what I was taught growing up is a lie. I’m afraid of what I might find out, but I have to know the truth. Please, if you’re out there, show me a sign”. This, every night, for a year. No sign.

When I started university, I got exposed to other viewpoints. In engineering, pretty much everyone was default-atheist. And in computer engineering, everyone was very smart, and thoughtful. Many deep philosophical discussions were had. I saw firsthand just how ridiculous the campus religious groups were, meanwhile I found out that all these godless heathens were actually pretty cool guys. Ehty killed aliens and wasn’t afraid of anything. At this point, I had a bit of a philosophical realization. A universe in which a god exists, but does not interact in any way, shape or form (ie a Deist universe) is indistinguishable from an atheistic universe. They are the same thing. And so once again, I ‘converted’ simply by deciding to be honest about myself. I was an atheist.

Around this time, I had also discovered the atheist haunts on the internet. Places like r/atheism. People like Dawkins and Dennett, Harris and Hitchens. Wikipedia articles on philosophical beliefs. The books Gödel, Escher, Bach and I Am A Strange Loop, which had a very strange, almost spiritual effect on me. I learned about computation theory, AI, theories of mind, all of which served to demystify. To fill some of the gaps that God was hiding in.

All of these resources, combined, had a strong effect on me. But the ONE thing that really gave me that ‘deconversion’ moment was this video, The Instruction Manual For Life. When I saw that piece, I cried. (Ed. note: I just watched it again. I cried again. The last time I cried was in January, upon watching the end of MGS4). It was like the author had lived my life. He verbalized all of my exeriences, all of my thoughts, my fears. In eight minutes of animation. I immediately watched all the other videos uploaded by the two authors of the video, and forevermore it stuck with me.

Now, I am an atheist. I am also a strong skeptic, something much closer to my fundamental nature. I apply my critical thinking across the board. I like to say that my skepticism is axiomatic to my personality, and my atheism is derived from that. In a certain academic sense, this is true. But in a stronger, more emotional, more personal sense, there is more to it. I have personally seen the damage that religion can do. I have never suffered physically due to religion. There are kids who are beaten in the name of God. There are kids who are homeless because their pious parents cannot abide a homosexual in their houses. Hell, think of all the people who are not alive today, thanks to religion. But one thing I have experienced is the thought-supressing effects of faith. My whole life, I was taught to believe a certain thing. To expect a certain thing from the universe. To work towards a certain goal. And then one day I realized I had been lied to, systematically.

Religions both allows and encourages restricting the thoughts of yourself and others. And I can think of nothing more abhorrent. There were times when I personally questioned my own sanity. Everyone else believes this, yet it is so obviously wrong. How can they all be so blind? What if I’m the one who’s wrong. But that’s impossible, see right here this can’t be. But they all say it is. How could I possibly be right here.

And so this is why I am now, finally, at age 21, an anti-theist. Nobody should be forced to think a certain thing. Nobody should be forced to question their own sanity as a result. It is as simple as that.


Thanks for sharing your story, Tim.

Prayer in Manitoba’s Public Schools: Here to learn, except when you’re not

Cross-posted from Subspecies

The Free Press (why do I read the paper?) is reporting that numerous schools in Manitoba still have students recite the Lord’s Prayer. This makes me especially sad as many of the schools listed are ones that myself or my brother have attended. I have no recollection of this, to be honest, with the exception of at J.A. Cuddy in Sanford. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t always been the case, but I’m sincerely confused because I attended Oak Bluff for a few years, and don’t ever remember doing it. Perhaps it blended so seamlessly into my expectations that I never thought it notable enough to remember.

In any case, everyone knows the entertainment in news stories comes from the comments. There are plenty of people spewing venom at this devious, atheist lawyer who is asking the schools to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are a few main themes for this objection:

Kids today are worse than they used to be! This is because they took prayer out of schools! Umm, I’m pretty sure the point of this article is that prayer is still in schools even though it’s not supposed to be. Most likely, you have a nostalgia bias, and remember things better than they were, and any real decline in good behaviour at school is due to other factors.
This country was built on Christian values! WTF, really? First of all, the argument from tradition is one of the worst fallacies. Second of all, this country has committed numerous atrocities based on those same Christian values. Xenophobia, racism and superiority lead to residential schools, Japanese internment camps, anti-Semitism, lack of women’s rights, etc. If those are the sort of values you think we should value and that Christianity promotes, you freaking suck, and Christianity sucks harder.
If you don’t like it, you should go to a country that doesn’t believe in God. Um no, first of all, a country cannot believe in God, only its people can. Furthermore, this particular country enforces the freedom of religious belief, INCLUDING atheism, agnosticism, and all other religions. There are very specific rules for how religion can enter public schools, and it is not allowed to be on school time. If you would prefer a country that does enforce such things, as pointed out by another commenter, I hear Iran is really nice for religious fundamentalism this type of year.
The Lord’s Prayer says nice things that all children should hear, regardless of their religion. First of all, no it doesn’t say anything that is worth saying. Talking about heaven on earth and being forgiven are explicitly Christian sentiments which are not universal. As for the bits about not doing or suffering from evil, isn’t that a given? Why do we need to teach our children, using religious doctrine, not to do evil? Do we need them to pray to an invisible man when someone has done wrong to them, or should we be encouraging them to actually do something about it?
“Who is Chris Tait? Who is he to dictate to others that they can’t pray in school? So schools are [sic] suppose to drop the Lord’s Prayer because some atheist lawyer says so?” No, schools are not supposed to use the Lord’s Prayer because our CHARTER says so. It is the law, the lawyer is reminding them of it!
“Heaven forbid, no pun intended, that the kids of today start their day being thankful, by reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s not have them learn about empathy either. However, if a dissident from an obscure tribe wanted part of their ritual ackowledged or believes read that would be ok, right.” Honestly, I don’t read any part of being thankful in there. I hear praise to God, which is quite different than, golly gee whiz, I’m sure thankful I am a Canadian kid who has rights and laws protecting me like freedom of speech and education! Furthermore, the law is quite clear, it doesn’t matter who you are, you are not allowed to promote religion in school. True, we do teach kids about Native history (grade 6, I think) but I also distinctly remember learning about the Reformation during European History in grade 7. It’s okay to learn about such things for the purposes of knowledge. Just because we made bannock in grade 5 doesn’t mean that the school division is promoting being a Voyageur! There is a difference between knowledge and promotion.
If we don’t allow God in our schools, where will he be when things go wrong? We do not need God to deal with our problems. We deal with problems. If someone is about to be raped, are you going to stand there and let God intervene, or are you going to call the cops?
A Christian agenda teaches love and forgiveness! No, a Christian agenda is a Christian agenda, and as such you cannot teach it in public schools. What is so difficult about this? Can someone seriously argue with me that you cannot teach someone what love is without talking about God? That it is impossible to forgive someone for a wrong without them pleading their case before a man in the sky first? Seriously?
Why don’t people deal with more important issues? This is irrelevant! While it may be true that there are serious issues that require attention, that doesn’t negate the fact that the law is being broken. Should we ignore drunk drivers because there’s a serial rapist? Should all the police in the city work in the North End, because it has some major crime issues, and ignore the rest? Just because X is not as popular as Y doesn’t mean it deserves to be ignored. A similar issue is happening in research. A lot of women get breast cancer, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need money for Parkinson’s Disease or Huntington’s.
This is an atheist deception! What? How? What? Saying atheists are deceiving you, and then listing a bunch of bad things that happen (including in schools that have 100% compliance with the prayer!) is not an argument, it’s a non sequitir.
Children in schools have to hear pro-choice, pro-homosexuality and pro-evoution lectures! This is infringing on our religious freedoms just as much!! No, the charter guarantees that everyone will be treated equally and fairly. Imposing your religious beliefs on everyone is very different than being provided with information that disagrees with your bigoted religious beliefs. The Charter does not protect your right to be an asshole.

Sorry, WFP commenters. If fallacies and false equivalences are all you’ve got for me, I remain unconvinced. Kids go to school to learn information and to learn how to think critically. They spend all day saying, here kids, figure this out! Then they say, okay, now shut off your minds, and talk out loud to a man in the sky. It’s not learning, it’s brainwashing. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s your kid, that’s your own choice, but if you want to brainwash for Jesus, there are plenty of schools that are more than willing to oblige you.

Skeptical News Roundup!

Cross-posted from Startled Disbelief.

There are several newsitems (major and minor) that have cropped up over the last few months that I’ve been meaning to blog about, but have simply slipped through the cracks. As you may have heard, I’m helping Scott Carnegie produce a film about nonbelievers that is scheduled to debut at the Manitoba Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists (MASH) Film Festival on August 14th, and that’s currently taking up much of the time that I usually allocate to writing. So there you go.

Courtesy of DragonArt, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

It’s okay to be Takei.

The Takeis have been in the news quite a bit, lately. Over at Blag Hag, Jen discusses Germany’s Union of Catholic Physicians, which is endorsing homeopathy as a cure for the gay. Fitting: a non-existent solution to a non-existent problem—and (as Jen points out) probably less psychologically damaging than the A Clockwork Orange-style aversion therapy that’s more commonly employed to “treat” gays. But if like cures like, you and I both know that there’s only one cure for gay sex, and it’s gay sex.

Also making the rounds is a blog post by Nathan Heflick at Psychology Today. He talks briefly about a 1996 study that found that while both homophobic and non-homophobic heterosexual men were equally aroused by heterosexual and lesbian pornography, only the homophobes were aroused by man-on-man action. Neither the abstract nor Heflick’s discussion of the study raise any real red flags, but I’m not qualified to evaluate it. I am, however, qualified to snigger.

There’s been much ado over the past few months about Ontario’s public Catholic schools, what with their recent decisions to “ban” rainbows, appropriate donations to an LGBT-friendly help-line for a Catholic homeless shelter, suspend students for expressing pro-choice sentiment, and generally being bigoted and disgraceful institutions. BoingBoing reminds us that the United Nations has condemned Canada’s public religious schools as a human rights violation. (Full disclosure: my eleven-year-old brother attends a Catholic school in Thunder Bay, and by all accounts receives an excellent education.)

Hat tips to Anlina Sheng, Blag Hag, and BoingBoing.

Why, WHO, why?

People have been concerned for some time about cellphones and cancer. I’ve discussed this briefly in the past, first in my response to an awful Free Press article about “dirty electricity”, and then again in my last Skeptical News Roundup.

Despite the hysteria that has gripped news organisations and Facebook users alike over the WHO’s recent classification of cellphone use as a type 2B potential carcinogen, there is still no good evidence that your mobile device is poisoning your brain.

Hat tips to Skeptic North and BoingBoing.

Scott Adams almost catches up to Vox Day in the douchebag department.

I enjoy Dilbert, but I have the good sense to be a little ashamed about that, because Scott Adams is such an appalling jackass. He has a history of saying laughably stupid things, and when people call him on it, he responds by ridiculing his critics for taking what he has to say seriously. (He sort of reminds me of Insane Clown Posse in that respect.)

Anyway, it’s now been revealed that—surprise, surprise—he’s been going around the Internet with a pseudonym, praising Scott Adams (himself) as a “certifiable genius”, and going on to claim that those who disagree with him are “too dumb to understand what he’s saying”.

What a douchebag.

Hat tip to Pharyngula.

Dear Oprah…

As you might imagine, I don’t much care for Oprah. I cheered when Brian Dunning named her #1 on his list of celebrities who promote harmful pseudoscience. BoingBoing contributor David Ng does an excellent job of elaborating on her history of endorsing bad science.

That was why I was so delighted when I heard that Opera Software has been receiving emails intended for Oprah for years. And they responded to them!

Hat tip to BoingBoing.

And finally…

The fool, or the fool who follows him?

Also, remember when Judgement Day happened last month? Well, apparently some people were a little upset about it. For example, this woman slashed her daughters throats with a box cutter. So… there’s that.

Hat tip to Pharyngula.

Non-believer? We need your help!

“The Non-Believers’ Beliefs – A Short Film”

If you identify as atheist, agnostic, non-theist, or non-believer of some fashion, then we want to talk to you! We are looking for non-believers that we can interview for a short film about what they do believe, and why; where do you get your morality and ethics from? What do you value?

Co-Producers Scott Carnegie and Gem Newman of the Winnipeg Skeptics are making this film which will premiere at the M.A.S.H. (Manitoba Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists) Film Festival at the Park Theatre on August 14th.

If you are interested in being a part of this project, please contact Gem Newman (spurll@gmail.com) with your name, email address, phone number (cell preferred), and availability for the months of June and July; if you will be away on holidays please indicate the dates so that we can arrange schedules.