Monday, February 20, 2017

The Reason Review 2-1: Theocons, murtads, and Course 0

 The Reason Review - Volume 2 Issue 1 


Editorial Message

Dear Readers,

Welcome to The Reason Review 2-1, the first issue of the Spring 2017 semester.

There is, of course, plenty of catching up to do over the winter break and IAP period. This issue includes select articles on the challenges facing secularism in American governance, including ones on the (now on hold) 7-country travel ban, the new administration's ambitions for the Johnson Amendment, and the DeVos confirmation. In addition, the issue includes worrying reports and assessments on anti-secular trends and ideologies in government.

On the positive side, SSOMIT has gotten off to a roaring start, having collaborated with Blue Ocean Faith on our "Bon Voyage: Leaving Faith on Good Terms" event for ex-Christians, near the end of the IAP period. Shortly after the semester began, and despite a couple of weather-related hiccups, we also held a film screening with live Q&A, as well as a museum trip, for our first Darwin Day celebrations in living memory.

We're keeping the momentum up with the upcoming launch of our "Course 0" event series. This a new series designed to combat apatheism and foster a more intellectual approach to atheism and secularism, so that members of our community are more aware of precisely what arguments they're rejecting and why. A sort of "Defence Against the Dark Arts" for disbelievers, the need for which has been highlighted further by my recent on-campus run-ins with theistic apologetics from multiple religions.

Finally, we would like to congratulate MIT professor Alan Lightman on being honored by the Humanist Hub with its first "Humanism in Literature" Award.

Hope you enjoy the issue.


Sohan Dsouza
Editor of The Reason Review
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MON FEB/27: SSOMIT Course 0 Subject 1 -- Science, Religion, and Astronomy

The Secular Society of MIT is launching a new lecture/panel/discussion series designed to educate on and foster a thinking approach to secularism, skepticism, and atheism. Our first subject will be "Science, Religion, and Astronomy", featuring locally-based skeptic and author, Dr Aaron Adair. Dr Adair will speak on scientific explanations for claimed religious phenomena, using the Biblical tale of the Star of Bethlehem as a central case study.
More at

TUE FEB/21: SSOMIT Darwin Day Tabling

While SSOMIT's Darwin Day film screening made it to execution by a hair's breadth, the snow closure on the preceding Thursday in its entirety meant that there was no chance to table as planned. The tabling day has been moved to the 21st, and to the Memorial Lobby in the middle of the Infinite Corridor. Drop by between 10am and 4pm to check out our cool new Evogeneao Tree of Life poster and our other SSA tabling kit goodies, and to pick up Darwin Fish stickers and testudine-shaped candy.

TUE FEB/21: Disproof Atheism Society -- Everything You Know about Sex Is Wrong: The Gender Binary & God

The Disproof Atheism Society will present a talk about God and gender in celebration of Darwin Day by Abby Hafer, Prof. of Anatomy and Physiology (Curry College).  (For a preview, see

SUN FEB/26: Humanist Hub -- Alan Lightman: Humanism in Literature Award Recipient

We are delighted to honor Dr. Alan Lightman with our first-ever Humanism in Literature Award. This award was created to celebrate an author who has exemplified and illustrated the values of Humanism through art and literature. He is a professor of the practice of the humanities at MIT and was the first professor at MIT to receive a joint appointment in the sciences and the humanities.

More at


SSOMIT and Blue Ocean Faith organize event for ex-Christians

The Secular Society of MIT and MIT's Blue Ocean Faith chaplaincy collaborated to organize an on-campus dialogue dinner event, "Bon Voyage: Leaving Faith on Good Terms", for those leaving or already out of Christianity. The evening began with opening addresses by representatives of both organizations, followed by three ex-Christian speakers talking about their experiences having once been in and having parted with Christianity. It continued with more such stories from attendees in open-mic format, and ended with a moderated group discussion on the ex-Christian experience.

SSOMIT screens Flock of Dodos and organizes museum trip for Darwin Day

The Secular Society of MIT marked Darwin Day with a special film screening of acclaimed pro-evolution comedic documentary Flock of Dodos.

The film's maker Randy Olson and Fresh Pond Research Institute founder Steven Orzack -- both Harvard PhD graduates in biology -- joined over live video call and in person, respectively, for a Q&A session on evolution science, science education, and science communication, especially in light of recent political developments.

Attendees were treated to special birthday cake alluding to the other major occasion that week.

A group of biodiversity and biological evolution enthusiasts also set out for the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge over the weekend, to view some of the HMNH and Museum of Comparative Zoology life-sized taxidermy specimens and skeletons/fossils therein -- with special attention to the section dedicated to explaining the science and scientific consensus on evolution by natural selection.

Man Given 3-Year Sentence for Insulting Putin

Kazakh criminal law says one cannot incite “social, national, generic, racial, class, or religious hatred” and is prohibited from insulting “the national honor and dignity of religious feelings of citizens.”

Sick Minnesota boy died 'after parents prayed instead of calling ambulance'

When they returned, they allegedly found Seth collapsed on the floor but decided to pray for his recovery rather than seek medical attention.

Saudi mufti warns of ‘depravity’ of cinemas and concerts

He warned that cinemas "might show movies that are libertine, lewd, immoral and atheist, because they rely on films imported to change our culture", according to Sabq.

Telugu director arrested for showing 'Shivalinga' in bad light

ecently, teaser of ‘Devuda’ was released on YouTube by the director and the film producer G Hari Kumar Reddy, prompting a complaint by a section of society saying it has hurt their religious sentiments, the officer said.

Jerry Falwell Jr. Asked to Lead Trump Higher Education Task Force

Falwell acknowledged the controversies surrounding Trump, but he said he believed Trump was the better choice to advance causes championed by evangelical and other conservative Christian communities.

Leaked Draft of Trump’s Religious Freedom Order Reveals Sweeping Plans to Legalize Discrimination

It also, by extending some of its protections to one particular set of religious beliefs, would risk violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

President Trump Says That Religious Freedom Is 'Under Threat'

"I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution," Trump said during remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, a high-profile event bringing together faith leaders, politicians and dignitaries.

‘I’m an Atheist’: Stephen Hawking on God and Space Travel

"What I meant by 'we would know the mind of God' is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn't. I'm an atheist.""

US Mosque hosts celebration in honor of Pakistani killer

The Gulzar E Madina Mosque in Pikesville, Maryland hosted an “Urs” in honor of the infamous killer on February 12th. Urs is a traditional commemoration usually given to Saints and Holy personages.


Mumtaz Qadri's shrine: In memory of Salmaan Taseer’s assassin

“To pray at his grave is a guaranteed way to have it answered, for Qadri has earned a place at the side of the Prophet (PBUH) through his sacrifice,” he added, as we walked through the courtyard into the shrine.

Fewer Americans are practicing religion

A staggering 21 percent of those surveyed said they don’t practice a “formal religion” — up from the 15 percent who said that in 2008, according to Gallup.

Iran’s Oddly Selective Crackdown on Christians

One is Maryam Naghash Zargaran, 38, a schoolteacher who converted from Islam to Christianity and was sentenced to four years in prison.

A smokescreen for bigotry: Disguising anti-Muslim bias with land-use objections

But when the Islamic Center of Culpeper bought a parcel of land and proposed a small mosque, a local Republican activist whipped the community in a frenzy over the sewage permit, which became a sneaky way to block the entire project.

As Shariah Experiment Becomes a Model, Indonesia’s Secular Face Slips

In the decade and a half since, Indonesia as a whole has drifted in a conservative direction, and Aceh, once an outlier, has become a model for other regions of the country seeking to impose their own Shariah-based ordinances, alarming those who worry about the nation’s drift from secularism.

The Saudi women afraid to go home

Arwa argued that as she had publicly renounced Islam, had questioned and challenged the country's guardianship system, and had left her home and the country without the appropriate permissions from her guardian, it would not be safe to return.

How Betsy DeVos Used God and Amway to Take Over Michigan Politics

Across those efforts, one constant is the DeVos family’s devout Christian beliefs, and the indivisibility they see between Christian and Calvinistic notions and their conservative politics.

Studying at the Bahai secret university

"In my belief, you're not supposed to lie about your faith even when facing death. So I wrote back, I was not Muslim. They said, 'Good luck, you can't enter university.'"

Six former Jehovah’s Witnesses share their stories in powerful new videos

But there were many in the audience who had never been Witnesses, and who had up until now been largely unaware of the way Watchtower ran its ship. The look of astonishment and horror on some of their faces was palpable.

You have to be Christian to truly be American? Many people in the U.S. say so.

This opinion is apparently becoming much less popular with the younger generation of Americans, who are less likely to affiliate with a religion than generations before them.

Leaving Islam in North America 

One common method of dismissing her aims, Haider said in the speech, is to assume that she is “pro-war” or that she broadly supports the far-right agenda in some way, though neither is the case.

Trump's theofascist

Bannon, by contrast, tends to treat religious affiliation wholly as a function of ethno-national identity: "We" in the West must affirm our Christian identity or we will be overrun by dangerous outsiders (Islamists) who will impose a different identity upon us.

How Russia Became the Leader of the Global Christian Right

In the first 18 months after his return to the presidency in 2012, Putin corralled protesters, smothered many of the remaining independent media outlets, and dissolved the distance between the Kremlin and the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Pakistani Hindus lose daughters to forced Muslim marriages

Every year, Muslim men abduct and forcibly convert about 1,000 girls — mostly Hindus, but also Christians, according to the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, a local human rights group.


Simon Cottee -- Why Ex-Muslims Pig Out

In my research on Islamic apostasy, I found that pig meat has a special place in the hearts and minds of former Muslims. For many, the consumption of pig meat was a crucial point in their passage out of Islam.

(SATIRE) London “Muslim” Restaurant Owner’s Actions Have No Basis in Islam

Yet in today’s media, all these considerations are ignored and tossed aside. When a person who appears to be Muslim commits an act of generosity, his actions are automatically attributed to Islam. Ironically, reports in this case indicate that Mr. Almuhammad was not even that religious, and had not even read the Qur’an.

Elif Shafak -- The Reina atrocity shows how deeply Islamic fanaticism has taken hold in Turkey

For weeks prior to New Year’s Eve, ultra-nationalist and Islamist groups had been distributing flyers on the streets saying “Muslims do not celebrate Christian festivals”.

Sohaila Abdulali -- I'm a slacker Muslim. But Donald Trump has us atheists nervous

I care about many things. Allah doesn’t happen to be one of them. I’m just a slacker Muslim. I just don’t care. I don’t WANT to care. Why can’t I just not care?

From The Saudi Kingdom to EXMNA (and back)

But it has changed and inspired me in more ways than I realized. I am no longer content with being in the closet forever. I am no longer resigned to live a life of pretense driven by rules and ideas that I don’t believe in.

Sana Ahmed -- Why I rejected religion

Questioning religion can be deemed as blasphemous, and one can even languish in jails if one gets in trouble with the authorities, or worse, angry mobs, if you’re unlucky.

Walking by Moonlight: My Journey Out of Islam

Furthermore, Muslims are not the only ones who claim that their book is perfect and divinely inspired. We can compare what other religions say about their perfect books with the same passion and certainty as Muslims: No Man Could Have Written This.

Kieryn Darkwater -- I Was Trained for the Culture Wars in Home School, Awaiting Someone Like Mike Pence as a Messiah

Christofascists have been wanting someone like Pence in the White House and, until now, didn’t have a way to get one in. They know Trump is easily manipulated and will change his mind with the wind if it makes him feel more powerful and famous.

Jay Michaelson -- Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Is Payoff to the Religious Right

Post-election analyses have focused on the “white working class,” but it’s evangelicals who held their noses, thought of the Supreme Court, and voted for Trump.  Now they are being rewarded.

Emma Green -- Donald Trump Declares a Vision of Religious Nationalism

Trump’s message seems to be directed toward these groups: He is affirming their sense of the tie between national and religious identity, and pushing back against those who would diminish either of those identities.

Catherine Rampell -- Religious law may be coming to America. But it’s not sharia; it’s Christian.

This is, of course, all in the name of preserving religious freedom. Except that it allows some people to practice religious freedom by denying jobs, services and potentially public accommodation to those with differing beliefs.

Eiynah NiceMangos -- Empowering Islamists under Trumpism

The left has it’s versions of  'not as bad as' too, the same way it has it’s versions of faux-minists, like those who champion the hijab carelessly as a feminist symbol, or those who think Sharia apologist Sarsour was a good pick to lead the Women's march.

K Anis Ahmed -- Bangladesh’s Creeping Islamism

This is exactly what Islamists have long wished for, particularly Hefazat-e-Islam, a network of madrasa leaders who hope to introduce Shariah in Bangladesh. But why these changes now, and from a nominally secular government that seems to have tried, if unevenly, to clamp down on Islamists in other ways?

Julie Lenarz -- Sweden's 'feminist government' wearing hijabs in Iran is a joke – they are bowing down to oppressors

But instead of highlighting their plight, Sweden's female lawmakers smiled as they signed several contracts with the Islamic Republic and hid behind the pitiful excuse that they were just respecting the norms of the country.

Ruby Hamad -- Why it's not enough to counter fear of 'Sharia law' by insisting Islam is 'feminist'

It shouldn't be that difficult to make a distinction between the two and it could be as simple as qualifying the difference between criminal Sharia law, or hudud, and the private moral code. As long as we fail to make this simple but vital distinction, Muslims will continue to be demonised and the real issue will continue to be missed.

Imtiaz Shams -- Why I left Islam and now help others who are doing the same

Although we received support from the wider public (including Muslims), we also received plenty of hate mail and abuse. I've had people spit on the ground and call me a murtadd, while insults to female Faith to Faithless speakers are always framed in disgustingly sexist terms.


Rationality Rules -- Argument From Irreducible Complexity Debunked

In 1996, the Intelligent Design advocate Michael Behe published a book titled “Darwin's Black Box”, and in which, he claimed that many biological systems, such as the human eye, are irreducibly Complex and therefore must’ve been designed by a god… by a very, very specific god… this, is the Argument from Irreducible Complexity Debunked. -- The danger of admitting you're an atheist Muslim

Ali Rizvi was raised in a Shi'a Muslim family, but for him, religion always raised more questions than answers.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert -- Ricky Gervais And Stephen Go Head-To-Head On Religion

Ricky Gervais proves a formidable opponent for Stephen in a spirited conversation about belief, religion and atheism.

Polite Conversations -- Episode 25 - Life in Saudi Arabia: Burqas & Bras

Join me for the second interview in my 'life in Saudi Arabia' series. I chat with a Saudi feminist now based in the UK, about her life growing up, the first time she put an a'abaya (modesty cloak thing) on, the strange contradictions of living in a theocracy in the 21st century.

Polite Conversations -- Episode 26 - Life in Saudi w/Ali Rizvi "The Atheist Muslim"

Join me and my good friend Ali Rizvi for a conversation about Life in Saudi Arabia. Ali and I share a very similar geographical background. We both grew up as Pakistani expats in Saudi in fairly liberal Muslim families. It’s always fun to compare notes…

Atheist Experience -- 21.07 with Matt Dillahunty and Don Baker

The Atheist Experience episode 21.07 for February 19, 2017, with Matt Dillahunty and Don Baker. Stem Cell Snafu. Don examines the huge debt to humanity incurred through stem cell research restrictions.

The Thinking Atheist -- God, Guns & Glory: Religion and the Military

How often is the military colored by religious language and superstitious thinking?  And is a taxpayer-funded military supposed to be promoting God?  This show explores the issue with the perspectives of many listeners, and an interview with Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

The Thinking Atheist -- Religious Family / Conditional Love

This broadcast is about atheists and skeptics, and how they deal with the often conditional love on a religious family tree. 

ScathingAtheist -- 209: Nephi Fo Fum Edition

In this week’s episode, Nephi’s brothers will try to kill him half a dozen more times, a porn website teaches Mormons what binders of women should really look like, and Violets turn out not to be blue, which is probably why we call them violets.

Friendly Atheist Podcast -- Ep. 144 - Rebecca Hensler, Founder of Grief Beyond Belief

Rebecca Hensler is the founder of Grief Beyond Belief, a Facebook group devoted to faith-free grief support for those who have just lost a loved one. We spoke about how honesty about death can be comforting for atheists, what she would say to religious people who want to help atheists grieve but say the wrong things, and her go-to resources for secular people coping with loss.

Friendly Atheist Podcast -- Ep. 145 - Maggie Garrett, Legislative Director for Americans United

Maggie Garrett is the Legislative Director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. On the day of Donald Trump‘s inauguration, we spoke about the church/state issues affecting his Cabinet nominees, what a future Supreme Court might look like, and whether a right-wing government is good for groups like Americans United.


2012 -- "Sam Harris Destroys Craig in debate"

The second annual God Debate features atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris and Evangelical Christian apologist William Lane Craig as they debate the topic: "Is Good From God?"

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