GodBlock inspires controversy — among atheists

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One would expect that Christians, Muslims, Jews and other religious people would be offended by new "GodBlock" software aimed at removing Biblical references from children's computer screens. But a number of atheists don't like the tool either.

The program, according to its designers, "will test each page that your child visits before it is loaded, looking for passages from holy texts, names of religious figures, and other signs of religious propaganda. If none are found, then your child is allowed to browse freely."

"I don't like it," David Silverman, national spokesperson and vice president of American Atheists, told the People's World. "I don't believe in sheltering kids from information."

American Atheists is the leading organization in the U.S. fighting for the total separation of church and state, and dates its founding to 1963. Atheists, a largely misunderstood group, generally pride themselves on favoring the free flow of ideas.

GodBlock's defenders have argued that children need to be protected from some of the truly horrifying imagery in the religious texts. Penn Jillette, of the comedy-magic duo Penn and Teller, said of GodBlock via Twitter, "Finally some software to help your children avoid dangerous crazy violent sick sh*t that we have proof does real damage."

Silverman quickly agreed that "there are some disgusting things in the Bible. They're talking about smashing babies against the rocks, talking about drinking [urine] and eating dung. There's really horrible stuff: the genocide, of course, the hate, it's all in there. The whole process of killing people because they're different - ‘suffer not a witch to live' - that stuff."

But "I think kids need to see them," Silverman continued. "We should not be afraid of information exchange. We should not be afraid of anyone learning anything." He dismissed the idea that the Bible should be blocked as some sort of pornography, saying, "I wouldn't put the Bible in the same category as pornography. I would put it in the same category as very bad literature."

Of course, extreme right-wing Christians and Islamists have often tried to ban things they found offensive. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani tried to shutter the Brooklyn Museum because of a controversial art work, and Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, ordering that he be killed for publishing his novel "The Satanic Verses."

"We shouldn't be like them," Silverman said.

Supporters of GodBlock argue that the program is necessary to shield kids from information that will lead them into organized religion. "Even children raised in a secular household," says godblock.com, "are vulnerable to content on the web."

But Silverman doesn't agree that children are so easily influenced: "I tell everybody to read the Bible and I mean it. I say, the best way to make an atheist is to give them a Bible and plenty of time."

Arguing the necessity of their program, GodBlock's creators write, "In the last century, the United States has seen a resurgence of fundamentalist religion. Fundamentalist Evangelicals, Mormons, Baptists, Muslims, and Jews have held back progress in science, human rights, civil rights, and protecting our environment."

But other atheists argue that the free flow of ideas, more than anything else, benefits the atheist viewpoint.

The so-called New Atheist movement, spurred on by authors Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, a philosophically diverse group, has been gaining ground quickly - so much so, in fact, that the fastest growing demographic in American society is that of the non-believer. The number of people who claim "no religion," according to surveys, has gone from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2009.

Photo: www.godblock.com