January 31, 2008

Know Them By Their Deeds: Former Pastor Stole From Children's Food Program

It would seem that only the most callous sort of person would take food from hungry children (although many Republicans would like to end programs to aid such children). According to the Associated Press, a former pastor in Texas is about to be sentenced for stealing $586,347 from a summer program to feed needy children.

James Cornell Clark, formerly a former pastor at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, has already been convicted of importing a Kenyan prostitute and forcing her to have sex with him and is soon to be sentenced on 41 counts of fraud for misrepresenting his church as the sponsor of a Department of Agriculture program to provide meals to needy children over the summer.
Clark was laundering the money through bogus corporations, such as the Mt. Vernon Faith-in-Action Outreach Project and Trinity Christian Outreach Ministries, and putting it to personal use.
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January 30, 2008

Empathy For Christians

Many atheists acknowledge that they sometimes feel sorry for their Christian neighbors. But this sort of pity is not the same thing as empathy. How many atheists experience feelings of empathy for the believers surrounding them? Are such feelings beneficial, possibly contributing to effective dialogue, or do they get in our way?

Pity vs. Empathy

Pity amounts to feeling sorry for someone and often carries a condescending aspect. For example, one may pity Christians for their inability to live free from the delusion that nonbelievers have escaped. Nobody particularly wants to be pitied, as most are aware of the subtle insult it contains.

In contrast, empathy refers to a capacity to relate to another in a nonjudgmental, emotionally relevant manner. When we talk of walking in the shoes of another or seeing the world through someone else's eyes, we are close to empathy. However, empathy carries a vital emotional component in that the empathic persons is able to relate on an emotional level and not simply an intellectual one.

Empathic Understanding of Christians

When I attempt to relate to Christians in an empathic manner, I can begin to understand why atheists are so threatening. Most (if not all) Christians experience periods of doubt. Their faith conflicts with reality, and they are not immune to perceiving the conflict. I imagine that some of these times are scary. After all, many Christians will tell you that their faith is an important part of their identity. Questioning one's identity or encountering threats to how one has defined oneself provoke the sort of existential anxiety with which we can all relate.

We all experience our anxieties, or fears, and we know them to be unpleasant experiences. To reduce these feelings, we engage in all sorts of irrational thought processes and behaviors. These are part of the human condition and by no means unique to Christians. By recognizing them in ourselves, we can better empathize with Christians and perhaps gain insight into our own minds.

To manage the sort of anxiety that comes from doubting their faith, many Christians devalue atheism and criticize atheists. This often leads them to report a strengthening of their faith. If atheism has merit, Christianity, a core part of the identity of many Christians, could be false. Christianity must not be false because this would be too much of a blow to one's identity, and therefore, atheism can have no real merit.

To the outside observer, this seems like a sort of stubborn irrationality. It is irrational, and it does represent a rather primitive attempt to distort reality to preserve a flawed identity. But, whether we want to admit it or not, we should be able to relate if we are honest. Nobody enjoys the feeling that their worldview, indeed their identity, is crumbling. We all use denial and other irrational mechanisms on occasion to ward off uncomfortable feelings.

Atheist, Know Thyself

It is often said, at least within the histories of psychology and literature, that Freud's real contribution involved dispelling the myth of human rationality. Copernicus showed that we do not occupy the center of the universe. Darwin offered a natural explanation for the many species around us and how we fit into a larger biological system. Freud exposed the limitations of our own minds and provided a natural explanation for religious belief.

By bringing empathy to bear in our quest to understand the Christian mind, we are reminded that irrationality is part of the human condition. This may be an uncomfortable truth for many atheists, but I believe that it also offers an invaluable opportunity for us to "practice what we preach." As we encourage the Christian to set aside his or her denial and explore a reality free from delusion, we must be willing to do the same. We must face irrationality in ourselves and be willing to learn from it.

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January 28, 2008

What Is Christian Extremism?

Fred Phelps, Christian extremist
The tagline for Atheist Revolution is "Breaking free from irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism." Most people are familiar with the concept of "religious extremism," but what exactly is Christian extremism?

I trust that you are used to hearing terms such as "religious extremism," "Islamofascist," "Islamic extremist," and the like. If you have been exposed to any of the U.S. news media's coverage of Bush's unjust war in Iraq, you have encountered these phrases countless times. They provide us with a useful starting point in defining Christian extremism.

January 27, 2008

Post on Doubting Faith Included In Christian Blog Carnival

Kudos to Christian blogger, Hopeful Spirit of On the Horizon for including my post, "Doubting Your Faith?" in The Seventh Day blog carnival. Hopeful's rationale for including the post?
Why is a post from an atheist included in a blog carnival hosted at a Christian site? Because the philosophy here at On the Horizon is and always will be “radical inclusivity.” Christians are called to love everyone, including — and many would say especially — our atheist and agnostic brothers and sisters. The author included this description when submitting his article to the carnival: “This post asks Christians who are doubting their faith to consider a possibility that may be new to them - the possibility that their doubt is a healthy reflection of their rational mind trying to break free from superstition to experience genuine meaning.” Here’s an opportunity for Christian and nonbelieving readers to engage in a meaningful dialogue!
If you are interested in this sort of dialogue, check out the carnival and let them know you were there.

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Would You Attend An Atheist Conference?

Do you have any interest in attending an atheist conference? Would a really big one be more appealing? I suppose I've never seriously considered attending an atheist conference. I think I would probably enjoy it, but it is not high on my list of priorities. There are a variety of professional conferences where my attendance could potentially advance my career, and I seem to make it to relatively few of these. Cost and time are the main reasons, but I also tend see this sort of activity as a lot of effort for a fairly small and uncertain benefit. Then again, I've never been one to enjoy the sort of networking that tends to bring people to professional conferences.

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Communicating What's Wrong With Religion

If you are an atheist who is even occasionally vocal about your atheism, odds are good that you have been asked some variation of the following question: "I know you don't believe, but what is so bad about religion?" There are so many valid answers to this question that it is sometimes hard to know where to begin. I tend to emphasize the irrationality and adverse effects of religion, but it is difficult to find a more articulate and thought-provoking response than this one by An Apostate's Chapel. We would all do well to remember it the next time we hear this question.

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January 26, 2008

Anti-Gay Discrimination "Part of Lord's Plan"

American businesses cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation, but what about schools? Evidently, religious schools are perfectly free to discriminate in any manner they see fit. A Riverside (CA) Superior Court Judge recently dismissed a discrimination lawsuit alleging that Wildomar Christian school was violating state law by expelling two students suspected of being (gasp!) lesbians. The basis for this decision was that "...there was no legal basis for the claim that the school falls under the California civil-rights law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in business settings."

The school's "religious code of conduct," in question here, "states that students can be removed from school for immoral or scandalous behavior that contradicts Christian values." Good thing anti-gay bigotry is consistent with Christian values! Fred Phelps would be proud.

According to the school's attorney, John McKay, the decision was fair because the school is a private religious institution which accepts no money from the government. Hmmm...does that mean that they pay takes unlike other religious institutions?
"You can't infringe upon the basic rights of a religious group and their right of association by forcing them to accept people who don't believe in their values," McKay said.
I see. So these Christians must be free to hate whoever they want. If we expect them to treat their fellow humans with dignity and respect, we are violating their "basic rights." Anybody else have difficulty stomaching this sort of rationale?
How could the school teach that homosexuality is a sin, McKay asked, and at the same time allow these two girls to be students there?
Well, I suppose he's got a point there. Since we as a society have agreed to refrain from criticizing religion, no matter how deserved such criticism may be, it looks like our hands are tied. Since the school can't practice tolerance while preaching hatred, and since we refuse to call them on their preaching of hatred, we have no choice but to exempt them from anti-discrimination law!

If you are not as pissed off as I am right now, I'll leave you with a quote from the school's principal, Steve Rosenbaum,
"We are confident that things will continue to proceed according to the Lord's plan."
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January 25, 2008

Christian Culture

Christian Jesus Cross is critical about TV and...
Christian Jesus Cross is critical about TV and Religion (Photo credit: epSos.de)
An intriguing post at ExChristianDotNet recently caught my attention. The author, Layla, mentioned that Christianity was presented to her when she was growing up not as a choice for her to make but as a lifestyle. "It just...was." I think this is an important topic to probe. In fact, it occurs to me that this just might be one of the most important obstacles to increased tolerance of atheists in the United States.

A great many atheists pride themselves in being deep thinkers, scientifically or philosophically inclined sorts, who arrived at atheism after their thorough investigation of religion found it horribly lacking. They look at Christians and think, "If only they had learned how to think critically, they might never have fallen prey to this mass delusion."

Of course, most Christians were raised in their religion from an early age. It feels as much a part of who they are as any other early experience. It should come as no surprise that many Christians enter adulthood never really considering alternatives. Many have never had any reason to do so. Christianity has always been part of their lives. 

As Layla writes,
Like many others here I was raised in the way that Christianity wasn't presented to you as a choice; it was a lifestyle. It just... was. Even if you didn't go to church. It wasn't that you weren't a Christian, you were just a backslid Christian, in need of a little prodding, belittling, but all in the name of God's good works, you see.
The scenario where a Christian grows up believing that everyone else believes as they do and that their worldview mirrors reality is at the heart of Christian privilege. Why wouldn't they celebrate their Christian holidays as they want, and how dare those pesky atheists complain? They are the norm, and all others should step aside. Such persons know that not everyone believes as they do (if they stop to think about it), but they are likely to feel on an emotional level that their belief system is the only relevant one.

Many Christians do not hate atheists; they simply forget that we are there and don't understand why we aren't more willing to indulge them. They see us as complaining about an endless parade of trivial issues (e.g., god in the pledge of allegiance or on money, Christmas displays at city hall, etc.). These issues do not bother them because their religion is the one being promoted. While it would bother them if it was Islam being promoted instead of Christianity, this is not the case, and so they do not have to confront it.

One of the most important successes of both feminism and multiculturalism has been the exposure of male privilege and Eurocentrism. I'm not saying that these attitudes are not still present, only that they have become much harder to defend. If I catch myself saying something reflective of male privilege, I stop and think about how inaccurate this is and how women may feel upon hearing it. Even my internal dialogue has expanded and become more inclusive through these influences - this is what we mean by gaining awareness.

For many Christians, the beneficial effects of multiculturalism have been moderated by rigid dogma. Nowhere is this more evidence than in attitudes toward atheists. While many Christians have demonstrated increased tolerance toward persons of other faiths, atheists represent a glaring exception. Their bible condemns us, and we continue to be demonized as immoral, as in denial, and as being bound for hell.

The feminist, Civil Rights, and LGBT movements did not happen over night. Overcoming the widespread condemnation of atheists is going to take longer, especially in the U.S. To the degree that atheism comes to be perceived as a viable alternative to religion, American churches have everything to lose. They know this well and will not sit idly by without utilizing their great power. We have to be in this one for the long haul.

Layla writes,

Now that I feel I am deprogrammed, I fear the worst part is the years ahead. It is not acceptable to think as I think and believe as I believe. I find solace in my immediate family, we have all opened our eyes around the same time. But the fact remains I live in a Christian society through and through. How do you escape a cult when it is all around you?
Layla is not giving herself enough credit. What she says about the pervasive influence of Christian culture in America is correct, but she did accomplish the most important escape. Her mind is free.

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January 24, 2008

Kucinich To End 2008 Presidential Bid

CNN is reporting breaking news that Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic Presidential candidate I had been supporting for 2008, will announce that he is dropping out of the race tomorrow. This is sad news for those of us hoping to see a true progressive in office that would bring meaningful change. I have been following the Democratic debates closely in anticipation that this would probably happen at some point, and I will now throw my support to John Edwards.

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Bigotry Should Disqualify a Presidential Candidate

Remember Don Imus? How about George "Macaca" Allen? Try to imagine what would happen if video got out in which one of the Presidential candidates used the dreaded "n-word." That campaign would be over in an instant. Why? Because that type of bigotry would not be tolerated and would be accepted by an overwhelming majority of the American people as grounds for disqualification. Unfortunately, other types of bigotry are not only accepted but are actually an important strategic component of many Republican campaigns. I long for the day when anti-gay and anti-atheist bigotry will disqualify a candidate as quickly as racism.

It is no secret that politicians are going to pander to our fears and prejudices. The real story is about how the media covers such pandering, especially when it crosses the line into bigotry, and how this coverage varies based on the target of the bigotry. We can learn a great deal about which prejudices remain socially acceptable and which will bring rapid condemnation by examining some recent examples.

Overt bigotry directed at African Americans is not tolerated from Presidential candidates and other high-profile politicians. We saw a powerful example of this in Allen's case. More subtle forms of this bigotry generate predictable outrage from well-organized African American groups, but will not necessarily lead to disqualification if the politician can successfully deny of distance him or herself from them. The Bush campaign's assault on John McCain during the 2000 South Carolina primary comes to mind.

And yet, bigotry directed at the secular and GLBT communities is not only acceptable but appears to be an intentional part (some would even say a central part) in the campaign strategies of many Republicans.

John McCain, who had previously referred to Jerry Falwell as an "agent of intolerance," received considerable praise for his 2007 statement that America needs a Christian president. His campaign, floundering at the time, has rebounded well. At the time he made this statement, the blogosphere erupted, but the mainstream media did not see a big story.

Mitt Romney linked religion and freedom and demonstrated his ignorance of the Constitution in a prominent speech. The implication, clear to those who watched or read the speech was that atheists did not deserve the same sort of freedoms reserved for religious Americans. Romney's anti-atheist bigotry was clearly on display. Again, this did not end up being the huge story it should have been. This strikes me as quite revealing about how the mainstream media views atheists.

And here in 2008, we have Mike Huckabee calling for a Christian theocracy, denying evolution (video), and comparing homosexuality to bestiality. He has a long track record of theocratic statements, so this does not appear to involve a recent strategy. Where is the media outrage? Here we have a man running for President who actually opposes the very Constitution he would be asked to defend! From the manner in which the mainstream media has covered him, I'd have to conclude that they either agree or are so afraid to engage in what could be perceived as criticism of Christian extremism that they refuse to expose this important story.

It is time for Americans to ask ourselves whether bigotry is a characteristic we desire in our leaders. If not, it is our responsibility to speak out. Clearly, the corporate-owned media on which we depend is not going to do it for us.

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January 23, 2008

No Ghosts, No Gods


I wanted to try something different in the post, so I have constructed some dialogue between three people discussing the existence of ghosts. What follows is based on actual conversations I have had; however, I have taken some license by collapsing multiple conversations along these lines into a single one to make it easier to read.
A: What about you? How many ghosts have you seen?
B: I've seen four ghosts in my lifetime, each at a different time and in a different place.
Z: None of us have ever seen a ghost because ghosts don't exist.

A: How do you know what we've seen? Were you there?
Z: I don't claim to know what you saw. I have no idea what you saw, but I know it wasn't a ghost because ghosts don't exist.

A: How do you know they don't exist? You said you've never seen one. We have, and we know what we saw?
Z: I can be fairly confident that they do not exist because there has never been a single instance where evidence of a so-called ghost has been confirmed to the degree necessary for such an unusual phenomenon, and...
A: But you can't prove they don't exist!
Z: Let me finish. I am saying that ghosts do not exist because there has never been a single case where sufficient evidence was presented to support the extraordinary claim that ghosts are real. No conclusive video evidence, no instances of multiple observations made by reliable sources of the same sighting at the same time, etc. What I am saying is that we need impressive evidence to verify such a claim, and we have none. I certainly believe that many people think they have seen ghosts, but there is insufficient evidence to conclude that ghosts probably exist.

B: But like he said, you can't prove that ghosts don't exist.
Z: I think you are misunderstanding the meaning of "proof" in this context. You could argue that I can't prove that monsters don't live under your bed, but we both know they don't. To verify a knowledge claim, we examine the evidence supporting such a claim. We expect to find evidence in proportion to the likelihood of the claim being true, so we might not require much evidence for a rather ordinary or trivial claim. But for something like a colony of monsters living under your bed, we would require considerable evidence.

A: But this is different. I have evidence that ghosts exists because I saw one.
Z: Again, I believe that you think you saw a ghost. You might have even seen something that was not purely a product of your own mind. However, this is not the sort of evidence we need to verify the claim that ghosts exist.

Carnival of Education #155

The 155th edition of the Carnival of Education is up at The Median Sib. In the interest of promoting atheism by showing the broader community that we are among them, I am making an effort to submit relevant posts to blog carnivals that do not have an atheist/humanist focus. I submitted Billy's latest guest post to the Carnival of Education, and it was accepted.

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January 22, 2008

Atheist Spirituality

English: View of the crescent moon through the...
View of the crescent moon through the top of the earth's atmosphere. Photographed above 21.5°N, 113.3°E. by International Space Station crew Expedition 13 over the South China Sea, just south of Macau (NASA image ID: ISS013-E-54329). Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Can an atheist be a spiritual person, and if so, in what sense? Is it meaningful to talk of atheist spirituality, or should the term be reserved for religious believers? This post may end up generating more questions than answers, but that seems fitting for a discussion of spirituality.

Let me get my bias out of the way at the beginning because it probably colors what I am about to say on the topic. I do not care for the word "spirituality" when referring to atheists. I have trouble getting past the "spirit" part of the word because I do not believe in spirits, souls, ghosts, demons, or anything else that is not part of the natural world. However, I recognize that my naturalism is not entailed by atheism and that other atheists are free to accept the reality of the supernatural. I also recognize that there may be some benefits in using the term to describe ourselves.

What is spirituality?

From what I have read in the field of the psychology of religion, I have learned that experts in this field lack consensus on the meaning of spirituality but generally agree on what it is not. Spirituality is not the same thing as religion, or even religious belief. One can be deeply spiritual while simultaneously rejecting anything recognizable as religious belief of religious practices. Moreover, not all religious believers are necessarily spiritual.

Many components of spirituality have been posited, and while consensus remains elusive, some of the more popular include vitality, connectedness, transcendence, and meaningfulness. One of the most commonly described experiences of spirituality involves a sense of one's interconnectedness to others and a dissolving of self-other boundaries.

Can an atheist be a spiritual person?

Absolutely. If we think of something like spirituality as ranging on a continuum from low to high, atheists can score at any point along the continuum just like anyone else. High scores would indicate someone who seeks spiritual experiences or who experiences the various components of spirituality, depending on how the measure functions.

Practically, we might see a spiritual atheist as highly emphatic, aware of his or her connection to others, concerned with equality and social justice, regularly awed by the beauty of nature, etc. Such descriptors apply in varying degrees to all persons, theist and atheist alike. Being spiritual does not require one to believe in spirits, gods, or any other supernatural entities.

Take something simpler, such as the need for meaning, and think about some of your friends. Some are probably deeper than others in the sense that they enjoy thought-provoking questions even more than the answers. They are about the journey and find great pleasure in learning, debate, and self-exploration. Others are more concrete, less concerned with inner exploration about more concerned with action. They have little interest in reflection and want answers on which they can rely. They may have little tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty. It makes sense that we all differ when it comes to how spiritual we are.

Do atheists need spirituality?

I think this question might need to be reframed in order to be both palatable and meaningful. Think of it this way: atheists (like everyone else) vary in terms of the importance of spirituality in their lives. Spirituality is vital to some atheists, and we could appropriately label such persons as needing spirituality. For others, the need for spirituality may be low enough that it would be hard to recognize it as such.

In all honesty, I am not sure where I would fall along this continuum. I tend not to think of myself as "spiritual," but I certainly find great meaning and purpose in experiences that others describe as spiritual. I have had many intense spiritual experiences in which I experienced connectedness, transcendence, and the like, and not all of them were drug-induced. I suppose I am a fairly spiritual person in many ways, but one who prefers to think of himself in terms of components such as empathy, meaning, and connection rather than "spirituality." Does that make any sense? Like I said, I have a bit of trouble with the label.

Should the secular community increase our focus on spirituality?

Probably. I suspect that very little is known about the importance and role of spirituality among nonbelievers, and the scientist in me thinks that improved understanding might be beneficial. To neglect something we do not understand well simply because we lack understanding makes little sense. We know that spirituality is important to a great many people regardless of their religious belief, and I think there is a large potential benefit from better understanding its role in our community. Discussing and potentially embracing an explicitly secular form of spirituality could make it easier for believers to imagine life without belief and could make our community more attractive for those who have come to doubt their faith.

January 21, 2008

MLK's Relevance To Anti-Atheist Bigotry

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nanovirus has an excellent post up about Dr. King's relevance to anti-atheist bigotry. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail is slightly modified to address moderate Christians on the subject of Christian extremists. Powerful stuff with considerable relevance. Racial bigotry remains an important problem, but few would deny that progress has been made since King's time. I'm not sure we can say the same for anti-atheist bigotry.

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Guest Post: Teaching Lies Jeopardizes America's Future

This is an invited guest post by Billy (A Liberal Disabled Vet), a regular commenter on Atheist Revolution. I continue to appreciate his many thought-provoking comments and am happy that he agreed to write another guest post.

A few months ago, vjack was kind enough to ask me to write a guest post. I wrote a piece which vjack named "Fear of an Idea" (I think I am pretty good at writing, but coming up with titles has always been tough for me) which generated some interesting comments. Vjack said I could write more, and so I planned. I planned to write about hypocrisy, both on the personal and institutional level. And writer’s block hit hard. That being said, I decided to write about something completely different.

My son is about to enter college. He is studying history and secondary education with an eye toward becoming a high school teacher. I have begun paying a little more attention to the subject of education and have become more than a little bit concerned. My concern is more about "Christian" education (home, parochial or ‘bible’ schools) and the possible damage this education (or lack thereof) may be doing to the future of America. This potential damage comes on more than one level: social, economic, and political.

Two stories from my past help illustrate my misgivings (and yes, you may have read these stories before from posts at various blogs, but trust me, I am going somewhere with this (have faith?)):

In high school freshman biology, I was paired up with a young lady whose father was a preacher at a local church. It was a very conservative church. So conservative, in fact, that he dropped his church out of the Southern Baptist Coalition because they were too "liberal." She needled me constantly about my church (Unitarian) and my beliefs (at that time the best way to describe where I was on the road to atheism was universal deist (though I had no clue what that meant at the time). On day, I decided to turn the tables on her. I asked, "What bible does your church use?"

She answered, "The bible."

"Yeah, but which translation?"

"We use The Bible!" I could hear the capitalization.

Really? I had no idea you could read Hebrew, Latin, and Koine Greek."

She freaked out and began screaming, "You are going to burn in hell forever you Satan-worshipping non-believer how dare you persecute Christians you will burn in hell . . ." for about five minutes (for a good idea of how this sounded, listen to Arlo Guthrie’s "Alice’s Restaurant," especially when the sergeant is explaining to the ‘group "w" bench’ how to fill out the questionnaire regarding his arrest) and just would not shut up. My poor teacher (he was in his last year of teaching) tried in vain to stop her. Eventually, he escorted her out of the room and to the principal’s office.

She was suspended for a week. Had a baby nine months later. Eventually (by my junior (her senior) year) she became a rather nice person. Never "left the fold," but developed a fondness for theological discussions. She became much less judgmental and more accepting of differences.

Last September, I was sent to Idaho to provide support for the Elk Complex (a 150,000 acre forest fire north and east of McCall) as a Security Specialist Level 2 (SEC2). As a level 2, I don’t carry a sidearm, so I don’t do road patrols. I do, however, spend a lot of time at roadblocks. Twelve to 14 hours per day sitting by the side of a road in a National Forest, relaxing, reading, smoking cigars, and dealing with anywhere from one to one hundred non-fire cars per day, making sure the fire vehicles are headed to the right place, and trying to tell people that the hot springs is closed.

One fine morning (90 degrees, no humidity and a wind which could make jerky in five minutes) a Cadillac pulled up. Inside was a man, a woman, and in back a little girl. He asks, "Can I drive through to Riggins?"

I answered, "No sir. The road up to and past the hot springs is closed. You’ll have to take the long route west out of McCall."

He developed a surly expression. "Why?"

I explained about the 150,000 acre forest fire (which became 200,000 before I left), the danger due to helicopter and air tanker activity, fire engines and other fire equipment, and the fire itself.

He waited until it was obvious that I was not going to run out of reasons and interrupted me. "Are you Saved?"

I ignored him. I figure I’m on the federal clock and I work for all Americans, believers or not. Off duty, I would be happy to discuss why I’m an agnostic (I was, back then). I paused, and then started to explain that if I let him through, and something happened to his vehicle, his insurance company would tell him to pound sand if he was on a closed road.

The little girl in the back seat pipes up and says, "He’s going to Hell, isn’t he, Daddy?" I looked back at her. She was holding a book which had the standard Aryan Jesus on it and across the top it read "Second Grade Reader" (or equivalent). My mind immediately dropped her into a mental pigeon hole marked "Christianist home school."

I paused for a moment, then began telling dad how to get around the fire. From the back seat I hear, "Daddy, we can drive through 'cause Jesus will protect us, right?"

Eventually he turned around and drove back to McCall.

These two stories show (to me at least) what has changed in America over the last 25 or so years. The girl I knew in Maryland had been indoctrinated from birth to see no problem in damning anyone who thought differently (heretics) to hell. She was so convinced of her righteousness that she could not conceive of another point of view. Through contact with the real world, though, she eventually became more accepting of reality. The little girl from Idaho, though, (and I am assuming that she was home schooled in a Christianist and/or fundamentalist and/or Dominionist milieu) will most likely never be exposed to competing world views. The narrow glimpse she gets at church and at home and on play dates with approved friends will never allow her to mesh with the rest of the world. (I am not completely down on home schooling. If it is done well, children can excel academically. My wife and I home schooled our kids for a year during a time when my son was having severe developmental difficulties (a mild form of autism). It didn’t work for us, but for some it can.

Over at Tales of an Ordinary Girl, ordinary girl has done a couple of excellent posts regarding Christianist curriculum wherein all subjects are taught in such manner as to be fully in line with both scripture and a Dominionist view towards American history.

This trend, which seems to be accelerating, is creating two Americas. On the one hand we have the 'reality-based community' (which does include many theists) which views the world in a naturalistic, evidence based manner and views American history in a manner based on actual documents and writings of our founding fathers. On the other hand, we have the Christian Dominionist and fundamentalist faction which views the world in a god-centered creationist manner, taking the bible literally (which bible? and what about the places the bible contradicts itself?) and views American history in a god-centered manner, taking out of context bits and pieces of the documents and writings of our founding fathers to support a Christianist theocracy.

A few of these children will wake up, smell the coffee, learn to question, and become a part of the reality based community. Most will not. Most will educate their children with the same natural and historic fairy tales and continue to widen the split with factual reality. If these children existed in a vacuum, I could blow it off as just another form of child abuse. But they (the children and the adults they become) do not exist in a vacuum.

These are the same people who are trying to push the teaching of natural selection (evolution) out of the Florida schools. These are the same people who want Texas to accept a master’s degree in secondary science education from a creationist (Intelligent Design) college. These are the same people who cost the Dover school district thousands of dollars trying to defend creationism in the courtroom. These are the same people who have made Mike Huckabee a frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

In short, the teaching of out-and-out lies to children has an effect on the ability of this country to govern itself and to keep pace technically and scientifically with the world. At the risk of pissing you off, vjack, do we really want America’s standing in the world (in terms of education) to be analogous to Mississippi’s standing in America?

(BTW, I ran this through spell check and it suggested ‘Chickadee’ as a possible replacement for Huckabee.)

I know it’s a long post, but with due respect, it’s an occupational hazard for me.

Billy (A Liberal Disabled Vet)

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January 20, 2008

Happy National Sanctity of Human Life Day

Evidently forgetting (or simply not giving a damn) that the majority of Americans support stem cell research and that at least half the country thinks women should have the right to make their own reproductive decisions, George W. Bush has proclaimed today National Sanctity of Human Life Day. When he equates his personal beliefs as "our moral values," which is more repugnant - the arrogance assume that we all think as he does, or the possibility that he simply does not care what the people he supposedly represents think?

What follows is the press release from Christian Newswire:
On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we recognize that each life has inherent dignity and matchless value, and we reaffirm our steadfast determination to defend the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.

America was founded on the belief that all men are created equal and have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and our country remains committed to upholding that founding principle. Since taking office, I have signed legislation to help protect life at all stages, and my Administration will continue to encourage adoption, fund abstinence education and crisis pregnancy programs, and support faith-based groups. Today, as our society searches for new ways to ease human suffering, we must pursue the possibilities of science in a manner that respects the sacred gift of life and upholds our moral values.

Our Nation has made progress in its efforts to protect human life, and we will strive to change hearts and minds with compassion and decency. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day and throughout the year, we help strengthen the culture of life in America and work for the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 20, 2008, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second.

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Homophobia Making Christianity Less Appealing to American Youth

The Great Realization recently highlighted an interesting story from Alternet in which the results from one of the Barna survey are discussed. Evidently, one of the important reasons leading young Americans to reject Christianity in increasing numbers is the homophobia espoused by many Christian groups.

We've been hearing for some time about American youth becoming increasingly critical of Christianity. There are sure to be many reasons for this, but it appears that one is the association between Christianity and homophobia.

Referring to the religious right, Sara Robinson writes,
I don't know how long they thought they were going to go on that way, all self-righteous and judgmental, blaming homosexuals and feminists for everything from 9/11 to the price of gas, ignoring the interests of the poor in favor of those of big business, and dismissing any kind of environmental stewardship as nothing more than a way to waste time until the Rapture comes. Clearly, the didn't see anything at all wrong with elevating the most spiteful and amoral among them as their national spokespeople, and rewarding them in direct proportion to the heat of their rhetoric. No, these folks were on fire (we're still not sure if it was Jesus or heartburn), and they weren't afraid to let their bilious light shine on the TV, in the streets, all the way to the White House. They did their best to set it high above the rest of the culture, where none of the rest of us could miss it if we wanted to.
Data from the Barna Group, a well-known evangelical research firm that conducts frequent polls on religion and attitudes toward religion, indicate that American youth (Christian and non-Christian alike) are increasingly critical of Christianity. Ten years ago, most non-Christians still had positive impressions of Christianity. However, only 16% feel this way now, and attitudes of non-Christians toward evangelicals are even worse.
When he ranked young non-Christians' most common perceptions of Christianity, nine of the 12 most common attributes they named were negative ones. According to the study, "Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%)."
It was also interesting to see that 80% of Christians under 30 surveyed reporting believing that Christianity is "anti-homosexual."
In the Barna summary, Kinnaman says, "Non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians."
I realize that this will not come as a surprise to many of you, but it seems that the Barna data provide some confirmation of the idea that Christianity has become increasingly intolerant and divisive. It could be mere coincidence that this is happening at the same time as interest in atheism is on the rise. Then again, it could be that dissatisfaction with intolerance is leading at least some Christians to step away from superstition and explore reality.

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Carnival of The Godless at Tangled Up In Blue Guy

Something different for Carnival of the Godless this week. It looks like Tangled Up In Blue Guy has selected a subset of posts as worth featuring. I think I prefer the more egalitarian approach of carnivals past, but it will be interesting to see if this bit of editorial license catches on.

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January 19, 2008

"But Isn't Religion Good for People?"

If you've been an atheist for more than 10 minutes, you've probably heard this one. I seem to hear this one after a successful argument about the lack of evidence to support any claims of supernatural entities. The idea behind this is that even if the foundation of religious belief (i.e., that some god or gods exist) is false, religion might still be worth keeping around. There are many variants of this line of thought, so I'll pick what I think is a particularly thought-provoking one for this post. Can you imagine a scenario where you would advocate maintaining a probably false belief simply because the belief provided some benefit to the believer?

The first thing that springs to mind involves some type of death scenario. Perhaps a loved one is dying and seeks comfort by asking you whether you think they'll go to heaven. Or maybe someone close to you is struggling with the death of someone important to them and wants your agreement that they are "in a better place now." I don't know about you, but I'd have a hard time simply dismissing such questions in my usual manner. In such situations, it seems reasonable to suggest that believing a likely falsehood might, at least temporarily, be pardonable. Of course, I can also think of counterarguments for providing such false comfort.

In a broader context, do you think it is ever acceptable to endorse a false belief? What if we had scientific evidence that religious belief was correlated with general well-being, positive mental and physical health, relationship satisfaction, and the like? Would this matter or not?

It often comes down to weighing the pros and cons, doesn't it? Suppose that religious belief was reliably linked to good health. Would we be willing to overlook its links with intolerance and hatred then? What we often end up asking ourselves is whether the benefits, whatever they might be, outweigh the costs.

I would be surprised to find any atheist who would be willing to argue that all forms of religion are bad for all people in all circumstances. It is more about the massive costs of religion not being exceeded by the benefits, especially when the costs are more likely to impact nonbelievers than are the benefits.

H/T to The Secular Outpost

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January 18, 2008

Progressive Christians Finally Opposing Christian Extremists

It is not often that I get to do a post praising progressive Christians for standing up against the forces of Christian extremism, but this is just such an occasion. I am pleased to see this report from Gary Vance, an evangelical pastor/writer from Tennessee, that the Institute for Progressive Christianity, a progressive Christian think tank, is speaking out against Christian extremism in America.

As Vance points out, it is not easy for the voice of progressive Christians to be heard above the roar of their extremist colleagues. After all, they are only now beginning to speak out, and the extremists are both well-funded and politically connected. Still, Vance sees cause for optimism and predicts that the pendulum is swinging back to the left.

Vance sees progressive Christians as the only hope for successfully opposing the extremist faction.
There is no group or individual outside of the Christian community that could adequately respond to the religious dimension of this threat without being perceived and painted as a persecutor of the faith. A movement from within the Christian world was required to take a lead role in repairing the breach in the wall between the institutions of religion and government. Thankfully, there is an innovative movement developing to fill this need.
He's right that a non-Christian group opposing Christian extremism will be demonized as a persecutor. We atheists know all about that! Personally, I would welcome a well-organized and vocal coalition of progressive Christians willing to oppose extremism. They could be powerful allies in protecting church-state separation and other shared goals.

At the same time, I disagree with Vance that such a group must automatically take the lead role. We've been at this for far longer than they have, and I like to think that they could learn something from us. Thus, I would support a partnership as long as our many contributions to the struggle are not ignored.

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January 17, 2008

Doubting Your Faith?

doubt faith
If you are a Christian experiencing some doubt over your faith, you are going to receive a lot of advice from your fellow Christians. You will be told about how doubt will strengthen your faith and bring you closer to your god. I'm not here to argue with that or to tell you that such a perspective is wrong. I just want to point out that there is another possibility you should at least consider. What if the doubt you are experiencing is a healthy sign that your rational mind is trying to break free from a tradition of superstition?

Tradition can be a reassuring source of comfort in the dark times when we long for familiarity, but this does not necessarily make it worth retaining. Consider the person raised in home filled with racist attitudes. Racism may feel familiar, even comfortable, but that does not mean that the individual cannot and should not leave it behind. This would be true even if his or her family continued to cling to it. That you were raised in the Christian tradition is no reason to maintain your belief. After all, I expect that are other aspects of your family's belief system to which you are no longer bound.

As we mature, we often begin to doubt many things we never used to question. There might have been a time when you believed in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. I'd guess you set these beliefs aside long ago. And why did you set them aside? After all, you cannot prove that there is no Santa or Tooth Fairy. You set them aside because your rational mind realized there was no evidence to suggest that they were real.

January 16, 2008

Accused Murderer Says God Made Him Kill

English: I took photo with Canon camera in Tyl...
English: I took photo with Canon camera in Tyler, TX. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Whenever someone commits a horrible crime and then claims that some god told them to do it, believers and non-believers unite to reject the claim. Non-believers have an easy time rejecting the "god make me do it" defense because we reason that mythical beings cannot influence human behavior. We might accept the possibility that the criminal's belief contributed to the action, or we might look for mental illness.

The believer often has a different path to the same conclusion. For the believer, god did not command them to engage in the despicable act because god would never do such a terrible thing. Of course, one only has to read the Christian bible or listen to Pat Robertson to realize that this is simply not true.

The community of Tyler, TX, is reeling in the aftermath of a gruesome murder that would make Jeffrey Dahmer proud. 25 year-old Christopher Lee McCuin has been arraigned for allegedly killing and mutilating his 21-year-old girlfriend, Jana Shearer.

Shearer's boyfriend, Christopher Lee McCuin, 25, was charged with capital murder after police said they found her body, an ear boiling in a pot on a stovetop, and a hunk of flesh with a fork in it on a plate at the crime scene.
What makes this case relevant here is that police indicate that McCuin told them that his god, presumably the Christian god, made him kill Shearer.

As an atheist, I can dismiss this claim on the grounds that I do not accept the reality of the Christian god. I can accept the possibility that McCuin may have actually believed what he allegedly told investigators. Of course, I can also accept the possibilities that he lied to avoid responsibility or that he is suffering from serious mental illness.

The most common response from believers in cases like this is that the claim must be false because their god would never do such a thing. Christians who use this argument have evidently never read their own bibles. If they did, they would discover that their god supposedly commanded believers to commit all sorts of atrocities. In addition, I find it fascinating that many of the same Christians who would make this claim have little trouble believing Pat Robertson's claims that their god sends natural disasters to punish us for being tolerant of homosexuals, allowing abortion, or expecting that our schools will teach science rather than creationist bullshit, etc.

If Christians want to dismiss the possibility that their god may have actually commanded McCuin to do what he did, they are going to need to come up with some other rationale for doing so.

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January 15, 2008

Help an Atheist in Need

A reader left a link to a post on Pharyngula in the comments, and I think it deserves more attention than in may get in a comment thread. The post concerns an atheist blogger with whom many of you may be familiar, Possummomma (aka, Atheist in a mini van). She is struggling with health problems, and Berlzebub's Inferno is organizing a campaign to raise money for her. Like so many other fund-raising situations, every little bit helps. Donations can be made via PayPal. For information on how to donate, visit this post at Berlzebub's Inferno.

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Utah Resident Would Rather Vote For An Atheist

A short but effective letter to the editor was recently published in the Salt Lake Tribune, and I am reproducing it here for your enjoyment. The author, Jackie McCowen-Rose, manages to capture my feelings on the subject of religious pandering by political candidates as well as I ever could. I commend her bravery for expressing what is sure to be an unpopular opinion in a conservative state like Utah.

Here is the letter:
Better an atheist
Public Forum Letter
Article Last Updated: 01/07/2008 06:10:53 PM MST

President-wise, I would vote today for an intelligent, compassionate, articulate, well-read, honest and brave atheist or agnostic over any one of the more-Christian-than-thou bunch pandering shamelessly in the ring right now.
Professions, assertions and declarations of "faith" belong at home and in the church/synagogue/mosque/temple/treehouse/cave of one's choice. In government, I want common sense and practicality, neither of which is the exclusive preserve of any religion.
However, I have "faith" that no such individual will emerge to save us from our own self-righteousness.

Jackie McCowen-Rose

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Mitt Romney vs. Mike Huckabee

Time for a religionist rumble? Their campaigns may be at odds, but it seems that there is plenty about which they agree. There is an excellent article about the religious intolerance of both Romney and Huckabee by Joe Conason posted at Salon.com. A taste:
Whatever bland assurances they may offer to the contrary, both Romney and Huckabee have implicitly endorsed religious tests for a presidential candidacy. Both suggest that only leaders who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are qualified to lead. Huckabee says that we should choose a president who speaks "the language of Zion," meaning a fundamentalist Christian like himself. Romney says that among the questions that may appropriately be asked of aspiring presidential candidates is what they believe about Jesus Christ, a question he endeavored to answer in a way that would assuage suspicions about his own religion.
H/T to Religious Right Watch

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January 14, 2008

Does Your Candidate Believe In Evolution?

Does it matter that most of the Republican presidential candidates (including Ron Paul) reject evolution? You bet it does! Panda's Thumb provides a link to a great article in Reason explaining why. I'll provide an excerpt below, but this is one you'll want to read.

From the Reason article by Ronald Bailey:
A larger question is whether a candidate's belief about the validity of evolutionary biology has anything to say about his or her ability to evaluate evidence. A January 4, 2008, editorial by Science editor Donald Kennedy correctly argues, "The candidates should be asked hard questions about science policy, including questions about how those positions reflect belief. What is your view about stem cell research, and does it relate to a view of the time at which human life begins? Have you examined the scientific evidence regarding the age of Earth? Can the process of organic evolution lead to the production of new species, and how? Are you able to look at data on past climates in search of inferences about the future of climate change?" Kennedy concludes, "I don't need them to describe their faith; that's their business and not mine. But I do care about their scientific knowledge and how it will inform their leadership."
I agree, and it baffles me how atheists who value science could support Ron Paul.
In a South Carolina forum, Paul was asked about his views on evolution, to which he replied, "I think it's a theory, the theory of evolution and I don't accept it as a theory." He also said that he thought it was an inappropriate question to be asking presidential candidates.
Not only do I consider this a vital question, but I am convinced that anyone who refuses to accept the foundation of modern biology probably disqualifies himself to lead America. To support an evolution denying candidate strikes me as comparable in some ways to supporting a holocaust denier.

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January 13, 2008

My Religion Involves Screaming Gibberish

Cover of "Culture Warrior"
Cover of Culture Warrior
Growing increasingly tired of hearing conservative Christians whine about how they are persecuted against by "secular progressives," I thought it would be fun to see if I could highlight the absurdity involved in such claims. Of course, what started as a thought experiment rapidly devolved into more of a rant as I was writing it, but what the hell. I'll share it anyway.

Assume that that I decide to stand outside a local business and scream gibberish, not so much at anyone in particular but just in general. It is reasonable to expect that the police would be called and I would be arrested if I continued my behavior when they arrived. If nothing else, I would be guilty of "disturbing the peace," "creating a public nuisance," or something similar. Those of you living in big cities probably see homeless persons suffering from schizophrenia arrested for this sort of thing regularly.

Freedom of speech probably wouldn't be an issue here since I was disturbing others and since my speech has no political value of any kind but was just loud gibberish. However, if this strikes you as a viable case of my freedom of speech being restricted, then we need to change the details because I want to remove this possibility. In this case, try imagining that I am approaching passersby and yelling gibberish at them so that I am impossible to ignore and difficult to escape. Nothing coming out of my mouth is technically obscene, but there are references to unpleasantries such as "Satan," "death," and "decapitated bodies" (note to self: lay off the Slayer for awhile). This insures that parents with children present are going to be extremely upset at my presence.

On arraignment, I inform the court that I am being discriminated against on religious grounds and that my arrest represents an infringement on my freedom to practice my religion. I provide evidence that I do in fact belong to a religious group that believes [insert any nonsense you can imagine that might be used to justify my behavior].

It seems unlikely that the court would buy my argument. I am breaking laws, and, Mike Huckabee aside, religious belief is generally not considered acceptable grounds for doing so. One would expect the court's rationale to include something about how my freedom to practice my religion ends as soon as I begin to infringe on the rights of others, etc. If I were to complain of persecution, the court would probably point out that I can do what I want in the privacy of my own home but have no right to disrupt a public place in this manner.

The point is that my freedom to practice my religion is not absolute. In fact, there are many limitations on what I will be able to do in the name of my religion. Christians, you are no different. When an atheist questions your intrusive proselytizing, gay bashing, or your insistence in training your children to preach biblical nonsense at me in the store because you think its cute, you do not get to cry persecution. This is not persecution. Your religious freedom has limits. Instead of whining about Christmas wars because you overheard me complain about not wanting to listen to your Jesus-crap when I'm shopping, you should ask yourself what you would do if you had to listen to Satanic death metal every time you went to the grocery store.

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January 12, 2008

Don't Believe In God? You Are Not Alone

I don't know about you, but if I was driving along and saw a billboard like this one recently placed along the New Jersey Turnpike, it would put a big smile on my face. Bravo to FreeThoughtAction and their partner, the American Humanist Association, for the latest secular billboard.

Here is the press release from the American Humanist Association:

Nontheist Billboard Greets NYC Area Motorists

(Washington, D.C.) "Don't believe in God? You are not alone."

Starting tomorrow morning,these words will be read by southbound motorists on the New Jersey Turnpike at the section of I-95 near Ridgefield, between the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel. They are part of a highway billboard that features an image of blue sky and clouds with the words superimposed over. The billboard will be placed by FreeThoughtAction, an independent adjunct of the American Humanist Association.

"The point of the billboard is to let nontheistic people, such as atheists and agnostics, know they’re not alone," explained Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

Jan Meshon, founder of FreeThoughtAction, added: "For all the attention given to religion lately, the number of secular Americans is booming. The tide is definitely turning."

"So why have nontheistic Americans been made to feel marginalized and deviant?" Speckhardt asked. "This billboard demonstrates our will to push back and refuse to be passive in the culture wars. And after so many religious billboards, it’s only fair that we should have one that gives voice to nontheists."

The billboard will be up until February 3 and is only the first of a series that will appear around the country, raising the public profile of humanists and freethinkers. The billboard is backed by an active Web site at http://www.freethoughtaction.org/ that sets forth the larger mission of the effort and offers ways that individuals can get involved.

# # #

The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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Changes in Religious Activity Affect Men and Women Differently

According to Temple University, a new study conducted at Harvard by a researcher now at Temple and one at Brown reveals that religion may affect women and men differently when it comes to mental health.

Among persons for whom religious activity changes between childhood and adulthood, effects on mental health may differ by gender.
According to Temple University's Joanna Maselko, Sc.D., women who had stopped being religiously active were more than three times more likely to have suffered generalized anxiety and alcohol abuse/dependence than women who reported always having been active.
On the other hand, men seem to experience a very different pattern.
Conversely, men who stopped being religiously active were less likely to suffer major depression when compared to men who had always been religiously active.
Joanna Maselko, Assistant Professor of Public Health and co-author of the study published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, offers the following possible explanation:
Women are simply more integrated into the social networks of their religious communities. When they stop attending religious services, they lose access to that network and all its potential benefits. Men may not be as integrated into the religious community in the first place and so may not suffer the negative consequences of leaving.
Interesting results, and this possible interpretation seems sound. I do however question another statement made by Maselko:
Everyone has some spirituality, whether it is an active part of their life or not; whether they are agnostic or atheist or just 'non- practicing.' These choices potentially have health implications, similar to the way that one's social networks do.
Without offering a clear definition, it is not clear what Maselko means by "spirituality," and I suppose it could be defined so broadly as to apply to everyone. Still, I do not believe I have any spirituality whatsoever, and I suspect I'm not unique in this.

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January 11, 2008

Ending Door-to-Door Proselytizing

French - Door with Cat Hole - Walters 64164Almost nobody truly likes door-to-door proselytizing. I tend to view it as an invasion of my privacy, as a disruption of the limited free time I enjoy at home. It is inherently condescending, annoying, and thoroughly unnecessary. I think we can manage to find a church ourselves if we should so desire.

A Brief Message for the Christians Among You

You just returned from church and are spending a quiet Sunday afternoon with your family before you return to church that evening (it is revival season, after all). Your doorbell rings, and you open the door to reveal a well-dressed young man with a small child in tow. "Good afternoon! I was hoping I could take a few minutes of your time to tell you about the church of Satan." In stunned silence, you realize your mouth is hanging open and your 6 year-old daughter is now standing beside you at the door. He continues, "You see, we believe that Christianity is a perversion of basic human truths and..." You manage to shut the door.

If you are a "bible-believing Christian," I am guessing that you would be upset if this scenario happened on your front porch. Please try to understand that I feel every bit as upset as you do when this happens on my porch but the intruder is an evangelical Christian. And I'm fairly confident that I'm not alone in feeling this way. Here are some specific thoughts that often flash through my head when I am interrupted by an evangelical Christian peddling superstition at my door:
  • "What makes you think you have the right to disturb me with this nonsense?"
  • "How dare you invade my privacy with this crap!"
  • "How would you like it if I came to your home and tried to sell you on my beliefs?"
  • "Does this sort of idiocy actually work on anybody?"

January 10, 2008

Atheism Does NOT Require Faith


Next to the claim that atheists are evil because some sort of god is required for morality, insisting that atheism requires faith seems to be a favorite among many Christians. In this post, I will provide a recent example of this claim and then attempt to explain why it is false.

Joey Depew, a member of the Board of Contributors to the Chillicothe Gazette (OH), writes:
The thing I find most interesting about atheism is the amount of faith it requires to believe. Christians have the Creation story and atheists have the Big Bang. So you have God, or some higher being, creating the world and some beginning of life, or you have nothing. If I remember correctly, the Big Bang began with some molecule of matter being struck by some molecule of anti-matter and then - BANG! - the universe expanded beyond measure in a fraction of time.

If that doesn't take faith to believe then I don't know what does. Where did that initial matter come from? If there was nothing but a huge void, how could matter just suddenly appear, let alone something as complicated as anti-matter? By some mathematically impossible chance? Incidentally, the Big Bang and everything that supposedly followed is mathematically impossible.

If memory serves, mathematical impossibility is defined by something having a 1 in 10 to the 50th power chance of happening. That's a 1 followed by 50 zeros. Roger Penrose, a British mathematician, calculated that the odds of our universe happening by chance are 1 in 1000 to the 123rd power.

Now tell me atheism doesn't require faith.
Mr. Depew, your attempt to explain the Big Bang theory reflects a considerable lack of understanding of modern science. Saying that atheism requires faith because you do not understand science is a non sequitur. But we can keep this simple without getting into astrophysics for now.

Take out a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle, dividing it into two columns. At the top of the left side, write "Evidence for the creation story," and on the top of the right side, write "Evidence for natural origins." Anyone who has earned a high school diploma should be able to fill the right column with brief summaries of evidence supporting natural origins of the what exists today. Those with college-level science education will need more paper. And the left side? It remains blank.

To believe the creation story requires faith because there is insufficient evidence to support the belief. Most Christians readily acknowledge this and do not see it as a problem. If ample evidence existed, faith would not be necessary. In fact, it would be entirely irrelevant. The mountains of evidence supporting the naturalistic worldview are undeniable, even by most Christians. One needs no faith the accept gravity, evolution, or many other basic scientific concepts. No faith is needed to accept naturalism; considerable faith is required to argue for any alternative.

Now consider atheism itself. An atheist is one who does not accept the theistic belief claim (i.e., a god or gods exist). The theist accepts this claim on faith; the atheist in unwilling to do so. The atheist need not argue that no gods do (or could) exist; the atheistic position is simply that the theist has not met an acceptable burden of proof that is his or hers to meet. In other words, an atheist is an atheist precisely because he or she is not willing to accept the theist's claim on faith.

Now that we've set that aside, it is time to look at one other point you make, Mr. Depew, because I suspect this is the real motive for your article.
The mistake atheists make is they assume religious people are intellectually flawed by virtue of the fact they are religious. Let's take one aspect of a person or group of person's and use it to define them inferiorly as a whole. Sounds a lot like believing people are less because they are black or female or handicapped, doesn't it? This fundamentally sets atheism against most of society, a society that, by in large, believes in God.

This is where atheists fail themselves. It can be seen in their narcissistic temper tantrums - 'You crazy Christian! How can you believe in an invisible man living in an invisible kingdom in the sky when I, the intellectually superior and enlightened atheist, am telling you that you are wrong?'

Talk about audacity. I can't think of any other group that tries to sway people by demeaning them. But again, it is this inherent sense of superiority that pervades the "enlightened" atheistic persona.
Intellectually flawed? No. Irrational? Absolutely. By definition, faith (i.e., continuing to believe something for which insufficient evidence exists) is irrational. But this does not mean that theists are somehow less intelligent or less deserving of happiness than atheists.

In fact, what you describe (i.e., "Let's take one aspect of a person or group of person's and use it to define them inferiorly [sic] as a whole") sounds an awful lot like what many believers do with atheists. They define us as immoral, self-centered, intolerance, arrogant, and the like, much as you are doing in your article.

You cannot think of another group "that tries to sway people by demeaning them," huh? I take it you have not had the opportunity to interact with many fundamentalist Christians. Is threatening someone with hell whenever they disagree with you not demeaning? Is condemning homosexuals for being who they are not demeaning?