Saturday, December 31, 2011

If there was a God, "Firefly" would still be on TV

I cannot think of a better way to end the year than with this wonderful video clip of Joss Whedon, "Atheist & Absurdist":

(I don't understand how anyone could think that Joss Whedon has something against Christians when he created one of the most loving AND Christian characters ever on TV - Shepherd Book).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Picking & choosing morals?

A Tweet I read today:

Pope says atheists pick & choose their morals. Today I will be frowning on child abuse & not having a problem with homosexuality

And I laughed and laughed...

Even the Dali Lama says we can be good without God.

Where do my morals come from? From my own thoughts, which are much better expressed by Carl Sagan than me, such as in the text that goes along with this magnificent video.

In case you don't want to, or cannot, listen to the video, here is an except of the text read with the video:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dalai Lama says you can be good without "God"

I read a lot. A LOT. Including religious texts. I've read the Bible, cover to cover, twice, and look up things in it frequently (usually while arguing scripture with a Christian). I've read the Koran, cover to cover, once, and continue to look up things in it frequently (usually while arguing with a Christian about what they think is in the Koran). I've read a lot of Buddhist philosophy.

I'm not looking for God, because there is no God. I read religious texts because they are written by humans who are trying to make sense of the world and what is happening to them, their families and other humans. Reading religious texts helps me understand how humans reason, and helps me learn about commonly-held wisdom that can be found in a variety of cultures and a variety of eras. It helps me understand how people think and worry and dream and justify.

Sometimes what I read is pretty - poetic expressions of how people think and feel. I like that. Sometimes what I read leaves me in despair: the hatred of men to their fellow men, and to women especially, is overwhelming at times. But sometimes, my hope for humanity gets a boost as I read. I won't say I have faith in humanity, but I do have faith in humans having the capacity for kindness and responsibility to themselves, to others and our world - whether or not they realize or acknowledge that capacity. Religious texts never make me think there are invisible, magical super friends all around us or in the sky, but reading such does sometimes help me regarding what I want to believe regarding humans.

The Dalai Lama is not someone I agree with all the time: his views on abortion (doesn't believe women should ever choose this option) and homosexuality (thinks its unnatural and unhealthy) contribute the justification for the oppression of women and of gays and lesbians - even if he also says, "if two males or two females voluntarily agree to have mutual satisfaction without further implication of harming others, then it is okay". (OUT Magazine February/March 1994, as quoted at Wikipedia).

But he says a lot of things I do agree with.

Here are two quotes I agree with very much, from The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness: An Anthology by and about the Dalai Lama (1990) edited by Sidney Piburn ISBN 8120815122

Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion. (p. 47)

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. (p. 52)

I love it when a religious person acknowledges that there is no need for religion or a God in order to be good.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead

Christopher Hitchens is dead. He died from pneumonia, a complication related to his esophageal cancer.

You can't say, "See, God punished Hitchens with cancer and death because he was an outspoken Atheist," because then, what are you going to say about all the devout Christians, devout Muslims, devout Jews and other devout religious people who have died from cancer or complications just like Hitchens?

I loathed Hitchens for his pro-war-in-Iraq stance and his pro George-Bush stance; had Bush been a Muslim, espousing exactly the same views about Christianity and the invasion of a nation made up largely of Christians, Hitchens would have foamed at the mouth. How Hitchens could be such a blind hypocrite regarding Iraq and Bush was astounding to me, because a few years before that, Hitchens had, literally, changed my life - for the better.

I will always be grateful to Hitchens for his exposing of Mother Teresa as a religious fanatic and a fraud in terms of truly helping people. I first read his criticisms back in the 1990s, after she died. It was the first time I had ever heard any criticism of her, let alone of any charity in the developing world. I was shocked. My first reaction, for several seconds, was, "What he is saying cannot be true." I remember my face feeling hot. Criticizing charity? Criticizing a woman whose name was seen as the definition of goodness by millions - and certainly characterized in the press that way?

But I kept reading.

(See an excerpt from a video from 1994, broadcast on the BBC, where Hitchens illustrates some of his criticisms.)

Over the months, as I read more and more, not only did my mind completely change about what Mother Teresa had done in India; my mindset about how to really help people living in extreme poverty changed. I realized that engaging only in charity, without addressing the reasons for poverty or a desperate situation, is mostly about making the giver feel good; a year later, all those poor people still need charity. Nothing changes. Nothing gets better. By contrast, changing political structures, educating people, EMPOWERING people - that changes things. That reduces poverty. That gives people options for employment, for health care, and for major life choices like marriage, pregnancy, moving... Pure charity, only charity, doesn't do those things. In fact, charity alone could even be said to keep people in poverty, forcing them to always be reliant on the kindness of others, never being able to take control of their own lives.

Five years after reading Hitchens' criticisms, when I found myself working for a UN-program and started my career in working for development agencies, my changed mindset helped me be much more effective in my job - and more effective to truly help others. To this day, I do not work the same way with nonprofits or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), nor donate to those organizations the same way, that I did before Hitchens' scathing criticisms of Mother Teresa. For instance, when I work with young people about volunteering, I don't just tell them how to do a one-day, feel good Habitat for Humanity build; I talk to them about organizations that are helping people learn to get out of debt, how to save, how to improve their job skills, etc., and how they could help those organizations as well. I'm outspoken about orphan tourism, and encourage those looking to volunteer abroad to engage in activities that don't take away local jobs and are focused on actually helping people in the long-term.

I'm not at all saying charity isn't a good thing to do. But it's not enough by itself. Hitchens played a huge role in my realizing that. I have to thank Christopher Hitchens for that start of the change in my mindset, and for helping to make me a better aid and development worker.

For a wonderful alternative to Mother Teresa and the Catholic Church's approaches to charity, which exploits the poor and doesn't change people's lives (but certainly raises a lot of money for their church), get to know Responsible Charity, which is working to raise some of the poorest people in India out of extreme poverty. Its Facebook page is a fantastic example of how a nonprofit can use the Internet to show its accountability and effectiveness.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lots of ways to help others this season!

The reason for the season? The tilt of the Earth! No doubt the reason so many cultures in the Northern Hemisphere turned this time into a period of lights and celebration was as a way to maintain hope for warmer weather to come, and to give people a reason to be happy, rather than scared, in these darker days when so much dies outside. Whether it's carnival parties that begin in Germany in November, the burning of a log to celebrate the Nordic God "Yule", the ritual lighting of candles, or the birth of a God in December - Dionysus or Jesus, depending on your religion or period on Earth - all the gift giving, singing and celebrating is a great way to cope with this dark, cold season for much of the Earth's population.

There is a misconception that only people of faith in the supernatural -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. -- engage in acts of charity, donate to humanitarian causes, and volunteer at this time of year. But the reality is that many people who are not religious, and people who do not believe in God, engage in acts of charity, donate to humanitarian causes, and volunteer to help the environment, help children, promote the arts, help the elderly, etc. - year round, as well as this season specifically.

There's lots of ways you can volunteer now, in secular programs rather than religious ones. In addition, there are some terrific organizations that would welcome your donations, including:
  • Kiva, which helps fund people in developing countries to start micro-enterprises, so that they don't need aid money eventually. And note the number one donating group on Kiva: it's the "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious" group.
  • Bpeace, which helps fund and support people in Afghanistan and Rwanda to grow small businesses and employ more people.
  • CARE International, which is focused on giving access to education, employment, health care and nutrition.
  • Knowbility, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas that promotes access to computer and Internet technology and related education for people with disabilities.
  • Goodwill, a national nonprofit with locations all over the USA that helps people trying to enter or re-enter the work place. Their thrift stores not only generate income to fund their training programs; they also provide a training ground for the people they are trying to help. Unlike the Salvation Army, the organization is secular and does not discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation.
  • Join the Reddit atheist community in giving to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres; the 2011 campaign has raised almost $200,000 for the organization.
  • Planned Parenthood.
  • Your nearest animal shelter, which is no doubt DESPERATE for funds right now.

Expect snarky comments from friends and family that believe in an invisible magical friend to say things like I think if I was an atheist I'd just figure what's the use? Lol, as someone did on my Facebook page recently. They don't understand why a human would be good to another human without a belief in an invisible magical friend who will reward you for your philanthropy, or punish you, after you die (great reasons to help - for gifts or out of fear. Whatever).

Maybe my desire to help is driven by evolution: humans prosper together, rather than singularly. Maybe my desire to help is driven by logic: the world is more peaceful and happy when people are content. All I know is that helping others makes the world a better place, and while I'm here on Earth, I'd like to enjoy my time here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Contrary to what the Catholic League says, I believe in so much...

Catholic League president Bill Donohue is starting a new campaign to... well, I'm not entirely sure what it's supposed to do. He seems to think that Atheists are just kidding, that we're closeted Christians. We're not, of course. But for the launch of this campaign, he asserts that Atheists are people who “believe in nothing, stand for nothing and are good for nothing.”

With this campaign, the Catholic League confirms so much of what I believe about the Catholic Church. In addition, I also believe that every person who covers up child sexual abuse should be in prison, I believe condoms save lives, I believe women should have control of their uterus rather than your church, I believe the Catholic church should NOT get to decide who is and isn't married, I believe in love, honesty, integrity, reason and freedom from religion, and I believe the numbers of people who also believe like me are growing. And I believe you can pray for me to your magical invisible friend until the cows come home and it won't change a thing.

It's an arrogance that makes Christians oh-so-loathesome. And if he thinks this is what his God wants, then it's no wonder his church is losing members in DROVES.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What does the Bible say about Christmas traditions?

How much do you know about the characters and events associated with Christmas that are in the Bible? Or the origins of various Christmas traditions? Take this quiz and find out. It's particularly fun to share with Christian friends who say they take the Bible literally.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beware of Islamic Turkeys

As an Atheist, why should I care that a friend on Facebook just posted this as her status?

Butterball Turkeys are 'Halal Certified". This means that during the killing of the turkey a Muslim religious official (or a recording of a Muslim religious official) offers the turkey 'in the name of Allah'. I have personally called Butterball and USDA to confirm and this is true. If you would like to do the same, call Butterball Corporate at 1-919-255-7900. I spoke to Linda Compton, Director of Consumer Relations. They will try to pass the buck to USDA (1-888-674-6854), but USDA only requires a religious official as part of their halal certification. They do not dictate what they say.

Why should I care? The Christian is scared her Butterball Turkey is Islamic. And observant Muslims can't eat the Butterball Turkey unless it's Halal. BOTH are nonsense to me, what do I care?

And yet I do care.

Which bothers me more - the Christian friend and her ilk who think Jesus would never want them to eat a Halal Turkey (despite Matthew 15:11: It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.) or the Muslim (or Jew, for that matter), who thinks his food has to be extra-specially-blessed in order to eat it?

I'm going to have to go with the Christian in this case. I'm sure this same Christian friend would eat food prepared and prayed over by a neighbor who was Catholic. Or Mormon. Or Jewish. It's only certain religions that are unacceptable.

The arguments I've heard from Christians against the evils of Halal are that it requires a cruel way of killing animals - never mind that the same method is required of kosher meat - and that Halal requires a spoken prayer to God (and the Arabic word for God is Allah - for some reason, people have HUGE problems that Arabs use an Arabic word for the God of Abraham - but no problem that the French call him Dieu - how come that isn't a problem?), while kosher killing doesn't require any spoken word (just a series of very specific rituals that are each and altogether meant to praise their God - but apparently, specific, deliberate movements done as a praise to a God is okay with the Christians; its just spoken words that are ENTIRELY unacceptable).

What does preventing observant Muslims from getting to eat a Butterball Turkey on Thanksgiving accomplish, I wonder? If we eat a Butterball Turkey, do the terrorists win?

Another day to celebrate being an Atheist! And more Butterball Turkey for me!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dear Abby's religious bias: dangerous?

I usually like Dear Abby. But today, her column included this advice:

"then I recommend you talk to Donny's mother about finding a Big Brother for him, through her religious denomination."

I am always ticked off when she says something like this, but I was particularly ticked off today, so I wrote her this:

Abby, so often you give advice like this, but surely you know that not everyone is a member of a religion, and not every community of faith has the capacity to handle various personal, family or marital problems? There are *millions* of Atheists in the USA, and so often, your advice would be useless to these millions of Americans because you so often refer to a community of faith as a way to address some problem.

Every time you give this advice, I wonder about the person you have given it to - what if they are an Atheist, like me, or part of a church that just provides sermons and some music, with a religious instructor who has no idea how to handle various family or personal issues beyond, "Pray" - or has some kind of twisted view that women should submit to their husbands, believes there's a religious basis allowing husbands to beat their wives and children, etc.?

I personally know so many women who went to the leaders of their community of faith regarding problems they were experiencing in their marriage, with their children, with their parents, with siblings, etc., or regarding emotional issues or conflict, and who were given absolutely lousy advice as a result.

It's time for Abby to start referring to qualified nonprofit organizations, health care professionals and mental health care professionals when people write to her regarding these problems! If she wants to add some kind of line at the end about, "And, in addition, if you are a person who believes in a religion, you might find strength in a community of faith - but don't use that as a substitute for getting qualified help," I'd be okay with that - I wouldn't be crazy about it, but at least it would be preceded by helpful advice!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Are All Religious People Frightened by Logic & Fact?

This is a terrific blog from 2006: The worth of a woman: the Bible vs. the Quran. It's a great rebuttal to all the Christians who claim the Koran is oh-so anti-woman but the Bible isn't.

In the comments of that blog is a reference to Why Won't God Heal Amputees?, an online book that I found out about only recently. This online book, together with the book Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible & Why by Bart D. Ehrman, are very similar to my own journey away from Christianity and any belief in the supernatural.

What I'm stunned about is that some people try to claim that these are examples of "militant, in-your-face brand of atheism." While Atheist-focused blogs or books can be snarky, even vitriolic, the resources noted in the second paragraph aren't at all. There's nothing acerbic nor obnoxious about either; instead, both take a detailed, logical, dispassionate examination of the Bible and Faith. A fundamentalist would find these resources utterly frightening, but not every religious person takes the Bible, the Koran, or other religious teachings literally; I have religious friends who would be able to read these two resources and be able to maintain their faith, and wouldn't feel threatened at all - if anything, they would use it to say, "This is exactly why I'm not a fundamentalist."

Blogging facts and questions should never be branded as unfair attacks on religion, nor as automatically snarky, vitriolic, acerbic or obnoxious by merely being said or written. Facts and questions are quite fair, even if they may be painful to "believers."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gay marriage no, child marriage yes?

In nearly every state in the USA, it’s perfectly okay for children as young as 15 to get married. In New Hampshire, that child can be 13. In South Carolina, 14, only requiring parental consent. In Florida, not only can minors wed, but minors who have been married before don’t need parents’ permission, meaning a 13 year old wed in New Hampshire can get divorced, move to Florida, and marry again at any time under 18 without parental consent.
Many of these states, coincidentally, allow people below the minimum age to get married with certain qualifications met, usually getting permission from the court. In other words, the state gets to decide if children barely in their teens get married or not. The usual cause for such a request, of course, is if a teen gets pregnant.
Not a single state requires that everyone getting married be 18, without exception.
You can see for yourself in this excellent series of charts about marriage laws in the USA.
So, let me get this straight: religious conservatives scream about girls under 18 being able to get an abortion without parental consent, but children getting married is just fine?! And these same religious conservatives scream about gay marriage, but aren't doing anything about the horrific, barbaric practice of child marriage in the USA?!
Atheists, secularists, and agnostics are a very diverse group, but I can say with confidence that every single one of them that I know does not support child marriage, under any circumstances, and many are actively campaigning to stop the practice.
As usual, actions speak louder than words.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Boy Scouts - NOT private, totally bigoted

A fantastic video by Dan Rezler about why the Boy Scouts of America is NOT a private organization that has the right to discriminate against homosexuals, atheists or agnostics:

And please note that the Girl Scouts of the USA does NOT have these same discriminatory policies; people who are homosexuals, atheists or agnostics can be members, can be troop leaders, etc. Totally different organization!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Recommend: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

A while back, my husband and I took a two week motorcycle trip and, near the end of it, we found ourselves at the incredible John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Eastern Oregon. The monument designation protects one of the longest and most continuous records of evolutionary change and biotic relationships in North America. It's internationally-known for its well-preserved layers of fossil plants and mammals that lived in this region between the late Eocene Epoch, about 44 million years ago (long after the dinosaurs), and the late Miocene Epoch, about 7 million years ago. The site has produced such a huge amount of fossils, all preserved in perfect layers that show exactly when they lived, that paleontologists from all over the world use the finds at the monument to date their own finds from these periods elsewhere.

If you go, don't miss the film that's shown in the visitor's center; it's relatively short and it explains, in really easy-to-understand language, why this site is important, and what the climate of the land mass that is now called John Day Fossil Beds was like during various periods in the Earth's history (and how it lead to the development of the animals and plants from those times - and, ultimately, their demise).

It's a great place to truly understand the wonder of evolution and the natural, real world. In fact, it does such a good job that I asked one of the staff members if anyone ever tries to dispute the facts with claims that the Earth is only 6000 to 8000 years old (depends on which fundamentalist you are talking to as to how old they think the Earth is), that none of the animals that the fossil records prove existed really did exist, etc. She said, indeed, every so often, they do show up, but that they go after much more well-known targets, like the Grand Canyon - and even have alternative descriptions posted at that site regarding how it came to be, disputing the scientific facts and asserting their literal interpretation of their creation myth as true.

I do enjoy reading indigenous creation myths when visiting a site - they are lovely stories that say so much about what humans value, about hopes and fears. But such are NOT fact, and should never be portrayed as such. I'm bothered by the bullying religious groups do to get their creation myth portrayed on the same level as scientific fact at national parks and monuments. Let's NOT let this happen at John Day Fossil Beds!

Monday, August 29, 2011

The comedy that is a religion criticizing another religion

The ever-frightening Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs has published an alarmist article about a bumper sticker she says celebrates the coming invasion of the USA by Muslims. Never mind that she's not only mistranslated the bumper sticker, but also ignored similar passages in the Bible.

Islamophobia today has more on Geller's latest fear-mongering.

It always amuses me when someone from one religion criticizes people from another, and this article does a great job of showing why.

Friday, August 26, 2011

If I were in charge

Many Christians in the USA love to claim that the goal of atheists is to do away with religion.

I know of very few Atheists that have this as a goal - and none personally. While many (but not all) of the Atheists I know wouldn't mind religion going away, they have no plans to make that happen.

Many Christians say they fear Atheists in elected office more than any other group. Why? Because they think an Atheist will start banning religion. Never mind that that Christians base this belief on... well, nothing, because there are no Atheists talking about this whatsoever.

If I - an Atheist - were in elected office, what would I do with regard to religion in the USA? I'll lay all my cards on the table:

I'd ensure that prayers are not said as an official part of government or public sector events - like a prayer over the PA system before a sports event. People could still pray - in groups, individually, before the game, during the game, after the game, once, several times, whatever - but they couldn't require everyone to have to listen to their prayer at a public event, for everyone to stop what they are doing while that prayer gets read over the PA system, etc. So long as prayers do not in any way interfere with the sporting event or my effort to get a snack from the band booth, it's just dandy.

I wonder how Christians would feel if a Muslim wanted to chant over the PA system before a football game in the USA, how they would hear to hear "Allah Ackbar" chanted loudly throughout the stadium or gym...

I'd ensure no teacher stands in front or his or her class, or in the cafeteria during lunch, and leads a prayer. I'd ensure no school administrator does that either. If students want to do that prayer-at-the-flagpole-thingy before classes, or in-between classes, or after classes, fine. Teachers or school administrators could join them. Students would be free to pray any other times they wanted to, individually - and I'm sure many would be savvy enough to urge their Christian friends to join them at certain times during the school day if they are that bent on the practice. As long as their prayers don't interfere with classroom work, and no student is ever punished or harassed for not participating, I don't care.

I'd get rid of the "under God" part of the Pledge, which was added in the 1950s (the pledge was written in 1892, without the "under God" phrase). It would be so wonderful to have that inclusive pledge back - I might even consider start saying it!

I'd get rid of "in God we Trust" on all new money printed. It can stay wherever it is on a building now, for historical purposes. I'd get rid of the phrase as the official motto of the USA. I would return us to the original, much better, much more inclusive motto: e pluribus unum ("out of many, one").

Christian creationism and intelligent design (or the Muslim versions, for that matter) would have no place in science class. They would, instead, be reviewed in a class about world cultures and religions, and have their place right along side aboriginal beliefs that all people originated from Australia, the belief by early Greeks that the first humans were Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, the Scientology beliefs that a galactic dictator blew up his people on Earth and that their essences continue to cause us spiritual harm, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster's own intelligent design theory.

Gay marriage would soooo be legal. Polygamy? No. Polygamy is a matter of public policy, not just of personal preference. A marriage license is a government grant, a recognition of a legal agreement between those entering into the marriage. Oh, sure, legally, you could still shack up with whomever you wanted, turn over the money in your bank account and all decision-making about your life to one person or a collective or whatever, say you love that one person as well as all your sister-wives and whatever, refer to yourselves as one big happy family, whatever. That's called polyamory, or group love, and while it's not at all my cup of tea, you can feel free to go for it. But if you want more than one spouse to be on your health insurance, forget it. Polygamy hurts women. No, really, polygamy hurts women.

I'm against polyandry (one wife, many husbands) as well, just so you know...

I would require all communities of faith - churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, bunkers, storefronts, communes, whatever - to pay property taxes and taxes on all purchases, just like any person. They would also have to be much more transparent regarding their financial transactions: all payments made by the community of faith to staff, consultants and vendors would be a matter of public record - not so much so that I can look at them, but so that the members of the community of faith can see them, and know how their donations are being spent.

I would enforce all court decisions and legal interpretations of the separation of church and state. That might mean no religious displays on the court house lawn, or, it might mean allowing any group to put up a display, including Atheists. There would be lots of tinsel and garlands all around in December, but baby dolls in mangers would be only on private property.

I would still spend money at church barbecues, because, especially in the South, the food ROCKS.

I would still walk around singing religious songs I've learned over the years, just like I walk around singing murder songs ("Delia's gone, one more 'round, Delia's gone...") and infidelity songs ("Love is where you find it, when you find no love at home..."), despite never murdering anyone and having no desire to violate my marriage vows (yeah, some of us Atheists have marriage vows - to each other, not to a magical invisible friend).

And... that's pretty much it. There would still be public prayer, if that's what people wanted to do, pretty much just like they do now. There would still be religious people running around talking about their religion at work and school and what not. That's what a secular nation is - not one that is religion-free, but one that provides balance between freedom of religion and freedom from religions not your own.

I know, I know... dream on...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Secular research reveals - we're good people!

Secularists tend to be more ethical than religious people. On average, they are more commonly opposed to the death penalty, war and discrimination. And they also have fewer objections to foreigners, homosexuals, oral sex and hashish.

The most surprising insight revealed by the new wave of secular research so far is that atheists know more about the God they don't believe in than the believers themselves. This is the conclusion suggested by a 2010 Pew Research Center survey of US citizens. Even when the higher education levels of the unreligious were factored out, they proved to be better informed in matters of faith, followed by Jewish and Mormon believers.

From Does Secularism Make People More Ethical? in Der Spiegel

Monday, August 8, 2011

Is a Navy Seal fighting for Christ or his country?

The killing of USA and Afghan soldiers in the helicopter crash this weekend is heart-breaking. Having lived in Afghanistan for six months and still having many Afghan friends, I know how much Afghans mourn the loss of their own soldiers as well as those from other countries - and they are mourning now. My Afghan friends face the possibility of death every day, not just at the hands of terrorists or by getting caught in the crossfire, and having survived so much over the years, life is incredibly precious to them, so they are incredibly sympathetic to the loss of others. Every death is tragic - that the loss is military people does not somehow make it more so - but that this is the biggest loss of American lives in one day in Afghanistan is quite sobering.

My heart goes out to the families. I know they are in the middle of a tremendous amount of grief. And I know that many of them are people of faith in the supernatural, and they find strength in that faith in the supernatural. I don't want to talk anyone out of that faith.

But pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease don't refer to US military personnel as warriors for Christ.

One of the widows of a Navy Seal killed Saturday said in a TV interview this weekend:

I want to tell the world that he was an amazing man, that he was a wonderful husband, and a fabulous father to two wonderful children. He was a warrior for Christ, and he was a warrior for our country.

Again, I am so sorry for her loss. But by saying that her husband was fighting for Christ in Afghanistan, she has just told Muslims who are fearful that America is at war with Islam that, indeed, that's the case.

Christians, imagine your fear every time you see a member of the Taliban or another Muslim extremist say, "I am fighting for Islam." Imagine how scared you are at that statement. Saying a US soldier is a warrior for Christ causes exactly the same fear among Muslims.

Christians, imagine your outrage when Hitler is referred to as a Christian - he believed in Jesus Christ and affirmed that it was his Christian faith that formed his beliefs (see below), but you wring your hands and say, "He was NOT a Christian!" Same for references to the terrorist in Norway that murdered more than 70 people recently - a man who believes his faith in Jesus was the justification for murder. Now, in thinking about that, can you AT LAST understand why millions of Muslims wring their hands at the Taliban and the Saudi Arabian men and others who flew planes into buildings on September 11, 2001 being called Muslims? Do you get that now?

Any American military person who believes he or she is a a warrior for Christ in Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever while in uniform needs to take off that uniform. Or a warrior for Islam, Jehovah, Vishnu, whatever. To say that you are fighting for your God means you are fighting a religious war - and that goes against everything the United States of America should stand for overseas.

"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter..."
-- Adolph Hitler. For more, see Baynes, Norman (1942), The Speeches of Adolf Hitler: April 1922-August 1939, New York: Oxford University Press

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The apocalypse industry

The apocalypse industry disgusts me. Playing on the fear and misguided beliefs on Christians, Muslims - even non-Abrahamic religions - these hucksters make big profits selling books, videos, even screen savers about an event they cannot possibly actually believe in, as they are making more money than they could possibly spend before the world ends per their predictions.

The weirdest of these predators are the people marketing to those who fear being left behind - even though, as Christians, those fraidy-cat folks should believe that they'll be floating up in the sky with the human manifestation of their super powerful, usually invisible friend, and it's only people like me, and other Atheists, who are going to be left behind to be tortured by UN troops or whatever. These fraudsters peddle camping stoves, fuel containers, generators, guns, ammo and other survivalist equipment to people who, even though they believe in a super powerful, usually invisible friend, also believe that super friend isn't going to protect them from the marauding Atheist cannibals that will be running around (and, really what kind of super friend is that?!).

Since the beginning of human history, humans have been predicting the end of humankind. Over thousands of years, some humans have seen the wars, natural disasters, famines and social changes of their present time as signs that the end is just around the corner. Never mind that there have always been wars, natural disasters, famines and social changes... And deciphering "Bible codes" or "Torah codes" or some other ancient text, has been done again and again over the centuries, always to fit what the decoders are seeing in their present time. People will tell you that Nostradamus predicted all sorts of big historical events - but only ever in hindsight. And that's oh-so-easy to do, to take a vague quatrain and frame it, interpret it, in such as way as to say, "See, it clearly says that Donnie Osmond is going to win on Dancing with the Stars."

Why do I care? Why does this bother me? Because, like most Atheists, I have compassion for my fellow humans, and, therefore, I do not like seeing humans lied to or exploited. I don't like to see people profiting from the fears and superstitions of others.

In addition, these fraudsters' activities can lead to tragedy: the mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana. The mass murder committed by the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda after the doomsday prophesies of its leaders failed to come true. The mass suicide and murders at Waco by the Branch Davidians. No one should be murdered, or coerced into killing themselves - including by religious folks who believe the end is nigh.

Learn more about how often different cultures and cults have declared it's all about to end. Start with the book The Last Days are Here Again: A History of the End Times by Richard Kyle. It's focused on Christian movements over time that have declared the world is about it end, but it's a good place to start your education about this practice when can also be found in Judaism, Islam, and even non-Abrahamic traditions, like Buddhisms. Educate yourself, and share that knowledge. Expect some push back from others who are stockpiling food and ammo. But in putting that knowledge out there, it's out there - there's no taking it back - and it often plants the seeds of doubt that can help bring people back from the brink of doing something stupid - and maybe, just maybe, lead to enlightenment.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why people that adhere to religious law scare me

Whether the person is saying a country's laws should come from the Bible, the Koran, whatever, it scares me.

This video explains why. And it is, in a much-more-well-stated-way, the thought process I went through when I was a teen:

I know most of you already subscribe to The Friendly Atheist and have already seen this...

UN criticizes anti-blasphemy laws

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has issued a commentary on freedom of expression that says anti-blasphemy laws and restrictions on criticism of governments are incompatible with existing norms and that free expression is essential for the protection of human rights.

The committee’s report, entitled General Comment, said, in part, “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the covenant,” except in specific circumstances, and States “should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”

More info here.

This is VERY good news. This kind of thinking is why I support Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. I am very glad to see the UN getting something RIGHT!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Air Force pulls Christian-themed training session

The Air Force, in response to a report by Truthout earlier this week, has pulled a Christian-themed training session that used a quote from an ex-Nazi SS officer and numerous passages from the New and Old Testament to teach missile officers about the morals and ethics of launching nuclear weapons. More info here from Truthout.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Pet Peeve: Lousy Quoters

Atheists love to call out religious folks for misquoting their respective scriptures, and for ignoring the MANY instances when their respective scriptures have been altered over the years. I love to do it myself, having been raised a Baptist and knowing the Bible - and the history of such, including the changes - better than my religious friends.

But I'm going to have to call out my Atheist brethren for so often being lousy at quoting - specifically, for not ensuring a quote is accurate and is properly sourced before using it.

A case in point: Lighthouses are more useful than churches. Benjamin Franklin did not say this! But you will find this quote all over various blogs and web pages. The wikiquote page for Franklin says the origin of this phrase MAY be a paraphrase of something he wrote to his wife on 17 July 1757, given in a footnote on page 133 of Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1818). After describing a narrow escape from shipwreck he added:

The bell ringing for church, we went thither immediately, and with hearts full of gratitude, returned sincere thanks to God for the mercies we had received: were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.

Another one: The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. This was NOT said by George Washington. It is a line from the English version of the Treaty of Tripoli of 1796, initially signed by a representative of the US on 4 November 1796 during Washington's presidency, approved by Congress 7 June 1797 and finally signed by President John Adams on 10 June 1797. Article 11 of it reads:

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,— as it has in itself no character or enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,— and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

There are some terrific, verifiable quotes out there in support of secularism and even Atheism, including from the USA founding fathers and various great thinkers. The wikiquote site makes it super easy to find out if he or she really said whatever it is you want to quote!

And as Abraham Lincoln once said: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re not quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

You don't need religion to be sexist

Atheists love to criticize religious folk for their sexist practices - for demanding women be silent, to not teach, etc. (I Timothy 2:11-14). We are particularly amused by fundamentalist Christians criticizing what the Qu'ran may or may not say about the treatment of women, when the Bible has verses like:

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire. (Leviticus 21:9)

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. (I Corinthians 11:14)

Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:22-23)

But people that believe in a magical invisible friend don't have a monopoly on sexism; sadly, lots of Atheists can be not-so-rational when it comes to their ideas about women.

Linda Henneberg, a science communication intern at CERN in Switzerland wrote a blog post about her experiences at the laboratory as both a woman and a non-PhD physicist:

I was very excited to be at CERN for the summer. I am still excited. I love it here and I wish I could work here forever. But I did not expect to be uncomfortable or creeped out on a weekly basis. I did not expect to be hit on by a large proportion of the men I saw in a social setting. I did not expect that CERN would start me on the road to being a cynical feminist, a type of person I previously dismissed, but which I now understand.

Ouch. Henneberg's blog further inspired a blog on the Scientific American web site by Jennifer Oullette on how hard women have it in the science/skeptic universes:

I am very comfortable in male-dominated environments, and accustomed to being the only woman in the room. And yet I have had far more negative experiences with men in the skeptic/atheist community than anywhere else.

Ouch again!

I have to admit that the only gathering of skeptics I've been a part of was a tour of a whiskey distillery in Portland, Oregon with Pastafarians, so I can't speak to this at all from experience. The closet I've come to a community of Atheists is in the comments section of the Friendly Atheist, a blog by Richard Wade which brought these other blogs to my attention. If it weren't for Richard, I'd never know this sexism-among-atheists was an issue, but now I do, beginning with his reporting on the nasty backlash faced by one woman who talked online about being frightened by a guy at an Atheist/skeptics meeting hitting on her in an elevator at 4 AM.

Richard Dawkins didn't help AT ALL with his completely out-of-touch, sexist comments of his own:

The man in the elevator didn't physically touch her, didn't attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn't even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that....Rebecca's feeling that the man's proposition was 'creepy' was her own interpretation of his behavior, presumably not his. She was probably offended to about the same extent as I am offended if a man gets into an elevator with me chewing gum.

Wow, Dawkins. For a scientist, you sure can be a Dumb Ass!

Sexism always rears up where I least expect it. And then often doesn't show up at all where I'm on my guard. I work in aid and international development, and I'm sorry to say I have to watch everything I say and do, and take care what invitations I accept, in oh-so-many situations. Not so much when I'm around locals - no, it's with other aid workers! By contrast, I attend motorcycle rallies for people who travel internationally by motorcycle, and so far, it's been incredibly empowering - I've had men walk up to me specifically to tell me how much they admire me for riding my own bike and could they give my email address to their wives they are trying to convince to ride?

Many in the skeptics community aren't reacting well to being called out for sexist practices and attitudes. But, then, most individuals and many communities react poorly to such an accusations - no one likes to be called prejudiced. I hope all these women scientists and Atheist female bloggers will keep coming forward and sharing their stories - the more specific, the better. I think it's only through continuous sharing that, eventually, our community will accept that we might need to work on ourselves regarding this issue.

Except for Dawkins. I don't have much hope for someone who equates being propositioned in an elevator at 4 a.m. with the annoyance of standing next to a gum chewer. Geesh.

How scientists inspire

I adore Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist and Host of NOVA scienceNOW, and this interview shows why. Watching him on NOVA or reading interviews like this make me truly inspired - I buzz all day. Inspiration makes me giddy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Christians admitting historic/scriptural ties to Islam

"The Qu'ran mentions the Bible twelve times. The verses call upon the people of the Bible - Christians - to follow what God revealed to them in the Bible: to be better Christians."
-- Mohammed Sammak, Secretary General of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, speaking at the United Church of Christ's General Synod 28.

No, I don't believe in an invisible magical friend, but it's nice to see examples of religious groups actually reading their respective scriptures, and understanding history. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, in a Pew survey regarding religious knowledge of Americans back in September 2010, religious people in the USA displayed little knowledge of world religions - but more provocatively, Americans did not even know much about their own religions.

Those who scored highest on this survey? Atheists and Agnostics. We really like to read... fiction and nonfiction. And, yes, I've read the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran. And a lot about Buddhism. I'm wacky that way.

I am very annoyed by religious people who want to claim all other religions are false, and only theirs is the real deal. As an Atheist, I think all religions are false, for many of the same the reasons a religious person tries to claim all other religions but his or her's are false - but my annoyance also comes from a frustration at religious people ignoring the early tenets of their faith, not knowing their religion's history, and refusing to acknowledge historic and scriptural ties with other religions. I'm particularly annoyed by Christians and Muslims who are oblivious to their historic and scriptural ties to each other and to Jews. I find Mr. Sammak's invitation by the United Church of Christ an excellent example of Christians who are not annoying. Would love to see more of that.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should I be allowed to marry?

Just back from a much-needed vacation. And per hearing the Religious Right Wing of the USA voice their reasons for being against gay marriage, per the state government vote in New York state, I have a question for those people:

I'm an Atheist, my husband is an Atheist, and we decided not to have children. Therefore, by your definition of marriage, should we have been allowed to marry?

The answer, based on what I'm hearing from you - that marriage is a sacrament of God and its purpose is to have children - must be a resounding NO. You folks saying gay marriage is impossible cannot believe an Atheist should have the right to get married, nor that someone who has chosen not to have children should have the right to get married, based on your arguments against gay marriage.

So, why did I get married? It wasn't to have any government sanction of my love for the man who is now my husband, and my lifelong commitment to him - I don't need any certificate to show that. I got married because:
  • if I'm in the hospital, I want my husband to be able to be with me, and if he's in the hospital, I want full access to him as well. Going with a health care proxy will NOT grant me access to him, or him to me, in all circumstances, unlike being married.
  • if I get great health care coverage, I want him to get that coverage as well (and vice versa!)
  • if I am unable to make decisions for myself, I want my family - and that's my husband - to make those decisions for me
  • if I die, I want him to have all my stuff and do with it what I want, because I know he'll follow my last wishes, because I trust him, because he is my family
  • I want to legally be responsible for him, and him for me, in the eyes of the law
  • if he wins the lottery, I want half!
That's what gay people want as well as married couples. Indeed, many of them also want the right to have or adopt children as well, as married parents - they see marriage as you religious folks do, as something that greatly contributes to the raising of happy, healthy children.

How can a religious person say gays should not be allowed to get married without also saying Atheists who are not going to have children should not be allowed to get married? There's no way to deny it to gays without also denying it to Atheists, based on your own arguments!

And Atheists - that should freakin' scare the hell out of you.

On a final note: why did I not only have the official, secular state marriage procedure, but also have a Godless marriage ceremony for family and friends? Because I wanted to celebrate my marriage with the people I love, to celebrate our friends for loving us and supporting us. And we drank a LOT of wine at our wedding - just like Jesus.

(for those of you looking for marriage vow ideas for your secular wedding ceremony, contact me - I'm happy to share ours)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

the amazing compassion of Atheists

The love, compassion, support and selflessness of so many Atheists regularly renews my faith in humanity. Read this blog by Greta Christina about high school student and Atheist Damon Fowler if you want to be inspired. The harassment and hatred this kid has been subjected to by his local community Christians is heart-breaking, but the support he's received from Atheists is beautiful. Hurrah, us!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Religious people sometimes DO read. Hurrah!

According to two early Islamic historians, Ibn e Saad and Ibn Hisham, the Prophet Muhammad allowed a delegation of 60 Byzantine Christians from Najran in Yemen to worship in his own mosque in Madina. The story goes like this: the Christians had come to discuss a number of issues with Muhammad. When it came time for them to have a church service, they asked the Prophet's permission to perform their service in the mosque. Muhammad answered, "conduct your service here in the mosque. It is a place consecrated to God."

Now, Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Virginia will allow Muslims to pray there on Fridays while a nearby Mosque is being renovated.

Why does an Atheist care about this? Because it helps strengthen the faith I have in humanity. These are people that understand that they worship the same invisible magical friend. No, I don't believe in their invisible magical friend, but it's nice to see that these two representative groups do actually read their respective scriptures, and understand history.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

annoyed ≠ intolerant

Dan Savage wrote a rant about a customer that drove him crazy in line at a Starbuck's. And he ended the blog (or "slog", as he calls it), with this:

Didn't think I could hate the young goateed dope more... and then he sits down next to me, with his wife, and proceeds to loudly say grace* before eating his fucking pastry.

* For those who will accuse me of being intolerant: I didn't try to stop him from saying grace. I didn't start gathering signatures to put an initiative on the ballot that would prevent young goateed dopes from marrying or adopting children. I wanted to throttle him but... I tolerated him, I put up with him, I endured him. I am, as ever, the very model of a modern major tolerator. But I reserve the right to be annoyed by those I tolerate and to blog about it. Annoyed ≠ intolerant. Please make a note of it.

Right on.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Advice to Christian friend of an Atheist

Brought to my attention by The Friendly Atheist:

A Christian posted to the Think Atheist asking how to deal with the fact that her best friend is now an Atheist. She's purposely vague in her post about what the problem is, exactly, but in one of her responses to comments, says, she's not uneasy that her friend is an Atheist, but, rather, "I'm more worried that she's uneasy with me being Christian... I'm one who does love talking about my faith."

This response to her is so excellent - I identify with this response in so many ways. If you don't want to click on the link, here's the response I so loved:

First I wanna say that Rachel is pretty lucky to have a friend that wants to make it through a situation like this. Most of my "friends" dropped me like a bad habit when I came out as an atheist. I did have some that stuck around but they still want to debate or make the occasional comments. Every single friendship, relationship, and family bond was affected somehow by my atheism, mostly with a negative outcome, and I know that I did nothing wrong. It was their decision to act differently toward me, not vice versa. I was still the same person, but they didn't care... and still don't. Their religion was so important to them that I no longer mattered because I didn't believe the same as them.

Anyway, depending on where you guys are from, she may be faced with religion every day. You may not realize it as a Christian, but we atheists have to encounter Christianity constantly. We drive by several churches, see countless bumper stickers, read tons of religious status updates on facebook, see it on our money, our children recite it at school, people knock on our doors to spread the word, get told "bless you" when we sneeze, get invited to church by pushy friends/family/co-workers (some literally beg you to go), get told to have a "blessed day" at the drive-thru or checkout line (happens all the time here in the south), hear about it in song lyrics -especially country music-, get handed little bibles or find fliers on our cars, and the list goes on. We get to see nothing supporting atheism and if we bring it up, people want to argue and get steaming mad.

When you realize that you no longer believe in a god, you begin to find new purpose for your life. You get to live your life for yourself instead of some deity. Now that I know this is the only life I have, I cherish it. I have a new respect for life in general. It is a wonderful feeling and everything begins to make sense. All of this is exciting but it can sometimes be overwhelming. Losing religion can be hard for some people at first, so you may want to discuss it with your friends and share what you have learned and how you feel. The bad part is when you tell your friends about this and they begin to resent you for it. They think you are "mad at God" or "it's just a phase". This couldn't be further from the truth and it is very insulting. And the worst thing that someone can do is to try to get them to "fix their relationship with god" or go back to church. Once someone comes to the intellectual conclusion that they are atheists, it is not likely that they will return to their faith. Chances are, they have spent a long time studying their religion and trying figuring out what they believe. I have Christians tell me that I need to read the bible. What they don't know is that I (and most atheists) have read it and debunked it, but the ones preaching and telling me this are typically the blind followers that haven't even read it for themselves. We atheists usually tend to analyze everything. We truly believe that all gods are a myth, including the Christian god. It would be hard to get an adult to believe in Santa again. We feel that God is no more real than Santa, so it would be very difficult to get an atheist to believe in a god again.

In good, healthy friendships, you want to be able to talk with your friend about anything. If you find that it is a topic that you absolutely can't avoid, please try to understand her position. You have hundreds, likely thousands, of people in your area that you can talk to and will support Christianity. But it is also likely that she has no one to talk to or support her atheism. That can be pretty frustrating and it can also be quite lonely, especially when you are no longer socially accepted due to this one difference.

Over the years, the friends that have stayed friends have given up on trying to convert me back to Christianity and they've learned to accept it, but none of them tolerate my atheism. This means that I have to listen to them ramble on about god's will but if I mention evolution or anything about atheism they go into attack mode. It isn't fair but there isn't much I can do about it if I want to keep the few friends that I have left. Be there for her and support her even if you don't agree with her. If you love each other enough, you can overlook the rough patches.

You can read the original post and comments here at Think Atheist.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Religious people need to read more

Muslims in Malaysia were enraged when Christians in their country - fellow Malaysians - used the Arabic word for the God of Abraham, Allah, as... well, as the word for the God of Abraham, the same one both groups worship. Apparently they wanted them to make up a new word?

And some Christians in Australia have become enraged by a billboard there that says "Jesus is a Prophet of Islam," even though, indeed, Jesus is in the Koran, with lots of other Bible characters: Noah, Moses, and, ofcourse, Abraham, (did I mention that Allah is the Arabic word of the God of Abraham?).

I'm bemused by these outrages. It means these people don't really understand their own religions. Of course, it's not the first time I've encountered this: growing up in Protestant congregations in the Bible belt, I had various Christians tell me that Catholics or Mormons didn't worship the same God as Baptists. Yet I never heard anyone say that English-speaking Jews needed to stop calling the God of Abraham God (though I frequently heard that Jews were going to hell).

In case you don't want to slog through both the Bible and the Koran - as I have - here's a summary of the characters that are in both books, like it or not:

Biblical Names
for the Prophets,
(in English)

















John the Baptist


Koranic Names
for the Prophets
(English versions of Arabic)



















That's the way it is, folks! You don't have to like it, but you can't say it's not true! Same folks are in both books!

I'm not much bothered by most people's belief in an invisible magic friend, particularly when they don't try to force me or anyone else to worship such. But I am bothered by religious people who deny language and history. There is NO getting around that the Arabic word for the God of Abraham is Allah. That's a fact. And there is NO getting around that Jesus is recognized by Muslims as a prophet of the God of Abraham. That's a fact.

My challenge to you believers of the God of Abraham out there, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim: get to know your own religious history. You get to keep thinking that your version of your religion is the right one, you get to keep thinking you and other adherents to your religion are the really special ones, but you have to stop this nonsense of trying to change other people's language or trying to say what's written in their religious book isn't actually in their religious book. You can say other religions are wrong, are sinful, are misguided, that they pray wrong, etc., but you may not say that something that is written isn't actually written.

In a Pew survey regarding religious knowledge of Americans back in September 2010, religious people in the USA displayed little knowledge of world religions - but more provocatively, Americans did not even know much about their own religions. For example, 45 percent of Catholics incorrectly answered a question about Catholicism and Communion. Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

Those who scored highest on this survey were, in fact, Atheists and Agnostics. The next-highest scoring groups were Jews and Mormons.

It's not just American Christians, Australian Christians and Malaysian Muslims that are ignorant of their own dogma (and, apparently, about language): go to a primarily-Islamic country, and you will hear Muslims talk about things they think are in the Koran that are not actually in the Koran.

In reporting the results of the Pew survey, The New York Times' Laurie Goodstein quoted the president of American Atheists:
I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people," Mr. Silverman said. "Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That's how you make atheists.
Yes, I've read the Bible. Twice from cover to cover, Old Testament through New Testament, and oh-so-many-times reading just this or that verse, section or chapter. And I've also read the Koran. The latter was MUCH less violent than the former, but that's another blog...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Bible should be a single page

A short blog on May 25 from the Orlando Sentinel has this headline: Retired pastor knows why people don’t like Christians any more. It's a short interview with retired Methodist pastor Kirk Minor, who says, in part:

We’re finding more and more that there are a lot of people out there doing a lot of talking and protesting and bellyaching, but fewer people actually walking the walk. We have extremists protesting funerals of gay soldiers, pundits decrying the use of abbreviations for the word Christmas and activists campaigning for prayer in public schools. These are all very divisive issues, and have little to do with the good works the Bible wants the faithful to perform... Too many people are using religion as a sword to fight those with whom they disagree, instead of as a plowshare to help their fellow neighbors tend the land and form a community.

I found out about this excellent blog from, and this was one of those times I just had to read what the Fark community had to say about this headline. Here was my favorite comment:

The bible should be a single page:

Don't be a dick.

Quietly help those who are unable to help themselves.

Love life, and be thankful for what you have.

I love this. If that's what Christianity was, I'd be a part of it. But that's not what Christianity is - if it ever was.

It is disputed whether or not Gandhi really said I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. But it came to mind as I read pastor Kirk Minor's words.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oh, Oprah...

I think that, for the most part, Oprah Winfrey uses her powers for good. I love her emphasis on personal responsibility. I love her emphasis on reading. I love that she's been so supportive of people who have been ostracized by society. She supported people who are gay before it was fashionable. She speaks and walks and works with dignity. She sees courage in people regardless of their economic level, education level, where their from, etc. She went camping. All that is so cool. I hope she keeps doing all that. Yes, including going camping.

But like most Christians and other believers in an invisible magical friend, she just cannot believe Atheists don't really believe the same. And I was reminded of this arrogance of so many believers as I watched her last show.

I don't doubt that Oprah and all those other religious folks really believe that anything good that they feel and anything good that happens to them comes from their invisible magical friend. I don't doubt their genuineness when they say that's their belief. I think they are delusional, but I don't doubt that their belief is sincere. But not only does Oprah and others think Atheists like me are delusional, they think we are not sincere when we say:

I do not believe in a god, or multiple gods, or anything supernatural.

When I am quiet, I don't hear any voice by my own. AND I NEVER EVER HAVE.

Coincidence is real. There is no such thing as destiny. Yes, you can control a lot of things in your life and influence others, but sometimes, things just happen - good or bad - for no reason at all.

I don't believe people are successful or live through a tornado because of a divine intervention any more than I believe people are unsuccessful or people are killed in a tornado because of a god was angry.

I'm not saying those things to be provocative, I'm not saying those things to make you mad, I'm not saying those things to challenge you. I'm saying them because I believe in them. They are my genuine feelings and beliefs. They are every bit as genuine and real as yours.

My affection and love doesn't come from a god. It comes from me. And my negative, even hateful thoughts don't come from Satan, nor a lack of a god. They also come from me. Just me.

If you want to think I'm delusional, that's fine, but please don't doubt my sincerity when I say these things. I mean them. And I'm fine. And my joy, love, sense of wonder and sense of fun is every bit as enjoyable as yours.

I accept your sincerity in your belief, Oprah (and others). It's long overdue that you accept mine.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Religion does not protect children from abuse

The only thing that exceeds the outrage about Roman Catholic priests raping children is the cover-up and apathy consistently shown by Roman Catholic leadership regarding these predator priests.

This came to mind yet again this week when two stories crossed my path. One is that a Dutch priest openly served on the board of "Martijn," a group that campaigns to end the Dutch ban on adult-child sex. The priest also engaged in acts of pedophilia. His superior has said he knew of these acts, and the priest's membership in Martijn, and even of two instances where the priest had been fined by police for exposing himself in public - but he said he didn't think that was sufficient reason to ban that priest from the Catholic order.

And the other is the absolutely laughable, completely abhorrent study of sex abuse in the Catholic Church that found that the turmoil of the free-love 1960s was to blame for the Catholic Church's widespread sexual abuse of recent years. The study - conducted by's John Jay College of Criminal Justice and commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops - is shameful and has been widely ridiculed and condemned. The report claims that incidents of abuse spiked in the 60s and 70s - rather than admitting to the reality that from the 80s to the present, people have started finally reporting these acts to the media and demanding, publicly, for the church to respond.

Of course, no religion has a monopoly on their religious leaders sexually-abusing children and other leaders covering up their acts. It happens in a variety of branches of Christianity. It happens in Buddhism. It happens in Islam. It happens in Judaism. It happens in Hinduism. And it happens in religion so easliy because so many parents assume that, because their kids are involved in religious-sponsored activities, they are automatically safe - the Invisible Magical Friend will protect them, and everyone who is within that religion are good people.

A priest, pastor, clergy or other church leader is in a perfect position to take advantage of a child. If you are going to remain under the God delusion, then please at least talk to your kids about strange behavior instead of strangers. Talk to them openly about what inappropriate behavior is: be explicit. A great resource to help you is a book written by Jan Hindman called A Touching Book, which, in a non-threatening way, explores the method that so many pedophiles, including religious teachers, use with children they harm: secret touching. Have you talked to your kids about what they should do if any family member, any teacher, any neighbor, any clergy or religious person -- okay, ANYONE - asks them to keep a secret, or tells your kids that if they tell that secret, the kid will die, YOU will die, their pet will die, etc.?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Billy Graham does not speak for Atheists

Billy Graham does not speak for me or any other Atheist, despite his efforts to do so. In Graham's May 15, 2011, column, the Christian evangelist makes several statements that show how little he understands Atheists or Atheism:

atheism has no satisfying answer to the basic questions of life — questions like “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? How do I know what’s right and wrong? What happens when I die?” Atheism says we are here by chance, and life has no meaning or destiny. Taken to its conclusion, atheism ends in despair.

Atheism has a variety of satisfying answers to Graham's "basic questions of life" - satisfying to us Atheists, anyway. Speaking for myself: I know who I am, I know where I came from, I have created a variety of reasons to be here and to get up every morning and enjoy the world (thereby answering why myself, rather than believing some magical, invisible friend will answer such for me), I have very definite ideas about what's right and wrong (ethics is not the monopoly of the religious) and I know what happens to my body when I die. I very much believe life has meaning - if each of us takes on the responsibility to give our lives such meaning. And for me, Atheism didn't lead to despair - it's lead to joy, wonder, awe, excitement and constant learning (all the things I was missing when I was trying to believe in a magical, invisible friend)!

Not every Atheist is like me, but I don't know any that don't have some kind of answer to Graham's "basic questions of life"!

Down inside we sense that we aren’t here by chance, nor were we made for this world alone.

I don't sense this. I've never sensed this. Not down inside anywhere. Believe me, I've looked.

Many atheists, I find, reject God for one reason: They want to run their own lives.

I cannot reject God, because there is no God! Or Gods. And I have never met an Atheist who became an Atheist from thinking, "I think I'll reject God and run my own life!" He or she wouldn't be an Atheist in that case - just a really, really sinful religious person. No, instead, Atheists either realize, or have always known, there is no God of Abraham any more than there are all those many Hindu Gods, or whatever other widely-believed-in Gods have been, or are being, worshiped somewhere.

The Friendly Atheist blog brought this recent Graham nonsense to my attention, and I just had to respond on my own as well. I get so tired of Graham and others who believe Atheists are secretly miserable, that we're only pretending not to believe in a magical, invisible friend. Atheists know that joy, love, compassion, peace and all sorts of wonderful human emotions and states of being do NOT have to come from a belief in a magical, invisible friend. And some of us want to make sure other people know this as well, so Graham and other Christians will please please please stop speaking on our behalf!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Religious paper removes Clinton from iconic photo

A religious newspaper removed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the now-iconic Bin Laden raid Situation Room photo - and the edit was brought to my attention by, which said about the incident:

"The religious paper never publishes pictures of women, as they could be considered 'sexually suggestive.' Apparently the presence of a woman, any woman, being all womanly and sexy all over the United States' counterterrorism efforts was too much for the editors of Der Tzitung to handle... Audrey Thomason, the counterterrorism analyst seen peeking out from behind another onlooker in the back of the original photo, was also airbrushed away, due to all of the sexy man-tempting that her very presence in a photograph would do."

The paper in question is the ultra orthodox Hasidic newspaper Der Tzitung. But it could have been any of a number of religious newspapers - there are sects of Christianity, Islam and who knows what else that believe the same thing about the evils of women (though they usually justify it as respect for women - go figure that one out...).

The comments on the post are interesting as well. While everyone wants to be respectful of different belief systems, what about respect for WOMEN?! And what kind of outrage would there be if this was a newspaper that had removed President Obama, saying that their readers would have been offended to see a black man in a room with white people - including white women? Southern newspapers in the USA and newspapers in South Africa would have never published such a photo once upon a time for that reason, and outrage would have been oh-so-loud. But it's okay for religion to discriminate against women, but not okay to condemn them for that 'cause, you know, then you aren't being respectful to religious beliefs.

Another day I'm Joyful To Be Atheist.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Second Annual Draw Muhammad Day-May 20

The Second Annual Draw Muhammad Day is May 20, 2011! No, it's not an effort to make fun of a religious group or be disrespectful. It is, in fact, a day to condemn blasphemy laws and call on religious people to respect the rights of everyone, not just their own adherents. In the USA, it's a celebration of our First Amendment as well. It could just as easily be Say Jehovah Day - the point is the same.

For more about the day, see this blog entry by the Friendly Atheist.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Not a Christian

I was raised to be a Christian. I was taught that, to be a Christian, one has to believe that Jesus was God on Earth, manifested in human form, and that because the human Jesus was killed and then rose from the dead, humanity would be allowed to go to Heaven when the Day of Judgment comes. And that meant that the kindest, most loving, most compassionate person would be denied Heaven if he or she didn't believe in Jesus' divinity, while a person who had committed horrible acts against humanity and the environment would be welcomed into Heaven. What Jesus's activities may or may not have meant wasn't the point - that he was miraculous, and that I believe that he was supernatural - that's all that was needed to be called a Christian.

You know that poster in Mulder's office of the flying saucer and the words "I Want to Believe"? That's how I felt growing up, about Jesus. I wanted to believe. I wanted to feel The Presence. So I did everything I was supposed to do in order to believe: read the Bible, went to Sunday school, went to church, went to Vacation Bible School, and on and on. I even got baptized, thinking that that action would, at last, give me The Feeling, the one I kept hearing about. Because, you know, I wanted to believe. I wanted to be like everyone else.

But everything about the definition of a Christian felt wrong to me, wrong to my core. Since what was supposed to give me comfort made my profoundly disturbed, I would literally ask, out loud, "Jesus, come into my heart. Save me." And absolutely nothing would happen. I would stand in churches and have all these people around me saying they were feeling something that I wasn't feeling, and had never felt. I felt profoundly left out.

That's why I say I was born an Atheist. It wasn't like one day I believed in an invisible, all-knowing friend and one day I didn't. I never believed. I wanted to believe, and for the first 14 years of my life, I did everything I could so that I would believe. But I finally decided to embrace my lack of belief. And with that embrace came a feeling like a hood being taken off my head.

So.... here's what I've wondered since then: what do you call a person who believes a man called Jesus may have existed, that he was not God, not supernatural, but merely a human, a radical Jew, that he had a lot of suggestions for how people should live, and that his teachings about loving other people as yourself, not being judgmental, not being materialistic , etc., were not only radical ideas for the time but also are ideas modern people should consider in thinking about current ethics and values? What do you call a person who doesn't believe the Bible is a literal history, who doesn't believe it is a collection of factual statements, but rather, believes it is a collection of narratives that document the human authors' beliefs and feelings at the time of the writing (and rewriting... and rewriting), and that reading it can give insights into how people long ago thought and lived? What do you call a person who thinks that, amid all of the racism, sexism, violence and promotion of these vices in the Bible there are also some advice for living and some universal truths that people should consider in thinking about their current ethics and values? What do you call a person that dismisses all of the supernatural elements of the Bible but not the wisdom it offers?

A thinker. But not a Christian.