Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An atheist's thoughts on Donald Trump

I could write a scathing critique of Islam, based on my reading of the Koran, my reading of Hadith, my studies of the history of Islam, my readings of articles and speeches by Muslims, my experiences in countries with large populations of Muslims and the activities of people that say they are Muslims - and not just extremists, like members of Daesh or Al-Queda or the Taliban. Scathing. In all sincerity.

I could write a scathing critique of Christianity, based on my own experiences in various churches and with thousands of Christians whilst growing up in the Bible Belt of the USA, my reading of different translations of the Bible, the history of how the Bible was compiled and edited and mistranslated over the centuries, my readings of articles and speeches by Christians, and the activities of people that say they are Christians - and not just extremists, like members of the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboro Baptist Church or Jerry Falwell or Franklin Graham or Rick Warren. Scathing. In all sincerity.

I could write a scathing critique of other religions, based on similar criteria.

I'm an atheist. I see all of the ways religion creates misunderstanding, fuels fears, discourages thought, divides people, inspires people to hate and to act on that hate and to feel justified in acts of hate. It's my hope that humans eventually reject religion, all religion, in favor of universal moralities based on humanism, value of our environment, value of knowledge, and love of the arts and sports.

So please know where I am coming from when I say that Donald Trump is disgusting. His call for a ban on all Muslims coming to the USA is fascist, it's Hitleresque, it's un-American, and it must be condemned by anyone with any shred of sensibility - particularly Republicans and Christians in the USA - with no qualifications whatsoever.

what USA mass shooters have in common

Whether young and white, old and white and Christian, or young and Muslim, the men that shoot up or bomb schools, movie theaters, women's health clinics, military bases or recruiting offices or special events in the USA have a lot in common:
  • they believe they are absolutely, positively, morally righteous / justified in their actions and their violent feelings of hate
  • they are consumed with anger and hate - it dominates at least some aspects of their life (family gatherings, activities outside of work, conversations with friends, what they watch on TV, etc.)
  • they believe they must commit this act of violence, that it is essential
  • they love guns - they have experience shooting a variety of guns, and they greatly enjoy shooting guns 
That's the profile of mass shooters in the USA. Yes, there was a woman that murdered people in San Bernadino, but, so far, she's an exception - though I've long feared an armed woman walking into a Planned Parenthood clinic and opening fire.

What frightens me is that I regularly see people, the vast majority of them men, with this profile on social media in the USA. There are many thousands of men in the USA - mostly Christian, but also Muslim, Atheist, probably Jewish as well - that fit this profile. Many thousands. Many of the men that fit this profile - including mass shooters - also hate women in particular, blaming, women for the problems of the world - or, at least, the problems that they, the haters, are having (unemployment, lack of money, lack of a social life, and lack of sex).

I'm not the only one that sees these patterns.

I'm an atheist, but I never assume someone is bad, or stupid, or both, just because they are a member of a religion. And I never assume someone is good just because they are an atheist. But there is a profile I do fear.

Since this profile transcends religion, since religion seems just an excuse for men's murderous impulses, how in the world do we address this?

I don't know...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Atheist Morality

One of the charges atheists sometimes get is that without the theist framework, there is no morality... (but) if God is the determinant of right and wrong, then that moral framework seems hardly inseparable from subjectivity. For could not God decide tomorrow that murder is acceptable?

This is quote from an essay by Brett Milam, and it's why I have such a hard time with people that say, "If you don't believe in God, then you don't have a moral compass. Anything goes!"

Christianity, Islam, and other religions, as they are practised by millions right now, today, justify rape, the subjugation of women, the oppression of non-believers or different believers, the denial of full rights and services to certain groups, and slavery. I am an atheist, and I am opposed to all of those practices - yet Christians and Muslims will say that I'm the one that lacks a moral compass because I'm an atheist?

I believe that morality is rooted in humanity, in our humanness - not in religion. Religion is a reflection of that morality, filtered through a belief in a super powerful all-knowing magical invisible being who is in control of the universe. Morality actually comes from our human capacity for empathy and from reality. I have no desire to kill a person, but if someone did have that desire, they have a choice before them, if they think about the act: kill that person, cause suffering to the remaining family, and, perhaps, go into incarceration for the act if it is deemed by society to be unlawful, OR, don't kill. It's not only the legal consequences that keep people from killing another human; it's also the moral and ethical consequences. People who have a desire to kill and then do it believe they are justified in doing so, for whatever reason, often despite what the law or their religious leaders say.

All of the religions that adhere to the Old Testament - Jews, Christians and Muslims - have no religious prohibitions against incest. The Old Testament does not prohibit incest; Lot had sex with his daughters, and had children by them, and neither he nor they are ever condemned for such. Based on their religion's teachings, based on what they believe God has said and done, incest should not be immoral for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yet, it is - at least for most believers. Why? Mechanisms to avoid incest are widespread both in nature and across human societies - as Psychology Today points out, "the incest taboo is about as close to a universal law as human moral rules get." Humans must have seen rather early on that having sex close with relatives creates an astonishingly high chance that offspring will be born with a serious birth defect. In addition, certain sexless relationships have proven fundamental to our positive development in life, as humans; a trusting, supportive relationship with a mother, a father, a sibling, a step-father, a step-mother, a grandparent, etc. would be absolutely destroyed by sex. Even certain friendships and professional relationships can be destroyed by sexual relations, which is why most people aren't out trying to have sex with everyone in their lives, and many professional settings prohibit teachers, executives, coaches and others from having sex with subordinates. In short, societies' abhorrence to incest comes not from religion, but from our humanity and reality.

So morality for atheists is so much more than "whatever feels right." Our morality is often rooted in a sense of compassion that most humans are born with (the exception being sociopaths). So many of my atheists friends study philosophy, formally and informally - and through such, have developed strong critical thinking skills, and have a strong sense of social responsibility, and a strong concern for global and humanitarian issues - qualities that I just don't find among people who approach work and life from a particular religion. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, philosopher, novelist and author of Plato at the Googleplex, recently told The Atlantic that studying philosophy helps make a student "a citizen in this world." She also says "It makes life so much more interesting. It’s us at our most human. And it helps us increase our humanity. No matter what you do, that’s an asset."

Morals are fluid, to a degree - what you believed as a child, or even in your 20s, may not be what you believe now. Maybe you thought divorce was unethical and should be prohibited by law when you were younger, following the teachings of Jesus, but now, years later, you yourself are divorced - still reading the Bible, still a Christian, but you have committed a sin in the eyes of Jesus. You altered your moral compass, however, based on reality, and probably based on what was best for you and your family. I sometimes change my mind about the ethics of something for similar reasons - or because of reading about different perspectives.

When I was trying to be a Christian, I was bothered by how all emphasis was on accepting Jesus as God in order to be saved in the afterlife, but there was little said about this life, the here and now, and the importance of compassion, of empathy and of love. I was told again and again how this life on Earth just didn't matter at all - I should be concerned with the afterlife. Sad about people going hungry? Don't worry - Jesus said the poor would always be with us, it's in his hands, just focus on Jesus as your savior so you can make it to Heaven some day.

When I stopped trying to be a Christian, I felt so much more free - to pursue friendships, to act on my sense of social responsibility, to fight against injustice, to explore different ideas, to offer help to others, even to love. I like the Biblical stories of the Good Samaritan (my favorite Bible story, in fact), and the Sermon on the Mount. I like the story of the "Companions in the Cave" in the Quran - also known as the Sleepers of Ephesus, who hid inside a cave to escape a persecution, and took in a dog with them - it seems to me the point is not only their faithfulness, but also that we should treat dogs kindly, as members of our family. I like that one of the Pillars of Islam is Zakāt, the believe that it is the personal responsibility of each Muslim to ease the economic hardship of others and to strive towards eliminating inequality. I love that the Jewish term mitzvah has also come to express an act of human kindness, not just a duty to a god. But I don't believe these ideas come from the magical invisible friend - the one that also says you can kill and rape others. These particular ideas I've named from these three religions make sense. Kindness makes sense. The benefits of kindness, in the long run, are worth the work of being kind. Kindess is universally good - without God.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Frances Farmer's 1931 essay from high school, "God Dies"

Film star Frances Farmer (1913-1970) was a senior at West Seattle High School in April 1931 when she wrote this essay, titled "God Dies." The essay won first place and a prize of $100 in a contest sponsored by The Scholastic, a magazine for high school students. Here is her essay, as published in The Scholastic on May 2, 1931.


"God Dies"

No one ever came to me and said, "You're a fool. There isn't such a thing as God. Somebody's been stuffing you." It wasn't a murder. I think God just died of old age. And when I realized that he wasn't any more, it didn't shock me. It seemed natural and right.

Maybe it was because I was never properly impressed with a religion. I went to Sunday school and liked the stories about Christ and the Christmas star. They were beautiful. They made you warm and happy to think about. But I didn't believe them. The Sunday School teacher talked too much in the way our grade school teacher used to when she told us about George Washington. Pleasant, pretty stories, but not true.

Religion was too vague. God was different. He was something real, something I could feel. But there were only certain times when I could feel it. I used to lie between cool, clean sheets at night after I'd had a bath, after I had washed my hair and scrubbed my knuckles and finger nails and teeth. Then I could lie quite still in the dark with my face to the window with the trees in it, and talk to God. "I am clean, now. I've never been as clean. I'll never be cleaner." And somehow, it was God. I wasn't sure that it was … just something cool and dark and clean.

That wasn't religion, though. There was too much of the physical about it. I couldn't get that same feeling during the day, with my hands in dirty dish water and the hard sun showing up the dirtiness on the roof-tops. And after a time, even at night, the feeling of God didn't last. I began to wonder what the minister meant when he said, "God, the father, sees even the smallest sparrow fall. He watches over all his children." That jumbled it all up for me. But I was sure of one thing. If God were a father, with children, that cleanliness I had been feeling wasn't God. So at night, when I went to bed, I would think, "I am clean. I am sleepy." And then I went to sleep. It didn't keep me from enjoying the cleanness any less. I just knew that God wasn't there. He was a man on a throne in Heaven, so he was easy to forget.

Sometimes I found he was useful to remember; especially when I lost things that were important. After slamming through the house, panicky and breathless from searching, I could stop in the middle of a room and shut my eyes. "Please God, let me find my red hat with the blue trimmings." It usually worked. God became a super-father that couldn't spank me. But if I wanted a thing badly enough, he arranged it.

That satisfied me until I began to figure that if God loved all his children equally, why did he bother about my red hat and let other people lose their fathers and mothers for always? I began to see that he didn't have much to do about hats, people dying or anything. They happened whether he wanted them to or not, and he stayed in heaven and pretended not to notice. I wondered a little why God was such a useless thing. It seemed a waste of time to have him. After that he became less and less, until he was…nothingness.

I felt rather proud to think that I had found the truth myself, without help from any one. It puzzled me that other people hadn't found out, too. God was gone. We were younger. We had reached past him. Why couldn’t they see it? It still puzzles me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Self Help Cults & Their Leaders Ruining My Day

Today, I watched a rerun of an ABC 20/20 episode from 2010, called Deadly Devotion, about self-help guru / cult leader, James Arthur Ray. He is a proponent of the so-called "Law of Attraction" from the oh-so-deceitful book, The Secret, which says that, if you want whatever it is you want hard enough, and visualize it, you'll get it. And if bad things happen to you, it's because you didn't visualize a good life hard enough. He was featured on Oprah's talk show - she's also an advocate for this way of thinking.

Colleen Conaway, James Shore, Kirby Brown, and Liz Neuman are all dead because of their devotion to Ray's philosophy. Conaway jumped off a roof during an exercise where she was supposed to pretend to be homeless - she'd been directed to pretend this by Ray, as part of a seminar she was attending, and paid a substantial sum to attend. The other three were killed during a sweat lodge exercise lead by Ray. This article from The Verge chronicles these deaths and the activities and methods of this dangerous man.

When you read articles and see clips of Ray talking, you will read about and see methods you've heard before, by Jim Jones, Marshall ApplewhiteJoseph Di Mambro, and the Church of Scientology: intense physical experiences, extreme fasting, isolation, and other exercises that can alter a person's mental state and make them more pliable by a charismatic leader. You will see delivery in the style of Tony Robbins and Joel Osteen, and it's really easy to draw parallels between the philosophy promoted by The Secret and the Christian prosperity theology. Just want something badly enough, just visualize it, and follow the rules set out for you by Mr. Successful, and you, too, can achieve all you desire.

When you hear people that follow, or followed, Ray, you hear from people who are, or were, vulnerable in some way psychologically or emotionally - and with a lot of money. They are looking for something - they often aren't even sure what - and they think they can find it in a seminar or video or magic book. They paid, or are still paying, hundreds, even thousands of dollars to Ray - he's not doing anything charitable. These people are intelligent, often with university degrees, but they are also emotionally-hungry, even damaged, people who get caught up in this scam, this cult, and some, even after the deaths of Conaway, Shore, Brown and Neuman, still follow him. Arthur Deikman, a San Francisco psychiatrist, wrote The Wrong Way Home, and in it, he says, as quoted on this page: “I began to see that cults form and thrive not because people are crazy, but because people have two kinds of wishes. They want a meaningful life, to serve God or humanity, and they want to be taken care of, to feel protected and secure, to find a home.”

I guess the reason this piece on Ray is really bothering me in particular is because I've recently been coaching a dear friend who regularly attends spiritual retreats lead by various folks, and who became involved with a group in Costa Rica I'm convinced is scam at best and a cult in the making at worst. He lost a few thousand dollars to the two leaders of this "retreat," and I fear he could have lost much more had he stayed - and fear it's only a matter of time that more people do. These two retreat leaders frame their oh-so-remote location as a place to volunteer, to interact with local people, to work and live simply, in nature, to get back in touch with simplicity, and blah blah blah blah blah. In truth, they are just like Ray: they take some ceremonial practices by Native Americans and twist them into activities that may leave participants feeling fulfilled or weakened and even more vulnerable - either way, perfect prey for exploitation. They isolate. They push people to engage in hard physical labor and then berate them for not doing the activity "correctly." They probe deeply into a person's past, asking lots of incredibly intimate questions. They lash out at those who question, and if a person leaves the retreat in anger, they paint that person as negative, as someone that needed to leave before he or she brought the others down.

My friend is a warm, giving, talented, intelligent person, but he's also fragile in some ways and is looking to come to terms with some horrific events in his past, to heal emotionally. I have to be careful how I coach him through this - I can't shake him and say "Stop this nonsense!" I can't make him feel stupid. I have to be gentle in my encouragement of him - I encourage him to ask questions, to never assume someone's goodness just because they have a fancy web page or a book, to look to medical professionals to address the dark spots in his soul, to look for all of the many happy people around him who don't follow any gurus, and to believe that honest inspiration doesn't come with an expensive retreat or subscription to something. There are healthy ways to cultivate friendships, to create your own identity, to feel secure, and to be a part of something larger than yourself that don't require you to humiliate yourself, to learn a special language or to adhere to some creed filled with lots of psycho babble. It's a tough assignment - he'd be offended that I just called what he believed in psycho babble.

There was one bright spot in all this: this episode of 20/20, renamed "Deadly Devotion", was shown on Oprah's network, OWN. So, there's that, at least.

I look around me and I see dozens of ways to cultivate friendships, create an identity or definition for myself, to feel secure, and to feel a part of something large than myself: nonprofits with events I can attend and with volunteering opportunities in which I can participate, a community theatre company with productions I could audition for or just work behind the scenes or in the front of hour on event night, a citizens academy run twice yearly by the local police, all sorts of civic groups (Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, etc.), a farmer's market that would welcome me in any way I wanted to help each week, events at the library, a jazzercise class, a karaoke night, and on and on. I invite my neighbors over for a cookout and corn hole. I walk my dog through the neighborhood and say howdy to anyone I pass. It feels good, real, authentic. It brings beautiful people into my life. And I never have to use my credit card for any of it.

If someone you know is reading books or watching videos by James Arthur Ray - yes, after being let out of prison, he's back in business - show them this blog. Show them this article from The Verge. Such people are reckless at best and deviant at worst.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A secular humanist / atheist response to the Charleston shootings

I'm sure I'm not the only atheist/humanist crying this morning regarding the murders at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. in Charleston, South Carolina.

This is an assault on our entire human family. That's what terrorism is, at its heart.

I keep thinking about how the shooter was probably welcomed into the building, kindly invited to sit down to that latest meeting of a loving weekly community...

These murders are beyond what human language can describe. And the only response that truly counters terrorism is a call for our full humanity - our benevolence, our hope for all people, no matter their religion, or lack there of, and our support of each other, across social constructs of race, culture and religion.

I do not pray for Charleston, but I vow to stand with those working for peace, working for understanding, working for something far beyond tolerance - working for the embracing of the potential value and goodness of all human beings and all that we have in common.


Friday, May 15, 2015

What I expected from the Bible - & didn't get

It’s often said that the fastest way to turn Christians into atheists is to have them read the Bible cover to cover. The atrocities committed by God and his chosen people, the bizarre rituals, the vague prophecies, the blatant contradictions, the primitive morals, and the religious hysteria all make it seem like the Bible was written by violent, racist, sexist, intolerant, superstitious fanatics. I, myself, had my faith shaken many times while reading the Bible...

If God is all-knowing and all-powerful and infinitely intelligent, his book should be the most amazing piece of literature in history. It should be so brilliant and so glorious that no human author could write anything that compares. Instead, the Bible appears to be nothing more than a bunch of ancient myths, ritual instructions, mediocre poems, strange legends, religious letters, and deluded ramblings that were cobbled together by Jewish and Roman men a long time ago.

So what would we expect to find in a book that was written by God (or “divinely inspired”)? Here are seven suggestions.

The rest of the awesome blog from Southern Skeptic.

Also see I think I like my heart the way it is.

Monday, May 11, 2015

warning for religious folks: demand more of humans representing your god

I’m looking at the web site of a church that many of my friends are joining. It's a new church, just a few years old. Its web site is one of the slickest I’ve ever seen. It’s gorgeous - there's no way this was designed by just a helpful congregation member. This is a professionally-designed web site. 

I’m deeply suspicious of this church, both because of their quick rise in numbers and because of the oh-so-slick web site that lacks of information about who is behind this institution. There are:
  • no names of pastors/leaders or other staff listed
  • no biographies of pastors/leaders or other staff, including where the leaders studied theology, where else they have lived, what other religious communities they have lead, etc. 
  • no info about how money they raise for the church, temple, mosque, community is used (what percentage goes to property rent/mortgage/upkeep? to salaries? to cover costs incurred by volunteers/to support volunteers? to charities, nonprofits or overseas missions? to congregants in need?)

How are you supposed to know if this organization is fiscally responsible? And how are you supposed to know if the people leading this religious community:
  • have the credentials to lead a religious community?
  • have the knowledge to lead a religious community?
  • haven’t been convicted or arrested, or involved in any scandal elsewhere?

I wonder what would happen if someone went to the leadership of this church and asked for this information to be posted publicly… maybe someone has? It would be interesting to see if the church embraced the idea and posted the info, or avoided doing it - and has been avoiding doing it. I find it odd that the site is otherwise SO well-designed.

Even if the pastors were listed, along with their credentials, I'd do some more digging, as I’ve looked at other web sites of churches and mosques, and often, the name of institute where someone says they studied theology cannot be found on a web search, or the institute has no accreditation by a recognized body. 

Surely you would want appropriate credentials of your accountant, teachers at your kids' school, the person that designed your in-ground pool, etc. Why not those that are telling you how to live?

Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Jains, whatever: do you really want to believe that transparency isn’t necessary for churches, mosques, temples and other religious communities? Do you think your magical, invisible friend that won’t protect children from being raped will, however, protect the people going to your church/mosque/temple/whatever and you don’t need to do a little digging into these people that are telling you how to live, what to believe, and to give them money?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Would Satan tempt me through the kindness of macaroni and cheese?"

From “I just don’t believe this anymore”: Why I abandoned my faith:

We had neighbors, two men who lived caddy-corner across the alley. We kept our children away from their children because they had a flag that I thought was satanic. Now I know it was just pagan. They would have bonfires in their back yard, and it was terrifying to me.

After I got home from the church, there was a knock at the door and it was one of the guys from across the alley way. He said, “We don’t talk much but I know there’s a lot going on for you guys and here is a casserole.” It was one of the more surreal moments in my life. I remember standing there and in my mind asking God what he was trying to tell me. Would Satan tempt me through the kindness of macaroni and cheese?

From an interview in Salon with Sarah Morehead, executive director of Recovering From Religion, who talks about why her work is a personal passion and about the recovery hotline itself. It's a terrific article about the transition for some people who leave their religion, and the growing number of resources to support such people.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Freedom of Speech Protects Even Vile Humans Like Pam Geller

Pamela Geller has the right to have a mouth and brain full of shit, and invite people to come and listen and watch her spill that shit out of her mouth. She has a right to form an organization that celebrates that shit that comes out of her mouth. She has the right to insult any idea, any religion and any group of people, using the most vile language she can think of. She has a right to say things that make her look like a rabid, insane, hate-fueled harpy, so long as they are not threats of violence against people. And she exercises that right regularly.

You do NOT have the right to commit violence against the racist, hate-filled people that support her and attend her events, nor against her.

Pamela Geller is no more a free-speech advocate than a group of Klans members who wear sheets, wave confederate flags, and use the "N" word on a march through Ferguson, Missouri, or a group of people that hate the USA and piss on an American Flag outside an American Legion Hall, or a group of men who stand outside a gathering of women at a civic center and call every woman who enters a slut, a whore, fat, ugly, unfuckable or stupid.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I couldn't count how many times comments about atheists from Muslims and Christians have insulted me... yet, I'm still not calling for the death or punishment of anyone for offending me.

Freedom of speech - including the freedom to insult - is a human right. And that means no one should die for blasphemy. No one should die for insulting anything or anyone. No one. Not even people with a mouth and brain full of shit like Pamela Geller and her followers.

And for a counter to the narrative of the two killers in Garland, Texas and other extremist, murderous men who claim to follow Islam, follow Quranalyze It on Facebook - it reflects the kind of thinking I've experienced from many of my Muslim friends (oh yes, I do have such).

Also see the blog I get insulted. But I don't murder; it includes how the Qu'ran actually defends freedom of speech, and a story about the Prophet Mohammed that murderous Muslims that kill in the name of defending Islam either forget, don't know or ignore.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Some terrific articles lately!

Some suggested reading, for atheists looking for inspiration:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Educating Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah, the soon-to-be host of The Daily Show, has been called out for his promotion of negative views of atheists. While his comments about overweight women and Jews, among others, are being dismissed/excused as jokes that "didn't land" (um, yeah - hilarious!), his tweets about how he views atheists aren't at all jokes - he wants the world to know he holds atheists in contempt, no kidding.

He's in good company: Oprah and Stephen King feel the same way, unfortunately, and atheists.

If Noah, a South African, is going to be the host of one of the most popular television shows in the USA, a country that is incredibly diverse not just in terms of ethnicities, but also in terms of values, education, economics, etc., where everyone belongs to a different community of faith OR NONE AT ALL, he's got a lot of catching up to do to learn about our not-at-all-unified culture. I hope he starts his education about the USA with learning about atheism in our country, and learning about it from atheists themselves.

He could take an hour and read through the following 20 essays about atheism and, perhaps, understand why his tweets - and his publicly-stated view of atheists - are so off-the-mark, and why such make us reluctant to watch The Daily Show:

Penn Jillette's excellent essay, "There Is No God" NPR's "This I Believe" series

What Religious People Have Dead Wrong About Atheists (from Your Atheist Muse)

Contrary to what the Catholic League says, I believe in so much... (from Your Atheist Muse)

Does Secularism Make People More Ethical? From Der Spiegel

Not a Christian (from Your Atheist Muse)

The joy and truth I feel (from Your Atheist Muse)

Do Atheists have faith? (from Your Atheist Muse) (from Your Atheist Muse)

The Atheist Response to Tragedy (from Your Atheist Muse)

Quit trying to convert me! (from Your Atheist Muse)

Why Are Believers Willfully Ignorant About Atheists?

Rethinking His Religion (from The New York Times)

Remembering Butterfly McQueen (from Your Atheist Muse)

the arrogance of religion (from Your Atheist Muse)

Satanic Suffering (from Your Atheist Muse)

Why I "do good"; Why I try to be kind (from Your Atheist Muse)

The power & the glory of hope, WITHOUT a God (from Your Atheist Muse)

Love is logical. Love makes sense. (from Your Atheist Muse)

Lovely things that feel magical in the natural world (from Your Atheist Muse)

If "God is good all the time", then God is really lousy (from Your Atheist Muse)

Why I love being an atheist (from Your Atheist Muse)

Maybe Trevor Noah could read these and, instead of deriding atheists, he could either apologize or just not talk about us at all - the latter of which will be quite hard to do on the Daily Show... at least as it currently exists. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Believing there's no God means...

"Believing there's no God means..."

It's a phrase repeated and answered in Penn Jillette's excellent essay, "There Is No God" for  NPR's "This I Believe" series from November 21, 2005.

It frames so well what so many atheists DO believe. Yes, we have beliefs. All humans do. Please read it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why I love being an atheist

There are so many things I love about being an atheist, things that were not possible when I was trying to be a Christian:
  • The much bigger size of the universe, full of so many more possibilities. When I was trying to be a Christian, life and the universe had all sorts of boundaries and limits. The universe was SO small. I heard Christians dismissing science and what science was telling us about the size and age of the universe, and encouraging people to NOT explore science - things beyond the boundary of the Earth, things on a molecular level, and history beyond 6,000 years ago. People would say, "With God, all things are possible," yet, there seemed to be so many limits on possibilities for life. Now that I'm an atheist, the universe is HUGE, bigger and more complex than I could ever imagine, and I revel in how much there is to learn and discover.
  • I get to have any friends and associates I want. When I was trying to be a Christian, I was told that I should seek out the company of other Christians - and who was or wasn't a Christian was deeply debated. I was encouraged to avoid certain groups - atheists, sure, but also those that my Christian sect weren't really Christian (Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses...). I was told that a sinful, uncharitable Christian, seeking forgiveness after each transgression, was better company for me than a caring, philanthropic-minded, friendly non-Christian. When I expressed my doubts about faith as a young person, I had two friends tell me they could not be friends with me any more, that we couldn't talk anymore, because of my doubts - they had been told by their church leaders that a person like me - a doubter - was dangerous. By contrast, now, I can be friends with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Bahai, Buddhists - and I am! I get to have a range of interesting, fun, lovely people in my life, regardless of their beliefs or doubts. I don't have to stop being friends with someone just because they aren't in my belief club - instead, I get to choose my friends based on the content of their character. 
  • No guilt for my doubts. I ask questions. A lot. When I was a pre-teen and teen, trying to be a Christian, questions about ethics, goodness, history and the origins of the Bible got me into trouble. I was chastised for asking questions, condemned for doubting, and discouraged from not just "believing." As an atheist, questions are celebrated, no one chastises me for asking for source material, and I get to be kind to anyone regardless of their religious beliefs or lack there of. 
  • Much less despair. To believe in God means having to either believe God allows children to be raped, or doesn't care that they are being raped. Either way, it means that he watches passively as children are forced into horrific acts from which many never recover mentally. Super magical friend supposedly has the power to stop such, but doesn't. Same for natural disasters that wipe out the lives of dozens, hundreds, thousands.... When I was a pre-teen and teen, trying to be a Christian, that thought that the God I was trying to believe in stood by while people suffered horrors, and that he could stop it all but didn't, made me crazy. I trembled at the thought of extreme misery inflicted on the most innocent, and that the God I was trying to believe in did nothing. The comfort offered by believers (God makes no mistakes, He has his reasons, He doesn't do anything to people they aren't strong enough to handle, blah blah blah), made me physically ill - I wanted to throw up every time I heard it. Still do. Now, I take comfort in knowing that natural disasters are, well, natural. I take comfort knowing that there is nothing personal in a hurricane or tornado or massive flooding or a non-preventable disease or whatever. And while I am still horrified at man's inhumanity to man, I also know that such happens because humans can be horrible, NOT because a magical, invisible being allows it, or even causes it.  
  • Humans get responsibility for their successes and failures. When a space ship successfully takes off and enters outer space, when a disabled plane successfully lands, when the surgery of a loved one goes well, I don't credit a magical invisible friend - I credit the people that made that happen. I love celebrating such things. Likewise, when a person makes a mistake, real reasons for that mistake can be sought: greed, insecurity, ignorance, etc. - rather than attributing such to a magical, invisible, evil entity. And that means so many problems seem so much more solvable - I don't have to beg a magical, invisible being for a cure for cancer but, rather, I get to support the many human-driven endeavors seeking a cure for such (and having some major successes regarding such). 
  • No guilt for sex. Woot!
  • No shame in being the woman I am. I am childless. I love my job. Many years, I've made way, way more money than my husband. Sometimes, I insist a decision go my way instead of my husband's (really, just sometimes). I read and study whatever I want to. I assert myself. I sometimes draw attention to myself (really, just sometimes). I curse like a sailor in adult company. I state my disagreement with men if I disagree with their point of view. I cut my hair. I dye my hair. I dress how I want to. I go anywhere I want to by myself. Many of these acts would get me stoned to death in some religions - and condemned in most of them. I love my life! 
Oh the joy and wonder that atheism has brought me, the happiness, the comfort... I love being an atheist!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

No, You’re Not Taking Those Verses ‘Out of Context’

Ali A. Rizvi is a Pakistani-Canadian writer, physician, and musician who resides in Toronto, Canada. He has written an excellent blog, "No, You’re Not Taking Those Verses ‘Out of Context’," and it's a must read. Here's an excerpt:
    ...herein lies the problem: if there were a book that talked about Muslims the way the Quran talks about disbelievers, heads would roll. Literally.

    The primary argument we hear against critics and satirists of religion like the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists—who satirized all religions, not just Islam—is that their speech “offends billions of people.”

    But what about the religions they’re targeting? The Abrahamic holy books—respected and revered by billions worldwide—prescribe the killing of disbelievers (Quran 8:12-1347:4; Leviticus 24:16); order their adherents to fight and enslave those with differing beliefs, a la ISIS (Quran 9:29-30, Deuteronomy 20:10-18); endorse wife-beating (Quran 4:34) and the stoning to death of non-virginal brides (Deuteronomy 22:20-21); order women to quietly submit to the authority of men (1 Timothy 2:11-12); and mandate the public lashing of fornicators (Quran24:2) and the killing of homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13).

    Who should really be offended here? If hate speech were really the issue, these books would be the first to go.
Here's the full blog.

I couldn't count how many times comments about atheists from Muslims and Christians have insulted me... yet, I'm still not calling for the death or punishment of anyone for offending me.

Monday, March 9, 2015

For Atheist Youth: It Gets Better

The It Gets Better campaign, started by Dan Savage, is a joy to behold: an effort to get the word out to gay youth that life does get better, and that no matter what you are facing now, you can get through it and not just survive, but flourish.

Gay youth deserve such a campaign, because they can be bullied in their own homes, not just at school or in public spaces. In small towns in particular, they can lack any sanctuary that will get them away from humiliation. The treatment they receive often goes beyond just parents or family members who aren't supportive; family members can threaten to withhold financial help to fully participate in school activities or to go to college or a university, they can keep their children from their friends, can they can threaten them with physical harm.

Many atheist youth can identify with the plight of gay youth. When a teen realizes he or she is an atheist, it can often mean having to live a lie for years, because to tell the truth results in oh-so-many negative consequences. That means going to church services and religious events, joining in family prayers and sitting quietly while the family members, friends and church members talk about the evils of non-believers and deride atheists as being un-American, immoral and incapable of being good. atheist youth are often in a situation where they don't dare talk about questions or emerging non-religious values, for fear of not only creating tense situations with family, at school or with friends - but also, being ostracized by friends, family - even an entire community. And, as an atheist youth, you may have to live that lie even after you turn 18 and move out, because you need your family's financial support to go to a university - or you join the military and realize just how Christian-based the US military is (just google harassment US military atheist if you doubt that).

Many atheist youth look at Damon Fowler, and how he's been treated by parents and his community, including his school, including TEACHERS at his school, and decide to remain quiet about their atheism, for fear of being subjected to similar treatment. Not every teenager could survive that.

So, atheist youth of America, let me tell you: survive these days at home with your parents, in a community that might reject you, or is already rejecting you, for your atheism, any way you can, because life DOES get better. You will eventually move out of your family's home, and maybe away entirely from a religious community, and you will not only create a home and a life for yourself where you don't have to pretend to be something you aren't, or where you won't be harassed for your lack-of-belief-in-the-supernatural in your own home (though you still may face that sometimes in public life), you will flourish.

You will meet people - religious and non - who won't criticize you for not believing in the supernatural and won't balk at the idea that you self-identify as atheist. You will meet people who believe in and celebrate science - including many religious folks who are able to accept scientific truths, like evolutionary biology, and be religious. Best of all, you will meet people who delight in our Godless reality. You will have friends who, like you, have a reverence for rational, independent thought, who delight in the joys of intellectual exploration and feel the rapture of scientific revelation - or just the thrill of finding out there is still so much more to learn. You will be able to say, I'm an atheist, and not fear being thrown out of your home, because it's the home YOU have made.

You will continue to have morals that guide your life and your actions. You will have a philosophy that isn't based on belief in the supernatural but, rather, the ongoing wisdom of humanity, that ever-compels you to do certain things in order to have meaning and joy in your life. You will live in a world no less wondrous than the one your family and community back home believe in - maybe even more wondrous, because it has no boundaries based on fear or self-imposed ignorance. You will be loved, even cherished - first, by your own self, and then by others. And life will feel so authentic!

For many years as a child, I not only went to church every Sunday, but also, weekly church choir practice and frequent church pot lucks - and, every summer,  to Vacation Bible School. I went because I had SO much fun at such - even as I kept waiting for the epiphany that Jesus/God was real, that he would, at last, reveal himself and I could stop doubting, and I could get all this comfort that everyone said would come with that epiphany. But the more I read the Bible and immersed myself in religious activities, the more questions I had. At first I asked them - and at first, the questions were simple enough, as was my mind, to be easily answered by the Sunday school teacher, a pastor or a parent. But the questions got more complicated, and so, when adults couldn't answer them, I started getting the you-just-have-to-accept-and-believe answers. Just have faith! I started to feel the tension in the adults and fellow students hearing my questions they couldn't answer, so I shut up. And I tried to do everything with even more passion - pray, sing, whatever - thinking it would cure me of my doubts and help me believe the way everyone else was telling me they believed. If I out-Christianed the Christians, I'd finally have that feeling and assurance everyone swore they felt, right? It didn't work.

I dared to voice my doubts about religion to just a few very close friends in high school - and I lost two friends over my asking questions. Those questions challenged my friends to question their own beliefs, and so they each told me that they had to break off our friendship, since they couldn't have a God-doubter in their lives. I was heart-broken - and, as a result, kept my lack of belief to myself until I went to university, where questions and doubts were welcomed by most of my fellow students. MANY years later, one of those two friends called me to apologize for breaking off our friendship. She said our conversation had haunted her for years, even as she attended an evangelical university. She was still a believer, but not at all the way she had been back then, and she noted how unhealthy it had been to remove everyone from her life that made her think and question. That phone call meant the world to me.

I never dared to express my doubts to family. I knew they would be broken-hearted. So I stayed silent.

Life got much, much better for me as an atheist after I left home and got out into the world. I have a nice career, wonderful friends - a mix of non-religious and religious friends - I volunteer, and I delight in the world in a way I never did when I was desperate to be a believer.

Life will get better for you too. I hope you can realize your strength, tap into it and get through your teens - and, eventually, be open about not only your atheism, but the sources for your values and joy. It gets better. I promise.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Atheist group raises funds for charity in honor of murdered North Carolina Muslims

Atheists and humanists around the world, including me, have condemned the murder of Deah Shaddy Barakat (23), his wife Yusor Mohammad (21), and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (19) in North Carolina.

Deah Barakat was pursuing his doctorate in dentistry at UNC Chapel Hill and planned to travel to Syrian refugee camps this summer to perform emergency dentistry for refugee children through the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS). At the time of his murder, Deah Barakat was raising funds for SAMS to equip the teams in the refugee camps.

Foundation Beyond Belief mounted a drive for SAMS in support of Deah's vision and in one week raised $20,125 for SAMS. Congrats, fellow atheists, secular humanists and other free thinkers for showing the compassion I have felt again and again from you all.

You can still donate to the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation!

Friday, February 13, 2015

No, I won't apologize - just as you won't

How is that so many Muslims that were outraged by calls for all Muslims to apologize for the murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff are now calling for all atheists to apologize for the murders of the college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina?

I am horrified and disgusted by the murders of Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

I'm also an atheist, and I feel no compulsion whatsoever to claim any responsibility for their deaths. None.

Atheism means just one thing: no belief in a god or the supernatural. That's it. There are nice people that are atheists. There are rude people that are atheists. There are humanitarians that are atheists. There are murderers that are atheists. Atheism doesn't drive any of those characteristics or actions.

I refuse to say the name of the man who murdered those three people in North Carolina - he doesn't deserve to have his name said. Anyone who would let their fury over parking or religion... or satirical, insulting cartoons... lead them to believe that they are entitled to murder is completely beyond my understanding.

I do find it interesting that the murderer's first ex-wife told The Associated Press that, before they divorced about 17 years ago, his favorite movie was "Falling Down," the 1993 Michael Douglas film about a white, divorced, unemployed engineer on a shooting rampage, a film that was roundly criticized at the time as racist. She said, "That always freaked me out. He watched it incessantly. He thought it was hilarious. He had no compassion at all." Neighbors told reporters that the murderer was known for angrily confronting people over just about anything, from loud music to parking. One neighbor described him as prone to "equal opportunity anger" and she said that, last year, the situation got so bad that his neighbors organized a meeting "to talk about how he kind of made everyone feel uncomfortable and unsafe." His Facebook posts show a far greater hatred of Christianity than any other religion.

This was SO much more than hating these students for their religion. SO MUCH MORE. But even if it wasn't, it's still beyond disgusting. No matter what the reason, it's horrific.

I'm gobsmacked that a person that said he supported marriage equality, abortion rights and civil rights for all races could, at the same time, be so full of arrogance, entitlement and hatred - but, then again, I'm also confused by people that say they are members of a religion of peace, or follow a "prince of peace," can murder people - and they do, frequently. Hatred can, apparently, eat away the heart of anyone, religious or atheist alike.

So, no, I'm not going to apologize for this wacko, just as Muslims refuse to apologize for the Charlie Hebdo murderers, the September 11, 2001 murderers, the Peshawar school murders, and on and on. Just as Christians refuse to apologize for the Wisconsin Sikh temple murders, the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the Centennial Olympic Park bomber, the Spanish Inquisition, the mass killings of American Indians, the Nazis using Christianity to justify the Holocaust, and on and on.

Instead, I'm going to honor the memory of these three people by supporting the fundraising effort to provide urgent dental care to Syrian refugees that was launched by one of these murdered students. I'm going to support more gun ownership restrictions and speak out about the glamorization of gun ownership by the NRA and other groups - as tabulated by the Violence Policy Center, this was the 29th shooting involving three or more victims by a concealed handgun permit holder since mid-2007.

I'm going to continue to encourage people get a handle on outrage and fury - especially when they think they've been insulted. Being insulted is NOT being oppressed.

Peace, people. Peace.

Also see:

I get insulted. But I don't murder. 

Do religions know what "peace" means? or "irony"?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pro-choice, LGBT-affirming, otherwise non-annoying religious groups on Facebook

I'm an atheist, but I express my support for progressive arms of various religions because, if people are going to believe in a magical invisible super friend, I hope they will also believe that such a super friend supports things like women's equality, marriage equality, etc. , and that he or she or whatever does NOT want followers to force religious practice on anyone. So I'm always on the lookout for religious organizations that fit that bill, especially on Facebook.

I also find it fascinating that the same religious teachings that many people use to justify the oppression of women, the murder of satirists, the bombing of health clinics, the enslavement of people, and on and on, is used by many other people to fight against such.

Promoting these organizations is a great way to counter fundamentalism; if believers in a magical invisible super friend can also see that there are alternatives to religious practices of intolerance, oppression and violence, maybe they'll join up - they'll be a lot happier. We all will be a lot happier.

Some progressive Christian organizations that you might want to like and follow on Facebook:
Also see this list from Wikipedia of LGBT-affirming churches

Some of the progressive Islamic organizations I have found and "liked" on Facebook are:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I get insulted. But I don't murder.

The images or statements promote ideas I find abhorrent. The images, or the statements, or the ideas, make my heart race. I can feel myself starting to shake when I see them or hear them. I feel as though I have been punched in the stomach, or slapped hard on the face. I’m outraged. I’m angry. I’m insulted. I’m demeaned.

Sometimes, I sit and seethe quietly. Sometimes, I have to walk away and try to calm myself down. Sometimes, I have tears in my eyes. Sometimes, I shake with anger so much I cannot hold anything in my hand. Sometimes, I can’t sleep that night. The images insult. They attack my dignity. They humiliate. They hurt.

My outrage is valid. My pain is real. And sometimes it’s not enough to just change the channel or turn off the TV, to close the magazine, to close the browser window, to unlike the Facebook page, to unfollow that Twitter feed, to walk out of the store, to walk out of the gathering. Sometimes, I respond. I write the person, or call the company, or sign a petition, and rally my friends to do the same, explaining why the image is insulting or painful or both. I work to make my point of view heard and understood, often joining a chorus of equally-outraged others.

Sometimes, the company or comedian or performer or politician or pundit apologizes. Sometimes, they don’t, but there is a noticeable decline in offensive images or statements. Sometimes, they are defiant, they double down, they present those offensive images or statements again and again, and so I boycott the company or person. I refuse to be a part of what they produce. Maybe others do too. And that means I can no longer watch or read something I used to enjoy.

Sometimes, I lose friends because of their disagreement with my outrage. Sometimes, I have to walk out of a home or church or business, never to return, and my life is altered, maybe forever.

What has me so outraged? I’m not going to say. It would be a LONG list. But what has me outraged is not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is to say that no group has a monopoly on outrage or pain from outrageous images or statements. And no insult justifies violence.

Religions get insulted. Ethnic groups get insulted. Communities get insulted. Women get insulted. Individuals get insulted. Bigotry can hurt. Sexism can hurt. Blasphemy can hurt. The pain is real. I get that. I've lived it. But that pain does NOT give you a right to harm someone physically. It does NOT give you a right to violence. It does NOT give you a right to kill.

I’m an atheist. I don’t live my life by religions texts, but by humanist beliefs that emphasize common human needs and rational, fair ways of solving our problems. Therefore, it shouldn’t matter what the Qur’an says about violence - whether it supports violence in return for insults or not - because I don't follow religious texts to live my life, and I refuse any efforts to force me to.

But it’s worth noting that freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Qur’an both through direct instruction as well as per how Muhammad is said to have responded to insults. The Qur’an says the Prophet was called insane, a liar, a fraud. Through all this, according to the Qur’an, the Prophet never retaliated or called for these people to be attacked or executed. The Qur’an says to “overlook their annoying talk” and to “bear patiently what they say.” It instructs Muslims to avoid the company of those who continue their derogatory attacks against Islam. The Qur’an tells believers not to be provoked by those who seem to attack Islam, stating very clearly “let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice.”

For example:

 “When you see them engaged in vain discourse about Our Signs, turn away from them unless they engage in a different subject. If Satan ever makes you forget (i.e. your mind gets engrossed in their discourse,) then as soon as you recollect, no longer sit in the company of the people who confound the truth with falsehood.” – Qur’an 6:68

Also see Qur’an 2:256, 10:99, 18:29, 109:6, as summarized in this blog.

There’s another story about Muhammad, from Hadith rather than the Qur’an - some Muslims believe it, others don’t. But since belief in the story is widespread among Muslims, I’ll repeat it here: every day that Muhammad went to his mosque, a woman would come out of her home and throw her garbage on him. She didn't like his ideas, and this is how she expressed it. Muhammad didn’t respond. He just kept going to the mosque every day. But one day, the woman wasn’t there to throw things at him. So he entered her house to find out why, and he discovered that she was very ill. He cared for her and helped her recover. And he and the woman became friends.

Here's another blog about this legend.

My blog that you are reading is inspired not by the attacks in Paris, but the defense of the attacks. I’m reading comments that imply or outright say the murderers were “provoked.” As we say in my culture: BULLSHIT.

Like it or not, blasphemy is a human right. Insulting speech is a human right. Don't like it? Then you have two licit choices: get away from it so you do not have to hear or see it, or try to engage with those who are saying such to see why they think that way and if there is a way you can change their minds, through rational, peaceful means, to not say such things.

And before you say, "That's just not enough!", remember this: there is probably something you say or do or think that I find disgusting and/or insulting, every bit as hurtful as something you find disgusting and/or insulting. How would you feel about me trying to force you, through legal means or violent means, to not express that idea? You'd balk, of course.

Well, this is me. Balking.

One last thing: what I also find insulting is people who say, in trying to excuse the murderers and their supporters, "We can't expect everyone to embrace Western values" and "They were provoked because of how sacred they hold their religion." It's insulting to imply that respect for all human life and a belief in freedom of speech, even speech you don't like, is something unique to only European cultures and countries founded by such, that it's something not also cherished by people outside the West. It's insulting to imply that people outside of North America and Europe, or that Muslims, cannot grasp those values (if they don't already). And it's insulting because it implies that Islam is more precious than any other religion, deserving greater protection than any other religio - your silence over these anti-Semitic cartoons in newspapers in Muslim countries is deafening (meanwhile, if someone attacked any of these media outlets in the name of defending Judaism, I'd be saying all the same things now).

Also see: Do religions know what "peace" means? or "irony"?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Do religions know what "peace" means? or "irony"?

A cartoon says your religion is violent. You are offended, and your response is to shoot someone or bomb something.

You say you are "pro-life" because of your religion. You blow up clinics and shoot doctors in the name of this belief.

And you wonder why I smirk when you say yours is a "religion of peace," or that you follow the "prince of peace."

I'm not fond of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, because of what they say about women and their funding of the proposition in California to ban marriage equality, also known as proposition hate. But I was so impressed when I walked out of the musical The Book of Mormon, there were Mormons standing amid the crowd - not protesting, not shouting, but, instead, handing out the actual Book of Mormon and saying, "You've seen the musical, now read the book!"

I high-fived one of those Mormons and said, "That's awesome."

You have every right to counter a message with your own peaceful message. You have every right to be outraged by anything. You have every right to demonstrate that outrage, so long as it is not violent, nor oppressive. You have no right to violence against other humans. None.

Freedom of expression is not only a basic, universal human right - if you are responding to a criticism that says you are violent with violence, you're an idiot.

This attack in Paris today on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo does far more to paint Islam as violent than any cartoon ever has.

I do not blame all Muslims for this. But I do believe that any Muslim who supports blasphemy laws, or who doesn't not believe in freedom of expression, even when he or she does not support what is being expressed, shares some of the blame for what has happened today in Paris.

My best wishes for safety to the staff of The Onion, to the guys at South Park, to James Franco and Seth Rogan, and to anyone else who has been threatened for their satire.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ancient Mythic Origins of the Christmas Story

The familiar Christmas story, including the virgin conception and birth of Jesus, is found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Scholars have pointed out that these stories are somewhat disconnected from other parts of these Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. In fact, by the time he is a young boy in the temple, Jesus’s parents seem to have forgotten the virgin birth. They act surprised by his odd behavior. There is never any other mention in the New Testament of these incredible events! These stories seem to be an afterthought, written later than the rest of the gospels that contain them. To make matters more interesting, the stories themselves have inconsistencies and ambiguities – contradictory genealogies, for example. Our Christmas story (singular) is actually a composite. 

Or consider the idea that Mary is a virgin. The Greek writer of Matthew quotes Isaiah as saying: “a parthenos shall conceive and bear a child.” The Hebrew word in Isaiah is “almah,” which means simply “young woman.” But the Greek word parthenos can mean either a virgin or a young woman, and it got translated as “virgin.” Modern Bible translations have corrected this, but it is a central part of the Christmas story. 

Comments by Dr. Tony Nugent, scholar of world religions. Dr. Nugent is a symbologist, an expert in ancient symbols. He taught at Seattle University for fifteen years in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and is an ordained Presbyterian minister. This is from an interview from 2009, Ancient Mythic Origins of the Christmas Story.