Why the hate?

I’ve seen so many atheists today ranting about Christians and how they’re horrible people for believing atheists are going to hell. My blog post from earlier today showed one atheist attacking another’s principles because the latter was able to have friends who were Christians.

The one I conversed with earlier said to me:

“I’m absolutely intolerant to people that think Im going to hell, or that homosexuality is a sin or that women are subject to men”

I just can’t see how we, who are screaming for fairness, equality and tolerance can ever use the phrase “intolerant of people.” Yeah, the ideas we don’t have to tolerate, but the person? That’s a human being.

I don’t give a flying fuck if a person thinks I’m going to hell. What I *do* care about is whether they’ll respect me and my beliefs enough to not spend all our interactions trying to save me.

If they think homosexuality is a sin? Well, they’re allowed to think what they want. it’s when they start trying to dictate how others should behave or be allowed to live their own private lives that my hackles go up. If they can look at a gay person, who they’ve been taught is a sinner, and can see a human being, then I can respect the Christian the same way.

It is a common knee-jerk reaction for atheists to be angry towards Christians, to expect and automatically defend against fire and brimstone preaching. It’s not necessary. We don’t have to tolerate religion’s insistence that everyone be converted and live the same, pristine life; *that* attitude should be challenged. But why should we close our hearts to perfectly wonderful people whose ideas happen to not align with our own, if their hearts are open to us?

Doesn’t that make us as bad as the people we’re railing against?

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How Rational, Really?

I usually try to avoid the same old runaround conversations with theists whose minds I won’t change and who won’t convert me. They’re unproductive, generally devolve into something uncivilized at best, and are a waste of time that could be better spent. I use this blog, often, as a place to present my arguments when I need to get them out. It’s easier to keep them linear and appropriate.

But today, I fell into what I had hoped would be a productive conversation on Twitter. Why did I have hopes? Because the guy (RationalOutlet)  is an atheist. I thought, at least we’re starting with a similar world view. Yeah, it didn’t so much pan out. Here’s how it went (the first bit of the conversation, I was just watching):

RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste Almost all the people around me are atheists. Respect is fundamental to a relationship and the religious do not deserve mine.
about 16 hours ago via web in reply to EmilysPoste

EmilysPoste @atheist_panda @RationalOutlet I can respect people but still disagree with them. I guess that’s the difference between us.
about 6 hours ago via web in reply to atheist_panda

RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste You’re just willing to compromise your principles. That’s the difference between us.
about 6 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to EmilysPoste

EmilysPoste @RationalOutlet Apparently you do, which makes you appear a hypocrite.
about 6 hours ago via web in reply to RationalOutlet

RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste It’s good to know you have no principles.
about 6 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to EmilysPoste

(This is where I felt the need to jump in.)

ymberlenis @EmilysPoste @rationaloutlet. Didn’t know being an atheist meant other atheists get to define your principles for you. How like religion.
about 5 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone from Phoenix Gateway, Phoenix in reply to EmilysPoste

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis If you think religion is harmful then why stay quiet and say nothing. I choose to associate with like-minded individuals.
about 4 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

ymberlenis @RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste Maybe so, but like-minded doesn’t equal narrow-minded. Also, choosing not to associate w/ someone is different from insulting them outright. Much of religion’s harm to society is its intolerance of different viewpoints. Your comments sound very much like their dogma and could prove just as harmful. Just asking a little respect for fellow humans, is all.
about 5 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone from Phoenix Gateway, Phoenix in reply to EmilysPoste

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis I’m absolutely intolerant to people that think Im going to hell, or that homosexuality is a sin or that women are subject to men
about 4 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

ymberlenis @RationalOutlet @EmilysPoste That’s fine if those are your principles. I disagree, but I respect your right to have them. My objection was to you telling an atheist who chooses to be more tolerant that she lacks principles at all. It’s not fair for you to dictate what we all believe. You don’t have to respect a person’s beliefs, but they have a right to have them. What they don’t have a right to do is force them on others or judge others who don’t share them. That’s what you were doing, and it’s no better than a dogmatic religion.
about 2 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone from Phoenix Gateway, Phoenix in reply to RationalOutlet

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis Im glad you are tolerant of hateful people.
about 2 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

ymberlenis @RationalOutlet Wow. You’re willfully twisting my words. If you’re not interested in my opinion (I realize it was unsolicited), then ignore me. If you genuinely want a conversation, I’m open to helping clarify my views. But if you’re just looking to attack anyone who offers a different idea w/o trying to understand it, you’re as hateful as the religions you scorn. I feel I’ve made my objection clear. Try reading what I wrote, not what you wanted to see.
about 2 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone from Phoenix, AZ in reply to RationalOutlet

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis You don’t understand either. I respect everyones right to speak but their views should not go uncontested. Esp. the religious
about 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

ymberlenis @RationalOutlet I never said they shouldn’t. I simply said that it should be done with respect. What you said to @EmilysPoste was very disrespectful. Rationality is about asking questions and making reasonable statements. What you’re doing is making quick judgments that don’t progress your ideas at all. I’m asking you to look at how you speak to people. If you expect someone to consider changing their views, no matter how distasteful you find their ideas, alienating the person first is never going to accomplish that. This is all I’m trying to say. You don’t have to agree with them, but drive change, not conflict.
about 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone from Tempe, AZ in reply to RationalOutlet

RationalOutlet @ymberlenis Oh please.
36 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone in reply to ymberlenis

Yeah, this is where I came here. When a conversation/debate degenerates into “Oh please,” it’s pretty much a lost cause.

I won’t rehash everything I said; I think I made my opinion clear. I’m honestly open to feedback and debate and questions on it. These can even be peppered with scorn and ridiculed if necessary. But I won’t take the scorn and ridicule without something productive to respond to.

</rant> Thanks for listening.

Don’t preach about atheism if you’ve no idea what it is. (Part 2)

Wednesday, I addressed Part I of a series of articles about Atheism. Here, I’m going to try to respond to Atheism – Part II: Morality.

This article is really a jumble of logical fallacies, but I’m going to try to cut to the heart of the author’s point nonetheless. Wish me luck; I’m going in.

It means that the human brain is the highest moral authority in the universe. Whether it is an evolving paradigm or an inherited thing given to us by evolution, “morality” is a product of the human brain

If Atheism is correct, let’s ask an interesting question:

“If everyone – you, me, and even the Jews – EVERYONE – agreed that what the Nazis did in WWII was moral, would it be “moral”?

This is such a gotcha question. Really. The author is so smug in his presentation and decision of what either answer (yes or no) would mean to the atheist world view. Frankly, I know that my response would mean little in helping the author actually understand the atheist world view, because he’s not genuinely interested in understanding it; he just wants to dismiss it.

I’m still going to try.

The answer to the question is, “Well, yeah.” No, no – I can hear your gasps of horror and your ‘I-told-you-so’s. Just cool your jets there, little buddy. Remember that listening thing we talked about? Yeah, I’m gonna ask you to try it out now.

The thing is, you argue that atheists believe “‘morality’ is a product of the human brain.” Which is nearly true (in my case – remember, I don’t speak for all atheists, and they can agree or disagree as they like). Morality is the product of a collection of human brains. For the most part, we don’t individually decide what is moral. If that were true, religions across the world and across history wouldn’t have so many central tenets in common.

Ultimately, humanity determines morality based on what propagates the species in the best way. Clearly, deciding to slaughter a huge swath of said species does not accomplish this, so it would be evolutionarily counter-productive to determine this as moral behavior. I know, I know – this sounds unbelievably clinical and harsh. We’re talking about people’s lives here! Exactly – that empathy, that hollow pit in the stomach when you think of the Holocaust – that’s evolution at work. That’s one of our mechanisms for fighting for our species’ survival.

Under Atheim, all Hitler really did “wrong” in WWII was to lose the war.

This is such a disgusting interpretation of the atheist world view, I’m floored. I don’t have the words for it. We’re not discussing whether an atheist living in this world, in this society, believes that Hitler’s actions were moral. You’re taken a response to a hypothetical situation and carried it well outside that hypothetical’s scope. This is not logic and reason, with which you claim you’ll “analyze the implications of atheism.” That is poisoning the well.

Anyhow, back to the author’s point about this subjective morality (and his feelings about responses like min):

Does this sound sane? Actually, it isn’t. Below is the legal definition of “insanity”, according to Nolo Press, the legal self-help publishing center:

“A mental defect or disease that makes it impossible for a person to understand the wrongfulness of his acts or, even if he understands them, to distinguish right from wrong.”

The author doesn’t seem to grasp that his argument is rather circular in reasoning. You see, in your “hypothetical” world, EVERYBODY accepts Hitler’s actions as moral. Which would mean that the assessment that it is moral would indeed be accurate, because morality is a human construct, generally meant, at its core, to protect the species. So it’s not insane by that definition. You’re trying to hold the inhabitants of your hypothetical world up to the fire of established morality in this world. They’re not parallel. They’re two different worlds.

I get that it’s a horrendous thing to even suggest that there’s a place or time where the Nazi regime didn’t commit acts of atrocity, but rather acted to an accepted moral code. It makes me feel creepy just doing it. But that doesn’t make my answer wrong. It doesn’t make my world view insane.

This author’s reasoning and logic are so convoluted and fold back on themselves so many times, I know my response must feel convoluted and circular as well. I’ve tried to lay it out as linearly as possible, but please comment if it doesn’t make sense, you have questions, or if you’ve anything at all to add.

I won’t be continuing to address each of the author’s series on atheism. I’m sure this will be taken as a sign that his/her logic has overwhelmed me. Well, I suppose in a sense, it has. It’s the same old rhetoric. The first couple of articles seemed like someone who was actually thinking on their own (albeit poorly), but the later articles are just spouting the same old myths and faulty views we’ve all heard before. They’ve been refuted so many times before, all I would be contributing to is a clog in the blogosphere.

If you want to read the rest of the series, click this link.

De-friend the Enemy?

We all have them, right? Those Facebook “friends” (Facebook’s term, not mine) who we knew in high school, but haven’t seen since the mortarboards flew? Yet, at some point, we received an invite to peek into their online lives, with pictures of their kids, spouses, homes, etc. And we thought, “sure, why not?” Well, I did, anyway.

Now, having grown up in what residents proudly coin the “buckle of the Bible belt,” and in what is a vibrantly red state, many of these old high school people are very religious and very conservative, and very open about it. My profile indicates that I’m an atheist (in the “religion” field, which irks me, because it’s not a religion, but I digress), but I rarely post any status updates there, much less anything inflammatory. (I save that for Twitter; Facebook gets the “I’m going to class” or “Is it Friday yet” banality).If I’m being honest, I don’t want the hassle of controversy. I don’t usually get a lot of energy from drama and intrigue, and I don’t feel like banging my head against a wall trying to make them understand why I don’t believe. Paradoxically, it’s also a little bit because I think they just might ignore me, and where would the fun be in that? Anyhow, this post is not really so much about me and my Facebook habits, as it is about those of these “friends.”

Many of them talk regularly about praying, thanking God, and so forth. But there is one in particular who dedicates every bloody status update to delivering a sermon (probably so heathens who may have missed one Sunday will still hear the word). Here are a few examples, all from the last week:

it’s not the time to give up, give in and accept defeat no matter how long you have been believing for something! It is the time to prepare, to walk tall, head lifted high and exceeding joy for your answer was released the moment you prayed, your healing provided over 2K yrs ago and NOW is the time to RECEIVE it!

blessed, healed, redeemed, saved, delivered, protected, filled with joy, made at peace, an overcomer, and victorious! All in the name of JESUS! Hallelujah!

the enemy will do everything he can to get you to lose confidence in the Word of God, because if you do, you’ll stop speaking it. Even when you feel all hope is lost, there’s still a spiritual battle being fought on your behalf and guess what-YOU’VE ALREADY WON! Don’t stop speaking the Word no matter what happens or how you feel! God’s message to me this morning, and I know I’m not the only one who needs to hear it!

Prayer is not only us talking to God, it’s also listening, so He can talk to us…there’s nothing that He doesn’t already know about you and your life, BUT there’s a whole lot that we don’t know…after putting it that way, who should be the one doing the talking and who should be the one listening?

My initial instinct is to de-friend this person. After all, clearly all she and I have in common is a school and a graduation date. Even in high school, we weren’t friends. But I keep coming across a bit of a dilemma.

As a relatively “active” atheist, I want to be someone who helps to set the example of rational thought and skepticism towards religion. I fully expect (although haven’t so much found) the courtesy of being listened to, not dismissed because my beliefs don’t match another person’s.

I am an atheist not because a God has been unproven, but because all the empirical evidence in the world tells me we don’t need one, and that the gods that abound are human constructs. I am completely open to new, non-fallacious arguments for the existence of a god, and I feel that if I’m going to ask for the courtesy of being heard and listened to, then I must extend that courtesy as well. To do that, I have to keep the lines of communication open.

I would like to point out that I don’t hold this position because of all the respectful behavior I’ve experienced when conversing with Christians. I don’t respect them because their actions have merited it in any way, I respect them because I want, someday, for them to return the favor. I still haven’t heard anything that suggests religion or gods deserve any special place; I just want to have an honest, open discourse (to borrow from a Christian I wrote about in a previous post). I think engaging in and encouraging logical discussion (while it does feel like banging one’s head against a wall) is the only way to be heard and understood.

So she and others remain folks whose status updates I will see regularly on Facebook. (Although probably less so with the site’s recent “upgrades.”) No one has done anything to offend or slight me (in which case, I’ll gladly remove anyone from my friends list); it’s not like they’re posting this stuff on my own wall, and they’re all entitled to believe and say what they like.

As annoying as I find the jibber-jabber, I will continue to read it with thoughtfulness and consideration I expect to be afforded.

Should we tolerate religion?

For the last few weeks, I’ve been having an internal debate on whether or not I think we should continue to tolerate religion on our society. After all this time and deliberation, here’s where I’ve landed:

I have no fucking clue.

And I’m going to support this statement with ever-so-reliable anecdotal evidence. Maybe some day I’ll find time to research the real, meaningful statistics that might change my mind, but for now, I’m just happy I’ve found a bit of time where my brain is willing to function and no one else is demanding it to, so that I can just get these thoughts out of my head and into the pensieve.

On the one hand, there’s the position that I’m most inclined to take, and that’s the one that says with a slightly pompous British accent that sounds remarkably like the great Christopher Hitchens, that religion poisons everything. That religion gets its grubby little hands all over every little bit of our society and not only derides anyone who sees the world/universe differently, but it convinces everyone that it possibly can they should do the same.

Oh, and when derision hour is done, anyone who doesn’t convert should be stoned (or crushed or burned or stabbed or crucified or raped or maimed or tortured/murdered in whatever creative way can be thought of).

Religion tells people that knowledge is dangerous, and that it has all the answers they’ll ever need. That you’ll be just fine if you shut your eyes, wave your hands in the air and live your life for its god/gods/goddesses.

It doesn’t encourage people to think for themselves, it teaches them to think for it. And in democratic societies, when it deludes the majority of the population, the people who are most malleable make decisions for the society that do not benefit anyone but religion. Sometimes these are relatively small, unobtrusive things like turning a secular nation’s motto into “In God we trust,” but sometimes it can be a truly profound violation of human rights like insisting that homosexuality is an abomination of God’s creation and gay men and women should not be allowed to marry.

Religion suggests that we should base the laws of our technologically and scientifically advanced society on the [inconsistent] teachings of a 2,000 year old collection of poetry and short stories, written by people who were trying to explain the world in the best way they could. In other words, religion tells us that we have gained nothing over the past 2,000 years of our existence, and we should be ecstatic about it.

So, it sounds like I’m pretty convinced of my position, right? Down with religion!

Well… no. I hate these facets of theism, I really do. But I’ve seen another side of religion.

There are people in this world who, for whatever reason, live hard lives that are turned around by “Jesus’s love.” You and I know that is a strength they found within themselves, but they are unable to attribute walking away from drugs or beginning to treat others well to their own learning/growth, and must attribute it to a higher power. They clean their lives up, they begin contributing positively to society. Of course, we still run into the problem that they become one of the herd in all the negative impacts listed above.

But I can’t ignore my own story. There was a time in my life – a span of many years – that was exceptionally difficult. When I look back on this time and the pain I felt, I also have to remember the relief I felt at my home church. It was a safe haven; it was family I could trust. But beyond the building and the people, I found a lot of comfort in believing a god had a plan, and all my hurt was a mean to a glorious end. I know now that finding comfort in an idea does not make it any more real, as evidenced by the fact that I find great comfort in the idea that there will be a million dollars in my mailbox the next time I check it. But religion got me through those years, and probably kept me from turning to other mechanisms for comfort, like dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or promiscuity in my teen years.

The thing is, too, it’s really easy for me to despise religion. But I know, and genuinely love, very religious people. They are not horrible people. They don’t stone or torture non-believers (although they’re not altogether above coercive conversion tactics). Most of them are loving, caring, charitable people who won’t accept that they don’t need a god to be so. I am just as loving and charitable as I ever was when I was a churchgoer.

Hmmm… going over these thoughts in my head, during my commute or while making dinner, these thoughts seemed like much better arguments for the case of religion. I really don’t think they’re valid. I think that, while religion plays an important role in each of these relatively positive scenarios, I feel like, as a society, we can find naturalistic replacements. I suppose the most compelling argument I can come up with is this:

People have the right to believe as they choose.

But the whole crux of this argument is that everyone is people. Everyone gets to believe as they choose, and religion refuses to accept that. Religion will not afford the same rights it demands. And until it can do that, until it can say, “Here is your god. Believe in it to your heart’s fullest. But it is your god. It does not demand you recruit others to it, or live in a society perfectly tuned to it. Run your household as you please, tell others if you like, but remember everyone has the right to believe as they choose,” then I do not think it has earned its place in a free society.

So it turns out, I do know where I stand. I could, in theory, rewrite this entry to make it sound like I knew all along, but why would I lie to you? This entry was all about trying to sort out my thoughts, and here they are. I’m open to any ideas about the value of religion to society (although I strongly disagree with the ideas posited in a recent USA Today article).

So where do I think we go from here?

I have no fucking clue.

It was “No God” day on Twitter!

A Christian RT-fest this morning that read, “Know God / Know Peace, No God / No Peace” took off and started trending. Atheists picked up the trending topic, and by the time I sat down with a sandwich to lazily check my Twitter feed, “No God” was itself a trending topic. Well, actually. it was the trending topic – #1. You betcha.

I don’t have a ton of time tonight, but I needed to sit down and say the things that wouldn’t fit into Twitter’s 140-character limit or into my busy day. So I hope you’ll bear with me as I give this commentary with today’s tweets interspersed with thoughts and all that good stuff.

The “No God” search was full of things like, “No God never started any wars.” I agree, but that’s not really why I don’t believe in God. So here’s how I threw my hat into the fray:

There are lots of reasons to want No God, but the bottom line is, we don’t *need* one. God is an artifact of limited knowledge.

Pithy 140, but really only understood, I think, by fellow atheists (skeptics/freethinkers/etc.). What I meant was, gods are a creation of man, who, in ancient times, wanted to understand the things around him. Why did the earth shake sometimes? Why did the sun disappear behind the moon? Why were there floods, volcanoes, deaths, illnesses, bad luck? Humans are curious and essentially rational beings, but without millenia of scientific growth and understanding, their reason could only carry them so far. Gods who controlled heavens and fate filled the gaps of understanding.

Now we have a multitude of scientific understandings available to us. Those things they wondered about, we know to ascribe to tectonic activity, tides, human frailty, bacteria, viruses, coincidence, etc. The gods who did this for ancient man are no longer needed. They were created because of early human’s lack of knowledge. The Christian god of today is credited with creating the earth and the universe, but he’s not really necessary for that. Science explains how the earth got here, can even give us a long history of its geology and many of its life forms. The actual creation of the universe is still not really known, but we’re pretty damned close. Human understanding has filled so many of the gaps that gods were engineered to fill. Anthropology tells us we don’t need a god to be good – the ethic of reciprocity predates the Christian god by thousands of years. We’re good because that (hopefully) leads to others being good to us. We understand psychology and other sciences that help us understand ourselves. All this, and so much more (but I think you get the picture) is what I packed into that little tweet.

Here’s what someone responded:

@bjflanagan: @vkamutzki Atheism is an artifact of limited experience.

I don’t mean to be thick, but to be honest, that really seems like a nonsense response that someone threw together thinking they were clever with their allusion to my statement. I don’t get it. But then, I knew that people who weren’t coming from my point of view didn’t have the benefit of all that explanation I just gave you for my original tweet. So I responded:

@bjflanagan @vkamutzki Actually, for me, atheism was exactly the product of expanding my experience, which was v limited when I was a Xtian.

I was genuinely hoping this could open a dialogue – I still want to really understand what he meant. I should be so lucky. I don’t think he understands it. This was his reply:

bjflanagan @ymberlenis Well, so you outgrew a naive interpretation of religion. Good for you.

Er, um. Way to dismiss my entire life experience to suit your own needs. I guess. I should point out that as an aside, in response to some of the other tweets I’d been reading the search feed, I posted this:

Dear Xtians: Don’t be sad for me because I believe in no god. It’s insulting that you go straight to pity and skip over dialogue.

And this:

Amused by inanity of many No God tweets, but frustrated by reminders of most believers’ condescension and intolerance of atheists. #fb

So when I got @bjflanagan‘s tweet, I retweeted it:

There’s that condescension i was talking about. RT @bjflanagan: @ymberlenis So you outgrew a naive interpretation of religion. Good for you.

Okay, so I was moving to snarky and dismissive, too. But it’s still factually accurate; it was a very condescending thing for him to say. I got the following tweet shortly thereafter, but didn’t engage further. I want to believe I could call Poe’s Law, but reading through the rest of his feed (and seeing some nastier comments to others than what I got), I’m pretty sure he’s just massively reluded (which is shorthand for religiously deluded, just for future reference).

bjflanagan @ymberlenis Speaking as I do from the heights of my godlike wisdom, you might count yourself lucky that I spend time with you at all.

Right. Yep. I don’t. I’m a lost cause. Move on. The little voice in my head screamed, “Pick your battles! This one’s an energy-sucker! Run!” So I did. But from the same API call that brought me that last gem, came this one from someone else:

WebSelling4U #Jesus bless them all: @IMightBeRusty @supernoodle128 @MidwestClare @leauh @saynathespiffy @suezinha_s @LisaAntoniaa @ymberlenis

I really hate being prayed for. Not because I’m afraid it’ll “work,” but because I think it’s disrespectful. I tried to explain it to this guy, in several connected tweets (which is usually against my tweeting rule), so I’ll let you read them, and maybe I’ll elaborate.

I will admit my initial response was rushed and much ruder than I intended, which is part of why I tried to explain it in further detail later. Here’s the conversation:

ymberlenis .@WebSelling4U #jesus did “bless” me. For many years. It didn’t take. Save your prayers for someone who wants/needs them.

(Yeah, I still cringe at that. I want to be heard and assertive, but that really was more aggressive than I’d like to come across. I vow not to tweet under pressure/time crunches any more).

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis They’re my prayers and you need them even if you don’t want them. God’s gift is freely given even if you don’t accept it.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I pray you accept God’s saving grace before it is too late. I wish you peace.

He was right; he could spend his prayers as he likes. That wasn’t exactly what I meant, but I tried to concede that point at least, while still trying to make mine:

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U You’re right, they’re yours. But clearly, you don’t understand how insulting it is to me & others.

I thought about following up here with why I find it insulting. But I didn’t, because I wanted to see if he’d take the time to ask me first, or if he’d make assumptions. He didn’t do either. At first.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis In that case I must ask you how insulting do you think Christians find this whole topic. Do you think it was meant to insult us?

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis Some in this discussion calling themselves Christians are indeed intending to be insulting. But that isn’t showing Christ’s love

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I assure U I mean no offense but I am called to tell others about Christ. You may listen or not. Go in peace.

Do you notice here how he didn’t even care to ask about why I find him praying for me insulting? He turned it around as a  persecution of Christians, rather than an expression of a different culture’s ideas. I tried to lead by example:

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U Why are you offended that someone believes differently than you and says so?

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I am offended when offense is meant. I am not offended by open discourse. You know yourself that some on both sides.. well U kno

I feel like I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that at least 80% of atheists on the No God train were expressing their own ideas in their own ways, and really didn’t care about offending Christians. But, since my general rule is not to speak for all athiests (a fiercely independent group), I will heartily disclaimer that statement as my own speculation, and could very easily be wildly wrong. So, in this conversation, I tried to stick to my own convictions and ideas.

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U Thing is, it’s not open discourse. An atheist says, “there’s no god,” & xtians say, “oh that poor mangy puppy needs saving.”

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U An open discourse would involve listening to the people speaking, not directing us to a god we don’t believe in.

At this, he wrote:

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I’ve walked both sides of that track. I know the difference Christ has made in my life. Why wouldn’t I want to share my joy?

Can anyone tell me how that answers my statement? Because I read it as, “your idea of open discourse is completely irrelevant in the face of my joy that I want to force upon you.” I could be wrong, and am open to other well-supported interpretations. But I truly wanted to have what this guy called “open discourse,” so I tried to remain civil and reasonable. So this is where I broke my no-long-tweet-strings rule, in an effort to make him understand where I was coming from:

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U That’s fine, but that’s not the point. You offered it; I don’t want it.

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U Asking God to intercede suggests I’m too stupid to get it. I also walked the other side; I know that’s exactly what it means.

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U My path away from God was not an easy one, and not taken lightly. I don’t appreciate the assumption that it was “foolhardy.”

ymberlenis @WebSelling4U Which is exactly what’s communicated when prayer substitutes open discourse.

Having been a very devout Christian from, basically, birth, until I was in my early twenties, I know that praying for a “lost soul” is supposed to be an act of love, but I also know that it’s a very cynical view of that person’s ability to think clearly. However, I don’t like people making assumptions about me based on their own life experiences, so I tried to express that all of this is what his messages were communicating to me. I’d hoped that would open the door to clarification. Not so. Apparently, the only door available was the one that opened up up to more wild assumptions:

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis Nor was mine, the path back was even more difficult but worth the effort for me. I distrust religion 2 but found I was taught…

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I found that I was incorrectly taught what following Christ meant. It has changed my life.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I do pray that your heart is opened to Jesus, not to a controlling religion that will stifle you and suppress your spirit.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis You are the only person on earth that can be you. But you cannot be what God created you to be unless you open up to Him.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis U’re angry w/ God. OK. U’re angry w/ ppl that manipulated U by saying “God says” OK. That doesn’t mean He’s not real.

WebSelling4U @CraigPaton @AtheistRE @ymberlenis @Maclark89 My message is simple: I believed as you do until a miracle happened in my life.

WebSelling4U @CraigPaton @AtheistRE @ymberlenis @Maclark89 God is real, He loves us but hates our sin. His ways are not our ways and we cant explain it.

WebSelling4U @CraigPaton @AtheistRE @ymberlenis @Maclark89 I wish you all the peace that passes all understanding that only comes through Christ Jesus.

WebSelling4U @ymberlenis I still believe God allowed this 2 happen so someone would be led to Jesus, maybe you even. Good night & thanks 4 the tweets.

Full circle. I’m surprised he thanked me for all the tweets, as he very clearly ignored every one in the end. I had responded to one from the middle of that last string before I realized he was gone:

@WebSelling4U Actually, I’m not at all angry with god. I wasn’t angry w/ him when I believed in him. Those are the assumptions that annoy me

That’s the truth. I’m not, nor was I angry with God. In fact, in very difficult times of my life, times where many people would have been angry with him, I turned to him for comfort. I lost my faith because I couldn’t resolve the cognitive dissonance any more, and the realization of the sentiment that was my first tweet in this post was heartbreaking, and I fought it for a long time. But the simple truth is, humans don’t need a god or any gods. Our universe’s independent and solitary nature points away from a god who would have humans believe they are his prime creation.

This actually leads into another topic that I’ve been really mulling over the past couple of weeks, but haven’t found time to write: Why we shouldn’t tolerate religion any longer. That’s its lead-in; hopefully I’ll get to it tomorrow, or at least this week. I’ve already taken much more of my time and yours here than I intended. Thanks for sticking around to read this, and please, I’d love any feedback/comments/interpretations/etc., if you’ve got ’em.

National Day of Reason: Why it matters

Saw this in a friend’s status update on facebook this morning:

No Observance of National Day of Prayer in the White House today? Really?

I had forgotten today was the National Day of Prayer, but I like to observe its counterpart, the National Day of Reason. So I posted that as my own status update. It was not meant as a snarky response, but something I would have posted anyway had I remembered on my own:

…is observing the National Day of Reason.

And I posted this link: National Day of Reason Offers Inclusive and Constitutional Alternative to National Day of Prayer.

The next status update on this friend’s (the very same person who posted the first update) page read:

National Day of Reason? Wow! What is the big deal…Start you own day…lol. I choose to pray everyday so it really does not matter. It just seems silly to me. One Nation under God. Our Government could use a bit of prayer. God Bless our country.

So what’s the big deal? Why does it matter? Because in 1952, Congress passed into law this “National Day of Prayer,” despite the first amendment clause which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

I know, I know. The act establishing the National Day of Prayer doesn’t “establish” a new religion. But prayer is an establishment in a religious context, and it is not Congress’s place to pass into law any such support of religion.

The thing is, we are, indeed, one nation. That much is true. But we are one nation of many people, under many gods, and in a growing percentage of the population, under no god at all. So while this observance is certainly everyone’s right, it is exclusionary and improper for any branch of government to endorse it. I applaud the White House’s decision to not officially observe it, particularly considering the extremely evangelical emphasis the previous administration placed upon the day in years past.

The National Day of Reason is observed by people who believe that reason and rationality serve a greater purpose than prayer, and who believe that this country needs reason above prayer right now.

I don’t like being one of these people, but this is the only way I know how to say it right now. I’m offended. It is hypocritical to expect the White House – an administration leading a country of many cultures and ideas – to observe your particular culture’s values, but then to so flippantly dismiss another culture’s way of celebrating their own values. In no way in my update did I ask people to join me, although I would love it if they chose to do so. I simply and proudly stated what I would observe today.

Turns out, the American Civil Liberties Union is ANTI-AMERICAN!

The ACLU filed a complaint last month against an elementary school in Indianapolis because a student’s mother reported that the school is allowing religious education on school property, violating the constitutional separation of church and state. School officials claim the school does not support the religious education classes in any way other than allowing students time to attend. That’s the article in a nutshell. I don’t know all the facts, just what each party stipulates in the article, but if the ACLU’s facts are in order, I am in agreement with the complaint.

What I want to talk about are some of the comments in the article from narrow-minded people who believe that separation of church and state is actually some form of religious persecution. Some of the responses are dismissive of alternative beliefs; some are just plain hateful.

I’m going to cut & paste the most offensive/ignorant ones, without response to each one. My response to all of them can be summed up by saying that this is a country founded on religious freedom, which includes freedom from religion. A secular government impartial to each religion is the ideal, which is why public institutions should not support any one over the other. This is why the ten commandments should not be displayed in courtrooms – U.S. law should reign there, not some ancient text that isn’t even wholly reflected in contemporary law. Non-preferential treatment for any group creates (or rather, should create) equal civil liberties for all groups. The ACLU does not seek to eradicate Christianity or any other religion from America. It actually seeks to preserve the rights of all groups to have equal footing, even if they do not have equal numbers. That is why even allowing time for a religion class while a student is being educated with government dollars is unacceptable, and that’s not even the meat of what the ACLU is seeking to change in this case.

So please, before assuming that this is an attack on your god or your faith or whatever, consider that you are still free to practice in whatever mode you choose (as long as others and the rights of others are unharmed in the process). The ACLU is not looking to close down any churches. Open your mind and consider the needs/desires of everyone before stepping all over their rights.

Which is worse…Using taxpayer money to “advance religion” or tying up taxpayer supported courts with lawsuits?

It’s voluntary. If you don’t want your kid to hear it, DON’T SIGN THEM UP. It’s just like a TV program or a radio show, if you don’t want to see it or hear it, don’t watch or listen.

How stupid to send another lawsuit to an overcrowded court docket.

Problem is, the only kids that will get signed up are the ones who probably already go to church.

Could you cite for me in the Constitution “separation of church and state?”

The Constitution says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. That means the United States won’t have a National Church. It doesn’t say we can’t talk about it.

OK people, just because one doesn’t believe or wants to promote any religion doesn’t mean it is not necessary for those same people to understand what is expected from them to live in this country. Has this woman not looked at ALL of the constitution of the united states or its declaration of independence? The concepts for how our country is to work is framed in religious definitions – that work for everyone if everyone understands the concepts and or spirit of what those words mean. This country is constantly bogged down in litigation because everyone wants free speech – just to talk. Well, that free speech was given to you by individuals who started this country with the belief that we answer to a higher being – whatever higher being someone wants to believe in – not mankind (that means that if you don’t believe in a higher being that you are not the person to be answered to to feel comfortable). You can move to another country that OPERATES the same way that you feel.

Really, a lawsuit over God (religion class)? We wonder why our country is in such trouble, this is just rediculous. How could a person even think about a lawsuit against God (which is what this basically is)? Looks like someone is looking for their 15min of fame – hope it was worth it! GOD IS LOVE

I for one say that the ACLU is an anti american group of lawyers that are causing more problems in this great country than we need. If they don’t like what the majority of the people do or the religious actions and activities that they are involved in. Then its high time that the ACLU step back and let the majority rule. After all we are still (I think) a country founded on Democratic ideals.

Thank you

I want to say thank you to many people. Here’s the shortlist:

PZ Myers
Richard Dawkins
Michael Shermer
James Randi
Eugenie Scott
Steven Novella
Bob Novella
Jay Novella
Rebecca Watson
Evan Bernstein

But really, my thanks go out to all the skeptical, freethinking, humanist communities that have been so informative. I still have a lot to learn about the world we’re in, but I have come so far in the past eighteen months.

This morning, my landscaping company came. Awhile after they started working, the doorbell rang. I figured it was them, telling me they’re done. I thought it took a little bit longer than usual, but I went to the door and opened it without looking. There stood an older couple, the man with a bible and some Watchtower magazines in hand.

I’m just not rude enough to shut the door in someone’s face. I mean, I will if they prove themselves particularly obnoxious, but I at least give them the warning that they’re about to be face-to-door. So this guy starts by asking my name, and telling me it’s very pretty. It feels a little condescending, but hey, icebreakers aren’t everyone’s forte.

Then he tells me that he and his wife are going around the neighbohood with this magazine issue that discusses life beyond the grave. “Do you believe there is life after death?”

And this is the point where I have to say thank you to everyone already named. Because no matter my beliefs, in the past, I would have humored the guy, taken his literature, then put it in the trash after he left. And admittedly, I considered it. But by the time he asked me this question, I had eliminated the option. I didn’t want to be held hostage at my own door. So I said, “No, I don’t.”

Honestly, he seemed to hold back some surprise. Do that many people tell him yes? Do so few say no? Anyway, he says, “But you believe in the creation, right?”

“No. I believe in evolution.” (Okay, so I don’t really “believe” in evolution; I accept the evidence as fact. But I didn’t feel like getting into an etymological debate, and figured I’d speak his language.)

“So you believe this all happened by chance?” And this is where I particularly have to thank PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. What little I can say I understand about evolutionary biology, I attribute to them. They’ve made the ideas so accessible, that even my mind – which struggles mightily with most sciences – can understand it.

“No, not by chance. Evolution is not a matter of chance.”

“So you think that out of some soup of sludge, we all came into being?”

“Yes – ” He didn’t let me finish.

“You know, the greatest scientific minds say the brain is the most complex piece of machinery, and there’s so much about it we don’t understand. It must have a designer. Do you really think that just happened?”

So I told him that we don’t have all the answers, that science still has a lot to learn. I told him that we shouldn’t assign a god to it, and accept that – we wouldn’t have modern medicine or understanding of the stars if all men had just accepted a god or gods. And no, just for the record, evolution doesn’t just “happen.” It is a series of events where the creatures that survive are the creatures whose evolutionary path puts them in the right place at the right time, in simplest terms.

It felt pretty good to turn the sermon around. The difference, though, is I wasn’t trying to convert him. He said, “So I guess you wouldn’t be interested in reading the articles here?”

“No, sir.” Then I added, because I wanted him to know that not all atheists are heathens who just don’t know any better, “I want you to know that I was raised Christian. I was very close to God at one point. What I’ve told you today is the result of more than a year of intense investigation, both internal and external. This decision was not taken lightly. There’s nothing in your magazine I haven’t already explored.”

There was nothing militant in what I said or how I said it. The man and his wife were still pleasant when they left; they just recognized that they wouldn’t change my mind.

I research and I learn for my own edification. I want to understand the world and universe I live in, and the evidence I’ve found points to a naturalist view. I have not had the opportunity offline to use what I’ve learned in a true conversation about religion. I don’t seek out such opportunitites.

But I am so very grateful that when the opportunity came knockin’, I was ready to stand up to the challenge, and not be ashamed or unprepared to declare that I am an atheist, and it is an informed choice. So thank you to everyone who has contributed to my education and confidence.

Let’s talk about that moral compass…

Honestly, this conversation shouldn’t take that long. But it rages on and on, because theists who try to convince non-theists that a god must exist always seem to come around to the tired argument, “What about your moral compass? Where do you think that comes from?” The assumption being made is that since we know right from wrong, there must be a god who instilled those values in us.

The short answer to this argument is simply, Ethic of Reciprocity. Christians know it as The Golden Rule, and they’re often surprised to learn that the concept long predates Jesus. It appears in philosophic models and religions like Buddhism, Confucianism (both ~5th-century BCE), and Hinduism (which evidence dates as early as 1700 BCE). It is really a very simple idea: do things to others such that, if they reciprocate, you won’t be hurt. It’s a survival thing. I wasn’t there, but I’d be willing to bet early humans had to learn the lesson the hard way. But then they taught their offspring, who taught their offspring, who eventually went off and formed societies (and religions) with the wisdom of the ages to date. This is where right and wrong come from – our ancestors who had to learn the hard way. I mean really, have right and wrong changed much since the dawn of man? Or at least since man started recording his ideas?

Morality does not have to be a religious principle. It is easy to assign this to God, especially if you are raised to believe that the ten commandments are a moral code issued by God Himself. If that’s the case, consider opening your mind to a different source of societal ideals.

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