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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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.

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.

Uninvited

http://www.star-telegram.com/804/story/1465651.html

Ugh. Because a church considered allowing same-sex couples to be photographed for the church directory (*considered*, didn’t even end up doing it), they were voted out of the Southern Baptist Convention. Teenagers on their way to a mission trip were “uninvited” because of a decision they probably didn’t even get to give input into.

Kudos to the Nashville pastor who invited the group to his city, where they will contribute to the community, despite their home church’s lukewarm acceptance of GBLT.

Censorship really burns me

There are a lot of things in this world that frustrate me. Very near the top of the list is censorship. It really pisses me off that any one person or group believes they have the right to decide what I have access to read, watch or listen to. So when I read this story this morning about a group in Milwaukee seeking the right to “publicly burn or destroy by another means the library’s copy of Baby Be-Bop, I was angry.

The group claims:

“the plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by this book at the library,” specifically because Baby Be-Bop contains the “n” word and derogatory sexual and political epithets that can incite violence and “put one’s life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.”

You know what else incites violence? The Bible. Yep, let’s throw out what is widely considered a great piece of literature (at best, it’s difficult to really understand great literature without a foundational knowledge of the Bible), because it calls for the murder of women, children, slaves, infidels, etc.

“Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.”
Isaiah 13:16

“For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death . . . ”
Leviticus 20:9

“. . . Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.”
Exodus 32:27

” . . . whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.”
Exodus 31:15

No, not really. Because getting rid of information is not the answer. Teaching peole how to use and filter information is the answer. The Christian Civil Liberties Union is offended that

library Director Michael Tyree has “publicly stated that it is not up to the library to tell the community what is appropriate.”

Actually, Michael Tyree has it exactly right. It is not up to the library, or the CCLU, or you, or me to decide what books should or shouldn’t be available to read. Parents should take on the [admittedly daunting] task of knowing what their kids are reading, and be willing to talk with the kids about difficult subject matters. Also, parents should have their fingers on the pulse of what their kids are and aren’t able to handle. Age-appropriate ratings are a good mechanism, but parents also need to know the maturity level of their own kids. The important thing here is that communiation is key.

Alternatively, adults, especially those who have been in the world for a long time (like the “elderly” involved in this complaint) should know that the world is not perfect, and pretending that it is does not make it so. We cannot address things which we don’t ackowledge. Although, my understanding of this book (which I haven’t read, but now, of course, plan to) is that it is essentially the story of a young gay boy. This induces an entirely different fit of anger for me – that of the bigotry of homophobia – about which I’ve blogged before and will therefore not dwell on it here.

Now, I know there are probably some of you sitting there, reading this tirade on censorship, and thinking, well, what about all you heathens trying to take creationism out of the classroom? Isn’t that censorship, too? Well, fine. I’ll tell you why I think the two scenarios are different. Not that I think I’ll change your mind, but because I may as well preempt the question I know will be coming:

Libraries and bookstores are resources for anyone who wants to use them. Schools, on the other hand, are educational facilities, designed to teach specific curriculum about the real world. Creationism (or ID, if you insist) does not belong where it is currently being taught – in science classrooms – because it is not science. It is an ideology that postulates no testable hypotheses, which are the basis for the scientific method. It belongs in an elective philosophy or Bible class, but it does not belong in the science classroom. And that is what the fight has been from the beginning. Not even to remove it entirely from schools, just from the science curriculum.

This is similar to what we do expect libraries and bookstores to do for us: categorize material by age and topic so that our decisions in choosing material appropriate for us is well-guided, and we find particular books where we expect to find them. Likewise, putting creationism in its appropriate place is not equivalent to censorship.

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.

Them’s fightin’ words, Ray

I’ve been hearing about it for a long time, but only just found the energy to face it yesterday: Ray Comfort’s blog, “Atheist Central.” I’d seen the video with Kirk Cameron about the banana (which I can’t find on YouTube, but there are plenty of videos responding to it; here’s one), and that was enough to deter me. Until now.

So, the first few blog posts are enough to make one’s head explode. Not because it’s such amazing information that makes one completely rethink his or her entire world view, but because it is such willfully ignorant and malicious material, it actually hurts to read it.

Please know, I don’t use “willful” lightly. It takes some work to be willfully ignorant. Some people exist in a state of ignorance purely because they truly don’t know any better. “Willfully ignorant” people are such because they have access to a wealth of information and choose to ignore it. Comfort calls his blog “Atheist Central” because such a large portion of his readers (or his commenters, anyway) are atheists. I can’t speak for everyone, but my guess would be because the skeptical, freethinking community tends to use that as a frequent reminder that there is still much work to be done in combatting bad propagandistic information. Although, I suspect quite a few people really just need the daily laugh, and his idiocy comes in high doses.

So anyhow, I see this section on the right side of his page that is titled, “The Atheist Starter Kit.” I’m sure he’s very proud of himself for having come up with this. He says:

If you are a beginner atheist, there’s a belief system you should embrace and a language you should learn, or you will find yourself in trouble. Here are ten suggestions for the novice:

Okay, so at first, I let it slide, but it turns out I really can’t let it go. I feel I need to respond to this list of ten things, one by one, if for no other reason than to just get it off my chest. As I’ve mentioned, he’s very willfully ignorant, so I have no delusions of convincing him that his little satire is not clever. I doubt I’ll say anything here that hasn’t been said brilliantly by countless other people. But I’m going to say it anway.

So let’s start with this introduction. Atheism is not a “belief system.” There are no governing tenets, and atheists, in general, take great pride in thinking for themselves. The fact is simply that many of them agree because the evidence in matters they consider tends to point in the same direction for everyone. It is not because they’ve got some narrow-minded book or minister telling them what to think and believe.

Alright… let’s get going. His first suggestions:

1. Whenever you are presented with credible evidence for God’s existence, call it a “straw man argument,” or “circular reasoning.” If something is quoted from somewhere, label it “quote mining.”

Okay, well, since you brought it up, let’s talk about these very distinct logical fallacies. It’s important to avoid using them (and others) in debating a position, and it’s important to recognize when your opponent is using them. Many logical fallacies are so prevalent in today’s world that it’s hard to recognize them.

A straw man argument is probably one of the most commonly used on both sides of the religion/science debate. It is essentially a misrepresentation of an opponent’s argument, and it is done in such a way that the argument becomes easy to knock over (as a straw man, get it?). They may be accidental (because of lack of understanding of the opponent’s position), or they may be quite intentional. An extremely common example is:

“Do you really believe we are descended from apes? Then why do apes still exist after they supposedly evolved into a better (fitter) form?” The answer is, no, evolutionists do not believe we descended from apes. Someone who thinks they’ve knocked evolution on its ass with this brilliant reasoning either doesn’t understand the ideas of evolution, or assumes he will win over those people who don’t understand it through sneaky misrepresentation.

Circular reasoning is really pretty self-explanatory. It is an attempt at reason/logic that goes in a circle, and really concludes nothing. My favorite example:

“You don’t believe in God? Well, I know he exists because my bible tells me he does. How do I know I can trust the bible? Because God has told me so.” And now we’re back to the question of the reality of God. Your “evidence” has not answered the original question.

Quote mining is the use of a quote, often taken out of context, and often from a source used by opponents, to discredit or diminish a key element of an argument. Here’s an example, taken from The Living Store’s “The Atheist Test,” which Ray links to on his blog:

Charles Darwin said,

“To suppose that the eye could have been formed by natural selection, seems I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.”

If man cannot begin to make a human eye, how could anyone in his right mind think that eyes formed by mere chance?

Except, what Charles Darwin really said, was this (emphasis is mine):

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certain the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, should not be considered as subversive of the theory. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their sarcode should become aggregated and developed into nerves, endowed with this special sensibility.

(Vox populi, vox dei translates from Latin to mean, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”) Darwin makes the regrettable mistake of introducing his argument for the possibility of the evolution of the eye by presupposing the argument against. This has allowed dissenters easy, surface quote mining.

So Ray, when your opponents respond by calling you out on your logical fallacies, they are actually calling you out on the lack of “credible evidence” you supposedly provide. It is not a tactic geared toward anything except the purpose of asking for a fair and evidence-based debate.

Whew. That one took a while. I hope the next nine aren’t so involved. Moving on:

2. When a Christian says that creation proves that there is a Creator, dismiss such common sense by saying “That’s just the old watchmaker argument.”

What the watchmaker argument states is that if you look at a watch (or in other forms, a building, a car, etc.), you can see the complex workings, and you know that it was designed, or created. Such a thing doesn’t come about because of random chance. Similarly, human beings (and most other life forms) are extremely complex, and must have a designer as well.

That’s all well and good, except no one has proposed any ideas that would suggest how a watch (building, car, etc.) could come to exist in the absence of a designer. In all honesty, no one has needed to, since watchmakers aren’t hiding out in some hole in the sky and creating unexplainable watches from heaven. We can prove that there are watch designers that exist.

Conversely, evolution presents a quite plausible concept of how life came to be so complex without any hand but time’s in the mixture. Evolution, incidentally, is hardly “pure chance.” In the simplest terms, it is the result of mutations that occur over generations. Species who are aided or unhindered by such mutations tend to survive. Species whose mutations present an obstacle to survival typically fail to do so. But I’m not here to argue for evolution. I’m here right now to argue Ray Comfort’s suggestions for novice atheists. So I suppose it’s time to move on.

3. When you hear that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose (the pleasures of Heaven, and the endurance of Hell) by obeying the Gospel, say “That’s just the old ‘Pascal wager.'”

Ray’s dismissal of this argument suggests that he really doesn’t understand Pascal’s wager, which is essentially the idea presented here. Even if God doesn’t exist, shouldn’t you lay the chips on God anyway, since doing so could win you a spot in heaven, and not doing so could see you ending up in Hell?

Great theory, except the God I was taught about growing up was smarter than that. He wanted followers – people who truly believed in their hearts, and lived to serve him. Simply saying you believe in him may have been sufficient to fool your fellow church members, but you’d still be bound for Hell. And there’s the catch: finding a way to truly believe enough to earn admission to heaven is extremely difficult in light of the evidence that convinced a person that there is no god in the first place.

Frankly, it truly surprises me that people who claim to know God so very well actually try to use this argument to convert people. You’d think they’d know better than to bring posers to bow at God’s feet.

Next:

4. You can also deal with the “whoever looks on a woman to lust for her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart,” by saying that there is no evidence that Jesus existed. None.

I’ll be honest. I don’t even know what he’s trying to say here. My best guess is that, since atheists don’t believe in Jesus, we are perfectly willing to let that adultery thing slide right on by. Which goes to the old, “if you don’t believe in god, where do your morals come from?” argument. I’ll respond briefly by referring you research the Ethic of Reciprocity, which is known to Christians as the Golden Rule, but actually shows up in many pre-Christian and pagan religions as well. In short, we don’t perform or overlook grievances to individuals or humanity as a whole because they are grievances we don’t want happening to us. Whether it’s a fear of retaliation or a sense of empathy (or a combination of both), it exists, and we don’t need a god to enforce it. It’s really pretty much a no-brainer.

5. Believe that the Bible is full of mistakes, and actually says things like the world is flat. Do not read it for yourself. That is a big mistake. Instead, read, believe, and imitate Richard Dawkins. Learn and practice the use of big words. “Megalo-maniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” is a good phrase to learn.

Hey, guess what? There are ignorant people everywhere. In this specific case, anyone who has argued that the bible actually says the world is flat. I haven’t read the whole thing, but I’m pretty sure I never saw that verse in any of my Sunday school classes. I have heard people talk about the bible coming from a time when folks believed the world was flat, suggesting that perhaps its science is a bit outdated. That comment I’ll stand behind. Since I can’t trust good old Ray not to twist someone’s words, I just wanted to make that qualification.

So, I’m all for understanding the tenets and texts of an opponent’s arguments. That’s really the best way to avoid slipping into logical fallacies and invalidating your arguments, and potentially, your credibility.

That said, there’s plenty of reason to suggest megalomaniacal (worship-demanding), sadomasochistic (flaying of skin), capriciously malevolent (child-sacrificing) qualities about the god of the bible. Sure, there’s stuff in there about how he’s loving, too, but his mood swings are worse than PMS without chocolate.

Just because religion holds deities and people on certain pedestals, doesn’t mean that atheists do as well. As I stated before, any similarities you find are not because of a demand of any person or text, Dawkins and/or his works included.

Halfway there! I’m starting to feel a little better already! Are you still with me? Take a breather – go get some nachos or something. I’ll still be here when you get back.

6. Say that you were once a genuine Christian, and that you found it to be false. (The cool thing about being an atheist is that you can lie through your teeth, because you believe that are no moral absolutes.) Additionally, if a Christian points out that this is impossible (simply due to the very definition of Christianity as one who knows the Lord), just reply “That’s the ‘no true Scotsman fallacy.'” PLEASE NOTE: It cannot be overly emphasized how learning and using these little phrases can help you feel secure in dismissing common sense.

You’re one to talk about being dismissive, Ray, seriously. I’ve discussed my journey from Christianity to atheism already, elsewhere on this blog. I won’t waste time here trying to convince anyone. But because I decided to stop fighting the cognitive dissonance, all of my years in the church amount to nothing more than a tactic to, what exactly?

The No True Scotsman fallacy is described as:

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the “Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again.” Hamish is shocked and declares that “No Scotsman would do such a thing.” The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, “No true Scotsman would do such a thing.”

In other words, the boundary becomes blurred in order to maintain the Scotsman’s comfortable definition of a Scot. Or in Ray’s case, a Christian is not one who follows or is of Christ (as the name implicitly suggests), but instead one who knows the Lord. One who follows Christ can stop following at any time, an uncomfortable thought for Mr. Comfort. One who “knows the Lord” cannot continue to claim to have known someone/something which they now claim to not exist at all. So Ray sleeps better at night knowing that no true Christian could find the whole thing to be false.
7. Believe that nothing is 100% certain, except the theory of Darwinian evolution. Do not question it. Believe with all of your heart that there is credible scientific evidence for species-to-species transitional forms. When you make any argument, pat yourself on the back by concluding with “Man, are you busted!” That will make you feel good about yourself.
Well, you’ve got one thing right: “Believe that nothing is 100% certain.” Except then you keep writing and blow it all to hell. Atheists don’t accept anything, even evolution, as 100% certain. We have an open mind to the possibility of an answer, completely apart from the one we accept, to peek its head over the horizon and hit us in the face. The difference between skeptics, freethinkers, atheists, etc. and you is that we are excited by the possibility of learning something new and unexpected.
8. Deal with the threat of eternal punishment by saying that you don’t believe in the existence of Hell. Then convince yourself that because you don’t believe in something, it therefore doesn’t exist. Don’t follow that logic onto a railway line and an oncoming train.
Actually, I don’t believe it exists, because there is no evidence that it exists. That is the basis for my world view. I don’t choose a belief, then wish it into or out of existence. It really is that simple.
9. Blame Christianity for the atrocities of the Roman Catholic church–when it tortured Christians through the Spanish Inquisition, imprisoned Galileo for his beliefs, or when it murdered Moslems in the Crusades.
Wait, aren’t Catholics Christians, too? Oh, wait, there’s that No True Scotsman issue again…
Honestly, I don’t think it’s all that productive to argue the death toll for each side, as so many people are wont to do. Things like the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the Holocaust, and Stalin’s version of communism are the result of ignorance, pushes for power and/or fearmongering. Granted, there is some validity to the point of who is driving these factors, but doesn’t religion have enough atrocities to answer for in today’s world without having to argue over the past? People need to be accountable for their own actions today.
10. Finally, keep in fellowship with other like-minded atheists who believe as you believe, and encourage each other in your beliefs. Build up your faith. Never doubt for a moment. Remember, the key to atheism is to be unreasonable. Fall back on that when you feel threatened. Think shallow, and keep telling yourself that you are intelligent. Remember, an atheist is someone who pretends there is no God.
I’m so drained from the preceding nine arguments that it’s difficult to muster the words to express the disgust I feel when reading this statement.
Fellowship: Yes, important to most people. As atheists, it’s not necessarily about being around the same beliefs, but more about being around the same thought process.In a country where we are such a minority, it is helpful to see that I am not the only person who questions what others take for granted.
I shouldn’t be judged for using my brain, and I won’t apologize for it. Yes, I do remind myself often that I am intelligent. I think my inquiry into everything that isn’t supported by evidence is so far beyond shallow that I can’t even comprehend why Ray Comfort chose that particular word, except for its negative connotation in general. It is not unreasonable to demand truth and evidence. It is not unreasonable to decide not be a sheep who says “moo,” just because all the other sheep are doing it.
This set of ten “suggestions” are really just an amalgam of various logical fallacies, and as a whole, are a pretty offensive ad hominem attack. I suppose dismissing the atheist position can help him feel better about the arguments he’s encountered, but it doesn’t make those arguments invalid.
There you have it. Hope the nachos were good. Did you save any for me? I’m spent.

Brainwashing comes home

This weekend, I visited my sister-in-law and her three children. The two oldest kids (13 and 11) were in and out of the room with the adults.

At some point, my 11-year-old niece says, “So who are you voting for?” I should mention here that this family is very conservative Christian, so I was reluctant to respond at all – it as a nice family Saturday, and I didn’t feel like a political argument. But then my other sister-in-law answered that she would be voting for Obama. My niece’s jaw dropped. “But he believes in abortion!” And he wants to take ‘In God We Trust’ off the money!”

So we had a brief discussion about the history of “In God We Trust,” which I had written about before. I was actually able to sit back and watch – the SIL who will be voting for Obama pretty much described what I had written (thanks for listening, A!). The conversation stopped when someone came back from picking up lunch and we moved on to sunnier – and less explosive – topics.

But a couple of house later, my nephew (the 13-year-old) came in and asked the same question. All but one of hte five adults in the room (his mother was the one) indicated Obama. He freaked out, citing almost precisely what his sister had, adding that Obama was a Muslim who wanted to ruin America’s Christianity.

His mother asked him who told him that, and he replied, “Mr. Powers.” She said she didn’t want to talk about politics, and told him not to bring it up again. (She wasn’t in the room when my niece asked the question, or she may have stifled discussion then, too).

So here’s the deal. These kids go to a Christian private school. So naturally there’s already a focus on religion there. But I am appalled that this Mr. Powers is uttering such inflammatory political statements in front of kids who are old enough to begin considering their own opinions and ideas, given a full cache of facts. There’s a reason they’re not old enough to vote, but they’re surely old enough to be taught to think critically, not just to spew out what’s been uttered by trusted adults.

This is disturbing. I love my sister-in-law and her family. They have been very happy since they found this church, but she has also become very conservative and – as demonstrated in the interaction Saturday – stifling. She’s not open-minded, and I’m not interested in starting a family feud. But I am gravely worried about these kids. They are not choosing their beliefs, they are mimicking their mom’s. They are not presented with other potential world views. They are given the information needed to keep them “in the fold.”

They’re not my kids; it’s barely my business. But I feel like this is injurous to their mental growth, and they are both extremely bright, with great potential in this world. I want to help them find a way to use that potential for the greater good, not for pushing an ancient and manipulative agenda.

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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