Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving and the American Atheist

I say American Atheist because, well, it's a bit late for our friends in Canada, who don't have as big an issue with this as I understand. :)

For us down here in the US of A, though, the first of our real family  holidays show up. Yes, we had halloween, but we don't typically have people joining together for halloween dinner or the like - it's more a time to let the kids dress up (or go to a party yourself.) So the first one - Thanksgiving - is on its way.

Thanksgiving is the first one that can be awkward for an atheist. Especially a new one. I don't know about your home or family, but mine had everyone together (or everyone local, depending) and giving thanks meant praying. It's not a religious holiday - though I'm sure some will paint it as one. But it still can lead to this awkward moment where you're asked to give thanks. Or the fact you're an atheist may come up.

If this is when you expect to out yourself... I'd generally suggest another time. It's easier, to me, to approach people one or two at a time when you think they can deal with the news and say "Hey, by the way" than stand up in the middle of everyone and go "Guess what, folks!" You don't want to be that person remembered for "ruining" thanksgiving. (Which some may see it as.)

You might mention it to one or two people at this time, though - that's up to you.

So what if it happens? What if you're all sitting at the table and they look at you and say "Hey, Phil (or Susan or Eddie or Jasmine or whatever your name is,) would you say grace?" Some of us are going to have *that* moment where we ask ourselves just what we do?

You can say no, of course, but that's awkward. You'll be "that guy," again.

Or you can think about it ahead of time, just in case, and when they ask you to give thanks, say sure - and then *give thanks.* This doesn't mean praying! This doesn't mean giving up who you are and what you believe (or acting like you believe in something you don't.) Remember, thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, or even act. Just *give thanks.*

Something like...

"Instead of praying, I'd like everyone to just think about the last year. This day, today, that we're together is called thanksgiving - and we have a lot to be thankful for. That we're here at all to be thanksful, and to spend time with each other. That we have a roof over our heads and heat (or air conditioning, depending on where you are.) That we are fortunate enough to live in a country where we aren't fearful to leave our homes, we're not wracked by civil war or invasion. That we didn't have to go out day in and day out to farm the fields and raise the food we're gathered to eat tonight - someone did, and we should be thanking them, and the people who delivered and thanked it, but that despite recent times we're prosperous enough to be able to go to the store and buy the fruit of their labor...."

And so forth and so on. Just get people to think about what they *are* thankful for. Go with whatever your situation is. There's no need to mention a god at all.

And if you're not the one saying it? Sure, hold hands... they're your family. But keep your eyes open. Look around.

... Then get ready for hannukah or christmas.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Just something that needed to be shared. From Home on the Strange via Facebook.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Sorry to hear that..."

Well, I finally got this reply thrown at me... and pretty much from one of the people I expected it from.

The setup - Facebook, of course. Sending a link to the Senate chaplain's daily berating of congress in the prayer. Now, as an atheist, I don't think this should start with a prayer - but I appreciate and applaud what this guy's doing with the seat he's given. And I say as much, pretty much that way.

The reply I get? Nothing to do with what's shown. Nope. "Sad to hear the atheist part."

*Tactfully,* I just reply, "Should never be sad for that."

What I want to say?

Why would you be sad that I've chosen to live my life no longer enslaved to bronze age mythology and a book run through with hatred, racism, sexism, people being rewarded for lying and deceiving?

Why should anyone be sad I choose to actually DO something whenever I can as opposed to mumbling at the voice in my head when someone needs help?

Why should anyone be sad I give credit to the police, the soldiers, the doctors and other professionals, other PEOPLE, who do something nice instead of giving credit to a nonexistent being? You know, the people who ACTUALLY put the time in to learn their profession?

Why should I be sad I no longer carry Christian guilt for the "sin" of being human? Or the christian "never good enough, only God is" complex?

Should I be sad I have to take responsibility for my own deeds, as opposed to "praying the guilt away" if I do something wrong?

Should I be sad I do believe in the equality of all people, man, woman, regardless of race or sexual orientation?

Hell no. I'm not sad. If anything, I'm sad you've decided to stay chained to that ancient bullshit.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Religion and its effects - Documentary BBC - A History of Syria (2013)

Just watch this. This region is complex, but how often do we hear this same thing - religious hatred fueling conflict.

Why? Because of two different religious leaders hundreds of years ago.
Because of a 700 year old bias against another group that "isn't really Muslem."

... If we get rid of religion, how many conflicts like this can we lower or eliminate completely?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Let them believe.... no.

Why can I not just let the religious believe whatever they want?

It's a fair question, you'd think. And it's usually followed up by "what harm does it do" or "how does it affect you?" Answering the second answers the first.

What harm does it do?
Every Sunday, millions go and listen to one person they've given authority give their opinions based on a non-scientific, disproven book (or, rather, their interpretation of it.) These opinions then circulate out into the rest of society and affect the way we treat each other, the way we run our schools and country, the way we view the rest of the world. And every sunday they go back to be *re*indoctrinated. Bronze age myths that no longer jibe with how we know the world works are taught to children before they reach school age.

(Not to mention the economic impact of all that money *not* going to take care of food, bills, etc. 10%? Wouldn't you call that a bit of a drain on the economy, both nationally and personally?)

There's a specific directive in our bill of rights that prohibits government endorsement of any religion. That, unfortunately, is being worked around by many groups - to the detriment of equality and education. Religion makes a society *less* just. Religion forces an "us vs them" mentality on its adherents.

How so?

Personally, many Christians will demonize an Atheist. Literally, ignoring (as typical) the inherent contradiction in the statement, they'll call an atheist a satan worshipper. They'll do their best to portray their holy book, and only it, as the source for morality (a sure sign that they haven't actually read the thing,) and imply - or state outright - that if you don't agree with it, you're probably out stealing, raping people, feel free to murder and the like. And instead of actually teaching the difference, religious leaders perpetuate it. Some don't know any better. Some do.

In society? Recently we've had a lot of debates over same-sex marriage. There's no logical reason to deny it - it would make all couples of consenting adults equal, despite a genetic difference. All the arguments against it come down to "God says." Quite honestly, "God" says to murder homosexuals - which is done in some religious countries officially, and here, well, at least we label it a hate crime. Mixed-race marriage, slavery and other bias also tends to have a religious component when laws that restrict general freedom (forbidding mixed race marriage, propagating slavery) are passed.

And let's not get into the religious smokescreens in the classroom. They don't like evolution, despite the fact that it's been tested and proven repeatedly, so they try to get creationism forced in, even relabelled as "intelligent design," yelling "Teach the debate." There is no debate. Yet this wastes classroom time and forces incorrect information on students, hampering their intellectual growth in favor of a fact-free, religious viewpoint.

Imagine if this were done with astronomy. Teach what stars are, the distances involved, how they actually work - then "teach the debate" that they can fall to earth, or that they are *beings* that can come to earth and fight alongside people in battles. (Yes, those are in the bible.) Would you want that?

Religion is NOT a benefit to society, and putting mind-space aside to believe these fairy tales, to vote and support politicians who base their decisions on these fairy tales and affect local, state and national laws, hurts *everyone.*

That is why I can't just "let you believe what you want."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Why a "christian" conscience?

I hadnt' realized it had been a month since updating this. My apologies.

Still, I came across this video - with an australian politician explaining how, as a christian, he can support gay marriage.

Frankly, I love his response. The pastor that asked him the question seemed wholly unready for his reply. And he makes many good points, such as that he can change because society changes - or, as he puts it another way, if they should get everything from the bible, slavery is a "natural condition" and the Confederacy should have been supported in the US Civil War.

I can't help but applaud that man.

However, one thing bugs me. He keeps talking about how he supports it with his "christian conscience." Now, I understand it being a sort of.. socially acceptable way of speaking, it's a nation with a christian majority among the religious and so forth.

But what he's saying goes against Christianity and the bible as he himself points out.

Why can he not just say "in good conscience" or "in good, moral conscience?" Or just say "It doesn't make sense?" Why should Christianity be brought in and given credit for something it's flat out against?

Admittedly, and rhetorically, it does avoid the "Christian vs Non-Christian" argument that could be brought up, as he's saying he approached it from his Christian perspective, or as a Christian. But it's not a Christian point of view in the least, strictly speaking.

How long before we can just say it's the correct, moral thing to do without having to refer to religion - especially with the assumption that religion is actually the "good" side of the argument?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

It's not black and white.

I've bounced this post around a bit. Abortion has been on my mind, not because I know of anyone thinking of one, but because of the silly laws being put in place in the name (publicly or not) of religion.

See, religion WANTS you to see things in black and white. Us vs Them. It makes for a much simpler narrative (if you don't scratch beneath the surface at all.) Good vs Evil. It's a simple to grasp duality. This is right, that's wrong.

Except, of course, that that's not the case. There are infinite shades of grey, nuances to consider in order to make a thoughtful decision. That, however, is not what religion is after. Religion is there to calcify your mind. And divisiveness only helps it fortify itself.

But let's get back to abortion.

The Religious Right has what seems like a simple to understand view. I'm not going to call it "pro-life," because in reality it isn't. The view is this. Abortion is murder. Some will (here come the greys!) put in exceptions for rape and incest. Some of the hardcore will not. And some (most) will give the "Life begins at conception" view. With that, they want to make abortion illegal, or at best (for everyone else) hard to get.

In a soundbite world, this sounds good, I suppose. No murdering babies! But you also need to look at the other positions that often go along with this.

First, they also don't tend to want sex education in school. (It's immoral!) Either leave it in the hands of the parents, or teach abstinence only with abstinence pledges.

Second, they're against birth control in many instances. Including family planning. They often hate clinics like Planned Parenthood, putting up their own versions that are little more than guilt-shops. They certainly don't want birth control - condoms, the pill, anything - easily handed out.

Now, I say all this in context of "the religious right." And I mean this as the fundamentalist block. Religious *people* are going to have stances all over the map on this. I just want to make it clear that, yes, I understand this.

Because I condemn the view, held in the name of "morality," as decidedly immoral. There are recent cases of women *losing their lives* over being denied an abortion - even of a non-viable fetus, even of a DEAD fetus going septic - in the past few years. And abstinance-only education has proven itself to be the worst thing you can do - Texas, for instance, one of the bastions of this sort of thinking, has the highest *repeat* teen pregnancy rate in the country. Guess what sort of stuff they've been pushing.

Some absolutely insane individuals - and yes, I can't help but question their sanity - would even hold a woman responsible, essentially for murder, for a *natural,* as in spontaneous, abortion. This would put every woman who's ever been pregnant in jail. Spontaneous abortions happen all the time. Sometimes the woman isn't even aware - she might be a little late, but picks up not long after.

Over on Yahoo Answers, a question about atheists and abortion came up, and I'm going to be repeating much of my answer, just to show how grey things can be, and how a personal view can still be held even though it may, on its face, seem to contradict a legal want.

*Personally,* if someone I knew were considering an abortion, my first question would be "why." I would, unless they had very good reason, try to talk them out of it (ignoring rape, non viable fetus, etc.) As an atheist, I believe this life is the ONLY life we have. We have to make the best of it, make the world as good as we can for everyone, help each other out and be good caretakers of the only world we have - and the only world we're 100% sure harbors complex life in the universe. (Yes, mathematically, it's very likely others do. But Earth is the only one we can point at, because we're here.)  Life is precious.

However, on the question of its legality? I believe abortion should be a private decision, between a woman and her doctor. One with sound medical council. If she wants to bring her family or clergy into it, it should be her choice. There should be no government-mandated, medically unneeded procedures (like the invasive ultrasounds.) There should be no punishments, such as forbidding emergency care at a normal hospital if something goes wrong, or insurance shenanigans. It should simply be freely, legally available.

Some would have you believe women would just go in and use it as quick after-the-fact birth control - where, in reality, it's a heart-wrenching, hardly EASY decision. (Many of these people seem hostile toward women in the first place - after all, women brought sin into the world thanks to Eve, right? Just read the bible's attitude toward women and their attitudes become very easy to understand.)

But along with its availability come other steps.

Sex education MUST be taught. You cannot rely on parents to teach it! I'm sure some would, and do a wonderful job of presenting actual facts. Others won't - I'm sorry, but not all parents are good parents. And not all good parents are good at everything, and can pass on false information. (Such as some of the same things you'll hear in school by kids if you asked what they thought or heard - you can't get/get a girl pregnant your first time, pulling out works fine, etc.) Nor does it cover everything (while vaginal sex might be decreased, they'll try oral or anal... with no idea about safety.) And some parents - such as mine, who I love dearly, and who did a pretty good job with me - won't ever broach the subject for whatever reason. I don't know if they had "the talk" with my brothers or sister, but they never did with me. Possibly because I *did* have sex ed classes in school. I don't know.

But mandated classes can be reviewed and held responsible for what's taught. Kids will get the proper information to know how to protect themselves, what CAN happen and the like. Yes, abstinence is still 100% for not getting (or getting someone) pregnant or (at a higher rate) for getting various diseases, but if that doesn't happen - they need to be informed.

And condoms, the pill and the like need to be made available, discretely and without shame or judgement. How anyone who claims to be "pro life" can be against this - measures to prevent pregnancies in the first place, or to put it more simply, no pregnancy = no abortion - I don't understand, yet so often they *are.* Not to mention condoms can prevent (or, yes, they can fail, so severely reduce) STDs. This is protecting children! (And the poor, who, being human, will have sex - but may not have room in the budget for the pill or condoms or other birth control. And will thus add more mouths to feed, increasing the food stamp rolls, and so forth and so on. Unfortunately, many of these "moral" people have no problem demonizing the poor.)

So, my view is this:
- Personally, I would want to talk someone out of an abortion.
- But, it has to be kept legal, and discrete, for the safety of the woman involved. Other than licensing to make sure the doctor is qualified, there should be no legal or government interference or mandates of testing and the like that are medically unnecessary.
- Sex education must be taught for the health of our youth and population in general, and for knowledge that will reduce pregnancies and disease in the first place.
- Condoms, the pill, and other birth control measures (and clinics) must be discretely available, again for the safety of the population and because, quite frankly, they're cheaper in the long run than the pregnancies they would have prevented.

Isn't that far more comprehensive than just "Abortion is wrong?"

Which set would you actually call thoughtful or moral? Which *actually* addresses the problems?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Questions of origins - religion vs science

Ahh, I've been slacking off on writing. Well, less slacking than wanting to find good topics and not doing so on time. Still, one came up (and another, and a third which may or may not see the light of day.)

I was watching an interview with Richard Dawkins on Al-jazeera (on Youtube) - I do recommend looking it up, it's quite interesting. Prof. Dawkins expressed incredulity when the interviewer assured him that yes, he did believe Mohammed flew up to heaven on a winged horse, and didn't quite understand why he felt that was so hard to believe.

Later in the interview, near the end, things like the big bang and multiverse theory were brought up - also as "things you can't prove to me." A very common tactic was used - to try to portray the two as equivalent.

This, of course, is a false equivalency, often tied to saying atheism is a religion as well. But, of course, there are problems with this.

In various holy books, extraordinary claims are made. There is no evidence outside said holy writing for these tales - So and so split the moon, walked on water, turned water into wine, parted the red sea, went to heaven on a staircase or on a winged horse. When asked for proof, two responses are typically given - "I don't need it, I have faith" and "Why don't you disprove it?"

These, of course, are nonanswers. "I have faith" has no bearing on reality - I can have faith that if I spin really fast, I can take off like a helicopter, but it doesn't bear fruit. (And, of course, the rejoinder there is "If it didn't work, your faith must not have been strong enough!" An unmeetable burden.) And of course, you cannot disprove things like those 100%, just provide a great enough degree of uncertainty to make it not rational to believe in. I cannot, for instance, disprove a T. Rex didn't walk past my apartment complex five minutes ago. I can point out the lack of any signs (footprints, witnesses, video footage, droppings, noise,) and that T. Rex has been extinct for millions of years... enough to give 99.99999% certainty that one did not. But, sure, I'll grant there's always that very miniscule chance that one did and happened not to leave any signs.

With the winged horse (taken from the interview,) no, we can't prove Mohammed didn't fly to heaven on it. But we can ask questions. Where are these winged horses? Why have there been no other incidents of winged horses? Where are their remains? How big were the wings? How was their biology arranged to allow it to be a four-footed herd animal with the strength to lift both itself and a rider - horses are certainly not *light* creatures. Where is "heaven," and how did the horse reach it? Would the trip be survivable? The more you ask, the more uncertainty has to come in for this claim (or just "taking it on faith," which, again, is no answer.)

Religion starts with an "answer." It provides further "answers" that don't need to be consistent or coherent - just taken on faith.

Science, by comparison, goes by evidence. Someone may come up with a hypothesis. That is then tested and proven or disproven. Those results are then tested by others and verified. These tests, combined with observations and fact, are brought together as laws and theories. Science actively works to disprove things. Things that prove hard to disprove (heh) or have certain conditions (Humans can breathe normally while on land on Earth, but not underwater without assistance) are used to build further hypotheses and ask other questions.

So when science says the universe came from "nothing" (and there's actually varying definitions of that, much like "theory") it does so after observing how the universe is NOW, testing how things are NOW, and working backwards, testing and proving or disproving observations and hypotheses. It can prove and demonstrate each step back to show why it came to this conclusion.

In other words, if we compare the two and question, we'd get these sorts of results:
Religion - "God spoke, and the world came into being."
Skeptic - "How do you know this?"
Religion - "My book and my faith tell me."
Skeptic - "Where is your proof?"
Religion - "My book and my faith..." (ad infinitum.)
Skeptic - "Could you be wrong?"
Religion - "No!" 

There is no proof, it just sort of "poofed."

Science: "The world coalesced from a cloud of gas and dust as the sun was forming."
Skeptic: "How do you know this?"
Science: (provides chemical models, scientific models, observational evidence.)
Skeptic: "Where did that come from?"
Science: (provides evidence, math, etc. rewinding the universe, showing proof for conditions met.)
Skeptic: "OK, but you dont' have an answer for this point...."
Science: "We have theories we're currently testing. These theories were disproven, here's why. These still seem to explain things well, and are still being tested."
Skeptic: "Could you be wrong?"
Science: "Sure. In which case we'll take the results of testing and build theories from those, and test it some more."

Result: "It may have 'poofed' from our point of view, but these are strong candidates with the evidence you yourself can verify and test as to how and why."

The two are just not equivalent - but it won't prevent the theist from trying to make them look the same.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What does religion hurt? - Christian guilt

I know I skipped last Thursday. I had something I was writing up, but it just wasn't jelling the way I wanted to, and I didn't manage to get something else up in time. Mea culpa.

But the apology does lead into another subject, part of a series of things I was thinking of looking at. Namely, "What does religion hurt?"

Now, I don't mean wars and the like - though it needs to be held accountable for that, and it's very much a problem when people kill each other over ancient stories. I mean everyday life. What does it hurt?

One thing that's a staple of Christianity is guilt. One of the foundations of Christian belief is that you're born a sinner, thanks to Adam and Eve. You deserve punishment. You deserve the bad that comes your way. And you're not good enough, no matter what you do, to deserve heaven. (Whether heaven's an actual reward is another subject all together.)

This message is reinforced every sunday. Christ died for YOUR sins. YOU deserve to go to hell. YOU are unworthy. YOU are born a sinner. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me."

Watch TV, watch a football game, and what happens? The winners - or even after a good play - point up at the sky, saying "I have no ability to do this on my own, it's God!" (Which, really... how does one not feel worthy of taking credit for their abilities, yet have such an ego that the supposed creator of the universe is that invested in your touchdown?)

This, too, is one of the hardest thing for one of the deconverted to shed, as well. At least, in my experience it is. From childhood, your self worth is beaten down and stripped away - because you, of course, are *unworthy!* And someone gave up their life for you! (Never mind that they're immortal... kind of. Or at least came back from the dead, which kind of cheapens it.... or that they didn't have to in the first place.)

How does this affect your worldview? When you're told, over and over again, that you're not good enough, that you have to carry your guilt over everything - including *perfectly natural, human reactions,* as the Bible does basically legislate thought crime! - until you fall to your knees (or see a priest) and confess it all?

It's like a drug dealer's dream. You get the little high of being "clean" again... but, being human, within the day you've fucked it up. You wanted something that wasn't yours. You had an "impure thought." And so it builds up until you have to go get your confession fix again.

We have whole nations, generations upon generations of people, with this drilled into them. Take only the blame, assign credit and praise to God. How utterly sick is this?

And that's without people taking it to extremes. Fasting to "cleanse" themselves. Or the flagellants of the middle ages. Have you not heard of these people? They went from town to town *whipping themselves.* I've seen images of this from some Islamic countries today, as well (I don't recall what the event was.)

When you're raised on self-loathing and guilt... it's also very easy to turn it outside. Is it any real wonder that so much racial, religious and other hatred (and need for control) is from the religious? That they can't see the worth of each human being (other than someone to be converted or condemned) for what they are, but that all are unworthy?

And, of course, that can feed on itself very nicely, too. "I'm unworthy. They're sinners and unworthy, they don't deserve the good. They deserve that tornado! Oh, I feel guilty for saying that, I'm unworthy..." And on and on the cycle goes, and is passed on from generation to generation.

What does Religion hurt? This kind of guilt is perennial psychological - and, at times, physical - abuse. It's far from healthy to be told you're guilty and unworthy over and over, to be told not to take credit for your accomplishments (pride goeth before a fall!) but assign it to god because you couldn't do it on your own....

It's just sick.

Of course, this also helps keep religion in such strong positions in our society. And discourages people from doing what they need to do, what they should do in every aspect of their life - their finances, government policy, everywhere. Namely, question. I compared it to a drug dealer before. But unlike a drug dealer, what higher power is going to come and arrest it?

Well, that higher power is reason. And reason is discouraged - after all, you need to just "take it on faith!" when it comes to religion. What a racket.

You're not good enough. You're guilty. So you need god. You need to confess, and talk to the priest. While you're there, give money. Since you're not good enough, you obviously can't understand this god's plan for you or anyone else, no matter how good you are, how much you pray or give, something shitty is still going to happen to you. Of course, if it's good - thank god and give some more! But since you can't understand the mind of God (the religious would say because it's vast and unknowable, the skeptic because it's contradictory, insane, schizophrenic thanks to all the authors,) you shouldn't question and should feel guilty if you do... which loops right back to the beginning.

It's a sick, sick racket. And when people do it to other people outside of religion, we call it dysfunctional. Even criminal.

Add a church, and it's religion, and untouchable.

What does religion hurt? Self esteem. Reason. Self worth, and the ability to see the worth in others as fellow human beings.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Religion and bias

So, for those of you in the US - how was your july fourth? Good?

I saw the parade in my hometown, something I haven't seen in decades. I came away with several things. First, a sunburn - I realized I forgot my hat a few minutes into my walk to the parade route. Oops.. Second, jealousy of the marching band. They got to wear shorts - back when I was in high school, we had these hideous (and hot!) uniforms. But as far as jealousy goes... I'm glad someone had sense enough to change those!

Third was a moment of... I don't know if I should call it sadness or disappointment. A moment that caused thought, definitely. Early in the parade was a small group - Muslems for Loyalty.

Yeah, you read that right.

I did have mixed feelings. On the one hand, last time I went (again, decades...) there was nothing even mentioning anyone non-white, non-Christian there, so it's good they're being visible. And they were cheered heratily, which was also great.

On the other hand, they shouldn't have to call themselves "for loyalty" any more than the catholic, baptist, or lutheran churches that followed a way back should. And it makes me rather depressed they feel they DO have to.

Why do they have to?

Religion. And religious bias.

Really... religion doesn't hurt anything?


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy July Fourth!

Yeah, nothing much going on here. Just one 'merkin going out to watch a parade, eat some burgers, and hang out with the family.

Enjoy the day, those of you in the US.

And those of you who aren't, enjoy the day anyway. Even if you don't get a parade. :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Conversation - no, not the one declaring atheism.

So, this has been popping up on my facebook feed recently.

Me: God, can I ask You a question?
God: Sure

Me: Promise You won't get mad

God: I promise

Me: Why did You let so much stuff happen to me today?

God: What do u mean?

Me: Well, I woke up late

God: Yes

Me: My car took forever to start

God: Okay

Me: at lunch they made my sandwich wrong & I had to wait

God: Huummm

Me: On the way home, my phone went DEAD, just as I picked up a call

God: All right

Me: And on top of it all off, when I got home ~I just want to soak my feet in my new foot massager & relax. BUT it wouldn't work!!! Nothing went right today! Why did You do that?

God: Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning & I had to send one of My Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that

Me (humbled): OH

GOD: I didn't let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.

Me: (ashamed)

God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick & I didn't want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn't afford to miss work.

Me (embarrassed):Okay

God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling was going to give false witness about what you said on that call, I didn't even let you talk to them so you would be covered.

Me (softly): I see God

God: Oh and that foot massager, it had a shortage that was going to throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn't think you wanted to be in the dark.

Me: I'm Sorry God

God: Don't be sorry, just learn to Trust Me.... in All things , the Good & the bad.

Me: I will trust You.

God: And don't doubt that My plan for your day is Always Better than your plan.

Me: I won't God. And let me just tell you God, Thank You for Everything today.

God: You're welcome child. It was just another day being your God and I Love looking after My Children...

 Awww. Sooo cute, just trust god! 

Well, wait. We have a few problems here.  Let's edit this with what my actual responses would be:

God: Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning & I had to send one of My Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that. 

Me:  Your invisible buddy's invisible buddies held off an invisible bad guy? An anthrpomorphicizing of a physical process? And death isn't evil in the first place. Why did they have to fight "him?" If it weren't for dying, there'd be no end to suffering, and we'd be hideously overpopulated with no end in sight... and buried under insects, animals, etc. that also didn't die.

Plus, God, you supposedly control the angel of death. I mean, you told him to not kill the Jews that had lamb's blood on their doors - or was he just allergic? - in Egypt, when you went to take out Pharoh's kid - and everyone else's - because he didn't agree with you. (By the way, that's very mob-boss like of you.) And he didn't agree because YOU "hardened his heart," and I don't think in context that means you upped his cholesterol levels. So if he was there to kill ME, it's because YOU wanted him to. But you had to send angels to fight him and make him not to? What's the deal with that? Is he taking your orders, or did you give him free will - which can only lead to you not actually having the power to enforce your plan, but we've been over that before. All this, of course, assumes death is a person - a very busy one. 

So, yeah. I just can't buy that one. Still, there were some other things. What was next?

 GOD: I didn't let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.

 Me: Gee. Thanks. What about the hundreds of other people on the road? Do they not deserve the same consideration? Why didn't you stop the *drunk driver's* car? Wouldn't that make more sense? And if he's supposed to kill someone, why not have your angels haul Mr. Death there over to whoever this OTHER person is and have them pass peacefully instead of terrified and possibly in lingering pain from a wreck? What could they possibly have done to deserve it?

While we're at it, how about a little trust in the senses you supposedly gave me - that I'd be able to stop. Or press the gas pedal. How about trust in your other people who designed and built the car, the seat belts, the air bags - are they all utterly incompetent?

Sorry, G, you're not really convincing me here. Still, more happened. There's that sandwich, after all.

 God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick & I didn't want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn't afford to miss work.

Me: OK. You stopped me from possibly getting a cold. Thanks for helping me avoid some minor discomfort, I guess. I'll keep the Nyquil for later. But wouldn't that have helped my immune system the next time I faced that? And what about the millions of others who are dying of starvation right this moment, dying of sickness, of parasites, in pain? Not to mention those stuck in the middle of wars - Syria comes to mind right now - or falsely imprisoned, tortured, raped and the like? Why is my losing a day of work - for which I have sick time, by the way - more important? Isn't that fairly piddly compared to all the other stuff?

 Let me guess, you busted my phone, too.

God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling was going to give false witness about what you said on that call, I didn't even let you talk to them so you would be covered.

Me: And what if the person they'd lie to wouldn't believe them? Or would pick their story apart? Or, I don't know, ask ME about what they were told? Even if it impacted me, why not go after the NSA and not let them tap into EVERYONE's phone? Or better yet, those nations with regimes who spy on them and haul people off to prison - or just make them "disappear" - for saying the wrong thing? Isn't that more important than someone lying about me?

God: Oh and that foot massager, it had a shortage that was going to throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn't think you wanted to be in the dark.

Me: God, we have these things called circuit breakers. Sure, it might trip the circuit. I have a flashlight, and it's not that hard to find, look to see which is tripped, and reset it. I could then go to the store and buy a new one, if I had to. What about the people with no power at all, who can't refrigerate food and keep it unspoiled for longer? Or the people with no safe drinking water? Wouldn't that be a bigger issue than me being without electronic luxuries for a little while?

Now, I'm fairly sure he'd be pissed at me and not doing the "oh, just trust me" crap. But let's look at the last line:

God: You're welcome child. It was just another day being your God and I Love looking after My Children.

Me: Except, God, you're not. Look at all the examples I've given in this conversation. All the needless suffering, the poor decisions. You stopped the wrong car. Maybe you let someone who would have died die painfully instead of peacefully. You've contradicted yourself. You've let my luxury overrule the survival of millions. This sort of "looking after," dude, is why I think, if you exist, you're incompetent and/or sadistic. Of course, I don't believe you exist, either, as everything that happens - what you take credit for and what you ignore - make no sense with a 'loving' god, but perfect sense if there is no god. 

At which point, the guy comes into the room with the walkie-talkie, takes the other one from behind the pillow, and tells me I'm no fun.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nothing to prove

On another forum (Thethinkingatheist podcast/website's forum,) we had a(nother) "drive by theisting." Pretty much just arguing "You have no argument!"

There for debate? No. But they started off with this line:
"Why is it that atheists always say that they do not have to prove anything?"

As an atheist, you'll hear this a fair bit. The answer is fairly simple, but seems hard for some people to understand. The short form of this is that the atheist does not start from a position that makes an assertion.

"But wait," the religious person says, "you say there's no god!"

That's... kind of a short-form answer. The atheist position is that of the skeptic. The atheist is saying that the universe as is runs as it has without the apparent need for a deity. That testing reality gives us a high confidence that there's no deity involved - and when we get to individual "gods," we tend to get an even higher confidence in that result, since their properties can be disproved.

Basically, we have nothing TO prove. The atheist starts from the point where they have to be convinced. The theist, on the other hand, has a LOT to prove:
- The need for a diety.
- The interest of that deity in humanity.
- That deity's requirement for worship.
- Humanity's need to worship that deity (with appropriate rewards/punishments.)
- The specific properties of that deity (interest in humanity, or a specific group, or 'they cause storms' or the like.)

Just for a few examples. All of these are assertions. And just saying "I say so" doesn't make them correct - which tends to be why we're told they need to be taken "on faith."

"Take it on faith" means exactly what it sounds like - don't ask for evidence, even if it contradicts evidence, just believe me that it's true. That, to me, doesn't sound like something to put much trust in.

Why do atheists say they have nothing to prove? Because we're not the ones trying to make a case for something's existence.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Of Nazareth" - er, no. Interesting reading.

Not a full on blog post. I just wanted to pass along this bit of interesting reading (with links.)

"Of Nazareth or The Nazarine?"

I find it interesting, at least, and hope you do too.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Religious tension

No deep thoughts today (are there ever really any?) Just some recent experience.

Over on Facebook, of course, I get all sorts of things passed along - you know how it goes. Pictures, amusing stuff, political stuff. For me, science stuff, humanist stuff, equal rights sorts of things...

But those - despite how nicely argumentative things like pro-choice, humanist and pro-same sex marriage (in reality, pro-equality-of-marriage-for-everyone) can be, the one that I was surprised at was... fairly simple.

All it is is a fairly nifty way to cut a bottle and use it as a planter. (Soak yarn in nail polish remover. Tie around bottle. Light, let burn all around for 10-15 seconds. Dunk in cold water - it should split... ideally safely. Invert the piece with the neck in the other, fill with soil, let oil lantern hang down into other half of the bottle through the soil and into water in the bottom of the bottle... mini planter.)

I get a reply from my sister in law. Does it say it's a neat idea, or that it doesn't work? No. The only thing she focuses on... the web site it came from ("Wiccan by nature.")


Now, I don't care. I have friends out west who are wiccan. I stuck my toes in it for a bit on my journey that led me from christianity to atheism. It's a fairly nice, mellow religion, heavy on respect (versus "Obey me or burn for eternity.")

My reply - "It just looked neat. All that matters."

"The website it came from looked weird. That matters."

Right. It's not Pray-zing Jeebus. It's a scary witch website! Oooh!

Now, this is pissing me off for two reasons. One, it's basically insulting my friends - who, I have to say, tend to behave in ways closer to the christian ideal than most christians. And second, it's more religious blinder BS. So...

"Weird how?"

No reply. Maybe she figured out she didn't want to go there with me. I don't think she realizes I'm atheist. Or maybe she went off complaining to my brother about it. I don't know. Maybe I'll hear about it still... after all, I don't go to church, and here I am sliding down the path to sin and demonic orgies or something. (Which apparently I missed the entire time I was involved. Darn.)

Yeah. I was getting primed, anyway, just waiting for the next reply for the next day or so...

But hey, Christianity is all love and acceptance (and telling people they'll burn for eternity.) Right?

Can we please get people away from this BS a little faster?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Changing perspective

There are times when religion makes sense.

I don't mean "comfort when mourning" or the like. I mean there are times in our development that religion makes sense. When we've grown past the point of just subsistence living and have the time to wonder where we are, what we're doing, but haven't started gathering knowledge about the world - or a way to vet that knowledge. It gives us answers when we want them.

When your knowledge of the world - and the universe - is small, it's easy to imagine god or gods as they're described. The Greek gods lived on Mount Olympus. They were kings and queens, with humanity down below able to be watched.

The Hebrew gods - later god? Well, the Earth was flat, supported on pillars. Egypt was somewhere south, Babylon and Assyria East-ish,  Greece and Rome northward. The firmament was a dome (with windows that could be opened for the flood,) stars were little lights... or angels, or beings (which can come down to Earth and fight.) The sun and moon were fixed there... and it gave a platform for god to watch and pick one small group of people of all the little groups of people.

It actually makes cosmological sense in this regard for some being to like one group over another, and for humanity to be a special creation.

Of course, these people knew nothing of native Americans. Of Indonesians. Of Australia existing. Of the very existence of half the world. They had a small world, and it was simple to imagine being watched, of God being "close by."

Now take the world we know - in fact, take the universe we know. Just consider what we describe as the universe itself, large beyond easy human comprehension. It's hard for people to grasp distances within the solar system - with the distance (max) to pluto over fourty nine and a half *billion* miles.  Even if you considered the solar system "the universe," Earth and all its divisions disappear before you get to the edge of it. But mankind is still potentially special, there.

But as  you expand to look at the galaxy... then the local group... and all the planets that can be extrapolated just from the few (hundred) we've found, it gets harder and harder to hold that kind of view.

I mean, when we look at an area of sky this big - and I do mean the patch labelled "XDF" for Hubble's eXtreme Deep Field:

And we see this:

... with over five *thousand* galaxies in just that little patch...

It's hard to think of the creator of "the universe," when you get a feeling of just how big "the universe" really is with just that picture, having any real interest in who members of one species on one planet on one star in one galaxy sleep with, or deciding one subgroup of that species are better than the others (whether we're talking gender, race or nationality - or religion.)

Seeing things like this, it's easy to understand the hostility of religion to science - and yes, it does tend to be hostile. More people understanding things like this make it much, much harder to believe, if you think logically or critically, of the things *in* religion.

I do believe religion will evolve, once a critical mass of people get there. And will do it again when (not if) we discover extraterrestrial life - and then intelligent life. Assuming we don't kill ourselves off first. And that "god" will evolve, as well, into a more nebulous "feeling of something there," for those that still choose to believe - just because the universe in all its size, glory, and danger, is awesome to comprehend, and some people will want to assign "something" to it - in some ways as a buffer for the absolute, mind-blowing grandeur of it all.

But when they get there, a few hundred years perhaps from now, they'll look back at the beliefs so many held now and realize just how tight to the cradle those beliefs tried to hold us.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Come out or stay in?

In a perfect would, people wouldn't have to hide what they are. Thoughts and ideas would be freely shared, discussed, criticism and skepticism taken honestly and gratefully and debate engaged in joyously.

"I believe the moon is made of dust bunnies!"
"It can't be. We've sent people there, they brought rocks back. We can examine those."
"Maybe those are the meteors that have hit since and it's farther in."
"Well, here's more evidence against."
"Oh, that certainly hurts my evidence for. I'll think about it."
"Great. Want to go to lunch?"

"Hey, I'm gay."
"Really? Oh, I know a guy you'll want to meet, he just moved into the area last month."

Sadly, that's not the world we live in. People hold on to ideas regardless of the evidence. Scientists (not science, mind you, science tends to be patient and grind this sort of thing down when it impedes progress) can be guilty of this - for instance, Thompson's reputation and stubbornness held back (as I recall) decoding Mayan inscriptions for years. Once he died, other voices could be heard that brought much more understanding. Other people do so for money (especially politicians and businesses - look at the so-called "debate" over man-made global warming. Note there is not a debate in the scientific community.) Or, of interest to - and sometimes as a threat to - atheists, for religious purposes.

Atheists share a few things with the LGBT community. We're not, in many areas, socially accepted. We're demonized by people who don't, and in many cases don't want to, understand us - and those people are in the majority in this country. We're the target of attacks - and when we try to speak up for our rights, we're attacked for that as well. So it's only logical that we've also adopted the idea of "coming out of the closet."

The phrase seems to be a mix of two meanings - an old tradition of a "coming out" party, where a young (rich) woman was presented to the community, and "the closet" - specifically the one you kept things hidden. I'm sure we're generally familiar with the phrase "skeletons in the closet." (As a side note, wouldn't it be awesome for Atheists to be celebrated with a 'coming out' party? For that matter, wouldn't it be great if the LGBT and atheist communities could guarantee it would be that joyous for everyone?)

And the other thing we share is that we really have to think about not just when, but if we come out, and to who.

I think in some ways it's easier for an Atheist to remain hidden - depending, of course, on family and community. (For instance, on TheThinkingAtheist's podcast, he'd had a letter from a young man who, while atheist, was going on a two year Mormon mission because of his family. I can't imagine how difficult that is.) Most of what we do fits in just fine with society as a whole. It's a little harder to be accidentally outed. But we do have to be careful with some people and what we say or do.

For instance, I became an atheist - or, was, and admitted it to myself finally - while taking care of my mom. I've mentioned this before. It wasn't the process of taking care of her that did it. I just finally basically realized it myself. But other than not going to church, and disagreeing with her over things like gay marriage (I do have to note, by the way, that despite all the references I *am* straight - I do, however, have LGBT friends) and even just not being bothered by them - which did lead to her asking "Why have you turned your back on God?" (oh, how close to the truth she was...) she never knew. Had I told her...

Well, all I had in mind was her reaction to my ex. See, when we'd decided to get married, I was still living in FL. She was in Oregon. Months prior, I'd happened to mention (I don't recall what the situation was, probably debunking something) to my cousin that this girl was a witch. Well, there we were, months later, she and her mom were on the way cross country and my cousin mentions it to my aunt, who overreacts of course, and tells my mom, who tells my dad... and they immediately insist she can't stay at either their house or my aunt's.

Why? Not wanting to know anything about it. And of course poisoning by our own preacher back in WI and his anti-halloween, "witches sacrifice babies and poison kids" BS, for instance. She believed differently. They went from "We can't wait to meet her" to a "Get the kindling out," severe hatred.

So I lied for her. I immediately started building new walls for her closet - and she knew she'd have to be careful, but I still warned her when we talked that night. I told her my cousin had misunderstood when I'd told her she'd "studied" it, that she'd done so in school for a project, not that she did so to become a wiccan, that would be silly.

That immediately calmed them down. They knew I looked into things and obviously hadn't become a baby-eating, fire breathing, satan worshiping demon, so obviously I'd look for someone like that too. Besides, I went to church (I considered myself a somewhat lapsed christian at the time, a touch more welcoming but Jesus was still lord, etc, etc. ) And they went back to being welcoming, but a touch wary.

Needless to say, that was very heavily on my mind. And so all the time she was alive, I never told her "I'm an atheist." Not only would I have been immediately looking for someplace new to live, but more importantly, it would have hurt her very badly. I knew that. And I'm not sure, for more practical reasons (and of the same order as looking for somewhere new to live,) she would have wanted me around TO help her out. I couldn't live with not helping when she needed it. And certainly didn't want to hurt her. So, while she lived, I added a pillow and nice reading lamp to my "closet" because I knew I'd be staying there.

Once she passed, I was... generally "out." Though I waited 'til I was out of FL to really start saying so. And it's still not something I'd say to my oldest, heavily christian, brother - again, mostly because it would probably hurt him. Though if the need arose... yes, I would. I don't think he's as much of a "crusader" - he's really more the sort that, if someone had to be Christian, I'd want them to be like. I haven't heard him speak against anyone, he genuinely loves helping people, etc. He's Christian, but he'd be a genuinely good, moral person even without it.

And yes, maybe I'm looking at my brother through rose-colored glasses - I do genuinely love him, even if I don't agree with him on this - I think if more Christians (and other religious followers!) were like him, there'd be no need of a closet for anyone.

But, there is. And the point of all this?

Everyone's situation is different. There's nothing wrong with NOT coming out, if you're in that sort of a situation where it would be a bad thing. The decision to come out can be painful, and can have harsh consequences. I've heard others stories of losing jobs, being cut off from their family, even divorce. It can be very difficult. Be careful, cautious and considerate of if and when you come out - and respect others decisions.

If you do stay in the closet, though, you can still do good work. Work from within. Even without saying you're an atheist, you can stand up for logic and reason. You can stand for others rights. Stand for scientifically-based evidence and truth. Yes, that "one little thing" - or big thing - will still bug you, probably... but you won't be living as much of a lie, and may just do some good and help plant a few seeds of temperance and acceptance.

And we'll be here for you online. Even if you have to use "private browsing" to cover your tracks, the community is here online. You are not alone.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How can you tell "the truth?"

No, I don't mean as opposed to lie.

The bible and other religious documents are put forward as "the truth," irrefutable and undeniable. How can this be tested?

Does Truth change?

In some instances, sure. If I tell you that the sky is blue and you walk outside (where I am) right now, as I'm typing this (these are scheduled publishes...) it will, indeed, be blue. In a few hours, it'll be much darker - most will describe it as black. And at other times, it'll be multicolored as the sun rises or sets. Does that mean I'm lying?

Of course not. But this also isn't necessarily the same sort of "truth" most people think of.

Truth, in general, should be able to be tested - and tested honestly. It used to be (and in some areas, still is) thought that you can get the "truth" through pain - thus the idea of torturing confessions out of people. We know, of course, that people will say anything the person causing the pain will want to hear eventually just to get the pain to stop - this being why torture, aside from just the pure immorality of it, is useless when it comes to justice and finding answers.

Truth on how the world works is sought in science. If I say I can hold a ball while standing upright and release it, and it will immediately go sideways, I have to prove it. I publish what I do, one way or another, if I'm honest about it. Others then try to replicate it and either prove or disprove it through repeated experimentation. Does their data match mine? Are they copying my methodology? Did I give them the standards of my test? Did *I* test repeatedly to eliminate things like, say, a freak wind blowing the ball to the side?

Or, looking at it from a not as "experiemental" viewpoint, if I say I saw Jim steal Harry's motorcycle at around 6 PM, there's going to be a bunch in that statement to test. First, does either Jim or Harry have (or were they borrowing legitimately) a motorcycle? If Jim did, but harry doesn't, was the motorcycle where I say it was around 6? If it was, was Jim or Harry? Do we have anything showing Harry on the motorcycle around that time? And so forth - all of these things can be proven or disproven, and shown to be truth (or not.) And even indirect evidence comes in - do I have reason to try to get Harry in trouble with Jim, and the like.

The stranger the claim, the stronger the evidence. And I think most people would agree. If I said "I walked out the door to get the newspaper, but it wasn't there," there's plenty of reason to not think much of it. Newspapers can be late. Maybe I forgot to renew my subscription. Maybe someone else took it. But it's not an extraordinary claim.

If I say "I jumped out my window, spun my arms around and flew," well, people are going to want proof of that. That's an extraordinary claim, and they'll want more than my word for that.

Looking for extraterrestrial life is another way of showing this sort of progression. If someone asked me if I "believed in aliens," I'd want to ask specifically what they were asking. If they just want a yes/no answer, I wouldn't necessarily give them one - I'd want to give them a full, honest answer. Which would be:

We know life exists in many forms - we have the examples here on Earth. We know there are many, many planets out there, even ones that look like they may be similar to Earth. We know the chemistry used in simple life. Therefore, for me - do I believe extraterrestrial life exists? Sure. Bacteria can survive incredible conditions.
Complex life? Still possible. The universe provides a lot of laboratories out there.
Complex intelligent life? Not unthinkable.
Complex intelligent life that's still out there? Rarer.
Complex intelligent life that travels the stars? Even rarer.
... in our galaxy? Rarer still, since you've now cut down the number of planets and systems to look at.
... that has visited Earth? Highly doubtful. Finding Earth is not finding a needle in a haystack. It's finding a needle in several counties worth of farms' haystacks.
... that has abducted people, influenced ancient civilizations, etc? I won't say "no," but there's really no evidence for it - most of what people "find" as evidence, if not fraudulent, is misinterpreted or, at best, wishful thinking. And those actions, if they wanted to make contact, don't really make sense.

I think most people would agree that's a reasonable, honest answer. And I think most people would agree to the other ideas of claims and how believable (or not) they are.

So why do they throw the standards for truth out the window when they're told to take "holy books" on faith? Even having BEEN in that situation, other than "submitting to and believing authority" and just plain indoctrination, I don't understand it now.

Take the new testament. The most important story founding the Christian faith is that of the death and resurrection of Jesus. You'd think this would be consistent... but it isn't. Yes, we have crucifixion and death. In one account we have darkening skies, lightning, earthquakes, the temple veil being torn, and ancient, dead prophets coming out to talk to people... things not noted either historically (some of which most certainly would be!) or in the other gospels. In another, the tomb is guarded - but the guards are struck dead, another earthquake comes, etc. In another, the tomb is empty. In a third, there's one person there. In another, two. This, while using the same claims to "prove" Jesus rose from the dead - itself an extraordinary claim!

Why do people blindly say "Yes, this is true and what I will base my life on!" We don't have people disappearing from tombs on their own. And Romans being spontaneously killed just after the death of a  cult leader would likely be noticed - especially in a troublesome province, which Judaea was. And yet the writers suggest the Romans "paid" people to say the cult followers - which is what Christianity was at the time (and people thought Jesus insane, a drunk, etc.... it says so, after all) stole the body. We know just from MODERN times how cult followers can be, how far they'll go to prove things (or die "for the cause.") Meanwhile, following the thread throughout the four gospels... it sounds very much like the guards were killed, the bodies probably hidden between two visits, and the followers indeed moved the body (the stone, after all, was rolled into place by one man, according to its own account.)

Which sounds more true, if we pull the name "christianity" from it and just say "a cult?" Which would you say happen - "The caretaker at the graveyard died, and people were at cult leader fred's now empty tomb saying look, it's empty - someone in the cult probably stole the body" or "Cult leader fred rose from the dead like he said! Maybe he wasn't nuts!"

No, we're not witnesses to either one - the only documents we have that were (supposedly) written about it were "written" decades after. Is it possible? Sure. But it's so far removed from everyday experience - and independent, corroborating records of these earthquakes, dead romans, etc. just don't exist to back it up - that the possibility is miniscule.

And so we're told "Take it on faith."

Why? If that's your evidence - "take it on faith" - maybe it's time to apply the standards of truth to the account and see if it's really worth believing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"He's brave!" No, no he's not - the pseudo-controversy of the valedictorian's speech.

So, there's a story going around about a high school senior who ripped up his graduation speech and recited the Lord's Prayer. And this is getting all the "Oh, he's so brave!" and other nonsense. 

Dear Christian: No, he isn't brave. And if you've commented on the story, you've likely kept spreading on some misinformation.

The backstory. The ACLU, among others, did the proper thing by requesting no prayer at school board meetings and the like. Why? Because that's a government sanctioned event for government business, and we have this little thing called separation of church and state. There is to be no preference shown to one religion over others, in other words - including none at all.

Of course, right-wing groups and Christians are spinning this as "making prayer illegal" and the like. No... it's bringing government agencies and authority to where they should legally be, thanks.

So, this young man "rips up his speech" and goes into thanking god, etc, and recites the lord's prayer. And of course we get the usual "Oh, he's so brave" and all this other crap.

No. No, he isn't. And his comments show him to be just as brainwashed as the rest of his religion.

First of all, he's a follower of the *majority* religion in this country. If he were Jewish - or, for someone I'd definitely admit was brave in this country, Muslem or Wiccan - that wouldn't be true. The last two groups are generally hated almost as much as Atheists. But no, he is Christian, probably going to the same church as most of the people in his auditorium. That does not require bravery, any more than wearing pants in public does.

Second, his "act" - and I don't doubt, mind  you, that it was precisely that - is, despite what Fox News and the right want to say - constitutionally protected. Therefore, he was not even engaging in civil disobediance, or breaking any law. Let me put this very plainly:

The school is a government representative. It cannot show preference to any religion, which includes having school-led or faculty-led prayers at games or graduations. This is forbidden by the Bill of Rights.

The student is a private individual. He is NOT speaking from a position of authority. He is NOT a representative of the school or government. He is not even speaking for his class. He is speaking for himself, period. Therefore, his right to DO so IS protected... under that same Bill of Rights.

There's no bravery there. He did nothing bold, no matter how much Fox wants to spin it. He, as a private individual, recited a creed of the majority religion in front of a crowd composed OF people primarily of that same religion. It's called "preaching to the choir." It's telling humans how great breathing air is instead of tapioca pudding.

You want brave, compare his act to that of those of the muslem girls in Afghanistan and elsewhere who *literally* risk life and limb to go to school. Did this young man risk his life to recite that prayer? No. Did he risk having acid thrown on him, harming, disfiguring, disabling or killing him? Not in the least.

Quit saying this silly young man is "brave." He's nothing of the sort. I'll say he's brave when he joins the military and faces combat, or risks a severe surgery to donate an organ or something to save another. Until then, he's got a lot to prove to earn that label.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Have you *read* your bible?

One of the most interesting statistics regarding atheism that sticks in mind isn't how "nones" are growing (and when you hear this, remember, this is just people identifying as nonreligious, not just atheist - but still, crossing 20% is impressive.) No, it's how much greater of a percentage of Atheists know and have read the Bible (or other regional holy book) versus the "believers."

Some of this isn't surprising - after all, religion is pervasive in many cultures, and if Atheists just came from Atheist families, the numbers wouldn't grow. We have to come from somewhere - and that has to be from within religion.

Now, some just never "bought" the story they were being told. They heard the bit about talking snakes, the odd order of the creation myths, Earth stopping for a battle and stars falling and the like, or the various deity-commanded genocides, and said "this makes no sense to believe," becoming atheist.

Others read the bible and, faced with the numerous atrocities, inconsistencies, inaccuracies and the like, became (to borrow a description I first heard from Seth Andrews, a former Christian broadcaster, and the title of his own book,) "deconverted."

Yet if you ask christians - how many of them have sat down and honestly read the bible? If you ask most, their first reaction is probably going to be "Yes, I read the bible." However, the actuality is that no, they don't. They're not being dishonest, mind you - they crack open the book every Sunday and follow along as the priest, preacher, pastor, sunday school teacher or whatever leads them on a hopping journey from Romans to Ezra to Revelation to Genesis, with a small stop at a verse in Job and a bite to eat from Ephesians on the way. This is typically what they mean by they've "read" the bible.

But that's not reading. This weekly, furious page-flipping (seriously, have you SAT in a church and listened? Unless they publish the verse list ahead of time so people can quietly bookmark and jump, it almost sounds like you're in a windstorm in a library) is the epitome of cherry-picking. Sure, you can create a point, even a narrative, that way - it's done each and every sunday, after all. But it's not *reading* the bible.

Reading American history that way would lead to George Washington going to Eisenhower for help against the Mayans who were about to sacrifice Dizzy Gillespie in order to set off an atomic bomb owned by Al Capone. It's an interesting story, but it just didn't happen that way. (Yes, I know, no Mayans in the US, but part of the Spanish conquest, etc, etc.)

Jumping around like that, other than creating a narrative, nicely skirts the glaring inaccuracies and inconsistencies. You're just not faced with them.

And some Christians just ... don't read it. Whatever they don't like is obviously in the Ten Commandments, whether it actually is or not. For instance, I ran across a comment in reply to something elsewhere (news story, I think) about how "homosexuals were breaking the sixth commandment." If you go back over recent postings, you'll see I went over all ten of the classic "Ten Commandments." Nothing there about homosexuality. Even if you go to Exodous 34 (the more "ritual" ten, and the set actually numbered,) number six is "Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.." Says nothing about homosexuality. When I pointed this out... dead silence.

Yes, I picture this person running back to their bible, then trying to look up where they were because they never actually went to read them. More likely they just ignored it, and me.

I think, quite honestly, this is an intentional stance by some religious leaders. It does give the flock (their term, not mine!) a feeling of being "taught" and of "having read" the bible. Add a smothering layer of "It's God's plan, and unknowable" and "God works in mysterious ways, he's great, praise him!" to quell any idea of reading critically or looking at it with logic, and you've got a passive, happy flock (that will keep giving you 10% of their income.)


One of the worst things a religious person who wants to stay religious can do is read their holy book critically. (And for mormons, critically think about their "founder" - a convicted con man who read tablets nobody could see - even while he had them - through a magic stone in his hat, and when his wife destroyed the first partial draft, re-read them... but they came out differently. I can't think words etched in golden tablets would do that, personally. Or be translated into 17th century English in the 19th century...)

You just CANNOT read it honestly without seeing inconsistencies - even without having historical knowledge to highlight some of the other problems (countries mentioned at times they didn't exist, for instance. Anachronisms are a bitch.)

For instance - and I'll probably go back into this if I'm still blogging around Christmas, as we'll have the airwaves filled with "war on christmas" nonsense (hint: there isn't one) - the "Christmas story." Ask ten Christians, and you'll get ten slightly different versions. There's usually some mix of Herod, a stable, Egypt, some might remember slaughtering the young male children. Yet in the bible, there are two vastly different versions - one where Joseph's told, one where Mary is. One where they go to a stable. One where they have a house to stay in. One that's very peaceful, one that's rather bloody. And two gospels that don't touch on it at ALL. The two are wholly incompatible, other than giving the names of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. (Not to mention the census doesn't exist...)

Of course, one does lay on *very* heavily "Oh, it fulfills this prophecy!" Make of that what you will. Still, if you can't even get agreement about the birth of your founder, don't you think you should question the rest?

So what does all this mean?

This may sound strange coming from an atheist, but encourage Christians to read their bible. Front to back. No jumping. And don't give it a free pass as "God's will" or "It's unknowable." If you take it as truth, you should hold it to the standards of fact and truth and find the inconsistencies and flat out inaccuracies puzzling. If you are fine with glossing over them... imagine it was your bank account and you suddenly lost $600. Or $10,000. (Even if you didn't have that much in there in the first place.) Would you want to know the truth? Or would you gloss it over as "The bank's will" and praise it as wonderful? What if your doctor called you and told you you (or your husband/boyfriend/etc.) were pregnant? Then the next day said the same tests said that wasn't true, but that you could fly? Wouldn't you have some doubts about the messenger?

Read it. Read it critically. And think for yourself.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Let us pray" - what do you do?

I think every Atheist has been there. At a family dinner, at some function, where suddenly those three words come out. "Let us pray."

What do you do?

If you believed some depictions of the atheist community, you'd think we immediately start yelling "I'm an Atheist, I don't need to and you shouldn't do it, either!" But, quite obviously, we don't. (If you do... stop it, you look silly.)

The rest of the time, though, really depends on the situation.

Most of the time, the answer is to just sit or stand there quietly. If everyone's around the dinner table holding hands, well, hold hands with your family. They're your family, after all. Church, say for a funeral of a theist friend or family member? Sit there quietly and be respectful. This should be common sense.

Most of the time when it's not appropriate, though - a school-led prayer, say - the appropriate thing to do is follow the "chain of command." Send a politely worded complaint to whoever's in charge afterword - the teacher, the principal, the school board, the mayor or other governing council involved. If they ignore the letter, see if there are other atheists (or, at least here, non-christians) involved and get them to write, as well. Don't immediately jump to a lawyer! Getting something imposed by law, even if the body is starting out in the wrong, will generally be accepted only grudgingly. Seeing public opinion, that "hey, in this class, we have several parents who object to this, maybe we shouldn't do it" is a much better and "organic" change.

And pick your battles. If the organization has a "moment of silence" - and labels it as such - there's really nothing inappropriate. Sure, some may see this as a "moment to pray." Great. It's still just a quiet moment... typically after a tragedy, but I have been in schools where they just had a "moment of silence" before the school day. Looking back, while then I associated it with prayer, I now can appreciate that sort of... waypoint between "before school, goof around like you're just here with your friends" and "it's now school time, everyone calm down and prepare for class." If it had been "teacher led prayer," while I wouldn't have objected *then* (being a heavily christian kid,) I certainly would now.

If you're not sure if it needs to be argued - ask another atheist. Get some opinion. If it's a grey area for you, it will be for others.

No matter what the situation, though, the biggest thing is to handle it with respect. We're growing in the US, but we're still starting off with the court of public opinion against us, unfortunately. Don't do anything to feed into negative impressions of us.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"No, I'm an atheist."

So, one of the results of the Oklahoma tornado (what, a week plus ago now, I suppose) is a snippet of an interview that's gone viral. You know the one - with Wolf Blitzer speaking to a  young mother, Rebecca Vitsmun, and her child, saying she must feel so blessed how she has to just thank the lord - and her reply of "Actually, I'm an atheist."

But it's more than that. It's not just "I'm an atheist." It's the very kind way she says it - looking almost embarrassed, not for herself but for the question - and the followup statement "And I don't blame anybody for thanking the lord."

So why is this such a big deal?

Oh, how I wish it weren't in the first place. It wouldn't be a big deal at all other than a small chuckle at Mr. Blitzer's goof if it were "I guess you'll be going to mass Sunday" "Oops, no, I'm a baptist, but we'll be at church singing!" I well and truly wish that Atheists weren't demonized or hated from pure ignorance (and preaching from the pulpet - I remember hearing it very well, and see it still today.) I wish we could be accepting of everyone's faith (or lack of it.)

Instead we hear things like "Atheists are the most hated group in America," that people would rather leave their children with (if I'm remembering it right) known rapists than atheists and the like. Now, of course, I have to question those polls and their sample sizes, but still - how would you feel to be part of that group?

And when it comes to the attitude of atheists toward "coming out" - and yes, we do use that phrase, and do acknowledge it can be as hard as "coming out" for the gay and lesbian community, that we can put everything at risk by doing so, and that people have lost jobs, family ties, and marriages over the three simple words "I'm an Atheist" - this young woman is seen, in many respects, as brave. She's in Oklahoma, which, to many Atheists... well, for the most part, the most hostile region is felt to be the Bible Belt, or "The South and environs." I lived in Florida for a few years, and kept my mouth SHUT about being Atheist. "Coming out" on national TV, in that region... I have to see this young woman as being very brave, on top of just being simply honest. (At the same time, one popular podcast by an *ex Christian broadcaster,* Seth Andrews, called "the Thinking Atheist," is based out of Oklahoma, and Matt Dillahunty and AronRa, two big proponents of atheism and reason, are out of Texas and very vocal.)

But really, I have to wonder just how that snippet of interview hit Christians. I know most are just everyday people, and they'll probably just chuckle at it and shake their heads at Wolf Blitzer. But so many I run into online, even just reading comments, go from what may well be nice, rational people to severely hostile when it comes to their religion.

And yes, some atheists will get hostile right back when faced with it - it's a natural reaction to feeling under attack, so to a point, I can understand it from both sides (and it is something I try to avoid, honestly. I don't say I always succeed. I'm human.)

But with being the "most hated group" and everything, what a lightning bolt this had to be. A young woman - not just young woman, but young mother, standing there with her 18 year old, a little shy, very sweet seeming and personable, and (it has to be said) cute, just quietly stating "I'm an atheist." And that she doesn't mind people who want to thank their god doing so. They can see a person, not a screaming, horned demon who eats babies and hates any mention of god. They see someone being gracious about others beliefs. They see someone who could be their coworker or neighbor.

I hope that the Christians in her community are reasonable, that they come together as a community and keep accepting her as part of the community. That they come down on any - like you know will happen - who try doing things like blaming the tornadoes on "God's judgement for her unbelief" or something equally sick. That, I've seen before, many times. Pat Robertson blaming storms on America's "lack of faith" instead of weather, or tornadoes in Florida being blamed on Disney granting benefits to same sex couples several years ago.

Honestly, I have to go about four pages in searching on her name before I start running into the "She still needs god!" nonsense. I'll be curious what crops up this sunday as preachers get their teeth into this - and where that falls in another two weeks as the news about the humanist community sending her money to assist goes down from being a current story.

I do have to take some of our community to task, as well, as I saw a few "CNN/Wolf Blitzer promotes religious worldview" stories, as well. No, guys (and gals,) take a step back. Yes, he made an assumption - and one which, in a (roughly) 75% Christian nation, is about as pushy as assuming the person you see is breathing air. But there's a difference between what he said and "pushing/promoting a religious worldview." He assumed. And he made what, for many, would be a simple closing statement in a human interest story. Other than saying she had to thank god specifically, to me, it's no different than saying "Days like this you have to be happy to just be alive." So let's not blame him or CNN for a simple statement and read more into it than what's there.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Scouting the future

So the Boy Scouts will now let gay scouts stay - but not lead.

Well, it's a step.

What does this have to do with atheism? Simple, really. This came up for discussion by one of our news stations, asking for comments on "Should they let gay scouts in?" There was overwhelming "Yes, it's about time!"

The ones that said no? Other than one or two that said just factually wrong things (like "gays are mentally ill,") and the occasional unexplained one (just "no" basically,) the majority of them said "God said no."

And many of them didn't seem to know anything about what was actually in the bible. One person went so far as to say "It's against the sixth commandment!" Well... go back a few posts and you can read it. Thou shalt not murder (your fellow tribesman.) Nothing there about homosexuality. And of course the same person protested they lived the way god said - but refused to answer questions on if they ate shellfish, kept slaves or the like.

Do we need any greater example of the tie between bigotry and ignorance to religion? "God said so." Well, where does it say scouts need to be Christian? There are atheist scouts. And even on their own pages, they show endorsement and links to Jain, Muslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Eastern Orthodox ("christian" but historically split) and other religions. Imposing the view of one religion on everyone in there is arrogant and wrong.

Not to mention it goes against their own anti-bullying stance, quite bluntly.

It's past time to get religion out of these decisions and organizations, quite frankly. Teach tolerance.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Christian nation 3: The Final Chapter

Or, as I said before, "turning a bunch of commandments into one."

We've already gone through the first five of the "ten commandments" - and let me remind you that not only are they not actually numbered in the original, or the only set, but they're not even called that. (A later set are, dealing with religious laws - things like how not to boil a goat.)

The point of them not being numbered is going to be important to remember here, and you'll see why in a moment. First, the list:

6.Thou shalt not kill. (Murder.)

7.Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8.Thou shalt not steal.

9.Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

10.Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

Yes, the last five all at once.

Now, these are pretty straightforward (at first.) But tell me, do you really think there needs to be divine inspiration to say "Don't murder, don't screw your neighbor's wife, don't steal things?" Regardless of location, time or the like, every civilization comes up with these - they're fairly commonsense, basic laws on keeping a society intact. These existing is not proof either of a god or of Christianity being a basis for American laws - and frankly I think most Jews, or anyone else, would find the notion that they couldn't figure out "murder = bad" without heavenly declaration insulting.

 However, in context these... are odd. Especially given what comes after (Exodus 21, for instance, goes on about how to buy and treat a slave, how to sell your daughter and the like - again, hardly moral - and a number of things that lead to "you will kill him." Then a big pile of stuff about oxen, and if someone rapes a woman, he can buy her - basically bribe her father to marry her. And by Exodus 23, God's saying he'll help out in genocide and in stealing land. Forgetful, I suppose.)

But if we look at these as just "your fellow tribesman," which means we have to combine them - and again, lack of punctuation in the original - they fall together better. The word "neighbour" here does mean, basically, "your fellow jew." Caananites were not "neighbors" in context. So we have:

"You shall not murder, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness against your fellow tribesman. You won't want their house, wife, slave or livestock." (Note, ladies, the wife put there with the possessions.) Which, if we're talking morality... is a lot less "moral." (Don't kill your tribesman, but hey, those guys over there, go nuts.)

Again, I don't think I need to go into American law here - as these, once more, are just common sense. And as put in secular law, there's no limitation. No, you're not allowed to murder or steal from your fellow American. Nor are you allowed to from a non-American. You just aren't allowed to steal, murder, etc.

As far as the tenth - it's ridiculous, as it's forbidding a thought crime. "Don't even think these things!" Well, guess what.. you just thought them by considering and naming them, by some interpretations. Regardless, no legislation has been passed to forbid you from thinking things - that would be illogical and just plain silly, not to mention unenforceable.

Besides, we're generally capitalist here in the US. Wanting things is seen as good. If your neighbor has a really nice car, you'll want one - and maybe work a bit harder and save to afford it.

In the end, though, I think it's fairly evident that there's zero support for the ten commandments having anything to do with our founding documents - and that anyone arguing otherwise has probably read neither.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"They've taken God out of...."

You know what really kind of irks me?

Christians - really, any religion, but we're dealing with Christianity here in the US - claim to be honest and moral people. And I'll be honest, I'm sure the majority of you are, or at least make an honest effort to be. I have zero doubts about that at all.

But when it comes to certain issues, we hear the most bald-faced lies coming from the side of religion.

What has me going is this commercial by some Christian kids, and they pull out the same tired and generally untrue (or lacking the full story) tropes we've heard for a long time now, and I want to deal with them.

First, though, let me state this plainly. Yes, Atheists want God out of public schools. By that we mean nothing done by, in the name of, or publicly funded and dealing with, that school should have anything to do with religion. That means no pictures of Jesus, administration/teacher led prayer, displays of the Ten Commandments and the like. This also means no Judaic, Muslem or neo-pagan prayer, as well, by the way.

What does this not mean? Well, if you use the Bible to illustrate creation myths, alongside the various other stories, and you're using it to compare - it's being used educationally.

If you're a student and want to carry a bible, pray before you eat, etc. - go for it. And if anyone says you can't - barring being instructed not to because you're actually harassing others, but I'd give it a good, long look before supporting THAT - then believe it or not, this Atheist (and most others) would call them wrong.

If you're a teacher, you've got kind of a fine line to dance on. I, for one, don't care if you wear a cross pendant or tie-tack - tastefully - and don't draw attention to it. Generally, though, I'd say keep it in the lounge or somewhere private. And no, you can't suggest the students pray. And if you use material from Answers in Genesis as actual teaching material, you're not doing your job - barring using it to show how ill informed some people can be.

However, the way its portrayed by some groups is a far, far different picture - and a gross distortion and misrepresentation of fact. You'll hear that kids can't pray or bring a bible to school. If there's an actual public school that forbids this, they're wrong. Kids are absolutely allowed to bring whatever religious text they want, and perform their private religious rites (well, within reason, if you're supposed to sacrifice a goat you may be asked to do so off school grounds...) such as prayer whenever they want to, before lunch, tests, asking that other person out, whatever. No atheist really wants to prevent that. We may think it's silly to mutter at the air, but if it makes you feel good and doesn't bother anyone else, go for it.

Typically these Christians paint themselves as being persecuted. Now, think of that. Christians make up over 70% of the country - I believe the more recent number I'd heard was 74%, but don't (if you'll pardon the phrase) take that as gospel. If we were in an Arab country where they made up, oh, five percent, I could take this seriously. But the majority? Persecuted? Seriously? The idea is laughable.

What they usually mean by "persecuted" is that they're not allowed to bully others with their views and tell them they're wrong for being jewish, or atheist, or wiccan, or the "wrong kind" of Christian. There's this interesting disconnect in that they think they should be allowed to do so, which is basically persecuting others - but if they get told to stop, well, that's persecution.

Sometimes this will have a historic tone added to it with how the Pilgrims came to "escape persecution." What those mentioning this don't realize is that the reason the Pilgrims came here - not all colonists, as many colonies were business ventures - was because they weren't allowed to impose their far more rigid observances on the rest of the nation. Now, yes, England at the time still imposed fines on those not visiting the Church of England, had larger fines for independent services and the like - this is persecution. So what did the Pilgrims do when they came here? Tight religious control and insertion in everyday life... basically, they wanted the freedom, as it were, to persecute others. 

Some of the kids in the commercial I saw also mention being "bullied for being Christian." To which all I can say is, if they're the same insufferable twats they act like in the video, they're not being bullied for being Christian, but for being insufferable twats. If you make life miserable for others, they're going to turn around and do it to you. If you try to shove your religion (or anything else) onto others who aren't interested, and keep doing it, you're going to be unpopular. It's that simple. The solution isn't to stop being Christian. It's to stop being an ass about it.

And of course, they bring up sex education, with one kid calling it being forced to see pornography. First off, it's fairly obvious the kid has never seen pornography if he thinks fairly tame diagrams of "this is what makes up a reproductive system" - the internals, mind - are porn. A playboy centerfold would probably make his head explode. And second, there's a reason for sex education versus what these sort want - "abstinence only" education. In the areas that push abstinence? The kids don't know what's going on or have any information. And they invariably have the highest, not lowest, teen pregnancy (and, by the way, abortion...) rates. Kids go by what they hear from other kids (things like "you can't get pregnant if it's your first time," or "just pull out" - which... yeah, I don't see a teen really doing this successfully, and even then, all it takes is one sperm.) They need the actual facts and understanding of what's going on - thus, sex education. Really, we're trying to help you avoid attempting to sell your girlfriend's parents on her pregnancy being a 'virgin birth' after you fumble around.

What it ends up boiling down to is the same old lies and misrepresentations from the Christians - who, after doing this, should really not call themselves that.