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.