Giving Comfort through Public Atheism

Some months ago I blogged about the Atheist Bus-Ads and other proclamations of the faithless in public. I asserted that these efforts brought a certain kind of comfort to those among us who do not buy-in to any sort of organized religion–nor ascribe to miracle-making deities generally. This article in the New York Times seems to affirm that general assumption.

It points out that un-believers are on the rise and that those with doubts about commonly-peddled-religious-bills-of-goods are not the tiny minority of the past:

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

And finally, a shout-out to my friend JW who, although not a fully-on-board-believer, plays in a church band every week. This quote made me think of him:

Loretta Haskell, a church musician [and non-believer], said: “I did struggle at one point as to whether or not I should be making music in churches, given my position on things. But at the same time I like using my music to move people, to give them comfort. 


In Rocks and Mud

For some folks, pondering our origins in rock and mud leaves them cold — gazing at celestial bodies arouses only emptiness.

And yet through science, I have come to feel a sense of transcendence — through science I have come to know beauty (even comfort) in rocks, mud, and celestial bodies. By understanding the vast and wonderful complexity of not only ourselves but of an orchid or a dung beetle, by coming to terms with the kind of beings that we are, by taking into consideration the millions-of-years of struggle that has lead up to the actual and particular beings sitting here today — I have realized our profound and inescapable connectedness. Consider that under my skin lies the implicit history of my entire biological, social, and pre-conscious past. The mechanics of my mitochondria, the heredity of my ribosomes — they tick with the history of the earth, history is in my veins.

My DNA carries the footprints of squid — or pre-squid, pre-t-rex, pre-chimpanzee. The social hierarchies of dogs and horses, the predatory prowess of the big cats, the preening and pretentious displays of wealth as practiced in the mating ritual of the Bower Bird — all these impulses and pasts are (maybe only in trace amounts) under my skin and behind my every thought. Each of my emotions is the result of eons of fine-tuning, my altruism and my hatred are useful to “nature” and to me in some, perhaps mysterious, way. My survival, my success depends on the right combination of sympathy and pride, of self-consciousness and desire.

In the explanatory framework of science I have found a kind of “spiritual” comfort, because in the explanatory framework of science I have found real and fundamental oneness — and more, very good reasons for why I am the way that I am. My quirks and insecurities, my sensitivities and aggressiveness, my tenderness and my denial — it all makes such good sense when I consider where it is I came from and how it is I got here.

Would not any wandering “religious” seeker, deep in the desert of human loneliness and alienation, yearning for connection in a disconnected world, deep in the abyss of the consumerism of our materially-motivated society — would not that seeker be grateful to know and to understand from where that loneliness has come — that why, without a healthy social structure, without love and compassion in our lives, no amount of cash or new clothes will ever create real happiness. Would not the knowledge of who we are and a thoughtful understanding of our past be a glass of cool water to such a wandering seeker? To know why we yearn to transcend the boundaries of our bodies and to connect with the oneness of the living world? That knowledge is not to be found in holy books or religious hocus pocus, it comes from astronomy and physics, from biology and sociology, from anthropology and evolutionary psychology. We must get dirty with scientific facts, to dig into the complexity and history of our evolving consciousness, if we are ever to feel more whole, more complete than we presently do.

Contrary to religion, science has this on its side: predictive success. Unlike the declarations of preachers and gurus, of pastors and mystics — we have good reasons to believe the revelations of science. It has earned our trust, and when we have found science to be false or inaccurate, it has revised itself — it has accommodated itself to what is, not to what it has been told to be. And yet, for many folks, pondering our origins in rock and mud leaves them cold — gazing at celestial bodies arouses only emptiness.

What Open-Mindedness Is and Is Not

A couple folks have sent me a link this video recently… so i thought I’d re-post it here… and, yeah, this dude is spot on…

Oh the Cognitive Dissonance!

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, officially Preacher of the Papal Household (Tyson lifts left eyebrow, scratches head), thinks the atheist bus ads released last year have helped to serve God’s cause.”

Ok, that’s cool, I can see how something of the sort might cause a backlash and energize the faithful–makes sense to me. But then he says this:

Suffering is certainly a mystery for everyone, especially the suffering of innocent people, but without faith in God it becomes immensely more absurd.

Um… what?! Suffering only makes sense if there is a loving, caring God watching over us as we fulfill his master plan for the universe? You mean, if we are naturally evolved beings struggling to survive in a sometimes hostile world, each of us slightly different than the other, carrying our small genetic mutations forward into an ecosystem that cannot possibly support every living creature, having to both cooperate and to compete for our own and our offspring’s survival–that in such a case suffering does NOT make sense, our lives are somehow MORE absurd?

Father Cantalamessa, can’t you see that suffering only becomes understandable IF we are natural beings in a natural world? Otherwise you will be forced to invent a plethora of complicated excuses for your “loving” God to justify our suffering. You will have to posist that somehow we have angered or disobeyed him, you will have to imagine that in our suffering we deserve it, you will need to imagine that we are both free but also fulfilling His plan at the same time, you will need to invent elaborate contortions of logic to account for natural disasters and child-rapists and reality TV shows… Oh, Father Cantalmessa, what is going on in that head of yours? I must have missed-out on that mutation…

“New Atheists’” Bad Rap


The “New Atheists” are frequently disparaged as shrill, abrasive, and counter-productive — but when I read them what I see are wrters:

  • who are dumbfounded that >50% of Americans don’t “believe” in evolution,
  • who watch awestruck when Catholic and Muslim leaders tell millions of people not to use condoms (knowing full well that thousands of them will die of AIDS),
  • who see people riot in the streets because of cartoons in far-away newspapers,
  • who listen attentively to the stories of abuse of women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali,
  • who see the news of children dying from “faith” healing,
  • who realize that the election of W. Bush was funded and executed by a motivated religious community,
  • who do battle with people on education boards who would turn science into Bible-study,
  • who see decades of needless conflict that fall along religious lines (as in the former Yugoslavia),
  • who realize a person that (openly) does not “believe in god” cannot be elected to high-office in this country,
  • who fear what notions of sin, hell, judgment, and rapture are doing to the minds of our youth,
  • who see families in under-developed nations ripped apart by religious missionaries,
  • who see people mumbling to unseen gods to help them win lotteries or football games, or mumble to unseen gods to save them from their own sins and to avoid damnation,
  • who see people who have translated their god-beliefs into other areas of their lives such as astrology and numeracy or who live in fear of alien abductions,
  • who see people missing life because they are sure they are heading to another one,
  • who look at the history of the Church and realize when the Church was strong, when the Church had power—everybody but the Church suffered,
  • who look out and see the worst cases of the suppression of freedom in our modern world comes from highly religious countries…

—when I read Dawkins or Harris or Hitchens, I see people who look at all this and have said enough! Continue reading

Encouraging Results

Religious moderation is prevalent (and seemingly becoming more so). Here are some interesting pointers toward moderation found in the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey for 2008:



And while I have certain gripes with religious moderates as well, it sure beats the every-present Evangelism of the Bush-years!

Monday Funny?

Is posting a Monday funny ok with everyone?  I haven’t posted in so long, words… um…. you get the idea.

I can’t even get this video to embed. But it’s worth the click.

What Alabamians and Iranians Have in Common

Writing to you from my vacation in lovely Bor, Serbia — when I saw this, it was just too interesting/funny/worrisome to ignore! The following graphic is from a recent article at Gallup called “What Alabamians and Iranians Have in Common

And here it is:


I’ll not be providing any powerful or penetrating analysis of the above facts. That’s your job!