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. 

“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!

The Fallacy of God and Art

Picture yourself given the following question: A woman becomes pregnant. She has tuberculosis and the father has syphilis. As a result she has already had four miscarriages. In fact, their only surviving child is deaf and intellectually impaired. You, as a doctor, are asked to decide whether they should terminate the current pregnancy. Yes, it is (one of the versions of) the Great Beethoven Fallacy. Would you answer “yes” your questioner would triumphantly announce “Congratulations, you have just murdered Beethoven”. Of course the queerness of the argument should be obvious (if not I can readily point them out in a comment), but this is just the introduction to my subject.

This tale, it doesn’t correspond to Beethoven’s real situation by the way, is an example of the Argument from Beauty which tries to affirm the existence of god. The argument is that since beauty transcends an object’s material state, and beauty is a quality of god, then god must exist. And from this there is also an argument that all great art must come from, or be inspired by, religion. But this is of course an incorrect assumption. To see why lets first look at some examples of explicitly religious art and architecture:




Of course these are impressive examples but is it impossible to find something that at least rivals these works? Of course not.

Statue of Liberty




None of these examples have anything to do with religion, yet most would agree they are quite esthetically satisfying.

There are two things one can say about this. The most likely reason artists, architects, musicians and others almost exclusivly created religious art in the past ages were that churches were the only one who could support the creation of such works. God is apparently not a requirement for appreciating the wounderful and spiritual (for lack of a better word). One can also notice the fallacy of defining god as direct responsibility for certain properties in the world. If god is the beauty in a painting, the gentle surface of a lake, and in so many other things, what god is there left to talk about?

Steven Weinberg sums it up perfectly in his Dreams of a Final Theory, “Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that ‘God is the ultimate’ or ‘God is out better nature’ or ‘God is the universe.’ Of course, like any other word, the word ‘God’ can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say ‘God is energy,’ then you can find God in a lump of coal.”

Will the Holocaust Denying “Bishop” Deny his Denial?

Bishop Richard Williams, the fake British Bishop that Pope Benedict recently readmitted into the Catholic fold, is going to have to eat some crow it seems:

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Vatican Secretariat of State said that Bishop Williamson “must absolutely, unequivocally and publicly distance himself from his positions on the Shoah,” or Holocaust, or else he would not be allowed to serve as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.

The guy has balls, that’s for sure — first he had himself  ordained without the Vatican’s permission, then he gets himself excommunicated by Pope John Paul II — all the while walking around saying things like this: 

There was not one Jew killed in the gas chambers. It was all lies, lies, lies. The Jews created the Holocaust so we would prostrate ourselves on our knees before them and approve of their new State of Israel…. Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil, and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism.

But will he have the balls (or is it spinelessness?) to stand up and recant his years of anti-semitism? Oh, I’d love to see it — is that petty of me?

In any case, here’s a clip that shows just how smug and dismally uninformed (or is it “in denial”) the guy is:

For a far more thoughtful and complete account of the situation, I recommend going here.

Hate the Tenets, Not the Teneteers

Folks frequently make the following distinction: Respect the religion, but condemn the “bad” things people do for it.

Recently I have spoken out against religion and its tenets of faith for various reasons, among them are terrorism, denying medical care to children, racism (as found in the Christian Identity movement), and missionary work (which, among other things, too-often separates members of the same family into believers and others).

I also sometimes harp on religious beliefs that I see as highly acidic to a cohesive society. I am thinking here, for example, about the doctrine of hell — which I find troubling whether it causes division of not. Let’s say my Christian neighbor wont let his kid play with mine because “that atheist family is going to hell!” Or let’s say that Christian family treats me kindly and neighborly all the while thinking that I, my wife, my child will, eventually, be roasting eternally in torment… I mean, which one is more disturbing?

Then there are the many admonishments in both the Koran and the Bible concerning non-believers — casting them out as evil, unsaved, lost, and damnable…


Image Credit

I find this whole respect thing to be both unwarranted and a little bit dangerous. A recent article by Johann Hari in The Independent exposes how “the forces of respect” are lining up to erode freedom and to institutionalize prejudice, chauvinism, and certain kinds of violence. The article centers on efforts by some Muslim nations to alter The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which 60 years ago declared that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people.” They claim it is simply not “respectful” to religion. 

And because the UN has bowed to this religious cry of disrespect, the objections have spread. Hari writes:

The Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets”. The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.

Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” -– and Brown was ordered to be silent.

Hari also points out that a quick perusal of last week’s news can give us plenty of good reasons not only to disrespect religious beliefs, but to actively oppose them:

In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was “un-Islamic” and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country’s most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah. 

So yeah, I’m pretty much all for not respecting religious beliefs. As many others have claimed, no one has a right not to be offended — I needn’t stop talking because you don’t like what you hear. I will continue to challenge. Here is a nice closing quote from Hari’s article:

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him…  I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.