Monthly Archives: May 2009

How do we approach the debate?

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like most atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, etc. approach theological debate as a hobby, while theists approach it as the driving force behind their entire worldview. It’s strange; when I was a believer, everything I did was influenced by what I believed. The debate was the most important thing in my life. Now that I’m not a believer, I approach the discussion as entertainment and an intellectual exercise. I could take it or leave it; it’s just something to pass the time.

Am I alone in this view?

That’s not to minimize the larger issues behind the influence of religion on our society; I’m talking about <span style=”font-weight: bold;”>just</span> the debating here.

Church Visit: Schenectady Church of Christ

On March 15, I visited Schenectady Church of Christ. I’ve been in a Church of Christ before; my longtime ex-girlfriend was born and raised in one, and we went together several times. For those of you not familiar with their theology: Read the Bible. Take it literally. That’s all there is to it. Continue reading

The Insanity of the “Angry Atheist” Stereotype

[time to play theist’s advocate, briefly.]

Boy, those atheists sure are angry. They’re always mocking religious people, degrading their deeply-held beliefs and sniping at them with pompous, elitist remarks.

Who are they to tell us what to believe? Our beliefs give our lives hope and meaning. They help guide us to behave in the ways we should behave and stand up for what’s right.

Not to mention how many smart people there are who believe what we do, and how many contributions have been made to the arts, culture, and society by the teachings of our various faiths. Where would we be without religion?
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I Doeth Good

There are two nearly identical sections of the Bible (in the book of Psalms) that say that atheists cannot possibly do good – in fact, that we do works of abominable iniquity and that we are filthy.

Yesterday, I spent seven hours working with Habitat for Humanity, both working on a couple of new houses and helping gut an old house that’s set for renovation.

By Christian doctrine, what I did was a terrible thing and is not worthy of praise. By my own judgment, I did something that helped provide a real, material benefit to real people with real needs. I did a good thing. And I’ll be looking into getting my atheist group to join me next time.

So much for Psalms…

Hating Gays for Jesus (also, they’re icky)

The following is from a letter to the editor in my local newspaper:

Bible clear in opposition to homosexuality

Re May 7 letter, “Don’t use Bible to oppose gay marriage”: Mr. Hunt’s ideology is exactly what is wrong with our country today.

First and foremost, our country was built on Christian values. Second, Mr. Hunt mentions how we should keep the Bible out of our lawmaking. This is where our country has been misguided in the worst way. Without God in our lives, there are no laws, morals or family values. What we would then have is a type of society in which there are no consequences.

Whether or not Mr. Hunt or Bill Maher want to accept it, there is a God, and there are rules he wants us to follow. One may interpret some things differently, but without any reasonable doubt, in no way is gay marriage an acceptable lifestyle. It is not normal or acceptable behavior for two of the same sex to be engaged in a sexual relationship. To be honest, it is flat-out disgusting.

This does not make me a bigot, hatemonger or bad person.

The opposition for gay marriage is a force to be reckoned with. I, for one, strongly support a normal marriage, which is between a man and a woman.

Sean Dufresne

Amsterdam

Mr. Dufresne is, of course, entirely wrong. Let me explain how.

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Betraying the Lie

Advocates of the non-science of Intelligent Design often respond indignantly to the claim that ID is really nothing more than a religious claim dressed in a thin garment of scientific-looking language. We know, definitively, that this is the case, and the words of Michael Egnor of the Discovery Institute – the major pro-ID group – demonstrate this repeatedly. A recent post on the Discovery Institute’s “Evolution News and Views” blog offered a rebuttal to a blog post by Dr. Jeffrey Shallit. Dr. Shallit was reviewing

a piece by McGill philosopher Margaret Somerville in the OCUFA publication Academic Matters. (OCUFA is the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.)

I haven’t bothered to read the whole piece yet; it seems to be the typical drivel about how universities are becoming “intolerant” of “alternative ideas” and that anyone the author doesn’t agree with or whose position the author doesn’t understand is a “fundamentalist” scientist. Continue reading

Facing “Harsh” Realities

When I was a kid I used to be obsessed with the idea of psychic phenomena – ESP, psychokinesis, astral projection, et cetera. I even did a “research project” in elementary school on the subject of paranormal investigations. I was an entirely credulous person; if something had even the slightest shred of ‘evidence’ to it, I was likely to dive into it head first, assuming it was true until I was proven wrong (which I never was, of course, since I basically only looked into the ‘evidence’ provided by believers).
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Atheism and U.S. Politics

I’ve been wondering lately if the problems atheists have in getting our voices heard in the political arena is less related to having the numbers and more related to having a consistent message. I think part of the problem with gaining consistency is that, as a group that’s more of a common label than an actual group, we don’t really have a message to get across, other than “leave your religion out of my politics”.

There are a few atheist-friendly lobbying/political action groups, among them the Secular Coalition for America and Enlighten the Vote, though I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must be for them to agree on an agenda. Typically, atheists tend to lean more to the left, but I do know a few conservative atheists myself. This creates an interesting problem: atheist lobbyists and PACs wind up having to focus almost solely on issues of church-state separation and freedom of speech, limiting not only the scope of their message, but the base of talent that they draw to themselves and their chances of getting publicity.

There is also, of course, a great deal of hostility towards out atheists in this country. As a candidate for office, announcing that you’re an atheist is almost guaranteed to kill your campaign. You face attacks from the hyper-religious right, not to mention the fear of atheists indoctrinated into even the more liberal Christians. We’re one of the few remaining groups for whom stereotyping is still kosher in America. So not only do you have a smaller “automatic” support base, but you have to fight against lies told to defame your character – and any resistance you offer to defend yourself is usually seen as verification of the claims. (After all, if it’s not true, why are you getting so defensive about it?)

I get the feeling that an increased atheist population wouldn’t be enough to get us past these problems. After all, there are more women than men in the country, but we’re still largely an androcentric culture. So how do we make our wishes known, despite the oppression of religious groups and the permeating fear of the ‘godless heathen’? And as was noted in a comment to my previous post, how can we be public about our positions in places like the deep south, where an admission of atheism can be a social (or literal) death sentence?

I don’t have any of the answers. I’ve got ideas, but again, I can’t speak for all atheists any more than I can speak for all males. It’s a conundrum…

Getting the Word Out

One thing I’ve heard from a lot of other atheists is that it’s hard to make your views public, because you feel like you’re surrounded by people who would instantly break off any social contact with you if they knew what you believed (and what you didn’t). We can often feel isolated, as if there are no like-minded people around us.

This is why I think it’s important for us to self-identify. With the atheist population in America growing in numbers and becoming increasingly vocal, we can be nearly guaranteed to meet another atheist every day, though the likelihood of us recognizing each other is pretty low. That’s one thing the religious have on us – they have common symbols they can use to tell each other apart.

I’ve recently put a few bumper stickers on my car that make it quite plain what my theology is:

and
Today as I was leaving Starbucks I noticed a couple looking at the back of my car and writing something down. At first I was afraid that they were going to deface my stickers, but as I walked out they moved away from my car. I walked past them, opened my car door, and got ready to get in, when I noticed the woman coming back to me.

As it turns out, they were atheists, too. They mentioned that they liked my stickers and wondered where I got them from. They told me that they often felt like they were alone in a world full of people who disagreed with them, and it was a relief to finally see that they weren’t. I told them that they’d be surprised how many atheists were in the area, and mentioned our Meetup group.

This, I think, is vital to getting the sort of recognition that atheism needs in America. People need to be exposed to us. It’s not enough for us to just speak out online anymore; we need to be willing to be public with our disbelief, so that we can start to disassemble the myths that theists (especially Christians) have built up about us. The world needs to realize that a disbelief in the supernatural is a perfectly respectable and rational position, and that we shouldn’t be ashamed to stand out.

I encourage anyone who reads this to seriously consider coming out of the atheist closet. The more of us that are willing to stand up and be counted, the more we’ll be accepted by the mainstream of society.