Category: Atheist Community


A: So, do you have any religious beliefs?

B: No, I don’t believe in religion. But I am spiritual, you know?

A: Spiritual?

B: Yeah, you know, I just think we’re all connected by this… energy. There’s a oneness to the universe that flows through everything. It’s kind of like a quantum energy that’s a part of all of us and connects us with everyone else and everything else in the universe, you know? …”

I’m an anti-theist. I stand in opposition to faith-based belief (which is to say belief for no good reason) which perpetuates ignorance, impedes societal progress and, in large part, inflicts considerable harm on our world.

That said, I must admit that I have a greater measure of respect for those with sincere religious convictions (problematic as they may be, and the charlatanism of grifting faith healers and pedophile priests notwithstanding) than I do for those who describe themselves as “spiritual”.

Oh man, do I ever hate that word. “Spiritual”.

To me, it seems there are two kinds of “spiritual” people:

1) Atheists who are too chickenshit to either admit it to themselves, or face living with the social stigma of being branded (gasp!) an atheist, and;

2) People who just really don’t know what the hell they believe at all.

I was there (in that quasi-“spiritual” twilight zone) or pretty close to it, for a longer time than I’d care to admit. (I haven’t yet written part two of “Why I’m an Atheist”, but when I do, I’ll be delving into my semi-woo years). Certain vague, undefined notions, of a “beyond”, an “other side”, some almost Platonic otherworld – all these muddles ideas kept a loose grip on my imagination for years after I’d abandoned the church and the few tiny shreds of Christian faith I’d ever had.

Although I never succeeded in “transcending”, I made serious attempts at transcendent meditation. Ouija board opportunities presented themselves occasionally, and I had tentative hopes for ghostly connections. I briefly dated a witch in college, and while never really persuaded by her assertions of the power of certain charms, trinkets and herbs, the depth of her conviction at least made me wonder if there was something to it.

One of my best friends swore on his life that the story he told me, in great detail, of the ghost that he’d seen, was absolutely true. Who was I to doubt him? My brother from another mother, who I’d trust to my dying day?

The closest times I ever came to “religious” or “spiritual”  experiences – and this is the most unsurprising thing in the world – happened under the influence of psychedelics. And the truth is, I highly value those experiences. The sensation that there MUST BE, no, there IS so much more to this reality than we’re able to recognize while bogged down in the mundanity of our everyday lives is not only overwhelming, but accurate.

Amost none of us take time to see the forest for the trees. Most get so wrapped up in our daily schedules, obligations, responsibilities, and last ditch attempts at squeezing in a few good moments that we never just, say, contemplate an apple, wonder how it turned out that way, marvel at how beautiful and shiny its skin is, and say, “Whoooaa…”

Of course, I don’t outright condemn the “spiritual” folks, who in large part are seeking, in Huxley’s words, to cleanse the doors of perception and reclaim the “magical” wonder of the world that so many (very much mistakenly) think that science has reduced to cold calculation.

They’re well intentioned, especially in deliberately breaking from organized religion. I’ve dabbled in “spiritual” myself, and a lot of my friends along the way have had at least one foot in that door.

But at the end of the day, “I’m spiritual” generally translates to “I haven’t really thought this all the way through yet.”

Among the “spiritual”, some believe in “energy” but have no idea how to explain what that means.

Some are interested in pursuing “alternative” medicines, riding on the assumption that “natural is better”.

Without continuing the interminate, detailed list of the many woo ways of the “spiritual”, I’ll simply say that my frustration with this crew flows from two things.

One, to be “spiritual” is to be driven by emotion without regard to reason. On this level, I can empathize. In a world where so many injustices are perpetrated, moral outrage is a reasonable response much of the time. And on a certain level, to seek the higher moral ground is commendable. But that higher ground needs to have a bedrock foundation of reason and scientific legitimacy.

As an example, yes, the health care system has been largely hijacked by the pharmaceutical companies, and yes, that’s an ominous reality. But the proper response is not to reject proven scientific medicine in favor of homeopathy, “kanpou” (traditional Chinese medicine), crystals, or whatever other non-medical remedies might be deemed to be “healthier” or “less harmful”. As a diabetic, I would have died if I’d taken this approach. I say, three cheers for recombinant DNA technology, even if it’s totally “unnatural”.

And yes, I understand that many “spiritual” people do not reject modern medicine altogether. I’m not simply trying to set up a straw man. But many reject, at least in part, not only the validity of modern medicine but also the larger validity of the scientific method as the most reliable means of understaning, explaining and predicting the world we live in.

And medicine is a clear illustration of the real harm that can be done when people embrace non-reality based beliefs.

My second big frustration is that most of the “spiritual” have taken only one half step towards – but resist fully commiting to – embracing a naturalistic, reality-based foundation of belief.

Whether it’s for fear of negative labeling, or a desire to hang on to the notion of a “magical” world, or simply the desire to feel like they’re a part of something larger, those who consider themselves “spiritual” in nearly all cases have come from religious backgrounds, taking one step away from dogma, but unwilling to completely sever the ties.

Let it go, people. Take that extra half step. The beauty and mystery of the natural world is more beautifully mystifying and captivating than any archaic, stale superstitions could possibly dream of.

And the world will be a better place when more of its human inhabitants live their lives upon a foundation of reality-based beliefs.

[via atheist-community.org]

I came to know who Tracie Harris is by watching her frequent appearances as one of the co-hosts on the excellent Austin-based TV show The Atheist Experience, and more recently listening to her on the also great Godless Bitches podcast.

Just now I stumbled across the comic strip above, which I immediately wanted to re-post here. Wanting to properly credit it, I tracked it back to its source, and it was really cool to discover Tracie is the author, and that there is a whole collection of her work at the Atheist Community of Austin site. If you liked this one, go check out the rest of her stuff!

Harry Potter is a militant atheist? Well, not the fictional character himself, but the actor who plays him.

From TVNZ:

Daniel Radcliffe – militant atheist

Daniel Radcliffe believes it is important to separate religion and education because he thinks sex lessons are important.

The 22-year-old “militant atheist” was brought up in a Christian/Jewish household and told Attitude magazine he’s not religious.

“I’m an atheist, and a militant atheist when religion starts impacting on legislation.

“We need sex education in schools. Schools have to talk to kids from a young age about relationships, gay and straight. In Britain it’s better – more of a conversation is being had.”

James Randi, on our lost giant:

I’ll point out that those angry, frustrated, hateful, frightened, detractors were simply wrong when they predicted that he would turn to some deity or other before he died; that would not have been the Christopher that I knew, the brave warrior who wielded his pen as a sword and thereby cut such a shining path before him. I’m certain that as he closed his eyes he was aware that he’d done an excellent job, he’d said his piece, he’d reached so many people around the world who needed to know that they were not under the command of any jealous, vengeful, insecure, capricious, cruel, god who created them and then played with them like helpless toys to satisfy divine whims.  Christopher was one of my giants…

I’ll miss him, but I’ll try to carry his message to others who’ve not yet heard it, though my words will not read as well, nor will my phrasing of them approach Christopher’s standards.

Please read his entire post here.

 

I’ve been trying to write this for over two months. I never know where to start. The reasons why I’m an atheist now aren’t exactly the same (though they overlap) as the reasons I left the faith I was brought up in. My adult understanding of why I value evidence based belief above all other forms is better thought out, more deeply analyzed, and rooted more in rationality and naturalism than my more emotionally based adolescent rejection of religion was.

Yet when people on twitter or at bars ask me, “Why are you an atheist?” or “Why don’t you believe in God?”, the questions I feel they’re really asking are, “Why don’t you believe in my religion?” and “Why don’t you believe in my God?” I suspect that, for the most part, they’re not as interested in hearing about my views on the irrationality of faith-based beliefs as they are about my personal experiences. After all, they’re experiencing religion in a personal way right now, and so the question is an attempt to understand how it is feeling, viewing, and thinking about life from a non-religious perspective. What experiences led me to this (happily) godless life? What was my visceral reaction to abandoning all notions of gods and embracing a worldview in which religion and the supernatural hold no sway? How could my life possibly have any meaning, how could I feel complete without God? How could I possibly not believe in the first place?

This seems to be the more pressing nature of these questions, and so I’ll start at, or near, the beginning, in my early childhood, when the church’s own actions sowed the seeds of my atheism. [Note: There isn’t enough time or space for me to complete my story in a single blog post, so this will be part 1 of several.]

I was raised in the Christian faith by parents who were both ministers. Yep, I’m a double P.K. But to be clear, they were not overbearing regarding religion when I was a little kid. Both were (and are) progressives, both participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Both embraced more a modern, liberal ministry and were, in their own respective ways, pushing to modernize the church.They weren’t fundamentalists, and I wasn’t beaten over the head with a Bible. As a very young child things were, for the most part, pretty loose on the religion front.

But as far back as I can remember, I always hated going to church. It was boring. I hated having to dress up in the uncomfortable child-suit with the clip-on tie. My father was the preacher so everyone knew of me, and I was always intimidated by all the strange strangers (and often stranger familiars) who wanted to make sure I knew how cute (or whatever) they thought I was. To me, the services were little more than an exercise in alleviating boredom until those final bells rang and harkened my freedom to go outside and play. Mostly, it was just a thing I had to do when I’d rather have been doing something else. The dullest, most annoying time of the week.

But all this seemingly harmless malaise turned out to be the calm before the big storm hit that nobody had seen coming.

Before I continue, I need to say here that I do love both of my parents, and that anything harsh or critical, or even just personal I say regarding my folks is not intended to publicly throw either of them under the bus (in fact, maintaining their anonymity with regards to my blogging is a big part of why I write under a pseudonym), but only because it would be impossible for me to tell my story in a complete, cohesive way if I were to eliminate certain critical aspects of it. I can’t get personal about myself without, to some extent, getting personal about them, too. And so:

It turned out that my father was gay. This was made known nearly simultaneously to my family, the congregation and (as soon as the press got wind of it, which was quickly) the public. All hell broke loose. In one fell swoop both my family and the church were torn apart. I was too young to understand what really was going on, but I knew it was important because the kids at school were talking and asking me about it, and things were getting ugly at home. It was a big deal.

The church fired my father. The congregation divided, a significant percentage of it leaving with him to form a separate, more accepting alternative church. At the time, I was pretty much on the level of, “Okay, I guess I’m going to this other church now sometimes, too.” Adults did their own things for reasons beyond my comprehension. Like most kids, I had no interest and no choice but to roll with it.

Skipping tracks to a brief aside. I remember a specific conversation with an elementary school friend which must have happened around two years later, given the friend and the school I was attending at the time. That friend was also a churchgoer. We left my house, were walking down the street, and started having what must have been an unusually profound conversation for our age. It went something like:

Friend: So, like, do you really believe in God and Jesus and stuff?

Me: Well, uh, I dunno. I mean not really. But I guess so. But I mean, I dunno.

From all I can recollect of my memories, I was never reverent, I was never devout, the faith that I had (if any) was severely weak, and although I can distinctly remember times when I sincerely wanted to believe, I really never was quite thoroughly convinced.

Back on the main storyline, where several years later I’m living alone with my mother (hopefully the divorce story is self explanatory) and, to her great frustration, developing the capacity to think for myself. As I grew into adolescence and, like most kids (although perhaps a little moreso) into a more rebellious attitude, she was growing stricter, more forceful, angrier and, at the worst times, emotionally violent. This tension wasn’t limited to religion or churchgoing, but those were the points around which it flashed the hottest.

And now we come to it.

By the time I was in high school, I’d developed the self awareness, the social awareness, and the reflective and analytical capacity to form a few opinions about the events which not only had shaped my life up to that point, but continued to dominate it on a regular basis.

The first, and probably most important: My father was a good man. He made all kinds of mistakes, to be sure. But the degree of castigation, ire, demonizing, shunning, betrayal by those he had trusted – or to put it more simply, the amount of plain old hateful bigotry – which not only was dumped on him by his peers but was essentially officially sanctioned by the church as they sacked him from his position and relegated him to second class status within their organization, was downright fucking despicable.

The second, and more urgent to me during my latter adolescence: My mother was a deeply emotionally troubled woman who no longer had the capacity to deal with me in a non-abusive way. As I write this now, I’m trying to put this in the most gentle, fair way I know how. But at the time I was an emotional trainwreck, fairly well tormented by her undermining of my dignity and self esteem at every opportunity she had, and her incessant attempts at severe, micromanagerial control over every detail of my existence.

And on Sundays I was made to go to church.

The sermons were all about the usual Christian stuff. The preacher said we should love our neighbors and accept those who are different than us, even as the church had hated and rejected my father. The preacher – my mother – said we should follow the teachings of Christ and try to be pure of heart, even as I knew well that she had done some pretty impure of heart shit that very morning before church.

The hypocrisy in the air was so thick I could practically see it. It was so rancid I almost could physically taste it. It was morally repugnant, and nauseated every corner of reason, rationality, and good sense in my brain. I could not have been more repulsed.

I was done with the church, and with religion in general. I had learned – correctly – not to trust any person who claims authority based on a self-professed assertion to speak for gods, or to be better trained in interpreting and espousing divine messages. I had seen the man behind the curtain, and he was a cheap, charlatan trickster – even if he truly believed himself to be playing The Great Oz with all good intentions.

And don’t get me wrong. I do not say my mother was, or many other members of the clergy are, lying about their beliefs. She did, and does, I’m sure, sincerely believe in the truth of every Christian message she has uttered. But having not only witnessed, but experienced and been on the shit end of the disconnect between  lofty religious claims of truth, love and beauty,  and the ugly, unacceptable, insipid reality which – in fact – belies them, I simply could no no longer believe or have faith in that, or any other gods, if I even ever had at all. The words rang hollow, the stories untrue, a big masquerade celebrating an illusion which no longer had any power over me.

I was an atheist.

[Note: It has taken me months to articulate this origin story of how I first became an atheist. There will be further installments picking up where this left off and culminating with why I am an atheist now. Hopefully this will be finished before 2013.]

Oh, Christians in the U.S. have it so rough.

Everywhere they look, they see their “right” to flex their majority muscle and discriminate against non-believers and other non-Christians being assailed.

They whine about the “War on Christmas”, when, every year, Christmas positively dominates the social, popular and commercial culture throughout all of November and December.

They cry about gender and sexual orientation rights being “shoved down their throats” (the phrase they usually use – I’ll spare the Freudian analysis for now), going so far as to legislate their “right” to bully gay kids.

The problem with all of this is that none of these so-called “rights” are rights at all. They are the benefits Christians have traditionally received from preferential treatment resulting from their majority position of power and the subsequent stronghold Christianity has over American society and culture.

And now that their privilege is being challenged by increasingly vocal minorities of nonbelievers and members of other religions, who are calling for a more fair and level cultural playing field, some Christians are quick and vociferous in playing the hurt feelings card and drumming up false allegations of anti-Christian discrimination.

Take Mathew D. Staver, chairman of the right wing fundamentalist culture war organization known as the Liberty Counsel. According to Christian Today, he

said that the [American Humanist Association’s] campaign was a crass attempt at restricting the religious freedom of Christians passionate about Christmas. As the birthdate of Christianity, he said no other holiday deserved more public worship. […]

Staver said his organization fights censorship of the holiday’s Christian traditions with its “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign,” now in its ninth year. The initiative educates society and businesses on the Christian faith, he said, ensuring they keep its part in Christmas intact through litigation if they don’t recognize believers’ right to religious freedom.

“People either censor Christmas out of ignorance concerning religious law or they worry they may offend someone else,” Staver said. “Retailers, meanwhile, should not profit off Christmas while pretending it doesn’t exist.” […]

Staver countered that groups like AHA shouldn’t analyze Christmas given they lacked compassion for its spiritual basis. This fundamental separation, he said, meant that they often disrespected the rights of Christians practicing their faith.

“I think a campaign like this shows how bankrupt the AHA is by trying to offend people by secularizing a holiday like this,” Staver said. “They have a right to their own viewpoint but the timing is very inappropriate. It shows how out of step they are from the rest of society.”

So what horrific action did the American Humanist Association pursue to “restrict religious freedom”, to “censor Christmas out of ignorance” in such a “disrespectful”, “bankrupt”, and “inappropriate way?

Well, take a look:

That’s right, they simply asked people not to discriminate against atheists.

As with all things pertaining to religion: Simply unbelievable.

This story from the Mid Ohio Atheists (via Ophelia Benson, via Greta Christina) is the latest in the ongoing saga of American billboard companies (in this case the Lind Media Company – you can e-mail the Vice President here) impeding free expression by censoring atheist and secular messages:

We spent several weeks exchanging emails, planning locations, and reviewing the graphics for the Billboards.  In late October everything was ready to go.  They had the final Graphic, had done the mock ups and we had approved them.  Everything seemed to be going off with out a hitch and I was extremely pleased with the company.

Fast forward to today, November 22nd 2011.   This morning I recieved an email from the Vice President of LIND advising me of [their refusal to honor the agreement]. […]

I got a little sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  See I’ve always been an out spoken Atheist, as long as I’ve been an Atheist.  I’m use to people wanting to talk, argue, or save my soul, but I had yet to ever feel the sting of discrimination.  I swallowed the lump in my throat and sent an email back to the Maura S Siegenthaler asking her why they choose to wait till just before the Holiday when we had months of contact with their company and they had our graphics for weeks. I then attempted to call her but was told she was unavailable.  The following reply reinforced my initial gut feeling, it really was because we are Atheists spreading an Atheist message.

Please read the full post for more details. After you do, you may want to consider contacting the company to let them know how you feel about this. That’s what I just did.

Below is the text of the e-mail I just sent to Vice President of Lind Media Maura Siegenthaler (mss@lindoutdoor.com) in support of the Mid Ohio Atheists. I urge you to write to her as well, and you are welcome to copy my message, change it, or add to what I wrote as you like. More contact info for the company can be found at the bottom of the Mid Ohio Atheists post.

Dear Maura Siegenthaler

I’m writing to urge you and the Lind Media Company to reconsider your last minute refusal to honor your agreement with the Mid Ohio Atheists to put up two of their billboards. As you apparently do not hesitate to put up pro-religion billboards, the only plausible explanations for your action are either fear of backlash from a largely religious community and/or plain and simple bigotry against the non religious.

I hope, at least, it’s only the former.

While as a private business you are certainly within your rights to choose your content, and while you may not agree with non believers, refusing to put up a simple message by a group with a point of view, which harms noone and is a simple exercise in free expression as it pertains to religion, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, is extremely disappointing, disgraceful, and goes directly against the grain of the principles and rights the United States is founded upon.

I do hope you’ll reconsider.

The subject of what separates agnostics from atheists, versus what they share in common, or alternately, whether they’re entirely indistinguishable, or if they’re mutually exclusive, generates much debate and even anger, as people argue over definitions of terms, who gets to define who as what based on what, and emotions conflate the matter as people tend to identify with and embrace, or seek to distance themselves from and reject, certain labels.

In short, the entire conversation tends to turn into one big clusterfuck, bogged down in semantics, and muddled by the inability and/or unwillingness of participants on all sides to agree on the meanings of words.

Consider this Part 1 of my opening this can of worms, in which I will simply pose the question (although I have plenty of opinions on all the above which I’ll discuss in good time), to those who consider yourselves agnostic but not atheist:

Have you considered the possibility that you may have been an atheist all along, but just resisted framing it that way either due to a too-narrow (or incorrect) definition of “atheist”, or an unwillingness to let yourself be associated with the (admittedly, baggage-laden) term?

For now, I’d like to frame the question by submitting two definitions from Oxford Dictionaries Online. And since both “agnostic” and “atheist” start with the Latin “a-” prefix meaning “not -“, let’s look at what, at least by these dictionary definitions, agnostics and atheists are not:

gnostic
relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge

theism
belief in the existence of a god or gods, specifically of a creator who intervenes in the universe

Strictly speaking, the “a-gnostic” (“not a gnostic”) makes no claims to have knowledge, especially “esoteric mystical knowledge” (which essentially is to say knowledge of any gods). But for how many, for what percentage of self-described agnostics who hold this view that they can’t or don’t have knowledge of gods, would it follow that they could even possibly become a person who has a “belief in the existence of a god or gods”? How could they jump from, “I don’t know or can’t know if gods exist” to “but… I believe in one or more of them anyhow”? It utterly defies logic.

Simply put, if you don’t know and therefore don’t believe in the existence of such dieties, if you are not “a theist”, how could it make sense to you that you’re not “an atheist”, which by definition is merely, “not a theist”?

I submit to you that if you are not a theist, if you do not believe that any gods necessarily exist, then you are, in fact, an atheist.

 

I hope to follow up with Part 2 in the next few days, preferably after getting some feedback from agnostics.

 

(This post was inspired by a recent, brief and amicable conversation I had with twitter user @AllanJH)

 


							

I’ve just created a new Facebook page for The Atheist Den. You can find it (and even like it) here:

http://www.facebook.com/TAD.denbutsu

I still won’t be very active here (or there) until after I take my Japanese exam in early December. But for now I’m trying to get the infrastructure in place to a) reach a wider readership and b) have more arenas available for various modes of communication.

This blog is the space that will allow me to go in depth on an array of topics with more time for careful consideration and research. I’ll always welcome and appreciate your comments here, but I have no illusions about this turning into its own “community”. Realistically, unless something happened and my blog totally blew up, most of the communication with readers here will probably consist of individual two-way exchanges. And while I’ll be grateful and excited for the opportunity to have those conversations, some more multi-dimensional communication is in order as well.

And along those lines, twitter is basically the exact opposite of the blog: An extremely diverse, and somewhat random and chaotic mish-mash of generally brief exchanges that tend to stay limited to whatever the flavor of the day happens to be. It can be great for networking, as well as for (and this cuts both ways) getting one’s ideas out to those who otherwise might not be exposed to or challenged by them. At the same time, the 140 character limit can be a bit maddening at times. (I’ve had exchanges where I’ve had to break up a “single” post into ten or more tweets, which can be a real headache to say the least).

So, my hope for the Facebook page is that it can function as a sort of happy medium between the two, combining the broad community aspect of twitter with the clearer, prosier communicative space of the blog. Ideally, discussions there can be more in-depth and constructive than is possible on twitter, but also more multi-directional and inclusive of wider audiences than the comments sections of this blog are likely to be.

Hopefully, the result of getting this all set up now will be a smoother and more impactful “re-launch” when my schedule permits me to start posting a lot more content, and subsequently a more enjoyable experience for all involved. Stay tuned…

 

When Hitch comes on, click the link at the top of the video for better audio.

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