Tag Archive: atheists


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.”

“In their songs they have a rule,

The “he” is always lower case…”

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.]

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)

 


							

This review by Jonathan Kim of What the Flick sure makes it sound like it is:

 

 

Dancing movies most definitively aren’t my thing. And although it’s been years (and years) since I saw it, my residual memories of the original Footloose leave me feeling like it carefully dodged the political, tiptoed around anything substantively religious, and primarily was all about a “let kids be kids” message. So the new version sounds pointedly different.

I’ll still probably wait for video, but I have to admit this review does make me intrigued.

 

The Boston Globe has the story of Harvard University’s humanist chaplain Greg Epstein, and the work he and others are doing to promote and research the most effective ways for secular/humanist/atheist/etc. groups to organize. It’s what I consider to be an unusually fair treatment of atheist causes from the mainstream media, and I recommend reading the entire article linked above.

But the part that really caught my eye, and is at the same time encouraging and challenging to atheists:

Using his group as a sort of laboratory, Epstein plans to spend the next three years investigating how humanist groups should function.

“People get a lot of benefits from their religious communities including profound ways of filling existential needs, like commemorating significant events in their lives,’’ said James Croft, a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education who is heavily involved with the Humanist Community Project. “Just because they leave behind their religious beliefs doesn’t mean they stop having those needs.

“But secular society has not yet come up with a way to give them moments of significance with the same level of beauty and care that goes into religious ceremonies. That is a big gap.’’

To me, it’s great news that Epstein will be working on discovering more effective organizational methods for secular groups. There are a lot of people out there who really are not believers, but they cling to their respective religions because they’re afraid of losing the many (very real) benefits which come about as being part of a community. Atheists have comparatively underdeveloped social support networks and far less extensive community organizational structures than organized religion tends to have.

We can, and need to do better.

But many atheists tend not to be joiners as a general practice, or have a certain distrust of the more negative aspects of group dynamics such as peer pressure to conform. In fact, for many who left the religions they grew up with, possessing those instincts was a large part of their deconversion.

So there are two forces pulling in opposite directions which the atheist community needs to reconcile. Pulling one way, the need to organize if we are to establish strong, supportive communities which can serve as foundations for humanitarian efforts, venues for networking with people who share similar values, and importantly, establish political clout to defend the separation of church and state, keep religion out of science classrooms, and demand fair representation and rights for nonbelievers. Pulling in the opposite direction, the fact that many of us happen to be fairly individualistic, wary of group think, anti-authoritarian, and (keeping it real) argumentative.

I don’t think these two sides are beyond reconciliation. Working towards a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to organizing atheists should reap some real rewards in the future.

 

A few days ago, twitter user @BenjiLeeT invited atheists to comment on the image below. (And just to be clear, I’m only posting his twitter handle to credit him as the source for the picture. My criticisms below are in no way directed towards him personally).

So, here’s the pic, which appears to have fairly widely circulated:

Now of course this is meant to be humorous, and perhaps on those grounds it shouldn’t be taken seriously at all. On the other hand, it’s a perfect example of how apologists attempt to misrepresent the views of atheists in order to construct straw men and cartoonish stereotypes which are easy to ridicule and dismiss. So on those grounds I find it worthwhile to break down this deeply flawed message in all its fallacious glory.

Starting from the beginning, then, “Atheism: The belief…”

Stop. Three words in and we’ve already arrived at…

Falsehood Number 1: “Atheism is a belief”

Atheism, by definition, is not a belief. It is the lack of belief in any gods. We remain unconvinced of any theistic or supernatural claims because there is insufficient evidence that those claims are true. At its core, atheism is not a belief or viewpoint at all, but rather the natural conclusion that results from a skeptical, rational approach to the observable world. Thus far, every argument for the existence of gods has failed to deliver a shred of substantial, empirical proof that it is based on anything more than human imagination and cultural tradition, and so we remain unconvinced.

Falsehood Number 2: “Atheism equals evolution and the Big Bang”

Now, it’s probably a very large majority of atheists who embrace the validity of the scientific method, and by extension the theories that are the most widely accepted among the scientific community, including evolution and the Big Bang. However, this is not an exclusive club. In fact, the majority of Americans who believe in evolution are theists, being that there are so many more believers than non-believers. The Vatican has officially accepted the Big Bang and evolution, and “theistic evolution” is likewise accepted by a wide range of Protestant Christian denominations as well as many other religions.  So while it’s probably safe to say that most atheists embrace these concepts, it’s patently absurd to suggest that we’re alone in this.

A subheading under this category would be the falsehood that most people who are the loudest critics of the Big Bang and evolution have even the slightest understanding of the science they’re denouncing. When creationists converse with people who actually understand evolution, they will often interject things like, “Well, if evolution is true then how did life start in the first place?”, or, as in the picture above, “Well, if evolution is true, then how did everything come from nothing?” When blurting out these utterances (usually to sidetrack or derail), all they really do is show their complete ignorance of the science they’re talking about. Very few would be able to tell you, for example, that abiogenesis and evolution are completely separate areas of research.

Abiogenesis is the study of how organic matter (which is to say, life) emerged from inorganic matter. The theory of evolution seeks to explain how the complex life forms we know (and are) evolved from simpler previous forms going back to a common ancestor. But evolutionary theory in no way attempts to explain how life originated in the first place. Likewise, the Big Bang theory is an explanation for the beginning of the physical universe, but makes no claims about the origin or evolution of life, or anything biological whatsoever. Apologists will often juggle around elements from all three of these, none of which have any claims to make regarding theological beliefs in the first place, obfuscating and muddying the conversational waters, probably because making good, rational arguments is hard when you don’t have any.

Falsehood Number 3: “Magic”

The use of this word – twice, just to drive the point home, I suppose – just goes to show how willing apologists are to be blatantly dishonest as long as it serves their purpose. It’s obviously thrown in there to suggest that atheists are foolish and silly for believing in the crazy, “magical” fantasies of scientific theory (which again, do not even equate to atheism in the first place). However, most atheists don’t even believe in the mundane David Blaine variety of magic, let alone outlandish tales found in religious scripture of talking snakes, virgin birth and the like. It should go without saying that for believers to ridicule atheists for “believing in magic” is beyond ironic. It is a deliberate and intellectually dishonest ruse to discredit the findings of science, which are supported by natural, empirically verifiable evidence. And beyond that, unlike religion, science is honest and open about the limits of its explanatory powers. Religion takes advantage of that honesty with a childish, “Ha! You even admit that you don’t know!”, and then sleazily proceeds to fill in the gaps with whatever stories suit its purpose. Science is not capable of explaining everything, but everything which science can explain it can do so in entirely naturalistic, empirically evident terms. Religion can’t even come close to claiming the same.

Falsehood Number 4: “Atheists carry the burden of proof of their ‘beliefs'”

The last line of the graphic basically states that religious beliefs (ie. supernatural beliefs) are more rational than naturalistic beliefs, by ridiculing the validity of science. This is fairly sneaky, because what it’s really doing is engaging in an absurd attempt to shift incredulity from supernaturalistic claims to naturalistic claims, even though the latter are objectively observable and the former are not. Another way of saying this is that it’s trying to shift the burden of proof from those who make claims without any scientific evidence to their skeptics who justifiably won’t take their word for it. “I’ll keep believing until you prove me wrong,” the believer says.

Yet, Christians are not obligated to disprove Hindusism, and Hindus are not obligated to disprove alien abductees, and alien abductees are not obligated to disprove Muslims, and Muslims are not obligated to disprove believers in Santa Claus, and believers in Santa Claus are not obligated to disprove 9/11 truthers, and 9/11 truthers are not obligated to disprove Christians.This shifting of the burden of proof is one of the most common apologist tactics, as they demand of atheists time and again that we “prove there is no god”. Sorry folks, but  that’s not our responsibility.

Again, atheism is not in itself a belief, but is instead the insistence that:

a) if people are going to make truth claims regarding the existential reality of gods or other supernatural entities or phenomena, and…

b) if they want us to accept their claims as serious, plausible, rational and believable, then…

c) they are obliged to provide us with evidence of their claims, and it must be both empirically observable under testable conditions and also sufficiently convincing as to merit (cautious) credulity and further testing.

In fact, the majority of atheists are agnostics who not only do not claim any absolute knowledge of the lack of existence of gods, but would absolutely love to see such evidence provided if there were any. But as of yet, there hasn’t been.

But for their part, many theists, rather than being intellectually honest and attempting to make positive proofs for the existence of their gods, resort to the “I know you are but what am I?” deflection method, insisting that we atheists disprove that for which they have absolutely no evidence, and which in reality can’t be disproven (much like you can’t prove I don’t have a tiny Sasquatch living in my top desk drawer), and which we skeptics are simply unable to believe without good reason.

In terms of logic, this is a fallacy known as the argument from ignorance. This is not to call anyone ignorant, but simply to recognize that humans have limits of knowledge, and therefore remain collectively in the dark about the as yet undiscovered and unsolved. The fallacy is to exploit the unknown areas (the “filling in the gaps” described above) and say, “Well, if nobody knows, then therefore that’s God.” Without any justification. Without any legitimate reason. Without any evidence. On nothing but desire and a”faith” in translations of translations of rewrites of rewrites of ancient texts of stories told mostly not by eyewitnesses but handed down in large part orally from generation to generation, somehow finally resulting in what they call the Truth, otherwise known as The Word Of God (as decreed by whichever “holy” scripture they happen to believe in), stories written by people who weren’t there about desert dwellers hundreds or thousands of years ago whose knowledge and understanding of life and the universe was extraordinarily miniscule compared towhat we know of the world today.

And then they have the audacity to call us foolish for not believing. That does not make perfect sense to me.

From the American Humanist Association:

Sneak Peek of New Film about Atheists: Coming Out in America

A new documentary by Tiroir A Films sheds light on one of the most misunderstood and despised groups in America: atheists.

Coming Out in America (working title) focuses on young people in different parts of the country that are taking the bold step of “coming out” as nonbelievers. The film highlights how their lives are turned upside down because of strong pushback from their schools, peers, the community at large, and in some cases their own family. This pushback ranges from rejection and isolation to physical threats.

What does that tell us about our current society?  Is there room for non-religious people to assert their legitimacy within our society?  The goal of this film is to show that goodness can exist within everyone regardless of religion or lack of religion. But moreover it shows the need to find common ground in an ever-polarizing country in order to move on and progress as a society.

For more information and a short video preview of the film, follow this link to the AHA’s story.

 

In this clip from the Magic Sandwich Show, dprjones and AronRa are speaking with Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience. Starting at 11:54, Matt describes what he considers to be the best approach for atheists to take when dealing with the religious:

I think there is a best way, and the best way, despite the negative reaction you will often get, is confrontation. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean hostility. But I have yet to meet somebody who’s changed their mind on something without being confronted by a direct opposition. That doesn’t mean you have to be necessarily in your face or, you know, yelling or anything like that.

But if you don’t challenge them – and that is, ‘Okay, what evidence have you got? Can you provide that evidence?’ – if you don’t put something forward, you might as well not even have the conversation. Because, it reminds me of the, ‘Uh, well, let’s just agree to disagree.’ You know, fuck that. We already knew we disagreed before we started the conversation. Why would you end it that way? That makes no sense to me.

I couldn’t agree more.

I should also mention that this was part of the Doctors Without Borders Charity organized by dprjones, and that the donations pages are still open here and here (these links can also be found in the video description).

 

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