Comforting Others in Pain

In the face of suffering, believers almost have always something they can say to others: they can say, first, that they're praying for them, and, second, that everything will be alright in the end. Nonbelievers can't honestly say either of these. The closest we can get is that we're thinking about them, which can raise their spirits but not give them hope it'll actually help their problem, and that their suffering will eventually end at death, which really only helps those with terminal conditions and those afraid of hell. There's really not much you can say in the face of harsh reality that doesn't involve asking them to toughen up and accept their plight.

I've been thinking about this recently because I have a classmate who's suffered both a divorce and a diagnosis of cancer within the past half year. (What's worse for him is that his ex-wife is now with another classmate of ours.) He's really nice, honest and hardworking, and I like and respect him. On Facebook, his status updates about his treatment and various difficulties always receive many comments about people praying for him and promising him that it'll be alright in the end. I honestly add that we've missed him and hope to see him again soon, and I do hope all the comments make him feel better, but my inability to say anything more just got me thinking on this topic.

Sometimes I think it'd easier if I again believed that everything will eventually be perfect in the afterlife, but I'd probably again fear the prospect of eternal torment for failure to live a good enough life. If I had a choice between somehow honestly believing that life will never end but that there was even the tiniest chance I would end up in hell, and believing that my life will end forever at death, then I would certainly choose the latter. I'd sacrifice a very, very high probability of eternal pleasure to avoid even a very, very low chance of eternal pain. Of course we can't honestly choose our beliefs, and even seemingly perfectly innocent self-deception can have unpredictable negative consequences, if not for me, then for others. I hope that I can remain as intellectually honest throughout my life as I resolve to be today.



Secularist Fantasy

During the summer, I participated in an online United States government simulation. Many players choose to use characters with views quite distinct from their own, but my character was essentially a puppet for me. As a member of the House of Representatives, I authored and sponsored the two following pieces of legislation. The first one is about the Pledge of Allegiance.

Pledge Neutrality Restoration Resolution

Whereas the Pledge of Allegiance contained no reference to any deity before 1954,

Whereas an increasing minority of Americans do not profess belief in any deity and an even larger number claim no association with any religion,

Whereas non-religious citizens are as much an integral part of our nation as are religious citizens,

Whereas the government exists to serve all people of the nation and should favor neither religion nor irreligion,

Whereas the pledge should unite rather than divide,

Whereas the phrase “under God” creates division by referencing a religious belief not shared by all citizens and necessarily excludes non-believers,

Whereas believers can understand how unbelievers feel by imagining the pledge saying “without God” instead of “under God,”

Whereas most American children are encouraged to recite the pledge every day at school regardless of their own beliefs,

Whereas many American adults are encouraged to recite the pledge on occasion regardless of their own beliefs,

Whereas refraining from favoring religion is distinct from favoring irreligion,

Whereas the removal of the phrase “under God” would restore the pledge's neutrality toward religion,

The Pledge of Allegiance be restored to its pre-1954 formulation: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The second one is about the national motto.
Motto Neutrality Restoration Resolution

Whereas E Pluribus Unum has been a de facto motto of the United States since 1776,

Whereas In God We Trust has been the de jure motto of the United States only since 1956,

Whereas E Pluribus Unum contains no reference to any deity and In God We Trust does,

Whereas an increasing minority of Americans do not profess belief in any deity and an even larger number claim no association with any religion,

Whereas non-religious citizens are as much an integral part of our nation as are religious citizens,

Whereas the government exists to serve all people of the nation and should favor neither religion nor irreligion,

Whereas the motto should unite rather than divide,

Whereas the motto In God We Trust creates division by referencing a religious belief not shared by all citizens and necessarily excludes non-believers,

Whereas believers can understand how unbelievers feel by imagining the motto being In God We Disbelieve instead of In God We Trust,

Whereas In God We Trust is a false statement because many Americans neither believe nor trust in supernatural beings,

Whereas refraining from favoring religion is distinct from favoring irreligion,

Whereas the replacement of In God We Trust with E Pluribus Unum would restore the motto's neutrality toward religion,

E Pluribus Unum be declared the official motto of the United States, and the use of In God We Trust be discontinued wherever possible, including but not limited to on United States currency and coinage.
Since the simulation is rather realistic, both of the resolutions were easily defeated in committee. But they were fun to write, so I'm sharing them here. I'd love to see something like these submitted to the real House or Senate hopper one day, but I'm not holding my breath.



So Much to Celebrate

Although I intend to continue celebrating Humanlight, Festivus and the winter solstice itself, I also intend to celebrate a secular Christmas without any qualms whatsoever. It's a very natural time of year for a cheerful and festive holiday, the winter solstice has been celebrated in almost every culture throughout history, it's the dominant holiday in my own culture, it's already mostly non-Christian anyway, and it's fun! Abstaining from the festivities accomplishes nothing unless you get special pleasure from making a symbolic gesture that nobody else cares about. Maybe some do, but I don't. I want to enjoy it! If any Christian objects to an non-Christian celebrating a secular Christmas, then I encourage them to support abolishing it as a federal holiday. If that ever happens, I'll think about it. I won't promise them anything more.



Becoming Human

I've never posted about science in the media, but I've really enjoyed NOVA's new documentary series on PBS about human evolution entitled Becoming Human, and I want to share it with my readers. It's shown in three parts, with the third part airing tonight. It's also available online.

The most interesting thing I learned from the first part is the theory that the necessity of adapting to rapid climate change in east Africa several millions of years ago initiated the brain growth that eventually lead to our large brains today. From the second part, I learned that bipedalism is more energy efficient than quadripedism but that large brains require a lot more energy than small ones. I was also truly fascinated by the theory that we lost our body hair so we could sweat to stay cool, allowing us to run much longer in the midday sun than most animals, thus enabling us to chase larger, faster, and stronger prey to absolute exhaustion and kill them with only the most primitive technology. (The meat in turn provided the energy for our large brains that plants couldn't.) The filmmakers even showed modern Bushmen employing this strategy to hunt a kudu! They chased it for four hours, the kudu suffered from heat stroke and just stopped moving, and the hunters got close and killed it with spears. I thought it was amazing.

I'm looking forward to part three, but I'll have to watch it online like I did the first two parts. I intend to share my comments here afterward. Check it out!



The Evolution of Marriage

I'm sick of hearing the argument that same-sex couples shouldn't seek full marriage rights and should be satisfied with civil unions since marriage is a religious concept. It's not. Marriage is a social arrangement which has evolved throughout history, just as societies as a whole have evolved, and we need to recognize that.

Marriage can receive legal sanction, religious sanction, both or neither. Here in the United States, I think most couples receive both, a large number receive only legal, but very few receive neither or only religious. I'm not aware of any mainstream religious group here whose members don't regularly obtain legal marriage licenses in addition to holding their religious ceremonies. Adherents of most faiths are explicitly required to present the license to the officiant in order for the ceremony to proceed! If religious leaders who claim that marriage is a purely religious concept were honest, they would insist their members refuse to obtain marriage licenses from the government. In reality, they recognize the numerous benefits of legal marriage for their members, but they have no difficulty simultaneously seeking to deny those benefits to others. It's hypocrisy, pure and simple.

Of course, same-sex couples have been seeking, and have obtained within some groups, the opportunity to hold a religious wedding ceremony, but that's not what the same-sex marriage debate in this country is about. It's only about the legal sanction which carries with it a large number of legal rights. But since same-sex marriages are indeed being performed by legally recognized religious groups, and if religion can make marriage valid, then to deny the couples married in those groups a legal marriage license would be a violation of religious liberty. I suppose critics would say those other faiths and their weddings are invalid, but this just makes their bigotry clearer.

Sometimes I hear a proposal to legally convert all marriages to civil unions and let people have whatever religious ceremony they want afterward. But that's just playing with words, and it would cause more harm than good. It would be as if the Fourteenth Amendment had made everyone “legal residents” because some people had religious objections to applying the term “citizen” to former slaves. Such a drastic change would also certainly increase the volume of complaints from people that their marriage had been destroyed. We've had civil marriage for a long time, and abandoning it now would not be productive.

When my wife and I got married almost a year ago, it was an very simple ceremony at the courthouse without any mention of the supernatural. Our commitment to love one another was certainly the most important aspect, but the legal recognition was necessary for immigration purposes. I'm thankful that religious conservatives have at least left us opposite-sex atheist couples alone, but I'm willing to fight against them on the behalf of others when I can.



Atheist Blogroll

After more than three and half years of posting, I've finally joined Mojoey's Atheist Blogroll. You can find it in the sidebar. Please consider checking it out.



Not Meant to Be / All for the Best

Though it's possible for an atheist to express the sentiment that “it wasn't meant to be,” I think it's mostly something believers say since it implies that someone directs everything that happens to us and thus controls of our lives. If you think about it, it's usually nothing more than an excuse not to analyze your past conduct for mistakes to determine what you need to change to reach your goal next time. The last time I heard this said, I pointed out that the result could indeed have been quite different if the parties had followed a different course of action. This was met with blank stares and a comment equating to sour grapes.

I have similar objections to the sentiment that “it's all for the best.” No, really, it's not. Or at least, we don't know so. Life might indeed be better with fewer tragedies. It's probably not better that your family member or friend died in an accident. It's absolutely true that some good things only happened because some bad things happened before them, but we don't know whether something even better could have happened if they hadn't. Life is too unpredictable for us to know what is ultimately for the best. We just have to make the best choices we can, given our knowledge and abilities, and take responsibility for the consequences.


Truly Good without God

I understand the recent billboard campaign promoting the idea that people can be “good without God” doesn't target fundamentalists, but I want to mention why I think it won't really have any effect on them whatsoever. No amount of personal virtue or charitable activity could ever convince most of them that you can live an ethical life without their religion. Beyond the issue of belief, which the campaign attempts to address directly, conservative believers have a very specific idea of what it means to be a good person. This includes refraining for all sorts of normal sexual activity, regularly attending and financially supporting a church in the community, and subscribing to and voting according to a conservative political ideology, at least on certain social issues. For some of them, it also means never drinking, smoking or dancing. Unless you act just like them in these matters, you'll never be good in their eyes. At most, you'll be slightly more tolerable.

The problem is that we can't honestly say that we act like strong believers even though we don't believe. We instead have to convince them the way we act isn't immoral because their objections to our lives have nothing to do with actual morality. That's a difficult task but a worthy one.



The Invention of Religion

Last night my wife and I watched Ricky Gervais' new film, The Invention of Lying. It's set in an alternate universe where humans haven't evolved the ability to lie, and absolutely everyone is not only completely honest but also brutally frank in every situation. Gervais' character, Mark Bellison, is the first person on the planet who can tell an untruth, and he uses it to his advantage since people apparently also lack the ability to doubt anyone's veracity and believe whatever he says immediately and unquestioningly.

Using his unique skill, while trying to do something nice for his mother, Mark inadvertently creates the first religion in this world, focused on the “invisible man in the sky.” Though Mark actively seeks out opportunities to lie to get what he wants in other areas of his life, he's very reluctant to take on the role of prophet and does his best to create a reasonably fair and peaceful religion when he's forced to at the behest of the entire world. This is when the film becomes a true religious satire. Though it wasn't quite as funny as the best in this genre, I appreciated the humor. I don't want to give much away, but there are references to Moses, Jesus and even Joseph Smith. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rates the film “O” for “morally offensive.” Its official review contains some of the following phrases: “venomous supposed comedy,” “all-out sneering assault,” “despicably belittling,” “pervasive blasphemy,” “fashionable new atheism,” “slithers,” and “calculated cinematic insult.” Those words are like music to my ears, especially considering the source!

I'd give the film a rating of 9 out 10. I enjoyed the novelty of the concept, and any film in which someone exclaims, “@#$* the invisible man in the sky!” and a large crowd cheers in agreement automatically gets an elevated rating in my book. There were, however, a few disappointments. We never really see how perfect honesty would make society radically different from our own except that there's no fiction and they don't have the words true or false. It also seemed that people couldn't even imagine that someone could simply say something mistaken. At the end, I wanted to see more of what happened to his religion, but without the ability to lie, no one else could expand his revelation, so I have no real objection. And, of course, a world without any religion whatsoever would be so different, but I don't think Gervais could have pulled that off without being boring and preachy. This film does a fine job of approaching the concept, and I recommend it to everyone.


Godfree for Five Years

Today is the fifth anniversary of my apostasy from the Catholic Church. It's hard to believe that it's already been half a decade since I finally stopping worrying about being damned to eternal torment and began to truly live my life. In some ways, it feels like it was only yesterday, for it was the most significant day in the story of my life. It's also hard to believe that it's been almost three and a half years since I started this blog. I know I've averaged less than one post per week, but I'm proud of what I've written. In general, I've come so far and I'm very happy about that.



Today is International Blasphemy Day!

Today is the fourth anniversary of the publication of Muhammad cartoons in Jyllands-Posten that created an international event, and the Center for Inquiry is commemorating the date as International Blasphemy Day as part of its Campaign for Free Expression. I'm happy to support this anti-holy-day.

According to some Christian theology, it's not possible to commit the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as described in Matthew 12:31-32 while living because it's understood as disbelief until the moment of death. I suppose it gives me something to look forward to! (No, not really.) Of course, it's still possible to commit other kinds of garden-variety blasphemy here and now. Though I'm rather less belligerent than some other bloggers, this anti-theistic blog is itself inherently blasphemous, and plenty of my previous comments would offend a great number of believers despite my never having the specific intention to do so. It's just that I've never hesitated to speak my negative opinion of religion here, fearing that it might offend someone. But of course that's not at all difficult with an anonymous publication and a small number of readers!

I'm sure there will be plenty of blasphemous cartoons, songs, poems and videos posted today, but I don't have anything special to contribute. I'm loath to say something with the sole intention of causing offense, so I'll just say something true the general population doesn't hear often enough: If Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah really existed, as portrayed in their respective scriptures, they would be absolutely evil and worthy of every ounce of contempt and derision we could muster toward them.

Today is the day that we remember that blasphemy is victimless, but that government censorship is not. Let's not forget it.



Farthest from Traditional Religion

Yesterday I read an article that suggested that Unitarian Universalism is farther from traditional religion than even atheism despite the use of religious language, symbolism and ritual because UUism isn't focused on whether gods really exist whereas atheism is defined solely by its stance (or lack thereof) toward this question. Of course, many, if not most, UUs have an opinion whether any gods exist, and some may even think the answer important, but UUism as an ideology simply doesn't address the issue. I can appreciate the author's point, but I don't think this difference necessarily makes UUism farther from traditional religion; it may just make it equally far in a different dimension. Atheism retains the definition of “god” — even if only to argue that definition is incoherent — but denies that it corresponds to anything in reality whereas UUism, to the extent that UUs indeed use divine terminology, retains the word “god” but frequently changes its meaning to something other than a supernatural entity such as the universe itself or an abstract concept such as altruism. I argue that Humanism is farther from traditional religion than either atheism or UUism because it doesn't use the word “god” at all, and it also encompasses much more than an view on one particular topic.

But it's not a competition, and we have to remember there's significant overlap between the various groups. Over half of UUs consider themselves at least small-H humanists, a third agnostic, and almost a fifth atheist. (The choices weren't exclusive on the survey in question.) All big-H Humanists are by definition atheists, though I have no idea what percentage of explicit atheists consider themselves Humanists.

I know that some people dislike, or at least claim to dislike, personal labels, but I myself find them useful. (I refer to those other people as anti-labelists!) My blog certainly attests to my tendency to change and think about changing labels relatively often. I find that it helps me think more clearly about myself and my relationship to the world.



A Misanthropic, Pessimistic Humanist?

I've sometimes wondered whether it's truly possible for a misanthrope and a pessimist such as myself to be considered a Humanist, but after some reflection, I've concluded that these mental and emotional tendencies are irrelevant to the question and that it's only my principles, words and actions that are relevant. Here is the International Humanist and Ethical Union's Minimum Statement on Humanism:

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
There is nothing in this statement suggesting I must have any positive feelings toward or confidence in humanity in order to call myself a Humanist.

It doesn't matter that almost everyone angers me from time to time with their irrationality, ignorance, selfishness and outright malice, that many people constantly disappoint me, or that I have a very low opinion of “the average person.” It only matters that I recognize that I, too, have numerous personal flaws, that I believe I'll be happier if I treat them sympathetically rather than disdainfully, and that I at least try to do so.

I don't know whether morality can be said to objectively exist, but I think a secular morality based on human needs and desires rather than a religious morality based on divine revelation is the most conducive to human happiness and can be universally applied.

I don't think humans are free in the sense that we instinctively imagine, but that doesn't mean that our lives have no meaning and that the illusion of free will isn't useful. An appreciation of determinism has greater potential to increase our power than it does to decrease it.

I don't think science can answer every question, but I know it can answer many and that religions can answer none.

I don't think democratic institutions regularly make decisions in the best interest of the governed, but I do think they make them much more often than any alternative, and I don't expect anything better to ever be developed.

I'm not at all confident humanity can solve most of its own problems, but I'm very confident that if any problems are solved, it will be our reason and compassion that save us rather than supernatural beings.

I'm not necessarily optimistic that civilization will avoid destroying itself, whether by global environmental degradation, nuclear holocaust, technological disaster or any other means, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to build sustainable societies and even eventually try to branch out into different worlds.

In my last entry I settled on “atheist” as my preferred label (without at all disclaiming the other candidates), but perhaps I should change once more to “Humanist,” having now determined that it suits me well despite the necessity of making the above qualifications to clarify my exact opinion. I have a tendency to be react belligerently, at least mentally, toward any mention of religion, and this does nothing but make me tense and angry, so a stronger identification with Humanism rather than atheism may serve me well. We'll see how it goes.



What Kind of Atheist Am I?

After vacillating for quite some time between the terms atheist, naturalist and Humanist as my preferred label, I've settled on “atheist” because it's minimalist, unambiguous, and the most recognizable. Now I'm debating with myself whether in certain contexts I should add an adjective in order to indicate that I take an real interest in atheism and that it's an important part of my identity. I want people to understand it's something I actually care about rather than just another fact about me, like my height or my eye color. I'm going to consider a few adjectives commonly paired with “atheist” and see whether they fit the bill.

Militant atheist — I rather like this one because it suggests that I'm always ready and willing to stand up and defend my viewpoint at any moment and that I'm willing to accept the negative label of my critics in order to weaken it, but unfortunately it's misleading in that I never advocate physical violence as do militant religionists. I don't want to give people the wrong impression; atheists have enough misperceptions to combat already.

Fundamentalist atheist — The term isn't exactly meaningless, but it doesn't correspond to anything in reality. That is, it's technically possible to accept the non-existence of deities as an axiom of one's worldview (or a “properly basic belief,” as Plantinga might call it), but I've never actually encountered anyone who does. Weak atheism isn't even a belief, and strong atheism is always argued for with evidence and logic, never dogmatically asserted as unquestionably true.

Devout atheist — I've occasionally referred to myself as this because it's ironic and it actually describes my strong commitment to the idea, but it's also misleading in that it suggests that atheism is a religion. We have no dogma, no sacred texts, no moral code, no holidays, no priests, no saints, no temples, nor anything else that almost every religion has.

Committed atheist — This is similar to the previous option but with less religious baggage. Unfortunately, I wouldn't really say that I was committed to atheism; I'm not even personally committed to promoting it.

Happy atheist — This could indicate that I'm a happy person and that I'm happy to be an atheist. Unfortunately, it seems to imply that many atheists are unhappy and that I need to distinguish myself from them; this is simply false.

Friendly atheist — This has similar problems as the previous option, and it might be even registered or trademarked by Hemant Mehta, who writes a very popular blog with this title. Even if not, it might lead to confusion if I used it.

Serious atheist — Since many atheists aren't serious about their atheism, this is a distinction that actually makes sense. It could mean, I suppose, that I have no sense of humor, but this isn't really likely since I've never encountered any atheist who was reluctant to laugh about both religion and atheism.

Active atheist — I don't know whether I qualify as one since my activity is currently limited to reading books, listening to podcasts, blogging and discussing atheism on a couple of internet forums. I used to attend some meetings of local atheist group, but as a married law student, I really don't have the time, and I'm also not a member of any non-theist organization. I'm certainly not nearly as involved as a lot of others are. I really want to indicate something other than my activity level with the description, but this is the least misleading of the group.

Of course, there's even less of a need or desire to use an adjective in addition to a label. If any readers have a suggestion which I haven't considered here, please post it as comment.



First Mass in Almost Five Years

On 1 August, my wife and I served as bridesmaid and groomsman respectively at my younger sister's wedding. It was the first time I had attended a mass in almost five years and, I think, only the second time ever for my wife, whose family is at most nominally Buddhist. Though I remembered all of the responses during the ceremony, of course, I didn't repeat them and I didn't otherwise participate except for standing when everyone else did and for shaking hands and saying, “Peace be with you,” since it would have been very difficult to refuse politely and since the phrase itself is secular anyway. While the wedding itself interested me, the mass was rather unremarkable. It didn't really stir any feelings, either positive or negative, other than the general frustration I feel whenever people express their irrational belief in the supernatural. I don't plan on returning until I have to for another wedding or perhaps a funeral.

This morning my wife commented on her disgust at the cannibalism of communion and at the authoritarianism of the requirement to believe in Jesus or be condemned to hell. She also somewhat mockingly made the sign of the cross at breakfast after having seen it so often this weekend. Not long after we got married, when she saw my family pray before every meal, she wanted to start our own tradition, so we always kiss each other before we eat together. If one of us forgets and starts eating without doing so, the “penalty” is an extra kiss. It's so much better than praying!



Uncertainty about the Afterlife

In response to the problem of evil, believers typically claim that God must have a perfectly valid reason for allowing great evil in the world even if we cannot discover or understand it and that the proper response is to trust him without questioning. I recently encountered an interesting idea from Robert M. Price which addresses this response in a new way. He rhetorically asks how Christians would react if, upon death, God canceled their ticket to heaven (faith in Jesus, life of good works, state of grace at death, etc.) and sent them to hell without any explanation whatsoever. Applying their argument to this situation, they couldn't complain at all, for God must have a perfectly valid reason for sending them to hell even if they cannot discover or understand it. No Christian could honestly counter that it's an absolute impossibility; this is the same deity who slaughtered multitudes of Egyptian babies in their sleep and who they acknowledge threatens to send billions of souls to hell for mere disbelief. It's a perfectly valid rhetorical question without any clear answer.

Dr. Price's idea reminds me of the major issues I had with scrupulosity and fear of hell before I deconverted. For years, I had regular, persistent doubts about whether my confessions were valid, whether I was forgiven, and whether I would be damned to hell if I died at that moment. Priests regularly told me to trust in God's love and that God wouldn't condemn me if I honestly did my best to obey him, but their assurances never helped me because I also believed this was a deity who didn't hesitate to send souls to hell for all eternity for something as absolutely ridiculous as masturbating or missing mass one Sunday; I had no trouble imagining him on judgment day telling me that I sinned by listening to my confessor instead of my own conscience and casting me into a lake of fire to burn forever. It was mental agony to believe one is constantly being watched by a despicable, malevolent being who demands blind love, blind faith, and blind obedience and who will probably eventually capture and torture you. It's a lot like being Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but with infinite consequences. This is why the day I deconverted was the best day of my entire life.

While I'm on the topic of the afterlife, I want to say that sometimes I rather wish there were a way for arrogant religionists who claim certainty in their beliefs to learn they're wrong before they die. If my belief is correct that our consciousness is forever extinguished upon death, it's really a pity they can all pass out of existence without ever being forced to admit the magnitude of their stupidity.



Deconversion: Evolution vs. Revolution

Deconversion is not a uniform process. Some happen in matter of days, others over the course of decades. Some pass through several phases on their way to atheism, others jump straight from strong belief to strong disbelief. Some can be likened to game of Jenga, in which one belief after another can be removed without affecting others until finally the tower just collapses, others to a game of dominoes, in which the fall of one very basic belief results in the fall of all the others. Of course, most deconversions are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between gradual change, i.e., evolution, and rapid change, i.e, revolution.

My deconversion certainly falls on the revolution end of the spectrum. Once I became a devout believer in junior high school until my apostasy over a decade later, my status as a religious conservative never changed. At no point was I ever a liberal or even moderate Catholic; I never at all openly questioned any dogma the church taught until I doubted and then rejected all of them at once. I think this is because of how I learned from apologetics to defend my belief from Protestant arguments against Catholicism.

According to Karl Keating in his Catholicism & Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians”, which was the very first apologetic book I ever read, Catholics can justify their religion with the following “spiral logic,” which contrasts with invalid circular logic of fundamentalist Protestants who begin with the unquestioned assumption that the bible is inspired: First, one reads the gospels without assuming they're perfect or inspired, merely historically reliable (!), and one concludes that Jesus must have been divine. Next, one reads in the gospels that Jesus established Peter as a permanent, infallible religious authority, and since the pope is the successor of Peter, he is also an infallible religious authority. Finally, the pope says the bible is divinely inspired, so we can believe it. I realize now, of course, this argument is incredibly weak, but I was only about thirteen years old when I encountered it, and I already believed the conclusion for non-rational reasons. This was my first real exposure to any justification for my religion, and I grabbed onto it tightly. I later learned to rely on alleged miracles throughout the history of the church as confirmation to quell my doubts, but I never forgot that without papal authority, I had no reason to believe almost anything else in my religion. For example, I couldn't know whether the whole of the bible was true without an authority telling me so, and I couldn't trust my own interpretation of it, which necessarily conflicted with that of other Christians. Within this paradigm, faith was not belief without or in spite of evidence; it was trust in papal authority, which I believed was established by logic and evidence. It didn't matter whether there was any biblical, historical or scientific evidence for any teaching since the pope's approval itself was sufficient evidence. Belief in papal authority was thus the rock on which I built my justification for my religion. For the record, I want to clear that I'm not saying this is an entirely accurate portrayal of actual Catholic doctrine, just my own understanding of it when I was a believer.

My belief structure was mostly rational, in a sense, even if badly mistaken, and I dismissed every other kind of faith as blind and irrational. This brought my views into conflict with other Catholics, especially liberal Catholics. Liberals accept some church teachings (e.g., heaven exists) while rejecting others (e.g., fornication is sinful), but if they reject anything, they must reject its basis, papal authority, and therefore have no reason to accept anything else except on blind faith. The church itself doesn't really care why one believes the easy doctrines, even if it laments and preaches against disbelief in the difficult doctrines, but as for me, I felt not only little connection with liberal believers but even with conservative believers who just happened to accept all the church's teachings without directly and explicitly connecting it to papal authority and instead citing mystical faith. Returning to the point of the story, it explains why I never passed through moderate or liberal phases on the road to apostasy.

Over the years, the very same doubts which drive evolution-type deconverts to moderate and then liberal positions also arose in my mind, but I responded to them either by invoking papal authority if they related to the church's teaching or by simply suppressing them due to my intense fear of hell if they related to the basis for papal authority, such as the divinity of Jesus or even the very existence of God. When I finally sat down and examined these doubts, everything hinged on the original argument as forwarded by Keating, held together by the glue of belief in Catholic miracles. There was no way I could reject belief in hell, which had caused me so much agony over the previous five years, without rejecting everything else. The arguments against religion had to overcome everything all at once, but after a few months of intense research and reflection, that's exactly what happened. In the end, I still had to make an emotional effort to admit that it was all over and finally discontinue attending church, but I always knew I couldn't simply return as a weak believer once I faced my doubts. I had gone from believing everything the church taught to believing nothing. The revolution had ended, and reason had triumphed over superstition.

I would guess the evolution-type deconversion is more common among Catholics and mainline Protestants because most never structure their faith on one core belief, and that the revolution-type is more common among fundamentalist Protestants who often do. In a sense, I was a fundamentalist Catholic; because of my background, my fundamental belief just happened to be papal authority rather than scriptural inerrancy. I wonder whether I would have become an atheist in my teenage years if I had never been convinced of the centrality of papal authority and nothing more than blind faith was offered as justification, which I would almost certainly have rejected more quickly. I'm just happy I'm an atheist now.



Same-Sex Marriage & the Rule of Law

Today the Supreme Court of California upheld Proposition 8, and many proponents and opponents of the measure have reacted strongly to the ruling without even bothering to attempt to understand it. I've already seen many bloggers condemn the members of court without even suggesting they've at all considered the actual issue under review. The court cannot simply overturn a free and fair vote without a very clear legal basis. If one reads the majority decision and honestly disagrees with the legal analysis, then I have no objection. If one simply laments the decision and its effects, I sympathize. But it's downright ignorant and irresponsible to condemn the six justices who supported the ruling as bigots without even knowing the rationale for the ruling.

I know I'm only a second-semester law student, but I've really come to appreciate how little the general populace understands the concept of the rule of law. My first instinct upon hearing the ruling was to find a copy of the decision and try to understand the issue and the reasons for the decision. I've gotten lots of experience examining this type of document, and while I don't expect everyone to be able to understand it themselves, they can all at least find basic summaries in news stories. It's not at all difficult to educate oneself in the age of the internet.

Let's be clear: I'm a strong supporter of same-sex marriage – I voted against Amendment 2 here in Florida, which was stronger than Prop 8 because it also constitutionally prohibited civil unions and anything which resembles civil unions – but I'm an equally strong supporter of the rule of law. If the court could overturn this vote, then they could just as easily also overturn a future vote which would legalize same-sex marriage. With current demographic trends, it's only a matter of time until same-sex marriage is legal in California and, eventually, the rest of the country. I hope to live to see the day when it's legal here in the Bible Belt!

The court did its constitutionally appointed job, so there's no shame on them. There is instead shame on the Californians who voted for it out of bigotry and those outside of the state who organized and financed support for it. Your days as a majority are numbered.



Reason & Compassion

The two keystone virtues of Humanism are reason and compassion. I've recently come to appreciate that on this blog, while I've emphasized the former thoroughly, I've somewhat neglected the latter. Since I believe this life is the only one we have, that we should make the most of it, and that we're happiest when we work with others to improve the world, my goal in writing should be to truly help others rather than simply entertain my readers by discussing the absurdity of religion.

It's easy enough to point out why a belief is false; it's more difficult, and more productive, to identify why it's believed and address a believer's deeper concerns. Let's look at an example. Modern science quickly and easily dismantles the creationist worldview as a matter of fact, but we need to realize the centrality of a creationist's belief that God is in total control of the universe and thus of their lives. We can, and we should, explain why their beliefs don't match reality, and we need not always be gentle in doing so, but we can't forget that creationists are humans just like ourselves who happen to have a mistaken viewpoint. If one is to make any progress in promoting any idea, it does no good to simply dismiss anyone who disagrees as stupid. We need to appreciate that creationists don't cling to a non-scientific view of the universe because they're truly convinced by the evidence that it's correct; they cling to it because they're afraid of what it means if it's wrong. It's important to explain, therefore, how evolution has provided us with an instinctive morality and the ability to reason, and that the sciences have given us a greater understanding and control of our lives than religion ever did. It's important to make them understand that accepting evolution doesn't equate with descent into moral anarchy. Laughing at believers can be fun, but it has only entertainment value and should never be the majority of my religious commentary because it serves only ourselves. Showing believers they don't need to believe in the supernatural in order to be happy, on the other hand, is a work of both reason and compassion.

The non-religious generally understand the practical impossibility of truly hating the sin while also truly loving the sinner, but I have failed to realize that in hating religious belief, I end up hating the religious believer. It's unacceptable, however, to have greater concern for an idea, whether that idea be religious or secular, true or false, than for humankind. Since my innate tendency is to do otherwise, I must focus more on loving the irrational person than hating their irrationality. None of this should at all imply that I should ever back down from communicating or defending my disbelief, simply that I shouldn't let winning every argument and pointing out every logical error forever trump all other concerns. Perhaps the most frustrating experience in life is attempting to have a conversation on a particular topic with a person who has adopted an irrational stance toward it, but that doesn't excuse me for becoming upset when I should anticipate the probable reaction from the beginning. It is irrational, and thus hypocritical, of me to expect others to be rational. I shouldn't even respond in kind to those who antagonize me. There is little virtue in treating people well who return the favor; there is, however, much in rising above pettiness and treating others with the compassion they have not earned.



Being Positive

Yesterday I finished taking my first set of finals in law school. I studied more for those four exams than I did combined over the course of six years pursuing two undergraduate degrees, when I found studying for tests mostly superfluous. I've also moved into a new apartment with my wife in a different part of the city. I mention all of this to explain my lack of activity on this blog in the past few months. Not only have I had very little time to actually write, but I've been so busy with my education, my marriage and our new dwelling that I haven't given religion much thought except where it happens to intersect with my daily life.

At some point, however, it seems there's really nothing more for me to say about humanity's innate tendency to think and act irrationally. I really tire of being so critical and negative, even when I think the target in question is fully worthy of all the disdain I could ever muster. I don't even know whether there's really something positive to promote in Humanism. Its ideals are so high-level as to be practically useless for daily living, and the non-religious tend to be so individualistic that we have difficulty organizing and building real communities. I intend to concentrate on developing my own personal virtue without reference to any ideology or philosophy.



Worshiping a Monster

Yesterday there was an entry at Daylight Atheism on the subject of the atrocity of Passover. One of the comments suggested modern Jews recognize the suffering entailed in the divine slaughter of the first-born Egyptians and mourn for the dead. This seems something like moral progress, but the fact remains they still worship a deity who alleged killed thousands upon thousands of innocent children! There's not even the tiniest sliver of justification for it. At Passover, Jews thus thank a mass murderer for sparing them and praise him for his moral perfection. In the same entry, there were other comments about the importance of the symbolism of the story, but even as an allegory, it fails miserably to communicate any worthwhile or respectable message.

Christians hold an even worse moral position. Although they don't celebrate Passover, they revere the same vile story. What's worse is that they believe this monster tortures unrepentant sinners in a lake of fire for all of eternity, making him infinitely more evil and despicable, all the while constantly extolling his love and mercy. It could hardly be any more absurd.



Humanist Communities

There has been some recent discussion in the media and in the blogosphere about building Humanist communities, and I'd like to indicate my support for the idea and explain some of my thoughts.

The first question commonly asked is why Humanists don't just join a group of Unitarian Universalists. Some certainly do. As for me, though I have a positive opinion of UUs, I really prefer a group of people who generally share my beliefs, not simply a group of people who welcome me regardless of my beliefs. UUs emphasize love, peace and acceptance of all people, but not necessarily the critical thinking and intellectual rigor that I personally value so strongly. They use religious language and rituals in a non-dogmatic manner and they fully welcome atheists, but I much prefer to jettison anything from religion that suggests superstition and retain only the most humanistic elements of religious practice relating to the promotion of virtue and building of communities. These include such things as a recognizable name and symbol, meetings at least once per week, discussions of various topics, social activities, and small group interaction.

Here in Jacksonville, we have the First Coast Freethought Society, but I've only attended a couple of meetings. They only meet once a month on Monday nights, and the group consists almost entirely of senior citizens. I'm less than halfway to being a senior citizen and my wife is less than a third of the way there, so I have a more difficult time making social connections in such a group. There is also an atheist Meet-Up group with plenty of young members, and I've attended a number of their meetings, but the focus is almost exclusively on views of religion. Now I enjoy the criticism of religion more than almost anyone except perhaps some other bloggers, but sometimes I want to move beyond the inherent negativity in criticism and on to something more positive.

Since I've gotten married, my desire for such a community has noticeably weakened. An important part of that desire was to meet a young woman who shares my worldview, and now I have exactly that. I'm also much busier than previously with a wife and law school, so my life is rather full and I'd encounter difficulty in finding time to attend any meetings. I've already had to go on hiatus from improv comedy for several months, and if I find any extra time, it will be spent pursuing that first. If something new arises in the area, however, I hope to lend it whatever support I can manage.


Nothing New Under the Sun

I've grown weary of discussing the statements and actions of religionists in this blog. A couple of years ago I adopted a policy of monitoring the opinion section of my local newspaper in order to provide a source of regular material to address. Since then, I've written dozens of blog entries about perhaps a hundred letters and editorials. Although I've found a brand-new local violation of church-state separation, I've chosen to ignore it and to officially revoke the policy altogether. Believers have nothing new to say, and I have nothing new to say in response. It's the same idiocy over and over again. The average person in the area can't reason their way out of a wet paper bag, and I'm tired of arguing with a brick wall. This is not at all to say that I won't discuss the stupidity of religion, just that I won't feel obligated to myself to mention every example of stupidity that finds its way into the pages of the local newspaper.



Nothing to Fear

This opinion column by Terry Dickson was published in the life section under the title, “Righteous ‘fear’ has its place.” I found most of it unremarkable except for a few choice selections.

The slide in religious affiliation [in New England] may be because of a lack of fear.
Perhaps this is correct. Maybe more people are increasingly realizing they have nothing to fear from non-existent deities and their imaginary torture chambers.
I like what the Rev. Tommy Nelson, senior pastor at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas, sometimes says. He'll be reading along in the Bible and do a little interpretation. “In the original Greek,” he'll say, “the word fear means fear. Be afraid.”
I suppose he didn't get the memo from liberal theologians and apologists that Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love and peace, and he actually read Jesus' intolerant and exclusivist message in the bible!
“I'm prophesying we'll become more religious with this economic downturn,” [Rev. Jay Hanson] said. FDR famously said during the Great Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
How utterly ironic! Dickson laments modern society's lack of fear of God throughout the entire column and then at the end suggests with this quotation that we have nothing to fear and should not be afraid of anything except irrational fear! Be not afraid, indeed!



Foolish Wager

I love waking up in the morning and being threatened with hell as I eat breakfast. This letter by Joyce Bates was published today under the heading, “Atheism: Price of being wrong.”

I am mystified by the belligerence of atheists. Do they really believe their "sincerity" is more important than truth? I'm not trying to persuade them, I just want them to stop trying to persuade me. Why does my belief bother them so much? If I'm wrong, I lose nothing and gain everything. If they're wrong, they lose everything and gain nothing. Looks like a no-brainer to me.
First, I don't know which alleged belligerence she's referring to. She really needed to be more specific. Second, I've never heard any atheist claim that sincerity is more important than truth. Third, I have no idea how atheists are trying to persuade her. We don't have churches, schools, universities, television channels, or radio stations. There are a few local television and radio shows around the country and some podcasts, but those are almost never about deconverting theists. There are atheist books and bookstores, but nothing compared to the number of Christian books and bookstores. I've heard of atheist street preachers and tracts online, but I've never encountered them in person and I would bet neither has the author. I've never even heard of a door-to-door proselytizer. Fourth, her belief bothers some of us because it's irrational and dangerous. It adversely affects political and social life. Fifth, if she actually thinks Pascal's wager is a valid argument for belief, then “no-brainer” a very apt description of her. She claims not to want to persuade us and then she threatens us with eternal torture. This is why religion is evil.



Evolution as God's Work

This letter by Julia Delegal was published today under the heading, “Evolution: Respect boundaries of religion.”

During college, I used to chuckle that Jacksonville was still debating whether the public schools should teach evolution. That was 20 years ago. Now our state senator, Steve Wise, wants intelligent design taught as an "alternative" to evolution in my children's schools. I am no longer chuckling. Instead, I want to scream. I'm no atheist; I'm a believer. My understanding of evolutionary principles in no way threatens my faith in God. Rather, I marvel that a series of events as extraordinary as human evolution could have been orchestrated by a Creator who works through all contingencies. The choice about whether to believe in God, in light of evolutionary science or in spite of it, however, is irrelevant to the question of whether intelligent design is a scientific theory. It is not. It is a belief built on faith-based assumptions - not on empirically proven phenomena that are explainable via theory. A George W. Bush-appointed federal judge, who decided the 2005 Kitzmiller case, agrees: intelligent design "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist and thus religious, antecedents." Our Deist forefathers descended from those who fled religious tyranny. They knew that investing religious groups with governmental power would interfere with the freedom of individuals to pursue their own spiritual quests. Wise received hate mail in reaction to a related bill that failed last year. Those letter writers should ask themselves if they would appreciate their own children being proselytized by someone of a religion different from their own. They should treat others as they wish to be treated. On this issue, the First Amendment to the Constitution demands no less. Denying or denigrating science in the name of religion won't inoculate children from atheism. But insisting, disingenuously, that religion is science risks driving them to a wholesale rejection of faith. Conjuring "alternatives" to evolutionary theory is not God's work; it's political fodder. Winning the hearts and minds of our young people necessitates that we honor their minds, especially if we believe those minds to be God-given. I challenge local religious leaders to demand that Wise withdraw the intelligent design bill, and get on with this year's real work: funding education.
My reaction to liberal religion is always mixed. In this case, I'm happy to see support for the teaching of evolution and sad to see an unwillingness to abandon faith after it's been rendered meaningless. It strikes me as very odd to “marvel that a series of events as extraordinary as human evolution could have been orchestrated by a Creator” when that series of events resulted in the extinction of more than ninety-nine percent of all species and a very imperfect design for our own bodies. And I certainly don't want to “inoculate” children from atheism or discourage a “wholesale rejection of faith”! Nevertheless, if fundamentalist believers adopted this author's viewpoint, science education and society as a whole would no doubt improve.




This letter by David Ramseur was published today under the heading, “Intelligent Design: Give children the facts.”

This is in response to letters regarding Sen. Steve Wise's proposed bill to require teachers who teach evolution to also be open to discuss intelligent design. It is so easy to see intelligent design in the laws that govern these mysterious forces of our universe. The great scientists of the past built their studies on the fact that intelligent design was evident in their successfully tested experiments and not products left to chance. Even the famous British atheist scientist, Richard Dawkins (as stated in the Expelled movie), believes in the possibility that there is an intelligent designer somewhere. Moreover, the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the classroom is the same as actually teaching the religion of atheism, which violates the First Amendment. Finally, in the 1925 Scopes monkey trial, attorney Clarence Darrow, who represented the teacher, rightly stated that we should teach all ideas about origins and let the children decide for themselves.
First, according to article referenced by this letter, the bill doesn't just allow the discussion of intelligent design, it requires it. Second, science doesn't advance by assuming intelligent design, it advances by assuming the opposite through methodological naturalism. Third, I have no idea what Dawkins said in Expelled, but it's irrelevant. Fourth, atheism is not in any sense a religion and teaching how life changes without any reference to the supernatural is not in any sense atheistic. Fifth, you can teach children any and all ideas at school, but non-scientific ideas should not be taught in science class. We're not denying children any facts because intelligent design has no facts, just a fear of finding its god irrelevant.


This letter by Richard Bohler was published on February 21st under the heading, “The faith of atheists.”
Atheists who hyperventilate over intelligent design should first consider themselves. It takes great faith to espouse the belief that there is no God, when there is absolutely no evidence to support that contention. Indeed, the idea of the necessity of a first cause must be a real conundrum to them. Intelligent Design simply presents the logical idea that an intelligence must have started the whole ball rolling. Evolution of life forms in no way conflicts with the designs of the Prime Mover; it could simply be part of the plan.
First, only strong atheists believe that no gods exist. Second, it's no less reasonable to believe that gods don't exist than to believe that that leprechauns don't exist. Third, if he thinks atheists are at all troubled by the cosmological argument, he's obviously never talked to an atheist. Fourth, the idea that an eternal, omnipresent, disembodied intelligence is necessary for the genesis and evolution of single-cell organisms over billions of years is not at all logical; it's completely absurd.

This letter by Julia Braza was published on February 23rd under the heading, “Intelligent design: Present the debate.”
I am responding to a recent letter that was critical of Sen. Steve Wise's proposal to introduce the teaching of intelligent design. It is important to remember that intelligent design is not creationism, nor does it contradict evolution. If intelligent design were taught in the classroom, the teacher would not read the book of Genesis aloud and then say "end of discussion." The theory of intelligent design merely states that there is an intelligent force behind certain aspects and patterns of the universe, as opposed to complete randomness. The idea could be presented to students in such a way as to say that many in the scientific community believe that evolution and natural selection are undirected processes, while others in the scientific community believe that there is an intelligent force directing or instigating these processes. Presenting the idea of intelligent design is not teaching religion to students any more than presenting the fundamental tenants [sic] of Islam; it's simply making them aware of different beliefs and outlooks in our world. If we become so afraid of mentioning God (or even an "intelligent force") under the false auspices of not wanting to push our religion on anyone, then we have in effect pushed atheism on everyone. Let's keep the discussion open-ended instead. I think our kids can handle it.
First, intelligent design most certainly is a form of creationism and most certainly does contradict evolution. It claims that an intelligence created life because it's too complex to have evolved, and the only way to teach it is to criticize evolutionary theory. Contrary to the author's assertion, it's not about some mystical force directing events throughout the universe. Second, there's no dispute in the scientific community, so the idea shouldn't be introduced into science class. Third, the example of teaching the basic tenets of Islam is awkward since the author probably wouldn't want them taught in science class, just like I don't want intelligent design taught in science class. Fourth, neutrality toward religion does not equate with promoting atheism. Would the author argue that math class promotes atheism because it doesn't mention gods in the discussion of the processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division?

This letter by John Campbell was published on February 23rd under the heading, “Intelligent design: Science as dogma.”
I find it interesting that Sen. Steve Wise is criticized for trying to inject his religion into the science classroom. The real story is that evolution is the chief doctrine of the secular humanists, a religion as defined by the U. S. Supreme Court. They want no competition of ideas in this area and certainly don't want things like irreducible complexity or the evolution of the eye openly discussed in the classroom. And they certainly don't want students to ask the whereabouts of all those billions and billions of transitional species fossils that don't exist. No, the real religious dogma is coming from the secular humanists, not Wise.
First, secular humanism has not been defined as a religion by SCOTUS. It was mentioned in a non-authoritative footnote of Torcaso v. Watkins as the functional equivalent of a non-theistic religion. Second, even if it were a chief doctrine of a religion, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't teach it; if something is supported by evidence, we should teach it, and evolution is supported by literally mountains of evidence. Third, I suspect the author has never taken a class on evolution because they most certainly do talk about the eye and how it's evolved many separate times, and they show plenty of transitional fossils. Fourth, the competition of ideas should happen in scientific research, not in scientific eduction. No, we don't want the absurdly false propaganda of creationists in science classrooms.



Know Thy Enemy

Contrary to the claims of some detractors of the “New Atheists,” it's not necessary to understand the intricacies of a religious doctrine in order reject it as absurd or unsubstantiated. It is, however, necessary to understand the basic definition in order to articulate a meaningful critique. In particular, I've seen a number of arguments on blogs and forums against Catholic dogmas which fail simply because the author misconstrues them out of pure ignorance. I'll address two of these errors in the hope that my readers will avoid them and advance a more effective criticism of religion.

The first is the dogma of transubstantiation. This is the belief that during the consecration in mass, the bread and wine become Jesus' body and blood without changing their physical nature whatsoever. It's said that the invisible, spiritual, immaterial “substance” changes without the visible, physical, material “form” or “accidents” changing. This means that what still looks exactly like bread and wine are believed to be literally Jesus' flesh and blood distributed as communion. There is considerable confusion about this idea even among Catholics, partly because it makes a nonsensical distinction and partly because the wrong word is often used to define it. I've seen even moderately sophisticated authors define transubstantiate with transform even though transubstantiation was coined precisely to distinguish it from transformation. With that said, if one wishes to attack the dogma, then it's an error to simply point out that it still looks like bread and wine given that such is happily acknowledged. Challenges to examine it under a microscope or after a communicant has received it fall into the category of error, for it's not claimed that the form changes at any point in space or time. It's supposedly an absolutely undetectable miracle, making it from a skeptic's perspective an absolutely worthless miracle claim with respect to possible evidence for the supernatural. Proper criticism of the doctrine would focus on the absurdity of the distinction between matter and spirit, the importance of falsifiability, the moral repugnancy of cannibalizing one's deity, or any other topic consistent with its true definition.

The second is the dogma of papal infallibility. This is the belief that the pope cannot err when speaking authoritatively for the entire church – ex cathedra or “from the chair” – on matters of faith and morals. The scope is extraordinarily narrow, and while there is some disagreement among scholars about precisely which statements qualify, the vast majority of papal statements which one finds in the news are certainly not considered ex cathedra. It's an error, therefore, if your goal is to argue against infallibility, to point out that the pope apparently contradicted something he himself or one of his predecessors said unless both were said under very special circumstances. In addition, the doctrine clearly doesn't concern papal actions and shouldn't be confused with impeccability, the inability to sin. Pointing out the sins of the current or past popes is irrelevant with respect to infallibility, especially given that recent popes have very publicly acknowledged some of the papacy's historical wrongs. Proper criticism would focus on contradictions between recognized ex cathedra statements and the inherent fallibility in determining whether another person is infallible.

The mixing up of two more dogmas is more easily resolved and doesn't itself cause bad argumentation, but I would like to clarify them anyway. The “Immaculate Conception” refers to the conception of Mary by her parents without imputing her with original sin, not the conception of Jesus by Mary without a sexual act, which is known as the “Incarnation.” Both dogmas are vulnerable to criticism, but the first step is use the correct terminology.

I've been attacked for indicating that an atheist was arguing against a straw man and accused of “towing [sic] the [church's] party line,” but such criticism is severely misdirected. I consider religious dogma my enemy and the best way to fight is “to know thy enemy.” Telling your comrades that they're firing blanks is a service to your cause, not to the other side. Advancing the anti-theistic equivalents of the creationist claim that evolution is false because there are still monkeys is quite ineffective.


Unwise Proposal

My local State Senator Stephen Wise recently introduced a bill which would require science teachers who teach evolution to also discuss intelligent design in their classes. I learned of it through a couple atheist and scientific blogs, but today I saw some local reaction in the newspaper.

  • This letter by Jon Dehner was published today under the heading, “Evolution: Why stop there?”
  • This letter by Robert M. Nied was published today under the heading, “Evolution: A burden on schools.”
I'd like to see Wise kicked out of office by the voters next election cycle, but I don't think that will happen. Wise represents a predominantly credulous and overwhelmingly Republican district and there's no good chance of someone even marginally more progressive being elected in the foreseeable future.

  • This letter by Patrick Nolan was published on February 16th under the heading, “Evolution: Going backward.”
  • This letter by Deborah Courtney was published on February 18th under the heading, “Intelligent Design: Waste of time.”
  • This letter by Bob Awtrey was published on February 20th under the heading, “Evolution: Not a religious matter.”
  • This letter by Paul Cottle was published on February 23rd under the heading, “Intelligent design: Proposed bill misses mark.”



Buckle Up With Jesus

Yesterday I saw a decorative license plate on the front of a truck which read, “Buckle Up with Jesus.” While I support a reminder to take safety precautions before driving, the addition of religion into the picture struck me as very odd. I suppose the idea is that you're supposed to trust Jesus to keep you safe, but if he could do that, why would you need a seat belt? If one truly has an omnimax deity with him at all times, then one has absolutely nothing to fear in any situation. Promoting the rational use of seat belts is thus tacit acknowledgment that their best friend is imaginary, but pretending they have a magical sky daddy watching out over them must make them feel better. If they kept their delusions to themselves, we could just chuckle at their irrationality and not worry about anything more serious, but of course we all know that doesn't always happen.

I have recently noticed a number of the new alternate Florida license plates which replace the state's nickname, “Sunshine State,” with the state's official motto, “In God We Trust.” (That's right, Florida doesn't have a unique motto different from the national one!) I think they're available upon request for no additional charge, unlike the more than a hundred specialty tags which require a special fee. The legislators who approved the new design must have no worries that it could be found unconstitutional given that it's insulated by two layers of tradition. I don't care so much that it's an alternative. I'm just afraid that it will eventually replace the standard design, forcing me to switch to a specialty tag, assuming those aren't also infected by theocracy. I would probably consider the Imagine tag and scribble on “no religion” with a marker. Let's hope it doesn't come to that, but you never know.

It's time for some deity replacement therapy: Buckle up with Apollo!



Why I Would Never Be Elected to Public Office

Although I have no intention of ever running for public office, the thought occasionally crosses my mind that I would have no chance as someone who has publicly acknowledged his atheism. The problem would be compounded if my otherwise anonymous blog were connected with my name and the media presented some particularly damning quotes as sound bites. As an intellectual curiosity, I have gathered a selection of the most anti-theistic quotes from Secular Planet and present them here in reverse chronological order.

Today is Blasphemy Day International!
If Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah really existed, as portrayed in their respective scriptures, they would be absolutely evil and worthy of every ounce of contempt and derision we could muster toward them.
Foolish Wager
This is why religion is evil.
Know Thy Enemy
I consider religious dogma my enemy...
Buckle Up With Jesus
[T]heir best friend is imaginary, but pretending they have a magical sky daddy watching over them must make them feel better.
Atheism as Medicine
Religion is indeed a mental disease...
Why Religious Belief Matters
Religion gives bigots moral cover...
Reverse Stupidity
All of this suggests the devil is highly incompetent and poses no threat to anyone with half a brain, but I suppose that's not the church's target audience.
The Importance of Religious Literalism
[T]he message of the bible is essentially tyrannical and barbaric...
Perpetual Adoration
As is typical with religion, it's just absurdity upon absurdity.
Hell: The Evilest Doctrine
Whenever I hear Jesus referred to as loving or merciful, I wince. While the gospels do contain some benevolent teachings, these are completely overshadowed by Jesus' recurrent threat of unending torture for anyone who fails to accept his message. One cannot expect praise for preaching love while simultaneously executing divine blackmail.
No Sacred Cows
Most people think the message [of the gospel] is love and forgiveness whereas it's actually, “Believe or fry!”
The Necessity of Doubt
I simply cannot respect anyone who claims to have never doubted their beliefs.
Religious Justification for Bigotry
[A]s is often the case, it's primarily religion that's hindering social progress. Whether religion actually creates bigotry or simply provides hypocritical justification for it, irrational belief is the enemy of human advancement.
Not Following Jesus
The key to understanding this divergence is to realize that Jesus' ministry as portrayed in the Gospels was essentially an apocalyptic cult.
Scrupulosity, OCD and the Doctrine of Hell
The Christian God was a monster in my eyes whom I grew to fear and despise more and more over the years.
Religion and My Life
[R]eligion is the principal virus of irrationality in our world, affecting the majority of people around the globe and in my own country. This irrationality often leads to poor decisions, injustice and misery...
Why I'm No Longer A Catholic
The Bible is full of stories of violent injustice of all types committed by God, commanded by God, rewarded by God, or looked favorably upon by God: wars of conquest, slaughter of innocent men, women, and children, divine plagues, looting, slavery, death penalty for minor infractions, and a worldwide flood.
The Bible is full of material which suggests it is the work of humans and not of God: contradictions, failed prophecies, scientific errors, religious intolerance, misogyny, racism, sexual perversion, and blatant absurdities.
Eventually, however, I mustered the courage to say to myself, “If there exists a deity who will punish me forever for rejecting something as absurd, implausible, and disgusting as Christianity, then so be it.”
Experiences of an Apostate
God was never my friend and I didn't mourn his passing.
Reflections on Two Years Without God
Nevertheless, I celebrate my atheism for liberating me from the chains of religion and granting me the freedom to truly live in the light of reason.
The Muslim Immunity to Irony
I have since learned that Islamic scriptures are no less violent, intolerant, and hypocritical, simply more tedious and disorganized.
Rental Capsules vs. Neutral Spaces
Religion is the disease and secularism is the cure.
Three Church Signs
I believe every religion is false...
Of course, there are several other reasons why I wouldn't run or have any chance of being elected, but it was still interesting compiling this list. I know most atheist blogs have more virulent criticism than mine, but I consciously avoid being inflammatory for its own sake and I still end up disqualifying myself as a political candidate many times over simply be discussing what I believe in a relatively measured manner. Such is life in the United States.



Deity Replacement Therapy

I don't remember where I first encountered the idea of replacing God and Jesus in your mind with other names whenever you encounter them spoken or written by believers in order to remove any associated emotional baggage and to remind yourself how absurd religion sounds from the outside, but I would like to present my own list of common expressions having done exactly that. I have selected Zeus and Apollo as the father and son deities to replace God and Jesus, not because their mythology most closely matches Christian mythology – Osiris and Horus are probably the best fit – but because Zeus is the probably the best known pagan god and the name Apollo sounds better to my ears and can't be confused with the homophonic name Horace.

God » Zeus

  • Zeus bless you.
  • Zeus bless America.
  • Zeus is love.
  • Zeus works in mysterious ways.
  • Zeus doesn't believe in atheists.
  • With Zeus, all things are possible.
  • In Zeus we trust.
Jesus » Apollo
  • Apollo loves you.
  • Apollo saves.
  • Apollo is lord.
  • Apollo is the answer.
  • Real men love Apollo.
  • You've got a friend in Apollo.
  • No Apollo, no peace. Know Apollo, know peace.
  • What would Apollo do?
I find it remarkable that a similar yet distinct effect results if you simply use the somewhat more proper but less familiar names Yahweh and Yeshua. The former brings a very abstract concept back to its origins as a historically provincial deity and the latter reminds you that Jesus was not the sanitized, westernized version many people imagine as their best friend.

If you think of any common expressions containing references to either God or Jesus, please leave me a comment and I'll consider adding them to the list. Thank you!