Who is to blame?

By Dave, the WM

The Virginia Tech shootings are fading from the major media's short-lived stage, but Christian rhetoric is continuing to lay the blame for the tragedy at the feet of non-theists.

Atheism has become very popular in universities--where it's taught that we evolved from animals and that there are no moral absolutes. So we shouldn't be surprised when there are school shootings. -- Kirk Cameron

An atheist ... has absolutely no grounds for condemning Cho's actions ... If human and animal history is reliable, massacre is as natural as sex. Therefore, in the absence of God, nothing is wrong. World Net Daily News

Others are blaming gun laws and still others blame inaction on the part of school authorities.

Who to blame seems fairly simple to me. The shooter apparently became more and more deranged over time until he became a danger to himself and others. Assigning blame to anyone or anything beyond that one thing is a bit unrealistic. Let's face it, some people are nuts and do nutty things. Mental illness has nothing to do with prayer in school, or violent Bugs Bunny cartoons, or Internet porn, or Three Stooges episodes, for that matter, Bible-God's Old Testament genocidal commands. A certain percentage of the population is mentally disabled in some way, and people are hurt by them. That's why we have law enforcement. That's why we have the military.

Insanity in a percentage of the population is to be expected, really. The brain is just an organ, and is subject to at least as much malfunction and error as any other of the flawed, non-intelligently designed organs in our bodies.

So, in my opinion, there is really no one to blame, and there is no way to keep things like this from happening in the future. Put together a few billion people on one planet and eventually someone is going to do something weird. That's just the way it is.

One thing that fascinates me about this whole episode is how some Christians are insisting that a lack of religious training in public schools and/or a lack of prayer in public schools and/or the teaching of modern science in public schools, are the root causes for random outbreaks of violence.

Can that be true? Just because public schools aren't teaching, preaching, or promoting religion – that is why there is random, illogical violence?

Perhaps these Christian rhetoricians are well-intentioned, but I wonder if they even realize what they are advocating: governmentally mandated religion.

History is replete with examples of countries that went down the road of mandating religion. Today we have some colorful contemporary examples of governments that mandate religion. Do Christians really want to open up that Pandora's Box in the United States, a box that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and many others locked and closed?

I think there might be another reason Christians are playing the blame game. Perhaps the finger should be pointed at the religious community itself. Surely the churches of the living GOD, which are scattered everywhere throughout the entire United States, are not admitting to a stark powerlessness when it comes to influencing the hearts of men, are they? I mean, is Christianity so pathetically irrelevant to the average person's life that it requires the intervention of the public education system in order to promote its message?

Are Christians saying that without governmental intervention, the Holy Spirit's power to effect change is impotent? Is that why these random acts of violence occur? Because their almighty deity needs the Viagra of governmental authority to drive home HIS limp agenda?

Or, perhaps Christianity is to blame for these random acts of violence because its leaders have diluted, warped, misused, or otherwise weakened the once all-powerful and magical effects of the cross. As any good politician will tell you, pointing gnarled fingers at others often successfully diverts attention away from the real culprit.

Right and wrong

Atheism, claim Christians, provides no basis for judging right from wrong. Atheism, say Christians, gives murder and non-murder an equal moral value. Therefore, governmental schools, by being secular in nature, promote atheistic immorality, and are to blame for societal ills. That, add Christians, is certainly a problem.

Let's say, for philosophic and argument's sake, that what Christians say is true. Since atheism acknowledges no god, then perhaps there is no divinely mandated divisions between right and wrong. Regardless, no one has a moral sense because of words written in a book. I have a moral sense because of my parents, and because of societal influences, because of evolutionary programming, and because I'm not currently deranged. I learned right from wrong from my family, through trial and error, and because of my genetic predispositions. For instance, I don't particularly care for hunting or fishing, and I don't enjoy squashing insects. I don't believe killing and eating the bodies of animals is wrong, but I occasionally find the entire life from death process distasteful. Killing and eating other species, just because we can, seems a bit barbaric at times. Necessary, but barbaric. I'm not a vegan, but... there are large populations of people who believe killing and eating animals is morally wrong.

I once thought masturbation was a terrible sin. That's what I was taught by Christianity, and as a young person, every time I was aroused and hormonally tortured, I felt horrible, begging for forgiveness. If I submitted to the urge, and touched myself, I was mortified. I now consider the practice of masturbation amoral, not necessarily good nor bad. Think about it, is scratching an itch on your own body a sin? Is scratching the crack of your ass wrong? Is picking your nose and flicking your snot sinful? Maybe these aren't things that can be politely done in public, but are they really morally wrong? Yet, because of the way people are taught to think about their sex organs, by Christianity, some people suffer severe guilt whenever they feel the need to privately relieve themselves of a natural, and demanding, hormonal itch.

Is slavery wrong? Not according to the Bible. And not according to hundreds of preachers in the pre-Civil War American South. Slavery is now illegal, thank no-God. And few Christian leaders would support the reinstitution of that particular crime against humanity. But, Bible God instituted the practice and supported it. Torture isn't even condemned in the Bible. In fact, Bible God threatens all who lack belief in HIM with everlasting torture in Hell.

No, words in a book do not an angel make. And lack of words from a mystical holy book do not a demon make. Governmental mandates will not stop random acts of violence, and ranting and raving about atheists will not make Christianity true.

I don't think Christianity is to blame for the horror at Virgina Tech, but neither are atheists. The fault lies with the fragile nature of our bodies, our minds, and our lives.

What do you think?

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Jack T. Chick tracts on YouTube

If you're not familiar with Jack Chick's comic-style evangelical tracts, then these little videos might go over your head. However, for the rest of us, "Depart from ME ye cursed!"

Always remember, Jesus loves you more than you can possibly comprehend. But, if for any reason whatsoever you don't come to accept the correct version of Christianity while still breathing air, then that loving god-man is going to make you suffer the most horrific and demented fate ever conceived. There will be no chance of parole or escape. You will not even be allowed to die. You will be tormented and tortured forever.

Unconditional love and grace: Isn't it truly amazing?

The Titanic:

One Way!:

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Right back at ya!

By DagoodS

Even as a Christian, I was surprised at the blurring of the distinction between Christianity and the American concepts of “Rights.”

I recall a Sunday School teacher talking of how the government was questioning one of his contributions to the church and whether it was a legitimate deduction. What I remember so vividly was his outrage followed by the statement, “This is a form of persecution on Christians.”

Excuse me?

Let me get this straight—something unheard of under both the Bible and U.S. Constitution, yet if you don’t get it, it is some sort of “persecution”? I am sure all those martyrs in Fox’s Book of Martyrs would go pale in the shock of how abusive this concept is—to NOT get a tax benefit for doing something you should do doing anyway. Shocked, I say!

A “Right” is a benefit conferred upon citizens by the will of the general populace, usually reduced to writing in the form of a Constitution. While “inalienable human rights” may be referred to, try convincing cancer you have a right to “life.” Or your boss on a sunny Friday afternoon that you have a right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Sure you have that “right.” You would also discover the “right” to find new employment!

What surprised me, and continues to surprise me is that Christians in America elevate their rights under the Constitution to at least the equivalent of the Bible, if not eclipse it. The First Amendment under the Bill of Rights is considered pragmatically more divine then the Song of Solomon.

How many times have we heard, “As a Christian I have the right to pray in school”? Or “…have the Ten Commandments in the Courthouse”? or “…practice my religion by doing _____”? Here’s a news flash—you obtain that “right” as a citizen of your country; not because you are a Christian.

In America, this confrontation over religious rights rests squarely on the first clause of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…
And the perpetual question we have wrestled is the meaning and limitation of what “establishment of religion” is or “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Clearly, in reviewing our history, we HAVE limited the free exercise of religion. Ask the Mormons how polygamy is going. If I started a church in which one basic tenet is that we do not pay taxes in any way (property, state or income) I may have a large membership, but I would quickly find the government impinging our “free exercise thereof.”

Rather than focus on the legal machinations that have wended our way through this minefield, I would like to ask a more simple, basic question—with all the competing theistic beliefs, can we as humans manage a system by which we respect the other’s beliefs?

Let’s get two things out of the way. First, I understand that every person reading this blog entry has the correct theistic belief. I also understand that the simplest method would be to impose the correct theistic belief, which coincidently is yours. However, I hope you understand that many people with…slightly…to greater to even vast differences in belief also say theirs is the correct one.

If we say, “Use the correct belief” and then try and determine what “correct” means we are right back to where we started. Which is nowhere. We are all going to have to concede the fact that others believe differently than we do. Oh, sure they are wrong, but if we don’t respect their ability to be wrong, they will fail to respect ours.

Secondly, the reality is that not every situation will be to your liking. In fact, you are going to actually have to suck it up and realize that, on occasion, you will have to self-limit your own belief.

We often see the claim that atheism is a religion in the context that by not acknowledging any God, this results in the “establishment of religion.” A no-no. For example, if the courts determine that no prayer can be given before a football game at a public high school, a Christian may shout out that by NOT allowing a prayer, the courts have established the “religion” of atheism. (The poor agnostics never get a break in the “rights” department.)

Assuming that is true, we are left in a Catch-22. Allowing the prayer will impinge the non-theist’s “free exercise.” Prohibiting the prayer will impinge the Christian’s. Either one, somebody is not going to be happy.

If you are a parent, you learn that it is easier, sometimes, to follow Nancy Reagan’s advice and “Just Say ‘No.’” It is easier to draw a hard line in the sand and say NOBODY is getting ice cream, rather than hearing the bickering back and forth as to who was good enough, or who does not deserve the ice cream.

The courts have, in essence, flopped onto this policy. If the Christians get a prayer before the football game, then so do the Muslims. And the Jews. And the Branch Dividians. And the Moonies. And the Catholics. And the Baptists. And the Lutherans. We could never play football! While these groups may not be asking for the opportunity now, if they do, and we have allowed one…

It is easier to “Just Say ‘No.’” to all. However, I am talking about how WE need to get along, not what the Courts have done.

We could claim that the majority rules. That the minority must defer to the majority belief until it becomes the majority opinion. There are two significant problems with this.

First, it is not courteous to the minority position. Nor loving. If we start to lord it over the minority position, it is quite possible that someday our own position becomes the minority, and we would regret this policy. We learned in the schoolyard that just because you are the biggest and can beat the smaller, this only makes you a bully. Not better. I would hope we would want to be “better.” Not bullies.

Second, determining “majority” position becomes a difficulty. Is it the majority of people in the city? In the County? In the State? In the Country? In the World? And what do we do—keep taking surveys and votes to determine what religious belief happens to be the majority at that moment?

Even with “majority” difficulties arise. If we use the Abrahamic God, do we lump in all the Jews, Muslims and Christians, and claim that God as “Majority”? Or are those separate categories? Or do we use a method by which we label the categories in a way which best helps us? Like including the Jews (but not the Muslims) if we need their numbers to take us over the top.

And within each belief—what is the majority? For example, do we include the Catholics in our count of Christians? But a prayer to a saint! The Protestants may NOT want to include the Catholics. Unless they then lose their majority…

We all know what we would see. If convenient, certain theistic beliefs would be included in order to obtain a majority. If not, they would be excluded.

We non-theists are smart enough to play this card as well. See, the Muslims agree that the Jesus was not God. We could include them and the Jews and every other belief to “Oust” the Christians from their majority. Because a majority does NOT hold Jesus as God. Or we could join the Christians and Jews to “oust” Allah from being the majority.

Determining a majority would become a battle similar to what we have now. (And Perhaps the non-theists would be the constant swing vote! O.K. I can dream!)

Can we do better? Can we find a way by which we agree to self-limit our theistic belief, for the greater good of getting along? Oh, I still encourage all parties to go to the court system. (Have to pay the bills, ya know!) It is what is it there for. If you think that it is of vast import and having some person in a black dress tell you how to act with your neighbor—go for it!

I would prefer that we could rise above it as humans and not need the court to give respect to each other. Let me give an example.

Our American currency, from each coin to every bill in circulation contains the statement “In God We Trust.” I don’t trust in a God. There isn’t one. I am forced to use currency by virtue of living in America. Each day, I am passing around little statements that tell the world something I would prefer to not tell the world.

So what.

I mean REALLY—So What!

As actions speak louder than words, what I am actually saying is that I am relying on these little bits of green ink on paper to obtain those things that sustain me. In fact, the use of every single penny, every nickel is NOT saying “In God We Trust” but quite the opposite—“In Gold We Trust.”

By obtaining money, I am saying that I don’t expect God to provide for me—I expect this money to do so. By saving it, I am saying quite a bit about my anticipation for God to take care of me in the future—I think more of Alexander Hamilton doing so than God. By spending it, I am saying that God can’t get it for me—but Abraham Lincoln can!

Being a person that appreciates irony wherever I can find it—I truly enjoy it every time I see “In God We Trust” on money. Come on, Christians—do you see Jesus teaching how to pray:

“Our Father who art on the Ten Dollar Bill,
Unwrinkled be thy name,
Your picture come,
Your crisp smell done,
On earth because we ain’t in Heaven.

Buy us this day our daily bread.
Your portrait for debts
Both Public and Private.
Retain your present value compared to the Euro,
But deliver us from that blasted penny!”

Do you think God is excited about having his name on—of all things—money? I can see “In God We Trust” on Bibles. On Churches. Even on homes and plaques and pillows. But money?

O.K.—it is important to you for some inexplicable reason. As if that has some meaning. Can you take what you dish out? In England, Charles Darwin is on the 10-Pound note. Any Christian have a problem with that?

Christians: there is no prayer in school. Is it THAT important to have prayer? Yes, I know it impinges your free exercise of religion. (Sorta. You can pray to yourself, of course.) But in order to get along with your fellow humans—can you give it up? Could you have voluntarily given it up for the betterment of humans?

Non-theists: our money mentions the “G” word. Yes, I know that impinges on your theistic belief. (Sorta. You can write checks.) But in order to get along with your fellow humans—can you not care? Can you use it voluntarily for the betterment of humans?

Perhaps it is just me, but I am seeing a polarization of beliefs. We are DEMANDING that how we believe must be imposed on others. I want prayer--give me prayer! I don’t believe in god--remove it from my coins! If we can’t rise above this, we are but two short steps from the sectarian violence we see in the Middle East.

Can we be better? Rather than insist on our “rights” can we suspend that demand, and allow others to exercise theirs? It may be someday, we will realize that the group that can do that is the most Christ-like.

A Sunday chuckle

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Interview with a Christian school superintendent

Brian Flemming, a former fundamentalist Christian, goes back to interview Dr. Sipus, the superintendent of Fleming's Christian grade school, Village Christian in California. The interview grows heated when Flemming questions the wisdom of teaching children religious belief as fact. The scene is from the documentary, "The God Who Wasn’t There."

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Evolution for ID-iots

Or, ID as explained by ID-iot Kent Hovind:

Or, Carl Sagan's view:

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High school or mega-church?

By Joe B

While thinking of my xian experiences yesterday, I was struck by the similarity between American high schools and American megachurches. I had a sudden understanding that the way kids are shaped during their basic 12 years of education has a lot to do with the way evangelical churches are taking in their effort to "minister in a culturally relevant" way.

I'm not talking so much about the weekly pep rally, structured curriculum, extracurricular activities or summer camps, although those certainly bear structurally similarity. The more striking thing for me is the function of small group ministries and peer pressure that these churches employ in conforming adults to their model of behavior. See Thomas Hines "The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager" for an insightful history of how the experience of youth has changed with the social and economic dynamics of the last two centuries. The normalization of the High School experience from the 40s and 50s is an informative thread in his book

The church has its finger on the pulse of these changes. Not that they're all that clever. It's more of a natural selection process where those that figure out how to plug into the current psychological levers will thrive as others go extinct.

Obviously, New Life, Sovereign Grace, and the other megachurch variants, are among the success stories of this decade. One of the common features I have observed is the way they use the high school peer group model. In a variety of ways, the church leadership identifies who the "cool kids" are. They are trotted up on stage now and again and recognized for their coolness in whatever they're doing for the church, and that popularity makes them useful tools. One church I belonged to would pick a cool individual or couple each week and included a mini MySpace page in the bulletin: Favorite hobby (giving out PB&J and xian tracts to homeless people, or some such), favorite book (by some approved apologist), which small group clique he/she/they belong to, and of course favorite food (the minor worldly indulgence that makes them "real"). These were clearly well aimed at a church membership, in which individuals are deeply conditioned by the informal conformity pressures of their formative years.

"Want to be popular? Be like Brett here. God loves what Brett is doing, and he'll love you too if you can be like that." Just as xianity morphed its messages and methods in the 3rd-4th centuries to get control of peasants and merchants, and continued to do so to grab the masses of each age, it has learned how to leverage the psychology of the modern American. Now they call it "Culturally relevant messaging." Sounds nice. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

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The tragedy and a question

By Jim Earl

After reading umpteen letters written by both local and distant writers of apparently deep faith about the tragedy of Virginia Tech, I decided it was time for a view from one without this mysterious faith. I am dumbstruck by some of the statements from these people of deep faith. According to almost all of these writers, faith is the best thing anyone could ever possess, because it's just so much better than common sense or logic. Whatever life has to offer, including tragedies beyond measure, these writers want all of us to believe that without faith we don't have anything to help us cope.

Well, let me assure you that faith is not a requirement to cope with tragedy. Millions of human beings live full and fruitful lives without any religious faith. I happen to count myself among those millions. I live my life with logic and reason, and I assure you, as one who has lived on both sides of the "god" debate, life is indeed good on this side. Of course, this tragedy has hurt me beyond words. I ache for the victims and their extended families. I wouldn't be human if I didn't feel their pain. We surely don't need faith to feel the intense sadness and wish we could magically make it all disappear. The writers depend of their deep faith to do that. That flies in the face of an all-powerful deity that seemingly does nothing to prevent evil acts. But he is able to help his victims get over what he fails to prevent. Odd way of thinking, in my opinion, but apparently, that's how faith works.

This deeply rooted faith, or blind faith, intensely bothers me. Let me explain.

We are all see the dreadful effects of blind faith on a daily basis. Suicide bombers must have this type of faith or they wouldn't be able to carry out their last act for their "god" and glory. Not only that, but these hideous acts drive others to follow suit. Blind faith seems to have a clouding effect of logic and reasoning on such an individual. When someone has faith deep enough to dismiss whatever happens in life as a "gods" will, then those individuals are in serious need of help.

Many of the writers have made statements such as: "This tragedy has helped me in my faith." Say what? You have the luxury of believing in an all-powerful, all good, all everything "god", and you are asking for his help in getting past this tragedy? Where is the logic in that? If I were audacious enough to believe in a god, he would surely have to demonstrate his omnipotence beyond any doubt to me. After all, that's what a "god" is supposed to be. Most Americans believe in such a deity, and follow him without question. However, to claim a tragedy such as those mentioned would help to deepen your faith shows me that there is a serious problem recognizing the need for logic and reason. Remember, I was once playing the same game. Even as a young Christian, I wondered what "god" was doing while Hitler was burning his victims. Later, I wondered what "god" was doing while priests and pastors had their way with their young victims. Likewise, when the powerful hurricane hit New Orleans and people died praying for their "gods" delivery from the rising waters, I again wondered what was their "god" doing that was more important than saving their lives. I did notice
that the people who had an ax in their attics were able to survive. That was logic in action. It finally became clear to me that there is a definite problem with evil and an all-powerful "god." After much reading and intense research, my faith vanished, never to return. I haven't missed it one iota. In fact, I am very proud of the fact that I prefer logic and reason instead of faith and prayer.

Some of the writers even quote verses to help ease the pain. I haven't seen anyone quote Isaiah 45:7. Look it up to see where evil comes from, as stated in the source of your faith.

Some of you are probably wondering by now what the question part of the heading is all about. Well, my question is this: If a god is unable to stop hideous acts from happening, and humanity has certainly had its share lately, is such a god worthy of worship? Now of course, this question is for believers only, as non-believers already have their answer. This is a question that needs answering, but I doubt seriously if believers can answer it in a logical way. However, please try anyway. I would be happy to hear from anyone about this matter, either pro or con.

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Jonathan Miller Reveals the Hidden Story of Atheism
Three-Part Series Premiers May 4 on Public Television

"... the history of the growing conviction that God doesn't exist." — Jonathan Miller

The debate over belief-disbelief-atheism intensifies with the national airing of A Brief History of Disbelief on public television stations, premiering May 4. Hosted by Jonathan Miller, the three-part series comes in the midst of the recent release of two provocative books on atheism: Christopher Hitchens’ "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" and Joan Konner’s "The Atheist’s Bible."

Jonathan Miller will be interviewed along with clips from the series on the May 4th Bill Moyers Journal seen on PBS. You can watch the promotional trailers by going here.

A Brief History of Disbelief is not being aired exclusively by PBS, and it is not being carried on a national feed. Your local public television station may be airing the show on a different day than May 4th. To find out when the show is airing in your area, please consult local listings.

God has rarely been such a contentious issue. Best-selling books The God Delusion, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation and Breaking the Spell have forcefully challenged the sacred cows, doctrines and dogmas of conventional religious belief.

A Brief History of Disbelief is a deeply intelligent and rational journey through the highly divisive topic. A Brief History of Disbelief premiers in the U.S. on most public television stations on Friday, May 4, 2007 (check local listings). The series is presented by the Independent Production Fund, executive director Alvin Perlmutter.

Written and narrated by acclaimed British intellectual Jonathan Miller — author, lecturer, TV producer/host, director of theater, opera and film, and neurologist — A Brief History of Disbelief originally aired on the BBC in the U.K. It was the first-ever historical look at the controversial topic on television. It is only during the last few years in the U.S. that atheism can be fully and widely discussed. Many leaders and celebrities are "coming out of the closet." Just this week, U.S. Congressman Pete Stark publicly declared that he does not believe in a supreme being.

"This series is about the disappearance of something: religious faith," Miller says in the opening. "It's the story of what is often referred to as 'atheism,' the history of the growing conviction that God doesn't exist."

A Brief History of Disbelief combines an exploration of the origins of Miller’s own lack of belief with historical perspective and interviews with leading authorities, including biologist Richard Dawkins, philosopher Daniel Dennett, recently deceased playwright Arthur Miller, and physicist Steven Weinberg.

"In making this series I have inevitably discovered that the history of faith and doubt is a great deal more complicated that it might seem," Jonathan Miller declares. Among the program’s surprising revelations is that philosophy, not science as often assumed, played a larger role in the gradual erosion of belief. And contrary to what many Christian fundamentalists today consider America’s founding principles, the first presidents were actually skeptical of religion. A Brief History of Disbelief traces the history of the first "unbelievers" in ancient Greece through the role of disbelief in America’s founding to its flourishing today.

Part I: Shadows of Doubt
Miller visits the site of the absent Twin Towers to consider the religious implications of 9/11 and meets Arthur Miller and the philosopher Colin McGinn. He searches for evidence of the first "unbelievers" in ancient Greece and examines some of the modern theories around why people have always tended to believe in mythology and magic.

Part II: Noughts and Crosses
With the domination of Christianity from 500 AD, Miller wonders how disbelief began to re-emerge in the 15th and 16th centuries. He discovers that division within the Church played a more powerful role than the scientific discoveries of the period. He also visits Paris, the home of the 18th century atheist Baron D'Holbach, and shows how politically dangerous it was to undermine the religious faith of the masses.

The Final Hour
The history of disbelief continues with the ideas of self-taught philosopher Thomas Paine, the revolutionary studies of geology, and the evolutionary theories of Darwin. Miller looks at the Freudian view that religion is a "thought disorder." He also examines his motivation behind making the series touching on the issues of death and the religious fanaticism of the 21st century.

A Brief History of Disbelief is presented by the Independent Production Fund, which has produced highly acclaimed information programming for over thirty years. The company and its producers have used television to educate, engage and challenge viewers to consider issues, ideas and public figures from new perspectives.

Major funding for A Brief History of Disbelief is provided by The Center for Inquiry, with additional funding from American Ethical Union, American Humanist Association, Institute for Humanist Studies, and HKH Foundation.

Media Advisory: Writer and narrator Jonathan Miller and some of the program’s experts are available for interviews.

Contacts: Baran Communications
Josh Baran – 212-779-2666, jcbaran AT aol DOT com
Scott Tillitt – 917-449-6356, scott AT antidotecollective DOT org

Website: www.abriefhistoryofdisbelief.org

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The ethics of hell

A short video discussing the ethical conundrum presented by the religious teaching of hell.

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By Dano

I don't care what anyone believes as long as it doesn't affect the health, wealth, and welfare of their neighbors. (Meaning me)

Christians feel threatened by unbelievers because they don't validate the thing, that is supposed to insure their immortality. They see every apostate as another leak in the dam that they have built, to ward off death. If we don't believe like they do, it weakens their faith, that they will never die.

The point being, that it "DOES MATTER" what you believe. Your fundamentalist belief can keep you aloof from me, and keep you from responding to my gestures of friendship. It can poison your perception of who I am. If you are my brother or sister, your fundamentalist Christian beliefs can divide our family. You can live your whole life, letting silly irrational concepts like Satan, and original sin, keep you from visiting me, because your religious instruction book teaches you, that my lack of belief in your mythology, is evil.

If you are my wife, your quiet, non-confrontational, closeted, Christianity can destroy our marriage, and cause you to maintain a seething hostility toward me, because your Bible promotes that attitude.

Your belief in a literal interpretation of the bible can influence school boards, and water down the hard science, that so many courageous men gave their lives to. Charlatans taking advantage of your emotional fundamentalist, literal, reliance on the bible, as your sole source for archaeology, have built Christian theme parks that grossly distort, and outright lie about whole branches of scientific knowledge, and you naively expose your children to them. The damage done to education in America by this misinformation is just starting to be calculated, by lower levels of scientific skills in our children.

Your beliefs in a particular set of supernatural tenets come into conflict with similar religious, dogma that has been instilled other people, in other countries to the point that they feel threatened and want to kill you and everybody else in your heathen country, full of infidel pigs.

Deeply religious young Muslims flew airplanes into the world trade center, because their religion taught them to hate Christians. They remember how the pope sent an army to their country and killed anyone who wouldn't profess a belief in the divinity of Jesus

Certainly much good has been done in the name of religion, but the divisions it has caused in the human race, and the unceasing hostility germinated by even the slightest deviations in dogma, make our world a very dangerous place today.

I don't believe in the bible because, the brain that allows me to function at a high level of efficiency in this life, simply will not allow me to pervert that rational, logical way of thinking, just so that I will have less fear of death. I would rather live with the uncertainty of what will happen to me when I die, than to download a bunch of corrupted software into the computer between my ears.

I am just one little untutored voice, in what has been a gathering chorus of voices, by rational people, some who have authored brilliant books with so much pure, unadulterated, dazzling logic, and common sense, that they are impossible to put down.

Non of us non Christians know for sure what happens to our "essence" (whatever it is that makes us who we are), when we die, but most of us don't want to be told that this life is evil and not worth living.

Sure we would like to "transition" to a better place when we leave this one, but we want to live this life as fully as possible, without a lot of fear, and loathing from a made up God. We want to use our brains, question everything, and look forward to the mystery of each new day. WE WANT TO GROW!

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Dawkins -- O'Reilly interview

Last night FOX News commentator Bill O'Reilly broadcast a five-minute interview with British ethologist, evolutionary biologist, popular science writer and advocate of atheism Richard Dawkins.

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By Dano

I don't know about anyone else but I like the fact that I am related to the monkeys. It takes the pressure off, by having a sensible, believable, alternative, to accepting, that my ancestors were made out of dirt, 5 thousand years ago, by Bible God, and each succeeding generation of us men have not lived up to his expectations.

It is a source of comfort to me to know that the Neanderthals (A species of man that we coexisted with) are not mentioned anywhere, to have been sent to hell for not believing in Jesus. There is much evidence on file to suggest that they certainly had brains as large as ours if not larger, and they were no less worth "saving" than we are.

Of course I am aware of the fact, that the Christian Bible has the earth, and everything in it, being invented by Bible God about 4 thousand years before he came up with the idea that he needed to have a son, a half God, half mortal, so to speak, that he could arrange to have murdered as a sacrifice to himself, as atonement for all of the sins his "other children, were so fond of committing.

To get back to the central idea of this post: Thanks to the thousands of brilliant scientist living and dead, who did the research that fills millions of books detailing our journey, from simple compounds in a primordial watery soup, to homo Sapiens (Thinking Man), I know that generations of my ancestors go back, about 4 billion years, about 4 billion years before it was necessary to believe in a totally irrational concept, in order to get to go to heaven and avoid hell.

Wherever those billions and billions of living, feeling, thinking creatures went, when they died (And my instincts tell me, that a force powerful enough to have created our universe and maybe others, would not waste a life), WHEN I DIE I WILL JOIN THEM!

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A problem statement and then a question:

By Joe B

My exit from xianity did not remove me from space or time. Consequently, I remain in contact with some, if not many, of the people with whom I formerly associated. Among these are young people, mostly my children and their friends.

I am divorced, but visit with my children regularly and spend time with them and their friends. As I do so, I am continually moved by the stories of abuse that they discuss. I won't rehash all the forms of abuse. Testimonies and comments on this site frequently provide similar accounts of mental and emotional abuse.

In broad terms all these kids have been fed the notion that god is watching their thoughts; that they are evil and disobedient and deserve terrible suffering and punishment, and unless they toe the line with god, they are going to get what they deserve. They don't question that notion. Those that go along are comforted by their acceptance into the cult and belief that their parents are god's agents in helping them escape damnation.

The ones that rebel are the sad stories. Some percentage see the hypocrisies. They are unconvinced of the "truths" presented to them and say, "If this is my choice, I'll take hell." The cruel effect of this false dilemma is that they walk away with the notion that they have indeed accepted some sort of doom. That they have chosen and will have a bad life, without the blessings of god. They will accept that the abusive relationships they move on to are just what you'd expect. They are precisely what their parents told them would happen to bad little boys and girls. Amoral and violent gangs, drugs, hurtful sexual relationships and the other teenage woes are just the sort of hell on earth that they are conditioned to expect.

I observe that their good xian upbringings generally leave them without the philosophical and intellectual training to easily understand the true nature of the system and teachings that have so skewed their perceptions of who they are and what their lives could become apart from the god of their parents.

I had an opportunity this weekend to talk with a young man (18) who is severely depressed over his circumstances. After the abuses of his youth (endless punishments for disrespect and disobedience), he has struggled through the world of drugs and suburban gangs. Presently he is facing a probable prison term for car theft. He took a car belonging to his church's youth pastor without permission, while the latter was providing the young man with refuge after his parents threw him out, and was charged with a couple of related felonies.

I am thankful for the opportunity I had this weekend to introduce him to the idea that, while he may deserve to be punished for his violation of the law, he does not deserve hell on earth or after. I did what I could to shed light on how the myth of hell and the idea human wickedness have affected how he sees his potential and worth.

I can't imagine how many millions of dollars move from the tithe into producing the materials and programs that build up pernicious ideas in the minds of kids in church. Youth ministries make their stock and trade in "putting the hay down where the goats can get it." Meanwhile the counter-arguments are kept from these kids by their misguided and deluded parents. Many of the liberating arguments are also, unfortunately, locked up in language and concepts that are difficult for the average young American to access intellectually due to their youth and lack of training in logic and philosophy.

So, finally, getting to my question: aside from random bits of material that appear on YouTube and some , what are the best resources out there for helping teens navigate the wreckage of the church's heaven or hell messages? Searching the web for sites that offer help to teens who doubt xianity, there are hundreds of xian apologetic sites, and centers for "troubled youth." Where are resources that offer a rational view of themselves and the world in terms that they can understand? My recent encounter has motivated me to wade the internet in search of those resources, but I'd appreciate any recommendations this group can offer.

Xian nitwits are invited to sit this one out. You've done enough harm already.

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Former child evangelist tells all

A child evangelist who turned ex-Christian as he reached adulthood explains and shows how people are easily duped and deceived by religious charlatans. This YouTube video was prepared by a Christian who, apparently, is pointing out errors in one version of Christianity in favor, I suppose, of his own particular version. Regardless, the bald admissions by the ex-Christian concerning his former occupation are interesting.

More on his childhood "ministry":

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A 'Bless You' and a Curse

by Amanda, a.k.a. newly not

So I'm in a bit of a dilemma here being newly not. I was in the car the other day with my Christian friend - whom, to her knowledge, still thinks I'm a Christian, too - when she did the unthinkable - she sneezed. I sat there in silence, scrambling to come up with how I would react.

Do I betray myself and go all hypocritical by saying "bless you"? I'd rather not.

How about subtly turning it into an atheist thing by "accidentally" pronouncing it wrong? (WTF is a "blesh"?!). Nah, that phrase is too close for comfort in conforming to Christian culture.

I could say "excuse you", but some would consider that even ruder than remaining mum.

"Gesundheit"? Changing the language is not changing the origins.

I could always say nothing...as in, sorry I'm not acknowledging your biological, involuntary functions!

I chose to do the latter. Gosh, that isn't very polite now, is it?

To counter, I thought it was a dumb aspect of culture to begin with. I mean, no one says "congrats" when you cough. Why do we sometimes feel the pull to blindly conform to entrenched godly traditions? ("Thank God!" is another one that comes to mind). Not giving an empty blessing is a fairly simple choice to no longer make in this situation.

Ya'll can go on "skipping heartbeats", and I'll skip wasting my breath.

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Dinesh D'Souza, Atheism, Virginia Tech

by mapantsula

Reposted from: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/4/19/18451/0971

I am an atheist and a professor at Virginia Tech. Dinesh D’Souza says that I don’t exist, that I have nothing to say, that I am nowhere to be found.

But I am here.

Dinesh D'Souza writes:
Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing. Even secular people like the poet Nikki Giovanni use language that is heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning.

The atheist writer Richard Dawkins has observed that according to the findings of modern science, the universe has all the properties of a system that is utterly devoid of meaning. The main characteristic of the universe is pitiless indifference. Dawkins further argues that we human beings are simply agglomerations of molecules, assembled into functional units over millennia of natural selection, and as for the soul--well, that's an illusion!

To no one's surprise, Dawkins has not been invited to speak to the grieving Virginia Tech community. What this tells me is that if it's difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil. The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist. For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho's shooting of all those people can be understood in this way--molecules acting upon molecules.

If this is the best that modern science has to offer us, I think we need something more than modern science.

It is hardly surprising that Dinesh D’Souza is once again not only profoundly mistaken but also deeply offensive. But I thought it worthwhile to say something in response, not because most people would put the point in the same morally reptilian manner as D’Souza, but because there is at least some vague sense amongst people that we atheists don’t quite grasp the enormity of Monday’s events, that we tend towards a cold-hearted manner of thinking, that we condescend to expressions of community, meaning, or bereavement.

So I will tell you, Mr D’Souza, what I grasp and where I am to be found.

I understand why my wife was frantic on Monday morning, trying to contact me through jammed phone lines. I can still feel the tenor of her voice resonating in my veins when she got through to me, how she shook with relief and tears. I remember how my mother looked the last time she thought she might have lost a son, so I have a vivid image of her and a thousand other mothers that hasn’t quite left my mind yet.

I am to be found in Lane Stadium, looking out over a sea of maroon and orange, trying not to break down when someone mentions the inviolability of the classroom and the bond between a teacher and his students. That is my classroom, Mr D’Souza, my students, my chosen responsibility in this godless life, my small office in the care of humanity and its youth.

I know that brutal death can come unannounced into any life, but that we should aspire to look at our approaching death with equanimity, with a sense that it completes a well-walked trail, that it is a privilege to have our stories run through to their proper end. I don’t need to live forever to live once and to live completely. It is precisely because I don’t believe there is an afterlife that I am so horrified by the stabbing and slashing and tattering of so many lives around me this week, the despoliation and ruination of the only thing each of us will ever have.

We atheists do not believe in gods, or angels, or demons, or souls that endure, or a meeting place after all is said and done where more can be said and done and the point of it all revealed. We don’t believe in the possibility of redemption after our lives, but the necessity of compassion in our lives. We believe in people, in their joys and pains, in their good ideas and their wit and wisdom. We believe in human rights and dignity, and we know what it is for those to be trampled on by brutes and vandals. We may believe that the universe is pitilessly indifferent but we know that friends and strangers alike most certainly are not. We despise atrocity, not because a god tells us that it is wrong, but because if not massacre then nothing could be wrong.

I am to be found on the drillfield with a candle in my hand. “Amazing Grace” is a beautiful song, and I can sing it for its beauty and its peacefulness. I don’t believe in any god, but I do believe in those people who have struggled through pain and found beauty and peace in their religion. I am not at odds with them any more than I am at odds with Americans when we sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” just because I am not American. I can sing “Lean on Me” and chant for the Hokies in just the same way and for just the same reason.

I know that the theory of natural selection is the best explanation for the emergence and development of human beings and other species. I know that our bodies are composed of flesh, bone, and blood, and cells, and molecules. I also know that this does not account for all aspects of our lives, but I know no-one who ever thought it did. That is why we have science, and novels, and friendships, and poetry, and practical jokes, and photography, and a sense of awe at the immensity of time and the planet’s natural history, and walks with loved ones along the Huckleberry Trail, and atheist friends who keep kosher because, well just because, and passionate reverence for both those heroes who believed and those who did not, and have all this without needing a god to stitch together the tapestry of life.

I believe this young man was both sick and vicious, that his actions were both heinous and the result of a phenomenon that we must try to understand precisely so that we can prevent it in future. I have no sympathy for him. Given what he has done, I am not particularly sorry he has spared the world his continued existence; there was no possibility of redemption for him. You think we atheists have difficulty with the concept of evil. Quite the contrary. We can accept a description of this man as evil. We just don’t think that is an explanation. That is why we are exasperated at your mindless demonology.

I feel humbled by the sense of composure of a family who lost someone on Monday. I will not insult that dignity by pretending there is sense to be made of this senselessness, or that there is some greater consolation to be found in the loss of a husband and son.

I know my students are now more than students.

You can find us next week in the bloodied classrooms of a violated campus, trying to piece our thoughts and lives and studies back together.

With or without a belief in a god, with or without your asinine bigotry, we will make progress, we will breathe life back into our university, I will succeed in explaining this or that point, slowly, eventually, in a ham-handed way, at risk of tears half-way through, my students will come to feel comfortable again in a classroom with no windows or escape route, and hell yes we will prevail.

You see Mr D’Souza, I am an atheist professor at Virginia Tech and a man of great faith. Not faith in your god. Faith in my people.


Mr D'Souza has more to say:
And boy the atheists are up in arms! They're mad as hell about my post "Where is Atheism When Bad Things Happen." Many responders informed me that tragedies are normally considered a problem for religion, not atheism. Where is God when bad things happen? Yes, people, I know this. My point was that if evil and suffering are a problem for religion--and they are--they are an even bigger problem for atheism.
The reason is suggested from the quotation given above. When there is a tragedy like the one at Virginia Tech, the ones who are suffering cannot help asking questions, "Why did this have to happen?" "Why is there so much evil in the world?" "How can I possibly go on after losing my child?" And so on.

In my post I noted that Richard Dawkins had not been invited to address the mourners at Virginia Tech. Several atheists--who haven't yet lost their fundamentalist habit of reading--took this sarcastic statement literally. "So what? The Pope hasn't been invited either!" My point was that atheism has nothing to offer in the face of tragedy except C'est la vie. Deal with it. Get over it. This is why the ceremonies were suffused with religious rhetoric. Only the language of religion seems appropriate to the magnitude of tragedy. Only God seems to have the power to heal hearts in such circumstances. If someone started to read from Dawkins on why there is no good and no evil in the universe, people would start vomiting or leaving.

One clever writer informs me that atheists don't deny meaning, they simply insist that meaning is not inherent in the universe, it is created by us. Okay, pal, here's the Virginia Tech situation. Go create some meaning and share it with the rest of us Give us that atheist sermon with you in the pulpit of the campus chapel. I'm not being facetious here. I really want to hear what the atheist would tell the grieving mothers.

We think the pain is complete and absolute. We know it is.

We think that nothing can heal these hearts, that time can only take the sharpness off the agony, that only in time can beauty be wholeheartedly seen again or laughter felt deep inside.

We insist there is no sense or meaning to be made of this massacre. There was only sense and meaning to be created within the lives of each person gunned down. That is why we are horrified by it. That is precisely why it is so horrific.

We don't believe these people have died for anything: God's plan, as a beacon to the rest of us, to be a vivid memento mori for all. We just believe they have died, brutally and without mercy. We refuse to lie to grieving mothers out of some patronising sense that a pleasant myth is more respectful than a terrible truth.

Those of us with the slightest shred of deceny do not tell widows to deal with it, to get over it. That the world can be callous is no reason to be so myself. I know that no family could ever get over this loss, that no family should ever be expected to get over this loss -- either by themselves, by religious rhetoricians bearing false platitudes, or by inane political pundits -- but that not getting over the loss does not preclude some other kind of happiness, some other source of joy, at some other time. Not now, not in this moment, not when they have moved on, but only when it comes to them one day, like light dawning slowly.

We know the world is cold, and that only people can make it warmer. We believe we can live in this imperfection, like a child can live without fulfilling her desperate wish for wings. We rail against injustice and tragedy, not the absence of deeper guarantees.

Some of us are those grieving mothers and wives and friends and colleagues. Some of us are inconsolable, but dignified for all that.

There is no language appropriate to the magnitude of the tragedy. Not stories about a poor man nailed to a cross, not fine words about a time for healing and a time for dying, not even the lines of the poet who, in the midst of his own horror, struggles to ask:
How can I embellish this carnival of slaughter,
How decorate the massacre?

But it is that same poet who also writes of death:
I have certainly
no faith in miracles, yet I long
that when death come to take me
from this great song
of a world, it permits me to return
to your door and knock
and knock
and call out: "If you need someone
to share your anguish, your simplest pain,
then let me be the one.
If not, let me again
embark, this time never
to return, in that final direction,

Spring has come to Virginia. Monday morning was the last snow we will have this season. All those who have come to Blacksburg this week have told us how beautiful our countryside is. They're right, of course, there is all this terrible, unforgiving beauty here.

Second Update

I would leave this alone, but Mr D'Souza is once again demonstrating his truly remarkable vapidity:
Actually my point was a simple one, and it seems to be unrefuted. Atheism seems to have nothing to say to people when there is serious bereavement or tragedy. Of course atheists have feelings and there were undoubtedly atheists among the mourners at Virginia Tech. But the Richard Dawkins philosophy--that we live in a meaningless world where there is no good and no evil--whatever its intellectual merit, seems arid and unconsoling when human beings are really hurting.

Atheists are hurting here themselves, and we don't see much to console ourselves or our colleagues and students and their families. But there is nothing arid in what we believe. Our lives are replete with colour, and friendships, and loving relationships, and curious books to read, and papers to write, and difficult points to figure out. There may be no deity, but there is a world of wonder to take its place.

And this week, our lives have also been trashed by this brutal man, So part of that world is heartache and horror, and in the middle of that heartache and horror we will spurn your trite consolations, your happily-ever-after fairy tales, as a denial of our grief, as a repudiation of the reality of this pain.
Atheists like to portray themselves as devotees of reason, but read the responses and see how much reason you discover there. Rather, it looks like these fellows hate God, and this hate spills over to anyone who brings up God's name. Call it the atheism of revenge. They blame God for screwing them over in some way, and unbelief is their form of payback.

How can I hate an entity that I don't believe exists? If I did actually blame a god for something, then I could hardly be an atheist. Atheism is not high school silent treatment, Mr D'Souza. It is not the rejection, forsaking, or loathing of a god, but the belief that there is no god there to reject, forsake, or loathe.

We atheists are liberated from the belief that these events must make sense, that there must be something else to it other than the eruption of a psychopathic impulse. We are horrified, not puzzled, by its absurdity.

I don't blame a god for screwing over my campus, for murdering my colleagues, for terrorising my students, Mr D'Souza, I blame the man who thought he was your new christ.

Related posting: What caused the shooting?

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Vaginal fluids are sacred too

By Brian B

Something I've noticed a lot lately is the contradictory attitude towards "God's creation" in many Christians. All the time, I hear about how we are supposed to have reverence and awe for the beauty and majesty of His creation. What's funny though, is how very selective Christians are in what they'll have "reverence" and "awe" for, even though it's all supposed to be designed by God.

I live in the dorms at a Christian university, and being an atheist, needless to say I get myself into some pretty interesting conversations. I can remember one conversation I had with a few guys, where the subject matter turned to, oh, let's say matters of the flesh. Specifically, we were talking about the chemistry and inner workings of the female vagina.

Well, of course, one of the guys got offended and left. I asked him about it later, and he said it wasn't "edifying" to talk about such things. Although earlier, for some reason, he had no problem discussing his favorite Star Wars characters- and last time I checked, that's not "edifying" either, at least not by biblical standards.

If it made him uncomfortable or squeamish, then I could understand and sympathize. But he used the term "edifying" as though our conversation were wrong on some sort of spiritual level.

Listen up, Christians -- you don't get to decide what part of God's creation is beautiful and what isn't! The Bible says God made everything--everything!--and said it was GOOD. That means He would have carefully designed the labia, the vulva, and the clitoris, and everything else that's down there. He would have studied and pondered exactly what chemical components would go into female discharges, and how they would be released.

And then YOU (Christians) come along and have the nerve to say, "it's not proper" or "that kind of talk is filthy." Have you no reverence for your Designer and the hard work He put in His creation?

Here's what I think, and I mean this most sincerely. I think, if you believe in a god, and you claim to respect his creation, but call some natural aspect of it filthy, or dirty- this is tantamount to blasphemy. Yes, blasphemy. Why do you praise your God for sunsets, but not for excrement?

As an atheist, I can say, I think sunsets are prettier than poop. But you, the Christian, believe both are the handiwork of an intelligent designer, and ought to give both the same reverence, or else you are a hypocrite, and you don't really respect your God's design. Peace and Love,

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What caused the shooting?

Less than 24 hours after the horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech, Ken Ham, the brilliant non-scientist who has opened the latest in a string of retarded Creationism museums, posted an article to his blog basically attributing the shootings to — believe it or not — evolutionary science.

We live in an era when public high schools and colleges have all but banned God from science classes. In these classrooms, students are taught that the whole universe, including plants and animals—and humans—arose by natural processes. Naturalism (in essence, atheism) has become the religion of the day and has become the foundation of the education system (and Western culture as a whole). The more such a philosophy permeates the culture, the more we would expect to see a sense of purposelessness and hopelessness that pervades people’s thinking. In fact, the more a culture allows the killing of the unborn, the more we will see people treating life in general as “cheap.” (link)

With ole' Ken at the helm of this latest wave of not-so-subtle, anti-non-Christian, anti-intellectual, anti-science punditry, I can't wait to see who will be the next potluck-fellowship-meal-stuffed suit to credit Darwinian science with homicide.

Ken goes on:
I’m not at all saying that the person who committed these murders at Virginia Tech was driven by a belief in millions of years or evolution.

Yeah? Bullshit! You did mean to say that, and you did say that.

Insensitive Christian opportunism is not just distasteful, it is disgraceful.

My heart goes out to the affected families. If I were to pray, I would pray that I never become as hardened and calloused and coldblooded as Christians like Ken Ham.

But then, maybe I've misread him. Maybe I've stated this too strongly.

What do you think?

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I sold my soul on eBay

In search of an identity other than that which was instilled upon him at birth, Hemant Mehta became an atheist.

The 24-year-old University of Illinois at Chicago alumnus (Mathematics, Biology '04) has been involved in atheist advocacy work since his years at UIC, and has just published a book recounting his experiences doing something seemingly contradictory: going to church.

Departing ways

Mehta was raised in Jainism, a primarily Indian religion that advocates nonviolence and compassion for all life as well as non-possessiveness and self-control. However, Jainism is a faith that also believes in the ideas of heaven and hell, karma and reincarnation.

Mehta became an atheist at the age of 14. The idea that the world always existed was backed by his studies in biology and math; core principles of Jainism contradicted that of his passions and what he believed to be true.

"When I started thinking about that stuff, it didn't make logical sense," he said. "One night in high school I didn't pray before going to bed and I woke up and-I guess I'm an atheist."

When Mehta started attending UIC in 2000, he was surprised to find a variety of religious student groups, but none for atheists. He decided to start his own group, and, together with another student, he formed the still-active student group SWORD, or Students Without Religious Dogma.

An opportunity

Last January, after working with several atheists who were former Christians, Mehta came to a realization: he'd never seen the inside of a church.

"I wanted to go and see what it was like," he explained.

He believed visiting a church would give him insight to a religion he had not previously explored. Wanting to document his new experience and share it with the world, he created a blog, friendlyathiest.com. However, it wasn't until a religious eBay auction that he actually seriously questioned his thought; curiosity stemmed.

It was the grilled cheese that bore resemblence to the Virgin Mary, auctioned on eBay, that gave him the idea to put himself up on the auction site. "Send an Atheist to his local Church!" offered a chance for someone, somewhere to have a say in Mehta's religion.

"Everytime I come home, I pass this old Irish church. I promise to go into that church every day-for a certain number of days-for at least an hour each visit," he wrote. "For every $10 you bid, I will go to the church for one day."

The winner of the $504 auction (proceeds donated to an atheist group) was a pastor and author from Seattle, Jim Henderson, who ran a website that paid people to go to church. Henderson and Mehta made an agreement and Metha vowed to attend 15 different churches, and submit his experiences to Henderson's website.

Overwhelming response

The Outcome: "I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith Through an Athiest's Eyes"

Mehta was featured on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, in the Daily Southtown, the Seattle Times, the Sun-Times and on Fox News. People from all over the country wanted to know about "the eBay atheist."

As the situation and the blog posts garnered more attention, a Christian publisher, Waterbrook, contacted Mehta and asked if he would turn his experiences into a book.

"[Writing the book] was crazy-because I'd never written more than a class essay in my life," he said. "I just tried to write it the best way I knew how."

The book was written in under a year, and Mehta is realistic, yet hopeful about it.

"Now, more than ever, I think people are curious," he said. "I hope people can see this and think 'Oh, he's kind of normal' and they can hopefully understand athiesm better.

Mehta will be reading at the release of the book at Barbara's Bookstore, located at 1218 S. Halsted St., Chicago, on Tuesday, April 17, at 7:30 p.m.

Story link

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Dr. Winell answers the Battle Cry

Sent in by Marlene Winell

City Hall Steps, San Francisco, March 9th, 2007.

Battlecry is a fundamentalist youth organization that is gaining strength and was recently in San Francisco. (see: http://battlecry.com/) Prior to their demonstration about moral values there was a press conference of people addressing the threat of the Christian right. The San Francisco chronicle had this story: http://www.sfgate.com

Marlene Winell contributed the following speech:

Good afternoon. I’d like to say a few words about them, and a few words about us and consider how far apart we really are. My area of study is psychology and I’m also a former fundamentalist Christian. The book I wrote, Leaving the Fold, is a self-help book but it began with my effort to understand my own recovery. Since then I have spent many years working with people struggling to heal from the devastating effects of dogmatic religion, and especially Christian fundamentalism. I’ve learned a lot about why it works so well, the reasons people stay, the reasons they leave, and the stages of recovery. I believe the helping professions should study it they way they study other traumas and addictions - alcoholism, domestic violence, drug use and child abuse. This is a system of thought that is powerful and seductive. It begins with the most basic of human needs and fears – about mortality, about meaning, about connection. The young people who will be here today are motivated by the most primal concerns, and their religion has offered answers, clear and absolute. And don’t we all wish it were that simple.

Unfortunately, the price for membership in this select group of saved individuals is utter conformity and obedience. Along with the doctrine of original sin, they are taught to deeply distrust their own ability to think, their own instinctual feelings, and to look outward for any resources of wisdom or strength. The fundamentalist belief system is ultimately based on fear, and the believers spend the bulk of their lives fighting the enemy, whether it is the enemy of temptation within, where sexual urges are the most frightening as threats to faith, of the enemy without, such as the culture war manufactured by Battlecry. They are taught to think in terms of spiritual warfare, and they must join the forces of good fighting the minions of Satan. A bit like America fighting the axis of evil. When some of the faithful do manage to pull away and come to me for help, they are terrified. The most sincere souls are the ones most damaged because they tried the hardest to annihilate themselves to obey God’s will. They have no idea that thousands of other former believers are also struggling to recover and reclaim their right to think and feel for themselves. The most dangerous aspect of the fundamentalist mindset is not any specific belief or prejudice or judgment. It’s not homophobia or sexism or opposing evolution. The biggest threat, to the mental health of the individuals, and to our society, is the authoritarianism.

This teaching of submission to revealed truth, pure and simple, dictated from on high, from a pulpit, from a book, or from the White House, is a serious threat to all of us. We can’t afford the attitudes of good and evil, black and white, us versus them, because the world is not that simple, and people get hurt that way. But this deference to authority, paired with absolute skepticism about one’s own right or ability to think is exactly what endangers our democracy. It makes it possible for someone like George Bush to call himself a born-again Christian, and get overwhelming support from millions of people who have not examined the issues to form their own opinions or have any idea what Bush’s policies even are before voting for him.

But before we get too judgmental, let’s reflect on this issue for all of us. How well do the rest of us engage in critical thinking? How much do we passively stand by while our unquestioned leaders do what they like to our country and to the world? Why do we allow the super-rich and powerful to dictate the terms for our lives? Why do we turn a blind eye while corporations rape the world? Why do we purchase goods without questioning where they came from? And why, in God’s name, do we allow war to continue and the warmongers to stay in power?

The young people with Battlecry today believe they are standing up for morality, and they have taken the time to do so. You can count on the fact that many of them are scared to death, and yet they are taking a stand. They also want to belong to something bigger than themselves. Yes, they are making judgments, and we may believe many of these judgments are misguided. They need help to see how the results are not loving at all. But let’s look at the judgments we have and the morality that we want to uphold.

I for one agree that we have a moral crisis. I think our country has lost its moral compass when we care more for material wealth than for justice, when we are too busy with our own lives, our careers, our pleasures, even our own families, while people are suffering, starving, and slaughtered. Yes, we can have judgments too, because we do need to distinguish right from wrong in the sense that we must uphold the values that are most important. And in the current climate with corporate greed hand in hand with government leaders who seem to have no conscience whatsoever, I believe we do need to fight. We are our brother’s keeper. The sin of consequence is not in the privacy of our bedrooms; it’s in our boardrooms, and for that we are all complicit because we are reaping the benefits. We do need repentance. George Bush needs to repent and make restitution for the war in Iraq. And we need to repent for being asleep for too long, imagining that voting every four years spells democracy. Is this nation going in the wrong direction? Hell yes. The Christian right is worried God will withdraw his blessing from the nation because of our iniquity and they say 9/11 was a warning, as if to Sodom and Gomorrah, but they’ve got it wrong when they focus on who is loving whom or which of us is enjoying what kind of bodily friction, singing about it or even looking at pictures of it. What about the photos at Abu Graib? Let’s get real about pornography. As parents, we should worry more about our kids living in a land where torture and war is condoned, where racism is rampant, the poor are left to drown in a flood, and the state can tap our telephones. What of the future? Will our children even have one? The obscenity on TV is not sex in the city; it’s the barrage of sexy ads for new cars in the city, and this while the polar ice caps melt. The disease most deadly in America is not AIDS, it’s affluenza complicated by narcolepsy.

So I say let’s invite these Battlecry young people who are not asleep, to a table with us, a table where all are welcome, just as Jesus sat down with prostitutes and tax collectors. Let’s have sinners and saints, fanatics and fornicators, and let’s be honest about what really matters. Who knows, perhaps we can all dig deep and find our common humanity. Let’s learn from their passion and urgency and let’s help them cherish this earth as the only one we have.

So we stand today as opposed to immorality as anyone here, Christian or not. We will not relinquish the gains made by movements for social progress - the battles successfully fought for abolition, equality for women and all races. We will not sacrifice the integrity of science or the privacy of personal lives. We will not release the ground gained, painfully over the years, to grant every human being their dignity, and we will not relinquish our faith, our hope, in our ability to forge ahead, slowly but surely, collectively creating a world that is just, a world that by its structures supports the human desire and ability to live in peace and yes, love. We reject the notion that we cannot do this, that the prince of this world, the devil, infects us and weakens us to where only the returning Christ, with his armies in the sky, will be able to bring us to our senses. This has not happened yet despite two millenniums of longing. In today’s world, this expectation is too dangerous.

We cannot afford the hopeless and helpless message of the fundamentalist Christian looking to be raptured away, excused from responsibility. This fatalism, by requiring apocalypse for the savior to return, actually fuels the crises - supporting war as a sign of the end, neglecting the environment because the earth will burn anyway, spurning peace-making because it’s hopeless, and fearing global community because it spells anti-Christ. This is a recipe for disaster. And yet these beliefs are firmly held by millions of Americans, including high members of our government. Key advisors on domestic and foreign policy have these views. We need to speak up and oppose these attitudes and insist on taking responsibility for the world we create. Our sin is our willful ignorance, our denial of being interconnected, our rejection of our God-given power to be the life-loving, creation-caring, wise and creative beings that we are.

So with ordinary human love, we reach out to everyone willing to join in this commitment to our highest values and our deepest concerns, knowing that when the details of formal religious teachings are taken away, we really do have much in common. We have the most important things in common if we can just see past our fears. And then we can hope.

About Dr. Winell

Dr. Marlene Winell is a psychologist and Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies. She grew up in a fundamentalist missionary family, spent some years as a "born-again" Christian, and then went through her own recovery and growth process. She has worked in human services for 30 years and specializes in helping clients who are recovering from religious indoctrination. Her private practice in Berkeley, CA. includes counseling individuals, couples, and groups. She also consults by telephone and offers workshops. Her "Release and Reclaim" retreats provide group experiences for letting go of dysfunctional religion and building lives of meaning and joy here and now.

If interested in attending one of Dr. Winell's upcoming workshops, download the Losing My Religion flyer in .pdf format.

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The atheist's wager

By atheist wager

I have been an atheist since I was twelve years old. Most of my friends are atheists too, so sometimes I forget that most people have a belief in God. I’m not much for political correctness and rarely censor myself, but I don’t go around provoking religious people. There is very little to be gained by arguing with those who have faith. Their beliefs cannot be proven and they are not going to believe me regardless of my arguments against faith. I don’t usually have the time and energy for a senseless disagreement where neither side gains anything but annoyance with each other.

On a beautiful summer day, I found myself at a party talking to a friend. I had mentioned how some Mormon missionaries were out in my neighborhood and said something about wanting to convert “them”. At this point, a girl who had been eavesdropping turned to me and asked, “But what would you offer them?”

“I don’t have anything to offer. Maybe some more free time on Sunday.”

To which she replied, “I would prefer hope and salvation over a few hours back.”

I removed myself from the situation, it wasn’t my party and I didn’t want to cause a scene. The debate we would have had comes down to Pascal’s Wager. To sum it up, Monsieur Pascal theorized that belief in God was rational based on game theory and probabilistic outcomes.

To Pascal, there were two choices – believe in Christianity (I’ll address this later) or not. Along with these two choices are two possible outcomes – go to heaven or don’t.

Pascal's Wager
Go to heavenExtremely good outcomeVery bad outcome
Don't go to heavenHarmless outcomeNot a benefit

As we can see, an atheist can’t go to heaven (or at least according to Christianity, heaven is gained by faith not works). The two possible outcomes for our atheist is God is really and won’t allow the atheist into heaven or God is not real and our atheist doesn’t go to heaven because heaven doesn’t exist. Either outcome for the atheist results in a losing proposition.

For a Christian, their faith is justified in the next life and they get to go to heaven which would be an extremely good outcome, or their belief was wrong and there is no God and no heaven in which case they are no worse off than the atheist. Even if we assign a very small probability of God existing, the benefit is so great, Mr. Pascal would have you believe, that the only rationale choice here is to be a good Christian. Since this is the only way to heaven and the reward is so great, a rational person would have to be a Christian. Who wouldn’t want a little “heaven insurance” at the cost of a few prayers and a few hours in church? You’d have to be crazy not to, right?

Hey, thanks Blaise, but your little game theory diagram is woefully simplified. The problem isn’t choosing between Christianity and atheism. How amazingly Eurocentric of you to lay these out as your only two possibilities. In Western cultures, the choice comes down to the big three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim. Even within these faiths there are Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, and Orthodox Jews. Muslims have the Sunni and Shiite denominations. Christians? There are Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Baptists, Lutherans, Mormons, etc.

That’s just the Western World. The Eastern World has Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and that’s just to name a few. The choice isn’t so easy between Christianity and atheism, is it?

Now ask oneself why one has chosen their faith? The most likely reason is because it was the faith inherited by their parents. They have been indoctrinated into the faith at an early age before rational thinking has been established. In the theists basic desire to be perceived as good, they absorb their religion and cling to it as true. Still, one could ask what harm does religion do? For starters, it divides humanity rather than unites, see the following list of just a few of the atrocities done in God’s name:


  • Detailed genocide against rival tribes throughout the Old Testament

Christians against Jews

  • Spanish Inquisition
  • Crusades
  • Holocaust

Christians against Muslims

  • Crusades
  • Bosnia

Muslims against Christians

  • Crusades

Shiite against Sunni

  • Iraq

Protestant against Catholic

  • Northern Ireland

It is without exaggeration to say that millions of people have died because they have different unproved religious beliefs inherited from their parents along tribal lines. Now imagine that Earth was invaded by an alien force with superior technology. Imagine, if you will, that humans were kept in cages and forced to fight each other to the death for the amusement of the aliens. Would you kill your fellow man and hope to gain favor with the aliens or would you resist by any means necessary and strive to regain human dignity? Which is the more moral option?

I propose as my answer to Pascal’s wager, two choices and two outcomes. The choices come down to theism (of any religion, not just Christianity) vs. atheism. The outcomes include going to heaven or not going to heaven.

Atheist's Wager
HeavenInherit the “correct” beliefs from parents and go to heaven at the expense of every human who inherited the “wrong” beliefsStand up to a corrupt God and demand dignity for the entire human race beyond my tribe
No God/No HeavenWorship a non-existent deity and not be rewarded in the afterlifeConcentrate on this life and focus on the issues that matter

If God only rewards those who follow the “correct” faith and faith is inherited from one’s parents, then the God who refuses to prove his existence is playing favorites over his creation based on tribal lines pitting groups of humans against each other just like our aliens. If, by chance and chance alone, one is born into the right religion and curries favor with God Almighty, then this person is actively collaborating with the enemy of humanity. The atheist may find himself in hell for his disbelief, but at least he is not a traitor. Until God accepts that religion is His responsibility and can provide some real proof and guidance as to His plan, He is completely unworthy of our worship. To continue to worship a deity that arbitrarily divides us as a species, rewards a chosen few for their faith in which there is no evidence, and has deliberately chosen not to intervene when His name is used inappropriately is no different from collaborating with the alien cage fighters. By dividing humanity amongst different sects with conflicting ideology and allowing war in His name, God is evil. To worship a deity like this is to commit an act of treason. Unless God proves his existence and changes the outcomes, we as a race owe it to ourselves to not worship Him.

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Craig Christ....OMG...LMAO!!!!

Posted by Pshychicevolution

Craig Christ....OMG...LMAO!!!!
At first I thought this was a church/worship video...I couldn't have been more wrong! ;) I think I might start my own ex-christian church, worshiping Craig the Messiah! 8)

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Prove It!

By DagoodS

Prove It!

In our excursions across the world of debate on theism we often here the battle cry, “But you have the burden of proof!” Apparently this odious burden weighs heavily on the combatants, and merely by designating a certain person as having this 800-pound gorilla causes the other to trip merrily through the tulips.

As if, after all the weapons of words have been slung back and forth, we will end up standing over the grave of the loser, dabbing at our tears, attempting to offer solace, “If only they didn’t have the burden of proof. They would still be with us today. Tragic and sad. Once diagnosed with ‘the burden of proof’ they were doomed. Doomed, I say!”

It is downright funny as to why this is so important, but to understand that, first we must discuss something that I find much more relevant and yet it is talked about far less—almost not at all. That is: the Standard of Proof.

Since I think in legalese, I will be using these terms as they are used in the legal field. It crosses over nicely to Internet debates and personal discussions, so there is little harm in doing so. The person with the Burden of Proof is the one that has to prove the claim, whatever that is. The Standard of Proof is the level by which they have to prove it.

In the legal system, both are set out very clearly. In a criminal matter, the prosecutor has the burden of proof. In a civil matter, the plaintiff (the person doing the suing) has the burden of proof. In a motion, the person who has filed the motion has the burden. In a probation violation hearing, the probation officer has the burden.

We never go into court wondering who it is, exactly, that has this burden of proof. I know, my opponent knows, the audience knows, the court reporter knows--everybody knows who it is that has the burden.

Depending on the situation, we have varying degrees of Standard of Proof. The least, and easiest Standard of Proof, is an iota of evidence. It is a Standard that if you can present any piece of admissible evidence, any testimony, any document, you will prevail.

Moving up in difficulty, the next Standard is “possible.” This is a Standard that presents a little more than just a bare minimum. But not much. The most common situation in which this is used is a Preliminary Examination in a criminal matter. This is a pre-trial hearing in which a Judge makes a determination whether the defendant should be tried on the charges by which they are accused. All the prosecutor has to show is that it is “possible” a crime was committed and it is “possible” that the Defendant committed it. Not surprisingly, due to the low standard, prosecutors rarely fail to meet this burden.

The first Standard of Proof with difficulty is preponderance of the evidence. More likely than not. In the weighing of the evidence, if one side demonstrated a point by 51% they would prevail. If either claim is equally possible—i.e. a 50/50 proposition, then the person with the Burden of Proof would fail. They did not preponderate. Their claim was not “more likely” it was “equally likely.”

This is the Standard of proof in a civil matter. If the plaintiff shows it is more likely, even if only the barest minimum more likely, that the defendant committed the act claimed, the plaintiff will prevail.

Moving up the scale, our next stop would be at “Clear and Convincing Evidence.” This is more than merely weighing, but rather evidence that substantially outweighs the opposing position. Finally, the highest standard is the famous “Beyond a Reasonable doubt.”

In our discussions, realistically the highest standard of proof we should be using is preponderance of the evidence. Often we use the term “more plausible” among the various claims. This is a sufficient replacement for the same standard. (And face it, if you CAN prove something by clear and convincing or beyond a reasonable doubt—good for you. At the least you would have satisfied the “more plausible” standard.)

The best example of how standard of proof can impact a claim is to compare the criminal and civil trial of O.J. Simpson. In both, the prosecutor/plaintiff had the burden to demonstrate that O.J. Simpson committed murder. However in the criminal matter, the jury decided (for its own particular reasons) that the prosecutor did not sustain the burden of proof—the high “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In the civil matter, however, another jury decided that the plaintiff DID sustain a lower burden of proof—preponderance of evidence.

Under the law, these results are not contradictory. The same evidence may be enough to make a claim “more likely than not” but that evidence does not reach the level of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

All right—got the difference between the Standards of Proof? Probably at this point, the reader is puzzling, “While all this may be mildly interesting—what the devil does it have to do with the discussion on theism?”

Because I have been involved and watched hours and hours with pages and pages of debates happen in which each person is using a different standard of proof and neither realizes it. As long as they are using different standards they will never, never, NEVER reach any concession.

A good example of this is the tired debate on inerrancy. What is it that we often see? A person proposes a contradiction. Say the three (3) different accounts of Judas’ death. (I like to include Papias. If he is considered qualified enough to name Mark and Matthew, he ought to be in this dogfight.)

And what does the inerrantist do? Proposes a solution that, while technically possible, stretches one’s credibility. Then the person proposing the contradiction points out more details within the account that appear contradictory. The inerrantist proposes a solution that is logically possible.

Back and forth, each making essentially the same point over and over. Never moving. Why? Because they are using two completely different standards of proof!

The person proposing a contradiction is using the “more plausible” standard. Whereas the inerrantist is using the “any logical possibility” standard.

So the skeptic keeps talking in terms of how this claim is not plausible, or how this does not plausibly fall into line with the other account. And, frankly, is prevailing under their standard of proof. The inerrantist talks in what could possibly have happened, or how it is possible that Judas suffered three mortal injuries, none of which was fatal. And, frankly, the inerrantist is prevailing under THEIR standard of proof.

Each walks away, thinking, “Gee, I won, because the other person failed under my standard of proof,” neither realizing what a waste of time it was.

Imagine if, in the civil trial of O.J. Simpson, his lawyers mistakenly thought that the burden of proof was still “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The plaintiffs would have presented their case under the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, and would have felt they were winning. The Defendant would have been defending on the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard and (since the Plaintiffs were only presenting “more likely” evidence) would equally think they were winning!

Another common example that we can observe this dance is on the Problem of Evil. The non-theist approaches it from the aspect that it is not very plausible to have an all-powerful God that desires to reduce suffering, in light of the world we live in. The Christian approaches it from the position that as long as it is logically possible, then that is sufficient:

Skeptic: Show how it is plausible that God would allow this suffering.
Christian: Show how it is logically impossible for God to allow suffering.

Skeptic: You did not prove it by my standard of proof.
Christian: You did not prove it by my standard of proof.

And the debate goes ‘round and ‘round…

If there is any consolation, with these two different standards, both can confidently walk away satisfied the other failed to sustain the required standard. Both will win. (‘Course if you are a pessimist you might also note they will both lose, too.)

My personal suggestion (which you are free to ignore) is prior to engaging in these debates; make certain both parties agree on the standard of proof. While it will take some effort, tussling back and forth, that time might be better spent. Of course, you can dive right in and start debating. But I am willing to bet real money the two of you will be using different standards and you are only doing it for your own edification.

Back to the Burden of Proof…

When I first began to actively engage in Internet debates on theism, I would see this claim “YOU have the burden of proof.” To be perfectly honest, this insistence on determining who has the burden seemed…well…silly to me. In my life, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Often I prefer to have the burden for certain reasons that have nothing to do with what happens on-line.

I get that the person making the claim has the burden. I don’t mind the burden, even if I think the other person is really the one making a claim. I figure my position is strong enough; I’ll take the burden and run with it. If you have facts, reason and evidence on your side, the person that has this technical label of “burden” is meaningless. Most times one’s claim rises and falls on its own. Not on “the burden.”

Over and over I saw this back and forth from both sides on the burden of proof. Eventually it dawned on me—the reason that it is such a hotly debated topic is NOT because of the burden of proof—it is because of the standard of proof.

What I have often seen (and I apologize for the one-sidedness here, but it does seem to be prevalent on the theistic side of the fence) is that the Christian is demanding the claimant use the standard of “it is logically impossible.” An incredibly high standard! Higher than anything I have talked about yet.

What I see is that the Christian believes as long as they can propose a logical possibility as a defense, then the person making the claim, having the burden of proof, will fail. To show what that looks like:

Skeptic: This is a contradiction.
Christian: You are making a positive claim of “contradiction.”
Skeptic: O.K.
Christian: Because you are making the claim, you have the burden of proof.

Skeptic: O.K.
Christian: As long as I can provide any logical possibility, you will have failed your burden.

At this point the conversation degrades since neither realizes they are using a different standard of proof.

The reason this is humorous, is that the theist is also making a claim. They are making a claim that it is NOT a contradiction. If we used the same standard of proof on this claim, it, too, would fail. All we would have to prove is that it is logically possible to be a contradiction. If the poor Christian has the burden of proof, for the same reasons they claim the victory under the previous conversation, they would be handed a devastating defeat.

No wonder the “burden of proof” becomes such a contentious battle! If all one has to do to defeat a claim is provide “any logical possibility” I can hardly think of any claims within theism that would prevail. Even and especially the claim there is a God! All I would have to do is show it is logically (not necessarily physically) possible there is no God, and I win!

Under this ridiculous notion, the person with the burden will never win. Ever. If this is what we have been reduced to, I propose a much simpler solution—flip a coin.

Skeptic: Heads or Tails?
Christian: Tails.
Skeptic: Tails, it is.
Christian: Fine. The topic is inerrancy. You have the burden. You lose.

Skeptic: Heads or Tails?
Christian: Tails.
Skeptic: Heads. Topic: Evolution. Burden: You. Winner: Me.

Can we see how the standard, although rarely discussed, has been controlling this clash over burden?

Is this the only way Christianity can survive? Does it have to lower its own standard to the most minimal possible and raise mine to the stratosphere in order to prevail? Does it have to contest over burden of proof out of fear that if that dreaded label should land upon them, they will fail under their own standard? Is that how a person who claims to have absolute, divine Truth with a capital “T” acts?

Can’t we all do better?

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