Showing posts with label Coming Out As An Atheist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coming Out As An Atheist. Show all posts

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nifty TBT - Coming Out As An Atheist

Come on in - the water's fine!








"It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price ... One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying." Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1963.















On Facebook, people post old photos on Thursdays for "Throwback Thursday". I love looking at them, and I love that they remind people of important times in the past. I thought it would be fun to occasionally do a blog TBT. By reposting old blog posts to remind NiftyReaders of important ideas discussed in the past, maybe I can kickstart more discussion: how long have we been thinking about this or that issue? Has anything changed since the earlier discussion?  I had the idea earlier this month, but it was reading another blog today which helped me decide which old post to begin the series of TBT posts.

As of a few months ago, about 28% of those who supported marriage equality had changed their minds. Where once they opposed it, now they support it. A Pew poll asked them why they changed their minds and the results were very interesting. The largest group by far, 37%, said they changed their minds because they have friends, family members or acquaintances who are gay or lesbian. And that is true of other gay rights issues as well. Knowing a gay person or, more importantly, knowing that they know gay people, changes minds and changes beliefs.
This is exactly why it’s equally important for atheists to come out of the closet too, if it’s safe for them to do so... Ed Brayton, "Why Coming Out Matters", FreethoughtBlogs, October 24, 2013.

Ed Brayton's post this morning on his blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, points to the importance of "coming out of the closet" - whether you are LGBTQ or a feminist or an atheist - and he posts some statistical evidence to back it up! This is something that several atheists have spoken about before, including me. For the first NiftyTBT, here is my July 2012 post on coming out as an atheist:

Get out of hot water FREE!
Millions of people the world over are atheist but only a tiny fraction of these people publicly identify as such for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are that either they do not realise that they are atheist or they are afraid to acknowledge that they are atheist. Because of the harm that they see being caused by the power that religious dogma is given in society, some atheists become frustrated and discouraged about the number of closeted atheists in our midst, and sometimes their frustration spills out in accusations of hypocrisy - which sometimes pushes the closeted atheists more deeply into the closet.

I am an atheist who sometimes reaches that boiling point of mingled frustration, irritation and discouragement. Like most atheists, I used to be religious and like most atheists, I know only too well how hard it can be to let go of the security of a belief system inculcated from childhood - and which for many of us is intimately entwined with our identities, our families and our entire community support networks. If religion was a benign force in the world, as many closeted atheists clearly must still believe it to be, there would never be any reason to come out as an atheist.

But, religion is not a benign force in the world. Religion wreaks havoc on efforts to promote world peace. Religion mandates that women be treated as less than fully human, enshrining in its "holy books" the misogyny that permeates human culture and providing a "divine" justification for the oppression of half of humankind. Religion fosters - even insists upon - religious and racial bigotry. Religion suppresses and tries to destroy sources of human knowledge which threaten its power. It is accorded a level of obsequious acceptance and awarded a degree of power and influence that would be unthinkable for any other unelected, nontransparent entity in a modern, democratic society.

The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church. Ferdinand Magellan

The deference that is paid to religion has real consequences for humanity. In addition to the sectarian violence that rages all over the world, religious groups seek to stop scientific research which could yield outstanding new medical treatments that would greatly alleviate human suffering. Religion demands the "right" to decide for all of society what is moral and what ought to be legal, even when there is no consensus even among religionists on what is actually moral and what actually ought to be legal. It is inimical to individual freedom. Religion schemes and strategizes to persuade - through fear, bigotry and misinformation - just enough people to vote in favor of their agenda, thus turning a democratic Republic into a putative theocracy where a simple majority of religiously-influenced voters can take away human rights from women and minorities by anonymously pulling a lever in a ballot box.

Faith is essentially intolerant ... essentially because necessarily bound up with faith is the illusion that one's cause is also God`s cause. Ludwig von Feuerbach

Are you a closeted atheist?  Incredible though it may sound, it is possible not to realize that one is actually atheist. There is no shame or hypocrisy in it. While it is true that religion's greatest source of energy comes via true believers, religious leaders know that the number of zealous true believers is too small to secure real power in a culture, so they rely on the large moderate majority to protect and enable them to achieve their goals.  To that end, the strategic tool of childhood indoctrination and enormous social pressure to conform to "tradition", coupled with the more liberal mainline Christian ethics of the post WW2 western world, ensures that millions of people feel more comfortable continuing to identify as "believers" - even though they know on at least some level that they do not, really, believe everything that their religion tells them is ultimate truth. 


No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means. George Bernard Shaw

Cultural believers are trying to have it both ways. Those who believe that there are many pathways to God, and who sincerely believe that their religion is one of love or peace, tend to reject the actual religion found in holy scripture and embodied by the fundamentalists of their faith. They wish both to believe and disbelieve. They wish to align themselves with the best of the modern, liberal religious sensibility - which is secular humanism by a more acceptable name - while denying the reality of the message in the dominant faith traditions.  They tell themselves that people who are intolerant of spiritual differences or who fight to deny others the freedom to develop and live by their own religious and moral values are not "true" Christians. They are uncomfortable with the way the religious right oppresses minority groups, but they stop short of taking effective action to push back against it. In the end, they support their extreme co-religionists because of their shared religious heritage - sometimes actively but more often just passively through doing nothing, keeping their heads down and continuing to enjoy whatever it is that their own church community gives them.  These people unintentionally form the cultural bulwark of reasonable, moderate, kind and compassionate religion which provides cover for fundamentalists with their unreasonable, extreme, cruel and oppressive agendas. 

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. George Bernard Shaw

Did you just say you
 don't believe in God?
Easier to understand are the millions of people who do know they are atheist but who are too afraid to come out of the closet. One does not have to look far or for very long to find evidence of the socialpolitical and personal cost that open atheism can bring to an individual. The fear that many closeted atheists feel is genuine and completely rational. In many parts of the world, open atheism can get you persecuted, arrested and even executed. In the western world, atheists are openly vilified, compared to rapists, pedophiles and psychopaths and are discriminated against socially, politically and economically. Being openly atheist can cost you your friends, family and community. It will mean you will probably never be able to hold public office. It could cost you your job. It could cost you your safety and peace of mind.

And yet, by remaining silent, are we in the western world really safeguarding ourselves and our children? 
 


Just fifty years ago, before the global resurgence of religious fundamentalism, most of the developed world and much of the developing world was moving slowly but surely toward modernity. Most of the world had explicit goals for educational and social progress, including countries which today are rued by fundamentalist religious regimes. Universities, modern medicine and infrastructure and international trade were on the rise, and societies were proudly producing post-war generations eager to participate in the explosion of scientific and technological discovery that marked the second half of the twentieth century. But scientific achievement and progressive social and educational reform threatens religious elites and the rise of fundamentalism soon followed the brief, shining period of progress.  

The moderates in these countries did not imagine that the hard-won gains that had been so recently made could be rolled back. They did not think that the extremists among them could seize control of their countries and push them all back into a new dark age. But it happened. It happened with the unwitting help of the moderates who did not anticipate that while their more extreme co-religionists might only target vulnerable minorities at first, they would inevitably turn their attention to the insufficiently devout within the majority - the moderates themselves. By the time the moderates woke up to what was happening to their countries, it was too late. 


I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela

It is recognition of the ultimate consequences of society's continued acceptance of religious hegemony which prompts atheists to urgently challenge closeted atheists to take a stand for humanity. Insistence on the benignity of belief systems which wreak havoc on world peace, which mandate the oppression of women and which demean and discredit the highest achievements of humankind is irrational and destructive, even if the motive for doing so makes perfect sense to the moderate majority which is scrambling to protect its own cherished privileges and traditions.


The benefits that closeted atheists receive from their church communities are outweighed by the harm that religion is doing to those same communities and to the societies which they influence, to the earth via support for climate change denial through anti-science anti-intellectualism and to the whole of humanity through hatred, bigotry and the implacable religious drive for theological supremacy. Our fear of ostracism today ought to be outweighed by our concern about the kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. By coming out of the closet, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists will encourage each other to see that we already have the numbers to support thriving human communities, based upon better ideas than fear and misogyny.


In a world that is as oppressively and even violently dominated by religion as ever in human history, it may take more courage - even in societies which claim to protect religious freedom (for now) - than the average person can muster to come out as an atheist. 

And yet, I am asking you to do it.


We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.
Eleanor Roosevelt



Some recommended reading:

The cost of staying in the closet. MarieAlena Castle, Atheists For Human Rights, 

Coming out of the closet,  Eric Jeffries, exchristian.net


Religious Moderation Enables Religious Fundamentalism, Reason-Being.com


The Clergy Project, a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.


The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris, 2004.


The God Delusion,  Richard Dawkins, 2006.


God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens, 2007.









Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday Feature - The March of Reason




























TGIF! If you are planning to watch a movie tonight, why not consider putting the film linked below on the schedule. It is entertaining, fast-paced and will definitely give you plenty to think and talk about with your family and friends. I've been actively following the rise of Christian fundamentalism in North America for over a decade, but I was still surprised and shocked by some of the revelations this documentary uncovers. It isn't speculation or fear-mongering. There is minimal editorializing: nearly every word in this film comes straight from the sources' mouths - whether the source is an atheist rally attendee, a Republican legislator, a famous scientist or a Christian fundamentalist. The words of Nate Phelps, estranged son of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church patriarch Fred Phelps, are particularly moving especially considering that as he spoke on the Washington mall that chilly afternoon, he knew he was being watched, judged and hated by the people who should have been closest to him - his own family.

On March 24, 2012, thousands of atheists, humanists, rationalists and social justice activists gathered on the mall in Washington DC for a first of its kind event: a Reason Rally. Estimates of the size of the Reason Rally crowd ranged from 20,000 to 30,000 people. Individuals traveled on their own time and on their own dime from all over the country to attend, to listen to rational speakers and to sound the alarm that the principle of separation of church and state is under attack.

The American Constitution is a precious treasure, the envy of the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines the separation between church and state, is the model for secular constitutions the world over and deserves to be imitated the world over. How sad it would be if in the birthplace of secular constitutions the very principle of secular constitutions were to be betrayed in a theocracy. But it's come close to that. Richard Dawkins, Biologist, Reason Rally speech, March 24, 2012.

Unlike the religiously-fueled, corporate-backed rally organized in the late summer of 2010 - where thousands of the approximately 85,000 attendees arrived by the busload, their travel organized and paid for by their churches - the Reason Rally was barely acknowledged by the mainstream media. Beck's scripted and stage-managed "grass roots" event enjoyed enormous media attention and prime time publicity on every major news outlet, while the Reason Rally - which actually was primarily a grass roots event - was largely ignored. Only after the event was over did a few media outlets belatedly mention that it had occurred at all. A few noted with surprise that as many as 30,000 godless Americans had gathered peacefully in one place (although they avoided actually giving publicity to any of the ideas the rally was trying to promote), while most simply stated that a rally had taken place and left it at that.

Fortunately, Scott Burdick was on hand filming, interviewing and working hard to preserve a record of this remarkable gathering. He then went home and began work on this documentary film project which would do justice not only to the rally itself, but which would help explain why this rally was so important.


American society is facing an urgently serious crisis. Radicalized Christianity is not simply a growing problem; it has been a growing problem for decades. Because of our cultural taboo against criticizing religion, Christianism has been mostly flying under the radar doing its organizing, proselytizing, infiltrating and undermining secular government and education while presenting the bland face of tradition to the world. Meanwhile, the moderate majority of Americans has been aiding and abetting religious extremism by refusing to consider that radicalization can happen at home as well as abroad.

We continued to believe that religion is mainly a beneficial part of society and that religious extremism is a very tiny fringe element of a mostly benign cultural treasure even as extreme conservatives began to trickle into higher and higher public offices. We persisted in lying to ourselves that the conservatives we voted for were fiscal conservatives who would not impose their religious beliefs on the public through the power of their elected posts. Then we stood by as these so-called fiscal conservatives began to pass bills spending wildly on corporate welfare and tax paydays for the wealthiest Americans (whose financial support they seem to universally enjoy) while restricting civil rights, limiting personal liberty (especially for women and minorities), scoffing at social justice and denying equal rights to many groups of citizens - all justified by their Christian faith.


Faith is a vice pretending to be a virtue, its lies and errors and frothy nonsense deluding us and distracting us from action. There's no salvation in wishful thinking, only inertia. Faith is the enemy of reason. It's the barren refuge of the vacuous, the fearful, the frauds, and the obstacles to accomplishment. P Z Myers, Biologist, Reason Rally speech, March 24, 2012.



The persistent belief that Christianity is a benign - even beneficial - force in society, coupled with the undeserved deference we all pay to religion, has been the key to preserving an environment in which insurgent, extremist Christian fundamentalism has flourished. We have allowed Christian conservatism to destabilize our political system, gut our social safety net and tear down the wall of separation between church and state. Acting through its political arm, the Republican party, the unholy alliance of corporatism and religion lobbied and succeeded in forcing measures through state legislatures and Congress which have increased ideological polarization in the country and widened the gap between rich and poor to a yawning chasm, while cementing in the public mind a false relationship between providing a social safety net and losing our personal liberty.

Christian conservatism has demonized anyone who dares to suggest that as a society we may have a duty to fulfill a social contract. By falsely equating the ideal of an American society where every man, woman and child can be guaranteed access to the tools to achieve a decent life with some sort of jack-booted nazi-socialist ideology, conservatives have succeeded in making social justice issues political kryptonite. They have demonized non-Christians (and especially non-theists) as the evil perpetrators of that imaginary ideology, forcing anyone hoping to run for public office to evince public religiosity lest he or she be tarred with the "godless, evil" brush, thus circumventing the 6th article of the Constitution which is supposed to protect candidates for public office from any religious test. They have stoked racial tensions and hammered on false linkages between race and crime, godlessness and evil, humanism and nihilism while denying the true link between gross inequality and all of social problems we face today. We are living through a civil cold war - brought about by the rampant social injustice and gross economic inequality which conservative policies have encouraged.

Atheists aren't angry because we're selfish, or bitter, or joyless. Atheists are angry because we have compassion. Atheists are angry because we have a sense of justice. Atheists are angry because we see millions of people being terribly harmed by religion, and our hearts go out to them, and we feel motivated to do something about it. Greta Christina, Writer, Reason Rally speech, March 24, 2012.



Christian fundamentalists despise America. They hate the ideals upon which the American republic was built. They dishonor the founding principles which protected this country from theocracy by establishing a secular government and barring any religion from wielding power over the civil rights of the people. They deny and try to rewrite the history of the revolution that sought to liberate this fledgling nation from the yoke of authoritarian religion thus enabling the closest thing to a truly free society ever known to humankind to be born. They have plotted and worked unceasingly to dismantle everything about America which made it a beacon of hope in the world - the Constitutional protections against authoritarianism - because everything America stands for conflicts with the authoritarian demands of their theocratic ambitions.

The greatest threat to the United States does not reside overseas. It lies in wait within our own borders, deep inside our most trusted communities.  The most determined and implacable enemy of American liberty, justice and equality is American Christian fundamentalism. We've been sleeping with the enemy for decades.
It is time to wake up, America!

I have concluded through careful, empirical analysis and much thought that somebody is looking out for me, keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less than I ought, giving me strength to shoot for more than I think I'm capable of. I believe they know everything that I do and think and they still love me and I've concluded after careful consideration that this person keeping score is me. Mythbuster Adam Savage, Reason Rally speech, March 24, 2012.

Here is part one of The March of Reason.  I will be posting the other four parts as Friday features, but if you cannot wait to see them on this blog, the link to Scott Burdick's youtube site is below the film window. So far, only parts one and two have been uploaded there. I will be following his progress closely as he finishes the rest of the documentary and will post the remaining parts as Friday Features as they become available. Check back here to be sure not to miss them!


 

Documentary produced by Scott Burdick

Thanks to the Friendly Atheist for bringing attention to this excellent work!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

National Day of Reason




Religious people in the USA will be pushing the National Day of Prayer into your face all day today. Yes, there has actually been a day mandated by Congress for the establishment of (Christian) prayer in nearly every government legislature, offices, schools and businesses throughout the land because, you know, the prioritizing of religious privilege had not been quite blatant enough before. There is another designation for today - the Day of Reason - but unlike the National Day of Prayer, it hasn't been widely publicized on national media or trumpeted proudly by our elected representatives.

There have been a few notable exceptions to the general bowing and scraping before the intimidation of religious power and a couple of mayors even proclaimed a Day of Reason to balance the national day of prayer. Most elected officials, however, refused to risk their careers by daring to champion the foundational principle upon which this country was built - the recognition that the establishment of authoritarian religion as a basis for any society leads to discrimination, injustice and eventually violence and brutal oppression. Instead, nearly all tugged their virtual forelocks, bowed their heads and murmured spells and incantations to one of the skygods in a show of obsequious respect for the dominant, hypervigilant, easily-offended, dangerously powerful Christian evangelical movement.

Those politicians - like non-Christians and non-believers everywhere - recognise the terrible truth. Religious privilege is so total, so oppressive and so vicious that to even suggest that forcing it on the population in the form of faith-based laws and "social services" might cause real harm to some citizens while reducing every citizen's liberty results in hysterical blowback. Fox "news" wasted no time this morning drawing an imaginary line spuriously connecting the Day of Reason to the Holocaust.

Oh, those silly, angry atheists!
Even the mildest criticism of religion unleashes the vitriolic pushback from religionists - usually in the form of mockery (he's an "atheist" angry at God he claims doesn't exist! harhar), followed by the inevitable comparisons between non-believers and monsters of history*. Hyperbolic language like that is not harmless. That kind of demonization of people who do not share the dominant faith in any society has paved the way for progroms, Inquisitions, burnings, genocides and brutal persecution for all of human history. Unbelievers know it and believers know it, too. They deploy this type of language as both a threat and a promise: Shut up and submit to our god-given authority or you will be targeted for the punishment that we believe your kind of evil deserves.

The religious right has been working tirelessly for several decades to seize the kind of absolute political, economic and social power which they have been imperfectly prevented from grasping since the United States of America was formed, largely thanks to the wisdom of the founding fathers who inserted the Establishment clause into the Constitution. But, theocrats are patient.  After the social revolutions in the 1960's they experienced a resurgence in energy and an implacable determination to take over the country once and for all, rolling back the clock on civil rights (especially women's rights). The first and most important step in their strategy was to promote the false idea that "secularism" is a religion like Christianity - although naturally secularism is a godless (and therefore evil) religious cult. By drawing a false parallel between "faith" and "godless secularism", they laid the groundwork to polarize society into "good" and "bad" camps, where the price of accepting anything outside of religion as possibly good for society was to be put in the "bad" camp. And those in the "bad" camp, being compared to Hitler and all, might just be righteously punished at some point, amirite?

Just for the record...
Seriously, if you truly believe that a group in your community is really just like the Nazis, then isn't it your duty to neutralize them to prevent them from subjecting innocent people to atrocities? Isn't that the reasoning behind the notion of "just war"? In fact, this is the very rationale behind the murders of health workers who provide abortion services. The far right has moved on to demonizing atheists, humanists and non-Christians of every religious stripe, including people who may think they are Christians but who fail to pass the litmus test of the religious right (many are just not true Christians, don't you know). Religious fundamentalists try to attack all of these people under the umbrella of hated secularism but they fail to realize that secularism is favored by many moderate religionists since secularism is, you know, NOT a religion but a philosophy of how best to ensure a just and free society. Hence, the 'not a true Christian' label is applied followed by increasingly pointed attacks on moderate Christians who are just not Christian enough.

In the past decade, as the destructive power of the Christian theocratic movement finally began to be so obvious that even religious moderates could not fail to notice it, a group of atheists began to push back against religious hegemony. Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have all written famous (and infamous) books on the dangers of handing unfettered power over to religious believers. Their work started a movement which has grown slowly but surely - containing both non-theists and theists who share a grave concern for the future of this country if theocrats continue to ride the wave of unquestioned religious privilege to the highest seats of political power.

Last year, Richard Dawkins teamed up with another outspoken atheist - physicist Lawrence Krauss - to make a movie about this movement and the vitally important work it is trying to do. The movie's premiere this week in Toronto quickly brought out the usual attacks and insinuations that without religion, human beings are reduced to hopeless nihilism:

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss double down on disbelief, the Globe and Mail, April 30, 2013.

New film examines science vs. religion, CNN belief blog, April 29, 2013.

A better and more thoughtful interview came at GlobalNews (Canada): Dawkins, Krauss have faith in 'The Unbelievers',  John R. Kennedy, GlobalNews, April 29, 2013.

Here is the official trailer for The Unbelievers. You need to see this movie!




One final word. It's been true for all of history and is still true today. It doesn't matter what flavor of religion they practice, when they carry their religious beliefs to their logical conclusion, true believers are literally capable of anything:























*I refuse to link to any of the sites which demonize rational, reasonable human beings in this manner, but a simple google search for "evil, atheists" should reveal as much as you need to see to understand that this is a real problem.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

You Might Be An Atheist!




Tuesday TwoFer!! via CobourgJD (The Cobourg Atheist)

Professor Daniel Dennett speaks engagingly here.

20 minutes:  fun, enlightening and thought-provoking!

I, for one, try to avoid uttering deepities. :D

Monday, July 30, 2012

What Is "Humanism", Anyway?



Thanks to def shepherd.

Everything you've always wanted to know about Humanism but were not sure who to ask,  and everything answered in just under 6 minutes!  Yes, it is that simple!

Do you wonder:

"What is Humanism?"

"Isn't it sad to think there's no afterlife?"

"Why might a humanist hold science in particularly high regard?"

"What is the humanist view on human nature?"

And of course, that moldy oldie question:

"How can humanists live ethical lives without religion?"

Check out this video and have everything explained in six easy minutes!

QFT:

"We can be decent human beings, and love and care and support each other - and not expect a fantasy to fulfill our hopes and our dreams when we can actually live them in this lifetime." Zoe Margolis

Cartoon credit: Tom Priest

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Come On In, The Water's Fine!









"It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price ... One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying." Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1963.














Millions of people the world over are atheist but only a tiny fraction of these people publicly identify as such for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are that either they do not realise that they are atheist or they are afraid to acknowledge that they are atheist. Because of the harm that they see being caused by the power that religious dogma is given in society, some atheists become frustrated and discouraged about the number of closeted atheists in our midst, and sometimes their frustration spills out in accusations of hypocrisy - which sometimes pushes the closeted atheists more deeply into the closet.

Get out of hot water FREE!
I am an atheist who sometimes reaches that boiling point of mingled frustration, irritation and discouragement. Like most atheists, I used to be religious and like most atheists, I know only too well how hard it can be to let go of the security of a belief system inculcated from childhood - and which for many of us is intimately entwined with our identities, our families and our entire community support networks. If religion was a benign force in the world, as many closeted atheists clearly must still believe it to be, there would never be any reason to come out as an atheist.

But, religion is not a benign force in the world. Religion wreaks havoc on efforts to promote world peace. Religion mandates that women be treated as less than fully human, enshrining in its "holy books" the misogyny that permeates human culture and providing a "divine" justification for the oppression of half of humankind. Religion fosters - even insists upon - religious and racial bigotry. Religion suppresses and tries to destroy sources of human knowledge which threaten its power. It is accorded a level of obsequious acceptance and awarded a degree of power and influence that would be unthinkable for any other unelected, nontransparent entity in a modern, democratic society.

The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church. Ferdinand Magellan.

The deference that is paid to religion has real consequences for humanity. In addition to the sectarian violence that rages all over the world, religious groups seek to stop scientific research which could yield outstanding new medical treatments that would greatly alleviate human suffering. Religion demands the "right" to decide for all of society what is moral and what ought to be legal, even when there is no consensus even among religionists on what is actually moral and what actually ought to be legal. It is inimical to individual freedom. Religion schemes and strategizes to persuade - through fear, bigotry and misinformation - just enough people to vote in favor of their agenda, thus turning a democratic Republic into a putative theocracy where a simple majority of religiously-influenced voters can take away human rights from women and minorities by anonymously pulling a lever in a ballot box.

Faith is essentially intolerant ... essentially because necessarily bound up with faith is the illusion that one's cause is also God`s cause. Ludwig von Feuerbach.

Are you a closeted atheist?  Incredible though it may sound, it is possible not to realize that one is actually atheist. There is no shame or hypocrisy in it. While it is true that religion's greatest source of energy comes via true believers, religious leaders know that the number of zealous true believers is too small to secure real power in a culture, so they rely on the large moderate majority to protect and enable them to achieve their goals.  To that end, the strategic tool of childhood indoctrination and enormous social pressure to conform to "tradition", coupled with the more liberal mainline Christian ethics of the post WW2 western world, ensures that millions of people feel more comfortable continuing to identify as "believers" - even though they know on at least some level that they do not, really, believe everything that their religion tells them is ultimate truth. 

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means. George Bernard Shaw

Cultural believers are trying to have it both ways. Those who believe that there are many pathways to God, and who sincerely believe that their religion is one of love or peace, tend to reject the actual religion found in holy scripture and embodied by the fundamentalists of their faith. They wish both to believe and disbelieve. They wish to align themselves with the best of the modern, liberal religious sensibility - which is secular humanism by a more acceptable name - while denying the reality of the message in the dominant faith traditions.  They tell themselves that people who are intolerant of spiritual differences or who fight to deny others the freedom to develop and live by their own religious and moral values are not "true" Christians. They are uncomfortable with the way the religious right oppresses minority groups, but they stop short of taking effective action to push back against it. In the end, they support their extreme co-religionists because of their shared religious heritage - sometimes actively but more often just passively through doing nothing, keeping their heads down and continuing to enjoy whatever it is that their own church community gives them.  These people unintentionally form the cultural bulwark of reasonable, moderate, kind and compassionate religion which provides cover for fundamentalists with their unreasonable, extreme, cruel and oppressive agendas. 

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. George Bernard Shaw.

Did you just say you
 don't believe in God?
Easier to understand are the millions of people who do know they are atheist but who are too afraid to come out of the closet. One does not have to look far or for very long to find evidence of the social, political and personal cost that open atheism can bring to an individual. The fear that many closeted atheists feel is genuine and completely rational. In many parts of the world, open atheism can get you persecuted, arrested and even executed. In the western world, atheists are openly vilified, compared to rapists, pedophiles and psychopaths and are discriminated against socially, politically and economically. Being openly atheist can cost you your friends, family and community. It will mean you will probably never be able to hold public office. It could cost you your job. It could cost you your safety and peace of mind.

And yet, by remaining silent, are we in the western world really safeguarding ourselves and our children? 


Just fifty years ago, before the global resurgence of religious fundamentalism, most of the developed world and much of the developing world was moving slowly but surely toward modernity. Most of the world had explicit goals for educational and social progress, including countries which today are rued by fundamentalist religious regimes. Universities, modern medicine and infrastructure and international trade were on the rise, and societies were proudly producing post-war generations eager to participate in the explosion of scientific and technological discovery that marked the second half of the twentieth century. But scientific achievement and progressive social and educational reform threatens religious elites and the rise of fundamentalism soon followed the brief, shining period of progress.  

The moderates in these countries did not imagine that the hard-won gains that had been so recently made could be rolled back. They did not think that the extremists among them could seize control of their countries and push them all back into a new dark age. But it happened. It happened with the unwitting help of the moderates who did not anticipate that while their more extreme co-religionists might only target vulnerable minorities at first, they would inevitably turn their attention to the insufficiently devout within the majority - the moderates themselves. By the time the moderates woke up to what was happening to their countries, it was too late. 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela

It is recognition of the ultimate consequences of society's continued acceptance of religious hegemony which prompts atheists to urgently challenge closeted atheists to take a stand for humanity. Insistence on the benignity of belief systems which wreak havoc on world peace, which mandate the oppression of women and which demean and discredit the highest achievements of humankind is irrational and destructive, even if the motive for doing so makes perfect sense to the moderate majority which is scrambling to protect its own cherished privileges and traditions.

The benefits that closeted atheists receive from their church communities are outweighed by the harm that religion is doing to those same communities and to the societies which they influence, to the earth via support for climate change denial through anti-science anti-intellectualism and to the whole of humanity through hatred, bigotry and the implacable religious drive for theological supremacy. Our fear of ostracism today ought to be outweighed by our concern about the kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. By coming out of the closet, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists will encourage each other to see that we already have the numbers to support thriving human communities, based upon better ideas than fear and misogyny.


In a world that is as oppressively and even violently dominated by religion as ever in human history, it may take more courage - even in societies which claim to protect religious freedom (for now) - than the average person can muster to come out as an atheist. 


And yet, I am asking you to do it.


We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.
Eleanor Roosevelt



Some recommended reading:

The cost of staying in the closet. MarieAlena Castle, Atheists For Human Rights, 

Coming out of the closet,  Eric Jeffries, exchristian.net

Religious Moderation Enables Religious Fundamentalism, Reason-Being.com

The Clergy Project, a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris, 2004.

The God Delusion,  Richard Dawkins, 2006.

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens, 2007.







Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Make Your Own Purpose!



I posted Tombstone Da Deadman's Purpose a few months ago, but I think it is important to post it again. The rational warrior both inspires and challenges in this excellent remix. The music is great, and the thoughtful message is even better.  Enjoy!


LYRICS:
All of my life I was the type that thought that I was worthless
unless defined by some designer that would grant me purpose

I was a clown that was down with religions 3 ring circus
and convinced that daddy would hurt us and throw us in a furnace

I used to think that Lucifer was waiting by the corner
just planting the seeds of destruction and causing all disorder

total illogical thinking adopted from primitive people
from an era where they first tried to define what's good and evil

how could you apply that to what we know today
as if we haven't advanced or learned in the slightest way

when I look back I think about all of the time that I wasted
praying to the sky for nothing and mad cause I can't replace it

so now I've gotta live my life by standards I determine
and not be burden with the sermon of some clergy vermin

far as I am concerning it's ridicule they deserving
and I'll just keep laughing at their dumb ass til my sides are bursting I spend my time sidestepping the meaningless drivel
They tell me I should be nicer but it's hard to be civil

to all those people who demonize me on every level
and really believe that I'm in league with their fictitious devil

see if the human race was suddenly erased from off the face of the Earth
the universe would not even be hurt

so these delusions of grandeur that humans entertain
about how this was all for their benefit is truly insane

trillions of years have gone by while we weren't even here
the universe was doing fine and didn't seem to care

see all your arrogance is painfully apparent when
you don't even get the fact your presence is irrelevant

no matter how you try to be divinely inspired it seems
to just be some foolishness created from your wildest dreams

but my mentality greatly prefers reality and that's what makes me
disregard thoughtless irrationality

It's my way or the highway and not some god that hides away
that claims domination over me and says what I'm allowed to say

cause I accept responsibility for if I fail or if I succeed
nobody can get it or take credit for it except me

and all of my failures are because of lack of ability
no demons no curses will be the thing that ends up killing me

It's my life....it's my time...it's my choice...it's my mind
so I define...my purpose and see the world through my own eyes

no excuses....so keep your god illusions...
I'm feeling that you blinded sight obscured by your delusions

if you're connected to something higher then introduce him
if you're so sure that it's fucking real then please produce him

maybe some evidence...please at least a shred of it
something that's convincing that's overwhelming could settle this

anything except for this fantasy that you're peddling
about a god with nothing better to do but meddling
       ------------------------------------------------

More good work (and you can buy his album) at Tombstone Da Deadman.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Midweek Moment Of Sanity



via GrandUnifiedTheorist

Best quotes:

"Science has the potential to build a better world;  Religion has the potential to destroy it."

"The time is now for atheists to stand up for the future."


Did you see what thadguy did there?



via thadguy.com  (check it out for more excellent cartoons)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Letting Go of God - A Catholic Journey



This really looks like a great mixture of good sense and humour. This is the trailer, and I am hoping to post the entire thing in short segments over the next few weeks.

Julia Sweeney, Letting Go of God.

For anyone interested in listening to the whole thing at once (it is just over 2 hours and very good) here is a link.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

transition to atheism



In just over eight minutes, TheraminTrees lays out exactly how a young atheist might feel and think on the journey out of theism.

(I could have done without the weird eyes bit, but that's just me. Everything he says is excellent. Clear and concise.)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Instruction Manual For Life




A little awesome for a Thorsday morning:

TheraminTrees' beautiful, silent, short, animated video, Instruction Manual For Life.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Religion - The Bad Parent



A breath of fresh air from TheraminTrees on a Monday morning.

I was delighted to find this Spanish translation of the video. Bravo to TheraminTrees (or whomever is responsible) for making this excellent work more accessible!


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Show Some Respect, Damn You!

Respect. How does that work, anyway?
























“I have met some highly intelligent believers, but history has no record to say that [s]he knew or understood the mind of god. Yet this is precisely the qualification which the godly must claim—so modestly and so humbly—to possess. It is time to withdraw our 'respect' from such fantastic claims, all of them aimed at the exertion of power over other humans in the real and material world.”
― Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever


Respect.  We hear a lot about it. But, how do we as individuals and as a society determine who is deserving of our respect? The Paige Sultzbach story last week got me thinking about this.

Most of us are taught that we must show respect for the essential humanity of all people. We are told in school, at work and at home that we must respect other people as our equals - fellow human beings. Beyond this baseline, though, people are usually expected to earn any higher, more deferential level of respect through their meritorious behavior. We are not usually expected to pay respect to people who behave immorally, who harm us or who harm other people. Usually, we are not compelled to respect ridiculous or destructive ideas, either. But there is one glaring exception to these sensible guidelines: religion.

We hear every single day that we owe special, unassailable, respect for the religious beliefs of others, simply because they are religious beliefs. There is no way to evaluate the relative merits of religious ideas because the very act of questioning, evaluating or criticizing religious beliefs is deemed disrespectful and being disrespectful of religion is taboo. This catch-22 situation means that even when religious ideas clearly cause harm to ourselves or others, the cultural taboo which demands unearned respect for religious dogma and practices also forbids questioning them.

More precisely, people are pressured every day of their lives to pay respect - and be subordinate - to the religious majority wherever they live. In Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia (to name a few countries under explicit Islamic rule) that would be the Muslim majority. In the USA, Denmark, Hungary, Canada and Great Britain (to name a few countries with explicit or implicit Christian state religions) it is the Christian majority. Of all of these, the United States was the first to explicitly guarantee in its Constitution that no single religion would be established by the state, thus preventing the official empowerment of one religious group over all others. In this way, the framers of the Constitution hoped to provide the foundation for a truly revolutionary new kind of nation: a country where people could be as free as humanly possible; where the rights and welfare of the individual would be balanced as far as humanly possible with the rights and welfare of the rest of the people, preventing both tyranny of the majority and the rise of theocratic dictators.

Freedom of religion!* 
*For Christians only.
The founding fathers, who were educated in religious and political history, understood that religious sectarianism has always resulted in oppression of minorities and the rise of theocratic dynasties - usually, but not always monarchies. Whether they were monarchies or putative republics, the ruling elites always claimed to rule by divine right. The framers of the US Constitution - James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in particular - recognized that constant sectarian strife and vicious social inequities enabled by the power structures which churches prop up would destroy Americans' hopes for a better life in the fledgling new state as surely as the suffocation of those very hopes had driven them out of Europe. And the founders understood that it was state-sanctioned empowerment of favored groups (nearly always identified by religion) which was the reason why the common people in every country in the world lived in miserable poverty under the rule of religiously-privileged "noble" classes.

Demonstrating a wisdom beyond experience (because such a nation had never been tried before), they determined that, in order to form a more perfect union, the United States must be kept free of the appalling religious strife that had destroyed virtually every great civilization in history before them. They were convinced that freedom of religion in a nation that could not legally favor any one religion over the others would offer the best hope for the country to prosper, by enabling the people to prosper in peaceful coexistence as equals.

But there have always been ambitious groups who seek to restore the bad old days of feudal oppression for their own benefit. There have always been people who consider themselves the chosen ones - the nobility which is called to rule over the lesser classes. Before the ink was dry on the US Constitution, religious groups were attempting to circumvent the prohibition of establishment of state religions. The freedom to practice their own religion has never been enough for some Christians; they have always sought special status and special power. That battle over the separation of church and state has been waxing and waning constantly in the 225+ years since Independence, and while the Constitutional guarantee has held in theory, in practice the religious power-play has succeeded in carving so many inroads into the separation of church and state that the country has been reduced to a de facto Christian nation.

You want to build a mosque? Well, we have news for you.
Just guess whose country we think this is! 
In theory, the First Amendment still protects religious minorities and non-believers from unwanted Christian intrusion into their lives, but in practice this is not so. From public holidays honoring Christian holy days to public religious displays, to compelled silence for Christian prayers in legislatures, in schools and at events of huge public significance, from the casual assumption of Christian privilege and prominence to the very real favoritism via tax exemption and government funding which has enriched churches - secretly and without public oversight - at the public expense, the reality is that churches, especially Christian churches, are intimately entwined with the state. The battle to gain special status and the resulting economic and political power was on from the moment James Madison signed the First Amendment (actually even before) and for good reason from the point of view of the churches. They have benefited enormously from these unconstitutional arrangements.

The truth is that the Christian religion has been quietly empowered both financially and politically, and it aims to gain supreme power by replacing the current republic with a Bible-based state. Christian conservatives will never cede that power willingly. The truth is that when minority religions or the non-religious expect equal respect from the Christian majority, the Christian majority cries persecution and refuses to honor the Constitution that they claim to uphold, but which they are undermining because they hate it as a threat to their ambitions. When a minority's beliefs conflict with majority Christian beliefs, the majority will use every avenue available to force the minority to accept having Christian belief shoved down its throat, even when the Constitution has promised that this will not happen. For Christians, the First Amendment guarantees their religion; they believe that it guarantees that they have the right to strip away the freedom of others to enjoy public life free of Christian proselytizing and the presumption of Christian supremacy. Christians regard the insistence of others that the Constitution guarantees them the same freedoms and rights as Christians as a challenge to Christian rights.

...as long as it is Christianity
Merely requesting that the Constitutional guarantee for religious freedom for all be upheld results in public outcry from the majority, lawsuits, threats and ostracism of the individual(s) who dare to stand up for the right of the minority not to be oppressed by the Christian majority.  Respect for Christian beliefs is deemed of such paramount importance that we must disrespect the beliefs of others or we are accused of persecuting Christians and oppressing Christian belief. On the rare occasions when citizens (sometimes even Christian themselves) push back against the ubiquitousness of Christian belief  - for example  by objecting to its illegal injection into the publicly funded spheres of our society - the Christian majority shrieks that it is being oppressed or persecuted.

The very act of respecting the beliefs of non-Christians - or even of allowing them to be visible, free to simply exist in this society - is perceived by Christians as an attack upon them. In short, the Christian majority claims to be oppressed if they are prevented from oppressing others. It is an amazing fact of western life that the concept of religious persecution has been perverted by the Christian majority to such an extent that it is no longer recognizable as a meaningful description of the reality of what persecution actually means. It has been turned on its head. In the United States today, Christian religious belief is accorded such a level of public respect that it must be deferred to in every situation. In schools, in government offices, in supermarkets, hospitals and gas stations, non-Christians cannot escape the constant demand for public obeisance to Christianity.
Ah, religious respect 
for girls and women.

Last week, a young girl was made the scapegoat in a fundamentalist Catholic power-play. The fact that Christian misogyny is still so open and accepted in society is bad enough, but the repeated expressions of respect by everyone involved - including the victims of the discrimination itself - for this medieval, systemic marginalization of women and girls was little short of amazing. In a breathtaking show of oppositional apologia, the ultra-conservative Catholic school in question brazenly couched its policy of discrimination against girls as "teaching boys to respect ladies". Apparently, the only way to "respect ladies" is to bar them from sports they are qualified to play, deny them opportunities to compete with their ability peers and generally limit their horizons as far as possible within strictly segregated, narrowly traditional gender roles.

The gender roles that Our Lady of Sorrows and similar ultra-conservative Christian organizations advocate for boys and girls tend - as always when "religious tradition" is invoked - to mean these things: active, dynamic, leadership roles for boys;  passive, submissive, invisible roles for girls. In this religiously-fueled zeal to squeeze their female adherents into a suffocatingly circumscribed world of few joys and almost no choices, conservative Christians are exactly like their conservative brethren of other faiths - ultra-orthodox Jews and the Islamist Taliban - which enshrine repression of women into their orthodoxy under the same perniciously virtuous-sounding label of "respect for women".

A lifetime of shrouded invisibility.
Now, that's respect!
These religious extremists do not respect women. Their actions betray that their motives are the polar opposite of respectful; they intend not to respect the rights and autonomy - the humanity - of women and girls, but to deny them autonomy and rights - and their humanity. The purpose of this dogma is to control women for the use and service of men: to keep them subservient, less than men, silenced and invisible. The farce of conservative respect for women is nothing more than a cruelly ironic cover for the conservative campaign for the subjugation of women. There is real harm being done in the name of religion and it ought not to be allowed to continue without vigorous criticism.

I do not respect the beliefs of Our Lady of Sorrows school. I condemn their beliefs and their actions as the  immoral, repressive expression of deeply misogynistic theology. Attempts to establish medieval religious extremism should never go unchallenged in a civilized, egalitarian, free society. We would do well to remember that no society is impervious to the ever-present danger of right-wing authoritarianism. Domestic turmoil usually lays the conditions for the rise of oppressive theocracies, but war and failed government are not the only ways that authoritarian rule can gain a foothold in a contemporary society. Too often, authoritarian theocratic regimes take over when the people of a country have become complacently overconfident in their ability to detect and deflect such extremism. Tolerance of religious oppression is not respectful. It is foolhardy.

It is time to stop paying undeserved respect to religious groups which marginalize and disrespect selected groups of human beings - usually female human beings. People who possess sincere respect for the essential humanity and dignity of others must refuse to offer "respect" for these oppressive ideologies. We must stand up and declare that this behavior is an affront to human dignity. It is immoral and people must have the courage to call it what it is. Religion is powerful. It is powerful enough to call for the elimination of its opponents in most parts of the world, and most religions do not hesitate to do so when they are threatened. But, if people who value freedom of religion and who understand the threat which tyranny of the majority poses will not stand up, then we are - willingly? - participating in the destruction of our own democratic republic.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

there are no gods (2/3)





A respite from the horrors of yesterday's primary results. Sit back and watch part 2 of "there are no gods".