Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Christian Asks an Atheist - Part 3

If you don't BELIEVE then you can't have Christmas anymore! 

(This is Part 3 of a three-part interview. Part One and Part Two)

Q. Do you not participate in religious holidays at all?

I definitely do celebrate holidays!  I participate in as many religious (and non-religious) holidays as I possibly can, and with great enthusiasm!  I try to learn about the mythos and traditions that have developed around each holiday.

All holidays, both religious and secular (and a few which are both!) belong to everyone.  They grew out of the non-religious traditions and cultural development of all of our ancestors. Most have their origins in ancient rituals which long predate the modern religions which now claim them. They are my cultural heritage as they are all humanity's.

I love the winter holidays, especially the ones which grew out of my western European ancestry.  The fun of Santa Claus and the magical elements of the Christmas story (a giant star! angels in the sky! talking animals! That's magical stuff!) make Christmas my favorite holiday hands down, with the traditions of Yuletide and Winter Solstice included, of course.

New Years Eve is another big holiday in our house (we throw a huge party!).  We celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, not just a single day wrapped around turkey and presents. The myth of the magi/three kings is one of my favorites from long ago, and we celebrate Twelfth Night as the Christmas season draws to a close. 

I like Chinese New Year because I had friends in school who taught me a lot about it and the traditions around that holiday.  I rejoice in Easter/Spring - I celebrate the renewal of the earth (with no human sacrifice necessary).  St John's day, Mardi Gras, Memorial Day/Canada Day (July 1), Independence Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving are all marked with special meals,  decorations and family traditions.  I also enjoy learning about the holidays of other cultures and I celebrate them, too, when I can!

Like most people, I love holidays!  One of the nice things about being atheist is that, since I am not forced to regard only some as "true" and declare others "false" to validate a religious belief system,  I can appreciate the genuine history of human seasonal celebrations and the myths created around them, claim our common human heritage and celebrate them all! 

Q. Were you brought up as Athiests or did you decide on your own later in life?

No, I was not brought up an atheist, I was brought up a mainly cultural Catholic in a fairly open-minded, tolerant, book-stuffed household. I attended Jesuit/Catholic school right up to university, not by my parents' choice but by necessity: where I grew up, all schooling was religious. To my parents' dismay, my dream and my plan for most of childhood and teen years had been to become a Maryknoll Sister.  Those nuns were adventurous and heroic - doing important work! - and I longed for a life of purpose like that, too. I even spent a year in a convent boarding-school preparing to enter the novitiate after high school.

Growing up, my identity was intricately entwined with my religion, but only in a cultural sense.  The people I knew were not fundamentalists, nor social conservatives, nor did religion or god-belief figure in our daily lives much at all - it was just who we were.  My siblings and I walked to our Catholic schools with our Catholic neighbors and the Protestant kids on the street walked to their schools with the other Protestant kids. We all shared generic Christian holidays, but had different denominational holidays - we had St Patrick's Day off; the Protestant kids had St George's Day off.

Religion provided the calendar of our lives and the cultural community to which we belonged, but religious belief was not something that was in our lives every minute or hammered into us every day.  I barely gave God a thought. I never connected god-belief with fear. Nobody I knew behaved as though a judgmental god was in any way a real thing. At most, people seemed to regard God as an invisible pal who agreed with their gripes and who sympathized - silently and apparently impotently - with their troubles. We did have a religious denominational school system,  but in spite of that the society was largely secular and one might even say almost irreligious.

The only obvious difference between our denominational public school system and the secular public school systems I have seen elsewhere since then was that we did have religion classes in school a few times each week.  I remember catechism as dry and boring (except when I was thrown out of class - once for declaring that I was not a sinner and another time for insisting that I did so understand the "'mystery' of the Trinity"- I was in second grade).  In middle school and high school, catechism gave way to world religion classes which I remember as interesting and illuminating.  Outside religion class, we had a completely secular education in our so-called religious schools, learning about evolution in science classes,  ancient mythologies in literature classes and even an objective study of the Reformation in history classes. As far as I can tell,  there was no redaction or revisionism of inconvenient history to suit a religious agenda in my school in the 1960's and 70's, unlike what we are seeing today. I loved my schools and church and I was enthralled by the sacred music, the mythology and the ritual.  

I never believed that the Biblical mythos was literally true nor that the Biblical god was a literal being (at least not in my conscious memory) so in that sense I appear to have been born atheist. The Biblical god was roughly equivalent to a story character in my mind - not a real thing, but an idea - a caricature with a purpose. I had a vague sense that everything we discussed and did in church was deeply meaningful ritual and poetry and art which was symbolically pointing us toward some kind of ineffable, supernatural goodness. To me, the religion and the Bible and the beautiful Church rituals and glorious music and liturgies were reaching toward so much more than the literal interpretation of them. My understanding of that ineffable goodness gradually morphed into a belief that the purpose of religion was to work toward the fulfillment of human potential for good- ie as stewards of the earth, as peaceful co-inhabitants of the earth with other people, animals and other living things, as intelligent beings seeking greater understanding of the universe and our place in it - no gods required. God was simply a metaphor.

The truly funny thing is this: I thought that was what everyone else thought, too! I thought I was completely normal in my church and that what I understood to be pointing to the greater meaning of it all, was in fact, what everyone else thought and believed! I thought that everyone else considered the Bible readings and lessons to be simply our ancestors' best acknowledgement (through centuries of wonderful effort and tradition) of our role as human beings and our duty to continue to strive toward fulfilling our role to the best of our ability. This was probably true in my hometown in that era (late 1960's- 1970's). I received all of my sacraments blissfully, joyfully convinced that I was completely in line with the Catholic Church's teachings. 

Until I was away from home poised to enter the pre-novitiate, it honestly never really occurred to me that other people in other communities (other than rare cults) actually have a very different - very literal and illiberal - view of religion. But there is a whole other world of religious conservatism out there, which I discovered when I traveled far from home to a convent boarding school.  I had come from a community where the fatherly priest at my school had enthused that I might become one of the first women priests if I wanted to be, to a place where the aloof young convent pastor made it clear how subservient I was to remain as a female Catholic - he represented a renewed wave of reactionary conservatism in the Catholic Church.

The hopes of progressive Catholics in the 1960s and 70s were soon to be decisively dashed, though I did not understand all of that in that one year.  I just knew that the changes I had heard about growing up were never going to happen quickly enough for me to be able to participate fully in the Church. Of course that realization was the main reason why I did not enter into religious life.  It was in the convent that I gave up my dream of becoming a Maryknoll Sister. I was not conflicted about it or upset; life is full of surprises and adventure and my realization only made me even more interested in religion as a social force, while saving me from a mistaken turn in my personal pathway.

I loved my Church. I grew up always believing that my beliefs were perfectly in line with everyone else's. To this day, in spite of that disconnect, I feel at home when I visit a Church.  I guess that is the power of "belonging" and "community" that so many people seem to be seeking in a church. However, both time and geography have revealed to me a far less beautiful Church than the one I grew up believing was a force for justice and goodness in the world.  I don't attend church anymore, and I am very happy to be recovering, but I do miss that sense of belonging.

Q. Can you share more about your non-beliefs?

What are non-beliefs?  That is a question I am not sure how to answer. How about if I share a few more things I do believe?

I can tell you that I believe very strongly in the power of humankind to grow and learn and to become better people.  I think that our emotional development will surge forward as we understand our environment better and can learn to manage our resources so that physical survival is not the main concern of the majority anymore. I believe that once survival for a reasonable lifespan is reliably ensured for most people on the planet, cognitive and emotional development will increase at a faster pace, allowing humankind to gradually approach its eventual potential. I am not talking about overnight, obviously.

As long as human survival is still precarious for a majority of human beings, the primitive pre-occupation with individual survival - with competing for food, territory and mates; with controlling other people to ensure reproductive success - and the survival and dominance of the tribe or nationality will continue to be a dominant trait in our species. These are all concerns which are instinctive to all living things and which, to me, are very convincing evidence of our evolutionary nature. We share this preoccupation with survival and reproduction, and the fierce competition which has its roots in these, with every living organism on the planet, from the smallest one-celled organism, to the largest animals on earth.

The interesting and amazing thing is how human beings began to develop more complex concerns as tiny pockets of them settled into relative prosperity and began to enjoy freedom from extreme want. Enter: confessional religion.

People were still strongly influenced by the ever present concerns about survival, but the small comforts and privileges of small pockets of settled humanity allowed people to begin to think about issues other than killing or being killed, starving others or starving themselves, winning land/food/mates or losing them and losing the battle for survival. With the stress of these constant concerns easing slightly, they were able to begin to think about how to make societies better, how to treat their fellow humans better and so forth.

Obviously, even this step forward was hampered by many of the more primitive concerns of humans (thus the elaborate rules and strictures around reproduction, for example).  Still, it was a significant leap in a relatively short space of time and with only slightly eased circumstances!  Imagine how far we could go if the majority of humankind could enjoy freedom from extreme want for several generations! I have great faith that humankind will reach that happy point, maybe not in my lifetime or my children’s or even my grandchildren’s, but it is coming.

This is a huge subject and it would take days to type even a brief overview, but the above is a small sampling of what I believe about the development of humanity and religion. 

Isn't That Just Ducky!

I like to dig in the sand!

I don't need a bath. I will bathe in the sea! I will dry in the sun!

I like to dig in the sand.

Isn't that just Ducky!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Christian Asks an Atheist...Part 2

Heathens like you are going straight to HELL!

(This is the second part of a 3-part interview. Part One is here)

Q. Do you believe we all have a spirit/soul?

No, not in the accepted Christian sense. I do not believe in a god-given, inborn, supernatural "soul" which is supposed to be the key to a mythological eternal life but has been already besmirched by the actions of prehistoric, mythical people. The repugnant idea that right from birth one is stained with "sin" not of one's own doing is one of the most sad and self-loathing aspects of Christianity. I do not share that belief and I never have.

I do believe, however, that some sort of entirely natural "spirit" is possible. There could be a spark of energy which animates our bodies and fires our minds while we are alive.  I could call it a "soul", especially since that word seems to be in general usage meaning the parts of ourselves that we cannot yet explain easily. I imagine that such a spirit or soul would be pure and bright and joyful.  It could be a spark of the source of life itself, whatever that was.

My beliefs and imaginings about spirits and souls are completely subjective.  I recognize that these ideas are just my own pleasant musings on the subject, often inspired by books I have read or the insights of others. My fantasies have no basis in reality nor any hard evidence to support them.  In that sense, my ideas have exactly the same weight and validity as the ideas about an afterlife held by theists.

Q. If so, does it live on after bodily death? If so, where does it go?

Perhaps the spirit becomes one with the universe when we die. Maybe it leaves our bodies and joins the energy in the living things around us. The most likely answer is that "it" - if there actually is a soul or spirit - goes nowhere, but simply ceases to exist when bodily death occurs.  If that is the case, of course, none of us will know or care when it happens to us.

Obviously, though, the idea that people we love (including ourselves) will simply cease to exist anymore one day is really hard to handle. Emotionally, this is not a concept that sits comfortably with self-aware human beings.  Most of us would like to think that some part of us continues after we die.  I recognize this wish in myself and in others. I don't confuse wishing with reality, though.

We are star stuff!
So, like most people, when painful loss occurs I indulge myself in fantasies about what I would like to think could possibly happen if there is a special spark of life energy inside living things. I don't see the harm in doing so, and who knows?  Maybe something wonderful does happen!  It is nice to let oneself daydream - to feel that departed dear ones might still be somewhere close by. To relieve the pain of grief, I am as apt as a theist to invent stories to comfort myself about my loved ones' "souls" or spirits living on in some form after death.

I know that my ideas are pure fantasy and I expect that other people will have their own, probably different, fantasies.  It is a coping tool, not dogma. I remain aware that most of what I let myself believe on this subject is what I want to believe. I think most people tell themselves what they want to believe when contemplating an "afterlife", but religionists tell themselves it is the objective truth - based on dogma not evidence - instead of accepting what it really is: a psychological coping tool.

None of us knows what really happens after death but if the stories people believe sooth the pain of losing a loved one (or soothes the fear of where we are going ourselves after we die), I have no quibble with any of them, as long as the concept of soul is only used to ease private emotional pain. I believe that is one of the purposes of the mythos of afterlife. And a perfectly sensible one it is, given our human fear of death. You have to marvel at the resourcefulness and creativity of our ancient ancestors!

Unfortunately, most religious traditions do not use the soul concept or the idea of afterlife simply to cope with grief and loss. I reject totally the usual religious imaginings about what happens after death - ascension to some sort of Valhalla/Paradise/Heaven to live among the gods or else condemnation to a Uffern/Hades/Hell to suffer for eternity.  Those fantasies strike me as naked revenge fantasies and nothing more.  However, codified into religious dogma,  these fantasies cause real harm to people.

The fundamentalist Christian idea, for example, is that one's eternal destination is completely dependent upon belief.  This means that the concept of sin - though used by religionists to cause untold misery to their fellow humans - is, in fact, just a red herring:  eternal joy or eternal damnation depend completely upon something which a person cannot actually control - whether or not s/he can believe in a deity - so sin and morality are actually irrelevant  to Christian "salvation",  making their theology amoral at best and (if you think causing suffering to millions of people all over the world is immoral, as I do) evil at worst.

I feel that only people who have swallowed the entire theist mythos could ever accept these ideas at all, let alone consider them just or good. It is a psychological tool used for ill, in my opinion, and is yet another reason why I dislike religion.

Q. Do you absolutely believe there is no God/Higher Power?

Absolutely not.  Unlike some theists, I don't pretend to be absolutely sure about anything for which there is inadequate evidence or - as in the case of gods -  no evidence at all.  However, like Bertrand Russell famously said in his book of essays, Why I Am Not A Christian,  neither can anybody say for certain that there is no teapot orbiting the planets, invisible to the naked eye...but I do think it is reasonable to believe that a teapot in a space orbit is so unlikely that we probably would all call ourselves "aorbitalteapot".

Proof for teapot-belief! 
I feel as certain as most people feel about orbiting teapots that there is no Biblical God, whom I consider to be exactly like - and as real as - the gods and goddesses which preceded him. They are all human fabrications used by humans to explain natural events or to provide themselves with the comfort of imagining a higher power watching over them in times of crisis - sort of a parental figure, which is what most of us long for when we are in trouble or afraid - so I think the fact that people assigned this role to a supremely powerful God is perfectly understandable and its genesis is not difficult to figure out.

I think the most important (and least defensible) reason why gods were invented was to provide a supreme, supernatural power upon whose authority ancient peoples were able to base justification for their own political and social and cultural ambitions.  This is the aspect of god-belief that disturbs me the most and continues to cause the most trouble to this day.  I don't know if it should be surprising, though.

In prehistoric times, when god-belief is thought to have developed, life was a constant struggle for survival. As humankind began to evolve more complex brains and critical- and creative- thinking ability, it stands to reason that people would begin to use these new skills to augment their physical survival skills. Standing thousands of years in the future,  and out of harm's way so to speak,  I can appreciate that inventing monotheism was a pretty creative and resourceful hammer in the survival toolbox of ancient peoples.

As for some kind of higher power that may be suggested or pointed toward through god-mythos:  that, I feel, is more likely than a literal god-being, though not at all in the way people usually mean by "higher power".  I believe that whatever higher power there might be in our universe is likely within all of us and, if it is unconnected with self-consciousness, then it is probably within all living things.  However, it is power we are probably several millennia from understanding or being able to harness for good, because I don't think we've evolved enough yet to overcome our more primitive urges and needs.

Nevertheless, my completely imaginary concept of what a real higher power might be gives me tremendous hope for humankind when nothing else is cutting it.  I do believe that a transcendent impersonal energy probably does exist.  I do not believe in any anthropomorphized gods; at most I think it is possible that we are all small parts of a universal energy.  But with or without a higher power, the growing moral power of the human spirit is evident to me in the striving of more and more individuals for justice and peace.  While we have not yet come anywhere close to realizing our full human potential, I think we are evolving steadily toward it.

It will be a long journey, but I think we will get there.

Part Three

Isn't That Just Ducky!

I am up with the sun!

I am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!  Daylight savings time is OK with me!

I am up with the sun!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Christian Asks an Atheist...Part 1

Let's Keep it Friendly, Shall We?

Five or six years ago, I participated in a discussion about religion on an online parenting forum. In one of the discussion threads, a religious person decided to pose a series of questions to the atheists on the board in order to try to understand an atheist point of view a little bit better.   She trotted out the usual atheist tropes which so many theists seem to think are shiny, new ideas with fresh "gotcha!" potential. The one small mercy was that she didn't ask the time-tested and tiresomely repetitive, "Without a god, where do you get your morals?".

It was a useful exercise, though. My participation in that discussion spurred me to try to further flesh out my answers so I copied the theist's questions verbatim and I wrote the responses which follow.  My views have evolved since I wrote these but much of this is still true.  Looking at religion from a purely rational perspective, I still see it much as I describe below. The main difference is that I am not as soft on religion anymore.  It doesn't get the "purely rational" free pass anymore.

The fondly delusional delight I once felt about the "creativity" and "resourcefulness" of humankind has been rudely shoved aside by the reality that religion was created and continues to be used for far darker reasons than I was prepared to confront back when I was so tentatively coming out as an atheist. I was raised in a culture so thoroughly divided by religious affiliation that, while overt conservative religiosity was rare (and even frowned upon) in my birthplace, my whole identity - like that of everyone else I knew - was intimately entwined with my identification as a Catholic.  Letting go of one's identity as part of a religion community is probably the hardest part of the process of coming to terms with - and coming out as - being atheist.

I will discuss that aspect - the reaction from the community to an atheist coming out - in greater detail in another series of posts. I only mention it here because fear of rejection by my community was very much underneath the answers I wrote to these questions,  so I wanted to explain that.  It turned out to be completely justified fear, by the way, which is something which I suspect all closeted atheists know deep down, and is probably the single most powerful reason why many atheists remain silent.

Ultimately, however, the shunning and rejection I experienced after even the most carefully chosen and respectfully delivered words explaining my atheism proved to me that Greta Christina,  PZ Myers and others are absolutely correct. There is no accommodating the religious majority.  There is no language gentle enough, no phrasing respectful enough.  It is disbelief itself which enrages and threatens them.  Be "nice" or be "confrontational", the result is the same:  you're out.

With a few revisions (the more "confrontational" stuff is newer ;))   here’s the question and answer essay:

Q. I was just wondering what it's like to be an Atheist?

This is me
I can't speak for anyone else, but I think it's wonderful!  Literally. :) Every day is full of wonder for anyone who dares to look beyond a religious tradition that insists that everything one needs to know has already been written in one set of iron age books. There is a huge universe out there full of mysteries to unravel and discoveries yet to be made. 

There is a useful argument that comes up in debates about atheism that goes something like this: I believe that everyone on the planet is actually atheist and that I am not really very different from modern theists. What I mean by that statement is that most modern theists do not believe in most of the ancient gods, such as Zeus, Jupiter, Odin or Freya (though many are on the fence about Yahweh, since he is mentioned confusingly in the Jewish Bible/Christian OT:  I suspect that many modern Christians are not aware that Yahweh was actually one of a pantheon of ancient gods who was elevated to prominence by the early Jews who wrote the OT... but I digress) so in a sense current religionists are all undeniably atheist.  I totally agree with modern theists that the ancient gods and goddesses never literally existed, and I also believe that the Biblical god(s) likewise never existed. 

So, "what it's like to be an atheist" for me is very much like what it is like to be a theist, except that I disbelieve in one more god than theists do.

I do however, believe that the mythos surrounding all of these gods does point to a vital aspect of being human; I think it is reasonable to call it spirituality, for want of a better word.   I value the Bible and the Christian New Testament and all ancient/sacred books, including those which pre-date the Bible and those that came after it (such as the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon) as well as books which were excluded from the sacred canon by men (such as the Gnostic gospels), the Dead Sea scrolls and any other ancient texts which have been or have yet to be discovered.  I think they have both historical and cultural value.

Proof for god-belief!
Most of these "holy" books were written for a variety of purposes. Biblical scholars say they were composed primarily to share history and culture with future generations, but also (somewhat unfortunately) to cement various peoples' claims to superiority and entitlement, as human societies developed.  It seems to me that there is contained in these books a mixture of high-minded philosophy, rich cultural stories of deep human significance and clumsy attempts to explain the natural world.  The overwhelming focus and purpose of these books, however, is to enshrine political, social and territorial goals into some sort of permanent record, and to justify, through claims to a supernatural authority, the actions which people took to achieve these goals.

As works of human creativity, they deserve a place among our historical treasures along with the other works of art, literature and music which have survived down through the centuries.  As a blueprint for something divine,  I think - not so much.  I think all creative human endeavors point to something which is transcendentally human - this reaching toward and beyond literal understanding of the universe and our existence within it.  It is something that seems to be important to all of us, to varying degrees, whether we seek to understand through religion, philosophy, science, art or something else, and I believe we should continue to celebrate the rich history of humanity through preservation of these treasures.

The history of human development, especially the development of human societies and ethics, is fascinating to me. It's pretty much been my lifelong avocation to study religion, holy texts, and scholarly books discussing religion and its importance to human beings and the power that religious influence has exerted over societies.

It may sound corny, but being an agnostic atheist is one of the greatest joys of my life.  I feel extraordinarily privileged to have the intellectual and spiritual freedom I enjoy as an interested and enthusiastic amateur philosopher.

Q. From a Christian POV, it (atheism) is just unimaginable to me.   

I can't really help with that. It took me a long time to understand that other people don't see religion as I see it, but their POV is not unimaginable to me. It's just that, to me, modern theists seem to settle for such a small part of the entire amazing picture while I prefer the huge potential of a subject I can hardly contain in my thoughts all at once.  I cannot contain it, because the subject is too vast and splendid.

I know many people who speak of their belief in God in this manner, and I totally get what they are saying. For me, there is no conflict with this, because I consider the use of God as the word to try to describe the indescribable to be perfectly valid and historically traditional.  Agnostic writers and scholars and philosophers down through the ages used the term "God" to refer to the ineffable in spite of their unbelief.  I'm fine with that.  People today use the word "God" to refer to as many different ideations of the divine as there are believers. Where our thinking diverges is that I think of God as a mythical concept that, at best, may point toward some universal truth whereas my theist friends think of God as a literal Being. I understand that most people prefer things that way and I respect their feelings. It isn't unimaginable to me that they would feel or think like this, it is just not the way I feel or think.

Isn't That Just Ducky!

I am a water dog!  I am one with the water and the wind.

I am a creature of the sun and the sand and the surf.

I am at the beach!  I am a water dog!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Moving Day - Saturday, March 10

"Moving Day" 

To mark the occasion of our daughter's and son-in-law's move to a new apartment this week.  
Wishing you both much joy in your new home!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky!

I love the beach!  I have a tasty stick!

Look at the sand! Look at the surf!

I love the beach!

Isn't that just Ducky!?!

Imagine...A World Without Religion

Hitchens speaking in March, 2007.  I cannot improve on this.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wait - Did Hell Just Freeze Over?

LOL Is that you waving the hat, Pat?

NPR reports that Pat Robertson has declared that marijuana should be legal.  According to the "two-way" blog item, Robertson has apparently been a long time advocate of legalizing and controlling marijuana use and sale just like alcohol.

 “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

Who knew anything sensible would ever come out of that man's mouth!?!

Why I Am An Atheist Series On Pharyngula

If you have not already started reading Pharyngula for the excellent science posts - or for the searing commentary on current events,  or for the feisty take-no-prisoners commentariat - then I hope you will start to read Pharyngula for posts like these:

"I am a religious agnostic because of science, an atheist because of probability, and an anti-theist because of religion."  Matthew Cook.  United States.  

It's not going too far to say that Pharyngula - and the energetic commentariat there - was the connection to other people like me 'out there' that has given me the courage to come (mostly) out of the closet myself. PZ Myers is no-nonsense about supernatural woo of all kinds.  His witty and often stinging posts pull no punches.  The commentariat offers further bracing remarks on the topics discussed which nearly always echo what I have often thought but rarely have had the guts to say.

The challenge for the essays - some lengthy, some brief, all wonderful - was a stroke of genius.  Myers was flooded with essays.  He posts one daily and they underline for every reader just how various our stories are, yet how similar at the core.  Some of those essays nearly brought me to tears.  Many made me laugh. A few made me shudder.  In a world so overwhelmingly dominated by religious power,  it is an enormous comfort - and bracingly invigorating - to read the words of other atheist voices out there.

Atheism is about intellectual honesty.  It is simply the result of honest thought about the evidence - or rather the lack of evidence - for the existence of gods.  It is sometimes difficult to fight through the accumulated detritus of thousands of years of cultural god-belief in order to see that the presumed "evidence" does not exist,  but a hallmark of the atheist mind is the ability and the determination to do just that.  Even when there is enormous social pressure to conform, the honest mind cannot ignore the truth.

There are many other excellent blogs on Freethoughtblogs.com, too.  I've provided links to some of my favorites on the sidebar here -->.  I have also added links to other atheist and feminist blogs which I follow. Pharyngula is already a hugely popular blog,  but if you are like me and have been slow to catch up with the world of internet communities, you may have missed it.

I think it is important to spread the word about these excellent blogs and the scores of atheist and agnostic people whom they represent.  Too many atheists and freethinkers remain silently in the closet because they feel so alone, not to mention vastly outnumbered by theists who are often very hostile to unbelievers. These bloggers send up a signal that we are not alone in this religion-dominated world. There are brave, intelligent, honest and caring people out there who have carved out spaces to discuss ideas.

Yes, we are outnumbered but we have honesty, integrity and science on our side!  It's just like David and Goliath.  (Heh.  See what I did there?)  Unlike poor David, though, a horde of intelligent, fiercely frank, real people have my back.  I'll take them over a fickle, vicious, fictitious deity any day.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Voter Photo ID - Yes, It Is a Poll Tax

This video is painful to watch.  A United States Marine,  a veteran,  arrives at his small Tennessee polling place on Super Tuesday, prepared to vote, but not prepared to produce a photo ID.  He has brought his state issued voter card and he wants to vote as he has done every election for nearly forty years.

He confronts the unassuming bureaucrats, telling them that, while he does possess photo ID, he is refusing to present it.  He is refusing to present a photo ID on principle - and that principle is that a law requiring a photo ID from citizens before permitting them to exercise their right to vote is a bad law.  It is the same thing as charging a fee. He is protesting on behalf of his fellow citizens who may be prevented from voting because of this law.

The Marine has brought a camera person with him to record his protest.  He insists that the bureaucrat to whom he is registering his protest tell him to his face - and on camera - that he, a US Marine who has served his country honorably, will not be permitted to vote unless he produces a valid photo ID.  The bureaucrat finally does so, and the Marine, barely keeping his composure,  leaves.

The Tennessee Legislature passed a new law requiring voters to present a state-approved voter ID.  While the state promised on its website to provide eligible voters with valid photo ID free of charge,  there are several impediments to access for many eligible citizens.

Poor people and people who do not have birth certificates face taxing hurdles to obtaining this state ID. Many poor people cannot afford to pay for a birth certificate (which the "free" ID requires), and a significant number of others have never had a birth certificate for various reasons usually related to extreme poverty and other social deprivations.  Some of the people who are disenfranchised by these laws are veterans who have fought for this country.

This video is not pretty.  It is not slick nor is it scripted and smoothly delivered.  This is an extraordinary citizen who is fighting for his country.  He fought for his country as a Marine and now he is fighting for justice at home.

Sir,  I salute you.

Call Them What They Are, CNN

"Diehards" unconvinced?

So,  "Super Tuesday" has come and gone.  Mitt Romney managed to net five solid victories by substantial margins in Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia  while eking out a narrow victory in the battleground state of Ohio.  It seems to me that these results indicate a pretty convincing level of support across several broad categories of the national population.  Romney has now succeeded in securing primary wins in conservative states as well as progressive states, in the northeast, the southwest, the upper midwest and even the south.  That seems like a good cross-section of the country so far,  and a clear indication that, while voters are not enthusiastic , the broad spectrum support for Romney is there.

But no.  According to CNN,  the fact that four races went to other candidates (three to Rick Santorum and one to Newt Gingrich) perturbs them.  Rather than seeing the fact that there appear to be other candidates whom people consider viable as an indicator that the democracy is working and that there is, in fact, room for a diversity of viewpoints in the country, CNN wrings its hands and bleats about an imploding GOP.

Pockets of regionalized enthusiastic support for secondary candidates should be seen as supportive evidence of a working democracy, rather than as evidence that somehow "the process is breaking down".  Also, to paraphrase Mark Twain, I think reports of the Republican Party's impending demise are greatly exaggerated.

But never mind all that. I've barely written three paragraphs on this topic and I am already out of patience with it.  The thing that really prompted me to post this morning is the CNN home page above.  Yet another misleading, pandering headline from the news source that has sometimes seemed like our only option for even a chance of even-handed news coverage.  Some days, it gets really depressing.

"Diehards", CNN?  If this story was being written about any other country but the USA,  by journalists who were not fearful of their corporate overlords wrath, then this headline would have correctly read:

      Front-runner wins 6 states, but hardliners unconvinced

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

And This Is More Like It, Too!

"The who's who of who doesn't have ovaries."   Classic.

Thank you,  Stephen Colbert!

Now That's More LIke It!

"Extremely loud and incredibly gross."  It's only the truth.

Thank you,  Jon Stewart!

Isn't That Just Ducky!

Ducky looks out to sea

I am at the beach!  I am transfixed!

I feel the wind in my face, in my eyes, in my ears, in my fluffy fur.

I am at the beach and I am entranced!

Isn't that just Ducky!?!

S & P Birther Index?

The Borowitz Report had a fun piece noting with amusement that improving economic indicators coincide pretty reliably with increased activity of "birthers".  It seems that as the economy improves, desperate Republicans become agitated and more anxious to bring down the President by any means possible. When economic conditions worsen, the birthers presumably rest easier,  confident that hard times will ruin the president's prospects without any shenanigans required.

Still,  mere public questioning of Obama's citizenship is not a strong enough indicator of recovery for jittery markets anymore.  Investors now look for signs of increased intensity in the suspicions about who the President really is being tossed around before confidently predicting a sustained economic improvement.

"Mr. Dorinson was quick to add that while the surge in references to Mr. Obama being “an Islamic socialist born in a mud-hut in Nairobi” is encouraging, the economy is not out of the woods yet. We won’t be fully in a recovery until the Republicans start calling him a Wiccan."

If they start calling him an atheist we might be launched into an unprecedented economic expansion!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gee, Rush, What Words Did You Mean to Use?

Rush Limbaugh is a contemptible pig.  Not only has he not actually apologized to law student Sandra Fluke for his outrageous and scurrilous ad hominem attack,  but in the course of his non-apology,  he has managed to further debase himself by descending into a disjointed tirade in which he blamed "the left" for making him hurl vicious abuse at the graduate student.

To read Limbaugh's mewling apologia is to peek under the veneer of humanity and behold the rabid humanoid underneath.  The notorious shock jock whimpered that the things he said to Ms. Fluke - insults flung not impulsively but repeatedly, over several days, and with increasing vulgarity - were somehow dragged out of him "against my own instincts, against my own knowledge, against everything I know to be right and wrong," by the left!  This breathtaking leap of wingnuttery is simply dumbfounding.

Rush's mouth opens.  Filthy lies spew out.  You can't explain that.

Sometimes, one can only stare at stuff like this in shocked disbelief,  but I would like to take a moment to say - Oh no you don't, you vile bottom-feeder!  How dare this unprincipled slimeball suggest that his disgusting actions were the fault of anyone but himself?  How predictably cynical and typically political of him to try to shift the spotlight which revealed his repugnant immorality off onto the (invisible, mysteriously oligarchical - yet oddly impotent!) left.  The unmitigated gall of the scoundrel!

Limbaugh howled incoherently for half an hour attempting to placate the sponsors who continue to pay for the vitriolic effusions that passes for programming in some media circles.  In the course of his raving,  he whined about his victimization by the left and somewhere in there, he also mentioned that his mistake was in using "those two words" to "describe" Ms. Fluke.

I suppose the burning question now is:  in the context of his rant against the rights of women in general - and Ms. Fluke in particular - to have affordable access to contraception,  what other words did Rush Limbaugh actually intend to use?  If the problem was simply two poor word choices,  what substitutes come to mind now that cooler heads prevail?  Gee, I wonder.  But, I won't hold my breath for an answer to that one.

Sandra Fluke,  I Salute You
Conservative CNN blogger David Frum wrote a grudgingly honest piece rightly denouncing the attack, but WTF? CNN?  Who decided to slap the title, "Are we being fair to Rush Limbaugh?" on the piece? Since when does even-handed journalism mean presenting as the victim a person who is universally recognized as having been guilty of egregious indecency toward the true "victim" in this debacle?

Seriously, WTF?

The Onion Reports on Voter Reaction to Rick Santorum

The Onion's satirical story on Rick Santorum is the sort of thing that almost seems to define Poe's Law.

My favorite quote:

"I mean, with the other guys, you can dig into their past and find at least some shred of rational thinking, even if they're cynically downplaying it now," Gallardo continued. "But I get the sense Santorum is speaking nothing but his completely unfiltered thoughts. I know it's weird to say this about a politician, but I sort of wish he were lying to my face at least a little."


I Saw What You Did There, Bill

Bill Nye the Science Guy is the bomb.  When my children were young,  his show was one of their favorites.  My younger daughter and eldest son, in particular, were at the right age at the right time to really benefit from Bill's friendly, energetic, exciting presentation of scientific concepts.  Maybe it is a coincidence, but those two are now working on science degrees in college.

The video below is one of my favorite short ones in which Bill cheerfully debunks Astrology.  It is even more fun that he mentions 2000 years ago when the Babylonians made all this stuff up.  I saw what you did there Bill, you crafty atheist, you.  I approve!

What makes it even cooler is that my daughter the Physics student shares a birthday with Bill Nye the Science Guy.  That makes them both Scorpios!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Robin Came and Sang...WTF?!?

We've enjoyed a record-breaking mild winter here in Chicagoland with temperatures well above average all season long and hardly any snow.   With no snow on the ground,  people have been looking hopefully for green shoots and other signs of an early spring on the bare brown earth.

Over the past few days I was thrilled to hear the distinctive "Cheer up!" which is the song of the American Robin*.  I had not actually spotted a little harbinger of springtime, but I know that song when I hear it.

I figured I would spot one soon enough, but I didn't expect it to be like this!

A roaring March lion blew in a few inches of snow the other day, catching this little fellow and a bunch of his equally red-breasted friends by surprise.  There was a lot of flustered, fluttery activity outside my window a little while ago.  When I realized what it was, I grabbed my camera, ran out into the snow in my slippers and snapped a picture. 

That is the kind of dedication you won't find in the average blog.

You're welcome.

* I think it is most unfortunate that the lovely robin redbreast has been assigned the unflattering scientific name Turdus migratorius.  Come on scientists, can't you do better than this?  They are the harbingers of springtime,  for pete's sake!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Opening Night

"Checkers, 1928" 

                         In honor of the opening night of my sons' circus-themed spring musical.
 Break a leg, boys!

Mother Nature, Not God, "Chose" To Slam the Midwest

Henryville, IN  March 3, 2012

The latest natural disaster has brought to the fore something that I've always noticed but have rarely written about.  It is always difficult to talk about the insidious poison of god-belief and the harm it does to humanity, but it is doubly hard when there has been a disaster.  People don't want to hear about it and they often react very negatively to any attempt to talk about it. They feel that the atheist who decries the talk of gods during a crisis is capitalizing on the emergency to "proselytize" for atheism.

Yet, capitalizing on the crisis to proselytize god-belief is exactly what is already happening, and what happens every single time there is a natural disaster or human crisis of any sort. Theists use disasters to underline the privileged position of theism in society by inserting prayers and petitions to "God" into public activities around the crisis but, even more perniciously, they use disasters to further entrench irrational belief in the minds of a traumatized and psychologically vulnerable populace.

"It's a blessing. We praise God (that no one was hurt)"

"Thank God (few students were at school when the tornado hit), or they all would have been gone."

What is more, this pushing of god-belief is nearly always coupled with phrasing which disrespects real heroism and human effort, thus displacing the gratitude which rightly belongs to human beings who have actually taken action - who have actually provided real help - and allowing it to dissipate pointlessly into the "thank god" ether.  Worst of all, theists rarely miss the opportunity to reinforce religious misogyny and bigotry in the vulnerable psyches of people who are grappling with a terrible situation.

I found remarks by Mitch Daniels - Governor of Indiana and fervently conservative Christian - both offensive and revealing,  especially juxtaposed so closely with those of theists thanking "God" for the good luck of not being the ones killed in the disaster.   Referring to the devastating storms of March 2, 2012,  the governor repeatedly blamed them on "Mother Nature" throughout the day.  Here and here are some news articles where the governor is quoted doing this on several different occasions.  The remark most packed with WTF?,  in my view,  was this:
Ferocious Mother Nature
"I am constantly amazed by both the unpredictability and the ferocity that Mother Nature can unleash, when she chooses to,"  Governor Mitch Daniels, Indiana. 

Those damned females!  Even female gods can't be trusted not to make "choices" which cause death and destruction!  And don't get him started on how unpredictable and ferocious that female anger can be. 

There is so much to talk about here that I hardly know where to begin.  This quote is a tiny illustration of a topic that is so huge that there is no way it can be covered in one post.  I expect that quotes like this, which crop up with depressing frequency in our god-soaked culture,  will be an ongoing source of grim inspiration for countless posts on religious misogyny,  privileging of theism,  irrational thinking, displacement of natural human feelings and ideas, anti-choice ideology, bigotry, homophobia, racism... well, you get the idea.

For starters, let me try to zero in on the problems with the quote above, as briefly as possible.

(One of?) The Loving Creator (s)
Christians claim to believe in only one god.  Well, actually three gods.  But they claim that those three do not count as three gods, by virtue of a clever fourth century patch called the doctrine of the Trinity established at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE.  Somewhere along the line, religionists decided that monotheism was a superior form of religion to polytheism.  All those saints and extra special Biblical figures (Ba'al, Moses, Mary, etc) who perform magical god-like miracles, though suspiciously like demi-gods in a polytheistic pantheon, are not formally recognized as gods by believers. 

So, the general claim of Christianity is that it is a monotheistic religion.  Except of course, there is Satan who is alleged to have nearly as much god-like power to do evil as God himself has to do "good". There is a lot of overlap there, too, because Satan is often credited with doing things that seem good to trick believers, while God is often cited as the power behind many terrible events (but always for loving reasons, of course).  It is pretty confusing in the theist world.
Mother Nature the un-goddess

But if there are no other gods but the Triune God why, then, do theists like Governor Daniels say foolish things like "once again Mother Nature has dealt harshly with Indiana" ?  Apparently,  when random natural phenomena occur -  as long as the theist majority decides not to ascribe the events to judgement by an angry god - there is unspoken agreement that those events can comfortably be attributed to other supernatural forces.  Forces that are not gods, you understand, but other anthropomorphous, supernatural beings.

With god-like powers.


There is clearly a problem of unacknowledged polytheism here,  not to mention the privileging of the majority religion's god over less favored gods.  "God" is praised and credited with saving lives in the midst of destruction, while "Mother Nature" is roundly blamed for causing the destruction.

The other problems are more difficult to untangle from the mess of misogyny,  anti-choice ideology and polytheism that is all bundled up in these remarks by the Indiana governor.  Some people will say that it is too much of a stretch to hear misogyny and anti-choice ideology in a remark about a devastating natural disaster, but I don't think it is.  I think that reinforcing negative feelings and othering actually is the point of making remarks like that at a time like this. 

I do not think it is mere coincidence that the supernatural force to which disasters like this are most commonly attributed is female.  I do not think it is an accident that Mother Nature is characterized as both "unpredictable" and "ferocious".  I do not think it was merely an odd choice of words to say that Mother Nature can unleash death and destruction "when she chooses to".

I think that quote contains more misogynist baggage than I have seen packed into so few words in a very long time.  Much of it is probably unconscious.  The fear of female anger,  the casual attribution of unpredictable rages to a female source and the words which are so commonly used to derogatorily describe women are often so deeply and unconsciously infused in our society's language and cultural narratives that to point them out is often dismissed as oversensitivity.

But the suggestion that Friday's disaster was not a random occurrence in nature but the choice of a ferocious and unpredictable female supernatural power is a signal that the unconscious beliefs behind a remark like this are something deeper and more dangerous.

This is something that needs to be discussed. 

I want to send my sympathy and best wishes out to the people in Indiana, Kentucky,  Ohio,  Tennessee and Alabama who are dealing with the aftermath of yesterday's tornado outbreak in the USA.  Yesterday was a terrible day for anyone unlucky enough to have been in the path of the destructive storm system which swept across the continent.   Like so many other Americans,  I kept an eye on the news and worried about family and friends in the path of the storms.  I understand that rescue operations began immediately and clean up crews are already on the ground in the hardest hit areas.  I am thankful for all of the people in those communities - rescue workers,  emergency medical personnel and many other professionals and volunteers - who have rushed to help their fellow humans during this emergency. The Red Cross has launched a huge tornado disaster relief effort.  Here is a link to their site where people can make donations toward providing real help for people affected by the disaster.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky!

I have a new ball!  I'm so excited!

I'm going on a trip tomorrow!  I'm going to the beach!  I'm so excited!

I'm going to play with my new beach ball.  Wait a minute ... this ball is big!  It is bigger than me!

Rawwwrrrrr.  Yip!  Rwr - runrunrunrunrunrunrun - belly roll! - run run run run run run   run

I have a new ball!  I'm going to the beach!  I'm so excited!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Barmy Bible Study - Literalism 101

Many Christians - especially fundamentalist Christians - make time every day to read the Bible. They earnestly desire to gain insight and a depth of understanding through their study. But there is a notable problem: all of that reading does not seem to produce the results that dedicated study usually produces. What I mean is that believers' constant reading and studying of their religious text never seems to result in actual understanding of what the Bible is communicating to them.

Most people, upon setting themselves the task of reading a text with the sincere intention of understanding it, seem capable of grasping the meaning of the words they are reading. It can be more challenging to understand allegorical accounts or mythology or dense writing full of metaphors and hidden meanings of course, but still. A sincere reader, devoting daily effort to the task, surely would seem to be in a position to succeed? One would think.

More to the point, reading a text with no mythology, allegory or metaphors involved, but simply the literal truth as revealed by a supremely omniscient, omnipotent god ought to be much easier and straightforward. The god has revealed the truth, and in its omnipotent way has surely revealed it in a form its worshipers will be able to understand. It ought to be the easiest thing imaginable, this exchange of holy writ between a believer and the all-loving god whose only wish is to welcome that believer into its presence. The believer must surely only need to read the words to understand their unambiguous meaning. 

And yet, no! That does not seem to be the case at all for Bible-believers when they read the Bible. I don't think it is because Bible-believers are any less intelligent than other people. Quite the opposite,  in fact. I am convinced that it probably is their intelligence which prevents them from grasping the literal Truth™ contained inside the Good Book™. Well that, and what remains of their human empathy after a really thorough religious upbringing. Understanding the Good Book™ requires nothing but Faith™ - demands it,  really - but even the most fervently Faithful are usually unable to completely overcome their innate rationality and humanity in order to make sense of it.

For Faith™commands that round is flat, evil is good, mythology is science and hate is love. The taxonomy of Faith means Opposite Day, every day, and that fundamental lie is very difficult to fix fast in an intelligent believer's brain. Bible belief demands that the Faithful call cruelty kindness, the profane holy and falsehood truth. The remnants of empathy and rationality inside a believer's brain recoil in horror from this affront to human decency and dignity. As a defensive response, I suspect the believer is rendered incapable of understanding the starkly simple words of Holy Scripture.

Or, it could simply be a case of failure of imagination. Either way, I have decided to step in to help.

Like all atheists, I am uninfected by Faith™ (not to be confused with faith, of which I have as ample a supply as the next person). I do not experience the type of cognitive dissonance that is experienced by a true believer. I know the Bible is all mythology and propaganda - an old-fashioned handbook for crowd control - and so I have no expectation at all that anything in there is literally true;  no internal struggle between what I know to be false, immoral and horrific but which a religion insists I call true,  moral and beautiful. When one is thus unencumbered, the verses in the Bible can be plainly understood.

In the coming weeks, I am planning to do my part for society by holding weekly Bible Study classes for adults* right here on my blog.   Morally conflicted Bible-believers' troubles are over! I intend to illuminate for them, in simple prose, what it is that their Holy Bible is actually saying. 

Time slot will be Wednesday evening  (the usual Bible study time at the local megachurches,  if I remember correctly)  for as long as I can stand it necessary. Be sure to bring a copy of your Bible!  Suggested text for the class is below,  but really - any old Bible will do.

Link to Class Text

*Classes restricted to age 12 and older.  The subject matter in the Bible is not appropriate for children.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Don't Think So, Your Holiness

I came across this cartoon the other day while looking for something else,  and although it was created in response to remarks the Pope made in 2010,  it highlights an ongoing source of frustration to atheists,  both timid and bold.

Bearing in mind that ninth commandment from the Biblical old testament,  I am sure Pope Benedict was absolutely truthful when he declared that "atheism has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history.  As this cartoon illustrates,  if it had not been for atheism, there would have been no crusades, no Inquisition,  no 9/11,  no.....

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Isn't That Just Ducky!

Ready for a lap day nap.
It is lap day,  and I have found a nice one to snuggle down on for a nap!

If I just lie here very quietly, she won't notice me.

Wait, what?  It's leap day?   Haha!   Every day is leap day for me!

Isn't that just Ducky!

Random Capitalization: What's Up With That?

Have you ever noticed how evangelicals and fundamentalists tend to randomly sprinkle capitalized non-proper nouns into their written nonsense?

"...am persecuted because I stand up for my Beliefs! I am a Strong Christian, a Bible-believing Warrior for Christ!  I am not of the World, but none of those Atheist understand my Worldview.  They cannot know what I am talking about anyways..."

Sigh.  If you are unfortunate enough to be caught in a real life conversation about the Worldview of fundamentalists (did you see what I did there? ;-)),  you can even detect the random capitalization in the word balloons above their heads via inflections in their tones as they say certain words.

It's like they have a secret language they learn at Christian Boot Camp.

What's up with that, anyway?

Proselytizing Where?!

(This essay was first published in an older blog in 2004 before Christian fundamentalism cured me of religion.)-->

I used to have no problem with religion.  I am a regular (moderate, mostly cultural) Catholic church-goer myself.  I understand how important it is to most people to belong to a religious community.  Religion is important to a lot of people,  but something about the insistent fervor of public religiosity in the past few years is disturbing.   As a private obsession, extreme religiosity is an individual's personal business,  but when people start forcing their religious obsessions on the general public, I find that I object.  A lot.

Today, I had an appointment with a new eye doctor.  In his waiting room there was only one choice of reading material: the Bible.  I've been noticing Bibles in business settings a lot lately - in dentist and orthodontist offices,  too - so I wasn't surprised to see one there. It was the absence of any other type of reading material at all that seemed a little weird.  Not to mention that it seemed rather pointed.  I suppose there are people who like to read Bible verses while waiting for an eye exam or a teeth cleaning.  I've never given it much thought before,  but I felt like I was being forced to think about it today. 

Truly Ice Cold and Refreshing!

I have a few household things to take care of before I can finish the posts I am working on today.  So, for your viewing and listening pleasure I am linking to a great little NPR Morning Edition piece on iceberg beer made in Quidi Vidi*, Newfoundland**.   These brewers are putting the fun back in Newfoundland!

Quidi Vidi Brewing Co.

As a public service -  not to mention to make it worthwhile for people to read my blog;  hey,  it's educational! - readers should know that it is still much too early for this season's icebergs to be present off the southeast coast of Newfoundland.  They are rarely sighted as far south as St. John's (and Quidi Vidi is in that same area) until late April, May and June.  During those months the place is lousy with them.

Hey, it is a long float from Greenland, even with the assistance of the Labrador Current!

Now,  go and tell all your friends!  Not only are you now more knowledgable about a place that is universally mistaken for the mythical New Finland,  but you can tell them about delicious ice cold beer (for reals!)!

* Yes, the reporter does pronounce "Quidi Vidi" correctly, when she says what sounds like Kiddy Viddy.
** No, the reporter does not pronounce "Newfoundland" or "Newfoundlanders" correctly when she says what sounds like Newfinlin.  Newfoundland sort of rhymes with understand, and the "found" is pronounced "fun".  So  Newfunland  is the correct way to pronounce the name of this amazing place.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Are So Many Atheists Silent?

The Friendly Atheist discusses just one example of the hard reality for openly atheist people in the world.  A bus advertising campaign to let atheists know that groups of like-minded people actually exist made headlines last year in the UK and in North America.  There was a furor as angry religious groups protested that the atheist ads should be banned because they were "offensive".  Here is one of the ads:

Several weeks ago,  psychologist Richard Wade hypothesized that the reason why advertising campaigns for secular, humanist and atheist groups have sparked such heated "controversy"  - both in the real world where the ads are displayed and on the interweb where they have been discussed - is not because the ads themselves display any objectively "offensive" content,  but because the very idea that atheists exist at all and dare to make that existence known is what offends the religious majority.

To test this hypothesis,  Richard challenged atheists to come up with an ad that is as inoffensive as possible,  simply signing it "brought to you by local atheist group" or similar.  He provided some helpful (photoshopped :)) examples like this one:

In the ensuing discussion, some people pointed out the depressing fact that even an inoffensive billboard featuring puppies would likely be twisted by religious critics into something else.   Most likely any attempt at making an obviously inoffensive, appealing billboard would be decried as yet another "example" of atheist sarcasm or trickery.

The NEPA Freethought Society seems to have agreed with this concern and in an attempt to avoid any misunderstanding, they submitted the billboard design below:

It merely names their group.  And yet,  COLTS (the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) in Pennsylvania) rejected the ad.  The same bus company runs regular ads for local religious groups and churches,  but refused to accept an ad from an atheist group which simply says "Atheists."

Is it any wonder that there are so few people who are openly atheist in a culture which rejects the very notion of our existence?  A recently published study found that the most distrusted group in America is atheists - we are considered even less trustworthy than rapists in some circumstances!  A New York Times poll taken in 2007 shows that the most unelectable group in the country is - you guessed it - atheists.  A whopping 63% of people polled said they would not vote for anyone who does not believe in a god.

But never mind polls and studies (after all,  who ever believes that musty, dusty studies and research have any bearing on their reality?).  In spite of this evidence of real and growing discrimination against atheists,  any theist will tell you that there is no problem at all for atheists in our culture.  More important,  if the damned atheists would only shut up and stop being so arrogant and pushy,  there would be far less division and social unrest right now! 

Atheists are so universally reviled that even an American president,  representative of all* of the citizens of the United States,  felt free to publicly castigate atheists.  We are the one group that anyone can discriminate against with impunity.  Atheists are accused of being arrogant,  pushy,  divisive and responsible for all the ills in the world:  why would any reasonable person be eager to come out and be plastered with all of these labels?

* According to George H W Bush, atheists should not rightly be citizens.  See what he did there?

Santorum's Un-Americanism Should Make Us All Queasy

Slate has an article online discussing Rick Santorum's now infamous remarks last Sunday on ABC's This Week.  It is well worth reading.  This man is appalling.  With his "anti" stance on so many solid American values,  such as the separation of church and state,  he is sounding distinctly un-American.

The comments below it are a little worrying,  but we all have to get used to that eventually, don't we?  Amazing how remarks that were almost unimaginable (among sane people, at least) are now an everyday occurrence, at least on the internet.

But even more worrying,  the Catholic Santorum shares the determination of fundamentalist, dominionist Protestant Christians to transform the United States into a Bible-based Christian nation answerable only to God. Where have we seen theocracy like this before? Oh yes.