Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wake Up and Oppose Theocracy

Today I just want to post a link to a wonderful article about the recent debates on Bill Maher's show over his fact based criticism of Islam.  If you aren't aware of the debates, suffice it to say for now that all he did was cite facts regarding the violence and intolerance so clearly prevalent in Islamic societies and was told he was intolerant and racist for doing so. 

The article explains very well why the criticisms leveled at Maher are just wrong.  Enjoy.

Wake Up and Oppose Theocracy:  Bill Maher, Rula Jebreal and the Urgent Islam Debate.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

That Was a Long Time Ago

If you have ever tried to point out the sins of the christian church to a christian, such as the crusades, witch hunts, burning non-believers at the stake, you will almost inevitably hear the reply "that was a long time ago".  There is a short reply that one can use in these situations:

There is no statute of limitations on murder or crimes against humanity.

To which you can add:

Even if there were, I wouldn't want to be associated with such an organization.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Here Is What Atheists Believe

One of the annoying things that religious people say to atheists is that we believe in nothing.  By this, of course, what they mean is that we have no values because, in their minds, values come from god.  In other words, it is little better than calling us psychopaths.  It is bigotry even if politely expressed.

It is also evidence of confused thinking or speaking if taken literally.  Literally, someone who believes in nothing is a nihilist, not an atheist.  If you choose, you can point this out to any religious person who says this sort of thing.  You will score a superficial point and it may well be worth the trouble to make this point quickly before moving on to the more important substance of the religious person's actual meaning.

In general, I find that religious people will invariably favor the emotional over the literal meaning of the things they say.  This is because they are fuzzy thinkers--not precise thinkers.  If you choose to point out the literal meaning of what they say, your response will be seen as mere nit-picking.  But, it will also usually make the religious person pause, and then probably agree with you regarding the literal meaning of the words.  (Though if the person is truly stupid, you may find that he or she doesn't even know what a nihilist is.)

This will give you an opening, if needed, to address the actual, bigoted meaning of what the person just said.  The most common response is to give the religious person a list of things in which atheists believe.  Many have put forth lists of the various things atheists believe.  A web search will turn up several, though most seem to be copied from the Murray v. Curlett decision quoting Madalyn Murray O'Hair

These lists are good, and I suggest reading them and maybe even coming up with your own list of values.  The problem with the lists is that they fail to address the core of the problem and fail to reveal why atheism is, at its core, the only moral religious philosophy.  (They also violate the soundbite rule--they won't register in the believer's mind.)

The one value that I think is central to atheism and which, I think, most atheists hold true even if they don't realize it is this:

Atheists believe in truth.

We believe in being honest with ourselves and the world.  Religious people don't.  They would rather say what is popular than what is true.  And, as I pointed out before, this is one of the reasons I say that atheists are more moral than religious people.  Because if you are not honest with yourself and the world, then no morals apply to you because you are implicitly reserving the right to lie.

Honesty is the core of atheism in my opinion.  We atheists don't pretend that we never make mistakes.  If we realize we have a belief that is false, we would rather admit it than engage in a face saving lie.  We would rather endure bigotry and scorn than take part in a lie, even a popular one.


Here is a brief list of atheist beliefs (in addition to honesty).  I believe:

1. We should love our fellow man instead of an imaginary god.

2. The needs of ourselves and others should be met by deeds and not by useless prayers.

3. This is the only life we will ever have.  Heaven is something we should strive to create here on earth.

4. We should strive for involvement and improvement in this life and not an escape into death.

5. We are each responsible for our own conduct.  No one can take our punishment for us.

6.  Only those we harm can forgive us for it.

7. We should do what is right regardless of reward or punishment.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Catholic Church Continues Cover-up

I recently came across this news item regarding a canon lawyer for the Catholic Church who recently resigned her post because of the continued policy of covering up sex abuse cases.  I think it is worth being aware of this both because it shows that religion does not lead to morality or even decency and that religions do not change unless forced to do so. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Most Christians Don't Know the Ten Commandments

Here is a link to a recent article by Valerie Tarico in which she points out that most christians don't even know the ten commandments that they all claim are so important.  She also points out that the ten commandments are morally inadequate and offers a much better alternative set of moral imperatives.  Enjoy.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Discrimination Faced by Atheists

Below is an infographic originally published by the American Humanist Association regarding the discrimination faced by atheists.  I think it is quite revealing and a good source of information regarding the reality of the "war on religion" in the U.S.

infographic

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Is There a War on Religion?

Last month, The Atlantic published an article entitled "The Myth of a 'War on Religion'".  I highly recommend the article.  It is a succinct explication of some of the evidence regarding the continued exalted status of religion in our society and the continued vilification of non-believers.  As the story points out in its conclusion, there really is no such war; statements to the contrary are simply dishonest attempts by the religious right to play the victim.  (Obviously, they do this in order to bring social pressure to bear on those who criticize religion in an effort to shut them up.)

Of course, in my opinion, neither the exalted status of religion nor the vilification of non-believers is deserved.  Both are the result of centuries of repression of the truth, propaganda, brainwashing of children, and the genocidal persecution of non-believers.  All of these things have resulted in a society where the literal and moral insanity of religion is actually exalted over the honesty and integrity of atheism.

Frankly, I wish there were a war on religion.  It is long overdue.  For far too long religion has enjoyed an unquestioned exalted status in our society.  Nothing should be given such privileged treatment--particularly not something which is an important philosophical underpinning for so much of what happens in our society.  Imagine if some other aspect of common political philosophy enjoyed such a long tradition of being sacrosanct.

One doesn't really have to imagine it completely.  One can see the short term effects of such stifling of discussion in the recent history of communist countries where criticism of communist economic theory was not allowed.  Just imagine living in such a place.  Then imagine what the society would be like if the communists had 2,000 years to shape a society.  After 2,000 years of propaganda and brainwashing, even the craziest ideas can become social norms.

This is the case with religion, and this is why I write this blog and support secular organizations.  I think religion is even more immoral and nonsensical than communism. 

I have been an atheist for decades and have fought for secularism almost as long.  If there were a war on religion, I would know about it.  At best, right now, there is a war on theocracy.  A defensive war.  The theocrats have been working behind the scenes in the United States for decades to undermine our free society and turn the U.S. into a theocracy.  If you doubt this, then you need to read Jeff Sharlet's book The Family in which he details his time inside this movement.

I recommend Jeff's book not because it is the only evidence of the war on freedom currently being waged in the U.S. by the religious right but because it is one the most revealing sources--one that gives us a look at the true intentions of the religious right in the U.S.

As a long time secularist, I can see these true intentions even when the religious are able to convince most others with their lies and deceptions.  I know what those intentions are because I have had direct experience both as a member of the religious right (when I was a child) and as an adult non-believer who was subjected to numerous instances of discrimination and persecution.  Jeff's book lets the sceptic listen to what they say in private, which is something many new secularists need to hear to understand the true danger to freedom and democracy that the religious right represents.

I don't think it is too much to say that the religious right in the U.S. is a fascist movement.  It should be resisted at every turn before it is too late--if it isn't already too late.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Special Pleading

One of the most frustrating things about trying to have discussions with religious people is their tendency to insist that skepticism and the rules of logic should be applied to my position but that their position is somehow exempt from the same sort of examination.

This is not just a double standard.  It is extreme intellectual dishonesty.  It is extreme bias.

The term for this type of shifting standard, where the advocate of a position unjustifably claims that his position has to be judged by a different standard or an exception to the rules is "special pleading".

In my experience with the religious the "different standard" continually shifts.  As soon as they realize that a particular standard doesn't support their position, they claim that another one applies.  Furthermore, they do this without justification, which is what makes it special pleading.  There are situations where different standards apply, but only when justified by relevant, demonstrable differences between the things being judged.

The religious will claim that their new standard is justified but usually they will not have an adequate justification for it.  Their arguments for the shift in the standard will suffer from the same fatal flaws as most of their other arguments:  They will be based on unjustified assumptions, circular reasoning or some other logical fallacy.

Although one should know the term "special pleading" and what it means, it won't usually be helpful to use it in a discussion with a religious person.  Instead, once you recognize that the argument is based on special pleading, demand that the religious person justify the use of the claimed exception to the usual rules of logic.

Most often this type of dishonest argumentation is combined with circular reasoning, such as where the religious person claims that the rules of logic don't exist because god's alleged traits make him an exception to those rules.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Top 15 Quotes by Famous Atheists


I recently found this list on listverse.  I thought it worth passing along:

1. Creationists make it sound like a ‘theory’ is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night — Isaac Asimov

2. I don’t believe in God. My god is patriotism. Teach a man to be a good citizen and you have solved the problem of life. — Andrew Carnegie

3. All thinking men are atheists. — Ernest Hemingway

4. Lighthouses are more helpful then churches. — Benjamin Franklin

5. Faith means not wanting to know what is true. — Friedrich Nietzsche

6. 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

7. Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile. — Kurt Vonnegut

8. I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. — Frank Lloyd Wright

9. Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. — Denis Diderot

10. A man is accepted into a church for what he believes and he is turned out for what he knows. — Samuel Clemens

11. The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. — Sigmund Freud

12. Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. — Edward Gibbon

13. 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

14. Not only is there no god, but try getting a plumber on weekends. — Woody Allen

15. It’s an incredible con job when you think about it, to believe something now in exchange for something after death. Even corporations with their reward systems don’t try to make it posthumous. — Gloria Steinem

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Religion Is for Psychopaths


I recently came across an article about a professor of neurology at U.C. Irvine named James Fallon.  There have been a number of articles about him and his work recently, so you may be familiar with this story.

Prof. Fallon was participating in a study comparing the brains of normal people with those of confirmed psychopaths.  The study found certain traits that the brains of the psychopaths all seem to have in common.

As part of the study, he scanned his own brain and discovered that he had the same traits in his brain as the psychopaths.  He also happened to have several murderers in his family tree.  He now presents this discovery as an example of how biology is not destiny.  Having a loving family prevented him from becoming yet another murderer in the family tree. 

The most intriguing part of the article to me is where he discusses the misdeeds of his youth, because having a good family wasn't really enough to make him a good person.  That didn't happen until he left religion, saw his behavior for what it really was, and took responsibility for it.

Here is his description of that thought process:
Since I’m a lapsed Catholic, I started thinking of psychopathic behavior in terms of the seven deadly sins. Those sins, to me, are just psychopathic traits and tendencies with different names — I kept sinning, and I kept doing it over and over and over. And using the term “sin” is one example of how we’ve all mollified psychopathic behaviors: if it’s a sin, well then that’s okay, because everyone sins and then you go to church on Sunday and you make it better. But it’s not actually okay.
I’d say that around 10 or 15 percent of us are pretty borderline as far as psychopathy goes, but we all let those behaviors slip and we protect each other — we say “oh, it’s okay, he does that all the time,” or “oh, that’s just how she is.” It’s a Stockholm Syndrome epidemic. What I’d tell you to do is strip away the bullshit terms and excuses surrounding your behavior, and ask yourself what you’re actually doing and how it affects other people. For me, simple linguistics were what it took to change my behavior. Instead of saying, “Oh, that’s a sin and I gotta go to church,” it’s a matter of saying “Oh wow, I just did something really psychopathic, and I gotta figure out how to stop it.”
In other words, he was a classic hypocrite who simply used religion to feel good about himself when he didn't deserve to do so.  Once he stopped using religion as a guide for his thinking he made the leap to being a good, responsible person.  And, he offers this as advice for those afraid that they, too, may be psychopathic.  Clearly, he recognizes that religion is just an excuse for bad behavior--a salve for psychopaths.

In addition, he makes a very legitimate point about the way in which the rest of society treats the psychopathic in our midst.  We try to make excuses for them, especially when they are a member of our "tribe".  We do this out of fear.

This behavior helps us understand why there is a taboo in our society with regard to criticizing religion.  It exists for the same reason:  fear of the deranged.  Fortunately, we have reached a point in human history where an increasingly large number of people have begun to realize that we should be more afraid of keeping silent in the face of the insanity that is religion.  We can only hope it isn't too late.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Compartmentalization

Like most non-believers, I have often wondered how any educated person can possibly believe in god.  The contradiction seems to be too much to understand.  Once one knows the history of science it becomes glaringly obvious that all religions are just primitive myths.  It also becomes glaringly obvious that the arguments used to support religious belief are not logically valid.

Or, to put it more succinctly, once you know of the way in which "gods" and "spirits" were used by more primitive people to explain away mysteries--to fill the gaps in our knowledge--then you can't help but notice that this is precisely the way religious people today use their "god".

The god of the gaps type arguments are really all that the religious have to rely on.  But, as I explained previously, this type of argument is simply not valid and the past instances of its failure are proof of that.  They prove it rather conclusively, in fact, because that argument has been proven wrong every single time mankind has put it to the test.

Mankind once thought the winds were caused by gods, now we know it is because the sun heats up the air at the equator more than the air at the poles, which caused sideways movement (wind) as the air at the equator rises leaving a vacuum that sucks in the cold air that is sinking at the poles.

Mankind once thought the Earth was flat and held up by a god.  Now we know it is round and that we are held onto it by its gravity, which curves space and holds us to the Earth.

As our knowledge of the natural world becomes greater, we learn that our supernatural hypotheses are false because they are not grounded in fact.  One cannot help but learn this lesson if one has even a little education.

So, how is it possible that some can cling to religion in spite of an education that appears to have been adequate to acquaint them with this knowledge?

One answer to this question that is often suggested is that the religious somehow "compartmentalize" the various ideas in their minds so that their religion doesn't have to face this challenge.  Personally, I don't know how this is possible.  I have long suspected it is true, but I simply could never do such a dishonest thing.

I no longer have any doubt, however, that this is exactly what some believers do because I read this article on Alternet in which a believer unknowingly provided a perfect example of this type of non-reasoning and an example of why it is illogical.

The article is entitled "Why Atheists Like Dawkins and Hitchens Are Dead Wrong."  The author, a young western Muslim woman, tells us that atheists are dead wrong to say that religion and science are irreconcilable.

The problem, however, is that she doesn't actually address the issue of whether or not religion and science are irreconcilable.  Here, in her words, is the solution to the "problem" and the explanation of her opinion that they are compatible:

There’s plenty of wiggle room and then some. On anything that is not established as theological Truth (e.g. God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and articles of faith), there is ample room for examination, debate and disagreement, because it does not undercut the fabric of faith itself.
There you have it, the wall compartmentalizing religion and keeping it from the withering glare of science.  There is plenty of room for both religion and science, she tells us, provided that one does not debate, examine, or disagree with anything that would undercut the fabric of faith, which, of course, means that articles of faith are never even given a chance to conflict with science.  (It is also a one way street in which articles of faith can grow in number as the churches see fit, but science is not allowed to increase its domain in a similar way.)

This young woman's article is explicitly meant to debunk the assertion that religion and science are irreconcilable, which is defined as:  Incapable of being brought into harmony or adjustment; incompatible.

It is not correct to say that two things do not conflict when the truth is that one has never allowed them to come into contact, much less examined and compared them.

Notice first that the definition contemplates action or attempted action on the part of the person trying to determine if the word "irreconcilable" applies.  One cannot know if something is irreconcilable with something else if one does not ever try to reconcile them, and the author has not only not done so, she has told us it is forbidden.

Thus, it is clear that the author failed utterly to prove her point that Dawkins, et al., are wrong when they assert that religion and science are irreconcilable.  She makes no attempt to reconcile them or prove that it can be done.  In fact, it appears as if she has never attempted to reconcile these two things.  Instead, she walls them off from each other--the way one would with any two things that are incompatible or irreconcilable.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thinking for Yourself

Many religious people actually think that it is immoral for anyone to think for themselves.  That alone is enough for me to think that religion itself must necessarily be immoral.

I would hope that the reason for this would be obvious, but I know it is not.  I know this because if it were obvious, then no one would ever spout the nonsense about the danger of thinking for yourself.  Yet, one hears it all the time.

The reason this phenomenon tells me that religion itself must be immoral is the following:  I think that it is not only possible but probable that most individuals will come up with moral rules superior to those promulgated by religion.  In fact, this is what has happened repeatedly throughout history.

An example of this type of moral progress exists in the history of slavery in the U.S. and the support and opposition to it.  As one of my favorite historical and literary figures, Mark Twain, noted about the Church's "evolution" on the question of slavery:

"There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one-- the pulpit. It yielded last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession-- at the tail end. Slavery fell. The slavery texts -in the Bible remained; the practice changed; that was all."

On the question of slavery, the churches did not lead the way toward greater morality.  They fought against it mightily.  And, one of their most oft employed weapons in that fight, as in most others where religion is fighting to retain or gain power (regardless of morality), is the admonition to its followers to lean not on their own understanding of morality, but to follow the church's ancient immoral teachings.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why We Must Not Be Silent

Yesterday, I came across an essay at the Richard Dawkins' Foundation website that I think sets out very well many of the reasons that it is a moral imperative for atheists to speak up.  Anything as powerful and influential as religion must be examined closely.

Here is a link to the article:  Sorry Liberal Christians, But Jesus Is Dead To Me.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bullying

I saw an article this morning that I wanted to share.  It concerns the cumulative effect of bullying on children.  As you might imagine, the more a child is bullied, the greater his mental and emotional problems.  The article doesn't concern religion directly, but, as we all know, religion is the excuse for a great deal of bullying.

The tendency to bully those who are different and the resulting long term harm to the victim is exactly why school prayer should not be allowed.  It is also exactly why the religious want school prayer.

Here is a link to the article:  Effects of bullying may add up in kids: study.

(I don't know why the editors chose to flout the conventions regarding capitalizing titles, but there it is.)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Intolerant People

This morning I came across an article in Alternet--one of my favorite news sites.  It is a brief description of what the author calls "8 Habits of Intolerant People".  Without meaning to do so, the author has made the connection between narcissism, religion, and intolerance.  The author is a psychiatrist and author.  When describing the intolerant people he has met in his practice, he points out that they are fanatical know it alls--just exactly the sort of description that I have been advocating for years with regard to religious people.

Although not exactly about religious people, the article is good reading for those who want to learn or remind themselves about the sorts of traits to look for when deciding which religious people to avoid for self-protection.  I recommend it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Lie that Nazism Was an Atheistic Movement X

In my last post on this topic I pointed out that atheists have no reason to hate Jews.  Nor do they have any history of persecuting Jews.  The christians, however, have a very well documented history of hating and persecuting Jews.  In fact, they even had published debates over the course of centuries as to whether or not they should kill all the Jews.  Again, I refer you to James Carroll's wonderful book "Constantine's Sword" for further reading documenting this history.

Until the 20th Century, most christians chose not to kill all the Jews, not out of the goodness of their hearts or their alleged moral superiority but because Augustine reminded them that the Jews were the one's whose holy prophecies Jesus supposedly fulfilled.  Thus, he reasoned, they should be allowed to live to serve as witnesses to the existence and genuineness of the prophecies.  Otherwise, someone might argue that the whole story was made up.  (Of course it was, but that is another topic.)

What is important to remember here is that Augustine felt the need to publish reasons for not killing the Jews back in the 4th Century.  This was less than a century after the christian church gained worldly power under Emperor Constantine.  In other words, the debate had been going between christians virtually throughout the whole of their history--at least since the time they gained political power and made genocide an actual possibility.

Given this history, it is nothing less than astounding to me that anyone could possibly believe that the Nazis were "godless" or pagan.  The history of this "debate" amongst christians is quite well documented and should be mentioned as one of the many reasons that the recent attempts to blame atheists for the holocaust are scandalous, disgusting, and falsely defamatory to the point where any such claim should be considered hate speech aimed at non-believers or pagans.

Anytime you hear or read of another person asserting that the Nazis were atheists or otherwise godless, you can add the fact of these long public debates amongst christians regarding the "Jewish question" (as the Nazis called their continuation of the debate) to the long list of reasons to consider the accusation that the Nazis were atheists or pagans an outrageous lie.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Moral Relativism

I want to point out briefly what I think is a decent reply to an oft heard criticism of atheists.  One of the last ditch efforts by the religious to defend their superstition is the allegation that atheists either have no morals or engage in moral relativism--which is to say that we are accused of not believing in fixed and immutable moral values.

The religious attach a lot of value to this notion because they believe it is the area in which they are inherently superior to us and in which their superstition is inherently superior to all other world views.  (This claim is, of course, a lie.  Their morality is every bit as subjective.)

But what good are fixed morals without an objective attempt to determine the facts to which those morals are to be applied?  If one can change the "facts" to suit one's self, then having fixed morals won't matter because then one could simply change the facts so that the morals don't apply to one's behavior.

One of the best examples of the way the religious change facts to excuse otherwise immoral actions occurs in the context of the supposed reverence for human life that the religious claim to have.  The religious spend a great deal of time and energy trumpeting their belief in the sanctity of human life.  Their record shows, however, that they are quite capable of killing.  They have killed millions and often in ways that are horrible to contemplate.

Particularly egregious, and particularly revealing, is the way in which the religious have treated non-believers.  They have done their best to exterminate non-believers whenever possible.  The religious in Western societies have stopped doing this, but that was a relatively recent development.  In other societies (Islamic ones), they still maintain this policy--though some claim that it is not always carried out in those countries.

When the religious kill non-believers, they historically have chosen the most heinous and painful methods of death they could devise.  Particularly, I want to focus on the way in which the supposedly pro-life christians have treated non-believers.  For centuries, they had an official policy of exterminating us by burning us at the stake.

Not only is burning people at the stake fairly strong evidence that christianity is NOT pro-life, it is also evidence that they don't follow their own morals--you know, the ones they claim are fixed and immutable.  In addition, I think this particular aspect of the history of christianity shows rather conclusively that christians do NOT follow the "golden rule" of treating others as you would be treated.

Personally, I cannot think of anything that could possibly justify burning anyone at the stake.  It is probably the most cruel and barbaric form of punishment imaginable.  I cannot imagine a situation where I would think it was appropriate.  I suppose you could make an argument that those guilty of something horrific (such as burning someone at the stake) deserve such a fate.  I would not do this to anyone under any circumstances, however, and I don't see how anyone who actually believes in the golden rule would do so.

How did the religious justify their behavior?  Simple, they used made up facts.  In particular, their belief in an eternal afterlife that will be spent either in heaven or hell.  If one accepts as fact the idea that we all face the choice between an eternity in hell or an eternity in heaven, then doing everything possible to make sure you and those you care about don't go to hell makes perfect sense.  Even burning some people at the stake doesn't look so bad in that context.

Think about what that means.  It means that anything can be considered moral if it can be said to serve the alleged purposes of the religion.

The religious are guilty of the same subjectivity with regard to their "fact" finding as they accuse non-believers of being with regard to morals.  They accuse us of "moral relativism" (of which they are just as guilty as anyone--if not more so--see my earlier posts on religion's lack of morality), but their "factual relativism" renders any "objective morality" irrelevant because the determination of which morals to follow is determined by the facts.

A "factual relativist" can simply choose to believe in "facts" that absolve him of moral guilt.  If that fails, all he has to do is as "god" to forgive him.

Thus, when accused of moral relativism, you can point out that the religious are themselves moral relativists based on the way they pick and choose which parts of their religion and holy writings to take seriously and you can also point out that they are factual relativists, as well.

See also:

Religion and Morality IV

Are People "Basically" Good?