Misunderstanding Atheism . . . Again

Many Christians and religious believers have a hard time understanding what is atheism. The most common misconceptions are that it’s a belief system in and of itself, or that it is the assertion that there are no gods.
Despite repeated attempts of atheists to rebut these misconceptions, they still remain.
Case in point: Rev. Dr. Chris Surber’s opinion piece in the Suffolk News-Herald, “Modern Atheism is Not a Thing,” makes several mistakes in regard to what is atheism.
Surber begins by referencing the 18th-centrury philosopher David Hume and claims Hume’s lack of belief in miracles as a root cause of his atheism. Surber paints Hume’s atheism as logic-based and rooted in skepticism. I’m not too familiar with Hume’s work, but I mention this because Surber uses Hume to make a distinction between historical atheism and modern atheism, which is his first mistake.
Surber goes on to say, “Hume’s atheism was skepticism rooted in logic . . .but today’s atheism is something else altogether. It is above all else an active belief in the non-existence of God. It has passed from passive skepticism to active non-belief. It has become a belief itself. It is the belief that there is no God.”
Well, that couldn’t be more wrong. And while I’m sure there are some atheists who make the claim that no gods exist, the overwhelming majority of the atheists I read and follow make no such claim.
One can be reasonably certain the character Yahweh as described in the Bible doesn’t exist, but I’d be skeptical of someone who asserts with certainty that no gods exist anywhere now or ever.
The error — I think — Surber is making is equating outspokenness of many atheists with “active non-belief.”
He goes on to add — somewhat correctly — that “ . . . today’s atheism is really just a dislike, disapproval and denunciation of religious belief. It’s not atheism. It’s anti-theism, and that is a whole other thing.”
Well, yes and no. Many outspoken atheists like myself are indeed anti-theists. We see the harm religious belief causes and we refuse to remain silent. We stand up for separation of church and state and aggressively promote a worldview based in science, logic, reason and secularism.
But this isn’t a “new atheism.” It’s the same atheism, but one that’s more vocal — and possibly more aggressive — and that is what I think rubs people like Surber the wrong way.
Atheism in the past and in the present has always been the lack of belief in gods based on evidence provided. Full stop, end of story.

Why I admire the religious right

The religious right in America is something awesome to behold. No, really it is.

Here’s a group of people, with varying belief systems, who come together politically to get done what they want done.

They’re to be admired because, not only are they prepared for the battles taking place today, they’re prepared for the battles that are going to take place ten years from now. They remind me of the ever patient Darth Sidious who planned, manipulated and moved pieces into place for years until he achieved his goals. He planned for the long haul.

Take the matter of abortion. It’s safe to say the overwhelming number of Christians are opposed to it, and they grew more vocal and active since Roe v. Wade. They’ve never come around, and never wavered in their opposition. For decades they persisted, voted, stayed the course, and now they might just get the right people on the Supreme Court to reverse it.

That’s admirable.

When I became an atheist, the New Atheists Movement was in full swing. It was a great time. We had charismatic characters like Christopher Hitchens to rally around, and from my perspective, I thought atheists/secularists would congeal into a political force that could go toe-to-toe with the dominionists/religious right.

I was wrong.

Some argue feminists and social justice warriors co-opted and poisoned the atheist movement while others say the movement drifted into the domain of the alt-right. Others, still, argue there never was an atheist movement.

Whatever the case, we just can’t get along and band together, and it was probably Pollyanna to think that we could.

And while so many of us are fighting amongst ourselves, the religious right is poised to get the keys to the whole thing.

This, of course, is all opinion and speculation mixed in with perhaps too much drink, which leads to too much melancholy. However, my fear is we who identify as secularists are going to wake up one day in an America where prayer is mandatory in public schools; where Christianity is the state religion; where we’re still burning fossil fuels as the planet grows ever warmer and where the all the social safety nets to help the disadvantaged have been shredded.

Then again, it’s entirely likely we’re going to wake up and see mushroom clouds blooming on the horizon.


If We Evolved From Monkeys

Nearly every day on Twitter, I watch arguments between theists and atheists unfold regarding evolution.
Evolution is a huge stumbling block for many theists because — for them at least — admitting that our species arrived on the scene via an evolutionary process and not by magic is an admission that the creation story in the Bible is wrong, and that god may not exist.
Knowing this, it’s not surprising that so many theists defend their position to the point that they not only refuse to look at the evidence presented to them, but they go out of the way to mock that evidence. Their hubris is such that they think the question, “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” is not only valid, but that a person holding a Ph.D in evolutionary biology would suddenly be rendered speechless at it being asked.
Although in these people’s minds accepting evolution would kill off the notion of god — it doesn’t have to — I think there’s another reason for this behavior and it is this: People who aren’t smart don’t like to be not smart.
By clinging to the creation story, and the notion that God did it, the theist can claim to have knowledge that even the egghead scientists don’t have. It places someone who lacks the education on the same plane or above those who have the education.
I’m not saying everyone who believes in God is dumb, but saying “God did it” is much easier than reading a textbook or scientific paper about concepts that can be hard to understand.
There’s a small part of me that feels sorry for people who intentionally stunt their intellectual growth like this because they’re afraid of what getting educated might mean for their belief system. However, I think it’s worth engaging these people when you get an opportunity because every now and then you manage to break one out of the Matrix. And even if you don’t, some of their arguments can be quite humorous.

Atheist Prayer and Government Meetings

It’s not uncommon for legislative bodies – federal, state or local – to open their sessions with an invocation or prayer. And while many of these bodies do make an effort to allow people of faiths other than Christian to give the opening prayer, groups often left out are the atheists, secularists and other non believers.
The Supreme Court ruled in May of 2014 that prayers – even prayers that favor a specific religion – given before opening of a legislative session do not violate the constitution.
Justice Kennedy wrote:

“Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation
was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government,
which to me is a pleasant way of saying, “there’s more Christians than you atheists, so nyah.”
Even with the Court’s decision, however, the matter isn’t going away.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a legal challenge to the Pensylvania House of Representatives’ use of prayer to open a session is being heard in court.
The issue has been brought up by a group of atheists who say they’ve petitioned for, and been denied, the right to give an invocation to open the governing body’s sessions.
Some members of the House say their exclusion of nonbelievers is covered under the state’s constitution, which says that those giving the invocation would be members of a “regularly established church or religious institution.”
While the argument that atheists by and large aren’t members of a “regularly established church or religious institution” there are plenty of recognized churches that are atheistic, such as the Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple. It would seem the House would be on shaky legal ground if they denied a member of these churches the right to give the opening prayer.
And really, what’s the harm in letting someone of a different faith or someone of no faith say a few words before your meeting. If your faith is strong enough, then it shouldn’t bother you. This seems more about discriminating against a certain group than it does about upholding the law or the constitution. I don’t know if these people are afraid we atheists are going to get up and sacrifice a chicken to Beelzebub or what.
But it shouldn’t matter, anyway. There’s no good reason today to open a government meeting with an appeal to some invisible “higher authority” when there’s no solid evidence such an authority exists. The fact that government is so often screwed up and ineffective is proof enough that appealing to a god isn’t doing any good.
I serve on a small board here in town, and thankfully we don’t open our sessions with prayer. The only religious aspect comes when swearing someone in and they’re asked to tell the truth “so help me god,” which still makes me cringe.
I think the only appropriate invocation one should utter before any board or committee meeting is, “Let’s get this shit over with.”

The End Of The World As We Know It or Please Tell Me I’m Wrong

I’m just going to come out and say it; Trump is going to fuck this world and there ain’t nothing we can do about it.

That sounds like I’m being hyperbolic, but I’m not. I believe with every ounce of belief I can muster that this could be the end of everything.

I could be wrong; I probably am. As stated in a previous post, I’m not that bright. Still, I have a notion of where I think this administration is going to take us and it’s not going to be pleasant.

Here’s what I think, and please feel free to save this post so you can throw it back at me someday to show me how wrong I was, which I hope is the case.

I believe Steve Bannon when he said that he wants to tear down the system. If you look at what this administration is doing now, and how quickly they’re doing it, it appears that destabilizing the United States and the rest of the planet is the main agenda.

I argued with people during the election who advocated for a disruption of the system, whether that came from Bernie Sanders or from Trump, and my argument is, if the system comes crashing down, there’s no telling what’s going to take its place. I think some people believe that we could replace the current system with one that’s fair and more geared toward the people rather than the corporations. That could happen, but I think it’s a long shot if the U.S. is in shambles.

What is more likely to happen is that if America collapses, and the world collapses, people will be so desperate for a savior, that it’s almost a given that a far right, Christian dictator would rise up with promises of salvation. The people would embrace this savior with open arms, constitution be damned.

I only know of Bannon what I’ve read, but seeing how much this administration is pandering to the religious, this could be the end game. Get us to a point of utter desparation and deliver unto us a savior wrapped in the flag and carrying a bible.

Hell, there are plenty of people who want that right now.

To be fair, Trump is a monster, but he seems only concerned about his ego – his brand – and not much else. He can’t give a speech that doesn’t wind up being about him. No, Trump is a tool, and Bannon is the carpenter.

So how could we get there?

From the looks of things as they stand now, we could either get into a war with China, Iran or Mexico or all three. Could be trade wars or wars with bombs. I’m curious if our economy could sustain, say a trade war with China and a physical war with Iran at the same time. And you can bet if things get that dicey for us, they’re likely to get dicey for the rest of the planet as well because if America is to busy dealing with our problems, who’s keeping watch on everything else going on? Who’s going to intervene if Russia decides to make a massive land grab? Who’s going police tensions between a nuclear India and a nuclear Pakistan? Who’s going to stop North Korea from taking South Korea?

I saw an interview on Bill Maher’s show with Richard Haass who is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He said something to the effect that the systems that are in place have been working more or less to keep things sane (relatively) for decades, and to undo those systems would be catastrophic.

It looks like this administration is trying to undo those systems.

As I said, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about, and everything’s probably going to be fine.

Still, it might be a good time to stock up on canned goods, water and survival gear just to be safe.

Medium Rare

Right now I’m engaged in a back-and-forth with someone via Facebook regarding my lack of belief in a god. During the conversation, the person asked if I believed in an afterlife, to which I replied, no. Their follow up was: “What do you have to say about mediums and their ability to communicate with both the living and the dead?”
Disregarding the fact that this is a mild form of begging the question, I wanted to write about this because I do have experience with mediums.
Every year – twice a year – a nice lady who I’ve known for a long time puts on a “psychic fair.” Trying to keep an open mind, I decided to go and see if there was anything to it.
I ponied up the $25 bucks and sat down with a medium who performed a Tarot card reading and conferred with the angels. I could’ve gotten a cassette recording of the reading for an extra $10 bucks, which leads me to think I’ve chosen the wrong career path. $35 bucks for a 15-minute session? Not bad.
Needless to say, I came away from that experience convinced that the medium I went to, at least, was either inept, or possibly a fraud.
Here’s a few tidbits from the session that have stuck with me:
While “speaking” to my dead father, she said “Your father wants you to know that he’s grateful that you were at his side when he passed.”
Nope, I wasn’t there.
“Well, he meant in spirit.”
Nope. I wasn’t expecting him to go when he did. I was shocked.
“I’m seeing a black dog in your life, possibly a pet.”
Nope. My mom hates dogs, however, I’m pretty sure in my life someone I knew had a black dog. This is no revelation and it’s something so vague it could be accurate when applied to virtually anybody.
“Are you looking for a new job right now?”
“Good, because now’s not a good time for you to be job hunting.”
Oh good. I wonder what would have been the response had my answer been yes.
And lastly, “I see you changing jobs in the future. I see you working with computers.”
Wow. Computers, eh? Like, every fucking job these days involves computers, so bravo on that call.
Now, as I said, this doesn’t mean that all mediums, psychics or soothsayers are frauds, and it doesn’t mean that the one I went to was a fraud either. She could’ve been having an off day. Maybe the spirits were silent that particular day and she needed the money; could be many reasons why she failed to nail down anything specific.
I stayed around for a few hours and watched several other mediums give readings, and I found them to be asking the same leading questions and offering the same vague insights and prophecies.
Again, this doesn’t prove much. I’ve had people tell me the psychics they went to told them very specific and personal things no one could’ve known. If this happens to me, I may amend my thoughts on the topic.
I know it appears I enjoy shitting on these beliefs, and to a degree I do. While it’s easy to view this as harmless entertainment, the fact is real people get scammed out of lots of money. When people are hurting or are desperate, they reach for anything to give them comfort.
It’s also sad to see how many people willingly turn to – and give money to – people who will tell them what they want to hear.
As advanced as a people as we are, I’m amazed at how gullible we are and choose to be.
It would thrill me if science proved that life goes on after death. But for me, I have to remain skeptical for now.
I plan on going back to the fair again this year and I’m going to get another reading, but this time, I’m going to challenge the medium more when they get things wrong. And I think I’m going to pony up the extra $10 bucks for the cassette.
Then again, I don’t have anything on which to play it.

Supreme Court to hear case on state funds going to religious institutions

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Missouri case in which state funds can be used for religious institutions. The case stems from a program in which recycled rubber from tires is used to create a safer surface for children’s playgrounds.

A church in Missouri wanted funds from this grant program to improve their playground, but were denied because of a constitutional amendment restricting public funds to be used for churches.

According to the story, the church initially sued and lost on appeal, but now the Supreme Court is taking up the case.

The attorneys for the church make the argument that the use of the funds don’t promote any religion and therefore the church should be able to participate in these grant programs, however, people like Richard Katskee, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State disagree. He says:

“It’s a competitive grant program, with winners and losers. … There’s a government official who decides who gets the money. That can be done because that’s the favorite faith of that government official. Even if it’s done on neutral criteria, those whose houses of worship don’t get the money are going to feel rightly it’s favoring other faiths.

According to the report, this is going to be a case to watch because it will challenge Blaine Amendments that exist in 38 states. About Blaine Amendments, the report says:

In 1875, Maine Sen. James G. Blaine proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit public money from going to “sectarian” schools.

At the time, “sectarian” was code for “Catholic.” Public schools required students to read from Protestant texts, sing Christian hymns and say Protestant prayers.

Religious scholars attribute the widespread adoption of Blaine Amendments to increased Catholic immigration — and the opening of more Catholic schools — in the 1800s, which led to a fear that the government would begin to fund Catholic education.

What’s interesting is this all started because you had one sect of Christianity trying to discriminate against the other.

Obama administration responsible for creating more atheists

As I listen to President Obama give interviews during this last week of his presidency, he’s taking credit for a lot of things: improving the economy, creating jobs, and giving healthcare to millions of Americans are among his accomplishments.

But according to at least one person, Obama is responsible for creating more atheists, which if true, is another reason to like the guy.

An article from a Russian website, Pravda Report, claims that Christianity is under attack and that Obama is responsible for people abandoning the faith. Professor of the Department of Missiology at Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University, Alexander Dvorkin, seems to be the only person quoted in the article, and he delivers one easily debunked argument for Christian persecution after another.

Here, I’ll show you.

He states,

“One of the reasons for the growing amount of atheists in the United States is said to be Obama’s policy to transform schools and universities from secular into openly anti-Christian institutions. In many US schools, reading the Bible or the public wearing of crosses may entail penalties . . .”


. . . “In any case, it is already impossible to openly criticize homosexuality.”


. . . “Christian holidays are being erased, and it is considered politically incorrect to congratulate one another on Christmas – one should congratulate each other on the so-called “holiday season.”

Nope, again. See how easy that was?

If you’re an atheist, you’ve no doubt been hearing the same fallacious arguments coming from the religious for awhile. It’s almost like they want to be persecuted.

Oh, that’s right, they do. Because if they’re being persecuted, then the Bible is right because it said they’d be persecuted.

Lastly, Dvorkin takes the predictable shot at Hollywood because of the “Occult vision” in Hollywood films that portray Christians as “narrow-minded cranks at best, or malevolent villains at worst.”

I’ve watched a lot of movies and I can’t think of one off the top of my head in which an identifiable Christian character is portrayed as a crank or malevolent villain. In fact, the religious affiliation of most characters in films is unknown or not revealed. Maybe I’m just watching the wrong films, or maybe this guy is making shit up.

And I’ll tell you something else – There’s an awful lot of people going to see these movies with the “occult vision” and they ain’t all atheists. Plenty of Christians go to the movies too.

The only place where Dvorkin gets it somewhat right is when he claims that Christianity is oppressed in the Middle East. About that he says, “. . .they simply kill Christians.” I’m not up to speed on everything that goes on in the Middle East, but I don’t think it’s open season on Christians everywhere there. I could be wrong, or this guy could be making shit up.

Despite the whining, Christians have it pretty good here in America, and throughout much of the world. Believe me, no one – not even us Atheist Pigs – are out to get them. And I can’t help it that people in large numbers are becoming wise to the charade of religion because that’s what’s happening.

Society isn’t conspiring against Christians or any other religion, but rather, people are asking questions, debating and waking up to the fact that religion isn’t the path to enlightenment or knowledge it purports to be. And they’re waking up to the fact that at the end of the day, all religion has to offer is unsubstantiated claims and untestable evidence.

And that’s just not good enough anymore.

Do atheists need churches?

I admit that I find the idea of an atheist church to be funny. When I was a kid, I hated my parents dragging me to church every Sunday. And when I was a Christian adult, I went because that’s what Christians did.

However, the idea of going to church now – even an atheist one – seems odd and out of place, but then these churches aren’t for me because I’m blessed to be anti-social. And much in the way I dreaded going to church every Sunday when I was a kid, I now dread interacting with other members of the human species.

I’ve come to find out this is one of the many things that makes me abnormal.

For the rest of humanity, though, being social with other members of the species is integral to mental wellbeing and social standing. Back in the day, towns were often built around the church. The church was the focal point of social life. If you weren’t working on the farm, you were participating in some church activity. Church life is integral to many communities that I suspect that a lot of people attend services and events more for the social aspect than for the act of “worship.”

Losing your faith can have a severe impact on your social life, especially if you before relied on church for social interactions. You might find that your church friends no longer want anything to do with you, and you might find yourself isolated. And believe it or not, some who lose faith miss the rituals associated with church services.

An article coming out of Salt Lake City talks about a church for non-believers dubbed the Sunday Assembly, which offers nonbelievers a “churchlike service that offers music, readings and community for those who don’t belong to the state’s dominant religion, Mormonism or other faith groups.” The church’s motto is: Live better, help often, wonder more.

I’m pretty cynical and dislike most things, which I’ve come to learn is another one of the many things that makes me abnormal. But I think it’s important for atheists, secularists and “nones” to get together and socialize. If you’re in an area with few unbelievers, it’s easy to get lonely and isolated. There are online communities, but those are increasingly becoming more toxic and fractured. I suspect that much of that has to do with people not interacting face-to-face.

While I have no plans to attend any service with events like “[a] band playing the 1980s hit song “Walking on Sunshine” while attendees sang along and batted beach balls around the room,” because that sounds dreadful.

However, I believe It’s important that non-believers who want that church experience have a place where they can go to socialize, share baby recipes, and figure out how best to destroy Christmas once and for all.

On second thought, if plotting to get rid of Christmas is involved, I might be on board.