Tag Archives: atheist

Love letters from hell

23 Nov

Our godless billboards went up aroundColumbiayesterday and we’ve been getting some amazing hate mail. My friend over at Ashley F. Miller did a great write up on some of the responses that we’ve been getting. I highly recommend you check that out here. As for me, I want to share with you a few of my favorites. I have made no edits (except personal info) to the responses. They are copied as they were written. So without further ado, here is a delicious sampling of the hate mail we’ve been getting. (EDIT: I have numbered each comment in order to distinguish between commenters. )

1. TO COLUMBIACOR ORG

THATS OK TO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD. ITS NOT FOR EVERYONE.

SINCE THE CONSTITUTION REMOVES RELIGIOUS STATUES, WHY SHOULD YOU BE ABLE TO PLACE A SIGN OF NONE RELIGION

IF YOU WANT PROOF THAT THERE IS A GOD.

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS VISIT ME

CARLOS ROBLES

<Apartment address>

COLUMBIA,SC29210

<phone number>

I EXPECT TO SEE YOU.  IN GOD WE TRUST

FOR I HAVE BROUGHT BACK THE DEAD TO LIFE THERE ARE WITTINESS AND VIDEOS OF THIS.

SOLDIER OF GOD

CARLOS ROBLES

KING OF THE ROUND TABLE

FATHER OF THEHOLYLAND

HEAD HIGH COUNSEL MEMBER UN

More crazy:

2. That true God. I was surprise why to say can’t believe God?! They people already know God is true in the Heaven. I believe GOD in Heaven! I never say that unbeliever God before. Should to be change post Believe God, and not say Godless period!

3. What does the year 2011 mean?….. It means the age of JESUS. And he is coming back. Believe it or not.

4. Kewl! Just as it was written many years ago. That only means one thing! Come Quickly My Lord and My God!

GO TO HELL!!!1 (God is love)

5. There are only two races in this world, the christian and non-christian. There is coming a day very soon that those who don’t believe there is A God will open their eyes in **** and wish that they would have believed. Then it will be to late. God is Love1

6. Not alone? You will be soon!

7. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23 ESV)

8. Well its simple,believe in god or go to hell!

9. To all you atheist and “agnostics”. Believe or dont believe in God, but the day you die, you WILL come face to face with GOD and you’ll have to explain to God why you didnt believe in him. You are saved by God’s grace..not Walmart’s, Target or the Almighty Dollar. There is NO such thing as “evolution” either. If things have changed, it’s God’s will..not a happen so. So go ahead and do what you all do, but as said, you will find out the day you die. Good luck on that.

10. I would much rather live my life believing that there is one true God and find out later that there isn’t, than to live my life as if there isn’t, only to find out later that there is! I guess we’ll all find out for ourselves on judgement day. As for me, I know in my heart that Jesus died for my salvation and for the salvation of all sinners, and that one day I’ll join Him in heaven with the rest of the believers. Heaven or Hell is your choice… I’ll take the high road, thank you…

11. WIS/TV… Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason, said “Such non-theists sometimes don’t realize there’s a community for them.” /////////////////////////////​/////////////////////////////​////////////////// In a related story—it’s reasonable to say that what the Coalition doesn’t know, as well Is…if they stay their course—they’ll find their community—a very hot place known as…**** !!!

12. The billboard should read “Don’t believe in God? You WILL be alone one day!!!!”

13. **** is getting HOTTER as we speak! For those who don’t want to believe, that is your choice, but don’t beg for mercy on your day of Judgement!

14. People of all religious beliefs and backgrounds, remember one thing please. When it’s all over and you find that you were wrong, it’s TOO late then to make a change. So, be sure that what or who you believe in or don’t believe in is the right way to go, cause you only get one shot. I know where I’m going. Maybe I’ll see you there. If not, say hello to Hitler and Bin Laden for me, OK!

15. They might as well spend all their money on silly billboards…they can take it (to ****) with them….

16. I THINK WE SHOULD PUT UP A SIGN RIGHT NEXT TO THAT ONE THAT SAYS “GOING TO ****? YOU ARE NOT ALONE” I WOULD DONATE. THE ONLY REASONUSCHRISTIANS “PUSH” OUR BELIEFS ON ANYONE IS BECAUSE WE READ IN OUR BIBLES THAT JESUS CHRIST COMMANDS WE SHARE THE NEWS “SO THAT NONE MAY PERISH”. I SHARE JESUS BECAUSE I GENUINELY FEEL SORRY FOR THOSE THAT DO NOT KNOW HIM. TO KNOW JESUS IS TO KNOW PEACE

17. No, if you do not believe in God you are not alone. But you soon will be.

18. choose this day whom you will serve…you cant serve both…so I quess it would go like this,,,serve God or go to hell….Revelaton 20:10 where the devil,his angels, and the false prophet go. Nite all.

I am offended that you exist!

19. I just want to let you know I am very offended about your billboards. Why can you all put this up and we cannot have billboards with God’s name in it for the good? I really feel this is not fair. Just remember God is watching you.

20. This article made me sick and so do half of you posters. That’s what is wrong with the world today. You should be ashamed. I choose to praise God and if you choose not to, then that is your problem.

21. My heart just breaks, as I read this article I cried. What is this world coming to? May all christians not react in a negative way. Just pray for these non believers and spread God’s word and love with your neighbors, friends, family, and everyone you come in contact with..You never know who doesnt know the True Lord and Savior.

22. Oh my goodness. Ok – YES they are indeed BOTH the holiest of seasons. Good gravy – I’m glad you’re posting and showing everyone how ridiculous you are.

This is a CHRISTIAN COUNTRY!!!

23. This country was founded on Christian beliefs and we are One Nation Under God. God brought us here and He can take us away whenever He chooses. People are free to believe how they choose, but here inAmerica, and some other countries as well, we believe in God. All the evil you see is from Satan. God is love and the highest power in the world. God blessAmericaand God bless us all. I am very thankful for all the blessings God bestows on me and my family daily. My question is this…when something bad starts happening, do you pray…I do. Prayer is powerful and I love Godwith all my heart and I am thankful He is in my life and my heart.

24. “But he whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my father who is in heaven” Matt 10:33. I believe in God, and I believe that there are plenty of people who use atheist to do whatever they want without conscience. I actually take offense to this billboard, this country was founded on Christian beliefs and those same laws that our forefathers used to create this country are the same laws used to take our beliefs from us. If you don’t respect our beliefs please explore countries that support yours.

I KNOW GOD EXISTS!

25. First of all I am a believer and I do believe in God and in satan. Well it has been said in the Bible, which I know was written by man, and passed down through the ages that satan is preparing his army for when the end of the earth comes, and yes it will end. This is satans way of getting into your mind if you let him, but if you have your mind stayed on Jesus they can flash their signs until the end of time to no avail. The $7000 that the signs cost could have been used to help feed the hungry but its their money so they can use it however they choose too. I love everybody but I do not have to like your beliefs .If you don’t believe there is something else besides you try holding your breath until YOU get ready to breathe. You can’t do it. Something MAKES you breath again, just like when you’re dead. The drs. can pump air into you ALL day long, but you will never breathe again, because that power says your existance here is over. JUST MY OPINION AND YES I’M FIGHTING ON GODS SIDE.

26. King James Bible For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. For this is God’s word not mine. But I beleive there is a God and I know I don’t stand alone.

27. I don’t know about anyone else but I am a Christan I love the Lord God and his son Jesus who died for my sins everyone has a right to believe what they want and God give them this free will to decide I think that these bill boards are wrong they go against every thing I know is right. I know God is very real and I know he sent his son Jesus Christ to die for my sins and yours all you have to ask him to for forgiveness these bill boards give these people a chance to say my God is not real well I am using it to also let every know that he is very real and very alive and he is coming back for his children soon I am so thankful he saved me from hell.

28. For those who dont believe will be the ones who when the time comes will be demanding to be let into theArkwhen the world does come to an end. For the way of life is through Jesus Christ and for the way to Death is those who choose not to believe. He exists and existed and he will come back to judge the living and the dead. How he will come back is written in the bible. I know that God and Jesus are real. I have survived a lot of things that should have killed me along time ago. I been through a ton of car accidents, been hit in the head by a softball, had illnesses that should have done me in but because I believe in God and Jesus they both make sure I am protected, provided for and guided to do what is right. I hear God in everything I do. I have seen signs of God watching seen signs of his creations and felt his presence when ever things are dark and hard.

29. we have our god and he know’s everything he’s great he gives us life and nature everyday praise our god

30. Thank God that I do believe in Him! Merry CHRISTmas! GLORY to GOD in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.

31. I still celebrate the holidays because of the One and Only!! I still believe in God and He is the Reason for My Seasons.. God BlessAmerica…

Atheists are fools

32. The billboard is fine for non-believers.They can all celebrate their atheist holiday..April fools day.

33. THIS IS STUPID AND ITS FROM SATAN AN THEY WANT US TO SEE THIS BULL CRAP…THEY CAN HAVE GAY PARTYS THEY CAN HAVE SINFULL STUFF TO HURT JESUS…BUT WHEN WE PUT SOMETHING ABOUT A GAY OR OF THE BIBEL ON A BILLBOARD THEY TAKE IT OFF…BUT WHO EVER DID THAT I HOPE GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOU FOOLISH GODLESS PEOPLE…IF GODS NOT REAL HOW DO YOU WAKE UP IF MY GODS NOT REAL HOW DO YOU HAVE LIFE IF GODS NOT REAL HOW EVERY TIME WE GET IN A TRAP AN THE FIRST THING WE SAY IS JESUS CHRIST…WAKE UP AN SMELL THE AIR…MY GOD IS SENDING YOU WARNINGS…there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

34. Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (I Timothy 2:5-6)Mark 1:15 …The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel…Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to God…Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4…J-E-S-U-S HE IS MORE POWERFUL THEN THE WHOLE US HE IS…CANT DO HIM LIKE JUDAS DID CUS IF I DID THAT WOULD BE WHAT FOOLISH IS…YUNG

35. Nothing times nobody equals everything. This is the atheist thesis of utter nonsense. That there is a creation implies a creator. How this creator is manifest is a matter of faith

36. just dont pay thesecolumbiacor fools any attention. they are looking for something but dont know what.

37. The Columbia Coalition of Reason is made up of four Midlands groups: the Freethought Society of the Midlands, Secular Humanists of South Carolina Midlands, Pastafarians at the University of South Carolina and Camp Quest South Carolina…who all have reprobated minds…carry on fools…as the Bible says the man that says God does not exist is the greatest fool of all. God help you all.

This is the work of SATAN!!!

38. Why is it important that you tell the world you don’t believe? This is the work of Satan, you better believe it. I am sadden by this display.

39. It is our Christrian duty to witness to others and teach them that there IS a GOD, and he will return to collect us VERY SOON! Satan is having a field day on this earth collecting the non-believers, so pray for them. Heaven awaits those who walk in blind faith. May God’s peace and grace go with you always!

This is reverse discrimination!

40. You know, I find it appalling that this advertisement is being defended by those who criticize religious beliefs of others because of a differing opinion. You want to have your right to say you do not believe, yet you want to criticize a Church for advertising; or you belittle those who do believe by posting some inane top 11 list of how to spot a Christian. It is nothing more than reverse discrimination. I also find it appalling that the groups who want to “advertise” atheism also advocate the removal of prayer and or religious references from all facets of the public/State and Federal levels. You demand your right but want to take away mine? Very disturbing. But, again, reverse discrimination. In a society as advanced as we like to think we are, WHY does it have to be an argument for one or the other? Why are your rights so much more important than mine? Why is it important to you that I understand why you DON’T believe when you could care less if I DO believe? If EVERYONE is entitled to what they want to believe or not believe, and live in peace and be happy, then why do some feel the need to work so hard to make everything and everyone conform to their beliefs?

Vague Threats

41. i do believe in God: so people need to watch out what the put on a sign. boy if my sister get hold of this she will be calling on God to take it down:

HELP! HELP! I’m being oppressed!!!

42. I am very much a believer in God, and I believe there is truth in the statement, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” HOWEVER, I whole heartily support these people’s right to express their personal beliefs. Where I draw the line is when these people, who are a very small minority, try to force their beliefs upon the general population.

43. why don’t they do this campaign in countries likeIranorSaudi Arabia, i bet those atheists feel even more lonely! American Christians don’t force their religion on people,they, just like the CoR, like to get The Word out, but what you do with it, its up to the individual. TheUSAstill has religious freedom last i checked.

44. “We’re your friends…” really? Friends don’t slam your beliefs during your holiest of months. If you’re our friends why not put the billboard up in June? The answer is because you enjoy slamming Christians. Give me a break. You have the right to do whatever you want, but have some class and put your signs up during another time.

45. My question to the atheists and agnostics, what is the real purpose of the billboards during one of the most holiest times for Christian and Jews? Where were you in June?

46. Another example of the liberal left forcing atheism down peoples thought. Atheism is a religion by the way

I’ll pray for you…

47. All you can do is just like Jessica said… Just pray for these non believers and spread God’s word and love with your neighbors, friends, family, and everyone you come in contact with..

48. For us that beilieve in God we will be praying 4 u! Just remember God can save anyone who believes in him and give them greater things than any worldly posessions

Misc

49. To all atheists: If as a Christian I’m right …. then you lose. If you’re right … then you still lose. Good luck with those odds.

50. What happens if a person doesn’t believe atheism exists?

51.”Don’t Believe in God? You are not alone.” Unless you look at the really big picture and realize you are. Completely. Alone.

52. You know, if Hitler and Lt. Worf kissed, their mustaches wouldn’t touch.

53. If you choose to disregard God, you are alone

54. The liberal left so scare that they will have to pay for the destruction they have cuased in the world that they refuse to face the truth. God bless us all. I may put up pro Christmas billboards up on the other side of their stupid signs for a few years. Or on the LED on just as you come intocolumbia…Yep I think I should look into thatah…. the 1%

55. Never met an atheist on the battlefield!

56. I wonder if these people realize they are part of God’s plan for us. He said before His Son returns there will be multitudes turning away from Him.  Isn’t it nice to know that we can see His plan unfolding right before our eyes.  Praise God for His Word will not return void.  I am so happy the Atheists posted this large billboard.  They are fulfilling the Word with their actions. Now let’s see how many want to be part of fulfilling the Bible prophesy.Ive never met an atheist on his deathbed.

And all of this is just after the first day….

What does atheism have to offer?

29 Jan

Earlier this evening I met up with a group of fellow atheists for a round circle discussion. While there I got to meet the hosts of the A Matter of Doubt podcast and one of them asked a very simple question that honestly stumped me for a bit:

What does atheism have to offer?

That question really made me stop and think, and at first I couldn’t really come up with any serious answers other than “Well, we have the best comedians.”

But really, what does atheism have to offer? Well there’s a lot it doesn’t have to offer:

A reward after you die, the ability to see lost loved ones, a large community safety net, a constant feeling of belonging, etc. Instead atheism, at least on its face, appears to offer a first class ticket to be socially ostracized with no happily ever after. That’s a tough sell!

But after thinking a bit more on the matter, and discussing it with the other people in the group, there is one very important thing that atheism does not offer: certainty.

And you know what? That is perfectly fine for me. “I don’t know” are three very humble yet powerful words. Unfortunately uncertainty scares people. One of the greatest draws for religion is the false sense of certainty is asserts, backed up by nothing but the tenacity of the belief. If I can only will it hard enough, it will be so. I feel a big part of growing up and achieving maturity is gaining the understanding that “I don’t know” is a good phrase, that it is ok to utter it.

As we discussed this question further, I realized there was something that atheism offers that religion does not.

Responsibility

(Now depending on the person, if they shy away from responsibility or not, it could be yet another mark against atheism)

With atheism comes the realization that you are responsible for your own actions. You have no excuses for misdeeds, and no salvation from consequences. You cannot blame things on the work of the devil, and you cannot be forgiven by proxy from a god. There are no bailouts or handouts. There are some theists who would say that atheism is a free ticket to do all the horrible, wicked things you want, when in reality it is exactly the opposite. With atheism you can’t commit evil and then wash your hands of responsibility by asking an invisible man for forgiveness.

Which brings me to the next thing atheism offers:

Freedom

With this great responsibility comes great freedom. You are not born evil. You are not somehow sinful and broken. Your life is not planned out for you, it is not a test that you must pass. You are you’re own person, responsible for your own actions, and free to make your life what you want it. If you ask an atheist who used to be religious, chances are they’ll tell you that when they left religion they felt a great sense of relief. I know I did. Suddenly you no longer have heaven and hell looming over you, no supernatural puppet masters, no self-loathing. You are free, you are in control.

Atheism according to t-shirts

16 Dec

Last night I went shopping around online for some atheist t-shirts and was appalled by how bad a lot of them were. Some were horribly designed, others presented a very twisted view of atheism. Here are a few of them: (click to enlarge)

These three shirts in particular really rubbed me the wrong way. The first one “God hates me, now we’re even” perpetuates the sterotype that all atheists are simply atheists because they hate god. To the person who would wear this I would simply say “Grow up.” The last two “Science is my religion” and “Richard Dawkins is my messiah” also perpetuate the myth that science is a religion that requires just as much faith to support evidenceless conclusions as other religions. It’s disgusting. Saying Dawkins is your god is not the least bit helpful either.

There were a couple of t-shirts like this one that has absolutely horrible design. Seriously, who the hell thought this would be a good idea? The text is tiny which means the only way someone is going to be able to read it is if you hold still and stretch the shirt out flat. It’s useless and looks like crap. On top of that, I bet within the first few washed those tiny letters begin to fade, not that they were legible in the first place. The whole thing just looks trashy, like some kind of atheist trailer park redneck. Other t-shirts that fall into this category had giant images plastered on them, looking like someone had taken a square family photo and applied it to a coffee mug and a t-shirt without bothering to crop it or make sure it flowed well. I’m not a fashion designer, but come on….

These t-shirts, while technically correct, fail in their execution. They are unnecessarily abrasive. Now before you say I’m codelling religion and being a wuss atheist, there is a difference. Do I believe in being honest and unabashed about one’s views? Yes, but this is not about telling it like it is; quite simply, this is trolling. Yes people, these t-shirts are an attempt to take your trolling off of the internet and walk around in public to troll some more. Isn’t that efficient… These t-shirts just make all of us look like giant flaming dicks. I can only imagine that the people who would actually wear these things around to try and start a fight are deeply trapped in an immature teenager phase. These t-shirts are designed for the express purpose of raising a shitstorm for shitstorm’s sake. They do nothing to improve our image or convey our message.

This one I included simply because it demonstrates an ignorance of the American government. Yeah, I know you’re trying to be cool and hip, but if you knew anything about government, you’d know that both Dawkins and Hitchens, being UK born, are ineligible to run for president. Secondly, Dawkins is a liberal, Hitchens is a neo-con. They may agree on religion, but they’re opposites when it comes to politics, which is the subject of this shirt since it displays an American flag and the date 2012, the next presidential election year.

So were their any shirts that I did like? Yes, a few, but I had to wade through a lot of shit to find them.

These shirts are clear, crisp, the text is large and simple, and they get a message across without making you look like a douche. (I actually bought the Skeptic one)

Passion, zeal, and my history.

28 Nov

I just finished watching The Baader Meinhof Complex on netfilx and found it pretty thought provoking. The movie follows “the birth of West Germany’s Red Army Faction, a radical left-wing terrorist group formed in the lat 1960’s amid a climate of revolution and a fallen generation.” The movie struck a cord with me because back in my teenage years I might have joined such a group if given the chance to time travel. Might have. Past tense.  The movie was in some way a loose exploration of those teenage fantasies.

As a teenager I never fantasized about bombing buildings or assassinating people, but rather I abstractly fantasized about fighting the man and dying for my comrades. I guess I connected with this movie in that I empathized with the characters’ zeal. I could relate with their feelings of oppression, of desperation, and their sense of the injustice in the world.

I’ve been thinking about zealotry a lot lately. I’m wondering if some people are just more inclined to zealous behavior than others. Thinking back, I was always a zealous person. I’m not sure if it was something in my nature, or the result of the time and place I grew up.

The first time I remember feeling a fanatical devotion to something(someone in this case) was when I was twelve. I was in love, or so I thought, with this beautiful girl who lived just a short ways away. We dated for three months before her mother caught us kissing and her father forced us to break up. I would leave roses on her front porch and her father would throw them away. I was determined to get her back, even though she said her father wouldn’t let her date until she was sixteen. I would count the days in my school calendar. Later, I received a tip from her friend pointing me to her live journal. There I found two entries where she detailed how much she disliked me, was never interested beyond a mere crush, and how she had found a new guy. (I printed it out at the time and I still have that worn old piece of paper in a fireproof lockbox, along with other sentimental things)

It was around this same time that I discovered evangelical Christianity. A friend from school was a born-again Christian and he taught me how to pray/mediate. I remember going to special church classes and watching videos that detailed the evils of psychics and ouija boards. My parents, a moderate methodist and an apathetic non-practicing Jew, didn’t see much harm in it; though they were slightly annoyed when I used all my mom’s garlic powder to seal the doors and windows on Halloween in order to keep evil spirits out. The odd thing was that my new found religious faith never really transfered over to politics. I was 12-13 and too busy playing video games and sneaking onto porn sites to pay much attention to politics. I remember standing in my parent’s bedroom late at night watching the 2000 election. I was rooting for George W. Bush, though in the same manner one arbitrarily roots for a sports team in a game you don’t overly care about.

My Zealotry really took off after I met my first actual love. She was witty, intelligent, beautiful, and one of those liberals I had loosely heard about. I have a vague memory of us leaving the mall in her mom’s car at night, and us having some deep political conversation where she converted me to liberalism. According to my memory, which very well may be a complete and unconscious fabrication, she was very proud of herself for convincing me, but warned me saying something like “Careful, there is non more zealous than a convert.” That poorly lit memory has stayed with me all these years.

It was at this time that the focus of my passion was shifting from Christianity to politics. High-school opened me up to new people, new ideas, and I no longer considered myself an evangelical Christian, but some amalgamation of Christianity, Buddhism, and my own spirituality. The city I grew up in was fairly large for Virginia, about a quarter million people. Nonetheless the area I grew up in was very conservative. Throughout high-school I became increasingly politically active as I became ever more aware of just how much in the minority I was. I would print out long political messages on entire sheets of paper and tape them to the back of my car. I started volunteering my weekends at political campaigns, making phone calls, updating data bases, and going door to door. I even went to an anti-war protest with the afore mentioned beautiful girl. I was perhaps most active in yard sign wars.

During election season I would sneak out early in the morning, with my car full of yard signs, and place them at strategic locations I had scoped out the day before. I often did this while blasting Green Day on the stereo. It gave me a huge rush to do this in a very conservative area. I guess I became addicted to that rush. One time I spent over an hour placing about 100 signs early in the morning, only to discover them ALL stolen a few hours later when I drove to school. I was so furious, I couldn’t concentrate at all that day. I then started a tic-for-tat retribution campaign. I kept track of my signs, and stole one in retribution every time one of mine went missing. I even got a large poster, wrote my tic-for-tat war policy on it, placed it at a major intersection where several signs had gone missing, and signed it “The Democrat”. Later I got a phone call from a friend who had watched as someone stopped, got out of their car, and destroyed my sign before his very eyes.

That election season, I think it was 2004 and the second presidential election with Bush, was particularly bad. Not only were my signs constantly stolen, but even the signs on my car were stolen or vandalized. I was even run off the road one night because of a yard sign I had taped to the back of my car. I was shaking, even though I felt the rush. The majority of my teenage years were spent under a heavy siege mentality. This in turn just spurred on my zealotry. I felt like an animal trapped in a corner, and I was determined not to go down without a fight. Sometimes in class I would daydream of setting up a democrat paramilitary fast response team, should civil war break out. I fantasized about us roping in from helicopters or speeding to the rescue on motorcycles, protecting civilians from the conflict. I would even design the patch emblems for our uniforms in the margins of my school work.

During the election seasons I became an avid news junkie. I would turn on CNN any chance I got. Sometimes I’d even watch C-SPAN (a channel that broadcasts the live, and rather bland, proceedings within congress). There was one show on CNN in particular that really struck me: Crossfire. I was amazed at how these political pundits could cite names, dates, statistics, etc from memory. I REALLY wanted to be able to do that. At the same time I was taking Advanced Placement Government in high school and we’d often debate in class. This being the day before smart phones and instant internet access, I sat down one night and spent several hours building a “Battle Binder.” In this 1 inch D-ring binder I created sections for every major issue of the day, along with every relevant name, date, statistic, and talking points. I even included common arguments and refutations. It weighed a ton, but I carried it around with me everywhere I went. I dared other kids to debate with me. Some foolishly did, stating their view on some position, citing some anecdotal evidence about what they heard their dad say, and then I would pull out my battle binder and crush them. They couldn’t compete when I could instantly produce full color charts, timelines of legislation, relevant court cases, you name it. Eventually the other kids stopped talking to me about politics. (I still have that binder in the attic)

2006 was when everything shattered. It was an election year for congress, and I fought hard to get democrats elected. Bush had won a second term, the two wars were starting to drag on with no end in site, and we were starting to learn of the warrant-less wiretaps, secret detention centers, and torture. Well democrats one big that year, I was so elated. They took control of congress and I thought “Now! Now that the good guys are in charge, we can finally stop Bush! We can even impeach him for his war crimes!”

And then nothing changed. Nothing.

This was my first taste of betrayal, and boy was it a spoonful. Here I was, a zealous supporter of the party, willing to fight and die if need be, and I was betrayed by my leaders who promptly caved to every republican demand. It was like being thrown into a pool of icy cold water. I became intensely cynical and bitter. Almost five years later and I still am, though the edge has worn off.

My passion, what was left of it, needed a new seemingly hopeless cause to fight for. By now I had developed a strong love for the underdog. I believed that democrats were the underdog, and worthy of fighting for, but with them in power and ceding everything to the conservatives, that was gone. I needed a new underdog, something with deeper meaning than just political parties.

Enter atheism.

It was my freshman year of college and I was exposed to more world-views than at any other point in my life. It was also the first time I had ever heard of an atheist, or met one for that matter. In fact, I met two. One was a history professor, the other was a friend of a girl I had a crush on. Though I was a wishy-washy feel good spiritualist at the time, I took their advice and began investigating atheism on my own. One of the first people I ran into was Richard Dawkins and his book “The God Delusion”. The arguments really resonated with me and his passion spoke to something crestfallen within me. To add to that, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more underdog-ish than atheism. We’re the extreme minority, despised and distrusted by the vast majority of the world. Atheism is hopelessly outnumbered, and there is something deeply attractive in that.

So my passion was rekindled, though tempered by my experiences. While watching that film tonight, I could see a lot of my pre-2006 self in those RAF members. Naive, hopelessly idealistic, reckless, zealots. The whole time I could not help but notice the extreme contrast between how beautiful, sexual, and vibrant they were, and how violent, disgusting, and shocking their actions were. The way the film was shot, I knew we were supposed to at least partially be on their side, but I could not bring myself to support them. Through the use of violence, you watch them transform into the monsters they set out to fight. As good as it might feel to shoot back, you lose the moral high ground when you do, and that is imperative when winning a war of ideas.

My zealotry has been tempered, and that includes my teenage fantasies about fighting. This is especially true when it comes to atheism. Atheists pride themselves on not doing the dumb shit religious people do to each other. No setting off car bombs in cafes, no flying planes into buildings, no shooting doctors, no assassinations, no gang style shootouts. While I still sometimes fantasize of an Illuminati style atheist resistance, violence would be off-limits. I’d sooner shoot my own squad member then let them carry out some act of violence against our rivals. Not only would it only make them martyrs and stronger, but it would sacrifice our moral high ground.

So as a terse conclusion to this abnormally verbose post: It’s interesting for me to think back about how I was in my teenage years. Was I alone in feeling like this? Did other people go through a similar zealous phase? If you did, what made you change? Or is it ongoing? Was this passion and need for a cause some how inherent in me, or a product of the environment in which I grew up?

Should atheism organize?

24 Nov

Atheists  by in large are very individual people and we pride ourselves on this autonomy. At the same time we are not a religion, no matter how much the religious might like to paint us as such. We do not have tenets, we do not have doctrine, we do not have temples, we do not have leaders, we do not have tax exempt status, and we do not have political clout.

I want to suggest something a little faux pas for atheists: We need to get more in lock step.  Hear me out.

Today while listening to an atheist podcast I heard one prominent atheist lamenting the actions of another prominent atheist. Atheist A complained that atheist B’s lawsuits were not what we should be focusing on, and while atheist B is rightly upset about the things for which he is suing, his constant loses are setting bad legal precedent.

The cold hard truth is that we have a real problem facing the atheist movement. There are several major groups, all competing for funding, all with different missions, different legal strategies, different advertising strategies, and different goals.

These groups are all running in different directions and worse, sometimes squabbling with each other. The religious right could not ask for a better situation!

Atheists don’t want to imitate religion in any way and the thought of falling in line goes against our fundamental principles. Well guess what? Do you know why religions are so powerful? Organization!

A disorderly mob is no more an army than a heap of building materials is a house – Socrates

The Jewish lobby is a perfect example. The United States has a very small number of Jews (comparatively), and yet Israel is practically the 51st state in the United States. No matter what Israel does, we have their back. The Jewish lobby has an inordinate amount of clout for their population size because they are extremely well organized. Atheists need to do the same.

Organized religion is such an effective political tool precisely because it is organized. The people, the distribution channels, the chain of command, the networks, it’s all there. Whenever an issue comes up for a vote, the religious leaders need only give the signal, phone calls are made, people are mobilized, pressure applied, and votes cast. It is extremely effective and we’re letting them bury us with it.

We need to take this effective model from religion while trying to cut out as much of the dogma as possible. In the big picture individual views do not matter. What matters is that we converge on a platform and decide what is the most effective application of our energies. This may mean forgoing some legal battles and letting the religious right get away with small things…for now. For example: In God We Trust on the money and in the pledge is not a big picture issue. The collapse of our education system is. Stuff like In God We Trust is merely a distraction, one the religious right is happy to keep us focused on while they try to destabilize science education. The stakes are extremely high.

If we organize will they accuse us of being a religion? Of course they will! But when have you cared what they think of you? Why are you allowing that to keep us stuck in the gates? The religious right has us in the PERFECT position! We are too disorganized to pose a serious threat, and we’re too scared of mimicking them to organize. As long as we refuse to mimic them I can guarantee we won’t mimic their success.

Watch out! New Fundamentalist Atheists are on the march!

20 Oct

New fundamentalist atheists. This is one of the most common mis-characterizations of atheists out there. It’s used in an attempt to rally the believers and to discredit the godless. So what exactly is a “New atheist?” Well Reza Aslan (you might have seen him on the Daily Show) summed up a great many of the characteristics in his train wreck of an article published in the Washington Post titled: Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett; Evangelical atheists?

To outline his points, new atheists are:

  • Make the claim that they know there is no god and have faith in this
  • led by Dawkins and his ilk
  • believe they are in sole possession of Truth
  • fundamentalists in the same strain as other religious fundamentalists
  • intolerant of other views
  • insist on literal readings of every religious text
  • have an unwarranted sense of siege and persecution
  • illiterate when it comes to religion
  • believe all religion is evil
  • are responsible for the horrible crimes committed by communists and Nazis

Do you know what fundamentalist message Aslan saw that set him off on this tirade?

That’s right. Aslan saw this bus ad and had a meltdown. Clearly a message telling you to enjoy life is on the same level as fundamentalist messages plastered all over telling you that you’re going to burn in hell! I can totally see the similarities. But where to start with these mis-characterizations of atheists? I guess I could just go down the list.

  • Make the claim that they know there is no god and have faith in this: This is absurd. Atheists do not make the positive claim that there is, for a fact, no god. (Any atheist that claims to “know” is an irrational idiot) There is a reason the bus ad says “probably.” Do we believe a higher power exists? As far as we can tell, no. This is operating off of something called the “null hypothesis” and is not the same thing as making a positive claim.
  • led by Dawkins and his ilk: There is no “pope” or “high counsel” of atheism. I know this might be very hard fro some people to understand, but atheists don’t take orders from other people. We’re very individualistic and disorganized.
  • believe they are in sole possession of Truth: What? What “Truth?” There are many atheists who would deny that only one “Truth” exists. If by “Truth” you mean “scientific fact”, then when it comes to matters of reality and how reality functions, yes, yes we are in possession of the sole scientific fact. Here’s the kicker. Unlike religious groups that claim to to have the sole truth, we actually have evidence. Now I know this might be very hard for some people to understand, but listen closely: Scientific fact and religious truth are not the same thing. Religious truth makes claims about things that don’t exist and are untestable. Science makes statements about reality and the nature of existence only after it has been able to demonstrate such facts over and over, consistently. There is no such thing as “Christian physics” or “Muslim biology.” Our reality operates like it does, and there are no alternatives, thus science discusses the sole way in which our reality operates.
  • fundamentalists in the same strain as other religious fundamentalists: Really Aslan? You seriously believe this? Are atheists telling people they’re going to go to hell? No. Do atheists blow themselves up in crowded cafes or fly themseleves into buildings, or shoot doctors? No. Do atheists march into Churches and demand “equal time”? No.

  • intolerant of other views: The Amazing Atheist pointed out that there is a difference between “tolerance” and “acceptance.” Aslan seems to be meaning “acceptance” here instead of “tolerance.” Atheists tolerate fundamentalists a lot more than fundamentalists tolerate us. For instance, we don’t tell fundamentalists that they need to leave the country, that they’re not citizens, or that they’ve essentially evil people that are going to suffer and eternity in hell. Religious fundamentalists on the other hand love to dish this type of rhetoric out to atheists.
  • insist on literal readings of every religious text: Again, The Amazing Atheist had a great point on this. The reason atheists keep bringing up weird and disgusting passages in holy books  is because everybody but the Westboro Baptist Church glosses over these and ignore them. The bible is FULL of horrible and bloody acts of genocide, rape, murder, mutilation, you name it! But they don’t teach these verses in Sunday school! The vast majority of Christians never read the Bible, but insist on calling it “the good book” when it is anything but. We know there are plenty of religious people who don’t take the bible literally. They choose to arbitrarily decide when god wanted to be taken literally and when he was speaking in metaphors. We draw attention to the bible and it’s glossed over atrocities so people can see just how absurd and disgusting a lot of this stuff is!
  • have an unwarranted sense of siege and persecution: Gee, I’m forbidden by law to run for public office in several states, not that it would matter because being the least trusted group in America makes me completely unelectable anyways! One of the most common e-mails public atheist figures get comes from people who are asking for advice about coming out to their families. Parents will disown their children over this! You can be fired for your job over this! Atheists are a minority in a deeply religious world. We have religious crap shoved down our throats day in and day out. We’re continuously demonized in movies and on TV. How many stories portray skepticism as a negative thing? How many stories have a plot wherein an unbeliever becomes a believer by the end? Atheists aren’t going around trying to make it a crime to criticize science, meanwhile religious fundamentalists are working hard to institute anti-blasphemy laws.

  • believe all religion is evil: again, there is no head of atheism. Some atheists feel this way, some don’t.
  • are responsible for the horrible crimes committed by communists and Nazis: If I got a dollar for every time some idiot trotted out this tired and long debunked BS.

Atheism is nothing new. There have been atheists even before people invented gods! We’ve always been here. Do you know what’s “new” with the “new atheists?” It’s simple: We’re no longer going to shut up and take it! For thousands of years we’ve been marginalized, maligned, and hunted. Religion has always had a special privilege in society, and it’s abused that privilege without fail. So what’s changed? Why now? Well for starters, society has finally advanced to a point where we won’t be rounded up and executed in the public square like we would have in the past; but most importantly is what science has done for us. Before the scientific revolution, atheists were only able to point out the logical flaws in religious reasoning, but were unable to offer up answers to the basic questions religion asked about the world. Now we’ve finally developed the tools to discover those answers. God is losing places to hide. Yet still, this is perhaps not the most important answer to “why now?” With science and knowledge comes great benefits, great power, and great responsibility. For there first time in our history, we have the ability to wipe ourselves out at the push of a button. Never before had we the potential to cause so much suffering, destruction, and death so quickly, and on such terrible a scale. Simply put: atheists can’t afford to stay silent and let the superstition steer the world off a cliff.

For refusing to be silent we are called militant. For standing up for our rights we are called fundamentalists. For existing we are called extremists. Aslan is right; we are on the march, and there’s no way we’re going to take it anymore.

Macro arguments vs Micro arguments

17 Oct

I feel a lot of times atheists get bogged down arguing the particulars of a religion. While this can be fun sometimes, it can be extremely aggravating as it gives the religious a lot more room to wiggle out of things, redefine terms, move the goal posts, be vague, etc. The way I see it, all of the arguments tailored to their religion can easily be nullified by attacking the source: the existence of god. If you can shut them down here, then it doesn’t matter what some book says, or what they feel in their gut, or what a friend told them. Every single argument they could make about their religion depends on the assumption that god exists.

The simple fact is that there is no evidence for the existence of god; all they have are logical fallacies, appeals to emotion, and “god of the gaps” arguments. With the null hypothesis, burden of proof, and Occam’s razor all in your favor, their claims fall to the floor. Just keep asking for evidence at every turn. For example: “Well who made god?” “Oh, he’s eternal and outside time and space, the law of cause and effect doesn’t apply to him.” “Oh, that’s a convenient ad hoc fallacy. What evidence do you have that god, if he/she/it hypothetically existed, contains those traits of being eternal and outside time and space?” At this point they probably will come at you asking “well who made the universe”, which assumes several things, but you can point out that the way the universe operates, it would be able to create itself without the need of a god. The idea that it’s ok to say “I don’t know” really baffles believers. Uncertainty scares them, hence why they cling to the false certainty and security of faith. Point out that we don’t have all the answers right now, but that you’re willing to work to discover them rather than throw up your hands and declare “god did it!”

If you can master these macro arguments and keep asking for evidence every time they claim god has X,Y,Z attributes, all the micro arguments about the bible’s validity, or Jesus’ divinity, etc, don’t matter at all.

(Note: this isn’t as well worded as I would like, so I’m probably going to edit this, but I just wanted to get this out there before I went to sleep. I’ll fix it when I’m no longer exhausted)

Atheism and Ghosts

16 Oct

With Halloween fast approaching I thought it would be fun to do a post on ghosts and how it relates to atheism. Occasionally someone might bring up ghosts/spirits/poltergeists however you want to arbitrarily define it) in an attempt to prove the existence of an afterlife and by extension negate atheism. I must admit, after I deconverted, ghosts were something I struggled with for a while. My main line of thinking was “Well so many people claim to see them and have proof, and it spans all cultures, so there must be something to it!” I didn’t take me long to realize this was just another form of the ad populum fallacy. After all, lots of people believe in invisible men in the sky, and that spans all cultures, doesn’t mean they’re right.

At the heart of the concept of ghosts/spirits/etc is the idea that your consciousness somehow can survive your bodily death. It could be in the form of an imprint on an area or place, or even an autonomous, thinking, disembodied force able to interact with the physical world. This is also related to the religious concept of a soul, the idea that you as a consciousness will survive your physical death and be able to experience either the joy of heaven or the torture of hell. It goes without saying that god(s) created the spiritual world and thus the souls of people just like they created the physical world. Ghost stories have always been popular, but have really taken off with the advent of photography, the internet, and television shows like “Ghost Hunters.”  There are scores of people who are adamant that they’ve had personal experiences with ghosts or “the other side.”

So here’s where it all breaks down. To the best of our scientific understanding, consciousness is a by product of your brain. It is the result of the physical workings of your mind, the chemicals, the neurons, etc. Everything that makes up you as an entity exists because of the grey matter between your ears. When you die, and that grey matter turns to mush, everything that makes you “you”, turns to mush as well. Your personality, your thoughts, your emotions, everything is gone forever. There is nothing spiritual or supernatural about your body. Your thoughts and emotions, the result of chemicals in your head, cannot “imprint” themselves on anything outside of your body, no matter how intense they may be. I know that doesn’t sound as fun or exciting as a world filled with spirits, but to the best of our knowledge, that’s reality.

Another way to look at it is this: To the best of our current scientific knowledge, there is no evidence to support the existence of supernatural entities. “Oh, GP, but they’re supernatural, that’s why you can’t detect them!” Well if they interacted with the physical world, they would fall within the purview of science, but since they don’t, their possible existence is a mute point. Without any evidence to support the existence of god(s), we can assume they don’t exist. Without gods there is no “spirit realm”, no spirit realm, no spirits. This combinded with the above mentioned facts of consciousness lead me to conclude that ghosts/spirits/etc do not exist.

Fun side story: I actually put this to a test of sorts a few summers back. I took a friend and we went out to the local cemetery at midnight. The cemetery was a few hundred years old and supposedly was haunted. I was really nervous at first, my body was instinctivly looking for anything that could be interpreted as an other worldly spirit; however, I kept reminding myself of the above mentioned facts. After a while I regained complete control over my nerves and I wasn’t bothered one bit walking amongst rows and rows of dead. I could have been anywhere for what it was worth; I only wish I could see a little better. My friend on the other hand was scared out of her mind. She kept thinking there was something around the corner, or behind the tombstone. She was really surprised by my calm and marked indifference. She said something to me that really stuck with me: “You’re a proper atheist aren’t you?” A proper atheist? I guess. I don’t really know how to take that. Does she mean a rational atheist, confident in my reasoning ability, as opposed to an irrational atheist? (And yes, there are irrational atheists)

“So GP, what about all the eye witness accounts people have, claiming they’ve interacted with ghosts? How do you explain away that?” While it might appear at first that there is a mountain of evidence supporting people’s interactions with ghosts, if you look closer it’s all superficial. Do I doubt that a person had an experience they couldn’t explain? Of course not. I do, however, doubt that it was a disembodied consciousness of some kind. I think social conditioning has a lot to do with people reporting experiences they can’t explain as encounters with ghosts. When you don’t know what something is, your brain starts searching for possible explanations. If your culture has the concept of ghosts, it’s easy for your brain to latch onto that as the easiest possible explanation. I think this is further supported by the fact that the concept of ghosts varies from culture to culture. A person in Japan might report different characteristics of a ghost when compared to a person in the US.  The whole thing is really a non sequitur. “I can’t explain X, therefore I can explain it! It was a ghost!”

What’s really fascinating is that as we are learning more and more about how the human brain works, scientists are able to manipulate it with magnets! This video is a little dated, but the research is on going. Watch how scientists can recreate out of body experiences, feelings of other presences, or even being transported to hell, simply by bombarding parts of the brain with magnetic waves!

There is no doubt that people all around the world have genuine experiences that are extremely real to them, but they aren’t experiences with disembodied spirits. So what are some real world implications I take away from this? Well besides the fact that the human brain is an amazing and complex organism; claims that some place is haunted doesn’t phase me. Just like back in that cemetery, I know nothing is there. When you’re aware of this in a situation like walking down a dark street, you’re less likely to jump to rash conclusions about the noise you just heard. This is not to say that one need not be careful walking around shady places at night. Ghosts may not exist, but other people do. At least you can take comfort in the fact that, unlike ghosts, other people bleed just like you.

Atheist or agnostic?

14 Oct

One of the more superfluous debates going on within the atheist community has to do with the use of the term “agnostic.” When I hear someone say “I’m not an atheist, I’m an agnostic,” they usually do so because they’ve mis-defined both terms. Before I tell you how they’ve mis-defined these terms, let me ask two questions that are at the heart of this issue. With these two questions we can find out what you are.

Do you know whether or not god(s) exists? Yes or no. Do you believe god(s) exists? Yes or no.

If you answered yes to the first question then you’re a gnostic. If you answered no, then you’re agnostic. If you answered yes to the second question, then you’re a theist. If you answered no, then you’re an atheist.

This leaves us with four possibilities.

  • Gnostic theist
  • Gnostic atheist
  • Agnostic theist
  • Agnostic atheist

The first two, the gnostics, are intellectually dishonest. You may feel a strong gut emotion one way or the other, but there is no objectionable way you can know. Gnostic atheists are the irrational people who claim to know there is no god(s). The hypothetical person I mentioned earlier, who rejects the term “atheist” in favor of “agnostic”, is making the mistake of defining “atheist” as “gnostic atheist.” They recognize that they can’t know for certain whether or not god(s) exist, so they say “agnostic”, entirely forgetting  the second question.

Agnostic and atheist are not two different viewpoints; they are separate answers to separate questions.

I’m not really sure a pure agnostic could exist. The first question is pretty cut and dry; I have a hard time imagining someone saying “I don’t know” in response. As for the second question, I guess the only time one could say “I don’t know” in response would be while they are in transition between yes or no. If you’re losing your faith, or gaining a new one, then I could see someone temporarily being in a state of either gnostic agnosticism or agnostic agnosticism. Most of the time, however, this is not what the person claiming to be an agnostic really means.

The atheist dilemma:To be a dick or not to be a dick.

12 Oct

One of the issues the atheist community is currently internally debating is the issue of strategy: How to go about achieving our goals; namely a world where religion does not interfere in politics or science (in the classroom or by restricting what science examines), and where non-believers are not demonized or penalized for their disbelief. Basically: How to get us from the current position of religious saturation in all aspects of life to post-atheism where religion isn’t an issue.  There are many aspects to this process including how we organize ourselves, what do we call ourselves, how do we best allocate our resources, what court battles do we pick to fight and when, etc… The issue I wanted to talk about today was how should we go about helping the religious to see things our way,  thus weakening the power religion has over society and our lives. What I am discussing falls under the umbrella debate on accommodationism/reconciliation (whether science and religion can be compatible. I don’t think they can, but that’s not what I want to focus on).  Instead, I would like to discuss how we interact with religious people, the tactics we use, the tone of voice, etc.

The other day I read this post on Rule Hibernia titled “Richard Dawkins doesn’t get it”. Here’s a little excerpt that kinda encompasses the point of the post:

“This is what Dawkins and other don’t get: Some people you just can’t reach. Simple as that. People believe in god and religion for a whole bunch of reasons but the fundamental point is that they are all thinking in a human way, and humans it seems have a natural propensity to believe in rubbish that isn’t true. This applies to pretty much everything, not just religion. Every single atheist on the planet has blind spots, religion just happens to be off their blind spot list. We all believe certain rubbish that’s not true.The biggest mistake atheists make is to try and reason with the religious. I get so bored when I hear religious argument nowadays. I used to engage in it myself but I stopped when I finally got it. You’re not going to convert people to atheism if that is your intention. And if you want to debate for the sake of it then what’s the fucking point in that? You’re just wasting your time. The best way to deal with religious people is humour and ridicule. Slag the shit out of them. Show how retarded they are in a funny way. It makes you feel better and makes a religious person feel worse, but best of all, there is no comeback for ridicule. When you can get others to laugh at a person’s stupidity it’s very difficult for them to come back from it. And let’s face it, making fun of religions is as easy as a Catholic priest raping a 9 year old altar boy with loads of lube.”

Rule Hibernia’s sentiment was reiterated in part by The Good Atheist podcast (episode 107) at the Atheist Alliance International conference in Montreal, QC. Jacob Fortin gave a short speech entitled “Be a dick” (around the 25 minute mark in the podcast) where he highlighted the why it’s sometimes necessary to be a dick. He argues that occasionally it’s best to shame the average believer by showing them how little they know. Yes they will hate you and get defensive, but it might lead them to examine their beliefs later on in an attempt to better defend themselves next time. Secondly, it is important to shatter the notion that anything can be sacred, that something can be beyond questioning and ridicule. Lastly, Jacob said the most important thing being a dick does is that it provides relief for other atheists. He points out, and rightly so, that a lot of atheists are isolated in extremely religious communities and are forced to keep silent day in and day out. It’s like a boiler about to explode. Listening to other atheists ridicule religion provides a refreshing dose of relief.

The counterargument, or “Don’t be a dick” side, was presented at The Amazing Meeting 8 by Phil Plait who gave a speech aptly titled “Don’t be a dick.” In the speech he made the following points:  How many people have changed their mind because somebody made them feel awful? How do you tell someone they’re not thinking clearly when they’re not thinking clearly? Our brains are wired for faith; when you debunk a position, you end up reinforcing it. Skepticism is a tough sell: no magic, no afterlife, no higher moral authoritative father figure, no security, no happy ever after. On top of this, our reputation with the rest of society isn’t that great. In many cases people will prefer magic over science and prefer fantasy over reality. People’s sense of identity is wrapped up in their beliefs. With all the odds stacked against us, why the hell would we want to make it harder by insulting people? What is our goal every time we engage somebody? Are we trying to score personal points and make oursevles feel good, or are we trying to win the game?

This issue was also brought up on the podcast Reasonable Doubts. On that episode their guest was accommodationalist  Chris Mooney who made the following points: People like Dawkins and PZ Myers are really hostile sometimes; it’s not going to persuade anyone who is not on the fence. If you can’t be calm and rational when talking to another person, you’re not a very good practitioner of reason, but this doesn’t mean we have to be nicey nicey. Mooney and the hosts of Reasonable Doubts brought up a recent study on Science and Religion Today by Geoffrey Munro, professor of psychology at Towson University. The study found the following: people are more receptive to science that might disprove their beliefs if their worth and value as a person are affirmed before they go into it. People don’t make up their mind simply on facts. When people are presented with scientific information that contradicts their beliefs, they tend to devalue science and it’s ability to answer such questions. Basically, shouting at someone and tearing them down does not win them to your side, it only makes them despise you and hold onto their beliefs that much stronger…go figure. (This conclusion is backed up by several other studies, google “backfire effect”)

After the interview with Mooney ended, the hosts continued on to ask these questions: Do we alienate people who could be our allies on some things? What if we were back in the 60’s and you’re trying to get civil rights passed? Do you try and treat racist people with respect, affirming their self-worth, even though they hold such horrible and wrong positions? How do you act differently when you’re debating a factual issue (like the world being 4 billion years old) as opposed to a moral issue (like the catholic church systematically hiding and protecting thousands of child rapists, deterring condom use in AIDs infected Africa, or excommunicating rape victims for having abortions) Should you coddle people when presenting science and ridicule when talking about morality?

The Chariots of Iron podcast has also talked about this a bit. In episode 29, titled “Counter-evangelism” (starts around 1:11:00) they suggest the following approach: Don’t be a dick, avoid arguing with them, instead use the Socratic method till they hang themselves. Play stupid and get them to say out loud the ridiculous stuff they believe. Hopefully then ridicule won’t be overly necessary. The whole point is to plant the seed of doubt, not to deconvert them outright. Once the doubt is there, it will start them on the path to deconversion.

So how do I feel about all this? Well it’s a mixed bag. It’s undeniable that the science points to the fact that blasting someone out right for their beliefs will not change their mind. I think it’s obvious that when trying to plant the seed in someone’s head you must do so gently and respectfully. Try not to let them know what you’re actually doing. There is an old Buddhist proverb where Buddha comes across a burning house with children inside. The children do not know the house is on fire, and they won’t understand if he shouts to them to run because of the fire. Instead he calls to them that he has toys outside. The children run out of the house and only after that is he able to explain that the house was on fire. I feel that most of the time we have to act in a similar way. This is not to say we must compromise on the facts, but we must take baby steps. If you can get someone to accept the fact of evolution then that’s a step. After they’re comfortable with that, then you can start slowly working on pushing them further, one step at a time. If you push to hard and too fast, they’ll close up and you’ll never get through to them.

What about ridicule? Is it completely useless and counterproductive? Not entirely. Thomas Jefferson once said “Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions.” Here is where I think Rule Hibernia has a point: There are some people out there that are absolutely impervious to reason and evidence. Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, Pat Robertson, Kent Hovind, and Bill Donahue come to mind. Trying to use reason against people who deny that reason is a means of arriving at truth is pure insanity.  For these people the goal is different. The goal is not to change their minds, that’s impossible; the goal is to publicly destroy their credibility and integrity. This is where ridicule works best. As the hosts on Reasonable Doubts discussed, I believe the nature of what you’re ridiculing determines how you ridicule. People like Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort make fools of themselves with their factually ridiculous claims about the physical world. Here you can just satirize them without much venom. People like the pope, however, are much more sinister in their transgressions. Despite the fact that the pope and his confederates are guilty of actual crimes, they are also guilty of a great many moral ones. (Like the ones I pointed out earlier) In these cases vicious ridicule would be applicable.

Chris Mooney pointed out that combative authors like Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Hitchens don’t win over converts and I’m inclined to agree.  This does not mean that such authors don’t have a role to play. Combative authors are most effective when targeting people sitting on the fence and rallying other atheists to action.  Their books, along with podcasts, youtube videos, and local meetup groups are often the only bubble of relief that many atheists can retreat to. When you’re an underpowered and maligned minority, it’s vitally important that you have a minority space. Combative authors and satire play a role in this minority space. Outside, however, ridicule has no place in discussion with another person who’s heart and mind you’re trying to win over. It only alienates and deemns them and reflects poorly on you if your positions can’t stand on their merits alone.

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