Category Archives: General

General Opinion

The 6 Paths to Atheism: by Chad Becker

Three months in to the job I currently hold, my fairly religious bossman finally asked me a direct question regarding religion. With a bit more internal anguish than I expected, I answered honestly like I decided I always would a number of years ago. After telling him I was an atheist, and establishing that I did go to a Methodist Church growing up, his first and almost only question was, “What happened to you at the church that turned you away?” I couldn’t handle that question ‘in the moment.’ It speaks volumes about how he interprets my being an atheist.  He doesn’t see it as my stance on the validity of religion. He see’s it as my bias due to someone else’s failing or my own lack of “faith.”

Or not.

But that’s certainly how it seems considering he never really changed his question after my first response of, “It’s not a matter of what happened, it’s just what I decided after I was old enough to really look at the validity of Christianity.” However, I know I didn’t say it so eloquently since, like I said, I was feeling quite a bit more uncomfortable than I ever expected I would.

To attempt to answer his basically repeated question I went on a tiny, yet calm, rant, flailing in all sorts of different directions that probably made me seem like a bit of a loon and/or lost on the subject. But really it was quite the opposite. I so earnestly and honestly stared at the question of “God” for so many years that I just wanted to get all of it out and since I was in the rare position of a religious person actually asking me directly how I got to such a conclusion, I may have gone a little overboard and everywhere. Because… the nerves I guess… the work environment… alright I’ll stop making excuses now. It just wasn’t pretty.

Here’s the actual thoughts I was trying to convey while in my panic rant.

The 6 Paths to Atheism:

1.  The Cliches

I hate that these thoughts are seen as cliche. I’m talking about questions like “Where did we all come from” and then the requisite follow up of “Well then, where did God come from?” You know why I hate it? Because those are very fair questions to ask. The first one being the question that drives many people into philosophical and religious thought.

But the answer you’ll get from the religious is, “God always was.” That’s really just a veiled way out of the question. It doesn’t address the intellectual core of the question. You’re assuming things that exist must have come from something; you’re told we came from god; so where did god come from? Instead of saying ‘nowhere’ the answer distracts with ‘always was.’ Using that logic you might as well assume we, as humans or a planet or just plain mass, always were. There’s nothing more philosophically or scientifically profound about saying God ‘just is’ than saying we “simply are.” It’s just an escape route. To understand that the answer of God isn’t an answer to the question of ‘Where did we come from?’ at all, makes it a lot easier to question his very existence.

2.  The Rest of the World Really Does Exist – Part 1

I think this is where my doubt truly started. The first argument I remember bringing up time and again when I first found people to talk to honestly about the existence of god was ‘If I had been born on the other side of the planet, I would simply be whatever religion their culture is.” Since there is no more material background for Christianity over Islam or, heck, even Mormonism, my thought was in all likelihood true. All of the big faiths have a book that is full of stories that morally instruct and people that believe it to be true. Nothing distinguishes one religion’s claims as more valid than another on an evidence based level.

This was a big thing to me because like it or not, a lot of religious people do claim that you have to praise the right God to go to heaven. It’s definitely a pretty big theme in the Bible. Heck, the old testament instructs you to kill people of other faiths. (We’ll get to the bible later). To understand that entire cultures and countries of people hold opposing religious beliefs to yours is one thing. To realize that just being born in a certain region is the main precursor to a religious affiliation is another.

3.  The Rest of the World Really Does Exist – Part 2 

This part isn’t going to be as hard hitting as it is ego crushing. I’ve been told, “There’s nothing more narcissistic than believing there is no god.” They get to that conclusion with something to the affect of, “You think you’re the biggest thing in the universe.  You believe in nothing but yourself.” To this, I’d say there’s nothing more narcissistic than saying, “My Dad came to see me today. YAY! God is so great!” Obviously that is simply an example from a subset of a vast array of examples; thanking god for an award, pointing to the sky when you score a touchdown. All of these things suggest that God played a meticulous role in your mundane, or trivial, or even acceptably exciting life, while allowing entire regions of the world to be subjected to war-lords, hunger, AIDS pandemics, oppression or just plain greed. And not just for moments, but for lifetimes and generations. This is the most narcissistic thing I can think of. And accepting those truths makes it pretty hard to believe in a God that interferes with day-to-day life.

4. The Bible: Content

“God clearly expects us to keep slaves. That right there clearly demonstrates that we shouldn’t get our morality from religion.” – Sam Harris 

Need I say more? I really feel like I don’t, but I know how debates go below articles dealing with religion so I better lay it on thick. To put it slightly less simply, there is a long history of religious texts being used to oppress people. Without going on a rampage of quotes I can give you a quick synopsis. If you’re a woman, the bible tells you to do what your man tells you to do and don’t even think about talking at church (Ephesians 5:22-24 and all over Corinthians). These texts were used by countless “religious” folk to suppress women’s rights using the Bible as the word of God. If we’re talking about slavery, then you know that slaves should respect and serve their masters as if they were god on earth no matter how horribly they treat their slaves (Peter, Psalm, Ephesians, Colossians, Titus). But don’t worry, god tells the slave owners to take it easy on them (Ephesians 6:9). These texts were used by the “religious” to argue for slavery in this country using the Bible as the word of God. The exact same could be said for interracial marriage, with the Bible literally invoking the concept of “mud races” numerous times (Acts, Genesis, Leviticus, Jeremiah, Deuteronomy).  I mean, come on.

So, with that, the exact debate being had in the religious sector over homosexuality is almost identical to one that was had over slavery, race relations, and women’s rights just decades ago. Luckily, this will play out like all the others. Once the “religious” people, quoting their religious text, eventually lose, the mainstream accepts that those portions of the Bible were “a product of the times” and/or were “never meant to be taken literally.”

But does that really make the foundation of religion any stronger? Or is that just the unceremonious and intellectually dishonest way to admit that your religion is wrong and instructed people immorally for hundreds of years? Once you recognize that the Bible actually has a fair amount of immoral instruction, and people are just regurgitating answers to excuse it, can you really accept it as the word of God?

5. The Bible: Origins (Alternate title: The Rest of the World Really Did Exist) 

Most of it is just plagiarism from paganism. From the birth of Christ being celebrated in December to the most iconic stories in the Bible, it was all stolen from previous cultures and beliefs of their time. Egyptian theology from 3000 BC has a character Horus (loosely considered a “Sun God”). He was born of a virgin, three wise men followed a star in the east to find him upon his birth, he had 12 disciples, was crucified and resurrected three days later. All of this sounds familiar I trust?

This is but one example from one previous religion. Countless pagan religions had tales along these exact lines. And stories of a “Great Flood.” And stories of dark vs. light/good vs. evil. Once you recognize that the Bible has lifted much of it’s religious lore can you really accept it as the word of God? And once you recognize the Bible is merely a compilation album, what does that say for religion as a whole?

6. Staring at it for a while…

This one can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I’ll use the concept of “heaven” as an example. To put it simply, existing forever in bliss sounds great but what does that even mean? If you assume that you are forever happy in heaven does that mean you even have thoughts? Is something magically making me never have a sad thought? If so, is that even me anymore? Is heaven just a drugged up version of yourself then? If not, what if someone I really enjoyed, went to hell? Would they not let me think about that? Because that would be an eternity of sadness for me. Not bliss. And if “heaven” just lied to me and gave me a carbon copy of that person, what the heck is that? That’s not reasonable.

http://youtu.be/1VbMAwN0u7I

Yes, the basic concept of heaven sounds great and I really do wish something to that affect exists. But deciding to intellectually dissect the parts of religion that are meant to make you feel warm and fuzzy can make it anything but. It makes it seem hollow and meaningless. And once you recognize that many claims religions make are either hollow threats or hollow promises, what’s left to believe in?

*Bonus 7: Evolution/Science

I didn’t include this as an actual subset because I don’t see this as something that has to be at odds with a God. That’s simply the dynamic many religious people draw. And Richard Dawkins. But, of course, it conflicts with both (yup, there’s two) of the origin stories of the Bible. As much as I’ve always loved Genetics, and love Richard Dawkins’ work in demonstrating how “not perfectly made” our organs and animal structures really are, I’ve just never really found this to be a way into Atheism. I’ve experienced a tad, and seen plenty, to understand the kind of mental gymnastics people put themselves through to preserve “faith” and this never seemed direct enough for me to think it would change hearts and minds on its own. Definitely worth noting none the less.

Closing Arguments: Ironically I’m About to get Preachy

Personally, religion’s most disgusting attribute is when it makes people feel shame and guilt for the wrong things. You haven’t been going to church? You’re a bad person. Think homosexuality is ok? You’re a bad person. You have lustful thoughts? You’re a bad person. When the mind is worried about these quaint (or non-) downfalls in their personal morality it makes it easier to lose sight of what’s really important. Just being a nice person — not hurting people. When we label things that are of no consequence as immoral it can not help people make sense of the world. It just confuses and creates internal anguish. And there’s nothing much worse than teaching someone to hate themselves.

So, personally, once I realized all this guilt was completely unnecessary and just in place to help other people hold onto these beliefs, no matter how it affected those different than themselves, it all just seemed so…gross. So gross that calling myself an atheist felt almost like a badge of honor I had created and given to myself. And I believe this is what atheists are referring to if you ever hear one of them say that losing their religion was “freeing.”

With that, I hope this piece didn’t only preach to the choir. Likewise, I hope this piece didn’t only fall on deaf ears. If religion is your thing, I’m not trying to stop you and I’m not going to call you any names. I’m just pointing out that these are the holes in your foundation and it seems the only way religion ever plugs them is by increasing the portions of the Bible that were “a product of it’s time” and/or “were never meant to be taken literal” while ever increasing the acceptance of secularist views with every passing year, generation and Pope.

And that’s what I meant to say to my bossman. May peace be with you.  And also with you, you and you.

 

Chad Becker had to become a free thinking atheist before there was Reddit. That’s right. He also walked uphill both ways to school. He has been pondering, worrying and writing about religion, atheism and just being for about 10 years now and is a news junkie in the great city of Grand Rapids.

General News

Young Skeptic Networks Hangout

The audio will also be available for download soon as a special edition of YAS podcast The Pseudoscientists.

Thanks to  Jack Scanlan and Belinda Nicholson, from The Young Australian Skeptics and Ellen Lundgren and Astrid Lydia Johannsen, from Skeptic Freethought.

Please let us know what you think, or ask questions we might answer another time!

Hopefully The Heresy Club can join us next time!

General News

Live Broadcast Starting Now!

YoungBloggerNetworks

Our International Student Network hangout is beginning shortly! Our live broadcast will begin here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9tM6AqVO_w

General News

International Meeting of the Networks

YoungBloggerNetworks

Stephanie Zvan of Almost Diamonds at Freethought Blogs has caused an inadvertent hurricane with her recent post featuring student blog networks including your very own Skeptic Freethought, The Heresy Club based in the UK, and The Young Australian Skeptics. This got us talking on twitter (@SkepticThought, @HeresyClub, @youngausskeptic) and eventually to each other on facebook since I have previously been acquainted with Alex from HC and he introduced me to Jack of YAS.

This brings us to the main event, the perfect storm, if you will. This Sunday, 4pm EST we will be live streaming a broadcast on our YouTube Channel to chat on a myriad of topics regarding young skeptics today. The participants are below:

Sundas Hoorain and Alex Gabriel, from HC;
Jack Scanlan and Belinda Nicholson, from YAS, and
Ellen Lundgren and Astrid Lydia Johannsen, from SF.

The time and specific topics are yet to be announced, but be sure to tune in and see what young skeptics are concerned with today! I’m very excited to be a part of this, and I definitely hope this this will start a great relationship for future collaboration among our generation.

If you can’t make it, the audio will also go out as a special edition of YAS podcast The Pseudoscientists. The video and podcast will be linked as another announcement after the weekend.

UPDATE: The live broadcast is scheduled for Sunday 4pm EST. See you there!

General

Fahoo fores, dahoo dores

grinch - who hash‘Tis the season to put up festive decorations, share time and gifts and food with friends and family, and apparently for some Christians to get riled up against atheists over the specter of persecution.

Every year around this time, in spite of my efforts to avoid watching Fox News, I invariably hear about the supposed “War on Christmas” in which I am unwittingly a foot soldier, seeking and destroying all mention of the C-word in the public square. On occasion, Christians who know I’m an atheist wish me a Merry Christmas with a tone of rebellion in their voices, as though they’re brazenly defying some unjust law by doing so, just daring me to call the Secular Spetsnaz on them. I like to respond by thanking them and wishing them a “Happy _____”, inserting a random late December holiday to throw them off.

All this divisive talk of who owns the reason for the season can make the holidays a stressful time to be an atheist, a time when all I want to do is don my gay apparel, look at the pretty lights, sip on a peppermint mocha, brave the pandemonium at the mall to find thoughtful (and/or practical) presents for the people I care about, and then snuggle on the couch with my wife and the dogs. It just so happens that the only December 25th birthday I’ll be giving a nod to will be that of Sir Isaac Newton.

I’m not out to take away anyone’s Nativity scene or last can of Who Hash. I couldn’t care less about who in my vicinity is celebrating the birthday of which mythological/religious figure, so long as they aren’t forcing their beliefs on anyone else or using taxpayers’ money to promote their faith. I don’t think those are unreasonable requests, and I don’t see why we can’t all have a pleasant December while following those guidelines.

So, fellow humans: be ye faithful or godless, whatever the reason you’re celebrating, let’s all have a good night and a merry day tomorrow.

General

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This feed will still be active, but will only be getting guest posts submitted to Skeptic Freethought (submit one here!), and occasional site announcements like this. You’re welcome to keep it, but it will probably be a little slow and boring, just saying.

To get the new feed click this huge link:

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General

Put a gun to an atheist’s head…

Astrid drew attention to this heartwarming tweet this afternoon:

Sorry, kiddo.  That’s not God I’d be talking to.  I’d be talking to the psychopath holding the gun.  Though, hey, I’m pragmatic.  I might say just about anything to get you to put the gun down.

If the only way you can get an atheist to pay lip service to your God is with a gun to their head, you might want to seriously reconsider the merits of your faith.

Activism General Lifestyle Opinion

The different flavors of atheism

Despite what The Oatmeal may think, this isn't every atheist's idea of a good time.

For better or for worse, some people like to categorize.  I can be one of those people at times.

PZ Myers recently posted a list of taxa that he believes describe different personalities within the atheist movement; I did something similar on my personal blog last fall, though with a slightly different focus.  PZ focused on patterns of thought, while I looked at patterns of behavior (I also marked each of mine with a card suit for symbolism).  Here’s an executive summary of both of our lists:

PZ’s Taxa:

  • Scientific AtheistKnows that there is no god due to total lack of empirical evidence for one.  Sometimes a little too arrogant.
  • Philosophical Atheist: Doesn’t believe in god because believing in one requires making unfounded assumptions.  Sometimes overly long-winded.
  • Political Atheist: Motivated to fight the political and legal battles to make the world a better place for atheists.  Sometimes makes compromises that other atheists don’t like.
  • Humanist: Altruistic do-gooder who wants to help people in the name of godlessness.  Sometimes “pragmatically fickle” and may join up with liberal churches instead of expressly atheist organizations.

My Taxa:

  • Agitating Anti-theist (spade): Sees religion as an enemy to be vanquished, and fights its advances tooth and claw.
  • Incredulous Inquirer (club): Skeptical toward religion, but wants to discuss rather than fight.
  • Mainstream Materialist (diamond): Doesn’t believe in god, stops worrying, and enjoys life.
  • Diplomatic Disbeliever (heart): Strives to form friendly alliances with open-minded religious people.

Many people who read either or both of these posts may find themselves identifying with more than one category.  They’re archetypes, and very few people strictly belong to any one of them.  Each one of us has a different story behind how we realized we were atheists, how we came to join up with other atheists in this ever-evolving movement, and where we’d like to see the movement go.

And yet I unfortunately continually see bickering among these different “kinds” of atheists, the most vitriolic of which occurs on the internet.  Atheists call one another “bullies” and “accommodationists” and accuse one another of dogmatism and “Tinkerbellism” over different approaches toward the movement.  We see nasty exchanges of ad-hominems and passive-aggressive head shaking on Twitter because one party is either too critical or not critical enough of religion for the other party’s tastes.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that atheists who speak out in the name of atheism should be willing to defend why they say, and if an atheist says or does something reprehensible then others can and should call him or her out on it.  But let’s try to keep it civil.

A diversity of perspectives and approaches toward living without religion is, in my opinion, healthy for the movement.  We need people who uncompromisingly fight for the truth, we need people who make nice with theists, and we need average citizens who aren’t full-time activists to show the general public that we do walk among them.  This movement isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Creative General Opinion

And now, if you will, a Metaphor….

Imagine a massive ship filled with many sailors…

At some time, a rumor began spreading amongst all the people that the boat was heading towards an island that was unbelievably amazing; an island where all the normal laws of reality were suspended and ultimate, endless bliss would enrapture them forever. Many of the sailors took so much joy from this thought that they began ignoring their duties on the ship, doing little more than staring out on the horizon and waiting for the island to appear. Many others did indeed continue their day-to-day tasks on the ship, helping to keep it clean and such, but they constantly talked about the island. It was their obsession, their passion, and their pride. Groups and sub-groups formed around different ideas of what the island would be like. Some thought it would be tropical, others temperate, and still others thought it would have every climate imaginable for all people to enjoy. Arguments sprang up over what sorts of foods would be present on the island!

At various times, different sailors would hold out their spyglasses and shout aloud “I see it! I see the island there!” and many would swell with enthusiasm…that is, until it was revealed that the crier had seen wrong (or, on occasion, even outright lied). Despite all these false alarms and misplaced swells of hope, the vast majority of the sailors kept believing, to the point of certainty, that the island was just over the next wave.

Eventually, almost all of the sailors took to ignoring the present duties of ship-board life and chose to stare out on the horizon with their own spyglasses, each on certain that they could see the island in the distance (despite some of them looking in utterly opposite directions). Indeed, there were many heated arguments, but one thing every one of them could agree on was this: regardless of exactly where it was or what it was like, that perfect island was definitely out there, somewhere. It just had to be.

One day, one of the sailors climbed up to the top of the mast and found two other sailors there, arguing.

“I think the island will be temperate!” said the first. “It will be temperate, I tell you!”

“Ah, but you’re mistaken, friend. It will be tropical!” said the second. “I guarantee you, for I can see it!” he continued, holding his spyglass aloft.

“Fool!” shouted the first. “I can see it, and it is, in fact, quite temperate!”

At that point, the third sailor (who had just climbed up) yanked the spyglasses from both others and told them this:

“Actually, friends, you’re both mistaken. If you’ll just look right here,” he said, gesturing to the ends of their spyglasses, “you’ll see that you each just drew what you wanted the island to be like on the glass. You were never actually seeing the island; you just painted what you wanted to see and thus saw it in your own imagination. Now if you’ll just look without these faulty spyglasses, you’ll quickly see that there is no island; in fact, there never was an island. However, what we do have is an amazing ship with everything you could ever really want already on it. There are lots of other people onboard, too. You can get to know them, make friends, find lovers, and have wonderful conversations. You can learn, eat, relax, work, and overall have a merry life aboard this ship if you’ll only just stop obsessing over this island you came up with.”

“But the island is supposed to be perfect!” cried the first sailor.

“Indeed! Perfect!” shouted the second, both of them clearly distraught at this news.

“Ah, but that is exactly why it doesn’t exist, friends,” said the third sailor. He reached out and put his hands on their shoulders: “Nothing perfect is out there. I’ll admit it, this ship is sometimes leaky and some of the other people aboard aren’t too terribly pleasant. But I think you’ll find that once you stop daydreaming about perfection and start happily working with what you do have, you’ll find yourselves much happier.”

Behold, our ship

Now, guess which sailor was the Atheist…

General Opinion

Disingenuous fearmongering about the “gay agenda”

I was recently alerted to this video’s existence via a Facebook post by a conservative Christian associate of mine.  It was created by CitizenLink, a Focus on the Family affiliate.

CitizenLink Report: Tools for Parents

It’s more of the same message we often see from “pro-family” organizations: that “parents” (read: heterosexual Christian parents) should be “concerned” (read: alarmed) about “homosexual indoctrination” (read: teaching kids that they shouldn’t regard gay people as horrible, immoral monsters) in schools.

For what it’s worth, I know that there are at least a handful of gay activists out there who do have a disdain for heterosexuals and do want special treatment for their sexual orientation (I know this because I met one).  With a little bit of dressing up, this fringe element serves as a handy strawman for anti-gay activists to reference in videos like this.  Don’t be fooled.  The vast majority of homosexuals just want to be who they are without being treated like freaks.  That’s your real “gay agenda”.

If you don’t want to sit through the whole thing, skip to 6:48 for the part that really made my blood boil.

“. . . it is clear that these kids are struggling.”

Around the 7-minute mark the show’s host plays a clip from a “tolerance” video promoted by a gay advocacy group.  In the clip we see teenagers giving their candid perceptions of their own gender identities, followed by the host and her guest reacting with thinly veiled disgust.  They no doubt picked this clip thinking that it represents the worst of the gay indoctrination that students face, and I personally saw nothing wrong with what that clip depicted.  What exactly is wrong with boys not acting masculine?  Girls admitting that they’re not 100% feminine?  More importantly, what evidence is there that these kids are “struggling” any more than any other teenager struggles with life?

Of course, that’s a rhetorical question.  I know that the people who are alarmed by the blurring of boundaries between gendered behaviors feel that way because it demolishes two immutable categories that they’ve constructed in their minds.  “Men and women are fundamentally different, even without counting the genitals and physiological differences, and should always behave as such, and you’ll never convince me otherwise!” says my social conservative strawman.

What’s really damaging is the idea that there can’t be middle ground in gender issues, that you’re either a manly man, a womanly woman, a girly gay boy, or a butch lesbian.  No room for bisexuals, or even heterosexuals who exhibit personality traits of both genders, exists in this mindset (let alone trans- or intersexuals!).

An admonition for conservatives who aren’t anti-gay

I understand that there are plenty of economic conservatives out there who don’t have a problem with anyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity so long as they’re productive citizens.  I understand your sentiment that gay advocacy is intruding on public school curriculum with programs like those described in the video, and likewise that lawsuits for the same cause are frivolous and that government intervention on it is excessive.  I don’t completely agree with that sentiment, but I understand where it comes from.

What secular conservatives should understand is that much of the left-wing sentiment backing this type of aggressive advocacy was forged by the backlash from social conservatives against those homosexuals who have “come out” over the past few decades.  Gay rights activists built up this momentum while fighting a culture war for their right to exist in society.  Tell the religious zealots who have hijacked the Republican Party to stop fighting culture wars and focus on the economy, and you won’t have to listen to this senseless debate any longer.