Tag Archives: Christian

Conferences Opinion

Skepticon and the True Believer

My trip to Skepticon was delightful. Good friends, great presentations, and lots of thought provoking discussions with the attendees. The only cloud on the whole experience, speaking for myself, was the brouhaha over a local restaurant refusing to serve the convention’s participants on the grounds of their non-religious status. While the owner of this “Christian Business” did eventually apologize, the episode left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.  But what struck me the most was my own reaction.

To paraphrase Greta Christina, many religious people, especially Christians, have a nasty habit when confronted with injustice enacted by members of their faith. This habit is to brush the incident aside with an, “Oh, that’s not the True Faith,” and leave the matter there. What this says to their conversational partner is that they’re far more concerned about their own reputation than the injustice innocent people have suffered.

I have to admit that I also have this habit. When I heard about this incident, my first internal reaction was: “That man calls himself a Christian?  Hardly, a real Christian wouldn’t do that.” A moment of reflection (and Ms. Christina’s timely words) suggested to me that I was being just as dismissive of this man as he was towards my friends. “True Faith” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but it hasn’t been since this year that I’ve given any serious thought to what that means. Apart from the fact that there are thousands (upon thousands) of versions of my own religion, you can find plenty of discord and descent within almost any of those versions. What level of arrogance does it take to sate that my own interpretation is ‘the’ correct one? Or that my “True Faith” makes me more of a human being, entitled to greater privilege, than the rest of the population?

Additionally, using a term like “True Faith” usually only serves as a disavowal of responsibility. It’s very comforting to believe oneself an enlightened individual immune to prejudice or flawed reasoning. It’s also egotistical and apathetic towards the plight of others. The world we live in is a far cry from heaven on earth. What’s worse, many horrific acts are carried out every day in heaven’s name. The victims of these acts aren’t concerned with whether or not they’re representative of our own belief system, or the history of doctrinal divergence. We need to stop trying to absolve ourselves, god, and the Church of the charge of moral depravity through empty words and complacent behavior. We have a responsibility, not as the few, lucky, chosen of god, but as human beings, to fight discrimination and and injustice wherever we find it.  So many Christians ask themselves what they’ll say about their life when they stand before god, what can we say to our fellow human beings if we ignore their suffering? What can we possibly say in defense of ourselves for tolerating bigotry and ignorance? “It’s not the True Faith,” isn’t good enough.

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Jaime Wise is a devoted member of Center for Inquiry on Campus at Grand Valley State University where she is studying Writing and English and continues to be a model of rationality and tolerance from within the Christian faith. She has defined herself as a Christian Humanist and has started a theology sub-committee of CFI GVSU to discuss matters of Theology from outside the usual Christian context.

Activism Religion

A Question Posed by an Increasingly Concerned Christian

Given the angry rants of “Brother Jed”, the extremist Christian who dropped in on GVSU campus for a friendly reminder that we all deserve hell, a silent protest seemed like a great idea. What better way to counteract a vicious hate-speech than showing up with positive messages; a simple reminder that there was an alternative on campus? I showed up to the protest hoping to support my friends and classmates, and I admit, poke fun the crazy guy with the weird staff. But the day didn’t go like I planned. After significantly less than an hour, I was so overwhelmed by the fascistic ramblings of this man and his cronies, that I excused myself and went home. I retreated to my nice, comfortable house, sat on my nice, comfortable couch, had a nice, comfortable afternoon, but I felt horrible. More than horrible. I was ashamed of myself.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I frequently and proudly declare that I’m not a religious extremist. They could also tell you that if asked what I am I get a lot more vague. In my entire life I have done next to nothing to provide any constructive contribution to a discussion of faith and its practice in the world we live in. What’s worse, I don’t think I’m the only one. I’ve begun to notice a disturbing trend among many of my peers in the religious world.

People practically trip over themselves to dissociate from thinkers like Rob Bell for broaching the idea that the traditionally accepted idea of Hell might not be as sound as previously thought. But we seem alarmingly nonchalant about extremists being our loudest voices. Why do we preach toleration towards angry fascists while rejecting anyone who challenges us to examine ourselves? Why are we content to let ignorance represent the church? What do we think will happen to the church if we sit on our hands and pretend nothing is wrong? What (if you pardon the expression) in hell is going on here?

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Jaime Wise is a devoted member of Center for Inquiry on Campus at Grand Valley State University where she is studying Writing and English and continues to be a model of rationality and tolerance from within the Christian faith. She has recently defined herself as a Christian Humanist and has started a theology sub-committee of CFI GVSU to discuss these matters among others.

 

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.

Opinion Religion

On the vilification of secular humanists

First, an introduction. I’m Matt Foss, a new contributor here at Skeptic Freethought. I’m an atheist, secular humanist, and skeptic, just starting to get involved in the secular movement.

Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed a handful of items appearing on my Google Alerts for “secular humanism” from Christian news sites and right-wing blogs. They all had a common theme: that secular humanism is the modern world’s greatest threat to the American Christian way of life. Take a look at these two articles in particular:

Secular Humanism is the Established State Religion” – an assertion that humanist values should be kept out of public schools per the Establishment Clause.

The Worldview War” – an absurd rant about how Muslims and secular humanists are working together to bring America to ruin.

You’ll notice that the second article references one Dr. David Noebel as a source of knowledge on the concept of “worldviews”. A quick Google search identifies him as the retiring president of Summit Ministries, an organization focused on apologetics for a world it believes has gotten over Christianity.

Paranoia over secular humanism is nothing new, of course; Christian fundamentalists have been trying for decades to block its “teachings” from public schools on the grounds that promoting skepticism, science, and human rights somehow amounts to religious indoctrination. The Religious Right has been getting more and more vocal as of late, however, and I’m concerned that this sort of anti-humanist diatribe will become a trend.

Why the fuss about humanists?

It might come as a shock to some that Christians would be so alarmed by a group of people who advocate respect and tolerance; wouldn’t they be more afraid of vitriolic, firebrand, capital-‘A’-Atheists than of someone who simply claims to be “good without God”? Aren’t so-called humanist doctrines really just the same ethical standards at the core of every free society?

Note: I in no way intend to take sides on the “tone wars” here, nor imply that “atheist” implies “firebrand” or that “humanist” implies “diplomat”. I’m referring to the connotation that the two words tend to have based on my personal experience in discussing them with religious believers.

After reading and thinking on this a while, I’ve realized why they are so afraid of humanists. It’s precisely because of the benign-sounding messages such as “Be good for goodness’ sake!” and “Millions are good without God.” It’s because, framed within a worldview in which a sly Devil seeks to trick gullible humans into abandoning faith for worldly concerns, a friendly and inviting godless philosophy is far more dangerous than an aggressive militant adversary.

As I understand it, these fundamentalists want atheism to be an empty, miserable state of mind for which they represent the ultimate cure. The idea of a worldview that emotionally, intellectually, and socially fulfills people without belief in their God negates the very purpose of their religion’s existence. In this respect, I don’t blame them for feeling threatened by humanism, and I won’t be so surprised in the future when fundamentalists react negatively to non-threatening billboards like the (vandalized) one pictured above.

Lifestyle Religion

Allow myself to introduce… myself.

Hello all!

You don’t know me; my name is Dave Muscato, I’m an atheist, and I’m one of the new writers for Skeptic Freethought.

First off, I want to thank Ellen and the other writers for giving me the chance to contribute here.

Let’s get to it: I’ve been racking my brain for a few days trying to think of a great topic for my first post, and I finally decided that the most appropriate topic would be… an introduction. I think that if I’m going to write for you, it’s only appropriate that you know where I’m coming from and why you should bother reading what I contribute.

So, this is ol’ atheist me:

Just kidding, of course. There are some atheists who make that face, but I’m not one of them. Actually, I’m a vegetarian, I have two kittens, I love to read, and I play classical guitar music and jazz bass. I like yoga, running, hiking, biking, road trips, ancient languages, and hugs. I’m a student, a feminist, and an LGBTQ ally & activist. I do fundraising consulting for non-profits, and I volunteer at a local animal shelter.

Actually me

I’d like you to think of me as your neighbor, you know, the guy who lives in the apartment down the hall and dog-sits when you go away for the weekend. If you see me while you’re out & about, say hi!

I recently wrote an article on my own group’s blog with ideas to help other atheist group leaders. In it, I stressed the importance of a getting personal during and outside of meetings, of opening up to each other and bonding as friends. I’m vice-president of my school’s atheist group, and I also study anthropology – the study of people. One area in which the atheist community simply does not compete with religion is… well, community. If you guys are anything like me, we spend a lot of time looking at cartoons, watching YouTube videos, and reading science books & journals. This is all great; we should strive to expand our knowledge and amuse ourselves. But something is missing.

Just a few short years ago, I was a professional Christian praise & worship musician. I breathed Christ Jesus. I prayed regularly, I studied my Bible, I lead others in worship. I truly believed that laying on hands had healing power. I worried about the souls of my deist parents and my two apathetic brothers. I became obsessed with the Bible, which I knew was God’s Word, and I studied it intensively.

I’ll save my “deconversion testimony” for a future article, but when I started to open my eyes to atheism, I didn’t leave the church right away. In fact, I kept my atheism to myself and continued as a professional P&W musician, leading others in worship, participating in small groups, and performing for an entire year.

I did this because there is more than one reason people go to church, and the “other” reason was strong enough to keep me going, despite the obvious flaws in the rest of it. As I wrote in the article linked above, aside from getting (ultimately incorrect) answers to The Big Questions, people go to church because they want fellowship. It’s a foundational part of being human, and as social animals, we must embrace this. During that year, I was no longer impressed with my pastor’s ideas about the origin of the universe, the meaning of life, what constitutes moral behavior, or what happens to us after we die, but I did – still do – love the music, the sympathetic ears, the encouragement, and the feeling of being among friends.

As an out-of-the-closet atheist and now group officer, although it’s not part of my official charter, I consider it my duty to be available as a resource for other skeptics, especially those still on the fence or still in the closet. Not just for information about evolution, secular ethics, science, and skepticism in general, but as a friend, someone who wants to listen, someone who wants to help them free themselves from the clutches of delusion and welcome them to the real world.

A few people from my group at Skepticon last year :)

If you are out of the closet, I encourage you to make an effort to reach out to people you know. Invite them to your group meetings. Invite them to have coffee with you one-on-one. Invite them to the bar with you and your friends, and don’t talk about religion at all. Invite them to lectures and skeptic’s conferences. If you have friends or know people who are religious, make them a deal: You’ll go with them to church, if they’ll come with you to your skeptics’ group meeting. (It nearly goes without saying that if you’re not already part of a local skeptics’ group, join or start one!). If you need help finding a local group, please let me know and I’ll help you locate one. If you have never been to a skeptics’ conference, find one near you and go!

I look forward to hearing from you all. Have a wonderful week, and take care!

Dave :)