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With Friends Like God, Who Needs Enemies?

god The lord is eternally merciful. Unless you disagree with his teachings. Then he’s a real asshole.

For most of your life, God does an exceptionally good job staying hidden. So good a job that some people don’t even believe he exists. But don’t listen to them! For if you do, you’ll soon learn that after you die, he quickly un-hides himself. Surprise! And guess what? Turns out the only thing he wanted you to do during your measly little life was to believe he exists, although, y’know, thou shall not kill or whatever too. But mainly, believe in God.

If you murder a bunch of people but you still believe in his holiness, it’s chill. God’ll radio his omnipotent bouncer, St. Peter, and have him let you into a totally awesome place. But if you don’t believe in him, don’t be surprised if God goes Mr. T on your ass and knocks you straight into hell, a place with lots of lava and no fire extinguishers.

If that sounds unfair, it isn’t. God knows that all crimes from murder to cow tipping deserve equal punishment: burning forever in hell. Makes sense to me! But even if you manage to live your life without doing anything wrong, you’ll still go to hell, because some girl ate an apple a million years ago, and guess what? God’s decided it was your fault. Any questions? Take it up with Satan.

But if you just believe in him, God’ll let you into heaven. Isn’t that nifty? Hey, what was that rustle outside that I used to think was either the wind or a rabid squirrel? Oh my God! I think it’s God! He’s just touched me, and I’m feeling so religious, I’m going to go out and steal a car. God’s got my back, and I know that no matter how much I screw up down here, I’ll always have an invitation to that great keg party in the sky.

Atheism and Secularism

Atheism is simply a lack of belief in any gods, and the fact that atheism in it of itself is a nonbelief has its advantages and disadvantages. Unlike religious people, atheists don’t automatically have any positive beliefs in common. This is an advantage in that good atheists cannot legitimately be linked to the bad actions of bad atheists (though there have been plenty of attempts to link them illegitimately). An atheist criminal must have at some point constructed a positive belief justifying his actions, and this belief is by necessity not atheism. On the other hand, religious criminals will often justify their actions through an interpretation of their religious teachings. Others who hold those teachings to be true must answer to the fact that, at the bare minimum, some number of their positive beliefs are shared by criminals.

But identifying with a group that shares only a negative belief has its disadvantages as well. It’s very difficult to organize around what you don’t believe in, and while it would be nice not to have to organize, the disciplined spread of misinformation about atheists by religious groups leaves the atheists at a disadvantage. Faced with this, atheists must organize or continue to accept their role as social outcasts. And while the onslaught of religious oppression against atheists creates temporary cause for unity, uniting around no more than what we don’t believe will lead to disunity later on. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, I think that we the people who don’t believe in gods should aim higher to create lasting change.

One way to do that is to adjust our message. We need to build a coalition that includes not only atheists but non-atheistic agnostics and deists, and the way to do that is by focusing on a more important question than simply whether or not gods exist: are gods or supernatural forces the driving forces in our lives? Atheists can easily answer no to this question since they have no belief in gods to begin with, but agnostics and deists, who in some cases are resentful of the invasive nature of religion, may find common ground with atheists and unite to create changes which benefit us all. We need to promote the concept of secularism, that regardless of whether or not gods exist, our lives should run on the basis of input from the natural world and our interactions with other people. Although this is a positive belief and thus not necessarily associated with atheism, it is something most atheists can agree with.

I am both an atheist and a secularist. In a way, atheism resembles a “sect” of secularism, with agnostics and deists forming different sects. But if all secularists set aside their minor differences and work together, we can make the world a better place for secularists. And, if we accept that a world with less oppression and exclusion benefits us all, a better world for secularists is a better world for everyone.

Christian Singles!

So far I’ve been getting a lot of spam posts advertising for “Christian singles”. I guess atheist blogs are where the Christians go to find love. Who woulda thought? And why would Christians even need singles? Can’t they just have a virgin birth or something?

I’m going to block these posts, but if any of you Christians are looking for singles, be informed that there are some great websites out there for you.

Life is Beautiful

life is beautiful

I agree. From flickr user Comatherapy.

William Lobdell’s “Losing My Religion”: Why Do Bad Reviews Go to Good Books?

lobdellWhy do bad reviews go to good books? Because religious people deem it to be so.

William Lobell became an evangelical Christian at the age of 27, after being divorced by his former high school sweetheart. He was shocked at the level of anti-religious media, and set out to change that by becoming a religious journalist for the Los Angeles Times. But as time passed, he found his faith harder and harder to maintain, eventually becoming nonreligious entirely. His experiences are outlined in his new book: Losing my Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace.

This book recieved a favorable review by Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist, who likes the book in part because it is fair to Christians:

He’s not out to (de-)convert you, just to tell you how he became an atheist himself. In that sense, this is a book that religious people can read from front to back without wanting to burn it… If you’re religious, it can help you understand why some atheists choose the path that we do.

If only it were that easy. A significant chunk of his reviews on Amazon ignore the merits of the book itself and simply bash the fact that Lobdell dares not to believe. But the worst press so far is the book review in his own former place of employ. Heather King, writing for the LA Times Book Review, lays out the details of his path to atheism as if describing the actions of a man about to commit murder. Then, instead of addressing the quality of his writing, she trashes his decision to no longer be religious, and suggests he just go back and read the book of Job.

I understand that Lobdell’s heart is broken, as all human hearts must be broken if for no other reason than that we must die. I sympathize down to the bone with his hunger for the world to be holy without quite being able to be holy himself. But I can’t help wondering what would have happened had Lobdell stepped out of his journalist’s role. I wonder if he would not have discovered that even the best of us contribute to the suffering of the world. I wonder if he would not have discovered that conflict, uncertainty, paradox, doubt are the beginning of faith, not the end of it. I wonder if he would not have realized that an anonymous author wrote a variation of this story 2,600 years ago — about a man named Job.

I wonder too. I wonder why it is that atheists see the beliefs of the religious as a difference of opinion, yet believers see our lack of belief as a critical flaw, and a personal attack on them. I wonder why King ignored the second part of Lobdell’s subtitle, in which he “found unexpected peace”, and why the mere fact he is no longer religious makes him the target of scorn. And I wonder why the Times couldn’t have found someone to write a more balanced review.

At the end of her review, King presents the book’s cover photograph of a snuffed candle as the perfect summation of Lobdell, the lost soul. Yet I’ve always thought candles were more beautiful after being put out; the flame of a candle is intense and will burn you if you try to touch it, but snuff it out and the room fills with a delicate veil of smoke, always changing into different shapes, each as beautiful as the last. Maybe someday we’ll live in a society that appreciates snuffed candles.

The Grammar of God

Unlike some atheists, I see no problem capitalizing “God”. God can be a proper or improper noun. It would be like having a dog named “Dog”: when you’re talking about dogs in general the word “dog” is lowercase, but when it’s your specific dog, “Dog” is capitalized. “My dog is named Dog”. Same thing with gods: “I believe in a god. His name is God.” However, the one grammatic stand I will take against God (and any other gods) is that his pronoun shouldn’t be capitalized. “I don’t believe in God. I’ve seen no evidence of him.”

A Rose Without A God Would Smell As Sweet

roseIf God didn’t exist, would roses smell as sweet? Would the music of Beethoven, Coltrane, the Beatles, or Kurt Cobain be just as moving? Would the Grand Canyon be just as grand? Would apple pies be just as tasty? Would great art be just as moving, would poetry be just as touching? Would the sound of the ocean be just as comforting? Would all that is beautiful be just as beautiful?

I think it would too.


Blogical

I’m starting this blog as an outlet for my thoughts on religion, it successes, shortfalls, and how I get along without it. As an atheist and secularist, I often get accused of only believing in “cold logic”, to which I respond, “What’s so cold about it?" Just because I think critically where where religious people don’t doesn’t make me cold, immoral or unfeeling. I’m not anti-religious per se, though I feel some religious practices do get a free ride where they shouldn’t. The main reason I’m an atheist is that I think a life lived on secular priciples is a better way to live. In reading this, you’ll probably see plenty of ideas you’ve heard before, and hopefully a few you haven’t. With any luck, you’ll understand where I’m coming from, and we’ll both be better off.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism
(image: happy human)

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