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Scientology Offers Free Food To The Hungry

The Church of Scientology of New York is offering free food to the hungry for every Facebook “like” they get on their Facebook page. Aren’t they charitable? Go “like” their page, because it shouldn’t matter where we’re feeding the hungry, just that we ARE feeding them, right?

Except that it does matter. Who has read this far and is outraged that Scientology is taking advantage of the hungry to push their system of belief not only on the hungry who are in a vulnerable position but also to promote their Facebook page?

Now let me come clean. It wasn’t the Church of Scientology; it was the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in Chelsea, NY. Yeah, we can be outraged when Scientology exploits the hungry but when Christians do it, doesn’t seem to be a big deal to most people.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad they are feeding the hungry; I just wish they treated them with respect instead of taking advantage of their vulnerable position and using them for their own gain. It would be better if they just had a soup kitchen without plastering a billboard for their religion on the front door and presumably plastering the interior with advertisements.

Sure, they aren’t handing out free Bibles with every meal but don’t think they wouldn’t if they could do so without losing their tax-exempt status. For religious institutions, it isn’t about helping the hungry; it is about exploiting the hungry and we should call them out on it. If Scientology were the ones running this scam, people would be outraged. They should be just as outraged when some other religious group does it.

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Honesty As A Commandment

In his book, “Lying,” Sam Harris has argued that lying is always wrong in every situation. While I think honesty is a good general rule, I don’t think it ought to be an absolute commandment.

For starters, it is not altogether clear what being honest fully entails. I knew a girl is college who didn’t lie, but she also rarely told the truth. Yes, you can actively deceive people with the truth. There is an art to it, but if done well it is much more dishonest than an outright lie. Then there are lies of omitting. My point is that not lying doesn’t mean that someone is being honest and it is not entirely clear what honesty actually means on a practical level.

When we deal with other people, we have to use our judgment even if we are committed to always telling the truth no matter what. How do we phrase the truth in a tactful manner? Are we deceiving people with the truth? Are we omitting information that might be important? So if we are already using judgment, than we might as well learn to use that judgment to assess the situation more fully and to decide whether or not honesty is really the best policy in that situation.

Even if we can’t think of any situation where lying would be the right course of action, it doesn’t mean that we should be lazy in our judgment of the situation. The purpose of morality is to advance the wellbeing of society and of individuals. So we should evaluate every situation and decide what actions best do that rather than to make dogmatic rules that limit our options rather than brag about how honest we are as an ego boost.

In general, honesty does tend to be the best policy. But I am unwilling to turn that policy into a one-size-fits-all commandment at the expanse of the purpose of being moral in the first place.

Religious believers often criticize atheists for having a situation based ethical system, morality is situation based. Sure, it is guided by general principles like honestly but the main guiding principle is toward the wellbeing of individuals and society as a whole. That is the goal and it just so happens that honesty generally moves us closer to that goal post. But sometimes it doesn’t and we have to adapt with the situation and use our best judgment in those situations with that goal in mind. To do otherwise is intellectual laziness.

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Religion As A Consistent System

One of the minor claims that ex-atheist Leah Libresco made was that Catholicism was a consistent system. This is a claim most religious believers hold but rarely mention. I am glad Leah mentioned it, because it gives me the opportunity to criticize that claim.

“I’m a big Harry Potter nerd and I can see how the whole world works and think about the dynamics of that world without thinking it’s true. That’s kind of how I came to see Christianity, a really well thought out interesting system that a lot of smart people had worked on but I didn’t think it was actually a true system.”

Here is the problem; most religions are not really well thought out systems. Christianity for example is certainly not a well thought out system. When J.K. Rawling wrote the Harry Potter series, she had a general idea of how the whole world worked before she started. Sure, she made changes along the way, but the system of the world was pretty much the same. Babylon 5 is a better example of this. It is exceptionally consistent because the creator (JMS) had the story pretty much planned out from day one.

Christianity on the other hand is far less internally consistent because it was not created from start to finish early along. Early Christians had very different ideas of what Christianity was about and those ideas were patched together. Some of those ideas don’t fit well with others and the narrative (i.e. the Bible) doesn’t support all of the theology and is remarkably inconsistent and contradictory.

In order to create the appearance of consistency, the theology has to ignore parts of the Bible and has to create doctrine out of some extremely vague references. One example of this is the Holy Trinity. It doesn’t really exist in the Bible, but the Church has taken a few vague verses to cobble out the doctrine. The Seven Deadly Sins is another great example of doctrine not directly found in the scripture.

Hell, even the belief in Hell isn’t internally consistent. The Old Testament has no Hell. Hell is entirely an invention of the New Testament. So to say that Catholicism is internally consistent is a pretty odd claim. None of the examples I have listed here are at all in dispute among Biblical “scholars” or Harry Potter scholars.

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Arguing With The Religious So You Don’t Have To

I was at a presentation earlier this week and the speaker mentioned that he doesn’t like to argue with religious believers. Interestingly enough, during the question and answer part of his presentation two religious believers attempted to argue with him and one atheist questioned why we should even bother arguing with religious believers at all.

Personally, I think it is worth arguing with religious believers. While religious conversions happen rather suddenly, de-conversions to atheism tend to be a long journey. When I argue with a religious believer, they are expecting to convert me on the spot. They assume that I am arguing for the same goal, but I’m not. I would be pretty surprised if I de-converted someone on the spot. I argue to get them thinking and asking questions. I want them to start their journey or to move their journey along if their journey has already started. I am proud to say that I de-converted quite a few people, but it often took years and I don’t claim all the credit. I merely got the process started.

I understand that not everyone enjoys arguing with religious believers. Personally, I really do enjoy the arguments and discussions. Each religious believer is different and while there are often common threads and cookie cutter questions and answers, every religious believer has their own story.

Despite my enjoyment, I get it. Some atheists would rather not argue with religious believers. They may not like confrontation or see arguments in a negative light. Or perhaps they don’t see the point – thinking that it is a futile endeavor. Whatever the reason, I’ll argue with the religious so they don’t have to. Just point them my way and absolve yourselves of the situation. Don’t worry; I’ll be gentle… at first. 😉

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Jesus For President!

Yesterday, Jessica over at the FriendlyAtheist wrote about how there is a crazy website promoting a write-in campaign for Jesus. I thought it would be fun to talk about all the reasons why Jesus can’t be President.

For starters, it is unlikely that Jesus was even a real person. Despite even Bart Ehrman’s claim that Jesus was a real person he has stated in a recent debate:

“In the entire first Christian Century, Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription, and it is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Zero! Zip references!”

Let’s assume that Jesus was a real person. He still couldn’t be President on account of the fact that he would be dead!

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Jesus lives forever as the Holy Spirit. According to the Christian “scholars” Jesus was born about 4 CE and died in the year 33 CE. Let’s do the math there. If we carry the 5, we are left with Jesus’s human age at 29 years. In order to be President, you must be 35 years of age. So Jesus isn’t old enough to be President.

Okay, you want to start at his birth age and continue it to today? Fine! What country was Jesus born in? Oh, he wasn’t born in the United States? Well guess what? He can’t be President of the United States unless he was born here. Just ask Donald Trump. I want to see his birth certificate!

With all that said, I want Bill Keller of votingforjesus.com to go forward. Please, tell all your Christian right friends to vote for Jesus. Direct them to the website. While I have made it clear that I don’t think Obama is nearly as progressive as I like, I want to see Christians wasting their vote on an imaginary candidate that even fictionally can’t hold office. I must admit though that I secretly want Jesus to win so that when he fails to come to the swearing in ceremony we can all point and laugh. More evidence that God is imaginary; he wouldn’t even let his son take office.

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Conversion Fascination

I have to admit that I am still fascinated by the recent conversion of former atheist blogger, Leah Libresco. Unlike the re-conversion of Patrick Greene, Libresco was a blogger and so I assume that she knew the standard arguments and was presumably knowledgeable about the plot holes, ridiculousness, and just factually incorrect aspects of Christianity.

Like I said before, I wasn’t a reader of her blog so I don’t know how much she really know anything about her positions. But I really have to assume she was knowledgeable. Her conversion is different than say Kirk Cameron’s conversion in that he wasn’t someone in the greater community of reason and he didn’t know the arguments against religion.

Libresco claims that her conversion was over Platonic Forms, but I am starting to wonder about that. It seems to me that Platonic Forms have been an outdated idea for some time now and that they are interesting for Introductory Philosophy students as a way of showing the history of thought. But aside from being a conversation starter, no modern moral philosopher would hold to such an idea as a moral theory. So my thought is that there was some emotional component involved as well.

It is possible that Libresco isn’t even aware of this emotional component, but I really do have a hard time believing that her conversion to Catholicism (and all the wackiness that entails) was a result of a belief in Platonic Forms.

I mean, Libresco has to have heard of Sam Harris, right? If she is into Plato’s Forms, she probably read Aristotle too. I think his view of morality is far better than Plato’s and even that is outdated. There is a huge history of moral thought that it seems Libresco has surprisingly ignored. This seems unbelievable to me given that she appears to be a fan of philosophy and someone who is interested in the field of morality. So how did some religious person get her with the old C.S. Lewis “Moral Law Giver” argument?

We have to be missing something here. Perhaps I can get a dialog started with her to try to reason this out.

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Plato’s Forms & Morality

Everyone is talking about Leah Libresco’s recent conversion from atheist blogger to Catholic blogger. To be honest, I really don’t know anything about her. I stumbled on her blog briefly at the beginning of the year when she misrepresented something I said. I called her out on it and she apologized.

I don’t really know anything else about her aside from what is being talked about on the Friendly Atheist and on her own blog. I did read her blog post where she explains why she converted to Catholicism and it seemed pretty weak to me. It seemed to stem from some variation of the C.S. Lewis idea of the “Moral Law” so I thought I would talk briefly about that. This isn’t necessarily to refute her, but rather just a jumping off point about this issue.

Libresco seems to be a supporter of the Platonic Forms of morality. The idea is that there is a metaphysical world that contains the essence of an object or concept. For instance, while there are several different types of chairs, Plato believed that there must be an original “Form” of a chair that all chairs copy. If we extend this to morality, it seems that Libresco is arguing in favor of a universal Form for each moral virtue (and perhaps one for each vice as well).

The problem she ran into is with the question of Form creation. Who created the Forms? That leads to deities and for some odd reason it took Libresco to Catholicism. She lost me there, but I think the problem wasn’t with the question of who created the Forms, but rather with the concept of Forms themselves.

I love Plato, but he wrote 2500 years ago and while he was very smart and had a lot of great ideas we have learned a lot since then. Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said that all of Philosophy is but a footnote to Plato. He is correct, but it is important to note that Plato isn’t all of Philosophy.

I think Ludwig Wittgenstein presented a much more plausible explanation for why like things are labeled the way they are. Instead of saying that there is this universal Form for a chair, Wittgenstein talks about how all chairs share a “family resemblance” and that is why they are all labeled as chairs even though they all look different. In the case of chairs, the resemblance is in their use. Anything that has the primary purpose of being used by one person to sit on is a chair. There are things that aren’t chairs that we use as chairs too.

Then the question would be – who decides on these family resemblances? But unlike the question of Form creation, this one doesn’t require a deity. We decide the family resemblances. If I point to a chair and someone tells me that it isn’t a chair, I will sit on it and use it as a chair. Maybe it is just a box, but in sitting on it, I have turned it into a chair.

Sure there are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part this explanation is much plausible and doesn’t deal with metaphysical worlds or deities. On a side note, I am still a little curious as to whether or not Leah Libresco now believes in the transubstantiation of the Eucharist.

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In Memory of Joe Fox

The community of reason has lost a great activist and leader over the weekend. Joe Fox worked and led various Humanist groups in the Philadelphia/Lehigh Valley area. He was a hands-on kind of guy and was one of the hardest workers I knew. The reports I have heard are that he probably died sometime on Friday and the cause of death is still unknown.

Joe was the person who recommended that I take over as head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason. He also was the main organizer of our annual Unity Picnic. This year, he had called me up and told me that he was busy organizing the Lehigh Valley picnic and asked if I could organize the PhillyCoR picnic. He told me that if I needed any help, that I should give him a call. Now, I am on my own. But more than that, the greater community of reason is on our own as well. Joe was such an active person and he touched so many people’s hearts, that it is hard to imagine our community without him. The July 29th Unity Picnic will seem empty without him and I hope to dedicate some time during the picnic for people to share their memories of Joe.

Joe was one of those people who was never too busy to ask you how you were doing and if you needed any help, and yet he was always busy working to make the world a better place. I never knew him to be argumentative or to debate religion with the religious, but as an organizer within the community of reason, there was no one better than Joe Fox.

He is gone, but definitely not forgotten. He will live on in our memories and in the great work he has done for our community and the world.

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D’Souza’s Portuguese Inquisition

I recently watched an interesting debate on the question, “Is the world better off without religion.” The debate featured two sides with two people representing each side. The atheist side was represented by A.C. Grayling and Matthew Chapman. Both of these men are very intelligent, but don’t have a whole lot of debating experience. The religious side had a great deal of experience with these types of debates. They were represented by Rabbi David Wolpe and Dinesh D’Souza.

Let me say this about the religious proponents here. David Wolpe is a genuine guy. I have a great deal of respect for him, but I think he is obviously wrong. D’Souza on the other hand is a hack. He is however a very good hack. What I mean by this is that he uses every slick trick in the book and is smart enough to know they are slick tricks. In my opinion, he is the most skilled religious debater.

While most of D’Souza’s arguments can be dismantled pretty easily, those refutations take time and are not easy to dismantle in the limited time of a debate format. In the closing statements of this debate, he talked about being born in India and converting to Christianity. I heard him talk about this once before in a closing statement of another debate, but I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. In this debate, it explained it much better, but that explanation also is easily refuted.

He talked about the Portuguese Inquisition in India in which Christians came to India and inspired the lower castes of Hinduism to convert to Christianity. He “reasoned” that religion is great for the world because it inspired these poor people to rise up against the injustice they faced at the hands of… oh wait, Hinduism is a religion too. Oop.

Here we once again see religion claiming to have solved a problem that only exists because of religion. It is like when religious believers claim responsibility for the suffrage movement. They conveniently re-write atheist suffrage leaders out of history and the fact that it was religious holy books and institutions which were (and still are) the main opponents of equal rights for women.

Oh course, the solving problems that they themselves have created is religion’s whole bag. Christianity claims that we are all evil sinners and that they only way out is threw them. But I reject the claim that we are all evil sinners in the first place. In any case, here is the full debate… which we won by the way. I don’t say that because it is my belief, but because it has been supported with actual evidence. I think all debates should have this format:

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Zombie Apocalypse

There have been a bunch of zombie stories in the news lately as a result of bath salts. I really haven’t been following it much so I don’t know all the details. But what I do know is that it gave me an idea.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an examiner article about a geologist’s earthquake research and Jesus’s resurrection. It turned out to be a misunderstanding, but while talking about the controversy I called attention to a passage in the New Testament talking about zombies.

So how long will it be before Christians start using these recent zombie attacks as a “sign” of the end times? Probably not very long if some Christian hasn’t happened already. Why not beat them too it? Let’s spread this idea that the zombie attacks are a sign that the end is near as a joke. Let’s poe this thing.

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Atheists Are Intellectual Snobs

It’s true, as an atheist I happen to think reason is better than faith, knowledge is better than ignorance, and evidence is better than assertions. I, like most atheists, am in intellectual snob… and proud of it.

And why shouldn’t I be? Why would anyone take pride in not being intellectual? I look down on ignorant people. I think ignorant people should strive to educate themselves. While I understand some people who just don’t have the intellectual capacity to be intellectual, they are the rare exception here. I don’t have a problem with them because they often struggle to learn. They often desire to better themselves mentally, but have a physiological deficiency impeding them.

I am really focusing my snobbishness on those who have the mental capacity, but choose ignorance instead. You know the people I am talking about; they are the people who always fall back on faith instead of reason. They ask stupid questions which we have all heard before and that they think are original and intellectual.

Oh, you want some examples? If humans are descended from apes, why are there still apes? Without God, how do you know right from wrong? You know the rest.

So yeah, I’m and intellectual snob and you should be too. Let me teach you how. Lesson one, Learn stuff. Lesson two, think critically. Lesson three, laugh at and mock ignorant fucks who skipped lessons one and two.

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Pride and Ignorance

When talking to fundamentalist believers, the two traits I run into the most are pride and ignorance. Interestingly enough, I find that these believers take pride in not being prideful and that they are generally ignorant of their ignorance.

Still, I think that if we can get these believers to stop being prideful and ignorant, it would go along way in starting them on their journey toward reason. Getting them to admit that they might be wrong and that they don’t have all the answers is a big step.

As an agnostic atheist, I am well aware that I could be wrong and that a god or gods might actually exist. But someone would have to present some kind of valid evidence for me to believe it. While I take pride in my knowledge and my ability to reason, I also take pride in knowing that I don’t know everything and that I am still learning and so is humanity.

Let’s see if fundamentalist religious believers can acknowledge that they could be wrong and that their deity of choice might be either the wrong one or might not exist at all.

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Communicating Ideas

Atheists have a problem that we need to address. We need to communicate our ideas better. Religious believers don’t tend to have that problem. You ask them a question and the answer is either a Bible verse or God did it. If you ask why God did something that answer is that God works in mysterious ways. Their beliefs are communicated. But when a religious believer asks an atheist a question, we have to give a long explanation because reality isn’t easy to explain.

So our problem is that we need to learn how to explain the complexity of reality to religious believers in more memorable and more easily understood ways. Last week, I answered 10 questions that some Christian posted on his blog. I have gotten a lot of feedback from people saying how much they appreciate my answers.

What I tried to do was answer the questions in memorable ways that turn the questions around on the believer. But I also tried to keep it short. There is no doubt that there is a lot to be said about the subject of morality, but people don’t want to hear a lecture so we have to boil it down to something simple and then hopefully if they are more interested, we can go on and help them find the right places to go to learn more about it.

Our job shouldn’t be to educate them, but rather to get them interested enough to want to educate themselves and then point them to the best places to go to do that. If you have a particularly pithy answer to a common religious question, please share it. We need to create these memes and get them out there to the religious world.

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The Moral Goal

Christians often ask atheists about the purpose of life. But I think a better question is what is the purpose of our morality? On this question, the divide between Christians and atheists couldn’t be wider.

For Christians, morality amounts to God’s whim, while for atheists morality is about the well-being of sentient creatures. Christians tend to be concerned about the next life, while atheists are usually concerned about this one. For Christians (particularly fundamentalists) the goal is to save souls at all costs. But for atheists, the goal is to improve the lives of the living.

What are the consequences of these goals? For Christians, it means trying to convert people often time no matter the consequences. It means sending missionaries to poor or devastated areas of the world and exploiting people when they are at their most vulnerable time. That, after all, is the mission. Since a poor quality of life makes people more vulnerable to the message of Jesus, religious believers have a vested interest in keeping the poor, poor. They have a vested interest in helping people just enough to make them grateful, but not enough for them to have the time, education, independence to think critically and doubt http://viagraspills.com/tab….

Atheistic morality cares more about helping people period. We don’t need to use people’s desperation to spread our message. Our message isn’t the goal. The goal is to help people to be more educated and to have a better quality of life here on Earth because we have but one life to live and we would like people to live their lives well.

Christian Car Bomb Argument

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‘The Atheist Challenge’

The Christian blog, “The BitterSweet End” has posted an atheist challenge of ten questions. Okay, I’ll bite. Thanks to VJack over at Atheist Revolution for making me aware of this.

1.    If there is NO God, then their is no Measurement or Standard for morality?  Then what will define morality?

Well, I think you are wrong to say that there cannot be a moral standard without a deity. In fact, I see it the exact opposite way; with a God, there can be no moral standard since morality would become God’s whim and anything would be permissible as long as you believe that your God commanded it. Morality is about our sense of empathy and compassion. The measurement of a moral proposition is grounded in human well-being (both societal and individual). For more on this, see my Atheism 101 article: Is there moral grounding without God?

2.    If there is NO God, then there is NO meaning or purpose to Life;  So not everything meaningless since there is no God?  So what will the purpose of living?  Without God, does the Atheist have purpose?

Again, I think you are projecting your opinion into the question. I don’t think you are asking the question honestly. But I want to answer it anyway. Why bother going to see a movie if you know that the movie will be over in two hours? What is the purpose in going? Life is like a movie. The purpose comes in experiencing it, not in dwelling on the fact that it will end. Also, by pretending that the movie will never end and sitting there watching a blank screen after the two hours are up, you are missing out on other movies and wasting what little time you have to live life. For more on this, see my Atheism 101 article: The Purpose of Life.

3.    Are you an advocate of New Atheism and Darwinism?  If so then the most extreme and logical form of Darwinism is Eugenics, Survival of the fittest.  Would you support this?  Why or Why Not?

Again, you are projection your opinion into the question and this is dishonest. If you genuinely care about the answer, then you should ask the question honestly. “New Atheism” isn’t new. I have been a vocal atheist long before the media started labeling people “New Atheists.” This label is simply a way to discount atheist criticisms of religion by implying that it is just a fad.

“Darwinism” is a similar type label invented by Christians to try to equate science with religion. Evolution is not a faith based belief; it is a science based observation of the facts. Evolutions isn’t about the survival of the fittest, it is about the survival of the best able to adapt. It isn’t a prescription, it is a description.

Are you a Newtonist? Because if you believe in gravity, then you most realize that the most extreme and logical form of Newtonism is throwing babies out a window, right? Obviously, your argument is invalid. Just because something is a certain way doesn’t mean that it ought to be a certain way. Just because people do evolve doesn’t mean that we have to kill those who we believe to be inferior.

Throwing eugenics into the conversation is simply an attempt to avoid dealing with reality. It amounts to an ad hominem attack.

4. If we are ancesoters/descentdents of Apes, then why are there no transitional fossils or species to support this theory?

The fact is that we aren’t descendants of apes, we ARE apes! All fossils are transitional fossils. Now here is a question for you. If Christianity came from Judaism, why are there still Jews? Where are the transitional deities?

5. Do you believe in Human Nature?  It is Human Nature to believe in God, if so, why do you go against human nature and not believe in God?

Again, you are injecting your opinions into the question. Belief in deities is not human nature. Human nature is trying to make sense of the world. When people were ignorant sheep herders, deities were the best explanation people could come up with to explain the world around them. Now we have science and it worlds much better. We know now that gods don’t cause droughts because someone in the village offended them. Curiosity and learning are also human nature, so why do you go against human nature by refusing to learn about the world around you?

6. Can Nothing come from Something?  Doesn’t that violate The First Law of Thermodynamics?

As Dr. Lawrence Krauss explains in his book, “A Universe From Nothing,” nothing is the only thing that something can come from. The First Law of Thermodynamics deals with closed systems. We have no evidence that the Universe is or was a closed system. In fact, the evidence provided by Dr. Krauss suggests that the Universe is not a closed system since quantum particles are created out of nothing all the time. But while we are on the subject, doesn’t God violate the First Law of Thermodynamics?

7. It seems that a society of Atheist are immoral and self-destructing.  Why would anyone want a Godless Society, just look at our examples, North Korea, Maoist China, Stalin, & Pot Pol?

First, you are mixing your countries with your dictators. In North Korea, they worship a God and his name is Kim Jong Un. The other nations and dictators you named are similar. There is also the issue that atheism isn’t a doctrine of belief. It is simply the lack of a belief in deities. So even if those dictators were atheists, it doesn’t reflect on me at all. On the other hand, Hitler was a Catholic and it goes without saying that Joseph Kony is a Christian. So where does that leave you? I should also point out that there are other atheistic nations in the world like Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden which all rank much higher than America on the quality of life markers. I’m with them. 😉

8. If you were to die, and you were before God.  And he was getting ready to pass judgement on you,  What would be your reaction or thoughts?  What plea would you give him so he does not judge you harshly?

Well, that is a pretty far-fetched hypothetical. Let me ask you the same question. What if you were to die and were before Allah and he was getting ready to pass judgment on you? For me, I wouldn’t plead with any deities (mainly because it is doubtful any deities actually exist in reality). If it is the God of the Bible, then I would fight against such evil tyranny with my last undead breath. Any deity who demands worship and threatens those who refuse with eternal torture doesn’t deserve worship. You might as well ask if Hitler were God, how would you plead with him so he does not judge you harshly.

9. What would convince you atheism is wrong?  And that Christianity is Right?

I don’t know, but I know who might know… your all-knowing God. If your God does exist, then he would know exactly what would convince me of his existence and if he wanted to convince me, he would have. He certainly wouldn’t need you to do his dirty work for him… unless he is a pretty impotent deity. Maybe your God is just an incompetent buffoon. One thing is certain and that is that if your God does exist, he knows how to convince me and hasn’t. So the fault of my atheism doesn’t lie with me, but with him.

10. Why are you an Atheist?  Why do you NOT believe in God?  Why do you reject God?  (You can be as detailed as you want.)

The simple answer is that the God of the Bible is ridiculous. I grew up believing in such a deity, but after reading the Bible cover-to-cover, I realized just how silly the stories were and how petty and evil the character of God was. When I started learning about the world around me (i.e. science and history) it became clear that the Bible is a fictional book. Other deities just haven’t convinced me of their existence either, so I’m not just picking on Christianity. I was like you once, believing ancient stories were real no matter how ridiculous and nonsensical they might be. But somewhere in my heart of hearts and my brain of brains, I knew something was off. I had doubts. I was told that doubting was evil so I kept my doubts hidden from the world and even tried to fool myself into thinking that I was absolutely certain of my beliefs. But how can any of us really be certain of anything? You believe that humans are flawed right from the start, so how can you be certain of anything when you know you are flawed?

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Between The Lines of Primary Day 2012

Yesterday there were two primary day battles that I was watching very closely. This first is obviously the one that everyone was watching, Scott Walker’s recall election in Wisconsin. The second was in New Jersey where I am from originally and where my family still resides.

Let’s talk about the recall election first. Scott Walker won and it is likely that progressive will be blamed somehow because progressive are always blamed when Obama fucks up. That’s right, I said it mother fucker; Obama fucked up!

Obama had promised that if labor was ever challenged, he would put on his marching boots and stand with labor. But when Governor Walker attacked labor in a serious way, where was Obama? This was a close election and the exit polls have shown that Obama has a great deal of support among voters in the state. All he had to do was make a campaign stop in support of Tom Barrett and it almost certainly would have swayed the election.

But he didn’t because he was afraid that if he did and Barrett lost, he would be tied to a loser. Well, the bad news for Obama is that he is tied to a loser… himself!  By not showing his support for Barrett and labor, he has allowed Walker to walk all over the labor movement. You can now expect Republicans to attack labor in more states and Obama will probably lose a lot of respect among voters in Wisconsin and around the country. Plus, a Republican Governor in Wisconsin won’t help the President’s chances in winning that state.

Now on to New Jersey where two Democratic congressmen duked it out do to redistricting. Rep. Steve Rothman was a pretty progressive congressman and has been the congressman in my family’s district for a while. He also has the advantage of being Jewish which I will talk more about shortly. Rothman also was an Obama supporter.

In the other corner was Rep. Bill Pascrell, who was a big Clinton supporter. Pascrell won and now he will be facing off against the same guy who went up against Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens (at the same time). What? That doesn’t make sense, Harris and Hitchen?

Yeah, as it turns out, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach who debated against Harris and Hitchens is running for congress as a Republican in my home district. While I don’t live there anymore, my family still does. Rothman would have been a better bet in the general election because he is Jewish and he has served the heavily Jewish community there pretty well. He also is a pretty secular guy. Boteach on the other hand is a right wing wacko whose main claim to fame is being Michael Jackson’s spiritual adviser.

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SCA’s 50 State Solution

This week, the Secular Coalition for America is starting their 50 state push to create local branches. Today, Pennsylvania is up and I will try to get in on that call. This is a pretty ambitious plan on the part of the SCA and there are a lot of atheists who don’t think it will succeed and even a few who don’t want it to succeed because they don’t like the SCA’s Executive Director. I am for one hope that it does succeed.

Despite Edwina Rogers’ poor interview with Greta Christina, I still support Rogers. I think this 50 state plan is really important. I think it is much more important that knowing the particulars of our community. That can be learned later. Setting up the infrastructure that we need to really fight back against the Religious Right is really the most important thing at this point.

Rogers may not be great with interviews and she probably isn’t well versed on the details of all of our issues, but she knows how to lobby and she knows how to organize politically. We need that.

Find out more about the SCA’s 50 state organization project on their website. Call into the organizational meeting. Let’s start kicking ass and taking politicians’ names.

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Is Atheism Becoming Like The Religious?

Friday was “Hug An Atheist Day.” It was the 4th year for this event. But this year there is a problem. Apparently the reaction to the event this year has been more mixed and instead of atheists having fun and reaching out to religious believers who far too often demonize us, there are atheists who are up in arms because hugs can be used to sexually harass people.

One reaction I got while promoting “Hug An Atheist Day” from a prominent atheist in our community was this, “Somehow, I get the feeling that ‘Hug an atheist day’ is only calling for more creepy/unwanted interactions.” Is this really what has happened to our community? Look, I know there are some serious concerns with sexual harassment at some atheist conferences and I don’t want to diminish that, but we should be careful that in dealing with those serious concerns that we don’t become like religious and become fearful of anything even remotely sexual. Maybe next year the event will be called, “Side-hug An Atheist Day” or “Stay Five Feet From An Atheist Day.” Are atheists going to need to wear burqas soon too? We have to find a way to protect people from sexual harassment without becoming so restrictive of people’s sexuality. This isn’t even sexual. It’s a fucking hug.

Don’t get me wrong here either; the atheist who reacted this way isn’t at fault. The fault lies within our community that has created an atmosphere of fear in which this reaction has become all too typical. I think it has always been good manners to make sure the person you are going to hug is open to receiving the hug. But we can’t control other people, so if someone is going to hug you and you are not into it, say something.

But we need to be careful that when we deal with serious issues of sexual harassment, we don’t create an atmosphere in which people are afraid to show each other any affection at all. There is a pretty think line between sexual harassment and being sexual or even affectionate toward each other.

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Christians Claim Credit For Free Society

My conversation from over the last two days at “Think Christian” has been cut short due to censorship. You see, I talked about how Progressive Christians had to acknowledge that the Bible is wrong on homosexuality in order to be absolved of being labeled hateful toward gays. A Christian responded by claiming that the free society of the United States is based on the Bible and that Nazism is based on atheism. Then “Think Christian” refused to allow me to respond and told me they will censor any response I make that addressed those completely invalid and incorrect points… so much for the “free society.”

That is yet another issue with religion. It has been my observation that religious websites (Christians aren’t alone in this) tend to “moderate” their comments and it just so happens that most of the dissenting opinions don’t make the cut. They may allow a little bit of disagreement, but it doesn’t take much for them to cut off discussion and debate.

What I have noticed with atheist run websites on the other hand are moderators who take less of an authoritarian rule in moderating. In other words, atheist moderators tend to try to avoid censoring comments and only do so reluctantly when the conversation gets out of control or when a person is making threats of violence or obviously spamming.

I moderate my facebook comments and the comments on my blog, but I rarely actually exercise my power in that regard. It does happen, but rarely. Religious believers tend to be quick to abuse their power when it comes to allowing others to speak. They tend to be afraid of contrary opinions while atheists would rather let the ridiculous comments of religious believers speak for themselves.

We prefer to let them “hang themselves,” as the expression goes. Unfortunately for religious believers, we tend to be rational and to use logic, facts, and reason in our arguments. This tendency makes it less likely that we will say something that will “hang ourselves.” So they are left with one option, censorship.

The other problem is that religious beliefs are based on faith and not reason. Anyone can have faith in anything. So one person’s faith based assertion is no different than another person’s faith based assertion. The only way to settle their differences is through the application of force either through censorship or ultimately violence.

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Progressive Christians Don’t Understand Why They Are Hateful

Today’s blog post follows from yesterday’s blog post. In the comments section of the Think Christian article, one Christian is ready to address the Christian problem with gays. He explains that he isn’t hateful toward gays at all and that Christians just need to communicate better. That’s all this is, a communication problem. Well, in a sense he is correct, but not in the way that he thinks.

You see, this Christian thinks that if they can just communicate better the problem will be solved. The message he wants to communicate is that while homosexuality is an evil, immoral, sin, being gay is perfectly fine… as long as gays don’t act gay and have homosexual sex. It’s the old, hate the sin, love the sinner routine.

The communication problem however is ours. We have to communicate to these Christians that the Bible is wrong and that homosexuality isn’t evil or immoral. I don’t care what God says, God doesn’t exist and even if he did, he would be wrong on this issue! The God of the Bible says a lot of things that no one follows today because they are ridiculously stupid. We really need to get these so-called progressive Christians to admit that no divine beings were consulted in the writing of their holy book. Once they admit that, then they can say that the Bible was wrong about homosexuality and still go about turning the other cheek.

I have no problem picking and choosing what parts of the Harry Potter series I like and which parts I don’t like. I can do this because I know that the author wasn’t the perfect creator of the universe. I can do the same thing with the Bible, which believe it or not does have some good stuff in it. I don’t have to accept that homosexuality is an abomination punishable by death or that women should be considered property or that genocide is okay as long as the people being killed believe in a different God or that kids deserve to be ripped apart by bears because they called a priest baldy in order to accept that Golden Rule may not be the best rule in the world, but it is at least a pretty good guide.

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Vicarious Apologies To Gays

Nathan Albert over at “Think Christian” wrote an interesting article in which he advocates for liberal and progressive Christians to apologize to gay people on behalf of the wacko fundies. Nathan’s heart is in the right place, but he just isn’t thinking clearly about this issue. I guess he is thinking too much like a Christian.

It doesn’t surprise me that he supports the idea of vicarious apologies since Christianity is all about vicarious redemption. However, the only ones who can apologize in a meaningful way for the hate fundamentalist Christians have shown toward gays are fundamentalist Christians. Vicarious apologies just amount to a show of sympathy, which while important, can’t absolve anyone of any real burden.

With that said, Nathan Albert and other progressive Christians do have something to apologize to gays for and that is their support for the Bible. Their continued defense of the Bible as somehow having God’s fingerprints on it (i.e. divinely inspired) is a problem. As long as Christians (progressive or otherwise) claim some link between the Bible and a perfect deity, they really can’t absolve themselves from the content of that book.

If progressive Christians really do understand that being gay isn’t evil, then they have to acknowledge that the blame for the contrary belief really does lie with the Bible itself. Progressive Christians can apologize all they like but it is an empty apology unless they are willing to do something about the problem. They need to denounce their holy book, not just the fundamentalists who actually obey what it says.

I’m glad there are Christians out there who realize at least to some small degree that hating gays is wrong. However, until they can admit that no divine being had any input into their holy book, their apology on behalf of fundamentalists shouldn’t be taken seriously and they will remain part of the problem.

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Why I Don’t Do Atheist Conventions

I don’t go to atheist conventions or conferences and I have three reasons for that. Two are practical and one is much less so. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad these conferences exist and I don’t want to discourage anyone from going to them. But I won’t be attending.

One reason why I don’t go to atheist conventions is that I have a family and I can’t leave them for a weekend while I go off to another state to do what I can do from home online (i.e. talk to other atheists). I like to spend my weekends with my wife and kids. For me, family comes first.

Second, there is the cost. Most conventions are at least $100 or more. Then there is plane tickets, hotel room costs, food, etc. I simply don’t have the money.

Now, I have said in the past that if a convention were nearby (i.e. Philadelphia), I would probably go at least for a day. That wouldn’t require me to leave my family for long and the cost would be reduced to the convention price which while still high, might be manageable. But over the last year or so, my attitude has changed. Now, I don’t think I would ever go to an atheist convention in my home city.

The reason is simple; there is too much drama at these things. It seems from reading various blogs that everyone is trying to have sex with the very people who aren’t interested in them. Too many people treat these things as parties and cliques and people like me who are happily married and just want to network and hear great speakers are just not cool enough anyway. I wasn’t cool in high school, and these conventions just seem like an extension of high school to me.

Some people are hyper-sensitive and others are not sensitive enough. But one thing is certain and that is that after the convention is over, someone will blog about how they felt slighted about something or that someone creeped them out. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes people have every right to feel slighted or creeped out but I think I would rather have those issues addressed privately with the particular people involved.

There are many awkward atheists out there and I see many of them at meetings and meetups. In high school I was pretty awkward too. Being in the atheist community however, I have seen many atheists who are much more awkward than even I was. So I get that and those people are going to go to conventions and they are going to be awkward. I don’t want to offend anyone because I am not cool enough or because someone thinks I am hitting on them or that I am just creepy looking. I can’t control what other people think. But I would rather that person come to me and tell me what if anything I am doing that offends them rather than go home, feel creeped out, and blog about be behind my back. I can only imagine atheists who are much more awkward than I thinking the same thing.

For me, the point of even having conventions for atheists is to help us fight back against the religious, help us to develop our message, and give us things to think about philosophically and scientifically. I’m not interested in the drama. If these conventions are generating so much drama, then perhaps there are better ways to get the information.

Because of all these controversies, I just don’t feel welcome at these things. I would be too afraid that I would say the wrong thing to the wrong person or that someone would take something I said in a way other than intended or that I would look at someone in the wrong way. I feel much more comfortable watching the talks at home on youtube without the anxiety of high school all over again.

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Christianity: The Glass Is Completely Empty

One of the most prominent themes in Christianity is that everyone is an evil sinner. One Christian I talked to recently put it this way, “We are all wicked, evil doers. ‘There is no one who does good, not even one,’ Romans 3:12.”

Through the lens of Christianity, the glass is completely empty. Through the lens of reality, I however see the glass as half-full. I see people as doing good things and bad things. I admit that I often try to see people as being good and accepting that they do bad things sometimes, but the claim that people are always wicked is just ridiculous.

Of course Christianity has to have this position because it has to create a problem for everyone so that it can come along with the only solution. It is classic manipulation. It can’t just be that some people are wicked and need help, no… Christianity as a system is more ambitious.

But here is the best part of this argument. All we really have to do is disagree. All we have to do is assert that not everyone is wicked and that even the Christian who spouts off this nonsense is not wicked, they are just wrong. They have been brainwashed by these ridiculous beliefs that have made them into a hateful people. But they are not a hateful person deep down. We just have to point out that they want to help other people whenever they can; they are just doing it wrong.

What can they really say to that? Are they really going to claim that I am wrong and that they really are a wicked person and that they really don’t want to help others? They have backed themselves into a corner here.

If they say they are trying to save people’s souls because they care about them, that contradicts their view that we are all wicked and “there is no one who does good, not even one.” They just disproved their own Bible.

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The Hate Argument

One of the ways religious believers try to sidestep criticism of their ridiculous beliefs is to claim that anyone who has any criticism must “hate God.” The conversation usually goes down like this, “You must hate God and therefore your argument is invalid.” There is actually a logical fallacy for that.

When religious believers claim that atheists “must hate God” they are actually using a derivative of the ad hominem fallacy. It is an attempt to ignore the actual criticism and passive/aggressively name call.

There are a few ways to deal with this type of thing. The first is to deny that you hate something that you don’t even believer exists. But this gets us nowhere because religious believers often think that atheists secretly do believe in their deity and that we are just pretending not to so that we can live our sinful lives tricking people into giving us their hard earned money so that we can use it to build huge tax exempt buildings to ourselves and so that we can more easily rape kids… oh wait… never mind. Besides, the study is in and atheists actually do hate God… well sort of.

Personally, I like to follow Louis C.K.’s lead. Because we all know that comedians are awesome. In an early Comedy Central Presents, Louis C.K. talked about being stuck in traffic and having the guy behind him screaming at him to move forward despite the cars in front of him. It was a great routine. The guy got out of his car and started to bang on C.K.’s window. C.K. knew he had to argue with him, but he didn’t have to have his argument. So he rolled down the window and demanded that the guy give him back his grandmother’s sweater.

So when a religious believer tells me that I must hate God, I tell them that they must hate Voldemort. Why would anyone rebel against “he who must not be named?” Then I get into the argument that being all-powerful doesn’t make one just (even when those all-powerful beings are completely imaginary).

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Internal Governors

I was having a conversation with my wife the other day about how atheists tend to be less outspoken about our views than religious believers… even very outspoken atheists like me. We both agreed that atheists usually have an internal governor which helps us to determine when it is appropriate to talk about our lack of belief and when it is not appropriate and we should bite our tongue (metaphorically speaking). Religious believers often don’t have that internal governor.

It has been my observation that religious believers take every opportunity to spout off their beliefs without regard to the appropriateness of the situation. In fact, the less appropriate the situation is, the more likely a religious believer is to push their beliefs.

Whether it is at a funeral, a wedding, a hospital, or daycare center, religious believers are quick to tell others that they are going to be torture for all eternity unless you believe exactly as they do. You just don’t see atheists do that.

I’m pretty outspoken about my atheism, but if I went to a funeral and it was a little religious I would certainly write about it afterward, but I wouldn’t feel compelled to get up to the podium and tell people that the dead person isn’t in Heaven and is in fact dead. Even when I was at the super religious funeral last year of my friend who was an atheist, I didn’t take the opportunity to push atheism. Although in that situation, speaking out might be debatable.

The point is that religious believers have no internal governors telling them when it is or more importantly isn’t appropriate to push their beliefs. Atheists, do.

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Guilty Pleasure

For me, have to admit that it is a guilty pleasure to argue with fundamentalist religious believers in situations when I probably shouldn’t. I try to be good and not to start the discussion, but I admit that sometimes I will passive/aggressively get them to start the discussion. Sometimes however, I try to be good and to not do that either.

Let me give an example: I was at a wedding over the weekend and I knew that someone there was very religious. It was very tempting for me to start a religious discussion. But I knew that this was not the time or the place for such a discussion and that such a discussion would distract from the event. But I still have to admit that the desire for such a discussion was definitely there.

It really isn’t hard to get such conversations started because usually the fundamentalist religious believers will don’t feel the guilt and so they start these conversations without me even having to passive/aggressively nudge them in that direction.

I feel the guilt. I know that I shouldn’t pick a fight with these believers in certain settings. I also feel guilty because I know I know more than they do and that they are ill-equipped to defend their ridiculous beliefs. It is sort of like me being a bully in a sense and that is why I feel so bad when I get into those conversations in those settings with those people.

But it is so much fun. They are just so cocky and so ignorant of reality… not to mention so ignorant of their own Bible and the history of their religion. Not in all cases mind you, but usually. I try to be good and not get into those discussions in those types of settings. Sometimes (like this weekend) I am successful. Other times, not so much. ];-)

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I Do Weddings

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to officiate my first wedding. Two of my friends over at PolySkeptic got married and had asked me to conduct the wedding.

While there was serious talk about me officiating wearing Jedi robes, we all thought better of that. Sure it would have been fun and funny, but I think in this case it would have been too much. I did write a speech that had a little humor in it, but I wanted it to also strike the right tone of seriousness, wisdom, and a touch of tradition.

While in college, I was ordained via the internet to the Universal Life Church with a friend. This technically grants me the right to perform weddings. However, I had also been considering becoming a Humanist Celebrant through the American Humanist Association. But for the purpose of this weekend’s wedding, the couple got paperwork to do a “self-uniting” ceremony which would allow for anyone to marry them as long as there were witnesses willing to sign the paperwork.

Everything went well and I am happy to report a successful ceremony. Congratulations again to my friends Shaun and Ginny and a special thank you to them for giving me the opportunity to officiate.

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Teaching an Old Dog a New Trick

I had a pretty interesting conversation at Arby’s yesterday. I was waiting for my food next to an old guy who was probably around 80. He had ordered a couple of shakes to take home for him and his wife. He was telling me that his wife likes the Jamocha shake, but he likes the black and white shake. He then joked about not being racist because of the black and white shake. Not all that funny, but he was an old man and I got where he was going with it. But then things turned interesting. He said almost out of nowhere that he’s not about the gay marriage though.

So I decided to have “that conversation” but to do it in a light hearted way. I asked him with a smile on my face, “Why not? It’s no big deal.” Before he could answer I continued, “Who cares, they deserve to be happy too, right?”

He kept my light hearted tone and say that the Bible says no to gay marriage. Clearly he really doesn’t know what the Bible actually says on the matter and I could have quoted verses to him. I could have also pointed out the Bible’s support for slavery, genocide, etc. But I still wanted to keep the conversation non-confrontational.

I continued in my light hearted tone, “The Bible is wrong. It was written a long time ago by people who didn’t know how the world really worked.” I then said something about society learning and progressing.

The old man actually seemed to agree with me on that. He said in an obviously defeated tone that he supports all the rights for gay people, but he just doesn’t think it should be called marriage.

I just laughed it off and told him that that sounded like semantics and that I have friends who were gay married and their relationships are fine. I continued in my jovial tone and told him that it doesn’t really matter what you call it, it still is marriage, so we might as well just say so.

He nodded in agreement and oddly enough that was when our orders were ready. I held the door for him on the way out and he told me that the other day a woman held the door for him too. He told me that she said that she didn’t hold it for him because he was old, but because she thought he was cute. I told him that I didn’t swing that way and that I just hold the door for everyone.

He chuckled and we went our separate ways. I actually think I changed his mind on the subject right there on the spot and that doesn’t happen very often. And they say you can’t teach old people new tricks.

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If We Don’t, Who Will?

Religious believers often try to defend the ridiculousness of God’s commands in the Bible by asking me, “Who are you to question God?” Who am I indeed? I think the question I would like them to answer is, “If we don’t question God, who will?”

Now of course God is fictional and so it really doesn’t matter. However, I think atheists have been trying to convince religious believers of this reality for a long time and that a different tactic might just be to inspire religious believers to rebel against their God. When their God doesn’t come around to smite them, then they will stop believing that their deity exists.

With that said, many atheists often refer to God as a tyrant and this question about accountability proves it. Just as religious believers claim that we must be accountable to God, we have to claim that their God must also be accountable to us. After all, only tyrants believe they are unaccountable.

This brings us into a full conversation on morality in which religious believers will no doubt ask about our moral grounding. We can of course turn this around and ask about God’s moral grounding. If God’s moral grounding comes down simply to God’s whim, than all things are permissible and morality is meaningless.

Enter the “God is perfect” argument and all we have to do is point out that we only have his word on that and his actions according to the Bible seem to contradict that word. We can then either point out our favorite atrocity from the Old Testament or even some of the “metaphors” that Jesus uses that seem particularly violent from the New Testament. Of course the whole concept of Hell (which comes from the New Testament) is also evidence that God is certainly not perfect. Even our justice system as flawed as it is, allows for people to be redeemed rather than sentencing everyone to eternal torture.

But the point here is that religious believers need to hold their deity accountable. If they don’t, who will?

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Expanding a Love of Science to the Mainstream

We atheists think of celebrities, the names that come to mind are people like Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and other prominent scientists. To us, science is cool and scientists are awesome! Unfortunately, the mainstream doesn’t share our view and that is very unfortunate.

That being the case, I want to try a thought experiment. I saw this view on YouTube yesterday by melodysheep called “We Are Stardust.” The video is a synthesized song using the words of a few prominent scientists. To me honest, I thought they should have used more scientists or just stuck with one. But that’s another discussion:

I want people to pick one or two friends or family members who are not involved in the greater community of reason and who might not even be atheists. The friends in question have to be mainstream, not fundamentalists. Then, show them this video, get their reaction, and then report back.

I want to know if they have heard of any of the people featured in the video, what they thought of the song, the message of the song, and then maybe what they think of science in general. Were they inspired by the song or bored by it?

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