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Obama Evolved!

I am willing to admit that I was wrong. People told me that President Obama was just waiting until his second term before he openly supports same-gender marriage and I laughed. I didn’t think he would support it until after he was out of office when there wasn’t anything he could actually do about it. I was wrong and to President Obama, I’m sorry.

With that said, let’s face facts. He wouldn’t have done it at all if Vice President Joe Biden didn’t come out with his statement on Sunday’s Meet The Press. Right afterward, David Axelrod issued a statement claiming that Biden wasn’t really for gay marriage and that his position was the same as the President’s position. But that didn’t hold any water and everyone knew it. So the President felt he had to come out in support of gay marriage.

I am really glad he did. I have been complaining about Obama’s “evolving” position for a long time. But I am concerned with his couching this with, “I personally believe” and then falling back on the “states can do what they want” approach. I would prefer that he would “evolve” toward a federal amendment on this issue. But if he is going to fall back on the states thing, he can at least promise that he will personally campaign on this issue state-by-state.

The thing is that Republicans have been using gay marriage as a wedge issue for a long time. Now, the numbers favor gay marriage (60%). So maybe Obama should be out there using it as a wedge issue. Conservatives have gay family members too and this is an issue that many Republicans have realized or in the process of realizing that they are going to lose if they stand against the tide of history.

Now that Obama has “evolved” on gay marriage, it is time to push him to evolve on greater support for the atheist community too. He can start by stopping with the “God bless America” bit that almost all politicians use. We get it, he’s a Christian. But he doesn’t have to push it on us. So now is the time to put the pressure on him more on promoting gay marriage state-by-state across the nation and on atheist and secular issues too.

Oh, I guess we need a lobbying organization for that. If only people weren’t calling to de-fund our lobbying organization…

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Herding Cats Indeed

The Secular Coalition for America hired a new Executive Director who is a Republican. That means that she voted for Republicans and she worked for Republicans. Yet for some reason people are shocked that she gave money to Rick Perry and worked for Trent Lott. Atheism is not a religion and yet even the religious have strong divides when it comes to political parties.

Let’s look at the Catholic Church for a moment. In that religion, whatever the Pope says goes and yet there are some very Right Wing Republican Catholics and some very Left Wing Democrat Catholics. Paul Ryan is a Catholic and John F. Kennedy was a Catholic. So if it is this hard to herd Catholics who are supposed to do what the Pope tells them to, why should it be any easier for atheists considering we aren’t even a religion.

Oddly enough though, most atheists agree on most issues despite our lack of a Pope. But we aren’t going to agree on everything. Edwina Rogers is a Republican and so it is pretty likely that most atheists will have disagreements with her on various issues. But when it comes to secular values, she claims to agree with us 100% and the board of the Secular Coalition for America agrees.

As a movement, we are going to have internal disputes, but at the end of the day we need to work together. This means we sometimes have to put our person opinions aside and work with people we disagree with to get our common goals achieved. We don’t have to play nice and she can still call bullshit where we see bullshit. But just because someone is full of shit on one or more issues doesn’t mean we can’t work with them on other issues. You can read my defense of Edwina Rogers and the SCA HERE.

There is also some internal drama going on with the National Atheist Party. They just fired their VP of Administration. I’m not sure what the drama there is yet, but it is drama we don’t need.

Atheists tend to be very opinionated and we get passionate about our opinions. But we have to remember that at the end of the day, we are all on the same side. We all want to support secular values and all want a more secular nation.

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What’s The Point of an Argument?

In my experience, there really are two goals that people argue for when they argue about issues and depending on which one of these goals or reasons people use will shape the argument dramatically. Sometimes an argument is just not worth having or is not worth having with the person one is having it with. It all depends on the reason or goal of why someone is in the argument in the first place.

The first goal of an argument is that the person wants to win the argument. They don’t care what you say, they just care about winning. So they will say anything. They will misrepresent your position, they will appeal to authority, they will get overly emotional, and they will do whatever it takes to win the argument. Notoriously, these people will be the first to suggest that they know they won’t be able to change your mind on an issue because they are projecting their own mindset into you.

Arguing with these people is often a waste of time. Sometimes however, you can get past their stubbornness and get them to actually care about learning something. But this is difficult because their goal isn’t to learn, it is just to win.

That brings me to the second goal of an argument and that would be to advance one’s knowledge. One puts out an opinion and someone else challenges that opinion. But the goal isn’t to win and to hold your opinion; it is to try to see where the other person is coming from and to maybe change your opinion if one is presented with a valid argument or some credible evidence.

This goes beyond just a willingness to change one’s opinion; it is desire to genuinely understand where the other person is coming from. It means that you don’t just take what they say at face value, but that you also try to understand the meaning behind their words.

Let me use an example. Recently, Sam Harris wrote a blog post about profiling and in that post he was advocating that we profile Muslims and anyone who looks like they could conceivably be a Muslim. Some people too this to mean that we can only determine what a Muslim looks like by a glance. In other words, they take Harris’s words at face value without trying to genuinely understand what he might have meant.

Even after Harris clarified what he meant in his addendum, people still clung to the idea that “looks like” means very superficial characteristics like skin color. I didn’t have to wait for the addendum to figure out that Harris meant all kinds of other traits including behavior when he said “looks like.”

While I have been pretty vocal against profiling, I don’t want to get into that argument here. My point here is to talk about arguing itself. When we argue an issue like this, what is our goal? Is it to win the argument and be proven correct? Or is it to genuinely understand where the other person is coming from and be open to changing our opinion if that is where the argument goes? We should give the person we are arguing with the benefit of the doubt. If they say something that seems out of character for them or that is pretty absurd on the surface, we should ask for clarification and/or we truly understand what their position actually is. This is how we have a reasonable conversation.

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The Avengers and Atheism

If you are a geek like me, then you went to see Marvel’s The Avengers this weekend. It was a fucking awesome film. But what does it tell us about religion and what interesting things should atheists take away from the film?

On the surface, there are two references to gods. The first was when Captain America was about to get in the middle of a fight between Thor and Loki. Black Widow warned him that they were “like Gods.” The Captain responded by saying that there is only one God and that he doesn’t dress like that.

Christians may look at this and say, “See, Captain America believes in God!” I look at it and say, “See, Captain America believes in God. This is how far we have come since WWII, the idea that there is a God is ‘old fashioned.’ Captain America doesn’t know who Stephen Hawking is and that is why he still believes in ancient superstitions. How quaint.”

The second reference to god in the movie is when Hulk picks up Loki and smashes him against the ground repeatedly. As he pulverizes Loki, he exclaims, “Puny god!” This of course is what all atheists do. We pick up the concept of god and smash it against the ground with reasoned arguments… repeatedly. 😉

But what else is there to learn from this movie? We can learn a lot actually. While the movie starts off with our heroes already being heroes, there is a moment in the movie where they really own up to being heroes. This is a journey we all can take and it doesn’t require a god. To be heroes, we don’t need to be a god like Thor, have super strength like Captain America, or be zapped with gamma radiation like the Hulk. Half the heroes in the movie are people with no super powers at all! More than half if you count Nick Fury, Agent Hill, and Agent Colson. Plus, Pepper Potts has no power and she contributed at least 12 percent to the team.

There is also a great deal of pro-science in the film and even a scene where Tony chastises the other heroes for not reading up on the latest science. Science itself is responsible for three of the heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk. Okay, the Hulk was a mistake of science, but there is still a scene where Tony puts a positive spin on that to Bruce Banner.

At the end of the day, The Avengers is about people helping other people. It isn’t about praying for some deity to perform miracles.

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People Can Change

There are two ways I can go with this blog. First, religious believers often tell me that they know that nothing they say will convert me to their religion of choice and that they know that I have already made up my mind. Second, it bothers me when people take something I said years ago and seem to think that I still hold those views without considering the possibility that my views have changed as I have learned new stuff.

I think I have already addressed the first point in other blog posts, but it is the second point which I think is important and relevant. People can change. Most atheists are living proof. How many atheists in our community started out as religious? How many were once even fundamentalists? How many were fundamentalists who at one point in their life asserted that they would never lose their faith in God?

I believe in the power to change people’s minds with new information and evidence. As a result, I try not to judge people too harshly because I am hopeful they can change. This goes for Bill Maher on the issue of vaccinations, Sam Harris on the issue of profiling and it goes for Edwina Rogers on issues of politics. This belief in the power of people to change (based on evidence and observation) motivates every conversation I have with the religious.

It also applies to me. I can change my opinion on an issue too and have done so in the past. It would be arrogant and naïve to assume that all my present opinions and beliefs are the right ones and that they will never change. If you think I am wrong about something, present evidence and new information and try to change my opinion.

Change isn’t easy, but it does happen. As Humanist, I believe in people. Sometimes I think our greater community of reason has lost sight of that. We get so wrapped up in “take downs” that we lose sight of our empathy and compassion. We get so wrapped up with winning an argument, that we lose sight of our real goal of expanded knowledge. We focus so much on trying to change other people’s opinions that we forget to open ourselves up to the possibility that our opinions and beliefs can change too.

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The National Day of What?

Let me get this straight, today is the National Day of Prayer and all Americans are encouraged to ask some magical sky daddy to save the country because our politicians are not up to the task? Okay, where are the adults.

I have a better idea; let’s fire those politicians and start coming up with actual solutions to our nation’s problems. I know that sounds crazy and all, but we gave the whole National Day of Prayer thing a shot for 61 years and it doesn’t look like it’s working. Let’s try a new approach. I call it trying to actually fix out problems ourselves!

It’s very American. We can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and with some hard work, we can change the world. We need to stop asking for handouts from this God guy and start being independent. So instead of praying, maybe we can find some alternative…

Progressive Christians and Hell

Whenever I get into a discussion about religion with a progressive Christian the first thing I like to bring up is Hell. It is easy for progressive Christians to speak out against Dick Cheney’s torture program here on Earth, but for some strange reason they are much more hesitant to speak out against God’s eternal torture program in Hell.

Recently, a progressive Christian attempted to give progressive Christianity credit for all that is good and justice in our society. I had to disagree. So the very first thing I asked was about whether progressive Christians believe in Hell. I got two responses and I think they are both interesting.

The first response was that most progressive Christians reject the concept of Hell entirely. I wish that were true, but it has the same ring to it as when Dinesh D’Souza claims that only about 5% of Christians reject the science of evolution. He is just pulling a made up number out of his ass. I don’t think most progressive Christians reject the concept of Hell, just that they prefer not to think about the concept much. To the credit of progressive Christians, they do focus more on this life than they do on the next life. But I question how many truly reject the concept of Hell entirely.

That brings me to the second response which was alone the lines of, “It doesn’t really matter where I think you go when you die, it is really up to God and I’m not judging.” Note that this isn’t an exact quote but it is a pretty accurate summery. This person apparently is part of that tiny small minority of progressive Christians who don’t reject the concept of Hell outright. This I think is actually the more typical progressive Christian view and it is a view I have a serious issue with.

Can you imagine if we showed the same indifference to the Bush/Cheney torture program? For me, the issue is simple. If you believe in Hell, then you most take a stand against God. If you believe that God exists and that Hell exists, then the moral thing to do is to criticize God for torturing anyone for all eternity. You can’t hide behind God’s judgment. Torture is wrong and eternal torture is ridiculously wrong. If God does it or even allows it to happen when he has the power to stop it, then God is immoral, period. Further, if you believe in God and Hell and you don’t take a position against God, then you are also immoral. Think about it!

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America’s Profiling Problem

Sam Harris recently wrote a blog post defending profiling. I, like most other people in the greater community of reason disagree with Harris on this point. There are two main issues that I have with profiling. First is the moral issue. People are more than their profile and it isn’t fair to single people out because of physical traits they had no control over. Second, is the obvious point that profiling just plain doesn’t work. PZ Myers made that case pretty well on his blog.

So if profiling doesn’t work, what would work? Well, I’m not a security expert, but I think aside from watching out for suspicious behavior we also should be doing more in addressing religious fundamentalism. We seem to be fighting the so called, “war on terror” with our hands tied behind out backs. Our government should be actively speaking out against religious fundamentalism. We should be making the case that religion is bunk.

Sure there will probably be political reasons to hijack a plane, but I think it takes religion to get a hijacker to crash a plane into a building ending his or her own life in the process. We live in the information age and yet we are fighting terrorists in the same manner we fought the Nazis. Armies, tanks, and fighter jets aren’t going to cut it. We have to use the power of the internet and social media to show that religion is ridiculous.

But we can’t do that, because we live in a country that is religious. We can’t set out to prove that Allah is imaginary without also proving that Yahweh is imaginary. But if we could show just how ridiculous Islam is, then we wouldn’t have to worry about profiling possible Muslim terrorists… or Christian terrorists. If we could convince the religious that religion is ridiculous and false, then our terrorism problem would all but go away.

Before I end today’s blog, I want to make a point in defense of Sam Harris. While I disagree with him on this issue of profiling, I take issue with people within the greater community of reason who are quick to label him a racist because he supports profiling. I think people throw these kinds of labels around too liberally and in doing so they are watering down the term.

When we look at actual racists, we look for a pattern of behavior. Harris doesn’t want to profile because Muslims are black, he wants to profile because Muslim fundamentalists flew planes into our buildings. While I disagree with Harris on profiling, labeling him a racist is absurd. Any generally reasonable person who does this should really be ashamed of themselves. See my blog post: The Benefit of the Doubt.

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Comedy Journalism

Over the weekend, journalists across the nation gathered in Washington to attend the yearly White House Correspondence Dinner. Once again, this dinner proves that comedy is the best journalism.

For a long time now, people have been getting fed up with our journalists who have far too often exchanged hard hitting questions to politicians for political access. As a result, our politicians can get away with pretty much anything because no one is going to question them about it or hold them accountable… except late night comedians apparently.

Usually it is Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert who ask the tough questions and that is why neither will likely host the Correspondence dinner every again. This weekend, it was Jimmy Kimmel’s turn to host and he made some great points practically right to the President’s face.

He talked about some of the important social issues like gay marriage, marijuana legalization, guns, and appeasement. Obama is notorious for his position of “evolving” of gay marriage and so Kimmel’s jokes about how all marriage is pretty gay hopefully hit pretty hard. I just wish some of the “journalists” in the audience did their job and followed up with the President on his position.

Sure it is easy to joke about legalizing pot, but the fact is that doing so would seriously fix our prison problem in this country, save lives, and probably help to balance the budget.

But the greatest joke of the night in my opinion is only really funny because it shows the primary problem with the Obama presidency. It is a problem that I have often wondered if Obama was even aware of. So the fact that he had to fake chuckle at the joke is at least an acknowledgement of his awareness. That is at the very least a good first step. Now, we just have to make sure he realizes that we really consider this to be a huge problem that threatens his re-election. In any case, here’s the joke:

“President Obama wanted to move the dinner to the Kennedy Center this year, but the Republicans wanted to keep it here at the Hilton so they compromised and so here we are at the Hilton.” – Jimmy Kimmel

Why can’t our journalists ask Obama about his history of Republican appeasement?

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Hell is a Terroristic Threat

I get e-mails, messages, and comments from Christians all the time either telling me flat out or eluding to the belief that I will be tortured for all eternity in Hell. It is more than them just stating a belief however; they are also making the claim (either upfront or covertly) that I should be tortured for all eternity. The purpose of their message is simply. They are trying to invoke terror.

These types of religious believers want atheists to be afraid. They hope to use our fear to force us to accept their claims and their beliefs on insufficient reason. It should also be noted that they want us to embrace their values which are often hateful and immoral.

This is terrorism and we shouldn’t be afraid to call it such just because they are Christians and not Muslims. Don’t get me wrong; most of these threats of eternal torture are empty. Christians make these claims, but most don’t actually intend to do anything about them. Instead, they just leave it up to their invisible enforcer. And since I really don’t believe their enforcer or their place of eternal torture actually exists, I generally don’t find myself in any type of real fear. These are usually empty threats… but they are threats of a terrroristic natural nonetheless.

It should also be pointed out that there are a few crazy fundamentalist Christians out there who not only make these threats, but imagine themselves as God’s enforcers (because we all know that the all-power deity is much too busy to do his own dirty work). There really are people out there who will take it upon themselves to try to “send” you to Hell to be tortured for all eternity.

The fact that these threats are put up on billboards astounds me. While Christians complain about atheist billboards being “offensive,” they are putting up terroristic threats unchallenged and unreported on the news. Atheists have to start holding these Christians fundamentalists accountable for their terroristic threats even if they are not always threats we take seriously.

We have to start pointing out to Christians that when they start talking about Hell, they are issuing a terroristic threat. We have to call attention to this to the general public. We have to make it clear, claims that non-believers will be and ought to be tortured for all eternity is not okay. It is not that it is offensive to us, it is a terroristic threat. It doesn’t fall under Free Speech either. You can’t go around threatening people under the First Amendment.

So when Christians “inform” me about Hell, I ask them whether they believe I should be tortured for all eternity for my lack of belief or whether they think God is immoral? I find that this puts them into a position in which they have to defend the indefensible. At the very least it will get them questioning the morality of their deity.

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Labels and Substance

Yesterday Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist took issue with comments made by physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in relation to atheism. In a video by BigThink, Tyson attempts to distance himself from atheism. Here’s the video:

While I wouldn’t call myself a “militant atheist” because I don’t own any guns or advocate violence (the way militant Christians and Muslims do), I am a pretty vocal atheist. So much so, that one would be hard pressed to claim that I was soft on religion. But here I have a disagreement with Hemant.

Tyson here is making the same kind of argument that Sam Harris made at the AAI convention a number of years ago. I find this type of argument quite compelling; almost enough to get me to stop using the label altogether… almost.

But at the end of the day, I would rather have people take both approaches. People like me and Hemant who are vocal about our non-belief and who seek to form a community around our atheism and people like Harris and Tyson who don’t want to be lumped in with Stalin every five seconds. I will still label Tyson an atheist because at the end of the day, he still doesn’t believe in any deities any more than I do. But I respect that he doesn’t want to be part of a united front in this culture war, but instead wants to go it alone and who is willing to fight battles on his own terms and without the baggage that the label “atheism” carries.

At the end of the day, the substance of Tyson’s position is the same as my position. So I really don’t care what label he uses. As a point of fact however, Tyson is wrong in his usage of the terms, but I suspect he knows that. His point is that he doesn’t want to be lumped in with people like Dawkins, Hitchens, and ironically Harris (who never really embraced the label either). I’m less concerned about labels and care more that Tyson is out there educating people about science and promoting the values of reason and critical thinking.

Oh, and while I disagree with Hemant Mehta on this, here is evidence that I can be friendly 😉

Thanks to Joel for taking the photo at the Reason Rally.

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What Republicans Think

Yesterday I was at the polling booth all day talking to mostly socially liberal Republicans. Some of which told me they planned to vote for Obama. Others said that Obama is too polarizing and won’t budge on any issue. That one was comical because I don’t think there is an issue Obama hasn’t tried to appease the Republicans on. The funniest moment for me what when a Republican told me that Fox News was… wait for it… fair and balanced.

The Republicans did run the gambit on issues. Some of the more socially liberal Republicans agreed with me on legalizing pot and gay marriage. I met middle ground with them on gun laws too. But the more hardcore Republicans insisted that gay marriage would destroy America, but when I asked how he just restated that position with a, “you’ll see” at the end of it.

The Republicans seemed okay with Romney, but there was a Ron Paul woman working the polls that even the Republicans weren’t fans of. The Republicans told me about the Ron Paul plot to become convention delegates and override the vote’s decision at the convention so that Paul could be the nominee.

For VP, the best choice most Republicans preferred was NJ Governor Chris Christie. Marco Rubio of Florida was the second choice with Republicans fearing a “Palin Pick.” When I brought up Santorum’s name, the Republicans I talked to were united in their glee that he was out of the race. They were not a fan with one prominent Republican saying that Ricky shouldn’t have weighed in on the Terry Shiavo case when he was Senator.

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Primary Time!

Well, today is primary day and I will once again be away from my computer the whole day. Three years ago, I wrote myself in when voting on various local offices that didn’t have a democratic candidate and to my surprise I got a letter telling me that I won the election for Minority Election Inspector. So now, on Primary Day and Election Day I sit at the polling booth.

The fun part for me is talking to my co-workers and the politicians. You see, my precinct is almost entirely Republican and few if any Democratic candidates come around. Republican candidates on the other hand love to come out. So I get to talk to all these people about politics and religion… outside the polling place when it is slow.

I should also mention that my area is pretty Catholic and most of my co-workers love to gossip about the drama of their local church. While they tend to be Republican, they also tend to be socially pretty liberal and so that gets into all kinds of fun conversations.

Last time, I had a great time asking the Republicans who they wanted their candidate for President to be. This time I get to ask them, how they like their candidate? Will they vote for him? Will they campaign for him? And who they want for VP? It should be fun.

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Should We Be Funding Politicians?

On Friday’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill Maher mentioned that despite the fact that Mitt Romney has a large unfavorable rating (even among Republicans) the race for President is pretty close. Maher took the news as vindication of his decision to donate one million dollars to the Obama campaign. But perhaps that money would have been better spent funding the cause of reason and/or funding issue based awareness as opposed to candidate awareness.

But what if the money that was spent on Democratic candidates focused on changing people’s opinions about particular issues or about how to think critically about the issues? This type of shift would leave individual candidates scrambling to find cheaper and more creative ways to get their message out, but the battlefield would be changing more to their advantage in the meantime. They wouldn’t have to make their case; they would just have to let people know where they stand on the issues.

I bring this up because in my congressional district the Democratic challenger entered the race late and I know nothing about the guy. I went to his website to find out where he stands on the issues and left his website no more informed. He listed a small handful of issues which he didn’t even articulate a clear position on. He could be a right leaning Democrat or a progress and I have no idea. For all I know, his positions could be the exact same as the Republican incumbent.

If he can’t even inform people about where he stands, how is he going to persuade people to change their position on an issue? Why would anyone fund this guy rather than fund the actual issues to set the ground work for the future? Donating to his campaign seems like a waste of money even if you think he is the better candidate. That money like the money Maher donated to Obama would be better spent funding campaigns for individual issues that are important to Americans.

Because of the two party system people who vote don’t usually vote based on the candidate anyway, but rather based on the political party. Dynamic candidates are bold and they can get their message across better, but that has less to do with money and more to do with style.

In the end, politicians come and go, but it is the issues that remain important from election year to election year. That is what we should be funding. Then politicians will be more vocal in their support for issues that more voters support. The key is to get more voters to support the best positions on the issues. That is where Maher should have donated his million dollars.

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Two Sets of Laws

Democrats used to talk about the two Americas, one for the rich and one for the poor. This is certainty true, but there is another set of two Americas developing. With relation to the rule of law, there is one set of laws for the religious and another set for everyone else.

Religious groups have been demanding that exemptions from laws that they don’t feel like adhering to. The most talked about example these days is of course the contraceptive health care coverage debate. The law wants to make it so all employers pay to cover the contraception needs of their employees. But the religious want to be exempt from this law.

There is of course the law that pharmacists have to fill the prescriptions that doctors prescribe… except that the religious want an exemption from that and have been lobbying congress to include such an exemption.

The religious are also pushing for an exemption to adoption laws that require agencies to not exclude gay parents. This debate got so heated that Catholic Charities even tried to hold our nation’s capital hostage over the situation. Fortunately they failed.

But the point is that more and more bills headed to congress are including religious exemption and are creating two sets of laws in this country; one set of laws for the religious and one set of laws for everyone else.

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‘Truth’ Is a Four-Letter-Word

You know someone is full of shit when they use the word, “Truth” instead of laying out the evidence for why something is true. Also, you know they are full of shit when they use the word, “Truth” instead of saying that something is “true.” For example, “God is the Truth.”

Religious believers also like to stick “Truth” or even “True” in front of everything to change it to mean the opposite of what it does. For instance, if you see a group that calls themselves “Freethinkers” they probably are free thinkers. But if you see a group that is call, “True Freethinkers” then they probably aren’t.

While at the Reason Rally, there was a group called, “True Reason” and guess what? They weren’t very reasonable. In fact, while I was walking to lunch, I ran into an elderly couple handing out postcard advertisements for the Reason Rally. I told them that we were already there and that we will be going back after lunch. They handed us a postcard anyway and while sitting at lunch I noticed that they were really advertising for the “True Reason Rally.” Guess what? It was all about being unreasonable and having faith.

I bet next they will come up with “True atheists” who believe in Jesus. Frankly, I’m surprised some Christian hasn’t actually thought of that. Maybe we should create an organization dedicated to the, “One True God,” no god at all.

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Doubt Is The Devil

Yesterday I talked about my conversation with two Jehovah’s Witnesses that came to my door. As we were talking, I wanted to make it clear to them that I was not dogmatic in my thinking in the hopes that I could encourage them to be less dogmatic and consider the possibility that they might not have all the answers (as the older “Witness” actually claimed to have “all the answers”).

This is where things got interesting in the conversation. I told them that I might be wrong about the world and that they should likewise consider the possibility that they may be wrong as well. The older “Witness” then told me that “doubt is the devil.”

Now, I took that opportunity to joke about how I have just as much doubt about the devil as I do in God before trying to move the conversation along to the idea of continuing to search for answers even to questions we have already think we settled. Here I talked about how last year scientists thought that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity might be wrong and that this was actually pretty exciting for many scientists.

I tried to explain to them that the Theory of Relativity was settled science and as solid a theory as the theory of gravity (of course I had to take a moment to explain the difference between a layperson’s use of the term “theory” verse a scientist’s use of the term). So even though we know that the Einstein was right about Relativity, we actually for a moment had to re-question that view.

My point here was that even though they know that Jesus died for their sins and that God exists, that maybe they too should re-examine that view. But doubt is the devil was again repeated by the older witness. He said that if you have the answer, there is no need to keep searching for it.

Still, he was not my target and so I encouraged the younger witness to doubt and to not be dogmatic. I encouraged him to do his research. I pointed out several books that he could read or even search YouTube for lectures on those books. I again repeated that I too would keep an open mind and that he should as well. I told him that doubt wasn’t the devil, dogmatism was. We should doubt everything, even things we think we know with certainty because you never know when you might be wrong about something.

This was pretty much where the discussion ended. The older witness closing off discussion by insisting that doubt was the devil, the younger witness agreeing with him publicly, and me expressing the radical view that none of us know everything and that we might be wrong and as a result we should keep an open mind to new evidence should it be presented.

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De-Converting Strategies 101

Last week, I was visited by two Jehovah’s Witnesses and I actually ended up having a nice long conversation with them (usually they try to run away). In any case, they tried to use all the standard arguments and I was able to easily refute them. But that wasn’t my goal.

One of the guys was an older man and the other was a younger guy. It is unlikely that the older “Witness” would de-convert. He grew up in a Baptist Church and converted to the JW later in life. He actually told me that he has “all the answers.” But the younger “Witness” grew up in the JW and he has never known anything else. He was my focus.

I also know that I was not going to de-convert anyone on the spot. This is true with almost any topic (not just religion) with almost anyone. It almost never happens that someone makes an argument and the other person goes, “Oh, that’s a great point. I’m sold.” The most you can expect is for someone to say, “Oh, that’s a great point. I’ll think about it.” So my goal was to give him something to think about and to direct him to sources that would help him with his thinking.

I asked them if they ever use YouTube. Some religious believers rightfully fear the internet, so I wasn’t actually sure if these two Jehovah’s Witnesses were internet savvy or not. They were which is great for me.

So when the old First Cause Argument came up, I told them about Dr. Lawrence Krauss’s book, The Universe From Nothing, and told them that he actually has about an hour long presentation on YouTube. I admit that I had to struggle to remember the name of the book, but I think that will help the younger guy remember the name.

It isn’t enough to just tell these believers where to find the information though, I have to encourage them to actually go to these places and look for themselves. I encourage them to have an open mind, just as my mind is open to their message. I make sure to let them know that I am willing to believe God exists. All they have to do is provide some valid evidence for their claims. I tell them that I hope they will provide me the same courtesy and be open to new evidence. This is where things got interesting. I’ll talk about this part of the conversation more tomorrow.

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If Atheists Talked Like Christians

Hemant Mehta over at the Friendly Atheist is running a contest on twitter and facebook asking people to make atheist versions of Christian phrases. I actually think this is pretty brilliant and even though atheists have done this type of thing on their own in the past, I think it is good to do it in a more organized manner.

Atheists have a problem with messaging and this contest might be able to help. One problem atheists have is that we tend to be rational and therefore expect others to be rational as well. But most people don’t think rationally. So by taking some of the irrational things that Christians say and turning them into atheist things with our message we do two things. 1. We expose their irrationality. 2. We create our own messaging.

Some of the phrases will be in the first category and some will fit more in the second. Here are a few that I liked:

@rksteg you can’t be a good, moral person if you believe in God.

@DEIgebrandt If Jesus turned water into wine – how come there is still water?

@BetterOffDamned There’s no such thing as a Christian. You just hate reality!

Here are my contributions so far:

@DangerousTalk You’d have your answer if you reasoned it out sincerely.

@DangerousTalk You have a science shaped hole in your brain.

Tweet your message using the hashtag #IfAtheistsTalkedLikeChristians

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Do Non-Believing Children Go To Hell?

Many Christians talk about non-believers being tortured for all eternity in Hell by their all-loving deity. This is when I like to ask them if non-believing children go to Hell to be tortured for all eternity. I get a variety of answers on this one and they are all comically funny for atheists.

First I get the extreme answer: “Yes, children who don’t believe in God go to Hell to be tortured for all eternity and that is why it is so important to spread the message of Christ to everyone.” I actually don’t have a problem with this answer logically, but let’s face facts here. That is not a moral answer. Those who hold this opinion are saying in no uncertain terms that children should be tortured… for all eternity no less. This answer shows just how morally corrupting religion can be because these people who express this opinion believe they are good moral people and yet they believe that children should be tortured!

The second answer I get from Christians is the non-committal answer: “I don’t know; that is for God to decide.” But just a moment ago this same Christian was telling me that non-believers are going to be tortured for all eternity in Hell and now they don’t know if children go to Hell or not? Here we have a case of conscience meeting dogma. Christians like this have no problem telling non-believing adults that they will go to Hell, but even they realize that torturing non-believing children for all eternity is wrong. But they don’t want to take a side. “Children might go to Hell and that might be okay, but that is for God to decide.” Let’s put it in another context. “North Korea might be torturing children and that might be okay, that is up to Kim Jong-un to decide.”

Finally, we have the third answer from the more apologetic camp: “No, children don’t go to Hell. The Bible lists multiple passages which can be vaguely interpreted to tell us that God will not torture children, ever!” Here we have people of conscience and intellect who realize that torturing children is wrong and that morality is not just God’s will (although they won’t admit the latter). So because they know torturing children is wrong, they will re-interpret any verse they can find that vaguely mentions children to show that God wouldn’t torture children. But the fact is that it doesn’t really matter what the Bible actually says, it is the answer of their conscience that tells them that torturing children is wrong.

So how does our conscience know that it is wrong? Because we empathize with a person being tortured and we empathize with children who are defenseless. Based on our empathy, our compassion as human beings tells us that torture is wrong and torturing defenseless children is that much more wrong. Doing it for all eternity is just extra special wrong. It isn’t some vague Bible verse which needs to be understood in the light of some other vague Bible verse that tells them that children shouldn’t tortured for all eternity in Hell, it is a sense of human decency.

The Bible could flat out state that non-believing children go to Hell and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to these apologeticists. “That verse must be interpreted in the light of verse X and only applied to person Y in the special case because of situation Z.” The apologeticist can turn any verse completely on its head if it doesn’t fit with their view.

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God Hired a Hit Man

I was reading an article this morning about the mother of one of the Virginia Tech victims five years after the shooting. The mother was extremely religious and when her daughter died, she said that she stopped talking to God for a while but she recently started to talk to God again because God told her that he had a plan.

Apparently, God’s plan was to hire a hit man to have this woman’s daughter brutally murdered. Or maybe that was just the first step in a much larger plan involving world domination… or something. I’m not sure.

Aside from the ridiculousness of people talking to an imaginary deity and claiming that that deity is responding literally, I take issue with this grieving mother’s rationalization. For starters, it shows an obvious contradiction within the belief system. Either everyone has free will or God used this murderer as a pawn in his master plan. Both can’t be true.

More than that, it takes responsibility away from the killer. He had no choice; he was just playing his part in God’s plan. In this sense, God is really the killer and the guy who pulled the trigger was just a hired gun… or worse, he was the actual gun with no choice but to fire when God pulled the trigger.

I feel bad for the mother. I have two small children and I couldn’t imagine what I would be feeling if one or both of them were brutally murdered. It is easy for me to be rational now, but if I were in her situation, I hope someone would help me stay rational instead of allowing me to lose my mind to ridiculous superstitions. This is one of the reasons why therapists exist.

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Where Do We Find Meaning?

Yesterday on the Friendly Atheist blog, Hemant posted a a clip from an upcoming Christian film called, “Blue Like Jazz.” The clip posted shows a debate between a Christian and an atheist with an audience member asking a question, “Where do we find meaning?”

Here is the clip:

Now I have a lot of issues with the clip as does Hemant, but let’s focus on the question of meaning. This is how I would have answered the question about meaning in that setting:

It depends on the meaning of the word meaning (laugh). Seriously though, if you are referring to one singular purpose like that of writing for a pencil, then I don’t think you are going to find it. But if you are referring to a purpose greater than yourself, something to strive for, then I see no reason why we should limit our meaning or purpose to just one thing or to allow someone else to tell us what the meaning or purpose in our own lives should be. This is the great existential question of human existence and I for one am glad that we live in a society that gives us the freedom and the tools to answer it as individuals rather than imposing some answer from an invisible deity from on high on us. We have the freedom to create our own meaning in our lives. For me, one of the meanings in my life is my children. But I also find meaning in learning about the world around me and in advancing human knowledge, fighting for human rights, and human dignity. Today, I find meaning in refuting ridiculous beliefs which are detrimental to human well-being and which stifle freedom.

What do you think of my answer? How would you answer this question?

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Open Challenge to Christians

Every time I get an e-mail or a message from a Christian and almost every time I get into a religious conversation with a Christian, they almost always have the same old arguments which a quick google search can easily refute. So, I have a challenge for Christians. Don’t worry I’m not going to ask Christians to actually prove their God (that would be expecting way too much). No, I just want Christians to present a new fucking argument.

That’s right I just want Christians to present a new argument in support of their claims. If a Christian can present a new argument I will be very impressed. I will dedicate a blog post and possibly an Examiner article to the new argument and name the Christian who presented it to me directly. More than that, I will even post a link to the website of the Christian’s choice.

The argument doesn’t even really have to be that good although, I would recommend that it be the best argument you can possibly put forward since I will be making it very public and if you put forward a ridiculously stupid argument, it will just reflect poorly on you and your alleged deity.

Who knows, maybe if the argument is good enough, I might even convert to Christianity… but I doubt it. Still, I am certainly open to new arguments to sway me. So where are the great Christian thinkers of our time? Come forward in the name of your deity of choice and present your best original argument. You can contact me through any social network or through email (DangerousTalk@gmail.com). Let the challenge begin!

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The Hunger Games and Jesus… Not Quite

Over the weekend, I finally got to watch the film “The Hunger Games.” Don’t worry I don’t think I will say anything that would be considered a spoiler. There was one part early in the movie that I thought Christians might claim as proof that the film has Christian themes in it. After watching the movie, I did a little googling and sure enough that is exactly what the Christian spin was.

First, I should point out that the author, Suzanne Collins, is a Catholic. However, that really didn’t play into her writing of the book or the screenplay. Her focus was on politics, economic, and government, not on religion.

So the claim being made by Christians is that early in the film, when Primrose Evergreen was called to the hunger games, her sister Katniss sacrificed herself in the same way Jesus sacrificed himself for the sins of humanity… Except that Katniss wasn’t on a cross, didn’t die for three days, wasn’t resurrected, etc. In other words, there are no similarities at all. In fact, the sacrifice itself is entirely different.

Or starters, Primrose didn’t commit any crimes nor was she even accused on any crimes. According to Christianity, the Jesus sacrificed himself to pay for the crimes of all humanity. Katniss sacrificed herself to save her sister from being called to the hunger games where she would have almost certainly died.

Not all sacrifices are like Jesus. If Primrose had murdered someone and was found guilty and sentenced to death and then innocent Katniss told the judge that she would accept the death sentence so that Primrose could get away with murder, then we would be having a serious conversation about Christian themes in The Hunger Games.

That, after all is the theme of Christianity. All human beings are wretchedly evil and guilty of breaking God’s laws. God, acts as judge, jury, and executioner and has found us guilty. But then along comes Jesus (the only innocent person) to take our place in Hell… except that he doesn’t actually take our place at all, but I digress.

The Hunger Games was a good movie, but it has nothing at all to do with religion. Religion isn’t mentioned at all and the film has no religious themes in it at all. It simply doesn’t pertain to that subject matter.

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Passover and Easter: Great fun for atheists

A Very Special Dangerous Talk:

Many atheists really love this time of year because it is just too easy to criticize two of the three Abrahamic religions without much effort at all. Jews and Christians just make it so easy; it is like they are handing atheists the logical death blow to their own beliefs.

First, let’s start with Passover. There is this great Huffington Post article (if I do say so myself) that talks about the fact that the Jewish Exodus never actually happened. What this means of course is that the Jewish religion is built on a proven fictional story. Down goes Judaism!

Next comes Easter, which most Christians consider the holiest of holy holidays. The problem is that Easter is NOT a Christian holiday! I know Christians hate to hear that, but it’s true. I don’t recall reading in the Bible about Jesus ever owning a hare. And what is the deal with Easter Eggs? Where does the Bible talk about egg hunts, in the gospel of Luke perhaps? The Bible doesn’t mention anything at all about Easter and Jesus didn’t even own a pet bunny. All the stuff about Jesus being needlessly tortured to death and rising from the dead has nothing to do with Easter. Christians should call their holiday Zombie Sunday or Zombie Jesus Day or something, but it is not Easter.

Easter is actually a combination of various Pagan beliefs mostly centering on the goddess Eostre (who the holiday is actually named after). I’ll get to the Goddess Eostre shortly but first I want to focus on the half-god Attis who like Jesus was born of a virgin, died on March 23nd and resurrected on March 25th. Let’s count that one out. How many days was he dead for again? One, two, three day? Just like Jesus. What a coincidence.

Now let’s look at the story of the Goddess Eostre. While there are actually many different versions of the Eostre story, the most prominent story claims that the Goddess came upon a little girl who had found a dying bird. The girl asked Eostre for help because the bird was not use to the cold weather. Eostre then melted the snow and brought about the spring. She then turned the bird into a hare that laid rainbow eggs and told the young girl to watch every year for the hare as a sign of the spring season. Traditionally, the Eostre Festival had focused on fertility to mirror the new life of nature and change to mirror the changing of the seasons from winter to spring.

Atheists should celebrate Easter even though we know that Attis, Eostre, and the Easter Bunny aren’t real. We also know that Mickey Mouse isn’t real, but we can still go to Disneyland and have a good time. Atheists should celebrate Easter because it is fun, symbolizes human sexuality, the changing of the seasons, and because Jews and Christians have made this time of year really fun for us with their ridiculous beliefs in obviously ridiculous stories, which are so easily refuted.

Happy Easter!

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Patrick Greene Sold Me on God

So the big news of the week is that some atheist few have ever heard of has converted to Christianity. While researching my Examiner article on the topic, I decided to go right to the source. I e-mailed Patrick Greene and asked him, what’s up?

I read quite a few articles about Greene’s conversion and they all said about the same thing. Greene converted because Christians paid him $400 and because evolution can’t explain the huge, massive differences between humans and other animals. So I asked Greene what he meant by the huge differences in human and other animals. He told me that he was referring to brain size and physical characteristics.

This was pretty shocking because humans don’t have the largest brains… not even proportionally. But, I told him, even if we did, that wouldn’t disprove evolution and it certainly wouldn’t prove God. More than that, it wouldn’t get you to Jesus either. So what convinced him?

“What got me to Jesus was very simple.  With the education levels and knowledge of the societies back 2,000 years ago, Jesus had to be the son of God, because the people there would not have the imagination to make up stories like walking on water, rising from the dead, and changing water into wine.”

Wow, I never heard that argument before and I thought I had heard them all. Congratulation Patrick Greene wins a prize. You have to admit that is a pretty solid argument (snicker, snicker). Jesus has to be real because Christians lack the imagination to make this shit up.

Holy shit, I am sold!

Oh, there is of course the fact that people 2000 + years ago had awesome imaginations a while Greene might be correct that Christians back then might not have had great imaginations, they could just steal their stories from everyone else. Oh look, that seems to be exactly what happened… either that, or the Greek gods must be real too.

I always said Zeus was real. I knew it; the ancient Greeks didn’t have the imagination to make that shit up.

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Christian Abuse on Facebook

Yesterday, I posted a status update on facebook and one of the comments that was left was from a friend of a friend. It was overly religious and basically said that someday I will be tortured for all eternity, but that as a Christian they wouldn’t say, ‘I told you so’ but instead say, ‘ha ha, you were warned’ or something of that nature. It didn’t even really address my status update, but was just an excuse to proselytize.

Now, I couldn’t care less about the comment itself; my inbox is filled with such nonsense and I obviously take it as seriously as I do threats that Voldemort is coming. However, what bothers me is that this person isn’t even my friend and yet he or she felt the need to go onto my page and tell me (a complete stranger) that I will be and ought to be tortured for all eternity.

Sure, I could change my privacy settings, but that isn’t my point. The point is that he or she felt it was okay to tell someone they don’t know that they should be tortured for all eternity. I want to send a message that this type of crap is not okay. It is not civil and it is in fact immoral. I guarantee that if an atheist left a comment critical to religion on a Christian’s page that they were not friends with (or even friends with), they would be reported and it would be considered an instance of angry atheists pushing our non-belief.

For the most part however, atheists don’t do that. We tend to keep our non-belief confined to our own page or that of our friends. We tend to be polite and we would never tell anyone that they should be tortured for all eternity. That’s beyond just rude, it is downright immoral.

We shouldn’t accept that kind of crap from religious believers and we should let them know it. Their beliefs are not just wrong they are rude, hateful, and immoral. If they come to your page, you should let them know that and then report them!

I’m not a fan of reporting people for exercising their free speech, but I think we should start doing it. They won’t think twice before reporting us for less and we have to start sending a message.

The problem is that they don’t think what they are saying or doing is hateful. They don’t understand that when they are telling people that they should be tortured for all eternity, that that could possibly be considered rude, hateful, or violent. It seems like such a no-brainer to me, but religious faith has a way of warping people’s minds.

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Safety in Numbers at the Reason Rally

One of the things I struggle with in the Philly area is whether or not to wear atheist themed shirts in public. I usually don’t unless I am going to an atheist meeting or event. I do have a few shirts that are atheism-lite in that they advocate for secular values but are not obviously atheistic. For example, I love wearing my “Logic” shirt that I got from the Cult of Dusty. I also love my “I think therefore I am dangerous” shirt. Both express my values, without exposing me to the risk of offending the religious.

Normally, I don’t care if I offend the religious, but I am a small guy and usually traveling with two small children and when religious people get offended, they often get violent despite their claims that their religion of choice is one of peace. So for my own safety and that of my children, I have to walk carefully to some extent. I still have my atheist bumper sticker on my car though.

That was one of the great things about the Reason Rally. I didn’t have to be afraid while I was in DC wearing my Dangerous Talk shirt. There is safety in numbers and we had a lot of numbers despite what the media wants to report.

After the Reason Rally, I was on the metro with my brother and I noticed a shady looking guy wearing a huge crucifix staring at us with an angry look in his eye. Then all of a sudden, another guy came over and was also wearing an atheist themed shirt. He started a conversation with us because we too were wearing atheist themed shirts and he was happy to meet new atheist friends. But the really interesting part was that the angry Christian walked away from us without confrontation or incident as soon as our conversation with our fellow atheist began.

Later in the night, my brother and I were the added support for a woman wearing an atheist themed shirt on the metro. It was obvious she was felt afraid, possibly because she was a woman alone on the metro at 9 o’clock at night, but I am sure the atheist themed shirt she was wearing might have added to her fear knowing how “loving” some Christians can be.

I remember thinking that it was pretty great to know that there are visible atheists everywhere and that it is like we invaded Washington DC. We didn’t have to worry as much about our safety; our fellow atheists had our back whether they realized it or not. Just being there and being visibly atheist was enough to provide some sense of security.

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The Side Show at the Reason Rally

When I was at the Reason Rally, I was walking around and I saw one lone Christian street preacher telling a crowd of atheists that we were all doomed to Hell to be tortured for all eternity unless we repented and accepted Jesus as our Lord. While there were one or two atheists who were upset about this, most of the atheists asked the street preacher if they could have their photo taken with him.

It seemed so funny to me because the guy was so serious and most of the atheists treated him like a zoo animal in that he was our entertainment. Sure, some atheists asked him questions to try to trip him up, but most just laughed and saw him as this strange, exotic creature trapped in a cage of his own dogmatism.

Later, when more street preachers arrived, it seemed even more entertaining. Instead of just one animal, there were now several; each one with their own unique brand of crazy. How did they get like this? Did they realize that they had become our entertainment? Did they realize just how silly and clownish their rhetoric was?

The fact that while they were telling us that we should be tortured for all eternity was met with our desire to take photos of ourselves with them while laughing, should have been a clue that we weren’t taking them seriously. They were the side show who interestingly enough stood literally on the side of the Reason Rally.

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Security Guard at the Reagan Trade Center

When I first got to the Reason Rally, my brother and I were very early. We got there at about 7:30am. So we decided to look for breakfast. I remembered that there was a food court in the Ronald Reagan Trade Center, so we went in there. When we got there, a security guard had asked us what the rally was about. I have to admit that despite my Dangerous Talk shirt, American Atheists pendent, and American Humanist Association wristband, I still tried to hide in the closet.

I remember telling the guard something about secular values. I might have mentioned Humanism, but I certainly didn’t use the dreaded “A” word. I had to make a calculation on that, and I calculated incorrectly.

In any case, after we ate and were heading out, the same guard was talking to three other atheists who were not as shy about the “A” word as I was. They told him in no uncertain terms that the Reason Rally was for atheists and that we don’t believe in God. This started an interesting discussion that I jumped in on.

The guard was asking us all kinds of other questions about the goal of the Reason Rally, if we had any values, if we wanted to “convert” people to atheism, if atheism was a religion, etc. His questions were inquisitive and not argumentative. However, he had a constant smirk on his face as if he knew something we didn’t.

Surprise, surprise, I did know what he “knew.” His smirk was that of a fundamentalist Christian who “knows” God exists and that we are all going to Hell to be tortured for all eternity. Still, he was polite enough and so the group treated him nicely and respectfully. We answered his questions cheerfully and I have to give credit to the girl from Philadelphia who took lead on the conversation. She was awesome.

When I first came to the Reagan Trade Center, I still felt like I lived in a Christian dominated world and so I wasn’t as outspoken as I should have been. The guard was looking for an argument, but in the end he just got respectful answers to his questions.

Part of the theme of the Reason Rally is to get us to stop hiding in the closet. While I am definitely out of the closet, there are times that I make the calculation to go back into the closet and avoid confrontational conversations with people I don’t wish to offend. But this example is one which shows that having the conversation is better.

Sure, the religious believer might be offended, but if that happens we should just make it clear that our intent isn’t to offend. Instead, we should be respectfully inquisitive. The conversation with the guard could have gone in many different ways. I think it went in the best possible direction and that is largely because we were all friendly, direct, and respectful. We didn’t mean to offend and so I don’t think the guard was offended.

Still, not all conversations with the religious should be this way. There is a time for respect and a time for ridicule. This was an example of the former.

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