What is an -ism?

Try this. Think of words ending with the suffix -ism: Paganism, plagiarism, criticism, racism, sexism, alcoholism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, etc. Words tied to -isms include doctrines, causes, theories, attitudes, beliefs, acts, practices, processes, prejudices, conditions, religions, adherence to a system, characteristics, and traits. (merrian-webster.com)

That same dictionary also defines atheism as “a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods” and/or “a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods.”

How many -isms are defined by what they are not or do not do? There is no atheist doctrine, theory, belief, practice, process, prejudice, religion, or adherence to anything.

There are certainly atheists. I suspect more than anyone knows. There are also atheist groups and atheist organizations. People use the phrase, “as an atheist…” often. While I often push back on terms like true atheist and all atheists, both believers and atheists use such phrases. I try to avoid saying as an atheist and prefer the phrase because I do not believe any god exists. But what is atheism other than what an atheist does not believe exists?

I realize people say many false things about atheists and define what they call atheism to insult nonbelievers or to threaten, often dependent, closeted atheists, doubting believers, and their friends, family, and neighbors. Those are almost always ignorant lies, and that will not go away.

However, I, along with others, claim that while most -isms exist, atheism does not. While I am atheist, I have no doctrine to either follow or reject. I believe many things, just not that there really is any god. I have no atheist practices and worship nothing (including Satan, which, like any god, is unlikely to be). I have read social research that indicates some atheists believe there is a god. I call them enigmatic, if not confused, atheists.

There are many types of Jews and forms of Judaism. Same for Islamism. Within Christianity there is both Catholicism and Protestantism, but they are all Christians. Mormons claim to be Christians and lord knows they have their own set of practices (and underwear). Within all these groups lie doctrinaire differences, but they still have rules to debate or follow. Atheists have none of that. I, for one, want none of it.

So, how can atheism be a thing if it cannot be defined by what it is?

Happy National IPA, Underwear, Oyster, and Work Like a Dog Day.

Skeptically Yours,


Let’s Talk. Let’s Not.

First, two quotations.

“There’s simply no polite way to tell people they’ve dedicated their lives to an illusion.” ~ Daniel Dennett

“Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere,” (not to laugh, not to lament, not to curse, but to understand) ~ Baruch Spinoza

My point

People talk about whether a god exists and what they do and do not believe. They may debate the efficacy of prayer or correctness of a religion or religious practice. It happens. Peaceful argument can be done. Probably no one will change their mind, but maybe some understanding will come from hearing another’s point of view. Ideally, if that outcome ended every such discussion, what a fine thing it would be (sans argumentum ad hominem).

Even experts in debating issues of a god or religion have their moments of anger (i.e., Chopra in this blog last week). It does not take me long to let someone know that I do not believe what they do. I wish they wouldn’t ask me why not. That is often when the trouble starts.

However, I am willing to ask why people believe as they do. Since most believers accepted what they were told as the truth, I understand that reasoning. But that is seldom the response we get. It is not like they saw a waterfall or read the gospel of John and suddenly believed. Belief in a god is taught. All religion is learned behavior.

I decided on my own that I do not believe any gods exist. To be fair, at this point, I’m not sure that I could believe. No one ever told me there is no god or convinced me or won the god/no god argument. There is no proof and never will be.

What are the chances that a believer had a real moment of enlightenment like Saint Paul? Has anyone decided some god must exist because they had an epiphany? Often enough, scripture is their reasoning, but I bet they were already believers, if they ever read scripture at all.

Ultimately, I am willing to discuss

I don’t have a burning desire to have that talk, but I will if asked. However, I am more in Dennett’s court than Spinoza’s. The odds are that I will manage to piss them off, rock their boat, or hurt their feelings (not my goal); and subsequently I will be informed of my still pending eternity of spiritual pain and suffering because Oden is pissed that I seriously doubt his ultimate reality.

But I kind of get it

Truthfully though, it’s more likely that an agnostic or atheist will try to help me understand, but none of them has ever threatened me with eternal damnation. In fact, the worst outcome in arguments with agnostics or atheists is usually that we disagree on just how the hair splits.

I think I understand why people believe in a god. It’s usually several reasons. In no case is it ever because they asked for and were given proof. I even understand why most people cherry pick religious beliefs and scripture. It is not only what they are taught and have read. Belief in a god and the practice of a religion reflects how they want life to be, how their life-long sacrifice of no unmarried sex and meatless pizza on Fridays is juxtaposed with when you’re dead, you are just that. Nevermore. Nothing more.


I like this question. I also like ‘what do you want’ and ‘how do you want things to be.’

This youtube from “The Atheist Experience” is almost 30 minutes long. But watching any part of it makes the point and is a good example how hard it is to keep everyone calm, aware, and listening during the discussion. You may want to try a few minutes. Both sides have to work.


Is no evidence proof of no gods?

Atheists are often asked what evidence would be sufficient to enlighten us enough to agree that a god exists. Most of us can’t answer because what we need is irrefutable, repeatable, and clear proof. I would say “God” (or one of them), but how do I know if an entity is a god? One lady suggested that if Jesus appeared in my car next to me, I would believe. That can be hallucination. Since I have no way to validate the real Jesus, I must disagree with her.

I am more likely to confront an extra-terrestrial alien than any real god. And religion is a different matter altogether. Separating God and religion seems impossible for most basic believers because that is where they were led into the delusion.

When I used to say that I believed in a god (it was more like a something), that was not because I had any evidence. As I matured along with my beliefs, God went from what I was told to something downright obfuscated. If anything, I hung on to belief despite a complete lack of evidence.

I moved on to admitting that I did not believe any god existed. That was not because there was no evidence, but because such existence became permanently illogical to me. Of course, while a deity made no sense, there was supporting evidence in the form of no evidence of existence. That’s were I am on this.

When I commented on Nan’s blog that the existence of gods can be neither proved nor disproved, I was challenged by another atheist (RaPaR) with the argument that the lack of evidence supporting a god is evidence that no god exists. Well, I decided to check out this lack of evidence is evidence of absence argument (a rabbit hole). Apparently, I walked in on years of debate and discussion by scientists and philosophers. It’s nothing new, and it’s not a shallow idea. It deserves more than cursory consideration.

Two distinct concepts are absence of evidence and evidence of absence. Their relationship and distinction get rolled up in the aphoristic antimetabole, Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I agree. It isn’t. However, we cannot logically simply dismiss real evidence nor thousands of years of none.

This discussion works best for real world things like medical efficacy, drug testing, and vaccine research. However, as Paul Simon wrote in The Boxer, “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.” Why let silly things like evidence, lack of it, or proof and facts get in the way?

Here’s my argument. If the monotheistic Abrahamic God exists, why not any of the other five thousand or so gods as well? The amount of evidence for any of them is virtually the same. Only the number of gods differ. Monotheists are currently at bat, but polytheists have a bigger bull pen.

Important words that relate to evidence and proof are often used by believers. They are outward sign, testimony, bearing witness, and of course that old troublemaker, faith. Who needs it when you have proof? And which of those words provides evidence of a god?

A key defense of my hypothesis is knowledge or knowing. Many people claim not only to know that a god exists, but they further claim to know what God wants. They claim to know God’s mind. That is nuts. What does it mean to know something? The word is epistemology, but why go there?

Obviously, while I may have believed a god existed, I never knew such a thing. If I ever made such a claim, it was bullshit. I will let you go here or decide what knowing means on your own.

The unarguable logic fallacy is claiming existence of a god or supporting such a claim based on a lack of evidence to the contrary. If no one can provide evidence of non-existence, that does not make it so.

You can fill a library with the published books that claim to prove a god exists. Ten proofs, nine, six, however many you want. Why are we skeptics still unconvinced? It’s because religious books sell well, even when they are crap.

Until Christmas, Yule, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Day; Happy Human Rights Day, Dewey Decimal System Day, Animal Rights Day, and Nobel Prize Day.


Why I didn’t become Atheist

Why write this?

I read something yesterday on Rebekah’s blog that triggered me to think about how I express things about myself. I decided to write and post this.


Like everyone else, I was born without an opinion regarding the existence of a deity, a spirit realm, death, life afterwards, or any belief in a god. You could say I was born a passionate human agnostic about everything, but neutral about religion. That was 74 years ago to the day (happy birthday to me).

Eight days later I was baptized by a priest in a Roman Catholic Church. This event guaranteed my acceptance into Heaven, if I should die. Otherwise, it was eternity in Limbo, where the unbaptized but sinless souls allegedly went forever.

Baptism added a godfather and godmother to my religious life, in the unlikely event that my parents could not raise me as Catholic. They did.

My status

I was a Roman Catholic Christian whether I liked it or not. That situation lasted for sixty-some years. When I embraced atheism, my status was automatically changed to excommunicated, which means that I am excluded from the rights of church membership. I may not receive any of the seven sacraments. I’ve had six.

While my Catholic membership card is technically cancelled, I may still do virtually everything that is not specifically sacramental. I’ve not been shunned. It’s not a cult.

To undo this, I would merely need to re-claim my membership by denying my atheism. Complete re-conversion would be through the Sacrament of Penance (confession with a priest) and subsequent participation in the Sacrament of Eucharist (going to Mass and taking Holy Communion). I’ve done this process a couple other times in my life due to long lapses in my religious participation, called falling-away, non-practicing, or practical atheism.

When I reconciled before, the process was spiritually uplifting, fun, rewarding, guilt-relieving, interesting, and mildly embarrassing. It was also easy. The saying goes, once Catholic, always Catholic. I’m no longer that, sayings notwithstanding.

No regrets

I hold no animosity toward the Catholic Church or any of its people. However, I am irreconcilably pissed off about the Church’s history. I would still punish many bishops and priests for their culpability during the ongoing sexual abuse scandals.

I know church history well. I fully understand why people are religious. I accept it. I think they are wrong, but they’re not bad people. I wish they could similarly accept my conclusions to the degree that I do theirs.

I’m mindful that in many parts of the world, I could be killed for my outspoken atheism. Those who would do that are supported (and defended) by scripture, either Biblical or Koranic. That’s how religion works.

What I say and what I don’t

I have never said, I became a Christian or I got (or was) saved. I never said there was a day or time when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I have never referred to myself as a born-again Christian as my childhood friend, Jimmy, did.

When Jimmy died his family ensured he was buried as a Catholic. Dead people cannot receive sacraments nor can they resist the desires of the living.

I never felt superior to people of other religions or of none. If anything, living in the south (USA) I was guarded about my Catholicism.

I don’t say, I became atheist. I’ve embraced my atheism and the conclusion that god does not exist. I avoid prefacing things by saying as an atheist. I do not say something all atheists agree on. They do not. Except by coincidence, all atheists agree on nothing. I can only speak for myself.

I’m just sayin’

As with anyone who may have been born into a secular life, I was atheist first.

My baptism made me Catholic. I didn’t become anything. Roman Catholic is my legacy, heritage, and birthright.  I prefer to call it Irish-Catholic. They know why.

I have no issue with anyone saying, I became atheist or became anything. Unfortunately, atheism is one of those words that define people by what they are not more than by what they are. Since atheism means one does not believe in any god, it’s not like becoming Methodist, an artist, a romantic, or depressed.


Essay: Thank Godless Goodness

My wife says grateful people are happy, and I want to be happy. Don’t we all? I like to think I am peachy-keen-ecstatic, perhaps with an occasional snarkastic twist. It is generally a wonderful world for me, but at times not so much. In many ways, I also think I’m fortunate to exist at all and the timing seems good.

This opinion is based mostly on my thoughts, but also on an essay by Daniel C. Dennett titled “Thank Goodness.” It’s from an anthology I’m reading, Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, by Louise M. Anthony (author and editor). Here’s a quote separately attributed to Dennett about happiness: “The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

Now, given this reciprocal relationship between happiness and gratitude, isn’t gratitude (called by some the least felt of all human emotions) usually toward someone? When folks say we should be grateful, I agree. But to whom? Thank you, god, for all this that and the other good things, but not for any of the bad stuff? (we need a font for sarcasm) Thank you, science and scientists, doctors, researchers, inventors of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals?

Thank goodness is supposedly a euphemistic idiom for saying thank god without saying god, for some reason. Kind of like saying dad gum it for god damn it! Yesterday, that HGTV show guy in Mississippi said dad gum. (Preacher’s kid) Did anyone complain?

Is there more to this? Can saying thank goodness be useful to folks, even those who don’t believe a god exists; or that some god, spirit, or invisible force of nature did not intentionally cause the good luck?

And if there is a god, does he, she, or it give a crap if you’re grateful or not? I’ve mentioned before about my sister praying for a job and promising to go to Mass every Sunday if she got it. Can you imagine any god reaching out to shake hands to seal the deal? Nice of her to promise to keep her Catholic duty and avoid being sent to hell, but you had to know Noreen (and many others) to navigate such hazy reasoning.

If you are a believer, you may believe that in your superior wonderfulness you can repay god’s good graces in some way. Think about that. Talk about the man who has everything! (Dennett used that cliché in his essay, too.) Noreen worked at that job until she was 80 (good grief!). What if she had stopped going to church? Would she have lost the job? If I had told her that such logic is a basis of the protestant health and wealth movement, I’d a been given a look followed by some manner of listen, baby brother, condescending big sis-splaining. I got lots of that.

But Dennett claims saying thank goodness is not only good for the skeptical crowd, it’s okay for everyone. I agree. It makes sense. Goodness is just that, with or without the god factor. People, places, and things that are good foster more goodness. Intentions and actions that make the world a better place today and, in the future, comprise goodness. We can be grateful for goodness. We can repay goodness with more goodness.

Thank goodness for music, for art, for love, for the good side of human nature. Thank goodness for clean drinking water, medical science adding healthy, good quality years; for schools and teachers. We can be grateful for trees and plant more. We can find ways to help others. Or, I suppose you can say thank God. It’s up to you, but goodness is real, and we can repay it backward, forward, or right here and now. Can you add to my thank goodness list?

Have a goodness-filled weekend, and enjoy every day, if possible.


Aaron Rodgers was on Danica Patrick’s podcast…

So what? Right?

Given what I know about Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers NFL team, I like him. I enjoy football. I appreciate some of the personalities and the entertainment value of the game, particularly now as the 2019-2020 season ends with the traditional championship game. Rodgers and the Pack lost the NFC championship to the San Francisco 49ers, but they ended the season as one of the league’s top four teams.

Danica Patrick is Rodger’s girlfriend and has a podcast. So, Aaron and Danica, who is a professional race car driver, decided to do a podcast where she interviews him. Of the hour and three quarters interview, they spend about 12 minutes talking about Aaron’s religious and spiritual views. When one is famous, as both are, one becomes a target for lazy media employees looking for fodder; c’est la vie.

For some reason, People magazine reporter Steve Helling, and later Fox News’ Melissa Roberto, published virtually the same article about the episode Patrick and Rodgers did on Danica’s Pretty Intense (that’s the title of the podcast) show on 26 December of last year.

Helling, later repeated by Roberto, reported that an unidentified Rodger’s family insider said the interview upset members of Aaron Rodger’s family. They reported that Rodger’s comments “about his religious upbringing” offended his family who were dismayed. “The source” told the magazine that “His (Aaron’s) comments were very hurtful to his family” but that they “Still love Aaron very much.” That, despite years of familial estrangement.

I listened to the entire podcast once and the portion in question several times. You can listen by clicking here – relevant comments are from about the 17-minute point to about 30.

Not one family member was mentioned anywhere in the interview. Not one disparaging remark is made about anyone else by either Patrick or Rodgers. His family issues, which are none of my business, have been reported in the past and Danica has pledged to help promote healing and reconciliation, if she can.

The People article included some quotes that seemed accurate. Here is what Aaron Rogers said of his personal spirituality and religious opinion.

  1. Rodgers told Patrick that he “had gone down a path to a different type of spirituality” that is more meaningful to him.
  2. Rogers said, “I don’t know how you can believe in a God who wants to condemn most of the planet to a fiery hell.” Maybe he should have said worship instead of “believe in.” I’ve had a practicing Catholic priest tell me the same thing.
  3. He also said, “What type of loving, sensitive, omnipresent, omnipotent being wants to condemn his beautiful creation to a fiery hell at the end of all this?”
  4. And, “Religion can be a crutch, it can be something that people have to make themselves feel better.” Of that he said, “I don’t have a problem with it,” referring to the religious views of others.
  5. Rodgers said that he enjoys “learning about other religions.” Horrifying, right?

If anyone in Rodger’s family got their panties in a wad over any of that, or the rest of the podcast, they need to grow up and loose the chip on their shoulder.

I have my doubts about the anonymous source’s credibility. I can see how, in some cases, and in some religions, some people could find room to disagree with Rodgers. But to be “dismayed” or to say such comments are “very hurtful” is at least overboard. Maybe Danica has her Rodgers family reconciliation challenge cut out for her. This interview was not the first time Aaron’s spirituality or family dysfunction has been talked about.

Lastly, Rodgers referred to the religion of his childhood as “antiquated.” Again, that’s not an insult (give me that old time religion). At no time did Aaron identify as atheist, agnostic, or skeptic (but Danica used that last term during questions, he did not). To me, Aaron Rodgers seems to be a searcher on the right path, perhaps with a Humanist compass.

The issue here is that two people who work in the news business (I am not usually anti media) took an opportunity to swipe at a guy for saying what he thinks about a personal topic, statements with which many believers agree, on his girlfriend’s podcast.

While I agree that we are all responsible for what we say and do, People magazine and Fox published a misleading report citing a nameless source that impinges upon the very constitutional freedoms those corporate entities and their employees seem to be hypocritically misrepresenting. Shame on them.


Angry with or Afraid of God

I understand. Anger is a normal, if often unhelpful, human emotion. Likewise, fear can be disrupting and controlling, or it may keep us safe. Yet, despite experiencing such emotions since childhood (still do today), I have never experienced those two, or any others I can think of, like love, regarding what I considered a god.

If someone had called me a god-fearing man, I would object. I was not afraid of god, though many people wished I was. Through various stages of my life and maturing religious beliefs, I cannot recall ever being angry with any spirit, even the devil himself.

I’m certain that being raised in the environment where I was, being up to my ears in the Roman Catholic Church, its traditions and dogma, left me with a concept of the Christian gods (Father, Son, Holy Ghost; all one god) that is different from how others might imagine the same god.

For most of my life, I have been a man who essentially believed in a god to one degree or another, or tried to. Much of my personal religious effort was focused on growing; on believing stronger or more ardently than I did. I said the prayer, Lord help my unbelief, so many times; more often when I realized which way my theism was going or had gone, which was south. The prayer (of course) changed nothing.

One day a friend told me that she was angry with god because her first marriage ended when her husband left her for another woman. Then her second marriage was to a man who eventually died from alcoholic liver disease (he was still alive when she told me this). I remember wondering how she could blame god for the problems in her life which were caused by the men she loved. At the time I pondered my own faith. Would I ever have enough faith (belief) in god to feel such anger toward him? Today, I doubt the sincerity of her anger.

I was able to share neither her emotional experience nor her theological logic. She is now on her third marriage and, as far as I know, god got it right this time, or maybe the third time adage applies.

I have never been angry with Santa Clause for not bringing me what I had requested; nor at the tooth fairy for leaving such paltry sums of cash under my pillow in exchange for baby teeth. I have never been angry with unicorns because of their preference for human females, nor at leprechauns for not sharing their rumored wealth. I may have mumbled the words, oh lord, why me? or what did I ever do to deserve this? But I was never angry with god (or the Catholic Church) for worldly misfortunes befalling me or those I loved. My atheism is defined by my skepticism, not by my anger or temperament.

Since the time when I said (and wrote) I am atheist, I’ve learned that the concept of disbelief is so foreign to many who believe in god, to one degree or another (just as I did), they attempt to rationalize it by thinking that I really do believe in god, but I must be angry with him for some reason. My friend on her third marriage turned to the refuges of church and religion and to god for solace during her difficult times. She has not embraced atheism or rejected her church (former Catholic now Episcopalian) and religion. If anything, she has become more involved in all of that.

For me to be angry with god would require greater faith and stronger belief than I’ve ever had. When I get angry at anyone, I may cut off communication, but I know they still exist (unfortunate in some cases).

I have always rejected most religions as do most Christians. Now I simply reject all religions more fervently than in the past. When I de-converted, I needed to add only a few religions to the list.

While I remain furious at the Catholic Church hierarchy for how they handled and continue to handle all sexual abuse (cover up), so are many practicing Catholics (although far too many play apologists and make insanely poor excuses for the priests and bishops).

If I discover one day that I am wrong and god exists, I may ask, what the fuck were you thinking? Depending on the answer I get, I may then become angry with god. Until then, I see no reason to waste my emotions on the invisible (and nonexistent) man in the sky. Either he is not there, or he doesn’t give a shit. Either way.

Dear Believer (in god),

I really, really, really do not believe any god or gods exist or ever have; not yours, his, hers, or theirs. I’m not just saying that for impudence. Likewise, I can’t accept the existence of alternate spiritual beings like angels or devils, nor do I worship or fear them.

The list grows with the addition of spiritual places such as heaven (and saints), hell (and the damned), purgatory (temporary human soul suffering after death), or limbo (fallen in favor among many believers), which was once the permanent stopping place for the innocent unclean or unbaptized.

Consequently, with no gods out there, I further contend that all religions are pointless (at best). With a nod to Hitch, many are poison.

Believing god exists does not make it so except in your mind. Likewise, disbelief does not make god nonexistent. Your hypothesis or god-theory is god(s), supernatural beings, and spirits exist. My position is that your hypothesis is untestable and unverifiable. Your proposal is based upon beliefs you hold that are rooted in what you want to be rather than what is. Call it faith if you like, it really is what you want. You may even think it must be true.

I contend that believing in god, angels, spirits, demons, devils, and life after death does not make you a better person than anyone else (me). But how you behave does. How we treat each other is the pinnacle of human morality. It is not our fear of the supernatural.

I refer to myself as a convinced atheist, like Hitchens, and a skeptic willing to admit not knowing many things, such as the origin of the universe. I see you as a believing theist who makes no such admission of ignorance. Otherwise, you’d be agnostic and make no belief claims.

If I could disprove a god’s existence, this would be easy. If you could prove the existence of your god, that would also be too easy. Nothin’s easy (I have the tee shirt to prove it).

The argument about the actual existence of god has been amusing us for a long time. I don’t know how long. But the same arguments are being repeated many times by your fellow believers trying to make the same illogical and untestable points in a different way. The purpose seeming to have been to create an epiphany of enlightenment rising into my spiritual consciousness. The effect on me has been the opposite of that goal.

While I think I’m right and that all gods are inventions of human minds and imaginations, I’m fond of saying there are no gods. That statement is my opinion, which I am unable to prove. Oddly, many people challenge me to prove my opinion while knowing I can’t.

Don’t you find it odd (hypocritical) that I must prove my opinion and you need not?

If I do not believe in any god, and you do, we disagree. I wish we could leave it at that. But no. There is that Mark 16:15 issue, if you claim to be Christian, especially of the evangelical variety.

You must promulgate (or preach) your side and convince me and others who may have religious beliefs unlike yours. To do this, without evidence you promote that I am evil because of what I think and do not believe. If I dare to push back, you claim victim status because I object to you forcing your religious beliefs on me. Examples are such things as insisting on prayer in school, forbidding the teaching of Evolution, or worse, demanding the teaching of Creationism as science in schools. Creationism is religion. It is not science.

You use the same technique as all abusers always have. You claim god is love, but will send me to hell for eternity, simply because I doubt his/her/their existence. Belief is rewarded in heaven; the rest go to hell. Logic be damned.

I’ve looked. I’ve searched. I’ve tried and studied and thought and thought and talked and listened. For more years than you have been alive I have doubted myself. I’ve endeavored to find truth and evidence for your claims. Have you done half as much to see it my way?

Please at least accept these two things. One, I do not believe in any god. Two, that does not automatically default me to be a bad person without morals or conscience.



Conversation Validity

Neil Carter said he was asked, “What drives you to be so adamant in sharing your atheistic beliefs? What is the driving force behind you? To influence others to be nonbelievers??”

The first part of his response encapsulates my thoughts.

“First of all, to me this question implies that, while it’s laudable for the religious to wear their beliefs on their sleeves and talk about them in public spaces, when nonbelievers openly share about their own perspectives it’s just wrong and, gosh, why would you take it upon yourself to talk about this stuff in public? What’s wrong with you?

“My departure from the faith upset many people, but nothing bothered them more than my decision to start writing and speaking about it openly. That took people from sad to angry really quickly, and that’s because the only socially acceptable atheism is that which keeps its thoughts to itself (my emphasis). That disparity alone is reason enough for people like me to write and speak about why we left.” ~ Neil Carter, Godless in Dixie blog

Visiting Christians

We were expecting company. Friends who are devout/ardent Lutherans (when he is not angry at them and singing with the Baptists). I occasionally wore some jewelry that identified me as atheist, if anyone paid attention (which they don’t). My wife suggested I not wear the items when the two visitors were with us, so as not to upset them. I suggested that my opinion regarding any god was as valid as theirs. She agreed and withdrew her request, but I didn’t wear the items simply to avoid discussion and to prevent my atheism from causing a problem with her friends. Acceptance and tolerance are the best I could do, but that works. Do I handle such things wrong?

They were visiting over a weekend. We decided to drive past several local Lutheran churches so they could see if the right combination of letters appeared on any of the church marquee signs. If so, they would know it was safe for them to attend a Sunday service there. We offered transport, not attendance.

Since they could not identify any of the churches as suitable with the right flavor of Lutheranism, they did not go. Apparently, there are valid synod reasons for not keeping the third commandment (or fourth, depending on how you slice them). Online resources identify 40 different types of Lutheran.

Thou Shalt Not Say It

I was discussing atheism and a book by Sam Harris in an organized mens book club. A few members spent several long uninterrupted minutes explaining something about their religion. An older gentleman interrupted me to say that he was an atheist but never wrote or spoke about it. He just was and that was the end of it. His comment made me realize that many other atheists are likewise silent. They don’t believe in any god and that’s the end of it. Nobody needs to know. Nothing need be said. It might upset the theists. Is that cooperation or submissiveness?

Since then, I have had several people confess their atheism, or that of their loved ones, to me because they knew I had embraced disbelief. That makes me safe. Normally, such confessions are made in private. While I was never asked me to keep a secret, it was clear to me that they (or the loved one), while not exactly closeted, were not public or outspoken.

I Get It

While I understand the reluctance to speak up, all this is very telling. My wife and I were practicing Catholics. That was acceptable, even though several family members and some friends resented it or disapproved, especially in her case since she was a convert from Protestantism. But atheism? That’s a whole other deal. Atheists are considered the worst. For the record, my wife does not claim to disbelieve.

When people choose to keep their opinions private I don’t want a vote or a voice in what they should do, but I have an opinion. If people (atheists, agnostics, free thinkers, skeptics) go through the motions of going to church to avoid a personal conflict or crisis, I understand their actions. But I also know that living a lie for the sake of peace is not heroic, it’s personal martyrdom at the hands of religion to please the religious. I can’t imagine the weight of pretending to be religious for the sake of others. It is a form of reverse religious persecution.

Anyway, other than one friend who simply asked, are you an atheist?, no one has questioned my incredulity. It’s no secret. At least one neighbor knows, my kids all know (I think; not sure of grands), and most, if not all, of my friends know. Yet, believers who don’t know about me will try to flash their religion, church, or prayerfulness at me. I assume their motive is to impress. Do you know what a horse laugh is?

It’s Not Okay

I will not allow anyone to think that I believe in any god or that I practice any religion. That would be unfair to them, to other non-believers, to my friends and family, and to me. When faced with the conversation, I am willing to have it. I will try not to use terms like woo-woo, bullshit, do you really fucking believe that crap?, or holy shit!

I will tell anyone why I am atheist, but first they must tell me what they believe and why they think I should. It is a valid conversation to have. My views are as worthy as anyone’s.

In 21st Century USA, or anywhere in the world, no one should be imprisoned or burdened by the religions or religious views of friends, neighbors, or family. Freedom of religion must include freedom from religion or there is no freedom at all. If you think otherwise, you do not understand freedom, religion, or history.




Why Do You Believe?

A lady who phoned the internet show, The Atheist Experience, said, “I cannot imagine how anyone could be an atheist.” Despite a long and patient discussion with the show’s co-hosts, she never really changed her view, outlook, or conclusion of what it means for someone to identify as atheist. She saw atheism as the rejection of an existing god, of her own personal spirituality, and the exact opposite of what she believed. She saw it as the flip side of the same belief coin that she applied to herself. When the hosts would try to explain her error, she would interrupt with defensive or attacking arguments. It’s entertainment.

Watching the show is a good lesson about human nature and communication. It is educational. However, for many believers, the puzzling question is indeed how anyone could not believe.

When callers identify as believers, they are usually invited to explain why they believe in a god, have some specific metaphysical world view, or follow a certain religious tradition or dogma. This is usually when there are silent pauses on the part of the caller. That’s understandable.

In day-to-day life, believers are seldom challenged to explain or show how they arrived at some theistic view, so they are ill-prepared to logically present salient facts regarding their belief (often a certainty to them) and how or when they came to such a conclusion as there must be a god. The internet is replete with arguments defending belief or faith. Those I have read are fallacious illogical tripe that eventually falls to pieces before melting into a just because it’s true and I have faith defensive stand. Or worse, because the bible says so.

I like to hear people explain why they believe in a god, a higher power, an invisible force or energy, or whatever it is that causes them to conclude that the high and mighty one exists. It reinforces my own conclusions. However, I do find most honest explanations refreshing for two reasons. One is that, while I’m comfortable with what I think, honesty and sincerity feel good. The other reason is that I get to listen to someone talk through what they believe. So, here are some of my favorite reasons why people do believe in god.

  • I don’t know why. I just do.
  • Ninety-five percent of all people believe, so I must be right.
  • God personally spoke to me or showed himself.
  • Things exist (universe, people, magic). The only possible explanation is a god.
  • I define god however I like, and that is what I believe in.
  • I prayed for something and it came to be, thus proving to me that there is a god (what else?)
  • It is beneficial within our society for me to say I believe and to act that way because it brings social privilege, economic gain, and personal protection.
  • It is what I was taught as a child. I have always been a believer.
  • Everyone will hate me if I do not say that I believe in god. I would be rejected and ostracized, as I have done to others. (That could also be a closeted atheist.)
  • I don’t want to spend eternity in Hell and I’m afraid of dying and other things.
  • It is just obvious that god exists. What else could it be?
  • I’m hedging my bets. If there is a god, I win. If not, I’ve lost nothing.

I think most people who believe in supreme beings and spirits make their claim for cultural reasons. Those reasons are based upon social and educational factors (indoctrination), not on intuition or logical analytical thinking. Therefore, many fundamentalist religious groups want to teach intelligent design as science and religion in public schools. Apparently, they agree with me about the indoctrination part. May I suggest additional required courses in argumentation and basic logic?