Two More Atheist Stuffs

Morality

Let me try to get this right. If I say that I doubt the existence of any gods thus far divulged by humanity, people like Steve Harvey, Oprah W., the late George H. W. Bush, and millions of others will stamp me an immoral and untrustworthy person no matter how I live my life. Bush would even deny my citizenship (with all due respect for his pardons for the Iran-Contra criminals).

If I say I believe in a god, especially if it’s theirs, then I am not branded quite as despicable. And if I’m a truly saved Southern Baptist, my behavior becomes irrelevant because I believe and done got saved (once saved, always saved). If I say I believe, even if it is a god damn lie, it’s good enough.

I doubt that any believers feign atheism. But I am certain that many atheists or agnostics, by either omission or action, pretend to believe in a god when they do not or have serious doubts. I have, on occasion, either gone along with something religious or kept my mouth shut about it, and sometimes I still do. It’s not an easy thing to do either way. While I am not closeted, I don’t wear atheist on my shirtsleeve (except for this blog) because it makes my life and that of my spouse safer.

What is so wrong about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do? Do we all need biblical reference or religious dogma to back up our choices of right and wrong? The truly sad part of this is that I suspect more than a few agnostics and atheists buy into the myth that religious people are more moral because they belong to a religion or believe one of those gods exist. There is no evidence for the claim that believers are more moral than atheists. We’re all just a bit brain washed!

For all of us, morality exists on a continuum and may change with circumstances. But what is more immoral, judging others as bad or evil simply for what they believe? Or, judging people based on their behavior regardless of religion or spiritual path?

Numbers

When research groups like Pew, Gallup, Harris, and others attempt to determine something, they take a poll by asking questions. Why would someone say they are atheist or do not believe in god if it might cause them a problem? Try this.

Q> What religion are you? A> Ummm….none.
Q> Do you believe in God? A> Ummm, uh, kind of, yes, I think something.
Q> Do you masturbate? A> Absolutely not. Never.
Q> Do you think God is watching you? A> What?

One guy called The Atheist Experience and claimed 95% of people believe in a god. His estimate went unchallenged and only his logic error was addressed. I agree with what Christopher Hitchens opined on the topic of percentage of believers and non-believers. I think that much more than 20% of US Citizens are atheist (although a yes or no answers can be hard to get). Only a small percentage of us admit/claim/embrace it. No one knows and will never know how many or what percentage do not really believe in any gods.

When I read the Pew numbers for the central Texas county I live in, it claimed 60% were nones; meaning they do not practice or align with any specific religion. Every atheist in this county falls into that group, including me, whether we admit atheism or not. However, there are certainly exceptions.

If you want more, this link has an excellent article on the subject.

 

Bill

Dumber than Dirt

Useless as tits on a boar hog is an idiomatic phrase, which I first heard my native Texan, country-girl wife mutter regarding a person, usually a male of the lower producing variety.

But idiom aside, why do males have nipples? I had to bandage or petroleum jelly mine, lest they bleed on my shirt when I ran long distances. Boobs and nipples make sense for feeding babies and attracting some mates, but bleeding nips are a painful nuisance. Fingernails I get; but toenails have what purpose other than something that needs cutting, painting, and poking holes in socks?

I like hair, but what’s it for? We have hats, right? And babushkas, scarves, and do-rags. Is there such a thing as a functional facial hair follicle? What is an appendix for (in a body, not a book) if we can remove it and be better off? Let’s not get into foreskin, but why trim and tuck that?

Belly buttons I understand; likewise, toes, ankles, and knees have a purpose, like lungs and teeth. Brains are good, but some are under exercised (so I’m told).

How did all this happen? Do you think a god did it? A determined and delightful deity big daddy with a deadly sense of humor? I mean, we have sex, but we also have so many foibles, fetishes, and perversions. What’s all that about?

I doubt it was a god or many, or any. Otherwise my wife would have to find some other disparaging idiom, like dumber than a box of rocks.

 

What are you afraid of?

This essay is based upon the post, The How of Atheism?, from the blog ‘TheCommonAtheist.’

Fear is a normal human emotion. Usually, it’s a beneficial one. But it can be a choke point in human progress.

For example, when I first started riding a motorcycle I progressed to high-speed highway driving. With no seat belt, no metal cage surrounding me with air bags, and no safety devices, other than what I was wearing; traveling upwards of 70 miles per hour surrounded by cars with drivers poorly skilled or foolish, with parts of my body passing unprotected only inches from hard, hot pavement, and all of me exposed to natural and unnatural elements; I was scared riding my motorcycle. It is inherently dangerous. Known danger begets fear, but sometimes the same risk elicits pleasure.

Anytime while riding a motorcycle you need to be alert but relaxed and loose enough to respond at any speed. Instructors will tell you to be relaxed because body tension will hamper both physical response and mental judgment. I agree. Being alert and aware was no problem. However, the amount of body tension caused by fear is overwhelming and no amount of relax, relax, calm down was going to alleviate it. Experience over time helps, but the other side of the confidence curve has probably resulted in more serious accidents than bodily tension.

Fear of extinction (Psychology Today’s term for fear of death or dying) is a big deal. It’s normal, they say. If you add to that religion’s threats of permanent torture (Hell), you have raised someone’s anxiety level regarding death significantly. But not for everyone. There have always been atheists in fox holes and some have died there. In the USA, we remember them on Memorial Day.

To many believers merely doubting the existence of god is your ticket to Hell. It doesn’t matter how wonderfully charitable and loving you’ve lived your life. Religion has its dark and irrational side.

In his post, Jim postulates that atheism mitigates that fear better than a religion, especially Christianity or Islam.

I do not fear extinction. I agree in that I fear the pain and suffering of the dying process more than I fear its completion. Leonard Cohen said the same thing in an interview. Cohen also said, I was dead before I was born, and I recall no problems (I’m paraphrasing).

I recall my mother declining my offer to call a priest for last rights when she was dying. Mom was not atheist, but she said that after years of ignoring her religion she was not about to start then, a remarkable thing for a Catholic to say about the last sacrament in the face of death. She also said, “when you’re dead, you’re dead.” I did not request elaboration.

Leaning on parts from Jim’s post a bit more, Atheism is

trusting your own judgment and weighing evidence,
realizing that humans are easily deceived and manipulated by guilt,
accepting the natural goodness and innocence of humanity,
accepting human rationality, reason, and the inevitability of death.
acceptance of the here and now and responsibility derived from reality;
a fundamental rejection of fear-based belief in gods and religious prescriptions of morality associated with fear of retribution.
And it embraces the uniqueness of the individual and it is a personal claim to integrity.

To paraphrase (Jim and Paul), Oh death, where is my fear of thy sting?

Here are a few more quotes that are linked to the source. But they certainly stand alone and are based more on academic research than this old skeptic’s pondering.

So non-believers are not only distrusted; they also stir up morbid thoughts, and perhaps raise discomforting doubts about what happens after we die.

First, that fear motivates religious belief, and second, that religious belief mitigates fear. And…While the fear of actual death—painfully, slowly—is apparent, the existential crisis encountered at the prospect of nothingness appears to cause the most anxiety.

Bill

In Whom Do We Really Trust? (Ignominy of Truth)

Deity du jour

Hear the cheer:

Give me a G, give me an O, give me a D; God, God he’s our man.
If God can’t do it, no one can!

Here is a link to the wiki for the USA motto (also for Nicaragua and Florida): IN GOD WE TRUST (In Deo Fidemus, in Latin). While I see the motto as an attempt to force religion or god upon a minority, along with under god in the US Pledge of Allegiance, I won’t waste time advocating for abolishment.

I never notice it on money. When I say the pledge, I say the same one I did every day in grade school, until it changed in ’55 or so, and just leave out the under god part. (MSWord wants to hyphenate that. How un-American.) I really like the final words of the pledge: with liberty and justice for all. Nothing against any gods. They’re all myths except the ones you think are real.

People have literally been snake-bit, allowed their children to die, died an early death themselves, or experienced some other form of malady because they trusted god (alone) to take care of them. I think the trust a deity idiom is much more about how wonderful we are. Look how holy we are! As the PA preacher wrote in 1861, it was needed to relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. We seem to think it makes us look better. No god gives a shit.

Look at the third step in the AA 12-step recovery program: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. If you turn your will and life over, you must trust something external. It seems that they could have stopped right there, but there are nine more steps, just in case. But it’s a spiritual program, not a religious one, right? God will remove the malady he bestowed upon me if I just trust (promises and all that).

I would go through a case of bull shit flags every day if I cried foul each time a god-squader took the just in case god is busy approach. And what of prayer? If we trust god, do we have to keep reminding him that we want the perfect world which he has not delivered? Oh, I forgot. You gotta die first for that to happen. Trust that myth, too.

Call it God Insurance

Can’t you hear it? I trust god, but I buy insurance. In god I trust, this gun is just in case. I trust under god, but I am going to do what the doctor said. I trust god, but the devil is so sneaky. I trust Him, but anti-virus software is just wise. Seriously? Did I just hear the skeptic fairy sing?

No. Most of us do not trust any god. We’re all more skeptical than we like to think. I was always taught that God helps those that help themselves. That made sense. Since I am fairly convinced of no gods, the whole trust thing, like religion, seems pointless (unless you want to say universe for god, but that seems random). At least there is a universe.

Bill

So, bring money but leave the gun in the car.

 

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.

Bill

 

 

Why I Decided to Identify as Atheist

At my first job after college graduation, I worked with two guys about my age. One was my boss. The other was a guy named Spenser. One day as we walked to the car, Spencer asked me, “Are you a Christian?” I thought it an odd question, but Spencer was an odd man. I said yes. He then asked if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I tried to explain that Catholics don’t use that phrase or see baptism in quite the same way many protestant denominations did.

Then Spenser informed me that unless I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I was not a Christian. I had been baptized at eight days of age, had the sacraments of first confession and First Holy Communion, believed that the consecrated wafer was the actual body and blood of Christ, and I took my middle name during the Sacrament of Confirmation in honor of Saint John the Evangelist. I had prayed my ass off for over 20 years to Jesus, to his mum, and (mainly) to his biological father, as well as to other long-forgotten saints. Spenser’s got saved point of view seemed shallow simple to me. However, here in the Bible Belt, it remains the trope de rigueur.

Yet this smugly self-righteous graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and ordained Southern Baptist minister, refuted my claim based on how he and his denomination defined members of the world’s largest religion (Christianity). The differences were how Spenser and I defined a Christian based upon our diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Despite our hairsplitting points of view, when someone identifies as Christian, Muslim, Jew, or as members of most religions, we generally form a somewhat accurate idea of that religious claim.

For religious purposes, I am forced to classify myself as a none. Apostate Catholic is not an option, even if true. My rejection of all religion is not the same as no preference, but I don’t make the lists. I am ok with Atheist, but it is not a religion, even though some numbskulls claim it is. Since athesit identifies me for what I’m not, I wish there was a better word. There’s not.

Thus, I identify as atheist. I also use skeptic, nonbeliever, freethinker, heathen, or whatever synonym fits the situation. Today, Spenser would be correct. I am not Christian. Some believers who came to know me before discovering my unbelief said I am was one of the good (or nice) atheists. Sometimes that aspect of me can be called cooperative. But I hold a dim view of religion, which would make me neither good nor nice in their view

I avoid the less-offensive terms like agnostic, humanist, or non-religious, even though a case can be made for each applying to me. I eschew the term spiritual because it is confusing (even among atheists) and has its own baggage. The stigma associated with embracing atheism (or any form of religious doubt) troubles me because even as a believer I never shared that negative view most others held of atheists.

I openly identify as atheist so that I can help others understand atheists and atheism. I would like to demonstrate that I am no better and no worse a person because I believe in no gods. I would also like to think that by being open and out I can encourage others to step forward and claim their truth.

Bill

Does Praying Offend?

I’m not offended by people praying, but I think it’s a silly waste of time. I am also not offended by people dancing, public displays of affection (all sexual preferences/ orientations), drinking in public, religious garb, cannabis smoking, public breast feeding, most tatoos and body jewelry/hardware, the word fuck, and the list goes on. Nor do I think most of that to be wasted time. Many things that offend others may cause me to raise a brow, but I’m seldom enticed into feeling offended.

I am not offended that people practice religions, pray, dance around the fire, or believe they turn into werewolves. We all have the right to believe whatever we want, must, or were raised with, up to a point. When those beliefs impact, are forced upon, or negatively affect the rights of others, expect felt offense. And right there is the problem for religion.

I lived in a Muslim country for more than a year. Five times each day the call to prayer would echo from a too-nearby minaret loudspeaker, after a few snaps, crackles, and pops. I was annoyed, but I was not an offended infidel.

Doctors cost money, prayer is free. Prayed for children denied medical attention sometimes die. And its legal. I am supposed to be quiet to respect the prayer time of those who pray publicly, yet many believe that same prayed to god will condemn me to hell. I am not offended, yet they think I should be. They would be.

I wish people did not pray and did not believe in any god because it would be better for them and the world, but many pray to their god asking that he make me come to believe as they do. If I say prayer is useless, they are offended by my private opinion. If they offer to pray for me and I suggest they read a poem instead, they’re offended. But I am not.

If I suggest they not block the emergency exit, they say I am persecuting religious freedom. I must wait to drink my beer and eat my pizza while they pray. But I am not offended. If I watch and wait, they are offended that I do not pray. Fuck ‘em, but I’m unoffended. If they want to hold my hand as they pray, but at no other time, I am not offended. But they take offense if I decline.

I am offended by the religious beliefs of many. The privileged status of the religious combined with the hypocrisy of falsely claimed persecution is mindboggling. When Bush #1 said I was not an American citizen because I do not believe in god, I was offended. When Oprah W. said that a self-proclaimed atheist O.W. was interviewing could not be atheist, I was offended. When Falwell said freedom of religion does not also mean freedom from religion, I was offended. When Cruz said the Bible trumps the U.S. Constitution, I was offended.

When basic constitutional or human rights are denied Americans because of the religious beliefs of other Americans, I am offended. When people of religion are favored for no other reason over people who practice a different religion or none, I feel offended and ashamed by the foolishness of such favor. But I am not offended by prayer. I just think it stupid. I hope that does not offend you.

If you are, check out this offended person, religion on religion. I was not offended.

Bill