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.

 

When I First Believed and Didn’t

“What could be more foolish than to base one’s entire view of life on ideas that, however plausible at the time, now appear to be quite erroneous? And what would be more important than to find our true place in the universe by removing one by one these unfortunate vestiges of earlier beliefs?”—-Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, 1988

“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”—Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1892, Act III (Mr. Dumby to Cecil Graham)

I was baptized before I was two weeks old. I don’t recall much of that day. I don’t think I believed in God or any of the other religious things I later would. The religious reason for the Catholic Sacrament at that age was that if I had died, I would not go to heaven unless baptized. I would go to Limbo with all the other unbaptized, until the Church decided that Limbo did not really exist.

I went to a Catholic school taught by nuns. We didn’t go to Mass in Kindergarten, but starting with First Grade, 9:00 a.m. Mass (in Latin) was mandatory. We sat up front with our class, boys on one side, girls on the other until graduation at the end of 8th grade. I went to public high school for 9th through 12th grade.

In grade school, I was taught about God, Jesus, the Blessed Trinity, and all the religious stuff I could fit into my brain. I believed it. I had some arguments about it with my father because I stood by what the nuns and priests told us. He was old school and much stricter. He always had the option of asking the ordained and religious, but he never did.

To the extent that a boy between the ages of six and fourteen can believe what he has been told about god and all the other religious stuff, I believed. I can’t say that I had a specific Jesus is my lord and savior moment because we didn’t do that.

In my personal world, I believed two other things: everyone I knew was Catholic and everyone believed in god. Neither was correct. I can’t say exactly when I came to believe of my own volition, or even if I did.

In the summer of 1960, I turned 14. That September I began an excursion into the realities of the somewhat secular educational world. I did not escape having god and religion forced upon me. We still prayed in school and had bible readings (mandatory state law) until June of 1963. My senior year began the following September.

After that, neither prayer nor bible reading could be constitutionally mandated or school sponsored. I would not have labeled myself as a nonbeliever at that point. A serious doubter might work. During that final year of high school, I was probably a practical atheist in that while I considered myself to be Catholic, I did not practice the religion.

Thirty years later, during the 1990s my religious opinions and behaviors might be viewed as a metal ball bouncing around the playing field of a pinball machine. The flippers and bumpers would knock me into other ideas or possibilities. I’d bounce off one bumper and into another, then another.

In the mid-90s, my spiritual reading and experimenting increased. I was a nonbeliever trying to believe. I was a seeker or searcher in the spiritual sense. I became seriously interested in eastern religious thought, spirituality, and meditation, some of it New Age nonsense. During that time I read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, and decided to give Catholicism one more try.

Merton described seeing a deeply religious woman in a church. He envied her faith. I had the same experience. I was going to do everything I could to get this god and religion thing right. I convinced myself that there was a god. I felt that I had overcome my doubts forever. For almost 12 years, I did.

It was a cannonball dive into the deep end of the Christian religion and the Catholic Church. I did everything I could: taught bible study and religious education to adults and children, belonged to as many ministries as I could make time for. Eventually, I was elected President of the Parish Council for two years in our large Parish of more than five thousand families. I even began the process of being ordained as a Deacon, something not taken lightly in the Church or by me, and second only to becoming a Priest. I withdrew late in the process.

I recall teaching an adult class on The Problem of Evil. It had gone well. At the end of the class one lady raised her hand and asked me how I reconciled everything that I had just said with what I believed as a practicing Catholic. I don’t recall my answer.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen, lyrics from his song, Anthem

That was when my transition from Christian to Atheist began. Within two years I walked away from the Catholic Church for good. I disavowed my Catholic faith in writing. Soon thereafter I realized that I did not believe in the existence of any gods, demons, spirits, heaven or hell, or any of it.

I retired three years after leaving the Church and we moved again to yet another state. After about a year there, I was openly atheist. There are several key events and conclusions along my road to disbelief. Each conclusion was preceded by a long time of study, thought, and deciding. That continues.

Just as there was not a date and time when I believed, there was not a specific moment when I decided that I’m a convinced atheist. The metamorphosis was gradual. I simply and incrementally walked away from it all.

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

When was the last time you prayed?

About a year ago a midwestern friend asked people to pray for rain. I thought, if god exists he should make it rain there. It did! In fact, I think they’re having problems with floods now. Apparently, sometimes folks need to tell him when to stop. I also tend to pray when I’m upset. I’ve invoked deities with things like god damn it (or dad gum it), Jesus Christ (or the family version of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph), Oh, God!, good god (or good grief), god help you, god only knows, bless her (or his) heart, and so on.

My last in earnest prayer was reciting part of Mark 9:24, I believe, help my unbelief, which is an alleged quote said by a father during a scene in which Jesus performed an exorcism on the man’s son. That prayer was eight or nine years ago as I was dealing with doubts about religion and god.

Roughly five years later I openly embraced my own atheism. My only prayers since might be called sarcastic blasphemy by some. I do not seriously pray. I would not pray if I ever came to believe in some god. I do not say amen after someone else prays, but I do (for now) sit or stand quietly while they pray or say some form of grace or meal blessing. I’m not sure how much longer I will cooperate with the holding of hands since I see that as me participating in the act of prayer.

What about people who believe in gods, especially the Abrahamic one, and never pray? Are they theists, deists, or practical atheists, as the Catholic church claims?

I have always thought that what people do matters most. I have never bought into the once saved, always saved; or what people believe matters more than what they do. In my mind, it fits well into what we do matters more than what we say.

I can’t recall ever being told that it is a sin to not ever pray. Is it wrong to never physically and verbally acknowledge a god, even if you do believe in one or more?

I no longer pray because I am mostly convinced (97.7%, if you need a degree) that no gods exist, and if they did, prayer would still be nonsense. When I prayed it was because it was a big part of the religion I practiced, not because I thought it was working. I prayed for dead people to be in heaven and I prayed for sick and dying people to recover. The sick got well, the dying died anyway.

Of the 80 or 90 percent of people who claim to believe in some sort of deity or woo-woo, how many never pray, never go to church, never practice a religion, and never dance naked around the fire during a full, or new moon?

Bill

Fandango’s Provocative Question (FPQ) #29

It shouldn’t matter, but it does.

Fandango’s Provocative Question (FPQ) provided me a prompt for my blog. Thanks, man.

This is how Fandango asked the question:

  • Thomas Jefferson said, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to tell me there are 20 gods or no gods. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
  • The FPQ asks, “Do you agree with Thomas Jefferson that it doesn’t matter or hurt you if people believe in many gods, in one god, or no gods? Why or why not?”

My response takes Jefferson’s comment at face value, since I don’t know the exact context, much less TJ’s thoughts. But I must split a hair. Mister Jefferson spoke of his neighbor telling him gods exist or do not and that causes no harm to Jefferson, or to me. I agree. The people who want to tell me god(s) exist(s) or not cause me no physical pain or financial loss. But that is not how Fandango posed the question.

He asked if it mattered or hurt me if people believe in god or not, and why. The biggest difference in the two is that Jefferson’s comment was personal, Fandango’s question is culturally broader and public: ‘people’ instead of my neighbor; ‘belief’ instead of god. Jefferson did not address belief (although he did in other comments), but the FPQ does.

I read one post in response in which the writer said she resented people doing that (evangelicals or “dedicated atheists”). While she never said if she agreed with Jefferson, that comment implies she does not.

I showed the FPQ to my wife and her reply to it was, “It’s none of my business.” I shook her hand and said, “Welcome to the neighborhood. Have you found a church home yet? Feel free to join us at….”

Yes. What people believe does hurt me! It picks my pocket and breaks my leg. The problem is that virtually all belief in god(s) is mired in some form of religion, even for those believers who claim no religion or eschew organized religion.

Religion is given a privileged status in the USA and much of the world. Some people make fortunes with religion and cry persecution if we ask them to pay taxes. The business of religion is given use of public property and protection (police and fire) without paying for it. I pay more taxes because of that.

I’m not even sure where to begin with physical harm. Maybe I should turn on the news to see what religious group has blown up another today. All Abrahamic scripture says that I should be killed because I do not believe in any god(s). Death threats are not rare over religion, nor is homicide.

What people believe matters to me, and it should to you. “Religion poisons everything.” Freedom of and from religion may be good things, but the greater emphasis should be on the from.

Bill