Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why I'm an Atheist

Here’s why I’m an atheist: I don’t believe in any gods.

Simple, right? I’ve not seen or heard or read any evidence that gods exist.

Also, I don’t need any god; there’s nothing lacking in my life that could be provided by believing, unreasonably, in a supernatural being.

But a discouraging trend that I’ve noticed in the Atheosphere lately — at least among the blogs that I read regularly — is to complicate the simple truth, which I’ll repeat once again in case you didn’t understand it the first time: an atheist is a person who doesn’t believe in any gods because there's absolutely no evidence of their existence.

If I announced suddenly that I don’t believe in flying elephants who fart Beethoven sonatas, I wouldn’t feel the need to defend my reasonable assertion against every idiot who suggested otherwise. I wouldn’t believe that such elephants existed, even if people showed me a book written over two thousand years ago claiming that a whole tribe of ignorant desert-dwellers had heard one passing overhead. I wouldn’t give credence to any assertion that those elephants and/or their musical effusions are responsible for human morality. I would refuse to accept unquestioningly that those elephants had designed a special place of punishment for people who don’t sing along with their gaseous emanations. And I certainly wouldn’t trust as proof of their existence a cluster of urine stains allegedly depicting winged mammoths with musical notes coming out of their asses.

If I deigned to debate people who had blind faith in those elephants, I would merely be buying into their lunacy.

Obviously, such a debate would serve no purpose. I could never convince believers in Beethoven-farting elephants — airborne or otherwise — of the untenability of their position. Because people who believe in flying, mellifluously flatulent pachyderms either don’t understand reason or just don’t want to hear it. They forsook scientific proof the second they accepted as fact that an Appassionata could come booming down from the clouds as a by-product of Proboscidean digestion. By engaging in debate with those morons, I’d implicitly be buying into their thesis. I’d become a moron, myself.

So, I ask my readers, why do so many of us waste our time debating religionists?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Agreeing to Disagree

Tobe over at A Load of Bright has put up an interesting post: Let's Just Agree to Disagree. I highly recommend that you read the post and its comment thread.

One person with whom I've agreed to disagree, although we haven't actually used that phrase, is Chuck Blanchard, whose blog is A Guy in the Pew. He's a Christian, a position which I find untenable, but I know from what he's written that there's absolutely no point in trying to persuade him to forsake his faith. So I don't. He knows I'm an atheist, a position which I'm sure he finds untenable, but he absolutely never, ever tries to sell his belief system to me. We have, however, had some religio-political discussions, and, since we both come from essentially the same liberal tradition, the results have been enlightening.

Recently, Chuck posted about Religion and the Presidential Vote. His implied conclusion, never actually expressed in so many words, was that it's OK for candidates to express their faith. In fact, he seemed to feel that Democrats are doing well by discussing such matters. We exchanged a few comments on that.

Now, in response to that give-and-take, he has posted again about Faith and Politics. Once more, I've tried to articulate my position, and explain how creepy all the faith talk sounds to atheist ears.

You may want to join in on this one. Remember, though: any attempt to deconvert the guy will fail.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Exterminator at a Loss for Words?

NOTE: On today’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos broadcast, the Democratic party’s presidential candidates engaged in a “debate.” The following horrifying sequence is reprinted exactly as recorded in the ABC news transcript.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on now. We've got a question -- we've got an e-mail question from Seth Ford of South Jordan, Utah. And he said, "My question is to understand each candidates' view of a personal God. Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could have been prevented or lessened?" I'd like each of you to answer it. Let me start with you, Senator Clinton.

CLINTON: You know, it's hard to hear you up here, George. I apologize.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll keep it up, and I'll just repeat it again. My question is to understand each candidate's view of a personal God. Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could've been prevented or lessened?

CLINTON: Well, I don't pretend to understand the wisdom and the power of God. I do believe in prayer. And I have relied on prayer consistently throughout my life. You know, I like to say that, if I had not been a praying person before I got to the White House, after having been there for just a few days I would've become one. (LAUGHTER) So I am very dependent on my faith, and prayer is a big part of that.


DODD: I agree with what Hillary has just said here. I would not want to try and second-guess the lord's intentions here and to assume that part of his great plan includes some of these actions we see, for a variety of different reasons, here. And the power of prayer I think is important to all of us. I hope it is, recognizing that we don't do anything without His approval.

EDWARDS: I have prayed most of my life; pray daily now. He's enormously important to me. But the answer to the question is: No, I don't -- I prayed before my 16-year-old son died; I prayed before Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer. I think there are some things that are beyond our control. And I think it is enormously important to look to God -- and, in my case, Christ -- for guidance and for wisdom. But I don't think you can prevent bad things from happening through prayer.

GRAVEL: What I believe in is love. And love implements courage. And courage permits us all to apply the virtues that are important in life. And so you can pray -- I was always persuaded or struck by the fact that many people who pray are the ones who want to go to war, who want to kill fellow human beings. That disturbs me. I think what we need is more love between one human being and another human being. And then we'll find the courage to dispel many of the problems we have in governance. The answer to governance is not up here on the dais. The answer is with the American people and the people of Iowa. That's where the answer is. And I have a proposal, and it's the only one that talks of change. The change is to empower the American people with a national initiative. And my colleagues, with all due respect, don't even understand the principle of the people having the power. (APPLAUSE)

RICHARDSON: I pray. I'm a Roman Catholic. My sense of social justice, I believe, comes from being a Roman Catholic. But, in my judgment, prayer is personal. And how I pray and how any American prays, for what reason, is their own decision. And it should be respected. And so, in my view, I think it's important that we have faith, that we have values, but if I'm president, I'm not going to wear my religion on my sleeve and impose it on anybody.

BIDEN: George, my mom has an expression. She says that, "God sends no cross you're unable to bear." The time to pray is to pray whether or not you're told, as John was and I was, that my wife and daughter are dead, to have the courage to be able to bear the cross. The time to pray is to pray not only before, but pray that you have the courage, pray that God can give you the strength to deal with what everyone is faced with in their life, serious crosses, serious crosses to bear. The answer to the gentleman's question is, no, all the prayer in the world will not stop a hurricane. But prayer will give you the courage to be able to respond to the devastation that's caused in your life and with others to deal with the devastation.

OBAMA: I believe in the power of prayer. And part of what I believe in is that, through prayer, not only can we strengthen ourselves in adversity, but that we can also find the empathy and the compassion and the will to deal with the problems that we do control. Most of the issues that we're debating here today are ones that we have the power to change. We don't have the power to prevent illness in all cases, but we do have the power to make sure that every child gets a regular checkup and isn't going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma. We may not have the power to prevent a hurricane, but we do have the power to make sure that the levees are properly reinforced and we've got a sound emergency plan. And so, part of what I pray for is the strength and the wisdom to be able to act on those things that I can control. And that's what I think has been lacking sometimes in our government. We've got to express those values through our government, not just through our religious institutions. (APPLAUSE)

KUCINICH: George, I've been standing here for the last 45 minutes praying to God you were going to call on me. And my... (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) And I come from a spiritual insight which says that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: You have a direct pipeline, Congressman. (LAUGHTER)

KUCINICH: I come from a spiritual insight which says that we have to have faith but also have good works. So when we think of the scriptures, Isaiah making justice the measuring line; Matthew 25, "whatever you do for the least of our brethren"; where the biblical injunction, "make peace with your brother" -- all of these things relate to my philosophy. Now, the founders meant to have separation of church and state, but they never meant America to be separate from spiritual values. As president, I'll bring strong spiritual values into the White House, and I'll bring values that value peace, social and economic justice, values that remember where I came from. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)

THE EXTERMINATOR: I think Mr. Ford’s question has no place in this debate. But I’ll answer it because I realize how important it is for Mr. Stephanopoulos’s ratings that he cater to his religious viewers. I do not believe at all in the power of prayer. (BOOS AND HISSES) I believe in the power of the human mind, and in compassion, and in empathy, and in having a sense of history and a deep respect for science. (TOMATOES THROWN) Nor do I think that prayer is an appropriate strategem for the President of the United States. (VERBAL THREATS) The idea that any individual has a personal pipeline to a supernatural being is dangerous, and, when such an idea is embraced by the leader of a country, results in extreme abuses of power. Those who claim, or even imply, that they would incorporate prayers in any way into their governing decisions are ignoramuses or scoundrels, or both. (LYNCH MOB APPROACHES STAGE)

Well, maybe I made up that last response. But all the other ones are frighteningly real. Since my face is frozen into “The Scream,” I'm speechless. I hope my readers will provide some commentary, in which I'll join once I've regained my tongue.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I'm Soooo Hot!

Oh, the doldrums of summer. It’s so hot where I live that I haven’t had the energy to think about my blog, except to come up with random titles that might attract some extra traffic. I sure hope the hell thing isn’t true.

Anyway, I thought it might be magnanimous of me to invite a ghost atheist to write a short essay and post it on my site under his or her own “name.” I put out a call to nonbelievers, and received dozens of submissions. After winnowing out the people who merely keyed in an essay by Carl Sagan or linked to a YouTube video featuring an adorable cat, I was left with ten possibilities. Below, I reprint an excerpt from each one.

Atheoso Furioso
... Those fucking fundies who live across the street from me think it’s OK if they try to convert others to their idiotic religion whenever they want. Every time I look over at their house during dinner time and use my binoculars to peek through their window, they’re praying! I mean, what gives them the right to shove Christianity down my throat whenever they feel like it? ...

The Happy Heathen
... and then, when I went to my fifty-ninth church, I again found many new religious friends who accepted me for the atheist I am. Gosh, Christians seem to be much more tolerant than I realized. After the service, they even asked me to come back tomorrow for a special art project! I’m not sure what we’re going to make, but it sounds really cool because it’s going to involve some tar and some feathers. ...

Shellfish Jean
... Now, clearly, the individual replicative units in clams and other bivalvia, in fact all the organisms in the phylum Mollusca, have no interest in propagating the species, per se, as they might have had there been a God to set the entire reproductive process in motion. No, contrary to what those brainless creationists may think, there’s no evidence whatsoever that clams, scallops, oysters, or ...

Godless Mommy
... I couldn’t resist this picture of Megan and Heather in their new “A” T-shirts. Can you? Cute, right? Anyway, when they put them on, Darwin, my youngest, (he’s the one with the missing front teeth in yesterday’s photo) smiled at me and said, “There’s no tooth fairy. Is there, Mommy?” I felt so proud. But I had to laugh when he added, “Jimmy told me God puts the money under our pillow.” Jimmy (you remember his snapshot from last week, don’t you?) should know better, since he’ll be seventeen the day after tomorrow. (I have to remember to wrap his present, a beautiful gold-plated “A” to wear around his neck!) I think my teenage genius was just trying to get a rise out of me, but I should probably question him about ...

... So how, exactly, do atheists derive an ethical code if it is not given to us by a supernatural being from on high? How do nonbelievers decide for themselves what deeds are and are not moral in a world that seems to be spinning ever more quickly toward the ultimate triumph of evil? Of course, you might ask: What would evil’s ultimate triumph be? How would it differ from lesser triumphs? Are triumphs measurable against one another? And can evil ever actually triumph? In fact, does evil even exist? For that matter, does the world exist? And if so, does it spin? Now, obviously ...


... And of course, the Xtians immediately turn to Jeebus, as if he might ever answer their Prairs, which he won’t because he’s too busy worrying about whether everyone is wearing a Crotch around his neck and reading his Babel. The Jooz, meanwhile, hurry into their Tempulls, while the Muzzlins cry out loudly to Aha. We’re not sure exactly what the Himboos and Bootists do, but you can bet your ass that ...

... Bush is up to his old tricks again, I see. In a speech he gave last Thursday at a prayer breakfast in Houston, he warned of growing terrorist cell activity in a number of major cities across America. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, meanwhile ...

Christ-loving Athiest
... As I’ve written many times before, I’m not 100% comfortable with the term “athiest” to describe myself. After all, I do believe that Jesus died for mankind’s sins, was nailed to the cross, and rose on the third day. Still, if I can’t definitely call myself an out-and-out athiest, perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to use the term “angostic.” An angostic is a person who doesn’t know for sure, so I guess maybe I’m one. I’m only 99% certain that Christ will come back in a blaze of glory one day, and ...

Sue deBastards

... Unbelievably, Associate Justice Bryson Petty wrote in Christian v. Lyon, “It is true that the Constitution does not guarantee a private citizen the right to lead the animals in sectarian prayer at a public zoo, paid for at taxpayer expense. However, the mere mention of the name ‘God’ or ‘the Lord’ or ‘Jesus Christ’ may not suffice for this Court to find a sovereign state’s law unconstitutional on its face, nor even on any of its other anatomical parts. As Associate Justice Colman Hanky wrote in Babar v. Simba, ‘The freedom to practice religion as guaranteed in the First Amendment does not stop at the elephant house door, but rather

God Eats Shit!
... Unlike many so-called militant atheists, I think it’s important for us to find common ground with moderate Christians, who, after all, may not understand that nonbelievers have no animosity ...
Well, there you have it. After giving these “auditions” much thought, I’ve decided to come out of my stupor and keep my blog up on my own. Watch for a new post soon.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A: It's Not Just for "Apple" Any More

It seems a damn shame that the lovely OUT “A” is being used as a logo only on T-shirts and bumper stickers. I suggest that Richard Dawkins get behind the following merchandise:

  • Cheeri-As breakfast cereal: Start your dA the atheist wA.
  • A-didas footwear: Great for all sports except jumping to conclusions.
  • Starbuck’s A-ppuccino: Stay awake.
  • A & As candy: They melt in your mouth, not in your mind.
  • Campbell’s A soup: Who needs the rest of the alphabet?
  • McDonald’s "Big A” sandwich: Contains no bull.
  • Keebler’s A-nimal Crackers: Evolved by elves.
  • Est-A Lauder cosmetics for atheists: Keep your eyes wide open.
  • The Apod: Listen to reason.
  • A-holes doughnuts: Delicious treats for freethinkers & freedunkers.
Can anyone recommend other products?

A or Not-A? Movement or Not-Movement?

This post is about making a tough decision. But I’m going to start with a short rant. Since we here in the Atheosphere love occasional tirades, our own or other people’s, I trust you’ll bear with me until I get to my point.

It’s amazing to me that so many blogging atheists are eager to claim they’re part of a “movement.” That’s why the Dawk-A is showing up on blog after blog in the Atheosphere. The Dawk-A, which is really a logo for a line of T-shirts and bumper stickers and who-knows-what else, is also, allegedly, a symbol of the “OUT” campaign.

But, come on! Displaying an ugly red “A” in the margins of your home page ain’t the same as being an admitted atheist in real life. If you’ve got a solid freethinking blog, everyone who reads it should know very well where you stand in the god-belief continuum: you’re OUTside it. My no-A blog is just as godless – maybe even more so – than someone else’s A-displaying site.

I, for one, happen to be an avowed atheist in my everyday, non-blogger existence. I speak out, loudly and often. My family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even casual acquaintances all know that I think religions are nonsense. Do I need an A to identify myself? Not as long as my voice still works.

Look, I admire Richard Dawkins for his unabashed atheism. But neither he nor his line of atheogarb have influenced my nonbelief one iota. In fact, I suspect that very few religionists have picked up The God Delusion, read it all the way through, and then said to themselves, “Hey, he’s got something there! I’d better get me an A.”

What truly astounds me about the “OUT” campaign is how quickly some nonbelievers have embraced an idiotic symbol as if they’ve been longing for their own version of the crucifix or the star of David. It’s a red A, for cryin’ out loud. If you put it on your shirt, and then add a cape and boots, you can look like a comic book superhero. How impressive!

If we’re really a movement, though, and not just a crowd of malcontents who dress up for some mutual grousing, we ought to band together and act like one. Wearing a T-shirt is not a rational substitute for taking action; displaying a logo is no indication that you’ve made a tough, reasoned decision.

Right now, the toughest decision of all for American atheists is the decision not to support a presidential candidate who seems OK— if only it weren’t for all that pandering to the theocrats.

But here’s the way I see it. By some estimates, we freethinkers make up around 10% of the American populace. That’s a healthy, election-influencing chunk of humanity. If we’re a real movement, let’s refuse to roll over and play dead at the ballot box. Let’s act like a movement where it counts.

Any candidate who drones on and on about his or her faith does not demonstrate a deep commitment to separation of church and state. A politician who takes every opportunity to speak at, and/or be photographed attending, prayer meetings, church suppers, and religious services, is likewise no great advocate of the First Amendment. A presidential contender who prays that our country be blessed by a god is doing what the founders specifically declined to do when they wrote the Constitution.

It’s a tough decision, whether you’re a progressive or a libertarian, a conservative or a liberal, to say: “I’m not going to vote for anyone who explicitly or implicitly, through word or deed, denies the rights of freethinkers by putting religion on a pedestal.” Yet, that’s what all these candidates are doing. Every mention of faith, every intoning of the word god, every appearance at a church or synagogue or mosque says: “My presidency will favor believers. Religion will be encouraged in my White House. While I’m in office, I’ll ignore the chipping away at the wall of separation. God bless America, and vice versa. I’ll continue to participate in holy wars. I’ll continue to support mythology over science, backwardness over progress. I’ll continue to use an evil and antiquated moral code as the national ethic.”

Well, count me out. I’m in a true atheist movement, although it may be a movement of one only. No candidate who puts god on the ticket will get my vote, even if I have to stay home and sit on my hands come election day — or go to the polls and write in “The Exterminator.” I will no longer condone the proliferation of superstition.

Isn't that what an atheist movement should really be about?

ADDENDUM (12:45 p.m. EDT): I should add that I’m not suggesting we merely stay home on election day — or laughingly write in “The Exterminator” — and do nothing else. We should take every opportunity to make public statements about our tough decision. We should continue to speak loudly and proudly through our blogs and, if possible, let the candidates and media know why we freethinkers and secularists, as a bloc, will not be voting for anyone who injects religion into his or her political discourse. Mind you, I'm not saying that a candidate must actually be an atheist, or claim to espouse atheism. I'm just saying that we should punish those, however appealing they may be otherwise, who go out of their way to use god as a vote-getter. We must let them know that god is a vote-loser, too.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

And Howard Stern Makes It Sound So Easy

So for those of you who are dying to know what my voice sounds like — and really, get a life! — there’s an opportunity for you to hear my words of wisdom dribbling out of my own mouth.

On Friday, August 3, Rich Orman of Dogma Free America will post his podcast interview with the Exterminator, which we recorded a few days ago.

I had, of course, planned to be witty and titillating, kind of a straight atheistic Oscar Wilde. I was wild all right, but the only Oscar I sounded like was the Grouch. Actually, the well-known personality I reminded myself of most was Ralph Kramden: a-hummina-hummina-hummina.

There’s a temptation to get preachy when you feel you have a captive audience. And believe me, I was imagining listeners figuratively chained to their seats, waiting eagerly for their audio to stream. So I did my tub-thumping best to get my points across. That’s what happens when you hand an amateur a soapbox. I was speaking my own words, but I was hearing William Jennings Bryan in the Chautauqua tent.

Which reminds me: Since I’ve recently put myself forward as an invisible-horse candidate for president, I’d better polish up my oratorical skills before I hit the campaign trail. As we all know from listening to our current commanderer-in-chief, the American public would never accept a leader who’s inarticulate.

At least I don’t think I ever said “it’s hard.” Our prez repeats that phrase so often, I think he must have issues about erectile dysfunction.

He also says “in other words” far more than most other speakers do. That’s because he can’t seem to find the right words the first time. In other words, he uses the wrong words a lot.

Anyway, Rich Orman struck me as a very nice guy, and he promised that I’d love the “edit.” I suppose I’d be happy if he inserts some phrases spoken by Richard Dawkins in that chittery Brit accent of his. But my guess is: unfortunately, it’ll just be me. With a tongue so tied no boy scout could unravel it.

In other words: a-hummina-hummina-hummina.