Friday, March 25, 2011

I've moved!

Thanks to hosting from the great folks at ThinkAtheist, I’ve moved my blog from its old place here at Blogspot into my new domain name ( It’s all part of my Master Plan™ to start posting more regularly and to try to contribute more to the atheist ‘community’.

If you’re not already a member at ThinkAtheist, I’d definitely recommend signing up. It’s a great place to discuss just about anything with other freethinkers, from science and philosophy to politics and video games.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Getting over the messiah complex

I have a confession to make: I want to fix everything.

Back when I was a Christian, I never really had to worry about injustice. The suffering we endured in our life here on earth wasn't all that meaningful, since we were guaranteed a happy and peaceful afterlife for our faithfulness. I figured that God would make everything work out for the good in the end.

Now, as an atheist, I have no such assurances. I look around at the amount of suffering in the world and I feel simultaneously motivated to do whatever I can to reduce it and impotent to actually accomplish anything meaningful in response to it.

Last Thanksgiving, I spent a week with my parents down in Mexico. On my second to last day there, while we sat comfortably in our condo watching people pass us by on the road, a homeless woman came along with her two children. While my parents commented about how amazing it was that she seemed so comfortable carrying her infant on her back in a sling fashioned from a scarf, I was watching her collect soda cans from trash cans along the street. All I could think of was that this woman was, because of purely random and meaningless circumstance, resigned to a life of struggle and hardship, scraping along with whatever she could manage just to be able to live to see another day. I desperately wanted to figure out what I could do to help her, and as soon as I started to think about it I realized that there must be tens of millions of people just like her all over the planet.

From my perspective as a person living in a first-world nation, this seems to be something that disappears all too quickly from view. There's no reason that I should have a better life than these people, and I shudder to think of all the potentially brilliant minds that fade into the background of the story of humanity simply because they're not wealthy enough to reach their potential.

So... what? Am I crazy to feel guilty about this? Is it wrong for me to willfully ignore these people so that I can get on with my life? What can I actually do to help fix the underlying roots of their suffering? Should I even worry about it?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What's To Hate?

I just got the following bizarre/amusing comment from someone calling himself OJ Simpson on the first post I ever made on this blog (where I told the story of my deconversion). I figured it needed to be both dissected and shared.
A beautifull world,but beyond your mind,beyond your closed mind, beyond your reach,
Two things: 1. You really like commas! 2. My mind isn't closed. It's open to evidence. If there's another way to figure things out that doesn't require evidence, you'd need evidence to show that that method can produce real knowledge.
because you are just a slave a peon of this system,
Not anymore. Kinda broke out of the whole 'following a dogma' thing when I gave up my belief.
you are just dancing between two sides, two sides of one big lie,neither is real,nor neither is false,
Either gods exist or they don't. One side is false. Sorry. It's a dichotomy - that's how it works.
between two sides,carefully raised in order to keep you brainwashed,two extremes.
That's another problem. Y'see, by giving up on dogma and on uncritically accepting what I'm told, I'm sort of immune to being brainwashed now. But go on.
I feel sorry for your death of your uncle,
Thank you.
but that traumatic moment has darkened your mind, your hatred for god was very visible in your life story.
Now this, I just don't get. When I was a believer, I never hated God. I think my testimony makes that rather patently obvious. I even came right out and said it when I talked about my slide toward deistic agnosticism:
I was outraged – not at God, but by my fellow Christians who were so closed-minded about these things and what they meant about the truth of our beliefs. Why did so few of them care if what they believed was true or not?
And when my uncle died:
I returned to my car, where I wept like a lost child, screaming at God to come back into my life and tell me what to do. I poured my entire being into it. I wanted nothing more than for something solid and permanent to reassure me that everything would be okay. I wanted that old comforting certainty again. And for a while, I felt like I had it.
This is the only thing I can think of that even sounds like I was angry at God. What "OJ Simpson" seems to be overlooking is the context of what I used to believe. Calling out to god to come into your life and take control isn't anger at god - it's a desire to draw yourself closer to god than before. It's the whole "Jesus, take the wheel" thing.
Many people have worse lifes, have bigger problems, your problems are pitifull compared to others, insignificant, but who am I to judge.
In other words, "Quit whining." Sorry, I didn't realize that my life experiences weren't good enough reason for me to change the way I lived my life. I'll be sure to get your permission to change my mind from now on. Who are you to judge? That's a fantastic question. Maybe you shouldn't.
You must understand death isnt bad, death is a cycle of life, death brings life and vice versa.

Ahh, good old-fashioned theistic death denial. If you believe in an eternal life after death, then death isn't real to you. But I don't. I believe that when people die, they're gone. Saying "my uncle is dead" is not like saying "my uncle is in Mexico." If my uncle is in Mexico, he still is. If he's dead, he just isn't. Isn't anything. Death is not a part of life. It's the absolute end of it. It does not bring life.
For your uncle, if he had serious life problems, death was salvation, death is beautifull but scary.
My uncle didn't have serious life problems, and death wasn't salvation. He isn't there anymore. Not here, not in some magical fantasyland - nowhere. He doesn't exist. There is nothing beautiful about that, and you are delusional to think there is.
You started to hate god, because of your selfishness, because your uncle left your life

No. I never did. Sorry. Not that I actually give a damn whether you think I hated your imaginary friend or not - it's just really goddamn aggravating that you could get what I said so fractally wrong.
but question yourself, is it truly better to live in pain or die?
Honestly? I'd prefer to live in pain, because at least then I'd still exist.
If you truly loved your uncle, you should be happy that your uncle is free, free from mortality, free from the pain, not selfishly hate god for his death.

My uncle isn't anything anymore. Not free from anything, not trapped by anything, just not anything. And again, you seem to keep getting my reaction entirely wrong. I did not get angry at god for my uncle's death. At the time I didn't even believe in the god I'd believed in before. My reaction was to retreat into the belief I'd been indoctrinated in - to try to seek comfort from what I'd believed before. It wasn't hatred. It was desperation born from loneliness.
You tasted both sides of a lie, so you should be ready to break free, to open your eyes from this "grouping" from these doctrines, both crippling either mind or spirit.
What the hell are you even talking about? I don't have any doctrines.
Remember God loves you, he doesnt want you to worship him, he just wants you to live,be free and love everyone, nothing more.
Oh, yay! Soft, sappy, warm-fuzzy platitudes! Just the sort of thing to convince someone who gives a damn about reality to stop giving a damn and just believe! Not to mention that your concept of god is useless. If god just wants me to live, be free, and love everyone, then it sure as hell doesn't seem to matter if I believe in him or not. Whoops!

People wonder why atheists get angry - it's drivel like this. Just because you think you've come up with a happier kind of god doesn't mean I should give you any more credence than I give a fundamentalist. In fact, I think it makes less sense to believe what you believe, because it's patently obvious that you've just invented a deity that seems likable to you. Fortunately for the rest of us, reality is not subject to your whims and desires.

So, to answer the question posed in the title... What's to hate? Not god - I'm an atheist. There's nothing there to hate. A complete misunderstanding of my point of view, combined with self-important empty-headed reality denial thrown at me mixed in with an attack on my way of thinking? Sure, that's hateable.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mike Huckabee Plays the Victim Card

Over on The Atheist Experience blog there's a post with a link to a very ... interesting letter from Mike Huckabee, soliciting donations for a new organization he's involved with. In the letter - which I strongly urge you to read - he mentions the threat we face from Islamic radicals, but then warns his constituents of "an even greater menace [that] threatens to destroy us from the inside out" - "a re-energized Left here in our midst that is working harder than ever to drive out God and ALL MENTION of religious faith from America's public life."

That's right - Mike Huckabee, a Christian living in a majority Christian nation, wants to warn his fellow Christians that, somehow, evil godless liberal atheist scum are going to subvert their will and override the entire democratic system.

Huckabee blames "Big Government", Obama, and Pelosi for "liberal attacks on faith [that] are accelerating to a crisis point."

A few choice bits:
I'm sure you've followed the stories of how liberal judges have targeted our cherished "Pledge of Allegiance" because it contains the words "one nation, under God. [1]

You and I have watched for years as liberals [2] and atheists have systematically driven all [3] Christmas-season nativity scenes from public squares all across America. [4]

Prayer in schools is all but extinct... [5] public school children are barred from singing Christmas carols... [6] an invocation at a graduation ceremony is likely to generate a barrage of lawsuits from "offended" liberals and atheists. [7]
How long do you think it will be before the liberals and atheists are able to have the words "In God We Trust" stricken from our bills and coins? [8]

How long before the atheists and the ACLU [9] declare final victory in getting the entire "Pledge of Allegiance" banned from our schools? [10]
I am concerned that our children and grandchildren could inherit an America where ANY religious utterance is prohibited outside the walls of a private home or church, just because some liberal might be "offended!" [11]
Our liberal-leaning [12] courts have been outlawing God in all aspects [13] of our public lives.

And our left-dominated media [14] has mercilessly portrayed believers as either frightening fanatics or idiotic simpletons. [14]
Here's what I have to say about that.

[1] This has never happened. Judges can't "target" anything. People bring lawsuits, and judges make judgments.

[2] Notice how he paints all liberals as enemies of people of faith? Never mind the fact that the majority of liberals are people of faith themselves, and might actually agree with him about some of his complaints... let's paint them all with a broad brush! Discriminating between different people is hard!

[3] This is an interesting use of "all" to mean "practically none of the."

[4] Removing the promotion of religion is not the same as promoting atheism. A blank piece of paper is not an atheist pamphlet. A public square without a nativity scene is *a public square.*

[5] If you ignore, of course, the fact that children and teachers are fully allowed to pray in school - the teachers just aren't allowed to lead kids in prayer or make them pray.

[6] [citation needed]

[7] See, Mike, this is where you don't get it (again). We're not offended by your beliefs. We're offended that you're so eager to trample the Constitution by injecting your beliefs into our taxpayer-funded schools. You want your kids to learn about God and Jesus in school? Send them to private school. I don't want to pay for it.

[8] Oh noes! Not our money! How can we practice our faith freely if we can't put our deity on the coinage?

[9] The same ACLU which has fought for the rights of Christians several times.

[10] Who has ever suggested this?

[11] Again... it has nothing to be with being offended. But that's beside the point. Neither I nor any atheist I've ever known have wanted to legally prevent people from expressing their religious beliefs (though we would prefer they kept them to themselves). What we want is for the *government* to stop endorsing religion. There's a significant difference between "we won't let you say 'God'" and "we won't let the government promote a specific religion." Mike Huckabee is intentionally ignoring this.

[12] What's the composition of the Supreme Court, again? Oh, that's right... half and half, with a swing voter who leans conservative:
  • Ginsberg: very liberal, consistently votes against conservatives
  • Breyer: consistently liberal
  • Sotomayor: consistently votes progressive
  • Kagan: centrist-progressive
  • Kennedy: the swing vote; considered conservative; sometimes votes liberal
  • Alito: consistently conservative
  • Roberts: consistently conservative
  • Scalia: extremely conservative
  • Thomas: extremely conservative (more than Scalia)

In George W. Bush's eight years in office, he appointed 325 federal judges. In Barack Obama's three years so far, he's appointed 62. Extrapolate that out to eight years and you get 165 judges - barely half of those appointed by Bush. And yet we're supposed to believe that liberals have been taking over the court system. Hilarious!

[13] He's playing with "all" again... and I'd really like to know just what on earth he's talking about.

[14] The media so left-dominated that a milder, leftist, more reality-based version of Glenn Beck gets fired from the top-rated show on his network.

[15] Well, Mike, if the shoe fits...

But this mindless, factually-ignorant screed isn't even the best part. The best part is that he blames increases in crime, abortion, and drug use on godless liberals and atheists. Mike... atheists don't even make up 10% of the population of this country. You're in the majority; sounds to me like you're the one who needs to get his house in order here.

Huckabee's letter goes on to announce the formation (partnered with Newt Gingrich) of Renewing America's Leadership (ReAL), an organization "a new national non-profit organization that is working with ministers and lawyers" to fight the perceived threats to religious liberty from liberals and atheists.

Huckabee insists that "the Founding Fathers fully intended for expressions of religious belief to be incorporated into American life" - something I don't really have a problem with. I'm sure they did. What they didn't intend was for the government to be the one making those expressions. They intentionally set up a secular democracy, not a theocracy, no matter what Mike and his pals would like us to think.

The letter is a golden example of hyperbole, from the beginning down to the statement (next to the box you tick to indicate you want to donate) saying that the "Obama-Pelosi liberals [want] us all to worship at the altar of Big Government". It's also a golden example of historical ignorance, blind bigotry and hatred, and foamy-mouthed fear-mongering.

This smarmy little diatribe could be presented in schools as an example of the conservative mindset: fearful, hateful, pious, always looking for an enemy, bombastic, exuding a sense of helplessness even when part of the majority, perceiving nonexistent threats, and ignorant of reality.

But it's worse than that, really. Read the letter again, but substitute 'atheist' for any other minority group. Imagine a past and future presidential candidate attacking any other minority this way. Imagine, for example, a candidate blasting African Americans for wanting to remove segregation and anti-miscegenation laws from our government. That candidate would be laughed out of the race. And yet, with atheists (and, to be fair, with Muslims, since Huckabee attacked them too), it's still okay - in fact, you're practically expected to attack atheists if you want to be taken seriously by conservative voters.

Mike Huckabee should be ashamed, but you can bet he won't. He won't because we still live in a country where most people agree with his distorted view of reality. And that's why we can no longer afford to remain silent. We actually are victims to this wannabe theocrat and his ilk, and yet we're the ones painted as oppressors. If atheists remain silent - if we remain hidden away in the closet, out of view - we'll never change minds in our favor.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New year, new plans

So, it's 2011. We've marked off another circuit of our journey around the sun, beginning at an arbitrary point in our orbit. Yippee!

My resolution for this year: Get through a first draft of a book. What does that entail? Well... I'm not sure yet. I'm not even sure what I want to write about. But I've got all sorts of ideas constantly floating around in my head that I'd love to commit to paper, and if I can contribute something to the evolving societal zeitgeist, that'd be nice, too.

My biggest stumbling block is that I have some weird obsession with trying to write about something nobody else has covered yet. My girlfriend (rightly) reminds me just how futile this is; the chances of an idea being actually original these days, with almost 7,000,000,000 people on the planet, are next to nil. So once I get over that block, I'm sure the writing will come more easily to me. I've got all sorts of themes I'd like to cover: why freedom of religion must necessarily include freedom from religion, why morality doesn't require an absolute source to be valid, why evidence-based belief is better than faith-based belief, why I dislike postmodernist thinking and its effects on pluralism, and so on. I'd also love to write in greater length than I already have about my deconversion, and how it affected my life, my thinking, my relationships with others, and my outlook on the world.

Fortunately, I won't have to go into this totally blind. We're fast entering an era where self-published books and books published by smaller publishing companies have a good chance of competing in the market, and Hank Fox, local author and member of our atheist Meetup group, has just come out with his own book, “Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason, Gods and Faith”. I haven't read the book yet, but I really look forward to it, since folks like PZ Myers and Hemant Mehta have been promoting it (and my views tend to align with theirs on many issues). I'll have to chat up Hank and see just what he had to do to get published and promote himself... but that's far in the future for me. I've still got all that writing to do...

I guess that's my resolution for 2011: Write a book. Lofty goal, sure, but I know I can do it if I put in the effort. Wish me luck!