Pat Robertson tells viewer to try to get atheist grandkid enrolled in Christian school.

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and its signature show The 700 Club, has a long record of saying douchey things. So much so that I rarely comment on them anymore, but this one was particularly aggravating.

In a segment where he replies to letters from viewers he responds to one from a grandmother concerned that her grandkid is being raised as an atheist by his father so she’s seeking Pat’s advice on what to do about it. Pat’s idea? Try to get the kid away from the atheist parent and into a Christian school or a vacation Bible school.

Christians pitch a fit everytime Richard Dawkins says that he feels parents shouldn’t force their religion on their kids, but I’ve never heard Dawkins suggest that someone should actively try to get a child away from a parent intent on indoctrinating them. If he had you’d never hear the end of it.

If you’re going to argue that Christians, or members of any other faith, should have the right to raise their kids in their faith then the same should be true for atheists. Pat Robertson should’ve told that grandmother to mind her own business, but that would’ve been only fair. He’s not interested in fair, he’s only concerned with spreading Christianity as far as he can before he kicks the bucket because he thinks it’ll earn him extra whipped cream on his Sundaes in heaven or something. He also knows that if you can hook ’em when they’re young they’re more likely to stay with it as adults. To many Christians children are like Pokemon: Gotta catch ’em all.

 

Marriage equality is the best thing to happen for… atheism?

I’ve been kicking around a couple of ideas for blog posts the past week or so because it’s been awhile since I last wrote one. In the past I would’ve blogged about the momentous Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land and how historic it is and all that, but that all seemed like an obvious thing to say so I didn’t do that.

However, while watching the various media reports on the reactions to the ruling — both joyous and apoplectic — it occurred to me that this wasn’t just a wonderful thing for the LGBT community, but for us atheists as well.

We already know that the younger generation is abandoning traditional religious beliefs in record numbers and this is driven in part by the bigotry and intolerance for homosexuals exhibited by many religious sects. In the most recent U.S. Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Center they reported:

One of the most important factors in the declining share of Christians and the growth of the “nones” is generational replacement. As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations. Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Just 16% of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11% identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants.

36% of people between 18 and 24 are religiously unaffiliated. That’s huge and it spells big trouble for the religious powers that be. You can find all manner of articles on various religious websites arguing over why people in general, and young people in particular, are leaving the church and what to do to fix the problem, but studies show that it’s got a lot to do with perceived hostility to gays and lesbians. The Public Religion Research Institute released a report in early 2014 that said:

Majorities of Americans perceive three religious groups to be unfriendly to LGBT people: the Catholic Church (58%), the Mormon church (53%), and evangelical Christian churches (51%). Perceptions of non-evangelical Protestant churches, African-American churches and the Jewish religion are notably less negative.

Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues. Seven-in-ten (70%) Millennials believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues. Only among members of the Silent Generation do less than a majority (43%) believe religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

Among Americans who left their childhood religion and are now religiously unaffiliated, about one-quarter say negative teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people was a somewhat important (14%) or very important (10%) factor in their decision to disaffiliate. Among Millennials who no longer identify with their childhood religion, nearly one-third say that negative teachings about, or treatment of, gay and lesbian people was either a somewhat important (17%) or very important (14%) factor in their disaffiliation from religion.

Religious hostility towards the gay community is not the only driving factor in people leaving their religion behind, but it is a significant one. Given that fact the reaction many on the Religious Right have had to the Supreme Court ruling can only encourage that trend to continue. A small sampling:

Bryan Fischer of the far right American Family Association took to Twitter after the decision to compare it to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks. I shit you not:

Then there’s Jan Markell of Olive Tree Ministries who was recently interviewed on AFA’s radio show Focal Point who said the decision had basically turned the U.S. into North Korea:

“Righteous Christians are truly beyond grieved,” she continued. “They can’t believe that this has happened, not just in the lifetime, but within a relatively short period of time, within a five to seven year period of time, it just seems like not just the world has been turned over to evil, but it seems like the greatest nation that certainly in the last many hundreds of years has been turned over to a reprobate mind.”

“We may be totally silenced,” Markell warned. “Who knows? American Family Radio, Olive Tree Ministries, maybe we’ll be shut down. It would not surprise me at all … They talk like this in North Korea, in China but now we’re talking like this in America and I can only consider that it’s probably judgment on us because too much of America has gone astray spiritually.”

Presidential Candidate (!) Rick Santorum has been having an absolute fit since the decision making all manner of hysterical predictions and promising the folks at NOM that he would work to reverse the decision if elected President:

Sen. Rick Santorum gave the keynote address to NOM’s Second Annual Marriage Gala in Washington, DC on July 2nd. Sen. Santorum ripped the US Supreme Court for their illegitimate ruling and pledged as president to work to reverse it, saying “this will not stand,” bringing the crowd of nearly 400 people to their feet.

[…] It was announced at the Gala that Sen. Santorum has become the first 2016 presidential candidate to sign NOM’s Presidential Marriage Pledge, promising to take specific actions as president to restore traditional marriage and protect supporters of marriage against attempts to marginalize and punish them.

Wing nut Janet Porter put out a video comparing the SCOTUS ruling to slavery:

Then there’s your average common everyday nutcase like Becky Wegner Rommel who absolutely lost her shit over the decision. You gotta watch this one. It’s full of awesome:

I could go on and on and on, but all you really need to do is pay a modicum of attention to the news and you’ll see plenty of examples. Personally, I’m really enjoying it and hoping the Right keeps freaking out for months to come because it only exposes their bigotry and hatefullness and makes their religion that less attractive.

Given that a majority of Americans support marriage equality these days, these folks are doing nothing to help their image on this issue. If anything they’ll push more people away from Christianity and that can only be a good thing. So keep it up! Let your true colors show! We really appreciate you putting your hate on full display.

Christians are in decline while Unaffiliated are rising fast.

goodnewseveryoneThe folks at the Pew Research Center are back with another study of the religious landscape in the United States and it’s not looking good for Christians

America’s Changing Religious Landscape | Pew Research Center.

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

Specifically speaking, since the last time they came out with this report in 2007 the percentage of Americans identifying as Christian has dropped nearly 8 percentage points from 78.4% to 70.6% in 2014. That’s still a majority of Americans, but if this trend continues it won’t be that long before that’s no longer the case. Meanwhile, the Unaffiliated — a combination of atheist, agnostic, and “nothing in particular” — has jumped from 16.1% to 22.8% making it the fastest growing group. That works out to around 56 million people.

PF_15.05.05_RLS2_1_310pxthis group — sometimes called religious “nones” — is more numerous than either Catholics or mainline Protestants, according to the new survey. Indeed, the unaffiliated are now second in size only to evangelical Protestants among major religious groups in the U.S.

The number of people self-identifying as Atheists has doubled from 1.6%  to 3.1% and Agnostics are another 4%. That may not sound like much, but there are now more atheists in America than there are Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, or Jews.

PR_15.05.12_RLS-00

While it’s true that the “nothing in particular” folks make up a majority of the Unaffiliated and many of them still consider themselves spiritual in some way, they’re on the decline as more and more of them come to accept the designation of Atheist or Agnostic.

As the unaffiliated have grown, the internal composition of the religious “nones” has changed. Most unaffiliated people continue to describe themselves as having no particular religion (rather than as being atheists or agnostics), but the “nones” appear to be growing more secular. Atheists and agnostics now account for 31% of all religious “nones,” up from 25% in 2007.

The main driving force in the increase of the Unaffiliated is generational replacement. Older religious folks are dying off while the younger generations just aren’t taking up religion like their parents did, but it’s not the only factor in play.

In addition, people in older generations are increasingly disavowing association with organized religion. About a third of older Millennials (adults currently in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion, up nine percentage points among this cohort since 2007, when the same group was between ages 18 and 26. Nearly a quarter of Generation Xers now say they have no particular religion or describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, up four points in seven years. Baby Boomers also have become slightly but noticeably more likely to identify as religious “nones” in recent years.

As the shifting religious profiles of these generational cohorts suggest, switching religion is a common occurrence in the United States. If all Protestants were treated as a single religious group, then fully 34% of American adults currently have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised. This is up six points since 2007, when 28% of adults identified with a religion different from their childhood faith. If switching among the three Protestant traditions (e.g., from mainline Protestantism to the evangelical tradition, or from evangelicalism to a historically black Protestant denomination) is added to the total, then the share of Americans who currently have a different religion than they did in childhood rises to 42%.

By a wide margin, religious “nones” have experienced larger gains through religious switching than any other group. Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) were raised in a religious faith and now identify with no religion. Some switching also has occurred in the other direction: 9% of American adults say they were raised with no religious affiliation, and almost half of them (4.3% of all U.S. adults) now identify with some religion. But for every person who has joined a religion after having been raised unaffiliated, there are more than four people who have become religious “nones” after having been raised in some religion. This 1:4 ratio is an important factor in the growth of the unaffiliated population.

The study goes on to mention that interfaith marriages are more common now than they ever have been before and a large part of that is because there’s plenty of Christians out there who are marrying people in the Unaffiliated group.

There’s a lot more detail in the full report which is worth reading, but the upshot of it is that this is an ongoing trend for the better part of a decade that shows no signs of slowing. Given the huge number of Christians out there making an ass of themselves over things such as gay marriage — or making wedding cakes for gays — I fully expect the trend to continue.

Here’s a few more highlights that made me smile:

  • Although it is low relative to other religious groups, the retention rate of the unaffiliated has increased. In the current survey, 53% of those raised as religiously unaffiliated still identify as “nones” in adulthood, up seven points since 2007. And among Millennials, “nones” actually have one of the highest retention rates of all the religious categories that are large enough to analyze in the survey.
  • The percentage of college graduates who identify with Christianity has declined by nine percentage points since 2007 (from 73% to 64%). The Christian share of the population has declined by a similar amount among those with less than a college education (from 81% to 73%). Religious “nones” now constitute 24% of all college graduates (up from 17%) and 22% of those with less than a college degree (up from 16%).
  • The Christian share of the population is declining and the religiously unaffiliated share is growing in all four major geographic regions of the country. Religious “nones” now constitute 19% of the adult population in the South (up from 13% in 2007), 22% of the population in the Midwest (up from 16%), 25% of the population in the Northeast (up from 16%) and 28% of the population in the West (up from 21%). In the West, the religiously unaffiliated are more numerous than Catholics (23%), evangelicals (22%) and every other religious group.
  • More than a quarter of men (27%) now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up from 20% in 2007. Fewer women are religious “nones,” but the religiously unaffiliated are growing among women at about the same rate as among men. Nearly one-in-five women (19%) now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up from 13% in 2007.

One thing that’s clear is that the increase in the number of atheists and agnostics who are speaking up about their lack of belief is having an impact in changing minds. I suspect that our numbers are actually higher than this study says as a lot of the “no particulars” are probably atheists or agnostics who are “in the closet” for whatever reason. Hell, I’m willing to bet there’s more than a few self-identifying Christians/Muslims/Jews/etc. who are really closeted atheists and agnostics. That makes standing up all the more important.

So keep up the good work,everyone. We’re making a difference!

Rev. Eric Strachan wonders why atheists don’t believe in God.

evangelical-giraffeOver at the Pembroke Daily Observer there’s an article by one Reverend Eric Strachan in which he ponders how it’s possible that an atheist doesn’t believe in God. He starts his column by naming a number of prominent atheists such as billionaire Warren Buffet, Mick Jagger, Mark Zuckerburg, Bruce Lee, Gloria Steinem, and “Jim Gibson, the mayor of Head, Clara and Maria who sits on the Renfrew County council” who is apparently the person that started Strachan’s pondering in the first place.

It seems Strachan hasn’t bothered to find any atheists to answer his burning question, but he doesn’t let that stop him from telling us what he thinks are the reasons we don’t believe:

How come some don’t believe there is a God? | Pembroke Daily Observer.

I’ve discovered throughout the years that there are many reasons why many men and women today align themselves with people like Mark Zuckerburg and Ron Reagan Jr. I think there are many people who are atheists today because they’ve experienced human tragedy, painful traumatic events in their lives, wars, rapes, a dysfunctional childhood, abuse, the tragic loss of a loved one and they’ve simply not been able to come to a satisfactory answer to the perennial perplexing question, “If there is a loving, all-powerful God, then why would He allow this to happen to me?”

Outside of their own personal traumas, many embrace atheism today because they read of the Jewish Holocaust, see and witness human tragedies on a widespread scale, famines, genocides, ethnic cleansings and they ask themselves despairingly, “If there is a God, why would He allow such atrocities?” Together with that, there are many who fly under the banner of atheism today because at some memorable junction in their lives they have been desperately hurt, wounded and scarred by someone who professed to be a believer. Tragically the messenger has discredited the message by his/her inappropriate behaviour and the wounded one has committed the classic error that all of us are inclined to do, of throwing out the baby with the bathwater!

If I had a dime for every time someone told me I’m only an atheist because something bad happened to me I’d be able to retire. Obviously I can’t speak for all atheists and it’s entirely possible that there are some out there for whom one or more of the reasons cited above is indeed why they are atheists, but for a lot of us the reason is simple: There’s no substantial evidence that any kind of God exists.

I’ve had my fair share of trauma and loss in my life. Moments of great despair when I felt hopeless and shattered, but none of that had any bearing on my beliefs in God. Back when I was a believer I attributed all sorts of things to God, but as I grew and learned I realized I had no real reasons for doing so. Near as I can tell God has never spoken to me even at the height of my belief and certainly not as I started to develop doubts.

In his article, Strachan talks of newborn twins as proof of God using the following argument:

I don’t know about you, but a few weeks ago I stood in the Maternity Ward of our local hospital and looked at a pair of newborn twins, and then the other day I held them. It was an awesome moment for me, I was in absolute awe, strangely and mutely silenced as I touched tiny fingers, beheld tiny eyes, felt skin as soft as velvet and pondered to think that what I now held in my arms, these beautiful babies, had their mysterious beginnings in a microscopic cell. Who, I ask you, but a Supreme Omnipotent Creator could engineer such a marvel? You simply cannot look into the face of a newborn and declare “There is no God!”

Sure I can. I’ve held plenty of babies in my time, not the least of which was my own daughter, and as amazing as they can be I don’t see in them any proof of God. In part because I understand how biological reproduction works and that there is no engineering involved in the process. Perhaps the Reverend would do better to study a few biology books from time to time.

I can recall someone once asking me how I could look at trees and not believe in God. I still don’t understand why they thought trees were a convincing proof. If it’s not trees then it’s rainbows or sunsets or the night sky or some other aspect of reality that they clearly don’t have a strong understanding of and thus have to resort to ‘Goddidit’ to explain the awe they feel about whatever random thing they’re awed by. The fact that you don’t understand something doesn’t mean the only answer to how it could exist is God.

If you really want to know why any particular atheist is an atheist, try asking them. Most will probably be happy to tell you and most won’t say it’s because something bad happened to them.

 

Phil Robertson uses a straw man argument to make a stupid point.

strawmancardPhil Robertson, for those of you who don’t watch Duck Dynasty, is one of the darlings of the Religious Right for his very conservatives views on everything from gays to atheists. You might of heard about him back when he got kicked off his own show for some bigoted comments about homosexuals he made in an interview with GQ magazine only for A&E to turn around and reinstate him before the show resumed filming. It had everyone on the Right in an uproar and A&E decided the show’s ratings were more important than having principles.

Anyway, he’s still giving interviews where he says awesomely stupid things. His most recent was on Friday over at “Trunews”, a Conservative Christian website run by Rick Wiles. While discussing healthcare insurance Robertson veers off into a tale of an atheist whose daughters are raped in front of him, his wife is decapitated, and his dick is cut off to make a point about right and wrong:

“I’ll make a bet with you,” Robertson said. “Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’”

Robertson kept going: “Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’”

“If it happened to them,” Robertson continued, “they probably would say, ‘something about this just ain’t right.”

via Phil Robertson Hypothesizes About Atheist Family Getting Raped And Killed | Right Wing Watch.

The problem with this — other than it’s somewhat disturbing the sort of things Robertson fantasizes about — is it’s a straw man depiction of what atheists think. About the only thing Robertson gets right is the fact that atheists don’t think there’s a God or Gods that’ll judge the killers for their actions. To suggest that that means we don’t think there’s such a thing as right and wrong is simply not true. I’ve yet to meet an atheist who has espoused the sincerely held belief that there is no right or wrong.

It’s not difficult to come up with a moral system that doesn’t rely on edicts from God(s) to establish right and wrong. There are several different systems of Secular Morality already. Ranging from Secular Humanism to Freethinking to Consequentialism. Personally, I tend to fall in the Freethinking category, but there are aspects of Secular Humanism I adhere to as well.

On top of that, the morality depicted in the Bible is not only questionable at best, but God himself has a hard time adhering to it. At various times he’s commanded his followers to break any number of the Ten Commandments he supposedly considered so important he wrote them down for us. Apparently it’s OK to break the rules when God commands you to. In fact, if the fictional killers in Robertson’s twisted tale were acting under the orders of God I’m willing to bet that Robertson, had he some reason to believe that were indeed the case, would consider them perfectly justified in following through on them. It wouldn’t be the first time God had ordered his followers to wipe out people He considered bad (see the tale of Vengeance on the Midianites in Numbers 31: 1-47 for a great example).

religionhorriblepersonPeople like Robertson who believe that without God to tell them right from wrong there’s no reason for them not to go around killing and raping worry me. One would hope that there’s more than just a book of fairy tales keeping these people from being monsters. Considering the truly heinous things a large number of Christians are capable of in spite of their belief that God has defined an objective morality and the threat of eternity in Hell, it would be a nightmare if they could be convinced that those things don’t exist.

Every so often on Facebook I’ll see an image macro come up that says: “I am a Christian. You can ridicule me. You can torture me. You can kill me. But you cannot change my mind.” All I can think when I see it is: Given what some of you think is OK if God doesn’t exist, it’s probably for the best you’re so closed minded.

On picking the right battles.

jesusr-no-runningSo there’s been a couple of news items recently about restaurants causing an uproar by offering discounts to customers displaying their religiosity. In one case Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, NC was offering a 15% discount to customers they saw praying before eating their meals.

The owner claimed it was more about public displays of gratitude than religion, but the receipts did list it as a ‘praying in public’ discount, which makes that claim seem a bit dubious. That said, it was never officially advertised and was handed out entirely at the discretion of the service staff for years before a pleasantly surprised customer posted a photo of their receipt with the discount to Facebook and it went viral. It wasn’t long after that the the owner was contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation — a group I support — with a letter informing them that the practice was a violation of the Civil Rights Act. The owner ended up deciding to discontinue the discount despite a lot of offers of free legal representation and visitors to the diner are now greeted with the following note:

“While you may exercise your right of religious freedom at this restaurant by praying over your meal to any entity or non-entity, we mush protect your freedom from religion in a public place. We are no longer issuing the 15% praying in public discount. It is illegal and we are being threatened by a lawsuit.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told News & Record that the group didn’t threaten a lawsuit, but a lawsuit “would not have been off the table.”

She added that it’s illegal to “charge an atheist more than a Christian.”

Now the FFRF has contacted Bailey’s Pizza in Arkansas for offering a 10% discount to people who bring in church bulletins:

Sent earlier this month, the letter alleges that Bailey’s owner, Steven Rose, is discriminating against patrons who have not attended church.

“The law requires places of public accommodation to offer their services to customers without regard to race, color, religion or national origin,” wrote FFRF representative Elizabeth Cavell.

Bailey’s, which opened last month, also allows patrons to write Bible verses on one of the restaurant’s walls.

In an interview with local media, Rose denies that the discount violates the Civil Rights Act, telling CBS affiliate THV11 that the discount “has nothing to do with excluding anybody.”

“It’s not specific to any church. It’s another way to bring people in and make them feel welcome,” said Rose.

“I offer discounts to others too — like college students, teachers, military, police and senior citizens.”

Now, technically, the FFRF is correct in that both of these policies violate the Civil Rights Act which includes religion as one of the criteria that public businesses cannot discriminate on and offering discounts for public displays of religiosity or church bulletins is a form of discrimination. Steven Rose disagrees and is vowing to fight the FFRF if they sue saying that if atheists really want the discount they can just download a church bulletin off of a website and bring it in and no one would question them on it. Which, yeah, you could do if you don’t mind dishonestly misrepresenting yourself to knock a few bucks off your pizza. I don’t think atheists should be forced into essentially lying to a business just to net a discount.

So, yes, I think the FFRF is right that this is a violation of the law, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort to pick a fight over it. I don’t really care if religious folks get slightly cheaper food from a particular restaurant. If anything, it just makes me want to avoid that restaurant.  If they don’t mind alienating part of their potential clientele then so be it. Atheists in general, and the FFRF in particular, already take a lot of shit for fighting battles over displays of the Decalog and crosses on government property and I think those are worthy fights to be had. I’m not sure the extra ill-will we get from forcing a restaurant to cease offering preferential treatment to religious people is worth it.

That said, I would be sure to make it known to the owner of any restaurants that I did visit that had such a policy that I find it disappointing and wouldn’t recommend folks eat there as a result. Maybe that would make them rethink it and maybe it wouldn’t, but there’s plenty of places to eat that don’t discriminate to choose from. If their goal was to make people feel welcome and I don’t feel welcome, well, they failed in their goal.

One of the neat things about having had a blog for 13 years is that you can figuratively go back in time and see the person you once were simply by browsing through the archives. I was 34 when I first started blogging and back then I probably would’ve been right there with the FFRF decrying this as something that should not be! It’s an injustice against my people and will not stand!

fuckloadingfailI don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and just don’t have the energy I did 13 years ago, but these days my reaction to hearing about eateries like these was “meh.” It seems like you hear about this sort of thing every week now and it seems like a huge waste of resources trying to fight each one.

There’s also the fact that religious belief in America has been on a downward trend for some time now so it’s a problem that’s likely to take care of itself by the end of the century:

Every piece of social data suggests that those who favor faith and superstition over fact-based evidence will become the minority in this country by or before the end of this century. In fact, the number of Americans who do not believe in a deity doubled in the last decade of the previous century according to both the census of 2004 and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008, with religious non-belief in the U.S. rising from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001. In 2013, that number is now above 16 percent.

If current trends continue, the crossing point, whereby atheists, agnostics, and “nones” equals the number of Christians in this country, will be in the year 2062. If that gives you reason to celebrate, consider this: by the year 2130, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christian will equal a little more than 1 percent. To put that into perspective, today roughly 1 percent of the population is Muslim.

The fastest growing religious faith in the United States is the group collectively labeled “Nones,” who spurn organized religion in favor of non-defined skepticism about faith. About two-thirds of Nones say they are former believers. This is hugely significant. The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over-zealousness of the Christian Right.

So let them have their little discounts if they want them and save those resources for the bigger fights. Consider it a consolation prize as they’re headed out the door. Hell, if anything, this sort of thing does more harm to their cause than good. This sort of subtle discrimination only contributes to their downfall because it reveals them for the bigots they are.

Feel the Christian Love: Rick Wiles says Ebola “could solve America’s problems” with gays and atheists.

Rick Wiles, for those of you who have blissfully never heard of him, is an end-times preacher who is always on the lookout for signs that the apocalypse is about to start. He is so full of Christian love for his fellow humans that he recently expressed on his “Trunews” program that if Ebola were to break out and become a pandemic in the United States, why, that might be the best thing ever to happen.

No, really:

“Now this Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic and that’s another name for plague. It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming,” he said. “Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion.”

“If Ebola becomes a global plague, you better make sure the blood of Jesus is upon you, you better make sure you have been marked by the angels so that you are protected by God. If not, you may be a candidate to meet the Grim Reaper.”

via Rick Wiles: ‘Ebola Could Solve America’s Problems With Atheism And Homosexuality’ | Right Wing Watch.

jesussavesApparently being a believer in Jesus Christ is all you need to protect yourself from Ebola. Nevermind the fact that the two Americans — Dr. Kent Brantley and Nancy Writebol — who were trying to help deal with the outbreak in Liberia only to end up contracting the disease are, themselves, Christians. Perhaps they just didn’t believe in Jesus hard enough. 

Wiles is so scared of atheists and gays and people who fuck more than one person and people who film themselves fucking more than one person and people who, for whatever reason, decide not to go through with a pregnancy that he gleefully imagines them being wiped out by one of the more horrible viruses you can die from while his flock of True Believers™ are protected by the magic sky fairy.

This shouldn’t be surprising considering that he’s also pushing a conspiracy theory that President Obama might use this an excuse to give people an ineffective vaccine and then force them into FEMA CAMPS!

Wiles was speaking with evangelist Augusto Perez about how the spread of Ebola in West Africa has implications for the End Times. The two speculated that the American government may exploit the outbreak in order to grow the size of government and require people receive a vaccine.

“Obama would claim executive powers to mandate that every human being in the United States be vaccinated,” Wiles said. “They could use the panic to stampede hundreds of millions of people in this country to be vaccinated, in fact billions worldwide, they could stampede the world to receive to a vaccine against a deadly virus and nobody knows what is in the vaccine.”

– See more at: Rick Wiles Links Obama To Ebola Outbreak

Alas, Ebola isn’t the plague Rick Wiles hopes it will be. While the virus is definitely dangerous and often fatal, it’s not easily transmitted from person to person. It requires direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person which is why healthcare providers have to wear those fully enclosed hazmat suits you see on TV.

Yes, it’s killing a lot of people in West Africa, but that has more to do with how poor the healthcare system there is combined with superstitions of the people who live there and the rituals they have for handling dead bodies. Much like Rick Wiles, a lot of people there are buying into conspiracy theories that Ebola isn’t real and that their loved ones are being kidnapped for various reasons including cannibalism. So they’re hiding sick individuals and, in some cases, breaking them out of hospitals putting themselves and everyone they come into contact with at risk:

In recent days crowds gathered outside clinics and hospitals to protest against what they see as a conspiracy, in some cases clashing with police as they threatened to burn down the buildings and remove the patients.

Amadu Sisi, a senior doctor at King Harman hospital in the capital Freetown, from which the patient was taken, said on Saturday that police found her in the house of a healer.

Her family refused to hand her over and a struggle ensued with police, who finally retrieved her and sent her to hospital, he said.

“She died in the ambulance on the way to another hospital,” Sisi said.

not_driving_behind_youThis is what ignorance and fear does to people. Rick Wiles is guilty of his own brand of ignorance and fear and he’s foisting it onto his audience. He’s really no different than the “backward” people in West Africa who do stupid things like the above. Instead of cannibalistic doctors it’s the U.S. Government using “chemtrails” to weaken us and a dangerous vaccine to intentionally infect us with a horrible disease so they can round us all up in FEMA camps. He doesn’t say what happens to us then. The FEMA folks probably eat us. It wouldn’t any stupider than anything else he’s said.

This is the sort of brain damage buying into Gods and demons causes to otherwise rational human beings. If you’ll accept the outlandish things the Bible says happened as being true then there’s nothing anyone could tell you that would be so egregious that you’d have any reason to doubt the validity of it. Believing Obama is out to intentionally infect people with Ebola is easy when you buy into the idea of a talking snake causing the downfall of mankind.

If it’s too much to ask these idiots to throw off the shackles of these ridiculous beliefs can we at least ask that they try not to be too happy about the horrors they expect the rest of us to suffer at the hands of their “loving” God?

Rep. Louie Gohmert proves the existence of God.

Well, we had a good run my fellow atheists, but there comes a point when you have to admit you’ve been beaten and that moment is now. You see, Republican Louie Gohmert has come up with the ultimate proof of the existence of God. What fools we’ve been!

Check it:

OK, so technically this isn’t really Louie’s argument, but something he heard from some dude named Bob Murphy out of Texas. In case you didn’t watch the video clip — you should, it’s short and stunning in its stupidity logic — here’s what old Bob had to say:

“Ya know, I feel so sorry for atheists. I do. You know, think about it. No matter how smart they think they are, an atheist has to admit that he believes the equation ‘nobody plus nothing equals everything.’ How embarrassing for an intellectual to have to say, ‘Ya, I believe that. Nobody plus nothing equals everything.’

“Well, you couldn’t get everything unless there was something that was the creator of everything, and that’s the Lord we know”

headdeskI think neither Mr. Murphy nor Rep. Gohmert have talked to very many atheists. Perhaps there’s a few out there who might make such a statement, but I can’t think of any off top of my head. It’s certainly not what I believe because it shows a fundamental lack of understanding of some of the better known theories on how the Universe came to be.

How many times does it have to be said that the Big Bang theory does not say there was nothing prior to the big bang? Everything that is in the universe now was there at the beginning all scrunched up into a very tiny point called a singularity. There is no need to assume that everything came from nothing because, according to the theory, there wasn’t nothing. We still don’t know everything there is to know about the start of the universe because the closer you get to the moment of expansion the more general relativity and quantum mechanics start to fall apart in their ability to describe what things were like, but the theory overall has a lot of evidence backing it up such that accepting the idea of everything has always been there all smooshed up until it exploded into the universe we see today isn’t any more far-fetched than accepting the idea some all-powerful being willed it into existence.

If you’re going to insist on the idea that there was “nothing” prior to the universe then we can turn to theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss who has argued that it’s quite possible to get something from nothing and wrote a whole book about it called A Universe From Nothing. In it he explains exactly how such a thing is not only possible, but probably inevitable. I’ve written about Krauss and his lecture about this several times in the past and if you want to watch a video of his lecture you’ll find it in this previous entry.

There’s also the option to just admit that we don’t know how the universe came to be and that the evidence it was willed into being by a creator is unconvincing. Just because we don’t know the answer to the question that isn’t a good reason to presume that God(s) had a hand in it.

But the thing I really want to point out about Rep. Gohmert’s little anecdote is how shallow the thinking he’s using is. Some blowhard puts forth a strawman argument that doesn’t actually represent anything I’ve ever heard any atheist say and Gohmert acts like it’s wisdom carved on stone tablets from on high. It doesn’t make an argument in support of the idea of a creator God, it just tries to paint atheists as illogical hypocrites. It ignores all of the other possible explanations for the existence of the universe for a cheap shot at a despised group of people. Of course, he’s preaching to the choir who don’t need any convincing that a God popped everything into existence because reasons we’re too puny to comprehend. Ha ha! Those dumb atheists think they’re so smart when really they’re super stoopid! Ha ha!

Guess how convinced I am by that argument.

Atheists set up a “Megachurch” and some folks have a problem with it.

Atheist-Church

An artist’s rendition. Clearly it has some appeal.

There’s a couple of comedians over in the U.K. —  Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans — who happen to be atheists that decided it was time atheists had a church of their own. So they set about creating The Sunday Assembly, a monthly gathering of atheists that’s somewhat akin to a church service without all that God nonsense. The first service was held back in January and there was a smattering of news articles about it which made the rounds back then, but was otherwise mostly ignored. I think most folks thought it was a silly idea and would fade away quickly even if 300 people did show up for that inaugural session in a deconsecrated church. The following months would see that number grow to upwards of 600 people requiring a change in venue.

Now they’re back in the news again because the assemblies have branched out to 30 other cities around the world including Dublin, New York, San Diego, and even one in Grand Rapids. The founders have set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to grow the organization even further (they’re at £29,556 of their £500,000 goal so far) with a world-tour to promote the idea taking place right now. It would appear they’ve struck a chord that is resonating with a lot of atheists.

Which shouldn’t be too surprising considering that a lot of atheists are, like myself, former believers. There are studies done all the time that reveal that there is no shortage of atheists who continue to attend church long after they stop believing. Some of them do it for their kids or spouse who continue to be believers, some do it because they enjoy the community and/or rituals involved, and some do it because they find the experience meaningful despite their lack of belief. Many former-believers-turned-atheists report feeling a sense of loss of community and belonging after leaving their faiths so the appeal of a non-religious substitute for that community seems like a no-brainer.

Not surprisingly, the success of this movement has attracted no small amount of criticism with some of the most pointed of it coming from fellow atheists. Take as an example this article from Michael Luciano titled Why “Atheist Churches” Are a Disaster For Atheism:

Despite the best efforts of obfuscators to assert the contraryatheism is not a religion – not in any meaningful sense, anyway.

And at a time when atheists are trying to fight this mischaracterization – including in the courts– it is incredibly counterproductive for Jones and Evans to feed the misconceptions with their charade because the fact is, an “atheist church” makes as much sense as a Baptist synagogue.

Michael’s primary criticism seems to be that this movement will allow believers to claim that atheism is very much a religion because it now has a “church” and, undoubtedly, some folks will indeed try to make that argument. Of course that ignores the fact that plenty of religious nutcases already make that argument anyway including someone named Zac right here on SEB. He tried to make the argument that atheism was not just a belief, but a religion and that Richard Dawkins was our Pope. Will the Sunday Assembly contribute to that misconception? Possibly, but it’s not like it wasn’t there already so I’m not sure how much more harm it can cause.

Michael goes on to say:

Earlier this year, the duo explained their motivations in the New York Times: “[C]hurch has got so many awesome things going for it. Singing together in a group? Super. Hearing interesting things? Rad. A moment to think quietly about your life? Wizard. Getting to know your neighbors? Ace.”

Based on my own personal experience attending church, as well as other believers-turned-heretics I have spoken with, church had so few “awesome things going for it,” that we left. For atheists every religious service is predicated on a falsehood, regardless of whatever feel-good niceties may accompany its production.

The above is arguably true for a great many atheists, but not all atheists are the same. The above comes across as the No True Scotsman fallacy. Simply because Michael and some atheists he happens to have spoken with don’t think there was much that was awesome about church attendance, that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate atheists out there who do. Plenty of atheists don’t participate in Christmas or Easter festivities, but I and many others that I know personally do. We just take out the religious nonsense from it and I don’t consider myself any less of an atheist for doing so. While I may not be all that big on the community aspects of church attendance, I can certainly see how it might be appealing to others. I don’t begrudge them their indulging in it if that’s what makes them happy.

Of course, the blame for this silliness cannot be placed entirely with Jones and Evans. Clearly they have tapped into a market of nonbelievers who for some reason still find it necessary to attend “church” to infuse their lives with meaning. It really is a sad state of affairs, as what they are aiming for can just as well be accomplished by an informal gathering at a coffee shop, bar, book club, concert, lecture, or in their own homes. For the freethought movement’s sake, I sincerely hope that the Sunday Assembly is a fleeting cultural idiosyncrasy and not emblematic of a broader trend.

Other than the idea that this will give believers an argument to claim atheism is as much of a religion as any other, Michael doesn’t do a very good job of stating why Sunday Assembly is a “disaster” for the atheist movement. Perhaps he’s right that the same results could be achieved by an informal gathering at other random places, but I’m not sure I understand why that’s an argument against the Sunday Assembly itself. If you prefer your atheist meetups at bars there are groups out there doing just that which you can participate in. Bars not your thing, there’s all manner of other atheist meetups out there to look into. Many of which seem to have similar goals to the Sunday Assembly. The only thing I can see about SA that is upsetting to Michael is that they’re using churchy terminology.

SundayAssemblyLogoIt’s also not clear that Sunday Assembly is all that formal. I’ve never been to one myself (and I suspect Michael hasn’t either), but if the YouTube video for their Indiegogo project is anything to go by then “formal” is probably not an accurate description of the proceedings.  According to the About Page on their website, the three core ideas behind SA are as follows:

We are here for everyone who wants to:

  • Live Better. We aim to provide inspiring, thought-provoking and practical ideas that help people to live the lives they want to lead and be the people they want to be

  • Help Often. Assemblies are communities of action building lives of purpose, encouraging us all to help anyone who needs it to support each other

  • Wonder More. Hearing talks, singing as one, listening to readings and even playing games helps us to connect with each other and the awesome world we live in.

That sounds pretty innocuous to me. They go on to be a bit more specific with:

The Sunday Assembly

  1. Is 100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.
  2. Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.
  3. Has no deity. We don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.
  4. Is radically inclusive. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs – this is a place of love that is open and accepting.
  5. Is free to attend, not-for-profit and volunteer run. We ask for donations to cover our costs and support our community work.
  6. Has a community mission. Through our Action Heroes (you!), we will be a force for good.
  7. Is independent. We do not accept sponsorship or promote outside businesses, organisations or services
  8. Is here to stay. With your involvement, The Sunday Assembly will make the world a better place
  9. We won’t won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can
  10. And remember point 1… The Sunday Assembly is a celebration of the one life we know we have

Again, this doesn’t sound like a terrible thing to me. That doesn’t stop Sadhbh Walshe of The Guardian from declaring that Atheist ‘mega-churches’ undermine what atheism’s supposed to be about.

Determined to show that those who believe in nothing are just as good as those who believe in something, the faithless are establishing a church of their own, and a mega-church at that. On the surface it seems like a rather brilliant idea. What’s not to like about beating the faithful at their own game? Apart from the one small caveat that establishing a place of worship for the faithless, even a godless one, rather negates what atheism is supposed to be all about.

Really? I must have missed that day of Atheism 101 Class wherein we were told what atheism was “all about” because as far as I know it’s only about not believing in God(s) with everything else being up to the individual to decide.

This past Sunday, the groups’ inaugural assembly in Los Angeles attracted some 400 people. Similar gatherings across the states have also drawn big crowds, bursting to do all the good stuff religious people do, just without the God stuff. As one of those non-believing types – the kind who’d be inclined to tick off the “spiritual but not religious” checkbox on a dating profile – I should fall right into the Sunday Assembly movement’s target demographic. If only the central idea of dragging atheists into a church so they can prove they are just as worthy as traditional churchgoers didn’t strike me as a bit of joke.

I’ve read through the entirety of the SA website and I can’t seem to locate the part that says the goal is to prove atheists are just as worthy as traditional churchgoers. I’ve seen a lot of stuff about providing a community to do awesome things with and love and compassion and some other vaguely hippy stuff, but nothing about proving atheists as worthy. Maybe that really is the goal of the founders, but if it is they’ve done a good job of hiding it.

She goes on to write:

I don’t mean to downplay the human need to find like-minded communities either or to explore the deeper purpose of our existence. I just can’t quite embrace the notion that atheists should be under any obligation to prove their worthiness to religious types, or that to do so they should mimic the long established religious practices that non-believers have typically eschewed.

As near as I can tell, and again I’ve gone over the website carefully, the founders aren’t suggesting that atheists are under any obligation to do jack or prove shit. Nor do they say atheists “should” mimic anything. They are saying that if some of the stuff you used to do in church appeals to you and you’d like a place to do it again without all that God nonsense then they have an option for you to explore. How is that a bad thing?

I would have thought the message of atheism (if there needs to be one) is that churches and ritualized worship (whatever the focus of that worship might be) are best left to the people who feel the need to have a God figure in their lives.

cf978bb3Again, I must have missed that class. As far as I’m aware atheism has no message. There are no tenets, no holy book, no rites,  no great wisdoms handed down from on high. From what I can see of Sunday Assemblies — and I’ll say again that I have not attended one — it’s a church only in the sense of being a gathering of like-minded people communing with each other and perhaps working towards making the world a better place. Considering that Miss Walshe goes on to say that she’s dabbled with Buddhist retreats and Hinduism meditation, both of which are ritualized in many ways, I’m not sure what her problem with SA is.

Here she tries to explain what her problem actually is:

That is why I have a fundamental problem with the so called atheist mega-church movement that Jones and Evans are spearheading. While they have every right to form congregations and get together with like-minded people and to share hugs and plan good deeds, they don’t have the right to co-opt atheism for their cause.

Ah, it’s the old THIS-THING-IS-MINE-YOU-CAN’T-HAVE-IT-CAUSE-IT’S-MINE problem. Yet again I fail to see anywhere in anything I’ve read about Sunday Assemblies that they are out to co-opt atheism for their cause. I don’t think they’ve managed to raise enough money to hire a private Atheist Mercenary Army with which to force all the atheists to attend their church and abide by their holy writ lest they be rounded up and sent off to the Atheist Gulags for reeducation.

In point of fact, comparing the Sunday Assembly’s approach to organizing atheists (which is what they are doing) to another attempt at doing so seems an apt thing to do. When the folks behind Atheism Plus launched their effort to bring together like-minded atheists to push for social justice issues there was quite a bit of talk about them doing exactly what Miss Walshe is accusing the folks behind SA of doing in terms of trying to co-opt the movement. When Jen McCreight wrote her infamous entry that launched Atheism Plus titled How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism she made it quite clear that the goal was to redefine the atheism movement:

I don’t want good causes like secularism and skepticism to die because they’re infested with people who see issues of equality as mission drift. I want Deep Rifts. I want to be able to truthfully say that I feel safe in this movement. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people. We throw up billboards claiming we’re Good Without God, but how are we proving that as a movement? Litter clean-ups and blood drives can only say so much when you’re simultaneously threatening your fellow activists with rape and death.*

[…] The Boy’s Club may have historically ruled the movement, but they don’t own it. We can.

It’s quite clear that her goal is to weed out the folks she considers “bad” from what she views as “her” movement. This was repeated by other early adopters of Atheism Plus such as Richard Carrier who wrote:

There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all (I mean people like these and these). I was already mulling a way to do this back in June when discussion in the comments on my post On Sexual Harassment generated an idea (inspired by Anne C. Hanna) to start a blog series building a system of shared values that separates the light side of the force from the dark side within the atheism movement, so we could start marginalizing the evil in our midst, and grooming the next generation more consistently and clearly into a system of more enlightened humanist values.

If you’ve never read his whole article then it’s worth doing so. Whether you agree or not with Carrier’s opinion on what constitutes a good atheist vis–à–vis a bad atheist, it’s clear that he thinks Atheism Plus should come to dominate the atheism “movement”, inasmuch such a thing exists. Carrier’s remarks in particular were seen by many in the atheist community as a you’re either with us or against us and if you’re against us we’ll do everything we can to kick you out of the movement polemic that turned off a lot of otherwise sympathetic people. So much so that no less than Jen McCreight herself repudiated his comments:

McCreightonCarrier

Which I find interesting as he didn’t really say anything she hadn’t suggested herself in her original blog entry about it. Atheism Plus was the next chapter in what some would consider the growing schism in the atheist community online that started with the ElevatorGate incident. The whole thing got so stupid that it caused me to stop reading a lot of atheist bloggers I respected on both sides of the “debate” because they spent most of their time trash talking the other side.

In comparison the Sunday Assembly folks don’t seem to me to be attempting to do anything other than offer folks who miss the community of their old churches someplace to experience it once again without all the God nonsense. How Miss Walshe sees that as co-opting is beyond me. She concludes her article with the following:

I’m sure the Sunday Assemblies have the potential to benefit many people and will fill a void for anyone who likes the idea of being part of a community. But if faithlessness ends up becoming a quasi-religion with its very own church, where are the true atheists – the ones who don’t feel the need to join a congregation or to sing and hold hands to show the world we’re good and worthy – supposed to call home?

Again with the idea of “True Atheists.” If someone attending a SA event doesn’t believe in Gods then how are they not a True Atheist?  Again I’ll ask: Does the fact that I put up Christmas lights and a Christmas tree and eat Christmas dinner and exchange Christmas gifts mean I’m not a True Atheist in her book? I don’t believe in Gods, but I do enjoy Christmas rituals and can even find beauty in Christmas songs such as O’ Holy Night. If Miss Walshe doesn’t want to attend an atheist “church”, but still wants someplace to call home then why doesn’t she look into any of the other atheist events I mentioned earlier in this essay? Does she think every atheist out there is going to fall under the siren song of SA such that all those other events and meetups all dry up and blow away?

Personally, I’ll probably not become a member of a Sunday Assembly if one sets up shop nearby (Grand Rapids is a helluva drive from Ann Arbor even if it is only once a month), but that’s just me. I’ve only ever attended one meeting of a local Skeptics in the Pub. I didn’t have a problem with the group, I’m just not the sort of person who attends events like that regularly.

About the only real problem I can foresee with SA is the same problem that crops up in any grouping of people once it gets large enough. The seemingly inevitable power struggles that occur between competing visions of what said group is supposed to be about. No group is immune to it and the bigger a group gets the more likely it is to fall victim to it. We see it in politics, religion, World of Warcraft clans, and any number of online communities. The atheist movement is experiencing it just as the video gaming community is (and often over the same issues) just as the Republicans are and as the Democrats will (as they have in the past). That’s just human nature I suppose, but to claim that Sunday Assembly is a “disaster for atheism” or is “co-opting the movement” just isn’t supported by what I’ve seen of it so far. Compared to Atheism Plus I’d go so far as to say it’s relatively harmless to the greater movement. And if it makes some folks happy then what the fuck is the problem?

My appearance on the West X Midwest podcast.

For those of you who didn’t watch it live, which is probably the vast majority of you, here’s the YouTube video of my appearance on the West X Midwest podcast:

If you prefer to listen instead of watch you can do so either at Libsyn or on iTunes. However you go about it, I make my appearance about half-way through. Don’t skip ahead, though, as the whole thing is worth a listen. In fact, if you’ve spent much time around SEB you’ve probably heard (read) most of what I say anyway. Still, for those of you in love with the melodious sound of my voice, this should fit the bill.