Archive for January, 2010

25
Jan
10

What would it take you to believe in a god?

(This is the 10th question in Brett Keane’s Atheist Challenge)

What would it take you to believe in a god?

Meeting one in person, and having he/she/it display their divinity to me in a way that would remove any doubt.

That’s about it, really.

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19
Jan
10

Questions from brucester1959

One commenter, Brucester1959, wrote a rather verbose comment to my post “What is the meaning and purpose to your life?“, and I felt that the entire comment deserved response. There are a lot of questions here that are aimed at atheists frequently, and most of them are questions we have to answer over and over again, because they don’t seem to sink in, for some reason.

Brucester1959’s comments are in bold, and my responses follow. Here goes:

I have never met an Atheist. I am not sure what one is or why.

With all due respect, I doubt that you have never met an atheist. Perhaps you’re not aware of their lack of belief, but I’m fairly certain you know at least one person who is an atheist, unless you know a very limited number of people.

As for what an atheist is: it’s someone who doesn’t believe it any gods. Plain and simple. For more on this, see this earlier post about the definition of atheist.

I come from the Bible belt. The South. I believe what I believe. I’ve never tried to push my beliefs off on anyone else.

I’m going to assume from this, and from other statements you’ve made in this comment, that you’re a Christian. If this is not the case, please correct me.

I am curious though. So maybe you can explain these things to me, so that I can understand it.

Why do Atheists try to change everyone else’s beliefs or try to change our traditions?

This applies to everything I say on this blog (and everywhere else, for that matter): I can only speak for myself, and not the atheist community.

I do not try to change anyone’s beliefs or traditions. I try to give people a reasonable amount of respect in regard to both. There are some beliefs and traditions that need to be changed, and those are the exceptions to this rule – such as the belief some have that their children will be cured of sickness through prayer, rather than medical attention, or the tradition of sentencing homosexuals to death, or any belief or tradition that is so strong, that believers insist on making it into a law that everyone must follow.

(Note that I was careful to say that I give people respect. I don’t believe that ideas deserve the same sort of respect, and should always be open to criticism.)

Other than these types of beliefs and traditions, I let others live as they choose. Abstain from pork, cheeseburgers, or any meat on a Friday. Refuse to turn on lights on a Saturday. Wear special underwear that keeps you pure. Pray while pointing in a certain direction several times a day. Reject a blood transfusion for yourself. It’s all fine with me, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness of anyone else.

Just don’t expect me to follow the same rules, or even respect them.

Why does “In God We Trust” on the currency, cause such an uproar amongst Atheist’s, that it prompts them to challenge it in the courts?

Not everyone in our country trusts in a god, and they are within their rights to do so. Currency is issued by the government, and our government should not be establishing one religion over another, as outlined in the First Amendment. Replace the word “God” with Allah, Eris, Krishna, Thor, Zeus, or any of the other 2,500 deities from world history, and you’d be apt to agree with me.

On top of this – “In God We Trust” was not always there – it was added to our currency during the Red Scare, in some sort of attempt to scare Communists away from it. That divisive attitude was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

How could the location of a thing so beautiful, such as a “Nativity Scene” be so repulsive to an Atheist, that it too, prompts court action?

I don’t find nativity scenes repulsive. Some of them are quite pretty. But when they are displayed on state or government property, and/or funded by taxpayer money, and other displays from other faiths (or lack thereof) are not permitted in the same area, that constitutes favoritism of Christianity over other religions. And that is not permitted through the First Amendment.

Replace “nativity scene” with “menorah,” “Ramadan display,” “pentagram,” or “Satanic altar,” and you may understand the issue a little better. If you have no issue with other displays of faith on public property and funded by taxpayer money, then we’re a little closer to agreeing with each other (but not quite all of the way there).

Why is prayer in school so horrible, that it should be denied to everyone, just because an Atheist disagrees with it?

This is a very, very common myth, and one that never seems to go away no matter how much you try to inform people.  Prayer is not banned from schools. There is not a single school in the United States that bans school prayer – many even have prayer and Bible clubs in them. As long as a child is not distracting others or the teacher or disrupting class or any school function, they are permitted to pray in school.

What is not permitted is the endorsement of prayer by the school – the teachers cannot lead students in prayer, teach them how or what to pray, etc. Again, this favors one religion over another, and most people would not allow it if it was a different religion being favored.

Replace “pray” with “chant to the Buddha” in your question, and it may become more clear.

The Supreme Court’s explanation of; “Separation of Church and State” is flawed. The reading of the amendment is crystal clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It simply guarantees that the Government cannot interfere with a person’s religious beliefs. That is all. It has been distorted to the current explanation. Why do Atheist’s use this to deny believers their right to freedom of religion?

Man, that question is SO loaded that I’m afraid it’ll go off at any second. I’m not sure whether to cut the blue wire or the red one…

I’ve mostly answered this question already, but as I said earlier, these things never really sink in, so I’ll give it another go:

First, to disarm that question – Atheists do not use the First Amendment to deny ANYONE of their right to freedom of religion. In fact, NO ONE’S right to freedom of religion is restricted in this country (excluding human sacrifice and such things, of course).

Not being permitted to put a nativity scene on the lawn of City Hall is not restricting your religious freedom. Please put it on your own lawn instead.  Not being permitted to teach children the Lord’s Prayer or Ten Commandments in school is not restricting your religious freedom. Teach them at home or in church instead.

Whenever I hear claims like this one, I think about the spiritual environment in which I live. There is one street in a small town near mine that I travel on frequently that has eight churches on it – each one a different Christian denomination. On a Sunday, the parking lots are filled to capacity, and I can barely squeeze between the cars parked on the street.

There is a Baptist church on the highway near that town that has a double-sided billboard in front of it. On one side is a scene from the Christian hell, with people burning in flames while demons hover above them. On the other is a close-up of a bloody Christ on the cross, with “SIN” and “SINNERS” scrawled on the wood in blood.

On Friday afternoons, a church group gathers on a busy streetcorner, holding signs with messages about how we all must accept their religion, and handing out pamphlets to people who stop at the traffic light. In another nearby town, a man with a giant Bible on a trailer behind his pickup truck parks in a vacant lot near a traffic light and, regulation-sized Bible in hand, preaches to the people who get caught at the light.

I think of these sorts of claims whenever I see these things, and about how awful it is that all of those unfortunate people are having their religious freedoms restricted.

If you do not believe in God, then you must believe in something else. What?

No, I mustn’t. There’s no need to replace a belief in gods with anything else. It’s kind of like saying “If you shave your head, you must have something else on it. What?”, or “If you have your tonsils taken out, you must have something else put in their place. What?” There’s just nothing there.

I did not begin life with a belief in any gods. I have returned to that state since becoming an adult. There is nothing missing that wasn’t there to begin with.

The belief in God and Christ, promotes; peace, love and hope. Why would this bother you?

Another loaded question. Of course the promotion of peace, love, and hope do not bother me. And I recognize that for many, this belief brings them peace, love, and hope. I just don’t agree that they need that belief to have those things.

In fact, when I took the time to read the Bible from cover to cover, I found many examples of cruelty, hatred, and injustice – so much so that I became convinced that the people who find peace, love, and hope among these pages simply haven’t read them all. Take this quote as a single example out of many, attributed to Christ himself:

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”  (Matt 10:34)

Odd words to come from someone who is often called the “Prince of Peace.”

I cannot prove the existence of God to you or anyone else. That is where faith comes in.

Just as I do not attempt to change anyone’s religious beliefs in this blog, I also do not ask anyone to prove the existence of any gods, because that’s not what it is about.

I too studied evolution in school and it is plausible. So is creation. When I look around at this planet and see all of the miracles of life that surround us, I cannot help but see a higher power at work. Look at the expressions of love, that animals have for their young. The feelings that a new mother has for a child. A tree on a windy day. Rain. Life. Death.

I appreciate beauty in most things – remember, I’m an artist and a musician.I just don’t automatically attribute those things to a higher power.

For one, I can’t be certain that if things were different than they are that they wouldn’t be as beautiful. If the wind changed the colors of the trees instead of blowing the branches around, would I still think it was beautiful? Aren’t there people who believe, yet dislike all of these things, and see no beauty in them? Why and how does our sense of beauty determine the existence of a deity?

There are too many flaws in reality for me to attribute everything to a perfect creator. Disease, birth defects, using the same passage to eat and breathe through, earthquakes, poison, quicksand, Simon Cowell… a perfect creation would have none of these things. A perfect creator would not have inflicted us with them.

Is it all a random series of events? Amongst all of the chaos, there is order. You just have to be able to “see” it.

There is an order to nature. It isn’t random. Things happen in a certain way. That may suggest that there is a higher power, but it doesn’t give us any evidence of it.

And an important point is often lost here – WHICH higher power is it, then? I have a book beside me on my desk that lists over 2500 deities that were worshipped through history. Many of them are creator gods. If all of reality is really a creation, and the product of a creator, then which one did it? What reason do I have to default to your deity of choice?

it saddens me that people cannot “see” what is around them. When you pass on and you will one day. I hope that you will meet Christ and will be shown all that you have missed.

I’m sorry you’re sad. Please don’t be. There’s a lot that I’m not missing. I have a family who loves me, and friends who love me like family. I have the opportunity to perform on stage and express myself artistically, and make people happy with it. I have music and art and theatre and cinema and poetry and prose and nature and science and philosophy and mythology and history and fiction and fantasy, and I appreciate them all.

I’m not missing much, really. And I don’t feel that I have a need for the things I am missing.

Thanks for your comments, and the thoughts and discussion they have inspired.

19
Jan
10

Name three peaceful religions that you have no issue with.

(This is the 9th question in Brett Keane’s Atheist Challenge)

Name three peaceful religions that you have no issue with.

This is probably going to be my favorite question to answer, because I’ve had to do some research to answer it. I should state beforehand that I may not really be answering the question to the letter – it’s hard to have NO issue whatsoever with a religion. There’s always going to be something that I disagree with. So the answers I give here will be the peaceful religions that I have the least amount of issue with.

Here goes:

Unitarian Universalism – Accordng to Wikipedia, members “believe in complete and responsible freedom of speech, thought, belief, faith, and disposition. They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues, such as the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any religious background, and hold beliefs from a variety of cultures or religions.”

A religion that welcomes atheists is a pretty radical concept, and it makes me wonder if it really qualifies as a religion and not something else, like a philosophy. But I respect their inclusiveness and promotion of individual choice. I’ve heard many anecdotes of people who have joined UU because they miss the community and ceremony of their previous faith, but were driven away by the dogma.

JainismWikipedia describes it thusly: “(A)n ancient dharmic religion from India that prescribes a path of non-violence for all forms of living beings in this world.” While I don’t share their belief in the existence of the soul, I do appreciate their tenets on respecting all life. They take it much farther than I prefer – not eating root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or onions, because these plants are still alive when harvested, for example.

Buddhism – Possibly the fourth largest religion in the world, after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism (according to Wikipedia). Buddhism is both a religion and a philosophy, and some have even referred to it as an atheistic religion (since followers do not believe in a specific god figure). It has tons of varying beliefs and traditions, but overall I respect their tenets of avoiding suffering and being excellent to each other.

There are others I could list – Wicca, for example, has always been interesting to me, and most of the people that I know who follow it are pretty nice and throw excellent parties, but I don’t know a lot about their tenets.  I’m sure that there are others that I don’t even know about yet – and I’m hoping I’ll learn a lot more from the comments I’ll get to this post!

15
Jan
10

Interruption of service

It may be a few more days before I post something substantial to this blog. I’ve been very busy this week preparing for a children’s play that will be opening this weekend, and taking my two daughters to another play that they are rehearsing for.  So I may not have a new post up until after the weekend.  I apologize for the temporary loss of service. If you’re itching for a fix of atheist blogging, may I recommend one of the many blogs, podcasts, and videos that I’ve collected in the right column?

In the meantime, I’m sure all of you have heard of the terrible tragedy in Haiti. The news has touched us all, and only the hardest of hearts have not been saddened by it. I encourage everyone reading this blog to do what you can to help the people of Haiti. Google has an excellent Haiti relief page that collects some of the best charities that are helping in that area. Please choose carefully when sending donations – there are many unscrupulous folks who use these types of tragedies as opportunities for profit.

If you’re not able to help financially, or you would like to do more, consider helping in your local area. Many of us have Haitian communities and churches near us – go to them and see if they are in need of any assistance. In some cases, its simply a case of being there for someone that makes a world of difference.

Be good, be safe, tell your families you love them, and I’ll be back with more questions and answers soon.

08
Jan
10

A stand-in question: “Why Don’t Theists Believe What Atheists Tell Them About Atheism?”

The next question on the Atheist Challenge list is going to take a little research on my part, the next set of questions from a commenter is going to take some time to answer, and today and the rest of my weekend promise to be very busy – so I’m calling in a substitute question from another blog!

I thought this was a very informative post to believers and nonbelievers alike, and figured it would be a good thing to share – a post on the Debunking Christianity blog called “”Why Don’t Theists Believe What Atheists Tell Them About Atheism?

Have a great weekend!

07
Jan
10

What religion is the most dangerous in your eyes, today and in the past?

(This is the 8th question in Brett Keane’s Atheist Challenge)

What religion is the most dangerous in your eyes, today and in the past?

Islam, easily, through sheer power of  numbers and fanatic devotion. It’s difficult to choose any other, in light of recent historical events, such as the September 11th attacks, the actions of the Taliban, the Danish cartoon riots (and the more recent attack on the cartoonist), and much, much more.

That wasn’t always the case, however. Historically, Islam brought us much in the way of knowledge and exploration, before it retreated into fear and superstition. In the past, it was Christianity that brought us the crusades. the inquisition, the witch trials, and much, much more.

Both religions have brought us so much knowledge, discovery, and beauty, but at a great, great cost – and there seems to be a cycle that eventually turns them to ignorance and fear of the things they used to promote.

07
Jan
10

What do you say when an atheist sneezes? (Revisited)

Martijn from the Netherlands posted another alternative to “Bless you” in the comments:

About what to say when an atheist sneezes: you might want to borrow a word out of Dutch or German. When anyone sneezes back here the other one says: Gezondheid (or in German: Gesundheit), which literally means ‘health’.

I didn’t know the actual meaning of “gesundheit” until now. I like it a lot – it’s an act of goodwill without deference to any deity or superstition. Thanks, Martijn!




I am an atheist, a person who does not believe in the existence of any gods.

Many people don't know a lot about atheists, and have questions about them. In this blog, I do my best to answer them, to help build an understanding between atheists and theists.

Do you have a question? You can post it in the comments to any of my blog entries, and I will do my best to answer it in a new entry.