Sunday, March 6, 2011

Poison - An Athiest Hip Hop Rap

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Humility of Atheism

One common charge I hear from theists is that Atheists are arrogant or narcissistic.  This article is a response to that charge and an effort to show that the exact opposite is true.  There is a humility about Atheism that I rarely hear discussed.

The words "arrogance" and "narcissism" are thrown around a lot, but when I look at them closely and see how people use these words, there are clearly multiple meanings of them.  For the purpose of this article, I will use the word "arrogant" to also include "narcissism".

Arrogance often describes a condescending or haughty way of talking or nonverbally acting towards others.  There are two pieces to this kind of arrogance.  The first piece is a direct or indirect message of superiority, which can be about many things, such as appearance, wealth, intelligence, status, etc.  The second piece follows the first piece, which is the implication, often tacit or subtle:  "and you're not".  It is this passive attack on the other that people find most annoying about arrogant people.

In this way, I think theists and Atheists alike can be guilty of arrogance, particularly when discussing religious topics together.  Further, in this way, there is nothing arrogant about either theism or Atheism intrinsically, as arrogance refers to the verbal or nonverbal manner of a presenter.

It is in the second meaning of arrogance that there does lie a difference between theism and Atheism.  This form of arrogance can be described as a person asserting that they know things which they actually don't know.  I see this form of arrogance as being very different from the first, which is meant to build up the narcissists self concept.  In fact, for most people, I think this second form of arrogance doesn't come originally from the person themselves, but stems from the theistic teaching they were indoctrinated with, likely when they were still very young.

This is true of much of modern Christianity, which misinforms people of how they can "know" things.  Modern Christianity teaches people that valid knowledge includes logically fallacious appeals to authority and emotion, such as knowing there is a god because others said so or attributing certain emotional states to the presence of the supernatural.  Simply because someone said something is true, does not mean the thing is true, and feeling something doesn't mean the assumtions a person makes about that feeling are valid.  In this way, I do not hold negative feelings towards theists for claims of this kind of knowledge.  I use to believe these things myself.  It is important to know however that true beliefs must be demonstrated to be true.  If an assertion of truth is not able to be demonstrably proven, then it's truth value cannot be known until there is some way for the assertion to be evaluated or proven. 

It is from this meaning of arrogance that the humility of Atheism is derived.  Atheists who are Atheists from the starting point of skepticism, do not claim to know things they do not know.  Their answer to things that they do not know is "I don't know" and this response is a humble one.  It admits ignorance instead of making up answers when answers are not truly known.  It is also from this starting point of admitting that one doesn't know, that the true search for true answers can begin, unimpeded by false and biased beliefs.

It is also humble for a person to admit being wrong when that person is wrong.  It is arrogant to do otherwise, especially when shown clear evidence to the contrary of beliefs a person holds.  As an Atheist, I am not saying that I know there is no god.  I'm saying I do not believe there is a god at this point because the burden of proof which rests on those who claim that there is a god has not been met.  If that burden of proof is met and god is validly demonstrated to exist, then I would believe in the god.  Until them, I am comfortable with the humble response, "I don't know, but I'm open to the possibility".

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Michael Shermer came to Madison tonight to do a lecture about his new book on beliefs and patternicity.  At the end of the lecture, he took audience questions, so I bounded out of my chair to ask him one, thinking I had to take the chance to talk with him while I could.  Then I learned that he would be meeting with people after the lecture, so I went and had him autograph an old edition of his book, "Why People Believe Weird Things".  I also had a few pictures taken with him.  How freaking awesome was that?

But then, I was told that he would go out for a beer with the members of Madison Skeptics, which I belong to, so about 15 of us went out for a beer with him and I got to talk with him longer.

How awesome was that?!?  This, combined with getting on The Atheist Experience, has made for quite a remarkable 2010 already!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Benefits of Atheism: Living Life to the Fullest

One of the greatest benefits of being an Atheist is the value it places on this life.  Since Atheists do not believe in any existence after death, such as reincarnation or some kind of afterlife, this time on Earth is all we have.  For me, this greatly increases the motivation to make the best use of the time we have while we are alive.

There are many different dangers of religious thought, but one of the greatest that I see is the idea that this world and our lives are just some kind of opening act to the real show we are told takes place after we die.  Of course, theists take this belief to heart, leading to different consequences for themselves and others.

Some theists respond to this belief by living their life in some kind of preparation for what they are told is the next.  They spend a lot of time reading religious texts, praying, or ministering to others.  There is also a portion of these people who seem to spend more time thinking about the afterlife than they do about this one.  My point in saying this is not that we should pass some laws to forbid them from doing these things.  I believe in freedom and the right of people to live their lives as they wish.  My point is that I wonder how much farther ahead we would be in fields of science that actually produce demonstrably beneficial results if people were to spend their time furthering such progress.

Other theists are affected by religious beliefs in a way more serious than the one just described.  These are theists who, for one reason or another, are not content with their lives.  Perhaps they have a job they hate or are continuing relationships which are harmful to them, such as people told that it is sinful to divorce and will not leave abusive relationships.  Belief in an eternal afterlife filled with pleasure seems to make these people content to take a backseat in their present life.  They are, in essence, waiting for their own deaths, which will bring about what they think is the most important life.  To me, this breeds complacency and can steal a person's life away from them.  I believe that if more people disbelieved in an afterlife, they would be more motivated to make changes in their life leading to happier and more productive lives.  I make efforts to live my life this way and work to make each day important, meaningful, and purposeful.  I am an Atheist with a good and meaningful purpose driven life.

Before finishing, it is critical the reader understands that in no way am I insinuating that somehow all theists do not live life to the fullest.  I have seen many theists who do make the most of their lives each day.  However, I have also been a witness to many people who do not.  In this way, I see religious beliefs regarding the afterlife as being potentially harmful to people.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Misuse of Terms by Moderate and Liberal Supernatural Believers

Looking over the articles on my blogs to date, I think it is safe to say that I have focused my articles on the ideas of what some would call "Conservative Christianity".  I would admit doing so has been unfair.  Certainly, those who would contemporarily be described as "Moderate" or "Liberal" Christians/theists/supernaturalists make their own erroneous claims and conclusions.

Perhaps the most common mistake I see moderate/liberal supernaturalists make is their manipulation and misuse of terms.  As I have been an Atheist for a long time, I am beginning to see these kind of believers do these things in an attempt to hold onto, modify, or "fit" an old belief structure into a new one, which typically seem to come from greater education or the realization of old beliefs contradicting new beliefs which are more accurate.  I also see this as a common step some theists go through on their way to Atheism.

For example, I have heard more than one person say that since "god is love" and since they believe in love, they therefore believe in god.  This attempt at Aristotelian syllogistic logic is quite flawed.  The person is equating god with love, however people understand "god" to be much more than "love" and I would bet the person who makes such statements does as well.  I have little doubt this person thinks of god as possessing some kind of sentience, even if they hold a deistic view of god.  They may also see god as the "cause" for the universe.  This is much more than just love.  Anyway, we already have a word for love.  That word is "love" and we do not need a second which would in no way be different than the first.

Another statement I have heard people say is that "I'm spiritual, not religious".  This statement is quite vague, to say the least.  While this statement clearly means many different things to many different people, I know for some people, this statement means that the person holds onto some supernatural beliefs while not being a formal follower of a particular religion, religious denomination, or religious sect.  In other words, the person seems to be asserting that they hold supernatural beliefs that are individualistic.  I think it is fair to say that this person may not be the type of person who likes the idea of having an authority figure tell them what to believe.

Despite this, the word "spirituality" derives from the word "spirit".  To date, there is no evidence whatsoever that people have a "spirit" or "soul".  These are ancient concepts used by primative people to explain animation.  There is as much evidence for "souls" as there is for Atlantis. Yet the description of people as being "spiritual" often means moral or good.  I have been called a "spiritual" person by people who didn't know I was an Atheist.  I'm curious what they would say if I told them I was an Atheist, but I have never said this to a person who has called me spiritual.  The bottom line is that the word "spiritual" is very vague; so much so that it is almost nonsensical.  I think other words could be put in its place which would be much clearer.

Terms from contemporary physics and other fields of science have been hijacked by New Age pseudoscientists like Deepak Chopra.  So called "quantum healing" and "energy healing" are used by people who are nothing more than modern day snake oil salesmen.  It is clear that these people either are not being intellectually honest or they do not understand basic scientific concepts, such as falsifiability and operational definitions.

We hear the term "energy" being thrown around a lot today, referring to what is called "qi" or "ch'i" in ancient and modern day Chinese culture.  Throughout history there have been different definitions of qi.  The definition I will focus on in this part of the article is "life energy" or "life force".  I think it is true that if people assert things frequently, people will come to believe the assertions are true, even without proof.  People may be surprised to hear this, but there is presently no evidence or proof whatsoever that such "energy" exists.  People have tried to prove that such energy exists, but all have failed.  The assertion that such "life energy" exists is as equally true as the assertion that two headed, cigar smoking unicorns exist.

The term "quantum" from the scientific field of physics is probably the most misused scientific term today.  The word "quantum" refers to quantum mechanics, which is "a set of scientific principles describing the known behavior of energy and matter that predominate at the atomic scale" (wikipedia).  It has nothing to do with healing.  As the definition says, it describes the behaivor of microparticles.  Yet charlatans like Chopra use this and other scientific words in ways never intended to spin a web of gibberish, which sounds interesting, but makes no valid sense.

In conclusion, there really is no difference between the reasonable and logical mistakes that "conservative Christians" make and those that more "liberal" and "moderate" supernaturalists/Christians make.  Both make assertions without offering any proof of what they are talking about.  Each group might as well be talking about and discussing mermaids living on Neptune.

A Response to "Unhappy, Angry Atheists"

There have been times when I have heard theists use the phrases "unhappy Atheists" and "angry Atheists".  They seem to use these adjectives as blanket descriptors for all Atheists.  They also use these generalizations as a way to discredit Atheism all together.  In this article, I'll discuss and respond to these descriptions.

I don't see Atheists as being "angry" or "unhappy" either in general or because of their Atheism.  Again, Atheism is the belief that gods do not exist.  This has nothing to do with anger or unhappiness.  Some theists say, "Atheists are angry at god".  This makes no sense.  I cannot see how someone can be angry at something they believe doesn't exist.  I am in no way angry at any gods in the same way as I am not angry at unicorns or leprechauns. 

Anger and unhappiness are normal human emotions which all people feel at times.  It is a mistake for theists to describe Atheists as being "angry" or "unhappy", just as it is a mistake for Atheists to call theists "angry" or "stupid".  It is a mistake to look at a single event where a person shows an emotion and make an overall generalization that the person is that way most or all of the time.  It would be no different for me to see a Christian get angry and call all Christians angry or dismiss Christianity on the basis of a theist being angry.  The latter is especially true as certain Christian beliefs can be dismissed in far more valid ways.

I am an Atheist and I don't see myself being "angry" or "unhappy" in the least.  On the contrary, I would describe myself as being very happy, content, and at peace.  There is no doubt that I am more happy, content, and at peace as an Atheist than I was as a Christian.  As I grew up and began studying the Bible and Christian beliefs for myself, they made no sense to me and there were parts I found abhorrent.  The articles in this blog describe these thoughts and ideas, especially the article "Thoughts on the Christian God".  The belief system was contradictory and flawed in so many ways that it was ultimately nonsensical.  Therefore, I began looking for a belief system that wasn't contradictory and was true to the greatest degree that we can know what truth is.  For me, it is most important that my beliefs are as true as they can be and I am always ready to dispense with beliefs that are not true, as integrity, honesty and consistency are strong values I hold.

Atheism brings me happiness, peace, serenity, and calmness.  I find these things as a result of having a belief system that is noncontradictory and is supported by the evidence of reality.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Power and Control Wheel and Religion

I'm an Outpatient Psychotherapist and I've been working in the field of mental health for about twenty years.  In college, I volunteered and worked at a domestic violence shelter for around two to three years.  I learned a lot working at the shelter with women and their children.  One of the things the staff there showed me was something called The Power and Control Wheel.

The Power and Control Wheel was developed by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota and is used to educate people about common behaviors and tactics abusers use to maintain power and control over those they abuse.  Based on my own personal experience of working with people in different settings in this field, I would say this model does a good job of describing what abusers do.  The model is based on the premise that the abuser is a man and the abused is a woman, which is most often the case, but not always.  Here is an image of The Power and Control Wheel:

I have used this model in therapy with women who were in abusive relationships and most found it very helpful to see a description of their experiences laid out visually in front of them.

It was some time after I had come to rest comfortably in my Atheism, that I saw this model in a new light.  It seemed to occur in a moment of insight that this model not only described how abusers maintain power and control over their partner, but how certain religions maintain control over their followers.  While what I'm about to discuss applies to many, if not all religions, I'll mainly use the example of Christianity for the purposes of this article.  This is because it is the religion most of my readers will be familiar with.  Clearly, the same analogies could be made to Islam, Judaism and others.  This article will address each part of the eight pieces of this pie graph to demonstrate the similarities:

1.  Using COERCION and THREATS - making and/or threatening to do something to hurt her, threatening to leave her, threatening to commit suicide, threatening to report her to welfare, making her drop charges, and making her do illegal things.

This is applicable to Christianity in many ways.  First, there is the threat that if you do not do what god tells you to do, then you will be sent to hell to be horrifically tortured forever.  Actually, I cannot imagine a greater threat that a human abuser could give to someone they abuse, though perhaps the fact that an abuser could follow through with their threats immediately makes their threats more imminent and therefore are perceived as immediately serious.  This threat by Christianity creates great fear in many or perhaps most believers and I think is one of the main reasons why people are afraid to think certain thoughts or even question their beliefs.  The seriousness of this threat clearly trumps all human threats listed in this piece of the graph, which says something about the abuser.

2.  Using INTIMIDATION - making her afraid by using looks, actions, and gestures; smashing things; destroying her property; abusing pets; and displaying weapons.

Of course, the Bible is rife with examples of god threatening and intimidating not only individual people, but entire civilizations who did not do what it told them to do, so I'll start by looking at how the Christian god was intimidating itself.  The Bible is replete with verses about how important it is to "fear" god.  Now I know that many Christians make excuses for that word, saying "fear" really means "respect", but if that were true, then why not use the word "respect"?  Clearly, it is through threats and intimidation that believers come to fear god and for good reason.  The god of the Bible, in most instances, follows through on it's threats and intimidating words and actions, such as drowning the entire world except for one family and two of every creature (which, of course, would have led to worldwide incest of EVERY living creature).  Now that's incest and destruction of property on a truly epic scale.

Since the Christian god is allegedly all powerful, it needs no weapons to be intimidating.  Of course, what could be a more intimidating display of power than turning a staff into a snake or some other magical act?  A god which is all knowing is also intimidating because of the power differential.  As for abusing animals, I do not recall god abusing pets in an effort to be intimidating, but the god in the Bible was certainly a big fan of animal sacrifices, or of having animals killed to glorify it.

Historically, there are many large scale instances of Christians being intimidating to people who didn't do what they wanted, such as the Inquisition and the Crusades.  The intimidation took the form of "follow us" or "believe what we believe or else".  Today, intimidation by Christians in America does happen to different groups, such as homosexuals and Atheists, while not as widespread or violent as in the past.  Yet, a poll by Newsweek magazine in March 2007 showed that 62% of Americans would refuse to vote for any Presidential candidate who was an Atheist.  This would make any candidate who was an Atheist feel intimidated about being honest.

3.  Using EMOTIONAL ABUSE - putting her down, maing her feel bad about herself, calling her names, making her think she's crazy, playing mind games, humiliating her, and making her feel guilty.

There are so many examples of emotional abuse from Christianity that a list of examples could be a book in and of itself.  The whole concept of being a "sinner" unworthy of god's love is emotionally abusive and tears down a person's self esteem and self concept.  Many Christians consider the song, "Amazing Grace" to be a beautiful song, but the lyrics, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me" are perfect examples of emotional abuse, especially because followers are made to recite such statements over and over again in services.  This is how brainwashing works.  Tell someone something about themselves and have them verbally repeat it over and over again and in time, the person comes to believe it.  The whole premise of Christianity is that humans are unworthy sinners who need to repeatedly ask god for forgiveness.  We have all heard of the installation of "Catholic guilt" into children, but other denominations do the same thing.  Often believers are made to feel guilty about their thoughts and feelings which come involuntarily, such as being told that sexual thoughts towards other are sinful.  Thoughts do not necessarily lead to action when we employ our willpower.  This guilt-inducing, pathologizing of normal thoughts is abusive.


Just had my phone call taken by Tracie and Russell on The Atheist Experience, my favorite TV show!!!  That beat watching any Super Bowl:

The Concept of Miracles

I remember one winter morning when my wife called me from work in tears.  She was very shaken up and told me that on the way to work, she was driving on a four lane highway and lost control of the vehicle she was driving.  The car spun around 360 degrees and came to a stop on the shoulder facing in the right direction.  She said other cars had been around her, but she hadn't hit any.  Her story was shocking and I was relieved beyond words that she was okay.

I also remember retelling the story to others and how most people described what happened as being "miraculous".  After some time had passed, this incident and others that occurred which people describe as being "miraculous" gave me pause to consider the concept of miracles.

First, what is a "miracle" anyway?  Some people may consider a "miracle" to be an event where the impossible happens.  For the sake of this article, I'll call these events Type A Events.  Examples of Type A Events may be a person who is repeatedly and consistently able to walk through a solid brick wall to the other side with direct observation by others, a boulder floating in midair, or a penny appearing on the table I am sitting at right now.  Of course, people claim and make assertions about these kind of events happening, but they are universally unable to demonstrate that these events actually occurred in any valid and reliable way.

However, these are not the kind of "miracles" most people talk about and describe.  The kind I hear people talk about are what I will call Type B Events.  Examples of Type B Events would be a Haitian adule found in rubble a week after the recent earthquake there (who had water near them that they were able to drink), a person winning the lottery, or my wife not hitting any cars during her spinout.  These are not instances of the impossible happening.  They are instances of things happening which are unlikely to happen.

So let's imagine two different hypothetical universes, where Universe One is identical to our own and where a god exists and Universe Two which is identical to ours but where no god exists, people don't have the concept of a god, and things happen by chance.  In Universe Two, Type B Events would still occur, it's just that people wouldn't call the events miraculous.

So what are people who call Type B Events "miracles" thinking the world would be like without what they call miracles?  Basically that universe would be one where no unlikely events or close calls would ever occur.  Car crashes would either not occur at all, or if they did, they would always result in a horrible accident and death.  People in Haiti would have survived unscathed or they would die.  There would also be no lotteries.  I think this would make quite a funny Saturday Night Live sketch if one were made for Atheists.

I think of this universe that we live in as one ruled by chance and it certainly makes more sense that way.  Good things happen to both good and bad people and bad things happen to both good and bad people.  To me, I never have to ask "why" some random event happened.  Sometimes things just happen.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Favorite Poem

My favorite poem is "Magic" by Shel Silverstein:

Sandra's seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins' gold.
Donald heard a mermain sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Everything Happens for a Reason"

NOTE:  Parts of this article may be very difficult to read, as I briefly talk about child abuse, yet I think it is a very important article for people to read.

"Everything happens for a reason."  I hear people say this sentence quite often.  Perhaps this is because I am a psychotherapist and am often talking to people about major events in their lives.  I used to say this sentence myself when I was a Christian/theist.  During difficult times, I would think of this sentence and it would bring me some peace, as I believed whatever I was going through was according to some divine plan.  I believed that no matter what bad things happened in my life, better things were ahead.  There is no doubt that for some people, this belief and sentence can be helpful.  However, this sentence is not at all helpful for everyone.  In fact, I have seen the use of this phrase be very hurtful and harmful for some people. 

Before going further, it is very important that I first point out that people who make this statement never consider that this statement is actually be hurtful and harmful to some people. In fact, I know most people's intent in saying such a thing is often to try to be helpful, so this article is in no way meant to be hurtful or blaming to others. The purpose is just to inform people of something they may not be aware of.

As a psychotherapist, I am privy to personal problems people face more often than people who do not have such a job.  Everyone has problems in there lives, though some problems are more common or "normal" than others.  Most of us had loving yet imperfect parents, have experienced the loss of love, the death of a loved one, or financial problems.  Yet for some, their problems are far outside the norm.  I have met with children and adults who have been terribly abused in physical, mental, emotional and sexual ways.  Their stories are nothing less than horror stories.  A man whose drunk parent would throw empty beer bottles at his head when he was six years old.  An older woman telling me about growing up with a parent who was a sexual sadist.  A child whose stepfather would burn him on different parts of his body for normal child misbehavior.  Their stories are stomach churning to say the least. 

In each of these stories and others, people have told me that their struggles were not only with the abuse they suffered, but hearing from others that "everything happens for a reason".  Of course this means that there was some "bigger purpose" for what happened to them.  Of course, these people struggle with this notion.  They wonder what they did to deserve what happened to them.  They wonder why they were made to suffer in hellish ways while others were not.  They struggle with the reason for what they experienced.  For many people who have been victims of abuse, which they were unable to prevent or stop, this statement creates a great deal of pain and confusion in them.

Again, this article is not a criticism of people who tell other people this sentence.  As I said, most people are not aware of how this sentence can be hurtful to others.  The purpose of this article is just to make the reader aware of something they may not be aware of, so they may think about whether to use the sentence and if so, with whom and in what circumstances.

Finally, as an Atheist, I don't believe that everything happens for a reason.  I believe people can do things for reasons and make events happen in the world for their own reasons, but besides these kinds of events, I believe things happen by chance.  To me, this is a much more sensible reason why things happen.  Good things happen to good and bad people.  Bad things happen to good and bad people.  I think viewing things in this way may help bring people peace who have experienced unspeakably terrible things in their lives.

Monday, January 4, 2010


People often ask me questions about my job.  Yet to truly answer them accurately would take more time than is possible in general conversation.  Therefore, I've written an article about what I do, my thoughts about psychotherapy, some things the work has taught me, and why I do the work I do.  If you're interested you can check it out at this website:  Feel free to post comments and/or questions.  Thanks!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Homosexuality and the Bible

I am not sure of this, but I feel somewhat safe saying that people who think homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so, have not read much of the Bible.  Either that, or they simply pick and choose what they will follow and what they will ignore, which says a lot about their belief in the so called "literal truth" of the Bible.  What I am sure of are the numerous conversations I have had with a large number of Christians who are not aware of what else the Christian god directs people to do in the very same chapter which discusses homosexuality.

Leviticus 20:13 says, "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.  They must be put to death; their blood will be on their heads."

This is the verse Christians point to as proof that homosexuality is immoral.  What I find interesting is how passionate they are about the first sentence, but just ignore the second sentence as if it isn't there.  However the second sentence is quite clear.  "They must be put to death..."   Must.  There is no room for equivocation or ambiguity here.  Must.  However, do Christians follow this?  Well, very few if any in America do today, because our morality evolves, grows and changes.  It gets better with time.  Of course, things were far worse for gay people in America in the past than they are now.  In other parts of the world, some cultures are continuing the take the second sentence quite literally.  I feel safe saying that our present day morality in America is far better than the morality of the god in the Bible, who seems to possess an unquenchable thirst for human blood, from what is written in the rest of Leviticus and the rest of the Bible.  Here is more of what god says in Leviticus 20:

Leviticus 20:5 says that if a man breaks god's law, not only will he be punished, but so will his family.  Our society has come a long way from punishing children for the crimes of their parents, but apparently the Christian god has not, as he and his rules are unchanging.

Leviticus 20:9:  "If anyone curses his father and mother, he must be put to death."  Well following this sure would be a quick way to wipe out the human race.  If this is true, god sure did screw up adolescents.  I think most teenagers curse their parents at one time or another.  Teenagers who do this are pretty normal.  I'm not saying cursing your parents is right.  I'm saying it's not abnormal or atypical.

Leviticus 20:10  "If a man commits adultery with another man's wife - with the wife of his neighbor - both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death".

Here's an interesting one:  Leviticus 20:14  "If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked.  Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you."  Here, god isn't out for his usual rivers of human blood, but specifically wants the offenders burned alive.  Now I know the one-two punch of polygamy and possible incest must really piss god off, but burning people alive for it?  That is quite harsh by our contemporary standards of punishment.  I'm also curious why the act of burning people alive prevents "wickedness" from being among the other people, outside of a deterrant.  There are other verses in this chapter as well, talking about god's obsessive preoccupation and micromanagement of the sex lives of his children.

Leviticus 20:15  "If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal."  Here's another example of god not only punishing the offender, but the victim.  So if an animal is raped by some demented and apparently sexually desperate person, the animal is to be killed as well.  As if being raped isn't bad enough.  There's compassion for you. 

Leviticus 20:27 tells people to stone psychics to death.  Now I think con artists like James Van Praagh and John Edward are manipulative scum, but stoning/torturing them to death seems a little harsh.

My point here is that I don't see the Christians who treat gay people as less than human following these other rules of god, so why pick on homosexuals?

I'll finish by saying that my best friend is gay.  He has been my best friend for over fifteen years.  He is without a doubt the kindest, most caring, and compassionate person I've ever met and I feel so very lucky and honored to have him for a friend.  I believe there is no Christian god or any gods for that matter, but if such a homophobic and bigoted god did exist, I'd want nothing to do with it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blind Obedience and the Story of Abraham and Isaac

As I previously wrote in the article, "Thoughts on the Christian God", the actions of the Christian god throughout the Bible are very disturbing, to say the least.  This god's actions, such as commanding genocide, condoning slavery and justifying eternal torture for finite misbehavior, are absolutely abhorrent and any human caught today engaging in these same actions would at best be imprisoned for the rest of their life and have the key thrown away.  In this article, I will focus on a lesson frequently taught by this god.  This lesson is of blind obedience, which is, perhaps, best exemplified in the story of Abraham and Isaac.  Here is the story, copied by me from the NIV Bible:

Genesis 22 (New International Version)
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"  "Here I am," he replied. 2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.  "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.  12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram [a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."

15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring [b] all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

What kind of god would tell a parent to sacrifice/kill their own child, or any child for that matter?  What would you call a person who would command another person to murder a child?  Any person with even the slightest sense of decency, empathy, and morality would call such a commandment monsterously evil.  This is the kind of nightmare scenario one would expect to hear from a Nazi concentration camp, not a loving god.  This is not a loving act.  In fact, it is completely the opposite.

There is not a shred of logic to this event as well.  If the Christian god is all knowing, why would the god ask Abraham to do this?  Obviously, any all knowing god would know what Abraham would do beforehand.  Therefore, what would be the purpose of asking Abraham to actually do it?  Like many stories in the Bible, this one makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The god in this story is not the only monster.  To me, Abraham is just as bad.  Would you follow the direction of anyone or anything which commanded you to kill your child or any child?  No one with any sense of goodness or morality would do such a thing.  The moral action for Abraham in this situation would have been to absolutely refuse to follow command and reject the being which was giving the command.  It should have been crystal clear to Abraham that any god who would ask him to do such a thing would have been the direct opposite of good and moral.  This is the kind of direction one would expect from a devil, not a loving god. 

I also submit that Abraham knew he was doing something wrong.  First, he told his "servants" (i.e. slaves) to not follow him and his son.  This is because his slaves would obviously have tried to stop him from killing his son.  Then he lied to his slaves by saying "we will come back to you", when he knew that only he would return.  Did god rebuke or punish him for lying?  Not at all.  Second, Abraham deceived and lied to his son by telling him that god would provide "the lamb".

Why was it also necessary for Abraham to sacrifice the ram instead of his son?  The story says this god rewarded him for the blood offering as well.  It seems absurd to me that I have to write this, but gods who command and reward animal and human blood sacrifice are not good. 

Not only are the actions of this god and Abraham in this story despicable, but so is the lesson one is to draw from this story, which is of blind obedience.  Apparently, a good follower of this god is supposed to do anything the god says, even if it is clearly evil.  A person is not supposed to think for themselves; they are to do what they are told to do without question.

This lesson is clearly wrong and dangerous and everyone alive today knows this to be true.  Our own military makes it clear that soldiers are to follow only LEGAL orders of those senior to them (see Articles 90-92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice).  If they follow illegal orders, they are subject to criminal prosecution.  Another example of how blind obedience is completely unacceptable, is the rejection of the legal defense that a person was "only following orders" during the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

It is important for all of us to question things that seem wrong.  Doing so is how our morality as a species has progressed and evolved for the better.  This is how our society's racial and gender prejudices and discriminatory practices have changed for the better towards equality.  To question is moral, good, and right.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Important Terms and Definitions

If I could start this blog over again, this article would have been one of the first posted, because it is an important first step in writing and discussing the topic of religion.  My experience in talking with others has shown that there is a lot of confusion with these terms. This is likely because schools and religious institutions do not emphasize and clarify the meanings of these terms, perhaps with the exception of science classes for some of the terms.  Many of these words have multiple definitions and in some cases, colloquial definitions are quite different from original or more literal definitions.  In this article, I will clarify the definitions of these terms and discuss how they are relevant to religious discussion for the purpose of clear communication, as clear communication can only take place when there is a mutual understanding of terms.

What I will provide are basic and clear definitions of certain terms.  Mountains of pages have been written about all these terms, so in no way will I try to go into all they entail.  I will only offer as much as I feel is important to point out why they are relevant and in fact necessary to the discussion of religion.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Concept of Prayer

Prayer is a central component of many religions as well as a core practice of spirituality. Different theists assert there being different meanings, purposes, and ways of practicing prayer. For some, prayer is a, or perhaps the, means of connection between the person and what they describe as being god. It is the means by which the relationship is formed and maintained. Through this connection, they say they experience the presence of god and may even receive god’s "guidance". There are also prayers of gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness.

While these kinds of prayer are routinely practiced by some, there is no doubt that the vast majority of believers look to prayer for another purpose. To most believers, this purpose is perceived either overtly or covertly as being one of the greatest benefits of believing in god. This purpose is asking god to intervene in reality in some way to give the theist what they are asking for. It is almost as if prayer is treated as magical wish granting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Secular Serenity Prayer

I’ve always greatly admired the wisdom contained in The Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” In fact, it from The Serenity Prayer that I thought of the name for this blog of mine, which some may find a little ironic.  However, as an Atheist, I don’t like the first few words of it. Yet like the good morals and lessons in the Bible, Tao Te Ching, Qu'ran, Sutras, Vedas, Purvas, and more, I can keep what is moral and discard the immoral and supernatural.

What I specifically don't like about The Serenity Prayer is the first few words, which imply that wisdom is given by god. This serenity is not given by god, but is a serenity based on and accumulated through life experience and effort.  In fact, as a psychotherapist, I frequently bring it up to the people I work with and have them try to remember it and act based on it in between the times when we meet.  It is certainly easier said than done, but like most things in life, the more you practice it, the better you get at it.

I've created a different form of The Serenity Prayer, which I call The Secular Serenity Prayer and is a charge to myself which I try to keep in my mind each day.  "Through my efforts, I gain the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Dilemma in Writing: "God" versus "god"

One of the struggles of being a novice writer is having to make some initial, basic decisions about how to write. As I am writing, I am finding that when the topic is religious beliefs, a writer has more decisions to make than one may have in writing a novel. One dilemma I have faced is what one of my readers called the balance of both sensitivity and assertiveness. Another seemingly more basic, but none the less important, is the choice of using the word “God” versus “god”.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Contrasting "Agnosticism" and "Atheism"

Within the secular community and our broader society, there is much debate over the meaning and use of the words Atheist/Atheism and Agnostic/Agnosticism.  Each of these words mean different things to different people, which obviously creates problems, because clear communication can only occur when people either agree or are aware of the definitions of words used by those they communicate with.  In this article, I'll discuss these words, common definitions of them, and offer my own ideas.  Also, for the sake of brevity, I'll use the word "god" to also include the possibility of "gods".

Monday, September 7, 2009

Why I Don't Like the Word "Atheist", But Take It On

I've never liked the word "Atheist" for many reasons. The primary reason is that it describes what I'm not, instead of what I am. This word has contributed to misconceptions about Atheists. It is a negative word and implies we are negative people or worse. It's not unusual for this word to be spoken by theists as if they are spitting something distasteful out of their mouths.

Instead of the word "Atheist", I prefer "Freethinker". The first part of the word, "Free", implies that our thoughts are not restricted by anyone or anything, which is a great thing. Freedom is the core of what our wonderful country was founded on. Censorship doesn't lead to truth. It impairs the journey to truth. I've had many experiences with theists who have told me not to think certain things I think or refuse to think such thoughts themselves, typically out of fear. This is unacceptable. I will not be bound and have my ideas caged. The journey to find truth is paramount. It is through the killing of sacred cows that knowledge is fed and grows.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Benefits of Atheism: Never Having to Ask, "Why Me?"

It was a number of years that I spent dabbling with the idea of becoming an Atheist. There were times when I spent some days as a Christian and other days as an Atheist, to notice what if any difference there was. Yet there was one day in particular, one moment to be precise, when I decided to finally abandon my religious and spiritual beliefs altogether, and I remember that instant clearly. I had just finished a conversation with a teacher who meant a great deal to me. He was very intelligent and kind and I remember him telling me that he was an Atheist. He said so much that rang true for me, gave good questions to answers I posed, and I respected him greatly. I remember leaving his office and walking outside. It was a beautiful fall day. The air was cool and as I looked up into the sky, I saw clouds and the sun in a new way. There had been countless times I had looked up into the sky before, as if I was stretching and trying to reach or get closer to God. This time I looked up and thought, "There really is no God" and the beauty and wonder of the world was still there, unchanged. At that moment, I felt a sense of happiness, excitement, and peace that I never had before and I realized it was because for the first time, my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs were congruent. This was the first benefit of Atheism I noticed and it was wonderful. What I had no idea of at that time was all the benefits of Atheism yet to come.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Aren't You Afraid of Going to Hell?"/Pascal's Wager

The primary emotion I experienced in my journey from Christianity to Atheism was fear, specifically fear of going to hell for denying the existence of God. The origins of this fear rested solely on some of the religious and spiritual instruction and teachings I experienced as I grew up. As a child, I had different adults teach me many different things regarding what was true religiously and spiritually. This mostly created in me a confusion about what was true.

When I was very young, I remember my parents held to some conservative and literal interpretations of the Bible, however over time, their beliefs became increasingly flexible, less literal, and more inclusive of other religious beliefs. They focused mainly on the good messages of morality in the Bible and didn't discuss the more rigid and violent verses of the Bible. Most people who were closest to my parents were flexible as well, more interested in the messages of love taught in the Bible.  Of course I was exposed to the beliefs of others who thought differently from my parents. I remember a Sunday school teacher telling our class that everyone is continuously sinning all the time. I remember being quite confused of this statement, but it was there, presented as truth.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mortality, Atheism, and Euthyphro's Dilemma

Because theism is so dominant in our society and many Atheists are closeted out of justified fears of discrimination and persecution, many misconceptions about Atheism exist unquestioned. One of these misconceptions is the idea that Atheists are either inherently immoral or are less moral than theists because Atheists do not believe in a god. This assertion doesn't hold up for many reasons.  After all, different theists believe different things regarding morality. There are many different religions and many different deities, each making different assertions regarding morality. Even within the religion of Christianity, there are many different denominations holding different beliefs of what is right and wrong. As there is a lack of consensus between theists as to what is moral and most theists have not made a study of Atheism and morality, it makes no sense for them to claim that Atheists are immoral or less moral than they are.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thoughts on the Christian God

The overwhelming majority of Christians are all good, moral, smart, caring, loving people. I am well aware that different Christians believe different things, so for the purpose of this article, I will define a Christian as someone who accepts Jesus into their life as their personal savior, believing that Jesus was the Son of God, sent by God to be crucified, so people could be saved from their sins. For many years, I was such a Christian and a serious one at that. I accepted the belief that I was a sinner and believed there was a devil and a hell. I frequently read and studied the Bible for guidance, understanding and to strengthen my faith. I prayed to God in the name of Jesus multiple times a day. When I would do something that I believed was a sin, I would ask God to forgive me in the name of Jesus and again would reinvite Jesus into a relationship with me, so that I would avoid sin and the Devil.

Yet as I grew up and in reading a lot of the Bible, I struggled for many years with the actions of a God whose behavior and choices were so unlike the good Christians I knew and myself. These doubts only grew as I read and learned about logic, reasoning, and critical thinking. I felt confused and guilty for these thoughts. Looking back, I feel the confusion really stemmed from the fact that our society as a whole and the church neither teaches nor encourages logic, reasoning, and critical thinking. If anything, such thought is not only discouraged in most churches, but it is actually mocked and scorned to an extreme degree. My own experience of being taught in Sunday School that it is wrong to be a "Doubting Thomas", is but one of many examples.

Ironically, it was the story of Jesus and God which was the biggest problem for me, though the number of contradictions in the Bible didn't help either. According to the Christianity I described above and was taught, God was omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. God created people. God gave people rules to follow. It was at this point that the problem began for me, because essentially, God set people up to be tempted to do the very things he told them not to do, by creating temptation, a devil and "free will". God also told them that if they broke these rules, which is sin, they would be punished by burning in hell for all eternity. I could actually stop here, because I have always believed that torture is evil. In fact, it's hard to imagine anything more immoral and evil than torture. The fact that a being would willingly cause excruciating pain to another being for the sheer purpose of inflicting pain is the worst thing I can imagine. Yet the Bible was telling me that God's punishment for finite misbehavior was ETERNAL torture. There was no way I could reconcile that contradiction in my head. How could this omnibenevolent God do such a thing?

I was also taught that we are the children of God and that God loves us more than we could ever love anything or anyone. I have two children and there are no words in the English language that could possibly encapsulate the love I have for them.  Even before my wife and I had them, I knew I would love them more than anything. I also knew that no matter what they ever did, there was no way I could intentionally cause them harm, especially physical harm. Even spanking was simply never an option.  To this day, the idea of a parent torturing their child, is inconceivable for me. Not only is it inconceivable for me, but I'm willing to bet anyone reading this would feel the same way. Ask yourself this: Is there any rule which your child or the person you love most could do which would lead you to feel justified in torturing them by actually burning their skin with fire, even for a few seconds? Of course not, because doing so would be not only wrong and immoral, but evil. Any parent who would do that in our society would be sent to prison and rightfully so.

For me, the story only became worse and more contradictory, because after thousands of years (accepting even the most conservative estimates by Young Earth Creationists) of witnessing people sin, while beforehand knowing that people would never be able to live up to the expectations He set, God then decided that He had to "create a loophole for himself", so these humans wouldn't go to hell (quote credit to Matt Dillahunty). Of course, God could have chosen any option or loophole to fix this. He could have just appeared and said, "Hey humans, just say you're sorry for breaking my rules and I'll forgive you." But no. Of all possible options, God chose to create an innocent human being, who was also Himself, and decided that this person had to be horrifically tortured to death so people could then go to heaven. In other words, God chose to torture to death part of Himself to correct His own problem that He created and would have foreseen. There simply is no logic in this story.  Logically, it completely falls apart. It made no sense to me years ago, and it makes even less sense to me now, as I have had children and now truly know what it means to wholly and completely love your own child.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Future Articles


There are a number of articles I plan on writing on this page. Here are some of the topics to come:

Currently Writing:
-Differences Between Science and Religion
-Logical Fallacies:  Descriptions and Examples
-The Unintended, Underreported Consequences of Unquestioned Beliefs

Future Articles:
-A Series on the Concept of Faith  (Faith vs. Confidence, Dangers of Faith, and others)
-The Concept of the Afterlife
-Psychics, Cold Reading, and the Barnum Effect
-Precognitive Dreams and Statistical Selection Bias

The Purpose of this Blog

This blog has multiple purposes. First, when people ask me what my thoughts are regarding religious and spiritual matters, my first thought is to ask how many hours they have. I've done a lot of reading and study on the subjects of religion, spirituality, and philosophy over many years and can't fully express what I think in any brief conversation. I've always felt it would be best if I just wrote my thoughts down, so the person could read them if and when they wished.

Second, I think I am unlike many people in that I want people to poke holes in my belief system, point out errors they see, offer other perspectives, and give me new information. It is through such discussions that I arrive at more accurate and true beliefs.  I think a blog is great for this purpose as people can post comments to the articles. Ideally, this will be a place where I can share my thoughts and get feedback, questions, have people both agree and disagree, and make me think, so that my own thoughts can continue to grow and evolve. I wholly agree with Matt Dillahunty who said, "I want to believe as many true things as I can and as few false things as I can." I never profess to have all the answers and enjoy learning from others. Throughout my life, I have and continue to change what I think based on such conversations with others.

Third and perhaps most important, I feel it's important for me to reach out to others who struggle with the same questions I did in the past. In fact, I feel it's not only important, but I feel a great deal of responsibility to help them and to do what I can to ease their struggles, if I can. I felt very alone in the past with these ideas and wished I had someone to discuss them with. My plan is to keep these articles free from swear words, but here, in this one instance, I feel it necessary to break from this self-imposed rule:  I feel I received a lot of bullshit answers to some very good questions when  I was younger.  Perhaps you feel the same way.  So feel free to comment on what is written or email me. I've always had a soft spot for the underdog and people who feel alone when their thoughts differ from the majority.  I welcome all comments from theists and Atheists alike.

There is a plaque at the University of Wisconsin-Madison near where I live, which reads, "Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that The Great State University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found".

I can't think of a better quote to describe what I strive to do in my life and thoughts.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Coming Out as an Atheist

Coming out as an Atheist seems very much like the process I took from being a Christian to being an Atheist. In the very beginning of the first process, there was the question of whether this was the right thing to do, but the combination of learning, time, experiences, and encouragement led to the answer that it was the right thing to do. The process, however, was by no means easy.

The central emotion, which apparently has to be overcome in both cases, is fear. "What will God think?" was the initial fear in moving towards Atheism, which really meant, "Will I be punished for this?". I was by no means ready to jump into this new lake, so I tested the waters. With time, I felt my confidence grow in what I believed. The water wasn't freezing and as I inched my way in, I didn't drown. Bad things and good things continued to happen to me with the same frequency and in the very same ways as before. I have now been an Atheist for many years and there is no more fear anymore. Not one little bit. What I could never have expected early on is the way I feel now. To be truly free of this fear and reach a the point where my emotions and thoughts are congruent, is an indescribable, wonderful serenity.

More time passed and recently I discovered myself bound by another fear. The fear is no longer about a god, but about people, such as friends, family, and even those who don't know me. "What will they think?", which really meant, "Will I be punished for this?". As before, I had to test the waters. I began by letting those closest to me know first. Of course, the easy part was telling my friends who are Atheists themselves, but soon I began to tell others. I'm very happy to say that the water is very comfortable, as others have been very accepting. I still have some fear inside, but I have confidence in the outcome of the previous path. It is clear to me that the more people I tell, the more peace I have inside. I look forward to the day when the peace is so overwhelming, that it breaks through into serenity once more.