The Feeling of Firebrand Atheism

I have recently read Fighting God, by David Silverman. The topic of the book is firebrand atheism, and the normalization of atheism in American society, from the perspective of the president of American Atheists. It’s an interesting and unique read and I recommend anyone to pick it up. But this isn’t a book review.

I have been thinking lately about firebrand atheism. Loud, proud, unapologetic atheism. A little over ten years ago when I first came out as an atheist, I was really enthused about my new take on the world and ready to go to bat for it. I was still angry at the idea that some people in my life apparently thought that I should keep quiet in the face of what I saw as ridiculous superstition, and keep the obvious truth to myself. As if in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, the child had been reprimanded and punished for speaking up rather than affirmed by all the adults who had been fearfully silent about the obvious truth.

I’ve calmed down since then, and the thought of sticking my neck out in an uncertain situation to defend an unpopular idea gives me a tight feeling around my chest and stomach area. You know what I am talking about–anxiety. I don’t like conflict, though debating can be fun when I am pretty confident I am right. What I have discovered over and over is that the feeling is the same whether I am right or wrong to speak up. Since it is the same feeling, it can be hard to tell sometimes when it is caused by my cowardice or lack of self-confidence when I should be bold, or if it is a sign that something is not quite right with what I am saying. Maybe sometimes it means that there is an inconsistency in my argument and I should be quiet until I sharpen my point a bit more. Or that being right–perhaps in a discussion with a family member–is not the top priority at the moment.

The quote below from Bertrand Russell resonates with me and gets at the heart of what I am trying to say.

“Ever since puberty I have believed in the value of two things: kindness and clear thinking. At first these two remained more or less distinct; when I felt triumphant I believed most in clear thinking, and in the opposite mood I believed most in kindness.”
― Bertrand RussellThe Autobiography of Bertrand Russell

However there is more to the quote after that.

“Gradually, the two have come more and more together in my feelings. I find that much unclear thought exists as an excuse for cruelty, and that much cruelty is prompted by superstitious beliefs.”

Like Christopher Hitchens would say, “religion poisons everything.” People act in harmful ways sometimes because they hold superstitious beliefs, even though they believe themselves to be doing good. For now my strategy has been boldness in the public arena–online and among strangers–and more meekness among people I know and care about personally.

Where do you think you should draw the line between respect for people and criticism of beliefs and ideas?

Atheism and Science Communication #aacon13

Cara Santa Maria is the senior science correspondent for The Huffington Post, where she hosts and co-produces a weekly video series called "Talk Nerdy To Me." She's also a co-host on the new Weather Channel series, "Hacking The Planet."

Cara Santa Maria is the senior science correspondent for The Huffington Post, where she hosts and co-produces a weekly video series called “Talk Nerdy To Me.” She’s also a co-host on the new Weather Channel series, “Hacking The Planet.”

This post is a continuation of what I learned at the American Atheists 2013 convention. Cara Santa Maria was one of the speakers at AACON that I had not heard of before, though I’ve likely come across her writings at one point or another since I have visited the Huffington Post from time to time.

According to her bio on the list of convention speakers,

Cara Santa Maria is the senior science correspondent for The Huffington Post, where she hosts and co-produces a weekly video series called “Talk Nerdy To Me.” She’s also a co-host on the new Weather Channel series, “Hacking The Planet.” A North Texas native, Cara currently lives in Los Angeles. Prior to moving to the west coast, she taught biology and psychology courses to university undergraduates and high school students in Texas and New York. Her published research has spanned various topics, including clinical psychological assessment, the neuropsychology of blindness, neuronal cell culture techniques, and computational neurophysiology.

Just in the act of showing up at a national atheist convention, Cara demonstrates that is not necessary to hide or downplay atheism to be a successful science communicator. She also showed a method of counteracting wrong religiously inspired beliefs about science by showing a video that explains why the creationist claim about inaccuracies of  carbon 14 dating and other radiometric dating methods is wrong. These methods are used very accurately to date fossils and even the age of the earth. It is also a good video if you are interested in how radiometric dating works. I’ll add it to this post if I can find it online.

CaraSantaMariaTwitter

In my experience, education about science will inevitably push against religious beliefs. I have personal experience from my childhood about my father scoffing at “millions or billions of years” statements in science programs that we all enjoyed watching. There was also the recent discussion that touched on religious belief with my trainer that started merely with an offhand statement about how people do not recognize randomness when they see it. You can’t really discuss science without bumping against someone’s religious sensibilities, and this is something that science educators need to contend with.

Diversity in Atheism #aacon2013

Here is what I learned at the American Atheists 2013 Conference about what we can do to increase the diversity of the movement. 

David Tamayo: President and founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers, a national nonprofit educational organization with emphasis on serving the Latino community.

David Tamayo: President and founder of Hispanic American Freethinkers, a national nonprofit educational organization with emphasis on serving the Latino community.

David Tamayo: A major way to reach out to Hispanics and help secularize Hispanic culture is to reach out to the girls and encourage them to enter math, science, and technology-related fields. It has been demonstrated that higher levels of education generally lead to higher levels of secularity in a population. This works as a counter to the “macho” Hispanic culture of sharply divided male and female roles which perpetuates a norm were women are expected to be both subservient to the men and to enforce the religious norms in the family, aka, be the one who drags the kids to church. David encourages women who are in the math, science, and technology fields to reach out and encourage Hispanic girls and show them that these are fields where women belong and where they can do well.

Mandisa Thomas is founder and president of Black Freethinkers, Inc and co-host of the Black Freethinkers BlogTalk radio show.

Mandisa Thomas: The way to reach out to the black communities is to focus more on their specific needs and concerns. Many times larger groups do not have the time and resources to focus specifically on black (or other minority) issues, but smaller groups within those organizations can focus on these areas. Having “side” groups that are a part of larger atheist groups and are specifically for women, or blacks, or other subgroups is good for meeting specific needs and highlighting the diversity of the atheist movement.

Richard Carrier is the author of Sense and Goodness Without God, Proving History, and Not the Impossible Faith. He has a Ph.D. in ancient history and specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism,  the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome.

Richard Carrier is the author of Sense and Goodness Without God, Proving History, and Not the Impossible Faith. He has a Ph.D. in ancient history and specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism, the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome.

Richard Carrier: Atheism is now a community, and not just a bunch of isolated individuals, and we need to take care in how we are represented to the wider world. One way to do this is to support women atheists online by calling out mean and harassing behavior of atheists online. Show to the world, and to those who are being harassed that they do not represent us as a movement.

American Atheist Convention 2013 Writeup #aacon13

1000x1000 darkAA50th

This year’s American Atheist convention marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of American Atheists in the city where the party was started, Austin, Texas. It is also where I spent this past weekend. As always it was a great time, and even though I don’t get the same high as I once did from seeing a big room full of atheists when I first went to the AA Convention back in 2010, it is still refreshing to be among a group of people who are so refreshingly enthusiastic and open.

Those of you who are unfamiliar with atheist conventions may be asking what do atheists do and talk about in their conventions? The topics at this year’s convention included the importance of grassroots activism in the protection of the separation between church and state, how atheism is now a community rather than a set of isolated individuals (and what that implies), why evolution makes sense of the human body much better than “Intelligent Design,” multiple talks on how to continue to increase the diversity of the atheist movement, the relationship between atheism and humanism, and feminism. That is the short list. In the next few days (or when I get the opportunity) I’ll be writing in more detail about what I learned at the American Atheists Convention about these topics.

Of course the convention was not all sitting around and listening to speakers though. Evening activities included a pub crawl, concerts, a comedy show and a costume party.

Afterlife Video by The Thinking Atheist

Apologies for the lack of new content as of late. For the past couple of months I’ve put most of my website and blogging energies into the sites for Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers and the Kentucky Secular Society.

In the meantime, until I get a new blog post cooked up, here is a touching video from the Thinking Atheist about the idea of an afterlife and about what gives meaning and purpose to life. Enjoy :)

 

What I Want for Christmas

Christmas TreeThis speech by Robert G. Ingersoll was printed in 1897, and is as fresh today as ever. Unfortunately Ingersoll has not yet gotten his Christmas wish, but perhaps this next year we can get a bit closer to attaining it.

WHAT I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS.

If I had the power to produce exactly what I want for next
Christmas, I would have all the kings and emperors resign and allow
the people to govern themselves.

I would have all the nobility crop their titles and give their
lands back to the people. I would have the Pope throw away his
tiara, take off his sacred vestments, and admit that he is not
acting for God — is not infallible — but is just an ordinary
Italian. I would have all the cardinals, archbishops, bishops,
priests and clergymen admit that they know nothing about theology,
nothing about hell or heaven, nothing about the destiny of the
human race, nothing about devils or ghosts, gods or angels. I would
have them tell all their “flocks” to think for themselves, to be
manly men and womanly women, and to do all in their power to
increase the sum of human happiness.

I would have all the professors in colleges, all the teachers
in schools of every kind, including those in Sunday schools, agree
that they would teach only what they know, that they would not palm
off guesses as demonstrated truths.

I would like to see all the politicians changed to statesmen,
— to men who long to make their country great and free, — to men
who care more for public good than private gain — men who long to
be of use.

I would like to see all the editors of papers and magazines
agree to print the truth and nothing but the truth, to avoid all
slander and misrepresentation, and to let the private affairs of
the people alone.

I would like to see drunkenness and prohibition both
abolished.

I would like to see corporal punishment done away with in
every home, in every school, in every asylum, reformatory, and
prison. Cruelty hardens and degrades, kindness reforms and
ennobles.

I would like to see the millionaires unite and form a trust
for the public good.

I would like to see a fair division of profits between capital
and labor, so that the toiler could save enough to mingle a little
June with the December of his life.

I would like to see an international court established in
which to settle disputes between nations, so that armies could be
disbanded and the great navies allowed to rust and rot in perfect
peace.

I would like to see the whole world free — free from
injustice — free from superstition.

This will do for next Christmas. The following Christmas, I
may want more.

The Arena, Boston, December 1897.

from: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/for_christmas.html

Thanks for the text goes to the Bank of Wisdom for converting the text to electronic form, and The Secular Web for posting it online.