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I am going to church tomorrow and here’s why.

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Over the past few weeks, the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Louisville held a fundraiser called “Send an Atheist to Church.” Here is the basic idea. There is a fundraising jar for four different religious groups: Baptist, Mormon, Muslim, and Catholic. Anyone could “vote” for groups with their dollars and whichever group had the most money in their jar at the end of the fundraiser would get to have some atheists attend a service at their place of worship. The money the fundraiser will be donated to the Kid’s Center for Pediatric Therapy.

The chart below shows the progress of fundraising from the start to the end of the fundraiser. The line at the top is a total of funds raised, and the other four lines correspond by color with groups listed below. End the end, $170 dollars was donated to the Kid’s Center for Pediatric Therapy and the Baptists came out on top. Tomorrow is the planned day for a few members of the SSA at UofL to uphold their end of the bargain and attend  Sunday services at a local Baptist church.

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I graduated from UofL several years ago, before there was a Secular Student Alliance there, so I am not a member of the SSA myself. However, as they have invited members of the Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers to participate I have decided to join in. I have pretty clear expectations for what the service will be like, because I was raised in The Church of the Nazarene which is very similar in service style to the Baptists. I expect the service will go something like this: announcements, then song service, offering, about a 30-40 minute sermon, prayer, and benediction. I expect the people will generally be friendly and welcoming. What will make this church visit different than all the previous times I have gone is that I will be going as a known atheist and I expect that will have some effect on the tone of interactions with the people there. I wonder if the paster will make any changes to the sermon in light of the fact that there will be a handful of open atheists among the congregation. In fact, I expect the people will probably be extra friendly for that reason in order to put on a good impressions and make sure we know that Jesus loves us.

I’ll post an update tomorrow on how it goes.

 

Religion and Violence

Dr. Avalos is a professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and the author of several books about religion. He is a former Pentecostal preacher and child evangelist. He has a Doctor of Philosophy in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. Avalos is an internationally recognized opponent of neo-creationism and the intelligent design movement, and is frequently linked to Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist and proponent of intelligent design who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007.

Dr. Avalos is a professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and the author of several books about religion. He is a former Pentecostal preacher and child evangelist. He has a Doctor of Philosophy in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. Avalos is an internationally recognized opponent of neo-creationism and the intelligent design movement, and is frequently linked to Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist and proponent of intelligent design who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007.

This post is a continuation of my learnings from the 2013 American Atheists Convention. The next speaker I will discuss is Hector Avalos, and his ideas on how religion can be a cause of violence.

I always brace a bit when the subject of religion and violence come up, as I have from time to time heard some hyperbolic statements about how all wars are caused by religion. Such statements are not true historically or in any other way, and Dr. Avalos made it clear that he was not proposing that all violence is caused by religion or that religion does always leads to violence.

With that being said, Hector rejects up front the claims of the moderately and liberally religious that the violent fanatics are not following a true form of their religion, on the basis that this is merely a faith-based claim and not grounded in any evidence. You could make just as valid a case to say that the more violent version of the religion is the true form, and that the peaceful members are hertics and hypocrites. It is a wonderful thing for religious believers to be peaceful, but this in and of itself does not prove that it is the ideas of the religion lead to their peaceful behavior.

The core idea of Hector’s talk is that when religious ideas cause violence, it is because they have created a scarce resource. Things like water, oil, and diamonds are normally what people think of as resources over which wars may be fought; however, the scarce resources created by religion are usually much more ethereal then any of those items. Here is a short list.

  • Salvation
  • Sacred Space/Land
  • Group privilege
  • Access to God’s will.

As an example of how violence can be caused around “access to God’s will,” read Deuteronomy 18:20.

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I [God] have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

One has to wonder how would anyone else, not themselves being privy to what God might have spoken to this person, would know which prophets are true and which were lying. And of course anyone speaking in the name of one of those other gods was automatically out. And notice that the penalty against such people who spoke for God without proper authorization was the ultimate in violent acts. They will be put to death.

Dr. Avalos also cited a similar text from the Koran.

For an example of how sacred land can be a scarce resource over which the religious wage battle, one only needs to look at the current and ongoing situation in Israel/Palestine. The fact that rival religious groups hold sacred claims to the same land, on which they are therefore unwilling to compromise because the claims are sacred, is clear enough to demonstrate that religion can cause and perpetuate violence over such a scarce resource.

Salvation, at least as taught in non-Universalist Christian churches, is a scarce resource as it is considered vitally important to a person’s temporal and eternal well-being and is not evenly distributed. Christian teachings (which vary depending on the sect) teach that one must do and believe certain things in order to obtain it. One kind of example of violence brought on by belief in non-universal salvation can be seen in the behavior of certain parents who abuse or abandon their non-believing children. And not even necessarily because the parents don’t love their kids, but due to the idea that if the kids do not believe the parent’s religion they are in danger of eternal damnation if drastic and harsh measures are not taken by the parents. Even in less drastic situations, differences in opinion about religious claims can lead to tremendous amounts to hurt and anger. If it were not for such uncompromising and “sacred” claims about the ethereal and unknown, much suffering could be avoided.

In response to the ways religions can and do cause violence, Dr. Avalos recommends that we totally repudiate and reject any and all scriptures that advise or excuse violence, and not try to reinterpret them as the moderate and liberal religious do. For the record, I think he is right.

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Don’t Question Me!

“Stop questioning me!”

“What do you mean by ‘questioning’?”

“STOP IT!”

I don’t know how my times I was warned against questioning growing up. The first time I heard the word, I didn’t even know what was meant by “questioning,” so naturally I questioned further to get more information. As you can imagine, that conversation did not go well. I don’t recall any time in my upbringing where questioning was extolled as a good and positive thing, except occasionally in a movie. It seems to me that there was an unspoken assumption that to “question” someone was to impune their integrity and to imply that you don’t really trust them or their judgement.  “Questioning” was the thing that TV lawyers did to the opposing witnesses to try to extract the truth that the witness was clearly trying to hide. And if you are questioning an idea, it means you must be rejecting it.

Communication between humans is complicated, really complicated. One would think that merely transferring an idea from the head of one person into the head of another person should be a relatively simple task, but in reality is is fraught with danger. We all know this, because miscommunication happens all the time. Sometime there is noise in the area that prevents the receiver of the message from hearing clearly. Sometimes the receiver of the communication doesn’t hear the message because of noise and distractions inside their mind. Or the sender of the message might have unknowingly chosen poor words or mumbled their statement.

When it comes to questioning, problems with miscommunication occur when the receiver is not sure of, or is suspicious of, the intentions of the sender. Is the sender asking a rhetorical question, or do they really want an answer? Are they sincerely requesting information, or are they trying to catch me in ignorance and make me look the fool? Are they casting doubt on my integrity? It’s not that the receiver necessarily goes though this checklist consciously. It’s mostly happens that the questioner has brought into doubt one of the receiver’s unquestioned assumptions, and the immediate visceral response to the questioner is to take offense. How DARE they ask that!

It’s an issue with communication that all skeptics have to deal with. It is, I think, at the root of why skeptics are often branded as cold and heartless cynics. Supposedly many people’s unquestioned assumptions bring them happiness, so how dare you go and question them! But does it really lead to a happy and more fulfilled life to never have your assumptions brought into question? Maybe, if this unquestioned idea in your head has absolutely nothing at all to do with how you live your daily life. But most assumptions that people really care about are not like this.

Here are a few examples of a assumptions that all human beings have made at some point in their lives.

  • My memories are accurate and complete.
  • I know what I saw.
  • Anyone who hallucinates is insane.

If you really want to offend someone, just question their eye-witness testimony. No one in the world likes to think that the way that they remember an event might be flawed, but both experience and modern brain science tells us that our memory is not even close to a flawless recording of what we have seen and heard. Whenever we remember something, we actually reconstruct a story in our minds that emphasizes certain details, leaves others out completely, and is strongly influenced by our preexisting biases. It is unnerving and incredibly humbling to realize that maybe, just maybe, that event did not happen just the way I remember it.

Sometimes we need to question ourselves and seek out evidence that things really did happen the way I remember, or find out what  actually happened if they didn’t. And, importantly, to remember that when someone questions your story they may not actually be accusing you of lying but only trying to get at the root of what really happened.

Questioning, Offense, and Atheists

The issues of questioning and offense can be particularly vexing for atheists who would like to try to engage in dialogue with religious people. For instance, if a religious friend or family member says something like “God spoke to me this morning and confirmed that my beliefs are true” it’s usually a forgone conclusion that the person will get offended if you ask them things like “How do you know it was God?” or “What about all the people in the world of other religions report having the same experiences?” There’s just something about religious testimony that strongly discourages any sort of digging for more information. I’ve played out a scenario in my head to figure out what I would do or say if I got on an airplane and some little old lady sat in the seat beside me and asked me if I would like to hear what God has done in their life. Awkward…I could see myself asking back if they would get offended if I questioned their story. One of the things that worries me with trying to talk with religious people is that the conversation will either become one-way with them preaching to me and me just mutely nodding or with me questioning what they said and them yelling or stomping away angrily. Or they might not like my “tone.” Or they might be a level headed person who can take questioning coolly, but you never know when you first meet someone. Is it even worth the risk to try and engage the religious in conversation when they try to “witness” to you?

“Community Tree” has Christians fuming in Louisville, KY

Apparently, the supposed “War on Christmas” has already come to my home city, even before Thanksgiving. A press release went out calling Louisville’s big Light Up Louisville spruce a “Community Tree.” And this has stirred controversy and hurt feelings.

It’s Called the Community Christmas Tree – WDRB.com

But not to worry, the city is not going to be “PC” or anything horrid like that. The tree is going to be called the “Community Christmas Tree.”

Don’t misunderstand, I have no problem with calling it a Christmas tree. It would still be a Christmas tree to me even if the city did officially call it a “Community Tree.” I am, after all, a product of a Christian upbringing and I have plenty of warm fuzzy memories of sitting under the Christmas tree. What shocks me (though maybe it shouldn’t by now) is the response of the Christians in this city to the naming of a tree. I have a small sampling of reactions pulled from Mayor Fisher’s Facebook wall (names masked for privacy, of course). Most are negative reactions, though I threw a couple of interesting positive reactions in for balance.

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My favorite negative comment is the “what have we turned into??” comment. I mean, what have we become for calling a Christmas tree a Community tree? A bit more pluralistic? Many of the comments make it clear that the authors think that the city Christmas celebration ought to be a blatant state endorsement of their religion. After all, it’s tradition, right? And tradition is always right. /sarcasm.

It’s not just Louisville of course. Any time a government pronouncement around the winter holidays does not explicitly endorse CHRISTmas, this happens. There is no pronouncement coming from our government regarding how or when or why anyone will be allowed to observe Christmas or any other holiday. America has no government religion, and any county, city, state, or national observance has to be for all citizens, not just the traditional majority. Neither belief in, nor deference to, Christianity or any other religion is required for full participation in civic life in this country. And that, my friends, is the core of our beloved religious freedom.

See also: Wiki Article on Christian Privilege.

Don’t need God to tell us what is good

“How do you know what is good without God?”

This is a question that one of the visitors to the Louisville Atheists booth at the Ky State Fair asked me after he read our banner slogan “Millions are good without God!” It was not hard for me to come up with a quick answer. “We define ‘good’ in human terms. We don’t need a God to tell us what is good.”

I’d like to expand on that answer a bit. After spending 10+ years as an atheist, it still shocks me a bit that some religious people seem to think we require supernatural revelation to tell us what is good.  When you eat a delicious and satisfying meal, do you need someone to tell you that it is good? When you feel wonderful about yourself after helping someone in need, do you need someone to tell you that your action was good? If you are angry and lash out at another person in your anger, do you need supernatural revelation to tell you that your action was not good?

I think not, and it doesn’t matter if you believe in any gods or not. We know that there are certain things and actions that bring love, and happiness, and fulfillment, and we call these things “good.” Others bring fear, and hate, and disgust, and we call these things “bad.” A large number of things and actions bring a bit of both good and bad into the world, and there we need to made a judgement call on whether the good is worth the bad.

During my conversation with this state fair visitor, I asked him if he saw any problem in the bad things in the Bible that God reportedly commanded. In particular, about the genocides described against the Amalekites and other “pagans” that God commanded the Israelites to destroy. His answer was the usual “God’s ways are higher than our ways,” and I think this simple yet mind-boggling phrase highlights what Christians means when they say we cannot know what is good without God’s help. Everyone knows that delicious food, funny jokes, and helpful actions are good, but what about all those things we would never guess could be good expect by divine revelation?

Things like:

  • Genocide (1 Samuel 15)
  • Sexism (1 Corinthians 11:7-12)
  • Homophobia (Romans 1:18-32)
  • Blood Sacrifice (recurring theme, specific examples probably not needed)
  • Substitutionary atonement, or the punishment of an innocent victim to pay for the wrongdoings of the guilty. (See also: scapegoating). This is the theological principle underlying the Christian notion that Jesus “died for our sins.”
  • Hell (need I say more?)

Even today, on the fringes of Christianity, there are parents who sincerely believe it is bad to take their sick child to the doctor, and good to beat their child for disobeying them.

There are things that under normal circumstances, any reasonably intelligent and honest person would see as harmful and bad. However, when it is presented to a person as part of their inherited or chosen religious tradition, that person will absolutely bend over backwards to justify these things and make them “good.” After all, God’s ways are higher, right?

So, we don’t need a God or any authority outside our own minds (individually or collectively) to tell us what is good, unless there is some motivation to present things that are really bad as good.

Update to the Atheist Christmas Display Post

In order to set the record straight, I have edited the post I wrote last December about atheist Christmas displays. As it turns out, the most outrageous of the displays was not put up by atheists at all (as I had even thought at the time) but by a local Christian. For more details see the revised post here:
What’s the point of atheist Christmas displays?

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My Homeschool Story

The Thinking Atheist had a podcast about homeschooling last Tuesday. I wish it had been a day that I could listen to the show live, because I might have called in if it was.

I was a home schooled kid during high school. I had been in the public schools from K to 8th grade. I strongly suspect my parents wanted to homeschool me since they had been listening to Focus on the Family shows about how horrible the public schools are. I jumped on the opportunity because I was having social trouble at school. My peers were a total enigma to me. I didn’t know how to deal with the middle school meanness except to run from it, I was totally ignorant when it came to the music and shows my peers liked, and I couldn’t get why anyone would care all about what clothes I wore or how I did my hair. So I was eager for the chance to stay at home to study and get to take walks at lunchtime when all the neighborhood kids were away at school. Sometimes I think having the socialization of high school would have been helpful to me, but it wasn’t being home schooled that made me an introvert. That’s just the way I was.

Most people whose stories I’ve heard about homeschooling reference a mother who was a housewife and who spent the whole day teaching the kids lessons. That is not how it was for me. I was more self-taught than parent-taught. Mom was the primary breadwinner in our family, and while Dad was the stay at home parent he wasn’t heavily involved in my studies. I would check the assignments on the curriculum list, do the work, and get Dad to supervise if I needed to take a test. I also required his assistance for spelling tests. I did well when it came to things like grammar and reading and book reports. When it came to things like Algebra I barely learned anything…I seriously needed a teacher who was trained to teach math. I didn’t catch up in Algebra until I took some remedial courses in college. But that did not stop me from scoring all A’s in High School, whether I’d truly learned the material or not. Somehow I still managed to score a 27 in the ACT exam, mostly riding on my advanced (for my grade level) reading and vocabulary skills.

My school curriculum was decidedly of the Christian fundamentalist sort…and I mean more fundamentalist than my parents or church. In subjects like math and physics, this mostly meant there were quotes in the introduction of each chapter about how things like math and logic and physics came from God, blah blah blah. The actual material on math and physics was still the same as I probably would have seen in a public school textbook. However, that was not the case for biology. I can’t remember if the curriculum was strictly six-day creationist, but it treated the idea of theistic evolution as a dangerous “compromise with the world.” Almost needless to say, I learned no good information on the theory of evolution but I did read a lot of creationist propaganda. In fact, there was a sizable section of my biology text that was all about how evolution is a lie. It’s a shame that I never had been exposed to much real scientific information about evolution at the time so I didn’t know any better than to buy into the propaganda.

The things I remember from my history lessons were about how George Washington was a devout Christian (highly in doubt) and included a film by David Barton called “America’s Godly Heritage”. What is really funny when I think back on it is that David Barton seriously had me convinced that all of America’s problems started in the 60’s with the sexual revolution and the liberal takeover. When I first saw the film Walk the Line about Johnny Cash, I was shocked to learn that drug abuse existed in the 50’s. This film came out in 2005, six years after I had graduated high school and 2 years after I realized I was an atheist. This is an example of just how sheltered and misinformed I had been. I also recall that my economics textbook was based in the Old Testament, mainly around the leadership strategies of Moses. However, even if it were truthful at all, it was so dense and boring to read that I never understood any of it. Economics was another subject I had to wait until college to learn.

So do I regret having homeschooled, and do I think I would have done better had I stayed in the public schools? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s hard to say what would have happened if we had made a different decision. I liked homeschooling in that I could work at my own pace and not have to sit around and wait for the slower learners in a classroom setting to catch up. In most subjects I am perfectly capable of reading and researching on my own. In others, such as Algebra, a good teacher would have helped greatly. Of course, it would have been much better if I had a real biology textbook rather than the Christian Fundamentalist propaganda textbook from the Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools program.

For anyone who is interested, here are some picture of my class ring from high school. The images were of my own choosing when I was 18 years old.

Presupositionalism: Shackles for your reason

I listened to a Thinking Atheist podcast last week. The title of the podcast was “Proof that God Exist,” which is the title for the website of the Christian apologist who was the guest speaker, Sye ten Bruggencate. The guy is a presupositionalist  who fully expects unbelievers to not understand his arguments because unbelievers have rejected God and do not accept the authority of Christ over their reasoning. Yes, Sye, you can keep your mental handcuffs to yourself. And he says he could prove that everyone really believes in God, even atheists, because God (though Paul) said so in Romans. It’s just that atheists are suppressing the truth though their wickedness or something like that. And people accuse atheists of being arrogant? What utter bullcrap. I’m amazed how Seth and his other guest stayed so polite to this guy. They must have been fully prepared for what this guy was about to spew.

There was another interesting thing the apologist said, and that is that God is not really all loving, but he is all good. And that this god does not intend for everyone to go to heaven, because he is sovereign. This is consistent with the idea Romans Chapter 9 that is was perfectly just for God to have loved Jacob but hated Esau before they had even been born or done anything. (This passage was the source of much doubt for me when I was studying this book for Bible Quizzing. Jesus loves all the children of the world? Perhaps not so much.) And  according to Sye,  the original sin, Eve’s sin, was not eating an apple (or whatever kind of fruit would contain knowledge of good and evil) but was rather her desire to be autonomous and make her own choices rather than just blindly obeying god. So, desiring to make our one’s own choices in live is evil. The ultimate in “anti-choice” theology.

Another big whopper he said was that a real Christian cannot reason out of Christianity because they have surrendered their reason to God. Like what he clearly has done. Don’t think outside the box, don’t question the box, just believe and obey. Therefore, there are no true ex-Christians. Voilá.

If you would like to listen to the podcast itself, you can access it on the web here:://www.blogtalkradio.com/thethinkingatheist/2012/04/14/proof-that-god-exists. It is also available via iTunes. I recommend the other podcasts by The Thinking Atheist as well. It is one of my favorites podcasts ever.

Have we learned nothing from Comstock?

Have you even heard of Anthony Comstock? I didn’t learn about him in classes in American history, and never heard the name until I became involved in the atheist and freethought movement. Anthony Comstock was the champion of a set of regulations that made it illegal to send “obscene” materials though the mail.

What qualified as “obscene?” For starters, and for the purpose of this post, any information or objects having anything to do with contraception were forbidden from being sent though the mail by the Comstock Laws. For the crimes of distributing educational materials about birth control, such notable women as Margret Sanger and Elmina D. Slenker were arrested and/or imprisoned. The laws also banned anyone from sending materials having anything to do with sex or sexuality, whether it be porn or medical information. Many others faced arrest and persecution and the shutting down of their magazines and newspapers.

Anthony Comstock was the founder of the eerily named "New York Society for the Suppression of Vice."

The Comstock Laws were passed in 1873, and while they have not been officially repealed they have time and again been crippled due to being found unconstitutional. However, comstockery still pops up its ugly head from time to time in American law and politics.

This is a quote from an apparently approving article in Harper’s Weekly in 1915, where Anthony Comstock’s views and those of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice are described:

If you allow the devil to decorate the Chamber of Imagery in your heart with licentious and sensual things, you will find that he has practically thrown a noose about your neck and will forever after exert himself to draw you away from the “Lamb of God which taketh away sins of the world.” You have practically put rope on memory’s bell and placed the other end of the rope in the devil’s hands, and

though you may will out your mind, the memory of some vile story or picture that you may have looked upon, be assured that even in your most solitary moments the devil will ring memory’s bell and call up the hateful thing to turn your thoughts away from God and undermine all aspirations for holy things.

Let me emphasize one fact, supported by my nearly forty-two years of public life in fighting this particular foe. My experience leads me to the conviction that once these matters enter through the eye and ear into the chamber of imagery in the heart of the child, nothing but the grace of God can ever erase or blot it out.

Finally, brethren, “let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” Raise over each of your heads the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look to Him as you Commander and Leader.

Then, as now, the excuse and justification for limiting the liberties of others comes down to religious belief.

Later in the article, here are the words of Comstock in describing the effects of birth control in response to the questions of the interviewer.

“But,” I protested, repeating an argument often brought forward, although I felt as if my persistence was somewhat placing me in the ranks of those who desire evil rather than good, “If the parents lack that self-control, the punishment falls upon the child.”

“It does not,” replied Mr. Comstock. “The punishment falls upon the parents. When a man and woman marry they are responsible for their children. You can’t reform a family in any of these superficial ways. You have to go deep down into their minds and souls. The prevention of conception would work the greatest demoralization. God has set certain natural barriers. If you turn loose the passions and break down that fear you bring worse disaster than the war. It would debase sacred things, break down the health of women and disseminate a greater curse than the plagues and diseases of Europe.”

Compare this to Santorum’s words.

Santorum pads his opinion by saying he supports Title X from a “governmental perspective” but quickly says that birth control is “bad for women and bad for society.” Implicit in his statements is the idea that sex for any reason other than procreation is sin, and that couples who try to avoid pregnancy when they have sex are avoiding their responsibilities. These are purely religious ideas and nothing based in the realities of human experience.

These are the kinds of motives and ideas behind “abstinence only education” (harkening back to the Comstock idea that educational material about sex is obscene). Also the recent push to allow employers to block insurance coverage of contraception in the name of religious freedom, along with the attempt to do anything possible to prevent women’s voices from being heard in the hearings. There is nothing new here, and nothing that should be surprising to us if we know a bit of American history. Those who would take away our freedoms almost always do so under the guise of good and morality and responsibility, but those ideals are not what is at stake. Let’s take care that history does not repeat itself and take women’s rights back over a century in the process.

Sources and More Information:

Stamping Out Indecency, The Postal Way — A article on the Comstock Laws, and their effects and continuing influence.

Comstock Laws — Women’s Health Encyclopedia

VIOLATING POSTAL LAWS.; A WOMAN ARRESTED FOR MAILING OBSCENE MATTER. — New York Times Article on the arrest of Elmina D. Slenker for distributing “obscene” materials though the mail. I recommend reading it, just for the shock of how they talk about her immoral ways and absolve her husband of all the wrongdoing and shame of her actions. The sexism and condescending tone of the article is breathtaking.

The Birth of the Pill — Article on the history of birth control and the effects of the Comstock Laws.

Women Without Superstition “No God’s No Masters”: The Collected Writings of the Women Freethinkers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, an anthology compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor.

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Why I am An Atheist: Science is better than Faith

Since I am recently talking about The God Virus, it bears mention that religion is not the only viral idea out there. In my youngest years the “god virus” (to use the metaphor) was not the only viral idea I was exposed to. I was also infected at a young age with a high regard and respect for science and for logic. For a long time I thought these two ideas, the religious idea and the scientific and logical idea, were in no conflict with each other because, naturally, Truth cannot contradict truth.

Throughout my life I have been driven by the search for answers. Not just any answers, but answers that make sense, answers that I can understand well enough that I can competently explain and defend to another person. According to the evangelical religious tradition in which I was raised, it was my duty to “witness” to anyone that I could to bring them into the fold of Christianity so that they would be saved. But I had a problem….even at the point when I most deeply believed, when I tried to speak the ideas out loud I felt a conflict, like there was something unfathomable that was just not right. I didn’t really understand this thing that I was trying to convince others to believe, and I could just imagine all the ways in which a non-believer could shoot down every argument I had in my arsenal. This bothered me immensely. I had to resort to just parroting what others had told me, or just skip the theology completely and just invite my target to come to church with me. My lacking witnessing skills guilted me tremendously, and I prayed fervently that God would grant me boldness and tell me what to say.

So, in my search for sensible answers, I dug into apologetics books by authors like C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, and Max Lucado. Without going into the details of each one, I found the following pattern nearly every time: I would read the book and it would bolster my faith and make me feel good about what I believed. Then, a week or two later the doubts and uncertainties would creep in again and I would read another apologetics book and feel good again…then go back to doubting again in about a week. I ran to the apologists and gobbled up their encouraging words, but didn’t really examine the arguments they were using. I so wanted to believe their conclusions that I didn’t really care if their arguments made sense or not. So when I tried to explain to myself what I had learned from them later I remembered the conclusions and good feelings, but still couldn’t reconstruct the arguments behind the conclusions. So back into doubt I would slide. After several cycles of this I started to get really frustrated. 

Little did I realize, I had two conflicting viruses vying for dominance in my mind. I wanted verifiable, scientific, logical answers and I just was not getting what I needed from the previously mentioned apologists. Then I got into creationist literature, including my heavily anti-evolution home-school biology text, and thought for a while that I found what I needed. That science really did support the Bible and Christianity.

I found bits of the truth about evolution and creationism later in college, with the help of Astronomy 101 which explained to me about the Big Bang, and showed me a timeline of the universe including that of life on Earth. That piqued by curiosity and lead me to read more on my own. I was furious at first and felt I had been misled on clear scientific matters by Christian authors I had trusted in the name of God. I gave up on the apologists and creationists and started perusing the science section at our small local library. That is where I found the book form of Cosmos by Carl Sagan, and River out of Eden by Richard Dawkins. And I was hooked.

Cosmos (book)

I started checking out all the books in the local library I could find on both cosmology and evolution. I would bring them home read them guiltily in my room, hiding them under the covers when my parents knocked at the door for fear of their disapproval (I was a bit paranoid perhaps?). This was my rebellion, searching outside the family religion to find my explanations in science. Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins and other science writers I discovered didn’t simply rush to a desired conclusion. They actually explained each step in the progression of their arguments in a way that I could grasp, slowly building up to the conclusion while I followed along. And it made sense, and still made sense a week later (though I usually had to go back and review.) I was actually learning new things when I read, unlike when I read the apologists, and the new understanding I found was intoxicating. The more I learned, the more my former supernatural beliefs fell away in favor of natural scientific explanations, all the way back to the origin of humanity and the origin of the universe. I could see that there were still gaps in scientific knowledge of course, but science had replaced the supernatural explanations so many times in the past. I couldn’t see any sense in posing supernatural explanations for what we didn’t know yet. To insert “God did it” anywhere in the natural world just made no sense.

The viral idea that truth cannot contradict truth lead me to embrace science and reason over faith.

Happy Darwin Day!