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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.

SendAtheistToChurchGraph

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.

 

Out at the Y

I had a conversation with my personal trainer that touched on religion. It wasn’t intentional on my part, though I figure it probably had something to do with the fact that I was wearing my Kentucky Freethought Convention t-shirt. I had thrown the shirt into my bag for the previous Monday, but then didn’t go to the Y on Monday. So, that just happened to be the shirt I had in my bag when I went to my appointment Wednesday. I had a feeling in the back of my head that it might get a reaction, but I decided that was something I was fine with. I’m so used to being an out atheist I don’t even worry about getting outed much anymore.

And really there wasn’t an issue with the shirt. He did inquire about what it said (Kentucky Freethought Convention on front, listing of freethought and atheist groups in Kentucky on the back.) He made no comments about my shirt directly. (And just for context, we banter and talk about all kinds of different stuff during the sessions so this discussion was nothing really out of the ordinary.)

Near the end of the workout when I was finishing up with ten minutes on the stationary bike, he put it on the “Random Hills” program, making a comment that although the program is called “random hills” it’s always the same hills every time. And I’d read not long ago about how people see patterns in randomness and are really bad at telling randomness from non-randomness, so I couldn’t resist commenting on that fact (yes, I was letting my geek flag fly). People see patterns in randomness and think those patterns are there on purpose, while if you show them a non-random array of dots they will think it is random because they can’t find patterns. And somehow from that we got into talking about “how did they build the pyramids” and about the existence or not of aliens and the size of space and about when and how humans first became conscious. I can only speculate that evolution came into the conversation because my shirt shows an image of Darwin on the

2001: A Space Odyssey (comics)

2001: A Space Odyssey (comics) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

front. My trainer mentioned that he thought the original spark of consciousness would be like in *2001 A Space Odyssey* where the ape suddenly became aware of itself. I pointed out that it was not just *a* moment, but a progression of many, many changes over time–a gradual blending of one species into another. He seemed shocked to hear that I think other animals have at least some consciousness and that there is not a strict, total divide between humans and other species. And then he made some comment about his god and asked how I thought Intelligent Design worked into all of this? I said I don’t think it does, and pretty much just left it at that.

I just never know what kind of conversations I am going to get into next. I wonder if any of this will come up in future sessions? I wouldn’t mind, because I really enjoyed this experience and I love having these kind of conversations. One thing is sure, even though the word “atheist” never came up in conversation, I am definitely out at the Y now.

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 :)

 

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.

The Kentucky Freethought Convention

Recently, the Bluegrass CoR in Lexington Kentucky finally got their billboard! But that is not the only Freethought News going on in Lexington lately.

The first ever Kentucky Freethought Convention is now only two weeks away! On Saturday October, 6, the KFC  will be held in Lexington Kentucky on the University of Kentucky Campus, and will feature nationally known speakers Seth Andrews (aka, The Thinking Atheist) and Jen McCreight, as well as a number of more locally known speakers from around Kentucky.

Friday the 5th, a group of freethinkers will be visiting the Creation Museum with Seth Andrews. And for local group leaders (or those who would like to be group leaders) there will be a leadership training on Sunday morning lead by Michael Werner.

To find more information about the Kentucky Freethought Convention and to register online, visit http://www.kyfreethoughtconvention.com.

Reasonable Living and Intentional Community

Why do people go to church?

Of course, since my background is Christian I will write in “church” terms, but the same applies to the people who meet together in any type of religion, whether Nazarene, Catholic, Mormon or Hindu or Muslim or anything else. The same principles apply regardless of the specific beliefs.

We’ve all heard many times over that humans are social beings. We need each other and we need some sort of rule set and cultural framework to structure our lives. We like to “hang out” with people who think the way we do, for better or worse. It has been my observation that churches and other such organizations exist not out of the commands or needs of any God or gods but rather to fit the needs for human beings for belonging and social structure. After all, what do a large part of church activities have to do with theology? What do basketball courts, walking tracks and youth trips to amusement parks have to do with religion? They are attractions, side benefits to membership (or potential membership) that are used to draw people in with the hopes that they will join and stay and buy into the theology.

Unfortunately, the community benefits of churches and religious organizations come at a serious cost to those who do not buy into the theological baggage that comes with it. Constant messages saying that you are a sinner, that you should believe. The idea that you are incomplete and sick and doomed to failure unless you can believe something no matter how absurd and impossible. Being around people who tell you these things, implicitly or explicitly, can wear one down incredibly even if you are certain you are right. And the believers in a church environment usually don’t get it. Even if they sincerely love and accept you as an atheist, their insistence that “God loves you anyway” and “you are still welcome here” amounts to nothing more than a massive (and massively absurd) guilt trip. It’s not that we think we are too dirty and “sinful” to be accepted by your God. It’s that we really don’t think your God is real at all.

So what is a community-craving atheist to do? Some people are thick-skinned and nonconformist enough to put up with the negative messages about non-belief from the religious with no problem. But the rest us need the sort of community that churches and religious organizations have monopolized for so long.

In order to meet this need, one of the more recent offerings of the Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers group is a weekly Sunday morning small group meeting called Reasonable Living. It was founded and is lead by a former Baptist minister, and we (half-jokingly) refer to the meetings as our “secular Sunday School.” We have been meeting for the past few months, and on some weeks we have almost outgrown our meeting area. In the meetings, the topics of discussion are ideas like how do we balance societal responsibility with personal responsibility, what is the role of an individual in society, how we deal with life and death issues. Studies have usually been modeled around a book, and for the past several weeks we have been studying “Living without God: New Directions for Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, and the Undecided.” It’s a great opportunity to discuss some interesting topics and sharpen your own thinking. If you are in the Louisville area and are interested in discussing the secular life, come and join us!

(Cross-posted at LouisvilleAtheists.com)

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.

Upcoming Series: Why I am an atheist.

“Why are you an atheist?”

“Why don’t you believe in God?”

I have gotten these questions before. I actually have quite a lot of reasons that I am an atheist, but I’ve found that when someone just asks me point blank I freeze up because I can’t think of where to start. Because I’m not always sure of which reason would be the most effective for the asker to understand, because I don’t usually know their background or what their concept of “god” looks like. While considering this situation, I thought maybe instead of trying to jam my reasons for being an atheist into a single post why not have a series of posts where I can address each reason one by one? So, over the course of the next few months I will be writing and posting a series of essays on the various reasons why I am an atheist.

As a preview, here are some of the reasons I am looking forward to explaining:

  • The conspicuous absence of God, and my repeated observations of God being “given the glory” for human actions and chance events.
  •  The historically dubious origins of Christian doctrines, including early church disputes about the nature of Jesus himself.
  • Moral philosophy and the “Divine Command” theory.
  • The soul: how I became convinced that mind=brain and that the idea of the soul is superfluous.
  • Sexism and injustice in the Bible (probably other holy books too, but I don’t know the other books well enough to comment on them.)
  • The constant replacement of supernatural and religious explanations with understandable scientific ones.
  • Evolution, the origins of life, and creationist lies I was told when I was young.

And this list may change during the series, as I think of other things. If any of these intrigues you, make a note in the comment section and I will try to get to that reason sooner rather than later.

Skepticon Wrap-Up

This was my first year coming to a Skepticon and it was a blast! I meet some cool people, and learned a lot of great stuff. From what I had heard prior, I knew Skepticon was an skeptics convention, though I didn’t know how much it would be about atheism (which I thought was great). Then again, most of the talks had nothing directly to do with atheism–which is great if you have been doing this long enough that the basic atheist arguments and discussions are old hat.

David Silverman set the tone for the entire weekend on Saturday morning with his speech “Skepticism, Atheism, and our Common Movement.” He pointed out, and I agree, that while “atheist” is not synonymous with “skeptic,” the two categories of people have an incredible overlap of people and that skeptics play a large and vital role in the secular movement. He also encouraged the crowd at Skepticon not to be afraid to use the word “atheist” in public whenever the question of religious affiliation comes up. When friends and family know that someone they love and know personally is an atheist, it’s less likely that they will hold negative stereotypes in their minds about atheists. This has worked for other movements, and it can work for us.

Most of the talks were not directly related to atheism, but had to do with science, rationality, and clear thinking in general. There were two talks addressing cognitive biases (Eliezer Yudkowsky) and how our own thinking can go wrong (Spencer Greenberg), a couple of basic and interesting talks on molecular genetics and addressed popular misunderstandings of genes (P.Z.Myers and Jen McCreight), a speech on undercover paranormal investigations (Joe Nickell), the need for critical thinking in math education (Hemant Mehta), and the crazy history and beliefs of Mormonism (David Fitzgerald). There was also a talk on the “Straw Vulcan”–ways in which logic and rationality and misrepresented in popular media  (Julia Galef), and I may write more on that later as I have thought about this a lot before and find the topic fascinating.

One of the more unusual speeches was from Darrel Ray on “Sex and Secularism” presenting the results of a study that queried how leaving religion had affected their sex lives. I think I had even participated in that survey some time ago, but I had forgotten about it. A major theme that Darrel Ray has proposed is that religion roots itself in people’s lives by generating a great deal of guilt about normal and healthy sexual (and other) behaviors, and then also promotes itself as the cure to ease that guilty feeling. That is a bit of a simplification of his thesis, and one day I need to read his book “The God Virus” and examine his idea more throughly.

Without a doubt, the most fun presentation was put on by the “Atheist Evangelist” Sam Singleton, which was in part a parody of a charismatic style  church service, and in part a (semi) serious sermon to secular people about giving thanks to the people who deserve our gratitude. At least, I took it somewhat seriously, because I think it was a great message. Thank you Brother Sam!

The final presentation was the most powerful and incredibly personal of them all. The title of JT Eberhard’s presentation was “Why the Skeptic Community Must Concern Itself with Mental Illness.” In which he came out as someone who has struggled silently for years with anorexia. The whole experience was so heart rending and emotional I find a difficult time describing it. There is such a stigma attached both with admitting that there is something wrong with your mind, and also with seeking help and taking medication to treat it because of a fear that that means  you are weak. He delivered a heartfelt plea to the skeptical community to address the incorrect and non-scientific views on mental illness just the same way as the community exposes the frauds of homeopathy. And for those who have mental illness to come out and help remove the stigma in the same way that we are calling atheists to come out and remove the stigma of nonbelief. Mental illness is not an issue I have had to deal with personally, and he presented a view of this problem that I have never been able to see before. The reception from the crowd was also amazing. We all love you JT!

A Preacher’s anti-atheist biases exposed, civilly.

My husband has been the public face of the Louisville Coalition of Reason since the billboard has gone up. This is a point that I am very proud of. :) We have had numerous positive and encouraging responses from fellow atheists who really thought they were alone in Louisville and are very happy to find that there is a community for them here. Several have joined our meetup group in response, and it is all very exciting!

Predictably, we have also gotten a number of emails from Christians who apparently think they are “lead by God” to show us the error of our ways. A couple of days ago someone sent me this though the “Contact Us” link at LouisvilleAtheists.com:

Hell is not half full and your doctrine will take you there. The path to being saved is Romans 10:9. Denying Christ is a path to damnation.

I have decided that it is too ethically ambiguous to post someone’s name and email along with their messages on my blog without their express permission, so I will refrain from doing so. However, not all think so. My husband was engaged in a bit of an email debate with a local pastor over the past few days…and this pastor has had no qualms at all about posting Ed’s name, email address, and bio from Facebook on his blog right along with their email exchange. Without saying he was going to do so in advance, I might add, or giving Ed a link to the blog when it was published. Nor did he send the last message posted to the blog. We found out about this though a sympathetic friend.

Civil discourse between theist and atheist

I read though the blog, and could not help myself from responding to a few of the things this preacher had to say. He brings up many of the old canards against atheists, such as saying that no one can really be an atheist since the Bible says all know God exists, and he questions how atheists could possibly be moral. Both of these assertions are, when you just scratch below the surface just a bit, little more than displays of bias against atheists. Being moral is a natural part of being human. One does not need to understand the sources of morality to be moral any more than the beaver needs to understand millions of years of natural selection to build his dam. To suggest that any group in society does not know how to be moral is to deny a basic part of their humanity. I’m sure that he knows it’s rather pointless to quote the Bible as an authority to an atheist, so I tend to think that the whole point of this exchange was to try to make an example for his “flock” who reads his blog rather than to have a real open conversation.

I would post comments there, but unfortunately my WordPress login doesn’t work on that site and I didn’t see a place to register. So, if you like, go and read the post, and then add your comments here.

UPDATE: Apparently this pastor had thought he sent the last email, but it was still sitting in his drafts folder. So, I’ll remove that count against him. :) The other stuff, such as publishing Ed’s email address as well as believing and spreading the ideas that atheists are just being dishonest and wicked (’cause the Bible tells me so!) still stand. How does one have a civil and open discussion with someone who believes such things about you? Will they not just ignore and discount everything you have to say?