What I learned at Skepticon 7

I just got back home from Skepticon 7 late last night, and now is the time to recover and reflect. (If you don’t know what Skepticon is, visit http://skepticon.org/what/.) This year they had lots of speakers that I had not heard before (despite having gone to plenty of atheist conventions and hearing the most famous speakers multiple times). There was a very good variety of speakers and I commend the organizers for putting together such a fantastic lineup!

Here are some of the main ideas and learnings that I took away from Skepticon 7.

I learned about Ben’s firsthand experience of a Humanist Service Trip with the Pathfinders Project. The trip included teaching kids, helping villages develop a system to access clean water, a visit to a camp for accused witches in Uganda (and the heartbreaking results of superstition), and building latrines in Haiti. Also, a dangerous bout with malaria, reinterpreted as a process of personal transformation. Honestly, I am starting to cry as I write this, it was so heartwrenching and inspiring at the same time. So go to http://pathfindersproject.com and check out what they are doing. (Ben ‘Sweatervest’ Blanchard)

I learned that experiments with rats that show them helping other rats get out of a trap show that empathy and helping are hard-wired into mammals and do not require fancy cognition or culture. (Peggy Mason)

I learned that a careful analysis of studies that address the correlation of religion and wellbeing shows that when atheists are actually included in the studies and when the survey questions are relevant to atheists, the commonly media-touted claims about the religious being mentally healthier than atheists falls apart. It is a stable worldview is correlated to mental wellbeing, not a commited faith. (Melanie Brewster)

I also learned a concept of ‘minority stress’ that can affect atheists because of pervasive religous and anti-atheist prejudices in American culture. When atheists are compelled to self-censor out of fear of social censure from religous family or neighbors, and when they are exposed to frequent anti-atheist comments, the stress can cause mental and emotional damage. This is the major reason why atheist meetups and communities are important — they are safe spaces where atheists can get away from the sources of minority stress. (Melanie Brewster)

The distinction between natural and supernatural claims — between scientific and religous claims — is an illusion. There is no good reason not to think of the ‘supernatural’ (if it exists) as a natural realm that follows rules just like the natural world that we know. This idea has interesting implications for the sorts of claims that the religous make about God. (Scott Clifton)

I learned about ‘citizen science’ and there are websites like http://scistarter.com that anyone can go to to participate in the data-gathering process for scientific experiements, and participate in a casual or commited way depending on their own motivation and time. (Nichole Gigliucci)

I learned how an outsider to our culture can give a fresh perspective on the taboos and unspoken rules of our culture. (Heina Dababhoy)

I learned that ‘genderqueer’ is a gender category. I’d encountered the term before in blogs and speeches, but I never quite had a clear idea what it actually meant. I also learned that if you see something like ‘they/them’ in an online profile that means that those are the pronouns that the person wishes to be addressed by instead of ‘he’ or ‘she.’ Also, that it is appropriate to ask a person identifying as genderqueer what pronouns they prefer if you are not sure. (Twitter conversations in the #sk7 hashtag)

And last but not least, I learned that Skepticon organizers and participants put on the best Prom ever! XD

a response to lukewilson27

Recently in response to my post Religion and Violence, I got a very lengthy comment from lukewilson27. As I do not approve of my blog being hijacked by massive essays from anyone out there on the interwebs, I cut it short after the first paragraph and provided an explanation that said I have copied the comment into a document and will read when I have more time, and that it would be best if he posted his own lengthy posts on his own blog. This was (sadly predictably) followed by an additional comment from this person suggesting that my own intellectual capacity and level of education must just be too low to comprehend the information that he had so generously provided. I can’t resist the temptation to respond. So in this blog post I will post the edited comment in its entirety along with my responses.

Salvation is an internal struggle…a personal thing and each of one of us have to work out our own…without passing judgement on others…it is not fighting to resist the world like so many think. You cannot take one part of the bible and use it for arguments…it is a developing story of God, His creation and the fall of man and his redemption. You can’t take a person who professes they are a Christ follower, then look at their sins and use it as some kind of argument. Is any of us without sin? imperfections? faults? God did everything he could to save us…pride comes…then the fall….every time…and we still want to be gods for some reason, yet we die and have no idea where we go? Does this not concern you? Is this all life is? Birth then death, constant struggle and loss? If I only believe in that which I can only see, touch, taste, smell, feel…I am automatically limited…I have no way of achieving anything outside of my limitations. Look at us…look at the human race on a global scale…we are all sick! Every last one of us, not one of us knows anything really…do you read philosophy? Metaphysics?

As this is mainly just a big block of religious claims and such, I’m not even sure where to begin. First of all, your personal idea of what salvation means is quite irrelevant to me. Just sticking to Christianity, there are tens of thousands of different denominations and sects of that define salvation and the proper means to salvation a bit differently. I know some people who profess to be Christians (or Christ followers? Same to me) are hypocrites, and do not represent their religion as well as others. The losses and struggles of this life, as well as the joys and triumphs, fit perfectly into a scientific and evolutionary view of the world and require no supernatural explanation at all. I am perfectly aware of the faults and fallacies of human beings, but I do not accept your religious assumption that the imperfection of humanity points to the truth of Christian doctrine. Have you ever read anything outside your religious bubble about evolution, science, and how the mind works?

Aristotle’s Metaphysics was divided into three parts, which are now regarded as the proper branches of traditional Western metaphysics:
The study of being and existence; includes the definition and classification of entities, physical or mental, the nature of their properties, and the nature of change.
Natural Theology
The study of a God or Gods; involves many topics, including among others the nature of religion and the world, existence of the divine, questions about Creation, and the numerous religious or spiritual issues that concern humankind in general.
You especially need to read this closely, the logic part…then we can debate…because I have not seen you use good logic yet, it is built on a shaky foundation. Please present a logical argument and case.
Universal science
The study of first principles, such as the law of non-contradiction (logic), which Aristotle believed were the foundation of all other inquiries.
The classical “Three Laws of Thought” are the three fundamental linguistic principles without which there could be no intelligible communication. Their formal expression is generally attributed to Aristotle, and they were foundational in later scholastic logic. The Law of Identity is the most fundamental of the three, the Law of Non-contradiction and Law of Excluded Middle being merely corollaries.
The law of identity states: “that every thing is the same with itself and different from another”: A is A and not ~A.
In logic, the Law of Non-contradiction … states, in the words of Aristotle, that:
“one cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time”.
Aristotle wrote of the Law of Excluded Middle:
“But on the other hand there cannot be an intermediate between contradictions, but of one subject we must either affirm or deny any one predicate. This is clear, in the first place, if we define what the true and the false are. To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true; so that he who says of anything that it is, or that it is not, will say either what is true or what is false; …”

Thanks, I guess, for the basic primer in Aristotle’s logic. I actually know these things already from basic undergraduate classes I have taken in philosophy and logic. You claim that I have not used good logic in my posts, so I would surely be interested in your specific examples of where I been guilty of logical fallacies. I know I am not perfect, so perhaps if you could break down this case I am making into its logical components and show me where I went wrong, I could correct my error. If not, I’ll assume your accusation has no basis in reality.

Do you truly know the origins of knowledge and truth? Or are you simply bound by your reason and intellect and a few monkeys who came up with a theory? Are you educated? I studied at a very prestigious university and I think you have a very limited and very infant idea of what it means to be spiritual. Religion is shit. Christ was a teacher, he was the ultimate example of love and laying down his selfishness for others…he never encouraged anyone to do anything bad or evil, he loved everyone, and he was the personification of good. I can go all day and all night…you have nothing that can disprove anything. Once you realize that, you will become humble and realize that not everybody is going to be like you…why attack Christianity? It teaches people to love another? God hated sin in the Old Testament…but gave His own son in the New Testament…what more do you want from Christianity? People that kill, hurt, and destroy in the name of Jesus are not representing Him. They are MISREPRESENTING Him, it’s a shame too…but what can we do? What can we do with the evil in the world? You think atheism is going to cure us? I think that is absurd, becasue it has absolutely no foundation whatsoever except that which we currently know…it does not answer any questions unless it is some twisted view of human experience as a prison of our own minds and bodies… You need to read my friend and educate yourself on human history and look at where we are headed as a civilization….history repeats…and it keeps repeating…open your eyes and stop roaming in the darkness of uncertainty…He is real…He lives in each one of us.

Words, words, words and more words. I see a load of religious claims and assumptions here, but nothing actually based in the logic primer you produced before. Sure, I do not know the “origins of logic and truth” but such knowledge is not necessary for basic critical thinking. And we don’t have to have perfect knowledge before we can have reasonably good verifiable knowledge  of lot and lots of things. I also don’t care what “prestigious university” you studied at as if this automatically qualifies you as an authority is anything whatsoever.

If you’re totally honest with me and yourself, can you say you never talk to God? When you’re alone? You’re just trapped in your own mind?

Quite honestly, I don’t. I quite enjoy the privacy of my own mind. I would resent the accusation that I really do believe in and long for God deep down in my soul if I didn’t also realize that this assumption is apparently part and parcel to your view of the world. Wouldn’t it blow your mind to know that I really, truly, and honestly don’t believe in your God? And that I do no suffer no negative psychological consequences from my disbelief?

God is speaking to each one of us, in subtle ways, in big ways, in many different ways…but we are too prideful to listen. Where did we come from? What is life? Is there a battle going on between good and evil? Of course there is…turn your TV on….I promise you we can’t fix it and we will destroy ourselves….because hate dominates…yet I as Christ follower accepts everyone with open arms…so tell me…where do I fit in in all this? Do you accept me for my beliefs? Do you respect me? I respect you and your beliefs, but I have my beliefs…every time I have challenged you to answer any of my questions you attack religion (I’m not religious, I am a philosopher with a very open mind for discussion)….but don’t answer any of my questions. I’ll say again religion is crap…and Jesus hated it too! Our beliefs are simple: a PERSONAL relationship with God that teaches love and acceptance of all….what is wrong with that? Don’t let all these idiots that misrepresent Christianity ruin it….because it really does answer a lot of questions on a philosophical level. You don’t seem to grasp philosophy and the question of where knowledge comes from….there are many schools of thought, yet none of them answer any of the questions…they only uncover questions that still remain….so, would you like to hear my case and argument on the philosophical answers that I have come to on my journey? Or do you only respect some asshole with a PhD. I have a Master’s Degree, is that good enough for you? I also read a lot, more than most do….everything…not just the Bible. My IQ is much higher than most, 139 last time I tested….some PhD student that published research is dime a dozen….I would own him in an intellectual discussion. The logic and basis of the arguments assume that Christians who do evil deeds must get their evil from the Bible….and that is hilarious and funny to a Christian who knows it is a story meant to be read in its entirety…not picked and chosen from. Then drafting the BIG PICTURE of it all is what most have a hard time with….because they pick and choose….and do crazy things like claim they have encountered some other way to answer the problem of life, death, sin, evil, pride, greed, lust for power and control…form their own religion or church…you name it. Church of Christ, Church of God, Catholic, bla…bla…bla…every last one of them put their own spin on a historically accurate text that has survived the ages. Still printing strong today…and atheist tend to hate us…yet we love you….it makes no sense. Most Christians are self loathing, selfish, judgmental, prideful, arrogant….yet none of these qualities are taught as a path to enlightenment in the New Testament. Strange huh? ever think that these people are just wrong as an individual and it has nothing to do with Jesus?

This is just more preaching and religious claims and assumptions, and little of worth to me. Lots and lots of words, very little rational content for me to actually engage with. I do not care what your IQ number is. (I took an online IQ test the other day that said my IQ is 140. I don’t put much stock in the number, but I was curious.) I also read a lot, lead a book club, and have experienced numerous Christian churches and teachings. I don’t accept your assertion that you are not religious, only that you have rejected the label “religious.” Religious means different things to different people, but I have heard way too many Christians claim that what they believe is not religion, what they believe is truth! What they believe transcends religion, and all these other people just got it wrong. I just shrug my shoulders and say whatever. I could not care less what you believe since beliefs are just opinions and everyone has them. I am much more interested in what you do and what you can demonstrate that you know.

Could we ever be friends? Would you ever except me? Or would you like to see us eradicated? Or better yet…would you like me to disown my spirituality and conform to your way of thinking? It would be really awesome if you actually answer my questions this time so we can have a real debate.

Possibly we could be friends if I actually knew you in real life, but I find your discussion online to be much more condescending than I would tolerate in any real-life friendship. I think if you came to my way of thinking you would be quite surprised that my mindset is nothing like you have assumed it to be. You really think I would have you “eradicated”? Seriously? Have you actually read anything I have written? And don’t forget–I am not the one who came to you to browbeat you out of your beliefs. You came to me.

In the context of academic degrees, the term “philosophy” does not refer solely to the field of philosophy, but is used in a broader sense in accordance with its original Greek meaning, which is “love of wisdom”. In most of Europe, all fields other than theology, law and medicine were traditionally known as philosophy, and in Germany the basic faculty of (liberal) arts was known as the faculty of philosophy. The doctorate of philosophy as it exists today thus originated as a doctorate in the liberal arts at the Humboldt University of Berlin, becoming common in large parts of the world in the 20th century.[1] In many countries, the doctorate of philosophy is still awarded only in philosophy, i.e. liberal arts.
Please understand, I am simply a a person who seeks wisdom or enlightenment a scholar, a thinker, a student of philosophy, a person whose philosophical perspective makes meeting trouble with equanimity easier and an expounder of a theory in a particular area of experience…My expertise is in spirituality and life and the meaning of our existence. Expand your mind, free your mind from it’s very prison that we create in our senseless notion of who and what we are…we are much more than we have observed, thus it is intuition that guides us down the paths we cannot understand.
: quick and ready insight
a : immediate apprehension or cognition
b : knowledge or conviction gained by intuition
c : the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference (powerful huh?) ever heard of Noam Chomsky? The study of our own language and communication: linguistics, answers a lot too…YouTube him….
See yourself to the exit.
We can’t afford to watch you resort to this
Even hope hides in the shadows!!!!
Nothing is real.
Color is black, is white, is color blind.
Tucking away what’s true, what’s tangible.
You’re crashing faster,
And there won’t be pieces to piece back together this time.
Can’t you see you’re ringing? You’re ringing out.
This is dissonance. This is dissonance.
It’s in the quiet of this place
That all things come to life.
All that is real is blurred by your notion of reality.
Nothing is real.
Color is black, is white, is color blind.
Tucking away what’s true, what’s tangible.
You skeptic, you. You believe in unbelief.
You skeptic, you. Now you’re the hypocrite.
You can’t hide from this.
One of my favorite songs…great lyrics…thought provoking…and very open minded. It addresses rationality and intuition.
Please read the following:
Have a blessed day and I pray that God opens your eyes to so much more than this horrible world full of hate, sickness and death….it is merely a fleeting glimpse of eternity, a time in our existence where we must choose our path.
Two paths:
1. To myself
2. To enlightenment, aka God

So you are a philosopher. Good for you! So you advise that I expand my mind and I respond back yes! I am always striving to learn new things about the world and new ways of thinking. And I extend the very same advice back to you. I hope I have not been too harsh in my criticism, but if you can dole it out I’m sure you can take it as well.

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.

Kentucky Freethought Convention Wrapup

After long months of planning and preparation, the day finally arrived. Yesterday, Saturday October 6th was the first ever Kentucky Freethought Convention. And what a success it was! While targeted primarily to freethinking Kentuckians, it was about the same size in attendance as the first national American Atheist convention that I attended three years ago. We even had a few attendees who drove all the way from West Virginia and Tennessee. The final attendance is estimated to be over 250.

Panoramic view of the stage and attendees of the Kentucky Freethought Convention on October 6, 2012.

There was a great mix of topics by a variety of speakers both local to Kentucky and nationally known.

Dr. James Krupa, Professor of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kentucky, spoke on the importance of quality education in evolution and science for students who are not majoring in science.

Edwin Kagin spoke about the origins and history of Camp Quest, a summer camp for the children of secular parents which focuses on the importance of science and critical thinking (along with other fun summer camp activities). Camp Quest was started in Kentucky and in the past 10 years has spread all over the United States and to Europe.

Seth Andrews, of the Thinking Atheist podcast and former Christian radio broadcaster, told of his experience of coming out as an atheist and of handling the conflict with family that this can sometimes cause. He also had a bit of fun poking fun at some of the most ridiculous expressions of religion in modern America.

Dr. Gretchen Mann, Chef Medical Officer at the Louisville Military Entrance Processing Station, discussed how she, along with the Military Religious Freedom Association and Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers put a stop to the active proselytizing by the Gideons of military recruits at the MEPS centers all over the country.

Annalise Fonza, former United Methodist clergywoman and current member of Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta, spoke about her past as a member of the clergy, the issues faced by nonbelievers in African American communities, and the importance of diversity in race, gender, and sexual orientation in the atheist movement.

Former Minister’s Panel.

As the last speaker for the day, Will Gervais,  Associate Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kentucky. spoke about the recent psychological studies on societal perceptions of atheists, and the connection between analytical thinking and non-religious thought. I don’t have a picture for Dr. Gervais, but when I have one I will post it.

We all had a great time and made great connections with one another. I am looking forward to next year’s convention!

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.

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)