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Atheists, Please Stop Saying These Things

Tuesday night I participated in a panel discussion at Grand Valley State University with six other atheists (three students, three professors and me). Someone brought up something that is often said to atheists by Christians, that they really do believe in God even if they claim not to (“in their heart of hearts” in the often annoying phrase). I pointed out that this was offensive and patronizing.

A few minutes after I said that, one of the professors, who was quite an irritating git, declared that he doesn’t think that anyone really believes in the God of the Bible. A man in the back of the auditorium said, “I do,” and the professor immediately and very loudly said, “Really? You do? You actually believe that God told Abraham to cut off part of his son’s penis?” At that point I jumped in and reminded the other panelist that this was completely out of line (we weren’t there to debate the audience) and that him telling a Christian what they really believe is every bit as offensive and patronizing as Christians telling us that we really do believe in God deep down. He piped down for a bit after that.

But it inspired me to write a post about things I really wish some of my fellow atheists would stop saying and doing. This is hardly an exhaustive list, just the first few that come to mind.

1. Please stop saying that “we’re all born atheist.” Babies are atheists in the same sense that an office chair is an atheist. The statement is trivially true and completely irrelevant to any discussion I can imagine.

2. Please stop trotting out simplistic reasons why people believe. During that panel discussion Q&A, one of the audience members asked why we thought others did believe in God when we didn’t. I get annoyed by the overly simplistic explanations I often hear for why others believe: “They just believe because they’re afraid of dying” or “they just believe because of guilt” or “they just believe because they’re brainwashed. And those might be true for an individual person here and there, but to think that by repeating those platitudes you have explained why people in general believe in religion is absurd. Human motivation is rarely a simple thing and the reasons why people believe in God or remain as part of one religious community or another are many and diverse. You know how you feel when a Christian says that you’re only an atheist because you don’t want to submit to God or you just want to be able to continue to sin? You’re doing the same damn thing to them.

3. On a related note, please stop explaining the creation of religion in equally simplistic ways. “Religion was just created to control people” is one that I hear often. Again, there are many reasons why religion was invented. It serves a wide range of needs in society, some of them quite well (creating community and channeling charity, for example). And there’s a good deal of scholarly research and writing on the subject of why human beings are prone to create and belong to religion. If you really think it can be explained so easily by a throwaway phrase like the above, I’m almost ashamed to have you on “my side” of these questions.

4. Stop conflating fundamentalism or Biblical literalism with Christianity itself. Pointing out mistakes, absurdities or contradictions in the Bible may work quite well against a Sola Scriptura advocate, but those people are not the One True Christianity. There is no One True Christianity. In fact, as I said during the panel discussion on Tuesday, there is no Christianity. There are lots of Christianities. The fact that Fred Phelps and Bishop Tutu are both labeled Christian tells you almost nothing about what they actually believe about anything. Christians are not a monolith, they are a diverse and varied group with a wide range of beliefs. Instead of presuming what they believe based on a label, try asking them what they actually believe about the subject under discussion first.

5. Please stop saying that being religious means someone is stupid. Are there lots of stupid Christians out there? Of course. I write about them all the time. But I used to be a Christian. I didn’t suddenly become smarter when I left my faith behind. In fact, the overwhelming majority of atheists used to be religious. If you’re one of them and you call them stupid, you’re saying you used to be stupid as well. And I simply know far too many very intelligent religious people to believe this. I also know plenty of dumb atheists.

6. “Religion is a mental illness” or “religion is a virus.” I’ve already addressed the first one recently. Stop it. Just stop.

7. That if you call yourself an agnostic you’re really just a wimpy atheist who won’t commit or who doesn’t have the courage of their convictions. Can we just stop getting so hung up on labels, please? Labels are not a substitute for actually inquiring about someone’s beliefs. Instead of applying a label and then assuming what they believe on that basis, how about asking them what they believe, or what they mean by whatever term they use?

8. Tax the churches! Churches are tax-exempt under the same section of the IRS code as the FFRF, ACLU, Americans United and American Atheists. There is no coherent reason why churches should be taxed but not all the non-religious non-profits. The real problem is not that churches are untaxed, it’s that churches are treated differently from other non-profits that are tax-exempt (they don’t have to fill out 990s, don’t have to apply for the status and get special privileges like parsonage allowances). I’m all for equal treatment for churches and other non-profits, but equal treatment also means that if you’re going to tax the churches you have to tax the others too. So unless you’re willing to yell “tax American Atheists” or “tax the ACLU” at the same time, you really need to stop yelling “tax the churches.”

9. “The founding fathers were all deists” (or worse, atheists). No, they weren’t all deists. In fact, they weren’t even mostly deists. Most of them were Christians of one type or another. The leading founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Franklin) were something in between. I’ve long advocated for Gregg Frazer’s description of “theistic rationalist.” And for crying out loud, don’t ever claim they were atheists. None of them were atheists.

Comments

  1. Michael Heath says

    Ed asserts:

    I’ve long advocated for Gregg Frazer’s description of “theistic rationalist.”

    I do as well. However it’s frustrating to see Dr. Frazer promote that a theistic rationalist by definition means that person couldn’t have also been a Christian and/or a deist.

    Here Dr. Frazer is describing not Christians, but instead orthodox Christians, as if non-orthodox Christians don’t exist. Hint – they do; I even know some personally. In addition, the original definition for deism, which was still in play in the late-18th century, was a term used to define an approach to knowledge by seeking to understand the laws of nature rather than its current definition. That deism is a conclusion that there was no intervening god but still a creator-god. A 16th – 18th century deistic approach used human reason to consider what we knew about nature, a deist back then could still use reason to also conclude the existence of a providential god and not be disqualified as a deist. So from this perspective Thomas Jefferson was all three, a Christian, a theistic rationalist, and a deist.

    Of course merely throwing out all three labels is a failure of framing and misinforms one’s audience when it comes to defending why Jefferson was both a Christian and a deist. One needs to add some context to defend the assertion given how the term deism has changed and most people mangling who is an who is not a Christian. The beauty of ‘theistic rationalist’ is that it works without context for somebody like Jefferson or Franklin, it’s a perfect descriptor and the term accurately conveys what they did to end up with the label. They reasoned their way to a belief in a providential god.

    One of Ed’s ‘no-no’s’:

    Please stop trotting out simplistic reasons why people believe. During that panel discussion Q&A, one of the audience members asked why we thought others did believe in God when we didn’t.

    This is where our public education system fails us. We should all either know or have easy access to the reasons why people have religious beliefs. It’s an empirical set of observed facts, so rather than pull a convenient explanation out of one’s own ass or another’s, we should be able to simply cite the reasons observed. The failure here, prior to promoting pejorative reasons that might not even be representative of many in the population of religious adults, is conjuring up reasons rather than citing facts.

  2. Alverant says

    I have to disagree with #8. There are requirements to be considered tax-exempt and often churches violate these requirements such as endorsing political candidates. If they break the rules, they should lose their status and be taxed. Also the IRS is prevented from enforcing those rules on churches thanks to the theocratic Republicans in Congress. If this means that other non-profits have to pay taxes, I’m OK with that. If you violate the terms of being tax-exempt you should be required to pay taxes, even if you are a church.

  3. doublereed says

    Eh, whenever I question agnostics, they either try the reverse and claim that I’m an agnostic, or they just yammer on about atheists are all the atheist stereotype. All the agnostics I’ve ever met have pretty much the same theological views on God as any atheist.

    In which case the label does matter, because the label is used to stereotype atheists.

  4. raven says

    Ed, your next task is to tell us what we should say.

    Good luck with that one.

    It’s the Cat Herding problem.

    Xianity isn’t a monlithic religion. In fact, the 42,000 sects have evolved and diverged enough that speciation has occurred. There are many xianities, many xian gods, and many jesus’s. Most of which have very little in common but the name.

    Well, guess what? Atheism isn’t monolithic either. There is no atheist Pope, Czar, or President. No gods, no masters.

  5. jws1 says

    I disagree with #7. I think Aron Ra at Ace of Clades had a very illuminating post on this issue a while back; whether or not one believes in a god or in gods is indeed a binary choice.

  6. Michael Heath says

    Ed reports:

    one of the [atheist] professors, who was quite an irritating git, declared that he doesn’t think that anyone really believes in the God of the Bible.

    The strawman atheist prof in God is not Dead came to mind. Not that this prof is as bad as the movie character, but still.

  7. says

    Good list. I take slight issue with the “religion is a virus” part of #6, though. I think we would probably agree that saying this without going into depth as to why that is is indeed a problem. I.e, simply saying “Religion is a virus” and nothing else. But, as Darrel Ray described in his book, The God Virus, there certainly are characteristics of religion that seem to exist purely to spread the religion. Ideas like one must marry a person of the same religion. Or that one must have lots of children and raise them in the church. On this one, I have seriously heard a Catholic state that the purpose of having children is so that they can be taught the Catechism. That’s messed up.

    Adding to #4, it is good to not conflate these because I have seen Christians numerous times saying as much. And, of course, saying that those fundamentalist Christians aren’t the TRUE Christians. I feel that conflating the two really weakens arguments against Christianity because it gives the less fundamentalist Christians an escape route.

    On perhaps another point of disagreement, I do raise doubts about whether or not Christians believe what they claim. But I do this through pointing out that their actions don’t match with what they claim. I’m not saying it has anything to do with “God told Abraham to cut off part of his son’s penis,” though. That goes back to #4. I don’t care if they don’t follow parts of the bible. As an example of something that has been on my mind recently is the Christian treatment of death. If they really believe that there is this awesome afterlife, then why do so many get upset when someone dies? The actions don’t appear to line up with the claims. (Also, I’m not saying that they definitely don’t believe; I’m saying I am highly doubtful. So I’m weakening (guarding) my claim a bit.)

  8. cptdoom says

    re: #2: It seems to me, at least anecdotally, that one of the main reasons people believe in God and, especially, an afterlife, is that it seems strange that a species that has achieved sentience would simply have its existence end with death. It’s not a fear of death as much as a desire to believe that the near magical quality of sentience, being able to understand one’s essence, is so astounding that it must continue on after the physical body is gone. As an atheist, I have the same desire, but see the continuation of my existence not in the continuation of my spirit, but in the civilization I leave behind. The only sure “immortality” any of us have is what we contribute to those we leave behind after death.

    re: #8: I totally agree, which is why my own clarion call is “audit the churches,” and then tax the ones that are clearly taking advantage of the tax exemptions.

  9. says

    1. Please stop saying that “we’re all born atheist.” Babies are atheists in the same sense that an office chair is an atheist. The statement is trivially true and completely irrelevant to any discussion I can imagine.

    It may be simplistic, but it’s factually correct. “Bald” can also apply to chairs, even if they’re not human.

    It depends a lot on the discussion, but the fact babies are atheists can be vitally important to the point that beliefs have to be forced into them, which is contrary to the notion that we all have “God written on our hearts”.

  10. eric says

    @7:

    I disagree with #7. I think Aron Ra at Ace of Clades had a very illuminating post on this issue a while back; whether or not one believes in a god or in gods is indeed a binary choice.

    Do you believe that the next coin flip will come up heads, or tails? That is also a binary choice. But I think many people would answer such a question by saying that in such cases they withold commitment to either answer, because the data just isn’t there to justify a commitment either way. I am not agnostic but that, AIUI, is the agnostic position on god or gods. The key point being, the fact “its a binary choice” does not on its own imply that one has jusification for selecting one of them over the other.

  11. says

    “Babies are atheists in the same sense that an office chair is an atheist. “
    But it IS true that some chairs are Christian. I mean all the office equipment owned by Hobby Lobby is Christian, for instance.

  12. regexp says

    There are requirements to be considered tax-exempt and often churches violate these requirements such as endorsing political candidates.

    And your evidence for this is what? There are 450k+ churches in the US. What percentage of them are actually doing this? The only evidence I can find is anecdotal. And having been dragged to more masses and Jewish services than I’ve liked to – I’ve never experienced this.

    I would be more concerned over mega churches taking advantage of their exempt status to buy airplanes for their pastors then churches supporting a political candidate. I consider this a bigger problem.

  13. moarscienceplz says

    Please stop saying that “we’re all born atheist.”

    Wow. I’ve never heard anyone say that, but it sure is a dumb thing to say. We’re all born self-centered little criers who are happy to poop where we sleep, too. I would hope an adult atheist has spent some time thinking about what it means to hold that position.

    Human motivation is rarely a simple thing and the reasons why people believe in God or remain as part of one religious community or another are many and diverse.

    True, but it is also true that the vast majority of people hold the same beliefs their parents do.

    Can we just stop getting so hung up on labels, please?

    Agreed. OTOH, those people people who use the fact that science can never prove something 100% true or false as a figleaf that lets them claim a Swiss-style neutrality while Christian legislators and judges attempt a blitzkrieg on human rights are moral cowards.

  14. tbp1 says

    Re point #8: I think that having the actual charitable works that churches do, and the donations towards them, be tax-exempt is fine, but that the day-to-day operations (which are more akin to those of a social club than those of a charity) and proselytizing arms (how is that charitable?) of a church, should not have that status.

    I know this would be create some extra bookkeeping, but I don’t think it would be impossible (any accountants care to chime in?).

    At a minimum, I agree with Ed that churches shouldn’t be exempt from the paperwork that other non-profits have to do.

  15. colnago80 says

    On perhaps another point of disagreement, I do raise doubts about whether or not Christians believe what they claim. But I do this through pointing out that their actions don’t match with what they claim. I’m not saying it has anything to do with “God told Abraham to cut off part of his son’s penis,” though.

    To be fair, this is a Jewish requirement and is entirely optional in Christianity. The US is the only nation, AFAIK,, where circumcision is widespread amongst the Christian population (at one time it was 90%, now down to about 50%).

    Re Michael Heath @ #3

    According to the blog’s resident physics professor and math department chairman, a necessary condition for being a believing Christian is a belief in the physical Resurrection of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth. AFAIK, none of the gentlemen mentioned by Brayton had such a belief.

  16. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    “Bald” can also apply to chairs, even if they’re not human.

    Bald is not *informative* when applied to chairs, though.

  17. jaybee says

    I have some complaint about #2. I don’t think the people saying things like, “they are just afraid to die” think that it is the only reason, nor the main reason for all. If someone asks a too-simple question that requires a book-length answer, don’t get harpy when the reply is also a too-simple answer.

    Raised Catholic, and having most of my family still Catholic, I know full well that there are many reasons, in no particular order: (1) tradition, (2) identity, (3) community, (4) ignorance of the bible, (5) belief in faith, (6) fear of disappointing God, (7) fear that there is nothing after death, and more. I could spend an hour discussing each of these, but nobody would want to hear it. If you are in an weblog comment exchange, it is difficult to convey much nuance.

  18. Alverant says

    Well regexp we can’t get any data because no official study has been done AFAIK. We do know that during the last Presidential election a church in Texas put up a sign saying, “Vote for the Mormon not the Muslim”. We also know there have been officials from churches speaking for their church endorsing candidates. I live in Wheaton Illinois and I have seen this happen. I agree with cptdoom in that we should audit the churches and see what happens. I’m willing to bet we’ll find a higher percentage of violators than you think.

  19. Taz says

    Please stop saying that “we’re all born atheist.” Babies are atheists in the same sense that an office chair is an atheist. The statement is trivially true and completely irrelevant to any discussion I can imagine.

    Not according to Calvin:

    That there exists in the human mind and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity [sensus divinitatis], we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead…. …this is not a doctrine which is first learned at school, but one as to which every man is, from the womb, his own master; one which nature herself allows no individual to forget.

    Some modern theologians, such as Alvin Platinga, support this theory.

  20. jefflowder says

    Ed, well said. I’ve tweeted this post to my followers and posted a link from my blog at the Secular Outpost.

  21. gheathen says

    1. Please stop saying that “we’re all born atheist.” Babies are atheists in the same sense that an office chair is an atheist. The statement is trivially true and completely irrelevant to any discussion I can imagine.

    Jasper of Maine:

    It may be simplistic, but it’s factually correct……It depends a lot on the discussion, but the fact babies are atheists can be vitally important to the point that beliefs have to be forced into them, which is contrary to the notion that we all have “God written on our hearts”.!”

    Agree entirely. It’s a useful way to express that belief in a god and/or membership of a religion are learned behaviours and are not inherent. Adopted babies are an even stronger indicator – born to a muslim, say, but raised by a christian….and the baby becomes….?

    I definitely think you’re wrong about that one, Ed, and quite a lot of the others too when they’re not just used as one-liners but as part of a structured argument, but that’s the one that leapt out at me.

  22. Steve Sirhan says

    First, it’s sad that several are already rejecting parts of Ed’s message, especially the trivialness of “we’re all born atheists.” Most blacks are born “white” in terms of at-birth skin tone; you want to tell them that? As for the “socialization” factor? Atheism is socialized by parents, etc., just as much as a religion is. The correct answer is that we’re all born “a-religious.” We’re not all born “atheist.”

    ===

    On the nonprofits issue? Non-religious nonprofits also have staff and overhead. And, some of the most egregious issues with bloated salaries, etc., aren’t churches, as a percentage of nonprofits, but secular ones. Willliam Aramony and all of his BS at the United Way, a number of years back, immediately comes to mind.

    ===

    On education and “dumb,” I, like John Loftus, graduated divinity school, and a more rigorous one than him. I’m right behind Ed on this.

    ===

    Points 3 and 4, above the evolutionary psychology and evolutionary sociology of religion? I hope, as I said on FB, that Ed passes this on to P.Z. Myers.

  23. scienceavenger says

    I get annoyed by the overly simplistic explanations I often hear for why others believe: “They just believe because they’re afraid of dying” or “they just believe because of guilt” or “they just believe because they’re brainwashed. And those might be true for an individual person here and there, but to think that by repeating those platitudes you have explained why people in general believe in religion is absurd. Human motivation is rarely a simple thing and the reasons why people believe in God or remain as part of one religious community or another are many and diverse.

    While I agree with your conclusion, I don’t think it follows from what precedes it at all. What’s simplistic about those explanations? And what’s lacking in diversity? All are fairly complex independent psychological processes, and all are obviously a large part of why people believe (along with stupidity and ignorance), which is why so many churches spend so much time on them. What do you think all that talk of hellfire and original sin and “give me the children” and book burning is all about?

    The statistician in me thinks you’re applying the law of large numbers backwards. You should have said:

    [my revision] And those might be true for why people in general believe in religion, but to think that by repeating those platitudes you can explain why an individual person here and there believes is absurd.

    Better, no?

    You know how you feel when a Christian says that you’re only an atheist because you don’t want to submit to God or you just want to be able to continue to sin? You’re doing the same damn thing to them.

    Oh bullshit. Things things are made up out of whole cloth based on nothing. The same cannot be said for the atheist “platitudes” above, which have nominal evidence, if not solid research, to back them.

    But I used to be a Christian. I didn’t suddenly become smarter when I left my faith behind.

    Actually, yeah you did, as did I, as did most all of us who finally reached the point in life of being able to think fairly about that subject. But then your whole #5 is a straw man anyway. To use a similar scenario, when I say on average that Republicans are dumber than Democrats, I most certainly do NOT mean that the moment that person puts down his R button and puts on his D button that his IQ increases. I mean (as the nominal atheists to whom you refer do) that stupidity is a statistically significant indicator of someone’s religiousity, and it remains so, the Francis Collins and Ramanijuns of the world notwithstanding.

  24. Sastra says

    I pretty much agree with all Ed says, but being an atheist I am of course going to pick a couple nits:

    A few minutes after I said that, one of the professors, who was quite an irritating git, declared that he doesn’t think that anyone really believes in the God of the Bible… telling a Christian what they really believe is every bit as offensive and patronizing as Christians telling us that we really do believe in God deep down.

    Actually, there is a more extensive rational “meta-atheism” argument which points out puzzling discrepancies between asserted beliefs and actual behaviors. Whether you think it works or not, it tries to build a case and doesn’t function at quite the same level as flat accusations of lies, self-blindness, or perversity. Of course, the professor here wasn’t getting into any such nuances. And he was arguing with the audience. Naughty; that is what Q&A is for.

    Stop conflating fundamentalism or Biblical literalism with Christianity itself.

    I’ll not only agree with that, I’ll take it further. Stop conflating Christianity or other offshoots of The Book with religion itself.

    There are so many other religions, so many “spiritual Truths,” so many other forms of God and Spirit and Higher Power that to confine every damn argument to one particular version of religion is not only narrow, but self-defeating. As a former Transcendentalist who was Spiritual-but-not-religious I know that not only do complaints focused exclusively on Judeo-Christianity-Islam say nothing whatsoever about different versions of God, they actually provide aid and comfort to the view that atheists are just mad at Christians and have never encountered or dealt with the REAL and more sophisticated understanding of God. At best it looks parochial; at worst it’s an own goal.

  25. Synfandel says

    Thing number one is valid in so far as no one is born knowing (or believing) that God does not exist. No one is born with any thoughts about God whatsoever. However, “We’re all born atheists” is a concise, if perhaps overly simple, way of saying that none of us is born believing in God—a fact that one does sometimes have to point out to believers who speak of ‘discovering God in oneself’, etc. The salient point is that we’re all religion free until religion is imposed from without.

  26. eric says

    gheathen:

    Agree entirely. It’s [point #2 is] a useful way to express that belief in a god and/or membership of a religion are learned behaviours and are not inherent.

    But the counterpoint is still valid: saying its a learned behavior does not (necessarily) make it incorrect or irrational. As moarscienceplz points out, babies are extroadinarily self-centered, callous little brats. They do come with a fairly primitive understanding of fairness, but that’s about it. Empathy and reciprocity have do be learned. Does that undermine their validity or justification? How about math? Literacy? Those are other things that have to be learned. And what about facts or conclusions like E=mc^2? Is it untrue because it has to be learned?

    Now I grant you, pointing out religion has to be learned may be legitimate responses to people like Plantinga. But I think the ‘babies aren’t religious’ meme is generally over- or incorrectly- used to try and imply that if religion must be learned, it must not be true. And THAT implication is false.

  27. raven says

    But I used to be a Christian. I didn’t suddenly become smarter when I left my faith behind.

    Don’t be so sure.

    There is a well known syndrome, Fundie Xian Induced Cognitive Impairment. Michele Bachmann is the poster person. Graduated from law school, passed the bar, and these days shouldn’t try to cross the street without her minder.

    There is even a mechanism. It involves committment bias, cognitive dissonance, and the theory of Limiting Cognitive Resources, none of which I made up.

  28. Sastra says

    Oh, another nit:

    Please stop trotting out simplistic reasons why people believe.

    While I sincerely agree that the reasons behind religious belief are complex and involve all sorts of biological, social, psychological, and environmental factors — in defense of the atheists who do this I can’t help but point out that all your examples of “simplistic” reasons have been explanations which Christians themselves have sometimes given for their own beliefs. Fear of death, inner guilt, and ‘that’s just how I was raised’ are not uncommon excuses. The difference of course is in the tone or the implications, with intimations of Pascal’s Wager or Inner Knowledge lurking below the surface.

    I have more than once heard ‘defenses’ of religion or religious faith which sounded suspiciously like the criticisms made by atheists. “I believe in God because I want it to be true and don’t want to face a world which isn’t the way I want it to be” is a not uncommon apologetic. It comes I think not from the old school of “here is why one should believe in God” but from the modern “this is my own story of why I choose to believe in God.” The main difference from atheism is that to the believer this is not only a good reason, but often an exemplary one: faith is a virtue which arises from an admission of weakness. Instead of sheepishly tending towards a more rational honesty, it can defiantly veer off into faith-based irrationality.

  29. Wylann says

    #1: Considering “we’re all born atheist” is usually a response to a religious wingnuts “we’re all god’s children” or siilarly stoopid aphorism, I think I disagree with Ed here. Without any context, yes, it’s trvially true, but there are often contextual instances in which this would be a perfectly acceptable, if pithy, reply.

    #2: Most believers have very simplistic beliefs. Not all, but it depends on what you really want to argue. The fact that the religiously educated (tiny percentage that they are) like to trot out sophistimicated theology 101 and discuss Anselm or other similar esoterica, that’s fine. But when they follow up the very next sentence with something stupid like “most believers are like this”, then the response that most believers are morons (or at least unsophisticated, if one is attempting to be diplomatic) is perfectly acceptable.

    #3: I don’t really see your point. Other than leaving out the word ‘just’, you aren’t really arguing against the actual idea.

    #4: Again, it depends on who/what one is arguing. Many times, it’s completely acceptable to treat the argument as a literalist. Literalists (and I’m tempted to use scare quotes there, because it’s impossible to be an actual literalist, given all the contradictions and stupid in teh bibull) are quite common, and even the majority, in some parts of the US/world. There is also the squeaky wheel syndrome we deal with here in the US, in that the literalists seem to have influence way above what their numbers would indicate.

    #5: Nah, a lot of them are stupid. I’ll keep pointing it out. Backed up by data.

    #6: As an analogy, those aren’t so terrible. Not sure why yo think that’s so bad, other than being insulting to people with actual mental illness.

    #7: Ok. I mostly agree here. Again, though, there are not-insignificant number of ‘agnostics’ who are actually atheists in every respect except for what they label themselves.

    #8: If churches actually followed the same rules as non-religious non-profits, I would agree 100%. Until that day, tax them.

    #9: As a response to ‘all the FF were xians’, then sure, just hurl the lies back at them and make them do the research. Some of them may have been atheists, we can’t for certain make the claim that none were.

    So yeah, overall, I think I disagree more than agree with you here, but you make some good points.

  30. gheathen says

    Eric:

    But I think the ‘babies aren’t religious’ meme is generally over- or incorrectly- used to try and imply that if religion must be learned, it must not be true. And THAT implication is false.

    No, that’s not what I, or Jasper, were arguing at all. ‘We’re all born atheists’ refutes the claim that belief in a god or a religion is inherent – that we’re born believing – which is quite obviously preposterous and says nothing about the correctness or validity of any learned belief or skill. I’m quite sure we said that and you are being mischievous!

  31. Hatchetfish says

    Eric @12, stating a rationale suspected of agnostics: “Do you believe that the next coin flip will come up heads, or tails? That is also a binary choice. But I think many people would answer such a question by saying that in such cases they withold commitment to either answer, because the data just isn’t there to justify a commitment either way.”

      Yes, but a coin has (roughly, coins often aren’t as fair as we assume) a 50% probability of landing either way. Withholding judgment of an unpredictable system is reasonable.

      In recorded history and all phenomenon observable by science, gods have yet to land on the ‘exist’ side of the coin. The probability they do so on the next toss is, with that many ‘tosses’ coming up nil, safe to treat as zero. “Withholding judgment” on the issue is like withholding judgment on whether the earth will reverse its axial rotation tomorrow afternoon at 3:45 pm.

      Sure, one can say we don’t know it won’t, and that we don’t know gods aren’t hiding behind the couch. If so, I want an explanation for all the assumptions one relies on almost continually throughout the day and takes as fact* that have much less certain odds before I’ll take it as anything but applying special pleading to gods.

      * That our brakes will still be working when we back out of the driveway in the morning, that the hot coffee will not leap out of the mug and scald us to death when gravity reverses or trickster gods deem it so, that like every previous day we don’t need to sacrifice an alpaca to avoid being stricken with boils, that Fenrir will not eat the sun… it’s a pretty incredibly long list. Somehow we take all this for granted, but when faced with 0:inf evidence of gods:no gods, some of us throw up our hands and wail “but we can’t know for sure!”.

  32. says

    Please stop saying that “we’re all born atheist.” Babies are atheists in the same sense that an office chair is an atheist. The statement is trivially true and completely irrelevant to any discussion I can imagine.

    It’s relevant as a response to the claim God-belief is just natural and something we all have deep down and written on our hearts. It’s relevant to discussions about performing religious rituals on infants who can’t walk or speak.

    There is no coherent reason why churches should be taxed but not all the non-religious non-profits. . . . if you’re going to tax the churches you have to tax the others too.

    My position is that many, even most religious groups probably should be tax-exempt on the same grounds groups like AA are, but that being a religious group shouldn’t in itself be grounds for exemption.

    I’m more au fait with Britain’s situation, so by way of example: the UK’s Charity Commission provides a range of ‘charitable purposes‘, pursuit of which qualifies organisations to register as charities and gain tax-exempt status. They include things like ‘prevention or relief of poverty’, ‘advancement of human rights’ and so on; one of them is simply ‘advancement of religion’

    Whereas organisations like Camp Quest and RDFRS have struggled to gain charitable status in the UK, literally any religious group qualifies automatically – this has resulted in organisations like Christian Voice, which campaigns for the institution of the death penalty against gay people, being given charitable/tax-exempt status.

    Again, I think most religious groups probably qualify under at least one of the other objectives (and if not, the ‘religion’ one could be replaced with something like ‘supporting a belief-community’) – but I also think it should be much harder to get out of paying tax than simply having to tick the ‘religious’ box.

  33. Quantum Mechanic says

    Re: #7

    I’d say one can be both an agnostic in general, and atheist for specific permutations of claims (say, the “loving, omnipotent god will send good people to hell for not believing in him” canard, for example). The “with us or against us” mindset is for fundamentalists, thanks.

  34. laurentweppe says

    Shorter Ed:

    Please stop indulging in tribalistic circle jerk, it’s as gross as when the religious do it.

    While I sympathize with the intent, I’m convinced that pleads and attempts at pedagogy are powerless and that the tribalistic circle jerks won’t stop until enough people start whacking off tribalistic circle jerk enthusiasts every time they publicly indulge in tribalistic circle jerk.

  35. matty1 says

    The argument about what newborn babies ‘believe’ reminds me of the historical debates about which was the natural language of human beings. There are even stories of inquisitive rulers deliberately having children raised in silence to see what language they would start speaking. The point being of course that we are not born with a language or a worldview, we are born with the ability to learn and what we learn will be influenced by those around us.

    As for agnostic in some ways I consider myself one, I take the point that the definition doesn’t seem to be agreed on and that it gets used as the basis for all sorts of insults -”You’re agnostic because you’re scared to admit to atheism” “You’re atheist because you’re close minded just like the religious”

    For the record this is how I use these words, not that you should but it might help if you are ever trying to work out what I mean.

    I am.
    -Atheist – I lack belief in anything I would call a god.
    Agnostic – I lack knowledge about what may be beyond observation*, including knowledge of whether the answer is nothing.

    Increasingly I am also Ignostic – I find attempts to define or describe gods so vague that true or false isn’t even a meaningful question.

    *I’m including indirect observation and inference here not reaching for a creationist “were you there?”

  36. Andy Hilton says

    Reason 8:

    The problem with not taxing churches is that they make money(profit) off of services they provide. Like child and senior care.

  37. John Horstman says

    Labels are not a substitute for actually inquiring about someone’s beliefs.

    Except the intent of having a label *is* in fact to give someone a quick heuristic to describe a wide collection of characteristics in a short space/time. Yes, definitions are dynamic and contested, but unless we enforce some minimal degree of linguistic coherence, language loses ALL utility. Really, the big problem is people using inappropriate/incorrect labels. If you don’t think Jesus was divine, calling yourself “Christian” is disingenuous at best. Alternately, I’m all for treating the label “Christian” as though it is completely and utterly meaningless, but it’s the Christians themselves that are, far and away, insisting the label means something definite and important. What they want is to maintain all (or part) of the connotative meaning attached to a particular term (usually social hierarchies and dynamics of privilege and marginalization) while completely discarding the denotative meaning – they want to render the term as an ideogram (like “freedom” or “patriot”) so they personally can claim access to the social positionalities it connotes when the normative denotation would exclude them. I abhor these efforts – I want to dismantle the connotations, rendering the denotative distinctions trivial.

    As for taxing churches, I think in the event they’re actually non-profit groups, they should be subject to the same status as any non-profit groups. The solution is to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches (and the illegal special-case law granting tax exemption of housing costs of clergy) qua churches and let them deal with the tax law like any other corporation. If a church can legitimately claim to be a tax-exempt non-profit under the same rules as every other company, then they should. If they can’t, they should be taxed. I *think* when most people say “tax the churches”, they don’t mean churches should be categorically barred from tax -exempt status (though maybe they do?), they’re just using shorter language for, “remove the special exemptions and considerations extended only and specifically to churches in the US federal tax code.” I might be wrong here: I have conducted nor read no studies attempting to tease nuance out of such statements.

    @Alverant #4: Ditto.

    @Jasper of Maine #11: Ditto. If one has ever heard of people talking about “Christian babies,” for example, one should be able to easily understand this.

    @eric #12: That’s a good analogy, but not for the reason you think (and you thus lose it after the first sentence). I *do* suspect the coin will land either heads or tails if you flip it, though I don’t “believe” it, becasue it could not land at all (we’re all vaporized by a nuclear bomb before it lands, or, more trivially, I catch it) or it could land on an edge. Coin-agnostics choose to emphasize the fact that the coin theoretically could land some other way or not at all, rather than emphasizing that it almost certainly will land heads or tails; alternately, coin-agnostics are very, very wrong about the likelihood of the coin landing as either heads or tails and truly believe it’s actually a mystery whether the coin will land on a face this time you flip it. The first batch are annoying for activists becasue they’re refusing to take a stand, despite recognizing the overwhelming likelihood that the coin will land on a face; the second batch is nearly as ignorant about the subject as the people who claim that Yahweh will simply bring the coin into existence in its resting state and flipping it is a heresy, attempting to alter God’s plan, and it thus prone to factually-incorrect assertions.

    @Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) #19: So you’ve never seen an upholstered chair before? Certainly not one upholstered with any sort of fur or hair… “Bald” is entirely informative when talking about chairs, and pointing out that everyone is born atheist (again, folks, this doesn’t mean an unshakable belief that no gods exist, it means a lack of a belief that gods do exist) is equally informative in the context of a discussion/argument where someone is claiming the opposite as an important point.

    @gheathen #24: Ditto.

    @Steve Sirhan #25:

    Most blacks are born “white” in terms of at-birth skin tone; you want to tell them that?

    I might, if “Black” and “White” were descriptions of physical characteristics and not positions within a racial caste system, with perceptions of people’s position in the caste system often socially-mediated.

    Atheism is socialized by parents, etc., just as much as a religion is.

    Three problems – parents are not the sole socializing agents of religion, plenty of atheists are socialized in religious environments/by religious parents, and, a corollary of the second point, not all atheists-from-birth are actively socialized toward a non-religious worldview.

    And, some of the most egregious issues with bloated salaries, etc., aren’t churches, as a percentage of nonprofits, but secular ones.

    I’m with you here – the charity-industrial complex is out of hand.

  38. Nihilismus says

    I usually hear and even use the born-atheist argument when trying to explain to “agnostics” and theists that the default position is atheism. This, of course, requires explaining how I am using the terms atheist and agnostic.

    I think the common perception is that agnostic means the middle position — that is, finding the claims “there is a god” vs. “there is no god” equally likely or unlikely based on the evidence or arguments observed thus far. However, the root gnostic means knowledge, so a gnostic is someone who claims knowledge (which I interpret as meaning that person is 100% confident of the truth of their position) and an a-gnostic is someone who is not gnostic (anybody who is less than 100% confident).

    Using this definition, practically everyone is agnostic. Even a strong atheist who downright believes in the nonexistence of most defined gods but who might say that there is a slight possibility that there was a “first cause” that was brought about by some manifestation of “intent” is technically an agnostic. Likewise, a person who is 99.99% confident that a god exists and uses the “virtue” of faith to bridge the gap is technically an agnostic. Anybody who believes because “it’s just so unlikely that all the irreducibly complex aspects of a particular organ would randomly come together all at once” is also agnostic, because even their flawed idea of evolution still contains a possibility, however slight, for it to happen.

    Theism, by definition, is a belief in a god, however slight. It is not the middle position, and it is not the default position. If someone thinks it is slightly more likely that the claim “a god exists” is true than false, they are a theist. If they think the truth or falsity of that statement is equally likely given their current state of knowledge, then they are not theist — that is, they are a-theist. Atheism include BOTH the people who take the middle position AND the people who actually lean toward believing that the claim “a god exists” is more likely to be false.

    Using these definitions, it is clear that one can be a gnostic theist, gnostic atheist, agnostic theist, and agnostic atheist. The “middle position” makes someone an agnostic atheist, although that term also includes a 99% confident atheist. Since people like to have precise labels, I refer the middle position as agnostic weak/negative atheism, 1 to 99% as agnostic strong/positive atheism, and 100% as gnostic strong/positive atheism.

    The default position — that is, the one babies have — is agnostic weak/negative atheism. They don’t lean one way or the other. This is why technically “atheism” is the default position, but it is a little misleading as not all atheists are still at the default position. Once they start believing that the claim “a god exists” is more likely to be false than true, they are no longer on the default position but they are still atheists.

    As for the analogy to coin flips used by a poster above, there are actually 3 positions, not 2. If a coin is flipped but covered before a person can see the way it landed, that person can believe that it is more likely that it landed heads, that tails is more likely, or that either is equally likely or unlikely given what they know. In order to make this analogy work for the definitions of atheism and theism, one must first make a claim about the status of the coin, and then ask a person whether they believe that claim. So, if the claim is “the coin is on heads”, then a person is “headist” if they believe that statement is more likely to be true than false. They are a-headist if they EITHER believe that the statement is more likely to be false OR believe that is has an equal chance of being true or false. If the claim is “the coin is on tails”, a person is tailist if they believe the claim is more likely to be true, and a-tailist if they believe it is more likely to be false (that is, more likely to be heads) or if they believe that it is equally likely to be true or false.

  39. says

    “So unless you’re willing to yell “tax American Atheists” or “tax the ACLU” at the same time, you really need to stop yelling “tax the churches.”

    Wrong. I’m perfectly willing for all of them to be taxed on stuff that’s NOT about helping people who are suffering some physical or mental hardship. I used to go to a Unity Church; members tithed (I never joined) the church used that money for all sorts of things, some %age of it was used to help people who were experiencing difficulty in life. That part should be non-taxable, tax everything else. I don’t consider upkeep, salaries of ministers, housing for same or anything aside from what I mentioned to be “charitable”; I also expect some folks might disagree.

    “First, it’s sad that several are already rejecting parts of Ed’s message”

    No, it’s not sad; it’s what happens here at Dispatches.

    “especially the trivialness of “we’re all born atheists.” Most blacks are born “white” in terms of at-birth skin tone; you want to tell them that?”

    Nonsense. All blacks are born “black”–even if they’re albino, “race” (a word I strongly dislike to use when describing any group smaller than humanity–but accept that it is the convention) is not “learned”. Race and religion are not even similar qualities.

    “As for the “socialization” factor? Atheism is socialized by parents, etc., just as much as a religion is.”

    I’m the only avowed atheist in a family of 13 people and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one at my family’s gatherings which run to 60+ people. I can absolutely guarantee that nobody in my immediate family and very few people I know are into “socializing” atheism–and yet, here I am.

    “The correct answer is that we’re all born “a-religious.” We’re not all born “atheist.””

    A meaningless distinction, no belief in a god v no belief in a god; or are you saying that we’re born with a belief in a god but no mechanism for expressing it? If the answer is “Yes”, then I call bullshit.

  40. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    5. Please stop saying that being religious means someone is stupid.

    Completely disagreed.

    Religion does make you stupid, and evil, on average. The causation correlation is not 100%, but it’s not entirely uncorrelated either. Of course, there are many fine and intelligent religious people, but they are good and intelligent in spite of their religion. Of course leaving the faith will not instantly make you smarter, any more than you become instantly dumber after 50 days in a church. However, believing the shit in religion is a slow and steady process that erodes critical thinking, and for many religions also self respect and morality.

    There is a reason we spend so much time trying to destroy religion. It’s not because we hate the art. It is because it makes people stupider and more evil over time.

    6. “Religion is a mental illness” or “religion is a virus.” I’ve already addressed the first one recently. Stop it. Just stop.

    Agreed.

    However, some religious people are delusional. Examples: those who believe they can handle snakes safely by faith, those that use faith healing esp exclusively, etc.

    7. That if you call yourself an agnostic you’re really just a wimpy atheist who won’t commit or who doesn’t have the courage of their convictions. Can we just stop getting so hung up on labels, please?

    Slightly disagree.

    I try not to bring up this argument, but if some asshat agnostic tries to tell me that by definition atheists say that there are no gods, I have to correct him, and that correction is that atheist is an umbrella which includes the Huxley agnostic position, and that it has been used this way consistency for 300 years, which is a hundred years longer than Huxley agnosticism has been around.

  41. weatherwax says

    #9: I’ve been told that Alexander Hamilton was an atheist by someone who had studied him extensively. But, that he had been a christian in his youth, and had gone back to christianity later in his short life. Which is an example of how hard it can be to say ‘so and so believed _____’. Our beliefs can change considerable in the course of our lives.

    I’ve also heard several people over the last few years, including Penn Gillete, proclaim Thomas Paine was an atheist. Having read ‘Age of Reason’, he was clearly a deist.

  42. Jen says

    Religion was created to explain what people didn’t understand, like night, earthquakes, and death. They needed easy explanations that they could tell each other. Religion was EXPLOITED to control people, and it worked.

  43. Childermass says

    This is what I like about Ed — intellectual honesty. He holds his own side to the same standards he holds his opponents. The world would be a far better place if more did the same.

  44. Pseudonym says

    This is an excellent list.

    I’d add a little bit to #2: don’t throw around science-sounding words that you don’t understand. Not only does it make you look stupid, it brings science into disrepute.

    For example, if you’ve never formally studied psychology, then you probably don’t understand what “cognitive dissonance” or “compartmentalisation” are. Moreover, anyone who is qualified to diagnose someone else as being “delusional” would never do that outside of a doctor-patient relationship.

    Now, the flip side. What should atheists do?

    I think the number one thing is: learn critical thinking. I’ve lost count of the number of times that people invoke “critical thinking” while showing no sign of grasping even the basics.

  45. Tim Fall says

    It’s interesting that you wrote today on this from an atheist’s standpoint and I posted today on the same issue from the standpoint of a Christian who gets stereotyped and sees atheists get stereotyped just as badly. Thanks for helping to stamp out the stereotypes with your post too, Ed.

  46. suttkus says

    OP: “Christians are not a monolith, they are a diverse and varied group with a wide range of beliefs. Instead of presuming what they believe based on a label, try asking them what they actually believe about the subject under discussion first.”

    I had to laugh at this. Back when I was regularly debating creationists online, getting them to explain what they believed was like trying to pull teeth. They did NOT want to bring their beliefs under any scrutiny at all. Trying to get one to proclaim as much as whether they were YEC or OEC often took ten rounds of email exchanges. The more honest ones would just state outright, “I’m not here to have my beliefs examined, I’m here to show you all that evolution is a lie!”

    @32 Wylann :

    “#1: Considering “we’re all born atheist” is usually a response to a religious wingnuts “we’re all god’s children” or siilarly stoopid aphorism, I think I disagree with Ed here. Without any context, yes, it’s trvially true, but there are often contextual instances in which this would be a perfectly acceptable, if pithy, reply. ”

    A better one is to actually address the vapidness of the original claim rather than replace it with a contrary vapid claim. “We’re all born atheist” just sets up a “Nu-uh! Nu-uh” dynamic for the rest of the conversation. Better to ask, if being born believing in Yahweh was true in any meaningful fashion, why is it so much of the world ends up not believing in Yahweh? Either that birth belief isn’t meaningful or it doesn’t exist at all. The two options are of no point distinguishing.

  47. Paul Vasquez says

    Regarding point #8, misrepresents what a lot of atheists argue. No one wants to remove tax exemption for non-profit charitable organization, but we could certainly close the tax loopholes that allow ministers to take tax exemptions for their mansions. Moreover, for years the IRS refused to investigate whether or not churches were promoting political candidates with tax exempt money. This is a legitimate gripe. If churches want to be politically active, they can pay taxes.

    Regarding point #9, I think Paine was certainly a deist, and Franklin was for a while. Most of the Founding Fathers were Episcopalians, and Washington wasn’t a very devout one. Adams was a Unitarian. Nevertheless they certainly weren’t the modern idea of the fundamentalist evangelical Christian.

    Something I like to point out when discussing this point is that the Episcopal church was derived from the Anglican church, which is to say that most of the Founding Fathers prescribed to the same religion that persecuted fundamentalists like the Puritans in England.

    There’s no disputing Paine’s opinion of the Christian Bible, and Jefferson’s edits paint a pretty clear picture regarding his belief in the supernatural.

  48. raven says

    I had to laugh at this. Back when I was regularly debating creationists online, getting them to explain what they believed was like trying to pull teeth.

    They did NOT want to bring their beliefs under any scrutiny at all. Trying to get one to proclaim as much as whether they were YEC or OEC often took ten rounds of email exchanges. The more honest ones would just state outright, “I’m not here to have my beliefs examined, I’m here to show you all that evolution is a lie!”

    LOL.

    Yeah, I noticed that too. When I got bored with their latest repeat of millennia old logical fallacies, I used to ask them what cult they belonged to.

    Not one single one of them ever answered!!!

    I’m guessing they were embarassed. Well, they should be. That’s a slight bit of progress.

  49. raven says

    I think the number one thing is: learn critical thinking. I’ve lost count of the number of times that people invoke “critical thinking” while showing no sign of grasping even the basics.

    Perhaps you should repeat first grade then. Counting is a useful skill.

    For example, if you’ve never formally studied psychology, then you probably don’t understand what “cognitive dissonance” or “compartmentalisation” are.

    Try looking in a mirror and learning the meaning of the words “arrogant pseudointellectual”, and “control freak”.

    Most of us are well educated on this blog. Judging from your rant, much more than you are.

  50. Synfandel says

    @42 Nihilismus wrote:

    However, the root gnostic means knowledge, so a gnostic is someone who claims knowledge (which I interpret as meaning that person is 100% confident of the truth of their position) and an a-gnostic is someone who is not gnostic (anybody who is less than 100% confident).

    Using this definition, practically everyone is agnostic. Even a strong atheist who downright believes in the nonexistence of most defined gods but who might say that there is a slight possibility that there was a “first cause” that was brought about by some manifestation of “intent” is technically an agnostic.

    While you may be correct in the eyes of lawyers, it is of little practical use. This is the hair that believers like to split when they say that atheism is a matter of faith: if you believe without a trace of doubt, your atheism is a religion; whereas if you are open to the possibility that you might be wrong, your belief is not unequivocal and therefore you are an agnostic. This is, of course, bull shit. I believe many things with an extremely high degree of certainty, but I know nothing without Absolute Faith (TM). Does this make me an agnostic? Of course not. It makes me a rational atheist.

  51. dingojack says

    Ed – have you forgotten that ‘control’ isn’t just something one exercises over other humans….
    Two examples:
    Things beyond one’s control. ‘Ooh a thunderstorm is big, scary and I can’t control it – therefore the gods do (I appease them, they control it therefore I have some level of control).
    One’s self. ‘I can’t stop myself from drinking to excess. But god will tell me what’s right and wrong therefore I can leave it in his/her/it’s hands (tentacles/ noodely appendages/ claws etc.) this allows me to keep control and relieves the stress of having to constantly control my ‘bad’ behaviour’.
    Dingo

  52. says

    @57:

    Never been to an AA meeting in my life but I spent a couple of years going to ACoA meetings and then “graduated” to Al-Anon where I spent 10 years of so eating cheap cookies, drinking crappy coffee and learning a lot about myself and how not to let the alcoholics in my life RUN my life (I also learned that a lot of the shit that I was going through was self-generated). In the event, after a couple of years “working the program” I came to the realization that there was no higher power that was going to save me or sentence me to eternal damnation, life got a LOT easier after that.

    I don’t “believe” that there are no gods; I also don’t “believe” there is a tooth fairy, an Easter bunnies or a jolly elf named Santa Claus. I believed all of those things until “reason” kicked in (maybe it was just cynicism) and no evidence of their existence was forthcoming. It took me some years longer to understand that the central tenet of the faith that I was raised in was nothing more than an idea.

  53. MattieF says

    Stop conflating fundamentalism or Biblical literalism with Christianity itself.

    The thing is, those are really the only people I care to persuade. If you are able to address your theology from a rational enough perspective that you can acknowledge that your beliefs are not irrefutably inerrant, then you’re probably not using your religion as an excuse for anything I consider detrimental to society – you’re probably not trying to teach evolution or lead students to recite prayers in public schools, you’re probably not trying to ban sex education, you’re probably not discriminating against gays.

    And if that’s the case, what’s the point in trying to dissuade them from their beliefs?

  54. raven says

    And if that’s the case, what’s the point in trying to dissuade them from their beliefs?

    True.

    The moderates aren’t the problem. They aren’t trying to destroy our society, miseducating and brainwashing their kids, sponsoring xian terrorism, and generally holding our society back.

    The fundies are. What’s the harm. Whole book are written on what is the harm.

    If they would just stay under their rocks and leave us alone, which they won’t do, no one would care!!! Just like no one much cares about the Amish who, while they don’t accept modern technology, aren’t out blowing up power lines.

  55. says

    > 1. Please stop saying that “we’re all born atheist.”

    This is in response to the catholic church, for example, claiming they have 1.2 billion followers. They include baptized babies. The fact you were baptized does not make you a believer.

    > 2. Please stop trotting out simplistic reasons why people believe.

    > 3. On a related note, please stop explaining the creation of religion in equally simplistic ways.

    This is like saying “Don’t start trotting out simplistic reasons why people are dying from cancer.” Theism is a mental illness and if we want to cure it we need to address the reasons why people succumb to it.

    > 4. Stop conflating fundamentalism or Biblical literalism with Christianity itself.

    It would be a straw man if there weren’t so many Biblical literalists. 46% of Americans believe in literal creationism according to a 2012 Gallop poll.

    > 5. Please stop saying that being religious means someone is stupid.

    But… they are. The 46% of Americans who believe in literal creationism actually believe that the Earth was created by their god in six days. Only 47% of Americans believe that evolution took place and only 15% believe that it occurred without divine intervention.

    > 6. “Religion is a mental illness” or “religion is a virus.”

    If a piece of software that invades your computer is a “virus” then so is religion: it infects your brain, makes you stupid and it can then be passed on to other people.

    > 7. That if you call yourself an agnostic you’re really just a wimpy atheist who won’t commit or who doesn’t have the courage of their convictions.

    You don’t seem to understand the distinction between “strong atheists” and “weak atheists”. Weak atheists simply lack belief whereas strong atheists actually believe that no gods exist. A lot of people are confused about the definition of “atheist” and assume all atheists are strong atheists. Agnostics are weak atheists, as are newborn babies.

    > 8. Tax the churches!

    Churches get to be tax free because they are NON-PROFIT. When a church tells followers to give money and in exchange they (or a family member) will go to Heaven then they are SELLING religion and not just giving it away for free.

    > 9. “The founding fathers were all deists” (or worse, atheists). No, they weren’t all deists.

    I don’t think any atheist has said this, but it is true that many theists have claimed that the founding fathers were all Christian while, by today’s standards, Jefferson would be considered agnostic. Thomas Henry Huxley coined the word agnostic in 1869 so, of course, Jefferson never used that term to describe himself but he did say ” Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”

    Martin

  56. says

    > > Most blacks are born “white” in terms of at-birth skin tone; you want to tell them that?

    > I might, if “Black” and “White” were descriptions of physical characteristics and not positions within a racial
    > caste system, with perceptions of people’s position in the caste system often socially-mediated.

    Explain to me why Rihanna Fenty is “black” while Mariah Carey and Nicole Ritchie are “white”.

    Martin

  57. Michael Heath says

    Martin Phipps writes:

    . . . by today’s standards, Jefferson would be considered agnostic.

    Not true, Thomas Jefferson concluded there was a providential god. Agnostics don’t assert evidence of gods, let alone providential gods. The General Remarks at this Wikipedia Jefferson and Religion page provide insight from Jeffersonian historians: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson_and_religion.

    The New Oxford American Dictionary defines agnosticism as:

    a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

  58. says

    @Michael Heath,

    from the link you provided

    “Jefferson did not shrink from questioning the existence of God. In a 1787 letter to his nephew and ward, Peter Carr, who was at school, Jefferson offered the following advice:
    ““ Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear. … Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you. — (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)”

    So all you did was provide a source for the quote I provided earlier plus provided a definition of the term agnostic. I think it is completely clear that Jefferson was agnostic then. Thanks.

  59. Paul Vasquez says

    Dan Roth> Not exactly a true random sample, is it? And I don’t see how it disproves my point.

  60. says

    Martin Phipps,

    Churches get to be tax free because they are NON-PROFIT. When a church tells followers to give money and in exchange they (or a family member) will go to Heaven then they are SELLING religion and not just giving it away for free.

    Nonsense. Removing the special tax break for pastor’s housing should be done, but this statement is nonsense. On two levels. First, I seriously doubt that you’ll find more than a handful of lunatic churches that are stating “give money, go to heaven” so this is a brazen strawman–not even worthy of consideration. Secondly, giving this argument more cycles than it is worth, that the offer is implicit if not explicit, you can just as easily criticize many (all?) no profits as entities that, at some level, sell the ability for people to feel good about themselves.

    The bottom line: I give money to my church. It uses some to pay the staff (of one) and some to keep the lights on, and some to feed, house and clothe the poor in our community and in other countries. Bite me if you think that is so categorically different from other non-profits that it doesn’t deserve the same tax break.

  61. cswella says

    First, it’s sad that several are already rejecting parts of Ed’s message, especially the trivialness of “we’re all born atheists.”

    “rejecting parts of his message”? You know Ed isn’t a minister and this isn’t a church, right?

    Most blacks are born “white” in terms of at-birth skin tone; you want to tell them that?

    What a terrible analogy.

    As for the “socialization” factor? Atheism is socialized by parents, etc., just as much as a religion is. The correct answer is that we’re all born “a-religious.” We’re not all born “atheist.”

    Theist and Atheist are binary positions. So unless you’re going to claim babies believe in god, they are, by definition, atheist.

  62. Holms says

    1. Please stop saying that “we’re all born atheist.” Babies are atheists in the same sense that an office chair is an atheist. The statement is trivially true and completely irrelevant to any discussion I can imagine.

    No. It may be a useless comment if left unexplained, but then, so are most comments. However, it is a useful comment when pointing out that we aren’t ‘born’ with religion, even if the person can’t remember a time without it; rather, we are born without it but taught it (usually) by the parents.

    4. … there is no Christianity. There are lots of Christianities.

    On a somewhat related note, it would be nice if the apologists didn’t themselves take advantage of this with the ‘that’s not MY christianity’ dodge.

    6. “Religion is a mental illness” or “religion is a virus.” I’ve already addressed the first one recently. Stop it. Just stop.

    I once read of a discussion at a secular convention where the speakers argued that raising a child to have a religion was a form of psychological abuse, and that therefore the case could be made that the government should be empowered to take children from religious parents. Ugh.

    8. Tax the churches! Churches are tax-exempt under the same section of the IRS code as the FFRF, ACLU, Americans United and American Atheists. There is no coherent reason why churches should be taxed but not all the non-religious non-profits…

    Yes there is, and you touched on it right there: churches are treated differently to other charities. So, remove the special treatment. Decouple the tax exemption from simply being a church, and link it instead to the same requirements that secular charities need to fulfil.

    Thus, any church that already does charitable work will keep their exemption, while those that simply accumulate money to open new churches are treated as a for-profit company opening new franchises.

  63. Schlumbumbi says

    1. Please stop saying that “we’re all born atheist.”

    Yes please, stop. Because it’s NOT true. To reject a claim, you have to reflect on it. One who has never heard of it, cannot have reflect on it. That’s the different between a heathen and an atheist.

    3. On a related note, please stop explaining the creation of religion in equally simplistic ways.

    There’s more truth in that statement than anyone could wish for. Don’t conflate the founding of a religion with its own evolution. Just compare today’s state of the catholic church, the result of 2k years of power plays, sophisticated spin, money hoarding, and all its cultural interdependencies and add-ons with its actual origin. The difference between the two is mind blowing.

    If that doesn’t convince you, look at the founding of Scientology. Or Mormonism. Or Islam. It’s always about individuals of questionable character making up stories to elevate themselves over others. And it works reliably because people can project so many things into it.

    6. “Religion is a mental illness

    Religion itself is not an illness. It’s a proof-of-concept brain-hack, showing us how simple, analogue attack vectors can make the brain malfunction in target-oriented ways.

    9. “The founding fathers were all deists” (or worse, atheists). No, they weren’t all deists.

    How can you really tell when there’s no freedom of expressing one’s conscience ? What value tag would you put on an opinion statement which has been made in the presence of potential persecution ? For the sake of honesty in an argument, I’d leave that question aside. Completely.

  64. Holms says

    #12
    Do you believe that the next coin flip will come up heads, or tails? That is also a binary choice. But I think many people would answer such a question by saying that in such cases they withold commitment to either answer, because the data just isn’t there to justify a commitment either way. I am not agnostic but that, AIUI, is the agnostic position on god or gods. The key point being, the fact “its a binary choice” does not on its own imply that one has jusification for selecting one of them over the other.

    I think your analogy would be more accurate if we reworded it thus: “Do you believe the coin flip will always come up heads, or be left to chance?” This I think is a closer analogy to the position of a religion being a statement of a particular outcome on the basis of faith alone. Correspondingly, the athiest position is simply the absence of belief that the coin is guaranteed to show heads; this absence of faith would then also include the agnostics.

    #25
    First, it’s sad that several are already rejecting parts of Ed’s message, especially the trivialness of “we’re all born atheists.”

    Why on earth would that be sad? Unargued rejection might be called sad, but no one is doing that. People can disagree, and can argue their position; Ed is not infallible.

    #27
    As a former Transcendentalist who was Spiritual-but-not-religious I know that not only do complaints focused exclusively on Judeo-Christianity-Islam say nothing whatsoever about different versions of God, they actually provide aid and comfort to the view that atheists are just mad at Christians and have never encountered or dealt with the REAL and more sophisticated understanding of God.

    Who else is your average american atheist likely to be arguing against, especially when discussing matters of government policy?

    #29
    But I think the ‘babies aren’t religious’ meme is generally over- or incorrectly- used to try and imply that if religion must be learned, it must not be true.

    I have never seen it used this way; it may be anecdata, but I have only ever used it / seen it used as a counter to the claim that we are all born christian and only ‘unlearn’ it later out of teen cynicism. Which usually segues into the equally annoying idea that I only became an atheist because I thought it was ‘cool’, and so on through the platitudes ad nauseum.

    #32
    #9: As a response to ‘all the FF were xians’, then sure, just hurl the lies back at them and make them do the research.

    Alternatively, don’t respond to lies by lying.

    Generally, if you reject a certain behaviour, fucking demonstrate it rather than immediately emulating it.

    Ugh 1:30 am; that’ll have to do.

  65. matty1 says

    “The founding fathers were all deists” (or worse, atheists). No, they weren’t all deists.

    How can you really tell when there’s no freedom of expressing one’s conscience ?

    Firstly anyone who would have persecuted them for deism or atheism would also have persecuted heresies like ‘theistic rationalism’. Second the bulk of evidence people like Frazer use is from private correspondence not published in the authors lifetime, which must reduce the risk that they were writing what the public wanted.

  66. Holms says

    Couldn’t resist.

    First, I seriously doubt that you’ll find more than a handful of lunatic churches that are stating “give money, go to heaven” so this is a brazen strawman–not even worthy of consideration. Secondly, giving this argument more cycles than it is worth, that the offer is implicit if not explicit, you can just as easily criticize many (all?) no profits as entities that, at some level, sell the ability for people to feel good about themselves.

    I like the way you strawmanned Martin Phipps’ comment (‘selling religion’ becomes ‘churches explicitly state ‘give money, go to heaven”) while complaining about strawmanning. Yes, the statement is implicit, and you should have known this from the fact that claiming it to be explicit is so ridiculous.

    In fact, your very next sentence shows that you know it to be implicit, so nice job on that thoroughly dishonest argument.

    And no, donating to a charity that actually does something and feeling good about it is not the same as donating to a church that only offers the good feelings, without the practical work.

    The bottom line: I give money to my church. It uses some to pay the staff (of one) and some to keep the lights on, and some to feed, house and clothe the poor in our community and in other countries. Bite me if you think that is so categorically different from other non-profits that it doesn’t deserve the same tax break.

    If your church is doing charitable work, then good for it and it deserves to keep its tax exemption, subject to the same requirements (if any) that are required of secular charities. A church that does no such thing however, does not deserve the exemption. The point being, that the tax exemption for a church should be unlinked from the simple fact that it is a church, but linked instead to the work being performed.

  67. A Masked Avenger says

    jws1, #7:

    I disagree with #7. I think Aron Ra at Ace of Clades had a very illuminating post on this issue a while back; whether or not one believes in a god or in gods is indeed a binary choice.

    Eric in #12 already mentioned agnostics, who stand on the atheist side of that binary. But there’s a similar phenomenon on the theist side. I knew a Catholic who once remarked, “I know, I know, calling myself a Catholic means I’m basically an atheist,” and everyone present knew what she meant. There are a billion Catholics, give or take, and for many of them “God” is little more than a fixture. Catholicism and its rituals form the backdrop of their culture, but God’s existence or nonexistence doesn’t really affect it much.

    You’ve also got folks in various stages of deconversion, who haven’t left their religion yet for one reason or another. Although I don’t have any hard data to back it, my own experience suggests that there is a nontrivial minority that never leaves, despite no longer believing in any gods, again for various reasons. You might call these “religious agnostics” as opposed to “atheistic (or non-religious) agnostics.”

    For some of them at least (and I was one), gods aren’t real, but they continue to be used as a convenient abstraction, in rather the same way as cultural objects like Darth Vader or Captain Ahab, or like patriotic abstractions like “America.”

    (I mention the last not to start a fight, but to note that assuming “America” involves some kind of fiction to paper over the red-blue divide, the rich-poor divide, the powerful-oppressed divide, ethnic fault lines, and all sorts of other divisions, to pretend that there exists this unified entity deserving our affection and allegiance, rather than a seething cauldron of division and internal struggle.)

  68. says

    > Removing the special tax break for pastor’s housing should be done, but this statement is nonsense.

    Really? I’m not convinced that churches qualify as NON-PROFITS. Churches make a lot of money and I’m not just talking about the Catholic church: evangelists make a lot of money and, yes, they ARE selling salvation.

  69. says

    > To reject a claim, you have to reflect on it. One who has never heard of it, cannot have reflect on it. That’s the different between a heathen and an atheist.

    Heathens are atheists because they lack belief but they are TRIVIALLY atheist. Someone who has never heard of gods cannot be said to believe they do not exist BUT someone who has never heard of gods cannot be said to be a believer either.

    For what it’s worth, I think the argument could be made the other way BUT it would require us to radically change the definitions of “theist” and “atheist”. Can you claim that a new born baby is a theist when he has not even heard of any gods? I doubt if modern theists would argue that babies are born knowing about God: the question would then come up as to what the purpose of evangelism is or why babies almost always follow the religion of their parents. It does seem as though religion is taught and theists seem to realize this.

    But IF you could argue that “theism” was a state of mind irrespective of the belief in any specific god in which primitive minds were receptive to the concept of gods and “atheism” was a state of mind in which people had already come to realize that such beliefs were ridiculous THEN I would concede that babies are born theist and we only become atheist when we achieve enlightenment BUT, again, that’s not how we define “theism” and “atheism”: as “theism” and “atheism” are currently defined we are born (trivially) atheists and we become theists due to the lies our parents tell us.

  70. freehand says

    Synfandel: I believe many things with an extremely high degree of certainty, but I know nothing without Absolute Faith (TM). Does this make me an agnostic? Of course not. It makes me a rational atheist.
    .
    By Huxley’s definition, an agnostic is someone who doesn’t think there is sufficient evidence to justify arguing someone into a position. I think that Yahweh as understood by biblical iiteralists should have left a mess of evidence (e.g. of the Global Flood). In these cases, lack of evidence for X is evidence for X being untrue.
    .
    If being agnostic simply means not having the evidence for knowing something with certainty, then it would be trivially true that I am agnostic. The word is essentially meaningless in this usage, for I am certain of nothing(1). In any event, I would still also be a rational atheist. There are things I know with a high degree of confidence (India has more citizens than Australia), things I know with a lower degree of confidence (humans will be extinct in 200 years), and things about which I have no beliefs at all, because the evidence is too weak (there is life under the ice on Europa).
    .
    (1) Except closed systems of logic. Arithmetic, for example:
    I believe with certainty that 1 + 1 = 2, given the definitions of the terms.

  71. says

    > But I think the ‘babies aren’t religious’ meme is generally over- or incorrectly- used to try and imply that if religion must be learned, it must not be true.

    Scientists in different regions of the world come to the same conclusions. Theists in different regions of the world come up with different religions. Who is finding universal truth?

  72. says

    > Donating to a charity that actually does something and feeling good about it is not the same as donating to a church that only offers the good feelings, without the practical work.

    As an atheist, I have given money to church sponsored charities. I would cry foul however if, for example, all they did was distribute bibles. As Christopher Hitchens once said, there are religious charities that will help people without proselytizing but the Catholic church, for example, will always take charity as an opportunity to preach the gospel and get more followers. A cynical person might say they they aren’t really interested in helping people at all but just looking for new followers and the situations that people find themselves in are just opportunities for the church to exploit.

  73. says

    Holmes,

    And no, donating to a charity that actually does something and feeling good about it is not the same as donating to a church that only offers the good feelings, without the practical work.

    You are begging the question. You are assuming your conclusion that churches do no good. People fed, clothed, housed, adopted, provided foster care, and given medical care made possible by money contributed to churches might have a different opinion.

    So try again, this time with some logic.

  74. Michael Heath says

    democommie writes:

    My personal experience is that churches in poor, working class neighborhoods are much more likely to minister to those who need help–the mega churches? not so much.

    The people I know who attend mega-churches send around emails reporting how their churches spend money and resources in more undeveloped parts of the world. It’s one of the few ways evangelicals can convert adults to their beliefs, target poor primitive uneducated people. That’s a formula that’s now been in play for centuries.

    After all, we don’t expect or observe a targeted serious effort to convert say, the scientific community. In spite of their rampant disbelief.

  75. says

    Michael Heath:

    True, I wasn’t even thinking about that, but now you mention it I remember the coverage of the people who were trying to spirit Haitian children off the island after the disaster, there.

    When I spoke of churches working with the poor I was referring to our own poor.

  76. Holms says

    You are begging the question. You are assuming your conclusion that churches do no good. People fed, clothed, housed, adopted, provided foster care, and given medical care made possible by money contributed to churches might have a different opinion.

    So try again, this time with some logic.

    Heddle’s Reply Is Dishonest chapter 54,315,543,572: Selective Reading Edition.

    I clearly indicated that there is a difference between churches that sit there and grow fat vs. those that do charitable work. I even quoted the example you gave of your own church which you stated as feeding, housing and clothing the poor. Since this was the very next thing in my post after the passage you quoted, it seems clear to me that you didn’t even bother to read my complete post before complaining about it. Either thatm or you did read it but omitted that part.

    Neither alternative speaks well of you.

  77. says

    Holmes #88,

    Actually, in re-reading your comment #75, I agree with your criticism of me in #88. You did make a distinction and in light of that it is fair to characterize my comment at #83 as dishonest. I apologize.

  78. David Smith says

    This whole post was painful to read. I’m not sure why I made our to the end when you didn’t raise a single valid point.

  79. says

    One of my earliest memories was from around age 4 when my dad (I wasn’t told I was adopted yet) bloodied my mom’s face, and I threatened to kill him if he ever did that again. Of course he didn’t believe me until I started listing all the ways I knew how to do it, and I don’t think he ever hit her again.

    Then some time later they took me to Sunday School. My first assignment was to read Matthew, and I came back the following weekend will all sorts of questions, mostly relating to all the hypocrisy I saw in the church. When the other children rallied behind me, I was removed from the group, drugged with a sedative, and more intensive brainwashing was used to make me conform, but to no avail. So they didn’t allow me back to church.

    When I first started public school, I refused to pledge allegiance when I wanted to stand for children everywhere regardless of whichever stupid flag they flew, and they paddled in those days for not following orders. I won though, when after a long explanation from the principal about God and country and all that, I was all, same time tomorrow?

    Then at another grade school shortly thereafter, the principal raped me under the guise of paddling me. After the first whack, he then injected me with a sedative, so I found other kids on the playground he’d abused, and they found gang members to deal with him. I did warn the principal, though, who was insistent that the police wouldn’t do anything, while vehemently denying any wrongdoing. It took a minute or two for him to finally realize we weren’t involving the police, and when the police arrived days later looking for his missing person, I explained what happened, and we moved again.

    From school to school to school we bounced — I forgot to mention I’d met some really cool spies because of my dad’s Defense contracting — while I rooted out and exposed the pedophiles in those new areas and schools. At one home, there was a neighboring apartment complex filled with deviant, criminal children, and one day while dumpster diving there found dozens of cryptic medical records listing dosages and scores of used syringes, before we moved again.

    Sometimes we had to bounce with only a few hours notice, so I would like to thank retired US Army Colonel and retired California Highway Patrol Colonel Ronald Jensen for providing us safehouses.

    But back to religion. The more I research religions, the more I’m finding they’re just covers for pedophile rings. From the “child-rape assembly line” among sects of fundamentalist Jews Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg has exposed, to the one in 11 American Catholics who say they have “personal knowledge” of child sexual abuse by a priest., to the ritualistic child abuse used to systematically and methodically torture and terrorize Mormon children until they are forced to dissociate, to even the illegal f*** fests that accompany major sporting events, the fans — short for fanatics — of these organizations have for centuries been left perpetrate their crimes without much ado.

    But that is finally changing — thank God(s) — and like Jesus is quoted in three places as having said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” He did talk about children rising up against their abusive parental units and having them put to death… and something about being like a thief in the night?

    So when it comes to America being founded by those fleeing religious persecution, again the Mormons come to mind who murdered the posse sent to stop their criminal organization.

  80. says

    Well lad, religion was invented for incredibly simple reasons, none real noble such as community or charity. It was invented to explain what at the time could not be explained, it was a death coping mechanism as well, and then later, after the ancients realized what power religion could have, it became a tool for domination and the more noble causes of charity and community. Religion does persist because of indoctrination, it is a learned behavior passed down from elders or others. I do not agree with all atheists when they get overly militant and hostile with the christers but your #2 on here insists on making human motivation complex when it really, psychologically, isn’t that complex at all. We are no different than the other animals. Our motivations are survival, food, thriving, expression, fear, power, logic, sanity, insanity, etc. Often our experiences shape our motivations but the motivations remain rather simple. I am an atheist because i cannot find logic in religion. That is simple. Most religious folks are religious because they find logic in it or have not been offered an opportunity to explore other religions or non-religions. Those are simple reasons. Humans are creatures that use labels, it is necessary for our brains to categorize and group things together. That is nature. And agnostics are baffling creatures, rather indecisive (no offense intended), but if you ask them what they want for dinner, 9 times out of 10 they would be the sort to say “i don’t know, what do you want” (i live with an agnostic). That does not make them weak but they are a puzzle nonetheless, though their open-mindedness is admirable. Christianity is the name of the religion that worships jesus as a demi-deity as well as the jewish god. It has many, many, many denominations that pick what they like and what they don’t want to support from the biblical texts. That is true of nearly all religions, including atheistic religions such as Buddhism, they have denominations. There are no “christianities” as you put it, there are different denominations, all of them though are christians and will tell you they are if asked. Most of us do not go into a debate or argument starting out hostile with a christian until we find out just what they believe. Then we find out whether or not their beliefs are based in bigotry, if they believe in bigotries, that’s when the arguing ensues and all hell breaks loose. You have a decent list here lad, but we’re all human and prone to human ways of dealing with conflict. Most of us know what kind of hate can be created in the name of religion and we come away a bit bitter, a bit angry when we try to talk to these folks that often times use their religion to justify their hates, bigotries, and general wickedness. Yes we should try to be the better person but often we fall to the human urge of anger because we are not being understood and we cannot persuade one to abandon their wickedness.

  81. says

    @comments 90–92:

    I’m not sure to whom any of your talking, makes it difficult for me (and, I suspect, some other folks) to pick up the thread.

    @90: “No” to what?

    @91: Your comment, brief as it is? Also, too.

    @92: That is some seriously fucked-up shit, my man and, as entertaining a read as it is, it reeks of bullshit.

    @93: I might have some disagreement with you on some points, but overall, I’m in agreement

    “Our motivations are survival, food, thriving, expression, fear, power, logic, sanity, insanity, etc”

    That “thriving”? I hope that includes fucking.

  82. says

    The only ACTUAL atheist that could be defined as a “founding father” was Thomas Paine, who’s pamphlet drummed up Colonial support for the Revolution, and it’s possible that the Revolution wouldn’t have been a success without it, as they would be fighting a battle their own people were against. He died penniless, an outcast because of his atheistic beliefs, and the only Founding Father that would even speak to him by that time was Thomas Jefferson.

  83. David Smith says

    #94Of course I’m speaking to the author. This post, his pleading to atheists, is nothing but blathering drivel that serves no purpose.

    “Also, too”

    What? There was a typo in my post, but not a grammatical error.

  84. Michael Heath says

    Tina Hillman Schmidt writes:

    The only ACTUAL atheist that could be defined as a “founding father” was Thomas Paine . . .

    Paine is an exemplary deist. He was not an atheist. From his book, The Age of Reason, page 5 he writes:

    I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
    Link: http://goo.gl/W34XQK (Then click on the book cover to “Look Inside”.)

    Go on to page 6 and you’ll observe that Paine even believed God could and did communicate with humans; i.e., that ‘revelation’ was possible. In fact he asserted that, “No one would deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases.”

    Paine also rightly argued that revelation to one was not revelation to other when it came from the person who supposedly revealed such revelation. But he didn’t deny a god or a god that could communicate.

  85. Vasile Aciobanitei says

    I don’t think the list is really helping, and here is why:
    (this is copy/paste from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/03/31/atheists-please-stop-saying-these-things/#comment-1319610757)

    “Stop saying these things” is a list of bullshit. And here’s why:

    1. We are all born a-theists, as in a-moral = lacking a moral sense; unconcerned with the rightness or wrongness of something. We are born lacking theist sense, theism is learned then atheism may follow from theism.

    2. Firstly, the fear of death is taught. Secondly, religion is taught as a “medication” against the fear of death.
    Religion is teaching about “sins” against “our creator”. We think at our “creator” as our parents. Children get feelings of guilt if they think they are upsetting their parents.
    Yes, religion is brainwashing our children. Most children remain religious brainwashed, so saying that religious people are brainwashed, is correct.

    3. Religion was a primitive stage of human thinking, it was not invented as tool to control people but relatively recently, when religion started to control the state, becoming state religion. Religion was created to control people by religious leaders.

    4. There is no Christian non-fundamentalist. Jesus clearly stated, he who’s not with me is against me. Christianity, since it was put in power by Constantine, is a totalitarian religion, it does not accept other religions competition. Christian “missionaries” are going to proselytize in countries that have their own god(s), thus by definition Christianity is inherent fundamentalistic and totalitarian.

    5. I was Christian too, and when I became atheist, looking back I feel that I was stupid. As Christian I was called stupid, I was furious, but then I realized that if there was a God I wouldn’t be furious, God will bring me peace, but God was not there, so I felt peace after I disbelieved theist claims about a God existence.

    6. If you can call communists as being mentally deranged, what’s wrong with calling religionists the same?

    7. Finally a point I agree: labels don’t mean anything.

    8. Tax the churches, tax the FFRF, tax the ACLU, tax all the Atheist organizations IF THEY MAKE MONEY. Churches make money for sure, they should be taxed.

    9. This is totally stupid, to say that founding fathers were Christians. What do you expect about one who was born in a Christian totalitarian religious state to be? Buddhist? Hindu? If the forefathers did something to be called Christians then I understand, but they did nothing in the name of Christianity. Everything they did was to get freedom from a religious state, England.

    Sure, the founding fathers were not atheists, atheism as we know it nowadays is a relatively recently movement that get more and more traction. Even if we cannot call our founding fathers as atheists, they expressed atheist ideas. Here’s just a few examples:

    “The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”~1797 Treaty of Tripoli signed by Founding Father John Adams

    “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.”
    ~Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

    “The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.”
    ~Founding Father James Madison, 1819, Writings, 8:432, quoted from Gene Garman, “Essays In Addition to America’s Real Religion”

    “No religious doctrine shall be established by law.”
    ~Founding Father Elbridge Gerry, Annals of Congress 1:729-731

    “Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.”
    ~Founding Father James Madison, letter, 1822

  86. jackrawlinson says

    One of the many reasons I ditched religion was because it was riddled with people telling me what I should and shouldn’t say or do. One of the many reasons I no longer visit The increasingly laughably-named Freethought Blogs is, well, I’m sure you can fill in the rest.

  87. randay says

    I will mention just one disagreement, that concerning religion and death in point 2. People from Epicurus to Bertrand Russel have expressed the idea that religion is based on fear of death.

    Russel, ““Religion is based primarily upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly as the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. ”

    Or “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
    Mark Twain. Religion is the fear of life.

  88. Nick Gotts says

    One of the many reasons I no longer visit The increasingly laughably-named Freethought Blogs – ignorant idiot@99

    1) You are visiting it.
    2) You don’t understand what “freethought” means.

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  1. […] night I disagreed with Ed Brayton about what atheists are not supposed to say and I also mentioned Dan Fincke’s article about not letting fundamentalists define religion. I […]

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