Well, My Gosh. I Am Certainly Convinced!

Oh, my darlings, I have been so wrong. Sooo so wrong. All this time running around thinking God doesn’t exist, and yet there are these convincing arguments which I have never ever heard before. Checkmate atheists, indeed!

Image shows a baby. Caption says, If evolution is real and adults come from babies, how come babies still exist? Checkmate, atheists!"

There were two signs this week that I was totes wrong about the existence of God. See, there was this one dude with his “7 Things that Prove God is Real,” and lemme tell ya, they’re doozies. They are:

1. Babies. Yep, absolutely, babies. I have never ever looked at a baby, but now that you mention it, they are complicated, and so I went to have a look at one personally, and by gosh, now I can’t deny the reality of God! It’s amazing! And slightly smelly. And cries a lot.

2. Thunderstorms. (Why didn’t our BJU and A Beka textbooks say so??? I’d have been a believer by the end of the weather chapters!)

3. Flowers.

And you know, this one was so amazing, I feel the need to quote it in full:

There are more than 400,000 species of flowers in the world, and most of them are not edible. Their job is to simply make the world beautiful. Did they just haphazardly evolve over time, or did a loving God create each individual shape and color scheme for our enjoyment? People who choose to deny God don’t spend enough time looking at tulips, snapdragons, orchids, lilies, lotuses or magnolias. This is why it’s really important to stop and smell the roses!

Wow. I mean, seriously, if they’re not edible, what good are they? Things that aren’t edible aren’t useful, QED. And it’s not like they need to be brightly colored or smell good to attract pollinators or anything. And how could all those flowers which were carefully cultivated over centuries by human beings exist if God didn’t create them?

4. The Bible. You know, no one has ever told me the Bible proves God exists! It’s so obvious once you realize hundreds of millions of Bibles have been sold, but only two million or so God Delusion books. But there’s more – we’ll get to it later. I’m so excited I can barely contain myself! Praise the (edible) Baby Jesus!

5. The Global Spread of Christianity. Okay, Islam’s catching up, but Christianity came first, so neener!

6. Jesus. Yep, Jesus shore prooves God is real, all right. Never knew that! But wow, I mean, how can anyone doubt it, amirite?

Image shows a girl rolling her eyes and sticking out her tongue. Caption reads, "God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself. TOTALLY BELIEVABLE."

7. My personal friendship with God. And you know, having heard from one of God’s own buddies, I’m pretty well convinced, there. Everybody knows grownups don’t have imaginary friends. So if this dude says God’s his friend, well, his friend must exist!

But here’s the handshake on the deal, okay? You’d better sit down, because this is so absolutely convincing that you’ll become an instant believer just like I did. Ready? Here is the ultimate proof, with emphasis added to the proofiest parts:

The evidence for the Bible is more compelling than any other historical fact! There are over 300,000 parts of the OT and entire books that date back to 100 BC. I’m sure you don’t doubt the Homer wrote the Illiad, but there are only 86 copies of it dating to 1000 AD (he wrote it in 100 BC; so how do we really know what is in it?

We have parts of the NT from 125 AD and whole copies of the Bible from around 325 AD. The lack of whole copies of the Bible before that are because of a Nazi-like strategy of the Roman empire to burn them! How typical! But we have 50,000 complete copies of the NT dating from 1000 BC. That evidence blows everything else out of the water. If you believe anything at all, it has thousands of times less evidence than the Bible. And that is a scientific observable fact!

Mind. Blown. God totally wrote the New Testament a thousand years before he appeared on earth as Jesus! He sent Paul back to 1,000 BC to write letters to churches that wouldn’t exist for another thousand years and change! And we know this because some random creationist guy on the internet who may or may not be a troll said so. It must be true!!!!

So yeah. That’s like amazing. I’m so glad I bought all those Christianist textbooks, because I’ll need them to help poorly explain why creationism is really true although all of science proves it’s completely silly. I’ll also be calling around to local neurologists to see how many and what kind of brain cells need to be killed off so that I can keep the Young Earth Creationist faith. I hope you’ll all contribute to my Kickstarter campaign for the surgery!

And if you’re as convinced God is real as I am, you’ll want to join me in destroying the knowledgeable bits of your brain, so you can protect your immortal soul from eternal torment in the hell God will send you to if you doubt his existence, because he loves you and wants you to believe in him, and created a place where we’ll be tortured forever if we fuck up because he really wants us to have a personal relationship with him.

Isn’t this amazing? I never thought there’d be convincing proof, but this is just mind-blowing. I’d better head out to find some ways to justify all the genocide in the Bible now. Bye!

Image shows a strip of red-and-white striped sedimentary rock, and a person pointing to it. Caption says, "Bacon rock. Checkmate, atheists!"

Abortion Is a Human Right

You cannot compel me to give life. It’s not your place to determine whether a pregnant woman or trans man may be allowed or denied an abortion. You are not the one whose body is being used by a fetus. You are not the one risking your life, your health, and your future. You are not the one who should be making the choice. That’s for the pregnant person to decide.

And it’s not up to you to determine at what point in a pregnancy a pregnant person may abort. Until it is fully born, the fetus is a parasite feeding off of another person. It’s up to that person to determine how and when that parasite should be removed. If the pregnant person decides at nine months that they can’t face childbirth, whether vaginally or by c-section, they can request an abortion, and if the doctor determines it’s safe to perform one, they can have it. Their body, their choice.

Image is a red poster with a drawing of a uterus on top. Caption says, "Keep calm and stay out of my uterus."

That’s the position I’ve come to after nearly 40 years. I used to think abortion was hideous, but if mom or baby was in danger, then it could be done. Then I thought a pregnant person should be allowed to have an abortion until the fetus was viable, at which time abortion should be denied except to save the life of the mother. I was sure this was a good position. But there’s something I wasn’t during all those years: pregnant.

I’m not now, have never been, and likely never will be pregnant. But I’m older now. I’ve seen a lot of women endure pregnancy. I’ve been with two women who considered abortion, who then chose to carry the fetus to term. Their body, their choice. One friend who decided to give her baby up for adoption changed her mind and kept her daughter. Her child, her choice. My cousin chose to keep her baby early in the pregnancy. I know at least one of those women never regretted her choice. But they had the option of abortion. They thought carefully about their options. And they made the choices that were best for them.

It was up to them what to do with their unintended pregnancies. If they’d decided to abort, it wouldn’t have been a tragedy. It would have been a good choice, the right choice for those women. Pregnant people are capable of making the right choice for themselves.

No one else should ever be able to make that choice for them.

Ever.

I’ve come to realize that pregnancy is a dangerous gamble. And if you think adoption solves anything, it doesn’t. The pregnant person is still risking their life and health and future. It’s up to them whether to roll the dice, and they get to decide when to stop gambling, no matter how late in the game or how high the stakes. That autonomy only ends once the fetus is born. When the fetus is no longer attached to and feeding off another person’s body, then there is no choice. The formerly-pregnant person has no right to end that life once it is free of their body.

I’ve reached this position because there is no other acceptable dividing line. No one has the right to tell anyone else that they must relinquish control over their body so that someone else can live off of it.

There is no secular or religious argument against abortion that doesn’t hit this wall. You are not allowed to force someone to donate a kidney, half their liver, skin, muscle tissue, bone marrow, blood, cornea, or any other part of themselves to save someone else. Not even to save an infant. No, not even if they registered as a donor. I can’t compel you to sacrifice part of your body or give your life for another person. You can’t compel me to carry a fetus to term.

Image has four pictures. The first is an egg yolk and white in a dish. Caption says, "This is not a chicken." Second image is an acorn, and says, "This is not a tree." Third image is a silkworm and a silk cocoon, and says "This is not a dress." Fourth image is a blastocyst, and says "This is not a person." Caption says, "This is not a difficult concept."

In fact, I’d say I have a better case for forcing you to donate some part of your body to save a life: we’re talking about giving the gift of life to a conscious person, someone with a rich tapestry of life experiences, who has hopes and dreams for the future, who is suffering and vividly aware of that suffering. But I can’t force you to so much as a needle stick and the temporary loss of a bit of blood. You have to choose to be an organ donor; without that, I can’t even remove desperately-needed parts of your body from your corpse after you’ve died. I can’t violate your vacated body to save several living human beings. How, then, is it your right to compel me to sacrifice so much more of myself for a potential person?

You don’t have that right. It’s not your body. Not your choice. Not ever.

I Lost My Best Friend to Abortion – I Can Stand to Lose the Atheist Orgs

I haven’t spoken to my best friend of 21 years since November 2012, when I found out he’d voted for Romney.

We’d survived about everything together. We made it through the years of horrible clingy-ness and self-esteem issues brought on by a lifetime in a church that told him he was worthless. We survived his crush on me, and three thousand miles of separation, and enormous long distance bills. We survived my loss of faith, and his journey through various flavors of Christianity and paganism before he returned to the Church of Christ. We survived him voting for Bush Jr. (twice) and me voting for Obama. We survived my obsession with science while his interests diverged into the occult. We thought we’d be forever.

But our friendship died when I found out he’d voted for Romney.

Image shows a headshot of Mitt Romney with a quote: "Outlaw all abortion even in cases of rape and incest." -CNN Debate, 11/28/07. Caption reads, "Romney supports dangerous "personhood" amendments. 'Is committed to overturning Roe vs. Wade, and he supports such amendments that define a life as beginning at the moment of conception.'" -Debbie Wasserman Schultz

This was a time of increasing attacks on women’s reproductive rights. And my best friend, who has many women in his life that he adores, and two beautiful nieces he dotes upon, voted for the man who would force all of us with wombs to carry unwanted, even potentially dangerous, pregnancies to term.

That broke something inside me. I can forgive a lot in my friends. I can accept their religion, even though I think religion is harmful bullshit. I can accept a certain amount of conservatism. I can accept that a person may have thought it sensible to vote for Bush Jr. Twice. But after that fiasco, to vote for the man who would not only flush our economy back down the toilet, but ensure Roe vs. Wade was a footnote in the history books and that women would have to turn to back-alley abortionists and dangerous home remedies to terminate even the results of rape – that was too much. That was a personal, visceral attack.

We argued. I did some shouting, I won’t lie. I was livid. And it was even worse when he told me he respected my right to choose. Really? How could anyone say that, when they were voting for the people who would take that right away? That’s the thing my pro-choice-but-very-conservative former friends and acquaintances cannot understand: your words whisper, but your actions scream through an amplifier.

What my best friend told me by voting for Romney, knowing full well that this would lead to a Supreme Court packed with anti-choice judges, who would ensure that women’s rights were set back a century, was that he doesn’t give a shit about me or his nieces. He doesn’t care what happens to us. He’s willing to gamble our bodily autonomy, health, and economic futures on a shitheel who was recommended by the church he made fun of every Sunday. He didn’t even consider us when he cast that vote. And he couldn’t understand why that felt like being stabbed in the heart.

Then it came out that he was personally anti-choice, because he’s adopted, and he’s glad he wasn’t aborted. He couldn’t see how saying he supported my right to choose while working to ensure that right was taken away was basically telling me I’m nothing to him. How selfish it is to force other people to give birth because your birth mother chose to carry you to term. How awful it is to be treated as nothing more than a walking womb.

We managed all of two conversations after that. Both of them ended with me furious and him unable to understand why. It wasn’t worth it anymore. I couldn’t stand trying to love someone who was willing to cast women’s health and safety aside so easily. We decided it would be best not to talk again for a while. And after an initial mourning period, I came to the conclusion that this was a deal-breaker. My friends must, at the very least, walk their walk when it comes to human rights.

Image shows me at the end of a wooden bridge, distant and walking away. Image credit Cujo359.

Image credit Cujo359.

You can’t tell LGBTQ people you love them and support their right to marry, then work to elect the people who not only want to deny them that right, but want to make their love illegal.

You can’t tell women you personally support their right to choose, then vote for the people who would rip their choice away.

It’s just words. Just noise. You say something lovely – I support you – and then open the trap door that dumps us into misery. That’s not support. That’s contempt masquerading as love. And I don’t have to tolerate it.

I’ll tell you something about the atheist organizations working hard for the rights of the non-religious. I appreciate the effort. But I’m not going to support orgs whose leaders think my right to choose isn’t just as unquestionable as the right to die and the right to live without the government forcing religion upon me. I can’t stand with leadership that is willing to cede my rights, who are trying to recruit people who want to force birth on women and trans men who have the misfortune to get pregnant. I will not accept a big tent that includes people who treat me and mine as less than human.

We’ve got enough of a problem with sexism without recruiting more misogynists. We don’t need a herd of atheists who believe women should be forced to be incubators, whose concern for them stops the instant they develop a blastocyst. If those are the people you want to reach out to, then what you’re saying is that you want me to leave.

And don’t tell me you’re pro-choice, personally. I don’t give two shits. The talk isn’t important. It’s the walk. And when you walk in the direction of the people who see me as worth less than a fetus, you’re showing me that your pro-choice stance is utterly meaningless. I can’t trust you to have our backs without stabbing them. I can’t believe you when you say you care about us and our concerns.

What you are telling me is that women aren’t welcome in this movement (and you don’t even think about trans people). You’re telling me that thousands of women aren’t worth as much as a handful of anti-choice conservatives who just happen not to believe in god. You’re telling me that your organization is not for me and mine.

I have no desire to be part of a tent that big. Atheism isn’t enough to make me want to stay in it. And if this means a schism, I’ll be happy to see that rift open. I’m much more content in a smaller tent that contains people who can see me as a human being even if my uterus ends up occupied, and who will ensure that real choices are available if I need to serve an eviction notice to the parasite in residence. I’d rather be united with those who care for each other more than their guns and their low taxes and their supposedly-small government.

Our right to abortion is not a bargaining chip you can trade. I lost my best friend over this issue. Imagine how much easier it is to lose you.

Image shows a pro-choice rally. A huge pink banner says TRUST WOMEN. Other people are holding signs saying "I have a heartbeat, too!" "Stop the war on women," and "Stop the war on choice."

Image credit ProgressOhio (CC BY 2.0)

“When Its Sacraments Are Others’ Standing Jokes”

Alex had an excellent post a while back talking about “why atheism can never be inoffensive enough.” This bit made bells ring for me:

Few things but faith could yield such results: blasphemy, even apparently when most benign, threatens the norms on which religion rests. The earnestness of faith, and faith itself, can’t be taken comfortably for granted when its sacraments are others’ standing jokes, and what can’t be assumed must be explained.

Some folks have a robust faith that can stand being laughed at, and I’ll frequently find my religious friends in on the joke (when they aren’t cracking it themselves). But there’s a disturbingly large number of people who want you punished for poking a bit o’ fun at their religion. Some of them are probably feeling entitled, some of them are probably afraid their sky god will smite them if they don’t smite us, and some are just assholes, but I suspect a majority of them are outraged by blasphemy because it jams a finger on the ol’ doubt button and keeps it pressed.

And being an atheist who’s not afraid to say “Hey, I’m an atheist” is enough to unleash their outrage. That being the case, I’m not gonna bother with trying to be an inoffensive atheist. I’ll calls it like I sees it, and if faith can’t withstand it, it’s not worthy of respect. If the deity is as powerful as proclaimed, if the religion is the rock people assure me it is, then it had better be able to at/with/near us. If not, it’s a sad, pathetic little thing that people might as well not bother with. If a little light blasphemy is enough to destroy it, it was never worth having to begin with.

If you’re ready for poking some fun at faith, you could head over to Loltheist, where you will find many fine illustrations of the concept of blasphemy.

Image shows the pope making spyglasses out of his fingers. Caption says, "I seez blastfemmerz!"

Why I Would Wish Religion Away

Many folks seemed to think I was being a bit naive, thinking religion to be at the root of many of our problems. Problems would remain, they protested. Religion doesn’t cause them all.

I’m completely aware of that. I’d hoped this sentence would prevent misunderstandings:

When we go chasing after invisible gods, all of our worst human tendencies remain, but are given God’s stamp of approval.

I obviously should have done a better job at clarifying that I didn’t think our problems would magically vanish once religion was gone. Let me do so now:

Humans are shits. We can be right arseholes to each other. Excise religion, and humans would still be shits.  Atheists are right arseholes to each other all the time.

But.

But.

They can’t claim divine sanction for their arseholery. They can’t shut down criticism and condemnation by saying, “God says I’m not a shit. Look, he says to do this arsehole thing. Right here! It says, ‘Do this arsehole thing or you will go to hell.’ So this shitty arsehole thing I’m doing is good and just because God told me to do it, and no one can argue with that, because God.”

They can’t get society to accept their arsehole behavior as being sacrosanct, their religious right, and they can’t terrify people into going along by threatening them with hellfire and damnation if they don’t.

Look, without religion, shit parents would still abuse their kids. But they wouldn’t write books about beating kids into submission because God says to beat ‘em with a stick or else. They wouldn’t have the power to convince non-abusing, loving parents they must beat even their babies if they want their kids to avoid hell.

Image is a black background. A cross, a crescent moon and star, and a Star of David are all within crossed-out circles at top. Caption says, "Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right."

Without religion, I doubt very much we’d have these lingering hangups about homosexuality. Certain types of men might still try to impose patriarchal authority, but without a holy book saying obey or burn, that this is what God wants, I doubt very much that many people would be eager to go along.

Without the promise of a reward in the afterlife, I’ll bet you cash money that more people would make this life better. They’d realize this is all we’ve got: this world, this life, and each other. No God is going to protect us here and give us glory once we’re dead.

We wouldn’t have people trying to cripple science education for religious reasons. The bizarre alternate universe we’ve been exploring in our Christianist textbooks certainly wouldn’t exist. People wouldn’t have to discount the overwhelming evidence of an old Earth with life evolving via natural processes with no divine intervention. They wouldn’t have Ken Ham’s biblical glasses or his stubborn belief that a bit of ancient poetry is scientific truth, evidence be damned.

I think we’d be much more flexible, better able to weigh evidence, explore reality, and change our minds when warranted. We wouldn’t go centuries or millennia kicking and screaming against good ideas, because there wouldn’t be this god-belief standing in the way.

I’m not saying we’d suddenly be perfect. Just better. I think there would be less strife, and fewer people easy to con. Doubtless, we’d find ways to do stupid shit and make bad choices. Sometimes (often), we’d let our thinking get lazy and end up doing some spectacularly wrong stuff. We’re human. We’re the result of evolutionary tinkering, and we know evolution doesn’t have any way of ensuring high-quality results. We have brains that come up with ridiculous notions and silly ideas and get duped and dizzy and frequently misfire. Removing religion won’t fix that.

But without religion, we wouldn’t make our worst ideas, impulses, and mistakes sacred.

We’d have no authority higher than humanity to rely on to shore up our worst traits. We couldn’t shut down debate by pointing to heaven.

Does anyone want to make the argument that a world without religion would be worse than what we’ve got?

Don’t you think we could do better without?

Image shows a twilight sky with stars, a silhouette of a person holding out hands and looking like they're holding two very bright stars. Caption says, "Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left only with art, music, literature, theater, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love, and the wonder of birth. That'll do for me. -Lynne Kelly"

Lynne Kelly via Science Memebase.

Taking Liberties: A Book We Need Right Now

So you may have noticed lately that the right-wing ratfuckers in state governments are busy trying to roll us back to the Dark Ages. Women aren’t people, they’re “hosts” to those precious babies that will be cherished so long as they’re in the womb; once they’re out, both host and infant will be despised as social parasites if they have the audacity to be unmarried and/or poor. Some jackass is trying to slip prayer into schools by forcing teachers to read congressional prayers. In my former home state of Arizona, the frothing fundies boiled over, and decided to give religious people the right to discriminate against gays, because apparently, refusing to let them patronize your business is an act of worship. Other states have jumped on that horrible bandwagon. And let’s not forget the Russia-envy they’ve got going on. They’ve got a stiffy for totalitarian shitlords who hate on the same groups they do.

Outraged? Good. Here’s a book that will help you channel that rage more productively: Robert Boston’s Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Tell Other People What to Do.

Taking Liberties Cover

This is the sort of book you pointedly give to the fuckwads in your family who insist their religious beliefs and practices be made mandatory for everyone, because freedom. It won’t scare them away by mentioning atheists right up front, either.

Robert Boston’s thesis is simple: “Religion is not the problem. Fundamentalist religion that seeks to merge with political power and impose its dogma on the unwilling is the problem. I have a big one with anyone who considers the raw power of government an appropriate vehicle for evangelism.”

Preach it, Brother Boston!

We see that religious freedom at this country’s founding meant government out of religion, full stop. Baptists were especially keen to separate church from state, with no room left for declaring this a Christian nation. These fire-and-brimstone Baptists were all about freedom, genuine freedom, of religion – and that included Jews, Muslims, polytheists, and atheists. They were better men than the ones preaching hate in the name of religion from the Statehouse floor these days.

Robert shows how court cases placed certain restrictions on religious practice, of necessity: “You have the right to believe whatever you want, but… your ability to act on those beliefs may be subject to certain restrictions.” And he boils the balance between faith and freedom to this: “Does the private choice of another person prevent you from attending the house of worship of your choice? Does it stop you from joining your co-religionists in prayer and worship? Does it require you to bow before an alien god?” No? Then cease being an overbearing asshat.

He highlights church interference in health care, education, civil rights, and politics. “In this country where the right of conscience is precious, all religious groups have the right to be heard – but none have the right to be obeyed.” Can I get a hell yes?

Robert boils it down to a power grab. These churches want our money, and our obedience, and if we want to remain the secular nation that’s always been a beacon of religious and political freedom in the world, we need to remove the theocrats from power. We need to oppose their agenda. Our fellow Americans need to realize that religious freedom does not mean that the people with the theocratic ideals and barbaric notions about women, LGBTQ folk, sex, science, and education get to have everything their way. Just because you’re religious doesn’t mean what you’re doing is right. And those 18th century clerics would be the first to fight the merging of government and church.

This book goes a long way toward ensuring we have the awareness and ability to stop and reverse this trend toward theocracy.

Brand-New Blogger, Y’all

You may have noticed the list of blogs got one longer. We were lucky enough to snag Kaveh Mousavi, and his blog On the Margin of Error is absolutely fascinating. You know an atheist in Iran has got stories to tell. He’s got insights only a person living under a theocracy can have. Head on over, say howdy, and help me encourage him to post lots.

On the Margin of Error blog header.

Congratulations! You’re Going to Hell! 4: Remaking Hell

Does the threat of hell still terrify you even though you know, consciously, it’s an imaginary place?

Imaginary situations can be terrifying and vivid. Even when you know they’re not real, they may continue to haunt you. Sometimes, it’s a fleeting fear; sometimes, it digs talons in and won’t let go.

I had a recurring nightmare as a child. For weeks, my 6 year-old self was plunged into the same terrifying situation every time I tried to sleep. My mom and I had gone shopping. It was a lovely, sunny day, and we were happy – until we pulled up to our house, and found it in flames.

My little brother was trapped in there.

House on Fire. Crop of image by Joseph Krawiec via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

House on Fire. Crop of image by Joseph Krawiec via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

And this is where I always woke up: with flames roaring out of those windows, threatening to consume us all. Horrified, helpless, knowing my brother was burning to death. Sometimes, I could see him in his rim, see him helpless in his crib, see the flames coming to kill him. I’d wake, sweating, heart racing, wanting to cry and scream, wanting it to stop – but the instant I closed my eyes, the fire was there, coming closer, closer.

I am terrified of fire. Back then, it bordered on phobia. I could imagine nothing worse than burning to death. I also badly wanted a brother. It didn’t matter this one was imaginary: in that dreamspace, he was my brother, and I loved him, and he was about to die in the most awful way possible.

After a week or two, I couldn’t take it. I was getting seriously sleep-deprived. Mom telling me it was just a dream and not real and I shouldn’t be afraid wasn’t helping. Trying to sleep only when exhausted didn’t work. Telling myself not to dream, abject failure. Trying to stop the nightmare when it started, no use. So one night, desperate, despairing yet determined, I decided I’d finish the dream.

I laid down on our old brown tweed couch, closed my eyes, but didn’t sleep. Instead, I pictured the fateful scene. House afire. Flames pouring through the window. Little bro trapped.

Then I found the door. Imagined the flames hadn’t reached it yet. I fought my fear of fire and got inside. I imagined myself a safe path through it, up the stairs, into my brother’s room. He was alive! I picked him up, and carried him outside. We were all right, now. We could live happily ever after.

Image shows a little girl carrying her little brother across a lawn.

“Portage.” Photo by Gordon (Monkey Mash ) via Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I never had that nightmare again.

So here’s what I propose, for those haunted by hell: let’s remake it.

There we are, souls condemned to hell because we didn’t believe in God. Down we go to wherever hell is. Oh, it looks grim. A blasted wasteland stinking of sulfur, and horrible spiky black gates that are opened by a huge horned demon. He grabs us in his massive-taloned hands and howls, “Wretched sinners, now you will BURN!!” We are yanked inside, through a curtain of flame, as the demon shrieks about eternal torment at deafening volumes….

And we scream, but…

…the flames don’t burn.

And the talons don’t pierce us.

The gates slam shut with a reverberating boom. We blink our dazzled eyes as we are set gently down. Balmy breezes (or cool, crisp ones, if you like – any sort of breeze, really) waft our favorite scents to us. An attractive person of indeterminate gender, dressed very fashionably and sporting two tasteful horns dusted with tiny rhinestones (or polished to a high sheen, if you don’t like glittery things), gives us a warm welcome.

So sorry about all that drama-llama-ding-dong just then. Can’t let on to the Big Butthole in the Sky what kind of place this really is, or he might shut us down. Or we’d end up with everybody from the Family Research Council. Nobody wants that here.” A delicate shudder quivers our host’s frame. “Welcome to Hell! I’m Lucifer. Call me Luci. Come have the time of your afterlife!”

We’re given a whirlwind tour of the place, which has got everything we loved most in life. The best beaches, mountains, meadows, libraries, stadiums, feats of engineering, anything you like. The food and drink are abundant, incredibly delicious, and 100% enjoyable due to having none of the bad features of earthly food. All of the people we ever loved are there. All of the people we ever wanted to meet wander in. All the the people we couldn’t stand mingle, too, only now they’re great good fun.

And we have all of eternity to hang out.

We have an infinitely awesome realm to explore.

Astral Landscape by Comphone, via DeviantART. CC BY-ND 3.0

Astral Landscape by Comphone, via DeviantART. CC BY-ND 3.0

All of the animals we loved are there, too, plus some mythical beasts, and fascinating ones we’ve never heard of.

We can go anywhere, do anything, be anything. Every day is like living your favorite fantasies. Luci, it turns out, likes people a lot, and loves making them happy, so everything in hell is geared toward that. And what we do here sends out ripples that makes the world we left behind better.

Meanwhile, up in heaven, the sterile streets are sparsely populated by the handful of people rigidly saintly enough for their legalistic bastard of a god, mostly folks who were lifetime members of the FRC. They spend their days digging at specks in their neighbor’s eyes, finding more rules that will get people sent to hell if they break them (which, fortunately, never make it to Earth), and praising God. They, too, are blissfully happy.

Everybody wins.

Everybody lives happily ever after.

That’s one way of re-imagining this imaginary place. You may rather go in all heroic, and quench the unquenchable fires, and slay the worm that dieth not. You may come to those gates in fear and trembling, open them – only to find the place empty. You may imagine it in ways I can’t even dream of.

Just imagine it. Imagine how it never was. Imagine how you would like it to be.

Give the nightmare a happy ending.

Open your eyes.

And go on with your life, free of that nightmare, forever.

Congratulations! You’re Going to Hell! 3. Best Place Ever

Hell doesn’t exist. But before I realized that, I was very much looking forward to going. Why no fear?

Well, for one thing, I was pretty sure that whatever the Divine was, he/she/they/it had absolutely no interest in torturing people forever. I mean, come on. Do we get so mad at ants or amoeba or our dogs, cats, parrots, fish, etc. that we plot to keep them alive forever just so we can punish them horrifically? Do we become outraged when bacteria don’t bow down and proclaim us the ultimate? Do we seek a personal relationship with protozoa, and throw a tantrum when they don’t proclaim their undying love? Would you, given the option, consign any member of the animal kingdom to everlasting torment for daring to go their own way?

Do you lie awake at night feverishly writing up rules on How to Have Acceptable Sex for various species, and become obsessed with them forcing them to follow your rules to the letter? Do you wish to fricassee them endlessly for Doing It wrong?

(I hope you said no to all of the above. If not, please immediately seek help from a licensed secular therapist.)

Whatever this god-thing is, I thought, cannot possibly be more fucked in the head than the worst human ever born. Besides, that punish-you-if-you’re-bad/reward-you-if-you’re-good, all-seeing, all-knowing pervert type of god sounded an awful lot like Santa Claus, and I’d known what he was invented for ever since my friend’s mother and I used the “Santa is watching” myth to make her son behave while we were sewing Barbie clothes. This Vengeful Lord character sounded awfully like the kind of god a dude would make up to keep people under control. Fuck that noise.

But what if God really was such a petty, obsessive, jealous, abusive asshole? What if I really did end up in Hell for not following his rules?

Fantastic! Super-great! Sign me up!

Why? Plenty o’ reasons:

For one, if God was such a raging fuckwad, I wanted to be as far from him as possible, and I’d been told Hell is as distant from God as you can get. Perfect!

Image is Buddy Jesus. Caption says, "You're going to hell. LOL."

Heaven sounded bloody boring. “You’ll be reunited with your family!” they said. I don’t actually like most of my family – you think I’m wanting to spend eternity with them when I can’t take five minutes at Christmas? Oh, and this singing-praises-to-God crap sounded awful. People babbled about pearly gates and streets of gold and I’m all like, “Dude, that stuff’s valuable because it’s rare. Put it on everything and it just gets tacky.” The music? Heard it, hate it. Never feel pain, sorrow, etc.? I’m a writer, you dipshits, I thrive on conflict!

“But you’ll be with Jesus!” the Christians cried.

Awgawd, you mean the egotistical fuck who reminded me of a cross (ha) between every horrible cult leader ever and the worst moments of my unmedicated bipolar relatives? I get to spend the rest of all eternity in the embrace of someone who makes me deeply uncomfortable? Yeah… um, excuse me while I go blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

Then I discovered that by the criteria of many branches of Christianity, none of the interesting people were going to make it to heaven. Carl Sagan? Atheist. So were almost all scientists ever. Emily Dickinson was probably there. The greatest writers, poets, philosophers; the endlessly fascinating people of other faiths or no faiths at all; condemned. You know something, if I’ve gotta spend all eternity somewhere, I’d rather spend it with people who are actually interesting, even if the thermostat’s broken.

Besides, I’m not fond of freezing. Being in the warm sounded nice.

Oh, and this Lucifer fellow? Better fashion sense than the head cheese. Got kicked out of heaven for using his own brain rather than mindlessly obeying. Slipped humanity knowledge on the sly. Clever bloke. Great taste in entertainment. Sounds like a better sort than god, actually, and far more likely to be the kind of person you’d want to drink with. And seriously, after what God did to the poor fucker, I seriously doubt he’d be spending his time torturing the souls God doesn’t like. Far more likely he’s trying to win all the best, most clever and talented souls so he can march on heaven and initiate a regime change. Considering the kind of sick, twisted fuck a God is who’s willing to burn you forever for not stroking his ego enough, allow me to just register with the Resistance.

And for all those silly shites babbling to me about God’s love and mercy: do you really think the best father in all of creation would inflict unfathomable agony on his children, without reprieve, just because they struck out on their own? I mean, seriously. What rot.

No, if that was the case, Hell sounded like the place to be, and I was rather looking forward to it. My fear of it vanished once I’d had a chance to calmly think it through. Seemed like the only way to lose Pascal’s Wager was to stake my life on that legalistic shit of a god the fundies were always on about.

That hasn’t changed now I’m an atheist. I’m not fussed about the possibility of being wrong. No matter which way the coin falls, I win.

Besides: there’s a serious contingent of Christians who assure me, with utmost sincerity, that Hell is actually the absence of God.

Hey… I’m an atheist. There’s no god in my life. Total absence. ZOMG. This is Hell!

Moi at Crater Lake.

Moi at Crater Lake.

Nice. So glad I ended up here! Okay, so, yes, I did get burned. But I got better.

And so, my darlings, the next time the deadly-earnest and oh-so-concerned Christian (or other hell-believing religious person) threatens you with Hell if you don’t submit to Jesus (or other deity) right now, just remember: Hell isn’t necessarily the worst place you could end up. Perhaps they should threaten you with Heaven instead….

Happiness is The Happy Atheist: A Review

The Happy Atheist by PZ Myers

 

I should probably begin this review by admitting that PZ Myers was my gateway drug to atheism, and some of the essays in this book helped me become the type of unapologetic atheist that haunts the nightmares of deeply religious people. I stumbled upon Pharyngula during a determined effort to decrease the deficits in my scientific knowledge, specifically biology. I learned there that this squidgy, squishy, ofttimes smelly branch of science was actually quite a lot less boring than I’d believed. I also learned that, contrary to what society had shrilled at me for over 30 years, you didn’t have to be a despairing, suicidal, evil, and unpleasant tool of Satan in order to be an atheist. You could, in fact, be charming, witty, rapier-tongued, wicked-smart, adventurous, full of lust for living, in awe of this grand old world, and… actually happy. Not to mention completely Satan-free.

This book might just be the gateway for a great many other people to become happy heathens as well.

For me, this book was a nice, concentrated dose of Pharyngula, from which many of the essays originated. I could catch up on some bits I’d missed, and enjoy old favorites (“The Courtier’s Reply” will remain an atheist classic for centuries to come, I like to think). The whole book rolls smoothly along, shading from religion and the excoriating thereof into the wonder and beauty, the exquisite truths, of science. All along the way, atheism is unapologetically presented. This isn’t an accommodationist’s book. No forelocks are tugged in due deference to religion; no beliefs quietly tip-toed around; no ugly bits of faith discreetly papered over or studiously ignored while a cringing case is made for atheists to please, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, be allowed a place at the table, maybe at the foot, or perhaps underneath it if actual atheists in actual chairs are offensive to delicate religious sensibilities.

No.

Religion is given no quarter within these pages. The concealer is scrubbed from all its pimples and warts; bandages ripped from its oozing sores; its sheep’s clothing stripped from the mangy, devious wolf* within. Religious people are treated with respect and compassion, as long as they’re not frauds and cons like Ken Ham, but religious beliefs are not spared.

I think you can get a sense of what they’re subjected to by this quote: “Religion is the Mega-Shark of culture.”

But it’s not all bashing Bible bashing beliefs. Myths about atheists are dispatched, and a whole new universe, free from superstition, is opened up. Unfettered by belief’s chains, we can explore, learn, grow, and savor. Science is celebrated. Lives free from faith are shown to be far from meaningless. And every page is suffused with PZ’s quirky, sometimes caustic, sense of humor.

This book made me a happy atheist indeed. Hopefully, it will do the same for you and yours.

The Happy Atheist book cover, which is a blue smiling Darwin fish.

 

*Apologies to wolves for the above analogy – they don’t deserve to be insulted so, but I’m afraid ebola doesn’t have a folk tale about it sneaking round under false pretenses