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. [Read more…]

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? [Read more…]

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

Congratulations! You’re Going to Hell! 2. Just What the Hell is Hell?

No one can even agree on what Hell is. They’re happy to threaten you with it, but they’re all over the place when it comes to explaining it. You know, a real place usually has a pretty consistent description. Take Chicago. We know where it is. Right there in Illinois, can’t miss it.

(Where is Hell? Can anyone reliably tell you where it’s located? Nope.)

Sure, we may disagree about what Chicago’s like: I think it’s the best damned city in the Midwest, other people think it’s a shithole. But we can all agree it’s got nice areas and run-down ones. It’s got a dazzling downtown. And everybody can agree on what’s there. You don’t have arguments over whether, say, it’s got a library or not. You can verify.

The Chicago Public Library. One of the most awesome buildings I have ever seen - I love it muchly. Image courtesy steveblane via Flickr.

The Chicago Public Library. One of the most awesome buildings I have ever seen – I love it muchly. Image courtesy steveblane via Flickr.

So what is hell? [Read more…]

Congratulations! You’re Going to Hell! 1. Hell is an Empty Threat

Hell pisses me off. It took one sick, evil fuck to come up with the concept of believe-or-burn-eternally. Brilliant, though: terrify believers and potential converts with the worst possible fate if they don’t do what you say, then give them relief from that terror by promising heaven if they just follow instructions. And really, it doesn’t take much to convince them, because you catch people while they’re young and/or vulnerable, ensuring those threats of eternal torment grip them and refuse to let go.

Of course, the people making this threat are generally sure they’re saved and have nothing to worry about. Or they’re just parroting what they were taught as children. And they don’t think of the consequences, don’t care, or actually want their listener to cower in mortal terror. [Read more…]

Transcending Transcendence

I saw dragons in the sky.

I was driving to B’s to watch the Silva-Weidman Tate-Rousey double-header. There’s a stretch of I-5 where I’ve a view of the mountains on a clear day, but this wasn’t one of those days. Clouds were roiling on the horizon, building over the mountains: a line of perfect Chinese dragons swimming the sky. One of them was especially clear, a magnificent snowy elder of a dragon, head rearing high and several coils of its serpentine body cresting the sea of the sky.

I laughed in delight, wishing I could pull off the freeway and capture them on camera. I love to show you such things. Alas, no chance. But there was a Chinese artist of the Song dynasty who saw dragons in clouds, and he captured some of the essence: [Read more…]

An Atheist at the Grand Canyon

Ah. I see someone’s living in a fantasy world. Via Steven Newton at the NCSE blog, I’ve learned that Time Magazine has a wretchedly ridiculous article up entitled “Why There Are No Atheists at the Grand Canyon.” Now, I know editors sometimes affix inaccurate and frankly absurd titles to perfectly good articles, but this one appears to be stoopid all the way down. Steven quotes the author, Jeffrey Kluger, as saying, ““there’s nothing quite like nature—with its ability to elicit feelings of jaw-dropping awe—to make you contemplate the idea of a higher power.”

I can’t bring myself to click on the damned thing. It’s for the same reason I don’t click on links to articles proclaiming the discovery of Bigfoot and other such nonsense. I know it’s nonsense, and I’m busy.

How do I know Jeffrey Kluger is full of the brown, sticky, and stinky end product of bull digestion? Because I have photographic evidence of an atheist at the Grand Canyon:

An atheist, namely moi, at the Grand Canyon. I'm standing on a lovely white bit of the Kaibab Limestone, with the whole layer-cake vista of the Canyon behind me. You can tell I'm an atheist because I am standing with a jaunty hand on my hip, rather than kneeling in awe-filled reverance. Photo courtesy Cujo359.

An atheist, namely moi, at the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy Cujo359.

Actually, there were two of us there that day: myself, and Cujo. We were atheists then, and are atheists now. I do remember salivating heavily over all those lovely rocks, and being captivated by all that natural beauty, but not for one moment did it make me “contemplate a higher power.” The only time I did so was when I contemptuously contemplated the imagined existence thereof when I found a creationist book infesting the science section at one of the gift shops, and dropped it in disgust.

Seeing incredible natural sights like these are part of what made me an atheist. The gods many of my fellow humans currently babble about don’t seem like they could design something like this with a supercomputer and a tutor with 14 billion years in the business. And science had a bit to say about how this got here (hint: nowhere will you find a genuine scientist proclaiming god did it in the scientific literature). What geologists had pieced together and are still discovering is a fuck of a lot more interesting that any dull tingle in the human religious imagination.

I’ll tell you something: nature used to be pretty, and sometimes made me feel all numinous and tingly and stuff, but until I became an atheist, it didn’t have the power “to elicit feelings of jaw-dropping awe.” I mean, seriously, I was bored with the Grand Canyon until I gave up religion, folks. Big fat fucking hole in the ground, seen it once seen a thousand times etc. Now, I look into that chasm and see billions of years stacked up and cut through. I see nearly half the age of the earth, right there at my feet. And this is real. You might imagine you’re touching gods or something, there, Jeffrey, but I’m laying my hand on a rock and I’m touching ancient oceans. I’m touching worlds that were and will never be again. I’m a part of that saga of eons, and I know that rock and I are both made of star-stuff, and I know that none of this was ever here by divine fiat, but because from the Big Bang to the dawn of this day, things happened. The universe managed this all on its own, with no help from a divine mind, and it could’ve spun itself out in any one of a billion trillion ways, but this way happened to happen, and here we are, and it’s marvelous. And the really incredible thing, the thing that leaves me speechless with astonished delight, is the fact that we jumped-up apes are just smart enough to figure it out, all on our own.

Your gods are paltry and poor compared to that.

So yes, just as there are atheists in foxholes, there are atheists at the Grand Canyon. Sorry you missed us! We were there the whole time. You just probably couldn’t see us with that god muck fogging up your glasses.

Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Atheist Books Suitable for Gift-Giving (Part I)

It’s about that time when we perpetual procrastinators begin to feel each grain of sand dropping through the narrow bit of the glass, innit? If you’ve left gift-buying a bit late, never fear! Books are easy, Amazon and other online retailers are quick, the local bookstore may even be stocked, and you can get someone in your life a gift that will give them more than a moment’s pleasure.

I’m here to help you pick just the right one. Many of these, I’ve read. Some, I’ve only read bits of, but heard much about from other sources and thus feel comfortable recommending. I’ve split things into categories, so you can more quickly make a match between gift recipient’s interests and the right book. And, of course, these will also give you ideas as to how to spend those nifty gift cards you might end up with.

If I’ve reviewed the book, I provide a link to said review. If I haven’t, I’ve provided a brief synopsis to assist you. As always, feel free to add any favorites of your own in the comments – the more, the merrier!

Let’s go!

Photo of a cat lying atop books on a shelf, biting one. Caption says, "I am looking for a book I can REALLY sink my teeth into."Religion

In this section, you’ll find books on religion, wherein religion decidedly does not come out on top.

An American Fraud by Kay Burningham.

Anyone interested in Mormonism, and wanting to know if there’s a legal case for it being a big fat fraud, will love this book. You’ll also love giving it to Mormons.

Not the Impossible Faith by Richard Carrier.

I read the online version, and it was fascinating. In this book, Richard takes on and crushes the “common apologetic argument for the truth of [Christianity] that its origins were too improbable to be false.” This is a thing amongst some fundies. One of them is J.P. Holding, who pretty much recited All the Tropes having to do with this argument, thus painting Richard a maclargehuge target. By the end of this book, everyone will know why Christianity could succeed despite being utter bullshit. If fundie Christians could feel this particular type o’ shame, they’d be ashamed to try these arguments ever again. And the book not only crushes their pathetic apologetics with relentless precision, it also introduces the reader to amazing bits of ancient history, religion, society, and culture, which is an added bonus and great for history addicts.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Suitable for gifting to those who want a no-holds-barred look at what religion really is. A book that has made many an atheist.

Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett.

If you need to give someone a book that gives religion no quarter, and yet doesn’t seem like one of those merciless New Atheist books, this is an excellent start, especially if the recipient likes philosophy.

The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion: the Mormons by David Fitzgerald.

An excellent introductory guide to Mormonism for those who don’t actually know that much about it.

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian by Guy P. Harrison.

Ha ha ha, simple. Also a good book to innocently slip your religious relations. Tell them you thought it would help them argue with atheists. Heh.

The Skeptics Annotated Bible by Steve Wells.

The only Bible that has ever made me want to go to church as an atheist, this is a fantastic gift for atheists and believers alike. Give one to your fundie friends and relations! They can’t complain – you are, after all, giving them a nice King James edition. With, um, some extra footnotes…

 

Leaving Religion

Here we have books that are mostly about getting the fuck out of faith.

Godless by Dan Barker.

Fascinating tome by a man who used to be a born-again evangelist who was really on fire for the Lord, and is now an atheist champion.

Why I Believed by Kenneth W. Daniels.

So this is a book by a former missionary that is extraordinary in its ability to really get to the nuts-and-bolts of believing, and then losing that belief. Suitable for gifting to friends and family members who just can’t understand your atheism in the least.

 

Atheism

Here’s the meaty atheist goodness! Not that the above wasn’t, this stuff has just got more atheism in it.

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas edited by Robin Harvie and Stephanie Meyers.

This book is snarky as hell, and I fell in love with it instantly. That was while I read the table of contents. It’s an excellent resource for atheists at Christmas, and safe for leaving near religious grandmothers. It includes all you need to know, really: the history, philosophy, science, and how-to of Christmas. Royalties from its sales go to charity, and our own Jen McCreight is in it, so if any atheists out there need some help with the holiday, give ‘em this.

The Portable Atheist edited by Christopher Hitchens.

This is a smorgasbord of freethought readings that includes many you’d never have considered freethought. I mean, The Rubáiyát? But yes, a lot of atheism and freethinking existed even during times that were deeply religious. This book covers ancient to modern times, includes a lot of different folks, and is a great place for a new (whether New, Gnu or not) atheist to begin.

Why I Am Not a Muslim by ibn Warraq.

This is rather like what Bertrand Russell did to Christianity, only aimed squarely at Islam. It’s also harsher and more thorough. It absolutely destroys the myth of the divine origins of the Koran, explores the horrifying political implications of fundie Islam, and rather murders that “Islam loved People of the Book!” trope. There are informative and infuriating sections on Women in Islam, taboos, heretics, Islamic skeptics, and more. For those leaving Islam, those of us wanting to critique Islam without sounding like raving right-wing assholes, and those of us who are terminally curious about being apostates from a religion other than Christianity, this is a fantastic book.

The Atheist’s Bible edited by Joan Konner.

A book full o’ freethinking quotes, arranged somewhat like a bible (beginning with Genesis, even), and eminently suitable for leaving lying innocently about where a non-atheist may encounter it, such as on a coffee table or in a bathroom. Perhaps they will pick it up out of idle curiosity, horrified fascination, or sheer desperation for reading material. Two things, if the moment is just right, may happen as a result:

1. They will learn that someone they admire and respect was, quite possibly, an atheist.

2. They will be prompted to think thoughts they haven’t before thunk.

And these are outcomes greatly to be desired.

Nothing: Something to Believe In by Nica Lalli.

I love how, in the intro, Nica says that she chooses “nothing” because it cuts out the god root (theos). She’s right: nothing can stand on its own. This is a journey of discovery about what it means to be nothing in a world swimming in religion. She spent most of her life “frightened or upset by religion,” and realized that not having a religious identity meant having no ammo when the religious freaks came gunning for her soul. She eventually learned to defend her beliefs, and also learned that being despised by the majority of the country is not equal to being despised by your own family, as she discovered when faced with an uber-religious sister-in-law. But there’s comfort to be found in “nothing,” and possibly some decent coexistence, too.

Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell.

This is one of the original New Atheist tomes, really. It’s a classic by a no-holds-barred philosopher, and while it’s a tiny little book, it contains pretty much everything you need to get started on a career of unapologetic atheism. Make sure all the new (and possibly New) atheists you know have got a copy. It wouldn’t hurt to slip one in the stockings of believers, either, should you feel the need to counter their typical religious gift schlock.

Here endeth Part I. Part II coming as soon as I can manage it.

In Solidarity With Students, I Present Jesus -n- Mo

The following photo would be enough to get me kicked out of just about any freshers’ fair in Britain:

Jesus -n- Mo

Jesus -n- Mo

So these are two lovely rocks from the Skykomish River, and I’ve named them Jesus and Mo because it seems many religious people have not yet learned to be reasonable adults. I know, I know, this comes as quite the shock to those of us in countries where the religious majorities are oh so sensible. But for those who have not yet learned that one group’s sacred thingies are other groups’ not-at-all sacred thingies, it seems random things will need to have the names of mythological folks plastered to them until the dumbfuckery stops. [Read more…]