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?

Hmm. Hot place where fire’s are unquenchable, worm dieth not, wailing and gnashing of teeth, etc. Yuck.

No, it’s got all these levels, and where you end up depends on how bad you were.

Wait, no, those aren’t levels, they’re circles!

Hell is eternal torment! No, wait, you’re just there for a while, then destroyed forever. No, wait, you’re not destroyed, you go to Heaven afterward!

Hell is the presence of God! No, wait, it’s the absence of God!

Hell is a real place! No, wait, it’s just a state of being!

Hell is other people (and Second Empire furniture)! No, wait, Hell is being alone!

Hell is Satan’s domain! No, wait, it belongs to God!

Okay, no, really, this is what Hell is: it’s exactly like Heaven. Everyone’s at this absolutely incredible feast. Only they’ve got forks three feet long strapped to their hands, so they can’t feed themselves (No, wait, it was chopsticks! Or maybe spoons!). In Heaven, the people feed each other. In Hell, everybody starves because they don’t.

No, wait, that’s backwards: the Libertarians know Hell is where people feed each other (which is hideous icky socialism and lets the moochers take advantage of the producers). Heaven is where you feed yourself, because it’s right that everyone should do for themselves.

Who goes there?

Everyone who doesn’t worship God the right way!

No, wait, just bad people like homosexuals and liberals.

No, wait, just really horrid people like serial killers and politicians.

No, wait, nobody goes because God’s a big ol’ softie and would never ever create such an awful place.

Etc. etc. Peter Cetera etc. But that’s quite enough of that. No one can agree on where and what Hell is and who made it, who runs it, how long you’re there, what it’s for, and who ends up there, if anyone. All evidence people are making this shit up.

But they believe it.

Yes.

But they say it’s God’s word. They heard, they saw, they got it from the Almighty.

Yes.

They’re so detailed! Convincing.

Yes, indeedy. But you know what? I can do that. Let me consult one of my fictional characters, say, one of the Eternal – having been here since the beginning, they should know Hell, right? People, I can hear their voice! I can see what they saw! I can describe it all down to the last detail, down to the exact temperature of the Lake of Fire (5,869°F or 3243°C), the color of the buttons on Satan’s shirt (a deep reddish-black, nearly the exact color of a large clot of dried blood), and the name and address of his tailor (Guillermo Sarto, Via dei Condotti 61, Rome, Italy. Likes to keep his look updated, our Satan). I can point out the location of the place if you give me a map of the universe. I can tell you who’s going there, and why, and how.

“Hungry Devil.” Image courtesy Martin SoulStealer via Flickr.

But it’s totes not me making things up! I’m getting it from an authority, and if you lie awake tonight and picture that being and beg for an audience, you’ll be able to consult the very same source. Trust but verify, amirite? Fuck, I could pass a polygraph, because I believe.

I’m (sometimes) a fiction writer, folks. I know how to put myself in that headspace. I’ve been convinced I’m not the one creating those details, because it feels so damned much like I’m just taking dictation. And yes, I’m so very good at it that I’ve convinced others my story people are really real, to the point where they can describe them to the cut of their coat without me saying a thing about their appearance. But when all is said and done, I will be placing my novels in the Science Fiction section, because I made this shit up.

That gun that was pointed at your head? The one that was so real you could hear the safety click off and feel the cold circle of steel touch your temple and smell the metal and a trace of oil, that gun never existed. That’s why the people who’ve aimed it at you over the years can’t agree on it’s color and caliber, the make and model, whether the clip is full or not, what kind of bullets are in it, how much damage it can do… it doesn’t exist, but they swear it does, because it feels so very real.

Do you know what Hell really is?

It’s a story. A work of fiction. An empty threat. Myth, legend, fantasy, product of the human imagination. That’s all. That’s all it ever was. A story.

You don’t have to fear it. Not now. Not ever again.

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.

Image is of several people suffering in a pit of lava. Lava pit, Hell, Haw Par Villa, Singapore by Jpatokal / Wikimedia Commons.

Lava pit, Hell, Haw Par Villa, Singapore by Jpatokal / Wikimedia Commons.

Hell is the gun religion holds to your head to ensure you’ll never leave. A thing so awful that you won’t risk questioning, just do your utmost to believe.

People: that gun is empty.

You may be one of those folks whose childhood was tormented by fear. I know people, far too many people, who spent entire nights awake in their beds, frantic, terrified they hadn’t prayed the right way or didn’t believe strongly enough or had made that one fatal mistake that God would never forgive them for. Children who sobbed in the darkness and repeated the Sinner’s Prayer again, again, again, hoping it would save them. Praying again to hedge their bets:

Now I lay me down to sleep… I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I loathe the people who did this to them. Oh, I know many of those folks were convicted Christians, utterly convinced this was the right thing to do for their kids. I know many of them just wanted to make sure their kids were saved. Hey, say these words, and hey Presto! God won’t let Satan burn you forever! Problem solved!

While the children cowered with that gun to their heads, waiting for the trigger to be pulled.

The gun is empty.

And then some of them grew into adults who still lived in fear of hell. Trying to walk the narrow path. Trying not to piss off God. Still lying awake some nights, crying, begging Jesus to save them.

Some of them grew into adults confident in the knowledge they’re saved. And they’re so relieved the gun’s no longer pointed at them that they turn it on others.

The gun is empty.

An unloaded Remington New Army Model 1858. Image and caption courtesy DarkSaturos90 via Wikimedia Commons.

An unloaded Remington New Army Model 1858. Image and caption courtesy DarkSaturos90 via Wikimedia Commons.

Some of those kids grew into adults who gradually, after a long and terrible struggle, had the courage to look for bullets, and discovered that the gun wasn’t loaded. Either they came to believe God was too loving to condemn his children to suffer forever, or they realized there almost certainly is no God who gives a shit what humans do, or they found the evidence pointed overwhelmingly to no gods at all. No gods, no Satan, no hell. All made up. They were lied to.

But that lie is so horrific, the idea of hell so vivid, that some never can stop wondering if there might be a bullet in the gun after all.

People, the gun is empty.

In fact, that gun never even existed. Just a finger pointing from a pocket, an illusion created by a human hand.

Purple ink on notepaper drawing of a hand with two fingers and a thumb making a gun.

“Gun Fingers” by nickoswar / deviantART. Some rights reserved.

Don’t let it threaten you any 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:

Detail from Nine Dragons, a handscroll painting by Chinese artist Chen Rong. This shows clouds that look like the breaking waves of a sea, and within them, a dragon.Image courtesy Jebulon via Wikimedia Commons.

Detail from Nine Dragons, a handscroll painting by Chinese artist Chen Rong. Image courtesy Jebulon via Wikimedia Commons.

There was a time when I would have believed I’d just seen evidence of magical beasts floating above our world. And yes, I admit it, it changed the experience. I remember the almost unbearable, childlike excitement when I thought I’d seen beyond the mundane. Knowing that what I was experiencing was water vapor and adiabatic cooling with a healthy dose of cultural conditioning and pareidolia wasn’t quite the same.

Do I miss that? Miss transcendence?

Fleetingly, yes, in the way we all sometimes miss our naive childhood selves. But I remember that being a kid wasn’t all magic and rainbows, and I wouldn’t trade the atheist me for the believer me. I’d rather know and have my mind blown by real things.

It took a while to get here, but I’m quite content without the glamour* of religion and belief. I’m comfortable with the fact that this life is it, and that the so-called mundane is the sum-total of the universe. I’m not pining for faeries or dragons or gods, excepting ripping good tales told by talented human beings – and even then, I’ve gradually lost my passion for made-up stories. Oh, I still love fiction, but I’m quite busy with reality.

I mean, this universe is full of fascinating stuff. If I want transcendence, I head for Hubble. This takes me right out of being human and leaves me as a mote of stardust trying to comprehend an impossibly beautiful infinity.

V838 Monocerotis and its light echo, imaged by Hubble. This is a red variable star in the constellation Monoceros. It looks to me like a Taoist dragon - what do you see?

V838 Monocerotis and its light echo, imaged by Hubble. This is a red variable star in the constellation Monoceros. It looks to me like a Taoist dragon – what do you see? Image courtesy NASA/ESA.

Pascal got it in one:

By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world.

If I want to feel part of an immeasurably vast whole, I can look to this universe I arose from and am a part of. If I want to simultaneously feel the weight of incomprehensibly ancient time and at the same instant feel timeless, I turn to the Earth and her ages, from her fiery beginnings to her complex middle age. A mote of silt silently drifting to the sea floor; a particle in a roaring, roiling ash cloud – I’ve been them. I’ve felt tranquil ages and fraught seconds.

Do I need to feel at one with everything living? Biology and evolution make that easy. My cat is my cousin; so are those flowers I love to photograph and that tree Luna delights in climbing. All my family. Buddhism taught me that, too, but it didn’t have the cladograms to make it more than metaphysical.

Now I’ve seen all this stuff, even just having drunk a few molecules of that immense ocean out there, I’m bored by religion. I’m chafed by its stunted imagination and impatient with its false “truth.” I’ll take the unknown over the pretending-to-know any day. Give me chaos over a false order, thanks. I’m not afraid of it anymore.

Once, I needed the universe to care about and for me, like so many others given that sweet, sacred story. Isn’t it nice to think the architect of creation cares about lil ol’ you? Long ago, the thought that my life had great meaning and purpose to such a majesty was flattering. Then I noticed how nobody agreed on who or what that majesty was. Then I realized it didn’t actually exist. Well, not all our human ideas of it, certainly. Sure, it’s vaguely possible there’s an ineffable something out there, but I’ve found no evidence it exists, much less that it gives a single shit about some jumped-up apes on a wee rock if it does. And I don’t need it to. I’m not a child, to need the firm hand of an omnicient parent to guide me along. Lost that need, don’t need it back, would rather stumble about discovering things and getting sidetracked, thanks. It wasn’t that way when I first found myself wandering about alone, but I’m good now.

I don’t need the universe to care about me. I delight in it, but it’s like my rock collection: I love every bit to bits without needing a single bit of affection returned.

So yes, I do vaguely understand why some folks cling so desperately to their notions of more. I know what it was like, wanting so desperately for magic and/or gods to be real that it felt like a physical need. Trying to understand how the good and the bad in my life were part of some over-arching design, because the idea there wasn’t an ultimate purpose scared me into believing it must be there, otherwise what was life for? The hardest thing on the path to atheism was realizing it’s not for anything. It just is. I’m the one responsible for giving it a purpose and meaning. Terrifying? At first. Despair? A few moments here and there. But it got better.

And that’s what I want to tell these folks who cling so tightly to transcendence: it’s hard, desperately hard, to let go, but it gets better. It’s never the same again, it will never feel like it did when something supernatural totally existed for you, but you survived learning the truth about Santa and you will survive this. And you can thrive. Besides, in so many ways, this universe transcends transcendence. It’s more beautiful and terrible and vast and wonderful than we could imagine.

And we’re part of it.

That’s the best thing there is.

 

Planetary nebula NGC 5189. Image courtesy NASA/ESA.

Planetary nebula NGC 5189. Looks superheroic to me. This universe is far more spectacular than we can comprehend. No gods necessary. Image courtesy NASA/ESA.

*In the magical sense.

 

(Inspired by In Praise of the Mundane and From the Mailbag: Deconverting from Hinduism.)

Another Atheist at the Grand Canyon

I mentioned last time that Cujo had accompanied me on that Grand Canyon trip back in 2009, therefore ensuring there were at least two atheists present that particular day. He wrote it up wonderfully. Have a taste:

The Colorado River, which formed the canyon, is now cutting through rock that is nearly two billion years old. At that time, the only form of life was unicellular. There were no plants, let alone animals. The Wikipedia entry on the canyon says that it has been formed over the last 40 million years. Biologists estimate that the species homo sapiens sapiens is perhaps a quarter of a million years old. When the first human beings walked the planet, the canyon was scarcely shallower than it is today. In an ordinary human lifetime, only the most superficial changes will occur.

[snip]

If you’re a believer, the next time you feel tempted to assume that non-believers must see no reason to feel humble, try learning something about the universe you live in. The truth is that the universe is vast in any terms human beings can imagine. We exist on one tiny speck of rock in one little corner of it. Unless we can figure out how to live in other solar systems, we will probably be gone in a blink of an eye on its time scale. The universe cares nothing about us as individuals or as a species.

That post was written in response to another believer’s ridiculous statements about atheists and atheism four and a half years ago. Plus ça change… Oh, and if you want to know what current estimates of the number of galaxies in the universe are, head over here. Put it this way: it’s many-lots. One runs out of metaphors for how small we are in comparison to all this… and yet the religious people who claim our personal pleasure habits are of great interest to the supposed creator of all this enormity like to think of atheists as arrogant.

Riiight. Pull the other one, it’s got bells on. Not church bells, of course, despite having walked the Grand Canyon’s rim many many times.

Image shows a lot of very tiny people milling around atop an observation area at the edge of the Grand Canyon, with a tiny slice of the enormous canyon behind them. People are tiny in comparison to the enormity of this tiny portion of the Canyon - and we are specks on a speck of dust in a tiny solar system comprising in infinitesimal part of a galaxy that is only one among hundreds of billions.... Image courtesy Cujo359.

People are tiny in comparison to the enormity of this tiny portion of the Canyon – and we are specks on a speck of dust in a tiny solar system comprising in infinitesimal part of a galaxy that is only one among hundreds of billions…. Image courtesy Cujo359.

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.

Believers: I do know your prophets and messiahs are important to you. I remember a time, brief though it was, where seeing Jesus mocked was almost physically painful. But I knew I had no damned right to demand other people refrain from offending my religious sensibilities, just as I know now that I have no right to demand religious people refrain from criticizing my philosophies. You could pass out literature at a student fair saying that atheism is a terrible idea and name a kumquat Epicurus, if you like. That’s fine. You might annoy me, I might think you’re a douchebag, but while you’ve attacked ideas that have deep meaning for me, you haven’t attacked me. So it’s up to me to discuss these ideas with you, or avoid you, or counter your ideas with my own – but you’d howl if I got your ass removed from an open venue for being a shit, wouldn’t you?

You god-botherers are in the majority just now, and you’re able to play the thug, throwing out people who offend your sensibilities. But thuggish behavior won’t earn you any sympathy: it’ll just earn you a plethora of people finding ways around you, leaving you and your narrow world views behind.

And really, what weak-ass sort of god is threatened by having the name of one of their special favorites plastered to an inanimate object? Think about what you’re saying about your god/s when you pull shit like this.

All we’re hearing is that these beings, should they exist, aren’t in the least worthy of worship. Way to win converts.

 

For the background on this matter, see:

LSE pounces on non-existent “Islamophobia” again

Jesus and Mo respond

Chris and Abhishek report what happened at LSE yesterday

LSE Student Union gives its version

Act 2: what happened at LSE today

Reading University has banned its atheist society. Why? Because they named a pineapple Muhammad

Atheist society harassed by student union at LSE freshers’ fair

Guest Post: “I Am Tired of Being Treated as a Subhuman When I Get Angry Over Racism”

By now, those of you not spending your summer hiding under rocks will have heard about JT’s extraordinary arrogance. And his quadrupling down on that arrogance. And maybe it wouldn’t matter so much, except this shit is done by people who refuse to listen to the voices of the people this shit is done to all the damn time.

I’m going to say a few words to my fellow white people before turning the floor over to the person you should really be listening to. I’m saying these few introductory words so that you can take a moment to prepare yourself. If you do not need this lecture, skip to dezn_98’s words, where your focus should be. If you find yourself getting defensive, and wanting to lecture rather than shut the fuck up and keep listening, return back here and read from the beginning.

One of the hardest lessons I learned as I became interested in social justice issues was this: don’t speak, listen. Don’t lead, follow. We white middle class liberal sorts want to change the world for the better, and oh, do we have ideas. Problem was, many of my ideas were based in abject ignorance. I was hurting more than helping. I knew it all, but didn’t know a damned thing. That’s privilege. Makes you think you’re qualified to pontificate on any problem, despite the fact you haven’t a clue as to what the problem actually is, much less how to solve it.

And it’s hard to face that, hard to admit that you don’t know it all and can’t solve all the problems facing those who don’t share your advantages. Hard to admit you’re wrong.

Suck it up.

If you truly want to help, you must be strong enough to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Brave enough to admit when you’re wrong, when you’ve made a mistake, when you hurt someone. Wise enough to keep your mouth closed and your ears open. Strong enough to handle the rage and pain you’re going to hear. Have the integrity and humility to step back and let others lead.

If you can’t do that, walk the fuck away. You’re of no help. People need an ally, not a self-appointed savior. They need a genuine ally, not a self-declared ally who refuses to act as one.

Now. If you’re ready to become part of the solution rather than the problem, put your tongue in neutral, turn your defensiveness off and yours ears on, and just listen.

Listen. Image courtesy Ky via Flickr.

Listen. Image courtesy Ky via Flickr.

I cede the floor to Dezn_98.

I want to tell people something. The reason people of color are not into this brand of atheism right now is because of people like JT. It is not because there is this KKK element to it.. it is because of deniers and ignorant people like JT. I would never feel comfortable in a room filled with people like him. My views on social justice are my priority, not my atheism… and I won’t be a part of any crowd that lets people like JT fester and not have the ability to call him on on BS. The only reason, I have come out of lurking is because of people like crommunist and like yourself [Greta], because you guys really do get it… and I am so tired of making people understand that our plight is real.

I am tired of being treated as a subhuman when I get angry over racism. I am tired of society telling me that “this tone of voice” is the only acceptable form of expression for minorities talking about their pain… and anything short of that – you are not worth listening to. They really treat us like trash, and people do not know how incredibly traumatizing and devastating that sort of constant cultural racism can be.

It is so tiring… I saw JT’s treatise of racist white garbage tone policing…. and I can’t ignore it. I actually have to waste my day writing a reply to his garbage. Do people not get how exhausting this sht is? How likely it is that, because of people like JT, most minorities run out of steam on these issues? That most give up? That most just walk away? The only reason I am not ignoring it is because I am as stubborn and silly as PZ.. not matter how much personal pain JT’s ideas give me.. I still gatta say something.

[snip]

Lots of people in this culture just do not get how utterly dehumanizing and traumatizing it is to talk to people like JT when you are a person of color.. it is indescribable. Yet I have to put my humanity on the line everyFCKINGtime when I talk about racism… and everytime, I feel like a piece of my empathy is being taken away, being chipped at, making me “apathetic” to my own oppression… this type of sht drains people of color.. so they stay away from it as much as they can. Yet no matter how much they run away, now matter how much we already dictate our tone everyday to avoid conversation with white people like JT… it JT’s racist micro-aggression and HIS ILK always find us and smack us in the fcking mouth.

***

As a person of color who has to constantly deal with this type of rhetoric from well meaning white liberal allies… I am always shocked, even though I know it is terribly predictable, by the amount of ignorance coming from privileged people who seek to “instruct” minorities on proper ways to behave. It really is disturbing, this sht is not even about JT.. it is about white privilege in general. His response is sooooooooooo cliche to every fcking person of color, in that it functions in a racist way. His response is not unique, it is the same racist rhetoric we are constantly barraged with everyday. In fact, he ain’t even the only one.. if you follow crommunist on twitter, you can see how even Matt Dillihunty felt obligated to share his “enlightened” opinion on how to proceed. The conversation that I saw was not only condescending, passive aggressive, and stupid, but also reveal that yes, even people on FTB like matt dillihunty should STFU once in a while and understand that if your ignorant about a subject – do not argue your fcking case like you understand it. Fck Matt, Fck JT, and fck any white privileged dck who want to come and tell me or anyone how to act. (I recall that other arse from “cammels with hammers” doing something similar – oh and his ignorant arse is now at patheos too… good riddance. He had nothing of substance to say when he tone policed either.. jerk)

Man, I live through this sht… and I will tell any white person right up front any time we begin a conversation about race, that they can never say anything, anything that I have not heard before . Therefore their advice is not only unwarranted but useless. Not only that, I then have to explain to ignorant white folk how an amalgamation of these “bits of casual advice” over a lifetime of dealing with racism… is actually just a racist microagression. So when I reject that advice based on their ignorance, most then write entire treatise trying to defend themselves… and as “white allies” they somehow think I am obligated to go over ignorant BS everyday to “teach the white man how to be not racist.” When they are too lazy to pick up a fcking book and read for themselves about racism – which in about 5 fcking minutes would demolish any god damn “argument” they put up. What a waste of fcking space. Ignorant white folk, always stuck in racism 101…

Probably the only reason I stick around on FTB is because I found a few white folk here… who actually fcking get it – well not all of it, but get it to a degree where I do not feel the need to have to educate anyone on any racism 101 BS.

I just want to say this is just a trend to a larger problem, and it is tiring… How many hours do I have to spend educating some white privileged buffoon, only to have another one come in 5 minutes later and almost demand I educate him as well on the same exact sht? I mean, the responses are always the same cliche BS… and even if by some luck I manage to get someone to turn around… that don’t mean sht to a lot of white folk. All they seem to care about is making themselves be less racist… not actually concerned about ending racism by actually doing something about it. Most white folk only enter the issue when tone policing… then they leave, no matter if they were finally convinced that they are wrong, or ignorantly insisted they are right till the end… they always leave and then never actually do anything about it. So crommunist was right… man don’t give me that BS that you care.. cause a lot of you don’t and that shows through actions.

Let me explain this one, cause this is a stumbling block for a lot of white folk. Most white folk “care” as much about racism as I, and most of us “care about starving children in Africa.” This is a normal everyday human flaw. We care about things that effect us, and hit home with us, more than we care about things that do not effect us and are far away.

I “care” about starving children in Africa as in… if told about the issue I say it is wrong, then I go spend absurd amounts of money on food and throw half of it out. I just go about my day, making no effort whatsoever to help starving children. I feel sorry for them, I think it is a shame, I think they deserve help… and I do nothing about it. Even when I am part of a system that works to oppress people like that.

Most people are exactly like this, otherwise there would be more Aid going to solve the world hunger problem. So when anyone says they “care” about world hunger…. it is this shallow from of caring. A caring that is only committed to words, and not actions – a caring that absolutely does nothing for people who are starving but makes us feel like we are “oh so good people cause we care.”

Note* Before someone comes with with the silly point of “that means we can’t talk about any issue then?” No, it does not mean that. It means that, as you will read below, because of the nature of things this kind of apathy is, terribly normal – and no one can truly care about all causes… which is why you have to pick the ones you care most about. This would suggest that, if you want to talk about an issue you are not effected by directly, and are not involved in, in some way shape of form… then you probably got no business “giving instructions or advice” the ones who actually care. You should instead ask questions and attempt to educate yourself, rather than argue any point of give advice.

Basically…. lots of white privileged people pay lip-service to being anti-racist but when asked to commit any action.. most of them not only decline, but out of ignorance, like JT and Matt, usually function in a racist manner. The only ones who are actually qualified to say they care about racism are the ones effected by it, and the ones working in some fashion to end it. All the rest… “care” in a sense that is not practical to solving the problem.

Now, this is not a crime… and, even though it is fairly normal, that is not to say it is not an issue either. Apathy like this is an issue, it is an issue the people in the movement have to fight against. They have to make people care more than they do, care enough to commit to some action, no matter how small. People are also “too busy to care” and that is not a crime either, but it is an issue that needs attention. This stuff is relatively OK, I am ok with a white person fighting for a social issue that hits close to home… good for that person.. what I do not care for is people insisting they care, when really…. they don’t care all that much. Then what really pisses me off is how “offended” they get at a minority who rejects their shallow opinions… and how they try to victimize themselves by saying “I was your ally!” and such nonsense. That is crap.

The degree in which you are measured to care about an issue, the degree in which you gain credibility as an ally, is not through fiat or announcement.. it is seen through what you do. Those who spend no time educating themselves about an issue before they speak about it and hurt people; those who commit to no action ending a social issue, those who frequently land on the side of “telling a minority how to act” in unsolicited advice…. those people who say they “care”…. well that, that is BS. Take that sht out of here. I tire of it. When you start railroading people who are doing something about it, when you are constantly in the way of minorities speaking out… then, no you don’t fcking care. Whatever your intentions are, whatever warm fuzzy feeling you might want to pull out a conversation, or whatever intellectual point you want to raise out of curiosity about issues that actually hurt people…. that does not count as caring, so fck off.

With that… Lets look at JT’s and Matt’s “actions”…

1) JT and Matt almost never talks about racism, and are, to my knowledge, not involved in any anti-racist movement in any meaningful way. (This shows how much they care about it) This means neither of them has credibility if any of them claim they “care about racism.” No one is inclined to believe that sht, and no the benefit of the doubt is not a given.

2) The one time I see JT and Matt talk about racism… they are either trying to tell a minority “you are doing it wrong” (JT) or trying to argue some stupid insipid intellectual point (MD). Aint that funny… they never talk about racism, and when they finally do, instead of talking about how bad and racist that question was, instead of educating people why this question is racist, instead of using the minorities anger to show how deeply racism effects us emotionally… they argue that minorities need to behave in this “balanced” way when confronting racism. JT insisting he knows better if someone is acting racist with intent, and Matt insisting that he does not berate people in the same fashion… what fcking laughable points.

That speaks… and it speaks of them not as allies, but as fools. White privileged fools who need to STFU. Now, the exchange with crommunist and matt was not that long, so I am done with Matt… let me dig in deeper with JT.

3) JT said he walked out because he did not like the tone of what that POC was saying in her defense against racism. WOW. So you never talk about racism, and when you get the opportunity to learn something from someone who suffers from it you “walk out” in protest of the tone? Then you berate the person for not having a more sympathetic reaction to white racism? You go off the walls, writing pages and pages of intellectual racist garbage practically defending the “right” of white people to say whatever racist garbage they want, while telling minorities that they are only allowed to use their anger about racism in a specific way (a way you get to define as “productive”, and a way where that productivity centers the conversations primary objective on making the white person less racist (why should that be?).. instead of just… talking about how bad racism is and how it effects minorities). FFS…

This guy by fcking definition of anti-racist ally… just functioned in a way that would categorize him not as one, but also probably acting like a racist himself. He “exited the room in protest?” Are you fcking serious? Someone should tell him that there is this racism against strong black women, and that type of racist bias.. tends to make lots of white men not only not listen to strong black women, but also try to make them out of “irrational” or “berating”.. and guess what this mther fcker just did? If that is not a racist microagression, and no one better fcking tell me any different, then I don’t know what is.

I have like loads more to say…. but… whatever, I got more sht to do in meatspace rather than specifically outline how lots of white liberals betray minorities at every turn.

 

Thank you, dezn_98.

I encourage those of you who are prepared to keep listening to read the linked threads, and definitely read our own Black Skeptics, and Crommunist’s archives. None of us who have not directly experienced racism will ever know on a visceral level what it’s like, but by listening to those who have, we can at least gain some comprehension, and understand what we need to do to help end this shit.

Those of you not prepared to listen… please just walk away until you are. And for fuck’s sake, at the very least, refrain from lecturing oppressed people on how to react to oppression.

[notice] Hola, new commenters! Please do peruse the comment policy thoroughly before you expend valuable time sharing your thoughts. Or tl;dr: I reserve the right to drop asshats in the trash without a second glance. Bad behavior elsewhere will also get you instabanned here. Not an asshat or someone who’s been kicked out of other places for bad behavior? Then you’re probably cool. Thanks for reading![/notice]

Some Essential Reading on the Sexism in Skepticism Debacle

I’ll tell you something, when I haven’t been wrapped up in my geology research, I’ve been on a roaring boil. I’m fed up with this shit. I’m through with people who think women are objects to do with as they will, and people who think inability to consent is consent (pro tip: it is not, and if you have sex with someone who is unable to consent, you’re a rapist). I’m done with people who think preventing rape and sexual assault is a woman’s job rather than placing the burden and blame where they belong: on the people who assault. I’m tired of the little shitstains who think this is all a bunch of silly drama and do their level best to shut the victims up. I want these disgusting fucks out of my community. They don’t belong in civilized spaces.

No one should have to put up with this outrageous fuckery. And I’m appalled that self-declared rational thinkers are so very terrible at thinking through something as simple as this, and coming to the conclusion that hey, you know, this shit has to stop.

I’m so damned grateful to the women who have come forward and the bloggers who refuse to relinquish the atheism and skepticism communities to the predators.

There’ve been some blog posts over the last few days I want to draw your attention to, in case you missed them. They’re necessary.

In no particular order, then:

Greta Christina’s Blog: Harassment, Rape, and the Difference Between Skepticism and Denialism – UPDATED and  Why We Need to Keep Fighting.

The Digital Cuttlefish: Feelings And Actions.

Pharyngula: I think the SFWA might just be awesome and What? Responsible, intelligent youtubers? INCONCEIVABLE!

Almost Diamonds: What Is Not in Dispute and How Many Do We Lose?

Butterflies and Wheels: Your various cleverations and No, the system does not work.

Lousy Canuck: Sexual harassment accusations in the skeptical and secular communities: a timeline of major events.

Black Skeptics: Predators Beyond Belief.

Skepchick: If you don’t like rape, don’t get raped DUH, The Good Old Days, and Atheism, Sexism and Harassment. The Price of Speaking Up.

Daylight Atheism: Disillusionment and That Was the Wrong Answer, CFI.

 

I’m sure there are many more, but these are most of the posts that have helped clarify my thinking. Hopefully they will be of some use to you as well.

I’ve not yet finished exploding. Stay tuned if you like watching Dana unleash the Smack-o-Matic SuperDeluxe 9000. I’m polishing it as we speak.