I Think Maybe We Could Use a Handbook

The more I see Christians and atheists mix it up, the more I’m starting to think someone needs to write a little handbook for Christians. There are a lot of kind-hearted but clueless believers out there who tend to get blindsided by the way we think. I notice a lot of misconceptions and so forth. So I threw together an outline, and I’m going to write something we can place in the hands of our Christian mates.

They give us enough of their literature. They ask us to read their book. It’s only fair, right?

So here’s the outline I scribbled, with some explanatory notes. Suggestions, critiques and commentary in the comments, if you please. Keep in mind that when it comes to writing, I have a very thick skin indeed.

How to Talk to an Atheist

I. Introduction: The Scarlet A

Statistics – growing fast. Brief overview of this book’s purpose. Not a handbook for conversion. What this book is not about.

I just want to set things up here with the stats that show we’re a growing part of the population. I’ll probably throw in some stats from other countries for shits and giggles, just to show how far behind Western Europe America is. Here, I’ll set up the premise for this book: that if you’re going to talk to an atheist, here’s what to keep in mind. Obviously, I’m not instructing Christians on how to convert us – the point is to have fruitful conversations without trying to convert either side. So the book’s not about giving Christians pointers on how to defeat an atheist’s resistance to religion – it’s to help Christians understand who and what we are.

II. Right – What’s an Atheist?

Someone from Athies (joke, you see). Common Christian misconceptions. The quick and dirty definition. A more detailed look at the cat herd. Some famous atheists.

In this section, I’m throwing in that wonderful quip from a coworker. Q. What’s an atheist? A. Someone from Athies. Look, it was funny at the time. And it’s really not that far off the mark: a lot of Christians seem to think we’re aliens. Then we’ll move on to a few mistaken Christian definitions, such as “an atheist is someone who hates God” – Christians in the audience, I’m sure you have plenty to tell me about how your co-believers view atheists. I’ll do the quick definition, which is basically that an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in any god, and then segue into a more detailed look at different types of atheists. I call us the cat herd for obvious reasons – we’re not a unified mass of people with a common ideology, and it’s important for Christians to understand that atheists are as varied as the Christian churches are. Then we’ll close with a few famous atheists NOT limited to Dawkins, Hitch et al.

III. Why Talk to an Atheist?

No conversion rule. What we have to offer – and argue. Not talking gets us nowhere. The world could use more critical thinking. Good mental exercise. The things we have in common.

I want to reiterate here that the “talking to an atheist” part doesn’t mean trying to convert them, but holding conversations on the things that matter to us all, such as our environment, our communities, common problems we all struggle with. Atheists have plenty to bring to the table on those issues, but prepare for a robust argument on everything. Not talking to each other is just ridiculous – we all have to share this planet, we might as well figure out ways to get along. The world needs people who are willing to think critically and challenge ideas that don’t work, and besides, a discussion with us is an excellent mental workout – we make people sweat. Then I want to end the chapter by pointing out that we have plenty in common: we love our kids, love our friends, want to do good things, etc., along with the more mundane interests like hobbies and so forth. We’re not that different!

IV. How Atheists Think

Logic and reason vs. faith and belief. Arguments from authority and why they don’t work. The skeptical mind. Gleeful argument.

This one’s going to be tough, because explaining that we don’t believe to a believer never seems to get through. But I’ll attempt in this chapter to explain that where other people use faith, belief and intuition to guide their decisions, we rely a hell of a lot more on logic and reason. We don’t accept arguments from authority… that should be pretty self-explanatory to you guys, will have to explain to Christians why “X said so” is so odious to us. I’ll give an overview of the skeptical mind, which is skeptical of nearly everything. Then explain the pleasure we get from argument – we’re not being mean when we rip each other’s ideas apart, we’re just doing what comes natural. I think a lot of Christians get the idea we’re cruel bastards from the way we challenge ideas and assertations, and I want to make clear that an atheist still loves you even when he or she has left your ideas bleeding in the street. I want to bring across some sense of how much fun we have.

V. What You Can Expect if You Bring Up God

Don’t do it. You had to go there, didn’t you? We murder our own darlings – yours aren’t sacred. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Smackdowns.

This, I think, is going to be the most fun to write. For one thing, if Christians don’t want to have their sacred ideas battered and bruised, they shouldn’t bring it up in the first place. A bunch of critical thinkers aren’t going to shut down their critical faculties just because God’s now in the mix – much the opposite. If we tear each other’s ideas down, what the fuck do you expect us to do to something we don’t even believe? I want to bring across the fact that in our world, the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence needs to be for it, and that means religion doesn’t fare too well in our discussions. And I think I’m going to throw in some famous smackdowns from various threads and public debates – if you know of any good ones, I wants ‘em!

VI. How to Survive the Scrum

Believers can gain our respect. No special pleading. No evasion. It’s nothing personal – unless you make it so.

Too many Christians seem to think that an argument against their ideas means we can’t respect them. I want to debunk that myth here, and show how they can earn our respect. Most Christians who’ve faced the tough questions head-on, been candid and honest in their beliefs, and haven’t resorted to special pleading, goal-post moving, evading the question, and other typical tricks fare fairly well in the respect department. And one of the major problems has been folks making things personal that really aren’t – we aren’t going to attack the person (much) unless the person attacks us. Criticism of an idea isn’t a criticism of a person – that needs to be reiterated, because there are far too many people who take things way too personally.

VII. Why Do Atheists Hate God/Christians/Religion in General?

We don’t. How an atheist views religion. The dangers of unthinking faith. The crap we take from believers. Why we kill Kenny (the creationist who always gets his ass kicked in Pharyngula threads). The dangers of woo.

We get accused a lot of hating God, don’t we? I want to try to bring out our views on religion, why we think certain varieties of it are dangerous, the fact that uncritical acceptance of extraordinary claims are anathema to us. Then there’s the amount of shit we take from people that gets really annoying – atheists are one of the most despised groups out there, and if there were more of us, we’d be taking a lot more crap. There’s also a severe lack of understanding when it comes to our bashing of dogged dogmatists like Kenny – so I want to explain what happens to f
olks who repeat the same ridiculous arguments and never give up trying to impose views we’re never going to buy, so yes, we do sometimes get cruel because we get fed up. And there’s another element – where others think faith and belief are good things, we see too much of the harm that comes from uncritical thought, so we tend to kick back rather hard against woo.

VIII. Why Can’t I Convert an Atheist?

Many have tried. The de-conversion experience. We’ve already explored those ideas. Proving God – and why you can’t. The sillyness of asking the faithless to take something on faith.

It seems like a lot of Christians believe they’re the only ones who have ever talked to us about God, and that if we only heard the Good News, we’d convert. I want to debunk that right here. For one thing, most of us have endured far too many people trying to convert us. People never get that we can live without faith, so they keep trying to impose it. Then, too, many of us used to be true believers. I’m going to do a generic overview of the typical de-conversion experience, showing that it’s not something sudden (in most cases), but a process. Being a process, it’s nearly impossible to reverse. Christians also seem to believe that we just haven’t thought about faith, so I want to make it clear that many of us have explored faith deeply. We probably know more about religion than many theologians. So we already know about it, and we’re still not impressed. Then there’s the little problem of being able to prove the supernatural – you really can’t. Until you can offer really real proof that God exists, an atheist probably won’t be persuaded. And besides all that, it’s really kind of ridiculous to ask someone who by definition doesn’t believe to take something on faith, innit?

IX. Common Fallicies

No morality. Nihilism. Atheism is religion. Theology = philosophy. Impoverished world.

I want to take down the most common myths here. Christians claim we can’t have morality without faith (false), atheism is nihilistic (false), atheism is just another religion (sooo false), theology is somehow equal to philosophy (they’re different beasts, and I shall explain why), and that our lives must necessarily be impoverished by not having God in them (they most certainly aren’t).

X. We Can Coexist

Agree to disagree. The things we all want.

I’ll be showing how we coexist – by agreeing to disagree, by finding points of commonality, by respecting each other’s differences, and so forth. There are plenty of things we have in common: we want to live good lives, we want a better world, we want to be good people. We have different ways of getting what we need out of life, but there’s no reason my unbelief and your belief shouldn’t find a way to accomodate each other. Remember, this handbook is for moderates and more rational Christians, so this will be true. We’ve all got Christian friends who have learned to accept us for who we are, and I hope we return the favor. Neither group is going away any time soon, so we’d best learn how to get along. And together, we can accomplish the things that matter.


The Rules
A heavily revised version of the Rules I posted here a while back.

Resources and Links
A bibliography and some links to sites where Christians can learn more about atheists.

So. There it is. My idea for a handbook. The outline will change – I can already see some places where a different order might be better, and your input will of course impact matters. What think ye? Would such a thing be of use?

Fun With Proselytizers, Part the Second

In our previous installment of “Fun With Proselytizers,” I promised to tell you a story involving an arrest. I shan’t keep you waiting:

Our neighborhood in Page had a rather strict “No Soliciters” law, which always amused me to no end, considering that if we were going by British definitions, that would mean a whole subset of lawyers wouldn’t be able to set foot in the place. My dad took the definition even beyond that.

One day, he was summoned to the door by two Mormon missionaries, who always come in pairs and never seem to give up. My dad was in one of his Moods. “You know we have a law against solicitation,” he informed them.

“We’re not solicitors,” the missionaries said, displaying the sin of Pride. They proceeded to lecture my father on their rights.

When Dad’s in a Mood, you don’t push the issue. He went to the phone, called the police, and said, “I have a couple of solicitors here who won’t leave, and I want them arrested.”

Sergeant R. promptly showed up and bunged the severely surprised missionaries into the back of his patrol car. He then asked my dad if he’d like to press charges. Dad would. Sergeant R went back to his car for the proper paperwork, and in the course of digging that out and informing the poor young men that they faced charges, discovered what exactly it was he had in the car.

He came back to the door sheet white and shaking. “Brent, I can’t arrest them! They’re missionaries.”

My dad replied with perfect, unruffled calm, “Yep. And they were selling religion. I want them arrested.”

Sergeant R spent a frantic half-hour on the phone with his superiors, looking for a loophole, visions of impending annihilation from the very powerful Mormon church dancing in his head, while the missionaries got a rest in the back of the patrol car. No loopholes were found. The situation would have been very black indeed if Dad hadn’t relented after he figured the lesson had sunk in.

His house, strangely enough, was never visited again. He became something of a neighborhood celebrity, though. Even our devout Mormon neighbors thought it was funny, if scandulous.

I don’t think they were quite as offended as Christchurch George was the day he met Jesus.

The story comes to me by way of my friend John from New Zealand. John used to live in Christchurch, Australia, with an interesting bloke named Toby. Every Sunday morning, regular as clockwork, George would come over after church in the valliant but vain attempt to convert these two heathen college students to the Lord. They’d always invite him in for coffee and have a spirited discussion about the salvation of souls, but George always left disappointed.

One day, after a hard Saturday night, John was lying abed when he heard the bell go. It’s only George, he thought, and rolled over to go back to sleep, in too delicate a state for God talk. He’d let Toby entertain alone today.

Until he heard Toby’s hearty voice announce, “George, I have great news for ya! Jesus is in our home!”

“Halleluja!” George shouted.

What the fuck? John thought. Memories of the night before weren’t so fuzzy that he would’ve forgotten something like converting to Christianity. And yet here was Toby, proclaiming Jesus was in their home, and George beside himself with glee. John decided further investigation was warranted, and scrambled for a pair of pants.

He reached the living room just as Toby was saying, “Yeah, he’s in the kitchen. I’ll go get him.”

George registered confusion, but he was too happy to question that odd statement. Toby vanished. George pressed John for more details. “I don’t have any idea,” John said, mystified.

Toby emerged from the kitchen carrying a kitten they’d acquired the night before and hadn’t yet named. “George,” he said proudly, “meet Jesus.”

George glared at the kitten, glared at Toby, and glared at John, who was falling down the wall laughing. “Blasphemers!” he spat, and huffed out, never to return.

Enough to bring tears to your eyes, isn’t it? I’ll never be able to top it. Although it is fun to whip out an argument no Christian has ever been able to refute: God told me to become an atheist.

A while back, when I was living in Flagstaff, a Jehovah’s Witness came to the door. I usually give them pretty short shrift – I figure neither of us needs to waste our time – but this was an Asian gentleman, and I have to admit I was fascinated. I’d never met an Asian Jehovah’s Witness before. I advised up front in kindly terms that I’m an atheist.

“I can understand that,” he said. “I’m a physicist.”

What the fuck is a physicist doing doorknocking for the Witnesses? I wondered, but immediately on the heels of this was the thought: Dana, this is an opportunity. So I invited him in. Look – the bugger showed up at my house wanting to convert, the least he could do was answer some tough physics questions I had for my worldbuilding.

Alas, either I wasn’t able to explain what I needed, or he was a piss-poor physicist. In light of the evidence, I plump for the latter: he was useless, and of course had an annoying way of turning every bit of physics conversation back to God, which drove me nuts. I decided to bludgeon him with Zen Master Seung Sahn’s cup-and-rainbow argument, but that only works for Zen Masters faced with Christian missionaries – the only answer I could get to “who made the cup? Who made the rainbow?” was “God.” That was his stock answer for everything, and as for philosophical judo, it was like trying to wrestle a limbless man.

After a couple of visits, I finally decided we were done. He brought up the need for me to turn to God once again, and I said, “Why would I do that when it was God who wanted me to become an atheist?”

I always get spectacular results with that one. He got the hit-by-a-hockey-puck look. His mouth opened. It closed. He finally said, “What do you mean?”

“When I made the decision to walk away from religion, I prayed about it,” I told him. “I told God that I felt He was nudging me to do this, and that I was going to do it, but if it was the wrong thing to do, all I needed was a sign from Him letting me know. Since that day, my life has done nothing but improve. If God exists, it seems I’m doing what He wanted me to do, so how can I defy Him? If He doesn’t exist, why would I come back to a religion that made me miserable?”

The poor JW couldn’t think of a single thing to say. He made a brief, lame and quickly aborted attempt to come back with the “could it be Satan?” counter-argument, but he’d lost, and he knew it. He left me to my happy godlessness.

Those are just some of my many stories about encounters with evangelists. I hope they’ve kept you entertained. I’m sure you’ve got plenty more. Please do feel free to share them!

Fun With Proselytizers

I hear a lot about “evangelical atheism” from Christians in a snit. It’s ridiculous to me – I’ve yet to have an atheist show up at the door preaching the Good News about non-belief. There’s no atheist church churning out atheist missionaries and making the rest of the atheists cough up tithes to pay for their efforts to convert the world.

No, when there’s a knock at my door and two anxious-looking folks in awful suits standing there, I can be pretty sure I’m not dealing with one of those damned evangelical atheists. No, it’s going to be some earnest deluded person wanting to tell me about Christ.

And then the fun begins.

Door-to-door religion salesmen are much like telemarketers: you may have sympathy for them as human beings, but when that bell rings, their common humanity flies out the window and they become That Fucking Asshole Annoying the Bugshit out of Me When I Had Better Things to Do. And it’s not enough to merely not answer the door, oh, no. That’s cowardice, that is. That’s hiding. No, you’ve got to be creative. Ensure that the bugger not only knows you’re displeased at the interruption, but make it so they never have the guts to ever do it again.

My friends are creative. They’re also evil.

Take Russ. He calls me one day, laughing so hard he can’t speak. After five minutes of this, I threatened to hang up on him.

“No, wait,” he gasped. “I have to tell you what happened.” And he bursts out laughing again. It’s some time before he can relate the story:

The Jehovah’s Witnesses had shown up on his porch, along with their kids – starting them early, apparently. Russ, who is Wiccan, answers the door. They give their perky greetings and ask, “Do you believe in God?”

“Well,” Russ said thoughtfully. “I’m a witch, if that’s what you mean.”

They grabbed the kids and ran away. Russ swears they were crossing themselves as they fled.
Jehovah’s Witnesses were fun, but somewhat rare in our little town. The Mormons had dibs. We had a missionary infestation, being so close to the Utah border: the Latter Day Saints would send their wet-behind-the-ears missionaries out into the community to ferret out the few non-Mormons by way of practice before getting sent to places like China, which treat missionaries rather more shabbily. They didn’t always get the gentle treatment, but at least we weren’t throwing them in jail… much.

They once made the mistake of visiting J.T. on a very bad day. He’d spent the entire afternoon battling a recalcitrant dryer, which had decided that jeans were not part of its job description. His Rottweilers were trying to devour each other. He got the dryer drying and the dogs calmed down after an hours-long battle. He breathed a sigh of relief, popped open a beer, lit a cigarette and – DING-DONG.

Chaos. The dogs bolt for the door, barrelling into J.T. along the way, simultaneously trying to fight each other and announce to the newcomers that today is Visitors Get Ripped to Bloody Chunks Day. J.T. wades through them, trying to keep beer and cigarette safe, yanks open the door whilst kicking dogs aside and shouting “Lady Death, Killer, get back!” And he beholds the sight of two rather stunned missionaries. “What?” he bellows.

They look at the beer. They look at the cigarette. They look at the Rotties trying to fight past J.T.’s legs, not knowing that Lady Death and Killer are more likely to drown than devour them. They look at the thunderstorm that is J.T.’s face. “N-nothing!” they stammer before pulling a Sir Robin and bravely running away.

I think they were the same buggers who showed up at my door on another very bad day. Aunty Flow was visiting. The chair I was sitting in had lost its bottom, dumping me on the floor and scraping my back in the midst of a very angry letter to the school board explaining why they should keep Superintendent Dan Dodds off the radio saying fuckwitted things about how we didn’t need no stinkin’ AIDS education – even though the majority of the student body seemed pregnant that year. And Dodds was still on the radio, spouting bullshit, when the doorbell rang.
I stomped into the living room, yanked the door open, looked at the missionaries, and did my best J.T. “What?”

That phrase only makes ‘em run when there’s Rotties involved. They beamed at me. “We have a message for you,” they said.

“I don’t want to hear it,” I said, and slammed the door in their shining little faces.

I stomped back to my room, finished my angry letter, then headed down to the post office to mail it – where I ran into the missionaries. And that’s what makes this story funny: the poleaxed looks on their faces when I held the door open for them and said, “Have a nice day!” They both gave me a sickly little smile and edged past, keeping themselves as far from me as physically possible, and scuttled through that door as if I’d slam it on them again. I saw them looking back in absolute astonishment from the parking lot.

Yup. I am Hyde when you try to convert me, and Jeckyll when you’re just out checking your mail. Indeed.

I hope the poor buggers toughened up later, because if slamming a door in their faces rattled them that much, I imagine they needed psychotherapy after two years of missionary work to tougher audiences.

Tomorrow, we shall continue our Fun with Proselytizers, and thee shall know how we got them arrested once.

Using The Bible as an Elitist Bastard Weapon

by Karen Simon, special to En Tequila Es Verdad

Editor’s Note: Karen Simon is one of our regular commenters here, and she’s proven to be wise and wonderful and a boon to thought-provoking conversation. Alas, she hasn’t a blog of her own. But she wanted to join the rest of us Elitist Bastards, and so I post her submission here. How could I resist after that title? Enjoy!

My naughty little indulgence is to disarm intolerant fundies with their own weapon , the Bible.

When I hear someone spouting intolerance in the name of God and a verse from the Bible to support said intolerance I can quickly come up with at least three or four verses that not only refute their argument but also condemns them as the bigoted assholes they are.

The beauty of the Bible is that the the authorship is so vast and the opinions expressed so varied that you can justify almost anything.

Why it is so useful for my purposes is that as a Christian I am not trying to tell them not to believe in God so they trust me. They can’t call me a liar because I just quoted their divinely inspired owners manual, but I just trumped them.

What to do? Usually they just walk away stunned , angry and confused because they don’t have the critical thinking tools necessary for a legitimate argument because they are taught never to search and never to question. It would be a much more tolerant and happy world if we allowed ourselves and others to be questioners and searchers.

Moderate Christians: If You Wanted to Clean Your Own House, You’d Best Fetch Your Brooms Now

It’s time to sweep the cockroaches off the public stage and back into the cracks where they belong.

Coral Ridge Ministries hosted the Reclaiming America for Christ conference in March of this year. The conference didn’t gain the media scrutiny it should – after all, there was no angry black man ranting from the pulpit. It’s stocked to overflowing with rich white fuckers spewing venom, hate and ignorance, and we all know the media has bags full of free passes they hand out for rich white fuckers who spew venom et al, at least until an outraged blogging community forces so much attention on matters that a few of them end up treated sarcastically on ABC so that the media can claim its independence from… well, you know.

Cute illusion, that, and useful as far as it goes, but an illusion only. When the right-wing fucktards can get a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial pulled over the terrorist-idolizing properties of a black-and-white paisley scarf, but no attention is paid to the terrorist-idolizing speeches of far right evangelicals, you know something’s rotten and the media’s refusing to admit it can smell.


“I am not here to call the church to partisan action,” Perkins explained. “I am not here advocating for a political party. I am here advocating for Christian citizenship.”

Lest any of the assembled miss the point, Perkins offered up the story of Phineas, grandson of Moses’ brother Aaron, from Numbers 25. Phineas was rewarded by God with an “everlasting priesthood” for killing an Israelite and his Midian lover because God had forbidden the mixing of the men of Israel with the women of that tribe.

The story is, essentially, the vindication of the criminalization of “miscegenation” — a sentiment consistent with Perkins’ past courting of such racist groups as the Ku Klux Klan and the Council of Conservative Citizens, America’s largest white supremacist organization, according to journalist Max Blumenthal. (Perkins bought, on behalf of political client Senator Woody Jenkins, a phone-bank list from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.)


“We read that Phineas arose and he took action…,” Perkins said.

“Not only is prayer required…I warn you that if you begin to pray for our nation that, at some point in time, you’re gonna be prayin’ and you’re gonna feel a tap on your shoulder and hear, ‘Son, daughter, I’ve heard your prayer; now I want you to do something about it.’”

Just in case his message should be misconstrued, however, Perkins offered this caveat: “Now, let me be clear, in case the media’s here,” he said, “I’m not advocating you go home and get a pitchfork out of your storage shed and run into your neighbor’s house.” Phineas, the Bible tells us, used a javelin.

Stop. Let’s take note of several things here.

1. Tony Perkins believes that one day, God will literally tap these frothing haters on the shoulder and direct them to do something about their prayers. We know what the prayers of the theocons are, don’t we? Rid the world of non-believers, homosexuals, abortion providers, Muslims, and sundry other undesirables; bring about Armageddon; bring America back to their narrow brand of noxious Christianity. Can we guess what the “do something about their prayers” might be?

2. In case not, consider carefully the story he tells. A man murders two people for no greater crime than some intertribal nookie in the Tabernacle, and is granted “everlasting priesthood.” Seems like this “Thou shalt not kill” thing comes with a fuckload of exceptions.

3. Take especial note of that “in case the media’s here” line. What might he have said if there was no possibility of somewhat sane people with recording devices being present, I wonder?

Prup at The Reality-Based Community calls Perkins’ speech a “dog-whistle shout-out to Christian Identity terrorists.” And he has some nervous-making detail on the subtext of that speech that should have you feeling very thoughtful indeed after reading it.

Anne Coulter, another august speaker at the conference, has no such sense of subtlety:

In her remarks to those who pledged to reclaim the nation for Christ, Ann Coulter equated the lives of aborted fetuses with those of the doctors and abortion clinic workers who were murdered by anti-abortion

“Those few abortionists were shot or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure with a rifle performed on them,” Coulter told her audience, which responded with laughter.

Ah, yes, those perfect Christians. They do so lurves them a good, clean joke about murdering doctors.

And what does the media do with people who surreptitiously celebrate and encourage such acts of domestic terrorism? They invite them on to speak – over and over and over and over again. While a Dunkin’ Donuts gets booted for having Rachael Ray dressed in the wrong sort of scarf.

Let me be crystal clear: these fuckwits aren’t Christians. I know it, and you know it. They wallow in the darkest, filthiest verses of the Bible. To them, Christian love is something you administer with a rifle. They lambast divorce, but they happily divorced reality long ago. And they’re taken seriously in our political and spiritual arenas.

They want nothing less than a theocracy, dictated by them, with only their views aired and practiced. They’ll advocate any means to get there, up to and including violence and terrorism. Those things, they say, are righteous as long as they are the ones doing them.

They’re making Christianity look less like a religion and more like a dangerous pathology that must be quarantined every day.

So, moderate Christians: if you want to rescue a shred of your faith intact, I’d suggest you get busy now. Get up, get loud, and sweep these fuckers out of power before they pick up their javelins and their rifles and murder your faith.

Fuck the Courtiers and Their Admirers

I’m tired, I’m behind in my work, and I’m getting cranky, so this is going to be a quickie.

I am godsdamned motherfucking sick and bloody tired of this ridiculous idea that religious ideas are somehow beyond critical thought and criticism.

The moment an advocate of a religious idea tells me I should live by that idea, I start to question it. Why? What’s the evidence that this is better than the 2,684,879,413 other religious ideas I’m told I should live by?

The very instant I’m told “because [insert deity/deities here] said so,” that idea gets flushed. I’ve had it.

I’m out of patience with special pleading. Religion is no better an idea than any other. Just because someone says a god is behind it doesn’t mean it’s automatically more valid than the non-god endorsed good ideas that humans have had.

Frauds tell you not to question. Liars tell you to believe. Folks who are telling the truth welcome inquiry. Good ideas withstand skepticism.

I’ll tell you the #1 reason I can’t have faith in God. It’s because God, according to the Christian Bible, doesn’t welcome doubt. God can’t stand to be questioned. And that tells me either God is an illusion created by people who are now desperate to keep that illusion from being revealed as such, or God is a psychopathic liar who isn’t telling me the truth.

I don’t believe because there’s no evidence, but that’s a diatribe for another day. What I’m dealing with here isn’t belief, but faith. The requirement that we live by certain principles because they are religious. The demand for respect for something simply because it’s religious.

As PZ said,

When someone advances remarkable claims of remarkable phenomena, like N rays or cold fusion or polywater (or natural selection or chemiosmosis or endosymbiosis), we demand evidence and skeptical evaluation…but not for religion. God always gets a pass from the people who already believe. They claim the existence of the most powerful, all-pervasive force in the universe, yet will provide not a single shred of support. And worse, this bozo calls the demand for evidence “hooliganism”.

If that’s the case, I’m proud to be a hooligan.

Too fucking right. Maybe I’m more tolerant of other people’s faith than PZ is, maybe I’m more willing to let them that likes it have it, but their beliefs don’t get my automatic respect because they’re religious beliefs. “It’s what I believe” isn’t enough. Give me a fucking good reason. Especially if you’re demanding more than my mere toleration.

The bastard who called PZ a hooligan likes to drop the names of a lot of religious luminaries, such as Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Krishnamurti, etc., and then crow, “What, are you gonna call them liars, PZ?”

Why the fuck not?

Just because the courtiers had good ideas on how to be decent human beings doesn’t mean they were right about the Emperor’s clothes.

Being religious people doesn’t give their ideas greater weight than the great ideas of non-religious thinkers.

It doesn’t put them beyond reproach.

And anyone who claims it does is showing me they’re too afraid to let those ideas and the actions that spring from them stand on their merits. Fuck you if you think I’ll respect that.

Woozle vs. Pastor Dean: FIGHT!

Rule #1 for a Christian dealing with atheists: do not get into a philosophical pissing match unless you really like wet trouser legs.

Yesterday, I posted the outrageous gauntlet Pastor Dean threw down in an attempt to prove that his special version of Christianity was the only valid worldview. I asked Woozle to be my champion.

He more than rose to the challenge. Grab your beverage of choice, get comfortable, and enjoy the joust if you haven’t already.

In response to 2008-05-26 Open the Door to Conversational Evangelism by Paul Dean, by Special Request from Dana

There’s a
type of argument I’ve frequently run into which is really quite pathological, when you get down to it. I call it “mirror arguing”.

The technique is basically to accuse your opponent of being guilty of your own sins, regardless of whether you have any reason to believe this is true.

Despite its outrageousness from a rational perspective, it seems to be quite effective — especially in a situation where you’re mainly playing to an audience (the less sophisticated the better) rather than trying to convince the other person of the correctness of your point. Your opponent then looks quite pathetic if he (rightly) points out that it is in fact you who is the wife-beater; it reduces what should have been a totally devastating point to something about as convincing as “well… double dumb-ass on you!”

Seems pretty clear to me that we’re looking at that kind of argument here. Let’s go on a little magical mystery tour through the lovely distortions of reality which are the result of too much religion on the brain, shall we? Okay!

Pastor Dean says: “One of the basic dynamics that attends any worldview that is contrary to the Christian worldview is a lack of philosophical justification for it.” (Jeez, Dana, I was looking for some nice meaty arguments to tear apart, and you’re passing along this shit? ;-) But okay, doody calls…)

First: What do you mean by “philosophical justification”? If this means something other than “justification based on reason”, then you’ll need to be clearer. I’m going to assume that’s what you mean.

Next: Christians believe what they believe based on a circular argument. God exists because the Bible tells me so. The Bible is the word of God, because the Bible says so. I can believe the Bible when it says this because the voice in my head, which is God, because the voice tells me it’s God, says that the Bible is true! If that’s justification, then there is no logic in the universe, and we might as well give up and go back to the middle ages.

And finally: “Atheism” is the refusal to believe without convincing evidence — or, in other words, without philosophical justification.

So basically no; Christians have no philosophical justification for anything, and “unbelievers” (nice term, that) generally won’t do anything without justification. Your claim is backward. (Qualification: I’m speaking about principles here; many Christians manage to get past their doctrine and allow bits of reality in around the edges. Some of them seem almost sane as long as they stay away from stuff where they’ve been trained give an answer from doctrine. Also, admittedly not all atheists are as nit-picky about consistency as I am, but the principle is that belief requires evidence.)

The fact that you are sophisticated enough to be able to pull this 180-degree switcheroo so smoothly in your writing makes me think that either you must know exactly what you are doing (which means you are knowingly being dishonest) or else you have been carefully schooled in this twisted mode of thought. Which is it?

Pastor Dean says: “the unbeliever has no basis for knowing anything.” And you do? Backwards again.

Pastor Dean says: “When an unbeliever makes a statement concerning God, the world, man, morality, ethics, or any other subject, he asserts it as an absolute certainty.” No, dude, that’s you (again!). Do I need to point out that this is also an unsupported straw man attack? If you really believe this is representative of atheistic discourse, show me some examples — but I don’t think you will, because I’m not convinced that you care about truth.

(And don’t come back by saying “Hey look, you just claimed my argument was backwards as if you were 100% certain of that!” If I were 100% certain, would I be asking you for counterexamples? Would I even be bothering to try and engage with you on a rational level? I may be pretty near certain of the assertions I’m making there, but I leave that small wedge of uncertainty open. Without uncertainty, you may find that you are certain of the wrong thing. This is why religion is so screwed-up; someone decided what truth was, many centuries ago, and now you’re not allowed to correct it in the face of new evidence.)

Pastor Dean says: “For example, an atheist who believes in evolution may say that God does not exist.” First of all, you can leave out the “evolution” bit; it’s redundant, and lots of theists are able to follow a line of reasoning from evidence to conclusion and hence “believe” in it too (remember what I said about some of them seeming almost sane?).

So that boils your statement down to “an atheist may say that God does not exist.” This certainly might happen. Yep. Can’t argue with that. Nope. You’ve certainly hit the nail on the head with that particular observation of yours. Yessirree.

Ever tried reading back what you just wrote? Doing that helps me catch all kinds of howlers like this before they go out into public and make me look bad; it might do the same for you. Or were you just trying to casually associate “atheism” and “evolution” in the minds of your gullible audience?

Pastor Dean says: “However, on his worldview, he has no basis to make such a statement. On his worldview, knowledge is obtained through observation (or the scientific method). His problem is that he has limited knowledge and ability to obtain that knowledge. He does not have the ability to search every square inch of the cosmos to determine whether or not there is a God. On his worldview, he cannot know that there is no God. His statement of certainty is rendered completely uncertain.”

Funny you should bring this up; I was just addressing this issue the other day.

I’ll summarize.

The argument over whether or not God exists is a red herring, a bait-and-switch tactic. The God-nobody-can-disprove is totally harmless, a God of no consequences. Saying that this god exists is logically equivalent to saying “This sentence is true!”.

Any consequences you claim from God’s existence, however, are testable.

It looks like you claim some consequences near the end of your article, so I’ll discuss them there. The God you believe in apparently does have consequences, and evidence for or against its existence can therefore meaningfully be collected.

Pastor Dean then goes pacing in circles some more about how you can’t prove the non-existence of God. Since I’ve already brought up the red herring / bait-and-switch aspect of this — i.e. it’s not the existence of “God” per se that anyone really gives a flying spaghetti monster about, it’s whether or not this same being hates gays, has a particular opinions about our laws, etc. — I’ll just add a mention of the well-known objection often referred to as Russell’s Teapot. The argument is basically that if you claim something exists and I say it doesn’t, the burden is on you to show me why you think it exists — not on me. In the absence of evidence, the default position is to not believe that any particular thing exists. Otherwise why stop with God? Boiled eggs floating in the atmosphere of Jupiter! A giant stone octopus living in the earth’s core! You get the idea (I hope).

People who are religious seem to think that God gets some kind of special exemption because they say so. Nope, sorry, I don’t at all see why I (or anyone!) should buy into that.

But really, I think the “red herring” point is far more powerful. I could go around saying “Yes! YES! I utterly and completely believe in God and accept that he is the blessed creator of all things! However, he told me personally that the Bible was written by a bunch of power-mad priests back in the early Middle Ages and is mostly screwed-up shit which nobody should listen to, except for a few good bits here and there. He also says Jesus never existed as an individual, although the ideas attributed to him are generally pretty nifty and it would be nice if more so-called Christians would pay attention to them. Except the stuff written by that jerk apostle Paul, of course.”

If I said that, though, I don’t think it would make you very happy, because just the pure idea of “God” isn’t what you really want me to believe in; the key elements of “belief in God” would seem to be a particular set of THOU SHALTs and THOU SHALT NOTs, apparently derived from a somewhat arbitrarily-assembled set of writings whose true meaning is open to a wide variety of interpretations — of which you choose one as being “the truth”, excluding all others.

Ok, enough about God. I hope I don’t have to come back to that again; I’m getting tired of it. Can we agree now that it’s IRRELEVANT? That the real issue is what you claim God wants us to do? Good.

Pastor Dean says: “We have an explanation as to why we don’t know everything.” The phrase “willful ignorance” springs to mind. If your answer to every question is “because God did it”, you’re not going to get very far in your investigations. (“Because God did it” is what’s known as a “curiosity stopper” or fake explanation; it is clearly designed and intended to stop inquisitive folk from asking too many questions and thereby spotting the glaring inconsistencies and errors in Biblical doctrine.)

Pastor Dean continues: “In addition to the fact that God’s general revelation takes time to investigate, God has not revealed everything to us…” Look, it’s fine not to know everything. Science doesn’t know everything. Mathematics has proven that it’s literally impossible to know everything (for some reason, God neglected to mention
Gödel’s incompleteness theorems in the Bible, even though it would have been considerable evidence for non-human origins of the Bible and could have shut up a lot of uppity scientists). But your religion puts up deliberate roadblocks to acquiring new information, especially if that information contradicts the Absolute Truth which you believe you have. Give me a break.

And anyway. I’m not really sure what point you’re trying to make here, so I’ll move on.

Pastor Dean says: “We must pray for courage to ask a simple question of those with whom we dialogue: why?” Don’t be afraid, we don’t bite. …Well… okay, not physically… we probably are a deadly threat to the underpinnings of your current worldview, yes, and intend to continue being one, but we do not threaten you or your families (despite anti-gay rhetoric), nor do we seek to dissolve the social organizations represented by your families and churches. We seek only to clean out the ideological bullshit you’ve allowed to accumulate, since you don’t seem to be doing it yourself — and it has now grown into such a fetid pile that it threatens civilization.

We are (as you seem to believe you are) seekers of truth; in that regard, opening dialogue with us certainly will not harm your cause — but the truth may sometimes hurt. We welcome challenges to our worldviews, but apparently yours sets you up to be helplessly dependent on its essential inerrancy, or at least to believe that you are dependent. People have actually survived “losing faith”, however, and they tend to be much happier afterwards. The pattern seems to have a lot in common with any other addiction.

We completely welcome that question, “Why?”, and we wish you would ask it more often. A lot of the time when we try to ask it, we are rebuffed with claims that we shouldn’t question faith, or that reason and faith are separate magesteria, or some such rot.

But you’re not saying that, so let’s start with this one: Why do you believe in God? Why do you believe that anyone who doesn’t believe in God is going to be in trouble somehow? What is this God that you believe in, anyway? (Oops, that was a “what” question; is that off-bounds?)

Pastor Dean says: “When it comes to questions concerning God, morality, ethics, religion, origins, and the
like, the answer will have no basis on a non-Christian worldview.” I think I’ve already creamed that one. If you define God, we might have something to discuss. If you can’t define God, then why are you bothering to discuss it? What do you hope to gain? (On the other subjects, though, I think the evidence is plain that we have quite a lot to say, thanks very much.

Pastor Dean says: “Here are some sample questions: why do you believe spanking is wrong? Why do you believe homosexuality is not sin? Why do you think there are many paths to salvation? Why do you believe embryonic stem-cell research is a good thing? Why do you say there is no absolute truth? Why do you think pre-marital sex is okay in certain circumstances? Why do you believe in evolution? How do you know the sun will come up in the morning?”
Taking these one at a time — in order to demonstrate how this “reasoning” thing works, since you seem to be unfamiliar with it:

  • Spanking: Well, I don’t believe it is exactly wrong, at least in moderation; I’ve just never known it to be terribly helpful or effective. I’ll suggest that for some kids, it may be necessary under some circumstances, but if it becomes the default way of coping with disobedience, it may lead to moral stagnation as children fail to learn that there are better reasons to be good than fear of pain.
  • Paths to salvation: This question is meaningless to me; I don’t know what you mean by “salvation”, or why it is necessary/important. Whatever it is you think I believe about it is probably not what I believe.
  • Embryonic stem-cell research: Is this a trick question? Okay, there’s apparently a widespread belief in anti-abortion circles that this research encourages abortions. This is TOTAL B.S. The fetuses from which stem cells are drawn for research have already been aborted. Stem cell research does not cause a demand for aborted fetuses. (If you believe any of these claims to be false, please provide your evidence and I will go find mine.)
    • Also, as far as I’m concerned, those who act against stem cell research may have prevented the discovery of nerve-regeneration techniques which might have saved Christopher Reeve, among countless others. In other words, to phrase this as an emotional argument (which anti-abortionists seem to like): YOU KILLED SUPERMAN.
  • Absolute truth: I sure as hell never said that. Without getting into quantum physics, I’ll just say that there is an absolute reality which exists regardless of what you believe, and discovery of the nature of that reality requires experimentation to test your hypotheses. Religion has made countless absolute statements about the nature of reality (and continues to do so), and generally gotten it demonstrably very wrong over and over again. Cast out the beam in your own eye, dude.
  • Pre-marital sex: Why should I think it is wrong? Give me something to work with here.
  • Evolution: Only because of the vast mountains of mutually-reinforcing evidence from a wide variety of disciplines, and the fact that nothing in biology makes much sense without it, and the fact that creationism (including the repackaged version called Intelligent Design) ultimately make no sense at all. In fact, creationists keep bringing up the same “evidence against evolution” over and over, even though all of it has been shown to be fallacious and much of it is simply downright false (that’s LIES, to put it in
    nonscientific terms; isn’t there a commandment against that or something?), showing that they’re not interested in understanding the truth – or even in being moral – but merely in swaying the gullible.
  • If you really want to understand the details, I highly recommend Daniel Dennett‘s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. I can probably find you some good evolution books by Believers like Ken Miller, if you don’t want to be seen reading a book written by a godless atheist.
    • The sun: Well, first of all, there’s this thing called “inductive reasoning” which is basically “if something has always happened, it will probably continue happening”. Being a member of a scientific civilization, however, I have a bit of understanding of why the sun comes up each morning — i.e. it’s actually the earth’s rotation which causes the sun to appear to move across the sky; this in turn is due to inertia, which will slowly bleed off over the ages because of tidal effects, but this won’t cause any noticeable changes during my lifetime; the sun itself has a finite lifetime but is not expected to go out or pose a threat to Earthly life anytime in the next few billion years — and so can say with some degree of certainty (more than, say, the Romans or the early Christians could do) that this pattern will continue for quite some time and (more to the point) is not subject to the whims of any deities or other supernatural entities.

    Pastor Dean says: “The unbeliever will have no philosophical justification to believe or know anything.” Um, excuse me, what did I just say up there [points]?

    Pastor Dean continues: “He will attempt to justify his answer or knowledge apart from God, something he cannot do logically.” What other method is there of justifying anything? How can you justify something logically based solely on a circular argument? You’ve got it mirrored again.

    The rest of Pastor Dean’s paragraph assumes the rightness of his previous two sentences, which are factually backwards, so I’ll leave them alone. (They’re either false or meaningless taken by themselves.)

    Pastor Dean asserts: “It is at that point that we can point out that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that makes sense of our experience or knowledge in any one of these areas.” Backwards again. You can only make sense of experience or knowledge if you have experience (observations) or knowledge (tested hypotheses) to make sense of.

    Pastor Dean continues: “God is the one who tells us what to believe about spanking, homosexuality, how to be saved, embryonic stem-cell research, truth, pre-marital sex, our origin, and the laws of nature in effect until Christ comes.” This statement is so full of crap that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But I shall try:

    • “God is the one who tells us what to believe…” If I’m a Christian. If I’m a Buddhist or a Confucian or a Wiccan or a Godforsaken Devil-Worshipping Baby-Eating Atheist (hi!), then you’re already wrong without even finishing the sentence.
    • “…about spanking, homosexuality,…” you know, I thought Jesus said the Levitican laws didn’t apply to Christians. Did I somehow misinterpret the Bible? How could this possibly happen?? “…how to be saved,…” assuming one needs rescuing (from what?)… “…embryonic stem-cell research,…” O RLY? There’s mention of embryonic stem-cell research in the Bible? Which verse would that be in? And why didn’t God just give us all the knowledge of the stuff we’re trying to learn via such research, if he didn’t want us doing it? Or is it true that he hates amputees? “… truth, pre-marital sex, our origin, and the laws of nature in effect until Christ comes.” The Bible probably does say all kinds of things about those items, but the evidence is that it’s wrong about our origin, that it says things are morally wrong which shouldn’t be, and there’s also no evidence to support the idea that it was written by God. There is, however, lots of evidence that it was written by a lot of different people, none of them divinely guided (if that term even has meaning), and many of them with personal agendas. “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3).” So… when Christ comes back, we do an autopsy? Why is he keeping this stuff hidden?

    Also, this is the point where you have made some assertions a
    bout the nature of God. You haven’t actually come out and said these things, but reading between the lines it sounds like you’re saying (for instance) that:

    • God approves of or requires corporal punishment of children. What’s your evidence for this? If you want to use the Bible as evidence, you’ll have to explain how the Bible was written by the same entity or force which created the universe about 13 billion years ago, and why you believe this to be true. The burden of proof is on you, dude, because it is simply an absurd assertion on the face of it. I wouldn’t believe that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor either, or that light has a measurable speed, if there weren’t mountains of evidence — but neither of those is as absurd or arbitrary as your claim, which you expect me to swallow on your say-so.
    • God sees homosexuality as an abomination. Again, the burden is on you to explain why you are convinced that the force which created the universe as a lifeless ball of superhot fundamental particles, presumably watched (or not) as those particles condensed into atoms, molecules, gas clouds, planets (billions of years later), pre-biotic organic molecules, and single-celled life-forms which eventually discovered sex, and suddenly (within a time-span of mere millions of years) became more and more complicated until eventually we have the vast array of species we have today (minus the ones which have become extinct, of course) — including humans, marmosets, octopuses, asexual slime molds, creatures living in oceanic volcanic vents, creatures who reproduce using all kinds of different methods sexual and nonsexual — would just have this Thing against humans who are more attracted to others of their own reproductive configuration. WTF??

    Look, even if I was tempted to believe that the ruler of the universe had written this lame book containing very little of use to us today and much that is counterproductive, and even if I believed that Jesus Christ was a real person who was somehow the “son” (are we talking genetic offspring? Does that mean God was human? Did he have DNA? Why or why not? Don’t start spouting mystical doctrine at me or I’ll have to slap you; give me a straight, rational answer, please) of the creator of the universe those 13 billion years ago, I’d be feeling rather manipulated by them, and hence rather bloody peeved.

    If the god of the Bible, who damns people to eternal torment for going against his (poorly-expressed and often ambiguous) wishes even when they have the best of intentions, really exists — then I deny his authority over me. I answer to a more moral power than that being (i.e. my own conscience — which isn’t especially conceited; it doesn’t take much to be more moral than the Biblical god). I would choose that eternal torment rather than go against my own conscience — just as I would stand up to any bully or terrorist who tried to get me to commit a crime or hurt someone.

    All I can say in conclusion is this: I appreciate your attempt to reach out, but you don’t seem to understand the idea of rationality. Stop pedaling drivel as sense, and get your house in order if you want religion and non-religion to get along peacefully. Those of us outside religion have been watching with great anxiety and alarm as religious ideas, which are generally not subject to rational debate or negotiation, have spread across America and other parts of the world. It would be different if these ideas were the good ones, like “love your neighbor” and “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and “turn the other cheek” and “let ye among you who is without sin cast the first stone”, but unfortunately it seems to be all the worst ones which are gaining popularity.

    If your idea of religion says that certain things are wrong, end of discussion, and won’t even admit to an alternate interpretation of the scripture which you bizarrely claim as ultimate truth let alone admitting reality as evidence, then we simply can’t let it stand. If your ideology won’t negotiate, then we have to work against it by other means.

    It’ll have to go. I’m sorry.

    Game over.


    Tomorrow, we’ll have the melee – all of you who wanted to pile on, get your comments or links in by midnight Pacific time today.

    Exactly So

    One more, and then we’re done with the Christians vs. Atheists: FIGHT! theme for a bit.

    I just want to point out a few comments that illustrate beautifully what I’m saying.

    In a comments thread on Pharyngula, I came across this from an anecdote Wazza was relating:

    And he knew my parents were agnostic at best, and probably atheist except that they never really cared that much. And my mother still treasures something he said to her; “Jo, I know you don’t believe in God, but you’re the best Christian I ever met.”

    And that’s what these people forget. Christianity isn’t about Leviticus, it’s about love.

    (These people, BTW, are the kind of people who put out this ad. Knowing the Christians in my cantina, I doubt the nausea will be all on the atheist side.)

    Right. So. Bet you’re expecting me to whip that Smack-o-Matic off the wall, aren’t ye? Nope. Let’s look at what this good Christian gentleman said again, once more with feeling: “Jo, I know you don’t believe in God, but you’re the best Christian I ever met.”

    There it is. There’s the respect. That’s what makes that an “Awww you’re so sweet” comment rather than a “Look, you rat bastard, I’m NOT CHRISTIAN!” one. He’s not saying that morality only ever comes from God. He’s not playing gotcha! games. He’s just saying, “Although you don’t believe in God, you live the ideal of loving one another.” And whatever else he meant by “best Christian,” which doesn’t seem to require adherence to the letter so much as the spirit of the law.

    Exactly so. Now, when we can get to a point where an atheist can say, “Bob, I know you’re a Christian, but you’re the best atheist I ever met,” and the Christian preens, then we’ll know we’re making abundant progress.

    Segue: you’re probably wondering what such a comment would mean. Well, some of the best traits of an atheist are the ability to think rationally, avoid arguments from authority, and celebrate human life, right? Don’t know if an atheist would ever say such a thing to a Christian, but if so, that’s probably what they’d be getting at. “You’re a damned fine logical thinker, you don’t resort to silly authoritarian answers, and you care about all people without having an ulterior motive (conversion).”

    End segue. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

    From our very own Cobalt comes this:

    Even though I do believe in The Divine Power OMGZ, that doesn’t mean everyone is in a place where that’s productive for them. It doesn’t mean they or I or anyone is “further along” than anyone else. It just means that different people have different needs, and just as I expect not to hear from atheists that my way of fulfilling my needs makes me a backward irrational savage, atheists won’t hear from me that their way of fulfilling their needs is somehow morally deficient.

    Exactly so. And we atheists would do well to remember that, just as much as Christians and all other religious sorts should. I know many people who need the Divine, magic, something beyond themselves and beyond the empirical world, and I wouldn’t take that from them, just as I expect them not to cram their belief down my throat. I’ve said before, and I say again, I don’t want a world without religion. I want a world without religious strife. I want a world where belief and non-belief can live side-by-side in harmony – but not without argument, because damn it, arguing this stuff is fun.

    Another segue: when I was taking comparative religion, our Buddhist Jew professor was explaining that in Judaism, things aren’t taken for granted. You’re not expected to just swallow the dogma. You’re expected to think about your faith. You wrestle with it. Someday, hopefully, I’ll track down my notes, do a bit o’ extra research, and go into that a bit further, because I loved that idea then and I love it now. If you came by your faith after wrestling with it, I can wholeheartedly respect that. And it gives me hope that you can respect the fact that I, too, wrestled with these things, that my atheism isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to religious intolerance, but is something I thought about and struggled with and came to after long consideration.

    Here endeth segue the second. I suggest you read Cobalt’s comment in full, because she says a lot of things I can fully agree with, and there’s a lot of wisdom and insight in there. Then read all the other comments, because they’re all insightful. Okay, so there’s only one other in there right now – but there’s other good stuff in my requirements for conversion post.


    Nicole said:

    I love you. The God I believe exists loves you. And neither of us wants you to change because you’re already doing good in this world.

    I had a hard time accepting that one. No, not because of the “God loves you” part. I will absolutely accept anybody anywhere telling me that God loves me just the way I am, because that’s an expression of love, not an implied threat. A hellfire-and-brimstone type saying “God loves you,” on the other hand, always struck me as a prelude to getting condemned: “God loves you so much He’s gonna smite your ass if you don’t shape up and start worshipping.” The first, Nicole’s God, doesn’t need me to believe to love me, and really, what atheist could have a problem with that?

    No, it’s the second bit of that last sentence I struggle with: “…because you’re already doing good in this world.”


    Angry, ranting, foul-mouthed, lil ol’ me?

    Doing good?


    *looks at Smack-o-Matic 3000*

    Oh. Oh. Yeah. Wasn’t there some other guy somewhere who threw tantrums, wielded a verbal sword, and stirred the place up? Beat on the folks with power, reached out to the folks excluded from power, all that rot?

    That’s right.

    And no, I’m not saying just like Jesus, not even remotely close. I’m just saying: now I get it. You don’t have to be sacchrine sweet to do some good. No, in fact, there’s a long tradition of contentious, argumentative, loud-mouthed, fighting-mad, iconoclastic buggers who managed to do some good. And hey, even Jesus could get tetchy at times, and look what he did (ignoring what fuckwit followers came in and did later). I think that’s what she means. You don’t have to be endlessly nice to do good in this world. You just have to try to make things better, and if that means throwing a fit, then by all means, throw.

    All right. I can accept that.

    What all of the above comments illustrate, I hope, is a sense that there are plenty of us who can find common ground without stepping on each other’s toes. We do have a lot in common. We care deeply for each other. We can share good ideas without sharing beliefs. We don’t have to force the other person to think just like us in order to love and respect them. In the end, no matter what your belief or lack thereof, it really is about love.

    Exactly so.

    I See Your Gauntlet and Raise You an Attack Woozle

    John Pieret has found a self-righteous fuckhead of a Christian pastor who’s stupid enough to challenge atheists:

    Paul Dean, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greer, South Carolina, has an article at Crosswalk that throws down a gauntlet:

    One of the basic dynamics that attends any worldview that
    is contrary to the Christian worldview is a lack of philosophical justification for it. This dynamic holds true even in the realm of simply knowing something to be true. In other words, the unbeliever has no basis for knowing anything.

    I’m too busy right now to give this man the sound thrashing he deserves. I invite you all to have your way with him: Christians, atheists and agnostics alike. I’m just going to give him a few quick swats with the trusty Smack-o-Matic before letting you take over, if you like.

    And I’m making a special request. I need a champion. I need a warrior who’s already proven himself in battle to take up this challenge.

    I hereby call upon my Attack Woozle.

    Take him down, my love. I’ll put up your response as a post of its own.

    I’ll do another post with quotes and links for any of you who decide to take Pastor Dean to the woodshed either in comments or in your own territory.

    Right. Let me begin:

    One of the basic dynamics that attends any worldview that is contrary to the Christian worldview is a lack of philosophical justification for it.

    What Pastor Dickhead – excuse me, Dean – has just done here is sweep aside every other faith and philosophical system, some far more advanced than his self-righteous brand of Christianity. I’m sure the Buddhists, Confucians, Taoists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus – oh, fuck it, everybody - would be very interested to know that they lack a philosophical justification of their worldview.

    If that’s how you’re going to start the game, you’ve already lost.

    In other words, the unbeliever has no basis for knowing anything.

    Descartes already kicked your ass on that one. Cogito ergo sum, fuckhead. Not that I like Descartes, but you wouldn’t be able to comprehend the Zen Buddhist answer, so Descartes it is. Or any grad student in a lab. Next.

    He does not have the ability to search every square inch of the cosmos to determine whether or not there is a God.

    And you do? You’ve done it? No? Then shut the fuck up before you really embarrass yourself. When you’re trying to prove your philosophy is superior, “God told me so” is not a good answer. Next.

    Of course, Christians have a basis or a philosophical justification for their assertion that there is a God. On our worldview, we know there is a God because He has revealed Himself to us. We are not bound to the limits of empiricism/observation. We know that some knowledge is revealed.

    Yes, some knowledge is revealed. You’ve just revealed to me that you can’t philosophize your way out of a brown paper bag. You’re just spouting dogma. Next.

    Oh, we’re on to the “atheists can’t answer questions” section of our program. What fun! Let’s play:

    [W]hy do you believe spanking is wrong?

    Because scientific studies have discovered links between spanking and psychological problems in children. What’s your justification? The Bible? Brilliant! Let’s consult it:

    Proverbs 13:24(KJV): “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

    Heh heh heh whoops. Boy, is your face red. Let’s just move on, then, shall we?

    Why do you believe embryonic stem-cell research is a good thing?

    Because it could lead to a lot of cures for a lot of horrific diseases and defects, and those little frozen embryos end up in the trash anyway. Is it more ethical to throw them out or use them to help human beings live better, healthier lives?

    Why do you say there is no absolute truth?

    I don’t. In fact, the absolute truth is, you and idiots like you annoy the bugfuck out of me.

    Why do you think pre-marital sex is okay in certain circumstances?

    What do you mean by “certain circumstances”? And why do I need a philosophical system to justify sex without marriage? Just because you have unhealthy hang-ups about sex doesn’t mean I have to.

    Why do you believe in evolution?

    I don’t believe in it. I accept it based on the overwhelming evidence. Not that you’re capable of understanding the distinction.

    How do you know the sun will come up in the morning?

    I don’t, but the probability’s pretty good, so it’s so close to knowing as makes no difference.

    Without a biblical worldview, one cannot know for certain the sun will come up in the morning. On an evolutionary worldview, it may not.

    I think I begin to see your problem, Pastor. You’ve got this pathological need for certainty, whereas the non-believer (and the more relaxed believer) is just fine with uncertainty.

    Let me just quote Sisters of Mercy, here, can’t resist: “And all I know for sure / all I know for real / is knowing doesn’t mean so much.” I like knowing things. I like certainty (well, some kinds: if anybody knows for certain that I’m going to get hit by a bus tomorrow morning, I’d appreciate not knowing so I can enjoy the rest of my night, thanks ever so much). But I’m not obsessed with absolutes, certainties and knowing absolutely everything. Which is probably why atheism, Zen Buddhism and I get along just fine, and Christianity grates worse than a file on sensitive teeth.

    Given time, I could come up with snarky responses to the rest of your bullshit, Pastor Dean, but I have research to do, a book to write, and a blog to maintain. I bid you good day, sir.

    Woozle. You’re up.

    How To Convert Dana Hunter

    After the diatribe below, we can all stand some laughs.

    So here it is. Driving home tonight, I got to thinking: what would it really take to convince me, on a personal level, that God exists? Aside from God descending from Heaven, subjecting Himself to a battery of scientific tests that prove His divinity, and then going around smacking fundies upside the head and saying, “UR DOIN IT WRONG,” then bringing about world peace and harmony after apologizing for letting the lunatics take over the asylum, amazing what people get up to when you sneak out just for a few millennia to play golf the next universe over, terribly sorry, won’t happen again.

    That would work. So might this:

    1. God knocks on the door. Not a Jehovah’s Witness, not a Mormon, God Himself. Or Herself. Or Itself. Or selves. Or whatever.

    2. God has Christian Bale standing there with him/her/it/self or selves.

    3. God makes introductions.

    4. Christian Bale, after reading this blog and my website, has fallen head-over-heels, but since I blog under a pseudonym and he was too chickenshit to just email, hasn’t been able to track me down to say so in person.

    5. God decided to take matters in hand/s and play matchmaker.

    6. God then vanishes, leaving us to our own devices.

    7. But the beautiful moment doesn’t last, because there’s another knock at the door.

    8. It’s a publisher, coming to personally beg me to finish my magnum opus, here’s a million dollar advance, and just look at this marketing package we’ve whipped up.

    9. The publisher passes Neil Gaiman on his way down the stairs.

    10. Neil has come to invite me to speak with him on writing matters at some prestigious convention.

    11. And has already written a blurb for my book.

    12. Because God gave him an advance copy.

    13. Of a book that hasn’t been written yet.

    14. Which has also been read and praised by all of my other favorite authors.

    15. Who couldn’t show up personally because they’re too busy reading my second, as-yet-unwritten book, and can’t put it down.

    16. Neil then says, And would you and Christian Bale like to have dinner with all of us next week?

    17. Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers will be providing the music.

    18. Roger secretly worships you, although you understand, he does love his wife.

    That, my darlings, is roughly the sequence of utterly impossible events it would take in order for me to, fully, truly and without a single doubt, believe in God.

    Christians who wish to convert me: get praying.