Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor

New_life_churchI am getting so sick of this, I could spit.

Commenting on the recent shootings at the New Life Church — and on the bravery of one person who helped stop the shooter before he could do more damage — the Atheism Sucks blog comments thusly:

What would the atheist do in this situation but run away and scream, “Hey, survival of the fittest! See ya later suckers!”

And when confronted with atheists in the comments, pointing out that this is not even remotely how atheists think, feel, believe or act, the blogger, Frank Walton, still insists that his opinion of atheists and atheism is correct. To quote again:

The atheist can save a life if they want, but according to the atheist worldview man is nothing more than matter and motion – saving a human life is no more better than saving protoplasm.

Okay.

Deep breath.

Atheist_cartoonI can understand this attitude from a theist who hasn’t spent any time talking with atheists. I can understand it from the theists who come into the atheist blogosphere without any previous knowledge or experience of actual atheists, who only know about atheists and atheism from the monstrous, pathetic picture their pastors or other religious leaders have painted for them.

But once you’ve actually spoken with a few atheists — once you’ve had, say, half a dozen atheists tell you, “Of course I treasure human life; of course I believe in ethics and altruism; of course I’m not nihilistic or amoral or hopeless or joyless” — then you don’t have any excuse.

Atheists_in_foxholesYou know that it’s not true. You have the evidence of thousands of people telling you, and showing you with the reality of their lives, that it’s not true. You have, just for example, atheist soldiers, atheist cops, atheist firefighters… all willing to risk their lives for their fellow humans on a daily basis.

And yet you still insist on saying that atheists don’t value human life; that atheists selfishly look after themselves at the expense of helping others.

So what I want to know is this:

Ten_commandments_monumentWhatever happened to “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”?

Every now and then, I do an ego-Google search on my name. (No, this isn’t a tangent; stay with me.) And experience has taught me to search on my name plus the words “Comforting Thoughts.” Because a number of Christian ministers have been using my essay, Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God, in their sermons — as an example of why atheism is a depressing, joyless, terrifying, nihilistic worldview.

How do they manage this, you may ask?

GravestoneWell, they take the first part of the essay — the part where I try to be honest about the very real problem of permanent death and how frightening and paralyzing it can be — and they quote it out of context. They make it seem as if that’s the entire thrust of my piece. They conveniently neglect to mention the entire damn point of the essay… which is that, while the permanence of death may seem to be an impossibly horrible buzzkill for atheists, in fact it is not.

It is difficult to see this behavior as anything other than a flat-out lie. It is a deliberate misrepresentation of others, for the sole purpose of supporting your own world view.

And again I ask:

Whatever happened to “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”?

Lies_lying_liarsEven I know that you shouldn’t bear false witness against your neighbor. Even I know that you shouldn’t intentionally tell lies about people; that you shouldn’t deliberately misrepresent other people’s actions and beliefs and opinions. And I’m an atheist. I don’t think it’s wrong because God told it to Abraham. I think it’s wrong because it hurts people needlessly.

How difficult is that?

TheatheisteIs your belief that atheism is a joyless, heartless worldview so important to your faith that you have to deny the largely positive reality of atheist lives? Is your belief so important that you not only deny that reality in your own heart and mind, but feel compelled to convince others of it? Is your belief so important that you have to lie about that reality, not just to yourself, but to the rest of the world?

And is your faith so weak that it can’t accept the existence of people who don’t share it and yet have good, happy lives, full of meaning and connection and concern for others?

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

It’s not rocket science.

(P.S. Thanks to Susie Bright for the tip.)

Atheism in Pop Culture Part 7: The Motherlode

TedwilliamsTed Williams and Nina Hartley. David Cronenberg and Dave Barry. Brian Eno and Barry Manilow. Joss Whedon and Andy Rooney. Sarah Vowell and Ted Turner.

All atheists.

I’ve found the “atheism in pop culture” motherlode, people. It’s the Celebrity Atheist List, “an offbeat collection of notable individuals who have been public about their lack of belief in deities.”

And it’s hilarious.

It’s just such a fascinating mish-mosh. I’d be hard pressed to find any other characteristic that all these people have in common, apart from being carbon-based humanoid life forms.

ManilowI mean — Barry Manilow?

Really?

And that’s what I like about it. It’s such a rich vein of counter-examples to the stereotype of atheists as sad, hopeless, amoral, unpatriotic, self-centered nihilists who only live for ourselves and only live for the moment.

Dave_barryAfter all, are you really going to call Dave Barry sad and hopeless? Andy Rooney unpatriotic? Studs Terkel nihilistic? Salman Rushdie self-centered and amoral? Did Pat Tillman live only for himself? Does Barbara Ehrenreich live only for the moment?

Plus it’s just hilarious. I mean — Mickey Dolenz and Ingmar Bergman! Jean-Luc Godard and Ani DiFranco! Ray Romano and Marie Curie! Noam Chomsky and Bjork!

Hours of time-wasting fun. Check it out. And tell me who your favorites are!

Carnival of the Godless #80

CarnivalCarnival of the Godless #80 is up at The Jesus Myth.

My pieces in this Carnival: True or False? Helpful or Harmful? The Two Different Arguments About Religion, and If You Weren’t An Atheist, What Would You Be?.

My favorite other pieces in this Carnival:

More Perspective on the Pledge from Atheist Ethicist — an absolutely brilliant “parallel universe” piece, reminiscent of Douglas Hofstadter, that makes vividly clear what, exactly, is wrong with the “under God” part of the Pledge of Allegiance. Pull quote: “Then, 50 years ago, Congress added the word white to the Pledge of Allegiance. We are supposed to be one white nation, indivisible.”

And The Grinch and the True Meaning of Christmas (plus the piece on Christmas traditions that it links to) from Letters from a Broad. She says a lot of how I feel about Christmas — both the fucked-up parts and the neat parts.

The next Carnival of the Godless will be on December 23. If you’re a godless blogger and want a piece of the carnival action, here’s the submission form. Happy reading, and happy blogging!

How Sweet the Sound: Atheism and Religious Music

PesuasionsThis weird thing has been happening since I started with the atheist blogging. I’m not happy about it, and I’m wondering if other godless people have experienced it — and if so, how you’ve dealt with it.

What’s happening is that I don’t want to listen to religious music anymore.

When a song about Jesus or God comes up on my shuffle, I feel this cringing, this little internal flinch. And I almost always skip past it.

Love_god_murderIt didn’t used to be that way. I was always able to just listen to the music, and either ignore the words or appreciate them as expressing a common human sentiment I didn’t happen to share. Like sad tortured love songs, or murder ballads. Unless the religious content was unusually heavy or actually offensive, I never even thought about it that much.

But since I’ve been spending so much time writing — and thinking — about atheism and religion, my feelings about religious music have become completely different. Not my thoughts, you understand, or my opinions. My thoughts and opinions about religious music are very much what they ever were. It’s a purely emotional response. The response is, “This is fucked-up. I don’t want to listen to this.”

And I don’t like it.

Anonymous_4Some of my favorite music has religious content. I don’t want to not like it. I don’t want to flinch when I hear it. Some of the best music ever written is religious music. And there’s lots of it. I don’t want to be cut off from it all.

It’s especially a problem now because it’s Christmastime. And while I realize this makes me a total freak, I actually like Christmas carols. A lot of them, anyway. I don’t like the sappy Musak versions, or the drippy modern ones like (shudder) “The Little Drummer Boy.” But “Joy to the World”? “Angels We Have Heard On High”? “The Angel Gabriel”? That shit rocks!

I don’t want to not like Christmas music. I like liking Christmas music. I want to be able to hear it, and sing it, and be happy about it. And as much as I like the secular songs and the parodies, I don’t want to be limited to them.

Mozart_requiemIt’s not usually a problem if the music is in Latin or something; I can listen to Mozart’s “Requiem” happily and joyfully. It’s definitely the words that create the problem.

Which clues me in to why I think this is happening. Since I started atheist blogging, I read religious writing all the time. I read more religious writing than I have at any time in my life since I was a religion major in college. Way, way more. I read it, I think about it, I engage with it, I debate it — on an almost daily basis.

Sacred_harpSo now, when I hear, “Help me, Jesus, my soul’s in your hands,” or, “And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on,” or, for fuck’s sake, “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel/And ransom captive Israel” (my candidate for the most anti-Semitic Christmas carol ever)… it doesn’t make me think of country roads or street-corner choirs or snowy evenings by the tree with my family listening to the Time/Life Christmas record. It makes me think of Michael Behe, and Dinesh D’Souza, and whatever other lackwit is getting up my nose that week. I don’t want to sing along. I want to argue.

Nick_caveBut I’m really not thrilled about this. I’m very much hoping it’s a phase. Again, there’s a vast and wonderful world of religious music out there, and I don’t want to get annoyed every time I hear it. If I can happily listen to Smokey Robinson sing about loving a girl he doesn’t like very much, or Nick Cave sing about committing mass murder, I should bloody well be able to listen Johnny Cash or the Anonymous 4 sing about Jesus.

So I’m wondering: Have any of the godless people reading this blog ever had this happen? Did you get over it, or is it still a problem? How did you deal with it? This is bugging me, and any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Hopelessness, Stalinism, Yawn: Pope Ratzi’s Encyclical Against Atheism

RatziIt’s not like I expected the Pope to be gung-ho about atheism.

It’s not like I expected him to be all ecumenical and Unitarian about it. It’s not like I expected him to say, “We love our atheist brothers and sisters, and we think they make some good points, and everyone finds God in their own way, and as long as they live ethical lives they’re okay with us.” I’m not completely stupid.

StalincultBut really. Is this the best he could come up with? This tired old crap? “Atheism is hopeless,” and “Atheism caused Stalinism”?

Here in the atheist blogosphere, we eat arguments like that for breakfast. (We’ll start the bidding at, “No, it’s not,” and, “No, it didn’t.”) Does he really think that’s original? Or, indeed, interesting?

So here’s what I actually did find interesting about the Pope’s recent encyclical about atheism:

True_or_falseIt’s such a perfect example of the True or False? Helpful or Harmful? point I’ve been making — about how far too many religious debaters mix up the arguments about whether religion is true with the arguments about whether it’s beneficial.

I mean, look at it. In this encyclical, Pope Ratzi addresses one of the central atheist arguments for Why God Doesn’t Exist: the problem of suffering. He spells it out very eloquently, in fact.

The atheism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is — in its origins and aims — a type of moralism: a protest against the injustices of the world and of world history. A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering, and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God. It is for the sake of morality that this God has to be contested.

Yup.

I rarely say this, but the Pope sure got that right.

But his response? His response to this centuries-old argument against the existence of God?

Touch_of_evilAtheism is bad.

Atheism is harmful.

Atheism is a philosophy that is devoid of hope; and atheism “has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice.”

HopeI’m not even going to get into why atheism isn’t, in fact, a hopeless philosophy. I’m not even going to get into why atheism wasn’t responsible for Stalinism. Plenty of atheist writers, including myself, have addressed either or both of these questions in lavish detail. (For a couple of examples, here’s Ebon Muse on the hopelessness question and the Stalinism question.)

What I want to point out instead is that “Atheism is bad” is a lousy response to an argument for why God doesn’t exist.

SantaIn fact, it’s not even a lousy response. It’s not actually a response at all. It’s changing the subject because you don’t like where the argument is heading. It’s a classic example of an ad hominem argument, and a schoolyard one at that. “Dickie says Santa Claus isn’t real, and it’s just our moms and dads sneaking stuff under the tree.” “Yeah, well, Dickie is a nerd, and he made my sister cry.” Even if Dickie were a nerd, and even if he had made your sister cry, that’s hardly an argument for the existence of Santa.

FoucaultIt was actually sort of disappointing. I mean, the guy is the head of one of the largest and most powerful religions in the world. He must have spent years — decades — studying theology and apologetics. And this is what he comes up with against atheism? Hopelessness, and Stalinism? Couldn’t he at least have come up with something original? Atheism will make you impotent? Atheism makes people root for the Los Angeles Dodgers? Atheism has led to deconstructionism, which is boring and impenetrable? Atheism is the reason the Earth will be burned up in five billion years?

I guess not.

Hopelessness, and Stalinism.

Pathetic.

“The Lord is spanking us”: An Update

Update:

A question had been raised as to whether the “Jesus spanking” cartoon in my “The Lord is spanking us” post was genuine or a satire. I did a little digging, and with the help of Google and Adele Haze (where I first found the cartoon) I discovered this:

No, the comic isn’t a satire. It was produced by The Family, a.k.a. Children of God, an abusive evangelical Endtime religious movement/ cult/ missionary organization. The cult was not only medically irresponsible; it was physically and sexually abusive as well, towards both adults and children. There’s a citation of this comic in this legal document; it’s 295 pages long, but it’s indexed, and you can find a reference to it at the top of the “Medical Neglect” section.

This is officially no longer funny. I feel bad now for thinking that it was.

“The Lord is spanking us”

Please note: This post includes passing references to my tastes in Internet porn. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t.

This would be hilarious if it weren’t so fucked-up.

Okay, it’s still hilarious. But it’s also fucked up.

Jesusspanking

I mean, what kind of heartless bastard teaches children that they get sick because they’ve been bad? What kind of heartless bastard teaches children to feel guilty when they get sick?

I’ll tell you what kind. The kind that pictures Jesus in a Bee Gees haircut, that’s what kind.

And don’t tell me that this isn’t the true faith. I am so sick of that “true faith” stuff I could yak. Millions of people believe this sort of thing — what makes it not true belief?

Via Adele Haze’s “Spanking Model Speaks”. Greta Christina’s blog: Your one-stop connection between the atheosphere and the spankosphere.

_______

Update: This is officially no longer hilarious. No, the comic isn’t a satire. It turns out to have been produced by The Family, a.k.a. Children of God, an abusive evangelical Endtime religious movement/ cult/ missionary organization. There’s a citation of it in this legal document; it’s 295 pages long, but it’s indexed, and you can find a reference to it at the top of the “Medical Neglect” section.

I need to take a bath now. This is repulsive.

Atheist Funerals

Over at Friendly Atheist, there’s a discussion going on about atheist funerals. It got me to thinking (and to posting a much longer comment than is usually considered necessary), and I wanted to talk about it here.

GravestoneIt’s funny. Back in my woo days, I used to say that I didn’t care what happened at my funeral, since I wouldn’t be sticking around to see what it was like and hear what was being said about me. Then it occurred to me: Bullshit. I am exactly the kind of person who would stick around to see what her funeral was like and to hear what was being said about her. I’m nosy; I’m gossipy; I’m a glutton for praise. If there were a life after death, that is totally what I would do.

The_endBut now I’m an atheist; and not just an atheist, but a naturalist, someone who believes that the natural, physical world is all there is, and that there’s no life after death except for our memories and ideas and genes being passed on. (And I’m definitely falling down in the “genes” department. My genes can go suck an egg.)

SixfeetunderSo here’s the paradox: Now that I’m an atheist, I actually do care about my funeral. More than I did when I believed in some sort of afterlife. Maybe it’s just that I’m older now, and the whole issue is more in my face at age 46 than it was at age 27. But my funeral and my burial are the last things I’ll do on this earth, and I want them to express who I am.

One of the questions being raised at Friendly Atheist is, “What if you’re an atheist but you’re family isn’t? Since atheists think funerals are for the living, and the dead won’t be there to care, should we insist on atheist/ secular funerals? If a religious funeral would give comfort to our families, why should we care?”

Two_crossesFortunately, my family are all godless heathens, too. (A fact for which I am more grateful every day.) So I don’t have to worry about their religious sensibilities being offended by my atheist funeral. But even if that weren’t true, I think it’d still be worth holding out for an atheist/ secular funeral. After all, one of the biggest charges leveled against the godless is that we don’t have any comfort to offer in the face of death. I think it’s important to show the world, and one another, that that’s not true. Again, my funeral will be the last thing I do, and I’d love to have the last thing I do be to say to the world, “Life and death without God or the afterlife are still rich and meaningful.”

Jewish_graveAnd after all, if someone from a religious family left that religion to convert to another, it’d be generally expected that their funeral would be in the religion they’d chosen, not the one they were brought up with. If a Christian converted to Judaism, for instance, nobody would be surprised that they wanted, and got, a Jewish funeral. (Except maybe the person’s Christian family, if they were super-hardcore.) Why shouldn’t that principle apply for atheists? No, atheism isn’t a religion — but why should that matter? Why shouldn’t the choices we made in our lives be honored and respected in our deaths?

But should we be planning our funerals at all? After all, if you don’t believe in life after death, doesn’t that mean that funerals are for the survivors? Shouldn’t they get to decide what kind of funeral to give you — what kind of funeral would help them the most?

PenI agree that a funeral is mostly for the survivors. It’s for the dead person only to the degree that planning it may give them some comfort while they’re still alive. But I don’t think that translates to, “I won’t be around to care, do whatever you want, this is for you not for me.” I think it makes sense to give at least some guidelines as to what kind of funeral, or lack thereof, you want. In my experience, having guidelines from the guest of honor helps the survivors. It gives them a place to start, instead of a blank page to be squabbling over. (Not that guidelines are a guarantee against squabbling…) And it gives them a feeling of honoring their loved one in death as well as in life.

So here are some ideas about what I want. (All subject to change, of course.)

FernwoodLately, I’m leaning strongly towards a green burial. There are now cemeteries that act like nature preserves, with your un-embalmed body acting as fertilizer… instead of the water-sucking, fertilizer-hungry, chemically-dependent, modified golf courses that serve as modern cemeteries. I like the idea of my body going to make plants grow; and I like even more the idea of it going to keep some land set aside for nature.

FellowshipbannergoldAs to the funeral/ memorial location, I think I’d like it in a public place that has some meaning for me. A bookstore. The Humanist Hall where the queer contra dance happens. The Center for Sex and Culture, maybe. Not a church. Not even a Unitarian one.

Plus, of course, I want somebody to read Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God.

PartyhatAnd I don’t think I go for the “celebrating a life, not mourning a death” vibe. Mourning is important. When the people in my life die, I don’t effing well want to celebrate. Yes, I want to hear about how their life touched the people around them and made the world a better place. But I also think a funeral should be one place where you’re allowed to be publicly sad, and to share your sadness with others. The idea that not even a funeral should be sad is so very American, in the worst way. This compulsion we have to avoid unpleasant emotions, even for a second… it’s like a disease. Letting yourself experience grief is how you get through it; pretending it’s not there is how it fucks you up for years. Believe me, I know.

Sad_faceOf course I want people to say nice things about me, to talk about my writing and my dancing and my sense of humor and whatever else about my life they thought was cool. But I hereby give people permission to cry at my damn funeral. Thank you.

So what about the rest of you? What do you want for your funeral? Do you even care? This nosy, gossipy atheist wants to know.

Carnivals and Circles: Liberals, Feminists, and Skeptics

CarnivalI missed putting these up when I was away on vacation. Sorry!

Carnival of The Liberals #52 at Yikes!

Carnival of Feminists #48 at Feminist Fire

Skeptic’s Circle #74 at Med Journal Watch

If you’re a liberal, feminist, or skeptical blogger, and want to submit a blog post to one of these carnivals/ circles, here are the submission forms for the Carnival of The Liberals, Carnival of Feminists, and Skeptic’s Circle. Happy reading, and happy blogging!