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Apr 15 2014

Please Help Ed Brayton Fight a Lawsuit

It looks like Ed Brayton, of the Dispatches from the Culture Wars blog and co-founder of the Freethought Blogs network (and all-around great guy), is going to be sued by a white supremacist who doesn’t like it that Ed’s called him a white supremacist. Please help with his defense fund if you can. Even small amounts help — with these fundraisers, they really do add up. Thanks.

Apr 14 2014

“Doubt is Part of Faith” — No, It’s Not

“A sincere faith is often full of legitimate doubts.”

So said someone on my Facebook page the other day. I’ve heard this idea many times before, and you probably have too. If you Google the phrase “doubt is part of faith” you get 15,400 results — 93,600,000 if you don’t use the quotation marks. William Lane Craig has written that “You should expect that by growing into a mature faith, even though you are a Christian, doubt will come into play at some point.” Rabbi Mark Greenspan, in a piece titled “No Faith Without Doubt,” has written, “We sometimes forget that doubt is as much a part of religion as faith. In fact the two are brothers.” Lesley Hazleton, author of a biography of Mohammed, has said that “doubt is essential to faith” and has argued for “a new appreciation of doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith.” Etc., etc., etc.

And you know what?

It’s crap.

It’s not “doubt” if you already know what answer you’re going to get. It’s not “doubt” if you’re unwilling to come to any conclusion other than the one you started with. You are not “doubting” your faith if you’re looking for ways to hang onto it despite your questions and concerns — rather than sincerely questioning whether your faith has any basis in reality.

“Doubt” means uncertainty about the answer. If you’re loading your mental dice to come up with the same answer you started with, that’s not doubt.

I am quite sure that many believers have dark nights of the soul (or the soul-less, since I don’t think souls exist). I am quite sure that many believers have bad, bad feelings about their religions. And they should. But I really wish they wouldn’t call this “doubt.” It’s a misuse of the word: watered-down at best, total self-deluded bullshit at worst.

Doubt is important. Being willing to doubt our settled opinions is how we open our minds and move forward with our ideas. This religious pseudo-doubt defangs the entire idea, and sullies its good name.

Apr 14 2014

“Some of the most potent testimony:” Hector Avalos’s Blurb for “Coming Out Atheist”

Coming Out Atheist cover 150“Greta Christina knows that the philosophy of atheism is incomplete without practical and sensible advice about how to live in a world full of believers. Her fascinating life experience and astute observations of atheists, in or out of the closet, offers readers some of the most potent testimony for why coming out as an atheist will make a godless life better.”
-Hector Avalos, professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, author of The End of Biblical Studies and Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship

Another nice blurb for Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. Thanks, Hector!

The book is being published on April 16, in all formats — print, ebook, and audiobook. Here’s ordering information for all three formats. Enjoy!

Apr 13 2014

“A must read for every new atheist”: David Fitzgerald’s Blurb for “Coming Out Atheist”

Coming Out Atheist cover 150“Make the world a better place. Start living your life. Greta Christina shows you why and how (and how not) to escape the atheist closet. A must read for every new atheist and anyone who is considering becoming one.”
-David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All and The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion Book One: The Mormons

Another nice blurb for Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. Thanks, David!

The book is being published on April 16, in all formats — print, ebook, and audiobook. Here’s ordering information for all three formats. Enjoy!

Apr 12 2014

“A guide for atheists and allies alike”: Lyz Liddell’s Blurb for “Coming Out Atheist”

Coming Out Atheist cover 150“Coming out is one of the most important decisions a person can make. Greta walks readers through that decision in a straightforward step by step process: if, when, how, to whom, and — perhaps most importantly — why. A guide for atheists and allies alike.”
-Lyz Liddell, Director of Campus Organizing, Secular Student Alliance

Another nice blurb for Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. Thanks, Lyz!

The book is being published on April 16, in all formats — print, ebook, and audiobook. Here’s ordering information for all three formats. Enjoy!

Apr 11 2014

So Why Did You Ask? Some Thoughts on Religion and Willful Ignorance

hands over earsWhy do religious believers ask questions, when they’re not interested in the answers?

A funny thing happened at my talk last Wednesday at Iowa State University. During the Q&A after the talk, an ardent religious believer asked me (paraphrasing here), “Why do you care so much about religion? If you’re an atheist, why do you spend so much of your life talking about something you don’t believe in? In fact, why do you do anything at all, ever, since you think that when you die you’ll just be nothing?” (There was more, but I didn’t hear all of it: he was rambling and repeating himself and getting ranty, and I soon shifted my focus from what he was asking to how I was going to get him to stop talking and let me answer the question. I finally just interrupted and said, “I’ll answer your question if you put the microphone down.”)

His question was a little off-topic, since that particular talk wasn’t a rant against religion. It was my talk on what the atheist movement can learn from the LGBT movement, and it was a whole lot of insider baseball: activism history, movement strategy, that sort of thing. (I’m actually surprised that this guy stayed for the entire talk: I think it’s a good talk, in fact it’s one of my favorites, but if you’re not involved in the atheist movement, I’d think it might be kind of boring.)

Anyway. I answered this guy’s question as best I could: explaining that I care about religion because I think it’s not only a mistaken idea, but one that does significantly more harm than good. I also mentioned that I had a book, Why Are You Atheists So Angry?, for sale at this very event, which explained in more detail why many atheists care about religion and work to oppose it. I then moved on to take a question from someone else — who stood up, spoke to my antagonist, and said, “I will buy you a copy of her book, if you agree to read it.”

And my antagonist said No. Even if given a free copy of my book, he would not read it.

And I said, “If you’re not interested in the answer to your question — why did you ask? Please don’t ask questions if you’re not willing to listen to the answers.”

Now, I’ll clarify here. I don’t think that every religious believer has an obligation to read my books about atheism. I don’t think they have an obligation to read any books about atheism. I hate it when believers insist that I have to read such-and-such religious text, or such-and-such book of sophisticated theology, before I can reject religion. As I’ve written before: At what point am I allowed to stop? I have read a considerable amount of religious theology and texts and arguments for religion, and it’s been a very, very, VERY long time since I’ve read an argument that I hadn’t heard before. At what point am I allowed to say that the likelihood of seeing a new argument is so vanishingly small that I can reasonably dismiss it? When do the goalposts stop moving? And besides, if the 356,287th argument for the existence of God is the real kicker, the one that will really convince me — then why didn’t believers make it their first one? (Thanks to arensb for that one.)

But this principle applies to believers, too. If they’ve already talked with some atheists, and read some writing about atheism, then I don’t think they’re obligated to read my books, or any other particular book, before they decide that they still believe. I think they have some other intellectual obligations — such as the obligation to state how their belief is falsifiable and what kind of evidence would convince them that they were mistaken. But given how annoyed I get when believers say, “Okay, you’ve read Aquinas… but have you read C.S. Lewis, or Alvin Plantinga, or Teilhard de Chardin?”, I’m not going to turn around and say, “Okay, you’ve read Dawkins… but have you read Hector Avalos, or Susan Jacoby, or me?”

However.

If I were asking a specific question about religious belief, and someone told me, “That question is answered in such-and-such a book (or article, or blog post, or YouTube video, or juggling act), it explains it really well”? Then yes, I would bloody well read it. I certainly wouldn’t reject the very idea of reading it out hand. And I most certainly wouldn’t openly state, in a roomful of people, that I was not willing to read a book that answered the question I just asked.

I don’t feel an obligation to read every piece of sophisticated theology in the library before I reject religion. The question of “Are there any gods” has been answered to my satisfaction, and unless a seriously new argument or piece of evidence comes my way, I’m not feeling a compelling need to keep asking it. (And to answer the question of how I would know about a seriously new argument or piece of evidence for the supernatural if I’ve given up on reading them: I think that if a truly compelling argument or piece of evidence for God’s existence showed up, it would spread like wildfire. It would be impossible to ignore.) But if I had a specific question — like “How do Christians reconcile themselves to the Biblical acceptance of slavery?” or “What is the origin of the idea of karma?” — and someone said, “Here’s a place where you can find a good answer to that question,” I would bloody well not stick my fingers in my ears and run away screaming, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!”

What’s that about?

Apr 11 2014

“Thoughtful and entertaining”: David Niose’s Blurb for “Coming Out Atheist”

Coming Out Atheist cover 150“Millions of Americans are discovering that life without religion and superstition can be rewarding, fulfilling, and joyful. Greta Christina has done that growing demographic a great service, with this thoughtful and entertaining book that will inform and inspire those who embrace personal secularity.”
-David Niose, author of Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans

Another nice blurb for Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. Thanks, David!

The book is being published on April 16, in all formats — print, ebook, and audiobook. Here’s ordering information for all three formats. Enjoy!

Apr 10 2014

“The ultimate handbook for coming out”: Darrel Ray’s Blurb for “Coming Out Atheist”

Coming Out Atheist cover 150“Greta Christina has written the ultimate handbook for coming out. I read this book with an eye for detail, since there are so many nuances in the process of coming out. Greta addresses each one of them with thoughtfulness and compassion. I actually think this book has something for every atheist, not just those coming out. Her insight, understanding, and knowledge mark a new path I have not seen in this kind of book before. As the Chairman of the Board of Recovering from Religion, this book is now on our list of ‘highly recommended’ for all our members and facilitators.”
-Darrel Ray, author of The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture and Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality

Another nice blurb for Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. Thanks, Darrel!

The book is being published on April 16, in all formats — print, ebook, and audiobook. Here’s ordering information for all three formats. Enjoy!

Apr 09 2014

“Unmatched in passion and clarity of thought”: Gem Newman’s Blurb for “Coming Out Atheist”

Coming Out Atheist cover 150“Greta Christina is unmatched in passion and clarity of thought. Her writing manages to be both friendly and confrontational. Why Are You Atheists So Angry? quickly became the #1 book that I recommend to atheists and curious believers alike, and I can’t imagine a better or more complete guide to telling someone that you don’t believe than Coming Out Atheist.”
-Gem Newman, Life, the Universe & Everything Else Podcast

Another nice blurb for Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. Thanks, Gem!

The book is being published on April 16, in all formats — print, ebook, and audiobook. Here’s ordering information for all three formats. Enjoy!

Apr 08 2014

Psychics and Mediums: Where’s the Harm? Guest Post by Rebecca Hensler

This is a guest post by Rebecca Hensler, founder and co-moderator of Grief Beyond Belief, the online grief support group for atheists and other non-believers.

A lot of people think professional “psychics” are harmless. (Please henceforth assume that any time I use the word “psychic” it is in quotes.) Especially if you are sophisticated enough to understand the learnable skill of cold reading, you may simply chuckle at the gullibility of an audience gasping in awe as a celebrity psychic seems to “know things she couldn’t possibly know” about some stranger’s dead mother or grandfather or dog. Most of us even know otherwise intelligent people who believe that they or others have supernatural powers beyond their human powers of observation, insight into human nature, and a knack for the educated guess.

It wasn’t until I began grieving myself that I started seeing how psychics and mediums manipulate and profit from the bereaved. They can be particularly dangerous to — and particularly exploitive of — those experiencing the more complex, more painful and often longer-lasting grief that results from a traumatic death, a suicide, or the death of someone with whom the bereaved had a conflicted relationship. And boy, can they milk the heck out of the grief of parents! A friend for whom I care deeply has spent literally thousands of dollars on psychics since the drowning death of her toddler.

Some might still wonder, “If it makes her feel better, where’s the harm? It isn’t hurting anyone else.” I thought that too, until she began encouraging another grieving mother — a vulnerable younger woman — to seek help from the same high-priced psychic to contact her own baby who had died just days after birth.

Others might point out that not all self-declared psychics are out to make money. Some honestly believe that they can communicate with the dead, and are just trying to help people feel better, as we do at Grief Beyond Belief.

Just a week after my son died, my coworker tried to offer me that kind of “help.” She told me she had been in touch with my son, could “see” him. She told me he had told her why he had died. She told me that he hadn’t wanted me to suffer the pain of taking care of such a sick child.

As if there was anything I would not have been willing to suffer to keep him alive.

I left the room before I could start screaming at her. She thought she was being kind and supportive, so much so that she told me the same thing again a few weeks later. Her belief in her own psychic powers gave her permission to say something that as a friend and a counselor she would never have said otherwise.

Celebrity “psychics” such as Theresa Caputo, aka The Long Island Medium, present their own dangers. They do make money from private and group readings — a 30-minute session with Caputo is reported to cost around $400 to $500 — but most of their work is as performers, doing live shows, TV talk shows and their own “reality” programming. People who watch purely for entertainment or to admire the trick, as one would watch a magician or a hypnotist, are unharmed. But for those who are themselves grieving, the credulous crowds and fawning talk show hosts give undeserved weight to the promises that our loved ones still exist, still love us, and can be sought and found. Psychics — like preachers — tell believers that that death is not final, and that grief can be addressed through faith in a continuing connection with the immortal soul or spirit of the deceased. In other words, psychics, celebrity and otherwise, tell us that facing the reality of death — the first of psychologist J. William Worden’s “Tasks of Mourning” (Worden, 2009) — is unnecessary.

It’s a load of crap and a harmful one. The psychic — also like the preacher — profits, while the bereaved pay to delay exactly what is necessary for their healing. Psychics dine off the pain of the grieving, and celebrity psychics dine very well.

This is why I am joining Skepchick blogger Rebecca Watson in beseeching Ellen Degeneres to end her willing participation in Theresa Caputo’s exploitation of the grieving members of both her live and television audiences. Ellen is an intelligent woman, and should know better than to support this type of manipulative, deceitful bullshit. Perhaps she thinks she needs to sink to this level to compete with her fellow talk show hosts, but she is mistaken. Truly great hosts have always displayed respect for the minds of their fans, not just played to their emotions. They have challenged their guests, not just enabled them. Great hosts offer their audiences wisdom and compassion, not false empathy and false hope.

Charlatans of Caputo’s ilk have existed for millennia, around the world. For one talk show host to deny one such charlatan one audience does not solve the problem of this particular brand of grief exploitation. But, as the song goes, “it’s a damn good place to start.

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