Why I am an atheist – Cathy Oliver

In July of 2003 I was pregnant with twins. I was happy, excited, and nervous, and looking back on it now I feel like I was in a state of pregnancy-related ignorant bliss. I was one of those people who happily use the phrases “I’m pregnant” and “I’m going to have a baby” interchangeably and I could foresee nothing but a happy ending to the story.

I was 18 weeks pregnant when my water broke. My husband rushed me to the hospital and the doctor told us we had less than a 5% chance of things working out well. Indeed, the next day an ultrasound showed that both babies had died, and the following day labour would be induced.

About an hour after I gave birth to my babies, a nurse came in to talk to us about ‘coping with our loss’. We were understandably upset and in a bit of shock, and I wasn’t really listening to everything she was saying, but I did hear her ask if she could call a priest, or some equivalent, for spiritual guidance. Being atheists we declined her offer, but she persisted and asked how we could possibly cope without religion in our lives. I politely assured her we would be fine, but she was not content to drop it. She sighed and told us that it would “be much harder to manage without God’s help” and she promised to pray for us.

I was already an atheist when I met this woman, but I didn’t really know why. I’d always known that nothing about religion made any sense. Surely, if God wanted us all to obey him, wouldn’t he make the rules clear to everybody? If God had given us our brains, didn’t he expect us to use them to question the world around us? Since the religious answers to those questions always seemed to be somewhat unsatisfactory, I didn’t believe in any of it, but this woman showed me why.

I’m really an atheist because religion is selling ignorant bliss – and I don’t want it. She wanted me to accept, on faith, that I needed God to make everything better. She wanted me to avoid grieving for my babies by believing that they were in heaven and that God had a plan. She wanted me to take the easy way out, so that I would feel better. As long as I ignored all the contradictions in the bible, the lack of evidence for any sort of higher being, and all the problems caused by religion meddling in this world, I could be happy all the time because eventually we’ll all be in heaven – problem solved.

If I have to trade a bit of happiness for the ability to think for myself – done. Yes, I was ignorantly blissful about pregnancy, and losing my babies took a lot of time and work to cope with. But I did it. I went through those feelings of sadness, anger and unfulfilled potential that make up grief and (eventually) I came out the other side stronger. That strength helped me to cope with the stillbirth of my daughter the next year, and then the births of my son and daughter who are now 6 and 3, and I wouldn’t change a minute of any of it.

There are a lot of terrible things in this world, and each of us has to go through some real crap, but I won’t trade any of it for instant happiness if the price is ignorance. I don’t mean to make light of anyone else’s suffering, and I don’t pretend for an instant that it’s an easy choice for everybody. I just know that it is possible to cope without believing in Santa, and it’s possible to cope without believing in God. To me, that makes religion not only implausible, but also unnecessary; atheism is the only thing that makes sense.

Cathy Oliver
Canada

Why I am an atheist – Jim Mader

During my weekly jaunt to the grocery store, I was standing outside looking at all the fresh produce. Veggies and fruits arranged in slanted baskets with brilliant colors of red apples, yellow grapefruits, green peppers, orange…..oranges. A sight for the eyes. It kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.

Picking through the star fruit and kiwi’s (I’m making fruit salsa today) I hear a voice from behind me. The words are slurred and full of saliva. “R’s” are pronounced “W”, and “S’s” are “Th’s”. It’s the voice of a mentally handicapped man. He’s every bit of forty years old. (my age) His left arm curled to his chest, hand clenched around what appears to be one of those Beenie Babies.

“Hello, a-aa-Apple Man.” He says to me while wiping his chin with the back of his hand. “You lookin’ for apples?”

“Yes, and some other fruit.” I responded. “What are you going to get.”

“I’m going to b-bb-buy a sucker. Cherry. They have the b-bb–best cherry suckers in the whoooole world!” the handicapped man-child says with excitement.

“They DO?” I say, “Well, I’ll have to buy one and try it.”

“Y-yy-you s-ss-should….they cost 205 dollars! Mom gives me the money.”

“Awesome!” I exclaim. “Where’s your mom now?”

“S-ss-she had a t-tt-tumor on her head and died.”
At this point, I realize that this man-child is a ward of the state. Too “young in the mind” to hold a job or live on his own without assistance. This simple minded man is alone. He is most definitely frustrated. And I feel like in a way, we are one. I think about this in a brief moment of silence. Man-child notices.
“W-ww-watcha thinking about, Apple Man?”

“I like you.” I tell him in an attempt to help him feel ‘normal’ (how many of us are actually ‘normal’?) what are you doing after you buy the sucker?”

“G-gg-gonna go walk to Scoreboards and water the flowers. They give me ONE DOLLAR for every pot!” Man-boy announces with the pride of someone with a high paying job.
“A dollar, huh? That’s good money if you ask me. Listen, I want you to help me pick out some fruit. Can you do that?’

“S-ss-sure, Apple Man. I can do that. But it’ll cost you a d-dd-dollar.”

This man-boy is fucking smarter than I thought. “I’ll tell you what. You pick me out a coupe of really red apples, one green one, and a pear and I’ll give you FIVE dollars.”

“FIVE DOLLARS?!?!? You must be a d-dd-doctor!”

His saying this as though I had some sort of high profile employment reminded me of my own children when they would look under the grass of their Easter baskets to find the money the bunny left them (An old tradition of ours) Back then a QUARTER was treasure. With a quarter, my children thought they could buy anything their grubby little hands could point at.

“No,” I say. “I’m a carpenter.”

“L-ll-like Jesus!” he observes.

(He doesn’t realize the irony in this assessment.) “Yeah, like Jesus.” I affirm.

I hand Man-Boy a couple of bags and tell him to make sure the red apples go into one bag and the green in another. He asks me what to do with the pear, and I tell him to get it last and that we didn’t need a bag. He hands me his Beenie Baby and walks over to the racks of fruit.

One by one, Man-Boy picks up an apple, carefully examines it, smells it. He turns it left. Right. Upside down. Man-Boy holds it up to me for approval and I nod. “That’s a FINE apple. We’ll take it.” Gleefully, he places it in the bag and grabs another, examining it, smelling it, etc. Each piece of fruit he selects, he holds sup for me to give a nod. A few have obvious bruises on them and are rejected.

“It’s ok, little apple, someone hungrier than Apple Man will buy you.” he says as he delicately places the bruised apple at the top of the slanted basket so someone (in his mind) would be sure to select it first. Even an inanimate object holds some sort of importance to him. Maybe he’s just smart enough to know what rejection really means.
After all of our fruit is picked. (I ended up letting him select the rest of the ingredients–pineapple, mango, strawberries, a lime, a jalepeno pepper and a few stalks of cilantro) I ask him if he wants to push my cart into the store so I could pay. This seems to make him feel very important, and again I am reminded how my children used to fight over who could push the cart in the grocery store.

At the register, Man-Boy places each bag of fruit onto the belt with the care of a surgeon. Each item is weighed, and my total comes to around $20 or so. I can see the display where the best cherry suckers are and I tell Man-Boy I’d gladly pay for his sucker.

“Thanks, Apple Man.” He says.

I think about how his life must have been. I think about how his mother was probably his only care-giver up until she died from that damn tumor “on her head.” I wonder how he manages to go on from day to day. But I realize, he doesn’t know any better. To him, relying on the kindness of others and the care of probably some sort of nurse is just a part of everyday life. I wonder what it must be like to merely EXIST.

I realize that this simple man’s face brightens every time he smiles. Even with his crooked teeth that are a result of his swollen tongue. The Man-Boy is full of light. He doesn’t “merely EXIST.” the Man-Boy LIVES. He inspires. (Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this blog)

I tell him to meet me outside, and that I’ll give him another dollar if he loads the bags into my truck. As soon as I see he has left the building to wait for me, I grab EVERY FUCKING CHERRY SUCKER that the store had and buy them. I tell the cashier to please place them in a separate bag. At least thirty of them. All the sticks poking through the plastic bag and it looks like some sort of giant Jack.

Outside, Man-Boy waits by my truck, and when I push the cart to him, he immediately loads each bag into the be of my pick-up.

When he finishes, I hand him five dollars and say “Thank you.”

Man-Boy is no idiot. He holds out his hand and says, “You o-oo-owe me another dollar for l-ll-loading your truck.”

Fucker is a businessman. I hand him the extra dollar I promised, and say, “Hey, you forgot about your sucker.”

He holds out his hand and I place the handles around his outstretched wrist.

“THANKS APPLE MAN!!!” He shouts and runs away like he just robbed a bank.

And off he went to where ever Man-Boys live and I’m pretty sure, that at this minute, he’s sitting on the floor counting and recounting his cherry suckers. The “b-bb-best” fucking Cherry suckers in the whole world.


What does this little story have to do with “why I am an Atheist?” When I was growing up in a Catholic home, we were told repeatedly that in order to ensure our place in Heaven, we had to do good because “God is watching.” After my father died, I began to question everything. The “Doing good because God is watching” was what stood out to me the most. WHY should I only do good because I am constantly being judged? I should be good for goodness’ sake.

If the God I was raised to believe in was all-loving, why do we suffer? Why do the helpless lose someone close to something as horrible as a brain tumor?

If I pray for something and it is not received, then why did Jesus say, “You have not because you ask not?”

If God GAVE us free will and expects us to use it, why would I be condemned to hell for not believing in him? (He would understand that I “freely” used his gift to come up with my own conclusions.) These were the thoughts of a child. In adulthood, once I actually began to enjoy reading, the lack of anything concrete in evidence of a deity and the science backing reality, pushed me further and further away from the desert god of my father. It’s not just the science behind reality, it’s the lack of anything outside that science that guides MY “free will” to be a better person for myself, my children, and perfect strangers I meet along my life’s path.

To “be good for God” has no meaning for me. I am good because I am a Human being who knows how to BE Human.

Jim Mader
United States

Students!

This isn’t the best place to put this information, but I’m taking off for New Orleans early in the morning and won’t be back until Sunday evening. I’m getting lots of email from students, so I’m hoping a few of them will pick up on this and spread the news.

Students are registering for spring term classes, and they’re trying to get into my cancer biology course — it filled up, boom, in a flash, so there are apparently many disappointed people who weren’t in one of the early registration slots. Sorry, but I’m not sending out permission numbers through email. Sign up for the waiting list if you’re still interested! I’ll take a look at the demand next week and decide what to do.

I should have known cancer would be so popular.

Hitler was a True Christian™

If you tuned in to that local debate on Christian radio, you know that one of the points the Christian fool trotted out was the tired old claim that the Nazis were no true Christians — no True Christian™ would ever commit such horrible acts. It’s an annoyingly feeble and unsupportable argument, but it has a lot of life in it, unfortunately.

This same argument has come up in Faye Flam’s Evolution column for the Philly Inquirer, and has gone on through several articles thanks to that hack from the Discovery Institute, Richard Weikart. It started with an article titled “Severing the link between Darwin and Nazism“, which cited real scholars like Robert Richards and Daniel Gasman to ably refute Weikart’s ridiculous claim that Nazism was inspired by Darwin. The Nazis banned Darwin’s books and rejected the idea that Aryans could have evolved from the lower orders. Weikart’s reply: But Hitler used the word Entwicklung, which translates as “evolution”. It also translates as “development” — Hitler did not use the language as representative of evolution at all.

So Flam got a contribution from a developmental biologist, the most excellent Scott Gilbert, who pointed out that biology and Darwinism were not factors in Hitler’s rise to power: the Lutheran and Catholic churches were. She also gets Keith Thomson, a biologist and museum director, to explain that Darwin did not and would not have approved in any way the Nazi philosophy. Weikart’s reply: but Darwin was a racist! Of course he was — he was a fairly conventional Victorian gentleman who thought the English were the greatest people on the planet. But these biases were not significant factors in his theory, and he struggled to overcome them.

Nazism was not science-based. It was pseudo-scientific religious dogma, tightly tied to the German culture of the time, which was almost entirely Catholic and Lutheran. All you have to do is look at Hitler’s own words to see that, even if he were personally a closet Satanist (I don’t think he was; he was an idiosyncratic Catholic), he tapped into the faith of the German people to achieve his ends. You cannot blame the horrors of the Third Reich on Darwin, who had negligible influence on the great masses of the German Volk, no political pull, and no appeal to the media. If you wanted a lever to shift public opinion on anything in the 1930s, religion was where you applied your force.

I have to give an early plug for my colleague, Michael Lackey (also on the CFI speakers’ bureau, by the way), who will be coming out with a book this Spring on exactly this topic.

His new book project (Modernist God States: A Literary Study of the Theological Origins of Nazi Totalitarianism) is on Hitler and the Nazis. In this book, he opposes one of the dominant interpretations of intellectual and political history, which holds that the West, since the Enlightenment, has been becoming increasingly more secular. Scholars who have adopted this approach claim that Hitler and the Nazis are the logical product of secularization, atheism, and humanism. By stark contrast, Lackey has been trying to demonstrate that secularization has only taken hold in very elite circles, mainly among academics, scholars, and intellectuals. As for the general population, it has actually become increasingly more religious, but in ways that are significantly different from pre-Enlightenment versions of religion. Based on his findings, Lackey argues that the only way to understand Hitler and the Nazis is to take into account the new conceptions of religious subjectivity that started to flourish and dominate among the general population in the early part of the twentieth century. Understanding these new conceptions sheds new and considerable light on Hitler’s and the Nazis’ religious conception of the political.

The Modernist God State: A Literary Study of the Nazis’ Christian Reich. New York and London: Continuum, (in press: forthcoming, Spring 2012).

Among the things he has done is to examine thoroughly the popular literature of Germany in the 1930s and 40s. Surprise, surprise, it isn’t singing paeans to Darwin and Science — these are eminently Christian Nazis.

The cover of his book says it all. I think it’s going to be a significant source for squelching these bizarre, ahistorical notions coming out of the Discovery Institute that somehow Nazi Germany was the apotheosis of the godless Darwinian state.

(Also on Sb)

It ought to be up to Americans to decide what is true!

You must watch this episode of the Daily Show — it’s all about science. Lisa Randall is on it plugging her new book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door (she actually doesn’t get to say much about it, but I’ve ordered it for my iPad anyway — I know what I’ll be reading on the plane to New Orleans tomorrow), a good section on the recent confirmation of global warming, and my favorite bit of all, Aasif Mandvi blithely leading a chipper Republican operative to agree with the most egregiously ignorant, anti-science claims.

Mandvi: Why are surgeons the only ones allowed to perform surgeries?
Blithering Republican: Absolutely.
Mandvi: Doesn’t make any sense.
BR: It never makes any sense!
Mandvi: and the only other people who can check whether they’re manipulating…
BR: are other scientists!

It also features Marty Chalfie defending himself against accusations of rape.

(Also on Sb)

I get spam

I periodically look in on the spam folder for this site to see if any undeserving folk have been snared. It’s pointless, unfortunately: I purge it every week, but there are still over 9,000 messages in there right now. 463 pages. I’m sorry, but if the spam folder gets you, your comment is probably lost forever.

However, one funny and pathetic thing about it all is how desperate spammers are to flatter you. It really is nothing but page after page after page of crap like this:

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It’s really distorted my perspective. Whenever I hear someone say something nice about me, it gets translated in my head into the most insincere, smarmy Engrish and discarded. This could end up warping my self-esteem.

Hunting shrimp

Watch the cuttlefish stalking shrimp, cautiously advancing by walking on a couple of arms — it almost looks like a tetrapod for a few moments. And then, finally, the lightning-fast strike. Oh, man, I wish I had a retractable spear built into my face. There are so many occasions when that would come in handy.

(Also on Sb)

Why I am an atheist – Peter Wagenaar

I’m an atheist because I see no reason not to be. There is no compelling evidence for the existence of God(s) – and an awful lot to the contrary. Added to which, I don’t need “God” – whatever that really means – to validate the life I have now. Its worth is also not dependent on a future eternal after-party at what you once described so beautifully as a “Disneyland in the sky for dead people”.

I’ve often joked that after 2000+ years and any number of ‘second coming’ predictions, we can safely assume that Jesus is a ‘no show’. But maybe the following innocent comment from my three-year-old niece shows up the sheer ridiculousness of religious belief better than any lengthy treatise I might write: “Why do we have to pray? Doesn’t Jesus have a phone?”

Peter Wagenaar
South Africa