I am in a place with trees and lakes »« Melissa speaks out

It’s good to be annoying the Christians again

So I wrote this short essay for the Washington Post, and it’s been interesting reaching a whole different audience. It’s not an audience that is increasing my esteem for the human race, unfortunately, but it’s been…different. My twitter stream has been flooded by irate Christians, which is fun, but most of their responses are rather familiar.

Here’s one common flavor: patronizing Christian sympathy.

Berth2020 @berth2020
@washingtonpost @pzmyers you need to work on being kind to others. . I’m sorry you’ve been hurt.

I haven’t been hurt, and I don’t consider wallowing in lies as you do to be “kind”.

Then there’s the usual stereotyping of atheists as amoral monsters.

romesh sharma1949 @romesh1949
@washingtonpost @pzmyers Atheist,a man who is answerable to None, free from all bonds , will behave like an animal 99.99% or saint 00.01%

Right, Mr Made-Up-Statistics. So the prisons must be like 99.99% atheist?

Then, of course, there are the excuses.

Christopher Dull @PaEvengelist
@jeremydavidpare @DavisRBr @washingtonpost @pzmyers One reason for unanswered prayer is God does not here the prayers of unrepentant sinners

Interesting. So if you pray, and you don’t get what you want, you must be one of those unrepentant sinners? What are the other reasons?

But the most common complaint, the one that seems to be winning the votes right now, surprises me a bit.

Jeremy @jeremydavidpare
@pzmyers almost nothing you said in that article even remotely resembles anything Christian’s believe or practice… #misinformedatheist

This particular guy sent out a dozen tweets calling for his buddies to refute me; another fellow repeatedly demanded that the Washington Post allow him equal time to rebut my inaccuracies. I haven’t told the truth about Christianity!

What? Let me remind you of what my essay was about: I talked about the baggage we atheists have freed ourselves from, and I gave very general examples, stuff that is widely true of most of the diverse Christian sects in this country. Here’s a shorter version of what I mentioned.

1. No church and no sermons.

The practice of Christianity in this country certainly does involve church attendance, and it’s customary in most faiths (with exceptions, like the Quakers) to have a priest lecture you on proper behavior and beliefs at these events.

2. No heaven or hell, no bribes or threats.

Again, most Christian sects have notions of reward and punishment in an afterlife.

3. No prayers.

Every version of Christianity I’ve experienced is prayer-soaked — a combination of entreaties and worship of an invisible deity. How can anyone deny this?

4. No guilt about defying a deity.

A common Christian command is to OBEY god, one and only one god. You will be punished if you disobey. Of course there’s a burden of guilt for failure to do as the priest tells you to do!

5. No power from above, no hierarchies.

With rare exceptions (again, Quakers), most Christian sects lay out a very specific hierarchy of power and responsibilities — with Catholicism the most obvious, with power from God to Pope to Cardinals to Bishops to Priests to the laity.

6. No false consolation at death.

Another really common feature of Christianity: just go to a funeral. Look at the political cartoons after a famous person dies. “They’re in a better place,” everyone says. Wrong, say I, they’re dead and lost to us forever, and mourning is the right and proper response.

Nothing I said was in the slightest bit inaccurate; these are general properties of the practice of religion in this country. So what could they possibly argue that I was wrong about?

I have a guess. They’re going to deliver some pious hokum about the True Meaning of Faith™, which will be some pablum about redemption by the torture/execution of a fanatical Jewish preacher in the first century CE, and how the important part of Christianity is love and fellowship and spreading the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the story of our immortal, eternal god who died and bounced back a day and a half later, since he was able to perform a Resurrection spell (but unfortunately, was unable to Cure Light Wounds so he had to walk around with holes in his hands).

Which means I forgot to include an important piece of baggage we atheists don’t have to haul around.

7. We don’t have to pretend to believe in obvious bullshit.

Comments

  1. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Right, Mr Made-Up-Statistics. So the prisons must be like 99.99% atheist?

    And all those kids with childhood cancer and their parents, all atheists.

  2. Nick Gotts says

    So what could they possibly argue that I was wrong about? – PZM

    Even the simplest, most uncontroversial facts about Christianity are wrong when an atheist asserts them.

  3. says

    …since he was able to perform a Resurrection spell (but unfortunately, was unable to Cure Light Wounds so he had to walk around with holes in his hands).

    You’d think a mid-level cleric whose dad was the DM would be able to take care of a small thing like that, wouldn’t you?

  4. doublereed says

    7. We don’t have to pretend to believe in obvious bullshit.

    hahahaha, I did not see that coming.

  5. Rey Fox says

    I figured the Spiritual, Not Religious brigade would be out. They would particularly object to 2, 4, and 5, probably 1 depending on how “spiritual” they are, 7 because that’s meeeean, and quite possibly even 3 if they’re the variety of people who don’t really have any religious aspect of their life, but nonetheless have to go on about how they believe there’s Something Out There, because they think that makes them sound deep.

  6. Rey Fox says

    Even the simplest, most uncontroversial facts about Christianity are wrong when an atheist asserts them.

    Well, there’s also that. Denial is easier than defense.

  7. marcoli says

    Very good. I find myself often wishing that our prominent militant atheists would ‘get out there’ more in the general media to explain the views to the general population. There are so many articles out there in the newspapers and mags that tut tut over how the atheists must be morally bankrupt or filled with apathy.
    Keep ‘em coming!

  8. gussnarp says

    Not that you really need to hear it, but every single thing you wrote in that article rang true to all of my experiences of Christianity, from growing up Methodist through confirmation, to attending other churches when I was a Boy Scout or having weekend sleepovers with friends, including Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, even Mormon churches, to my high school almost conversion to Southern Baptism. Every one of those churches and the beliefs they espoused were exactly like what you wrote. I suppose those “Christians who don’t believe organized religion”, who don’t go to any church, are a bit different, but I’m inclined to believe those are the exception rather than the rule, would be denied as “true Christians” by any of the existing churches, and are often people who don’t actually believe at all but haven’t mustered up the courage to say so out loud because they still either fear hell or at least the lack of an afterlife or need the crutch of an invisible, mysterious, and ineffectual cosmic helper.

  9. says

    “@pzmyers almost nothing you said in that article even remotely resembles anything Christian’s believe or practice”

    There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

  10. razzlefrog says

    They don’t pretend to believe, PZ. They do. That’s the problem. That’s what we’re up against.

  11. says

    There’s lots of No True Scotsman flying between Christian sects. Liberal Christians think the fundies aren’t real Christians because their version of God is too mean and judgemental. Fundies think liberal Christians aren’t real Christians because their version of God isn’t mean and judgemental enough.

  12. razzlefrog says

    @ Comment 13 nkrishna

    That’s kind of race informed, isn’t it? I mean you have bustling Christian populations all over the “brown world”, if you’ll excuse my dumb term. (Not that I’m trying to be confrontational, just inserting a friendly “head’s up, fellow atheist”.)

  13. gussnarp says

    @timgueguen – You nailed it. And the “no organized religion”Christians make it a triangle of no true Christian. Now if they could just figure out that this very fact is a strong point of evidence against any of them being right…

  14. says

    I can not quite believe that you actually wrote this:

    You don’t have to do anything to be an atheist, but you have to work awfully hard to not be one

    That’s my position, my experience. But IIRC you have always loathed that standpoint, since it is the very embodiment of the dictionary atheist position, and advocated the exact opposite?

    And for many people it’s been a rough and hard journey to become an atheist, hasn’t it, those who did fall for the religious message initially and who had to claw their way out of that quagmire.

    Other than that, nice summary of some key atheist messages.

  15. CaitieCat says

    nkrishna @13, that’s an unusual, not to say extraordinary, assertion. What about that name tells you that person can’t possibly be a Christian? I’ve met Christians from pretty much any ethnicity you’d care to name, as I’ve met atheists from the same range. Ethnicity is hardly a barrier to Christianist bullshit, more’s the pity.

  16. says

    They don’t pretend to believe, PZ. They do. That’s the problem. That’s what we’re up against.

    Both and. While they’re not exactly pretending as such, I think often their faith is a lot less solid than they let on and that’s why they react so strongly. It’s a defense mechanism to support a belief that is crumbling at the edges.

  17. Kevin Schelley says

    Actually I think 100% of us behave like animals because by definition we are…

  18. raven says

    Interesting list. My list of dropped baggage would be way different.

    7. We don’t have to pretend to believe in obvious bullshit.

    This should be Number 1. We don’t have to pretend lies and fiction are true. The bible isn’t the best book ever, it is a kludgy incoherent collection of mythology, obsolete morality, and atrocities with nothing much to say to modern people.

    The common children’s story about Noah and the Big Boat is a near total genocide that didn’t change anything, i.e. didn’t work. The obvious message is that the god is an incompetent monster.

    A few of mine.

    1. We don’t have to hate the Other because some guy with the a brain the size of a walnut says we must. Fundie xianity is based on pure hate. Hate for gays, atheists, Fake xians, women, science, Democrats, nonwhites, nonxians, college students, and on and on.

    2. We don’t have to be hypocrites and pretend the people in our cult aren’t hypocrites.

  19. ludicrous says

    “Atheism is the default position.”

    Nice term “default”, very useful, didn’t know about the word until I got a computer, soon learned default was the only choice for me.

    Recruiter: “Religious preference please, for your dog tag.”

    Recruit: “Default sir”

    Recruiter: “Hey sergeant, we got another filthy default here.”

  20. says

    #19, Rorschach: No, it’s really easy to be a bare-minimum atheist. It’s clearly quite a bit harder to be a decent human being, which includes being an atheist.

  21. dianne says

    Wrong, say I, they’re dead and lost to us forever, and mourning is the right and proper response.

    My great-aunt died last night. She died peacefully, in bed, probably in her sleep. She was 2 months shy of her 100th birthday when she died. She had a full and fulfilling life and I never heard her express anything but contentment with her life. OTOH, she wasn’t particularly afraid of death or worried about dying. In short, she wasn’t young, didn’t suffer, didn’t have a tragic life. It still sucks that she’s dead.

  22. aziraphale says

    That’s a fine essay, but like Rorschach I disagree when you say “You don’t have to do anything to be an atheist…” We come with a number of evolved biases in our thinking – hyperactive agency detection, hyperactive pattern detection, confirmation bias… Some of these are very likely, if not countered by skepticism, to make us believe in the supernatural – which is why almost all societies do so believe. Others are likely, if not countered, to make us poor scientists. Being an atheist or a good scientist does involve a degree of hard work.

  23. ludicrous says

    Default, meaning you don’t have to do anything. You don’t need to make any claims whatsoever. A good response to those who have been told that atheists claim to know there are no gods.

  24. says

    gussnarp:

    Not that you really need to hear it, but every single thing you wrote in that article rang true to all of my experiences of Christianity

    Yes, they rang true for me as well, growing up Catholic.

  25. raven says

    I can see where PZ ran into trouble.

    Xianity is very diverse and one could argue, has split into several religions with nothing much in common. The mainstream have the Light side while the fundie death cultists fought for and won the Dark side.

    Trying to make generalizations about xianity is all but impossible.

    1. No church and no sermons.

    More than half of all self described xians don’t go to church. Some are serious xians who find the churches full of hypocrites, haters, and pretenders. Others are just box checking apathetics.

    2. No heaven or hell, no bribes or threats.

    Ca. half of all US xians don’t believe in hell, satan, or demons. None were common beliefs in my old mainstream church.

    3. No prayers.

    Even when I was a xian, I thought praying was silly and didn’t do it. God is supposed to be omniscient. He already knows. And why should he rearrange reality for me? Besides which, it was obvious he didn’t rearrange reality for anyone. This prayer as a magic ATM idea tosses xian free will out the window as well.

    It keeps going like this.

  26. says

    Dianne:

    It still sucks that she’s dead.

    I’m sorry for your loss, Dianne. I am glad your great-aunt had such a long, good life, and I imagine she left a wonderful legacy in all who knew her.

  27. consciousness razor says

    Does this mean we will get an influx of theists?
    Pleasepleaseplease?
    A break from rape apologists would be swell.

    Unfortunately, those aren’t anywhere in the neighborhood of being mutually exclusive.

  28. consciousness razor says

    #19, Rorschach: No, it’s really easy to be a bare-minimum atheist. It’s clearly quite a bit harder to be a decent human being, which includes being an atheist.

    Well, when your argument is about convincing people they shouldn’t be one way but ought to be some other way instead, maybe you could at least mention the way you actually want them to be instead of a third option which you also don’t want.

  29. David Marjanović says

    *hugs for Dianne*

    Absolutely dying to see your take on the latest “proof:”

    “TSIB” would be a bit short for a blog post.

  30. RFW says

    The outrage among the xtianists when someone points out the stupidity of their beliefs is a sure sign that in their hearts they know you (P-zed) are right. Applicable stale adage: “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

    I think this WP op ed is one of the finest things you’ve done in the name of rationality, P-zed. May your fish embryos thrive, may your aquaria not leak, may your water company unfailingly supply the purest of water for your fish, and may your students pay close attention and work hard.

  31. says

    The point about the effort needed to be religious is resonating with me right now. I remember some of the mental contortions I once had to go through as a liberal Christian who also knew something about how the world works. My thoughts flow much more fluidly now that I’m an atheist and skeptic. I take the available evidence, apply logic, and it intuitively leads to a conclusion which I then accept. It’s like watching a river flow downhill into the ocean. I don’t have to force anything. Even if I’m wrong, I can pull out a topology map, point out my predicted course of the river, and someone can show me either where I made a mistake in the calculations or show me a photo of where it actually flows so I can make changes.

    I don’t envy the pretzels dogmatists have to twist themselves into. To me, it’s like a haphazard collection of jury-rigged mechanisms intended to force water uphill, only to have the water leak through the numerous cracks. Apologists come along to add even more leaky mechanisms to “catch” those leaks. It’s a lot of busywork that doesn’t accomplish anything.

  32. Arete says

    I love seeing PZ annoy Christians, because PZ annoyed me, and that is part of why I stopped being a Christian. Accomodationists couldn’t have done it; seeing someone give the weird stuff I was raised to believe the exact amount of respect it deserved made all the difference for me.

    Also this:

    “They’re in a better place,” everyone says. Wrong, say I, they’re dead and lost to us forever, and mourning is the right and proper response.

    Love this point. I recently learned the hard way that when you have a miscarriage, people say some seriously fucked up shit to make you feel “better.” Fairy stories about how my next baby will be the same soul coming back at “a better time,” or that I will meet the baby that died in heaven (wtf?! Is a malformed little fetus going to come up to me? Will it have to swim, or something? Or a fully formed person–of what age?!–is going to be there with a personality it never had any time to develop?) are not comforting. “That sucks” and room to be sad about something that is, you know, sad, are much better.

    [Hi, Horde. I've been reading a long time, but I've never posted before. Please do not eat me.]

  33. Jacob Schmidt says

    Hi, Horde. I’ve been reading a long time, but I’ve never posted before. Please do not eat me

    Welcome, but no promises.

  34. CaitieCat says

    Indeed, welcome Arete! :)

    As to being not-eaten, the best way to accomplish that is to not do things that will make you look edible, like being a rape apologist, for instance. Since that looks like a fairly small possibility, odds of your edibility are low.

  35. says

    @42
    I don’t think it’s as simple as that, although I would fervently wish what you said to be true if it guaranteed that we could eradicate faith by unleashing a tsunami of cognitive dissonance on its victims.

    I went a few rounds with an evolution denier yesterday on Zimmer’s blog. Does my frustration that I couldn’t convince him mean I’m a secret believer?

  36. raven says

    Love this point. I recently learned the hard way that when you have a miscarriage, people say some seriously fucked up shit to make you feel “better.”

    True.

    A lot of miscarriages are just biological quality control. Many of them have serious genetic and karyotypic abnormalities.

    One family I know has a long, long history of miscarriages, roughly half miscarriages, half normal children. One of them by using every trick known to modern medicine managed to get one troubled pregnancy to term. And gave birth to someone with basically almost no brain.

    It turns out the family carried a balanced translocation and half the fetuses were aneuploid or partial trisomics. This BTW is common, I’ve seen it twice.

  37. Rey Fox says

    wtf?! Is a malformed little fetus going to come up to me? Will it have to swim, or something?

    Oh man, this tickled my black and scummy funny bone.

  38. says

    Arete:

    Love this point. I recently learned the hard way that when you have a miscarriage, people say some seriously fucked up shit to make you feel “better.” Fairy stories about how my next baby will be the same soul coming back at “a better time,” or that I will meet the baby that died in heaven (wtf?! Is a malformed little fetus going to come up to me? Will it have to swim, or something? Or a fully formed person–of what age?!–is going to be there with a personality it never had any time to develop?) are not comforting. “That sucks” and room to be sad about something that is, you know, sad, are much better.

    Oh no. I’m sorry, Arete, such a loss. I hope you have a great support network around you. Welcome in, have a drink and feel free to use the fang sharpener.

  39. says

    davidgentile:

    I don’t think it’s as simple as that, although I would fervently wish what you said to be true if it guaranteed that we could eradicate faith by unleashing a tsunami of cognitive dissonance on its victims.

    I went a few rounds with an evolution denier yesterday on Zimmer’s blog. Does my frustration that I couldn’t convince him mean I’m a secret believer?

    Think in terms of planting a seed, it helps. Or think in terms of planting a doubt, a germ of an idea. We’ve seen, here, that it works. Oftentimes, it takes years. Don’t think it’s all pointless. It isn’t.

  40. everbleed says

    #19 #27 #30

    May I propose that the difficulty encountered in being an atheist is possibly in direct relationship to the ‘station’ or ‘circumstance’ one holds in the local society?

    For example: PZ Myers lives and works in an environment where he is able, possibly even encouraged, to express his thoughts openly. He also enjoys a regular paycheck and is less likely to be worried about the next one coming along, beyond the normal concerns of staying employed by doing his job competently.

    For example: A friend of mine is an insurance agent in town. A small town of 1,250 people with 13 freakin’ churches in it. (Do the math.) You can bet your ass he keeps his mouth shut. His livelihood (and the survival of his family) is dependent on him not pissing off his customers. He doesn’t go to any of the churches (it would likely give him a stroke) but he is FORCED to donate to all of them, go to the Xmas Cantata and generally suck up. He says it is difficult, has been difficult, and has often made him re-think his choice of career. He doesn’t even tell most of his non-believing friends for fear the word got out. Not difficult? Right.

    For example: Me. I worked 8 years in a lumber mill owned by one of the most dishonest, evil, blindingly ignorant, fundamentalist Assemblies of God preachers you can imagine. A co-worker ratted me out about my ‘true belief’ which is NONE, and I got squeezed out of my job by having that same preacher actually abandon the division I ran. Just to get rid of the ‘evil one’. (P.s. Never tell anyone you are a non-believer until you are absolutely sure they have proven their status to you first, and even then….)

    For example: Having totally independent ‘fat bank’ is truly the only way one can live OPENLY as a non-believer. I would dearly love to express myself freely. You know, walk around town with a T-shirt on my back that says something like, “Religion is a Drug, Just Say No To Drugs” or how about “Be a ‘good’ Christian, Hug an Atheist Today’ or how about “Christians aren’t Forgiven, their just too fucking stupid to remember what they did wrong” or my current favorite “Religions, ALL of them, make you stupid.”

    Of course I would also probably need a concealed carry permit.

    60 years on this crazy insane planet and in my particular experience it has been VERY HARD being a thinking human who does not believe my neighbors delusional bull-shit.

    I envy all you REALLY free-thinkers. The only thing that keeps me going is our numbers are increasing and of course the love of a non-believing family and friends.

    Praise be to PZ. You get ‘em boy. Keep up the awesome work. But keep your job.

  41. ck says

    I’m not sure what romesh sharma1949 is talking about. I’ve never seen anyone act like an animal for anything less than 100% of the time. Eating, defecating, sleeping, and fucking, and the rest of the time spent making sure we can continue to do these four things. All very animal things to do.

  42. ck says

    Arete wrote:

    I recently learned the hard way that when you have a miscarriage, people say some seriously fucked up shit to make you feel “better.”

    Were you lucky enough to have some people assume your miscarriage was an abortion and then try to shame you for the imaginary abortion? This has happened to a couple people I know.

    There really is no tragedy that is so sacred that someone won’t try to use to further their own personal agenda.

  43. pianoman, Heathen & Torontophile says

    PZ, I am shocked…SHOCKED, I tells ya…that you would receive such hostile reactions from the christians!Why, this is persecution!All those poor, poor christians having their faith dismissed by a filthy atheist! Horrible!

  44. says

    (wtf?! Is a malformed little fetus going to come up to me? Will it have to swim, or something? Or a fully formed person–of what age?!–is going to be there with a personality it never had any time to develop?)

    This is actually the seed of an important argument against the whole idea of heaven and the soul. Who exactly is going to heaven? If the person you are in heaven has so little relationship with the person you were down here, in what way does it even make sense to say that you went to heaven?

    That argument can be (and has been) extended far along these lines. It seriously undermines the entire notion of perpetual bliss and the lack of sin in heaven. The entire concept is self-contradictory at its core.

  45. says

    ck:

    I’m not sure what romesh sharma1949 is talking about.

    I do. Theists, Christians in particular, do not consider themselves animals in any way, because animals don’t have souls, you see. They are above the animals, apart. Also, the word animal serves as a stand in for those would commit horrible acts, theft, murder, rape, looting, witchcraft, etc, because that’s what people do without the stern guidance and fear motivation of sky dad.

  46. David Marjanović says

    60 years on this crazy insane planet and in my particular experience it has been VERY HARD being a thinking human who does not believe my neighbors delusional bull-shit.

    …What’s saddest about your case is that not the whole planet is like that!

  47. Arete says

    @CaitieCat: Despite being both tender and salty, I suspect I will be able to remain inedible by this definition. :)

    @Rey Fox: Black humor is my primary survival mechanism. Always happy to find others with similar (poor?) taste, as it gets me in trouble when I misjudge the audience.

    @Caine: Thank you. I am doing pretty well now, but it is A Thing That Happened, and I truly appreciate when people treat it like it matters.

  48. says

    David:

    …What’s saddest about your case is that not the whole planet is like that!

    No, I don’t think so. I think what is saddest is that too much of the planet is exactly like that. Personally, I’m amazed that both Mister and myself are outspoken atheists here in ND and haven’t gotten much flack for it. I put that down to the uber-niceness of most Dakotans, and count myself very lucky. Not everyone here is able to say what I just did, though. A lot of people have to keep their mouths firmly shut in order to keep their job. And no, David, this is not just a problem in the States. It’s been a matter of days since Dr. Narendra Dabholkar was murdered.

  49. Malachite says

    Unfortunately I don’t think 7. is necessarily true for some young atheists dependant on religious family for financial support to finish growing up :-(

  50. says

    @17 razzlefrog, @21 CaitieCat:

    That’s why I said “may not be,” not “can’t possibly be” or even “probably isn’t,” because you’re both right that ethnicity is no barrier to Christianity (or atheism), and someone named Sharma may well be a convert. But there’s an equally good chance that he’s not. It seems unlikely that Someone with the very Sanskritic name Romesh Sharma was born a Christian (observant Christian parents probably wouldn’t name their kid “Lord Rama”). If that particular commenter kept the faith he was born with, I feel reasonably secure in extrapolating that that faith isn’t Christianity. I’m a “brown person,” too, and given my looks and name, if you’re going to assume anything, the assumption that I’m a Hindu seems to be a reasonable one (and up until 8 years ago or so, you would have been right).

    No, I know nothing about what that commenter’s religion is, but I’d say there’s a reasonable chance that he’s not Christian, and his name is one data point toward that. If the name on the same comment was Timothy McGee, what do you think his religion would most likely have been? PZ’s article, while it may have been read by a primarily Christian audience, did not single out Christianity, and criticized theism in general. As an atheist of Hindu background, I have seen quotes like those in the post above (atheists behave like animals, answerable to no one) come from all kinds of theists, no matter what they or their gods look like. Anti-atheist sentiment isn’t the sole provenance of Christians.

    Sorry for the really long explanation, and I’m not trying to be confrontational either. I just hope you can see where I was coming from.

  51. CaitieCat says

    Fair points, nkrishna; you have greater knowledge of Indian naming conventions than I, for an obvious start, so I defer in this case to your greater experience. Thanks for the measured response.

  52. frog says

    everbleed@51: Thank you for reminding me to appreciate that I have never had a problem being an open atheist, beyond a little “Oh, it’s youthful rebellion; you’ll get over it” bullshit thirty years ago. I never got hassled for being openly atheist in a Catholic high school, and my mother has chosen to accept it and not get up my grill. (It probably helps that my dad was very likely an atheist by the time he died.)

    I don’t walk around in atheist T-shirts most of the time because I don’t want to get into arguments with random strangers. But I’m not afraid of getting shot when I do, and I’m certainly not afraid of losing my job (where I have indeed uttered the words “I’m an atheist” on multiple occasions) over my beliefs.

    This is why I operate as an open atheist: because I can. And the more of us who do, the easier it may get for our fellow atheists to be considered “normal” or at least “harmless” by the bigots.

  53. says

    @Caine,
    Thanks for the encouragement. I’m currently -2.5, in hockey terms, as my ex wife flipped to Catholicism after I married her, and my 2 kids are also in the CC. I give myself 0.5 for going from undecided to Atheist.

    I’ll use salmon as inspiration. The hardest working ones get rewarded.

    Are there any “I flipped a believer” websites?

  54. says

    @63 CaitieCat:

    Not a problem. :) It’s just part of my experience and background that I notice these things (studying linguistics has helped… or not helped, depending on your persepctive!)

    I should note that I said PZ’s article didn’t single out Christianity, which upon a reread isn’t actually true. He does target Sunday church and Jesus, but aside from that most of it can be read as panning theism in general.

  55. says

    davidgentile:

    Are there any “I flipped a believer” websites?

    I don’t know. I know there are fair number of sites with deconversion stories, though. Sometimes, it helps to read them, because it’s very encouraging, seeing what helped to bring it about. The short answer, is you never really know (or rarely find out), so it’s best just to keep on keeping on.

  56. bawdybillfirst says

    Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.

  57. Sastra says

    @pzmyers almost nothing you said in that article even remotely resembles anything Christian’s believe or practice

    My own guess is that the Christians who are insisting that you got everything wrong are quarreling with the specifics of your descriptions, not the examples themselves. Youre summaries in this post is not what they’re complaining about. Meaning, they’re not claiming they don’t go to church or pray or whatever. They think you’re missing what those things mean to them.

    So here’s my attempt to translate:

    1.)”We do it without a boring dude in a dog collar droning away at us” — No no no; the sermons are the best part, we listen and learn! You don’t get it.

    2.)”(W)e don’t need extortion or offers of imaginary paradise cookies to do the right thing. Why do you?” — No, no, no; we obey God out of love for God, not fear of Hell. You don’t understand this.

    3.)”No more prayers, no more worship of an unresponsive invisible man.” — No, no, no; Christians DO get a response. It comes from the calming effect of the act of prayer itself. You’re ignorant of real prayer.

    4.)”The guilt! The pointless guilt is gone! ” — No, no, no; Christianity relieves us of guilt. You got it backwards.

    5.) “Speaking of medieval rules, throw away the hierarchical view of society.” — No, no, no; equality and human rights are based on the idea that all lives have value because are all children of God made in His image. You’re not appreciating this.

    6.)”We don’t make people feel guilty for failing to appreciate the kindness a god has done by destroying a good person.” — Well we Christians don’t do that either, everyone has to grieve in their own way and if someone isn’t yet ready to look forward to meeting their loved one again we’d respect that. Boy, are you ever dumb. The things you don’t know, know, know.

    That’s what I think they’d say if they were to expand on their objections. We could then object to their objections — which seem to me to be coming from a more mainstream interpretation, as opposed to the extremely liberal.

  58. cicely says

    *hugs* for dianne. I’m sorry for your loss.
    -
    Hi, Arete!
    Just had lunch, so you’re safe from me.
     
    For now….
    ;)
     
    (later)

    Black humor is my primary survival mechanism.

    Mine, too. I think you’ll find that there’s a lot of that, hereabouts.
    :)
    -
    davidgentile, the thing is…different things work for different people, and for some people, nothing will work; they’re too invested in the crap, for one reason or another.
    -

  59. ck says

    Caine, Ilktopus du mal wrote:

    the word animal serves as a stand in for those would commit horrible acts, theft, murder, rape, looting, witchcraft, etc,

    Which is ironic since many of those are human inventions. I’ve never seen a non-human animal go around looting or practising witchcraft.

  60. wscott says

    your tribe is no longer the chosen people.

    (Quote from the original article, not this post.)
    As a random theological question, has there ever been a religion where the almighty revealed that someone else’s tribe were actually the chosen ones? It’s almost like he’s telling people what they want to hear.

  61. says

    @73, one can argue that several species other than man go to war – chimpanzees, wolves, meerkats, but AFAIK only our species kills one another when the killer’s ego is challenged – which is indeed a Godlike thing to do.

  62. says

    ck:

    I’ve never seen a non-human animal go around looting or practising witchcraft.

    Well…I’m not so sure about cephalopods, but I haven’t seen it with my own eyes or anything. ;)

  63. The Mellow Monkey says

    Argh. After having serious wheezing on top of a migraine and heart palpitations, I’m calling the patch test off. I don’t know how conclusive that is, but it’s damn unpleasant.

    And now I may spend the rest of the day in bed. :(

  64. David Marjanović says

    No, I don’t think so. I think what is saddest is that too much of the planet is exactly like that.

    I was feeling cynical enough at the moment to just take that for granted. :-(

    A lot of people have to keep their mouths firmly shut in order to keep their job. And no, David, this is not just a problem in the States.

    :-) You don’t need to be that preemptive with me. I know there are lots of places much closer to home than the States where being openly godless is quite bad for one’s status in society; I only tried to say that there are some where that’s not the case.

    Are there any “I flipped a believer” websites?

    …You know, nobody has told me to “go forth and deconvert all peoples”…

    1.)”We do it without a boring dude in a dog collar droning away at us” — No no no; the sermons are the best part, we listen and learn! You don’t get it.

    Unsurprisingly, I’ve been to masses where the sermon was the best part. If the priest is not smart, however, it easily turns into the worst…

    As a random theological question, has there ever been a religion where the almighty revealed that someone else’s tribe were actually the chosen ones?

    There have been a few Christians whose beliefs sort of included this. Really not many, though.

  65. says

    As a random theological question, has there ever been a religion where the almighty revealed that someone else’s tribe were actually the chosen ones?

    More importantly, has anyone ever used that idea in a story? Because if not, I’m stealing it.

  66. says

    LykeX:

    More importantly, has anyone ever used that idea in a story? Because if not, I’m stealing it.

    Even if someone has, that doesn’t mean you can’t run with it and put your own twist on it. One thing I’ve really come to appreciate, besides good world building, is good god[s] building. It’s not an overworked skill.

  67. blf says

    There’s several competing dating services trying to match up unbelieved-in sky faeries with sky faerie-less civilizations.

    And also faerie deprogrammers trying to separate trapped sky faeries from overenthusiastically-believing former civilizations.

  68. dianne says

    Thanks, all. People sometimes ask what atheism has to offer grieving families. I think what it offers is the right to mourn unreservedly. No “he’s in a better place”, “she’s gone to her reward”. Just flat out, “they’re dead and I miss them and it sucks.”

    People don’t live long enough.

  69. Holms says

    @38 consciousness razor
    Well, when your argument is about convincing people they shouldn’t be one way but ought to be some other way instead, maybe you could at least mention the way you actually want them to be instead of a third option which you also don’t want.

    I consider dictionary atheism to be something of an entry point or first step on the path to the more complete secular humanism / social justice state.

    @40 RFW
    The outrage among the xtianists when someone points out the stupidity of their beliefs is a sure sign that in their hearts they know you (P-zed) are right.

    No, I’m pretty sure that does not follow.

  70. dongiovanni (Because I had to try this function sometime) says

    Does it still count if half the congregation are hard atheists and only go for purposes of tea, cake and music?

  71. says

    “PZ, you got this Christian all wrong.
    I don’t pray.
    I don’t go to church.
    I don’t believe in Hell.
    I don’t believe in a judgemental God.
    I don’t believe in organised religion.
    I believe Jesus was a gifted human being and not a god.
    I believe everyone goes to Heaven.”

    OK then chum, then you are not actually a fucking Christian.

    NEXT.

  72. everbleed says

    #72 If there was a god, Tim Minchin would be one of his ‘gifts’. Because there isn’t, I suppose one must consider Mr. Minchin one fine-ass coincidence. Kinda like PZ.

    Thank you davidgentile for the most excellent tip. No gruel for you.

  73. chigau (Twoic) says

    Hankstar [Mandrellian] – I am famous at home in the dark #87
    yes
    I’d buy the t- shirt.

  74. raven says

    As a random theological question, has there ever been a religion where the almighty revealed that someone else’s tribe were actually the chosen ones?

    There is an old joke.

    God:Hi there Pope. I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

    Pope: OK, what is the good news?

    God:I’m coming down to earth to greet the flock.

    Pope:Wow!!! Great news. What is the bad news?

    God:I want you to meet me in Salt Lake City.

    (You’ll never guess which state I heard that one in.)

  75. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @raven, #90

    Actually, I think Bill Cosby did that joke, though I can’t say with any certainty it was original to him.

  76. FossilFishy(Anti-Vulcanist) says

    My mother is dying of pancreatic cancer, at 83 this is the disease that will kill her. She’s in Canada and I’m in Australia with no means of going to see her. Do you know what my atheism means in this situation? It means that I don’t have a false hope. Praying won’t make her better. Praying won’t make me suddenly financially solvent. All it would do is delay the grieving process.

    My atheism means that when I need to cry I can without feeling guilty for questioning god’s plan. And it means that I don’t have to agonise over why I’m not right enough with god for him to do what I want.

    It means that when I stand in the shower and sob for five minutes because I’ll never get to play guitar for my Mummy again I can take some solace in the fact that that is an appropriate response to the reality of my situation. And then when the moment passes and the tears disappear down the drain like they never were, it means I can start to think again, unfettered by fantasies of divine rescue.

    Skype is real.

    God is not.

  77. says

    “a man who is answerable to None” I like how none is capitalized, like this person is referring to None as some sort of atheist deity. That’d be an oxymoron, right?

    “So the prisons must be like 99.99% atheist?” Welllll… maybe not in the US…

  78. mykroft says

    To give you an idea of how fucked up being a “true Christian” can make you, my daughter and her husband were showing off their new daughter to some friends of the family. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure my granddaughter is absolutely beautiful, has a happy and outgoing personality and everyone who meets her thinks she’s incredible.

    The family friends were friends of my son-in-law, who was raised in a very fundamentalist household. Somehow, he emerged from this upbringing sane, but the family friends were still very Bible soaked Christians. They asked my daughter if she and her husband were going to raise the baby in a Christian household. Not wanting to make waves, she said yes.

    One of the ladies in the family friends group (and not related) said, “I’m so glad. We were afraid we might have to come and take over raising her so that she would know Jesus.”

    My daughter said she seemed to be dead serious. They weren’t even relatives, and they thought they would have the right to do this. That level of belief is scary.

  79. CaitieCat says

    Wow…someone comes into my house talking about taking my kids away to get them closer to Jesus is going to be finding out personally how much he doesn’t exist very soon after.

  80. anteprepro says

    It’s rather interesting just how intensely and reflexively fundies want to indoctrinate children when they are young. I think mykroft’s is the most extreme of that general principle yet, but it is a recurring theme with the hardcore believers.

  81. mykroft says

    @CatieCat
    My daughter and her husband took it with an understanding that these people live in their fantasy world, and it’s easier to pretend to go along. They’re not accommodationists, it’s more that they are politically savvy enough to let the event pass. Friends of the family and all that.

    They’re better at it than I am. I usually have no problem challenging someone when they say something stupid. I do try to keep quiet when it might impact my career, which it could as I live in a very red state, but I’ve had some interesting debates with some of my co-workers. One in particular is very much the literalist, but the debates are amicable.

    An argument I think I’ve seen in this forum before seems to fit the behavior of the “family friends”. Religion is a moral get out of jail free card. You can justify any act, however horrendous it would appear to an unbiased observer, if you think it’s what God wants. Once you’ve convinced yourself of that you can be a suicide bomber, kill someone of another religion or sexual orientation, or kidnap a baby. That is what makes religion so poisonous, and so dangerous.

  82. CaitieCat says

    @mykroft – sorry, no attack meant, just brought out the mama bear in me. I totally get “going along to get along”, and probably wouldn’t have done much different in reality at the “just talking” stage.

    But holy crap, try and actually take my kids, and you’ll have the fight of your life on your hands, especially if it’s so you can indoctrinate them with that evil fucking “morality”.

  83. steffp says

    @mykroft, #94
    My condolences. I’m afraid there will be control visits and such to deal with.
    I know what I’m talking about: my wife’s family is strictly catholic, while we were happy atheists. My mother-in-law, on her deathbed, informed us that she had secretly given our son an “emergency baptism” to save his soul. It did not work out as planned, except that he just graduated in Religious Studies with a beautiful little study of the Christian exaggeration of Solomon’s templetto, comparing it to the coeval temples of Karnak, Babylon, Tyre, etc.

  84. nerok says

    @73 ck

    I’ve never seen a non-human animal go around looting or practising witchcraft.

    You haven’t been around a kennel of retrievers. Thieves the lot of them! Possibly black magic as well, they always seem to compel me to give them treats even when I shouldn’t.

  85. says

    I’m happy to say none of the religious faction of my family (ranging from standard liberal-ish country churchies to fully-fledged happy-clapper Hillsong-esque missionary types) have seen fit to pontificate about my daughter’s upbringing or be ghoulish in the aftermath of (or lead-up to) a bereavement (leading up to my beloved Nanna’s passing a couple of months ago, I’d already steeled myself to hear “She’s in a better place now” at the funeral; fortunately it didn’t happen and I was just able to comfort my dad and fulfill my role as pall-bearer). I offer my sympathies and e-love to anyone who’s suffered such interference or annoyance; it really is beyond the pale and I despise and loathe when people can’t just shut the fuck up and respect other peoples’ choices and privacy.

    Nonetheless, in a mild, most likely clueless and privilege-induced incident at my and Dr Wifey’s wedding in 2006, one of my lot was overheard by my sister-in-law to say, none too softly: “What a shame it wasn’t in church.” Yes, apparently it was a fucking shame that Dr Wife and I were married on a perfect February day (cloudless and 28 degrees C, which was lucky as it could easily have been 38.C) in the gorgeous Adelaide Botanical Gardens with 140 of our friends and family in attendance and a classical guitar duo hidden behind a screen of sorghum (the wedding was in the “Economic Garden” section, where everything is edible or medicinal).

    Again, this was a mildly irritating incident (not at all on par with people praying at the terminal or preying on children) but it was nonetheless an example of just how pervasive religious privilege really is, even in a relatively non-fundie family like mine in a non-insane country like Australia – indeed, to the point that religious observance is viewed as “normal” and anyone doing anything outside of its established parameters is enough of a deviation to be viewed as cause for regret.

  86. says

    The ‘been hurt’ thing is a recurring theme. Part of the excuses-making, I figure. Anyone who rejected the god or gods was presumably terribly damaged; this is simply their tragic reaction.

    See also the ‘socially autistic’ excuse. Mentally undamaged, ‘normal’ people believe the same stuff we do. You don’t? Something’s broken, obviously.

    It’s kinda funny when there’s no social power behind it. It can actually be quite horrific, where there is. Delightful, really, being told you’re simply broken. And having everyone around you told you are, too, and purely because you happen to be unwilling to join in nodding along to the commonly agreed-upon lie.

    Happy, successful, apparently well-adjusted atheists must be pretty hard for these folk to explain away. I get to suspecting this is at least part of why they work so hard to make any they find properly miserable.

  87. Merlin says

    @ 92 FossilFishy:
    Oh my. I am very sorry this is happening, and you have my sincerest condolences. I am glad you are able to communicate over skype.

  88. dannysichel says

    Steff@99 – re ‘emergency baptism’, cf what happened to Edgardo Montara in 1851.

    re the article in the Post — it’s interesting that one of the early comments tries to define ‘atheism’ as ‘belief in god-like tyrant Myers’.

    I believe that PZ exists..And he’s certainly unelected, and he’s not subject to any term limits…. I haven’t been here that long; has he ever claimed to have worked miracles?

  89. says

    A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of the cephalopod.

  90. Azuma Hazuki says

    @97/Mykroft

    An argument I think I’ve seen in this forum before seems to fit the behavior of the “family friends”. Religion is a moral get out of jail free card. You can justify any act, however horrendous it would appear to an unbiased observer, if you think it’s what God wants. Once you’ve convinced yourself of that you can be a suicide bomber, kill someone of another religion or sexual orientation, or kidnap a baby. That is what makes religion so poisonous, and so dangerous.

    Someone needs to call Christians out on this…because what it really means is “No matter what we humans do to you, if it saves you from God torturing you in unimaginably hideous, flaming ways for all of eternity it will be well worth it and justified!” Seriously, someone needs to put it that way to them. Preferably followed up with “And you worship that thing?!”

    This is the exact same logic that led to autos da fe, the Burning Times, Inquisitions Catholic and Protestant, Exodus Ministries, “In Adam’s Fall, We Sinned All” on primers, Severetus burning at the stake, missionaries gutting the Eastern Hemisphere…the list goes on. Cruel God-concepts make cruel men.

  91. steffp says

    @dannysichel # 105
    Edgardo Montara in 1851” Just unbelievable. Thieving children in broad daylight. And, of course, a wonderful example of joint “judeo-christian values”. Yes, saving souls is so much more important than parental rights, family values, and plain human decency.
    I’m glad we stayed away from the Vatican state when visiting Italy… :-)
    Interesting enough, Catholic Canonical law states that baptism is irreversible. It is said to change the soul in a way that can’t be undone. But according to the same law it is impossible to leave the Catholic Church at all. Except by official Excommunication of course. Which is only done in rare cases.

  92. Thumper; immorally inferior Atheist mate says

    @mykroft #94

    That is, quite frankly, terrifying. Your daughter and son-in-law showed admirable restraint in not removing those people from their home immediately. I do not think I could have kept my temper.