Catching up with the event of the day

The Obama inauguration brought out a number of protesters, seemingly all of the Christian variety. I don’t see what they’re complaining about, though: Obama is a professing Christian who will not do a thing to diminish their privileges. We atheists have more excuses to picket his god-soaked ceremony than they do … but then, we’re also not as stupid as this kind of person.


Nice. Tell me why I deserve Hell someday, and I’ll tell you why you’re in it right now, O Benighted Fool.

I’m not wildly enthusiastic about our new president, but he is so much better than the amoral sleazebuckets he is replacing in office that I have to see it all as a largely positive change. I also just read the speech … not bad. I’ll give him a few years to prove himself.

I also caught the brief acknowledgment of the existence of non-believers. It’s a small thing, but appreciated. Everyone seems to be a bit unsatisfied with his specific choice of word, and I agree a bit. The better choice, the word that would have been more inclusive and positive, is “freethinkers”. Someone let his speechwriters know.


  1. robotaholic says

    Rick Warren was a retard on stage. You’d think that someone who is a product of interracial marriage would be a tad sensitive toward other ‘minorities’ like us faggs but oh well… politics.

  2. Hoku says

    I actually really liked the way he put it. By putting in that little pause, he made sure it wouldn’t get overlooked.

  3. Owlmirror says

    I also caught the brief acknowledgment of the existence of non-believers. It’s a small thing, but appreciated. Everyone seems to be a bit unsatisfied with his specific choice of word, and I agree a bit. The better choice, the word that would have been more inclusive and positive, is “freethinkers”.

    Cue another epic thread on the {best/most correct/most inclusive/most specific/most appropriate/most useful} term to call those who reject some/most/all aspects of organized religion and/or the idea of God…

    (not that I disagree that “freethinker” is better than “non-believer”; it’s just that people have been arguing over this a lot for a long time)

  4. LisaJ says

    Wow, what a frigging idiot. I actually feel sorry for this guy that he chooses to live his life in such blatant ignorance. So sad.

    Tell me why I deserve Hell someday, and I’ll tell you why you’re in it right now, O Benighted Fool.

    ‘Aint that the truth. Perfectly stated, PZ.

  5. Occam's Hammer says

    Here’s another vote for Freethinkers.
    Imagine, one day a Freethinker may be elected.
    Or, maybe one already has, but can’t let on…

  6. says

    Imagine, one day a Freethinker may be elected.
    Or, maybe one already has, but can’t let on…

    Thomas Jefferson was, more or less – he was a deist, but rejected miracles, supernatural intervention and most tenets of orthodox Christianity. I imagine he would have been an agnostic or atheist had he lived today. (As I understand it, atheism was rather less intellectually tenable in those days than it is today, since science provided far fewer explanations.)

    Ironically, I doubt Jefferson would be elected today. Certainly not in the GOP.

  7. says

    “freethinker” is a very POV term that isn’t going to be used by someone who isn’t an atheist or agnostic. In that regard “nonbeliever” is a useful catchall because it all includes those who are simply apathetic about religious issues.

  8. echidna says

    Freethinker seems to be one of those coded terms that you need to be familiar with to understand. I much prefer non-believer – it is an overt acknowledgement that it is possible to live without faith in god/s.

  9. DaveL says

    I think it might be fun to put on a “Ask Me Why You Deserve Hell” T-Shirt and start throwing random, off-the-wall stuff at people who ask.

    “Because you drive 5 under in the fast lane. Don’t try to deny it.”

    “Because you’re one of those people with 30 items in the express lane at the supermarket.”

    “Because you counted the pay-per-view porn you watched when you were off sick with the flu as ‘medical expenses’ on your taxes.”

    “We put it to a vote. You lost.”

  10. Jadehawk says

    oh yeah, I suppose “freethinker” is a good, and very American, way of putting it. didn’t think of that.

    and that guy in that photo is a moron, though if I were in the mood, I’d ask just out of morbid curiosity. though i doubt he’d have anything new and interesting to say that isn’t already printed on the damn fliers that ended up in the tip-jar a lot at my last job.

  11. Jon H says

    “freethinker”, to me (37 years old), is vague to the extent that it could describe an anti-vaxer, or a new ager, a perpetual motion researcher, or a UFO conspiracy theorist. It’s like ‘nonconformist’.

    It’s better than ‘Bright’, but isn’t specific enough.

  12. J. D. Mack says

    “Non-Believers” is just fine with me. I even cheered when he said that – much to the puzzlement of everyone around me in the restaurant.

  13. Jadehawk says

    “freethinker”, to me (37 years old), is vague to the extent that it could describe an anti-vaxer, or a new ager, a perpetual motion researcher, or a UFO conspiracy theorist. It’s like ‘nonconformist’.

    crap; good point. seems non-believer really is the only exact, least offensive term to use. until “freethinker” becomes a specific word for non-theists, we’ll be stuck with the non-believer title, i guess *sigh*

  14. Dark Jaguar says

    A minor note, if he used “freethinker” it wouldn’t have been specific enough. Most people wouldn’t get he means atheist and not a believer who doesn’t go to church, and it had to be a clear message to the religious too. Atheist or nonbeliever is really the only two words he could have used to be clear to people who don’t know what the heck a “bright” is.

  15. cynickal says

    Tell me why I deserve Hell someday

    Because you coveted his ho-ho’s?

    Sorry, I’m being insensitive of those people who have better caloric-storage capacity than myself.

  16. Jadehawk says

    i looked at the other photos. hilarious. being a good person and a sport nut is a hell-deserving sin now? *snort*

  17. Brain Hertz says

    I’m good with “non-believer”. “Freethinker” is rather inverse-judgemental, so I’m not expecting any theists to start using it soon.

    Also, I don’t think he uses speechwriters as much as most preznits. I’m not suggesting that he writes all of his own material (although apparently he does write a lot of it, including today’s speech) but he isn’t delegating responsibility for the content to anybody else. The words are owned by him, so it’s him you need to talk to, not his speechwriters…

  18. Epinephrine says

    I find the terms “brights” and “freethinkers” pointless and somewhat ludicrous. Why bother, when atheist is a fine term. Or non-believer. Whatever – they’re fine terms – I don’t need a special little pat-me-on-the-back term to help me feel superior.

    Non-believer is a great way to put it, frankly, as it rather concisely defines the group to which he was referring, whether atheist, agnostic, or however else they refer to themselves.

  19. Rey Fox says

    I think wearing a hideous blue T-shirt over a fanny pack should be grounds for eternal damnation myself.

  20. CrypticLife says

    PZ, your beard would kick that guy’s beard’s ass.

    But why is he wearing a backpack under his shirt?

  21. Longtime Lurker says

    Wow, that man has a mighty dewlap!

    The folks at “Sadly, no” must be made aware of this picture of a reel troo ‘murkin.

  22. Hanes says

    “Freethinkers” would never be included because it would be offensive to theists as it would imply their thinking isn’t “free.” Obviously this is the case, but they don’t like it having pointed out to them. As long as politics walks hand-in-hand with religion, that is.

  23. Gotchaye says

    My vote’s also for ‘nonbelievers’. It’s clearer, and, as others have said, it ‘freethinkers’ is a bit judgmental. It’s a fine word to use if you happen to be an atheist, but it’s not appropriate when addressing a wider audience and it’s not something you can expect a religious person to use. It’s not as offensive, but it’s a bit like pro-lifers insisting on referring to abortion as baby-killing in public.

  24. DTdNav says

    I usually just say I’m non-religious.

    As for that guy’s t-shirt, I deserve hell because it’s a damn sight better that tolerating his BS.

  25. RC says

    I actually do not mind the term non-believer. I do not think that this has a negative connotation for it means we do not believe in fictional incidents and characters which other people believe control their lives. And frankly after all the misuse of the term “freedom” by the ex-president (remember“Freedom Fries”), anything that has “free” jus does not seem right.

  26. Electroslave says

    It’s a fine speech, but I care little for words when there is no action.
    Non-believers seems to be a very specific term… I’m not even sure if I (being a deist) would fit in there. Deists think God exists, but they don’t blindly believe… we reason it out.
    In any case, all of you Americans are Civic Deists. :P

  27. Holbach says

    That cretinous fat moron in the photo should rightly have the shirt read; “Ask me why I deserve a frontal lobotomy”. It’s a wonder he can walk erect and wipe the drool from his mouth. Praise jeebus!

  28. Steve_C says

    Nonbeliever felt pretty innocuous to me. It felt positive to me. I’m stickin with that.

    Sure they “reason” it out. Just like Facilis.

  29. says

    I’m fine with nonbeliever… the fact that it even made it to the speech impressed me. Pastor idiot’s (warren) speech was pretty offensive, though (how many ways can you say Jesus, to make sure even the foreigners know that this is a place for only Christians).

  30. Donnie B. says

    The whole terminology thing is a confusing issue.

    When I visited my brother and his wife over the holidays, I casually referred to myself as a “heathen”. Even though they, too, are non-believers, they took offense at the term.

    They prefer to call themselves “non-religious”. I explained that I used “heathen” ironically, and as a way to pull the teeth from a loaded phrase often used by the godbots.

    I don’t think they bought in, though. It can be tough, especially since my brother and I are preacher’s kids and were pretty much raised in church.

  31. John Charles says

    When I come across obvious bullshit—from Abraham to Zoroaster—I don’t believe it.

    So yeah, ‘non-believer’ suits be just fine.

    Count me as one more non-believer happy to get a shout out.

  32. Last Hussar says

    Look at the percentages of the US population that believe Creation, Flood, even geocentricisty. Even if he makes Hitchins look like a Christian apologist he isn’t goiung to able to do anything other than go with the general flow with this- he’s got enough problems with the Freepers without handing them the religeon stick to beat him with- Some parts of the GOP have been talking since November about doing their best to block him.

    More interestingly look at what he dids say about science- I watched it live on the BBC (was 5:05 here). Lots of little sniping at the Bush Anti Science position “We will restore science to its rightful place, ” plus acknowledgments that the environment is under threat. One part he basically said US and Western profligacy would have to be reigned in.

    It’s called politics. He had to keep the 80% happy. Even then it wasn’t straight forward speech- “Christian and Muslim”- “Coupling Good Ol’ Boys” with them ‘steenking Rag Heads’. Even if he got the whole atheist vote, simple maths shows 60+% of his supporters identify as Christian.

    The economy is in the toilet, you are stuck with a war that annoys your major oil providers, the gap between rich and poor is widening. Upsetting your supporters doesn’t even make it to the bottom of the list.

  33. says

    “Freethinker” comes across like “pro-life” does – arrogant. I’m happy with atheist or nonbeliever, and I’m extremely happy we finally have a President who acknowledges us.

    George H. W. Bush said we shouldn’t be considered citizens not 20 years ago, remember!

  34. says

    I also caught the brief acknowledgment of the existence of non-believers. It’s a small thing, but appreciated.

    That line came from his book, The Audacity of Hope. I didn’t see anyone pick up on it when the book was published, though. I guess either not so many atheist bloggers have read it, or the context of the inauguration gave it more weight.

  35. Michelle says

    “And all this time I thought there something in the bible about not judging others.”

    Yea… but there’s also a LOT of parts about judging others.

    God’s very confused, see.

  36. Your Mighty Overload says

    I thought Obama’s mention of non-believers was very pointed – a good thing. He made it very clear that you could certainly be a citizen, a patriot and all those other buzzwords the right-wingers like to trot out while still not believing in God.

    Overall, a very nice speech, but let’s see what he DOES.

    Oh, and I think “non-believer” is better than freethinker, as it is much more clear – freethinker is a bit of a woolly term with little recognition by most people.

  37. Li'l Innocent says

    I can’t think of a term for someone who does not subscribe to organized religion that is free of negative connotation. Non-believer, in addition to being a negative term, is to my mind too sweeping, or unspecific. How is “belief” defined? Free-thinker sounds great if you are atheist or agnostic – but as pointed out above, it implies that everyone else is incapable of independent thought.

    There are good reasons for the lack of a positive or neutral term. Organized religion is the norm, and those who openly and purposely keep away from it are outriders. As such we are braced for inevitable disapproval and criticism, and take a fists-up, jaw-set posture.

    Looking at the two Revs. who spoke at the inauguration, I don’t agree with either Rick Warren or Joseph Lowery theologically – but I feel much less attacked by what seemed like the humanist approach of Rev. Lowery. Without knowing either man, I sense that Lowery wouldn’t censure me or try to put the fear of hellfire in me, and would generally be content to let me go my way philosophically. I’m content for him to go his.

  38. may says

    what gets me is

    the absolute conviction that i am going to writhe in agony for the rest of ever coupled with the demand that i respect and honour the devotion of the person holding such a hideous mindset.

  39. Quiet_Desperation says

    I would *totally* ask that guy why I deserve Hell. How come I never see potential comedy gold like that when I’m out and about?

  40. Chris says

    “The better choice, the word that would have been more inclusive and positive, is “freethinkers”. Someone let his speechwriters know.”

    “Freethinkers” and “Brights” are not the sort of self-ascribed and most importantly inclusive terms that work well with others. It’s possible that one day someone will find a better descriptive term, but right now I don’t feel that we have it.

  41. Jon H says

    “It’s a fine speech, but I care little for words when there is no action.”

    Dude, he’d been President for a matter of minutes when he gave the speech. There’ll be plenty of action tomorrow.

    I believe he did already order government agencies to freeze all new regulations the Bush administration started putting in place.

  42. Blind Squirrel FCD says

    You can’t be a heathen if you have been preached to. You automatically become a heretic.


  43. Stewy.cvl says

    “We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.”

    Hopefully he can keep his promises… this was my favorite part of the speech…

  44. says

    I don’t like the term “freethinker”. I much prefer “non-believer”, it’s much more to the point. I too gave a little woop (all alone in my living room while I got ready for work) when I heard it, and I too appreciated the little pause, as if to really drive the point home. It was nice, particularly after Rick Warren’s bullcrap.

  45. Qwerty says

    “Freethinkers” – great choice to replace non-believers as non-believer may imply that one doesn’t believe in anything while “freethinker” implies that one may not believe in the existence of a god or a supernatural power.

  46. may says

    what gets me is

    the desire to see me writhe in agony for the rest of ever coupled with the demand to be respected and honoured for holding and being devoted to such a hideous mindset.

  47. says

    I also caught the brief acknowledgment of the existence of non-believers. It’s a small thing, but appreciated.

    We should probably just be glad that Obama grew up free from the “benefits of religion,” which probably is the main reason he gives “non-believers” some credit.

    After all, he couldn’t easily spout the pious nonsense that growing up with religion is detrimental to a child’s mind–it would call into question his own mind.

    So he has to speak up a little for the irreligious. I still do not expect him to do so very often. After all, he invoked religion more than McCain did, although he did not have to follow a religious agenda as much as McCain did.

    Glen D

  48. hje says

    Maybe he’s advertising for a very spicy beef sandwich–“Hell”. It’s probably viral marketing for some new “angry” sandwich from some fast food chain ; )

  49. Sarah says

    Sorry, I’m being insensitive of those people who have better caloric-storage capacity than myself.

    Yeah, because judging people’s health on the way they look on the inside is just brilliance!

    Seriously, let’s get over 2nd grade insults here.

  50. Sarah says

    Sorry, I’m being insensitive of those people who have better caloric-storage capacity than myself.

    Yeah, because judging people’s health and lifestyle on the way they look on the outside is just brilliance!

    Seriously, let’s get over 2nd grade insults here.

  51. Madge says

    On a happy note, having attended the inauguration and seen the protesters myself, you won’t believe the romance that anti-gay protesters seemed to bring out in people. Every time I passed them there was always at least one homosexual couple (or sometimes not homosexual but certainly same sex) making out quite passionately as close as they could to the protesters while the crowd cheered them on. Ah, fighting hate with love. It’s beautiful.

  52. John Morales says

    I watched it via the link in PZ’s post, and think it was a good speech.

    Also, it’s very clear from the phrasing (“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.”)* which group of people are referred to by the term non-believers.
    I think that, in the context of the speech, it is of significance and is a huge change from the previous President’s tone.

    * Credit: copy/pasting from MinnPost, not my transcription.

  53. Mike says

    God-soaked, indeed. The acknowledgment of “non-believers” was nice though. The pub I was watching in cheered that, and even more when he talked about science. It’s nice living in Seattle :)

  54. Your Mighty Overload says

    hje at 62

    Actually, “Hell” is a pizza company in New Zealand, so you could well be onto something. I mean, that’s a guy who looks like he enjoys a slice of pizza! Maybe they’re expanding to America-land….

  55. mostlywater says

    I’m fine with non-believer for accuracy & Atheist for effect, as it conjures Dawkins, Harris, etc. Freethinker is a little too close to Free Will, which the godbots I’ve run across got (paradoxically, it seems to me) from Big Omniscient. Also, thinking isn’t free. It takes a little effort, unlike goddidit.

    “Tell me why I deserve hell someday & I’ll tell you why you’re in it right now…”



    I’m stealing it.

    Pls excuse errors. Typed on a phone.

  56. gypsytag says

    that guy’s t-shirt should have read

    Ask me why i deserve a heart attack.

    damn, isn’t gluttony one of the 7 deadly sins?

  57. bootsy says

    I was at the inauguration and verbally assaulted some of the loonies with their “Depend on Jesus, not Obama” signs. Actually “verbally-defended myself” would be a better term, considering these imbeciles were allowed megaphones for some reason.

    My favorite taunt (admittedly, these weren’t well thought-out, just reactive): “When you die, there will be NOTHING! Nothing!”… (It doesn’t read that well, but when you’re yelling it, you can really draw out the ‘Nothing’ satisfyingly.)

  58. says

    Freethinker is a disgustingly arrogant word, and as an atheist I want no part of it. There is no better and more inclusive term than the one he used “nonbelievers.”

  59. Jay says

    I watched this cartoony preacher717 character on YouTube, and laughed my ass off! I’m not sure after watching several of his videos whether he is a legitimate preacher or a prankster. The guy is just too over-the-top to be serious. The whole time I was watching this guy I was thinking this is indistinguishable from those Borat-type of gags. He is obviously hamming it up for the camera, and baiting the crowds. I’m no shrink, but this guy seems to need a lot of attention, so it would make sense to me if he were doing this whole thing just to get a reaction out of people.

  60. gypsytag says

    Freethinker is a wonderfully arrogant word and as an atheist i love being called one. there is no better and more inclusive term than freethinker for the people that post here.

  61. says

    I don’t get all the dislike of “freethinker”. It’s a fine old traditional word, and very inclusive: it includes agnostics and deists, as well as atheists.

  62. says

    P.Z. it’s not inclusive at all nor is it specific. Many divergent groups have considered themselves freethinkers. Not to mention that it’s needlessly insulting to others. And I’m the LAST one to care about insulting others, but I couldn’t imagine saying that I am a “freethinker” to someone’s face, therefore telling them flat out they are not. Whether I believe it or not, there are better ways to converse.

    Of course, I agree that when argued against in the way most religious here do there is nothing wrong with being rude, I see no reason to define myself in such a way.

  63. gypsytag says

    it appears that calling oneself something positive is unacceptable because it implies others are not that.
    of course it certainly doesn’t prevent the others from also calling themselves free thinkers (i.e. inclusivity) but i guess that point is entirely irrelevant.

    note to atheist group: it is unacceptable to call yourself something positive as you will invariably insult someone else.

  64. kamaka says


    Ask ME why you deserve to be baited.

    You start out acting like you’re really interested in what he has to say, y’know, let him feed out some rope, really engage him. Then, when you have something to work with, turn it back on him (said as innocently and calmly as possible) with something that will absolutely outrage him. It’s pretty easy with these types to send them into a red-faced, spittle spraying fit.

    Then you wink and say “Gotcha”. FTW.

    Pointing and laughing allowed, being as he asked for it.

  65. says

    gypsytag, the way you post you must be a troll, especially putting words in my mouth I never said.

    The fact is freethinking has nothing to do with whether you believe in god or not. You can be atheist and not a freethinker, but of course no theists are freethinkers. Just lacking a belief in god does not a freethinker make.

    And also don’t see such arrogance as positive at all. There is nothing positive or negative about atheism. It simply is. Positive and negative only come in when your talking about a philosophical viewpoint. atheism, being simply the lack of belief in a deity, is not such. It cannot, in itself, be good or bad.

    wow you’re thick, if not a troll

  66. says

    Is “skeptic” okay by everybody?

    I like it, since it’s not obviously self-aggrandizing like “freethinker” appears to me to be. There’s a problem with morons using it, as in “I’m skeptical that chance can cause a human to be born” or “I’m skeptical of AGW,” but so what? Reasserting that skepticism isn’t really the same thing as denial due to prejudice seems an important goal, along with finding a neutral term for what are ideally “thinkers.”

    “Freethinker” troubles me partly because I think it can lull people into thinking that they’re doing the proper work of thinking just because they have the title, not because they really are thinking well. And it also bothers me in part because we’re not all that “free” in thinking, indeed many of your flaky New Age types are more likely to “think freely” (without the facts, that is) than is a good skeptic. Of course “freethinker” needn’t be literal in meaning, however I think that people tend to take it that way, at least sometimes demanding that we “think through” anything and everything, no matter how stupid and unsupported it may be.

    So I like “skeptic,” but I am not sure that many others do, seeing it negatively. Right now, I don’t especially mind its negative connotations, however, because looking skeptically at nonsense is a lot of what this society needs.

    Glen D

  67. John Morales says

    I don’t grok this problem over terminology.

    Personally, I’ve described myself as an atheist, (literal) agnostic, infidel, freethinker, sceptic and rationalist, depending on the context. I use whatever terminology seems most appropriate to the context (um, is that a form of framing?:)

  68. says

    That pitiful waste of DNA in the photograph is one of the multitudes of barely-functional mouthbreathers who are so pathetic in their ignorance that the only comfort they can find in their dim and cramped universe is being able to persuade themselves they are somehow superior to others simply because of their preferred brand of superstition, since they have not done anything to actually earn some self-esteem. If that isn’t truly “living in hell” I don’t know what is. They deserve all of the scorn and pity that comes their way.

  69. says

    I think I’m perfect happy right now to simply be acknowledged as a non-believer. Yes, we might all prefer to be called freethinkers, but this is an inherently divisive word, implying that those who exist outside our ideological norms might be ‘cagedthinkers’. I would be most happy if we could simply be referred to as what we are, atheists… however, for now, this is enough.

    Between this and his promise to restore science to it’s rightful place, I think the majority of us have earned a moment, if just a moment, to step back and look at what we have accomplished.

    Don’t rest too long, though. Remember that the deadline for science standards in Texas is fast approaching. If you haven’t done anything yet, now is the time!

  70. Nerd of Redhead says

    Freethinker or non-believer, fairly close. I can live with either. I prefer freethinker slightly, since the implication is I can think better than they can.

  71. Rebelest says

    The only problem that I have with “freethinker” and “freethought” is that most people outside of the freethought community don’t know what it means.

    I’m a member of a locally based freethought association. We set up community outreach booths at events in our area with our large “Memphis Freethought Association” sign prominently displayed. Over ninety per cent of people have no idea what it means. Some of the members try to explain it using the traditional definition: one who rejects authority and dogma, especially in regards to religion, in favor of rational inquiry. I usually just say, “We are atheists!” There is no ambiguity in that. Then they run away. Real men don’t need Jesus*

    *Sorry ladies, that’s just a play on the old Promise Keepers slogan: Real men love Jesus. You know, he has such pretty, long, blond hair and crystal clear, blue eyes. He’s so handsome and hunky!

  72. mcow says

    I actually kind of like “non-believer”, since it implies a rejection of any kind of faith (although “belief”, admittedly has other meanings besides faith). Mostly, I like the parallel to “non-smoker”. Like smoking, religious belief is addictive, unhealthy, and often obnoxious.

    I suppose, though, that those atheists and agnostics who still go for astrology, and other crap like that, might feel left out.

  73. gypsytag says

    no SDR i’m not thick and i’m not a troll and i don’t need to be told what atheism is, since i have been an atheist my while life.

    You took what i thought to be a ludicrous stance on not using the word freethinker. it was over the top and hence i mocked you for it.

    get over it.

  74. says

    I was happy with “non-believer”. I would have preferred “atheists and agnostics”. I don’t identify as a freethinker at all. There’s a number of reasons for that, much to convoluted to go into right now, but still. I was happy that he mentioned Hindus, as opposed to just listing Abrahemic religions and then tacking on non-believers. I’d add that there are other philosphical/religious traditions in the world that don’t accept the existence of any gods. Some strains of Confucianism and Buddhism come to mind.

  75. says

    I’m with PZ, here: ‘freethinkers’ is a great term.

    Why is it necessary to assume that “freethinker” is insulting to the outgroup? Don’t A LOT of religions demand a rejection of doubt — doubt, which is necessary for free, reasoned thinking? Don’t A LOT of religious groups demand that it’s possible to sin in thought, and that some thoughts are wrong?

    Doesn’t that make freethought something many religions, like Christianity, openly and proudly reject?

    WE find it insulting to say a group doesn’t think freely, because WE VALUE freethought (for good reason!). But not everyone does, and not only do they realize it – they’re PROUD of it! They call it faith!

    For most theists, being anti-freethought is what being religious is all about.

    ~ CJ

  76. Gotchaye says

    I think we need to distinguish between the two contexts being discussed. First, there’s the question of what (certain kinds of) atheists ought to call themselves, among themselves. For my part, I don’t care – freethinkers seems as good as anything else. Second, and more relevant to Obama’s speech, is the question of what atheists ought to be known as publicly.

    Turuk tees me up for this rather nicely – no one thinks that it’s reasonable to insist that atheists be referred to publicly as Reality Based Bipeds. I’ll bite gypsytag’s bullet and say that it’s inappropriate to call your group something that large numbers of people outside of the group find positive, unless they also recognize that your group has that positive attribute. Nothing about the label ‘Christian’ implies that the group is better than other groups, though the group does believe that they’re better than other groups. But the clear implication of the label ‘freethinkers’ is that this group, and not others, thinks freely (which, while vague, is obviously a good thing to do). It’s unreasonable to expect non-freethinkers to use a label that implies that the speakers are not free-thinking. I have a similar problem with the pro-life/pro-choice labeling.

  77. says

    For the record, I’m fine with non-believer. I always thought that we used the term “freethinker” just to piss off the god-bots (an activity which I consider a worthy use of one’s time). I certainly don’t expect a professing theist to use that term.

  78. says

    After thinking about it I think we should heretoforth refer to christians as crosstafarians.

    I do not, nor have I ever, believed in a crosstifarian god.

  79. Aquaria says

    But why is he wearing a backpack under his shirt?

    To carry his stash of Ding-Dongs and Twinkies, what else?

    Duh! ;)

  80. says

    I really don’t feel the need to label myself at all.

    I kind of hate to do this, but I will any way.

    You are White and male. You are also of at least reasonable means, if not more well off. I’ll add to that that you have a car. You also are college educated and read a lot, whether books or the internet.

    I’m probably wrong about one of those, but more likely not.

  81. Balaji says

    I think “non-believer” is a much better word term than free-thinker. What do you mean by free-thinker? There is no reason to claim that people who ‘believe’ aren’t free thinkers. Just that they found theologists and priests more convincing than philosophers and scientists. And if anyone claims to be a ‘free-thinker’ without trying to find what people ‘believe’, he/she isn’t much of a free-thinker, no?

    Although I still wonder how Hindus/Jains/Buddhists in the US fit here. Many from this group are atheists because they ‘believe’ in the tenets of their religion.

  82. Nils says

    I have no problem with the term ‘unbeliever’. It’s entirely accurate. The negative connotations that go along with it are only negative to people raised in a religious manner, taught to believe not only that the mere existence of faith is valuable, but that its absence is catastrophic.

    And we’re not trying to pander to those people, but to change their minds.

    Unbelievers. We should use it more often.

  83. africangenesis says

    “freethinker” seems to be an anachronism that has lost its original meaning, much like “humanitarian”. The people in organizations identifying with these terms are more likely to be marxists or environmentalists, who despite the problems of starvation and poverty, are more interested in growing fuel rather than food, in protectionism rather than trade and globalism, and punishing the corporations and the rich, even at the expense of economic growth and a smaller pie for all.

    “Empiricist” or “libertarian” would seem to capture the more positive aspects of that open and tolerant, yet evidence based way of thinking. Why identify as an “atheist” or “nonbeliever”, if you don’t think “god” or “indigo children” are real enough to be worth spending much time on. The religious, mystical, and spiritual nature of modern humans which combines with our community and consensus seeking nature will probably remain a subject of speculation for generations. Did evolution produce the rational animal, the mystical animal, the cultural animal and the fanatical animal all in one? Which was the innovation that separated us from neaderthalis or home erectus, are we flattering ourselves if we assume it was rationality? Perhaps it was our lemming nature:

  84. TeleMan says

    When dealing with Believers I find that the term Atheist scares them and the term non-believer makes them instantly sermonize. So if asked if I believe I just tell them I’m a “man of science.”

  85. africangenesis says


    It does get old doesn’t it. People do find the teachings of Jesus and Paul attractive, and I was interested for awhile in what it is in human nature that these philosophies appeal to. I find that it is more polite to let them know they are wasting their time, that despite the attractive things about their religion that you can acknowledge, that the human, God or blood sacrifice mechanism for “forgiving” sin, just doesn’t make sense for an omnipotent God who could have chosen to forgive sins with a simple click of the fingers instead. And that any divinity for Jesus turns his “sacrifice” into mere play acting, since he knew he was eternal anyway. Softening this kind of cold assessment with the acknowledgements of some positive contributions of Christianity to western civilization and humanitarian thought, can preserve friendships and keep relationships on the values and interests that are shared dispite this difference.

  86. Thoughts Cost TreeFiddy says

    The term “freethinker” blows, but not as badly as “bright”. What awful terms. The sooner they die out as memes the better I will like the world.

    That said, I’m not 100% happy with atheist or non-believer either. This is defining the state of belief in terms of a negative. We don’t say smart people are non-dumb, right? In that sense I like the term “secular humanist” or just “humanist” better because, in my mind, it is a positive assertion of value more than merely a rejection of irrational delusion.

    So while I would much rather people use the term “non-believer” than “freethinker” or “bright”, to the faithful the term “non-believer” will tend to reinforce their prejudice against non-believers because an awful lot of them will automatically and cretinously associate non-belief with negative connotations. To them, non-believer is an epithet. If people use “humanist”, however, in my mind the focus is the positive stances of celebrating critical values, and the rejecting the delusions of mankind’s childhood is merely a tasty dessert.

  87. Levi in NY says

    I certainly have my differences with President Obama and Vice President Biden, but I’m still proud to have worked for the campaign and to have voted for them. They are a huge improvement over Bush and Cheney, and certainly much better than McCain and Palin would have been. And no matter what your politics are, you have to be moved by the way that history was made here.

  88. robbrown says

    I like non-believers, although “non-religious” might have been slightly less vague (although in context it was obvious what non-believers don’t believe in) and equally non-confrontational. I find a lot of people identify fine with non-religious, without explicitly stating that they don’t believe….just that they aren’t actively religious.

    Freethinkers is rather lame (I don’t consider myself a freethinker, because I don’t find myself “free” to subscribe to things that run counter to evidence), and atheist would have been a bit too in-your-face for my taste, and really includes a lot fewer people.

    I saw a lot of people didn’t like the way he set it off from the others, but I thought that was appropriate…partly because it IS set off from the others, and partly because he was recognizing that including that group was a new thing in such a speech. So no complaints there.

  89. Levi in NY says

    The term “freethinkers” is one that will simply not catch on outside the atheist/agnostic/whatever community. You can’t honestly expect theists to pick up on it and start using it, because it implies that they are not thinking freely. That may be true to an extent, since most theists’ beliefs are based on some degree of dogma, but it’s still a loaded term.

    “Non-believers” is just fine, and probably better. It’s inclusive enough; what we share in common is simply that we don’t believe in religion. I can understand why people would want a more positive term that reflects something we believe in and not something we don’t believe in. But let’s face it, what binds us together is that we don’t believe in what most people do believe in. That’s why we exist as a community, and that’s really all that defines us in opposition to those who do believe in religion.

    There are plenty of theists who think freely, who are bright, who are rationalists, etc. They just happen to be the believers, and we happen to be the non-believers. And that’s okay with me.

  90. John C. Randolph says

    Hell is a small town in Michigan. I’ve never been there, but I hear it’s pleasant.


  91. melior says

    There are plenty of theists who think freely, who are bright, who are rationalists, etc.

    U r doin it wrong.

  92. Josh says

    PZ, it’s just because “freethinker” is a fine old word, associated with the 18th century and what have you, that it’d’ve been an awkward fit. There really are people around today who call themselves “freethinkers” and mean that they believe every bit of New Age crap that they encounter as well as all they know of the Abrahamic religions. When I heard the speech, I thought “skeptics” would have worked better. I guess “nonbelievers” is okay tho.

  93. jo5ef says

    For some strange reason the term “freethinker” makes me think of some old, tough, Russian guy with a big white beard.
    Non-believers is pretty cool, especially the way he said it, as if its about time it was said.

  94. Muffin says

    Heh. Makes me wanna walk up to that guy with a shirt that says “ask me about my diet”. :)

  95. Wowbagger says

    For any newbies, visiting theists or other curious random passersby – please recognise the existence of this post as evidence that there’s absolutely nothing resembling an echochamber, or people walking in lockstep to the beat of our Bearded Overlord’s drum.

    There are no fundamentals (and no fundamentalists), no dogma, no beliefs – as is so perfectly illustrated by not only our inability to agree on what we’d like to be called, but also the fact that we don’t see our inability to agree on what we’d like to be called as any sort of barrier whatsoever to continuing our lack that belief.

    All we ever need to agree on is the absence of god/s from our lives.

  96. says

    Yeah, I much prefer “nonbeliever”. It sums up precisely what I am. I’m not worried about offending people with “freethinker”, I just think “nonbeliever” sounds better :)

  97. says

    Wouldn’t it have been so much better if, in stead of saying:

    “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.”

    Obama had said:

    “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Brights.”

    The term is tightly defined and has a more positive connotation than most others!

  98. Wowbagger says

    The term is tightly defined and has a more positive connotation than most others!

    Yeah, but 75% (or more) of the (television) audience wouldn’t have had a clue about what he was talking about. In fact, I suspect more than a few of them were wondering what the heck a ‘Hindu’ was.

    At least most of them know what Jews and Muslims are. Sadly, most of them only know because of the wrong reasons.

  99. Kate says

    I don’t care what you call me. Atheist, non-believer, heathen, infidel, rationalist… In the end it makes no difference what label you choose for me. I will still be the same person, regardless if you call me Kitty, or Kat, or Katharine or Kate. It’s just a name, a way for people to quantify and identify their surroundings.

    I really don’t see what the fuss is about. Unless, of course, you’re into that silly woo about “framing”.

  100. africangenesis says


    Like Wowbagger, I am concerned that most people would not know what a “Bright” is. In the English speaking world that may be a positive, since some people might be curious enough to investigate. While “bright” is overloaded in English, attempts to translate it into other languages may not carry the same connotations as the word has in English. The translator may have to choose to go with the electromagnetic translation or the intelligence translation, or perhaps it would just get translated based on its atheistic meaning “infidel”. The positive connotation may merely be an artifact of english.

  101. secularguy says

    Wouldn’t it have been so much better if,

    No, that would have made it sound as if “Brights” is just some other religious division, while “non-” clearly says: those who reject those belief systems.

  102. Colonel Molerat says

    Ooh ooh! My turn to weigh-in!
    I’m not much of a fan of ‘freethinker’, as (despite it being an old term) I’ve only heard it frequently used recently, in response to religious fundamentalism – the same with ‘sceptic’.
    Both seem like ways of saying ‘atheist’ without offending the religous; if one is talking about skepticism/freethinking in general, then they are well-suited, but when talking specifically about religion, it seems far more sensible to simply call ourselves ‘atheists’ or ‘non-believers’, as these are not general approaches to interpreting the world, but are specific to the matter of religion.
    Although, I think I’m influenced by living in the UK – for most of my life ‘atheist’ hasn’t been a dirty word. It came as a bit of a surprise when one of my girlfriend’s friends said that she didn’t believe in any god, but wouldn’t call herself an atheist. Since ‘atheist’ is simply what she is if she doesn’t believe in any gods, it seems the most sensible term to use. I think the US negative connotations seem to be creeping over here.
    I don’t like any attempt to come up with an ‘acceptable’ term for an atheist, as they either seem arrogant or ‘soft’. why skirt around the issue of what we are?
    In matters of religion, I’ll label myself ‘atheist’, in matters of approach to evidence, ‘skeptic’… I don’t really know the roots of ‘freethinker’, but if it applies to authority, then I’d probably use it if somebody was to claim the argument from authority.
    Anyway, I’ve gone on too long already.

  103. says

    Yes, freethinker is a fine old tradition. But it’s more demanding than mere non-belief – as MH points out above. Non-believer is a fine catch-all term, that doesn’t require any extra explanation.

  104. says

    Glen @#81: “skeptic/sceptic” is seriously no good. It has too much of a connotation of rejecting ALL knowledge claims


    , it’s just because “freethinker” is a fine old word, associated with the 18th century and what have you, that it’d’ve been an awkward fit. There really are people around today who call themselves “freethinkers” and mean that they believe every bit of New Age crap that they encounter as well as all they know of the Abrahamic religions.

    I’m almost certain President Obama (love saying that:)) intended to included such woo-tards. Why would have wanted to leave them out?

    secularguy@133 : “secular people”: Do not like! As far as I’m concerned, secularism is about the state staying neutral in matters of religion not about anyone’s personal beliefs and confusing the two makes religious people oppose a secular state (which is rarely actually in their interests)

    I’m fine with being a “non-believer” and even finer with “infidel” (since IIRC it means “without faith”).

    “Irreligious” might have been the closest to what the context suggests he meant.

  105. Nerd of Redhead says

    I consider freethinker versus non-believer argument is like titles at work. They can call me what they as long as it is reasonable, but the pay is what matters (or acknowledgement that I don’t believe in their god for this discussion).

  106. Baudi says

    Isn’t gluttony considered a sin? I suppose this guy will be joining us heathens in hell?

  107. Christophe Thill says

    How about some comments from across the pond ?

    Here in France, everything was reported live on TV and on the newspapers’ websites. The speech was shown, translated… rather pooorly in my opinion; the famous “unbelievers” was translated as “atheists”, which simplifies the discussion quite a bit! But everyone could appreciate what was said, and feel that something new was going on (as you might know, here, about 80% of the people would have voted for Obama). I was struck by the fact that, every now and then, a phrase came up in the speech that was a real slap in the face for George Bush: restoring science, no contradiction between safety and ideals, America being a friend of each nation, etc.

    But that’s not what our former President, Mr Giscard d’Estaing, heard. The old fossil had been unearthed by some TV channel and asked for his opinion. Well, he said, that was an empty speech. Obama didn’t say how much money his anti-crisis plan will give to whom and when, so he said nothing.

    Such silliness seems to be an infectious disease in the media. It seems that our journalists can only sing one note, the same one, at a time. When Obama was elected, they all concentrated on his skin color and passed quickly on his views. Now they’re all treating him like some superman or demigod. But the latest song that’s just beginning to be heard is that he’s “bound to deceive”. Some particularly arrogant commenters even give a timeframe (100 days!).

    And now for the best laughs. Some of the most unctuous among President Sarkozy’s henchmen suggested that Obama somehow owes him his victory. You see, Sarkozy’s father in Hungarian. So obviously, his election paved the way for the election of another President of mixed ascendency. Not to be outdone, Socialist leader Ségolène Royal claims that Obama got the idea of an Internet campaign from her and her team…

    As for me, all I have to say is: congratulations for the new guy in charge. He really can’t be worse than the one before. But I think he has some serious strong points. I’m impatient to see how things turn out.

  108. Christophe Thill says

    Sorry… I didn’t mean “to deceive” but “to disappoint”. Didn’t think I’d still make that mistake!

  109. Alyson says

    I’m okay with Obama using “non-believers” in his speech because if he said “freethinkers,” most of his audience would probably say, “What?” I can label myself as an atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, skeptic humanist, science groupie, and godless heathen, but those are words I use for myself. When it’s President Obama (excuse me just a moment: *dances*) talking to the whole nation, I want everyone to know what the heck he’s talking about. I never even heard the term “freethinker” until the last few years, and I’ve been a godless heathen for more than half my life. I’ll thank Obama for clarity to his intended audience far more than for choosing the right name for a community that doesn’t yet agree on what to call itself.

  110. CharmedQuark says

    If you carefully review the reasons that President Obama has stated for his becoming a Christian , it sure sounds as if it was done out of a sense of community rather then any revelation such as Frances Collin’s marveling at frozen water.

    Despite debate over semantics it certainly was encouraging to have “non-believers” acknowledged in the inaguration speech.

    Likewise it was great to hear our new President promise to “return science to it’s rightful place.”

    Imagine how differently most of us would feel if our new President was McCain and just a heart attack away, Vice President Palin.

    Thomas Jefferson
    – 3rd U.S. President (1801-1809)
    – Louisianna Purchase
    – Lewis & Clark Expedition
    – second Vice President (1797-1801)
    – Governor of Virginia (1779-1781)
    – Secretary of State (1789-1793)
    – lawyer, scientist, architect (designed Monticello), educator, botanist, archeologist
    – primary author of Decleration of Independence
    – author of Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779, 1786)
    (separation of church & state)
    – founder of University of Virginia (1825)
    – first college to have an elective system of study
    – first university to be free of any religious doctrine
    – notable for having building centered around a library rather then a church (no campus chapel in original plans)
    – campus and buildings designed by Jefferson

    “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.” 1787 letter to his nephews

    “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782.

    “History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose. ” Thomas Jefferson to Baron von Humboldt, 1813
    “I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.” Unknown
    “Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.” Unknown”I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology” -Thomas Jefferson

    “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But a heresy it certainly is. Jesus told us indeed that ‘God is a spirit,’ but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the ancient fathers generally, if not universally, held it to be matter: light and thin indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter.” letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820
    “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg

    “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
    “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own” Letter to H. Spafford, 1814

    “…an amendment was proposed by inserting the words, ‘Jesus Christ…the holy author of our religion,’ which was rejected ‘By a great majority in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and the Infidel of every denomination.'” From Jefferson’s biography

    “The authors of the gospels were unlettered and ignorant men and the teachings of Jesus have come to us mutilated, misstated and unintelligible.”

    “The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.”

    Thomas Jefferson said: “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

  111. charmedquark says

    John Adams
    2nd U.S. President & Founding Father

    John Adams claimed Anglo-Saxon common law, which has been around longer than Christianity, as the basis of our legal system

    “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Treaty of Tripoly, article 11

    “But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed.”
    “What havoc has been made of books through every century of the Christian era? Where are fifty gospels condemned as spurious by the bull of Pope Gelasius? Where are forty wagon-loads of Hebrew manuscripts burned in France, by order of another pope, because of suspected heresy? Remember the Index Expurgato-rius, the Inquisition, the stake, the axe, the halter, and the guillotine; and, oh! horrible, the rack! This is as bad, if not worse, than a slow fire. Nor should the Lion’s Mouth be forgotten. Have you considered that system of holy lies and pious frauds that has raged and triumphed for 1,500 years.” letter to John Taylor, 1814, quoted in In God We Trust and 2000 Years of Disbelief
    “The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles.” letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815

    “As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816

    “Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.” letter to his son, John Quincy Adams, November 13, 1816, from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Di
    “It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [formation of the American governments] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven…”

    “The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.”

    “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”

  112. says

    The problem with guys like the one depicted is anyone who approaches him has already lost the mind battle. They already conceaded that this guy can tell them why he is a “sinner” and deserves whatever he wants to say.

    This is not about religion, but weak wills.

  113. Holbach says

    round guy @ 137

    It would be too late to talk to him, as it would be akin to speaking with a turnip.

  114. WRMartin says

    If this lard-ass is going to be with us in hell then can we at least make him sit off to the side somewhere out of the way while he picks his nose and puts the boogers in that plastic tub? And the fanny pack? Girl, please! You should just wipe your nose on your sleeve – there’s no need to save that nasal gold in plastic tubs then stash them in the fanny pack for later. Several fast food places have items for about a dollar.

  115. charmedquark says

    Abraham Lincoln
    President (1809-1865)

    “The Bible is not my book nor
    Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.”

    In 2000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught, Lincoln is mentioned on pages 125 through 127. From the material presented it would seem that Lincoln as a young man was an avid anti-christian and most likely an atheist. In his later years, he came to believe in God, but still was anti-religious in the sense that he rejected organized religion. Some selections from Haught: John T. Stuart, Lincoln’s first law partner: “He was an avowed and open infidel, and sometimes bordered on Atheism…He went further against Christian beliefs and doctrines and principles than any man I ever heard.”

    “The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.” Joseph Lewis quoting Lincoln in a 1924 speech in New York
    “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.” Lincoln in a letter to Judge J.S. Wakefield, after the death of Willie Lincoln

    As a young man Lincoln apparently wrote a manuscript that he planned to publish, which vehemently argued against the divine origin of the Bible and the Christian scheme of salvation. Samuel Hill, a friend and mentor, convinced him to drop it, considering the disastrous consequences it would have on his political career. William H Herndon, a former law partner, wrote a biography on Lincoln titled: “The true story of a great life”. In it Herndon discusses Lincoln’s religious views extensively. Gordon Leidner has collected some quotations from Lincoln’s later years in which he invokes God, and he makes the argument that Lincoln became a sincere believer. It seems to me he did come to believe in God, but he never accepted organized Christianity.
    “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
    “It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to Infidelity.”

  116. says

    John Adams claimed Anglo-Saxon common law, which has been around longer than Christianity, as the basis of our legal system

    If he did claim exactly that I’m pretty sure he was wrong. There was no common law in Anglo-Saxon England (it was first codified in 1189) and I’m fairly sure that neither the Angles or the Saxons existed in any recognisable form in the first century CE.

  117. charmedquark says

    From our first President:

    George Washington
    Jefferson noted in his journal,

    “Dr. Rush told me (he had it from Asa Green) that when the clergy addressed General Washington, on his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to disclose publicly whether he was a Christian or not. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly, except that, which he passed over without notice.”

    As well as,

    “I know that Gouverneur Morris, who claimed to be in his secrets, and believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more in that system [Christianity] than he did.”

    Washington does frequently refer to “Providence” “the invisible hand that guides the affairs of man” and so on but he never in his speeches or writing did he refer to “God” “Jesus” or anything specificly Christian. Even “providence” he varying refers to as he, she, and it.

    He sometimes accompanied his wife to Christian church services; however there is no record of his ever becoming a communicant in any Christian church, and he would regularly leave services before communion—with the other non-communicants. When Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, mentioned in a weekly sermon that those in elevated stations set an unhappy example by leaving at communion, Washington ceased attending at all on communion Sundays. Long after Washington died, asked about Washington’s beliefs, Abercrombie replied: “Sir, Washington was a Deist!”
    He did not ask for any clergy on his deathbed, though one was available. His funeral services were those of the Freemasons at the request of his wife, Martha.

  118. says

    It sounds to me as if too many people are unclear about what “freethinker” meant—or means now—to use it without clarification.

    “Unbeliever” is a real word and sounds less artificially constructed than “non-believer.”

  119. Natalie says

    @ 133: “Secular” doesn’t cover the ground that I think Obama was trying to cover. One can be religious and secular at the same time.

  120. JamesR says

    Nonbeliever works for me. For a moment in time he included all of us. Imagine the many people who are nonbelievers and who heard him include them. So many of us do not have any affiliation with a group of like minded people. So the fact that he was respectful of us and acknowledged us is a step in the right direction. It also is a signal to the religious that we are included in the same way as they are.

    I know religious people who claim to be freethinkers. Freethinkers is a nominal identifier. It can mean almost anything. In fact the religious have been slowly insinuating themselves into that realm and as stated do now claim to be freethinkers. Little good that would do us nonbelievers. It is not surprising that the religious would want him to use that word instead of nonbeliever.

  121. JBlilie says


    I like “non-believers,” because it’s specific: people who do not believe in any gods (or fairies, leprechauns, trolls, unicorns, etc.)

    I was floored and pleased when he said that. No other person who ran for president last year would have made that statement.

    The highlights of the speech for me:

    “For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. WE WILL RESTORE SCIENCE TO ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE, AND WIELD TECHNOLOGY’S WONDERS TO RAISE HEALTH CARE’S QUALITY AND LOWER ITS COST. WE WILL HARNESS THE SUN AND THE WINDS AND THE SOIL TO FUEL OUR CARS AND RUN OUR FACTORIES. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.”

    “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — AND NON-BELIEVERS. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”


    Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. THEY UNDERSTOOD THAT OUR POWER ALONE CANNOT PROTECT US, NOR DOES IT ENTITLE US TO DO AS WE PLEASE. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

    We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — EVEN GREATER COOPERATION AND UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN NATIONS. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and ROLL BACK THE SPECTRE OF A WARMING PLANET. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

    [my EMPHASIS thoughout]

  122. C says

    So, you overlook the HUGE importance of a president referencing agnostics/athiests in INCLUSIVE terms rather than disparaging the “godless” and “faithless” as slurs for our enemies, and you’re complaining about the title used?

    Way to see the big picture there, PZ.

  123. charmedquark says

    Some more:

    Benjamin Franklin
    – Founding Father

    “I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies.”
    “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.”

    James Madison
    American president and political theorist (1751-1836).

    “In no instance have . . . the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.”
    “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

    “What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy.”

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.”

    William Howard Taft
    U.S. President
    “I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.”

  124. Holbach says

    JamesR @ 155

    People who are religious cannot be realistically be called freethinkers no matter how they may apply that term to themselves. Religion is doing the thinking for them in the manner of instilling untruth and nonsense into their brains. They may be free to think for themselves, but when those thoughts constitute irrational beliefs that they freely endorse then the term as we know it is rendered void.

  125. charmedquark says

    Thomas Paine
    Author of “Common Sense”
    English born American author and revolutionary leader (1737-1809)

    “The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.”

    “Revelation is a communication of something which the person to whom the thing id revealed did not know before. For if I have done, a thing, or seen it done, it needs no Revelation to tell me, I have done or seen it done nor enable me to tell it or write it. Revelation therefore cannot be applied to anything done upon earth, of which man is himself actor or witness and consequently all the historical part of the Bible which is almost the whole of it, is not within the meaning and compass of the word Revelation and therefore is not the Word of God.”– Thomas Paine The Age of Reason

    “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.” From – The Age of Reason

    “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. ”

    Labeled an atheist, but actually a deist, raised by Quakers, who was extremely critical of organized religion. According to Carl Sagan in The Demon Haunted World, “later generations reviled him for his social and religious views. Theodore Roosevelt called him a ‘filthy little atheist.’ . . . He is probably the most illustrious American Revolutionary uncommemorated by a monument in Washington, D.C.”
    The Age of Reason also attacks Christianity as a system of superstition that “produces fanatics” and “serves the purposes of despotism.” When the book reached England, several sellers were convicted of blasphemy and jailed.
    “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”

  126. Winston says

    “I’m good with ‘non-believer’. ‘Freethinker’ is rather inverse-judgemental”

    Those terms are too subtle. I prefer “non-delusional,” “fact-driven,” “critical-thought-capable,” “sky-god-free,” “reality-based,” etc., etc.

  127. lurker42 says

    I’m here to defend the Turnips! Yeah, ya can’t have a conversation with them, but they’re easy to grow, and good in soup.

  128. Desert Son says

    Content with “non-believer” here, but not really too worried about the label.

    On a larger note, I, too, am eager to see what Obama does, BUT . . .

    I think what’s important about his speech, and consequently reflective of the larger need, is that we, as a nation, attend to what we need to do. That is to say, what Obama does will be important, but it will also be extremely important what we all do. I really like his whole thing about how it’s going to take work from everyone.

    I imagine that in the course of his administration, Obama will do things I’m not thrilled about. My hope is that when those things happen, there are also national efforts in support of things I am more enthusiastic about (science education, for example, and separation of church and state, etc.). Time will tell, but I do think it’s important to join up for the “we’re all in this, roll up sleeves, commence with the service to others, improving critical thinking and education, scientific inquiry, reason, did anybody get the license plate number of that economic downturn?, international cooperation, stop consuming so damn much, let homosexuals get married if they so choose, dude, where’s my environmental conscientiousness?” effort.

    Anyway. I was pleased with the inauguration, end of the Bush misadministration, am feeling pretty positive.

    Non-believer. Yeah, I’m o.k. with that. Back to work in Texas.

    No kings,


  129. william e emba says

    How can I get excited at the inaugural speech when it begins with an elementary arithmetical mistake? “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.” Sorry, Mister Forty-Fourth, only forty-three Americans have taken the oath.

  130. llanitedave says

    Look at the context of the statement. “Nonbelievers” is totally appropriate. Obama listed several categories of believers, and then went outside the category, to nonbelievers.

    Big picture indeed. Swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat, as one of our more religious bretheren would put it.

  131. Tobi says

    The guy in the picture is currently doing some angry shouting on my campus. I just walked past him on my way from class, but I’ve put on some warmer clothing and am gathering to troops to go heckling. I love heckling these assholes.

    Maybe I’ll get a picture with him; he is something of a celebrity now that he’s been on Pharyngula and all.

  132. Kalirren says

    I think the most significant trend in that speech is that it was intended for a global audience. Obama wasn’t just talking to Americans. Heck, it’s almost unclear what exactly “we” refers to in many cases. Context makes it clear that he’s talking about American policy, but it’s beautifully ambiguous how the people that could be affected by and the people who can participate in Obama’s new world vision could come from anywhere.

    I think Obama sees/invents for himself to speak of a truly global heritage in the United States. The perspective he has espoused feels like a 21st century reflection upon late 19th-century America. That is the scale of his historical vision, and he fully betrayed it in his inaugural speech. He doesn’t only see himself as the first black president; everyone else can see that for him. What he also sees is that he is already the president who got the United States invited into the 21st century pot-luck; he will have to decide which version of the United States he wants to bring to the party.

  133. tomh says

    I think nonbeliever is perfect. Freethinker may be fine for all you pointy-heads in academia, but for the great unwashed down here in the trenches, nonbeliever leaves no doubt about exactly what it means, especially in the context of a listing of various religions.

  134. Natalie says

    Yep, Dreadnaught, I personally didn’t get every single tiny detail I wanted in a president, therefore Obama is no better than any of the other candidates in the election. That sure is realistic!

  135. Tobi says

    So, we ended up having a counter demonstration. After most of the troops left another showed up with a great idea. We went and found two gay rights flags and just stood silently across the street from them. Well, silently until they started yelling to us, then we politely pointed out that a penis fits perfectly into a vagina, and an anus, and a mouth and hands and therefore homosexuality is perfectly natural. We were just trying to fuck with them; we didn’t care to argue or anything. Within half an hour we were up to about a dozen people standing there against their three. Mind you the temperature was around or below zero at this time. It was a good day.

  136. Hugh (reads a lot) M. says


    White, male and reads a lot. I like that last one, thanks.


    “…more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God”. Thank you, I think I’m going to enjoy reading more about Thomas Paine.

  137. Thrillhouse says

    I read on another blog that the non-believers line was pretty much lifted from Obama’s favorite book, Moby Dick. That might also explain why it’s in The Audacity of Hope, but I’d have to go through both books to confirm it all and it doesn’t quite seem worth it at the moment.

  138. Occam's Hammer says

    Oh, poo. I thought I came up with it. How about Occam’s jacknife? Rolling pin? Toaster?

  139. RedGreenInBlue says

    Interesting article from BBC: the Chief Justice has sworn in President Obama for a second time because of the fluffing of a line during the inauguration…

    and not on the Bible!

    ZOMG!!11ll!eleventyone! U iz nau an athiezt kuntree!

  140. Richard Hubbard says

    This reminded me of today’s (1/22/2009) “The Onion” Day by day calendar headline:
    Street Evangalist Saves 300 Souls From Enjoying Park”

    That about sums it up….

  141. teammarty says

    Hell is a great place to hang out. There’s a resturaunt and an Ice-cream shop and a bar. And a little creek behind it all.
    We (Michigan Atheists) spent 6-6-6 there with a bunch of bikers, partiers, preachers and random people. And, of course, the Karaoke Vampire (He did the Monster Mash!)

    A couple of friends of mine got married there (in costume).

    Directions- (From Ann Arbor) Get on Dexter Road. Once Past Dexter, turn on Dexter-Pinkney Rd. Just before Pinkney, turn LEFT on DARWIN RD. and you’ll wind up right in Downtown Hell. (Don’t Blink)

  142. Buzz says

    I very much enjoyed hearing him acknowledge “non-believers.” It is a huge step, never before worded by a US president(I am guessing but feel pretty confident about this one).