Sincerely Held Religious Beliefs

For years the new atheist movement has been saying in various forms that “Atheism is not a religion.”  That in fact it wasn’t even the opposite of religion in that atheism believed in “nothing at all.”

This is often looked at as a way of taking the debate “high ground,” in that theists are said to be making a positive claim, therefore the burden of proof is on them.  Atheists on the other hand, asserting an absence, did not have to disprove the existence of god.  This is great for scoring points in a debate, but otherwise can cause problems.

For example this outlook often leads to many in the atheist community feeling that atheists are “logical and smart” while theists are “illogical and silly.”  The latter attitude can be counter productive as we are insulting the very people we want to win over eventually.  There is another reason I feel that we have to re-think our attitude that somehow atheism has nothing to do with religion:  that is the crazy idea that the Supreme Court has about religious thought.

In the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court recognized a new(ish?) reason for people to object to complying with laws they disagree with, a “sincerely held religious belief.”

For the record, let me say that I have huge issues with this construction.  Psychology tells us that it is fiendishly difficult to determine what a person “sincerely believes.”  Perhaps the Court felt this way as well as they did not require any evidence of the sincerity of anyone’s beliefs.  No one had to swear on the stand that they really believed one thing or another.  That they said so was enough.

To further confuse things, no one was even asked about the “religious” part either.  The Hobby Lobby people obviously had a bee in their bonnet about abortion and by extension contraception, but was this a “religious” belief.  The Catholic church (for example) is quite clear about its opposition to both abortion and contraception.  But many Protestant churches oppose only abortion.  Some do not even oppose most abortion practices.  Most Jewish groups think that the bible actually allows abortion, which could be used as evidence against Christians who claim the bible forbids it.  But none of this was even brought up.  The Greens basically got to say they opposed abortion, “because Jesus,” and that became that.

So we have a two part test that requires no evidence for either part.  This is obviously very dangerous, and I would hope the court would change course on this, at least requiring people to demonstrate (in some way) the “sincerity” of their beliefs and the religious origin of same.  But I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon.  So what are we atheists supposed to do about these “sincerely held religious beliefs?”

I say it is time we embrace them.

Not believing in God is a religious belief.  I can’t eliminate the possibility of the existence of God through evidence and logic, but I can certainly say I don’t believe in such a being.  In the same way we like to say that we just go one step further than theists, both groups don’t believe in Thor, Baal and Vishnu, and I also don’t believe in Yahweh.  But I will say that my non-belief in Yahweh is every bit as religious belief as a Christian denying Baal.

Often in discussions with theists, we say something like, “What is your evidence for God?”  And they say something like, “Look all around you, the beauty and order of the world, God must have created it.”  When I look at the world, I see no god, competent or otherwise.  This is a religious belief.  And I embrace it.

I was convinced of this idea by listening to Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist interview Lucien Greaves, co-founder of The Satanic Temple.  The Temple is doing great work being the “other side” of religious display cases.  Some city or government entity wants to put up a Christian symbol of some kind and they provide legal cover by saying that all religions are welcome (not thinking that there are really any other religions) and the Satanic Temple shows up with a statue of Baphomet they want to put up.

The Satanic Temple has gained IRS recognition as a “church.”  Greaves said in his interview that the temple represents a “non-theistic” religion, in that they do not actually believe in a supernatural devil.  Or a supernatural anything for that matter.  They do have beliefs about freethought and the importance of opposition to some ideas — and they consider these to be religious beliefs.

Non-theistic churches or religions are not that strange.  Many sects of Buddhism are non-theistic and arguably several originally Christian denominations have essentially become non-theistic such as the Unitarians.  Pointless aside, when I attended for a UU church for a while, the minister and director of religious education were both declared atheists.  Animism such as practiced by many Native Americans is recognized as a religion, even though there is no deity as such.

When we move beyond our cultural norms that “religion is worship of god,” or something like that we quickly run into trouble.  Anthropologists have struggled with how to define “religion” in such a way as to capture it’s essence across time and geographical boundaries.  Struggled so much that they have given up.

Despite a keen and enduring interest in religion, there is no single, uniform anthropological theory of religion or a common methodology for the study of religious beliefs and rituals. Researchers in the area cannot agree as to exactly how “religion” should be defined or what the term religion should encompass. Efforts at defining religion—ranging from Tylor’s 1871 definition of religion as “the belief in spirit beings” to the more complex definitions offered by Clifford Geertz and Melford E. Spiro—have met with considerable resistance (Morris 1987, Klass 1995, Saler 1993). Nevertheless, Geertz’s definition by far has been the most influential anthropological definition of religion in the twentieth century. (Encyclopedia of Religion and Social Science)

So, let’s take a look at what Geertz had to say about what a “religion” is:

Geertz (1973:90) defined religion as (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men [and women] by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.

No mention of a deity there at all.  The Supreme Court (to my knowledge) did not define what a “religious belief” actually is.  Apparently, “I believe god exists and think therefore that  I should adhere maniacally to some bumper sticker summary of the bible,” is perfectly acceptable as a “religious belief.”  If that counts as a “sincerely held religious belief,” then my belief that “there is no god and the bible sucks as a moral guide,” should also qualify.

One reason that we, as atheists, have avoided the idea that our ideas are “religious” is to avoid the idea that, say teaching evolution in schools, that it is somehow a “religious” idea and therefore is subject to challenge.  I don’t actually think this will be too much a problem.

For example, evolution is the scientific consensus.  People of all kinds of religious beliefs support evolutionary theory.  It can easily be shown to be the organizing principle of scientific biology.  Creationism should first be rejected as being unscientific (rather than religious).  If that first line of defense fails, it can also be pretty easily shown that it is a form of religious indoctrination.

An indoctrination that goes against my sincerely held religious beliefs that there is no god and he, she or it didn’t create anything.  No matter how much some theists might say otherwise, the theory of evolution has nothing to do with religion, any more than the theory of relativity.  Relativity says nothing about the existence or non-existence of god, neither does evolution.  Creationism presupposes the existence of god, therefore is a religious teaching.  Pretty simple.

Well, OK, not so simple with the judiciary stuffed with idiotic Trumpist judges.  But those folks are such ideological zealots they will probably rule creationism as legitimate science.  Or flat out say it is OK to teach religious doctrine in public schools.  But that is another battle.

But for me, atheism is a religious belief.  Evolution doesn’t prove that god doesn’t exist.  I believe god doesn’t exist.  The failure of Kalam as one of the crappiest arguments ever doesn’t prove god doesn’t exist.  But I believe that god doesn’t exist anyway.  Christians and Jews believe that the Bible provides profound moral guidance because it is the word of God.  I believe it to be the barely comprehensible scribblings of barely literate people.  This is a religious belief, in exactly the same way that many Christians dismiss the Koran for exactly the same reasons.  Religious reasons, because of what they believe.

I realize that many atheists are uncomfortable with this line of thinking, we like to feel that, like the Four Horseman, we reasoned our way into atheism, that science is the opposite of theism.  I hate to burst your bubble, but science is not the opposite of theism.  Some atheists seem to smugly think that science and logic have killed off god.  Which simply is not true.  There is no valid proof of the non-existence of god.  Many scientists at all levels are theists.  There are more than a few atheists who believe shit that seems pretty illogical to me.

Yes, there are many atheists who have “converted” to atheism and a big part of their story is that they reasoned their way out of religion.  But there are many others who were raised in non-religious or in my case, less religious households.   What we share is the belief that there is no god.

We atheists sometimes get defensive when a theist challenges us by saying something like, “You never really gave Jesus a chance.”  Some of our leading lights will (Seth Andrews, Jerry DeWitt, Matt Dillahunty) appropriately point to their past deeply religious background.  Many others of us point at people like them.  But we don’t have to.  We don’t have to be embarrassed about what we believe.  It is what we believe.

For example, I used to follow the mythicist debate.  A part of me was hoping that Carrier (I know, a bad word) and Price would prove that Jesus didn’t even exist.  But Ehrman keeps hanging in there and seems like a pretty smart guy.  Finally I realized that it didn’t really matter.  Neither group believes that Jesus is up in heaven answering our prayers and “saving” us.  The academic debate might be interesting, but in the end (for the purposes of being an atheist) it is belief that counts.

In response to a theist, I can say that I sort of have a creed.  I don’t believe in a god, an afterlife or a soul.  I don’t believe that we are going to have a Deus Ex Machina ending where some deity comes in and makes everything right.  I believe we have to solve our own problems, personally and as a society and that when death comes, my consciousness, existence and chances end.

I like to think that my beliefs are “well reasoned and insightful” as Michael Feldman used to say.  But they might not be.  And they might be wrong.  But they are my beliefs and they are what make me an atheist.

The Disturbing Case of Roy Moore

This may be wading into somewhat dangerous territory here, but bear with me for a moment, because the I think the case of Roy Moore may be even worse than you already think it is.

First let me say this, if a grown man of 32, a man who was prosecuting criminals as an assistant District Attorney, had any kind of sexual contact with a child, that is completely reprehensible.  He should be thrown in jail.  People have been branded as sexual predators for life (thanks to politicians like Roy Moore, actually) for having sex with underage partners even though they themselves were barely over legal age.  So Moore should be facing a criminal investigation.

Having said that, please indulge me when I say that it seems to me that there is something even more deeply disturbing here.  It is contained in the “defense” of Moore by a colleague, Jim Zeigler.

Basically, what Zeigler said is that thirty-something Moore was actually seeking out high school age girls to date and marry.  Let that sink in a moment.

This is not a case of some horny old goat who can’t tell the difference between a 22 year old college student and a 17 year old girl.  Wanting to have casual sex with someone younger than yourself, as long as it is consensual, is legal and perhaps even understandable.

But thirty something Roy Moore didn’t just want a quickie with a younger woman.  Thirty something Roy Moore was actively seeking high school aged girls to have a relationship with.  He wanted to hang out with them, chat with them, hold hands with them and kiss them.  Thirty something Roy Moore wanted to spend all his time with and marry a high school aged girl.


Consider the story that is getting all the attention.  Moore sees a girl who is clearly underage — she is still with her parents!  The girl is clearly facing family trouble, she is in court.  Moore seeks her out, not for some kind of titillation, but to have a relationship with her.  And not a big brother mentoring kind of relationship.  He wants to date her and groom her for marriage.  Ugghhh.  Roy Moore is obviously a deeply disturbed individual.

Zeigler’s “defense” of Moore says that this is basically how Moore met his current wife.  And in fact the age difference between Moore and his wife is exactly same as between Moore and the women named in the original Washington Post Story.  So Zeigler is, in fact, totally confirmed the Post’s reporting.

You really have to ask why a thirty plus year old man wasn’t yet married.  Hmmm.  And why did he think he would be more comfortable with a girl, rather than a woman of his own age and education?  And did he use his position to target girls who were having family or personal troubles as the Corfman case seems to indicate?

What deficiencies in his personal relationship life was he trying to cover up by trying to date completely inexperienced, naive, possibly troubled girls?  And yes, it is totally speculation, but I am going to go there anyway…Is it possible that Roy Moore is actually attracted to men?  Roy Moore might be gay?

Whatever the case may be, Roy Moore clearly has some deeply warped ideas about relationships and sexuality.  But we knew this.

No wonder he was such a terrible judge and will make an even worse Senator.

But hey, he’ll vote for the enormously unfair Republican tax plan, so the Republicans will welcome him into their club, no matter how sick he is.

Can We Finally Be Death Defying?

Here is yet another day of sadness and anger after yet another mass shooting.  Once again, it seems, all we are going to do is offer “thoughts and prayers” and we all know how effective that is.

The first thing we need to do is to get our terminology straight.  You can’t make a proper prescription without an accurate diagnosis.  We absolutely have to stop this brown person equals terrorism and white person equals random unpredictable event.  Neither is true.

If I can make a modest proposal, let’s make “terrorism” a very specific kind of event.  We should define terrorism as the result of an actual conspiracy among several people with real connections to a political or religious group that uses violence as part of it’s strategy.

A mafia hit, gang violence are not “terrorism.”  A guy with an ISIS flag in his room, someone who read Al Queda propaganda online are not “terrorists.”  Why?  Diagnosis and prescription.  If “terrorism” consists of group conspiracies, then it becomes an intelligence and policing function to prevent it.  We need to identify and penetrate terrorist cells, much in the same way we try to prevent organized crime violence.  We certainly won’t be 100% successful, but at least we know in what direction to apply our resources.  I think we would be able to reasonably judge our successes and failures in this area and be able to learn from those efforts.  We can work hard to break the connections within the organizations.

So-called lone wolf attacks are an entirely different phenomenon, I think.  Yes, at some level they can be religiously or politically motivated, but they are not actually connected in any real way to an organization.  Something inside them makes them decide that killing people is some way to solve something.

This makes psychology and gun control more critical in thinking about and hopefully preventing these kind of situations.

When I say psychology, I mean psychological research.  While it might be said that anyone who decides to more or less randomly kill strangers must be “mentally ill” in some way, it does not seem to be the case that mass shooters are actively psychotic.  It does not seem that the “bad voices” are pushing them to action.  I don’t know what is pushing them and I don’t think anyone does.  I have no earthly idea of how to conduct research this area, but we need to do something.

When commits a mass killing in the name of Islam, we often speak of “radicalization,” but I think it is a mistake to limit our thinking to that.  Whether it is ISIS propaganda, or Info Wars (Pizza-Gate) or a person’s own obsessive thoughts, something moves them to think that killing people is the answer to whatever problems they see.  If we could figure out what that “something” is, perhaps we could prevent some of these incidents.

Even if we can figure out that “something” it will probably be very difficult to identify such people.  And we certainly can’t arrest people because they have some psychological profile, but before they have taken any concrete action.  Perhaps community mental health systems might be helpful here, depending on what can be found out.

One thing is pretty clear, the effects of the criminal justice system are not useful in this issue.  Many of the people who carry out these attacks commit suicide and perhaps most expect to die during the incident.  So, threatening the death penalty is probably irrelevant.  It may be that life imprisonment is actually more of deterrent, but who knows?

Since it is unlikely that we will ever be able to perfectly predict when someone might go on a killing spree, it seems logical that we should at least prevent people from acquiring highly efficient means of killing lots of people.  Automatic firearms, bomb making supplies, precursors to chemical weapons.  Can we restrict these things perfectly?  Of course not, but every time we prevent someone from acquiring means of mass killing, we save lives.  I’ll take my chances with a knife attacker.

It could be argued that radicalized people join terrorist organizations, which of course is true.  But our efforts should be against the organization and at that point the motivations of individuals is more or less irrelevant.  If we can break the organization, the individuals presumably get swept up.

This is obviously a problem we need to confront as a society.  We can’t keep waking up to find so many of our fellow citizens dead.


The Future of the Atheist “Movement”

After writing my previous piece, I ran across some interesting ideas from research from PRRI.

In their discussion of the religiously unaffiliated, they identify three sub-groups from the unaffiliated.  They have labeled them Rejectionists, Apatheists (clever that!) and Unattached Believers.  Here is the breakdown of the proportions as identified by PRRI.

In my own experience, I think these categories are probably pretty sound.  Unfortunately, although they broke out the groups by education, the did not break it out by age groups.  My guess is that there is a significant generational difference in non-believers.

People of my generation (born in 1960) came into a country where the vast majority of people claimed one religion or another.  So, even if our parents were not serious observers of religion, there was at least some.  Therefore, most people of my generation, when becoming unaffiliated, had to escape from one religion or another.  This was an active process and often left families divided, with some believing and some not.

As the country takes religion less seriously, it is easy to see where the apatheists might be coming from.  If they come from a family where religion is not very important, maybe going to church a few times a year “with grandma.” making the final break is no big deal.  Church, religion and god are just not important enough to think about.

Rejectionists, such as myself, are the kind of people who are going to self identify as “atheist.”  We had a religious identity and changed it to another identity.  Even after escaping, religion still has a pull on our lives.  We like to commiserate with fellow escapees and like to read and hear about how awful religion is.  Even for most “critical thinkers” confirmation bias is a comfortable place to hang our hats.  These are the people going to conferences and meetings and who think of atheism as a “movement.”

I think the apatheists are much less likely to identify as “atheist.”  “Atheist” seems like it is against religion, but they are not really against it.   They think of religion like most Americans think about kimchee.  It is not that they are avoiding eating it, there is just no occasion where they would.  My presumption is that these folks do not go to meetings or read atheist books.  I would think to them, our meetings would actually seem like preaching.  Preaching about something they don’t really care about or think about.

The last group, “Jesus is my friend, but I don’t like church” is obviously not going to join in our atheist meetings.  However, we should keep an eye on this group as they are obviously most likely to drift back into churches as they get older.

It seems to me that the latter two groups, apatheists and unaffiliated believers probably represent the younger generations.  So, those groups will continue to grow.

As for us “rejectionists,” we have choices ahead.  I am guessing that our percentage of the unaffiliated will begin to fall as more apatheists come of age, and we ourselves send forth a generation of apatheists.  Our kids and grandkids probably won’t care about religion one way or the other.  For now, our actual numbers will probably be steady — there is still plenty of religion to escape from.  But we may become a minority of the unaffiliated — and it may happen pretty soon.

We can certainly continue our anti-religion outlook and take our place as the vocal sub-group of the unaffiliated.  Or we can try and find common ground with the other unaffiliateds, probably through some form of secularism.  This would possibly increase our political footprint, but it might not be as fun.

Let me know what you think in the comments!


Critical Thinking and Atheism

A commenter on my previous mentioned that someone holds that view that critical thinking leads to atheism and then to a “progressive” (that is to say, what we would call a politically liberal) world view.  I don’t know if the person they mentioned actually holds that view, but that is not important here, there are more than a prominent atheists who seem to hold it.

I have to say that I disagree entirely, and find this view very problematic.

First of all, thanks to confirmation bias, we all like to think that the critical thinking WE is, in fact, critical.  But the thinking THEY do, is not.  Adopting the idea that we atheists are the critical thinkers amounts to an ad hominem attack on theists.  This is problematic for several reasons.  The first, most obvious one is that by doing so we are committing one of the most obvious relevance fallacies.  So much for critical thinking.

But more importantly, the idea is not really true and is most likely counterproductive for our cause.  There are plenty of highly educated, thoughtful and yes, critically thinking theists out there.  There are lots of Biblical scholars who take a critical approach and still keep their faith.  To accuse such scholars of “letting their faith dictate” their results is counterproductive.

It seems pretty psychologically true that if you attack the person, rather than their beliefs, they are much less likely to consider your reasoning.  Any discussion that starts with “You are a big, fat dope and here is why you are wrong,” is definitely not going to end well.

So, equating critical thinking to atheism is counterproductive and off-putting.  Critical thinking is (I hope!) content neutral and can be applied by anyone to anything.  Rational people can and often do reach different conclusions from the same general set of facts.  Plenty of atheists believe stupid things and plenty of theists can wield Occam’s razor like a rapier.

In the same way, I don’t feel that critical thinking and/or atheism leads to any kind of progressive, liberal or similar view of the world.

Again, pretty much the same critique applies.  Plenty of conservatives are thoughtful and highly intelligent.  William Buckley was certainly a critical thinker.  To the extent that we can agree that both conservatives and liberals are sincerely trying to create a better society, it is just that we disagree on methods, I think we would be better off.

I might want to qualify that last sentence by adding, “thoughtful liberals” and “thoughtful conservatives.”

And with that, I want to swing things back to my issue with MythCon.

Our favorite critical thinking school marm, Richard Carrier, decided to school both sides over this incident.  I’ll say one thing, he must be the fastest typist on the planet for the number of words he is able to squeeze into a blog post.

Here is how Carrier starts his defense (essentially) of inviting  “Sargon of Akkad” to MythCon:

Sargon of Akkad indeedis a shitperson. But that’s precisely the issue. He is massively popular in the atheist movement. We need to explore that. We need to confirm if he’s a lost cause. And more people need to know about his crap and his influence. He needs to be challenged. From a platform he doesn’t control. That’s what Mythicist Milwaukee is doing.

So far, so reasonable.  Then he says this:

He is someone we need to confront and study. And whose influence and reasoning and beliefs we need to understand. So we can better combat the stupidity and ignorance he is spreading to millions of viewers. Millions of fellow atheists.

Which is where my critical thinking kicks in.  How does inviting someone to speak at a conference do this?  The first thing we should “critically” do is verify Carrier’s statement here.  Millions of atheists are fans of this guy?  Millions?

Seems like what we need is not having this guy speak at a convention, but rather hire PRRI to surveying atheists and see what we think.  Are we progressive, regressive or all over the map?  Are the fans of Sargon the kind of people who go to freethinking conventions or Richard Spencer speeches?  Or maybe both?

We can study his reasoning probably much better from his YouTube channel than from a convention speech.  In fact, even though he didn’t “control the platform” there was certainly nothing keeping him from tailoring his speech to the audience, leaving us to learn nothing.  If we want to know why he is so popular on YouTube, we need to look at his videos.

If we want to then somehow inoculate his viewers so we can “So we can better combat the stupidity and ignorance he is spreading to millions of viewers. (quote from Carrier)”  We need to somehow get his viewers watching such corrective videos on YouTube.  Having him at a conference is not going to accomplish that.

Later in his post, Carrier continues to pile on Sargon and finally gets around to giving the best reason for NOT inviting him to a conference.  “Sargon’s argument isn’t even clever. It’s devoid of logic.” and a bit later (told it  was a looong post) he drives the final nail in the coffin.

Comparing Sargon to Carlin, Carrier says this: “[I]s the difference between the arguments made by the likes of Carlin, which are reasonable, nuanced, contextual, and respectful of the goal of human happiness, and the arguments made by the likes of Sargon, which are irrational, devoid of nuance or respect for the role of context…”

Or to put it more bluntly, Sargon is an empty sock in the wind, ranting about things he doesn’t fully understand.  And he doesn’t even do it well.  It is not so much that we disagree with him, he just says outrageous things off the top of his head to get views on YouTube.  I don’t avoid O’Reilly because I disagree with him so much, but mostly because he just makes up shit when it suits him.   Rush Limbaugh, same way, boring as hell.

It is still an open question for me as to whether there is a large group of people who primarily identify as “atheist” who are, say, regressive and Trumpian.  Richard Spencer identifies as an atheist, but I don’t think that is why his followers are with him.  Same may be true of Sargon, they may not be watching because he occasionally talks smack about religion.

On the same page we also have to ask how many who identify as atheist use that to inform progressive politics.  Perhaps atheists only want to hear about why Jesus probably was mythological at atheist conventions and will get their politics somewhere else.

Or not.  You can let me know in the comments!



The “Atheism Movement:” Dead or Alive?

There is still quite a bit of fallout, on Twitter at least, from the Milwaukee Mythicists MythCon this year.  Full disclosure, I was invited to a couple of events to act as the event photographer.  Which was great because I got to see Richard Carrier, Robert Price and Bart Ehrman up close and personal.  I was not invited to this year’s MythCon and probably wouldn’t have noticed were it not for the controversy.

If you are not all up on that, you can check out Seth Andrew’s take on what happened.  There are many others as well.  My own personal opinion is that I was disappointed in the conference, not because of the regressive opinions of some of the speakers, but rather the quality of those speakers.  They went from literal world class religious/Biblical scholars to people who shout ill-formed opinions on YouTube.  The content of their speech did not particularly bother me in and of themselves, but their lack of chops and credentials did.

It seems to me it was a bit like a concert series that featured Dylan and Springsteen one year, turned around and offered Luke Bryan the next.  Politics is not even where you start with bailing on that.

There were many, many others who did take exception to the expected content of the speech and this, apparently, has people lined up on both sides.  Some people, again on many sides, are declaring the death of the “Atheism Movement.”

To be honest, I never saw “atheism” as much of a “movement” as an uneasy coalition, which may, in fact, now be unraveling.

As an example of the “uneasy coalition” part, I can use my Significant Other and I.  She was the youngest child of a large Catholic family and although her parents were devout, perhaps when she came along, they were tired and did not strictly enforce Catholic observances on her.  Religion just did not “take” with her and when she left home, she pretty much never thought about going to church.  Somewhat ironically, she served as treasurer for the cemetery run my her parents parish for many, many years.  When it came to religion, though she was personally completely indifferent.  Never thought about it much.

I was also raised Catholic, went Catholic schools and even a Catholic university.   Though certainly not a scholar, I did my readings and my studies and had a pretty good understanding of what was on offer.  I was quite active in the church into young adulthood, well after college.  Eventually, though the hypocrisy of the church (among other things) started to gnaw at me and I went from dropping out of the church to dropping out of religion to dropping the idea of god over several years (more like a decade, really).  So, for me, evidence and reason had something to do with my decision.

Emotion had something to do with my decision as well, and I remain opposed to the Catholic Church and would love to see it close down.  I would also not mind at all seeing a bunch of other regressive churches that want to tell other people what to do (especially with their tallywhackers) closing down as well.

I started talking and writing about this stuff  mostly to unchurch people. Frankly, if they want to believe in Santa, unicorns and heaven, I don’t care.  As long as stop telling other people what to do.  Secularism is much more important to me than atheism.

It has seemed to me for quite some time that as an organizing banner, “atheism” makes about as much sense as “interested in math.”

“Intrested in math” ranges from people who think they can balance a check book to Kurt Goedel.  I think “atheism” comes out about the same.

Richard Spencer identifies as an atheist.  I find it hard to believe that Donald Trump can conceive of a being greater than himself, but says he he is theist.  Martin Luther King, of course, was totally a theist.  The Clergy Project shows us that many in the pulpit don’t, in fact, believe.  You just can’t tell much about a person from their belief status.

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that many atheist speakers seem to have that somehow “atheist” equals “great critical thinker.”  They will often express astonishment that someone can be an atheist, but still believe in ghosts.  Or Bigfoot.  That there is no god does not, by definition, rule out everything we now consider supernatural.

Other atheist speakers assume that since many religionists are regressive in their thinking and politics (an already dubious assumption) that atheists must, of course, be the opposite — progressive.  A dubious conclusion.

Atheist, in and of itself is not enough of a “thing” to act as an umbrella for a “movement.”

When we look at the 25% or so of Americans who are “religiously unaffiliated” we find atheists, but also many believers in some kind of supernatural.  Should we be separate from them?  Among theists we find many highly educated capable people who champion progressive causes, women’s rights and secular governance.  Should we be separate from them as well?

It seems to me that as freethinkers our belief or non-belief in god is not relevant, but rather our attitudes towards our fellow travelers and our desire to keep superstitious religion — or government — from dictating what is ultimately right or wrong, but rather to determine these things together.  As human beings.  During our short time on earth.


Let’s Retire the Term “Populist”

When it started to become clear that Donald Trump was actually being taken seriously as a candidate for president, the press seemed to be at a loss as to what to label him as his positions seemed all over the map.  They finally settled on the word “populist.”

A definition for “populist” is tough to nail down, but generally it is thought of as someone who is speaking for the “common person” against the establishment or elites.  Those words are often used, especially by Steve Bannon to describe the Trump “movement.”

Now, after nine months in the White House we can see Trump (and Bannon) what what he really is, an extension of the Republican scam.

It was Richard Nixon that created the modern Republican scam with his “Southern Strategy.”  This was simply the flipping of white southern Democrats (who opposed the party that lead the “War of Northern Aggression”) back to Republicans by appearing to oppose the Civil Rights movement that Democrats were backing.

It is not all racism, of course, the Republicans expanded their offerings to now include what we call the “Culture War” type issues, abortion, guns, gay rights, etc.  Basic game plan being, get old white folks riled up about guns or gays, get their votes and when in office back the corporate donors entirely.

Trump ran this same scam, but because he is probably personality disordered, ran his mouth in directions that blew the scam apart.

First, on the culture war side, he went beyond the implied racism of Republicans to actual overt racism.  The “dog whistle” became a fog horn.  But he also couldn’t resist throwing out economic promises that he had no intention (and no mechanism for achieving) of keeping such as “terrific” low price, full coverage health insurance for everyone.

Bannon was quick to label these incoherent ideas “Economic Nationalism” mostly because the first iteration “America First” had strong fascist implications.

Whatever, because when they tried to govern from this swampy morass, the whole thing blew apart anyway.

The racist policy proposals haven’t got to far as they made about as much sense as Trump’s Twitter feed.  We have to ban travel from Venezuela?  Because they gave oil money to government programs?  WTF?  The No-Cost Wall has pretty much been a none-starter.  There have been some shots at gay rights and marijuana, but the number of people willing to get riled about those things are already a minority and shrinking fast.

And economically?  Pure Koch Brothers.  The Obamacare “repeal”, tax “reform” and the budget proposal are all ALEC wet dreams.  They totally contradict Trump’s campaign rhetoric.  Proposals to cut Medicare, millions proposed to lose health coverage, monsterous tax cuts for billionaires.  None of which are popular.  A “populist” with no popularity?

After leaving the White House, Bannon declared “war” on the Republican party vowing to drive out “establishment” Republicans.  You would think in a war, you could tell which side is which, but in this case, I know I can’t.  I cannot for the life of me figure out what kind of country Bannon wants, other than a white one.

So far, there has only been one skirmish in Bannon’s war.  Weirdly, even though the war is supposed to bring Trumpism to the entire Republican party, Trump himself didn’t support Bannon’s preferred candidate.  But there wasn’t much difference between the candidates anyway.

Roy Moore would almost certainly for the whole Koch Brother backed, ALEC authored basket of awfulness: tax cuts for billionaires, millions thrown off Medicaid, huge cuts to Medicare, sinking the EPA (ironically signed into existence by Nixon) and so on.  Pure establishment Republican.  Trump backed Strange, would presumably vote exactly the same way.  Strange would also vote against abortion rights, gay rights, immigrants rights and for gun rights.  And so would Moore.

So what is this war about?

As far as I can see the only difference between the two is that Moore is certifiably insane and wants to trash the First Amendment by establishing his brand of Christianity as the national religion and get rid of the free press.  Notably, Trump is no great defender of the First as well.

So, is the war about who is going to get rid of the First Amendment?  Perhaps followed by the 12th, 13th and 14th?

This is not populism.  This is not demogoguery. This is apparently about removing the pillars of American freedom, our very reason for existence.

That’s not populism — that’s treason.

And we should call it that.

Revising Columbus

Here I am at work writing about Columbus Day on Columbus Day, which is appropriate because if ever a “holiday” ever deserved to be downgraded it is this one.

Among the older “traditionalist” white crowd, Columbus and his day have defenders such as this essay by Bill O’Reilly (aka “Uncle Bill had a few drinks and is yelling about random shit again”).  In the essay, which has all the depth and accuracy of an average middle school English paper (no offense intended to middle schoolers, of course), Uncle Rant decries political correctness (Wow??? Really?) and revisionist history.  O’Reilly’s conception of Columbus is so revisionist it swerves into fairy tale territory.  Bulbous Bill seems to believe that Washington Irving is a reliable primary source.

But even if we set aside his racist world view and probable murderous ways, was Columbus any kind of hero?  Are you kidding me??  Let’s look at a few historical facts.

After several failed screenplays and TV pilot that was never picked up, Columbus was looking for an easy score that would put him on the map. Using a Powerpoint that he copped from an obscure TEDx talk and a little of his own razzle dazzle, Columbus was able to grab a reverse Fullbright (an “Isabella”) to fund his travels.

His pitch to NASA (North Atlantic Sea Association) said that he would find the elusive Northwest Passage or Panama Canal, whichever came first, providing a direct route to India.  This would open a pipeline for tea and peppercorns benefiting committee members Lipton and McCormack respectively, which won the day for Columbus’s application.

It only takes one look at a globe (or a map if you are a flat earther) to realize that there is no way in hell to sail west from Europe and NOT “discover the New World.”  Columbus’s “discovery” is about as impressive as you “discovering” your own front yard.  Point yourself in the right direction and you can’t miss it!

A large part of the reason that almost nobody (other than the Vikings and the Irish, which are pretty much the same thing) sailed west from Europe before Columbus set off in his Fiat, was the mind crushing lack of curiosity of over 1000 years of Church rule.  The church avowed that they had all the answers, but nobody had any questions as pretty much everyone was busy either oppressing or being peasants.

This one book reliance by Europeans for over a 1000 years also lead the mapmakers of the day to overestimate the shortcutness of the western route.  Even though Eratosthenes had pretty much nailed the actual circumference of the earth some 2000 years earlier mapmakers never seemed to ask what could possibly be missing, even though it was pretty much a third of the actual globe.  When you can be burned at the stake for asking questions, you stick with what you know.

In summary then, Columbus was a grant grifter who stumbled over something that he literally could not miss and so is credited with “discovering” a place where 30 million people already lived.

Of course Uncle O’Rantly already knows all that and thinks that Columbus is really a hero for bringing “white, European, Christian values” to our continent.   By which he means the idea that if a peoples skin is darker than a Norwegian’s they are obviously potential slaves or exterminees — or both.

But that is more non-revisionist history for another time.  Or you could hear Randy Newman tell it.

Guns and Racism

It is unfortunately all too predictable in the USA.  We know we are going to have another mass shooting and we can predict what the reactions will be to the event.  I am not going to go on about the uselessness of “thoughts and prayers” but rather the other predictable aspect of the reactions.

When I first read the news of the shooting very early Monday morning, I was pretty sure it was carried out by a white guy.  How did I predict this given that the identity of the shooter had not been released yet?  Simple.  The police were already saying it was “not an act of terrorism” and that the shooter was probably a “lone wolf.”

These kinds of statements generally rule out a perpetrator with a foreign sounding name and dark skin.

Indeed through out the day the statements that politicians were issuing lead the conclusion of a white guy doing the shooting.

Member after Republican member of Congress expressed their “sadness” and offered “hopes and prayers” for the families.  Trump, after offering “warmest condolences” (what the hell are those?  Is he even a native speaker of English?) on Twitter, gave a speech full of bible verses of comfort for the victims.

If the shooter had been a dark skinned person with a foreign sounding name, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Republican Congress members and Trump would have been expressing anger much more than sadness.  Much more.

And instead of all this, “we shouldn’t politicize this moment with discussion of gun control” it would have been wall to wall, “See!  We need to clamp down the border!  Round those people up!”  Trump screamed this after every European attack, even when it turned out that the attacker was second or third generation European.

All of this is even more ironic given Trump’s campaign promise to “stop the carnage.”  His followers knew exactly what he meant, throwing even more inner city blacks into prison, while at the same time making it even easier for white guys to acquire huge arsenals, because, of course, they would “prevent crime.”

The NRA, the political third rail for Republicans, functions on the same sort of logic.  If for even a moment, the NRA were seen as a factor in allowing THEM to get guns, they would fall in shattered ruins.  But as long as they are able to portray themselves as allowing “law abiding citizens” (white people) to arm themselves for “self defense” (to shoot Black people) they can go merrily along.  Even mentioning gun control would shatter the Trump base, according to Steve Bannon.

Trump has shown he can screw over his base any number of ways, take away their healthcare, raise their taxes, continue filling the swamp and so on, but by god, you’ll be able to keep your guns!

In any kind of rational world, we would realize that people take up arms for all kinds of reasons ideological, religious, personal and even insanity.  Knowing that we can’t control the information people have access to or what kinds of beliefs they might hold (whether rational or not) that the answer is not trying to limit what people believe, but rather limiting their access to weaponry.

This is not to say that we should not try and prevent violence by those who announce their intentions, especially groups that do so, but how many times (like this one) have we heard the refrain after a shooting, “We had no idea he was thinking of such a thing.”  In the case of Las Vegas, the shooter had no criminal record and was actually seen as quite the high roller and business man.

Another interesting angle was added by Ann Telnaes, editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post: sexism.  To wit:  When was the last time you heard of a mass shooting committed by a woman?  We run around trying to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, etc., but no one (except her, so far) seems to notice that we really should keep guns out of the hands of men.  Whether homicide or suicide, men are just damned dangerous when it comes to guns.

The only expressions of anger I saw yesterday were from Democratic representatives and others who think we need a more sensible gun control strategy.  I agree with them.  Why in the world should a guy be able to accumulate an armory’s worth of firearms which can rain down death on hundreds of strangers from half a block away?

Keeps gun companies rolling in money, Republicans in office and the rest of us in mourning.

Time for a change.


ps I am behind a school system firewall, so my sourcing is weak today.


Another Priest, More Child Porn

I will assume that most of you have seen by now that another Catholic priest is a suspect in child sexual abuse.  The Vatican had to withdraw one of its diplomats from the US following allegations that he violated US laws in regard to possessing child pornography.  It was reported that the Vatican was asked to lift his diplomatic immunity so that he could be charged, but the request was denied.

This time I am not going to go through the outrage of yet another priest being charged being protected by higher ups in the church.  So much for the new levels of accountability and transparency that Pope Francis promised.  Same shit, different priest, it looks like.  I am going to hold my outrage over that to make what may be a larger, more comprehensive point.

This is proof the Catholic Church — from Francis on down — doesn’t believe its own shit.

Now, with all the “this is still just alleged” caveats in place, we can use this guy or anyone of the Catholic priests in similar situations to show this.

So, if you really believed that there was an eternal god who watched everything you do and who could send you down to eternal torment and damnation, would you really be downloading child porn to your computer?

This is not some case of rationalization: “If I browse incognito, my wife will never find out, and any way divorce ain’t so bad.”  This is a guy risking eternal damnation from an all seeing, all knowing god.  There is no way to rationalize or hide his guilt.

Normally, I would say, “There is no way to really know what someone believes,” but in this kind of case we have some serious clues.  In this case he seems afraid of facing the civil authorities, looks like he is more afraid of jail time than eternal damnation.  Seriously?  Jail worse than hell?  Apparently so.  This guy clearly doesn’t believe what the church preaches.

And neither does Pope Franky.  If there really was a god who has strategy sessions with Franky, what do you think the chances are that secrecy and coverup is what god would recommend at this point?  Maybe at some point it could have been argued that covering up a stray case or two might have been best for the organization (I would not make such an argument, but it could be made).  But that time is well past.  This kind of report clearly hurts the organization, with Franky risking being dismissed as just another hypocrite.

But is Franky at all concerned about divine retribution toward himself or the church?  Sure as hell doesn’t seem like it.  Sure seems like the attitude is, “If we can sweep this under the rug until people forget, we are OK.”  But god supposedly sees all and remembers forever.

I usually say that we can’t really know what people really believe, but judging from their actions, the Catholic church believes in a god that is much more concerned about what people eat for lunch on Fridays than about stopping child sexual abuse.

And these are the kinds of “absolute moral standards” that belief in god is supposed to bring us.

No thanks!!