A Book for Believers

Image Credit Kenneth W. Daniels

Thank you for the excellent responses to my post sounding out the idea of a book for believers. With such a great many excellent suggestions, I got fired up and ready to go. I made a little list of points, and then figured I’d best see what’s out there already, so I fired up the Fire. I’ve downloaded and read a ton of samples from various books on atheism. Many of my fellow FreethoughtBloggers were authors or contributors. This has convinced me of two things: 1) I am in distinguished company, and 2) I had probably better get off me arse and write a book on atheism. So it’s in the works.

Even though I think I found the book.

Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary seems perfectly suited for handing to those believers in your life who can’t handle The God Delusion and other atheist classics. Ken was the real deal. He was a child of missionaries. He was conservative evangelical. He became a missionary himself. He went to Africa in order to bring the word of God to tribes that didn’t have a written language yet, and hadn’t heard the supposed good news. Then doubt came crashing in. He followed the evidence, read the Bible closely, read all the apologetics he could get his hands on, considered what various freethinkers had to say, and in the end, became an atheist.

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A Book for Believers

This Isn't A Review of Victor Stenger's New Book

God and the Folly of Faith. Cover Art credit Prometheus Books.

I’d actually like to do that book justice. I’ve read it. I’m still digesting it. I can tell you my foremost thought whilst reading it: “Damnit, Victor, I’m a geologist, not a physicist!” It’s been a long time since I’ve read up on physics. The middle chapters, in which he drills down pretty deeply into physics, put my brain through the kind of workout that still leaves you wobbly days later.

Continue reading “This Isn't A Review of Victor Stenger's New Book”

This Isn't A Review of Victor Stenger's New Book

Atheism for Believers: Do We Need a Book?

Some interesting comments on JT’s “Happy Ask an Atheist Day!” post got me to pondering that question. Do we need a book about atheism which we can comfortably hand to believers?

I’ve not really thought about it before. I’ve got close friends who are believers, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable recommending books like The God Delusion to them when they express interest in learning more about atheism. The conversations we’ve had haven’t swerved into completely uncomfortable directions, like the whole “But you’re going to hell!” trope. We’ve had sticking points, and we’ve had to talk things over, but they’re strong people who can handle strong ideas. Their faith doesn’t leave them flummoxed when confronted by the fact that someone they love is godless.

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Atheism for Believers: Do We Need a Book?

"Religion Depends on Social Consent to Survive"

It’s been nearly a year since I clipped this snippet from Greta Christina’s “Live-Blogging the Rapture.”

Religion depends on social consent to survive and perpetuate itself. We have to deny that consent. We have to keep pointing out, at every available opportunity, that the Emperor has no clothes.

That, coming at the end of a super-snarky session waiting for the Rapture (which, much like Godot, never showed up), struck me hard. “Religion depends on social consent to survive…” The phrase resonated. I clipped it into a post draft, and I’d see it on the list occasionally, where it waited for me to do something about it, this fact that on the face of it seems so obvious and yet seems so often overlooked.

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"Religion Depends on Social Consent to Survive"

A More Interesting World

A funny thing’s happened now I’ve joined an atheist blog network: I rarely blog about atheism. There are reasons for that. My fellow FtBers usually have said all I need to say, better than I could have said it. That’s one of the main reasons.

But I think the main one is this: religion bores me. Atheism doesn’t, but as I said, my fellow atheists have that beat covered. I’d rather spend time with my rocks and my homicidal felid, who is currently leaning against my arm giving me looks of utter devotion. She’s either cold, or her food bowl is empty. From the charm she’s unleashing, possibly both.

See? I wandered away again. There’s so much more interesting stuff in the world than religion. There’s le chaton, warm and snuggly and impossibly adorable, a combination rare enough it must be savored while its brief moments last (oh, look, it’s over. Sigh). There’s Doctor Who. There are friends, with adventures in the making. There’s a Kindle full of books, so many and so varied I often have trouble deciding what to read next. There are cherry blossoms, which I’ll photograph against the sky when it stops raining.

And there’s science.

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A More Interesting World

Pathological Accommodationism

Sigh. Another day, another dumbass bashing the Gnus:

It’s accommodationism day in the neighborhood…I guess it’s a Christmas thing. Baby Jesus is born, Tim Minchin got his (requested) song dropped from a tv show, Julian tries to square a circle, and to make it all complete, Chris Stedman writes yet another “mean atheists are doing it wrong and I am doing it right” article for the Huffington Post. I had been ignoring Stedman for months, but he does make it difficult.

Chris Stedman has a distressing habit of mistaking outspoken criticism for cruelty, it seems. And a terrible blind spot.

However: effective criticism of religious dogmatism accounts for the diverse spectrum of religious expression. It is balanced, it is rooted in compassion, and it responds to what people actually believe and practice, not just the most extreme forms of religious thought.

Um, Chris? Those “extreme forms of religious thought” are wildly fucking popular amongst religious believers. We’re not talking a tiny minority. We’re talking about enough people to make the Middle East a hell on earth for women. Is it an inconsequential minority of believers who murder gays and people accused of witchcraft in Africa? What about the bible-believing Christians in this country who have enough political power now to launch a full-out assault on women’s reproductive rights? I could go on. I shouldn’t have to.

And for as much as you whine about people who don’t understand what you’ve supposedly actually said, you show a remarkable lack of reading comprehension yourself.

What Stedman cites as objectionable are (except for Stefanelli’s, which is in the middle of a post that cites relevant passages from the Koran, making it rather bizarre that Stedman would level that particular criticism at it) offhand remarks in blog posts about things like threatening the lives of cartoonists who have depicted Mohammed or condoning forced child marriage and rape. The actions being condemned are, in fact, spurred by specific beliefs with their basis in the Koran, even if the bloggers don’t stop to cite chapter and verse.


Stedman has read the blog posts he cites, right? He knows that people are dying, that others are in hiding or pretending to be someone they’re not so they don’t die, that children are being mutilated and raped, that they’re being groomed for martyrdom instead of educated and employed–and that the authority conferred by Islam plays a huge part in making these intractable problems? He knows that most if not all of those things, plus a few special others, happen in places where Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism plays the role of the heavy instead?

Ophelia and Stephanie paddled the man thoroughly (I thought I’d noticed the Smack-o-Matic missing from my wall earlier), and I haven’t got much to add. It’s just that Stedman and his ilk have a remarkable habit of ignoring reality in favor of their own kumbaya fantasy. It annoys.

Yes, there are liberal believers out there. There are lots of religious folks who are moderate. And we can even work together, without compromising our principles, when the situation calls for it. Religious folk who don’t want creationism taught in schools, or the frothing fundies to have control over every uterus in the land, won’t back down from the good fight just because they find themselves shoulder-to-shoulder with those icky Gnus.

Moderate religious believers are even smart. Much smarter than Stedman gives them credit for. Most of the moderates I know accept that we Gnu atheists are going to say things they dislike intensely about their beliefs. They also know what we’re aiming at when we launch a broadside. Those quotes that gave Stedman the vapors are understood as being targeted at a particular, unfortunately large, subset of religious belief that troubles them, too. And aside from a few fainting violets, they don’t seem to need coddling. They don’t require us to pause during every post excoriating the latest fundamentalist outrage, pat them on the head, and say, “But not you, pookie-kins. I know you’d never throw acid in a schoolgirl’s face just because she’s getting an education and you think your god disapproves.”

They get that we have a different view of religion. They understand that atheists are going to criticize religious belief – all religious belief, not just the super-nasty stuff. But they also understand that we see them as human beings, and while we may think their religious beliefs are silly, we quite like them as people. And it’s a two-way street. Believers think we’re pretty silly for not believing. Fair enough.

Chris Stedman, for all his “outreach,” can’t seem to credit believers with having a functioning brain and the ability to handle a vigorous critique. How is infantalizing them supposed to help us all get along?

Pathological Accommodationism

Four Questions, Four Answers (No Jesus Necessary)

Some of my readers may not know Callan Bentley. This is a shame, because he’s a brilliant geologist, a fantastic teacher, and one of the two people who makes me seriously consider moving to Virginia in order to attend college. If you knew how I felt about passive margins, you’d know why this is a big deal.

While Callan tends to focus on geology, he occasionally takes off after politics, pseudoscience, and religion. He’s not afraid to be honest. And that honesty extends to people he respects. People like Bill Hooke, who is a scientist blogging about climate policy, a Christian man who has four questions he thinks only Jesus can answer.

Today, Bill wrote a post entitled “Environmental scientists as Christians.” In it, he describes his own Christianity and how there is only a little overlap between “Church Bill” and “Work Bill.” My long-time readers will know that I do not subscribe to any religious ideology. I find religion superfluous to the reality that I find around me on a daily basis: it’s what a philosopher would call “philosophical naturalism” (as opposed to science, which operates under “methodological naturalism,” which doesn’t necessarily preclude the possibility of supernatural beings; it just can’t detect them). So it really struck to me to read Bill’s ruminations on that topic. This is a gentleman and a scholar, and he apparently has given a lot of thought to these issues.

In the post, he “quotes” (paraphrasing from memory) the evangelical preacher Billy Graham, who says

There are four reasons we need Jesus… four questions we can’t answer without Him.

1. Does my life matter? Is it possible for my life to have meaning?

2. How can I handle my loneliness, the loneliness I feel even in a crowd, or even (or perhaps especially) when with people who are close to me?

3. How can I bear my crushing burden of guilt? And by that I don’t mean as measured by some external standard such as the Ten Commandments, but rather my own judgment of myself…that I have fallen short of my potential.

4. What happens to me after I die?

Callan answered them handily, no Jesus required. I shall do the same. And I don’t know if Bill will ever read either post. If he does, I don’t know if anything will go *click*. But I hope it does, because I find it tragic that a brilliant man can’t imagine answers without Jesus.

Here we go.

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Four Questions, Four Answers (No Jesus Necessary)

It's Only the End of the World. Again.

Image Source

Callan Bentley reminds us it’s the end of the world today.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/callanbentley/status/127326856054702080″]

He gets to spend it playing in the field. I’ll be talking to people with broken cell phones. I’d offer to trade, but I wouldn’t wish my job on people I actually like.

Anybody got any good post-apocalypse parties planned? Starting a pool on what Harold Camping’s excuse will be this time? Or are we experiencing apocalypse-fatigue and just planning a lie-in with an improving book this evening?

It's Only the End of the World. Again.

Maryam Namazie on the Islamic Inquisition

I’m sending you all away.  For one thing, I’m busy and woefully short of advance posts.  But most importantly, there’s something I think you need to read.

It’s Maryam Namazie’s speech at the World Atheist Conference.  You really should read it in its entirety.  But I’ll put an excerpt here, because I believe this bit needs to be understood clearly by all of us:

Nowhere is opposition greater against Islamism than in countries under Islamic rule.
Condemning Islamism and Islam is not a question of judging all Muslims and equating them with terrorists.
There is a distinction between Islam as a belief system and Islamism as a political movement on the one hand and real live human beings on the other. Neither the far-Right nor the pro-Islamist Left seem to see this distinction.
Both are intrinsically racist. The pro-Islamist Left (and many liberals) imply that people are one and the same with the Islamic states and movement that are repressing them. The far-Right blames all immigrants and Muslims for the crimes of Islamism.
[It is important to note here that Islamism was actually brought to centre stage during the Cold War as part of US foreign policy in order to create a ‘green’ Islamic belt surrounding the Soviet Union and not concocted in some immigrant’s kitchen in London; moreover many of the Islamists in Britain are actually British-born thanks to the government’s policies of multiculturalism and appeasement.]
Both the far-Right and pro-Islamist Left purport that Islamism is people’s culture and that they actually deserve no better, imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class, parasitical imams and self-appointed ‘community leaders’.
Their politics ignores the distinction between the oppressed and oppressor and actually sees them as one and the same. It denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ and justifies the suppression of rights, freedoms and equality for the ‘other.’
Civil rights, freedom and equality, secularism, modernism, are universal concepts that have been fought for by progressive social movements and the working class in various countries.
As a result of such politics, concepts such as rights, equality, respect and tolerance, which were initially raised vis-à-vis the individual, are now more and more applicable to culture and religion and often take precedence over real live human beings.
Moreover, the social inclusion of people into society has come to solely mean the inclusion of their beliefs, sensibilities, concerns and agendas (read Islamism’s beliefs, sensibilities, concerns and agendas) and nothing more.

The distinction between humans and their beliefs and regressive political movements is of crucial significance here.
It is the human being who is meant to be equal not his or her beliefs. It is the human being who is worthy of the highest respect and rights not his or her beliefs or those imputed on them.
It is the human being who is sacred not beliefs or religion.

The problem is that religion sees things the other way around.

And she quotes from Mansoor Hekmat at the end:

“Moreover, in my opinion, defending the existence of Islam under the guise of respect for people’s beliefs is hypocritical and lacks credence. There are various beliefs amongst people. The question is not about respecting people’s beliefs but about which are worthy of respect. In any case, no matter what anyone says, everyone is choosing beliefs that are to their liking. Those who reject a criticism of Islam under the guise of respecting people’s beliefs are only expressing their own political and moral preferences, full stop. They choose Islam as a belief worthy of respect and package their own beliefs as the ‘people’s beliefs’ only in order to provide ‘populist’ legitimisation for their own choices. I will not respect any superstition or the suppression of rights, even if all the people of the world do so. Of course I know it is the right of all to believe in whatever they want. But there is a fundamental difference between respecting the freedom of opinion of individuals and respecting the opinions they hold. We are not sitting in judgement of the world; we are players and participants in it. Each of us are party to this historical, worldwide struggle, which in my opinion, from the beginning of time until now has been over the freedom and equality of human beings…”  (Mansoor Hekmat, Islam and De-Islamisation,January 1999)

Remember these things, because they’re important.  You need to remember them when charges of racism and cultural imperialism get thrown your way by people who would prefer you not criticize their faith.  Do not let people stop the conversation.

Got that?  Good.  Now go finish the speech.

Maryam Namazie on the Islamic Inquisition

Sod This, I'm Holding Out for Ragnarok

Oh, my god.  What a surprise.  The End Times have not come.  I am so shocked.  I just do not believe it. I-

(Hee hee.  Ho ho.  BWAH-HAHAHAHA!)

I can’t keep a straight face. 

The excuses as to why the Rapture failed to happen on schedule will no doubt be mildly amusing.  Same ol’ song and dance, I’m afraid: some doofus predicts the apocalypse, the apocalypse mysteriously fails to happen.  (When reached for comment, Jesus Christ is reported to have said, “Ha ha ha PSYCH!  Matthew 24:36, bitches!”)  Wot an anti-climax.

I’m holding out for Ragnarok anyway.  The Twilight of the Gods is so much more awesome than all the silliness in Revelation.

Sod This, I'm Holding Out for Ragnarok