Religion News 1.1.15

Former 7th Day Adventist pastor who gave up religion for a year to test his faith may not go back

Ryan Bell became a fascination for the religious and non-religious alike when he announced that he would be conducting an “intellectual experiment” to test out atheism after he began struggling with his own faith.

In a way, it was the perfect time for a change. Just months before his “experiment,” Bell resigned as pastor of the church he had worked at for 19 years. He had become uncomfortable with the way his religion has handled homosexuality and felt that the organization was no longer in line with his more liberal views. At the same time, his 17-year marriage was also ending. In that turmoil, Bell saw the potential for a radical change and took it.

According to Bell, he would spend all of 2014 living “as if there is no God.”

“I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances.”

I applaud his intent, but I wonder how successful he was in living as if there is no god. Monotheistic belief pervades our society. To the extent that we have “In god we trust” emblazoned on our currency. We say “God bless you” after someone sneezes. We cry out “God damn it” when angry. Eliminating those trivial references seems a difficult task to me.

For some of the faithful, that may appear to be blasphemous and quite possibly endanger Bell’s soul. Bell was a bit more good-humored about it, arguing that if there was a God, then God will probably “not be too flummoxed” by the test. In short, Bell assumed that a God worthy of the name probably can handle some guy not talking to him for 12 months without the world ending.

After his decision to “live as if there is no God,” things didn’t become easier for Bell. However, it wasn’t God who had forsaken him, but people. Almost immediately, two Christian schools where he worked as a teacher fired him. He was now a single parent with two young daughters to care for so things were grim.

Of course they fired him. That’s what they call “Christian Love”. Yes, that’s as nonsensical as Bible-based morality.

Luckily, an atheist blogger heard about his experiment and started an online fundraising campaign that ultimately raised over $27,000 to help support his family during the year.  Around the same time, Bell took his passion for helping people into the secular world. He landed a job as a “life skills” teacher at PATH, a nonprofit that focuses on helping homeless people get a solid education and marketable skills.

The year of “giving atheism a try” hasn’t had the negative affect that Bell probably assumed it would. Instead, he seems more comfortable in it. While he still hasn’t decided whether he will return to the church (he has until January), he now feels confident in describing himself as a “weak atheist.” It’s a designation that says one does not currently hold a belief in God (as compared to “strong atheism” which asserts that one is convinced that there is no God). Weak or strong, a former pastor describing himself as an atheist means he’s come a long way.

He has come a long way indeed. To even think about an undertaking such as this makes me wonder how much doubt was roiling around in his head. Hopefully he’ll complete this leg of his intellectual journey by casting theism aside and embracing reality. It’s far more beautiful and awe-inspiring than anything humanity has created–including Christianity and it’s so-called “loving” deity.

Update:  Even though Bell finds atheism a weird fit, he’s not going back to theism.

* * * *

Newlywed couple. Post vows. Robbed. Broad daylight. “In front of the flower girls” ::gasp::

I seem to have misplaced my bedazzled fainting couch. Can I borrow someone else’s?

A California couple who had just taken their vows on Saturday were robbed right in front of god and everyone while taking photos in front of their old high school. In broad daylight and “in front of the flower girls.”

The Washington Post, which has recounted the story to highlight that the flower girls were affected by the robbery, reports that the newlyweds had met at Oakland High and just wanted to go back and take a few photos for old time’s sake. What they learned, however, like those kids who would come back to high school just to say “hello” the year after they graduated — I never got that. Why did people do that? — is that nothing good comes from going back to the past. Especially when you’ve got over $13,000 in camera equipment on you at the time.

Where are NOM, Brian Brown, Tony Perkins, and all those defenders of heterosexual marriage? The thieves threatened the peace and sanctity of a marriage ceremony. Such perfidy should not be allowed to stand.

For that matter, isn’t their deity supposedly very concerned about heterosexual marriage? Why would he allow such theft to occur? Why didn’t he strike down those robbers with heavenly bolts of lighting?  Or y’know, a well placed banana peel. Oh, I forgot his horrible aim.  He probably wanted to punish them, but instead, he hit a small Caribbean island with a tropical storm.

He may be all-powerful.

He may be all-knowing.

He may be all-everywhere.

What he ain’t is precise with his punishments. It may be the whole not existing thing.

* * * *

 Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore criticizes secular invocation at city council meetings

“We’re having prayers [by] atheists? We’re having Wiccans say prayers? How foolish can we be?” he asked members of the Madison County Republican Men’s Club.

“I’ll say this in Huntsville because I think it needs to be said in Huntsville,” Moore continued. “There is one God and it’s the God on which this nation was founded. And it’s the God of the Scriptures. I don’t need applause for that. It’s a truth in history and it’s a truth in law.”

I find it highly unlikely that this man passed the bar without knowing that the laws in this country are not based on the Bible. I also think he’s lying when he says it’s a historical truth.  I think he’s being intentionally dishonest here.  Pandering perhaps?

In June, he claimed that “[w]ithout God there would be no nation. Without God there would be no freedom to believe what you want. That goes all the way back to people like Thomas Jefferson in his bill for religious freedom. He knew what it meant. He knew the limits of civil government, and he knew who gave us that freedom to believe what we want about God, but it comes from God.”

Oh yeah, bc freedom of religion? That’s a concept you’ll find in the Bible. ::rolls eyes::  I wonder if Judge Moore has heard of the Treaty of Tripoli…

Moore’s specific complaint was in reference to Huntsville’s decision to allow North Alabama Freethought Association board member Kelly McCauley to open a city council meeting with a secular invocation.

They have to allow any religious or secular invocation if they’re going to allow even just one.  To allow just a Christian invocation would be an example of the government endorsing or showing preference to one religion, which is unconstitutional.  Even I know that and I am not a constitutional lawyer.

* * * *

Counterintuitive though it may be, the religious are more likely than the non-religious to support torture 

After the Senate Intelligence Committee released the CIA Torture Report earlier this month, a poll was conducted by the Washington Post/ABC on the subject. They questioned people about many aspects of the report, including whether people believed enhanced interrogation techniques were torture, whether CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified and whether torture itself can be justified.

One of the more remarkable findings revealed by the poll was a great divide between those who are religious and those who are non-religious. Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches shares her analysis of the findings:

“Just 39% of white evangelicals believe the CIA’s treatment of detainees amounted to torture, with 53% of white non-evangelical Protestants and 45% of white Catholics agreeing with that statement. Among the non-religious, though, 72% said the treatment amounted to torture.”

Religious Americans are are between 19% to 33% less likely to believe waterboarding and force-feeding hummus by way of a rectal tube are torture than their non-religious brothers and sisters. When Americans were asked if the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were justified, religious and non-religious people were divided, as well. According to Posner:

“Sixty nine percent of white evangelicals believe the CIA treatment was justified, compared to just 20% who said it was not. A full three-quarters (75%) of white non-evangelical Protestants outnumber the 22% of their brethren in saying CIA treatment was justified. White Catholics believe the treatment was justified by a 66-23% margin. But a majority of non-religious adults, 53%, believe the CIA actions were not justified, with 41% of the non-religious saying the treatment was justified.”

At first glance the statistics appear counter-intuitive, but a similar poll by Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life conducted in May of 2009 generated similar results.

The results are confusing. Why is it that religious folks tend to be copacetic with torture when non-religious people are inclined to reject the practice?

Good question. One of the core ideas of Christianity is that Jesus Christ was persecuted and tortured. Hell, many Christians wear a symbol of his torture around their necks in the form of a cross. You’d think they would be among the first to denounce torture.

* * * *

American Atheists President Dave Silverman demands apology for Troy University’s anti-atheist mass email

Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins sent a mass email to faculty and staff with a link to a YouTube video that demeans atheists and non-believers.  Here’s the video:

Dave Silverman wasn’t very happy with that email, and has demanded an apology.  In a letter to Chancellor Hawkins, Silverman says:

American Atheists is contacting you on behalf of a Troy University student, who is concerned about a video you sent to all students and staff in your end-of-year email on December 30. The video asserts that religion, particularly Judeo-Christian beliefs, are necessary to be moral, law-abiding citizens, and implies that those who do not attend church will be anti-democracy and anti-social members of society.

Atheists are not a trivial minority. In Alabama alone, we represent 11% of the population, and statistically even higher numbers in universities and among college-aged residents; as many as 32% of people under age 30 are not religious.

On behalf of the student who contacted us, the Alabama members of American Atheists, the thousands of atheists at Troy University, and the hundreds of millions of atheists worldwide who live productive, law-abiding lives without religion, we demand an apology from you for using the public university email system and your publicly funded position to disparage atheists and minority religious groups as well as perpetuating the discrimination and anti-patriotic sentiment against atheists in the United States.

As you represent an institution of higher learning, we would like to take this opportunity to educate you about atheists and morality. Atheists are overwhelmingly ethical and upstanding people. It is not true that religion is necessary to keep people from becoming criminals.

According to leading secularism researcher Professor Phil Zuckerman at Pitzer College, “We can plainly see that the least religious countries and states are generally the most moral, peaceful, and humane, while the most religious countries and states are the most crime-ridden, corrupt, and socially troubled. End of discussion.”

In fact, in the United States, in states with the highest percentages of atheists, the murder rate is lower than average. In the most-religious states, the murder rate is higher than average.

Further, on average and generally speaking, atheists have fewer divorces, abortions, and STDs, and lower poverty rates, homicide rates, overall crime rates, and teen pregnancy rates. As a demographic, atheists have higher IQs, incomes, education rates, and literacy rates, and more Nobel Prizes and university professorships.

We need to teach young people to use critical thinking and be more skeptical, not more obedient. Teaching as such leads—demonstrably—to more ethical behavior.

American Atheists will be hosting its annual national convention the first weekend in April at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. We invite you to attend any or all of the events to experience for yourself what atheism and atheists are like. We believe that personal experience helps fight ignorance so we invite you to be our special guest.

We ask for a public apology to the student, and other atheists whom you have disparaged with the video you included in your email.

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Religion News 1.1.15
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One thought on “Religion News 1.1.15

  1. 1

    Well, ya see, there’s something Heisenbergian about the Big Dude.

    He may be all-powerful.
    He may be all-knowing.
    He may be all-everywhere.
    What he may not be, is more than any one of those at a time.

    He can throw lightning, or an earthquake, or a Surprise Tax Audit…but not while knowing what, or where, the target is…and not while being in a position to hit it, if he knew. Hence, his legendarily poor aim and timing.

    “We’re having prayers [by] atheists? We’re having Wiccans say prayers? […]”

    And yet, when pressed on the compulsory prayer, church/state separation thing, they are likely to try to argue that it is merely a “moment for quiet reflection”, or some such shit. Atheists and Wiccans presumably do not quietly reflect.

    Pandering perhaps?

    nodding vigorously

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