Jun 24, 2009

An Atheist's Guide to Proselytizing

As proud members of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy, we all know about the importance of making sure we trick as many theists out of their god belief as possible.  In the past we have done things like planting dinosaur bones and have our guys on the inside mistranslate Biblical texts.  These are all great techniques, please keep up the great work, but we must also know how to spread atheism when face to face  with a theist.  This, unfortunately, is something the theists are largely better at doing since they are so willing to incorporate underhanded techniques.  Don't let this get you down as we can use this to our advantage.

Through careful study, we at the EAC have found a way to use good for evil.  Yes that's right, good can be evil.  If this seems odd to you, just as Christians about God and they'll be sure to set you straight.  By taking in this fact, we have developed a system through which you will use good to spread the EAC message.  If you have forgotten the EAC message it is on the back of your membership card.  I know you have the card as you should be guarding it with your life...because we will kill you if you lose it.  Anyway, the EAC message is that god is a big meany and although we know he exists we will throw him out of power.  But, don't jump to revealing that message too quickly to new converts, it might scare them.  For now, just explain to them why god doesn't exist.  We can work up to the real story after they have reached a higher ranking within the EAC.  Now, onto the important stuff, how to win over the religious with good:

The first thing you must do is be friendly towards the theist no matter how silly their argument may be.  This will make the religious person very angry as they try repeatedly to get you to blow your top over threats of hell and how hard your...erm...heart is.  It is very important that you do not fall prey to their techniques.  The strategy here is to let them blow up first, thus destroying any argument they have that being religious leads to being a nicer person.  Once you have achieved this very amusing technique, it is onto the next step.

Now that you have gotten the religious person to secretly accept that religion doesn't make someone a better person (give yourself on the back if you got them to voice this change of opinion), you can now proceed to prove that the religious person is less moral than yourself.  Feel free to cite their belief in a god who allows slavery and the subjectification of women as proof of your moral superiority.  If possible, make sure the theist sees you helping an old woman walk across the street prior to engaging in conversation.  Keeping a set of fake membership cards to organizations such as ASPCA, Green Peace, Habitat for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders etc will also help your argument if proof is demanded of your volunteer involvement.  Btw, we will be setting up some fake atheist charities over the next year to help you in this effort.

If you are successful with implementing the above, you should be well on your way into tricking the theist into thinking that atheists are in fact more moral than any religious person.  After all, it couldn't be that some people do good for the sake of good; that's just silly.  I hope you all found this guide helpful.  Remember to join us at our next meeting...we have cookies.

Book Review: Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth

While browsing on twitter today, I came across a popular new trending topic: #dontyouloveGod. This generally consists of inane babble along the lines of why believers are so personally thankful for their god, and all that he supposedly does for them. It is always startling to come across this kind of piffle; to realize that these people are sincere in these expressions. Here are some examples, verbatim, that I collected from this topic just now:

#dontyouloveGOD for his forgivness and never judging us!

#dontyouloveGOD when he gives us pretty rainbows?

#dontyouloveGOD because He only gives us what He feels we can handle?

#dontyouloveGOD when he saves a premature baby?

#dontyouloveGOD b/c He considered you worthy enough of a saviour?

#dontyouloveGOD for helping me realize that my circumstances could always be worse. I am so thankful

#dontyouloveGOD for always being there when you need Him. Amen he is a PRESENT HELP!!!!

#dontyouloveGOD LOVES you despite of your WRONGs!

#dontyouloveGOD is a Jealous God, remember to keep him 1st!

#dontyouloveGOD for being such an amazing provider! He gives us just what we need when we need it!

You get the idea. Someone needs to get these people a copy of Voltaire’s Candide. Or better yet, since they might not understand how that story relates to them, Mark Twain’s far more direct assault on the Christian version of the “Best Of All Possible Worlds” dementia: his little-known Letters from the Earth.

Letters from the Earth is a brief, witty, and remarkable funny series of reports from Satan about certain behaviors of man (and God) that he has been observing over time. Because it isn’t very long, it is generally published together with other short, irreverent writings from Twain (often including the equally hilarious Diaries of Adam and Eve). The version I own is part of a book entitled The Bible According To Mark Twain, edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough. I cannot recommend this volume highly enough.

Letters from the Earth begins with a short introduction of how the Creator fashioned the universe out of nothing. A conversation then follows between Michael, Gabriel, and (the then still heaven-dwelling and angelic) Satan, about what it all might mean; this new place where new living beings are being introduced. They have only been informed that it is meant to be some kind of experiment.

Satan shortly finds himself banished to the earth, as punishment for making snide remarks about the character and actions of the human race he has been watching with growing interest. He’s especially interested in how the Creator has instilled in them an entire spectrum of inconsistent traits. And once on earth, he begins to write letters back to his archangel friends, and these notes comprise the bulk of the book.

All throughout, Twain deftly satirizes both God and Man simultaneously, such as in this excerpt describing their dysfunctional relationship:

He requires his children to deal justly—and gently—with offenders, and forgive them seventy-and-seven times; whereas he deals neither justly nor gently with any one, and he did not forgive the ignorant and thoughtless first pair of juveniles even their first small offense… He elected to punish their children, all through the ages to the end of time… He is punishing them yet. In mild ways? No, in atrocious ones. You would not suppose that this kind of Being gets many compliments. Undeceive yourself: the world calls him the All-Just, the All-Righteous, the All-Good, the All-Merciful, the All-Forgiving, the All-Truthful, the All-Loving, the Source of All Morality. These sarcasms are uttered daily, all over the world. But not as conscious sarcasms. No, they are meant seriously; they are uttered without a smile.

What I find so striking about the book is the clarity with which Twain seems to see the inhumanity and idiocy of Christian Bible, and the ease with which he exposes it. It is satire writ very large, lean, and focused.

A considerable portion of Letters from the Earth is devoted to details of the flood story that, not surprisingly, never found their way into scripture. Since every Christian, from childhood, has been immersed in images of pairs of giraffes, zebras, and lions striding majestically up the boarding plank, Satan narrates instead how special lodgings were arranged (within the bodies of the humans on board) to house the multitudes of sundry parasitic, microbial, and viral species: those essential organisms needed to propagate all the terrible diseases (that God so carefully created) into the post-diluvian world. Detailed arrangements were also made for flies, including one that was forgotten and required a voyage of sixteen days to retrieve. We learn that this vector of so many diseases is indeed God’s favorite pet; his darling.

The book builds to its final crescendo with a scathing attack on another portion of the old testament: specifically, the some of the horrific abuses recounted in the book of Numbers. His take on the story that begins Numbers 25:

“And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.”

Does that look fair to you? It does not appear that the “heads of the people” got any of the adultery, yet it is they that are hanged…

Very well then, we must believe that if the people of New York should begin to commit whoredom with the daughters of New Jersey, it would be fair and right to set up a gallows in front of city hall and hang the mayor and the sheriff and the judges… It does not look right to me.

From here Twain moves on to the infamous genocide of the Midianites from Numbers 31, and begins to work himself into a bit of a rage. The book ends suddenly and with little warning. One gets the impression that Twain is so angry at this point that he cannot stand to consider the matter any further. And that would certainly be understandable. Sometimes we seem to have grown so familiar with the stories, and numb to the nonsense, that it almost seems… normal. The gift that Letters from the Earth offers is that it so effortlessly exposes contradictions at the core of Christianity. The sudden ending is necessary, because any more would be redundant. But despite the fact that you can practically see the old master’s formidable eyebrows scrunching down in an ever fiercer scowl as you go on, what I always think of with this book is how much it made me laugh. Make room on your freethinking bookshelf for this one; you will enjoy many times. I promise.

Jun 8, 2009

A Christian Atheist: Why we need Atheist Church

As I was browsing news articles on the Internet I came across the following headline Finding a community as an atheist in churchThis, of course, grabbed my attention.  I wondered what type of church and maybe if more people were trying to start churches like the North Texas Church of Freethought.  Needless to say, I was surprised to read that an atheist UT professor had decided to start attending a Christian church.

While I understand the need for community, I wonder why Jensen, that's his name, didn't look into the many atheist/free-thought groups that are operating quite strongly in many parts of Texas; including Austin where UT is located.  The article does not touch on if he tried atheist or free-thought communities prior to joining the Christian church; but does offer the following quote from Jensen:

I joined a Christian church to be part of that hope for the future, to struggle to make religion a force that can help usher into existence a world in which we can imagine living in peace with each other and in sustainable relation to the non-human world. Such a task requires a fearlessness and intelligence beyond what we have mustered to date, but it also requires a faith in our ability to achieve it.

That's why I am a Christian.

An atheist-Christian?  I can't help but find this odd at best and foolish at worst.  References to "deeper meaning" in the reference article lead me to think that Jensen was searching for a sort of atheist spirituality that simply doesn't exist and found that personal need filled by liberal Christianity.  But I don't want to discuss what it means to be a Christian here or if Jensen made a good decision.

What I do want to comment on is that this demonstrates a need to form stronger communities as free-thinkers so that we do not miss out on the social network and support provided by a religious church.  However, at the same time, when discussing attending free-thought groups with fellow non-believers many of them seem unsure about attending.  Many of these people are the same people who complain about not having anyone to talk to that isn't religious.  So, I'll end this blog by asking a few questions of my fellow non-believers.

What do you think about Jensen's calling himself a Christian while he is an atheist?  Is there something about spirituality that fills a need secular communities cannot fill?  Do you personally feel the need for community?  If so, how do you fill that need?

Jun 7, 2009

The Steak and the Cross

This originally appeared on the writer's blog An American in Taiwan as "The Steak and the Cross: Atheism and Vegetarianism are Closer Than You Think" on June 6, 2009. He posted it here because he a) believes it's pertinent, and b) is a total publicity whore. If you wish to link to it, please use this Trackback URI.

I'm not a vegetarian. I would probably starve. Just want to get that out of the way.

These days, social networks give everyone a soapbox and makes everyone a critic. I'm just as guilty as anybody. Thankfully, I don't get a lot of flak for my secular worldview, though I imagine some people see my anti-religious ranting or tweeting as offensive or unnecessary. My response to them is: it is no different from youth ministers or the very devout discussing how wonderful Jesus is or how blessed they feel or how they need to evangelize more. No difference. They just don't like it when I do it. Some people really don't like it.

A friend of mine decided, after two years of being a vegetarian, to fall off the wagon. He and his girlfriend went to a restaurant, watched the Cavs game and had fish.

Sounds fairly innocent, and it is. When he posted something about it on Facebook, he received a mixed response of cheers and questions about what took him so long. He described the feeling to me:
When you eat meat, nobody asks why. But, if you say you're a vegetarian, they immediately begin to question you: 'What are your motives? Do you feel bad for the animals? Do you not like meat? How can you not like meat?' That, or they try to corner you with inconsistencies: 'Well, I see you're wearing leather shoes, so you're obviously not vegetarian because you care about animals.' Then, when you tell people you've started eating meat again, it's like they welcome you back into society. You're one of "us" again. It's absolutely bizarre.

He wondered if I ever get that sort of thing about my worldview choice. Some of us get it more than others, I'm sure. Being in a very liberal college town, I'm surrounded by secular people. My wife is from Taiwan, where the population ratio of secular to religious is the even smaller than the inverse of what it is here. I'm definitely looking forward to that, when public policies are based on the wellbeing of the people, rather than the ideology of some religious nutjobs.

It got me to thinking, though, that atheists and vegetarians aren't really that different. Here, I'll show you:

Atheists are atheists because they believe that it's fully possible (and, many would contend, preferable) to have a great life without religion and still maintain high moral and ethical standards. In other words, you can still be good without God.

Vegetarians are vegetarians because they believe that it's fully possible (and, many would contend, preferable) to have a great diet without meat and still maintain high dietary and culinary standards. In other words, you can still eat without meat.

Now, I'm not going to say that I feel good that animals die so I can enjoy how they taste. I just don't feel bad enough that I'll stop. Can't remember which comedian said it, but I did not climb to the top of the food chain to be eating broccoli. Still, it's important to know, if you're eating meat, where it comes from and show it due respect.

Jamie Oliver did a show examining chickens, eggs and how they get from the farm to your plate. It's a very revealing look at modern chicken farming and the difference between battery and free range. Or, if you're a seafood kind of person, just watch the former Iron Chef Michiba Rokusaburo take apart an Angler fish (Monkfish, Goosefish, depending on where you are).

Delicious. I guess. I've never had it. I'd love to try it, though. That's one of the things I'm really looking forward to about living in Taiwan: best seafood around.

I'm sure at this point you're thinking, 'How is he going to tie this back into refuting a religious worldview?'

Well, atheists have looked at religion and deemed it disturbing, painful and unnecessary enough that they prefer to live without it, just as the vegetarians have done with meat. The big difference being that atheists do it because they care about human lives rather than animal lives.

Uh oh. Now I'll have PETA on my ass for putting people before animals. I'm not worried; I could probably take Ingrid. Probably.

I think people are more likely to give a vegetarian shit than an atheist because there's no clause in the social contract that says you must be tolerant of what people eat. Even at our wedding, we had three vegetarians out of 60 guests, and we devoted 1/6 of the menu to them. If you have a group of 60 people and 3 of them are avowed atheists (which is about the national average; if you throw non-religious, agnostic and Buddhist/etc in with that group, it'd be more like 12 or 13 out of 60), what are the chances that they'll be considered at all? Pretty slim, I'd say.

The steak and the cross: two sides to the same coin, it seems. Having said that, I think I'll have steak for dinner tonight. Pan seared. No wine.

If you would like to follow the anti-religious ranting or tweeting of this carnivorous writer, visit his blog and follow him on Twitter. He'll probably follow you back. He's nice like that. He may even buy you a steak.

Jun 4, 2009

Social Networking - Are you out as an atheist online?

With today's Internet culture what you put online could be viewed by virtually anyone. A good example of this is Wigglez's wife having his blog viewed by a Christian employer.

Knowing this, many of us are hit with a personal (maybe even moral) decision...should be be out online or not? I say that maybe it is a moral decision because I have been told by fellow atheists that it is immoral for me to hold back on being completely outed online. However, I'm honestly not sure if I should consider it a moral choice.

Yes, I do want to support the atheist cause and help to further our progress in being accepted as normal. That's actually one of my main goals...one of Happy Atheist Forum's main goals. But, I'm also pragmatic; if what I say online ends up keeping me from being hired and keeping a job and potentially does the same to my husband (who is a teacher) then that is going to end up harming the efforts I am currently taking since so much of it requires frequent Internet access.

So, I filter what I do online that is associated with my full name verses what I do online that is just associated with my first name. I don't shy away from posting my picture on atheist related sites, but I also don't make my picture my main image on most of them. My profile on MySpace is an atheist profile (which I honestly neglect updating as regularly as I should) where I can post anything without any worry of an employer associating it with me. However I also have a Facebook profile, which won't link here for reasons stated, that is mostly just my IRL friends (some of whom are also atheists) and I don't post any controversial atheist messages there. I also have two twitter accounts...but that's because one of them is potentially for business and shouldn't have any atheist content on it (@HappyAtheist).

So, what do you think? Do you also feel conflicted on this issue; probably in daily interactions too? Is this a moral question or just a personal choice?

Feel free to post your comments on the related Happy Atheist Forum thread: http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=3403