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Adventures From the Bible Belt

June 11, 2013 5 comments

After reading the post I wrote the other day about people sending me their stories, my wife felt the urge to share her own.  As a rational person sentenced to an adolescence in the bible belt, her atheism was born of one of religion’s uglier and more terrifying faces; that of the Southern Baptist.

My Run in With Religion

by Lucinda Lugeons

As atheists, we all have a story to tell.  Some of us grew up knowing, some of us came to it gradually and some of us were forced to face it through personal experience and tragedy.  Often, we are just seen as angry people… and many of us have good reason to be angry.  Here’s mine:
Growing up in Florida, religion was just there.  My parents weren’t particularly religious; they’d led hard lives and only on rare occasions would I hear them acknowledge god or make reference to faith.  There was a Baptist church bus that passed through the neighborhood every Sunday (and sometimes on Wednesday) to pick up their flocks of children.  They would whisk them off to their temple with the big cross out front, the whole while singing about how Jesus loved us deep and wide, whether we are red, black, yellow or white.  I found myself on this bus most Sundays, mostly because it was an easy way for my parents to get rid of the kids for a day.  I sat in Sunday school and colored pictures of Jesus and sheep and crosses.  I sang songs and heard the kiddie-versions of the Noah story.
The last hour we were all herded out to the “Big” Church to hear the preacher do his thing, and I don’t mind saying this was not my favorite part of the day. The red, screaming face with veins bulging and eyes all blood shot standing behind the pulpit did little to put me at ease, but there was one part that mesmerized me. There was a huge Glass “Box” that was much like a fish tank displayed over the Dias for the whole congregation to see where they did their Baptisms. Seemed pretty neat to an 8 yr old. I wanted to be the center of attention, I wanted to play in the cool aquarium!! It didn’t take much convincing to have them baptize me, they were more than happy to oblige. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.
See, I got really nervous right before they took me in. I’d never been in front of so many people and seeing as how the person waiting for me in said box was the scary red faced man that yelled and beat on his pulpit, I decided I really didn’t want to do it anymore. To make matters worse, when I made this known they tried to put me at east by telling me that it was just the devil trying to get inside me and scare me away… frightening.
With tears streaming down my face, they pulled me along on shaky legs and handed me off to the preacher.  He sat me on his knee and immediately started going through his ceremonial nonsense, hardly even acknowledging me during this process.  There were words and shouts, but I didn’t really hear them, I was still afraid. Perhaps that’s why when he dunked me I wasn’t prepared enough to be holding my nose and he wasn’t paying enough to do it himself. I was only under for a moment, but it was enough to get water up my nose and scare me even more.
So here I am, hacking and coughing and crying.  Without sympathy, he pushed me off to the side and his helpers took me back to get changed. I never got on that Church bus again. That experience left me questioning everything and fearing many things. I went to church with different friends of many different denominations here and there over the next few years, still never finding comfort in any of them but seeing the differences and similarities they all had.
At 12 my life changed dramatically. Circumstances with my parents left my sister and I moving to a new town, a very, very small town in south Georgia to live with a grandmother we hardly knew and hadn’t seen in years; a grandmother who’s whole life revolved around Church and her God. She attended the Church of God and, of course, we were expected to do the same. Every Sunday morning, Sunday night, every Wednesday night (and sometimes Thursdays for Bible study) we had to dress up in dresses that went to our ankles and wrists and most of the way up our necks and go to church. It was sheer torture for me. In this church they yelled and screamed and hit pulpits too, but they also spoke in tongues and convulsed and hit people in the forehead and knocked people out.
Eventually, I became very ill every Sunday and Wednesday.  I just couldn’t stop throwing up. Of course, I was making myself sick; making myself throw up as long as it took for my grandma to leave me behind.
At this point I was angry with God. What kind of a God would put people through this? Why would I want to believe in a God that encourages this? About the 4th week in row that I refused to go to church, my grandmother insisted I had demons in me and needed to be taken to the preacher to have them removed. Once again on shaky legs I walk up the aisle.  My grandmother tugged me by one arm, the preacher’s wife tugged the other.  And here at the front of the congregation, the crazy man was there to  start screaming in tongues, getting all red faced and throwing in a ” cast these demons out, oh lord!!” from time to time. I tried to pull away; I tried to escape.
When he drew his hand back, palm facing out, to give me the holy tap to the forehead (which apparently sends the demons scurrying away) I jerked back.  He still got me, but all this did was infuriate me… and I lost it. I knew then and there for certain that there was no God. I jerked away from those holding me and screamed in the preachers face that if there were any demons, I was looking at them. There is nothing wrong with me. I ran out of the church and all the way home, never looking back. My grandmother never asked me to go to church again and she never let me live it down.  I was in a constant state of going to hell and being a bad person; a heathen, a slut, a sinner.  I love my grandmother and I don’t blame her for it. I blame her religion. It’s who she was raised to be, it’s the only way she knows and it’s the only way she can function.
From then on, I took it upon myself to read as much as I could; to learn as much as I could about many religions.  The main similarity I found is that they are all bad. Sure, on the surface they do many great things. There are some amazing and thoughtful and charitable people out there, of all walks of life, religious and not. The morals Christians teach are usually good, there are some beautiful tales in the Bible along with the nightmarish ones… But for me, underneath it all there has been, and continues to be, an underlying evil that seems to permeate them all.
They all start with our children. There doesn’t have to be a child sex scandal for there to be child abuse among them. How could one define telling a 12 year old girl she had demons in her as anything but abuse?  They all corrupt and limit the minds of children every day. Luckily for me, I came to realize what they were trying to do before it was too late. I’ve met some of the most amazing people in the world because I didn’t believe what they wanted me to believe. I do not live in fear of life or of death because I did not believe what they wanted me to believe.
Many are not so lucky. Many can be seen on the news waving hate filled caustic signs and wishing death on people they’ve never met. Many become people like Fred Phelps, Ted Haggart, Pat Robertson, Roger Mahony and Benny Hinn. Many of them become like my grandmother; people who don’t know any better and were never taught to think for themselves. I’m not angry with them. I pity them. I blame organized religion. I’m angry because so many people spend their whole lives walking through life with their faces raised to the heavens or bowed in shame that they never get the chance to truly live their own lives.
I’m angry because our children aren’t given a choice. What’s more, in my opinion more people should be angry.

Religion, Atheism and False Equivalency

May 25, 2013 4 comments

by Noah Lugeons

I’m so tired of hearing it that I’m tired of saying that I’m tired of hearing it.

Christians and their cohorts are desperate to seize the middle in the culture wars and that’s damn hard to do when you’re still dragging your heels on subjects like birth control, gender equality and premarital sex.  The tenets of religion are so far behind the mainstream that the only hope they have of appealing to the masses is taking the focus off how medieval and fucked up their beliefs are.

You can see this in their constant attempts to publicly back-pedal everything their religion stands for.  They’ve already distanced themselves from God, from all the crappy stuff Jesus said, from the entire history of their religion’s expression and practice, from the current hierarchy that controls it, from almost every passage in the bible and from almost every major precept of their faith.  They try to water it down so much that god just means love and there’s no way to disagree with them.

And that public face is, of course, contradicted by almost everything that the majority of the faithful do and say, but it doesn’t matter.  It’s a PR campaign and if you’re trying to sell a product that everyone knows breaks immediately, the first words you’re going to attach to it our “long lasting”.  Think about how often you hear about Islam being a “religion of peace”, Judaism being “modern” or Christianity being a “religion of tolerance”.  The hope is that if you can put your slogan on the complete opposite side from the truth, people’s opinions will land somewhere in the middle.

Which brings us to the false equivalency.  Because the Christians have no good answer for “your religion is insane, unverifiable and it’s a tool to justify bigotry, sexism, child abuse and ignorance”, they have to deflect.  They can’t reasonably stand there and try to pretend that their religion isn’t insane, unverifiable, bigoted, sexist, abusive and ignorant, so instead they opt for the “Oh, yeah?” tactic and say, “Well, atheists are even worse!”

Think about how often you hear a Christian imply (or directly say) that atheism:

  • Takes just as much faith as religion
  • Is just as militant as religion
  • Is just as unverifiable as religion
  • Can be used to distort morality just like religion
  • Is just as “bad” as religion

This seems to be the Argument Du Jour with online apologists right now.  They say that “Dawkins is just as bad as…” and then they’ll insert the name of somebody who just said something about how gay people should be beaten to death or that women should learn to shut up and listen to their men… in the name of the son, the father and the holy ghost, amen.

And as Dawkins recently responded via Twitter;

Yes, I’m just as bad as the fundamentalists.  Now excuse me while I throw acid in a woman’s face and then behead someone with a machete for disagreeing with me.

Shall I bother to refute it further?  Should I bother to point out that nobody has ever been killed in the name of atheism? (And remember apologists, being killed by an atheist isn’t the same thing)  Should I bother to point out that there is no doctrine or authority that can alter morality within atheism?  Should I bother to point out that the most “militant” atheist you can find has never called for the killing of anyone anywhere?  Should I bother to point out that even the really sexist atheists never talk about covering women from head to toe and then stoning them to death?

The answer to all of these questions is, of course, no.  The very act of refuting this type of argument gives it more credit than it deserves.  I’m an atheist blogger, podcaster and from what I hear, I’m one of the most vicious atheists out there.  And the worst thing I’ve ever done to a Christian is made him cry because I used potty words and talked about Jesus’ naughty parts.  I’m an “atheist extremist” and the only weapon I own is a thesaurus.

My Blogging Dilemma

May 22, 2013 6 comments

by Noah Lugeons

I always feel like I should be blogging more.  I always find some news story or some Facebook argument or some personal interaction that leaves me thinking, “I should blog about this”.  And very often, as soon as I can, I set about organizing all the words that were swimming around in my head.  And if every one of those sessions eventually turned into a full blown post, I’d be one of the most prolific bloggers on the web.

Sometimes I abort the post when I realize that I’d have to do way too much research to support the point I want to make.  Sorry if that comes across as lazy, but in addition to the blog, the weekly podcast and all the ancillary social media stuff that goes with it, I’ve also got a full time job and a life.  So if I realize that I’d need to spend a couple of days on an eight paragraph post, I usually tuck it away in a the rearmost burner of my “I might get to it eventually” file.

But far more often, the potential post gets co-opted into material for the show.  I get a few paragraphs in and think to myself, “Shit, this would make a great diatribe”, or “damn, I should hold onto that joke for when Heath and I do this week’s headlines”, or “I could actually get a pretty good skit out of this”, or “this would be so much better with sound effects.”  And an instant later it’s off of WordPress and on to Google Docs to linger in my “Diatribe” folder for however long it takes me to not have something to bitch about that week.

There are certain times when I can overcome the issue.  When something’s just too short for a diatribe and too long for a headline or when I want more detail than I could justify on the show.  The “Live Blogging the Bible” segments I’ve been doing are a good example of that.  I know as I go through a book of the bible that I’m going to have way more commentary than I’ll be able to fit into the ten or twelve minutes we’ll be able to devote to it on the show, so I wind up with a few extra blog posts worth of material.

My fear, of course, is that if I make too much of a habit of doing this, the blog will become nothing but the 3rd best stuff that I deemed not funny enough to make the show and that would be a damn shame.  I’m making a concerted effort to blog a bit more often (about things other than how I should blog more often), but if you check back with us a couple days in a row and you don’t find anything new, rest assured that it means we’ve got some really funny shit for the podcast.

The “Faith” of an Atheist

May 21, 2013 1 comment

by Noah Lugeons

I probably shouldn’t listen to “The Atheist Experience” while I’m on a crowded subway.  As much as I love to listen to Matt Dillahunty and Tracie Harris (and, to a varying degrees, all the other fine hosts and co-hosts) take on the lowest common denominator, sometimes the wall of intentional ignorance is almost too much to bear and I fear that I’ll just scream “LISTEN TO THE ANSWER YOU JACKASS!” in the middle a sardine-to-sardine throng of commuters.

The most recent example came yesterday morning as I listened to their most recent episode (#814 if you want to hear for yourself what pissed me off).  For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it’s a live public call in show where a few atheist hosts take calls from people on the subject of atheism, humanism, etc.  And very often these callers are Christian ass-danglers who rise to levels of vapidity that are absolutely staggering.

Case in point.  On this episode they had a guy call in named Asshat from Fucktardia (I didn’t want to listen to it again to get the details, sorry) and he wanted to trot out that old, stupid, delusional idea that atheists have just as much faith as religious people have.

Now, Dillahunty handled his business on this one perfectly.  He started off by explaining that the whole concept of atheism is a demand for evidence, which is exactly the opposite of faith.  He went on to explain the difference between rejecting a claim and claiming the opposite.  He then went on to explain exactly the same thing five or six more times because the dipshit refused to understand the answers.

And, of course, how could he accept them?  How could he even hear them?  To internalize the actual answers to these objections is to realize that you’re simply on the wrong side of the argument.  So he simply pretended not to understand them.  He put up his “anti-rationality armor” and kept making the same assertion no matter how many times or in how many ways it was countered.

To say atheists have “faith” in atheism represents a lack of understanding of the term “atheist”, “faith” or both.  Faith simply means to accept something without evidence or despite evidence to the contrary.  A less flattering word for the same trait is “gullibility”.  When atheists hear the god claim, we ask for evidence.  What are we showing faith in?  Evidence?  Logic?  Reason?  I suppose that we are, in a “3 in the morning hard-solipsism college philosophy minor debate” kind of way, taking all those things on faith.  But, of course, so is the person we’re arguing with… unless they’re a presuppositionalist.

I admire the patience and resolve of the people who host that show but I don’t envy them.  I fear my signature close would be “You’ve become too stupid to respond to now” and it would usually come within the first forty seconds of the call.

AIG Responds to the Dinosaur Quiz

April 30, 2013 3 comments

by Noah Lugeons

I’d start by asking if you’d seen the dinosaur quiz yet… But you’ve seen the dinosaur quiz, right?  It’s been everywhere the last few days.  I didn’t find it all that surprising, as I’m quite familiar with what “Answers in Genesis” is teaching children, but judging by the buzz this quiz got, I’m in the minority there.

For the 3 people and the spam-bot who haven’t seen it yet, it’s this ridiculous shit:

At first people couldn’t decide if it was a parody or not, but eventually the name of the school popped up, the facts were verified and yes, this is precisely the kind of shit that AIG promotes in religious schools.

And now, of course, AIG is crying foul.  They’re weeping themselves to sleep about how mean the atheists have been about it.  After all, what’s wrong with pushing demonstrably false bullshit on children under the guise of science, thus ensuring that they have no chance in hell of succeeding in any intellectual field after graduation?  What’s wrong with arming children with ignorance and finishing a test by making sure they know exactly how to pass their ignorance on and reinforce it?  What’s wrong with lying?  It’s not like there’s a commandment against it or anything.

So on his website, Ken Ham is pissing and moaning about it.  He’s upset because atheists are getting so aggressive.  He even has a list of “Evidence” that supports the claim that atheists are increasingly “intolerant”:

How Are Atheists Becoming More Aggressive in America?

  • Billboards promoting atheism and attacking Christianity have popped up across the country.

  • The American Humanist Association has launched a special website for children to indoctrinate them in atheism.

  • An atheist rally in Washington DC last year had a special promotion to encourage kids to attend their atheist camps.

  • Atheists have been increasingly using terms like “child abuse” to describe the efforts of Christians who seek to teach their children about creation, heaven, and hell.

  • Many atheists claim that children belong to the community, not to their parents.

  • Atheists have actively opposed any effort in public schools to even question a belief of evolution or suggest there are any problems with it.

Heath is on his way over to record and I’ve gotta get prepped, so I’ll trust the comments section to provide the editorial on these, but I just wanted to hop on really quick and let everyone know that they’ve noticed.  Keep up the good work.

Public Bible Study

April 27, 2013 5 comments

by Noah Lugeons

I spent the day yesterday doing my civic duty.  I did jury duty once before in a small town down south and I was in and out in two hours, but in NYC it’s a bit different.  Here you go into a large room and sit there for eight hours while they play bad movies so loud it’s hard to read.  They call names and you leave and go do something, but I’m not entirely sure what it is, as my name was never called.  So I basically sat in a large, uncomfortable room where I wasn’t allowed to use my phone for eight hours.

Luckily, I had some reading I needed to catch up on.  We won’t be covering Exodus on the show until episode 13, but that’s no excuse to slack off.  So I brought my Oxford 4th Edition Annotated NSRV Bible and I brought a notepad in case jokes or segment possibilities occurred to me while I was reading and I brought a highlighter, as I’ve taken to highlighting every passage in the bible where god does something horrible.  And for some reason, it never occurred to me what kind of reaction this was going to draw.

So there I am, whittling away very long hours at a table with a bible that I’m clearly studying intently.  I shouldn’t have been at all surprised when a very friendly Christian woman (or, as I would discover, a Christian woman with a very friendly facade) walked up to me, pulled up a seat and said, “I don’t want to interrupt your bible study, but if you don’t mind, are you in seminary?”

For the record, I could not possibly look less like I was in seminary without the addition of facial tattoos.

Now, three answers occurred to me, but none of them seemed socially acceptable:

  1. “Atheist. Just reading it to make fun of it later,”
  2. “Oh please,have a seat.  Anything to interrupt me from this horrible fucking book” and
  3. “I’m boning up for an interview for the new anti-Christ position.”

And honestly, there are a lot of situations where I would have run with any of those, but in this instance it wouldn’t have been appropriate.  After all, I was inviting the conversation by publicly reading a bible to the point of highlighting and taking notes.  It was a fair question and she was probably a really nice person and I was going to be stuck in a room with her for most of the rest of the day, so I scratched all of those answers.

Then my mind started automatically looking for excuses.  I was clearly reading and writing in English so I couldn’t go with the old, “¿Que?” and it would be hard to pretend that I actually had porn hidden inside it unless I could actually make with some porn (and remember, I wasn’t allowed to bring in my phone).

Ultimately I opted for the truth and that pissed her off so much I wish ended up wishing I’d just been a dick.

“Actually I’m an atheist and I’m studying it for debate purposes,” I said in as friendly a way as possible.

“So you don’t believe a word of it?” she asked incredulously.

“Well, I mean… I believe some of the geography and stuff.”

She made several false starts at speech at this point.  She clearly wanted to say several things that Jesus wouldn’t let her say.  Finally she settled on something like, “Well I hope you find some answers in there because I don’t envy your soul.”

“Okay, well… you know… have a nice day or whatever,” I offer back and she welcomes the opportunity to end the conversation.  She takes a seat well across the room and kind of half-ass glares at me a bit.

At this point I realize that unless I want to do this a few more times, I should put the bible away and read something else.  I suppose she took it as a personal insult that the other distraction I brought was “The God Virus”.

Why Atheists Always Win at Twitter

April 15, 2013 3 comments

by Noah Lugeons

I just reached the satisfying conclusion of a five day flame war on Twitter.  My wife’s kind of new to the whole Twitter thing, so I’ve been explaining my technique a bit as I go.  It’s been educational for both of us, as it’s forced me to think a lot more about it than I normally do.  And over that period, I’ve developed a theory to help explain why I always kick so much ass in Twitter fights.

Now, it’s too broad a generalization to say that atheists always win on Twitter, unless you define winning as being the person who turns out to be correct in the end.  I’ve seen a few atheists get their asses handed to them by clever apologists on Twitter, forums, Facebook threads, Reddit, blog comments… you name it.  But it seems that the vast majority of the time, I see the atheist beating the religious clod into the ground until they’re pounding their keyboards randomly with shaking fists.

So before I lay out my theory, we have to define two things.  One is what I consider “winning” in a flame war.  The second is, strangely enough, the word “faith”.  We’ll start with the easy one.

The old trope about somebody being wrong on the internet is used to justify a lot of losses in online arguments.  I’m not saying there isn’t something to the notion that arguing online is often unproductive, but I think one goes to far when one says it’s “useless”.  As I’ve said before on this blog, it helps you hone your skills in live debate, it helps you reinforce your understanding of your own position and it helps you build a community of online support.  But there’s also another benefit; it can be really fun.

Debates online are okay.  I usually let somebody else takeover when the philosophical arguments get too far in the weeds because that shit bores me eventually.  I don’t have the patience to walk theist after theist through all the errors in “irreducible complexity” or “Pascal’s Wager”.  But I never back down from a good old fashioned flame war.  Hell, I’ve been doing that shit since CompuServe.

In all that time, the enemy hasn’t changed, the wars haven’t changed and thus my tactics haven’t had to change much.  Once an argument moves beyond any exchange of rational ideas and turns into a name-calling, juvenile insult war, there’s only one way to win.  You have to be the one who maintains your cool longest.  Eventually, if you do it right, you’ll get a response like:

You’re a pathetic, tragic, stupid, evil waste of breath. FUCK YOU!!!!1!!!

And then you can break out the champagne because you’ve won.  When you’ve reduced a person to something like that, they’ve admitted that they’re through being clever or even intelligent.  You’ve cracked their facade of confidence and revealed them to be your intellectual inferior.  What’s more, you can pile on all you want at this point because they’ve gotten emotional and you haven’t.  You can make them drool if you try hard enough.

For my purposes, this is the only measure of victory in a flame war.  Being the last person to lose their cool says that you’re the one presenting the rational argument and they’re the one presenting the emotional one.  It doesn’t matter if that’s true or not because all participants have long abandoned the logical standing of their position anyway.  It’s simply about who can piss who off first.

And it is in this way that I see atheists win over and over and over again.

Part of this is certainly the fact that we’ve just got the better arguments.  There can be little doubt, especially in the mind of a non-believer, who is approaching this question logically and who is approaching it emotionally.  It also helps that we are forced into positions where we have to justify our worldview far more often than theists (and, of course, I’m speaking only to the culture I’m familiar with.  Can’t say how true that is for my readers outside the US).

And that ultimately brings us to the role “faith” plays in all of this.  Religious people love to talk about “faith”, but when they use it, it has a special meaning.  If I were to use faith, it would be to describe a near-certainty: I have faith that the porch will hold my weight; I have faith that Heath will show up to record on Tuesday; I have faith that I will win Twitter wars with theists.  But that type of faith is entirely different than the “faith” that believers talk about.  So much so that they should really have to use a different word.  It’s almost the polar opposite of what I mean.

Me: Faith is the expectation that something will behave exactly like it always does.

Them: Faith is the expectation that everything will eventually behave in a way I’ve never observed it behaving.

Ask an atheist and virtually all of them will tell you that they’d be willing to change their minds on the “god” question if compelling new evidence appeared.  Ask a theist and virtually all of them would tell you the opposite.  Theists look at that and see doubt in the atheists, while we look at it and see doubt in them.  After all, I’m confident that my porch will hold my weight, but it would only take one time of me falling through it to change my mind on the subject.  It’s a belief I’m so confident about that I don’t have to worry about changing my mind on it.

But consider the religious type of faith in that analogy.  They would have to keep walking out on that porch every day, even after it collapsed.  They’d have to walk out the back door, fall into the pile of broken lumber below, pluck splinters from their limbs and tell themselves that the porch was still holding their weight.  No amount of evidence would sway them from their “faith”.  But our kind of faith breeds a certain kind of apathy.  If you’re confident enough about a belief, you don’t care.  You’re not emotionally invested in the belief that the porch will hold your weight.  You don’t bother justifying the belief to yourself with logic puzzles and wagers from long dead mathematicians.  I need invoke no syllogism to prove to myself that the porch will hold my weight.

Which brings us back to the flame wars.  I won’t deny that I’m emotionally invested in the atheist movement.  I’m as emotional about fighting against religious intrusion as I am about any subject.  I passionately donate my time, money, creativity and effort to furthering this cause and that is all fueled by an emotional investment.  But what I’m emotional about isn’t the fact that god doesn’t exist.  I have faith in that the same way I have faith in my porch.  I might need a fancy analogy or two to justify it to a believer, but I don’t need anything but the evidence (or overwhelming lack thereof) to settle that question to my own satisfaction.

So when I’m battling with a believer, they keep expecting to find that emotional trigger.  They fire blindly because they think there’s something about my atheism that has spurred my activism.  In reality, it’s actually something about their religion.  Meanwhile, it’s kind of easy to find their trigger.  They want to tear down your intelligence because it irks them to think that a smart person would look at the data and conclude that there is no god.  So simply being intelligent with your responses is enough to eventually bring out the worst in them.

Sure, we can be disrespectful, scathing and vulgar (hell, that’s kind of my niche), but we never abandon reason.  Even in the filthiest of flame wars, I’m always in the realm of logic.  And eventually that leaves them in the realm of ad hominem Fuck-Yous.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make someone drool.

Religion as Child Abuse

April 3, 2013 4 comments

by Noah Lugeons

Yeah, a lot has been said about this already so I’m not going to devote too much time to it here.  The four horsemen have long since established what I feel to be a compelling and nigh undeniable argument that religion is often a guise for child abuse.  And we’re not talking about the sexual abuse that has become so synonymous with religious leaders, we’re talking about the actual practice of teaching religion to children.

The apologists like to sweep this under the rug.  When they address a crowd of hostile atheists, they downplay the literalism of the bible.  They pretend that religious people all look at it like a divinely inspired-Aesop’s Fables.  They like to pretend that Christians don’t treat the bible as being 100% accurate.  But when we’re not looking, that’s exactly what they’re teaching their kids.

I recall a field trip I took in 3rd grade where my class was presented with a human skeleton and asked if we could determine whether it was the skeleton of a man or a woman.  Without exception, every kid in my class immediately took to counting the ribs.  Until then, there was no difference between the authority of a religious figure and a secular teacher.  They were both grown-ups who told us things with authority.  They were both people who our parents told us we should listen to and respect.  How were we to know that one source was sound and the other bullshit?

But when all the little Christian Twitter trolls pop up to give us atheists the smack-down we so richly deserve, they have to answer for shit like this.  When a kid gets really, really interested in science she or he might learn something that will aid them for the rest of their lives.  But when a kid gets really, really interested in religion, she or he might do this:

Belittling Christians

April 2, 2013 35 comments

by Noah Lugeons

Sometimes people say, “Noah, you belittle Christians a lot.”

And I respond, “Yeah, I do my best.”

So no, I’ll be offering no apology for it here or anywhere else in the foreseeable future.  When people point out that I belittle Christians, I respond the same way that an Olympic sprinter would respond if somebody asked her why she was in such a hurry… After all, that’s kind of the point.

Now, there are those that would say that this is counterproductive.  They say that the caustic brand of atheism I subscribe to is antithetical to the goals of minimizing the role of religion in society.  They present a “circle-the-wagons” mentality that I might inspire if I’m too insulting.  They point out that the more attainable goals of keeping religion out of science class and the courtroom can be hamstrung by the more grandiose goal of stamping out organized religion altogether.

And what’s more, they might be right.  I still don’t care.

My goal as an atheist activist is to marginalize religion.  I work toward a world where anybody who believes in something without evidence is embarrassed to admit it in public.  I want reason by way of shame.

I think it’s a sad commentary on our culture that my unwavering belief that all truth-claims should be subjected to the same scrutiny puts me in the extreme wing of a minority.  That shouldn’t be a bold stance. It should be nearly unthinkable to take any other stance and that’s precisely what I seek.

To be fair, I’ll concede that it’s entirely possible to take that stance without belittling anyone.  A lot of skeptics do yeoman’s work by patiently walking sasquatch hunters, UFOlogists and homeopaths through the ladder of logic without a hint of condescension.  I admire that ability but I do not share it.

And of course, many skeptics are crass and dismissive of nonsense like sasquatch hunters, UFOs and homeopathy.  They don’t bother to spare anyone’s feelings and simply treat it like the demonstrable bullshit that it is.  In the skeptical movement the battle between “soft” and “hard” is a hell of a lot more muted than the one in the atheist movement, but it’s still there.  Some people just insist that the “kill-them-with-kindness” approach is the only valid one.

Many much wiser observers than me have pointed out that there probably isn’t one “valid” approach, so I’m not going to spend any time retreading that ground, but there is something I’d like to offer to the kindness camp.  Sure, it’s an anecdote and can thus be easily dismissed, but I think it’s illustrative of the justification behind the approach that I share with a number of other scathing atheists.

Arrogance is a powerful force.  Those of us who like to think or ourselves as intelligent don’t like to be told we’re stupid.  It’s the only insult that really gets under the skin of some people.  Now, when somebody says, “you disagree with me so you’re stupid” it’s meaningless, but if someone you respect intellectually lumps your beliefs in with a bunch of the other “stupid” ones, that has an impact.

I’m not saying there’s anyone out there that respects me intellectually, but there are a number of learned men and women in both the atheist and skeptical movements who sport intellects that are beyond reproach.  An intellectually arrogant person hearing that his beliefs are stupid from those people will have an effect.

Now sure, some people are arrogant enough to just toss off the insult and say, “what does that ivy-league professor know?”, but those people are all-but unreachable.  But for many if not most intellectually arrogant people, the root of the arrogance was real intelligence.  And there are plenty of intelligent, arrogant people out there that still believe in some really silly stuff.

Those people are vulnerable to the caustic attack.  I know because that’s how I arrived here.  I got to atheism through simple observation and the correct application of logic, but I became a skeptic and (more importantly) a skeptical activist because somebody with an intellect I admire told me I was a dumb-ass.  And what’s more, he didn’t try to cater to my ego by telling me how okay it was to still believe this dumb-ass belief.

Now I know that the research shows that most people are far more inclined to listen to and consider your viewpoint if you’re non-confrontational and I recognize that, generally speaking, this is the optimum approach.  Hell, it’s the one I usually employ when I’m talking to someone in person.  But just because it’s the most widely applicable approach doesn’t mean it’s the only correct one.  A person like myself would never be swayed by it, as they would take the agreeable demeanor as a sign of intellectual uncertainty.  They would toss off anything you said that didn’t crack the armor of their intellectual arrogance and the only way to do that is to be caustic.

My mother told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything.  And a lot of people have told me the same thing since.  I get it.  I disagree.  I feel that it would be intellectually dishonest to say anything nice and it would be socially irresponsible to stay silent.

And if you disagree with my approach, that’s fine.  I strongly encourage you to get involved and run as far in the opposite direction as possible.  We need all the help we can get.  And I believe that we also need all the types of help we can get.

How Religion Makes You an Asshole

April 1, 2013 4 comments

by Noah Lugeons

So I was just listening to episode #108 of the Ardent Atheist podcast.  The episode’s title was “Why Would God Make Cripples” and the exchange that led to that title had me so furious that I had before I even made it home, I was already composing this blog in my head.

First, a bit of background.  The Ardent Atheist is an interview show that brings on a variety of guests, but mostly comedians.  They talk about an array of subjects, but as the name suggests, religion is always on the table.

In this episode, they had two guests, Roy Wood, Jr. and Anthony Ramos, both comedians and both of the wishy-washy, pseudo-religious variety.  Roy confessed to being a Southern Baptist by merit of being born into it and never bothering to discard it once he realized it was bullshit.  Ramos was a little closer to the agnostic camp, though still held out for an afterlife and a higher power.

But during the discussion of his religion, Ramos noted that if/when he got a chance to meet god, he looked forward to punching him/her/it in the face for giving him a degenerative muscle condition that leaves him unable to run and scarcely able to walk at this point in his life.

This led to the obvious question of why a loving god would create crippled people.  You would think this would be a really tough question for a theist to answer, but only if you weren’t familiar with the kind of ramshackle bullshit that counts as an “answer” in the minds of a religious person.

Roy Wood, Jr., who to that point had presented himself as a perfectly reasonable, moral, amiable and funny guy let his religious side out for just a minute to defend his god and did so with a statement that was so deceptively demonic that I’m sure he walked away from it with no idea what an asshole he had been when he uttered it.

“You know, people would make the argument that you’re here to inspire others”

And what’s more, he manages to deliver it with a smug, condescending tone that says, “how dare you question god’s plan for you?”

Consider just how awful a thing to say that really is.  Perhaps god has chosen to torture you for your entire life by teasing you with physical abilities that he knows he will soon rip away from you.  He’s chosen to close doors to you while saddling you with lifelong pain, inconvenience and depression.  He’s chosen to punish you unduly compared to his other children, and what’s more, he did so to inspire others.

He’s god, of course, so he could have reached deep into his infinite quiver of miracles to inspire anybody he cared to inspire, but instead of a subtle miracle or a divine whisper, he chose to condemn you to a life-altering disability.  Your very existence is an afterthought to god, who could miraculously cure you from your degenerative condition at any time, but chooses not to every minute of every day because he needs you to act as a personified Chicken Soup for the Soul.

I doubt that Roy Wood, Jr. is anywhere near the asshole he came across in that brief moment.  In fact, judging by most of the rest of the interview, I’m almost certain that he isn’t.  But it doesn’t matter what kind of person you are.  When you take it upon yourself to defend a notion as logically incoherent as an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity, you almost have no choice but to be a jackass about it.

The frightening thing is that faith blinds you to it entirely.  You could hear Roy getting angry every time someone would start applying logic to his pet superstition and at some point he was psychologically bound to lash out.  At a crippled dude.  Like an asshole.

Granted, this is quite low on the totem pole of what’s wrong with religion, but it’s one of those minor infractions that’s so common that even many atheists don’t notice it.  In fact, I would imagine that many religious folks won’t understand what was wrong with that statement even after reading this post.

And that, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem with religion.  It has the power to blind you to the problems with itself.  And once you’ve crossed that line, it’s pretty hard to tell when you’ve crossed another.