New Atheism, Meet Existential Risk Studies

This is very important reading, whether you are religious or not. But it’s especially important if you are religious.

From http://thehumanist.com/magazine/march-april-2016/features/new-atheism-meet-existential-risk-studies:

While the New Atheist movement isn’t, and has never been, a monolithic phenomenon, its primary motivating idea can be reduced to a single statement, namely that religion is not merely wrong, but dangerous. In fact, religion is dangerous precisely because it’s wrong: it commands believers to act according to “moral” precepts and guidelines that are ultimately based on private revelations had by ancient prophets claiming special access to the supernatural. Put differently, religion is our very best instance of institutionalized bad epistemology, and this is what makes it unreasonable to accept. And when its doctrinal systems are put into practice, they often compromise our well-being and prosperity.

Copious evidence substantiates this contention. On the one hand, history is overflowing with bloody conflicts driven by antagonistic religious dogmas held by fanatics who cared more about the otherworldly than the worldly. And, as the 2014 Global Terrorism Index affirms, religious extremism constitutes the primary driver of terrorism around the world today. Even more, numerous empirical studies have shown that, to quote the sociologist Phil Zuckerman, secular people are “markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian” than religious people. And the most secularized countries tend to be the happiest, the most peaceable (according to the Global Peace Index), and, as reported by the Economist’s think tank several years ago, the “best places to be born.” While Christopher Hitchens’ declaration that “religion poisons everything” might be somewhat exaggerated, religious belief is consistently associated with diminished levels of human flourishing.

I’m an ex-Christian, an Atheist, and a Humanist. I believe that we could build a beautiful world right here and right now if we just were willing to put aside our differences and work together. But the most important thing we can do right now is to fight the religious extremism that is threatening our very survival as a species. I’m certainly not one of the biggest atheist names on the Net right now. But even so, the realities in this article are why I speak out against religious belief and why I feel it is so important for us to leave religious belief in the dustbin of history as the bad idea it was and is and move on to much healthier ways of believing and living in this world.

A part of me just doesn’t understand why so many people still cling to religious belief when it is so manifestly ridiculous. I mean, come on, Christianity is based on the belief that the world is as it is because a talking snake convinced two obviously mythical people to eat magic fruit from a magic tree. And the mission of Jesus? He came to earth to magically undo the magical damage that the magic fruit caused (1 John 3:8). And after Jesus magically undoes the damage that the magic fruit from the magic tree caused, He’s gonna kick the Talking Snake’s ass once and for all.

How much more ridiculous can religious belief get? Christianity is absurd and it’s very easy to refute, yet millions of otherwise intelligent people cling to it and believe in it very strongly. In a way, I understand that because I was there too for fifteen years of my younger life. But I realized it was bullshit and I walked away and, of course, I’m much better off for it. I wish for everyone to be FREE! That’s why I speak out, so that hopefully I can leave the world a better place than I found it.

Glory!

Atheism Isn’t Supposed To Be A Luxury

http://i2.wp.com/thebluegrassskeptic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/think.jpgI recently attended a freethinker meet up in my area. I was looking forward to the meeting since we were all bringing food to donate to a local food bank called the Freestore Foodbank. This is a cause I’m always up and ready to contribute my time to since I know pretty often what it’s like to live on a scrap food budget. My cupboard is chock full of discounted food like scratch and dent can goods, re taped dry good boxes, and tons of dollar bags of beans and rice. Yes, I appreciate all too well the assistance of a food bank.

This group get together wasn’t just about the food drive though. There was also a guest speaker by the name of Derrick Strobl, who was visiting on behalf of the Humanist Community of Central Ohio. His visit was to better clarify what humanism was all about. In that process, he shared quite a bit of his personal experiences as a youth that brought him along the path to becoming a humanist. imagesThere were several stories he related that I had completely identified with. I was probably shaking my head in agreement during most of his talk without even realizing I was doing so. One story in particular was to do with a Sunday school class, and being taught via a construction paper book, the colors of salvation: black is sin, red is the blood of christ, white is purity, and gold represented Heaven.

I distinctly remember this same lesson, but not with a homemade booklet. My teacher used large cuts of fabric in those colors, and he would drape himself with them as he explained each one. Except, he had two black drapes instead of one. This youth pastor would always start with the black of sin, explaining how it permeates every aspect of who we are. Then he would wrap over Christ’s redeeming blood, which cancelled out the sin for those who repented. White, being purity, was the result of said redemption. And then he would drape the yellow-gold cloth on the cross on the wall by the podium, explaining we had eternal reward waiting for us since we accepted God.

resized_creepy-willy-wonka-meme-generator-oh-you-became-a-youth-pastor-you-had-such-a-promising-future-as-a-film-actor-617011Then our pastor would get very quiet, still clutching the mis cut draperies around his body, nothing showing but the toes of his shoes and his stern face bobbling on his exposed neck. He would walk over to the second piece of black cloth, telling us how once we accepted God there was no going back to sinning. If you went back to sinning? He would then dramatically cover the previous three layers with the extra piece of black cloth saying seriously, his eyes looking almost wrathful,”You get nothing but darkness in your life. No rewards. No blessings. Nothing.” That son of a bitch would walk around like that the rest of the lesson! I must have seen this routine at least half a dozen times while attending that church, and it always riveted me.

It did more than that really. That black cloth quite literally colored my thinking. It covered every redeeming quality I thought I had going for myself. Just knowing that any good I had done could be so quickly discounted to nothing because of sin really upset me. imagesI already was living in a home of impossible standards. Now this? I was overwhelmed. Of course, I knew that all I would have to do was pray for forgiveness every time I sinned, but how many times were allowed? Was there a limit to how much sinning I could be forgiven for? And I was also skeptical. If you pray for forgiveness, part of your motivation is trying to keep on God’s good side, so was it really genuine repentance if part of your brain evenly remotely worried about going to Hell and wanting forgiveness to avoid it?

I believe in my case, lessons like the colors for salvation do more harm than good. At least, the way my youth pastor delivered it wasn’t the best example. I left those speeches always focused on trying to be rid of sin. I never invested time in the purity part because I was constantly praying to be forgiven for thinking about my mom in mean ways, or for sneaking into the pantry and having eaten half the canister of the French’s fried onions. There was never any purity because all I saw were the mistakes I made. That programming is still very much present my mind today. It is very hard for me to recognize any benefit I bring to the table in relationships, whether they are personal or social. For my entire childhood my home echoed with constant criticism of who I was.

Some have often told me after hearing this part of my Bible studies as a child that obviously my church focused more on “talents” than grace. Grace, which according to some and not others, should be all you need to get into Heaven. Which never made sense to me either. Why have a judgement day if I accepted God? Does it matter how much I sinned if I’m automatically saved by grace? I thought you didn’t lose grace. confusion_bibleThese were questions I never received a good answer to simply because no one could completely agree. I walked away from the question with the idea that I’m saved by grace, but the palace high life is optional. After all, why should I care if I had a nice palace or lived on the streets of Heaven? I mean, we’re talking about Heaven here. Anywhere in Heaven. A street corner was suitable enough to me so long as I didn’t burn forever.

This type of psychological abuse was taught to me in church, and taught to me at home. This is all I’d come to learn about understanding myself in the first twenty-five years of my life. The phrase “It’s all your fault” became “It’s all Kate’s fault” and I embraced it wholeheartedly, totally believing that there was always something I was doing wrong that was ruining the happiness of others. But it didn’t stop at just letting myself be the whipping boy so to speak. No, this programming took an even more sinister turn as I got older.

So, if I was black with sin, God could reject me. Essentially, He could potentially take away that which Jesus–which is ironically part of Yahweh in mortal form–granted me. Kind of like the way my parents would take away their approval of me over the littlest of things, and it was such a bear to earn that favor to begin with. Or like the way a lover demands the return of all he has invested after a break up, even if the relationship lasted nearly fifteen years. And sure enough, my distrust of those offering help, gifts, and even love, was born. civilization-5Everything had a hook, and I decided that I just wasn’t a good risk to bet on. The hook wasn’t a normal type of tit for tat catch though. The hook was something worse. It was a disbelief that this person really knew who I was and still wanted to be with me, and at some point I was going to trip a switch and send this person running for the hills angry and hurt by me. This led to a very controlling nature about my environment, my personal possessions, and willingness to be vulnerable. Distance became my best friend. Despair flavored every sip of life I tried to drink.

This is just one small layer of the damage I’ve been peeling away year by year, day by day, sometimes hour by hour. I went through a lot in order to get myself out of the emotional battering of my mind in a religious community, and the physical abuse still follows me around. But there are those who have it worse. There are those who are stuck. Completely helpless at the mercies of a doctrine they don’t even want to believe! Some of the things these closeted skeptics go through easily dwarf my own experiences growing up religious.Sophia-trapped Can you imagine being denied contact with the outside world if you don’t attend church? What about mandatory corporal punishment when you’re nearly twenty years old? There are things that go on in this country that many in the atheist/skeptic/humanist societies do not realize. Some say,”How hard can it be to say no and just move out?” If you aren’t raised in an environment where you have personal liberty, it’s hard to even realize you can say no to begin with.

Take the story of Lauren and Jennifer. Home schooled in a Christian setting. Mother controls nearly every aspect of what they think, do, dress, eat, or even read. No major extra curricular events. Total isolation. No freedom. The eldest sister gets out, but had to leave her younger sister behind. Her sister almost didn’t go to college because her parents took the liberty of planning her life for her. No choice in the matter. The sisters had to communicate secretly since all email and phone calls were monitored. Christ, the younger sister wasn’t even allowed a key to the house. It took until her 18th birthday to get out, and her older sister had to come and get her. That mad dash for freedom still ended up in a physical altercation with their mother. Without her older sister, Jennifer might not be attending college, possibly set up for marriage by a man of her father’s choosing.

the-big-prison-family-orange-is-the-new-black-35320444-600-369Now, this isn’t the norm, but it isn’t uncommon either. Most religious families aren’t going to let one of their members “just say no and move out”. You’re their property because you’re their child. That’s how you are viewed, even in biblical doctrine. And I’ve seen instances of extreme control like I showcased above in families where all the children are grown and in their thirties. If you substituted mom with boyfriend or girlfriend in the story of Lauren and Jennifer, one would automatically think this was a notable domestic abuse situation. And this is where the problem lies. Many atheists do not recognize that the type of control exerted on Lauren and her sister is indeed domestic abuse. The only difference is that the violence is being perpetrated by a parent in the name of belief. In this country, it’s pretty much a protected type of abuse unless it makes headlines because of a “God told me to drown my kids” type of situation.

ignoranceI ran into this the other night at a Freethinker meeting I had attended. At the end of the meeting, when everyone kind of wanders around and takes a few minutes to talk with the guest speaker or event organizers, I took a few minutes to ask a few members about what the group does to help those wanting to escape, or are just biding their time while hiding their growing disbelief. Looks of confusion greeted the question. I clarified a little bit, explained I was wondering if there were any support for individuals who were literally trapped in religiously abusive situations, like with family that won’t let them leave the home, or those who are subjected to excessive priest interventions because a mother cannot handle her child rejecting God. The reply I received from one was,”I wasn’t aware that these kind of situations occurred.”

Now, I’m not in any way trying to criticize someone’s ignorance. How can I? If you didn’t know, you didn’t know. To clarify, it was explained to me that Recovering From Religion has branches within both of these skeptic groups, which I am thankful to hear. The guest speaker’s own organization has crisis line information to be offered as well, but not in relation to domestic abuse. This initial lack of understanding was probably a surprise to me and these two members I spoke with. More than anything though, it really highlighted what I’ve been seeing in attitude around the web and at other skeptic groups the last eighteen months.

indexAtheism has become a thing of privilege.

I’m not talking about money here. I’m talking about privilege of personal freedom. While atheist and humanist groups all over the United States will have guest speakers who escaped cults like the Branch Davidians, or former ex-Muslim soldiers who are now atheist, there is almost zero dialog about those escaping the mainstream Christian faith. I expect this lack of coverage if I were attending a faith ministry, but not a skeptic society. There is a genuine need for activism on the parts of the helpless in the Christian faith community. If you read the story I linked to Lauren and her sister, you can see that even their own faith community didn’t want to step up until after things had reached critical mass and their mother had physically struck Jennifer in the face. And it seems the skeptic community hasn’t even reached that place yet.

I don’t know if it is a situation where unbelievers want to see that others in their community have “earned their stripes”, or if religious domestic abuse isn’t a territory we’re ready to start addressing head on. But for all the cries of how religious indoctrination shouldn’t be forced on the young, that religion doesn’t belong in the classroom, and teaching children that they are grievously imperfect is abuse, how can we not be ready? I would wager if more cases of domestic abuse of a religious nature were brought to court, we might see a clearer path to more definitive legislation that guarantees the right to choose what you believe without abusive retribution.signmonkies

Look how we rally against towns that have a large Haredi Jew majority that won’t allow their women to drive? The cause for the disbelievers at the mercy of religious parents isn’t any different in importance, regardless of the brand of faith. Right now there are grown men who had to move back home to be able to finish college, and if his parents have made it clear he must renew his faith or leave to the streets. Don’t you see? We do have a social form of Sharia being practiced in this country already, and it isn’t just utilized by some members of Islam, but by its sister’s believers in Christianity.

emma_goldman_quote_4Atheism is about liberty of thought. The freedom of self to decide what you want to believe or not. There are many who know they don’t believe, know they need out, but they don’t know how to accomplish this. This is where many humanism and atheism groups could step in and at the very least have information to succeed in doing so safely. I’m not saying we need a team of special atheist forces to storm castles and rescue people, but sometimes just simply having a resource to vent with, a regular meeting once a month, or even an anonymous online group, just to have a haven for information to be shared can make a huge difference in the lives of those who are trapped.

For those who would like to read more about the types of difficulties today’s generation of youth face when coming out atheist, please check out this link. Here is a prime example of the absolute extortion some grown adults go through even when they are out in the open atheists. The problem is real.

I am a Humanist!

New for 2015, I am dropping the Atheist label in favor of Humanist. It may be basically the same thing, but too many people when they hear the word “atheist” think negative things. And movies such as “God’s Not Dead” don’t help any with the false negative stereotype of atheists being a bunch of heartless assholes.

I don’t believe in God and I am not a Christian, both for very good reasons. But I am a good person. I am moral and I am ethical, and I am a genuinely nice guy. I care about people and I care about the world. I want what religion promises but it cannot achieve – peace on earth and goodwill toward all of mankind. That is why I am a humanist. Working together for the good of all, there is nothing that we cannot achieve. There is no God and there is no Divine Plan. There is only the natural world, and we are the only ones who can save ourselves from our own destructiveness. We let too many things divide us — politics, religion, nationality, race, ethnicity, etc. If we all work together for the good of all, we can build a beautiful and peaceful world.

I don’t promise to stop being critical of religion in the coming year, but I may change the way I say what I have to say. I’ll start promoting what I believe in rather than bashing what I don’t believe in.
I am no longer angry about the 15 years I invested in the demonstrably false Christian religion or the mythical Jesus of the Bible or anything else. I’m not angry that I once considered a deeply and seriously flawed collection of ancient religious mythology to be the “word” of a god. I am okay with it all now. I wish things could have been different, but I am done with anger. It serves no useful purpose anyway. My Christian experience was not all bad, and I can remember the good times I had with good friends.

I want to spend the rest of my life working to promote the positive philosophy of Humanism and work to make this world a better and more peaceful place.

I just joined the American Humanist Association tonight. Glory! 🙂