Monday, December 22, 2008

Why NOT Do Something? Why Not?

A few people have asked me recently, "Why do you care about being an atheist?"

The main argument seems to be "why would anyone care about not polluting the atmosphere, or not allowing children to ingest harmful chemicals, or not killing someone, or not eating why should you or I or anyone care about not having a religion?"

Wait a minute, you ask? Aren't all of those things you just said substantive, constructive examples of the value of NOT doing something?

Yes! I may be a terrible practitioner of sarcasm, so I'm just going to tell you what I'm saying instead. Huzzah!!

People ask me all the time: what's the value of not doing something?

There's plenty of value in not doing something harmful or wasteful or empty. I believe that the practice of religion often falls into one of these three categories.

Sure, there are benefits to practicing religion: a sense of community, the establishment of a moral framework in individuals, and the introduction of some powerful incentives to help others.

One of the problems with religion is that even the benefits of religion can turn out to have extremely negative effects.

Religious communities are helpful until they exclude others. Relgious communities are helpful until they begin to fight over divisions in dogma. Religious communities are helpful until they start to awaken the divisive tribal instincts of humanity.

The religious establishment of a moral framework in individuals is often misguided is sometimes dangerously incomplete. Unfortunately, one of the properties of religious belief is that individuals can often be easily manipulated for nefarious purposes by believing that some act of discrimination or violence is the will of a supreme being. Religions which allow individuals to come through religious training and teaching enabled to harm others in the name of said religion show a dangerous lack in the rigor of their moral framework. Any religion that can be disguised as hate or intolerance probably contains an element of hate or intolerance waiting to be unleashed. A religion of peace can be identified by the actions of its followers: no matter what religious adherents say, if the followers of a religion are peaceful, then the religion is peaceful. Now, I do realize that many religions have a fringe element or two which defies the peaceful teachings and traditions of a religion in order to practice hate. This I understand, and this would not prevent me from labeling a religion as a "religion of peace". However, when the number of fanatics spikes to the range of millions upon millions, then I will have serious doubts as to whether a religion really does represent an agenda for peace, especially if the religion under consideration has established a history of coercion as a method of conversion and political dominance, and if societies founded upon the ideas of a certain religion breed the repression of and intolerance of certain undeserving elements of the population, then it will further be confirmed that a particular religion is not a religion of peace.

It doesn't do much good to establish a moral framework in individuals when the framework itself is much more hole-y than holy.

But in its defense, adherents of religion also tell me that religion is a powerful force for good in our world: examine how religion compels kindness and respect and charity towards others.

Yes, I believe it is positive that certain adherents of religion are motivated to do something. But I do not believe that religion is the most efficient or preferrable way to do good in our world.

Why do we do good which we do? Many religious people do good for its own sake. This is the most admirable instinct of humanity. But I also fear that at least on a subconscious level, many people who are religious are only "good" because they feel that they will be rewarded either in this life or in another possible life eons into the future.

Religious people sometimes like to tell me that we have "free will", and that this is why there is evil in this world. Yes, there's evil because we "sinned", and thus brought evil into the world. The deity in charge (according to the story) allowed us to have a "sinful" nature, allowed us to bring "sin" into our world, because we have "free will". And why do we have free will?

Theists say we have free will, "because it is better for us to love our god of our own accord, and not through force or manipulation, as automatons -- to do so would not be true love."

And yet certain theists tell me that it's OK to do something good because of a forced system of reward and punishment? The concepts of heaven and hell, it has been said, are the ultimate bribe and threat -- eternal pleasure or eternal punishment: the choice is ours.

But is this system of "divine command ethics" really love for its own sake? If we have "free will" because we are supposed to love this creator for our love's own sake, but if we cannot do so because of a forced system of reward and punishment, then we are really incapable of love for its own sake toward any divine creator deity who would construct such a system.

Surely those theists who believe that we have "free will" because it is better to love for the sake of love would hesitate before contradicting themselves and telling me that a system of reward and punishment is really better than loving something for its own sake?

What kind of love is best -- a kind coerced or a kind given voluntarily? Have we still not made up our minds?

But people still say to me, well -- it's better that people are motivated to do good, even if the system is unfair or doesn't make sense.

That is still debatable. I don't know if people would be any more good or any less good without religion.

Personally, I think people would be just about the same. People who wanted to pass on moral values to their children would still do so - people who wanted to learn about morality would still do so. People who wanted to ignore morality would still do that, too, just as they do today. I don't see how much would change. The same things which motivate people to do good or bad now still motivate people to do good or bad whether there is a divine being overseeing us all or not.

Also, there are a lot of people who don't have ties to religion who do good things. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the most important and generous philanthropists of our time, are not religious. Bill Gates said that religion is "inefficient". I agree with him.

As the signs placed in Washington D.C. this holiday season by a humanist group suggest, "Why not be good for goodness' sake?"

I think we can all agree that this is the best kind of love there is.

Yes, sometimes religion does manage to overcome all of these obstacles and ultimately does become a positive force in peoples' lives. Sometimes religious communities form that don't criticize those who have a different interpretation of dogma and don't stigmatize those who aren't members of the community. Sometimes people are able to select the parts of religious tradition which they consider to be good moral guidelines and manage to have a positive impact on society by living through these principles. Sometimes people do good things for the right reasons because that's how they interpret religious teachings: many religious followers see the examples of Buddha, Guru Nanak, or Jesus Christ, and think that it really is more important to do something good for its' own sake rather than to earn a reward or avoid a punishment.

We know the good that religion can accomplish, and I strongly believe that we can still manage to accomplish almost all of this without the aid of religion. I know it will take a lot of hard work, dedication, and perseverance, but I believe we can do this. And I believe we should do this.

We can overcome the negative aspects of religion and we can emphasize the positive aspects of religion in our societies and in our communities and in our families, without serving a specific religious purpose.

I don't want religion to be eradicated. If religion can do the positive things which I mentioned, and avoid the pitfalls which I also mentioned, I believe that it can have a valuable influence on our world and should be allowed to fluorish in that form. However, I also believe that we can accomplish all of the positive things that religion does now more efficiently with greater impact if we're not hampered by a religious message or agenda.

Talking about atheism and the ethics of humanism is something positive we can do. If religion is going to be something we're not doing, it's going to take a lot of effort to do that.

I am absolutely in favor of doing something in order to not to do something so we can instead do something else. I am in favor of promoting reason and rationality and atheism so we can avoid the negative entanglements of religion and instead rely on secular ethics and the morality of empathy to form communities, establish a moral framework, and provide incentives for positive behavior.

What is the value of NOT doing something?

It's infinitely greater than the value of doing something harmful, or not taking something harmful which could be positive and turning it into a positive force, or not replacing something negative altogether with something less harmful and more beneficial to everyone involved.

"Why do you care about NOT having a religion: you wouldn't attend meetings for a non-stamp-collecting group, you don't read non-Twilight blogs, and you don't describe your hair style as a non-Mohawk, so why care about not having a religion?"

The value of not having a religion is measured in the absence of all the negative entanglements of religious belief and practice and by the accquisition of all the positive traits of a morality based on empathy and compassion. There are many ways to value the absence of a negative quantity.

Yes, it is not what we do not do that is meaningful; it is what we do that is meaningful. Not having religion means that I do possess the freedom to think about morality for myself and do good for its' own sake - it means that I do have the ability to research scientific phenomena without having to justify my discoveries through religious doctrine - there are plenty of things that I do because of my lack of religion that are meaningful to me.

This is why my atheism is important.

What Is Tolerance?

I made the mistake of watching Lou Dobbs the other day. He was talking about the furor over President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give an Invocation on Obama's Inauguaration Day.

Dobbs said that "tolerance means disagreeing without being disagreeable". No Mr. Dobbs, that's not what tolerance means. Tolerance means accepting other people for who they are, and not discriminating against them for what they stand for or look like or who they sleep with.

Rick Warren is not a good example of tolerance. Sure, he's civil. Civility is the beginning of tolerance, but it is not its entirety. Many people have made this mistake before. When people say vicious or hateful things through a calm and polite facade, that's not tolerance...that's deliberate deception and it's a fraud perpetrated on the public.

I appreciate what Rick Warren's done for the evangelical movement in certain aspects, widening its previously narrow focus on certain trademark cultural issues to include fights against poverty, AIDS, and global climate change. I admire Warren's efforts in these areas, and if I ever saw him, I'd thank him for that. Then I'd strongly admonish him for standing against gay rights.

Rick Warren's not a saint, OK? Neither is Barack Obama. They're both human, but they both have a lot of followers who trust everything they say and think everything they do is motivated by purely altruistic reasons. That's just not the truth - because no one is motivated by purely altruistic causes. That's one of the fundamental principles of human nature -- and we as a species tend to get in trouble when we forget that about our fellow human beings. Let's forgive Obama, but let's not forget this.

Rick Warren thinks homosexuality is not natural. Maybe it's not his fault that he believes this?

I have no way of knowing that. However, that doesn't excuse inaction on our part. We know homosexuality is not a choice. We know people who happen to be homosexual deserve every right that heterosexuals have. It is our responsibility to remind President-elect Obama of this reality. It may be too late to make it right this time, but in the future we can implement this change.

I have confidence because history is on our side. I have confidence because the facts are on our side. I have confidence because the youth are on our side. However, as we saw with the drive to pass Proposition 8 in California, those who want to impede the recognition of these rights have many resources and a lot of energy.

But think about this: twenty or even ten years ago, very few people would've been said to be in favor of gay marriage. Now, it's almost a consensus about liberals. Soon, it'll be a consensus among liberals and moderates. My own grandfather who's voted Republican almost his entire life is certainly no friend to liberal causes most of the time, and as recently as five years ago expressed his furor over the possibility of legalized gay marriage, but now he is open to the possibility. I don't expect him to protest or anything, but the public is drifting towards our side of the issue, and I know we're right, and I know we're going to make this happen.

Let Rick Warren say his prayer. I'm going to say a prayer with my actions. Like Frederick Douglass said, "I prayed for twenty years, but I received no answer until I prayed with my legs".

Let's be civil. Let's not be a doormat and let those who oppose progress take advantage of our civility. Sure, I'll let Rick Warren pray for me, and then maybe he'll let me think for him.

Tolerance: being nice is good. Being nice while working to defeat your opponents is even better.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This Song Is Awesome

No further explanation necessary.

By the way, I'm thinking of a doing a parody of this video for Richard Dawkins. I already have lyrics. :D

This could be fun.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I Miss My Church, But Not Religion (Part One)

I miss my old church, the way it used to be. The way it was when I was a little kid.

It's at times like these I remember 1 Corinthians 13:11, when a passage attributed to Paul instructs people to put away childish things.

Now, it may very well seem out of place for an atheist to mention a Bible passage in his blog about atheism. I understand that -- but the context of this entry is my Christian childhood, so please take that into consideration before you condemn me.


I remember a lot of things about my old church as it was when I was growing up. I recall sunday schools and vacation bible studies. It was fun for me because there were all these kids in one place -- and the activities were always very structured. I was one of those children that thrived on structure and I was deathly afraid of having to interact with others on my own initiative. I didn't know how to interact. I was kind of developmentally delayed - not talking until I was in preschool and so forth. It took me years to become something other than a social pariah.

I loved going to church. It gave me purpose -- it gave me meaning. And most of the time, this had little or nothing to do with religion. It was just another place to be, another thing to do. It was a safe place for me, a place where I could be myself.

The elderly ladies of my church always lavished their attention on me when I was a child, and often times there were other kids which with I made friends and spent time doing things.

At one time in my life, my church was a very stable place for me emotionally, and it came as quite a shock when it ceased to have that role in my life, and practically became a destabilizing influence on me.

For much of the time which I attended, my church seemed to be cursed in one aspect or another. Whether it was the succession or absence of pastors, the reoccuring inability to pay the bills every month, or the steady flux of congregants who left our church due to job relocation or a change of denominations, it seemed that things were just going badly. In spite of this hardship, I still felt that it was a good place for me and it was an institution worth serving.

My earliest memory of church is tagging along with my mother to services and trying to follow her fingers through the lines of the hymnal book as we sang songs. I remember staring at the images of the cross, the ceiling lights, and the pulpit, wondering in awe what it all meant. I've always had an appreciation for the beauty of a church, even though the cost of that appreciation has been the decreased comprehension of many a sermon throughout my childhood.

Around age six, I had an enthusiastic, energetic sunday school teacher who was the first person to motivate me to be Christian. Of course, I had no idea what anything meant -- it's just that she was the first person to instill in me the idea that "Jesus loves you". She was a wonderful and engaging person; a wonderful teacher of children. I had a lot of difficulties in my life at that age, and her patience went a long way toward my early devotion to Christianity. Few people took the positive messages of Jesus of Nazareth more to heart than she did. Even though I no longer share her beliefs, I will be ever grateful for her benevolent and kind influence over my childhood.

I still didn't think about religion very much at that point. I did manage to progress slowly and purposefully. By age eight, I could follow along in the services without getting lost. I could sing songs without losing my place in the hymnal book. I was becoming a competent churchgoer.

It was at the age of eight that I first received the Holy Communion. I had to take a few classes on it, but I still had no idea what any of it meant. I think the Roman Catholics have a superior idea by waiting longer for the administration of Holy Communion. This is a reflection of my agreement with Richard Dawkins that it's unfair to force religion on children who have no way to properly analyze its merits or disadvantages. I don't think it's necessarily wrong to take children to religious services, as long as you don't push the faith on them aggressively.

After I received my first taste of communion (grape juice and a wafer - even most of the adults wouldn't drink the alcohol. After trying the communion wine as an adolescent, I don't blame them. I never touched the stuff unless we ran out of grape juice)...

After I received my first communion, I received my first personal Bible. It wasn't the Child's kind, containing mostly illustrations and only minimal substantive details -- it was the genuine article, Nehemiah and Colossians included.

I am a child of the spring. I have a birthday that is fairly late in the academic calendar year, so as a consequence I was also younger than most of my school classmates - which never seemed to help my social insecurity, unfortunately.

In April of that year, I had received my very own Bible from my parents, as a mark of my growing maturity in the Christian faith. That summer would become a very pivotal time in my life in terms of my relationship with Christianity.

After school ended for the year, I joined my church's youth group and attended a Christian summer camp for the first time (though I only went for three days instead of the full week since I was such a young tyke at such an unfamiliar place.)

I was more involved than ever before with Christians. We played games and ate food and did fun things; sure, we talked about faith a little bit, but it wasn't anything I hadn't experienced before. I'm not sure if I took the part about religion seriously or not. Sure, I didn't know what any of it really meant, but my faith had still become a major part of my life.

When I was nine, I finally opened that Bible my parents had given me the previous year. Unfortunately, I skipped to the end and read that just as children as prone to doing. (Who doesn't want to find out what happens at the end, right? I mean, imagine following Christianity for years, reading the entire Bible, and then finding out that Satan wins in the end. What a bummer that would be.)

Unfortunately, the first book I read from start to finish was "Revelations". Naturally, it scared the complete sh*t out of my nine-year-old self.

Of course I knew I was sinful - I'd disobeyed my parents before; I'd even acted up in school a few times (though I usually just quietly did what everyone else was doing).

At the age of nine, I had my first thought that this hell thing was actually real, and that I could actually go there. It was my first experience with a vengeful god.

At around that time, my mother was thinking about leaving our church. I mentioned all of the troubles our congregation had been experiencing. She was just tired of dealing with all that went awry. She put a lot of effort into supporting that church, and I think she was really burned out by it.

I thought we should stay. To my childish eyes, I didn't see a lot that was wrong with it, and it still meant a lot to me emotionally.

The Negativity of Atheism?

As I have repeatedly emphasized, I am an atheist.

I lack belief in the supernatural, in deities, in religion. I reject it.

Therefore, many people have accused me and other atheists of being overly negative. I'd like to analyze this sentiment.

On one hand, of course atheism is negative. That's the basic definition of atheism -- we don't believe in certain things. So sure, technically one would be correct to say that atheism is essentially negative.

However, I'd like to look at atheism another way.

Sometimes, not accepting a belief is ultimately positive. For example, I could say that Jainism is often positive because it doesn't condone violence. I also believe that my parents taught me a positive lesson by teaching me not to steal.

So what does atheism offer?

Atheism doesn't teach us that we are fundamentally bad people. Atheism doesn't teach us that believing something without evidence is virtuous. Atheism doesn't teach us that we are incapable of being rational moral agents - that we are incapable of behaving decently without the supernatural intervention of a deity. Atheism doesn't teach us that some humans will be condemned to eternal torture for offenses committed over a limited amount of time -- that morality by fiat is unacceptable except when condoned by divine scripture. Atheism doesn't teach us that some basic human instincts are reprehensible or should be avoided (humor, sexual urges, etc.). Atheism doesn't blame us for our own genetic predispositions and then condemn us for "sin" -- by saying that we have "free will" even though many critical elements of our lives have been pre-determined by genetics or circumstance.

Yes, atheism is negative. And I sincerely appreciate atheism for what it isn't.

Finally, I hope you all have a very Merry [Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Humanlight, Eid, New Year]!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

In Defense of Atheism

The following is a lengthy letter which I composed to respond to critics of atheists and atheism on another blog.

I have omitted the handles of those to whom I responded to protect their identity.

"Hi all…
(a): You said that there cannot be morality with a god. I disagree.
Let me ask you something: does your god declare something to be good because it is, or is something good because he declares it to be that way? If your god declares something good because it is, that means that there is a form of morality above and beyond your god, and therefore he could not be all-powerful or all-good. If something is good because your god declares it to be that way, then all of your god’s morality is subjective. Then how do you know that what your god does really is good?
Let me ask you something else: Who is more moral? An atheist who jumps in front of a speeding car to save a child, or a Christian who jumps in front of a speeding car to save a child? The atheist, who believes that there is no life after this one, is willing to sacrifice everything, but the theist believes that he will be rewarded in the next life for his actions. Isn’t the person who is willing to do something good without being rewarded more of a moral person? Are you really a moral person if you have to threatened with eternal punishment or bribed with eternal reward to do the right things?
(b): You said that if atheists were true atheists, they would have nothing to demonstrate or protest about.
I disagree. Atheists are not protesting something which we don’t believe in. If this were the case, I would feel sorry for atheists. However, you have been mislead. Atheists are protesting the actions of Christians and other theists. We protest the discrimination against atheists and other non-religious people in the United States and around the world.
Also, you say that atheists “don’t know god and hate him”. Do you even know any atheists? (b), atheists don’t believe in any gods. There’s nobody for us to hate. We do condemn many of the actions of religious people which with we disagree. However, it would be silly for us to hate something in which we do not believe. Also, I know a great deal about religion. I used to be a Christian; I was for most of my life so far. Then I asked myself “what if it’s not true?”, and then I examined the evidence for Christianity and for other religions, and I found it to be severely lacking. I enjoyed my time as a Christian. I tried to live my life according to those beliefs as best I knew, and I still think that there is a lot of good moral lessons in Christianity and also in other religions such as Buddhism and Jainism and Islam, and I try to live by my own interpretation of morality. You have to admit, almost all Christians do this, too. Do any of you take the Bible 100% literally? No? Then you are doing what I am doing. You live your life according to the sections of the Bible that you think are moral, and you disregard the other sections.
(b): Do you know what the First Amendment means? It means that our government cannot give preferrential treatment to any religion or to religion. That means that the atheists have every right to place a sign on public property if the government is allowing Christians to place a sign on public property. It’s entirely Constitutional.
(c): You say that an atheist “is the worst kind of moral vermin”. Hmmm….
I’m not sure how you can justify that statement. You’re the one who “mocks” atheists and insults us, too. I don’t insult theists just because I disagree with them on theological questions. Most of my friends and relatives are Christians. I respect them for who they are, even if our beliefs differ. Do you remember the Gospel passage where Jesus of Nazareth says “let the one who is without sin cast the first stone”? It’s John 8:7, if you want to look it up. Better yet, look up Matthew 7:5. “First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”. Your own beliefs condemn your vicious treatment of atheists and other non-believers. As I said earlier, most atheists know a great deal about religion. We’re not atheists because we know nothing about it; most of us have done our research and decided that it just didn’t seem to be true, or that there was enough evidence to prove its claims.
Also, you ask “what is good?” “what is morality?” “how can atheists explain the presence of good in our world, or morality, or both?”
My sense of morality is grounded in the human empathy I share with my fellow human beings. You ask if rape is just a matter “of human reproduction”. I would not want my daughter or sister or mother to be raped. It’s hardwired in our personalities that rape is wrong. We don’t like rape because we know it’s consequences, and we sincerely don’t want it to happen to others. Are there psychopaths who don’t share this hardwiring? Yes, and this is why we have police and a legal system. My basic code of morality is that I should always minimize both actual and potential suffering, while always maximizing both actual and potential happiness. It’s based on the Golden Rule, it’s based on our shared human empathy. Good is what increases our happiness and reduces suffering; evil is what decreases our happiness and increases our suffering, both in actual and potential quantities.
Also, I am not a “Social Darwinist”. You’re right to say that evolution inherently says nothing about morality. It is a description of the natural world, not a proscription for how we ought to behave as human beings. However, there are some things that have been developed by evolution in part such as our basic human empathy that do help tell us what is moral and how we should live as human beings.
(b): You wrote that a “moral atheist is an oxymoron” and asked why an atheist would do anything for his or her offspring, and why an atheist would even bother to have children.
(b), the only inherent difference between us is that I believe in one fewer deity than you do. That’s it. Atheists feel the same natural love towards other human beings which Christians and other theists do. I believe strongly that love is its own reward. That’s one reason why atheists have children. Is all of your satisfaction from being a parent contingent on the circumstance that there happens to be a deity in control of everything? I believe that atheist parents take as much pleasure in the mental, moral, and physical well-being of their children as theistic parents do. I am too young to have any children, but from what I have witnessed, there are many intrinsic rewards for parenting, and I’m not sure what believing in a god has to do with the benefits of raising children.
You also write that a “true atheist” would be “entirely self-absorbed”. Why? Atheists have the exact same incentives for loving others that theists do, apart from belief in a god. As I said earlier, our love and compassion for other human beings is based on our empathy, that is natural to all human beings, and which all of us share. Belief in a god has nothing to do with how we treat our fellow human beings. It is a non sequitor.
I agree with your basic assessment (taken from Geisler and McDowell), that there is one ultimate moral code. It is one based on our shared human empathy. This is why all of those cultures share some of the same values, and it has nothing to do with belief in a god or any particular religion.
(c): you say that atheism is “parasitic” on “theistic morality”. No, I disagree. I think “theistic morality” is parasitic on our natural human empathy and the concepts of morality which societies around the world have deduced from it, with or without your particular religion. People who are pagan, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Aborigine, Native American have all deduced these moral truths without the aid of Christianity. I believe that this is powerful testimony for those who say that belief in any god or in any particular god is necessary for morality. Some of the most moral religions in the world are thoroughly atheistic, such as Jainism. The Jains have some of the most powerful doctrines of non-violence in the world. You will struggle to find a religion that has a less violent history. Yet they have no god. I have studied Christianity as a former Christian, and I have studied many of the world’s other religions. Please try to explain away the existence of so many people who do not believe in a god or in your god who live such a moral life. Your premise is strongly called into question by their existence. Research Jainism. Research Buddhism. Both are strongly moral in their traditions and guidance, and both are inherently atheistic. Also, many societies in today’s world that have the lowest crime rates are predominantly or have very large numbers of atheists. Look up the statistics for Japan or countries in Scandinavia. Large numbers of atheists, but very low crime rates. There is no causation between morality and religious belief. None. Your argument is flawed. Atheists can be just as moral as Christians or other theists.
I have no quarrel with any of you, on a personal level. You have suffered because people have told you things that weren’t accurate about atheists and atheism. I came here, to your website, to help set the record straight. I am sure most of you are good, reasonable people. Even though we may disagree on theology, I hope that we can respect one another as people, even if we do not respect each other’s beliefs or lack of beliefs.
There are so many more things I wanted to say to you, and so many errors I saw on this website that still need to be corrected, but I have other things and committments which I must do and which I must keep. I encourage all of you to think for yourselves. Don’t take what I say or what anyone else said for granted. Check my facts. I easily could have misspoken about something. Think for yourselves. Thanks for listening to what I have to say.
I hope you have more positive experiences with other atheists in the future. Peace."

What are your thoughts on this? How did I handle the situation? Is there anything else I should have said? Is there anything I did say that I shouldn't have said? Is there something I could've said better?

Thanks for your opinions.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Obama Thirst!

Have you ever seen the "Power Thirst" videos on YouTube?

If not, I recommend you go to:

I have written a parody of PowerThirst about Barack Obama. However, I doubt that I have the technical prowess necessary to make a video out of it. Anyone reading this is welcome to make a video using my text, as long as he or she acknowledges that this is my text and includes a link to my blog. Also, please notify me of this by putting a comment on my blog telling me of this. Thanks!

Here's the script:



Do you wanna feel soooo patriotic?
Try Obama Thirst!

President-Elect for people who need


With all new ideologies like: change, hope and progress!
It's like adding judgment to an executive office.

Sound the alarm!!

What's that? You want A STEADY HAND?
Then how about JOE BIDEN?
Made with knowledge -- real knowledge!

Plans! They'll make lots of them!
It's government for the people -- ALL THE PEOPLE!

This isn't Bush's White House - This is Obama's House!


More rights than YOUR NATION HAS LAWS FOR!

They'll be so good, the State of Nature'll be like "slow down!!!!!!"

And they'll be like "VOTE CHANGE!", and kick it in the face with their ENERGY BASE!

They'll have so much leadership - LEADERSHIP - they'll be working all the time!

Iraq-war ending/Legislating/Rights-protecting/Consumer-protecting/regulating


They'll have soooo many electors! 365!

Give Barack to your country, and it'll ENHANCE YOUR LIFE!
Making the next four years ABNORMALLY GOOD!

His father was a KENYAN!
People may watch him govern and think he's KENYAN!
His mother was a KANSAN!
He grew up a KANSAN!
He'll be President and then he'll retire back to KANSAS!

Don't gamble on your President!

*Billlllllll Ayerrrrrrrrrrrs*

Try Obama Thirst!

The President who'll make you so...

Some Songs for Atheism

I'd like to share a few songs which I feel I like. I feel that these songs contain messages that are useful for atheists. Please don't expect this to be any kind of universal or comprehensive list: it's entirely composed of selections I enjoy from my own collection. Also, the only semblance of order in my list is alphabetical. Finally, please keep in mind that this list applies exclusively to me, and it very well may be that nothing on this list has any relevance for anyone else.

#1: Beautiful World (Colin Hay)
#2: Bicycle Race (Queen)
#3: California Dreamin' (The Mamas and the Papas)
#4: Dark Horse (George Harrison)
#5: Eleanor Rigby (The Beatles)
#6: Exodus (Bob Marley)
#7: For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
#8: Get Up Stand Up (Bob Marley)
#9: A Horse With No Name (America)
#10: I Like It (Dixie Chicks)
#11: Imagine (John Lennon)
#12: Mississippi Delta City Blues (Chicago)
#13: No Woman No Cry (Bob Marley)
#14: Not Ready to Make Nice (Dixie Chicks)
#15: Now That You've Gone (Chicago)
#16: Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
#17: Red Rubber Ball (The Cyrkle)
#18: The Sounds of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel)
#19: What A Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong)
#20: Losing My Religion (R.E.M)

Dealing with the Holidays

It can be tricky to go through the holiday season as an atheist.

I went home from university for the Thanksgiving holiday. I had a great time. I got to see a lot of my friends. We played Risk, watched movies, ate at restaurants...we even played Ultimate.

I think my parents are doing pretty well. I told my mother about being an atheist, and she took it about as well as I could expect. I'm not sure if my father knows about it yet. I haven't explicitly told him about it. He's a difficult person to talk to about sensitive issues. I love my dad, but he's one of those men who seems to have a difficult time talking about or expressing his emotions sometimes. He had a rough relationship with his father, and sometimes I wonder if he still apprehensive about it.

I try to do my best not to be disruptive. When we prayed for the Thanksgiving meal, I just mumbled a few words while the rest of my family was praying. They're not too serious about it. It'll be a bit more difficult when I go to see my other relatives over Christmas; they tend to make a bigger deal of it. Hopefully I won't have to attend church with them. It's not that I dislike church attendance in principle, but it feels really uncomfortable to be there now that I'm not really a religious person.

My parents asked me to go to a Christmas concert with them at my mom's new church, but fortunately I was able to come up with an excuse. I'm not sure why my mother asked me to go to a Gospel concert even though she knows that I'm not really interested.

I'm not trying to be a thorn in anyone's side about it. I want to be able to feel comfortable not practicing religion, and so far I'm doing the best I can.

I was with my friends at a restaurant the day after Thanksgiving, and the speakers were blaring with Christmas music. I have nothing against Christmas music; sometimes I am even fond of it. It has its own special nostalgia for me. But the day after Thanksgiving is much too soon for me. After several weeks, it does get a bit tiresome. Why not save it for the week or two before Christmas? It's almost as bad as people who put up Christmas lights right after Halloween (which I've seen many in my old neighborhood do).

If I had just one wish this Christmas, it would be that all the little children of the world would hold hands and sing....


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weekly Church Sign No. 2

You are more moral than your god.
If your children, whom you knew everything about including the number of hairs on their heads, disobeyed you, would you lock them in your basement and punish them for all of eternity?
Yet people claim this to be the original source of morality? People say that without this influence, morality would perish? No, morality continues in spite of the influence from religion, not because of it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Am An Atheist (Part Two)

As a college freshman, I was enrolled in a world religions course. We examined many of the eastern religions (such as Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism) and discussed many of the fundamental qualities of faith, the sacred, and belief itself.

It was in this context that my strongest initial doubts about my faith and my religious beliefs arose. All of these religions shared many of the same fundamental tenets, yet all of them made claims of exclusivity.

I thought about my own religious beliefs in relation to the ones I had been learning about. Why was I a Christian?

Then I began to see how religions could have evolved from one another. This cast even more doubt onto my already beleagured faith. I considered how the human mind works in accordance with religion. I considered how societies interact with religion. If I had born in India, would I be a Christian? If I had been born in Turkey, would I be a Christian? If I had been born in China, would I be a Christian?

Then I looked at the claims specifically made by Christianity in this growing context of doubt.

I began to wonder, what evidence is there for any of the things happening in the Bible that it says happened? I began to do some research on the subject, and I found no compelling evidence that Jesus even existed...let alone that many of the Old Testament events themselves were historically accurate. Add to this the confusion and plagarism found in the Gospels, and the disputed authorship of Paul's letters. My Christianity just no longer made any sense to me.

But most of these things were still secondary. It was not my exposure to other religious beliefs that was the underlying challenge to my own faith (though it was a pivotal experience that led to my current views). My primary challenge was my nature.

Once I began to doubt my religion, I could examine why and how I felt the way I did, the reasons for why I acted the way I did, and the reasons why other people acted the way they did. I saw the universe as explainable by natural causes.

I told you earlier, that I spent a great deal of time thinking...especially thinking about human nature. My atheism is one of the results of the culmination of this thought process.

I saw how it could have been possible that humans could have invented religion, and why people would believe in it. My religion lost its lustre.

So one day I say to myself (after a few intense days of doubt): Maybe I am an atheist.

Should I call myself that? Would it be appropriate?

If I can live for one day while calling myself an day, two days, three days....

Maybe I am an atheist.

I can no longer believe in Christianity. Also, I decided that I no longer believed in the supernatural, because that didn't make sense to me anymore, either, just like Christianity no longer made any sense. So I no longer believed in any religions.

I am an atheist. I am not going to use any other terms. As I see it, the only way to eliminate the negative connotation of the word is to change it by the force of our ideas. So for now, I am prepared to embrace its usage.

I am an atheist.

"Jacob wrestled the angel, and the angel was overcome." -- Bullet the Blue Sky, U2

Weekly Church Sign

Check out this awesome website:

You can create your own church signs. It's really cool.

From time to time, I may post my humorous church signs on this blog.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I Am An Atheist (Part One)

I wasn't sure exactly how to say this, so I'm just going to dispense with the formalities in the title.

I was born, and have been raised as a Christian. However, I have recently had an epiphany and soon became an atheist there after.

Why? Well, it's taken me my entire life to get to this point.

As I said, I was born into a Christian family. I was taken to a Lutheran church every Sunday. When I was eight years old, I received my first Holy Communion. On that same Sunday, my parents gave me my very first Bible.

It was one of those ubiquitous NIV "Study Bibles for Kids". Its pages are well worn: I took my Bible with me to church camp every summer for eight years. I've read most of the Bible. I admit, I'm not strong on Malachi or some of the other minor prophets, but I'm very familiar with almost all of the New Testament, in addition to Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Jonah, the Psalms, and Ecclesiastes. I'm not an atheist who knows nothing about religion. Also, I do have some knowledge of other religions. I am currently in an Eastern religions class, and I have had many friends of the Muslim and Jewish faiths.

Anyways, back to the story. Around the time I entered high school, I was confirmed as an adult member of my church. As one of the requirements of my confirmation, I had to write and deliver a statement affirming my Christian faith, which I did.

As I entered high school, I was a confirmed member of my Lutheran church, actively trying to be strong in my Christian faith. I tried to adhere to Christian principles in how I lived my life. I believe I have good values and morals.

Entering my freshman year of high school, I had very few friends. I was developmentally delayed when I was very young: I was 2 or 3 when I was diagnosed with a mild form of autism. I never really seemed to fit in much with other kids. I never really understood how to fit in, either. I've never been a social butterfly. When I was in junior high school, I had known people from the band and honors classes, but I didn't really connect with them.

However, I gradually started to make friends my freshman year of high school. I'm not sure exactly how it happened. I just became more open to other people, and more willing to put myself out there. I think my Scouting background helped me with this.

I became a Cub Scout when I was in the fourth grade, and I was just a small boy. I was a runt of a little kid: when I was that age, I refused to eat almost everything, and I was very uncoordinated, so I wasn't athletic, either. I had very few friends at that time, and I had very little confidence in my ability to make friends. Most of the few close friends I had known moved away or lost touch with me. I had trouble approaching new people.

Most people enter Cub Scouts either as a Tiger or a Bear. (In Cub Scouting, the groups are according to age. Tigers are usually 5 or 6 years old, and Bears are usually around 7 or 8 years old...however, it might be Wolf that matches with that age group...I'm not completely sure.) So most people have been in Cub Scouting for a long time by the time I entered. I was ten years old when I first became a Cub I didn't really know what I was getting myself into.

Let me just say it...I absolutely hated Cub Scouts. I'm not really a fan of the program. It's a bunch of little kids running around wrecking havoc. It's no wonder that adults have to do everything with the Cub Scouts...they're so young, they can't be expected to do anything for themselves. But that does take a lot of fun out of the program. The first few meetings I went to were absolutely many young boys flying around our elementary school cafeteria...I was swept up in this madness and I felt as if I had no idea what was going on. By the time I was ready to leave Cub Scouts in the fifth grade, the sum of my accomplishments consisted of:

1. Two poorly built Pinewood Derby cars.
2. Barely finishing the Arrow of Light requirements...and I mean, just barely.

So I had my doubts about the Scouting program. However, two of my closer friends from my Cub Scout den had decided to check out Boy Scouts and see what it was all about. So I decided to follow my friends' lead and cross over into a Boy Scout troop...just to see what it was like.

Well, I had an amazing experience in Boy Scouting. Several of my closest friendships to this day, were forged in my Boy Scout troop. I remember the first meeting I went lost I felt. I remember my first my mother made me take a weather radio and I had to borrow my friend's camping gear because I didn't have any!

Scouting taught me how to be a to be self-reliant, and take responsibility for my own to function as a member of a to be confident in to make friends. It was invaluable for me. I gained more and more leadership experience.

My first job was as an assistant patrol leader. One of my friends from my Cub Scout Den was our patrol leader. My job was to represent our patrol at troop meetings when the patrol leader was absent, which I did. After that, I became our patrol leader, which I did for about six months. I served for more than a year as the Troop Scribe: I was in charge of taking notes at all of our meetings (which is difficult to believe considering just how poor my handwriting really was at that age.) I was eventually appointed as Senior Patrol Leader of our troop, the most important youth position in the entire troop: I was the direct link between the adult leadership of the troop and all of the other boys. It was my various and extensive failures in this position that taught me a lot of what I know about leadership.

Almost no one listened to me. I learned how to get people to take me seriously...however, sometimes it is still a problem for me. I'm not the kind of person who is often angry at people; usually I am angry about ideas or specific things. It's hard for me to be a disciplinarian; it just doesn't feel natural to me.

However, I learned from this, and by the time I left my Boy Scout troop, I became a widely respected leader within the troop. But I didn't leave before finally earning the rank of Eagle Scout...the highest rank in Scouting. It was a goal of mine that took me six and a half years to complete. Only 2% of people who enter Cub Scouts ever attain the rank of Eagle Scout.

So where was I? Ah yes, I was a freshman in high school, still only a Star Scout (two ranks below Eagle Scout.) The experience and knowledge I had gained through Scouting up to that point had given me a world of confidence. It is no coincidence that I had served as Senior Patrol Leader the very summer before I entered high school: that is one of the things that motivated me as I entered my new environment.

I began to reach out to new people, just as I had learned to do through Scouting. The knowledge was deep within me to do this, but it took Scouting to unleash it.

For years, I had been quietly observing the social interactions of my peers. I have spent a great portion of my life thus far, thinking. Much of that experience has been thinking about how to get along with my classmates and other people I encountered. I spent a lot of time thinking about this.

It was when I was in high school that I openly talked to people who weren't Christian about my religious beliefs for the first time. It was when I was a freshman that I first heard some of my friends were atheist. Of course I heard it secondhand. This was high school, after all.

Initially, it greatly shocked me. I was thinking "atheist?!?"

It was such a wild and crazy thing to believe. I didn't really understand what it was. I had been a Christian my whole life; I firmly believed it. I lived my life by that belief. To say I was perplexed is a bit mild.

On an interesting note, it was freshmen year that I read the entire "Left Behind" well as a 1500 page history of Christianity. I also read "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens that year. I read quite a bit. I've always loved to read, and I would read during the school day in my spare moments so I wouldn't have to interact with my classmates when I didn't feel like it.

It was sophomore year that a few people I knew openly revealed their atheism or agnosticism when I was in their presence. Okay, the phrase "in their presence" sounds weird, but no one ever said anything directly to me...remember, I was still somewhat socially awkward. Even though I had made many more friends by sophomore year, most of the people I was surrounded by were still locked in their perception of me from earlier years or still didn't know me well enough to confide in me.

Well, I didn't really talk about it with anyone then because I had other things on my mind; and the people who were atheist or agnostic that I knew really didn't care enough to talk about it. I had risen to the rank of Life Scout, only one rank below Eagle Scout. My classes and activities were really stressing me. I was a class officer, an officer of our French club, a member of our Academic Team for fine arts, a member of our French academic team...I was going insane, haha.

And it was sophomore year that I read "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"...which is about 1400 pages in length.

Junior year, some of my closer friends told me that they were atheist. The people I had known before who were atheist or agnostic were just people I barely knew, or people who weren't really close friends of mine. This time, my friends wanted to talk religion with me.

So we did. I, of course, dutifully performed my role as Christian apologetic..though at that point, I had never heard of Christian apology, or apologetics. I just defended my personal beliefs about Christianity for weeks and months on end, during my Study period in the physics classroom.

We argued about it a lot first semester...but it was barely mentioned during the second half of the year. There were two people I was arguing with: one of them was a close friend, and the other had detested me since elementary school (he had bullied me then) but was friends with the other person in the discussion who was a close friend of mine.

I will refer to one of them as "the bully" and the other one will get the pseudonym "Jason".

The bully was really a jerk when we tried to discuss religion. He was always saying that Christians are idiots, and really foolish. Of course, he was much more vulgar and crude and profane in saying this than I can possibly convey to you....

"F***ing Christians and their God" was a typical statement from the mouth of the bully. Mind you, he was no intellectual. The only reason he had ever become atheist, I later discovered, was that Jason had convinced him of it, and the bully blindly followed Jason's example. There are, indeed, some atheists who refuse to think for themselves.

However, Jason was highly intellectual...and much more tolerant of my views and he was also willing to listen carefully to what I had to say. I also have an intellectual bent. I mostly enjoyed my discussions about religion with Jason.

Jason never really convinced me on anything involving my Christianity. He really didn't have that much to do with my decision-making. Of course he questioned the dark moments in the history of Christianity, but I attributed these to human fallacy and stated that it wasn't the Church's fault. He talked about homosexuality, and the Bible's condemnation of it. He talked about his friends who told him they were born homosexuals. Of course, I told him that I felt the New Testament really wasn't against homosexuality. But as a natural extension of that, he began to question my interpretation of the Bible itself. How could people like me pick and choose what they wanted to listen to, he asked me. I told Jason I believed the Bible to be the Word of God. Well, said Jason, if it is God's Word you should take it seriously. I had already admitted to Jason that I took some parts of the Bible literally and some figuratively. He inquired how I could tell the difference between the two. Of course, I told him the Holy Spirit guides believers on how to interpret the Bible. So the discussion eventually come to a consensus, and to a close. Jason was still an atheist, the bully was still an asshole, and I was still a Christian.

It was also junior year that I began to read novels by Kurt Vonnegut. I really love Kurt Vonnegut. I'm pretty sure that I was moved to tears the day I heard of his death...the only other people who made me cry when they died where Charles M. Schulz and my great-grand-aunt (two entirely different people, haha.)

I read Slaughterhouse Five. I read Player Piano. I read Cat's Cradle. I read A Man Without A Country.

These works made me question my faith (well, it was almost exclusively Cat's Cradle that made me question my faith). But I still believed that God existed, that He was the Christian God (part of the divine Holy Trinity) and that He was a loving, caring God devoted to His creation.

Most of the experiences I endured that tested my faith before I became an atheist were retroactive in effect: while I was still a Christian, they merely raised interesting points. As soon as I began to seriously doubt my faith, they reaffirmed the direction of my belief.

It was during my senior year of high school that I earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

I had worked on the finer details of my project for most of the previous summer, and it was during the fall of that school year that I led and completed my project, my project was approved, and my family and my troop held an Eagle ceremony to recognize my achievement.

Senior year was also the year I read Slapstick, yet another excellent novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

I was overwhelmed all throughout my senior year of high school. I had no idea where I wanted to go to college; I was lost in the chaos of the college application process. A thousand thoughts were swirling in the back of my mind.

I had no time to think. As I have said earlier, I've devoted a considerable portion of my life to thinking. This constant white noise in the back of my consciousness, this mental clutter and static, was frustrating me a great deal. Looking back now, this is the first time in my life that I saw religion as just another part of the white noise in my mind.

Every time I had an "impure thought" or wanted to mutter a curse word, I blamed myself. I wasn't trying hard enough. I didn't have enough faith.

If you ever have to sit through three years of a Lutheran catechism class, take my advice:

At least 90% of the time, the answer is faith.

The answer is almost always: faith.

I had always tried to live up to the moral standards of my religion...but for the first time in my life, I felt I was failing at this task. I couldn't control my thoughts...heck, I was a hormonal 17 year old could I have? I was blaming myself...for how nature made me. I didn't realize this at the time, of course. It took doubt to make me see this I was slowly driving myself insane with self-judgment and self-criticism.

But even at this point, I was still a Christian.

Well, this is all I can manage for now. I will add the rest later...especially the part where my Christianity quits making sense to me.

Where Do I Start?


I am not sure where to begin. I assume I should tell you what this blog is supposed to be about.

This blog is meant to be about religion, specifically my thoughts on it, as well as a comprehensive discussion of religion and morality. This blog is also meant to be a launching pad for serious discussions of these topics by its readers.

I want to tell you my story. I'd like to tell you of my spiritual journey up to this point. I'd like to outline my rationale for my current beliefs, and deal with related issues of religion and spirituality and the supernatural.

I want to warn you all to be considerate and thoughtful when addressing these issues.

However, please DO NOT be politically correct. Do not be afraid to offend anyone. I know this seems like a paradox, but it is not. Let me explain: if you are considerate and thoughtful of other people's intellectual rights, you will respect their right to say or believe anything. However, if you are considerate and thoughtful of other people's intellectual rights, you also will not be afraid to challenge people's assumptions and thinking, because if you really care for other people, you won't be afraid to respect their ability to make their own decisions.

So those are my outlines for the discussion and exchange I want to create and foster here.

Next, I will tell you of my own path, and I'll tell you a little bit more information about myself, too.