There’s some disagreement in the atheist community over labels. No one can agree on what to call ourselves. Atheist? Agnostic? Non-theist? Non-believer? Anti-Theist? Freethinker?
I’d like to focus on the term “Freethinker” today, because that’s the only one out of all of them I really hate. Let me list the reasons why.
No one knows what the hell you mean. I might as well call myself a widgetizer. It would mean just about as much to someone else. Yes, I know the word has a history, but we live in the here and now. A label should be clear and communicate exactly the message you want to convey.
For many, however, the term “freethinker” is intentionally obtuse. Freethinkers like the fact that it’s confusing. They like that religious people mistakenly call themselves freethinkers because it sounds good. It gives them a chance to correct them and extoll the benefits of reason over faith.
Although freethought is really more analogous to skepticism, some atheists still choose to use this label as a soft synonym for nontheism. They do it because they’re afraid to offend people. Since saying you don’t believe in God is offensive, they want to be vague and unclear about it to save face. Let’s not offend the theists by letting them know we disagree with them!
By using the term “freethinker”, you give credence to the idea that it’s bad to not believe in God.
If it’s about reason, Skeptic is a better label
The term “freethinker” includes both skepticism and atheism. So, if freethinkers are into both of these but are afraid to express their atheism, why don’t they just call themselves skeptics? There’s already a good skeptic movement going on that you could identify yourself with. By telling someone you’re a skeptic, they’ll immediately know what you mean.
Wait a second… people will know what we mean? We can’t have that!
So, what, religious and superstitious folk aren’t “free” in their thoughts? Isn’t that a little smug and insulting? Don’t you think they’ll take that the wrong way? I’m all for insults. Heck, I love them. But there is a time and a place for them. I don’t think your identifying label is the right place.
Atheism no better
It’s not like the term “atheism’” has it any better. Most people think being an atheist means that you believe there is no God. They don’t understand the difference between not accepting a belief in God and actively believing there isn’t one. This is a big problem for the “atheist” label. It spreads confusion of its own.
Some people also have a problem with labeling themselves by the absence of something. They want to be labeled by what they do believe in. I can understand this. But I don’t think “freethinker” concisely communicates what you believe in. I think humanist might be a better term for that. At least it’s specific and not deliberately vague. Someone can google “humanist” and get a set of beliefs back. Even “skeptic” would be better.
I don’t fault people for not wanting to call themselves atheists. The word definitely has its problems. But I don’t think “freethinker” is a valid choice, as it’s intentionally confusing. “Atheist” communicates exactly the message I want to send: I do not believe what you believe, and I’ve thought it through enough to choose a decisive label.
Let me just close with some mock conversations to make my point:
Conversation with a freethinker
Theist: “So, what church do you go to?”
Heretic: “Oh, I’m a freethinker.”
Potential Theist takeaways:
- I have no idea what this person believes in.
- This person has insulted me by saying I’m not free in my thoughts.
- I think I might still be able to witness to them.
- They are okay with religion, they are just into that sciencey-stuff.
Conversation with an atheist
Theist: “So, what church do you go to?”
Heretic: “I’m an atheist.”
Potential Theist takeaways:
- They do not believe in God.
- Outrageous! How can this be! I’ve never met someone who didn’t believe in God before.
- They must have thought this through quite a bit to voluntarily assume a label like that.
A recent study linked religiosity to support of torture. The link was not direct, but indirect. It’s summed up nicely in the below quote from the blog Epiphenom:
What [the study] found was consistent with a set up where religion makes people conservative, and that in turn makes them support torture. In other words, religion has a direct and an indirect effect. Basic religion (in their model) opposes torture, but it also increases support for conservative politics. As a result, it indirectly increases support for torture.
What’s more, this indirect effect was much stronger in in educated people. In educated people, religion is more likely to be linked to conservative views, and conservative views are more likely to be linked to support for torture.
I’d like to see more information on the statistical techniques used before I believe this. It certainly fits my stereotype that religion is bad, but I don’t think that necessarily makes it right.
Could it be that lack of critical thinking skills has more to do with this? Because torture victims will really tell you anything you want to hear, it doesn’t make sense to use it to get information. Any information you get is liable to be wrong. Perhaps not realizing this and not realizing there is no God comes from some similar failing?
On the other hand, that’s not the reason I’m against torture. I’m against it because I am against human suffering. I value human life and I don’t want to see anyone (even my enemies) in excruciating pain. Religious people are for these values, too. So what is it about conservative politics that makes religious folk discard these cherished beliefs?
[Via Andrew Sullivan]
You gotta love Billy Graham. Someone asked him recently, “What’s up with all the atheists these days?”
DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: Do you think there are more atheists today than there used to be? I don’t remember hearing much about them 20 or 30 years ago, but now it seems like you hear about them all the time. — J.V.
DEAR J.V.: You’re right; atheism (the belief that there is no God) has become more visible in recent years, largely through the writings of a few prominent atheists. In their view, atheism is the wave of the future, and in time religion will simply fade away.
NO. Atheism is the disbelief in God. Atheists do not necessarily assert that there is no God. They simply state that there isn’t enough evidence to believe in one. Not believing in something isn’t the same as asserting it’s opposite.
Are they right? No, they aren’t (although I don’t doubt their sincerity). For one thing, atheism has no satisfying answer to the basic questions of life — questions like “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? How do I know what’s right and wrong? What happens when I die?” Atheism says we are here by chance, and life has no meaning or destiny. Taken to its conclusion, atheism ends in despair.
But our hearts cry out for something more — something better and more lasting. Down inside we sense that we aren’t here by chance, nor were we made for this world alone. The reason we feel this way, the Bible says, is because God has put this conviction within us. The human being is not just another animal; we were created to know God and live for him. The Bible says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Is that really a good enough reason to believe in God? Because he answers all the life questions you have? But what if the answers are wrong? Don’t you want to be sure your beliefs are true? Or is being placated enough?
Atheism does NOT say that we are here by chance. No one says that, not even scientists. Atheism simply says there’s not enough evidence to believe in a God. Not having the answers you prefer isn’t a good reason to adopt your pet belief.
Atheism does NOT say that life has no meaning. It’s just a position on the truth claim of there being a God. Many atheists lead happy, fulfilling lives. You don’t need religion to lead a happy, fulfilling life.
The fact that almost all Christians still believe these falsehoods about atheists just goes to show how little they ever talk to us. And I’m supposed to shut up and not speak my views, when the biggest names in theism don’t understand them?? How is this nonsense ever going to get corrected if we don’t speak up?
Many atheists, I find, reject God for one reason: They want to run their own lives. Don’t be swayed by their arguments, but commit your life to Jesus Christ, who demonstrated not only that God exists, but that he loves us and gives us hope for the future.
NO. Atheists reject God because there isn’t enough evidence to believe in one. Stop trying to tell us who we are. Find out for yourself by actually talking to us.
I rarely hear a prayer I agree with and I’ve yet to be too bothered by it. I expect that individuals praying publicly are praying according to their own conscience, not mine, and I respond accordingly. If I’m able to pray along, great. If I’m not, no sweat off my brow.
Perhaps the reason this person hasn’t ever heard a prayer they don’t agree with is because they live in a predominantly Christian country. How do you think people would react at a Memorial Day celebration if someone got up to the podium and started reciting a Muslim or Hindu prayer? I dare say there would be some outrage. And yet, there are probably veterans of these faiths in our military.
That’s the point of secularism. You can’t please everybody. You have the choice of either allowing everything, which pisses everyone off, or not allowing religious displays at all.
You’ve never heard a prayer you don’t agree with that bothers you? I consider that a challenge. The next time there’s a religious display at a government event, I’m going to give this prayer:
Dear Nonexistent God, which makes sense since you don’t exist, please don’t bother to bless our food today. For there is no reason for you to do so since you don’t exist–obviously. Please make sure that you continue to live in your nonexistent state for the way that you are portrayed in the Bible makes you sound like a very jealous, vengeful, and evil God. Praise Darwin!
Incidentally, this was originally a much shorter comment to the above mentioned blog. It appeared on their site for a few minutes and then mysteriously disappeared. I can only assume it was deleted. Perhaps the reason the original poster has never seen a prayer that bothered them is because they actively suppress speech they don’t want to hear? It sure must be nice living in your own bubble of reinforced opinions.
(Credit goes to Carl Sagan’s Dance Party for the atheist prayer)
I am often asked why I criticize religion. There is a widespread belief that if we leave theists alone, they will leave us alone. Everyone can live together in peaceful harmony. I’d like to throw out a couple quotes I’ve seen recently that demonstrate otherwise:
Thank God for Becky Guthrie and those who have brazenly joined with her in calling upon the true and living God, for his help.
Hebrews 4:15 (NIV) says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.”
God is the only real source for our nation’s problems. Until our nation turns whole-heartedly to him there will be no recovery.
We have plenty of fools like John Brummett, who does not express the feelings of most people in Arkansas or the United States. He calls for anything that is religious to be thrown out. People who think like him should move to China or Russia, where they would welcome ungodly views. But really, they just need to be saved.
It seems that a large percentage of Arkansans are in favor of our government endorsing Christianity. People like Becky Guthrie and Mary Crider want everyone reciting Christian prayers in state-sponsored settings, even Atheists, Muslims, and Hindus. If the non-Christians are uncomfortable with it, they can just leave the country. Or at the very least, we should sit down and shut up. These people see secularism as a disease that’s corrupted our country.
I have to wonder if they would feel the same way if it was Muslim prayers being spread around their children. That’s the thing about being in the majority. You have to try to understand what’s it like to be in other people’s shoes.
Is this the face of a people want to keep their beliefs to themselves? Their ideology is clear to me. If you’re not right with God, then you can’t be good. We should be good, therefore we need to force everyone to submit to my brand of religion.
Regardless of what you believe, it should be obvious that Fundamentalist Christians are on a mission to insert their religion into everything. And with good reason! After all, it is the source of all morality. But to say that we should just sit down and let them be is to placidly accept the theocracy they want our nation to become.
The Louisiana Ten Commandments Monument
Just one more quote. Foundation For Moral Law spoke recently on their blog on how awesome their progress has been on getting a monument of the Ten Commandments installed on the Louisiana capitol grounds. The bit at the bottom where they speak about the opposition is relevant:
But not everybody is happy about it. Rep. Rosalind Jones argued that a monument to the Napoleonic would be better and that, although most of the state has a Christian background, “we do represent a large percentage of the population that does not follow the Ten Commandments.”
Representative Jones, that sounds like an excellent reason to install the monument!
So, the general feeling is that if people don’t follow the ten commandments and aren’t Christian, that’s even more reason to plaster Christian relics all over government property. After all, they’re heathens who are going to hell! Non-believers need to get on the bandwagon or get the hell out of the country.
The first five of the ten commandments are completely stupid and don’t reflect my morality in any way. And many of my morals aren’t represented in the list, like being against slavery and torture. This list of commandments is pretty far from something I would hold ideal.
But who cares what I think? I need to leave the country! I need to shut up! I am in the minority, so I don’t matter. That’s the message this sends me.
These aren’t the worst moral offenses theists have done. I’ll have other blog entries for those. These just show that not only do many of them not care about secularism, they are actually opposed to it. And they have very good reasons. If Christianity is the only way we can be good, then these actions make perfect sense. Why waste time fending off the tentacles when you can attack the root of the problem? You can be good without God!
That is why I speak out.
I’d just like to address a few bits in this video:
“I mean the other day, the image came to my mind of Romans 9 where God compares me to a piece of clay. And he says, “You’re like a piece of clay and I’m the potter”. And so just that, I thought, wow, that means I’m like a piece of clay trying to explain to other pieces of clay what the potter is like. Think about that for a second.”
This metaphor sounds good, but how do we know it’s true? Maybe God’s an alien? Or maybe he’s supernatural, but his ways are completely within our ability to understand? How would we know? Mr. Chan has simply made something up and because it sounds good, people will accept it.
We need to get evidence for this, not look to the bible. No doubt, many theists think they do have evidence. They don’t know about the brain’s defects, though. Confirmation Bias. The Placebo Effect. Our brains are built to see patterns in everything. That’s the basis of intelligence. The downside to this is that we tend to “see” anything we expect to see. Our expectations dominate our perception of reality. This effect is frighteningly powerful. We need to use science to bypass our biases if we’re to determine the truth.
Most theists will accept the clay metaphor into their mind completely unchallenged, however. The conclusion? Don’t question anything about God. Turn your critical thinking off. It’s not relevant.
“I mean, we’ve gotta be careful here. We have to guard ourselves against, first of all, heartlessness. I mean, do you understand what we’re talking about? We’re talking about real people here. We can’t just have these theological discussions about a doctrine when we’re talking about people’s eternal destinies here at the same time.”
“And then I think about the carelessness. We can’t be careless in this discussion. We can’t just argue for our point of view, for what we think is right. And so we present our case, and we neglect all the other evidence? Man, do you understand what we’re dealing with here? We’ve got to lay everything on the table, and go, “Look, it’s your destiny at stake, so I want to just present all of the facts, everything I can think of in this book, and let you decide.”
If this guy knew there wasn’t a hell, he’d be a lot more relaxed. He could discard all that fear, worry, and guilt. I’m glad he’s trying to examine his beliefs, but when you start with the premise that “God is above all forms of questioning”, you don’t have much hope. Turning off your critical thinking skills is the worst thing you can do when trying to find the truth.
“Maybe the thing I’m most concerned about is this arrogance. In Isaiah 55, God says, “Your thoughts are not like my thoughts. And your ways are not as my ways.” He goes, “As high as the heavens are above the Earth, that’s how much higher my ways are than your ways. And that’s how much higher my thoughts are than your thoughts.
“So when we begin an argument with, “Well, I wouldn’t believe in a God who would…”. Who would what? Do something that you wouldn’t do? Or think in a way that’s different from the way that you think? Do you ever even consider the possibility that maybe the creator’s sense of justice is actually more developed than yours? And maybe his love and his mercy are perfect? And that you could be the one that is flawed?
No, I could believe in the God of the bible (if there were good evidence). I just wouldn’t worship him. I judge the slaughter of innocents that God commanded to be immoral. I reject the notion that if God does something, it’s automatically good. I decide what’s good or bad. I will not turn off my internal moral compass. That where the danger of this idea comes in. By turning off your internal moral compass, you put yourself at risk of doing things that are unchecked by your morals.
“You’re in essence saying, “Well, God wouldn’t think that way or act that way because I wouldn’t think that way or act that way. And yet, when I read the scriptures, man, all through this book, I go, God, there are some things you say that I would never say. There are things you do that I wouldn’t think to do. I mean, even from creation, so Adam & Eve sinned and you’re going to put a curse on the Earth? See, I wouldn’t think to do that.”
“And then there are other passages that are even more difficult for me to stomach. Like Exodus 32 where the people sinned, and God tells his priest, “Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to each to grab a sword, strap it to your side, and then I want you to run back and forth, and I want you to just start killing people. Some of them will be your brothers, your friends. Because of this sin. And I’m reading that, and 3,000 people dying, going, “Wow, did you just do that?”
In what moral system is slaughtering innocents a “more developed” sense of justice? What greater good could possibly be served by this? Is your desire for wanting to believe in a god really so strong that you’ll ignore the blaring siren that’s going off in your mind that says, “This is wrong”?
It’s really okay to not believe. The world doesn’t fall apart. You can still do good things. People will still respect you. Really! It’ll be okay. Just…. relax.
This was brought to my attention by the Little Rock, Arkansas Society of Freethinkers.
Quoted from here:
If I may have a few moments of your time, I’d like to tell you about an event that will have a significant impact on educators who are a part of your church. On Thursday, July 28th, the Nehemiah Network presents the 3rd Annual Called to Teach seminar. Called to Teach is sponsored by Fellowship Bible Church, The Church at Rock Creek, Immanuel Baptist Church, and Geyer Springs First Baptist Church.
Called to Teach is a conference designed for Christians who serve in the field of education. The idea is for educators to come and learn practical ideas for living their faith in the classroom. This year, Ray Moore and Scott Habeeb return as presenters; their presentations will inspire both new and returning attendees.
I would like to ask you to consider promoting this event in your church. Also, if your church has a school/church partnership, it would be a tremendous help if you would promote this not only to your educational members, but to your partnering school.
Called to Teach is a significant opportunity for us to encourage educators by equipping them with the tools necessary to live out their faith in the classroom.
Would you like to learn how to inject your religion into the classroom? Nehemiah Network is here to help! Just call 1-800-GAA-AAWD!
So, the goal of this seminar isn’t to teach you how to break the law by proselytizing in class. They state clearly in their videos that they want to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. They understand that you can’t preach in class. They just want teachers to be a shining example of goodness to their kids. They figure if they let the holy spirit work through the teachers, the kids will just naturally come to Christ on their own. It’s explained in a little more detail in this video:
They want to share “Christ in the Classroom” without breaking the law. I’m still struggling to understand how this is possible. It seems like they are asking teachers to straddle the line of legality here. Religious language permeates their powerpoints and videos. Some of their materials talk about focusing on “teachable moments” outside of the lectures. They call it “Wayside Teaching”. It encourages teachers to focus on the small 2-5 minutes conversations you have with students in between lectures. They say these opportunites can be used to build a good relationship with the kids. The idea is the more the kids trust you, the more they’ll accept what you’re teaching them.
With all the language about bringing kids to Christ, though. I worry that the “Wayside Teaching” techniques that help build trust between the teacher and the student will just be used to prime the kids for learning about Jesus.
I understand where they’re coming from. Many of the sermons I’ve listened to recently talk about how religion needs to fill every aspect of your life. A lot of pastors seem to feel that in order to be a “true christian”, your faith should be evident in everything you do. It’s only natural that this would extend to their teaching. If they truely believe that the unsaved will go to hell, then the only moral choice is to find any way possible to reach the kids.
Here’s a couple more videos to give you a taste of what’s taught in the seminar. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!
According to some, it wasn’t chance some people in Joplin survived the tornado. Because those people prayed, God spared them.
He allowed me to pray over him and we briefly talked about the fact that his closet being literally the ONLY thing left on his structure wasn’t luck or chance. Chuck said that he and his wife don’t pray, but his wife began praying when they heard the sound of a freight train coming at their house. I can honestly say I feel like God has clearly revealed his power and himself to Chuck, and Chuck is searching and thinking through some things.
Do you have any idea how insulting this is? What about the 142 people who died? Is the assumption here that they were all atheists, Muslims, and Hindus? Given the distribution of religious beliefs in our area, I think we can safely say that most of them were probably Christians. In fact, I think many of them were probably on their knees praying before they were brutally killed by a tornado that God could have stopped.
This is confirmation bias in its sickest form. I can’t fathom the rationalization that must occur for someone to believe that God is capable of saving someone from a tornado but isn’t willing to stop the tornado entirely. And furthermore, that he’s not willing to save ALL Christians from the tornado. I mean, come on. The tornado slammed a hospital directly. Why would an intelligent and benevolent being allow that to happen? Isn’t it more likely that God doesn’t exist and shit just happens?
Prayer does not work. If you drank hot tea in the closet and the tornado didn’t kill you, you could just as easily say that drinking hot tea repels tornados. Stop ignoring the times when your magic doesn’t work! Pay attention to the misses!
You know what I say? The next time a natural disaster comes by and destroys your community, throw your hands in the air and shout, “Hasa Diga Eebowai”.
Pictured above are the bible tracts that Greta MacLean’s son brought home from school recently. Her son got them from the bus driver during the last week of school. He had been handing them out to kids along with candy. What was stamped on the back of each tract? “Calvary Chapel Tulsa”.
I found all the tracts on Ray Comfort’s website. That’s right, mister banana-man himself! You can read the contents of them here:
Greta is a member of the Atheist Community of Tulsa. So naturally, she was concerned about this. She called the Tulsa Public Schools Education Service Center. The person she spoke to said that this was in clear violation of their policies and assured her that disciplinary actions would be taken. Apparently, the candy violates policy as well, due to some children potentially having food allergies or diabetes.
Clearly, theists have a high incentive to proselytize to children. Kids often accept whatever they’re told because their higher reasoning functions haven’t fully developed yet. They also don’t have the experience to know when they’re being fed a pack of lies. If theists can get kids when they’re young, they most likely have a believer for life.
Thankfully, the school seems to understand the law here. I’m glad this was just the actions of one person and not a policy of the entire school. However, it is another incident to add to the many church-state violations that have been popping up recently. Is this happening more often, or are we just starting to notice more?
From his blog:
Question: Why are atheists so “evangelistic” (for lack of a better word)?
The Central Arkansas Coalition of Reason promotes the need for community on their website. “Atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, skeptics, non-religious, lost tourists, and the confused are all welcome to join us!” (http://unitedcor.org/central-arkansas/page/home) They encourage coming together for informative activities and dialogue – their own version of church, I guess.
The motivation behind their “evangelism” (their version of good news) is that man can be good without God. As they put it, “Our understanding of what is good relies on human reason and compassion, and not on theistic or supernatural beliefs.”
Hey, this guy gets it! It’s really refreshing to hear from a pastor that actually understands our position. Lots of nonbelievers are good people, and they form their morals on the basis of their reason and compassion. He might disagree, but at least he gets where we’re coming from.
I can explain the evangelistic part (although I’ve written about it before). There are tons of people in our community who think we’re evil, despicable people who wouldn’t think twice about raping women, slaughtering babies, or even cheating on our taxes. It’s just prejudice, plain and simple. It’s so bad that teenagers have been kicked out of their house when their parents realize their child is an atheist. We want people to know that we’re good people.
Another part of it (which I’ve also written about here) is that because theists base so many of their beliefs on faith instead of reason, they can be almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation with. That’s not to say theists don’t have valid viewpoints. They often do. However, if your position is taken from the bible, there’s no point in discussing it with you because your position isn’t very likely to change. Atheists want to meet up with other atheists in a community of their own so they can enjoy conversations with others who have beliefs that can be reasoned with.
And therein we find the heart of the issue. This isn’t just about whether or not God exists. This is also about sin and depravity. This is about whether man must repent, believe and be born again to be restored to goodness before a holy and righteous God or whether man can reason himself out of the quagmire of evil into a state of moral goodness without God.
UnitedCoR is taking this good without God gospel to the streets. “…atheists can on occasion feel isolated when the religious community is so organized and outspoken on issues. We deserve to be heard.”
Yep. This guy gets it!
Yet their desire to be heard affirms their own deep suppressed realization of God’s existence. If God doesn’t exist or even if one truly doesn’t know that he does, why care what anyone else thinks, says or does? The truth is we know. They know. Humanity knows. Man has since the Fall cried out against the God they know to be there.
Whoah! Where in the heck did all that come from? Okay, I’ll be reasonable.
Atheists do not believe in God. I don’t know how I could convince you of that, though, other than by just stating it.
So, why would he think that? Is it because he can’t think of any other reason why atheists would be so outspoken? How about the fact that if God doesn’t exist, millions of people are living a lie? Isn’t that reason enough to speak out? Or the fact that major political positions are now being shaped by those false beliefs? These beliefs do affect us, you know.
Or perhaps it’s because belief in God is so deeply entrenched in the pastor’s mind that he literally cannot imagine the concept of someone not believing in a God. I’ve been a believer before, and it was 100% dead-simple obvious to me that God existed. To suggest otherwise would have been ludicrous. I didn’t understand the fallacies involved, of course. But when religion is that deeply entrenched in your mindset, you really can’t think outside of yourself.
Pastor, if you’re out there, I’d be curious to hear more from you!