I don’t talk to my kids about religion much. But they do deal with it from time to time. Most of their friends go to church. My oldest daughter’s Art teacher even went into the story of Easter and Jesus’ resurrection at school last week. That’s probably not so bad assuming it was educational, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was more along the lines of proselytization.
The week before the “Art” lesson took place, my wife had already talked to my daughter about Easter.
Wife: “Sarah, do you know why we have Easter every year?”
Daughter: “No, not really.”
Wife: “Well, the Christians believe that a long time ago, Jesus died, and then he came back from the dead.”
Daughter: “With bunnies?”
Today, one of Sarah’s classmates came up to her and went into God out of the blue.
Girl: “God made you.”
Girl: “God. He created you.”
Daughter: “Um, no. I’m pretty sure my mom and dad created me.”
Girl: “Nuh uh!”
Daughter: “Well, how did God create me? How does that work?”
Girl: “He drew you on a piece of paper and then gave the paper to your mom.”
I guess they’ll be okay. I don’t really understand what I’m doing right, though.
I was recently asked by a Christian how I became an atheist. I wrote about my experiences with paganism last week, but I didn’t really explain how I fell away from it.
I used to be a believer. I was not a Christian, but I did believe in a great many supernatural things. I was 100% convinced that God and spirits existed. I spoke to them every day. At the time, if you told me they didn’t exist, I would have thought you were an intentionally closed minded person who would see the obvious if they just opened their eyes and looked around. I thought people didn’t see the truth because they didn’t want to.
There were a great many things that convinced me of God’s existence. I eventually found out there were flaws in the brain behind every single one of them. I learned that we can’t trust our own experiences, and I learned all the reasons why that is.
Losing your faith is not a quick process. It can take years. For me, it took 7 years. First, I learned how a certain experience I’d been having (astral projection) could actually be explained another way. At first, I wasn’t convinced I was wrong. However, the very idea I could be wrong at all disturbed me. I didn’t know what to think at first. Eventually, though, I accepted that the experience was not real.
I ended up having to have this realization many, many times over the years, because my faith was built on many, many experiences. One by one, throughout the years, the truth of my experiences fell away. There are only a limited number of flaws in the brain, but there are an infinite number of experiences you can have that can fall victim to them.
Now that I know my beliefs were not true, it pains me to see others going through similar experiences. When I was a believer, it was awesome. It was like I knew more than everybody else. But once you realize it’s not true, you wish you had known that all along so you wouldn’t have dedicated your entire life to it.
I feel like a fool for ever believing any of it.
It seems there’s a bit of fear-mongering at a recent appointment of an atheist to the Board of Education in Fayette County, Georgia:
Under the old qualifier, “some of my best friends are … (fill in the blank),” we’re not talking about your garden variety village atheism here. We are talking about in-your-face, proselytizing atheism, which seeks to banish all trace of the great monotheistic religions from every square inch of the public square.
These are not live-and-let-live, mind-your-business-and-I’ll-mind-mine true nonbelievers. No, these folks deeply believe that most of us religious folks (mainly of the Christian variety) are just simply stupid and that our stupid religion should be ridiculed as myths.
They hold in pure contempt what most of us in Fayette County consider to be holy. They reserve their highest contempt for Christians who dare to proclaim their faith.
I feel betrayed by the four sitting members of the board of education. Is this the best they could do?
Wow. It seems that America has a “religious test” for office after all.
I submit for your consideration this news story from Jacksonville, Arkansas:
Jacksonville community gathers for back-to-school prayer (video on the linked page)
The first day of school marks a new beginning for students and Sunday, several members of the Jacksonville community decided to show their spiritual support.
“Three moms who are all public school employees here in Jacksonville just got together and kind of all expressed a need. We want the best for our children, we want the best for our students. I think like anywhere, there is poverty, there is abuse, there is all that negative stuff that our children have to overcome, ” says Stephanie Burrows, a fourth grade Jacksonville school teacher.
Burrows and two others decided to host a prayer walk, a time to pray at all 12 public school campuses for the coming school year.
“We put it out on Facebook, good ole Facebook, and talked to fellow friends and community leaders and as you saw at the turnout, this is what happens in Jacksonville when the community comes together especially when it comes to our schools and children, ” says Burrows.
Sarah McCormick teaches at Jacksonville High and says she has no problem praying at a public school.
“I think it’s separate, but very inspiring. And everything has its place but I feel like this is just a way that the community and all of us can show our support. Just another way, ” says McCormick.
How is it that story like this can air without a single skeptical voice being heard? Oh sure, there’s the token, “Hey, what about separation of church and state?”. You don’t hear anything at all about prayer never, ever having been shown to work, though. We can’t have people saying that on TV in Arkansas. It might piss somebody off. No, the whole feel of the story is warm and fuzzy, like it’s a good thing to be delusional. Where’s the other side to this coverage?
Is this bias just a one-off incident? Am I imagining things? Hell no.
No one knows better than Cayden Rawson’s parents how lucky he is just to be alive.
The look from paramedics as they arrived June 5 after the Rawsons’ 11-year-old son fell 21 feet, landing on his head and side, told it all.
“It’s out of your hands,” Cayden’s mother, Amy, said in describing what the faces of the paramedics told her. “It’s in God’s hands.
“The fact that he wasn’t in 500 pieces was miraculous in and of itself. He landed on his left side in a heap of sheet metal pieces and cement.”
But now the family is realizing that Cayden’s brain may make a full recovery.
That’s a miracle far greater than they ever could have expected.
The mother said she’s sure those prayers resulted in a divine intervention that allowed him to heal.
“There is no other explanation,” she said. “We have amazing friends and family that cared and love him.”
Where’s the voice of the expert in this story saying there’s no evidence of magic? Where the statistician to explain that sometimes shit just happens? Where’s the coroner to show them the dead bodies of the thousands of other people that miracles didn’t happen to?
Isn’t journalism supposed to be impartial? Aren’t they supposed to get to the truth? What happened to both sides of the story? What happened to really digging in and getting to the facts?
Okay, maybe I’m being silly. It’s only two stories. Surely, I can’t find THREE stories from this month that blatantly peddle religion.
“One night I was taking off a bandage and a hunk of flesh just fell off, and he was bleeding,” she said. “I called for Willie to come dress it. I just couldn’t. I went next door to the church and started walking and praying, and a song just came out. It’s called ‘Just Keep On Trusting,’ and it was God encouraging me to keep believing him that everything was going to be all right.”
“He came in and put his hands right on the sores and started to gently pray,” Roberts said. “We prayed long into the night. When we rose the next morning, I went to check on Richard, and there were scabs all in his bed, and his skin was healed. There wasn’t even a scar on him. God healed Richard and he never had another problem with it. Like the song God gave me says, Jesus is the same today as he always was, and we can always trust him no matter how hard or long the difficulty.”
What the hell good are CoR’s “Good Without God” signs with stuff like this being reported all the time? We need to get some experts in the state together and start demanding that the media get rationality heard in these kinds of stories.
There was a pretty good comment made recently by user bobbiedilbeck on the post about childhood indoctrination. My reply is kind of longish, so I decided to make it a new post instead of just a comment.
Hey I have a couple of questions and comments for you.
I am wondering what atheist believe happens to a person when they die?
You said, And hopefully we can teach her that she can be a good person regardless of what she believes.” What is your being a good person based on? Whose morals are you comparing them to? I guess what I am asking is, what is the standard of good and where do you come by that standard??
Just wanting a little culture.
Most atheists only believe what they have good evidence for.
For myself, I used to believe in souls and the afterlife, and I thought I had solid evidence for my beliefs. Nothing would convince me otherwise because I had seen things for myself that proved it. I’ve since discovered that each of the experiences I thought irrefutably proved the existence of souls and the afterlife actually had other explanations. There were things I did not understand, and I had jumped to conclusions and built an entire belief system around it.
As far as death, when you die, that’s it. Your brain is you. Once it stops working, you no longer exist. This is evidenced by research in neuroscience. Practically every part of human nature can be turned off by damaging certain parts of the brain.
Some may say they don’t want to believe this life is the only life they get, because an afterlife would be much better. I no longer base my beliefs on what I think would be cool. I try to assess reality as it is. I think the truth is more important than feeling good.
As far as how I know what is moral and what is not, that’s something that I decide for myself. Some of it comes from self-preservation, but a lot of it comes from the social contract we have with others. It’s part of living in a civilization. We all agree to treat each other like we would want to be treated. Without this social contract, we would live our lives in constant fear of terrible actions from others. So we treat others how we would want to be treated, and punish bad behaviors by others. The result is a relatively peaceful society to live in.
Take murder, for example. I would never murder someone. First of all, I don’t want to spend my entire life in prison. I’m dumb enough to get caught. But more importantly, I’ve seen the pain it can cause others. The death of an individual shatters the lives of each person that was connected to the victim. I wouldn’t want that to happen to me, so why would I want to inflict that pain on others?
The Thinking Atheist related that he felt The Amazing Atheist’s videos centered too much around himself. The implication seemed to be that there was a “look at me” vibe in the videos. I guess the feeling was that this detracts from his message.
I was shocked at this. He has some great videos. And that’s people main takeaway from them?? I was telling a friend after the conference that I never got that impression from The Amazing Aheist, and they said, “Really? He’s always promoting his books in his videos, and he even has a documentary”. I’d never thought of it that way.
The Thinking Atheist expanded on that, saying while it was a necessary evil that everyone on the panel had to promote themselves to get their message out there, he hopes that it isn’t “all about him”. It should be about the message and the community.
I put my real name and face on this blog, and I have a fear that this will be seen as a cry for internet fame. The real reason is that I want to put a human face on atheism. I want the theists I criticize to see that I’m one of their neighbors before they think about demonizing me. With so many atheists in the closet in Arkansas, I think it’s important. It’s my way of taking a stand.
You have to promote yourself to get your message read, but the moment you get excited when the hits start coming in, you’re being egotistical. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Dusty Smith, of Cult of Dusty fame, recently lamented that he isn’t selling as many t-shirts as he would like. Making videos, doing podcasts, and posting blogs takes a lot of time. I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to want to get a profit from it. It doesn’t turn me off at all. Dusty’s videos are awesome. I look forward to every new one. What’s the difference between him and The Amazing Atheist?
But on the other hand, I only post stuff because I enjoy getting my thoughts out there. That, and people can’t delete my posts here when they disagree with them.
On another note, it was weird walking around the church at FreeOK and seeing Internet celebrities like Matt Dillahunty and AronRa in the flesh. There was a moment when I was coming back from the bathroom and had to pass between Matt and someone else he was talking to. I looked him in the eyes as I was walking past, and I could tell when he saw me that he knew that I knew who he was. I just kept on going, because who needs strangers accosting you all the time? It is definitely weird to have watched someone speak for hundreds of hours and realize they’re still really a stranger to you.
Yesterday, myself and 6 others piled into an SUV to make the drive to Oklahoma’s first freethought convention, FreeOK. On the trip to Tulsa, one of my friends pondered what The Thinking Atheist might look like. I replied that he probably just looks like a regular guy. Many amazing people you meet are just regular people. Indeed, he does look just like a normal guy.
But man, is he ever a good speaker. If you’ve ever heard his podcast, you know he’s really very skilled at oral presentation. That translated very well into his “real-life” presentation. He showed us pictures of utterly ridiculous things religious people believe, stated with his typical matter-of-fact simplicity. It was interspersed with just the right amount of silence, so we could remember how frustrated we felt that anyone could not see the inherent contradictions. Then, he’d execute the beliefs with the just the right amount of incredulity in his voice. It was quite an emotional experience. Childhood indoctrination was also a bit of a theme, and several members of our group were nearly brought to tears.
I think it’s interesting. I could get up there on stage and say the same things word for word that he said, and it wouldn’t have anywhere close to the amount of emotional impact. It’s all in the delivery, I guess. I really hope we see more of this guy in the future.
At one point, with the air of nostalgia, Seth suddenly started singing church songs. The 318 strong crowd sung the songs with him. No one could believe that many atheists knew that many church songs word for word. I didn’t know any of the words, but many did. It was definitely a WTF experience.
If this talk doesn’t make it online, I’ll consider it a crime against humanity. Although I’d imagine it might lose some of its luster watching it second hand. There’s something about the electricity of a crowd of people that’s lost in videos.
Another speaker was Dr. William Morgan, a former professor at Oral Roberts University. He spoke on his journey from belief to non-belief, and elaborated on the internal politics at Oral Roberts University. He compared Oral Roberts’ mindset to that of a dictator; if you didn’t believe exactly what he believed, you were out. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the bullying that goes on in organizations like this. Believe in the party line, or else.
Dr. Morgan’s presentation, while great, did end with a short clip from the movie Zeitgeist. I was a little stunned that this piece of uninformed drivel would make its way into a talk. But nobody’s perfect, I guess.
During the Q&A, one questioner nervously asked Dr. Morgan how “sure” he was of the facts around that movie clip. Dr. Morgan stated that he was sure. He didn’t have much to say about it, though. After struggling for words a bit, the questioner shakingly asked the rest of the panel for their opinions. Matt Dillahunty then went on to give the most fair and nicest criticism of Zeitgeist that I’ve ever heard him give. Personally, I would have preferred that somebody speak on the factual claims point by point. It felt a little like we were dancing around the topic so as to not offend. But I suppose people can always look that stuff up online.
Abbie Smith, a graduate student at University of Oklahoma, gave a talk on how the immune system develops stronger antibodies using the power of evolution. It was posited that while many atheists are very comfortable debating creationists, they often feel that they don’t know enough about vaccines to challenge anti-vaxxers. She showed how if you understand evolution, then you understand the immune system and vaccines. The content of the talk was sciency-goodness, and it was quite tasty!
AronRa and Matt Dillahunty also spoke, and were excellent as expected. I’d elaborate more on their talks, but I think I’ve wrote enough as it is. So, I’ll open it up to the rest of you. What were your favorite parts of the day?
Dear Free Thinker,
What does it mean to think freely?
Does it mean I must be an atheist?
I’ve gotten different answers on this, but usually I’m told you can’t be religious and be a free thinker. The idea is that “freethinkers” are supposed to base their beliefs on reason. People who believe in God don’t usually rely on reason. They lean on faith.
If you’re a believer in God because of reason and evidence, however, then you would be a freethinker.
Reason and evidence aren’t enough to get to the truth, though. That’s just the best strategy we have available. It’s also necessary to have a good working knowledge of how people can be tricked into believing things that aren’t true. There are several common mechanisms in which this commonly takes place, confirmation bias being one of them. These flaws in human perception can fool even a reasonable person. The scientific method is the best way to bypass these flaws.
You tell me there is no evidence for the existence of God.
You say that there is more evidence for unicorns than the object of my worship.
I don’t know that I’ve seen evidence for unicorns, but it’s at least plausible. They are pretty close to horses, which do exist. It’s only the horn we have lacking, and it would be easy for natural selection to make it happen. It just doesn’t seem to be the case that it has.
An all-powerful God, though? There is no evidence. The only “evidence” that’s ever cited is riddled with confirmation bias or arguments from ignorance.
You tell me that I’m an atheist too.
Why do you say “we’re all atheists” when I believe in God?
I believe the idea is that if you don’t believe in Thor but you do believe in God, then you are an atheist with respect to Thor but a theist with respect to God. It’s an attempt to get theists to understand that they require evidence for everything in life except God.
You tell me “That’s just your interpretation”; “You’re wrong”; “I’m right.”
I reject science, according to you. I don’t know how to open my eyes. I’m blind, foolish, and stubborn.
You say that I’m delusional, and that my belief is a disease.
Yep! Now you’re getting it. I shouldn’t be snide, though. I don’t follow your blog closely enough to accuse you of anything.
I have a final question:
Am I allowed to think freely…
Or is it just you?
Ah, one of the reasons I dislike that term so much. I tried to tell my friends that it’s an insulting term, but they said “tough”. I prefer to just tell you you’re wrong. I don’t need creative euphemisms for that.
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.