Sunday, July 14, 2013

Atheism Is Not A Religion!

Believers have been employing a new tactic lately, claiming that atheism is the same as religion; that it requires the same amount of faith. It is one of those things people say without ever considering whether it actually makes sense. They heard it. It sounded good, so they repeated it. But, truly, what sense does it make to say non-belief requires as much faith as belief? Would anyone say that it requires faith to not believe in leprechauns? Of course not. The very notion would be absurd.

You don't need faith to doubt an unproven unsupported hypothesis and atheism is simply that. It is an expression of doubt. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods or goddesses. It asserts nothing except that there is no logical justification on which to base any belief in any gods, known or unknown. There is no reasonable argument or empirical evidence to make the belief in any sort of creator god a reasonable proposition. That's it. That is atheism backwards and forwards. Religion = belief without evidence. Atheism = non-belief due to lack of evidence. Where is the similarity?

Belief ought to require evidence. Therefore, the default position, when there is no evidence except for a few questionable anecdotes and this nebulous spiritual "feeling" believers often describe but cannot verify, quantify, or reproduce, ought to be skepticism. This has been twisted in the psyches of many believers. Their default position when no evidence is available is belief. "No one knows for sure, so I choose to believe." These two ways of looking at the world could not be more diametrically opposed. An atheist does not "choose" to disbelieve. The lack of evidence leaves him or her no choice. Most fought hard to hold onto their beliefs in the face of this dearth of evidence, and the overwhelming evidence refuting religious claims, and endured great emotional hardship when they ultimately lost their faith.

Of course, it could be argued that believers often have no choice in whether or not to be believe due to early childhood indoctrination and societal, cultural, and familial pressure to conform. But this is easily disapproved by the many formerly devout who came to an impasse with religion, when they could no longer overlook the cognitive dissonance they felt trying to rectify the obvious facts of this world with the fantasies spoon-fed them by the church, and became atheists. Yes, there have been many atheists who, horrified by the conclusions logic led them to, ran screaming back to the church, but again, this only shows a choice to believe, not that atheism was a choice to begin with.

But, of course, these facts are only a portion of what believers are usually referring to when they falsely label atheism a religion. They are often referring to the passion some, but certainly not all or even a majority, of atheists show in their religious skepticism and criticism, comparing it to religious or spiritual zeal. Some have even referred to it as "Atheist Fundamentalism", a misnomer if ever their was one. Why? Because fundamentalists don't merely believe. Faith is more than just belief. Faith is belief without evidence and AGAINST ANY AND ALL CONTRADICTORY EVIDENCE. That is not atheism. An atheist could easily become a Christian or any other religion were irrefutable evidence to be presented that would confirm the authenticity of that religion. We would not stubbornly refuse to believe in the face of overwhelming evidence as is the prerequisite for religious fundamentalism. Prove it and we'll believe it and that is the fundamental flaw in the "atheism is the same as religion" argument. We have no doctrines, no mores, no dogma, no rituals, no prayers or hymns. We do not deify Darwin or Dawkins and hold them up as infallible. We accept them as human and expect quite a few of their statements and assertions to one day be proven false or incomplete. The Theory of Evolution is an elegant theory, but one that may ultimately be shown to be inadequate, though probably not false. Some new theory will likely come along to fill in blanks in the theory that Darwin could never have imagined. It may happen. It may not. It may be determined that Darwin's theory is adequate to explain all the diversity on earth. The point is, we will not be surprised either way. And we certainly won't stubbornly cling to this theory if it is ever legitimately refuted. THAT would be a religious reaction to the truth.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Marriage Did Not Begin In The Church

How has this myth that marriage began as a religious institution managed to take hold in our collective consciousness when even a casual look at history would quickly dispel this fallacy? There are even many atheists who believe it. The earliest records we have of marriage began 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia as little more than a way for a man to make sure that the child he was caring for was his own and not one of the other tribesman's. This was pre- Maury Povitch. It was used as a way for families to acquire land and wealth, and forge alliances with other families. It was primarily an attempt to assure female, but not male, fidelity. Later, it became a business transaction between a man and a woman's parents.  "I'll give you four cows for your daughter." In ancient Greece, a father would then sell his daughter with these words "I pledge my daughter for the purpose of producing legitimate offspring" and that was it. No church involved. In Ancient Rome, marriage was governed by Imperial law up until the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD.  Men had wives solely to produce children and secure alliances with other families yet it was still acceptable to have several concubines and even to employ prostitutes and young boys for the purpose of sex. To quote one ancient Roman, Demosthenes, the orator, "We have prostitutes for our pleasure, concubines for our health, and wives to bear us lawful offspring."  If a woman failed to produce children, it was perfectly acceptable to divorce her. That is traditional marriage. The selling of women into domestic and sexual slavery by their fathers. Is that the institution conservatives wish to preserve? 

In most cultures, these business transactions took place between a man's family and a woman's family with the young couple having very little say in the matter. They were arranged marriages with the families choosing the most advantageous relationship based on economic, political, or social status considerations. Ancient Hebrew law permitted multiple wives. The bible has several examples of polygamy, including King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Perhaps this is the traditional marriage modern Evangelicals lament the erosion of? In fact, monogamy was actually pretty rare in the ancient world, with polygamy being the most common form of marriage among most cultures of the world. "If you're talking about the history of the world and not just the last two centuries, the proportion of the world populated by monogamous households were a tiny, tiny portion — just Western Europe and little settlements in North America," said Nancy Cott, professor of history at Harvard University.

In fact, it wasn't until the eighth century AD that the church got involved in marriage at all and, according to an article in the BBC News "Ten Key Moments in Marriage History by Lauren Everitt", it wasn't until the twelfth century that marriage came to be considered a church sacrament rather than merely a social or business contract and as late as the fifteenth century, in the Council of Trent, that marriage was written into church canon. So, in the 4,000 year history of marriage, the church has been involved for less than a fourth of that time. Far from the originators of marriage, they were actually late adopters. And here's something I bet you didn't know, these religious marriages once permitted same-sex unions. According to an article in

"Until the 13th century, male-bonding ceremonies were common in churches across the Mediterranean. Apart from the couples' gender, these events were almost indistinguishable from other marriages of the era. Twelfth-century liturgies for same-sex unions — also known as "spiritual brotherhoods" — included the recital of marriage prayers, the joining of hands at the altar, and a ceremonial kiss. Some historians believe these unions were merely a way to seal alliances and business deals. But Eric Berkowitz, author of Sex and Punishment, says it is "difficult to believe that these rituals did not contemplate erotic contact. In fact, it was the sex between the men involved that later caused same-sex unions to be banned." That happened in 1306, when the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II declared such ceremonies, along with sorcery and incest, to be unChristian".

So, no, the institution of marriage did not begin with the church and it is not owned by the church. No one is trying to force your silly little church to perform same sex marriages. And if you belong to a church that begins performing same-sex marriages, and you disagree with the practice, leave that church and join one that shares your same brand of bigotry and intolerance. But one thing you cannot do, is claim that you have a philosophical or historical leg to stand on. Marriage has been in a state of flux since its inception. It has gone from a slave contract with a woman's family selling her to her husband, to a state sponsored business contract, to a religious ceremony. In the 17th and 18th centuries, love finally entered the picture and once again transformed marriage into its more modern concept, as a romantic contract between a man and a woman. With the advent of birth control, marriage changed yet again. Children were no longer the central focus of marriage. Marriage became a commitment between a loving couple to love and care for each other until death. You need neither a vagina nor a penis to love. With this being the case, no sensible argument can be made for why marriage should remain between members of the opposite sex. Basing this opinion on the bible is about as rational as basing it on a comic book.

The fact that so many Black people, deluded by the bible, are discriminating against homosexuals, is absolutely sickening. How a people that have been oppressed with the full sanction of the church and the bible itself could then turn around and oppress another group using the same justifications that were used to keep us enslaved for hundreds of years, is astonishing. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Right now, mega-churches in Chicago are mobilizing to defeat a same-sex marriage bill. Many of these are predominantly Black churches. Many of these are filled with both open and closeted homosexuals, praising Jesus right along side their condemners. What twisted irony! Many of them believe this myth of the religious origins of marriage and have come to accept that they will never be allowed to marry. Praise Jesus! This is not right. This is not okay. This is a destructive myth that must die. Modern marriage is about love and commitment and tax breaks and medical, property, child custody, and death rights. It has nothing to do with imaginary deities accept in the ceremonial sense. At its core, marriage is still what it was thousands of years ago, a business contract, the only difference now is that this contract is made between the loving couple and local, state, and federal government. As such, it is genderless and all these ridiculous religious arguments against same-sex couples marrying are moot.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Meus Atheos Vita (My Godless Life)

I greet the sunrise
glistening with the blood and viscera
of artificial gods
imaginary angels
I have slain en mass

I stand as a man
knees unbent and hands unclasped
my head unbowed
cleansed in the flame of reason
watching the dogmas burn

I have met the Buddha on the road
and crucified him
next to Christ and Allah.
I have snuffed the burning bush
picked the lotus flower
strangled the last prophet
with the entrails of the last priest
I am no longer a slave

The shackles of culture and tradition
fear and superstition
lay broken before me
As I take up the flaming sword
and send the Gods of this age to Valhalla
Mount Olympus
or wherever dead gods go

I see the darkness and the light
and confront them both
without fear.
No devils or demons await me
in the night.
No dragons prowl the borders
of the unknown.

And when the end comes
I will greet the setting sun
as I greet each day
with acceptance of my fate
grateful for those who loved me

A grown man
without need of a fantasy father figure
unafraid to ask questions
and wait patiently for answers
rather than invent them
or embrace the inventions of others
Loving humanity
more than fantasy
no matter how beautifully told
or widely believed.
An atheist
until theism

gasps its final breath.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Proselytizing Atheism

It has been a while since I've written a blog post. I have been doing a lot of thinking regarding the freethought movement and the direction it has taken. In an effort to maintain the moral high ground, we have mostly avoided proselytizing. We have written books and blogs,  given speeches, engaged in debates, produced documentaries, but you don't often see a secular humanist agenda pushed in songs, movies, or TV shows. We are not out there proselytizing every day of the week on cable TV. You don't see sports, film, and pop stars, politicians and war heroes using their celebrity to spread atheism.  You don't find us going door to door or handing out pamphlets on street corners or trying to get people to come in off the street and listen to an atheist sermon like Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Muslims, or Scientologists. Those religions all grew and spread due to their aggressive recruitment. There are no atheist missionaries risking their lives to bring science and reason to uncivilized savages. I am beginning to think that  this isn't something we should be proud of. Perhaps this moral high ground is actually cowardice on our part.

The idea of travelling to Third World countries where atheism is equated with witchcraft, where homosexuals are stoned, and women and religious minorities are oppressed, and telling them the god, upon which all their cultural beliefs are based, is a fiction, frightens me too. The prospect of going into low income neighborhoods and knocking on doors to introduce people to deductive reasoning and explain logical fallacies as they relate to religion is terrifying to me. But if we ever hope to free this world and ourselves of this ignorance, isn't this exactly the sort of thing we should be doing? We often hear famous atheist thinkers saying they are not trying to convert anyone or spread atheism, but if we are not trying to change minds, then what the fuck are we doing?

How do we expect to change the world if we are not on the front lines? How do we expect to free ourselves from the ignorance, immorality, and oppression of organized religion, if we are not willing to be soldiers of reason just as believers rejoice in martyring themselves as soldiers for their deities? They are out there, every day, knocking on doors, handing out their propaganda on street corners, filling the airwaves everyday with their dogma and rhetoric, spreading their delusion. How the hell do we expect to combat this if we are not at least as aggressive with our counter-message? And if we are not willing to take it to such extremes, why bother writing blogs like this one? Why bother writing our books and creating our little organizations and websites?

So, I have been asking myself this and I would like to hear your thoughts before I make up my mind. Should we as atheists be more willing to proselytize?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hide and Seek

It has occurred to me that the Christian concept of god and man's relationship to the divine can accurately be described as a sadistic game of "Hide and Seek". Christians believe that God hides himself and all evidence of his existence from man, then man is tasked with discovering this elusive deity's existence and if he fails he is sentenced to eternal torment. Did I leave anything out? Oh, yeah. Man is given a book of implausible and contradictory stories that can be interpreted any of a hundred ways as a guide. Oh, and along man's journey of discovery there will be placed countless liars, conmen, lunatics, and charlatans, all claiming to know God's whereabouts and to even have spoken to him, in order to further confuse him. This, to me, sounds like the perfect condition for the creation of atheists rather than believers. If there were a god, and he wanted no one to ever discover his existence, ever, he could not do better than to follow the Christian god's example.

So, if god has so effectively and thoroughly hidden himself, why has he made it a sin to deny his existence and an unforgivable sin to deny the existence of "The Holy Ghost"? (Whatever the fuck that is) Because he doesn't want people going to heaven? Perhaps because there is no heaven and the only way to keep that a secret is to ensure that no one will ever be worthy of entering it? Maybe it's because he gets a hard-on watching humans burn in the lake of fire? Or how about this, maybe it's because THERE IS NO FUCKING GOD!

Which conclusion conforms most to the principle of Occam's Razor, the principle that the most elegant theory, the simplest one that rests on the fewest assumptions, is generally the correct one? I would say the hypothesis that an omniscient, all-powerful, omnibenevolent creator god who came into existence by itself and loves all of mankind while permitting all manner of atrocities to befall his creations and hiding from them at every turn, while at the same time punishing those who do not find him, is not a very elegant theory. As a theory goes, this one looks like Fido's ass.

Again, I ask that you consider this bizarre hypothesis from the standpoint of a terrestrial leader, say, the president of the United States. Suppose we had a president who never showed his face, never even spoke in his own voice, but only through proxies who we could never even be certain actually knew him or had ever really spoken to him. These proxies all claimed to have spoken with him, yet they all had slightly different messages. Furthermore, this president sent out a book filled with stories that flew in the face of natural laws and generally accepted science, made a mockery of morality as we know it, had numerous statements in it that contradicted each other, yet he claimed (through his proxies, of course) that this book would explain everything. Now, imagine that civil wars erupted because some people believed the book said one thing, others believed it said something else. Some believed it made women subservient to men. Others believed it made all human beings equal. Some believed that it separated the races and made some races superior to others. Others clearly saw the president's words as proclaiming all races equal. Some quoted chapters and statements in the book, which explicitly outlawed homosexuality and condoned the enslaving of other human beings. Other looked at this book and could clearly point to statements saying no man was to judge another and everyone was to treat each other well. And so, wars broke out over these contradictions and millions of people were murdered, raped, enslaved, and tortured. Neighbor hated neighbor, yet they all believed the book was good and the president was good for having wrote it.

The president's proxies could not agree on who was right. They splintered off into little groups based on different interpretations of the president's book and the fighting continued as people further divided themselves , yet still, the president refused to address his loyal citizens in person and clear it all up, but was content to watch the entire country descend into chaos and madness. Now imagine that he declared, through his book and his proxies, that if anyone failed to obey any of the laws he put forth, they would be put in jail for the rest of their lives, where they would be tortured every day. Imagine that, upon hearing this, and knowing all the different interpretations of the book, everyone continued to believe in the president's benevolence. Imagine that no one ever once considered the possibility that the president was long dead or had never existed and his proxies were just making it all up. Imagine that no one ever thought it odd that he never answered any questions personally and that not one verifiable sighting of him had ever been recorded. Imagine that, as you looked around at all the fighting and arguing and hatred, you were the only one who could see the absurdity of it all. You now know what it feels like to be an atheist.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Where Are All The Black Female Atheists?

I asked this several years ago and since then I have had the pleasure of meeting many Black atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers of the opposite sex. Women like Sikivu Hutchison who wrote the recent book, Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars or Ayanna Watson, head of Black Atheists of America or journalist, Jamila Bey, and many others have shown that not all black women remain willing captives to religious dogma. Not all black women can so easily cherry-pick through this abominable book of atrocities and ignore its condoning of slavery and misogyny. So, if some, why not all?

The women in my family are strong, proud. They refuse to be dominated by men, choosing to be single rather than accept the tyranny of unworthy males. Yet they bow without question before the most chauvinistic character in all of literature, the god of Abraham. How can this be?

I struggle with not looking down upon Christians, particularly Christians who are Black, Latino, homosexual, or female, the ones who have suffered the most at the hands of Christianity. It is hard not to think of them as grossly ill-informed, self-hating, sell-outs, or just plain stupid. I said recently of gay republicans, that if this were 1968 and there was a candidate promising to lower the deficit, balance the budget, and find jobs for everyone, but he was against interracial marriage and wanted to bring back Jim Crow laws, there is no way in hell I would vote for him. That's why I could not understand gay "fiscal conservatives" voting for republican candidates. I feel the same way about women and minorities praying to the god of Abraham. Don't you know that son of a bitch hates you?

As a result, I often find myself wincing when my mother or my aunts talk about going to church or praying or when they send me emails or finish a conversation with "God Bless You" or "Have a blessed day" or that annoyingly innocuous tagline "Blessings". I want to tell them how idiotic I find their faith and how I not only find it embarrassing as a Black person, but that they should be embarrassed as women. I feel toward them the way you would feel about a woman who speaks glowingly of her abusive husband, a little sad and embarrassed and just a tad bit disgusted.

I want to remind them of all the horrible things the bible says about women, how it condoned slavery and how the atrocities of the bible led to thousands of years of persecution by males and how it was used to justify the Trans Atlantic slave trade. Yet, even when I have told Black women this, it has never changed a thing, therefore, I am unwilling to risk my relationship with my loved ones to try to convince them of something they are unwilling to be convinced of. Yes, they all know my feelings about religion. It's plastered all over the internet and my Facebook page, so how could they not. I just don't talk about it directly with them, except for my mom, who happens to be a preacher of all things.

What is so odd for me, and so difficult to understand, is that I come from strong women. The women in my family have raised kids by themselves, overcome all manner of hardships from poverty to spousal abuse to cancer to lupus. These are not weak women. And when I see women like Ayanna Watson, who has shrugged off the fetters of religious dogma, I wonder why my own family members, no less strong or intelligent, cannot. I wonder why the millions of Black women crowding the churches throughout America and the world, cannot. I wonder if the centuries of slavery and oppression has somehow conditioned us to obey even imaginary, despicable masters.  The thought saddens and appalls me. I wonder if the feebleness of the American educational system, particularly in Black urban areas, has somehow contributed to this absurdity, made us less rational and more vulnerable to charlatans. Perhaps, as I have said before, the legacy of the Black church's involvement in the Civil Rights movement makes us feel obligated to the church and Black women, traditionally placed in the role of the preservers and purveyors of cultural identity, and the ones charged with the role of keeping the family together, feel a unique obligation to maintain the faith. Faith is, after all, part of the Black cultural identity in America. The only way that will change is by changing what mothers teach their children and right now teaching a young black kid how to be a good person is seen by most women, most people, in America as synonymous with teaching them how to be good Christians. Charged with the responsibility to raise good Christian children, I believe many Black women feel obligated to remain good Christians themselves. They may feel that failing to keep the faith would somehow be the same as failing their children and by extension their family and ultimately the entire Black culture.

Whoa. That is one hell of a burden to carry. No wonder there are so few Black female atheists. Until we relieve this burden from them, until we show the women in our culture that being Black does not have to mean being Christian, that being a good person does not necessitate being a Christian, that doing right by your children and raising them well does not have to mean bringing them up in the church despite all the cultural pressure to do so, until we can instill in them that raising rational, free-thinking individuals will not doom them to hell or make them bad parents or bad women, we will never be free as a people. It starts right here, with mom and dad. And I know I have placed a lot of the responsibility on the moms here, but that's only because, in our culture, that's where most of the pressure to conform originates. Women place pressure on their peers to toe the line and show up to church every Sunday with their kids in tow. They shame other women and judge them when they don't show up in a way that they don't when it comes to Black men. It is more acceptable for a Black man to avoid church then for a Black woman. She is still viewed as the nurturer. It is her responsibility to preserve the faith and the culture. Women are the majority of the church population in our culture, so that's where the indoctrination has to stop. Free the moms and the kids will follow.

But is it that simple? Is it simply extreme peer pressure, a sense of cultural and familial responsibility, coupled with the extreme religious indoctrination as children that most of us undergo that continues throughout our lives that has led to the obvious imbalance in freethinking Black females versus freethinking Black males? Is that the reason so many Black women, including my aunts, cousins, sister, niece, mother, and grandmother continue to embrace the god of their oppressor? Would a concentrated campaign to change the cultural paradigm of Black female religious enslavement fundamentally change our culture? I say, it is worth a shot.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Atheism in Black America (Lecture)

The following is a link to a lecture I did recently for The Austin Community of Atheist's weekly lecture series. There are a few corrections/retractions I need to make first. I mentioned that "My best friend is a minister...". Maurice is one of my closest friends and he is a church organizer not an ordained minister. I also said, when speaking about my aunt and my cousin, "... neither of them have spoken to me since." Actually, my aunt is still quite cordial to me. My cousin, however, chose Jesus Christ over me.