I want to say I’m sorry

I was thinking today about my journey from conservative fundie Christian to where I am now.

As I’ve talked about before, I grew up Seventh Day Adventist, which is a very conservative sect of Protestant Christianity.  The joke is that SDAs are about 20 years behind Baptists.  SDAs are hardcore young earth creationists, anti-LGBT, and tend to isolate themselves from the world.  They have their own schools (Kindergarten through college) where parents are strongly encouraged to send their kids.  When I was growing up, almost all SDA churches were strongly against any kind of rock music, there were no drums in church, and usually no guitars either… just piano and organ for hymns.  Makeup and jewelry were “self adornment” and looked down on, or just plain not allowed in most schools.  There was no dancing, no bowling, and no movie theaters.  Once a year our school would have a field trip to the local skate rink, and they had to unplug all the arcade games, and play “more appropriate music”.

I’ve heard a lot of this has changed now.  Not the young earth creationism… oh no, no, no.  The church leadership has come out strongly on that recently stating that the literal six day creation week is fundamental to Seventh Day Adventism and there is absolutely no room for compromise.  But the more socially backwards traditions like jewelry, makeup, and drums in church are, the harder they are to maintain among younger generations.

My point in explaining this is to explain where I’ve come from.  I grew up in that and I believed it.  I later left SDAism behind after I realized I just didn’t think the distinguishing parts were that important, so I just became sort of general Christian, but still very conservative.  It just doesn’t make sense to me to take the Bible seriously and not be conservative, or at least lean that way.

But I digress.  When I was a conservative fundie Christian, I was on the wrong side of many issues, and the one that sticks out most in my mind right now is LGBT rights and equality.  I thought being gay was a sin.  I bought into all the anti-gay rhetoric.  I voted for California’s Proposition 8 which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

I wasn’t outspoken or an activist, and I never “gay bashed” or anything.  I never directly harmed any LGBT people, but I was on the wrong side of history.  I supported and/or was part of organizations that did harm LGBT people.

So I want to say to my LGBT brothers and sisters, and all my now fellow advocates, that I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for contributing to oppression and discrimination.  I’m sorry for all you have had to endure because of people like who I used to be.

I’m happy to say that I’m firmly on the right side of history now.  I’m 100%, categorically, unreservedly, proudly an LGBT advocate and activist.

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“Are you still searching?”

I’m occasionally challenged by religious folks as to whether I still question God’s existence, or if I’m still “seeking”. They ask if I’m at all “skeptical about evolution”, or other similar questions. These sort of questions betray their inability to understand that other people have good reasons for their beliefs (or non-beliefs), and how stuck they are in their own belief that they simply must be right. Then if you don’t get that, there’s something wrong with you. The irony is that it’s basically odds-on that they don’t question like they think you should.

See, here’s the thing; I’m always open to any new ideas or evidence no matter what the idea is or how crazy it may be. But being open-minded and a good skeptic doesn’t mean constantly questioning every idea there is. It means being open to new information.

Let me to toss out a few ideas here to help illustrate:

  1. I don’t believe any gods exist.
  2. I believe evolution is the process by which all life came to be as we know it today.
  3. I believe the Earth revolves around the Sun.

In my mind, from my accumulated knowledge and experiences, these three things are equally correct. I’m not going to sit around like a moron all day and ponder whether the Earth really revolves around the Sun. This is a settled question. What if there were new evidence presented that, in fact, the Sun revolves around the Earth? Well that would be some amazing evidence. I would consider that evidence, and, if it were convincing, I would change my mind. But I feel no need to seek out such evidence. There are things in life that I just don’t feel a need to constantly question.

It’s the same with evolution. Evolution has been proven time and time and time again, and has withstood all attempts to disprove it. It’s done. It’s settled. It’s what happened. We know it happened, just as we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun. If some new evidence came out that disproved evolution, then I would consider it, and, if it were convincing, I would change my mind. But all we ever get are the same old tired arguments against evolution that have been answered, disproven, or are just nonsensical.

The same with the existence of gods. Done deal. New evidence or arguments? Okay, bring it. But until/unless that happens, I don’t need to go out of my way to question if the Earth revolves around the Sun… er, I mean… if a god exists.

William Lane Craig’s blather about Ryan Bell

So I was thinking about what William Lane Craig (I know, I know) had to say about Ryan Bell and the his “year without God”. Spoiler alert: Ryan Bell now identifies as an atheist and we’re quite happy to have him. Shortly after Bell originally announced his experiment about a year ago, Craig had this drivel:

Oh, I think it is disastrous spiritually. But I wonder how he is going to live? A couple weeks ago we did a podcast on exploring the real consequences of an atheistic worldview and that, on atheism, things like civility, politeness, moral values, treating others honorable, marital fidelity are all illusions of human consciousness fogged onto us by the evolutionary process and social conditioning. I wonder what is Bell going to do? Is he going to also during this year quit working for peace and justice? Is he going to now no longer be concerned about the treatment of women – those issues that got him into trouble with his church? Just what does he think the consequences of atheism really are? Which ones is he going to try on? If he really comes to accept the view that atheism leads to the kind of moral nihilism that our other friend did, Bell is going to really have a disastrous year.

But let’s unpack this.

Oh, I think it is disastrous spiritually.

Oh of course! Honest and open inquiry is just no good at all. I’m confused though. We keep hearing about how obvious it is that a god exists, and that Christianity is obviously true. So why should this sort of thing be a problem? Why are the concepts of god and Christianity so frail as to fall apart given simple and honest questioning?

A couple weeks ago we did a podcast on exploring the real consequences of an atheistic worldview and that, on atheism, things like civility, politeness, moral values, treating others honorable, marital fidelity are all illusions of human consciousness fogged onto us by the evolutionary process and social conditioning.

I’m constantly amazed that apologists and their kind seem so intent on telling atheists what we should believe. Not only is it insulting, it’s just plain wrong, and it makes him look incredibly ignorant.

I wonder what is Bell going to do? Is he going to also during this year quit working for peace and justice? Is he going to now no longer be concerned about the treatment of women – those issues that got him into trouble with his church?

Now here’s where the mega-eye-roll starts, and this is sort of my main point. Among former believers who are now atheists, I know of no one who fits what Craig is saying. I know of no one who decided to care less about social justice after deconverting. Most former believers I’ve talked to care far more about those issues now (myself included). Realizing that we’re on our own, and have a responsibility for each other, and that there’s no sky daddy watching out for us, is a big realization.

Many atheists actually have a far better sense of social justice that includes, oh you know, LGBT rights and equality.

And is he actually serious about the treatment of women? That seems like a very poor choice for an example, given what the Bible has to say about treatment of women. I think we’ll stick with our non-biblical treatment of women as equal human beings, not property. I’d go into it but wow would this be a long article. But let’s see… here’s a short version and a long version.

Just what does he think the consequences of atheism really are? Which ones is he going to try on? If he really comes to accept the view that atheism leads to the kind of moral nihilism that our other friend did, Bell is going to really have a disastrous year.

And we come full circle, back to the appeal to consequence. This is such a ridiculous and fallacious argument. Even if it were true that atheism leads to moral nihilism and utter despair and kicking puppies, that doesn’t mean a god exists. Why Craig constantly insists on this argument is just baffling. It’s literally logic 101.

Now, a couple things. Yes, I realize that there are atheists who are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people. I don’t personally know any, but yes, they exist. There are people who think that atheism means they can do whatever they want and that nothing matters. Again though, that doesn’t mean a god exists. Those people are wrong, and if they harm others, we can correctly take action against them.

I also realize my tone toward Craig may be a little aggressive in this article, but wilful ignorance just really bothers me. I know some other atheists will disagree with me here, but William Lane Craig is a very intelligent man. I know it’s popular to talk about what a blithering idiot he is, but it’s simply not true. He’s very intelligent and accomplished, but that makes it all the more frustrating that he uses such obviously wrong arguments, and that he continues to use them after being told why they are wrong, based on facts and/or logic.

All in all, I think Ryan Bell had a pretty good year. I saw no disaster.

“Erotic Liberty vs Religious Liberty”

“Erotic liberty vs religious liberty” is the new buzzphrase for bigots who want to attack LGBT people and deny equal rights to others, all based on religious beliefs.

The implication of “erotic liberty” is that those damn dirty gay people just want to get off at the expense of the “religious liberty” of devout Christians trying to stand up for Jesus. Christians who, bafflingly, seem intent on fighting tooth and nail to deny equal rights to a group of people over something that doesn’t even effect them. That’s called bigotry.

It’s hard to conceive of a more ignorant and bigoted phrase. It should hardly need to be said, but the fight for LGBT equality is not about eroticism. It’s about marriage. It’s about equal rights and equal treatment and protections under the law. It’s about all kinds of things, but eroticism isn’t really one of them. That’s what opponents of equal rights don’t understand. That’s what they refuse to understand.

But if they insist on the term “erotic liberty”, then the fact is that LGBT people want the same “erotic liberty” as everyone else. That’s where this new buzzphrase really fails. It doesn’t even say anything new. It’s still Christians trying to deny LGBT people the same rights that everyone else has. So we’re back to square one, and that square is equality. If they want to deny equal rights to a group of people, that’s still called bigotry.

The phrase appears to have originated with Albert Mohler, who is no stranger to saying ridiculous things. I’ve been told Mohler is one of the “brightest mind[s] in evangelical Christianity”, and that “leading secularists would have to recognize Dr. Mohler has one of the brightest minds in our country”. Oh boy, I don’t think so. From everything I have read from him in regards to LGBT people, contraception, atheists, and even yoga (among plenty of other issues) that he thinks are a problem for Christians, his arguments are painfully bad. I’m no expert. I don’t have a doctorate in anything. I’m a very amateur philosopher, and I found it comically simple to pick his arguments apart on just about any issue.

People like Mohler want to force LGBT people back into the closet. They want to turn back the clock to when LGBT people were treated like freaks and weirdos and second-class citizens. They want LGBT people to think of themselves as broken and sinful. Nevermind the depression. Nevermind the suicide. Nevermind the bullying when people think LGBT people are sick. Nevermind the cognitive dissonance of LGBT people trying to reconcile their natural orientation with what they’re told they should be. They don’t care about any of that. I know Christians don’t like this label, but too bad. Yet again, that’s called bigotry.

The upside to all of this is that the tide is against those who would use such rhetoric to push their bigoted views. Love is winning over hate. More and more people are coming to realize that everyone deserves equal rights. Marriage equality is advancing state by state. It’s not fast enough, but it’s happening.

But the really good news is that, despite all their stamping of their feet and hysterical shrieks of persecution, we don’t have to care what religious people think of all this. The separation of church and state, clearly defined in the US Constitution, says that we don’t make laws based on any religion. Unfortunately not everyone gets this, but that’s too bad for them. As with other civil rights movements, we shall overcome.

Hey, wait a minute… (atheist Bible study, Genesis 2:2)

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

-Genesis 2:2 (NIV)

Christian fundamentalists take Genesis literally. In fact, they take Genesis so literally that they deny any and all evidence for anything that contradicts their hyper-literal interpretation, including well established scientific facts like the age of the Earth, and evolution.

Genesis 2:2 says God rested from the work of creation. But an omnipotent God wouldn’t need to rest, so this clearly can’t mean what it literally says. I’ve heard a couple explanations for this.

Having grown up Seventh-Day Adventist, with the seventh day Sabbath being one of the most important “pillars” of belief, that was clearly God giving an example. Of course he didn’t need to rest, but he was showing us what we should do. So that one verse is metaphorical. Apparently Genesis must be taken hyper-literally when talking about creation, but when it gets inconvenient, it’s suddenly metaphorical.

The other common explanation I’ve heard is that “rest” (originally “shabat” in Hebrew) is a mistranslation. The ancient Hebrew language used to write parts of the Bible (along with Aramaic and Greek) had fewer words than modern languages, so the meanings of words back then were less precise in many cases. One of the definitions of the original Hebrew word was simply “to cease or to stop”. So God didn’t rest because he was tired, he just stopped creating because he was done.

Furthermore, while the Bible says “the evening and the morning were the 1st [etc] day”, the Bible says no such thing about the seventh day. The seventh “day” is still going on. We’ll set aside the problem of an omniscient God allowing such a mistake in his perfect book.

Again, how the hell have they determined that the “days” of creation were absolutely literal 24 hour days? It seems to be very important to them, since it factors in to calculations to conclude that the Earth is 6,000 years old. But of course when it gets to the seventh “day”, that goes out the window. Go figure.

So why do they hold so tightly to literal 24 hour days for creation, but suddenly for the seventh “day”, it becomes not an actual “day”? Sure seems like a whole lot of people believing what they really want to be true, and explaining away any problems.

In Defense of Believers

I’ve been thinking lately about how a lot of atheists seem to view believers, and it’s not pretty. I’ve heard a lot of atheists call believers stupid, and there seem to be a lot of atheists who think studies have proven that believers have lower IQs. These studies are dubious, and even if there were some link, correlation is not necessarily causation.

Most religious people aren’t stupid. They don’t automatically have lower IQs. From my observation, many Christians in the US are generally ill informed about opposing views, or they have a strong need to believe for any number of reasons (they want to see grandma again, or they can’t understand morality without a god, can’t wrap their head around naturalistic origins, etc).

Most of them are indoctrinated (you could call it brainwashed) from a very young age, and religion certainly thrives on fear. Fear of hell, fear of being a bad person, etc. Fear is a strong motivator to do or not do something… or to continue in a belief in spite of doubt. Many believers never truly consider other points of view, but dismiss them out of hand. They are quite ignorant about other religious beliefs, and the fact that generally a person’s religion is overwhelmingly determined by their geography.

Again, none of this is meant to be insulting, nor is it meant as a blanket statement for all believers, but it is my observation. Cognitive biases can be very difficult to overcome, and when I talk about people being ignorant, that’s not an insult either. We’re all ignorant about a lot of things. With all the available knowledge in the universe, we’re actually all incredibly ignorant about most of what there is to know. I’m ignorant about knitting, nor do I have any desire to learn about it. Does this make me stupid? I don’t think so.

Some believers do realize that they should be able to rationally defend their beliefs, and venture into the dark forest of apologetics. Of those who do though, almost all of them seem go check out what apologists say, and it sounds logical to them, so they stop there. This is confirmation bias, and it’s a common thing for people to do, not just Christians. It’s human nature to group together with those who think like we do.

Those are just a few reasons why believers aren’t all big dumb stupid idiots.

I do want to make a distinction between religious idiots and the rest of them. There are those who I would call idiots, and some are idiots AND outright dishonest, like Ray Comfort and Eric Hovind. Ray and Eric and their ilk use deceptive tactics like quote-mining, emotional arguments, strawman arguments, and other fallacies. They have engaged in arguments and formal debates, and have been told so many times why they are wrong, yet still continue to say things those same things. That’s dishonest, and they are big dumb stupid idiots (or scammers, take your pick).

Now don’t get me wrong. This is all just my position on this, and I’m not the thought police or the tone police for atheism. I think we should stop calling religious people stupid as a blanket statement, but of course everyone is free to do as they like. I will say though, that dismissing people because you think they’re stupid isn’t likely to help anything. Do I occasionally go off and yell about creationists? Oh yeah. But in general I try not to. My views of religious people are evolving, and I think in a better and more productive direction.

10 Questions For Every Atheist

Well here we go again.  Another Christian website has come out with an oh-so-scary list of 10 Question For Every Atheist.  The list is actually ripped off from an atheist blogger, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that he DID answer them in his article.  They didn’t mention that, but only linked his original article at the bottom of their post.  I almost didn’t see it.

Ironically, the list as presented on todaychristian.net is preceded by “Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…”  The key word here is “honestly”.  Unfortunately they have demonstrated that they have little interest in honesty.

But off we go with their questions.

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

Finally understood the burden of proof, and realized no religion has any proof.

2.       What happens when we die?

We go back to what we were before we were alive: nothing.

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

Oh look, Pascal’s Wager. Never heard this one before.

I’m guessing I probably won’t have much say at that point. Due the question being asked by Christians, I’m guessing they are assuming their version of the afterlife according to the Bible is the right one. In that case it seems that I’ll be unfairly judged as to whether or not I was gullible enough to buy into nonsense that has no evidence.

A question in return though: what if you die and it turns out out the Muslims were right, or the Jews, or the Hindus, or another of the thousands upon thousands of religions?

There are numerous other reasons why Pascal’s Wager fails, but I think that’s enough for now.

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

The same place we all get it from: the evolution of our species into a social group that is better adapted to survival by cooperation, based on an understanding of the nature of reality, that our actions effect others, and a sense of empathy. All of this is a result of evolution.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

No, and if you need a god to tell you that, you’re broken. See explanation in #4. You’re less likely to want to cooperate with somebody if you think they’re likely to kill or rape you, which means they’re less well adapted to survive and pass on their genes.

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

It has whatever meaning I choose to give it, which is far better than an arbitrarily assigned meaning.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

Big Bang.

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

What miracles? Name one that can be objectively verified. How do you even define a miracle?

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

Great people with great ideas, from whom I’ve learned a lot. I agree with most of their ideas but not 100%.

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

While most societies do have some sort of religion, not all do or have. Religions seem to originate in order to explain things we don’t understand or cope with things that are scary.

Now, the questions that they’ve ripped off from an atheist blogger have been answered YET AGAIN, and are being answered by atheists all over Facebook now.  I get that they don’t LIKE the answers, but the questions have been answered ad nauseam, despite the claim that they can’t be.  I wonder if they’ll stop using the questions now?