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Theists Are Not Just Their Theology

By | Religion | One Comment

Recently, a Christian man from Brazil reached out to me to apologize for the actions of some of his “brothers” that I’d been interacting with on Twitter. It’s a stark reminder that there are probably millions of theists out there that you could almost categorize at “humanist” – no matter their religious beliefs, they do love and respect their fellow man, and value the diversity in people’s backgrounds and beliefs.

It’s easy to get caught up in the conflict and the perceived ignorance, and forget that those theists you’re arguing with online are more than just theists: they are fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, students and social workers, sports fans and .. well, you get the idea.

What I explained to my new Brazilian friend is that, on a human level, atheists generally don’t have a problem with believers – I’m friends with many christians, and I even dated one for a couple of years! What angers us is not the people in the church, but their behaviour when representing the church.

Prosthelytizing, door knocking, and preaching on street corners – such behaviour assumes that the theist is coming from a more moral position, or has access to some truth that atheists aren’t aware of. The fact of the matter is that atheists probably know more the theist’s beliefs than they do, because we’ve actually looked into it – we haven’t just accepted what’s been preached from the pulpit.

I know Christians think they are out their saving people’s immortal souls, but they really don’t understand that it comes off as arrogance on their part – they think that they have something to offer that we don’t know about. If a Muslim knocked on a Christian’s door early on a Saturday morning, asking if they know the truth about Islam, would the Christian react any different to an atheist confronted with a Christian?

But that’s not the real issue – in modern society, we’re all confronted with unsavoury elements on a regular basis.

The real issue is religion’s influence on society in general. For example, the rejection of evolution in favour of creation – it is incomprehensible that this idea that the world was created in six days has taken hold with so many people. Here’s the thing – you don’t have to understand evolution, you just have to understand how science works!

In science, something is observed, then once it’s observed enough times, a hypothesis is formed. Once a hypothesis is accepted – after many different people try to disprove it – it becomes a theory. So the fact is, any scientific theory is based on many observations and only survives after many people try to disprove it. Creation just does not stack up compared to evolution, no matter what your preacher tells you.

But it’s the rights of women, the rights gay, lesbian and transgender people, the rights of atheists and even minority religions, that are all held back by religion. This is why atheists are finally standing up and saying “This isn’t right!”

Atheists haven’t just turned up – there have always been atheists – but in the past, it wasn’t safe for them to speak out. It still isn’t safe in some corners of the world, but we have reached a turning point. We are now speaking out, and I really don’t think religion will survive against it.

The point I left my new friend with is one made my Penn Jillette:

“If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly the same way again. There might be some other nonsense in it’s place, but not the exact same nonsense. If all science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.”

And that’s how you know what the truth is…

Why Buddhism Gets A Free Pass

By | Beliefs | 30 Comments

banner_buddha-imgThere has been some discussion on /r/atheism recently about Buddhism. Specifically, why Buddhism gets a free pass compared to Christianity, which seems to be the butt of so much criticism. The crux of the argument is that Buddhism is just as much a spiritual belief as Christianity, it’s not just a philosophy to live by.

And that’s absolutely true. Buddhism does have just as many crazy beliefs as Christianity. Also, it can be argued that Christianity is just as much about compassion, acceptance and kindness as Buddhism. So why aren’t the crazy Buddhists copping a barrage of animosity and ridicule?

I mean, come on – we can all agree that reincarnation is a bunch of bullshit, right? So what’s up? Why does Buddhism get a free pass?

Well, there’s the obvious geographic argument. We are English-speaking Westerners, whose culture evolved around the Judeo-Christian faiths. Christians are in our collective sights on a daily basis, knocking on our doors, pamphleting our cars, yelling at us on street corners and campuses. We see them on our TVs and we are forced to live under threat of their outrage. They don’t like abortions, and they vote. They don’t like gay marriage, and they vote… They are highly mobilized, and should they manage to gain a majority on these issues, our lives are going to change.

So Christianity is the current battle. It’s the ideology that’s most likely to have an affect on our lives.

But it’s more than that.

A Christian will tell you that Jesus was all about love and compassion. So why is it then, that we don’t associate these traits with the average Christian? Why are they yelling at me all the time? Why do they feel the need to tell me I’m going to hell for my apparent sins? Even the moderate Christian will passive-aggressively tell you that they will pray for you. I mean, who’s that helping?

Christianity, like most religions, sets up an us-vs-them paradigm. There’s the good and the bad, the saved and the sinners, if you’re not with us, you’re against us. And that’s a dangerous place to start. It’s an argument that assumes that they have an absolute truth that we heathens just haven’t cottoned onto yet. Even though Christians may have the best of intentions when trying to convert us to their religion – they genuinely don’t want us to burn in hell for all eternity – we’re not part of the group yet.

That’s where Buddhism differs. Within Buddhism, there is no room for blind faith. It sets out a clear path for spiritual and personal development that anyone can undertake according to their own understanding and ability. Buddhism actually suggests its adherents think, question and develop acceptance based on understanding.

Dalai-Lama-1_1In the Dalai Lama’s own words:

“We must conduct research and then accept the results. If they don’t stand up to experimentation, Buddha’s own words must be rejected.”

Can you imagine a priest or bishop saying that about the Bible? But perhaps most telling of all is this:

When he noticed American author John Perkins reading a book about Buddhism, the Dalai Lama told him:

“Don’t become a Buddhist. The world doesn’t need more Buddhists. Do practice compassion. The world needs more compassion.”

The Dalai Lama – the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism – actually publicly advised someone not to become a Buddhist, but to try and make a difference in the world by simply practice compassion toward his fellow man.

Buddhism is a truly peaceful religion, it doesn’t prosthelytize, it’s is very much in harmony with modern science and it preaches independent thought. In fact, some argue that Buddhism’s philosophical teachings are more relevant today then they were thousands of years ago because we have more stresses in our lives than Buddhism’s original followers.

At the end of the day, Buddhists don’t seek to force their worldview on anybody, but they are willing to teach you if you are willing to learn.

And that’s why Buddhism gets a free pass when it comes to criticizing religion.

God or Man?

By | Bible | 3 Comments

Depending in which camp you reside, the Bible is the inspired word of God, or the allegorical stories of Bronze Age nomadic goat-herders. Whatever your position, I want you to really look at the following Bible passages objectively. Can you find inspiration here, or is it more likely reflections from the hearts of man..?

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The Tax Exempt Issue and What We Can Do About It

By | Religion | 11 Comments

Religion’s income is – and always has been – exempt from tax. Sure, some of this money is directed towards schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, it’s true, but not all of it. Not by a long shot.

Churches own vast property empires, manage hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, and operate a wide range of profitable businesses throughout the world.

The most insidious use for this money, perhaps, is prosthelytizing – spending money on actively recruiting people for the church, through youth programs and missions, targeting the weak, vulnerable, young and uneducated.

There’s very little chance that any government around the world is going to take a stand and cancel a churches tax exempt status, and it’s perhaps for this reason, that religion is finding a political voice. More so now than any time in recent memory, churches have an opinion on how everyone should live their lives, whether you agree with their world view or not.

Humanity is treading a dangerous path. After years of essentially leaving it to it’s own devices, religion appears to have accumulated enough money and power to become a political force. And boy, do they have an agenda!

If you are a Christian, you probably don’t see the harm in having a Christian running your country – let church and state bleed together a little, right? Well, what happens when the next leader is from another faith? Christians, what if you were living in a country suddenly run by a Muslim? You’d want some separation of church and state then, wouldn’t you!?

That’s kind of how everyone who isn’t a Christian feels about living with a Christian leader… but I digress.

With revoking religion’s tax exempt status essentially off the table, how can we – as a secular society – make a dent in their bottom line?

The answer is actually pretty simple – don’t spend your money at a business that’s owned by a religious organisation, or donates money to a religious organisation.

By now, you probably all know about the Chick-fil-A incident. No one should begrudge Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy his right to describe his personal views on gay marriage. But he crossed a line when he said his company backs the traditional family unit.

What’s the big deal? When you spend money at Chick-fil-A, you are essentially supporting a company that promotes bigotry, a view that comes from the Christian belief that somehow homosexuality is wrong. The only way they are going to get the message that that’s unacceptable is for people to stop spending money there. And people are already doing that, in an unorganised kind of way.

What I want to do is organise this vague notion that we don’t want to support bigotry, that we don’t our children brainwashed, that we don’t want to see foreign cultures homogenised. If the governments won’t stand up to the churches, we need to! And the nothing makes an impact like money, or the loss of it.

So here’s where we start.

Everyone should educate ourselves about which companies are owned by a church or donate money to a church. We may not see a church’s tax exempt status revoked in our lifetime, but we can stop indirectly funding them by spending money with their supporters and subsidiaries.

I am building a list, and I need your help.

Comment below – let me know what companies in your country are owned, or support, a religious organisation. Send me as much information as you can about these companies, and together, we can start to make a dent in the church’s all-too-plush pockets.

You Don’t Need Faith To Be Atheist

By | Atheism | 8 Comments

When you’ve proclaimed yourself an atheist long enough – and by “long enough” I mean, long enough to have had a conversation with a religious person – you eventually come up against this little gem:

“It takes as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a theist.”

I say “theist” but in most cases this argument is used by Christians.

Fundamentalist Christians.

Uneducated Fundamentalist Christians…

This argument shows a complete lack of understanding about what an atheist actually is.

Nowadays, the lazy, the uneducated, or those seeking to deliberately mislead, use the term “atheist” to mean something like “someone who believes there is no such being as God.” Obviously, this is why they think atheism is a belief system, but that definition is incorrect.

A “theist” is one who believes in the existence of a god or gods. The term “atheist” is created by adding the originally Greek prefix “a” to the term “theist” and it’s definition becomes simply “not theist”. Not convinced? The same prefix is used with words such as “amoral” (not moral) “atypical” (not typical) and “asymmetrical” (not symmetrical)…

Atheism is the lack of belief in god, not a belief that there is no god.

This argument is also used by those who think it takes faith to believe in certain scientific theories, which simply shows a lack of understanding in the scientific method.

Every scientific theory, result, or law has mountains of evidence to back it up. In a way, a scientific theory is stronger than a fact, because a “theory” ties in more than one observable fact. So when you hear “it’s only a theory”, what they are saying is “it’s only a hypothesis”. But of course, there’s a big difference between a theory and a hypothesis.

Faith is when you believe in something without having evidence to back it up, and there’s certainly no need for faith to accept a scientific theory.

Nor is faith needed not to believe in god.

The Problem with Christianity, by Emo Philips

By | Christianity | No Comments

“Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

76 Things Banned in Leviticus

By | Bible | 8 Comments

I recently found on Tumblr a more-or-less comprehensive list of things banned in the Leviticus book of the bible, entitled “76 Things Banned in Leviticus”. I’ve seen this sort of list before, as has another Tumblr user, nonplussedbyreligion, who breaks it down like this:

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Why is religion bad?

By | Beliefs | 69 Comments

Today on Twitter, I was asked “Why are you so fixated on religion if you believe it is so untrue?”:

Twitter comment: why is religion bad?

Twitter is an amazing tool for engaging with people in real time, but it’s not brilliant for answering questions like this or really getting your point across, especially when I have a propensity for verbosity. I mean, in less than 140 characters, this guy asked three different questions and made two statements I disagree with absolutely. (And “so untrue”? There are scales of untrue now..?)

So let me attempt to do this query justice and explain in detail why I am so fixated on religion, even though I believe it to be untrue.

Or to put it another way, why is religion bad?

I used to be satisfied just smiling and nodding whenever anyone would begin on the topic of religion. After all, I’m a civilised man – there’s no need to argue with someone over something as frivolous as their supernatural beliefs. I mean, it’s just not polite, is it?

But over time, I started to see what religion is doing to the world in which we live.

I’ll admit, at the grassroots level, it almost seems like a good idea; certainly, harmless enough. Religion provides a good deal of charity to communities, it offers support and guidance to those in need, and it fills advocacy roles which may be missed in government policies.

But at what price?

Before we continue, it’s not my intention to pick on any one religion – most of them have the same attributes: 1) belief in the supernatural, 2) a moral code with supernatural origins, and 3) the need to spread their “truth” to the uninitiated.

The only religion that doesn’t fit the above three characteristics is buddhism. Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is quoted as saying “Don’t become a Buddhist. The world doesn’t need more buddhists. Do practice compassion. The world needs more compassion.” Can you imagine the Pope saying don’t bother becoming a catholic?

(More: Why Buddhism Gets A Free Pass)

But let’s be clear here: christianity is the most pervasive and influential of all the religions, and their fundamentalist members are probably the biggest threat to civilised society. Islam is influential in that civilised society feels the need to tiptoe around their beliefs, and extremist muslims may appear prone to committing acts of violence, but muslims don’t hold the same amount of sway as christians do in the west.

So back on point: why is religion bad?

Well, here’s the thing – it isn’t so much what a person believes, but what follows as their behaviour that is harmful.

Westboro Baptist Church

We’ve all seen the members of Westboro Baptist Church picketing military funerals, their kids in tow, waving their “God Hates Fags” signs. I think it’s safe to say, everyone outside of the WBC congregation find this behaviour appalling. Most of us would categorise these people as extremists, so perhaps they are an extreme example, but do you reckon they think they’re doing the Lord’s work?

So let’s look at some of the moderates: the Catholic church. They are opposed to using contraception because of a belief that dates back to the first centuries of Christianity, that sex must only be for procreation. Therefore, the only form of birth control permitted is abstinence. This hardline stance lead the current Pope Benedict XVI to claim that the use of condoms could make the African AIDS crisis worse. Every single study (not funded by the Catholic church themselves) has concluded that abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behaviour.

In fact, in the United States, where teen pregnancy rates are falling, teen pregnancy is highest in states that only offer abstinence-only education. A lack of sexual education also contributes to the spread of the disease. Abstinence-only is a fundamentalist christian-backed policy, and this abstinence-only education policy is an example of how it hurts society.

Another policy broadly supported by all the Abrahamic religions is the belief that homosexuality is wrong. In this modern age, it is understood that homosexuality occurs naturally, not only in humans, but all the animal species. (Homophobia, however, only occurs in one…) And you know what? There’s nothing that happens between a homosexual couple that doesn’t happen between hetrosexual couples.

But now we are getting closer to what I believe to be the answer to the question: why is religion bad?

As we’ve learned more and more about the world in which we live, the need for a supernatural explanation for questions on where we came from and why we’re here has diminished. It’s known as the “god of the gaps” argument: if science can’t explain how something happened, then god must be the explanation. Two thousand years ago, god was the explanation for a lot of things. These days, god has become an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as´╗┐ time goes on.

And thus, as we learn more and more about the universe, our need for a supernatural explanation should be being diminished. Bertrand Russell said, “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence. It will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.”

It should be fading away, but it’s not.

Religions are fighting back, recruiting the naive and the uneducated, and attempting to discredit the science and have their supernatural explanations taught alongside. For me, this is what makes religion so bad.

Someone didn’t just “make up science” one day. Everything we take for granted today, started out as an observation, which became an hypothesis, which lead to experiments, repeated experiments, the results of which are eventually submitted for peer review. Should the results eventually pass peer review and get published, other scientists (hoping to disprove the results) analyse the data for years, looking for inconsistencies. Should a hypothesis survive this treatment, only then does it become a scientific theory.

So when I hear “Evolution is only a theory” I’m just dumbfounded. That’s exactly right – what’s your point? As Tim Minchin says, “it is only a theory, it’s good that they say that. I think, it gives you hope, doesn’t it? That… that maybe they feel the same way about the theory of gravity, and they might just float the fuck away.”

That’s right, you know? There is just as much evidence for evolution as there is for gravity. Think about that for a minute…

The “creation” theory, on the other hand, does not stand up to peer review, no matter what you’ve learned in church. The bible is not proof of anything, the bible is the claim, or hypothesis. If it were to stand up to scientific scrutiny, I’d be more than happy to look at it, but the simple fact is, it does not.

Penn Jillette says this on the subject of science and religion: “There is no god, and that’s the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly the same way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.”

The Dalai Lama has the right attitude about his religion: “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.” All other religions see science as a threat. But a threat to what?

It’s a threat to their vested interest, their way of life, their income, their livelihood. If people stopped going to church, and stopped tithing, religion would shrivel up and die. These new mega-churches don’t pay for themselves, you know..?

I find it ironic that the guy who asked me the question today – @GospelGuidance on Twitter – is launching a new website in the coming weeks which offers “gospel guidance” on a per minute rate, like a spiritual 1900 number… no, that’s not cynical at all!

Creationism is a last ditch effort for religion to remain relevant in an increasingly educated and secular society. While attempting to discredit the science, creationists only manage to muddy the waters, instilling enough doubt in the uneducated masses that their alternate theory might seem just as convincing.

And therein lies the problem. Why is religion bad? After centuries of scientific advancement, there is a movement afoot to drag us backwards so a supernatural belief system can survive another few years before finally fading into obscurity.

It would be a quaint notion, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s affecting society as a whole: bans on condoms and abortions threaten families; bans on using stem cells holds back medical research; justifying sexism and homophobia create an atmosphere of hate and separation; and forced genital mutilation of children is just about the single most fucked-up, barbaric throw-back to the bronze age I can think of.

Finally, amongst any group, you’re going to have your extremists. Islamic extremists are in the news a lot, but the fact is that it’s right-wing extremists (often fundamental christians) who commit have committed the most acts of terrorism in recent years:

The bottom line is that, as religions attempt to remain relevant, they are – whether inadvertently or deliberately – actually hurting our society.

Richard Dawkins says “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” Well that’s true, but I’m afraid religion is far more insidious than just wanting to stick their collective heads in the sand when it comes to the scientific evidence.

Religion matters to me as an atheist because it imposes it’s capricious morals on me in the form of laws.

Religion matters to me as an atheist because it acts to stifle funding for progression in science and technology. For example, religious institutions are pushing to prohibit stem cell research, which is one of the most promising medical fields known to us today.

Religion matters to me as an atheist because it imposes all sorts of psychological turbulence on it’s members, and cages children’s minds with indoctrination.

Religion matters to me as an atheist because atheists are actively discriminated against in supposedly public institutions. Take for instance, the boy scouts – a tax-payer funded institution – which do not allow atheists to take part in it’s program.

Religion is trying to remain relevant by discrediting scientific fact in order to dupe people into believing their lies. Religions are wrong, they are lying to you, and we can no longer afford to smile and nod politely.

Big Bang

The Big Bang

By | Science | 2 Comments

The Big Bang is a beautiful theory which is an effort to understand where the universe came from. Some of the most fundamental questions concerning our origins, such as that of the elements, can be explained with the Big Bang theory. But just where did everything come from?

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