Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Evangelical Protestant Christian:  But what if you’re wrong?  
My Atheist Answer : 
If I am wrong and Osama Bin Laden was right, then most of the world, including you, me, the pope, Gandhi, the sweet Christian lady down the street and your pastor will be in hell together.

If I am wrong and the Catholics are right, most of the world, including you, me, Osama, Gandhi and all the Protestants and their pastors will be in hell together.
If I am wrong and the Church of Christ is right, then most of the world, including you, me, the pope, Gandhi and most Protestants will be in hell together.
If I am wrong and the Buddhist or Hindus are right, all of us will get a chance to try again.
If I am wrong and the Universalists are right, all of us, including, you, me, the pope, Osama, Stalin, the nice Christian lady down the street, will all be in heaven together. 
If I am wrong and non of the existing religions got it right, all of us will be at the mercy of whatever god exists out there that none of us ever found.
Under most scenarios, you suffer the same fate as do I and most of the world. Out of the hundreds of possibilities, the only way you don't end up with most of the world and me is if you are right.
I don't think the question you really wanted to ask was: "What if you're wrong?" What you meant to ask was: "What if I'm right?" In that case, as in most other scenarios, most of the world, including some really great, nice and wonderful people, will be in hell while you and some really nasty evil people who "repented" at the last moment, will be in heaven together. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The World Trade Center Cross Dispaly

I am a card carrying, dues paying, additional contribution giving, regular convention attending member of the American Atheists.  As you may know, that organization filed a lawsuit concerning the inclusion of the fabled "ground zero cross" as a display in the 9-11 memorial museum.  The judge issued a ruling dismissing the lawsuit on (appropriately) "Good Friday."

I am also a lawyer and have read the decision.  Having done so, I have to say that I agree with the judge, despite my membership in American Atheists and my general sympathy for its position.

As usual, the media did not get and report the key legal issues or the legally important facts. So I thought I would comment on the decision here from a legal perspective.  First, the first footnote in the opinion reveals that the attorneys for AA did not contest the factual statements of the other side.  That is the same as admitting them to be true.  Among those facts were:

The cross had been erected during the rescue efforts and was a place that rescuers    congregated during the stressful days of the rescue efforts for solace (the judge wrote “solstice”) and religious services were held there during those dark days.

The display also includes other items made out of pieces of the towers showing the

skyline of New York, the towers, a star of David, other things, and the “last beam” removed from the area, which stands far taller than the subject cross.

The First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a religion.  But one of the specific factors that has been decided over the years of sorting out what does or does not “establish” religion pertains to museums.   If the government wants to erect a replica of a particular town as it stood in 1830, the inclusion of church is not an “establishment” of religion because it is accurately telling the story of the town at that time.  Churches were often located in, and even the cultural center of,  small towns on the “frontier.”   Recognizing that historical fact and displaying artifacts that were important to the people of that time and place is not “establishing” religion.  Nor is the building of a replica of an ancient Greek temple including the statue of the god or goddess an establishment of religion.

Whether we agree or like the fact, it is simply a fact that, during the dark days following the attacks, some of our friends and neighbors and fellow countrymen, did gather in the shadow of that crossbeam turned cross for solace.  Its inclusion in a museum telling the story of those days is not a violation of the prohibition on “establishing” religion.

Our libertarian friends will point out that this whole discussion could be avoided if the government stayed out of the business of building museums and allowed private entities to build them.  And they are right.  But if the government is going to spend taxpayer dollars on such projects, it is not a violation of anyone’s constitutional rights to tell the story as it happened, even if some of us wish certain parts of it had not happened.

And, of course, you can point to the people who do  want the cross display included as a testament to their religion.  They will likely gather (if they haven’t already) to have prayer or religious services at that display.  But humanists can also gather there to publicly remember and remind others that religion is what gave us this tragedy and that, rather than turn to another religion; we should seek to free ourselves of religion and learn to look to each other for solace and support in times of crises or to prevent the crises in the first place. That cross is an important part of the story of those days.  Not only because it was of religious and emotional importance to people engaged in those efforts, but it also shows the horrible hold that religion has on the human species by showing how humans react to a horror brought about by religion, by turning to religion.  It gives us the opportunity to point this out.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Privielged Status Alive and Well Despite Whining

I listen to AFR from time to time and one of their talk shows today was all outraged and incensed about a recent ruling out of New Jersey where, as they report it, a judge has ruled that a camp meeting association affiliated with the United Methodist church CANNOT (note the present tense) decline to allow same sex civil union ceremonies (note the plural)  on their own property because to do so violates New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.   Of course that raises the immediate picture of a church being forced to allow same sex marriages in their sanctuaries without regard to their religious beliefs and plays right into their persecution complex.    I went and found the actual decision and, as expected, they don’t understand (and probably did not even bother to read) it.
Key points of the decision:
1.       The property in question is not a church or sanctuary.  It is an outdoor pavilion along the boardwalk.
2.       There was no allegation that the organization was being required to bless or participate in the  ceremony.  It simply rented the facility to third parties of all kinds. 
3.       The decision rested entirely on the fact that, in order to obtain special tax treatment , the association had repeatedly promised that this particular location (as opposed to its sanctuary) would be made available to the public without discrimination that would violate the LAD. Even when it was challenged by a municipality who was skeptical that the association would in fact do so, it insisted that it would and, therefore, received the special tax treatment afforded to people who make and keep such a promise.  Had it not insisted on promising to abide by the LAD with regard to access to that pavilion, the case would likely have come out in its favor. 
4.       This is reinforced by the acknowledgment in the decision that the situation that created the violation – the promise – has been cured by the organization removing the property from that particular special tax treatment and registering  it for tax purposes as a religious organization.  (p. 4, last paragraph.)  Thus, the use of the present tense and plural  in the news stories that the organization CANNOT decline to allow a same sex unions on its property is misleading.  They can.  And they are now.  The only thing they cannot do is lie or break promises by making public promises that they will follow the LAD and not discriminate and then do so despite that promise.  If they register as a religious organization, the LAD contains an exemption for them that allows them to discriminate at will.  And that is exactly what they have now done and will be doing in the future. 
5.       The judge obviously realized that the organization  did not fully realize what it was  promising since the legality of same sex unions was not in existence when it started making the promise.  The judge expressly found that it did not act with ill motive but merely found itself on the wrong side of recent changes in the law – a situation it has  remedied – and, therefore, he did not award even nominal sanctions against it.  
Bottom line: The organization made a promise, breached the promise and was called on it.  But it has now withdrawn the promise and remains free to deny same sex couples the use of the pavilion in the future  under the legal protection they enjoy as a religious organization.  Nothing has been forced upon it, it has just been cautioned not to pretend it is not a religious organization and make promises it can’t keep.  Be upfront about being a religious organization and your intent to discriminate on that basis and you are free to do so with the express protection of the law.  
This also comports with the Supreme Court’s recent decision  that a religious affiliated school that calls its teachers “ministers” is free to violate the ADA and discharge an employee for having narcolepsy – an act that would be illegal for any non-religious employer. 
If the New Jersey case is raised to you as an example of the militant homosexual agenda invading the churches and trying to force you to hold same sex weddings in your sanctuaries, you will be prepared to understand that it really isn’t that at all.  And you can also mention that the US Supreme Court has recently affirmed even a school that is affiliated with a religious organization is not required to follow the employment laws that everyone else is.  The privileged status of religious organizations in this country is alive and well!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Taxes and Irony

I sometimes listen to the podcast sermons of a certain preacher.

He reached a new high in irony on pulpit Sunday.  As you probably know, that is the Sunday the fundies designated as a Sunday when all the preachers were supposed to announce that they would be deliberately and flagrantly violating the IRS code section that prohibits political activities by non-profit organizations by endorsing specific candidates from the pulpit.  

This preacher did not go that far.  But he did take the opportunity to begin by complaining about how the IRS is trying to “muzzle” the church by making them live in fear of losing their tax exempt status.  Completely ignoring that the law is a very simple and fair bargain.  If an ORGANIZATION (not just churches but any non-profit organizations including atheist groups) wants to refuse to contribute to the tax supported system, then the ORGANIZATION does not  get to use its tax exempt status and resources to  directly and expressly influence the very system it insists on not supporting.  If the ORGANIZATION wants to participate in the system as an organization, it is  welcome. It just pays  taxes like everyone else and it can say anything it likes.  No “muzzling.” Just a deal it accepts when it wants to avoid taxes.  

Within  sentences of having whined about being muzzled by the IRS for participating in the system without paying into it, he moved on to rebut the argument that Jesus set an example of not being involved in politics.  And the story he illustrated it with was the one where Jesus was criticized for not paying taxes.  And what did Jesus do in response to the criticism?  HE PAID HIS TAXES!!  This was offered as proof that Jesus was OK with participating in the political system. By paying taxes!  The very thing this preacher refuses to do. 

What fucking precious irony!   

And then it got better.  He then went on to preach that it was the church’s job to take care of orphans and widows etc.  He said we could think about paying “extra” taxes for such things.  Then  He claimed he talked to a “Senator”  and told him that they needed to let the church administer the welfare system because the churches know what people did last Tuesday with the money and can hold them accountable. In other words: “we the church refuse to follow Jesus’ lead and pay taxes,  but we claim the right to administer a system funded by someone else’s money so we can fulfill our obligation to feed the poor…. with funds to which we refuse to contribute and whine about being muzzled if asked to contribute! 

What double fucking precious irony!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Inspired by some speakers at the AA convention in Des Moines easter week-end, I finally decided to tell my family I no longer share their religious beliefs.  Below is the letter I sent them.  So far the response has been largely good.

Dear Family,

I know that this letter will not be easy for some of you to read and receive. I love each of you and wish to remain a part of the family. It is not my intent to hurt any of you. I know that some of you know what I am going to say in this letter. Maybe you all know. I am certain that, if any of you don’t actually know, you have suspected and this letter will be a confirmation rather than news. We have been dancing around this issue for some time and it is time to face it directly. It is time for me to honestly and candidly state my position to try to clear up any uncertainty and erroneous speculation.

I no longer hold a belief in the existence of any supernatural deity. After years of study and thought and even prayer initially, it became clear to me that, if I wanted to be honest with myself and others, I had to admit that I cannot see sufficient evidence to accept the claims of any religion. For the most part you agree with me. You agree that the evidence does not support the claims of Islam, Wiccan, Joseph Smith, Hinduism, Buddhism or any of the many other religions on offer. The sole point on which we differ is that I see no better reason to accept the claims of Christianity than you do to accept the similar claims of other religions.

Over the years I have talked to many people who have written a letter similar to this and I have read the stories of many more. An all but universal thread through these stories is that deeply devout believers have a great deal of difficulty accurately comprehending how and why people like me come to this position. There is a strong tendency to grab for explanations that are false and even insulting. I, therefore, thought it would be good to address up front and in writing six of the most common misconceptions.

First, I did not come to this position brashly or suddenly. It was the result of a lot of thinking, researching, soul searching, and even prayer occurring over a period of years. I have always been a seeker of truth. It matters to me whether what I believe is true or false. I want to believe as many things that are true as I can and I want to believe as few false things as I can.

I was raised to believe that a particular brand of Christianity was true. I spent decades studying that religion and its apologetics and trying mightily to defend and espouse that position. But the more I learned, the harder it became to defend. I tried to see the emperor’s new clothes. I listened to what others said about the color and texture of the fabric and tried with all my might to make my eyes see it. But the day came five years ago when I finally had no honest choice open to me but to admit I could not believe. The evidence simply does not support the belief.

Second, I cannot simply choose to believe. For a seeker of truth, honest belief is not a matter of personal choice. I cannot look at my bank statement and yet choose to believe I am a millionaire. The evidence indicates otherwise. I cannot look in the mirror and choose to believe that I can eat as much as I want of anything I like and not gain weight. The evidence indicates otherwise. Likewise, I cannot simply choose to believe the claims of Christianity in the face of the evidence available to me, or lack thereof. All I can do, if I want to be honest, is examine the evidence available to me and admit it when it is not sufficient to convince me. I would love to believe that an eternal life of bliss awaits everyone at the end of this life. But there simply is no good evidence to support that conclusion. An honest man cannot base his beliefs on wishful thinking or simply choose what he will believe.

Third, I did not come to this position out of anger, or being hurt or wounded or any other emotion. I have been surprised at the number of my friends who, upon hearing of my lack of belief immediately asked what bad thing must have happened to me – did one of kids die? Did I lose my career? Was my wife leaving me? Did someone in the church offend or hurt me? No, no, no and no. My life has been a good one. I have a successful career, very good friends, an amazing wife and two of the best sons a man could ask for. Economically, I am better off than 90% of all of the billions of humans who have ever lived. I came to my lack of belief by way of an honest, careful and reasoned examination of the available evidence. Any pain associated with coming to this position was a result of it, not a cause. Most of my friends and social support structures were related to the church and had to be almost entirely replaced. This letter is not easy to write and will cause awkwardness and pain. I have seen vile hatred spewed at people simply for saying they do not believe. And I have to face the fact that I may yet experience that first hand. If my position were to be dictated by reaction to pain or emotion, I would have continued to believe. That is the path of least resistance. But if I want to be honest, the only path open to me is to admit what I can and cannot believe. The path of honesty is too often not the easiest or most comfortable path.

Fourth, I am not rebelling against authority. I submit to authority daily and am happy to do so. When I stand before the court, I submit to the judge’s authority. I seek to obey the laws of my land and other lands through which I travel. I willingly submit to the regulatory authorities of my profession. Even in social situations, I submit to the “authority” of my peers as to what is or is not acceptable conduct. I have no problem with authority. If I had a problem with authority and could simply choose to believe, I would choose to believe that I am the anointed prophet and, therefore, the authority to which all other authorities must submit. Other men have made a good living and built massive empires that even continued on past their deaths by doing exactly that. But I am seeking truth and striving to be honest. Not submitting to a non-existent authority is not the same as rebelling against authority.

Fifth, my lack of belief in your religion, does not leave me without a moral foundation. I am a secular humanist. I spent last weekend with almost a thousand humanists and freethinkers at the American Atheists’ annual convention. I would put them up against any similar number of Christians in terms of their honesty and concern for those around them. I know many others who do not believe in your religion or any religion but are some of the most trustworthy, honest and moral people. They create and support charitable endeavors that provide, food, shelter and medical care to those unable to provide those things for themselves. They have been involved in relief efforts in New Orleans, Haiti, areas affected by the Christmas Tsunami and, now, Japan. And contrary to an oft stated canard, there are many atheists in foxholes willingly risking their lives for others. I took a picture of a significant number of such foxhole atheists at the convention last week end. I am the same person, with at least the same moral fiber and character as I have always had. In some ways I am more moral than I was as a Christian. I have found humanist based morality to be superior to religion based morality. Assuming that my loss of belief is caused or even accompanied by loss of morality would be 180 degrees wrong. It is honesty and integrity that led me to this position and caused me to send this letter.

Sixth, this is not a phase. I came to this position over a period of years and I have now been here for five years. I continue to seek truth. I read and listen to the best apologists, writers, debaters and preachers of all sides of the issue. I read the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon and other holy books. I often listen to American Family Radio and similar networks while driving. And with each passing year, it only becomes clearer to me that all religions are right about one thing – the claims of all other religions are not supported by sufficient evidence to warrant accepting them.

There are many other misconceptions out there but I will not lengthen this letter by attempting to address them all. If you want to discuss them, my position, the reasons for it or any other topic, I am happy to do so. And I will do so in person, by telephone, skype or by correspondence. If you would rather not talk about it, that is fine as well. However, what I do not want is to become the target of indirect or passive-aggressive conduct and attempts at manipulation. I have been up front and direct with you. Please grant me the same courtesy. If you wish to address this issue with me, please do so directly.

To sum up, I love you. I do not want to hurt you. But I cannot accept the claims of any religion. If you want to discuss this issue further, I am open to doing so at your pleasure.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Do Christians Ever Listen to Themselves?

We now have this helpful guide telling us step by step how to pray and exactly what to pray in the face of natural disasters:

But note the admissions against interest:

1. Pray for God himself to rescue those in need of rescue? No. Pray that the human rescue teams arrive sooner to provide rescue. Note that it is the humans are expected to get the job done. God is relegated to a minor supporting role. This hour earlier arrival is the "miracle" that will be credited to God.

2. (My personal favorite). Pray for the encouragement of the rescuers. Why? Becasue we all know that even with all of our praying "they will fail many more times than they will succeed"! Wait. How can that be? in number one we were praying that God would help them do their job better. Is this an admission that, even with God's help, we expect failure many times more than success?

3-4. And that sets the tone for items 3and 4. The phrasing does not even suggest that the prayer will actually help anyone. They will suffer but pray for them.

5-7. And here we are back to praying that the humans do better in thier efforts.

8. Pray that you will do more. What? I have to pray to god to make me do more?

This whole excercise seems to be an admission that God really does nothing. All of the prayers are really directed at ourselves and our fellow human beings to do better. That I can support. But why pretend any god is involved?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Divine Communication

I lost a friend today. This pattern has repeated itself many, many times.

He was a good friend. He was always there when I needed him. Never did anything to displease me. Always doing exactly what I expected of him. But then, for a time, we didn’t communicate much. He wrote me e-mails and left messages on my phone but I just didn’t get around to responding for awhile.

Then I heard that he was doing some things that displeased me. So I sent a preacher friend of mine to tell him I was displeased with what he was doing. The preacher reported back that my friend had seemed surprised and little irritated at the message. He told the preacher: “He hasn’t said anything to me about it. I don’t think your message was from Him at all. I’ll change what I am doing when He tells me.”

That response displeased me. He was rejecting my messenger! My cell phone rang. It was my friend. I didn’t answer it. He left a message telling me that what my preacher friend had told him. He said he had just called to ask me if that message really was from me. He’d be happy to change his ways if I just let him know. That displeased me. I had already sent my messenger and he was refusing to listen unless I danced to his tune and communicated with him on his terms!

Clearly I would need to take some greater steps to get his attention. So that night I went over to his house and threw some poisoned meat over his fence into his yard. His dog ate it and died. But he did not get the message. He did not understand that I killed his dog to send him a message to change his ways. He insisted on thinking that his dog died simply because some criminal poisoned it! He did call again and left another message asking where I was and if I cared about him anymore. I didn’t call him back.

I clearly had to step up the communication level to get his attention and get him to stop doing the things that displeased me. So I distracted the driver of a semi just as it arrived at the same intersection as his wife. The resulting crash left her seriously injured. But still my friend would not accept the message. He refused to see that this was a warning to him to change his ways. He insisted on believing that the accident happened because some semi driver was not paying attention and ran a red light! He did call again though. Said he was beginning to wonder if I existed or if I wanted to be his friend anymore. He hadn’t heard from me in awhile. Hadn’t heard from me? This was the third message of increasing intensity I had sent him and he would not accept that it was his own misbehavior that was causing these problems; he was questioning me. Me!

I tried one more time. I saw to it that his son was exposed to and contracted polio. Left him crippled. My friend called again and said he really wanted to talk to me. He hadn’t heard from me in awhile and he really needed to talk because of all the bad stuff going on in his life. He asked me to come over and see if there was anything I could do to help his son recover. But he still refused to heed the message I had sent him four times and change his ways. So I didn’t return the call. If he ever does decide to quit displeasing me, then I will probably give him a call. But until he does I guess he is not my friend anymore. That saddens me, but there is nothing I can do.

Why didn’t I just return his calls and talk to him about the things that displeased me instead of wrecking his life? Why, because I choose to work in mysterious ways, of course. And besides, who are you to question my method of communication with my friends? Oh, and I am apparently quit passive aggressive by nature.

(Inspired by an exchange I witnessed between a minister and a parishioner who was going through hard times in which the minister advised the parishioner that his perception of silence from God and some bad things happening to him were his own fault for not paying his tithe faithfully, failing to go to church every Sunday and failing to avoid some minor sins.)