“What Is Atheism Again?”

15 Nov

As the reporter for the local NBC affiliate prepared for the interview, she tossed me a cockeyed look…. “What is atheism again?”, she asked, as though we’d discussed it before at some long-forgotten frat party.

I thought to myself, this person is responsible for informing the public, how does she not know the definition of the word atheism?  But her ignorance illuminates exactly why we are doing this.  For every person who equates the word atheism with Satanism, there is another person who can’t even define it, when it should in fact be the default position.

     All of us are born atheist, and only come to religion, or even a god concept, through some form of indoctrination.  There is no evidence for a supreme being, and science has explained all the basic questions whose mystery gave rise to the concept, so atheism should by rights be the default position, with no designation whatsoever.  Those fringe thinkers who then choose to assert the existence of the supernatural, devoid of any proof or logical thread of reason would need to be identified accordingly.  Instead, we live in a world so steeped in faith for so many millennia, that the opposite is true.  Those who choose to make decisions based solely on reason and evidence are a minority.  Think about that…In America, a minority of people make decisions based on reason.  Such a hated minority in fact that studies have shown that a short, fat, bald, female, gay, black Muslim serial killer could sooner get elected president in America than a godless heathen atheist.

But why are we so hated?  Couple of reasons, the first of which takes us back to our intrepid reporter’s ignorance.  What is atheism?  Of course the answer is a lack of belief in a god or gods.  But let’s dissect the actual word and see what the Greek roots mean. There are only 2 Greek root words involved here. a, meaning without, and theos, or god.  Without god. That’s it. There is no root word for belief in the equation.  The simple beauty of the word itself reflects the truth that everybody knows.  There are no gods and there is no god.  The absence of god is so obvious I’m surprised it doesn’t get added to the old saying about death and taxes.  And the truth hurts. God is a comfort myth, and not many people want to face the reality of mortality.   At least Muslims, hated as they are, validate the Christians’ worldview, a paradigm they know instinctively to be untenable.  If you’ve ever heard the old Puritan saw, “God helps those who help themselves”, then you’ve heard Christians tacitly admit that they understand that there’s no one out there.  The existence of atheists reminds them of all of that and they hate it.

Secondly, it’s human nature to fear change, fear the unknown, and fear what you don’t understand.  At this point in US history, sadly, atheists represent all three of those things to the red state folk.  It’s heartbreaking to think that it would have been easier to get elected as an atheist in the first half of this country’s history than the second.  But that’s what’s happened here.  The first great secular nation on earth has no secular voice in policy, becoming, in many ways, a de facto theocracy, where it is guaranteed political suicide to come out as an atheist.  The nefarious result of this political shift that buried atheism in America, when it probably should have been the next big thing after Deism, is the vicious cycle of decline in education we are witnessing now in full spiral. We see it both in the policies of right wing imbeciles like Scott Walker and wannabees like Santorum and Huckabee.  And we see it in the product itself….news reporters who don’t know what atheism is.  Critical thinking is a skill we are robbing our children of by continuing to enable those who would present archaic religious dogma as any sort of knowledge whatsoever.  It is not. It’s child abuse.

This is why we do what we do…

     For minds not yet broken, give them the critical thinking skills they will need to compete with graduates from around the world who long ago gave up myth and superstition for reason and knowledge.

     For minds already broken, by estrangement from friends and family for daring to think for themselves, offer them community.  Why did our gay friends succeed?  Because they came out.  Now everybody knows somebody gay, and the fear is gone.

     For minds already made up, we know we aren’t going to change many, and none of us want to.  Keep your religion, just keep it in your church and your home where it belongs.  Keep it out of my schools and my government.  And understand we are part of the pluralism which sustains your sect, and one of the only groups truly interested in protecting that pluralism, and we are not going away.

So what is atheism, my dear, innocent, tv-face reporter girl? It’s the lack of belief in the supernatural yes, but it’s also much more.  It’s a neighbor, a friend, a relative, a demographic and a movement.

And it’s everybody’s birthright.

 

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Synchronicity: Atheist Brings Mythicism To Kenya

4 Nov

In a meeting made of motormouths, our friend David Fitzgerald summed it up succinctly:

“It’s fun to watch the synchronicity beginning…”

Half a world away, a handsome, articulate Harrison Mumia held sway (somewhat) in a hall full of interested spectators…..in Kenya.  That country’s top atheist, Mumia had put together a Google Hangout with today’s leading Jesus Myth Theorists, with the express help of Mythicist Milwaukee, and it’s co-founder Sean Fracek.  Fitzgerald, Drs. Richard Carrier and Robert Price all tuned in from around the US early Saturday morning to discuss, or rather, expose the idea of a mythical Christ. To indoctrinated Christians no less, in Africa, whom had never remotely considered that Jesus Christ might be more myth than messiah.  Harrison himself called the event “historic” in his subsequent post, and it will shock no one to learn that nothing of this nature has ever hatched in Kenya.  Sadly, the event will remain historic, as the planned live YouTube broadcast and recording succumbed to a technical glitch.  Those of us lucky to be listening in however, will never forget. 40 or 50 eager Kenyans, mostly Christians, fighting to get their questions introduced to a panel of theological scholars that would have made any myth geek jealous. All of this orchestrated in a matter of days after a chance encounter between two atheists from opposite ends of the planet.

Synchronicity indeed.

Fitzgerald’s observation had come on one of the extended breaks that marked the hours-long web-conference during which Mumia did his utmost to organize his bustling room full questioners.  These breaks afforded MM team members, mostly there to observe and help moderate if necessary, a rare and welcome chance to cyber-pal around with their heroes. Personally, I was there just hoping to take a few bullets from the duel machine guns of information that Price and Carrier become whenever they speak, or glom a couple of gleaming crystals of condensed, edible knowledge that Fitz unleashes everywhere he goes, like the shiny objects you collect in video games.

But when I sensed a pause I grabbed my chance and queried the council:   Was it just me, or was there really an actual movement afoot?

“Yes,” affirmed David right away, “It’s fun to watch the synchronicity beginning…”

The “Nailed…” author had nailed it on the head.  Synchronicity is what’s been missing.  The components of the movement have always been there.  Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics, Freethinkers and the rest, all have their own angles, but sans a defining dogma to unite behind, any hope of solidarity was slim at best.  But religious violence has granted the effort new vigor, and with the internet’s input of instant information, we might just finally have our tie that binds. The best part is every brand of skeptic in the world can wield the weapon of wisdom at will.  Here was an Atheist in Kenya unveiling Mythicism on a group of Christians, not as a cudgel but a tool, imparting the skill of critical thinking on a nation long numbed by machine-like indoctrination processes.

This is the synchronicity behind the growth and expansion that marks the secular movement of today.  A Mythicist likely cares little if you believe in god, as an Atheist finds Jesus’ historicity entirely moot. Freethinkers may not agree on much, but we all can get behind a world where decisions that affect society are based on fact and evidence, and knowledge and logic and truth.

The infamous herd of cats has found its common ground: The green and fertile pastures of Reason.

Hear more about Harrison Mumia and Atheists of Kenya Sunday on the podcast.

Priest Presides Over Blood Moon Ceremony – MythCon2 Wraps in Style

4 Oct

2015-09-27 21.08.24

A secular ceremony, of sorts.  Even atheists have their rituals, and celebrations are certainly among those.  As I leaped on a chair to take this pic, invisible to a crowd enraptured with the splendor above, I smiled to myself broadly at the cosmic coincidence. MythCon2, primarily the product of a love of Mythology, took a bow beneath a blood-red moon.  The once-in-a-lifetime lunar eclipse, total and titian, tantalizing and terrifying, would have been of enormous astrological significance to the ancients.   The very stuff of myth and superstition.

The globe beguiled with a ghostly glow while the gathering gawked…..goddam, but it was red!  Red in a pining, provocative, other-worldly way.  Red in a way that can’t really be described, the effect through telescope or binoculars was even more enchanting.  In a room full of skeptics and science geeks, thinkers and poets and dreamers and doctors, the conversation centered squarely on the sanguine satellite.  In the rush to prepare for the weekend, I’m not sure anyone had foreseen it, but certainly no one in attendance will ever forget the galactic symmetry.  A gang of secularists and mythicists, humanists and atheists, freethinkers of every persuasion cavorted like a coven in a modern day Blood-Moon Ceremony.  There was even a priest in attendance! Killah Priest himself, a master of words and gnostic imagery, stared in wonder astride his disciples.

The ritual was not one of worship, but not without wonder.  Which of us could not be stunned speechless for a moment at the sheer beauty, the infinitesimal odds and the comfort of the science that lets us begin to get our heads around the scope of celestial grandeur.  Save the sense of wonder, but skip the supernatural; this congregation’s ritual was one of celebration.  A celebration both of astronomy and a job well done, but also acknowledgement of facts undiscovered and goals yet to achieve.  Mythicist Milwaukee’s Mythinformation Conference 2 was as rare and exciting an event as the scarlet beach-ball above. KP, Mandisa Thomas, Arthur George and David Fitzgerald educated an enthusiastic crowd, each with their own unique perspective on the secular movement.

In the Book of Joel, lunar eclipses are described as portents of destruction.  Today, we understand with certainty the cause behind the mysterious beauty, but those remain who would use this natural event to scare, control and bilk the innocent.  Perhaps in the future, thanks to the tireless work of diverse, dedicated teams like this, everyone will be able to separate Myth from Truth.  And celebrate both with equal fervor.

A “W” rose in the deepening dark as the goddess slowly donned her crimson cloak, and Cassiopeia cast an approving glance at the revelers far below her, and smiled once more at the irony.

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The Worship Of The Rose

29 Jun

Stop and smell the roses, so they say, and right they are.
Myself had sampled several ere I traveled very far.
The road is long and dusty but the Rose is soft and sweet,
I find the effort futile, fail to focus on my feet.

I’d rather smell the roses than abide the avenue;
The dirty road’s for everyone, the Rose, she blooms for you.
Enjoy the random rose that grows along the narrow track,
You’ll find the finest roses are the ones who smell you back.

Everybody knows The Rose is born of beauty rare;
Aroma permeates, intoxicates, but can’t compare
To peeling back the petals and the secrets they expose,
For loving all the layers is the worship of the Rose.

Hick Sacrifices Achievement For Superstition

15 Mar

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/kentucky-cross-country-runner-pulls-regional-championships-rather-111318529.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory

So flabbergasted was I by this story that it’s taken me like half a year to wrap my brain around it…

kentucky

This is the quality of mind that Kentucky is producing for the nation and the world.  I guess shouldn’t be surprised that the home to the Creation Museum should be responsible for such grievous mis-education of a young person, but unfortunately many other knuckle-dragging regions are allowing the backwards telescope of religion to influence the curriculum of children in the public school setting.  You know who you are, Bobby Jindal…

My initial, knee-jerk reaction was to ridicule this poor girl, young woman really, for an imbecile.

But then I softened and realized that it’s not her fault, but that of those close to her who are charged with her well being as a minor…

Parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit of course, but that does not extend to neglect or abuse.  The school and the state step in where their is a perceived need.  Both my parents were public school teachers, so I am well aware of the horror stories. Children under-clothed and underfed, emotionally and physically abused.  The state does not stand for this sort of abuse, so where are they when it comes to safeguarding a young person’s intellect?  The school should ensure the student receives the best possible education based on the most current available knowledge, both for the good of the child and for the betterment of society at large.  If the child and her family insist on her education being guided by archaic and untenable mythologies, then they should send her to one of the many “religious schools” (oxymoron) available to help fools like them lie to their children.  The public school has no business tolerating such notorious idiocy and should openly teach students to question it. To not do so is to risk falling even further behind the rest of the developed, and even developing, world in terms of education, science and technological advancement.

Recently whilst patrolling the halls of a very average local small city high school, I glanced at the photographs of the valedictorians down through the years which hung there.  The last 26 in a row, dating back to the late 80’s, were Asian. Thai, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Japanese, Vietnamese and so on.  None of these kids would have refused to answer a question on her ACT because the number corresponded to an ancient taboo of her ancestors’ outdated belief systems.  Education, achievement, and advancement come first in their worlds.

The sad part is, this poor, misguided hillbilly will likely be lauded for standing up for fer her beliefs . This was a typical comment:

-Mary Ann

               “It really doesn’t matter what the rest of us believe, she believes and she stood up for what she believed. That is what                               counts.” (31 -2 likes over dislikes)
Sorry Mary Ann, what counts here is that her friends, teachers, coaches and school all failed to talk some sense into this poor kid.  The fact is that society does not fully trust what children believe.  That is why they are not allowed to vote.  Some of what they may believe may be deemed dangerous by society and therefore prohibited in the public school forum.  Rastafarians are not allowed to bring weed to school, the snake-handler cult people would not be allowed to bring a rattler to class, etc.  Most of what they may believe is simply stupid, and not to be tolerated by the public school, let alone advanced as some would have it.  Never mind the fairly obvious travesty of any belief at all in an invisible overlord.  The idea that this omnipotent being, who could create all we see in a week, might be offended by the draw of a random unit in an arbitrary numbering system, is so incredibly ridiculous that I am ashamed to share DNA with these people.  Besides, could no one have thought to simply pull out a Sharpie and scribble a nice ‘.1’ after the 666? Surely that would have confounded God and the Devil both!  Her friends would have made fun of the kid who was scared to wear the number 13, but somehow this bullshit gets a pass because it’s the prevailing national voodoo?  Every one involved here should have counseled her against sacrificing the possibility of real achievement for such half-witted reason. What does this kid do in math class?  Pretend one number doesn’t exist? 
                                  666
Clearly the only party involved in this idiocy who should be lauded is the committee who refused to change her number for such a complete non-reason.  To do so would have been a violation of the Establishment clause.  Freedom of Religion will always be a guaranteed right here, for adults, like other rights, such as voting and smoking tobacco.  The time has come for us to protect the minds of children, as well as their bodies.  Indoctrination to religion at home should be questioned and challenged at every level in the public sector.  After all, we don’t allow parents to keep kids out of school and teach them at home according to whatever standard they may like, unknown languages, unworkable math, etc…why should we allow them to twist their minds with unprovable myths?   We, as a society, owe it to our children and ourselves to provide them with the best of modern knowledge or we will flounder and fall even further behind the modern world.  When they turn 21, let ’em choose any myth they want, based on what they have learned, or none at all.  
Just like with alcohol, tobacco and drugs…
**In mentioning this story to someone, I heard that perhaps another runner had ended up switching numbers with her, which would have been a nice gesture I guess.  Then I thought, if the girl truly believes the number is evil, then it’s not very Christian of her to let her friend burn in hell for wearing it!  Then again, deep thought is not what I expect from Kentucky…    rm 
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Six Trips

12 Mar

Six Trips

Six trips around the yellow sun, six trips has made my son,
Each one a revolution born of notions new and fun.
Each evolution etched upon a happy child’s face,
Six trips, the same ellipse, a solar circuit set in place.
Six trips exactly similar in terms of time and space,
Yet each affects uniquely every runner in the race.
Six trips has made my son around the sun, my only one.
And those six trips around the sun in turn have made my son.

Atheist Mourns Congregational Church

10 Nov

The First Congregational Church Of Kenosha closed shop a few weeks back, and my atheist heart surprised me with twinges of remorse or regret, melancholy or mere pensiveness…..not quite sure which, or more pertinently, why???

IMG_2536 Of course, the obvious answer is that since I was raised a Congregationalist, the closing of any outpost of my former faith might quite naturally affect me, despite the sworn godlessness of my present existence.  Such gut feelings are easily overcome for a rationalist, just like the urges to call out to “god” in moments of desperation….lingering ghosts of childhood programming.   But as a confirmed and deliberate atheist, why do I seem to actually care?

IMG_2537  The gorgeous, historic church building itself, nearly 140 years old, is not lost…it shall retain its sentinel’s position above library square with its fine, impressive spire and original (I’m guessing) rose window.  Any half -wit can appreciate the value of that. But the loss of the congregation itself should be cause for rejoicing, a positive sign of the slow, inevitable death of religion.  Not so, I fear.

I’ve always thought that important or  interesting church buildings should be immediately re-purposed as museums, historical societies or institutes of anthropological research.  Newer buildings could be used as homeless shelters, public auditoriums or schools of actual learning, as opposed to the promotion of untenable myth as infallible truth for which they are currently appropriated.  Instead, this historic building is simply being occupied by another church.  And not a Methodist, Baptist or Presbyterian church either. No Wesleyan, Episcopalian, or Lutheran of any sort or synod.  Not even established fringe-dwellers like Seventh Day Adventists or Christian Scientists could fill the void here…nor any other traditional Protestant sect I could think of. Instead the non-denominational, evangelical mega-church “Crossway”, which occupies several acres of formerly productive farmland on route 50 west of I-94, apparently has birthed an offspring labeled “Christ The King”, which will occupy the noble monument.

The matron is one of those bloated bastions of born-again bullshit which have sprouted up like loosestrife across the prairie with increasing regularity over the past few decades.  New-Age and slickly marketed, these behemoths have great appeal to the under-educated believers of today, who crave their religion like everything else: in short, flashy, easily digested bytes of rock and roll. Bereft of sectarian snobbery, these church/businesses reduce traditional Christian philosophy into handy repeatable cliches, perfect for an audience unequipped to question the nature of the faith.  The baby is presumably an urban version of the same, minus the fancy new facility and the long commute.  Deluded downtown dwellers will no longer have to waste gas on their way to wasting their time and intellect.

Of course, I have no problem with the existence of this new brand of born-again church per se.  The grand tradition of Protestantism after all is the ability of each congregation to interpret the Bible in any way it sees fit, and that of America to worship as we please, or not at all.   The problem is the lack of critical thinking that leads people to these sorts of churches, and the endless cycle of new uneducated believers they naturally breed.  The Protestant churches of my youth in 1970’s New England were pillars of progressiveness and liberal thinking about the nature of faith and God herself.  No one ever, ever, posited Genesis as fact and I can honestly say I never even met a Young-Earth Creationist until the 90’s.  I value my Congregationalist upbringing for it introduced me to the kind of healthy debate over the Bible and the Christian faith that led me, in stages, to atheism itself.  At the same time, I know the Bible and understand the myriad pop touchstones it contains as the purported root metaphor of our culture (which I don’t believe it is so much as the people want it to be, but that is a subject for a different blog), something my elder daughter, raised an atheist, has missed out on….

Ironically, the tradition of liberal debate contributes to the decline of traditional denominations.  In the end, only 12 members attended the final service of the First Congregational Church of Kenosha.  As reported in the link above, members whose ideas are voted down are likely to jump ship.  Folks looking for the certainty of a simple message and an easy liturgy to follow are naturally attracted to increasingly fundamental congregations, where discussion is superfluous and dissent unknown.  Lip-service love of Jesus continues to have mad street-cred among those who come to religion on their own as a way out, and Biblical literalism is, as always, a ready salve for the weak of mind.  “Christ The King” will  begin its reign with 140 members, according to the article.

Happily, Atheism is on the slow rise in America, as every statistic shows.  Fundamentalism is one of religion’s death throes. with hardcore believers rallying together as churches slowly die away.  Sadly, as it turns out, liberal, progressive churches, a valued ally in the Atheist movement, will be among the very first to disappear…