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Don’t Believe Everything You Read September 22, 2008

Posted by sociallyacceptableinsanity in American society, Atheism, politics, religion.
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Say I came up to you and wanted to tell you all about the Potato God (The Great Tuber, we shall call him).  Say I could tell you all kinds of wonderful, awe-inspiring things that The Great Tuber has done, the miracles worked by him, his disciples and his prophets.  Say I had a lengthy, lyrically-written book that I assured you would reveal all about The Great Tuber, and that by reading this book and believing in The Great Tuber, then you would have an afterlife of pure joy, for eternity.

Would you believe me?

“Give me a break!”, you say.  “Of course I wouldn’t believe you!  Why, that’s just ridiculous.  Everyone knows that there is no such thing as The Great Tuber.”

Now, suppose I came up to you and offered you a book that was filled with murder, incest, envy, greed, lust, infanticide, fratricide, patricide, rape, etc.  Would you read it?

“Of course I wouldn’t read it!”, you say.  “I’m a good, kind, decent person.  I don’t read that kind of filth!  Why that’s just sick!”

Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?  But every day people all over the world (roughly 2.1 billion) worship a god just as fanciful, just as ridiculous in concept as The Great Tuber, and they read about him in a book filled with the atrocities listed above.  That book is called The Bible.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?  It blows my mind that otherwise rational people would wholeheartedly believe in a being just because a book (written by men) tells them that this being is real, and that they are willing to do all manner of uncivilized things and use this book as justification for their actions.  It blows my mind that these same supposedly rational people can read all about this god’s crimes and adventures and not be bothered by the capricious violence attributed to this creature.  A kind and loving god, but a vengeful and wrathful god, indeed.  A god that allows Charles Manson to live, but will also allow a three year-old child to die a slow painful death by cancer.  What a guy.

To borrow a phrase from our esteemed Governor Palin, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Lest you think that I’m picking on Christians and Christians only, rest assured, I think the other major and minor religions of the world are just as deluded.   Check in later this week for my thoughts on the many other forms of socially acceptable insanity.

Religion and Politics: Why Sarah Palin Scares the Crap Out of Me September 21, 2008

Posted by sociallyacceptableinsanity in American society, Atheism, politics, religion, Sarah Palin.
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As an atheist, there is much to frustrate me about living in America, but nothing frustrates me more than the invidious stranglehold that religion has on politics in this country.

I’ve always thought it ridiculous that in a nation founded in part on religious freedom, no person running for higher office can possibly have a hope of winning unless they proudly proclaim their faith in god.  Our candidates dutifully join the flock while accompanied by a flock of their own, a flock armed with cameras and microphones.   Candidates such as Barack Obama, who has a “Muslim” name and refuses to wear an American flag lapel pin, draw virulent criticism and become the subjects of intense scrutiny.  “Is he a Christian?”, the good, right-wing people of America ask themselves in consternation.  “Is he the Anti-Christ?”, they fret.

Which brings me now to Sarah Palin, the governor of my fair state and the newly annointed darling/pin-up girl of the right-wing.  This woman is frightening!  As the weeks since her joining the Republican ticket have gone by, more and more details of her religious life and beliefs are coming to light, and it isn’t pretty.  To name a few: 

  • She attended a Pentacostal church (they of the speaking in tongues) for 25 years, only switching to a so-called “non-denominational” evangelical church six years ago. 
  • She has referred to the war in Iraq as a “task from god” and has exhorted the people of Alaska to pray for the natural gas line to be built.  
  • Her current church holds conferences on how to “pray the gay away” and promises to help homosexual men and women stop being attracted to members of their own sex. 
  • She promotes “abstinence only” sex education, which is amusing considering that her own daughter didn’t seem to absorb that message very well, and apparently neither did Sarah herself, since a study of the dates of her “elopement” with Todd and the birth of their oldest child would seem to indicate that that child was born a mere eight months after the wedding. 
  • Palin has also stated that she does not believe in women having the right to an abortion, even in the case of incest or rape.
Pastor Ed Kalnins blesses Sen. Murkowski, Lt. Gov. Parnell and Gov. Palin at One Lord Sunday

Pastor Ed Kalnins blesses Lt. Gov. Parnell, Gov. Palin and Sen. Murkowski at One Lord Sunday

Though Sarah protests that her private views on religion will not spill over in to her political life, I think it is obvious that it will.  I see the light of the zealot in her eyes, the utter conviction that her way is the right way, her god the only god.  If the McCain-Palin ticket succeeds in winning the presidential election, placing her in the position of being “one heartbeat away from the presidency,” do we really want someone like her in office?  Haven’t eight years of god-fearing, born-again Bush been enough?  What this country needs right now is a politician that cares more about rational, real solutions for our problems, not one who thinks that you can pray for things and they will happen if you ask god nicely enough.  Why do Americans insist that our politicians be “persons of faith?” Why do we confuse religious belief with love of country? 

Why can’t Americans just grow up?

On being an Atheist in America September 15, 2008

Posted by sociallyacceptableinsanity in American society, Atheism, politics, religion.
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Almost every one of us has felt alienated and misunderstood at some point in their life.  Whether it be due to socio-economic reasons, gender- or race bias, or to one of the other myriad ways in which humans belittle each other, most of us have encountered ridicule or discrimination in some form.  Society has adopted rules of behavior that have helped, to a certain extent, to ameliorate this, and most rational people stick to these rules, at least in public.  There is one area, however, that seems to have missed being included under the mantle of political correctness, and that area is atheism.

Let me start with a little background.  I have been a life-long atheist.  My parents are atheists, but they encouraged my brothers and me to read the Christian Bible, as well as any other religious texts we wished to, and we did so with alacrity.   The family dinner table was the scene of many lively discussions about religion:  holiday dinners were especially lively, as many members of my extended family did not share my family’s lack of religious belief.  The result of a lifetime of talking about religion, reading about religion and thinking about religion is this:  I do not believe in a supreme being, and I never will.  I certainly do not credit the existence of a god that is interested in the personal affairs of every living human on the planet, nor do I feel that humans need to placate, grovel or beg such a being for favors.  Nor do I wish to exchange all of the wonder and awe that I feel, when I ponder the universe and our place in it, for an all-purpose answer about our existence.  It is the wonder, after all, that is so wonderful!

So, now you know my dirty little secret.  I refer to it as a dirty little secret because that is how I, and those like me, are often made to feel it is.  Those who wouldn’t dream of telling a racist joke feel no qualms about expressing disbelief, revulsion, contempt, pity and just about any other condescending reaction that you can imagine when finding out that I am “godless.”   I have seen people, when they find out that I am an atheist, actually move away from me as if I had the plague or were about to be struck by lightening.  I have been harassed by a co-worker that was so “concerned about my immortal soul” that she felt the need to send me religious poetry that she had written, attempted to proselytize to me every chance she got, and who gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity as a parting gift when I left my position at the organization we both worked for.  I was even once made to stand in front of my fourth-grade classroom while the teacher (who had been informed of my atheist stance by a fellow classmate who had overheard a playground conversation) berated me for 20 minutes about my godlessness and told me flat out that I was going to hell.

I do not believe that I am alone in encountering this behavior, and anecdotes from the small number of other atheists I know personally bear me out.  One does not encounter many atheists in everyday life, and I have often wondered if this is due more to the fact that there just aren’t that many of us, or if it because we have learned to keep our views to ourselves in a wish to avoid the sometimes hysterical reaction of those who consider themselves saved (for a taste of what I consider hysterical, ponder if you will this quote from Pat Robertson’s New World Order).  “How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy money changers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?”

When I read things like that I am forced to ask myself this:  how can there be peace when there are people like that in the world?

So, yes, we atheists are small in number and prone to keeping a low profile, but who can blame us when you consider the numbers?  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life/U.S. Religious Landscape Survey lists the percentage of the U.S. adult population who consider themselves to be atheists as 1.6, joined by 2.4% who consider themselves agnostics and 12.1% who consider themselves “nothing in particular.”  Not promising numbers, but at least I am not completely alone in the wilderness.  However, when stacked against the 26.3% who belong to evangelical Protestant churches, the 18.1% who belong to mainline Protestant churches and the 23.9% of practicing Catholics, the number of atheists and agnostics is woefully slim.

Granted, there are some very public and outspoken atheists, George Carlin being a prime example.  Carlin said in his 1999 concert film You Are All Diseased, “When it comes to BULLSHIT…BIG-TIME, MAJOR LEAGUE BULLSHIT… you have to stand IN AWE, IN AWE of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion.”  British scientist and writer Richard Dawkins has referred to religion as a “mind virus,” and Isaac Asimov once said “I am an atheist, out and out.”  Perhaps my own feelings about religious belief can best be summed up by this quote from Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy):  “I find the whole business of religion profoundly interesting.  But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously.”

It does seem to be that more and more people are turning their backs on religious belief and becoming much more vocal about it, and it appears that they are finding a receptive audience.  Author Christopher Hitchens’ recent book, God is Not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything, reached #1 on the New York Times best seller list by it’s third week of publication, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins stayed on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller list for 51 weeks.  The internet abounds with websites which offer information to those interested in atheism, agnosticism and secular humanism.  This increasing interest in non-religious thought helps me believe that someday I will be able to share my viewpoints without it being instantly assumed that I worship satan.  Which, by the way, I do not.  It would be necessary to believe in a god if one were to believe in satan – you can’t really have one without the other. 

As I look at the world around me, mired in strife and distrust, lost in a blizzard of rhetoric and fear, I never lose hope that mankind will collectively find the way to release itself from this socially acceptable insanity that is religion.