Category Archives: Atheist

First Contact

This is a re-post of something I wrote for Off The Map – Atheist in 2008 but with the errors tidied up so that I look cleverer.

RememberI remember my first personal encounter with religion vividly. I’m not talking about attending the weddings of my cousins or family friends, saying the Lord’s Prayer at cub scouts or even the daily rote lectures that took the place of religious education at school. Religion in these contexts was easy to ignore as it was simply part of the ritual of the institution. I’m talking about my first contact outside of this protective bubble.

I was about 10 or 11 years old and in typical boyish fashion I’d been out all day on my bike. We used to ride our bikes all over the woods and hills, looking for new dens or places to hide. It was summer and very hot and I was tired. I’d cycled most of the way home but decided that I wanted a drink. I hopped off my bike, dumped it on the pavement (we were just as inconsiderate of pedestrians in my day) and popped into the nearest shop. I should point out that the newsagents of the day weren’t all 7\11 clones but small, privately owned affairs typically run by families. You had to go to the counter and ask for what you wanted and the staff would fetch it for you.*

PrayingNo-one was behind the counter though, at least no-one that I could see. I had to wait. Without warning a little old lady got up off the floor from behind the counter. “Sorry,” she said, “I was just praying”. I mumbled something , bought my drink and left. I couldn’t help wonder though: Why was she praying? What good would it do? Why was she on her knees? and while she was working? To my childish mind this was an glimpse of something that I didn’t think I should see, something taboo. I’ve never quite shaken that idea and, to this day, public displays of faith make me uncomfortable.

It may have been the reaction to my presence that turned me off the idea of prayer. Why leap to her feet (as far as the elderly can) if her behaviour is normal? Why offer the “I was just praying” excuse if the act was acceptable?

Embarrassment occurs in socially awkward situations. These may be caused by misunderstandings but more often they result from a realisation on the part of the embarrassed person that their behaviour is not normal. If you are caught talking to yourself you feel embarrassed. That embarrassment signifies the behaviour as abnormal within the social situation.

This is why I think people pray in groups and why the instruction in the bible (Matthew 6:5) to pray alone is significant. It signifies that you should avoid shame in your actions, whether prayer or not. If you can justify to yourself that your actions are right then you do not need to feel shame.

The ritualization of prayer, if ritual and prayer are different things, must help people to overcome that embarrassment. The sincere belief in talking to God must be secondary to the social situation. It must be or churches would not be so prevalent. I wonder then, how much of prayer is directed towards a deity rather than towards a group effort?

If a congregation pray to spare little Jimmy from terminal cancer, then the group support towards the effort is what unites the group. Not the effectiveness of the prayer. If little Jimmy dies it is “God’s Will” and the group is blameless but if he survives then it is as a result of the group action. In that regard it is a method for getting Christians to agree with one another.

*This makes me sound really old but it wasn’t that long ago. Only about 25 years….Oh dear, I am old.

9 Comments

Filed under Atheist, Religion

Jesus Twitter, Saudi Lesbians and Dodgy Electricians

May contain sarcasm.

Apparently Twitter and Facebook could lead to the salvation of man at least according to the Reverend Franklin Graham.

“The Bible says that every eye is going to see [the Second Coming of Jesus],” Graham told Ammanpour. “How is the whole world going to see [him] all at one time? I don’t know, unless all of a sudden everybody’s taking pictures and it’s on the media worldwide. I don’t know. Social media could have a big part in that.”

The 58-year-old cited a verse that says Jesus will be coming on “a cloud and the whole world will moan.”

That’s one for Cloud Computing then. On the other hand maybe he’s trying to squeeze modern technology into an old story. Still you’ve got to admire his creativity. Those of us who remember the heady days of 20six already know that God had a blog.

Arab news have reported that “[a] Saudi woman expelled from her college for having a lesbian relationship with her hostel supervisor has urged authorities to review the decision and allow her to continue her education.” In a manner that is not untypical for the religiously minded they fail to see that some people are gay. We in the West have largely accepted the fact. There are some elements who don’t like it but the law accepts that people are gay and is now changing to build this acceptance into social institutions like marriage. The Middle East are a way off accepting that gay people exist. Instead they seem to be inventing excuses to vilify homosexual behaviour without considering the reason that gay people have sex with one another. You know, the fact that sex is fun and people enjoy it.

They make a big deal about it which, of course, makes gay people hide their sexuality. It doesn’t stop them being gay but it does demonise them and make them (I imagine) awfully unhappy.

He said expelling the girl created a new problem instead of resolving the issue. He said action should also be taken against the supervisor by college authorities on the basis of the girl’s statement. He said lesbian relationships are quite common among girls in recent years because of the influence of satellite channels and the Internet.

“When we observed a few cases in our university we dealt with them by providing necessary counseling. We also hold a number of lectures and other programs to protect girls from having such deviant relationships,” he said.

A number of psychologists told Arab News that lesbian relationships happen in schools and universities for many reasons, including a sexual identity crisis suffered by some girls. Some of them were victims of sexual abuse during their childhood and most of them do not want treatment to change their lesbian attitudes, they added.

Good grief, gay girls who like being gay. Whatever next? I suppose that as long as they submit to their menfolk when they are forced to get married it doesn’t really matter if they enjoy it. That is how religion treats women isn’t it?

Electrician, Colin Atkinson, of Wakefield District Housing has won the right to display his religious affiliation in his works vehicle. This not only goes against the company rules (no displaying personal items) but also common decency (don’t impose your beliefs on others). Even though people have complained the company has backed down.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the CLC, said: “This case shows what can happen when Christians refuse to give in to threats of intimidation and, when faced with a calm rationale by Christians, many right-minded employers will see sense.”

Yay, another win for sheer bloody mindedness and putting your faith above the service that you offer as an employee.

4 Comments

Filed under Atheist, Bad things happen

Atheism is not a religion

@GospelToday left a comment on the blog the other day and on the Friendly Atheist site. Essentially the argument is that atheism is a kind of religion, that it has a central set of tenets and associated symbolism that is common to religion.

This is the response that I left on FA.

@GospelToday is Coca Cola a religious symbol? Is Intel a religion? Is Microsoft or Glaxo? What about the seal of the President of the United States or the Democratic donkey logo?

The Scarlet Letter A is an icon but not in a religious sense. It does remind atheists that there are other people who do not believe in gods, that we aren’t alone in the face of intrusive and ubiquitous religion. The entire OUT campaign is to encourage atheists to be more public about a lack of belief in gods. We can all benefit from dispelling silly rumours about us that only exist because of ignorance of what atheism is.

One such thing that needs dispelling is the assumption that atheists deny the Christian god in the sense of rebelling against God. This is not the case. I do not rebel against God anymore than I rebel against Thor or Ra. I simply don’t find the idea of ANY god compelling. I find the idea of gods logically inconsistent and I give greater credence to the rational explanations for god belief than for actual gods.

I appreciate that some people like the idea and that some even find it comforting. I’ve no interest in shattering that illusion for you. All I want is same consideration from theists. The OUT campaign and the public face of atheism only exists because many theists are not content to keep their “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” (or any other god) personal. They have to force it on others.

Stick around and read some of the articles here. Understand that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet (so to speak) so the concepts and language might be less accessible than a Christian site might be for you. You’ll see an underlying theme after a time and it isn’t a rebellion against your particular god.

If you like I could also point you to many other resources that explain the position of atheists in a largely theistic world.

I can understand how someone raised in an environment where faith took a central place would make this error. It is like trying to understand someone who wasn’t raised within a family. The concept of family is so central to most people that the idea of growing up without one just doesn’t register. Of course, once someone points out that they were raised differently we can adjust our preconceived notions accordingly. We might fall back on old ways of thinking because they work so well but, once informed, we have the new understanding to work with too.

I’ve never had a religion. I was raised with no mention of religion until I went to school. At school it was simply another form or process that we all went through and the lessons in RE dealt more with ethics and how people all over the world have rituals and ideas that we might not understand.

Understanding people who have a faith is difficult for me and I’ve taken great efforts to do so. At least when I haven’t had to defend why I don’t have a faith or why society should have to follow one. I simply cannot make the connection between the idea of gods and what I observe of reality. That isn’t religion, it is an opinion.

Just for the record: atheism is a lack of belief in gods. That’s it. The counter to this is theism (a belief in at least one god) rather than Christianity (a belief in Christ as God as described in the Bible) or Islam (a belief in God as described in the Koran) or any other subset of theism.

Atheism is to religion as bald is to hair colour

13 Comments

Filed under Atheist

Atheist Recipe

A recipe for all members of the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and for all atheists. Who says we can’t cooperate with church people when we have to?

Spaghetti a la baby

3 Comments

Filed under Atheist, Recipe for disaster

Mere Christianity – Chapter 1

I’m reading C S Lewis’ Mere Christianity at the moment and found myself ranting (in my head) before I’d even finished the first chapter.  Most distracting, I had to kept shutting me up and going back to read what I’d missed.  With that in mind I’d like to examine the points raised in each chapter to see if there is any merit to what he’s written. Fortunately he writes very well with some excellent examples so there are few distinct points in each chapter to confuse thing.

In chapter one Lewis argues that there are things he calls Laws of Nature that are universal for all people. This is essentially a default moral standard enjoyed by all of humanity that included compunctions against killing, stealing, rape, deceit, etc. He argues that these are not learned traits but inherent in the human condition.

There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Creeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own. Some of the evidence for this I have put together in the appendix of another book called The Abolition of Man; but for our present purpose I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to–whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put Yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.

I disagree. Although he does follow up with some neat examples that I do agree with I think he is too sweeping in his assumptions.

There are many different characteristics that human beings could be said to have. I can indeed think of a country where aggression in war is frowned upon and pacifism is considered a positive trait or even where cowardice is excused. I think that we live in societies where exploiting those weaker than us is permissible and even encouraged. Selfishness and self dependence are certainly considered to be traits of value although we do not think of self promotion in such terms.

Are there really universal human characteristics or is Lewis just making a huge assumption? Even if he’s right what does this prove?

5 Comments

Filed under Atheist, Debate

Bible knowledge in decline

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/07/12/2623435.htm

Knowledge of the Bible is in decline in Britain, with fewer than one in 20 people able to name all Ten Commandments and youngsters viewing the Christian holy book as “old-fashioned”, a survey said.

Atheists, however, were not unduly worried about the decline in the Bible’s popularity.

“It shows really that religion is becoming less important to people,” said Pepper Harow, campaigns officer at the British Humanist Association.

I got the article link from the BBC’s Big Question forum. Here was my own response at the time.

Whether you are a believer or not the Bible and the Church of England is part of our national culture and heritage. How can you hope to understand and appreciate the Reformation, The English Civil War or The Enlightenment without some idea of what the bible meant to people. Our language is resplendent with biblical references, our laws are often derived from biblical sources and overturned because we have no secular reason for keeping them.

We should have an awareness of the bible even if we believe that it is myth because people took it very seriously for a very long time. How can you argue against something if you don’t know where the idea came from. If you support stem cell research then you must know about the objections that are derived from Christian dogma as well as those that come from ethical considerations. If you support a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy then you need to understand how others object to it. If you support free education then you need to understand the basis for it and how Christianity was instrumental in creating the public school system.

Some responses lament the decline of knowledge in the general populace.  “We are becoming dumber” they say.  I disagree though that knowledge is in decline.  In the 21st century we have unprecedented access to knowledge on almost any subject you can imagine. I can read Ulysses online, go to a library, order it from Amazon or even borrow a copy. I can discuss the references in a forum with people all over the world if I wish and can even search for one if I don’t know where to find one. I can join a correspondence course, arrange to meet up with Joyce or Tennyson enthusiasts or just write a blog about it. None of this was possible even 10 years ago on the scale we have today.

I think what is in decline is interest. We are becoming the Eloi and the Morlocks, neither is a fate I find particularly appealing.  Do you disagree?  Should we lament the loss of our history or allow that which has served it’s purpose to pass unremarked and unmourned?  Is the decline of biblical knowledge, as I believe, a symptom of a society that has grown bored and indolent, that seeks only survival and entertainment.  If we are losing the roots of our history then is this a step to replacing these old myths with something better for everyone?

5 Comments

Filed under Atheist, Debate

News crumbs

A round up of interesting news stories.  What ho!

Britain’s libel laws threaten Free Speech.  The article begins with some interesting background on chiropractors and how my nation’s laws are being used to silence science writers who criticise crackpot pseudoscience. Oh the shame.

Research reveals how super-sleeper frogs survive Oh I sometimes wish I could sleep for so long.

Outsourcing Faith Apparently the faithful want to be able to talk about faith rather than do their jobs.  Fine, but it should be unpaid work right?  Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who always come round when I’m in the middle of a strenuous workout (ahem) on a Sunday morning.  They don’t get paid.

Thanks.

18 Comments

Filed under Atheist, Debate

Jesus Marmite

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8071865.stm

Holy MarmiteIt’s true, you either love it or you hate it.

It seems that the face of Jesus has moved from normally appearing on toast to appearing on Marmite lids.  Jesus has also been known to make an appearance on steamed up bathroom mirrors, moldy walls and camera flash reflections in glass.

Good news for the faithful and good news for Marmite who can expect a modest sales boost at no advertising cost to themselves.  Also good news for atheists like me who find such things ridiculous in every sense of the word.  It made me laugh but not in a charitable or self depreciating way.

Just for the sake of arguing, the “face” of Jesus isn’t actually Jesus and in no way provides any evidence of divine intervention.  No miracle has occurred.  What we have here is a person seeing a pattern in Marmite and associating it with a popular image.  Humans are very good at recognising patterns.  I’m almost sure that this can go unsaid but for news stories like this that indicate that some people just don’t get it.

Besides which I’m pretty sure that Marmite isn’t even in the bible.

Personally I think it looks like Ozzy Osbourne.

10 Comments

Filed under Atheist

Muslim School Funding

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/may/26/reussite-france-muslim-school

I read the above story with interest this morning.  It seems that the French are happy to fund faith schools for Christians but not for Muslims.  Quite why they (or any other nation) fund faith schools is beyond me. 

Shouldn’t the faith of people be a personal matter?  Shouldn’t faith be separate from state interference and support?  Can’t we leave religion alone and expect it to leave us alone?  Why should we expect schools to indoctrinate children into a faith at all?

That said, if you have one rule for Christian or Catholic (I know they’re Christian too) schools then that rule should apply to Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’i, Hindus, whatever.  Shouldn’t it?

10 Comments

Filed under Atheist, Religion

NoGodTube

I’ve just read about NoGodTube on the Friendly Atheist.  Apparently this is a response to the repeated complaints of theists and suspension of atheist’s YouTube accounts.  The beauty of YouTube is that you can reach the whole world with your opinions.  I understand the need to police these views and maintain certain standards but I would think that discussion would be something that YouTube would want to promote.

While it is a shame that some people seem to want to silence opposing views I find it more of a shame that the opposing views feel it necessary to retreat.  I don’t feel that it aids the debate any more than idiotic flaming or attempts to ban contributors. 

With NoGodTube, we can continue to debate, but on our terms. Theists will be able to present their arguments based on reason, but if they disagree with our responses, they won’t be able to get us banned or flame us.

I disagree that you can set the terms of a debate and have an open and honest discussion in a public forum.  In a structured debate this is fine but YouTube offers a chance to have your say about anything and invites response from everyone.  Removing yourself from that whether to GodTube (now Tangle) or NoGodTube is to cut yourself off from the marketplace of ideas.

The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there’s no place for it in the endeavor of science. We do not know beforehand where fundamental insights will arise from about our mysterious and lovely solar system. The history of our study of our solar system shows us clearly that accepted and conventional ideas are often wrong, and that fundamental insights can arise from the most unexpected sources.

— Carl Sagan

4 Comments

Filed under Atheist, Bad things happen