What Does an Atheist Do on Easter?

He goes golfing, of course!

While my family slept, I decided to take advantage of a quiet early morning where most of my Christian counterparts in suburban America would be preparing for and attending church. I arrived shortly after dawn (around 7:00 in these parts), and played a quiet nine holes by myself. It was lovely.

And I haven’t been struck dead for failing to honor the resurrection. Imagine that!

I stopped by the store on the way home, of course, to pick up some easter candy for the kids. I got home in time to hide some candy-filled eggs around the house, and to tell them that the easter bunny had come. When you’re a kid, pretending is okay. They had fun.

And so did I.

April 8, 2007 at 4:49 pm 3 comments

Filipino devotees nailed to crosses on Good Friday

Actual Photo

Filipino devotees nailed to crosses on Good Friday in the Philippines – International Herald Tribune

Here’s another example of religion taken to extreme. I’m not sure what else to say. If these zealots were behaving this way for any other reason, we’d surely have them committed to an institution. Somehow, since their behavior is motivated by religion, we collectively give it a respect and honor their devotion.

Take a step back. Isn’t this completely bizarre?

This Christian mythology is very bloody, to be sure. These folks (and many others) are intent on seeing the violence continue.

April 6, 2007 at 7:12 am 5 comments

Take-A-Christian-To-Lunch Day

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to go to lunch with the CEO of a company that sells software to aid in the study of the bible. This man is a devout Christian, a political conservative, and an all-around nice guy.

He invited me to lunch because I had blogged about a book he had written, and we happen to live in the same city. In his book, he praised Wal-Mart for their steadfast pursuit of profits above all else. He held them up as a shining example of a company whose priorities are in perfect alignment.

I, of course, took issue with this praise of Wal-Mart. In my blog post, I suggested that  his praise was ill-placed. I feel that the profit motive, as a guiding principle, must be tempered by humanity and a sense of goodwill toward other people, most notably (in Wal-Mart’s case) a company’s employees.

Early on in our discussion, he said he was interested to speak with me because, in his words, “I don’t get a chance to talk with many smart people who are politically liberal.”

“I’m also an atheist, and I bet you have even rarer occasion to speak to people like that,” I replied.

He agreed, after an uncomfortable pause. He quickly suggested a subsequent meeting by saying he’d like to have a serious discussion with me, because he can’t fathom how I, as an atheist, can possibly have any sense of morality without the bible or faith as a guide.  I accepted the suggestion, and today, I invited him to lunch to have that very discussion.

I’m very excited about this opportunity. It’s completely nonthreatening, and I get the sense from him that he’s deeply curious about how I can be so seemingly normal, successful in business, socially confident, without Jesus.

So sometime next week will be Take-A-Christian-To-Lunch Day.  And I’ll let you know how our conversation goes. I’m sure it will be enlightening for both of us.

April 5, 2007 at 6:20 am 2 comments

Congressional Morality: A Christ-Like Atheist?

According to a recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle, many voters in the Easy Bay District that is home to Rep. Pete Stark are “unfazed” by his recently admitted atheism.

What was particularly interesting to me, is when he said in a speech at a town hall meeting that “It’s not courageous to make a simple statement about personal beliefs … What is courageous is to stand up in Congress and say, ‘Let’s tax the rich and give the money to poor kids.’ Now that’s courageous.”

How true that is! It’s curious, too, because the folks who are so vehemently anti-tax, are also (for the most part) the same people who make up the Christian right. Are there not Christian values about morality and charity, and giving?

If Congressman Stark has the courage to tax the rich and give the money to poor kids, isn’t he more Christ-Like than his Christian counterparts?

You tell me.

April 4, 2007 at 8:19 pm Leave a comment

Praise Him!

Kim Jong Il*** (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a guest post by Jake Stanford. You may contact the author by leaving comments on this post. I will ensure that they end up in his inbox. Thank you.) ***

Today I watched a National Geographic Explorer program in which the reporter accompanied an eye doctor to North Korea with a hidden camera. The doctor knew and approved of the hidden camera, but his main purpose for going was purely humanitarian: to treat 1,000 cataracts in 6 days, and at the same time, to train North Korean doctors to perform similar surgeries. More free goodies for Kim Jong Il? Yep.

In the end, when eyesight was restored to hundreds of people, and their bandages removed, every last one of them ran forward, screaming and crying praise for the “Great General” and the “Beloved Leader” who, along with his father, has indoctrinated a totalitarian cult of personality for generations now. It was weird and ironic: intellectual blindness continuing even though physical blindness had been eliminated. Love and devotion for a figure guilty of starving millions of his own people to death, lying to them, and killing them in concentration camps identical or worse to those used by Germans and Japanese in World War II. Thousands of those suffering in the camps are there only because a family member–even a relative as distant as a cousin–chose to defect, or chose to say something disparaging about the Great General.

When bad things happen in North Korea, the Great General is praised. When people starve, he is praised. When good things happen, he is praised. Whatever happens, he is praised. The entire population, almost without exception, is at the same time terrified of him, and completely devoted to him, like a child in the home of a physically abusive, yet sometimes loving father.

You can guess where I’m going with this.

To a secular freethinker, these images were worse than any horror film. The obvious parallels between a North Korean’s blind devotion to an evil narcissist and a religionist’s blind devotion to a cruel god aside–there’s much more going on here.

For starters, what does it say about our society that, in 2007, all of the Jews and Gentiles living comfortably the United States of America blithely tolerate a holocaust quaintly mirroring Stalin’s?

What does it say about our society that we will tolerate action against a dictator sitting on an ocean of oil but shy away from a stronger dictator sitting on no oil, whose behavior is far worse? Does that tolerance sound as cowardly to you as it does to me?

In a way it’s hard to criticize Kim Jong Il. How is his lust for material wealth and self-preservation any different from ours?

The moral decay in this country has nothing at all to do with sexuality or science in schools, and everything to do with the wholesale corruption of religious institutions. Where once they were champions for equality and progress (abolition and women’s rights, to name just two), today they champion greed, chastity, and little else.

We can all do something small to fight: we can use what freedoms we still have to let the people in our lives know that we are not religious, that our morality is ironically less relative and selective than most religionists’, and that we do not support a government that becomes increasingly abhorrent to the one envisioned by the Founding Fathers, be it in Pyong’yang, or in Washington, D.C.

No, they won’t want to hear it. Too bad. I for one choose honesty over courtesy.

April 3, 2007 at 9:01 pm 2 comments

From The Mouths of Babes

I got some feedback from some parents I know on my post “Little Thinkers.” As you’d expect, many other folks out there have had similar experiences with their young children. Unfettered as they are by most of our adult systems for maintaining social decorum, kids have a way of telling it like it is.

The following came from a dear friend, whose 4-year-old daughter had some very specific comments about the cause of a common daily experience.

******

Last week, I had (my daughter Michelle) and one of her friends, Carly for the day because there was no school. They play together well, and are like sisters for the most part. Towards the end of the day, they were yipping at each other and wearing each others last good nerve (as well as mine). They needed some wind down time and asked if they could watch the “Thomas the Tank Engine” DVD we had rented. I put the DVD in the player and here is how the conversation went…

MICHELLE: “Mom, the DVD is skipping.”
MOM: “Give it a minute … it will stop.”
MICHELLE: “It’s not stopping.”
CARLY: “That’s OK, it’s the way Jesus made it.”
MICHELLE: “What?”
CARLY: “Jesus made it that way.”
MICHELLE: (at the top of her lungs) “I don’t know what you are talking about!!!”
CARLY: JESUS!!!
MICHELLE: “I DON’T KNOW WHO THAT IS!!!!!”

Then Michelle comes running to me telling me she doesn’t know who “that person” is … I am all for her wanting to know about Church when she is ready for it, but don’t think I am ready to take her to Church for her to be taught “that is the way Jesus made it”… if she wants to go and she asks me about it, then sure, we can take her and let her come to her own conclusions … she is only 4 after all …

April 2, 2007 at 7:26 am Leave a comment

Little Thinkers

I can always tell when the grandmothers have been around my house, because the kids start talking about Jesus again. Their grandmothers are both devout Christians: one Mormon, and the other a Catholic.

The other day, my five-year old said to me, in that very matter of fact way that only a five-year-old can, “You just say there’s no god because you don’t BELIEVE there’s a god.”

“That’s right,” I said. “I believe there’s no god.”

“Well, Grandma says you’re wrong.”

“How do you know there’s a god, then?” I asked.

“Because there just IS. Because I believe it.”

And the conversation, which usually would devolve from there when talking to an adult, took an interesting turn. I asked my child this question, using an overly-simplified version of Russell’s Teapot:

“What if I told you that I believed there was a big purple elephant in the sky. Would you believe that?”

Incredulously, my kid replied,” NO! That’s silly! There’s no purple elephant in the sky!”

“But how do you know?”

“Because there’s not!”

“Well, I like to pretend that there is.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s okay to pretend.”

And you can see where this is going.

My point here is that, apart from the fact that my kid is showing an extraordinary level of confidence about this topic at such a young age, you cannot argue with blind faith.

I’ve often wrestled with this question, as an atheist: How do I raise my kids to not blindly accept religion without questioning it? And I’ve finally hit upon it, after reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” … I will endeavor to teach my children HOW to think, not WHAT to think.

I’m not better than any garden-variety proselytizer if I attempt to indoctrinate my kids to become atheists like me, just to model them after my beliefs. I came at this naturally, after a process of much questioning of evidence and personal examination. I learned that you can be a good person without religion. My mission as a parent will be to teach my kids how to evaluate evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and to question authority. When they question authority, I hope they will learn not to accept “Because That’s What Grandma Says” as valid evidence. I will grow to expect them to say “I’m not buying your circular arguments, Grandma. Show me the evidence.”

If they honestly come to be religious, after an honest and thorough examination of the facts, then I will accept that. But I am willing to bet that they’ll find the same path I did. The facts about our world are very evident, even while myths and superstitions persist.

How have you dealt with this issue with your kids?

March 28, 2007 at 3:26 pm 3 comments

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