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Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

Conversation with a Friendly Christian

Posted by Skeptigator on June 30, 2008

About 9 months ago, I was introduced to the website FriendlyChristian.com (I believe through FriendlyAtheist.com). Even though I am a fairly committed atheist I still like to keep up on what “the Fundies” are doing. I have a list of these sites in my Google Reader however it became obvious very quickly that the author of FriendlyChristian.com was not your typical Christian. I realized that I would go to my “Fundies” category and the first blog posts I would read would be the latest on FriendlyChristian.com, Bill you’ll be happy to note that your blog has moved to my “Regulars” category.

But don’t take my word for it, check out some of the more memorable posts, IMO:

Bill Cecchini is the man behind the curtain however he has opened his blog to multiple authors including at least one who does not share his faith (or any for that matter). I had an opportunity to interview him recently, enjoy.

Skeptigator: Perhaps the biggest question I have is, “Why are you doing this website? After all, aren’t all Christians supposed to be friendly already?”

Bill: Aren’t all Christians supposed to be friendly? Well, yeah, I’d say so. The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I’m pretty sure “friendly” is covered in there somewhere. Somewhere along the way, Christianity has evolved from a faith known for these fruits of the spirit into a religion known for book burning, judging, hating, and picketing. I won’t be known for that, nor will I stand for it. I try to live a simple, yet efficient life. In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus tells a religious teacher what life is all about: loving God and loving each other. Christians have done a very good job of turning our faith into a bit of a joke. We judge unbelievers for their sin, then turn around and do the exact same thing. We have public burnings of The Da Vinci Code, as if that’s gonna communicate God’s love to anyone. We use the name GodHatesFags.com for our church’s website name. And we wonder why people look at us like we’re nuts.

A few weeks ago, one commenter wrote that she’d never come back to FriendlyChristian.com if the site ever became evangelistic. It was then that I realized that the site IS evangelistic, just not in an obvious or invasive manner. I love that I am able to allow so many unbelievers to see into my mind and life. I’ve always said that my curse/blessing is that I am very open, honest, and real. I admit my struggles, doubts, insecurities, and questions about the Christian faith. Unfortunately, many Christians paint an “I’ve got it all figured out” or “all is good cuz I’m saved” picture, when the truth is, we DON’T have it all figured out, and sometimes life ISN’T good. I think that my authenticity and transparency are what keep the readers interested and coming. Also, I think my posts give ex-Christians something that they can easily relate to.

I say all that to say this: FriendlyChristian.com is my attempt to bring Christianity back to its roots of love, service, truth, and relationships, without sacrificing the power and authority of the gospels, in an environment where everyone is welcome and conversation is encouraged.

On September 12th, 2006, my pastor said, “The world is changed by passionate people.” On FriendlyChristian.com, countless people have told me that I’m not doing anything unique or special. “It’s all been done before, Bill, and this might be a bit too big for you,” they say. Maybe so, but I’m gonna continue giving it all I have. I’m passionate, and just maybe I can change the world.

Skeptigator: What have been some of the biggest challenges personally for you in running a site like this? You have a mix of Christians and non-Christians. That must lead to interesting discussions?

Bill: Oh, the challenges are plentiful. When I started FC, right off the bat I encountered perhaps the most popular atheist stereotype: they are freakin’ smart! As a 28-year-old who is just now trying to finish up his undergraduate degree, I often struggle with feeling not smart enough to host a site frequented by educationally superior people who very openly disagree with much of what I have to say. I’m not good at debating and I’ve never been a very confrontational person.

Another challenge I have is trying to stay encouraged. It’s tough to put so much prayer, time, effort, and emotion into a blog and watch it get torn to shreds by people who think I’m “nuts,” as one reader put it. I often want to give up as I feel like I’m just one guy trying to take on the world, believers and non-believers alike.

One of my most frustrating challenges is dealing with Christians. I can’t stand when people tell me that I’m wrong for reading the wrong bible translation. It boils my blood when Christians criticize mega churches. I want to scream when Christians argue over things that, in the end JUST DON’T MATTER a whole lot. We’re supposed to be on the same team with a common message: Jesus saves. Instead we’re beating each other up and then wondering why people turn from God. *smacks head*

Lastly, one of the biggest challenges for me is that I just don’t feel like a good enough representative of the Christian faith to be hosting this site. My life is anything but holy and perfect. I am extremely flawed and only human. It wouldn’t be hard for a person to point out the sin in my life. I know this is the wrong way to think, and I often pray against it. But hey, you asked so I’m just gonna give it to you straight.

Skeptigator: Personally, I think “Atheism” has a P.R. problem within the Christian community (perhaps the U.S. in general)? Do you agree? And, if so, what can atheists and freethinkers do to improve on that image, at least open doors to a greater understanding within the Christian community?

Bill: I agree that the word “atheist” has very negative connotations. The word “Christian” also has many negative connotations. My advice to anyone is that you can be the difference. Fight the stereotype. Who knows, maybe it’ll catch on.

Skeptigator: In conversations with Christians perhaps one of the least convincing arguments they will use is, “well, you just don’t have Faith”. As if I’m going to suddenly slap myself on the forehead and exclaim, “Eureka! That’s what I’ve been missing. Can I get that at Wal-Mart?” What is the least effective thing an atheist can say to attempt to convince you of the “error of your ways”?

Bill: Anything. I appreciate and welcome any productive dialog discussing the “errors” of either of our ways, but in the end, it’s the choice of each individual, right? I’m extremely open and honest about my faith. I acknowledge and admit to every struggle or question that I have about Christianity. I provide better arguments to convince myself of the “errors of my ways” than any theological or scientific argument from any atheist ever could. Many people see this as a weakness. I see it as a strength. I also think it makes Christianity much more attractive. People are sick of the “holier than thou/my ‘you know what’ don’t stink/check out my fancy suit/boycott Starbucks cuz they don’t support the troops” Christian. I say we drop the act and tackle the faith like a man. Or a woman 🙂

Skeptigator: You’ve alluded to this earlier but if you were forced to boil the message of Christ down to, oh, 200 words or less what would it be? Go!

Bill: I can do it in six: “Love God and love each other.” This is the theme behind FriendlyChristian.com and my purpose in life. Simple, eh?

Skeptigator: McCain, Obama or Barr?

Bill: “Hey look, it’s Elvis!” Nah, I haven’t decided yet, to be honest with you. I’ll cast my vote based on who I feel will lead our country the best, not on the fact that I’m a Christian and am expected to vote Republican. I’m not overly excited or hopeful about any of the candidates. Can I still vote Ron Paul?

As always, funny, honest and more intelligent than he gives himself credit for. If you get a chance, check out FriendlyChristian.com and participate in the conversation, it’s one worth having.

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Posted in Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Beyond Belief relationship issues. (The mini-series continues)

Posted by Andy D. on June 18, 2008

This is a follow up from my earlier post and Mighty’s asking, “Are you out with your family and friends about not believing in the supernatural?”

I spent a week in northern Michigan with my grandparents, brother, and his fiancée. In the summertime it is unbelievably beautiful. See some of the pictures from my many hikes and wine tasting. My grandparents built a cottage (a summer house) in a small town off of Lake Michigan.

The main reason they choose that area is due to a very friendly and, I fully admit, fun Lutheran camp and resort. They vacationed there in the late 60’s and it does feel heavenly during the summer months. (It isn’t so nice in the winter.) This to them was the perfect vacation spot for all the extended family. After the cottage was built we crammed into every room and visited cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles each summer. We all had an incredible time from the beach, playing tennis, volleyball, softball and hiking. That beach is where I experienced my first kiss and make out session. There was a lot of sand everywhere after words….

As a kid, I went to all the youth group activities at the camp, and I believed and sang along. In my later teen years, I attended the adult lectures. I enjoyed listening to the very smart and charismatic pastors and theologians such as Paul Maier give lectures on defending the faith. I never received any skepticism training until recently so I didn’t know people were criticizing the faith. Of course, I didn’t buy it due to all the other religions and the nasty reaction religious people had to the present day messiahs. (Isn’t that normal and what would of happened in Jesus’ time?) Paul proudly lectured on how he was able to prove Jesus’ existence by secular methods. Think Josephus, etc. I had no idea what he was talking about. He even played back a debate he had with a secular scholar. It seemed to us he won, and his point at the end of the session was he could prove Jesus existed but he cannot prove Jesus was who they say he was…. In other words, the miracles and divinity were not provable via evidence. Looking back, I think that turned out to be my first look at Christian apologetics. I was mostly disinterested and had other things to do. I would have some questions now!

More recently, I was amazed when Penn and Teller had Paul on their Bull Shit show about the bible. They pointed out the faulty logic Paul used when explaining away the miracle of Moses parting the Red Sea. Paul said that it was probably the REED sea that the Hebrews walked across and it was a marsh so they could walk across it. Penn asks where is the miracle then? Paul knows his scholarship and is very bright, yet he begins like all of us do most of the time with what he thinks is true and then follows that up with reasoning. Critical and scientific thinking are not very natural.

Ok since this recent visit was in the early summer, the camp wasn’t really started yet. I spent my time hanging with my brother and visiting the grandparents. My grandfather is in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It was tough to have to tell him every day that I was no longer at my old job. This was quite the shock to me because grandpa was always very active and sharp. (I am not sure how people still hold on to the soul concept when you can see a mind degenerate right in front of you). He could beat me at tennis just a few years ago. (I don’t play but still that is quite good.) My grandmother is very sweet and is very much with it. We had a great visit and I had plenty of time to reflect.

The grandparents are the only ones in my family who do not know I have embraced reason instead of myths. It would upset both of them greatly. I prayed with them at dinnertime. We all did including my brother. (As I said in the earlier post, engaging in the religious activity doesn’t affect our worldview.) It would be cruel to tell them or not pray. I am frustrated with the established power religion has on me even now and it wedges me from being able to share with my loved ones this great journey of discovery. Suddenly, I am a jerk if I am truthful. Our intention is not to harm or upset but to share. I guess many folks are like this. With the status of my grandfather’s mind he could not handle it or even grasp it.

He picked up a book I was reading by Paul Kurtz entitled “Science and Ethics,” and he said it looked like a deep book while flipping a few pages. He instinctively put down the book and did not dig deeper. Later, I answered the phone and it was a far right wing organization calling to warn Grandpa of the dangers of the ACLU. I thought, “You mean the folks who actually protect our civil rights and the constitution!” I gave the phone to my grandfather and he hung up on them. He didn’t understand what they were saying. Yes, somehow my grandfather supported some of these right wing organizations earlier. I don’t think he knows why. He has been republican for his entire life and his Christian background has made that decision for him. (An evolutionary meme shortcut instead of thinking critically?) Yes, I know there are many religious folks on the democratic side, like my parents, but there is something powerful about the values argument with overly religious folks that is silly and against freedom when you actually look at it. I love free markets and low taxes but this crazy religious zeal on that side makes my stomach turn…

My grandfather thinks being a Christian is the right thing to do and it is the most important thing someone should be. He is a good person, he works hard, invests, studies, stays physical, gives, loves, and he is leaving a wonderful legacy. Those ways of living are secular principles and deal with this world. They can apply to all faiths and those who have none. I learned those qualities from him. These are truly transcendent and universal. I want him and Grandma to live the rest of their lives in bliss and in love. I won’t break the spell for them, but we need to turn the tap of ignorance off at younger ages. Religion gets a free ride from criticism and that is changing. I would have loved to share my entire joy with them. Love is definitely enough but I would have enjoyed sharing more. To be continued….

Posted in Religion, Science, Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Fun time at Hope Missionary Church

Posted by Eye4Cards on June 16, 2008

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank Jon Baker and Hope Missionary Church for inviting Skeptigator and me to their church for a discussion with their youth group about atheism. It went very well. There were a lot of excellent questions posed by many of the young adults in the class.

All in all, this gives me hope for an open dialog between the religious and the non-religious.

Mr. Baker is trying to get proponents of different world-views to give lectures to his youth group as a way of exposing them to different belief systems. He already had a Muslim speaker and us. I believe a Hindu is next on the list with the possibility of speakers for Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity. This is a good idea that I applaud him for trying.

He asked us five popular questions in an attempt to study comparisons of the answers from the different groups. We didn’t actually follow the questions closely, but instead gave a basic overview of the branches of theism and non-theism along with some examples of positive atheist world-views such as secular humanism.

I decided to post my responses to Mr. Baker’s 5 questions since I didn’t have the opportunity to expand on them during the discussion:
1. If any, what is the goal/meaning/purpose of life?
If so, how is that goal/meaning/purpose obtained?

You will receive a different answer from every person you ask. That is how you know everybody’s meaning and purpose in life is different. There cannot be a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer, nor should there be. Even if the entire universe is random chaos and indifferent to life and existence, that does not mean you can’t find meaning in your existence or even that you have to. The fact is, if there were any place anywhere in the entire universe that was just right for life to come into existence, that is where that life would be; hence, earth. We should dedicate more time to figuring out where we are going and less time agonizing over how we popped into existence. Our origins are intriguing, but we do exist in the here and now and need to be more concerned with continuing and improving our existence than obsessing over why or how we exist.

It is up to you to decide what is important in your life and what it is that drives you and gives you a purpose. When you make the big decisions in your life those decisions should be based on what you think is important to you and what most excites and drives you. I have found the more I learn about life, the deeper my appreciation has become of the things that do give me meaning and joy.

It takes a lot of time and thinking and studying to develop your personal meaning of life. Trial and error and experience all help you figure out what is important. Everybody includes things like happiness, family, and friends as giving meaning and purpose to their lives, but not enough of us take the time and energy to find individual meaning. Too many of us are willing to settle for superficial meaning in God. It is much easier and more satisfying to believe we are the center of existence created by a God that has given us all of the answers, than to work to figure out our lives for ourselves.

2. If any, what is the divine/supernatural?

Anything that is supernatural is outside the considerable sphere of our collective knowledge about the observable and measurable reality of natural law. Anything that we cannot seemingly answer with a rational scientific understanding or that we cannot record or measure in any physical way is considered to be beyond nature or supernatural.

This pretty much covers:

Divinity: God(s), angels, demons, miracles, souls, reincarnation, astrology, animism, etc. Some belong in multiple categories like spirits and ghosts.

Paranormal: Ghosts, poltergeists, possessions, alien abductions, zombies, werewolves, vampires, ESP, telepathy, clairvoyance, etc.

Mythical: Fairies, ogres, trolls, witches, warlocks, elves, goblins, unicorns, pixies, sprites, cherubs, dragons, centaurs, gnomes, sphinx, giants, titans, etc…

Modern religions have slowly been distancing themselves from the supernatural as much as possible to remain relevant in the computer and information age of the 21stcentury. It is obvious over time how things that were once thought of as supernatural have become quite mundane after a scientific understanding of them.

Famines, pestilence, floods, lightening, the stars, earthquakes, volcanoes, a round earth traveling around the sun and the age of the earth are just a few of the things that have been explained with modern science.

Churches now refer to the Holy Ghost as the Holy Spirit. Churches now prefer the more friendly and harmless term spirituality over a loaded word like religion.

We now offer faith-based funding, not religious-based funding, to faith-based organizations instead of religious charities.

There is no longer a limbo for Catholic babies that die before they are baptized. This supernatural state of existence is no longer in acceptable fashion and has ceased to exist with a wave of the Pope’s scepter.

The supernatural is so unnatural and contradictory of everything we experience that all of the faiths of the world will never be able to agree on any of it. Even within a religion people can not agree on what is supernatural and divine, and what is superstition and hocus-pocus, so they fracture into competing sects. Even in Hinduism and Buddhism and Islam we find the all too human differences of opinion in the interpretations of scripture and revealed wisdom. These problems are all indications of why the supernatural is simply the imaginations and machinations of men in overdrive.

3. If any, what is evil/bad/wrong?

Atheism does not deal with matters of morality. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a God or Gods of any organized religion. It is important here to note that a lack of belief in God does not mean a lack of moral standards. Belief in God is often associated with a monopoly on moral integrity with the assumption that to not know God is to not know right from wrong. If this were true, every atheist would be abhorrent in his or her behavior and prove morality is born from religion and is inseparable from God. This is not what we see. We see a group of people that are no more or less inclined to be immoral or to break laws than any other group. Atheists struggle with making moral decisions just like everybody else, but it is obvious not all atheists are out committing crimes with abandon, unconcerned for the results of their actions. I would say that for the vast majority of atheists it is quite the opposite. Without a God-given dogmatic, moral framework, atheists must take it on themselves to understand what is right and wrong behavior and why they should care about leading good lives.

So how do atheists understand morality? This question is much easier to answer than it seems. We use common-sense. We study philosophy, sociology, ethics, history and religion. We use empathy to see from others’ perspectives and to sympathize with their problems and needs. We make decisions based on all of the information available and based on the circumstances in every unique situation.

Most atheists understand you get what you give. If we all went around killing each other without concern, we wouldn’t last very long. But there is much more to it than that. We adopt natural moral frameworks that benefit all. Some of us are secular humanists, some are naturalists, some are Brights, and still others are something entirely different.

Everyone is capable of good and bad. It does not work to deal in absolutes. Life is too complicated for every act or decision to fall neatly into a category of Good or Evil, or right or wrong.

Just as our legal system allows for new laws to be made and for unwanted or harmful laws to be removed, people can learn, control and alter a moral framework based on careful, thoughtful observations of societies and a general consensus everywhere of basic rights and wrongs both in the legal sense and the moral sense.

4. If any, what is the afterlife?

The afterlife is the desire to exist forever. It is the desire to be reunited with friends and family and to love forever. It is the desire to see wrongs righted and transgressions against us punished. It is the desire to know all and to see how the rest of humanity and life plays out. In short, it is the desire to conquer death.

The afterlife is also what is promised to you for your obedience (or disobedience) to God in this life. It is the reward for doing everything that is demanded of you by your religion. It is also the threat used to keep you in line. Do what the God of our church says or you will fall from His and our grace and burn in Hell forever. It is your church’s trump card to every objection you have with your religion and your God.

Life is precious partially because it has a lifespan. That is why it is important to live your life to its fullest and to appreciate your one chance you get. It is unfortunate that not everyone gets a long life or even a chance at a quality life. Life really is not fair. But, if everything were equal there would be no variety and no individuality. If everyone lived forever, there would be no variety and no individuality. We all would experience everything and see everything and exist forever.

Death is the only equalizer. Everyone, whether they are rich or poor, happy or sad, good or bad, dies. The certainty of death makes the time you have precious. It makes you appreciate all of the good things in life while surrounded by all of the bad.

Religions cheapen life by saying this life is just a precursor to eternity. It makes this life seem less important somehow. It takes away our focus on making this reality a better place for everyone to live in exchange for only caring how to live now to make it into heaven for eternity.

5. If any, what texts are important?

All texts are important. Thoughts and ideas in general are important. Imagination, curiosity, and learning are what make humans so special. It is important to learn to think critically and openly. No book or text should ever be banned or burned because of its contents. If a book is truly offensive or ridiculous, then teach people why it is offensive or ridiculous and why we should not waste time reading it. Many people do not understand that reading and thinking about a taboo does not make someone more likely to commit that taboo; quite the opposite. It allows us to be better informed before we make a bad decision from not understanding why our actions would be wrong.

Censoring or banning thoughts or ideas hurts everybody. It is not enough to forbid your child or student from reading or seeing something you deem too offensive or dangerous. It is your responsibility to teach them why something is considered offensive and give them the resources necessary to figure it out on their own. Simply telling a child or student not to do something will only drive them towards it out of curiosity- without knowing why it is wrong. You cannot shelter people from everything bad or wrong and you really shouldn’t. Education is the best inoculation against eventual contact with life’s problems, not ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist.

Books and libraries (and the internet) are tools. Even the Bible and Koran are tools. A tool is something that is useful and beneficial to us. Just as most tools are useful, most tools can be misused and become harmful. It is the intent or the ignorance of the user that can make a tool dangerous. No tool need be worshipped or held in reverence. No book or doctrine deserves our worship. They are all man-made, inanimate objects that hold no supernatural powers or divine governance over us. They deserve a place in our history and wealth of knowledge just as all books do, but they too are books for our education and pleasure, not for holy reverence above all else.

Posted in Events, Local | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

Do You Mind if I Ask a Personal Question? (A mini-series?)

Posted by Andy D. on June 10, 2008

I listened to John Loftus’ speech to us again on why he rejects Christianity from the position of a former evangelical minister and apologist.  It is a good listen.  (Check out his referrals on his latest book! That is a long list of famous people who mostly are going to hell.  We were lucky to have John join us.)

As most of you know, I have been on my own educational quest.  I wanted scientific answers to the big questions with no BS.  I have been following the technical blogs and reading everything I could on evolution and I read ex-ministers’ books on theology.

During the Q&A period of John’s speech the theists asked (and made comments) on the same old morality and Hitler objections.  The freethinkers asked good logical questions and battled back the comments and the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy. The topics were technical and logical.  I loved it.

Suddenly, in the middle of the talk, Sarah asked John if she could ask him a personal question?  We all laughed in anticipation of the question.  She asked John what did his family and friends think of him being out as an Atheist? What a great and relevant question!  I was focused on the logic and arguments; Sarah wanted to know more about the relationships.  John answered by saying at least we are not getting stoned now for speaking up about non-belief and he wanted to change the world.  He didn’t blow Sarah off, but I think she wanted to know more about the personal problems he may have experienced as a by product from being open. The young earth creationist attorney switched the subject for us so we didn’t get that answer.  I am going to e-mail John this blog post and see if he will respond.  I did a quick search on his debunking blog to see if he wrote about this already but I didn’t find anything).

I wasn’t even consciously focusing on this part of my life.  However, I am neck deep in this.  Most of us are probably having trouble in this area so let’s talk about it.  (Blogging is good for you! It sure beats prayer because someone actually reads it and they may respond!  Although they may both provide a self-meditating effect).

My brother has recently graduated from The OSU medical school and he is now engaged to his amazing girlfriend who is also a new doctor.  She is a devout Catholic and accepts a theistic type of evolution as the former Catholic generation did.  He was honest about not being religious and the two of them are getting along great.  I talked with Jim and suggested to him if he loves her there is nothing in our worldview that keeps him from participating in that part of her life.  The trade off is Jim has to have a big Catholic wedding which is her dream.   I love Catholic music and ceremony.  They sure beat the boring Lutheran services.   Don’t hate me folks if I turn off my logic hat during the wedding.  I won’t walk up and say excuse me do you realize there is no evidence for any of these far out claims?  I love my brother and soon to be sister-in-law far more than dragging up reason in the ceremony.  I would be a major ass if I did that.  In fact, that would be unreasonable and dare I say illogical.   (Is there some attempt at a natural selection type of altruism here?  Maybe selfish gene evolutionary theory applies?)

Where do we draw the line on what we tolerate?  I know it would be wrong and silly to run around nursing homes and start saying excuse me, did you know this God thing isn’t really true.  Of course, we draw a hard line to keep creationism out of science class.  I want to know more about the middle demarcation between criticism of religion and intolerance and what that means to our relationships.

I want to pose Sarah’s question to all of you.  What about your family and friends?  Are you open?  What problems are you facing?   I only scratched the surface on this topic and I will write a series on personal issues that I am having with family and friends.  It is extremely complicated.   Let’s help one another.  I will talk to you all tomorrow at the meeting!

Andy

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

The Future of FreeThought

Posted by Skeptigator on June 10, 2008

I have spent the last few days putting my thoughts to digital paper but they weren’t really my thoughts. They were thoughts that I only think are mine but really have come about from reading Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism. In my first post on the matter I mentioned how profoundly this book has changed my view. How I feel to some extent a sense of connection with the past.

I liken it very loosely* to what I can imagine perhaps a homosexual in America might feel and may I be so bold as to draw a comparison between FreeThought and Homosexual Rights. The first step in the acceptance of homosexuals was the acknowledgement that “they” exist and that there is a community of them. I suppose step 2 was try not to get killed but then came step 3 begin to discover a shared history. There hasn’t been much of history for the GLBT community to draw on, they sort of sprang out of nowhere as you might be led to believe. Of couse, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there is an extensive “gay history” however it hasn’t been very pleasant and we’ll never know the full extent to which the homosexual community has always been around.

I suppose this is the natural evolution, if you will, of all groups as they struggle for identity.

This brings us to the main point of this article, the Future of FreeThought. What does tomorrow or even 5 years bring. Maybe we should be saying to ourselves, “Forget about the future. What does the present look like?”

Where we stand today

There are plenty of very good reasons to be pessimistic about the future of FreeThought considering the last 20 years in one sense hasn’t been that great. We’ve seen the ascendancy of the Religious Right during the 70’s through such organizations as Falwell’s Moral Majority and their ability to shape the political landscape of today (not to mention their power within the Republican party out of proportion to their numbers). The 80’s brought us the almost laughable Satanic Panic. The 90’s brought us the Republican Revolution and the rise of the Christian Coalition led by Ralph Reed. The 21st century was kicked off with a bang, specifically 4 bangs on 9/11. An event that should have led to soul-searching within religious circles on the power of faith and that without some kind of check or measure like reason and evidence all ideology particularly religious ideology can lead to some of the greatest atrocities of mankind. Instead, in America, the various Christian sects circled the wagons and drew Us vs. Them distinctions while the liberal left called Islam the Religion of Peace and tried to categorize the 19 young men as fundamentalists or extremists. No doubt they don’t represent the mainstream muslim but there are some very basic questions that are not being asked.

Today secularists and skeptics, atheists and agnostics face some of the same recurring issues that have cropped over the decades, nay, centuries. That thing called Intelligent Design (AKA warmed-over creationism) has been making inroads or at least the strategy has changed again to “academic freedom” bills. The broad support for faith-based initiatives and school vouchers is a reincarnated version of the very same kind of bill that was working it’s way through the Virginia Assembly that attempted to get the state of Virginia to fund religious education. The very thing that Madison and Jefferson worked vigorously to oppose and many evangelical groups of the day also opposed.

Susan Jacoby begins the final chapter of her book with a recent speech given by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia [full text here],

… the real underpinnings of Scalia’s support for the death penalty are to be found not in constitutional law but in the justice’s religious convictions. He believes that the state derives its power not from the consent of the governed – “We, the People,” as the [Constitution] plainly states – but from God. God has the power of life and death, and therefore lawful governments also have the right to exact the ultimate penalty. Democracy, with its pernicous idea that citizens are the ultimate arbiters of public policy, is responsible for the rise of opposition to the death penalty in the twentieth century. “Few doubted the morality of the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings,” Scalia noted in his speech. He would have been just as accurate had he pointed out that most subjects in absolute monarchies also supported the right of kings to torture and to impose the death penalty by drawing and quartering. To bolster his argument, Scalia turned to the perennial favorite of conservative politicians the evangelist Paul: [quotes Romans 13:1-4]

And this is from a Supreme Court justice. What happens when abortion makes it’s way to the SCOTUS? I wonder what a devout Catholic will make his decision based on, clearly not case law or prior precedent or any other impartial manner. I wouldn’t doubt if he quotes Psalms 139:13-16 in his opinion.

Now all of that is kind of a drag and I’m generally an optimistic person.

A Plan for the Future

If you are looking for me to start making predictions of what will happen in the future you can stop reading now. I don’t know and neither does anybody else but I do have some ideas about what we can begin to build today.

1) Identify that non-believers exist, acknowledge that you exist

  • A recent Pew Study shows that approximately 10.3% of the U.S. population identifies itself as either atheist, agnostic or secular-unaffiliated, there’s an additional 5-6% of the U.S. population that is religious-unaffiliated, maybe they just need to be told it’s OK to not believe.
  • Read that again 10% (that’s about 30 million people). We more than exist, we are significant chunk of the population.

2) Recognize that you have a history

  • I hope the last 3 posts have given you a taste of the extremely rich history that secularism and freethought have in America. If you don’t know about the last 3 posts here they are:
  1. Revolutionary FreeThought
  2. The Golden Age of FreeThought
  3. FreeThought in the 20th Century

3) Get involved

  • Join a group or start one. I live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, not exactly a liberal bastion by any stretch. We have a group, you can find us here, freethoughtfortwayne.org. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in starting your own.
  • Groups like CFI On Campus provide excellent resources for starting college campus groups.
  • Write letters to the editor, attend speeches and conferences promoting secular thought, scientific literacy and freethought.
  • Write your story, start a blog, write a book. We don’t live in an age anymore where you have to jump through hoops and sell your soul to get published anymore. You can self-publish. Every piece of literature out there adds to the growing number of freethought voices.

4) Begin Building Bridges

  • Instead of fighting or resisting religious groups, we should be defining where we have common ground. I suppose this goes back to that old adage, “The frontiers that trade won’t cross, armies will”, or something like that. If we won’t engage with religious groups we will only ever exchange volleys and that won’t get us anywhere
  • I’ve said it before and I say it again, we really should promote advocacy for secular government within the religious community.

Let’s do what we can to change the tone and tenor of the nation. If you are unhappy about the invasion of religion into every nook and cranny of our political discourse then speak up. Write your congressman, yours can’t be any worse than mine, Mark Souder (R) – 3rd Dist. IN. He or she works for you, remember that.

I would be interested in your comments. AM I missing something? Am I too optimistic?

* Of course, I’m a heterosexual, middle-class white guy, so what do I really know about being gay or even oppressed for that matter. Like I said “very loosely” based on the recent history of homosexuals.

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FreeThought in the 20th Century

Posted by Skeptigator on June 9, 2008

This is the 3rd in a series of posts exploring the Past, Present and Future of FreeThought. In this installment I would like to discuss how poorly FreeThought faired in the early parts of the 20th century but I promise to end on a high note. The primary focus will be from the turn of the century to the about the 70’s.

Comstock Laws, Contraception and Catholics

To understand the problems that eventually overwhelmed FreeThought in the first half of the 20th century we must first start with the enacting of the Comstock Laws of 1870’s. These laws essentially allowed the federal government the right to inspect and seize anything moving through the U.S. Postal service deemed “obscene” as determined by the local postmaster. Those things that were deemed obscene were anything from “diatribes against marriage to advertisements for veneral disease remedies”. Ingersoll himself spoke against the government being in the business of censoring and ultimately defining what was obscene.

Until the early 20th century the Catholic church held very little sway and was still considered a suspicious minority religion. However despite their small numbers the Catholic church actively began to crusade against public (and therefore secular and godless) education and contraception. Margaret Sanger, the inventor of the term birth control and it’s biggest crusader was ultimately arrested in New York City at the prompting of the local Catholic clergy. While opposition of contraception didn’t seem to win the Catholics any Protestant fans their eventual embrace of some of the most virulent, anti-communism would finally assuage the mainstream Protestant fears.

Bolshevism and the Red Scare

As the dawn of the Great War approached many freethinkers were imprisoned for sedition (such as Eugene Debs, a socialist, vocal opponent of the America’s entry into the Great War and an Indiana State Representative). After the Great War, the Bolshevik Revolution created a backlash against those that were perceived as godless and therefore un-American. Mainstream Protestantism began to link bolshevism and eventually communism with evolution much like the Catholic church linked communism and atheism. While true the Bolsheviks ostensibly embraced atheism it didn’t prevent them from replacing the State as the new religion. This of course didn’t stop the link from being made.

During the decades preceding the second World War, 2 Catholic personalities emerged on the national stage, Charles Coughlin and Fulton Sheen. Charles Coughlin was,

… dubbed “the father of hate radio” by a recent biographer, was destined to rise no higher in the church than the priesthood: his early populist message of Christian justice for the working man turned in the thirties into an anti-New Deal, pro-Nazi, and anti-Semitic – as well as anticommunist – platform. Coughlin’s diatribes were tolerated by Vatican officials and encouraged by his bishop for much of the thirties, but he was finally muzzled by an embarrassed hierarchy after Pearl Harbor.

Fulton Sheen on the other hand was an unblemished darling of the church hierarchy. His Catholic Hour radio show was broadcast by 106 radio stations throughout the 1940’s to eventually become a television star in the 1950’s with his show, Life is Worth Living, reach an estimated 5.5 million viewers. There is no doubt Sheen was virulently anticommunist as Coughlin even going so far as to advocate for spying on school teachers who might celebrate May Day (a socialist holiday, and one shared by labor unions). A close friend of J. Edgar Hoover, that bastion of free speech, Sheen would often get his personal friends appointed to what would ultimately become the FBI.

What does all of this mean for freethought in the first half of the 20th century? Nothing good. Freethinkers were more often labeled socialist (which many were) or communists. In general, an unpleasant period in freethought history.

Let the good times roll

I will end this section on a high note before I delve into my opinions on the Future of FreeThought. A number of important court cases would be decided in the mid-century. Everson v. Board of Education (1947) and McCollum v. Illinois (1948) would all but prevent public funds (even indirectly) from being used for religious instruction. The McCollum case would directly challenge “released time” when students would be released during the school day to receive religious instruction from local religious groups. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) which desegregated schools. Engel v. Vitale (1962) found that even non-denominational school prayer was unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade (1973) which protected a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Within the political arena a Catholic would be elected president and give a speech clearly stating that, “I do not speak for my church on public matters – and the church does not speak for me”. A clear difference that was lost on Mitt Romney. Of course, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would finally pass The Congress.

I won’t detail the activities of secularist involved in the struggle for civil rights, such as, Andrew Goodman Michael Schwerner and James Chaney (who were eventually killed by racist shitbags), Stanley Levison and W.E.B. Du Bois. And modern day feminism, such as, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. I will simply assume you know all about it 😉

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The Golden Age of FreeThought

Posted by Skeptigator on June 8, 2008

In my continuing series on the history of freethought and secularism in America I would like to spend a little time focusing on the “Golden Age of FreeThought”. It’s called by the author of Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism, Susan Jacoby, the Golden Age for good reason. During the period following the Civil War it was perhaps the most open period in American history to disagree with religious authority and even mock the more irrational aspects of religion. This openness wasn’t nearly as utopian as it may sound.

Unbelief during the Civil War

Perhaps the most telling comments about the status of secular thought during the 19th century comes from the following passage of Susan Jacoby’s book,

Today’s Christian conservatives frequently use the slogan “let’s put God back into the Constitution,” thereby implying that “secular humanists” have managed to overturn what was originally intended to be a marriage of church and state. Nineteenth-century clerics knew better and were honest about their desire to reverse what they regarded as the founders’ erroneous decision to separate church and state.

The late nineteenth-century was merely a foreshadowing of the kinds of vitriol that would be poured out on our elected leaders in recent decades. “In God We Trust” was first engraved onto our currency during the end of the Civil War and was soon made the butt of a number of jokes, such as “In gold we trust” during the debates surrounding the removal of U.S. currency from the gold standard.

Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most devout Christians ever to be elected president, attempted in 1907 to dispense with the motto precisely because of the sacrilegious puns. He succeeded only in arousing a storm of criticism from ministers who had previously been among his strongest supporters. Roosevelt, who had dubbed Paine a “filthy little atheist,” was himself called an infidel for his attempt to remove God from American money.”

Ah, the irony is overwhelming.

The Great Agnostic

Much as Thomas Paine was perhaps the most reviled infidel of his time, Robert Green Ingersoll was much admired and called the Great Agnostic. Ingersoll wrote many pamphlets during his time (c. 1870-1899), including the Gods and Other Lectures and Some mistakes of Moses.

Unlike today, the American people often went to see speakers give lectures. In fact, you could make quite a living going on the lecture circuit. Ingersoll was an extremely popular speaker with many connections to the Republican party of the day. In many of his talks he did not pull any punches in his ridicule of religious belief and social issues such as slavery and women’s rights.

From the Gods and other lectures, after quoting Deuteronomy chapter 20 from the Old Testament detailing the slaughter of men and the… uh… acquisition of the women,

Is it possible for man to conceive of anything more perfectly infamous? Can you believe that such directions were given by any being except an infinite fiend? Remember that the army receiving these instructions was one of invasion. Peace was offered upon condition that the people submitting should be the slaves of the invader; but if any should have the courage to defend their homes, to fight for the love of wife and child, then the word was to spare none – not even the prattling, dimpled babe.

And we are called upon to worship such a god; to get upon our knees and tell him that he is good, that he is merciful, that he is just, that he is love.

The book, called the bible, is filled with passages equally horrible, unjust and atrocious. This is the book to be read in schools in order to make our children loving, kind and gentle! This is the book to be recognized in our Constitution as the source of all authority and justice!

Reading Ingersoll is like reading Dawkins or particularly Hitchens. In fact, I dare say The God Delusion and god is not great are modern day versions of the very lectures that Ingersoll was so famously recognized for and the Four Horseman are so roundly criticized for.

FreeThought Activism

I don’t want to make it sound like the late-nineteenth century was a free and unfettered time to be a freethinker. In fact, the roots of what would ultimately become the “red scare” and much of the McCarthy-ist persecution was beginning to take root at this time particularly during the turn of the century. I will wait to delve into those issues with the next post, FreeThought in the 20th Century.

Among perhaps one of the most astounding things of the mid to late-1800’s was the prevalence of Freethought literature, newspapers and pamphlet printing organizations. Throughout the 1800’s FreeThought periodicals began popping up everywhere, the most famous of the bunch would be D.M. and Mary Bennett’s Truth Seeker. Some of the other periodicals were the Boston Investigator, the Blue Grass Blade, the Free-Thought Ideal and Free-Thought Vindicator, and my personal favorite the Lucifer, the Light-Bearer. Of course, like all “movements” they are rarely centralized and cooridinated as evidenced by the Iconoclast of Austin, Texas run by William Cowper Brann, a strident racist who was ultimately shot in the back by an enraged Baptist. The diversity of thought among those who wore the FreeThought banner was loosely held together by the almost universal opposition to organized religion and their support for a clear separation of church and state.

During this time period the roots of feminism were planted beginning with attempts to gain women the right to vote and the dissemination of information regarding contraception. There are so many famous figures from the women’s rights movement who came to fame during this time period, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Ernestine L. Rose.

There are so many things that happened during this time period that I have only barely scratched the surface. I only glossed over Ingersoll’s life and almost the entirety of the women’s suffrage movement and spoke nothing about the emancipation of the slaves and Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs. I guess you’ll just have to read the book 😉

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John Loftus’ Speech to FreeThought Fort Wayne (Audio)

Posted by Skeptigator on May 19, 2008

On May 14th, FreeThought Fort Wayne sponsored an event at the local library entitled Why I Rejected Christianity. Our speaker was John Loftus, who runs the group site, http://debunkingchristianity.net.

John Loftus is a former evangelical pastor and apologist who is now an atheist. He has previously self-published his story and his thoughts on why he left the Christian faith. Later this year, John will be releasing his forthcoming book, Why I became an Atheist, a former preacher rejects Christianity through Prometheus Books.

John’s talk to the group was very well received and most of those in attendance were very well-behaved. His speech was attended by about 45 people, of which only about half were regular attenders of FreeThought Fort Wayne. The larger than normal attendance was due in part to the interview that John Loftus gave to one of our local newspapers, Ex-preacher says goodbye to God.

It was great to see some new faces. The talk was about 2 hours long and included a slideshow, so be aware that there are some parts of the talk may not make as much sense since you can’t see the slideshow. The main portion of his talk was about an hour and a half and included about a half hour of Q&A at the end.

The bulk of John’s lecture was a high-level review of many of John’s points from his forthcoming book. If you wish to see the detailed biblical criticisms that backup his arguments you will need to get the book when it’s released . Here’s what some of our members had to say about John’s talk (I would suggest listening to the talk before reading the posts below, they will have better context);

Posted in Events, FreeThought, Local, Philosophy, Religion, Skepticism, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Four Horsemen are Online

Posted by dystressed on April 19, 2008

Richard Dawkins’ “The Four Horsemen” roundtable discussion video is online in two parts, hosted on Google. This is a very interesting video.

One note is that it’s also available on DVD. The DVD sale proceeds go to the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Security Trust.

Via Richard Dawkins.

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Our next meeting will be May 14th, 2008

Posted by Skeptigator on April 14, 2008

As a special treat John W. Loftus will be speaking to our group on the topic, “Why I rejected Christianity”. The meeting is at the Downtown Fort Wayne Public Library in Meeting Room B from 7:00PM to 9:00PM. There will probably be a group of us going out afterwords for drinks.

Here’s a little more information on the author, John Loftus,

“Born and raised in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and as a former ordained minister with Christ’s Church at Georgetown, John ministered for fourteen years in Christian churches in the Tri-State area. John earned the equivalent of a PhD degree in philosophical and theological studies. He was a student of William Lane Craig, considered by many Christians to be the best defender of their faith in this generation. John’s book, “Why I Became an Atheist: A Preacher Rejects Christianity,” will be published this year by Prometheus Books. John is also the founder of the blog titled, “Debunking Christianity,” which has several ex-Christian ministers and apologists sharing their reasons why the Christian faith is delusional.”

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