Alon Levy's picture

What are you?

Cassandra asks people to play a game by answering six questions about their religious background:

1. What is your religion?
2. How long have you claimed these beliefs?
3. Short explanation of how you arrived at these beliefs.
4. What do you do for a living?
5. Education level, if you are interested in sharing.
6. Anything else relevent to the conversation that you think might be important.

Now, I'm going to ask the commenters here to answer the same questions, of course while remaining respectful. But I also want to tweak question 1 a bit: could you please describe both your religious background (Christian, Muslim, etc.) and your current view (atheist, theist, agnostic, etc.)? About every atheist I know has some connection to his or her original religion - for example, I think most UTI readers are atheists who come from a Christian background and still celebrate Christian holidays.

(my answers are below the flip - but don't think that just because they're long, you have to post long answers, too; I just happen to be verbose)

Brent Rasmussen's picture

An Open Letter To The Editor

Steven J. Woodhouse, Editor of the Knoxville Journal-Express has written a little column lamenting the fact that those nasty, mean scientists have the audacity to discover facts about our natural world that make god-believers uncomfortable in their god-belief.

Hmnn. So much to comment on in this op-ed piece, but I thought I'd pull one grossly inaccurate statement out and set him straight.

More below the fold...

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Another Solemn Promise From The EAC

In response to the shocking behavior of Christian Youth Pastors lately, and in addition to promising to never kick you in the nuts, The EAC has adopted an additional Motto.

[link] A local youth minister [Thirty-year-old Bryan Milam] pleaded guilty Monday to sex crimes against two young girls. He also struck a deal, in hopes of avoiding jail time.

[...] Now, a possible third victim has come forward. Kathy Fritz Hannah is now 21-years-old, but says she was 17 when Milam fondled her in his home.

"I woke up with his hand down my shirt fondling my breasts," Hannah says

Yikes! Sicko! Join us, Kathy. Join the EAC and never again worry about sneaky breast-fondling by old, creepy guys like Youth Pastor Milan.

The EAC: We Promise To Never Fondle Your Breasts While You Are Sleeping.

Hank Fox's picture

Happy *coughcough* Easter

Dr. P.Z. Myers has a wonderful post about Easter, Easter Mourning, which I think everyone alive should read. And here are some thoughts of my own which arise from having read it:

I don't expect any of us non-religious types to start a war, but I do expect thoughtful, reasonable people to defend themselves, and the mode of thought which is the wellspring of all the good things about their way of life.

I expect them to recognize that the thoughtful, reasonable way of life — which is not all that old, and not all that widespread — is under siege right now (as it always has been) by con-men of the Falwellian bent, and the fools who slavishly follow them.

I don’t know where I heard the saying "It has the advantage of never having been tried," but I often think, for all too many people, that the saying certainly applies to reason.

Most of us don’t realize that calm, rational, non-superstitious thought is damned rare in human history, and even in modern society. It’s not only recent historically, it’s statistically unlikely even in the world today.

Considering its demonstrated success, you’d think people would jump at the chance to learn and practice reason. Reason is as rare as diamonds, and even more valuable, yet some people treat it like common dirt – they can’t wait to get clean of it so they can get back to their greasy personal fantasies and two-a-penny wishful thinking.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Tom Delay Is Insane, Part Deux

There is a definite and unmistakable move towards Dominionism in our country. It is fueled by the insane belief in a "War on Christians". Christianity's encouragement of a martyr complex in it's adherents is becoming dangerous enough that I'm truly worried about it.

The Revealer's Elizabeth A. Castelli, an associate professor of religious studies at Barnard College, has written a must-read article for anyone concerned about the direction the theocrats are heading. She has heavily researched and documented the role that martyrdom has played in shaping and establishing the Christian culture and mindset. She recently attended the "The War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006" conference sponsored by Vision America, who bill themselves as " organization committed to the project of 'restoring the original American vision.'"


[link] When the powerful claim to be powerless and use this claim and a purportedly divine mandate to authorize a no-holds-barred attack on political institutions, we are on dangerous ground, indeed.

You need to read this article.

(Tip of the ballcap to PZ.)

Brent Rasmussen's picture

An Atheist Is Born

Youth minister David M. Boudreaux, of the Crescent Lake Christian Academy in Liberty, Missouri must be a secret EAC agent.

While engaged in a friendly, Christian game of dodgeball, one of his 16-year-old charges hit him with the ball. Which I thought was kind of the whole point of the game. Boudreaux, 27, got angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.

The same teen, whanged him again, knocking his glasses off. So, what does this paragon of Christian virtue do?

He becomes enraged, of course - because apparently that's how adults who work with kids should react, according to Boudreaux's reaction. You know, with anger, and rage, and physical assault.

What an asshole.

The kid is scared, and tries to apologize to this suddenly-frightening adult man who is bearing down on him in an angry rage. First Boudreaux shoves him in the chest and forces him to fall to the ground and hit his head. Then, when the poor, scared kid tries to get up - the Christian "Youth Pastor" kicks him in the nuts.

Yup. Kicks him so hard in the nuts that he ends up in the hospital, pissing blood, with a concussion, and whiplash.

[link] The teen suffered whiplash and post-concussion syndrome and had blood in his urine after being kicked, according to court records.

Boudreaux later apologized, prosecutors said.

Jeanne D. Hewitt, administrator of Crescent Lake Christian Academy, said Boudreaux had been placed on administrative leave.

Oh. He apologized. Well, that makes it all better now, doesn't it? Apologies have been shown in scientific medical studies to cure blood in your urine, haven't they?

Boudreaux should be placed in jail. He's lucky that wasn't my kid or he'd be in the hospital himself.

In any case, to the 16-year-old victim in this story, come on over to atheism. We promise to never kick you in the nuts. In fact, that's a GREAT tagline for the EAC!

The EAC. We Promise To Never Kick You In The Nuts.

Marketing GOLD!

Oh, and you'll be free of a repressive, anti-thinking organization that encourages violence towards children. That too.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Stupid, Ignorant, Or Liar?

Hans Zeiger, the uber-Scout, conservative, wanna-be theocrat columnist, has it out for atheists. He really, really doesn't like us. I get the distinct impression from reading his columns that he would be delighted if we were to all be rounded up and forced into the gas chambers. He's scary with his sparkly-eyed, idealist Conservative writings uncritically published in the fawning right-wing media. In a recent column, Zeiger makes the claim that Michael Newdow "admits" that "atheism is a religion". Zeiger is either being willfully ignorant, deliberately untruthful, or just plain stupid.

Unfortunately for Zeiger, Newdow says no such thing.

[link] But Mr. Newdow concedes that it is a religion. (He admits it in his own words: "I adhere to a religion. My religion denies the existence of any god ... My religious worldview is atheism.")

What conclusions can we draw from this profession of faith?

First, atheism is a religion. Most atheists deny this; Mr. Newdow freely admits it.

Oh, Hans. So young and so incredibly stupid -- or willfully ignorant, or a liar. Take your pick.

Let's break this down a bit and take a look at it. Newdow admits that he has a religion. He has always admitted this. This is nothing new. He says that his religion denies the existence of any god. He states that his religious worldview is atheism. Again, no surprises there. That has been Newdow's tack with his whole project from the very beginning and he has never made any bones about it.

Atheism can be a part of, or a component of a religion. This is what Newdow said, and it is indeed the case in Newdow's religion. No one has ever disputed this.

However, atheism cannot be a religion in and of itself, as Zeiger claims.

Is "theism" a religion in and of itself? Of course not. "Theism" simply means "the presence of god-belief in a human being". Conversely, "atheism" means "the absence of god-belief in a human being". Also not a religion.

There, that wasn't so hard to understand after all, was it Hans?

As for his "the sky is falling!" diatribe about the evils of atheism and it's inevitable trail of tears leading to despotism - it is laughably, ridiculously silly.

Conservatives need an "enemy". Atheism is the boogey-man right now, just like communism, and Jews have been the boogey-man in the past.

What more do you need to understand Hans' paranoid rhetoric?

Brent Rasmussen's picture

The Prayer Mafia

In response to Alon's article on the "pseudo-charity" being practiced by the Salvation Army below, a commenter by the name of Chris asks the question:

[link] Is there any evidence that any church-sponsored shelters "require" prayer from their clients? Or do they merely gather people around the table and say "let us pray" and their clients just go along with it?

Well, oddly enough, I have direct experience with church-sponsored shelters and their use of coercion, guilt, and outright physical force to get me to pray a Christian prayer - before being allowed to eat and sleep.

More below the flip...

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Sam Harris Interview

There is a very good interview with Sam Harris over at Truthdig. Check it out when you get a chance.

[link] Blair Golson: What prompted you to write “The End of Faith" ?

Sam Harris: It was my immediate reaction to Sept. 11—the moment it became clear that we were meandering into a global, theologically-inspired conflict with the Muslim world, and were going to tell ourselves otherwise, based on the respect we pay to faith.

The last thing we were going to admit was that people were flying planes into our buildings because of what they believed about God. We came up with euphemisms about this being a war on terror, and Islam being a religion of peace, and we were pushed even further into our own religiosity as a nation. At the moment that this dynamic became clear—and it became clear within about 24 hours—I started writing the book.

Within 24 hours?

In the first few days there were some people who were willing to call a spade a spade and speak critically about Islam, but very quickly we began to talk about Osama Bin Laden and the extremists of the Muslim world as being the exceptions - people who had hijacked a peaceful religion and utterly distorted it. Many people compared Osama Bin Laden to the Reverend Jim Jones, David Koresh, or some other marginal figure, and all of that is completely untrue. Osama Bin Laden’s version of Islam is a much more central, plausible version of Islam than people tend to acknowledge. My discussion of Islam in the book is a response to this sort of denial.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Damned Activist Judges

My worst nightmare made flesh. Rachel Bevilacqua lost custody of her son because she pokes fun at religions as a member of the Church Of The Sub-Genius satire performance group.

[link] Her ten-year-old son, Kohl lived with her and her husband in Georgia. Like she's done many times before, Bevilacqua put her son on a plane to New York to visit his father in Orleans County for Christmas. However, this time she didn't get him back.

"This is the longest we've ever been a part," she said.

Bevilacqua said her son's father filed for full custody during his visit and a judge granted it without contacting her. She flew to New York to fight the ruling, thinking it would be an easy fight since she's always had custody. However, Bevilacqua walked out of the Orleans County Court stripped of just about all of her parental rights. This after County Judge James Punch learned of her involvement in a satire performance group that pokes fun at religion, called the Church of the Sub-Genius. Court transcripts back up her claims.

"I've read through the transcripts a million times and he just said it's obvious that I shouldn't have my son. Obvious."

ACLU Director Barbara de Leeuw didn't want to comment on the specifics of the case, but she said there is not getting around the freedom of speech.

"It's a very challenging issue to think that somebody engaged in constitutionally protected activity that there are personal ramifications for it," she explained.

Bevilacqua believes Judge Punch used her to make a political statement.

"I'm a good mother and you can't play games with people's lives like this," she asserted."

Judge Punch refused our previous requests for comment on this case. And we learned he is currently out of town. Bevilacqua will be back in court next month, but in front of new judge. Judge Punch recused himself last week.

More here and here, here, and here.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

A Bargain Basement Kent Hovind

Tom Ritter is a high school chemistry teacher with a dilemma. How to reconcile his duties teaching public high-school students chemistry and physics when those fields depend so heavily on evolution?

Did I mention that Professor Tom is a creationist? And that he has issued a $1000.00 "challenge" to "evolutionists" to debate him in mid-May on the topic; "Is evolution the only rational explanation to explain life and the existence of modern organisms?"

Apparently, Tom Ritter is Lebanon Pennsylvania's rather shopworn version of Dr. Dino.

Ritter, a chemistry and physics teacher, is astonishingly ignorant when it comes to evolution.

[link] “Personally, I don’t have much interest in evolution, creation or ‘intelligent design,’” Ritter said. “I’m interested in science. I believe teaching evolution as fact perverts science. You could teach evolution as a theory, and I’d have no problem with that.

Evolution is both a fact and a collection of theories. The fact is that evolution occurs. No sane person would even think of denying this. The theories are attempts to best explain how evolution occurs. A science teacher who doesn't understand this should be fired. It's inexcusably ignorant - willfully ignorant.

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Garbage In Garbage Out

In Utah, the state Attorney General's Office has requested that the judge dismiss a lawsuit filed against the state having to do with roadside crosses honoring Utah state troopers killed in the line of duty. In her comment on the story on the website, commenter Julie K. demonstrates the awesome power of Jesus, and the perfect love for all mankind that His followers demonstrate.

Except when they're those dirty atheists, of course.

[link] I am getting soooo sick of other people trying to tell me that I cannot worship a God. That I cannot have any religious simbols in public. What are they going to ask the courts for next, that they abolish the direction of East because some people face the East to pray to their God. Why dont you all buy yourselves an island & get the heck out of a country that was build on the principals of a God. When you all get to that island I will pray to my God to sink it.

"Hey Bob, you know this island we atheists bought?"


"Does the horizon seem a little closer today?"

*peers at the ocean* "Holy shit! God does exist! Swim for it!"

Robert Madison's picture

Interpret This

The basic idea I intend to develop is that it is unethical and negligent to communicate extremely important information in a manner in which that information might be misunderstood, or misinterpreted, especially when the information relates to the safety of an individual. As this relates to the interpretation of scripture (the Bible), this issue becomes infinitely more important.

“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Jesus, Matthew 12:36-37

Imagine that a fire breaks out in a fancy new hotel downtown. The alarms ring, and soon, people anxiously pour out of their rooms, and into the hallway. Once in the hallway, now rapidly filling with smoke, the guests see a very large sign with bright-red, neon letters which reads, “In case of fire, consider this: "Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather" (1)

You might think such a thing is ridiculous, and rightly so. It would be ridiculous for anyone to provide imprecise and/or unclear instructions for the alleged purpose of ensuring the safety of others. Indeed, it would be more than ridiculous; it would be criminally negligent.

Hank Fox's picture

Atheism Stories, part II

The St. Petersburg Times and Fort Worth Star-Telegram stories were hopeful. Just the fact that they were printed was a good sign.

HOWEVER, before any of us get too happy-faced, notice this article, from the University of Minnesota’s UMN News:

"Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority, according to new U of M study"

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

MBains's picture

Evolution Ain't No Faith, Man!

To me it's just good, good sense. (nod 'n' a wink to AC/DC)

I've been wanting to blog on this Salon story all day. It's an interview with Edward O Wilson, a biologist and the author of quite a few books, including The Ants, The Diversity of Life, and Consilience, all of which are considered seminal, though controversial, works on the evolution of human intelligence.

As I mentioned in my last post, work was just too hectic to do it justice today. Luckily for me, PZ Meyer's has done his own brand of justice on it. So I'll just say that it's a thoroughly enjoyably read and that Edwards makes it clear that atheism isn't what science is selling. It's simply a logical conclusion for anyone who takes material reality seriously and, science being all about discovering what is really and demonstrably real, tends to lend credence to an atheist view of the universe.

In PZ's words,

Awe is good. Appreciating the majesty of the universe is good. Demeaning it by coupling it to false and non-existent concepts like gods and spirits is bad.

I think Wilson already knows this, though.

Alon Levy's picture

Atheism Stories

Four days ago, the Star-Telegram ran a very sympathetic story about atheists, mentioning among other things that atheists "simply want to go about their own lives without hassle or pressure" in connection with Newdow's lawsuits. Now the St. Petersburg Times has a similar but far more militant article, "Ex-Minister Walks Atheist Path." Paraphrasing the ex-minister in question, the article says:

"Public schools need to be secular because if they are used for religious brainwashing, we will never have a free society," he said. "If you look at any theocratic state throughout history, it was never a free and open society."

And with the recent Supreme Court nominations that have possibly tilted that judicial body to the right, Young said he is truly worried about what might come next. He predicts an end to abortion rights and the beginning of prayer in school.

In fact, from the executive branch all the way to local government, Young said, "we are becoming a theocratic fascist state - hate and bigotry in a society that is touted as being free and equal, when we are really not equal."

Well, if the Star-Telegram is correct, then there might be a light at the end of the tunnel in the US. It states that nontheists comprise 16% of the American population, which is symbolic because it's the approximate percentage of nontheists in the world.

On the other hand, neither article comes close to my ideal portrayal of atheism in the media. The first article would if it bagged its last paragraph, which deals with atheist morality and presents it fairly inaccurately. The second talks of the ex-minister's newfound zeal for atheism; in fact the quoted part above is a demonstration of his "fire and brimstone" (direct quote) rhetoric. But I'm a realist; between these articles and nothing, there's no question I'd rather see these articles.

Here's hoping for similar articles about atheism and atheists in more important and widely-read papers...

MBains's picture

Hey Mom! I'm quoted in the NYTimes!

Addendum: I hesitated ending this the way it is now because, except in obvious humour or to make a Life or Death type of point, I do try to avoid offending folk on the grounds that they believe in "G"od. Yeah, sometimes I'm a nutter in other ways than that.


I realized whilst writing the following that I don't ever take advantage of one the main tools of the blogosphere: community bloggin'. I suppose that being "mad surfer" when it comes to finding always other interesting blogs to read, I forget how important also being a member of community really is. With that in mind, please allow me to share my joy in A) the thrill of a little (very! lol!) celebrity, and B) being a Blogchild of UTI.

Thanks Boss Daddy Brent!

[Link] Silly Humans, Three Quarks Daily and The Secular Outpost offer more criticism in the same vein, with Silly Humans taking aim in particular at Wieseltier's accusations that Dennett is guilty of "scientism." "Scientism," writes Silly Humans' Michael Bains, is "the ultimate meme. It is insanely inane since it ignores the fact that Science is only a method for revealing the material workings of reality. Since it misdefines what science is, it says absolutely nothing about it."

More below the flip...

DrCelebre's picture

Worst Professor in the Universe

Hey everyone! Go to the contest for Worst Professor In The Universe and cast your vote for Professor Timothy Shortell. You'll recall that he called religious believers "moral retards" a while back and caused quite a dust up at a public, liberal arts college in New York. For that he deserves the title. (And our thanks.)

He's currently in fifth place, only about 65,000 votes behind Professor Todd Gitlin. I am confident that the infidel hordes at UTI can swing this election. Let's show them how dangerous atheism really is!

Brent Rasmussen's picture

The Burning Question In Alabama

The Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Boligee, Alabama was burned down about a week ago by an arsonist.

Arson is a crime. Does anyone not understand that? Now, when a crime is committed, we have public servants on our local police forces and our federal police organizations like the FBI who investigate the crime, gather evidence, and eventually identify the perpetrator(s) of the crime and arrest them so that they can be tried and convicted in our lawful courts.

Unfortunately, sometimes the victims of a crime are so hurt and distressed by it that they engage in wild, baseless speculation to the press.

Plodding, methodical, logical police investigations are boring. Wild speculation and inflammatory rhetoric are sexy.

Guess which one the media went with?

Brent Rasmussen's picture

Atheists Are People Too - Who Knew?

Susan Ager of the Detroit Free Press actually gives atheists a fair shake in her column today. Bravo.

[Link] I wrote a few weeks ago about a Barbara Walters' TV special that promised to tell us all how to get to heaven. Instead, those she interviewed shared conflicting directions. I wondered if those two hours might have been better spent featuring the 10% of Americans who don't believe in heaven.

"How do they survive challenges and unhappiness?" I wrote. "How do they face death?"

I got answers, lots of them.

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