My Book, Your Book, Their Book, No Book: Exploring Secularism (panel discussion)

Hello all!

Last Wednesday, February 13th, several SASHA members, plus Dr. Dennis Kelley (Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Missouri) participated in a panel discussion at Mizzou called “My Book, Your Book, Their Book, No Book: Exploring Secularism.”

The panelists were (from left to right) me, Dr. Kelley, Katie Huddlestonsmith (undergrad and SASHA officer), Robbie Curran (undergrad and SASHA officer), Theo Tushaus (undergrad, SASHA member, and President of TriCo), Tony Lakey (undergrad and President of SASHA), and Jeremy Winn (doctoral student and SASHA member).

Video of the panel is now live on YouTube. Enjoy!

The panel was organized by the University of Missouri Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative with the help of the student ambassadors and Charlie Parker, Jr of the CDI office. We’re very grateful for their help with this!

If you like it, please feel free to share on Facebook/tweet to spread the word if you like it! You can also upvote it on Reddit.

Until next time,

Dave

dave_bio_pic4Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

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Dave’s Mailbag: Accommodation vs. Confrontation; Avoiding activism burnout; The internet as a source

Hello all! Dave Muscato here. It’s time again for one of my favorite types of posts: Reader mail!

I received the following about my previous post about the Vatican and youth culture. Hang on tight, folks; this is gonna be a long one!

Dylan C. writes:

Hey Dave, hope you had a pleasant day at the courthouse. [NB: I had jury duty the other day]

I’m curious about something. It seems to me from a great number of your recent postings that you have grown increasingly paranoid and irrational in your analysis of information and subsequent conclusions. I assume that as a self-identified activist, you have taken the time to search out and discover things that are important to keep in mind as an activist. In other words, what are some of the key principles that an activist ought to follow in order not to allow their identity as an activist to become all-consuming and deterministic? I ask this because I am concerned for you, for your health, for your sanity, and for your reputation.

“It becomes very difficult for a pastor to get away with lying for Jesus, when anyone—especially young people—can whip out a smartphone and find real answers on Wikipedia faster than you can say the Lord’s Prayer.”

I’ve noticed that you enjoy coming up with and using catchy one-liners such as this to add humor and emotionally-charged content to your posts. But I’m going to have to challenge you on this practice. You of all people should know the significant dangers and limitations inherent to the use of Wikipedia and Google for discovering the “truth”. And young people especially tend to be completely ignorant of how to avoid these dangerous pitfalls. Anyone can post information on the internet, and for just a little bit of financial investment, they can also utilize search engine optimization to make their information more highly visible. A lot of this information is of course from activist groups, some much more biased than others, but all significantly biased nonetheless. The fact that we have labeled this the “Information Age” is a horrible joke to me at best. In fact, from the internet, equally as much as from the “pulpit”, young people are told what to believe. This is REALITY, and I dare you to disagree with me.

Here’s my response:

Hey Dylan! I really appreciate your feedback. It is true that I have shifted more toward a “confrontationist” approach to religion, as opposed to an “accommodationist” approach. There is actually a division within the secular movement about this: There was a debate/panel discussing the topic at the Skepticon 3 conference that’s worth watching if you’re interested.

Many atheists believe, although we disagree about the existence of gods, that churches have a lot to offer and the best course of action is to work together on “interfaith” activities to make the world a better place. Confrontationists, on the other hand, see religion as dangerous, and see religious moderates as enablers for fundamentalists. The accommodationists dislike that confrontationists add to the stereotype of “angry atheists,” and the confrontationists dislike that the accommodationists give irrationality a free pass.

I’m reminded of the conflict between hellfire & brimstone preachers versus welcoming congregations. The hellfire & brimstone preachers dislike that the welcoming congregations permit gay people, etc, while the welcoming congregations see the hellfire preachers as turning people away from religion and not teaching the “loving” aspects of Christianity.

The infamous hellfire campus preacher (and friend of mine), Brother Jed Smock

The infamous “hellfire” campus preacher (and friend of mine), Brother Jed Smock

I feel I must stress that my natural inclination is to be an accommodationist. It feels right to me, and it’s difficult for me to criticize religion as a whole, when I have personally enjoyed so many positive experiences as a formerly religious person, and considering I have many friends whom I love and who are religious.

However, the more I research religion, the more I come to realize that religion is the root of virtually all of the things I consider wrong. The Biblical theme that some God “gave” humankind dominion over the the whole of the Earth and all the animals on it, along with the idea that this God is “in control” of the environment and would not allow us to perish before Jesus returns, is directly at odds with the urgency of the global environmental crisis, and with vegetarianism/veganism. The Biblical theme that woman are subservient to men is directly at odds with feminism. The Biblical theme that souls exist and life begins at conception is directly at odds with reproductive rights, abortion access, and stem cell research. The Biblical theme that there is an afterlife is directly at odds with the secular humanist priority of making this life count for everything it’s worth because you only live once. The Biblical creation mythology is directly at odds with the science education and the teaching the scientific fact of evolution by means of natural selection. The Biblical theme that a man should not lie with another man is directly at odds with LGBTQ rights. Etc, etc.

In fact I am hard-pressed to come up with a cause I care about that DOESN’T have its root conflict in religion. I care about a lot of things and wish I could be an activist for them all, but I understand the prudence in picking one’s battles. Fortunately, it’s not a hard choice: By choosing to focus on atheism activism, I am in effect also fighting for LGBTQ rights, women’s right to choose, birth control access, stem-cell research, science education, vegetarianism, secular humanism, and critical thinking.

megaphone-guy

I’m curious as to what you mean by “increasingly paranoid and irrational in your analysis of information and subsequent conclusions.” Correct me if this isn’t what you meant, but I assume in effect you mean my increasing willingness to blame religion for social ills. As I stated, it is true that it’s becoming easier for me to criticize religion as a whole. I assert that this is because I am learning more about the pervasiveness of religion in society as the source of many twisted beliefs. These beliefs cause people to do many terrible things out of ignorance and just plain indoctrination.

I am intolerant of bigotry and make no apology for this. If that makes me a confrontationist, so be it. Because I have a conscience, I cannot stand by idly when I see violence, whether physical or structural. I cannot stand by idly when I see irrationality guiding moral decision-making and public policy. These things are just too important.

You ask:

…What are some of the key principles that an activist ought to follow in order not to allow their identity as an activist to become all-consuming and deterministic?

This is an important question and I’m glad you asked. This applies to activists of all stripes, not just within the secular movement. Here are what I consider key principles to avoiding burnout:

  1. Make a conscious effort to separate your work and your life. For most professional activists I know, their activism began as a volunteer passion. Sometimes, it is difficult for them to turn that “off” when they go home at night. If you are accustomed to spending your free time doing activism, and you then find yourself doing it professionally, you have to make the decision to spend your free time NOT doing activism. This means having hobbies, and making time for them. For me, this is photography, playing music, and taking road-trips. I always make sure to practice my guitar or bass at least a half-hour a day, to keep up my chops but also to take a break from the computer.
    -
  2. Have some friends who are not part of your cause. I make a conscious effort to make sure my relationships with my religious friends stay strong. It’s also good to have friends who share your values but simply aren’t activists about it. It gives you some perspective.
    -
  3. Read/watch fiction. This is very difficult for me personally but I think it’s good advice. It’s important to have an escape. I tend to read only non-fiction, and I like to watch documentaries, but I make an effort to watch funny TV shows and occasionally read a novel.
    -
  4. Regularly study the opposing point of view. Understand that other people do not share your perspective for a reason, sometimes even good reasons. I make every effort to read apologists’ books when they are recommended to me, if for no other reason than to critique them and practice the name-the-fallacy game.

Now on to our third and final point: the internet as a source.

internet-activism

Of course, I do not recommend that anyone interested in atheism or secular history use Wikipedia as their sole source. Wikipedia is very good for certain subjects and less good for others. But what I love about Wikipedia is that hard sources are provided at the bottom of every article, and information without solid citations is flagged and removed.

It is equally important, if not more so, to read proper history books from credible historians. But I disagree with you about using Google to find sources. Google indexes not only blogs and interest-group websites, etc, which may be heavily biased and contain factual errors and logical fallacies. Google also indexes accredited university websites, peer-reviewed academic journals, and fact-checked magazines and so on.

These are legitimate sources for correct information and I completely disagree that people searching on Google are being told what to believe equally with what comes from the pulpit. Not believing what comes from the pulpit brings with it the threat of “Hell,” for one thing. Not believing what comes from the pulpit, for many young people, comes with the threat of losing internet privileges, games, toys, etc, and sometimes even food. In extreme cases, though unfortunately not all-too-rare, not believing what comes from the pulpit comes with the threat of being disowned and being homeless.

It is simply not true that people are being told what to believe equally on Google and at church.

With regard to Internet sources, the information is simply there. People choose to read it or not, and choose to accept it or not. They can choose to explore opposing points of view with just a few clicks, and just as readily access training on how to think critically and examples of various logical fallacies.

thinking

So-called “Internet literacy” is a skill that must be learned—fact-checking information from one site against other sites, using logic and critical thinking to see if the information is coherent with what you already know, and making sure what you’re reading is internally consistent and contains no fallacies. There is a very famous example of teaching Internet literacy regarding a fictional “tree octopus” that’s worth a read if you have time.

I think the most important thing, when it comes to claims of any kind, is to be skeptical. I consider myself a skeptic—SASHA stands for Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics—and skepticism is an important part of my worldview. Skepticism is, in my experience, NOT taught or encouraged in religious settings. In fact in my experience, I have seen it actively discouraged, painted as the work of Satan, trying to trick people into losing their faith in Jesus. Frankly, I find this ridiculous, although I more-or-less believed that myself at one time in my life.

As I mentioned above in #4, it’s important to regularly study opposing points of view. It expands your mind and forces you to think critically, which I think is never a bad thing. As Sam Harris wrote in Letter to a Christian Nation, “I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.”

I hope this article has been helpful to you. Thank you again for your message, and please let me know if there is anything you would like me to clarify.

Until next time,

Dave

dave_bio_pic4Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

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Breaking News: Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28

Hello all, Dave here.

This just in from the Wall Street Journal and AP:

Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28th. According to NBC World News, he “doesn’t have the strength anymore.” He is 85 years old. Here is the text of his speech about it.

pope-benedict-xvi

There has been a lot of controversy over Ratzinger’s reign as head of the Catholic Church. Personally, I’m glad to see him go. Although he has said he is “deeply ashamed” of the church’s problems with pedophiles, he has not done enough/much at all to put a stop to it. Just earlier tonight I was having a conversation with a friend about these sexual abuse cases, making an analogy to restaurants: If there were a chain of restaurants in which some of the chefs were caught molesting customers’ children, and the restaurant chain’s response was simply to shuffle these chefs to other restaurants, there would be a mass boycott. The chefs would be immediately imprisoned and there would probably be threats on their lives. No one would ever eat at those restaurants again. But when it’s the Catholic Church, Catholics make excuses. It’s ridiculous.

Ratzinger was also a member of the Hitler Youth, although this was compulsory at the time and he was not a willing member.

Ratzinger is also a proponent of intelligent design, saying that humans are “not the products of chance and error.” Good riddance. At least John Paul II gave credence to evolution.

One of these men will very likely be the next Pope. We’ll see what happens!

More to come as details unfold.

- Dave

If you like this post, please upvote it on Reddit.

dave_bio_pic4Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

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and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

Why not live and let live?

This article originally appeared on SkepticFreethought.com and is reposted here with permission.

Hello everyone! Dave Muscato here.

This is a difficult post for me to write. I’ve spent two days on this, actually. For most of my life, I’ve been natural inclined to be non-confrontational, and I think my friends and family would characterize me as a gentle person. It is not easy for me to say these things, but I feel like the time has come for me to take a stand.

I had lunch with a friend the other day and the subject of religion came up—I know, big surprise. My friend’s girlfriend had posed to him a question about the purpose of atheism activism:

“Why not live and let live?”

Aside from being intellectually wrong, what’s so bad about believing in a god? What’s the harm? Is it just academic?

Some background: His girlfriend is “not religious, but open-minded,” and teaches their 3 kids to be accepting of all different religions. He is an atheist and passionate about critical thinking and skepticism. He is concerned because he overheard one of their children praying before going to bed.

He asked me, “What can I tell her?”

Here’s my response:

Because they’re not letting us live and let live. Because, for no rational reason, gay people can’t get married in my state. Because they’re teaching the Genesis creation myth as fact in science classes. Because they’re teaching “abstinence-only” sex ed, which is demonstrably ineffective. Because, despite Roe v. Wade recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, we’re STILL fighting for abortion and birth-control access. Because priests are molesting children and nobody is getting in trouble for it. It’s been said before, but if an 80-member religious cult in Texas allowed some of their leaders to molest children, there would be a huge outcry. It would be front-page news. People would be up in arms! But when it’s the Catholic Church, we barely even notice. It’s gotten to the point where we’re not even surprised anymore—it’s barely even news anymore—when another molestation is uncovered. Like the saying goes, “The only difference between a cult and a religion is the number of followers.” Or worse, “One rape is a tragedy; a thousand is a statistic.”

I brought up Greta Christina’s wonderful book, “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off The Godless,” and told him to read it, and to ask his girlfriend to read it. Nothing would make me happier than to live and let live. I dream of a world where humanity spends its time solving “real” problems, doing medical research, exploring space, fixing the climate, making art and music, studying philosophy. I would love for there to be no need for atheism activism. But I can’t do that, because I have a conscience.

He agreed with me on these points, but wanted to know about the problem with liberal churches. What’s the harm of religion so long as it supports gay marriage, comprehensive sex-ed, etc?

First off, it’s important to distinguish between believing in a deity, and believing in God. If we’re talking about a deistic creator, a god who allegedly sparked the Big Bang and hasn’t interfered since, I don’t really see any harm in this, other than that it’s unscientific and vastly improbable. I’d call this harmlessly irrational, on par with crossing your fingers for good luck. It’s magical thinking, which I think should be avoided, but it doesn’t really hurt anything.

sistine-chapel

But once we start talking about Yahweh, the Abrahamic god, the god of the Bible, we get into some sticky stuff.  I’m not the first to say so but the reason moderate religion is bad, even dangerous, is that it opens the door for religious bigotry and worse. If a religious moderate believes the proposition that the Bible is the inspired word of God, who is he to fault a religious extremist for actually doing what it says to do?

If you use faith as your justification for moral decision-making, you cannot reasonably point at someone more committed than you doing the exact same thing and make the charge that they’re wrong. A religious moderate cannot call a religious extremist crazy without being hypocritical.

There is this idea among moderates that religious tolerance is an ideal condition. The whole “COEXIST” campaign is a prime example. There is this idea that all religions are somehow valid, despite contradicting one another. That no matter how much we disagree with someone, if it falls under the umbrella of religious tolerance, we should make every effort to find a way not to be offended.

To paraphrase Sam Harris, the idea that all human beings should be free to believe whatever they want—the foundation of “religious tolerance”—is something we need to reconsider. Now.

I will not stand by and tolerate the belief that it is moral to mutilate a little girl’s genitals.

I will not stand by and tolerate the belief that it is moral to hinder the promotion of condom use in AIDS-ridden regions, because they believe wasting semen is a “sin.”

I will not stand by and tolerate the belief that it is moral to lie to children and tell them that they will see their dead relatives again, or give them nightmares about a made-up “Hell.”

I will not stand by and tolerate the absurd and unsubstantiated proposition that humans are somehow born bad or evil, that we need to be “saved.”

It is offensive to me that, in the year 2013, people still think intercessory prayer works. Every time I hear about some poor sick child who has died because her parents decided to pray instead of take her to a hospital, I am horribly offended. When religious moderates tell me—although they also believe in intercessory prayer—that they, too, are offended by this, I am appalled at the hypocrisy. We should know better by now than to believe in childish things like prayer.

I am so sick of this crap. There is a time and a place for being accommodating of differences of opinion. If you think tea is the best hot drink, and I think it’s coffee, fine. No one is harmed by this. Insofar as your beliefs don’t negatively affect others, I do not care if we agree or not. But, I contend, your right to believe whatever you want ends where my rights begin. Religious moderation is literally dangerous because it opens the gate wide for religious extremism. A moderate cannot point to a religious extremist and say, “You are wrong. You are dangerous. You must not be allowed to continue.” However, I can. To stand up to religious extremism, we must come from a place of rational thought, of freedom to criticize, of ethics that do not depend on revelation or arguments from authority.

I make no apology for asserting that secular humanism is the most reasonable, most ethical, and best way for us to live. It is more rational than superstitious faith. It is more productive and humane than any religion. It is the ethical choice. To quote Sam Harris, “There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.”

We must become more reasonable if we want to survive. Our planet is in trouble. There is no divine guarantee that the Earth will always be able to support us nor that we will always be here. There is no life after this. What matters is how we are remembered, and the contributions to society we make while we’re alive. I assert that there is nothing more important or more urgent than this: Atheists, I call upon you to stand up to absurdity. If you see something, say something. Start the conversation.

I know that it is difficult to make waves. I know that it can be intimidating, especially when you’re outnumbered. But the facts are on our side, and the stakes are high. We must not be afraid to call bullshit where we see it. We must not allow religions to dictate what is and is not moral. We must speak up in the face of wrongdoing. We must make ourselves known. It can be as simple as correcting someone for using the word “fag,” or mentioning that you are an atheist if the subject of religion comes up.

Ending the danger and oppression of religion will not be easy, but if we work toward it, we can make it happen.

Until next time,

Dave

dave_bio_pic4Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

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and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

Dave’s Mailbag: Atheism, defined

Yesterday, the Atheist Alliance tweeted:

What do you consider to be the exact definition of atheism?

There are many incorrect definitions of atheism floating around. It’s important for religious extremists, in their deliberate attempts to misinform (see my previous post about lying for Jesus), that atheism be depicted as nonsensical, demonic, or irrational. For example, this display:

atheism-defined

It says: “Atheism: This is the belief that there is no god. This is a very common belief of those who do not wish to be responsible for their actions, as if there is no god there is no judgment. This belief was started by Charles Darwin, but has very recently (within the last 30 years) become a popular religion.”

facepalm

I do a talk called “Atheism 101″ that covers the definition of atheism, among other things. In it, I discuss the difference between agnostic/gnostic and atheistic/theistic. The question should not be worded, “Are you an atheist or an agnostic?” but rather “Are you an atheist or a theist?” and independently, “Are you 100% certain that God does or does not exist (gnostic) or do you acknowledge a possibility that you are wrong (agnostic)?”

I tweeted back to the Atheist Alliance:

@atheistalliance Atheism can be defined precisely as “the lack of faith in the existence of a god or gods.”

I think this is the most precise and accurate definition I have come across. In my talk, I use this. For a thorough breakdown of the definition of atheism, with sources, I recommend this webpage.

Dictionary Series - Religion: atheism

This has been on my mind because I received the following message today:

Your professed “belief” in the religion of athiesm has everything to do with your selfish desire to continue in your favorite sins. You have a strong motive to hope that there isn’t a Holy God who will punish you for your sins. Those making a profession of faith in the religion of atheism hope that if they scream loud, long, and shrill enough, they will be able to convince themselves that God doesn’t exist. I don’t believe that your even an atheist Dave.

First off:

  1. Atheism is not a religion. The definition of a religion is arguable, but the one I use and agree with comes from anthropologists Drs. Craig Palmer and Lyle Steadman in their excellent book, “Supernatural and Natural Selection: The Evolution of Religion.” They define religion as “a communicated acceptance by individuals of another individual’s ‘supernatural’ claim, a claim whose accuracy is not verifiable by the senses.” They continue: “The distinctive property of such acceptance is that it communicates a willingness to accept the influence of the speaker nonskeptically. While supernatural claims are not demonstrably true, they are asserted to be true” (pg ix). Since atheism makes no supernatural claims—in fact many atheists are metaphysical naturalists—it definitively is not a religion.
    -
  2. My belief that atheism and science are the most likely contenders for an accurate description of the universe’s workings have nothing at all to do with sin. I don’t believe sin exists. I believe that some acts and behaviors are anti-social and, on ethical grounds, should not be committed. I believe that other acts and behaviors are pro-social and, on ethical grounds, should be encouraged. But I find the whole concept of sin—transgressions against divine law—to be ridiculous. I don’t believe there is any such thing as divine law, because I am an atheist.
    -
  3. This entire statement is just a bare assertion. In no way does the sender attempt to provide reasons for the claims he is making, or explain on what basis exactly he is claiming to know these things about me and other atheists.

I think the sender is unable to see atheism for what it really is because doing so would make him insecure in his faith. It’s necessary for him to misunderstand atheism because atheism, understood, is the more rational position. So he builds a straw-man and uses it as a human shield. It’s really quite pathetic, pitiable even.

straw-man

What’s really wrong with his message, though, is where he says “[atheists make] a profession of faith.” Atheists lack faith by definition. Faith comes from the Latin “fidere,” which means “to trust.” In the theological sense, this means trusting that God exists, or that God will provide, etc, even though the logical arguments and evidence are insufficient for belief in themselves.

I am proud to say that I do not have faith. I am a skeptic: I have an attitude of doubt, an inclination toward incredulity. I think faith is dangerous, irrational, archaic, and puerile. If you are a logical person, a good critical thinker, and you come across an argument that lacks evidentiary backing, contains fallacies, or is nonsensical, you do not [continue to] believe that argument. Faith is the admission that you are not being logical, that you are not a good critical thinker, continuing to believe something when the reasons you have to believe it aren’t good enough on their own. Saying you have faith is saying, “Here are the reasons I believe this. Here is the evidence supporting why I believe this. Oh, the reasons have logical problems? Oh, the evidence is not very strong? Well, I choose to believe it regardless.” Or even worse, sometimes people say, “I don’t need evidence. I don’t need logical arguments. I have faith.” Faith is the very model of a circular argument. As Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

I have never met a Christian who claims not to have faith. If you call yourself a Christian and do not have faith, I would really like to hear from you. Hebrews 11:6 says that “without faith, it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11:1 says: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This is directly at odds with skepticism. It is my position that if you are a skeptic, and you also claim faith in a god or gods, you are doing one or the other incorrectly.

I think my favorite part of this, though, is where he says, “I don’t believe your [sic] even an atheist, Dave.”

This is my license plate:

license-plate2

(Atheos is Greek for atheist). If I’m not an atheist, I don’t know who is.

Thanks for reading. Until next time,

Dave


dave_bio_pic4
Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

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and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

The Vatican is losing the war, and they know it

If you like this post, please upvote it on Reddit.

Hello all, Dave Muscato here again!

According to a Washington Post article published yesterday, the Vatican is holding a closed-door conference February 6-9 to discuss “emerging youth culture.” They are concerned that they risk losing future generations to nontheism if they don’t learn how to get with the times.

The internet is absolutely butchering religion. Religious belief necessarily depends on ignorance of science, logic, reason, history, philosophy, ethics, and competing mythologies. It becomes very difficult for a pastor to get away with lying for Jesus, when anyone—especially young people—can whip out a smartphone and find real answers on Wikipedia faster than you can say the Lord’s Prayer.

preacher

There was a time not so long ago when young people wholly depended on their parents, teachers, and pastors for information about the world. If a suitable bubble is maintained, it becomes nearly impossible to break free once the indoctrination is set into motion. This is why many Christians and other religious groups isolate their young from mainstream culture. They publish and use their own textbooks. They homeschool and attend their own schools and colleges. They have their own museums. They have their entire own Wikipedia. They have their own YouTube. They have their own television networks, radio shows, musical genres, you name it.

These parents do this, even if they can’t articulate why, because they understand that a few hours on Reddit or YouTube is potentially all it takes to spoil a child’s faith in their parents’ religion. For some children who haven’t been fully indoctrinated, just learning about the very concept of atheism for the first time is enough to break the spell. It is vital, therefore, that religious parents quarantine their children. When this is not enough, they vilify atheists, supply misinformation (that we are Satanists, that we are immoral/amoral, they we hate God, etc), or in some cases even deny that atheism exist (e.g. they claim that we know God exists but deny it).

We are winning. Unless parents are willing (able?) to keep their children away from Google, it is only a matter of time before the truth about religions—that they are manmade, that they are a substandard source of ethics, that they are factually incorrect—becomes mainstream. One in three—one in three!—Americans aged 18-29 report no religious affiliation. This is not to say they are all atheists, of course, but these people are informed about religion, science, history, and so on. This is a progress. This is a step in the right direction. And the Church knows it. And they are afraid.

Until next time,

Dave

P.S. I know that not all religious parents quarantine their children in this way. Some even go out of their way to expose their children to other points of view and other cultures. Those that do end up with children who have much more liberal beliefs, and this is no surprise. I maintain that if everyone waited until adulthood to pick up a Bible for the first time, people would consider it laughable that anyone actually believes it’s true. As the saying goes, like circumcision, if religion were only offered to adults, no one would be interested! Thanks for reading.


dave_bio_pic4
Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

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and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!

How to convert me: Part II

Hello everyone! Dave Muscato here again.

First off, a huge thank-you to everyone who upvoted, shared, and commented on Part I of this article. We got about 58,000 visitors, making it the second most-read article in the history of this blog (224 articles since April 2011). We’re very glad you enjoyed it.

We got such a huge response to the last one that I thought it would be helpful to address some of the things that came up in emails, on Twitter, in the comments, and so on. There was a LOT of excellent feedback and I’m very grateful to hear from all of you!

And so, for your reading pleasure, here is some MORE advice for evangelicals on how to convert me:

  1. Discuss, don’t preach. This is such an important point, I’m going to go into some detail about it. Discussion means listening, being willing to change your mind if you’re shown to be wrong about something, and understanding that no one has all the answers. Be ready, willing, and able to learn, as well as inform. When I go into a discussion, it is with an open mind, and I except the same from my conversation partner. I know it’s counterintuitive, but if your goal is to convert me, you are not going to get very far by preaching. I arrived at my conclusions after many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours poring over history and evidence, doing lots of reading, studying logical arguments, and reading the Bible and other holy books. Simply telling me “Jesus died for your sins” is not going to do anything at all to change my mind. I’ve read the Bible, too. The issue is not that I don’t know what it says; it’s that I don’t believe what it says.
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    Discussing religion with some other students on Mizzou's campus. I'm in the center with the black shirt and straw hat.

    Discussing atheism with some other students on Mizzou’s campus. I’m in the center with the black shirt and straw hat, with Brother Jed looking on (back right, in vest).

  2. Don’t just tell me what you believe. Tell me why you believe it. Remember that the point here is “I am not convinced your beliefs are true.” I know it’s easier to fall into the routine of retelling what you believe, but once we’ve covered it, tell me your story. The important part (to me) is not what you believe; it’s why.
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  3. Make an effort to learn the standard arguments. There are really only about 10 or 12 of them. As I said in my last article, I am always happy to go over these again and again if it helps someone see things differently, but it is a huge time-saver—not to mention that I will be impressed with you—if you know these at the outset, or at least are passingly familiar with them. Here and here are two excellent resources to help you get started. These are very familiar to atheists. I sometimes hear from believers that they are shocked at how knowledgeable many atheists are about such a wide variety of subjects, from evolutionary biology to geology to cosmology to ancient history. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: We’re not necessarily; it’s just that there really only are about a dozen of these rebuttals for us to learn ;)
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  4. When it comes to ethics, don’t make assumptions. Ask, listen, and learn. There is this idea circulated by Christians and other religionists that atheists are immoral, amoral, unethical, or all three. This is simply an attempt to demonize us and if you want to have any success discussing religion with me, you’re going to have to start by not thinking of me as evil. In fact, many atheists have spent a great deal of time and energy studying ethics, and many have a higher ethical standard than you yourself might. Since we do not rely on arguments from authority, many atheists have arrived at their conclusions on ethical principles by careful study of the philosophy of ethics, and we can often provide detailed analyses about why we believe what we do. Don’t assume that we’re somehow lacking ethically just because we don’t believe in your god, or heaven, or hell. In fact I can think of few things more important to me than living as ethically as I can.
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  5. Don’t end the discussion, especially prematurely, by saying “God bless” or “I’ll pray for you.” Many atheists, myself included, see this as the ultimate in arrogance and an attempt at one final dig before prancing away. I know that some of you actually mean it sincerely, but if you want to build rapport with me, please, just pray for me on your own some other time. My usual response to “I’ll pray for you” is “If you actually believe prayer works, for Pete’s sake, don’t waste your time on me. There are starving children in Africa.” If you absolutely must pray for me, I will respect you much more if you ask for my permission first. And don’t forget Matthew 6:5-6!

I hope that these are helpful for you, and I look forward to hearing how they work out in your own discussions! Have a great one. Until next time!

- Dave


dave_bio_pic4
Dave Muscato is the Kansas/Missouri-Area Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A non-traditional junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com

Follow me on Facebook
Follow me on Google+
Follow me on Twitter

and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!