Is it worthwhile to debate street preachers?

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Hello all!

The following exchange took place on my Facebook wall today:

Dave:

Hell yeah!

Brandon Christen debating Brother Jed: Monday, April 16, 2012

Ed C:

As much as I love debate.. I don’t feel people like Jed ought to be given such respect.

Dave:

I’ve [formally] debated him the last two years in a row. It’s gotten our group a lot of new members, at the least. Worth it in that regard, if you ask me.

Also, I respect Jed as a person. People don’t need to earn respect; it’s a virtue of being human, and I’m a humanist. Now, a person’s *beliefs* are another story. When it comes to beliefs, respect must be earned, and beliefs earn respect by virtue of being reasonable. Jed’s beliefs are not worthy of respect, but we should be careful not to confuse someone’s beliefs with his/her identity.

Ed C:

I don’t care how many members you got.. the price is too high, in my opinion.

Dave:

I’m surprised to hear you say that, Ed. Debating Jed helped show a lot of of the Christian attendees that their own beliefs have (just as) little basis in reality, and helped some people on the fence or with doubts learn more about what the word ‘atheist’ really means. From where I sat, the whole event was nothing but a step in the right direction as far as showing Jed’s beliefs to be irrational, and to clear up misconceptions about skepticism/atheism, as well as growing our group.

Ed C:

I’m not confusing anything. There is nothing whatever disrespectful (in a personhood way) about not being invited to a debate. Such speakers should be subject to consideration of merit and decency and Jed has neither of those.

If a Christian is not capable of understanding Jed’s deep, deep flaws after 5 minutes of listening to him bark on youtube or college campuses, a protracted debate will not help him. The Christians who are not aware that some Christians are nutjobs are simply not worthwhile outreach targets; they are both too soft and too few.

Meanwhile, you’ve padded his resume and given him proof of his own legitimacy to the world. He uses you to sell himself as normal, and it works, too, no matter how badly he looks at the actual events, one day a year.

Dave:

I respectfully disagree. Jed, in a debate setting, is very cordial–professional, even. He employs fallacious reasoning and incorrect information, but he’s very much a decent person. When he’s preaching in public, he uses an intentional strategy he calls “confrontational evangelism” to get attention. He actually wrote a book about it, called “Who Will Rise Up?” He explained to me his reasoning once: Basically, he doesn’t have a captive audience the way professors, et al do. So, if he wants people to pay attention to him, he has to be outrageous. This is why he sometimes uses the “You Deserve Hell” sign & t-shirt, etc, and calls people whores. I have spoken to him at length over dinner and can vouch for the fact that he doesn’t really think all us college students are whores – it’s just a way to get people to stop and listen to him.

Jed actually is pretty consistent biblically with his preaching, in my experience. More than a lot of street preachers, at least. I also know for a fact that several people who were only culturally Christian (but who identified as Christian when asked) are now either on the fence as atheists, or out-of-the-closet atheists, as a result of attending the second debate. And it did give me experience – at the first one, I had only been out of the closet a few months, and had never done any kind of debate before.

I tend to think of it this way: If I can help just a small number of people free themselves from religion, it’s worth it. Jed is not a young-earth creationist or anything like that. And even if he was, some of the greats like Hitch, Dennett, and Peter Singer have debated, for example, Dinesh D’souza, who IS a young-Earth creationist. Dawkins declined to debate him, and I understand his reasoning, but I’m not Dawkins, you know? ;)

Ed C:

I met and even had some one-on-one conversations with Jed when he visited here. I know there is a difference between his sign-waving screed and more conversational Jed. This changes nothing. Doing something disgusting then calling it a strategy doesn’t make it not disgusting- it makes you a crass, selfish opportunist indifferent to the outcome so long as you get your way (attention). Jed does indeed have a theological consistency, that is not my issue with him. His little hate-plays are beyond the limits of acceptable behavior. I think a great deal of debate, and inviting someone to the chair next to yours says a lot more than “this person gets basic human respect”, it says “this person is a legitimate, worthy speaker on behalf of his cause”. Sorry, I must respectfully maintain my disagreement that this is the case.

As a matter of pure strategy, I think there are much more fruitful avenues in terms of both Jed (you already know how we handled his visit, I’m sure) and debate. I would not compare Brother Jed to Dinesh D’Souza (although I don’t care for D’Souza and also would never invite him to debate). I don’t have evidence he is a YEC, in fact he has said the creationists are mistaken about evolution and called it “correct as far as it goes, but doesn’t explain everything”.

Zach C:

“If I can help just a small number of people free themselves from religion, it’s worth it.” —- How is religion hurting my personal life right now?

Dave:

Was it MLK who said “No one is free while others are oppressed”? Zach, I’m on my phone, but I can give you a quick answer. The very concept of faith makes a virtue out of ignorance. As students, you and I both should be opposed to that right there. There’s also the nearly incalculable opportunity cost of the hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of manhours wasted donating to the vicious circle of churches that simply use the money to grow themselves in perpetuity, when we have REAL problems in this world that we CAN solve if we just address them. Prayer has been proved to be useless beyond placebo effect. It’s like the bumper sticker says: Two hands working do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.

Religion hurts scientific progress. Religion forces the rest of us to waste our already limited education budgets defending why we should teach science in science class, health in health class, and history in history class. Religion encourages and in fact survives by encouraging magical thinking and demonizing curiosity (quite literally!). It is antithetical to social and intellectual progress. And in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “It is not moral to lie to children. It is not moral to lie to ignorant, uneducated people, to tell them that if they believe nonsense, they can be saved.”

Your thoughts appreciated,

Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward CurrentNonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

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

This is not an April Fool’s post: I guess I’m not an accomodationist anymore.

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I guess I’m not an accomodationist anymore.

From my Facebook wall today:

Christianity is offensive. It is offensive to reason, offensive to human welfare, and offensive to social progress. It is a willfully ignorant and deliberate abuse of logic, and a shortcoming of rational thought. All religions, Christianity included, prey on human gullibility and fear of the unknown. Christianity is dangerous. It is cruel. To quote Christopher Hitchens, “It is not moral to lie to children. It is not moral to lie to ignorant, uneducated people, and tell them that if they believe nonsense, they can be saved. It’s immoral.”

Christianity claims that 6,000 years ago, a talking snake, apparently fluent in ancient Hebrew, persuaded a woman, made from a rib, to eat a piece of fruit. Because of that, all of us are going to burn for trillions and trillions of years in a lake made out of fire and sulfur, unless we telepathically pledge our allegiance to an invisible Jewish zombie, who – by magical thinking powers – can take our consciousness (which somehow by magic survives our deaths) to an invisible place where he lives with his daddy, who is (somehow by magic) also he himself?

Do you mean to tell me that you, in all seriousness, believe this insanity? All the touchy-feely gooeyness of how being around your friends at church makes you FEEL aside, or how listening to worship music makes you FEEL, is the above paragraph really, truly what you believe is historically true and factually accurate? If so, what on Earth is wrong with you? If you believe this literal non-sense, you SHOULD be ashamed of yourself, and the satire has served its purpose. And for this, I do not apologize.

I do not believe that you are really a Christian. I believe that you identify as a Christian because your parents told you that what to believe, and your culture has reinforced it. I think you are smarter than that. I think you know that there is no difference between talking snakes and the Tooth Fairy. It’s a myth. Yahweh is just another “god” from just another ancient myth. There are thousands of gods that you don’t believe in. To quote Stephen F. Roberts, “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

If you want to read the full thread, here it is. It started with an April Fool’s status:

Dave Muscato:

Jesus is LORD! Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” What more do you need?? Hallelujah, Amen, Praise Be, He is Risen! (17 likes)

Trevor B:

He is risen, indeed.

Dave Muscato:

Goodness me, I forgot to capitalize Way, Truth, and Life. Capitalization makes it more factual, you know. And that’s True with a capital-T. (8 likes)

Franklin K:

Wait, does it say that in the Bible? Cause otherwise I don’t know why you’d ever believe that. (2 likes)

Dave Muscato:

It’s a little early to interrupt dinnertime, but around 6, I’m gonna go door-to-door with some tracts sharing the Good News. Who’s with me?? (3 likes)

Dave Muscato:

Franklin, it’s John 14:6. Do you have a Bible? I will give you one. Everybody should read a Bible everyday. What’s your address? IM me. (3 likes)

K.C.:

Glad you’re coming around finally, Dave. I was worried for your eternal soul there for a while…

Dave Muscato:

No need to worry about me, Keenan! I’ve got the Holy Spirit in me. I know this because I believe it. (2 likes)

Becky K:

Lol, yesterday they came by twice, completely confused when I said I wasn’t interested bc I’m Jewish… (1 like)

Dave Muscato:

That’s great, Becky; so was JC! You’re halfway there :) (2 likes)

Sarah K:

Ohhhhh you fool! You April Fool! (1 like)

Becky K:

Oh, you’re so silly (1 like)

Dave Muscato:

:P

Cynthia S:

Haha! Happy 1st of April!

Megan K:

oh yeah, april 1st! i was like wtf?? haha (1 like)

Tyler C:

Nice. Best fucking April Fools’ Day joke ever. (2 likes)

Catherine P:

I must share. (1 like)

Zach C:

It surprises me that you would try to be intentionally offensive… from talking to you in the past I would’ve expected more.

Dave Muscato:

Hey Zach! It’s April Fool’s Day, and this is satire. Like all satire, it’s designed to hold abuses, follies, or shortcomings up for ridicule – because such abuses, follies, and shortcomings are, well, ridiculous. Satire is designed to be funny, but it has a greater purpose of constructive social criticism, in order to shame individuals or societies into improving themselves.

Christianity is offensive. It is offensive to reason, offensive to human welfare, and offensive to social progress. It is a willfully ignorant and deliberate abuse of logic, and a shortcoming of rational thought. All religions, Christianity included, prey on human gullibility and fear of the unknown. Christianity is dangerous. It is cruel. To quote Christopher Hitchens, “It is not moral to lie to children. It is not moral to lie to ignorant, uneducated people, and tell them that if they believe nonsense, they can be saved. It’s immoral.”

Zach, Christianity claims that 6,000 years ago, a talking snake, apparently fluent in ancient Hebrew, persuaded a woman, made from a rib, to eat a piece of fruit. Because of that, all of us are going to burn for trillions and trillions of years in a lake made out of fire and sulfur, unless we telepathically pledge our allegiance to an invisible Jewish zombie, who – by magical thinking powers – can take our consciousness (which somehow by magic survives our deaths) to an invisible place where he lives with his daddy, who is (somehow by magic) also he himself?

Do you mean to tell me that you, in all seriousness, believe this insanity? All the touchy-feely gooeyness of how being around your friends at church makes you FEEL, or listening to worship music makes you FEEL, is the above paragraph really, truly what you believe is historically true and factually accurate? If so, what on Earth is wrong with you? If you believe this literal non-sense, you SHOULD be ashamed of yourself, and the satire has served its purpose. And for this, I do not apologize.

I do not believe that you are really a Christian. I believe that you identify as a Christian because your parents told you that what to believe, and your culture has reinforced it. I think you are smarter than that. I think you know that there is no difference between talking snakes and the Tooth Fairy. It’s a myth. Yahweh is just another “god” from just another ancient myth. There are thousands of gods that you don’t believe in. To quote Stephen F. Roberts, “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

Hope this helps, and I hope you’re having a great weekend! And I mean that sincerely. – Dave (6 likes)

Christian H:

 Interesting perspective. i believe in Christ, as well as the garden account. And it’s not because my parents taught me to. I was both an atheist and a skeptic. And I am still quite rational. As I’ve stated before, it was the evidence (historical, prophetic, archaeology, etc.) that convinced me. Some of whlich I’ve shared with you before to no avail, and you chose to ignore, change the subject by raising another objection, or by explaining it away. And that’s fine I understand. But it’s incorrect and untrue to make such a blanket statement about all Christians.

You claim Christianity is bad for the world, but for every example of someone doing something wicked in the name of Christianity (which can be demonstrated to be someone simply using a religion as they would any other power they could get over people) and I can name ten examples of how Christianity has made the world better. (1 like)

Christian H:

If we are being satirical, then happy atheists day (Psalm 14:1). (3 likes)

Zach C:

If you truly stand by your above statements and want to help people by removing this nonsense belief from them then I would suggest you alter your approach. As a person in a position of leadership you act as an ambassador for your belief set. I have many friends that don’t prescribe to the same belief set as me and completely respect that they have received the same inputs as me over their lives and come to a different conclusion. The fact that they believe something different than me doesn’t bother me. It’s your lack of respect for your fellow man that bothers me. Your post oozes arrogance which in no way would be proactive to making me give your new truth the time of day. You’re being counteractive and it’s frustrating. Your beliefs are what they are… beliefs. If you want to have a missional attitude about promoting what you believe in order to help others by opening their minds then you should consider some serious adjustments in your means of communicating in a public forum like facebook. I cast no judgment on my friends who are atheists because they will state that it is what they “believe”, just like I “believe” in the Christian faith. That’s what it is, a belief — nothing more, nothing less. Regardless of whether God exists being arrogant is silly. You just come off looking like a dick.

Devin W:

Dave that was awesome, I’m going to have to repost most of that if it’s okay. (1 like)

Devin W:

I wish I could be a dick like you. :) I’ve heard a lot of preachers who are dicks…talking about hell, fire, damnation.. it’s all kind of a slap in the face.. but can be effective none the less. (1 like)

Rebecca V:

I have to agree, Dave. You made an extremely blanket statement about all Christians. I know many Christians who grew up with atheist parents or parents who were lapsed Catholics and so on who are ridiculed by their family for their new found faith. My sister, whom you met yesterday just started going to church and changing her life around after years of going her own way. Most of her friends don’t understand the radical change in her just in the last four months. We grew up not going to church and just barely understanding Christianity because my mom was a believer but not my dad. My dad finally realized his need for Jesus about 5 years ago, just before he turned 50 after my mom prayed for him for nearly 30 years. So, as I have learned to not stereotype atheists, I hope you learn not to do the same about Christians. (2 likes)

C.S.:

Dave,
I still haven’t got a reasonable explain (Euthyphro [sp?] doesn’t count, if you read the wiki you provide for that argument it also provided the solution to the false dicotomy. Saved my grey cells alot of trouble hehe) of why I should feel ashamed…If there is no God right & wrong do not exist. Therefore you can’t shame me because I’ve done nothing wrong ;). Also I find your anger encouraging. According to CS Lewis’s theories (found in Mere Christianity I think…I sometimes get his apologetic works mixed up. Have you read any of his works?) you are probably closer to finding & having a relationship God than you ever were attending a church thinking you were set but apparently having no relationship. So happy TRUTH (all caps mind you) search!

Devin W:

i dont want hijack dave’s post. but can you explain how the existence of right and wrong are dependent upon there being a god? (2 likes)

Renee S:

LOL. ♥ (1 like)

Christian H:

Devin, can you explain where right and wrong comes from without a creator?

Stephen A:

Devin, I’m with you. There is no valid argument for that viewpoint; however, there’s tons of observable evidence to support the argument that “right and wrong” are social constructs, witnessed in other species. Unless someone is going to go batsh*t crazy and argue that animals know right and wrong because they made the conscious decision to accept Christ into their lives, then I think the discussion is settled.

Christian H:

So it is ONLY social? And you derived this because you observed other species having a standard of right and wrong? Please enlighten me.

Christian H:

Let’s say that you are right though. Right and wrong are merely social constructs. Then right and wrong does not really exist. It is arbitrary. It is not a standard, but an agreement. It can be changed if the majority changes. If all of society agrees that it is okay to eliminate a group of people say… simply for their ethnic background, then that would be okay. Because nothing exists outside of society to dictate otherwise. Or like, in the past, when different cultures and societies deemed women inferior and treated them like servant dogs for sex, etc. then that was totally acceptable because that society said so.

Dave Muscato:

Christian, if I may, I can. Economic anthropology is what I’m in school to study (esp. the evolution of morality in cooperative species). In under 50 words, here is where right & wrong come from (it is an ongoing process), without hypothesizing a magical intelligent agent:

Natural selection favors cooperative animals over their non-cooperative competitors for resources because of economies of scale and gains-from-trade. Animals that work together are able to accomplish more, have a higher standard of living, and therefore provide for and ensure the survival of more offspring.

It’s really not that complicated. If you want to know more of the details, I recommend “The Evolution of Cooperation” by Robert Axelrod (NB it’s a little math-heavy) or one of my favorite books of all time, “The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation” by Matt Ridley:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Origins-Virtue-Instincts-Cooperation/dp/0140264450

Dave Muscato:

Stephen, right and wrong are not social constructs, unless you’re not drawing a distinction between non-human animal sociality and human sociality. There are solid biological foundations that cause them to arise in certain patterns, and we can predict those patterns by theoretical frameworks in game theory. Specific variations are culturally relative, but there are good, evolutionary-biology reasons for the universal traits we see in terms of right & wrong across all cultures.

Stephen A:

That’s what I meant by social construct. Thanks for explaining it better, Dave. (1 like)

C.S. (deleted post).

Dave Muscato:

Chantelle, it seems to me that you are trying to say that the lack of an *immutable* standard means that all standards are therefore arbitrary. This is a straw man and a non-sequitur. No one ever said that moral codes are arbitrary, just because they change over time. Quite the opposite, actually: They have a demonstrable, predictable biological basis. E.O. Wilson brought the term “sociobiology” to international attention in 1975 when he more-or-less founded the field of studying that basis, and there are thousands of scientists who have since made careers out of furthering our understanding of it. It’s not arbitrary.

C.S.:

Sorry i deleted that b/c my phone was behind the times. So why do we honor those who defend the weak or genetically inferior? Biologically speaking shouldn’t we admire those who snuff them out as that would improve the genetic code? Or rape is commonly disliked, but isn’t that just increasing the chances of the physically strong passing on genetic materials? & why do charitable deeds or try to cure chronic illnesses? Anyway you get the idea that there are many widely accepted morals that do not make sense biologically.

Dave Muscato:

Chantelle, read the book I linked to above. It will answer all of these kinds of questions and is a solid introduction for the layperson in beautifully readable language. You’re dipping your toe in an evolutionary subfield with a very academically-rich, 70-year history of solid research and excellent publications.

Stephen A:

Odd that you’d bring up rape as being deplorable, though, considering that the Christian moral tradition makes it clear where a woman’s place is.

Dave Muscato:

Indeed, until the 1970s, most states did not even consider spousal rape a crime. It wasn’t until 1993 that North Carolina became the last state to remove the spousal exemption. This was mostly based on the idea that married women are to be subservient to men in Abrahamic cultures, thanks to Bible verses like 1 Tim 2:13, 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, etc.

I will be expanding on some of the points raised in this thread in my next article, as well!

Regards,

Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward CurrentNonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

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

Dave Muscato on Dr. Andrew Bernstein, Religion, and Morality

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Hello all,

I gave a talk, “Why Blasphemy Matters,” at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg on Monday (90 miles from Columbia). I look forward to giving the talk to more campus groups in the future. This was only the second time I’ve given that particular talk, and although I think it went well, I also think I can improve it. More about that another time: I found out that a philosopher named Andrew Bernstein would be in town the following evening giving a talk called “Religion vs. Morality.” I decided to stay in town an extra day so I could attend.

As it turns out, the Objectivist Club at UCM had scheduled a dinner with Dr. Bernstein before his 8 PM lecture, and I had the fortune of sitting next to him while we all ate. Dr. Bernstein, or Andy, teaches philosophy at SUNY Purchase. He is an objectivist and proponent of Ayn Rand’s work, as well as a philosopher (and novelist) in his own right. He’s written several books about capitalism, philosophy, and objectivism, lectures internationally, and he also wrote the Cliff’s Notes for Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Me with Andrew Bernstein (on left)

At dinner, topics ranged from the current crop of Republican candidates (he plans to vote for “whichever sorry candidate the Republicans nominate”) to how to get into grad schools (his advice: Where you studied isn’t as important as what you have to say). I told him that although one of my majors is economics, I really know relatively little about market forces, capitalism, international trade, finance, etc, compared to most econ majors. I’ve taken a few required courses in those sorts of things, but my interest is game theory. I study altruism and the evolution of morality, especially its interplay with the history of religion, using the tools from behavioral economics & economic modeling. I admitted that this was my first real exposure to what objectivism is all about. He told me that his talk is not about religion AND morality, but more specifically religion VERSUS morality: in his estimation, an either/or proposal. I thought, this should be interesting!

At 8 PM, I joined an auditorium of people on the UCM campus as Angel Munoz Gomez Andrade, the president of the Objectivist Club, introduced Bernstein. Watching Bernstein speak is a real treat: He has a thick New York accent and a raw, passionate tone. Throughout his speech, he spoke with his hands as much as with his voice. The way he rapped his fingertips on the podium, shifted his weight when weighing what to say next, and stood on his toes to emphasize his points immediately brought to mind Al Pacino’s passion and mannerisms. An audience member, during the Q&A, said that he, lacking a philosophy background himself, had trouble following Bernstein on some of the more complex philosophy, but I found myself having the opposite experience: I think Bernstein has a remarkable ability to take complex philosophical ideas and illustrate them with digestible examples in such a way that they are readily understandable [disclosure: I’m minoring in philosophy].

The purpose of Bernstein’s talk, as stated above, is to argue that religion and morality are fundamentally at odds. Religion, because it is necessarily founded upon faith, requires irrational thinking, which Bernstein argues necessarily leads humans away from our values, and results in nothing short of death. There are certainly historical examples of this — he mentioned faith healing a few times, and the abysmal life expectancy of the third-world versus the first-world today. He argued that morality is, in so many words, whatever helps living things achieve their values, which (objectivism argues) are necessarily dictated by nature. These values are neither subjective in the social-consensus sense, nor the individual “whim” sense, nor the religious sense (via sacred text or divine revelation). According to objectivism, we need only look to the facts of what nature has presented to us in order to determine our values: There is, in fact, no need for subjective disagreement on what we “should” value or strive toward, because nature has already spelled out for us what is good and what is bad, whether we consent to it or not. We are living creatures, and what is “good” is whatever promotes life, and what is “bad” is whatever does not.

Dr. Andrew Bernstein presenting on "Religion vs. Morality" at the University of Central Missouri

I’m reminded of Craig Palmer (Mizzou anthropologist) and Lyle Steadman’s (ASU professor emeritus) definitions concerning moral behavior for humans living in groups: Morality is roughly synonymous with pro-social behavior, and immoral behavior is roughly synonymous with antisocial behavior (see their 2010 book The Supernatural and Natural Selection: The Evolution of Religion). A human being in complete isolation is incapable of moral or immoral action, following this line of thinking: Anything s/he does is morally justifiable if it’s a means toward the end of his survival, by virtue of the very fact that lacking are any other living things to harm in the process.

Objectivism, as I understand it, has this to say about the matter: Natural selection has provided every living thing with some sort of tool (insofar as it is necessary, given its biological niche) to aid in its survival. For an elephant, that might be its massive size, thick hide, tusks, etc. For an elk, this might be its antlers and speed. For a tiger or wolf, claws & teeth. Nature has also “provided” (selected for) fur coats to protect some animals from cold climates. In the case of elephants, huge floppy ears are very important for temperature regulation: They have lots of surface area and LOTS of blood volume, such that the elephant can flap its ears to cool down the temperature of its blood, as another example.

What is “good” or “bad” when we’re talking about these animals behavior? Well, what’s “good” for a tiger or an elephant or mushroom or mosquito or bacterium is whatever aids it in its “mission” to survive and reproduce. Moral reflection or indeed consciousness at all is actually unnecessary for this. Any living thing will, quite naturally, do whatever it needs to do in order to survive and reproduce (else go extinct). What’s “good” is what leads toward this, and what’s “bad” is what leads away from this.

In the case of humans, natural selection actually took away our survival mechanisms (claws, sizable canine teeth, fur coats, etc) some time ago. Ancient primates gave up claws for nails a very long time ago (65-85 million years), and we still have a hint of canines and body hair, though nothing even close to that of our ancestors. What we do have, what nature has provided to us via selection, is something far more interesting, and far more useful, in exchange: rational, thinking brains. These are our survival tools. They allow us to innovate, to invent technologies, and to increase our efficiency. We don’t need claws; we have hand-axes (for an EXCELLENT discussion of the importance of hand-axes to human evolution, see Matt Ridley’s beautifully-written The Rational Optimist). As time went on, ancient humans further innovated to produce hafted axes (axes with handles), spears, arrowheads, and much later, metal bladed weapons, etc.

We don’t need costly (in terms of energy input/output and time invested) guts & digestive systems; we have fire. In fact, we are the only animals that cook our food: By doing so, we are basically outsourcing a large fraction of our ancestors’ digestive process. By investing fewer calories (less energy) in growing and maintaining a complex gut, natural selection was able to divert that energy into growing more complex brains, instead, and the process went ’round and ’round in a magnificent evolutionary upward spiral of exponential innovation. From controlled fire (and therefore bigger brains) came an increased ability to ward off predators and stay warm, especially at night (meaning even less need for caloric investment in muscle mass and large, powerful jaws, and less need for temperature regulation via thick body hair), which led to even more freed-up calories for investment in bigger brains, and so on and so on, until we get to anatomically modern humans some 200,000 years ago.

What’s “good” when it comes to humans specifically? According to my understanding of objectivism, it’s not determined by a god (divine command theory), nor by societal consensus (moral relativism), nor by the individual: Values are dictated to us by nature, intrinsic in the fact that we are living things. What’s “good” is whatever helps us get closer to living up to those values. Except for rare suicidal cases, humans (like all living things) naturally value survival, and except in (relatively) rare cases, humans (like all living things) naturally value reproduction. This is more-or-less a restatement of the biological imperative. According to objectivism, as I understand it, this is sufficient to resolve Hume’s is-ought problem. There are other proposed resolutions to this problem, for example, Sam Harris also claims that science [the application of reason to evidence] can answer moral questions in The Moral Landscape.

The argument for reason as the best tool for achieving human values (or any living thing’s values, for that matter), therefore, neatly falls into place. By rejecting all forms of irrationality — religion included — we are necessarily left with the path of least resistance toward the end of attaining that which [nature has determined] is of value to us. The application of reason, Bernstein argues, is the most efficient, healthiest, and most direct way to reach our goals. Since these goals are dictated by nature and emphatically not subjective, it is an open-and-shut case.

Religion, because it embraces faith (and is, by definition, irrational), is therefore directly at odds with life itself. According to Bernstein, “Religion is a philosophical system based in faith, not reason,” and it necessarily includes an unquestioning obedience to God. Religion views humans as sinful, and a failure to obey God is at the very core of what it means to be immoral, from the perspective of religion. This is so fundamental to the Abrahamic religions that it’s in fact the very basis of sin itself, illustrated by the Fall of Man.

As a student of anthropology, I strongly disagree with this definition of religion, although admittedly “religion” is notoriously difficult to define, and Bernstein was upfront about this being a purely working definition. Some religions (e.g. theistic Satanism) place zero emphasis on obedience to God or indeed encourage disobedience as permissible behavior. Note: I’m not talking about LaVey Satanism here; LaVey explicitly denounced “devil worship” or the idea of praying to Satan, and LaVey Satanists are generally atheists. In fact, atheistic Satanism can, I think, rightly be called “ethical egoism with ritual.” Other examples of religions lacking a necessity of obedience to “God” are Buddhism, Taoism, and many American Indian religions. In the case of Buddhism, the Eightfold Path is a rough stand-in for a revealed text from a god, and in the case of Taoism, the idea is to live in harmony with reality through compassion, moderation, and humility. Although supernatural elements are present in each system, a rule-giving god is conspicuously absent, and disobedience is not immoral per se.

Bernstein’s working definition of religion is sufficient for the Abrahamic religions in this context, but I don’t think he adequately makes the case against all religion, just religions that require obedience to a god (which, admittedly, is most of the ones we’re worried about in practice).

During the Q&A, an audience member asked if there was room for faith in any of this. He said that he is a farmer and gave the example of having faith that it will rain within a certain window of time when choosing exactly when to plant his crops. He cited weather patterns over the last few decades as informing his choice of when to plant. Bernstein rightly pointed out that the farmer, then, is not depending on faith — there is no supernatural element present there. I wanted to add to this that perhaps a better way to word it might be that the farmer doesn’t have faith that it will rain: He has confidence that it will, in the scientific sense (evidence informing probability). This is very, very different from trust (an emotion) and faith (non-evidence-based belief), and we should take care to correct people who use the word “faith” when they mean “confidence.” If evidence is leading to your belief, you are, by definition, confident. There’s a big difference, and I applaud Bernstein on pointing this out.

My other main objection is that Bernstein, while simultaneously praising Scandinavia’s rational, secular approach to the rejection of irrationality, doesn’t seem to give credit where credit is due with regard to the success they have had in the application of liberal-leaning public policy. Denmark, Norway, Sweden, etc has some of the healthiest people on the planet in terms of nutrition, lifespan, and other factors for which he earlier criticized the Dark Ages for lacking . Phil Zuckerman, in Society Without God: What The Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, makes strong arguments for why life in Scandinavia is downright heavenly (har har) for rational people, and atheists especially: Aside from long lifespans, they have some of the lowest abortion rates, divorce rates, murder rates, illiteracy rates, corruption rates, etc. Yes, they have very high tax rates, but health care and college is accessible to anyone who wants it (as I understand it). Looking at GDP per capita, a favored metric by Bernstein (who quoted these figures several times throughout his talk), is not necessarily an optimal way to compare the living conditions in one country versus another. While after-tax income of course measures “lower” in countries with high tax rates (and I of course admit the obvious role Pigovian taxes play on disincentivizing innovation), if tax-funded services are provided in lieu of direct income, if this is not accounted for in one’s metric, an individual’s actual standard of living may be more-or-less unaffected, even as the GDP per capita falls. This is why other metrics have come into favor over GDP per capita, which is easier to calculate but provides less information about the overall picture. More informative metrics are, for example, the Gini coefficient (based on the Lorenz curve), the Human Poverty Index (a composite index which accounts for literacy, unemployment, probability of falling below the poverty line, and the probability, at birth, of surviving to age 60), among others. GDP per capita as a metric, perhaps most importantly, only very weakly accounts for life satisfaction and experienced utility (see my previous article on welfare economics here).

I strongly agree with Bernstein’s overall message that religion and morality cannot peaceably coexist. In the words of Sam Harris, “The problem of faith is that it is a conversation-stopper. As long as you don’t have to give reasons for what you believe, you have effectively immunized yourself against the power of human conversation. You hear religious people say things like, ‘There’s nothing that can be said that will change my mind.’ Just imagine that said in medicine. If there’s nothing that can be said that will change your mind, if there’s no evidence or argument that can be educed, that proves that you are not any state of the world into account in your beliefs. The problem with this is that when the stakes are high, we have a choice between conversation and violence.” Bernstein made essentially the same point in his talk, that giving credibility to faith necessarily results in an irreconciliable struggle for (theoretically!) rational animals like us.

Bernstein is a strong public speaker, a good conversationalist, and extremely knowledgable in his field. I recommend him to any campus group interested in guest lectures about objectivism, reason/rationality, or why religion is harmful to societies.

Until next time!

- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward CurrentNonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

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

ReasonFest 2012 Panel Discussion: “Is religion a force for good?”

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Several people now have asked me to post a transcript of what I said at the ReasonFest panel, so here you go:

Is religion a force for good?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question. What’s “religion”? It’s one of those things that’s easy to define until you try. What’s the difference between a religion and a cult? A culture and a religion? A philosophy and a religion? A delusion and a religion? To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, although he was talking about the definition of pornography, religion may be one of those things were we just know it when we see it.

What’s “force”? I don’t think we mean the energy field created by all living things that surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. Do we just mean something that inspires or motivates people? Do we mean it causes good things in itself? Do we mean that the good it motivates outweighs the bad?

And what’s “good,” anyway? Entire philosophy careers have been made out of nailing that one down and we still haven’t gotten it. Is “good” the minimizing of suffering of conscious creatures, as Sam Harris suggests, and is there more than one way to get there? Is “good” culturally dependent and relative? Is it even attainable?

I was originally going to say something very different about this. I had a whole thing worked up about why religion is not a force for good. But the more I thought about it, the more my answer changed.

I think it’s important that we feel free to be critical of ourselves in here. The framing of this question sets it up as a dichotomy – religion IS or IS NOT a force for good – and it’s a premise with which I disagree overall. Here’s why.

Religion has inspired people to do all sorts of things they probably would not otherwise do. I’m not just talking about the Crusades and 9/11 and impeding stem-cell research and all the things we wish religion did not motivate people to do, but building the Parthenon and volunteering at soup kitchens and making a cappella music (a cappella is Italian for “in the style of the church”). Religion is responsible for inspiring and motivating art, music, architecture, literature, and charity. While I agree with Christopher Hitchens in that there’s nothing a religious person can do that a secular person can’t, I don’t think it’s fair to say that religion is not a force for good.

But we clearly can’t call religion “a force for good,” either. It has redeeming qualities, and these seem to be persuasive enough to the majority of people around the world, though to be fair many of them have little say in the matter. While not all religions are structurally violent, especially to LGBTQ people and women – some pagan religions are downright feminist & sex-positive – the three Abrahamic religions, taken as written, certainly are.  I’m not going to list all the atrocities religion has brought to human history, but I will summarize by saying that most religions, as practiced, can be terribly destructive to the welfare of conscious creatures on this Earth.

I think that the best answer to this question of whether religion is a force for good or not is that religion just IS. Religion is a human invention, a tool, a meme, an adaptation, or as Dan Dennett simply calls it, a natural phenomenon. Its function is twofold. On the one hand, religion helps social animals establish loyalty to their group and to certain moral principles, so their genes can better benefit from the protections and gains-from-trade never before possible in pre-religious societies. On the other, religion provides explanations (albeit piss-poor ones) about The Big Questions: where did our universe come from? What’s the meaning of life? How ought we to act? What happens after we die?

While philosophy and science have, especially in the last few hundred years, given us much better answers to those questions than any religion previously, I don’t think it’s ideal to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Before I became an atheist, I was a worship musician, and my favorite gig was always conferences, because I felt so connected to other people. I was so thrilled to learn about the existence of atheist conferences when I deconverted, because of the energy that comes from connecting with people this way. We are social animals and we thrive in these settings. Our health demonstrably suffers when we’re lonely. Our brains are adapted to flourish in these circumstances, and yes, religion can provide that.

Is religion a force for good? It CAN be. Take science as an example. We have used the tool of science to double human lifespans, decrease infant mortality 90%, and decrease maternal mortality by 99% – and that’s just since 1900. We can also use science for evil. There was a time, not so long ago, when it was simply technologically impossible to kill more than a few dozen people at a time, a few thousand with an army. In the first week of August, 1945, the United States killed 100,000 people in Japan, and tens of thousands more died from radiation over the next few months. But it was not science in itself that did this; it was people. And just like with religion, it is people who use it for good or bad. Religion, like science, just is.

We need to understand, and help others understand, that morality does not come from religion. In fact, morality predates religion and continues to shape and inform religion, whether religious people admit it or not ;) It’s not good nor evil. Just like science, it ultimately depends on what we choose to do with it.

The panel included four participants: Aside from me, there was also KU computer-science PhD candidate Chris Redford (a.k.a. Evid3nc3 on YouTube), who happens to be one of my personal activism heros and whose YouTube videos have been an inspiration and motivation for me since long before I knew who he was. It was a huge honor for me to meet him for the first time, when I was invited last semester to give my “Is the New Testament Historically Reliable?” hour-long talk for SOMA at KU, and I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to be asked to appear on this panel with him.

The other two participants were KU law student Doug Coe, who identifies as a follower of Jesus, and who intends to be an activist against modern slavery after law school, and KU undergraduate religious-studies major & sociology minor Colton Tatham, who also identifies as a follower of Jesus. I think it’s an interesting trend, and I’ve heard this more and more lately, that people are no longer identifying as strongly as “Christians” but rather “followers of Jesus,” in the same vein as Jefferson Bethke:

It’s as though Christians are beginning to recognize, even if not admittedly, that the word “religious” has become pejorative. It seems that, more and more, there is a shift in thinking in our society, that the word “religion” brings to mind images of 9/11 and pedophile priests and megachurch pastors with $8.4 million private jets or megachurch pastors who have adulterous 3-year meth-fueled relationships with gay sex workers. I think this shift in thinking is a wonderful step in the right direction. My next article will explain why I think this is so. Until next time!

- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward CurrentNonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

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

Remember this one for debates!

Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!

First time here? Read this.

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Been really sick the past few days, and I apologize for the lack of updates. Here is one to hold you over, and frankly, it says it all:

Pro tip: This goes for any text, not just the Bible or other “holy” texts.

As a reminder, Rick Santorum and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson will be speaking in Columbia today (Friday) at 4 PM. Here is the SASHA Facebook event if you have questions for them!

Also don’t forget that on Sunday at 10 AM, we’re having our monthly “Alternative Church” with coffee, bagels, and the Columbia Atheists group. Check out our Facebook group for more details.

New articles coming soon!

- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

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

Oh, HELL no! I smell a lawsuit!

Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!

First time here? Read this.

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This is outrageous. A new Oklahama bill seeks to squash atheists’ First-Amendment right to practice our religion in the traditional manner!

NPR link: State Bill Outlaws Use of [Human] Fetuses in Food Industry

Freedom From Religion Foundation, ACLU, anybody, can we move on this?

(Thanks to Terry Munger for the joke!)

See you guys tomorrow at 5:30 PM for the weekly SASHA meeting (click here for the Facebook event), at Reasonfest in Lawrence, Kansas on February 11/12, and at the Reason Rally on March 24!

- Dave

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

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

A comment about “Christian” bullying

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My friend, atheist advocate & activist, and SASHA blog guest author, Damon Fowler, posted this to Jessica Ahlquist in response to the treatment she is receiving by so-called “Christians” following the recent ruling regarding the prayer banner:

I’m really sorry you have to deal with that kind of treatment. People would always tell me “You don’t want to talk to those kinds of people anyway”, which is probably true, but it didn’t make it much better. I guess the best advice I can give is keep what friends you have close, don’t act like you’re bothered by it in front of them, and keep your online support on standby. I’m sure anyone would be willing to listen if you needed someone to talk to. I’m here and I know a bit about what you’re going through. Anyway, things will get better. You did a great thing. :)

My response:

I’m not trying to give unsolicited advice, but I disagree that someone should act like discrimination/bullying etc doesn’t bother them, if indeed it does (as it should!). Their behavior is not only completely unacceptable morally, but it’s also illegal, and ironically, anti-Christian. I think in some cases, in the face of egregious bullying, it can be more productive to call the bullies out on it, very publicly, especially if you have the option of “low-hanging fruit”; for example, you might say…

“Jesus said,  ‘You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44). Jesus said, ‘If someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat as well’ (Matthew 5:40, Luke 6:29). Do you think that I am evil? Then remember what Jesus said about evildoers: ‘Do not rise up against an evil person; if someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn your other cheek to him as well’ (Matthew 5:39).

What you should really be doing, instead of getting mad at me, is asking yourself if you are really a Christian, or if you are what Jesus called the Pharisees, a hypocrite – the Greek word for an actor, someone who pretends to be righteous, but in reality, is selfish, prideful, and wicked. If you are really a Christian, you will do as Jesus commands, even when it’s difficult, ESPECIALLY when it’s difficult. If you are really a Christian, you will recognize your pride, your indignation, and stand up for what Jesus taught – tolerance, and peace with those who disagree with you, but most of all, forgiveness to those who persecute you. If you are really a Christian, you should be asking yourself, “Would would Jesus do?”

You believe that Jesus could work miracles, that he could do anything he could imagine with just a mere thought. When Jesus was being tortured by the Roman soldiers after his arrest, did he summon lightning to strike them dead? No, he prayed for them. When Jesus was hanging by nails through his feet and wrists on the cross, did he spit on his executioners, call them names, and threaten them? No, he asked God to forgive them.

In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” By persecuting me, you are disrespecting the judge’s decision that the banner is unconstitutional, and by disrespecting the judge, you are disrespecting God. Christians are commanded to obey the governments that God has placed over them. When the Apostle Paul wrote that, he was writing under the Roman emperor Nero, perhaps the most tyrannical and anti-Christian government in Christian history. Under Emperor Nero, Paul – who, unlike Jesus and his other apostles, was a Roman citizen – was executed, a nearly unprecedented punishment for a citizen. The Apostle Paul had every imaginable reason to fight his government, but he steadfastly refused – in fact, he encouraged obedience, because this is what Christians are commanded to do. If Saint Paul could obey the decisions of his government, even in the face of his own execution, what makes you think you don’t have to?

You call yourself a Christian; why is it that I, an atheist, am more kind than you? Jesus wanted you, as his follower, to set an example of how to treat people, regardless of whether they are Christian or not, and ESPECIALLY if they persecute you. You call yourself a Christian; why is it that I, an atheist, am more civil, more peaceful, more gentle than you?

If you choose to persecute me, if you choose to disrespect the judge’s decision, understand that, as Paul himself said, you will bring judgment on yourself. Your words and actions are bigoted and hateful, not forgiving and peaceful, as Jesus taught. You are treating me this way out of your own selfishness, bigoted intolerance, and lack of respect, love, and generosity toward your fellow man. Further, your thoughts, words, and actions are explicitly against the instructions of both Saint Paul and Jesus himself. And if you are a Christian, you YOURSELF believe that you will face judgment for this. You think that I am going to hell because I am an atheist? I stood up for the United States Constitution, even though it was difficult, even though I knew I would face hatred from hypocrites like you. And I did it with respect, kindness, and a desire for tolerance. And what do you do in return? Directly, blatantly, and pridefully disobey Jesus himself. And as the Bible says, whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). So I have news for you: If you want to call yourself a Christian, you have two choices: Regardless of whether you agree with it or not, and regardless of what you think of me personally, you must respect the judge’s decision, and you must treat me with love, tolerance, peacefulness, and forgiveness, as Jesus commanded, or you will burn in hell yourself, according to your very own rules. The choice is yours.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s having to teach someone their own damn religion. Ugh.

A note to Jess:

I want you to know that the 550+ members of SASHA are behind you 100%. You are an an inspiration, an amazing person. These “Christian” bullies, they get defensive and angry because that is how our brains respond to cognitive dissonance – when they are demonstrated to be wrong, but they cannot cope with it. They know they are wrong, but nobody likes to be wrong, and it’s easier for them to lash out at you instead. That is not only childish, selfish, and wicked, but it’s also anti-Christian. Their own religion tells them, in no uncertain terms, to love their enemies, to forgive those who persecute them, and to obey their government. Take heart in knowing that you are right, and no amount of bullying can take that away. And frankly, in terms of love, kindness, forgiveness, and tolerance, you are showing THEM how it’s done.

Keep up the great work. We’re here for you if there’s anything at all we can do to help. I’m looking forward to hanging out with you again and hearing you speak at the Reason Rally!

Dave

P.S. You’re not old enough for this yet, but here’s what we enjoyed when we got the news that you’d won :P

mail@davemuscato.com

(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.

Follow Dave on Google+
Follow Dave on Twitter

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

YouTubers: Evid3nc3Thunderf00tTheAmazingAtheistThe Atheist ExperienceEdward Current,NonStampCollectorMr. DeityRichard DawkinsQualiaSoup

Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick

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