Five Reasons Atheists Should Oppose Trump

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We’ve heard a lot since the election about how the Left needs to stop accusing Trump voters of being racist, that there were many other legitimate and complex reasons for supporting his candidacy, and that rather than accuse and assume, we should ask and listen.  I tried in good faith to do this with my last post, addressing it to the Trump supporters who claim to have been motivated by concerns other than racial animus, and I received two whole responses, both of which more or less said “LIBTARD!”

Where, then, are these thoughtful, intellectually defensible arguments in support of a Trump presidency?  I submit they can be found in the same place as Yahweh, the Easter Bunny, and unicorns: In the imaginations of their believers.  The rationale for supporting Trump as an atheist activist is even less coherent.  If anything, the atheist community should be decisively opposed to the incoming regime for at least five reasons.

1. Trump has packed his administration with religious zealots who are openly anti-science and anti-secularism.

Climate change denial? Check. Creationism? Yup. Diverting public funds to Christian schools to “advance God’s kingdom?” Of course. Linking vaccines with autism? Goes without saying.  Religion-based discrimination? Bring it on.  The President Elect and his merry band of close advisors are uniformly on the wrong side of all of these issues – that is to say, they are on the side in opposition to the scientific evidence and consensus, as well as constitutional norms.  Vice President Elect Mike Pence once opposed funding for AIDS research in favor of programs that pray away the gay.  Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry’s policy response to drought when he was governor of Texas was to tell residents to pray.  Anyone who claims to value science, evidence, and secularism should be alarmed by these appointments.

2. Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate will be packing the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, with conservative judges who are sympathetic to Christianity and likely to hold a broad view of what constitutes “religious liberty.”

Trump has repeatedly promised to appoint Supreme Court judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade.  But SCOTUS isn’t the only windfall for the forced-birth crowd: Trump will have the opportunity to appoint dozens of judges to the federal bench all over the country, and based on his list of SCOTUS potentials, all of them are likely to share the same hostility to reproductive freedom and will thus be enthusiastically approved by the GOP-controlled Senate.  State legislatures, emboldened by the demise of Roe and a federal bench warm to Religious LibertyTM, will begin restricting access to contraception by giving employers more and more leeway to deny insurance coverage for it on religious grounds and permission to fire workers who are using birth control or become pregnant.  Ten Commandments monuments in courthouses and state houses will be deemed “traditional” rather than religious and be allowed to remain, thus signaling all non-Christians of the inherent bias against them in both the making and the upholding of laws.  Marriage equality will be undermined or overturned, and when the courts uphold the First Amendment Defense Act (which Trump has promised to sign), discrimination against LGBT people – and really, anyone else to whom a so-called Christian business owner objects – will be fully legal and constitutional.  The wall of separation under Trump will be weakened or obliterated.

3. Trump’s open hostility towards the press and his history of retribution against critics suggest he is ambivalent towards free expression.

It is curious to see so many self-proclaimed free speech advocates supporting a man who just a few weeks ago declared that burning an American flag should result in a year in jail and loss of US citizenship and who has not had a press conference since July 27 of last year.  Granted, Trump’s flag-burning statement was so ludicrously anti-constitutional that one’s instinct was to simply laugh it off with a shake of the head and an “as if.”  But that laughter quickly turned to bile upon remembering that this came from the man who is about to move into the Oval Office.  Did he really not know that flag-burning is constitutionally protected speech? Or did he know but thinks it should not be?  And how unsettling is it that we even have to ask these questions?

Almost as troubling is Trump’s decades-long record of ruthlessly going after those he perceives as having criticized him, a trait which has not abated in the slightest since his election.  It’s bad enough when the person trying to run you into the ground for a bad restaurant review is a rich mogul with a thin skin.  When that person is the most powerful human being on earth with the entirety of the Justice Department, the military, and the rest of the United States government infrastructure at his disposal (not to mention perhaps the Russian one), a chilling effect on frank discussion and criticism is inevitable.  This should be unnerving to us as citizens and downright outrageous to us as atheist activists; weakening the grip of superstition and destigmatizing atheism are predicated on our ability to criticize, satirize, mock, dismantle, and otherwise not defer to the closely held beliefs of others regardless of whose sensibilities we may offend.  A climate in which public figures, journalists, and ordinary citizens are reluctant to challenge those in power for fear of the repercussions ought to be the New Atheist’s and Free Speech Warrior’s worst nightmare.

4. A registry of Muslims is not very far removed from a registry for atheists.

Admittedly, the Trump transition team has been unclear on what kind of registry they are proposing.  Some claim it would simply be a registry of immigrants from majority Muslim nations, or nations with known terrorist activity.  On the other hand, when Trump surrogates cite the World War II internment of American citizens of Japanese descent as a precedent, it is reasonable to question just how limited a Muslim registry would really be.  Remember too that despite what we hear about “islamophobia,” religiously motivated hate crimes against Jews outnumber those against Muslims three-to-one, and the newly emboldened (thanks, PEOTUS!) white nationalist movement is already turning up the heat on American Jews.  In this climate of singling out and marginalizing American citizens from religious minorities, and given that polls consistently show atheists effectively tied with Muslims as the most disliked group of all, as well as the common belief among religionists that godlessness is the root of all evil, is it really that hard to imagine repercussions for non-believers?  Even if not in the form of a registry, the systematic collection of information on groups and individuals based on their perceived subversiveness is not outside the realm of possibility.  Either way, there is no reason to think that the persecution of religious minorities will start and end with Muslims.

5. Trump represents the antithesis of humanist values.

Yes, I know that not all atheists identify as humanists, and not all humanists are atheists.  Humanism is, however, often used as a loose synonym for atheism, and it is at the very least a common theme among nonbelievers that humans are not the filthy, pitiful sinners that theology asserts, and that people have inherent worth independent of the approval of an omnipotent creator.  Add in such values as kindness, generosity, humility, willingness to seek evidence and admit error, and support for universal human rights and you’ve got yourself a pretty good description of a humanist irrespective of religious belief.  Can you think of any list of honest Trump adjectives that includes the words kind, generous, humble, or willingness to admit error?

Ten Questions for Trump Voters that have Nothing to Do with Race

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I am getting a little tired of hearing Trump apologists admonish liberals and leftists for the perpetual charges of racism against the President Elect, his closest advisors, and especially his supporters among the electorate.  “Just because he is a racist doesn’t mean everyone who voted for him is a racist!” they cry.  “Your constant accusations of racism are why he was elected in the first place!”  I will address the ludicrous latter half of that claim at another time, but for now, let’s perform a little thought experiment:  Let’s assume that Trump is not racist at all, that he has not appointed known white nationalists to his cabinet, and that exploiting racial tensions was never a part of his campaign in any way.  I’ll grant you that concession.  In return, I would like answers the following questions, with only two conditions: You cannot refer to Hillary Clinton at all; and you cannot deny that the questions are based on proven, verified, undisputed facts.

  1. Are you troubled by the fact that Russia orchestrated the DNC email hacking to influence the election and that the Trump team was in contact with the Russian government throughout the campaign? If not, why not?
  2. Are you concerned about the historically unprecedented conflict of interest caused by Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his assets, or that he and his family have already used the office of the Presidency to promote their various business interests (such as here, here, here, here, and here)? If not, why not?
  3. Do you think that Mike Flynn, who is at this very moment being paid to lobby Congress on behalf of the Turkish government, might have a resulting conflict of interest with respect to policy and national security matters relating to Turkey? If so, does that bother you? If not, why not?
  4. What benefit do you see for our national security and our global moral authority in violating international law to torture terror suspects and execute their families?
  5. Do you think it is appropriate and safe for Trump to be speaking to foreign leaders on an unsecured personal cell phone?
  6. Does Trump’s use of Twitter to lament being lampooned on Saturday Night Live and demanding apologies from Hamilton theater-goers for booing Mike Pence fit your definition of presidential behavior, and does it accurately reflect what you think his priorities should be?
  7. Is it acceptable to you that Trump lied outright by saying he had personally prevented a Ford plant from moving to Mexico when Ford has confirmed that there was never any such plan? If so, why?
  8. What benefit do you see for our national security in Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea acquiring nuclear weapons?
  9. Given that Trump’s surrogates have confirmed intentions to move forward with mass deportations and the construction of a wall along our southern border as early as day one of his administration, how do you think those projects will be paid for, and do you agree that they represent the best use of tax dollars?
  10. Do you support a national registry of American citizens based on religious affiliation? Does your answer change based on which religion is in question?

 Now that Trump has appointed advisors like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, it seems almost a moot question whether Trump himself is racist, as he is surrounding himself with people who have undeniably racist histories and agendas, and these people will have at least some influence on policy.  But even if they did not exist, Trump the candidate had what should have been fatal flaws – flaws which now belong to the President Elect of the United States.  If people are tired of defending themselves and their candidate from charges of racism, I for one am willing to hit the pause button on those (well founded and very serious) concerns to give them the opportunity to explain why Trump was in any conceivable other way an acceptable choice to run the free world.

Religion in the Rear View Mirror

“There are some things about having a secular lifestyle I wish were easier. My son is now eight years old. He has friends, and he loves science and reading. I am very proud of him. I wish he had some of the community that church provides. We do not live in a big city that can provide secular options to the group activities that church can provide. This is of course changing. Groups like the Sunday Assembly have moved toward being a church without the God-bits and have kids’ classes.

“Overall, it can still be an issue for many people who do not have groups like this in their area. Without belonging to a church, they lack community unless these groups exist for them. It is possible, however, that our society could be realizing that with fewer and fewer people attending churches, we need alternatives. By the time my son is my age, his kids may be going to an alternative place that supplies community in new and fantastic ways.

“Until then, I hope to provide him the tools to think critically. I feel a freedom having made a decision to call myself an atheist instead of staying on the fence. I can always incorporate new ideas. Being able to learn new ideas tells us that we are still alive. And maybe that is all we can truly know.” – Jackie Burgett

Basic RGB

Jackie Burgett is a single mother who was raised as a Christian. One of the focuses of her story is how she is raising her son in a secular environment. She is one of 22 authors who wrote an essay about her journey away from religion.

Karen L. Garst has compiled these essays into a book titled Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion, which can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Dr. Garst became incensed when the U. S. Supreme Court issued its 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which said that because of its owners’ religious views, the craft store chain Hobby Lobby would not be obligated to follow the dictates of the Affordable Care Act and provide certain forms of birth control to its employees. “Will we never end the fight for women’s reproductive rights?” Garst asked. Once again, religion has influenced the laws of our land. Politicians cite their religion in supporting restrictions on abortion, banning funding for Planned Parenthood, and a host of other issues that are against women.

The first leaders of the New Atheism movement that arose after 9/11 were men: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett being the most prominent. They came with backgrounds of science and philosophy. They launched a renewed effort to show people how destructive religion can be and how all Abrahamic religions are based upon an Iron Age mythology, borrowing from other mythologies of the time.

Dr. Garst wants to add a focus on women and the role this mythology has played in the culture of many countries to denigrate and subordinate women. She states that “Religion is the last cultural barrier to gender equality.” And she is right. More and more women atheists are speaking out – and as we all know, if women leave, the churches will collapse.

She has received support with reviews by Richard Dawkins, Valerie Tarico, Peter Boghossian, Sikivu Hutchinson and other atheist authors.

I encourage you to check out Dr. Garst’s blog at www.faithlessfeminist.com and to pre-order this excellent book.

Eight Reasons Free Will Is Total Bullshit

 

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If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: God is not responsible for the evil and suffering in the world; that is caused by humans’ misuse of their god-given free will!  Sentiments such as “Don’t blame god, blame your own bad choices!” and “God isn’t responsible for the bad things others do to you!” abound in Christian literature and online enclaves, and they seems to make so much sense to the people who claim it – but what makes sense to the theist mind is often nonsensical in any other context, and this is no exception.  Under even mild scrutiny, free will is shown to be nothing more than an apologetic sleight of hand, glorifying an ostensibly loving and powerful god while simultaneously placing dramatic limits on his benevolence and ability.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is total bullshit.

1. Free will is not a universally held belief among Christians. As is the case with virtually every other claim made by Christians (and, to be fair, followers of every other religion), free will is not only not accepted across all denominations and adherents of Christianity, it is rejected outright by many as false teaching. Some Christians believe that humans are slaves to sin and are not free to choose not to sin, and that since god is the author of evil, it must simply be accepted. As explained by the kind folks at christianfallacies.com, “evil is a part of God’s eternal plan as so many scriptures illustrate . . . Free will is not needed as an answer to deliver God from the charge of evil because evil is not a problem for God, but for man, and man is in no position to question God about its existence.”  The non-believer is then left to ask, as with all other contradictory statements about the intentions and nature of god, what makes one of these claims true and the other one false – a question that I have yet to see any theist answer.

2. Free will and predestination are mutually exclusive. The internet is laden with dime-store theology that declares loudly and unambiguously that whatever is happening at any given moment is exactly what god intends. Try as one might, it’s nigh impossible to find pithy memes and articles that say, “God had a plan for you to be happy, but Monsignor totally blindsided god by using his free will to sodomize you when you were a child, and that threw a wrench into the whole thing. Sucks being you!”  On the contrary, we are told that god would not have allowed Monsignor to rape you unless he had a purpose for it.  Furthermore, given that “god is directing each one of your steps,” and since that claim does not come with an asterisk clarifying that ‘your’ refers to ‘non-pedophiles only,’ then he had to be directing Monsignor’s steps too.  There’s no room in any of this for anyone’s free will.

3. Semantic hoops of fire to make a divine plan compatible with free will are disingenuous. To hear some tell it, god’s plan is really just an idea, a hope, like the plans people have for the weekend, which can be fouled by the free will of other humans who are either ignorant of or averse to our own desires. In this version of “god’s plan,” god has no way to either communicate the plan to humans or to make it happen – it’s all just sitting there in his head while he crosses his holy fingers that our guesswork will cause us to stumble more or less blindly into doing what he wants us to do. This, of course, is entirely intellectually dishonest, because we all know that when theists speak of God’s Plan™ they are ascribing a much greater degree of control and intentionality than this weak excuse allows.  One must also wonder what kind of mean-spirited fool this god would have to be to make a plan that he knows in advance isn’t going to pan out, or to not at least tell humanity what the plan is so that we have a better chance of using our free will in a way that comports with that plan.  This is not the behavior one would expect of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god – indeed, it is not even the behavior one would expect of a marginally competent middle manager.

4. Free will is never used as an explanation for positive outcomes. We only ever hear about the importance of free will in discussions of why god allows evil or suffering. You can read elaborate explanations here or here or here or here or in many other places that god just had to give us free will because golly, he didn’t want to make an army of robots!  He wanted humans to choose to love (read: enslaves themselves to) him!  Let’s set aside for the moment that an omnipotent god wouldn’t have to do anything (and an omniscient one surely could have come up with a way to make non-automatons who were nice to each other).  If humans are free to choose, doesn’t that mean that sometimes they choose to do good things?  Why do we exonerate god in this child’s suffering by blaming her parents’ use of their free will to abuse her, but credit god for blessing that child who is thriving, rather than ascribe his success to his parents’ use of their free will to lavish him with love and opportunity?  To hold any water at all, free will has to account for both the good and the bad choices that people make.

5. The concept of free will leads to acceptance of suffering as inevitable. “Humans are sinful, flawed, fallible. Of course some of them will use their free will in sinful, flawed, fallible ways. I know, it’s truly awful when children get raped, beaten, neglected, tortured, or murdered.  But oh well, what are you going to do?  That’s just the cost of god making us free beings.”  Which leads us to . . .

6. A god that allows misuse of free will to cause human suffering has the wrong priorities. Most crimes have not just a perpetrator, but a victim – perhaps many victims. Do the victims not have free will?  Surely they did not choose the circumstances that led to their suffering.  Surely they did not choose to suffer.  When the parish priest is sodomizing the altar boy, why does the priest’s free will choice to rape matter to god, but the child’s desire not to be raped does not?  A god who always favors the evil over the innocent can be nothing but evil.

7. Free will does not cause natural disasters. Even if free will was an acceptable explanation for human-caused suffering (which it isn’t), it doesn’t work for the suffering caused by wildfires, tsunamis, floods, landslides, earthquakes, drought, famine, or disease outbreaks. In fact, a great many evangelicals will confidently declare that god does, in fact, send natural disasters as punishment for human sinfulness, such as some claimed with regard to Hurricane Katrina.  Ironically, they do not seem to recognize that killing, maiming, and impoverishing tens of thousands of innocent people (not to mention the devastating cost to non-human animals and the overall ecosystem) as a means of punishing a handful of guilty people is as far away from just and loving as their god could get.  More to the point, it admits outright that a significant percentage of suffering has nothing whatsoever to do with free will, but is caused directly and on purpose by god.

8. Science indicates that the notion of free will in the biblical sense – individual agency to make choices entirely free of unconscious influences – does not exist. Advances in neuroscience have severely eroded the notion that humans can freely choose their behaviors. Our genes, brain chemistry, parents, geography, and life experiences shape everything from our sense of right and wrong to our intelligence to our emotions and everything in between.  This is not to say that we are automatons who cannot behave morally and ethically, but it does allow us to see human behavior in a different, perhaps more dispassionate light and over time may lead us to more effective strategies for dealing with things like mental illness, violent crime, and other complex and nuanced problems.  Once again, the space of ignorance so long occupied by god has been replaced by scientific knowledge, achieved through observation, empiricism, and evidence.

It’s remarkable to consider the armies of people throughout history who have devoted years, perhaps their entire lives, to figuring out how to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with the notion of a loving, perfect, and just god.  The intellectual capacity wasted on such a fruitless and absurd endeavor is as mind-boggling as it is tragic – one can only hope that humanity will one day realize that those things are in fact irreconcilable, and rather than devote their lives to understanding why god allows suffering, put that energy into alleviating it.

Ten Claims of Religion That Are Mutually Exclusive

mutually_exclusive_eventsTheists have a script.  No, seriously.  They must.  How else could it be that the very first response of every single theist ever to every single atheist ever is that we are ignorant about their scriptures and their religion?  We haven’t read the whole thing, they complain, or we are taking it out of context, or we are cherry-picking the worst parts, or we are mis-translating, or yada yada yada. So let me put this caveat out there right up front: Every single one of the following statements can be found at any of countless online Christian ministries.  The sentiments represented are ubiquitous not only in the Christian meme-o-sphere, but in discussions with Christians themselves.  There has been no cherry-picking; there is no context to these outside of the standalone images and “whisper quotes” circulating on the Internet; nothing has been translated from ancient Hebrew into English by Google.  This is their theology, in their own words, in all its contradictory and self-refuting glory.

1. “Nothing can stop God’s plan!” → “Pray because prayer changes things!”

Say what now?  If nothing can stop god’s plan, doesn’t that include prayer?  And if it does, then why pray?  And if it doesn’t, why are they lying and claiming that nothing can stop it when something actually can stop it?

2. “God never gives you more than you can handle!” → “God WILL give you more than you can handle!”

So, is god making you suffer because he knows you can take it – or is he trying to break you so that you feel you have no choice but to run to him?  (This claim is everywhere in online Christian circles – which, as an aside, is kind of a dick move on god’s part.) He either does or he doesn’t.  Which is it?

3. “Every person in your life was sent by God for a reason!” → “God will never send you another woman’s husband!”

So let me get this straight: If a married man comes into my life he was sent by god, but because he is married he wasn’t sent by god? Or, he was sent by god, but not so I could fall in love with him? So if I fall in love with him, that wasn’t the plan?  But then, how does that square with item 1A above about everything happening being part of god’s plan? Does anyone else’s head hurt?

4. “God gives us what we need, not what we want!” → “Sometimes God gives you what you want so you can see it’s not what you need!”

Geez Louise, god, can you stop being a dick for like five minutes?

5. “Everything that happens is part of God’s plan!” → “Don’t blame God for the bad things that happen to you, blame your own bad choices / people’s free will!”

In my unscientific observations, the “everything according to god’s plan” line usually comes up in the context of first world problems – unemployment, relationship woes, financial troubles, and similar personal challenges.  Those are the times when it’s convenient to say god is working in your favor even if you can’t understand how.  The moment you bring up hunger, or rape, or child abuse, or famine, all of a sudden god is no longer responsible, because whoa, man, you can’t blame god for that shit when it’s people who are bad!  This leaves theists with the uncomfortable dilemma of having a god who intervenes in the easy stuff, like finding you a job, but can’t be bothered with the big things, like making sure babies don’t get raped; or of claiming two things that cannot simultaneously be true.

6. “God is directing all of your steps!” → “People have free will!”

If god is directing all of my steps, I don’t have free will.  If I have free will, god is not directing my steps.  Ironically, if theists would simply choose one of these it would be logically defensible (though it would still be false).  As it stands, these claims are incompatible.

7. “God is all-powerful!” → “Satan exists!”

There is no reason for an all-powerful, all-loving god to allow a character like Satan to run wild tempting and destroying people unless he (a) is not all-powerful and is incapable of defeating Satan, or (b) he is not all-loving and Satan just makes a good scapegoat or good entertainment (or both).  If Satan is real, then your god is either impotent or incompetent.

8. “God is all-forgiving!” → “Hell exists!”

“There’s nothing I won’t forgive you for!  Except for this list of things that I won’t forgive you for!”

9. “God is all-loving!” → “God will punish the wicked!”

“You can freely choose whether or not to love me! And if you choose not to, you will burn in a lake of fire for all eternity!  And yeah, genocide and war and child rape and disease and famine and natural disasters, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you coz I do! For realz! Even those idolaters and fornicators and blasphemers and apostates and unbelievers that I am condemning to hell!  Love ya, mean it!”

10. “God is always in control / has a plan / answers prayers / will make a way / has put you where he wants you / is the reason for everything you have / bestows blessings / heals / creates miracles!” → “God can’t stop people from raping children / committing murder / starting wars / perpetrating genocide / torturing / lying / stealing / hurting each other because that would take away their free will!”

And finally we get to the crux of why religion does not hold water: Because Christian theology claims perpetual, continuous, incessant intervention by god in the most minute details of your life while simultaneously claiming god cannot intervene to stop suffering because that would take away free will.  If intervention impedes free will, then god should never intervene in any human affairs for any reason.  If he intervenes to, say, send the right people into your life, or send you the storm to make you see he is the only shelter, or answer your prayers, or direct your steps, how is that any less an infringement upon free will than saving children from rape and starvation? Or stopping the Holocaust? Or teaching humans to be kind to each other?  Never mind, I’ll answer that for you: It isn’t.  It’s just that it’s easy to give god credit for being The Best Thing Ever when the stakes are low, but when the stakes are high god miraculously no longer plays by the same rules and must be held to a different (read: lower) standard than his flawed, sinful creations.

Christian apologists, if you’re out there, you’re going to want to attack me for misunderstanding or misrepresenting your religion.  However, you might want to consider redirecting that energy to the myriad Christian ministers and self-appointed spokespeople who are out there selling a version of your faith with which you disagree and making so many claims that cannot simultaneously be true.  After all, it’s not actually my responsibility to correct your theology.  That’s supposed to be your job.

Can’t We All Just Get Along? (Spoiler: No, We Can’t)

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Photo: AP

A couple of days ago I shared an article on my Facebook page excerpted from Dabiq, the publication of ISIS, which outlines the reason they hate non-Muslims.  It is written by ISIS; it is not the assessment of white westerners seeing their actions through the lens of enlightenment values, but the words of the Islamists themselves.  Their reasons for hating and killing us will come as a shock; no one could have predicted or anticipated their astonishing revelation.  They do what they do – are you ready for it?  Are you sitting down? – for Islam.

“The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.”

One might think that when the terrorists themselves come right out and say point blank that they do what they do for religion and for no other reason, and that they will continue doing it until the world succumbs to their religion, that would be the end of the debate.

You would be wrong.

Because no one but no one is going to tell the Regressive Left that Islamism has anything to do with Islam, least of all the Islamists themselves.  Those terrorists are not true Muslims, you see, and if you suggest that they are then you are saying by default that all Muslims are terrorists, and that makes you a racist bigot.  Period, end of discussion.

But Godless Mama, surely you are exaggerating, you say.  Acknowledging the “Islam” in “Islamism” isn’t racist, you say. Islam isn’t even a race, you say.  You must be misunderstanding them, you say.

Oh how I wish this were true.  It does seem so absurd as to be unbelievable. And admittedly, sometimes the accusations and knee-jerk Regressive responses really are absurd.  Occasionally, however, they cross the line from absurd to downright sinister.  Witness this breathless defense of ISIS posted to my page just today:

 “ISIS is a terrorist organisation that means to cause harm to ALL kinds of people… fellow Muslims included.  If their true cause was to promote Islam, then how does killing fellow Muslims achieve that?  How do beheadings, bombings, abductions and other atrocities make Islam more attractive to those that they are looking to convert?
. . .

consider the following…
When one is looking to hunt down witches, it is extremely important to define the following:
1. What exactly is a witch?
2. How is a witch confirmed as one before the fire around her is lit?
3. Is a witch’s way of life illegal in itself or are her specific actions to be defined as legal or illegal?
4. If the latter holds true in 3, then how is a witch different from anyone else?
5. If the former holds true in 3, then who is it that decides what constitutes a legal way of life and an illegal one.
. . .

If our goal is to stir up ‘counter hatred’ then how different are we from those who stir up hatred?
Instead of looking to make every Muslim in the world feel guilty for their choice of belief, we should rather look at those so-called ‘forces for good’ that keep releasing ISIS leaders from captivity.
The very same ‘forces for good’ that were allied to the very same ISIS leaders when the enemy was someone else. Those ‘forces for good’ who seem to be the only ones who benefit when ISIS go crazy. Hollywood needs villains just as badly as heroes… the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality is pure Hollywood.
Why wasn’t Islam an issue when we had communists to bash around?
Before communists we had black people.
Before black people we had Native Americans.
Before Native Americans we had someone else.
Before someone else, some other people.
There will always be a ‘them’ as a counter to ‘us’, until the time that humanity finally settles on ‘we’.”

Yes, that’s right, folks: ISIS is nothing more than a Hollywood invention designed to keep us distracted and focused on an arbitrary, artificial enemy based on the whims and desires of those in power.  They can’t possibly be actual Muslims because their barbarity is such bad PR that it would turn people off from voluntarily converting to Islam, and as you know voluntary conversion has been a cornerstone of ISIS action and propaganda – no coercion here!  If you oppose ISIS and the ideology they claim as their mandate (Islam), then not only are you playing into the hands of your government and corporate masters (sheeple!), you are just as guilty as ISIS for perpetuating an “us and them” mentality.  The real solution is to seek common ground with terrorists – to not view ISIS as “them,” but focus on our common humanity that makes us a “we.” And if you can’t do that, you are no better than the terrorists.

The problem with this advice is that the folks who comprise ISIS do not appear to actually have any humanity.  These are the folks who keep young girls and women as sex slaves; who burn children alive; who dissolve people in caustic acid, drown them, and force young boys to saw their heads off with knives.  They throw homosexuals from rooftops and stone women to death in the public square for adultery.  They have no regard for civil or secular law, for the principle of free expression, for the freedom to choose a different religion or no religion at all, or for any of the enlightenment values that we in the West take for granted – except to the extent that they can exploit that openness for their own ends.

For my part, if ever there was going to be a “them” to my “us,” the savages who make up ISIS – people who are wholly untethered from any sense of morality, decency, empathy, or humanity – fit that bill.  I do not want to seek common ground with people who unapologetically perpetrate evil, especially in the name of preposterous iron-age superstitions.  It’s one thing to vilify a group of people with arbitrary characteristics for imagined slights or inferiority; it’s quite another to seek justice against those who gleefully commit atrocities without hesitation or conscience.

If your response to my condemnation of fascists, child rapists, torturers, and serial killers is to call me a bigot and make excuses for the suffering they cause and the destroyed lives they leave behind, you need to take a long, hard look at where you’ve parked your high horse – because it sure as hell isn’t on the moral high ground.

Ten Books That Will Make You an Anti-Theist

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I don’t think there is any doubt that in the aggregate, religion – not just belief without evidence, but organized, capital-R Religion – has historically been and continues to be a bane to humanity.  One of the reasons this realization escapes so many people is the cultural deference to religion and its ubiquitous portrayal as inspirational, beautiful, comforting, and wholesome.  One must be willing to go out of one’s way to get any exposure to the less attractive aspects and effects of religion – but once one resolves to do so, one discovers that the well of evidence that religion is harmful is deep indeed.

The following books, which I have listed in no particular order, merely scratch the surface of religious malfeasance.  However, they present such damning evidence so persuasively that it would be difficult for any but the most fanatical believer to defend the institutions they expose.  Note: These are not books for making people into atheists – that is an entirely different list.

God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner

It may surprise some readers that my selection of an indictment of the Catholic Church doesn’t involve the child sex-abuse scandal; indeed, there are many compelling (if horrifying) such works from which to choose.  God’s Bankers, however, tells a story that is far less familiar to most of us, and reveals a side of the church that is rarely acknowledged but no less sinister.  From selling indulgences to wealthy nobles to hiding Nazi gold to laundering money for the mafia to ensuring that individual dioceses held all liability for pedophilia lawsuits, the Vatican has consistently put protection and expansion of its financial assets above all other concerns, even while dictating and legislating the morality of its more than one billion followers.  In this exhaustively researched history of Vatican finances Posner offers an up-close examination of the seamy underbelly of what is arguably one of the wealthiest and most powerful – and most corrupt – institutions the world has ever known.

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens

For those who are already familiar with Hitchens’s uniquely delightful, scorched-earth approach to defeating theists of all stripes, God is Not Great is more or less a collection of his most famous and irrefutable arguments, though having been written by Hitchens, no amount of repetition can ever be too much.  For those who are less familiar with Hitch, and especially for people newly coming into their own as atheists, God is Not Great will repeatedly make you want to leap out of your chair and shout, “Fuck yeah!”  Not only does Hitchens eviscerate the claims of religion, he lays bare the myriad ways it retards human progress and threatens the very survival of civilization.  (For those of you who prefer to listen to your books, the audio version has the wonderful advantage of being narrated by Hitch himself.)

Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola

This study of atheist clergy, told mostly in the voices of the participants themselves, gives readers a glimpse into the struggles faced by people who pledged themselves to serve god only to eventually realize that there is no such thing.  Trapped by a lack of marketable skills, financial opportunities, and the fear of social rejection – or, in some cases, of the loss of the automatic authority, respect, and stature that comes with the title of Reverend – these individuals struggle with whether and how to leave their ministries and what message to preach in the meantime.  It is difficult not to have both empathy for these men and women who, on the one hand, feel betrayed at the discovery that their religion was not what they had always been taught; and contempt for them on the other hand for feeding their parishioners the same misrepresentations and lies of omission that deceived them in the first place.  In either case, what the authors and the study participants make clear is that church leaders are duping young people into the clergy, and churchgoers themselves are deeply complicit.

Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell by Jack Olsen

John Story was a gentile doctor in a small Mormon community.  Though he was not one of them, he was devout in his own religion and ran his practice authoritatively and with the modern curiosity of an examination table fitted with stirrups, and in short order was one of the most respected and powerful men in town.  In the ensuing decades he sexually abused and raped hundreds of women and girls – people who were kept in ignorance about sex and their own bodies based on scriptural demands for feminine chastity and cowed by strict religious conditioning never to question male authority.  Women and girls who did speak up were swiftly shamed into silence or punished by their LDS leaders.   When enough victims finally came forward, Story’s most vigorous self-defense was his claim of devout religious belief, and his strongest defenders all declared that god was on their side.  Doc is a chilling tale of how fundamentalist religion grooms women to be victims of abuse and provides safe harbor for abusers.

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

From the absurd origins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the disavowal of polygamy that gave rise to the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), Krakauer delivers a devastating blow to whatever claims of respectability the Mormon Church may still have had.  In riveting prose so characteristic of his writing, he weaves the tale of Mormonism’s bloody history with the modern story of two brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and her infant daughter because (so they claimed) god told them to.  Under the Banner of Heaven makes plain how thin the line is between religious devotion and religious fanaticism and how fundamentalism opens the door to unspeakable atrocities committed without remorse.

Beyond Belief:  by Jenna Miscavige Hill

Many of us think of Scientology as a Hollywood eccentricity that commits no real harm, since its adherents are mostly wealthy celebrities wasting their money on spiritual silliness.  I was genuinely shocked at how wrong that perception truly is.  Yes, the doctrine of Scientology is blatantly nonsensical and in many ways laughable and it is difficult to understand the mindset that accepts it as plausible, let alone rational.  But for the lives of people living within Scientology – teaching their classes, running their hotels and restaurants, building and maintaining their properties, and living in their military-style housing under military-style rules – it is an omnipresent, all-powerful force that controls their every action, punishes them severely for any misstep, and leaves many of them living in fear and servitude.  As you read the book make sure you never forget: This organization does not pay taxes.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Infidel is the poignant, disturbing, and inspirational memoir of how New Atheist and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali survived and escaped a life of religious brutality to become a role model and beacon for free-thinkers in the Muslim world and elsewhere.  She is unflinchingly honest even on matters that could be less than flattering for her, and she does an admirable job of conveying the mixed emotions of a child who was subjected to terrible things by her family, but loves and empathizes with them nonetheless.  Her frank assessment of the role of Islamic ideology in her plight as well as that of millions of other Muslim women, girls, apostates, freethinkers, gays, and secularists has put her in the crosshairs of Islamists and Regressive Leftists alike – and yet I challenge anyone to read her book and then claim with a straight face that her diagnosis of the Islam problem doesn’t have merit.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres

Though it is now the subject of much tasteless humor, the Jonestown massacre was anything but funny – indeed, it was a tragedy and a crime on an almost unthinkable scale.  Contrary to what many assume, Jim Jones lured followers to his People’s Temple not by starting out as a cult leader who professed that he himself was god, but as an evangelical Christian preacher.  Once he had a congregation of fanatically devoted followers, he started singing a different tune – but by then they were already committed to him.  When he founded Jonestown he convinced his congregants to relocate there by proclaiming it as their sanctuary on earth; they didn’t know that it was the final stage of his years-long plan to kill them all.  Add in the fact that a third of the Jonestown victims were children and many were forced to drink poison at gunpoint, and the story is clearly not the light-hearted joke it is so often made out to be.  As with so many other tragedies borne of irrational belief, the story of Jonestown reveals how willingly people will act against their own best interests, and even the best interests of their children, when they believe it is sanctioned by god.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris

Any intellectually honest person must admit that there is something happening in the world today that is peculiar to Islam.  Unfortunately, the repercussions are not merely peculiar, but deadly and potentially devastating.  There is simply no question that people will do irrational, sometimes terrible things when they believe they have divine warrant and in that regard, Islam is no different than any other religion.  What does make it different is the frequency and scale with which such warrants are served, combined with the principles of the doctrine itself, in which political conquest is fundamental in a way that has no analogy in other mainstream religions.  Beyond the very real threat that Islamism poses to free, secular society, an honest look at the dogma itself shows it to be every bit as heinous as its Abrahamic counterparts, putting the lie to the “religion of peace” canard.  As an aside, Harris has become a controversial figure for many of the ideas put forth in this book.  I submit that those who make accusations that Harris is racist or supports torture have not in fact read it, or if they have they are knowingly misrepresenting it.

Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things that Piss Off the Godless by Greta Christina

When confronted with the question of why atheists are angry (or why we talk about god so much when we don’t believe), Greta Christina’s list is the best response I have found yet.  Her list encompasses religious abuses both great and small, everything from depriving people of basic human and civil rights to creating divisions within families to hampering scientific and social progress.  What is unique about her book is not only that she seems to capture every legitimate argument that atheists and anti-theists make against religion, but the compassion she has for believers who, she correctly observes, are themselves often the victims of their own indoctrination and dogma.  It is an outstanding manual for summarizing that which many of us often struggle to communicate, and for explaining to the faithful why we feel compelled to discuss religion in spite of not believing in it.

What books would you add to this list?