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American Atheists

Also in this issue:

Money Over Mission at Mars Hill Church
Honest Advice for Young People about Religion
Heavy Metal Atheists
No Tax Incentives for Noahs Ark




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A Journal of Atheist News and Thought
4th Quarter 2014
Vol. 52, No. 4

ISSN 0516-9623 (Print)

ISSN 1935-8369 (Online)


Pamela Whissel
Rick Wingrove
Karen Reilly
Gil and Jeanne Gaudia
Shelley Gaudia
Frank R. Zindler
Published by
American Atheists, Inc.
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 158
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Phone: 908.276.7300
FAX: 908.276.7402
2014 American Atheists Inc.
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part
without written permission is prohibited. American
Atheist is indexed in the Alternative Press Index.
American Atheist magazine is given free of cost to
members of American Atheists as an incident of their

This display at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, attempts to prove that humans
are not genetically related to apes because the ape skeleton, unlike the human skeleton, is
unable to read the Holy Bible. In his blog post Lets Teach Our Kids to Discern
(Blogs.AnswersInGenesis.org), the museums director, Ken Ham shares some thoughts
about American Atheist magazine. Our columnist Dan Arel shares some thoughts about
creationism on page 28.

In This Issue

If Hell is Real, Arent All Threats OK? | J.T. Eberhard

The Evolution of an Illusion | Michael B. Paulkovich
Money Over Mission at Mars Hill Church | Becky Garrison
All of the Good, None of the God: Part V | Conor Robinson
Male Shame: The Root of Female Shame | Darrel Ray, Ed.D.
Heavy Metal Atheists | Roger Serrat
Book Review: Parenting Without God | M. Dolon Hickmon
Danthropology: No Tax Incentives for Noahs Ark | Dan Arel
Only Syndrome | Be-Asia McKerracher
Honest Advice for Young People about Religion | C.B. Brooks, M.D.
Why I am an Atheist | Lisa Brown

Annual Individual Membership with subscription for

one year of American Atheist print magazine: $35.
Online version only: $20. Couple/Family Membership
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add $30/year. Discounts for libraries and institutions:
50% on all magazine subscriptions and book purchases.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 3



he first of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments says to be an

Atheist. Please share this news with those who tell you that their
moral code comes from the Bible. Please also share this news with anyone
who says they could never trust an Atheist, or vote an Atheist into public
office, or approve of their child marrying an Atheist. It wont be hard
to come across such people. They make up the majority of Americans,
according to a study published in 2011 by the American Psychological
Association in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study
is the first systematic investigation of the social psychological factors
underlying anti-Atheist prejudice. You can read it at TinyURL.com/
The researchers found that rapistsrapistswere the only people
distrusted to a comparable degree as Atheists. And they point out that
when it comes to rapists, there is a proven track record of untrustworthy
conduct that actually exists.
What is it about the word Atheist that too often makes non-believers
themselves keep this part of their identity a secret? Its time to take a look
behind the curtain and find out what really is, or isnt, there. This works
for monsters under the bed, and it can work here.
This is a job for the Oxford English Dictionary (online at OED.com).
The OED is the definitive record of the English language. For each of its
600,000 entries, the OED lists every known definition and pronunciation,
current and obsolete. It also traces the origins of words derived from
other languages, and it provides the source of every words earliest written
appearance on record. For a word with multiple meanings, the definitions
are ordered systematically to illustrate the words development over time.
The Bible can never be to religion what the OED is to English.
Look up Atheist, and you will see that it has its origins in French and
Italian, two languages that evolved from Latin. The oldest extant written
record of the word in English is from the mid-1500s. A lot can happen
over five centuries, but almost nothing has happened to the definition of
the word Atheist. The OED provides only three definitions. The first
definition is one who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God. The
second is one who practically denies the existence of a God by disregard
of moral obligation to Him; a godless man. The third definition is the
adjective that means atheistic, impious.
In five centuries of usage, this word has never acquired the legitimate
definition of someone who is amoral, bad, criminal, cruel, dangerous,
dishonest, evil, hateful, ignorant, murderous, nasty, odious, unpatriotic,
untrustworthy, vicious, or wicked.
In five centuries of usage, this word has also never acquired the
legitimate definition of a person who disbelieves the existence of God.
It says, the existence of a God. Now look up the word a in the OED.
Long story short: never, in its recorded history over a thousand years, has

the word a meant the. The word refers to something not specifically
The reality here is that this word, which frightens a lot of people,
applies to everyone. According to the definitive authority on the
English language, if you dont believe in Zeus, you are an Atheist. If you
dont believe in Allah, youre an Atheist. If you dont believe in Vishnu,
you are an Atheist. If you dont believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster,
you are an Atheist.
Now lets turn to the Ten Commandments and zero in on the first
one. Every version of the Bible is supposedly the definitive edition,
but practicality dictates that I make an executive decision here, so
well go with the the King James Version. Anyone who takes the Ten
Commandments seriously will have to narrow things down even more,
because this story appears in the Old Testament three separate times:
twice in the Book of Exodus and once again in the Book of Deuteronomy.
I wonder why it is that displays of the Ten Commandments are never
properly specified as version 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0. Youd think that would be
kind of important for an ultimate list of dos and donts.
The First Commandment 1.0, in Exodus 20:3, says, Thou shalt
have no other gods before me. The First Commandment 2.0, in Exodus
34:14, says, Thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose
name is Jealous, is a jealous God. The First Commandment 3.0, in
Deuteronomy 5:7, says, Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
How is this not a commandment to be an Atheist? Why is one of
the few words that accurately describe every single person on Earth
being hijacked by the population of Atheists who do not believe in
Zeus? Why are theymost of whom are scholars of nothinggetting
more credibility than the legions of linguists who have labored over the
course of a century and a half to assemble, maintain, and continually
update the OED?
This word applies to everyone, yet almost everyone is afraid
of it. Atheists who do believe in a god are afraid because they dont
understand that it applies to them. Closeted Atheists who believe in
no god at all are afraid of the word because other types of Atheists are
afraid of the word.
If you dont yet own the word, its time. If you do own the word
but know someone whos afraid to, help that person out of the closet.
Closets are for things we dont need at the moment. No one needs to be
this afraid, and no good can ever come of this ridiculous circle of fear.
Tell the religious people you know that if they want to be able to say that
they obey the Ten Commandments, then they must own this word as
well. Just for fun, ask them which version theyve downloaded. Then
remind them that nothing will take better care of their religion in this
country than church/state separation.

Pamela Whissel
4 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


Arent All Threats Okay?

by J.T. Eberhard

If Hell is Real,

The double standard about this variety of threat is so

ingrained in our culture that we dont even recognize it.

he Community Mission Chapel in Lake Charles, Louisiana,

was founded by former Evangelical preacher Jerry DeWitt.
Its mission is to gather community while promoting a foundation of
hope, trust, and love, thus bridging tolerance through common secular
values. In his blog, The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta recently
reported on two death threats emailed to one of the families who attend
the Community Mission Chapel. The emails are reproduced below,
with the authors random capitalization and bad spelling intact.
The first one says:
We know who you are. We know where you live. We know
where you work. Youre little group of devil worshippers isnt
welcome here. Let the love and message of the Lord filter
through you and may you escape from the eternal damnation
that you have condemned you and youre innocent children
to. Repent youre Satanistic ways or you will find that the
Lord works in VERY mysterious ways. You are against God
and are not welcome in this area and we WILL spread his
message to the hearts and minds of your innocent children.
To deny His word to your children is abuse, and if you do not
learn to love Him and His word then we will have no choice
but to take action to protect your children from your devilenabling ways. Do not even try to report this to the police
we are every where and His work will be done in His name
thru us, the true beleivers.

Heres the second one:

You could not keep away from it, could you? You and your
group are infecting this area and driving THE ONE TRUE
GOD out. We have warned you before. We are warning
you again. We will stop you any way we have too. He has
misterious ways. Keep youre family close.
Some speculate that this is a hoax, as if its unfathomable that
fundamentalist Christians in Louisiana might, in the name of Jesus, use
their poor writing skills to threaten Atheists. At least some Christians
are decrying these threats. While Im grateful for this, it strikes me as a
bit ironic because Christians threaten Atheists all the time.
Think about it. If youve ever told someone they must believe as

you do or theyll burn for all eternity, youve just threatened them. The
double standard about this variety of threat, however, is so ingrained in
our culture that we dont even recognize it. Hypothetically speaking,
what if someone said any of the following to you?
1. Believe as I believe, or my friend is going to slash your tires.
This sounds like a line from the mafia. No one would buy the excuse
of Im not threatening you, Im just warning you.
2. Believe as I believe, or my friend is going to kill you. When
you call the police immediately on that person, the police are not
going say, Technically, its their friend threatening you. This guys
just the messenger.
3. Believe as I believe, or my friend is going to set you on fire
and torture you forever. Pretty much every Christian delivering this
threat considers it an act of love. If ever you wondered how faith can
contort a persons idea of love, there it is.
Its unclear whether the threats sent to this family were sincere or an
ill-conceived hoax. Either way, the deed was unquestionably immoral.
But any time a Christian tells an Atheistor anybody who doesnt
subscribe to their specific flavor of religionthat they will go to hell for
having the wrong beliefs, theyre threatening that person. And theres no
doubt that those threats are one hundred percent sincere. They mean
them without equivocation, but we just shrug them off.
I dont ask for much from religious peopleonly consistency. If
a religious person heard on the news that a virgin gave birth in Dallas
yesterday or that someone rose from the dead this morning in Omaha,
theyd think it was ridiculous. I just wish theyd apply that same
standard to themselves. Likewise, if you abhor threats of tire-slashing
and getting beaten up (as many Christians delivering threats of eternal
hell do), then apply that standard to yourself and to everyone else in
your church. Threats are not an expression of love, and if anybody
should know that to be true, it would be an all-loving, all-wise god.
This should tell you something about a god whose primary
selling point is the threat of you landing in hell forever.
J.T.s blog, What Would J.T. Do?, is at Patheos.com/Blogs/WWJTD. He
previously worked for the Secular Student Alliance, where he was their first
high school organizer. He is the co-founder of the Skepticon conference
and served as the events lead organizer for its first three years.

If you've ever told someone they must believe as you do or they'll

burn for all eternity, you've just threatened them.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 5


Religion has had an enormous impact on the world. In this series, Michael B.
Paulkovich examines dogmas, myths, and religious notions past and present.

The Evolution

of an Illusion
by Michael B. Paulkovich

hy do the New Testament tales skip suspiciously from Jesus the baby to Jesus the young
mana rosy-cheeked religious zealot in his pre-teensto the full-grown miracle worker
donning sandals and (as always depicted) a brown beard? In Luke 2:42, Jesus is twelve years
old, yet ten short verses later, in Luke 3:1, Jesus is in the fiftieth year of the reign of Tiberius Caeser, and thus
about 30 years old. Were there any ancient Christian myths, perhaps depicting the acts of a young Jesus, written
down but excluded from the Bible? Were any ancient scriptures lost, orgasprejected from the Bible?

Making the Cut

Ancient scriptures become legitimate only when some
authoritative group of scholars or clergymen agree with one another
and accept certain writings into their canon, or list, while often
excluding others. The New Testament canon was developed when
Roman leaders met with church officials to select those scriptures
that pious Christians believed should belong in their new holy book,
the Bible.
The History Channel produced a series called Banned from
the Bible, but the word banned, while useful for hype and hoopla,
was inaccurate. Many sacred writings, and not just from Hebrews or
Christians, were simply omitted from the compilation that we know
today as the Bible. During the time of the first Council of Nicaea
in 325 CE, scriptures pertaining to pagan gods had been under

6 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

There are hundreds of non-canonical scriptures. The apocrypha

are the extant religious texts that were not included in the Bible (list
in Page 8).
The lost texts are books that are mentioned in Hebrew scripture
but which are lost to history (listed in Sidebar 2). For example,
Numbers 21:14 refers to the Book of the Wars of the Lord, which
promises that god will part the streams of Arnon for the Israelites, just
like he parted the Red Sea.
The word bible itself is a nebulous term. It was ill-defined early on
and remains a moving target. In the English language alone, there are
dozens of versions of the Bible. When the King James Version (KJV)
was published in 1611, it included 80 books, yet almost all KJV Bibles
published after the 19th century contain only 66 books. Perhaps god
changed his mind about his sacred words at some point in the 1800s.


At the Council of Nicaea, the bishops bickered

over which god should be the object of their
worship. Some pious attendees considered
making Mithras their savior instead of Jesus.

Even though its available online today

through Project Gutenberg, the KJV still
includes only sixty-six books: 39 in the Old
Testament and 27 in the New Testament.
Why not provide all 80 books? The following
fourteen apocryphal books were included in
the original, authorized KJV:
1 Esdras
2 Esdras
Book of Tobit
Book of Judith
Six chapters of the Book of Esther
Book of Baruch
Song of the Three Children
Story of Susanna
The Idol Bel and the Dragon
Prayer of Manasses
1 Maccabees
2 Maccabees
New Testament
While it is likely that there were
collections of Christian writings assembled
in the second century that resembled the
omnibus that would eventually become the
Bible, the earliest reference that we have to
the canonical list of 27 New Testament books
is by Bishop Athanasius in the year 367. This
might as well be called Greek mythology; the
writers were Greek and borrowed copiously
from tales of Attis the shepherd, who was the
son of god by virgin birth and a Greek deity

of life, death, and resurrection.

Attempts at Bible canonization took place
at the Synod of Laodicia (c. 343-381), then
the Synod of Hippo in 393 and repeated at the
Synods of Carthage in 393 and 397. Scores of
canons were produced over the centuries until
the Bible attained a semi-stable form at the
Council of Trent (1545 -1563). In the various
agreements and canonizations, Christian
authorities rejected a plethora of books. The
excluded scriptures contain stories that differ
significantly from those in the present canon,
which, in themselves, also differ from one
another in important ways.
The Gospel of Peter, which was rejected,
claims that during his crucifixion, Jesus was
silent as having no pain. This contradicts
the account in Matthew 27:46, where Jesus
cries out, My God, my God, why hast thou
forsaken me? Later in the Gospel of Peter,
Jesus emerges from his tomb accompanied by
two colossal angels whose heads are as high
as heaven, with Jesus being an even larger
A behemoth man and a magical cross as a
floating phantasm follow them. Then we get to
hear from the talking cross:
And while they were relating what
they had seen, again they see three
males who have come out from the
sepulcher, with the two supporting
the other one, and a cross following
them, and the head of the two

reaching unto heaven, but that of

the one being led out by a hand
by them going beyond the heavens.
And they were hearing a voice from
the heavens saying, Have you
made proclamation to the fallenasleep? And an obeisance was
heard from the cross, Yes.

Jesus Killed
Another engrossing (and damning,
it would seem) text is the Infancy Gospel
of Thomas, also rejected by the men who
assembled the Christian canon. The Infancy
Gospel contains a miracle performed by
Jesus as a child wherein he murdered another
youngster, the son of Annas. When the parents
complained to Mary and Joseph, Jesus struck
them both blind:
But the son of Annas the scribe was
standing there with Joseph; and
he took a branch of a willow and
dispersed the waters which Jesus
had gathered together. And when
Jesus saw what was done, he was
wroth and said unto him: O evil,
ungodly, and foolish one, what hurt
did the pools and the waters do
thee? Behold, now also thou shalt
be withered like a tree, and shalt
not bear leaves, neither root, nor

The Infancy Gospel contains a miracle performed

by Jesus as a child wherein he murdered another

youngster. When the parents complained to Mary
and Joseph, Jesus struck them both blind.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 7

Were any ancient scriptures lost, orgasprejected from the Bible?

Non-Canonical New Testament Books
These 60 scriptural texts were once in the
running to be included in the Bible.
Narrative Gospels

Gospel of Peter
Gospel of Mary
Epistle of the Apostles
Second Treatise of the Great Seth
Secret Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Nicodemus
Dialogue of the Savior
Gospel of Bartholomew
Gospel of Basilides
Gospel of Judas
History of Joseph the Carpenter
Unknown Gospel - P. Oxyrhynchus 406
Unknown Gospel - P. Oxyrhynchus 840
Unknown Gospel - P. Oxyrhynchus 1081
Unknown Gospel - P. Oxyrhynchus 1224
Sayings Gospels

Gospel of Thomas
Thomas the Contender
Gospel of Philip

Apocryphal Apocalypses and Revelatory

Apocalypse of Peter
Coptic Apocalypse of Peter
Apocalypse of Paul
Secret Book of John
Origin of the World
First Thought in Three Forms
Hymn of the Pearl
Shepherd of Hermas
Apocryphal Epistles and Other Writings

Third Letter of Paul to the Corinthians

Correspondence of Paul and Seneca
Pauls Letter to the Laodiceans
Letter of Peter to James, and its Reception
Homilies of Clement
Ptolemys Letter to Flora
Treatise on the Resurrection
Preaching of Peter
The Letter of 1 Clement
The Letter of 2 Clement
The Didache
The Letter of Barnabas

Infancy Gospels

Arabic Gospel of the Infancy

Proto-Gospel of James
Infancy Gospel of Thomas
First Infancy Gospel
Miscellaneous Gospels

Gospel of Truth
Letters of Herod and Pilate
Book of the Cock
Pistis Sophia
Apocryphon of James
Fragmentary Gospels

Gospel of the Nazareans

Gospel of the Ebionites
Gospel According to the Hebrews
Gospel of the Egyptians
Egerton Gospel
Gospel of the Savior
Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles

Acts of John
Acts of Paul
Acts of Peter
Acts of Thecla
Acts of Thomas

8 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

Lost Texts
The texts of the following books mentioned in the Old Testament
no longer exist.
The Book of the Wars of the Lord (Num 21:14)
The Book of Jasher ( Josh 10:13 & 2 Sam 1:18)
The Book of Samuel to the Lord (1 Sam 10:25)
The Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41)
The Book of the Kings of Israel (1 Chron 9:1; 2 Chron 20:34)
The Book of the Kings of Judah (1 Chron 9:1)
The Chronicles of David (1 Chron 27:24)
The Chronicles of Samuel the Seer (1 Chron 29:29)
The Chronicles of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chron 29:29)
The Book of Gad (1 Chron 29:29)
The Prophecy of Ahijah (2 Chron 9:29)
The Words of Shemaiah the Prophet (2 Chron 12:15)
The Book of the Prophet Iddo (2 Chron 13:22)
The Book of Jehu (2 Chron 20:34)
The Midrash on the Book of Kings (2 Chron 24:27)
The Deeds of Uzziah (2 Chron 26:22; 32:32)
The Book of the Kings of Judah (2 Chron 27:7)
The Words of the Kings of Israel (2 Chron 33:18)
The Sayings of Hozai (2 Chronicles 33:19)
The Laments for Josiah (2 Chron 35:25)
The Record book of King Ahasuerus (Esther 2:23; 6:1)
The Book of Life (Dan 12:1; Phil 4:3; Rev 20:11; 22:19)
The Book of Judgment (Dan 7:10; Rev 20:12)
The Book of Remembrance (Mal 3:16)


In the Gospel of Peter, Jesus emerges from his

tomb accompanied by two colossal angels whose

heads are as high as heaven, with Jesus being
an even larger leviathan. A behemoth man and a
magical cross as a floating phantasm follow them.
fruit. And straightway that lad withered up wholly, but Jesus
departed and went unto Josephs house. But the parents of
him that was withered took him up, bewailing his youth, and
brought him to Joseph, and accused him or that thou hast
such a child which doeth such deeds.
And Joseph called the young child apart and admonished
him, saying: Wherefore doest thou such things, that these
suffer and hate us and persecute us? But Jesus said: I know
that these thy words are not thine: nevertheless for thy sake I
will hold my peace: but they shall bear their punishment. And
straightway they that accused him were smitten with blindness.

One need not wonder why this story of murderer Jesus did not make
it into the Christian Bible.
Debates went on for centuries over which writings should be
included, and by the beginning of the fourth century, the debates were,
for the most part, resolved. Yet even at the Council of Nicaea the bishops
bickered over which god should be the object of their worship. Some
attendees considered making Mithras their savior instead of Jesus, as we
learn in Preparation of the Gospels, written by Eusebius around the year
313 CE. Eusebius also admitted that some of his colleagues revered the
Greek gods Kronos, Zeus, Hera, and Athena, and he wrote of Apollo
dozens of times.
Roman leadership eventually chose the Jesus character as their
heavenly hero, discarding hundreds of other scriptures of the time and
settling upon (as far as we are able to determine) four gospels, the Acts
of the Apostles, twenty-one epistles, and the wacky Book of Revelation.
A scholarly attempt to explain Revelation might legitimately portray
it as a tirade by an anonymous Hebrew expositor embittered by Roman
imperialism, particularly Neros, in the late first century. The fictive claim
by the author asserts that its extravagant tales were revealed to Jesus from
god and delivered by an angel to the writer, a mere mortal named John.
The text contains wild tales of a war in heaven, a beast that had two horns
like a lamb (13:11) as well as a seven-headed dragon (12:3), a woman
with two wings of a great eagle (12:14), frog-like unclean spirits

(16:13), and two hundred million horsemen (9:16), just to name a few.
Clearly this hints of the authors rampant imaginationor
possible fondnessfor recreational pharmaceuticals. Dr. Joe
Wenke, author of You Got to be Kidding!, says this about the book of
Revelation: If you want to understand it, I suggest you first read the
collected works of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll and play a lot of
Beatles songs backwards.
Ehrman, Bart, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the
New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Elliott, J. K., The Apocryphal New Testament. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1993.
Forty, Jo, Mythology: A Visual Encyclopedia. London: PRC, 1999.
Frazer, Sir James George, The Golden Bough. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1998.
Jackson, John, Christianity before Christ. Cranford, N.J.: American
Atheist Press, 1985.
Landis, Norman, Do You Know Your Bible? Bloomington:
Authorhouse, 2004.
Schippe, Cullen, and Chuck Stetson, eds., The Bible and Its Influence.
Fairfax: BPL Publishing, 2006.
Trobisch, David, The First Edition of the New Testament. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2000.
Wenke, Joe, You Got to Be Kidding! A Radical Satire of The Bible.
Stamford: Trans ber, 2012.
Michael Paulkovich is an aerospace engineer and freelance writer who
contributes to Free Inquiry and Humanist Perspectives magazines. He is
a contributing editor for The American Rationalist and the author of No
Meek Messiah. His next book, Beyond the Crusades, will be published
in 2015 by American Atheist Press with a foreword by Robert M. Price.

The Gospel of Peter, which was rejected,

claims that during his crucifixion, Jesus
was silent as having no pain.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 9

Money Over Mission



by Becky Garrison

ollowing a recent barrage of scandals,

Seattle-based Mars Hill Church has
announced they will be dissolving their
megachurch network of thirteen locations across the
Northwest. And although it is just one item on a long list
of problems, the questions about their finances provide
a stellar example of the kinds of abuse that arise from
the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) extreme leniency
with religious non-profit organizations and almost
nonexistent oversight of churches.
American Atheists receives tax-exempt status under
Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3), but because we are
not classified as religious, it costs usand every other
secular non-profit in the countrysignificantly more
each year to maintain that status. In December 2012,
American Atheists filed a lawsuit in U.S. District
Court demanding that the IRS stop giving preferential
treatment to churches and religious organizations, who
enjoy a myriad of benefits that include an exemption

from tax on church property and on clergy housing

allowancesin addition to being excused from any
kind of real financial transparency (see Atheists.org/
In an interview published in the May 2014 issue
of the ABA Journal (the magazine of the American
Bar Association), Edwin Kagin, who was American
Atheists National Legal Director until his death last
March, said, Theres simply no articulable, rational
reason why churches should be treated differently.
The judge agreed. Although the suit was dismissed on
standing, it was the courts opinion that the provisions
enjoyed by religious organizations and churches do not
have a secular purpose and they improperly endorse
For this article, longtime contributor Becky Garrison
looked at the few financial records Mars Hill Church is
required to make public. What she found was more akin
to Madoff than ministry.

Two courts have now acknowledged that this

preferential treatment by the IRS is, in fact,
an improper endorsement that favors religious
non-profit organizations over secular ones.
10 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


The IRS even allows religious TV outlets

like the worldwide Daystar Network

to register as a church.

Mars Hill Church, a once-thriving bastion of hipster Christianity cofounded by Mark Driscoll, has fallen victim to the cult of the celebrity
pastor and has imploded under the weight of its own hubris. On
ReligionDispatches.org, I summarize Driscolls rise as a young hipster
pastor. His drive to revitalize a graying evangelical leadership earned
him the moniker of cussing pastor for his profanity-laced preaching.
His ongoing mission to reach fatherless young males attracted to
muscular Christianity made him an international star. On iTunes, his
podcasts ranked among the top ten in the religion category in the U.S.,
the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Norway.
But on August 3, 2014, in Bellevue, Washington, approximately 80
former members of Mars Hill took their concerns public after Driscoll
aired a video of himself announcing that he wants to reconcile with
those who have been hurt by him, but he doesnt know who they are
because they remain anonymous. The protest put forth a visible face to
those wronged by this church, and it marked a watershed moment that
brought to light Driscolls alleged bullying, misogyny, plagiarism, and
abusive tactics to silence dissent, as well as the churchs overall lack of
accountability and financial transparency. By the end of August, Driscoll
had announced he would be going on an extended leave. In September,
executive pastor Sutton Turner submitted his resignation, citing church
finances and personal attacks, and Driscoll eventually resigned in midOctober. By the end of October, Mars Hill announced on its website it
will be dissolving by January 2015, though the details remain unclear.
While some local pastors in Seattle staged a brief protest against
Driscoll in 2006, the churchs troubles really took off with Driscolls 2007
decision to solidify his power base by restructuring the churchs bylaws.
This drastic and sudden move changed the church leadership from a
group of 24 male elders to a significantly smaller group of executive
elders. Furthermore, after the appointment of Turner as executive
pastor in November 2011, the leadership became a triumvirate:
Driscoll, Turner, and teaching pastor Dave Bruskas.
Under Turners command, Mars Hill began doing business through
corporations and LLCs in ways not seen in the vast majority of churches
or secular nonprofits. Hoping to gain some insight into what financial
accountability is supposed to mean, I contacted Michael Martin, the
Director of Member Services and legal counsel for the Evangelical
Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). According to their
website, ECFA.org, their purpose is to provide accreditation to leading
Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance
with established standards for financial accountability, transparency,

fundraising, and board governance. In an email exchange, Martin told me

that the ECFAs standards do not address the issue of churches or other
Christ-centered organizations using LLCs. Organizations will sometimes
choose to utilize LLCs for various liability and risk-management reasons
after seeking advice from their legal counsel.
For example, in 2012, Turner established Resurgence Publishing,
Inc., a for-profit corporation designed to handle the sale of all Mars
Hill merchandisebooks, music, etc. Turner is listed as Resurgence
Publishings agent and officer. One wonders why any tax-exempt
church needs to set up a commercial corporation instead of establishing
a nonprofit LLC or 501(c)(3) corporation.
Turner also orchestrated the consolidation of the churchs multiple
LLCs into Mars Hill Church, a nonprofit corporation, and the Mars
Hill Foundation for Planting Churches, LLC. The officers of the
pre-consolidation LLCs were all listed as the single entity Mars Hill
Fellowship. Even though Driscoll and Tuner have resigned, these
aforementioned corporations still list Driscoll, Turner, and Bruskas
as individual members. (In an email exchange with the Division of
Corporations and Charities Office of the Secretary of State for the
State of Washington, I was told the annual report due from Mars Hill
by December 31, 2014, should list the current officers.) Also, the
agent for the LLCs changed from John Houlihan to CT Corporation
in Olympia, Washington. CT Corporation, or the Corporation Trust
Company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer, a multinational information services company based in The Netherlands,
with operations in over 35 countries. An additional entity, Mars Hill
Investments, is on file with the State of Washington with no officers
listed, though CT Corporation is listed as the agent.
Along those lines, in the Washington and Oregon counties where
the church owns physical property, the owner is always listed as Mars
Hill Church, a non-profit corporation. Given that the actual members
of Mars Hill Church are the three executive elders and not the church
by name, this designation raises the question of who actually owns
these propertiesthe church or those men listed as members? One
cannot answer this question without the ability to review the churchs
full financial records, corporation documents, and real estate deeds. But
these arent accessible because churches do not have to maintain the
level of financial transparency required of secular non-profits.
The majority of locations comprising the Mars Hill Church network
are rental properties, though according to county property records,
Mars Hill owns campuses in Portland, Tacoma, and the Seattle area

Contrary to popular opinion, the IRS has no

idea where church finances go, with
the sole exception of quarterly reports of
salary figures not available to the public.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 11

Among the churchs other fundraising schemes

was a proposed three-million-dollar
Jesus Festival that disappeared from
their events page without explanation. Mars
Hill never announced how it will handle the
money raised specifically for this festival.
(Everett, Ballard, and West Seattle), as well as their former headquarters
in Ballard, which is currently on the market for $7,540,000. Also, their
Sammamish campus was listed for sale as of October 2014, and the
future of the land comprising the University District campus remains
uncertain following its recent closure.
According to the churchs 2013 public disclosure package, which
lists only those financials they choose to make public, the net value for
their current property and equipment is $28,650,133. Since this figure
is not broken down by individual churches, its impossible to know what
properties are owned by Mars Hill or what the specific values of those
properties are. While the church has gone public with their decision
to dissolve Mars Hill, LLC, they have not offered any detailed public
accounting of the distribution of those properties and other assets
held by this LLC, nor have they addressed the status of the Mars Hill
Foundation for Planting Churches, LLC, or the for-profit Resurgence
Publishing, Inc.
Driscoll also benefits personally by obfuscating his money via
additional LLCs. In 2011, he established On Mission, LLC, the forprofit entity incorporated in Colorado and filed in Washington State,
allegedly established to manage his book sales. Lasting Legacy, LLC,
and OMCRU Investments, LLC, are listed as the members of On
Mission, though my review of these LLCs shows they can be traced
back to Driscoll using an address not connected to Mars Hill.
As Driscoll rose in power, he sought out the literary agency Yates
& Yates and the publishing house Thomas Nelson, both known for
branding pastors into best-selling authors. Their combined power
enabled Driscolls 2011 book, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex,
Friendship & Life Together, co-authored with his wife, Grace, to reach
No. 1 in the Advice, How-To, and Miscellaneous category of the New
York Times bestseller list. Investigations by Warren Smith of WORLD
magazine and Warren Throckmorton, a blogger on Patheos.com,
revealed that the status of No. 1 was purchased through a deal Turner
signed with the California-based marketing firm ResultSource, Inc.
While theres no line item in the churchs public financial records
regarding this transaction, Throckmorton has produced a signed
contract verifying its existence.
Under the terms of the contract, Mars Hill paid at least $210,000
to ResultSource, who ensured that Real Marriage would reach the top
of the bestseller list. According to the EFCA, which Mars Hill joined
only after the publication of Real Marriage, this scheme violates their
standards, though as of this writing Mars Hill remains a member of the
EFCA. Since this news became public along with reported incidents
of plagiarism discovered throughout the book, the church removed
any reference to Real Marriage from Driscolls biography. Even though
some church leaders expressed concerns that the sales of Real Marriage
12 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

benefited Driscoll more than the church, theres no indication in the

public records that Mars Hill was ever reimbursed for Driscolls personal
expenses in promoting his product.
Despite the controversies, Thomas Nelson continues to offer
Real Marriage for sale. At this juncture, Driscolls relationship with his
current publisher, Tyndale (who also publishes Mars Hill products
under the Resurgence line), remains unclear, though he is no longer
listed as a client on the Yates & Yates website, Yates2.com.
In response to these allegations, Mars Hills Board of Advisors
and Accountability (BOAA) issued a statement on March 7, 2014,
addressing the sale of Driscolls material on church campuses. The
sale of Pastor Marks books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone
to the church, and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage
books sold either at the church or through the ResultSource marketing
campaign. However, this statement does not mention the copies sold
through outlets outside of the Mars Hill networkor the advance
the publisher paid to Driscoll. Nor does this statement mention that
Driscoll, Turner, and Bruskas are members of the BOAA, and, as such,
do not provide independent oversight.
The recent addition of Full Sail University founder Jon Phelps to
the BOAA raises additional questions about the ability of this group to
function as an independent agent, given Mars Hills ongoing refusal to
confirm rumors that Phelps is their biggest donor. Also, Mars Hill has
a history of refusing to address repeated media requests regarding their
role in using Phelps Seattle-based Storyville coffee house franchise as a
stealth evangelizing tool.
Another financial sleight-of-hand appears to be how Mars
Hill chooses to define the term global outreach. On his blog,
Throckmorton opines, Mars Hill also presents with an inconsistent
narrative pertaining to their fundraising strategies for Mars Hill Global
(MHG). The sheer number of videos featuring Turner played before
church services, which are included in the sermon podcasts, leads a
reasonable person to assume that money given to MHG will be going
to build new churches in Ethiopia. Turner and twelve Mars Hill elders
journeyed to Ethiopia in February 2014, though no mention has been
made regarding how this trip was funded.
In May 2014, without any explanation, the churchs public narrative
shifted so that MHG was now defined as their global podcast network,
which they claim has 250,000 listeners. (Since Driscoll took his leave
of absence in August, the Mars Hill podcast has been broadcasting
archived sermons, and it is no longer listed as a top audio or video
podcast by iTunes.) Donations to MHG will be utilized to fund their
weekly podcast, as well as their church-planting efforts in the U.S.,
similar to their recent plant in Everett, Washington. Throckmorton
points to the discrepancy in having money donated via a global fund

being used for local church-planting endeavors. A key question is, are
the funds going where the receiver implied they are going and the donor
intended? In this case, giving to a global fund would naturally create the
impression that the funds were going to international use.
Among the churchs other fundraising schemes was a proposed
three-million-dollar Jesus Festival, a mass baptism-palooza slated
for August 2014 that disappeared from their events page without
explanation. Mars Hill never announced how it will handle the
money raised specifically for this festival. IRS regulations prohibit all
nonprofitsreligious and secular alikefrom fundraising for one
project and diverting the money elsewhere.
Mars Hill also proposed an expansive $40-million campaign to
buy a Bellevue Community College building in Bellevue, Washington.
According to their website, the vision to plant 50 churches to reach
50,000 people requires a Ministry Center that will house Mars Hill
Schools (College and Seminary), Ministry Development, Leadership
Development, and all Mars Hill support staff. In a telephone
conversation with me, a spokesperson for Bellevue College said they are
not in any negotiations with Mars Hill to sell any property. Since Warren
Throckmorton broke this story in May 2014, Mars Hill scrubbed their
website of references to this development. This action is consistent with
their removal of any online postings that raise questions regarding their
ministerial practices.
In their reporting on Mars Hills Global Fund, the Seattle-based
alternative newspaper, The Stranger, noted that while Alison DempseyHall of the Washington State Attorney Generals office said she could
not comment on whether Mars Hill is currently under investigation,
the office has the authority to enforce the Charitable Solicitations
Act (RCW 19.09). The AGO is limited in the types of legal action
it can take against churches because, unlike charitable organizations,
churches do not have to comply with most provisions of the CSA.
The provisions of the CSA churches do have to comply with are those
that prohibit . . . making false, misleading or deceptive statements in
solicitations for donations [and] failing to fully and fairly disclose the
identity of the entity on whose behalf the solicitation is made.
Furthermore, the church refuses to release the individual salaries,
compensation, and other benefits given to staff members. According
to a memo from Turner, Driscolls salary in 2012 was $503,077. When
Driscoll resigned, his severance package provided for a one-year base
salary plus benefits, an arrangement the ECFA describes as highly
unusual. These numbers cannot be verified, as the churchs public
financials list personnel costs of $12,047,038 without breaking down
this number any further. Along those lines, in a 2012 memo, Turner
criticized Mars Hills culture of entitlement that included the use of the
churchs credit card for personal expenditures.
These financials exclude Driscolls housing allowance of $200,000
in untaxed compensation. Also in 2012, Driscoll purchased a home in
Edmonds, Washington, valued at $1 million, a price that doesnt include
$500,000 of remodeling done on the house. (The permit for this work
was valued at $85,000 with the paperwork signed by an individual who
happened to work for Mars Hill at this time). This purchase coincides

with the time period when Driscoll pleaded for members to increase
their financial giving lest Mars Hill fall off a fiscal cliff. In another
development, the Driscoll family home was deeded in May 2013 to the
Downs Family Revocable Living Trust, which is overseen by Driscolls
sister, Melanie Thompson.
Since departing Mars Hill, Driscoll was greeted with open arms at
the evangelical Gateway Conference, held in October at the Southlake,
Texas, campus of Gateway Church. This appears to signify his intention
to return to public ministry with a move toward the prosperity gospel
crew, a collective of pastors known more for their ostentatious use of
donor money than their accountability to church members.
After Sutton Turner came on board, at least 42 elders left Mars Hill.
In light of the churchs ongoing firings and resignations, one cannot
ascertain the exact number of elders presently on staff at Mars Hill.
As of October 29, 2014, two former Mars Hill churches (Redemption
Church in Spokane and Bellevue Church in Bellevue) formed LLCs,
establishing themselves as separate entities with other church campuses
expected to follow suit.
Furthermore, with the the departure of two of its executive leaders, it
remains unclear exactly who has ultimate authority in terms of decision
making. This high percentage of former elders, coupled with the other
staff and volunteers who have departed, led some staffers to give Turner
the nickname Sutton Turnover. According to a reliable unnamed source,
Bruskas told dozens of former elders and staff, No elder or staff has ever
left and regretted it and all wish they left sooner. The rise of ex-Mars
Hill elders going public with their stories and leaving Mars Hill like rats
abandoning a sinking ship confirms the veracity of Bruskas comment.
In August, evangelical PR strategist Mark DeMoss, son of the
religious-right funders behind the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, was
retained by Mars Hill to assist them during this turbulent time, though
his actual involvement and any fees incurred by the church or Driscoll
personally have not been made public.
Blogger Brad Sargent has been studying Mars Hill since the 1990s,
when Driscoll joined other leaders in the Emerging Church movement
to form a male-led evangelical organization called Young Leadership
Network. The more he has learned about the most common legal
problems that put tax-exempt status at risk, the starker his questions
about Mars Hill have become:
Have their leaders ongoing patterns of actions and inactions
demonstrated theyve already succumbed to some of those
issues? Are they doing these unethical and possibly illegal
things because of blind spots or with eyes wide open?
I keep unearthing evidence that suggests five of the more
common non-profit issues may jeopardize their status:
inurement misusing a public non-profit for private benefit,
misappropriation of restricted donations that were solicited
for a designated project, lack of transparency including
intentional obfuscation or alteration of evidence, governance
policies and practices, and conflicts of interest especially by
board members and employees.

Mars Hill paid at least $210,000 to

ResultSource, who ensured that Real Marriage

would reach the top of the bestseller list.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 13

According to Pete Evans, a private investigator for the watchdog

ministry Trinity Foundation, which monitors and investigates religious
fraud, Mars Hill leadership can pretend that its corporate structure is
a church all it wants and spend money however the top few persons
wishwith apparent impunity. A criminal investigation is highly
unlikely and the IRS is not
investigating churches for
the time being. He added,
opinion, the IRS has no idea
where church finances go,
with the sole exception of
quarterly reports of salary
figures required to be given to
the IRS, and this information
is not available to the public.
In the April 1, 2014, story
Can a Television Network
be a Church? The IRS Says
Yes, National Public Radio
reported that the Church
Audit Procedures Act states
that a high-ranking Treasury
Department official must
sign off if the IRS demands
a churchs records. But since
a court ruling in 2009, the
IRS has not changed the law
to specify who that highranking official should be.
And heres the catch: until
that happens, theres no
one in the government to
authorize a church audit.
The story also cites how
the IRS even allows religious
TV outlets like the worldwide
Daystar Network to register
as a church. Therefore,
theres no objective way for
viewers who annually give
an average of $35 million to
this network, which has $233
million in assets to be certain how their money is spent. Only eight
of the top 30 evangelical organizations in the United States choose to
call themselves a religious non-profit, a designation that means they
must disclose their finances for public inspection. The remaining 22
organizations do not, as they all have the designation of church.
In a similar vein, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), then the chair of
the Senate Finance Committee, launched a 2007 investigation into the
finances of six television ministries. That venture fizzled. All he could
produce at the end were recommendations that churches voluntarily
produce their financials.
However, there are signs that the tide may be turning in favor of
forcing churches to abide by the same rules governing nonprofits. In

14 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

November 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in

favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in their Wisconsin
lawsuit against the IRS. In her ruling, she states that the second part
of IRS Code Sec. 107, which exempts clergy from paying income tax
on compensation considered to be a housing allowance, provides a
benefit to religious persons
and no one else, even though
doing so is not necessary to
alleviate a special burden on
religious exercise . . . [T]he
significance of the benefit
simply underscores the
problem with the law, which
is that it violates the wellestablished principle under
the First Amendment that
[a]bsent the most unusual
circumstances, ones religion
ought not affect ones legal
rights or duties or benefits.
However, her decision does
nothing to change the first
part of Sec. 107, which
excludes the rental value of
actual parsonages from being
Thats why American
Atheists is in this fight for
the long haul. Two courts
have now acknowledged that
this preferential treatment
by the IRS is, in fact, an
improper endorsement that
favors religious non-profit
organizations over secular
ones. With these precedents
in place, it is only a matter of
time before our efforts result
in real fairness in the tax code.
When it reported on
American Atheists lawsuit,
the ABA Journal pointed out
that these tax exemptions
were often enacted as a congressional reaction to IRS rules unfavorable
to religion . . . Furthermore, [Edwin] Kagin added, having exemptions
for churches and clergy requires the IRS to determine who and what
qualifies. And therefore they have the power to decide what a religion
is, he said, and that is precisely the type of thing the Constitution was
designed to prevent.
Becky Garrison is a satirist and storyteller. She is the author of eight
books, including Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (a
Publishers Weekly Starred Review), Roger Williams Little Book of Virtues,
and Love, Always (forthcoming, co-edited with Jordon Johnson).


All of the Good, None of the God

Part Five: Launching the Humanist

Service Corps
by Conor Robinson

ince the autumn of 2013, American

Atheist has followed the volunteers
of Pathfinders Project, a yearlong international service trip sponsored
by Foundation Beyond Belief, a non-profit
organization with the mission to focus,
encourage, and demonstrate the generosity
and compassion of secular humanists. During
the program, young Atheist leaders completed
clean-water, education, human-rights, and
environmental-conservation projects in Asia,
Africa, and Latin America. These projects gave
the volunteers the opportunity to engage in
dialogues across religious, cultural, and ethnic
boundaries, as well as to evaluate countries
and partner organizations with the goal of
selecting one site for launching the Humanist
Service Corps. Pathfinders Project founder and
director Conor Robinson is now working with
Foundation Beyond Belief to get the Humanist
Service Corps off the ground. For this issue of
American Atheist, he shares two things: some
insights gained from his year volunteering and
his vision for the first permanent international
service program run by Atheists.


Conor in La Tagua, Colombia

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 15

Volunteers who approach communities without an openness

to learn from the residents overlook one of the most
fundamental aspects of meaningful human interaction:
that we often give most profoundly by receiving.
those gapsdirectly undermine sustainable change. Sometimes there
Looking Back
In my earlier articles, I made frequent use of the phrase humanist is no skill gap at all, and insufficiently trained volunteers compete
service as though it is self-evident what the phrase implies. But what is against local professionals who are at a competitive disadvantage in
humanist service, really? I dont just mean service done by humanists; a resource-poor environment, since the volunteers work for free.
I mean service designed by humanists as an expression of humanist When these programs move on to other locations, they often fail to
principles. What does that look like? How should the Humanist leave behind trained teachers to continue the education or skilled
Service Corps differ from religious service programs or even other technicians to maintain the wells.
The volunteers who participate in these programs tend to focus on
secular service models?
When I first launched Pathfinders Project, I hadn't fully formulated what they bring to the situation. But when volunteers see their worth
those questions, but I did attempt to put human interaction front in terms of the gaps they can fill in a community, they necessarily
and center. I hypothesized that the service we
completed would provide a meaningful context for
intercultural exchange and build the trust necessary
to have fruitful conversations about differences
in religious beliefs. This turned out to be true for
each of our ten projects. Many of the devoutly
religious people we worked alongside appreciated
the fact that we were there neither to convert nor to
deconvert them. Others freely admitted that until
they collaborated with us, they had assumed all
Atheists were immoral.
With the easy success of these conversations
came the realization that we had been posing the
wrong question. Instead of asking where we could
travel safely as Atheists, we should have been asking
how we could volunteer internationally without
causing harm. This is a question demanded of us by
our humanism because even careful volunteers can
do damage merely by being visible in otherwise
homogeneous communities. It is difficult to first,
Meeting with the tindana (fetish priest) and other elders
do no harm when the very image of the foreign
volunteer reinforces the colonial concept that
at the Kukuo camp for alleged witches
changewhether desired or undesiredis driven
by forces external to the community.
If there is a responsible way forward, perhaps
we can find it first by looking at counter-examples. We know that emphasize what the community lacks, rather than what it has. A
many volunteers fall into the trap of wanting to personally do as better approach is for volunteers to help the community leverage
much as possible in the short amount of time they have. Although its strengths to design and implement solutions for what it needs.
the volunteer may find such work fulfilling, the number of children Volunteer programs of this kind should always be moving toward the
they teach or the number of wells they dig do not necessarily create point where they are no longer necessary. If the solution includes a
sustainable change for the community. In fact, programs that use permanent role for volunteers, something is amiss.
This admonition against focusing on deficits might seem to
volunteers to fill existing skill gapsrather than to train locals to fill

Humanist service seeks neither to convert

nor to deconvert. Instead, it aims to connect
by focusing on shared values.
16 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


Many of the devoutly religious volunteers we work

alongside freely admitted that until they collaborated
with us, they had assumed all Atheists were immoral.
contradict the fact that most service programs exist to address serious solutions to problems identified by members of that community.
problems like insufficient access to clean water, poor sanitation, and lack
of resources for school or healthcare. But a community is so much more Looking Forward
than a list of problems to solve, and we cant approach our work with a
In 2015, Humanist Service Corps volunteers will work in Northern
formula like community lacks X, volunteer brings/builds X, problem Ghana to support a program which restores dignity to women who are
solved. This thinking is not only dehumanizing and debilitating, it victims of witch-hunting. These women have been banished from their
is also demonstrably false. Volunteers who approach communities communities to live in witch camps on areas of land that are believed
without an openness to learn from the residents overlook one of the to rob them of their powers. Although the women are relatively safe
most fundamental aspects of meaningful
from violence so long as they remain
human interaction: that we often give
in the camps, the living conditions are
most profoundly by receiving.
deplorable. They do not have adequate
Programs with good intentions and
access to clean water, nutrition, shelter, or
negative consequences give us a pretty
healthcare, and they are unaware of or are
good idea of what humanist service
unable to exercise legal protections under
is not. It is not service that blithely or
Ghanaian and international laws. (These
purposefully puts the contribution of the
women were the subject of my article in
volunteer on display for locals. It is not
the Second Quarter 2014 issue of this
service that sees the assets of volunteers
as the permanent solution to deficits
For the next three to five years,
within the community. It is not service
Humanist Service Corps will place four
designed without the input and oversight
volunteers a year in Northern Ghana to
of local leaders.
complete six-to-twelve-month projects.
So, what is humanist service?
The short-term goal is to improve the
Humanist service focuses not only on
standard of living in the witch camps.
what resources the community lacks, but
The long-term goal is to eliminate the
also on the emotional and psychological
dynamics which lead to the violent exile,
needs of the people involved. Humanist
and sometimes even the deaths, of these
service seeks neither to convert nor to
women. Consistent with the principles
deconvert. Instead, it aims to connect
outlined above, we are returning to
by focusing on shared values. Humanist
Northern Ghana after receiving an
service emphasizes the growth rather
invitation to do so from Songtaba, an
than the sacrifice of the volunteer.
advocacy organization that empowers
Above all, humanist service
women and girls to take up leadership
empowers communities. The first way
positions in their communities,
we can do this is to wait for an invitation
schools, and local assemblies. We will
to collaborate before volunteering in
support Songtaba in the design and
In La Fond-Jeannette, Haiti
communities that are not our own. The
implementation of programs that bring
second thing we can do is just that:
community organizations together and
collaborate. Although we may bring valuable skills, perspectives, and train local leaders for effective community outreach. You can learn
resources with us, this does not entitle us to dictate what solutions to more about our work at HumanistServiceCorps.org.
implement. Even when we think we see a more efficient or effective
way to do things, we must weigh that relative value against the immense
value of a communitys self-determination. Sustainable change occurs Conor Robinson is a graduate of Yale University, where he founded
when community leaders develop their own skills and confidence by Yale's Humanist Society. He was the recipient of the 2014 Humanist
taking the lead in designing and implementing community-driven Visionary Award from the Foundation Beyond Belief.

Instead of asking where we could travel safely as

Atheists, we should have been asking how we could
volunteer internationally without causing harm.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 17

Male Shame,

The Root of Female Shame

by Darrel Ray, Ed.D.

or thousands of years, religions have used shame as a method of control. It is easy to see
how shame is detrimental to females in patriarchal religions, but it has grave consequences
for males as well. We hear a good deal today about the shaming of women and girls, but we
dont hear as much about male shame. Male shame is all around us and starts at infancy. Its message is
strong and consistent: males must act a certain way or they are not really male. Males must always be
seen as distinctly different and superior to females. From male shame comes a wide range of behaviors
designed to oppress women and ensure male dominance. Understanding the interplay and dynamics
of shame makes it possible to explain much of the misogynistic behavior we see in the religious and
non-religious alike.
Male-Shame Messages
You can hear them in speeches by politicians opposing womens
rights and marriage equality. Real men love Jesus, real men dont watch
porn, real men dont have sex before marriage, real men dont spare
the rod, real men are straight, real men are tough, real men dont
masturbate, real men control their women, real men discipline their
daughters, real men dont believe in gay rights, real men openly shame
other men who do not conform to the religious ideal. These are only a
few of the messages that our culture in the U.S. deeply programs into
many men. They are on bumper stickers, church billboards, in religious
child-rearing books, and in sermons.
Male shame is most easily seen in relation to women or girls. Boys
who act superior to girls are exhibiting the results of male shame.
Someone taught them this idea, and behind the idea are a number of

shaming messages beginning with, If you are like a girl in some way,
then you are less than male, less than a man. For example, if a boy has
a mannerism that is seen as feminine, he may be teased and bullied by
other boys for acting like a girl. In this case, it is the bullies who are
responding to male shame. They feel they must contrast themselves
from the feminine in order to avoid being shamed themselves. They are
afraid of the feminine but terrified of becoming the objects of shaming
and teasing by other boys.
The ultra-masculine bully tends to set the tone for everyone around
him. His power comes from the threat of him labeling someone else in
the group a homo, fag, sissy, etc. Out of fear, other men go along. It
is a form of intimidation and bullying that keeps the group in line and
any potential gay threats at bay.
This is a powerful pattern that starts early in life and is perpetuated

Male shame is an excellent tool for tight social

control. That is why all cults use it liberally.

18 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


Dr. Darrel Ray has written and spoken extensively on how guilt and shame are the
currency by which people stay infected with religious ideas about sexuality.
Photo by Steve Solomon
across generations by parents, teachers, preachers, coaches, and other
authority figures. A father may tell his son, Dont cry like a girl when
you get hurt. A mother may tell her son, Toughen up and act like a
man. Neither the father nor the mother would tell their girl to toughen
up and act like a woman or not to cry like a boy.

Male Shame and Religion
Churches and religious organizations teach male shame as biblical
principles. For example, the Man Up Ministries Channel on YouTube
posts a weekly Manhood Minute and Man Up Philly is an annual
conference sponsored by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. There are
countless other examples.
The path to adulthood is full of signals about gender-appropriate
behavior, roles, and expectationsas well as the consequences for not
complying. They are the roots of the social constructs we live by every
day for a lifetime.
All patriarchal religions are hell-bent on maintaining the gender
binary, which is the social construct that defines sex and gender as
the two distinct and rigidly fixed categories of male and female. It is
a critical component of the strategy to keep people shamed and guiltridden. In my book The God Virus, I talk about how guilt and shame are
the currency by which people stay infected with religious ideas about
sexuality. What would happen to most religions if shame were not
part of sexuality? Without shame, the notion of virginity, for example,
would be meaningless. Remove that shame, and it becomes clear that
men are programmed to protect a daughters virginity as if her body

were his property and not her own. Tying virginity to shame is part of a
larger system of social control, one that could be called the procreation
culture. It is a culture that wants to tightly control who to marry, when
to marry, and what the status of the bride must be. Virginity ideas also
say a lot about male status. A man who marries a non-virgin is seen as
less of a man and may be shamed by other men.
The concepts of abstinence and virginity support the religious
mantra that sex is for procreation, never for pleasures sake alone, says
Sandra Meade, vice chair of the Kansas Equality Coalition and the host
of The Tenth Voice on KKFI-FM in Kansas City, Kansas. The concept
of the gender binary is also used to enforce the mantra of sex is reserved
for doing gods will after marriage. When same-sex relationships are
denounced by a religion, it is because the couple cant procreate. A
couple that cant procreate goes against gods law and is unnatural. A
transsexual woman doesnt have a uterus and therefore cannot give
birth, which violates the acceptable boundaries of the female role
codified by the rigidity of the gender binary. Virginity and the gender
binary are both used as control mechanisms to enforce a culture of
procreation in gods name.
In a patriarchal society, a man is only a man in relation to his status
with women. If other men see him as submissive or subservient to a
woman, he is less of a man. If he cannot control the women within
his family, he is less of a man. If a woman can beat him in a so-called
masculine activity, like a sport or an intellectual enterprise, he is less
of a man. If a man in a patriarchal society has one or more of these
characteristics, then they probably are related to male shame that is

The afterlife is an excuse for all kinds of

control and abuse of children and spouses.


www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 19

Our challenge is to identify the beliefs

that hook us into shame.
rooted in religious dogma about gender roles.
The essence of male shame is related to insecurity about ones role
and place in the world. Patriarchal religions like Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam are rooted in the gender binary and dismiss all other forms
of sexuality as unnatural and morally wrong. Sexuality not condoned
by the religion is a sin and impacts the status of the man. That is why
gay men and male masturbation get so much more public attention
and condemnation from religious authorities than lesbians and female
masturbation. Neither homosexuality nor masturbation are procreative
for a male. Therefore, they are useless to the religion and patriarchy.
These behaviors blur the lines and call into question religious categories
and the gender binary.
Male Shame and Domestic Violence
In most religious societies, males are at the top of the pecking
order and receive the message that they are superior to women. But
their senses may tell them otherwise. A man may observe that his wife
is better at math, his daughter may be better at sports than his son, or
his female boss may be better at handling people and getting results.
The evidence for female equality, if not superiority, is all around them,
yet their religion and religiously dominated culture say otherwise. This
leads to confusion and emotional turmoil in men who try to live as
their religion dictates. Reality constantly interferes with dogma. The
result can be threats and violence against those who dont conform
to the patriarchal ideal. Independent women, girls, homosexuals, and
transsexuals all violate the patriarchal norm and deserve ostracism,
punishment, or worse.
I would suggest that male shame is at the heart of much sexual
abuse, both emotional and physical. It begins with the messages boys
receive from infancy. Many religious parents display anxiety when
infant boys touch themselves. There are actual discussion groups on
religious websites that discuss what to do when infants or young boys
touch themselves.
As boys grow up, they get constant indoctrination from religious
music, literature, teachers, and peers about the evils of sex and the
temptations of the body. Even if they are raised in a somewhat sexpositive home, any boy suspected of playing with himself will get
teased and harassed in the locker room, school, and playground. At
church, he will be told that any kind of sexual activity before marriage is
sinful. At school, he may be subjected to abstinence-only classes that
have strong messages of shame for both boys and girls. In these classes,
they will be taught about the importance of protecting a girls virginity
and how sex before marriage will eventually destroy the marriage.
Male shame around masturbation is just the beginning of religious
training. With this insidious brainwashing come other messages about
manhood and dominance over women, about a womans duty to serve

and please a man, about mens bodies and sex organs, and about male
dominance. At the same time, boys are taught to judge people according
to these religious notions, from judging boys on how manly they act or
dont act to judging girls on their bodies and looks. The father who uses
religiously based shame on his daughter for dressing too provocatively
is exerting dominance as the patriarch over the females in his family or
group. The mother who tells her son to marry a virgin is perpetuating
ideas of male ownership of womens bodies.
It is only a small step from here for the father to feel the right to
use emotional or even physical means to enforce his shame message.
The religious father who harasses his daughter feels he is well within
his rights as the patriarch. Often the mother is totally complicit in this.
What is the motivation? In religious families it is twofold. First, religious
families fear being shamed for not controlling their children, especially
their daughters. Second, the threat of eternal damnation in the afterlife
is very real to many religious parents. I will discuss these in order.
Male Shame and Family Shame
In patriarchal religions, a man must be seen as being in control
and in charge, especially of his family, and most of all, the females. His
fear of losing control may lead him to shame and even abuse his wife,
daughters, or any sons who are not manly enough. Loss of control can
bring shame down upon the man by other men and women. How are
you a man if you cannot control your own daughter or wife?
In some communities, the shame of the man may even lead to
expulsion from the family or death to the daughter. Honor killings in
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and even Toronto are a product of
males protecting their honor and expiating the shame they perceive
from the community.
These horrendous acts toward girls are really shame-avoidance
behavior. In shame-based religions, men are taught that shame must be
avoided or else vindicated. This leads to violence, largely against girls,
though it can and often is used against boys, especially gay boys. Many
Mormons and other Christians find great shame in a homosexual child.
That is why 40% of all homeless children in Salt Lake City are gay boys
and why so many Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, and Pentecostals
disown their gay and lesbian children.

Male Shame and Eternal Damnation
The focus on eternal punishment or separation from a god is central
to many patriarchal religions. Believing that ones child will be damned
for their sexual behavior or identity gives the parent license to do almost
anything, including beating, isolating, and even disowning them. They
do this for the childs own eternal good and to prevent other children
from catching the disease. A child who disobeys a fundamental sexual
premise commits an unforgivable sin. Unless that child turns away from

Without the worry of avoiding hell,

the reasons for abuse disappear.
20 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org



www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 21

their sinful behavior, they might as well have not been born.
The afterlife is an excuse for all kinds of control and abuse of children
and spouses. In the name of the afterlife, fundamentalist Christians beat
their children so they will not go to hell. Muslims disown or even kill
daughters for having premarital sex. Mormons condemn their gay sons
and kick them out of their homes. Concern for an afterlife gives a parent
permission to invade a childs private space, tell him what he can and
cannot do with his body, ostracize him for sexual behavior that the god
disapproves of, and beat or otherwise punish him for rebellion against
the god.
Without the worry of having to avoid hell, the reasons for abuse
disappear. Focusing on present life makes people more cognizant of
goals and desires in the near term, rather than in some vague eternity.
When the afterlife is constantly looming in a parents mind, the anxiety
often overwhelms common sense about normal childhood behavior
and leads to incredible parental anxiety and anger against a defiant child.
This can often lead to a power struggle as the child naturally resists this
unnecessary and irrational level of control and the parent becomes even
more insistent and controlling to keep the child from disobeying god.
All too often, the result leads to
panic and punitive action by the
parent, and abuse and emotional
trauma for the child.
You may think that I am
talking about isolated events or at
least something thats uncommon
in your neighborhood. It is not.
If there is a Baptist, Mormon,
Pentecostal, or Jehovahs Witness
church in your neighborhood, to
name a few, it is happening in the
majority of those families with
preteens or teens.

have left cults, however, speak of hell and damnation, but also of the
shame and fear of being ostracized, cut off from family, losing contact
with lifelong friends, or losing children. Whether Jehovahs Witnesses
or fundamentalist Hindu, families fear the shame that comes when
one of their own leaves the cult. In order to show that the disease has
not infected everyone, the family must cut off all contact with the lost
member. These are almost universal rules for cults, and the enforcement
of these rules falls heavily on the men.
Unfortunately, it can be far worse than simple ostracism. Some
cults enforce physical penalties such as stoning, rape, or selling a girl
into prostitution or slavery. The horrors being committed by ISIS (the
Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is just one example.
How do societies convince men to enforce such horrendous crimes
against their own families? Fear of shame from the entire community,
especially other men, will drive men to do many violent acts. Allowing
communal violence against a fallen family member demonstrates the
willingness to defend the community as a whole against threats both
physical and ideological.
These examples may seem extreme, but they can be found anywhere
religion holds sway. If you have
a Jehovahs Witnesses family
in your neighborhood, there is
tremendous shame being taught
to girls and boys every day. If there
is a strictly observant Muslim or
Jewish family near you, the shame
being taught in those homes
is ruining lives in the name of
keeping the religion pure and the
family untainted by sexual sin. In
a misguided approach to religious
freedom, many states in the U.S.
allow children to be beaten. What
would otherwise be classified as
child abuse is tolerated as religious
discipline in the home.

consequences for
deviant behavior

are what make a

religious community
cohesive and
able to resist the
outside world.

Male Shame and Cults

Male shame is an excellent
tool for tight social control. That
is why all cults use it liberally.
The rules about marriage,
baptism, diet, clothing, etc., vary
dramatically from one cult to the
next and can be quite arbitrary.
What does not vary is the shame each cult places on violating those
rules. A Jewish Orthodox man who does not dress exactly as prescribed
will find himself pushed from the community. A Wahib Muslim
man who educates his daughter instead of his sons would be seen as
blasphemous. A Jehovahs Witness father who openly approves of his
daughters marriage to a Buddhist would suffer serious consequences
in the community. An Amish father who supports his children going
to high schoolnever mind collegewould be seen as betraying the
community. Serious consequences for deviant behavior are what make
a religious community cohesive and able to resist the outside world.
The cornerstone of this begins with male shame and moves on down
through the generations and genders in the form of female shame.
Over the years, I have spoken with many fugitives from religion
and cults. Those who left mainstream religions often say it was the
fear of hell and damnation that kept them in the religion. Those who

22 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

How is This Relevant to You?

Even if you or your family are
not directly connected with any of
these cults, you are still surrounded
by shame rooted in religion. As a
member of this culture, you were exposed to these ideas long before
your rational mind had the ability to evaluate them. No matter how you
identifytranssexual, bisexual, hetrosexual, male, female, etc.our
culture has a shame message for you, and you probably respond to some
of those shame messages at some level. Our challenge is to identify the
beliefs that hook us into shame. You cannot feel shame if you do not
have the shame hooks already present in your belief structure. Shame
is a learned process, and it can be unlearned. You were not born feeling
shame about masturbating, fantasizing, or being homosexual; you
learned it.
If you are afraid to admit you masturbate, chances are good that
there is a lot of religious shame underlying that idea. You may believe
that real men dont need to masturbate, that masturbation is for sissies,
that a man who masturbates is violating his body and damaging his
marriage, or that it is shameful. I have met many non-religious people


Reality constantly interferes

with dogma.
who are quite uncomfortable with the whole notion of masturbation.
Even if you are a secular parent, you may be passing along this message
to your children, just as you may have learned it from your parents.
If you are interested in getting science-based sex education into
your schools, you will face a host of shame-filled parents who want an
abstinence-only curriculum. If your son is on a sports team in high
school or college, he will frequently hear male-shame messages in
the locker room. He will hear other boys using religious ideas about
sexuality to shame girls and berate them. He will get strong shame
messages about homosexuals and transsexuals. He will hear male
coaches berate boys by using terms such as sissy, girl, pansy, and
other sexist and misogynistic language designed to shame boys and
show that girls are inferior.
Lets Challenge Male Shame
It is time for our culture to face the destructive power of male shame
and recognize that we cannot hope to improve the treatment of women
in our culture until we deal with this insidious belief system being taught
to boys and men in locker rooms, sports teams, and churches right now.
If men are encouraged and taught to use dehumanizing language for
those who do not fit the gender binary, then we cannot hope to see
homosexuals and transsexuals treated with dignity in our society.
Male shame seriously disrupts healthy relationships with women
and other men. In my book Sex and God, I talk about how male shame
keeps men from exploring their emotions and communicating them to
those they love most. Male shame keeps a man from telling his partner
his innermost sexual feelings and desires. Male shame makes a man
hate himself every time he masturbates. Male shame can drive a man
to express his sexuality illegally or violently when he projects his shame
onto homosexuals or women. Male shame leads a man to violence
against those he loves when he feels other men may think less of him
if his wife isnt properly submissive. Male shame keeps a man enslaved
with the fear of hell, damnation, or public humiliation.
We can break the chains of this system. Let us begin by recognizing
and challenging male shame in ourselves. What shame messages were
you taught? What secret beliefs about women or homosexuals do you
harbor? What ideas about masculinity and power over women are part
of your inner world? Where do you feel shame in your sex life?
If you are in a relationship with a man, consider that male shame
impacts you as well, and that you may inadvertently contribute to it.
If you feel shame around your own sexuality, that may translate into
poor communication with your partner. If you are horrified of your
partner sharing his real feelings about sex and sexuality, especially if

those feelings do not conform to your masculine ideal, you may be

responding to shame-based beliefs. If your partner told you he often
fantasizes about sex with other peoplemale or femalewhat beliefs
would you reveal in your response?
All too often, men and women say that they want their partners to
be open and honest with them, but when that honesty is expressed,
shame-based beliefs rise up and create huge barriers to communication.
This leads to less honesty and a shutting down of communication. It
can, and often does, lead to the loss of intimacy.
Eliminate male shame, and the roadblocks to intimate
communications fall and the relationship can develop without the
corrosive influence of sex-negative religious ideas. Openly examining
male shame will shed a bright light on religion-based child abuse,
pederast priests, the beating and brainwashing of children, and the
shaming of girls by men and boys. Mens own mental health will benefit
by eliminating the oppression of dogma and learned fear.
Humanist sexuality focuses on healthy human development,
informed adult consent, education, and open communication about
wants, desires, and needs. It is a refreshing vision for anyone who wants
a full life for themselves and their families. It is also invigorating to
explore and identify shaming beliefs and change them into affirming
ideas and behaviors.
It is my hope that the West, especially the U.S., moves rapidly toward
a humanist society that values people for who they are, not what their
gender, race, ethnicity, or religion may be. It is a final step in the journey
toward everyone having the civil rights to be who they are without
fear of persecution or bullying. As we challenge male shame, I think
we will find that alternative ways of relating to one another are much
more rewarding. Having a full appreciation for sexuality in all its forms
will liberate us from the shackles of religious sexual shame and make
communication within and between the sexes much more enriching.
Darrel Ray, Ed.D., is a psychologist and author of several books
including Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality and The God
Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture. He is the founder of
Recovering from Religion and director of The Secular Therapy Project.
You can view his latest talks and interviews on the topic of male shame
at http://Tinyurl.com/MaleShame. His podcast, Secular Sexuality, is free
on iTunes. Its discussions are aimed at ridding us of the effects and
control that our religious culture has had on the way we view sex, our
bodies, the bodies of others, and so many other important ideas that
affect our quality of life.

Forty percent of all homeless children

in Salt Lake City are gay boys.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 23

Heavy Metal Atheists

An interview with Damien Lee Thorr, PREDATOR guitarist
by Roger Serrat
What does it mean to be an Atheist heavy metal
We are one of the only bands out there who are openly Atheist and
we like being the voice of reason and rational thinking. Our mission
statement is on our website, and it details everything we believe. We do
not just say it. We also defend it.

When did you realize you were an Atheist?

I was raised Catholic but understood early on that religious belief
was not for me. At a prayer meeting, when I was seven, someone
revealed that no one has ever seen god. Thats when I began to doubt
everything because it all lacked coherence. Believing biblical stories is
all contingent upon accepting the supernatural and the impossible. After
I graduated from high school, I did a lot of research, seeking answers. I
wasnt satisfied with the regurgitations of sermons and biblical quotes
that did not make any sense. I learned that the man who assembled what
is recognized today as the books of the New Testament was a fourthcentury theologian named Athanasius. He left a lot of gospels and
books out, and I wondered why he included what he did, despite the
fact the books contradict one another.
As I was selecting musicians for the band, I really hit it off with the
ones I chose, and it turns out none of them believe in god. We get along
really well, and we find we have lots in common with many things, and
Atheism is the one great parallel among us. We have immense respect
for one another, and we love creating great music together.

When did you decide to publicly come out as

Atheists, and how has it affected your following?
We announced it last year through our publicity office. A couple of
radio stations did not approve, but all the magazines that we deal with

Damien Lee Thorr

have shown support. One of the radio stations who I had interviewed
with even sent me emails with Bible quotes like, He who says in his
heart that there is no god is a fool. I just laughed. Quoting the Bible to
me is like trying to use the Harry Potter books to prove the existence of
Harry Potter.

What bothers you most about theists?

Faith is born of fear and based on myths. Theists dont realize that the
myth of god is overwhelmed with contradictions. I get how people need
a god to lean on when they are in a hopeless situation, but its shallow
pretense. Were a long way since the days when we believed epilepsy
was demonic possession and thunder was god's anger. I find religious
belief to be an embarrassment to humanity as well as poisonous. Its an
impediment to human progress.

Quoting the Bible to me is like trying to use the Harry Potter

books to prove the existence of Harry Potter.
24 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


My Atheism is not a choice. It is a conclusion based on the fact

that there is no evidence to prove the existence of a god.
Are all your songs about Atheism?
Not all. We do not write songs about sex, drugs, drinking, partying,
or any of that stuff. As artists, we have a responsibility to engage the
attention of our fans and provide them with something to think
about. Many of our songs are about Atheism, but generally they are
commentary about social issues. Weve written songs about abortion,
domestic abuse, politics, immigration, foster care, war, and many other
issues. We like to reflect the world as it really is and not sugar-coat it,
pretending things are fine when they are far from it.

What would you like for the future of humanity?

Reason. I would like for people to realize that all the scientific
evidence we have that indicates that there is no god is not just a hunch.
Too many people mistakenly believe that scientific theories are just
opinions. They don't see the scientific method as the hard work,
experimentation, and observation that it really is. The real problem is
that belief in god is a rejection of reality. I would like for all that nonsense
to stop. I am simply trying to create an improved world for my children.
When you stop to think about it, we don't need any of that mythology.

Do you feel you can change the world with your

We could die trying. The way I see it is that we are contributing to
change with our music, being a very loud voice of reason for the world.
But as Darwin said, It appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that
direct arguments against Christianity and theism produce hardly any
effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the
gradual illumination of men's minds which follows from the advance of
science. I fear that once the day comes when religious belief is a thing
of the past in the world, I will be long deadbut remembered, I hope.

What are your personal observations regarding

religion and religious organizations?
I really dont care what they all believe as long as they keep it to
themselves and don't interfere with progress. After all, it is their
precious time they are wasting. However, if they want to believe in
god they should do it on their own dime. I dont like how religious
organizations dont have to jump through the same hoops that secular
non-profit organizations do. Why should we pay for their beliefs and

At a prayer meeting, when

I was seven, someone
revealed that no one has
ever seen god. Thats when I
began to doubt everything.

Do you think that being openly Atheist can damage

your career?
Our last manager advised against it. But after thinking about it, I
wanted to go ahead and go public. Many bands in the eighties announced
themselves as Satanists and it did not ruin them. When parents tell their
kids not to listen to a specific band, the first thing the kids want to do is
listen to that band. If anything, I think we can benefit from it. Atheism is
not a gimmick with us. There is really no point in hiding it.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions

about Atheism?
That we hate god. But how can one hate something that clearly
doesn't exist? That we are Satanists, even though we don't believe in
that either. They mistake Atheism for evil and think that we have no love
in us and that we don't love our families. People often ask about what
happened to me in order to have such vile beliefs. But my Atheism is not
a choice. It is a conclusion based on the fact that there is no evidence to
prove the existence of a god. Some even say that Atheism is a type of
faith, but that is like saying that not collecting stamps is a hobby.


For more about Predator, visit PredatorTheBand.com

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 25

Parenting Without God by Dan Arel
(Pitchstone Publishing, 2014)

Reviewed by M. Dolon Hickmon

arenting Without God is the highly anticipated first book

by Dan Arel, a secular firebrand best known for his science
reporting and op-ed pieces on secular parenting, humanist
values, and church/state separation. In addition to writing freelance
for Alternet, Salon, and The Huffington Post, Arel pens a regular
column in this magazine.
Given the authors reputation as a debater, one might expect
Parenting Without God to offer a pointed critique of the Christian
approach to parenting. In this brisk little book, however, Arel resists
the urge to engage his detractors and instead preaches directly to the
choir of Atheist parents. The result is a bounty of practical advice,
including ways for parents who are not religious to address issues like
death, sex, and morality. Arel does take the time to outline a few of
the pitfalls of religious parenting, including reliance on harsh corporal
punishment and the deliberate cultivation of guilt, shame, and sexual
neuroses; however, these passages are not argued but rather presented
as statements of fact. For those who harbor no secret doubts about
their decision to parent apart from a church, Arels lack of defensiveness
should prove refreshing and confidence-inspiring.
Few words are spent describing Arels own moderately religious
childhood, but what he does say seems to reflect a basic lack of personal
spiritual trauma. This does not soften the authors zeal for humanist
ideals, but rather appears to lend balance to his vision. [Ones] duty
as a parent, Arel writes, is not to raise an Atheist but to raise someone

with the tools to come to their own conclusions towards the world.
While allowing that children have the ultimate right and responsibility
to choose their own faith, Arel does not shy away from calling out
abusive religious practices, as when he discusses the nine-year-old bride
of the prophet Muhammad and the occasionally deadly child-whipping
advice of bestselling Christian author Michael Pearl.
In his aptly titled first section, Arel pins down what may be the
chief problem for secular parents: dealing with religion. Through a
progression of well-organized segments, Arel offers practical tools for
insulating and inoculating ones children from the religious influences
that permeate our culture. He discusses peer pressure, religious in-laws,
and the presence of proselytizers (like the Good News Club) in public
schools. He offers tips for exposing kids of all ages to hands-on science
education, and he suggests exercises that encourage young people to
reason, ask questions, and demand evidence.
The second section is called Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life.
Building on his earlier foundation, Arel explores these weighty subjects
on both a personal and societal level. On the subject of sex, he deals
first with topics such as promiscuity, birth control, and masturbation.
Next, he considers the broader range of related subjects including
sexual orientation, gender stereotypes, and the principles of equality.
On death, Arels approach is cautious but forthright, and his offerings
on the search for meaning are substantive and optimistic.
The third section, Get Active, widens the lens to consider ways

If Parenting Without God has a central

message, it is that knowing what you
are not going to do isnt a plan.
26 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


them a better, truer view of history, the universe, morality, and themselves.
A parent himself, Arel humbly acknowledges the uniqueness of each
parents task. No two parents are the same, he writes. I cannot expect that
everything that works for me can work for you, but I hope that I can light
a spark. This sense of child-rearing as a process of discovery permeates
Arels book from beginning to end and is, I believe, what truly differentiates
the secular ideal from the rigid prescriptions of religious parenting.
Parenting Without God provides an impressive treasure map of ideas
and resources for conscientious parents who are already convinced of
their own Atheism.

that secular parents can carve a path that makes parenting without
god easier for Atheists now and in the future. Here again, Arel offers
actionable ideas that range from running for office to calling out
inappropriate religious instruction in your own childs classroom. The
final section consists of a series of essays on parenting from other nontheists interspersed with a thoughtful minimum of commentary.
As the father of a three-year-old girl, I found this book to be especially
timely and relevant. My own childhood was deeply marred by my
parents involvement with the Baptists and Pentecostals. For me, those
early religious experiences were marked by toxic fear, shame, and guilt
in addition to the psychological devastations of religiously motivated
physical abuse. There is nothing I want less for my daughter. Yet, if
Parenting Without God has a central message, it is that knowing what you
are not going to do isnt a plan. For children to succeed, parents must offer

Writer and activist M. Dolon Hickmon examines the roots of religiously

motivated child abuse in his novel, 13:24: A Story of Faith and

Arel offers practical tools for

insulating and inoculating
ones children from the
religious influences that
permeate our culture.

For those who harbor no secret doubts

about their decision to parent apart from
a church, Arels lack of defensiveness
should prove refreshing.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 27

A Column by Dan Arel


Kentucky Creationists Fail to Secure a Tax Incentive

for Noahs Ark
While a genocide-themed
park may be news enough,
this is not whats gathering
all the attention.

hen writing about Ken Ham, the discussion is often

focused on evolution versus creationism. His claim
to fame has been the much-publicized debate with
Bill Nye over evolution, and he is continuing to milk that cash cow
by publishing a book on the matter. He is also the founder and CEO
of the Creation Museum, a museum in Kentucky that focuses on
young-earth creationism and features, among other things, a life-size
exhibit of Adam and Eve living among dinosaurs.
Ham is in the spotlight again with his new project, the Ark Encounter,
a theme park planned to sit just a few miles from the Creation Museum.
The Ark Encounter is, just as it sounds, devoted to the myth in Genesis
of Noahs ark and the great flood. Plans call for an exact replica of the
ark, despite the fact that the Bible doesnt provide enough information
for anyone to know what an exact replica would look like.
While a genocide-themed park may be news enough, this is not
whats gathering all the attention. News organizations such as the
Louisville Courier-Journal, The Cincinnati Enquirer, MSNBC, Patheos,
AlterNet, Salon, and Raw Story have all reported on Hams application
for an 18-million-dollar sales-tax rebate based on the projected tourism
revenue that the Ark Encounter is expected bring into Kentucky.
How can a religious organization do this? Simple. The Ark
Encounter is registered as a for-profit business, and, as such, it is eligible
for government tax incentives, just like any other business would be.
The problem, however, is that in order to be a for-profit business, you
must act as a secular business, something Ham has been unwilling to do.
On my August 11 blog post at Danthropology.net, I broke the story of
the hiring practices at the Ark Encounter. On the Answers in Genesis
website, which is Hams parent organization, it had a job listing for a
CAD Designer for The Ark Encounter. However, the job listed the
position religious-based, stating (emphasis mine):

28 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

Our work at Ark Encounter is not just a job, it is also a ministry.

Our employees work together as a team to serve each other
to produce the best solutions for our design requirements.
Our purpose through the Ark Encounter is to serve and glorify
the Lord with our God-given talents with the goal of edifying
believers and evangelizing the lost.

The posting clearly states this job is a ministry. Thats Strike One
for the non-secular religious modela clear violation of the First
Amendment. Strike Two is the requirement that all potential employees
sign a Statement of Faith proclaiming their belief in the biblical creation.
Ham defended his actions by claiming the posting was actually for
a position with Answers in Genesis, which, as a non-profit religious
organization, is allowed to hire based on religious beliefs. The job,
however, was explicitly listed as one with the Ark Encounter. I personally
went on a Christian radio program to discuss the tax issue with Ham,
and the moment I brought up the job posting, the host hung up on me,
and they continued to talk about my ignorance on the subject, while I
was unable to defend myself.
At that point, I reached out to the lawyers for Americans United for
the Separation of Church and State and asked about the legality a forprofit corporation hiring through a non-profit corporation in order to
discriminate against potential employees. They replied (emphasis mine):
Both federal and Kentucky civil rights laws contain exemptions
for religious organizations from laws prohibiting employment
discrimination based on religion. If an employer is a for-profit
employer, this lessens the likelihood that a court will find that
the employer is eligible for these exemptions. Thats probably
why the hiring is being done by AIG, not the Ark Encounter. I


The Ark Encounter theme park will feature an authentic replica of the mythical Noahs Ark. No word yet
on their plans for replicating the drowning victims. (Image courtesy of Wellcome Library, London)
dont know of any law that makes this technique illegal on its
face. However, the fact that the work will actually be done for
a for-profit entitythe Ark Encountermakes it less likely that
a court would ultimately find that the religious employment
discrimination is legal. The fact that the employment is being
supported by a tax subsidy also would weigh against a
conclusion that such discrimination is legal.

Americans United then sent a letter to Governor Steve Beshear

asking that this case be further examined, citing the very work I had put
into the case up until that point.
The state had already granted a preliminary approval for the tax
incentive, and with politicians eagerly advocating for the construction
of the park, it seemed as though religious discrimination would prevail
and Ham would given an 18-million-dollar credit to build this shrine to
genocide. The same week that the state granted preliminary approval,
ground was broken for the park.
Well, now it seems the Americans United letter and the news stories
got the attention of the Kentucky Tourism Board. Theyve since put a
halt to the tax credits unless the Ark Encounter shapes up and follows
all state and federal equal opportunity laws.
In a letter to Ark Encounter attorneys, Bob Stewart, Secretary of the
Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet, said:
The Commonwealth doesnt believe that Ark Encounter, LLC, will
be complying with state and Federal law in its hiring practices,
continuing, Therefore, we are not prepared to move forward
with consideration of the application for final approval without
the assurance of Ark Encounter, LLC that it will not discriminate in
any way on the basis of religion in hiring.

This is a massive blow to Hams latest project and one that both he


and his lawyers contest. However, the state has given them little to no
wiggle room and is insisting that they provide hard evidence that they
will not discriminate against potential employees based on religious
beliefs. Answers in Genesis Executive President Mike Zovath called this
move discrimination and urged the state to change their position before
they were forced to take further action.
The discriminatory job posting has been removed from the Answers
in Genesis site, a move that Ham claims is because the job was filled.
But many are skeptical of the timing of its removal with the letter sent
to Hams attorneys.
It remains to be seen if Ham and his organization will fall in line and
follow local and federal laws or if they will attempt to drag this dispute
into court. But, as American United noted, no court is going to look at
the evidence and side with Hams case.
It seems as though in Kentucky, of all places, the separation of
church and state may actually be alive and well.
1. Patheos.com/Blogs/Danthropology, August 11, 2014: Ken Ham
Took His Dishonest Rhetoric to the Radio and I Called In
2. Patheos.com/Blogs/Danthropology, August 6, 2014: A Response
to Ken Hams Erroneous Accusations
3. Patheos.com/Blogs/Danthropology, August 9, 2014: The
Dishonesty Continues From Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis
4. Patheos.com/Blogs/Danthropology, October 7, 2014: Ken Hams
Ark Encounter Tax Incentives in Jeopardy Over Hiring Discrimination
5. Patheos.com/Blogs/Danthropology, October 9, 2014: Ark
Encounter Claims Its Constitutional Rights are Being Violated
Dan Arel, author of Parenting Without God, is a freelance journalist for
AlterNet, Salon, and The Huffington Post. He blogs at Danthropology.net.

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 29

Only Syndrome
Black Atheists arent common, but are they really any different?
by Be-Asia McKerracher

nly Syndrome. As a black person, Ive had to learn to

live with it and laugh about it. Ive encountered Only

Syndrome countless times: as the only black diner at
an upscale restaurant, the only brown-hued customer in the high-end
department store, the only one with nappy dreads in a room full ofwell,
you fill in the blank. Im no longer surprised when this happens, but as
a non-religious black person, I really stand out. Im different among the
But does standing out in a crowd mean anything more than that? A
recent Pew Forum poll estimates that nearly 88% of black people in the
U.S. believe in god (PewForum.org/2009/01/30/A-Religious-Portraitof-African-Americans). With statistics like that, our attendance rate at
secular events is therefore abysmal. This does not mean, however, that
those secular events are filled with people who are not welcoming toward
minorities. So what could be the reason? In my search to find an answer,
I discovered that many black people have created their own local secular
organizations, which require all of their time and attention. These people
represent the grassroots of secularism in the black community, and their
numbers are growing.
In her June 16, 2014, Washington Post article, Atheism Has a Big
Race Problem That No Ones Talking About, Sikivu Hutchinson took
the lid off a controversy thats been simmering in the secular community.
Hutchinson says theres a dearth of black attendees because white
Atheists have a markedly different agenda. She then lumps white
Atheists into the category of the rich and privileged, unconcerned with
issues affecting the black community.
While Hutchinsons claims can and should be debated in a separate
forum, and it is true that black secularists are underrepresented in the
larger secular community, many people, myself included, wonder how the
issues for black secularists differ from the issues facing white secularists.
Arent we all on the same team? Our minimal presence does not indicate
an intense racist strain in the secular community. Something else is going
on here. To expand the conversation, I spoke with Shoeresh Coppage and
Sabrina Williams, two founders of thriving black secular organizations.
Black secular organizations begin the same way all others do: in
response to a need. In Detroit, the person who responded was Shoeresh

Coppage, a 39-year-old married father of a ten-year-old daughter and an

eight-year-old son. He founded Black Non-Believers of Detroit (BNOD)
in 2013 and serves as vice president of the organization which is an
outreach, networking, and support community.
When I asked him why he started BNOD, he was quite candid.
Religion has done nothing to improve our community. It continues to
do [the black community] harm. Shoeresh could have pointed to corrupt
black preachers, political proselytizing, and mismanaged resources, but he
didnt have to. The black church, once a stalwart of support and guidance
in the black community, has turned into a tapestry of muddled messages
and worn-out motifs.
I asked Shoeresh about attending larger, mostly white, secular events.
For him, personally, the focus is on the Detroit metro area. We have
members, and I have friends in the area who attend larger secular events. I
dont because my time is spread very thin already. I have to focus on whats
happening right here. This includes his work with Angies Legacy Fund
(ALF). Created after Angelina Collier was murdered by her husband,
Ronald Collier, last April, ALF will provide financial support for her three
children. For Shoeresh, its not about race, its about place, which means
forgoing large conventions. He isnt avoiding mainstream secular events;
he is busy actively promoting secularism in Detroit.
Sabrina Williams is the mother of a ten-year-old girl and a nineyear-old boy, and she homeschools her children. Her family belongs to
the secular organization Cary Homeschoolers in North Carolina. She
shares Shoeresh's point of view about attending conventions, though
her experiences are quite different. After relocating to Raleigh from
Germantown, Maryland, she and her family felt isolated. We [moved]
to a predominately Caucasian, conservative Christian area. We lost our
network [of friends]. The added cultural isolation is what prompted her
to create Black Atheists of Raleigh.
Before that, Sabrina had to look far and wide to find secular
organizations. She and her family travel 30 miles across town to meet
with Cary Homeschoolers once a week, even though they are the only
minority family that comes to social events on a regular basis. Sabrina
adds, Were talking about a homeschooling group that has 300-plus
families. Although she stressed that she has never once experienced any

As a non-religious black person, I really stand

out. Im different among the different.
30 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


discrimination in the group, she still longed for a sense of community

that she wasnt able to feel. When she created her own Atheist group, it
was to fill that void, not out of maltreatment at secular events. We [black
people] love our culture. Its not better than any other culture, but its
what we grew up with. The slang we use, the foods we eat, the experiences
that weve had. This makes sense. All people want that
feeling of shared history, and black secularists are no
Mainstream secular events arent off-putting in
terms of their actions, and there arent closet racists
hanging out at conventions. Shoeresh put it best
when he said, I dont really see a rift. There is no
divide. There are just different focuses . . . I love that
we have feminist secularists. I have a daughter, so thats
important to me. But I dont focus on that because Im
focusing on other things.
Rather than move toward that tired charge of
racism as the reason we dont see black people and
black issues at the forefront of secular events, we should
look to Shoereshs idea of secularism as organic: living
and breathing and reacting to the given environment.
We dont have black people at those events, so black people dont think
theyre welcome at those events and they dont go. Then it becomes a
vicious cycle, he said.
My final question to these pioneers of black secularism was the
obvious one: what do we do about it? Shoeresh says simply that [black
people] can show up . . . we have white members who come to our
meetings. We have a little cream in our coffee. Its all about presence;
if you want to get your issues on the table, youve got to show up to talk


about them.
Sabrina likened the issue to a bridge with the cultural norms of black
and white secularists on unnecessarily opposite sides. She says that white
secularists have an advantage. We live in a predominately white culture
and Atheism [in America] is a reflection of that. Organizations are
predominately white, they tend to be dominated
by white cultures priorities and values. Sabrina
acknowledged that [black people] can do better
by being diplomats of our secular philosophy at
[larger] conventions. Her final words in my
interview were a powerful statement of how the
larger secular community can begin to examine
these issues in a broader, more inclusive way:
There needs to be some return traffic. White
secularists must ask themselves, While were
charging forward this way, who are we leaving
behind? Have we made the journey across the
bridge to the other side lately?
Shoeresh and Sabrina offer a glimpse
into the real reasons why black people are
underrepresented at secular events, and they
represent just a fraction of black secular trailblazers. As for me, my
initial thoughts were confirmed. I look forward to a time when current
realitiesnot past atrocitiesare given as the reason for why we are still
not fully integrated.
Be-Asia McKerracher is the author of Secular Parenting in a Religious
World. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband and two

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 31

Honest Advice for Teens and

Young Adults about Religion

Excerpted from the book Trust Your Radar by C.B. Brooks, M.D.

We developed empathy and

morality through natural selection
long before religions existed.

wrote Trust Your Radar for one simple reason: to help young people. Through my different
careers as a doctor, surgeon, firefighter, police officer, scuba divemaster, and many others,
Ive witnessed countless people repeat the same mistakes over and over, generation after
generation, hitting into the same big sandtraps of life. Giving young people clear, honest adviceand
workable solutionsis the best way to help them avoid these mistakes. It all starts with trusting your
radar, which isnt a vague intuition or a cosmic sixth sense. Its your brain functioning optimally. There
are also things that jam our brain radars. This is an adapted excerpt from my chapter on religion, one
of the worlds most entrenched radar-jammers.
Throughout history, religion has held itself out as a sacred cow not to be questioned. Can
you think of any other institution that merits this treatment? Certainly not governments;
they are debated and challenged all the time and sometimes overthrown. Certainly not
science, which actively encourages questions and experiments and is willing to change its
positions if reproducible evidence is discovered. Why is religion immune from inquiry?
The answer is faitha clever concept which encourages belief without clear, objective,
reproducible evidence.

Religion appeals to the patterns we like and gives us

answers and solutions for the things we dont like.
32 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


Many religions let us reunite with everyone

in the big five-star resort of an afterlife.
Why People Believe
Lets have a sober look at why this idea of faith has been so successful
in human history. It comes down to how our human primate brains
are wired. When researchers at the National Institutes of Health used
f MRI scans to localize areas of the brain activated in religious beliefs,
they found that these specific brain circuits are reproducible and also
identical with every religious belief. In other words, the same areas
of your brain light up no matter what you believe in: Islam, Judaism,
Christianity, astrology, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Greek mythology.
Belief and faith also activate a portion of the brain associated with
reward and pleasure. This is why some humans cling so tightly to it,
wont ever question it, and are even willing to kill or die for it. How
did this radar-subverting brain circuit evolve? Psychiatrist J. Anderson
Thomson, Jr., is the author of the fascinating book Why We Believe in
God(s). Some of his main points follow.
There are specific patterns our developing brains possess which
make us susceptible to religious beliefs. These are clearly evident in
children as they grow. The first is attributing intention to events. The
bottle didnt just fall, someone made it happen; the door didnt blow
shut, some agent did it. Second, kids embrace magical thinking. They
readily accept ghosts, monsters, superheroes, angels, heaven, magic
tricks, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and a special six-foot-tall bunny who
delivers candy every year.
A developing human brain also bonds with a powerful protector/
caretaker figure, initially a parent, and accepts discipline and authority.
Humans also like belonging to an identifiable group. This is called
ingroup thinking. We also like learning various rituals to create order
and give a sense of cleansing and control over our environment. As we
grow, we naturally learn empathy, an ability to sense and identify what
others are feeling. We humans also tend to readily accept as evidence
the things that support our beliefs and dismiss those things that dont
quite fit. This is called confirmation bias. Our human brains do not
like the idea of death. We dont like like the idea that we, and our loves
ones, have a finite life cycle on this planet. We certainly dont like
the unknown. Religion appeals to the patterns we like and gives us
answers and solutions for the things we dont like.
Most religions follow a similar format our brains embrace. They
have a powerful protector who cares about us, listens to us, will
intervene to help us, and provides authority and discipline. Our
ingroup circuit is satisfied because we are the special ones whove
been given the true information and heeded the call. Outsiders can
either be converted, pitied, killed, or wont get the special rewards
that we will get after death. All religions develop ritualssometimes
elaborate, sometimes violent (like crucifixion, stoning, human
sacrifice)and create special clean, sacred places. So far so good, our
brains are liking this.

Religions also routinely claim credit for the human brain circuits of
empathy and morality, even though they are unable to answer the late
author Christopher Hitchens simple challenge: Name me one moral
action that a religious person can do that a nonreligious person cant?
No one has successfully answered this question. Empathy and morals
are learned by developing brains even when not exposed to religions.
We practice good, moral behavior because it benefits our species.
Humans have been successful so far because we tend to work together.
Its a brain circuit we have on our own, not one a mullah or preacher
gave us. Empathy and morality are definitely exhibited by nonreligious
individuals, families, and societies. Religions still claim credit when,
in reality, we developed these through natural selection long before
religions existed.
Confirmation bias is rampant in religion. If you pray for rain to
save the tribes crops and it rains, it was god answering your prayers.
But if it doesnt rain, or a bear eats your dad, or your child gets
leukemia, well, we cant know what god meant by that. Its part of a
mysterious grand plan, or maybe you didnt pray hard enough or offer
the right sacrifice or follow the rules. These are all creative ideas, but
just because you really, really strongly believe something, does not
make it true.
Our aversion to losing loved ones is also assuaged because many
religions let us reunite with everyone in the big five-star resort of an
afterlife where all the mysteries of the universe will finally be revealed.
This defeats our fear of the unknown, yet evidence for an afterlife
continues to be nonexistent.
Almost everyone is in a particular faith because their parents
were. Ask someone if they truly believe the teachings and youll hear
platitudes like, Not really, but my parents would pitch a fit (or be
disappointed, or disown me) if I dropped it, or I got used to it as a
kid, or I dont believe it, but its good for my kids. Is it? Step back
and look at all religions of the world, and youll see their survival
and perpetuation depends on getting kids hooked early. This is
accomplished by fostering a duty of obligation on parents to bring
their kids up right.
Besides indoctrinated children, the other group that embraces
religion is vulnerable adults. They are vulnerable because of tough
conditions such as illness, addiction, prison incarceration, death of
loved ones, old age, loneliness, family breakup, etc. Its tempting, and
sometimes helpful, for these troubled adults to throw up their hands,
abdicate control, and surrender to a higher power.
I dont mean to sound cynical, but if childhood brainwashing were
eliminated, the numbers of religious adults would be small. Imagine,
as comedian Bill Maher points out in his movie Religulous, trying to
sell an invisible product to educated, well-adjusted adults.

When was the last time the Rotary Club

waged jihad against the Garden Club?

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 33

Trouble in Paradise
The five problems with religion well talk about are: treatment of
women, rigid thinking with lack of inquiry, obstruction of scientific
discovery, violence, and money.
Lets start with the rights of women. Its not a news flash women
represent about half the human population, yet the major religions
of our world treat women poorly. In Catholicism, they are secondclass citizens who are denied roles based purely on their gender. In
Judaism, they are considered unclean. In Islam, they are the equivalent
of property, are denied education, and are subjected to restrictive rules
such as wearing burquas. When will half the worlds population say that
theyve had enough of this nonsense? Other minorities, such as gays
and lesbians, are treated even worse by religions.
The Next Big Problem: Rigid Thinking
Religions tell you to turn off your radar, dont question, thats the
way it is, thats the way its always been, its the word of god, its what
we believe, its what weve always believed, end of story. They do not
tolerate any questioning. They are unresponsive to other viewpoints. If
you go against the grain, youre guilty at best of a weak faith, and at worst
of blasphemy. You can be excommunicated, thrown out of the ingroup,
or even sentenced to death by a fatwah order.
This rigid thinking and intolerance is driven by old men in charge
and was inspired by contradictory sacred texts written back when people
lived in caves. The teachings of ayatollahs, rabbis, popes, bishops, and
gurus are rigidly embraced by faithful followers. People who defend
and make excuses for religion try to deflect criticism with opinions like,
We must respect and be sensitive to peoples faith. We should say, like
the brave child in the old story of the emperors new clothes, But the
emperor has nothing on at all!
Religion actively obstructs rational, scientifically proven progress.
Throughout history, religion has repeatedly tried to thwart an accurate
understanding of our world. In the early seventeenth century, when
Galileo observed and then proved Copernicus theory that the earth
revolves around the sun, he upset Christianitys fervent belief that the
sun and everything else revolved around us. He was bullied for years,
accused of heresy, and finally placed under arrest by Catholic clergy in
1632 until his death, ten years later.
Eventually, almost three centuries later, in 1992, after it was obvious
to even the dimmest bulb that Galileo was right, the church saw fit to
exonerate him and concede that the earth is not the stationary center of
the universe. Im not making this up!
Evolution is another flagrant example. In 1859, Charles Darwin
published On the Origin of Species. It was based on years of study and
thought, but Darwin delayed publishing it for 20 years because he
knew there would be a religious temper-tantrum despite all his clear,
convincing evidence. He was right. Yet 150 years after Darwin, some
religions still reject the reality of evolution.
The other argument goes along these lines: Life is so complex and
varied, it mustve taken a Supreme Being, an Intelligent Designer, to
create it all. This sounds plausible at first, but is illogical and fits in with
our old brain circuit of magical thinking. The non-logic goes like this:
If something is mysterious and incomprehensible, it must have been
created by some superhuman all-knowing entity, even if we have no
evidence this entity exists. This is the top-down model of creationism.
It presupposes that anything complex must have come down from the
top. But its not realistic.

34 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

The United States Tax

Code is mind-boggling,
thousands of pages
long, and there is not

one human on this earth

who understands it fully.
Does it make sense to
assume it was created
by an all-powerful god?

The United States Tax Code is mind-boggling, thousands of pages

long, and there is not one human on this earth who understands it fully.
Does it make sense to assume it was created by an all-powerful god?
No, it was not. It was created slowly over time by humans in response
to social changesa bottom-up process. It started with Englands King
George III, who needed money and levied a tax on tea in the British
colonies. When that didnt go over too well, it evolved into other taxes
and a chain reaction of more events.
Things got complicated about 130 years later when President
Woodrow Wilson needed money to pay for World War I and started the
income tax. From there, things picked up steam. Rules on top of rules were
passed. Behaviors were tweaked by tax credits or punitive sin taxes. Fancy
tax breaks and loopholes were developed and exploited by ingroups. The
ball keeps rolling today with an enormous, convoluted system. But no one
believes god wrote the tax code and handed it to Moses.
Under eight years of President George W. Bush, medical research
into stem cells was severely restricted because of his and his cronies
religious beliefs. Stem cells represent an enormous chance to relieve
human disease and suffering. But Bush claimed that god talks to him
and god said it was a bad idea.
Some folks try to straddle a middle groundbeing open to
discovery while trying to appease and apologize for the stubborn
religious crowd. Youll hear them saying things like, Well lets have
the schools teach evolution and intelligent design/creationism, then
the students can decide, that way everybodys happy. Never mind one
has tons of evidence and the other has none. Never mind any halfway
intelligent designer would have fixed some of our obvious design flaws.
Whose bright idea was it to combine our reproductive and urinary
systems anyway? How about we teach that the planets orbit the sun and
the sun orbits the earth? Let the third-graders vote.

Next Up: Violence
Throughout history, religion has been a key player in massacres,
invasions, genocides, and wars. Heres an example. Muhammad founded
Islam around the year 610 and billed it as a religion of peace. Things
went well until 632, when he died (and went to paradise on a winged
horse) and the question of a successor emerged. One group (the future
Shiite Muslims) wanted Mohammeds cousin and son-in-law Ali to
take over. The other group (the future Sunni Muslims) thought any


qualified Muslim could rule and quickly elected their own man, Abu
Bakr. It didnt take long for tempers to flare and a big brawl to break
out. Ali was assassinated in 661, infuriating the Shiites. The Sunnis and
Shiites have been fighting ever since.
One More Problem: Money
All religions depend on donations from the believers. The more
believers, the more money. Some denominations say give what you can.
Others tap the faithful through tithes, pledges, or assessments. Jewish
synagogues sell tickets to services based on contributions. Muslims
are required to give a percentage of their assets annually. TV preachers
implore audiences to give generously to their important work. Some
even sell prayer club memberships.
A Way Forward
First, train your radar to see religion for what it is. Its a human
social invention that appeals to our primitive brain circuits. Let go
of the old canard that religion is responsible for moral behavior. Its
simply not true. The second point in our approach to religion is its
proper place in our society. Theres no doubt many people feel better
with religion. They enjoy meditation, prayer, self-reflection, quiet
time. Thats understandableits getting in touch with your brain.
You can certainly do these on your own, but were social apes and like
rituals and ingroups. Where should these groups be in our societies?
I propose religions be reclassified as fraternal organizations,
groups of like-minded individuals, nonprofit service clubs, or hobby
groups. In this way, many of the arguments in favor of religions are

supported: they do good charity and service work, they make their
members feel better, they sometimes bring many nice people together.
Religions could stand alongside non-profit service organizations
like the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, Lions, etc. These groups do superb
charity and community projects without selling a religious agenda.
They follow the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them
do unto you, but dont bring all the other baggage. The Unitarian
Universalists (UU) are a sort of hybrid group that spans the gap
between religious and secular society. UU is a religion, but everyone
is free to believe whatever they want or nothing at all (yes, they
have Atheist members), partake in the social gatherings and sense
of community, celebrate holidays, perform charity projects, and the
finances are transparent.
To me, this is a much more reasonable and sustainable way to the future.
These groups prove the answer to Christopher Hitchens challengeyou
dont need religion to perform good and moral works. Gone would be
brutal theocracies, rigid evangelical dogmas, indoctrination of children,
pressure politics, shady financial empires, religious wars.
When was the last time the Rotary waged jihad against the Garden
Club, or the Kiwanis Club truck bombed the Lions while they were
collecting used eyeglasses to give to the poor?
If you want to participate in religion, see it for what it isand
what it isntand dont force it on others. Balance the amount of
time, resources, and money you spendagainst the benefits you
deriveand objectively ask yourself if youd do more good in a nonreligious service group.


By Daniel Olson

A new idea about what can be scientifically proved

about mans conscious awareness and the implications
for prayer. So controversial it had to be told in a
fictional story so people shocked by its revelations
can take comfort in that it is just a story!

Available on Kindle - $2.99


www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 35

A One-Stop-Shop Demolition of Christianity

Part 1: Beliefs

The Fall
Original Sin
The Satan
Trinity & Mystery
The Incarnation
Holy Spirit
The Church
Second Coming

Part 2: Evidence

Oral Tradition
Gospel Composition
Gospel Preservation

Available now at online booksellers.

Visit SeeingThroughChristianity.com
for more information.
36 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


From the author of the Dogma Watch series in this magazine

Religion, especially Christianity, has
enjoyed unwarranted respect for far
too long. Jesus did say a few nice
things, but he was no humble or wise
prophet. How do we know?

Its in the Bible.

Available at


www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 37

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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 41



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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 43


merican Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and
absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment
to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a wall of separation between state and church.

American Atheists is organized:

To stimulate and promote freedom of thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets,
rituals, and practices;
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understanding of them, their origins, and their histories;
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theism is the comprehensive world view of persons who are free from theism and have freed themselves of supernatural
beliefs altogether. It is predicated on ancient Greek Materialism.

theism involves the mental attitude that unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a lifestyle and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of
authority and creeds.

aterialism declares that the cosmos is devoid of immanent conscious purpose; that it is governed by its own inherent,
immutable, and impersonal laws; that there is no supernatural interference in human life; that humankind, finding
the resources within themselves, can and must create their own destiny. It teaches that we must prize our life on earth and
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Materialisms faith is in humankind and their ability to transform the world culture by their own efforts. This is a commitment
that is, in its very essence, life-asserting. It considers the struggle for progress as a moral obligation that is impossible without
noble ideas that inspire us to bold, creative works.

aterialism holds that our potential for good and more fulfilling cultural development is, for all practical purposes, unlimited.

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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 45

Why I Am an Atheist

by Lisa Brown

My life revolved around doing

whatever was necessary
to get into heaven.

spent 31 years as a Catholic. I was baptized in the Catholic Church

as an infant. I went to mass every Sunday with my family. I went to
Catholic school from kindergarten through high school. As a young
girl, I wanted to be a nun. There was nothing I wanted more than to be good
and be with god. My life revolved around doing whatever was necessary to get
into heaven. It was a goodness contest I was determined to win. (The thought
of spending eternity burning in hell will do that to a child).
In high school, I was a regular at all of the church youth group events.
They were honestly a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the other people. But that
still wasn't enough, so I took extra theology classes after school, and I
loved it. But it was there that I also learned some things that were never
mentioned in Sunday mass. One of the biggest surprises was that a group
of bishops and other church leadersnot goddecided what would
comprise the Holy Bible as we know it. During the Council of Nicea in
the fourth century, they actually voted on what books to include and what
books to leave out.
Not only that, but during the council, some people were killed,
and their deaths just so happened to change the vote as to which books
became a part of the Bible. It was then that I realized that this . . . this thing
which people were killed over . . . is what my religion was based on. The
realization was disturbing, to say the least.
In college, my first secular school experience, I continued to learn
about religion. I took a comparative religions class, mostly to make sure I
was following the "right" religion. Well, as it turns out, they don't teach you
the "right" religion in such a class. They teach you about different religions
on an equal playing field. I was bummed not to know for sure what the
one true religion was, but I did enjoy learning about different faiths.
Not long after college, I got married on the beach in the Bahamas.
I didnt find out until later that if youre not married in the Catholic
Church, your marriage is not considered valid. At the time, I wasnt going
to church, I hardly ever prayed, but I still considered myself a Catholic.
From what Id always seen, that's how Catholics do it. You go to church
when you're forced to as a kid, and you go when you get old, but you take
those middle years off.
After I graduated from college, I began working as a graphic designer.
During my long commute, I started listening to many audiobooks, one of
which was The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. I was hoping to solidify
my weakening relationship with god. I was hoping for some sort of proof
that god existed. Instead, this book got me to truly began to question my
faith. I was shocked to learn how religion began: as a way for people to deal
with the fact that they were killing in order to have food to eat. Having a
god to thank made them feel better about taking the life of another living

creature. What also stood out to me was that all people who worship god
all worship the same one, no matter if they decide to call him Elohim,
Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, God, etc.
After becoming pregnant, I decided that I wanted to have my child
baptized in the Catholic faith, so I went through the appropriate classes to
have my marriage recognized, or convalidated, by the Catholic Church. I
wasn't allowed to have my son baptized until that happened. My husband
(an Atheist from birth) thought it was silly, but he went through with the
whole thing because it was important to me at the time. I wanted my son
to be baptized because at that point I still feared that he would go to hell if
he wasnt.
The day I watched The God Who Wasn't There on Netflix was the day
that I first decided that god, in fact, wasn't there. This was when I decided
that everything I had learned and practiced my entire life was nothing but
a big waste of my time. It's when the fairy tale of god and religion ended
for me. After that, the documentaries Zeitgeist and Religulous sealed the
deal for me. Combine that with a few visits to Reddit.com/r/atheism, and
there was no going back. The Evid3nc3 videos on YouTube beautifully
articulate my thoughts and personal experiences. I cant say it any better
than those videos say it.
I've been an Atheist for about three years now. I came out to my
parents about eight months ago. I told them that I had been working on a
blog post about becoming an Atheist, and I wanted to tell them in person
rather than have them find out online. I assured them that if they had any
questions, they could ask me, but they didn't. Their replies were short and
quick; they didn't want to talk about it at all. Based on the few comments
they did make during our conversation, Im not sure they entirely
understand what it means to be an Atheist, but I wasn't going to tell them
more if they weren't interested. We haven't talked about religion, god, or
Atheism since that day, and we continue to have the good relationship
weve always enjoyed.
Coming out to my parents was one of the toughest things I've ever
had to do, but I'm glad I did it. I credit another Atheist my parents know
with inspiring me to finally come out as well. I saw that nothing changed
after they found out about that persons Atheism, so I figured nothing
would change with me either, and I was right.
Ive taken a lot of religion courses, Ive read a lot of books, and Ive
seen a lot of documentaries, but in the end it was the actions of someone
I knew personally that taught me the most.
Lisa Brown is a mother of two living in Ohio. Her blog, It Keeps Getting
Better, about her life and family, is at LisaBrownDesign.BlogSpot.com.

Why are you an Atheist? We are soliciting submissions that answer this question in 800 to 1,000 words. Send them to
PWhissel@Atheists.org. Essays may be subject to revision, and publication is at the sole discretion of the Editor-in-Chief.
46 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org


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