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American Atheist

A JOURNAL OF ATHEIST NEWS AND THOUGHT

WHY ATHEISTS
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Fighting God
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AMERICAN ATHEIST
A Journal of Atheist News and Thought
4th Quarter 2015
Vol. 53, No. 4

ISSN 0516-9623 (Print)


ISSN 1935-8369 (Online)

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Pamela Whissel
PWhissel@Atheists.org
LAYOUT and GRAPHICS EDITOR
Rick Wingrove
RWingrove@Atheists.org
COPY EDITOR
Karen Rei lly
PROOFREADERS
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Shelley Gaudia
AMERICAN ATHEIST PRESS
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Frank R. Zindler
Editor@Atheists.org
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Most importantly, I brought my Bible, said Donald Trump at the Values Voter Summit
in Washington, D.C., on September 25. Read about our new Atheist Voter initiative on
page 30. All photos by Nick Fish

In This Issue
4
5
6

Letter from the Editor | Pamela Whissel


How to Fight God | J.T. Eberhard
The Real Story from an Ex-Mormon Missionary
Lesson 4: The Commandments, Part 1 | Greg Hawkins

12
16
18
22
26
28

The Nonbelievers Guide to Bible Stories | C.B. Brooks, M.D.

30
46

Why Atheists Must Vote | Nick Fish

Interview: Monster On Sunday


The Three Wise Guys, Part One | Natasha Stoynoff
Minnesota Gets Atheist Marriage Celebrants | Randall Tigue
Esperanto and Humanism | Michael B. Paulkovich
Danthropology - Creationism Has No Business
in the White House | Dan Arel
Why I Am An Atheist | Dale DeBakcsy

One-year print subscription to American Atheist


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Sign up for membership at www.Atheists.org/join.
Membership dues are tax-deductible as charitable
gifts. Subscriptions to American Atheist magazine are
not tax-deductible.

4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 3

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

A Lifesaving Sentence

hen Pope Francis visited the U.S. in


September, he made a lot of good-guy
gestures. Instead of being chauffeured
around in a limo, he graced the back
seat of a Fiat. After his address to Congress (the wall
of separation was in the shop that day), he lunched at
a soup kitchen rather than break bread with senators
and representatives. When he met up with a former
student from his teaching days in Argentina, he warmly
embraced the openly gay man and his partner. But then,
not even a week later in Rome, he made it clear that
homosexuals dont have a hope in hell of marrying each
other in the Catholic Church.1
Atheists in America should care about this because
Pope Francis is a very likeable public figure who gets a
lot of good press and has won the praise of non-Catholic
Christians and even non-Christians. Likability, however,
is an overrated virtue, just like religious faith. But whats
not to like when a friendly pope says who am I to judge
a gay person,2 or when he says Catholics are not obliged
to breed like rabbits (his words, not mine, although birth
control is still off limits)3 or when he tells the world to get
its collective act together and face the reality of global
warming?4 For what its worth, hes also said that its
possible for an Atheist to be a good person. 5
Heres whats not to like: In 2009, his predecessor
said that condom use increases the spread of AIDS.
This statement comes right from an official Vatican
transcript. 6 Only religion is to blame for this deadly
lie, and Francis is the only person in the world who can
eradicate it from the minds of the millions of people

who believe him.


Many people are equipped to own fuel-efficient cars or
support soup kitchens, and many celebrities are equipped
to be likeable. No one else on Earth, except for Francis, is
equipped to spare millions of people from AIDS with one
lifesaving sentence. Condoms are okay for everyone is all
it would take. Yes, his job would get even more stressful as
Vatican officials and bishops scramble desperately to try
to revive the condom condemnation. And the statement
would cause some fear and bring about conflict, and even
a few divorces. But there would be children who wont
have to watch their parents die and parents who wont
have to watch their children die. And all kinds of other
people wouldnt have to watch each other die either.
And even more people wouldnt have to go through life
with HIV. Until that happens, theres nothing to like and
plenty to loathe.
1. Pope Francis: Full Text of Remarks on Synod Opening,
October 5, 2015, En.RadioVaticana.va
2. Press Conference of Pope Francis, July 28, 2013, Vatican.va
3. In-Flight Press Conference of His Holiness Pope Francis from
the Philippines to Rome, January 19, 2015, Vatican.va
4. Address of the Holy Father, United Nations Headquarters,
New York, Friday, 25 September 2015, Vatican.va
5. Pope at Mass: Culture of Encounter is the Foundation of
Peace, May 22, 2013, En.RadioVaticana.va
6. Interview of the Holy Father Benedict XVI During the Flight
to Africa, 17 March, 2009 Vatican.va

Pamela Whissel
Editor-in-Chief
PWhissel@Atheists.org

4 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

How to Fight God


by J.T. Eberhard

am a firebrand Atheist, just like American Atheists


President David Silverman. We both believeand have
believed for some timethat religion is bad for the
world. I am the co-founder of the Skepticon conference, which
Dave has spoken at, and I have spoken at many American
Atheists conventions. I have known Dave for years and have
had so many great conversations with him that I cant even
remember them all.
My day job is to blog about Atheism and activism at Patheos.
com/WWJTD. In this line of work, I come across many ideas
and hear from different people all the time, but I still learned a lot
from reading Daves new book, Fighting God.
Dave wrote this book for Atheists on the sidelines, the ones
who are content to not make waves about their non-belief. This
is what he has to say to these folks: We need you, and you need
to be in the ring with us. Using clear, concise language, he
convincingly explains to these Atheists that although they may
not realize it, religion is negatively affecting their own livesnot
just the lives of some anonymous people theyve never met.
For instance, he uses George W. Bushs opposition to stem-cell
research to show how religion can negatively affect the physical
health of anyone: [Bush] delayed the most promising research
on Parkinsons disease, Alzheimers disease, and many kinds of
cancer. In one fell swoop, Bush prolonged delayed treatments for
these ailments, reducing the life expectancy and the quality of life
for all Americans, while giving a great competitive opportunity
to scientists in other countries to catch up and possibly surpass
America in its research (and jeopardizing our patent domination).
Why? The pope said so, preachers joined in, and so President
Bush jumped and obeyed. If you or someone you love has one of
those diseases, someone elses religion has reduced their chance
of being helped before its too late.
While he is clearly, and overtly, trying to motivate sideline
Atheists to join the greater movement, Dave also takes great care
to list the actions that do not help our cause: violence, lies, or
coercion. In other words, its never okay to be the jerk he is often
accused of being. Throughout the book, Dave articulates his
call for honesty better than most religions do, even when those
religions are at their loveliest.
As many of us know, any criticism of religion is often viewed
as impolite. This standard puts us at a disadvantage from the
beginning, even when we want to engage in civilized dialogue.
While some tiptoe around the subject of religion in an effort to
offset this effect, he dives straight in, treating the frank discussion
of religion as casually as if he were ordering a cheeseburger.
Admittedly, even I was initially uneasy with this approach,
as Dave repeatedly asserts that all believers are victims of their
religion. His swift defense of this method eventually won me
over, but I admit that viewing religious people as victims of their
religion still makes me feel uneasy, though I cant explain why. I
guess societal expectations hit all of us to an extent.
4TH QUARTER 2015

Atheists are
often accused of
having disdain
for
religious
people,
and
some of them
do. But Dave can
recognize a religious person as someone who might be looking
for the truth but has had their efforts dampened by religions
insistence on faith, or as someone who could be exploring their
sexuality without guilt or pause if not for their religions rules
about sex. While not all believers are victims to the same extent,
Dave makes it clear that, at minimum, they can continue doing
everything theyre already doing in their lives without believing
false things about the world.
Daves approach is direct, but its important to understand
that he adopts this tone out of respect for his audience. He speaks
to you directly and leaves no ambiguity as to his position and why
he holds it. I actually found his approach comforting. I liked that
he wasnt trying to placate me or massage my thoughts. He was
simply sharing the honest reasons for doing what he does, which,
he argues, should compel the reader to follow suit.
Dave also makes it clear that the fight to minimize religions
impact on the world is not a lost cause. Right out of the gate,
he says, We have no money compared to religion. We have no
power compared to religion. Yet our numbers are growing while
theirs are shrinking, because its not just about money or power,
but about truth.
Because of the provocative title, its possible that the very
Atheists who need this book the most will be the least likely to read
it. Thats why every one of us should read Fighting God. It equips
us to speak not just to religious people, but to other Atheists who
may not yet realize just how much better off the world would be
with no religionand how this isnt an unrealistic dream.
Although I was already convinced that religion is bad for the
world, I came away from this book with some new ideas and a
renewed optimism. Lets face it: since were playing from behind,
its easy to feel that losing is inevitable. Fighting God left me
invigorated and confident that if we buckle down, work together,
and have some fun while were at it, we can make a real difference
to people in it who, like so many of us once did, sublimate their
curiosity and desire because religion tells them to. That makes
playing catch-up damn near smile-inducing, even though religion
has had a head start of a few millennia.
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.
www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 5

The Real Story


from an

Ex-Mormon Missionary
Lesson 4: The Commandments, Part 1
by Greg Hawkins

his is is the fourth installment of our series by a former Mormon who was a
missionary in the Philippines. In these articles, he describes what goes on when
missionaries knock on your door, and you let them in. Hes also giving a side of
the story that the missionaries may leave outor may not even be aware of in the first place. A
missionarys training includes only whitewashed, disinfected talking-points. They are taught to
stick to the script and are unprepared to deal with any meaningful or intelligent deviation.
For example, a Mormon has a lifelong requirement to tithe (give ten percent of their income
to the Church). This applies to everyone, even if you live in poverty or you are raising a large
family or if you have enormous debt. Its possible that by questioning a missionary in an amiable,
non-confrontational way, youll give them a real opportunity to apply critical thinking to their
religions harmful absurdities, like non-negotiable tithing. For many of them, it will be the first
time theyve ever done so.
6 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

In this environment, missionaries often


turn on each other in order to enhance
their own positions in the pecking order.
Last time around, I talked about the third lesson you will
receive from a Mormon missionary if you decide to continue to
be an investigator, which is the word used for someone who
is interested in joining the Church of Jesus Christ of LatterDay Saints. Its during Lesson Three, The Gospel of Jesus
Christ, that the missionaries will increase the pressure on an
investigator to officially join the Mormon Church through
baptism. So, typically, an investigator will already be committed
to becoming a member by the time they reach Lesson Four, The
Commandments.
The commandments here are not the Ten Commandments
found in the Old Testament. These are different commandments,
one of which is, in fact, to keep the Ten Commandments.
The Mormon Commandments are:
Obedience
Pray Often
Study the Scriptures
Keep the Sabbath Day Holy
Baptism and Confirmation
Follow the Prophet
Keep the Ten Commandments
Live the Law of Chastity
Obey the Word of Wisdom
Observe the Law of the Fast
Keep the Law of Tithing (with a special, hassle-free
guide on how to pay)
Since each of these commandments has the potential to
spark a discussion which could last for days, Lesson Four
is often spread out over several meetings. Im going to do
something similar here by tackling this lesson over the next few
installments of this series. In this article, Ill talk about the first
two commandments: obedience and pray often.
Obedience
Obedience is considered the first Law of Heaven. According
to the official missionary instruction book, Preach My Gospel,
Obedience to the commandments brings us peace in this life
and eternal life in the world to come. Obedience shows our love
for God. Disobedience brings us sorrow.
The level at which the Church stresses obedience,
combined with the surveillance tactics the Church employs
against members, missionaries, Brigham Young University

(BYU) students, and notable apostates creates a frightening


mixture of authoritarianism and submission. Missionaries are
admonished to be obedient and follow the mission rules, which
are listed in another publication, the missionary handbook.
One of the rules is for missionary partners to stay together.
And they mean it:
Never be alone. It is extremely important that you stay
with your companion at all times. Staying together
means staying within sight and hearing of each
other. The only times you should be separated from
your assigned companion are when you are in an
interview with the mission president, on a companion
exchange, or in the bathroom.
Never make exceptions to this standard for activities
that seem innocent but take you away from each
other, including being in different rooms in the same
building or in a home. Situations that seem harmless
at the beginning can quickly lead to serious problems.
If you live in an apartment with more than one room,
always sleep in the same room as your companion,
but not in the same bed. Arise and retire at the same
time as your companion. Do not stay up late or get
up early to be alone.
Obey the standards of missionary conduct and the
rules of the mission. If you notice any inappropriate
situation or behavior, discuss it with your companion.
If the matter is not resolved, have the courage and
love for your companion to ask your mission president
for help. Violations of missionary standards may
threaten your companions effectiveness and even
his or her salvation. Care enough for your companion
to ask for help from your mission president before
a problem becomes serious. Your loyalty is first to
the Lord, then to your mission president, then to your
companion.
If your companion leaves you, inform your mission
president immediately.
Be aware that you have a responsibility to protect
your companion from physical and spiritual danger.
If you do not fulfill this responsibility and your
companion engages in serious misconduct, you may
be subject to Church disciplinary action.

If your companion engages in serious misconduct,


you may be subject to Church disciplinary action.
4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 7

Staying together means staying within


sight and hearing of each other.
Missionaries are also encouraged to tell a church authority
if their companions or others are struggling with obedience:
Share with the mission president and with other leaders
(when appropriate) information on the progress and needs of
the missionaries. Leaders are especially sensitive to needs and
situations that could present dangers to a missionarys spiritual
or physical well-being and make sure the mission president
knows about these matters. Correct missionaries conduct
when needed.
The result is that emotional needs and conditions like
depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are often completely
ignored and therefore not treated properly. Things like
homosexual desires or mere feelings of gender-dysphoria are
treated with contempt and fear. Thats because homosexual
behavior and activity is the second-worst sin possible, after
murder. When it comes to disease and injury, you may or may
not receive proper medical attention. It all depends on the
discernment of your local mission president.
In this environment, missionaries often turn on each other
in order to enhance their own positions in the pecking order.
Waiting to find out what type of companion youll get is always
nerve-wracking for a missionary. What if hes overzealous? Then
god help you if, for example, you use slang. The handbook says,
Avoid slang and inappropriately casual language, even in your
apartment with your companion or in letters to your family. You
very realistically run the risk of being reported to the mission
president and subsequently disciplined. For using slang.
BYUs notorious Honor Code is another example. Here I
should point out that not all students who attend BYU are attending
because they want to be there. Many attend as part of family
tradition. Many attend as part of social or church pressures.
Many attend because they received athletic scholarships.
On its face, the Honor Code can seem somewhat reasonable:
Be honest; live a chaste and virtuous life; obey the law and all
campus policies; use clean language; respect others; abstain
from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and substance
abuse; participate regularly in church services; observe the
dress and grooming standards; and encourage others in their
commitment to comply with the Honor Code.
But because students are supposed to report anyone not
abiding by the honor code, theres an environment reminiscent
of George Orwells 1984. The penalties for breaking these rules
include academic probation, suspension, and even expulsion. I
know many former BYU students who came out as gay while
they were enrolled, or it was discovered that they were involved

in homosexual relationships. The university expelled these


students and have refused to release their transcripts. These
students were left with thousands of dollars of debt and no hope
of enrolling at a different university without starting all over.
Students who rescind their membership in the LDS Church
also automatically lose their eligibility to obtain an ecclesiastical
endorsement (a mandatory endorsement of the students moral
standing, which can only be provided by a Mormon religious
leader), and must either be re-baptized into the Church or risk
losing their academic progress.
Pray Often
This commandment sounds reasonable enough. After all,
doesnt nearly every religion encourage its members to pray/
meditate/reflect often? Wellyes. There are some differences,
however. According to Preach My Gospel, Our Heavenly Father
hears and answers our prayers. Through daily prayer we receive
divine guidance and blessings. We should always pray sincerely.
We should also pray with real intent, which means we are
committed to act on the answer that we receive.
Unfortunately, praying with real intent is nothing more
than confirmation bias. Ill show you. Lets play the pray-withreal-intent game right now. Missionaries play it all the time,
and they often use it on their investigators. Here are the rules:
1. Read the Book of Mormon.
2. Notice the passage in the Book of Moroni 10:3-5, where
the prophet Moroni states that the way to know if the
Book of Mormon is true is by asking God, who will tell
you that you know the book is true through the burning
you feel in your bosom.
3. Pray with real intent (confirm what you just read in
Moroni 10:3-5).
4. Chalk up any subsequent positivity in mood, demeanor,
or circumstance as confirmation from God that the
book is true.
5. If you receive negative feelings or thoughts after
praying, you probably didnt pray with real intent, and
you should therefore pray again until you receive the
correct confirmation.
This is the epistemic framework of Mormonism. The
ultimate litmus test to determine whether something is true or
not in the LDS church is to pray about the bookas instructed
in the bookand accept any false positives as confirmation

Missionaries are encouraged to tell a


church authority if their companions
are struggling with obedience.
8 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

of the books authenticity because the book said so. This


incredibly arbitrary standard of determining truth allows
church leaders and members to rationalize nearly anything
by means of apologetics, while simultaneously playing the
invisible trump card by saying, Look! God is on our side. And
if you disagree, you mustn't have had enough faith to receive the
correct answer.
Mormons also pray to God the Father in the name of
Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Ghost, and while the
Mormon church opposes memorized prayer, citing Matthew
6:7, it certainly breaks its own rules by repeating any prayers
verbatim which are used for church ordinances, like sacrament
(communion) prayers, baptism prayers, temple ordinance
prayers, and introductions to priesthood blessings.
Of course, all of this obedience and praying will be
necessary to follow the rest of the Mormon commandments,
which we will continue to explore next time. In the meantime, I
would like to part with a quote from Mortality, by Christopher
Hitchens: The man who prays is the one who thinks that god
has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can
instruct god how to put them right.
In the next issue, Greg will continue with Lesson Four:
The Commandments. He will explain the next three
commandments: study the scriptures, keep the Sabbath day
holy, andspoiler alertbaptism and confirmation.

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Greg Hawkins is a political science major at the University of Utah.


His interviews, columns, and videos are online at BroadClarity.com/
GregHawkins.

4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 9

The Myth at the Heart of the Mystical


by Hank Fox

he most basic understanding of Atheism tends


to focus only on religion and the non-belief
in whatever local god, holy book, or other
anointed authority our home culture presents
to us. But religion isnt the only item worthy of skeptical
scrutiny. Psychics, luck, fate, and all sorts of mystical or protomystical subjects seem to share a certain common ground
with religion. And yet I dont think most of us actually define
the nature of that commonality.
I wrote a blog piece a few years back in which I presented
the idea of null words, words with nothing palpable behind
them. In other words, we have a word for the thing, but no
thing for the word. Angel. Ghost. Telekinesis. Fate. Warp
drive. Superhero. Karma. Spirit.
Some of these words are mere artsy expressions of fictional
characters or plot devices, and some of these things, like
superhero, arguably can exist, depending on how fuzzily
you want to define them. But others have something else

associated with them, a something behind that moves them


into a category shared with religion. That something behind
is the concept of agency.
Im surely not the first to arrive at this idea, but in my
research I couldnt find a complete definition of what Im
thinking about. This dual definition I found in a Wikipedia
entry comes closest: In sociology and philosophy, agency is
the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human, or
any living being in general) to act in a world. Human
agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices. It
is normally contrasted to natural forces, which are causes
involving only unthinking deterministic processes.
My definition strikes off in a new direction by combining
bits of both; agency is a property of deliberate thought, feeling,
or action possessed by an immaterial agent. Far from being an
unthinking, deterministic process, this immaterial agent has
both consciousness and intent. Not only does it recognize that
we human beings exist, but it also has feelings and thoughts

Agency stands behind popular misconceptions


of evolution. Belief in agency is not religion, but

its the essence inside religion.

10 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

Your own cultures god is the most obvious


example. The hazard is that youll look and

see something that isnt actually there.


about us. Further, it has the ability to act on its thoughts and
emotions in a way that has real effects on people. This action
can be firmly goal-directed in relation to the targeted folks,
and it takes punitive or rewarding action to shepherd a person
in some direction, often according to unclear, supposedly
larger goals. Or it can be teasingly capricious, acting
simply to amuse itself . . . while at the same time being wholly
imaginary.
For the person who buys into agency, it works out to
Theres something out there, some sort of conscious being
that has me in mind and acts in a deliberate way to affect my
life. For most of us, this is more than simple belief. It is a
worldview, and one so intimately tied into everyday thought
and language that we probably dont even notice it.
Of course, your own cultures god is the most obvious
example of agency. God says this or that, god wants you to do
this thing, god will punish you, blah blah blah.
Believers see god-the-conscious-deliberate-agent in
everything. Hes out there somewhere, a holy telepath
watching your every act and thought, arranging the world in a
way that rewards, punishes, or teaches.
Though we Atheists reject belief in god and all of its
manifestations (ghosts, angels, demons, etc.), its all too easy
to retain unexamined beliefs in related conceptual fields that
lack temples and priesthoods but share many of the same
characteristics.
Agency is the outward projection of personality itself, and
I suspect the culprit to be the same brain activity that allows
us to see faces on burnt toast and in cloud formations. We look
for consciousness and intent in the world around us in the same
way we look for facesand probably for the same prehistoric,
survival-related reasons. Those ancestors who didnt look out
for the consciousness and intent of neighborhood sabertooth
cats, cave bears, and dire wolves well, they didnt live long
enough to be ancestors.
The ability persists because its still useful. In modern
times, the whole of every city and town, road and highway, is
a showing of real agencyhuman agencyand some of it is
dangerous as hell. What does this mean? What do they want
me to do? are important questions for negotiating city streets
and construction zones.
The hazard is that youll look and see something that
isnt actually there. The Jesus-face water stain on the freeway
overpass is only the beginning. Agency shows up as Mother
Nature. Something Out There. The Universe. Mystic Energy.
Natural Balance. Even something like inevitability can hint
subtly at agency. In each of these concepts is an underpinning
of some sort of conscious, deliberate thing, thinking about us,
taking action in our lives, affecting us in some way.
Think of the everyday example of luck. Some of us
4TH QUARTER 2015

define the word in purely rational terms as the workings of


probability, but many of us see it as something more. Luck
is a persona selfthat deliberately affects the roll of dice
and the hidden numbers of a lottery ticket, often for its own
entertainment but sometimes to reward us for intense wishing
or other compulsive capering.
The blind mechanisms of weatherwhich can profoundly
affect everyone from coffee growers in Brazil to wedding
planners in Oklahomacan often smack of agency. Give
a tropical storm a name, and you increase the effect. Who
doesnt remember when Katrina hit New Orleans?
Language itself is filled with constructions based on
ideas of agency, making it sometimes difficult to speakor
even thinkwithout including it. If you want to say a child is
gifted but also want to exclude all nuances of a giver, how do
you say it? Just lamenting the loss of healthy, natural function
after an accident (Thumbs arent supposed to bend that
way.) can quietly freight in implications of a creator and its
creation.
Longer formulations of agency are expressed with some
frequency: Everything happens for a reason. Life finds a way.
We were meant to be together. Two men as sex partners is
not what nature intended. There is a higher justice. When its
your time to go. All of these are pure expressions of agency.
Something does the reasoning, the finding, the meaning, the
supposing, the choosing of the right time.
Agency stands behind popular misconceptions of evolution.
Too many of us who dont buy into creationism still imagine
evolution as having some deliberate aim, working tirelessly to
raise the lower animals until it arrives at something higher,
such as we fabulously intelligent, sophisticated human beings.
Now that we humans have appeared in all our inevitable glory,
the work of evolution is done.
Belief in agency is not religion, but its the essence inside
religion. Even aside from religion, though, agency spawns off
so many thematic children that its important to see it as a
conceptual danger all its own. You have to recognize when its
happening in your own head and then take thought to rooting
it out. After all, if you buy into the idea of conscious spirits out
there dwelling on you and directing your life in ways large or
smallhelping you (luck), punishing you (karma), observing
and advising you (my higher power), guiding what happens to
you (destiny)you really might as well believe in god, dont
you think?
Formerly the Blue Collar Atheist on Freethought Blogs, Hank Fox now
writes as A Citizen of Earth on the Patheos network. He is also the
author of Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple Thoughts About Reason,
Gods & Faith .
www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 11

The

Nonbelievers

Guide to Bible Stories


by C.B. Brooks, M.D.

hroughout contemporary life, references from


the Bible, its stories, and characters surround
us. As a result, nonbelievers may be at a loss
when they encounter them in conversation,
art, or literature. Modern-day controversies
such as separation of church and state, posting the
Ten Commandments in government buildings, nativity
displays, and other issues may not be fully understood. This
represents a gap in nonbelievers knowledge base.
My first book was written for my daughter as a guide
to successful living. Trust Your Radar: Honest Advice for
Teens and Young Adults from a Surgeon, Firefighter, Police
Officer, Scuba Divemaster, Golfer, and Amateur Comedian
combines life lessons with fun stories from my varied
careers. A second book, Trust Your Radar, Slackers
Edition, is a streamlined version. Both works
identify organized religion as jammers of our
clear-thinking brain radars.
My new book, The Nonbelievers Guide to Bible
Stories, fills the information gap about the Bible for
my daughter and lucky readers. Its a secular sprint
12 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

Moses went ballistic.

4TH QUARTER 2015

God and Moses schemed together because God still


had some wrong sauce to lay on the Pharaoh.
from Genesis to Revelation, hitting the characters, stories,
occasional highlights, numerous lowlights, and famous quotes
(featured in italics). Nonbelievers should have some concept of
the religious fairy tales being foisted upon their believing peers.
At a minimum, just to get all the jokes.
Heres an excerpt from from Chapter 2, The Book of Exodus.
Moses
Our story begins around 1200 B.C. in Egypt, where the
Hebrew people are slaves of the Egyptians. The Egyptian ruler,
the Pharaoh, decided to exercise some population control and
so decreed that all Hebrew newborn boys shall be thrown into
the Nile River. (The girls can live because nobody really cares
about girls anyway, which is a recurrent Bible theme.)
Instead of throwing her baby boy in the river, one Jewish
mother decides to hide her son in a basket down by the river
bank. The Pharaohs daughter finds the baby, adopts him, and
names him Moses. When Moses grows up, he kills an Egyptian
who was beating up a Hebrew. Word gets around, and Moses
flees Egypt and eventually marries into a good family with
livestock.
One day, Moses is out tending his flock when God appears
to him in the form of a burning bush. They chat a little and God
suggests Moses lead the oppressed Hebrews out of Egypt and
deliver them to a land flowing with milk and honey.
Moses was a little skeptical. He questioned, In case anyone
asks, who should I say sent me? And God said, Just call me I
am who am.
This riddle did not make Moses feel any more confident.
So God gave him three miracle tricks to perform if needed, the
most famous being turning a snake into a stick! This stick is
the rod of God or walking staff that Moses is usually pictured
holding in paintings.
Plagues of Egypt
Moses, along with his brother Aaron, goes back to
Egypt and meets with the Pharaoh. They say,
Mr. Pharaoh, let my people go. And the
Pharaoh responds, Ahh, no. Then he
increases the workload and beatings of the
Hebrews, just for asking.
Moses reports back to God, Excuse me, I am who am,
that did not go well. God says, Go do the tricks I showed you
earlier.
So Moses and his brother Aaron go back to the Pharaoh and
throw the stick down, and it turns into a snake! Ho-hum, the
Egyptian magicians can do that too. Okay, Moses then turns the

water of the Nile River into blood. Shazam! Still no movement


from the Pharaoh, Big deal, we can do that too. Moses tells the
Pharaoh to think it over.
Seven days later and still nothing. So God gets serious and
has Moses unleash a series of plagues on Egypt. Frogs come
up out of the river and into peoples beds. Swarms of gnats and
flies infest everybodys houses. The Pharaoh is temporarily
impressed. After each plague he says, Okay, you can lead your
people away. But when the plagues recede, he changes his mind
and keeps the Hebrews enslaved.
So then come plagues of selective Egyptian livestock
slaughter, hailstorms, locusts, and darkness. Every time the
same response from the Pharaoh: Okay, you win, make it stop.
Followed by, No, the Hebrews really have to stay.
Passover
God has one more plague up his sleeve. He tells Moses to
instruct the Hebrews to get ready on the tenth day of a certain
month because theres going to be a massive beatdown of the
Egyptians. Gods going to show up at midnight and kill every
firstborn son and animal, including the Pharaohs!
To protect the Jewish firstborns, each family is told to
slaughter an unblemished lamb and smear some of its blood
above their doorway. Then cook and eat the lamb along with
some unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Lots of specific
instructions follow.
At the appointed hour, God shows up and smites every
firstborn in Egypt, but he passes over the Hebrew houses that
have the secret blood-smear sign over the doorways.
This catastrophe works, the Pharaoh gives in, and Moses
and Aaron successfully lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Modernday Jews commemorate this ritual every year with the feast of
Passover.
Parting the Red Sea
God helps lead the group along by a pillar of cloud during
the day and the pillar of fire by night. He brought them over
the scenic route to the Red Sea and had them camp there. God
and Moses schemed together because God still had some wrong
sauce to lay on the Pharaoh.
Before long, the Pharaoh and Egyptians started to miss
having all those Hebrew slaves around. So they mobilized the
army and 600 chariots to go reclaim their slaves.
The Hebrews saw them coming and were terrified. God
put the pillar of cloud in the way to provide cover while Moses
raised his rod, and God sent a strong wind to actually separate
the waters of the Red Sea. Moses led the Hebrews through the

God and Moses were now on a hot streak. So God commanded


Moses to come up to the top of Mount Sinai to talk strategy.
4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 13

God would occasionally send hornets to drive out the local


tribes so the Hebrews could slowly take over all the land.
pathway created between the two halves of the sea, while God
watched from the pillar of fire. When the Pharaoh and his army
followed them, their chariot wheels got stuck in the mud and
they were trapped. Moses raised his rod again, and the two
halves of the Red Sea slammed back together, drowning all the
Egyptians and their horses. Splash!
Desert Happenings
Moses and Aaron continued to lead the Jews throughout
the desert and wilderness, sojourning around for forty years.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of grousing and moaning,
Are we there yet? Im thirsty. There are no restaurants
anywhere. People also started slacking off on the rules, like not
resting on the Sabbath. Moses kept relaying these complaints
to God saying, Hey, the people are crabby; some of these
complainers are going to stone me to death down here. God
intervenes multiple times by sending quail birds over to be
barbecued, raining down special bread, manna from heaven, just
about daily, and the big crowd-pleaser: letting Moses get some
street cred by striking a rock with his rod and water flowing out
like a fire hydrant! This one went over well and restored calm
to the masses.
The Sacred Covenant
God and Moses were now on a hot streak. So God
commanded Moses to come up to the top of Mount Sinai to
talk strategy. Moses went to the mountaintop and met with God,
while the people of Israel waited below. Moses stayed up there
forty days and forty nights. All the people down below could see
were clouds and flashes of lightning, interspersed with rolls of
thunder and the occasional startling trumpet blast.
Negotiations went well, and a deal was struck between
God and Moses. It was called the sacred covenant and sealed
with blood.
In the covenant, God again promised the Hebrews all the
land from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from
the wilderness all the way to the Euphrates River. God would
occasionally send hornets to drive out the local tribes so the
Hebrews could slowly take over all the land.
Ten Commandments
In return for this promised land, God gave Moses the Ten
Commandments, which the people agree to live by, and also
pages and pages of ordinances detailing lots and lots of rules.
The Ten Commandments are: 1) I am the Lord your God,

who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of
bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. 2) You shall
not make a graven image or likeness of other gods. You shall not
bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am
a jealous God. 3) You shall not take the name of the Lord your
God in vain. 4) Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. 5)
Honor your father and your mother. 6) You shall not kill. 7) You
shall not commit adultery. 8) You shall not steal. 9) You shall
not bear false witness against your neighbor. 10) You shall not
covet your neighbors house; you shall not covet your neighbors
wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass,
or anything of your neighbors.
The ordinances give common-sense rules for all kinds of
things like: You shall not permit a sorceress to live. Whoever
sacrifices to any god, save to the Lord only, shall be utterly
destroyed. You shall not boil a kid (baby goat) in its mothers
milk. Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to
death. Whoever lies with a beast shall be put to death. When
you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the
seventh he shall go free. If an ox gores a slave, the owner shall
give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be
stoned. When a man strikes a slave, male or female, with a rock
and the slave dies, he shall be punished. But if the slave survives
a day or two, he is not to be punished. Okay, got that? Its the
word of the Lord.
Then God gave Moses excruciatingly detailed instructions
on how to build an ark (box) to keep a copy of the signed deal
in. The special box is called the Ark of the Covenant. Plus,
specifications for a mobile tabernacle to keep the ark in, tent
poles, veils, garments, jewels, gold and silver decorations,
tables, altars, lamps and furnishings, curtains with loops and
clasps, screens, pillars, turbans, girdles, priestly uniforms with
insignia, robes, gold chains, caps, measurements, a bronze sink
for washing, and directions for sacrifices. Oh, and also take a
census. And collect atonement money.
Whoa, Moses said, How am I going remember all that?
So God scrawled notes on some stone tablets using his own
finger, the finger of God. Powerful.
Okay, were all good here. Moses came down from the
mountain.
The Golden Calf and Broken Tablets
Well, wouldnt you know, Aaron and the people of
Israel couldnt even behave for forty days, even with those
unpredictable trumpet blasts. While Moses was gone, they

Moses went ballistic. He threw the stone tablets down, breaking


them into smithereens; ordered 3,000 men killed; ground up the
gold calf, mixed it with water, and made all the idiots drink it.
14 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

The ordinances give common-sense rules for all kinds


of things like, You shall not permit a sorceress to live.
melted down their gold jewelry, used
their graving tools, and formed a golden
calf to worship. Yes, a graven image!
Complete with sacrifices and dancing!
When Moses saw this, he went
ballistic. He threw the stone tablets
down, breaking them into smithereens;
called Aaron an unprintable name;
ordered 3,000 men killed, ground up
the calf, mixed it with water, and made
all the idiots drink it. Plus, the next day
he had to tell God about it!
God reacted in his usual way and
sent a plague. Then he summoned
Moses back up Mount Sinai.
Rewrite
For the next forty days and forty
nights, they went over every stinking
detail again. They rewrote the covenant
and Ten Commandments on two more
stone tablets and Moses came down
again from the mountaintop.
This time, the people of Israel
accepted the deal and started building
the ark, tent, tabernacle, and all the
uniforms and stuff, just how God
wanted it, in excruciating detail.
When everything was done, God
enjoyed hanging out in the tabernacle.
Hed show his presence by covering
the tabernacle with a cloud whenever
he was in there during the day, and fire
by night. Then hed lift the cloud when
it was time to move the chosen people
onward again, toward the promised
land.
And there you have it, the story of
Moses, Passover, the parting of the Red
Sea, and the Ten Commandments.
Its mind-boggling to me that
such a bloody and brutal book is still
used, in the twenty-first century,
to deny scientifically proven facts,
condone discrimination, swear in our
government leaders, and inform our
policies.
But yet it is.
My guess is that most people who rely on its teachings
havent actually read the whole thing. And those who have,
probably ignore vast sections and cherry-pick what they find
useful. And those who insist on its literal belief have serious
flaws in their mental functioning and judgment.
4TH QUARTER 2015

So, I hope you now have a perspective and background


knowledge of what all the fuss is about!
The Nonbelievers Guide to Bible Stories, Trust Your Radar, and Trust
Your Radar Slackers Edition are all available in paperback and ebook
through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online outlets.
www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 15

Atheism is music for an ex-Mennonite and an ex-Mormon

ally and Steve Cass front the Atheist rock band Monster On Sunday, which released its first
CD in August. Formed in 2012, with Tally as singer/lyricist and Steve as guitarist/composer,
the band has performed to rave reviews on the San Diego music scene and in Portland,
Oregon. Joining them this summer for their album release show in Ramona, California, were
Atheist folk singer Shelly Segal and comedian Steve Hill. They also appeared at the first annual
Godless Gala in June, hosted by the Humanist Fellowship of San Diego. Their first video, for their
single Just Like You is slated to premiere on Atheist TV. They sat down with American Atheist to
talk about how the band got started and whats in store for the future.
Whats the story behind the title Baby Eater?
Tally: A lot of religious people try to pretend that they have some sort of monopoly on morality. Our whole album, especially
the title track by the same name, challenges that view. The title track is about how religious thinking can cause many immoral acts
which can only be justified through indoctrination.
What are your religious backgrounds?
Tally: I was raised Mennonite Christian, but belief in god never really took. Ive called myself an Atheist since I was a teenager,

We want our Atheist message to be loud and clear


with no apologies.
16 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

Science may be the poetry of reality, but with Stardust

we wanted to make poetry out of science.

which caused me to have painful family issues throughout my


life. Monster On Sunday is a place where I can freely speak out
on these topics that affect so many of us. A lot of our songs deal
with my personal experiences of being the only Atheist in a very
religious family.
Steve: I was raised in a devoutly Mormon home, and I grew
up really buying into the religion. I even went on a two-year
mission in Tucson when I was nineteen. Now, Im an outspoken
Atheist. I think my story is similar to a lot of people who were
devout. Losing my religion was a slow process that took years
as I realized more and more that there was no good evidence to
justify my religious beliefs.

in the Bible. How did you arrive at the decision to


feature this one?
Steve: With a female-fronted, Atheist rock band, this quote
seemed an obvious choice. It shows how much stock people can
put in the Bible and its proscriptions.
Tally: It takes a lot of courage to speak out on these topics,
especially for a woman. I hope my lyrics become an inspiration
to women everywhere to not be afraid to speak their minds.
Why did you choose Just Like You to be your first
single?
Steve: We wanted to release a song where there would be
no confusion as to what side were on in the religious debate.
Just Like You makes it clear that we are firebrand Atheists and
anti-theists. We felt that if people had that context, there would
be no way to misinterpret the lyrics in the rest of our songs on
the album. We want our Atheist message to be loud and clear
with no apologies.
Stardust is another great song. What was the
inspiration for it?
Tally: Many religions claim that divine inspiration is
necessary to feel awe and inspire true art, so we wanted to write
a song that reflected something that is truly awe-inspiring and
real. As Lawrence Krauss, one of the inspirations for this song
put it, Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded,
and the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different
star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I
know about physics. You are all stardust. In Stardust, we pit
the view of creationism against the scientific understanding of
how the universe, our planet, and our species came to exist.
Steve: Science may be the poetry of reality, but with this
song we wanted to make poetry out of science.

What about your musical backgrounds?


Steve: Tally and I both fronted our own rock bands for
many years. Our groups played shows togetherthats how we
met. I started going with Tally to Atheist meetings and events,
and eventually we decided to join our passions for music and
Atheism to create Monster On Sunday. We consider ourselves
to be an Atheist-activist band. We want to use our music to
promote freethought and a rational world view.
On your website, MonsterOnSunday.com, is the
quote from 1 Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman
to teach or to have authority over a man; she must
be silent. There are so many horrible passages
4TH QUARTER 2015

What do you want the band to accomplish in the


long run?
Tally: Our mission is to let people know that they are not alone
in their non-belief, and to inspire change through meaningful
lyrics. We want to encourage people to not be afraid to speak out
against the harms of religion. Basically, we intend to use our rock
to kick religions ass to make the world a better place!
Steve and Tally have also been interviewed on The Ardent Atheist and
The Scathing Atheist podcasts. Links to both are on MonsterOnSunday.
com, where you can order the CD, t-shirts, and other merchandise.
There youll also find the complete lyrics to all of their songs, along
with photos, reviews, concert announcements, and more!

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 17

The Three Wise Guys


Part One

Theyre funny, theyre fearless, and theyre skeptical...and theyre probably


preaching the virtue of non-belief in a church near you.

by Natasha Stoynoff

Matt, Seth, and Aron in Sydney. Photo by Andrew Skegg

hree unlikely buddies, one common goal, and a few death-defying talesthats what you
get when you send Seth Andrews, Matt Dillahunty, and Aron Ra out on the road together
to talk reason and rationality with the people.
Raised in a Lutheran-Pentecostal household, Seth Andrews was a Christian radio broadcaster with
nagging doubts about his faith when a fervent lecture by Christopher Hitchens became the tipping
point for his apostasy. He wrote about his road to Atheism in his 2012 memoir, Deconverted: A Journey
from Religion to Reason and hosts The Thinking Atheist radio show at TheThinkingAtheist.com. His
latest book is Sacred Cows: A Lighthearted Look at Belief and Tradition around the World.
Former Southern Baptist Matt Dillahunty was a fundamentalist Christian for over twenty years.
After eight years in the Navy, he was seminary-bound when his religious studies had a boomerang
effect, shattering his belief in god. Today, he co-hosts The Atheist Experience, produced by the Atheist
Community of Austin. Archived episodes are at Atheist-Experience.com.
Aron Ra, American Atheists Texas Regional Director, grew up in a Mormon household and began
debating adults about creationism from the young age of eight. A one-time tattooist, he rides a 1500cc
Victory Vegas motorcycle and is the creator of the video series Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism,
available on YouTube.
They met one other at the 2011 Oklahoma Freethought Convention, where they clicked immediately,
says Dillahunty. Three years later, they teamed up as The Unholy Trinity and toured the U.S. in 2014
(hitting Amarillo, Albuquerque, and San Antonio). Then the Atheist Foundation of Australia brought
them to Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney last March. The roving trio of freethinking storytellers spoke
in churches, college campuses, city halls, and theaters. When accommodations were tight in Sydney,
they roughed it by camping in tents and using the dunny (outhouse)all for the good of the cause.
Over drinks on the eve of the first Gateway to Reason seminar in St. Louis, Missouri, in September,
the activists talked snake-charming, sleeping habits, and the pseudo-religious experience of going
Down Under. Theyre far from New-Agey, but its still all about the journey, says Andrews.
18 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

Were no longer afraid to be sarcastically


defiant in the face of sacred religious ideas.
Who christened you The Unholy Trinity?
Matt: Seth was the mastermind. I just showed up and
talked.
Seth: I thought the name was funny. Its a declaration that
were no longer afraid of blaspheming. Were no longer afraid
to be sarcastically defiant in the face of sacred religious ideas.
The Unholy Trinity summed it up.
In the footsteps of Richard Dawkins and
Christopher Hitchens, you guys are seen as
the younger, hipper icons of the New Atheist
movement. How does that feel?
Matt: I was standing next to Hitch once when someone
came up [to him] and said, Oh, Im a big fan! He corrected
them. He told them about the origin of fan being fanatic,
and hes not looking for fanatics. Im a big fan, to use the word
he objected to, of not having heroes.
We click with audiences because were absolutely
approachable. Were the guys who tell you what we think, and
the stories weve heard, and the information weve learned, but
were also the guys you can talk to afterwards, get a picture
with, have a long or short discussion with, and have a drink.
Were not on some other tier, and we dont want to be.
Seth: Were taking the journey just like they are, every day.
Aron: Ive often said that the goal of Atheism is to eliminate
our own necessity [as activists], and to negate the value of the
word Atheist so that its not needed anymore.
Your respective audiences have been watching
and listening to you from afar for years. Is it an
emotional experience for them to meet you in
person?
Seth: When youre in broadcasting, people know you.
They know your personality, they know your character f laws,
they know your family, what you did on your honeymoon, and
what your pets are up to. They have this window into your life.
People whove listened to The Thinking Atheist radio show
for five years and two hundred thirty episodes know all about
me. So by the time I get to them, they are eager to equal that
balance and share all of the meaningful and important things
in their own lives.
Theyll often explode in a barrage of details and personal
stories and feelings and questions and words of gratitude. Its
almost overwhelming. And its an honor.

Do you three agree on everything? Do you each


have a specialty when you talk to audiences?
Whos best at reciting scripture?
Aron: We all have different backgrounds and different
perspectives. Matt was raised Trinitarian, I was raised
Binatarian. Matt corrects me on a lot of scriptural stuff. I
completely respect that.
Matt: Aron would correct me on all the science stuff, if I
bothered to go there. But I know better than to do that while
hes sitting there.
Seth: I always say...this is the rodeo and Im the clown. I
bring f lashy things and entertain people between the main
events.
Aron: Seths the soul.
Do you bicker on the road about who gets the blue
M&Ms and who gets the top bunk?
Seth: Well, imagine if you have two brothers and you love
your brothers, but youre in the same space with them for
twenty-one days...
Aron: I have a tendency to grate against both these
gentlemen, but I do what I can to repair the damage! Seth is
more conservative [than we are]. Hes not quite the partier.
Compared to Seth, Im some sort of weird hedonist.
Seth: Noooo [laughing]! But its true. Im the guy who gets
up at five a.m. because I like my coffee and quiet time. Im just
that guy.
Aron: I dont go to bed until an hour or two after that.
Did you come up against any overly-zealous
believers or harsh critics?
Seth: Well, there was this theist in the audience in
Melbourne
Aron: He couldnt figure out what Seth was talking about.
Seth: It was one of the more basic, rudimentary messages.
The [church] tells us these must be the end times and were all
going to hell, the worlds going to hell, and things are worse
than theyve ever been. I said the data shows that we are living
in perhaps the best time in human history, and we have many
reasons to be encouraged. This theist went back and wrote a
blog about how I was clueless.
Aron: That so irritated me. Im going to do a speech based
on critiquing that assholes critique of Seth.
Matt: It was the weirdest review Ive ever read. Aron was

We want to tell people, I can relate to your


struggle. I understand what youre going through.
4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 19

Image courtesy of Katie Winchester


20 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

We are living in perhaps the best time in human


history, and we have many reasons to be encouraged.
[the one] smacking the Bible and religion around like crazy in
a way that would irritate someone like this guy...but it didnt.
Im talking about what a miserable failure their god is as a
humanist, and if he existed, why would we want anything to
do with him? He didnt have a problem with that.
Seth: I think hed bought so much into the end-of-times
narrative that nothing would penetrate that building...he shut
down.
Did you guys at least learn some good Aussie
lingo while you were there?
Aron: Yeah, but I cant remember it. We were drinking
constantly.
Matt: I learned one that turned out to be not real. We were
in New Zealand heading to Australia and one guy said, If
anyone asks how youre doing, tell them youre better than a
box of fluffy ducks. When I got to Australia, they were like,
We don't know what the hell you're talking about.
Seth: I never attempted to pick it up. To me there are few
things as pathetic as an American attempting the g-day.
However, no worries is a term I fell in love with long before I
went to Australia. It just rolls off the tongue.
Matt: I got that from Steve Irwin. When they said we
were going to go to Brisbane, one of the first things I said
was, Can we go to Australia Zoo? While I wouldnt classify
it as a religious experience, it was very special for me. I have
a picture of me holding a koala sitting above my bookshelf.
[That picture] will be there until it rots.
So you survived without any crocodile-thrashing
or anything?
Matt: I had a snake fall out of a tree right in front of me.
Aron: In a country where everything that is not a python
is deadly venomous.
Seth: Almost every Australian you meet will try to get you to
fall for the Drop Bear story. Like Yeti and Sasquatch, its a fanciful
creature that will drop out of trees and land on your head.
Matt: Picture a koala bear mixed with a Tasmanian devil
mixed with Marilyn Manson.
Aron: While we were camping in one of our hosts
backyard, I saw bats with five-foot wingspanshundreds of
them filling a tree! They were beautiful.
Matt: Arons not afraid of any animal. Hes been bitten
more times than anybody else I knowand always with a
smile and a wonderful story. Hes been bitten by lizards, by

snakes
Aron: A salvator water monitor and an anaconda. Who
gets to brag about that?
But you made it out alive. What about here in the
U.S.? Are you booed out of your hometowns like
Jesus was in Nazareth?
Seth: We did a presentation in my hometown of Tulsa,
Oklahoma, at the Oklahoma Freethought Convention,
and several speakers were featured in an article in advance.
Someone [wrote to the paper in response] that we should be
blackballed from Tulsa. Run them out of town!
Does that discourage you?
Matt: The mission is way more important than any one of
us or the three of us. If Im ever at a point where Im convinced
that Im a hindrance to the movementIm out. Im done.
Seth: We all have one goalto speak to people in the
reassuring and honest way we wished we had [been spoken
to] when we were going through our own journeys. Were in a
movement that needs storytellers.
We want to tell people, I can relate to your struggle. I
understand what youre going through. I think youre beautiful
even when many people say you are ugly. I think doubt can
be an amazing and wonderful thing. I think your curiosity is
something that should be celebrated. You are an individual,
and you have a right to live your own life.
When you see the insanity of religion around you, just
know that youre not alone.
Aron: When we were in Sydney, it was the first time I
heard Seths presentation. I was tearing up. It really moved
me. Im serious.
Seth: If I can quote it as an Australian might, I would look
them all in the eyes and simply say, No worries.
When this interview continues in our next issue, The Wise
Guys discuss favorite Bible verses, cockatoos, and why theres
no such thing as an Atheist groupie. In the meantime, check out
UnholyTrinityDownUnder.com for photos, videos, and Unholy
Trinity apparel.
Natasha Stoynoff is a New York Times best-selling author and feature
writer for People magazine. She lives in Manhattan, where shes
working on her first Atheist-oriented screenplay.

The mission is way more important than


any one of us or the three of us.
4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 21

Minnesota Gets Atheist


Marriage Celebrants
by Randall Tigue

ohn Dingley is a member of the Minnesota activist


organization Atheists for Human Rights (AFHR).
In 2013, he was delighted when some friends asked
him to officiate at their wedding. The only problem was
that he didnt fit any of Minnesotas descriptions of a person
authorized to perform civil marriages. Minnesota statute
allows civil marriages to be performed by some government
officials like a judge, a court commissioner, and certain school
superintendents. Marriages can also be performed by an
ordained minister of any religious denomination. But because
not all religions have ordination, Minnesota law makes an
accommodation for Quakers, Bahai, Hindus, Muslims, and
American Indians. Marriages in these denominations can be
performed by anyone authorized by that group to do so.
For someone who doesnt meet any of these criteria, the
quickest and easiest solution is to be ordained by a church that
requires nothing more than a written request for ordination.
These churches range from longtime favorites like the Universal
Life Church and the American Life Church to more recently
founded churches, such as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti
Monster, the Church of Spiritual Humanism, and the Church
of the Latter Day Dude, also known as the Church of the Big
Lebowski.
Even though this quick fix was available to him, Dingley,

John Dingley was the Atheist celebrant at this August


2015 wedding in Winona County, Minnesota.
as an Atheist, didnt want to be ordained by a church. Besides,
he already belonged to Atheists for Human Rights, so why
not get authorized by them? Marie Alena Castle, AFHRs
communications director agreed. She created a document,
signed by AFHR board members, that recognizes Dingley as a
marriage celebrant.
Fully expecting to be turned away, Dingley took his
certificate to the Hennepin County recorders office, where it
was accepted. He has since solemnized two marriages and is
scheduled to perform another in the state of Iowa, where his

Even though this quick fix was available to him,


Dingley, as an Atheist, didnt want to be ordained.
22 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

Washington County, which rejected AFHR credentials,


accepted credentials from the Church of

the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

credentials have also been accepted.


This encouraged about a dozen more AFHR members to
request credentials and register in their respective counties
across Minnesota. Those efforts were uniformly successful
until Rodney Rogers, a resident of Washington County,
submitted his certificate to that recorders office. (Perhaps
not coincidentally, the U.S. Congressional District that was
represented by Michelle Bachman from 2007 to 2014 is in
Washington County.) Rogers was turned down on the spot
by a county official who gave him a copy of the Minnesota
statute that defines what kind of organization can authorize its
members to officiate marriages. For good measure, the helpful
official underlined the words religious organization.
And so our lawsuit was born. With AFHR and Rogers as
plaintiffs, we sued Washington County in the United States
District Court in Minnesota in September 2014. The lawsuit
challenged the Minnesota statutory requirements for marriage
celebrants on three grounds:
1. The statute constitutes an establishment of religion,
a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments
to the U.S. Constitution, in that it gives preference to
religion over non-religion.
2. It further constitutes an establishment of religion in
that it gives preference to some religious denominations
over others.
3. It deprives AFHR and other Atheist organizations
of equal protection of the laws, which is a
violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution. This argument was fortified by
the fact that Washington County, which rejected
AFHR credentials, had in fact accepted credentials
from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

In response, Washington County submitted a 29-page


memorandum defending the constitutionality of the statute.
In a lengthy article on the lawsuit, the Minneapolis Star
Tribune quoted Washington County Attorney Peter Orput as
saying, If you dont want to believe in a higher power, thats
great, no problem. But [the Atheists] argument is that being
an Atheist is a creed. I argue a creed is a belief in something,
and their view is somewhat of a nihilists. You cant call that

religion. Belief in nothing is not a religion (Atheists Fight


Washington County over Marriage Registers, Dec. 12, 2014,
StarTribune.com).
The article went on to point out that although Washington
County revoked two applications from Atheist organizations
and one from the Church of Spiritual Humanism, it had
accepted applications submitted by ordained clergy from the
Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Church of the
Latter Day Dude. The article closed by quoting Marie Alena
Castle, who said, obviously tongue-in-cheek, If we lose this
case, we will set up the Church of Smoke and Mirrors.
Orputs comments drew a sharp rebuke from David
Breeden, the senior minister at the First Unitarian Society of
Minneapolis, who wrote in a letter to the editor:
When county attorneys attempt to be theologians,
everybody is in trouble. Many Christian denominations
do not require creeds, including Quakers, Baptists,
Disciples of Christ, and Jehovahs Witnesses. Most
religions dont have creeds, including Buddhism,
Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, and Taoism. Some of
those dont require gods either.
According to Orputs logic, all these should be banned
from performing weddings in Washington County.
He says that Atheists are like nihilists. This is like
saying cats are like cows. If he is repeating the notion
that Atheists dont believe in anything, thats old
nonsensical prejudice. I suspect that Atheists believe
in far more things than does Orput, including science
and reason.
I am a Unitarian Universalist minister and a humanist.
The congregation I serve as senior minister, First
Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, has been proudly
humanist since 1916. Thousands of weddings and
other life passages have been celebrated here, and
no gods are invoked.
I wonder about the requirements for county
attorney. Clearly, theologian is not among them
(County Attorney Has Narrow Logic, Dec. 15,
2014, StarTribune.com).

For good measure, the helpful official underlined


the words religious organization.
4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 23

Members of Atheists for Human Rights register as wedding celebrants in Washington County.
Back row, far left, is plaintiff Rodney Rogers. Standing next to him is attorney Randall Teague.
A few days later, I received a settlement offer from the
County. If our members reapplied with certificates issued
by the Church of Smoke and Mirrors, the applications would
be accepted. We immediately rejected the offer. After all,
we brought this lawsuit because our members, as Atheists,
shouldnt be required to form a church in order to be qualified
to solemnize a marriage.
Our case never went before a judge because less than a week
before the motion for preliminary injunction was scheduled
for a hearing, I received another letter which told me that the
County had changed its collective mind and would now accept
credentials from AFHR, as well as other Atheist organizations.
This led to the judge ultimately dismissing our lawsuit
as moot. In commenting to the Star Tribune after the judges
decision, Orput had this to say: What it came down to was a
risk-benefit for the county in that when we were sued based on
our plain reading of the statute, we realized there was a strong

likelihood that the courts may rule against us, causing us to pay
significant attorneys fees to the other side. So we said, OK, we
surrender. (Judge Tosses Lawsuit, but Atheists Still Score Win
over Washington County, May 15, 2105, StarTribune.com).
That surrender led a large group of AFHR officiants to
stage a mass registration of AFHR credentials in Washington
County, and further guarantees that, notwithstanding the
discriminatory language that remains on Minnesotas statute
books, Atheists will be free to solemnize marriages anywhere in
the state of Minnesota.
Randall Tigue is American Atheists regional director for Minnesota.
He is also a board member of the Minnesota chapters of the Secular
Coalition for America and Americans United for Separation of Church
and State. He is a past national president of the First Amendment
Lawyers Association and past president of the Minnesota affiliate
of the ACLU.

Atheists shouldnt be required to form a church in


order to be qualified to solemnize a marriage.
24 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

Parenting Without God is not just about


the absence of religionits about the
glorious space that opens up for secular
parents and their lucky kids once the
clutter and smoke of religion is gone. Dan
Arels voice is clear, smart, and a welcome
addition to the growing chorus of parents
taking the hands of their children and
running at full speed into the real world.
~ Dale McGowan, author/editor, Parenting
Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers

Available everywhere books are sold.

4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 25

DOGMA WATCH

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

Esperanto and
Humanism
by Michael B. Paulkovich

Ludwig Zamenhofs quest to establish a beneficent


and logical religion

s history attests, religion has caused much more


harm than good across the ages. The Abrahamic
cults, in particular, have an incalculable volume
of blood on their hands. Yet there are several religions that
are not all that harmfulalthough not all that harmful is
an atrocious compliment. Faiths that first come to mind are
Buddhism, Jainism, Quakerism, and Bahai.
But there is another religion, and not only is it gentle,
its also logical. It was the brainchild of nineteenth-century
ophthalmologist Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, who had a bent
toward logophiliaand humanism. In the late 1880s, he
published his invented language, Esperanto, under the nom de
plume Doktoro Esperanto. Not the first artificial language,
but arguably the best.
Zamenhof was born in 1859, the year Darwin published On
the Origin of Species. He was a dreamer, a passionate pacifist.
Young Ludwig spent his boyhood in the city of Biaystok,
Poland, which was then a part of the Russian Empire, a place
rife with social unrest and ethnic turmoil among Russians,
Poles, Germans, and Jews. Inspired to resolve such conflicts, he
strove to synthesize a new and neutral discourse, not just for his
homeland but for the entire world.
Zamenhof s interest in creating an artificial language
began while the lad was in grammar school. After learning
French, German, and English, he invented a language, basing
its vocabulary on pan-European lexicons (to ensure he did not
favor any one nation or language), with rules of syntax and
semantics largely influenced by the simplicity of English. Over
the course of his relatively brief life, Zamenhof attained fluency
in at least ten languages.
Dozens of artificial languages were created in the nineteenth
century. Although Esperanto necessarily dealt with hammerblows from rival languages such as Neo; Ido; Occidental;

Ludwig Zamenhof

Novial, and its predecessor, Volapk, it quickly became the most


successful artificial language ever proposed. This is likely due to
the unique promissory note that potential followers had to sign
to prove they were serious about learning this proposed linguistic
expedient: I, the undersigned, promise to learn the international
language proposed by Dr. Esperanto, if it is shown that ten million
people will have publicly made the same promise.
His goal was a neutrally human basis for communication
among people of all nations. The number of Esperanto
speakers grew rapidly after Zamenhof s publications. It was
enthusiastically embraced by European scholars and logophiles,
and by 1921, there were over 1,500 Esperanto courses in
Germany alone, taken by some 40,000 adult students. Today,
the Esperanto version of Wikipedia (EO.Wikipedia.org) boasts
over 170,000 articles written in the language. The Universal
Esperanto Association, which currently has national affiliate
associations in seventy countries, estimates the number of
people with some knowledge of the language to be in the
hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions.
The first hint of Zamenhofs underlying altruism is embedded
in the name of his new language; Esperanto means one who
hopes. Esperanto was an effort to foster humanist connections
and mutual understanding. Zamenhof personified unselfish hope
as he envisioned his magnanimous dreams. Yet he dreamt not
just of synthesizing a universal language, but also of establishing
a world religion that was beneficent and even logical.
France awarded Zamenhof the Lgion dhonneur for
Esperanto, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in
1910. Zamenhof pursued humanist concepts throughout his
life with the fervor and passion of Captain Ahab.
Peace from the East
If we were to poll any assembly of erudite expositors
CONTINUED ON PAGE 37

26 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

Hang in there, Timmy. You only need 3,114


more Likes on Facebook for me to save you.

4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 27

Danthropology
A Column by Dan Arel

Creationism Has No Business in the White House

e have a serious problem in this country: political


candidatesespecially those running for president
of the United Stateswho openly criticize and reject
the theory of evolution. Rick Santorum, a former U.S.
senator from Pennsylvania and a 2016 presidential candidate,
actually believes that evolution is a tool used by Atheists to
promote anti-theism: I think there are a lot of problems with
the theory of evolution and do believe that it is used to promote
to [sic] a worldview that is Anti-theist, that is Atheist.1
Now, we can arguably understand Santorums ignorance
to a very small degree. He has no scientific background. He
did attend law school, but, given his fundamentalist religious
beliefs (he is Catholic, but his views go beyond mainstream
Catholicism), its possible that he could have avoided many
science classes in his earlier education.
But there are others who have no excuse. Rand Paul, the
son of former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, is a U.S. senator
from Kentucky and also a physician. There is no way he made
it through his education without learning the ins and outs of
evolution and then having to apply that knowledge to his work.
But Paul has refused to say how old he believes the earth is: Im
gonna have to pass on the age of the earth. I think Im just gonna
have to pass on that one.2
Even more alarming than Paul, however, is Ben Carson,
a retired neurosurgeon who attended both Yale and the
University of Michigan. His contributions to medicine cannot
be exaggerated, and countless people are alive today because of
him. Yet Carson is determined to ruin that whole reputation in
his run for president, and he has some very interesting things
to say about science, climate change, and especially evolution.
Carson questions scientists understanding of the world

when they say I dont know, but he does not question


the myth of a global flood: there is abundant evidence,
geological evidence, that there was a worldwide flood. Go up
into the Andes Mountains and see all those fossils on the top
of those mountains. I mean, these things, when you talk to the
evolutionists about them, they always say the same thing. Well,
we dont understand everything. And I just say, Im not sure
you understand anything.3
For a neurosurgeon to criticize scientists for not knowing
everything is astounding. For the criticism to come from Ben
Carson is even more astounding. As a pioneer in his field, he was
constantly venturing into uncharted territory. Like that time in
1987 when he lead the surgical team that performed the worlds
first successful separation of twins joined at the back of the
head. Did he have to understand everything about the human
brain to do that? Apparently not. Even in 2015twenty-eight
years laterthe amount of knowledge we dont have about the
brain is far greater than the aggregate of all the knowledge we
do have. Yet when a scientific fact disrupts Carsons religious
beliefs, saying I dont know is suddenly a bad thing.
But it doesnt stop there. Carson even went so far as to
say that Satan inspired Darwin to dream up evolution: I
personally believe that this theory that Darwin came up with
was something that was encouraged by the adversary [Satan],
and it has become what is scientifically politically correct.
Amazingly, there are a significant number of scientists who do
not believe it, but they are afraid to say anything.4
The critical thinking skills necessary for understanding
and accepting the process of evolution are the same critical
thinking skills necessary for running this country. But there is
more than a lack of critical thinking that is worrisome when it

Rick Santorum believes that evolution is a tool


used by Atheists to promote anti-theism.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 34
28 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 29

Why

Atheists
Must Vote
Its time to stop elected officials from
pandering to religious constituents

by Nick Fish

n a ballroom in a Washington, D.C., hotel, more


than 2,500 people sit anxiously. There is a palpable
tension in the room while the attendees wait for the
next speakers to be introduced. They sit politely,
applauding the few red-meat lines in Arizona
Senator John McCains speech, but theyre not here to hear from
the 2008 GOP presidential nominee; McCain has never been
particularly popular with this audience.
The two speakers following McCainSenators Marco
Rubio and Ted Cruz, of Florida and Texas, respectively, both
running for president in 2016were much more in line with
the priorities of the conference attendees in the room.
For an Atheist like me, listening to the speakers at the 2015
Values Voter Summit (VVS)held in September by the Family
Research Council, Liberty Institute, and a host of other farright religious organizationscan only be described as surreal.
The thousands in attendance, their excitement, and the
number of politicians who addressed them should all cause grave
concern among voters who value secular government. This is not
some fringe event. The list of fifty-two speakers included most
of the GOP presidential candidates, as well as Rabbi Jonathan
Cahn, who talked about the rainbow image that was projected
onto the White House following the U.S. Supreme Courts
decision in June to strike down the ban on same-sex marriage.
He received rapturous applause when he said that the multicolored lights were a sign of the pending apocalypse.1
Rubio opened his remarks by reminding attendees that the
30 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

Sen. Ted Cruz

United States was founded on a spiritual principle, on the idea


that every human being has rights that are given by God and
then reassuring them of his own Christian upbringing. 2
Cruz even more effectively appealed to the evangelicals in
the room when he talked about visiting Kim Davis in jail. Davis
is the clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, who is refusing to issue
marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Now, six months, a year
ago, if I had come and said that a Christian woman was going
to be thrown in jail for living her faith, the media would have
dismissed me as a nutcase. But thats where we are today. He
quoted from the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament,
comparing his audience to the earthquake god caused in order
to break open the jail cell that imprisoned Paul and Silas. 3
Later that day, Davis herself walked on stage to a standing

4TH QUARTER 2015

They see their decades of cultural dominance


slipping away, and it terrifies them.
ovation that lasted almost a minute and a half. She tearfully
Now lets look at Atheist voters. To be clear, Pew only collects
clutched an oversize bouquet of flowers as Family Research data on religiously unaffiliated voters, who are often called the
Council President Tony Perkins presented her with the Cost nones because they check the none-of-the-above box in religion
of Discipleship Award.
surveys. But for the purposes of political discourse, the nones are
Rubio and Cruz were just two of the presidential candidates more likely to be on our side than the side of evangelicals.
and political-power players to address the gathering of
In 2012, the nones represented about 20% of our nations
evangelicals. Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, population, just like the evangelicals. But how many nones
Bobby Jindal, Lindsey
showed up to vote that year?
Graham, Donald Trump,
Far fewer than wed expect.
and Rick Perry (who has
The religiously unaffiliated
Take the Atheist Voter Pledge!
since withdrawn from the
made up just 12% of the
Learn more at AtheistVoter.org:
2016 presidential race) all
electorate in 2012. Thats
took turns at the podium
roughly forty-five million
State-by-state voter registration info and
appealing to the faithful.
eligible voters, but just
i.d. requirements
Donald Trump, in an
15.5 million of us went to
attempt to show off his godly
the polls that year. The
Candidates campaign stops near you
bona fides, proudly held up
evangelical demographic
AtheistVoter blog and news updates
his family Bible show-andhad the same number of
tell style. Ben Carson, a
eligible voters, but they
Ways to get involved
favorite of the VVS crowd,
turned out almost thirty
spoke against the threat of
million votes. To put that in
allowing progressives to
perspective: Barack Obama
drive God out of our land.4 Mike Huckabee proposed using won the 2012 popular vote by just under five million votes.
the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to completely outlaw Non-believers underperformed by a staggering 14.5 million
abortion in the United States.
votes that day.
Also appearing on that stage was radio-talk-show host
So where do those extra evangelical votes go? The
Mark Levin. Levin, in his conversation with Tony Perkins, told overwhelming majority go to people like Ted Cruz, Mike
attendees that secularism has become a religion. He warned Huckabee, and Rick Santorum. Their votes go to people who
that the Supreme Court was imposing secular Sharia.5
believeas every candidate (except Lindsey Graham) who
The simple fact that so many presidential candidates, spoke at VVS believesthat public officials like Kim Davis
members of Congress, and political power brokers choose to shouldnt have to do their jobs if theres a religious objection.
attend this event speaks to its influence and, more specifically, Their votes go to elected officials who court people who believe
to the power of the voting bloc it represents.
that a rainbow projected onto the side of a building is a sign of
the impending apocalypse. They vote for candidates who use
By the Numbers
words like false god and idol when describing any faith
According to the Pew Research Center, evangelical other than their own. And they go to people like Ben Carson,
Christians made up 23% of the electorate in the 2012 the neurosurgeon who says that a person who accepts the
presidential electionhigher than their 20% representation in concept of evolution is a person who lacks the ability to have a
the total population.6 Simply put, evangelicals show up to the moral code.7
polls, and they show up to vote for Republicans.
It is clear why GOP presidential candidates come to VVS Fighting Back
to kiss the rings of the faithful. Look at Catholic voters.
The religious right likes to frame the culture wars as a fight
Approximately 25% of the 2012 electorate was Catholic, yet between good and evil. They are fighting against secular
Catholics make up only about 22% of the U.S. population. Sharia that is trying to drive God out of our land. Their
They have a modestly outsized impact on the election, but persecution complex is very real. They see their decades of
their voting is much more evenly split and reflective of the cultural dominance slipping away, and it terrifies them. Their
general election. They went for Bush in both 2000 and 2004, numbers are shrinking, but their voters have never been more
and Obama in 2008 and 2012.
mobilized.

It is time to force our way back into a


system that has all but pushed us out.
4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 31

Rick Santorum

Gary Bauer

Dr. Ben Carson

Kim Davis

Lindsey Graham
Rep. Louie Gohmert
Donald Trump
Gov. Bobby Jindal
Mark Levin and Tony Perkins

Gov. Mike Huckabee

American Atheists has launched the Atheist


Voter Project as a one-stop shop for Atheists to
get more involved in the political process.
32 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org

4TH QUARTER 2015

Why should I, as an Atheist, vote for you over any other


candidate? is not a question politicians hear every day.
The Obergefell decision, the fact that abortion remains
legal in the United States, and the continued normalization of
Atheism (and decline of religion) in the public sphere is a very
real threat to their cultural hegemony. And, like any failing
hegemon, they will do everything they can to stay in power.
Atheists and non-believers now comprise a potential voting
bloc of equal size to evangelical Christians, so why have no
presidential candidates ever beaten down the door to address
the crowd at an American Atheists convention? The simplest
answer is that we have yet to show that we are a political force.
The numbers make it clear that our voters dont get to the polls.
Most politicians dont even know we exist. But whats more
troubling is that the politicians who do know that we exist have
chosen to marginalize and denigrate us in order to solidify
their base. At the 2012 Republican National Convention,
Marco Rubio told the crowd that Almighty God is the source
of all we have and faith in our Creator is the most important
American value of all.8
But make no mistake: Republicans are not alone in their
pandering to believers. Hillary Clinton has repeatedly told
audiences that the Bible is her biggest influence and she finds
it to be a source of wisdom.9
Arizona Democratic Representative Kyrsten Sinema, who
was first elected in 2012, was initially described as a nontheist but quickly backed away from the A-word after Atheist
bloggers and other media reported that she would replace Pete
Stark as the lone Atheist in Congress. Her communications
director took reporters to task, saying that Sinema believes the
terms non-theist, Atheist, or non-believer are not befitting of
her lifes work or personal character.10
Ouch.

we shouldnt we be shy about our lack of it.


Just as crucially, we need to do a better job of getting our
godless cohorts to the polls. We face a double challenge here.
Atheists tend to skew younger. Almost one in three people
under age thirty is non-religious. The only group that does as
poorly as Atheists in getting out the vote? Young people.
Churches have decades of ready-built machinery that gets
their members to the polls. They have a community that holds
members accountable and encourages them to get out and vote.
They have vans to drive people who need rides, regular meetingplaces to invite candidates, and a hierarchy of authority telling
them what to dosomething we cant and dont want to replicate.
It is time to force our way back into a system that has all
but pushed us out over recent decades. Sitting on the sidelines
is no longer an option. We have to be in the political arena,
challenging the religious demagogues who would otherwise be
the only voices heard by politicians. By showing that they can
never win another election without the support of the Atheists,
we can move the needle on the issues that we all care about. And
we can, once and for all, put an end to the notion that pandering
to religion is the only way to get elected in the United States.
Take one minute today to visit AtheistVoter.org. Exercising
your right to vote and holding politicians accountable is the
only way for us to change our government for the better.

The Atheist Voter Project


The remedy for marginalization comes from a page out of the
LGBT movements playbook: Visibility is the first step. Thats
why American Atheists has launched the Atheist Voter Project
(AtheistVoter.org) as a one-stop shop for Atheists to get more
involved in the political process. Most politicians are experts at
evading questions or sticking to their talking points, but Why
should I, as an Atheist, vote for you over any other candidate?
is not a question they hear every day. Evangelicals and other
churchgoers are not shy about their religious affiliations, and

the generous bequest of Aleck Karis, a lifelong


supporter of American Atheists. If you believe,
as Aleck did, that Atheists deserve a voice in the
political arena, please make a tax-deductible
gift by visiting www.Atheists.org/Donate today.

Nick Fish is American Atheists national program director. In 2008, he


led voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in Raleigh, North
Carolina, for MoveOn.org and the League of Conservation Voters.

AtheistVoter is made possible in part thanks to

American Atheists relies on the support of


members, donors, and supporters like you.

Endnotes

1. Rabbi Jonathan Cahn: Values Voter Summit 2015, YouTube.com/User/FRCAction (at 13:49).
2. Read Marcos Speech at the Value Voters [sic] Summit, MarcoRubio.com.
3. 2015 Values Voter Summit, Senator Ted Cruz, C-Span.org.
4. Dr. Ben Carsons Remarks at VVS 2015, Blog.FRCAction.org.
5. Mark Levin and Tony Perkins: Values Voter Summit 2015, YouTube.com.
6. How the Faithful Voted: 2012 Preliminary Analysis, PewForum.org, Nov. 7, 2012.
7. Archives.AdventistReview.org/2004-1509/Story2.html.
8. Transcript: Florida Sen. Marco Rubios Convention Speech, NPR.org, Aug. 30, 2012.
9. Hillary Rodham Clinton: By the Book, NYTimes.com, June 11, 2014.
10. Breaking: Kyrsten Sinema is not an Atheist, Patheos.com/Blogs/FriendlyAtheist, Nov. 9, 2012.
4TH QUARTER 2015

www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 33

DANTHROPOLOGY - CONTINUED FROM PAGE 28

It is important to know if a leader can put aside religion


Somehere
to perform theirin
duty to uphold the Constitution.

central Ohio....

comes to evolution denial. This also sends the message to


voters that the candidate puts their faith before evidence.
By rejecting evolution, you are saying that you believe in
creationism (sure, I bet you can find an exception, but it
would be an anomaly). You are also saying that when it comes
to decision-making, you would rather defer to your religion
than to the evidence at hand. This is dangerous for any world
leader, but even more so for one leading a secular nation.
While we do not, and should not, hold any president to a
religious test, it is important to know if a leader can put aside
religion to perform their duty to uphold the Constitution. If they
cant, its a sign that they are unfit to run a pluralistic country.
When George W. Bush told the nation he planned to attack
Iraq, he mentioned that god told him it was the right thing to do.
We should not have candidates who listen to their gods when
making decisions that will cost thousands of Americans and even
more civilians (in this case, Iraqi civilians) their lives. An act of
war should be based on irrefutable evidence that it is a necessity
because all other alternatives have failed. Not because god said so.

The simple question of Do you accept evolution? opens a


window into the type of person you are and how you think. It
may not be the number-one measurement we use to decide who
will run the country, but it should play a starring role because
denial of basic biological evidence speaks volumes about how
someone will handle much more nuanced and complicated
scenarios placed in front of them.
Dan Arel is an award-winning journalist and the author of Parenting
Without God. You can read his blog at Danthropology.net and follow
him on Twitter @DanArel.

Endnotes
1. Santorum Question 6: Is Sex (for the Democratic Party) an
Aim or a Mean? OCRPL.org, Oct. 8, 2008
2. Rand Paul Refuses to Say How Old the Earth Is,
ThinkProgress.org, June 29, 2010
3. Dr. Ben Carson Creation vs. Evolution, YouTube.com at 20:56

Rand Paul has refused to say how old


he believes the earth is.

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ESPERANTO AND HUMANISM - CONTINUED FROM PAGE 26

He dreamt of establishing a world religion


that was beneficent and even logical.

regarding religion, inevitably Buddhism and Jainism are


advanced as benign and peaceful. But within those religions,
we have rejection of possessions, notions of magical mantras,
transmigration, devas, celibacy, and unsubstantiated claims of
reincarnation. Thus, religion once again goes way overboard.
Emerging from England centuries ago, we have the ever-sopeaceful Shakers: conscientious objectors, almost always granted
exemption from military service. Quite admirable, actually. Yet
even within their formal name they may be tossed onto the same
pile as other puerile monotheisms: United Society of Believers
in Christs Second Appearing. Failure at its outset. Moreover,
Darwinist processes saw to their inevitable demise. Due to their
injunction against intercourse, this fanciful faith has all but died
out. One discovers irritating and illogical glitches within most
religions because no matter how peaceful and loving, crackpot
magical elements are typically at their core.
But that was rude. I apologize, and I shall restate it: crackpot
spiritual elements. Most religions, while alleging to be humble,
profess to know everything: where we came from, why we are
here, what happens after we die.
A New Religion
Given Zamenhof s altruism, perhaps his post-Esperantan
efforts are not so much of a surprise: synthesis of a peaceful,
moral, and benevolent religionthus the ultimate good deed in
a world of poisonous superstition and childish cults that persist
and have forever attenuated human progress.
I first learned of Homaranismo years ago when I took an
interest in artificial languages. It is an Esperanto word that could
be translated as humanism or humanitarianism. Zamenhof
created Homaranismo as a bridge between religions. He
derived his philosophy from Hillel the Elder of the first century
B.C.E., also stating that his new religion was simply a stronger
form of Esperantism.
Zamenhof wrote in the Declaration of Homaranismo for
potential followers, first published in Madrid in 1913, twenty
years before publication of the first Humanist Manifesto: I
believe that all peoples are equally part of humankind, and I value
every person only according to his personal values and actions,
not his origin... I believe that every country belongs not to this or
that race, but with fully equal rights to all the people living in it.
What could be a better doctrine, a healthier notion of
comradeship, a more benevolent religion than Homaranismo?
One of Zamenhof s contemporaries, Herman Melville, wrote,
We cannot live for ourselves alone; our lives are connected by a
thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers,
our actions run as causes and return to us as results. Zamenhof
seems to have embraced exactly the same sense of solidarity and
altruism expressed by Melville.
Some god-fearing, rival scholars of Zamenhofs time criticized
Homaranismo as anti-religion (as if that were a bad thing).
Homaranismo is one of the most noble experiments in ideology
ever undertaken, yet it met with little success. Because it lacks
liturgies and delusions and magic that the Abrahamic faiths hold
at their core, perhaps it was too logical to flourish as a religion.
Homaranismo surely did not have the prime advantage of
4TH QUARTER 2015

Christianity: being proclaimed the only legal religion under


penalty of death, as enacted by several fourth- and fifth-century
Roman emperors and subsequently enforced by the pious for
well over a millennium. Nor did Zamenhof threaten anyone
with eternal torture if you merely disbelieve him, as did the
god imagined by the Hebrews (2 Chronicles 15:12-13) and as
Jesus so lovingly declared in Matthew 12:30-31; Mark 16:16;
John 3:36, 8:24,15:6; and elsewhere.
Esperanto is an artificial language, and one may be tempted
to refer to Homaranismo as an artificial religion, but that is
not fair. All religions are artificial. Religions are man-made,
and undeniably male-made. If there is a female-made religion
that is not derivative of monotheism, then I am unaware of it. A
religion created by women would not involve a quest for virgins,
and instead of immoral maxims to murder all rival nations it
might contain credos on family, children, and education.
People, Not Deities
Thus we discover a religion created in the nineteenth
century shining forth free of magic, deities, celibacy, prophecies,
and revealed wisdom. Instead of worshiping invented gods and
lopping off body parts, Homaranismo advocates veneration and
respect for fellow humans. Sadly, there seem to be few if any
followers of Homaranismo today, save for the possible inclusion
of secular humanism as a century-later subset of Zamenhof s
devotion to peace and brotherhood.
Zamenhof died on April 14, 1917, just before his sixtieth
birthday. I contend that, in a strong way, it was Zamenhof who,
over a century ago, invented a logical religion with mankind in
mind rather than deities, and who bettered Hillel. But by giving
his religion a moniker from the Esperanto language, it became lost
in the pages of other obscure intellectual and spiritual pursuits.
I believe Zamenhof s name belongs on the walls of exalted
shrines and memorials such as the Museum of the American
Philosophical Society, the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace
Museum, and the Envision Peace Museum.
Michael B. Paulkovich is an aerospace engineer and freelance writer
who also contributes to Free Inquiry and Humanist Perspectives. He is
a contributing editor for The American Rationalist and author of No
Meek Messiah. His next book, Beyond the Crusades, is forthcoming
from American Atheist Press with a foreword by Robert M. Price.

References
Bodmer, Friederick, The Loom of Language. New York: W. W.
Norton, 1972.
Forster, Peter Glover, The Esperanto Movement. Berlin:
Mouton, 1982.
Janton, Pierre, Esperanto: Language, Literature, and Community.
New York: State University of New York Press, 1993.
Matthias, Ulrich, Esperanto: The New Latin for the Church and
for Ecumenism. Flandra Esperanto-Ligo, 2002.
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From the author of the Dogma Watch


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Religion, especially Christianity, has enjoyed
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did say a few nice things, but he was no
humble or wise prophet. How do we know?

Its in the Bible.


Available at

NoMeekMessiah.com
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<none>

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http://www.meetup.com/atheists-496

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www.atheists.org | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 43

AIMS AND PURPOSES


A

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;
To collect and disseminate information, data, and literature on all religions and promote a more thorough
understanding of them, their origins, and their histories;
To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church;
To act as a watchdog to challenge any attempted breach of the wall of separation between state and church;
To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the establishment and maintenance of a thoroughly secular
system of education available to all;
To encourage the development and public acceptance of a humane ethical system stressing the mutual sympathy,
understanding, and interdependence of all people and the corresponding responsibility of each individual in relation
to society;
To develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central and must itself be the source of
strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity;
To promote the study of the arts and sciences and of all problems affecting the maintenance, perpetuation, and
enrichment of human (and other) life; and
To engage in such social, educational, legal, and cultural activity as will be useful and beneficial to the members of
American Atheists and to society as a whole.

Definitions:

A
A

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 strive always to improve it. It holds that human beings are capable of creating a social system based on reason and
justice. 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 Dale DeBakcsy

ts one of the few childhood memories I have that isnt


about Star Wars or Spider-Man. Im seven, and my
mother is bringing me a large hardback book called
Bible Stories for Children. It does not have Doctor Octopus on
the cover, and, as such, I am automatically and immediately
uninterested, but then she starts talking.

This is a book filled with one group of peoples ideas about


how the world works. Many people believe these stories are
true, so you should read it to be able to understand them and
their perspective.
Thats it. Just a child left with a book and the task of sussing
things out. Other books would follow, about Greek and Roman
religion, about world history and literature, each offered with
the same basic preamble: Here are some things that some other
people believe.
Up to that point in life, I had no religious thoughts
whatsoever. I took it for granted that when people died, you
never saw them again and that when you were dead you were
simply gone. I grew up on a farm, where things died all the
time and were treated as crude matter for consumption, and it
didnt occur to me that other people thought, or could think,
otherwise. I had observed other families saying grace before
dinner, but interpreted that as the adult version of when, in
moments of crisis, I would close my eyes and call upon Darth
Vader to lend me Force powers. In my heart, I knew that Darth
Vader couldnt do that because he didnt really exist, and I
suspected that the adults knew that their guy wasnt coming
either.
Until my mother gave me those books, I was blissfully
unaware of this thing called religion. But as I would leaf
through the pages, one glaring thing stood out. All of these
stories, all of them, had the same underlying message: Our tribe
and our tribes way of doing things is superior, and all other tribes
and their ways of doing things are, at best, deluded and, at worst,
worthy of constant punishment. The god of any given group of
people looked an awful lot like the people describing it. After
reading enough of these accounts, I came to the inescapable
conclusion that religion is created by people who want to infuse
their worldview with divine sanction.
There are only so many times that a child can read mutually
conflicting accounts of people saying, This is the truth before
he naturally realizes that what is really being said is, This is our
truth. I remember going on a school trip to our local fair, and
among the attractions, there was a thin, balding man handing
out yellow booklets. He waved me over and said, Son, are you
worried about what happens to you after death? while pressing
a yellow pamphlet into my hand. In the face of his earnest
certainty, I wavered a moment. Until, that is, I looked at the
book and saw a happy bearded man on the front and a bleeding
bearded man on the back. This was one of those Jesus things.
When my fear gave way to pity, the world fell back into place.

I thanked him and kept


the pamphlet so that he
wouldnt feel insulted. I
still have it around here
somewhere.
Religions fundamental
imbedding within the
culture that created it has
been the steady thrum of
Photo by Anthony Harden
my Atheism ever since.
In high school, I went through a phase of devouring books
on logic and argumentation. I read and re-read Friedrich
Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Robert Ingersoll, Thomas Paine,
and my favorite, George Smiths Atheism: The Case Against God.
During this phase, I briefly switched from a cultural approach
to Atheism to a strictly linguistic approach, which was made
stronger after I took classes from Richard Rorty at Stanford.
I took Atheism to be not a system of propositions about the
ontological status of divine beings, but rather a system that made
reasonable assertions about what language could and could not
do. Thats a powerful way to argue and win, if winning is what
youre interested in, because it prevents a religious person from
framing the terms of debate entirely to their advantage. It also
forces them to engage with the manifold faults of their beliefs
linguistic delivery vehicle, independent of the historically
accidental and mostly subjective content of those beliefs.
I now consider myself a kind of cultural-linguistic-fusion
Atheist. History is my primary reason for believing that,
whatever religion you bring to me, it is not possibly anything
more than an interesting cultural artifact, supported by the
janky and absurdly inadequate skeleton of language. Where
once I said, Give me the best logical argument for your gods
existence, I am now more inclined to say, Tell me about the
history of your god and his values. Who first described this
god, and who were they talking to when they were doing it?
If the person is a Christian, it lets us talk about the Roman
Empire, the problems of translating a local religion into an
imperial one, and how deities get morphed in the process. Its
a pleasant conversation, one that I enjoy having, and one that
makes people aware of the contingency of their beliefs in a way
that often works on them as my mothers handing me the key
texts of the Western tradition worked on me. We must use the
knowledge acquired in adulthood to return people to the natural
skepticism of childhood, when we knew a trick for a trick once
we were shown how it worked, and a lie for a lie once we learned
who gained by it.
Dale DeBakcsy is the author of Godless Nerdistry: Or How to Be a Bag of
Chemicals and Still Have Fun and The Illustrated Women in Science: Year
One. He is still twenty-five percent less likely to read a book that does not
have Doctor Octopus on the cover. Follow him on Twitter at @countdvl.

Why are you an Atheist? We are soliciting submissions that answer this question in 600 to 800 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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