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AMERICAN ATHEISTS

AMERICAN ATHEIST
A JOURNAL OF ATHEIST NEWS AND THOUGHT

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FIRST QUARTER 2018 ATHEISTS.ORG


AMERICAN ATHEIST
A Journal of Atheist News and Thought
1st Quarter 2018
Vol. 56, No. 1
ISSN 0516-9623 (Print)
ISSN 1935-8369 (Online)

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Pamela Whissel
PWhissel@Atheists.org
LAYOUT and GRAPHICS EDITOR In 2015, the White House held a Bisexual Community Public Policy Briefing, where
Rick Wingrove activists discussed the needs and challenges facing bisexual communities. Activist
RWingrove@Atheists.org
and author Camille Beredjick was in attendance. Selected excerpts from her new
COPY EDITOR book, Queer Disbelief: Why LGBTQ Equality Is an Atheist Issue begin on page 12.
Karen Reilly
RESEARCH ASSISTANT
Anthony J. Crincoli
PROOFREADERS
In This Issue
Gil Gaudia
Shelley Gaudia 4 Letter from the Editor| Pamela Whissel
Den Jackson
AMERICAN ATHEIST PRESS 5 Atheism’s Founding Fathers | Mark Kolsen
MANAGING EDITOR
Frank R. Zindler 8 Ensoulment | Hank Fox
Editor@Atheists.org
PUBLISHED BY 12 COVER STORY: Queer Disbelief | Camille Beredjick
American Atheists, Inc.
Mailing Address: BOOK REVIEW:
225 Cristiani St.
Cranford, NJ 07016
19 Post Secular: Science, Humanism and the Future of Faith
Phone: 908.276.7300
By Marc Schaus | Ed Buckner
FAX: 908.276.7402
www.Atheists.org 21 POETRY: Greater Evil is Beyond the Imagination of Man
©2018 AMERICAN ATHEISTS INC.
22 God is a Slave Owner’s Best Friend | Brian Bolton
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole
or in part without written permission is
prohibited. American Atheist is indexed in 26 The Verbiage of Theism | Ross Rosenfeld
the Alternative Press Index.
American Atheist magazine is given free of
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1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 3


LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
How to Prove the Non-existence of God

D uring the 1980s, students in quite a few Catholic


high school religion classes read The Secret of
Staying in Love by John Powell. The book was part of the
syllabus for a course with the lofty but well-intentioned title
of Life Preparation, and it was assigned for a unit on marriage.
in paradise forever after they die. But in order to do that, they
must live the way he wants them to live and do his will in all
walks of life. God’s will is different for each person, so while
everyone has the same set of instructions in the Bible, it’s not
enough. They all must pray as often as they can (every waking
Despite the paradox of its author being a Catholic priest, the moment is the ideal frequency) in order to be open to hearing
book was not irrelevant to the class. Its thesis, that first-rate what God has in store for them. Long stretches of silent prayer
communication will keep two people in love, does have a place in are highly recommended.
the realm of good relationship advice, even if it barely scratches So, given what we know about the effects of good
the surface of what’s necessary to be together happily for life. communication on peace, love, and happiness, it should follow
What lies below that surface is different for each person, so that God, who can teach you how to achieve the greatest
no two checklists are ever the same, except for that one item happiness of all—because he wants you to achieve it—would be
that shows up on every one of them: communication. This the most amazing coach ever. His instructions would be legible,
doesn’t necessarily mean frequent, lengthy conversations, coherent, and lucid. He would communicate through words, not
although it could. The definition of effective communication the beauty of nature. They’d be written in your native language
will depend on the couple, who will always depend, one way or and handed to you directly, not recorded by ancient desert
another, on communication. nomads who didn’t know where the sun went at night. Or, better
Beyond intimate relationships, good communication is the yet, he would take the form of a human being—not a burning
life blood of all successful, interpersonal exchanges, from text bush—and speak to you directly. And he’d stick around for as
messages (think of the importance of an emoji to convey that long as it took to answer every one of your questions.
you’re joking) to peace negotiations (think of the importance When you show up for practice every day (because
of an interpreter when the ambassadors of disputing nations living on Earth is just a dress rehearsal for the afterlife), so
don’t speak a common language). Of course, all will be well would a real coach. When you’ve made it known that you’ve
if you immediately text a follow-up wink emoji or even a cleared both the room and your mind—just as you’ve been
humble ; ) if it wasn’t in the original message. But the results instructed—to prepare for an important incoming message,
are catastrophic if the very best interpreters don’t show up for the caller would keep trying to get through to you if, at first,
the peace negotiations. Disaster can loom over us individually he does not succeed. And once it did arrive, the message would
as well if we’re not privy to the very best communication. No be conveyed in one session; you wouldn’t have to sit quietly for
patient wants a doctor who writes incomplete prescriptions, no thousands of hours over the course of your life to receive the
pilot wants a tongue-tied air-traffic controller, and no one on entire thing. Or, better yet, you’d be born with the instructions
trial for murder wants a lawyer who won’t say much in court. planted in your brain.
That a priest had some decent advice for couples in love Great things never happen without great communication,
isn’t the book’s only paradox. By clearly communicating his so if God were really there, he would be really there,
case (would he present it any other way?), he lays out a great unmistakably, in full sight. It wouldn’t be possible for him to
argument for his God not existing. The God he worshipped be the world’s worst communicator, which is what he is. So
is a God of love who wants all of his sons and daughters to be this can only mean that he simply... isn’t.

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

4 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


Atheism’s Founding Fathers
Disbelief in the supernatural is as old as the hills
by Mark Kolsen

W hen the American War of Independence began, hereditary monarchs


could no longer justify their power as the natural “divine right of kings.”
Yet these monarchs still governed the colonists as they had governed England for
centuries. In early 1776, Thomas Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense” convinced the
colonists that hereditary monarchy was not a natural form of government. He pointed
out that England had not been united under one king before the Norman Conquest in
1066 and that William the Conqueror used force, not elections, to establish his
dynasty. To Paine—and ultimately to many Americans—the “natural” form of
government was democracy, not hereditary monarchy.
Today, few Americans take monarchy seriously, yet many still think of
Christianity as our country’s “natural” belief system. Even while acknowledging
the nation’s religious diversity, Americans often think of their country as a
Christian nation, despite the founders being deists, not Christians.
Christianity itself had little influence before 312 C.E., when Emperor
Constantine suppressed atheism by using it to establish his own dynasty. In
Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, Tim Whitmarsh, a professor
of Greek culture at Cambridge University, not only demonstrates that “disbelief
in the supernatural is as old as the hills,” but also that atheism’s rise in the last
two centuries is no historical anomaly. In fact, “viewed from the longer
perspective of ancient history, what is anomalous is the
global dominance of monotheistic religions and [their]
resultant inability to acknowledge the existence of
disbelievers.”
Acknowledging atheism’s long history matters,
according to Whitmarsh, “not just for intellectual
reasons . . . but also on moral, indeed political
grounds. History confers authority and legitimacy
. . . If religious belief is treated as deep and ancient
and disbelief as recent, then atheism can be
dismissed as faddish and inconsequential.”
Understanding atheism’s ancient roots is
ultimately “. . . about recognizing atheists as
real people deserving of respect,
tolerance, and the opportunity

1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 5


The Christianization of the Roman Empire
put an end to serious philosophical
atheism for over a millennium.
to live their lives unmolested.” of atoms, he was perhaps the first to ever offer such an
The book introduces more than real people deserving explanation. In the fifth century B.C.E., when Anaxagoras
of respect. In this account of history, we are meeting was put on trial for arguing that all life is physical in origin,
atheism’s founding fathers. In fascinating detail, and for denying the divinity of heavenly bodies, he may
Whitmarsh also explains why, from the fourth through have become the first person in history to be prosecuted
eighteenth centuries, atheism seemed to “disappear” from for heretical beliefs.
history. In the fourth century, Roman leaders needed From 400-300 B.C.E., atheism progressed further in
to “hold together a huge, diverse, multi-ethnic, and classical Greece. In his History of the Peloponnesian
multilingual territory.” They used monotheism as their War, Thucydides depicted history as a product of human
means of consolidation. nature, not divine intervention. Whitmarsh argues that
Atheism thrived in Greece, beginning with the Archaic Thucydides’ book “can reasonably be claimed to be the
period (c. 800 B.C.E.) when twelve hundred Greek city earliest surviving atheist narrative of human history.”
states each had their own cultures and localized religions. In On the Gods, Protagoras cautioned against believing
People worshipped the same gods, but these gods had that non-visible things exist. This book “was almost
different names in different locations, and religious certainly a discourse attacking the assumption that gods
traditions, rituals, and priests were strictly local. Because have an objective existence.” Prodicus of Ceos, in On
Greece had no political or religious hub, religion had no Piety, suggested, as Democritus did, that religion was
political power or relevance in that world. The only role “the invention of early humanity as it emerged from a
of a priest was to perform sacrifices. Neither omniscient state of nature . . . a cultural invention.” Through his
nor omnipotent, the Greek gods themselves were thought characterization of Sisyphus the mythical son of Aeolus,
to live in this world, usually on distant mountains. In Critias (a member of Protagoras’ circle) depicted religion
this socio-political context, atheism became one of many as the creation of a “shrewd man who sought to impose
tolerated belief systems and an integral part of the cultural order on naïve people” who could then subject citizens’
life of Greece. thoughts to moral scrutiny.
Atheism emerged with the Pre-Socratics, who “mark the Even Greek theater ref lected atheist beliefs. Oedipus
beginning of a journey leading ultimately to what modern Rex “seriously explores the idea of a world without
atheists call ‘naturalism’: the belief that the physical world divine determination,” and the characters in the plays of
is the total sum of reality, that nature rather than divinity Euripides “deliver sophisticated attacks on traditional
structures our existence.” Fostered by “the absence of religion.” For example, a line in Bellerophon reads,
state regulation of ideas and (relatedly) the absence of any “Someone says that there really are gods in heaven? There
sense of sacred revelation or sacred text,” the Pre-Socratics are not, there are not—if you are willing not to subscribe
conceived ideas that still resonate today. The philosopher foolishly to the antiquated account.” The play ref lects the
Anaximander, for example, claimed primeval life emerged logic that if gods preside over justice but injustice is not
from water, and Xenophanes of Colophon foreshadowed always rectified, then there can be no gods.
“the claims of modern cognitive theorists who explain the During the Hellenistic period (338-31 B.C.E.),
origins of religion in terms of a human desire to explain atheism was fostered by kings like Philip the Great and
the inexplicable in terms of the intentions of a human-like Alexander III, whose godlike public images eroded the
figure.” line between the mortal and immortal. The charismatic
Hippo of Samos equated the soul with the brain, a skeptic Carneades, head of the Academy founded by
radical step that made him the first person to have gained Plato, argued that the divine can never be separated
the reputation as an atheist. When Democritus said our from the non-divine, so theism was therefore illogical.
universe emerged by chance and was composed only In his book On Atheism, Clitomachus built on the ideas

Atheism became one of many tolerated belief


systems and part of the cultural life of Greece.
6 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
Neither omniscient nor omnipotent, the
Greek gods themselves were thought to
live in this world.
of Carneades and “may have invented the idea of atheism Whitmarsh thus struggles to tease genuine atheist beliefs
as a coherent movement with its own deep history.” The out of the literature of the time.
skeptic Sextus authored 180 dense arguments against the The big blow came in 312 C.E., when Constantine
existence of gods. “His catalogue . . . is arguably the most defeated Maxentius and re-established the principle
important evidence for a sustained, coherent attack on of dynastic succession, thus paving the way for the
the existence of gods in antiquity.” Christianity as a state religion. Political and theological
Also during this time, the Roman poet Lucretius wrote authority became closely interlinked under Constantine,
“On the Nature of Things,” in which Epicurus crusades and in 380 C.E., Theodosius I decreed Christianity to be
against oppressive false beliefs about the afterlife to the official religion of the Roman Empire. Anyone not
articulate the view that gods have no inf luence over our believing in Christ’s divinity was a heretic to be exiled.
lives. The scholar Stephen Greenblatt credits the poem’s This decree completed “the alliance between absolute
rediscovery in the fifteenth century as the foundation of power and religious absolutism,” and atheism effectively
European secularism and the Renaissance. became invisible as “the Christianization of the Roman
While atheism was evolving in classical Greece, so Empire put an end to serious philosophical atheism for
was religious orthodoxy. Athens passed a law allowing over a millennium.”
public impeachment of those who did not recognize Except during the Dark Ages, atheism has f lourished
the gods. The name for the crime was asebeia, which throughout history. In Greece, where the clergy did not
means impiety. Whitmarsh details four prosecutions, monopolize learning, atheism was one of many schools of
including that of Diagoras, “the first person in history thought dedicated to making sense of the natural world.
to self-identify in a positive way as an atheist.” He was Whitmarsh notes that “no war was ever fought for the
banished from Athens for writing Arguments that Knock sake of a god, no empire was expanded in the name of
Down Towers, an explicitly atheist tract. Some of these proselytization, no foe was crushed for believing in the
prosecutions were politically motivated, but in The Laws, wrong god.”
Socrates further justified the repression and punishment In Rome, however, atheism was pushed underground
of atheists by claiming theism to be an essential part of a when monotheism became a tool of the emperor, who
just society. claimed for himself the authority of an all-powerful,
Atheism’s fortunes further deteriorated after the Punic universal Christian God. It “was a shrewd exercise in
Wars (246-146 B.C.E.). Having destroyed Carthage, Rome branding for an emperor concerned to hold together a
became a superpower of an interconnected, centralized, worryingly fissile realm.” But in the eighteenth century,
and bureaucratized empire. Religion “provided the most atheism assumed a new role, and in today’s “advanced
powerful mechanism of symbolic integration.” Stoics capitalist economy based on technological innovation, it
encouraged the belief that divine providence had ordained has been necessary to claw intellectual and moral authority
the Roman Empire, and loyal subjects worshipped the away from the clergy and reallocate it to the secular
emperor. Under this new political order, however, atheism specialists in science and engineering.”
still existed. In his Natural History, Pliny wrote, “I think As the authority and inf luence of science grow, so will
of it as a sign of human imbecility to try to find out the atheism’s.
shape and form of a god….whoever ‘god’ is—if in fact he
exists at all.” He believed gods to be human constructions,
born of our desire to elevate ourselves. Mark Kolsen recently retired from teaching high school in
Atheist writers now had to fear “the boots above their Wheaton, Illinois. He is an avid fan of the Four Horsemen, the late
head” and usually wrote books that presented arguments Victor Stenger, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and strives to understand all
both in favor of, as well as against, believing in the gods. facets of scientific cosmology and evolutionary biology.

Roman leaders used monotheism to hold together a


huge, diverse, multi-ethnic, and multilingual territory.
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 7
Ensoulment
An Idea Whose Time Has Gone

by Hank Fox

O ne of the many things that worries


me about present-day atheism is,
perversely, one of its successes: the
sense of accomplishment individual atheists can come
to feel. Those of us who free ourselves from our home
religions—admittedly, a task so difficult it should come
with a medal—often tend to think we’re done, we’re
there, that gaining our own little bit of enlightenment is
the whole job. Hey, we’re free! Victory! But that isn’t even
with mysticism and superstition, with languages that grew out
of millennia of religious thinking, and with countless beliefs
so natural, so much a part of our everyday thinking and doing,
that we completely fail to notice them. Remnants of religion
and superstition can be out in plain sight yet still invisible to
us. Rather than seeming faith-related, they’re just plain ... The
Way Things Are.
Unfortunately, being familiar and being harmless aren’t the
same thing. If you have something buried down in the bedrock
half the job. You don’t just escape from quicksand and of your civilization, something that looks everyday-acceptable
walk away from all the others still being sucked under. but is in fact harmful, you’re stuck with whatever bad effect it
As far as that goes, you don’t just rescue as many as possible produces. If you never recognize the damage, never grapple
from the quicksand. No, the real job is to get rid of the quicksand with the thing as the source of that damage, it continues to do
so those yet to pass this way don’t fall into it. The quicksand in what it does without resistance or impediment.
our case is not just churches, not just religion. It carries forward If you do see a problem arising out of it, but you think the

We choose this unlikely belief in souls


over an understanding of real death
because soul-belief simply hurts less.
8 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
War and the death penalty are easier to
contemplate in a social matrix of soul-belief.
source of that problem is something else, whatever solution you entertainment, everyday conversation, even holidays. It’s
apply pretty much has to fail. Working from the wrong model embedded in our language, such that its truer alternative is
of the problem, you get right answers only by accident. If you difficult to describe or think about.
continue to try to fix things with solutions aimed at some other Too bad it’s about one-hundred-eighty degrees wrong.
imagined cause, you’ll fail every time … possibly thinking you The problem with religious ideas is that they’re simple,
just need to try harder. whereas the real world is complex. Ensoulment is so simple
We not only accept these hidden beliefs, we question kids can understand it: “Grampaw’s watching over you from
the need to question them. Owing to the fact that we live— Heaven, honeybunch.”
sometimes happily, often comfortably—in the civilization that The alternative is a complicated, multi-level mess we’re still
grew out of such beliefs, we can’t see any noteworthy effect. We trying to figure out. But it’s something like: A Homo sapiens is
have no way to measure possible impacts. born as a blank slate of experiences but with a certain amount
But because they’re tied to actions, beliefs have of innate programming—just like every other animal. It comes
consequences. If you sleep in because you believe it’s Sunday, with or develops what other people recognize as a distinct
but it’s really Monday and you were due an hour ago at the personality that continues to learn and grow and to be shaped
stockholders’ meeting, you didn’t just believe something, you by life events, milestones and traumas, and eventually comes
did something with that belief. You acted as if it were Sunday, to think of itself as “me,” becoming its own—your own—
and a real-world result—being reprimanded or possibly even conscious, adult Self.
fired—grew out of that action. You progress through life, initially healthy and young,
Sooner or later, every belief has some sort of real-world until you reach various physical and mental peaks. You enter
consequence. Whether or not we are able to recognize it in a an extended middle period of continuing health and fitness,
moment of scrutiny—in the life of an individual or in the well- then eventually begin to age and grow less fit in another
being of an entire civilization—something real eventually extended period of gradual decline. At some point, one or
takes place as a result of unsubstantiated beliefs. more critical systems of “your body” fail and you cease to
Here’s one such belief most of us seldom really think about: exist. Those around you may carry vivid memories of you or
Ensoulment. The idea of souls. see the reminders of your visible achievements, but nothing of
you—neither awareness nor conscious intent—survives the
What It Is event of your death. Your Self, which is wholly a property of
Ensoulment is the idea that your meat-and-bones body biochemical and neurological processes, permanently ceases
is a mere vehicle. There’s a “real” you—a separate, ethereal when those processes lose coordination or stop altogether.
spirit—which rides in your body for as long as you’re alive. The complexity of consciousness, and the functioning of
Immortal and indestructible, it enters your body when you’re those processes that produce it, cannot be imprinted onto
conceived, departs when you die, but then easily continues an invisible, indetectable “soul” any more than it can be
to exist apart from your body, preserving your essential imprinted onto a pile of leaves or a section of concrete wall—
memories and selfness. This spirit survives not only death, but first because there is no such thing, and second because
even catastrophic physical injuries. An individual might suffer there is no conceivable way to reproduce the exact ongoing
severe brain injury and yet rebound to full-spirited selfness processes of conscious self without the same biochemical/
after death, probably with perfect skills of language, thought, neurological matrix that produced them originally. When
and awareness. the biochemical/neurological processes cease, the individual
Ensoulment is one of humanity’s most cherished ideas. simply ends.
It permeates every society and culture. We’ve probably To add to the complexity, “Self ” for an unensouled
had it longer than we’ve had civilization, and it has infused being isn’t just one thing. Beyond certain persistent traits of
every moment of human history. It appears in literature, art, personality, the “you” which you and others imagine you to

The problem with religious ideas


is that they’re simple, whereas
the real world is complex.
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 9
It’s not hard to see why a belief in
life after death is so persistent.
be changes from year to year as you gather experience and churches and holidays, all of it reinforced at every death, that
knowledge, reacting to others and the changing situations belief takes significant effort to resist.
of life. “You” can be different even moment to moment,
depending on health, diet, stress, physical injury, emotional Consequences
trauma, periodic hormonal variations, the effects of drugs, I suspect ensoulment is at the bottom of a great deal
or the simple difference of consciousness or sleep. Serious of what we consider acceptable to think and do. It affects
injuries, especially brain injury, can result in a permanently our view of war, population, the death penalty, drug use,
diminished or dramatically different “you,” with the original extreme sports, and other risky behaviors, even medical
“you” unrecoverable or non-reproducible. research.
Death is the ultimate brain injury, with nothing of “you” War and the death penalty are easier to contemplate in
remaining. “Dead” is not some alternate state of existence, it a social matrix of soul-belief. Sure you’re killing people’s
is absolute non-existence, a permanent end, akin to the fate of bodies, but you’re not affecting their real selves. And if it’s
data on a computer hard drive melted for scrap. you who might get killed in war—hey, Heaven, right? Plus
there’s all that weepy adulation from friends and family,
The Why of Ensoulment which you will no doubt witness from the Other Side.
One reason we accept ensoulment over its alternative is As for extreme sports, if you believed the real you
that this latter view—which just took me five paragraphs to would be safe and whole no matter what physical injury
describe, probably badly—is surprisingly hard to think about, you sustained, you might feel more comfortable taking the
whereas ensoulment is easy to visualize and understand. chance of wrecking that body you happen to own. Hey, it’s
You simply trade the image of your loved one standing there not you getting smashed to f linders, it’s just your body.
colorfully alive and solid with that same loved one standing With fitness, likewise, believing your body to be a mere
there looking … well… translucent. temporary shell, you’d likely take a much more cavalier
Of course, there’s more to it than that. We choose this approach to eating and exercise than if you understood
unlikely belief in souls over an understanding of real death that this body is you, that you only get the one, and that
because soul-belief simply hurts less. Who wants to accept that everything you hope to accomplish depends on its health.
their loved ones have died and passed forever out of reach? In regard to drug use: If you thought the real you was
More than six years after my Cowboy Dad’s death, even I an untouchable, unalterable ghost-thingy, you might feel a
still have moments of unreality, instances when I think, Wait, great deal more casual about tossing chemicals of unknown
what? No way! The Old Man can’t be gone. He’s out there in origin and concentration into your mere brain.
California right now, just waiting for me to call and say howdy. But here’s one instance where we know ensoulment has
Because I sat with him in the hospital for four days while he was real-world effects: abortion. And not just abortion, but almost
dying, I know that’s not true. But join that sense of unreality everything to do with reproduction. From the point of view of
with the idea that there’s an immortal essence to us, and it’s not anyone who believes in souls, opposition to abortion makes
hard to see why a belief in life after death is so persistent. perfect sense. If the soul—the Self part of you—enters the
We choose it, too, because most others around us believe baby-to-be at the moment of conception, then the organism
it. A number of my older friends and relatives still have no idea instantly becomes a person. Terminating an embryo at any
that I reject the thought of being reunited with my Cowboy stage after ensoulment would be killing a person.
Dad in some happy afterlife, and somewhat like the classic Further, assuming the implantation of these ghostly
grandmother quandary—“Would you tell your grandmother inner selves is overseen by God, ending a pregnancy is
on her deathbed … ?”—I’m not about to explain it to them. just about the worst of sins because it thwarts God’s holy
Given that it’s the norm, with weighty momentum reinforced will. The condition of the mother—her age or health,
in sociocultural rituals and practices, in language and the desperation or poverty—wouldn’t even come into it. She’s
thought it shapes, and in large social mechanisms such as already chosen her fate by getting pregnant.

When the biochemical/neurological processes


cease, the individual simply ends.

10 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


Remnants of religion and superstition can
be out in plain sight yet still invisible to us.
Not only will soul-believers refuse abortion for A “Real” Future
themselves, they don’t want others doing it. You don’t even From the standpoint of individual intellectual freedom,
need to have an abortion to be guilty. If all you do is stand there’s a very important bit here: The idea of souls, of life
by and allow abortion to happen, you’re every bit as hell- beyond death, is one of religion’s most subtle falsehoods. Even
bound. If you know about it, you have to intervene. Voting if you reject the main lie—that a God or gods exist—you
against it would be a slam-dunk requirement, but no doubt might still unknowingly swallow this one, allowing certain
God smiles on any additional activism such as standing others to slide in with it. Once you’re on that path, the death
outside Planned Parenthood and screaming at hapless of every loved one becomes something of a hostage situation.
women coming in for reproductive care. If you don’t continue to believe in your dad’s immortal soul, it
I once got into a discussion with an otherwise intelligent will be like he died all over again.
woman who furiously rejected even the idea of contraception. But if you go with this fanciful social paradigm—
To her, it was the same as killing children. I tried saying, because it’s hopeful and mitigates the immediate pain—you
“Imagine a couple who decide not to have kids, and they use inevitably undermine trust in your own mind. By accepting
contraceptives to —” She interrupted with, “I just don’t know what others tell you, by not allowing yourself to know what
how anyone could be okay with killing innocent babies.” you know, you undercut your individuality, your freedom,
But look,” I said, “right now there aren’t any babies. They your very self.
don’t exist. The man and woman decide in advance not to As to the rest of the world, I’d like to say it doesn’t matter
create them.” She answered, “I don’t care what you say. I’ll what any one individual believes, but some part of me views
never be okay with murdering babies.” that with the same regard I give the idea that it doesn’t matter
Gah. Crazy. But if you believe in a blanket fate regulated what private individuals think about spousal abuse or dog
by an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-wise God, and if you fighting. An indulgent or encouraging view of such ideas opens
clearly envision those cuddly, cooing, happy, living babies the door to large-scale, real-world effects.
out there in some timeless future moment, then you’ll also The idea of souls is a sociocultural poison hugely more
believe that interfering with fertilization is the same sort consequential than the individual conclusions of a world
of sin as abortion. By preventing the arrival of a soul pre- minority of atheists. We have breathed it in as a species,
ordained to land on Earth … well, you might as well be incorporating it into our thought, our language, our customs,
beating them to death with an axe handle. our daily lives—the very structure of our societies—so that we
People who believe in the full fantastic reach of have little or no idea how to live without it. Belief in ensoulment
ensoulment would oppose not only abortion, even in the case is more pervasive, more deeply affecting to us—from the
of a mother who’d die without it, but would also adamantly individual level to the level of our entire civilization—than
oppose contraception, and probably even sex education. As we’re able to realize.
they do. Worse for the wider world, they oppose every least So the real job for us atheists is a vastly more complex task:
suggestion of population control. You want to limit human the remaking civilization itself. It involves the reimagining
population?? You genocidal monster! and reforming of a world full of lifeways that grew from the
And the thing is, it’s not just deeply religious people tainted soil of millennia-old religious thought. Individual
who oppose abortion. Plenty of the rest of us, out here in atheism is only the first tiny step. A generations-long journey
wider society, also squirm at the idea. Because without even stretches out before us.
thinking about it, we buy into the picture of an embryo
containing a Self—a soul. Rather than being a clump of Hank Fox is the author of Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist: Simple
still-differentiating animal cells, an embryo at any stage Thoughts About Reason, Gods & Faith, and his new book BrainDrops:
is a person who deserves the chance to be born and toddle The One & Only Ungodly Bathroom Reader—An Astounding
around on Earth, even an Earth with 7.5 billion of us already Compendium of Wit, Wisdom and Complete Goddam Nonsense
eating it down to bedrock. from a Complete Goddam Atheist. Both are available on Amazon.

Ensoulment is the idea that your


meat-and-bones body is a mere vehicle.

1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 11


Queer Disbelief
Why LGBTQ Equality is an Atheist Issue
by Camille Beredjick

Ally and advocate: Beredjick joined a New York City protest of Trump’s proposed travel ban in January 2017

T he past decade has brought unprecedented progress for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ ) people. But this community is still far
from achieving true equality, especially in a political landscape heavily influenced by
religious interests. One group in particular can help LGBTQ people in their fight for equal
rights: atheists.
In Queer Disbelief, Camille Beredjick documents the overlap between the LGBTQ and
secular movements: how they are alike, what they can learn from each other, and why it’s
never been more critical for atheists to join the movement for LGBTQ rights. The following
are selected excerpts from the book.

12 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


W
hen I started writing about LGBTQ issues for kind of devastation about realizing I was an atheist, but that
Hemant Mehta’s blog, The Friendly Atheist, I was doesn’t mean there weren’t moments of discomfort in the
often stumped by the lack of news about the explicit process.
overlaps between LGBTQ people and atheists. Stories about
active collaborations between these two groups were sparse. Who We Are
All I seemed to read (and write) were stories of outrageous By nature, atheism is not a belief system, but the absence of
homophobic and transphobic behavior by conservative one. And just as there is no monolithic “LGBTQ community,”
churches and evangelical politicians, all in the name of God. there’s no singular “atheist community,” either. Atheism
What I didn’t immediately realize, though, is that religious isn’t traditionally passed down through families, and you’re
groups oppressing LGBTQ people is an atheist issue. Any unlikely to find an “atheist neighborhood” in your city the
abuse of religious freedom, particularly at the expense of a way you might find one that’s heavily Jewish or Muslim, for
marginalized group, is an atheist issue. That’s how I reframed example.
my work for the blog, and that’s the lens through which I But there are atheist organizations. American Atheists, as
wrote this book. well as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Secular
Queer Disbelief is an examination of the ways atheists and Student Alliance, the American Humanist Association, and
LGBTQ people are natural allies, the ways these groups can dozens of others serve to gather atheists with common goals;
learn from and support one another, the reasons atheists have advocate for the separation of church and state; and provide
a responsibility to support human rights issues like LGBTQ news, resources, and even scholarships for atheists. Many
equality, and, most importantly, why it’s crucial that we do so of these organizations consider LGBTQ equality to be an
without delay or hesitation. important part of their mission.
I’ll be honest with you. There have been days when I Nick Fish, the national program director at American
wished I believed in God. It’s not an incessant, gnawing Atheists, says there’s a “very natural allyship” between
feeling, but every once in a while I wonder what it would LGBTQ people and atheists. “I think that it’s obvious to all
be like to feel that someone was out there watching over me, of us here that this is something that we need to do,” Fish
to know that my future wife and I will meet again on some said. “Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also
eternal plane, to believe I was never alone. But I don’t believe because it gives us a lot more power and a lot more activated,
that. I can’t make myself believe it, as much as I tried to when excited, and seasoned activists who are willing to fight for
I was eleven and all the cool kids were doing it. And for the these issues.”
most part, I’m comfortable with that. Fish said that American Atheists engages with the
There’s disagreement about the role of choice in atheism LGBTQ movement in a number of ways. They work with
and religion more broadly. None of us thinks about the LGBTQ organizations whenever possible to collaborate on
possibility of a god until someone tells us about it. Your first lobbying efforts, letters of support, and community events.
conscious thoughts as a baby are less about the creation of From a policy standpoint, the group has been monitoring and
the universe and more about when you’re getting your next fighting religious freedom restoration laws across the country
meal. But does that mean babies are atheists until further that aim to legalize faith-based discrimination. American
notice? Are dogs atheists because they can’t bark out that Atheists participates in Creating Change (the National
they believe? LGBTQ Task Force’s annual conference of thousands of
Realizing you’re an atheist is dependent upon knowing activists) both to make sure atheists are represented and to
that other people believe in God. But a girl who has a crush lend their support to LGBTQ causes. LGBTQ discrimination
on another girl in elementary school doesn’t necessarily is “very easily the clearest example” in the last two decades of
know that she’s in the minority. using the state to enforce religious dogma, Fish said.
Being LGBTQ is decidedly not a choice. Thanks to Fish believes that because nearly half of LGBTQ people
homophobia and transphobia ingrained in society, there’s no have no religious affiliation, it would do both groups a
doubt that some LGBTQ people wish they were different, or disservice to ignore the overlaps in membership. The atheist
at least felt that way at some point in their lives. I remember movement will be stronger when dedicated LGBTQ activists
sobbing in the shower as a teenager, wishing my crush on a participate, and vice versa. “If you’re doing LGBT activism,
girl was just a fluke, knowing I could never tell anyone about and you’re not thinking about the half of the people who
this awful defect I’d discovered in myself. I never felt that are nonreligious when you’re doing it, you’re necessarily

Atheists were early advocates


for marriage equality.
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 13
Atheists have a history of staring down
discriminatory laws and negative associations.
excluding this huge segment of people, alienating them, and Ultimately, he chose not to call the police, but he was
losing them as potential activists,” Fish said. disowned by his family. His boyfriend set up a fundraising
I asked whether atheists should fight for LGBTQ equality page to help him get back on his feet and cover his medical
because of their atheism or simply because it’s the right thing expenses. When the campaign took off, raising nearly
to do. He said that it’s about elements of both. “It’s something $100,000 (far more than he needed), Pierce used the money
that most Americans are on our side on, so we think it’s to support Lost-n-Found, the LGBTQ youth organization
something that’s right for the fight, and a good way for us
to show that church/state separation matters, because it’s
impacting actual people,” he said. “If we can be a part of that
. . . we’re not co-opting, we’re coordinating. We’re not taking
over, we’re supplementing.”

Religion Hurts
There’s no shortage of stories illustrating how religion has
harmed LGBTQ people. It can happen in a number of ways:
interpersonally when someone is rejected by religious family
and friends, institutionally when laws prioritize “religious
freedom” over equal rights, and plenty of rungs in between.
Daniel Ashley Pierce had the coming-out experience
every young LGBTQ person fears. He also caught part of it
on camera. Pierce is from a Christian family in Georgia. He
came out to them in 2014, and a couple of months later, he
published a video on YouTube of his family assaulting and
berating him for violating “the word of God.” Pierce told
HuffPost.com that he’d prepared the camera because his
family was having an intervention of sorts, and he wanted
evidence in case it got violent. (The fact that he had that
foresight should tell you a lot.)
Pierce was twenty when he recorded the terrifying
altercation. The video starts with his family yelling at him for
the “choice” he’s made. They tell him he’s no longer welcome Beredjick at the 2017 Women’s March
to live in their home, and they curse and hurl slurs at him, in New York City
calling him a disgrace and a “damn queer.” Eventually, the
camera gets shaky as they start beating him, his stepmother
punching him in the face as he yells for her to stop. “No, you that helped him relocate when he was in danger.
can believe that if you want to,” someone tells him in the Of all the barriers to full LGBTQ equality, religion is the
video, “but I believe in the word of God, and God creates most aggressively defended. To this day, people ranging from
nobody that way. It’s a path that you have chosen to choose small-town bakers to government officials claim religious
. . . You go by all the scientific stuff you want to. I’m going by beliefs as an excuse to denigrate, delay, or deny equal rights.
the word of God!” Some of them, like Pierce’s family, get away with it. As people
It’s hard to imagine any story like this having a silver who care about separating church and state, atheists should
lining, but Pierce did receive an outpouring of support and be outraged that one group’s religion can be used to take
used this moment of visibility to give back to the community. away another group’s rights. But we’re more than atheists;

“You go by all the scientific stuff you want


to. I’m going by the word of God!”
14 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
An ally doesn’t take the microphone from
you on your behalf; they hold it up for you.
we’re human beings. That alone should be enough for us to virtually every LGBTQ issue facing political backlash right
give a damn when someone gets hurt. now has been attacked by some argument that’s religious in
nature. Marriage, kids, transgender identity—the right to
Excessive Entanglement buy a cake, for Pete’s sake. Some of these issues have been
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment settled—although it doesn’t feel safe to assume so under the
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” We all Trump Administration—while others are still in the throes
learned the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of debate.
in school. It means the government cannot prohibit religious Some advocates have assumed the Trump Administration
expression, but neither can it enact laws that prioritize one won’t bother trying to unravel equal marriage because
religious system over another. That includes belief over it would take a lot of work to overturn a Supreme Court
nonbelief. decision. However, that doesn’t mean religious pushback
In 1971, the Supreme Court heard Lemon v. Kurtzman, a against marriage equality has died down. In 2017, at the
case addressing whether the Pennsylvania Superintendent annual “Washington: A Man of Prayer” event held at the U.S.
of Public Schools could reimburse the salaries of private Capitol, Congressman Randy Weber of Texas actually wept
school teachers, many of whom taught at Catholic schools. as he “confessed the sins of our nation” into the microphone.
The Court held 8-1 that the Pennsylvania law violated the He tearfully apologized to God for taking the Bible out of
Establishment Clause for intermingling church and state public schools, for the country’s legalization of abortion,
unnecessarily. and for same-sex marriage: “Father, we have trampled on
That case also set an important precedent for how future your holy institution of holy matrimony and tried to rewrite
church-and-state lawsuits would be decided. In the decision, what it is and we’ve called it an alternate lifestyle,” he cried—
the Court established the “Lemon test,” a set of three literally. “Father, oh Father, please forgive us!”
“prongs” that deem whether a law violates the Establishment
Clause. For the law to pass the test, “the statute must have When Family Values Don’t Value Family
a secular legislative purpose, its principal or primary effect In a handful of states, state-funded adoption and foster
must be one that neither promotes nor inhibits religion, and agencies are still permitted to discriminate against potential
it must not foster ‘excessive government entanglement with parents based on the religious beliefs of the groups running
religion.’” them. This is a not-so-subtle way of saying that same-sex
The law under scrutiny in Lemon v. Kurtzman was parents, as well as atheists or other people whose “lifestyles”
busted by the “excessive entanglement” prong. It could be don’t fit a religious agency’s idea of the perfect parents, may
argued that this prong of the Lemon test is the one most be turned down, even if they’ve done nothing wrong.
likely to depend on the whim of a judge’s personal opinion. To make matters worse, anti-LGBTQ conservatives still
After all, “excessive” is a subjective term. You and I might claim that children need a mom and a dad to succeed, an idea
find it excessive to prominently display the Bible’s Ten that research has proven incorrect time and time again. But
Commandments at a government building, but others will while it’s become second-nature for us to tune out the trolls,
disagree. it’s more disappointing when elected officials—whose job it
Only about twenty legal cases relating to LGBTQ rights is to help same-sex couples—fall prey to those falsehoods.
have invoked the Lemon test. One of them, Barnes Wallace In Kentucky, for example, family court judge Mitchell
v. City of San Diego, asked whether San Diego violated the Nance attempted to recuse himself from a case regarding
Constitution by leasing land to a Boy Scouts of America- same-sex parents “as a matter of conscience.” He wrote that
affiliated group that discriminated against LGBTQ people he would not be able to participate in such cases without the
and atheists. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in possibility of bias, due to his “conscientious objection to the
favor of the city, finding no religious overstep. concept of adoption of a child by a practicing homosexual.”
Whether they have been put to the Lemon test or not, (He announced plans to resign a few months later amid

American Atheists engages with the


LGBTQ movement in a number of ways.
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 15
Let’s use our unique, overlapping history
to call out injustice when we see it and
do everything we can to stop it.
ethical concerns about that recusal.) Many of us have been raised around people who didn’t
Technically, it was nice of him to bow out so his beliefs take kindly to difference—those who are leery of races,
won’t interfere with a child finding a home, but it’s a shame religions, sexual orientations, and identities they aren’t
he had to do so at all. Furthermore, could any gay people, familiar with. Or maybe we have friends who don’t care one
even in non-adoption cases, feel like they were getting a fair way or the other, but who drop casual racism or homophobia
hearing in Nance’s courtroom? into otherwise tame conversations. (“No homo,” anyone?) If
you say something challenging to them, you run the risk of
Allies and Accomplices being ridiculed yourself.
Truly supporting LGBTQ people and other marginalized If you’re straight, maybe they’ll accuse you of being gay,
groups in your day-to-day life can take a little bit of work. and you’ll have to explain both that you’re not and that it
You might find yourself staring down biases you’re not would be okay if you were, which even sounds exhausting. Or
comfortable acknowledging, or having to challenge maybe you are gay (or bi, or trans, etc.) but you don’t want to
assumptions you took for granted. But I promise it’s worth be “one of those gays.” You don’t want to ruff le feathers or ask
the effort. Remember that concepts like reason and logic are your friends to behave any differently just because you’re at
fundamental to most atheists’ understanding of the world. the table. Don’t get trapped in that mentality. It’s important
And standing up for your fellow humans in their time of need to ruff le feathers for these reasons, whether you’re LGBTQ
is the only reasonable thing to do. or not. These intimate moments with friends and family
In social-justice circles, particularly in the LGBTQ world, are where the best learning can happen. If an acquaintance
there’s a lot of discussion about what it means to be an ally. of yours witnessed a conversation where someone put you
The basic definition of “ally” is a person who supports the down—for being an atheist, for your race or upbringing, for
cause of a marginalized group to which they do not belong. something that makes you different—you’d want them to do
In that sense, heterosexual people can be allies to LGBTQ the same on your behalf.
people; gay, lesbian, and bisexual people can be allies to Then there’s the advocacy component of allyship. Here,
transgender people; white LGBTQ people can be allies to I’m speaking specifically about straight, cisgender atheists.
LGBTQ people of color, and so on. Being outraged at the government isn’t fun. We don’t protest
But there’s more to allyship than that. Simply expressing or hold rallies for the hell of it. We’d much rather live in a
tolerance of a group of people who are different from you world where everyone respects everyone and it’s never
shouldn’t merit a celebration in one’s honor; it’s an act of basic necessary to f lood the streets in rage and fear. Unfortunately,
human decency. And it’s dangerous for people to think that we aren’t there yet. And while there are more openly LGBTQ
support from a distance, which is passive allyship, is enough people than ever before, we can’t do it alone.
to make a difference. We need help from people of all identities and religious
That’s why preferred definitions commonly include backgrounds, but especially from atheists who share
one key word: active. True, active allies, sometimes called our concerns about religious overstep and irrational
“accomplices,” express their support for different groups, policymaking. If your LGBTQ friends are up in arms about
even when doing so isn’t convenient or comfortable. They a new law, elected official, or Cabinet appointee, do your
advocate for their marginalized peers when they aren’t in the homework and find out why. Think through the implications
room and prioritize the voices of those peers when they are. that certain policies could have for LGBTQ people—plus
An ally doesn’t take the microphone from you on your behalf; atheists, people of faith, people of color, poor people, and so
they hold it up for you. many others—and then get mad, too. Sign the petitions we
So what does it look like to be an active ally to LGBTQ post on Facebook. Donate to our causes, if you can spare it.
people regardless of their beliefs? A crucial part of being an Follow our lead and ask how you can help. We generally know
ally is defending a person or group, whether they’re present what we’re doing.
to hear it or not. This principle can apply to anyone. It’s the Come to marches with us, if they’re not designated as
grown-up equivalent of not letting the school bully talk about LGBTQ-only spaces. (Those are necessary sometimes—
your friends behind their backs. So why is it so difficult to put having a place to heal and plan with others who share your
into practice in adulthood? experiences is vital.) Call your governor, your state legislators,

16 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


LGBTQ discrimination is the clearest
example in the last two decades of using
the state to enforce religious dogma.
and your members of Congress to voice your concerns. The 4,500 miles away. Certainly the thousands of gifts at our feet
most egregiously anti-LGBTQ laws are also an assault on hadn’t come only from LGBTQ people.
the freedom from religion, like the “license to discriminate” It’s unfair to assume that every LGBTQ person will feel
laws that have emerged in dozens of states. Those are atheist severely traumatized by a tragedy like Pulse, but many of
issues, too. us did. After the high-profile suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a
Finally, you cannot be an effective ally without holding transgender teenager whose parents sent her to Christian
empathy in your heart. When news of the shooting at the conversion therapy, public support for trans youth soared on
Pulse nightclub in Orlando broke, people with ties to the platforms like Twitter and Tumblr. Eyes turned to caring for
communities most affected—LGBTQ people, Latinx people, North Carolina’s LGBTQ community after the “bathroom
even Orlando residents, bill” was passed. Calls to
to an extent—had reason LGBTQ suicide hotlines
to react more strongly spiked after Donald
than others. (Latinx Trump’s election.
has recently come into These moments
use as a gender-neutral represent sadness
replacement for Latino and solidarity in the
and Latina.) As the aftermath of anti-
death toll on television LGBTQ violence—
climbed, did you text whether literal, political,
your LGBTQ friends to or societal—and they’re
ask how they were doing? crucial to supporting
I was out of the LGBTQ people. When
country at a cousin’s something happens
wedding the night of the that harms one of us,
Pulse shooting, which many more of us will
was both a privilege feel its effects resonate.
and a curse. Shock and During and after these
grief had hit us all like moments, check in with
a punch to the gut, but your LGBTQ friends.
I was still far away from You don’t have to assume
the epicenter of the the worst, but be genuine
heartbreak. Without a and kind. “What awful
community of LGBTQ news today. Are you
friends around to doing okay?” will suffice.
grieve with, it didn’t Empathy also
feel as real. It hit me shouldn’t be exclusive
completely a few days to times of mourning.
later, when my future Before the Supreme
wife and I came across Court ruling on
Amsterdam’s gay rights marriage equality, I
monument by accident. would text my family in
It was piled high with a group chat whenever
f lowers, candles, letters, another state legalized
and rainbow flags. We it. They celebrated with
sat at the monument for fifteen minutes, heavy with reality, me every time, never letting the news get old or sending
absorbing the messages of love that had poured out from canned responses. Heterosexual friends and family listened

1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 17


to my rambling thoughts about the state of the movement, entirely. LGBTQ-inclusive laws aren’t thrown together
bought me books they never would have picked up otherwise, in vain as a “politically correct” gesture. They have a
asked my opinion on the LGBTQ news of the day, and sent measurably positive impact on real lives and therefore on
me articles about topics they knew I’d be interested in. Every society at large.
one of those actions was another way of saying, “I support A handful of examples: Some states and adoption
you.” networks don’t allow unmarried couples to jointly adopt
Of course, it’s key to remember that your LGBTQ friend children. That means marriage equality makes it easier
has a life, interests, and values beyond their sexual orientation for same-sex couples to give kids in need a loving home.
or gender identity. You don’t want to tokenize your friend, Being allowed to transition leads to better mental health
play into stereotypes, guess their interests based on one outcomes for transgender kids. That means trans-inclusive
factor of their identity, or assume they want to date your school policies make it a lot easier for them to be their
only other gay friend. (Thanks for offering, though!) There’s happiest, healthiest selves. Bias and discrimination are
a difference between “I thought you might like this article linked to worse physical and mental health for LGBTQ
because you were talking about the subject the other day” and adults, too, and some (transgender people especially) are
“I thought you might like this article because you’re gay.” But likely to avoid public places for fear of how they may be
in general, making an effort at all is really, really important. treated. How can someone be a productive, tax-paying,
Showing up matters. If you strike up a conversation with us, economy-stimulating member of society if they’re terrified
we might have more in common than you think. about where to pee?
Atheists have a history of staring down discriminatory
Onward laws and negative associations, and we continue to face
Historically, it’s been difficult to get people to show aggressive distrust and resentment from large swaths
up for causes that they think don’t affect them—think of the population, even though the majority of laws that
not only LGBTQ rights, but immigration, racial justice, targeted us are long gone. Societal prejudices against
and other issues that primarily impact only a few groups. atheists continue to this day. We’ve dealt with this kind
Atheism does not require any set of political or social of treatment for ages. We should understand and defend
beliefs. It does not command a stricter commitment to free those who face it now.
speech or freedom of religion, it does not center on a group If one day we live in a world where it really is okay to be
of like-minded believers, and it has no guidebook. Atheism gay, we may still find ourselves defending the civil rights
is the absence of belief in any gods. Full stop. of minority groups. In the 2016 election, for example,
But even though atheism itself doesn’t intrinsically LGBTQ people didn’t bear the worst of conservative
support any social justice movement, many atheists do. bigotry. That ire was aimed primarily at immigrants or
Atheists support abortion access and opposed the war those perceived to be immigrants, especially Mexicans and
in Iraq in higher numbers than believers and were early Muslims. Maybe one day we will have a president who’s
advocates for marriage equality. And the many of us who atheist, LGBTQ , or both, but it’s likely that old prejudices
are both LGBTQ and atheist have a personal stake in what will remain (Obama’s election didn’t end racism), and
happens next. others will rise to new prominence.
As for shared values and ideas, atheists reject the concept The allyship of atheists and LGBTQ people shouldn’t
of acting in accordance with the wishes of a higher power. be based on the severity of the injustices we face. As groups
Therefore, they make their decisions based on what’s best with up-close-and-personal knowledge of how bigotry—
for them and, in an ideal world, the people around them. faith-based and otherwise—can inf lict unfathomable
Atheists may see people as accountable to one another pain, it’s on us to carry that understanding into future
rather than to a god. That should breed compassion and generations. We’ll never forget those who called us and our
a commitment to helping one another live with agency families less than human, or the lawmakers who suggested
and self-determination. For LGBTQ people to recognize our existence was an affront to society.
our full potential, we must not be encumbered by bigoted, Even if “it gets better” one day, we’ll remember how it
religiously-inf luenced laws or social mores that dictate used to be. Let’s use our unique, overlapping history to call
what we can and cannot do. out injustice when we see it and do everything we can to
It’s idealistic to think that LGBTQ people, religious stop it. Let’s teach our kids and their kids about what we
minorities besides atheists, and others who are and our forebears lived and died through. We can’t promise
disadvantaged under the current system will ever be them it will never happen again, but we can swear to them
considered fully equal by the people at the top. But that that we won’t sit quietly by and watch.
doesn’t mean we aren’t making progress toward that lofty
goal. Every inch forward makes someone’s life better, even Camille Beredjick is the editor of the LGBTQ news blog GayWrites.org.
if it isn’t enough to eradicate inequality and save the world Queer Disbelief is her first book.

18 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


Will Post Secular Beat Present (But Tense) Secular?
A review of Post Secular: Science, Humanism and the Future of Faith
by Ed Buckner

M any of us atheists think we’ve read almost


everything on the nexus of science and
religion and on the future of faith and religion in society. Marc
Schaus quickly persuades those people, myself included, that
there is much more to learn and quite a bit of satisfaction to be
had from the pursuit. Post Secular: Science, Humanism and
the Future of Faith addresses atheism, humanism, science,
faith, and secularism so broadly that I initially expected his
book to be interesting but lacking in depth. I was slightly
nonplussed that I could only read it in an e-version because I
strongly prefer print (publisher, please take note). But paper
cannot accommodate web links, and I did find the instant
access to outside sources advantageous.
I also expected a humanist rather than atheist perspective,
given his publisher (Canadian Humanist Publications) and
his background in neuroscience research. Happily, I was
mistaken on both counts. The depth is as impressive as
the considerable geographic, historical, and philosophical
breadth, and I detected no hesitation in embracing the word
“atheism,” even though he mostly uses “secularism.”
Post Secular is sprightly written, tightly organized,
and original with unexpected insights throughout. It is
also an engaging invitation to read or reread many other
works. Although he has an excellent grasp of history, as
well as current issues in neurology, philosophy, mythology,
politics, and humanism, he avoids ponderous displays of his
knowledge. Richard Dawkins, Charles Bradlaugh, Taner
Edis, Baruch Spinoza, Daniel Dennett, Charles Darwin,
Malala Yousafzai, A. C. Grayling, John Scopes, John Locke,
John Dewey, William James, and many more get a turn on
Schaus’ stage, but always as integral, organic contributors to
the story, not as occasions for showy academic footnotes. as well. Entitled “Spokes on the Wheel: Similarities Among
A chapter on comparative religion across the ages brings Religious Traditions,” it is a fine example of his ability to
a wealth of details into the mix and some interesting analysis combine sweeping breadth with rich details and thoughtful

This book is profoundly optimistic,


imaginative, and sweeping while also
being grounded in realism and practicality.
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 19
His predictions about the place and
role of religion a century from now are
developed from a careful analysis of
cultural and biological evolution.
depth. If this chapter doesn’t contain at least one religion or sums it up—and meaningfulness for those of us with little
religious tradition you’ve never heard of, then you’re far more or no belief in anything “transcendent” receive effective
informed than I am on the subject. analysis in this book. He is certainly not the first one to
Schaus says, “I believe future generations will not even dismiss the unfounded theistic claim that only with gods and
be as free as we are, right this moment, to choose God.” He religion can we have ethics or ethical standards or any reason
can imagine, as can I, an unscrupulous, right-wing theocrat for valuing our own lives or those of others. But he does go
taking these words out of context to say that the book is part further by grounding his considerations firmly in human
of an evil, secularist conspiracy to wipe out religious liberty. evolution (biological and cultural/social) and suggesting
But it’s not that at all. Schaus predicts that our improved that even some of the more facile answers from secularists
understanding of the world—especially biology—through miss key elements by not taking evolution into account. Yes,
science will eventually erode any basis for holding on to we do indeed have responsibility to create our own meaning
religious belief. The resulting logical and philosophical and our own ethics, but human history (and pre-history)
constraints are undoing the “freedom” to believe in God and give us not only the building blocks for this, but also the true
the ability to claim reasonably that god-belief is plausible—a requirements for moral development and for understanding
prospect far more threatening to a theocrat than religious who we are and can become.
oppression. His description is worth excerpting at length: The way the final chapter ties everything up is alone worth
the price of the book. A science fiction writer would be proud to
… [T]he perfect storm of [for creating and supporting] claim the century-forward description Schaus paints, but any
secularism appears to be living in a safe, financially thoughtful academic analyst of science and religion would also
stable and democratic society in which community ties happily claim it as well. There are startling details related to
are linked to some other [non-mythical] shared purpose, APM (atomically precise manufacturing) and the possibility
where social safety nets are in place to keep you less in of bioluminescent plants replacing light bulbs, and there are
need of help from the immediate groups around you, more obvious predictions regarding driverless cars. But his
the police show up when you call and lawyers allow you predictions about the place and role of religion a century from
to sue people who cheat you, you are well-educated and now are the core of this chapter, as well as the entire book.
analytical, are aware of intuition but override it when These predictions are developed from a careful analysis of
needed and do not require existential certainty or a cultural and biological evolution, not mere wishful thinking.
locus of control due to the scientific narrative in place. Post Secular is profoundly optimistic, imaginative, and sweeping
while also being grounded in realism and practicality. Most of
It is ultimately the main thesis of this book that factors all, it is engaging, engrossing reading.
like these are becoming more likely to exist.
This is not a crusade for atheism and secularism, it is a Ed Buckner is a past president of American Atheists and co-author
description of what’s ultimately inevitable, and Schaus makes (with Michael Buckner) of In Freedom We Trust: An Atheist Guide to
his case powerfully. Morality—the “is/ought debate,” as he Religious Liberty.

The resulting logical and philosophical


constraints are undoing the “freedom”
to believe in God and the ability to claim
reasonably that god-belief is plausible.
20 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
GREATER EVIL IS BEYOND
THE IMAGINATION OF MAN
than that God,
perfect in every way,
all-powerful,
needing nothing,
knowing everything
past, future and even possible;

a loving, just, merciful and forgiving Father;

would summarily create,


from innocent nothingness,
creatures capable of suffering,
knowing in advance,
which of those he will consign
to suffer eternally—
as promised by Jesus!

No act of his creature-victims


could justify this verdict of unsurpassable hate,
injustice and endless mercilessness.

All in all, the very definition of unforgiving.

Nothing more is needed,


though volumes provide it,
to prove that such a God
is not and never was,
except as the sick
creation of
man.
—fellowfeather@gmail.com

Your comments will be answered and appreciated.

1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 21


God is a Slave Owner’s Best Friend
and the Bible is the Instruction Manual
by Brian Bolton

A mong the Confederate monument controversies


that have made national news over the past
few years is one in Williamson County, Texas.
I live in the county seat of Georgetown, where the majority of
residents hold conservative religious, political, and social views.
One expression of their respect for tradition is the twenty-foot
Confederate soldier statue in front of the courthouse. Nearby
Because the 1861 Constitution of Confederate States
of America called on the “favor and guidance of Almighty
God,” it is entirely appropriate to ask if the God of Judeo-
Christian scripture sanctions the institution of chattel
slavery. This article provides a definitive answer to this
important question.

are a half-dozen additional statues and historical markers A Brief History of Slavery
recognizing prominent figures. Three years ago, a liberal The origins of slavery date back to the ancient tribes
religious advocacy group called Courageous Conversations of our early ancestors who, after fighting and killing each
began a controversial campaign to add a small marker to other for many millennia, came to the realization that it
acknowledge African Americans’ role in the Confederacy. would be more advantageous for the conquerors to enslave
Like almost everywhere else, the issue at the center of this rather than kill their adversaries. The economic benefits of
local controversy is whether the statue insults black citizens by a system of forced labor in which one person owns another
honoring the institution of slavery. Some assert that the Civil person became immediately apparent, and the concept was
War was really about states’ rights or northern aggression, but quickly extended to the acquisition of personal servants.
the 1861 Texas Ordinance of Secession is clear: For this reason, the institution of slavery is found among
both primitive and advanced peoples.
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of Slavery was common and accepted in classical Greek
the states and the confederacy were established exclusively and Roman civilizations. In Athens, about fifty percent of
by the white race for themselves and their posterity, and the its half-million inhabitants were slaves who were essential
African race was rightfully held and regarded as an inferior laborers in the heralded democracy. Prominent citizens
race, and in that condition only could their existence be like Plato and Aristotle owned household slaves.
beneficial or tolerable. The early Christian church tolerated slavery mainly

This is the dark side of Jesus


the “Prince of Peace.”
22 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
Christian clergy in the South at the time
that abolition was gaining strength found
justification for slavery in scripture.
because it was an unavoidable economic necessity. The sensitive to the moral questions raised by the ownership of
first inf luential Christian to condemn slavery was Bishop humans as acquired property by other people.
Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century C.E. Although
he argued that slavery is morally wrong, he did not Slavery in the Bible
unambiguously advocate abolition of the practice. Ethical concerns about slavery were not a consideration
Following the colonization of the Americas and the for the compilers of the Hebrew Testament, which contains
opportunity to extract the wealth from the land, Africa more than eight hundred references to slaves and servants
became an unwilling labor pool from which millions of (these two terms are used interchangeably throughout
people were captured and transported to the new colonies. scripture). The Genesis stories about Abram, Hagar, Jacob,
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, England and Joseph established the framework for the Biblical view
maintained a monopoly on the slave trade due to its of slavery. Additional verses in other Pentateuch books
dominance of the seas. outline the rules that govern the relationship between
The first cargo of slaves arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, master and servant. These are exemplified in the sagas
in 1619, coincidentally the same year that a democratic about David and Solomon and their slave laborers in the
government was instituted in the colony. Although they Histories. It is undeniable that scripture teaches that
acknowledged the injustice, several eminent U.S. founders, servants are the property of their owners.
including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, The much shorter New Testament includes about one
owned slaves, as did most wealthy landowners, to carry out hundred fifty references to slaves and servants.
the extensive labor required on plantations. By 1850, out Obviously, it would not be feasible to review every
of a total population of nine million people in the South, mention here. It’s also not necessary because there is
about three million were slaves, most of whom worked on never any condemnation of the institution of slavery,
just a few thousand large plantations where cotton was a and Christians today are primarily concerned with the
major crop. declarations about slavery issued by Jesus, Paul, and Peter.
The movement to abolish slavery began in the Therefore, only a few major slavery episodes in the Old
seventeenth century, and the practice was outlawed in Testament are cited.
the British Empire in 1833. The abolitionist crusade in God’s rescue of the ancient Israelites from enslavement
the U.S., starting in the 1820s with the emergence of in Egypt is the foundational event in early Hebrew history,
revivalism, demanded immediate freedom for slaves. creating the basis for the covenant between God and his
It is ironic that abolitionist sentiment had its roots in chosen people. The Exodus story concludes with the
evangelical Christianity because scripture unequivocally delivery of the Ten Commandments by Moses at Mount
sanctions slavery. In fact, some Southerners argued that Sinai, along with detailed guidelines to instruct the
abolitionists were defying God’s will by opposing slavery. Israelites, who were once slaves themselves, on how to be
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation masters to their own slaves (see the Ten Commandments
Proclamation on January 1, 1863, freeing all slaves in the for Slave Masters on page 25). With this unequivocal
Southern states. In December 1865, slavery was abolished background, there can be no doubt that God the Father
by the ratification of the U.S. Constitution’s Thirteenth approved of the institution of slavery, and his son and
Amendment, followed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth spokesmen continued the tradition.
Amendments, which granted former slaves full citizenship Jesus’ approval of slavery is readily apparent in his
and (if they were male) the right to vote. inclusion of servants and their masters in eight of his parables
There can be no doubt that slavery was an accepted (see the summaries on page 37). Because he never criticized
societal institution throughout history up to the early nor condemned slavery, and he did not forbid people from
nineteenth century. Only then did Western nations become owning slaves, he tacitly endorsed the practice. In one of

Jesus never criticized nor condemned slavery,


and he did not forbid people from owning slaves.
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 23
Five slave parables are noted for their extreme
violence through murder, killing, or maiming.
these parables, he explicitly authorized the cruel master-slave rewarded in the next life:
relationship when he recommended whipping disobedient
slaves: The servant who knows the master’s will and does Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear,
not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is
does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from
blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving
be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will
much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:47-48). reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they
Five of the eight slave parables are noted for their are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same
extreme violence through murder, killing, or maiming with way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is
phraseology including: both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no
favoritism with him (Ephesians 6:5-9).
• delivered him to the torturers
• cut him in two, grind him to powder Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do
• cast him into outer darkness it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor,
• weeping and gnashing of teeth but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.
• beaten with many stripes, and Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working
• slay them before me. for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that
you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It
Interspersed with this very disturbing language are is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong
several standard expressions of Christian imagery: will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism
(Colossians 3:22-24).
• kingdom of heaven
• my heavenly Father All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider
• kingdom of God, and their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name
• beloved son. and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have
believing masters should not show them disrespect just
The central figure of the master or the son is Jesus himself, because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should
and the consistent theme in these five violent stories is that serve them even better because their masters are dear to
those who disobey Jesus or reject him as Messiah will be them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of
punished with unending torture in hell. their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist
This is the dark side of Jesus the “Prince of Peace”, who on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the
condemned interpersonal violence, even in self-defense, sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly
while granting authority to slave owners to discipline their teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing (1
slaves. This is the divine mandate used to justify the beatings Timothy 6:1-4).
of black slaves in Southern states. Jesus also endorsed the
rules in the book of Exodus for slave owners, and two of his Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything,
miracles involved slaves: the healing of the centurion’s slave to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to
(Luke 7:1-10) and the restoration of the slaveboy Malchus’ steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted,
ear (Luke 22:50-51 and John 18:10). so that in every way they will make the teaching about God
In the Epistles, Paul decreed that slaves should obey our Savior attractive (Titus 2:9-10).
their masters with respect and fear in everything, just as
they would obey Jesus. And for their obedience, they will be The apostle Peter emphasized that slaves are obligated

Some argued that abolitionists were


defying God’s will by opposing slavery.
24 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
The Bible that condoned slavery back then is
the same Bible used today.
by Christian faith and fear of God to submit to their owners,
The Ten Commandments for Slave Owners
no matter how brutal. He said that it is commendable when
slaves endure unjust suffering that is willed by God: from Exodus 21:2-32 (with specific verses in parentheses)

1. If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve you for six years.


Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying
to your masters, not only to those who are good and anything (2).
considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is
commendable if someone bears up under the pain of 2. If he is bought alone, he is to go free alone. But if he has a
unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But wife when he’s bought, she is to go with him (3).
how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing 3. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or
wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her
and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To master, and only the man shall go free (4).
this you were called, because Christ suffered for you,
leaving you an example, that you should follow in his 4. But if the servant declares, “I love my master and my wife
steps (1 Peter 2:18-21). and children and do not want to go free” then his master must
take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or
The Bible’s three leading Christian figures testify in the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be
unequivocal language to the legitimacy of the institution of his servant for life (5-6).
slavery, yet Christians today abhor the concept as much as 5. If a man sells his daughter as a slave, she is not to go free
anyone. There is no better example of selective disregard of as male slaves do. If she does not please the master who has
scriptural mandates. selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has
From the founding of the nation in the 1770s to the no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith
beginning of the Civil War, the issue of slavery fractured with her (7-8).
Protestant denominations, including Baptists, Methodists,
Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. John Wesley called 6. If he selects her to be his son’s wife, he must grant her the
American slavery “the vilest that ever saw the sun.” rights of a daughter (9).
Ironically, abolition was inspired by the Protestant churches
7. If the son takes on another wife, he must not deprive the
in the North because, in their view, slavery was considered
first one of her food, clothing, or marital rights. If he does not
to be incompatible with Christian values!
provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without
It should not be surprising, then, that Christian clergy
any payment of money (10-11).
in the South at the time that abolition was gaining strength
found justification for slavery in scripture. For example, 8. Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod
in 1845, a South Carolina preacher named Richard Fuller must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they
declared, “God sanctioned slavery in the Bible, and therefore are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two,
it cannot be wrong.” It should also be noted that surveys since the slave is their property (20-21).
indicate that most Americans today believe that slavery was
9. A slave who goes blind in one eye from being punched by
the worst moral evil to ever aff lict American society.
their master is to be freed as compensation for the eye. The
same goes for an owner who knocks out a tooth, and this
Implications
applies to male and female slaves (26-27).
What does this definitive scriptural documentation mean
for atheists, civil libertarians, and social progressives who 10. If a slave (male or female) is gored by a bull, the bull’s
view Civil War monuments as tributes to an embarrassing owner must pay the slave’s owner thirty shekels, and the bull
must be stoned to death (32).
Continued on page 37

Scripture teaches that servants are the


property of their owners.
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 25
The Verbiage of Theism
Religion dictates how everyone’s allowed to talk
by Ross Rosenfeld

In God we trust. Thank God. God is watching.


I ndeed “God” is all around us; not in any physical or
spiritual form, but most certainly in our language. And
whether or not atheists realize it, we partake by accepting the
verbiage of theism despite rejecting its irrational beliefs.
We do this even when we address the issue of belief
itself. We ask others, “Do you believe in God?” when really
the question ought to be, “Do you believe in gods?” or “Do
you believe in a god?” Or, better yet, “Do you believe in
gods and other superstitions?” The proper noun “God” is
truly improper grammar in this instance, as it wrongfully
attributes a persona to something that does not exist. We
don’t do this with other common plural nouns. We would
not ask someone if they believe in Fairy. We would say, “Do
you believe in fairies?” Gods should be no different.
The word “faith” has also permeated our language and
is biased in favor of religion. “Having faith” is considered
a good thing, though it shouldn’t be. “Faith will move
mountains.” “Just have faith.” “I have faith in you.” Faith
is nothing more than belief without evidence. If you were
having surgery, you wouldn’t want to have faith in the
surgeon; you’d want to have confidence in them. Having
faith in their abilities would essentially mean that you have
no reason whatsoever to trust in their competence. If that
were the case, you might as well ask me to perform the
operation. But you don’t; your confidence in the surgeon is
not based on blind belief, but on sound reason and on their
record of accomplishment.
Religious language also infests our politics, even when
it’s not about breaking down the wall of church/state
separation. You may have heard, for instance, Medicare and
Social Security described as “sacred cows.” Where did that

We would not ask someone if they believe in


Fairy. We would say, “Do you believe in fairies?”
Gods should be no different.
26 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
President Eisenhower signed a law that made
“In God We Trust” the official U.S. motto as if to
say, “We’re the good ones because we believe in a
powerful supernatural being.”
expression originate? From Hinduism, of course, where Communications Commission. Most cable stations
cows cannot be devoured due to their supposed sanctity. have, for some reason, copied this policy of prohibiting
Midwesterners are often described as the “salt of the Earth.” curses, even though they have no legal requirement to
You’ll find that phrase in Matthew, 5:13, where the world’s do so. Why? Because of a puritanical streak in America
most popular fictional character, Jesus, delivers the Sermon on that has existed since the days of the Pilgrims that frowns
the Mount and instructs his followers upon “swear words.” That same
to spread his message. puritanical nature has made it
Another one you’ll hear in politics
is the “gospel truth.” A politician Religious difficult throughout our history
to talk about sex, a proprietary
might say that one when he wants to
assure his audience that something language also insistence that has had real and
serious consequences when it’s
is a 100% bona fide fact. But since
the Gospel is full of fictions, it infests our come to women’s issues.
American Atheists President

politics, even
hardly proves his statement reliable. David Silverman says we need
If he’s been scandalized, he may to throw out the rule book when
have had a “fall from grace,” like our it comes to combating religion.
favorite baddie, Satan. Maybe he’s
been “through hell”—you know,
when it’s not Perhaps we should also throw out
the language guide, or at least learn
where Satan lives with all his little
demon friends.
about breaking to use it honestly and properly.
Let’s not treat religion with any
Law and government are no
exceptions. In 1954, amidst the down the wall more respect than it truly deserves,
which is none. Religious “thought” is
Cold War and McCarthyism, the
words “under God” were added to of church/state no better than any other superstition.
So when someone says, “God knows,”
the Pledge of Allegiance. Two years
later, fearing “godless communism,”
President Eisenhower signed a
separation. feel free to finish the statement for
them by adding, “Nothing. Because
he doesn’t exist.” When someone
law that made “In God We Trust” says, “God help us,” feel free to say,
the official U.S. motto as if to say, “We’re going to need more than that.
“We’re the good ones because we believe in a powerful We’re going to need something real.” And when someone
supernatural being” (who, for some reason, couldn’t offers to “pray for you,” perhaps ask them if they can do
defeat Soviet tanks). It also appears in countless American something useful instead.
courtrooms and on all of our currency. Legal documents Don’t worry, you can do it. I have faith in you.
reference “acts of God.” And presidents end their State of
the Union addresses with the words “God bless America!” Ross Rosenfeld is an educator and historian who has written for
But it’s more than that. Religion has not only inf luenced the Daily News, The Hill, Newsday, newsweek.com, and numerous
what we say but has largely dictated how we’re allowed to others. His latest book is History and Hamilton: A Critical Analysis
talk. If you’re on a publicly-licensed television network, of the Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ron Chernow Broadway Show. He is
you can’t curse without incurring a fine from the Federal vice president of Long Island Atheists.

When someone says, “God knows,” feel free to


finish the statement for them by adding, “Nothing.
Because he doesn’t exist.”
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 27
Our Growing Secular
Demographic
A recent study shows a significant drop in the
number of religious Americans
by Becky Garrison

T he Public Religious Research Institute (PRRI) has conducted the most comprehensive survey
to date of the current religious landscape in this country. Published last September, “America’s
Changing Religious Identity: Findings from the 2016 American Values Atlas” is the result of surveying
101,000 people from all fifty states. American Atheist contributor Becky Garrison spoke with Robert P.
Jones, PRRI Assistant Director of Research, to unpack some of the study’s conclusions.

What was the impetus for the study? Did any of the results surprise you?
It’s always been important for PRRI to understand the We already knew that people are becoming increasingly
shifting religious landscape and how this impacts our culture unaffiliated, so I wasn’t surprised that one out of four young
and politics. There is no existing source for this information, adults aren’t affiliated with any particular religion. What
not even the U.S. Census. does surprise me, though, is how quickly these changes are
occurring. For instance, the percentage of Christians is down
How did you differentiate between atheist, agnostic, and to four in ten Americans, with a lot of this drop occurring
secular? in the last decade. In 2007, white Christians made up the
Among the religiously unaffiliated, we found that 14% were majority of the population in roughly thirty-nine states. In
atheist, 13% were agnostic and 58% were secular. We defined 2016, only twenty-three states had a majority white Christian
“secular” as someone who said, “I’m neither atheist or agnostic, population.
I’m just nothing” and also answered “no” when they were asked if
they considered themselves to be a religious person for any reason. What social issues did the survey address, and has anything
changed?
There appears to be a reluctance to use the word “atheist.” One of the key changes we saw was a shift in attitudes
I do think there’s a social desirability effect. People may pertaining to human sexuality, like birth control, same-sex
not want to reveal this personal information to a stranger in a marriage, and abortion rights. In the past, religious orientation
telephone survey—out of fear of being judged. We found that was the chief dividing line. The attitude of religious people was
people were more willing to state they don’t believe in God much more conservative than the attitude of the non-religious.
than to claim the atheist label. Now, a higher number of religious people have progressive

People were more willing to state they don’t believe


in God than to claim the atheist label.
28 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
In 2007, white Christians made up the majority of
the population in roughly 39 states. In 2016, only 23
states had a majority white Christian population.
views on issues around human sexuality. This does not apply,
however, to the dividing line regarding marijuana legislation.
Religious people are more opposed to legalizing marijuana
than non-religious people.

What shifts have you observed among those who consider


themselves to be religiously unaffiliated?
For a long time, the prevailing view was that people
who were religiously unaffiliated were not necessarily
non-religious. Rather, they had just drifted away from
institutional religion but were willing to come back, or they
were at least interested in religious ideas. There’s an argument
that religious institutions just need to incorporate more
elements of contemporary culture like music, videos, and
social media. But those strategies aren’t necessarily what will
woo this group back, because they have no interest in being
part of any religious tradition. Among those who identified
as religiously unaffiliated, less than a third identified as in our culture and the way they engage in politics.
“spiritual but not religious.”
This study shows that unaffiliated Americans are primarily Why is the shift toward secularism occurring so rapidly?
secular in their orientation. They’re not looking to engage A number of things are happening. The religious diversity
religiously, and they don’t spent a lot of time thinking about God in this country is increasing, both in terms of the number of
and religion. But they don’t have a negative outlook on religion, different religion traditions and the racial backgrounds of
so they aren’t anti-religious per se. This shift is important, as it Christians. Because of that, there’s less pressure to conform to
suggests that this group will sort of stay this way. Their secular a specific religious norm. Also, the politicization of Christian
origination influences how they think about the role of religion activism matters because right now conservative Christians

This study shows that unaffiliated Americans


are primarily secular in their orientation.
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 29
Among those who identified as religiously
unaffiliated, less than a third identified
as “spiritual but not religious.”
Does this account for Donald Trump’s victory? He won 81% very little influence on the rise of people who claim they are
of the white evangelical vote. religiously unaffiliated.
Religiously unaffiliated people are not nearly as active—
socially or politically—as people who are adherents to How can this data help inform the election campaigns in
established religious traditions. The religiously unaffiliated may 2018 and 2020?
comprise a quarter of the population, but they account for only The religiously unaffiliated tend to vote two-to-one for
15% of voters who showed up for the 2016 presidential election. Democratic candidates. This number continues to rise, so in
theory this could be good news for Democrats. However, this
This would explain why so many government figures attend group is not easily activated, so it’s hard to figure out how to get
events like the National Prayer Breakfast. them to the polls.
There’s a great story about Barney Frank. He came out as gay
relatively early in his career, but it wasn’t until after he retired Editor’s note: No matter your party affiliation, your vote is
that he came out as an atheist. That gives you an idea about the your voice. Showing politicians that atheists, agnostics, freethinkers,
political baggage associated with that term. A number of studies and other secular people are a powerful—and growing—voting bloc
reveal that among religious people, atheism is viewed far more requires getting out the vote and demonstrating that we are a force
negatively than other religions. It’s slowly changing, though. For to be reckoned with at election time. That’s why American Atheists
the longest time, the majority of Americans were of the opinion has teamed up with the Center for Inquiry, the Secular Coalition for
that a belief in God was necessary to be a moral person. But in America, and the Secular Student Alliance to launch the Secular
2016, the majority of Americans said that it’s not. Values Voter initiative. You will play an important part in raising
our profile when you pledge to vote and become a vocal member of
Has Trump’s embrace of the religious right played a part in your community. Learn more at SecularAmericaVotes.org.
turning people away from religion?
No, it’s not that simple. It’s a very complicated process for Becky Garrison is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Follow
someone to abandon their religious identity, so Trump has had her travels and writing via Twitter and Instagram @Becky_Garrison.

Religious people are more opposed to legalizing


marijuana than non-religious people.
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everyone’s enemy.”
~ Taslima Nasrin, international human rights activist and author of Shame and Revenge

1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 31


Invisible Friends and Time Travel
How life with a fundamentalist dad spawned my atheist sci-fi novel

by Marty Essen

S omeday, laws will exist to protect non-


believing children from overzealous
Christian parents. But for now, as long as the pushing
doesn’t veer into abuse, faking it or taking it are the
only realistic options most children have. When I
was a kid, I did a little of both.
I was eight years old when my father found Jesus
and announced to the world how happy his discovery
had made him. Since I loved and respected my father,
I wanted in on the happiness, too. Still, no matter how
hard I tried, I couldn’t quite believe as unconditionally
as my father did in his invisible friend.
“Ask him into your heart,” he’d say. I’d ask and
kind of believe, but more out of wanting to please
my father and to share in his experience. At eight,
I didn’t have the wherewithal to critically examine
the Bible. So, rather than understand that my lack of
conviction was a result of trying to believe a tome
written by people who couldn’t have passed one of
my second-grade science exams, I became frustrated.
Besides, shouldn’t a child be able to pick his own
invisible friend? Mine was Super Moose, and not
once did he ask me to invite him into my heart or
do any recruiting for him. He was, well . . . super
and therefore didn’t need silly human things,
such as blind allegiance or ten-percent tithes. His
sole purpose was to take control of my arms and
legs whenever my older brother picked on me. To
summon my friend, all I had to do was yell, “Super
Moose!” and hold my open hands on each side of
my head to mimic horns, and then touch those
horns to any solid object to “charge them.” With
a surge of adrenaline, I’d flail back at my brother
with high-speed moves. Admittedly, even with the
Power of the Moose, my brother was too big for me

He was even more of a victim of Christianity than I


had been. At least I had been able to escape.
32 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
Shouldn’t a child be able to pick his own invisible friend?
to damage. Instead, my antics would get him laughing so hard talking about the miracle. Well, she did die and left a young
that I nonetheless got the desired result: no more teasing. son who needed her. But according to my father, Jesus hadn’t
My father’s invisible friend was much more dangerous failed. What failed was our lack of faith. How nice to have a god
than mine because he played a large role in my mother filing that gets credit for all of the wins and none of the losses. The
for divorce. I think it was the “wives, submit yourselves unto day of her death was the day I parted with Christianity. Even if
your own husbands” thing. Later, he told my father to move to God did exist, he was either too weak or too uncaring to make
Florida and become a rack jobber for Christian books. Since I a difference—screw him!
lived with my mother in Minnesota, I could only see my father From then on, arguments with my father over his invisible
for a few weeks each summer. friend became much more frequent. And, of course, with its
Even though being far away from him was traumatic at countless inaccuracies and contradictions, the Bible just may
times, once we got together, I loved our summer visits and even be the most useful tool for disproving its own message. Because
enjoyed going on the book-rack restocking rounds with him. most preachers stick to the passages that make up God’s greatest
I just wished he spent more of our time together in dad mode hits, it’s not unusual for even ardent church-goers to know only
rather than evangelist mode. a small fraction of what’s in the Bible. Consequently, the most
When he was in dad mode, we’d play tennis or mini entertaining way to throw off Christians in arguments is to
golf, and visit Sea World or Disney World. When he was in bring up unfamiliar and controversial passages that shock the
evangelist mode, his agenda was to get me to believe with the heaven out of them. My favorites include reciting Psalm 137:9
proper amount of conviction. Sometimes the lines between the or asking which of the two versions of Eve’s creation in Genesis
two modes blurred. Do you know what makes Disney’s Space is true and which is a lie.
Mountain even scarier than it really is? Having your dad pray I argued with my father far less after he died. And I must
in your ear for God’s protection during the entire ride! say, without him being able to verbally deflect any challenge
As I entered my teens, I occasionally had to endure with some version of “but then a miracle happened,” my rate of
an experience even more terrifying than the one at Space winning increased dramatically.
Mountain: eating in restaurants and risking the embarrassment To this day, I still vacillate on how I feel about my father’s
of my father praying aloud. So I’d watch his body language for religious aggression. Like a member of any cult, he was
signs that a prayer was about to begin. Then I’d excuse myself incapable of thinking critically, so he honestly believed he was
to go to the restroom. My maneuver seldom worked, and even doing the right thing. In fact, in his mind, it was sinful to even
when it did, he’d try to get me to pray aloud with him once we consider that the people in biblical times were so primitive that
returned to his apartment. Even though I had long outgrown butane lighters, firecrackers, and duct tape would have been
Super Moose, I recognized that my childhood invisible friend magical to them. By refusing to let doubt enter his thoughts,
had been far superior to Jesus. Never once did the Moose ask he gladly allowed his life to be run by people who lived one
“What?” because he couldn’t hear my thoughts and needed me thousand years before the invention of sunglasses.
to vocalize them as, apparently, my father’s friend required. He was also an easy mark for anyone asking for his money
As an adult, I could better deal with having an evangelist for a in the name of “doing God’s work.” Near the end of my father’s
father. The defining moment of becoming a full-fledged heathen life, when he needed some financial assistance, I actually had
came when my thirty-four-year-old sister was dying of lupus. My to withhold my check until he promised not to turn around and
father was convinced that God would save her, as long as we all give ten percent of it to God. He was even more of a victim of
believed “just so.” He even brought one of his born-again friends Christianity than I had been. At least I had been able to escape.
to the hospital room to help him pray over her. I still remember Today, I’m an environmentalist college speaker and the
the wide-eyed look in my sister’s eyes as she endured the prayers, author of three books. Or, in my father’s words, a victim of Satan
unable to speak because of the tube down her throat. My brother working through my wife to deceive me. My writing style uses
and I eventually got angry enough to put a stop to the prayers, humor to make political points because people are less guarded
but not nearly as quickly as we should have. I suppose we, too, when they’re laughing. My latest book, Time Is Irreverent, fits
clung to the hope that Jesus would come through. into a genre I call science fiction-political comedy. For years, I
Had my sister lived, Jesus, not the doctors, would have toyed with the idea of a book that sends the protagonist back
gotten the credit, and my father would have never stopped to the days of Christ. Once there, he would inadvertently do

My father’s invisible friend was much more


dangerous than mine because he played a large
role in my mother filing for divorce.
1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 33
The day of her death was the day
I parted with Christianity.
something to change the course of history. Then, when he (Those liberal states were kicked out of the theocracy, along
returns to the present, the guy starring in the New Testament with Washington and New York.)
isn’t Jesus—it’s him. As I was writing the book, I became convinced that Marty
I wasn’t able to figure out how to write it until Donald and Nellie had entered my fingers and did the typing for me—
Trump became president. Knowing that millions of Christians just like born-again Christians are convinced that Jesus has
were now fawning over a man who is the antithesis of the main entered their hearts. I had no idea what they were going to do
character in the New Testament— with some even believing until the words appeared on my computer screen.
he was ordained by God—inspired many possibilities. When Marty and Nellie remain my invisible friends. I know they
I learned that well over fifty percent of Republicans would be aren’t real, but since they don’t ask for money or demand I devote
happy if America became a Christian theocracy, the entire plot my life to recruiting for them, we have a happy relationship.
quickly came together. Also, being a time-travel story, I could In fact, the three of us are already working on a sequel. Near
send my characters back to the year 31C.E. to crash the Sermon the end of Time Is Irreverent, Marty and Nellie travel back
on the Mount, as well as send them forward to the year 2056, to to 31 C.E. and discover that Jesus is a first-century showman,
show what American life would look like after a succession of similar to the tent revival preachers of today. For the next book,
Supreme Leaders “elected by God.” we thought it would be fun to bring Jesus to the twenty-first
Let the laughs begin! century and see how today’s Christians—especially those on
Okay, life in an American theocracy would be miserable. In the far right—treat him. I’m sure it will be a laugh riot.
Time Is Irreverent, women have no rights, Muslims and other
non-Christians were immediately deported, and it’s against the Marty Essen began writing professionally in the 1990s, as a features
law to drink alcohol, listen to rock and roll, or be gay or lesbian. writer for Gig Magazine. His first book Cool Creatures, Hot Planet:
The story is told from the point of view of Marty Mann, who Exploring the Seven Continents, won six national awards, and the
involuntarily travels from 2020 to Florida in 2056, where the Minneapolis Star-Tribune named it a Top Ten Green Book. His second
land is ravaged by the effects of global warming, and he has little book, Endangered Edens: Exploring the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,
hope of returning to the present. There, he meets Nellie Dixon, Costa Rica, the Everglades, and Puerto Rico, won four national awards.
a lesbian who must hide her sexual orientation from both her Also a popular college speaker, he has performed the stage-show
father and the authorities. Together, the odd couple embark on version of Cool Creatures, Hot Planet on hundreds of campuses, in
a cross-country road trip with the goal of reaching either the forty-five states. His website is MartyEssen.com and he blogs at
nation of California or the Canadian province of Minnesota. Marty-Essen.com.

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34 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


Notable Books
SOVEREIGNTY - He Lied for Your Sins A Better Ten Commandments - A Guide to Living
by Rhys Hagan, 313 pages, RhysHagan.com Life With, and On Purpose
by James Miller, 77 pages (with references), ABetterTen.com
A crime fiction
story about a self- James Miller puts
gratifying Roman forth his approach to
banker desperate filtering through the
to make a name for chaos and confusion
himself in the volatile of everyday life to
world of imperial frame an approach for
finance. When he’s finding fulfillment
offered a lucrative without taking
contract he can’t anything on faith.
fulfill, he considers Combining history
the dying religion in and philosophy,
his city of Jerusalem. religion and science,
It soon becomes clear he says, A Better Ten
that faith is profitable Commandments is
only if he can find a about who we are,
man to spearhead his what we want, and
campaign and revive what truly matters in
the churches. His idea life—the only life you
comes to fruition when he meets a local man, Jesus Christ. can count on.”

The Last Faith - A Book by an Atheist Believer Wonderful Without Religion: Creating a Divine Secular
by Karmak Bagisbayev, translated from Russian by Joanna Life for You, Your Family, and the Whole Wide World
Dobson, 192 pages, TheLastFaith.com by Mary Morse, 293 pages, MaryMorseBooks.com

In this fictional Reason is on the rise


conversation with as more people are saying
“God,” the author, good-bye to their faith.
who holds a Ph.D. But not every detail about
in physics and religion is bad. Mary
mathematics, makes Morse, author of Women
his subject accessible Changing Science: Voices
to a wide audience. from a Field in Transition
By doing so, he (Hachette), acknowledges
proposes a secular and the aspects of religious
scientifically testable experiences that speak
perspective on life and to us most and then
the nature of human offers ways of integrating
morality in particular. them into a secular life.
Winner of the 2017 Building on religion’s
Beverly Hills Award beauty and ditching
for Best New Work of its dogma, Wonderful
Philosophy and the Without Religion portrays
2017 Readers’ Favorite a heavenly future inspired
Bronze Medal in Religion/Philosophy. by logic that is rich with family, friends, meaning, and morality.

1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 35


Support American Atheists every time you shop Amazon.com!
At no additional cost to you, American Atheists will receive a donation from
Amazon of .5% of your total purchase when you enroll in Amazon Smile.

Shop at AmazonSmile
and Amazon will makea donation to:
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36 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


Cont. from p. 25 - God is a Slave Owner’s Best Friend

and shameful aspect of American history? What are the


implications of biblical truth for activists who generally reject Jesus’ Eight Slave Parables
all forms of religious mythology? 1. Unmerciful Servant
First, the irrefutable conclusion that emerges from this Matthew 18:23-35
focused review is that the God of Judeo-Christian scripture
sanctioned slavery as an honorable human relationship. He is Those who do not forgive others will not be
the slave owner’s best friend, and his perfect word, the Holy forgiven by God and will be tortured forever.
Bible, is the slave owner’s instruction manual and rule book.
2. Wicked Tenants
Furthermore, God’s designated spokesmen—Moses, Jesus,
Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19
Paul, and Peter—amplified and extended his pro-slavery
mandate for the Judeo-Christian community. Those who do not recognize Jesus as Messiah will
Second, it should be made perfectly clear that not enter eternal life.
Confederate statues and historical markers are primarily
3. Wedding Banquet
symbols of slavery. Although some defenders of
Matthew 22:2-14
Confederate honor deny that this was the major issue,
others argue that their ancestors sincerely believed that Those who reject God’s generous offer of salvation
slavery was a God-ordained practice. Both the ancestors through his son will be thrown into hell.
and descendants are, in fact, correct. The Bible that
4. Unfaithful Servant
condoned slavery back then is the same Bible used today.
Matthew 25:45-51, Luke 12:42-48
Third, in an effort to mitigate antagonism and promote
harmony, we should avoid the slavery debate with those who Those who are not prepared to receive the
regard the statues as memorials to their deceased forebears kingdom of God will be sent to hell.
who gave their lives to defend the beloved Southern way of
5. Talents/Minas
life. Instead, we should channel our energy to correcting
Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27
the present-day inequalities, oppression, and unfairness
that minorities of all races, ethnicities, and orientations Those who do not use God’s bountiful resources
experience in America. productively will endure everlasting suffering.
Fourth, we should seek compromise and accommodation
6. Watchful Servants
by proposing to place explanatory plaques, historical
Mark 13:32-37, Luke 12:35-40
markers, and additional statuary near the Confederate
memorials, with the goal of clarifying and balancing official Be ready for Jesus’s return, because only God
community recognition. This should be done in a way that knows when he is coming.
satisfies—as much as is possible—the competing interests
7. Great Banquet
and viewpoints of all parties, realizing that no solution will
Luke 14:15-24
please everyone.
Those who are too busy to accept God’s invitation
Epilogue will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.
After Courageous Conversations’ effort of three years
8. Master and His Servant
to add a small marker to Georgetown’s Confederate soldier
Luke 17:7-10
statue, the conservative county commissioners summarily
voted down the proposal on November 14, 2017. Don’t expect to be rewarded for only doing what is
required of you.
Brian Bolton is a retired psychologist living in Georgetown,
Texas. He dedicates this article to the memory of the late
Bible scholar A.J. Mattill, Jr., who called the Bible “the slave
owner’s best friend.”

1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 37


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AFFILIATES AND LOCAL PARTNERS
State Group Name City Site
LOCAL PARTNERS
FL FLASH - Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists Orlando http://www.godlessflorida.com
GA Atlanta Freethought Society Atlanta http://atlantafreethought.org
IA Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers Des Moines http://www.meetup.com/Iowa-Atheists-and-Freethinkers
KY Tri-State Freethinkers (KY, IN, OH) Union http://www.meetup.com/Tri-State-Freethinkers/
MN Minnesota Atheists Minneapolis http://mnatheists.org
NE Lincoln Atheists Lincoln http://www.lincolnatheists.org
NY Long Island Atheists Lynbrook LIAtheists.org
OK Atheist Community of Tulsa Tulsa http://www.ACTOK.org
PA PA Non-Believers York http://www.panonbelievers.org
TX Metroplex Atheists Arlington http://www.metroplexatheists.org
UT Atheists of Utah Salt Lake City atheistsofutah.org
AFFILIATES
AK Alaskan Atheists Anchorage http://www.meetup.com/AlaskanAtheists/

AL Auburn Atheists & Agnostics Auburn http://www.facebook.com/groups/auburnatheistsandagnostics/

AL Birmingham Atheists Meetup Birmingham http://www.meetup.com/atheists-132

AL Marshall County Atheists & Agnostics Marshall http://www.themcaa.org

AL Montgomery Area Freethought Association Montgomery http://www.montgomeryfreethought.org

AL North Alabama Freethought Association Huntsville http://www.meetup.com/thenafa

AL UA Alabama Atheists and Agnostics Tuscaloosa http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2234029305

AL UAH Non-Theists Huntsville http://www.facebook.com/uahnontheists

AL West Alabama Freethought Association Tuscaloosa http://www.meetup.com/westalabamafreethought

AR Arkansas Society of Freethinkers Little Rock http://www.ARFreethinkers.org

AR ArkLaTex Freethinkers, Atheists, Agnostics & Humanists Texarkana http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=128265161357

AR Southwest Arkansas Atheist Community Nashville http://goo.gl/K2koj

AZ Reason Riders Glendale Reasonriders.com

AZ Tucson Atheists Tucson http://www.meetup.com/Tucson-Atheists/

CA-N Atheist Advocates of San Francisco San Francisco http://atheistadvocatesofsanfrancisco.com/

CA-N Atheist Community of San Jose San Jose Sanjoseatheists.org


CA-N Humanist Community in Silicon Valley San Jose www.humanists.org

CA-N Atheists and Other Freethinkers Sacramento http://aofonline.org

CA-N Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics Fresno http://www.cvaas.org

CA-N Contra Costa Atheists & Freethinkers Pleasant Hill http://www.meetup.com/Contra-Costa-Atheists-and-Freethinkers/

CA-N East Bay Atheists Oakland http://www.eastbayatheists.org

CA-N San Francisco Atheists San Francisco http://www.sfatheists.com

CA-N Santa Cruz Atheists Santa Cruz http://santacruzatheists.org

CA-N Rosmoor Atheists Walnut Creek http://goo.gl/K2koj

CA-S Atheist Coalition of San Diego San Diego http://www.atheistcoalition.org

CA-S Humanist Fellowship of San Diego San Diego http://goo.gl/K2koj

CA-S Atheist Society of Kern Bakersfield http://goo.gl/K2koj

CA-S Backyard Skeptics Villa Park http://www.backyardskeptics.com

CA-S Humanist Society of Santa Barbara Santa Barbara http://www.santabarbarahumanists.org

CA-S New Atheists of East County Jamul http://www.meetup.com/New-Atheists-of-East-County/

CA-S Orange County Atheists Orange http://www.ocatheists.com

CA-S Riverside Atheists and Free Thinkers (RAFT) Riverside http://RiversideAtheists.org

40 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


CO Atheists and Freethinkers of Denver Denver http://athofden.tripod.com

CO Boulder Atheists Boulder http://www.boulderatheists.org

CO Metro State Atheists Denver http://metrostateatheists.wordpress.com

CO Pikes Peak Atheists Colorado Springs http://goo.gl/K2koj

CO Western Colorado Atheists & Freethinkers Grand Junction http://westerncoloradoatheists.org

CT Atheist Humanist Society of CT and RI Norwich http://atheisthumanist.org

CT Connecticut Valley Atheists South Windsor http://www.cvatheists.org

DC American University Rationalists and Atheists Washington http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34367344446

DC Washington Area Secular Humanists Washington http://www.wash.org

FL Atheists of Florida Tampa http://goo.gl/K2koj

FL Central Florida Secular Alliance Dunnellon http://cfsecularalliance.weebly.com

FL Florida Atheists, Critical Thinkers & Skeptics Longwood/Orlando http://www.meetup.com/Critical

FL Gator Freethought (UF) Gainesville http://www.gatorfreethought.com/

FL Ocala Atheists Ocala http://www.meetup.com/Ocala-Atheists/

FL Sarasota-Manatee Atheists & Secular Humanists (SMASH) Nokomis http://goo.gl/K2koj

FL Secular Student Association at Univ. of Central FL Orlando http://ssaucf.com

FL Humanist Community of the Space Coast Satellite Beach http://goo.gl/K2koj

FL St. Petersburg Atheists St. Petersburg http://www.meetup.com/atheists-209

FL Tallahassee Atheists Tallahassee http://www.tallahasseeatheists.com/

FL Treasure Coast Atheists Stuart http://www.meetup.com/atheists-600

FL Williston Atheists Morriston http://goo.gl/K2koj

GA Albany Georgia Atheists Albany http://www.albanygeorgiaatheists.com/

GA Gainesville Atheists Gainesville http://goo.gl/K2koj

GA Atlanta Freethought Society Atlanta http://www.atlantafreethought.org

GA Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta Atlanta http://www.blacknonbelievers.org

GA Fayette Freethought Society Peachtree City http://www.meetup.com/Fayette-Freethought-Society

GA Atheists United, Kennesaw State Univ Kennesaw http://goo.gl/K2koj

GA Kennesaw State U. Student Coalition for Inquiry Kennesaw http://www.facebook.com/ksusci

GA Macon Atheists & Secular Humanists Macon http://www.meetup.com/georgiamash/

IA Atheists United for a Rational America Iowa City http://rationalamerica.com

IA Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers Des Moines http://www.meetup.com/Iowa-Atheists-and-Freethinkers

IL Chicagoland Freethinkers Chicago http://www.meetup.com/chicago-freethought/

IL The Chicago Freethought Project Chicago http://www.facebook.com/thechicagofreethoughtproject

IL IL/WI Stateline Atheists Society Rockford http://www.meetup.com/statelineatheists

IL IWU Atheist, Agnostics, and Non-Religious Bloomington http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5558627959

IL The Secular Segment Mt. Vernon http://www.secularsegment.com

KS Secular Latino Alliance Kansas City Secularlatinos.weebly.com

KS U of K Society of Open-Minded Atheists & Agnostics Lawrence http://www.kusoma.org

KY Humanist Forum of Central Kentucky Lexington http://www.facebook.com/groups/kyhumanists/

KY Lexington Atheists Lexington http://www.meetup.com/The-Lexington-Atheists-Meetup-Group

KY Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers Louisville http://www.louisvilleatheists.com/

KY Secular Student Alliance, Morehad State University Morehead Facebook.com/msussa

LA New Orleans Secular Humanist Association New Orleans http://nosha.org

MA Atheists of Greater Lowell Lowell http://www.meetup.com/lowellatheists

MA Boston Atheists Boston http://bostonatheists.org

MD Freethinkers Union at McDaniel College Westminster <none>

1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 41


AFFILIATES AND LOCAL PARTNERS
MD Secular Student Alliance, Frostburg State University Frostburg Secularstudents.org/frostburg

MD Maryland Freethinkers Annapolis http://www.mdfreethinkers.com

ME Maine Atheists and Humanists Waterville http://goo.gl/K2koj

MI Atheists @ Oakland University Rochester http://www.facebook.com/AtheistsAtOU

MI Atheists, Skeptics, & Humanists Assn, N. Michigan U. Marquette http://goo.gl/K2koj

MI Michigan Atheists Detroit http://michiganatheists.org

MI Mid-Michigan Atheists & Humanists Lansing http://www.mmah.org

MN Atheists for Human Rights Minneapolis http://atheistsforhumanrights.org

MN Campus Atheists Skeptics & Humanists Minneapolis http://cashumn.org

MO Black Freethinkers of Kansas City Kansas City http://www.meetup.com/Black-FreeThinkers-of-KC/

MO Columbia Atheists Columbia http://www.meetup.com/The-Columbia-Atheists-Meetup-Group

MO Joplin Freethinkers Joplin http://www.joplinfreethinkers.org

MO Kansas City Atheist Coalition Kansas City http://www.kcatheists.org

MO MU Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists & Agnostics Columbia http://muSASHA.org

MO O’Fallon Freethinkers O’Fallon http://www.meetup.com/OFallon-Freethinkers

MO Rationalist Society of St. Louis St. Louis http://www.rssl.org

MO Secular Student Alliance @ UCMO Warrensburg http://www.centralskeptics.org

MO Springfield Freethinkers Springfield http://www.meetup.com/SpringfieldFreethinkers

MO Springfield Skeptics Springfield http://goo.gl/K2koj

MO St. Joseph Skeptics St. Joseph http://stjosephskeptics.org

MO We Are Atheism Grandview http://goo.gl/K2koj

MS Humanist Ethical Atheist Rational Thought Society Biloxi http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/HeartsOfTheSouth

MS Great Southern Humanist Society Biloxi http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/southernatheist

MS Mississippi Humanist Association Jackson Mshumanists.org

NC A-News Raleigh http://www.apartmentJ.com

NC Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics Charlotte http://www.charlotteatheists.com

NC Hickory Humanist Alliance Claremont http://goo.gl/K2koj

NC MASH Ft. Bragg Fayetteville http://www.mashfortbragg.org

NC Sandhills Secular Society Hope Mills http://goo.gl/K2koj

NC WNC Humanists Fairview http://www.wnchumanists.org

ND Red River Freethinkers Fargo http://redriverfreethinkers.org

NE Omaha Atheists Omaha http://omahaatheists.org/

NJ Camden County Humanists Blackwood http://goo.gl/K2koj

NJ New Jersey Humanist Network Somerville http://njhn.org/

NJ Secular Student Alliance @ Montclair State Univ. Montclair http://secularstudents.org/montclair

NJ South Jersey Humanists Oceanville http://goo.gl/K2koj

NJ William Paterson Univ. Secular Student Alliance Pompton Lakes https://www.facebook.com/SSA.WPUNJ

NM Roswatheists Roswell http://www.meetup.com/Roswatheists

NM Atheist Community of Santa Fe Santa Fe http://goo.gl/K2koj

NV Reno Freethinkers Reno http://www.RenoFreethinkers.org

NY Freethinkers of Upstate New York Syracuse http://www.funygroup.org

NY Gotham Atheists New York https://www.meetup.com/GothamAtheists/

NY Hudson Valley Humanists Saugerties http://hudsonvalley.humanists.net

NY Long Island Atheists East Setauket Meetup.com/li-atheists

NY New York City Atheists New York http://nyc-atheists.org

NY Ward Melville High School Secular Student Alliance East Setauket http://goo.gl/K2koj

42 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


NY Westchester Atheists Chappaqua http://www.meetup.com/atheists-504

OH Free Inquiry Group Cincinnati http://www.gofigger.org

OH Freethought Dayton Dayton http://www.meetup.com/freethoughtdayton

OH Humanist Community of Central Ohio Columbus http://www.hcco.org

OH Mid-Ohio Atheists Mansfield http://midohioatheists.org

OK Atheist Community of Tulsa Tulsa http://www.ACTOK.org

OK Oklahoma Atheists Oklahoma City http://www.oklahomaatheists.com

PA NEPA Freethought Society Wilkes-Barre http://www.nepafreethought.org

SC Piedmont Humanists Greenville http://www.PiedmontHumanists.org

SC Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry Charleston http://www.lowcountryhumanists.org

SC Upstate Atheists Boiling Springs http://goo.gl/K2koj

TN Memphis Atheists Memphis http://goo.gl/K2koj

TN Memphis Freethought Alliance Memphis http://memphisfreethought.com

TN Nashville Secular Life Nashville http://www.meetup.com/secularlife

TN Rationalists of East Tennessee Knoxville http://www.rationalists.org

TX Atheist Community of Austin Austin http://atheist-community.org

TX Corpus Christi Atheists Corpus Christi http://www.meetup.com/CCAtheists

TX Denton Atheists Denton http://www.meetup.com/The-Denton-Atheists-Meetup-Group

TX El Paso Atheists El Paso http://www.elpasoatheists.com

TX Freethinkers Association of Central Texas San Antonio http://FreethinkersACT.org

TX Golden Triangle Freethinkers Beaumont http://goldentrianglefreethinkers.org

TX Houston Atheists Houston Meetup.com/Houston-atheists

TX Kingwood Humble Atascocita Atheists Atascocita http://www.kha-atheists.org/

TX Lubbock Atheists Lubbock http://www.meetup.com/atheists-496

TX Secular Humanist Society of East Texas Nacagdoches http://goo.gl/K2koj

TX UNT Freethought Alliance Denton http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=7647566521

TX Wise Free Thinkers and Skeptics Wise http://www.meetup.com/Wise-Free-Thinkers-and-Skeptics

UT Salt Lake Valley Atheists Salt Lake City http://nowscape.com/a

VA Beltway Atheists Leesburg http://www.meetup.com/Beltway-Atheists-Inc

VA NOVA Atheists Leesburg http://www.meetup.com/NOVA-Atheists

VT Atheists of Rutland Vermont Rutland http://www.atheistsofrutlandvt.com/

WA Seattle Atheists Seattle http://www.seattleatheists.org

WA Tri-City Freethinkers Pasco http://www.tricityfreethinkers.org

WI Southeast Wisconsin FreeThinkers Milwaukee http://swiftnow.org

WV Kanawha Valley Atheists and Agnostics Charleston http://goo.gl/K2koj

WV Mountain State Freethinkers Martinsville http://www.meetup.com/Mountain-State-Freethinkers

WV Morgantown Atheists Morgantown http://www.morgantownatheists.com

WY Wyoming Atheists Facebook.com/groups/wyomingatheists

US Atheist Nexus http://www.atheistnexus.org

US Black Atheists of America http://www.blackatheistsofamerica.org

US Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers http://www.militaryatheistsorg

Intl Southeast Asia Freethought Association

Intl Ateístas de Puerto Rico San Juan http://goo.gl/K2koj

Intl Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society http://www.patas.co

1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 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:
Atheism 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.

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

Materialism 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. Materialism’s ‘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.

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

44 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018


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1ST QUARTER 2018 AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org | 45
Why I Am an Atheist
by Branden Dodson
At some point there comes a time when you just have to reasonable
say, Wait. Stop. This doesn’t make any sense. That point came doubt that
for me about three years ago when I finally decided that I had the Earth is
pretended long enough. billions of
I grew up in a Southern Baptist Christian household. By years old, and
the time I was about eight or nine years old, I recognized that that humans
our religion seemed very similar to stories and myths I had evolved from
read about, so I wondered why was it correct to believe that we other species.
experience pain and suffering because a snake talked to Eve Those facts
and tricked her, but, at the same time, it was a sin to believe that alone rule out the possibility of Adam and Eve. No Adam and
Thor causes thunder with his hammer. I didn’t understand, but Eve means no original sin; no original sin means no need for
I pretended that I did. Jesus to die on the cross. But to think such a sacrilegious thing,
In 1978, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, founders of the PTL much less say it, was, well, unthinkable. So, I didn’t say anything.
(Praise The Lord) Club, opened a Christian theme park called I just continued to pretend.
Heritage USA in Rock Hill, South Carolina. In 1981, when I was My oldest brother is one of the most intelligent people I
eleven, my family relocated to Rock Hill from Orange County, know. He started higher education at age fourteen. He has spent
Virginia, so that we could attend the church affiliated with PTL. untold hours in a college classroom ever since as a perpetual
At that time, Heritage USA only consisted of a campground, a student studying philosophy, history, and Russian. He also
swimming pool, and a rec center. In a few years it had grown to went to flight school, and is now in the medical profession.
include the five-hundred-room Grand Hotel, a four-hundred- When I started my serious questioning, I first went to my
unit campground, a skating rink, Heritage Island Water Park, brother thinking that I would find a kindred spirit—someone
and more. who had set aside all that silly superstitious indoctrination that
I went to the private Christian school on the grounds of we had suffered as kids.
Heritage USA, and was in the same class as Jim and Tammy What I found instead stunned me. Not only was he a
Faye’s daughter, Tammy Sue. I saw the Bakkers become Christian, he was also a young-Earth creationist! He and I
fabulously wealthy while my mother gave the PTL Club money started to debate back and forth, so I needed to learn more to
that we could not afford to give. (In 1987, Jim Bakker resigned better defend my position. The more I learned, the less I could
as president of Heritage USA amidst allegations of sexual and pretend.
financial misconduct. A federal grand jury indicted him for Quite by accident, I came across Broca’s Brain by Carl
fraud over diverting millions of dollars of church funds to Sagan. After reading this book, I sought out other authors, like
personal use.) Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. I thought that I was
When I asked why we never seemed to receive any of the just acquiring the erudition that would support my position, but
blessings that the preachers promised us, I was told, among along the way, I found that they were different from the preachers
other things, that our faith wasn’t strong enough, but I knew and evangelists: they didn’t require that I pretend anything.
that was a cheap cop-out, a loophole in their system. How does I have a ten-year-old daughter. When she was five, she asked
one quantify faith? And, for that matter, what is faith? It’s belief me to take her to church, so I did. She and I attended the little
without proof. I was pretending to believe, I just could never Baptist church within walking distance from our house. After
pretend enough. almost a year, I couldn’t mask my hypocrisy any longer, so I
During my teen years, as I struggled to maintain my faith, my stopped going but didn’t stop her from going. Whenever she
mother tried to teach me how to speak in tongues. “When you asked, I would drop her off and pick her up from church. In
are all alone and you are praying, just ask God to give you the time, she went less and less often. Just recently, she has started
gift of tongues. Then, just open your mouth and start. Just make to ask those questions that come from every child at one time or
utterances. Your spirit knows what it is saying, and God knows another. Questions about Adam and Eve, about dinosaurs, and
what you are saying.” So there I was, kneeling beside my bed, my even the idea of there being no God.
mouth forming pure gibberish. I knew that this didn’t make any I think through every answer before I share it with her.
sense, but I pretended that it did. I try to word my responses as objectively as possible. I will
I left home earlier than most kids, and I was on my own by never try to dissuade or persuade her beliefs. I encourage her
the time I was eighteen. I had little time or inclination to go to to seek her own answers, to investigate for herself. And I will
church, and it was then that I started openly calling myself an never ask her to pretend.
agnostic.
Shortly after turning forty, I became a grandfather for the Branden Dodson owns a small landscaping business in Fredericksburg,
first time and began seriously questioning the foundations Virginia. When not working or golfing, he writes or spends time with
of Christianity. I knew that science had proved beyond any his family.
46 | AMERICAN ATHEIST | www.atheists.org 1ST QUARTER 2018
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