When it comes to dispelling mythology, information is a lot like spaghetti sauce

atheism spaghetti sauce

We need nice atheists, argumentative atheists, passionate atheists, skeptical atheists, scholarly atheists, rock star atheists and average Joe atheists if we are to reach a diverse audience with the message of reason, hope, morality, empathy and peace

By an unapologetic atheist

I’ve heard the occasional comment from visitors to my website that some of the memes contained therein tend to be a bit pointed. Some might go so far as to say they are insulting, insensitive, sometimes generalized in their nature and—gasp—mean-spirited.

To these observant folks, I say: “You are correct!” (You can tell I really mean it because I used an exclamation point.)

On a handful of those occasions I took the time to explain to said visitor why it is, since my philosophy is so heavily weighted with emphasis on morality, empathy, sympathy, common ground, etc., I would allow myself and my administrators to post any articles, pictures or memes that some people find insulting.

It is a fair question.

I can explain the reason fairly simply by referencing a story that was told to me some years ago.

Once upon a time, long ago, there was only one kind of spaghetti sauce. There were a couple companies that made your basic tomatoes and herbs spaghetti sauce, and most everybody was pretty happy with the whole arrangement. True, there were a few folks around who didn’t care for this one type of spaghetti sauce business but they were pretty much shit out of luck.

The spaghetti sauce companies had no reason to make any other types of spaghetti sauces because nobody was asking for any new spaghetti sauces. The money was flowing, the majority of macaroni munchers slurped down the sauce at a rate that kept the corporate tomato steamers in great baskets of cabbage—that’s “cash” to you younger cats.

Then, one day, along came an individual who didn’t like the idea of there being only one type of spaghetti sauce. He thought there should be chunky spaghetti sauce for the big boned, extra garlicky spaghetti sauce for the vampire hunters, garden vegetable spaghetti sauce for those fabulous California types, and even—pause for a gasp—cheesy spaghetti sauce … for those folks who just cannot develop heart disease fast enough.

Pretty soon, there were dozens of kinds of spaghetti sauce. And what was the result? Did the companies making regular old Italian-style spaghetti sauce suffer from the addition of newfangled gravies? No, they sold more sauces than ever by offering more types of sauce.

Many people had never considered that there might be a better-tasting, varied and science-based spaghetti sauce in the universe.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that a critical sentence concerning an aspect of religion isn’t identical to a flavor of spaghetti sauce. However, consider that delivering information—the methods used—cannot nor should not be approached with a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Some people learn best by doing a thing.

Some people learn best by reading about a thing.

You may learn best by seeing a picture with a factual quotation attached.

And, let’s face it, most people are not willing to consider viewpoints adverse to their own without them having been introduced to some fact or notion which connects with them on a personal and intellectual level.

Much like our sauce skeptic, who brought diversity to America’s dinner tables by posing a never-before considered notion, we seek to reach many different people on many different levels by offering many different forms of good information.

The result? There could be more than one type of spaghetti sauce. And maybe, just maybe, the most popular spaghetti sauce on Earth was actually based on a recipe of lies and cooked in a kettle of deceit. (These metaphors doing anything for ya?)

I prefer to learn new information by reading scholarly articles—perhaps that’s the journalist in me. I have friends who get excited over a statistic attached to a graphic. And, I know some people who are only called to action by seeing or hearing of an injustice they feel compelled to address.

And, just like spaghetti sauce, as long as the quality of information is good, it shouldn’t really matter how it is delivered … so long as no one is caused to suffer materially in the process.

And, really, having your worldview challenged or disparaged may be annoying, it may be frustrating, it might even give you an excuse to become enraged … but is it causing you undue physical or mental distress? I challenge anyone to prove atheist authors have caused any real harm, let alone on the scope of the malignancy mythology has wrought. If you don’t like their sauce, push away the plate and sample something else.

Oh, and my favorite spaghetti sauce: Hitchens’ brand chunky garden with zucchini.

GET A FREE COPY OF MY BOOK—The Moral Superiority of Atheism: A New Philosophy In The Oldest Argument—WHILE SUPPLIES LAST.

Just send your shipping address to editor@boynegazette.com and our godless technicians will use the amazing powers of science to turn my thoughts into words on a printed page for your reading pleasure … or disdain.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2014: Examining my own bigotry

intolerance will not be tolerated

I write this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Generally this national observance is celebrated with remembrances of the man and pondering of his legacy. My reason for writing this piece on this day stems from a conversation with a good clerical acquaintance last week—a talk that has left me in contemplation of the state of contemporary civility, or lack thereof.

We Americans tend to laud ourselves on accomplishments of old: suffrage, desegregation, abolition.

Yet, this nation roils still in a melange of bigotry and irascibility … though kinder and gentler they may be.

Having learned that word “irascible” just last year, it’s use is not intended to dazzle the reader but because it is most apropos.

This persistent anger fed by unending frustration is likely the root of most bugbears.

Civility is a choice, true. But, can one be simultaneously contended and kind, and at the same time be fearful and hateful? Such juxtapositions have never co-existed for myself.

When I feel most hateful, most frustrated, I speed in the opposite direction of contentment with both feet on the gas.

The most oft found target of such ire is injustice, specifically the harm that comes to those who have done no harm.

But, because that which rolls downhill is less discriminating, such discontentment, such irascibility often finds targets less deserving of ridicule.

So, what are we to do when we perceive others—sometimes correctly, sometimes not—as supportive of ideology or activity that directly harms?

After all, when properly marketed and executed in the accepted manner among certain classes, various forms of racism, misogyny, extremism, child abuse, discrimination, intimidation, brainwashing, misinformation, extortion and propaganda are perfectly tolerable.

Actually, make that “unfortunately” tolerable.

Often, these philosophical arguments over societal issues are deemed mere “differences of opinion.”

However, financially, mentally, legislatively or physically harming someone who poses no actual material threat cannot remotely be construed with merely holding an opinion.

Is it enough for us each to simply tolerate one another? (One tolerates dysentery, not people.)

That being said, I know many people—friends, family, acquaintances, business associates—otherwise good people, who think nothing of loathing those who pose no danger but whose only crimes, aesthetically speaking, are that of looking, speaking, behaving differently.

With friends and family, at least, I try to tolerate (there’s that word again) such fearful aggression.

It’s much easier to sever contact and communication with familiar strangers than relatives.

And, miracle of miracles, it requires little effort to hate those that hate … but where does that leave me?

It is Shakespearean, if not cliché, this impulse to retreat into homogenous clans—what Hitchens called “The false security of consensus.”

After all, if it is ethical and acceptable to strike, in defense,  those who strike you, then it must be moral to hate those that hate, no?

The Dalai Lama said, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

Then I think back to my clerical comrade and his urging to meet intolerance with tolerance, hate with love, violence with peace.

Then I remember that, while my own viewpoints seem altruistic to me, they may be seen as intolerant or threatening to others.

So my late New Year’s resolution, sworn upon in secret in my office early on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2014, is to realize always that our commonalities far exceed our differences, and that I still have much to learn.

Tea for Tumidity?

This photo from the Library of Congress' collection shows thousands of people in attendance of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom on Washington, D.C.

This photo from the Library of Congress’ collection shows thousands of people in attendance of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom on Washington, D.C.

Tea for tumidity?: A meditation on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington D.C.

Is there any drink strong enough to sober a species enamored of destruction and disdainful of creation?

What can be done with a creature who’d rather bomb cities than build bridges, who’d prefer Cold War over peace talks, whose fascist tongues flick platitudes of freedom and equality?

Let’s face it, if we were half as moral as we think ourselves to be, the world would be far less dismal than reality suggests.

Regardless of what name you give them, self-absorbed, apathetic, fearful majorities have always existed. And, most of us are guilty of such behavior at some point in our lives; hell, most of us are guilty of it right now—whether we realize it or not. (Due to the hijacking of the lexicon, you may need to consult with a very old dictionary to understand what the words “conservative” and “liberal” actually mean, for political parties they are not.)

Their hallmarks are discernible even at great distance: they are conservative with love, conservative with introspection, conservative with justice, conservative with forgiveness, conservative with truth, conservative with realism, conservative with empathy and tolerance. And, they have always existed and will continue to exist because it is the easy thing to engage one’s fear. It is the comfortable thing to stick with one’s own kind—be that one’s religion, skin color, ethnicity, geographical affiliation, ideological similitude, or socioeconomic standing.

The skeptical, effacing, inquisitive individual—though scarce and seldom seen—will always raise the ire and terror of the self-absorbed, apathetic, fearful majorities. Nothing causes as much consternation in the certain mind, the determined mind, the ignorant mind, as the introduction of equitable principles. For, equality is the unnatural thing, the difficult thing, the impossible thing … the necessary thing.

Search nature for true liberty and equality and it likely will not be found; only human society has even broached the subject. Only mankind has—a scant few women and men—truly attempted to raise the weak and the sick, the deaf and the dumb, the blind and the simple, destitute and the hungry to the level of the strong and the healthy and the fortunate.

The skeptical, effacing, inquisitive individual arrives; a minority of one, is he. Like clean healthful lemon juice meeting thick, dull, artery-clogging cream, coagulation occurs. And, in a violent silence this silent violence unfolds … for none is ever so irascible, steadfast and mean-spirited as he who coaxes monsters from slumbers.

A defense of hate? There is only defense of hate. How else does one despise skin, fear sex, loathe strangers, deny equality—while demanding deference? Why is it lauded to overindulge the self, to steal, to under-nourish the fellow, to subjugate the poor, to exploit the have-less, to mock the foreign? It has become shameful to be a gourmet among gourmands. After all, who wants to be a field mouse among sewer rats?

Still, one’s stance of pure hatred of anything unfamiliar is not shunned but instead given title, political cachet, admiration and adoration … and unwieldy power; bone-snapping, jaw-breaking, gut-slicing, suffocating, mind-raping power.

Confidently ensconced in dominance, the purposeful pathogen works single-minded in its task—oh-so-liberally in its task—to destabilize inquiry, sabotage skepticism, to eliminate critical thought.

With liberal doses of racism, liberal doses of homophobia, liberal doses of apocalyptic occultism, liberal doses of censorship, liberal doses of state-sponsored terrorism, liberal doses of austerity, the self-absorbed, apathetic, fearful majorities manufacture and spread debilitating, dehumanizing, disenfranchising, dysfunctional hatred.

So long as consensus replaces righteousness, might replaces justice, tribalism replaces love, bitterness replaces empathy, fear replaces inquiry, propaganda replaces truth … so long, so long, so long as those iniquities remain transposed, so too shall mankind remain a sallow group of fellows frustrated by sickness but befuddled by the cure.

To bear witness to injustice for wont of status quo is to polish a lustrous trinket, nothing more.

I leave you with a toast as I sip orange pekoe: To those scarce and seldom seen heroes of nonviolent struggles, may your kind words and willing ears thaw frozen hearts, polish dusty minds and inspire wary bodies.

teapot

Irony in the wake of the Libyan riots

Religion shows little respect for humanity while demanding it unconditionally

By an unapologetic atheist

By now you’ve likely heard about the four American Embassy workers in the port city of Benghazi, Libya, who were killed outside the consulate building as they attempted to flee a riot by Muslims allegedly upset over an American-made low budget movie which negatively portrays Islam and the prophet Mohammed.

That the event occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American soil may have served as the catalyst for a press release the embassy released at the outset of the riots which would later turn deadly. In the release, consulate officials said they strongly condemn any attempt to denigrate religions and that religious freedom was paramount among American values.

Attempts to assuage the rabid hoodlums were futile as American diplomat Christopher Stevens—a man who, by many reports, was highly regarded by the people in the Mediterranean town—was murdered in a rocket-propelled grenade attack. It is not believed that Stevens or the three unnamed casualties were targets of the violence.

The overall theme of the attacks was anti-American sentiment apparently whipped into a frenzy by the movie “Innocence of Muslims,” made by Sam Bacile, a man who reportedly (according to AP) created the movie with the expressed purpose of insulting Islam.

The White House condemned the riots, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped just short of an apology for Bacile’s movie.

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” Clinton stated. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation.”

She further stated, “But, let me be clear, there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

I’ll spare you the platitudes about what a tragedy this was and move right on to the offending notions: respect and tolerance for religion.

After all, what is religious tolerance? Why should I respect your beliefs?

Tolerance” means to “put up with” and respect means “reverence for something.”

I certainly have no reverence for the range of silly-to-horrifying, of which the world’s religions consist.

And, since I have no desire to control how people spend their time, there is no need for me to “tolerate” anything. It causes me no harm for my neighbor to go to church. I am not physically disturbed by others when their thoughts turn to the ethereal.

I have no respect for the Qur’an’s treatment of women or the Judeo-Christian rituals of genital mutilation. But, no one needs my permission or “tolerance” to celebrate their holy days or pray in the public square.

What I do respect is the importance of concepts as vital to basic human liberty as free speech and free expression.

Religious beliefs and practices—so long as they do not directly harm another—are a form of free speech and free expression, and deserve to be protected as such.

In that I don’t owe anyone or anything my blind respect for their mere existence, and since the act of tolerating something that has no effect on me smacks of arrogance bordering on hubris … I will consent to neither.

What I do not have to respect or tolerate is a group of violent, superstitious dullards who harm people and property, stifle education and hijack legislation—regardless of how supreme they think their celestial dictator may be.

Ultimately, all humans should have the right to speak and express themselves as they see fit: whether that be by making a movie critical of religion or by praying to the east five times per day. What they don’t have a right to do is silence the voices of those with whom they disagree.

The popular, though spurious, solution to this issue of hurt feelings among religionists is to pass hate speech laws. Countries from Canada and Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Singapore and a dozen others have rules which criminalize everything from insulting and ridiculing religion to defaming religious figures and generally creating an air of disharmony between religious factions.

If it isn’t enough that entire groups of malicious cowards are given somewhat of a pass by blaming cartoons and movies and newspaper articles for their wicked actions, the passage of so-called hate speech creates an entirely new set of problems: what is hate speech? One man’s joke is another man’s denigration. My criticism may be your defamation. An off-color joke may be sufficient grounds for people on the other side of the planet to wage war. We’ve already seen for what 13 minutes of amateur cinema posted on youtube.com can be blamed.

Demands for respect or tolerance, to paraphrase Shocknet Radio’s John Mill, is something patriots do not need and scoundrels will not heed.

The freedom of religion is only as important as the freedom to hold up one’s middle finger; it is only as necessary as your ability to scream “Hell no, we won’t go!”; it is only as relevant as our ability to ridicule the ridiculous.

True freedom of religion will only exist as long as the freedoms of speech and expression are paramount.

I hope my enchanted brethren worldwide consider this last point before sharpening their swords and unfurling their crying towels: when you scheme to smother the expressions of others, you run the risk of extinguishing your own.

Atheists who stare at ghosts

 

Can atheists believe in ghosts?

If ghosts are magical, and atheists don’t believe in magic, how can atheists believe in ghosts?

Can non-believers believe in magic and still call themselves non-believers?

By an unapologetic atheist

Considering some of the far-fetched claims that escape the mouths of religionists it takes a good bit of nonsense to make me shake my head anymore.

However, just the other day I was witness to a couple of self-proclaimed atheists engaging in a discussion about contacting the dead. The one so-called “atheist” told the other so-called “atheist” that he knew some people who had contacted a dead relative using a OUIJA board. The gentleman went on to describe how the people uncovered details about the relative that they could never have known—this was his proof that the board worked. After a few minutes of watching this back-and-forth I interjected something along the lines of, “And to think: Milton-Bradley devised a means of communicating with the dead for only $14.99.” I was promptly informed that, not only was the OUIJA board a bonafide tool for clairvoyance, but it had existed before game companies latched onto it.

Sensing I had ambled into verbal minefield, I gracefully bid them adieu.

I knew arguing with them was pointless, but the conversation stuck in my brain. As I mulled it I thought back a few decades to when I was 12 years old. My family and I moved into a great big farmhouse that was well over a hundred years old.

In addition to rooms within rooms, creepy closet cubbyholes and an enormous cobweb-laden basement straight out of a Bela Lugosi flick, the landlords informed us our new abode was apparently haunted.

As a life-long atheist I was skeptical at the notion that the essence of some long-dead farmer was somehow magically lingering, floating from hall to hall, fulfilling his ghostly agenda. But, for reasons still unknown to me, my parents began reporting strange goings-on.

First they awakened one Sunday morning and told us they had heard the cupboard doors in the basement being flung open then violently slammed shut in the late-night hours.

Then there was the strange little girl my father swears he saw in an upstairs window one afternoon while we were all in the backyard.

The spookiest account allegedly involved my father who, in the basement starting a load of laundry, swears he heard a voice calling his name from one of the small dark rooms far off in the back.

At the time, and out of respect, I went along with the charade. I went so far as to make a game out of ghost hunting with my brothers in the basement and in the giant dark closets in the old place. Secretly, I knew it was all bunk. And, as I look back now, nearly every case of some ghostly “event” was witnessed by only one person: my father. Knowing the very rough life my father has led, I think it safe to say his “encounters” were likely stress-induced imaginings.

Perhaps you’re thinking that this is not so extraordinary. After all, many millions of people believe in ghosts and spirits, angels and demons. The anomaly in this case arises from the fact that both my parents claim to be atheists. Now, to be fair, my mother was raised Catholic, and I’m not sure I heard her say she didn’t believe in some sort of deity more than once, so I seriously doubt she is not at least a deist—which makes belief in the supernatural all the more plausible.

Contrarily, my father was much more affirmed in his non-theism, but his willingness to believe in magical beings places him in a completely other category than atheist. Perhaps he, too, is a deist.

The very definition of atheism is a lack of belief in gods, a rejection of religion and skepticism in the face of supernatural claims.

Would my parents have fallen for the self-delusional carnie trick that makes the OUIJA board work? I know not.

Neither can I answer why blatant spiritualists would consider themselves atheists. Perhaps this is merely a matter of ignorance as it relates to proper terminology. After all, there are numerous degrees of belief in the supernatural ranging from absolute belief in an established god character and its related rules and regulations to belief in an unspecified magical being or beings with no adherence to any established dogma and just about any combination of all or none in between.

Spiritualism, with its all-inclusive dogma that basically states all religions have some value, and all peoples worship the same magical creature whether they know it or not, can be confusing for people who were raised with stringent occultist bylaws and well-defined deity.

Though modern spiritualism dates back to 1848 when a family began allegedly communicating with the “spirit” of a dead man that, far removed accounts claim, came in the form of “rapping” on the family’s cabin.

By the late-1800s people were bedazzled by this new form of magic worship and soon folks were holding seances, getting their palms read and consulting with the new-fangled talking board marketed under the name “OUIJA.”

Considering the accounts detailed in the Abrahamic mythologies, it is apparent that belief in spirits and ghosts dates back at least several thousand years if not further.

Regardless of its origins, some people who believe in magic are calling themselves “atheists.” And, as cute as Richard Dawkins concept of everyone being an atheist because they all have certain religions they don’t believe in, a true atheist is one who does not believe in anything supernatural—or so I thought.

Just as I was ready to finish my research and begin this column I spotted a PEW survey on the religious landscape which claims 21% of atheist believe in a god.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Now, to be fair, the study included just over 35,000 people, of which 1.6 percent were supposed atheists; 2.4 percent were allegedly agnostic.

Once again I had to ask myself: was this a matter of people simply not understanding terminology? Perhaps a segment of the people interviewed gave purposely false answers. Maybe those who were identified as atheists were actually deists or all agnostics.

The bigger question may be: “Why does it matter?”

It matters to me because atheism as a social movement has always been a mish-mosh of people from all backgrounds who don’t necessarily have anything in common other than not believing in the supernatural. This makes for a frustrating and nearly impossible mission of fighting against religious tyranny.

However, it is increasingly evident that we do have more in common than we may have originally thought: we are all impinged upon in ways great and small by theocracy.

Whether it is something relatively minor like not being able to purchase liquor on a Sunday or holiday, or getting stoned to death for having sex out of wedlock, religion’s cruel claw is locked around the throats of billions worldwide.

If we are ever to unite under the banner of liberty and justice for all in this fight against religious supremacists, who work diligently to impose their beliefs in magic in nearly every aspect of life, then we must be armed with knowledge about liberty, law, religion and history—and if those in our numbers do not possess the ability to understand what they believe and who they are, then our goals are truly unreachable … like a ghost in the night.

Copyright an unapologetic atheist

This material may not be reprinted in part or whole without the author’s permission.

an unapologetic atheist is a long-time journalist and columnist in the areas of news and opinion ranging from humor to civil liberties.

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