Charlie Hebdo massacre raises age-old questions: Are any religions good or necessary?

Figured I'd pile them up and see how long it takes before a riot breaks out.

Figured I’d pile them up and see how long it takes before a riot breaks out. PHOTO BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS

Winning by walkover: Christianity claims moral victory over Islam in wake of Hebdo massacre

But the questions remain: Is religion at fault? What good can religion do? Are any religions truly good? Is religion necessary?

By Benjamin J. Gohs

Victory by default is a pitiful accomplishment.

That has not stopped many Christians worldwide from proverbially patting themselves on the back in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Ironically, it is often these same Christians whom reject the notion that the actions of religious individuals is in any way reflective of the religion itself. To a certain degree, they are correct: The religion is not dangerous as it remains ink on paper. No book is inherently dangerous.

So long as no person takes religious doctrine seriously, nor follows its tenets, nor puts religious orders into practice; as long as no part of religion is legislated, nor used to plan or execute foreign policy, nor to brainwash and terrify children, then it is for the most part harmless.

Religion is not dangerous in the same way The Amazing Spider-Man comic book is innocuous, so long as nobody emulates its super-villains or tries to jump off a building in the style of Peter Parker.

Unfortunately, there are a great many people who do take religion seriously, who do legislate it, who take it literally, who believe it is infallible, who do use its inherent “mind-control* powers” to convince otherwise good people to do bad things.[*1. Brainwash from birth, 2. Terrify/shame into submission, 3. Rebuild with false confidence in, and unquestioning compliance with, religious leaders/of dogma]

After all, when you raise a human up from a child, terrifying and threatening it with seemingly credible information concerning an all-knowing, all-powerful, vengeful monster … the clergy, elder family members and even fellow occultists have a large degree of control over that individual’s ability to think critically, discern right from wrong, or fact from fiction, and they often wield that influence with disastrous fruition.

In the last week or so since the Muslim Jihadists shot and killed more than a dozen people over the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of Allah and Muhammad, I have had numerous conversations—mostly with religious people—about free speech, religion, and other aspects of human behavior and the power of ideology.

The recurring theme I heard was that “religion is not to blame” and “Christianity is superior to Islam because we don’t do that any more.” (“That” being the act of harming people in the name of religion.)

The third most talked about issue in my circles was the comment by Bill Maher that, “There are no great religions. They’re all stupid and dangerous.”

These Christian acquaintances, family members and strangers have seemed confident-bordering-on-braggadocios about the notion that Christians are better because they don’t do this kind of thing … any more … or not as much.

Forgetting that Christian Anders Brevik murdered 77 people in the name of Jesus Christ and his hope to spark a religious war between the Christs and the Muhammads, or that right now there are Christian Militias murdering and threatening the lives of many thousands of Muslims in Central African Republic, or that America’s war on Iraq was started by a Christian religious fanatic who believed God wanted him to be president—and you better believe he prayed long and hard before deciding that his God wanted him to invade Iraq and wage war on that Islamic nation.

Let’s pretend for a moment that neither the Christian nor Islamic religious texts included passages that clearly state that unbelievers should and will be tortured and murdered for their lack of compliance.

Let’s assume that all history’s holy wars have been waged by men who merely misread otherwise harmless allegory.

Let us also lie to ourselves and claim that religious dogma is not prone to violence, or that it isn’t backward, bizarre, self-contradictory, ignorant, banal or childish.

Even then, one bad actor is no better or worse than another bad actor when they both share so many similarities.

When the detrimental proclamations and commandments in these featured books of mythology are adhered to, people put themselves and others at great risk of physical and mental harm.

Forgetting all the really big things religion has gotten wrong with its adherents self-justifying holocausts all over the world, from the Jews to the American Indians and on and on, religion negatively affects people in ways many people never consider.

  1. Vivisection – the cutting on living creatures is disgusting. It is even more appalling when performed on people too young to make such decisions for themselves. The practice of cutting off the foreskin among many Christians and Jews, and the cutting of female genitalia by many Muslims, is at best immoral and at worst criminal. It is a throwback to the most puerile stage of human development, when smoke and lightning and thunder and moonlight were considered to be derived from magic; when the act of burning an animal was believed to appease a mythological monster; when disease was thought to be cured by reciting incantations.
  2. Child molestation – While Christian priests have used their power and position to molest untold thousands of children over the centuries, many Muslims use their apparent divine right to take child brides, a practice which is alive and unwell in numerous Middle-Eastern regions. The ubiquity of religion, and the power it holds over those who were raised from birth to believe it, makes such atrocity all the easier because, when everybody’s doing it, it seems normal. If God is infallible, and this clergyman is God’s right-hand man, then how can one even consider questioning the behavior of an imam, priest, pastor, etc.?
  3. Team-sport mentality – Religion, above all other ideologies, reinforces people’s natural urges to congregate with those who look, act and sound like themselves. It exacerbates xenophobia and serves to heighten a group’s distrust in those it deems inferior or threatening by virtue only of being different.
  4. Misogyny – Nearly all religions are anti-woman. Islam and Christianity are among the worst. Passage after passage of religious text portrays women as stupid, weak, conniving, and inferior. Religion teaches men to treat women as children, property and slaves.
  5. Segregation – In addition to the tribalism that religion instills in people, it gives its adherents justification for segregation of different religious sects, those of different skin color, sexual orientation and gender, be it the conservative Open Orthodox Jews, Islamic religious discrimination in places like Iran, or America, where new laws are being passed that allow refusal of services to homosexuals in businesses and organizations.
  6. Intellectual regression – The world is 6,000 years old. Climate change doesn’t exist. Gay sex is causing American soldiers to die as God’s punishment. Wet hair causes pneumonia. Women refusing to wear bras caused an earthquake. The school shooting was God’s punishment for taking the 10 Commandments out of the classroom. Man lived with the dinosaurs. Cancer is caused by the Polio vaccine. Karma is what causes health ailments. The list of erroneous claims (all of the preceding are real claims made by religious fanatics) made by the devoutly religious churchgoer and clergyman could go on and on. More and more people are using their religious beliefs to legislate mythology and nonsense into classrooms where outright lies are taught as fact, and for no other reason than religion enjoys a worldwide majority, which allows its minions to rule as they see fit—regardless of how damaging.
  7. Financial burden – Religious organizations enjoy the benefit of tax exemption, once again due to the ubiquity of religion. This forces the religious and secular, regardless of whether they support such measures, to make up for the shortfall caused by the church’s refusal to pay its fair share. All those services—from firefighting to street repair—that the rest of us pay for, are enjoyed, at no cost, by the houses of occultism. Just as bad is the obscene amount of money—many millions—in U.S. tax dollars which goes to faith-based initiatives. Those initiatives range from teaching abstinence to children who should be learning scientifically approved lessons regarding reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases, to converting prisoners and leveraging the homeless to endure church services before receiving meals. How many votes do politicians buy with the funds they dole to churches? Hard to say. But, be damned certain that building their religious brand is at the top of the list of priorities when they get their hands on our money.
  8. Self-delusion – One of the more popular sayings among the religious when confronted with a skeptic is, “A fool has said in his heart there is no God.” The idea that only the stupid, immoral, or ignorant refute the notion of magical beings is as common as the belief in gods itself. Though, ironically, many religionists simply ignore proven science and fact in favor of clichéd axioms. The result is, instead of getting their children vaccinated, they tell themselves “It’s God’s will” whether the child survives otherwise preventable diseases. Or, instead of explaining the reality of why a loved one died, they tell their children that “God works in mysterious ways.” And, no matter how terrible a plane crash or natural disaster or massacre, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” The damage done to children may be the most egregious result of self-delusion. How can a child grow up to become a competent scientist if they believe the world is 6,000 years old, or that man and dinosaur lived side-by-side, or that two of every living thing on the Earth were put on a boat the size of a few house trailers. How does a religious person look at life with any real value when they’re told that they’ll exist forever once they die? What harm comes from deluding oneself? And yet, insofar as self-deception represents an obstacle to self-knowledge, which has potentially serious moral implications, self-deception is more than an interesting philosophical puzzle,” stated Stanford’s online Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “It is a problem of particular concern for moral development, since self-deception can make us strangers to ourselves and blind to our own moral failings.” [ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-deception/ ]
  9. Inaction – How many times have you seen Facebook posts concerning, or heard people talking about, some tragedy? The vast majority of those responding generally say “I’m praying for you” or “Sending prayers your way.” The same goes for instances when people see news reports of natural disasters. Sure, some of those folks send money to help the needy—but the idea that they are only doing so because they are religious flies in the face of all human nature. People, by virtue of being human, are prone to giving mutual aid. There is evidence, from as far back as the first humanoids (you know, our numerous and not-so-distant relatives the world’s various bibles don’t mention) that early hominids, Neanderthals, Australopithecus, etc. helped one another, even the sick and elderly, well before organized religion had even been considered. Nonetheless, many humans find great satisfaction in the mere act of belonging to a church and/or saying prayers for those who suffer. Unfortunately, the act of prayer is as empty and pointless as the act of throwing salt over one’s shoulder for luck. How many people pray instead of pitching in when someone needs help? How many people give generously to the church, when most of that money goes to pay the pastor’s salary and build a bigger church? Why would you bother getting involved with a problematic situation if it’s all part of God’s plan? Heck, if you’ve prayed and tithed like a good parishioner, then you’ve done your part. Pat yourself on the back and go eat a hamburger, because your work here is done.

The list of detriments could go on and on, but these nine examples should be sufficient for this piece.

The legitimate arguments in favor of religion are as few and threadbare from overuse as they are invalid.

  1. Charity – Invariably, one of the first claims made by dogma’s apologists is that, without religion, there would be no charitable works. As if the act of claiming to believe in an imaginary magical monster somehow made one more apt to feed the homeless or heal the sick. This vapid notion is second only to the next, and most popular, specious argument offered.
  2. Morality – Just ask any Sunday school student and they’ll tell you that nobody can be good without a god, in particular, their god. Of course, those of us unencumbered by the malady of mythology understand this to be an incorrect assertion. A person’s urge and ability to do good and behave in a pro-social manner are as innate as his drive to protect his children. Even lab rats have exhibited empathy and morality when it came to the treatment of their fellow rats. Even worse than the claim that non-theists can’t be good without God is understanding that what the religious are saying is they are only behaving themselves because they fear punishment or desire praise from God. Apparently, absent that, they’d all be ax murderers and rapists. Complying under duress is not morality, it is extortion.
  3. Solace – “Religion soothes people in times of fear or suffering.” So does heroin. If all religion accomplished was to assure people that a great magical daddy was waiting to take away all their pain and suffering and give them treats and hugs forever and ever—if that’s all the holy books said—then they might win this point. However, no amount of imagined love, non-existent attentiveness, nor one-sided relationships excuses the centuries and centuries of blood spilled, minds and bodies shackled, starved and tortured, nor progress dashed.

Christopher Hitchens was oft quoted (I’m paraphrasing now) as saying, “Name me a positive action done by religion that cannot be done by secularism.”
I posed that very challenge to a right-wing radio host once and he said, “You can’t glorify God.” I laughed then as now. He was right. Glorifying an imagined god character was out of the reach of one who understands that magic and magical beings are childish nonsense.

In a 2010 piece by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby entitled “Good Religion, and the Good It Can Do” [ https://philosophynow.org/issues/78/Good_Religion_and_the_Good_It_Can_Do ] he states that discussions about religion should not begin by attacking its teachings and its history of offenses.

Not only are such conversations heavy and presumptuous, but they can also become very boring in a short span of time,” Kirby stated. “They lack something.”

Well, my apologies for boring this clergyman, but the fact remains that those religious people who abstain from the wickedness prescribed to them in their holy books are less likely to endanger their fellow man than those who see dogma as infallible, instructive and inimitable. Certainly, not all religious people do harm to others via their occultism, but far too many help support (by voting, monetary assistance, etc.) those who make it their mission to punish non-believers and those which the religion deems to be of lesser value. i.e. women, children, homosexuals, the poor, various ethnic persuasions, etc.

He goes on to say that those very debates must occur, but that they are not a good starting point for discussing the “(G)oodness of religion.”
I must agree. Talking about a subject’s negative aspects are generally a hindrance to proving how great it is—that’s one of the major problems with honesty!

Kirby claims religion gives meaning to human life in a way secularism cannot.

(W)e each know that there is something more than what we can simply sense,” he stated, as if that were somehow a fact. Certainly there are many among us who hope there is something more. There are many among us who claim to know there is something more. There are too many among us who want to believe there is something more. However, not all of us engage in deluding ourselves into thinking there is something more.

Mere consensus does not enhance a claim’s veracity.

Kirby then quotes a writer who says life is too hard and too weird for there not to be something more when we die. Now, I understand that many occultists cannot comprehend the concept of critical thought or the scientific method, but even the lowest among them should be able to grasp that, just because something is difficult or odd does not mean it has its roots in magic.

The writer goes on to say that the Abrahamic mythological character Jacob physically wrestled with God, and the story of which is proof enough that something more exists. Because, after all, why would a fictional character created thousands of years ago by an anonymous author lie about such a thing?

This is where the hypocrisy shows itself in bright glaring light. Or, as RJ Evans oft says, “The hypocrisy reveals the lie.”

The same people who won’t take exhaustive scientific study of a subject as evidence of something have no problem taking the word of a compilation of fairy tales from the Bronze Age.

The ‘something else’ that we all sense is the human person’s spiritual soul,” Kirby stated.

Again, he’s invoking his idea that magic is existent. His thesis is that religion can do good, but so far all he’s talked about is the fallacious idea that mystery equals magic equals God.

Wishing to be loved and lauded, Kirby explains, is due to the human urge of transcendence. The word “transcendence,” of course, being as much of a nonsense word as the word “spiritual.” Both words are used to describe the fantastical and the imagined.

Understandably, especially for those who were raised from children with the idea that religion deals with real history and phenomena, Kirby truly believes in things like spirituality and transcendence. And, that’s fine. Those beliefs alone may be relatively harmless when uncoupled from the poisonous portions of occultism. It is difficult to say without exhaustive study.

Still, though, there is no explanation of what good religion does. If spirituality and transcendence were real, then everyone would eventually experience them upon death. And, since the average human lifespan pales in comparison to an eternity in the supposed afterlife, it really shouldn’t matter whether people are aware of them.

Continuing with Kirby’s ethereal stroll down the path of obfuscation, he states that the desire for transcendence leads people to their metaphorical heart, where they love and are loved by God. I say “metaphorical” heart because science has found no evidence that I know of of synapses firing in the human heart. The only knowing or thinking or reasoning which occurs does so in the human brain … but not always.

More and more it sounds as though Kirby agrees with the radio talk show host who feels that the most moral act a person can perform is, not feeding the hungry nor clothing the naked nor protecting the weak but, to glorify God. To lavish this celestial slave-master with praise is the highest calling.

Kirby goes to explain that people who believe in a god naturally congregate with like-minded people. We know this to be true. However, the way Kirby tells it, an echo chamber that retains firmly held beliefs of dubious nature while shunning information to the contrary isn’t such a bad thing.

The purposeful confusion through the use of unintelligible concepts continues with the following: “Ultimately, the entire task of binding oneself, of good religion, is an attempt to order and deepen the person and the community’s understanding and encounter with God.”

Kirby earlier said that people have an unidentifiable yearning in their heart for God, which then leads them to consider the concept of God, which leads them to bind themselves with “good” religion (always reminding us that Catholicism is sane and good but other forms of magic worship are crazy and bad) and that that leads them to congregate with others of the same mindset and that that somehow helps them better understand their god.

However, he does err ever-so-slightly when he claims that individuals voluntarily follow the religion of those around them. The fact is that most religious people had their religion forced upon them from birth. The idea that they are free to decide what they believe was taken from them long before their ability to think critically emerged.

And, as we now know through initiatives such as The Clergy Project—which helps support and educate religious workers and officials who no longer believe in their god or the tenets of their religion—that many of the people involved in the religious community, even its leaders, secretly harbor skepticism, disagreement with church rules and even outright atheism.

Many of those who are forced into religion, at all ages, endure such a congregation of religious individuals in such an echo chamber often with long-lasting negative mental health effects.

The anxiety alone of knowing your beliefs could get you shunned by friends, family, coworkers and the community at large is enough to seriously damage a person’s mental health, let alone when such shunning and financial retribution (boycotting business, loss of employment, etc.) actually occurs.

If these “bindings” of people with religion were truly voluntary, then they might be innocuous, but since they are not, it is difficult to tell how many are harmed by such a system of forced philosophy.

It would be a mistake to consider the compulsory compliance of occultism to be a good thing for mankind.

However, compulsory compliance is necessary to maintaining attendance. The church, like any robust organization, needs to take on more members than it loses. Kirby quickly curtails the idea that it is good enough to be spiritual without attending church, going so far as to call it an “absurdity.”

(W)hen we experience transcendence and its radical capacity to change us, we desire to reveal these moments and to perpetuate them,” Kirby stated… “Our spiritual selves drive us to be religious, in order to share and give expression to our transcendence and our encounters with God.”

He adds that, while people seek such conspicuous recognition of their alleged otherworldly experiences, what they really want is to share those magical moments with the downtrodden.

The next time a homeless person asks for a dollar, just tell them you’re paying them in transcendence. (I’m interested to know how that works out for you, and them.)

Kirby closes by admitting that religion has been used to do terrible things but asks if it should be removed from society.

The question posed smacks of the popular claim that Christians are somehow victims of persecution because some question its dubious authority and point to its many faults.

None of the atheists I know have ever said they wished religion would be removed from society completely. To do so would be a violation of the individual’s right to speak and write and believe as they wish.

Secularists merely want to see religion taken out of the lawmaking process.

They want to make sure mythology is not used to determine science curriculum.

They expect that their money will not be used to support houses of magic worship.

(I)f we deny a place for religion in our own hearts or in society, then we deny a portion of our own selves and an influence for goodness in our world,” Kirby stated. “It is the person who assents to good religion that seeks to dialogue, understand, and serve those around him.”

Kirby’s last line invokes the claim earlier discussed regarding the fallacious concept that religion is somehow best suited for doling aid to the needy. The reality is that the most dogmatic societies are also the most brutal, repressive and backward, while more secular societies tend to have higher quality of living for all citizens.

Arguments over which nations are truly secular immediately arise due to lack of knowledge on the subject. Obvious but specious examples include North Korea, which is highly religious, China, whose status is more complicated than seems apparent.

According to the Immanent Frame Blog located on the Social Science Research Council’s website, the misconception that China is a secular state conflates two different conceptions of what a secular state is.

The first is the Communist Party’s programmatic ideal of removing religion’s influence in society. The second is the principle of the separation of religion and state. On neither of these counts, however, is China a secular state. First, the Communist Party has not eradicated the influence of religion in Chinese society: if anything … that influence has grown over the past few decades. Not only has the number of adherents to the five state-approved religions increased, but the practices of both communal religions and new religious movements have also become increasingly visible.” Full article at http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2013/10/04/the-communist-party-and-the-future-of-religion-in-china/

The same misconceptions apply to Stalin-era Russia which, despite the ruler’s attempt to rid his governance of religiosity, does not account for the fact that the highly religious population of Christians and Jews did not forfeit their religious beliefs simply because of a few temporary legislative acts.

As far as the statistical rates of donors by philosophical bent, there have been numerous studies which show little difference between secular givers and religious givers, with some studies showing the religious to give more prominently. However, there is the matter of what types of donations are considered. Tithing to help pay church costs is not the same as giving money to earthquake survivors.

Of course, the fact that 90 percent or so of the world’s population identify as religious believers—whether they are or are not—handicaps the statistical data. Of course on paper it looks like religious people give more, there are more of them by leaps and bounds, and they are compelled to give moneys which are used for many expenses that do not include aid to the needy. They may win by sheer numbers and the fact that many are compelled by guilt or fear.

Another victory by default.

The truth is that secular folks are just as giving as religious folks.

We just happen to give money and time solely to decrease pain and suffering because it’s the right thing to do … not to appease the inane caprice of a mythological creature.

Ultimately, we are left with these pressing questions:

What good can religions do?

Which religion is best?

Are any religions truly good?

Time and time again I find myself ultimately with one question and one answer:

Is religion necessary?
No.

The vapid concept of “Fundamentalist Atheism” and a partial apology to comedian Andy Kindler

Late-night Twitter fight a reminder that religious discussions can be tenuous, even when you’re not having one

FUNDAMENTAL ATHEISMBy Benjamin J. Gohs

Sometimes you need a stronger word than irony.

But that’s the only word available, so I’ll refer to this evening as the “irony of ironies.”

The evening started off with me sharing Bill Maher’s recent comments on a late-night talk show wherein he scolded liberals for not holding Islam’s draconian ideology up to the scorn it deserves. The Facebook post of an article [ http://www.alternet.org/belief/bill-maher-paris-attack-there-are-no-great-religions-theyre-all-stupid-and-dangerous ] detailing his comments drew an equal portion of those for and against it but those against it were—big shocker—much more verbal about it. They went on to swear and call Maher names and then, inexplicably, dragged Michael Moore into the tirade.

After an hour or so of dealing with that nonsense, I decided to get moving on my newspaper column for this week. The recent events of the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo publication prompted me to begin work on a piece concerning the extreme sensitivity most people have when it comes to even broaching the subject of religion.

After working for an hour or so I decided to take a break and check out the peace and love on Twitter.

As I scanned the news stories, video compilations, fashion trends and tips on giving better hand-jobs (thanks, Cosmo!) I noticed that one of the comedians I follow was having a bit of a religious discussion.

Andy Kindler, COURTESY WIKIMEDIA/PUBLIC DOMAIN

You might remember comedian Andy Kindler from TV’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” though he’s done a lot of other stuff, too.

Well, in one of his tweets, he mentioned his distaste for fundamentalism, even in the new atheism.

I responded by tweeting: @AndyKindler fundamentalist atheist? Is that like being really skilled at not playing soccer? #rhetoricalquestion

To which Kindler responded: @GreatGohs Keep your rhetoric to yourself. Or figure out what I’m saying by taking a tour of “NEW” atheist hate-filled Twitter accounts.

I jokingly responded that I was just thinking that I could use a little more hate in my life. Apparently my wit went unappreciated because one of Kindler’s defenders—Patrick H. ‏@Piddy_X—then addressed me with the following: @GreatGohs I’ve noticed some atheist who stalk @AndyKindler twitter. Ironically, atheism can attract the same unstable people as religion.

I’m not sure if I was being called a stalker atheist, but I certainly did recognize triteness in the assertion that atheists can have similar personality traits to theists.

I guess things really went south when I, in an attempt to better explain myself, responded with the following: @Piddy_X @AndyKindler it was the vapid phrase “fundamentalist atheist” that concerned me. Obviously there are jerks of all stripes

Mr. Kindler must have been offended by my use of the word “vapid” and ended his portion of the conversation with: “vapid” = good riddance.

We hadn’t even gotten into a real discussion on religion, theism and non, or as Christopher Hitchens used to say “I hadn’t even got my trousers off” before folks became irritated.

Maybe it was the late hour. Maybe.

One of a handful of lurkers then doubled-down on the idea of “fundamental atheism” by tweeting: Someone out there doesn’t share my ideas & he thinks that makes it ok to be rude to me. Thats what a fundy-athy is. [sic]

Let me start by saying I get it. I could have probably approached the situation a little better. The last thing I want to do is waste any time arguing on Twitter, let alone get into a kerfuffle with a famous person I hold in high esteem. Cripe, I’ve only been on Twitter for a week-and-a-half. I don’t even have two dozen followers. I certainly wasn’t trying to impress anyone.

That said, I have a genuine and legitimate gripe with the phrase “Fundamentalist atheist” or any derivation of it.

To be fair, I referred to the statement as “vapid.” I do not believe Mr. Kindler is vapid.

I do know that people often use that meaningless statement with abandon, not realizing the misinformation it represents.

I understand why people say “fundamental atheism.” What they mean to say is “aggressive” or “opinionated” or “rude” or “argumentative” atheist or atheism because, in my experience, that is always what they really mean.

A rather good discussion on the matter took place recently over at the Religion News Service.

In James Croft’s Dec. 19, 2014 piece, in a debate entitled “There’s no such thing as atheist fundamentalism” he writes, “(T)he charge of ‘atheist fundamentalism’ is too often used to shut down legitimate criticism of religious belief and practice.” See more at: http://chrisstedman.religionnews.com/2014/12/19/no-such-thing-as-atheist-fundamentalism/#sthash.GHUVJDbN.dpuf

And, that’s exactly what happened. I questioned a popular, though banal, phrase and was quickly labeled a “fundy-athy.” (Fundamentalist atheist.)

The problem is that I, and so many other non-theists, have spent their lives under the boot heel of religion, and all the bizarre, inane, and woefully inaccurate stereotypes religionists cast upon us.

So, when I see an inaccuracy—such as the idea that atheism, which has no tenets, prescriptions or dogma, could have fundamentalists in its non-existent ranks—I feel the need to speak up.

After all, the entire point of Twitter is interaction and engagement.

It’s funny (though not ha-ha funny) how quickly one can be labeled a “stalker” for simply following someone’s account; how fast the act of asking a question is referred to as “trolling”; and that offering an opinion makes one a “fundamentalist.”

It is understandable that occultism’s propagandists, and even its mere day-trippers, are compelled to raise atheism (literally to not have belief in magic nor adherence to dogma) to the same absurd level of religion by speciously claiming that non-theism somehow has dogma, let alone faithful or fundamentalist followers of such.

There is a deep desire for those who do not understand what it means to exist beyond the veil of magical thinking to make sense of it all. After all, the archetype of the immoral, angry atheist is well established in Sunday school folklore.

Was Mr. Kindler’s point simply that he doesn’t care for jerks, regardless of their philosophical or religious ideology?
Perhaps. And, frankly, I don’t have any hard feelings. Disagreements happen. I don’t hold him or his misguided defenders responsible for all the grief crummy religionists have heaped onto secular folks.

It’s an age-old issue with myriad culprits—the cornerstones of which are ignorance, fear and mistrust.

However, the distinction stands: the concept of “fundamental atheism” is, at best, vapid and, at worst, mendacious.

There is only one fundamental of atheism: magic isn’t real.

What did I gain by opening my big mouth?

I am no longer allowed to follow Andy Kindler on Twitter.

Also, my perception that religion is too taboo a topic for most people to discuss in any real depth without the conversation dissolving into chaos or silence has only been reinforced.

And, I spent the time I should have been working on my newspaper column writing this blog entry instead.

Ultimately, I’m sorry I did not explain myself better, but I suppose the wisdom of Paul valentine ‏@DrEvilfinger, who watched the exchange, pretty well summed up the discussion: Twitter is a great platform. 140 characters to define the unfathomable x.

Follow me on Twitter @GreatGohs and I promise not to call any of your tweets “vapid.”

Also, I have a few free review copies of my new book “The Moral Superiority of Atheism” for anyone who is interested. E-mail me at: editor@boynegazette.com with your name and mailing address and I’ll send it off with next week’s shipment.

Faith of an Atheist: What sustains the godless?

This piece was written for the Wednesday Dec. 24, 2014 edition of the Boyne City Gazette (which has not yet gone to print).
Generally, my partner and the paper’s publisher write the opinion pieces for our faith page, but I thought I would make an unlikely appearance.

faithBy Benjamin J. Gohs

an unapologetic atheist

What good is faith to an atheist?

Along with hope and ambition, faith—in its many forms—may be one of the most integral nouns in the human psyche.
There are all kinds of faith, and they help us perform all sorts of functions, from making future plans, to feeling trust among friends and co-workers, feeling loved by relatives and, for some, assuaging fears of the unknown.

Faith can mean very different things to different people. For me, faith means reasoned confidence based on past performance. If the bus stopped on my corner every day at 2 p.m. last week, I have faith it will continue to do so. It also allows me to make decisions based on evident observable probability. Does this person seem trustworthy? Well, they exhibit behaviors that would suggest that, so the risk seems low that they would betray you. Of course, that doesn’t mean observable likelihoods are always correct predictors of future performance. So, you have to have faith that X, Y, or Z is going to occur.

Without certain types of faith, we would all be paralyzed by apprehensive inaction.

For some, faith means absolute belief and devotion to an idea that may not be empirically evident.

The two most common arenas for use of the word faith seem to be marriage and religion. Is your spouse faithful? Are you faithful to your wife? Do you have faith in god, God or gods? Heck, George Michael even wrote a tasty jam about the word.

If you’re like my wife—a devout Christian by even the most stringent standards—the word “faith” means more than mere belief and hope. For her, faith is a relationship with Jesus Christ. (I also have faith that I am in big trouble for discussing publicly something she views as a private matter.)

But enough about her, let’s talk about me, the lifelong heathen.

Say the word “atheist” and crowds gasp, mothers clutch their children (and purses) and people tend to cast the same dubious grimace with which one views an invasive species. But, before you clip my philosophical phragmites, consider this: we’re not so different you and me.

We all want 99 percent of the same things: safe neighborhoods, lower taxes, healthy children, understanding wives, a playoff berth for the Lions.

The biggest question I field as one without dogma—other than that old gem about morality—is how I sustain myself without the promise of eternal life or an everlasting celestial caregiver.

After all, at first glance, Blaise Pascal’s famous wager seems like a Biblical no-brainer. For the uninitiated, Pascal’s Wager is a fairly famous axiom. It states, in a nutshell, that one is wiser to believe in and worship a god than to not because, if God(s) does not/do not exist, you’ve lost nothing. However, if he/she/it does exist, and you didn’t worship him/her/it, you might find yourself in big trouble … especially if it’s one of those gods who demand compulsory praise.

As one who has never revered nor accepted the premise of magical omniscient-omnipotent-omnipresent beings (other than, for a short time, Santa, Easter Bunny and Tom Cruise) I have never felt compelled to pretend to believe in such. I say “pretend” because you cannot believe in something if you don’t believe in it. I could do as some say they do and, despite disbelief, hope for the best while going through the motions—what some consider faith—but I would be lying to myself and everyone around me, and that’s not fair or fruitful to anyone.

Besides, going back to our pal Pascal, even if God(s) did exist, I should have nothing to fear from my neglect of them because I find it difficult to believe that an all-knowing, all powerful, altruistic deity would spend even a moment punishing lower life forms because they did not kiss its big celestial butt enough. The desire of the powerful to be worshiped, obeyed and feared is the behavior one expects of petulant, impotent, unimaginative creatures.

But, back to metaphysical sustenance. What sustains any of us who do not find solace in the spiritual?

Conversations with those willing to admit to their secularism reveal many common themes—the same commonalities one finds when discussing ideas, life changes and family matters with those of religious affiliation.

We cherish relationships with family and friends, grow by mentors, improve with good advice and are enriched in our exposure to nature.

What sustains us is everything from a blade of grass below to the blue sky above. And, we benefit most when we are beneficial to the mental and physical well-being of others. While an afterlife seems unlikely to the irreligious, we can enjoy eternal life in the ripples of our actions, because a kindness begets a kindness begets a kindness.

Ultimately, I have faith that teaching my kids to do the right thing will help make the world a better place.

I have faith that I have done more good than harm in this life.

I have faith we may all realize a more fulfilling, productive and peaceful existence by having a little more faith in each other.

————————————

moral superiority of atheism book cover front onlyI have a few copies of my new book “The Moral Superiority: A New Philosophy in the Oldest Argument” to give away for free.

Anyone interested should e-mail their mailing address to editor@boynegazette.com and I will get a copy out with next week’s shipment. (NOTE: I no longer mail books outside of the United States because it’s too dang expensive.)

If you prefer a digital copy, you can download it here: https://unapologeticatheist.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/the-moral-superiority-of-atheism-web-copy.pdf

Erroneous assumptions of religiosity

by an unapologetic atheist

atheist word artWe know most folks on the planet are religious in one degree or another. And, we also know that most atheists were—at some time in their respective lives—indoctrinated, as are most youth, with some form of magic-based explanation of life’s origins; an arbitrary moralistic code based upon terrorism and extortion; and systematic, rather than incidental, bigotry.

While plenty there may be to parse in the aforementioned, today I should like to focus on a seemingly neglected Truth in the discussion of occultist propaganda … what is quite possibly the second-most erroneous of assumptions conceived, shared and promoted by magic-worshipers: the title of “Atheist.” (The most erroneous assumption is that there can be no objective moral standard without aid of a magical being.)

Consider that this world is overpopulated by mythology’s mavens and easy it is to comprehend why even the most self-aware secularist may find him-herself engaging in debates solely constructed by superstitious minds.

The first pertinent Truth a burgeoning brain must adopt is that religion—it’s rules, threats, promises and fictional characters—is the unnatural position in this life; not simply because man is the only animal that creates such a chaotic, despotic, neurotic social malady; not only because fantastical occurrences, supernatural beings and magical forces exist only in the healthy imaginations of novelists, children at play and liars, or the diseased brains of the mentally ill; not just because nearly all religions require humans to ignore their natural in-born moralistic tendencies … but because, if any of the many of history’s hundreds of god characters were to exist, man’s only moral choice would be to resist and subvert such vile, rapacious, vain, childish, brutal, murderous, jealous, insecure, shortsighted and stupid creatures.

Only due to sheer popularity and longevity has religion become so ubiquitous that occultists are able to both believe, and convince others to believe, that religion is natural and beneficial.

The second Fact integral to the human free of superfluous inclinations of the mythological variety is that, while you may be an atheist according to the generally accepted definition of the word—one who understands there are no such things as magical beings—you are only labeled an “Atheist” because religionists need a term to describe dissenters; further, they have worked for centuries to ensure this most damning of scarlet letters maligns any who do not choose the unnatural acts of speaking to imaginary friends, hoping mental desires will—short of action—become reality, and denying the role of natural physical laws in favor of theses fantastical. After all, “Coincidence” is a far less interesting explanation for seemingly odd occurrences than “God did it!”

What is in a name?

An awful lot.

Despite the word “Atheist” meaning most basically “One who does not believe in god characters,” or A-theism, “Without theism,” the term sends bolts of hatred, rage and terror through the minds and bodies of many a religionist thanks to centuries of propaganda created and disseminated by the subterfuge class.
As noted earlier, the specious assertion that belief in gods is only natural has always been followed by the understanding that to worship them is just the moral thing to do.

Armed with knowledge of the preceding, it is only natural for empathetic atheists to acknowledge such anxiety—irrationally held though it may be—in the proverbial hearts of magically-minded individuals when they encounter those labeled as non-theists.

It seems to matter little to what degree of disagreement a non-theist is. One who simply chooses not to engage in occultism will often find himself treated with the same disrespect, distrust and disgust as those who openly shun mythology.

With the issue identified, we must take steps to progress to secular reason by making the religious aware their position in the simple majority is a mere simpleton’s triumph. The false sense of righteousness belonging to all prolific, like-minded groups remains intact only so long as the mythos of perceived correctness, ethical objectivity and self-justification can be maintained.

The first step toward neutralization of occultist might lies in effective communication of the Facts that:

  1. True morality is a natural occurrence

  2. Magic worship/religiosity—regardless of how popular or longstanding—are unnatural and detrimental

  3. The A-theist—so-called—by virtue of his freedom from the mind-forged manacles (Hitchens) of celestial slavery is better positioned to undertake the task of becoming his/her most moral self.

By doubting, questioning, refusing to cede the mind to the lies, hysteria, self-loathing and destruction of pious ne’er-do-wells, you, dear skeptics, secularists, agnostics and atheists, you embody all that consternates the regressive machinery of the cave-dwelling occultist brain with all its myriad superstitions, fears and misapprehensions.

Teach the believer he has the power to give up promises of false security and far-from-blissful ignorance offered by dogma’s minions and he just may find himself able to accept nature’s greatest gift: his very own mind.

Ironically, it is by embracing the path of critical thought and natural atheistic morality that we become the very antithesis of most of religiosity’s erroneous assumptions.

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.

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