30 December 2008

FAITH - Part 3

MAHER, BILL, American comedian, TV host, author, social and political commentator (b.1956):
• “Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith and enable and elevate it are intellectual slave holders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction.” (Religulous, film)

MENCKEN, H.L., American editor, satirist (1880-1956):
• “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” (Jon Winokur, The Portable Curmudgeon)

 • "A man full of faith is simply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass; he is actually ill. Worse, he is incurable."

MIZNER, WILSON, (1877-1933):
• “I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.” (Jon Winokur, The Portable Curmudgeon)

• “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.” (Jon Winokur, The Portable Curmudgeon)

•"Faith means not wanting to know what is true."

ORWELL, GEORGE (Eric Athur Blair), English author (1903-1950):
• "Orthodoxy is the abillity to say two and two make five when faith requires it." (1984)

PAINE, THOMAS, English-born American patriot (1737-1809):
• “No falsehood is so fatal as that which is made an article of faith.”

• “What is it the Bible teaches us? ---rapine, cruelty, and murder. What is it the Testament teaches us? ---to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married, and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.”

RAND, AYN, Russian-born American novelist (1905-1982):
• “The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind.”

TENNYSON, ALFRED LORD, English poet (1809-1892):
• “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”

TWAIN, MARK (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) American author, journalist, humorist (1835-1910):
• “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” (Following the Equator, Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar)

VONNEGUT, KURT, American writer (1922-2007):
• “Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile." (Mother Night)

28 December 2008


In an article titled "Heaven for the Godless?" published in the N.Y. Times, 12/28/08, Charles M. Blow sited a study  by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that found that 70% of Americans believe people of religions other than their own could go to heaven.

In his article, Blow stated: "This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: 'I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.' But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that."

The evangelicals blamed the results on poorly-understood questions. They believed the participants didn't understand their own responses. Of course many evangelicals pounced on a statistic that they interpreted as showing that 20% of atheists believe in God. The actual question was if one believed in "God or a universal spirit." Universal spirit was not defined, so one might have taken that to mean nature, a spirit of goodwill among humans, or anything else.

"I think it really underscores the sense that the issue with religion in America is not that Americans don't believe in anything, it's that they believe in everything," said Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University in Houston.

In August 2008, Pew conducted a new survey. This time 65% said that many religions can lead to eternal life while only 29% thought their own religion was the one true faith that would lead to heaven. To avoid any confusion, Pew asked respondents to be specific about which religions. Responses to these questions show that most American Christians are not thinking only of other Christian denominations when they say many religions can lead to eternal life. Of those who believe non-Christians can attain salvation, 80% named one other religion, 61% named two or more.

When asked what determines eternal life, 29% said one's actions while 30% said ones beliefs, and 10% chose a combination.

According to Blow: "And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go."

When asked which religions lead to eternal life, 42% thought atheists could get to heaven and 56% thought people with no religious faith were eligible.

Other results from Pew's earlier study:
        • 45% of U.S. adults never or seldom read Scripture
        • 25% of evangelicals say religious beliefs most influence
                    their political thinking
        • less than 10% of Catholics agreed 
        • 51% were absolutely certain about their belief in God
                    and view God as a person with whom they can
                    have a relationship
        • of those who attend services regularly 61% think 
                    abortion should be illegal and 57% say homosexuality
                    should be discouraged by society
Other results according to Blow:
        • 39% of Christians believe the Bible is the literal word of God
        • 18% believe the Bible was written by men and not the
                    word of God at all
        • only 1% said living life in accordance with the Bible
                    was necessary to be admitted to Heaven

John Green of the Pew Forum said that he thinks that the respondents were well aware of the basic tenet of their faith, that mandated a belief in Jesus in order to achieve salvation. But he added, "I think they are choosing to ignore it... "

On the down side, a 2007 Pew Forum survey found that a majority of Americans say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. Most Canadians and Europeans disagree. 

I think anything that makes the evangelicals think about how others view their fundamentalism is a good thing. I don't believe in heaven or hell, but it is rather heartwarming to know that many Christians think atheists are good enough to be admitted to their idea of heaven based on behavior rather than belief.

Use the links scattered throughout this story for 
more information on these articles and surveys.

        I thought I'd have a little fun with photos of  some famous freethinkers. Apologies to Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Sam Harris, Christiopher Hitchens, Rachel Maddow. Madalyn O'Hair (deceased), and Ron Reagan. For more information on these people, or on freethought, agnosticism, and atheism, use the links in the right column to search for their writings at Amazon.com.    

26 December 2008

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

Not Saying Merry Christmas is like Denying Christ and Denying Christianity

by Austin Cline at About.com

The single biggest issue for Christian Nationalists may be the use of the generic greeting "Happy Holidays" over the Christmas-specific greeting "Merry Christmas." I don't think that a couple of years ago anyone was saying that it was designed to undermine Christianity or even that it excluded Christmas and Christians. Today, though, people like Lou Dobbs claim that saying Happy Holidays is a deliberate attempt to exclude Christians.

Why has the phrase "Happy Holidays" become popular? Over a period of many years Christmas has become less of a Christian-centric holiday and more of a generic cultural holiday. It is celebrated by many non-Christians in various ways and the religious connotations are lost even on some Christians themselves. Christmas isn't very "Christian" anymore.

More important, however, is the fact that America has become more religiously diverse....

Read the rest of Austin Cline's article Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

20 December 2008


Film: Religulous

Skeptic Bill Maher asks amusing, thought-provoking questions about religion.

(From a writing prompt suggested on One Minute Writer to write a movie review in ten words or fewer. There are always many responses from religious people, so occasionally I submit responses from a freethought point of view.)

17 December 2008

WHY I AM AN ATHEIST: The Bible - Part 1

In a previous post (Why Are There Atheists?) I noted that atheists say reading the Bible started them on the road to religious skepticism more than anything else.

I came from a highly religious home. Although we always belonged to one denomination or other of a mainstream Protestant church, at heart my father was an evangelical. However, he repeatedly told me it didn’t matter if I were a Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist or Methodist, just so I was a Christian. He didn’t mention the Catholic church, but I assume he wouldn’t have been pleased if I’d become a Papist.
I’m sure everyone has heard someone say, “I believe what I see,” but actually the reverse is true: we see what we believe. If one believes the Bible is full of inspiration, one will see and believe those passages that support that belief and ignore the rest. Instead of finding the Bible beautiful and uplifting, I found much of it rather appalling. Thus, reading the Bible was one of the triggers that started my doubts.

As George Bernard Shaw said: “No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means.”

For as long as I can remember, my family read a chapter of the Bible before dinner each night. At first, my parents took turns reading a verse at a time. As we became old enough, the children helped with the reading. I joined in when I was about 8. We didn’t pick a chapter at random, but rather started at Chapter One of Genesis and continued to the end of Revelation, then started over. Even taking into consideration an occasional dinner elsewhere, calculating the number of years I read along before I left home for college, I read the entire Bible at least 3 times, maybe 4.
As a 10 or 12 year old, reading that children who disobey their parents should be stoned was very scary. People who work on the Sabbath should also be stoned. (I wondered if that included ministers.) Eating pork or lobster was an abomination. I was horrified that God wiped out populations of entire cities because one or a few individuals displeased him and that dashing babies heads was perfectly okay.
Because we read the King James Version, for a while I assumed that I just wasn't understanding what was written. If I questioned anything in the Bible, my parents looked upon me with horror and fed me the usual drivel, "God works in mysterious ways."
Around the age of 12, when we were reading Judges, two stories, in particular, hit me like bolts of lightning.

I was reading these passages long before the women’s movement, but as a teenaged girl, I was horrified that the women in these Biblical stories were expendable. They had been treated worse than most people would treat animals. How could God allow these horrible events?
If God was all-knowing, then he would know that Jephthah was sincere in his intent to follow through on his vow. But how could an all-loving God allow Jephthah to kill his daughter? Why wouldn't God have let him off the hook on that promise?
How could a father offer his daughter to rapists, then cut up her dead body?
These passages bothered me for months. In the solitude of my bedroom, I read them over and over, sure that I had misunderstood the verses. Surely, if I read them often enough, I would see them in a new light. I wanted to believe in an all-knowing, all-loving God.
As we continued reading the Bible, I learned that women who are not virgins when they marry should be stoned. Women should be silent in church, that a woman was worth half a male, that if a virgin is raped, her rapist must marry her and never divorce her, that 32 virgins were given to a priest as “the Lord’s tribute” when the Israelites conquered the Midianites.
Thus, I developed serious doubts about the veracity of the Bible. And if I doubted the foundation of my religion, I also had to doubt Christianity. I probably hadn't heard of atheism at that time, but at the age of 12, I started on the path to become a nonbeliever.
Of course, I continued to attend church, Sunday school, choir practice, youth group, vacation Bible school, and church camp. I had no choice. I read along with my parents as we plowed through the Bible, but instead of blind acceptance, I was looking at everything I read in the Bible with the eye of a skeptic.

copyright 2008 by C. Woods

Look for a future post:

14 December 2008


A 2006 Study of America’s Nonbelievers

        In a book titled Atheists, A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers (by Bruce Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer, 2006) the study of atheists in America confirms that most atheists, like most religious people, form their beliefs from their upbringing.
        About 30% of the atheists taking part in the study had at least one agnostic or atheist parent and most of the rest had parents who believed in God or maybe even belonged to a particular religion, but didn’t regularly partake in religious activities or emphasize religion in their homes.
        Yet a quarter of the participants in the study had come from homes that emphasized religion to a “moderate extent” and more than 10% to an “appreciable extent.” The members of this latter group were dubbed, in the study, as “Amazing Atheists” because despite coming from very religious homes, they rejected their religious training.
        How could there be such a complete religious turn around in the group of “Amazing Atheists”?
        The authors interviewed 46 “Amazing Atheists” in depth, to determine the cause of their dramatic change. Their conclusion was that the indoctrination didn’t fail completely, but instead worked rather well. The “Amazing Atheists” group overwhelmingly stated they gave up their faith because they could not make themselves believe what they had been taught. They decided that the religious dogma was not true. This adherence to the truth came, ironically, from their strong religious upbringing. As children they had been taught to do the right thing, to be ethical and have integrity. However, when religious questions were not answered to their satisfaction, religion took second place to truth.
        The authors stated, “They were trapped...and had no other choice. So as a first cause, their upbringing was not repudiated by their apostasy, but startlingly fulfilled by it.... If they had cared less, if their home religion had not fostered a strong drive for the truth and integrity in them, and if they had not overcome their fear of going it alone, they probably would not have quit it.”
        Another factor in this group was intelligence. The members of the “Amazing Atheists” group were quite bright and may have searched for answers through reading and study. When they found flaws in traditional religious teachings, they wanted to decide for themselves rather than accept religious teachings on faith.
        In the total study which questioned both religious and non-religious people, almost everyone admitted to having doubts about their own beliefs at some point in their lives. However, most of the religious people who remained religious after a period of doubt, dropped the questions or resolved them in their religion’s favor. Many consulted parents or ministers who, of course, shepherded them back to their religions.
        Those with weaker religious backgrounds or those who were both inquisitive and intelligent were more likely to search more widely and their questions may have turned into active doubts.
        The authors of the study found that many atheists from non-religious homes admit to having gone through a religious period in their lives, usually starting around age 7 or 8, and this period may have lasted several years. In most cases, non-religious parents don’t preach against religion, but rather expect their children to decide for themselves. Some children, of course, decide to stay in the religion, but many eventually see the flaws their parents saw and leave.
        Serious doubts about religion among the “Amazing Atheists” usually emerged in adolescence (median age of 15, but ranging from age 5 to 50.) What triggers these doubts? Most skepticism began over ideas.
        More than any one thing, atheists say reading the Bible started them questioning. Some say interest in science or evolution was a trigger. Some mentioned reading books by atheists or freethinkers. Hypocrisy in churchgoers bothered others. A few started doubting religions when they learned there was no Santa Claus. Many doubted reports of religious miracles, bleeding statues or were skeptical of the sincerity of TV evangelists. Most realized that all religions couldn’t be true, so maybe none were. Many were put off by religious intolerance, including homophobia. Many were disturbed by the history of religion, including atrocities committed in the name of God during the Crusades and the Inquisition, and more recently by religious terrorists.
        One additional factor was that many were turned off by the Religious Right and its attempts to interfere with government. Thus, by their aggressive tactics and inflexible opinions, instead of attracting more people to their religious beliefs, they actually drove people away from religion.

        I grew up in a highly religious home. What triggered my atheism? Probably all of the above to some extent or other. But I have to agree that reading the Bible was the trigger that started my doubt and was the biggest factor in my rejection of religion. Once a little stone fell out of the structure of my parents' beliefs, more cracks formed as I found more and more inconsistencies and impossibilities in religion. Eventually it all crumbled before me. 
Please see my post: WHY I AM AN ATHEIST: The Bible - Part 1


12 December 2008


STANTON, ELIZABETH CADY, American feminist, social reformer (1815-1902):

• “The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of woman’s emancipation.”

• “Every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded women. Man himself could not do this; but when he declares ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ of course he can do it.”

• “The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with the superstitions of the Christian religion.”

• “Woman’s discontent increases in exact proportion to her development.” (Running Press, The Quotable Woman, 1991)

ANTHONY, SUSAN B., American suffragette (1820-1906):

• “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

• “I tell them I have worked 40 years to make the W.S. platform broad enough for Atheists and Agnostics to stand upon, and now if need be I will fight the next 40 to keep it Catholic enough to permit the straightest Orthodox religionist to speak or pray and count her beads upon.”(speaking about the Women's Suffrage platform)

• “I was born a heretic... I always distrust people who know so much about what God wants them to do to their fellows.”

• “To no form of religion is woman indebted for one impulse of freedom, as all alike have taught her inferiority and subjection... Throughout this protracted and disgraceful assault on American womanhood, the clergy baptized each new insult and act of injustice in the name of the Christian religion, and uniformly asked God’s blessing on proceedings that would have put to shame an assembly of Hottentots.” (Statement signed by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage.)

• “The religious persecution of the ages has been done under what was claimed to be the command of God.”(from Rufus K. Noyes, Views of Religion, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief)

• “What you should say to outsiders is that a Christian has neither more nor less rights in our Association than an atheist. When our platform becomes too narrow for people of all creeds and of no creeds, I myself shall not stand upon it.” (Susan B. Anthony: A Biography, by Kathleen Barry, New York University Press, 1988, p.310)

10 December 2008

FAITH - Part 2

AMIEL, HENRI FREDERIC, Swiss philosopher and poet (1821-1881):
•“The efficacy of religion lies precisely in what is not rational, philosophic, nor eternal; its efficacy lies in the unforeseen, the miraculous, the extraordinary. Thus religion attracts more devotion according as it demands more faith -- that is to say, as it becomes more incredible to the profane mind.” (Journal In Time, quoted from Laird Wilcox, ed., "The Degeneration of Belief" 1985)

•“A lively, disinterested, persistent liking for truth is extraordinarily rare. Action and faith enslave thought, both of them in order not to be troubled or inconvenienced by reflection, criticism or doubt.” (Ibid.)

AUGUSTINE, SAINT, Roman religious figure, philosopher, Numidian Bishop of Hippo (c. 354-430):
•"Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe."

BUCK, PEARL S., American author (1892-1973):
•“I feel no need for any other faith than my faith in human beings.  Like Confucius of old, I am so absorbed in the wonder of earth and the life upon it that I cannot think of heaven and the angels.”

FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN, American statesman, scientist, author (1706-1790):
•“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason: the morning daylight appears plainer when you put out your candle.” (Poor Richard's Almanack, 1758, Chapter "On Virtue, Vice, God, And Faith")

INGERSOLL, ROBERT G. American humanist, author, orator (1833-1899):
•“The notion that faith in Christ is to be rewarded by an eternity of bliss, while a dependence upon reason, observation, and experience merits everlasting pain, is too absurd for refutation, and can be relieved only by that unhappy mixture of insanity and ignorance, called ‘faith.’” (The Gods)

HARRIS, SAM, American author (b. 1967):
•"Faith is generally nothing more than the permission religious people give to one another to believe things strongly without evidence." (Letter to a Christian Nation, 2006)

HOFFER, ERIC, American author, philosopher (1902-1983):
•“Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

08 December 2008


1) Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. 

2) Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith. 

3) Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or at Hooters. 

-----Author Unknown


George Carlin’s revised list of the

1) Thou shalt always be honest and faithful to the provider of thy nookie.

2) Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless of course they pray to a different invisible man than you.

Two is all you need; Moses could have carried them down the hill in his pocket.

I wouldn't mind those folks in Alabama posting them on the courthouse wall, as long as they provided one additional commandment:

Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

07 December 2008

FAITH - Part 1:

AMIS, KINGSLEY, English novelist (1922-1995):
•“He was of the faith chiefly in the sense that the church he currently did not attend was Catholic.” (One Fat Englishman, 1983)

BARKER, DAN, American freethought activist, former evangelical minister (b.1949):
•“Faith is a cop-out. If the only way you can accept an assertion is by faith, then you are conceding that it can’t be taken on its own merits.” (Losing Faith in Faith, 1992)

BIERCE, AMBROSE, American journalist (1842-1914):
•“Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” (The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911)

CARLYLE, THOMAS, Scottish historian, critic, sociological writer (1795-1881):
•“Just in ratio as knowledge increases, faith diminishes."

DICKINSON, EMILY, American poet (1830-1886):
•“Faith is doubt.” (The Atheist’s Bible, Joan Konner, ed. 2007)

EMERSON, RALPH WALDO, American essayist, philosopher, poet (1803-1882):
•“The faith that stands on authority is not faith.”

FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN, American statesman, scientist, author (1706-1790):
•“Lighthouses are more helpful than churches. The way to see faith is to shut the eye of reason.”

HOFFER, ERIC, American author, philosopher (1902-1983):
•“ . . Faith organizes and equips man’s soul for action. To be in possession of the one and only truth and never doubt one’s righteousness; to feel that one is backed by a mysterious power whether it be God, destiny or the law of history; to be convinced that one’s opponents are the incarnation of evil and must be crushed; to exult in self-denial and devotion to duty—these are admirable qualifications for resolute and ruthless action in any field.” (The True Believer, 1951, p. 126)

HUXLEY, THOMAS H., English biologist (1825-1895):
•“What are among the moral convictions most fondly held by barbarous and semi-barbarous people? They are the convictions that authority is the soundest basis of belief; that merit attaches to readiness to believe; that the doubting disposition is a bad one, and skepticism a sin; that when good authority has pronounced what is to be believed, and faith has accepted it, reason has no further duty.” (What Great Men Think of Religion, by Cardiff)
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