Sunday, August 31, 2014


"But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
--Thomas Jefferson 

"Our Bible reveals to us the character of our God with minute and remorseless exactness.... It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere."
--Mark Twain

"You believe in a book which has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd, and primitive stories; and you say thatam the one who is mentally ill?"
--Dan Barker (Author Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists)

At work the other day I helped supervise a cottage of patients during a group therapy activity. Not my usual task of late, but not a big deal. I was paired with another staff who is about as antithetical to myself as possible, although, I'm not sure she realizes this. She is a college student attending BYU. She was home schooled in what seems to be a more conservative Mormon home than I, which is saying quite a bit. She often assumes that everyone she works with shares her religion, values and understanding of the world, as is evident by her occasionally asking me (of all people) about Mormon current events and policies (about which I am always happy to provide information).

She is as overtly nice to people she meets as she is surprised and uncomfortable when she learns that someone is more liberal or progressive than herself (which is not at all). At work, she does best in situations which are very black and white, for nuance and situational-judgment can be buggars to sort out in real time.

For such a person, "good enough" is a meaningless term. Either a thing is good, or it is not. When she gives a patient a directive, she expects exactness and complete compliance. So when she returned to the cottage just before the group started and noticed that the patients were a tad loud, she saw it as blatant and intentional rebellion. But rather than shout the directive again or issue swift consequences for the infraction, as she is often want to do, she coolly approached me and said, "So, this is quiet free time, huh?" To which I replied, "-ish."

With less than 5 minutes before the start time, and everyone behaving relatively well, I wasn't going to pick that battle unless the room raised a few more decibels. Besides, I had bigger fish to fry in that moment, but I will spare you the details.

Last year the lead singer of a "Christian metal" group (say what?) called As I Lay DyingTim Lambesis, was arrested for hiring a hit-man to kill his wife. Unbeknownst at the time to Mr Poopforbrains, the man he had hired to do this dirty deed (for the dirt cheap price of $1000) was an undercover cop. It seems that he blames, at least in part, his sudden douche-baggery to losing his faith in Christianity:

"Lambesis stated that "I grew up in a Christian home and held that belief myself for many years. In the process of sincerely trying to defend that belief in a scholarly way and shortly after finishing my degree, I felt that it was unreasonable to call myself a Christian in light of the evidence..." On June 2014, Lambesis came out as an atheist, claiming that he, along with other members of the band, just kept pretending to be Christian just to sell records.... He even recalls feeling awkward when asked for their testimonies and when fans ask to pray with them. According to Lambesis, his renunciation of Christianity made it easier to have an affair." [emphasis mine]

It is often argued by Christian evangelists that morality comes from god, and that one cannot have morals without god. But what happens to a person raised to believe that god is the arbiter of morality when that person comes to the realization that this god does not actually exist? For this person their sense of morality may shatter.

A person may do the "right thing" for good reasons or for bad reasons. Taking a more obvious moral example, murder, one may refrain from killing another person because of laws, or to avoid the consequence of jail time or a death sentence. 

Arguably, a more noble reason would be for the sake of empathy. This may out of reach for more hot-headed people. But what about the perpetuation of a social meme where a society which generally does not kill one another is preferable to one where murder is accepted or encouraged? This reason may have psychological roots as well, as many people who kill others--even out of self-defense or in a time of war--often go through PTSD and anxiety from the experience. In short, we have evolved as a social species which benefits from not killing each other. 

Ok, ok. Murder is an easy example to make my point. But what about more nuanced quandaries? What about issues like gay marriage, abortion, swearing and picking your friend's nose? If you object to these things solely because god says they are bad, in what way are you a moral agent? If pressed to provide a reason for inhibiting other people not of your faith or world-view from doing these things all you have to say is "god says so", do you really have a reason to interfere with their lives? Could some one of another religion do the same to you? Should Muslims be able to refuse to sell you pork during Ramadan? Should a conservative Christian working at a grocery store be able to refuse to sell condoms to patrons? Should a city clerk be able to deny processing marriage certificates to gay couples in the few states which currently allow them to marry?

And what about defending the reprehensible acts commanded by god in the Bible? Is merely saying "god says so" a sufficient reason for slavery, genocide, infanticide, stoning unruly children, stoning unbelievers, burning witches and soothsayers and calling for rapists to marry their victims? Is it enough to say that donkeys and snakes can talk? Or that the earth is only 6,000 years old?

Some people who leave religion struggle with maintaining their morals. Often this is a result of Nihilistic leanings, which is pushed by many religious people as the de facto moral position of atheists. To this day, I can recall lessons from respected and highly educated members of the Mormon church on Nihilism being the inevitable conclusion of a world-view without god ("Nothing is eternal, therefore, nothing matters." To which I readily reply, "A cheese burger may not be eternal, but when I am hungry it certainly matters to me."). To me, it is not at all surprising when people who grow up hearing these ideas later emulate them when they leave religion in the proverbial gutter. 

I would argue, however, that religion does not teach people how to make moral judgments on their own, thereby crippling their ability to do so when the crutch of religion (i.e. following orders) is removed. Sam Harris often compares moral assessments as analogous to good health practices. How do we determine objectively that one moral outcome is preferable to another proposition? Compare the outcome to alternatives. 

On the subject of health, one can clearly demonstrate that drinking drain cleaner is worse for one's health than drinking, say, chocolate milk (Unless you're one of those lactose intolerant weirdos. Seriously, why the intolerance. What did milk do to you?). Likewise, we can compare moral systems by their effect on society. As with the murder example before, one can easily see the benefits on society of prohibiting murder versus the alternative.  

I agree with Christopher Hitchens that, although not always applicable (silly masochists), the golden rule is a pretty good rule of thumb. The concept that one should not interfere with the affairs of others unless they cause you harm generally breeds a society of cohesiveness and solidarity. 


An article from The Friendly Atheist on Mr Lambesis.

The Atheist Experience on Biblical vs Secular morality:

Friday, August 22, 2014


"To know a person's religion we need not listen to his profession of faith but must find his brand of intolerance."

"Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day; give him a religion, and he'll starve to death while praying for a fish."

A couple of months ago I received an email from a ward clerk (record keeper) for a local branch of the
Mormon church. Basically, they want to know if they have my correct address, phone number etc, so that they can appropriately fellowship me (in other words, harass me until I begrudgingly come back to church). I promptly deleted the email in part because I don't want that kind of harassment, and also I don't want to make this too easy for them.

Honestly, I don't oppose the idea of having some missionaries or a home teacher or even a bishop track me down for a lengthy, in-depth religious conversation. I just want them to work for it...

A couple of weeks later I received another email from Mormon church headquarters asking me to take a survey to help them determine "general trends" within the church. Suspecting this to be a mildly clever ploy to pick up where the last email had failed, I declined the invitation. Two weeks later, a reminder email was sent inviting me, the randomly selected church member who's regular church attendance is not necessary for participation, to take this survey. 

While I haven't actually followed the link as of writing this sentence, I have been debating whether or not I should click it. After all, faults aside, the church is often as clever as it is non-random. Not to mention my curiosity often gets the better of me.

But first, I recently came across a new (to me) podcast called "Thank God I'm Atheist" which, being based in Mormon-friendly Salt Lake City, Utah, often discusses Mormon topics and issues. And it turns out that the Church sent out a survey to 1000 random members to see how the general membership feels about the recent excommunication of one Kate Kelly. 

For those who don't know, Ms Kelly is the founder of the "Ordain Women" movement, which consists of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Mormon women who go to the General Conference Priesthood Session (a male-only, world-wide church meeting) and, being denied admittance to the meeting, walk away peacefully. Now, the reason for Ms Kelly's expulsion from the church's membership is evidently for merely not doing as The Brethren (old, rich, white men) told her to do, namely stopping the quietest protests ever. 

Coincidentally, John Dehlin (about whom I have written before) is also facing possible excommunication from the church for his podcast "Mormon Stories", which addresses difficult issues within Mormonism. Again, his crime is simply not doing as The Brethren have asked, which in his case is to cease bringing up such touchy, disconcerting topics in such a public and accessible way. 

No theocracy would be complete without ample censorship...

Well, let's see if the link to the survey still works (the email specifically asks that I do not share the link, but, meh. Click it if you feel especially dickish). 

Ok, the link works and I have finished the survey (which rather disappointingly had nothing to do with Ms Kelly) and I will post screen shots of the survey along with my responses below: 

Welcome screen:

Starting easy...

Vague preliminary stuff.

 Basic, but getting meatier.

Hmmm, they sure do like to assume I believe in god, even though the very first question was whether or not I consider myself Mormon (nope)...

Eh, more of the same.

More loaded questions assuming a belief in god.

Believe it or not, I still occasionally read scripture passages, although, not for the usual reasons...


More bleh.


Funny how the first option for reasons not to go to church is being offended by people at church. I could have selected more, but I want my primary reasons to be concise and clear.

Just a repeat of the last screen ("is that your final answer?")

It seems that they really want me to admit I don't go to church because of people. Weird.

Ah, a pertinent question.

Ok, ok.

Finally a chance to clear the air a bit. And I had to squeeze in a little Hitchens at the end. 

Trying to fish out other possible reasons for my leaving church. But they don't allow me to explain that the two "life changes" were a direct result of my desire to stop going to church, not the other way around. 

See what I did there?

Come on, really? Given my earlier responses, why would you even ask?

Surprise! There isn't much money in atheist blogging.

More loaded questions. Man, I really want to elaborate on a few of these.


Brown chicken, brown cow.

Pretty sure...

Kind of disappointed that they didn't ask me if I'm living in sin here.

Not sure why this is relevant.

From "god's university" no less.

Suck it.

I actually clicked "yes" at first, which took me to a screen to provide them with a bunch of personal information (sly dogs). So naturally I went back and selected "no", again not to make things too easy.

Not sure if "uncomfortable" is the right word... maybe "sickly", or "bloated".

Yay, another chance to clarify things a bit.

Quid pro quo, if you dare. Buahahaha!

Of course they did.