Fastest growing atheist demographic: the Disillusioned | cc @pzmyers @richarddawkins

PZ Myers is disillusioned. Put away the “Surprised” Crayola; he’s not the first and he’s not the only one.

It’s interesting how (what I consider to be) the initial phase of New Atheism in the mid-noughts proudly considered itself somewhat radical, game-changey and fighting the establishment, only to turn around in recent years and itself become the establishment, as resistant to introspection and self-reflection and the admission of error or misjudgement as the hierarchy of any religious target they would’ve railed against, scarlet “A” banner flapping proudly in the breeze as they charged. Specific subject matter to one side, the behaviour of the self-described global thought leaders has, in the face of years of complaints of sexist behaviour and attitudes, rape threats and general misogyny, attempts at driving women bloggers into silence and many real allegations of assault and rape, been just the same as any Old Boys’ Club’s inner circle (and their concentric circles of wannabes) who are faced with inconvenient questions or impertinent highlighting of problematic behaviour or attitudes: deny, defend, deflect, denigrate, double down.

The old new atheists always revelled in their impropriety and impertinent interrogations of religion – they seem to very much resent receiving similarly irreverent treatment from the new new atheists. Their outrage, disdain and denial almost precisely mirrors the reactions they got from establishment religion in the middle years of last decade. Dawkins et al were accused of stridency and shrillness quite a lot back in the day and rightly scoffed, as the allegations were baseless hyperbole. Today? Not so much. If anyone ever wanted to see Dawkins finally earn that “strident” badge, just read his twitter feed when women are up for discussion. If invoking hallmarks of tyranny – e.g. when he employed “verbal jackboots” and the “FreeThought Police” – in response to being criticised on blogs isn’t strident and shrill, I’m waiting to see what is.

The fact is that the atheist movement – such as it is – that these (mostly) men founded (or at least accelerated) is changing. All movements do: feminism, LGBT rights, civil rights, indigenous rights and now non-religious rights have gone and all go through periods of intense forward motion followed by periods of reflection after their successes (even if they’re just in raising awareness) and discussions of “where should we go now?” Right now, atheism is expanding both its demographics and its agendas. Where once it was dominated by academic white guys who were all about church & state and proper science classes in schools, many of the atheists inspired by those people to examine their own beliefs are wanting to talk about – and apply their skepticism and secular reasoning to realising – other things like gender equality and ethnic inclusiveness. One byproduct of both this and the atheist habit for proud irreverence is that the words and attitudes of atheism’s purported leaders are now being questioned as deeply as they themselves would question those of the religious. Sadly, in many cases, those words have been found wanting, the attitudes they reveal as calcified as in any rank-closing bishop and the responses to criticism as reactionary as any wrathful believer – or insecure believer in belief.

In many of the cases of defensiveness on the part of visible atheists like Harris and Dawkins, the subject of the criticism isn’t responding to the content of the criticism, but to the mere fact of the criticism. The subject, incredulous, cannot possibly imagine why anyone would take issue with what they said, because (to their mind and to the bulk of their experience) they are right, what they are saying is common knowledge, utterly inoffensive, well-informed and could not possibly be disagreed with by any educated person of the right mindset. Accordingly, anyone who does disagree or criticise is obviously of the wrong mindset. Once categorised as Wrong, such people can then be summarily dismissed without the need to respond meaningfully to any specific criticism. If the Wrong reiterate or expand their criticism or issue followups, for example criticising the non-responses and summary dismissals, the subject can then invoke all sorts of tyrannical or oppressive or purely monetary motives (“doing it for the clicks!”), as if a single blogger or even a moderately popular blog network has any sort of censorial power over someone like the Richard Dawkins, a best-selling author and in-demand public speaker with (in the atheist world at least) unparallelled influence and access to resources, or any comparable ability to attract revenue just by publishing a post (if anyone’s wondering, this one’s on the house, just like every other one).

The transition was relatively rapid, too: one minute everyone’s apparently (I’ll get to that) on the same page and looking in the same direction, the next – as soon as women identify problematic behaviour and request that we guys not do that then start talking about harassment policies – there’s an instant rift dug by people who for some reason viciously resent being told that some behaviour makes others uncomfortable. Then a few visible “leaders” say some thoughtless or petulant things, one blogger wonders if atheism can be about a little more than debunking myths and is vilified at length for the mere suggestion, a blogger or ‘tuber or two reveal themselves to be unapologetic misogynists, a parallel atheist community is born for the sole purpose of harassing and obsessively monitoring two blog networks and before you know it, women are being threatened with rape and death. With rape and death. And others are laughing at it. Including other women.

And now for the “apparently”: as various discussions progress it turns out that no, we weren’t all on the same page and sexist and creepy behaviour didn’t just spring into existence ex nihilo in a lift early one morning; it’s been a problem nobody (especially insulated white chaps like me) really had any idea about for years – except those directly involved and in some cases, disappointingly, at the executive level of some atheist/skeptic organisations, where active decisions were made to do nothing to support employees who’d been victimised or harassed. It also turned out that there had been for years (like there is in other conference circuits) a grapevine, a back-channel utilised by women attendees and speakers to stay informed about infamous creeps and sexual predators.

And with every revelation and accusation, the rift got wider and deeper, the apologetics got louder and more (dare I say) strident, the responses got more toxic and hateful and the leadership seemingly became focused on prioritising the preservation of their positions at the cost of making what movement there was more welcoming to people who didn’t resemble them physically. Not only that, but the misogynist ragers, the hateful stalkers, the doc-droppers and the entrenched old boys then had the unmitigated gall to accuse those advocating for a more welcoming and diverse community of being “divisive”. As if, somehow, women and feminists pointing out sexist attitudes and harassment so as to raise awareness and start a discussion about solutions was something unexpected, a gross heresy, an unforgiveable sin, all part of a plot to – well, God only knows what. It has never been adequately explained how atheism as a cause might be irreparably harmed by making better and more meaningful efforts to welcome the other half of the population to atheism.

And now that many women, feminists, non-male people and now many non-white people are throwing up their hands and saying “fuck it, you want your “movement” to be pure, to be free of questions that make you uncomfortable, fine – you can have it,” I fully expect the apologists and the old boys themselves to further blame us (feminists, women, non-males, non-whites, inclusivists in general, those social justice warriors everyone seems so concerned about) for being even more divisive.

Finally, I find it highly ironic that the leadership/s that brought us the scarlet letter “A” logo, a repurposing or “taking back” of the old tactic of publicly humiliating women who dared step out of the social boundaries prescribed by the men who essentially owned them, would be so solidly behind enabling and defending a sexist status quo, and in some cases being openly hostile to all women who challenge them, whether they’re accusing accuse “leaders” of assault or inappropriate sexual behaviour or of simply saying things that are mildly (but no less thoughtlessly) sexist. In light of the last three years of harassment, obsessive monitoring, threats, both mild casual sexism and unapologetic misogyny, all with nary a disapproving look from the leaders over the tops of their spectacles, followed by wagon-circling and dismissive responses to allegations of assault and rape (some going back years), that scarlet letter is more appropriate than ever.

Simply, the message in “movement” atheism at this moment appears to be: Speak, woman, and be vilified.


School Chaplains: why can’t you lot just stick to the pulpit #auspol

It appears the Abbott government still wants to exclude secular workers from the School Chaplaincy program, despite widespread opposition and two High Court challenges.

Religious people have numerous avenues available if they wish to seek spiritual guidance for themselves or their children; this constant push by some of them to have exclusive access to other peoples’ children while in school is distasteful and extremely presumptuous (and possibly even un-Constitutional – while Section 116 has historically not been applied to state funding of religious schools, implementing exclusively religious programs such as this in state schools might be a different basket of loaves and fishes. While the Abbott regime might be able to use the general term “religious” to escape being accused of favouring of one faith over another, the very term “chaplain” has an exclusively Christian origin and I doubt very strongly that we’ll see a great many imams, rabbis or whatever those used-god salesmen-for-Xenu call themselves counselling state school students).  

Apart from the blatant discrimination involved in barring secular counselors from consideration, kids with serious problems (or even mild ones) don’t need Divinity lessons, they need trained professionals. Religious exceptionalism of this sort is highly likely to expose vulnerable children to inappropriate proselytising and unhelpful advice – when compared to the likelihood of a properly trained secular counselor attempting to proselytise their philosophy, it’s practically a stone-carved certainty.

If a counselor is appropriately qualified and experienced they should be hired; their religious status, just like their age, marital status and orientation, should be irrelevant to their practice. It’s not legal for the Commonwealth to refuse employment in any other area of operation on religious grounds; how such a proscription wouldn’t apply to state school counselors escapes me. This appears to be yet another example of a government operating by ideology and working off a checklist, with pragmatism, fairness and perhaps even legality being secondary concerns.

Evangelising students in school is not only preying on an audience that’s legally compelled to be there, it’s also based on the offensive and arrogant presumption that the evangelists have the right (God-given, of course) to undermine whatever religious traditions those kids’ families may already observe in their own homes or places of worship or whatever non-religious philosophies they may subscribe to.

Not only that, but those churches that evangelise more often than not subscribe to fringe conservative and flat-out fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture which have absolutely no place in our public schools, where there frequently is a plurality of ethnicity and culture.

I’m sure we can all imagine the outcry from decent Christian folk if Islamists or JW’s or Mormons were given privileged access to state school students (even if ostensibly to use their powers for good and explicitly not for the purposes of conversion attempts); it’s much better for all concerned (chiefly the kids who’ll need professional advice and support) if preachers (or preachers-by-other-names) stay in the pulpit.

Noah’s Ark – retold for realism #noah

You may have heard that Rusty Crowe is starring in a new film about Noah’s Ark – you may also have heard that some Christians have a problem with its historical accuracy and have forced it to be edited.

Yes, really.

I won’t spend any time discussing the sheer hilarity of the idea that an obvious and clear myth – which is itself an obvious and clear reboot of at least one prior Babylonian flood story – could be at all “accurate” in any meaningful sense of the word.

However, I do believe a Noah film could be shot realistically. Make it from the point of view of one of Noah’s neighbours. It’d start off with Noah being a normal, decent chap but a little quiet. After a little while, he starts being a bit withdrawn, even reclusive; you don’t see his family much any more either. When you do see him he’s furtive and glances at you sideways; he’s always hurrying somewhere, always ushering his wife or family members back inside. People start talking – is he drinking? Does he hit his wife? Then the noises start. Sawing. Nailing. Is it a house extension? Eventually something takes shape. It’s big. A barn? You go over to ask Noah what he’s doing. He’s up a ladder and shouts something unintelligible; he seems angry. You leave it for the moment.

Months later, Noah’s construction is still growing – but it’s still just framework. Noone knows what it is but noone bothers to ask anymore. It appears he’s spending all his time and money on building whatever it is. It’s too big for a barn. A marketplace? A new temple? Maybe, but of wood? Surely stone or even mud bricks would be more appropriate. You ask the local elders and merchants and priests but none have any idea what’s going on. The whole family seem to be involved now; always up ladders, fetching tools, timber, following instructions barked by an increasingly preoccupied (and dishevelled) Noah.

The thing – now called “Noah’s Folly” by the people in town – is taking shape and there’s cladding on it now. It’s shaped like a boat but there’s no rudder, no masts, no oarlocks, barely even a porthole. It’s also far too big to be practical as a river boat – you’re not even convinced it’ll float, let alone be able to manouevre downstream where it becomes shallow. The smell of pitch now fills the air; Noah’s sealing it against the water. It’s a boat after all.

Eventually curiosity, and hatred of the smell of pitch, gets the better of you. Over you go to ask what Noah’s up to; this time you’ll not leave without an answer. Noah arcs up, enraged and perhaps a little terrified. He rages on and on about how all are doomed, including you; only Noah and his family are righteous and deserving; all will be judged by God and washed from the Earth. You glance at his wife; she just looks haunted and avoids your gaze. Noah’s children don’t even look up from their tasks. Something very curious – very wrong – is happening at Noah’s house.

After a while, things go quiet. Construction appears to have stopped. No more hammering, no more smell of pitch. You think maybe it’s over and Noah’s giant boat – which must surely bankrupt him if it hasn’t already – will sit there as testament to what you now assume is his madness (or perhaps his well-known love of wine) until it rots.

But then the noise starts again – it’s different this time. Livestock. Goats, geese, camels, sheep. Maybe this boat is a barn after all! It will be the rainy season soon – maybe he’s starting a new career as a breeder and wants to protect his investments. But it doesn’t end with livestock. Noah’s even bringing creatures in from the wilderness: wolves, ostriches, even a pair of lions. All restrained (barely) with ropes. Maybe it’s a menagerie like the ones you’ve heard princes and kings keep! They keep coming, brought in by his family. You marvel at how eight people could do all this; you notice how tired, hungry and defeated they all look – all except Noah, who seems consumed, obsessed – perhaps possessed. Noah ushers or just drags all the creatures into the boat. At night you can hear them complain – has he any water or food for them? You hope the ropes on the lions are strong, lest they roam the decks in search of prey. How do they even breathe with just a single window in the top cabin? How can they not suffocate on the stench of their own waste? This isn’t constructed like any barn or boat you’ve ever seen – even in this winter weather, it must be like an oven during the day and a dank, stinking cave by night.

Noah stops bringing the animals after a while. Then all he does is stand atop his boat and watch the sky all day, as if waiting for something. He becomes increasingly agitated. After a week, the rains come – just like they always do. The river floods, just like it always does. It’s a little bigger than last year (though smaller than some you can remember from your youth) and you thank God you built your house halfway up the hillside instead of moving further down on the valley floor, like Noah (you recall asking him why during the last planting season; he just smiled and continued pushing his barrow).

The river widens and deepens as the rains continue. Eventually the water laps at the sides of Noah’s boat. He hurries his family on board, carrying what seems to be a bare minimum of supplies. The water keeps coming (it’s definitely a big one this year!) and consumes Noah’s yards, enters his house. He seems unconcerned, just watching the sky. Some of his other neighbours wade through his submerged yard to confront him; they plead with him to get to higher ground. They’re very concerned about the safety of this boat or floating barn or whatever it is. Noah curses them and spits at them. They retreat back up the hill and watch the water rise.

Two days later; nobody’s seen anybody on the top deck but Noah and the water’s a few feet up the side of Noah’s boat; you’re wondering if the pitch will keep such a large thing watertight, let alone whether it’ll float. You’re not the only one; the hillsides are packed with people curious (perhaps morbidly so) about the fate of Noah’s boat. After a few more hours of steady rain, the boat shifts a little. You hear a gasp from the assembled spectators. More rain. More water. Just before dusk, the giant craft creaks, groans, protests and is finally shifted from its cradle of gopher logs. No sound from the crowd – everyone’s just staring, breaths held. Noah’s boat is now floating. Maybe it’s seaworthy after all! Maybe Noah’s some kind of strange, misunderstood genius (though that still wouldn’t explain the animals).

As the boat is taken downstream, you hear Noah bellowing something over the sound of the rushing water and falling rain – you can’t make it out but it sounds triumphant. Then you hear a sound that chills you to the bone. A creaking, groaning sound. It graduates to a cracking, splintering sound. The vessel is visibly twisting as it’s turned by the current – as if some unseen giant is wringing it out like a large wet cloth. Cladding bursts free from the side of the vessel. Water rushes in, animals fall out. You see a lion, an ostrich, a goat, all fall in to the river. Then a man – one of Noah’s sons? Frantically they paddle and kick but more cladding and beams fall on top of them. You and the crowd are now running down the hill to the riverbank. Perhaps you’ll be able to help save one of the crew. The stricken craft, now waterlogged, runs aground on a sandbar downstream, but it doesn’t stop dead. It starts to tip over, one side dug into the sand. The weight of its own timbers and waterlogged lower decks makes it collapse in on itself. Above the roar of snapping timbers you can hear the desperate screams of animals and people alike.

When you draw level with the sandbar you see among the cracked, twisted ribs of the boat some of the dead: sheep, an ox, some people floating face down. From your vantage point on the riverbank you see Noah on a small patch of sand. As he was on the top deck he was thrown clear by the impact. He’s on his side, still moving. The wreck of the boat is forming a dam, diverting the still-rising water around him. You and some neighbours start talking about a rescue plan – how can we get across the river to the sandbar? Will the wreck hold long enough for us to bring him back? Another grisly cracking sound answers your question as the rest of the hull begins to give way. You and your neighbours rush back up the hillside and turn just in time to see the hapless Noah engulfed by the merciless grey river and the shattered remnants of his creation. You and the other villagers sit in silence as the wreckage flows beyond the sandbar and out of sight down the river. Some of it remains where it fell, stuck in the sand or snagged on the riverbank. As the rain eases and the river subsides, the full extent of the carnage is revealed. Gopherwood beams, planks and logs and the carcasses of animals and people litter the riverbank from the sandbar onward. Noah’s body is never found.

After the funerals are held for Noah’s family, the dead animals disposed of and the remnants of Noah’s vessel cleared away (and reused – it was good timber!), people start retelling the tale of Noah and his “ark”, as people are now calling it. Each time you hear the story, whether in the marketplace, the tavern or via some passing travellers, it appears to grow in magnitude. Some giraffes here, two hippopotami there. By the time you hear a version where Noah’s floating menagerie is an astonishing three hundred cubits (!) long, contains a breeding pair of every animal on the Earth, endures forty whole days of rain and spends a year afloat without any creatures starving to death, you give up trying to correct people. Yes, you were actually there, knew Noah personally and saw the whole thing unfold, but noone wants to hear that. Nobody wants to hear the truth when it’s so much more fun to tell a good story. Next thing you know people will be saying he was called on by God!

Update 16 March 2014: Yo, Aronofsky – this is the film you should have made, brah! 😀

Guns n Roses made me an atheist

It was 1992 and I was 16. I’d been cranking the hell out of Guns n Roses’ latest albums, Use Your Illusion I & II. I’d worshipped the band since being introduced to Appetite For Destruction by friends a year or two earlier. The band appealed to my rebellious streak for many reasons: Axl’s gravelly wail and angry, occasionally hate-filled lyrics seemed like they were specifically tuned in to my undirected teenage rage, Slash’s peerless solos helped me rise above it all and I just loved the raw, grinding guitars and the whole “fuck you” aspect of the band. Really, what more could a 16 year-old want? The Gunners, in the end, were most of the reason I ended up growing my hair and starting a rock band with my mates that same year (a band which still exists to this day – curiously enough we’re working on an album we started recording in 2002 which, if it ever gets finished, is likely to rival Chinese Democracy in terms of completion time). But how did they cause me to leave my faith?

Of all the Gn’f’nR songs I adored, one in particular stood out: Garden of Eden from Use Your Illusion I. Not only is it one of the Gunners’ most balls-out, thrashy rock songs (with one of my favourite silly vids; see below), it contained a particular line that crystallised my slowly growing thoughts about the religion I thought I subscribed to. After the totally awesome solo from Slash, Axl spits out:

Organised religion makes a mockery of humanity

As a teenager with a growing loathing of authority – especially what I saw as the self-appointed, undeserved or entrenched variety – this leaped out at me in neon. First, I already had a chip on my shoulder regarding authority, thanks in large part to my discipline problems and the not-infrequent run-ins with teachers. Second, our high school had compulsory, innocuously-named “Religious Education” seminars. I say “innocuous” because they weren’t education about religion, they were transparent Christian conversion attempts. Until final year, every student was expected to sit there in the library and cop an earful of evangelism from the local Christians once or twice a year – what particular denomination wasn’t clear, but they sure were keen and, I thought, offensively cheerful. At the time, it didn’t trouble me that much that the local God-botherers were invading our library. I had become used to it in primary school where we had weekly Religious Instruction (where I first started having my doubts after hearing about Noah’s Ark – “how did he have time to find koalas and enough eucalyptus to feed them?” I asked myself at age seven – I still haven’t heard a credible answer); besides, the RE sessions at high school filled up an entire double period and gave some of the more smart-arsed among us a chance to ask sticky questions of the groovy youth pastors in the compulsory post-seminar dicussion groups. Even though I considered myself by default a Christian, I wasn’t a churchgoer or Bible-reader and I was suspicious of other Christians who wanted desperately to attract others into their particular brand. “Why,” I thought, “can’t people just speak to God or pray by themselves instead of signing up and joining some flock? If God’s everywhere and knows what I do and what I think, surely churches and priests are redundant?”

So, some time later, after listening to Garden of Eden, I read the lyrics and discovered “organised religion makes a mockery of humanity.” I pondered the meaning of that phrase. I pondered my own religious thoughts. I already had a suspicion that religions, even if they all had a kernel of Truth at their core, were human constructions as much as governments, guilds and golf clubs. Regardless of the original reasons for their creation (which may well have been entirely innocent and pure, I reasoned, giving them the benefit of my ever-growing doubt), they now functioned as highly effective control mechanisms and imposed arbitrary rules on their followers: “eat this, don’t eat that; wear this, not that; wait until marriage to do this, don’t do that at all unless you’re procreating; don’t ever ever do THAT, ever; you may hate these people but not those“. Some, like the Catholic church, sought (and still seek) to impose their particular arbitrary rules on people who weren’t even Catholic! I hadn’t even heard about the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition (except through Monty Python) or the Crusades just yet. In fact, I hadn’t heard that much about any of the religious idiocy and violence and hypocrisy that so offends my delicate sensibilities these days. Essentially, I had a small but growing suspicion that religions existed predominantly to further their own survival and would do just about anything to do so. In hindsight I wish I’d realised how Darwinian that seemed to me at the time and I wished I’d thought to point it out during some of those RE discussion groups.

Given my existing suspicion of religions, my distrust of self-imposed authority and my objections to restrictions with no real explanation (why the hell shouldn’t I eat what I want?) I asked myself: “It’s a great sounding phrase, but how exactly does religion mock humanity, Axl?” How indeed. Well, the moment you label every born human a hellbound sinner in need of salvation, you mock their entire existence. As soon as they come out of the womb, you’re essentially calling them worthless before they’ve even done anything or had sufficient time to form their own thoughts or decide their own actions. Noone chooses to be born and judging and labelling a person before they’ve even had a chance to employ the free will supposedly given them by a loving and wise god is the height of mockery. “You’re here, you’re mine, bow down or suffer eternally. Use the “free will” God gave you to make this choice! Hah!” It’s like creating an advanced AI robot just to hang it over a pool of molten steel and demand obedience on pain of instant destruction. How is that even close to a choice? Religion mocks humanity by giving us no real option but to believe then dresses it up as a perfectly legitimate and free choice. What rational person – or even irrational person who nonetheless has a strong self-preservation instinct – when faced with Heaven or Hell (and being unaware of any third possibility) would choose Hell? Religion mocks us by presenting bliss or doom and calling it a “choice”. US voters get a similar “choice” every four years.

At the very core of humanity is the fact that we’re aware of ourselves to a far greater degree than any other organism. We’re so aware we can sit around and think about what it even means to be self-aware and discuss it passionately, clumsily & drunkenly for hours. We’re able to think outside our own heads and empathise with others; we can think abstractly and forecast the likely result of a particular action; we can predict how an action will affect us. The human species is uniquely able to use its brain to, given time, define just about everything and invent just about anything. Religion may claim to provide solace, comfort and even Truth and Salvation, but along with its grand promises come endless catches about behaviour, clothing, food, sex, prayer, genital mutilation and even length and style of hair (cranial and elsewhere). Some rules seem so arbitrary and sexually lop-sided it’s almost as if they were imposed by a dominant patriarchy in order to codify & solidify existing rules, as yet unwritten, and attach to them the claim of Divine Order in order to make them (and their keepers) unassailable in thought, word or deed. Religion mocks our ability to make intelligent, reasoned decisions by essentially overruling them in advance with arbitray restrictions which we are simply expected to follow without question. Religion mocks our very nature by preventing & discouraging honest inquiry.

Humans have a freedom that no other species has: the freedom to think outside the confines of our own experience, our own species, our own planet, our own galaxy – even outside of what we have named “time” and “space”. Religion throughout history has consistently and constantly acted to protect its dogma and to protect its own primacy and in doing so has consistently stood in the way of such human inquiry (think Bruno, Copernicus, Galileo and, more recently, Biblical creationists falsely conflating Darwin and the rise of Nazi eugenics or attempting to smother evolution in schools with Intelligent Design, a blatant mockery of real science if ever there was one). Religion mocks our free will, our inquiring spirit and our intelligence. Religion mocks us by placing itself in an undeserved position of authority in every area of human endeavour and experience. Religion mocks each and every human alive by presuming to know Truths that cannot be known; advance ideas that can be neither proven nor disproven and protecting them and enforcing absolute adherence to them, usually through guilt and fear and occasionally through brutality. To claim that a god has given you your inquiring mind and your free will and then attached endless caveats, disclaimers, restrictions, threats, bribes and occasional actual physical violence to ensure your obedience and prevent from using that mind and that will mocks you, mocks me and every human alive. Indeed, this idea of bestowing upon us an invaluable gift and simultaneously preventing its use mocks the very concept of a benevolent God.

It was a simple line from a Guns N Roses song with an ironic name that started me thinking about what I considered my religion. It was this thinking process that led me to progress from unaffiliated Christian to vague deist and eventually to atheist. It was this initial teenage rebellion and distrust of entrenched authority that led me to ask questions of religion and to question religion itself, much the same way I questioned the authority of my teachers and the relevancy of what we were being taught, both in RE and generally. This line of Axl’s was the catalyst to a reaction that ended up dissolving my faith entirely. And now I mock religion. Eye for an eye, I guess.

Enjoy my catalyst.

[edited for clarity & grammar; not for brevity]

Atheist Bingo

Ok, forget it. It’s the end of arguing with naive theists who think they’ve got an original argument against atheism. Forget your own long-winded protestations and justifications and defences of reason and philosophisationing and forget the endless theological/secular humanist back-and-forth in blog/youtube/facebook comment threads.

Save this card and, during every argument you have with a theist, play yourself some Atheist Bingo! It pretty much covers every argument you’ll ever hear from an internet apologist (and quite a few you’ll hear from allegedly sophisticated theologians). Once you’ve filled in a line – or the whole thing if you’re after a Grand Slam – paste it as your response. No need to consult Hume or Spinoza or Dawkins or Harris or even gentle Dennet for godless inspiration or insight; just check the boxes.

Of course, there’s always the offline version: print a couple out if you’ll be spending the holidays with family members who don’t approve of your heathen ways and aren’t shy about telling you. What better way to show your weariness of the same old canards, strawmen & fallacies? Tick a box where and when appropriate and hold it in front of your face:

Good luck and God speed!

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On The Buses – everywhere but Down Under…

…but do I give a toss?

Recently, atheist bus ads have popped up in the UK and the US to much acclaim from freethinkers and much tiresome bitching & moaning from the usual suspects. Buses are so hot right now! However, an attempt by an Aussie atheist group to have their own ads on our buses has been unsuccessful. The Atheist Foundation of Australia wanted to buy ad space, the ad company, APN Outdoor, refused to sell it to them. And it seems they didn’t explain why. I certainly don’t see the harm in slogans like “Sleep in on Sunday mornings” or “Celebrate reason”, but I guess APN have their reasons. Such as – they’re a pack of bastards with double standards higher than Israel’s separation wall. So, yes, it’s disappointing. Even annoying! And refusing to take someone’s freely-offered money is just goddamned un-Australian. Not to mention that glaring double-standard: the article explains that APN had buses in Adelaide plastered with the Bible verse John 3:16 – that’s the one about God loving the world so much that he had himself (in the form of his hippy son) tortured & executed to forgive us all of our sins, especially the original sin committed by Adam & Eve, the guilt of which apparently extends several millennia onto every last one of us, from birth – conception – no less, giving us no damn choice but to accept the hippy as our saviour. Nice. World’s oldest protection racket – “Say, that’s a nice soul you got there…be a shame if anything, I dunno, happened to it…”

Now, some people might find the public assertion that we’re all destined for eternal torment at the whim of a celestial tyrant, unless we accept that he had himself (his human avatar anyway) murdered to save us all from the Hell he created and could simply choose not to send us to, somewhat offensive. But an atheist wouldn’t try to stifle someone’s freedom to say so. They’d only ask for the same freedom to say something arguably less offensive – like “sleep in” or “celebrate reason”. If one group can buy an ad saying “God exists and is awesome and will roast your soul”, another group should have an equal right to ask “how can you be sure?” or “just be good!”

Anyway & however.

Apart from the 50-foot high, floodlit double standard on display from APN, I really don’t think I care. Yes, people should have the freedom to say what they want. Equally, advertising companies, like any seedy bar with a handwritten sign, may “reserve the right to refuse service”. Commerce isn’t an equal opportunity industry – people can sell to whomever they choose and refuse the money of whomever they choose. Although, in this case, it seems the Aussie Atheists aren’t able to buy space from anyone else, because it seems APN are more or less a monopoly when it comes to bus ads. And billboards. Which is a shame. Any time when one company has more-or-less total control of a particular medium, it’s very easy for that company to exercise unfair control of the messages people want to spread. I think if TAFA have a good case to sue then they bloody well should.

But I just don’t think a public awareness of atheism campaign is necessary in Australia. Most of the time when you hear religion in our media it’s either about some whiner from Family First having an tiresome, sky-is-falling crack about the sanctity of marriage and how the gays want to take it from us and make all our kids gay, some cardinal something-or-other droning on about other peoples’ sexual & reproductive rights (as if they have any first-hand evidence of sex with adults anyway) & reminding everyone exactly how out of touch his crew are with modern Australia and its evolving moral landscape, or some off-leash imam, comparing liberally-dressed Aussie women to uncovered meat (then failing to see what’s wrong with that). Most people in this country tend to keep their religious beliefs private, and we (because we’re such cynical bastards) tend to look on anyone who’s oh-so-earnestly preaching anything with a sideways glance – even those ostensibly on the same side as the preacher. That’s what I think would happen with this atheist campaign – people would see the atheist bus ads, go – derisively – “ok, righto, whatever mate, good onya” and get on with their day. Much as they do when they see a religious ad. Or an ad for oven cleaner. Much as I do when I see dreadlocked greenie ferals screaming hysterically at police when they break up a protest and start arresting people. Do yourselves, and the image of your cause, a good solid favour you stinky bastards – peaceful, non-violent resistance. Civil disobedience, not obscenity-laden tirades and throwing rocks and lighting fireworks to freak the horses out. Ghandi & MLK made enormous strides! I’m on your side and I love my planet too, but it’ll get you a lot more respect and public support if you quit the usual drum-beating chants, face painting and screams of “fascist!” You’re there to make a political point, not start a freaking roots festival on the steps of Parliament House.

Among my wide & varied circle of friends and family, religion doesn’t come up at all, even amongst my fundy cousins or the few of my friends that I know for sure are religious (there are probably more than I’m aware of). Not because we actively avoid talking about it, it’s just that it’s considered a private matter and really isn’t pertinent. My lack of religion is the same. My folks, brothers, friends & I have the odd cackle at nutters but we don’t sit around discussing the finer points of non-belief. We all have more important and more fun things to do and to talk about, especially considering we only see each other twice a year. It’s the same across the country. Put it this way: whenever a group of Aussies watch the Grammy awards, we play the “I wanna thank my lord and saviour Jesus Christ” drinking game and we’re usually blotto before they even get to the hip-hop/r&b categories.

So … back on topic: while I’m a tad miffed at APN refusing, for seemingly no good reason, to take money from the decent godless folk of TAFA, I didn’t really see the need for an atheist awareness campaign in this country to begin with. We’re not contending with a home-grown wannabe Taliban-for-Jesus like our Yank chums or with flamin’ sharia courts like our Pommy inferiors (sharia courts, you idiots? WTF?). We’re not fighting uphill against the active public bigotry & political marginalisation of the godless. We’re not battling for simple acceptance. We’re not the suffragettes or gays or blacks of our day (hell, the Aboriginals of right now are still getting screwed). We godless are already all over the place and most people wouldn’t even know who believes what in Parliament House anyway!

But hey, bugger it – get the ads up there. I’d just like to see the reactions from the usual suspects! If nothing else it’d make good blog fodder.

Dangerous Intersection, indeed!

Erich Vieth over at Dangerous Intersection (the “DI” I don’t think are a pack of well-funded LIARS FOR JESUS), upon seeing a comment of mine aimed at a commenter of theirs in the comments of this post, kindly invited me to be a contributor.

I just published my first post over there – it’s a repost of my Ethics Gradient post “Why I am not an atheist” along with a small introduction.

I hope I can contribute in some small way to the continuing success & traffic of Dangerous Intersection. It’s one of the stops in my daily blog cruise and it’s quite an honour to be invited to contribute my, um, thoughts. I thank Erich for allowing me the opportunity and hope my future posts can justify his, um, faith in me …


PS: I’m dropping the “Mandrellian” tag at this blog but I’ll still be the sole contributor, unless I suddenly get swamped with traffic (lol?) at which point I’ll hire a helper monkey.

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