Your morality isn’t in your religion

Where do our moral beliefs originate?

Religious people will tell you it comes from their god. But then they ignore all the things in their religious books that contradict that (slavery is fine, divorcees should be stoned to death, eating shellfish is a sin…).church lady

Those of us who don’t believe come to our morality by using logic and empathy. We don’t act the way we do because of a fear of punishment in the afterlife we don’t believe exists; we do things because we think it’s right — it’s the way we want to treat others and how we would like to be treated in return.

And so do religious people, but they don’t always realize it.

For instance, if your religious leader suddenly told you to do something that you consider wrong, would you do it? If your preacher pointed to the Bible to justify children getting married at age 14 because the Bible allows it, would you say, “Well, that’s what God wants so I’m going to go marry a 14-year old”?

A better example may be gay marriage. Many preachers argue that this is a sin and that God hates gay people, but many religious folks have rejected that. They ignore their leaders — or they shop around until they find another church that agrees with their views.

See? Your morality is within you. It’s in the choices you make. Sure, your religion may offer you guidance but do you know of anyone who says, “Well, I disagree with this view completely but I’m still going to follow it”? Even a majority of Catholics believe that abortion should be legal.

You don’t need religion to have morality and, if you’re being honest with yourself, you can come up with many religious people whose morality is questionable at best.

And that’s why it is so insulting when religious folks tell atheists that we have no morals, because we came by our morals the same way they did.

Why saying “I’ll pray for you” is insulting to non-believers

Look, I know you mean well. I know that no insult is intended. But try to look at this objectively:

Saying “I’ll pray for you” because I don’t believe in the same thing you believe in has the same affect on me as if you said, “I’ll ask My Little Pony to give you sweet dreams and chocolate.” It’s meaningless to me.

The reason it’s insulting is because what it really says is, “I pity you because you don’t share my beliefs, and therefore since I am superior to you, I will grant you this boon, you poor unfortunate soul. Thanks to me praying for you, you may escape an internal torment in Hell, you evil person. You should thank me.”9459f74d551d0038ee0551450f4099b00b42a91ad1f7dfec24adf03c6cbbf2df
In other words, the only person such a statement serves in this context is you. While you mean well, it ignores my beliefs completely, telling me that you’re completely insensitive to them. 

Someone saying “I’ll pray for you” as soon they find out I’m a non-believer is equivalent to me saying “I hope you get smarter” when someone tells me they do believe. It’s condescending and insulting to your belief, because it completely discounts it and treats it as meaningless and beneath respect.

I will gladly debate religion with anyone, but let’s not start off by insulting each other for our beliefs. 

“I’ll pray for you” also depends on the context. If you’re saying that because I’m in the hospital, then I know it means “I am wishing you well” and I am happy to receive such thoughts. I take no offense, because it means you care. But when you say it in response to learning I don’t share your beliefs, it’s dismissive and insulting.


Christians are “broken people” who “cause poverty”

A Democratic Mayor of a prominent city recently said that Christians are “broken people” who are not “productive members of society.” She said that they were the “deepest systemic causes of generational poverty.”

This kind of bigotry is unacceptable, of course. We are a land that values our beliefs, and in fact, guarantee the right to believe or not believe in the very first Amendment. To degrade an entire group of people simply because of their beliefs is about as unAmerican as you can get. So you can imagine how people who strongly believe in the 1st Amendment and the values of our country are protesting this woman.

Oh.  Wait.  My mistake.

She didn’t say that about Christians. She said it about atheists.

Well, that’s completely different, isn’t it? Even though some estimates place non-believers in America somewhere in the 30% range (much larger than Jews or Muslims or Mormons or any non-Christian religion), it’s still perfectly acceptable to degrade, insult, and demean non-believers in a way that would ruin the career of any politician saying that about a religious group.

Interview with American Atheists President David Silverman

David “Mr. Atheist Pants” Silverman’s new book is provocatively called FIGHTING GOD: AN ATHEIST MANIFESTO FOR A RELIGIOUS WORLD

He is the President of American Atheists, and under his leadership, the organization has become quite prominent, with its “You Know It’s a Scam” billboards, the well-attended Reason Rally, and his interview with Bill O’Reilly that produced the “WTF” meme with his face.atheists-david-silverman

David and I have been friends for years, and we’ve been discussing this book and how it changed and progressed over those years, so it’s great to finally see it come to fruition.

It will be released next week, but he provided me with an advance copy, which I enjoyed tremendously.  We sat down in front of an attentive audience at a convention last weekend where I interviewed him.


DAVID SILVERMAN: This book has three years in the making. The book was written because after I did the Reason Rally in 2012, a small publisher came to me and said he wanted me to write a book. I said yes, and it was called ‘I, Atheist’ and it was 50% atheism and 50% autobiographical. Right at the very last moment, my agreement with him fell through. It was a completed book, but the publisher and I parted ways amicably.

So I had a book and no publisher. I sent an email to Barack Obama’s agent. And she knew who I was, and signed me right away. Then she sent out the initial treatment to her top line of people and one was a guy from MacMillan, who was a fan of mine! And he signed me right away.

So now I’ve got this great contract with a major publisher. And he says, “Oh, three things. We’re changing the cover, we’re changing the title, and we’re taking out every part about you.”

So now I’ve not half a book and six months to fill it.

And so — is Keith DeCandido here? (audience says no)

So, what I did was structure the “Atheist Art of War” after his book THE KLINGON ART OF WAR. I added a lot of data. I added a lot of research. So what used to be my opinion is now backed up with independent quantifiable data from multiple sources.

What I’ve got now is a manifesto that puts forth the idea that firebrand atheism is more effective on a macro level, more effective on a micro level, and, more importantly, it’s the nicer thing to do.fighting god

Recognizing that religion is a poison — recognizing that religion is a scam — and not saying something is a selfish act. It’s an act you’re doing to preserve yourself and not to help your fellow human. If your friend is being scammed, you would have a moral responsibility to at least mention it.

So in FIGHTING GOD, I put forward this proposal that “Live and let live” may not be the ethical choice at all.

VENTRELLA: You talk about not respecting other beliefs.  What do you mean by that?

SILVERMAN: There’s a difference between respecting a belief and respecting someone’s right to believe. If you’re talking about Constitutional rights, we as Americans all have the exact same rights. If you want to believe in a Man in the Sky, you have the right to do that.

I do not respect that.

You don’t need my respect. And I don’t need your respect to believe what I believe. What is wrong is when you go to somebody who says they believe in something you don’t respect and you lie. And you say, “Oh, I respect it.” You’re respecting a scam not worthy of respect. You are lying when you do that.

I submit that is morally wrong. That is a selfish act. That is something you are doing to make yourself feel better at the expense of somebody else.

VENTRELLA: But are we under an obligation to say something as opposed to just remaining silent?

SILVERMAN:  That’s up to you. In FIGHTING GOD, I don’t say that we should attack. We definitely should not say we respect things we don’t respect.

VENTRELLA: At the same time, you are proud to be “Mr. Atheist Pants”, and somewhat of a dick.

SILVERMAN: I am not a dick! (laughs)event_199950482

VENTRELLA: But you write that sometimes someone needs to be. You discuss the Overton Window — which is the first time I had ever heard that expression — Can you explain that to us?

SILVERMAN: The Overton Window is a business term that talks about the amount of stuff that is politically correct to say. In the 2002 election, when Mitt Romney was running for the first time, he was a Mormon and on the fringe. And then, a couple of elections later, he’s the mainstream candidate. That’s the Overton Window shifting, with Mormonism coming into the norm.

What I have been doing, and what firebrand atheism does, is shifting the window in the same way.

If you look back at when I first came into the Presidency of American Atheists, the first thing I did was put up a billboard at the New York tunnel that called religion a myth. This billboard was on the national news in nine different countries because no one had ever called religion a myth with such grandeur.

After I called it a myth, I called it a scam, I called it nonsense, I called it this, I called it that — and I moved the Overton Window and now, if I put that same billboard up, nobody would care. Calling religion a myth is now inside that window.

That’s what firebrand atheism does. Just like Mitt Romney put Mormonism into the mainstream, we’re trying to bring atheism into the mainstream and it’s succeeding. And I can quantify that with multiple data from independent sources!

VENTRELLA:  Tell us about some examples where you’ve been surprised where it’s been accepted when it wasn’t before…

SILVERMAN: When I first started in American Atheists, back in ’97, we had a convention in New Jersey. Holiday Billboard BattleWe had to look to find a hotel that would allow us to come. That hotel, that we found, would not put us up on the marquee outside. On the one inside, we were listed as “AA” (audience laughter) and if somebody called the hotel and asked if the American Atheists were there, the hotel staff would say no. That was twenty years ago.

This past year, we had our national convention in Memphis. The city of Memphis flew us out and took us on a grand tour of the city. They bought us food. Bought us booze. Showed us all the hotels. The one we stayed at was a Hilton. When we went in, they had “Welcome American Atheists” plastered on the wall.

So this is serious movement.

People get so frustrated when they look at today. They see the inequality that atheists obviously have. There are ten times as many atheists in this country as there are Jews, but we have no representation in Congress.

This is a still a lot better than it was just twenty years ago. We’re making tremendous progress. We’re not there yet but we will be there in our lifetime.

VENTRELLA: So when we see studies showing that younger people believe now, it’s major change. Most of our fights are with the old crowd. And I’m thinking of the Hobby Lobby case, which was such a step backwards. You’ve been fighting those battles. Let’s talk about the Ten Commandment monuments and what you’ve done in those regards.

SILVERMAN:  The Ten Commandment monuments are just a statement of religious privilege. It’s not about their right to do anything, it’s about them having superiority over everybody else. They put a Ten Commandments monument on the public lawn, and that’s illegal — you can’t. When we say “Take it off,” they say it’s an attack on their religious rights. When we go into a public place, there is only one choice: There must be equality.

Equality can be done in many ways: You can take the Ten Commandments off, and we have equality, or you can let other people put theirs in and we have equality.atheistmonumentcr

VENTRELLA: And that’s a winnable argument that has won in the Supreme Court.

SILVERMAN: What happened was there a place in Florida where they had a Ten Commandments monument on public land, alone. We went in there and sued, and we won, and we put up an atheist monument on public land. The outcry was that this was “an attack on Christianity.” They said we were attacking them and that they weren’t attacking us when they put theirs in!

VENTRELLA: One of the book’s themes is that every single battle you have fought has been in defense. You’ve never fought to keep someone else from practicing their religion.

SILVERMAN: Everything we do is defensive. Everything is about equality. Nothing is about privileging atheism over religion. Nothing is about pushing religion away from the churches or persons. Everything is about defending the separation of church and state, which is a synonym for “religious equality.” The more separate church and state is the more free we are.

VENTRELLA: There’s a section of your book about the “War on Christmas.” 

SILVERMAN: It’s starting! ‘Tis the season!

VENTRELLA: Happy War on Christmas, Everybody! (audience laughs) This is mostly an invention by Fox News, if I’m not mistaken. It never existed before they started bringing it up…

SILVERMAN: It’s all an invention by Fox News.

VENTRELLA: But it gets you lots of interviews and publicity…

SILVERMAN: And every year, I knowingly feed it. Yes, every year I attack Christians everywhere, reaching into their homes and weeding out their Christmas trees, grabbing their presents, and I do all of this by putting up a billboard or two. (audience laughs) And I say “Happy holidays!” Oh, how evil I am.

We’re putting up billboards this year. We have them going up in two major cities that I can’t announce yet. They’re going to be fun billboards that will speak to people.cityroom-billboard2-blog480

VENTRELLA: One of the things you criticize other atheists for is their refusal to call themselves that. They want to call themselves humanists or agnostics… Why do you think it’s important for atheists to come out of the closet?

SILVERMAN: We’ve got polls and we know that the entire political process is based on polls. And if you look at the religious markup of the polls, you see that atheists are about 3% of the population and Christians are about 70%. So they look at those polls, and they say, “Oh, look, it’s 70% Christian, 3% atheists. Those atheists don’t matter.”

What they don’t realize is that really, this country is closer to 30% atheist. It’s just that 90% of the atheists in this country don’t call themselves atheists. They call themselves agnostics, secular humanists, none, they call themselves Christians, Muslims, Jews. They call themselves anything but atheists.

Now, if you look at Christians — you look at Methodists, and Baptists, and Presbyterians and all the different denominations, they all call themselves Christian. So they unite, despite real differences, and we divide despite no differences at all. We just don’t like the words.

So the major push of my effort is not to convert believers. Why would we? If we looked at that that 70 to 30 chart and really crunched the numbers, we’d end up with about 55% Christian. Think about how that changes everything. We don’t have to convert anybody — we just have to do is get people to tell the truth about what they are.

If you don’t have an active belief in a god, you’re an atheist. If you don’t have an active belief in a god and you don’t like the word “atheist,” you’re an atheist.  This is simply a fact, it’s a matter of definition, it’s not a matter of self-identification.

The important point is that how you identify affects your neighbor. When 90% of the atheists in this country call themselves something totally different, like “secular” or something that nobody knows what it is, the politicians lose interest in us. We, as a force, diminish. We lose rights because people aren’t using the right word.36

VENTRELLA: We’ve used the metaphor of coming out of the closet to compare this with the gay rights movement to show how quickly that changed. When people started coming out and everyone said “Oh my neighbor is gay? I have no problem with that person.” Do you think that is the atheist goal, to say “Look, we’re just like you except we don’t believe”?

SILVERMAN: That’s it. We will win once we make this change. We don’t have to convert anybody or change anybody’s mind about God. All we have to do is take atheists who are already atheists and make them know that they’re atheists. They can call themselves atheists and be loud and proud about it, and when we can get a poll that shows that we’re at least  a quarter of the population, we will be able to single-handedly influence the way the political situation works.

VENTRELLA: Do you see that as the main theme or goal of this book?


VENTRELLA: So why’d you call it FIGHTING GOD?

SILVERMAN: I didn’t! (audience laughs) The publisher did. But I am fighting the concept of God by telling people that they don’t have to pretend they believe any more. This is the big fight. Our lowest hanging fruit is just to get atheists to call themselves atheists.

VENTRELLA: And that’s different from the other atheist books we’ve seen from Dawkins or even Penn Jillette. You’re trying to start a movement.

SILVERMAN: The movement exists. It was started by my predecessor, Madalyn Murray O’Hair. American Atheists was founded in 1963 by her. She led the fight to take prayer out of schools. That’s the organization I run now and I’m very proud to stand on her shoulders.

VENTRELLA: You and her are the only names anyone knows from the organization. Why do you think that is?

SILVERMAN: I think Madalyn and I had a lot in common! I take a lot from her and I dismiss a lot from her as well, because she’s a person from a different time. I think the reason we are both well known is because we are both firebrands. Maybe the interim Presidents weren’t as firebrandy as I am or she was.

I think what we have here is a specific situation where a firebrand atheist movement can beat the Republican party. I think we can fix this country. And I’m not shooting pie in the sky — I write about this in the book — this war is winnable. Everything we see from the religious right is weak. I think the base is seeing it. I think when we talk to Republicans, they see it — not the leaders, the followers.

VENTRELLA: You went to a conservative convention and got a surprising response.

SILVERMAN: Tremendous response! I went to CPAC, this huge, conservative Jesus thing for Jesus. It’s all about Jesus Jesus Jesus except it’s not. I went to CPAC to try and just drive a little wedge between Christianity and conservatism and what I found was a bunch of people on top who were all Jesus People For Jesus and a whole bunch of atheists underneath.

Not tens, not twenties — hundreds and hundreds. At CPAC! Ayn Randians, libertarians, fiscal conservatives — they are tired of the religious crap.

We got five pages of membership sign-ups — at CPAC! I went there with two one-gallon bags full of buttons that said “Conservative Atheist” and we gave them away free on the condition that you wear it. And we gave away every single button! They were all young. Everyone under thirty at CPAC was wearing a “Conservative Atheist” button. What does that do to the candidates when they see conservative atheists walking around CPAC? I’ll tell you what — Tony Perkins of the American Family Association got up on stage and acknowledged that atheists were there and part of the conservative movement. That’s an amazing thing, but I want to make it clear — I’m not all giddy that Tony Perkins likes us. (audience laughs)  I am however thrilled beyond measure that he felt the need to say that. He needed to say that because of the presence of so many atheists out and proud.

Look at us single-handedly affecting how the Republican party works. Only because we went in there and used the word “atheist” — the word that everybody understands. The word that shifts the Overton Window.

VENTRELLA: Do you have any optimism about the upcoming election?49

SILVERMAN: Yeah! (big smile) One of the things we’re doing at American Atheists right now is that we’re running the atheist voter campaign. It’s a grass-roots campaign that organizes people to go and see the candidate while wearing “atheist voter” t-shirts, and ask the candidates specific questions about atheists. The questions can be very broad. “I’m an atheist and I want to know if, in your cabinet, you’d have an atheist?” Things like that, just to bring out the bigotry, just to get them to address us. We’ve gotten statements now on atheism from Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorino, Mike Huckabee, and I think Santorum as well.  We’re going to be publishing them soon. This is going to be something we’re going to be able to show the atheists of this country what they’re saying about us but at the same time, it’s going to show the candidates that we exist and we have to be addressed.

It’s no coincidence in my mind that Trump is the number one person in the Republican party. And everybody knows his religion is bullshit. He says, “Yeah, I read the Bible. I can’t remember anything about it.” (audience laughs) Everybody knows his religion is bullshit. He’s the only non-religious candidate on the Republican ticket and he’s number one by double digits. Why? Republican atheists. There are so many Republican atheists who are sick and tired of the religious right.

I don’t think we’re going to see a religious right candidate. I think what we’re seeing now is the beginning of the end of the religious right’s hold on Republicanism. We’re going into CPAC again this year and we’re going to push that wedge open.

I don’t know if you all know this, but there was a time when Republicanism was not the same as Christianity. Back in the olden days of Barry Goldwater, who was a staunch supporter of the separation of church and state — those days can come back. And we’re pushing that very hard with Republicans.478ed32622ba56a18a307d64989a1d74

VENTRELLA: On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has refused to say much about religion  …

SILVERMAN: I know! He calls himself a “non-religious Jew.” Sounds like a synonym for “atheist” to me! (audience laughs) I don’t know if you all watched the last Democratic debate, but the only person there who didn’t invoke God or prayer was Bernie Sanders. The other two snuck it in, and it was really artificial. “They have their right — I mean, their God-given right…” Bernie Sanders was the only person who didn’t do that. I think he’s an atheist. I hope he’s an atheist. And I hope he wins. If he comes out as an atheist, I will definitely vote for him, but I’m probably going to vote for him anyway. American Atheists is a 501C3 organization, we do not endorse candidates!

We see the progress. We’ve got a person on a major ticket who is an atheist. He has not professed a belief in God. When he talks about his faith, he talks about how “we’re all in this together.” This is an atheist talking and he’s a major candidate now. He’s going to be like Romney in 2002.

VENTRELLA: He’s going to move the Overton Window.


VENTRELLA: The new Prime Minister of Canada has something like four atheists in his cabinet.

SILVERMAN: And what would it be if the Prime Minister of Canada had a secular humanist, an agnostic, a “bright” and a “none” in his cabinet? Same four people. Think about the difference in the impact. Think of what that could do at the local level. This is what we could do simply by using the right words.

VENTRELLA: Let me ask one last question. Tell us about the “What the Fuck” face.

SILVERMAN: I’m a meme, too! That’s the more famous part of me. I did a “Mr. Deity” episode a while ago. I love Brian, if you haven’t looked it up, look up Mr. Diety. We were filming this little webisode in his house. And his daughter comes out and she’s maybe sixteen years old. Dave_Silverman.svgAnd he says “Honey, this is David Silverman! He’s the President of American Atheists!” And she says, “Oh, that’s nice.” And then he says, “He’s also the ‘What the Fuck’ face guy.” She says “No WAY! Let me take a picture! Do the face!” (audience laughs)

Basically what happens is that I go to O’Reilly. I’ve been on a couple times now, but this was the first time we actually had a chance to talk before the show. And he is, by the way, intelligent. He’s knowledgeable. He knows what he’s saying, knows what he’s doing. We had a really good conversation. And then the cameras go on.

If you watch the video, you’ll see — I was manoeuvering him into a corner. “You’re a skeptical person and you don’t really believe this shit.” And he went defensive, and he said, “I’ll tell you why God exists. The tide goes in, the tide goes out, there’s never a miscommunication, you can’t explain that.” And I made this face.  What? 

A lot of people think it was about the question. It was about the question after we had this whole intelligent conversation beforehand. So I have this look on my face of a complete disconnect. What the hell am I listening to?

And the young people at Reddit seized on it, and they created this meme. And now this face, which is public domain — I don’t get any money from it — is on pajamas, on stickers at the dollar store. I love it!

It’s good marketing, right? Because if people look it up, they will watch that video of Bill O’Reilly saying something really damned stupid.

VENTRELLA: Stephen Colbert called you “Mr. Atheist Pants” after that incident.

SILVERMAN: That’s now my Twitter handle.

Atheists are “intolerant”?

Often, religious folks complain that atheists are “intolerant” towards their religion.

Strangely enough, these atheists seem to be only “intolerant” toward Christians. Why is that?god

Well, Jews aren’t trying to pass laws banning bacon.

Muslims aren’t trying to pass laws forcing women to wear veils.

Amish aren’t trying to pass laws to make us give up electricity.

Wiccans aren’t trying to make us say “One Nation, under the Goddess.”

But some Christians want to ban all abortions, make gay marriage illegal, restrict contraception, edit history books, enforce prayer in schools, and all because of their religious beliefs.

So when atheists say “No” to them, that’s not intolerance. That’s fighting against tyranny. That’s standing up for what America was founded on — freedom to believe or not believe. To have a secular country.

All the atheist “fights” are defensive. Atheists are not doing a thing to prevent religious people from practicing their religion however they want to. They’re just trying to stop them from making us all do it.

EDITED for clarification:  I mean legal and political fights, not arguments and debates.  

Neil DeGrasse Tyson makes a non-religious joke, Christians everywhere are insulted

On Christmas Day, noted scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson posted some funny tweets:

“On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton!”

“This year, what do all the world’s Muslims and Jews call December 25th? Thursday.”tyson

“Merry Christmas to all. A Pagan holiday (BC) becomes a Religious holiday (AD). Which then becomes a Shopping holiday (USA).”

Come on, those were funny indeed.  But of course, Christians all over complained that the scientist was insulting their religion.

He responded to the criticism with logic, as if that would make a difference to these people:  “If a person actually wanted to express anti-Christian sentiment, my guess is that alerting people of Isaac Newton’s birthday would appear nowhere on the list.”

Let’s face it, the first two there are standard jokes a stand-up comedian would tell.  You start off saying something wherein everyone knows where you’re going, and then boom, you hit them with the unexpected punch.  The third is just an observation about the commercialization of Christmas that even Christians should agree with.

Tyson, like the majority of scientists, is an atheist although he never uses that word to describe himself.  He says very clearly that he thinks faith and reason are irreconcilable.  “Everybody who tried to make proclamations about the physical universe based on Bible passages got the wrong answer,” he says.  He refuses the label “atheist” because he says that there shouldn’t be a word for not believing in something.  “I don’t play golf, so is there a word you can use for me as a non-golf player?”

Here, of course, is where I disagree with him. No one is being discriminated against for not playing golf, but atheists are looked down on in society and often have to fight for their rights.  Because of that, too many atheists are “in the closet” which, as we have seen with the gay rights movement, does nothing to help people realize that they’re really not that different from everyone else.



Equal time for satanists

“This is a democracy!” cried the religious person on the Fox News interview.   He then went on to explain that since 90% of the population agrees with him that therefore it was OK for them to force their religion on the other 10%.  Satanist MonumentYeah, you know that 1st Amendment?  It only applies to the majority view.

Ah.  This is apparently a new definition of democracy for which I was unaware.

The discussion was about a bunch of Satanists who are demanding equal time in Oklahoma.  The Christians placed a Ten Commandments display on public property.  The Constitution demands that the government take no preference concerning religion.  Therefore, the Satanists get to put up their silly goat-head statue.

Many religious people, of course, are only in favor of freedom of religion when it’s their own religion.  In a recent debate on Fox News, they tried their best to deny the 1st Amendment applied.  David Silverman, head of American Atheists (and a friend of mine), tried to point out that the law demands that you allow them to place their own displays.   And then he had to once more clarify to the idiots that atheism is not Satanism.  “They’re all bunk to me,” he said.

There is a very, very simple solution to all of this.  Simply get your religious statue off of government property.  Then they don’t have to give “equal time” to Hindus and Satanists and Atheists and Pastafastarians.

Satanists Protected by the First Amendment

Some politicians don’t understand that the Constitution covers freedom of religion but also freedom from religion.   (I’m looking at you, Rick Perry.)

There are two parts to the 1st amendment. The Free Exercise Clause allows you to worship in your own way (well, within the laws that apply to everyone). But there’s also the Establishment Clause, which says that the government cannot promote religion or favor one religion over another. Oklahoma_monument

This is the one that many Christians ignore. “Well, they don’t mean our religion!” they argue illogically. They think that it’s perfectly fine to have government promote their religion and their religion’s laws concerning, say, abortion or gay marriage, but scream angrily at any thought of someone else’s religion being imposed through our laws (or no religion at all).

Lately, other religions (and non-religions) are demanding equal rights, as the Constitution provides. If a Christian group is allowed to put a monument to the Ten Commandments up in a public park, then the atheists cannot be denied the right to place their own monument up in the same park.

The latest incident is occurring in Oklahoma, where both Satanists and Hindus are demanding equal space on the State House grounds after the announcement of a huge Ten Commandments display. This has astounded some politicians who have never read the Constitution.

Oklahoma legislators are outraged at this. “This is a Christian nation and Oklahoma was founded on Christianity!” they say, ignoring the fact that (a) the United States specifically was not founded on Christianity and (b) Oklahoma specifically was formed as an American Indian state (well, at first…).

If you don’t want to see satanist or atheist displays on our public property then the obvious solution is to stop placing your own religious monuments there. The Establishment Clause requires that the other beliefs get equal time. Instead, use the money that would have been spent on this monument in other ways — you know, feed the poor or establish an orphanage. Wouldn’t that be the Christian thing to do?

And best yet, because of the Free Exercise clause, the government would not be able to do anything about it.

An atheist lives his own moral code

by Guest Blogger David Ehrhart

I had my “Atheism” tested today. I use quotations for that descriptor, because I don’t enjoy how the name of my belief system basically means “rejecting someone else’s belief system.” I should probably choose another word for it, but I’m getting ahead of myself …

Today, while driving home from work, I had a thought-provoking experience. As I found myself in the passing lane, gaining on a semi in the right lane, I suddenly beheld another car approaching incredibly fast behind the truck. As the space between my car and the semi quickly diminished, the third driver accelerated even more, dangerously cutting across in front of me to zip up and beyond the truck. He then merged back into the right lane almost immediately, but found whatever his next assuredly reckless driving stunt would have been to be blocked by traffic further up the road. As I found myself gaining on him in the passing lane, I looked over into his driver’s side window and entertained a few ideas. I thought I might give him the finger. I thought I might curse at him loudly enough that my voice would somehow magically project through my music, my passenger side window, the wind, his driver side window, and his potential music as well. I thought about doing both at the same time. I didn’t do any of that, but as I looked over at the man, who I believe was roughly my age, give or take a few years, I saw something dangling from his rear view mirror: a large, clearly visible crucifix.

Moments later my off-cutter zipped up an exit ramp and out of my view, and in his absence I found myself pondering a simple question with a potentially profound meaning: “What if he had killed us?”

I was raised as a Lutheran, attended church regularly in my youth, was baptized, confirmed, took Communion, served as the Crucifer in many a service, and even stood as the Pastor’s assistant in a few others. Yet somewhere in my college years I began to part with faith, calling myself an “Agnostic” for a few years until I became brave enough to accept the fact that I truly was what many would describe as an “Atheist.” My thinking became more scientific in nature. For more reasons than I can count, I came to “believe” that if it couldn’t be proven, I couldn’t accept it, whatever it was. Blame my psychology coursework if you will, but I have come to believe that it is easier for Man to have created God, than for God to have created Man. I in no way mean to offend others who do have faith when I say these things, because I believe that it is every human’s right to believe whatever they want to believe. But over the years, being the helping professional that I am, I have developed my own code and my own principles. It was taught to me by my professors, my supervisors, and those whom I continue to serve. The core of my belief system is to ”do no harm.”

So as I drove and pondered, I asked myself a variety of questions, trying my best to weigh the differences of my beliefs and the beliefs which were being announced by the other driver’s crucifix, assuming that the car wasn’t borrowed or stolen. If he had misjudged the distance between my car and the semi, if he hadn’t gone fast enough, if he was momentarily blinded by the afternoon sun’s reflection off of, say, anything, what might have happened differently? If we crashed and both of us died, and I was “wrong” in my Atheism, would I go to Hell? Being a Christian, would he go to Heaven? Would he need to ask his God for forgiveness before he drew his final breath to be absolved of his sin? Would he have needed to go to confession instead? Which version of Christianity would need to hold true for him to ascend? Would my good works mean nothing at the Pearly Gates, since I didn’t believe until beholding them “in person”? Would I be stuck in some kind of Purgatory or Limbo? Would the Christian God be a vengeful God and smite my spirit, or simply wave his omnipotent hand at my mortal transgressions if I apologized to Him? Would I be damned to an eternity of suffering because I refused to stop asking questions about the truth of life and the Universe? Would we blink out of existence altogether, turn into fertilizer, or reincarnate into cats?

Not being a Christian, I still live a life filled with acts that might resemble those of a Christian. I follow the majority of the Ten Commandments, without even needing to think about them, or how they are connected to the belief in a God. I spend the majority of my waking hours working with people in their darkest hours of mental instability. I volunteer to raise dogs to assist blind people in living fuller lives. I carry heavy things for weaker people and hold doors for the elderly. I speak respectfully, wait my turn, and enjoy teaching children about goodness. I love my fellow humans, and I love my world. I attempt to do the most good I can, and the least harm I can. I do these things because they are right to do, and while they may have been influenced by a Christian perspective in my upbringing, I don’t need to believe in a God to know that they are the right things to do. Plenty of other religious and other systems of thought and belief promote the same thing. We are a people who need each other. We exist because of each other. We exist for each other.

The Sixth Commandment, as I understand it, is “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Allow me to be so bold as to broaden my interpretation of it to “Thou Shalt Not (Willfully Engage in Seriously Dangerous Behavior That Will Increase The Probability For You To) Kill (Others).” I hope it’s not too big of a stretch. What upsets me is that people too often wear or otherwise display symbols of faith, and then behave in a manner contradictory to the principles of said faith. This is one of the greatest reasons I find myself not adhering to any specific religious beliefs or doctrines, Christian or otherwise. If a “believer” isn’t required to be a living testament of their beliefs, why believe in the first place? And I’m sorry, but if asking for forgiveness from your God after you might have killed me is enough to secure your place in Heaven, only one of us is really making out on the deal.

Do no harm. It’s something I strive for daily, and something I encourage in others, and it isn’t terribly different from the aforementioned Commandment. All of us make mistakes, certainly, but I think no matter what an individual believes, he or she has the responsibility to not purposefully enter into situations in which they can seriously harm or kill another person, lest it be in the defense of their own mortality of the mortality of someone who, in that moment, is unable to defend their own life. Willful recklessness can end so many things, because it clouds other, more rational thoughts.

As I write this, I don’t find myself clinging to anger over the dangerous situation I survived. I find myself wishing for other opportunities. What would it have been like to have spoken to that man, and to have told him of the life he endangered? I could tell him about my crazy dog Jack, the patients I help, and the wedding I want to celebrate. I could have told him about something as significant as my whole family coming together soon to commit my father’s ashes to the sea, or as trivial as what I was going to make for dinner tonight (nothing exciting, it was a Bertolli frozen meal for two). I could have shared coffee with him, and even debated over our differing belief systems. I could have shown him that another’s life matters more than potentially getting to his exit ramp just a second or two earlier. I could have learned about his life, and its significance, too.

Whatever you believe, do no harm. Whether you believe in a Christian God, a Goddess, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or something else entirely, hold yourself accountable for the principles which you claim to follow. If you believe in something that condones the disregard for or outright abuse of the rights and well-being of others, well, we have a different conversation to conduct. As best as I can tell, we only have the present, and the choices we can make within it. Consider that you have an impact on the world around you, and the people within it, and while sometimes that impact is small, other times it may just be profound. Do no harm.

David Ehrhart is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a martial artist, and an otherwise quirky human. His goals are to marry his fiancé, raise a bunch of dogs, and one day write a witty bestseller for people who want to learn new ways to improve their own mental health.

(NOTE: This is a guest blog from David Ehrhart. If you would like to submit a guest blog that fits in with the theme of “Ventrella Quest,” please contact me).

The War Against Atheists

I thought I’d share this Facebook post from American Atheist President David Silverman, as it might start a nice conversation:

“This is why we are the good guys and they are the bad guys. There is no bill in any state trying to force atheism on anyone. All our moves are defensive, all the time.

Take the religion back out of science class. Give women back full rights over their own bodies. Get that religious icon back off public property. Take the religion back off the money, and back out of the Pledge. Everything, every lawsuit, every complaint, every fight we fight as a movement is all defensive, all pro-equality. We demand religion stay out of our lives, and we are hated for it by those who know we are right, but don’t want to (or can’t) admit it. We want only that which we would want done to us – equality.

The other side can’t say anything close to that. They are doing unto others as they would not want to have done to them – 2nd class citizenship or conversion. They complain about us, but we live by their ‘golden rule’ for real, while they pretend that what they do would not make Jesus puke.”

I would have used “Jesus wept” in there instead, but the point is clear: No matter how much Fox News complains about the “War Against Christians” every single lawsuit and protest has been a defensive one, and I challenge anyone to give an example where that was not the case.


Me and David (Tall, isn’t he?)