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Reasoning Together

In some circles, Detroit is sometimes referred to as "god's city" because of the strong influence of various religions and denominations on life in the area. Ironic if you keep up with daily headlines, I know, but it's still quite true.

But now, a new coalition of atheist organizations is rolling out an introductory campaign this week designed to show that there are probably more non-believers in and around "god's city" than you might think. And this new umbrella group, the Detroit Area Coalition of Reason, is working diligently to bring together as many of them as possible.

I heard from Ruthe Milan, a coalition organizer, a few weeks ago about the campaign (which features signs like the one pictured above) and was intrigued. I grew even more interested as I watched big-name Detroit ministers try, yet again, to turn city politics into their personal sanctuaries during the debate over Detroit's strip club ordinances a week or so back. So I reached out to Milan to find out more about the campaign and what the leaders of Detroit CoR hope to bring to public conversations currently dominated by believers.

Among the first things they want to bring, explained Milan, is a broader variety of atheist voices, reaching across lines of race, ethnicity, class and sexual orientation. "A group like this is necessary because the reason-based, non-believeing community in the Detroit area doesn't know they have resources to network with," she said. "So we're trying to get word out to let them know there are groups to work with, for civil-rights, separation-of-church-and-state issues, as well as to socialize with."

Jason Pitmann, the chairperson of the advisory board for the Center For Inquiry/Michigan, one of the groups in the coalition, suggested that metro Detroit is likely teeming with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers. "Recent surveys have shown that over 13 percent of the US population is non-theist," Pitmann said. "Statistically, this would translate into about 650,000 people in metro Detroit."

However, many of them are "in the closet, so to speak," Pitmann continued. "In cities where the majority of people are Christian or Muslim, there is social pressure to conform, or at least to keep your opinions about religion quiet. Another reason is that non-theists are more likely to believe strongly in the separation of church and state, so they are less likely to make a political issue out of their non-belief. Because they believe religion is a private matter, they are less likely to speak of it in public."

Pitmann's definitely on to something with this. Even though I've never been quiet about my disdain for religion, I know numerous people throughout this city, particularly from the traditionally Christian black community, who long ago abandoned the idea of "god" as an irrational, improbable and unproven concept -- but who keep their mouths shut tight about it. I think, for instance, about one of my good friends from childhood, an up-and-coming businessman who has been atheist for years now. Despite this, though, he adamantly refuses to publicly discuss his non-belief for fear of losing customers, many of whom are devout African-American church goers who think their "blessed" money should only be exchanged with other Christians. (Ahh, if they only knew...)

Milan said that when metro Detroit atheists do run across others with like minds, they're shocked. She recalled working outdoors in Royal Oak last year on behalf of the Detroit Grassroots Atheism Project, another CoR member: "So many people stopped and said, 'I had no idea there were so many atheists around here.' They thought they were alone. People just don't know."

But the CoR doesn't just want to cultivate more conversation among atheists. In keeping with a more vocal strain of non-belief, sometimes termed "new atheism," that has been emerging in recent years, the group is also looking to heighten "secular activism," coalition members explained.  Arlene-Marie, the director of Michigan Atheists, an affiliate of the national American Atheists organization, said there have been numerous local incidents, many of them centered around the issue of the separation of church and state, that highlight the need for vociferous secular groups in the Detroit area.

"We have watched for many, many months elected officials such as Kwame Kilpatrick and Monica Conyers hold the hand of their God in an effort to excuse their illegal activities," she pointed out. "Dozens of metro Detroit school boards and city councils use public property to begin their meetings with prayer seeking divine guidance in performing their public duties. Most of our local courts are not a Bible/religion free zone. All too often defendants, plaintiffs and even jurors are confronted with the pressure of taking an oath proclaiming 'so help me God.' The official oath of office in Michigan concludes with, 'so help me God.'"

Milan said the coalition is hoping to work with a wide variety of organizations, regardless of whether they are atheist groups or not. "There is cross over in theistic community when it comes to separation of church and state issues," she contended.

She says the group isn't expecting backlash to its new campaign or its outreach efforts, but she says she wouldn't be surprised if it comes. She told the Detroit News:

"So far so good: one person called and was very hostile, saying that we were telling people not to believe in God," Milan said.

"He said that wasn't something children should see, to which I agreed. I told him to go back and read the message again; that's when he realized it was a question, not a statement. He calmed down and we had a nice talk for about 20 minutes."

Milan insists that CoR isn't looking to "de-convert" anyone with its work, but the group isn't ducking the oft-touchy subject of religion either. "People have to make their own decisions," she told me. "But I welcome the conversation with believers."

Yes, I think that groups like CoR are vital, but what do you think of the coalition, about the CoR campaign? Should the coalition encourage more non-believers to speak out? How well do you think the campaign will do in the heavily religious metro Detroit area? And how do you feel about the member groups pooling their resources to work around issues such as separation of church and state in our region? Discussion is welcome.

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  • 1

    Sounds like a religious movement to me..My relationship with creation is personal..In the market place:...I am manimal..I am a pagan..I am a walrus..

  • 2

    I agree that the separation of church and state is an important issue. I also agree that too often religion is used and abused by politicians to promote their own agendas.

    However, I would not want to live in a place where atheism was dominant (i.e., had taken the unofficial role as the state religion.) I don't think that experiment worked too well in the last century, and I don't have high hopes that the results would be different in this one. The problem with atheism is it provides no rational basis for morality. How do you determine if something is "right" or "wrong?" Do we all vote to determine it? Does the leadership decide? Does everyone just do what is right in his/her own eyes? Or do we set up someone to determine how everyone should act? (Of course, then we'd basically be setting up someone as god...)

    Also, it is definitely true the existence of God is unprovable (of course, it is also impossible to prove that God doesn't exist). However, before you promote the idea that belief in God is irrational and improbable, you might want to read this article, that shows that belief in God is not only rational but even probable!

    • 2.1

      Bedwardswsu, you live in a country without a state religion, the United States is a secular democracy and has no official religion. In effect, you are living in a non-theist country that allows for individuals to practice their beliefs without fear of prosecution.

      The experiment of a Non-Theist democracy has worked and the United States has been a complete success, I do not see what you are saying about last century.

      Atheism is also not a religion, it is a lack of belief. Atheism as a state religion is impossible and has never happened because it is not a religion but a lack of belief.

      The basis for all our morality comes from evolutionary developments at the beginning of our species that involved not killing one another for survival. The faculty of reason and foresight came before religion. Morality came before religion. Religion is merely a consolidated map of our evolved morality which is why they all seem to have a similar look and feel to them. Basically, there is a rational reason for morality in terms of evolution, and religion is merely a consolidation of human morality as a whole as some see it. It is for this reason that some of the "religious regimes" aka Iran have some of the most perverse morality ever shone on man. While our secular democracy USA provides people with real freedom, choice, and the ability to live in peace.

      Intelligent design, or whatever fantasy you believe in, is perfectly fine here in the USA. Hooray for the freedom of religion!

    • 2.2


      I understand that the U.S. practices freedom of religion, and though I would do not think it has always been non-theist (e.g., why does God show up so often in our religions documents and rituals: "In God We Trust,"; "So help me God," prayers at presidential inaugurations, etc.), I recognize that in many ways it is non-theist today. My reference to last century was the atheist driven communism of the Soviet Union and China, not to what happened in the U.S. By and large, the U.S. was still driven by at least bare theism in the last century.

      I'm not a fan of religion per se. I don't think religion by itself does much for society, so the "religious regimes" of many countries that are immoral are not surprising to me. But the issue is not about religion. It's about belief in God. And my point was that belief in God is necessary to provide a rational basis for morality.

      It seems unfounded to believe that morality is a result of evolution. When did it become moral to no longer kill one another for survival? And if only some people evolved to this level before others, wouldn't they have been killed off by all the people who still thought we should kill for survival?

      Since you seem to think atheism provides a rational basis for morality, could you explain further how it does so? In what way does atheism (or evolution) provide a way for people to know that certain things are good while other things are evil, and provide a way to determine which is which?

    • 2.3

      You acknowledge that we are a secular democracy with no state religion though right? In God We Trust and all the rest will most likely be gone within 50 years thanks to a concerted campaign by non-believers to do so with lawyers and the Constitution.

      Forced atheism is unacceptable as is the case in China and Soviet Russia, freedom of religion is the only way. All I am saying is our country is secular now with no religion, but gives us all the freedom to practice ours, quite different from the forced atheism you speak of in the last century.

      The reason our country is so just compared to religious regimes, is because we have no religion and we allow everyone to practice what they wish. Not because we are "Christian" as so many seem to believe. Many Christian regimes in the past practiced brutality against different faiths as was the case with many of this country's forefathers who were escaping religious persecution in Europe. They understood the importance of being able to be free from religion and also practice any you wanted without persecution. This is what makes our country great.

      I like the questions you're asking about the evolution of morality. Those are some of the hard questions free thinkers are coping with on a daily basis. How did morality evolve? Instead of sticking our heads in the sand about it, why don't we start asking these kinds of questions to one another? I am not suggesting atheism provides a rational basis for morality, but scientific evidence might end the speculation about which came first, religion or morality. Here is a brief synopsis of an article you may enjoy on this subject:

      "Cultural anthropologists have long recognized how all human societies have similar basic norms of moral conduct. Marc Hauser, professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard University, has just published a paper about additional studies showing that people's moral intuitions do not vary much across different religions all around the world. From an evolutionary perspective, that means that human morality is very old -- old enough to pre-date any religion that exists today. Furthermore, basic morality is highly resistant to religious influence -- most people easily reject religious rules that violate their basic moral intuitions. Rather, religions all tend to confirm and support human morality, because that essential morality sustains our schemes of social cooperation."

      Check it out, because I think these are important questions we need to be asking ourselves. Evolution has definitely played a part in this process, and there is a reason all religions of the world hold some of the same basic characteristics.

    • 2.4

      Of course I recognize we have no state religion. That's why I mentioned I'm a supporter of a separation of church and state, and said I didn't want atheism to be an "unofficial" state religion (i.e., like China and the Soviet Union). I only mentioned the phrases about God to show that America has not historically been a non-theist country. Even though some of those phrases are relatively recent additions, I think it's historically naive to argue that America has been non-theist. The basis for the Declaration of Independence is on the belief that "these truths [are] self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I'm not saying that all early Americans were Christians, but it's simply a matter of fact that they were Theists. And, their belief in God in many ways served as the basis for their actions. However, that's really a side-issue, which I probably shouldn't have raised at all to begin with. I just don't like it when people play loose with facts.

      However, your argument that our freedom of religion comes from having no state religion goes against what you've mentioned previously: that atheism is not a religion, and that China and Russia did not practice freedom of religion. Were they religious regimes or not? Obviously great harm has been done in the name of religion generally (and even Christianity in particular) but those people were not acting consistently with what Christianity teaches. Were China and Russian acting inconsistently with what atheism teaches? How would you know?

      Ultimately, I'm not as interested in the evolution of morality as I am in how atheism provides a rational basis for morality. And if it doesn't, why would I believe that atheism is good for Detroit? That's why I pointed out China and Russia: their commitment to atheism did not provide any rational basis for morality, so they were left with those with power determining behavior.

      Regarding which came first, religion or morality, that answer depends on your philosophical presuppositions. Since you believe that religion was merely an invention of man, then you believe that it "evolved" after morality. But if God exists and created man, then obviously He predated morality.

      Biblical Christianity actually provides an explanation for why morality is amazingly consistent throughout the world: Romans 2:14-15 point out that God's law has been written on people's hearts, meaning they have a "sense" of what is right or wrong according to God. Not everyone follows this conscience, and some sear it beyond recognition. However, the scientific facts you bring up (the similarity of morality) are explained through what God said that He has done. Thus, if you don't a priori deny the existence of God, you can easily explain the existence of morality by the existence of God.

      As well, Christian Theism provides a rational basis for morality, which you suggest that atheism does not. That's why I argued from the very beginning, that I would not want to be in a place where atheism ruled the day.

    • 2.5


      You wrote:

      "The problem with atheism is it provides no rational basis for morality. How do you determine if something is "right" or "wrong?" ...
      And my point was that belief in God is necessary to provide a rational basis for morality."

      I'd like to ask you this: If somehow science convinced you without a doubt that there is no god, would you immediately start to rape, pillage, murder and lie?
      I think not, because you know instinctively, that these things are wrong.

      I do not need a god (threat of punishment) to be a moral person. I do not need anyone to 'tell me' what is wrong or right, I just know.
      The only people that wouldn't know are people who have (legitimate) mental problems.


    • 2.6


      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify what I mean. I'm not saying that atheists aren't, can't, or wouldn't be moral people. I'm saying atheism provides no rational basis for morality. IOW, belief in God is not necessary for morality, but belief in God is necessary to provide a rational basis for morality.

      The fact that people who don't believe in God still, by and large, act morally conforms with what I'd mentioned earlier: "Romans 2:14-15 point out that God's law has been written on people's hearts, meaning they have a 'sense' of what is right or wrong according to God. Not everyone follows this conscience, and some sear it beyond recognition." So Christianity provides a rational basis for morality--people have been made in God's image, and thus "instinctively" know what is right and wrong. This "instinct" isn't always precise (why do some people think certain things are wrong when others think they are right?) because God's image in man has been marred. That's why we need the Bible to give us a clear understanding of what God is like and what He wants from us.

      So atheists can be, and often are, very moral people. But it's not because atheism provides a rational basis for their actions. So, if I suddenly stopped believing in God, would I automatically begin to murder, rape, pillage, etc.? No. But, as a rational person, I would probably one day ask myself: Why do I think those things are "evil?" If I really hated someone, why would it be wrong for me to kill them? If I really wanted to have sex with someone, why would it be wrong for me to rape them? Possible answers (none of which ultimately serve as a rational basis) would be:
      consequences (but what if I don't get caught?)
      societal well-being (but why should I care about society?)
      the harm it brings to others (but why should I care about them?)
      It's wrong (but why is it wrong?!!!)

      That's what I mean when I say that atheism provides no rational basis for morality. You don't have to believe in God to be moral (in fact, many people who believe in God are extremely immoral). But you have to believe in God to provide a rational basis for morality. IOW, moral atheists are inconsistent atheists--they haven't fully applied their atheism to every area of life. (For an example of an atheist who did apply his atheism to all areas of life, look into Nietzsche's conclusions about his role in the world.)

  • 3

    I can't stop laughing! What a misplaced effort. People binding together to unify in what they DON'T believe in? That's hilarious. There are so many more worthwhile common denominators. Defining one's self or an organization by what they DON'T believe in seems antithetic to "definition." It's like disproving a negative -- you get all caught up in the semantics and logic. Ultimately, it's pointless and a waste of energy.

    So much better to be FOR something. PRO-something. Bind together on the basis of a common belief that children need reading skills. Or that homeless people should eat.

    So, now that we know what you're against, "Non-Theists" (snicker, snicker--the label is also funny), what are you FOR???

    • 3.1

      I'm for free pizza and beer. :)

    • 3.2

      I take that back how about free tenderloin and a black and tan. that seems a little better. something we can all believe in... Unless your a vegan of course. :P

    • 3.3

      I suppose ignorance is bliss, so keep up the laughter. Unfortunately, there is no evidence your God exists, and it would seem everything you believe in was a lie.

      This group is a coalition for reason, and that is what they are for. The freedom to free inquiry and also to be skeptical about what you are told. Free thinkers like them need to be commended for taking their heads out of the sand and asking questions no one else will ask.

      Non-theists Unite!

    • 3.4

      Good point, Observr26. To define oneself as in opposition to another positon subsumes your position to the other, i.e. the other position is always primary while yours is secondary. Rational philosophy is the true opposite of religious belief systems. Philosophical tenets have been discussed & debated for thousands of years, long before Christianity and other Jewish derived belief systems had even began to appear. Epicureanism, Confucianism, Stoicism and other philosophies all predate Christianity, have relevance in today's world and should have wider discussion. Hegel, Kant, Humanism all have deep bases of deductive reasoning. I would like to see a Temple of Philosopy founded as a gathering place for those who are repelled by religious beliefs yet value the community of shared values, weekly gatherings for themselves, their familes, their neighbors while welcoming ongoing discussion of various philosophical systems.

    • 3.5

      Robertmprice--maybe a little banana cream pie, too? Why not.

      milat -- I never said I was against reason. I think my argument was that people need to be FOR something. I believe strongly in an intellectual faith, and I wish more religious people incorporated intellect and reason into their religious practices. But some will and some won't, and I respect their wishes to worship and practice faith as they feel they should.

      I think it's dangerous to assume that people who believe in God are not rational. So, if you're "for" rational thinking, why not invite intellectual believers into the club? Then it could be a coalition for rational thinking rather than a group that's "agin" faith.

  • 4

    Phrases such as "In God we trust" (US currency & coins) and "under God" (Pledge of Allegiance) were added to what had been secular objects by pressure of Christian activists on members of Congress, who found little downside to agreeing to add those phrases but a whole lot of trouble in the next election if they didn't vote to include them. Later on Christians activists then use those phrases as evidence that America is a Christian nation. It is entirely self reverential with little historical record. The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a Christian minister in the early 20th Century deliberatly to be secular, so that all American citizens could equally recite a shared oath. It was in the 1950's that Congress added "under God", which separated Americans into Christians and others (presumably lesser Americans), to demonstrate America's commitment to God as opposed to the secular communist Soviet Union.

    American history demonstrates that Christian activists are eventually successful in permiating American government with Christian phrases so that they can claim America is a Christian nation. It is difficult, especially with the current makeup of the Supreme Court, to reverse this Christian activist effort. They have successfully gained a majority of the Supreme Court and under the Bush administration have seeded true Christian believers throughout the Federal civil service. The American military has also crumbled under the prostlizing of Christian activists, for instance look into the history of the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs as their only partial success in trying to make the Academy equally welcoming to non Christian cadets. The history of American government in the last 75 years is that it is becoming more dominent Christian rather than open to all Americans regardless of religious belief or non belief.

    America is not the only nation whose government is under assult by religious activists. Turkey, for instance, a relentlessly secular nation since the revoluton of the 1920's, is also crumbling under the assult of Muslim activists. The 21st century may turn out to be dominated by conflicts between the activist true religious believers and those who hold to rationally derived principals of life and goverance. As I have constantly wondered "Why do we have to consult God on where to put a curb?"

  • 5

    Sounds like lemming tribal collisions to me.

    Or a recap of the green vs. brown frog wars of Kuala Lumpur.

    Human beings are opionon machines.

    George Carlin pantomined it best...

    "You believe in God don't you?"

    Yes, yes. Aaah, good, good...

    You believe in My God, don't don't you?

    No. NO?!


  • 6

    Interesting conversation. I must say, of all the comments following our Detroit CoR campaign launch, Darrell's reader are of the highest caliber.

    If you have any questions for me, the Detroit CoR Coordinator, please, ask away!


  • 7

    Interesting discussion. I often hear Americans call Buddhism a religion when it's actually a type of philosophy. There is no god, no soul, no heaven with Buddhism, but it does use reason. Then there are other cultures, like North American Native American tribes, who didn't even have a word for religion in their languages. They also didn't have “the devil” until Europeans imported it. Such cultures used reason and studied real nature (not the popular pseudo-nature that was created by our culture too) in order to survive for thousands of years.

    What we tend to label as “morality” is rooted in the Aryan religion and Hitler didn't make that up. The Aryans (a word for “noble”) were in existence thousands of years ago and were the ancestors of the Greeks, Romans, and Germans. They were an active, warrior-dominated, patriarchal society that spread quickly and imposed their beliefs on others. They had three classes—priests, warriors, and commoners and the “morality” they created determined who was in which group. By 2000 B.C.E. it made its way to India and then the Middle East. In fact, “Iran” (formerly Persian) derives from the word “Aryan.” One of the Aryan religious practices was the Holocaust, which means “complete burning” of animal sacrifices. It's not a coincidence that we find animal sacrifices in the Bible or that Hitler fanatically used his interpretation of the “Aryan race” and the “Holocaust.” Then Zoroaster, a Persian prophet, comes in and creates his “good/evil” and an apocalyptic vision, and it becomes a forerunner of Judaism, which begets Christianity. What these religions have in common is the fact that every time some dominant man wants to exert his self-serving authority over a group, he comes up with his own interpretation of “god” and justifies what he wants to do with his god/religion, often by force. Would I consider that type of a foundation moral? No. It's more in line with megalomania. It's also why you find very different lines of reason in cultures that don't stem from the Aryan religion.

    So having read the Bible, cover to cover, several times, I have a hard time calling it a “good moral” book. I find it ironic that American Christian fundamentalists have built their own culture around so-called “moral causes” like anti-abortion, when the god in their Bible demands, in numerous passages, the killing of children, including cutting open women's stomachs and killing a fetus. Add all the murder and rape and burning of people and taking of virgins (in this life, not the next one that Muslim men have to wait for) and you might see why I can't believe in god. Give me reason any day. Maybe most American Christians haven't read the whole Bible that they promote, which is why they can say “god is love” with a straight face.

    • 7.1

      I've also read the Bible cover to cover several times, and recognize that many Christians have a distorted view of God that emphasizes His love but ignores His holiness and justice. The Bible does not merely teach that God is a loving daddy who simply wants people to like Him. He is also a roaring Lion who pours out His wrath against sinful people. He is a sovereign King who has the right to give and take life, and He is a Holy God who cannot have sin or unrighteousness in His presence. So the Bible gives numerous examples of times when God executes His judgment against sinful people, either directly or through the means of divinely-appointed institutions (e.g., the nation of Israel, human governments, etc.). And for many, they will ultimately face His judgment in a place of eternal torment and separation from God. It's not a pretty picture.

      But I can understand why people want to emphasize His love, because His love provided a way to satisfy God's wrath and have your relationship restored with Him. God did not simply ignore the sin and unrighteousness of people, but He offered Himself as a substitute. Jesus, God in human flesh, bore God's wrath against sin so that we could receive forgiveness and eternal life. God died for us! That is an incredible act of love, as Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). God is both loving and holy.

      Now, I'm curious: were you able to keep a straight face when you talked about God not being "moral" after just describing the concept of morality as arising from oppressive, dominating, and forceful cultures? On what basis did you determine whether or not God is “moral?”

  • 8

    I say this with a very straight face: Please reread the post carefully. I did not "talk about god not being moral." Men who wanted to rule over others created what they called morality, just like they created god/s to explain things and interpreted what they wanted others to believe. It's what they did so they could stay in power - often using fear and violent tactics. The Bible is full of the violence that they wanted to justify, just like some people today use the Bible to justify their foul deeds. What easier way is there than to attribute it to some just-so invisible being that is allegedly beyond questioning?

    There's a great DVD, called "The God Who Wasn't There," which explains how myths were borrowed from other cultures. Christianity borrowed from Judaism, Egypt and Greece, etc. That was a standard practice, just as when two cultures meet today there is an exchange of ideas. Look at how much Buddhism has influenced Christians in the US, and vice versa. And it's not just with religious beliefs. You can find the same types of exchanges with food, business practices, language, etc.

    I enjoy reading and learning about various beliefs and cultures, which is how I learned that Jesus wasn't the first god to perform "miracles" and rise from the dead. Even Hercules "ascended into heaven," as did other gods. I don't believe in Hercules either. And if you're familiar with the myth of Mythra, you know why December 25 was chosen as the day Jesus was born. I don't believe in Mythra either.

    The same goes for hell and the devil AKA Hades in Greek mythology. Hades was the brother of Zeus AKA the "father in heaven." Hades actually used to be seen as a benevolent god/place, where one's psyche went when one was trying to figure something out or questioned things. No society is perfect and questioning the givens was seen as a crucial process, for example to correct injustice which people, not god, did on this earth. When dominant men didn't want their policies questioned, they turned Hades into some kind of monster to be feared. If these guys were honest about what they were doing in the first place, they wouldn't have to scare the crap out of people to keep them from questioning their policies.

    When people in this country started actually studying old myths and realizing where a lot of our thinking/beliefs came from, Disney did something interesting. In 1997, the media announced that "Disney entered mythology" with its animated story of Hercules (a one time deal.) That's a great example of how some people maintain control through myths. They actually turned Hercules into "gospel" and the gospel singers in the story actually tell the public to ignore "the old boring myth." Not only does it turn Zeus (who I don't believe in either) into "our father who art in heaven," but it mixes in unrelated Greek myths and takes away all the power that female mythological figures had. For example, it turned Hera, who used to balance out Zeus' power, into into the powerless "wife" who is more in line with the "wife" that many Christian fundamentalists teach women to be AKA completely dependent upon and under the authority of the "husband."

    So if you're really into all this stuff, I say go for it. You may want to read Dante's "Inferno" so you can see where the modern image of hell came from. There's a reason for all this, which is why I prefer to use reason when sorting things out. I realize that some people don't want to go through the trouble and I respect their choice to simply accept what so many of us were taught. I'd like to see the respect reciprocated so that those of us who know the history behind "god" can have our voices heard too, before we return to the myth that the earth is flat, a myth that was also challenged by men of god. Finally, I think that the fact that we live in a country that still allows us to have this discussion is great. Cheers and good luck!

    • 8.1

      I admit that I could be misreading you, but when you say "I have a hard time calling [the Bible] a 'good moral' book.. when the god in their Bible demands, in numerous passages, the killing of children, including cutting open women's stomachs and killing a fetus. Add all the murder and rape and burning of people and taking of virgins..." it certainly sounds like you were saying the God of the Bible is not "moral." Unless you think that killing children, raped, burning people, and taking virgins is "moral." Then, though, I'd think you'd have a bigger problem.

      So, even if I misread you (and I don't think I did) the main issue is how you have determined that those things are not "moral." So again, I ask, what rational basis does atheism provide for morality?

    • 8.2

      Regarding your post 8.1, where you say, "Unless you think that killing children, raped, burning people, and taking virgins is "moral." Then, though, I'd think you'd have a bigger problem. So, even if I misread you (and I don't think I did) the main issue is how you have determined that those things are not "moral." So again, I ask, what rational basis does atheism provide for morality?"

      This isn't rocket science here. Send out a survey and ask people: "How many of you want to be killed, raped, burned, etc.?" I have yet to meet a person who wants to be a victim of such acts. Yet so many people in this country blindly follow a "good book" that demands such horrors. And if that is the type of supporters that such a "good book" has, I am NOT interested in going to that alleged place that's reserved for them: heaven. We have enough of that going on in our country right now (and maybe justification of such acts per the bible is the reason these problems have actually increased in our country). And yes, I think that WE do have a much bigger problem within our own country.

      So why the hell would I want to jump on the blind bandwagon and carry this on for "eternity"? Atheists take the man-made "god" out of the picture and use critical thinking skills instead, after considering various perspectives. For example, if rape and demoting women is dubbed "bad" when we talk about the Middle East countries that we decry, why is it not as vehemently decried when it rampantly occurs in our country? Why are we pointing a finger at others without looking deeper into ourselves and doing something about it? In the bible, Jesus calls such acts hypocrisy. And if anything pissed Jesus off in the Bible, it was hypocrisy. So are American Christians fooling themselves and setting themselves up for a major fall? I think they are.

  • 9

    Regarding the issue of Christianity "borrowing" from other religions or myths, I've heard that argumentation before. The problem is it usually employs the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc--"group A believed X several years before group B believed something similar/identical to X, therefore group B must have borrowed from group A." But because of your a priori commitment to naturalism and a denial of God, you've ignored two other plausible explanations. 1) the two groups came to the idea independently of each other (which happens quite regularly) or 2) that the teaching in the Bible explains how these similar ideas were started: men had an understanding of the true God, but exhanged that truth for a falsehood and "re-created" God/gods/worldviews to fit their own liking. Thus, it comes as no surprise to a Christian to find some similar beliefs in other religions or parts of the world, b/c the Bible teaches that all cultures originally came from those who had a knowledge of the God of the Bible and all people even now have a knowledge of God that they suppress (See Genesis chapters 1-11 and Romans chapter 1).

    And not that it matters, but the concept of hell and the devil was in the Old Testament hundreds of years before Greek mythology, so in that case you don't even have the luxury of arguing that Greek mythology was first.

    One additional thought: I find it interesting how hard some atheists work to convince themselves that those who believe in God are either lemmings or imbeciles--they either blindly follow what someone else has said or are too stupid to think otherwise. Many athiests I've met have not taken the time to really "search things out" or "think for themselves" but are merely parroting the arguments of well-known atheists (which are often inaccurate when it comes to the Bible) and, thus, are committing the same error they find egregious in Christians--simply believing what they've been told. I've also wondered how suprised many people from the past would be to find out that they were not intelligent or "reason based"--men like Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, John Locke, Francis Bacon, Patrick Henry, and C. S. Lewis (to name a few). I think they would be shocked.

    For people who pride themselves on being "reason-based" it seems odd how often atheists resort to tactics of ad hominem and poisoning the well. The approach doesn't seem very "reason-based" to me. :)

    • 9.1

      Well reasoned and well said, bedwardswsu. Faith doesn't require checking your brain at the door.

    • 9.2

      Let me clarify something. I became an atheist BECAUSE I used to be a Christian, an extremely devout believer, which is how I'm familiar with where your arguments come from. It's kind of like the old saying: no one understands the thinking behind an alcoholic like another alcoholic.

      Perhaps because I was a rational thinker, I began to question the things I was seeing in numerous Christian churches. For example, how the insistence on male authority and the submission of women was affecting my daughter and her girlfriends. It was actually making them sitting ducks for all the good Christian boys who couldn't wait to take advantage of them. I overheard my son, who is still a Christian (largely because of the authority it gives him and his buddies over women) talking with his buddies about “just keep up the act and we can get away with anything we want.” That was a secret pact that was covered up in several of the Christian churches I belonged to and I can see why it would especially lure men into “believing.” However, it was not an aspect I was proud of when “I saw the other light.”

      I also started questioning all the Christian catalogues that were selling “toys” for boys (like warlike action figures and guns) to prepare them to be “soldiers for god,” willing to even turn on people in our own country, while girls were “domesticated” and encouraged to deny themselves a higher education and focus on marrying young and having babies and serving their husbands. They were told that serving "Jesus" was more important than the welfare of their children (which is why so many Christian children get shafted.) So I began to think… how can we have a strong country if we are “dumbing down” half of our population and teaching the other half to resort to physical violence in the name of god? Is that perpetuating the violence (including rape) in our country? Of course, that was justified in the Bible, but did that make it right? When I raised such questions to members of my church, I was given responses like observr26 and bedwardswsu gave me, which I was already familiar with because I had read the same indoctrinating books and listened to numerous “educational” tapes and DVDs and attended numerous Christian motivational programs.

      Then this other thought occurred, when I read that according to the Bible, Jesus tells us to look into ourselves instead of pointing a finger at others, and I realized that this was exactly the types of teachings that Christianity has ignored. Instead, we'd be too busy pointing a finger at those who might challenge our simplistic beliefs and trying to scare people with the fear of hell. How true could such faith be if it has to resort to such fear-mongering? Isn't that what frightened bullies do? If as a Christian we were so sure of "The Truth," why did our leaders spend so much time preaching to not listen to other perspectives, going so far as to tell us that if we did that we would be letting “Satan” into our hearts and risking eternal damnation? Those types of tactics are used by people who are afraid of being exposed as frauds.

      I can understand why it's been said that “the truth shall set you free” because when I opened up to various perspectives, I saw how irrational and myopic Christian “feel good” beliefs really are. I'm glad that I started thinking about this more deeply and was able to admit to my daughter that I had been mistaken in what I taught her. Several of her “proper” friends ended up pregnant and marrying Christian guys who continue to use their authority over them. And those girls have secretly told my daughter how lucky she is to have a father who finally understood how destructive those beliefs were. They are afraid of being shunned if they admit their true feelings.

      My deconversion also saved my marriage because my wife grew wiser—sick of all of my "god-given" overbearing authority over women, which is largely what Paul preached in the Bible because HE wanted to be in control of everyone—and that type of nonsense is what almost led my wife to divorce me. She made a quite RATIONAL point: if we are such a Christian country and insist on taking the Bible literally, why do Christian guys continue to insist on their women “looking good” for them: liking it when their women fix their hair up, wear makeup, wear clothing that turns men on, and being charmed by the jewelry we buy for them, which definitely goes against Paul and others in the Bible?

      If we really were a Christian country and followed a lot of the teachings of Jesus, we'd be more of a socialist country, instead of “dog eat dog” capitalists, and health care would be available to all. Instead, Christians focus more on something that isn't even mentioned in the Bible—abortion—and ask naïve questions like “are you baptized?” and “have you been saved by Jesus?” But those types of distractions are precisely how elite businessmen have been taking advantage of us, while we “turn the other cheek” on the injustices they are spreading in our country and around the world.

      The truth did set me free. I am no longer consumed by the anxiety that's perpetuated by Christian churches. I have found incredible peace by using my mind and taking a long, hard look into the beliefs that used to lead me around by the nose and make me some preacher's pawn. Once I did that, I realized that I was subscribing to being an “authoritative” man because deep down inside I was very insecure and this was a “quick, easy, fast” way I could be an alleged “somebody.” I used to defend Christianity vehemently because it was the only pseudo-power/authority I had.

      Once my wife also left the church (she was an extremely devout follower at one time), she was no longer riddled by anxiety and depression, which she hid in public by having to wear a “positively happy face.” She no longer needs to be on antidepressants. There's a reason why so many Christian women are on antidepressants.

      We've never regretted becoming rationalists, even though it turned our “friends” in the church community against us. That's why I think the CoR saying on the buses is hitting home with so many people. All those years, we thought we were “alone” in our questioning, when in reality we weren't. We were silenced into remaining in the closet with our doubt. Fortunately, I learned that “doubt” is not the work of Satan. Doubt and reason are the path to wisdom, perhaps the difficult and rocky road, which according to the Bible, Jesus said few were willing to take. Food for thought for hard core Christians: if Jesus were alive today, you'd be silencing him too because in the Bible he asked questions similar to what atheists are asking. Maybe that's why in the Bible Jesus specifically instructed to leave pagans alone and to challenge myopic monotheists instead.

    • 9.3

      Let me explain it in simpler terms. When I was little, I'd hear people say all sorts of curious things. For example, with rain/storms, many said that god and the angels were watering the earth with giant watering cans. I also heard about santa claus. It was a very easy (and untrue) way to explain things to children. When the children were older and had the mental capacity to understand what was really going on, they were taught that santa clause was their parents and about how the weather works. Back in the time period we are discussing, santa hadn't been created, but things like storms did exist, along with flooding and drought, the sun and moon, plagues and diseases. People didn't have the technology that we have today, which is how we get weather forecasts or know when an eclipse will occur. They explained it other ways, which is where many mythological gods come from. What they had in common was, for example, the sun, and they associated it with names/stories of different god/esses. That doesn't mean that the people were stupid, even though most of the population could be illiterate even after writing and educational systems were created. And granted, there were individuals who took (and still take) advantage of those who don't know any better or have been barred from actual information/knowledge. That also doesn't mean “men had an understanding of the true god” or gods for that matter. What they had was an understanding of how natural (and unnatural) phenomena were explained in their cultures at a given time. While they all might have a sun god, that god was interpreted very differently, including what became the Judeo-Christian “father in heaven.” Those stories were the basis of your genesis god. Does that make them literally true? No.

      The interesting thing about “creation” stories, which come in very different forms, is that they are told with a specific goal in mind. The genesis story happens to grant authority to select men who wanted people to believe in and justify their egotistical claims that they had complete authority over nature and others, especially women. If one accepted what they said/did, one came to be called “moral.” (Have you ever read Aesop's Fables, with their “the MORAL of the story is…”? Do you still literally believe in talking foxes, etc. that are in those stories?) Going back to creation stories, one finds very different creation stories in cultures that were more egalitarian or respected nature. It doesn't tell me anything about god, but it sure reveals much about various cultures and their belief systems.

      Your fallacy in saying “the concept of hell and the devil was in the Old Testament hundreds of years before Greek mythology, so in that case you don't even have the luxury of arguing that Greek mythology was first,” is that this is not a question of who came first, the Old Testament or Greek mythology, because the Aryan religion preceded and influenced both of them. If you've studied Judaism, you'd know that “hell and the devil” also had a very different meaning than what Christians later created. Even in early Christianity, there were many different stories/interpretations circulating and groups didn't agree on god, etc. If you've studied the early sect of the militant Christian church, you'd know that one of the major ways select men promoted their authority was by killing off people who disagreed with them and silencing the masses with fear, i.e. threats of death and suffering. In such a way, they've assumed and maintained the so-called “superior” position of god. Is that the type of god I choose to unquestionably support? No. But I realize that many people do, as is portrayed in Christians murdering people within our country today. The defense that “god said” they needed to murder someone (which goes along with specially selected Biblical passages) has been leading more people to question the type of god we have been instructed to blindly support.

      As for you finding “it interesting how hard some atheists work to convince themselves that those who believe in God are either lemmings or imbeciles,” one doesn't have to look far to find individuals, i.e. televangelists, who say things that are even shocking to many Christians, as with recent false allegations that the earthquake in Haiti was a punishment from god. But that's the same type of thinking you appear to advocate, for example, by agreeing with the above litany of a punishing and intolerant just-so god. As mentioned above, in regards to creation stories, that reveals more about you than it does to prove the existence of god.

  • 10

    This will likely be my last comment. I've found that when someone spends little time dealing with your arguments but instead tries to associate your beliefs with santa claus and talking foxes, we've moved past rational discussion into the ad hominem and poisoning the well tactics I lamented earlier, and constructive dialogue is over.

    However, I do want to at least touch on a few issues you brought up before I bow out of the conversation. Much of your discussion depends upon your presupposition that man's reasoning is supreme and that God does not exist. I'll try to show why I think it's unwise to hold that position in a moment, but for now I think it's important to realize that you are interpreting everything in that light. That's why you assume that people created the concept of "God" to try to explain the phenomena they see around them, but once science came along "God" was no unnecessary. However, all of the people I mentioned earlier who believed in God lived after the rise of modern science, and many of them were the founders of modern science. I don't think they viewed "God" as merely a child's way of explaining the world around them. In fact, their belief in many ways led them to their pursuit of knowledge in other areas.

    Atheists who argue on the basis of science are acting inconsistently. They believe that everything that exists today is a result of random chance over long periods of time. Yet, they conduct their experiments as if there were order and design in the world. There's a reason science grew out of a Christian culture--Christians believe that they would be able to find order and laws in nature because God had placed them there.

    (Regarding hell and the devil, I find it interesting that you shifted from your original point once I pointed out its problem. However, I never said that Christianity's view of hell came from modern Judaism, but from the Old Testament. If you'd studied modern Judaism, you would realize that their beliefs come primarily from the Talmud and Mishnah, not the Tanakh--the Old Testament. Thus, modern Judaism is not very similar to the Judaism of the Old Testament, the Judaism which Christians claim as part of their heritage.)

    FWIW, you're portrayal of the Genesis story is not anywhere close to what it actually teaches, and makes me wonder if you've really read it carefully. It in no way "grant[s] authority to select men who wanted people to believe in and justify their egotistical claims that they had complete authority over nature and others, especially women." Rather, it shows that both men and women were made in the image of God and were intended to complete each other. It also shows the folly of men trying to set themselves up as rulers in place of God.

    That leads me into my next point: It's obvious that you've been hurt by people who claim to be Christians, and I'm sorry that happened to you. But I can tell you, both from personal experience and focused study (working on my second graduate degree in the field of Biblical studies) that the Christianity you described is nothing like Biblical Christianity. Thus, your mentioning that you are an atheist "BECAUSE" you were a Christian and then listing all the problems you found with Christianity is no more an argument for atheism and against Christianity than if I said I was a Christian because I was an atheist, and then described atheism as a domineering, hateful, proud, racist, and violent philosophy. You would probably counter that atheism isn't that way, but I could drum up numerous examples of atheists who have done all of those things. If you wouldn't want atheism (or yourself) associated with those acts, then you shouldn't try to lump all those who hold to true Christianity with those who have abused it.

    One final thought: You obviously feel that abusing/demeaning women, rape, murder, child abuse, oppression of the poor, etc. are wrong. In fact, despite your numerous claims to the contrary, the Bible teaches that all of those things are wrong. It condemns those things (It doesn't condone them). Thus, when Christians behave in that way, I can clearly tell them they are wrong.

    You mentioned hypocrisy, which I think is an important element in this conversation. When people who claim to be Christian act in that way, I have every right to call them a hypocrite because they are acting contrary to what they claim to believe--Christianity. But if an atheist acts that way (kills, abuses women, etc.) can I call him/her a hypocrite? Are they acting contrary to what atheism believes? Is there some kind of common objective standard that atheism provides to which these atheists who commit "evil" acts are not adhering, but you are?

    I've asked several times for atheism's rational basis for morality, and you've finally proposed an idea: use a survey of what people want done to them. That seems like an interesting way to determine morality. I would imagine if I sent out a survey and asked, "How many of you want to have to work to get money, or would you rather have other people pay for you?" that I would get a majority of people who say they would prefer to have others pay for them. Does that now make it moral? If I sent another survey out asking if people wanted to work and have their money go to support others who didn't work, I'd probably get a majority who would say they wouldn't. Now I've got conflicting moral mandates.

    If I sent a survey to people in jail and said, "How many of you want to be in prison?" I would imagine that I would get an overwhelming majority say that they would rather not be in prison. So, is it immoral for them to be in prison? I don' t think polling people to ask what they don't want done to them provides a very good basis for morality.

    Maybe we could try to tweak the concept and instead do a survey and ask people what they think is good or bad. If I asked a majority of people if they thought it was good for criminals to be in jail, I might get a majority who say yes, and the same would probably be true if I asked if murder, rape, racism, sexism, etc., were wrong. The problem here, is that if I'd sent a survey out in 1800 and asked if people thought that slavery was ok, they would have said yes. So, was slavery moral back then, and only after enough people changed their mind did it become immoral? If I took a poll of people in Germany under Hitler's reign, they would have supported the Holocaust? So, was the Holocaust moral then? Christianity provides objective morality, and on that basis I can say that the slavery in the 1800's was evil then and would still be evil in 2010. I can say that the Holocaus was evil in Hitler's day and it's still evil today. But what basis does atheism have to call those things evil? The basis you provided is obviously not a rational one, but you continue to insist that those things are wrong. I agree--those things are evil. But, as a Christian, I'm consistent when I say that.

    If you're interested in tracing this argument out further, I would recommend you read through the 3rd argument given in the following paper, in which the author ably defends this logical syllogism

    1.If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
    2.Objective moral values and duties do exist.
    3.Therefore, God exists.

    You can check it out here:

    Again, I'm sorry that you were hurt by Christians, and I would never encourage anyone to practice the type of religion you described. I would, however, encourage everyone to consider true Biblical Christianity. As Douglas Wilson has said:

    "The Christian faith is good for the world because it provides the fixed standard which atheism cannot provide and because it provides forgiveness for sins, which atheism cannot provide either. We need the direction of the standard because we are confused sinners. We need the forgiveness because we are guilty sinners. Atheism not only keeps the guilt, but it also keeps the confusion"

    Thanks for the interaction.

  • 11

    I think you assume too much, i.e. about me allegedly being "hurt by Christians." False assumption. I realized how illogical Christianity was. I prefer reason to dogma. Your arguments are a good example of what I mean. The loss of reason is why our country has all these problems now.

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