I QUIT! The Importance of Resigning From Church (With FREE Offer!)

Frank and I have been talking about church resignation. On episode 142, I interviewed Kyle, who was participating in a “mass resignation” from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (you know- the Mormons!). While the event itself was underwhelming, I was incredibly moved by Kyle’s honesty, his integrity, and his bravery. He talked about the journey that led him to leave his faith behind, and the very real fear he felt that his intensely religious family would abandon him when they found out.

For Mormons, this is not an uncommon experience. The decision whether to resign from the church is often a hand-wringingly fraught one. The risk of losing one’s family is only one part of the issue. Equally difficult is the fact that you’re formally and (somewhat) irrevocably severing your ties to what you’ve been told your whole life is God’s one true church. The only way to heaven. The key to eternal happiness. It’s a psychological minefield.

After a lot of discussion, we here at TGIA have decided that those are exactly the reasons why you absolutely should resign from your church. The psychological hold that churches have on their parishioners isn’t always as intense as that of the LDS church, but it’s there. Even if your former church has plenty of space for “lapsed” or even non-believing members, and you don’t feel any psychological connection to them at all, TGIA feels that you should still resign. While a clean break from your former spiritual affiliation may not be necessary for everybody, there really is something to it. We’ve decided you don’t get your full “Atheist Card” unless you’ve done it.

With that said, we’re offering this very real incentive:

If you officially resign from your former church and let us know, WE’LL SEND YOU AN ACTUAL, HONEST-TO-NO-GOD ATHEIST CARD!

That’s right! You’ll finally be an official, card-carrying atheist!* How exciting is that???

We also want to read the letter you send, hear all about the aftermath (good and bad), and be there for you as a community as you take this step. Just head over to the contact page, and start yourself on the road to having one more thing taking up space in your wallet/purse.

More to come (including a look at the design of the card itself)!

In the meantime, however, the ex-Mormon community has some great (if overly intense) resources to get you started. It’s geared toward the LDS church, but you kids are clever and can make modifications for whatever church you used to be a part of:
http://www.mormonresignation.com/resign_legalrights.html
http://www.mormonnomore.com/

Happy resigning!

*Obviously, nothing we do could actually make your atheism any more or less legitimate. This is just ’cause we like to have fun, and thought you might enjoy it.

Smackdown: Debating Debate

So a couple of weeks ago there was a big debate between noted atheist debater and public-access TV host Matt Dillahunty (TGIA listeners will remember him as our guest on episode 128) and somebody that I had never heard of before, but whose real name actually seems to be Sye Ten Bruggencate. I watched (listened to, actually) most of the debate, and have given it some real thought. Here’s what I’ve come up with: I still think these debates are of limited or negative value to our movement.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t have to see it. I largely knew what they were going to say. So did they! So much so that, as a stunt, Matt read a pre-written REBUTTAL! That’s how confident he was that Sye wouldn’t come up with anything new or interesting to say. And Sye, in what was meant to be a similar stunt (though it was much less effective), played a bunch of video clips of Matt, as if to say “I know all of your arguments ahead of time, too!” Both came totally prepared to talk right past each other, and that’s exactly what they did.

Mr. Dillahunty pointed out there there is no universally accessible or verifiable evidence to support Mr. Bruggencate’s theological claims, and Mr. Bagglecaken claimed that the bible is true because God says so (he’s a so-called presuppositionalist), and that Mr. Dilettantey and everybody else in the world knows that, and any claim to the contrary is just lying out of a desire to sin. Oh, and we can’t know anything if we don’t start with the assumption that God (yes, HIS god) is real, and the final word on all questions.

And thus it went. Each man passionately saying things. Neither conceding any of the other’s points, because they can’t. The problem isn’t that they won’t listen to each other, nor is it that they don’t speak each other’s language (though even that came into question a little when Matt pointed out that words don’t have inherent meaning…). The problem is that they’re coming from entirely different ways of thinking, each of which precludes giving any credence to pretty much anything the other guy has to say. They’re in different kinds of cars, racing on entirely different tracks.

Of course, as Matt pointed out on our show, the point of a debate for him is not to convince the person he’s debating, but rather to convince folks in the audience. His exact words were “I view it as a way of getting out information.” To reach the woman in the third row who has been on the fence, and now can see how rational the skeptic position is, and how ridiculous the religious people sound. And that’s great by me. I want her to be reached!

The thing is, a debate like this has a much larger scope than the one or two fence-sitters in the room. What debates– all debates– do is set up an adversarial dynamic. That is, my proposition against your proposition. That’s fine for most topics, but this is not most topics. The fact is that religious believers don’t see their beliefs as just a series of propositions. They see their beliefs as intrinsic parts of their identities. Therefore, someone debating those beliefs isn’t just exploring the logical validity of the claims, they’re launching repeated. personal. attacks.

It is my belief that most people– and I include non-believers in this– don’t walk away from these debates feeling like a good, healthy examination of thought has just occurred. I’m guessing that most people walk away from these debates feeling like they’ve identified an enemy. “A ha!” we all think, “I am part of x in-group, and now I know that y in-group is against us and we must fight them!”

I have two major problems with this. First, I don’t think it helps ANYBODY to think of someone who thinks differently than you do as your enemy. It doesn’t lead to empathy, it doesn’t lead to understanding, it just leads to more and deeper antipathy. Second, if my in-group is atheists, and our enemy is religious believers, we are going to LOSE! In the U.S. anyway. They have us wildly outnumbered, and they control every channel of power. All this enemy stuff just makes us WAY easier to marginalize without the least bit of sympathy.

Think of the recent Supreme Court decision Greece v. Galloway. That, to my non-legally-trained mind, should’ve been an easy slam-dunk for our side. Giving constant Christian prayers (or any prayers, for that matter) in town council meetings clearly favors the religious over the non-religious. It is an obvious first amendment violation. But when that question is put before a panel of nine judges, six of whom are Catholic and three Jewish, suddenly questions of tradition come up. As does a shoulder-shrugging “what’s the harm?” attitude.

To my mind, the Greece v. Galloway decision was a failure of empathy. The justices just had no compelling reason to even attempt to see the non-believer perspective. That’s because we’re not people or citizens, we’re the enemy. I mean come on- it was less than a year ago that justice Scalia did an interview where he ACTUALLY SAID that atheism “certainly favors the devil’s desires.” He had no trouble saying that.

As long as we let the Christian majority (and the Jews and Muslims, etc) see us as the enemy, rather than fellow citizens who want to be treated fairly, we’re going to lose battles like this. And every victory that we manage to get is going to be viewed as a loss to their side. THAT DOES NOT HELP OUR CAUSE.

Our goal as a movement, at least for the near future, needs to be to break down the walls that separate us from the religious, not build them higher. And whether it’s inadvertent or not, I believe that wall-building is the main thing accomplished by debates. Matt Dillahunty said it himself on our show:

It’s sad that we live in a world where it may not matter who makes the best case or who has the best arguments or who has the facts on their side; that there’s an element of theater to this.

That’s the truth. Do we have the best arguments on our side? Of course we do. Do the facts all point to our conclusions? Absolutely. So the fuck what? The debate was never about the facts or arguments. The debate was about drawing lines in the sand. And those lines can only hurt our movement. The second we start debating, we’ve already lost.

Come Out Come Out Wherever You Are

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In honor of “coming out day”:

I salute those who are brave enough to be themselves. In any venue, regardless of how supportive those around you are, it is an act of courage just to be you.

That said, some stand to lose A LOT more than others when they simply speak their truth. For many, simply being honest about who they’re attracted to puts them in jeopardy. They risk being ostracized, disowned, and sometimes verbally or physically assaulted. People die, just for daring to admit that, through no choice of their own, they are attracted to somebody of the same gender.

It seems to me that an even greater risk lies in admitting that you don’t identify with the gender your body was born into. Those who must face the decision to take steps to change their gender identity or live what feels like a lie are in a truly harrowing position, and I don’t envy them for that. But I do admire them. Whatever their choice, simply admitting their situation to themselves is an act of bravery.

As a straight white man, American society at the beginning of the 21st century goes pretty damned easy on me. I can walk down almost any street without fear. I can go to a job interview with the warm understanding that my qualifications are the only considerations that will be taken into account. It takes virtually no bravery whatsoever to write this post. What could I possibly stand to lose?

The only experience I have had that comes close to a “coming out” is that of being open about my lack of a god-belief. Atheists are more hated and less trusted in America than almost any other group (one poll showed atheists on a par with rapists in terms of trustworthiness- ouch). So I guess there’s that. But even though being an atheist has exposed me to very real scorn and ill-treatment, I still feel like I get off easy. It’s pretty low-risk. Nobody has threatened to beat me up (yet). If I don’t want you to know that I’m atheist, I have the option of simply keeping my mouth shut (a luxury not every gay or trans person has).

So here’s to you, out-comers of all sorts! I support you, I honor you, and, in whatever way you need me to, I got your back.

9/11: A Time For Directionless Musing

Today is September 11. The anniversary of an attack. A national tragedy. A victory for those eager to instill fear in the American psyche. A work day. A deepening and widening of the U.S. political chasm. It's the anniversary of a really rough day.

My Facebook feed is alive today with different takes on what today means. For some of my friends, it is a day to praise God for the freedoms our Country still affords us, even in the face of those who would deprive us of those freedoms. For others, it's a time to remind the world that those who committed the acts of 9/11 did so in the name of God, and to warn of the dangers of religion. For some it's a time for introspection, for others a time for open discussion.

I don't know what to do with today. Days like today ignite a war between the cynic in me and the sentimentalist. I'm annoyed at pretty much everything I read, no matter what side of any argument the author takes. Talk of God's blessings on some level deny some fundamental problems with religious belief vis-à-vis tragedy. Anti-theists, however, tend to get awfully strident, cocky, and condescending when they see a chance to hit religion where it hurts. Neither side seems to care that this tragedy belongs to all of us, and that maybe the actual anniversary might be a good day for a moratorium on divisive talk.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. It's been over a decade since the towers of the World Trade Center came down. Maybe there's been enough time since then to open this day up. After all, we all-too-easily forget to consider important ideas. Without markers like the anniversaries of tragedies, when would we actually remember to delve into some of these ideas? Maybe I should be totally pro-debate on days like today! That sounds good too.

Dammit. Now I'm annoyed at my own whining blog post. How did that happen?

Well, ok. I guess rather than just blather about how everybody else is doing today wrong, I'll just write what's going on with me. That is, what 9/11 is meaning to me today. Yeah. Make it personal. That sounds better.

First, I'm apparently easily annoyed. That probably indicates that I'm a little emotional. It's an emotional day.

Second, I guess I have to admit that I do hold religion partially culpable for 9/11 attack. It's just far too easy to rally people to do horrific things when you can martial them to your cause using God's clarion call. It's also WAY easier to create an us-against-them tribalism thing through religion. If your holy book says it's ok to kill, how much easier is it to ignore the fact that you're clearly doing something very very wrong?

Third, 9/11 for me was not as simple as "terrorists attacked America". It was that, of course, but it was also a lot of equally ugly things. It was the day assholes got an excuse to practice racial hatred with a degree of impunity. It was the day George "W." Bush found the most dickish means imaginable of distracting the Country from how shitty a president he was. It was the launch of a particularly despicable jingoism in the U.S. of A. where any dissent (or even honest discussion) was immediately branded "unamerican", and could therefore be written off.

Maybe that's the real sticking point for me. That last thing I wrote. Maybe in my mind 9/11 has become the day that discourse died in America. The day that politicians learned how to lock in their base voters by sticking red white and blue earplugs in their ears, and eagle-emblazoned blinders over their eyes. It's the day that America forgot that listening to each other makes us stronger, not weaker.

Yep. That's it. That, for me, is the true and lasting tragedy of September 11, 2001.

You see what happens when you let jingoism flourish? SARAH FUCKING PALIN!

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

Not Sinclair Lewis

 

The Origin of our Title

This is typical:

Somebody: "What's your podcast/blog called?"

Me: "It's called 'Thank God I'm Atheist."

Somebody: [Blank pause]

Me: [Expectant facial expression]

Somebody: [Quizzical look, followed by wash of understanding] "Oh…. That's cute."

Having a silly joke in your title can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it hopefully conveys a sense of lightheartedness and play. It says that we've got a sense of humor about the subject. On the other hand, not everybody gets humor, so it spurs comments like "but if you're atheist, then you don't believe in God, so…" (a comment we've heard/ seen more than once). This forces us to either A) say something banal like "Yep, that's the joke…" or B) say something sarcastic like "You know, I've never thought of it that way!" Neither option is particularly pleasant, as both are just means of staving off the impulse to despair for humanity.

For the most part, people seem to like the joke, which makes it slightly more difficult every time I have to admit that I didn't make it up. As much as I would love to get credit for it, this gag goes back a bit. A long bit, as it turns out.

This post was spurred on by a couple of people who have approached me to ask who first said it (or to give me a lecture entitled "Did you know that the first person to say that was…"). Well, that got me to thinking. Who did actually say it first? I had long attributed it to Bertrand Russell, but that turns out to be me just making shit up. So here's what seems to actually have gone down:

The earliest version of this pithy statement that I could find came from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, a German scientist who lived in the late 1700s (1700s? I know, right?!). He said:

"Und Ich dank es dem lieben Gott tausendmal, dass er mich zum Atheisten hat verden lassen."

I think we can all agree that this is a remarkable and touching statement.  Unfortunately, it's in German, so we may never know what it means. Just kidding! Roughly translated, it means "And I thank God a thousand times that he made me an Atheist." A little wordy, perhaps, but good nonetheless.

[Update: I have revised my translation here, because, as commenter Katja and my own mother have pointed out to me, the phrase "dem lieben Gott" does not translate, as I had originally thought, to "the god of love". No, despite the fact that "dem" means "the", "lieben" means "love", and "Gott" means "god", this is a colloquialism that just means "god" or "the kind god" or "the God who, in His wisdom, created the confusing German language". Ich hoffe ihr könnt mir verzeihen für diesen schrecklichen Fehler.]

The next specific instance I could find of the phrase (or a variant thereof) was from George Bernard Shaw. His version was:

"I'm an atheist, and I thank God for it!"

Nice and pithy. Sure to ruffle a few feathers over at the London School of Economics. Did you guys know that G.B.S. co-founded the London School of Economics? 'Cause I sure as hell didn't. Wikipedia? More like WTFpedia!

The most famous use of TGIA (until I took it over and pwned it like a boss, obviously), was from a dude named Luis Buñuel. He was a Spanish-born filmmaker who made most of his films in Mexico, but just for kicks, he said this quote in French:

"Je suis toujours athée, gràce á Dieu."

Roughly (because that's the only way I can translate), this means "I am still an atheist, thank God". Buñuel eventually got sick of being asked about this, however, and later in his life backed off of it, going so far as to call the aphorism "accidental." So maybe he just stumbled into it. Who knows?

Anyway- the long and the short of it here, is that no, I did not invent the phrase "Thank God I'm Atheist". I just perfected it. And bought the domain name. Which means it's mine. ALL MINE! YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!

Take THAT, Buñuel!

Offered My Soul To Satan- He Didn’t Want It

The Mississippi delta: home of the delta blues. Famous blues man Robert Johnson was reputed to have gained his great guitar skills overnight. His method? A little help from his new friend, the Devil.

Of course, I don't believe in the devil, but hey- we were in the neighborhood, and I've always wanted to be able to play the guitar without actually having to put the practice in. If I could convince the Devil to show up, I could A) prove, once and for all, that the Devil is real and actually has magic powers, and B) gain mad skillz.

WHERE THE HELL IS THE DOWN-SIDE HERE???

Unfortunately, Satan never showed up. *Frowny-face*  I guess you have to have something worth selling to bring out the big guy. Oh well… I suppose I'll leave the guitar playing to those who actually are willing to put in the work.

The Toaster of Fortitude

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What do you do when you're a 70+ year old man living in rural Prattville, Alabama, you have health problems, and you have more paint than you know what to do with? You proclaim the gospel, of course! And you do it by creating hundreds of crosses and dozens of signs painted on old appliances.

Here's the thing: we didn't really get half of this guy's stuff into this video. It just goes on and on and on! We actually saw one pole that had a bunch of crosses nailed to it, and then a dozen or so SIGNS THAT SAID THE WORD "CROSS"!!! That's right- he stopped making actual crosses, and instead painted the word "cross" onto a piece of wood, and nailed that up. You can imagine the looks on our faces when we realized that we had forgotten to get that on camera for y'all. (Note: we are officially using the word y'all, now)

Oh well, we can't bring you everything. What we can bring you is me (Dan) acting silly at a roadside pile of weirdness commonly known as "The Cross Garden":

 

If Jesus Were A Wicked Witch… (Road Trip Video Number 3)

A charming little hamlet on the Mississippi river, Vicksburg, Mississippi has been a thriving beacon of commerce for well over a century. One of the battlegrounds of the Civil Wa… er… the "War Between the States", Vicksburg is rich in history. Like everywhere else in the South, it is also rich in churches. This is one of them. Enjoy.

 
 Some churches should have warning signs… Regardless of the fact that I couldn't read this one, that's exactly what I take this to be:
 
 

Crossing Groom

Video number 2 from our Homeric adventure. There's something special about a place where folks are so bored that they can't think of a better use of their time than to build something huge in an area NOBODY has any reason to visit.

Well… nobody except us.