You Know What’s Funny?

Mrrrf. [That’s a grunt. A disgruntled grunt. I put the “grunt” in disgruntled.]

 “I finally found where I belong…”

I feel like I have failed you, my reader(s). I feel like a bum of a father who left his wife, and now only comes out to see the kids every couple of months and then wonders why they don’t get more excited to see him when he does show up, and then gets discouraged and comes even less frequently, and the horrible cycle keeps spiraling until finally he’s sitting in a bar in Galveston, Texas crying softly to himself because he’s now 52, and he hasn’t seen his kids for six years, and they don’t want to see him because they think of him as the guy who abandoned them and their mother (which is, of course, not really fair, because they only have their mother’s side of the story, and she neglects to tell them that the divorce was her idea and that he was actually pretty cool about it), and the bartender won’t even come over to try to cheer him up because he does this at least once a week, and it’s getting kind of old, but he could just really use a friend…

That’s sort of how I feel. You, know… about how I haven’t been writing much here.  So… sorry.

I had an interesting conversation the other day. Or rather, I sat there while two of my friends wouldn’t let me get a word in edge-wise in a conversation.  The question at hand was whether, when looked at honestly, the Muslim faith is more homophobic/sexist than the Christian faith.

The answer to that question may seem obvious to you- it may not.  I sat there and listened to my friends battle it out, one on the side of Muslims being more horrible, the other saying it was Christians, and I realized- I really just hate religion.

This may seem obvious coming from a guy who writes an atheist-themed blog, but it shouldn’t.  First off- as I’ve stated before, atheism is not a belief system. There is no set dogma with which you can paint atheists. As a matter of fact, the only thing that all atheists can be said to share is an uncontrollable urge to swear loudly in somebody’s church.

HA! I’m kidding, of course! I’m sure the swearing in church impulse is shared by fewer than nine-thenths of atheists… No, the only common thread that all atheists share is that they don’t have a belief in a specific god. That’s it. Aside from that single lack-of-a-belief, there is nothing that groups us.  Which is why it shouldn’t seem obvious that I dislike religion.  There are plenty of atheists who like religion.  There are actually quite a few who love religion, and wish they could be a part of one.  But they can’t. Because they’re atheist. And they don’t want to be Unitarian.

My point, if I have one, is that the more I look at religion (and yes, I include your religion in this, even though you feel you have several very compelling arguments which clearly demonstrate how much better your religion is than everybody else’s), the more I see how destructive, or at very least counter-productive, religion is.

I’m not talking macro here, though I think it’s pretty easy to make the argument that religions are frequently destructive on a societal level.  I’m thinking here on a micro-scale.  Inside the individual believer.  Psychologically/intellectually.  Religion, without exception, stunts people’s growth. In several ways. In my view. Which I will tell you about. In the next paragraph. Here it is:

First, there’s a fundamental problem with thinking you have the answer to an unanswerable question.  The second you buy in to a system of belief about the way the universe works, you stop looking. And why not? If you have the answer, you no longer need to ask the question.  It’s like continuing to look for your keys after you’ve found them- doesn’t make sense.

The obvious problem with this is that your answer is not only unsupported by any evidence, but is often in direct conflict with what observable facts we do have. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it certainly places a pretty heavy burden of proof on you if you want anybody else to take you seriously. But that’s not what most religious folks think.  Most religious folks feel perfectly free to pronounce their firmly held views with impunity, and get horribly upset if anyone calls them to logical account.  More than that, though, what worries me is that they turn off their brains.  They know the truth, so they don’t have to listen to anybody else.  Anyone who thinks differently is wrong and can just be dismissed.

That brings me to my second point. Religious people are WAY too easy to manipulate. Critical thinking is a skill that must be practiced, and when you’ve turned it off for long enough (or never been trained to use it in the first place), you become very vulnerable to flawed arguments. Couple that with the fact that most religious folks point to some external figure to whom is owed deference and often even obedience.  From popes to bishops to priests to pastors to ministers to imams to rabbis to clerics– everyone in a dogmatic religion has someone that they are used to listening to as some some type of authority.

This sets up a parent-child dynamic, where congregations are asked to submit to the preaching of this authority figure, and are shunned and scolded if they stray from that. Once an adult subjugates his/her intelligence to the preaching of some other person, they’re in dangerous headspace.

Frankly, could there be a better recipe for a dupe than someone who is used to willingly submitting to the will of others, who has also allowed their reason and skepticism to atrophy? Well, other than, you know, like a bunch of robots, or a clone army, or Canadians, or whatever…

The Search For Meaning (and other stupid human compulsions)

Meaning.

I really shouldn't own photoshop... 
 ????

The search for meaning is the stupidest, most meaningless (see what I did there?) endeavor in the universe (unless you count The Amazing Race). I blame farmers.  Farms gave humans enough food that they weren't using every minute of every day trying to find some way to stave off hunger.  That meant that they had time to think. And talk to each other philosophically. And THAT, my friends, was the beginning of the search for meaning.

"My mother's hut was on fire- what does that mean?"

"My hair is falling out- what does that mean?"

"That french phrase you just said- what does that mean?"

It's all a worthless pursuit.  And yet we humans are compelled to pursue it. Doggedly. Religiously.

Is a life without any over-arching meaning really so horrible? If nothing actually means anything, are we any worse off? I look at my life (such as it is), and I can see nothing cosmically significant about it. Sure, I have an effect on the world in the arbitrary "butterfly effect" sense. My actions have ripples of consequence that, I'm sure, could be quite important somehow, but nothing that would change anything in any "meaningful" sort of way.

What kind of consequence? What's a "butterfly effect"? Well, dear reader, I guess I'm thinking of the kind of action/reaction sequence that follows small, seemingly inconsequential doings as they cause larger and larger repercussions, until some grand thing has resulted. Por ejemplo (and I want to be clear that this is totally hypothetical):

I choose to write some claptrap on this dumb website, and some poor schlub reads it. The schlub, then despondent that so much of his or her time has been wasted, grumps at their co-worker who, until that moment was having a pretty good week. That co-worker, now quite annoyed, decides to channel that annoyance into writing a particularly scathing review of Bill O'Reilly's Those Who Trespass: A Novel of Television and Murder.

Take THAT, Billo! 
 Don't read this book

This review, (which, let's be honest, was more motivated by a hatred of the author's politics than his "clunky prose") is so clever in its snark, that several popular blogs reproduce it, and it goes viral. This delights Mr O'Reilly, who knows that any publicity is good publicity, but manages to positively infuriate one Ronald J. Lupinski, a middle-aged ex marine living in Florence, KY. Ronald (Ronny to his coworkers at the "Steak and Shake" off Houston Road), who loved the book, decides he's fed up with all the damned liberals thinking they're so much smarter than everybody else, and is finally ready to do something about it. So he drives his beat-up Ford Festiva across the river into Cincinnati, OH (which he has always thought was way too "uppity" a city), and plants the bomb that he believes will knock some sense into the liberal media, at the building that houses local ABC affiliate WCPO, Channel 9 ("WCPO: On Your Side").

With the bomb he leaves a note, outlining his political views, his reasoning behind the bombing, and his absolute hatred for WCPO's anchor man, Clyde Gray. Ronny's triumphant excitement as he drives away, however, is interrupted by his realization that nobody will be able to read his note if the bomb blows it up. Panicked, he grabs his cell phone and calls the station telling them that somebody should go read that note, and maybe broadcast it, before it's too late. This, of course leads to the calling of police, and the deployment of the bomb squad, who, after four hours of extremely careful work, realize that the "bomb" amounts to little more than a gym bag full of gasoline cans and a crude (and, it turns out, ineffective) timing device meant to cause a spark at exactly 11:00 PM, the moment when Clyde Gray gives his cloyingly cheerful greeting for the nightly news.

Mr. Lupinski is subsequently arrested and quickly imprisoned. His note, entitled "You Are All Hores [sic] And Deserves [sic] To Die" is published by the station, and itself goes viral. Becoming both a leftist anti-violence rallying cry and internet humor meme rivaling "all your base are belong to us," "you are all hores and deserves to die" takes off as a popular catchphrase. 

The End.

So now you can see how one innocent little post on a blog can lead to a popular internet catchphrase. Or… I mean… I suppose there are less roundabout ways that could happen, too… but… um…. What point was I trying to illustrate? The butterfly effect? Why the hell was I on about the butterfly effect? Jesus, now I have to go back and check what the hell I was trying to say in the first place… Hang on…

MEANING? I started this whole rant as a "there is no meaning" thing? How the hell did I get that off track? You see?! This is what happens when I just let my mind run free and write without paying any attention to what I'm trying to say! Just writing for my own enjoyment, with no worrying about making any sort of real statement. 

Gibberish! 

I kind of like it. 

 

Mormons Are Liars, But Not In A Fun Way

So, a few weekends from now there will be a big deal in Salt Lake City. Every Spring and Fall, the LDS church (ya know, the Mormons) have their "General Conference", and people come from around the world to attend. For two weekends a year, downtown SLC is awash with white dress shirts and floral patterned dresses. And bad shoes. Always and consistently– the true hallmark of Mormonism– really bad shoes.

 The great and spacious building
 "Is that Joel Osteen?" "Shut up."

If you've never experienced the Mormon General Conference, please, allow me to set the stage:  Imagine a huge room, tastefully decorated in warm wood tones and understated but classy decor.  In it, 20,000 faithful members sit in quiet decorum as the top leaders of their religion impart messages of scripture and doctrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… Oops. Sorry. Dozed off for a moment there.  As I was saying, the "brethren" give heart-felt talks about how to live better livzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…  

What? Huh? Oh… sorry. What was I saying? Oh yeah- I was saying that General Conference is TORTUROUSLY BORING! It's old men in dark business suits intoning the same old recycled messages year after year after year after year after year….  If you're used to Catholic or Anglican church (or the like), just imagine if the "sermon" part of the service (as opposed to the stand-up-sit-down, recite, recite, recite part of the service) lasted much, MUCH longer and was given by someone who never formally studied theology or public speaking, but just had to pick it up as they went along. So they all just mimic each other, with the effect being that there is a distinctive "General Conference" cadence.  A drone that is absolutely unique to this event, and is instantly recognizable to Mormons the world over. Mormons who, sadly, are expected to watch and/or listen to this miserable broadcast semi-anually (can't we do something to help these poor people???).

 
 Look-they even bore themselves!

You may ask yourself, if G.C. is so boring, what's to keep members paying attention? If they've heard the messages before, why don't they all just glaze over and go to their happy-place for two hours? First- you should know that most Mo's will tell you that Conference is their happy place. They will say this because they get the glorious opportunity to hear their god's message through his appointed representatives here on Earth. They will tell you that Conference is a special time, because they feel "the spirit." They will tell you how much they LOVE conference.  They are liars.

NOBODY can love that drivel! It's awful! However… people can so muddle their own brains that they can convince themselves that they love it. When I say that the "conference lovers" are lying, I don't think they mean to purposefully deceive you or me. I mean that they are constantly and completely lying to themselves. It's fascinating. I've even tried confronting some of my hard-core Mormon friends about the lie that they love conference. The mental twists and turns that they've had to navigate to convince themselves that conference is even tolerable is far too thick a maze to ever penetrate with logic.

I'll say something like "But at it's core, he's saying EXACTLY the same thing they always say, just with a different [made up] "inspirational" story to illustrate the point."

Then they'll say something like "Yes, but the story was so beautiful, and it's always good to be reminded of god's love/forgiveness/laws…"

Then I'll say "Yeah, but… it was… such a long talk, and not particularly well written…"

Then, they won't say anything, because they're too absorbed in feeling sad about how I'm not going to be with them in Heaven, but I have free agency, and I make my own decisions, so I'm bringing it on myself, and why would I be trying to make them feel bad about the church, anyway, when it brings them so much happiness, but that's Satan's way of luring people away from god, and it's really sad that Satan has such a hold on me, but maybe there's a way that they can bring me back into the fold if they just can be a good enough example and show me how happy the gospel of god has made them…. Then their eyes glaze over and their mouths freeze in an awkward (and frequently Prozac-enhanced) half-smile. That's when the conversation is over.

It's tricky inside a Mormon brain. 

Anyhoo- if you want to see this phenomenon for yourself, you can come to downtown SLC this April or October and wander among the flock. Just mind that you don't get stepped on- those shoes are DEADLY!

Hope For The Future: Science Will Kill God

I just stumbled across this series of articles on NPR's website.  I am delighted!  It's all about spirituality and brain chemistry and it's fascinating.

There's very little that can be conclusively proven one way or the other when it comes to what "spirituality" actually is.  One of my favorite articles in the group points out that the encounters that Paul and Moses and Muhammad and David Koresh etc. had with "god," could be very handily and plausibly explained by a form of epilepsy, or overactivity in the temporal lobe.

This is all fantastic for those of us who always suspected that god and all his analogues are somehow manufactured by those experiencing it. I have never been so cynical to believe that everybody who claims to have had a spiritual experience was making it up or anything. Hell, when I was a believer, I was convinced a few times that I truly felt the spirit.

Dude... this is some good shit! 
 The white rabbit will set your people free…

"So, if you felt the spirit," ask the smug believers, "how do you explain that?" Until now, I could go into the psychology of the "theater" of church, and group dynamics, which I definitely feel play a part in all of it (see the video below). I can now add to the mix that, as this article points out, an influx of serotonin (or a serotonin-like substance, say… LSD?) will create a very "spiritual" experience.

Ironically, that last article was written by somebody who hopes to establish that there is scientific evidence in favor of a god's existence. As a matter of fact, the scientific community which is studying all this "spirit" stuff seems to be split right down the middle between those searching for evidence of god and those trying to demonstrate that what folks think is god is actually a series of internal functions. What tickles me is the notion that there are scientists out there whose hard work to validate their belief through science will only serve to discredit it. Ain't I a stinker?

Anyhoo, it seems to me that it is only a matter of time before science provides totally compelling evidence that all things attributed to god are, in fact, nothing supernatural at all. It's a logical impossibility to prove a negative (e.g. to prove there is no god), but it is certainly possible to prove that there are better explanations for god-y phenomena. 

With that, I give you this video.  I challenge anyone to deny that the people in this video are experiencing something very real.  However, most folks (even most Christians, I imagine) would say it's not god making these people act like they're completely wasted. I defy you not to believe that these people are having an experience equivalent to drug use (they themselves say it!).  Enjoy.

 

Pray For Me

Bill Cosby once did a whole routine about how silly it was that people pray to god for a big win in a casino.  He said god was way too busy to help you get the card you need at the blackjack table. As an alternative, he suggested that you pray to his friend Rudy. Rudy was lazy, you see, and had plenty of time to handle all the frivolous prayers god wasn't going to bother with. And, as Bill put it: "You'll get the same result!"

Indeed.  I've oft wondered why the "same result" factor has not played more prominently into the believer's mindset. The fact of the matter is that when someone prays for some specific outcome, whether it be that grandma gets healed or Suzy does well on a math test, god is off the hook no matter what the actual result. If grandma lives- it's a miracle! If she dies- it's god's will, and she's in a better place now. God has it even better with little Suzy. If she passes her test, well HALLELUJAH! God gets the credit. If she fails, she just didn't work hard enough. The lord helps those who help themselves.

 
 Praying or hiding a Twinkie? You decide.

As it turns out, being god is a pretty sweet gig.  You get credit for anything good happening, and when everything turns to shit… well, that's somebody else's fault (hint: queer abortionists).

It gets even more absurd when folks start calling on the power of collective prayer. When people ask others to pray with them, presumably in the hope that god will be more likely to respond if more people ask for the same thing. I mean, it's easy for god to ignore one person's call for help, but if the whole congregation is praying together he's gotta hear… right?

I guess they never ask themselves why, if it is god's will that a prayer not be answered when one person is praying, adding more voices to the mix would have an effect. Is it possible that they believe that an omnipotent being can be persuaded?  How do you talk somebody who knows everything into switching his position on a matter? By asking louder?

It's contradictions like this that drive me nutty about belief. It blows my mind when believers can't see these basic obvious truths. I suppose that once you've accepted cognitive dissonance into your heart in one form, all forms are welcome. Of course, the fact that prayer is bullshit is actually not a reason to stop believing in and of itself- but it sure as hell is a reason to stop trying to pray for solutions to your problems. 

So I was poking around the internet with all this in mind, and found a truly remarkable phenomenon- online prayer.  I have no desire to be disrespectful to the people who post prayer online (other than to point out how stupid regular prayer is, let alone the electronic kind), but I LOVE THIS SITE! The way it works is that people post requests for others to pray for something, and then other people write little prayers. Such a simple concept, but when read from an outside perspective it becomes a fascinating window into the sordid and sometimes sad personal lives of bible-belt America.

It may be the only place online where I've felt like almost everybody there is exposing very real stuff about themselves in total sincerity. After all, you don't lie or exaggerate or make up a fake persona when you think god is reading. Where else on the web can you find that kind of honesty? And what they're exposing… I'm such a voyeur!

Some of what you find there is truly touching- requests for prayers for a four year old boy who got "ran over" by a lawn-mower, for instance.  Talk about a downer! Most, however, are tiny real-life soap operas. Little glimpses into some Midwest housewife's crumbling marriage, or the tragic and devil-inspired blossoming of a teenager's sexuality. Some are just crazy ramblings. Here are a few favs:

Joddy has had a bad toothache since Tuesday. It's given him no end of pain and it's getting unbearable for me as well because I am kept awake with his moaning and groaning. Plus, the stench and decay is nearly unbearable. We are making a dentist's appointment for Tuesday. Please pray that we get it. Thanks! And God's richest blessings. :-)

Please pray for my health&strength/protection from the seen&unseen enemies&evil forces that my be around me. Please pray that(GOD)may/will forgive me for any seen or unseen sins,sometime I fill that you can sin and dont even no it.Please pray for my health,if I have any seen or unseen health problems or disease's please pray that(GOD)may/will(BLESS)me with(MIRACLES&BLESSINGS,SPIRITUAL HEALINGS)in(ALL AREAS THRU-OUT)my body mind&soul.I am self employed please pray that(GOD)may/will(BLESS)me with jobs that I can complete with success and have any problems with pay.Please pray that(GOD)may/will(BLESS)me with nothing but(MIRACLES&BLESSINGS)in(ALL AREAS THRU-OUT)my(LIFE)SPIRITUAL,HEALTH,FINANCE,PROTECTION OF LIFE PROBLEMS,COMPANIONSHIP,ETC!!Thank you all for your prayer,as I always pray for all. 

Please pray that me & my husband draw closer to God. Pray that our love and desire for each other grows. Pray that the ex-girlfriend moves on with her life and leaves my husband alone. Please pray that God molds me to be the mature woman, wife and mother he has called me to be. Please pray that God reveals to my husband how truly special I am and not to worry about me and for the both of us to rely on God about our marriage and lives. I am looking for God to move in a mighty way. I trust in God alone.

The ex-girlfriend??? I gotta say- 99% of the marriage related prayer requests I've read should probably be reworded to simply "Please pray that I will find a better divorce attorney than my good-for-nothing husband. Amen"

In fairness, I know that not all believers pray this way. I have an Orthodox Christian friend who thinks this kind of prayer is as silly as I do. His prayers, as I understand them, are basically ceremonial or thankful. He does all the prayers that are required of him by tradition, and he says thanks for life being generally good.  I can respect that. It's a little weak-sauce, but at least it doesn't imply any expectation that god will ever do anything. That's as much as I can hope for, I suppose.

Hope for a Beloved Believer

My girlfriend and I were out a couple of nights ago with her sister, who is a devout believer.  The thing is that she's a really smart lady, and the way she uses those smarts both gives me hope and makes me worry.  We're convinced that one strong, well-timed push could force her to actually examine (and therefore subsequently abandon) her faith, or could land her squarely and permanently in fundamentalist-style conspiracy-theorist crazy town. It really is the finest of lines she walks. Well the other night we had a lovely talk, and I saw glimmers of hope that rational thought and intellectual inquiry might win out… someday.

For over a year now, she's been saying that she wants to homeschool her kids.  Now I have nothing too strong against homeschooling as a rule (although the national spelling bees don't do homeschooling advocates any favors…), but in her case, I could see it was going to be a problem. 

And he said "suffer the children, that they may go to recess"
 Jesus hates school more than I did…

 As with so many homeschoolers, one of the major reasons she wanted to homeschool her children was that they weren't going to get any (or enough) Jesus talk at public school.  To me this was a bit of a weird argument because she's not an intelligent design freak or a literal-bible type, so there's not much public school curricula that I imagine she could object to. I tried to point out the obvious: that she would still be teaching all that religion stuff at home and at church anyway, and that pluralism of thought and experience helps a child learn to process information better, and that interaction with other kids their age would aid her children socially. I stopped short of pointing out that pretty much everybody in their entire community goes to the same church she does, so it's not like there's some danger of activist Satan-worshipping teachers tricking her kids into bad beliefs…

The truth is that my main reason for wanting to talk her out of it had nothing to do with any of that. Her kids are great, but they are way more than a handful, and she was really struggling as a parent. My thought was simply that if she was having that much trouble dealing with her kids at home all day, why the hell would she want to keep them there??? Public school is free!

Here's where religion muddies all the waters, though: she had a dark feeling about public school. Ugh. The dark feeling– the argument for which there is no counter. The intuition which you never need question, 'cause it's from god. God told her personally (though without anything so concrete as, y'know, language) that she should homeschool. Here endeth the discussion.

I HATE this crap. It is such obvious bullshit! We all have dark feelings and light feelings about things.  We all have intuitive notions about situations. If we're scared or worried about something, we get a dark feeling; if we're excited or happy about something, we get a light feeling. If it's nighttime and the lights are off, we get a dark feeling; if it's daytime and the sun is out… you get the idea. This isn't divine inspiration, it's psychology.

Even if I believed in a god and that he could communicate with me I'd have to wonder: Why the fuck would god give two shits about whether or not I homeschooled my kids? I realize that there's a lot of pressure on parents because your choices for your kids could have long-term impacts and all that, but be reasonable! This is not good vs. evil here- it's my kid gets educated one way or he gets a slightly different education another way. Some public schools are great, some suck- same with parents who teach.  Whichever you choose, there are pros and cons, but neither choice is sinful and neither is exalted.

Anyhoo, the upshot of my story is this: she's decided to put her kid in public school! I'll reiterate that I don't really care much whether or not she homeschools her kids. What I'm excited about is that reason and thought won out over supernatural sensations. It may not mean that she's anywhere near abandoning her beliefs, but at least we can have a conversation.

(By the way, here's another homeschooler-at-the-spelling-bee clip for your viewing terror/enjoyment)

The Devil Made Me Do It!

It was quite some time ago that I realized that god was just a construct invented by humans to explain phenomena that were too scary to leave mysterious.  At that time, I came to realize that all the inner feelings I had ascribed to god and the holy ghost and "the spirit" and all that hoodoo were just my psyche trying to reconcile the fairytales I had been brought up with and my teenage need for a greater meaning in life with reality.  Just as thousands of folks do every day, I asked my brain to believe something for which there was no evidence other than what somone wrote a couple of thousand years ago, or what grown-ups I trusted believed.

The result was a Denny's-style brain-skillet thought-scramble of such epically confusing proportions that I ended up alternately feeling filled with high-exalted holy glory (spiritual

 
 Mmmmm, spirit-y…

Moons over my Hammy, if you will) and desperately alone and ashamed (having gone out on a spirit-killing metaphorical bender, getting hammered, and showing up at the sanctified 24-hour restaurant with a chick I met at the club only to be denied entrance there for figuratively vomiting into the symbolic flower-beds just outside the doors).  I was messed-up. 

Since that time, I've spent many an hour contemplating the psychological origins of theistic belief.  What needs are fulfilled by inviting magic people into one's life? Can one really be comforted by a relationship with someone who only answers back in ways that could always be explained by other means? 

Anyhoo- I had an interesting revelation the other day. I realized how emotionally/ psychologically convenient a belief in the other guy is!  The devil is possibly even more useful than god!  Here's my thinking: I (and I assume others) find myself acting against my own best interest on a semi-regular basis. As a non-believer, I have to take responsibility for that. That sucks.

If I could believe in the devil, I could divest myself of a good deal of that responsibility. "Damn that Satan," I could say, "he tempted me again! He's so damned clever! I sure wish he'd stop tempting me…" Then I promise myself that I'll catch him in the act and resist next time.  He's like the easiest out ever! (If you want to see how attatched people are to their devil, check out the episode of This American Life about reverend Carlton Pearson- it will blow your mind!)

The best part is that my believer friends use this excuse for me.  The reason I forsook god and gave up church- the devil made me do it. Thanks, devil!

 

Faith and the Human Brain…

So, when I was first exploring life without god, I realized that it wasn't just god I was giving up.  I was also giving up a religion and all the trappings that went along with it.  I was suddenly on my own when it came to determining right and wrong, good and bad, etc.  I was forced to come up with my own morality.  At the time, this scared me.  I've since realized that this terrifies believers.

Many of the good believers out there will tell you that without god, there is no morality. Anything goes.  Once you start down that "slippery slope" (they LOVE talking about slippery slopes!), the next thing you know, you're murdering for fun and having sex with animals.  [Side note: Have you noticed that all the christians' slippery slopes end in animal sex? "If we allow gay marriage, next thing you know people will want to marry their poodles, and pretty soon all our pets will all have bloody anuses!" If you're wondering why, it's because that's exactly what a lot of them would do if they didn't have Jesus.]

As it turns out, developing a personal morality isn't difficult.  It ends up mostly just being about treating others respectfully and not doing anything that would unduly hurt anyone else.  Day to day philosophical morality is actually a lot simpler than all the nutty rules the believers have. There's no need, for example, to worry about whether or not it's sinful to eat shellfish anymore (not that I ever met a christian who did worry about that, despite the bible's proclamation that it's sinful).  All you've got to do is balance your desires with thoughts of harms you may do to others, and go from there. Easy, really.

The problem with getting your morality from a source other than deep thought and inward reflection (like, say, a two thousand year old book) is that you end up with no personal connection to the rules you subscribe to.  You know you're not supposed to do something, and you believe that you'll be punished if you do it, so you stay clear. It's a child's view of wrong and right.

That's all well and good, but it means that if you're confronted with an alternative point of view, you can't effectively argue your position.  You're stuck saying "the bible says so, and that's all I need to know" regardless of how patently stupid or untenable your position is. Or- and this is worse- you wait for some "leader" like Pat Roberston or the pope or Limbaugh or somebody to come up with an argument for you. Now, you have no personal connection to your position or the outrageously fallacious argument you're using to support it.

Belief left unscrutinized is meaningless.

Faith makes people stupid.