What about the “Moderate” Muslims?

In episode 153 “Islam: Take 2,” Dan and I asked the question, “Are there moderate Muslims?” In order to make the point that the teachings of Islam itself are extreme—death penalty for adultery and homosexuality—we played the following video:

One of the things that stood out to me while watching the video is how hard it would be as a Muslim to disagree with the speaker’s position. On what legitimately Muslim grounds could you make your case that a woman who commits adultery shouldn’t be stoned?

The following video from the BBC did shed some light on this question:

What do you think? Is Islam unique in its threat to liberal western values?

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.

Free Advice: Don’t Use the Hitler Quote

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Don’t you just hate it when all you need to promote your Christian youth program is a really good quote, and the only one you can find is from Adolf Hitler? Take the quotation: “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” That’s a pretty good line, and it totally makes the point you wanted to make. But there’s that whole Hitler thing…

You clearly have only two choices: You could use the quote and not attribute it, but that feels dishonest, like you’re stealing from Adolf Hitler. (Nobody cares about plagiarism when it involves Hitler, right?!) Or you could use the quote, say who said it, and hope nobody figures out that it’s THAT Adolf Hitler. But here’s where you probably feel safe–it’s not like it’s a quote about killing Jews or the superiority of the Aryan race or anything bad like that. If someone asks, be sure to point that out.

Apparently down in Alabama, a youth bible school decided to run an ad on a billboard and they found themselves in the dilemma I laid out above. The only problem is that they didn’t come up with the obvious third alternative: DON’T USE THE QUOTE. They simply decided to throw in a verse from the Bible to balance things out. What do you think? Did it work? Read the story from the local newspaper.

Please support my newest project

I’m running a Kickstarter fundraiser that ends this Saturday for “Pam and Gay Ghost.” If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s a crowdfunding website that lets the fundraisers (in this case me) offer rewards to their supporters (hopefully you) in exchange for their support. It’s also an all or nothing model, meaning if we don’t hit our goal, we don’t get the money (and supporters don’t get charged).

I set a goal of $4,500 that would help finish the film and pay the actors. Please visit the campaign page to learn more and to pledge your support. The campaign is running behind and needs your help. Please visit our Kickstarter page.

View the trailer for “Pam and Gay Ghost” here:

A Mother’s Warning

Last Friday morning my Mormon mother called me with a warning, “be careful this weekend.” I was a little taken aback so I asked for clarification. “I was painting out back and had an impression. You were involved.” I acknowledged hearing her warning and–annoyed–ended the call abruptly.

This was not the first bit of “personal revelation” my mother has directed toward me, but it was the first in a very long time. I had almost forgotten that this was a habit of hers. Growing up, mom had impressions from the “still small voice” all the time. In fact, to a casual observer the voice probably seemed large and loud.

Mom had a bumpy road toward family prophetess though. When I was around eight years old, she scraped her leg really bad on the concrete decking surrounding the swimming pool. The “Holy Ghost” had whispered to her not to go outside, and she heeded the warning until she noticed that a planter on the other side of the pool was turned the wrong way. She slipped out the back door, corrected the planter, and while backing up to admire her work, fell backwards into the pool dragging one of her legs across the sharp little rocks embedded into the concrete.

Later that day, she commented that when you fail to listen to “His” promptings the Lord steps aside letting you face the consequences of your actions. I was mesmerized, and over the next decade, I would witness her sharing premonitions about black ice, ladders, river trips, and anything else that would be of mild concern for a typical mother.

Her prophesying probably seems fairly innocent, and my rudely getting off the phone probably seems, well… rude. But her phone call on Friday stirred up old emotions, and I feel like it was violation of the unspoken terms of our almost fifteen-year truce on the topics of faith and religion. I let her tell me about the goings-on at church, and she never ever asks me when I’m going to return to the gospel (or any other crap like that). I keep details about my life to a minimum. Everything works great!

I don’t know if I have any answers about how to deal with this. In fact, I don’t even think I’m asking any questions. My f’ed up relationship with my mother (and father for that matter) is what it is. I guess what intrigues me the most about her warning and the overall effect it had on my weekend is that I did change my behavior. I was more careful. It clearly wasn’t for the reason she had hoped——that I would start trusting her faith.

I just didn’t want to die in a car accident and leave her feeling like she was right.