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American Atheists


Also in this issue:
Mormon Missionary Turned Atheist
How Islam Strives for World Domination
Atheist Volunteers in the Tird World
Guess the Religion | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 3
American Atheists National Legal Director Edwin Kagin debaptizes Cambridge
Broxterman as President David Silverman looks on. Edwin died suddenly on March 28.
Tributes to him and his activisim begin on page 32.
Cover: Atheist TV is here! Story on page 20
In This Issue
A Journal of Atheist News and Thought
3rd Quarter 2014
Vol. 52, No. 3
ISSN 0516-9623 (Print)
ISSN 1935-8369 (Online)
Pamela Whissel
Frank R. Zindler
Rick Wingrove
Published by
American Atheists, Inc.
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Karen Reilly
Gil and Jeanne Gaudia
Shelley Gaudia
My Mormon Mission Made Me an Atheist |

Greg Hawkins
Preferring Fear to Understanding |

Dan Arel
How Islam Strives for World Domination |

ST Zeviar
Cheap Plastic Pearls |

Alan Michael Wilt
The Sneaky Threat of Pascals Wager |

JT Eberhard
Guess the Religion |

Lee Phillips, PhD
Worlds First Atheist TV Channel! |

Dave Muscato
Over 700 Attend Salt Lake City Convention |

Dan Arel
All of the Good, None of the God |

Conor Robinson
Recruiting from the Scriptures
Michael B. Paulkovich
In Memoriam: Edwin F. Kagin | Tributes by Eric Husby, Amanda
Metskas, and Ed Buckner
In Memoriam: Richard Andrews
Why I Am an Atheist |

Ernest Som
CORRECTION: In our previous issue, we misspelled the name of Felicia Nimue Ackerman under her
poem Query. We apologize for the error.
Pamela Whissel
n March 28, 2014, American Atheists National Legal Director Edwin Kagin
died at home, suddenly, in his sleep. Besides working for this magazine, I was
his paralegal for the past four years. I assisted him with every lawsuit he filed on
behalf of American Atheistslawsuits which always made the news and often made history.
Before I was his paralegal, I was friends with him and his wife, Helen, whose death was the
cover story of our April 2010 issue.
Death was peaceful for him. The news of his death was agonizing for me. It doesnt help
that I didnt get to say good-bye. But no one did. He was in one place, I was in another, and the rest of his friends and family were all somewhere else.
The timing was what it was. Its that simple.
Ruminating on what if is not that simple. What if I had been in the office that day and not out of town? Would I have recognized any sign that his
health was failing? What if I had had a chance to say good-bye? Would my grief be any lighter now?
Its ironic that What if ? is, all of the sudden, a question I try to avoid, because the story of how he and I met is all about What if ? We loved to
marvel about the random timing that had to fall into place in just the right way for us to even meet each other in the first place. And we also loved to joke
that god brought me to American Atheists, since it all started with a church.
The event where we met was in downtown Cincinnati in the summer of 2009. The Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America was in
town to talk about the rise in secularism in the US. Edwin and Helen were there because the speaker was an acquaintance of theirs. I, however, didnt
even know there was such a thing as secular Americans coalescing until I found out about the speaker only a few days before from friends who wanted
to attend the event. The only reason they asked me to go with them was that we had made plans a few weeks earlier to get together on that night, which
just happened to fit all of our schedules.
Since the topic was church/state separation, I was very interested because I thought there might be a chance to get some advice about how to deal
with the Catholic church next door to me. For the past eight months, they had been ringing their bells 475 times a day on weekdays, 535 times on
Saturdays, and 595 times on Sundays. No joke. It was beyond a nuisance, and, local politics being what they were, hardly anyone in the neighborhood
was willing to say anything on the record against a church, let alone take any kind of formal action. Now, my friends didnt tell me about this speaker
because they knew about my church bell problem. They told me because the event conflicted with our plans, and they wanted to attend.
That night, after I shared my problem during the Q&A, the only thing the speaker said was, Youve got a great attorney for that kind of thing sitting
right over there. He was pointing to Edwin.
When I went Edwins office a few days later, I assumed Id have a brief meeting with an attorney who would tell me there wasnt anything that could
be done about the bells. Instead, I left his office with a brand new membership to American Atheists; a copy of his book, Baubles of Blasphemy; and an
invitation to the annual picnic of the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Everything else followed in very quick succession. I became fast friends with Edwin and Helen. I learned that Atheists and freethinkers got together
in my very own cityregularly! I got to participate in legal work on the front lines of church/state separation. I volunteered at Camp Quest. I was given
one of the finest opportunities in all of freethought: stewardship of this magazine. And best of all, he was an incredible friend.
What if the plans with my friends had been made for any other night? Would they have still told me about the speaker? Probably not. But even if they
had, what if the church hadnt been so obnoxious with the bells in the first place? Or what if I had been able to ignore them like it seemed everyone else
could? Would I still have wanted to go? Absolutely. But would I have ended up talking to anyone therelet alone Edwinafterwards? Probably not.
What if any one of those things hadnt happened just how it did? It helps to keep this in mind when I find myself asking What if ? as I resent the
random timing that cheated me out of any more time with Edwin, or even just the chance to say good-bye. My resentment is as deep as my gratitude
for the random timing in 2009 that set my life on a whole new trajectory.
In the chapter about death in Baubles of Blasphemy, Edwin wrote, Before you return to wherever you were before you were born, it might be a good
idea to live so that people remember you fondly. This is not a dress rehearsal. Life ends/Tao flows.
Edwin, we remember you very, very fondly.
Edwin and me at Camp Quest | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 5
My Mormon Mission
Made Me an
by Greg Hawkins
Hello! My name is Elder Hawkins, and this is my companion, Elder
Thompson. We are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
day Saints, and we would love to share the true words of Christ with you
today. May we share our message of Christs atonement with you?
Greg Hawkins, a former
Mormon elder, attended the
American Atheists National
Convention costume party in his
regulation missionary outfit.
I cant count how many times I uttered that phrase. Over and over
again. Of course, as a Mormon missionary in the Philippines, I was
required to speak the language of the people, so it sounded something
closer to:
Kumusta! Ako si Elder Hawkins, at ito si Elder Thompson,
ang aking kasama. Mga misyonero kami sa Simbahan
ni Jesucristo ng mga Banal sa mga Huling Araw. Gusto
naming magbahagi ng totoong salita ni Cristo sa inyo
ngayon araw. Puwede ba kaming magbahagi ng mensahe
namin sa pagbabayad-sala ni Cristo sa inyo?
Its quite the mouthful, isnt it? Good thing I learned how to speak
the language on the fly during my stay. Gift of tongues.
As an active member and missionary for the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, I first spent nine weeks at the Missionary
Training Center in Provo, Utah. Although I was raised Mormon, most
of my friends and family arent, which means that they are merely
being deceived by the wiles of Satan, who is always getting good, god-
fearing, non-Mormon Christians to follow him to hell.
The Missionary Training Center, or MTC, was a splendid place. I
was blessed with the opportunity to wake up at 6:30 every morning
to quickly shower and shave with all of the
other wonderful young men on my floor. At
7:00 a.m. sharp, my companion and I (Mormon
missionaries always travel in pairs) would be
sitting in the classroom of an adjacent building,
ready to do our daily planning. This was followed
by breakfast and then language and gospel study
for the rest of the day until 10:30 pm, when we
went to bed and restarted the entire beautiful
sequence the next day.
Oh, by the way, family visits were not
allowed. Neither were visits from friends. Or
phone calls. Snail mail was acceptable and so
was email to family once a week. Its important
to stay focused on the Lords work, and silly
things like families and relationships just got in
the way, especially with most of my family not
being Mormon. It simply wouldnt do to have
them interfering with the building of Gods
I think it was around my seventh week of
training that I had my first doubt. I was sitting
A Mormon missionarys family pays for all travel
and living expenses during a mission, and the
missionary doesnt get as much as a stipend.
It was around my seventh week of training
that I had my first doubt.
in my classroom, just like every other day, studying the Doctrine and
Covenants, one of the canonized Mormon scriptures, when I came to
Section 132:
And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife,
and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity,
if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my
law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through
him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power,
then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the
world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord,
neither by my word; when they are out of the world it cannot
be received there, because the angels and the gods are
appointed there, by whom they cannot pass; they cannot,
therefore, inherit my glory; for my house is a house of order,
saith the Lord God.
Now, basically, what this scripture is saying is that you have to be a
Mormon who married another Mormon in a Mormon temple in order
to receive eternal life. If you dont meet all three criteria, not only will
you not get to be with your spouse in heaven, you will be destroyed
in the flesh and your wife will be given to a more worthy man. (Sorry,
A home in Gregs neighborhood in the Philippines.
By local standards, a wealthy family lives here. | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 7
ladies. Its just the Lords will.)
This entire section is especially fun to read if you dont believe
in the Mormon scriptures. Its also fun to read what it says about
mandated polygamy and unforgivable sins.
But I did believe in the Mormon scriptures. I believed in all of
them. And I couldnt comprehend what I was reading. My extended
family, my birth family, the families of my best friendsnone of them
would get to be united for eternity in heaven? I recall
marking these pages up quite heavily and asking my
leaders about the meaning of the verses. Perhaps I had
simply misunderstood.
Nope, I hadnt. It was clear as day. Instead of
illuminating relief, my greatest fears were confirmed. To
add insult to injury, they chastised me and wrote on my
record that my political views regarding gay marriage
and abortion were disgraceful and that I had trouble
waking up in the morning. They didnt care about my
depression or insomnia or any of those excuses. The
Lord demands exact obedience, Elder, and so you must
be exactly obedient. Remember, obedience brings
blessings, but exact obedience brings miracles.
I shoved these trivial nuisances to the back of my
head for the rest of my training before heading out
to serve in the Philippines for the next 23 months.
By the way, a Mormon missionarys familynot the
Churchpays for all travel and living expenses during
a mission, and the missionary doesnt get as much as a
The field is very different than the training center
because it is a complete and total language and culture immersion.
If you are assigned to a foreign country, like I was, your only extra
preparation is basic language instruction. From day one, I lived like a
native and learned the nuances of the language on my feet.
The culture shock was extreme. I cried every night of my first
week. I just wanted a toilet that flushed. And to not have to wash my
clothes by hand. And perhaps have a house that wasnt infested with
rodents and cockroaches. And to not get shot at. Or pick-pocketed.
Or yelled at by all the passers-by. Or molested. And to perhaps to be
paid for my 24/7 efforts instead of paying the Church for the privilege
to do this whole thing.
When I approached a more experienced missionary
about my constant misery, his stern reply was,
Watch your pride, Elder.
Its important to stay focused on the Lords
work, and silly things like families
and relationships just got in the way.
Greg with a neighbor and her two daughters.
Although they live in poverty, it was Gregs mission
to convert her to Mormonism and have her give
ten percent of her income to the Church.
When I approached a more experienced missionary about my
constant misery, his stern reply was, Watch your pride, Elder.
So I relied even more on my faith in Jesus. I read the scriptures. I
prayed my heart out.
And the contradictions kept coming. The cognitive dissonance
kept getting louder.
In the field, I remember that this was in part due to an investigator
of our church. An investigator is someone who allows missionaries
into their home and has also allowed a lesson to be taught. His name
was Ed, and he had trouble with the Law of Tithing. In order to be
baptized a Mormon, you must commit to tithing. To Mormons,
tithing means giving the Church ten percent of your gross income for
the rest of your life. Ed had a wife and four children. And he made the
equivalent of $177 a monthworking 84 hours a week.
My missionary companion just couldnt understand Eds
reluctance and was convinced that we needed to work on Eds faith.
He needed faith to see that if he just gave $18 of that income to the
Church every month, the Lord would provide him with blessings.
As a missionary, Greg was charged
with recruiting poor families
like this one to give 10% of their
income to the Mormon Church.

This time around,

creationists are
scrambling to
create a monster
to demonize.
A Column by Dan Arel
Preferring Fear to Understanding
reationists havent been this afraid in a very long time. Since
the March debut of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on the
FOX network (not to be confused with Fox News), Neil deGrasse Tyson has
been eloquently and lucidly explaining how science is our way to understand
the universe. It bothers creationists the most when Tyson openly talks about
the things scientists do not yet understand and then says this is not a bad thing
because curiosity is what fuels further research and exploration. | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 9
But this isnt the only problem for creationists. The organizations
Answers in Genesis (who run the Creation Museum in Petersburg,
Kentucky) and The Discovery Institute (who attempt to mask
creationism with the term intelligent design) regularly vilify scientists
like Richard Dawkins, whom they accuse of spreading Atheism. But
Tyson doesnt debate peoples belief systems; he never has. So this time
around, creationists are scrambling to create a monster to demonize.
On the Answers in Genesis website is a review of each episode,
where they attempt to debunk the science presented and claim
that the Bible can explain everything Tyson admits to not knowing
( In the episode entitled The
Immortals, Tyson explains the origins of the human drive to tell and
then later write stories. He recounts the Epic of Gilgamesh, the tale of a
man who built a massive ark to protect two of every kind of animal from
an impending flood. The flood ends when a dove is released from the
ark and returns with a branch in its beak. Anyone familiar with Judeo-
Christian myth knows that this is also the story of Noahs ark. The only
difference is that the Epic of Gilgamesh is thousands of years older than
the Noah story.
David Klinghoffer, a Senior Fellow at The Discovery Institute,
proclaimed this episode to be the only one he wouldnt allow his son
to watch. On the website, he said, With past
installments I had to pause now and then to point out to Ezra where host
Neil deGrasse Tyson had stopped talking about science and switched to
baiting Christianity. Last nights episode, number 11 of 13, would make
that procedure impractical and tiresome.
If Klinghoffer is so confident in his Bible, then why does he feel the
need to shield his child from a science lesson? And with the word of god
on his side, how is it impractical or tiresome to defend Christianity?
Cosmos is far from controversial. Anyone with a fundamental
understanding of science will not fear that their whole worldview will
be turned upside down. And even when we learn something opposite
to what we may have thought to be true, many of us are grateful to
the point of doing further research to better understand how we were
originally wrong.
Creationists, however, explain away the challenges to their
worldview by claiming Tyson isnt doing real science. They call
evolution an assumption and ignore the mountains of evidence that
show us it is a fact. They shield their children from anything that science
can explain easily if it does not fully align with their Bible.
This is intellectually dishonest and these organizations know it. But
to say we dont know would be to admit that their religion does not
have the answers to all of lifes questions. And such an admission runs
the risk of lower church membership and fewer donations. Curiosity
is the fuel that moves science forward. Money is the fuel that keeps
religion alive.
As Tyson brings science into our living rooms, he is talking to the
very children who, because they now look at the night sky with awe,
will go on to make discoveries that will forever change and enhance our
understanding of the world.
As for the members of Answers in Genesis and The Discovery
Institute, they have a book over two thousand years old with talking
donkeys. You can decide whose knowledge is better taken.
Dan Arel is the author of the forthcoming Parenting Without God, How
To Raise Moral, Ethical and Intelligent Children, Free from Religious
Dogma. He is a contributing writer to AlterNet and Salon. Learn more
about Dan by visiting
With the word of god on his side,
how is it impractical or tiresome
to defend Christianity?
To say we dont know would be to admit
that their religion does not have the
answers to all of lifes questions.
ince 9/11, American secularists arguably have never had to be more vigilant in
fending off the aims of political religion. With Islam, much of the Western world has
conventionalized truly paradoxical norms of self censure. Even our popular liberal
President repeatedly has stated that Islam is a peaceful religion, distorted by a few
So if you are concerned about matters jeopardizing the separation of church and state, you
should be aware that Islamic fundamentalism ultimately prescribes merging the two in any manner or degree
possible, in all independent states of the world.
Political party lines have, in fact, exacerbated the situation. No liberal-minded person wants to be
associated with the bigotry and vitriol of the most extreme (often Christian) Republicans who seem to
be the only ones discussing the ongoing threat of Islambut for all the wrong reasons. | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 11
Christianity and Islam were both born of the Hebrew Bible, or
Torah. However, many important differences have evolved over time.
In Christianity, a handful of bitter intra-faith conflicts do remain today.
But, for the most part, they exist in parallel with little antagonism. This
is not the case with Islam. In both theory and practice, Islam tolerates no
diversity, neither within nor outside its ranks.
No true Christian theocracies exist in the world today. That is, no
nation-states are constitutionally bound by the passages of Biblical
scripture. Contrary to common misconception, Vatican City is better
described as an ecclesiocracy, being a state within which a religious leader
assumes the leading role but does not govern according to any literal
edicts of scripture. On the other hand, there are at least seventeen nations
in the world today that formally adhere to Islams holy Quran as the basis
of their constitutions.
When it comes to Christianity, contemporary writers, cartoonists,
comedians, journalists, and bloggers run rampant with blasphemous
derision all the time. For this, nobody is executed. Nobody is
imprisoned. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Islam is a
different story altogether.
We sent not a messenger except to teach in the language of
his own people. (Quran, Surah, 84.57)
While the Bibles original Hebrew and Greek texts have been
translated into well over 2,000 languages, the ramifications of translating
Islams holy Quran are perilous, and politically loaded. Its literal word is
paramountand inviolable. Thats because the alleged revelations of
Allah to the prophet Mohammad were said to be in Arabic, and Muslims
have historically considered translations of the Quran to be the flawed
interpretations of humans and, as such, fail to represent the precise, sacred
character of the Arabic original.
The Qurans most fundamental teaching is that Islam is the only
acceptable religion on Earth, to be imposed over all others. But long ago,
a handful of Islams more strategic proponents realized that the Quran
was unlikely to become the supreme operational manual of the world if
it could not be understood. Nonetheless, it is a risky endeavor to translate
the Quran in many countries, even if it includes the Arabic text alongside
the translation, line by line.
The very existence of translations incites varying degrees of contempt
around the world. Last November, the The Huffington Post World Edition
reported that a pocket-sized translation of the Quran into one of
Afghanistans languages landed six men in prison and left two of them
begging judges to spare their lives. Afghanistans powerful Islamic Council
quickly condemned the translation and jailed both the cleric who
endorsed it and its publisher. The printer who distributed it was declared
an infidel. As such, they contended, he should be killed.
The native languages of numerous Islamic theocracies in the world
today are not Arabic. These include Farsi, Kurdish, Indonesian, Pashto,
Somali, and numerous other African and Indic languages. The official
language of Nigeria is English. Depending on where you happen to
be, you may or may not be permitted to possess a Quran that you can
understand. You are, however, held responsible for straying from its
doctrine. All Muslims inherit their religion at birth and must vow to
remain wholly uncritical of all things Islam, even if they are illiterate or
dont understand Arabic.
Whoever changes his Islamic religion, then kill him.
(Hadith, Sahih Al-Bukhari, 9:57)
Every non-Muslim on Earth is considered a kafir, meaning someone
impure, lowly, and disrespectful to Allah, his apostles, and Islams holy
books. The Quran makes it perfectly clear that anyone who remains a
kafir incites Allahs wrath and displeasure, and is deserving of severe
retribution, both on earth and in the hereafter.
If you are born Muslim, or if you are a kafir divinely cleansed by
becoming Muslim, theres no getting out of it, at least not publically. Any
defector, deserter, or traitor is considered an apostateand to be an
apostate from Islam is dangerous. Apostasy carries the penalty of death
in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Mauritania, Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia,
and Gaza. Under Islamic Sharia law, other crimes that carry the death
penalty include adultery and homosexuality. These executions are often
by decapitation.
In March 2013, The Daily Mail reported the beheading of at least
28 people in Saudi Arabia alone. Other forms of execution under Sharia
law may include hanging, maiming, or stoningoften in a fervently
attended public spectacle. The crime of blasphemy carries penalties
of imprisonment in Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya,
Malaysia, the Maldives, Morocco, Somalia, Tunisia, and the United
Arab Emirates.
This past November, the BBC World Service reported that more than
800 Islamic clerics and religious scholars over the past decade have
been killed for perceived crimes of blasphemy for expressing negative
All incidents of Islamic terrorism, whether
military, insurgent, or by fatw, are acts
committed out of religious duty.
The Qurans most fundamental teaching is
that Islam is the only acceptable religion
on Earth, to be imposed over all others.
views on Islamic terrorism. The Talibanan Arabic term meaning
religious studentaccepted responsibility for most of these murders.
Many victims were prayer leaders in mosques or teachers at government
schools. The Taliban accused these clerics of weakening the morale of
fundamentalist resistance fighters.
When we hear estimates of the number of Muslims worldwide, which
number around two billion, we are hearing about two billion people
who may or may not want anything to do with Islam, but continue to
identify as Muslim, for obvious reasons. Regarding the danger of leaving
Islam, Pakistani scholar Abul Ala Mawdudi says, Converts from Islam in
the West, too, are keenly aware of it and fear its consequences, not only
against themselves but against their families and friends here and in their
native lands.
The 2011 documentary Godless: Spreading the Word profiles well-
assimilated former Muslims in the United States who candidly discuss
continuing trepidation about their apostasy. Some even insisted on
concealing their faces for their interviews. Last year, with the support of
the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the Council
of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Atheists Alliance International published a
joint report, The Political and Legal Status of Apostates in Islam. It reviews
the punishments of apostates in 29 countries, highlights the cases of
many persecuted Atheists, secularists and freethinkers, and calls for the
condemnation of such laws and for the full protection for apostates and
blasphemers worldwide.
In the April 2003 issue of Abuse Your Illusions, Howard Bloom, author
of The God Problem and The Mohammad Code, recounted that Arab
pressure groups asked ever so politely . . . that nothing that I write be
published again. They offered to boycott my publishers productsall
of themworldwide. And they backed their warning with a call for my
punishment in seventeen Islamic countries.
This call for punishment is called a fatw, and refers to an official
ruling of a Muslim leader as defined by Sharia law. It can be a worldwide
edict, unconcerned with international boundaries or secular laws. As
Bloom attests, fatws are not isolated to distant lands and invisible third-
world citizens; nor are they a matter of centuries past. Throughout the
world today, they are used to silence speakers, censure writers and
artists, and terrorize dissenters through manipulation, intimidation, and
violence. They are the edicts of the thought police. When the Ayatollah
Khomeini of Iran issued a fatw on writer Salman Rushdie for unsavory
references to the life of Mohammad in his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses,
he was forced into hiding for more than a decade.
Other high-profile international fatws have targeted Somali-Dutch-
American feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose film, Submission, exposed the
ruthless treatment of Muslim women. Theo Van Gogh, the films director,
was also targeted. While Ali survived, Van Gogh was not so fortunate. In
the name of Allah, he was assassinated in 2004 while riding his bicycle in
the streets of Amsterdam. As he lay dying from several gunshot wounds,
pleading for his life, his assassin, Mohammad Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan
Muslim, attempted to decapitate him and plunged a knife into his chest
with a note attached threatening the life of Ali as well.
Armed guards provided by the Dutch government protected Ali
after Van Goghs execution, and a trust fund set up by Atheist author and
neuroscientist Sam Harris also provided aid for her protection. Ali went
on to receive several prestigious human rights awards and was named by
Time magazine as one of the worlds 100 most influential people in 2005.
In 2012, an American filmmaker came to the worlds attention when
violent protests erupted in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Iran,
Iraq, and the Palestinian territories after a trailer of his movie Innocence of
Muslims was posted on YouTube and broadcast in Egyptian media. During
a sermon at a mosque in London, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the
world leader of the supposedly moderate Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat
sect of Islam, reacted strongly to the film. He renounced it as an abhorrent
distortion of the peaceful nature of Islam, yet in the same speech stated,
Let it not be that in the name of freedom of speech that the peace of
the entire world be destroyed. The incongruence is striking. In a press
release and at a press conference attended by BBC National News, BBC
Newsnight, Sky News, Sky Arabic, Reuters and others, Ahmad conveyed
a thinly veiled warning to world leaders that when they support the rights
of people to make films or caricatures that offend Muslims, they are
causing the hostilities.
Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he
victorious, on him we shall bestow a vast reward. (Quran 4:74)
While a fatw typically involves a threat to specific people or groups,
the larger scale warfare incumbent on all Muslims against infidels and
secular nation states are acts of global jihad, from the Arabic jahada,
which means struggle. In this context, the struggle is the one undertaken
by devout Muslims to eliminate or convert all non-Muslims to Islam and
defend against religious persecution. The twelve Imams descendent
from Mohammad in the Quran are the original wagers of jihad. As such,
their prescribed agenda is paramount.
Jihad is an ongoing holy war, striving or fighting in the way of
Allah, and those who are most fervent are promised great reward in the
afterlife. Seventy-two virgins seems to be the standard issue, although
there is considerable confusion about how that particular accolade
came to be so specific.
All incidents of Islamic terrorism, whether military, insurgent, or by
fatw, are acts committed out of religious duty. Credible historians have
The OIC has repeatedly insisted that
the culprit most responsible for the
institutionalization of Islamophobia in
Western countries is freedom of speech. | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 13
estimated that more people are killed by Islamists
each year than in all 350 years of the Spanish
Inquisition combined.
run by a pluralist, non-partisan watchdog group,
lists more than 2,800 acts of Islamic terrorism
in 2013 alone. This number includes neither
honor killings nor incidents related to military
combat, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, unless
it involved suicide bombings or attacks on sites
providing medical care to civilians. The targets
of jihad are kafirs, infidels, apostates, and secular
states and the exclamation Allahu Akbar! (Allah
is greatest!) is its mantra.

Allah is the best of the schemers. (Quran
The Islamic principle of taqiyya means
religious deception but is often euphemized
as simply a means of caution in situations where religious persecution
is a perceived threat. One example of taqiyya in political action involves
former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafats signing of the Oslo Accords, a
framework enacted in 1993 to advance a resolution of the ongoing Israeli-
Palestinian conflict. After signing the agreement with U.S. President
Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Arafat reveled in
praise as the shining star of peace and conciliation in the Middle East.
Afterwards, Arafat was quick to clarify his real intentions. Speaking in a
Johannesburg mosque, he explained that he signed the accord with little
Believing this address to be outside the scrutiny of Western media,
Arafat clarified his unchanged intention to fight the Israelis as soon as it
was advantageous to do so. Unaware that his speech was being videotaped,
he equated his deception with Mohammads ten-year truce with the
Arabic tribe of Quaresh in the city of Mecca in 628 CE. This pact was
quickly abandoned in the form of a surprise attack, when Mohammad
conquered Mecca and defeated the ill-prepared Quaresh. In the same
spirit of taqiyya, Arafat intimated, the jihad against Israel was to continue.
There are many Muslim leaders and clerics in democratic, secular
countries worldwide who spell out this loosely conditional duty to
deceive and dissociate from non-Muslims. They do so in the sanctity of
protected mosques, and by exploiting official policies regarding religious
freedom, multiculturalism, and free speechall of which would be
eliminated under Sharia law. Of further irony is that these conditions
provide a climate in which Islamic authorities dont seem to have much
reason to deceive at all.
Perhaps the most astounding oversight in the West is the failure to
listen to what Muslim leaders of the highest international standing are
actually saying. For example, Omar Ahmed, Chairman of the Board of
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has publicly said that
Islam isnt in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become
dominant. The Quran should be the highest authority in America, and
Islam the only accepted religion on earth. In a speech delivered last year
at a Muslim rally in Austin, Texas, Mustafa Carroll, the Executive Director
of CAIRs Dallas Fort-Worth branch, declared that members of the faith
should not be bound by American law . . . If we are practicing Muslims, we
are above the law of the land.
Islamic expert Frank Gaffney, founder of the Center for Security
Policy in Washington, D.C., told news agencies that when you hear one
of their speakers say, We are above the law of the landtake it to the
bank. That is what they really believe; that is what Sharia teaches. To the
extent that Muslims adhere to Sharia, they are obliged to try and impose
it on the rest of us.

Many respected Muslim leaders encourage the calculated
strategy of gradualism as the way to infiltrate secular democracies.
Gradualism is a form of jihad based on pragmatism, patience, and
long-term planning.
In November, 2011, Sheik Yousef al-Qaradawi, one of the Muslim
Brotherhoods most influential Sunni clerics, called on Muslims
everywhere to embrace the strategy of gradualism.
The Brotherhoods
Supreme Guide, Muhammad Badie, outlined six stages. The first
stage is Sharia over the individual, second is Sharia over the family,
third is Sharia over society, and fourth is Sharia over the government.
The resurrection of the caliphate (an Islamic state led by a supreme
religious leader known as a caliph) is the fifth stage and sixth is the
mastership of the world.
In Western democracies, clandestine Sharia courts exemplify the
first and second stages of gradualism by forbidding women to seek
divorce or legal retribution in secular courts for crimes committed
against them. The authoritative Imam of a Sharia court (typically in a
mosque) will instead provide counsel, which is essentially a process of
recommitting the wife to the sanctity of the marriage. Muslim women
are also dissuaded from obtaining education, learning the languages,
or adopting the dress of Western countries, and are thus rendered
incapable of working, socializing, or seeking any form of legal justice or
empowerment. If a woman is compelled to comply with laws in secular
countries banning the burka in public, her husband may refuse to allow
her to appear in public at all.
In 2008, journalists in the UK produced DispatchesUndercover
Mosque, a five-part documentary film which includes footage of a number
of Imams implementing stage one by strongly reiterating distrust and
disregard for kafirs and infidelspersistently reinforcing the obligation
of Muslims to avoid contact with secular legal systems and adhere strictly
to Sharia law. An example of stage two is the October 3, 2013, online story
from The Daily Mail that reported on eighteen mosques wherein Imams
were caught agreeing to marry girls fourteen years old and under.
A good example of stage-three gradualism in the U.S. comes from
Dearborn, Michigan, where the Muslim population has reached 50,000,
When it comes to Christianity,
contemporary writers,
cartoonists, comedians,
journalists, and bloggers run
rampant with blasphemous
derision all the time. For this,
nobody is executed.
approximately half of the citys population. In May 2013, a federal
judge ruled that the violent reaction of some Muslims toward Christian
demonstrators outside a Muslim festival was acceptable.
Another example of stage-three gradualism are the food corporations
that put the halal label on their products. Halal is the stamp of approval
for something that meets Muslim dietary restrictions. Halal animal
products must come from livestock that are slaughtered according to
Sharia law. The animal is hung upside down, and its throat is slit without
anesthesia or stunning. As it bleeds to death, the slaughterer exclaims,
Allahu Akbar, or Bismillah (in the name of Allah.) A number of
international investigators have also linked Halal certification operations
with charities that divert proceeds to the Muslim Brotherhood, who then
finance Islamic terrorism.
In May of this year, Malaysian Muslims were outraged to find traces
of porcine DNA (Muslims are forbidden to consume pork) in Cadburys
halal chocolate and declared jihad on the company, which operates in 50
countries worldwide, including the U.S.
The 1979 revolution in Iran provides one example of how a naive
and/or largely indoctrinated public can pave the way to the successful
implementation of the fourth and fifth stages of Islamic gradualism in
a democratic country. Iranian Muslims brought about the rebellion
against the pro-Western monarchy under the Shah of Iran, who was
eventually exiled with the assistance of the U.S. government under Jimmy
Carter. The Shah was ultimately replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini who
immediately implemented full Sharia law and declared Iran an Islamic
theocracy. While millions of Muslims initially supported the Ayatollah,
the revolution spurred an exodus of secular and liberal-minded Iranians
to Western destinations. Iran is now one of the most oppressive of Islamic
regimes in the middle east.
Nothing in this discussion is more disparaging than the emergence
of the word Islamophobia. With the turn of a phrase, the problem of
Islamic extremism is semantically hijacked as an irrational fear. In turn,
those who represent the ideological antithesis of all things egalitarian,
humane, and free are transposed as the victims of oppression and bigotry.
Jackson Doughart, a policy writer for the Canadian Secular Alliance,
suggests that The only sentiment in this debate that could actually be
described as phobic is the unconditional contempt among many Muslims
for people who disagree with them. He is, however, doubtful that a
formulation like infidelophobia will gain traction anytime soon.
The assertion of Islamic apologists is that fringe groups do not
represent the true peaceful nature of Islam, and, as such, cast unfair
aspersion on well-assimilated Muslims in the West. However, acts of
violence, intimidation, and holy jihad cannot be considered extreme if
the Quran is understood to be the definitive guide for Muslims to live by.
In recent years, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)
has brought several motions before the United Nations Commission on
Human Rights to classify mere criticism of Islam to be a form of hate
speech. A failure to censure it, they claim, can only fuel discrimination
and extremism, with dangerous unintended and unforeseen
consequences. The OIC has repeatedly insisted that the culprit most
responsible for the institutionalization of Islamophobia in Western
countries is freedom of speech.
The message seems to be getting through. A significant portion
of Western media goes to spectacular lengths to avoid accusations of
Islamophobia in their reporting vernacular, which is, essentially, evidence
of successful terrorization. Sexual crime waves against Swedish and Danish
women committed by Muslim immigrants in recent years have frequently
been attributed to Asian perpetrators in the European press. Even the
barbaric beheading of British soldier Lee Rigby in the streets of London
last year was framed by some as an isolated attack of a deranged fanatic. In
last Septembers attack on a shopping mall in Nigeria, the Islamic faction
Al-Shabaab deliberately spared Muslims and massacred, dismembered,
and disfigured scores of innocent non-Muslims. This was euphemized in
some Western media as the work of ambiguous militants.
In recent months, the tide seems to have shifted in the court of
public opinion when the Islamic militants of Boko Haram (a moniker
meaning Western education is sinful) kidnapped over two hundred
schoolgirls in Nigeria. At the time of this writing, their fate is still
unknown. Although Boko Haram has committed atrocities at schools
on a regular basis in recent history, the scope of this particular incident
has sparked international furor and has brought attention to Islamic
fundamentalism which can not be euphemized away. Every video that
this barbaric group has released is heavy with Islamic reference and
direct quotes from the Quran.
Apologists of the religion of peace take us down a slippery slope,
where oppressive ideologies have rights and people do not. Religion is
equated with culture, culture is equated with ethnicity, humanitarianism
with bigotry, and human rights and freedoms are dismissed as secondary
to religious protectionism.
Just like Christians who are woefully unfamiliar with most of their
holy Bible, many Muslims havent examined much of the Quran at all.
Where they exist, English translations are methodically sanitized, and,
internationally, Muslims frequently chant their prayers in a language
only fifteen percent of them speak. As such, it is reasonable to suggest
that an inestimable number of them literally dont know what they are
talking about.
In sum, much of Western society has euphemized the danger of
Islam, avoided identifying its perpetrators, and villainized humanitarian
objectors. Where Islam flourishes, there is no peace. And as neuroscientist
and Atheist author Sam Harris has suggested, It is time for secular
liberals and (truly) moderate Muslims to stop denying it. In her book
Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali warns that, Wishful thinking about the peaceful
tolerance of Islam cannot interpret away this reality: hands are still cut off,
and women still stoned and enslavedjust as the prophet Muhammad
decided centuries ago.
The Islamic faith is one of conquest, with a contemporary agenda
of setting legal precedents in secular courts, proliferating a politically
significant minority population, electing Muslim officials into
political office, and gradually expropriating secular norms and laws.
Fundamentalist Muslims have methodically exploited freedom of speech
and multicultural protections in a myriad of Western democracies, yet
protesting any form of opposition as Islamophobic. They have managed
to garner sympathy for their persecution among a daunting number of
uninformed idealists. We ignore this at our peril.
S.T. Zeviar is a writer and activist concerned with religious harm and
international human rights and freedoms.
ot so long ago I attended a baptism at a
Catholic church. Try as I might, I still cant
forget the little illustrative story the priest told
as part of his performance of the ritual. The
gist of the story is this: A father and his little daughter, Emily, go into
one of those dollar stores. Her father says she can buy one item, and
Emily picks up a string of pearls. Cheap plastic pearls, of course, but
the little girls heart is set on having them. She loves and cherishes
them and takes care of them, but then one night her father says to
her at bedtime, Emily, I love you. Can I have your pearls? The girl
is distraught and offers her father anything elseher teddy bear, her
dollsbut will not give up her pearls, her cheap plastic pearls, much
to the fathers obvious dismay.
The next night her father says again, Emily, I love you. Can I have
your pearls? He receives the same response, and again demonstrates
his disappointment. The third night the father repeats his question:
Emily, I love you. Can I have your pearls? This time the little girl gives
in and hands the plastic pearls to her father. When she does, he reveals
in his other hand a string of real pearls, valuable pearls, and hands them
to little Emily to replace the string of crappy pearls, the ones that she
loved with all her heart.
The priest prefaced his telling of this story by emphasizing that
it is one of his favorites, and he told it with enthusiastic maudlin
theatricalitythe whiny voice of the little girl in marked contrast
to calm assuring tones of her father. Style and substance were both
awful. Im not keen on creating conflict, though, especially when
collateral damage could be significant. I attended this baptism because,
differences in religion aside, I love the parents and children involved. So,
for better or worse, I did not feel compelled to confront young Father
Wet-Behind-the-Ears about the awful story with which he regales the
families of newborns being baptized in his church.
If I had confronted the young priest, however, I would have told
him Im an ex-Catholic Atheist with a masters degree in theology, and
that even in my believing days I would have found his story to be
beyond the pale. I would have told him that the father who buys the
cheap pearls for his daughter, because she loves them, and then tries to
take them away from her, is an abusive parent. By asking for the pearls,
rather than demanding or simply taking them, he creates the illusion
that he is respecting the little girls free will. But he is in effect forcing
her to make what is to her an incomprehensible choice, and he does so
from a position of authority. He asks for the pearls knowing that she
loves and cherishes them, and does not hide his disappointment when
she offers the teddy bear or doll, but will not give up the cheap pearls.
He subjects her to the kind of guilt-based manipulative tactics that are
associated with the abuse of children in, among other contexts, the
Catholic Church.
Further, the father (the god character, of course) displays no
evidence of the unconditional love that is supposed to characterize
the Christian god. Despite his repeated insistence that Emily, I love
you, there is an undercurrent of conditionality attached to the giving
Cheap Plastic Pearls
by Alan Michael Wilt
It should come as no surprise that the church
devalues so many forms of love: love of someone
of the wrong gender, love of the wrong
kind of philosophy, love of the wrong divine
being, love of the wrong kind of neighbor.

Love who and what we allow,

the Church says, because you
are not qualified to make
that judgment for yourself.

n 2010, I visited a different church every week. Since Im
in the US, most of them were some denomination of
Christianity. During these services, I never joined the
congregation in standing, singing, or praying because it seemed the
natural thing for a nonbeliever to do (or not do). Of course, this
always gave me away as an outsider.
I suspect this is why, after almost every service, people migrated
toward me like white blood cells to an infection, welcoming me and
asking my name.
Im JT, I would respond warmly. Im an Atheist. Could you tell
me why you think I should believe?
I enjoyed these chats, though I must admit none of them ever
managed to convince me that god or Jesus is real. Far and away, the most
common reason people offered was Pascals Wager.
Pascals Wager says that you have everything to gain by believing in
God and everything to lose if you dont. In other words, if you choose
to have faith, the best-case scenario after death is that you were right,
and you will go to heaven. The worst-case scenario for someone with
faith will be nothing more than ceasing to experience the world after
they die.
Alternately, if you choose not to have faith, then your best-case
scenario after death is that you were right, and you will simply cease to
experience the world. Your worst-case scenario is that you were wrong
and will go to hell. So whether its reasonable or not, why not go with
the first option just to make sure youre covered?
I came up with these possibilities on my own when I was eight years
old, long before I ever even heard of Blaise Pascal and long before I
learned that lots of people ponder this question early in life.
There are several solid rebuttals to Pascals Wager, with Sam Harris
response being the one I hear most often: If the wager were valid, it
Forming our views around
threats is a terrible way to
determine whats true.
If your religion really is true, then youll
have something more than a threat at
hand when I ask you why I should believe.
The Sneaky Threat
of Pascals Wager | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 17
could be used to justify any belief system (no matter how ludicrous)
as a good bet. Muslims could use it to support the claim that Jesus was
not divine (the Quran states that anyone who believes in the divinity
of Jesus will wind up in hell); Buddhists could use it to support the
doctrine of karma and rebirth; and the editors of Time could use it to
persuade the world that anyone who reads Newsweek is destined for a
fiery damnation (
But Ive never heard anyone else respond to the wager the way I do.
This shocks me because the one thing Ive learned of philosophy is that
every good original idea you have was already conceived by someone
else at least a few centuries ago.
Pascals Wager doesnt argue that a proposition is true, it just
promises more benefits than the alternative(s). If the standard for your
beliefs is for them to be true, then Pascals Wager doesnt help you. The
wager applies equally to any proposition that includes a threat (and/or
promise of a reward).
For instance, what if I told you that invisible, incorporeal Smurfs
are everywhere, waiting for you to die so they can tickle your soul for
all of eternity? Youd probably say I was mad (and rightly so). But what
if I added that your soul could be ferried off to an eternal paradise as
long as you also believed in an equally invisible, equally incorporeal
knight named Cletusand, if you want, give me $10 every week so I
can continue to try and save other souls from the clutches of the Smurfs.
Again, youd probably say I was mad. (Again, rightly so.) The
The one thing
Ive learned of
philosophy is
that every good
original idea
you have was
already conceived
by someone else
at least a few
centuries ago.
absurdity of these propositions does not change if there is everything
to gain and nothing to lose by believingand nothing to gain and
everything to lose by not believing. And even if you could turn a belief
into a truth by threatening someone, these claims are still silly.
Forming our views around threats is a terrible way to determine
whats true. We should believe things because they are reasonable,
because they are supported by evidence, and because they are consistent
with how we know the universe to work. A man who walked on water and
rose from the dead doesnt fit that bill any better than spectral Smurfs.
Were usually contemptuous of people who threaten us. But slide a
threat beneath the promise of infinite paradise, and it becomes the most
popular argument for gods existence. If your religion really is true, then
youll have something more than a threat at hand when I ask you why I
should believe. Sadly, though, its what I hear from most from believers,
who usually couch their argument in assurances of Christian love. Even
as they threaten me.
The absurdity
of these
does not change
if there is
everything to gain
and nothing to lose
by believingand
nothing to gain and
everything to lose
by not believing.
J.T.s blog, What Would J.T. Do?, is at He
previously worked for the Secular Student Alliance, where he was their first
high-school organizer. He is the co-founder of the Skepticon conference
and served as the events lead organizer for its first three years.
These events have all recently happened in a certain town in the Middle East:
Its mayor, when asked if the town included any gay people, said, We have no such thing. If
you mean what I think you mean, then no. Thank God, this city is holy and pure.
An eight-year-old girl was spat upon and called a whore by an outraged crowd of local men
while she was simply trying to walk to school.
A woman on a bus, who was sitting with her children, was told to move to the back in order
to maintain segregation of the sexes. This led to rioting by local supporters of segregation
who smashed the windows of several buses full of passengers.

Guess the Religion
by Lee Phillips, Ph.D. | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 19
If you guessed that you were hearing about Islam again, dont
be hard on yourself. The media in the West has provided an endless
series of examples of this type of affront to human decency linked
either with Islamic regimes or Islamo-fascist political/military
groups operating within states with weak central governments.
This disturbing series of events took place in Beit Shemesh,
a town in central Israel that happens to be mentioned in the
Bible. But the example of Beit Shemesh, which is under the local
influence of ultra Orthodox Jews, is a reminder that the three
Abrahamic religions differ only in circumstance, not in essential
character. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all elevate scriptural
authority over human judgment. All seek to control women
and closely define their permissible roles, they all commonly
recommend mistreating children, and they all constantly seek to
expand their authority and control beyond the temple and private
home into public life, politics, and civil society, even where they
are formally forbidden from doing so. In other words, they impose
their insalubrious beliefs upon everyone around them.
But they do differ in their current circumstances. At the
moment, we associate Muslims with blowing up things. But
Christianity had its thousand-year reign of terror, and a large
segment of the Jewish world embraced the terrorism associated
with the Zionist movement during and after World War II. Some of
these Zionist terrorists are still considered heroes in Israel, where
theyve been elected or appointed to high office. Of course, many
regard the character of the Israeli governance of the Occupied
Territories to be a form of terrorism, and the acknowledged use
by Israel of such tactics as collective punishment gives force to this
point of view.
Any of the Abrahamic cults are extremely dangerous when not
domesticated by a civil society with a strong central government
and a cultural commitment to human rights. The Christian world
no longer tolerates unbridled Christianity. Its fangs filed down,
it claws clipped, it is confined to its empty, echoing cathedrals.
Judaism never had a chance to unleash the force of its jealous,
vicious god upon the world. Its extremism is confined to insular
Orthodox communities. The government of Israel, while uneasily
tolerating much of the antics of the Haredim within its borders,
places a far higher priority on maintaining sane relations with
some of the secular, responsible governments around the world.
Islam seems to be a problem not because it is worse in any
essential way than the other two peas in the Abrahamic pod, but
because it finds itself, at this moment in its history, with the ability
to express and enforce its beliefs. One would like to say that this
will blow over in a century or so, except that we now have weapons
of mass destruction. Imagine the condition we might be in now
if any at allif the Crusaders had nuclear devices.
We must be ever-vigilant because threats to secular authority
come from all directions. In the U.S., politicians on the right
constantly strive to insert Christianity into every level of
government, public education, and the military. Many who
still aspire to abolish teaching evolution in the public schools
periodically, if only temporarily, succeed in several of our more
backward states.
But an equally pernicious threat to human rights has its origin
in a misguided liberal impulse toward multiculturalism. This
cowardly, hand-wringing impotence is most obscene when those
in power exercise a confused, masochistic worship of tolerance
and turn their backs on the victims of religious extremism. A
recent example of this pathology is the unwillingness of the
New York City government to do much of anything to protect
the health and lives of babies who are infected by herpes, and
sometimes even killed, when Rabbis practice metzitzah bpeh.
This is a barbaric circumcision ritual where the Rabbi sucks the
blood from the infants freshly cut penis with his mouth. It still
happens in the U.S. because those with the ability to stop this
outrage have decided that the sacrifice of a few babies a year is
preferable to offending religious sensibilities.

Those of us fortunate enough to live outside the purview of
the ayatollahs and mullahs, should, therefore, avoid smugness
when we regard the mediaeval barbarism of the Muslim world.
We refrain from stoning adulteresses (i.e., rape victims) to death
not because Judeo-Christianity is fundamentally more humane
than Islam, but because weve put our religions in a box and our
post-Enlightenment political culture and institutions guard that
box. While we help our Muslim brothers and sisters build their
own boxes, we should always keep an eye on ours.
Lee Phillips is a theoretical physicist who has authored many
research articles and a book about computer graphics. He also
writes about freedom, quackery, math, science, and computing.
More at
1. Orthodox Mayor Proclaims No Gays in Town of Beit Shemesh,, November 10, 2013.
2. Israeli Girl, 8, at Center of Tension Over Religious Extremism,, December 28, 2011.
3. Beit Shemesh: Haredim Arrested for Telling Woman to Sit in
Back of Bus; Riot Ensues,, July 31, 2013.
4. Health Department: Child Infected In Circumcision That
Defied NYC Consent Law,, April 4, 2013.
n July 27 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern
time, American Atheists, Inc.,
launched Atheist TV, the first
television channel in history
dedicated exclusively to atheist
programming. TV is part of our
strategy of going to where we are not, said Silverman. There is a lot
of potential here. From televangelists to Christmas specials, there is a
plethora of religious TV programming. With Atheist TV, were filling
a void. There are a lot of atheists and closeted atheists who are curious
and want more. We have it, and the next step is bringing it to them.
The 24/7 channel is available with a Roku device or on the Internet
at There will be a wide variety of programs and the list
is still growing:
Science and history documentaries narrated by Richard Dawkins
Stand-up comedy with Keith Lowell Jensen
The Atheist Experience, a call-in show hosted by Matt Dillahunty,
Russell Glasser, Tracie Harris, and others
The Atheist Voice, commentary and op-eds from prominent
Atheists like YouTube sensation Jaclyn Glenn and blogger Hemant
Archival footage of American Atheists conventions
Historic TV appearances by American Atheists founder Madalyn
Murray OHair
Speeches from the 2012 Reason Rally in Washington, DC
Atheist Hangouts, a live show hosted by David Viviano where
viewers can tweet their questions to guests like Lawrence Krauss,
Chris Kluwe, Greta Christina, and Ana Kasparian.
Live broadcasts of future conventions, debates, and other events
These programs all come from outside video production companies
and individuals. There are no immediate plans for Atheist TV to produce
original content, with the exception of The Atheist Viewpoint, which
American Atheists
Launches the Worlds First
Atheist TV Channel
by Dave Muscato | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 21
dates back to the 1990s.
American Atheists also plans to begin producing short commentary
segments featuring Dave Silverman and other staff on a regular basis,
which will cover breaking news and other major topics in the world
of religious scandals, religious violence, religion and LGBT equality,
creationism, religious influence on sex education in public schools,
and much more. These will be produced by American Atheists and
broadcast the same day.
On the day of the United States Supreme Courts ruling on Sebelius
v. Hobby Lobby, we experimented with a new way to interact with our
members and the public with Ask American Atheists, a live Q&A via
Twitter and Google Hangouts. The public was able to ask our lawyers
directly about the rulings impact, reach, and implications, which we
then broadcast live on YouTube. Americans Atheists plans to make
Ask American Atheists a recurring and regular presentation when any
major happening takes place in the world of atheism news.
Atheist TV is not a cable channel.
Atheist TV is available through the internet-streaming service
product Roku, a device similar to a cable box that hooks up to regular
televisions and receives its signal from a wife network. Roku boxes, with
included remote controls, start at about $50, and there are no monthly
fees or other costs other than the device itself. (There is the exception of
some premium channels available on Roku that require a subscription,
but Atheist TV does not.)
Atheist TV is not the same as YouTube channels.
The channel has two divisions. The first division, similar to
YouTube channels, is a video-on-demand (VOD) function that
provides playlists of previously recorded content from various creators,
making for hundreds of hours of video from diverse sources all available
in one place.
The second is the broadcast division, where licensed content in the
format of a broadcast is available. Viewers can access the schedule of
these programs, which will air 24 hours a day.
Atheist TV is the latest step in our long-term plan to help the public
see atheists as everyday members of society.
David Muscato is American Atheists Public Relations Director.
From televangelists to Christmas specials,
there is a plethora of religious TV programming.
With Atheist TV, were filling a void.
Atheist TV is the latest step in our
long-term plan to help the public see
atheists as everyday members of society.
Two ways to watch Atheist TV!
Roku devices start at $50 and are available from or the electronics departments of major
stores. The device plugs into any HDMI-equipped set
and connects to your wifi network. A remote control is
included, which allows you to access video on demand.
You can also watch in real time, 24 hours a day. There is
no monthly fee or any additional cost for a Roku device,
but you must have an active wifi connection.
Watch Atheist TV online for
free at
or American Atheists 2014 National
Convention, more than 700 attendees
and over 30 speakers descended upon
Salt Lake City, Utah, the Mormon capital
of the world, on April 17-20. In a state
where about 56 percent are Mormon and
only 14 percent are religiously unaffiliated,
the Atheists were clearly outnumbered,
making this years underlying theme of
community more relevant than ever.
In his opening remarks, American
Atheists President David Silverman
talked at length about the sharp rise in
the number of non-believers and non-
religious in this country in recent years.
Sarah Morehead, Executive Director
of the organization Recovering From
Religion and winner of this years Activist
of the Year Award, she talked about the
importance of forming a safe environment
for those leaving religion because of the
consequences one can face when doing so. When someone comes
out as an Atheist or publicly leaves a house of worship, they risk losing
their family, friends, and even their job.
Recovering from Religion sponsors local support groups all over
the country. They also maintain a list of secular-based counselors and
therapists who specialize in helping people to overcome the mental
and emotional harm religion can cause.
Maryam Namazie of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain called
for a strong community of ex-Muslims who are willing to stand against
Sharia Law. Namazie is an ex-Muslim activist who has faced threats of
violence and death over her charge to help those being affected by
religious terror under Sharia Law around the Muslim world. She is
known famously for her nude protests in which she openly displays
her body, something Islam stands firmly against.
Namazie explained that she
uses the term ex-Muslim because
in the Islamic communities one
cannot simply leave Islam without
punishment. To call herself an
Atheist was not vocal enough, she
says. But to say she is an ex-Muslim
is a sort of slap in the face of Islamic
Seth Andrews of The Thinking
Atheist podcast shared in the call
for a strong and supportive Atheist
community to make others feel
welcome to come out. Andrews
took a comical look at how Christian
culture rips off popular culture with
musical acts that are mirror image of the secular world but with a
Christian message, from 80s pop stars to hair metal bands and even
rap music. Seth closed out by doing a live podcast of his show with
guest Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience.
Former NFL punter Chris Kluwe was the keynote speaker. In his
address, he discussed empathy and morality and called for Atheists
around the world to be an example of both. Kluwe is the author of
Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech,
Football, and Assorted Absurdities. At the convention, Kluwe was
Over 700 Attend the
American Atheists Convention
in Salt Lake City
by Dan Arel
AA President David Silverman &
keynote speaker Chris Kluwe
Atheist shoes from, one
of the many vendors at the convention. | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 23
named Atheist of the Year by President David Silverman.
Author and blogger Greta Christina spoke on the very act
of coming out. Her new book, Coming Out Atheist, details
just how challenging coming out to family can be. The book is
community-specific and full of stories about Atheists around
the world, their challenges, and the solutions to the problems
they face. Christina called for all of us to come together
and welcome new Atheists with open arms and, even more
importantly, to be open about ones own Atheism. There is
strength in numbers, and the more of us who are willing to be
out and open, the more visible we will be. Atheists have a bad
image in the US and around the world, and when more and
more of us come out, we can actually do a lot to change
that image.
Also speaking at the convention were Denise
Stapley, winner of Survivor Philippines and 25th Sole
Survivor; bassist Mark White, a founding member
of the band Spin Doctors; Arctic explorer and
adventurer Barbara Hillary, who, at age 79, became
the first African American woman to reach both
poles; David Silverman, director of the TV show The
Simpsons and The Simpsons Movie; and Arizona
State Representative Juan Mendez whose secular
invocation last year on the floor of the Arizona State
Senate drew national attention.
If the speeches themselves didnt convince
someone of the importance of an Atheist
community, then the hotel lobby was more than
enough evidence to show just how much of a
community already does exist.
Over 700 Atheists came together, sat down
with each other, and shared stories, ideas, goals,
and personal struggles. People offered support
and advice when needed. Countless individuals
exchanged contact information so that they could
continue to help people they had just met.
Not everyone thinks that the concept of an Atheist
community is a viable one. After all, Atheists certainly do not
share a common political persuasion, ethnicity, income level,
or educational background. We are conservatives, liberals,
Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and socialists, but we
share more than just a disbelief in god. We all want freedom of
and from religion. We all want secular governments around the
world. We all want Atheists to be safe and free from harm.
We all realize that most of the details of how the government
should be run are irrelevant in the fight for secularism. There will
be plenty of time to debate political ideologyonce everyone
is free to practice whatever religion they want, or do not want,
without fear of persecution.
Every year, the American Atheists National Convention
brings together people who care not only about not only
their fellow Atheists but also their fellow humans who,
regardless of belief, often suffer at the hands of theocracy.
Atheists can lead the charge to bring about global
secularism, and this convention is a key part in uniting
everyone in this cause.
Join us next year at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis,
Tennessee, for the 2015 Convention, April 3-5!
Matt Harris at the
costume party in his
old temple garments,
which Mormons
are forbidden to
wear in public.
Author & activist
Greta Cristina
Blogger PZ Myers
(lower left corner)
Mr. Deity,
Brian Keith Dalton
Author Vyckie Garrison
Jamila Bey of the
Secular Student
University of Florida students
Friendly with the demonstrators
Activist Donna Warnock
& blogger JT Eberhard
Book of Mormon autographed
by convention speakers
All of the Good, None of the God
Part Four:
Latin America and the Caribbean
by Conor Robinson
athfinders Project is a year-long, international service trip sponsored by Foundation Beyond
Belief, a non-profit organization with the mission to focus, encourage, and demonstrate
the generosity and compassion of secular humanists. Through the program, young Atheist
leaders are completing clean water, education, human rights, and environmental conservation projects
in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
These projects give the volunteers an opportunity to engage in dialogue across religious, cultural, and
ethnic boundaries, as well as to evaluate countries and partner organizations with the ultimate goal of
selecting one site for launching the Humanist Service Corps. American Atheist is following them as they
do good for the world, not for god.
Since the previous issue, where the Pathfinders work in Ghana was featured, they have built latrines in Haiti, helped construct
a clean water center on an Ecuadorian island, supported sustainable ecotourism in Colombia, and taught in impoverished
Guatemalan communities. For this issue, three members reflect on the lessons they have learned.
Outside the Water Center under construction on Isla Puna | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 25
If youll permit me to use some religious language here, Id like to
propose that Pathfinders Project is an Atheist pilgrimage. After all, a
pilgrimage is any physical or figurative journey in search of an object,
place, or state of being that has personal significance and meaning to the
traveler. The expectation is that the pilgrimage, whether to the Wailing
Wall, Mecca, or Graceland, results in a transformation or redefinition
of self. You could argue that such a definition is so broad that its almost
devoid of meaning. After all, isnt travel always transformative on some
The key is the intention. A pilgrim is a traveler who, when setting
out on a journey, takes an active role in the transformation through
ritual and reflection. As in a religious pilgrimage, an Atheist or humanist
pilgrimage is punctuated by offerings and rituals. But its the connections
they create among the participants that
gives them their significance.
Through Pathfinders Project, we set
out to forge connections that transcend
the boundaries of geography, culture,
religion, and languagewhile transforming
ourselves as well. Our rituals consisted of
greetings, conversations, meals, games, and
good-byes. Our offerings, both tangible
and intangible, consisted of the classes we
taught, the latrines we built, the hugs and
high-fives we offered and accepted, the
empathy and compassion we exchanged,
and the hours spent with others simply
coexisting despite our differences.
Pilgrimages are almost never undertaken
in isolation; we do not learn or express
our values in a vacuum. Indeed, we grow
especially well when we work to resolve our
differences with those who share our values.
This is why I believe in building a humanist
community. This is why I started Pathfinders
Project. And this is why I will be working to
launch the Humanist Service Corps.
Long before I ever identified as a
humanist, I identified as a feminist, straight-ally, and social-justice
advocate. But it took going on a yearlong international service trip with
other humanists for me to truly begin to understand what any of those
labels meant in practice. More to the point, it took going on this trip
for me to start recognizing my privilege. I used to think of myself as a
great friend and a great communicator. I did a whole lot of talking and
gave excellent advice that no one ever seemed to take. Thats because
I never did much listening. I assumed I didnt have anything to learn
from people who werent as content or well-adjusted as I was. This trip
changed all of that.
For example, in the Dominican Republic, we met a Ghanaian
American woman named Barbara. Just out of Middlebury College, she
was traveling the world on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Her research
focused on the influence of European standards of beauty on the self-
perception of women of color in Africa and the African diaspora. As
we walked and talked in the capital city of Santo Domingo for a few
hours, I suggested to her that any further research should look at how
communities of color reinforce aesthetics internally. My reasoning was
that even though those pressures are rooted in colonization and slavery,
they now operate independently and are therefore separate issues.
While Barbara readily agreed with me, she pointed out that theyre just
not the focus of her current work. As a student of critical race theory,
she was familiar with the concept of internalized racism and so had
already considered, far more deeply than I ever could, how it relates to
the question she was already tackling.
Another example occurred in Guatemala, as we were packaging
household items for families who survive
primarily by scavenging from the Guatemala
City garbage dump. The volunteers were
of all ages. Two of the male volunteers
not yet in their twenties passed the time
by unleashing an unrelenting stream of
Thats what she said! jokes. Everyone else
remained uncomfortably quiet. One of the
guys even asked a woman in the group if she
wanted him to stop. She said nothing, so I
said nothing, and he didnt stop.
Later on, I asked myself why I had
offered unsolicited advice when I should
have listened in the Dominican Republic
and why I stayed silent when I should
have spoken up in Guatemala. Those two
regrets are not isolated incidents in my life.
This pattern of behavior extends at least as
far back as high school and it affected my
interactions with my fellow travelers. At
the start of Pathfinders Project, I saw my
role as the group leader who would help
the others get as much as possible out of this
journey. In essence, I tried to manage their
pilgrimages. That wasnt possible because
we all experienced our challenges differently, even though we faced
many of them together. No amount of advice on my part could have
changed the fact that I feel safe going out alone at night, while legitimate
fear keeps Wendy home. Nothing I can say will ever alleviate Bens
concern that he will be mistaken for the wrong gender or that he feels
he has to act macho in certain situations in order to avoid being killed.
As a person of privilege in these situations, it is important for me
to remember that the ease of my travel does not necessarily put me in
a position to advise my companions. Im not a better traveler than the
others; my travel is made easier by the fact that Im a white, heterosexual,
cisgender male. If anything, Im the one who has the most to benefit
from lessons in resilience, perseverance, and overcoming adversity.
In the vast majority of cases, our Atheism was
of absolutely no significance to our work.
Getting the Water Center ready
for the inauguration
More often than not, I am the one who
should be listening and asking for advice.
Privilege is not a number on a scale. It
is not a zero-sum calculation. It is multi-
faceted and variable. Because we all have
things to impart, the beauty of service is
its potential to bring diverse individuals
together who all benefit when they listen
to each other. Pathfinders Project has
harnessed that potential to effect change
not only in each place we visited but also
in each of us.
While I am aware of the prejudice
Atheists face in the US, Ive never
experienced it in any significant way. I
have, nonetheless, decided to dedicate my
life to securing equal rights for agnostics,
Atheists, humanists, and nones. Before
I began this project, I knew about the
religious climate in the nations I would
visit. But knowing is one thing and experiencing is another.
In many of the places we visited, prayer in public places is quite
common, including in schools. In Guatemala, where we had to design
our days carefully if we wanted to avoid being waylaid by Lenten
observations, we met a non-religious family that simply does not leave
home over Easter. On Christmas Day, we arrived in Santo Domingo, the
capital and largest city of the Dominican Republic, only to find absolutely
everything closed except one restaurant. Even finding an ATM so we
could buy food at that one restaurant was a challenge. In Ecuador, I was
approached on the street, twice in one month, by missionaries with
pamphlets. And at least twice
they came to the door of our
host family.
But this is exactly why
I wanted to become a
Pathfinder. I knew social
justice was hard work. I knew
there would be logistical and
bureaucratic obstacles. But
I was excited to tackle them.
After two years of graduate
work in divinity school, I was
eager to put all that theoretical
peacemaking into practice. I
wanted to demonstrate that
Atheists and humanists can
work together because the
only beliefs that matter are a commitment to caring and equality. To be
honest, I wasnt sure that would be possible. I worried that our avowed
non-belief would cause others to want to
hinder the work we had set out to do.
Luckily, I was wrong. In the vast majority
of cases, our Atheism was of absolutely no
significance to our work. In both Ecuador and
Guatemala, we stayed in the homes of devout
Catholics. Neither family attended church,
but Catholic iconography adorned their
walls, grace was said before every meal, and
religious literature was everywhere. At first, I
was concerned that once we revealed our lack
of religious belief we would be sent packing.
But in both cases, the revelation sparked lively
discussions that concluded with everyone
agreeing that a good heart is more important
than sharing religious beliefs. And in neither
nation is lack of religious belief taken lightly.
I find it ironic that my most significant
experience on this trip was to feel, for the
first time in my life, like a religious minority.
And my biggest lesson was the irrelevance
of our religious preference to the work we
did. I have a much greater understanding for
the struggles that nonreligious people face in the US and around the
world. But I also have more hope than ever in humanitys ability to work
together, despite our differences, to make the world a better place for all.
More than anything else this year, I have learned about community.
The importance of community was evident everywhere we went. In
the small Haitian town of La Fond-Jeannette, it was the drive of the
community that made our latrine-digging project a success. When
we went to the first house
to start construction, we
expected that, in addition
to the representative of
the local organization and
the mason, a few residents
would show up to help.
Instead, we were greeted
by a crowd of people, all
wanting to help because they
recognized how beneficial
this project would be for
the entire community. Even
the people who would not
be getting latrines in their
homes understood that it
was really an issue of public
health, which affects everyone. The families that did receive latrines
always demonstrated hospitality and gratitude by providing everyone
We all experienced our challenges differently,
even though we faced many of them together.
A Camino Seguro student
in Guatemala City
Conor and Diana, of Mision Gaia, teach
local students about conservation | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 27
with coffee and bread. At every house, there were too many volunteers
to give everyone something to do. But they showed up anyway because
of the genuine desire to help.
We faced very different issues in Minca, Colombia. Minca is
becoming an ecotourism hotspot, but the community itself was not
environmentally minded. The head of the local organization we
partnered with was a very passionate and sociable woman dead set on
protecting the natural environment before it is completely destroyed.
Whereas the community of La Fonde-Jeannette had the drive to
improve but simply lacked the resources, the Minca community needed
education and training.
In Minca, we built composters designed by the organizer herself
and taught the local children the importance of using them. We also
assisted an expert from a nearby community in repairing Mincas water
system because very few locals realized the severity of the problem, and
even fewer knew how to deal with it. But in both cases, the people were
eager to help. The childrens parents donated materials and their time
to help with the composters, and a dozen men came to help repair the
water system. Once again, the worth of the community was not in skills
or expertise, but in the drive to help. When I started this trip, I didnt
realize just how important my Atheist community was to me at home.
Now that Ive been away for a while, I have grasped just how important
my friendships and family are.
In the next issue, Conor will share his experiences during the final
months of Pathfinders Project in Colombia and Guatemala. In the
meantime, you can follow their blogs at or visit
A pilgrimage is any physical or figurative journey in
search of an object, place, or state of being that has
personal significance and meaning to the traveler.
Conor teaches local high school
students about safe water.
A Guatemalan woman returns
from the basurero (dump)
with a load of plastic bottles.
Michelle, Ben, and Wendy crossing
the Dominican Republic/Haiti
border on the back of a truck.
Conor helps construct
a latrine in Haiti.
by Michael B. Paulkovich
Recruiting from the Scriptures:
How Jehovahs Witnesses Use the Bible
to Prove the Bible
Religion has had an enormous impact on the world. In this series, Michael B.
Paulkovich examines dogmas, myths, and religious notions past and present.
n 1704, Sir Isaac Newton used the book of Daniel
to calculate the second coming of Christ (and the
coinciding end of the world); it will be in 2060 CE.
Christians are proud of claiming Newton as one of
their own, but lets face it; during Newtons time, it was
illegal under pain of death not to be a Christian. The
Enlightenment had started but the Inquisition had not yet ended, so the
oppressive piety still reigned supreme. I doubt that most believers are
aware of Newtons prediction. We can at least thank him for his theories
of motion and calculus.
In 1879, Reverend Charles Taze Russell
boasted that he occupied
the position of The Lords Special Servant.
Russell wrote six volumes
of Studies in the Scriptures granted by the Lords grace no less. A
seventh in the series, mostly ghost-written, was published after his
Russell was the pious huckster who started Jehovahs Witnesses
(JWs). And, like Newton before him, Russell used the Bible to predict
the mythical End Times. He was not as optimistic as Newton,
prognosticating that all will eventually end for us . . . in 1914.
The JWs, who to this day maintain in all sincerity that we are
currently in End Times, clock over a billion man-hours in door-to-door
proselytizing every year.
Of course, many non-JW Christians also
believe this end-of-the-world nonsense because of Jesus prophecy of,
Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all
these things have happened (Matthew 24:34). These things involve
Jesus ultimate return and the end of the world as we know it.
Efforts of the brainwashed to similarly cleanse the gray matter of
others have had quite a payoff for JWssee Figure 1. Membership was
a mere 58,000 in 1940, and today they have well over a million peak
(active, baptized) members.
As of this writing, the JW website claims a
total of almost eight million members, and over 19 million attend their
annual Memorial of Christs Death.
Recruiting from the Scriptures:
How Jehovahs Witnesses Use the Bible
to Prove the Bible
Forget all the thousands of wars between nations and
kingdoms over millennia passed. The wars fought since
1914 are the ones that prove the world is about to end.
Figure 1. Active Jehovahs Witnesses (Source: Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovahs Witnesses)
Secrets Revealed
I once worked with a very pleasant fellow named Etienne. He was
raised Catholic but was converted by some JWs who came knocking on
his door. He never once tried to recruit me, but upon his last day of work,
he handed me some JW reading material (trying to save me, no doubt).
I dont know if he realized it, but one of the texts, Reasoning from the
Scriptures, is a secret JW book designed to teach fellow initiates how to
sell their cult.
In the Introductions section, they state the purpose of the book:
For Use in the Field Ministry. It thus instructs members how to present
themselves to victims of their neighborhood canvassing. This manual
was designed to arm JWs with some sort of oxymoronic scriptural
logic to argue their interpretation of the Bible, including the relatively
sane notion that Jesus is not the same entity as Yahweh, along with the
ludicrous concept that the Holy Spirit is gods helper and active force,
being neither a person nor a god yet having godlike powers. They get
this idea from Matthew 1:18: Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this
wise: When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came
together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
While the 1914 prediction is perhaps their most famous failure, the
JWs had first calculated that the universe would end in 1874. Upon sad
realization that more years were in store for corporeal humankind, they
came up with 1914. Diligent and undaunted, they tried again, time after
time, and came up with 1918 then 1920.
After those failures, they were certain about 1925. In 1923,
their Watchtower magazine stated, The date 1925 is even
more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures than 1914. Then,
in 1926, they offered this apology: Some anticipated that
the world would end in 1925, but the Lord did not state
so, claiming they had miscalculated. Again.
Their next predicted end of the world was 1941. Then 1975,
then 1994.
Unfortunately for JWs, but fortuitously for the planet, reality and the
heady flow of space-time remained immune to religious superstitions.
Their secret book has a solution to those repeated errors: As foretold in
Revelation 6:4, peace was taken away from the earth. Thus the world
has continued to be in a state of upheaval ever since 1914.
Allow me to present other evidence they bring to bear to frighten
people into an eschatological way of thinking: There are tens of
thousands of nuclear weapons deployed for immediate use. Then
they quote the Book of Matthew: There will be food shortages . . . in
one place after anotherthis being Matthew 24:7 from the JWs New
World Translation, just one of the hundreds of versions of the Bible.
To attempt to prove this prophecy, they write, . . . some 40
million a year actually diein some years as many as 50 million
because of the shortage of food. Heres an idea: Disperse your vast
army to help feed those starving people. JWs apparently think it more
important to devote a billion man-hours per year recruiting and
spreading their doomy gloom than to actually help humanity. The
JW strategy worksnot to solve world hunger, of coursebut to
gather more sheep to donate to their church and add to the numbers
of neighborhood evangelists.
The JWs continue at length in their secret book, describing things
predicted by the Bible, like wars, famines, and earthquakes, as if
these were events that did not happen in the good old biblical days
of miracle loaves and fishes and water and wine. And zombie armies:
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain
from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake,
and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and
many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And
came out of the graves after his resurrection, and
went into the holy city, and appeared unto many
(Matthew 27:51-53).
Their book is full of helpful hints on how to respond to someone
who has reasonable things to say. For example:
If someone says, Conditions are no worse today;
there have always been wars, famines, earthquakes,
crime. You might reply: I can understand why you
feel that way. We were born into a world where these
things are everyday news. Historians explain that
there is something drastically different about the 20th
century. Or you could say: It is not merely the fact that
there have been wars, famines, earthquakes, and
Their secret book describes things predicted by the
Bible, like wars, famines, and earthquakes, as if these
were events that did not happen in the good old biblical
days of miracle loaves and fishes and water and wine.
crime that is significant. Did you realize that the sign
Jesus gave was a composite one? Then perhaps add:
He did not say that any one event by itself would prove
that we were in the last days. But when the entire
sign is in evidencethat is significant and especially
when it appears on a global scale and beginning
with a year that is fixed by Bible chronology.
They constantly and cleverly anticipate how any sane person
might reply to their paranoia. What if someone says, How do you
know that some future generation wont fit the prophecy even better
than this one? Their recommended reply is: Thats an interesting
question, and the answer highlights the fact that we really are living in
the last days. (Note the logical fallacy.) They continue:
How? Well, part of the sign given by Jesus involves
war between nations and kingdoms. But what would
happen today if fulfillment of the sign required that
we wait until another all-out war were to break out
between the superpowers? Such a war would leave
few if any survivors. So you see, Gods purpose that
there be survivors indicates that we are now very
close to the end of this old system.
Forget all the thousands of wars between nations and kingdoms
over millennia passed. The wars fought since 1914 are the ones that
prove the world is about to end. Thus, you should join their cult.
Like a Virgin
Was Mary the Mother of God? the Witnesses ask. The answer
to their own question is: The angel who informed her of the coming
miraculous birth did not say that her son would be God. He said: You
are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.
are referring to Matthew 1:19-21:
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not
willing to make her a publick example, was minded
to put her away privily. But while he thought on these
things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto
him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David,
fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which
JWs apparently think it more important to devote a
billion man-hours per year recruiting and spreading
their doomy gloom than to actually help humanity. | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 31
is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall
bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS:
for he shall save his people from their sins.
It is interesting that Christians claim this was prophesied in the
Old Testament, but the Hebrew word almah means young woman,
not virgin: A young woman is with child, and bears a son naming
him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). Clearly there are at least three things
wrong with this being a prophecy: It is not in future tense, but present
participle; she is not a virgin, but ha-almah, a young woman; and
Mary did not name her son Immanuel. Ive read the Bible, and Jesus
name is apparently Jesus.
These translation flaws, whether intentional or not, occurred
around 300 BCE, the time that Jews in Alexandria created a Greek
version of their Hebrew Tanakh, dubbed the Septuagint. The author
of the Book of Matthew, reading and writing in Greek 400 years after
thatand at least 80 years after the supposed birth of Jesusused the
erroneous Septuagint translation, and thus propagated the errors.
Scholars agree this is, in fact, a collection of translational errors.
The JWs anticipate the answer any sober human might offer. They
If Someone SaysDo you believe in the Virgin Mary?
You might reply: The holy Scriptures clearly say
that the mother of Jesus Christ was a virgin, and we
believe that. God was his father. The child that was
born was truly the son of God, just as the angel told
Mary (Luke 1:35). Then perhaps add: But have you
ever wondered why it was so important that Jesus be
born in that way? Only in that way could a suitable
ransom be provided that would make possible
release from sin and death for us.
Thus their book claims that the messiah must be born of a virgin
so that a suitable ransom would save us from sin and death. My
head spins trying to decode this logic.
Here we have Reason Number 13,287 for why I am not a Christian
(in deference to Bertrand Russell). Though JWs seem unaware of the
Septuagint faux pas, their publication provides the robo-priests with
another option:
Or you could say: Yes we do. We believe everything
the Sacred Scriptures say about her, and they
definitely say that it was a virgin that gave birth to
Jesus. I also find very heartwarming other things they
tell us about Mary and the lessons that we can learn
from her.
Jehovah, you magnificent bastard, I READ YOUR BOOK!
Thus we discover the Jehovahs Witnesses: logical fallacy upon
logical fallacy, blind faith upon blind faith, mindless sheep instructed
by mindless shepherds using the Bible to prove the Bible.
And some say JWs arent real Christians.
Michael B. Paulkovich is a NASA engineer, inventor, and freelance
writer who also contributes to Free Inquiry, Humanist Perspectives, and
other journals. He is a Contributing Editor at The American Rationalist,
and his book, No Meek Messiah, is available at
Chryssides, George D., Historical Dictionary of Jehovahs Witnesses.
Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2008.
Rhodes, Ron, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovahs Witnesses.
Eugene: Harvest House, 1993.
Russell, Charles Taze, Studies in the Scriptures, Series VII. London:
International Bible Students Association, 1918.
Vitcavich, Michael, Deciduous Belief. Bloomington:
CrossBooks, 2011.
Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Reasoning from the Scriptures.
Brooklyn: International Bible Students Association,1985.
Wheless, Joseph, Forgery in Christianity. Moscow, Minneapolis:
Filiquarian Publishing, LLC, 2007.
Zindler, Frank, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew. Cranford, New Jersey:
American Atheist Press, 2003.
1. No relation to the inventor of the taser.
2. Russell, 4.
3. Rhodes, 9.
4. Rhodes, 10.
6. Watch Tower, 380-382.
7. Chryssides, 1-3.
8. Vitcavich, 267.
9. Watch Tower, 235
10. Watch Tower, 241.
11. Watch Tower, 242.
12. Watch Tower, 256.
13. Another viable theory posits that Matthew was later interpolated,
possibly by Saint Jerome (see for example Wheless, 126-127 and
Zindler, 331.)
14. Wheless, 125-129 and Zindler, 175.
15. Watch Tower, 260-261.
Mary did not name
her son Immanuel.
Ive read the Bible,
and Jesus name is
apparently Jesus.
In Memoriam: Edwin F. Kagan 1940 - 2014
National Legal Director and Camp Quest Founder
theists everywhere suffered a grievous loss when
American Atheists National Legal Director, Edwin F.
Kagin, died suddenly and unexpectedly on March 28,
2014. He was 73. Those who knew him, and those who knew of him,
were stricken with shock and grief upon hearing the news. Everyone
dies. Death is, as the clich goes, a part of life that every human being
must accept. Acceptance, however, does very little to assuage feelings
of loss when someone like Edwin dies.
Edwin was born in 1940 in Greenville, South Carolina, (some might
say ironically) to a Presbyterian-minister father and a mother who was a
Daughter of the American Revolution. Both sides of his family were, as
he described it, rife with clerics. Edwin was an Eagle Scout and served
honorably in the United States Air Force as a medic. Edwins law practice
involved him in church-state separation controversies in addition to
other issues surrounding civil liberties and constitutional rights. He
earned his JD at the School of Law at the University of Louisville, in
1971, and was admitted to the Kentucky Bar the following year. He was
also a member of the Bars of the United States Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.
For over four decades, Edwin was an outspoken public critic of
religious intrusions into government. He has been described as both a
firebrand and a court jester for Atheism. He had a rapier-like wit, a
keen intelligence, and a dedication to service to others that could not be
matched. He was a frequent speaker and debater at local and national
events and appeared on countless radio and television programs.
At American Atheists National Conventions, his debaptism
ceremonies were one of the most popular events. Dressed in a monks
robe and wielding a blow-dryer emblazoned with the words TRUTH
and REASON, Edwin debaptized scores of participants who would
line up to have the baptismal water symbolically dried from their heads.
Humor was a big part of a debaptism ceremony, but many participants
found it a genuinely cathartic experience.
He ran as the candidate without a prayer for the Kentucky Supreme
Court in 1998 and the Kentucky State Senate in 2000. Though Edwins
election bids were not successful, he was quite proud of the fact that he
had spent less on his campaigns than all the other candidates combined.
In 2006, Edwin was named National Legal Director for American
Atheists. In that capacity, he handled lawsuits which challenged
Kentuckys reliance on Almighty God in state legislation on homeland
security; the placement of 12-foot crosses on highways in Utah; and
a 17-foot, cross-shaped remnant of steel in the National Sept. 11
Memorial and Museum.
I worked with Edwin on American Atheists lawsuit in Florida
challenging the display of a six-ton Ten Commandments monument
on government property in Bradford County, Florida. The result of
the litigation was that the American Atheists was permitted to erect
an equivalent monument alongside the Ten Commandments display.
When it was unveiled on June 29, 2013, it became the first monument
to Atheism ever to be installed on public land in the US with the consent
of the governing authorities. At the time of his death, a similar suit was
underway in Oklahoma to challenge another Ten Commandments
monument at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
In 1996, Edwin and Helen originated and founded Camp Quest,
the nations first residential secular summer camp for children of
Atheists and other freethinkers. Edwin and Helen ushered Camp Quest
through its growing pains, including a restructuring of the organization
in 2002. In 2005, following ten successful years, Edwin and Helen
retired from Camp Quest and transferred control and management to
other capable hands. That same year they were named Atheists of the
Year by American Atheists.
Edwin also served on the national advisory board of the Secular
Student Alliance. In 2008, he was elected to the Board of Directors of
American Atheists, a position he held until 2013. He served as Kentucky
State Director of American Atheists for many years before that.
Edwin was a National Rifle Association Certified Handgun
Instructor, an honorary Black belt in kenpo karate, and an honorary
Kentucky Colonel.
Edwin co-authored the book The Fundamentals of Extremism:
The Christian Right in America. His own book, Baubles of Blasphemy,
is dedicated to the notion that blasphemy is the crime of making fun
of ridiculous beliefs that someone else holds sacred. Through his
writings, speaking engagements, and broadcast appearances, Edwin
sought to ring alarm bells, alerting us all of the great American Religious
Civil War.
I am proud to have known Edwin. I am lucky to have had the
opportunity to call him my friend. He was a mentor to me from the time
we met at the 2009 American Atheists National Convention. Edwin
and I hit it off and we became instant friends. We began working and
consulting with each other on legal issues right there at the convention.
We handled several cases together over the years, and we consulted with
each other almost constantly.
I have two regrets. One is that I did not get to know him sooner,
and the other is that he could not stick around just a little while longer.
He died at his home, which he referred to as Kagin Manor, in
Union, Kentucky. At a memorial gathering at the American Atheists
National Conference in Utah, Edwins good friend, Ed Buckner, perhaps
put it best: Hes [expletive deleted] dead. And, it sucks. Indeed.
Eric O. Husby, a Tampa attorney in private practice, is American Atheists
Acting National Legal Director
by Eric O. Husby, Acting Legal Director of American Atheists | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 33
In Memoriam: Edwin F. Kagan 1940 - 2014
amp Quest was founded in 1996 by a small group of dedicated and energetic members of
the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The idea to offer a summer camp
program designed for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other freethinking families
originated partially in response to the Boy Scouts of Americas enforcement of their policy requiring
a professed belief in god. It became clear that children from nontheistic families needed their own
place to belong and enjoy the summer camp experience.
Edwin, an Eagle Scout, served as Director for the first ten years of Camp Quest along with this
wife, Helen. The first Camp Quest session, serving 20 campers ages eight to 12, was held in Boone
County, Kentucky, in August 1996. Camp Quest is now in 15 states as well as the UK and Switzerland.
Its fair to say that I dont know what I would be doing with my life right now if it werent for
Edwin Kagin. I met him in the spring of 2003, when he and his wife, Helen, were in Columbus,
Ohio, to meet with my now husband, August Brunsman, director of Secular Student Alliance
and a Camp Quest volunteer since 1999. I had recently started dating August, so he brought
me along to dinner to meet Edwin and Helen.
Before dinner, August warned me several times, Edwin can be a bit. . .umm. . .well, you
have to take him with a grain of salt sometimes. At dinner, when Edwin asked our server if
they served possum pot pie, I was starting to understand what August meant.
Edwin, Helen, and August talked about plans for Camp Quest that summer for a bit, and
then Edwin turned to me and asked what I was doing the week camp would be in session. I
told him I had plans to visit my family in Wisconsin. He said, Your family is there every week.
Camp is only one week. Youre coming to camp.
It was a dinner that changed my life, and over the next 11 years, I would learn a lot from
Edwin. He taught me five things in particular that have had the greatest impact.
Be bold.
Start something, even if people tell you its a bit crazy. People told Edwin that starting
a summer camp was crazy, and he did it anyway.
Risk making enemies, but choose them wisely.
If you have no enemies, you probably havent taken a notable stand on anything.
If Ken Ham, the director of the Creation Museum, doesnt like you, then youre doing
something right.
Have fun.
Activism can be often hard and tiring, so youre a lot better off with a sense of humor.
Edwin knew how to have fun. He often dressed in costumes for no reason and he liked to
cut watermelons with a sword.
Know when to move on.
After the summer of 2005, he and Helen
stepped down after ten years of directing Camp
Quest. This allowed new leaders to carry Camp
Quest forward.
Leave a legacy.
Edwin told me many times that Camp Quest
was his legacy. It will long outlast him, which is
the closest we can get to immortality. Thousands
of campers have had and will have a place to learn,
laugh, and belong.
Edwin was larger than life, as anyone who met
him can attest. He was gruff, generous, brilliant, and
cantankerous all at once. Well be telling stories for a long time about his antics and his achievements as we continue his legacy.
If you want to see more tributes, go to Edwins Facebook page. Its really moving to see all of the lives he touched while he was here. You can help
send a kid to Camp Quest through the Edwin & Helen Kagin Memorial Campership Fund. Go to
What I Learned from Camp Quest Founder Edwin Kagin
by Amanda Metskas, Executive Director of Camp Quest
Edwin and Helen in 2002 with
Camp Quest mascot Bruno
Edwin and me, Camp
Quest Ohio, 2007
Edwins legacy
Continued on next page
Remembering Edwin
by Ed Buckner, Past President of American Atheists
dwin Kagin died, like nearly everyone, prematurely. He still had
things he wanted to do, and we still had things we needed him to
do. I knew Edwin well, loved him as a friend, and occasionally hated
things he said or did. To say what needs saying about Edwin, I would need
all the pages in this magazine and many more besides. Of course, using
that much space would have been fine with him.
A few years ago,
when Edwin turned 70,
I teased him about being
all done because he
had reached his biblical
threescore years and
ten. He was quick to
note that the Bible
promises fourscore
years for those that are
strong (Psalms 90:10).
I had to look that up to
make sure Edwin had
it right, but, of course,
he did: The days of
our years are threescore
years and ten; and if by
reason of strength they
be fourscore years, yet is
their strength labour and
sorrow; for it is soon cut
off, and we fly away.
Edwin prided
himself on many things,
including his thorough knowledge of the Bible. To anyone who asked him
how he achieved it, he said, Twelve years of perfect attendance in Sunday
School will do that for you. To the follow-up question of why he was an
Atheist if he knew the Bible so well, Edwin said, Twelve years of perfect
attendance in Sunday School will do that for you.
This essay should be a dignified, sad, painful remembrance of a man
we at American Atheists revered, so it would be wholly inappropriate to
tell you that Edwins term for holy communion was swallow the leader.
Or that he referred to Mary Magdalenes account of the resurrection as
the testimony of a deranged hooker. Or about when he was featured on
ABCs Nightline in 2010 and was asked what he thought of the fact that
his son, like his father, had become a preacher. Edwin said with a chuckle,
Oh, one wonders where one went wrong, but quickly continued, My
son and I have a very excellent relationship. We just understand that there
are certain things that we cant, at this point, talk about.
Edwin was then asked, So its not frustrating to you, even in the
abstract, to know that your son completely rejects the way you see the
He replied, Well, whether Im frustrated or not is irrelevant because
everyone has the right to do what they want to dowithin the law. Thats
what I believe in.
It is both instructive and entertaining to do an internet search for
Edwin Kagin and videos. There are dozens of themand his wit and
wisdom are evident everywhere.
Edwin could be disdainful of deathhis or anyone elses. The last
line of his essay On the Disposal of Human Remains in his book,
Baubles of Blasphemy, reads, Dont take life too seriously; you wont get
out of it alive anyway. But death could stagger him as well. The death
of Helen, his wife of 25 years, left him grieving harder than he imagined
possible. His beloved friend Pamela Whissel enriched his remaining years
immeasurably, even as she wisely refused to try to fill Helens shoes.
He wouldnt allow anyone to call him Mr. Kagin, saying, I aint old
enough or wise enough to be no Mister. And it had to be Edwin, not
EdEds (like me) are far too common.
Though Edwin would have been quite proud of his 20-paragraph
obituary in The
New York Times that
included a nice color
photo (
EdwinTimesObit), he
would have been the
first to point out that
the successful lawsuit
to remove the Utah
roadside crosses for
fallen state troopers
was not his doing. He
was proud that the
conclusion of that
case happened on his
watch as National Legal
Director, but he knew
and said plainly that
the Utah case was the
excellent work of the late
attorney Brian Barnard
and of many Utah
Atheists such as Rich
Andrews, a former AA
board member who also died recently.
Of all his accomplishments, Edwin was most proud of his co-founding,
with Helen, of Camp Quest. Now an international success, Camp Quest
started with a handful of kids in Ohio in 1995 as this countrys first
overnight camp for the children of Atheists, agnostics, secular humanists,
and freethinkers. This summer, a session of Camp Quest will take place in
fourteen states, as well as the UK and Switzerland.
Let me close with Lifelines, my favorite poem from Baubles of
I raced my young sons down the beach
And barefoot first the ocean reached.
Time and time again I won,
A father stronger than each son.
I knew one day these two must win
And dash on past where I had been.
Summer following summer they gained on me
As I deterred what had to be.
One day in time at last I lost
And knew our lines of life had crossed.
We cast in other plays that day,
Each set to race a different way.
Toward that sea of fame and name
Where lifelines start and end the same.
Ed Buckner and his son, Michael, are co-authors of In Freedom We
Trust: An Atheist Guide to Religious Liberty.
The first monument to Atheism
on public land in the US is
this bench in Bradford County,
Florida, which Edwin negotiated
as National Legal Director.
Continued from previous page | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 35
ichard Andrews, the founder of the Utah Chapter of American Atheists, a
former member of American Atheists Board of Directors, and a personal
friend of American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray OHair, died on April 2,
2014, in Salt Lake City.
He was part of several successful attempts to uphold the separation of church
and state in Utah, where the majority of the population is heavily religious. A
lawsuit in 1980 defeated a proposed amendment to the state constitution that
would have broadened religious tax exemptions. A 1986 lawsuit defeated another
proposed amendment, which would have automatically exempted religious
hospitals from property taxes. A proposed amendment to endorse teaching
religion in the public schools was defeated in 1993.
He was a named plaintiff in American Atheists 2011 legal victory in Utah,
which removed 12-foot roadside crosses memorializing fallen state troopers. The
lawsuit was filed when the Utah Highway Patrol refused to allow any memorial
not in the shape of the Christian cross.
In 1991, he was the principal plaintiff in The Society of Separationists v.
Whitehead, which challenged the practice of opening Salt Lake City Council
meetings with a prayer. That case was won at the district level, but it was
overturned on appeal to the Utah State Supreme Court.
That same year Rich was invited by Madalyn Murray OHair to serve on
American Atheists Board of Directors, which he did until 2011.
Among his numerous awards given to him by American Atheists was Atheist
of the Year in 1992 (along with Chris Allen). In 2006, he was named Volunteer
of the Year for helping the national office answer its huge amount of hate mail.
Constantly trying to force an idea or a
belief that is not true onto a world that
must be predicated on truth is inherently
destabilizing. A world without religion would
be like a house without a mortgage.

As humans contemplate the nature of God and
religion, here is a primer for everyone. This
book will challenge you to reexamine your
view about where truth really resides.
Beyond Religious Faith will also enhance your
perspective on the current religion-driven chaos
in the world, particularly in the Middle East.

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Rich Andrews (right) with Madalyn Murray O'Hair
and John Garth Murray
And blessings would help see him through these troubled times.
After all, Jesus told the parable of the widows mite. How selfish
could Ed possibly be? he asked me one night while we were having
dinner at McDonalds.
When the problems kept coming, I finally decided to put the Book
of Mormon down and actually give the Bible a good, thorough study.
Once I did, I realized for the first time that it not only mentions but
advocates for genocide, rape, genital mutilation, slavery, polygamy,
incest, and the subjugation of women. And it forbids wearing clothing
made of two kinds of material. In other words, no cotton-poly blends.
Surely there must be something in the Book of Mormon that corrects
this. I had to find out.
Bad decision. The number of contradictions between the Book
of Mormon (a.k.a. the most perfect book ever) and the Bible (we
need to have this one because all the other Christian people do) were
staggering. And none of them made any sense.
For example, Acts 11:6 talks about the first Christians being in
Antioch. But the Book of Mormon says in Alma 46:15 that there were
Christians as early as 73 BC. In another passage, Micah 5:2, Jesus is
born in Bethlehem, but Alma 7:10 of the Book of Mormon says that
Jesus will be born in Jerusalem.
The contradictions began to pile up, and I carried these with me
like a heavy backpack every single day. When I returned to the United
States, completely fluent in Tagalog and the Gospeland full of
doubts and contradictions as a resultI ran across a YouTube video of
David Fitzgerald giving his talk The Heretics Guide to Mormonism.
I recall reeling in my chair after watching the video. He must have
been lying. Surely the things he said werent true. I had to research
this. Against the council of my church leaders, I took my studies to the
internet to prove him wrong. He wasnt.
The devil then proceeded to speedily drag me down to hell.
Fitzgerald led me to Reza Aslans Zealot. Aslan led me to Christopher
Hitchens, who led me to Sam Harris. And from there, it was history.
As the dissonance slowly evaporated, it felt liberating to be welcomed
when making inquiries. I was no longer living under shut up and
humble yourself. I was living with the knowledge that I could
question anythinganythingand I could also go and find out.
Of course, this didnt come easily. My immediate family and
Mormon extended family and friends are still very upset with my
decision to leave. The fallout is very real and still quite difficult. My
family refuses to talk about me. Im almost nothing more than a failure
to them. I remember clearly my mother crying on the sofa after I told
her of my deconversion. She didnt want a son who was going to hell.
Im still trying to find ways of coping with the stress and heartache.
But it is worth it. As Hitchens said, Take the risk of thinking for
yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come
to you that way.
Greg Hawkins was born in 1993 and was raised in Salt Lake City. He
officially renounced his faith in 2013. He is now studying political
science and philosophy at the University of Utah and plans to be an
American Atheists
Religion, especially Christianity, has
enjoyed unwarranted respect for far
too long. Jesus did say a few nice
things, but he was no humble or wise
prophet. How do we know?
Its in the Bible.
From the author of the Dogma Watch series in this magazine
Available at
up of the cheap pearls, which is indicated by the fathers overplayed
disappointment. A little child in that position could not be blamed
for feeling afraid that her refusal to give in to her fathers demand will
result in the loss of his love and care.
And then there is the annoying implication that father knows
bestthe pearls he gives Emily on the third night, the real pearls,
are better than the ones that the daughter loves. These are the right
pearls, and making the exchange with her father is an obvious good, of
course, because he is wise and all-knowing. He knows better than his
daughter what is good for her and what choices she should make. This is
a perfect demonstration of the infantilism that religions in general and
Christianity in particular, attempt to imbue in their followers. Do as I
say, the god/father character says via his earthly representatives, and I
will fulfill your needs and give you comfort; obey and everything will
be okay. Deferentially suck at the churchs tit from the womb to the
tomb and you will have your eternal heavenly rewardnot your crappy
plastic pearl necklace.
But what rankles me the most about this story is that the father does
not seem to accept or appreciate the little girls act of love. She loves
those cheap plastic pearls. She holds them dear. They mean the world
to her and she treats them accordingly. That is why she does not want to
give them up. When the father replaces them with a string of real pearls,
he is telling his daughter that her love has no value unless its object is the
object he has chosen. Given this attitude, it should come as no surprise,
then, that the church devalues so many forms of love: Love of someone
of the wrong gender, love of the wrong kind of philosophy, love of
the wrong divine being, love of the wrong kind of neighbor. Love
who and what we allow, the Church says, because you are not qualified
to make that judgment for yourself.
There is a lot of criticism out there, rightly, of so-called honor
crimes in the Muslim world. Fathers and brothers kill and maim their
daughters and sisters for the sin of dishonoring the family. And
what comprises such dishonor? Loving a member of the wrong sect
or religion, loving someone without the permission of ones father or
eldest brother, having a sexual relationship that is not approved by the
father, and on and on.
I am not sure what message this young priest thinks he is putting
across with his unpleasant and offensive tale. It is fortunate that the
infants and children involved are too young to be imprinted by this
nonsense, and with any luck the parents and other adults are too
preoccupied during the ceremonywith keeping older siblings quiet,
for exampleto really pay it much attention. I can only hope that this is
the worst this priest has to offer as he exercises his false authority week
after week from his bully pulpit
Alan Michael Wilt is a writer and editor in Amherst, Massachusetts. His
novel, The Holy Family, was featured in the 3rd Quarter 2013 issue of
this magazine. He blogs occasionally at
Even in my believing days,
I would have found his story
to be beyond the pale.
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merican Atheists, Inc. is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, educational organization dedicated to the complete and
absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment
to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a wall of separation between state and church.
American Atheists is organized:
To stimulate and promote freedom of thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets,
rituals, and practices;
To collect and disseminate information, data, and literature on all religions and promote a more thorough
understanding of them, their origins, and their histories;
To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the complete and absolute separation of state and church;
To act as a watchdog to challenge any attempted breach of the wall of separation between state and church;
To advocate, labor for, and promote in all lawful ways the establishment and maintenance of a thoroughly secular
system of education available to all;
To encourage the development and public acceptance of a humane ethical system stressing the mutual sympathy,
understanding, and interdependence of all people and the corresponding responsibility of each individual in relation
to society;
To develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central and must itself be the source of
strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity;
To promote the study of the arts and sciences and of all problems affecting the maintenance, perpetuation, and
enrichment of human (and other) life; and
To engage in such social, educational, legal, and cultural activity as will be useful and beneficial to the members of
American Atheists and to society as a whole.
theism is the comprehensive world view of persons who are free from theism and have freed themselves of supernatural
beliefs altogether. It is predicated on ancient Greek Materialism.
theism involves the mental attitude that unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-
style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and the scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of
authority and creeds.
aterialism declares that the cosmos is devoid of immanent conscious purpose; that it is governed by its own inherent,
immutable, and impersonal laws; that there is no supernatural interference in human life; that humankind, finding
the resources within themselves, can and must create their own destiny. It teaches that we must prize our life on earth and
strive always to improve it. It holds that human beings are capable of creating a social system based on reason and justice.
Materialisms faith is in humankind and their ability to transform the world culture by their own efforts. This is a commitment
that is, in its very essence, life-asserting. It considers the struggle for progress as a moral obligation that is impossible without
noble ideas that inspire us to bold, creative works.
Materialism holds that our potential for good and more fulfilling cultural development is, for all practical purposes, unlimited. | AMERICAN ATHEIST | 45
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American Atheists PO Box 158, Cranford, NJ 07016
I support the Separation of Church & State and want to promote acceptance of atheists in America.
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Visit for more information on member benefts
I support the Separation fo Church and State and want to promote acceptance of atheists in America.
I am in general agreement with the Aims and Purposes of American Atheists.
Why I Am An Atheist
by Ernest Som
Why are you an Atheist? We are soliciting submissions that answer this question in 800 to 1,000 words. Send them to Essays may be subject to revision, and publication is at the sole discretion of the Editor-in-Chief.
am an Atheist because just as our immune system attacks
a foreign substance, my very essence had to purge itself of
incorrect beliefs. I was brought up as a Lutheran and was
a devout believer in my youth. By the time I reached high
school, I was teaching Sunday school to second-graders.
Memories of Christmas Eve services are still vivid in my mind. I felt
the vibration of the organ music and singing physically at my core.
Those sounds, along with the beautiful visuals of candles and bright
lights combined with the stained-glass windows, were truly awe-
inspiring. I mention this to demonstrate how much I had to overcome
to get on the path of correct thinking.
My apostasy started in my first semester of college with an
introduction to philosophy class where my professor would interject
thought-provoking questions that contradicted notions of my
Christianitylet the thinking begin! Surprisingly, I found myself
agreeing with these logical points, and, as the dominoes began to
fall, one doubting question led to another. As we studied Descartes, I
decided to adopt his method of rejecting all beliefs until I could get to a
core truth to build from (cogito ergo Atheism).
My cognitive dissonance, however, was still compelling me to make
a deal with myself: it was okay to reject certain notions of Christianity,
like miracles and the absolute truth of the Bible, if I still accepted Jesus
as my savior, so I convinced myself that I did. But when that approach
still felt like a pebble in my sneaker, I finally asked myself the most
common philosophical question of all: Why?
I had no answer. I couldnt think of any good reason to maintain
any aspect of any belief in Christianity. The feeling of both winning and
losing something in the same instant was quite odd.
At that point, I still did not identify as an Atheist, per se. I had a
growing interest in deconstructing various religions and enjoyed
attending informal philosophical discussions hosted by the biblical
scholar Dr. Robert Price. During that time, I was also planning my
wedding. Despite the fact that my fiance (now my wife of 15 years) was
brought up Catholic, neither of us wanted a wedding with any religious
element. We asked Dr. Price to officiate and, thankfully, he agreed.
Subsequently, he guided me to many good books, starting with Gospel
The feeling of both winning and losing
something in the same instant was quite odd.

I have used my religious

education as a strong
support for my nonbelief.
Fictions by Randel Helms. Ive been reading books like this ever since.
These include works by god-believing philosophers like Benedict de
Spinoza and Thomas Paine. Like many other Atheists, I have used my
religious education as a strong support for my nonbelief.
My official claim to being an Atheist started about a year ago. I
first considered the term agnostic but that felt like a semantic cop-
out. Through the law of the excluded middle, a person either has the
belief in a god, or they are in the group consisting of those who negate
belief. Its easy to see why someone would not understand the need
to associate with the negation of a belief. After all, no one identifies
themselves with being a non-astrologer or non-psychic, but if
the movement of astrologers or psychics became influential enough
to corrupt education or government, we would see an emergence of
people claiming these non titles (even though one might argue that
psychics can do harm).
There are, however, present-day theists who regularly cause harm.
Thats why American Atheists files lawsuits dealing with explicit,
intentional violations of the First Amendment. There are continual
attempts, often successful, to corrupt education with the unscientific,
religious ideas of creationism. Children are threatened with the infinite
torture of hell if they do not believe. People have died unnecessarily
because stem cell research is hindered by religious objection.
Homosexuals have been killed and have committed suicide as the
result of bigoted religious views. Many poor people forego day-to-day
essentials because they are pressured with guilt into tithing money they
dont have. They do this under the false belief that they will eventually be
rewarded with more. After all, what could be better than an omnipotent
investment portfolio manager?
I am a vocal Atheist because I cannot passively allow such theistic
harm to continue. I aspire to actively engage theists via commonsense
dialogue to show them that their religion does cause measurable harm.
It is at the risk of becoming the persona non grata, but sometimes we
need to be the Socratic gadfly to get people to examine their beliefs.
Ernest Som is a former Marine who lives in New Jersey with his wife and
two kids. He enjoys traveling and all sorts of outdoor activities.

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